Hello, 2016

“To think that this is my twentieth birthday and that I’ve left my teens behind me for ever […] Yes, I’m sorry, and a little dissatisfied as well. Miss Stacy told me long ago that by the time I was twenty my character would be formed, for good or evil. I don’t think that it’s what it should be. It’s full of flaws.” 
“So’s everybody’s. Mine’s cracked in a hundred places. Your Miss Stacy likely meant that when you were twenty your character would have got its permanent bent in one direction or t’other, and would go on developing in that line. Don’t worry over it, Anne. Do your duty by God and your neighbour and yourself, and have a good time.” – Anne of Avonlea
It’s often difficult for me to begin writing on any topic, let alone the rather intimidating one of a year-end wrap-up. Nevertheless, I have found the results of this annual masochism meaningful and, at times, enlightening; and thus I continue. This year, let me begin with some basic definitions:

Hope is the quiet confidence in God’s promise. Mercy is love to the undeserving.

Just a short while ago, as the world entered Advent, I was entering a time of great anxiety, fear, caffeine, and generally unpleasant things: law school examinations. When I wrote my year-end wrap-up this time last year, I mentioned hoping that I would survive my first-ever law school examinations, which took place around end April this year. Well, I did survive—but not exactly. I was hurled off my metaphorical horse and thrown across the figurative paddock and generally got quite bruised and battered by a mix of the bell curve, sheer laziness, and despicable complacency. But then I survived. As Robert Frost once said, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”

In law school (or any school), life goes on, only to bring you to the next round of examinations. This time I was full of fear. I didn’t know for sure if I’d done so badly the previous time round because of bad luck, insufficient preparation, or sheer stupidity. I began my preparations later than I probably should’ve, but worked harder than I ever had before, driven by the fear of failure, by the fear of being proven too stupid for law school, by the fear of comparisons, and by the fear of letting people down. It was all rather negative, and I started joking with my friends about also ‘preparing for a back-up career’ around this time.

Jump back to the timeline as the world sees it: the Church was entering Advent, a time of preparation for the arrival of our Lord Jesus at Christmas. After the dreadful dreaded law school examinations ended, I couldn’t help but compare the two periods of preparation which I had just simultaneously gone through. Why was one so different from the other? How I could reconcile the two, bring the peace and joy of one into the fear and self-loathing of the other?

I realized that when one is making ready the way of the Lord, one cannot prepare for a ‘back-up Saviour’ the way one thinks about perhaps trying out PR or journalism if law doesn’t work out. The path to God is a one-track road; our one God waits in His heavenly home to welcome us at the end. As for how we are to wait and prepare without fear of it not working out, without fear of failure, without fear of losing out, we return to the basics:

Hope is the quiet confidence in God’s promise. And mercy is love to the undeserving.

We have the audacity to hope in the light of forever, to set our sinner’s hearts on this path to God, because we have confidence in God’s promise. And we derive joy from this confidence. There is no “what if I don’t get what I want”, because what I want is God, and I know it to be truer than true that God’s promise will come true. When we cling to this certainty of hope and we know what it is we wait for, we shake off the shackles of anxiety that come from our lack of focus, and our lack of faith. And then, finally, we can wait and prepare with hope and, yes, joy!

Sometimes, we are asked to wait and prepare without knowing the ways in which God’s hand may show in our lives. I have written several times about the frustration of not understanding where God wants to lead me. For someone who is a frenetic planner by nature, I always want to know what’s happening now, and what’s happening next. I always want key performance indicators, to let me know my plan’s on track. I always want a back-up plan in the back of my mind, in case Plan A doesn’t work out. I guess it’s always been hard for me to accept that God’s plan is the only plan, and that if His plan isn’t showing itself in the ways I expected it to, or isn’t bearing the right fruit in time, I can’t say, “Hey, God, this doesn’t seem to be working so I’m going to plant a different type of fruit and maybe that will better succeed!”

Sometimes, I think God is trying to tell me, “Girl, you have all the right ideas and all the wrong ways of achieving them. Just have patience, keep your calm, and trust in ME.”

I think 2015 has, above all, been a humbling year. 2014 was good in that it showed me how to get myself together after Plan A falls apart and how to ‘kick the shit out of Option B’ (Sheryl Sandberg). 2015 has taught me that sometimes the only Option B available is to wait it out. Sometimes, the only thing you can do when you have been winded and hurt and positively ground to dirt is to breathe, and to remind yourself that if nothing else, you have God, and what does God do but love the undeserving? I have been proud and impetuous; I have been complacent; I have let other things dictate my happiness than the one thing which warrants it most: God’s unconditional love.

We don’t always understand what has been said or done, but what we can do is receive it in faith, and wait until it is made clear. Just like our Mother Mary when her son Jesus was lost at the temple, and she accepted how God’s marvelous plan was unfolding in the most bizarre way she had never expected, nor could she understand. “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

Sometimes, there is no human plan that could make sense of what you have been given. But we have to find joy in the blessings and the little (and big) good things that happen to and around us; and in the bad things, in the things we never wanted to happen, we have to find joy in the quiet confidence that God knows what He’s doing, and He doesn’t chance His arm.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil 4:4-7
In 2015, I was given terrible grades in my first-ever law school examinations. I was called up to my scholarship office, asked to explain myself to my scholarship officer, asked to make contingency plans in the face of many tears, disappointed hopes, and confusion. I was given heartbreak. I was called upon to question what I wanted in life, to question who was there when all seemed lost, to question who I was when no one else was around.

