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I must confess: Why should someone else know my secrets?

by Adriel Yeo | 26 February 2018, 3:03 PM

After more than 20 years of growing up in church, I’ve discovered there’s an area of my faith I need to work on: The confession of sin to community.

Every week, we privately confess our sin in service and then recite a scripted communal confession. To be clear, the communal confession plays an important role in expressing our awareness of who we are before God and ensuring that we are justified by the blood of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:7).

But I didn’t think we did confession in smaller communities quite as well. You might be thinking, “What’s the big deal about confessing our sins in smaller faith communities?” That was also the question I had in mind as I read up about it. And I discovered something quite surprising.

Confessing to one another can take fellowship to the next level.

I had long felt distant from my church and community. I didn’t want others to find out about my personal life outside church. Having to hide my sin from my faith community led me to put up a front at church – a front that misrepresented who I really was.

“Well, at least I’m confessing my sins to God”, you may argue. But German martyr and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer challenges this thinking and makes an interesting observation:

“Why is it that it is often easier for us to confess our sins to God than to a brother? God is holy and sinless, He is a just judge of evil and the enemy of all disobedience. But a brother is as sinful as we are. He knows from his own experience the dark night of secret sin. Why should we not find it easier to go to a brother than to a holy God? But if we do, we must ask ourselves whether we have not often been deceiving ourselves with our confession of sin to God, whether we have not rather been confessing our sins to ourselves and also granting ourselves absolution. And is not the reason perhaps for our countless relapses and the feebleness of our Christian obedience to be found precisely in the fact that we are living on self-forgiveness and not a real forgiveness?”

Isn’t that true? I can think of many times where I muttered a haphazard confession to God before sleeping – as though His forgiveness was my right. If God is holy, should it not be of a greater concern what God thinks of our sin – rather than our Christian brothers and sisters? And yet, we often seem to be more fearful in confessing our sins to people than to God.

There may, of course, be legitimate reasons for why one would choose not to confess their sin to a particular brother – such as the fear of causing him or her to stumble in faith. But it’s also true that we often fear the judgment of people more than the judgment of God. After all, the unfortunate reality is that people are far less forgiving than God.

It is not confession that grants salvation. Jesus grants salvation, and we attain it by grace through faith

The way forward, according to Bonhoeffer, would be to understand how God works through communal confession of sin. It enables believers to journey together. Unconfessed sin isolates the individual from community precisely because it remains hidden to community

The Christian who refuses to confess his sin to community may struggle to be transparent or accept help from his community. In confessing our sins to each other, pride is eroded and we are able to stand together, bear one another’s burdens and pray for each other (James 5:16).

POTENTIAL DANGERS

That’s not to say that confession within community is without danger. There are at least two dangers I can think of. The first danger involves those who are listening to confessions. The person to whom the sin is being confessed to must always remember that true forgiveness is found in the cross of Christ alone. It is never his or her duty to bestow forgiveness.

The role of the listener is to point the confessing sinner back to Christ for forgiveness. Therein lies the power of community. Not to act as though one is God, but rather to display the love of Christ (John 13:34-35) to the confessing sinner, assuring him that Christ died on the cross precisely for what has been confessed.

The second danger would be for those who are confessing. “For the well-being of their soul they must guard against ever making their confession into a work of piety,” says Bonhoeffer. Salvation is not based on confession or an intense faith, but the blood of Jesus. To be clear: It is not confession that grants salvation. Jesus grants salvation, and we attain it by grace through faith.

Confession follows after faith. Both confession and repentance must result from a faith that is quickened by the Holy Spirit.

FINDING COMMUNITY

How do I confess in smaller faith communities? Personally, I think a good place to start is in a small group of close friends. Tan Soo Inn, founder of Graceworks, has written a few books on spiritual friendship.

He advocates a 3-2-1 model which I find helpful: The idea is for a group of three friends to meet for two hours once a month.

