More Than I Could Ever Dream

-written 3/5/19

When I was growing up, I was a naughty and very active child.  Despite my energy, I did not really have any close friends.  Back then, I dreamed of one day going to a prestigious university, like my parents, and getting the best grades possible. I probably thought, unconsciously, that if I made it to a prestigious and a good university, I would then be able to get a job that would pay me a lot of money, and thus I would win friends and influence.

Indeed, I worked very hard in school and got decent grades.  However, I really didn’t have passion for the content of what I studied; I just wanted to do well to please my parents and also to be “the –girl-who-worked-hard-and-got-the-best-grades.”   I wanted to be respected and valued. In retrospect, getting good grades at school became a sort of idol for me.  I worshipped the god of achievement, and without it, I reasoned that I was worthless.  

Shattered Dreams

(courtesy of photobias)

Then, when I was sixteen years old, I struggled through several classes. I no longer got the grades I wanted or needed. I was even in danger of failing a class. One of my teachers even said in so many words that he didn’t believe I would ever amount to much in this life, probably partly due to the fact I wasn’t doing so well in his class. I also lacked peer support. In fact, no one in my class dared to counter what that teacher said to me. I also I felt my family could not relate to the turmoil inside me, as they seemed to be living a different life.  In fact, in a journal entry from April 1999, I had written, “I wish I could be more […] effervescent (lively). I feel dead without being physically killed. I hope I don’t die emotionally, but I am dying. If I could only find that zest, that greatness life is supposed to hold. But where is it, at least in me?” I was so depressed that I wanted an escape, maybe to even end my life.

However, several months later, God saved me from that.  Fast forward a few years later, I went to college, but not at a prestigious university which I had dreamed.  After I graduated, I tried to look for work in my field of study, but to no avail.

After that, I finally found a part-time job in retail. There, I learned many customer service skills and other people skills I needed to succeed.  I did well there, but after a while, I felt God calling me to somewhere else—a place where I never thought I’d end up.  It was during that time, that God was preparing me for a new life, where He would give me more than I could have ever dreamed.

I was so excited when I got an interview at one of the local bookstores near where I lived! I had always dreamed of working in a bookstore!  I loved books, and the workers there seemed nice.  However, the day of the interview, I quickly found out that I wasn’t the right fit.  At this point, I didn’t think I would get another job opportunity any time soon. The search went on.

Metamorphosis

Then, one, cold wintry day on February 25, 2016, I went with my mom to the store I now work to buy a few things.  What I did not know was that trip would change my life forever.   

I asked the HR representative the status of my resume, and after that she offered me to interview at 1 pm.  Since I didn’t have adequate time to prepare or change into more formal attire, my mom and I ate lunch at the mall nearby, and then I went back to the store to get interviewed.  When I got interviewed, I was so nervous and stuttering over my words, that I thought surely they wouldn’t accept me. To my surprise, I got a job offer! I waited until the next day to accept, after I sought counsel from my family.  On March 10, I officially started at my current job.

Meanwhile, many people were leaving my now-former church. I loved that church, but inside there were so many changes that it rocked the congregation. About half of the congregation left or were in the process of leaving.  At about the same period of time, my brother told my parents and me that he was going to go to school in Texas to get his Master’s degree.  What I didn’t know then was my brother was going to live there permanently.

I felt, except for my new job, that my dreams were going to be shattered all over again.  I would either have to accept the changes at my now-former church or find somewhere different to worship. Not going to church wasn’t even an option for me.  I would also have to adjust to life without  some of the support of my brother.

My brother left for Texas in August 2016. The day he left, the house felt hollow and quiet. The basement that used to be full of my brother’s stuff was now almost bare, but habitable again.  My dad went with my brother to help him move.  My mom and I remained at home.  I felt numb and solemn that day. My heart felt like there was something missing—the void where my brother’s physical presence radiated my life.

Then, in mid-October, I said goodbye to the church that I had been attending for about ten years.  It was very hard, as I had established so many friendships there, and these people were like a second family to me.  Before I left to visit a church nearby, I was in tears, as I said goodbye to some of the congregants.

However, there was a very bright spot, in the midst of all the goodbyes, a month before I left my now-former church.

In September, I was working the swing shift, and one of my managers, Hope* was closing with me.  She was complimenting me about my performance that day. Since I was still part-time, I told her, “I am thinking of becoming full-time. However, Chris*, my manager, said I should wait a while. I was wondering how long I should wait.” Then, Hope replied, “You shouldn’t have to wait. You deserve full-time.”  Later on, or the next day, she put me in for full-time. Later, Chris also approved my full- time status. I was ecstatic!  Because of all the challenges that I had to face, I never dreamed I would ever get a full time job in my life! 

