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'Never Give Up!'

My new battle cry I guess.

This morning alone, I received this reminder twice. First, through a devotional shared with me by a new friend I made in Cambodia. Second, through the sermon I was listening to on my morning drive.

Last week, God spoke to me to 'be faithful in the little'.

They all seem to tie together - pointing to....? The future?

Perhaps I've been having a flight mentality more than a fight mentality. "Don't give up, Steph. This is not the end. We're not even close...." That's the feeling I get from the Spirit. And after a year of facing emotional and physical setbacks, it's like finally God is leading me to a new breakthrough in all these areas. I am expectant, excited and scared.

Let me be a good steward, God. Of my health. Of my resources (time, money, energy). Of my relationships. That's all that matters to me.

Pursuing happiness? Travel? Experiences? They are empty pursuits in and of themselves. Cuz it feels like I've been there, done that. Especially the travel and experiences part....they were only rich because of the deep friendships I forged and the life lessons I learnt and am re-learning over and over again.

Well, at least I don't look forward to heaven for the old reasons any more. That's a start.

DON'T GIVE UP! FIGHTING!! 别半途而废!做任何事也要有头有尾!!💪💪💪

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16‭-‬18 ESV
And to that I say, Amen!
There are times when I sincerely thought life or things would turn out a certain way, and it didn't. We've all experienced times like these in our lives.

Like the time I applied to Oxford for uni and had the chance to go through the interview process which also included staying in their uni accommodation for 2 nights. It was a massive room with an attached bathroom and a very nice view of the front courtyard and lawn. It was a fantastic place to be, and I was like, I hope I get in! (Who doesn't?! If you bothered applying and interviewing at all....) But then I got the rejection letter, and there was an inward sigh of relief. Even then I doubted I would be able to survive in the pressure-cooker environment of Oxford, or live up to everyone's expectations, including my own. I thank God that I was rejected there and ended up at York instead. And I will continue to thank Him for that for the rest of my life. God disrupted my ambitions by giving me a place that I was far better suited for to settle in and experience campus life, great work experience, serving in CU, developing lifelong friendships, among a myriad of other things. It was at York that I got to join York Students In Schools.

I admit I did YSIS partly so I could do Student Associate Scheme which I thought would -
a) look good on my resume
b) earn lots of money while gaining experience, irregardless of how relevant it was

- and I was curious about what state schools were like. Having only ever attended a public school in England meant I didn't have a clue about state school systems. I wanted to see what lay at the other end of the spectrum. And boy, did I. That experience led to many questions about the Malaysian education system, and that's how I ended up doing Teach For Malaysia for two years.

Honestly, pay aside, I wanted to stick on in the public education system beyond the two years because I believe that we have to be the change we want to see. Don't just leave it to people up there. But, there were too many things that I found so arbitrary - school postings and subjects to teach were my biggest pet peeve - and my health suffered so badly. I dropped from 47 kgs to 40 kgs over 2 years. Looking back, there were lots and lots of things I could have done better to cope, but it was my first job and I felt I was becoming more ineffective as time went on.

When I headed back to KL, I was fully prepared to become a piano teacher or enter the corporate sector. Although the idea of a 9-5 job didn't sound very appealing, but I thought maybe I'll grow to like it. Again, God disrupted my plans and a phone call came from an old-mentor-slash-friend-now-colleague that I kept in touch with off and on. Before I could fully process what was happening, I was working at an international school. As a MUSIC TEACHER. I can tell you so many reasons why I love my job now and never knew it was possible to actually enjoy teaching so much, but the words would all jumble up and confuse myself.

I really truly thought this was IT. Finally, settling down in a place and being rooted. I have my family, my social circles, my church. After moving from place to place for the past 8 years, it was nice to just BE.

Fast forward 2.5 years. I don't know when it started but I began feeling like there's got to be more than this. Life had settled into a very predictable pattern and I felt trapped, but I thought that this was a phase I just had to wait out till I got married. At the age of 26, my life felt like it had reached a plateau mentally, emotionally, spiritually. I didn't know how to get out of it or how I could do anything to change it.

Then the breakup happened. My life shattered overnight.

'Other than you, I never thought about what I wanted. So, I'm going to start looking.'

This quote from Park Bo Young in Hot Young Bloods sums up what had transpired in the two years of our relationship and what happened in the months following my breakup. I really started thinking about what I wanted. Prayed and prayed. Cried every day or every other day. Sought advice. Weighed my options. Faced with the possibility of forever singlehood, I didn't want to waste my life only waiting for the next man who would marry me and have kids with.

