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Schadenfreude…?

I was in Austria for a few days this past week, getting my Vans shin-deep in snow (I was unprepared, story another time if I could be bothered) and laughing my abs into existence because I am perpetually surrounded by hilarious people. Bless them.

View of Salzach River from Makartsteg bridge (aka Salzburg’s love-lock bridge)

Anyway, on our last night in Salzburg, we strolled across their version of the so-called love-lock bridge to admire the view above. For the uninitiated, bridges like that have sides like this. Couples fix a lock onto a section of the wire, toss the key into the river and run off into the sunset to live happily ever after. Or something like that.

On this particular bridge, there are fluorescent lights illuminating the locks, and guess what, yours truly had to notice that there was a bit of the wire that was crudely cut out. The most obvious explanation was that someone wanted to remove a lock and because they’ve thrown the key away, they had to cut it out instead.

I was so endlessly amused by the thought of some heartbroken soul having to locate a specific lock and cut it out that I proceeded to look for more such things, and find them I did.
If at this point you think I’m a terrible human being…I’ll have to agree – I’m mildly horrified by my own thoughts. But I’m also very easily amused so I’m using that as my excuse to justify my unfortunate reaction.

No Man is an Island

And yet, we all seem to struggle alone.

It’s quite silly to think that we call our friends ‘friends’ when we work so hard to keep our troubles away from them. Someone once told me, ‘We were meant to be burdens to each other, that’s what this family is for’ (in the context of the church being family, which I agree entirely with – mine is one of the best families I know, I love them dearly… but I digress) – and I think that’s entirely applicable to family and friends.

So many of us have travelled away from our biological families, so many of us have built families out of friends – and for good reason. They are the ones we share our every moment with, the joy and the butterflies, the inside jokes and the secret laughs. But why is it so difficult to share our pain and tears with them?

Yes, good and trustworthy friends are hard to come by. Sometimes you think you’ve found one, then they turn around and leave you in the dust. But I choose to believe that for everyone, God has given you someone you can lean on…perhaps they’re not the most obvious choice, but they’re there. You’ve just got to take a step back and look with clearer eyes. They could be right in front of you, or someone you’ve discarded.

Likewise, you’re probably someone’s person too, someone’s shoulder to cry on, a listening ear. You’ll have to learn to recognise it, to play your part, and to cherish it while it lasts. There seems to be almost no benefit to you, but for that brief moment (sometimes years of the same repeating moment because some struggles never go away) you could make such a difference. Never underestimate the power of your words. The tongue may be a fire and a restless evil, but it can bring such relief and comfort if you use it for good.

I don’t really know where this is coming from…I suppose I simply wanted to encourage you to share your burdens with someone else and to help take on someone else’s load. As someone who struggles to share my own load, it kills me to see others struggling alone with theirs, because the burden can almost become too much to bear.

And I suppose I decided you’d be my listening ear today.

An Enlightened Heart

I was just letting my mind wander, recapping current events in my life when it occurred to me that perhaps my heart, where God is concerned, is not in the right place. Perhaps, all this time, I have been decidedly not God-focused.

And then I started my devotion for the day, and lo and behold, realised that the Apostle Paul, in all his letters to the various churches, has never prayed for their circumstances to be changed. The churches he wrote to faced prosecution and hardship every single day, and he was acutely aware of it, and yet, in his letters, his prayers were always that of thanksgiving and were very much Christ-centered.

It’s not as if Paul was trying to put across that we couldn’t pray for our needs. He himself instructed Timothy to appeal to God for peace, for the government, for general goodness in our lives. Jesus taught us to ask for our “daily bread”. And yet, it is obvious (to me, at least), that Paul’s example was one of complete surrender to Christ and having his focus of worship be getting to know his Creator even better.

It is not enough to simply know that God is holy, that He is love, that He is the Prince of Peace. It will never suffice and so it becomes entirely necessary to seek Him in His wholeness. To understand Him. Because only when the eyes of our hearts are enlightened that we can become more and more like Him. It is when the very core of our being, our fundamental self are aware of the truth of God, can we, on our own volition, seek to please Him, because it becomes a very natural thing to do.