While I’ve never had the opportunity to use the 3-2-1 model, I do have a close friend who I meet up regularly with. With this brother, I’m able to share life and confess sins. One thing that makes our friendship so tightly-knit is the fact that I can be transparent with him, sharing about my weaknesses and the times I fall into sin.

Confessing to each other reminds us both of the need for God’s grace in our lives, and of how we are not alone in this process of sanctification.

If you’ve never experienced communal confession, trying it for the first time may be awkward or even frightening. But if we accept that the Bible calls for this discipline (James 5:16), then we must consider the idea that the lack of confession in spiritual friendships hinders growth and maturity.

Confession within friendship has led me to view my fellow brothers and sisters as fellow sinners standing under the cross of Christ, living life together.


This article was first published on YMI.today, and is republished with permission.

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My love affair with pornography

by Mark Yeow | 18 September 2018, 2:39 PM

I am intimately familiar with sin.

I was around 12 when I had my first experience of pornography, one which started a love affair that lasted more than a decade. Porn seemed to satisfy this deep and dissolute hunger within me. I craved seeing women naked, doing things that aroused me.

Yet, each time after I was spent, I felt this cloak of shame fall around my head and heart. Heavy thoughts would weigh on me: You are worthless … You are pathetic.

Even after I gave over my life to Christ, I continued to watch porn.

I would try to resist the temptation, succeed for weeks or even months, then slip back into the embrace of my favourite performers – often just after a relationship breakdown, or an unexpected malady, or some other happening that laid me low.

And porn isn’t the only lust affair I’ve had – just the longest. I lost my virginity in the last years of high school and the sex that followed – however great it was – smashed my soul into little pieces which took years to put back together.

I went after women for how their physical beauty and sensuality made me feel, and when two of them broke my heart, I broke three more in return.

… only God’s redeeming touch was able to pull me out of this pit of lust some four months ago.

The toll of my lust has been enormous.

Constant fatigue, clinginess to female friends, shouting matches with my parents – not to mention the countless hours of masturbation both physical and emotional.

I think I might’ve written a novel, or even a trilogy, with that time alone. And “time alone” is apt, because the only word I can summarise all those years with is “lonely”.

Walking in the wilderness, only God’s redeeming touch was able to pull me out of this pit of lust some four months ago.

But the battle is by no means over.

Writing about this dark part of my past, I still feel a strange mix of shame and desire. On this side of eternity, there will always be a treacherous part of my heart that seeks earthly pleasure and rebels against the word of God.

But as a child of God, it’s my duty to whack that part as hard as I can until it runs squealing back to the cell it escaped from.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Don’t lose hope: the battle against pornography and for purity can be won. We overcome solely by the Spirit, in the community of the saints.

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In grief and hatred, I wanted to change my surname

by Jennifer Tan | 17 September 2018, 2:23 PM

I hit rock-bottom when I was 17.

That was when I stood in front of my father’s niche, silently ranting at him for not being around to protect me and my mother in the legal mess his extended family had gotten us into. I didn’t even know the man: He passed away when I was only 18 months old, but I knew right at that moment, in that dreadful season of my life which I felt no agency over, I hated him.

I hated the fact that he was absent. I hated the life I had to lead for the last 17 years because of his absence. I hated the blood that ran through my veins. Most of all, I hated the reality of living the rest of my life as a fatherless child with no family support whatsoever.

In that moment, a rash thought popped into my head as I stood in front of the niche. Why don’t I change my surname?

I thought that if I could just drop this one syllable that was causing me so much pain and tears, life would be easier.

Ultimately, I didn’t follow through on the rash impulse to change my surname. Instead, when I cried out to my earthly father that day – it was my Heavenly Father who responded.

We are all probably familiar with the 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. 17-year-old me had mistakenly thought that I had meandered my way through all the stages and was finally at the stage of numb acceptance.

But as I stood in front of my father’s niche, the Lord opened my eyes to see that I had simply been floundering within the pool of denial and anger. Wanting to change my surname only reflected my desire to escape. I was still grieving immensely for my father, and I was on the verge of dishonouring him in my grief.

