Fear No Evil

black and white clouds

“The books or music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, what came through them was longing.

These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they will turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.

For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited.

― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

I love to travel. As a matter of fact, there are a few things that I love more in this world than to travel. And as I think about why it’s captured my heart so completely, I can say for certain that a huge aspect of it is that it exposes me to beauty. The beauty of this world that God had created to mirror heaven. The beauty I find in the faces of people of varying ethnicities. The wonder evoked in me by the sunsets and mountains and stars and beaches and trees that don’t quite look the same no matter which end of the earth I visit.

And I know that this feeling of longing isn’t an earthly one. I know God Himself put it there. I know that there is more… there has got to be more. I know this even in the senseless death of an innocent child or even a loved one. I know this even in the daily news reports of bombings, death, hunger, terror, torture and fear everywhere around the world that I, admittedly, on some level have become desensitized to. It’s all enough to drive anyone crazy. Sometimes the enemy isn’t on the external level, but on the inside. Sometimes it’s our own thoughts. I personally know what it’s like to struggle with anxiety and it’s worse than any outside circumstance I’ve had to deal with.

So at such a time when it’s too easy to give in to fear and believe that the worst is yet to come, I pray that the peace of God which surpasses all understanding would guard your heart and mind. My prayer as well is that this song and these lyrics would encourage you as much as they have me. x Remember… there is more, and our stories don’t end here. The Prince of Peace is FOR you, WITH you, and He always will be.

What I’ve Learned at 29

don't count the days

So I’m just about two weeks in of being 29, so I’m thinking that officially deems me as the foremost expert on all things 29-ish. Ha. But seriously, being on the cusp of the big 3-0, there’s really been no lack on my end of reflection and consideration of what I’ve learned thus far. Three decades on earth. 10,585 days (#blessed).

The road getting here without a doubt has been fun, crazy, challenging, painful… and every other adjective in between. Something tells me this entry is going to be very much a personal one so if you’re not in touch with your emotions or this is something that makes you uncomfortable, it’s probably best that you close the tab now and move on to a fashion blog or something. ‘Cause it’s about to get reallllllllll!

Man, at 29, I know I’m a completely different person than I was at 9, 19, or even 27 if I’m being honest. I don’t like to think of myself as jaded or bitter, so I’ll just say that at this point, I’m more aware of the less-than-pretty things in life.

1. People will let you down. Yup, that includes your favorite parent, your closest sibling, your sweet lover, and your bestest friend in the world. At some point, they. will. let. you. down. Your job is to not to let your identity or well-being rest on the actions or words of anybody. No matter how much you love them or believe in them. Because guess what: the person that you respect the most in this world is just as flawed as you are. Don’t expect them to be super humans. I have been let down (in a huge way) by the people that I love the most and what I’ve learned from those experiences is that I shouldn’t expect too much from anybody. And again, that’s not to encourage jadedness or bitterness, just a healthy dose of reality and managed expectations.

2. You finally know what you want. I work as a freelance writer. Words are my currency. I used to call it my dream job, and for the last few years it has been, I just don’t feel that way anymore. In the last decade, my heart has always beat for social justice organizations, causes, and the like, I’ve just never been able to find a job in this sector. It’s either that, or they’ve never chosen to hire me.

So now after almost four years of working from home, I’m on the prowl again. Because I know what I want. If you’re in high school, college, or even your mid- or late-20s, don’t worry. It’s likely that most of the people around you don’t know what they want either, or they just may be some of the lucky few who do. This is the time for you to figure it out. In the meantime, give yourself room to explore, discover and make a few mistakes here and there.

HINT: find out what makes your heart beat fast and see if you can do that for a living. Then it will never feel like a job. Your passions, gifts and talents are a huge indicator of what you should be doing.

But of course, knowing what you want isn’t limited to career paths and what not. You also know what you want in a relationship. In a partner. In a future spouse. You know what I hate, even though they mean well? When a friend tries to force a guy on me that I totally don’t see myself with. Because at this age, I know what I want. I’ve seen what love looks like, and I’ve also witnessed what it doesn’t look like. In the words of a very wise woman named Christine Caine, “Don’t settle for relationships that require losing your voice, your self-respect, or your dignity”.

