How Suffering Can Build Character

Ever since I was an infant, I have always hated suffering.  I don’t only hate going through suffering and trials, but I hate to see other people I love in pain. Violence on television sometimes makes me cringe.  However, in the past few years, I have learned over and over again, had it not been for certain bouts of suffering in my life, I would have never been the kind of person I am now.  I am still far from perfect. However, I can attest that most, if not, all the trials in my life have served to strengthen and better me as a person.  Here is what I learned about how certain areas that I experienced suffering in my life have helped build my character.

Suffering physically/health-wise

For regular readers of this blog, you have probably read the story about when I almost died in June 2014.  To make a long story short, I started having more and more pain in my side area of my body. I thought it may have been from heavy lifting, until I started throwing up blood. Thankfully, the doctors and nurses found the source of the problem: my gallbladder, which was twice the size it should have been, inflamed, and had at least several gall stones in it.  Then, the next day, the gallbladder was taken out before it could have burst—just in time.  During and after this ordeal, I learned many things.  First of all, I learned not to take life for granted, especially the time spent with loved ones, because you never know when your time is up on this earth.  Secondly, I learned how lonely and depressing being sick and/or bed-bound can be. I only experienced this for about several days, and already I was depressed and had cabin fever.  I could only imagine how people who cannot get out of bed for weeks and months at a time must feel! Thus, this incident has caused me to pray more for people in my congregation who are sick and have more compassion for those that cannot get out of bed.  One of my pastors told the congregation about how people in our church who have been battling cancer do not come to the pastors first, but to other people who have been through the same thing they have, and thus would have more experience and compassion in how to best deal with their situation.

Being bullied in school and elsewhere

Some people I have met in the past few years would probably not believe that when I was growing up, I struggled a lot with making friends and was getting picked on regularly by my peers, because my life is so different now. However, I remember, especially in middle school and my first year of high school, people mocking me for everything from my ethnicity to the clothing I wore.  To make matters worse, most of the teachers were either unaware of what was happening or partly blamed me for being victimized by my own peers and thought I should try to “fit in” better.  (NOTE: Abuse and bullying is NE VER the victim’s fault!)  Also, some people pitied me and tried/pretended to be my friend, but they never stuck around long.  Even though these years were some of my most miserable and depressing, these events also served to strengthen my moral character. Out of these events, God developed in me a heart of care for all those who have ever been abused and/or bullied by others before. To this day, I have a strong urgency to do something to help those who have experienced abuse, bullying, or any other type of injustice. I do not want other people to experience the loneliness, desolation, and depression that I had experienced during some of those years in school.  I also don’t want people to think that they are unimportant or insignificant to this world, because every single person can make a positive contribution to this world. (Yes, this includes you!) If I had never been bullied in school, I would probably be extremely narcissistic and self-centered, as I was before this experience.  Even though I would not wish these experiences on anyone, I am thankful that I learned how to not treat people and thus, by default, know to treat others the way I would want to be treated.  I learned the high value of all people, even the ones that don’t stand out as much in this world.

Being unemployed or underemployed

There are many people I know that assume that most people can find a job in several weeks, and if they take longer that they are either “lazy” or “incompetent” in some way. I used to be one of those people when I was growing up.  However, during the times when I was looking for a job, I realized how arduous and discouraging the task can be, especially if you struggle with a disability or are somehow labeled as “different” from the normative idea of an “employable” person.  The interview itself can be very nerve-wracking. Something as insignificant as clothing choice or perfume smell can negatively impact an interview and also the chances of the applicant getting the job. This trial helped me in at least two ways: 1) I have more compassion for people who have a difficult time finding a job, but who still try, or even those that cannot work at all, no matter how hard they try.  2) I appreciate the job that I now have more because of the work and time it took me to get to where I am even now.  I work harder because I relish the joy of being able to be productive and make a difference in other’s lives.  I don’t take my job for granted, but have passion in what I am doing.