In 2015, I met new people. I made friends with those I never thought I would be friends with. I stayed in hostel one last semester, and made little shy inroads where I didn’t dare to before. I tried to be brave, I plodded on, putting one foot in front of the other when I couldn’t see the whole road ahead; I did it with friends and family holding one hand, and God holding the other. I could not have done it without Him. And I realized—how strangely—it all links in the end.

Every moment you have experienced since you were born, every memory you have stored, every decision you have made, has come together to bring you to where you are at this present moment. I am an amalgamation of every heartbreak, every disappointment, every forced reconfiguration, every reconciliation, every epiphany, every teardrop, and every song I have ever sung. I am a mix of those late nights staring at the lights of hostel opposite, unable to sleep; of those days when I stumbled to my bed unable to see through the tears; also of the days I could not stop smiling for little to no reason whatsoever; of the days when I laughed until I cried; of the days when I sat quietly with a good book or a good thought and smiled to myself and prayed, ‘God, it’s a wonderful world You have made for me.’

This is the gift He gave us at Christmas, and this is the gift that allows us to move on, year after year, making ready the way of the Lord. For it is when we know who loves us, who waits for us at the end of the road, that we are able to face all the pit stops and car wrecks we may face along the way.
“A thrill of hope 
The weary world rejoices 
For yonder breaks 
A new and glorious morn!” – O Holy Night
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honourable and worthy of respect, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually of these things – centre your mind on them, and implant them in your heart.” Phil 4:8

For 2016, I pray that I will not lose faith in the One who matters most. I pray to continue believing with all my heart that it is truer than true that God made a most beautiful and wonderful world. I pray to take pride in this and this only, that I am loved by God, and not to let any other trophy this world may hand me make me proud; and conversely, not to let any hurt this world may throw me bring me down for long, for He is my God and my Saviour, and He loves me, the undeserving, and what more could I ask for?

Have a blessed Christmas and a wonderful year of hope and joy ahead. 

5 Things Hand-Lettering Taught Me!

This December marks about a year since I started learning hand-lettering (or calligraphy, to use the term loosely). I can't remember exactly when I started, but I do remember my mum getting me a set of nibs just before Christmas 2014, and me experimenting with them on our Christmas cards. I wouldn't say the year since then has brought leaps and bounds in progress, but I've learnt a lot-- both in technique, and in life.

#1 Practice

Ironically, this was number one on the last Lessons post I did too. Either I haven't internalised the lesson or this is just so applicable across the board! Flipping through the various notepads and scrap paper I used to scribble on, it is so visible at a glance how my penmanship has improved. Sometimes the learning curve is jagged. Using a new brush can take me back to step zero before I learn how to use it well. Hand-lettering when I am tired has been proven to be a bad idea- I cannot hold the pen steady, I get lazy with strokes, et cetera. But on the whole, it is very fulfilling to look through these roses of yesterday and feel so very consciously how far time can take you- especially since I tend to doodle whatever is on my mind, so my state of mind and worries are very visible from the practice pages!

#2 Adventure

This is about not being afraid to try new things. I still get too crazy when I see new brushes in the stores. (This is probably bad for my wallet.) But, even with the brushes I have, I like to scroll through Pinterest and Instagram to get inspiration of new hand-lettering styles to try. Hand-lettering for a year has taught me that I do have a style I fall back on when casually doodling, but it has also taught me that my hand can learn new styles as long as my brain is up to it! Sometimes this involves practising writing a single letter differently; sometimes this involves going crazy on flourishes (which I haven't mastered yet, sadly and frustratingly); and sometimes this involves totally changing the picture and writing in completely different handwriting. Some of these adventures have incorporated themselves into my fallback style, which is fun to watch.

#3 Mistakes

I've learnt to go with the flow a lot more with hand-lettering. Sometimes, a little quiver can really make a piece! This was especially so every time I tried a new brush and wasn't used to controlling it. I'd shake a little, or apply a little less or more weight than I ought to, and the words would come out differently. But sometimes these mistakes really make the words turn out more beautifully than even I intended- and ironically, I'd try to make the mistake intentionally the next time round!

#4 Patience

Closely linked to practice, but not quite: this is more about learning to go really slow when writing. I used to rush. Sometimes I still do, when I'm frustrated, or when I've an idea in my head which I cannot wait to execute. But I have learnt (and I thank Instagram videos a lot for this) that sometimes, the best-paced pieces- those where the words fall together nicely, where there are flourishes which just flow perfectly- take time to do. Sometimes you have to lift your pen off the page and pause and reassess. Sometimes you take really long just to write one short word! And that's okay. In fact, that's great.