I’m just not willing to sell out to the first guy that comes around for one less lonely night. For the most part anyhow, being lonely is a choice. Or maybe I’m just past that point. And that’s not to say that I demand perfection, I’m just done wasting my time. If you haven’t figured out what non-negotiable traits you’d like in a partner, now would be a great time to get started on that list. I’ve read that 80 (or 90%) of a person’s happiness is contingent on the person that they marry. So you want to make that decision with careful consideration. Don’t rush. You’re worth it, and chances are, you’re the person who’s putting the most pressure on yourself.

3. You’re done with the BS.

Ha. This year was a tough one for me. 2014 was absolutely cray-cray. This year I have no doubt that God’s ultimate goal was to hone PATIENCE in me. Because so many of the situations I found myself in this year demanded it, and though I’m better for it now, man it wasn’t easy. At 29, I’m so proud to say that I’ve arrived at the point where I love and respect myself enough to not surround myself with people who a) don’t even want to be around me in the first place; b) don’t treat me with love and respect; and c) are just plain toxic. Not that I don’t believe in hanging out with those society shuns, but I’m talking about people whom I give importance to and foster intimacy with. Because ultimately, we inevitably become who we hang out with.

At 29, man, you just get to the point where you’re completely done being someone’s doormat, or who don’t treat you the way that you deserve. Because this isn’t high school or college anymore where if you rocked the boat in your social circle, you’d have to eat in the cafeteria all by your lonesome. Now there are no more excuses for spending time with people who don’t deserve you or who don’t better you in any way. It’s all on you.

4. Forgiveness will set you free.

In relation to the aforementioned, with pain come scars and wounds. We’re about to enter into a new year and I sure as hell don’t want to take any grudges or chips on my shoulder with me into the future. It’s the people we love that hurt us the most, but guess who enters an invisible prison when we choose to harbor hatred and bitterness towards others? It’s us, not them. So yeah, take a couple days to lick your wounds and sulk, but once you’re done, move forward. And allow yourself time to heal. But don’t leave the relationship on the wayside. If you can salvage it, do so.

5. I don’t know everything. In fact, I don’t know that much at all.

The more I learn about the world, the more it dawns on me just how little I know. And the best way to keep learning is to keep an open mind, and to be humble enough to admit that you don’t know everything. Doing otherwise just makes you straight up annoying, and you also strip yourself of the opportunity to expand your knowledge.

6. Crap happens, and some people really are just jerks.

Haha. I know this comes off as totally cynical, but it’s the truth! Crap will happen to you no matter how much money you have or don’t have, how much planning you do, and irrespective of how good a person you are. There are no exceptions — life will screw us all over at some point, and our job is to roll with these punches as they come. Suck it up and smile. And don’t take your frustration out on other people.

And yup, some people really are just jerks. I’m fortunate enough to have been surrounded all my life with people that encouraged me to seek to understand others before being understood, plus my Psych background helps as well, but what I’ve come to realize is that some people really just choose to act out no matter how nice or innocent you are. No, they haven’t had a bad day, they weren’t abused as a child, and their lives aren’t falling apart in any way, they’d just rather hate on others for no reason at all. Just smile. Who knows, if they get enough smiles in their direction, they may just decide to throw them back at somebody else one fine day. Wonders never cease, right? 🙂

7. You realize how crazy beautiful life is.

And because I’m aware of how negative (or realistic??) this entry is getting, let’s end this on a positive note. This year two friends of mine passed away, I’ve had to deal with very challenging situations concerning people that I love dearly, and a lot of terrifying events occurred around the world. It made me reevaluate the purpose of life, question whether God truly is in control, and go to sleep tearful and afraid. And yet… despite the craziness of it all, in spite of the fact that there are still so many things I don’t understand, a barrage of questions in my mind that won’t get answered on this side of eternity, I still think life is beautiful. And yes, that God is in full control. We just choose to point the finger at him when something bad happens.

I’ve just had too many first-hand experiences of grace, love and forgiveness to believe otherwise… not to mention the countless “coincidences” or “happenstances” that have manifested in my life.

Yes, there are people that make life ugly and that continually make the choice to hurt others, but if I let that get to me, it will literally drive me insane. I believe, unequivocally, that genetics + environment + uncontrollable factors aside, this is how the spiral of depression often starts. With our thought life. Tell yourself something enough times and for certain you will start to believe it.

So tell yourself this whenever you feel you can’t go any further:

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;

for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.

But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals;

and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.

Especially, do not feign affection.

Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings.

Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;

you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,

and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.

Desiderata (Max Ehrmann, 1927)

We’re in this together & I’m cheering you on!

