My Identity Crisis: All I Wanted Was to Fit In

I spent a large part of my adolescence searching for my identity as if it were a lost item to be found.

I suppose it was because a large part of my childhood and early teenage years was spent moving between various states in Malaysia before settling in Auckland, New Zealand. My dad’s former job required him to move whenever a new position arose, and we would move with him.

By the time I was 15, I had been to three different kindergartens, three primary schools, and two high schools. To be fair, some of my friends zipped through even more schools, so I can’t really complain. But the constant state of motion meant that I was always searching for a new identity just so I could fit into my new environment. I didn’t want to be seen as an outsider, so I found myself always trying to meet the status quo.

For example, when a friend told me that someone had labeled me as an outdated individual due to my taste in music, I made up my mind to learn all there was to each new pop group. I would pester my dad to buy me the latest albums and music magazines, and would collect posters of each band.

Trying to fit in also extended to the extracurricular activities I took part in. When I was in primary school in Malaysia, I signed up for Taekwondo as it was the coolest club, and worked my way to a brown belt. But when I moved to junior high school, Taekwondo lost its appeal and was replaced by Scouts.

The first few months of Scouting went relatively well, despite having to put up with the heat in Malaysia and the relentless mosquitoes that swarmed around us in the humid evenings when we were camping. For me, it was a chance to do something cool, with hopes that I’d be accepted into the “in” crowd. I mean, all the camping, tramping, and hiking would surely result in good camaraderie between teammates right?

But an incident that happened during one camping trip cemented the fact that I was never going to be part of the popular crowd. I was putting away my teammates’ mess tins, which we had all washed and dried, onto a makeshift tripod—which was made out of bamboo sticks and held together by the different knots a Scout is supposed to learn and know—when it tipped over. Immediately, a chorus of groans went up, with voices demanding to know how I could have been so careless. It was all arms and elbows as everyone pitched in to rinse the dishes again and steady the tripod.

As the evening wore on, another girl managed to upend the tripod after supper. She was pretty, older than most of us, and hung out with the right crowd. Instead of angry voices demanding to know why she was so careless, there was only laughter. All she got was a joking remonstration, “Oh, you’re so careless!” I went home sad and miserable, gave up Scouting, and shied away from all outdoor activities thereafter.

My early secondary school life in Malaysia was a drag—my academic results were less than stellar, and at one point, I was failing just about every subject there was under the sun. But society saw Science stream students as the smarter bunch, so I had to continue studying subjects I was weak in because I didn’t want to be seen as anything less.

When my parents announced we were moving to New Zealand, I breathed a sigh of relief. Don’t get me wrong: I was reluctant to leave my friends behind. But I realized starting school in a new country would give me a fresh start—and a level of anonymity.

To the rest of my Kiwi classmates, I was just one of the many Asian students at high school. Granted, there were the usual stereotypes of Asians excelling in math and science, but I was also given the opportunity to study the subjects I was interested in. I also felt that it hardly mattered if my clothes were of the correct label or not, because most international students bought clothes from their home country anyway.

Furthermore, my teachers were far more interested in nurturing my strengths—such as English and writing—so the pressure to excel in certain subjects fell away. As a result, I enjoyed school tremendously, and went on to do the same subjects I loved at university.

But if you think that solved my identity crisis, you’re wrong. I disliked the fact that I was poor in math and that accounting wasn’t really my cup of tea. And I wondered why God would have me excel in English and not biology. On top of that, my parents’ friends would question my decision to pursue an English major in university. “But why?” was the most common question. “You can speak English, can’t you?”

So, by the time I was ready to graduate from university, I was still floating in the big world with no identity to anchor myself on.

It wasn’t until I attended a workshop at my church, that I learned about where my real identity comes from—and it certainly isn’t about being like other people.

At the workshop, we were given a list of affirmations of who we are in Christ, followed with Scriptures to back them up. The list had items such as, “I am a child of God” (John 1:12), “I am a friend of Jesus” (John 15:15)—and one that hit me like a ton of bricks: “I have been accepted by Christ” (Romans 15:7). You see, for years I had tried to gain the acceptance of others, but here was a verse that told me that Jesus accepted me—even when I was the uncool individual who listened to bad music before I joined Taekwondo and Scouts. That verse told me God saw me for who I was (with all my flaws) and yet still said: I accept her for who she is.

I also learned how I’m God’s workmanship, created in Christ to do good works (Ephesians 2:10), and that I am greatly loved by God (Romans 1:7, Ephesians 2:4, Colossians 3:12, 1 Thessalonians 1:4).

