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Faith

Coming out of death’s door: I wasn’t supposed to be alive

by | 6 March 2018, 3:03 PM

I was actually about to die.

When I first fell ill, I didn’t think too much of it. I’d never been the healthiest kid around, so falling sick was not uncommon. My family wasn’t well-to-do, and since my sisters and I were pretty much left alone most of the time, we usually put off visiting the doctor unless it was absolutely crucial.

That morning, however, I couldn’t get up. This particular illness hadn’t gone away – on the contrary, it seemed to have gotten progressively worse overnight. I remember waking when it was still quiet and dark, feeling as if all the strength had left my bones.

It was worrying, being scarcely able to lift my head or speak much.

At first, my sisters were calm. It had to be a really bad flu, they reasoned. But I still remember overhearing my older sister reasoning in the next room, “Maybe we should call him.”

I was lucid enough to infer that “him” probably meant our family friend. While he wasn’t a doctor, as a teacher he always seemed to know what to do — and he was like family. That was the last memory I had before I fell asleep again.

I didn’t dream that night. My body must have been far too tired for dreams.

But within me I felt a strange lightness. I felt so light, I was almost floating off the bed! Confused, I reached for the bedside table, only for my fingers to grasp through air. Air!

This must be an out-of-body experience. The sharpness of that thought surprised me, as I’d been living in a mental haze for what seemed like a long time. I felt like I was in a different dimension altogether. Like I was underwater.

But I knew there were people in my room, trying to talk to me. Whenever they touched me I could see the ripples pulsate across my skin. Someone squeezed my hand desperately. A blanket was placed over my body, although I could no longer tell if it was hot or cold.

Had they found help for me? God, what was going on? 

All forces around me were now dancing in waves beyond the room. The sound of people’s voices travelled slowly — but from far away. I heard my sisters’ cries, and my heart sank. Even through my closed eyes I could sense the door to my room being shut, cutting off what was left of the dim light.

Then it all went silent.

Lazarus, come out.

My eyes shot open at the sound to unbearable light. I was squinting against the gleam of the man at the door.

Where was I?

The bed I once lay on was now a cold stone bench. I sat up and discovered I was wrapped from top to toe in linen bandages – grave clothes! And it all became very clear to me in that moment: My heart had stopped beating, I had died, and I was now in the family tomb!

I didn’t even take a minute to think about how this was even possible. With new found strength in my body, I stood up and walked out, emerging to a small sea of friends and family.

What a sight it was to behold — and in full colour! Most stood agape at me – mouths open, eyes transfixed – but it was my sisters who immediately rushed to my side. As they crashed into me, enveloping me in their tight embrace, I realised I no longer felt weightless — but alive!

He had come for me. There he was, Jesus, my dear friend, standing right in front of me, his smiling face still streaked with tears. Only now was I slowly beginning to realise what had happened. I began to cry.

Unbind his grave clothes, and let him go.


This is an adapted account of the death and resurrection of Lazarus, taken from John 11:1-44.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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My parents don’t talk any more

by | 18 June 2018, 10:00 AM

“How are your parents?”

That was the question my friend asked me, as we sat in a ramen shop after wrapping up our worship training overseas. She had just shared with me about her family; she was raised by only her father after her mother passed away when she was young.

When that question left her lips, the noodles in my mouth started to lose their taste. I think my face must have twitched.

As she shared about her family dynamics, there were many things I resonated with. Wanting to escape from home, family tension, awkward Chinese New Year arrangements, loneliness, hopelessness for the future …

But my parents weren’t divorced or separated. They’re living together under one roof … mostly as strangers.

The last time my parents were on talking terms must’ve been in 2009.

My dad was suddenly hospitalised for a heart surgery in the middle of my O Level preliminary exams. As I clutched my social studies textbook, my family spent the night huddled in the ICU.

Some months later, I came home from school to find them in a heated argument about hospital bills and finances. In one moment of anger, some nasty words were said. My mom fled the room and slammed the door shut.

And ever since that moment, they’ve never had another conversation.

Refrain from contributing or participating in any family drama.

I became their middle man and official messenger.