So long story short, yes, I have had my focus where it should not be. I barely know this wondrous Creator I call God Almighty, but all I do day in and day out is bring to Him my problems, making Him my personal fairy godmother.

I’ll just end this with one of Paul’s prayers from Ephesians 3:

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know that this love surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all fullness of God.”

A Spring of Water

I’ve had an insanely busy week right after what was also a fairly busy Easter break, but ah! it’s so good to be reminded that I can find rest in the One who provides.

A while back, I decided to start perusing the Bible app that is oh-so-ubiquitous among Christian circles for devotional plans, and the plan entitled My Utmost for His Highest is one of the ones that consistently bring me back to what it means to call myself a Christian. I found today’s reading to be especially useful in reminding me that dying to self and surrendering to Christ, while immensely challenging, is so necessary.

The devotional text is based on John 4, but if you are short for time, maybe focus only on verses 1 to 26. Here’s the devotional, I hope you find it edifying!

The well is deep”—and even a great deal deeper than the Samaritan woman knew (4:11)! Think of the depths of human nature and human life; think of the depth of the “wells” in you. Have you been limiting, or impoverishing, the ministry of Jesus to the point that He is unable to work in your life?

Suppose that you have a deep “well” of hurt and trouble inside your heart, and Jesus comes and says to you, “Let not your heart be troubled . . .” (John 14:1). Would your response be to shrug your shoulders and say, “But, Lord, the well is too deep, and even You can’t draw up quietness and comfort out of it.” Actually, that is correct. Jesus doesn’t bring anything up from the wells of human nature—He brings them down from above. We limit the Holy One of Israel by remembering only what we have allowed Him to do for us in the past, and also by saying, “Of course, I cannot expect God to do this particular thing.”

The thing that approaches the very limits of His power is the very thing we as disciples of Jesus ought to believe He will do. We impoverish and weaken His ministry in us the moment we forget He is almighty. The impoverishment is in us, not in Him. We will come to Jesus for Him to be our comforter or our sympathizer, but we refrain from approaching Him as our Almighty God.

The reason some of us are such poor examples of Christianity is that we have failed to recognize that Christ is almighty. We have Christian attributes and experiences, but there is no abandonment or surrender to Jesus Christ. When we get into difficult circumstances, we impoverish His ministry by saying, “Of course, He can’t do anything about this.” We struggle to reach the bottom of our own well, trying to get water for ourselves. Beware of sitting back, and saying, “It can’t be done.” You will know it can be done if you will look to Jesus. The well of your incompleteness runs deep, but make the effort to look away from yourself and to look toward Him.

Timely reminder to believe with all my heart and soul and mind that even when I am not able, He always is. 

Christ the Picture of the Tabernacle

It always amazes me to see how the Old Testament consistently points to either the coming of the Messiah or His works. Everything in the Old Testament (which will henceforth be referred to as the OT) was written for a reason, and the reason was to point God’s people in the right direction. And that included the construction of the Tabernacle and its function, which, to be completely honest, tends to bore me with all its measurements. After today, I think I’ll be taking it a little more seriously.

I was just doing a little bit of reading when I learned that in John 1:14, when it says “The Word…made his dwelling among us” the word “dwelling” is actually the same word as “tabernacle” in the OT. And as most Christians know, “The Word” was none other than Jesus Christ Himself. So you could more or less read that verse as saying “The Word is tabernacled among us”, and basically, yet another role of Christ, if I may put it that way, is to also be the Tabernacle, on top of being the high priest, king, saviour, Passover lamb, etc. And the tabernacle was not something to be taken lightly.

A little background for the uninitiated: The Tabernacle of Moses was the dwelling place of the holy God, who was (and still is), in all His glory and holiness, too much for His people, which like you and I, were mere sinners. The darkness of sin and His holiness absolutely could not collide, so the tabernacle was constructed so that God’s presence could dwell amongst His people, and so that His people could come to Him. It was rather simply, a tent with a massive courtyard surrounded by high walls and only ONE gate. Just one. And in the courtyard, there was an altar for burnt offering, or sacrifice.