XXP

No One Else Can Play Your Part.

no one else can play your part

Six months ago, upon hearing the news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death, I shared this post: 

PLEASE STAY ALIVE.

Today, it saddens me that the exact same words apply to the living legend that was Mr. Robin Williams, except that this time, the culprit is suicide/depression.

This time around, I’d like to borrow a few words from the beautiful Alexandra Nelson, a woman I greatly respect and admire:

My heart is heavy hearing the news about Robin Williams.

There’s a reason I love collaborating with the amazing organization To Write Love On Her Arms and it’s because the messages that YOU ARE IMPORTANT and that DARKNESS DOESNT RULE YOU need to be said, over and over.

I know this.

Depression has been a part of my own life for a very long time. Please hear me when I say that YOU ARE SO VALUED and YOU HAVE A HOPE AND A FUTURE beyond what you could ask or imagine from where you stand now.

Robin Williams, there is a hole in Hollywood and the world now where you were and could have been. You will be missed.

robin williams black and white

ROBIN WILLIAMS

1951 – 2014

Prayers, love and thoughts go out to his wife, three children, and all who loved him.

SOCIAL MEDIA: This Media We Call “Social” Is [Sometimes] Anything But

social media

So you’re sitting across the table from a friend baring your heart and soul only to receive a half-hearted “right” or “yeah” in response. You look up and find that your friend’s sole focus is no longer on you; but rather on the extension of our hands that we like to call the smartphone.

It feels like the wind’s been knocked out of you, but the feeling grows even worse when you realise how many times you’ve probably made others feel the same way. Others that have invested time, energy and money to be in your presence.

I think we’ve all been there.

About a month ago, my brother shared the video below with me and I found myself hanging my head in shame knowing how guilty I was (or still am) of behaving this way. But with the help of friends and my own conscience, I’m trying to be more intentional about leaving my cell in my purse – where it belongs – in the presence of others.

I suppose things change when you experience first-hand how awful it feels to be on the receiving end of speaking with someone who really isn’t present at all. And to know that I’ve made others feel that way? Suckiest feeling ever.

So I share this with you all hoping that it will benefit you as much as it has me.

On another note, it’s always amusing to me when people think social media is “just” social media. I used to think that way too, till I realised that it’s anything but. Whether we like it or not, our Instagram posts, Facebook updates, and tweets speak volumes about our character and our lives. They reflect our passions, interests, beliefs, level of humility (or lack thereof) and give people a window into our lives. Have you ever stopped to think what people see when they look into your window? 🙂

Don’t get me wrong. I love social media. Just like the internet at large and money, these are neutral mediums that tend to get a bad rap because, well, people don’t always use them in a positive fashion.

But the truth is that when utilised properly, they carry the potential to change the world.

For instance: Instagram. It’s probably the only app that 99 percent of people I know use and refresh multiple times on a daily basis. And while for some it has become an avenue to post a selfie per day, flaunt their possessions, or leave hurtful or hateful comments on others’ feeds, I personally love it because it allows me to see what my friends are doing, thinking and feeling for when I can’t be with them. This especially applies to friends who’ve moved away or that I can’t be with at the moment.

It also lets me find encouragement from people I don’t even know. In one particular instance, words from a stranger completely saved me as I asked for prayer on one church’s account on a really bad day (seriously, God bless this person’s heart).:

prayer - paulineyaoAnd whoever’s out there: I hope I’ve helped you somewhat!

And remember: what’s in your heart will always make its way to your feed!    

XXP

Manners & Sunscreen: The Truth About Travelling

manners & sunscreenIt’s hard to say when I got bit by the travel bug. I’m fortunate enough to have spent most summers aboard a plane as my folks liked to travel with us cool kids in tow. Spending summers in the U.S. brings back a flood of fond memories of us driving from LA to Vegas, and my siblings and me falling asleep in the car in the early hours of the evening only to be awakened at midnight by the glowing lights of Sin City. The experience was always nothing short of magical. I also recall the songs I heard on the radio as the sun would set behind us on the drive back to LA. I’ll always hold those memories close.

My sojourns peaked in college and thereafter as my desire to see more of the world and meet new people continued to burn with every plane ticket that I booked and each airport that I came through. It’s taken a back seat in recent years for a number of reasons though. Nonetheless, I just got in from a trip to Palawan and I’m so glad I went.

