Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Happy Merdeka, Malaysia!

My country celebrates its 54th year of independence today. I'm happy (duh) because if independence wasn't attained fifty-four years ago, Malaysia will still very much be under some foreign rule. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing because I truly believe that when the British colony came decades ago, they did contribute a lot to the development of this land. But everyone needs independence eventually, especially when we have proven ourselves capable of taking care of our own country. And I do think the pioneers of a newly independent Malaysia have done well.

I'll be forever thankful to God for making me a citizen of this wonderful land. I confess, life has always been easier for me because I'm fortunate to be born in a post-war and post-independence Malaysia. The Malaysia I know has always been considerably peaceful, and it's easy to take that for granted. Malaysia is the place where you get the most awesome iced Milo (my personal guilty indulgence I took for granted until my family went to Australia for vacation) and have people who actually appreciate durians. Malaysia is where you can deliberately speak broken English and not be looked down upon, most of the time. Heck, to have a Malaysian who has the ability to speak four or five languages and dialects -- but to speak them all brokenly -- that's pretty usual.

This nation has come a long way since it first gained independence, and though it still has a long way more to go, I'm very proud of my homeland -- its beauty, warts and all. So here's to the future of the country that I am very proud of and love so much!
Me, Jess and my mum: The proud countrywomen.
P.S. This year's Merdeka Day coincides with Hari Raya Aidilfitri. So Selamat Hari Raya to all my Muslim friends!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Floating Ministry

Logos Hope is now on Penang shore! I'm so excited because it means the next shore the ship shall stop at is Port Klang, and I'm excited about that because it means I can finally visit the ship and the long-awaited book fair.

If you have no idea what is it about the ship that I look forward to so much, Logos Hope belongs to the Operation Mobilization (OM) Ships International ministry that goes all over the world to reach out to people of all culture and to supply literature resources through the book fair on board and the many activities organized by the Christian ministry.

The last time the OM's ship came to Malaysia years ago, it was still operating aboard Doulos, which has already been sold last year after 32 years of service with OM Ships. Logos Hope is the new ship, so of course it is larger, and I'm sure, better. I think I have been on board Doulos twice with my family when she came to Port Klang. I was very young (not that I'm very old now; just slightly less so-young) at that time, so I didn't buy many books from the floating book fair. But I do remember loving being on the ship, just taking in the oceanic atmosphere made more lovely by the presence of books. Somehow, of the many events that have become a part of my growing up, the experience on the ship clung on to me like a barnacle to a rock.

I do sometimes wonder why I'm so drawn to the OM Ships ministry. But mostly, I know why. I've had a love for ships and the oceans for as long as I can remember. I love the sound of ocean waves. I love the taste of saltiness in the air. I love waking up to the sound of seagulls making their calls. I love that when the ship is sailing in the middle of the sea away from all light pollution, I can have the most mesmerizing view of stars in the night sky. And visiting the book fair was what opened my eyes to the possibility of serving God while travelling across oceans to see the world. That only heightened my passion for ships and missions.

The thing that sealed the passion in me was a book my eldest sister bought from the fair itself. I'm not sure if she ever read the book, but like what I would always do when she bought books or borrowed them from her college library (yes, Che, that's how I started reading chick lits, or more specifically, the Shopaholic series) and left them around the house, I picked up the book belonging to her and read it. That book was True Grit by Deborah Meroff, an OM journalist (not sure if she still is). It is a collection of true stories of women of God who went to different parts of the world -- from Lebanon and Egypt to Tajikistan and more -- to serve as missionaries. Their stories are really gripping, and inserted in between the stories are scary facts and statistics of social issues that plague the world, such as female infanticides and honor killings. Reading the book was my first time being exposed to such horrors mankind was capable of. And that was enough to make me want to do something about them.

One of the stories that captured my attention the most was the one about a woman's journey with her young family serving in the OM Ships ministry. I could read the story so many times without every getting bored with it, and I have. It chronicles the woman's journey with God, joy in working with the other volunteers on board, struggles with persistent sea-sickness and loss when the very first ship, MV Logos, was destroyed when it ran aground on rocks in a harsh weather. I know life on board a ship as part of a mission crew is not all idyllic and romantic -- in fact, reading the story only convinced me that life on board will definitely not be breezy -- but I still feel a longing in me to be part of this ministry. Maybe it's the love of ships and anything nautical. Or it may be God's calling for me. That would be fantastic. But I don't know for now.

