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Faith

I was looking for love in all the wrong places – until love found me

by Thir.st | 22 November 2016, 11:01 AM

There is a peculiar air about Jaime Wong – speaking to her, it feels as if she does not have a care in the world, while still being deeply engaged with it.

The tennis coach is an accomplished woman, having won multiple awards in sports and school. Yet as she sits down with Thir.st to tell her story, it is clear that life hasn’t been an endless victory parade for her. She bares her scars not as trophies, but as testimonies, of God’s goodness and grace in her life.

“THE SINGAPOREAN DREAM”

Top student. Top athlete. Jaime Wong had it all. At 12, she was Singapore’s youngest national tennis champion; at 17 she received an athletic scholarship to attend the Georgia Institute of Technology.

“It almost appeared on the surface that I was living the Singaporean dream – top student, top athlete – but beneath the surface it was a very different story.”

Without her parents around to keep her in check, Jaime got addicted to pornography while in the United States, and began to embrace the notion of the freedom to love.

In 2003, upon graduation, she fell in love for the first time while on a short trip back to Singapore.

“Usually falling in love is not a bad thing. But this person was a woman, and she was a Christian. In other words, a recipe for disaster. And my mind told me: Don’t pursue this, walk on,” she said.

“But my heart was a bit more stubborn.”

In pursuit of love, Jaime gave up her life in the US – only to have her world crumble beneath her. Her friend told her: “I’m so sorry, I love you, but I love God. And I cannot walk down this path with you. I will love you as Ruth loved Naomi, as Jonathan loved David, but I just cannot be the person that you want me to be.”

This enraged Jaime.

“Just imagine the heartbreak that I felt. I gave up everything to get this in return. I could not believe this friend actually chose God over me,” she said. “I was not prepared to let go, so I thought the most logical thing for me to do was to prove to this friend of mine that there is no such thing as God, and that the Bible is nothing but a book of lies.”

HEART OVER HEAD

For two years, she was relentless in her pursuit, attempting to debunk God through the study of science, logic and history. But at the end of it, she came to believe that everything pointed to Jesus as the son of God and the Saviour of the world.

“I was prepared to accept any God except for the Christian God, but everything pointed to Jesus at the end of the day. So in 2006, I became a very unwilling Christian in 2006.”

This also meant that she could not continue pursuing the friend she fell for, the friend who shared the love of Christ with her. Jaime said she knew early on that she could not act on her same-sex attraction, but it took her seven years to completely embrace the truth.

“I hated God for suddenly becoming a high authority in my life. I was always on my own, living life without parental influence or much guidance, so I made a lot of decisions on my own. And here, suddenly, I have this book of rules telling me all these things,” she said.

Jaime made multiple attempts to stop viewing pornography, only to fall back into the habit a few days later – a vicious cycle that was eventually broken after an encounter with God.

“It was always this battle – trying to do what is right, but not being able to. And as a result of that, I fell deeper and deeper into pornography. I was angry with God, and I continued doing what I was not supposed to do,” she said.

“On the surface it looked as though I was doing the right things: Going to church, going to cell group, serving in church. But behind closed doors, everything was raging. Emotionally I was raging; physically I was not getting what I wanted. It was a really tough time.”

Her struggles drove her to contemplate suicide several times. One particularly poignant period stands out: Jaime had fasted for 40 days, thinking things would get better after that, only for her situation to continue to look despondent.

“One day, as I looked out into the ocean, I thought: ‘This is it’,” she said.

Yet before she could act on the suicidal impulse, she caught a glimpse of a message written in a book her friend had given her.

“Hang in there. One day your mess will become your message,” it read.

“I completely broke down because the timing of it was impeccable. I just said to God: ‘You know God, I give up. I don’t want this life. Take it, do what you want with it.’ And that prayer became my defining moment. It became the moment where everything just turned – the amazing transformation came.”

AMAZING GRACE

After that act of surrender, Jaime said she was miraculously healed of all her sicknesses. All mental illnesses, all physical ailments – including a diagnosis for Ulcerative Proctitis, which doctors said was incurable – were gone.

“God didn’t just stop at that. He did more for me. He set me free from this prison of sexual immorality. It’s been two and a half years now, or more, and I’ve been completely free from pornography. And I’ve turned away from same-sex desires,” she said.

“I realise that I have lost my sexual appetite for the unclean because my heart had just received that pure, perfect love of Jesus.”

That moment when God truly entered her heart turned her life around. Where she once feared public speaking, Jaime now wanted to tell the world about the transformation that could only come through God.

“I was suddenly filled with this new purpose, this new desire that God has put in my heart, and there was new ability that He gave to me to tell people about what Jesus has done for me.”

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REAL LOVE IS UNCONDITIONAL 

While it was initially difficult to open up to others on the issue of same-sex attraction, Jaime has found herself slowly being drawn into the topic during different conversations with different people.

When asked about what she would say to someone facing similar struggles, she said the answer is always to go back to the Word of God.

“It’s not about what I say to the person about this issue, but what the Word says. And so my duty to God is to love the person the way Jesus has loved me and to give them a glimpse of His love, and to share the truth and love them. At the end of the day, it’s to let the Word speak – God will speak for Himself – and to let the Holy Spirit convict them.”

In fact, it was the friend she was initially attracted to who demonstrated this love to her.

