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Faith

The day I lost my dad

by Jolynn Chia | 18 October 2017, 1:06 AM

I have been a control freak most of my life.

My core belief was in the importance of control. If I lost control, I’d lose everything I’d ever worked for and wanted. I believed I deserved everything I had because I’d earned them with my very own hands. I didn’t have a personal relationship with God then, and it was a false sense of security.

That life fell apart the day my Dad had a heart attack and passed on.

Even during the funeral, I was still trying to control every aspect of it. I had to. Who could blame me? My Mum was so depressed she couldn’t do anything, my two younger siblings barely knew what was going on and my relatives were either overseas or busy with work.

In reality, I was reluctant to do anything because all I really wanted to do was to sit at home and cry.

I especially hated having to arrange the funeral because I found Dad’s sudden death unbelievably ridiculous. He was just cycling two days ago, and he had never complained of any heart issues. I was so angry at God. How could He punish me like that? Why?

I tried my best. I wrote the eulogy while settling endless administrative matters. I hosted guests whom I appreciated but could not welcome heartily because I had just lost my parent and felt utterly deprived of space to weep. I was exhausted sharing anecdotes of my Dad to people who might not have met him in person. I even tried to ensure that the eulogy was delivered calmly, yet mildly humorous so as not to bore my audience.

Control, control, control. I didn’t sleep a wink.

But even in that dreadful week, God showed His faithfulness to me. Every day, I received encouraging and comforting text messages. Friends and church mates whom I thought I never had a connection with came regardless and grieved with my family and me.

The second night, I dreamt of my Dad queuing at Heaven’s gates. And when choosing the Bible verse for my Dad’s plaque in the niche, my sister and I searched randomly on the Internet until we chose Daniel 12:3 for its beauty. A week later, I found out that chapter features the archangel Michael, which is my Dad’s name.

“And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3)

If you’ve ever had to purchase a niche position, you’d know that the eye level ones are the hardest to get. All the eye level niches were crossed out from the availability chart by the time we received it.

Nevertheless, the day we went down to the columbarium we learnt that the number “0414” was the only eye level niche not taken up. April 14 was Good Friday, the same week my Dad passed away in. I think he would have liked it. It was a divine gift.

I knew all these things happened because God wanted to reassure us that even the suffering of life is part of His divine plan, and He is with us every step of the way. He would never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6).

But this truth felt far away on the darker days.

I came to harbour a quiet bitterness towards people who did not understand my pain. I mean, how many people in their mid-twenties have had experienced their parent dying overnight of a heart attack with no warning signs at all?

How many people could truly comprehend, empathise with and relate to the deep regrets and self-hatred I had in my heart? How many friends could I cry with? How many people saw how it fractured my life?

Even my Mum and siblings had different ways of dealing with grief, oscillating between denial and distraction.

My grief was uncontrollable. It would come like a thief in the middle of the night, in the day, during bus rides.

I did not trust that anyone would understand my experience, and most people understandably did not have the courage to probe. My grief was uncontrollable. It would come like a thief in the middle of the night, in the day, during bus rides.

But just when I thought the darkness would never end, God mercifully brought two sisters-in-Christ who had similar experiences to journey with me. They graciously saved me from falling into the Devil’s crafty lie that no one cared – not even God himself.

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Over the months that have passed, God has met me personally in my grief and hopelessness. He’s been there in my loneliness, purposelessness and anger. I can say this with all my conviction: It has been an arduous process, but He has not let me go. Though my whole world might fall apart – I know I will never fall out of His love.

As a former control freak, I’ve now accepted that I cannot control everything that happens to me. But I do know that all that has happened is of His divine will, and I’m letting that be enough.

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“I thought it was my inevitable reality as a woman”: Sexual harassment in the workplace

by Ashley Chan | 14 October 2017, 3:00 PM

I had been praying for the right work opportunity after ‘A’ levels to earn some pocket money and also start on a personal missional lifestyle: To share the Gospel with my colleagues as salt and light in my workplace.  

I was eventually introduced by a female friend to a Thai restaurant in order to take over her part-time position as a waitress. She was going to be starting a new job elsewhere soon and assured me that it would be a fun and dynamic environment with nice colleagues.  

I was the only woman and Chinese Singaporean at my workplace, but I was quite excited at the prospect of being able to share about God to my new Thai friends, having recently started learning Thai for future mission work.

There were a few newcomers besides me, so we had a welcome party after work in the first week. Out of nowhere, one of the older men started joking about how he visits prostitutes. Suddenly, I could feel eyes on me. Then another colleague blurted out, in Thai, “Too bad she’s young. I would pay a high price for girls like her at the brothel.”

He downed another shot. I hadn’t drunk much, but my face was on fire. I didn’t know how to respond. They didn’t think I’d understood, but even with my limited Thai, I had.

I wanted to believe it was just the alcohol speaking, but later incidents proved otherwise. 

There were situations where more than one of us servers were squashed against the cash register, trying to settle the bill. This happened whenever the restaurant was particularly crowded.

I was taking out some change for the customer when I felt one male server standing very close behind me. He pressed against me, arms swooping between mine and intercepting me to the cash register. “Sorry, customer is rushing me,” he mumbled in my ear as he swiftly retreated, but not without grazing my chest and slapping my butt.

I was afraid to speak out for fear of being too sensitive or confrontational. The other guys didn’t think it was a big deal at all. 

I was unsure if it was an accident, or if he was treating me like a “bro”. Did “bro’s” do that to each other? In the end, I decided to dismiss it as he didn’t seem to think much about the matter. Also, I was afraid to speak out for fear of being too sensitive or confrontational. The other guys didn’t think it was a big deal at all. 

This wasn’t the first time I’d faced some form of sexual harassment. It’d happened to me before on public transport and with people I knew and trusted. Somewhere inside me, I thought I ought to accept all these incidences as part of my inevitable reality as a woman.

When I tried to tell others about it, the common responses I got were: 

“Are you sure…? Maybe it was accidental.” 

“You? Sexual harassment? They must’ve been blind …” 

Why would guys want to touch you?” 

“Stop being dramatic .. you also not that pretty.”

“You look like a man leh.. are they gay?” 

I decided to stick it out for another few months. 

I was working the closing shift when my male colleagues were making sexually suggestive jokes, directed at a female patron just out of earshot. Unable to stand the coarseness any longer, I asked them to stop it.

They looked at me and burst out laughing, saying, “Just a joke what … You also have nothing for us to look at so we look at other people lah.” They proceeded to spend the next few hours making fun of me, accusing me of only liking Caucasian men because of my bigger build.

I couldn’t get openly angry because there were customers around, and neither could I leave if I wanted to be paid. I had prayed to God for a resolution, for some sort of way to end all of this. But it seemed like He hadn’t changed their minds and made them stop.  

In fact, it only got worse. For some reason, that night, the boss came by after closing and requested to speak to me. I thought that it might be a good time to broach the topic of my colleagues’ behaviour. But before I could start, he pointed to my baggy work-wear and asked, “Why don’t you wear tighter jeans? You’ll attract more male customers that way … You’re the only girl here.”

They all laughed. He beckoned me to sit beside him as they smoked and drank, and again I tried to share about the uncomfortable experiences with my male colleagues. Midway through, he swivelled towards me, a wry smile on his face.

“Have you ever had sex?” He asked. The table roared. “She’s Christian and definitely a virgin!” Someone else piped in. I stood up in shock, holding back tears in my eyes; I had to get away from these people. But my boss gripped my arm tightly, insisting he was just joking and would drive me home afterwards.

As I fled the scene, my head was spinning and all I could think was, men will be men.

Coupled with my past experiences of being sexually assaulted, I was disillusioned and angered. I felt entitled to my bitterness.  

There was a point where I even questioned, “Why am I even praying for them? They deserve to go to hell.” I know Christians are continually called to be counterculturally meek and loving, but is this what I have to put up with? Is this really what I’ve been called to do? To love these people in spite of this? 

In the news, we hear of horrifying reports of sexual harassment and abuse. The Harvey Weinstein scandal brings to mind every incident where I had been sexually harassed, assaulted and violated. And whenever I remember, every suppressed emotion that I felt in those moments rises like bile from inside, choking me with violent intensity.

But in my quiet time of prayer one day, I heard, “Even then, love.”  I was shaken and broken to tears. Yes, I saw myself in those memories, hurt and confused. But for the first time, I was looking at my pain through His perspective. I felt the Father’s love overflow in my heart.  

“Come to me.”

And then I knew: He had been there, in every moment, in every situation, weeping with me.

What does love look like when you’ve been violated? 

What does forgiveness look like when you’ve been wronged?  

What does redemption look like, in a disordered, perverse and sinful world?  

Christ-like meekness doesn’t mean aggressive confrontation, neither does it mean to suffer in silence. Whether you’re a man or woman, whether you’re facing this for the first time or to the point where you think you’re desensitised to it – it doesn’t make sexual harassment or abuse okay. If you’ve felt uncomfortable in a situation that you were unable to escape, it is not your fault and you are not alone.  

In the darkest moments of self-condemnation, bitterness and shame, I find comfort that Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish.

“I called out of my distress to the LORD, and He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice.” (Jonah 2:2)

God can hear the words you can’t say. Your suffering will be redressed, even if you don’t get to see it for yourself. Injustice will not go unpunished. Vengeance is His, and He will repay (Romans 12:19).


Ashley has since left her waitressing job and found a safe and loving work environment. If you’ve ever been sexually abused, assaulted or harassed, seek help – be it reporting your case to the authorities or speaking to a trusted loved one. Your well-being is top priority.

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Join the mission: #HACK for Jesus

by Simon Seow | 13 October 2017, 6:19 PM

How can technology be employed to address the increase in suicides among the young? What could be some creative digital pathways and opportunities that might help stop people from taking their lives? How can the Church respond to this problem?

Many Christian techies and creatives are unaware of or under-appreciate the unique skills and talents God has given to them. They are unsure how to live out the passions for the Kingdom. But I’ve seen how their eyes light up when they hear stories and examples of how technology is creatively used and maximised for God’s mission.

It’s as if they suddenly realise things like: “My line of code can actually help save a girl’s life from sex trafficking!” Or “My creative design and writing could contribute to the Gospel’s reach across the globe!”

As they discover these opportunities, they inevitably gain new, God-given vision of how they can invest their digital and creative gifts for building His Kingdom.

DIGITAL DOES GOOD

Young professionals of the digital generation are often under-challenged in their own churches. For example, a CEO of a tech start-up company who has just launched a successful app might be asked to help with the worship slides, or design the church bulletin. It’s easy to miss the potential to help solve harder and larger missional challenges in this day and age.

We all desire to be a part of something larger than ourselves. Young people are driven by causes for the problems they see and experience around them. When given the opportunities and right connections to a  community with like-minded, like-gifted individuals, the gears are kicked into place for them to make significant impact for Jesus.

Indigitous started as a global movement of people who love Jesus and are passionate about using their strengths for God in the creative and digital space. Indigitous communities around the world bring together the best minds and hearts from the tech and creative spheres, inspiring them with projects and challenges that cause them to stretch and grow their gifts.

I heard an account of a lady who was 5 weeks pregnant and desperate because her partner kept pressurising her to abort the baby. Depressed, she searched online for help and found Boiling Waters, a Facebook page set up by a few brothers in Indigitous Manila – a mixture of creative writers, designers, website and social media experts.

Moved by the inspirational posts, she started chatting with one of the volunteers of the FaceBook page. It led quickly to a spiritual conversation. She was then invited to watch Falling Plates – a powerful 4-minute Gospel short film that has been watched by millions on YouTube. She received Christ that day and decided that she will not abort the baby.

A NEW KIND OF LIFEHACK

#HACK is an annual global missional hackathon that brings together the best creatives, technologists, strategists in various cities around the world for a weekend. Almost like a special force team, you will “hack” out digital-based prototypes and creative solutions to missional challenges in your context.

These challenges seek to address social issues in the city to contribute to the good of our world, but also to make Jesus known everywhere. In November 2016, Singapore hosted the first Indigitous #HACK event, the first-ever Christian hackathon in our country.

This year at #HACK, we encourage teams to work on potential solutions to some of the social issues in Singapore.

A few of these challenges include:

1. Countering social issues that are contrary to God’s values (e.g. sexual immorality and abuse)
2. Positively impacting the underprivileged (e.g. the poor, sick, disabled and elderly)

What dreams has God placed on your heart? What are some ways you desire to contribute to the digital strategies and engagement in our city? Does it excite you to use your talents for God in the digital and creative space?

Then this #HACK could be for you.


#HACK is happening next weekend, October 20-22, 2017. You don’t have to be a programmer to get involved. Creative thinkers of all types are welcome: Designers, photographers, writers, project managers, social media gurus – we want you! For those interested, please register here. Participation is free.

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You’re 50 shades of blue, what can I do?

by Shiyun Yong | 8 October 2017, 11:59 PM

In 2009, I visited a friend in hospital for the “blues”. I was 17 years old and stood at the door clutching a bunch of flowers, not quite comprehending what had just happened.

In 2015, I lost a friend to the blues. He was smart, young, talented – I stood at the door of the casket hall hugging myself, again, not really understanding what I had just lost and would soon continue to lose.

In 2016, a month before the first death anniversary of that friend, I lost another friend to similar circumstances. This time there was no door to stand by, or lean on for support.

This year, I’ve walked alongside a few close friends struggling with the blues. We’ve walked from doctors’ offices to counselling rooms and back again, but thankfully, by God’s grace and deliverance, today the darkness seems further away.

The “blues” is a term I personally use to describe all the various challenges people have with mental health and wellness. In the short time I’ve had my encounters with the “blues”, I learnt quickly that the terms “mental illness”, “depression”, “anxiety” or even “mental health” trigger many different reactions and emotions from people, often a reflection of existing stigma and prejudice towards the topic of mental health.

So here are a few things I’d like to share from what I’ve learnt on the journey.

4 THINGS I’VE LEARNT ABOUT THE BLUES

1. They cannot be “snapped out of” or “just moved on from”

All you need to do is just suck it up and move on. I’m quite sure these words are familiar to you. Perhaps you’ve heard a parent say it when you’ve tried to tell them about a friend who has depression. Maybe your supervisor at work made a similar comment when you tried to point out that a colleague seems to be particularly blue.

Till I had the chance to walk with someone with the blues, I too, once believed that it was something you could will yourself to move on from. Mind over matter right?

Not quite.

According to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), based on a study conducted in 2010, 1 in 17 people in Singapore will be diagnosed with clinical depression at some part of their lives. While no new study has been undertaken since then, IMH estimates that there’s been a steady increase in the percentage of people being diagnosed with clinical depression – an annual 7 percent increase.

In fact, the lack of statistics around this topic speaks volumes about the existing stigma and gaps of understanding about mental health.

2. Mental health is a Pantone palette, not a single colour

Perhaps the first thing to leave behind when you encounter someone with the blues is to acknowledge that there is nothing that you know about the blues. Especially if you’re blessed to have never experienced it yourself. This was an early lesson I learnt.

Leaving behind your perceptions and knowledge about the topic allows you to connect with someone with an open heart and mind. It allows you to learn, to be a friend, an ally – the person they need at this time of their lives. It puts you in the right posture to serve, to hear and to do for them as God asks of you.

In the face of the blues, patience, love and openness is what you’re called to.

They’re not here to hear you extol the glorious clear-headed days you have, nor hear you dole out well-meaning but often ill-fitting advice. It’s not your fault you don’t know better; it’s also not your fault that you’re feeling helpless and inadequate in light of this.

But it would be careless to think that one case of the blues is equivalent to the other, or that there is an immediate answer to the situation. Take the time to appreciate the situation and the person, to acknowledge what you do or do not know, and simply take the chance to learn and be present for the journey.

Surely we know for all His purposes, one day the answers to all your questions will be clear. But in the face of the blues, patience, love and openness is what you’re called to.

3. Jesus is the answer – but don’t just say it, show it

The theological aspect of mental health and wellness can seem like a bit of a dark abyss itself – fixations with definitions, principles and maybe often too many good intentions and not enough love in action.

While there is no doubt in my mind that God can heal and deliver in any and every situation, the little I’ve learnt is that sometimes a reassuring hug or sitting with someone in companionable silence can do as much good as a reminder to pray or a Bible verse.

Sometimes as Christians, we are keen to solve a problem, eager to see someone step into the light, to conquer evil and receive deliverance. We want to see lives transformed. Yet for all our pure intentions, we often don’t recognise our role in the situation, which is that of an instrument rather than the musician.

The dictionary definition of an instrument is a tool that is used to do careful work for a particular purpose. To be an instrument is to accept that you do not know the final outcome, perhaps you don’t even know the next note that will be played, but there is submission and acknowledgement that God is in control.

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7)

Knowing our role as an instrument is so important because it helps us to keep ourselves in check too. We avoid ‘preaching’ and do a little more listening and caring. We stop trying to control the situation or the person. It’s also important because we don’t take on more responsibility than we should. Sometimes, despite our best efforts and intentions, the outcomes may not be as you hope for.

4. If all else fails, just be kind – especially to yourself

When I did a quick straw poll among friends about their perspective on mental health and wellness, most of them said – just as the dated statistics did – that they didn’t know much about it and don’t feel people talk about it at all. They felt a bit helpless about the topic and tongue-tied around those who do have a case of the blues.

If there’s anything I’ve learnt, it’s that kindness is a core ingredient in the face of the deep blue unknown. It sounds like a horribly cliched and obvious, but it is in dire need of practice.

Being kind to yourself is probably the best investment you can make – it not only helps you to build empathy, but it also empowers you to share that kindness.

Being kind is not just an act onto others; it is also an act you need to practice with yourself as well. You’ll be surprised how unkind you are to yourself on a daily basis. This was something that struck me each time I sat with a friend who was walking through the blues – the kind of things they would say of themselves, there was so much unkindness.

I learnt that being kind to yourself is probably the best investment you can make – it not only helps you to build empathy, but it also empowers you to share that kindness with others.

Being kind is also an uncomplicated reaction to the blues. It’s not about grand gestures of service or some elaborate strategy to show support. If you’re feeling helpless, awkward, frustrated or just stressed out by someone with the blues, kindness is probably your best friend.

Through it all, this is what I’ve learnt about kindness:

Kindness is as small as an acknowledgement of the blues someone is facing and your confession of not knowing quite what to do to help.

Kindness is sitting in silence and listening.

Kindness is having the courage to ask if someone is feeling okay and what can you do to help.

Kindness is about conversations with no set positive outcome, a process to allow someone to talk and allow someone to receive and to learn.

Kindness is self-control and consciousness of language, of what we say and to whom we say it.

Kindness is about casting an eye out for one another, whether via a text or a cup of coffee.

Kindness is small, consistent demonstrations of love, an attempt to shine a light into the darkness – no matter how small it may be or how much it flickers.

It’s your best ally against the blues, both for you and for them.

“The light shines in the darkness, the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)


The month of October is Mental Health Awareness Month. Shiyun is involved in Campus PSY, an initiative started by a group of youth volunteers from IMH to raise awareness on mental health issues and to rally like-minded young adults in tertiary institutions towards the development of a more supportive and inclusive society. For those interested to help advocate for mental health awareness, please visit their Facebook page

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by Crystal Ong | 5 October 2017, 12:26 PM

I’d finally climbed out of a deep pit in my life, where I had decided to hide for the longest time. I looked up and I saw Him at the edge of the pit; He was helping me back up.

So I climbed out, emerging into the open air, and I never felt so vulnerable. I was scared, but I also knew God didn’t bring me this far to leave me here. I knew He wouldn’t leave me where I was now (Philippians 1:6).

Still, some days I can’t help but feel my fleshly side is winning out. It’s so strong, it seems nothing can change it. But that’s the way the Enemy wants us to feel.

God tells me to fear not, and put my trust in Him. He will help us through it all. It is to Him that we pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13)

I’ve not felt whole for the longest time. I spent a long time in pain. I was drowning in my fears and insecurities.

But during one Sunday service, I decided to join a cell group in my church. It wasn’t a comfortable move for me at all but a little voice inside my heart told me I had to do it.

At the end of the group meeting, we had to be paired up and pray for each other before we go off. I was paired up with a girl called Michelle. When she was praying for me, she said, “God loves you”.

In that moment, I felt His warmth and presence surround me.

I was dead, and God resurrected me. What can’t he do? He heals, He carried me up again and restored my soul (Mark 5:41).

I thought that as a young adult now, I should be able to solve everything, But I wasn’t as strong as I thought, I was fraying with each passing day.

But every time, He picked me up, reminding me that although I can’t, He can and He will, because He loves me (Isaiah 43:4).

When I feel that everything is taking a turn for the worse again, I calm myself down, look up and speak this over my troubled soul: God is always with me.

He is by our side, ready to help in the big and small things of this life. Do not be afraid (Psalms 121:7).

So today, I say the same prayer for you: God loves you. God loves you very much.

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At 16, I checked myself into the Institute of Mental Health

by Tiffany Ethel Tan | 4 October 2017, 6:31 PM

“Maybe I could pretend to fall onto the road …”

“Maybe if I jumped down …”

“Maybe if I got some pills …”

I was ready to die. The thoughts that haunted me everywhere I went weren’t decisions of life or death – but rather where, when and how to stop living. My suicide notes sat together with my study notes. There was a rock concert coming up in a few weeks; I’d attend it before I said goodbye forever.

At barely 16 years old, depression had consumed my life – I felt like I was slowly drowning, and although I could see everyone above the water, no one could see me.

The water levels had started rising more than a decade before. My dad was a taxi driver and my mum started her own business. I was therefore left to the care of a domestic helper for most of my childhood.

As time went by, my dad started coming home later and later, reeking of alcohol and making a ruckus in the wee hours of the morning. He’d complain about how my mother wasn’t contributing enough to the family, how he was working so hard while my maternal grandmother added to our financial burdens.

They slowly grew more apart and started to sleep in separate rooms.

One day, my father came home in a rage and a violent quarrel ensued. As his beer mug shattered on the ground in his fit of anger, so did their marriage. Their divorce was finalised two years later and he moved to Bangkok, leaving me and my brother with my mum.

The first time I tried to kill myself, I was only 8. I had a very bad relationship with my younger brother, who had ADHD and anger management issues. This resulted in constant fights, where he would claw at me, pull my hair and dig his nails deep into my skin till he drew blood.