Intrigued, I read Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life, which said: “God never does anything accidentally, and He never makes mistakes. He has a reason for everything He creates. Every plant and every animal was planned by God, and every person was designed with a purpose in mind.”

You see, not only did I have to contend with an identity crisis, but there were also times when I wondered if God had made a mistake when He made me. After all, I was hardly Miss Influential and some of my schoolmates treated me like as if I were an insect. As my insecurities melted away, however, I started to see how silly I had been in looking to my peers for an affirmation of my identity. I realized that God is not bothered with the bands that I follow, the clothes that I wear, or what outdoor interests I pursue. Discovering (and making peace) with my identity also gave me a sense of purpose, which I believe is an important factor when it comes to fighting off insecurities, comparisons, and jealousies.

When I realized that one of my life’s purposes was to write for God, I started to view it as something sacred because it’s a gift from God, instead of a thing to be wished away. Don’t get me wrong, I have always enjoyed writing, but when I was growing up, adults around me made me feel it wasn’t a valuable skill set. What is the use of being able to write if your math and science is falling behind? Have you ever heard of a poor accountant? Those comments certainly had a way of making me feel inferior. However, when I learned to accept who I was, I stopped trying to be someone else, and begin to develop my skills and talents instead.

My newfound identity in Christ has given me the freedom to pursue my hobbies like writing and swimming wholeheartedly. It has also made me braver in pursuing new adventures. For example, never in a million years would I have dreamed of training to be a surf lifeguard, but I’ll be spending a huge amount of time this year training in the pool and open water to qualify as one.

You may be struggling with finding your own identity, and at times, it can seem like you’re drowning in an ocean of voices telling you to be this or that. But let me encourage you: Take the time to read about what God says about you, and you’ll find out that your identity can be found in Him. Because in God, we have an identity so strong and solid that it will never be eroded by popular culture or the latest trend.

When My Parents Didn’t Like My Date

With my Facebook newsfeed dominated by status updates of engagements, weddings, and babies, I thought it was best I got my act together or risk growing old alone.

I had long given up hope of meeting anyone at work, and even though I do sporting activities like swimming, it is such an individual sport that it is almost impossible to meet anyone. Besides, the swim squad that I am with comprises mostly students and their parents.

So, I did what I assumed most single Millennials would do: I signed up on a few online dating sites. I figured since we spend so much of our time online—from following our favourite bloggers to shopping—it made sense to also meet potential dates online.

After taking a few recommendations from a friend, I duly created an account for each of the sites, filled out my profile, and took extra care to answer the various questionnaires. You see, I didn’t want to jinx my chances of meeting the right person, so I made sure my answers were honest enough, but I was careful not to give too much away, to protect my identity.

But boy did the weirdos roll in. One asked if I would move to Christchurch, New Zealand, if we “clicked”—I live in Auckland—after we had exchanged all of two chat messages. He said he wasn’t looking to waste his time, and if I couldn’t promise that I’d move to another town for him, then he’d like to move on.

Another said he liked Asian women because they were “kind, obedient, and had a nice figure”. Needless to say, I blocked him as fast as I could. And don’t get me started on one of the other dates, who turned out to be really gross. Besides making highly inappropriate comments, he seemed to fail to grasp the concept of personal space—he kept pressing in close to me. I had to make up excuses to flee within half an hour of meeting him. Fortunately, we had met at a cafe that was only a five-minute drive from my house, which made it easy for me to execute my exit.

I did meet a few decent guys online, but nothing serious came out of those encounters. There was a paramedic who was really nice, but conversations were stilted. I also connected with a Canadian, who happened to be in New Zealand for a short cycling tour. But while we got on relatively well, there was no telling when he would be back in this part of town again. Needless to say, that one died a natural death.

So imagine my delight when I eventually found someone whom I connected with. On paper, he seemed eligible enough; he was an engineer who also enjoyed reading and surfing. We started chatting online, and I thought, “Perfect! My patience has paid off!” After a few weeks of exchanging text messages, we decided to meet in person to see if we’d enjoy each other’s company.

Our first date, at a nearby cafe, went on for four hours, which I thought was a good sign. Previous dates had me checking my watch every second, hoping for the hour to be up.

Naturally, when he asked if we could hang out again, I agreed. A few more dates followed, and soon I was texting my friends to tell them how much fun I was having. When he bought a bouquet of flowers from the supermarket, I thought, “How cute!”

