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Relationships

My complete, imperfect family

by Pauline Wong | 3 November 2017, 3:58 PM

My Kindergarten teacher often encouraged us to draw portraits of our families.

With squiggly lines and less-than-perfect circles, I produced masterpiece after masterpiece to the best of my 6-year-old ability. I don’t remember most of my illustrations, but I do recall one vividly.

It was a picture of my parents, my sister and I. We were on rollerskates, holding hands and looking happy. In the background, I’d placed a Christmas tree.

I have lost that piece of drawing since then, but something transferred from paper to mind and etched itself deeply in my heart.

A complete family is a happy family.

My family is a complete family.

While some of my peers were born into less than desirable circumstances, I grew up with both of my parents present. I never knew what people meant when they said, “I don’t have a dad/mum”, much less the pain and hurt that separation inflicts.

Overtime, “complete” became synonymous with “perfect”. Of course my family wasn’t without flaws – we had our fights and disputes. But we were what you would call pretty normal. Average. Okay. And as I looked at the broken world as a child, okay became good enough a standard. I had both a dad and a mum, and a sister to boot. Okay was perfect.

Until I came to know Christ. That was when I began to understand how love should truly look like.

I can’t adequately put it into words but it was as though I could finally see. Everything became crystal clear yet, at the same time, everything lost its lustre, too. Kinda like putting on a new pair of glasses – you suddenly see everything with fresh clarity, but that also means suddenly seeing every imperfection that was always there.

I recall now hugging my younger sister tightly as we recoiled in fear, angry voices punctuated by threats of divorce reverberating from the next room.

When I came to know Christ, everything became crystal clear yet, at the same time, everything lost its lustre, too. I suddenly saw everything with fresh clarity, but that also meant suddenly seeing every imperfection that was always there.

As we got older, my mom started to rake up the past whenever she got angry. She would throw in snide remarks about how my dad was unpunctual to their wedding whenever we’re running late for something.

Instead of fighting back, my dad would tune out of arguments, block out complaints, and zone out of confrontations. Taking his cue, my sister and I also detached ourselves whenever we felt a storm brewing.

I had stopped communicating with my dad years ago due to a misunderstanding that I thought had caused him to stop loving me. It didn’t help that he was a man of a few words. Our conversations never lasted for more than 10 seconds, and never deeper than a “What do you want to eat?” He was physically present in my life, but never emotionally.

My family had also stopped eating together for years as it was almost impossible to comply with everyone’s schedule. The four of us ate at different times, at different locations.

From the outside, my family seemed okay – perfect. The issues we face weren’t major enough to threaten our family structure, so we simply brushed them aside.

But when God came into my life, His love illuminated the concealed hurts and frustration that undergirded the way we related to each other.

Yes, my family was intact and worry-free.

But it was far from perfect.

I’m not unappreciative of what I have; my family loved each other in the best way we knew how. I know that I’m blessed to have grown up in a relatively functional family, and I’m thankful for that. It’s just that functional isn’t the end point for God. His is a higher standard of love.

It says in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.”

A holy discontentment started to grow in my heart. And while it’s easy to settle for what’s convenient and familiar, I decided that I had to do something, rather than hand down the imperfect love we received, learnt and passed on from generation to generation.

Changing family culture that has been set in stone for decades wasn’t easy. I had to be intentional in striking up conversations with my dad, intentional in planning family outings, intentional in speaking truth and life. All while being consistent.

I remember my parents got into a huge argument once, and my dad moved out of their room to sleep in the living room for weeks. Seeing that my dad was giving her the cold treatment, my mum began to vent her frustrations on me.

Functional isn’t the end point for God. His is a higher standard of love.

I resented it. I hated how my mom tried to use me as a pawn to get back at my dad. I hated how they just threw the burden of being a responsible parent to me, when it was not my job to begin with. I hated how I was suffering the brunt of their conflict even though I was just an innocent victim.

I refused to do anything about the situation, refused to be embroiled into their conflict. It’s their fight, not mine, I reasoned. Why should I have to do the dirty work? But I eventually caved because I knew it was the right thing to do.

