Thursday, May 25, 2017

EYES WIDE OPEN by Isaac Lidsky

Lidsky writes without any grandiosity about the debilitating visual degeneration he went through, or the 100% blindness that is a daily reality now.

“With hard work comes strength; with practice, mastery.” He doesn’t say this as one whose only handicap is the lack of will-power and self-determination. He’s talking about adjusting from the normalcy of a seeing person to the realities that a blind person 'sees' every moment.

Discouragement, disappointment, frustrations are compounded when one is also going through major life crises. At the back of your mind, you wonder how long people will stick around and how much they can bear to look at what you are going through. Many don’t and that’s the only way they know how to respond. Who can stand being around someone with no more laughter, no more imagination, and when is there no more emotional and esteem benefits for sticking around. Yet he wrote about his wife Dorothy, “She never doubted that I would provide for our family. Decision by insane decision, she was there for me. It was fine by her if her fancy lawyer husband wanted to reinvent himself as a construction guy. Her reward? I turned our lives upside down. In New York we had dreamed I would build a business empire. Last week I told her I would likely file a personal bankruptcy.”

And his Jewish mother stood by him. “Please be good to yourself, tatele. (a Yiddish term of endearment or little boy) She heard the pain in my voice. She wanted to save me.” Only mothers do that: some mothers. They can hear pain, but you have to make the phone call. She gave him her entire life savings of $350K in a duffel bag and walked back to her car. That’s what some mums do because hope is priceless and they would do anything to bring that back to life.

It is not mentioned in the book but perhaps these two women are walking by faith and not by sight, and it is a faith that rests not in a man’s talents and abilities, but in God who is larger than the man they both love. 

Some people face debilitating diseases like Lidsky, some face the unexpected death of a loved one, others battle life-long depression or deal with crushing post-divorce realities. The world doesn’t need another ‘do this and you’ll be fine’ book under self-help or Christian titles. Nothing in this book claims that promise. If anything, it preaches vulnerability and urges those going through their dreaded and irreversible D’s to breath and focus on the flow of taking things one step at a time. For many of these on many days, those are big steps: to focus and to keep moving.

For a book titled “Eyes Wide Open”, he ends with chapter 8 titled “Heart Wide Open.” Lidsky says, “I’m a funny blind guy with an open heart.” I think so too.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

THROUGH THE EYES OF A LION: Facing impossible pain, finding incredible power By Levi Lusko

WHAT IF YOU’RE HAVING AN ACHING CHRISTMAS?

Levi Lusko is a pastor – if you checked out his sermons on YouTube, you’d find a pretty regular looking young pastor but one who is passionate and straightforward about obeying God. He and his wife also found themselves in the throes of deep grief when they suddenly lost their fiesty 5-year-old second born, nicknamed Lenya Lion, to a sudden asthma attack a few days before Christmas in 2012. 

This book is about facing pain instead of running away from it. You can imagine the anguish and agony of what Lusko went through. But he roared back, and through his encounter with raw pain, he analogized facing it with how one should run to the roar of a lion. Picture the way a pride of lions powerfully attack and overcome its victims - the tactic lies on the ferocious roar of male lions to intimidate and scare their victims to run away from the roar but only to be trapped by female lions who have by now silently surrounded the victim. In other words, Lusko urged us to make the counter-intuitive move towards the roar instead of running away from it. 

“If you fail to face your fears, they will always be right there behind you.” 

ABOUT PAIN, Lusko writes, “There is a disorienting endlessness to suffering that makes it easy to lose your bearings. It’s like being lost in the woods of your own soul. Initially, just surviving each moment without hyperventilating is so all-consuming that minutes tick by slower than years. But then one day you poke your head out from your hibernation of hurting, and it can be shocking to find that actual time has passed.” 

But what if the pain someone is experiencing is something they can’t quite put a finger on? What if there is no casket that people can see, or a loss that creates a vacuum in life that money and material comfort cannot fill? Lusko offers this advice: “Perhaps for you running toward the roar isn’t about something you’re supposed to do but rather something difficult you have to go through: painful chemotherapy treatments, a divorce, a move across the country that will dislocate you from friendships that mean the world to you….(or Henri Nouwen might have also added – someone not coming through for you in the way you expected). Sometimes there is no other alternative but to face it.” 