General suffering

In general, going through the trials I have has made me be able to comfort others who are going through similar things that I have gone through before. I am able to relate to them on a deeper, more intimate level, than if I couldn’t relate to them at all.  I have been able to develop more compassion for those who are suffering.  Also, I have hope, that, through the most difficult things that I experienced, that future trials will a.) Either not be as bad or b.) I will be able to overcome them with the help of God and of the people that will come into my life to help me through it.  Finally, through all the pain and hurt I have been through and witnessed others go through, I have realized both the value of people and time.  Because of this realization, I have been able to let certain irritants go  and just focus on making the best of my time with the people that love and care for me.

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5 Destiny Encounters That Changed My Life

We all have those moments where just one person, one situation, or one moment can have an enormous impact on our lives. When I was growing up, I do not remember many, if any, such moments, even though I’m sure I had some. However, in the past ten years (mostly in the past five), I’ve had several such moments, that, as far as I know, will be forever seared in the memory of my heart. Of course, I know some of us may have destiny encounters that impact our lives in a negative way, but that is not my focus. All of these following encounters from my life have changed me for the better and have happened within the past ten years (with four out of the five happening within the past five!). In chronological order, these are my destiny encounters that have changed my life:

  1. Meeting my mentor J (circa February 2011-2012): After having a tough year in 2011-2012, because I was trying to get adjusted to a new pastor and also struggling through several relational issues with people, I needed a wise and caring mentor badly! I was also very frustrated because, although I was ready and eager to work, and had been looking for a job for some time, it seemed no jobs were the right fit for me. So, in February of that year, I met J for the first time. At first, I didn’t know what to expect, and, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting her to have that much of an impact on my life. However, over the years, she has helped me not only make peace with various people in my life, but also was instrumental in helping me land one of my first jobs. She, and some other people, also helped me find my current job, which has also made a huge impact on my life.  J has also been a tireless advocate and encourager and the first person to truly believe in my abilities and my potential.  Because of all her help, and some intervention from (I believe) God, I have much more purpose and meaning in my life than I have ever had before! My depression, which had dragged on and off for years, has finally, subsided substantially. Yes, it took a lot of work on my part to get to where I am now, but if it weren’t for J’s encouragement and help, I would not be where I am today.
  2. Meeting Veronica* (circa 2014-2015): I was at my previous church at an event. I don’t remember if it was some kind of celebration or party, or if it was a young adult bible study for people aged 18-35. I remember there being a crowd of people all around me, not really engaging with me, and seeing this young woman who I had not seen before, finding her way around the crowd and trying to engage with the others. So, wanting to engage with the crowd and especially to know more about this new woman, I went and introduced myself.  As it turns out, this young woman would become one of my closest friends! Veronica* and I are still in contact until this day. She has had an indelible impact on my life because of her infectious smile, general positive attitude about life, her genuineness, and her deep care for others, especially those who are hurting.  For example, one day, when I was having suicidal thoughts and was generally feeling close to hopeless after enduring an especially stressful day at work, her encouraging words and support gave me renewed strength to face the next day. I was no longer suicidal and had renewed hope in life and humanity. Through seeing and hearing about her serving the broken, hurting, and/or even the undeserving, she really opened my eyes to how to best care and encourage others, just as she had for me.
  3. Getting my current job (Feb-March 2016): There is a longer version of this event, here. After being turned down for one of my dream jobs at a bookstore, which turned out to not be a good fit for me anyhow, I was a bit discouraged. However, one wintry morning, when my mom and I happened to have to go to my current workplace, I asked the Home Office Coordinator about the status of my application, since I hadn’t heard back from them yet. When I asked her, she decided that I could interview at 1 pm! Because my workplace was a bit far from my house and my mom and I had other errands to run, I didn’t have time to change into decent interview clothes. When I was being interviewed, I was so nervous that I stumbled and stuttered over my words. I thought for sure I had flunked the interview. To my surprise, about an hour later, they offered me the job! However, I wasn’t sure if this job would be the best fit for me at the time. After seeking wise counsel from my family, I decided to take the job because of the opportunities that it presented.  About six months later, I was discussing wanting to be full time with one of my managers, and because she admired my work ethic and generally positivity, she eagerly changed me from part-time to full-time. And the rest is history!
  4. Deciding to come to my current church (October 2016): Many things were happening at my former church. It seemed like everyone was leaving, and some things were falling apart for me there.  My pastor there, who I admired and wanted to stay many more years, had been called to a different church.  We were being taken over by another church, which didn’t seem to be the right fit for me.  So, despite ten years of mostly good and encouraging memories and building relationships with the people there, I knew God was calling me somewhere else. I first tried attending a church down the road from my old one, but that one didn’t seem a good fit for me. Then, I attended my current church for the first time.  I knew of one person that went there—a friend of a friend. To my surprise, I found another friend who also went there and sang in the choir! I was so happy and surprised to see her and her husband there! Also, everyone was so friendly, but not overly so. People there seemed genuine, and the sermon touched my heart. However, I did not know if this was going to be my church home or not. I went several more times, and was so pleased with both the genuineness of the people there and the great, biblical quality of the sermons, that I decided to become a member less than a year later, in August 2017. The people in this church have deepened my relationship with God and others, a pastor there helped me to be able to study the Bible more effectively, another helped me forgive several people at work, and many people there helped me have not only more passion and love for God, but also for the people that I serve every day.
  5. Meeting my friend Ann* (circa January 2017): One day, when I was sitting in the break room and after praying, I heard a woman sitting with one of my other friends, talking about spiritual issues. I wondered if she was a Christian, because she used many of the same words a believer in Christ would, So, I asked her if she was, and she said something like, “Of course!” Because of our similar beliefs and passion for loving God and others, we began working together to impact our workplace positively with God’s love and kindness. For example, if someone is having a bad day, we try to encourage, or pray for them (if they allow us to). We also strive to demonstrate a hard-working ethic and a positive attitude to be a good role model for the others there.