A month later, after I had left my former church, I visited another church.  It had many more people than the one I had previously visited.  A friendly couple greeted me and I sat by them.  Even the pastors were friendly. The sermon that day was very thought-provoking and relatable to what I was going through in my life. I didn’t know yet if this was going to be my new home church, but I liked their genuineness and their devotion to the Word of God, so I kept going. In August of the next year, I officially became a member of my current church.  Through my church, I have learned how to have an engaging quiet time with God, how to view life more positively and differently than most of the rest of the world, and how to forgive people who have hurt you deeply.


God’s Perfect Plan

No, I never got the six figure salary I had dreamed of, nor did I get into a prestigious college. However, I have been blessed with more than I could have ever dreamed. Through my church family and people at work, I have gained a strong support system. Also, I am still in touch with several people from my old church, who I still consider good friends, even though they live very far away from where I am now.  Through the tough situations I find myself in at work, God has used those to strengthen and shape my character into His.  Through church, I continue to train to be able to share the love and hope that I found in life through God and His gracious plans for me.  Yes, I still have bad days, but overall, I have found more joy and satisfaction during these past two years, than at any other time in my life. God has certainly blessed me with more than I could ever dream!

*=names have been changed for privacy reasons

What I’m Learning From Recent Changes in My Life

As you may recall in my previous posts, in 2016, I went through some of the toughest and most drastic changes in my life. 2016 was when I got my current job. It was also the year my brother moved away, and I started to attend my current church, after having been at my previous one for ten years!  Here I am, three years later, and am about to undergo, and have undergone even more changes in my life!  First of all, at church, we are in a period of transition, where we will soon be getting a new pastor, as my current senior pastor will be stepping down after 40 plus years of service to our church.  Second of all, there have been so many changes that have been occurring at my job that I couldn’t keep track of them all unless I really thought about it! Finally, there are some other personal changes that I have been going through or will be going through that will have a great impact on my life. Even in these various changes going on in my life, God is still teaching me so much, that can be not only applied to me in the situations I find myself in, but also to everyone else, in their life situations.

The first thing I am learning is to not waste time because time is fleeting. In the past, when I thought I had a lot of time, I had more of a temptation to waste time, because I thought that I still had a lot left.  I thought that if I saved certain tasks for later (i.e procrastinate on some things), that I would have something to occupy me later so that I wouldn’t get bored.  For instance, if I wanted to enjoy watching a certain movie, I would save it for a time “when I really got bored” so I would have something to do later.  While it is good to be able to delay gratification sometimes, I am learning more and more that I shouldn’t wait to enjoy life while there is still time, because there may not be a later.  Also, something that I have been learning and that I really, really regret, is that I never really said everything that I needed to that was on my heart to those people I loved, and now some of them are leaving. For instance, my current pastor is leaving after 40 plus years of service in our church, and I have only been attending for less than three years. I regret that I did not really get to know how amazing my pastor is as a person and as a pastor, because I never really spent much time with him or his wife. From now on, I will strive to make time for the people that matter the most to me. Instead of spending hours stressing about work or surfing mindlessly online, I will strive to spend more time with those I love and like.  I also strive to not be afraid to say the things that I need to say to those I love and/or admire the most. I had been afraid to say some of the “nice” things too, because I didn’t want to sound “fake” or too “mushy.” However, now I realize that since it is from my heart, I am not being fake or mushy.  So, is there something on you hear that you would like to tell your loved ones or friends? Don’t wait until it is too late to tell them how much they mean to you. You may never get another opportunity to say what you need to say!

The second thing I am learning is to stop worrying about the future and trust God. When I first underwent some of these changes, I admit I had a worrisome “What-if” mentality in my head. Since I didn’t know exactly how these changes would impact my life, I assumed the worst, and that made me miserable and cranky.  However, through the message that my next pastor was preaching yesterday, I learned that I need to let go of the worry and the possible “What-if” scenarios that may or may not play out, and just trust the process.  For instance, one of the changes at my work is to my schedule. I was content with working mornings, but now they want most people to work second shift, including me.  I was initially worried that this change would stress me out to breakdown point, and I even tried to fight it a little bit. However, God showed me, in the sovereignty He had over the events of my life, that this change was from Him.  I learned from God through that message yesterday that when I entrusted the situation to Him, that He would give me the strength and the resources I needed to get through the change in my life, and indeed He has! When we worry about the future, we don’t allow God to work to change us so we can successfully adjust later on.  We get stuck in the past and “What-if” scenarios, and we waste time worrying, instead of asking God to help us get through today.