I remember approaching my dad in the balcony. I asked him if he remembered his marital vows to my mum.

“Papa, you promised to take care of Mummy. I know how naggy Mummy can be, but when J (my sister) and I eventually move out, the primary responsibility lies with you to care for her.”

My dad didn’t say much – simply grunted. But he moved back into the bedroom that night, and their relationship gradually improved.

My family has come a long way since then. Nowadays, we try to be more involved in each other’s lives. We celebrate birthdays and special occasions. We still aren’t perfect, but out of love, we try.

I think back to the picture I drew as a kid – my family in the foreground, and a Christmas tree in the background.

Very much like the circles my little hand had drawn, we were complete, functional, but undeniably imperfect. I’d like to think, however, that God would have received my masterpiece with joy and stuck it on His fridge.

Without allowing Him into every area of my life and placing my family into His hands, I wouldn’t have known what true love is; wouldn’t know how to truly love.

For He is love’s definition through and through.

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How far would you go for love?

by Weiren David Ong | 20 February 2018, 9:20 AM

“Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22:2)

That’s from the famous story of Abraham and Isaac. When Abraham is commanded by God to sacrifice his son, he proves obedient and is commended for his faith. And importantly, right before the knife falls – Isaac is spared.

I think that when I first heard this story as a child, everything seemed more … watered down. I mean, it had a happy ending.

What I didn’t think of back then, was how Abraham must have felt during this whole ordeal. For instance, after receiving this grave command, he rose early the next morning to get ready (Genesis 22:3).

I wonder if he even slept properly, knowing what was to come. He seemed deliberately obedient, but as Isaac’s father, surely his heart was grieved.

And the journey took more than 3 days! Putting myself in that position, if there was something I dreaded doing, getting it over with as soon as I could would be the best solution. But poor Abraham had to wrestle with God for days on end – ever having the easy option of turning back home right behind him.

Laying down your own life is not an easy thing to do by any standards. But laying down a loved one’s life … That seems impossible to me.

Isaac was Abraham’s legacy. He represented Abraham’s promise from God. Isaac was indeed everything Abraham was asking God for – and now it seemed like Abraham had to return it.

I won’t be surprised if you find the whole thing rather twisted. I did as well, initially.

In the same way the man Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son for God, God was willing to sacrifice His Son for man. But while Abraham’s hand was stopped – God gave His son for us!

But still the story progresses, with Isaac questioning his father as to why they didn’t bring the animal that would be sacrificed.

Abraham could only reply each time, that God would provide the lamb. It must have been extremely awkward at the moment when Abraham started to tie Isaac up, having to tell him, “Isaac, it’s you.”

Abraham picked up his knife and was about to sacrifice Isaac on the altar, but his hand was stopped just in time because God knew then Abraham was fully devoted – he was willing to lay everything he ever wanted back down again.

Then God provided a ram to take Isaac’s place.

Why would God do this? It seems so extreme. I don’t have a conclusive answer, but I do know and trust God’s character – He is no sadist.

And I know that God Himself was in Abraham’s position: In the same way the man Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son for God, God was willing to sacrifice His Son for man. But while Abraham’s hand was stopped – God gave His son for us!

It seems like a lot to most, but Abraham only tolerated 3 days of grim foreknowledge. God knew what needed to be done since He made the world – waiting for the time to give His son to it.

“And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

If you have also glimpsed the vastness of God’s love and grace, I’d like you to pray this with me: “Dear God, the love You have given me is so deep I will never fully grasp its depth. But help me to see clearly that You have proven Your love, over and over again. And soften my heart to fall in love with You, over and over too.”


This article was first published on Weiren’s blog, and is republished with permission.

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I got stood up on Valentine’s Day

by Geraldine Koh | 15 February 2018, 3:48 PM

It was Valentine’s Day. I could have gone on a date with my husband. But I had looked forward to meeting Miss L. She was a freelance sex worker from East Asia, pacing the streets of Geylang’s red-light district to eke out a living.

In her 30s, she was new to Singapore, having travelled a long way here from her hometown.

