choosing today

“But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” –Joshua 24:15

If only it were this easy to make an intentional choice, to act in spite of feeling and fear and desire (when maybe what God calls us to do seems undesirable in the moment). As Joshua stated in his reminder to the Israelites, God has given me so much – a land on which I did not toil and a city which I did not build. He has given me grace. And in spite of this, I question and struggle with the commands that He has given me alongside this grace – in particular, with the area of relationships and sexuality.

I obviously have my own struggles in this area, as do most people, and these have taught me that it is never my place to judge someone’s struggles, or the outcomes of those struggles. Yet now, this struggle is mine, and no more is it theoretical.

Now, all of a sudden, the weight of the decisions that I have to make – to be more explicit, to end a brief relationship with a guy I met recently – feels like I am giving up so much. It is not about the guy; it is about the decision to die to myself and my desire/quest for company, appreciation, and physical intimacy with a tangible human being. It is the decision to give up my own notions (the world’s notions) about relationships and sex, and to trust that the God who has taken care of me thus far will still care for me and give me what I need in His time.

In this struggle to die to myself, my mind has been home to warfare not just between my flesh and my spirit, but between my will to submit to God and my pride.

But as hard as this struggle is, I think (?) it is good. Like BeautyBeyondBones says in her post about Woke Christianity, “At the end of the day, our relationship with Christ is not about what we can get out of it. It’s about what we can give. It’s the handing over of self to the One who gave it all on the Cross. There’s beauty in the surrender. There’s freedom. But there’s also struggle, and pain, and sacrifice.”

If I am to be honest, I am so afraid to choose. I’m scared that in choosing God this very day, I’ll regret my decision or resent Him for making me give up the feeing of being liberated and “normal”. I’m scared of the process that comes with trying to work through how I got here in the first place, and what submitting my desires to Him really entails.

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knowing your wants, learning your needs, and following through

What do you want?

We often ask ourselves this question, subconsciously and consciously. It can be a hard question to answer, because sometimes, there are so many choices displayed before us. How do I choose one career when my strengths manifest themselves in different ways? How can I decide to go back to school if there’s a monetary and opportunity cost to every year of education added? My mind spins itself like a top when I try and go down these rabbit holes, and I get tossed every which way and inevitably land where circumstances take me. But, to reiterate the conclusion of my last post: intentionality is key. I know I want to help people, and I know that I want to (if possible) work with certain causes that resonate with my heart and spirit. Yet still, I contemplate other options, because I alsorealize that sometimes, I think I know what I want – but I end up boxing myself in. Only taking myself out of my comfort zone changes my wants.

This brings me to the second layer: regardless of what you want, what do you need? If I counted the number of times that circumstances (aligned by God) and people brought me to a place that I never expected to be in but realized I needed, I’d lose track. Often, we get so stuck in our ways of thinking – influnced by our upbringings, cultural and societal expectations, and our own narrow experiences – that we don’t want to change, when really, we need to change. I think this is where God comes in to align our circumstances so that we encounter what we truly need.

I think of Jesus, who asked his audience, “What do you want?” Lord, I want to see. I want healing. I want a job where I can support my family. Sometimes, especially in the case of healing, our wants line up with His desires, and He grants us these desires. But sometimes, we need to wait for His timing so that we can manifest His glory (like the man who was born blind) or to go on a journey. We may later realize that these processes refined and grew us.

The third layer, though, is one I don’t think about often: (after balancing wants and needs) the follow-through.

It struck me today how much time we spend in our daily lives pursuing experiences we know we don’t really want and we clearly do not need.

If I am to be completely honest, an area where this often plays out in my life is with dating and relationships. This is a pretty complex topic for a public forum, so I’ll spare details and give a recent example.

When I moved back to New York, I knew I needed to settle in. I knew I should not date, especially until I established myself in my church community with accountability and trust. I tend to be impulsive without this accountability. Yet still, I found myself sucked in by the stories of those around me, especially friends who were in relationships of several years. And so… I signed up for a dating app.

To preface, I do not judge when people use apps to meet their partners (I know people who are in healthy and happy relationships due to these apps). But I know it’s not for me; it is not what I want. But somehow, I kept wondering: what if I am just not being open minded enough? What if I think I know the type of persom (personality, looks, everything) that I want, but do not really know who I need. Thus I ended up going on my first dating app date.

The date was fun and it reminded me that I had missed meeting new people, not even just romanticly. But for several reasons (including completely contradictory values and worldviews which I was aware of beforehand), the date was objectively a waste of my time because it got me no closer to my desired life partner.

I learned two lessons from this experience. First, understand, think about, and know what you truly want (not what the world tells you you should want, but what your values tell you). This takes time and a lot of introspection in this busy world with so many choices. In the example above, I knew I wanted someone on the same page as me when it comes to their faith and how they embody this faith. Second, thoroughly examine these desires against God’s Word and work with Him to test these desires (for the Bible says our desires can be and often are corrupted) so you are led to what you need. I can admit I have not really been praying and seeking God’s face as much as I can when it comes to potential future relationships. While the apps could be one way to challenge myself and change my structured desires and views, I knew deep down it was not the right timing and most importantly, that I did not seek God.

