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Studies

I was so sure where the path would lead – and then the music faded

by Chantel Tay | 5 June 2018, 3:45 PM

As a child, I was a dedicated musician. Academic schooling was mandatory, but music nonetheless took on a large part of my life – I spent hours practising, and weekends were dedicated to shuttling to and from music classes.

I became more certain of my music journey as I grew older. At 14, I left the dance club to join my school’s Piano Ensemble. This further exposed me to opportunities that enhanced my experience as a musician.

I performed in solos, duets, and even with my school’s string orchestra. Eventually, I was accepted into the Music Education Programme, where music took up an integral role in my schooling life.

By then, I was convinced music had to be my calling; it was evident in my eyes that this was the plan God had in store for me. Everything seemed to be going well, and I was ready to pursue a music degree once I was done with my academics. This was going to be the year.

When I was unexpectedly shortlisted to take part in a conservatory’s piano academy, comprising of international students across the globe, it was an answered prayer for a clear sign that music was the path for me. This is it! I remember thinking.

But everything came crashing down when I suddenly sustained a wrist injury. The doctor diagnosed it as tendonitis, and the recovery duration was uncertain.

I felt as though everything I’d held so closely onto had been taken away from me.

Due to my inability to play even after a month, I eventually withdrew from the academy. At that point, my head was clouded in thoughts. Why, Lord? Wasn’t this Your clear plan for me?

What am I going to do now?

There were a lot of tears, a lot of frustration. I felt as though a goal that I had chased for years had amounted to nothing. If music was taken away from me, I had no idea where my calling lay. It definitely didn’t help that my friends were all busily sourcing for internships with a much clearer idea of what they wanted to do.

My injury continues to act up once in a while, and I am currently no longer pursuing music. Instead, I will be pursuing a Communication Studies degree – somewhere I never expected myself to be doing.

I’ve been thinking about the fleeting nature of earthly possessions set against the unwavering nature of God. When everything was going haywire, I realised that the one thing constant that I could seek and lean upon was God.

God is good even when there is nothing good happening in front of us. He doesn’t stop being good when things in our life look bad. In my heartbreak and confusion, I learnt what it means that His faithfulness is what remains unchanging in an ever changing world.

I was also reminded of the story of the rich young man in Mark 10:17-27, how he was so sorrowful when Jesus asked him to leave everything he owned in order to follow Him. If music was everything to me, then I was probably in this young man’s position.

But all the more, through this season, I’ve never been more convicted that I want to develop a faith that says yes to whatever Jesus asks of me, even if it means letting go of the dearest things in my heart out of trust that He only has good plans for me.

There will always be unending questions in my head about why this all happened. But I’m choosing to believe that God will make things right and beautiful in His time (Ecclesiastes 3:11). After all, I exist so that He will be glorified through my life.

When God chooses to close some doors and open others, He doesn’t call us to fathom His plans. He merely calls us to be faithful and follow Him. And this is what I hope to do.

The crucial thing about faith, I’ve come to learn, is not about its capacity, but how enduring it is.

“And the apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’ So the Lord said, ‘If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, “Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:5-6)

I believe the intention of using a mustard seed – something seemingly small, incapable of achieving much, is to emphasise that faith is the basis for growth in the Lord.

Sometimes we fall behind when our plans don’t work out, perhaps simply because God already has a better plan in mind for us – but how often do we find ourselves lamenting to Him: Do You not love me?

But before you bury yourself in emotional distress, feelings of unworthiness and doubt, I want you to remember that God loves each and every one of you.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7)

If God has crafted each and every one of us based on His desires, how could we doubt His love for us?

I know how challenging it is to keep the faith when everything that was going well suddenly takes a turn for the worse. But I’d like to believe that adversity is an opportunity for us to run towards our Heavenly Father instead of away from Him.

So run to Him. He will prove faithful.

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Studies

How God saved my grades while on exchange

by Amanda Wong | 20 August 2018, 3:17 PM

Everyone said exchange would be a piece of cake: confirm pass, can’t fail. But that wasn’t the case for me.

During my exchange semester in South Korea at Yonsei University, I decided to take a total of 6 modules. They would all be credited as pass/fail modules anyway, so I figured I might as well take more so that I wouldn’t have to worry during my last semester back in NTU.

I opted for 1 mathematics module, 3 economics modules, 1 liberal arts elective and 1 business elective. I thought the examination requirements were manageable, so I didn’t worry much.

