Why I Can’t Celebrate Christmas

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Honestly, I could end this post in a few lines.

Fire in Oakland.

Chapecoense football team. 

Genocide in Syria.

Bombings in Germany. 

Explosions in Mexico.

Attacks in Pakistan.

Post-election America. 

Add to this your own personal pains – the passing of loved ones, loss of opportunities, stresses of life – and they still wonder why you can’t deck the halls with boughs of holly or jingle all the way.

This Christmas has been a tough one. It’s been a month since my grandmother died and our family is deeply feeling the void. The political and humanitarian crises at large have sensitized me to the reality of life and only exacerbated this pain.

No. I can’t seem to find a way to celebrate Christmas. Not with everything’s that’s going on. It’s hard to join in on the rampant consumerism and the religious tribalism when you want closure and comfort.

So as a follower of Christ, I’m at a crossroads:

How do I reconcile the pains of the world with the birth of the Promised One?
How can I celebrate Christmas while I’m grieving?
How can I be real with the truth while being truthful to my reality?

I came across a story recently that has given me perspective. It’s found herebut let me summarize it for you: 

The story happens during the time Ahaz was the King of Judah. Ahaz is chilling while he gets news that Rezin and Pekah ( enemies of Judah ) have formed a coalition against Ahaz to subdue it. While homeboy Ahaz is depressed, God sends Isaiah, his prophet, to send a message to him. Isaiah is like, “ Bro, don’t sweat it. God’s going to take care of this.” Ahaz is still petrified. So God Himself engages Ahaz in a crucial conversation. Probably went something like this:

God: Bro, ask me a sign. Any sign. I’ll give it to you. Don’t worry about Rezin and Pekah.
Ahaz: Nah, Lord. I won’t ask a sign. It’s not that serious.
God: Bro why? You guys never learn. So let me give you a sign:

“Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.”

Sounds familiar?

If you are, you may have seen this text footnoted in Matthew’s rendition of the birth narrative. Scholars are split on whether the prophecy in Isaiah is foretelling the birth of Jesus or some other baby named “Immanuel”, but given the contexts of Matthew, the rest of the gospels, and the mission of the Messiah, it wouldn’t be too much of a contextual leap to assume the former.

What am I trying to get at? Two things:

1.God’s solution to a maelstrom was not a strategy, but a Son.

God offers a Son as a solution for the political, religious, and emotional mess that Ahaz has gotten himself into. He places his Son right in the middle of pithy platitudes, vacuous promises, and manipulative ends to both break destructive systems and redeem them.

2.God is “God with us.”

Immanuel means “God with us.” The Son was, and is, the fullest expression of God who moved into our neighborhood, enfleshed in humanity. The Son is one who can relate to us in the darkest of nights, the brightest of days, and every day in between.

“God with us” is community. “God with us” is intimacy. “God with us” is solidarity.

Yes. It is a hard Christmas. But it was then just as it is now.
The story points out that Christ was born not in spite of the griefs of his world, but into it. He was born into a political mess, into a religious war, into an imminent, indiscriminate genocide of children, into suffering, into inconvenience, into pain.

This Christmas I take comfort knowing that He is not indifferent to my pain and yours, but intimately acquainted to it. He is in the middle of the maelstroms of my life as Savior, and beside me as Immanuel.

So I may not be able to celebrate Christmas. But I can celebrate Christ. And that’s enough for me right now.

How are you dealing with the Christmas blues? leave a comment below!

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When Do You Know You’re Ready to Pop “The Question?”

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Wow.

It’s been 5 years.

5 YEARS.

Yesterday marked 5 years since we decided to journey together as a couple.

5 YEARS!!

ohmygoodness.

And on December 29th of 2015, after much deliberation, anxiety, reflection, and anxiety (did I mention anxiety?) I finally decided to pop the question:

“Elynn Rodriguez, will you marry me?”

Watch the proposal video here! 