I remember grabbing a chopper in self-defence during one of his outbursts, desperate enough to throw myself out of the kitchen window to escape the torment. If my aunt hadn’t come in to stop me, I would have jumped. This is when she started taking us to church.

In Primary school, I was a timid child. My grades were good and I excelled in sports and art, but my classmates would tease me about my weight, and a suffocating fear of rejection followed me. I was increasingly conscious of how I looked in the eyes of others and it made me withdrawn and detached.

The social anxiety was so crushing that despite an excellent PSLE grade for my mock exams, I dropped almost 20 points in the actual national exam. It was another blow to my identity, and I couldn’t go to the “better” schools that I had initially considered.

I struggled to fit into the Secondary school I was posted to. The culture was very different and most of my classmates spoke in Mandarin or dialect, which made it even more difficult to connect with them.

For a while, things looked up when I made a new friend, who became my boyfriend. He was depressed and suicidal, but I was so desperate for us to “click” that I gradually found myself mirroring his attitudes and behaviours.

My parents’ divorce, my academic disappointments, my loneliness – I amplified these things in my head and convinced myself we were partners in pain. I picked up his habit of self-harm. I cried about the injustice in my life, although I previously never had.

Eventually, he broke up with me over a silly bet with a mutual friend, leaving me with my self-esteem shattered and arms covered in self-made scars – he won $50, skin and ego intact. He always knew when to stop cutting before it was too late.

I, on the other hand, didn’t.

“Honestly, I would have less financial burden if you didn’t go to university.”

My father only contacted me from Bangkok during the release of my school results. This time, he was livid to hear that I wanted to go to a Polytechnic instead of a Junior College. He had called to tell me that at the rate I was going, I wasn’t going to have a future and would become useless to the nation.

Following the breakup and my continued isolation from my peers, I was barely surviving in school. My grades were at an all-time low and I couldn’t keep up with the speed at which the curriculum was taught. Despite having tuition lessons every day after school, my mid-year results showed that I didn’t even qualify for a Polytechnic, much less a Junior College.

My life was a wreck. I had nothing left. No happy family. No friends. No relationship. No achievements. Only this tsunami of disappointment and failure crashing over my head day after day, test after test. Thoughts of ending it all started overtaking my mind, so much that I couldn’t sleep at all.

I told Him, “God, I’m going to give my life one last chance.”

Every night, waves and waves of tears would flood in as I tried to sleep, worn out from dealing with the depression and anxiety. At most, I would be able to sleep for an hour or two. The pain I was in was close to unbearable. That is when I started writing my suicide notes and planning to take my own life.

But somehow, God reached out and caught me in the midst of what I thought would be my last days on earth. We’d had an on-again, off-again relationship over the years. The weekend before I was to attend this rock concert – the only thing I had to look forward to before I died – something clicked inside me.

I don’t fully know why I changed my mind, but I told Him, “God, I’m going to give my life one last chance.”

That day, I walked into the emergency room at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) and was later diagnosed with severe depression, dysthymia, adjustment disorder and social anxiety disorder.

The junior ward at IMH is like a jail for children. Because I was suicidal, I had to be admitted under suicide prevention and was put under 24/7 surveillance.

We couldn’t bring anything with us into the ward. Before admission, there was a body check to ensure there were no prior injuries, blades, strings or anything hidden on us. All our belongings, including our phones, were confiscated.

If we wanted to go to the toilet, we had to ask the nurse to unlock it for us. There was a limited amount of time to shower, and just enough soap to wash ourselves. At mealtime, we were only allowed to eat with spoons, even if they served noodles. No forks, knives or chopsticks. The windows had three layers of grills.

Lights out at 9PM. Lights on at 7AM. During the night, nurses would come and take our blood pressure.

There were people as young as 11 years old there. I discovered that most of us – many who were girls my age – were facing the same struggles: Suicidal tendencies, low self-esteem and depression. I wasn’t as alone as I thought, but the evidence was more sobering than consoling.

The irony was, a part of me still wanted to die, but this lifeless prison wasn’t the place to do it. By the following week, I managed to convince the medical team that I was better and got discharged – just in time for that concert.

This is how I know God was out to save my life: Death didn’t come easy.

Whenever thoughts of death threatened to take over, things just never worked out. The roads would be particularly quiet, the pharmacy wasn’t selling what I was looking for.

Just before I could finally take my leave, now that I’d gone to that concert as planned, someone in church encouraged me to go for 21project, a youth leadership training conference happening over the following week. Again, I don’t know why I signed up on impulse. What’s one more week, right?

I heard it loud and clear. “You’re done with depression.”

But on the second day, as a powerful word on courage was preached, I felt the urge to go up for the altar call. Standing in a sea of over two hundred young people, we were led to let go of all our past hurts, guilt and shame, and to step into the destiny God has in store for us.

As the speaker, pastors and church leaders prayed over us, I felt a transparent box around me shattering to pieces. It was like being broken out of a tank full of fear, anxiety, doubt and every negative emotion that had been drowning me for so long.

A still small voice stirred in my heart, and I heard it loud and clear. “You’re done with depression.”

For the first time in years, I could breathe again.

Today, I walk with a newfound lightness in my soul and courage in every step. Things look a lot different outside of depression’s box. Even my friends who don’t know what happened that day have been pointing out the changes they see. I like to call them joy and peace.

But a sadness remains in my heart when I think of the girls I met during my stay at IMH. And I know God is calling me back to them. Like in Isaiah 6:8, He is asking, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

I don’t know what lies ahead, walking away from the aftermath of 8 years of suffering. But here I am Lord, with what little I have to offer – here I am, send me.


If you’d like to speak to Tiffany on her initiatives for those who struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, you can reach out to her at tiffanytwj@yahoo.com.sg. If you know anyone in distress or contemplating suicide, call the SOS hotline at 1800 221 4444, or email pat@sos.org.sg

You can also seek help at the following numbers:

Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800 283 7019
Institute of Mental Health’s Mobile Crisis Service: 6389 2222
Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800 353 5800
Tinkle Friend: 1800 274 4788

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Seen, heard and accepted

by Jonathan Cho | 2 October 2017, 12:04 PM

I sing to be heard. I draw so that my pieces will be seen. I create in the hope of being appreciated. As creators or creatives, it seems perfectly natural to feel this way.

After all, isn’t that the point of the whole creative process? Why produce or perform something if there is no audience or recipient? How can I make an impact on the world around me if I’m not concerned about who sees me, hears me, and accepts me and what I have to say?

As a musician and writer, I often find that I place myself in situations of incredible vulnerability, usually after I share my pieces or after I perform. Did anyone see me play that riff? Does anyone realise that I intentionally chose to use this word in the lyrics instead of this other, more obvious word?

Is anybody going to tell me that I did a good job? Why hasn’t anyone commented on my post/video/article?

The desire to be seen, heard and be accepted is real. The possibility of being rejected on all these fronts is real too. I often feel like the authenticity of my creative work is somehow diminished because of the need for attention to be brought to it.

Like a pendulum, I’ve swung back and forth on this many times. Some days, I find that the easier path is to stay clear from sharing any of my creative work or putting it out there.

It’s just too tiring to fight this battle time and again – where I want to be content with what I’ve produced, and yet, I can’t enjoy it unless I know someone has seen it, heard it, and accepted it (thus, accepting me too).

Is anybody going to tell me that I did a good job? Why hasn’t anyone commented on my post/video/article?

About a week ago, I had the privilege of hearing Pastor Dan McCollam speak at an event about pursuing excellence in our creative pursuits, instead of perfectionism. He cast a spotlight on a word that has probably reverberated in the hearts and minds of all creators for ages: Significance.

Significance. This great tussle of wanting to be heard, seen, and accepted for the work we produce.

Pastor Dan drew from the lesson of Leah, who struggled immensely with the issue of significance in her life. Her marriage with Jacob started on the belief that she was never really wanted or valued in the first place. Her father had to trick Jacob – who was really only interested in her sister, Rachel – in order to marry Leah off.

Talk about comparison, competition and sibling rivalry!

Like many of us who have been scarred by comparison in our lives, Leah carried that wound around with her, and spent much of her life seeking an answer to the question of her value, her significance.

As a result, we see in Genesis 29:31-35 that when Leah bore children for Jacob, she was producing them in the hope that she would finally be seen, heard and accepted by her husband.

“Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.”

Though I’ve never borne a child, I feel as if I could totally understand and identify with Leah’s emotional pain in childbirth. One child after the other, Leah created, wondering which child it would be that could bring a definitive answer to her question: “Am I valuable and significant in someone’s eyes?”

It brings to mind the many times where I’ve thought that one piece of writing, or one performance, would help me know that “I’ve arrived”. That I would finally earn my validation or affirmation through that piece of work.

After three children, Leah seemed to finally find an answer to her question, and although the passage doesn’t really explain why, it does tell us how she found her rest on these questions of value and significance (Genesis 29:35): “And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘This time I will praise the Lord.'”

This time, I will praise the Lord.

We need to unlearn our old patterns of creating, where we produce from a place of insecurity and inner turmoil, trying to impress in order to find value and significance.

After what must have been years of experiencing the pain of rejection time after time, it seemed as if Leah finally understood that her question of significance and value could never be answered by her husband or her father – even though the wounds were caused by them. The definitive answer to her question could only be found in one Person – the God who created her.

It is poetic and beautiful that the name Leah uses when she praises “the Lord”, is the name Jehovah (יְהֹוָה), which is the same word used to describe the God who created the heavens and the earth in Genesis, as well the God who created Man.

Leah’s (and our) question of significance can only be definitively answered by one Person, and her life-giving creative work was meant to lead to one thing only: Worship of the One who created her. Anything less would have left her with an insatiable abyss of yearning and set her on a lifelong journey of seeking other ways to answer that question.

The inexpressible need and compulsion to impress people with our creative work returns to the issue of our value and significance. I understand it, I struggle with it, and I’ve lived it. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

As creatives who seek to create and produce masterpieces for the glory of God, we need to unlearn our old patterns of creating, where we produce from a place of insecurity and inner turmoil, trying to impress in order to find value and significance.

If we do so, we’ll find ourselves caught in a cycle of creating to be seen, heard and accepted by others. Not for an audience of One.

Instead, we need to learn new patterns of creating. We learn to do so from a place of worship and security in our identity, where we can simply delight in the joy of creating by allowing it to culminate in giving praise and thanks to the Uncreated One. He kickstarted the whole creative process by making us and delighting in His creative work.

We also need to know that we are already seen, heard, and accepted by a God who has done everything necessary to prove His love for us. Nothing more we do could impress Him further.


For all who would like to explore reconciling your craft with our Creator, the X Creative Conference is happening on 27/28 October 2017. Find out more here.

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When you work freelance, you either grow in fear or faith

by Melody Elizabeth Goh | 2 October 2017, 10:31 AM

Maybe the thought of working freelance appeals to some of you. No constraints, no fixed hours. Not me though – given a choice, I’d rather be tied down to full-time commitment. But my life hasn’t panned out that way.

I’ve been searching for a full-time job since I graduated from Bible school last April. I had been praying, sending out my resume and going for interviews. None worked out; I didn’t last more than 2 weeks in any position as I had to either quit because the job scopes were too overwhelming or because I had things that needed to be settled.

I was desperate, because I was 28. At this age, I thought I ought to already have a full-time job and a stable income, but here I was still depending on my parents for financial support. I felt like my world was crumbling on me, and I dove deeper into depression as self-condemnation sucked me into a bottomless pit of self-pity.

It was a tough season for me. I began to doubt the goodness of God.

In my desperation, I asked a friend who was always posting freelance jobs on Facebook if she had an opening. She got me a freelance position as an assistant media trainer in photography. This increased my exposure to photography and I learnt so much just from assisting the lead trainer.

I loved the job because I knew I wanted to work in the media industry. But the downside was that I was earning peanuts. My company was not doing very well and their projects were drying up as their last sales staff had left the company.

I was worried. For freelancers like me, who live from hand to mouth, regular projects are very important. Sure enough, my project ended and I had no more assignments.

It was another period of unemployment for me. I had no pending interviews and no openings at that time.

I went back to wrestling with God. Did He really want me to live with the vagaries and uncertainty of the freelance life?

One night I had a dream. In my dream, God spoke to me and told me to hang in there for another 2 weeks. I did not know what that meant but I trusted God.

Sure enough, 2 weeks later I was scheduled to have 4 interviews in a week, 3 of which were freelance jobs and 1 of which was a full-time job.

When I had reached the venue for the interview for the full-time position, the interviewer told me she’d forgotten about our interview and she had stepped out of the office. Very literally, a closed door.

I went back to wrestling with God. Did He really want me to live with the vagaries and uncertainty of the freelance life? But God gently reminded me that we are in this world not to be stable and comfortable, but to have faith and to learn to depend on Him.

This was driven home by a prayer someone prayed over me soon after. Part of the prayer went: “Thank you, God, for opening so many doors of opportunities for Melody, and thank you for the flexibility in timing that allows her to meet people and to reach out to the lost souls and play a role in revival.”

That prayer opened my eyes. That was the answer I was searching for. Working freelance gave me the flexibility I was looking for. God knew what was suitable for me even better than I thought I did.

I’ve seen and experienced how God assured me and how He’s made a way for me. I need to trust that He will keep doing so.

I’m still on the journey of trusting God to provide projects for me. I know it will be a constant journey of having the faith that God will provide every school term. For example, my work schedule is slowing down as it’s the examinations period, and it will be the school holidays soon, which could mean I may be out of work till the new academic year begins.

But even so, I have at least one class almost every weekday to help keep food on my table.

I’ve seen and experienced how God assured me and how He’s made a way for me. I need to trust that He will keep doing so.

Has it been easy? No. It’s been a season of trials and testing. But importantly, it’s been a season that has forced me to fix my eyes on God. He never fails and I know He has a perfect plan for me – even if my human mind cannot see how that might pan out.

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A letter to you, the one desperately trying to hide your depression

by Naomi Yeo | 28 September 2017, 1:17 PM

Dear You,

I see you. You hold down a stable job. You’re well-dressed. You were at work today, in new shoes and your favourite dress. You were wearing cute animal ear studs! You were almost late today – but made it with five minutes to spare. You put your things down at your table, and your colleague wished you a good morning. You smiled politely.

How could you be depressed?

But here’s what they don’t know.

You woke up half an hour before your alarm today, with your palms cold. That was because your legs were tingling, again, for reasons you didn’t understand. The first time it happened, you wondered if you would end up paralysed in the end. You’ve grown used to it when it happens now, but that doesn’t make things easier.

You tossed around in bed, wondering aloud, should I go to work today? You weren’t sure if you felt well enough, but you already took sick leave last week because you were too dazed to function. You slept seven hours last night – sufficient to feel well-rested, except you’re not.

Your eyes hurt; you don’t know why.

Every day at work you’re torn between struggling to cope, and wanting desperately to prove you’re just as capable; you shouldn’t be treated like a defective, bruised strawberry.

You were almost late because you took such a long time to get ready. As you stepped into the shower, your stomach was in knots. You had to wait for the stitch to go away – again. The hot shower eased your nerves, only briefly.

You dragged your feet to the bus stop. With each step, you contemplated turning back home. No, that is not an option – nobody takes MC on such late notice, you chide yourself.

Depression is not a kind master.

At lunch, you sat with your work BFF and burst into peals of laughter as you good-naturedly teased each other’s quirks. For a while, the clouds of depression faded; you were thankful for the respite, but it made you wonder if you made the brief episode of levity up. The voices of scorn from those around you thunder in your head –

It’s all in your head!

Aiyah of course, you keep thinking about sad things. Stop overthinking lah.

You were able to work, even if it was a struggle. You talked and laughed, you even ate lunch – depressed people don’t have the energy for these, do they?

Once you got back to your desk, you wonder how you made it to work at all. You looked at your desk – this was due yesterday. I’m only half done. That report is due tomorrow. I haven’t started! I got it two weeks ago. How am I going to make it? I don’t know.

You stared at your computer screen, pining for home. Guilt overwhelmed you as you felt so unproductive.

Be thankful for the good days, and compassionate on yourself on the bad ones.

You sat at your desk, trying to complete your overdue reports, but you were really checking how long more to go before you can crawl back home to the comfort of your bed – away from these people and their hurtful words. Their side-eye glances. Their looks of condescension that cast pitying glances in your direction.

Every day at work you’re torn between struggling to cope, and wanting desperately to prove you’re just as capable; you shouldn’t be treated like a defective, bruised strawberry. But your brain feels fogged over; you barely register what people are saying to you.

I see you, and I believe you – because I was once like you. Your experience was once mine, too. I can’t explain why people get depressed; I can only validate that they do.

If you’re a Christian, this is not the result of being a “bad Christian”; nor is it “just a lack of faith”. It’s a mental health condition – just as the Fall brought forth physical illness, likewise mental illness is the result of that, too (Deuteronomy 29:16-28, Romans 1:18).

Nonetheless, through your circumstances, God works them for good – to allow you to grow in Christlikeness (Romans 8:28) – and He continues to love you in the midst of them (Romans 8:38-39).

Hang in there – it takes a while before the darkness lifts. You may have questions on whether medication is necessary at all; different pastors seem to have different opinions. Or you may be annoyed that the meds hurt before they help – assuming they ever will.

In the midst of this, know that while you didn’t choose to have this area of struggle, you can choose how you react to it.

Be thankful for the good days, and compassionate on yourself on the bad ones. There will be naysayers, who doubt the authenticity of your depression – which is why it’s important to have people to walk this road with you. They may be few, but they are crucial – and treasured.

I write as someone who is still a work-in-progress, but has not had a grey day in a long time, only by grace. For Jesus has come:

 

To bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
The oil of joy instead of mourning,
And a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:3)

Love and blessings,
Me

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I had an abortion, and the guilt and shame almost killed me

by June Bai | 27 September 2017, 6:05 PM

I stared at the rows of bottles in the room Marina had ushered me into. I’d been awestruck by the sights in New Zealand over the past few weeks, but nothing could prepare me for this.

In the jars were hundreds, if not thousands, of buttons. In any other setting they would have been an impressive collector’s item, but I knew I stood before something a lot more sacred. Every button represented a baby lost to abortion, sent in by those who mourned to Marina Young, founder of the Buttons Project.

“Through my own abortion experience I came to realise many women feel the same – that it can be difficult to gain any sense of closure. There is no grave to visit, no tangible way of remembering,” Marina shared with me.

“That’s why I started the Buttons Project. To create a memorial for the babies we’ve never met.”

The familiar sadness I’d carried for years inside me stirred. Most of it had healed over and been replaced by a renewed sense of hope – but I would never forget the dark place I’d left behind. Just like Marina, I too had an abortion in my early 20s. I too had searched for peace, the unknown face of my unborn child etched in my heart like a scar.

It was the greatest irony; I had always wanted my own children as a young girl. But when the second pink line appeared on the pregnancy stick, indicating I was most likely with child, the only thing I could think of was to erase it immediately – like I’d written something wrong.

Although we’d been dating for some time, my boyfriend was not ready to get married and start a family. We hadn’t considered the possibility of pregnancy. I could see my father’s crestfallen face. I could imagine how my mother would have chastised me. I told you not to anyhow stay over at people’s house. They wouldn’t know about my ordeal until years later.

My boyfriend and I agreed that the only option was an abortion. To us, this wasn’t our baby. This was our problem. And problems needed to be solved. Back in school, I’d written impassioned pieces on how I was against abortion, but now abortion wasn’t the only problem. I had a problem. This was the solution.

Everything the pre-abortion counsellor told me flew over my head. Yes, I know the risks. No, I don’t want to reconsider this. Get this out of me so I can move on with my life.

And when it was all over, I walked out of the clinic clutching my bundle of relief. My old life was waiting for me. My relationship was waiting for me. No one would ever have to know.

Problem solved.

But that night, I struggled to sleep; it was more than the physical pain I was in. Somewhere, growing in me, was a new pain where my child had been.

The child I had killed.

Very much like its cousin shame, guilt is like a tumour. It appears insidiously in a place you cannot quite put a finger on but announces its presence like thunder – throbbing in your head or in your gut. I couldn’t tell if I was guilty of getting pregnant or terminating the pregnancy or not hesitating to terminate the pregnancy – but within the next few days of the abortion, I was a wreck.

What was happening to me? I’d never even met this child or thought of it as a life, as my own. I was supposed to be the same June as I’d always been, unpregnant, not-yet-a-mother. This episode was supposed to be a blip on the screen for my boyfriend and I. A small error reversed as quickly as possible. Control-Z. Undo.

So why did I feel like a part of me had died?

My boyfriend was very supportive at first; he was the only one who knew about this. He’d promised that we’d go back to normal once we’d crossed this hurdle, and I believed for a while that we were stronger together after the abortion.

But as the mounting guilt of killing my own baby sapped the colour from my life, the strain on our relationship soon reached its tipping point.

Six months after the abortion, we called it quits and broke up.

The time following the end of our relationship was what I can describe as my own private hell. Depression sunk its ugly teeth into me and along with that came nights of bitter tears. I had never felt so alone, having isolated myself from most of my social groups.

If the topic of abortion ever came up, the enormous tumour of guilt burned inside me. It was easier to avoid conversation altogether. I felt like the worst of sinners, crying out for comfort yet believing I was undeserving of any. I was grieving the loss of my child, but I was the one who killed him in cold blood.

For more than a year and a half, I cried myself to sleep every night.

It dawned on me gradually that the wound was too deep to heal with time, and I was going to need something stronger – or never stop hurting.

I saw all the other women who were spending the weekend together with me, and it hit me: Each of us had lost a child to abortion and was suffering for it.

I needed God.

It’d been a long time since I’d attended Church regularly. I had stopped all Church activity after the abortion, unable to bear the tension of my secret shame.

But now I was desperate. The dark tunnel I’d been walking in was only getting darker. So I asked a friend if I could follow her to Church. I was like the woman in Luke 8:43-48, grabbing onto the border of Jesus’ cloak, believing with all her heart that it was the only chance she had to be healed.

It didn’t happen all at once, but I look back now to see that this was precisely where healing began.

“If you want to walk into your destiny, you need to come to a point where you have nothing to hide, nothing to lose and nothing to prove,” the preacher said.