Then, once you figure out what you want and confirm it’s something you need (something God desires for you), follow through. Don’t compromise, don’t flake. Search for what you know you truly seek, and when you find it, hold on to it.

unsatisfied

Deuteronomy 8:11-14 says, “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”

I underestimated how big of a change moving would be – a shift in worldview, in priorities, in goals, which comes with leaving to build a life. It’s not all bad, but it certainly has its drawbacks.

The biggest thing I’ve noticed is how easy it is to just be sucked into the current, the culture of today’s society. This culture can be and often is contrary to God’s word. In reflecting upon the past month, I’ve realized more and more two things: 1) merely “being” is not enough; to be a light in this world requires distinct and profound choices, and 2) coupled with these choices is a need for God’s truth.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect,” says Romans 12:2.

In the season I am in now, I have realized that without these clear choices – who I date, how I date, what I say, where I go, how I act – I will fail to be connected to God and to be spiritually sustained. I will not be able to truly discern His will, which is a terrifying possibility. Not that this wasn’t the case before, but it was so east to just piggyback off of the faith of those around me and be hedged in by my responsibilities to my family. It was also easy to blame others for the choices they made.

I pray now for a firm mind and a hungry heart. May I never be satisfied by this world’s riches, its fine houses and all the pleasures that come with it. May I always seek His face and be humbled in His sight.

heart matters

I guess I learned the hard way, maybe once again, that the heart must be guarded.

Recently, I met someone. Long story short, nothing happened – yet I found myself more and more emotionally invested, even though rationally, I knew it wouldn’t work out for reasons that can’t even be counted, starting with our completely different worldviews and life plans. But something about his personality just attracted me, and it felt like I finally met someone who kind of sort of understood part of me and my personality that I don’t normally share with the world.

So instead of giving him up to God – and maybe learning that those sides of me that I found beneath myself could also be given to and reconciled with God – I guess I just let myself go.

So I’m here now, crying, feeling embarrassed and naive, not for love lost or anything like that (this person did nothing wrong and really wasn’t a huge part of my life, in my head at least), but because it was me who got lost. The connection and hope, the innocence I thought this friendship had, the side of me I thought someone finally saw and liked, this was just the start. Most importantly, my tears stem from lost opportunities: mutual friends who I lost track of spiritually, and failure to take a step forward and be a light in an environment filled with an intensely worldly mindset of peer pressure, unhealthy habits, and more. In this daze, I left behind who I was and what I believe for a temporary whirlwind of feelings that then disappeared in an instant.

And so now, I finally understand the full meaning behind guarding the heart, as outlined in Proverbs 4:23, “Above else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

My thoughts, my words, my actions, my evangelism, all stem from this heart of mine, and when it is bruised and distracted, it is nearly impossible to truly follow and love God for who He is.

Proverbs 4 continues to hit me as I read before, “Do not let [God’s words] out of your sight… for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body.” and even after, “Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips.

Our heart is so intertwined with our ears, our sight, our minds, our mouths, our health, and our bodies. It pains me to say that this lesson had not struck me before, given all of these parts of my soul were impacted. I don’t even know if I can salvage what I may have lost in the process. But I guess at the least, it is a lesson that needed to be understood.

generosity and hospitality

To Goan and East Indian families, hospitality is everything.

Growing up, my mom – one of seven siblings, and one of seven times that number in cousins – understood this firsthand. On top of sharing a small room with four sisters and belongings with the remaining siblings, “family” was sharing a meal and a home with friends, supporting friends in need, and giving away what you didn’t need, all while living with just the essentials. Family understood the essence of minimalism, and the beauty that comes with filling your life with laughter instead of objects.

But somewhere between her generation and mine, things got lost in translation. Deep hospitality and generosity, which comes from displaying these even when it inconveniences you, has been replaced (at least in my life) by a gray scale, do-good-but-please-yourself culture. We help our family and friends, but usually not at the cost of our own agendas and plans.

I adore my friends and extended family; growing up with a million cousins has been a source of strength and fortitude. Yet somewhere in the back of my mind, when I offer a favor or lend my time, I calculate quid pro quo: If I let this friend crash at my apartment, will they keep asking in the future? If I let this colleague step up and shine, will I lose my voice? If I help this friend, will she help me? If I don’t help her, will this affect our friendship and my credibility? In the process of weighing resources, conscience, and societal expectation, I begrudgingly say yes. And in this, I lose the underlying joy that is the foundation of generosity and hospitality.