“She became a friend to me in the way that I couldn’t understand. On one hand, I felt rejection but yet on the other hand, I sensed a love that I could not comprehend – love that stood by me and stuck with me. She didn’t walk out of that friendship; she stayed there even though I put her through hell,” Jaime recalled.

She admitted to stalking and verbally abusing her friend, who chose not to walk away and to love her like Jesus did.

“For all the things that I’ve done to her, I didn’t deserve any of it, yet she gave it freely and she loved me wholly and she loved me, and she gave me a glimpse of what God’s love is like – enduring and longsuffering and waiting with hope that one day I would turn around,” Jaime said.

While it was ironic that she sensed both rejection and love at the same time, Jaime said this was how real love revealed itself to her.

“I felt loved in a way that I could not explain and I believe that is the kind of love that I want to mirror. The love that Jesus had for me – I want to mirror that and to love those who are broken,” she said.

READ MORE ON JAIME WONG: IT’S NOT ABOUT HOW MUCH MONEY WE MAKE. IT’S ABOUT HOW MANY LIVES WE IMPACT

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The Plate Spinner: Advice for busy young adults

by Dev Menon, Zion Bishan Bible Presbyterian Church | 30 March 2017, 4:40 PM

Have you ever seen a plate spinner? A guy sets up a stick, puts a ridiculously fragile plate on top of it and spins the stick, such that the plate on top spins in tandem and stays upright in an impossible-looking feat. Then he gets another stick and another totally breakable plate and does the same … so on and so forth … until he has a whole line of spinning plates on sticks.

It’s all very entertaining. But to keep them upright, he’s got to run from stick to stick to spin the ones that are slowing down, because if they slow down too much, the plate will start to wobble and come crashing down. So he runs from one stick to the next like some frantic chicken — the more plates there are, the more frantic he is, keeping them all spinning and upright.

To me, the average Christian Singaporean working young adult looks exactly like a plate spinner. It doesn’t seem to be a healthy and balanced a lifestyle, does it?

DOCTOR, DOCTOR, AM I A LITTLE UNWELL?

Is “frenetic” the way life feels when things are going well? Does this mean life is going right? Or is it the sign of something going wrong?

Sometimes it’s not so easy to tell. On one hand, some people say that if you are too free and relaxed, then it must be because you are lazy. If you aren’t thriving in all the right areas — old family, new family, work, exercise, studies, church, and friends — then you are not living up to your “full potential” (whatever that means).

People imply that if you are not perpetually in “headless-chicken” mode, something must be wrong. Yet on the other hand, some say that to be flat-out tired all the time is a bad thing.

Is it, really? Is being tired a sin? Is it a sign of a good life that we look perpetually refreshed, well groomed, and chirpy at all times? It seems to me, though, that many biblical characters, including Jesus, were no less than perpetually exhausted, often sorrowful, and rather confused.

People imply that if you are not perpetually in “headless-chicken” mode, something must be wrong.

So, no. We can’t diagnose our health solely based on our level of activity. I’d suggest that if feeling “tossed and turned” describes your life, then perhaps things are not going so well, regardless of how busy you may actually be. You feel like you are running around spinning plates, barely keeping them upright. You feel barely afloat – your head may be just bobbing above the waterline.

Life is not really going well if you feel that everything is getting to you and overwhelming you. Let me suggest to you some symptoms …

SIGNS THAT LIFE IS OVERWHELMING YOU

1. Perennial Tiredness
I don’t mean physical tiredness. What I’m talking about is more an emotional feeling of tiredness. In Singapore we have a word for it: sian. It’s the feeling that despite all you may be accomplishing, there is a growing sense of frustration or lack of joy.

2. Lethargy — lack of enthusiasm
Once you loved doing all these things, even when circumstances were difficult. Now there may no longer be any stress factors, but still you find yourself waning in enthusiasm. Why is it so hard to be happy?

3. Inadequacy — constantly feeling not good enough
You are noticing the tiredness of having to run around frantically, but your peers or colleagues seem perfectly fine and very accomplished at this art. Since you find that you cannot maintain the plate-spinning, you begin to reflect whether the problem is with you and your lack of self-discipline. You begin to doubt yourself, especially your capabilities. Perhaps you may have some form of identity issues stirring up: “Who am I, really?”

4. Guilt that you haven’t done enough
This is especially when other parties involved constantly tell you that you haven’t been living up to their expectations. Your spouse lets you know, your kids let you know, your parents let you know, your boss lets you know, and even your pastor lets you know. You need to wake up — you are not doing enough!

5.“The Daily Grind” – doing things because you have to
From a lack of enthusiasm, life switches to drudgery. You have drooping hands and heavy feet as you go into the office, or come back home or waking up early on Sunday mornings for church. There is a certain sense of heaviness about you. You have the “I can’t get out of bed” syndrome. You are also either losing or putting on weight — and it’s noticeable!

6. Bitterness and despair
The default feelings you have, on top of guilt and insufficiency, are now despair and bitterness. Things have switched from “I’m a bit tired” to “Why can’t I get everything to work out?“ to “It’s all my fault” to “Who cares?” to “Get lost! Leave me alone!” By now, things are no longer just uncomfortable or tiring — they are rather quite dangerous.