When the midterm period came round, I studied normally just like how I would have studied for any other midterm in NTU. I thought that would be fine because I just needed to pass the midterms.

Out of the 6 modules, I had a midterm for everything except the liberal arts module (just a presentation for this instead). And because the economics modules were all theory-based, I assumed I could just write something that made sense related to the theory, so I didn’t put in that much effort.

However, when the midterms came, I came out of every midterm feeling depressed. One of the economics module was a total shocker: the lecture notes were all theory, but the midterm was all calculations! I couldn’t do most of it … all I could do was pray for a miracle.

Because I was failing everything.

I recall trying to finish one of my assignments before church service on Friday night.

I was really struggling, googling books and answers, but nothing was helping. I had agreed to do street evangelism with my church friends, but I was still stuck on the assignment.

So I told them to go ahead without me because I had to finish my work. And even after they had evangelised for more than an hour, I still had nothing written on my paper. I thought I was screwed because all the Korean students would have solved it and submitted long answers … but mine would just be a blank piece of paper.

Funny thing was, I attempted the question again a few days later and finished it in 20mins. Seriously?! I could have done street evangelism with my friends instead of wasting that time away. I should have trusted in God’s providence of time and wisdom, but I relied on my own will.

This made me question what happened to my reliance on God. Because just a month ago, I also had to choose between a school assignment and church. Even though my church leaders told me to focus on my studies, I decided to rely on God’s time and wisdom to complete my assignment.

I got 92/100 for that assignment … How could I forget that?

I realised that God doesn’t bless me because I serve Him. He blesses me because He wants to.

As the finals approached, I started to redo my notes and past papers and attended consultations.

I spent so much of my time studying at cafes that cafe owners recognised me. I tried to plan my time better like waking up earlier to study – or studying between church events.

I tried my best to juggle studying and serving at church because I didn’t want to stop helping out at church just because of my grades (I only had to pass, after all). I really believed in what God was doing in South Korea and I wanted to be a part of it as much as I could before I left.

On the day that scores were released on the school portal, I saw that only 2 of my 6 modules had scores posted. I knew that the scores were not the final grades I would be receiving, but they were indicators if I was going to pass or fail the module.

And it wasn’t looking good. I felt so screwed when I saw my results: 18/100 for Public Finance and 8.5/100 for Money and Banking. My parents would flip if I couldn’t graduate on time because I failed my modules! I tried to play it cool but I was panicking inside.

All that was left was to trust in God’s providence though everything looked impossible. How was God going to help me pass in this situation?

As I waited nervously for my final results, I was planning what additional modules I would take when I got home. But on the third day, I checked my grades to find that somehow I had passed all my modules! None of it made any sense.

The next day when I went to church, my heart was just filled with gratefulness. It was an unexplainable gratefulness. It really made no sense, but everything worked out: I was able to serve at church while receiving the grades I wanted. So of course, I had to ask the important question to God: “What are You teaching me?”

I realised that God doesn’t bless me because I serve Him. He blesses me because He wants to. Having demanded God to bless me just because I had served Him was foolish. I initially served because I just wanted to help the church in whatever way I could. But somewhere along the way I had served because I wanted to be blessed by Him.

And that was what God was trying to teach me: Not to have the wrong starting point. It’s really about reliance on God when it comes to studies because there’s no way we can do it by ourselves.

His grace doesn’t really make sense, but that’s just what it is.


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What if I’m bad at my major?

by | 20 August 2018, 10:17 AM

I don’t know what I am doing here. I think this is not meant for me.

If you’ve never uttered those phrases yourself, it’s likely you’ve heard it from those around you in school. After all, we live in a country that emphasises academic excellence as a means for future financial security.

The disappointment of not doing well despite having studied hard, or the anxiety that arises from not understanding what’s being taught, only add to the convenience of us claiming that a course is “wrong” for us – simply because we do not excel in it.

As a lover of books and reading throughout my entire life, literature was the obvious choice for me when I entered university.

I especially loved to daydream about the storylines and characters within the books I devoured. I had also consistently done well in the subject prior to university, so choosing to major in it seemed to be a foregone conclusion. In fact, I felt destined for it.

So it came as a shock to me in my freshman year, to learn that my work was only considered mediocre. Literature turned out to be a far more complex and difficult field that I had ever imagined it to be.

… I had wrongly expected blessings in the specific form of good results from Him just for walking with Him.

I tried so hard in the first two years to understand what was even being taught. I strived to write eloquent and insightful papers, but would be invariably crushed by disappointing and lacklustre results.