The OT notes very specific instructions from God on exactly how the tabernacle absolutely must be constructed. No stone was left unturned, nothing was left to chance or imagination – all the way down to the kinds of cloth and their colours, the types of wood and the adornments, there simply was no space for alterations. There was only one gate to enter the courtyard, and then one way into the tabernacle, and even before you get to the tabernacle proper (i.e. the tent) you’d have to bring an offering with you – a male animal without blemish -to atone for your sins. I could go on, but I think this is sufficient to show that you only entered the tabernacle on God’s terms.

How does this apply to Christ? The prophets detail where Christ would be born, what would happen to Him from birth to death to resurrection, even down to Judas’ betrayal. Christ Himself said He is the only way to the Father (John 14:6) and that there is absolutely no way we can work for our salvation, and we know that He is the only true sacrificial lamb, free from blemish in a world full of sin. Are you connecting the dots yet?

There really is a lot more to be said about this (the veil which was eventually torn in two, the basin, the priests’ garments etc.) but that’s for you to read and learn for yourself. It is incredible that this much detail is reflected in Christ Himself, the one who has enabled us to be with God in all his righteousness and holiness. God isn’t just living among us, His entire presence is. As if we are worthy of that!

Hello 2015!

I’m very literally in the final hour of the first day of 2015, and to be completely honest, I don’t really feel like doing a write-up for the previous year, but I figured I might as well do the bloggy thing and get this out of the way.

There weren’t many significant things in 2014, but I’ll list those that stuck out at me the most:

1. The aviation disasters – MH370, MH17, QZ8501. My heart truly goes out to all affected by it. I remember the horror when I first read the news, the text messages telling me to be safe on future flights (not that I have much control over those, but thanks y’all), the unsettling feeling when people joked about them. Tragedies are never anything to joke about, and never something I will let slip easily. They are insensitive and callous, IMO.

2. The Twin going to Glasgow to continue her medical studies! Commence the parents wanting to send money to make sure she doesn’t go broke. Some things never change (but really, if you’re a JPA scholar anywhere apart from the USA and Australia, there’s a good chance you’ll have enough money to get by decently, but not extravagantly, naturally. You’re abroad to study not to live like a king.)

3. Going up Mount Kinabalu! That was something. I really enjoyed it, even though I didn’t make it all the way up. Full blog post here!

4. My sole surviving grandmother has diabetes, and it made some progression over the summer. I can’t communicate much with her due to a severe language barrier (I can’t speak dialects, which is a source of some regret I suppose), but she means a lot to me, so naturally I was, and still am, concerned about her well-being. Please take care of your health while you’re young and able. Your body is a temple of God, and it deserves all the care and concern you can give it.

5. I went to Prague. FINALLY. I say finally because I believe that in the batch of Malaysians that flew over to Poland back in 2011 with me, I was one of the few who did not visit Prague within the first 2 years here. We have friends in Prague, which is why it seems to be a natural decision to visit Prague at the soonest possibility. Now that I’ve finally been there, I can say that while it is pretty, I still like my good ol’ Krakow better. So biased.

6. I saw Michael Buble in concert! You mayyy only know him as the guy who makes amazing Christmas music (such as this one with Idina Menzel), but he makes some of the best love songs too! Which I adore, second only to sad melancholy songs. Full post here, although I fear it is rather incoherent a post.

7. Academic-wise, I would say it’s been pretty alright., Glancing through my academic transcript, I am very thankful to see an immense improvement from an incredibly dismal first year. The only thing that is set to mar my 4th year results seems to be my Pharmacology paper. I make no excuses for it. I disliked the subject and even failed one of the 5 tests we had to take throughout the year. No surprises that I will not be getting a brilliant final score for it, but hey, I’m still so grateful for God’s grace where my studies are concerned.