Thus began a long and painful season of understanding and accepting God’s claim of daughtership over me (2 Corinthians 6: 18). It was a season of vulnerability, one that left me no choice but to confront the open and deep wounds of my past.

Most importantly, it was time to let my Father heal them.

That season was painful but necessary, and I emerged from it convicted that the Lord is my Father and Provider.

Yet that didn’t mean I was no longer grieving. In fact, the grieving intensified because I was now struggling to reconcile the truth and reality of my life. The truth was that I could always turn to my Heavenly Father for the fatherly love I desired, the reality was that the circumstances of my life still reflected the consequences of fatherlessness.

While I no longer had the desire to change my surname, I still faced a lot of family issues. The lies and schemes my extended family surrounded me with could rival that of a Hong Kong drama – but I still needed to waddle through all of it justly, lovingly, mercifully and humbly (Micah 6:8).

The light at the end of the proverbial tunnel still seemed as far away.

Things with my extended family were eventually settled about a year ago.

I’m not proud of how I reacted towards them in many situations, but I’m certain that the Lord had enabled me to do my best. I know He was at work making my paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).

The Lord also guided me through all 5 stages of grief in the last few years gently. And lately, I have been sensing Him impressing a new stage upon my heart – reconciliation. I also feel these words upon my heart: “Jen, this chapter of your life has not ended.”

That leaves me quaking in my shoes for a lot of reasons, the largest one being that I am unwilling. After all, why would I willingly turn back towards the people who hurt me so deeply – when my scars still feel so raw?

But every time I think like this, the image of His nail-pierced hands enter my mind immediately – Jesus died for us to be reconciled to God even while we hated Him.

So while I don’t yet understand why I was chosen to bear this surname, because I know God’s Name, I can trust Him in all that He’s leading me to.

He will never forsake those who seek Him (Psalm 9:10).


The author’s name has been changed for confidentiality. 

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When you’re single but not by choice

by | 12 September 2018, 5:17 PM

“How are you, being single?”

My friend was telling me about a friend who was approaching her thirties soon and struggling with singleness. We agreed that age might have played a large role in delivering a more painful punch.

Neither of us was on the brink of turning thirty, and my friend was already happily engaged. But that’s when the conversation turned to me.

“You’re asking how am I doing as a single?”

I was slightly surprised by the question, because no one ever asked me that. People usually ask me “why are you single?” or “are you looking for someone?” or “do you need help getting un-single?”.

I wouldn’t say that I’m dying to be un-single. Yes, admittedly there are times when I look at others who are in a relationship and I wonder if I would ever be in one. A relationship sounds great, and I recognise the good things that come with it.

A life of singleness has its fair share of goodness as well. We all know the freedom that comes with it. But as I let my friend’s question sink in, I realised my internal struggle has never really been about the absence of a life partner. It was something else.

It was being single … But not by choice.

This would be ideal: Being able to confidently say that my singleness is a choice. That – power to me! – I want to be single. But I can’t. To put it bluntly, I have to admit that I remain single because no one has stepped forward. I don’t exactly have any other choice. I’m pretty much single by circumstance.

Undeniably, there is a special and unique kind of being wanted, loved and cared for in the context of a covenantal relationship or marriage. The Bible tells us so (Ephesians 5:28-29).

Where then, does this leave the singles?

In the words of Marshall Segal, singleness became an unwanted and unneeded judge and roommate in my life.

My problem didn’t lie with my singleness. It was with what my singleness implied.

Am I single because I am not wanted?

Am I single because I am not cherishable?

Am I single because I am not loveable?

I know that these questions are far from the truth, but my fear is that these questions have already silently taken up residence in the deepest recesses of my heart, and in many others’ too.

I am also learning that not being wanted as a spouse is not the same as being unwanted.

But I am also learning that not being wanted as a spouse is not the same as being unwanted. Just like how you can be qualified and competent, but not employed. Or how you can be musically gifted, but not be a successful musician. Poor, but not given extra cash. Hungry, but not fed.  The list goes on.