Gold standard advice: “Remember this: God isn’t scared of what you’re scared of. But you don’t have to pretend like you’re not frightened. Naming your fear is part of getting through it.” 

But I thought he added too soon the warning: “try to shine the light and turn off the dark for as many people as possible – myself in the process.” Personally, I feel that trying to use personal tragedies as an inspiration to others is warped if done prematurely before one has sufficiently allowed God to deal with all manners of escapism and avoidance of the root issue. 

What I like best from LION: It is possible to go into eternity with a saved soul and a wasted life. (Even in grief) You must make the choice to walk by faith and see what can’t be seen with the naked eye. 

My take-away: Pain is not just a feeling, but a season of dealing with disappointment for some, or personal loss for others. A season of pain includes but is not all about crying and grieving: life can go on pretty much the same with work, studies, family, meetings, catching with friends, serving in church, etc except it takes much more out of you to just keep up the normalcy. Like physical pain, emotional pain drains you physically and mentally. 

My approach for self and others going through seasons of pain – put in small celebrations to disrupt the cycle of grief even for short moments the way old friends had brought up the most trivial reasons just to meet up with me when I was going through my season of brokenness that really touched my heart. And in turn, I do the same for others. 

This is pretty much like the book ‘Shattered Dreams’ reviewed in this blog. 

Where you can get it: Kinokuniya $28.35, Book Depository from $12.86, Open Trolley $23.20

Monday, December 5, 2016

ALL TOO MUCH FOR OLIVER by Leila Boukarim

I met Leila recently at the Singapore Writers’ Festival. She was there to introduce another speaker and not really for her own book. But I found her illustrated children’s book ‘All Too Much For Oliver’ on the speaker’s book table, and asked who the writer was.

I was immediately drawn to her book that describes a highly sensitive child who prefers a quiet world without too much stimulation...most of the time.

Young Oliver likes going to the park. He likes playing in the playground. He likes swimming. He likes parties. But only if there aren't too many kids around, if it isn’t too noisy, and if there is one person he likes that could take his attention away from everything else around him.

I can identify with that right away. During almost my entire school life, I hardly joined classmates in crowded tuckshops during recess time but preferred slow walks with just one friend in quieter places further out in the school compound. We would eat only when others were finishing and clearing out of the school canteen. I was used to friends feeling abandoned and asking, ‘Where have you been?’ but it felt weird to tell them that I needed to get away to recharge after four lessons of morning class with them! I didn’t even know how to describe the need for solitude. So I never did. Though I started conversations with others easily, I usually had only one friend at a time and that was totally normal. Any more would simply wear me out. Yet, I’ve thrown more parties than most people I know. I just need enough time alone to reflect, recharge and enjoy company.

So in short, the book means a lot to me. And I felt comfortable enough to ask Leila if she was also a highly-sensitive person (HSP) and she said yes. It was the first time in my life that I could be so open with another human about this without feeling like an anomaly. It was liberating!

I snapped up two copies of the book without a second thought!

Where you can get it: Leila says her book is available at Kinokuniya.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

SHY by Deborah Freedman


I believe in having a childlike attitude towards life, and enjoy popping into children’s bookstores to sniff out good books with the intensity of a dog sniffing the ground on its walk. Children’s books have a way of telling us much with great simplicity and it takes a gifted storyteller to deliver a story that has different layers of meaning for both children and adults.

SHY caught my attention one afternoon. Something about its size and hard cover belies its demure title – it is bigger than most books. As a book lover, I was immediately drawn to the first sentence: “Shy was happiest between the pages of a book.” It goes on to describe a giraffe who, in spite its build and bearing, liked to read about birds but never got to befriend any because it was too shy.

“But Shy had never actually heard a bird.
  None of his books could sing.”

To younger children, the books talks about getting to know someone of different ethnicity or ability.
To preteens, it can introduce the topic of having friends of the opposite sex.
For adults, we can reflect on meaningful friendships that we can open up to without fear.

Most children books have no page number and it took me just a short time to browse through the book at the store. So I will not give away the ending. But it is one that rewards opening the windows of our lives to let others in – whatever our age.


Where you can get it: Books Ahoy! at Forum Galleria (about $31), and Book Depository (about $21).