These encounters all changed my life in ways that are only beginning to manifest themselves. They all gave me purpose and hope in my life where there was lack before. So, I encourage everyone to strive to be encouraging and uplifting to others, especially those that are hurting in some way. Who knows? Like my friend Veronica or my mentor J,  you may leave an indelible impact on someone else’s life.

*=not their real name

Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis

dedicated to: someone who inspires me

written on : 8/20/2018

When I first met you

You were full of grace

And I saw something true

A soul to embrace

 

Then the darkness fell,

Your light was hidden

The dark engulfed us

But then the sun rose

 

Again I saw your light,

Shining many colors

Like a butterfly

Flying in sunlight

Why Love is Worth It

Too many times I hear on the news, stories like these: a man kills his pregnant wife and two children, because he had an affair with another woman; people in the government spewing words of hatred and vitriol at each other because they can’t stand the others’ criticism,  several teenagers beating up a man because they believed he was Muslim. The man beaten up, as it turns out, wasn’t a Muslim at all. He was Sikh, but no matter. The point is, news stories like these reflect the problem of apathy and hatred in our society.  Moreover, hate is ultimately not worth it—not for those around you, and also not for you either.

Wouldn’t you rather hear stories like these, anyway:  a.) A caring police officer saves the life of a little girl trapped in a hot car for twelve hours.   b) A teenage girl touches many lives by seeking and encouraging the new in her school, the hurting, and the disabled.  After she is martyred, many people share with her parents what an impact she had made on their lives.  c.) Many people band together on social media and volunteer to return a lost dog to its owners.

While hate ultimately destroys everyone and everything in its path, love restores, renews, and redeems. Love, as I define it, is not simply a romantic gesture, but the real life, gritty, lavish, life-changing, joy-filled sacrifice and life that both believes the best in others and seeks their best.