Nowadays we only go for Chinese New Year visitations if I’m around. Everyone stocks up their own groceries in the pantry and prepares their own meals. It’s as though we are housemates.

It’s difficult living in such a complicated family situation. People assume that since my parents are still living together, my family must be more or less normal.

But we’re not. And my mum has become more dependent on me ever since the fallout. Her decades of being a housewife has probably cut off most – if not all of her social circle. She doesn’t like staying home alone with my dad, so I try to spend as much as time I can with her.

But my friends don’t understand.

Why you such a mummy’s girl? That was something someone in my cell group had once remarked in jest, after I said I had to leave early after service to have lunch with my mum.

Oh, you’re calling your mum again? Another comment from a friend, after I told her I had to FaceTime my mother to check in on her while we were overseas.

I also know that my dad isn’t entirely as bad as what he is described to be. He doesn’t say much to me unless needed, and he has his moments of anger. But he has worked without a break for decades, always pays the bills, and always makes sure I have enough.

Who could ever understand my family situation? I’ve always felt all alone. I turned to the Bible looking for some ray of hope, and was surprised to find messed up families just like mine in the Bible!

  • Adam and Eve: Messed up the entire world; one of their sons murdered his brother.
  • Sarah and Abraham: Got her husband to get their servant Hagar pregnant.
  • Lot: Seduced by one of his daughters to commit drunken incest.
  • Jacob: His sons conspired to kill their youngest brother Joseph, sold him into slavery.

And all the above happened in just the first book of the Bible. And as I read on, I learnt many lessons about how to live well in an imperfect family.

HONOUR THEM STILL

The Bible is clear about honouring our parents (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16). It is the fifth commandment, but the first that comes with a promise. It is the first commandment that governs a horizontal relationship – the only commandment that comes with a reward.

This also means that we refrain from contributing or participating in any family drama. There was one my mum was ranting to me about my dad, when I heard the Holy Spirit gently say: “Don’t dishonour your dad in the process of supporting your mum.”

My mum wanted me to agree with her about my dad’s faults. She wanted me to side with her. But I just quietly listened to her, and tried my best to explain the situation to her objectively. My dad had his faults, but if I had simply gone along with my mum emotionally, I would only be reinforcing negative ideas about him.

Honouring our parents requires us to submit to them as the parental authority God has placed over us (Ephesians 6:1). It means choosing to treat them as treasures, granting them a position of respect in our lives even when it seems like they don’t deserve it.

MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS

In every relationship, it is important to keep expectations in check. Unmanaged expectations will eventually lead to disappointment and disillusionment.

I don’t expect perfection from my parents because I know they aren’t perfect. I know that they, just like me, have their own issues and struggles that they don’t speak about. I raise and lower expectations according to how I’ve known them over the years.

There is a greater purpose and deeper message behind the mess.

Another thing that is equally important is that we communicate our expectations … Telepathy isn’t a thing!

When I was in JC, I often came home late because my school was far away from home and my CCA usually ended in the evening. I never understood why my mum would get so upset about me coming home late, so I got equally upset at her apparently unreasonable behaviour.

After all, I was in school! It wasn’t like I was running around outside … Until I realised why she was so upset: She just wanted me to let her know if I was going to be back for dinner.

Uncommunicated expectations create more misunderstandings than needed.

KEEP ON PRAYING

But to be honest, even as I try my best to honour my parents and manage my expectations, it still feels really hard on many days.

It feels like something is amiss in my family, like there must be more. And many times I’m faced with a situation where I really just don’t know what to do … It’s usually at that point where this verse comforts me: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).

And as I persevere in prayer, I know breakthroughs will happen. Situations will change. Hearts will move. None of our prayers are ever prayed in vain (Revelation 8:1-5). And if even Jesus prayed unceasingly (Hebrews 5:7), why shouldn’t we?

There is nothing else I can do but to pray and surrender my family situation to God. It is easy for us to give up on complicated family relations because humans are messy.

But the story of Jesus – a Saviour coming from a lineage of messy and dysfunctional families – is a lasting reminder that love and goodness can come out of the deepest of wounds.