It had been several months since I’d started coming back to Church. I was in a much better place – surrounded by good people, reminded of God’s love for me, ready to believe there were brighter days ahead. And when I heard what the preacher said that morning, I realised I wanted so badly to walk into my God-given destiny, whatever that looked like.

Sure, I had nothing to lose and nothing to prove at this point. But I still had something to hide. Up till now, I had never spoken about the abortion to any of my Church friends. Honestly, I was hoping I’d never have to.

But now I knew I had to.

Taking our secret sins out of hiding is very much like coming before God with our confessions. I’m glad you told me, I imagine He’d say, though He’d have known it all along. Now let’s get you out of there.

And that’s just what happened when I finally told my cell group about the abortion. Instead of judgment or disgust, love came pouring forth. It was like a veil had lifted in my relationships. With my friends’ support, I found the courage to go for Rachel’s Vineyard, a weekend retreat for anyone affected by abortion.

The experience of group therapy was terrifying to step into. I remember wanting to run away the moment I entered the retreat centre. But then I saw all the other women who were spending the weekend together with me, and it hit me: Each of us had lost a child to abortion and was suffering for it.

During one of the group sessions, we were sitting in a circle for an activity. Suddenly the room faded, as though in a dream, and the talking around me dissolved into a faint murmur. Right in front of me stood a man I somehow recognised to be Jesus, and in his arms was a wiggling, happy boy whose face I could not see clearly.

I sat frozen in my seat, but Jesus walked towards me and placed the child on my lap. Immediately I knew he was the baby I had lost, and a peace I’d never felt before enveloped my heart.

All this while I had been struggling to believe my child was in Heaven; after what I’d done to him, how could he be in a happy place? He should have been bitter and angry at me for denying him life – his own mother! Where is my baby now? I’d cried for so long.

But as I held my son for the first time, I had my answer. With Jesus standing beside me, eyes full of love, I felt all the guilt and longing fall like chains.

I was finally free.

When I found my way to Marina Young’s house in Auckland, New Zealand, I knew God was up to something. I’d quit my job and come to the country as part of my healing journey, unsure of what lay in store. I had never heard of the Buttons Project previously, but when a pastor I met at a local church heard my story, he immediately referred me to Marina and her husband, Peter.

As a young unmarried couple, Marina and Peter got pregnant before they were ready to settle down. They took the advice of well-meaning friends and family and decided to abort the baby. Although they eventually married and had three children, they never stopped mourning the loss of their first child.

This compelled Marina to start the Buttons Project, to help others who grieve in silence find a place of solace and community. She started the website, which invited anyone affected by abortion to send in a button, either physically or digitally, to create a memorial for babies we’ve not met. To this day, the Youngs have received over 20,000 buttons.

With their blessings, I decided to bring the Buttons Project to Singapore earlier this year, in hopes of helping women and men affected by abortion in our nation take a step towards healing.

If you are on a similar journey, please know that you are not alone. What happened matters. It will always matter.


If abortion is part of your story, visit the Buttons Project Singapore website to send in a button of remembrance, or join their support group.

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Are you waiting for your big break?

by Tris Xavier | 19 September 2017, 12:38 PM

Sometimes, I feel like I’m still waiting for my big break.

All my life, I’ve been wondering when my big break would come. For instance, when I did comedy, I waited for some life-changing opportunity which never came. Andy Samberg had it. Trevor Noah had it. But where was mine?

The same feeling holds true for every area of my life, whether it’s in my career, ministry or even my personal life.

know I have a journey to undertake before I get to where God wants me to be. But I sometimes feel I’ll never get there. And I don’t believe I’m alone in feeling like I’m grossly inadequate.

I recognise that I am very blessed in my career and my ministry life. Others might not be as fortunate. The big break they’re looking for might be a matter of life and death – between food on the table and starvation.

Perhaps you’re standing on the precipice and wondering: “How in the world can I see a breakthrough when life has dealt me such a rotten hand?”

Where’s the greatness? And what hope is there to bridge the gap?

Wanting to be more than who you are isn’t a sin.

The Devil will try and make you believe that wanting to live a life larger than yourself – to be someone and aim for the best – is a mortal sin: Vanity.

But no, it’s only a sin if the root is pride and selfish ambition. If your deep motivation is to reach up to the greater plan He has for you, then that isn’t sin – it’s obedience.

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)

In Greek, the term “hope” is elpis – a confident expectation of what is certain. The term “glory” is doxes – the splendour and honour of the LORD.

God has called you to something greater than a mediocre existence, the typical life.

If you have been washed with the blood of Jesus, He now resides in you, and the Holy Spirit which lives in you carries the confident expectation that you have a greater calling in your life.

So, if the motivations are pure, the struggle with this sense of greatness – this sense in you of a manifest destiny – means that Christ lives in you, and the Spirit stirs, seeking to awaken you to the call.

You know it deep down: That God has called you to something greater than a mediocre existence, the typical life. Your spirit knows that it has a higher calling – because it belongs to the Lord.

I’ve found that often, our pride needs to break – before we see a breakthrough.

Breaking our pride means surrendering the idea of what the greater/higher calling looks like. That’s His to decide, not ours.

Of course, in the heat of life, we’re still tempted to question God: Where’s the breakthrough? We still compare: Why is it that other people seem to be doing well and yet we’re suffering – wading in mediocrity?

Whenever we are tempted to compare and complain, remember Proverbs 3:12: “For the LORD corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.”

To be clear, the Lord does not punish us with disease or death (Hebrews 12:9). He trains us because He loves us. Sometimes, this could take the form of trials and tests. The Lord uses situations in our life for our good – reminders that we need Him absolutely and totally.

But in the midst of the trial, I want to encourage you: Your breakthrough is coming, as sure as the morning will.

Let God address the root thorn of self-reliance in your life, and bring you into a walk of deeper reliance on Him and His provision.

Throughout the Bible there are numerous figures who had their pride broken within before they could break through to their God-given position.

In Genesis 40:14-15, Joseph asks the cupbearer to rescue him from prison. He’s still relying on human strength to rescue him. He had to learn humility, so he remained for another 2 years.

But by the next chapter, Joseph is humbler and wiser. Now he tells Pharaoh that he cannot interpret dreams – only God can (Genesis 41:16). With this dependency on God, Joseph is no longer the proud boy we saw in Genesis 37.

He’s a man who’s had his pride broken for greatness in God.

Similarly, Jacob was a man hunting for blessing. He tried trickery to get it, but it was only when he met the Angel of the Lord, and tried to wrestle out the blessing, that he obtained his full inheritance.

Importantly, he received his blessing only when his hip was dislocated. It was not until he was brought low, unable to stand, that he received his breakthrough and great inheritance.

They needed to have their pride and self-reliance broken before God could bring them to their place of higher calling.

Likewise, Peter always had an issue of pride. Here was a man who was strong in his flesh – never clearer than his declaration in Matthew 26:33 that “even if all these fall away on account of you, I never will“.

He was humbled that same night, when he thrice denied knowing Jesus.

But the resurrected Jesus went to Peter on the shore of the sea of Galilee, who, beaten down by his own guilt, had given up on discipleship to return to fishing. There He gave Peter the precious commission to feed His sheep.

In all of these examples, these men of God each had a glorious destiny awaiting them. But they needed to have their pride and self-reliance broken before God could bring them to their place of higher calling.

God loves you too much to let you rise to a position before you’re ready for it. He doesn’t want you to be crushed by the position, or made proud. Before the mountain, first the valley.

When you understand that walk, you understand the preciousness of that journey. Only then will you be ready to receive all He has for you.

And that’s why it’s so important to keep our eyes on Jesus, especially in the valley of training and disappointment.

If you think Jesus doesn’t love you, or that what you’re going through is an accident, it becomes easy to be discouraged and give up.

We must know that God doesn’t break our pride because He hates you. He in fact loves you, and He wants you to have your breakthrough.

From Colossians 1:27, we know that it is Christ in us, who Himself is the Hope of Glory. We don’t find greatness in our efforts, but in Him alone. Jesus is leading you to the abundant life, along paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.

Someday you’ll get there: The end of your journey, where you will lie down in green pastures, beside quiet waters, with a refreshed soul.


This post was originally seen on Tris Xavier’s blog. Tris is a full-time Christian who happens to be a civil servant.

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No agenda love: Carrying the heart of God

by Charis Tan | 12 September 2017, 6:53 PM

I must constantly make this clear to myself: The purpose of helping, serving, caring for or befriending anyone is to represent God’s heart to them.

It is to express to them how He feels toward them every single day that they go about their lives. It is for them to come into contact with His very nature. No strings attached, love with no agenda.

The idea of love without an agenda is really that love itself is the agenda. That love is the ultimate goal – not a stepping-stone to one. Love is sufficient as a source from which all other things in God’s Kingdom flow.

Jesus says in Matthew 22:40 that it is on the two great commandments – to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” and to “love your neighbour as yourself”, that “all the Law and the Prophets” hang. Basically, every single word from God spoken to humanity can – remarkably enough – be hinged on the directive to love.

So, it is not really about having no agenda; it is that there is no other agenda required besides love – pure, real, and unselfish. God’s love. Agape love.

How does that work? And how should we then go about loving others that way?

I attended one of the most culturally diverse colleges in the whole of the United States of America, Berklee College of Music. A third of Berklee’s students come from 99 other countries around the globe. Because of that, I got to experience interacting with people from a huge range of ethnic, socio-economic and religious backgrounds.

I witnessed firsthand how certain differences run so deep they can be reconciled only by the love of Jesus.

My last year of college saw a huge aggravation of political and racial rifts in America. Emotions ran high all over the city and my campus during the heated Presidential Elections. It was during that time period, through the surfacing of all kinds of ugly in humanity, that I started deeply considering what unity really was.

I was – and still continue to be – hopeful that the Church can blaze a trail there, after I witnessed firsthand how certain differences run so deep they can be reconciled only by the love of Jesus. No other view, cause or opinion can unite a body of people more wholly and unconditionally than a shared friendship with Jesus can. And I got to see that.

In my last semester, God told me one day to “fight for relationship.” I remember it so vividly. I realised I was friends with people of such polarising views (both religious and other) that in another life, we would have easily been enemies. But somehow, we weren’t. And that was so precious to me.

I think one definition of true unity could be the willingness to fight for real relationship amidst great difference. This applies both within the Church and outside it.

When Paul explained in Ephesians 6 that we do not war against “flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” and advised that we gird ourselves accordingly with the armour of God, he was directing us to a different vantage point on conflict and crisis, and what our response should be.

More than fighting for our values, our rights and our convictions, we need to fight hard for our relationships – particularly with those with whom we disagree. We need to fight for the love that exists in spite of, not because of – the love that transcends denomination and politics and socio-economic status and religion.

God is raising up a Jonathan generation: Behind every David is a Jonathan who loved him without an agenda.

I believe that the Enemy is out to divide, accuse, and ultimately destroy relationships that are God-ordained. And so they are the very things we must fight for.

When I came home to Singapore, I was awakened in the wee hours one morning and felt God strongly whispering this phrase: I am raising up a Jonathan generation. I was confused at first. A “Jonathan generation”?  Did I hear wrong? What could that mean? The next moment, I felt Him say, “Behind every David is a Jonathan who loved him without an agenda.”

I immediately got up and opened my Bible to re-read the famous story of David and Jonathan. I discovered, to my amazement, a few things I’d overlooked before.

  •  Jonathan cared solely and intensely about the honour of David instead of his own (1 Samuel 20:34)
  • Jonathan risked his own life out of pure and sincere affection for a friend (1 Samuel 19:1)
  • Jonathan willingly gave up all of his rightful inheritance as heir to the throne (1 Samuel 18:4)

In fact, the Jonathan-David bromance begins from the very moment David technically becomes a threat to the throne, right after he slays Goliath.

In that instant, I believe that Jonathan recognised the destiny God had laid on David’s life straightaway, the destiny to bring a nation into victory and its fullest potential. And despite being highly qualified and a totally legitimate successor, Jonathan gave up all of his rights in a moment in total support of the one God had chosen to lead.

David is lauded in the Bible as the man after God’s heart, but I actually believe Jonathan was too. It is a testament to his sheer selflessness that most of us remember him only as the best friend of David.

My belief is that while many of us want to be the so-called Davids – visible, glamorous, popular – God is looking just as much for those who are willing to be Jonathans. Those who would, out of genuine love, readily lay down dreams and successes they might very well be entitled to in the eyes of society, in order to see God’s will accomplished His way, through someone else.

I often know deep down that I fall so short in the area of loving others well, without condition or expectation. God has been putting the story of Zacchaeus on my heart recently (Luke 19:1-10).

Zacchaeus was a man who literally came up short – in both stature and character. Wanting to catch a glimpse of Jesus in person but unable to see above the crowd, the notorious tax collector ran ahead and climbed up a tree. Jesus noticed Zacchaeus right away and visited his house at the expense of His own reputation.

The desperation to see Jesus touches His heart profoundly, and He will gladly meet us where we are and teach us how to love.

It is this no agenda love that compels Zacchaeus to give half his possessions to the poor and repay those he had previously cheated four times the amount.

I felt like God was showing me that it moves Him so much that I want to see Him despite my shortcomings, despite all my failures and weaknesses and pride. I think about how many of those people in the bustling crowd also had trouble seeing Jesus that day but didn’t see a great enough need to run ahead and climb a tree.

The desperation to see Jesus touches His heart profoundly – and He will gladly meet us where we are and teach us how to love.

Sometimes I also think about Jesus seeing Zacchaeus way before he saw Him. Not in the crowd, but before the dawn of time and creation, in the heart of God. How, growing up, Zacchaeus would think of himself as small and inadequate and unworthy, but then one day, Jesus would come along – and then everything would make sense.


Charis was part of the team that organised Permission to Dream, which later inspired Carry the Love – both cross-campus prayer and worship tours for university students. Carry the Love is currently taking place every evening on 5 different college campuses this week – all are invited! For more details, please visit their Facebook page.

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The girl who would not walk in the dark

by Ashley Chan | 8 September 2017, 4:39 PM

In my teens, I often volunteered as a facilitator in student camps. By the time I was 19, I was helping out at my sixth camp, where we brought a bunch of students to Malaysia for a week’s retreat.

Our job was to help them bond through interactive activities, and ultimately to get them excited about school. Frankly, I didn’t know how that would be possible.

During this camp, I became close to one of the students who was initially extremely reserved and quiet. She wasn’t stuck-up. She was simply … silent. She wasn’t interested in the activities and usually sat in a corner alone. She never spoke to any of her classmates.

As a facilitator, I felt the pressure to help her gel better with her classmates. I took extra care to include her in all our conversations. I really looked out for her.

Before the planned “night walk” – a camp activity where students develop courage by walking through a set route, in the dark of night – she disappeared.

I was worried she’d run out of the camp; this was Malaysia. The roads were uneven and there were no street lamps.

I saw myself in this girl. I had been suicidal too, a few years before.

Using my iPhone flashlight, I went around the whole site looking for her. I finally found her hiding in the toilet. When I assured her that I was the only one there, she unlocked the door, and came clean about her fear of the dark.

“I can’t go into the dark … It’s too dark. I don’t want to go there,” she sobbed.

We managed to persuade her to come out and go for the walk, her classmates and facilitators holding her hands, encouraging her with every step. We had our phone flashlights and torchlights on throughout, so she was able to overcome her fear of the dark.

After the night walk, I asked to speak to her privately. She opened up, telling me she was depressed and overwhelmed with her personal life and school.

Slowly rolling up her sleeves, she showed me all her scars from self-mutilation.

She was trembling, and tears welled up in her eyes. That’s when I realised what she had been doing in the toilet: She had intended to harm herself again.

“Nobody understands. It’s better that I die. My teacher even said to the class that I’m being attention-seeking … How could she say that?”

I saw myself in this girl. I had been suicidal too, a few years before.

That’s when I realised what she had been doing in the toilet: She had intended to harm herself again.

I prayed desperately for God to guide me: “How can I show her Jesus in this situation? Jesus, where are you now?”

And He spoke, reminding me of how Thomas had to touch the scars on Jesus’ hands before he truly believed. She will not know of the resurrection until she sees it.

I revealed to her that I, too, had struggled with similar issues. I shared how I eventually overcame self-harm by holding on to the love of God.

I even took pills. I’m glad I’m alive, and I hope you’ll find the strength to live on, to live through your circumstances, because they are temporary, I told her.

She was shocked initially – but she broke into a shy smile and hugged me.

I knew what it was like to be young and broken. I’d grown up ridden with scars both emotional and physical.

Sin had ravaged and destroyed my self-esteem. My self-worth had been crushed through years of self-harm. I didn’t think anyone would have understood me. I attempted suicide so, so many times.

How is it possible that my pain can be used to comfort another? How can it be that my scars can lend strength to another? How could my brokenness reveal His glory? That night with the girl was a lesson for me.

It showed me that even a broken vessel like me – seemingly useless and worthless – may have the privilege of pouring out His overflowing glory in the most unexpected ways.

We need only to be willing.

Recently, I got a private message on Instagram. It was her again. I’d almost forgotten about the camp by now.

“I’ve been clean for a year, thank you so much,” she wrote. “You reminded me that the only way for light to shine through was through a crack. God bless you.”


September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. If you’re struggling and unhappy with life – please don’t give up. Call the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) hotline at 1800 221 4444.

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Depression, dyslexia and the hope I hold on to

by Nigel Teo | 4 September 2017, 11:40 AM

I was never the “normal” kid, even from young.

With ADHD and dyslexia, I never really fit in with the “crowd” and got bullied and ostracised often growing up. I’ve always longed for love, acceptance and a place to belong among the people around me, but never seemed to get that. I was often labeled as an “extra” among my peers, and the butt of many jokes.

Things took a turn for the worse when I entered secondary school. Entering a totally new environment without the friends I made in primary school, I felt even lonelier and more ostracised than ever.

Because of this transition and lack of social support, I fell into depression and had thoughts of committing suicide.

I started to question my existence and things involving my purpose in life. Though I was going to a church, I started to ask hard questions about whether God really existed and if he really is as loving as people portray Him to be.

One day, after school, I passed by a chapel as I headed back home. It had been a bad day for me, and I really didn’t know why all these bad things happened to me.

I walked in, all alone, and cried out to this “God” whom I’d been hearing so much about but did not understand.

“If you really are the loving God people say you are, why do you let me go through the things that have happened to me?”

And there I had my first experience with Him. An inner prompting came out of nowhere, and I felt God telling me that “before any of these bullies came to existence, I’d already made you, loved you and called you my own”.

“If you really are the loving God people say you are, why do you let me go through the things that have happened to me?”

Bewildered, I walked out of the chapel questioning if what I had gone through was all in my imagination. But now, on hindsight, that incident marked the beginning of my journey to knowing this God who calls me His own.

It was much later on in my life that I learnt that this “prompting” I had felt was actually from Psalms 139:13-14. Borrowing the words of David, this is what he says of God:

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

God had made us with a purpose and plan, regardless of what the world may tell you. You are not an accident.

I still struggled considerably with bouts of depression that came and went over the years. I doubted how the truth in Psalm 139 might apply to me, a misfit. Although this incident spurred my pursuit for a true, living God, it took many years and many different people God had sent to love and accept me for who I am, before I began to see healing and could change this ungodly belief of mine.

Even now, I still struggle. There are times where I cannot control what I think, nor can I control the anxiety or despair I feel. I’ve also grown to learn that depression and anxiety are not easy things to understand, and although I know what I should do (or not do), I cannot seem to do them.

When I choose to follow Jesus, it does not mean life will be easy from now, but it does mean I won’t walk alone anymore.

This despair, triggered by my depression, and the constant reminders of my flaws remind me of the imperfect world I was born in. I’ve grown to learn that when I try to solve things by my own strength – to pursue things I perceive to be anchors of peace, hope and happiness – all my efforts came to naught. Merely broken wells, as Jeremiah 2:3 states, which only bring brief relief at best.

There have been many sleepless nights where I’ve stayed awake, wondering if the morning would ever come – if I would ever wake up from the nightmare of my destructive thoughts.

But yes – morning will come. Every struggle points me to a life that is yet to come, a life that’s perfect and without sadness of pain. No matter what I do by my own strength, I cannot solve or change anything that I am going through. But in partnership with the Holy Spirit, I can change and be the person God has called me to be.

Grace is given to us through Christ, so that we may live in this moment and take the opportunity to experience the life God has promised to us.

We are given a new self and a new power through Christ. We are shown in 2 Corinthians 10:5 that we are not the sum of our thoughts, and we need to bring any thought that sets itself against Christ captive, bringing it to obedience in Christ.

But as we empty our minds, we cannot stop there. We need to fill our minds with what is noble and good (Philippians 4:8-9). And as we do that, we renew our minds to understand what is good, acceptable and pleasing to God (Romans 12:2).

Jesus’ act of love – death on the Cross – gives me a choice to truly live. I could choose to live my way, which results in death, or choose to follow Jesus. It does not mean life will be easy from now, but it does mean I won’t walk alone anymore.

Though I struggle I know there will come a time where I won’t have to. That is the hope I have in Him.


This is solely written based on the experience of the author. It is by no means a fixed, one-shape-fits-all solution if you find yourself struggling with depression, anxiety or any mental health issue. Your journey may look very different. But you do not need to walk alone. If you have any further questions about mental health, or would like a platform to talk about your struggles – we would like to be there for you. Please drop us an email at hello@thir.st.

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I’ll never be as _______ as her

by Eunice Sng | 31 August 2017, 4:19 PM

I was never happy with who I was. Even when I received a compliment, I wasn’t satisfied.

All it took was for someone to post a picture of themselves on Instagram, depicting their particularly rosy life. I’d feel a twinge of envy, which would eventually overflow into a landslide of self-doubt. I’ll never be as happy/pretty/smart as her, I’d think.

So I became determined to do whatever it took to be happy. But what would it take?

I always fell short of the expectations I placed on myself.

Get a million followers on social media? Show off a perfect body? Score a perfect GPA? Land an internship at an established firm? Yes, I thought, only then will I be content.

And I don’t think I was alone in believing that lie. Needless to say, I always fell short of the expectations I placed on myself.

I was really unhappy.

This changed one day on a bus in Spain, bound from Zaragoza to Madrid. The usual cloud of anxiety looming over my head was suddenly interrupted by a podcast playing on my headphones. Dr Ravi Zacharias quoted a phrase from an old but popular hymn; the words cut like a knife, slicing through the lies I’d been believing.

