a lesson in faith

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In the past week, I have been finding myself facing battle with an old friend–depression.

Yet it is in stark contrast to the youthful, immature depression I once knew, when I believed the cloudy gray life I lived was all that there was and that there was no true escape. Fast forward to now, after years of self-growth, self-improvement, and therapy, I have now what I would call a “mature” depression. When I get in my depressive episodes, I am acutely aware that I am roaming minute to minute in the gray, with the knowledge that I am not the depression, and I am not really stuck. Feelings pass. Situations change. The things my depression are trying to convince me of are false. But it does not make the depressive episode any easier to bear through.

It is like someone hijacked your brain and is steering your thoughts and feelings down paths you know is not realistically accurate. But because you’ve been taken over by D, your stumbling down them regardless. Then you are left feeling so overwhelmed–overwhelmed by sadness, loneliness, hopelessness, and a feeling of bleakness about your life and where it’s headed. I know that I am doing great things with my life, that I am making a valuable mark on this earth. My mind is aware. But still, it is difficult to fight through the feeling of dissatisfaction with yourself and the world, or the feeling that things will never change.

I was driving home from work today, and I found myself asking God, “How do I get myself out of the black hole I’m in? What are you trying to teach me through this? What are you trying to bring forth through me?” I know well enough by now that God teaches us through pain. But at that moment, I could not gather what I was supposed to learn. So sitting in traffic, I paused and listened. Then I could hear God replying back, You need to have faith.

With that, I had an epiphany. Here I was, fighting and fighting to make things work, to get what I’ve always yearned deeply for, but to no avail. Losing friends, people going MIA, stress where ever I go… it has felt as if nothing I do would give me the life I have been aiming for. Things have been falling apart instead. So I have felt hopeless and helpless, like I am stuck with this unsatisfying life I have been trying so hard to change. But then it became so clear. There are no options left at this point, because faith is all I have left. Nothing else is working, because God wants me to choose the one last option. I can either stay where I am, or walk out onto unknown waters.

This has always been my problem. I am Peter, who is afraid and does not trust that God will allow me to walk on water. I am fearful that I will sink and meet my death. So of course God sees it fit that I learn to have faith–to face my fear of sinking. The God who calms the storms. The God who can move mountains. The God who splits seas. I must have faith.

So, my fellow readers–for those of you who know what I speak of, who are also struggling: when it seems as if there are no other options, perhaps that is because God is bringing you to the one option that will help get you through whatever you are going through. Allow your courage to rise, and have faith. You’ve been through worse, and just as it has before, this period too will pass. Life is impermanent. You’ll get through this.  And in the meantime, let yourself go, walk out onto the water, and have faith that God will give you strength to conquer the waves.

year of faith

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At the beginning of this year, 2016, I made an unconventional resolution: I will learn to have more faith and trust in God. At the time, I recognized that one of my main struggles throughout life was maintaining faith when things got difficult and operating under complete self-sufficiency. But I wanted to live in trust and faith.

Well, God heard me. If I knew at the time what He was about to put me through after making that resolution, I may not have been so bold to make it.

He put me in the ringer. My (narcissistic) boyfriend broke up with me during the spring, co-workers picked on me throughout the year a la Mean-Girls-high-school style, I lost most of my friends, I couldn’t find a new job… I began to even doubt why I was in the career I was, because I felt as if everyone else owned my life and there wasn’t any joy left. My life was completely shaken up and I experienced more loss than I could bear.

Soon, there was no one else to rely on completely, except for God. People were coming and going. People weren’t consistent. People took and took, without giving anything back, tossing me to the side after they were done. God was my only Rock in the turbulent sea. Mid-way through the year, in the thick of storm, my new year’s resolution rang in my mind. I will learn to have more faith and trust in God. I realized that God was taking my vow seriously, and shifting my life significantly to bring about the change I needed.