It’s jaunts like that that remind me of why I fell in love with travelling in the first place. I believe that life isn’t worth living if we’re not always trying to make ourselves better with every step. And travelling… it does that for me. It makes me a better person. The cold, hard truth about travelling is that half of the time, it’s not nearly as glamorous as people make it out to be. There’s just too many things that can go wrong in the process. The forgotten passport, the ridiculous queues at security check, missing a flight, falling ill, leaving something valuable at the hotel, getting your stuff stolen, etc, etc.

But the flip side of that is that despite these inconveniences that occasionally arise, I secretly love the thrill of not knowing what’s going to happen. I embrace the revelation that control is an illusion (it just makes life simpler). I relish the fact that I’m pushed out of my comfort zone and it’s my decision alone as to whether I’m gonna enjoy the ride or not. Why? Because it makes me better. It keeps me from becoming a brat who foolishly and selfishly believes that everything is going to go my way. It’s not. The universe doesn’t revolve around me and I shouldn’t expect it to. Travelling helps me to grow up and stretch my big girl muscles.

I also love that I get to see beautiful places that I didn’t even know existed. I think that it’s important to be reminded of how big the world is and how small we are in comparison to it. It’s also just so good to get away from the daily grind and relax, reset and recalibrate my senses. I’m so grateful and I’ll say it again as I’ve said it before: holidays are a blessing. I’m fully aware that to some people, being on vacation is a mere pipe dream that they pray about, dream of, and wish for. So I don’t take it for granted.

But more than all of the above… it’s about the people that I meet along the way. On this trip, I had my best buddy with me and we met some pretty amazing people that reminded me of why I fell in love with travelling in the first place. In meeting different people of varying ages that come from diverse walks of life, my mind is opened, my perspective broadened, and I am made a better person than I was than when I first stepped foot on the foreign land.

I love that I got to meet people with beliefs that matched my own, and I love that I also got to know people whose philosophies couldn’t possibly be further from mine. Travelling keeps me humble as I’m reminded that I don’t know everything, that I really haven’t seen anything yet, and most valuable of all, that we’re all really just the same inside no matter how different we look on the outside or how distinct our beliefs are from one another. Travelling pushes me to be respectful of other people’s backgrounds, beliefs and cultures. Just because something is different than what I know, that doesn’t make it wrong or invalid. And I can only pray for many more opportunities to travel so that I never forget any of this. And no matter where I go, I hope to remember to pack these two essentials as advised by one of the wisest women that I know:

manners & sunscreen mom text That being said, never stop exploring! XXP

A God That Doesn’t Make Sense

grace

I’d like to start off by saying that I don’t write this off of the perspective of a woman who thinks she’s better than everybody else. On the contrary, I don’t believe that inasmuch as I believe that I’m simply a person who searched for truth and found a Saviour who just so happens to be that Truth, and the Way and the Life as well.

I started following Jesus when I was 13 years old. I attended a church camp in the summer of 1999 (forever grateful to my aunts for the idea that was suggested to my mother), felt God’s undeniably tangible love and presence one night, and the rest is history.

I’m 28 years of age today, so it’s been 15 years. To say that the journey has been easy or perfect would be a complete lie. Truth be told, it’s been anything but.

I mean, sure, God’s yoke is easy and his burden is light and all that really means is that the joy and the hope and the peace and the prosperity and healing that come with knowing Him are worth the pain and the suffering and the trials and the confusion that seem to exacerbate when one finally makes the decision to take their walk with God seriously. This road towards heaven is indeed a narrow one.

Last night I had the privilege of attending a worship night with Hillsong United. If anyone knows me well, then they would know that United is my absolute favourite band on the planet. No band has been more influential or instrumental (pun totally intended) in guiding me on my walk with God and treatment of others. Not to mention, the music is absolutely phenomenal. It is stellar and whether or not one is a follower of Christ, I believe that their talent cannot be disputed.

I bring them up as I was so blessed and roused by some of the words that their frontman Joel Houston spoke last night. Joel said something along the lines of: “Scandal of grace. Love is war. All of these are completely paradoxical. Yet I find that a lot of the things that God does and says don’t make sense and you know what, that’s exactly why they make perfect sense.”

This cut me to the core because it’s so true. What God is this? A God who showed us and tells us that the only way to real and eternal life is through dying to self? A God who was able to give us everlasting life through the terrible death and torment of His only Son? A God that tells us that in order to attain true riches, we must become poor in spirit? That His strength is displayed most perfectly in our weakness. That true freedom can only be found through total surrender. Trusting and believing without or before seeing. Loving our enemies. Blessing those who hurt us. Turning the other cheek. Praying for those who persecute us. Being thankful when we are mocked for our faith and joyful as we endure difficulty.