There is a greater purpose and deeper message behind the mess. And the end of all of it, it points us to our need for a Saviour.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer who memorises Pantone swatches. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, 80% dark chocolate, beautiful typography and folk jazz. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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God is my Father

by | 8 June 2018, 3:07 PM

Have you ever felt heart-wrenching pain?

I remember being surprised with my first experience of heart-wrenching pain. Amidst the torment, I was surprised to find that heartbreak matched the word so well.

The experience of disappointment and pain comes to us all, at some point in life. Some of us seem to have it worse, but no one is immune to it.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

In a world filled with suffering and sorrow, Jesus Christ is the only hope for a people threatened by darkness. But the funny thing is, I was never a Jesus type of person growing up. When I was young I associated Churches with the brown tourist sign more than I associated it with a place where freedom is found.

I did step into a Church, eventually. But I only found freedom because Jesus Christ found me. It has little to do with a building or a programme, but much more to do with how we respond to his invitation to know God our Father, through him. 

God is our Father in heaven who we can trust in, who gave his son Jesus Christ for us (John 3:16), such that our hearts need not be troubled anymore.

There is a story about a man who left his father’s home to squander his inheritance away. He reached a point where he was so hungry he ate with pigs. Finally, he came to his senses one day: “Why I am starving to death when my father has plenty to spare at home?” So he went home.

“So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:20-24)

Because of his mistakes, the man in the story didn’t think he was worthy to be called his father’s son anymore – but he was wrong. God is the sort of father who would run to welcome a wayward child back home. He is unthreatened by our messes; He extends forgiveness to his children.

In a world filled with suffering and sorrow, Jesus Christ is the only hope for a people threatened by darkness.

We can never fathom the vastness and greatness of God, but the kindness of God is near and available to us. It is a tangible thing.

There is life at the hand of our Father who lavishes us with love that overflows. Surely it is not because of what I’ve done that I can call God my Father, but because He first saw it fit to welcome me home as His child.

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

It is His grace to me that I came to my senses one day and knew my desperate need to return to my Father. And I still need that grace every day.

Take the words of Jesus Christ to heart today, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious and deeply devoted to her dogs. She is also a strange introvert who loves good chats with strangers and anyone with a story. At other times, you'll find her watching nature in wonder, wherever the sunlight touches with gold.

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My father, the drug addict

by | 8 June 2018, 12:01 AM

James Giam (51) has been jailed 19 times over the span of three decades. And in the nine years he spent away from home, his wife and two young sons, James was all alone.

He slept in parks and in the void decks, borrowing money from the few friends who would still acknowledge him. He had almost nothing left to his name but the clothes on his back.

“The problem was with my lifestyle, my mindset, and my drug addictions. Things were no longer within my control. I tried changing but I just couldn’t find a way out – I felt trapped.”

It all began with glue-sniffing around the age of 17, which opened the door to darker paths and more dangerous drugs.

“I did think of going back, many times. But I couldn’t. ‘Face’ was one thing, but the second thing was that I had already given up. I’d given up on myself, given up on my family … I didn’t want to pick myself up again.”

So, he lived a vagrant’s life. And when it got too much to bear, he would try to get himself arrested and sent to prison – where there was at least food and shelter.

With all the time he spent in prison ­– whether for drug-related offences or for petty crimes – James saw his share of things.

James saw sons visit their fathers, fathers visit their sons – but he had also seen sons and fathers locked up in the same prison. He wondered if he would have to visit his son in prison one day, too. Or if they would end up there together.

So one morning in prison, James thought of his son. “Sean, who should have been in secondary school at that time, came to my mind. I became rebellious at that age … and I wondered if he would become rebellious too.”

James had grown up without his parents, and he saw himself then in his son. After all, Sean was only seven when his father stopped coming home one day.

He saw sons visit their fathers, fathers visit their sons – but he had also seen sons and fathers locked up in the same prison. He wondered if he would have to visit his son in prison one day – or if they would end up there together.

“I happened to read a book about prayer, so I wrote a very long [prayer for my family]. Day and night, I prayed that prayer.”