This love, though it may be tough to live out sometimes, is always worth it. Here is why:

  1. Love positively changes others’ lives: – Love can influence people’s hearts. Heart, as defined here, is the soul of someone—with all their emotions, thoughts, and passions. True love can soften someone who previously was callous and cold.  When you show sacrificial and genuine love to someone, their spirit is lifted up. We all want to be loved, and when someone shows us a deep, genuine love, we instinctively know we have value in their eyes. For instance, I know my family loves me because they have often sacrificed time, money, and their own interests to help me through something or because they know I would be impacted positively because of their sacrifices. When my friends and I show love to each other at work, I see our eyes light up and people’s hearts generally soften, even if they have a “tough guy or gal” mentality on the outside. Love also can cause a chain reaction. When Rachel Joy Scott touched many lives in her community by her kindness and generosity, after she passed away, many people have been inspired to touch lives the way Rachel did, including this writer.  Naturally, if a leader leads with kindness, their people are likely to follow their example. Love can also heal brokenness. For example, in my own life, there were several people at work I did not get along with for one reason or another. However, when I intentionally tried to be  kind and loving to them, I found that not only did these people softened towards me, but I also began to heal from the bitterness and anger I had felt for them. Also, when a survivor of abuse, bullying and other hurts is finally, truly loved, with no strings attached, they begin to heal from their pains dramatically.
  2. Love positively changes your life: When you truly demonstrate sacrificial love for someone else, your character will be built. For instance, when I was a young child, I was extremely rigid and self-centered. However, as I began to learn how to love and care for others, these tendencies began to become less and less. No, I am still not perfect, and I still do struggle occasionally with these self-centered and inflexible tendencies, but I can tell you that I am a much better person now than when I was ten years old! Love also helps you gain confidence in yourself and others. As you love others, and see the positive effects of genuine love in your life, you will see yourself and the world in a much brighter light. No wonder many counselors suggest that people who are depressed do something to love another person! Because of this confidence, love will help you have more joy in your life.
  3. Finally, love is worth it, because there is always hope in love: True love always perseveres, even when everything else has given up. For instance, some people were telling me to give up on someone that I had harbored a grudge against. Ultimately, though, my love for them didn’t allow me to give up, and I was able to forgive them.  There is always forgiveness in love. True love never holds grudges. Once you hold a grudge against someone for more than a day, you no longer love them.  True love also looks positively to the future and to the other person who is being loved.  A person who truly loves someone else never gets jealous, but truly wants the best for the other person, even if it doesn’t always include the lover.

Yes, it is tough to truly love sometimes, but it is certainly worth it. Not only will true love positively impact those around you, but it will also positively change your own life as well.  Also, if you don’t give up loving, even in the difficult times, there will be much hope for you and your loved ones in the future. So never give up on love, because it is always worth it!

A Beautiful Life

Poem written on : 8/8/2018

Through many trials

Through some regrets

I came to see

A beautiful life

 

Had it not been for surgeons

Had it not been for pastors

Had it not been for doctors

Had it not been for teachers

 

Had it not been for my family

Had it not been for friends

Had it not been for managers

Had it not been for you

 

Who knows where I’d be

What gifts I wouldn’t see

What love I would miss

What joy be absent

 

What a beautiful life I lead

Though I may miss some worldly success

Had it not been for all of you

I may not have ever succeeded

What I learned in Five Years

Five years ago today, I had just been employed at my previous job for a few months.   Also, I was five years into membership at my previous church.  I had just met my mentor J, maybe a year back.  All in all, I could have never known the adventures in my life that awaited me, even a year or two later.  Five years later, I can honestly say that I have learned so much. Here are some of the things I learned:

First and foremost, I learned how to relate better to other people.  The one thing that I will always appreciate about my former place of employment is that they taught me so much about how to relate successfully to customers that I also apply to the job that I have now.  For instance, I learned how to cater to the customer’s needs, even when it may have been inconvenient or difficult to do so. Thus, I learned just how valuable the customers are to the business.  More recently, I have also learned the power of forgiveness. I can think of several people that I currently work with or for that I had misgivings about in the past, with whom I now get along great!  One important thing that I learned from those experiences that helped me to be able to forgive these people is to put myself in their shoes.  I know it may seem very difficult to do, especially since they hurt you! It was tough for me too, but when I was able to do this, I found that I was able to see, not just the person that hurt and damaged me, but maybe a hurting, vulnerable soul inside. I was able to see them through eyes of compassion and love, instead of through eyes of hate and disgust. Thus, I also learned how to love people better. Though being angry is still a struggle for me, I have learned so much about understanding others better and being a living sacrifice both for God and others.