8. Speaking of God’s grace, I’ve definitely taken it for granted one time too many in 2014. He’s always been kind to me, and towards the end of my 3rd year (so sometime before summer 2014), I felt that He was just always paving the way forwards for me, and I think I grew too comfortable and nonchalant and ungrateful about it. I’m thankful that He’s been sending me tiny reminders through faithful Christians that He is the Giver and my Jehovah, and that I need to always have a good relationship with Him :)

9. Last place I visited this year was the UK! Flew over to Glasgow a few days before Christmas to visit The Twin and spent Christmas there. We also made day trips out to Edinburgh and Loch Lomond. Probably the best place in Glasgow was the University of Glasgow itself. It is a majestic work of art. Then we flew down to London for a couple more days. It’s my second time in London, and it’s as lovely as ever (minus the unending streams of people). We also made a day trip out to Cambridge, where we bemoaned our lack of intelligence. What I would do to be smart enough to study Medicine there. Sigh. All in all it was a brilliant trip! Great place, wonderful company, good food. Miss it all already!

10. Spent the very last day of 2014 back in Krakow, in the company of some friends from church, where we shared food and wine and champagne and laughter and hugs with each other. There’s never any better way to celebrate anything than with people who you care about, and who love you just as well!

This post is already too long, so I’ll stop here. As usual, I make no resolutions for the new year, but as always, I shall continue to endeavour, by the grace and love of Christ, to press forward into the unknown and strive for perfection and to be mindful of my errors.

God bless all you wonderful people as we enter a new year! :)

Paranoia

I was almost pickpocketed twice yesterday (or rather, about 12 hours ago), and now I can’t seem to fall asleep.

Those of you that follow me on Twitter may have seen me tweet the following:

“Oh wow. Some foreigners just tried to pickpocket me. The nerve.”

Which was followed up minutes later with the following tweet:

“Ok now the two of them are following me. What the heck. Follow me some more and I’ll take you straight to the cops.”

The story was that I needed to get British Pounds because I’ll be heading to the UK in a couple of days, so I went to the bank to withdraw a nice sum of Euros. Instead of a crossbody handbag that I normally use, I had on a backpack, and of course, my purse was in the backpack, albeit buried low beneath my other things. After making the withdrawal, I walked about 15 minutes to a currency exchange (we call them kantors, so I’ll just refer to them as kantors henceforth) to convert them to Polish zlotys and then to Pounds (that’s just how it works here).

The street I was on had 4 or 5 kantors, and I decided to convert my Euros to zlotys in one shop, and then go down two shops to convert the zlotys to Pounds. I was in line at the first kantor, replying a couple of messages when I felt someone bumping my backpack. That isn’t an uncommon occurrence – often people accidentally bump into you when you’re in line and they aren’t paying attention to their surroundings – so I moved forward a little and ignored it.

Then it happened again. This time I turned around and sharply eyed the person behind me, mostly because I was annoyed. There wasn’t one, but two Romani-looking women behind me, all decked out in massive black scarves and long black clothes, and a bright-coloured beanie each. The more aggressive one of the two wore a purple beanie, so we’ll call her PurpleB. Again, I shuffled a bit so that I wasn’t standing directly in front of them, thinking that they maybe had a problem with not being able to stand still, for whatever reason.

THEN I heard a zipper sound. My bag has zippers. Instinctively I turned around and swung my bag off to find that, surprise, surprise, one compartment was unzipped just wide enough to comfortably fit a hand in. I was shocked and didn’t know what to do, so I glared at PurpleB (who was shuffling her hand under her massive black scarf) and kept my bag in front of me after making sure nothing was missing from that compartment. It was then my turn at the kantor, so I got my zlotys and headed down the street to the next kantor.

At the next kantor, just after I had changed my zlotys for Pounds, I saw PurpleB’s head peeping at me through the door, and then quickly ducking out of view when she saw me looking at her. At this stage, I was thoroughly annoyed. I knew they were up to no good, but I just wanted to get home and didn’t think much about it. I kept my purse and walked out the door.