Finally, I decided to try for international schools overseas. It was a scary process. References from current employers, managers, and even a parent was required. I'm going to say this now, ISP for me has been a great school. And even when I expressed my intention that I was looking elsewhere, they were very supportive. I could not have asked for a better international school to start off in. And trust me, there are some real horrors out there.

Around this time in September/October, my health crumbled. I don't know how or why - I have my suspicions - but the persistent cough I had since Taiping became ten times worse. And the hives appeared everyday. They became worse at night so it really affected my quality of sleep and life became a living nightmare for 3 months. Medical help was sought, and literally I spent so much money, it was unbelievable. God didn't seem to be answering my prayers for healing. 'Thorn in my flesh' came to mind many times. But somewhere in December as I began to lay all these issues before God, the impression I kept having was 'Sent Out'. Coincidentally, a few other girls from bible college were also praying about some plans to move overseas and teach/become missionaries. It was very cool to have friends going through the same stuff.

January 2017. The health situation improved. I attended a Search Associates job fair in Bangkok. It was a bit stressful, but a very pleasant experience. The school I had been eyeing - it didn't work out. And a school that hadn't even advertised a vacancy seemed very interested. I committed it to the Lord whether or not I would get a job overseas. It was a good place to be - fairly neutral and surrendered. Three weeks after the job fair and after 3 interviews with the same school, they offered me a position.

When I looked closely at what the school represented and its mission and values and calendar etc, it was everything I wanted. Some things were cherry on the icing, but some things were very important to me like their calendar: Did it follow the American or British system? (I want to do my Master's in 'Murica.) What curriculum were they offering? (IB. Which I have zero experience in, but they are very happy to provide training for.) My parents and I were flabbergasted when we reviewed all the benefits and package that this school offers their staff. Even now, I'm still only half-believing that I am moving to this school in Bangkok in August.

I'm not writing all this to say that God gives us what we ask for. (I asked to be married by 27 and for a husband with 3 kids and I had no desire to advance my career because I believed that my place was serving in the home.) Or that life is smooth sailing. After landing this job, there have been complications with paperwork and I've had to take an English proficiency test and whatnot. These hurdles made me doubt and I nearly wanted to give up saying, Maybe this really isn't meant for me. But I shoved these foolish thoughts in the basement and knuckled down.

God has also been teaching some life lessons through powerlifting at the gym. Like DON'T GIVE UP SO EASILY. I already thought I've been through TFM - I'm not a quitter. But it's been so tempting to walk away from keeping fitness up. My health is better, but it's still a yoyo. I have more good days than bad days now, but the bad days are still there. But I can tolerate A/C much better now, and I can sleep with the fan set at 2. That was just not possible back in December. So there are days when I feel completely depleted at the gym and I have to will myself to follow the program. There have been times that I ended up crying in frustration at the gym and it's hard to admit to Coach that I can't do certain things because I'm completely spent. (Try managing preschoolers for 5 hours in a day and then go to gym, then you'll know what I'm talking about. Preschoolers are tough because you can't set individual work or group work in lessons - you're constantly doing an activity AND monitoring AND managing behaviour. I love teaching them but they zap aallllllll your energy.)

I have made so many plans in my life, only to see them disrupted by God. That doesn't stop me from making them. Even now, I can't help making plans for Bangkok and wondering what life is going to be like there, having my own place and all. As I write, I already have a particular church and maybe gym in mind that I'm going to check out.

It sounds crazy, but knowing that God can and will disrupt my plans, makes me want to plan more >:D Because whatever I have planned in the past, God has always gone one better. He knows me better than anyone, and He knows the desire that lies at the heart of my plans. And if the desire isn't right, He works on me till that desire is aligned with His, and then he weaves my life into His bigger master plan that involves the 7 billion people on this earth. God is Love incarnate. He delights in loving His children and giving them good gifts. The gifts are quite difficult to stomach at times, and yes, His people go through hardship, persecution and even martyrdom, BUT that doesn't diminish His goodness. In fact, the grace He gives to endure brings much comfort. Thank You, Papa.

              The blessing of the LORD makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.                      Proverbs 10:22

              For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil,
                                      to give you a future and a hope.                                                              Jeremiah 29:11

A lovely dream

I don't know when the idea took seed in my mind. But the idea has grown bigger and brighter. To the extent that I had a dream two nights ago about it. Something unfortunate happened in the dream, and there was no one to care for a child, so I stepped in.