Secondly, I learned some secrets to be content. Overall, I can say, five years later, I am more content with my life than I had been before.  One secret of contentment that I learned is gratitude.  In 2014, a year after 2013 (which was five years ago), I became very ill and had to be rushed to the E.R one day. (For the full story on this, go to this link.).  To make a long story short, I had an inflamed gallbladder that was twice the size it should have been, and it had to be removed. However, it was only three years after the surgery that I realized that I could have died had the surgery not occurred when it did! So, realizing that, I have learned to value my life more.  Also, many people around me have either gotten sick or died, and experiencing these trials alongside them has helped me to appreciate my good health more and also the value of making a positive difference in others’ lives.  Very recently, I have also learned to worry less. Though I still struggle with worry sometimes, I can happily say it is less than before. I have learned to trust God’s plan for me and also to let certain things that used to worry and aggravate me, go. For instance, I used to get really upset when traffic was really bad and people cut in front of me.  However, ever since my recent vacation where I learned how to tolerate traffic that was BEYOND horrible (even though I did not drive), I learned to be more patient and grateful for the comparatively smoother traffic I have where I live!

Finally, I also learned how to stay motivated and passionate in life.  One of the things I learned was to widen my interests. I learned this primarily by reading others’ blogs, as part of the blogging community I am part of online. Reading blogs covering a variety of topics, has piqued my interests in things that I didn’t care about or focus much on before, such as cooking and travel.  I also met diverse groups of people at work and at church. Meeting these people has also helped me discover new interests and things to learn about that I have never explored before.  I also have learned how to look to the life beyond the grave. Because of what I have learned in church and in life, I have learned to focus on a.) eternal rewards (i.e heaven) and b.) leaving a positive legacy for future generations more. This focus has motivated me to do the best I can in almost every aspect of my life. I want to leave this world knowing that I contributed something of value to it, and that I loved others as the valuable beings they are.

Overall, though these past five years have gone by so fast, I have learned so much. I can honestly say that I am a different person than the one five years ago. In the future, I want to continue to grow as a person and continue to live a positive legacy for those around me.

On Loss and Love: Lessons Learned 

-in memory of all my loved ones and friends who have passed away

This past week, for me, has been a week of both contemplation and mourning.  The day when I was to attend a memorial service for my friend’s sister, I found out that a dear congregant of my church, who I was just starting to know, had just passed away.  Meanwhile, I heard on the T.V broadcast, more sobering news about the problems of violence in Chicago. Also, I heard on the broadcast that white nationalists and anti-racist protestors where planning marches all across the country. The last time this happened (i.e  last year), there was widespread violence—especially in Charlottesville.  While I have heard that both my friend’s sister and the dear congregant valued people and life, sadly much of society is turning the other way.  I believe that one of the roots of most of society’s ills is the fact that they don’t really value people.

In fact, one lesson that I learned on loss and love is not to take others for granted.  Unfortunately, all of us (including me, of course), have been guilty of taking for granted someone’s presence, at one time or another.  For instance, for many years, I had not taken much of an effort to really help or get to know my aunt. Yes, I appreciated all that she had done for my family and me, but it didn’t register in my head just how much she had done, until she got very sick when I saw her about a month ago.  Fortunately, I still can get to know her now. Also, I was very fortunate that I was able to visit my dear congregant before she passed away and realize what a beautiful and joyous soul she was, even in the midst of her pain and suffering!   Had I not realized how much my aunt had done for me now, and had I not taken the time to see and get to know my dear congregant friend before she had passed away, I would have been filled with regret and deep sadness about missing opportunities to see such beautiful souls.  One practical way not to take others for granted is to thank the people in your life who have had a positive impact on you.  Don’t just assume that they will be with you forever, because even tomorrow is not guaranteed for us—or them either.  Don’t assume they will be able to provide their help or impact you in the way you want them to, because sickness or death may take them.

