Thursday, March 29, 2007

More than Meets the Eye

You know the overused saying, "Don't judge a book by it's cover"? I've always wondered about it. I've never really judged a book by its cover per se -- it was the titles that always got me.
(You know the world's social handicap is increasing in severity when you see books like that on the shelves! This book's written by the Australian bestselling author, Andrew Matthews, by the way. It's supposed to be good -- don't get me wrong. *chuckles*)

But I shouldn't distract myself.

I was just wondering how so easily one can assume something of the other without really knowing for sure. More often than not, our characters are summed up with one singular action. It seems absurd to you now that a single act could dictate and determine who you were, are and will become. But most of us do it, without really knowing why.

Recently, I read one of my friend's testimonies on a church newsletter. She spoke of her little sister whom, at quick glance, seemed obese and shared of how quickly people tend to judge her based on her size. In true fact, her little sister had gone through a series of health problems that eventually led to her current state. I immediately could relate.

Let me introduce you to one of my heroes.

This is Phanuel.

He's my little brother. And he's autistic.

At first glance, one might think he is an obese, unruly and unsociable boy. He would just be another kid with a mental handicap. But if they'd just try to get to know him better, they'd realize how wonderful he truly is.

Autism is basically a condition where there is a severe lack in neurons/brain cells or an extreme abundance of it. It distorts, or rather, in more correct terms, changes his/her perspective of things. Based on my own observations, here's a theory:

When we see this:

He sees this:
...or perhaps even more.

An autistic child could just get lost or excited with a simple diagram. While it may seem like a dead doodle to our own eyes, but to them, it's probably as exciting as going to the zoo for the first time and gaping down a lion's throat.

We've taught Phanuel to read and it takes so much of his time, patience, and effort to sit still and gather his thoughts to read just one word at a time. There was this one time when I was tutoring Phanuel; I just placed a book in front of him and said, "Read." He stared at the book -- the pictures, the words. But he stayed silent. I nudged him gently and said, "Go on. Read." And i will never forget the incredulous look he gave me when i said that.

It was almost like he was saying: "What in the supermarket did you think I was doing then? Sky-diving?"

Sometimes, he gets so frustated whilst reading that he throws tantrums. But it's only because we have to force him to do something our way. We "normal" human beings tend to get so alarmed when another is not able to respond, act, or communicate the same way we do. And so we teach them our ways, so that they can become us.

What an achievement.

His first word was "Dinosaur"
My little brother started out alright. When he was two, he suffered a horrible bout of fever and then, he never was the same. Can you imagine watching your brother singing and speaking little words, only to go back to silence? He could no longer maintain proper eye contact, and did not respond to his name. It was heartbreaking.

Phanuel had always loved dinosaurs. "Walking with Dinosaurs" was then a famous BBC documentary. Phanuel was seven and had watched every episode just once. And while he still couldn't speak and couldn't relate to the world as we knew it, he typed out and made a whole PowerPoint presentation of what he could remember of the documentary. Yes, PowerPoint. How'd he learn that? From behind my shoulder.

And people fret that they're not like us.

There is really more than meets the eye. There is more to a person than what they do or did, than how they look like. We know this in theory, but yet we're still guilty of premature judgement. I know I am.

I was reading I Samuel 16, the infamous account of how young David was anointed as king.

vs 7: But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or his physical stature, because I have refused Him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."

Samuel had looked at outward stature but God had not chosen any of David's bigger, and well-built brothers. This is a verse that I'd read many times before. But this time, I had a question. "Why do we, more often than not, assume so much when we know so little?" And then it hit me.

The Lord doesn't see as man sees.

It is very human of us to depend on the physical, because it is unnatural (or rather, supernatural) for us to look past the faults and deficiencies. It is Christ-like to look at the heart. What this means is that without God, it is going to be pretty hard to go against your human nature to steal a peek at someone else's heart. What we need is to see what God sees. What we need is...

A periscope.

