In between hard times, prayers, and God

For the first time, I cannot find a short and meaningful post title because I have yet to put into context and relate the contents I am about to write. Let’s see what comes out of this as we go along, shall we?

I had recently returned from a business trip to the middle east. It was a challenging assignment because it was the first time I was tasked to not only work but excel in an unfamiliar location and working with people I have only met for the first time. Communication prior to the trip was minimum and it really felt as though I was dropped into war zone without knowing what to expect except to survive.

The time zone shift did not help when my body was telling me that it was 2am in the morning while my mind tells me it was only 10pm – local time. There are just too many aspects for me to cope. The pressure to give a good presentation a day after my arrival was getting unbearable.

Like during most travels, first on my to-do list was to find solace, give thanks, and say my prayers in a church. This particular mass that I attended was quite awesome and to some degree I felt that the sermon spoke to my soul. The gospel reading for the weekend was about how Jesus taught his disciples to pray. In other words, it was about prayers and the priest had two very interesting stories to put into context how we often miss the point when we pray. In his words, prayer can be seen as a formative action. Though I am unable to reproduce his sermon in its entirety and in his exact words, I hope the following captured his meaningful stories.

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Prayer is formation

Story #1

As bedtime passed one night, a mother sent her child upstairs to say his prayers before going to bed. Moments passed and suddenly she heard loud cries “LORD, PLEASE LET IT BE TOKYO!” Shocked, the mother rushed upstairs and asked what was wrong. The child replied, “In the geography paper today, one of the questions asked what is the name of France’s capital city. I answered Tokyo. I now understand I answered wrongly and remembering how you always tell me that nothing is impossible with God so I am now hoping God will answer my prayer”.

Story #2

A man complained how he was unable to build a house on his land because a huge rock was in the way. One day, he heard God telling him, “Push against the rock”. He obeyed and pushed against the rock for weeks and months but to no avail. He eventually gave up. God asked him why he had given up. He replied, “God, you asked me to push the rock away but it did not budge”. God answered, “I did not ask you to push the rock away but merely just push against the rock. I also see you obeyed and did that fervently. I see a change in you that you do not notice yourself. You used to be overweight and weak but now look at you! You have 8 packs, huge and strong shoulders, and a V shaped waist. Now, take a huge hammer and break the rock into pieces. You will have enough stones to build your house with as well!”

Are we praying correctly and are we forming ourselves to be stronger than what we are today?

And coming back to my stressful assignment in a foreign land, I realize that God seemed to be moulding and forming me into a bigger, bolder, and better person so that I am able to face all the challenges in life. Psychologically and mentally, it can be difficult to see through the hardship when you are experiencing it first hand. When you are alone, it is very easy to succumb to all the self doubts and self limiting thoughts. Having had a sleepless night prior did not help the situation. The night before the important presentation was especially difficult. The mind plays back each word that I should be saying repeatedly just like a broken radio.

I can almost feel that something was about to give way but at the same time reminded myself to keep praying and distract myself with positive thoughts and images. Turned out, I have successfully applied all the methods my therapist/counselor had taught me to avoid spiralling into depression.

The important presentation came and gone. Many good feedback and comments from the audience. I was relieved and it felt like a huge boulder has been lifted from my shoulders. It felt really good.

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To cut the long story short, the trip ended with a pleasant surprise. My flight back home was upgraded to business class. I really don’t know what happened but it felt like God cutting me some slacks and giving me a pat on my back for a job well done.

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I guess that is the sort of relationship I have with God.

I believe it can be the same with everyone else if only they take a moment to reflect and realize that He exists…

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Why Me?

I often ask myself “Why Me?” whenever faced with difficult situations. So much so that I started feeling sorry for myself and all I see is negativity all around me. I became immune to all the emotions both good and bad.

Over time, I lost all ability to recognize celebratory and winning moments because of the numbness from being immune to the emotions. I have gravitated too much towards protecting myself from feeling bad that even during moments when I should be happy and proud, I doubt and feel undeserving.

Then comes the social obligation of not letting your feelings show. An example would be that whenever something good has been accomplished and attained at the workplace, it is only wise not to show one’s happiness lest making the co-workers feel left out or inadequate. This has also became one of the reasons why I have not truly celebrated my achievements over the years.

It gets really tiring being like that and even people around me have noticed it. My therapist during one of our sessions asked me why do I put myself down so naturally and so consistently. Someone I work closely with once said to me, “I know the view up there is nice but it is time to stop crucifying yourself. Dig deep inside you because there is this small little selfish voice that says – I matter”.

So contrary to asking “Why Me?” whenever faced with adversity, I ought to be asking myself “Why Not Me?” during times of triumph and victory.

I really hope that I will be able to slow down and allow myself to recognize all the good in my life and taking the moment to be grateful. I would love to free myself from the guilt of rewarding myself emotionally.

I want to be able to give myself a pat on the back for the job well done. I want to be able to remind myself of the hard work and effort put into attaining the well deserved accomplishments. I want to be able to just pause in that moment of time and taking it all in – that particular sound, smell, and sight.