It got to a point in the darkness where I had no other choice but to choose faith. It was the tiny white dot stretched far from where I was, but I walked toward it. I yearned for the light. I yearned for a life different from what I’ve always known. And God took care of me. Even when things got really bad, He brought the right people at the right time. He gave me moments, things, sunsets, animals, and anything and everything under the sun to keep me afloat.

Fast forward to today. What a windy journey it’s been. Now it’s the end of 2016, and I stand in awe of what God has created in me. Faith. Hope. Love. Authenticity. I was driving home today, my last day at my work, my new job starting next week… and in my grief and sadness at the end of a chapter in my life, I felt something bright and foreign in my chest: I’ll be okay. God will take care of me. The universe will yield what I need.

Faith. I don’t know what will happen in the next chapter of my life, but for the first time, I feel trust in God and in the fact that no matter what happens, in the end, I’ll be fine. I’ve been through hell, not only this year, but throughout my entire life. Yet here I am, alive and very much well. I’m a survivor. I’m a fighter.

And so, even though this year proved to be a very difficult one, at the close, I am grateful beyond words for the fruit that has come from this battle. God has given me a very special gift… faith. I’ll be okay, not because I have enough love, hope, and resources inside me, but because now I know with confidence that God is on my side, taking care of me.

 

finding my way back

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I feel as if I have been wandering aimlessly for months. Led astray without a second thought. It usually isn’t until the ground collapses beneath your feet when you recognize what you’ve been without. And how I’ve missed Him so.

On your spiritual walk, to be in a good place in your life is more dangerous than to be in a difficult one. When things are good, you feel good. But then pride sinks in. We think we can live without God, that we’ve got everything figured out. I don’t need help, because things are consistently good. I’m doing such a good job. Maybe I don’t need God. God loves me to shower me with blessings, so I can cruise. All those positive thoughts mask you from the reality of our human condition: we cannot function in all the ways we need without God. Funny enough, it’s only when things start to break down from happy neglect that we are reminded (yet again) of our deep need of Him.

Various aspects of my life were going well and I was in that good place. But as things begun to break down, it was as if I woke from a months-long slumber. Like someone, or I, placed the snooze button on in my life, and God was throwing ice cold water on my face. He has a tendency to do that. But I saw that He was not doing that out of malice, but ultimately out of love. He loves me too much to allow me to sleep, and not fight for my life… to not live with passion and chase after my purpose. As the blurriness cleared from my vision, I saw God standing over me, His hand outstretched, His eyes gentle and forgiving. Walk with me. You must continue your purpose.

I started to cry as soon as I recognized how I’ve been walking along my path without him. That was why I was feeling so aimless. I was neither hungry or thirsty, so it was even harder for me to see; I was shrouded by too much worldly good. Thanksgiving rolled around, and I reflected on all the good people and things in my life, but I gave no thought to God. Yet rather than turn away from me, He reaches out to me with love, wills me to not go astray. He reminds me of my deep-seeded need for His guidance and love, and pulls me back into His embrace. God has given us each a thriving purpose that he desires us to work for, to fight for… just as He fights for us.

I could very well go my own way, inadvertently closer to darkness, but He loves me so much to not let me. Sometimes it takes aspects of your life to break down to realize what’s going wrong. It is God’s way to reach out to us, to show us His love, to remind us that He is there and we are not meant to go through this life alone. And in knowing that, I feel so very grateful and humbled.

fear of letting go

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Fear has become my close companion.

After speaking with my mentor, I realized how much my fear is holding me back… not only in terms of my career, but in personal matters.

To be frank and straight to the point: love freaks me out. From years of self-work, I know and recognize myself as having a fearful-avoidant attachment style in my relationships–much of that resulting from how I was raised, and the crappy relationships I trekked through in my past. I want to trust and love whole-heartedly, but at the same time, I’m terrified of the process. What if I get hurt? What if something bad happens when I bare myself whole?

Enter potential love interest.

