Look beneath a person’s exterior

Looking past or beneath a person’s exterior is something I struggle with. And hence, something I’m continually reminding myself to do—to go beyond the outside and see the real person as God created he or she to be.

It’s hard because most of us look at the world through our lenses.
We sometimes perceive things and people at face value.
We might jump into conclusion of who a person is based on what he or she did (or didn’t!). Hello, acceptance-by-performance—I had loads of that dished out on me for the last decade. Trying to fit into the expectations of certain people, and when failed, was given the no eye contact, cold shoulder treatment. Like an outcast. Doesn’t belong to the tribe.

Sometimes we form opinions of people based on colours, educational background, even how a person sounds like when conversing in English. Sometimes, we pridefully use these limited data to put people in a box.

I’m guilty as charged on many occasions.

We look at the exterior:
How polished someone looks or behaves.
How rude someone is.
How different someone is.
They dress differently.
They smell differently.
They speak differently.
Of the foreign worker who struggled to take our order in the restaurant.
Of the old man; grumpy and demanding.
Of the blue-collared worker; rough in his words.
Of the teenager or young adult who didn’t fit into our standard of acceptance.

And we allow these elements to filter how we see the person. We might even label them before we had a chance to know them.

We look at the world through our lenses.

And you know what? Our lenses often need a thorough wiping from God. Because our lenses are filthy; masked by the grime of: pride, self-righteousness, shame, blame, divisiveness…
These grime are pervasive. Found in homes, office, churches, temples, schools, malls, etc. And it makes us critical and judgmental people, to a greater or lesser extent.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever have a clean lens. But I do pray that my lens gets cleaner day by day.

That I’ll see people the way how our loving and just God sees them.
And I’ll have the wisdom to understand that we are different because these are different: culture, background, upbringing, experience, surrounding, belief.

That I’ll see beneath the tough or rude shell—hides a fearful and hurting person.
That I’ll see the families of the foreign worker—missing his children back in his home country.
That I’ll see the confusions of the teenager—struggling to find his or her footing in a too-much, too-fast, information-overload, and media-dominated world.

That beneath the exterior of a person, I’ll see:
The hopes of a mother.
The dreams of a school dropout.
The courage of a father.
The hurts of a man.
I went to a photography exhibition recently. This photo caught my eye and heart.

Photo of a Jahai family
Photo of a Jahai family in front of their home in the Belum flooded forests in Perak, Malaysia.

The family in this photo is different to mine as day & night. Yet beneath the exterior—we are the same in the sense that we want and need the same things: love, acceptance, happiness, family, and relationships.

Can we allow God to wipe our lenses clean?


Credits:
Photo from the book Grit & Grace, the grandeur of monochrome Malaysia.
*Photo of a Jahai family in front of their home in the Belum flooded forests in Perak, Malaysia.

Photograph by SC Shekar. www.scshekar.com/gritandgrace
*Text by Liew Suet Fun.


 

Talking about suicide

The news of the suicide of a lead pastor, Andrew Stoeklein, broke my heart. He was 30 years old, a loving husband and a father to three kids. Before his suicide, he was open with his battles with depression and anxiety.

At this time of writing, I’m still mourning the loss of this person who I don’t know personally. All the while thinking, what happened?

To a person who obviously knows Christ deep in his being and his soul.
Knows of the hope of Christ.
Knows the power of prayer.
Knows about seeking help. (which he did)
Knows how much His Heavenly Father loves him.

Yet he was in so much pain and darkness that he wanted to take the pain away. And he did.

My heart is broken for him, his family, his friends, his church.

Please join me in sending lots of prayers to his family. If you are inclined to do so, you can contribute to #careforkayla at https://www.gofundme.com/careforkayla. This campaign will provide education costs for Andrew’s boys, day-to-day expenses for his wife, Kayla, and financial security during a tough season.


Many of us may not be able to comprehend how a person could take his or her own life. But to the sufferer, they may feel that death is the only way out.