Wiki says that a periscope may be used "for seeing over people's heads in a crowd". I thought the concept simple yet profound. Sometimes all we see are people, being in the crowd ourselves - and this limits our view and eventually suffocates thought.

When our thoughts are stunted due to the lack in visual input from God, we settle down and begin to develop our common mindsets from the little that we see. The kind of mindsets that are usually hard to break free from.

That's why we need a GodPeriscope! So, we can see above the crowd. We'll get a bit of the Godview of things. Life would take a different turn for many.

You know, many times i've just sat and watched Phanuel doing his puzzles, watching his favorite cartoon, and whatever else. He would be so focused whilst doing it, and for a brief moment, he seemed okay...normal. And i wonder What IF. What if he was born a normal boy, what potential he'd have, what fun he'd be. My heart would just be overwhelmed with this sudden sadness. But then i realized, he wasn't complaining.

He knew how to express himself. When he was angry, he threw tantrums; when he was sad, he cried; and when he was happy, he'd laugh. He didn't care what others would think of him, how different he would seem.... he was just happy with himself.

And sometimes, I wonder why it takes so much for us to be happy with ourselves. What we should be focusing on would be doing what God intended us to do; delighting in Him, being a joy and loving Him, completing the good stuff He started in us. But we tend to focus on the wrong things most of the time. We choose to see the huge boulder in our pathway, instead of the glorious destination we're heading towards. We pursue selfish priorities, materialistic desires.

It's no wonder the Lord doesn't see as man sees.

"Say God, can i get one of those?" *points at a periscope on a shelf*

The Phoebe Show

The Clip was taken on the 10th of March 2006, in Oasis, The Youth Center where CFs from around Subang Jaya gather. I editted it and sent it like an ecard to my friends and family as a bit of a joke. Found it in my virtual junk and decided to put it up. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

My Ordinary Miracle (Part Three)

"My name is Phoebe. I am lost. Can you give me directions?"

"I think 99% - you have the job," said the young manager who interviewed me, just two days before. I was surprised, honestly. She noticed my shock and explained that she liked the way I had presented myself. And seeing as theirs was a customer service business, i had fit the mould like a glove. However, her main concern, she said, was the fact that i had no previous customer service experience. "This job can be somewhat tough on newbies." I nodded solemnly, thanked her and left the room. She was right. I had no idea what customer service really meant.

But now, with a bag of clothes, books and hope, I arrived in Kuala Lumpur. I'd taken a bus down by myself and was waiting for my ride at the Pudu Station.

Whilst stacking my stuff into the van, my best friend asked me, "So, you'll need lots of other stuff right?" I nodded my head and proceeded with my list of very BASIC needs. He dismissed most of the list by offering to "loan" items to me. *chuckles* I was very fortunate that way. If I had to buy everything on that list, I would've been broke by the stroke of midnight!

Shortly after, I was selecting a cheap, comfortable mattress that I could rest on, for the next six months or so. Finally finding a reasonable buy, we headed to a little place that I would call my home from that day forward. After parking in front of a kindergarten, we walked towards the house. My friend was on the phone with my soon-to-be roommate, Jo Ann. Minutes later, bubbly Jo came out and handshakes were exchanged. I was a little quiet then; it was hard to swallow all at once. You have to understand, absolutely everything was new to me. The smell of the inside of the van, the thick air, the smiles, the faces, the information, the buildings, the way of life. Everything.

And for the first time in my life, I suddenly felt afraid.

The insecurity I felt is hard to describe. Maybe you've felt it before, maybe you haven't - but it wasn't pleasant, I can offer you that. I felt small-ish and very disillusioned. I was in who-knows-where, about to be doing who-knows-what for who-knows-how-long for who-knows-what-for. I wasn't really new to new environments. I'd been thrown into a few in the past couple of years. Somehow, this just felt different. Maybe it's because of the layer of stench that hung gloomily in our neighborhood. Maybe the purpose of the stint had seemed too unreachable then, that it felt like a wrong move. I'm not really sure. All I knew was that whether i liked it or not, I had already taken the plunge to work here. There was no time for cowardice acts of turning back.

I stood outside the house for a split moment, just soaking everything in. Besides the foul smell that clogged the air (from the pets next door), the house seemed small and cozy. It was livable and it was home. I remember much from my first night and had a great time talking to Jo before falling asleep at three in the morning.

It was 7.00 a.m. the following day, and I was nervous. I had taken the train to KLCC from Wangsa Maju and was now walking through Avenue K, hoping against hope that I'd remember how to get to work. (I'd only been there once before - for the interview, the previous week.) But I soon found my way. Training was just like school and the learning environment was pretty much enjoyable. But what intimidated us all was doing the job. In younger terms, it totally freaked us out, man! The product knowledge was beginning to overwhelm us, even those with experience were beginning to feel the heat. The first week after we were thrown onto the main floor to take calls, I was just interested in mere survival and had brushed off the tantalizing incentives of hitting the targeted number of calls. It had seemed so easy for my other batchmates but horribly impossible for me. My personality has always been such that I always felt obligated to help a particular caller the best i can - all the way through. And this of course, was damaging to my call-handling time. Longer calls, meant less calls taken.

I began to believe that I would never get any better and that I would probably be one of the earliest to be terminated. (We were all on three months probation, though our contract was 6 months.) There were days when all i felt like doing was running home and cowering under my blankets and pillows. I literally had to pray for courage and patience to go through each day --most callers were anger-provoking, abusive in speech, and nerve-wracking. It was so bad that whenever we did get a wonderfully rare, well-mannered caller, we'd wish aloud to our colleagues:

"Hey, I wish all our callers were like that!"

And there'll be a reception of empathic nods of agreement all 'round. Honestly, polite callers are as popular as Christmas presents! Once a year. And they make our day like hot chocolate and marshmallows would for a rainy day. So, praise God for good callers!

INTERMISSION: If you're a good caller, Phoebe commends thee for brightening the days of customer-service-representatives everywhere! Thanks for being our vanilla-frappucino-with-extra-whipped-cream-and-an-overlaying-of-caramel when we were pouting! Thanks for...(Errr, maybe I shouldn't let myself run too much with this.) Anyway, remember. A little goes a long way! *smiles*

Aside that, I was also doing Bible Studies with my best friend, which were a great spiritual encouragement. We were digging into Philippians and it was like an affirmation of our higher calling here on this earth. I learnt that we had to look past the trivial, to look past our selfish complains, to look past the darkness -- in order for us to be able to carry out His will and purpose and living His testimony.

Philippians 2:13-16
"...for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Do all things without murmuring and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world...,"

Those were some of the powerful messages that Apostle Paul left for us. We're doing this for Him. Not for ourselves, not for anybody else - but for Him.

Psalm 115:1a
"Not to us, O Lord, not to us,
But to Your Name be the glory..."

After slowly grasping this, believe it or not, sooner than later, i found myself hitting the target number of calls at a more consistent rate. I felt pleased with my progress, as i had not changed my policy of helping a customer all the way. I'd just become faster at handling my after-call activity. (Usually after each call, one is required to log the events of the call in a simple-yet-detailed manner(go figure), fill in various request forms, if needed and also complete any unfinished bookings, if any.) A stolen wallet and a broken pride later, imagine my surprise when i found myself to be only one of two persons from my batch of juniors to be confirmed after their third month!

Maybe I should explain the magnimity of this. Shortly after my batch were recruited for training, we were told that our project was closing. This meant retrenchment for my senior colleagues. For my batchmates, this meant nothing. We were on contract. This meant we could be terminated at any time. However, after three months, I was confirmed as a permanent staff! And that meant I was entitled to receive the retrenchment benefit/bonus!