Clearly, the Bible tells us to embody hospitality and generosity. 1 Peter 4:8 says, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling“, and this is one of dozens of similar commands, displayed in the actions of countless of its characters. Yet I truly believe that Jesus Himself embodied these at His core. He washed His disciples’ smelly feet, broke bread for hundreds, made wine, and most of us, ushered us undeservingly into His Father’s very house. “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” says John 14:2.

There are obviously limitations to this. If you are one to over-give, over-commit, or people-please, remember that, and please don’t sacrifice your mental and physical health. Don’t be a doormat.

But because I know that I need to grow in this area, I am challenging myself and you, too: push past your comfort zone and patience when it comes to embodying these principles. Share what you have with others, even if – and actually, especially if – you don’t expect anything in return. And above all, remember to be joyous in your giving. Don’t forget that the camaraderie and connection and peace that come with generosity are worth so much more than anything you might lose.

permanence

I’ll say it: I did not have too many friends in high school. There were a few friends I’d see during the school hallways, and those I’d meet on occasion after studying ended. To caveat, I never felt truly alone, because my life was filled with family and church friends, who were predominantly older than me and in their 20s. But still, when I got to college, I remember being so excited at finally solidifying this “core” group of friends that I saw every day and at all hours of the night, studying, partying, even sleeping. I remember relishing in the knowledge that I’d hold on to these friends, imagining where we would be in 5 years.

Well, it’s now been nearly 7 years since that very first semester of university. Our relationships lasted quite a long time – but after so many missed months and life events, near-but-failed catch-ups, moves to other cities, acquaintanceship is all that is left. This struck home today as I looked at pictures on social media of a few of them together at the friend group’s first wedding. I wasn’t invited (nor did I expect to be).

I understand that such is life. I clearly have more friends now, some closer than their predecessors, and I’ve held on to 2-3 friendships with people I never thought I would still be talking to. Yet still, I’m also in a decade of my life where seasons change rapidly. I’m getting older and moving out. My church friends from long ago and I aren’t nearly as close as we once were. My parents are growing older and building their Life After Kids. Work has aged.

And so I ask, what is permanent? What lasts today, in a world where we can travel on a whim, act based on our feelings, speak to a dozen people before seeing a single face? Getting older may mean getting wiser, but it also means loss and heartache.

Yet I know in my heart of hearts that I don’t care to live a life of stagnation, and that the people currently saturating my life are there for a very specific reason. Most of all, I take assurance in the fact that one friendship, the most important one of all, hasn’t faded but has grown and been tested. We’ve had our ups and downs, but God is still here. I think that through this dull ache that comes with seeing people go and places change, he is reminding me how close He has been and always will be.

‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” -Isaiah 54:10

bless this broken road

My sister played one of the cheesiest country songs tonight on the piano: “God bless this broken road”. As luck would have it, an hour later, I stumbled upon a devotional touching on this very song.

The authors, Gary and Tara Levox, were talking about those frequent moments we have (maybe more so before smartphones were a thing) after deciding to drive to a new place or take a trip, only to realize after being on the road for a while that we made a wrong turn. As the devotional went on to say, most of us have had this feeling countless times – but also in a more somber sense – across our life map. It’s a feeling of living life without direction, taking turn after turn, only to realize we are lost. It is a horrible feeling, especially when those turns are drastic and sharp, and I’ve felt it more times than I can count.

But one way we can really fight this experience, the authors say, is to stop, even if for a moment. Stop and give thought to where you are. “Ask yourself, Is this where I wanted to go? Am I loving this person the way I said I would? Am I raising this family the way I dreamed? Is this the wish God has for me? Am I on the right path?”

As I read, I immediately thought of what I had done earlier today. Today, I went to a symposium on human rights abuses, with a particular focus on human trafficking.

Human trafficking is a topic that has been on the radar of so many: governments, privately held entities, schools, and more. In my own life, learning about and tackling this issue has moved to a forefront through volunteer work, past and current work, and even my college senior thesis. And so when I was sitting in that auditorium, hearing people’s stories and learning, I was struck (as I have been before) with sadness, but more importantly, with a strong drive to really hone on this area in my personal and professional life, and do play my part as a responsible consumer so that I am not helping indirectly perpetrate this crime. All of a sudden, my trivial complaints seemed so small.

As I think on this, I realize that so often, God places these drives, these destinations, in our hearts and our minds – whether they manifest in our personal goals, career aspirations, causes which weigh heavily on us, relationships we have in this world. But we so quickly and easily forget to cultivate these, and unfortunately, sometimes only realize this when we stop and see how far away we are from where we want to be. As much as we want to reach our destination, our metaphorical life roads are littered with wrong turns and distractions, some obvious, others not so much.

So as simple as it may seem, I pray today that I pause to reflect, to evaluate the relationships and activities in my life, and to regularly assess where I stand relative to the dreams, talents, and passions God has given me. I pray that I may not squander these with forgetfulness and sloth, but that God will bless the brokenness and mistakes on my path and show me the way forward.