The sad and scary thing is, there could be people around us who are in danger of suicide. Either we may not know the signs of suicide (though not everyone would display the signs), or we have a misconception about a suicidal person. Saying that it’s a cowardly act is one of them.

Understanding more about suicide.

How might someone think or feel like to be suicidal?

Hopeless, there’s no way out.
Overwhelmed by negative thoughts.
Their pain is unbearable, and there’ll be no end to it.
They are of no use to anyone.
Desperate.

Some of the outward behaviours could be:
Avoiding or isolating from others.
Self-harm or have the intention to self-harm.
Change in appetite.
Sleep is affected.
No desire to take care of yourself.

Facts and Myth about Suicide

(information from Befrienders)

Suicide Myth
People who talk about suicide are just trying to get attention.

Suicide Fact
People who die by suicide usually talk about it first. They are in pain and oftentimes reach out for help because they do not know what to do and have lost hope. Always take talk about suicide seriously. Always.

 

Suicide Myth
Suicide always occurs without any warning signs.

Suicide Fact
Sometimes there are warning signs. (However, there might not be signs or you might not be able to tell)

 

Suicide Myth
Once people decide to die by suicide, there is nothing you can do to stop them.

Suicide Fact
Suicide can be prevented. Most people who are suicidal do not want to die; they just want to stop their pain.

 

Suicide Myth
Suicide only strikes people of a certain gender, race, financial status, age, etc.

Suicide Fact
Suicide can strike anyone.

 

Suicide Myth
People who attempt suicide and survive will not attempt suicide again.

Suicide Fact
People who attempt suicide and survive will oftentimes make additional attempts.

 

Suicide Myth
People who attempt suicide are crazy.

Suicide Fact
Not necessary. They are in pain, and probably have a chemical imbalance in their brain. Anyone could attempt suicide.

 

Suicide Myth
People who attempt suicide are weak.

Suicide Fact
Not necessary. They are in pain and probably have a chemical imbalance in their brain. Many people who are very “strong” die by suicide.

 

Suicide Myth
People who talk about suicide are trying to manipulate others.

Suicide Fact
No. People who talk about suicide are in pain and need help. And telling them that they “just want something” or “are trying to manipulate” is both insensitive and ignorant. People often talk about suicide before dying by suicide. Always take talk about suicide seriously. Always.

 

Suicide Myth
When people become suicidal, they will always be suicidal.

Suicide Fact
Most people are suicidal for a limited period of time. However, suicidal feelings can recur.

 

Suicide Myth
People who are suicidal definitely want to die.

Suicide Fact
The vast majority of people who are suicidal do not want to die. They are in pain, and they want to stop the pain.

 

Suicide Myth
You should never ask people who are a suicidal person if they are thinking about suicide or if they have thought about a method because just talking about it will give them the idea.

Suicide Fact
Asking people if they are thinking about suicide does not give them the idea for suicide. And it is important to talk about suicide with people who are suicidal because you will learn more about their mindset and intentions, and allow them to diffuse some of the tension that is causing their suicidal feelings.

 

Suicide Myth
When people who are suicidal feel better, they are no longer suicidal.

Suicide Fact
Sometimes suicidal people feel better because they have decided to die by suicide, and may feel a sense of relief that the pain will soon be over.

 

Suicide Myth
Young people never think about suicide, they have their entire life ahead of them.

Suicide Fact
Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people aged 15-24. Sometimes children under 10 want die by suicide.

 

Suicide Myth
There is little correlation between alcohol or drug abuse and suicide.

Suicide Fact
Oftentimes people who die by suicide are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

 

Suicide Myth
People who are suicidal do not seek help.

Suicide Fact
Many people who are suicidal reach out for help.

Counselling, support, someone to talk to:

Please help someone or yourself to seek help. Here are some links you can use. 

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Before it’s too late…

I never thought I’d see the day
when I can hear my husband say
“I wanna spend more time with my dad
and see him every day.”