I mean, which company, in their right corporate mind, would confirm someone in the midst of a closure? Whatever their reasons, I could not be more grateful! I walked away from the building, with a two month benefit, atop my pay for the month. Adding that to my meagre savings, I had enough for one semester of tuition fees. (I only asked for one. My fault. *grins*) I have reason to believe that God was wholly in on this and when I did not expect it, had helped me, within six months (or maybe less), raise enough for me to reignite my dream to study again.

I tear as I type this. This was the real deal for me. And I believe it's not the end. My ordinary miracle had come with the size of my faith. With God's help and grace, I'm going to expand my faith, for greater ordinary miracles.


Hello, I'm Phoebe. And I'm pleased to meet you. If you think you're lost; hey, I get lost too, more often than not. But, there's a purpose in being "lost". We begin asking for directions and eventually, we find the way.

God is my direction.

Hope He's yours too.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

My Ordinary Miracle (Part Two)

"My name is Phoebe. I am lost. Can you give me directions?"

It was wonderful to know God was speaking to me through His Word. It was both a comfort and joy – simple though it seems to you now. It was a particularly important stepping stone for me.

Nevertheless, I still felt alone and longed for a friend I could pour my heart to. The friends that I already had always turned to me for help and advice. At the time, I was daft enough to believe that their confidence in me would diminish if they should ever find out that Phoebe, the Counsellor, the Encourager, the Jovial one - Phoebe too, had her share of problems. There was also the question of wavelength. I needed spiritual encouragement and not just the casual, “it'll be alright.” I didn't just want someone to share in my indignation over the recent series of events. I didn't want to just have someone applaud my survival. I was looking for so much more.

And it is here that I met a long lost friend, who eventually became my best friend throughout my plight. He gave me sound advice and encouragement to keep hanging on the Lord. I never really got to thank him for being there for me when I needed a handhold. (Thank You. You've truly been a Godsend.) Being very encouraged in our conversations, and with renewed strength, I began preparing myself spiritually and mentally for a new beginning, new school and new friends.

Very quickly, I found myself in Subang Jaya. That was definitely a new experience for me. People were so warm and open. And here, I made more lifelong friends and got myself involved in the Christian Fellowship's Music Ministry. I attended a friend's church for 4 months, located about an hour or more away by train(KTM). Everything seemed to be alright and I finally felt like I was getting somewhere. Then, I fell in love. But it never worked out as my parents were against the idea of me getting involved with someone too early in my life. I was heartbroken again. And if that wasn't shattering enough, I learned that I'd just completed my Foundation Studies for next to nothing. There had not been sufficient time to save up enough to get me to America – as my parents had been supporting my sister overseas all this while and I wasn't working. And so once again,

I was lost.

I never did admit it, but I was bitter for the longest of whiles. Resisting much, Rebelling much. I just couldn't understand it. Nothing seemed to be going right. Friends were calling me from all over the world to ask what I was doing and I usually fumble pathetically for an answer. My story was usually received with a sympathetic grunt or an empathic “don't give up”. Feeling absolutely fed up after two idle months, I decided to get a job.

This time I worked as a Customer Service Representative for a particular Airlines in Kuala Lumpur. The short working stint helped me refocus, and get back on track. It was then that I decided to start over with my studies, do it entirely local. I told the Lord and myself that I was working towards saving up for college – although I knew that it would be impossible to save up enough in six months anyway. However, I just needed a solid motivation to be there, to be working those hours and that psychology worked fine for me.

Living on my own, helped me become more disciplined in God, my prayer life, and devotion. Wriggling out of the "self" mindset was hard. I'm still working at it even now. It was a conscious decision I made one night, to not go on trying to do this on my own, in my own strength. My reasons were obvious. All I ever tried to do, failed - all I ever aspired to do, could not happen! It was high time I exercised my faith and that I did. By then, my faith had grown much since the beginning of this roller-coaster. I now literally prayed and asked the Lord to help me save up enough for just one semester of college (which was quite a lot - considering I was starting from scratch). I knew it was impossible to do it on my own.