#5 Share

The final lesson I learnt is super important. I don't hesitate to credit a lot of my learning to Instagram users who, apart from posting really inspirational masterpieces, also were very forthcoming in answering questions and imparting advice to amateurs like myself. These ranged from the very Beginner-type questions ("what kind of brush pens would you recommend for someone just starting out?") to the community kind ("where did you find this in Singapore?"). A lot of times, it's just, "What pen are you using?" And watching others use the same instruments you have, but in wholly different and amazing ways, is crazily inspirational as well.

5 Amazing Instagrammers to Follow

  1. @artsynibs
  2. @sowinlove
  3. @theletterbelle
  4. @amandaarneill
  5. @jennyhighsmith

Another side to sharing- sharing your journey with those who are on the same page, or just starting out, too. I'm learning a lot from chatting with friends who are similarly trying out hand-lettering. And now, I'm hoping to learn more by setting down these lessons on a page. 

nothing before taught me for you; but maybe something after did

Everything happens for a reason. The heart breaks a little differently every time. And, perhaps more importantly, it heals a little differently every time. Each time it heals it forms a new mosaic, a new stained-glass panel in the cathedral of your dreams. Your inner sanctum. Each time something grows, you look at it from behind the previous panel. Your instincts for what to look out for are coloured and structured from the previous panel. You cannot help it. This is how you grow (up). But sometimes, a rare shaft of light shines through from a place you didn't expect. The new panel. The one that foreshadows all the new ways your heart will break and heal; the way your little cathedral will never be the same again. Perhaps this shaft of light comes from God. Everything happens for a reason, even loss; and sometimes, loss itself is but a foreshadowing of joy to come.

On Coming to God

“Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.”

So closes the Divine Mercy chaplet, which is a form of recited prayer my mother taught me. The last line struck me in particular—“Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.” Anyone who prays the Our Father –or, indeed, pays attention in church—is rather well-versed in the idea of God’s will and letting it reign in our lives, but for me, this doctrine sometimes lapses into trope, easy to espouse but frustratingly difficult to implement.

What does God’s will mean? And what does it mean to come to him in our difficult moments?

I firmly believe it does not mean God will “solve our problems” in the way we want Him to. In fact, sometimes He rather obligingly makes them worse. But I have come to realize that a relationship with God means not changing the circumstances around you, but changing you. With God, the dust clouding my vision is cleared; with God, the rust and jadedness crusted on my heart falls away.

Coming to God is something my parish priest has often talked to me about, both in homilies and in our choir recollection. The idea of God as a lover seems rather uncomfortable, perhaps even heretic, but isn’t it God who first and foremost showed us the way of love? Isn’t it God to whom we must aspire in our human relationships of love? And when we bring our human ideas of love to God rather than the other way round, things get a little revelatory. “If your boyfriend didn’t like you saying the word ‘cucumber’, wouldn’t you think of him every time you said it? Wouldn’t you eventually stop saying it, because you don’t want to hurt his feelings?” my priest asked. In the same way, if God is the way, the truth, and the life, if God is our first starting point in love, shouldn’t we think of Him every time we sin? Every time we get tempted?

We don’t think twice about rushing to be with the person we love. We shouldn’t think twice about rushing to be with God, to spend time with Him.

But spending time with Him doesn’t have to mean spending the whole day closeted in fervent prayer. I have come to realize that you can live your life as a prayer, too. You can glorify the Lord with your life, and you can do this by clearing your heart, so that through you, others see Him (thank you, C. S. Lewis, for your words which I have appropriated and paraphrased).

I once read an enlightening article about what God gives when He takes away. It cohered in the most magical way with our topic of discussion during choir recollection: amongst which, the idea that loss reveals what we rely on, and prayer reveals that we should rely on God. It is a lesson I am still learning every single day, how to bring my daily gifts to God, and so lose nothing when He takes some away.

“Let us be confident in approaching the throne of grace,” writes St. Paul (or Barnabas; the author is disputed) in his letter to the Hebrews (at 4:16). (Please try to believe me when I say I’m not being self-indulgent in including that quotation.) Love is about being unafraid to come to each other with your sins, forgiving, working through them, and working them away. So should our love with God. After all, it was He –through Jesus—who came as a man to experience the temptation of men, who could have said no to God’s will but did it anyway—who demonstrated most strongly the power of yes. So did His human mother—Mother Mary, who at many points in her life (not just at the conception of Jesus—take, for example, when Jesus got lost at the temple; or more obviously, when Jesus died on the cross) was asked to accept God’s hand in her life, and acceded with sheer faith.

It is normal to feel unsure about doing God’s will. Is my human choice dictated by God? Is this the hand of God in my life?

Sometimes, we are called to say yes without asking; more often, when we come to God as His children with our many questions about how and what and why, we are asked to spend time with Him in order to understand. As we spend more time with Him, His peace fills our heart. Everything in His time; everything, in His way.

God is Love; God is Mercy. Let us be unafraid, then, to come to the one who was there first, who went before us and who understands our human hearts wholly and lovingly. Let us be unafraid to love God, to love others, and to love ourselves. 