“I’d rather have Jesus than man’s applause.”

And then it hit me. I’d been doing everything with the motive of gaining approval from others – not the one whose approval truly matters. And deeply seeded in that twisted mindset was pride – wanting affirmation of my worth.

That gentle reminder to look to Jesus completely changed the way I viewed … everything.

I understood finally that we are all running different races. The finishing line is the same – we all end at the same place, before the judgment seat – but the race isn’t a competition with others.

Just be you.

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How to get comfortable in the waiting room

by Charis Tan | 31 August 2017, 7:17 AM

If you are currently trudging through a probably-quite-agonising period of waiting for something, here are a couple of thoughts I had recently that I hope will be of some help.

1. Waiting is about becoming ready for an indefinite moment. It’s about preparedness.

Today my sister Corrie said in passing, on some random topic, “I’m so prepared.”

I found myself absent-mindedly wondering aloud, “What does ‘-pare’ mean? That’s a word, right?”

“Yeah,” she replied, making the relevant action, “like, you know, to pare an apple?”

I went to check the dictionary, and to pare something means to trim off an excess. You do it in advance (that’s the pre-) so that when the moment you’re waiting for finally arrives – whenever that may be – you want to have already shed your “excess” so you can really run with it.

As people who don’t know very much, it helps a whole lot to know someone to whom nothing is unknown.

2. Waiting is trusting God’s timing (presupposing that you want to live according to His timeline).

I told a friend recently, “There are actually no real unknowns in life, just things that we don’t know.”

“That’s a thought,” she said.

“It’s truth,” I replied.

“It’s a true thought,” she conceded.

As people who don’t know very much, it helps a whole lot to know someone to whom nothing is unknown. I feel like life is all about timing, and that waiting should be less about stumbling around in a fog, and instead more about getting comfortable with living according to rhythms much larger than ourselves.

My gardener Dad always talks about the power of seeds, so that’s really rubbed off on me. It’s erroneous to call something dead simply because it is still. A seed has more life scripted into its DNA than any of us could dare to hazard an estimate about.

So I think we have to re-adopt our posture towards waiting.

Waiting is a gargantuan opportunity to be attentive and sensitive to the incremental growth hidden deep below the surface of visible events. If you don’t know God it’s a chance to know Him, and if you do know Him it’s a chance to get further acquainted with the way He likes to work together with you.

As a Christian, I’ve found that the Holy Spirit is like a secret agent you gradually get the hang of working with. Sometimes when we’re waiting he’s clearing the path ahead, or sometimes he’s just round the corner covering your back.

Or sometimes he’s just cherishing the final moments he gets to hang with you – before you get busy all over again.

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In Singapore, we must choose life

by Serene Ho | 29 August 2017, 4:57 PM

“Father, can You take this burden away from me?”

With my hands clasped tightly and my head bowed down, tears fell in fat drops onto my hand while my mind struggled to understand what was happening to my body. I was trembling at the Burning Hearts prayer room as Jennifer Heng asked us to stand in repentance for our lawmakers and leaders for passing the Abortion Bill in 1969.

“Abortion stands for death. Every successful abortion is only successful because there is death.”

Jennifer’s words rang in my head.

“Abortion stands for death. Every successful abortion is only successful because there is death. It is absolute death versus absolute life.”

When I learnt that Burning Hearts has committed every first Wednesday of the month to praying for the culture of life – as opposed to death even before birth – to be established in Singapore, I was ecstatic.

This monthly meeting feels like an answer to the cry of my heart.

“When is abortion justifiable? If our premise is circumstantial, there is no end to the debate. As Christians, our premise is God’s truth. That will not change,” Jennifer continued.

The truth is, an innocent life is lost with each abortion.

Why is building a culture of life the burden of some Christians but not of the Church? Is God not interested in life and death issues? Didn’t He ask the Israelites to choose life, that both they and their descendants may live, to love, obey and cling to Him, for He is their life and the length of their days? (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

In her work with women who had abortion, Jennifer shared, not one said that their life had become better after abortion. They did not feel empowered, as pro-choice literature would want us to believe. On the contrary, they felt that they had no choice but to abort.

Ours is a Life-giving God. We need to repent of our apathy towards women who are suffering in silence. We need to repent that as a Church, we shirk that responsibility of loving the most vulnerable members of our society: The unborn.

At 5 weeks, your circulatory system is beginning to form and your tiny heart will start to beat.

At 6 weeks, your nose, mouth and ears are starting to take shape, and the intestines and brain are beginning to develop.

At 7 weeks, you have tiny hands and feet.

By 11 weeks, you are almost fully formed. You are kicking, stretching, and even hiccupping as your diaphragm develops.

But somehow, in Singapore, you can still be legally killed up to the point you are 24 weeks in the womb, because we are one of the countries in the world with the most liberal abortion laws.

Since 1970, when the Abortion Bill was passed, how many hundreds – thousands – of babies were sacrificed because of fear, helplessness and benefits? At its peak, in 1986, a total of 23,035 babies – 37.51% of pregnancies in the country – were aborted. More than a third of babies in the womb didn’t get a chance to fight to see the light of life that year.

Is my education, career, reputation or convenience more important than this child in my womb, such that I can sacrifice him to remain status quo?

There is a deafening silence with regard to abortion, not only in Church but also among the ministers. We don’t know how to deal with it.

What happens when a pregnant teenager comes to the Church, seeking help? Will we rain down judgment and let her go away in shame? Or will we embrace her, support her in her difficult circumstances before we say, “Go and sin no more”? (John 8:11)

Someone once asked me, “What is the greatest gift of God in your life?”

For me, it’s this second chance I’m getting at life. I nearly died – that’s another story for another day – but now live in and for Christ.

Maybe that explains why my heart aches at the thought that people might intentionally take their own lives, or the lives of others.

There is a deafening silence in the Church with regard to abortion. We don’t know how to deal with it.

At the prayer room, some of us went up to be prayed over by the youths who were at the prayer room. As a young lady prayed for me, my heart wanted to cry out: “I should be praying that you take over from here.”

My prayer is that more youths will take up the baton in the fight for life. Those of us who say we embrace the commission to spread the gift of eternal life should be passionate about contending for life itself.

 

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Living in the tension

by Jonathan Cho | 29 August 2017, 9:22 AM

Tension. Some of us face it almost every day. Maybe at work. Maybe in our relationships. Or maybe, for you it’s a deep internal struggle.

I face this tension when I find myself pulled in different directions, by communities which each demand something from me – family, work, church, ministry, friends/social groups.

How can I be fully present in each one, and be fully me in each place?

For those of us in the marketplace, the greatest tension we experience is found in the supposed dichotomy between the secular and sacred. What do I do when my work environment requires me to be a different person from who I actually am in church?

Perhaps we are meant to live in the tension and create beauty from it.

Those of us in the creative realm experience a sense of excitement as we consider the gifts we have been given, and how we can contribute to and shape the narrative of the world around us through our creative works. But this quickly translates into an equally compelling sense of feeling lost as our circumstances threaten to put this excitement down.

It can be overwhelming, paralysing, frustrating.

In this confusion, we know in our heart of hearts that we are called to live on a different paradigm from what we often experience day to day. As Jon Foreman writes, “I want to thrive, not just survive”.

How do we live in this tension? How can we learn to thrive?

Like most musicians, I take to an instrument to find some answers to these questions. And so, I pick up the guitar – only this time, the answer is found not in the music, but the instrument itself.

The guitar, as with most string instruments, functions because of tension – it creates beauty out of the tension.

The design of the guitar carries the tension of the strings in a precise placement and tuning to produce music. The strings are wound tightly, and anyone who has been hit by a snapping steel string would tell you that it is indeed very “high-strung”.

Yet you don’t see guitarists shy away from holding the instrument – they’ve mastered the art of proper tuning and playing the instrument to create beauty out of this tension.

The guitar, as with most string instruments, functions because of tension – it creates beauty out of the tension.

We often shy away from the tension in our own lives, desperately praying that it will be resolved and dissipate in time. But this could take days, week, even years – or sometimes, not at all.

Perhaps it’s not meant to. Perhaps we are meant to live in the tension and create beauty from it.

If so, then our focus must shift away from trying to get rid of the tension in our lives to managing it well – or even taking possession of it and mastering it, tuning our hearts so that we are in harmony with the plans laid out for us in life.

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How do you know when to quit?

by Claudia Wong | 27 August 2017, 11:55 PM

Today’s millennials have been labelled “The Strawberry Generation” – one that cannot withstand excessive pressure or hard work and, like strawberries, “bruise” easily.

Compared to the generation before, the current generation tends to change jobs more frequently, with some even quitting their jobs without finding a new one first.

Millennials say that multiple job offers and the opportunity to move represent high career mobility and is the way to pursue career development today. So is this generation as flippant as they’re made out to be, or one that is simply able to make more frequent informed decisions for better outcomes?

On the other hand, quitting is often seen as a weakness of character, especially so in the church context. Leaders who decide to leave their flock, members who change cell groups – or worse, church – are directly or indirectly criticised for not being committed.

Quitters don’t win and winners don’t quit – right?

In the Bible, faithfulness and perseverance are qualities that are highly regarded: Ruth choosing to rough it out with Naomi, Joshua and Caleb the minority who wanted to press on and conquer the Promised Land …

So, apart from areas of sin where we know we must let go and die to our carnal selves, for key decisions such as a career change, relinquishing of church ministry, or ending a romantic relationship, how do we know when is the right time to stop pushing on and move on instead?

Here are three guiding scenarios where calling it quits may just be the right thing to do.

3 GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR QUITTING

 1. When you are influenced more than you can influence

This can happen when your environment is extremely toxic – such as an excessive drinking culture or a spirit of hyper-competitiveness in the workplace, leading you to constantly compromise on your values and morals to “fit in” and please your boss.

If you are unable to find like-minded Christian colleagues who can support you in this journey, are in a very junior position and unable to influence office practices, with every working day a constant battle – it may be time to find another job.

“Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals.” (1 Corinthians 15:33)

We are called to be the salt of the earth and light of the world. But if the salt loses its saltiness by resembling its surroundings rather than reviving them, it is no longer good for anything.

2. When you have lost a sense of purpose and joy

Ministry isn’t always easy and smooth sailing.  A lot of time and effort is involved in sowing into the lives of others, only to be met with familiar disappointment at the end of the day.

While such setbacks may sometimes cause us to lose the joy of serving, if you still have the firm belief that there is a greater purpose, persevere on! Celebrate and give thanks for every mini-milestone, and you will find joy in serving itself, regardless of the results.

Jesus’ ministry on earth wasn’t the most joyful, but he did have a sense of purpose. He knew what he was called to do, and what He would face on the cross. He prayed, “Father if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

However, if you have lost both the joy and purpose of ministry, go back to God and ask him to show you what talents He’s given you to invest. It might be better to stop and recalibrate, than to push on completely burnt out.

3. When God is calling you elsewhere

Moses took a 40-year time-out – albeit not by choice – to work as a shepherd for Jethro in Midian (Exodus 2:11-25). Only at the age of 80 was he called back to Egypt to lead his enslaved people, the Hebrews, out to God’s Promised Land (Exodus 3).

Sometimes we are afraid to leave our comfort zones for an uncertain new role, or we hold on to our current situation too tightly even though we know deep down we need to let it go. This “elsewhere” that God calls you to could be a new job, a new ministry, a season of rest, or to the desert of Midian – time in the wilderness.

We often have the expectation that when God calls us to a new place, it will always be greener pastures. This is not necessarily true. God is always one step ahead of us, preparing us for the next season of our lives – and tough training just might be in store to help us last the distance. Trust Him and go where He leads.

The above three scenarios are just guidelines and may not apply to your situation. If you are thinking of calling it quits, set aside some time to intentionally seek God on your decision. This could be done through a season of prayer and fasting, as well as seeking godly counsel.

After all, our God is a covenant-keeping God, and we can rest on His promises that He will never quit on us (Deuteronomy 7:9).

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I’m a Singaporean who studied in Charlottesville – and I cannot stay silent

by Ling Shuang Ning | 21 August 2017, 9:48 AM

I’m an alumnus of the University of Virginia (UVA), located in the impossibly beautiful town of Charlottesville.

On Friday, August 11, white supremacists marched onto our Lawn, protesting in frightening numbers against the city’s plan to tear down Confederate monuments, which include statues of Confederate leaders from the American Civil War – leaders who fought for the enslaving of and suppression of rights for African-Americans.

The clashes between the white supremacists and counter-protestors, which included UVA students, led to three deaths. Based on my Facebook feed, America is reeling. America can’t stop talking.

When it comes to speaking, I’m a minimalist. Everything is about precision – the right words in the right order at the right time. If I have a choice as to whether to “add to the conversation” or not, I’d rather not.

But everyone’s talking – so here, I chose to talk too, so that we can understand.

There are words in this discourse that could be foreign to my fellow Singaporeans, words like “supremacist” and “Confederate”. I can hear the voices of some church aunties and uncles I know: “Aiyah, America, that crazy place.” And that is where the assessment usually ends.

But if I were to summarise what is going on, what is precisely so blood-chilling, it is that such racism is alive, well, endorsed, and preached as a right.

While the voices of condemnation ring loudly, there is palpable horror that the inequalities an entire war was fought over have not been destroyed.

Clay Cooke of New City Commons, commenting on the protest, wrote: “The evil on display … attacked something that stands at the very core of the Christian faith: An unbending commitment to the fundamental and irreducible dignity of each and every human person, regardless of race or ethnicity, creed or station, skill or ability.

“At the heart of the Christian imagination is that the human person – each human person – is the dignified crown of creation.”

Maybe some of us cannot imagine being like Jesus, who understood the importance of confrontation better than anyone else, even to the point of death.

Perhaps this seems obvious to us, not just in church, but in Singapore, where we’ve been weaned since young on the dangers of racial riots and saying anything that could be remotely racially sensitive.

And yet, as a teacher, I see how my students, after “enforced” Racial Harmony celebrations every year of their schooling life, start to lose sight of exactly what they are celebrating. I hear the unasked (and sometimes asked) question in the voices of loved ones. “She married an Indian.” Why she marry him ah?

We should insist on celebrating this harmony – not because we have fully attained it, but because, in whatever state we have it now, it is precious.

A recent StarHub commercial chose to intersperse African-American civil rights activist Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech with scenes of Singaporeans of different races and religions side by side, going about their everyday lives.

The very fact that these scenes are of such normalcy to us is in itself powerfully touching. It might seem vainglorious for us to imagine that we in any way at present the ideal that Dr King fought and dreamed for – but the truth is how shockingly these scenes contrast with the turmoil in Charlottesville, from just one week ago.

We should move beyond mere celebration, towards action.

There is a place we need to tread, between being afraid to talk about race, and the violent eruption of racist sentiments. We Singaporeans aren’t very good at this. Many see conversation as confrontation, and God forbid that we raise our voices and disrespect our elders.

Maybe some of us cannot imagine being like our saviour Jesus, who understood the importance of confrontation better than anyone else, even to the point of death (Philippians 2:8).

But we forget the likes of Ananias, whose act of faith was to pray for a supremacist who would have killed him for what he believed.

In Acts 9:13, we see how Ananias was afraid: “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, and how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem.” The man he blessed – the apostle we know as Paul – repented and was forever changed.

God doesn’t call us to be safe. He calls us to cross boundaries, in order to transform.

We cannot put Charlottesville into the box of crazy, a kind of crazy that can never happen here. And as little as I like to talk, I cannot put my voice away, when God calls me to speak the truth.

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God is at work

by Abigail Dawes | 17 August 2017, 11:35 AM

Go to work. Get frustrated. Feel like quitting. Receive monthly salary. Don’t quit. Repeat.

As a young professional barely out of university, my existence seemed to be quickly confined to this endless loop.

What had happened to all the dreams I dreamt in university as I sat in lectures? Where was the impact I was supposed to make on the world through my job, the like-minded colleagues I was supposed to have, the patient boss who would mentor me?

The reality I was living out seemed to be the polar opposite of everything I had hoped for.

I had a dream job in mind – but I failed miserably at the interview, so I ended up instead at a firm that my idealistic college self would never have considered applying for. Beggars can’t be choosers, right?

I was relieved to be offered a permanent position, but the condition was that I’d have to accept work in an area of law that I truly despised. As the job market for lawyers was so bad, I stayed.

The reality I was living out seemed to be the polar opposite of everything I had hoped for.

It was not long before I turned these frustrations on God. Why had He placed desires for greater things in my heart? Why was the road to becoming a Joseph, Daniel or Esther – purposeful overcomers in their secular realms – smoother and faster for others?

Was I not as special to Him as His other children?

I concluded that God was not interested in my career. He cared about whether I turned up for prayer meetings, cell group and served in the worship team faithfully, but when it came to my workplace, I was on my own.

This conclusion on God’s intentions for my life meant that a line in the sand had been drawn between my spiritual life and work. God’s power was available for one but not the other.

One Sunday, I heard my pastor recount a season in his working life, before he became a full-time minister.

As a young employee, he did not have any influence over policies or directives, and was surrounded by senior officers who operated with a very different set of values from his.

They did things that were not ethical and also persecuted him for standing his ground. But as my pastor began to pray and intercede for his workplace, doing his best at his job as well as church ministry, he began to see changes.

He found favour with his bosses, saw “toxic” colleagues transferred to other departments and started to receive God’s direction for his day-to-day work, which gave him an edge over his peers.

It struck a chord in my heart. I wanted the same for my life – I needed God in my here and now. The God of the desert and the valley, the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night.

The Heavenly Father who gets right in there with you, in the muck and dreariness of life, and in His still small voice whispers hope for each new day and faith for the final prize of life (1 Corinthians 9:24).

From that day, my perspective shifted and my heart opened again.

The Heavenly Father gets right in there with you, in the muck and dreariness of life, and in His still small voice whispers hope for each new day.

I started praying for my bosses and my colleagues. I would get to work early to pray over my office space – declaring that the whole place belonged to God. I would sing over myself the call of God and His desires for my life. I found strength to serve the boss that my colleagues despised.

Was it a struggle? Sure. But I found myself able to do something that I could not even have imagined doing before.

Every piece of work that came my way, whether or not it was my cup of tea, I would undertake with the revelation that I was serving the unseen God behind my boss.

I accepted each piece of work, every interaction with a difficult colleague or superior, as a stepping stone to my destiny.

In the struggle to find meaning in my workplace, I learnt that we don’t always have to be Prime Minister Joseph to have influence (Genesis 41:37-41) – we can be Prisoner Joseph too (Genesis 39:20-23).

The Lord needs change agents in every echelon of the corporate ladder.

You don’t have to do anything super Christian to shift the atmosphere of your workplace. It’s as simple as living out our faith as Jesus taught us to, such as loving those who are difficult and unloveable (Matthew 5:43-48) or lending a hand for a project that will never be credited to you (Matthew 6:1-4).

We can be change agents of the spiritual and physical climate of our workplace. Our colleagues may never expressly say it but they most surely will feel it.

We should also be prepared for opposition wherever we’re placed – but we should only move when the Lord tells us to. Every job change should be a Spirit-led decision, not a frustration-led one.

We can’t delude ourselves into thinking that God only leads us to beds of roses. Remember Joseph’s prison cell, or Daniel’s den of lions.

Why? It’s not about the circumstances we find ourselves in. God is more interested in shaping our character. We can be used only to the extent that we have been moulded – and the marketplace is one of the best places for this to happen.

When David was anointed as the next king of Israel at the age of 16, what ensued was not a straight and easy path up the “corporate ladder”.

David had to work under and submit to an insecure King Saul, have his kindness repaid with ungratefulness, deal with “office politics”, and prove his worth in leading military missions – for us, it could be unwanted assignments our boss sends our way.

It was only 14 years later that David became King. Before he set foot in the palace of the kings, he had to be moulded in the valley of death.

The path to greatness requires endurance, perseverence, knowing the ways God can work at every step of the process.

Eventually, the work that I had once thought would get me nowhere led me to taking up a position I never dreamed would open up for me – in a government Ministry, practising the type of law that I had dreamt about in those lectures.

Am I the boss now? No. Have I been tapped as the next big thing in law? No. Am I drawing a six-figure salary? No.

But I feel and believe that I have unlocked so much more than just that. More than mere title, prestige or money.

What is the more that you’re searching for?

I am part of the committee of The Vanguard Movement Conference, a half-day conference for young adults who want to know the plan God has for them in their career.

We are just like you. We don’t profess to have it all together, but we are on the same journey, the same struggles, the same crises of identity – but most importantly, we are all sons and daughters of God.

We desire to see God move in even mightier ways in the workplace than what we have already seen.

The Vanguard Movement aims to equip every believer – to bring God into their place of assignment and sphere of influence.

To help you know God’s heart for your future, career and ministry, and shift your perspective on how to be a follower of Christ in the marketplace.

To help you move from survival mode to becoming a movement leader.

From surviving to thriving.


To sign up for The Vanguard Movement or to find out more, please visit their event details page.

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How I quit smoking after 9 years

by Hadassah Lau | 16 August 2017, 9:44 AM

I still remember my first cigarette.

My bi-sexual ex-convict then-boyfriend had broken up with me because I was a virgin and did not want to sleep with him.

I was heartbroken and devastated. I was in a club with my schoolmates who all smoked, and I said, can I have a cigarette please? I was crying, and it made me feel instantly better. I felt calmer as I took my first, deep breath of what would turn out to be 9 years of addiction.

Addiction is real. I had a stick when I woke up, on my way to work (while driving, hand on the car door window, expertly allowing the wind to blow the ash out of the car). Every other hour I had to have a cigarette or I got edgey.

Years on, I was anything but the “good” Christian Pastor’s daughter that I was “supposed” to be.

I had walked away from church out of shame. I had premarital sex, I smoked, I clubbed, I drank (a lot), I used the F-word plenty, I hated people and gossiped.

I was everything a good Christian should not have been. It was too hard to be a Christian. I couldn’t go to church because I couldn’t be rid of all my addictions – and I couldn’t face God with all my shame.

You see, even though I grew up in a church and my dad was a pastor, I did not know God. You can grow up in a Christian family, go to church every week, read the Bible everyday, yet not have a relationship with God.