He then gently sang out these verses
from the song The Living Years
As the lyrics pierced my heart
My eyes were wet as I melted in tears

The lyrics goes
*I wasn’t there that morning
When my father passed away
I didn’t get to tell him
All the things I had to say

Half a decade of heartaches
from a father who always has his way
Never a tender word
Never a “son, you’ve made my day.”

Neither any affirmation
try as he might
All he gets from his dad is
You never get things right

But now lies his dad
as my husband sits beside his bed
plucking up all courage
to tell his dad all the things that need to be said

We don’t have a good relationship, dad
But I’m thankful for what I have
You’ve given me a good education, dad
You’ve given me all that you can

And so the conversations have started
for the first time in their lives
sitting beside the bed
where his weak and ill dad lies

Where Love is allowed to go
into the deepest hurts of your soul
It is there you’ll find healing
Wherever forgiveness flows

As Christ hung high up on the cross
Looking at the people below
Forgive them, Father, he said
For they do not know

And now that you know
where would you allow Love to go?
Would you let Love into your heart
Where forgiveness need to flow?

*Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye

Who do you need to forgive
What do you want to say?
Why don’t you let Love win
And say it before it’s too late

The Living Years
Mike & The Mechanics

Every generation
Blames the one before
And all of their frustrations
Come beating on your door

I know that I’m a prisoner to all my father held so dear
I know that I’m a hostage, to all his hopes and fears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years

Crumpled bits of paper
Filled with imperfect thought
Stilted conversations
I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got

You say you just don’t see it
He says it’s perfect sense
You just can’t get agreement
In this present tense
We all talk a different language
Talking in defence

[Chorus]
Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye

So we open up a quarrel
Between the present and the past
We only sacrifice the future
It’s the bitterness that lasts

So don’t yield to the fortunes
You sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective
On a different day
And if you don’t give up, and don’t give in
You may just be OK

[Chorus]

I wasn’t there that morning
When my father passed away
I didn’t get to tell him
All the things I had to say

I think I caught his spirit
Later that same year
I’m sure I heard his echo
In my baby’s new born tears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years

[Chorus]
*Lyrics from Genius.com

 

Mike Rutherford and BA Robertson wrote The Living Years about a year after Mike’s dad died. He shared in an interview, “As a teenager in the late 1960s, the last thing I wanted was to be like my father.” Read more

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Confessions of a stepmum

Confessions of a stepmum. melindayeoh.com

“I will love this child as my own. Raise her together with my husband, and give her a stable home. We can build a happy, loving family.” 11 years ago—I said this to myself with all honesty and naivety. Zero ideas of what I was getting myself into.

“Love will prevail” was my pure and simple answer to questions I didn’t ask myself before marrying him.

“Does she like you?”
“Why don’t you have one of your own?”
“It’s different, you know.”

Nobody asks me any of the above questions when husband and I were still dating. No, they somehow chose to ask me after we got married. Like, right after.

Some friends ask me. Two fathers ask me (I.remember.who.you.are). But mostly mothers, oh, those mothers who have given painful birth to their own.

Thanks to those “well-meaning” advice, I’ve gone into a marriage as a new wife and instant mum—handicapped from day one because I’ve listened to those lies.

That because I didn’t have this umbilical cord connected to her, I didn’t carry her for nine months, I didn’t scream in pain; therefore we will always be different.
Because there’s no blood bond. I will always lack. I will always be handicapped; no matter what I do.

“You are not her real mother.”
“Just accept that you can’t replace her mother.”
“Oh, leave the disciplining to her father. Don’t do it as a stepmum.”

and get this, “you are her spiritual mother.” As if, I’m the fairy godmother with the fake, blond hair.

Now, the thing is, I don’t want to replace her mother. I can’t. Because I can’t reverse the process, stuff the kid in my womb and give birth to who had been born. It’s impossible. Did you guys study science in school?

“Love will prevail” was tainted then because I believe the lies. And I lived them out.