Although these issues have been something I’ve been consistently working on, now I find myself being pushed up against them in a very close and personal way. It was through my best friend’s frank observations that I caught myself throwing up internal barriers and seeking things that fuel my insecurities, all to prove my inner core belief right, that I am not good enough–because then I could check out, run away before I got in too deep. It blows my mind how different I’ve become compared to the person I was when I was younger. I used to readily embrace love, draw romantic dreams in my imagination, and hope unabashedly. Now I find myself being very grounded, jaded, entrenched in reality, struggling to let myself go to the process of falling in love. Even saying those very words freak me out.

I think of all of the men who have hurt me in the past, who took advantage of me, who took my trust and shattered it into thousands of pieces. I think of the jerks I’ve dated, all the arrogant men, and especially those men who saw me as primarily an object, existing only to prop them up, make them feel good, or give them status.

But then the other part of me reminds me, this is a different time, a different place, a different guy. I pride myself on my “bullshit radar,” in calling out fake, bullshitting people fairly quickly–but my radar has been very silent with this person. If anything, this person has proved at each point that he is authentic, genuine, sweet, and trustworthy. All signs point to one direction… which brings me back to my realization. I know deep down what to do, but my fears are holding me back.

On the outside, I can see myself coming off aloof, but the truth is, internally I’m fighting against falling, fighting for control. I’m afraid to show you that I care, that you’re slowly starting to matter more, that you have the potential to become someone significant and in the near future, if you’d let me, I could share with you all of me. I’m afraid if I say these things, you’ll run away. What if you ran away?

But then, what if my fears morphed themselves into self-fulfilling prophecies? What if my fears led me to subconsciously push you away more until you left? What if this is all in my head, and I’m making something good turn into something ugly?

I’m not going to say that I know all of the answers, or that I’ve got it all figured out. If anything, the past few weeks have been humbling for me in a good way, as I acknowledge my limitations and put complete faith in God. But one thing is becoming very clear: I have to face my fears. I have to push them back, reject their power over my life and my choices. They are keeping me from reaching my full potential, from living a happier, more fulfilling life. Even if I end up hurting, I have to relinquish control and let myself go to the process, all the while trusting in God that He is guiding me where I need to be. Regardless of how it turns out, it will turn out for the good some way, somehow–whether it is to flourish the connection, or to challenge/grow me in a new way. Or even better, both.

facing the unconsious

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The fear inside me grows heavier and heavier. All the darkness and pain scare me, yet I have no idea why. It’s as if I am staring into the eyes of a monster, but I can barely make out its face. It resides in the deep recesses of my unconscious, and my startling inability to discern its name, appearance or nature leaves me without any words. All I know if that when I sense its presence, I am overcome by a deep need to abort. I run the other direction.

And here, is where my insight falls short, my awareness runs out, my tendency to shift toward positivity breaks down. Nothing works. I am up against an enemy that I do not know.

Freud argues that our unconscious is composed of unrealized, and often socially unacceptable, desires and wishes, along with traumas and painful memories that our mind has worked to repress. Most of us are only aware of things existing on the conscious plane, unless our developed defenses are challenged and/or we work to build our self-awareness of the ways our unconscious leaks out in our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Considering this, my current situation is pushing me up strongly against my normal defenses. I am sitting in the in-between, within the tension of what I want to do, and what is best for me. I am at the brink of self-sabotaging, and I know it, but the other, darker part of me is fighting for control, pushing me to run. Run from what? What truly scares me is my inability to answer that simple question. I don’t know. But here I am, pushing, running, numbing, kicking and scratching, anything to keep me from falling in too deep, from being captured and seen. If I move enough, never stay in one place for too long, I’ll somehow be safe. There is safety in my evasions. And this is why I cannot settle. There is something in the water that will get me if I do.

Nothing makes much sense, because logic and intellect sink like swords in quicksand when you are up against the creatures of your unconscious. There’s a reason why we are running away and repressing them in the first place.

There is one thing I do know for sure. In order to get to the healthier, better place, we have to venture through the thick of the unknown forest. We have to rise up to our monsters, our demons, and make the choice to push up against them. If we run, they win. If we repress, they’ll continue to control us in our ignorance. It’s so much easier to run… but by running, we are choosing to live in bondage. This is uncharted territory, and this is the difficult call: to trust, and to have faith. Trusting in God, trusting in yourself, trusting in the fact that despite the arduous nature of the journey, if you keep trekking, you will make it out of the forest. You will overcome someday. The call is for you to submit yourself to the unknown, and have faith that through all the dark and pain, you are reaching a better place, coming closer to a healing you so desperately need… closer to becoming a better you. The more you challenge and push up against yourself, the clearer your inner self becomes. The more control you end up gaining.

The journey, therefore, calls upon courage. Courage is not a personality trait, as some may believe it to be, but an act that anyone can do. It’s about making a choice. Despite fear, I will press forward. I will enter the tension and allow myself to be moved. Here we stand at the precipice, faced with our choice: to jump, or not to jump? That certainly is the question.

practicing self-love

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I never make New Years’ resolutions, because I believe that you can take on the battle of change toward life and growth at any moment of your life, regardless of human constructs of time.

But this year I did make a resolution, as my new commitment fell along with the coming of the new year. My commitment: practice self-love and self-acceptance at every moment and turn. Even when I make mistakes, fail, or fall short… I will love and accept myself as I am. Always.

As I begun to take on this heavy endeavor, I soon started to realize the severity of how critically I viewed myself, cut myself up, for anything and everything. For not doing something right, not speaking as eloquently as someone else, not being stick-skinny, hating my reflection in the mirror, my eyes, my lips, the fact I suck at math, my own tendency to be so critical, even with myself. This list could go on, but of course it could, because when you want to hate something or someone, you will always find something to hate. Yet the same goes with love. If you view through the lens of “I will love this person,” you’ll then start to see the beauty they hold. It boils down to what lens you wish to put on when you look.

So I’ve been trying to re-orient my mind, my perspective, which is a constant effort, as I’ve become quite adapt at being critical with myself. But in doing this, a feeling of liberation has been easing its way into my being, little by little. Maybe I’m made this way for a reason, for a purpose. God is using every bit of me for His good, to be an encouragement to others. I used to hate myself for being “too sensitive” or being “so emotional” with people or situations, because that was what I was often criticized for. But yesterday, I came to a huge discovery: what if being sensitive, or having a deeply caring heart is my nature? What if my purpose is to feel deeply? And thus all of this time, I’ve been letting others get to me and subsequently letting myself deny my true nature?

Loving yourself for who you are is a huge act to take on, one that I cannot break down in a simple post. Perhaps I may in future blog posts. But one of the lessons I am learning so far is that loving yourself fully means allowing you to be you. Even if you’re not where you want to be now, allow yourself to be in this moment and this space, and accept yourself for who and where you are. Because being you as you are could very well be your nature, and in that, you can effect such wonderful good and light in this world. I believe we should always strive toward change and growth, but in the same hand, allow ourselves to be in the present, whichever stage we are at. Because there are great things to be done, wherever we may stand in our path to self-actualization.

the gift in giving

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Lately I’ve been mentally and emotionally running on empty, with minimal opportunity to refuel myself. Partly due to circumstances, partly due to my own internal struggles, however I won’t spend time elaborating.

Because today, I was encouraged. Even though I’ve been feeling emotionally burned out, I prayed to God, “Lord, even though I don’t have much to give in my current state, let me be a source of encouragement for my clients today. May you fill me and give me the strength to be a Giver.”

And miraculously, I was able to be present with my clients in our sessions despite my own personal struggles, listen and emote with them, intervene to the best of my ability. As I was doing an intake, a client said to me, “I want you to tell your supervisor that I think you’re terrific. You’ve been such a help to me and I really hope you, and your supervisor, acknowledge how terrific you are.”

At the time, I told her that I was glad to be of help to her. But as I reflected later, her words slowly sank in and touched me in a special way. I began crying, because I saw how even at my very weakest, God still uses me and wields His light through me. I was humbled as I saw how much I needed Him to get through the day.