As a note to myself, and to others who might benefit from this, I decided to write what I wish someone would have told me a few years ago.

Here are 5 principles that guided me towards taking the next step in our relationship! 

And she agrees with them 🙂

1) You know your “why.”

Your “why” is essentially your purpose statement – the reason you exist in this world. The process of formulating your “why” statement begins with an exploration of the following: a) who you are and b) what you want to do in this world.

Your “why” gives you purpose and clarity to everything you do. Once you are clear on what you are here to do, you will then be able to distill all areas of your life and determine if something, or someone, is worth pursuing.

This is crucial. Because till you know who you are, you will be incapable of truly serving someone else.

Service is important since it’s the bedrock of any lasting relationship, especially if you’re planning to put up with each others’ nonsense for an extended period of time.

2) You’ve had meaningful conversations with your significant other.

If the first point deals with the “why”, this point deals with the “how.”

The pre-engagement phase, or the dating phase, of any relationship is probably the best time to discuss important questions, especially pertaining to the future of your relationship.

We’d even argue that this should be your primary focal point of your dating phase as your relationship gets more serious.

The more questions you discuss with each other, the more meaningful conversations you will have. The more meaningful conversations you have, the more clarity you will have about the future of your relationship.

3) You’ve had meaningful conversations with trusted people.

The phrase “Love is blind” may actually have some truth in it. For how you perceive each other in the relationship may affect objectivity in important decision-making.

If you’re like us, you’d benefit from the counsel of trusted friends and family. They can identify potential “blind-spots” that you might have missed and may be able to give you much needed advice on whether you should continue or not.

While others’ opinions shouldn’t be the sole determinant of your relationship, they should not be entirely discounted, especially if you know that they have your good in mind.

4) You know that he/she is willing to journey with you.

We believe that two people can have different pursuits in what they want to achieve in this life and still thrive as a couple.

However, multiple pursuits without a single commitment to journey together will inevitably cause heartache, frustration, and pain.

Elynn and I are both very driven. Both of us have our own dreams and aspirations. After multiple conversations, we realized that if we don’t commit to appreciate and affirm each other on our individual pursuits, we will be end up being roommates and not a team.

We knew that after we learned to appreciate each others’ pursuits, after we revisited and revised our plans in light of a potential marriage, and chose to journey together, we felt somewhat ready to take our relationship to the next level.

The biggest myth is that you have to have everything figured out before popping the question. Do figure out as much as you can. Plan as much as you can. But know that you can never plan enough.

What you need to know at this point is that he/she is willing to stick it out with you as a teammate as you figure things out together.

5) You know you’re making him/her better.

If you’re not in the relationship to make them better, you are in it for self-serving reasons. You’re either growing together, or not growing at all. There’s no middle ground.

Marriage, from what I hear, transforms people. The more life is shared between two people, the more they begin to reflect and complement each other in unmistakable ways.

We had to know if our relationship was actually making us better individuals well before considering the question of marriage.

If we were not already making each other better and bringing the best of each other in our relationship, marrying each other would be the quickest way to a collectively miserable life.

Take some time to do some honest self-reflection with the following questions: “am I making him/her a better individual?” and “is he/she making me a better individual?” 

….

At the end of the day, relationships can be messy, wonderful, revealing, and inspiring. Choosing to commit to a relationship for life is one of the most important decisions you can make! 

A decision worth making is a decision worth thinking about, and these 5 principles helped us think better about the decision of a lifetime.

What about you? If you’re engaged or married, what would you add to this list? If you’re not, what do you think about this list? Leave a comment below!

The Gospel According to Pulse

pulse-shooting-orlandoMy heart is heavy as I reflect on what is considered the worst terrorist mass shooting of U.S history.

The shooting at Pulse hit many pressure points eliciting various responses. Gun control, the 2nd amendment, Islamophobia, homophobia, and terrorism were some of the various issues which were re-sensitized and brought to the fore.