Try loving someone yet having this taunting sensor in you; constantly checking if that someone loves you back. If so—how much. And if it’s lacking, of course! That darn handicap. I can never live up to be a mother to her.

She also lived out those lies being sown by others into her young heart. With both of us living out those evil lies, it was like throwing kerosene-soaked paper into a burning pile of mess.

So, the poor girl grew up in a world of confusion. From the separation of her biological parents to now having this insecure-lied-to-person taking up the role of a mother; at one time, loving her with all her heart, and another, shrinking back after a rejection (perceived and real).

My heart goes out to her. I want her to know that it’s never her fault.
It’s never anything that she can do. It’s the adults who messed up big time.
And I’m so sorry that she had to bear the consequences.

Yet, I have fresh wounds to deal with regularly. So though I want to do my best to protect her from these pain, I was grimacing in mine.

I also didn’t know then that I was carrying a subconscious dream of having an ideal family, one where the parents have a good marriage, and lovingly raising their kids (biological or not!) together. Because I didn’t have that, not my generation, not my mum’s generation.

I looked longingly at other families: husband, wife, kids. Somehow just being together as one unit feels right, perfect, safe for me. And I wanted that for her—right and safe—especially after such a traumatic situation of her biological parents getting divorced.

So, I tried. I tried with all my might, all my strength, all my will. Especially after I’ve known the unconditional love of God and accepted Christ into my life.

I tried to love despite the hurts. I tried to love despite not receiving anything back. I tried to love despite the lies in my head—”you will always lack because you didn’t give birth to her”.

I feel silly whenever my church celebrates Mother’s Day by asking all the mothers to stand and be recognised, given a gift, and for the kids and husband to pray for them.

Bless the church’s heart and intention, but when I hesitantly, yet bravely stood up, and my then nine years old daughter refused to budge and come over to my side—that was my first taste of being publicly humiliated. I felt ashamed as I imagined the eyes of people sitting around us looking, judging.

I tried in vain to stop the tears from pouring throughout the service. I couldn’t listen to a word from the sermon.
It sure made me feel like an imposter. It sure made me not to step into the church for Mother’s Day again for years after that.

I also doubt my love for her when I got angry and resentful of her. Was it because we don’t have that elusive biological bond; thus I love her less? How else to explain these feelings of anger?

I went on carrying those lies in my heart that I’m not a mother—when the reality is—I had to be one, and I am one.

The thing that screws up my mind is—what do you mean by “you can’t replace her mother?” Does it mean that there can only be one mother?
But, erm, if I’m the one raising her together with her father—what role am I playing then? A nanny? A sister? An aunt?
What role am I playing that requires these crazy sacrifices and loving-despite-the-hurts love?
A substitute non-mother?

Does it mean that all I can do is know my place and accept whatever situation, just because she didn’t come out from my womb?

It wasn’t until recently when I heard from friends—stories of them and their respective biological mum; that I saw the truth: being bonded by blood doesn’t mean there will be bonding in the hearts.

A healthy relationship depends on what we put in, what we take out, respecting each other, and (add in other ingredients). In other words, healthy relationship development is organic.
Nope, there’s no instant relationship.

With that, the “curse” is broken, and I saw the lies for the first time. The lies that crippled me for 11 years.

I’m a mother.

I didn’t give birth to her. But I took care of her. Place her needs before mine. Do things for her benefit. Guide her.
Love her despite the hurts. I’m a mother. I am not her biological mother. But I’m her mother.

A stepmother is a peculiar role to be.
I still struggle when the Devil who wants to steal, kill, and destroy (families, relationships, joy, life!) repeats those lies to me. But, I chose to believe in the truth.
And I chose to live out this role with gratitude and a heck lot of prayer. Amen.

By the way, the sweetest icing on the cake (zero calories), her message to me on this year’s Mother’s Day:

Confessions of a stepmum

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Note: In respect of her privacy, I’ve asked her and have been given the permission to write and share this article.

Featured image photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash