Sunday, 29 April 2018

The certainty of believers.

It is interesting that an atheist journalist Ignatius Low recently returned to Novena Church in Thomson Road. It was the Church he grew up in when his family was struggling to make ends meet. 

Ignatius recounted that they were poor then with his father taking a day and a night shift job and his mother was "working the weekend shifts at Tangs."

But before I write further, I think I started this post on a wrong footing, because calling someone an atheist may carry a negative connotation. 

In America, a poll was done recently whereby atheists were placed at the bottom of the rung sharing the spot with homosexuals as the most disliked group. Go figure.

And if you Google it, you will find this: 

"A 2015 Gallup survey found that 40% of Americans would not vote an atheist for president, and in polls prior to 2015, that number had reached about 50%." Some improvement?

The divide goes deeper. 

"A 2014 study by the University of Minnesota found that 42% of respondents characterized atheists as a group that did "not at all agree with my vision of American society", and that 44% would not want their child to marry an atheist. The negative attitudes towards atheists were higher than negative attitudes towards African-Americans and homosexuals but lower than the negative attitudes towards Muslims.""

Mm...sobering statistics of an increasingly tribalistic nation?

So, let me change tack here. I think it is safer to describe Ignatius' current existential/belief status as a soft form of agnosticism, that is, someone who is still searching for the truth?

And in his own words, Ignatius wrote: "I have had a rather chequered relationship with religion throughout my life. Having embraced it very much as part of my DNA as a child, I started to turn away from it as part of my teenage rebellion. Studying it as a philosophy major in university, I learnt to see religion as a set of intellectual arguments that can be won or lost by sleight of hand."

As Ignatius went from a child to a teenager and then an adult, he said that he "saw religion as part of moral and cultural warfare - simply incompatible with the tribes that (he) belonged to."

But all this changed somewhat when he entered his childhood Church after her $54 million renovation in 2014. 

These were the words of the benediction that led him into possibly another existential foxhole:-

"Down in adoration falling, this great sacrament we hail. Ancient types have long departed, newer rites of grace prevail. Faith for all defects supplying, where the feeble senses fail."

Those words stirred a quiet nostalgia within him. He sensed a displacement or transition between disbelief and belief, between materialism and faith.

He said: "Yet, standing there in Novena that afternoon, all this seemed to melt away into a strange sort of peaceful inconsequence. It was as if belief in a higher being necessarily transcended all arguments and justification."

Mind you, this is a Church where "multiple services are conducted every Saturday in devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. People from all walks of life - including many non-believers - have been known to flock to the Novena to ask for Mary's prayer. The belief is that if she intercedes for you with Jesus, your prayers will more likely be answered."

And for the skeptics out there, whether Christians, atheists, agnostics or the couldn't-care-less, Ignatius wrote that "the Novena is still the only Catholic service in Singapore where real-life prayers and petitions are read out to the congregation, as are true testimonies of prayer answered."

I guess when the Mother and Son teams up, your prayers may indeed stand a better chance of coming to pass?

Lesson? Just one.

At 48, what I find most fascinating nowadays is to sit with a group of fiery hot Christians in a cell-group context to listen to what they have to say about the object of their worship (as well as the intention and plans the object of their worship has for them). 

The fascination is not so much about the devotion to their belief, but the certainty of their faith. In other words, it is an interesting case of how right they believe they are in what they have to say to believers in their midst.  

Of course, I have been there and done that as I was a cell group leader for nine years in my own church. I know the feeling when you lead a cell group and prepare for one beforehand. 

The feeling is essentially about religion, that is, to bind together in a common goal, and in this case, it is a common goal that we are not alone. 

Being a "social animal", assuring them that they are not alone is just one part of religion. The other part is to assure them that their creator cares, and he (since I am talking in the Protestant tradition, I'll stick to the male gender) cares so much that he died for us as full penitence for our sins. 

At this juncture, I recall a saying that one does not care how much you know, but wants to know how much you care. And in our faith, the Savour cares enough to abandon all to save all. 

Up until that point, I find that the Christian faith makes the most sense. It is not so much a sense that is common since there are people who differ very much with believers on this, but at least it is a sense that is reasonable as true love is compelling. And the highest order of love is sacrifice. 

If God is love, then Calvary is the summit of this love for his people. 

But earlier, I wrote that it is the believer's certainty that fascinates me. It is a faith that brooks no doubt that I find most thought provoking. 