Basically, while there are definitely highly attractive traits about you, as there are in everyone, it doesn’t mean that someone will necessarily respond to those traits. And there’s nothing much you can do to change the situation. It’s not exactly your fault.

Isn’t it unfair, then?

While God remains silent on some of these questions, I find great comfort in the life of Paul the Apostle. Paul remained unmarried while doing God’s work across the nations. His life was also far from being smooth and comfortable.

But yet as he lived without the unique love, care and cherishing that a relationship with the opposite gender gives, Paul speaks confidently of the surpassing preciousness of knowing Christ over all these things.

“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” (Philippians 3:8)

There is a unique kind of loving and cherishing from God for every unique individual. It is so unique that is truly between God and myself, that no one else can ever know or experience on my behalf.

The prize isn’t human companionship, a diamond ring, or a BTO flat – the prize is Jesus and His promised fullness of life.

This special kind of intimacy is only experienced when we allow ourselves to draw closer to Him – that might also mean taking our eyes and minds off our family circumstance, our relationship status, our financial situation and everything else, and keeping our eyes on the prize (Philippians 3:14).

And no, the prize isn’t human companionship, a diamond ring, or a BTO flat. These things are good, but life has got to be way more than that. The prize is Jesus and His promised fullness of life.

So back to the burning questions.

Am I single because I am not wanted?

Am I single because I am not cherishable?

Am I single because I am not loveable?

No.

I have always loved you

Even if you feel that you are not wanted, God says, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

If you feel that you are not cherished, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:25)

And if you feel that you are not loved, “I have always loved you,” says the Lord (Malachi 1:2).


Singles! Send us your thoughts and stories on your journeys with God through this season. Drop us an email here.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer who memorises Pantone swatches. Her standard bubble tea order – oolong milk tea with 25% sugar, less bubbles and no ice. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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Born without sight, raised without my parents: Seeing hope in the darkness

by Stephanie Ow | 11 September 2018, 9:15 PM

Born with retinal dystrophy, Stephanie plays the erhu with The Purple Symphony, which comprises musicians with and without special needs, and the Singapore National Youth Chinese Orchestra, where she is the only person with special needs. This is our first story written by a person with visual impairment.


I have been blind since birth. At infancy, I was diagnosed with retinal dystrophy, which means that by the age of 5, I was almost completely blind. I can only perceive light, which means I live mostly in darkness and shadows.

Around the time that I was losing whatever little sight I had, my mother left me in the care of my father’s sister and her husband. They never heard from her again. My father, an odd job labourer, would visit once in a while, but we barely talked. Over the years, we grew very distant.

My aunty and uncle treated me like their own instead of a strange who suddenly appeared in their home. They even brought me to various specialists, hoping to find out if anything could be done to help me see again.

However, the answer we always got was: “There is nothing we can do. We will have to wait for future research to discover something that will cure her condition.” And my aunty and uncle will be disappointed, even though it really wasn’t a big deal for me. It still isn’t now.

Yet, they never stopped hoping. They still tell me, “You know, if only your vision gets better, you will be much better at whatever you want.”

I have been so blessed to have them in my life, which is why I worshipped whatever they worshipped, and believed whatever they believed.

To me, at that time, God was a distant being who watched over us, rewarding those who did good things and punishing those who were evil. The statues on my family altar and those in the temples were what I knew as gods.

I had Christian friends who told me about Jesus, although I didn’t bother to find out more. But that changed when one of my teachers, a kind and loving woman, shared the Gospel with me. It was then that something clicked within me, a feeling I cannot describe even until now.

It was like a sense of direction given to me, a guide for my life ahead. I wanted so badly to go to church with her, but my family believed it was an “ang moh” religion. We were Chinese, so we should worship Chinese gods!

But I remember thinking to myself – if the Christian God is an all-loving, supreme deity and He alone is God, shouldn’t we all give Him our reverence, regardless of our ethnicity? And if He sacrificed His only Son to save the whole human race from eternal separation from Him, shouldn’t we turn back to Him?