Because, it comes a point in life you just need to ask – Why Not Me?

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Kinda Mundane

I am starting to think that this pessimism in me is beyond help. It scares me sometimes to realize how negatively I look at everything in life. As I seek to understand the reason behind this outlook on life, it is scarier to tell myself that if it was caused by external factors, it would be the same wherever I go. Has living a highly stimulated and high strung life caused much damage to me psychologically?

I found myself feeding on the need to get things done to gain some sense of fulfillment and a day doing nothing is a day wasted so to speak.

Another weekend is coming to an end and I have not done much except lazing around entire day. After a long nap in the afternoon, I woke up feeling really crappy. So I am going to try dissecting which event has triggered this undesirable feeling.

I had earlier in the day read about some wonderful initiatives taken by another country for their youths and had compared that against what has been done where I live. Knowing very well the way things are done here made me felt very disappointed knowing the outcome would be mediocre at best. Just too much and depressing to dwell in. It was on that note that I laid myself down and rested for a few hours.

Many have suggested looking at the bright side of things and having had seen very nice places, I just cannot find myself to change my perspective. I absolutely dislike this feeling of being stifled just because the majority prefers status quo instead of progress.

In such situation, I guess the best question to ask is one of those “what if’s” questions. What if I was given all the opportunities and assistance needed, what would I be doing? And taking away all the negative assumptions, will I be able to achieve great things in life?

After all, it was me trying to seek clarity that I started scribbling (typing, really) my thoughts onto this blog post. I have learned that by penning down my thoughts that I will be able to see the challenges a little clearer. And the next step is to break the huge challenges into smaller chunks to be addressed accordingly.

I see that one of my problems is expecting progress to be achieved collectively as a community. I worry too much about moving forward too fast and at the end of the day needing to pull myself back to fit in to the majority’s pace. I do hope that is just what I perceive and not truly reality. It is also possible that I tend to set “unreasonable” expectations for myself and people around me. It really is difficult to live such a life not getting the support one needs. The worst feeling in the world is not being able to confide in someone who truly understands what you are going through.

I guess idealism has got the best of me…

Staying Married In A Secular World: Pre Marriage

Having had celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary over the weekend, our marriage is still work in progress and this is by no means a life hack on marriage. We still consider our marriage a young one and we still have a long way to go as husband and wife. Our lives are unique and we chart out the courses of our lives through our own unique experiences and decisions. No one can really teach us how to live our lives. My reason for writing is to share our experiences in hope that others especially young people currently contemplating marriage would be inspired and get some insights and ideas.

Pope Francis in his recent post-synodal apostolic exhortation entitled “Amoris Laetitia: The Joy Of Love” mentioned that in current times, couples are postponing their marriages due to “perceived” financial instability and career. Some have even decided not to commit into marriage for various reasons.

For us, it wasn’t any different 10 years ago. We never thought of marriage until someone mentioned that like any decision in life, if we do not decide with conviction, it will not happen. I had just graduated from university and started working for about two years and with the burden of a study loan, it was very difficult to save up for a lavish wedding do. Or so we thought?

“God Will Provide”

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 4:19

I met my wife at the tender age of 14 years old and at 17, I realized that she was the person I could trust my life with. We dated for almost 9 years before we made the decision to get married.

Though not many of our peers were getting married at that time, those who were held very lavish and grand luncheons and receptions. The pressure and struggle were real for us. Like most, we were also under the influence of “face” culture – how others would judge and measure us. We were afraid of the expectations our parents and relatives have on us regarding this “once in a lifetime” occasion. We talked a lot about this and came to realization that what we both wanted for “us” matters more than what others would expect of us. Our wedding really is a celebration of us taking the vows to be together as husband and wife with God as our witness. The rest we brushed off as secondary and finally came to terms with the “face” culture. We also realized that starting our married life in debt will be counter productive and will not sustain us over the long haul. What really matters is what happens after the marriage and not before.

Going through the process for the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony in the church gave us almost a year’s time to prepare. Like any huge projects we undertake, we split Project Wedding into smaller modules and accomplished each within a reasonable time frame. We came up with a timeline with all the little details needed for the wedding to materialize.

Do-It-Yourself

From the bride’s veil, invitation cards to the flower girls’ baskets, we made them ourselves. We also wanted to have pictures of us taken dressed up in our wedding suit and dress so we made them first before arranging for the photo session. The wedding photo album was just a simple package that we bought at a wedding fair. As for the wedding dress, one of my good friend’s mother was a tailor and we got her to sew the wedding dress designed by my wife – the beautiful dress is still in our wardrobe. Throughout all these Do-It-Yourself activities, we grew even closer as a couple because we were in constant communication of our likes and dislikes.

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Support Systems

EE/CMPC: “The Immunization”

There has been some good and bad reviews shared to us regarding the Catholic Marriage Preparation Course (previously known as Evening for the Engaged). I guess it depends very much on the presenting couple. Lucky for us, my wife and I was assigned to an amazing couple. They made the contents of the course very current and relevant to us. The presenting couples were very generous in sharing their private space and experiences with us.