7. We let one plate fall…
Then one day, you can’t take it. You just let one thing give way — either by accident, or worse, on purpose. You get fired in your job; you can’t maintain the pace. You get scolded one time too many by your spouse. You’ve had one too many arguments — enough is enough. The last sermon you heard urging you to serve in church just pushed you over the limit — that’s it, you’re leaving. The next person who makes a comment on your change in weight suddenly ends up hearing a 30-minute lecture from you.

8. Remorse and anger
Bitterness and despair take a stronger turn. Now everyone is your enemy.

9. Quitting time
You find that in a matter of months or a few years, the other plates also begin to slow down. Some fall too. Church fails, then your relationship with your significant other fails, then your friendships fail, then you find yourself lacking motivation to go to work anymore. Then you have a decision to make: Run away and reset everything, or give up and simply do the bare minimum to make ends meet. Yes, it can actually get that bad. And sad to say, it often happens, even to life-long Christians. There have been too many stories.

MURDERED BY BALANCE

How did all of this happen? Didn’t we start well? Why is it all turning into mush?

Perhaps what is causing some of these issues is the way we think about things. We think that a healthy life is a balanced life. That’s what our society, family, and culture (and sometimes church, too) say. We listen to everyone’s expectations of what is good for us, and we try to excel at each one of them — causing tremendous strain on all segments.

The reality is that this sort of balanced life is quite insane. This whole concept of simply portioning out time and energy to the various segments of life and trying to do all of them well is completely ridiculous. It almost always leads to stress, pain and unrealistic expectations which are never met, causing a deep sense of inadequacy and guilt for those who try to follow, eventually leading to frustration and anger.

Simply put, plate-spinning is suicidal. Balance will kill us.

The process of centring your life on someone is not an easy one – it needs a lot of work.

If I excel in my work, and spend my time and energy there, my family suffers. If I spend time with my friends, my studies suffer. If I spend time with my kids, my work suffers, and so on and so forth. The more time I spend spinning one plate, the more dangerously precarious the situation gets with the others. And I’d have to spend my time running around, always trying to compensate.

What we need to do is to centre our lives on someone. That someone is Jesus.

The process of centring your life on someone is not an easy one. It takes a lot of time, space, and effort (and often a lot of money) to make it happen. Someone doesn’t just become the centre of your life like that — it needs a lot of work. Without that work, we can say that Jesus is at the centre, but times of testing, persecution, busyness — stress — will soon sniff out who or what our lives really revolve around.

HOW YOU’LL KNOW IF YOUR LIFE IS CENTRED ON CHRIST

1. The segments of our lives are formatted around our relationship with Christ
Everything we do will be because we trust Jesus. We work because that’s what He wants us to do — including the type of work. If work takes us away from Jesus, we change jobs or we quit our career altogether. He is the centre. Work is simply a means to an end. If other relationships take us away from Him, we change or cut off those relationships, and start new ones that help us further improve our relationship with the One.

2. There is clarity. We know “Why”
One of the big signs someone is in a restful relationship is when they have a clear sense of calling and purpose in life. They have a deep sense of the future and how things in the present relate to that. These are the people who make better decisions in their jobs and families, and even in their leisure times. Because they know what God calls them to do.

3. Different segments integrate, not tear apart
Rather than having a life trying to constantly compensate for plates that are slowing down in their spinning, somehow these people seem to be busy, but free at the same time. That’s how you know life is integrating. Different facets come together and help one another; you have a holistic life. You are growing as a person, not simply as a taskmaster.

4. Seasons of life hold no threat to you
We all have different seasons of life. Time to work more, time to family more, time to rest more. A balanced life cannot understand this. We must work hard, play hard, family hard, and so on, all the time. A centred life knows when to tone down one segment, and spend more time with the other segments — and yet is not afraid of everything unravelling at the seams. A person could cut down his work hours or his salary without fear, for he knows that what is important at that point is family time. A centred life can look extremely unbalanced at certain times. But these people are thriving!

5. A better sense of personal identity
When we’re plate-spinning, we often live according to the expectations of others. We do what other people say is good. Yet because most of these expectations pull in opposite directions, we often find ourselves asking, “Who am I?” That leads to some people quitting everything and starting a new life. We cut all ties and run away just to get those voices out of our heads because we want to know who we are deep down inside. However, once we’ve managed to centre our lives on Jesus, we begin to get a better sense of our personal identity.

CHRIST IN ME, THE HOPE OF GLORY

Christ liberates us to become who we were always meant to be — first and foremost, children of our heavenly Father. We don’t lose ourselves when we establish our relationship with Jesus. We find ourselves and we are defined by Him.

A centred life lives for the enjoyment of the One in the centre. Everything we do is to enhance our already good relationship with Jesus.That is a sure sign of rest! What a restful relationship always points to is a desire to keep improving that relationship — as odd as that may sound.

Shouldn’t the most characteristic feeling about the Christian life be one of rest? A restful life where work is easy, burdens are light. A restful life where it actually feels like life. You’ll feel alive even while being tired, even in the midst of having to run around serving others all day.

That’s the Christian life that God calls you to. So, go spend time with Him. Make some space to do so.

He’s waiting there with open arms.


This article is an edited excerpt from Dev Menon’s book, The Plate Spinner: A Little Book for Busy Young Adults. It can be purchased here at the Graceworks Store. Dev currently serves as a pastor at Zion Bishan Bible-Presbyterian Church and has ministered to young adults for many years. 