But eventually, somehow, I stepped back into church, where I received fellowship and no condemnation.

I also began to join the Tuesday Group, a small gathering of real and raw people that love and want to know God. On one of my first visits, I saw someone go out to have a cigarette after worship.

I was stunned: How could she not be embarrassed? Why wasn’t she trying to hide her sin? Did anyone know she was smoking out there on the steps?

It was then that I realised that it was okay to not have everything together while seeking God. “God still loves you”, she said.

I remember laughing so hard too when my pastor, Joseph Prince, joked about it too. “Pastor, can a smoker still go to heaven?” He replied: “CAN – just faster!”

I was set free from my shame. I knew that smoking was not good for me, but knowing that God loved and accepted me anyway freed me to enter into His presence.

It was about maybe a year into my journey of learning about God’s grace and love for me, and just hungering for the things of God and knowing him, that I had decided I really wanted to quit. At this time, I was even reading the Bible and praying … as I smoked.

I knew myself: I had zero will power. In my attempts to quit, I would throw my cigarettes away the night before, only to drive out the first thing in the morning to buy some because I just could not start my morning without one.

I told God that He would have to help me quit – I couldn’t do it without Him.

I told God that I did not want to smoke anymore, but that I could not do it on my own.

I was headed to a Planet Shakers Conference in Australia with a group of friends from the Tuesday Group; I decided that would be the deadline. I would stop smoking then.

I told everyone in my church group I would quit by then. I told God that He would have to help me – I couldn’t do it without Him.

I still remember the day itself, before I boarded my plane, when I nervously smoked my last few cigarettes. I was so afraid. What if I could not quit? What if the urge is so strong – like it always is – that I cave in and buy some in Australia?

I threw my last packet away before we got onto the plane. And God was faithful.

When I stepped out of the plane, something had lifted. I no longer had the urge or the edge. The addiction had left me; I was totally fine not smoking.

I knew that I knew that I knew: It was a miracle. God had delivered me.

Some weeks after the trip, I was out drinking one night – I was still not free from all my other addictions, but God has slowly delivered me from them one by one – when I was offered a cigarette. In my “highness”, I went through half a stick.

I remember the sorrow, the remorse, the condemnation, and the guilt that I battled the next day. But even so, when I met with my group of Christian friends, they reminded me that there was no condemnation in the struggle.

Know that your sins and struggles don’t surprise Jesus at all – He saw them all on the Cross. And He died to set you free from them.

I knew shame was part of the plan to keep me from God.

From that day till now – I’ve been completely clean from cigarettes. I am free!

If you have any addictions in your life, and if you know Jesus, you need to know that those sins and struggles don’t surprise Him at all – He saw them all on the Cross.

He died so that you can be free from that shame and condemnation that chains you to all your addictions. This supernatural freedom – it glorifies the Father.

He loves you and He wants to set you free. He came that you may have life, and life abundantly.

So if you’re reading this and have been through any of the struggles I have, I pray that right now, wherever you are, God will touch you and encounter you, and fill you with His loving kindness. I pray that you will have a hunger to know Him, the one who loves you and created you, whose son died on the Cross for you.

I pray that you will know His abundant grace, that so much more abounds in your sin (Romans 5:20-21).


This article was adapted from Hadassah Lau’s blog. Hadassah is the co-founder of homegrown jewellery brand Hadasity.

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How to waste your life

by Danny Chua | 15 August 2017, 11:57 AM

“I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.” (C S Lewis, The Screwtape Letters)

I think I spend most of my days wasting my life away with nothingness – hamster-wheeling, basically.

I think about it as I reflect on pastor-writer-preacher John Piper’s generation-defining book, Don’t Waste Your Life.

The origins of the book can be traced to a message he gave at the Passion Conference in the year 2000, where Piper exhorted a generation of young bloods who had just entered an uncertain millennia by emphatically describing what a wasted life looks like for a Christian.

“Bob and Penny took early retirement from their jobs in the North-east five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30-foot trawler, play softball, and collect shells.

“That’s a tragedy,” he told the crowd.

“You stand before the Creator of the universe to give an account with what you did. ‘Here it is, Lord — my shell collection. And I’ve got a good swing. And look at my boat. Look at my boat, God.

Piper is crystal-clear: Only what’s done for Jesus lasts in eternity.

“Don’t waste your life.”

I told a friend earlier this year that Don’t Waste Your Life – you can download it for free here – had a huge influence on me when I first read it at 18 years old, on the verge of young adulthood and NS, among other critical transitional life stages. It generated in me a deep Spirit-driven conviction to live for Jesus – somehow, and maybe someday with greater clarity.

That was in 2010. I’ve come to see recently that a wasted life might look a bit different for today’s youths and young adults.

An article by The Atlantic has recently been making its social media rounds: Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation. In it, the author details the seeming fatal symptoms thus far exhibited by a generation the he calls the “iGen”.

The author describes iGen as those born between 1995 and 2012, who grew up with smartphones, had an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the Internet. The Millennials grew up with the Web as well, but it wasn’t ever-present in their lives, at hand at all times, day and night.

iGen’s oldest members were early adolescents when the iPhone was introduced, in 2007, and high-school students when the iPad entered the scene, in 2010.

According to the author’s research, today’s teenagers are less likely to date, seek independence from their parents, or head outdoors, among other activities seemingly normal for past-generations. Essentially, their smartphone activity and obsession/addiction has comprehensively moulded every other sphere of their young lives – but they aren’t quite equipped with the maturity and perception to identify this.

I’m convinced that my smartphone usage has significantly influenced my emotional, relational, social, theological and spiritual life in every single dimension.

This phenomenon struck a chord with me because of what I read in another recent book – 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, by Tony Reinke, who also writes for the Desiring God website.

(To be honest, I spent a bit over a month reading the book although it’s a pretty short one, because I kept getting distracted by my smartphone. The irony.)

While Reinke is “one of us” in being part of the Facebook, Twitter and the Internet age, he provides an incisive analysis of the smartphone phenomenon and how it’s revolutionised the world – and how it could cripple the future generations of humanity.

This read has encouraged me to review my own phone habits. Doing so has convinced me that my smartphone usage has significantly influenced my emotional, relational, social, theological and spiritual life in every single dimension.

Apart from the two years wasted playing a certain Marvel smartphone game (I’ve stopped!), there’s the endless allure of mindless Twitter, the meaningless scrolling through Facebook feeds, staying connected on WhatsApp chat groups even when in the presence of actual real human beings, the perennial crouching traps of sexual temptations on the internet, and much more.

But really, the biggest impact my smartphone has had on my life is this: It’s numbed me to futility.

It’s numbed me to my daily finding false meaning in nothingness and foolishly seeking illusory fulfillment in mindless Internet shenanigans. Oh, if you could walk a day in the life of my Twitter feed.

This is how much time I’ve spent on various phone applications in the past 7 days:

I’ve spent a little more than half a day (14 hours) out of the past week on my phone either reading or watching videos on Safari, and chatting on WhatsApp! Yes, my Bible app is ranked in the top 10 but only because it spent 20 minutes running unseen in the background.

I will admit with all frankness that my smartphone habits have often fractured my prayer life, or taken my heart and ears away from a conversation or friend. I’ve chosen to focus in an NBA Finals game over an ongoing sermon taking place right in front of me.

But how did I succumb to such habits? How did the central and important things in my life become sidelined, merely optional?

I think these habits were simply groomed over time by smaller choices and smaller habits being cultivated on a daily basis. I had become used to making retrospectively dumb decisions and ignored pertinent matters/persons right in front of me because I had allowed myself to get sucked into a vicious vortex of mindlessness every single day.

And as I became more acclimatised to empty nothingness and brainless scrolling on a consistent basis, the importance of the Gospel reality in my life gradually decreased over time.

Cognitively, I grew more wired to sweep aside pressing issues that required my focus in exchange for whatever greatness I was achieving on my phone. My muscle memory had now reoriented itself to dedicate my mind and heart to my phone. Nothingness: It’s a powerful master.

In his book, Reinke talks about the “nothingness” that flows endlessly out of undisciplined and unfettered smartphone usage:

“What I am coming to understand is that this impulse to pull the lever of a random slot machine of viral content is the age-old tactic of Satan. C S Lewis called it the ‘Nothing’ strategy in his Screwtape Letters.

“It is the strategy that eventually leaves a man at the end of his life looking back in lament: ‘I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.’

“This ‘Nothing’ strategy is very strong: Strong enough to steal away a man’s best years, not in sweet sins, but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them.

“Routines of nothingness. Habits unnecessary to our calling. A hamster wheel of what will never satisfy our souls.

“Lewis’ warning about the ‘dreary flickering’ in front of our eyes is a loud prophetic alarm to the digital age. We are always busy, but always distracted – diabolically lured away from what is truly essential and truly gratifying. Led by our unchecked digital appetites, we manage to transgress both commands that promise to bring focus to our lives.

“We fail to enjoy God. We fail to love our neighbour.”

Echoes of Piper with the same warning reverberating here: That’s a tragedy.

Don’t give in to nothingness. Persist with self-examination of how your phone is shaping you, affecting your relationship with Christ, and dictating the way you live in light of eternity. Or, as they say these days: Stay woke.

How are you wasting your life today?


This article was adapted from Danny Chua’s original blogpost

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Time to shine

by Bianca Tham | 14 August 2017, 4:52 PM

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.” (Philippians 2:14-15)

For the longest time, I found it very hard to see myself as a star in the sky. I knew it in theory, but I couldn’t believe that I could really be a shining light.

My friends and I began an annual Bible reading plan this year, and we recently reached Matthew 1, the genealogy of Jesus Christ. In the long list of Jesus’ forefathers, many of us could only remember the key patriarchs: Abraham; Isaac; David.

I realised that the men and women in between whom we often forget, God remembered. He honoured them by recording the names of those who fulfilled His purposes.

Many of these people were broken and sinful people: Rahab was a prostitute; David was an adulterer and murderer … but even they could be used by God. They still became stars.

Like constellations in the night sky, some of us are called to play a role in the foreground – big stars. Some of us are called to play a role in the background – smaller stars. Even so, every star is as important as the other, and every star is called to shine.

We each have very different dreams and passions, and we all have our individual callings. But they all should collide in the house of God; all of us play a part in the bigger picture, in building God’s Kingdom on earth.

When I was young, I used to think that stars only exist at night – after all, I could only see them at night. The truth, as I have since learnt, is that they are always in the sky. They shine just as bright in the day as they do at night – but only in darkness do we appreciate them.

It deeply comforted me to know that my God is truly with me wherever I go, even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

That’s our calling. That’s what we are supposed to do: Shine light into the darkness.

To do so, we need to first appreciate the original source of light. That would be Jesus, according to Ephesians 5:8-9: “For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.”

We were one full with darkness.

I experienced the darkest period of my Christian journey last year: I found myself in a pit of depression, not seeing a way out at all. At one point of time, I felt and believed that the darkness had consumed me.

But God spoke to me through Exodus 20:21. “So the people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.”

I realised that God is still there in the darknessAnd that deeply comforted me — knowing that my God is truly with me wherever I go, even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Will I, like Moses, draw near to Him regardless of the situation?

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14 & 16)

We are already standing on higher ground — on the hill that is our Lord. He is our firm foundation, and when we plant ourselves in God, we will light up the world.

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Why I left Instagram

by | 10 August 2017, 1:52 PM

My Christian brethren might give me some side-eye at this confession, but I’ve never fasted.

In my church, fasting season every year stretches from July 1 to August 9. That’s 40 days leading up to National Day – 40 days, because that’s the number of days Jesus fasted for spiritual preparation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:2).

I just never wanted to do it.

After more than 20 years in church, I probably know all the best reasons for fasting, and yes, of course I agree that it’s a great spiritual discipline. But for me, it was such a hassle to skip socialising at mealtime, risk a gastric attack or just stop work to pray.

So I honoured the fasting season as much as I could without forgoing meals, such as going without meat or solid foods. I recall trying a computer fast – but only because I had to study for exams anyway.

In recent years, I focussed on the “praying” side of things, spending my morning commute in silence, reading and praying along to the 40-Day Fast & Prayer Booklet. That extra time spent in prayer did wonders for my spiritual focus and hearing God’s words in season for me.

I just thought that was good enough.

But this year, a specific challenge came to my attention from different sources: Fast from Instagram. Over and over, in the middle of various conversations, people would look at me knowingly and suggest it.

My life was all about the ‘gram. All 5,818 posts since 2010. It was my journal, my message board, my pulpit.

My newsfeed was my community. The people who shared life in short bursts and pretty pictures from their daily adventures, heartfelt ramblings and little inspirations. We were each others’ entertainment channels and motivational speakers. We were family.

Only best friends tell each other everything, right?

At the height of my frustration to restart and move on from the past, I deleted the Instagram app with trembling fingers and replaced it with the BibleGateway one.

But like an episode on Black Mirror, the dystopic hyper-reality TV series, the Instastory of my life became an idealised documentation of what I wanted to believe my life looked like.

With a vulnerable but well-angled caption, bad days could become good days. With the right amount of VSCO editing, good days could become great days. If we followed each other and liked each other’s photos, we were friends – even if we never actually spoke in person. And imagine if we left comments

After a while, as real life took a detour into the valley, I found the two worlds stretching further and further apart, like mozzarella on a pizza. I wanted to be #real about how I was feeling so that others wouldn’t feel alone in their own suffering or think I lived a perfect, pain-free life, but on an open platform like Instagram, you aren’t actually expressing as much as you’re composing.

Nothing is really that raw.

After hearing how #triggered I was getting over the constant comparison, ensuing FOMO and my unspeakable, offline struggles, my real-life best friends had had enough. “Get off Instagram for this year’s 40-Day Fast & Pray,” they told me. And when I protested, asking how I was going to document an important wedding and upcoming trip to Hong Kong: “You can always post when you get back on it.”

So after much resistance, but also at the height of my frustration to restart and move on from the past, I deleted the app with trembling fingers and replaced it with BibleGateway on July 9.

I was late to the fasting party – not quite 40 days – but this was the challenge: One month of no Instagramming, from July 9 to August 9. Game on.

So that’s where we are now, the day after National Day. It’s been 31 days since I left Instagram, and the thought of downloading and reopening the app is strangely as daunting as it was to delete it. Because in my deliberate departure, I learnt 3 big lessons that will stay with me longer than any social media footprint would.

3 LESSONS FROM MY INSTAGRAM FAST

1. SOLITUDE IS SCARY
… when you’ve forgotten how to be alone

The first night I went without Instagram, I had a meltdown. By bedtime, knowing I couldn’t write something sad but well-scripted on my Instagram, the weight of my aloneness was crushing.

Nobody will know I’m suffering!

But it was the next realisation that broke my heart: I was just as alone as I had ever been, with or without Instagram.

I’d never cried so hard, but the revelation made me all the more determined to reclaim my solitude – and my sanity.

2. SILENCE IS SURREAL
… when nobody knows where you are

On July 16, I slipped out of the country on my own, telling as few people as I could. It’d barely been a week since I’d started the fast, but I was actually excited to push my new-found aloneness to the next level. On one of the days, I made my way to Hong Kong’s Dragon’s Back Hiking Trail and trekked in silence up the stone-strewn hills.

If this had been any other trip, I probably wouldn’t have done it alone, and definitely not without Instastorying my entire journey.

But as I walked on in almost 100% unadulterated, no-longer-scary solitude, even my time with God felt different. For once, it was truly just Him and me. Not Him and me and my 661 followers. And when I stopped to survey the rolling green slopes, coastal winds billowing past me, I knew He was closer than He’d ever been to my once-distracted heart.

3. STILLNESS IS SWEET
… when your soul is at peace

As the end of my fast drew near, my cell leader asked me what filled the void left behind by Instagram. “Facebook,” I replied with a laugh. It was a joke, but I wasn’t entirely innocent. Albeit a poor one, Facebook had sometimes been a substitute for my idle time.

One night, when I could feel the sadness welling up again, I found myself reaching for my phone and proceeding to scroll through my Facebook feed mindlessly for the next hour. But when I’d put it down, tired enough to fall asleep quickly, everything I’d been feeling just came rushing back in.

That weekend, I heard a powerful message from the pulpit: “When God is doing a new thing in your life, expect birthing pains. People tend to shrink back when they feel pain, but in labour, when the pain comes, the doctor will tell you to push. So don’t let the pain you’re feeling now paralyse you. Push!”

Push. Pray Until Something Happens. The next time I felt the peace within disrupted, I reached for my Bible and stayed with God until the stillness returned.

Fasting brings to mind the story of Jacob wrestling with God (Genesis 32:22-32). Like the hip bone, there are certain things in our lives that we heavily rely upon. They are core support structures within us, and when these are displaced or broken, the way Jacob had his hip wrenched from its socket, we find ourselves in great pain and discomfort, unable to function like we used to.

But in that upheaval of what we depend on, with everything suddenly out of balance, we find ourselves clinging more tightly than ever to God – just as Jacob did.

“When God is doing a new thing in your life, expect birthing pains. People tend to shrink back when they feel pain, but in labour, when the pain comes, the doctor will tell you to push. So don’t let the pain you’re feeling now paralyse you. Push!”

In fasting, we come face to face with the “hip bones” we’ve created for ourselves, our coping mechanisms and security blankets. We could even deny ourselves of them, or of food – our greatest need – to bring us back to that place of total dependency. Hips out of sockets for 40 days, clinging to God like never before.

We’ll find that we don’t depend on them quite the same way, even when the season ends.

“Is not this the fast that I choose: To loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6)

The fast has been instructive enough to make me wonder what I’ll see if I gave God the full season of 40 days to teach me what He wants to teach me. So I may have started late, but I’ll go into extra time now, till August 19.

In an age of insta-gratification, what’s another 10 days?

/ joanne@thir.st

Joanne is a bundle of creative energy commonly heard before she is seen. She believes in the triune power of good conversation, brilliant writing and bold ideas. She also likes milo.

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Rend the Heavens: My cry for my generation

by Ian Chew | 9 August 2017, 10:27 AM

I will never forget the phone call I received back in 2014 – on Christmas Day – and finding out that I was going to be part of Awaken Generation’s pioneer cohort.

On the other end of the line was Alarice Hong, who, with husband Calvin, started Awaken Generation (AG), a worship mentorship school and production house that not only grooms musicians in their craft but also in ministry and leadership. 

The AG collective serves to “unlock the sound of worship” in our nation through original and locally written worship songs.

I started leading worship in my church at a young age. I always loved to sing, so soon after receiving Christ at 16, I joined the music ministry in my church.

During my schooling years at Singapore Polytechnic, I got involved in Campus Crusade, where I strongly felt called to full-time ministry. Not knowing what exactly to do about that calling and facing parental pressure to further my studies and pursue a “normal” career path after National Service, I put that thought aside for many years.

The thought stayed dormant until one day – four years into my first job out of college – when I came across an online video of Alarice sharing about Awaken Generation, announcing that registrations for its inaugural classes were open. This meant a part-time, year-long programme that emphasised kingdom principles and character building beyond the technical.

I was sold.

One audition turned into a life-changing year, and by 2016 I found myself back in AG for a second run, this time undergoing songwriting lessons – an interest I’d previously abandoned.

Two big things happened that year: I co-wrote the song Rend the Heavens as a class assignment and left my job to join the AG team – finally fulfilling my full-time calling.

Rend the Heavens was the cry of my own heart, both for myself and our generation. Personally, I had been struggling with my corporate job for years, the desire to serve the Kingdom still burning deep inside me.

I also had a great desire to see young people reach their fullest potential as they walked into their God-given destinies. I wanted to see God’s overwhelming presence in my life and the lives of those I led and served.

Rend the Heavens derives its title from Isaiah 64:1, the cry of the prophet Isaiah for his nation. It’s about renewed hearts of flesh and no longer of stone (Ezekiel 36:26), hearts renewed by the power of God falling upon us from heaven.

The verse also reminds us that while we desire for God to rend the heavens and come down to us, we too have to rend our hearts and turn to Him. This is where revival happens.

Rend the heavens and come down
Make your glory known
Overwhelm us with your presence
Weight of heaven’s call
As we rend our hearts
Let your Kingdom come

Alarice challenged me to rewrite the song midway as a corporate prayer song – replacing “I” with “we”. She felt that it was more than just the cry of an individual heart, but a song for the whole Body of Christ – a revival song that calls for a generation to arise and welcome Heaven to Earth.

Rend the Heavens was later selected to be produced as AG’s National Day 2017 release, part of a series of singles AG is releasing throughout the year.

After my first songwriting semester, I also took up Calvin and Alarice’s offer to join AG as their head of media development and missions. It was a long-awaited affirmation of my longing to serve God in full-time ministry – my own experience of Thy Kingdom Come in my life.

He knew. Even as I waited, He was preparing a new thing to be done in my life. And in His perfect timing, He renewed my dreams and revived my heart’s desires.

So we turn our hearts to God above
And we fix our gaze on the One we love

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Why Uncle Jeff loves Singapore and you should too

by | 8 August 2017, 6:38 PM

“This year, on Aug 9, I will have celebrated National Day 52 times,” Jeffrey Goh – let’s call him Uncle Jeff – declares, waving his Singapore flag. The National Day tattoos on his face crinkle adorably, 70 years’ worth of laugh lines running beneath them.

“In the early days of National Day, we did not have a display segment with dance and all that,” he tells his son Shaun, 34, who’s a teacher.

“It was very regimented – all the soldiers marching. We also had decentralised parades instead of one big main one, so that more people could see the Parade. But it was very difficult to organise.”

Shaun has a very different view on what comes to mind when thinking of celebrating National Day. “It’s a holiday!” he replies, without missing a beat.

“When we were still in school, you got a half-day the day before, and there will be some kind of celebration where we sing National Day songs. It was a really fun time of coming together to celebrate the nation – a really united spirit.”

For Uncle Jeff, the season has also always been about personal reflection.

“Having seen the development of Singapore from the early days, we can see the change all over. Just have to look at our skyline! In one of the years when I took part in the National Day Parade and we marched in town, I looked at the bank buildings, the financial district, and a sense of pride welled up in me to see how far we’ve come.

“Singapore has progressed so much under good government and the hard work of the people.”

NATIONAL ANTHEM VS NATHAN HARTONO

But what about the younger generation, who didn’t get to witness the country’s most significant changes from third world to first world nation in 50 years?