I had met her on a warm Friday night under the faint neon lights of a corridor in Geylang. I was on one of my regular walks with a group of volunteers who were committed to expressing the love of Jesus with marginalised communities working in the red-light district.

Miss L had been friendly during our first meeting. She was chatty, talking incessantly about her hometown. She was clearly missing home badly. She had no friends, never taking the initiative to mix with fellow sex workers from her home country who stood along the same glitzy street.

I met her the second time on another Friday. I braced myself to ask if she had someone to celebrate the Lunar New Year with. She looked down forlornly and shook her head in silence. I suggested having reunion dinner with her.

Her eyes lit up, and she said “Yes!” without much hesitation. Having a reunion dinner together would have made her feel at home during this festive season which can ironically be superficial, long-drawn and lonely.

I suggested having reunion dinner with her. Her eyes lit up, and she said “Yes!” without much hesitation.

She had agreed to meet me on Valentine’s Day, the same week of the Lunar New Year celebrations. I got myself ready and travelled quite a distance from my home to Geylang, looking forward to meet Miss L and bless her with a sumptuous meal.

I waited and waited. The dreaded message came. Miss L texted, I have not slept since I finished work with a client. I am very tired. I need to have a good sleep before heading back into the streets again. I cannot meet you for dinner.

I had a surge of mixed feelings. I did not feel too much disappointment. This was not my first time being “stood up”. Several other street ladies I had arranged to meet before also did not turn up, citing similar reasons as Miss L.

On the other hand, I felt immensely sorry for Miss L. She needed her sleep from working long hours in the prostitution trade. In fact, she needed more than a physical state of rest. She needed the rest only Jesus could give her.

I hope to have that reunion dinner with Miss L soon. Reunion is about families reuniting and getting together to celebrate love and kinship. For my reunion dinner with Miss L, it would be special; it would include having fellowship with a very special family guest — Abba Father — someone I know it would be worth it for Miss L to know and embrace.


Operation Mobilisation (OM) Singapore has a ministry reaching out to marginalised communities working in the red-light district of Singapore with the love of Jesus. If you and your friends are interested to pray, give and go with this ministry, please write to info.sg@om.org

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Love hurts … But not like that

by | 13 February 2018, 2:34 PM

What is love? Baby don’t hurt me.

Fifty Shades Freed, the movie adaptation of EL James’ last book in her Fifty Shades trilogy, is released this Valentine’s season. In most cultures, Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate love, so the movie’s release in this season might suggest that it’s a movie about love.

But nothing could be further from the truth. I urge you to think long and hard about what kind of love is in the movie. The root of that romance is selfishness.

If love is self-centred, it’s not true love. True love looks to the interest and wellbeing of someone else before their own – so where does inflicting physical pain onto a lover come into the picture?

And it doesn’t insist on its own way. It’s not about taking control over someone. Selfish love only leads to more pain for both parties. It is deriving personal pleasure at another’s pain.

Now if you say, “But this isn’t meant to be about love – it’s consensual pleasure!” That might well be so according to society’s rules. But out of love, I must attempt to convince you how destructive such a twisted view of love and sex can be.

Broken relationships, divorces, adultery, fatherlessness and even sexual confusion – these are but the offshoots of selfish love. It’s why I am urging you not to watch this movie or engage in deviant sexual practices – even within marriage.

The kind of selfish love you might witness in Fifty Shades sits upon the spectrum of BDSM pornography. Fifty Shades is a soft-core variant – porn with a marginally better plot.

Also, Christian Grey is portrayed as a man whose child abuse results in his BDSM fetish. If the normalising of BDSM fetishes in mainstream media wasn’t already problematic for me – it is exacerbated by the fact that it is done so while glossing over child abuse.

True love looks to the interest and wellbeing of someone else before their own – so where does inflicting physical pain onto a lover come into the picture?

But there is a better way – real love exists – and I want to tell you all about it.

“For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation.” (Psalm 149:4)

If God brought us salvation, delighting in us – then I wonder if Jesus experienced profound joy while suffering on His way to the cross.