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A new heart, and a new life to go with it

by Keefe Tay | 29 March 2017, 11:10 AM

I went for open-heart surgery when I was 2 years old. But I was so young then that it seems like a figment of my imagination, an event I cannot recall, nor would I want to.

But the month before I was due to graduate, I went for what I hoped would be a routine “all-clear” visit to my cardiologist. Instead, he told me: “You need to have surgery within the next few months.”

It was devastating for both my family and me. I was in denial that anything needed to be done. I felt normal.

I felt betrayed by God at the point of time. Many years prior, I’d attended numerous healing services where pastors would proclaim that I would be healed. I found myself thinking that those were all lies.

Yet I knew deep down that God is good and He can heal me in whatever way He pleases, even through surgery. But I hated for that to be true; it was my biggest nightmare.

In the following month, I got caught up in the joy of getting engaged, graduating from university, and going on holiday with my family. I tried not to think about the pain or discomfort of the surgery, or the fact that there was a small chance that I would not make it through.Every night up until the day I had to leave for Singapore, the thoughts about every aspect of the surgery raced through my mind.

I broke down a few times, and was fortunate to have my fiancée with me at each moment. I felt terrible as she tried to grapple with feelings that not many people have experienced. It was tough for her, I could tell.

Having studied and worked in the veterinarian, I roughly knew what the surgery entailed, the number of chest drains that I had to be fitted with, the breathing tube down my throat. Each thing worried me tremendously. It was one thing to assist in such surgeries with furry animals, and an entirely different experience to be going through it.

As I lay awake, I decided each time to cry out to God and proclaim His promises that He had given me. Every night, I declared:

  • “I am alive with Christ.” (Ephesians 2:5)
  • “I am born of God, and the evil one does not touch me.” (1 John 5:18)
  • “I am more than a conqueror through Him Who loves me.” (Romans 8:37)
  • “I am an overcomer by the blood of the Lord and the word of my testimony.” (Revelation 12:11)
  • “I am redeemed from the curse of sin, sickness, and poverty.” (Galatians 3:13)

But after making those declarations, I often became frustrated when I woke up in the morning feeling lousy and fearful again. Shouldn’t I have more faith? Why do I still feel these feelings despite committing it to God? I couldn’t understand.

The biggest complication that could have happened during the surgery was death. Not to be dramatic or overly technical, but my heart was enormous. It had gotten bigger and bigger over the years, partly because I refused to stop playing football or running around.

As it got larger, it began to press against my sternum, pushing it out on one side. I didn’t feel a thing because this happened gradually. But as the surgeon explained, no one knows how much space there is between my heart and my sternum. If it was “stuck” to the sternum, it meant that there was a chance that he could cut into my heart when opening the sternum. And that could be fatal.

However, he assured me that he would take his time, cutting millimeter by millimeter if he had to. As such, he couldn’t give us a proper estimate of how long the surgery would take, though he estimated it to be about 8 to 10 hours long.

I trusted him, not because of what he said, not because he was the one who performed my surgery when I was 2 years old, not because he is a highly-acclaimed cardiothoracic surgeon – but because I knew that he was a fellow believer and would surely commit the surgery to God.

D-Day came in a blink of an eye. The day before the surgery, and on the day itself, my friends and family members gathered to pray for me. I truly felt loved and cared for at that moment. My fiancée even took a month’s personal leave just to be by my side every day, up till today, words cannot express how much I appreciated that.

As my mother followed me into the preparation area, not many words were exchanged. I knew that it was much tougher for her, seeing her son going through something like this. There was no doubt in my mind that she would take this burden from me if she could. I just hoped to wake up to see her – and the rest of my family and friends – again.

I assured my mother that I had already accepted God’s plan for me, even if it meant for me to go to Heaven. It was something really difficult to say, but I needed her to know that I was in the hands of my loving Father. At this point, a place where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, as described in Revelations 4, did not seem that bad compared to the thought of the events that would follow.

But a part of me could not help but feel that this cannot be it. I still had so much I could do on this earth for God – experiencing the joys of marriage and starting a family, spreading His Word, taking care of my parents in their old age.

I wasn’t ready to leave just yet.

The surgery suite was as cold as many had described it would be. As the anaesthetist injected the induction agent for me to lose consciousness, she did something I don’t think I will ever forget. She got the whole team of surgeons, anaesthetists and nurses in the theatre to join her as she said a prayer for me.

I couldn’t tell how many people were in the theatre at that time, but I knew then that not only was I covered in prayer, but the team, too, and things would be okay.

That peace was overwhelming, and it came right at the last moment before I lost consciousness, when I most needed it. I later woke up thinking that it must have been a dream that the whole team had prayed for me before my surgery, but later the anaesthetist confirmed it, and was shocked I had remembered.

Where was God through all this? He was everywhere. In the people who cared for me. With me as I laid in bed alone each night. Reassuring me in the form of friends and family, doctors and nurses.

The next thing I knew, I found myself awake and lying in the ICU bed. My friends and family were there and they took turns to come up to me. I could tell that they were overjoyed. As for me, it just felt like waking up from any other sleep. I remember turning to my fiancée and telling her that I felt fine, was bored and either wanted to go home or for her to bring the Xbox over. She laughed.

That night, as I lay in bed with the ICU staff coming and going, it finally hit me that the surgery was over and I had made it through alive. As I stared at the wall, it was the first time I felt confident, almost cocky, thinking to myself: “That was it? I could do it again!”