So all in all, it looked like things had fallen into place and we decided we would make the relationship “Facebook official”. When friends and acquaintances commented on how cute we both looked together (when they saw our photo on Facebook), I replied, “I know, right? He’s great!”

At that stage, we had been going out for only a month. But when he asked if he could meet my parents, I didn’t think twice about it. You see, having heard stories from friends with partners who wouldn’t commit despite being together for years, I thought it was sweet of my date to make that effort. “After all, I would have to meet them eventually,” he said. Furthermore, his parents, who lived in the UK, were making plans to meet up when they heard I would be visiting the country later. As for my date, he had moved to New Zealand about three years ago after he was made redundant back in the UK.

When I told my dad that my date wanted to meet them over lunch, he accepted the invite. When the day rolled round, I was nervous about how the lunch would go, and hoped my parents would like him.

Alas, they didn’t.

I was devastated. “But why?” I asked. There were tears and long conversations with my sister and my dad. Eventually, my dad said he felt there was something “not quite right” with the guy, and his instincts were telling him that this man wasn’t the one for me. Next came the blow: I had to break up with him because my dad didn’t think anything good would come out of it.

“But it’s so hard to meet someone that I can get along with,” I said, dismayed. I was ready to argue that it was impossible to suss out the character traits of someone over lunch, so how would my dad know “something was not right”? There were times when I made a rash judgment about someone, only to find out later how nice and kind the person really was.

But my dad is a good judge of character. Later, he told me that he suspected that there was more to my date than he had let on, and that his body language had given him away. On hindsight, I should have picked up on the red flags. For one, he wasn’t a Christian. Second, I remembered how agitated he had become when a tour guide was a few minutes late picking us up for a tour. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but he kept prancing down the hallway, checking his watch, while muttering about how late the tour guide was (the guide showed up five minutes past the hour). There was also the time, when we were out on a double-date with my sister, where he helped himself to most of the food on the table without offering any to others.

And then there were the many nights when he’d have me hanging out with him until quite late, forgetting that I had to wake up early for work. I hadn’t thought that this would be an issue, but as my dad said, being considerate of other people’s needs never goes out of style.

So, I did what I had to do and called it quits with the guy. Needless to say, he didn’t take the news very well, and within 24 hours, deleted me from his Facebook friend list. Later, he sent me a private message to say he was sorry for the “knee jerk reaction” but as he was “falling in love” with me, he was hurt by my decision to break up with him.

While some of my friends understood my reason for heeding my dad’s advice, a few were shocked at my decision. “But you were so happy with him!” they said, “And it’s not for your parents to say if you can or can’t see someone.” It wasn’t easy, but I knew that in these circumstances, I had to listen to my parents because they were a lot wiser than I am in terms of relationships.

Movies will have us believe it’s a lot more romantic to follow our hearts and to run away with our beloved—and tough luck to our parents and their fuddy-duddy advice.

However, I have seen friends who refused to take their parents’ advice, and are finding themselves in difficult marriages (I have also seen the opposite, but more on this another time). Seeing these real-life examples help me better appreciate the verses like Proverbs 1:8-9, which liken the advice of our parents to a garland to grace our head and a chain to adorn our neck. There is value and beauty in our parents’ well-intended advice; they do have our best interests at heart.

American pastor Gary Thomas and author of The Sacred Search wrote, “Your parents know you better than you may realize, and even if they aren’t believers (Christians), they still usually want the best for you. At least consider their opinions . . . Also, talk to your pastor and other godly people you respect: ‘Does this relationship seem like a ‘fit’ to you? Are there any areas you’re concerned about?’ ”

Sure, no one is perfect. I wasn’t looking for Mr Perfect and I am far from Miss Perfect. But it was the culmination of all these things which made me realize, looking back, that breaking up with him was probably a good thing. Sometimes we make excuses for our date’s bad behaviour, thinking the person would change once we tie the knot. But more often than not, that doesn’t happen. I was deeply unhappy about it in the beginning, but I had made up my mind and there was no turning back.

Perhaps you’re in a similar situation where the person you’re dating hasn’t been given your parents’ stamp of approval, and you think your parents are a killjoy. Whatever the reason might be, I’d like to encourage you to listen to your parents, and seek out their reasons behind their objections. It doesn’t mean that we must always take in everything they say, but at the very least, we should give their advice some thought.

Though it might be a little hard to swallow, I believe that it will be worth your while in the long run, just as it was for me. A wise friend said, “There are worse things than being alone.”

It’s 2016 Hottest Christmas Gift: A Toy Egg

Six months ago, I would have scoffed at the idea that the most wanted toy for the Christmas season was a toy egg.