So I decided to persist in my faith. I read the Bible in braille and listened to sermons in my bedroom. My family wasn’t averse to my exploration of this faith as they felt it was good for me to learn about other religions, but they hoped that I would stay true to our Chinese beliefs.

But at age 14, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Saviour. This was the same year that I started going for music lessons.

My uncle always loved traditional Chinese music, so I began with the erhu, a two-stringed fiddle. At first, I wasn’t too happy with this, as I’d always thought this was played at Chinese operas for the elderly. I wanted to learn the guitar or violin instead.

As it turns out, the erhu wasn’t as outdated as I thought. In fact, the pieces I was learning to play were written by musicians in the 20th Century who were trained in western music, but had a passion to write for Chinese instruments. And they did not write for operas.

Interestingly, their music reflected the struggles of native Chinese before the 1949 liberation, and their aspirations for a better future. Within a year of lessons, and with the encouragement of my first music teacher, I sat for an exam and scored a distinction!

This motivated me to keep getting better, and soon I was receiving invitations from various organisations to perform at their fundraising events from time to time. At 17, I had the privilege of performing with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO), and the next year I joined their youth wing.

Being part of the Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra (SYCO) gave me the opportunity to be tutored by one of the musicians in the SCO, and by age 19, I had also joined the Purple Symphony, Singapore’s largest inclusive orchestra consisting musicians with and without disabilities.

At this time, Deutsche Bank awarded me with a scholarship to study music, which would have been impossible without their help. It was a real blessing from God and a dream come true, as it had always been my goal to be a full-time musician who could teacher the visually impaired to read scores in braille.

In the whirlwind of these happenings, I drifted away from God slowly. I stopped praying, reading the Bible and listening to sermons. Instead, I began to obsess with my current ideals and goals. I felt like I was the master of my own destiny. Whenever I ran into trouble, it was my friends I turned to for advice.

Wasn’t it enough to acknowledge that God exists and that Jesus is the only way to Him?

It took a long while – 4 years to be exact – for me to realise I was becoming more of a lost soul than I was before I became a Christian. It was as though I was holding the Word of God in one hand, and the world in the other.

Fortunately, a senior in the music institution I’m studying at reached out to me. Her father is a preacher, and she introduced me to a phone app that had sermons and hymns for me to listen to. She also invited me to Bible study with other students, where her father would teach us.

Through their mentoring, my understanding of Scriptures and my Heavenly Father became much clearer. I learnt how to put all my hope and trust in the Lord, even though there were times where I had so many questions.

But I would be lying if I said I did not envy other children who had their biological parents with them. I always knew this was something I’d never have in life. But it took a lot out of me to accept that fully.

On some days my mood got very bad; I felt like the whole world was against me. I had no appetite and just wanted to be alone. There were nights I cried myself to sleep as I prayed. But one day, as I was deep in thought, the words of Isaiah 55:8-9 surfaced in my mind.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

A sense of peace, hope and joy surrounded me all of a sudden – it was something I’d never felt until that moment. I realised I did not need to feel sad about not having biological parents when I have a Father in Heaven who loves me in spite of all my flaws, but continues to renew me every day.

Through the difficulties of life, I have the Lord to lead me. Even as I graduate with a diploma in music in less than a year’s time and am feeling anxious about the new season of life to come, I know that He will guide me through this once again.

My family is also warming up to the idea of me being a Christian. I am praying for their salvation, and for God to lead me to a church where I can grow spiritually.

I have never seen with my own eyes, but I believe that God can heal me in His beautiful time. Of course, I might never get to see in this lifetime, but when my eyes finally open in a new and perfect body, the first person I hope to see is my Saviour Jesus Christ.

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Help, I think my professor likes me

by Carmen Lee | 11 September 2018, 3:30 PM

“Hi Carmen, I was wondering if you would like to come down earlier before your consultation? Perhaps we could go for lunch?”

My already furiously beating heart raced even faster and I could feel my stomach turn itself inside out as I clutched tightly to my phone. After I hung up the call, the friend whom I was lunching with asked concernedly, “Are you alright? You’ve gone pale, is this some guy you’re trying to reject?”