Fifty Shades is about suffering for mere pleasure – but God suffered for our salvation. Mere pleasure is never the purpose. Love is the end where sacrifice is the means.

So, true love isn’t the eros (erotic) love of Christian Grey – but Christ’s agape love. It is saving love freely given to us when He came to earth to die – wiping out the death this world’s bogus loves bring.

And it’s waiting for us to believe.

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:10-12)

This Valentine’s Day, think about true love. Love God selflessly, love one another sacrificially.

/ roytay@thir.st

Roy has a peculiar appreciation for subtle wordplay, an inexplorable passion for competitive sports, and an insatiable hunger for delicious food.

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by JH Kwek | 12 February 2018, 9:16 PM

It has been said that there are two types of men: Those who watch porn, and liars.

The truth is I belong to both categories.

My struggle with pornography began when I was 11. I was surfing the web when I stumbled onto some highly sexualised anime clips. Ever since then, this thorn, this drug, this corruption has been with me.

I’ve tried my whole life to break free, only for each attempt to end in failure. I got really good at lying about it though. Even when I confessed this sin to my cell members, I managed to phrase it in a way that made me look like the victim – like I was really trying my best and somehow that was enough.

It was like there was no real consequence to remaining in my addiction, as long as I cried and looked like I didn’t like it.

But I did.

I loved it: Every lustful moment in the toilet, every fantasy fired up by sensual Instagram posts, every filthy thought – I revelled in all of it. I knew the sinfulness of my addiction, but I didn’t really believe it. I was deluded, a man who thought nothing of eternity and only of the momentary high that came each night I gave in to my lust.

The struggle against pornography is often portrayed as a noble war, as if we’re righteous creatures born into a broken world, battling the forces of lust that seek to ruin us.

But we are not righteous creatures. We are dead creatures (Ephesians 2:1). We don’t just sin – we love to sin. We delight in it. We take pleasure in it. By ourselves we are so far from righteousness.

When God shook me out of my stupor, I finally saw how great my sin was – but I also had my eyes opened to the vastness of His grace.

The struggle against pornography is not a mere struggle to stop loving porn: It is a struggle to love Christ – and love Him more than anything else. So my problem wasn’t that I loved pornography – my problem was that I didn’t love Christ.

How then can a dead man love Christ? He can when he is brought to life.

My problem wasn’t that I loved pornography – my problem was that I didn’t love Christ.

And that was exactly what God did for me. In the quiet moment of a ministry retreat’s worship session, I read Ephesians 2 and became utterly convicted of my sin and sinful nature.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved …” (Ephesians 2:1-5)

There and then, I repented, and asked God to bring me back to life.

And He did. He called me back to life.

That’s the power of the Holy Spirit. As the words of Ephesians 2 filled my mind, He began to convict my heart of my very real state of sin, that I was indeed dead in my trespasses and sins, carrying out the desires of my body and my mind, just like the rest of mankind.

But the same Spirit who convicted me of my sin also revealed to me so mercifully and lovingly that God, because of the great love with which He had for me, was calling me out of death in my sin to a redeemed life with Jesus Christ. It is by grace I have been saved.

There are so many of us – men and women – who struggle with an addiction to pornography. I still struggle with it. Porn is undeniably pleasurable. Speaking from experience, it is one of the strongest and most addictive pleasures I’ve ever come across.

But I can also speak from experience, that the cross of Christ brings a permanent joy and satisfaction that pornography can’t even touch. How blind I was! And how blind I still can be!

God gifted us priceless pleasure and fullest joy in His Son – yet we reject Him for worthless things. Father, forgive us!

A dead man can only love Christ when he is brought to life.

The cross of Christ brings a permanent joy and satisfaction that pornography can’t even touch.

You may seek love in pornography, relationships or achievements – after all, we were designed to receive love. But there is a better way.

It is the love that God gives to us. It’s the same love that caused Him to send His only Son into the world, so that we who were doomed to die might live through Him. All this while we did not yet love Him. Our Father loved us, and sent his Son to pay our debts (1 John 4).