The Witnesses: “Real Life Examples”

We are very blessed to have grown up and journey through the faith with Daphne. When Daphne and Jim got married much earlier than us and started a family, they became our role models. We learned so much through observing them living their lives together as husband and wife with God at the very center of all their struggles and triumphs. They continue to inspire us till this day.

Friends & Family: “The Boosters”

Our wonderful and supportive friends and families gave us the encouragements and strength. Their love for us truly genuine and we never ever felt judged. I like to believe that God sent us amazing people and surrounded us with the love we needed to endure life’s challenges as well as sharing our happy moments.

The Day The Church Bells Rung

Like exactly how we wanted and envisioned it to be, a wedding with God at the center of it all, the Wedding Mass played out perfectly. The choir sang like angels and the band played their hearts out, family and friends filled almost half the church, and the warmth and love was heartfelt.

The most endearing moment I will remember for the rest of my life was when one of our favorite priests walked out to celebrate the mass. He had initially went overseas for studies but had returned to the parish due to whatever reason we were thankful for. In the silent prayers of our hearts, we had wished for his blessings on our special day and God indeed worked in His mysterious ways that day.

In all its worldly sense and standard, our wedding did not in any way measured up to those of the “wealthy” and by no means “fancy”.

But spiritually, we were filled to the brim and that was all we needed.

We have no professional photographers covering the event but instead, a few friends offered their help taking regular photos. Some found their calling and later on took up photography as hobby and part-time job.

Contrary to popular and normal practice, we did not have a grand dinner reception but instead we had a luncheon at a regular restaurant. I believe we fed our guests beyond their capacity and it was an awesome gathering and fellowship with people we hold close to our hearts.

The Vows

I believe the world today tends to shun taking responsibilities and lack follow through. For many, rules are made to be broken. I am opined that we should stick to the decisions that we make and follow through. A promise is meaningless when it is not made in good faith with the intention to bring it to fruition. When we say “I DO”, we are making a conscious effort to commit and be faithful.

We were asked the following questions:

“Have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?”

“Will you honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your lives?”

“Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?”

And we made these vows:

I, take you, to be my wife/husband. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.

Take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The Fundamentals

Love is a decision

You do not decide to get married in the heat of passion, just because all your friends are doing it, or your parents are asking you to.

You decide to get married because you have found someone that you will constantly and consciously decide on a daily basis to love and cherish for the rest of your life. This MUST be mutual between both man and woman.

The journey, not the destination

We sure did enjoy every part of the preparation leading up to our wedding day. Looking back, we have allowed ourselves to do that by eliminating all the unreasonable expectations – our own and from circumstances around us.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is LOVE.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13:13

In Loving Memory of Ann Dass. Your advice and sharing continue to be blessings in our lives.

Everlasting Memories

Memories.

Our entire being is a collection of past experiences and memories. Perhaps every decision that we make whether planned or impromptu, is based on past experiences and our perceived beliefs at any particular point in time. A good or bad decision seemed to depend entirely on our wisdom of the day and that brings about a desirable or non-desirable outcome.

Sometimes, I tend to fall into an extreme melancholic state and my mind brings me back to that particular place and moment. Very often, it is amplified by a particular melody and tune.

For instance, Adam Levine’s “Lost Star” from the movie Begin Again when played softly during a cool rainy evening, brings me back to that particular street in downtown Manhattan. The sights, smell, and sound of that particular chilly Fall/Autumn afternoon. The yellow leaves at Central Park, the neon lights of Time Square, and people in their beautiful long coats.

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There is something about Fall/Autumn that makes one feel a little depressed probably because of all the fallen and dried leaves. Personally, my happiest and saddest moments seemed to have taken place during this season.

Adele’s “When We Were Young” struck a chord the moment I heard it. It literally brought me back to that particular lonely walk I had in the heart of Toronto. I was feeling a little sorry for myself – something I tend to do whenever I am alone. That quiet park with an empty bench. The sun shining through in between the tree branches at Queen’s Park, and the smell of coffee coming from that little cafe at the street corner. Oh how melancholic!

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The words “This is our last night but it’s late, And I’m trying not to sleep, Cause I know, when I wake, I will have to slip away” from Maroon 5’s “Daylight” never fail to bring me back to that moment I sat alone in a cab heading to the airport and going home to my family. I had just said my tearful goodbyes to dear friends whom I have met for the first time. Seeing how sad and teary we were, the driver asked if she was my “girlfriend”. I found his question funny and his statement distracted me from being sad. How can one ever forget such moment?

Little did I know that I have just established life long friendships and found a new family during that amazing trip.

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I would like to think that these are the images that continue to sustain me and help me through the many difficult situations in life.  They remind me that there are good places, beautiful faces, and kindhearted people for me to register and record into the memory slots on my mind. I do not know exactly where my life leads but I can only hope that filling these memory slots even though only exist for as long as I live, my soul will be able to find its way “home”.

So how does a particular song reminds you and brings forth the emotions and feelings of past experiences?

And how does a tune create an impression of the many everlasting and endearing moments in your life?

It is absolutely impossible to forget when music plays forever…