I walked maybe 100m, turned around, didn’t notice them following me, so I leisurely made my way to a tram stop to get home. The walk probably took me 10 minutes, and as I neared the stop, I felt a slight pressure on my backpack. There were many people around so I didn’t think much about it (argh, why was I so silly!). Then I saw the tram arrive and I did a little jog towards it, and for whatever reason, I abruptly stopped about ten paces from the tram and I felt someone ram right into me.

I turned around, and guess who it was. Yep. PurpleB was back.

She panicked and ran up that tram, but at that point I knew they were trailing me and I absolutely did not want to get on that tram. So she hesitated and got off the tram (she was really just bad at trailing people). I decided that I could probably get on the tram and try to lose her by getting off at the next stop. When I got on, she and her buddy got on too. We were somewhere near the front of the tram, so I quickly pressed my way through the crowd of people to the back of the tram to gain some distance and check if they had successfully stolen from me. Thankfully (!!!) all my items were intact even though they had opened one of the zippers halfway.

PurpleB just kept making incredibly obvious moves to keep an eye on me from the front of the tram, when I lost my patience and snapped my phone out to make like I was taking a photo of her. It worked for a bit – she stopped peeking at me.

At the next stop, I quickly alighted the tram AND THEY FOLLOWED ME DOWN. ARGH.

At this point, I was beyond irritated. I wanted to get on with my day and they were ruining it for me. The tram had stopped right behind a zebra-crossing, and there was a small crowd of people there waiting for the light to turn to cross the road, so I stood with them and just death-stared PurpleB, who decided to duck behind an advert at the tram stop. Said advert was perhaps 30 paces from where I stood.

While I was deciding what to do, I saw PurpleB deliberately, and very obviously, sneak a peek in my direction (I tell you, they would not make good spies). I was so fed-up, I could have screamed at them. Right then, the light turned green and everyone started crossing the road. Bear in mind that the tram was still positioned behind the zebra-crossing, so what did I do? I dashed right across the street and behind the tram hoping that they wouldn’t see me.

Near the corner of the opposite street, there was a tall kiosk with opaque walls. I was super desperate to lose them, so I thought, you know what, I’m going to hide behind this kiosk. I didn’t think it’d work, but it did. I lost them just by hiding behind a kiosk! Hurra!

At that point, I was borderline furious at being made to resort to such actions, annoyed at myself for not knowing what else to do, and ever so slightly nervous that they were still following me. So I just stood behind the kiosk like a weird creeper and kept an eye on my surroundings while replying tweets and texting to appear normal. The owner of the kiosk probably thought I was a vandal of some sort and got out of her kiosk to stand somewhere near me and pretend to sweep non-existent leaves. Thank you random lady, you truly made me feel a lot safer.

A friend reached out to me, and his place was only 10 minutes away from where I was, so I quickly made my way there with many glances over my shoulder. It was there that I started to feel incredibly nervous and anxious. I probably talked a LOT to cover up my (rather mild) anxiety, but I really did not want to leave. When I eventually did 2 hours later, I definitely spun around every 2 minutes or so to make sure no one was following me.

And now I’m telling you all of this because a) I am super paranoid that there are people waiting to follow me around and rob me when I leave the house tomorrow; and b) I am nervous. I feel like anyone could break into my apartment and rob me.

I, and everyone else, deserve the right to walk around town and not feel threatened or worried. It’s served to make me further distrust the foreigners in Poland. I’m not saying that all Polish people are upright and all foreigners are crooks (because I am very obviously also a foreigner here), but at least temporarily, this is not an impression I will easily discard. I am up now wondering if I could have done something differently, or rather if I should have done something differently, like call them out in public, but I felt like there was no way I could have proved it? But I don’t know, you feel free to tell me if I could have reacted in a better way.

If you’ve read the entire thing, I applaud you and thank you. I know that my anxiety is perhaps slightly irrational, but I can’t help it. I will be glad to leave this city for a bit, I’ll tell you that. I am now going to go talk to God and thank Him loads for His grace and protection. *breathes*