But that was the morphine speaking. I know because when they turned the dose down just a bit the following day, I felt the full effects of my discomfort. I also felt slightly disappointed by the fact that a pacemaker had not been put in during the surgery. This machine was supposed to be put in together with the valve replacement, as I had an irregular heartbeat and a resting heart rate of about 30 beats per minute at night.

The surgeon later explained to me that he didn’t want to risk putting it in, as he couldn’t locate the perfect site due to my heart being quite “fatty”. My parents say it was because of the pork belly and curry fish head that I love to eat, but my friends in Australia will probably think its the Indo Mee.

I blame the veggies.

Prior to the surgery, I kept thinking that I was going through this surgery alone. But in hindsight, I knew it wasn’t the case. I later found out that my church members had arranged to take turns to pray for me throughout my surgery, such that I was fully covered. Relatives and friends, as well as pastors and companions in Christ from my parents’ church and beyond prayed from me and/or came by during the surgery to be there with me and my parents.

I know one Aunty even tried to get into the surgery theatre to check if the surgery was completed. These are the people who you know would do anything for you!

In my 7 days recovering in hospital, two things stand out. The first is the love of my friends and family.

My parents and two of my friends – you know who they are – came to visit me at hospital every day without fail. They brought me food, tried to occupy me with board games, or simply just “hung out” while I just sat/lay there. At the times that I felt down in the dumps and didn’t want to say a word, they stayed beside me.

The constant love of my family was evident from the moment I told them I would need to undergo surgery. My brother flew all the way from Thailand, where he worked among the poor and needy, just to be with me for a day.

The second thing that stood out for me was the incredible ICU staff. I was kept in the ICU for 4 days because they were worried about my low heart rate.

I have met enough doctors and medical practitioners to know that this isn’t an easy line of work. There is something called “compassion fatigue” that sets in when you care so much about a patient that it affects you as much as it affects them.

As I took the time to talk to those caring for me, I never once doubted that they were still in this stressful job because of their love for their patients. I often wondered how they could still smile, laugh and joke in this stressful environment, or how they could still remain empathetic to me when I was not feeling great.

Where was God through all this? He was everywhere. In the people who cared for me, with the medical and surgical staff as he guided them through the procedure and in making decisions. He was with me as I laid in bed alone each night, when I thought on one occasion that I was about to die because I could hear my heart clicking in a very pronounced and discomforting way. He was there reassuring me in the form of friends and family, doctors and nurses.

After I got the all-clear to leave the hospital, I thought that things would be easy. But that was actually when the biggest struggles arose. Without the faithful staff that would bring me everything I needed before I knew I needed it, and with my constant coughing hurting my chest, it was torturous.

I felt painful and uncomfortable without the morphine, and there were numerous times I just had to cry out to God to take the burden from me. He got me through.

Even though I will most likely have to go through something like this again in my life, I have complete trust in all that God has planned for me. Even in the darkest and most difficult of struggles, I know that God’s plan is the best, and He is there with me – and you – no matter what. As Romans 8:18-31 explains, we need to “consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us”.

Two months on, I can finally say that I am thankful that God had planned this surgery, for there is much I have learnt through this episode. These months that I had dreaded, have changed the way I look at things forever.

Through this journey, I have witnessed the power of prayer, and what it can do when many come together to pray for one another.

Although my heart condition is what I consider to be a “thorn in the flesh” – something that I had tried to run away from for most of my life – I believe that I would not be who I am today without it. My biggest weakness and flaw is also my biggest strength. It is my hope that I will be better able to understand and talk to people who have been going through similar experiences. I know that in my line of work, empathy for my clients will be crucial.

Through this journey, I have witnessed the power of prayer, and what it can do when many come together to pray for one another. I believe that God allows struggles and difficulties in our lives to make us grow stronger through our faith in Him.

Our lives are a constant journey of struggle, sin, difficulties and trials. But, we must trust that God will use it all for good, as we persevere and overcome challenges. He brings joy to our lives despite the circumstances.


This was originally shared on the C∆pture Facebook Page. C∆pture (or Capture Triangle) is an artistic platform for Christians who dabble in writing, photography and graphic design. If you serve God in a similar way, please drop them an email at capturetriangle@gmail.com

If you’re going through a similar experience related to health issues requiring surgery, Keefe also extends a listening ear at keefetay@hotmail.com

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Why is it so hard to make the right decisions in life?

by | 28 March 2017, 1:11 PM

At the age of 10 I was introduced to The Game of Life, a board game that brings players through a series of life decisions from college to retirement, with jobs, homes, marriage and even children along the way. Looking back almost two decades on, I have to say that the creators of the game – as simplified a simulation of life as it is – had one thing right: Life really does feel like a series of decisions.

You’ve got the small decisions: What should I wear today? Where should we eat tonight?

The scary big ones: Which university course should I apply for? Should I quit my job? Who should I marry?

And in between there’s the medium-sized ones that come up every once in awhile: Should I stand up to the person who’s being mean to me? How should I respond to unpleasant news? Do I tell the truth if it hurts someone?

Decisions, decisions. We all want to make the “right” ones that make us feel and look good. But with imperfect knowledge and the inability to see the future, how do we ever know for sure the decision we land on is the best for us? The best chance of making the right choice is then to make the wise decision from where we stand.

And for that we need a little thing called wisdom.