“The younger generation is pretty indifferent towards National Day,” Shaun laments. “But beneath that exterior, we do feel something for the nation. After all, most of us grew up here and live here. Our communities, our families are here.

“Singapore will always hold that special place in our hearts.

“We may not be too hot about singing the National Anthem, or even know the lyrics or what they mean, but we still have a certain pride – whether we’re quibbling over national foods with Malaysia or celebrating when Nathan Hartono made it to the Sing! China finals. We just take pride in different things from my dad’s generation.”

But are these “things” really that different across the generations?

“We have a country where we experience freedom of worship and that is something really wonderful,” Uncle Jeff says, eyes sparkling with pride. “And I have friends of all the major races. Malay, Indian or Chinese – we work together, fight together, train together.”

PATRIOTISM ON TAP

He goes on, barely pausing to think.

“We have the cleanest water in the world. I remember one time I was in New York and they told me not to drink water from the tap. I thought to myself, this is the great United States of America and I can’t even drink water from the tap the way I do in Singapore.

“There was another country I visited in Southeast Asia and when I checked into the hotel, the receptionist told me that there would be a power failure that day. It was just something that happened every day.

“And do you know that our rubbish is collected every day of the year, even on Chinese New Year and Hari Raya? In other countries, garbage is only cleared twice a week!

“All these things we seldom pay attention to, we take either take for granted or don’t care.”

By now, we’re also realising how oblivious we are to the “things” that are so obvious to us, we don’t even feel thankful for them in the day to day. It’s not that we take pride in “different things” – we’ve just grown indifferent to many things that the pioneer generation saw firsthand as precious differences that were made over the years.

“There’s a sense of entitlement with the younger generation,” Shaun agrees. “Just by nature of being Singaporean, we think we deserve certain things. Good grades, good education, a future … But we must remember it is a privilege, not an entitlement.”

BIRTHDAY WISHES

So, what do the pair wish for Singapore in her 52nd year?

“A good group of leaders for the next 50 years. People who will put the country before themselves and uphold traditional values,” Uncle Jeff muses.

“I really want to see more heart in our leaders,” Shaun adds. “We push for economic growth and more influence and financial success, but compromise on the heart and soul of our people.

“If we can look past short-term monetary goals, I believe we can groom a generation that is prepared to invest in other people’s lives and find greater direction apart from just making money.”

His dad agrees wholeheartedly. “In our singular pursuit of competency, whether we are raising a people of character has greater implications for the future of Singapore.

“My favourite National Day song is Count On Me, Singapore – because it talks about my commitment to the nation. Count on me.”

We walk away from this chat happy to know that Singapore can count on at least one father and son pairing to stand up for the country. The generations may have very different reasons for national pride – but it’s still pride in the nation.

To all Singaporeans, Happy National Day!

/ joanne@thir.st

Joanne is a bundle of creative energy commonly heard before she is seen. She believes in the triune power of good conversation, brilliant writing and bold ideas. She also likes milo.

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Persecuted for my faith: The peace that surpasses it all

by Ashley Chan | 5 August 2017, 11:09 PM

The first time I stepped into a church was when I was 12 years old.

In worship, I heard a song that resonated in my heart. It was as if I had found something I never knew I needed:

The greatest love that anyone could ever know
That overcame the cross and grave to find my soul
And till I see You face to face
And grace amazing takes me home, I’ll trust in You
(“Till I See You”, Hillsong United)

My mind – once a battlefield of laments and desperate cries – had become peacefully silent. I shivered as the ceasefire dispelled the old, familiar anxiety that had been with me throughout my abusive childhood.

HE GAVE ME PEACE

I knew no one in the room, yet they seemed like family. I had never been to church, but it felt like Home. As I sang, it was as if someone was hugging the brokenness out of me – gently mending my many wounds.

In that hour, Jesus claimed the throne of my life and His peace settled within me – silencing every voice which had screamed at me to kill myself.

In tears, I said the Sinner’s Prayer.

I wanted to stay for as long as possible – I was afraid this profound peace would disappear once I left.

Though hours old, this new feeling felt like a familiar friend. It was gentle and reassuring – yet strong enough to hold me in the storm.

For the first time in a long time I saw life rushing through my veins, where it once would only drain away.

In His beautiful presence, I felt deeply known. I was; I am. He understood my life; He had known me from before I was born. I was profoundly loved – I somehow found joy amidst every sorrow of my life.

Who was this God who loved me so? I had to know more. So when a friend gave me a Bible, I read it through from Genesis to Revelation in one sitting. Still in awe, I read it again – I couldn’t put the book down.

Every page was life to me. As I read, I pulled up my sleeves to examine the self-inflicted scars on my body.

I held my wrist and for the first time in a long time, I saw life rushing through my veins. Life flowed where it once would only drain away.

PERSECUTED FOR CHRIST

I had never heard of Christianity until that day. My family were staunchly embedded in another religion.

So when my mother discovered I had converted, she ransacked my room and found my Christian materials. She burned my Bible and threw everything away.

“Choose now. Do you wish to honour God or me? Do you even know what you’re doing? You’re disowning the family by choosing to be Christian. You’re a disgrace to this family.”

Choosing between God and her was a simple decision – but I couldn’t have known the repercussions of my decision.

I was kicked out of the house and forced to kneel at the altar outside. Soon, I left home to stay with my grandparents, only returning home on the weekends.

My parents soon installed window grilles in my room because I used to climb out into the corridor in order to sneak off to church. And when I found a way around that, they confiscated my EZ-Link card – driving me everywhere to keep tabs on me.

Still, I would attend service by walking 2km to church every Sunday morning. I would face the rage of my parents when I returned home – my father would whip me with his belt until I bled. Often, I wouldn’t be able to walk for days.

OUT OF SUFFERING, A TESTIMONY

There were many tears early on in my faith, but God was faithful through it all. His love was real – better than anything I had ever known.

In my persecution, I never felt pressured to repress my faith. Christianity could never be a secret affair for me. I boasted in the power of the Cross no matter how many times I got slapped or beaten up badly. It could have only been God who kept me going.

He kept me alive. He was the only one strong enough to keep the suicidal thoughts at bay. He was the only one who kept me from committing suicide.

Clinging on to God, I could remain calm when my mother would accuse me of things I didn’t do – or when she attacked Jesus verbally, spitting in my face.

Clinging on to Him – I survived.

I survived because He loves me – I survived to testify.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

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Unemployed, in debt – and learning how to trust Him

by Melody Elizabeth Goh | 1 August 2017, 4:38 PM

I grew up in a loving and pampered environment. That’s great while you’re a kid – but bad when you’re an adult.

I had to grow up, become a more mature me. But to do that, I needed to experience hardship.

After I graduated, I felt the Lord calling me to step out of the boat and walk on the water. I didn’t know what that meant, but it didn’t take me long enough to realise what it truly meant: I was about to enter into a desert season. I was about to learn what it means to have full reliance and focus on the Father.

I officially started looking for a job, armed with my Advanced Diploma in Accounting and Finance. I applied for position after position, went for multiple interviews but to no avail.

I had to grow up, become a more mature me. But to do that, I needed to experience hardship.

A friend encouraged me to become an Uber driver. It was tedious and I could not cover the rental of the car – I couldn’t work the long hours required to do so. I then decided to get relief drivers to help cover my costs, including a couple who took the car on weekdays. But that only made things worse; the couple did not use the car to work, and were unable to cover the rental cost, so the amount they owed me kept piling up.

My reserves were depleting quickly. It was getting harder for me, financially, physically, emotionally and mentally. My dad agreed to help ease my burdens a little, but I was still deeply troubled and distressed. I found myself crying every day.

In my desperation, I made a decision I would truly regret, with a heavy price to pay. I fell victim to a scam that promised me a sum of money per telephone line that I signed up for. But I got played out, leaving me with to pay the monthly subscriptions and termination fees. It was a substantial cost, especially when I was still unemployed.

Soon enough, I caved in and fell into depression.

Throughout all this, I kept asking: Where was God?

Where was the God who called me out? Surely, He would not abandon me?

No, I learnt, He wouldn’t – and He didn’t. It was in this season that God was drawing me closer to Him.

God humbled my heart and gave me a revelation – that I really am nothing without Him. Everything I can boast of, I only have by the grace and empowerment of God, and therefore He alone deserves all the glory.

So rather than be crushed by the circumstances, my faith in Him was deeply strengthened. I learnt to trust and obey, for there is no other way – not if I wanted to get out of this desert season. It was hard for me but I had to. I had to crucify my flesh.

I learnt to praise God in all circumstances. It was more of Him and less of me.

This desert season was not what I wanted, but it was what I needed – to go through a process of refining through the fire of trial, and redefining my perspective of the Father. Where He used to be a God who seemed so distant, He became to me a Father who is so loving, and who desires to walk me through every storm. I learnt what it means when He said that He will never leave me nor forsake me.

I learnt to praise God in all circumstances. It was more of Him and less of me.

What I was going through – it wasn’t because God didn’t love me, but because God does love me – enough to work on me, to refine me, to purify my heart.

The process of being refined is painful, but it is needful. It draws us closer to God, and allows Him to show His everlasting love. Adversity pushes us to rely on God, rather than our own strength.

“So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:7)

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by Darius Lee | 22 July 2017, 12:15 AM

I’m tired of being what you want me to be
Feeling so faithless, lost under the surface
Don’t know what you’re expecting of me
Put under the pressure of walking in your shoes
Every step that I take is another mistake to you

Those are the opening lines of the popular Linkin Park song Numb (2003), a song sung from the perspective of a young person crying out against the expectations imposed by those in authority.

As he enters the chorus, Bennington’s voice turns into an angry, anguished and angsty declaration of independence and identity:

I’ve become so numb, I can’t feel you there
Become so tired, so much more aware
I’m becoming this, all I want to do
Is be more like me and be less like you

For many of my generation, the youthful-sounding voice of lead singer Chester Bennington deeply resonated with many teenagers as he put their feelings in words. It echoed what they felt in their hearts. It was raw and authentic.

Perhaps that is why many people were shocked and deeply saddened at the news of Bennington’s apparent suicide in his Los Angeles residence on July 20.

It was not just the loss of a lead singer of a popular band; it was the loss of a spokesperson for what they felt.

A TOUGH LIFE

Chester Bennington led a hard life, and he acknowledged that Linkin Park’s often dark subject matters were inspired by his own emotional turmoil.

He was sexually abused by an older friend when he was seven, beaten up and forced to do things he did not want to do, and suffered in silence for six years.

His parents divorced when he was 11.

The death of Chester Bennington was not just the loss of a lead singer of a popular band; it was the loss of a spokesperson for what a generation felt.

“It was an awful time. I hated everybody in my family,” he said in a 2008 interview with Kerrang magazine.

“I felt abandoned by my mom, my dad was not very emotionally stable then, and there was no one I could turn to – at least that’s how my young mind felt.”

Bennington turned to alcohol and drugs to cope with his pain. He carried on these addictions into adulthood, until his Linkin Park bandmates intervened in 2006.

He was married twice; his first marriage ended in divorce in 2005 because of his time spent touring with Linkin Park.

OUTCASTS AND THE CHURCH

Numb remains one of the band’s most popular and iconic songs. At the time of writing, it’s racked up more than 560 million views on YouTube.

The music video tells the story of a young girl who is a social outcast. As we look at her arms, we notice that she’s been cutting herself, with the word “numb” carved into her skin.

She spends her time drawing, apparently looking toward the transcendent as she sketches pictures of angels, Mary and the baby Jesus. She is rejected by her classmates and repeatedly told off by her mother for failing to live up to expectations.

The girl hardly utters a word in the video, but Chester Bennington’s voice speaks her mind:

Can’t you see that you’re smothering me
Holding too tightly, afraid to lose control?
‘Cos everything that you thought I would be
Has fallen apart right in front of you
Every step that I take is another mistake to you
And every second I waste is more than I can take

Though the girl knows that she might end up failing too, she knows deep within her that her mother had likewise failed to meet her parents’ expectations (“And I know/I may end up failing too/But I know/You were just like me with someone disappointed in you”).

All this time, the band are in a church, the distorted sounds of the electric guitars, rapid drumbeats, deep basslines and Bennington’s anguished voice constantly giving a voice to the girl’s inner thoughts.

Finally, numb from the pressures and expectations, and keen to be herself and apparently having heard the band, the girl runs into the church where the band was – only to find the church empty.

WILL THE CHURCH BE EMPTY?

Bennington does not appear to have been a Christian, instead, according to fellow band member Mike Shinoda, the late singer had “his own really unique views on religion”.

Neither do I know if there had been anyone close to Bennington who reached out to him in his difficult times, or who brought the love of Christ to him in his final moments.

Yet there can be little doubt that every single song, and every raw cry, was and is heard and treasured by God.

If this generation needs a sanctuary, will it find a church willing to receive them with open arms?

But this song and cry is not just the cry of Bennington or Linkin Park: It is the cry of a generation crying out in pain because of impossible expectations that no one is able to meet.

Will the church be the voice pleading on behalf of this generation to the One who has said that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30)?

And, if this generation needs a sanctuary, will it find a church willing to receive them with open arms? Or will the church be empty?

One suicide is one too many. But there are so many – too many to ignore the pain that permeates a generation. If numbness is the problem, love is the solution.

Love for the church – as the source of hope – and love from the church. Because, as the life of Bennington showed us, we can’t count on people to get it right. So we need Jesus to guide our steps.

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A new heart for baby

by Rachel Tan | 21 July 2017, 4:53 PM

“There’s something wrong with your baby’s heart.”

In 2014, 22 weeks into my pregnancy, a routine ultrasound revealed severe anomalies in the baby’s heart. A rare congenital heart defect called transposition of the great arteries meant that her heart was incompatible with life.

My husband Ivan and I sought a second opinion the very same day, but the doctors all drew the same conclusions: Children born with such heart defects don’t usually live very long.

In my baby’s case, the corrective action would likely be a series of very risky, very expensive open heart surgeries, spread out over a lifetime.

“You’ll have to consider your options carefully,” the doctor said. “You can also choose to terminate the pregnancy now.”

I remember going to bed that night blanketed in grief. Something that gave us so much joy and pride was now the source of pain, anger and confusion. My husband held me and we cried and we prayed.

I was a writer by profession, and prided myself on being a wordsmith, but that night I could barely find the vocabulary to say anything to God.

I pleaded, and promised, and committed my faith, but in my heart the only words I truly had were: “God, why?”

Long after Ivan fell asleep, I lay with my face pressed into a damp pillow, crying for the child we had not yet lost.

I dreaded going to church. I was afraid of having to explain, to see pitying looks, and I was also afraid of having to pretend like my world wasn’t shattered.

In the days after that, we spoke to our parents and mentors and met our church pastors. I was brought up in a strong Christian home and I knew in my mind that abortion was wrong. But when push came to shove, I wavered. We went for the mandatory abortion counselling at the hospital to keep our options open.

The first Sunday after the diagnosis, I dreaded going to church. I was afraid of having to explain, to see pitying looks, and I was also afraid of having to pretend like my world wasn’t shattered.

Most of all, I was afraid that I would be too angry with God to worship, and that He would know.

In the midst of it all, hope broke through. This verse in Proverbs 3:5-6 was almost as if God were speaking specifically into our situation. It says: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths”.

I always thought those people who still praised God in adversity and personal crises were so heroic, like the guy who wrote It Is Well With My Soul after his whole family died, or the Hillsong worship leader who led Desert Song after her miscarriage.

But that Sunday, when it finally came my turn, I realised that it’s not hard or heroic to turn to God when He is all the hope you have left. It’s desperation, and it leaves you broken and humbled.

I sang-sobbed my way through the words of Kari Jobe’s You Are Good, my mouth declaring the kindness and goodness and mercy of God, trusting that my heart would soon follow.

Against all odds, Johanna was born in April 2014 with a team of doctors waiting on standby in case she needed immediate intervention. But by God’s grace, some other accompanying “defects” also allowed her heart to function well enough to postpone surgery till she was bigger and the procedure less risky.

Johanna has had two heart surgeries since, and each time – when we were gripped by the fear of losing her – God reminded us to trust Him as we read His word.

“This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4)

“But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with HEALING in its wings.” (Malachi 4:2)

These verses gave us tremendous courage each time we had to hand our precious child over to the surgeons, and hope during the long nights we stayed up listening to the beeping of life-support machines in the ICU.

Indeed, God has been faithful in not only preserving her life, but blessing our family with life so abundant in a way we didn’t think was going to be possible when we first received her diagnosis.

Rachel, husband Ivan, and their children Johanna and Emma.

Sometimes pain has no good answers this side of eternity, but we have come to know the Good Shepherd. The one who has laid down his life, the one who leads and guides us to green pastures, stills waters and even through the darkest valleys of life.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
 (Psalms 23:1-4)

Today, Johanna is a precocious toddler and an older sister to heart-healthy 10-month-old Emma. If you didn’t see the long scar down her chest, you’d never have guessed this running, jumping, fast-talking kid had a heart “incompatible with life”.

Her doctors were so pleased with the outcome of her second corrective surgery that they took her off her daily medications – she is now completely medicine-free!

Surely goodness and mercy have followed us – even before life as we knew it began for Johanna.

 

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The God who thirsts

by Lynn Chia | 15 July 2017, 9:58 AM

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the Scripture), “I thirst.” (John 19:28)

How could Jesus – the source of abundant and unending living waters – thirst?

This seems a contradiction, considering how Jesus mentioned earlier to the Samaritan woman that whoever drinks the water he gives will never be thirsty again (John 4:14).

But Jesus did thirst. To fulfil the Scripture, from Psalm 69:21, written by David: “They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.”

His thirst was the remedy for ours. His pain was the salve for ours. His suffering was the source of healing for ours.

He needed to finish the work. He had to fully consume this cup the Father had given Him to drink.

Jesus refused any alleviation of suffering He knew was ordained by God.

As He hung on the Cross, a group of Jerusalem women in an act of piety offered Him a drink of bitter wine (Matthew 27:34; Mark 15:23). Bible scholars say this was meant to help alleviate the suffering of someone about to die.

Despite His thirst, Jesus rejected this.

He had committed himself wholly to the Father, to offer Himself as a sacrifice. He needed to finish the work. He had to fully consume this cup the Father had given Him to drink.

Jesus chose God at his crossroads. Jesus was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Despite that thirst, He chose to see the joy that was set before him and endured the cross, despising the shame (Hebrews 12:2).

THE PAIN WAS PART OF THE PLAN

In our brokenness, we often try to find ways to distract ourselves from the pain, and sometimes finding other crutches to numb ourselves to the pain.

But sometimes there is a reason we have to go through a season of pain.

Suffering only makes sense if the focus and reason for the suffering are aligned to God’s will and plan for His greater glory.

While Death thought that it had trapped Jesus, God used Jesus to trap and overcome death forevermore, to pave the way for the outpouring of flowing, abundant grace and redemption for all of mankind.

Suffering only makes sense if the focus and reason for the suffering are aligned to God’s will and plan for His greater glory.

What did Jesus endure for the cross? What kept Him up there when He could have played the God-card to get Himself out of the pain?

For the joy set before Him. (Hebrews 12:2)

The joy of fulfilling the Scripture. It was the will of the Lord to crush him. That He would bear the sin of many, and make intercession for the sinners (Isaiah 53:10-12).

Grief for glory. 

Why did Jesus thirst? Not because the Son of God lacked anything.

He took on our thirst so we would thirst no more.

Therefore in Him, the thirst – the hunger, the longing, the needs, the void, the cries, the hurts – of our mind, body and souls will be quenched.

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I am a Pastor’s Kid: How I went from being son of my dad, to child of the Father

by David Foo | 13 July 2017, 10:05 AM

What is it like to be the Senior Pastor’s son? If I had a dollar every time someone asked me that, it would probably be a lot harder for me to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24).

I wasn’t actually born a pastor’s kid. I lived the first half of my life quietly as the eldest son of Christian parents – until I turned 14, when my father left his job to take up post as the Senior Pastor of our church. 

After which, I lived the second half of my life even more quietly as the eldest son of the Senior Pastor.

People tend to think that being the family of a pastor – or Senior Pastor, no less – makes the entire household extra holy or devout as believers. To me, it’s actually no different from growing up in a Christian household; the only difference is in how people may perceive you.

With a father in the church spotlight, it was hard to avoid the attention that extended to his family. Sometimes people assumed I was the feedback channel for the sermons my father gave, other times, people thought I was testing them when I asked a Bible related question.

After years of church conversations starting with “so what does your father have to say about … ” or “no offence, but your father …”, I seriously toyed with the idea of changing church altogether. I kept a low profile, never attending youth camps or mission trips.

Most of it was a subconscious censoring of church involvement. Besides the invisible expectations weighing upon me as long as I was in the social context to be known as “Senior Pastor’s son”, I struggled to discover the Christian faith for myself inside the walls of church.

I longed to be discipled by people who didn’t think I knew everything about God. I wanted to be myself and experience church life in a new way, outside the confines of my father’s position.

I hesitated to go for altar calls because I knew my dad would, well, be at the altar. I had questions about the faith but I knew I’d be directed back to my dad. I was assumed to be spiritually “okay” because of my regular church attendance and Bible knowledge.

Most Christians get away with leaving the “holy-holy” behaviour to pastors and church leaders, thinking that only they are special and have the ability to pray every day, read the Bible cover-to-cover once a year and serve tirelessly in church. I’m just a normal Christian. I go for service very good already – right?

Like most of us, I would have been pretty content to live the normal Christian life – but somehow when I became a pastor’s kid, I couldn’t use that excuse anymore. You mean you don’t serve in church? How can? You pastor’s kid leh.

It sounds strange, but I longed to be discipled by people who didn’t think I knew everything about God. I wanted to be myself and experience church life in a new way, outside the confines of my father’s position.

For me, the Senior Pastor wasn’t someone who had special God-given abilities to be extra fervent; he was just my dad. And if he could live the all-in Christian life, then there was no reason I couldn’t if I wanted to. I was the Senior Pastor’s son after all.

The problem was that I didn’t really want to. At least not all-in for God the way my dad was. I just wanted to be like most of my friends: A “normal” Christian.

And so I started purposefully building a life outside the church, sometimes venturing into territory considered unbecoming – by church standards – for a pastor’s kid. Inside, I knew I was not pleasing God. In fact, I knew I was living for myself, rather than for Him.