Yet I was also encouraged. I realized that you don’t always need to be the Taker to get what you want… that you can, paradoxically, receive so much in simply giving. That sometimes, God will work in your heart as you heed His call and attend to others before yourself. Maybe there is a deep filling in that, that many of us don’t realize or have not yet experienced.

Today, it was my own source for recharge.

dare you to move

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To live is to move. Even in fear, pain, or stagnancy… it is especially in those moments in our lives that we are faced with a constant choice. Will we rise to and above the challenge, or will we stay down, to die perhaps a spiritual and inner death?

I had a meeting with one of my mentors a few days ago, wherein I was challenged, yet also deeply inspired. And I went home and found myself listening to Switchfoot, which led to more fuel being thrown onto the heady flame. “Dare You to Move” has now become the theme to this current phase in my life. Why, you may ask?

For months, I have been feeling stuck and stagnant. I have been locked and trapped in my past, the pain I continue to hold, and the disappointments of today. Nothing seems to be going right and deep down, I feel broken, alone and unbelievably restless. My frustration increases knowing what I am doing to myself and what has gotten me stuck in a hole. Professors and even my own therapist have praised me on my level of insight, yet before, I found it so much a curse than a gift. The old cliche of “ignorance is bliss” rings true, because in ignorance, I do not have to feel. I can continue on numbing and pretending everything is okay. When you are battling depression, or anxiety, or whatever demons you may have, the easy path becomes so very tempting.

Although I did not intend the conversation to take this turn, I ended up sharing with my mentor some of my current struggles. He then proceeded to push me (metaphorically speaking), and challenge me. I told him I need to reflect more on my issues, and he disagreed, “No, you don’t need to reflect anymore. You already know what you have to do. Now you just need to do it.” In short, I need to move.

This is what my mentor helped me to realize: Despite your fears, despite the hurt you will inevitably feel, you have to connect. You have to love. You have to risk vulnerability. Our four walls and comfort zone seem so very safe, but in reality, they are hurting us. They are starving us from what we need, causing our hearts to begin dying a slow and painful death. “I mean, look at you,” my mentor challenged. “You’re proof of that. You’re not happy right now.” And I didn’t argue with him, because I knew he was right. Because this is the thing about me: I hide. I hold back. I put up walls so people can’t get too close. All of this I do, because I don’t want to get hurt, rejected, or judged. I have been so many times in the past. I’ve been knocked down, kicked around, teased, and worse, ignored. That in my deepest moments of pain, I went unacknowledged. Even though I fear loneliness, I would rather choose the certainty of being alone, than the pain of being both rejected and alone. So it is easier for me to not trust people, and deal with things on my own.

But living that way, means we live in a state of constant fear. We do not rest when we are hyper-vigilant with every being we come across, and it is exhausting to persistently maintain those walls around our hearts. Maybe in your past you’ve been pushed down, or hurt in the most grotesque way… so you’ve stayed lying on the ground. Maybe it feels safe there. But in that state, the tension is there, “between who you are and what you could be. Between how it is and how it should be.” Although it may not seem so, in that we always have a choice. Are you going to move, or are you going to stay down? Are you going to reach toward the potential of who you were meant to be, or will you let it die away?

I realized that for the past five months, I’ve been choosing to let my potential die. To let myself stay down and others keep me down. But now, I am making a different choice. It’s not easy to get up, to move when you are still in pain from the fall. That is why God dares us to move. Because it takes the courage each of us have buried inside us to do. In the challenge, we grow.

The thing is, if we choose to live, it is guaranteed we will feel pain. All of this time I have been focused on the “pain” part, rather than on the “living” part. In the end, our true nature is to connect, to love. That is what it means to live. That is why He pushes us, dares us to move, to lift ourselves up from the floor, like today never happened. There, we move toward fulfilling our nature.

The Day I Almost Killed Myself

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Writing this story is not, by any means, a simple feat. To memory, I can only recall telling this story two times in my life. I still continue to feel fear at how people may respond to one of the most painful moments of my life. But Maya Angelou once said that there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you… and I am beginning to realize how accurate she is.