James didn’t know if God was going to answer his prayer, but it was the only thing he could do for his sons from behind bars, so he kept at it. He prayed for his family every day.

And after he was released from prison, James asked to see his sons to which their mother agreed.

“One day, my mum told me that my dad wants to come and find me. I was thinking, after so many years … Why now?”

Sean was hesitant to meet the man who was little more than a stranger to him, but agreed when his mother told him that the conditions she had set were that James wouldn’t come into the house, and it would only be for an hour.

“When he came over, the conversation didn’t turn out the way I expected. We talked about a lot of things. We talked about how he was in Church, and how I was in Church also.”

James told me he remembered thinking then, “God really answered my prayer.”

He had been praying that God would surround his son with Christian friends, that someone would bring would bring Sean to Church, so his son would know Jesus.

“He answered it completely,” said James. Both father and son discovered that they had both been attending the same Church.

“I was quite shocked,” said Sean. “It couldn’t be a coincidence. That was when I was reassured that God was pulling me back to my dad.”

But forgiveness was still something Sean had to learn.

“When I told my mentor about this situation, he encouraged me to meet my father more. I was quite hesitant. But in the end I just tried to meet him more.

“As timed passed, I learnt from my mentor to forgive. At the end of the day, when I see how I’m forgiven, I think I should learn to forgive as well.”

But a few months down the road, Sean was tested when James ended up in prison again.

“When I heard from my dad that he made a mistake again, I was quite shocked that I wasn’t angry … I didn’t condemn him and I didn’t scold him.”

 Sean took his mentor’s lessons on forgiveness to heart, and God gave him strength to help his father pick himself up again.

” … At the end of the day, when I see how I’m forgiven, I think I should learn to forgive as well.”

Sean’s forgiveness to me was a new revelation of God’s character, and a new side of my son I’d never seen,” James said. Neither father nor son thought their present outcome was possible – James freed from his bondages; Sean having a father.

But Sean wasn’t the only one who had to learn how to forgive. Having grown up without his parents, James also had to learn how to forgive them.

“Unforgiveness made my life very painful. Because without forgiving them, I also didn’t know how to forgive myself. As I prayed … I also forgave my parents. And because of that, I am able to receive God’s forgiveness, and my children’s forgiveness.”

In the end, forgiveness from God was the key that opened the door for James to walk out of darkness and back into his children’s lives.

And it was the same for Sean: Since God can forgive me for what I’ve done… I can also forgive my father.” Sean planted the seed of forgiveness in faith, not knowing what would come out of it. But three years later, his act of obedience to God – to honour his father – is reaping fruits.

“When my mother sees me accepting my father, she can also let go of the past and accept him, to the point that she’d let us go out with him and invite him back home for reunion dinner during Chinese New Year.

“Seeing my mum happy and my dad happy gives me a sense of relief.”

As we prepared for the final questions of the interview, there was still some time before filming began. So James and Sean sat shoulder-to-shoulder on a ledge, talking casually about school, camera equipment and the imminent rain.

If you didn’t already know their story, they look like any other father and son pair. As the interviews concludes, Sean emphasises this one thing repeatedly: No matter what happens, he’s got his father’s back, and he will always support his father together with his younger brother Paul.

From the look on James’s face, you could tell he knew his son meant what he said. Though Sean is only 18 this year, his choices reflect love and wisdom beyond his years. It reminds me of something Jesus said to his disciples:

“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47)

I believe the key to Sean’s capacity to love and forgive is this: The knowledge that he too has been forgiven much by his Heavenly Father.

Forgiveness helped James and Sean to step out of darkness and brokenness into light. It looks a lot like God’s forgiveness, who first forgave us. Love is never far from where forgiveness is dispensed.

“And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Malachi 4:6)

A Father’s heart is always turned towards His children.

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious and deeply devoted to her dogs. She is also a strange introvert who loves good chats with strangers and anyone with a story. At other times, you'll find her watching nature in wonder, wherever the sunlight touches with gold.

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Coming out of death’s door: I wasn’t supposed to be alive

My parents don’t talk any more

Daddy’s Home

God is my Father

I wasted 22 years in bondage to Heroin and Ice

My father, the drug addict