It was very easy to say that literature was not for me because I wasn’t doing well or enjoying myself. It was even easier for me to doubt and question God, because I had wrongly expected blessings in the specific form of good results from Him just for walking with Him.

God, if You placed this course in my heart, why am I not excelling in it then?

When I think of someone being in the “wrong course,” my mind goes to Zacchaeus the tax collector (Luke 19:1-10).

His occupation as a tax collector was socially and religiously “wrong”. Jewish tax collectors were excommunicated from their synagogues because they worked for the Romans and were viewed as traitors (it didn’t help that they would overcharge the Jews for their own profit).

We also know that Zacchaeus was excellent in his work, as he was the chief tax-collector in Jericho. Ironically, his name means “pure one,” yet he chose a career that was considered tainted. But Zacchaeus’ name also reflects how God had chosen him even before he became a tax collector. Zacchaeus took his first steps to becoming a pure one when he climbed that tree to see Jesus.

Although we do not know if Zacchaeus remained a tax collector after his encounter with Jesus, we do know that he viewed his occupation with renewed perspective: “Here and now, I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8).

The Lord is sovereign, He knows the plans He has for all of creation truly and fully, but He is also a gracious God that allows us to make choices.

Though Zacchaeus chose to be a tax collector, God brought Zacchaeus from a wrong course back to Him. God didn’t have to, but He did. That’s mercy.

And just as God allowed Zacchaeus to excel despite being in the wrong place, He can also allow one to fail while being in the right place.

Because nothing will get in the way of God’s plan, and He will never fail.

It took an entire summer break for me to surrender my expectations and ambitions for being in literature at the foot of the cross, where I really made Him the centre of my life. It was only then that I got a fresh perspective on things.

Now as I finish my third year, I see how He’s been calling me to choose literature for a completely different reason. I’m called to more than just personal interests and academic excellence – my imagination and skills are being honed to bring Him glory through my writing.

As long as we turn to God, there is no place He will not bring us out from, to display His sovereign grace over us as His beloved.

/ samanthaloh@thir.st

Samantha is a creative who is inspired by the people and stories around her. She also loves striped tees and would love to pass her collection down to her future children. Currently level 1127 on Candy Crush.

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Studies

Are you a 5% student?

by | 13 August 2018, 10:47 PM

Being a 5% student is one of the running jokes I have with my friends whom I serve with in church. The reason being this: We don’t spend much time in school during the term. And even when we’re in school, we’re usually attending meetings, having meal appointments, or planning for church ministry.

It’s only in the final weeks of the semester, with impending essay deadlines and exams, where we pull all-nighters as we scramble to cover one semester’s worth of content within a couple of days.

But as I approach my fourth and final year in university, my friends and I recognise that while we may responsible leaders in church, we’re certainly not the most model students around. And therein we have a problem.

Granted, it’s hard. Most of us, whether we’re involved in church ministries or not, are part-time students and full-time jugglers.

We juggle all the expectations we have of ourselves and those that others have of us – be it parents, friends, university, extra-curricular activities, and as we proceed, we just hope that we don’t drop anything.

I’m always thankful for the flexibility of university life because not only do I get the freedom to attend classes that I am interested in, I’m also in control of my schedule and should be able to plan for the amount of time/effort required for each t0-do.

But with a college student’s schedule that fills up so easily and quickly, the time/effort allocated for each item is often far underestimated. What happens then?

Most of us end up constantly arranging and living our lives according to our shifting priorities – myself included. What demands my attention now? What is the most pressing issue I must settle?

And who else gets me when I say that studies very easily becomes one of the last priorities throughout the semester, simply because nothing is due that urgently? The stack of recommended readings only ever seems to increase in size.

Chasing priorities in life, however, leaves us drained and physically exhausted quickly. And to replenish our energy, we “borrow” time from yet another priority. Again, it’s usually our studies that take a further hit.

It seems understandable to skip a couple of lectures or tutorials here and there – we will catch up on the work eventually, right? Yet we only have a finite 24 hours a day, so whatever time is lost, is gone, never to be seen again.

Each of us is a multitude of identities: We are students, we are leaders, we are team-mates, we are sons and daughters, we are brothers and sisters. But how easily we forget that we are also, most importantly, bearers of His name.

Wouldn’t it be alarming if our classmates looked at our indifferent attitude towards school and asked, “Does this mean that as a Christian, you will have no time to study?” Perhaps we must consider that our testimonies as people of God must measure up wherever we go – from church, to family, to school.