Letting Go, and Letting Him In

If there’s something that strikes me about us Catholics, it’s how much we don’t know. I’m not talking about the stereotype that we don’t know our Bible (although, I must confess, I probably know less than I ought to), but rather, that our entire faith is a celebration of the incredible minuteness of our human capacity in the face of the vast ocean of God’s grace. As St. Augustine concisely put it, around 1700 years ago, “If you think you understand, it isn’t God.”
So I’m going to do a little something different with this post today. I’ve interspersed it with stanzas from one of my favourite hymns, “These Alone” by Dan Schutte (video at the end of this post), based on a prayer by St. Ignatius of Loyola. And although my blog has been a good way thus far to mark the new things I’m learning and internalizing every day, this post shall be a reiteration of all the things I don’t know—and thank God for that.
Take my heart, O Lord, take my hopes and dreams
Take my mind, with all its plans and schemes
Give me nothing more than Your love and grace
These alone, O Lord, are enough for me
I actually meant to begin (and post) this two weeks ago, when I was thinking a lot about what it meant to surrender to God’s will. I’m a frenetic planner by nature. Close friends can attest to how I often cannot put my mind at rest until I have a problem set out in a mind map, schedule, or battle plan. This constant need to have my problems delineated and put on the conveyor belt on their way to being solved, to know what’s happening next, even permeates my time off-duty: I, sadly, flip to the ends of books more often than I’d care to admit. (Don’t you? No? Okay.)
Those two weeks came and went without me ever feeling in the right mood to sit down and type a big chunk about what I don’t know, until problems piled up at my door that I had to let in and sort out. And these nights, before I lay me down to sleep, instead of going through battle plans in my head, I’ve been trying to let them go instead: to ask God to “take my mind, with all its plans and schemes”. It seems counter-intuitive that you can be much better off with a tenuous faith in He Who Cannot Be Seen rather than plans which give you a semblance of comfort, but to quote St. Augustine again (very eloquent, this man), “Our hearts are restless, until they find rest in You.”
So take everything I think I know, Lord- take my tangled strings and hanging knots and weave them into the tapestry which I know You have in mind for me. Take my yearnings and longings and uncurl them in the palm of Your hand, place me against Your heart, and keep me there. You know better. Let that be enough for me.
Take my thoughts, O Lord, and my memory
Take my tears, my joys, my liberty
Give me nothing more than Your love and grace
These alone, O Lord, are enough for me
“Strangely enough, if God’s will is to be done, there is only one way things can end. And that’s crazily comforting. There’s no need to make plans or worry about how to get there. God can handle that,” said my friend Anne over skinny pizzas one day (I paraphrase your words, dear, but I hope I got the gist right).
It seems that growing up, our problems are more open-ended than multiple choice, and sometimes the distance between where I am and where I want to be terrify me so much (to paraphrase Tracee Ellis Ross) (too many quotes?) (never too many quotes). But it is in these chasms that I hear, most clearly, the voice of God calling me to Him, to trust him. As Father Clifford said in his Homily two weeks ago (on the Sunday when I ought to have written this post), “God speaks to us most powerfully through interruptions.” What we see as a long-fought-for, long-trudged road coming to a dead end may well just be a curve in the road He has in mind.
And the strangest thing is, once we start to let go of the human conception that we know what is best for us, and start to glimpse the enormity of His excellent plan, there is so much joy. There is a fullness of joy which I cannot hope to entirely comprehend and terrifies me in the same way vast oceans and great mountains and beautiful flowers terrify me: when I realize that I am a small part in a huge and wonderful world, and I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
I surrender, Lord, all I have and hold
I return to You Your gifts untold
Give me nothing more than Your love and grace
These alone, O Lord, are enough for me
The second reading on that Mass two weeks ago was from St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, 12:8-10: “Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
Three times St. Paul asked the Lord to rid him of his afflictions. (I must have badgered God at His door far more often than that.) (Sorry.) But like St. Paul, I only found peace once I stopped asking for more, and started asking for less. I need to learn to stop asking for God to fill my half-empty pot with more of what I think I want/ need, and to start asking him to empty me so He may fill me with Himself. As Sir Thomas Browne wrote, at least three centuries ago,
“If thou could’st empty all thyself of self,
like to a shelf dishabited,
Then might He find thee on the ocean shelf,
And say, ‘This is not dead,’
And fill thee with Himself instead.
But thou art all replete with very thou,
And hast such shrewd activity,
That when He comes He says, ‘This is enow
Unto itself—‘twere better let it be,
It is so small and full, there is no room for Me.’”
I like to think that at the end of the day when we reach Heaven’s doors, I will lift up my empty hands and tell Him, “Here are the gifts You gave me, Lord. I have used them all, and now I return to You.” As another friend wrote to me a few weeks ago, “God loves you so much, and He loves you enough to give you this life. That alone should bring you so much joy.”
Let me be filled with Your love and grace, God. Nothing more, nothing less.
When the darkness falls on my final days,
Take the very breath that sang Your praise
Give me nothing more than Your love and grace
These alone, O Lord, are enough for me
Admitting you don’t know anything, when you’ve made an entire life on being the one who knows what’s going on, is terrifying. But it’s also really liberating.
One of my favourite books of all time, Anne of the Island, has this to say about death: “I think, perhaps, we have very mistaken ideas about heaven- what it is and what it holds for us. I don’t think it can be so very different from life here as most people seem to think. I believe we’ll just go on living, a good deal as we live here- and be ourselves just the same- only it will be easier to be good and to- follow the highest. All the hindrances and perplexities will be taken away, and we shall see clearly. Don’t be afraid, Ruby.”
I think it’s also super applicable to letting God’s will reign in our lives- we will be ourselves just the same, only it will be easier to follow His word.
Lord, help me to let go of the bitterness and anger I feel when my plans don’t come to fruition. Help me to walk by faith and not by sight. Help me to keep my head lifted to the sight of Your eternal glory and fullness of grace, and help me to walk by this light, forever and always.
I don't know so muchbut You always know better.
For those who are curious as to what “These Alone” sounds like, here is a video (filmed at my church!):
For a truly inspiring article on opening your heart to God’s joy and love in the midst of human grief, read this!