And caught right in the middle of this cacophony is the state of individuals. The victimized, the affected, and the sympathizers.

As I reflected on this event and the shootings of the recent past, I felt the need to explore better ways to respond to these heinous crimes, particularly to the individuals under consideration.

The question that I strove to answer can be framed like this:

Within the framework of my worldview, what’s the best possible way to respond to the affected individuals?

Here’s a 5-worded summary of what I have so far:

In love and in truth.

The more I explored this dual concept, the more I was amazed at how a seemingly obscure portion of the Bible gave me more than I was looking for.

Bear with me as I unpack this.

2 John is a small letter written by the apostle John to a dysfunctional church. Most of the struggles, as evidenced by this document, can be boiled down to two major issues:

  • The church was struggling with identifying truth.
  • The church was struggling with loving its members.

John, therefore, targets these issues head-on and offers one of the most beautiful and comprehensive juxtapositions of love and truth found in Scripture.

In this letter, John defines love as “walking according to God’s commandments” and truth as a personal experience with the teachings of Jesus that pervades and influences all areas of one’s life.

This is radical. For in a pluralistic society where worldviews jousted each other for supremacy and subjugation, John pins down two misunderstood and misused concepts and redefines them within the framework of his Judaeo-Christian worldview.

But he goes a step further.

John also shows that love and truth are inextricably connected to each other.

John reveals that one cannot genuinely love apart from knowing the truth, and one does not truly know truth until one loves.

 John is consistent with how Scripture fits in these two concepts throughout its pages. As notable evangelist John Piper puts it, according to Scripture, “Love shapes how to speak truth and truth shapes how to show love.”

So we step out of Scripture into our time. In a society that predominantly looks with its eyes and thinks with its feelings, the concepts of ‘love’ and ‘truth’ are in dire need of re-investigation and reflection.*

The zeitgeist of our time frames love and truth as mutually exclusive concepts. “Love” is usually described within the purview and vocabulary of emotions, oftentimes relegated to feelings accompanied by a visceral sense of acceptance. “Truth”, on the other hand, is usually explained within the framework of empirically verifiable data. American Philosopher, Richard Rorty captures this notion best when he says that “truth is made, not found.”

Considering all this, an unsurprising outcome of our precarious moral landscape is the inconspicuous, yet lethal, severing of love and truth.

What does this look like?

Here’s what happens when love and truth are severed.

1) Love without Truth is Blind

A physician’s primary responsibility is not to calm the patient as much as it is to find an effective treatment based on truthful analysis. When the physician, then, prioritizes receptivity of opinion over the longevity of the patient, a great deal of damage is done to both the patient and to those around him.

In the same way, when our love for others is not motivated by truth, we intentionally become “blind” to their faults and mistakes even if they can cause damage to others in their circles of influence.  The inevitable end for a “truthless love” is at best, a self-preserving bestowal of acceptance, or at worst, a blinded infatuation.

But something else happens when they are severed:

2) Truth without Love is Lame

John describes love as “walking.”

Logically, then, when all I have is truth and I don’t have love, I am simply lame.

And when I am disabled and handicapped while I have truth, all I can do is stay fixed on one location, point my proverbial fingers at everyone around me, and with calculated logic and coherent theology prove why they are wrong.

As someone mentioned, “right + rude = wrong.”

In other words, the truths we subscribe to within our worldview are unblushingly invalidated when they are not accompanied with love.

So what does all this have to do with the shootings?

I have heard two extremes. On the one end, honest discussions regarding the truths about human life, sexuality, moral rights, and governance have been jettisoned for the sake of love and acceptance. Moralists who want to have a serious conversation about these truths based on their respective worldviews have often been dismissed as primitive, insensitive, or divisive. Love without truth.

On the other end, truths have been used as weapons of mass destruction to inconsiderately obliterate all those who oppose them. Judgments have been mercilessly cast on the affected individuals and dehumanized them.  Dogma valued over dignity. Orthodoxy over empathy. Truth without love.