But this wasn’t just any guy, this was my professor.The circumstances I found myself in with my professor felt like a Korean drama, except that I did not enjoy it one bit. It started out with an innocent mistake in my first semester of university – he had called my name wrongly in class and I had corrected him sarcastically.

From then on, he paid special attention to me, whether in class or out of class. He would greet me in every lecture and tutorial, he complimented my appearance, and occasionally made inappropriate comments about me in class.

I was 18, with zero experience and expectations in the relationships arena, so to have a slightly older, intelligent and articulate man give me so much attention made me freak out.

I spent the next 2 years of my university life avoiding anything related to him, even taking detours in my route so that I wouldn’t have to walk past the building his office was housed in.

In hindsight, it does seem silly of me to have panicked to such an extent. My conscience was clear, and it was (and is) after all, an offence in the university’s code of conduct for professors and students to have romantic relationships with each other.

Whilst I remain unclear of his intentions till today, I realised that I needed to relook the way I perceived and maintained boundaries with the other gender, even if they were older and in positions of authority. Here are 3 thoughts I have on responding to ambiguous attention.

3 WAYS TO DRAW BOUNDARIES

1. Check your heart

Even as I was careful that my responses to my professor’s actions did not disrespect his position of authority over me or encourage him further, I needed to search my heart and be very clear of my feelings and intentions surrounding the situation.

There was a pressing need for me to distinguish between feeling truly uncomfortable and the unfamiliarity of feeling flattered from the attention he paid me. I grew up without the presence of a father and was thus not comfortable with older men in positions of authority.

These emotions are, of course, not mutually exclusive, but there was a need to discern and possibly, admit to them before they misled me any further.

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

Once I was clear about the distinctions, it helped me take captive of my thoughts: Did I really dread having to go to class or was I secretly anticipating his interactions with me?

While I was very clear that I did not want a romantic relationship with him, I needed to be as clear that I was not attracted to him. He was after all, still very much an eligible bachelor.

Being clear of my emotions set a healthy standard for the types of actions and responses I had towards my professor, and could also hold towards my interactions with other guys.

2. Clarify, if not, seek help

Clarifying anything ambiguous in relationships of any kind is always the best move. But honestly, I lacked the guts to approach my professor to do just that. But if you have the courage to speak politely but firmly with the other party, it would definitely be beneficial for both of you.

I am thankful for a group of friends, both girls and guys, Christians and non-believers, whom I could confide in and give me perspective on my situation. Some of them even walked me to classes or consultations I had with him (and waited for me) just so that I had someone who could help me if needed and keep me accountable.

However, if the situation is highly uncomfortable and have no other means of assistance, you can approach your school’s student welfare office. They do take such cases seriously and will ensure that your identity is protected in the process.

3. Protecting your heart

Checking my heart earlier helped me protect myself emotionally in that season. It was also a catalyst for me to begin considering and noting the qualities I would like in my future spouse so that until I met him, I could protect my heart and purity.

(I think you start knowing what you want when you know what you don’t want!)

Beyond surrendering that list of qualities I had drawn up to God, more importantly, I had to surrender my heart to Him as well and it allowed me to experience Him as my heavenly Father as well.

Protecting my heart allowed nothing to take the centre position He had in my life, even if it was a momentary attraction.I eventually bumped into my professor in my third year of university, and I’m thankful that we received each other with warmth and courtesy. The peace I felt while speaking to him informed me of my own emotional growth.

This reassured me that my heart was the safest in the hands of its Creator, and I was allowing myself to be moulded such that I would eventually be ready – both spiritually and emotionally – to one day be in a committed relationship with the man He has set aside for me.


The author’s name has been changed for confidentiality. 

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Article list

I must confess: Why should someone else know my secrets?

My love affair with pornography

In grief and hatred, I wanted to change my surname

When you’re single but not by choice

Born without sight, raised without my parents: Seeing hope in the darkness

Help, I think my professor likes me