Getting Over Nasty Funks!

I’ve been wanting to do a post like this for some time. This summer dealt me some nasty funk, but the nasty funk also helped me to clean up my standard operating procedures for getting over bad times. This is not to say that the bad times are over; I think there are still going to be some days in the months to come when I feel particularly vulnerable. But happiness is, sometimes, a choice.

I don’t mean to say that in the way The Worst Advice in the World is, “Snap out of it!” Because there are going to be times when no matter how much you want to be happy, you get confused about what would get you there, and this makes the choice all the harder. I mean that in the sense that sometimes you have to be your own sunshine and make your own battle plan to achieve your own happiness.
Photo credit: Pinterest
There are good days, when I find myself smiling and laughing and loving my life. This Monday evening was one of them. I miraculously won a pass to a Meet & Greet session with the lovely dancer, Miko Fogarty. I didn’t know what to expect to come away with when I arrived: while I love ballet, I harbour no aspirations (delusions) of becoming a professional ballet dancer, and talk of performances and competitions seemed quite exclusive to me.

Miko at Prix de Lausanne. Original photo credit: Gregory Batardon
I didn’t expect to hear this: that Miko, an amazingly dedicated and disciplined dancer, has bad days too. She went through a bad funk of her own when she was thirteen or fourteen, when she felt burnt out with the pressure of school and dance. Hearing her talk about her experience and how she dealt with it really resonated with me.

I’ve compiled a few tips I remember from the session below, as well as a list of my own from what I’ve learnt the past few months:

Miko’s tips

1.   “Allow yourself to have bad days, but always remember to reset the next morning.”
I think it’s important to recognize that everyone has moments of weaknesses, and it’s not always your fault. You have to extend to yourself the same kindness and compassion you would extend to others, and that includes allowing yourself to have the bad day, and acknowledging all the nasty emotions you are feeling. The important thing, however, is to reset. Every brand new morning is a gift, unencumbered by yesterday’s sorrows. 

Photo credit: Pinterest
2.   Get inspired.
Even amazing ballerinas have days when they run out of inspiration. I remember a piece of advice I once received on law school, which is that you shouldn’t be worried if you’re doing badly; you should only be worried if you stop loving what you’re doing. There are some days in ballet when I really want to quit. I think of all the odds which are stacked against my favour (I’m too old/ I’m too fat/ there are so many people better than me) and think that there is no point going on. But then I go home and watch a few videos of my favourite ballerinas on YouTube and think, “Ahhh. This is why I’m staying.” If you can, and as Miko suggests: watch a live show. (Or create a new Pinterest board. This totally counts.)

3.   Meditate.
Sometimes you can literally feel a knot of tension in you. But it’s important to find some quiet time with only yourself to sort out that knot; to lay it flat, and lay it to rest. I find myself doing this on long bus rides, in pockets of time in the afternoon, or even just before I go to sleep. 

Amy Poehler always knows what to say. Photo credit: Pinterest
4.   Sleep!
Miko identified one of the root problems of her stress as a lack of sleep over time. It’s important to know the controllable factors which may be causing you to react in a certain way. Sleep is always good. I always find that problems are easier to deal with after a good night’s rest.

My own tips

1.   Create your own playlist.
I think over time you get a sense of which songs make you feel which way, and which songs you reach out to when you want comfort or an extra burst of sunshine. Please file all these songs away into a playlist, either on YouTube or Spotify or whatever you fancy, and pull them out whenever necessary. Music really does wonders to lift (or worsen) your mood; pick judiciously!

For a soothing song which sometimes makes me cry but also feels like a mother’s hug when I’m alone at hostel, “Someone’s Waiting For You” (Shelby Flint) is wonderful.

For somewhat aggressive, power-tripping songs, I like “Run the World (Girls)” (BeyoncĂ©); “I Love It” (Icona Pop ft. Charlie XCX); and “Really Don’t Care” (Demi Lovato).

For healing, happy songs, “Gonna Get Over You” (Sara Bareilles) is absolutely great (she did a mash-up of that song with "Forget You", it’s fabulous!). Also try “Now is the Start” by A Fine Frenzy.