Okay, it’s not exactly a toy egg. Inside the egg is a mechanical stuffed toy animal, and the owner has to “help” it hatch from its egg. In case you haven’t heard, Hatchimals—as they are called—are one of the best-selling toys across the world this Christmas.

I know exactly what you’re thinking—Hatchiwhat?

This toy animal requires the owner to hatch it in an interactive way—by petting the egg, playing with it, and “comforting” it when it’s upset. And when the time is ready for the wee creature to pop out, you just need to rub the bottom of the egg while the animal pecks its way out. Once hatched, the animal goes through a series of life stages, from baby to toddler to the last stage, a kid.

In New Zealand, the toy is sold out for the Christmas season—to the dismay of some parents. From what I’ve heard, they will have to wait till February when a new shipment comes in.

Parents aren’t the only ones scrambling in search of the perfect Christmas gift for their loved ones. I am among the masses panicking because I may have left my Christmas shopping too late and missed the cut-off dates for international delivery.

Although I’m not running around trying to trace down the last Hatchimal toy available, I’ve been scouring supermarket aisles, websites, and malls for nice presents that are within my budget.

So far, I have successfully sourced boxes of chocolates, biscuits, beautifully scented soaps and lotions for my friends. For those friends living overseas with long, tricky addresses, I have resorted to buying Amazon gift cards for them. I have also managed to pick up a few treats for myself along the way (you see, my birthday was yesterday, just four days before Christmas).

As we rush into this busy season, checking off our shopping lists and making sure we’ve bought the nicest, cutest presents for the people we love, it’s so easy to oversee one very important detail: Christmas is about celebrating Jesus Christ.

What crossed your mind when you thought of Christmas? Was it: “Yay, it’s Jesus’ birthday! I am so glad He came to walk with us”? Well, mine was: “Yay, I can’t wait for the holidays! Will need to hang out with my friends at the beach.” (I live in New Zealand, so it’s summer time here when Christmas rolls around.)

It reminded me of a story I was once told about a couple who threw a birthday party to celebrate their child turning a year old.

Friends who turned up for the birthday were shown to the couple’s bedroom so they could leave their coats and presents on the bed before making their way to the lounge for food and drinks.

The party went on and on, until someone asked where the child as they had not heard her cry in a while. This led the worried parents to search the whole house for their child, only to find their baby—who had somehow found her way to their bed—suffocated under the piles of coats and presents of well-wishers.

It’s a morbid story, I know, but the story has stuck with me because it reminds me of how easily we drown out the real meaning of Christmas when we’re caught up in the world’s idea of the festive season. So if we’ve been moping or complaining about how we didn’t manage to secure the latest product or Hatchimal toy this Christmas, perhaps it’s a good time to remind ourselves why we’re celebrating in the first place. After all, it’s really not worth our time and energy obsessing over the latest toy that will likely last us for just a few months before its batteries go flat, or it breaks down, or it’s pushed out of a market by a newer toy.

We have already been given the ultimate gift more than 2,000 years ago, and that’s in the person of Jesus. Jesus was given to us—at absolutely no expense on our end, because God loves us so very much (John 3:16). And the Scripture tells us this is no ordinary child. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

Jesus is the most costly and perfect gift God can ever give. And He’s the only gift we ever need, for He will never disappoint.

So, as we spoil our loved ones with presents and gather round the dining table for Christmas dinners and fellowship, let’s not forget to talk about the ultimate gift we can ever receive, and that is our Lord Jesus Christ—God Himself.

Stop Choosing “Dirty Thoughts”

“Why are you so stu . . . ”

Even though my math tuition teacher failed to finish her sentence, the small class of six pupils knew what she was about to say (stupid) and whom she had aimed it at (me).

She had spent a good half an hour explaining an algebra equation. My fellow classmates had no trouble understanding her, but I still could not make any sense of it. Numbers boggle my mind and I’d rather spend my days writing or reading instead of solving big mathematical problems.

However, math was a compulsory subject, and so my parents had me attend tuition in hopes that it would help me pass my exams. Clearly, it didn’t help: I had tested my teacher’s patience to the limits and eventually, I did take home a dismal math mark despite the extra classes.

My family eventually moved to another country where I had the option of dropping maths if I wanted. But I can still remember the deep humiliation that washed over me that fateful night 16 years ago. Even today, every now and then, the words my former tuition teacher uttered would find their way back into my mind.