THE RIGHT/RIGHT CONTINUUM

Why does decision-making sometimes feel like rocket science?

Many decisions are particularly difficult to make because they aren’t right/wrong ones, but right/right ones. When you’ve weighed your options with logic and gut feeling, maybe even done cost-benefit analysis on them. Only to find you’re still stuck between two “right” answers: They both make sense but have very different outcomes, rendering our decision making extremely crucial.

This is the right/right continuum of decision making.

Many decisions are particularly difficult to make because they aren’t right/wrong ones, but right/right ones where you’re stuck between two “right” answers.

Coming to a final answer in this frustrating continuum requires wisdom like no other. You might need experience no one has had, knowledge not found on Google, and judgement not humanly known to man. Only one being could possibly possesses that kind of wisdom: God.

But the problem with His wisdom is it tends to not look or sound like any wisdom you’ve heard, which means it doesn’t always leave you looking or sounding wise in society’s eyes. It might even result in quite the opposite: What others will define as foolishness.

WHEN WISDOM IS FOOLISHNESS

Knowing that a life of free-will would mean a life of all kinds of decisions, the Bible is filled with great advice and handles for making wise ones – ones guided by the One who sees all things from the beginning to end and has wisdom far above any wisdom man can possess (1 Corinthians 1:25). This wisdom is best evident in the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who came to earth as a man.

The Gospels document many instances of Jesus interacting with people, educated and uneducated alike. He shared thought-provoking lessons that were considered radical in His time and sometimes entirely counterintuitive to normal human behaviour. A good example for reference: When someone slaps you, turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39). How does that make any sense? We’ll explain in a bit.

Let’s first consider 3 big categories of decision making and what biblical wisdom would look like in response to them …

WHAT BIBLICAL WISDOM LOOKS LIKE

1. CHOOSING A PATH

Some of the biggest decisions affect where we go and how our lives will unfold: A school, a course, a job, a life partner. And because we cannot determine what lies ahead, we need God’s all-surpassing wisdom to show us which road to take.

The catch: His answer may not look like the journey we envision for ourselves. He might direct our steps (Jeremiah 10:23) down a path that the people around us will question and deem foolish. Why would you leave a well-paying job? Why should religion be a concern if that means a smaller pool of people to date?

The pay-off: You might not know it yet, but the God-given journey holds the answers to your deepest desires and what He made you specifically to do and be in this life. There is no better fit than a fitting done by the One who made you (Psalm 139:14). What may seem foolish at first may prove itself wise in time to come, if we trust Him to show us the way.

2. CHOOSING HOW TO ACT

In the course of the day to day, most of our decisions will be with regard to other people and how we treat them. And as with any interpersonal engagement, miscommunication, misunderstandings and misgivings are bound to arise. How then shall we act?

The catch: We return to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. Do good to those who hate you. Be kind to the ungrateful and the evil, as demonstrated by God Himself. This means having to put down our rights and arms in exchange for a response of unexpected, crazy, foolish love. Turning the other cheek.

The pay-off: By showing our enemies – those who mistreat us – unexpected kindness, we shock them with love (Proverbs 25:21-22) and bring them one step closer to encountering the redemptive and life-changing power of God for themselves. We do not repay evil for evil, instead we overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). We stop the spiral of hurt and misgivings by responding otherwise, as counterintuitive as it may be. Now that’s wisdom.

3. CHOOSING OUR ATTITUDE

What follows us through each moment and filters and frames the way we see our lives and community is our attitude. Because in this world we will have trouble and suffering, each in its own form and degree (John 16:33). How we face each day – especially the bad ones – with joy can sometimes feel beyond us.

The catch: Holding on to hope in God, believing that He will see us through whatever difficulty and heartaches we encounter is easier said than done. Giving up and walking away may feel like the wiser decision, and persevering with faith may be called out as foolishness.

The pay-off: Ultimately, we aren’t just choosing an attitude of hope. We’re choosing God, knowing His ways are higher. We’re actively putting aside our humanly responses to all kinds of circumstances and looking to Him for His view on things. And while He comforts us in our grief, He places hope in our hearts to take each new step with grace and strength.

BE THE FOOL FOR CHRIST, BUT PRAY FOR WISDOM

With the myriad of self-help and Internet wisdom available today, it’s easy to seem like fools when we commit to doing things God’s way (1 Corinthians 4:10). Because within Christ’s teachings and calling of his disciples to be countercultural is the inherent need to reject the world’s wisdom – the standards of the age – and embrace the “foolish” wisdom of the Most High God (1 Corinthians 3:18).

The Gospel we profess to believe in started with a great “foolish” act. Jesus put aside his place with God, his deity, and humbled Himself to the status of not just a man but a servant (Philippians 2:7). He came not to be served as the King that He was, but to serve and suffer for the salvation of humanity (Mark 10:45).

It was the one great act that shocked the world – an act of unconditional, sacrificial love that continues to confound us today. Why would He do that? Why would He pay for sins He never committed Himself?

The Gospel starts with a great “foolish” act. Jesus put aside his place with God, and humbled Himself to serve and suffer for the salvation of humanity.

Yet it was the divine wisdom of God that saw this decision of folly as necessary. On our own, paying for our own sins would mean eternal separation from Him. There is nothing we can do to reconcile ourselves back to Him, by our own merit and good works. And so He paid it all. We simply have to believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).