Edit: how could I forget?! Tori Kelly's "Unbreakable Smile" helped me through a lot. It's hard to resist smiling through this one.

You can find the playlist I made here.

2.   Reach out.
I think it’s very easy, when you’re down, to shut yourself up against the world and not let anyone in. It can be very hard to talk about the problem (or problems). But at the same time it is truly amazing what nasty funks can reveal about the people around you. For me, it revealed that I have the best friends ever. One of my best friends arranged a surprise get together with all my closest friends in law school, just for me. The same best friend and a couple others would allow me to call them randomly in the middle of nowhere, just to hear me whine (and sometimes cry) on the other side.

Don’t shy away from making social plans, either. I had great times meeting up with friends whom I wasn’t close enough to to share my problems with, but who nonetheless cheered me up wonderfully the way friends do: with plenty of shared memories and laughter.

3.   Try new things.
One of my best friends told me this, and I didn’t know how I was going to manage it, but when I look back I realize I’m now reading my first non-fiction book in ages (“Yes Please” by Amy Poehler, which so far, is laugh-out-loud funny and epiphany-causing at the same time), trying to improve my hand lettering with new pens and/or new methods, and sometimes dressing differently just for the heck of it (yes, this counts).

4.   When you’re ready- have a schedule.
Keep busy, and keep recognizing your accomplishments, even those which may seem very small or insignificant. The first day you wake up feeling amazing? That counts. Having tasks to tackle, and finishing them, can be a fabulous adrenaline kick all on its own. You are amazing, and you are going to feel amazing someday soon.

Photo credit: Pinterest
5.   Be your own sunshine.
I once read that smiling at yourself in the mirror, however forced, can really lift your mood. It sounds ridiculous, but on one of my worst days I woke up and told myself, “TODAY IS A BRAND NEW DAY AND YOU ARE AWESOME.” And it kinda worked. You have to be firm about loving yourself. 

Photo credit: Pinterest
On a related note, another avenue (haha) that really helped me through another nasty funk last year was this blog post by Avenue Maria. Maria is a lovely blogger from Australia who never fails to cheer me up.

This has turned into a super long post with probably more semi-colons and “wonderful”s than it ought to have, but I do hope it helped. If it has helped you, and you feel okay with it, let me know! I’d love to hear from you.


147. Finding Joy

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a college student in the face of looming deadlines must be in possession of an existential crisis. (Or at least, I hope it isn’t just me.) It occurred to me the other day how my panic attacks and general existential crises had been accumulating in frequency more and more since I returned to Law school for the second semester of my first year- that “life had not mirrored her spirit back to her with its old, perfect, sparkling clearness” (Anne of the Island). And there is no set way to get this clarity of mind back. I guess the image I had in my head was that of a rubber ball, and wondering why I wasn’t bouncing back as quickly as I used to be able to, until I realized that a more appropriate image would be a bunch of rubber bands that had gotten so tied up together that they couldn’t bounce back unless they were untangled. I needed to untangle the many worries I had in my mind, before I could set my mind at rest and move on.

It usually helps to look at the bigger picture, and that’s when I got my first epiphany. Being someone who very much looks to books and movies for life advice and kind of charting the way my life is going, it took me a while to realize this, but somewhere along the way it stopped being me looking ahead to fiction to see how things were supposed to pan out, but rather me looking sideways to fiction. Fiction began to run parallel to my life, instead of the runner in front of you whose number tag you focus on to keep your feet steady. I was so used to the groove of holding fiction as an ideal for my own life; I held its characters on pedestals, and felt like adulthood could only be achieved through stepping over a magical, indeterminable, inextricable threshold of age. I couldn’t see it coming, but I would definitely know when I had crossed it, and I definitely hadn’t.

But I suddenly realized that when my life started to echo the questions I saw in books and movies, when fiction wasn’t so fictitious anymore, when I started having my own questions that didn’t have so direct an answer –or any at all- I realized that all these struggles- all this thinking- is a sign that we are at that magical age betwixt youth and old age. Taylor Swift got it right when she said “we’re happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time/ it’s miserable and magical”. This is what songs are written about. This is what books are written about. This is what films are made about. We’ve reached. We’re here.

And what do we do now?

It takes a lot to find liberation in this confusion. A couple of days ago, I was telling my mum quite frankly that I didn’t like who I was becoming in Law school. I felt like I was losing the discipline, and the generosity, to love. I felt like, when given “the choice between what is right, and what is easy” (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), I had, too many times, chosen what was easy. And that was to give in to a life that was mediocre and ordinary, which was only scratching the surface in terms of the depth and wealth of significance that life has to offer. I felt like I had failed the little girl in me, who at 7 thought that 20 was just such a magical grown-up number at which I would of course have my life figured out. At 7, I probably did not imagine that it was possible 20-year-old me would be stumbling.

To this colossal sense of failure, my mum smiled (and possibly laughed internally, though more out of commiseration than scorn). “That’s growing up,” she said.

But what does growing up mean? I always thought there was just one step between being a kid and being an adult, but now it seems it’s more of an ocean. More importantly, what does growing up in God mean?