My worldview teaches that Jesus Christ is the perfect embodiment of both love and truth. Through his life, death, and resurrection, He has not only provided the logical and moral grounding for truth, but has also provided the manual for love.
As a follower of Christ, the best way I can respond to the affected individuals, their families, and the country that is mourning is in love and in truth.

I realize that when I don’t confront the truth about human life, the truth about human nature, the truth about how we regulate our laws, I cannot love as deeply as I want to. The extent to which I can recognize these truths is the extent to which I can actualize my love.

And consequently, when I don’t approach these individuals with a love that is not restricted by differences, preferences, or worldviews, I would know that I am not truly practicing the truths that I claim to be true. All my truths are irrelevant if they don’t make me a better lover of the affected.

My heart goes out to the affected. Cannot wait for that day when the sufferings of this life are no more and we truly see Love face-to-face.

*quote inspired by Ravi Zacharias
Pic courtesy: http://www.nydailynews.com

What Subway Taught Me About The Love of God

I was starving.

The cacophony of voices from the transiting passengers at the Dubai International Airport was muffled by the growls of my stomach. Yes. I should have bought something in the plane. But i I’d just spent half my inheritance on a baguette at the Charles de Gaulle
airport in Paris prior to this trip.

And who in their right mind would pay $5 for a pack of crackers??

Where were the days when airline food was FREE??

This was injustice. Oppression.

Anyhow, I spotted the most affordable eatery in the place after quickly scanning the lounge. Who would have thought that a green and yellow neon sign can generate so much joy? Subway was an oasis in the middle of a concrete desert. I was never grateful for cheap fast food in my life.

I rushed over and hastily ordered a foot-long philly cheesesteak with all its trappings. My eyes lusted over my sub as it evolved from bun to succulence. After it was made, the server packaged it carefully, received my card, and waited for the receipt. “There is a God.” I thought to myself as I contemplated eating the sub just a few moments later.

Then the unthinkable happened.

The server looks back at me and utters four painful words.

“Your card has been denied.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. But then it dawned on me. Distracted by my hunger, I forgot that I had splurged my card to its dregs in Paris.

The sub was made and the cashier was waiting for a response.

Frantically, I dug into my pockets to see if I had any cash. Imagine my surprise when I felt some notes! I emptied my pockets to find 10,000 Lebanese pounds I had from a previous trip couple of days earlier.

I told the cashier to save the sub for me till I get some cash for him. With two 5000 pounds notes in my hand, I hurried to the cash exchange to convert that money to dollars.

I got $5. Inflation sucks.

When I came back and gave the money to the server, he told me that it wasn’t enough to cover for the sub. I was still short. Just in case something like this happened, plan B was to break down in front of him and start throwing a tantrum.

But that wasn’t necessary. For what the server mentioned afterwards more than satisfied my hunger.

“You still short, boss. But man behind you in line overheard problem and when you went away, he paid for your sub in full. Here is your sub. Thank you, come again!”

….

You see, while I was still broke, while I was still hungry, while I was away trying to find some way to satisfy my hunger by myself, the man who had been right next to me in line all this time, paid for me in full.

The Bible says that while we were still sinners, Christ died for our sins (Romans 5:8). While we were still distant from God, he sacrificed himself for us. Jesus Christ showed His love to me when he voluntarily gave himself up for me so that through Him, I can truly live; in this world and in the world to come.

True satisfaction starts when you realize that there are hungers that even food can’t satisfy. I was in my teens when I realized that and His love has satisfied my deepest longings.

What about you? How have you experienced the love of God in your own life? Leave a comment below!

 

What I Learnt from Having My Dad For The Past Three Weeks ( and why you should connect with your family NOW)

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Dada left.

We’d spend almost a month together and yesterday, he caught a flight back to Michigan from where we are in California.