As a thinking person, which I dread that some believers may deem it as a hindrance to the faith, I find some pronouncements made by preachers and church leaders incongruous to reality. 

It is like they are compaigning for some election, and they throw promises to the crowd like signed blank cheques to desperate investors pinning for a windfall. 

To them, healing is in the sovereign will of God. But if it doesn't happen, then it is his sovereignty that you will just have to contend with, that is, if you are unable to come to terms with it. 

To them, prosperity is the hallmark of the faith, and if you are still struggling with your financial circumstances with no breakthrough in sight, then you have not believed enough or more deeply than you should. 

And to them, love covers a multitude of sins and grace covers future sins. 

So, while it is never a licence to sin for compelling gratitude transforms the believers apparently thoroughly, should you however fall, and I trust as humans we will, you need not ask for forgiveness, but just approach God for a "therapeutic session" to reassert your inheritance rights that you are already righteous and that sins have no hold over you (even after you have committed them post-altar-call).  

Alas, the last part is about human nature, which some believers seem to have figured it all out with the utopian idea of modern day grace. 

While great theologians and fathers of the church have struggled with the issues about our human nature and faith for centuries, you just need the promulgated certainty of a man or woman on moderm stage to wash away all lingering doubts. 

So, I think on this, I stand with Ignatius when he concluded in his article this general sentiment:-

"Only time will tell if my return to Church is simply an exterior renovation or a more fundamental homecoming to something that had perhaps always been there within me. For now, I know only that this is something I want to find out."

I guess the last part applies to me too. 

While his uncertainty is of a more fundamental order, I however endorse his agnostic sentiment as a seeker of truth pertaining to the deeper things of human nature and our unfailing devotion to religion, that is, the virtues that bind all of us together, and how such meaningful binding will ( I believe) eventually overcomes our shallow and superficial thinking about the faith. Cheerz. 

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Nepotism in Megachurches.

Let's get the elephant out of the room here: broadly speaking, nepotism is human nature. It's our natural disposition. It is part and parcel of our society.
It may be a hush-hush word, something that is the antithesis of meritocracy (or democracy), but there's no point denying how common it is not only in politics, business and the arts, but also in churches, especially megachurches.
Like inequality, not everything about nepotism is bad. Of course, it is a matter of degree. Too much inequality and it leads to division, perverse patronage, entrenched entitlement, structured caste system, possible chaos, sporadic uprisings, even Marxist revolutions. 

But, growth at some point gives rise to inequality to some extent.
Same here with nepotism when excesses lead to blindness, which leads to indulgences, cover-ups and systemic perpetuation of wrongs within the familial framework. 