Yet, it turns out that although I may have kept my presence in our relationship at a minimum, I was actually very much still searching for His presence in my life.

What I didn’t see coming was that He would find me first.

God showed up in the form of a few Christian friends I made who showed me what it was like to follow Him. Through their lives and our conversations I discovered aspects of the faith that breathed new life into my understanding and experience of what it was like to pursue Him.

I may have tried as much as I could to avoid the church – but by the grace of God, the Church came to me. It was all around me, in the lives of the people who came alongside me when I was struggling to understand my faith beyond my father.

With their lives, they evangelised to me. Even without a pulpit, they preached the Gospel as I’d never heard it. They were my spiritual mentors, my disciplers, my pastors – just by being my friends.

It was only a matter of time before I found my way home.

I believe that there is a special grace for us pastor’s kids and missionary’s kids. A grace that pursues us relentlessly even when we run.

I never actually stopped going to church because I’d simply followed my parents Sunday after Sunday – it was easy to just show up – but as I discovered God for myself, my heart was changing. I didn’t resent the attention or expectations as much. I learnt how to cope with my own and other people’s expectations of how I should behave. 

The God in the songs I’d heard countless of times in service had reached out and touched my life.

I still have a lot of sympathy for pastor’s kids and missionary’s kids; it’s so easy to feel like we were dragged into a life we didn’t choose. The urge to rebel and escape from the identities forced upon us, to hate the ministries that took our parents away, is real.

But I also believe that there is a special grace for us. A grace that pursues us relentlessly even when we run. A grace that helps us find peace with our circumstances and to choose the God behind them for ourselves.

These are the two choices we have:

(a) Turn away from the church, forcing people to see us for the sinners we are
(b) Pursue God and slowly grow to match the impressions the church has of us

Looking back, I think I’ve done a bit of both.

“And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

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Now is the time to be present

by Darius Leow | 12 July 2017, 5:53 PM

“Wherever you are, be all there.”
Jim Elliot

I listen to music that takes me back to the past. I look at photos taken way back, longing to return to what we always call the good ol’ days. I watch movies that bring me down memory lane.

I like to return to the past, hang around a little, rummaging through old boxes of memories pleasant and unpleasant, to relearn lessons only retrospection can teach.

While these might make me feel nostalgic and perhaps even euphoric at that moment, I find that dwelling too much on the past – however pleasant it might be – holds me back from the present. I don’t get to fully live in the present, because I’m distracted by the past.

God made it clear: Today’s manna is for today, not for yesterday or tomorrow. Yesterday’s manna is too stale for present needs, and today’s manna will grow stale by tomorrow.

I zoom into the future and bask in the excitement of what is to come – but in the process also find myself anxious over its lingering uncertainties.

And often I find myself being forced back to reality, because the present always knocks on the door of my heart and reminds me, You belong here.

I know it’s no point living in the past: Why dwell on what cannot be undone? The same goes with the future: Why dwell so much on something that hasn’t taken place?

But so easily we find ourselves stuck in the present; hemmed in by past memories and experiences, and uncertainty and expectations of what the future holds. Where do we go from here?

Do you, like me, find yourself being trapped in this constant loop, this “time-travelling” discontentment? It seems like a deep-seated human condition, because millennia ago, the Israelites also felt the same way. Out there in the wilderness, having witnessed God’s deliverance out of slavery, they crumbled when their enemies approached, and grumbled when their stomachs rumbled.

“The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.'” (Exodus 16:3)

It almost sounds like the Israelites were fondly reminiscing about the good ol’ days. But they’d forgotten how they hadn’t really been enjoying pots of meat then. Instead, they’d been groaning and crying out in their slavery (Exodus 2:23).

It’s easy to laugh at them, and judge them for their lack of faith and discontentment. I mean, they lived through the 10 plagues! They walked on the sea bed of the parted Red Sea!

But so many times we find ourselves just like them. We moan over our present, look to the past with false fondness, and in comparison find our present even more dissatisfying. It’s a vicious cycle; the past will never fully satisfy the present, even if we once lived through mountaintop experiences or the good ol’ days.

Present needs must be satisfied by present means.

I guess that’s why God’s manna provision plan is always in the present. In Exodus 16:19-20, the Israelites found that the manna supernaturally produced each morning would not last till the next day.

God made it clear: Today’s manna is for today, not for yesterday or tomorrow. Yesterday’s manna is too stale for present needs, and today’s manna will grow stale by tomorrow.

Essentially, you need present joy. Present peace. Present strength. Present grace. Present _______. Yesterday’s will not suffice, because God meant for us to come daily before Him for our sustenance.

A day at a time. Embrace the present one day at a time, because in the present you will find all you need. Not too much, not too little – just enough (Exodus 16:17-18).

You need present joy. Present peace. Present strength. Present grace. Present _______. Yesterday’s will not suffice, because God meant for us to come daily before Him for our sustenance.

For 40 years, every day, the Israelites ate manna. For 40 years, they learnt what it means to live in the present. We learn to trust God one day at a time, and embrace this life we have been given. Because Christ is present in every day, I will find all I need to satisfy my present needs each day.

So learn to bid seasons of life goodbye; to time travel a little bit less. Occasionally say hi to them, thanking them for the lessons they’ve taught me, and move on. The past and future are good teachers; they have bearing and implications on the present.

But after you’ve done that, come back to the present. Be fully present, because your present needs you.

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by Shermaine Tan | 8 July 2017, 1:24 AM

Having studied Communications in college, I desired to find a job where I could strengthen my skills and use them to serve God.

So when I came across a job listing for Resource Development and Communications at World Vision Singapore, I decided to give it a try. As I had no prior experience, I didn’t really know what to expect out of working in an NGO. I was afraid of the challenges that this job would entail, a big part of it being fundraising, and I did not know if I had what it took to do it well.

However, I kept praying and asking God to show me if this was the place He wanted me to be in. Through my devotions, I could sense that He was assuring me, reminding me that He would be the One to equip and empower me for the role if I were to take it up.

But by my second interview with the CEO of World Vision Singapore, something incredible happened. On my way to the office, I had watched a video about the parable of the talents and how God desires faithfulness from those who serve Him. During the interview, my CEO started talking about the parable of the talents as she explained the work World Vision is involved in.

That was when I knew that He was calling me to be a part of it.

It wasn’t until I personally met the faces behind these projects that these stories became real to me.

Just as I had wanted to use my Communications training meaningfully, my job at World Vision entails learning about our work in other nations and the needs of the beneficiaries we support so as to share this information with the people here in Singapore.

Last December, I visited World Vision’s Street Children Transformation Project in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Street children are children without homes. They live on the streets, beg for money and sell recycled trash for a living. Many of them live from hand to mouth and are vulnerable to trafficking, drug abuse and exploitation.

I knew that World Vision had been providing these street children with food, education, health and shelter. I’d read the reports and learnt that a certain number of children were able to return to school through our interventions. Some were even taught vocational skills and able to find jobs.

But it wasn’t until I personally met the faces behind these projects that these stories became real to me.

During the trip, I met someone truly unforgettable – her name is Sreypich and she is a 17 year old girl who was a former street child and beneficiary of our Street Children project. I’d wanted to understand the Street Children project better and how it’s tangibly benefited lives, so our World Vision Cambodian staff arranged for us to meet.

No one had ever taught her the importance of going to school. She didn’t even have a birth certificate.

I remembered her being very shy when we were first introduced. As she only spoke Khmer, the national language, our World Vision Cambodian staff had to be our translator. But as the conversation went on, she began to share her story in greater detail.

Sreypich and her siblings were abandoned by their father at birth and their mother is unable to work. As the eldest child, the responsibility to take care of the family rested upon her. Before she was taken to the World Vision shelter, she had lived on the streets with her siblings.

She told me about how she had struggled to feed her family, with the police chasing children away and preventing them from begging in the streets. Sleeping on the streets exposed them to the elements and other dangers, but they had nowhere else to go. No one had ever taught her the importance of going to school. She didn’t even have a birth certificate.

Then she sang us a song from her childhood that brought me to tears. These are the lyrics to her song: “Tears, please don’t fall, because your family is suffering enough. Tears, please don’t fall, your family is hungry enough.” This was the song she’d sing to herself whenever she found it hard to stay strong for her family.

I also saw that she was just like me. She had hopes and dreams. She needed to be encouraged, cared for and protected.

When she was brought to World Vision’s shelter, the first thing they did was to officially register her birth so that she would be recognised as a citizen of the country. Our team eventually reintegrated her back to the village where she came from, taught her some basic farming and provided her with tools so that she could farm, earn an income for her family and even go to school.

More than just meeting her physical needs, Sreypich shared that World Vision helped her to recognise that her life had value. When she was at the shelter, she met other street children who had become peer educators. When she asked the teacher if she too could be a peer educator, this was her advice, “If you want to be a peer educator, you will have to be a role model and study hard”. And so she did.

Sreypich’s story really stayed with me, not just for the fact that she learnt to value her own life, but the selfless desire in her to help others in similar situations. Although she did not have much, she was motivated to change her own life and serve the people around her.

In changing mindsets from “I can’t” to “I can” and above all, “I’m worth it”, we show them what it means to have a hope and a future.

I also saw that she was just like me. She had hopes and dreams. She needed to be encouraged, cared for and protected. In meeting her, I was able to understand how important our work is and how the little things we take for granted as Singaporeans can mean so much to an individual.

Meeting Sreypich made me realise that humanitarian work is more than just occasionally providing assistance or meeting felt needs. It is about journeying with another human being to help them see that they too have purpose, destiny, significance, strength and value. In changing mindsets from “I can’t” to “I can” and above all, “I’m worth it”, we show them what it means to have a hope and a future.

Through the work that I do and the people I meet through World Vision, God has both deepened my compassion for those in need and motivated me to work harder to invite others to join our cause. Although I sometimes face challenges at work and still feel inadequate to carry out the tasks given to me, knowing that I am partnering God to change the lives of those He loves keeps me going.

He is behind me and will always enable me to do the work.

Join Project HungerFree

If the Lord has laid a burden on your heart for those suffering from poverty or a calling to serve the nations, World Vision is holding Project HungerFree, a humanitarian festival for youth and young adults who desire to effectively help impoverished communities worldwide.

Through Project HungerFree, World Vision hopes to help interested individuals gain insight into international humanitarian developments and tangible actions they can take to be an agent of change for those in need.

The half-day event will feature dialogue sessions with international field practitioners and elements of experiential learning.

We hope that through this initiative, God will work mightily to equip and raise up more young people who are passionate about working to address material and spiritual brokenness in His world.


World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organisation that aims to help vulnerable communities all over the world overcome poverty and injustice. Project HungerFree is taking place on July 15, 2017, Saturday. For more details or to register now, please visit their website.

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by Kenneth Lee | 7 July 2017, 9:07 PM

I was 27 when my life changed forever. I lost one of my best friends.

He was the most generous person I knew and a real source of strength and support to many of us. He was a Christian – “one of the best”, people would say.

But in May 2015, he was violently taken away by the sea.

Sometimes you forget about the brutal power of nature. Water is a deceptive beast. Under the seemingly calm surface may lie a raging torrent.

I still recall that day in vivid detail – for better or for worse. The crashing waves. The salt in the air.

The utter panic that ensued.

Watching as someone you love vanishes before your eyes and knowing that you cannot save him profoundly changes you. His gasps still loop in my nightmares; the grief of my helpless resignation still rings in my bones.

When you’re in your twenties, you think you are invincible. That you can do anything. The world’s your oyster. You can change the world. Et cetera.

Then life – or the loss of it – happens and nothing is ever the same.

Three of us gave eulogies at my friend’s funeral. The hall was packed with the ones he’d left behind, a sea of shared sorrow and pain. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do. How do you sum up a person’s life in 5 minutes? What do you want him to be remembered for?

Professionally, he was excellent at what he did – the best in the state at one point in his career. But in the end, no one mentioned those things. We could have. Instead, we each found ourselves speaking about his generosity, selflessness, joyful spirit, loving disposition and Christlikeness.

These questions have surfaced in my heart ever since: Do career, social status and material achievements evaporate when you die? Clearly one’s legacy – what you leave behind for those after you – cannot be made up of these things.

We each found ourselves speaking about his generosity, selflessness, joyful spirit, loving disposition and Christlikeness.

Legacy. That’s a heavy word for a twentysomething. Ever wondered what people will say at your funeral? Maybe you want to be known as that investment banker who closed more than 300 deals in one calendar year, with a value north of Singapore’s GDP.

Or maybe you want to be remembered as the entrepreneur who bought his own Porsche before the age of 30. Or the guy who married a total babe from college.

I’m not yet 30, but a good part of my life has become defined by my career as a lawyer in commercial law. My team and I have fought tooth and nail for the big deals. To be honest, I’ve enjoyed the status that accompanies the job.

But when I die, will any of this matter? Does it matter when I vanish like a mist (James 4:14)?

After my friend’s passing, I took some time off work to reflect and think about the future. Sufjan Stevens’ album Carrie & Lowell had just come out. The album is about the death of Sufjan’s mother, their relationship and his grief of losing her. It became my soundtrack for that time period.

Since the day of the funeral, I knew I had to start living my life with purpose and significance. My friend’s death had to mean something more to me. What I chose to spend my days doing henceforth had to count for something more. Yes, God establishes my steps (Proverbs 16:9), but am I following His Will?

My friend was really the most generous person I knew – he always gave so much of himself to others.

So many people somehow believe that living your life to the fullest means travelling, seeing the world and enjoying life’s pleasures. But I’m starting to see that significance can be found in the simple things: Walking closely with Jesus, being in tune with His still small voice and prioritising my relationships with Him and others.

My friend was really the most generous person I knew – he always gave so much of himself to others. He wasn’t particularly well-off but always did good to everyone. And it cost him dearly – time, energy and his emotions – but he did it anyway. He was the best example of Galatians 6:10. 24/7.

Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. (Galatians 6:10)

As followers of Jesus, we are called to be the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). We should live and love as Christ did. We should lead others to Christ. Be pioneers and changemakers for the Kingdom.

I’m starting to see that significance can be found in the simple things: Walking closely with Jesus and being in tune with His still small voice.

But the truth is, I’m not sure that I’m doing enough of that. I still chase deals and burn the midnight oil for my job. I’m not suggesting that work isn’t God-ordained – I just feel like I could do more. I want to preserve my friend’s legacy, but at times I don’t think I do it justice with my own life.

Those words on that three-page eulogy I wrote for him – I think about them often. That’s what I should be living out. That’s what my legacy should be like.

“He has shown you, O man, what is good … to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

I want to be remembered as someone who loved God and others generously and without condition. I want to have lived a life that Christ would’ve been proud of. There is a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3) and that time is limited. Our worldly achievements mean nothing.

Life is a series of chapters, and death is the final punctuation at the end of our last one.

In the words of an article by the Huffington Post: Are you living your eulogy or your résumé?

 


Kenneth Lee lives in Perth, Western Australia. From Mondays to Fridays, he is a mergers and acquisitions lawyer. On the weekend, he attends and volunteers as a barista at Riverview Church. He is very happily married to Stephanie, the love of his life.

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Why I changed church

by Melody Elizabeth Goh | 7 July 2017, 2:17 PM

I am someone that others might call a church-hopper. I’m only 28, but I’ve changed church four times already.

I’m writing this to tell anyone reading: Don’t make the same mistakes I did.

Growing up, I’ve had my share of impulsive and wilful decisions. I allowed the emotional part of me to dictate my choices. It was no different with the church hopping.

I was born a Christian and I attended church from a young age. Like everyone else, I had my needs – I wanted to be loved and be part of a church community where I belonged. Failing to experience that was the reason I decided to leave church for the first time at 15 years old, stepping out of the community I’d grown up.

I failed to manage my expectations of a loving church community. I failed to realise that the church was full of broken people like myself. I was chasing after unreasonable expectations, and it resulted in me getting hurt over and over again.

Changing church was my way of running away from the people who hurt me. Out of sight, out of mind. But what I didn’t realise was that I was just setting myself up for other people in other churches to hurt me, too. And this happened over and over again.

Only now – four church-hops later – have I begun to see what I was getting myself into. I realised that if I don’t learn how to manage my expectations of people, and shift my focus back to God, the cycle will just keep repeating.

I failed to realise that the church was full of broken people like myself. I was chasing after unreasonable expectations, and it resulted in me getting hurt over and over again.

If you’ve been thinking of a change of church scene, maybe the lessons I learnt will help you, too.

WHY I LEFT EACH CHURCH – AND WHY I SHOULDN’T HAVE

1. I WAS HURT.

I was not the most demure girl, not your typical girly girl. So I found myself being teased for being a boy in a girl’s body. As I was bullied by the boys in my class, I chose to stick to my female friends – to the point that rumours started to spread about my sexuality. I found myself having to explain myself to my youth leaders in my second church.

Also, I struggled with how I expressed myself, so I felt that people rejected me. When the girls in my cell group went out together, they would not call me along. This happened over a period of 5 years and I became more and more bitter.

How is this being loving? I found myself asking.

But as the saying goes: “Hurt people hurt people.” The church was, still is, and should be a place for broken and hurt people.

In my own hurt, I failed to understand that the others around me were also the products of their own hurt, their own baggage, their own journey of learning as teenagers then. They were making mistakes, too, just like I had been. I wasn’t mature enough then to forgive and work things through with them.

Still, the process taught me what it means when God instructs us to let our speech be with grace and seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6) and to only choose words that edify and impart grace (Ephesians 4:29). Being on the receiving end, and bearing all that hurt, was not easy to bear.

2. I WAS BURNT OUT.

Looking for something to fill the void in my heart, I decided to keep myself busy. I started to serve in the worship ministry as a projectionist, and eventually increased my involvement to 5 different ministries. On top of that, I was helping out at other events in church.

It was tiring and I did not spend time with God, seeking His face, drawing strength from Him. There was output – but no input.

And so my walk with God went dry. I started serving on my own strength and I was drained out. There was no growth in my walk with God. In my joylessness, I looked for a quick fix by changing church again.

Looking back, I realised that I had lost my first love. I had forgotten the point of serving – it’s not about how we serve, but whom we serve. We serve out of gratitude to God, for what He has done in our lives. The solution shouldn’t have been to run away, but to run to Him, to shift my focus back on the original intent, and realign my heart with His.

3. I WAS TOO SELF-CONSCIOUS.

Having been in a church for more than a decade, I felt that people thought they knew all about me – my strengths and my weaknesses, what I was up to, what I was thinking. I started to become very self-conscious of their impression of me, and tried hard to reverse that impression. But the more I tried, the more tired I became. I wanted a new start.

Going to a new church and being in a new community seemed the easiest way out for me. It’s easier to start on a clean slate than to try to clean up a blot of ink.

So I changed churches, one after another, in a futile attempt to appear to be that holy Christian – to hide my flaws so that people would not have a negative impression of me. I was trying to gain acceptance from people in church.

The solution shouldn’t have been to run away, but to run to Him, to shift my focus back on the original intent, and realign my heart with His.

All of us have been through different seasons and experiences that have shape our decisions, leading to where we are today. Whatever the reason is – right or wrong, fair or unfair – the key is making sure that, having learnt our lesson, we don’t repeat the same mistakes.

We may not be able to rekindle the friendships we walked away from in previous communities. We may not be able to ask for forgiveness to those we hurt in the process, or personally seek out and forgive those who hurt us. But while we may not be able to go back to a physical space, we can always move forward to a better place of heart.

Whichever church, fellowship or faith community you’re in now is probably exactly where God intends for you to be. My mistake was that I always viewed the community in terms of what it could offer me. Four churches later, I’m starting to ask the right question: What can I offer this church?

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When will my Song Joong Ki come?

by | 6 July 2017, 3:01 PM

K-drama fan or not, who could forget 2016 – the year of Korean blockbuster series Descendants of the Sun?

I’ll be able to look back fondly and tell my grandchildren one day that I was right there in the midst of the real life drama that was unfolding across the world as people swooned, cried and engaged in passionate discourse over the story of Captain Yoo Shi Jin and Dr Kang Mo Yeon.

Set in a fictional war-torn country somewhere in the Mediterranean, the pair meet in Korea and become unlikely colleagues when they are sent overseas to do peacekeeping work.

There’s some bad guys, an earthquake, a deadly epidemic and a near fatal military mission – perfect for building the romantic tension between the two … and keeping us on the edge of our seats.

By the first few episodes of the show’s airing, international response had grown so strong that army fashion was globally back on-trend, coupled with those aviator shades – all heavily promoted on online megastores like Taobao and Qoo10.

Friends who had never watched a Korean drama in their lives were hooked. The guys fawned over the beautiful Song Hye Kyo, who plays Dr Kang, and the girls were enamoured by Song Joong Ki, the baby-faced but brave-hearted Captain Yoo.

Several chaste but very well choreographed kisses later, even the most cynical of viewers had to admit that the chemistry between the lead actors was undeniable and almost too real to simply be good acting.

On July 4, 2017, more than a year after he famously bent down to tie her shoelaces in the middle of a disaster zone, the celebrated Song-Song couple shocked the world once more with news of their real-life relationship and impending marriage on October 31.

According to news sources such as Dispatch and the couple’s own announcement through their agencies and social media platforms, they had started dating sometime during filming back in 2015.

Regardless of the details, it was the melodrama miracle fans could previously only wish for. Wishes, apparently, do come true.

I received the news from a friend soon after I’d woken up. “It’s going to be Descendants of the Songs!” she quipped, sending me a link for proof. “My goodness,” I replied. True enough, it was all over Facebook. Like. Like. Like.

But inside, I was struggling. Having been a K-drama enthusiast since Full House – the drama that sealed Song Hye Kyo’s Hallyu fame – I’ve gone from romantic idealist to matured realist over the course of 12 years. I know I can’t allow K-dramas to affect my expectations of guys and relationships. This is the real world. Love doesn’t play out like a K-drama in the real world – right?

Not unless you’re the Song-Song couple, that is.

And despite living 4,600km away from them, with no mutual friends or personal stake in their relationship whatsoever, I can’t help but feel a little sad.

When you’ve only ever watched relationships in your own life fall through time after time, even the ones you tried to be as mature and realistic about, it’s hard not to feel the sting of fairytales that do work out for the lucky ones. It’s just never you.