It’s been surreal having him around. There has to be a word that’s more memorable than “memorable” to describe the experiences I’ve had with him during the past few weeks. My pastor once made a profound statement about recording events and memories. He said that “the shortest pencil is longer than the longest memory.” What you’re about to read, then, is my “scribbling” on “scratch paper” for my sake and, hopefully, for your sake as well.

I’ve taken my family for granted.

In theory, my family is priority. In reality, they have been tolerable at best. My itinerant living and independence have only aggravated this. Every time I get to spend time with them, however, a wave of guilt rushes over reminding me of the times I haven’t put the effort to make that phone call or send that Facebook message.

You tend to realize the value of something when you don’t have it. And that’s exactly how I felt when I came back from the airport and saw dada’s shorts lying around in the room.

I need to be more intentional about communicating with my family. No excuses.

Love is giving.

Last night I was watching the second sequel of Star Trek with my girlfriend. Khan’s riveting question to Captain Kirk after his capture got me thinking:

My crew is my family. Is there anything you wouldn’t do for your family, Captain?

My family may not be my crew. But I can’t begin to describe how much my family has sacrificed for me to have what I have. When we were on our way to Chicago, my dad and I got into a minor squabble about showing love. I argued that while I knew he was doing a lot for me and Khayali, he should affirm me verbally by saying nice and encouraging things. My dad sighed. Then he went on to vividly recount all the sacrifices amma and he had made so that Khayali l and I could have an education overseas.

By the time he finished, the waterworks began from my eyes. When I tried to give him a lesson on “words of affirmation” from Chapman’s infamous “5 love languages,” dada shut me up by giving me a dissertation on sacrificial love.

I was reminded that evening that love is giving. It gives continuously and sacrificially. I thought I knew it. My parents had lived it.

Be yourself.

My dad is as Sri Lankan as one gets.

You can get the man out of Sri Lanka. But you cannot get Sri Lanka out of the man.

As I type, I am wearing the sarama he wore while he was here in California. From where I am sitting, I can also see the strainer he used to make his morning tea. In addition to that, I also remember the big hugs, the quintessential Sri Lankan head bob, and the “aiyo’s” he would appropriately employ at a given location. But wherever he went, people felt a genuine sense of kindness, respect, and hospitality emanating from his distinct personality.

In the past few weeks, Dada reminded me that I don’t have to respond to the pressure of conforming to the culture around me to have influence. Dada showed that I can be my Sri-Lankan, “fresh-off-the-boat” self and still make a difference in the lives of those I interact with.

God is love.

Dada being here was a miracle.

Few weeks before my graduation, dada, amma, and khayali showed up at the U.S embassy in Oman for their visa interviews. To our shock and dismay, all three of them were denied visas fearing that they will not come back to Oman after being seduced by the “greener pastures” of the country.  (-___- )

My dad then reapplied for the visa alone hoping for a miracle. And that’s what happened. My mom and sister decided to spend the vacation in Sri Lanka whereas Dada flew over to the States to be with me.

God has showed His love these past few weeks in very tangible ways.

Out of His love, He brought my dad to witness the ceremony of the first college grad of his family.
Out of His love, He allowed my dad to meet the man who changed his life indefinitely.
Out of His love, He gave opportunity for my dad to see friends he hadn’t seen in decades.
Out of His love, He helped me get closer to my father.
Out of His love, He reignited my love of my family.
Out of His love, He drew our family closer to each other and to Him.

I believe none of this happened by chance or luck.  I wholeheartedly attribute me being here and my dad coming here to the goodness and the grace of a personal, Almighty God who cares about you and me.

—–

I miss my father. But I know I will see him again. It’s been refreshing and wonderful having him around.

My prayer for you, dear friend and reader, is that you’ll take some time to connect with your family. Truth is that as much as you and I hate to think about it, they’re not always going to be around.

“I have no time” is not a reason. It’s an excuse. You make time for what you want to make time for.

So get off the chair. Close the laptop. Close your browser.

Make that phone call. They’ll love you for it.