If we desire to be set apart, holy like He was, we cannot so easily subscribe to dominant culture, so much of which is self-beneficial, self-glorifying and self-sufficient (James 3:15). At the same time, we must pray for discernment to tell godly foolishness from plain old foolishness, an ever-increasing knowledge of God’s ways and good judgment to live counter-culturally as Jesus did.

This is the wisdom we want for the decisions we need to make in this Game of Life.

“But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favouritism and is always sincere.” (James 3:17)

/ 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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Struggles in solitude, and my song of surrender

by Merissa Tee | 28 March 2017, 12:51 PM

I was travelling overseas alone with my ukulele, attempting to run away from all my problems back in Singapore. I was disappointed by relationships, disappointed in myself. A lifelong introvert, I thought I needed change. New experiences and new people would do the trick, I thought.

Ironically, I also wanted some time apart from those who knew me. I was tired of the love I’d grown so used to. I wanted to miraculously forget everything, ditch the baggage, heal the wounds and become better and stronger before coming home.

But while I was overseas, a lady I used to wheel to church every week from her old folks’ home passed away.

I was utterly torn. I’d promised to bring back goodies; she’d told me she’d be waiting. She treated me like her own family, but I wasn’t there when she breathed her last.

It dawned on me that becoming a better person is not a solo act. Love only operates in relationships, the most important being the one we have with God.

Those months away allowed me to experience all that I wanted: Stuck in a sudden snowstorm, I learnt to entrust my life and safety to God. He opened my eyes to the simple joys of life and the beauty of creation. I made amazing new lifelong friends who welcomed me, a foreigner, into their loving community with open arms – love I never thought I deserved. Through their example, I learnt to do likewise for strangers whom I crossed paths with.

Now I know that merely wishing and waiting for God to change me wasn’t enough. That change would only happen when I learnt to think less of myself and more of others.

Instead of expecting people to love me the just the way I was, I had to learn to love others more, seeing beauty in brokenness just as God did for me before I knew Him.

With all this in mind, ukelele in hand, far from home, I wrote this song:

Before I Get Home

I’ve packed up all my bags
It’s time to just relax
You gotta let me go
Be back in a year or so

I’m running off the tracks
Why is life this complex
I’ve been living for myself
I can’t do anything else

Oh no, I’m not really invincible
But I’ll be back before you know
So just let me leave

All I want is
A little time to myself
I’m trying to understand
What is love
I just gotta know
What my life is for
Oh God will you change me
Before I get home

I don’t mind being invisible
As long as I’m truly willing to love
You’ll see a better me

All I need is
To see less of myself
I’m trying to understand
So I can love even more
I gotta be sure
What my life is for
Oh God you’re changing me
Before I get home
All I want is to finally go home

Now I’m home, the struggle continues. Life so easily becomes mundane and I find the ratrace stealing my joy. It’s so, so easy to despair.

But every time I sing this song, I find my eyes turn back to God’s grace. My spirit is lifted as I acknowledge His constant presence and working in my life, in our lives. My soul rests because I know He makes all things beautiful in His time.

We need to be reminded to seek Him daily, to focus our eyes on Him, and pray for His word to change our hearts. Then we’ll begin to see that He is the living God who loves and cares for our every need, physical, emotional and spiritual.

If you are going through a hard time, know you’re not alone – let’s walk this road together. The victorious end is already set out for us. Though we struggle in this life, our lives are always in His hands. God is honing and moulding us to do His great work before we finally meet Him face-to-face.

Mersie is a singer-songwriter and artist who attends Zion Serangoon Bible Presbyterian Church. You can follow her at @mersietee on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and on her Facebook page.

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Bromance is dead

by | 28 March 2017, 12:27 PM

Think of your three closest friends.

Now think about the last time you spoke to each one of them.

Next, try to recall what makes them come alive – their wildest dreams and greatest fears.

If you’re a girl, chances are this exercise has brought warmth to your heart. You’ve met these dear friends fairly recently, in person or via Skype. You don’t have many opportunities to meet, but you make time. Over a cuppa, you pick up right where you left off.

If you’re a guy, however, you’re probably feeling apprehensive. (Unless, of course we’re talking about the girl you’re wooing – but that’s a story for another day).

But let’s be honest: It’s a false bromance. You’ve had deeper conversations with Siri.

Men do pretty well keeping friendships through school and National Service, but things fall apart quickly by the time we’re “out in the real world”. We bump into old friends on the street, or “like” our buddies’ stuff on Facebook. We exchange the usual niceties, bro-fist and make plans.

But let’s be honest: It’s a false bromance. You’ve had deeper conversations with Siri.

When we say our goodbyes, we’re already half-resigned to the fact that our plans to “relive the glory days” by hiking the Himalayas, chasing the Northern Lights or cave diving the Mexican cenotes will probably never materialise. All that mountaineering gear you bought on impulse a year ago will slowly corrode till one day you decide – with kids on lap and bills to pay – to Carousell them for good.

My apologies for making you feel like a loser. But it’s a real issue that needs to be discussed: Loneliness is a poison

LOVE OR DIE

Society’s finally started talking about depression, but nobody wants to admit they’re Mr Lonely. German psychiatrist Frieda Fromm-Reichmann proposed that loneliness – emotional isolation – lies at the heart of all mental illness.