To adopt the child.

Was it a boy? Was it a girl? I don't remember. I only remember being ecstatic about adopting the child and it was Korean/Japanese/half-half. (That's probably influenced by my obsession with baby Joey whom I stalk on Instagram!!

Baby Joey and her mummy (pic from @lauraiz on ig)
The best part: I knew it was a dream and in the dream my subconscious self was already questioning all the issues that would crop up with citizenship etc but dream Stephanie brushed it all off! When I woke up, I was a bit disappointed to be honest.

If I never marry, I will most certainly adopt if I can. (But it's really hard in Malaysia so probably not here because I don't want to do anything illegal @.@) But even if I do marry, I hope my partner will be okay with adoption too. I love children, and I think my heart is big enough for children with my DNA and children without.

One day, fingers crossed >.<

(ps. I know my dad would most likely object if I adopted when unmarried, and I also understand where he is coming from, buuuuut I hope I will be financially independent enough to support myself and the children I am going to adopt. Note plural and not singular XD )

Moving on to bigger and better things

Sometimes I wonder how life has turned out the way it has. Time and time again, God had proven Himself to be far greater, far better, far more impossible than what I imagined. (And tbh my imagination, by most people's standards are quite over-the-top.)

Maybe I am a bit mopey because things are getting very real. Moving to a new country and all that jazz. Working and living in a new culture. I won't lie - I am excited! But adulting is hitting home in a very real way. Gotta rent, gotta settle loans, gotta cook, gotta be responsible for myself, gotta pay all my bills on my own again, gotta do all the house chores. 😰😰😰😰😰😰😰

A year ago, I was so fraught with fear and worry and uncertainty about the future. Sometimes I wonder if that was a sign that God's peace was just not with me because I was not obeying His will. Other times I wonder if that was just me failing to trust God.

From my breakup in April to the most hellish months of October-December, the Lord has been so faithful. They were hellish because my health fell apart. Everyday felt like I was scraping through and I longed for rest but rest never really came. Nothing terminal (although there was a brief scare) but I am still recovering from the aftermath. Now there are more and more days that I know I am beginning to ride on my own strength and not God's, because breathing and singing is easer than it was. Sleep is better too. But the sense of walking closer to God was definitely stronger, or at least, the pain and irritations forced me to turn to Him more.

Sometimes I wish I could shake people and tell them, our ideas of God are just that - ideas. Go, go meet the Person and talk to Him. Career? What is career when you know the Master Creator of the universe? He widens your network and gives you opportunities you didn't even dream of. Health and fitness? Don't you know that it is all a gift from above? Yes, you can work for it too but no point strengthening your body at the expense of your soul, or your mind.

Love? I thought I knew a lot, and it is true that I loved a lot too. But I forgot my first love, the love that called me when I was 13 to follow Him with all my heart, soul and mind. God willing, if I have the opportunity to love and be loved by someone again, I pray that it will mever go above my love for God. If that opportunity never comes again, I know now that my true Love will still be sufficient in this life and the one to come.

As I move forward, everyday still feels like three steps forward, two steps back. But I hear my Father's words saying, My plans for you are for good and not for evil. And I know He gives good gifts - He gave me Himself, and that is enough.

Lord God, help me to keep my eyes on You, one eye on eternity and one eye to the present. Sojourn on, homeless wanderer......

Feb. 12th, 2017

Dear Jesus,

This one's for You. I want to thank You for walking me every step of the way. I know that in some aspects I have been too careless and wanton. How I wish I could detach myself more from this sea of emotions. Fear, worry, anxiety, grief, anger - a host of negative emotions that have been my regular bedfellows for a while it seems.

My (worse) health has made me wonder if the external is but a manifestation of the internal.

I don't want to grieve any more. I really feel that it is time to move on. Somehow this verse is just comforting me right now: whatsoever ye ask, ask in the name of Jesus, and it will be done for you.

Lord, I know You have called us by grace into a life of faith and love, emboldened by Your Holy Spirit within us. Lord, I want to rise up and regain the ground that I have LOST. Oh I know I have lost much ground. But, o God, though this may be one battle that I lost, there is still a WAR to be fought. Lord, I pray this will be a year of breakthrough and faith and building strongholds of faith in ALL areas of my life. I don't want to be weak and cower in front of the enemy. I want to show people that my God is real and powerful and a miracle-working God. Everything You have done in me, I want to be able to testify about it and unleash faith in other people's lives.