I think our sense of failure is based on that mind-set of viewing life on rigid scales instead of as a very indeterminate ocean, but once we let go of that mind-set, it becomes a lot easier to live in Christ. During one of his Lenten addresses, Pope Francis said something that really stuck with me: “The Lord never tires of forgiving. We are the ones who tire of asking forgiveness.” Past redefining the word ‘failure’, it’s time to chuck it out of our vocabulary. I think it’s very dangerous when we scale life down to a kind of list where we just check in the boxes. God’s view of our life is so much more than that. “Perhaps this is the moment for which you have been created” (Esther 4:14), and God is not waiting for you to reach a certain checkbox on the list. He is with you every uncertain step of the way.

Therefore, I think it’s time to think of life more as a long journey in which we constantly strive for God’s image. Failure implies that one day, we are going to succeed. But it’s just like that earlier image of growing up, that one day we’re not and one day we just magically are. There is never going to be a day in which we wake up magically perfect in God’s image. The whole point of Lent, as this rather illuminating article suggests, is that we are never enough. The point of making sacrifices in our lives is not so much that after we are done, we’re on the next level (and therefore, if we somehow tripped up in our Lenten sacrifices, it’s not so much a fatal step backwards to Hell and doom). The whole point of Lent is that we will only be enough with God, when we recognize that we are smaller than Him, and can only be made whole with His hand. Our only greatness is in His greatness. As Mother Teresa said, “He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in His love than in your own weakness.”

It is quite easy to acknowledge that it’s “the end of the day” that matters. When we are caught up in results and deadlines, it is easy to escape stress by consoling yourself that it’s God who matters. But that can sometimes fall into the trap of creating a dichotomy, between following the rat race and following God. It’s a bit like that “Sunday Catholic” phenomenon- you’re only a Catholic when you go to Mass on Sundays. But once you leave the Church physically, you snap back into your “other” identity. Grace, Law student; or Grace, ballet dancer. We need to translate this acknowledgment into our daily lives. Our identity as a child of God can and should be assimilated wholly into our “other”, secular identities as students, workers, siblings, daughters, and friends. After all, it is for this that you were created.

“How on earth do those people make the time to love?” one of my friends said today. ‘Those people’ refer to the same people this article referenced: those incandescently good people who seem to have life figured out, and life, for them, is radiating that joy and that goodness. Again, there’s that sense of the step dichotomy: that one day you’re just ordinary, and the next day you climb a step and you’re there. But I think the answer is that love is not something you make time for. Love –and the generosity of love- is a habit.

Part of my moral crisis was the sense that as I grow up, love becomes more of a choice than an instinct. It pains me to have to make the choice. There are people who are going to frustrate you, hurt you, but as the Lord’s Prayer goes, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” While it is true that the childlike mind chooses love so easily it’s not even like a choice, it is not necessarily fatal to our identity as a child of God if we recognize how difficult this choice really is. Rather, it reinforces the strength of our eventual decision to love as He loved us. Someone wise (I forget who) said that we don’t have to like people, we just have to love them.

Shailene Woodley in her acceptance speech for Best Female Performance at the recently concluded 2015 MTV Movie Awards thanked the author John Green for “wearing integrity and compassion on your sleeve”. And while this shouldn’t be such a novel thing (pardon the pun) as to warrant mention in an awards acceptance speech, it is. Being kind and loving does take courage, because it’s not what everyone does. It’s not what is commonly prioritized today. It’s not easy.

Going back to how to concretely translate the concept of “glorifying the Lord by your life” into your daily life, I think the answer is in how you measure the success of a day. Again, the idea of success (and, therefore, failure)! But again, this is not a yes-no dichotomy. The ocean of love is an infinite scale. And I think the best measure of how a day has gone is in how you have reflected God in your dealings with others, and in your life. How happy have you made others? How much love have you given- and given freely? One of my favourite hymns (and I have many) goes, “Freely, freely you have received- freely, freely give/ Go in my name, and because you believe, others will know that I live.”

God lives. God has arisen. And it is up to us to reflect that joy in our everyday choices. “Rejoice always. Pray constantly. Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess 5: 16-18) There is so much we don’t know. There is a plethora of uncertainty. But the liberation in our confusion is the knowledge that God has planned for it all. You are so small in His sure and wondrous hand- rejoice, and trust!

146. 2015

Photo taken by me- 30 December, 2014
Looking back at “a year of blog posts”, I realized I haven’t really been writing much this year. (My 2013 wrap-up post was just six posts ago!) But I have posted some pretty monumental posts in 2014- monumental, for the depth of personal connection which I finally dared to post on a public domain; monumental, for the way I am learning to grapple with religion in my writing; and monumental, for the surprising number of people whom my writing has managed to touch.

Odd, that as I grow older I grow more introspective, but at the same time more willing to open up and reach out to other people. This year, I’ve learnt how everyone is fighting a battle you may not always know about, and yet, everyone has similar battles. So when you unsheathe your battle scars, and be open and honest about what it’s done to you and how you are trying to grow stronger, you help others as well as yourself.