But, the connection alone doesn't poison the well of one's character.
So, there is such thing as good nepotism (for lack of a better word). We are not short of examples here. Think of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or Israel. How about David and Solomon? And there are bad ones, and the unfortunate examples of Samuel and Eli comes to mind.
Most times, the rest of us do not so much despise the nepotist but the nepotee. But that is only if the latter is undeserving of the appointment, that is, if he proves to be corrupt, inefficient and hopelessly inept. 
Yet, if the nepotee proves otherwise, that is, he diligently earns his way up from the bottom of the organizational rung, leads with humility and honor, and succeeds with enduring results and thus earns praises from his fellow men and respect from his subordinates, nepotism could very well be a blessing in disguise...right?    
Personally, I have come to accept that it is inevitable that the search for a successor in business or in any autonomous (independent) churches starts with the nurturance of talent and character within the founder's family. 
A good family will bring up a good successor who will then do his family and the organization (or church) proud. It goes down to the root that bears the fruit.
This may sound unfair to those born outside the family circle, but in cases like this, let's face it...blood is often thicker than water. Yet, it doesn't necessarily lead to unfairness as a whole or in the long run as the heir apparent may turn up to be a benevolent and wise leader after all. 
In the book "In Praise of Nepotism," Adam Bellow wrote: "The problem, then, is not that nepotism continues to be practiced, but that it is often practiced badly or haphazardly. The solution is not to keep banging it with a hammer like a glob of mercury but to bring it out into the open and subject it to the highest possible standards."
This brings me to a church's recent 40th year anniversary which I attended with my family last Sunday. It was a grand affair with all the expectant pyrotechnics, music and lighting. Every attendee was given a free bento set dinner, sculpted balloons and an inscribed magnetic button as a door gift. 
I was there to witness the handing over of the senior pastor mantle from father to son. It was a special moment for the pair and the church of six thousand strong all joined in to sing the church's unity song, "Let us hold on together". 
My heart was emboldened by the spirit of unity the church has shown over the decades of growth, resilience and maturity.  
Personally, I have plans to serve in the church, which is also the church I grew up in since 1986. I left it in 2011 and decided to return to contribute in whatever ways I can as a young adult leader, at least for a season where I am still of some use.
At this point, I suspect some readers may be wondering why I started out this post on such a wet-blanket mode about nepotism, and then curve-balled it to disclose my intention to serve in a church that had recently transitioned from father to son. 
Well, I did caveat at the start of this post that it is best to get the elephant out of the room (because there's no point being pretentious or disingenuous about the obvious). 
Further, I prefaced it by distinguishing between good and bad nepotism. For the end goal is still about the quality and character of the "nepotee" (or the one receiving the mantle).
As a side note, I am a father myself, and although currently, I have nothing of substance for my children to inherit, I nevertheless understand a father's heart (or bias) for his children. 
In other words, I am a realist, and if our country is currently led by the son of the founder, then I won't be surprised that the same is found in churches too. Examples abound here. We have the Grahams, the Ed Youngs, and locally, the Seawards - just to name a few.  
Alas, nepotism may very well be a self-driven desire to benefit one's offspring for a selfless goal of ensuring that he or she eventually becomes a blessing to and for all, within and outside the family.  
Now, at this juncture, you may ask: what has Jesus got to say about nepotism then?
Well, not specifically though, but in Matthew 20, he rebuked a mother when she came to him and lobbied for her two sons to sit on the left and right side of his kingdom. 
While the short exchange said nothing about the credentials of the two sons (James and John, sons of Zebedee), what we however know is that they were not part of Jesus' innner circle of ten as they were yet to be called by the Father. This is another way of saying that if the Holy Spirit does not anoint, we should not appoint. 
In the same passage, Jesus turned to his disciples and said this: "Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first must be your slave." 
He also added: "Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." 
For me, that's the summation of a leader. Jesus led the way here, and became for me the light, the truth and the life. 
Mind you, Titus 1:5-9 sets this high standard for pastoral leadership:-
"For the overseer must be above reproach as God's steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, nor addicted to wine, not pugnancious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict."
That is the point of my post this morning, that is, the character of the one being appointed, and not so much the process by which he is appointed. 
We can argue about it, the selection process that is, and we can even throw suspicion at it, or cry foul and label it as "nepotistic” or "dynastic", but that does not mean that the leadership is doomed to fail just because it is done within a family. 

What's more, as fathers, the soft spot to see one's flesh and blood succeed is a love that is most vulnerable.
Putting it in another way, the son can't help but be born to his father. Neither can the father deny their unique relationship. 
But what counts in the end is that the son is still accountable for his own life, ministry and faith. His leadership is his alone when it is handed over, and the pressure to walk in the light is no less acute because he is answerable to both his heavenly and earthly father. 
The mantle (or burden) is therefore no less lighter just because he is his father's son. And say what one will, his allegiance is still to his Father in heaven just as any leader who ascends without the same blood relations is accountable to the head of the church, that is, Christ alone.
I recall here that when Jesus' parents were searching for him, his reply to them was this: "How is it that you sought me? Knew you not that I must be about my Father's business." 
So, whether sons or daughters, friends, colleagues, or subordinates, he or she who takes over must be about their Father's business. And we will know this by the fruits they bear, lest they labour in vain. 
Ultimately, it is not about the celebratory service of the church. It is not about the handing over from one blood relation to another. It is also not about the nepotistic connection with all its negative connotations. 
The calling (as Jesus puts it) is servant-leadership, steward leadership, and life-as-a-ransom-for-many leadership. 
It is about the life of the one appointed, that is, his faith, his leadership and the fruits he bears in his long journey of obedience to the call just as Jesus obeyed his. It is a long obedience in the same direction.
In my book, that is a leadership beyond reproach. And mind you, it is a leadership that does not excuse one's flaws or hides them, but transforms and empowers them with His grace, love and hope. 
It is also a leadership that walks closely behind his Saviour's footsteps, and not on his own pathways, rushing ahead seeking his own agenda, and stepping out of the long shadow of Calvary to pursue the fleeting shadows of his own carnal appetites. 
And most importantly, it is a leadership that is always about his Father's business, upon which his own earthly father had faithfully dedicated his life. Amen. Cheerz. 

Desmond Lee/Janil Puthucheary vs. Han Fook Kwang.

Let me set the record straight. I do not know Han Fook Kwang ("HFK") personally. I have read about him, but not met him.