I was eleven years old. During that time, I was an outcast, a “loser,” a black sheep, a reject. Coming from a poor, immigrant family, my parents could not afford me nice clothes or shoes to wear like all of the other “cool” kids. My mother forbade me from wearing make-up. And it did not help that I was a little socially awkward, and the only “Asian” kid in my class. I stood out like a sore thumb, and people picked on me and made fun of me daily, though I did not know them and they did not know me. Although I had a group of friends initially, they soon ostracized me for reasons unknown and began to pick on me too. I had no one. And the thoughts that reverberated in my mind were, “What did I do to deserve this? Why do people hate me so much? There’s nothing I can do to stop them. I’m hopeless. There is no one. I am alone.”

My parents were always at work, and my siblings abhorred helping me… because one of the family rules I had growing up was, “Don’t ask for help. Figure it out yourself.” So I had no one to turn to. No one in my life to help me, to tell me that someone’s treatment of you didn’t define who you are, that it was fucked up what they did to me. That I was beautiful, not ugly, stupid and weird like the kids at school were drilling into my head.

One day, after a group of girls in my neighborhood had thrown rocks at me for the umpteenth time, I remember I was sitting on the couch in our living room, sobbing and crying, drowning in my pain. I was home alone and thinking, “Is there no escape to this? Will this be my life?” My thoughts turned darker as I sunk deeper into my depression, sadness and pain, and I begun to consider something that no person should ever consider, especially one so young. I want to die. If I kill myself, the pain will stop. If I kill myself, I can finally escape.

And so, I went to the kitchen, tears still streaming down and stinging my eyes. I let out a sob as I opened the drawer and pulled out a kitchen knife. I pricked the sharp tip with my finger, my view getting blurrier. Gripping the handle, I thought of stabbing myself deeply in the heart, with the intent of meeting Death and ending all the agony and suffering. It is the only way. Please God, just let it end.

But as I raised the knife slightly closer to my chest, my vision was suddenly blinded by a translucent, white light. It was one of the most surreal experiences I have ever had in my life. Clouded by the fuzzy white, I heard a voice, strong and clear, ringing in my ears: Anna, put the knife down. Do not do this to yourself. Put the knife down.

To my very bones, I knew and recognized that voice as God’s.

Instantly, the urge to drive the knife into my heart vanished and I slowly placed the knife back in the drawer. The pain was still beating heavy, but it became evident then that I could not follow through with my intent. One moment there, one moment gone, I knew God had just intervened in the precise second that I needed him, when I wanted to give into my demons and take my life. At that time in my life, there truly was no one to turn to in my world. But I was never alone. I realized later that in His intervention, God kept me from making my most fatal assumption. He saved my life.

This is my untold story. This is one of my deepest pains, bare and open for you to see. I’ve held it inside me for fifteen years of my life, afraid of others’ judgment. But I no longer wish to hold it inside anymore, and have the shame eat at me, perpetuating my agony. I hold no shame, and I own my pain. Although I did not know this at the time, the pain was molding and shaping me, turning me into the sensitive, insightful, compassionate person I have grown to become. Although I still struggle with my demons as a result of my experiences, as C. S. Lewis argues, pain shapes us into the person we have the potential to become, like a piece of silver being refined in the fire. We are made perfect in our suffering, even though many times when we are in our suffering, it is difficult to see. For me, it was very difficult indeed, and I was so young. But that did not deter Him. He came for me before I could give up.

But this is not a story of shame. It is a story of success. Because I am alive today, dedicated to making a positive impact as a therapist, and with my words.

For anyone who also has an untold story inside them too, I urge and encourage you to speak up. Speak out. Do not let the shame, guilt or pain take the wheel of your life, keeping you bound. Your experiences are completely valid, regardless of what anyone says. There is a purpose, a function to your pain. And you are not alone. Please tell me, and others, of your story. You deserve to be attended to. You have a voice that deserves to be heard.

I am a survivor. I am a fighter. And if you are alive today, reading this, so are you.