Another lesson that I have learned on loss and love is to value the time that I have on this earth. Strive not to waste time. I know waiting in line or in traffic may seem like “time-wasters,” but I don’t mean those. The more dangerous time-wasters in our life, I believe, are being jealous of someone, chasing material wealth, and obsessing over our outer appearance.  I am beginning to learn more and more that being jealous of someone (for more on jealousy, or envy, please see this post.)  is so much a waste of time, primarily because it does not work to improve oneself, only to destroy another person.  Also, thinking in your head ways to destroy a person ultimately not only hardens your heart, but also ultimately destroys you, if this envy is left unchecked.  Chasing material wealth is a waste of time because it does not last forever. When you die, you cannot take your wealth or even your car with you.  Being generous and leaving a positive mark on this world will last longer than trying to hold on to something that ultimately will be destroyed or lost.  Obsessing over outer beauty is also a waste of time because ultimately it won’t last. We get older, and eventually our body decomposes after we die.   Yes, we should strive to look and smell decent whenever we can, since this is a gesture of politeness. However, we should not have to spend hours looking good every day just to impress others.  So, how do we save time? I would attest that the best uses of our time are to spend it joyfully with those you love and/or care about, by serving others in need, and by doing what you can to benefit others.

Thirdly, another lesson that I learned in love and loss is to forgive, forgive, and forgive.  Even when a family member hurt my friend and her sister, they still took care of and loved this person when they became sick.  Had they had still held on to their bitterness and resentment, things would have probably turned out much differently.  When we die, knowing we forgave those who had hurt us, I believe we will leave this earth much more joyfully and at peace than if we hold on to bitterness and anger against someone else.  This is one reason that I am glad that I was able to forgive some of the people that I worked with that had hurt me emotionally.   I know I have forgiven one of them, because now I feel closer to them and actually care about them more deeply than I have ever had before.

Finally, but not least, another important lesson in loss and love I learned is to strive to enjoy life.  My dear congregant friend, even though she could barely get out of bed and was in immense pain, still was able to greet my other friend and me with a joyous demeanor when we saw her.  From her, I learned that one is still able to have joy even in the midst of life’s trials. I can have confidence that either or both God and my loved ones will always be with me in the midst of my pain, and in that I can rejoice.  I can look to the positive aspects of my life that are still intact, and focus on those, instead of my pain. I am still struggling to apply this to my life, but I do see some improvements.  My congregant friend, even though she is no longer with us, still inspires me with her infectious smile that was present even in the midst of her illness and suffering.  I also have learned to enjoy every moment of my life.  Even in waiting in line to pay for groceries, for example, one still can enjoy it by striking up conversation with the other people waiting in line for you. This can be an opportunity to see the beauty in the souls with you.   Learn to enjoy life even in the mundane tasks that you may have to do at work or at school.  I see too many people just going through the motions, and then wondering why life is so hard and depressing.  Find joy in the people you are with. Don’t assume that everyone you are going to meet is a jerk. Yes, some of them are, but there are also others who may be very considerate and loving of you.  Try not to focus on the tasks and the people that make us miserable, but on those that help you get through the day.

Both my friend’s sister and my dear congregant friend embraced life and others in a way that allowed them to both enjoy life and value others.  This is the legacy they will leave to me, and this is the same way I strive to live my life. Sometimes, death makes us ponder what our purpose in life is and where we are going.  This pondering is vital so that we can fulfill our life’s purpose and be more focused on what’s most important in our lives. We have only a limited time on this earth. Let’s make it count!