The only thing we share in common is our surname; while the only difference is that I have more hair than him, much more actually (if you want to split hairs about it).

But when MPs Desmond Lee ("DL") and Janil Puthucheary ("JP") came forward to write a rebuttal this morning (entitled "History is not the preserve of historians") of HFK's article (entitled "4G leaders need to find their own way to forge ties with people") written on Sunday, 8 April, I felt something's amiss.

In a totally hyped environment of who's manufacturing fake news and who's the fount of truth, I felt that DL and JP had missed some of the good points raised by HFK in his article.

Sadly, of late, we see a lot of this unnecessary back and forth between Sylvia and Grace, Thum and Shan, and now Fook Kwang and Desmond and Puthucheary.

And if you just woke up, here's where the line of scrimmage between them is.

First, DL and JP wrote as their opening salvo: -

"Mr Han Fook Kwang says politicians should have no role in interpreting history, and that history should be the preserve of only historians."

But if you read HFK's article, he simply did not say that. Not in the way as phrased. Note the operative words are "no role" and "preserve of only historians". They are meant to be "absolute".

The truth is, DL and JP are inferring; at times, overreaching. But such inference missed the forest for the trees.

In any event, the article is essentially about building trust as one of the cornerstone of political leadership, and not so much about interpreting historical event. HFK merely advised caution, not absolute abstinence.

In other words, politicians are not called to be eunuch in a harem, see and hear no evil; but wise counsels to a nation - always listening, encouraging, affirming, and building trust, mutual respect and hope.

The trust gap with the people can be bridged with this concluding words of HFK: "The objective is not to be able to win every argument but to be able to finally say: "Trust me, my approach is the better one." That's what leadership is about.""

Politicians are therefore gap-bridgers and not chasm-diggers.

Then, the DL and JP team went on to write:-

"This is so because the views of politicians are bound to be coloured by political interests, he says (HFK). Whereas all historians can be relied on to pronounce authoritatively on the historical "truth" because they view history objectively."

Wait a second, did HFK say all that, or is it another leap of inference? If he did, then the copy of Straits Times I bought last Sunday was a parallel black-market version?

I reread HFK's article and the closest I got was this:-

"It is best done by scholars and historians, not politicians whose motives would always be questioned even if they are legitimate. I hope more Singaporean historians - and there are quite a few who specialise in Singapore history - will join the discussion and throw light on the issues that have been raised."

If you compare the two, you can divine the nuances and differences.

HFK did not say "all historians can be relied on to pronounce authoritatively on the historical "truth"". He wrote, "it is best done" by them because politicians' motive risks being misinterpreted (or misperceived).

If you look at the unanimity on the majority side of our parliament when it comes to the reserved election and the potential GST hike, I think you roughly get what I mean.

Alas, there is a huge gap between constructive consensus and destructive groupthink (As an aside, I think we should not encourage groupthink, but thinking in different groups to allow for the flourishing of ideas and the approximation to truth).

Last but not least, the crew of DL and JP also wrote this:-

"For Mr Han to suggest after the fact that Dr Thum should not have been questioned because some of his writings have been peer-reviewed is to claim a privilege that is available to no other professional expert, let alone the Government or elected MPs."

And again, HFK did not say, write or suggest that. 

The flavour is lost (or masked) in the sugar?

If you read his article, he balanced the views of Mr Shanmugam and Dr Thum by allowing both to ventilate in his column.

He juxtapositioned the law minister's "parting shot" when he said, "Your views (Dr Thum's) on communism, Operation Coldstore...are contradicted by the most reliable evidence. It ignores evidence which you don't like, you ignore and suppress what is inconvenient and in your writings, you present quite an untrue picture," with that of Dr Thum's counter when he said, "(my) work had been published and subjected to peer review, historian has come out and contradicted the central thrust of (his) work."

So, any discerning reader who reads those paragraphs side by side ought to come to the conclusion that the truth is still out there and somewhere between Shan and Thum.

That's as objective as one can ever get because not only politicians, but historians, often disagree - as "the past is never dead, it is not even past" (William Faulkner).

In the end, it is still a matter of wise distillation, and not blind endorsement of one version against another.

We don't live in a binary world of black and white when it comes to interpreting motives, intentions and goals giving rise to past events, but a world of more than 50 shades of grey.

In fact, in HFK's article, he did write:-

"To be fair to Mr Shanmugam, I did not think he was as unreasonable as online critics made him out to be in the way he conducted the questioning. Watching the six-hour video recording, I thought it was as civilised as you can get when two men disagree with each other as strongly as the two did."