But with God all things are possible, and I was about to learn my greatest lesson yet.

Friday, March 23, 2007

My Ordinary Miracle (Part One)

(If you're not fond of stories, navigate elsewhere. 'Cause this is going to be a long one.)

"My name is Phoebe. I am lost. Can you give me directions?"

That would sum it. It would seem like throughout the past year or more, all I'd mostly been was LOST. All you could ever truly know about me then was my name. It was the only thing I was really sure of. Exaggeration? Perhaps. But I would think not.

After secondary school, I felt very idle and was impatient to get something done. It wasn't too straight forward for me, as my parents were supporting my sister and brother who were studying overseas at the time. It was too much of a financial strain to even be wishing to get into a tertiary education school then. I had felt quite lost. I was not expecting any of this. So, I dug up my options:

(a) STPM (b) get a job

Seeing as my childhood dream had always been to study in the United States Of America (just for the experience - I've always wanted to come back here), I opted for (b). I figured I'd save some and then land myself in college. Hence, the job as a clerk in a manufacturing company for Catheters. It was a horrible experience for me, being new to the working environment. Not only was I the youngest staff, but I was often the exploitation target of many of my seniors. And for a miserable six hundred dollars a month, I became very drained. There was one thing good that came off of it though. I got to steal a peek at the many other departments that involved expertise and kinder spirits. I pulled away from this job with a new determination. I would study hard and get myself a job where I could achieve much and enjoy the fruits of my labor. I vowed that I would never again end up in some dingy office cubicle, with only stacks and stacks of documentation and unkind bullies for company.

I moved on to a college up north in Penang. It was terribly exciting for me to actually be able to start studying again after so long, and be enrolled in an American Degree Transfer Program too! I knew each day brought me closer and closer to my aspiration to breathe in North American air. Meanwhile, I met lifelong friends, learnt lifelong lessons, absorbed information and was very involved in school activities. I also joined local ensembles, namely "Sand"(only to quit a few weeks later) and "Ocean Of Fire". Semesters pass, and I was now the president of my program. I was working on my brainchild, a large scale musical comedy called, "Midsummer's Nightmare", a parody to Shakepeare's Midsummer's Night Dream with a Malaysian Twist. Unfortunately, my head of department called me into her room one day to inform me that I didn't have anymore subjects to take up north and had to either skip a semester or transfer to another regional campus down at central peninsula, for my final semester. I was lost for words. I stalled for a whole semester, (travelling up and down Penang every so often) hoping for subjects to be offered the following intake. It never happened. Abandoning my musical project and friends for a bold move to the central district was no easy task. I felt like a traitor to my band, my project, my crew, my friends. Ocean of Fire were gracious, but my project crew were not. I'd urged them to proceed without me but they never did.

I was heartbroken.

I talked this out much with the Lord. I had found much comfort in Him and His word. I had so many questions that needed answering but the Lord quietened the storm inside me with His verses. Psalm 1, “..but his delight is in the law of the Lord.” Psalm 2 ends with “Blessed are all those who trust in Him.” My faith was still stunted so I never dared to ask the Lord for anything in fear of dejection. However, I did learn to love and trust the Lord and His word. I began to slowly understand that what I wanted to accomplish was never more important than being wrapped in doing His will.

Funny how God educates.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Death of Things

Everything has its time. An expiration date. Whatever the preservative, however long lasting the fuel, whoever the maintenance guy is, regardless the age. The greens displayed on the produce aisle. The engine underneath the hood of your car. The heart enthroned in my ribcage. Everything...and everyone ends.

I guess that's why everyone's so desperate to leave something behind. Property, Letters, Marks (physical or otherwise), Masterpieces,... Legacies. All with the intention of being remembered.

And suddenly, I realize that I'm obsessed with the desire of leaving behind a legacy too.