My annual wrap-up posts (for lack of a better word) are usually in point form, I suppose to encourage brevity and aid my future selves in scanning through past posts. But this year I feel a little more like ruminating- perhaps because, like my roll of blog posts, 2014 has been quick but monumental.

Where to begin?

On a purely factual list, I began this year with the stuff of all students’ dreams: a half-year break between JC and university (sorry, boys). I chose to spend (most of) it doing a five-month internship at an e-commerce firm. I had long harboured wispy notions of entrepreneurship, particularly in the fashion line- in primary school, I had no idea what a lawyer was, but would tell literally anyone that I planned to be a fashion designer. In secondary school, this gave way to slightly more practical (if humdrum) ambitions, although I began to nurse an interest in graphic design, which continued into publicity work for my JC CCAs. My internship, therefore, was a culmination of sorts of buried ambitions and secret hopes which I planned to shelve once I entered university. 

There was once when I really couldn’t imagine a future outside fashion. My mother once told me that I could always “settle” for being the best-dressed employee wherever I went, but I couldn’t imagine settling for such; I had heady dreams of magazines, runways, and big cities. Growing older has changed me in a myriad of little ways, but my internship, if anything, settled the fact for me that fashion could only be on the back burner throughout a career pursuing other burgeoning interests that seemed more tailored to my personality and skills (or lack thereof). That said, I am thankful for the five months I spent doing everything from manning the counter, to styling photoshoots, to managing social media. It was a crash-course to everything I’d dreamed of (and more), that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else.

That cramped little office an hour away from my home became the setting where I dealt with much bigger changes that dwelt on my horizon. I filled out university applications in a side room, using my friend’s hot spot when the office’s Wifi was down. I took leave to attend university and scholarship interviews, and told my boss about them when I returned. It was at my office when a very kindly NUS staff member told me over the phone that it was “highly likely” I hadn’t gotten into NUS; and at my office, in that same side room, a few minutes to closing time, when a scholarship officer told me the same, and suggested (kindly, but painfully) to think of other options.

But God has dealt his cards kindly this year.

Even as He gave me things which I hadn’t wished for, He knew –so much more than I did- what I needed. 2014 was the year of God proving me wrong, and 2014 was the year in which I am so glad my life is in His hands. I didn’t get the internship I wanted initially- but I got something totally different, and one I really enjoyed. I didn’t get the A level results I wanted- I got a bit less, but less enough that it made my scholarship and university applications difficult, particularly when I aspired to such competitive fields. I didn’t get the scholarship I wanted- but the one I got (thanks be to God), sent me to a place where I find things to thank Him about every single day. And in those nights alone in hostel, when the single light over my bed made my eyes strain to read my notes, and no amount of music could make me feel any less alone, He taught me to pray.

Where I am today is nowhere I could have envisaged myself being a year ago, let alone twelve. And this is what I remind myself, when sometimes (all the time) I get impatient and demand God to show His hand. “Show me what’s next. Show me where I’m going.” But if He did, would I believe Him? And if He did, would I let Him? The path 2014 took was so unexpected, so difficult, so painful, and yet, I am so thankful for 2014. You taught me a lot.

In 2014, I got my first job, in the field I’d always dreamed of, and learnt why perhaps it wasn't the right field for me.

In 2014, I realized that my personality meant I needed a career giving back to something, a career which meant something to me, a career worth fighting for. I realized that some things are worth fighting for.

In 2014, I realized that comparisons are odious when the path God has planned for you is unique, and tailored to your interests, your inclinations, your passions. I realized that better than wailing and comparing, is sitting up and making a battle plan- and making it through.

In 2014, I realized that friends come from unlikely places. And if you find them, fight to keep them.

Best of all, in 2014, I realized (in the words of a prayer I wrote just before starting university), “…how small I am, not in the face of difficulties or the ‘real world’, but in the palm of God's hand”. He is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

Making yearly resolutions doesn’t seem to make much sense- particularly when, as I read in an article a few days ago, every new beginning inspires a re-evaluation of where we’re going next. 2014 was chock-full of new beginnings (perhaps enough for a lifetime), and therefore, necessarily, chock-full of introspective re-evaluations. Looking back on 2014’s wrap-up post, I planned to “not compare myself to the 2%” (struggled, but more or less succeeded); “stop being so harsh on myself” (struggled, still struggling); “stop being so harsh on others” (struggled- urhgihwh); and “to sleep earlier” (hello, law school). I also continued a one- or two-year long tradition of paying tribute to this wine-red asymmetrical skirt which I bought around this time years ago, and promised to wear forever (which I didn’t, but hey, marsala is the colour of 2015! Close enough).

If anything, for 2015, I want to stop making conscious plans insofar as I want to start leaving my plans in God’s hands. “Those who leave everything in God’s hands will eventually see God’s hand in everything”, right? Then again, it would be good if I survived my first law exams (upcoming next semester). Also, if I learnt to procrastinate less, and take better care of my health, and be kinder in my thoughts and in my words. I would like to leave 2015 a better person, having touched people around me for the better, than I was in 2014. 

Now, dare I say- God, go ahead and prove me wrong in all my expectations. You always know better.