Conversion

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C.S. Lewis, after serving in the British army during the First World War, “returned to Oxford University, he received a First in Honour Moderations (Greek and Latin literature) in 1920, a First in Greats (Philosophy and Ancient History) in 1922, and a First in English in 1923. In 1924 he became a philosophy tutor at University College and, in 1925, was elected a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Magdalen College, where he served for 29 years until 1954.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/).

In his partial autobiography `Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life”, he reflected on his conversion:

You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The prodigal son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape?… The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and his compulsion is our liberation.

G.K. Chesterton, one of the dominating figures of the London literary scene in the early twentieth century, a journalist and social philosopher, converted to Catholicism at the age of 48. He wrote a poem titled `The Convert’ (1927):

After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white.
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

As I read about their lives and encounters with God, it made me reflect on mine. When I was 16, my family moved to a new home and I shared a bedroom with my sister and we had a dressing table with a large mirror where at a short distance, you can see yourself from head to toe. It was very useful for checking out how you look or dress before going out. Unlike my sister, I hardly checked how I dressed but that did not make me less vain. Come to think of it, my vanity was more deep rooted even though my sister is 6 years older.

I was very active in school and spent most of my time out of the house. However, when alone in my bedroom, I would at times sit at the dressing table and take a look at myself. One day, I began to talk to myself at the mirror and examined my face closely. I remembered asking myself, “Who am I?” I recalled not being able to answer that question and went on to ask more questions like `What am I here for?’, ‘What is life all about?’ and `Who is God?’ Although I was raised in a family that goes to church and I went to a Methodist school (primary), it didn’t make me a believer. I know all the church speak and was involved in a lot of the activities in church since young and even excelled in them like I did for my school activities. Somehow, I had never really known why I was involved and just played along with the activities as there was nothing wrong with them. In fact you can say they were mostly good and noble stuff.

But there was always this emptiness inside, like a vacuum that couldn’t be filled with all the hype and activities going on in my life. That’s when I asked myself those questions. I took the time to stop all the `noise’ and searched my heart. Something was stirring within me and I saw bible verses at my study table that states:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication
with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:6-7 ESV).

They were the key verses I used to look at and quietly pray when I studied for my GCE O levels exams. It was more because I was in panic mode as I had not been studying and it was less than 3 months before the exams. I have been using God for emergencies only.

But back to the mirror reflection… this was something else. I could not let this go on. The best I can describe this feeling was I had no peace within me. There must be a reason for me to be born, to live and eventually die. It was not meant to be in vain or vain glorious. That was clear to me. It was when I acknowledged my human condition, the need to be saved from my wretchedness, and the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that the love of God swept in to fill that vacuum so perfectly that I could only bow down in humble adoration. This was why Chesterton could say he was Lazarus and he lives. Likewise I was dead to sin and the resurrection power of Christ has brought me back to life.

What then, was the road smooth sailing? It surely wasn’t. In fact, it gets harder as long as I am in this human condition and in this world. However, the BIG difference is, the peace of God that surpasses all understanding has filled that vacuum. Life becomes richer and clearer, and God is no longer an emergency number but a blessed assurance of a relationship with an omnipresent and loving God who walks and talks with me every moment of my life. It’s no longer I that live but Christ that lives in me.

I can only conclude this experience with this passage which I read to my grandmother by her hospital bed in 2001:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life, and
I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
(Psalm 23 ESV)

Caregivers UNITE!

Anne Frank

I was catching up with three friends whom as a group, have not met for several years. We are all in our fifties and sixties. The three of us are caregivers to our mothers who have survived their husbands for some years already. The oldest in the group was not in this situation as her parents had passed on some years back but she observed that it was common to find the `burden’ falling on single daughters to look after their aged parents. Statistically, 75% in this group are looking after their mothers who are in their late 70s to 80s.

I hope by sharing some of the struggles the caregivers in this group are facing, it will divide the burdens, struggles and challenges that other caregivers face with the hope that it will bring comfort and solace, possibly giving some respite.

Our group’s conversations soon went into how our mothers faced ageing and health issues, struggling to cope with day to day living. Although we laughed at the mind-blowing and mind-boggling situations in caring for our mothers, it was also a deep and constant struggle for us to cope on a daily basis.

One shared how her mother hoarded things in the house and they were items of no use or purpose. These things or items can be considered rubbish and cluttered the house. The house needs to be kept clean and safe so they (mothers) would not stumble over things or go in a frenzy searching for things they had misplaced in the clutter (a common happening nevertheless). Another shared how her mother had faeces on her hand after going to the toilet and when she tried to get her to wash her hands, the mother scolded her for being picky and a clean freak! The one with the oldest mother find it hard to keep her occupied through the day as she would be bored quickly from watching television, to doing jigsaw puzzles and then wants to walk around the house and do something when she was not able to do so unaided. When she tried to help her walk safely, she was chided for trying to be troublesome with her.

Oh what wonderful and lovely mothers we have. No, I am not trying to be sarcastic here. This is how we single daughters cope with mothers having dementia or illnesses that have robbed them of their ability to reason, to think clearly or logically. To look beyond their failings and see the person in them that is still around in whatever ways possible. We often say we do not know whether to laugh or to cry in our struggles. We will also let it out when talking to family or close friends about how ridiculous or tough it has been as it was a form of relief but we struggle not to say too much as it is our mothers that we are talking about. Being daughters, we struggle with whether we have failed or did not do enough as we see them deteriorate, and whether we were wrong to talk about their `unsavoury’ behaviour to others.

One of the hardest illness to cope with as a caregiver, is dementia. To see your loved ones gone into a different time zone and perhaps, dimension. A dimension where human reason and logic do not exist, where confusion and abstract ideas flourish. Another world has been created in their minds and eyes. Some would be filled with suspicion, with darkness and evil forces in their thoughts. Some with utter joy at the sight of flowers, cute pets, cartoons, and balloons, much like children. Some have a combination, depending on their mood swings. And sadly, some will not remember their own flesh and blood right before their eyes, and treat them with disdain or apprehension.

I believe there are many, not just single ladies, who are struggling as caregivers of parents, grandparents, spouse or siblings. It is a very lonely and hard journey. As the person whom they care for are often unable to appreciate them or even worse, curse them and speak ill of them in front of other people. Some may ask to be killed or to let them die as they do not want to suffer. Day in and day out you hear cries such as, “Let me die!”, “Why let me suffer?”, “I am going to die!”, “Why are you so cruel to me?” Furthermore, the people around you (relatives included) may pass remarks and comments that only add to the pressure and pain of caregivers. Many of you suffer in silence.

I would like to let you know, you are not alone, and if you need to talk to someone, drop me an email and we’ll see how we can share/divide our `misery’.

“I have learned now that while those who speak about one’s miseries usually hurt, those who keep silence hurt more.”

― C.S. Lewis