I pray that God brings you back to life and opens your eyes, that His Son is no longer just words on a page to you, but the very real and tangible pleasure that surpasses all other pleasures.

A heart full of Christ has neither need nor want of porn. Help us to want and need you God – bring us back to life!

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by | 9 February 2018, 6:05 PM

Happy Chinese New Year! … Or is it?

Speaking to a number of people recently, I’ve realised that the festivities can be a difficult time for some. Not all’s well at family reunions, it increasingly appears to be.

Are you one of them? Are the relationships in your family breaking down faster than traditions can keep them together?

Maybe you once held out hope as a child, that things would get better in the family. Maybe you’ve tried, over the years, to get everyone together – but you no longer see a point to it when you’re the only one trying.

Maybe the relationships in your family are breaking down. Maybe you’re not even sure if there’s going to be a reunion dinner this year.

But what I do know is that it’s easy to feel like everyone else is having an amazing time when you’re scrolling through Instagram. It’s important to have perspective: We’re looking at the highlight reel of other people’s lives on social media.

Think about the things not present on Instagram: Strained relationships, family deaths, generational tensions, divorces, bitterness … The list goes on.

But I’m not interested in staying stuck in self-pity – we don’t have time for that. I want to think about how we can respond, if in reality, our family isn’t that perfect, shiny and colour-coordinated dream we see on-screen.

Love gets harder as we grow up – which only means our love needs growing up too.

British-Ethiopian poet, Lemn Sissay, was fostered from birth and abandoned at the age of 12. By 18, he had lived in four children’s homes. He illustrates the importance of family using the game of squash:

“Family are like the walls in a game of squash. You hit the ball and it comes back at strange angles and you try to get it again … It develops your muscles in strange places, because you have to stretch sometimes to get the ball back in to continue the game.”

You have to stretch sometimes. The stretch is the place where love is learnt. We begin young with the easier stuff: We shared our favourite biscuit with dad, or gave our favourite toy to our sister.

But love gets harder as we grow up – which only means our love needs growing up too!

It’s harder when love requires more from us, like when we’re faced with an aunt whom we just don’t want to tahan any longer. It’s hard when family culture seems impossible to change. It’s hard when money gets involved or when “face” gets in the way.

But when it’s hard that’s precisely when we need to persevere.

It’s not easy to be the first one in the family to say a loving word in response to toxicity or sarcasm. Unity is not easy. It’s not easy to put aside our pride and ask for forgiveness. And it’s not easy to choose to love when others don’t care.

If we give up on family, we never develop the “muscles” that we need. Sissay also says this:

“And that all that would happen throughout my life is that my muscles would waste away beneath me because I’m not using the muscles that develop in the game of family … Family is defined by how it deals with difficult issues. It is strengthened by how it resolves them and weakened when it tries to ignore them.”

So don’t be discouraged if your family is facing difficult issues. Consider what real love is to your family members. Be the one who would love them.

Why should you do it? 1 John 4:19. “We love because he first loved us.” Jesus Christ loved us to the point that He would die for us – all while we were still sinners. God’s love takes the initiative. Jesus did – so we must do the same.

If we give up on family, we never develop the “muscles” that we need.

We may not have gotten the love we needed from our family. We may even have even been disappointed by the very people who were supposed to be our best bets – but we always have a Father in Heaven who loves us perfectly.

“And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:18)

Being filled with our Father’s perfect love for us enables us to love those around us. If your family is challenging, then let it challenge you. That’s where the growth is at.

I pray you’ll have faith to see that your best days are ahead of you. I pray you’ll have hope in God to do what you cannot on your own, and I pray that you will love someone enough to step out of your comfort zone.


Screenshots were taken from our Chinese New Year initiative, “One More Rice Bowl“.

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious and one of her dogs thinks so too. She loves a good chat with strangers, store assistants, and fluffy dogs.

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Article list

My complete, imperfect family

How far would you go for love?

I got stood up on Valentine’s Day

Love hurts … But not like that

Porn and the things I’d rather love

What if my family makes for an unhappy CNY?