(P.S. Speaking of the persecuted church, please pray for Meriam Ibrahim from Sudan who is going to be flogged 100 times in several days if the government doesn’t overturn their unjust sentence because she converted from Islam to Christianity.)

These concepts are all too ridiculous and revolutionary to fathom and even more so, live out. No wonder they killed him, yelled out “Crucify him!”, and hanged him on a tree for all to see. He infuriated the Pharisees — as Jesus called out religiosity and made crystal clear that God isn’t concerned with external appearances or behaviour — all he’s after is and always will be our hearts. This is why I can’t help but love God: as I’ve come to know him and continue to know him through His Word, I’ve found almost all of the answers I’m looking for in this life. Not all of the answers, but most of the answers. And now I know why I’m here on this earth.

What God teaches and requires a true follower of Christ isn’t easy. I can testify to this. The biggest challenge I have encountered in my walk with God has been the call to love others as I love myself. There is nothing harder. Loving my family, my friends, and people that are downright loveable, no problem. It comes as naturally as breathing. But loving the person who has offended me? Cursed me? Disparaged me, annoyed me, cheated me, lied to me, disrespected me, hurt me? Please.

But… enter Jesus. Enter God, who chose to love me when I was unworthy and celebrating my sin and my filth. Who suffered unspeakably for me, on my behalf. Taking the cross and torture that I deserved. In light of that, how hard can it really be to love my neighbour? Even THAT neighbour. It ain’t easy, but that’s why there’s grace. In light of the greatest scandal of grace and story of love that the world will ever know — that the hands that cradle the stars are the same hands that bled for me — in light of that, how can I deny or how DARE I deny others that same grace? Judgment on others was never ours to cast. It’s amidst this overwhelming and overflowing grace that suddenly we begin to see others the way that God has sees them.

Again, in Joel’s words, “Everybody is a celebrity. Everybody is an MVP.” Essentially, the value of a person is based on how much worth you attach to them. Every single person matters to God. The Bible tells us that God doesn’t play favourites. Every single person was made in God’s image and likeness and they are valuable and they have worth. Once I realised this, everything changed.

So yeah, God doesn’t make sense at all. And as Joel said, perhaps that’s precisely why he makes perfect sense. Because what kind of God would he be if we could understand him? This journey is not without challenge, but if it wasn’t worth it, I would have turned my back and dropped this whole thing years ago. I’ve just seen and experienced too much to turn away. I’ve failed so many times yet his mercy remains. Continually beckoning me and drowning me in love and forgiveness and acceptance. I want more, I’ll always want more. I am certain that this life has nothing better to offer me than what Christ does. Eternal life, healing, joy, provision, hope, purpose, strength, grace. Love. Above all, love.

Thank You, God, for loving me and for giving up everything for me. Show me how to love like you have loved me. And forgive me for when I don’t. Amen.

Naked

awkward

What is the most arresting question in the world?

To most people, uttering or even merely hearing the words “I love you” would likely stop them in their tracks. Not so with me. I beg to differ.

In my opinion, the most disarming words in the world are “How are you”.

First of all, how does one even begin to answer this question?

Do I tell you about what’s going on at home?

Fill you in on the latest drama at the office (which in my case as a freelancer is still technically my home)?

Or do we get to the heart of it and shall I go on to spill my deepest, most intimate feelings and sentiments at the moment?

Lay bare the things that I struggle with when I’m no longer surrounded by the noises, hustle and bustle of the daily grind and the voices of those that I love and I’m left on my own?

However, hearing these words is not nearly as difficult for me as it is to ask them.

I can probably count the number of times that I’ve said these words even to my closest friends.

It’s not that I don’t want to know — in fact there’s nothing more I’d love than to hear their stories about anything and everything; it makes me just feel like I’m putting them under pressure to strip naked before me. Or maybe because I’m all too familiar with the discomfort and awkwardness that comes with hearing those words and not being entirely sure how to go about responding to them.

I prefer that people tell me what they want to, when they want to, because when the layers finally come off, I have found that the wait is always worth it.

The stories are unique and special and worth being heard, and I feel so privileged that I get to listen to them. Even more importantly, the people behind them are beautiful in their own way.

I’m grateful for them.

Grateful for you.

Grateful for your story.

Grateful that you’re here. x