It was only yesterday that I was invited to sing a special number for a Memorial Service. The request was specific:

"I want you to sing a special for my mom's Memorial Service. Would that be a okay?"
"Not a problem at all." (Thinking that was all to it.)
"Really? That's wonderful!..." (At this point, I was already imagining myself singing a Jared Anderson song.)
"I want you to sing an old song. It's a favorite of mine."
"Oh-kayy...what song would that be?" (My trail of thought was abruptly cut short. Hopes for singing "Amazed" were dashed. My imagination had met its time.)
"Well, I'm not quite sure if you know it actually..." (She starts humming a abit of a tune along with some broken lyrics)
"Err, that sounds... familiar..." (It wasn't.)
"(Reaches chorus and starts to sing) If He carried the weight of the world upon His Shoulders...Yes, that's it. That's the one!" (She was obviously excited.)
"Pardon me?" (Blank.)

Needless to say, I came away from that conversation quite positively; agreeing to sing it for her whilst someone played on the keyboard for me. There was one catch though. I still hadn't recognized it. With good old Google, I managed to track down an mp3 of "He Will Carry You" (the title of the song). Soon I was emersed in the droning chore of listening to the song, over and over again. It was old. Really. And I had found the bridge particularly scary.

After listening to the song for a couple of rounds, I decided to take a break to clear my head. When I returned to my laptop barely 10 minutes later, my dad was sitting in front of it -- looking somewhat sheepish. I smiled. That could only mean one thing.

After an hour of battling, I was defeated. I couldn't seem to do enough anti-virus scans to remove any of the infections from my poor laptop. They just kept multiplying by leaps and bounds. And the lagging was not helping at all. Finally, when it began heaving and coughing (blue screens and incredibly long lags) we just nodded solemnly at each other knowing that its time had come. Rest in Peace, Lappy.

That was the end of that. God was really teasing me that time, I thought.

But it wasn't over for me yet. Before I knew it, I was already in Kulim - in the cozy premises of Mr. and Mrs. Abel. (The Memorial is for Mrs. Abel's mother) It is here that I find out that I am to play the song WHILST singing. Apparently, I had heard her say that she'd "get a sister to play for you" and had misunderstood. She had meant that I was to choose literally from my train of flesh-and-blood, my actual sisters, to play for me and had not meant "sister" as the random way one would call a lady in church! My eldest sister (the only other person who can play the piano aside myself, was in Kuala Lumpur for training.) Lovely.

Calmly, I said, "Sure, just give me a couple of minutes with the keyboard before service and I'll be set."

A few hours later, there it was. My cue was fast approaching. It was my time to sing. There were several people who were to come up to testify, about how wonderful this lady Shuba was, how prayerful and how she’d impacted their lives in various ways. She had made so much effort to care for the poor, the needy and the children in church. She was faithful to her ministry of prayer even to her dying day. She had hardly thought of herself all through her life -- she was just so devoted to her ministry -- giving all glory to Christ. Her legacy was a beautiful one!

And there I was. All through the other presentations, I had only ghastly images of me hitting a wrong chord and stumbling on the words – ‘cause I had hardly practiced it. "What a mark to be leaving behind!" I thought, hanging my head in shame, as the first person came up to testify.

When I heard the testimonies, I was just so humbled and inspired by Shuba even in her absence. I did not even know her personally, yet I felt challenged by the legacy she left -- I felt driven to pray; that it wasn’t about me making a fool of myself, rather, it was doing it as unto the Lord and making sure He was pleased with my presentation, my worship. That I would die to myself, and live again for Him. That He would use my fingers and voice to glorify Him and not myself; as Shuba did in her lifetime... in her time.

This was my time.

I walked towards the keyboard, said a few words. And sang my heart out.

“He said call unto me, All who are weary, and I will give you rest…”
(View the rest of the lyrics here.)

They told me I was good. That I did really well. But Mrs. Abel’s face was reward enough. I died that day... only to live again -- for the Lord.

I get it now, Lord. I finally get it. It was my time to shine. I did. For You.