More depressingly, it’s merely the beginning of a long list of physical maladies. The psychological effect of prolonged isolation compromises one’s physical health as much as long-term smoking. The chronically lonely face are prone to a myriad of health problems: Obesity, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, neurodegenerative diseases and even cancer – a 26 to 32 per cent increased risk of premature death.

And – the irony – if you happen to be feeling lonely, you’re not alone. One in three people aged 45 and above suffer from chronic loneliness (up from one in five a decade before). Many of these are married.

 

The irony: If you happen to be feeling lonely, you’re not alone.

We’ve got an epidemic on our hands.

With the flame of bromance flickering, men also seem to fare far worse in mid-life, with suicide rates of male Baby Boomers disproportionately higher (27.3 out of 100,000) than their female counterparts (8.1) in the US.

A CULTURE OF ISOLATION

The ugly admission is we – men and women alike – are just too tired and busy for our buddies.

Somehow, women are often slightly better at maintaining trusted relationships, while men let their outdated relationships – like those old hiking boots – lapse into ruin. We’re good at making “friends” wherever, but few, if any, of these go deeper than a hi/bye or follow us into the next season. A quick scroll through your abandoned WhatsApp chats should confirm this.

So many men live in a loneliness trap where big dreams are crushed by the mundane responsibilities of life. Not that women don’t dream big or are more irresponsible, but men are more likely to fall into isolation walking in the tension between ideal and reality.

“Loneliness is the want of intimacy,” said Soren Kierkegaard. And it seems our chronic lack of intimacy is caused by culture: Capitalism and meritocracy.

The Singapore dream. Efficiency and competitiveness at the cost of empathy. Social media making us “more connected” but “more lonely” than ever before. The endless feed of spam that uses every bit of our mental faculty while failing to nourish our souls. Romantic ideals that downplay the importance of meaningful non-romantic relationships. The valid but often abused idea of “boundaries”.

Studies on identical twins even suggest a genetic predisposition to loneliness – nature – while biologists have discovered that our loneliness levels later in life are affected by the conditions of our formative years – nurture.

There are reasons to support the gender-difference too: The stigma of emotional men, the side-by-side nature of male friendships (compared to face-to-face in women) premised on shared interests and goals, male ambition and “alpha” pride.

From school, to church, to office, you get the feeling that males only thrive in communities with visionary leadership, room for ruckus and high stakes. Apart from these, men tend to become wandering lone wolves.

I think of the exodus of men from church in droves. And while there are things the church can do to mitigate the trend, the reality is that the modern man is terrible at making real friends, and the Church so happens to be a community of such friends.

It’s time men learnt to make real friends.

IT’S NOT GOOD FOR MAN (AND WOMAN) TO BE ALONE

The solution to loneliness is human connection. And while this may come in the form of romantic love in marriage, it doesn’t necessarily have to.

Men and women are tied in other intimate ways (1 Corinthians 11:11), where we learn to treat one another as brothers and sisters. Men also need meaningful male relationships for brotherhood, discipleship, role models, prayer and accountability. We all could use a bro, and the Bible is full of bromance

The cycle of hopeless, desperate isolation finds its solution in communities of love made possible by Jesus.

But of all the stories of bromance, one stands out. Thanks to Jesus, we have the glorious privilege of knowing the King of Kings, Lord of Lords – Bro of Bros, if you will.

Mere friendship falls painfully short of God’s agape because they are at best superficial and at worst completely false. Bluntly put, they are self-serving: We get a kick out of our friends. We use them as punching bags, self-help guides or stuffed bears. Some friendships are clever disguises for romantic pursuits. Even in marriage, many still feel alone because they don’t understand God’s perfect love.

WELCOME TO THE BODY OF CHRIST, BRO

The key to restoring our connection with humans is in reviving our love: First with God, then with our fellow man.

In the case of the two greatest commandments given by God and reiterated by Jesus in Matthew 22:36-40, one cannot exist without the other: We love God by loving people; we learn to love people by loving God. And – something most of us miss – we must allow others to love us by learning to receive love graciously in community.

Consider the three friends you named earlier. In spite of life’s many frustrating challenges, our limited energy and time, God gives you the ability to love them because He loves you. In fact, He calls you to love the different, the lost, your enemies and the unlovable.

This is the Church: Not a building, but relationships built on the love of Jesus.

As our elderly are packed into nursing homes run by foreign-language staff, factory jobs are gradually replaced by mechanised artificial intelligence, screens continue to “facilitate” personal and professional interactions, and the young search in vain for a meaningful existence, the cycle of hopeless, desperate isolation finds its solution in communities of love made possible by Jesus.

Such love is both our witness (John 17:20-21) and our saving grace (John 14:18-21). It is literally moving from death to life.

Bros and sisters, treat every little symptom of your loneliness if you must – your life depends on it. But understand that we fight against the laws of entropy unless we are supernaturally revived. If you consider yourself lonely, look first to Jesus. Ask Him to fill you with His love. Then go and do likewise. Be the church.

It might start with a humble bromance of three, but in time it’ll grow vastly beyond what you can ask or imagine. Big Bro’s got your back.

/ kenneth@thir.st

Kenneth is best understood through his impassioned Instagram posts, composed in the deep of night when the tumultuous world finally lies silent. He probably prefers dogs to cats.

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A new heart, and a new life to go with it

Why is it so hard to make the right decisions in life?

Struggles in solitude, and my song of surrender

Bromance is dead