At the moment, I'll just keep my eyes and heart open to all the possibilities and opportunities that will come in my life. I do believe though that there's a reason for God to put this ministry so close to my heart. But for the immediate now, I can't wait to visit Logos Hope!

P.S. Logos Hope will be on Port Klang shore from 28th September to 24th October 2011. It will stop by Kuching, Kota Kinabalu and Singapore too. Do check out the OM Ships website for the schedule. So close now! =)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Loveliness

I'm done with my fourth set of finals in college. To celebrate the freedom felt in every new semester break, I of course have to go back to the thing I (arguably) love doing the most: getting lost in the world of a fictitious character.

Without much deliberation, the first book I have taken out of the shelves a couple days ago is The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, and reading it is like a great serendipitous start to my break. I know this story has been adapted into a movie, but I do not intend to watch the movie because movie adaptations have a way of stripping away the very accents of a novel that make it so memorable (bad experience with P.S. I Love You and Marley & Me -- not that the movies were bad; they just lack the emotional attachment I felt when reading the same titles). I don't know how the movie is, but the novel is great.

It is about a fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon who gets brutally killed by a man in her neighborhood in the winter of 1973. She goes to heaven, and from up there, she watches as her living family and friends cope with the grief of the loss and try to look for answers. They don't just look for answers about Susie's death, but answers to the questions they have to throw at life. And the living aren't the only ones looking for answers; Susie has questions too, and trapped in a perfect world -- heaven -- she tries to look for the answers on earth.

This story has its mysteries, and it does touch on the supernatural, but this story is really about the simplest things in life that in the end matter most. It's about the simple mind of a four-year-old brother who asks about his, unbeknownst to him, dead sister. A sister who has to endure the sympathetic glances of school staff and school kids' whispers behind her back. A young boy whose crush is Susie -- was Susie -- who has to experience losing his first love. A mother and a father, both devastated by the loss of their first child, and trying to cope with it in their own ways.

I like how in the beginning of the novel before the first chapter begins (prologue perhaps, but I'm not quite sure because 'prologue' isn't written at the top), the author gives us a glimpse of Susie's close relationship with her father as a young child. Father and daughter watch as he inverts a snow globe and snow fall gently over the penguin in it. She worries that the penguin is lonely in its little world, but he tells her not to worry because it has a nice life, trapped in a perfect world. To me, it's a foreshadow of how life can feel so trapped even when you are already in the 'perfect' place. And I think that's how Susie feels in her heaven after her death; trapped away from the people she loves the most whom she can now only watch from a distance.

It makes me wonder: is life in heaven really the perfect picture of an afterlife, when, you may have the people you love suffering on earth, or for eternity, in hell? Sure, when I'm in heaven, I'll will be forever dwelling in God's presence, and there will be joy, and no more pain. But I've never questioned this until now: on the day I go to heaven and find that someone I love is not up there with me, will heaven still be perfect? Absence will lead to longing, and when I start longing for someone who can no longer be with me, how can the perfect heaven still be perfect to me? To think that life will be joyful and perfect nevertheless, that must have taken at least a pinch of oblivion to make that happen.

That's the thoughts the character Susie has evoked in my mind. But surprisingly or not, I'm not too sure which, the characters I somehow feel I can relate to most are Susie's mother (Abigail) and Ruth, who's been in the same class with Susie since kindergarten but whom Susie has never been close to, or even really talked to until two weeks before her death. Susie's mother is a mysterious and independent woman, battling between having to play the role of a wife and a mother to perfection, and wanting to set herself free. To Susie, her mother has always been sort of distant -- a distance made more apparent by the loving closeness she shares with her father. Abigail is a free spirit trapped in a mother's body, lonely because no one has ever truly understood her.

Ruth is sort of a social outcast in the school, a very talented artist and also a poet. She's a loner, whose greatest friend is probably the journal she writes in. She intrigues me, because she's deemed weird by her peers, but I think she's cool because she does not fall into the pressure of conforming. Or maybe she has failed in her attempts to do so. Abigail and Ruth are two very different persons, similar only because they live a life of being alone, if not physically, then mentally and emotionally.