Finally, I am learning that God’s presence and guidance will help me through the transitions in my life.  This year, I am striving to let God have control of my life and not to “help” Him through the situations in my life.  In fact, the more I try to control certain things in my life, the more chaotic and destructive my life often becomes!  However, when I relax and not let my anxiety and my desire for control take over me, as I let go and allow God to work through me, I find that I am much more calm and able to do His will. Often when I try to fight the changes in my life, the more apparent the changes become! This also happens when I am trying to escape a situation or a person. For instance, if God wanted a person to be in my life, but I didn’t want the person in my life for whatever reason, God would make it so that I would see the person more often! However, when I just tried to deal with that person in a godly manner, the situation either became better or that person that was bothering me in my life would finally leave.

Even in the changes of my life, I am comforted by the fact that God never changes, and that He will continue to teach me valuable life lessons as I am being shaped into His image.  I am learning to use my time more wisely and more intentionally for the people that I have been called by God to minister.  I am learning to be less anxious about change, and to trust that God will bring me through all these transitions.  God is still working in our lives, even through change. The question is, will we continue to let Him?

Beautiful Sunshine

 written on 12/27/2018

-Dedicated to I.T

Your presence shined like the sun

With joy and love, your area was run

You healed the depths of my pain

When I was going insane

 

You have taught me so much

About life, love, work and such

Your influence blossomed in me

‘Til your beauty I would see

 

But then you were gone away

Sadness and joy filled your last day

Though there is a hole in my heart

Your impact on me will never part

Lessons Learned From a Manager I Will Never Forget

It was a cloudy and cold February day in 2016. My mom and I just stopped by my current place of employment on the way from shopping and also to check the status of my application. The first person I met there was the HR manager, who, surprisingly, scheduled me an interview that same day at 1 pm—not enough time to prepare anything spectacular and change into nicer clothes, since it was almost lunchtime.

The second person I met was a woman, Anastasia,* who was also interviewing for a similar job, and she was dressed for the interview. We made small talk, while waiting to be interviewed.

The third person I met was the interviewer. I did not know this, at the time, but he was going to be my manager, Chris*.  I was very nervous while being interviewed. He asked me only one question, “How did you go above and beyond for a customer?” I answered, nervously stumbling over my words, that I would go to great lengths, even asking a manager for help if I was not able to help them myself, and praying for them if they wanted prayer.  Because I was so nervous, I was not even sure if I was going to be accepted for the job!

Chris was very busy, walking back and forth, between either stocking or doing returns and checking on the job offer process.  I had never seen a manager work that hard in my life!

About a half an hour after being interviewed, Anastasia and I both found out that we were accepted for the job! Anastasia accepted immediately, but I sought counsel from my loved ones, before accepting the job offer the next day.

After that, though I didn’t realize this at the time, that Chris would make such an impact on my life and teach me some important life lessons, I would never forget him:

Here are some of the lessons Chris taught me that can be applied to anyone’s life as well:

  1. Whatever you do, do it with all your heart.–Ever since I first met Chris, he never did anything half-heartedly. He always worked to ensure each customer had the best possible service experience possible. I remember once he gave the customer a discount because the product wasn’t priced correctly. He also made accommodations for associates’ schedules, understanding that they have a life outside of work too. Once, Chris gave me a Saturday off so that I could go to my good friend’s son’s graduation party. He also worked hard at what he did too, working extremely long hours and sacrificing everything  sometimes to ensure that things got done that needed to be.  Because I saw that he worked with all his heart, I became inspired also to never to do things half-heartedly whenever possible. I, too, found myself wanting to work with all my heart. This resulted in me being able to gain the respect of others and striving to be even better in what I did, as an associate.  Even my friend Mark* commented recently that Chris always worked so hard, even though people didn’t really appreciate him.
  2. Strive to know each person’s life story before judging them.— During my first year of knowing Chris, I had such a difficult time getting to really know or understand him. Thus, we had many conflicts. It was very difficult for me to think positively about him, because I had already judged him a certain way in my heart. However, when Chris told me about all the sacrifices he has had to make every day for the people at my workplace, including me, I was so filled with remorse and regret about not valuing him as I should have that I later cried in the break room.  He forgave me, but I had learned an important lesson that day: Not to judge people before knowing what they have to go through.  Plato, or someone, had said to be kind because everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.  I find that when I learn each person’s life story, that I don’t judge them negatively anymore, but I become filled with more compassion and understanding of what they have had to go through on a daily basis. Thanks to the lesson that Chris taught me about this, I have met some of the most genuine and compassionate people through taking the time and effort to learn their life story a bit more.
  3. Work to value each person in your midst, or you will regret it when they are gone or leave you.— During that first year when Chris was my manager, I don’t think I really valued him. I never knew that one day I would be faced with the reality that I would probably never get to see him again, and that I would regret that year to this day. I was so consumed with anger and bitterness towards him, that I was blind to the light in his soul.  However, one of my pastors, Pastor John,* helped me to release that junk to God, and later our work relationship was able to be redeemed. Unfortunately, Chris would be moved to another area of the store altogether, and then to a different shift altogether.  I still got to talk to him, but much less than before.  My heart hurts knowing that I will never be able to redeem the time that I lost that first year to bitterness, anger, and resentment that should have never occurred.  I should have valued him much more—because not only did he give me the opportunity to be employed at my current job, but he taught and gave me so much that I will never be able to adequately repay.  So, we should learn to value each person that walks our path, because they all can teach us something to better our life. Sometimes, they can even change our lives for the better—and those are the people we should keep close to our hearts before we lose them altogether.