HFK then added: "But it was a political exercise, not an academic discourse in search of the truth."

And that's why HFK "hope(s) more Singaporean historians...will join the discussion and throw light on the issues."

He definitely did not say that historians are the custodians of society's truth. And it is not about not questioning historians, but the proper forum to do so.

Let's admit this. In that 6 hours of intense questioning, none is wiser.
In such a session, truth is often the spectator with his popcorn and soda watching the back-and-forth from one side of the court (of vested interest) to the other.

And it has surely divided this little red dot more than it has united it...recall gap-bridgers?

That's the whole point of HFK's article, and DL's and JP's article today had unfortunately missed it. Alas, one small misstep for being right for right's sake, and one big missed opportunity for truth.

Lesson? Just one.

In my view, the fight for truth (or objectivity) risks becoming territorial, dogmatic and polarised.

And the reality is, when you shine the public spot light on an issue, you tend to get emotions high on it, and the desire to be right is often compelling, even possessive.

Most of the time, we are more teachable in private, where our errors or misinterpretations are kept within face-saving boundaries.

But when we are before the media or an audience, the vested interests harden or ossify, and we tend to get less receptive to ideas that differ from ours, even though there may be some validity to them.

Let me end with a short exchange between Sonny Liew and Shanmugam in the latter's FB.

In one of the commentary threads, Sonny concluded with this:-

"With regards to interpretation - everyone will have their own, of course, but debate over them only works if they take place in an open and fair environment. Whether or not the conditions of the Select Committee hearing achieved those standards... well, perhaps that will also be open to yet more interpretation, even if my own is that it did not. But we can agree to disagree :)"

And here comes Shanmugam's discourse...waitforit....ready?

"Thanks, note your point of view."

And he got 153 likes just for that short comment.

I guess that's what HFK was talking about when he urged politicians to build trust amongst the people.

Essentially, it is all about perception, and it is not just that we should not be arrogant. But we should not be seen to be arrogant. Cheerz.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Dr Theresa Smith-Ruig's visions of life.

Sometimes life provides a way out. The question is, will you follow?

For Theresa, she did. She followed it through. She never looked back. Because she can't, I mean literally, as she is blind (in both eyes). 

But Wong Kim Hoh's article today entitled "Proving the doubters wrong" inspired a new perspective in me about the role of insight in a life.

I recall Helen Keller once said that, "it is better to be blind and see with your heart, than to have two good eyes and see nothing."

And Theresa would put many of us (with two working eyes) to shame with how she'd followed life to where it led, and achieved everything she'd put her heart, soul and sight on. 

At 40 plus, Theresa saw more than most. Here is her journey of the heart. 

For ten years, she lived in "a very large farm with 2000 sheep and 500 cattle" in a farm town called Boggabri, about 500 km northwest of Sydney. 

She is the second of four children. She led an idyllic life and her eyes were continually nourished by the unadulterated horizon of nature.

But this all changed when her mother noticed that she kept dropping her knife and fork at the dinner table and took longer to find them. 

Her doctor who examined her said: "Oh no, your retinas are tearing and you'd better fly to Sydney tomorrow for treatment."

Over 12 months thereafter, Theresa went through 12 operations, even one "performed in England by a world renowned specialist." 

Theresa recalled: "My right eye couldn't be saved, the retina was far too damaged. They tried to halt further damage in my left eye but over the next couple of years, all sorts of other eye issues cropped up."

Fighting for her sight, she had to wear thick glasses, and it made her very uncool in appearance. 

She however made it through high school with strong support from her teachers and friends. In fact, saying she "made it through" would be an understatement because she was her high school's top student, "achieving the highest university entrance score - 94.5 - not just in her town, but also the surrounding region."

She credits her mother as "her biggest champion" helping her to develop a "never say never" attitude.

But finding a university would prove a challenge, because the world still sees her as limited by her sight (or the lack of it).

Wong's article observed this:-

"(Theresa) remembers visiting one of Sydney's top universities, which she declines to name, during her final year in high school. "One of the professors told me: "Why come here? We take only the best ones." He was very patronising, his tone suggested there was no way I could get in there.""

Recall Keller's quote? "It is better to be blind and see with your heart, than to have two good eyes and see nothing"?

I believe many goals worth pursuing in our life are beyond what we can see, tangibly speaking. It has to be felt in the heart. That is where the enduring source of strength and hope lie. That is where true vision resides. 