“Well, maybe because it’s true. You are stupid,” the little voice would begin. It doesn’t take a lot to trigger that thought—burning my dinner, not being able to drive a car after three lessons, or choosing an arts major when I should have probably done a science major (the fact I have zero interest in either the sciences or math is irrelevant).

I would try to shake off the thoughts, but they have an annoying habit of lingering longer than they should. These negative thoughts also have a bad habit of dropping in without any notice.

The good thing is, I have since learned that I have the power to choose my thoughts. These days, I am getting better at identifying if a particular thought is biblical or not.

If you’re finding yourself in a similar situation where unwanted thoughts drop in without your permission, these few pointers may help you.

1) Think Positive Thoughts

In the 2003 animated movie, Finding Nemo, Gill (the black-and-white striped fish that was trapped in an aquarium with the rest of his fish pals and was planning an escape) ordered the school of fish to “be as gross as possible. Think dirty thoughts. We’re gonna make this tank so filthy the dentist will have to clean it.”

In a cartoon setting, it’s easy to see how “dirty thoughts” can actually pollute a fish tank. But Gill’s words work in reality too—our “dirty thoughts” can affect our lives. If we entertain negative thoughts such as, “I can’t do this”, “I’m too dumb”, or “No one likes me”, we will eventually believe those thoughts to be true and it can be disastrous.

For example, if I were to beat myself up every time I burned my dinner and think I’m “stupid” for failing to serve up a decent meal, I’ll eventually give up learning how to do a proper dish and probably miss out on the joy that can come from creating delicious food.

The good news is that the Bible says we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), and I believe this means we have been equipped to act and think like Him. Instead of sitting around entertaining our “dirty thoughts”, we are called to re-focus our thoughts on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable (Philippians 4:8). For example, in the midst of suffering, trials, and tribulations, we can swap thoughts such as “I can’t do this” with God’s truth, such as “I can do all things through Him [Christ] who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).

It’s only when we start filling our minds with God’s truths that we’ll be able to break away from the chains of negative thoughts.

2) Bring Every Thought Into Obedience

“You know, I sometimes feel like the village idiot. That one person who, you know, means well and tries to help everyone, but is just a little . . . simple,” I told my sister one evening. She looked at me in surprise and asked what made me entertain such a thought.

I explained that the thought had popped into my head when I was showering after swim practice. It was a particularly long Friday. I had a very busy day at work and I felt like I hadn’t done my best at swim practice. I had to ask my coach to repeat the sets to me twice and I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to do after I had set off.

To top it off, a group of eight-year-olds were actually a lot faster than me. That’s when those words from my math tuition teacher crept into my mind, and I started believing that was the reason the kids had beaten me. I was too stupid to even swim properly.

I was held bondage to the lies that I was “stupid” and was therefore incompetent when it came to completing tasks set before me. To overcome the lies said to me, I had to first fight against any negative thoughts which came free-falling into my head.

In 2 Corinthians 10:5-7, we are told to “refute arguments and theories and reasonings and every proud and lofty thing that sets itself up against the [true] knowledge of God: and we lead every thought and purpose away captive into the obedience of Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One)”.

I sometimes picture my negative thoughts as a wild beast running through my head, like a bull in a china shop, shattering my self-confidence and everything in between. Then I imagine myself rushing toward the bull like an animal officer would, with a tranquilizer in hand, in a bid to calm the bull and have it dragged to God because it’s not welcomed.

3) Spend Time with God

The Bible says we are not fighting against “flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

This means we can’t fight these thoughts with our own strength. We need to spend time in prayer, asking God to equip us for battle. We need to put on the “full armour of God” which consists of the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, feet shod with the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:13-17).

When we gird ourselves with His armour, we can stand against the fiery arrows of negative thoughts fired at us by the devil.

Admittedly, I don’t spend as much time praying and being in fellowship with Him as much as I want to. And I only run to Him in times of trouble. But as we spend time with Him, we begin to discern His voice and learn if the thoughts that come floating into our heads are of His or mere rubbish. Just as Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice, I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27).

Would God call me stupid, useless, good for nothing? No, He wouldn’t. God tells us He loves us because we are “precious and honoured in His sight” (Isaiah 43:4) and He has purchased us with “the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19).

So therefore, the next time the sentence, “You’re pretty useless” or any form of negative thought comes drifting into your mind, you can tell it, “No, you’re not of God”.

Ultimately, we have the choice to choose our thoughts and the little thoughts we process and accept will affect our future. As a famous quote goes, “Watch your thoughts, they become words; watch your words, they become actions; watch your actions, they become habits; watch your habits, they become character; watch your character, for it becomes your destiny”.