When we are passionate and diligent about what we do with our lives, when we learn about others before judging them and when we work to value each person that is in our midst, we will make the world a better place.  Though I know that my time with Chris, just as with everyone else, is limited, I will always be thankful for what he has done for my workplace and for me, and the impact he has made in my life.

 

*=names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals mentioned.

Why Not to Take People For Granted

I recently watched a video about a husband who wanted a divorce from his wife, but she had a request before he could go through with the decision—He had to carry her to the front door of their home each day for a month.  He did so, and as the days went by, she grew increasingly thinner. Something  also happened inside him, and he began to feel renewed love for his wife, even telling his lover whom he had an affair with that he no longer wanted to divorce his wife.  However, by that time, it was too late. His wife had died on his way back home to her.  She wanted her husband’s love so badly that she made him carry her just as he did when he first married her. The thing is that her husband did love her in the end, but it was too late for her to know that. You can see this video at: https://www.facebook.com/powerofpositivity/videos/1015526229483237/

I am not married, but this video can apply to all of us, married or not.  After I watched this video, I almost cried because I thought about all the people that were hurting in my midst, that I didn’t know about, some of whom I had taken for granted. 

I’m speaking to myself, as much as I am to you, the reader, but I beg you—Do not be that husband in that video who almost divorced his wife and was too late in appreciating all the things she did for him.  Do not be the parent, child, friend, employee, teacher, student, or boss that realized too late what your loved ones and those who cared about you have done for you.  Do not be so busy with life, or your own self-serving desires that you emotionally and psychologically kill the souls of those who you love the most.  Do not be so self-absorbed in your own little world that you forget the needs and the struggles of those around you. 

If we don’t appreciate all that has been given to us—the things that we failed to appreciate will be taken away from us.

For our family–Do you have a wife, husband, father, mother, or child that serves selflessly for the entire family without expecting anything in return? Has a family member or members sacrificed everything for your happiness and joy? Do not think that they will always be able or willing to do that for you. Do not take them for granted. Sincerely say to them, “Thank you and I love you. I appreciate all you have done for me.”  Treasure them as greater than anything that this world has to offer.  Be willing to serve them with no expectation of return. Be willing to sacrifice your life for them.

For our friends—Do you have a true, blue friend who doesn’t leave you when you face troubles or trials in life, always encourages you to be your best, and who loves you as you are?  Do not take advantage of them for your own selfish desires—lest you lose someone great and wonderful!  Thank them, and be willing to return the favor should such an opportunity arise for you.  Treasure them as more valuable than gold or silver. Be a friend to them.

For our co-workers—Do you know a fellow co-worker who has always helped you out when you were in a snag? Do you know an employee who consistently goes above and beyond, not only for their own benefit, but for the good of the whole company?  Thank them.  Bosses, you don’t have to give them extra perks, or treat them better than others.  Bosses and employees—take the time to appreciate those who make your work life something that you can enjoy or, at least, make more bearable.  Do not wait until the employee quits, gets transferred, or somehow leaves the company to let them know how much you appreciated them or to realize how much they contributed to your life.  Notice these people now, before it is too late for you—and for the company you work for.

For our teachers —Is there a special teacher or teachers that have positively impacted your life? Do not wait until it is too late to thank them for the impact they made in your life. Let them know they are appreciated and that you are learning valuable life lessons from them.  Often, teachers get the brunt of the blame and criticism when things go wrong, but when they do something good, it is either brushed aside, or it is barely noticed.  Thanking them and doing what you can to show you care for them will keep these teachers motivated to keep doing the good they have done.

Who in your life have you taken for granted? Who in your life do you need to thank? Take time to thank them today. If we take time to appreciate each of the people in our lives that has positively impacted us, not only will the other person feel loved and valued, but you will also have the joy  and peace in knowing that you said everything that you needed to say—before it was too late.

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!

My Heart Will Always Be With You

My Heart Will Always Be With You

For Erica*, Veronica*, Kelly*, Ted,* Chris* and Elizabeth*  (*=names changed for privacy) 

 

For all that we have been through

Both for the good times and bad

For all the laughter and the tears

My heart will always be with you

 

For all that I have learned from you

For all the truth you showed me

For the joy that you are to me

My heart will always be with you

 

Even when you have to leave me

Even if I can’t be with you

Or your face I can’t again see

My heart will always be with you