And Theresa never leaves a challenge undone, or unpacked. That professor's word gave her wings where it should have clipped it by ordinary (worldly) standards. And she went on to qualify for that top university. Yet, she opted to read commerce in another university, that is, the University of New England. 

Needless to say, she did exceptionally well in university and this human dynamo did not stop there. She said: "It was both luck and drive. My ambition was to be successful. And I want to prove people wrong. I'm blind but I can do things."

She found a job in the bank and thrived at it. She was "put through the bank's different departments including fraud, debt collection and data analysis."

That's not all. 

Wong wrote that "the high achiever also found fulfillment outside of work by volunteering with outfits like Vision Australia, a non profit helping visually impaired people, where she held the position of deputy chair. She was also vice-president of Blind Citizens of Australia, an advocacy group."

And that's not even half of it...

Theresa took her professor's advice and went back to school (UNE) on a scholarship and pursued her PhD. This is way her world and another collided. This is part of the article's lighter moments.

"While doing a research project on careers and management in the finance sector, she met Joel Ruig. He was supposed to be an interview subject. It turned out that he was not good for my PhD, but good for something else," Theresa laughs.

"Mr Ruig, who runs a financial planning business, interjects and says: "It was a fishing trip." 

Wong wrote about their romance in such whimsical way:-

"The chemistry was right, they started dating. Her disability was not an issue for him." 

Mr Ruig says: "I didn't have to agonise about when to hold her hand. I did it on the first date." 

Levity aside, he adds: "Theresa created such normal environment you forget about her disability.""

18 months later, Theresa became Mrs Theresa Smith-Ruig. They tied the knot in 2006 and "their first daughter came along the following year. Two more followed in 2010 and 2014."

And the uphill climb for Theresa became a vantage perspective from the summit when she managed to complete her doctorate and juggle with motherhood, together with performing part time work and temporary contracts with the universities. All done, swimmingly.  

Now, Dr Theresa Smith-Ruig has "set her sights on an associate professorship.

Indeed, she saw further than most people without disability ever did because what she can't see with her own eyes, she saw clearer and deeper with her heart. 

Lesson? Just one.

I have much to learn from such a wonderful, never say never life. So much.

It is said that when God shuts one door, he opens others. The problem is that I am so accustomed to that shut door in front of me that any other way to another door becomes an uphill climb. It becomes unnatural, too burdensome and self-debilitating too. 

But for people like Helen Keller and Theresa, they never have that privilege of seeing obstacles the way we see with both eyes (that may just be a blessing in disguise?).

Helen Keller once said this most beautifully:-

"They took away what should have been my eyes (but I remembered Milton's Paradise).
They took away what should have been my ears, (Beethoven came and wiped away my tears) 
They took away what should have been my tongue, (but I had talked with God when I was young) 
He would not let them take away my soul, possessing that I still possess the whole."

I have always found this profound and enduring beauty in a life that is always overcoming, seldom complaining, and fiercely resilient. 

It is not what they have lost that draws me to their life. It is what they have gained with the loss that stirs my soul from within with deep admiration.

Circumstances may turn a blind eye to them, but they are never blind to their vision to overcome. Life may serve them undue notices of the tragedy of a loss (whether physically, a turn of a fortune, or loved ones), but they are never daunted, never sidelined, never giving up. 

Like Helen Keller said, there is a wholeness in our soul that we can never be dispossessed of if we keep our focus on what truly matters in the end. 

For a greater tragedy in life is to have eyes but not see (like that university professor who wanted only the "best ones" and arrogantly judged Theresa as far from it), or to have ears but not hear, and worse of all, to have heart but never heal, never touched (or touch) and never feel. 

Alas, I can't end this post without one of Helen Keller's quotes (and I encourage you this Sabbath morning to be nourished by them). Here is one that resonates with me. 

"The best things in life are unseen, that's why we close our eyes when we kiss, cry, and dream."

And I just want to affirm here that Theresa's life is music to my heart. They play to a different tune that the world is often tone-deaf to. It is the score of life that defies the script of this world. It radiates hope, it broadens perspective, and it deepens experiences. 

And as I meet my own challenges (which pales in comparison to Theresa's or Keller's), I too want to savour the best things in life by closing my eyes, and feel the lyrical score of courage, the vibrant notes of resilience, and the sweet melody of love and hope to bring me by the hand to the other doors that are open for me rather than to mope over the one I see in front that is firmly shut. Cheerz.