The upturn at Episode 15 never comes. The hero never returns. There is no heart-melting confession, only heart-breaking confusion. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve just been the supporting actress all along in someone else’s story. It won’t be the first time.

For me, the season finale is usually, always, literally The End.

And when Happily Ever After happens for the stars of even the most unrealistic K-drama plot – for real – I can’t help but think love really does come easy for everyone else. It’s the feeling of being left behind. Losing the lottery. Getting picked last for the team.

In the face of repeatedly crushed hope, how do I face God, who promises me great things and loves me dearly?

I’ll be honest. To contend with private heartache and disappointment within the faith and in the church has often tempted me to walk out the door for good. To be one of those still-single women in the congregation who leads younger married couples at 28 years old is a strain on the image I’d prefer to have.

You know the adulting drill: Stable career, ministry and relationship.

And in the face of repeatedly crushed hope, how do I face God, who promises me great things and loves me dearly? I trust Him, but here it’s a walk on the high ropes, blindfolded.

I have pleaded with Him like a child who wants her father to buy her a toy. You know I don’t ask for anything else, Daddy. And when The End creeps up like heartburn yet again, the despair makes it hard to say anything else when I come before Him. Nobody else seems to have it this hard, God. How could You do this to me?

How can I still believe that You are good?

But He is.

I find it as hard to hold onto as the next person who struggles with any kind of lack and a long wait – infertility, infirmity, scarcity, singleness

Why won’t He give me the good gift I want and put me out of my misery? Haven’t I waited long enough and served Him like a good daughter?

These questions plague my heart because I know deep inside, where the waves and wind can’t shake, that God is good.

A funny incident springs to mind. For Father’s Day this year, I bought my dad a french vanilla crepe cake, the same one I’d just got him for his 60th birthday last December. He’d been hinting really strongly weeks before that he’d liked it a lot and that “it would be nice to have that crepe cake again”.

Obviously, I went back to the shop to get the cake that weekend. He was elated.

The next day around lunch time, I received a rare text message from him thanking me once more. It is exactly what I wanted, he wrote.

I laughed it off, amused that he was that pleased although it’d just been a natural response to his request.

It was only hours later that the Holy Spirit stirred in me.

My daughter, God was saying. I know your heart. You always give me exactly what I want. You don’t think twice when your earthly father asks. You don’t think twice when it comes to Me either. I know.

Don’t you think I will do the same for you?

The tears flow even as I recall this.

He knows.

We all have our Captain Yoo Shi Jins – our own ideas for the perfect leading man – but at the end of the day, he was just a figment of some screenwriter’s imagination.

He knows me even better than I know myself. While I give myself definitions for what I think I want, insisting that it has to look a certain way or be a certain person – He knows what I want, what I really, really want. And He will give it to me. Obviously. Just the way I did for my father.

It will be exactly what I want, even if I only know it when I receive it.

We all have our Captain Yoo Shi Jins – our own ideas for the perfect leading man – but at the end of the day, he was just a figment of some screenwriter’s imagination. Even Song Hye Kyo admitted she wouldn’t have dated Yoo Shi Jin if he’d existed in real life.

But of Song Joong Ki, she says: “Joong Ki showed me his self, trust, and his manners for a long time. I thought to myself that it would be good to spend the future with him. That’s when I knew that he was the one.”

Love might be lost. Hearts may still break. But today I’m reminded that I wouldn’t trade my Song Joong Ki for the next man who ties my shoelaces in a disaster zone.

/ joanne@thir.st

Joanne is a bundle of creative energy commonly heard before she is seen. She believes in the triune power of good conversation, brilliant writing and bold ideas. She also likes milo.

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This is my In-dependence Day

by | 3 July 2017, 2:04 PM

A year ago today, I celebrated my own Independence Day.

I had quit the job I loved after a whirlwind journey of four years. I was 27 years old and leaving the industry I was so sure God had designed me for.

It took me a year to pick up His call – and He waited patiently – but finally I said yes. To Thir.st. To Him.

The grass is not greener where I am going, I told my bosses in my resignation letter. I cannot see, from where I am, how I will find greater happiness or creative fulfilment or love. But I have never been more certain that I can trust the One who holds the next step.

On July 4, 2016 – Independence Day – I walked into the newly-renovated Thir.st office, a fraction of the size of my old office and bearing no resemblance to the comforting creative space I was used to. This wasn’t my dream job, at least not how I dreamt it. I wasn’t exactly the most qualified person for the role either. I’d just shown up.

Not what you had in mind, He kept saying. But I know you’re going to love this.

Perhaps “celebratory” isn’t the best word to describe how I was feeling that day. But I definitely felt independent – I’d left the nest I had been so carefully protected and nurtured in since I’d graduated. I had a brand new set of wings. I was terrified.

I’d asked Him in prayer just before my first day at Thir.st: “Why did you call me, of all people, to do this work? I’m not even professionally trained for the job. How do You know I have what it takes?”

His answer was so clear the seas of my heart were immediately stilled: Because I put it in you.

With that assurance and courage burning in me, I showed up and got on the rollercoaster of full-time ministry. And as I’ve now come to witness for myself, God fulfilled His end of the bargain, just like He’d done in the Beginning. From the formless and empty sprang forth our website and a trickle of stories.

One story turned to two. Then ten. Then too many and too fast; almost 330 at last count.

Within six months of going live, our site had meandered its humble way into thousands of newsfeeds across the nation, bringing living water to thirsty travellers along life’s busy highway. In the public space, we’d achieved a reasonable feat for a small faith-based newsroom. We even produced a viral video.

I have never been more certain that I can trust the One who holds the next step.

But away from the crowd, the storms were raging.

Those who’d spent years in full-time ministry had warned me of great difficulties. It’ll still be worth it, they said, but nothing could have prepared me for what lay ahead. The battles fought at the front sometimes left me broken, battered and bleeding. On some days, it all felt too much to bear.

But that’s not what I’m feeling as I stand at the summit of my first year in Thir.st. Like hikers who finally reach the peak and look back in bittersweet awe at the epic journey they’ve just been on, I recount the days gone by with a certain lightness in my heart.

Oh, that part of the trail was a real challenge, I might say dryly, the memory already too far down the mountain and out of sight. Or, upon spotting the craggy rocks in the distance, now barely a sliver of path from where I stand: I seriously considered giving up there, I was exhausted and in so much pain, but I’m glad I kept going.

There are stories for every lesson carved into me on the way up. But this one’s specifically about the three spiritual milestones that got me to the Fourth of July 2017 and into my second year of full-time ministry. I call them my lessons of in-dependence: living in constant dependence upon God.

3 LESSONS OF IN-DEPENDENCE

1. TO SCALE THAT MOUNTAIN, YOU FIRST HAVE TO BE TRAINED

You’ve seen the giants of the faith tell their tales from the mountaintop, and you want the experience for yourself. You’ve told God, yes I’m all in, take me up that mountain! And He’ll be more than happy to. But any seasoned climber will tell you that isn’t going to happen without a lot of training.

The mountain of full-time ministry is daunting and the climb is arduous on the mind, soul and spirit. There might be strains on resources, relationships and responsibilities that threaten to cripple you along the steep slopes. As your loving and wise Coach, God has to strengthen your faith to endure the journey – even if training comes in the form of trials and obstacles.

2. TO BE REFINED, EVERYTHING MUST FIRST BE REVEALED

The main responsibility of full-time ministers is simply to stay close to the Son and reflect His light to the watching world; think of how the Moon reflects the light of the Sun. But being positioned under such strong light also means that every flaw and dark place in our lives cannot remain hidden.

Don’t be surprised to find God bringing to light areas of your life that you were quite comfortable not dealing with for a long time. Nobody might even know about them. The process of overcoming these weaknesses may be painful, but this refinement is an act of His mercy. We cannot effectively reflect the light of God if we are marred mirrors – and what mars us eventually hurts us.

3. TO SERVE OTHERS, FIRST RECOGNISE THAT THE JUG OF OIL NEVER RUNS DRY

Constantly pouring yourself out as a drink offering (Philippians 2:17) to minister to the hearts and minds of others is as draining as it sounds. And when you’re facing trials of all kinds, undergoing your own spiritual upheaval and trying to produce life-giving content every day, these words tend to surface: I’ll soon have nothing left in me to give.

It was a worry that plagued me when my season of adversity lengthened like evening shadows. I felt like the widow of Zarephath, left with only enough oil and flour to make one last loaf before she lay down to die. But one day God spoke into my heart from John 15:7, the way Elijah assured the woman: If you abide in Me, you will always have something to give. The jug of oil will never be empty

I thought the act of quitting my job would make this day my Independence Day. I was wrong – I now see it was meant to be my In-Dependence Day. I’ve never been in greater dependence on the One who held my hand from Day 1 of my Thir.st adventure.

I couldn’t see then how I could possibly find greater happiness or creative fulfilment in this role – but now, with fresh air filling my lungs after a grievous but glorious ascent, now I can.

He was right. It wasn’t what I had in mind. It wasn’t my dream job. But it was.

I wasn’t the most qualified person for the job. But I was.

God’s hiring process is a lot simpler: If you step out in faith and take the job, I’ll show you what to do, how to do it and everything you need to get it done.

When God calls you up with an assignment, He’s not a boss who doesn’t know the full extent of your capabilities or character. He’s the One who created you for the work – with all your passions and struggles and life experiences good and bad – and He’s prepared the work for you (Ephesians 2:10).

You don’t need a tried-and-tested game plan or award-winning skills. God’s hiring process is a lot simpler: If you step out in faith and take the job, I’ll show you what to do, how to do it and everything you need to get it done.

Article by article. Project by project. Over and over and over again. One story at a time.

I don’t know what my next year at Thir.st holds. But once more, here I am Lord. I’ve shown up.

Take me to the next step.

/ joanne@thir.st

Joanne is a bundle of creative energy commonly heard before she is seen. She believes in the triune power of good conversation, brilliant writing and bold ideas. She also likes milo.

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A letter to my gay best friend

by Teo Jiawen | 28 June 2017, 4:02 PM

Dear You,

I’m writing this with trepidation and excitement at the same time. I don’t know how you’ll feel upon reading it, and some of this has been brimming over for awhile. I just didn’t have the courage to tell you face to face.

I was walking over to your office the other day after a bad day at work and thought about our friendship, which has survived so many storms. I walked through those doors and in your hand was a little box from Lady M.

“Here’s cake for you, I know you had a bad day,” you said, with that signature smile.

If people didn’t know any better, they’d think we were together. But nothing could be further than the truth. Not just because we both believe that men and women can have healthy platonic friendships. Not just because we really are just friends.

But because, well. You like men, and I do, too.

*     *     *

I remember when we met, but I think what’s more striking was how we connected years later, after a church conference had concluded and I had a sudden urge to pray for your heart defect. This was before the existence of WhatsApp, and I couldn’t wait till I got home to log on to MSN Messenger. So I dropped you a text, despite being two hours ahead and 6,000km away.

Perhaps you believe that God only loves those who look or act a certain way. That couldn’t be further from the truth – when He said He loves you with an undying love, He really meant it.

We hadn’t spoken in years and all of a sudden it was like we had lots to catch up on. Whenever I made trips home from Australia we’d meet up for copious amounts of hawker food. We’d talk about God, and how life fits into the picture. We dreamed big dreams and it seemed nothing could stand in the way of them. Most of all, we ate. A lot.

I was certain that nothing could rock our friendship, but little did I know that you weren’t so sure.

 *     *     * 

Around this time four years ago you tentatively dropped me a message, asking if I’d attend Pink Dot with you. The question was moot, of course, as I was overseas at the time. But I was more curious about why you asked – and soon I felt you withdrawing from our friendship. I didn’t know how else to reassure you that nothing would change, no matter what. But I tried, and prayed.

And one day, while you were on exchange, while we were on Skype as you sat under a tree, you decided to tell me.

“I’m gay.”

“I know.”

I saw you heave a sigh of relief as you flashed that signature grin.

“You’re the first Christian friend I’ve come out to.”

I don’t think you know this, but my heart broke at that statement.

*     *     *  

It’s been nearly four years since, and I’ve seen you struggle with reconciling your faith and sexuality. We’ve made jokes, we’ve danced around the topic, we’ve cried together in prayer. I’ve seen you make truly heartbreaking choices. Each time I meet you in your place of pain, only to see you numb it in every way possible.

I understand your need to ease your suffering, but wish you could see: That price was paid 2,000 years ago. On the Cross.

I really wish you’d see that Jesus’ invitation – come as you are – was not made lightly. He really meant it – that He sees your scars, your wounds and inadequacies and longs to cover it in love and grace. That’s His job, His specialty.

Perhaps you believe that God only loves those who look or act a certain way. That couldn’t be further from the truth – when He said He loves you with an undying love, He really meant it. His love just can’t die. Won’t.

Borrowing the words of the wonderful Shauna Niequist, sometimes the happiest ending isn’t the one you keep longing for, but something you absolutely cannot see from where you are.

"Sometimes the happiest ending isn't the one you keep longing for, but something you absolutely cannot see from where you are."

He has never stopped loving you. And I never will.

It is my prayer that you will come home.

I’ll be standing there with open arms. And so will He.

Love,
Me

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Hope does not put us to shame

by Emily Lee | 21 June 2017, 3:48 PM

I have depression and no one in church knows.

Some of the adults have asked about my health, noting that I look tired, grey and wane.

But how do I come clean about my condition when anxiety is discouraged in our faith (Philippians 4:6)? When my closest friends gloss over it – ignore, actually – when I tell them I am depressed? When the Bible study group concludes that the antidote for depression is to simply to confess our sins and God as King?

The tapestry of my church’s history, or what I know of it, is full of faithful and strong Christians who served God and others tirelessly, knowing that their reward lay in heaven. My fellow church members pray unceasingly and take an active interest in each others’ lives. They don’t get depressed.

But here I am, a girl who loves God, serves Him, cares for others, prays often – and is also depressed. 

And I’m beginning to see how this is part and parcel of my personal faith journey, not a disqualification from it.

When anxiety rears its ugly head, I know that I’m still protected, still loved, still at-one with God.

In these past nine months, Christian friends have been coming my way to meet me where I’ve fallen. Their words and prayers have been a balm for my anxious soul and their stories give me hope – that it is possible to find joy even when hurting from the loss of health, a loved one or dreams for a desired future.

One of them left me with this verse: “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10).

Like the Israelites then, I need to understand deep in my heart that joy is simply knowing Jesus. That the joy of the Lord is in me – as long as He lives in my heart. He is the source of my strength regardless of my emotions or circumstances. My joy is not dependent on whether I’m happy, sad, frustrated, annoyed, thrilled, or numb. 

More importantly, I needed to understand that through it all, no matter what happens, God is good. Even if life doesn’t turn out the way I expect or hope for, God is good. And when anxiety rears its ugly head, I know that I’m still protected, still loved, still at-one with God.

Perhaps this is what Paul had in mind when he wrote this:

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

Hope does not put us to shame. As the children’s song goes, “for there is therefore now no condemnation down in my heart”, perhaps it is time to be brave and come clean with the church this year.

Even if life doesn’t turn out the way I expect or hope for, God is good.

And however the church chooses to respond, I know God is still in control and will lead me where He wants me to go.

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An open letter to my depression

by Jo Ann Low | 19 June 2017, 11:12 PM

Dear Depression,

I want to thank you.

Even though you’ve taught me how to sob soundlessly into the depths of a pillow, hands clutching desperately at the sheets like a drowning man grasping a lifeline.

Even though you’ve taught me how to stifle my screams, despite seeing the blood rushing from a self-inflicted wound.

Quiet, quiet.

Even though you’ve taught me that people won’t break my heart. (I’ll do it myself, with poor decisions and hasty impulses.)

Even though you’ve taught me that pain is an inevitable affliction of the human and mortal life; as unavoidable as the passing of time.

No rest, no rest.

Even though you’ve shown me the depths of my pain; how low I can sink into the abyss of torment, how self-destructive I can really be.

Even though you’ve overwhelmed me with an all-consuming guilt – like in the Great Wave of Hokusai, I have felt like that tiny boat, precarious on the precipice of incessant doom.

Extinguished.

Still, I want to thank you.

Thank you for teaching me how strong I can be – strong enough to dry my own tears, pick myself up, and rise to face a new day bravely.

Thank you for teaching me that wounds can heal. That scars can remain to show me that though we may bleed, we don’t have to bleed forever.

Quietly, softly.

Thank you for teaching me that I can sew my heart back together again – with the thread of God’s redemption and eternal grace.

Thank you for teaching me that love is a miracle – that despite how I might feel about myself, He has always and will always love me. And so I too will learn to love again.

Rest, rest.

Thank you for showing me the scale of my hope, how high I have climbed.

Thank you for letting me look back and realise how small the waves have since shrunk, how far I have come from my days of guilt, how insignificant the troubles of this world seem – when compared to the overwhelming wave of Love and Redemption God has given to me.

Revival.

So here’s a last and final thank you, and a last and final letter to you, my companion of 10 years.

Goodbye, Depression. You will not be missed.

Sincerely,
Me

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Coming out Christian

by | 19 June 2017, 11:20 AM

I am the worst at confrontation. Don’t let the volume of my voice and weight of my words fool you. It’s probably why I enjoy giving speeches rather than engaging in debates.

Join the fight? Pick a side? Umm, why can’t we just be friends?

It’s so difficult to be a Christian these days, for people like me. Living in a generation where unbridled inclusivity is seen as holiness and #LoveWins is taken as gospel truth, choosing to stand by a faith that seems to confront just that feels like an increasingly poor PR decision.

For the person who likes being everybody’s best friend, the implications of being a church-going, Bible-believing and therefore “highly religious” individual in this day and age sometimes cuts too close to social suicide for my liking.

THE CHRISTIAN CLOSET

But it’s not what my faith is; it’s just what it looks like to the watching world. I’m not so sure they’re getting the right idea of what I even believe in. Why is it getting harder to say I’m Christian? Why does it feel like I’m in some sort of Christian closet?

The conversation surrounding the faith and every agenda it gets caught up in has become such a high voltage zone for controversy that it makes even the best of us think twice before speaking up – coming out Christian.

Contrary to popular belief, my faith isn’t a bunch of do’s and don’ts, can’s and cannot’s.

If I say I’m Christian today, others read in that statement a billboard of messages I wasn’t personally intending to broadcast, but which have become so frustratingly and intricately tied to the one I do believe in: The message of the Gospel centred around Jesus Christ.

Because, contrary to popular belief, my faith isn’t a bunch of do’s and don’ts, can’s and cannot’s.

Our faith is a Person.

It is this Person, Jesus Christ, who compels me to come out of hiding, as He did, arms outstretched on that wretched Cross for the salvation of the whole world – from the left to the right and all those in the middle. He died for all (2 Corinthians 5:15).

It is His message of truth and grace that I wear and so desperately hope the rest of the world can see. And this is how I understand it:

JESUS’ MESSAGE OF TRUTH AND GRACE

1. The Gospel of Christ is offensive, but the people of Christ shouldn’t be

I didn’t come to abolish the Law, Jesus famously said (Matthew 5:17). I have not come to abolish it but to fulfil it. It’s not party time, people. The rules still stand. The still-standing truth is that, sin – or anything that falls short of the standards of the Law – is offensive to God (Habakkuk 1:13).

Not the most PC thing to hear, I know.

But what this means is no one has the right to demand or claim holiness except for the only sinless one, Jesus Christ (John 8:7). Through Him we are saved from eternal separation from God because of our sin. Through us others have a chance of meeting the Jesus who saved the woman caught in adultery from being stoned – but also told her to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11).

2. There is no us-vs-you, Jesus came for one and all

Being committed to the Truth of God’s Word is not a badge of honour that says I’m holier than thou. Rather, it is a symbol of humility in the face of a Gospel that points out the failure of every man to reach the absolute purity – sinlessness – needed to stand before a Holy God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

I have not come to call the righteous, Jesus told those who disapproved of his mingling with the non-religious, the “sinners” of His day (Luke 5:30). I have come to call sinners to repentance. What He was really saying: That means all of you. No one can be right before God on their own know-how, without Jesus. That’s why everyone is invited: Because everyone has failed. But everyone is loved.

3. Come as you are, but don’t expect to leave as you are

It is this divine love that both comforts and confronts each one who walks into the arms of Jesus. The same love that does not discriminate is the love that cannot leave the one it holds unchanged for the better, to be more like Christ rather than our old selves (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Jesus’ love is a transformative love, refining every single one of us to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Max Lucado gives a brilliant analogy of this in his book, Just Like Jesus:

When my daughter was a toddler, I used to take her to a park not far from our apartment. One day as she was playing in a sandbox, an ice-cream salesman approached us. I purchased her a treat, and when I turned to give it to her, I saw her mouth was full of sand. Where I had intended to put a delicacy, she had put dirt.

Did I love her with dirt in her mouth? Absolutely. Was she any less of my daughter with dirt in her mouth? Of course not. Was I going to allow her to keep the dirt in her mouth? No way.

I loved her right where she was, but I refused to leave her there. I carried her over to the water fountain and washed out her mouth. Why? Because I love her.

God does the same for us. He holds us over the fountain. “Spit out the dirt, honey,” our Father urges. “I’ve got something better for you.”

And so he cleanses us of filth; immorality, dishonesty, prejudice, bitterness, greed. We don’t enjoy the cleansing; sometimes we even opt for the dirt over the ice cream. “I can eat dirt if I want to!” we pout and proclaim.

Which is true – we can. But if we do, the loss is ours. God has a better offer.

JESUS IS THE BETTER OFFER

For this Person, Jesus Christ, I make the daily decision to live out my Christian faith.

Every day, I choose to come out of the Christian closet, clothed in compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, patience and forgiveness (Colossians 3:12-13) – ready to tell anyone who asks why I’m living the way I do with the utmost courtesy (1 Peter 3:15).

For this Person, Jesus Christ, I make the daily decision to live out my Christian faith.

Every day, I choose to wear the love of Jesus Christ – my basic, all-purpose garment of salvation (Colossians 3:14). Because without it, I am nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2).

I choose to come out Christian – because I am all in.

/ joanne@thir.st

Joanne is a bundle of creative energy commonly heard before she is seen. She believes in the triune power of good conversation, brilliant writing and bold ideas. She also likes milo.

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