There's something just so deliciously appealing about loneliness, of not having to worry about others' emotions, of being able to dwell in my own world without being interrupted, of not sharing the same air with another person. It's easy to understand why Susie's mother finds a need to run away to a place surrounded by strangers. I guess one just gets tired of living behind a facade your friends recognize you for that feels so false after a while. It's easy too to see how Ruth can continue to live in the loneliness that defines her, because sometimes, that's easier than dealing with relationships. I feel a connection with them because there are many times when I wish I can just escape from people, because it gets tiring always trying to connect with them but never quite succeeding in sending across my message. If only I have Abigail's and Ruth's courage to stop trying.

I think The Lovely Bones is a beautifully narrated novel from the point of view of a dead girl just into her teens. She's torn; torn between wanting to let go and see her family move on with life without her, and not wanting to be forgotten. And this state of torn in emotions is something I'm sure many can relate to. This novel is going into my list of great reads.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Don't Bother

The amazing thing about knowing God's will for my life is, I do not have to be bothered with the trivial (temporary) things of the world anymore. Okay, things still bother me, but not as much.

I have finished two out of my four final papers so far. The translation paper was okay, I guess. But I don't think I did my best for my media ethics paper; I know there were some parts of the questions that I could have answered better if I had been more focused while studying or doing the exam. Somehow though, I find peace in me. I realize I'm no longer bothered by how well or badly I did for each paper like it used to bother me. In previous semesters, I would obsess and regret over the way I answered my papers even well into the semester breaks. But yesterday, walking out of the exam hall, my worries were absent because, somehow, I have surrendered it all to Him. And that's the most liberating thing I've done in a long time. I think it's the freedom of knowing I'm put here for a greater purpose than just to be the perfect student. Of course, it'll be nice if I can continue to maintain a perfect CGPA, but I have decided, that will not be the thing that defines my life here in college.

It's a revelation I got from Bong Yang, one of my hostel prayer leaders, during prayer meeting the night before my paper. He asked us to look at a few verses in the Bible that talked about the Great Commission. One of them, Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV) say that, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."


If the Great Commission in the Bible commands us to share the Gospel and bring people to Christ, then why should we be more bothered with exams than with seeing that our friends still do not know Christ? After all, we are put here on earth to do God's will. If we are not doing that in life, then why should we even be bothered about things that are outside our most primary purpose of being here, right? Souls are eternal; results won't even mean anything anymore two years out of college. So given a choice, every Christian should choose to dedicate more time and effort into God's Kingdom, not just merely putting all the time that one has into one's studies. I admit I'm guilty of that many times, of letting my worldly worries overtake my faith in Him and the time I spend with Him. But to hear the revelation on Thursday night was like a slap on my back to wake me up. So what if others expect me to do well in exam and I don't reach their expectations? I have greater things to achieve in life--and those greater things are the things of God--than to make sure I fit into my friends' perception of me.

And you know what's more amazing? Matthew 6:33 says, "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." So if we actually make God and doing His work our first priority in life, He will reward us in other areas of our life. I've heard of many testimonies of students who sacrificed the time they could have used to study in order to make time for God and to be with their friends who were in need, only to achieve the best results in class. They didn't credit their achievement to their own abilities, but to the fact that they honored God. If you honor God first, He'll honor you. And that's the same in every area of a person's life, whether you're a student, a busy corporate employee or a housewife with too much to handle at home. We are not supposed to worry that much or try that hard!

I know, it's really hard to keep this in perspective when the worries that seem so immediate and near are haunting us at the back of our heads. I still struggle with putting God first sometimes, because there are just so many distractions in life. But I think I'm making my first steps toward that by learning to be not bothered with life so much anymore. I believe that the more I bother about God's things and less about worldly things, the more I'll find reward in everything I do. Yes, I was a worrywart. But I'm happy to say that I'm finding more and more freedom each day from being able to surrender all things to God. If bad news happen, it happens to bring me closer to God's will.

All these do not mean I am no longer a perfectionist--I'm still very much one, but I no longer seek perfection in everything that I do. Because I'm not bothered.

Monday, August 15, 2011

if only they were real

A thousand stars to reach,
with only a ladder to the moon it barely touches;
       I try still to look at the glitters in the sky,
       but my night has turned dark again
              so dark,
              the star has been robbed of its distant limelight.

I light a candle,
but the wind blows so strong tonight.
      The little flicker of dancing light,
      robbed of its joy by the invisible force,
             force so strong,
             yet I see not with my desperate gaze.

Then drops of tears that trickle down my facade,
I feel the warmth so real at first.
       But the sky decides to cry tonight
       cry cold tears that envelop mine,
              telling me I'm a phony
              for trying to shed the warmth I thought I had.