There just might be a need to take a hard but truthful look at your school work to evaluate your attitude – and corresponding efforts – towards this station of life that you’re in. Are your mediocre results because of a lack of revision? Did you write this paper the day before the deadline because of poor time management?

Here’s a big one for many of us: What is your class attendance like?

As Christians, we have the privilege of grace that surpasses our weaknesses and inadequacies even in school work, but we also have the responsibility of bearing a good testimony for the sake of Christ (1 John 5: 10) – in the school as much as we are in the church – or all the more so!

God is just as present when we are in school as when we are in church.

Bearing good testimony therefore involves honouring the standards of the educational institution we are in because that honours God as well. God is just as present when we are in school as when we are in church. Why else will be given this sphere of influence with this group of people – for such a time as this?

He will not waste any means – yes, even the least exciting classes we’re stuck in week in and week out – that He can use to save some. That is, those who cross our paths because we are where we are.

In the new, upcoming semester, my challenge to you, whether you are a freshmen or a returning student, by all means possible, is to be a good testimony for Christ in your schools.

Hopefully from there, you will find it easier to plan a schedule that honours God through all your commitments: A 100% student, 100% Christian.

/ samanthaloh@thir.st

Samantha is a creative who is inspired by the people and stories around her. She also loves striped tees and would love to pass her collection down to her future children. Currently level 1127 on Candy Crush.

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A note to the freshmen

by Ann Ng | 10 August 2018, 5:43 PM

It’s the time of the year when universities are once again filled with the cheers and excitement from the new batch of freshmen.

It’s a season of new beginnings that many people look forward to and anticipate. As a final year student now, walking past the orientation camps in school, I recall that starting university was exciting … yet something I was apprehensive about.

Will I get to make new friends? Will I like my course of study? Where will this lead me to? These were all questions I had in my head. I remember googling seniors’ blogs, reading about their orientation experiences and module reviews and seeing where they are at now in life. All of this actually overwhelmed me, rather than giving me any assurance.

And even after 3 years in university, I am still learning and do not have perfect advice for my juniors. Nevertheless, there are 4 things close to my heart that I wish someone had shared with me at the start.

4 HANDLES FOR FRESHERS

1. Know that you are loved

My first university orientation camp was a culture shock to me. As an introvert, meeting 20 new people in an orientation group was very intimidating. Coupled with being forced to shout cheers in a language I could barely recognise as English, I felt out of place most of the time.

The seniors were friendly and caring but I often found myself questioning if I was loud enough, competitive enough or even pretty enough for others. I felt the strong need to impress people, even if it meant being someone I was not. I desired to be well-liked, I wanted more friends, I wanted to be loved …

“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:10)

I was not a Christian then, but had I known that God loves unconditionally and deeply, I would have felt much less need to impress others for this false sense of worth. Now I know my identity and security is in Christ alone, whose love is even more steadfast and everlasting than the mountains and the hills.

In 3 years of university life, I’ve experienced disappointment, heartbreak and rejection. But through it all, God’s faithful love never failed – I am treasured and you are too!

… had I known that God loves unconditionally and deeply, I would have felt much less need to impress others for this false sense of worth.

2. Chase God’s Kingdom

In university, everyone seems to be chasing something: Grades, leadership positions, internships, life partner … Sometimes all of the above at once!

Having friends who are go-getters, I was pressured to believe that the more things I chased, the better I was at making the most out of university life. It’s not wrong to seize opportunities for personal growth. But I realised along the way, I lost sight of what is ultimately the most important thing – God. I had lost sight of His purpose for me.

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2)

Our minds and hearts are wired to be most satisfied when we pursue God. If I could redo the past 3 years of university life, I would want to focus more on chasing God – reading His Word, speaking to Him and serving Him.

3. Surrender to Him

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10)

For all my coping mechanisms with stress in university, this verse that my senior gave me proved to be the most reassuring thing of all. As much as I wish to control how my life will turn out, I know that a lot of things are out of my hands. The question is whose hands is my life in. So it was encouraging to know that as long as we are walking with God, we only need to trust that He will fight for us.

What grace to know that God is with us!

4. Reach out!

If not for the Christian friends who continuously reached out to me, I would never have known about the good news of Jesus and received Him into my life.

So reach out. Not just to fellow Christians, but also non-Christians.

I learnt that it might not necessarily be a formal thing, like joining an evangelistic community in school. It can be as simple as being intentional in conversations with others, and by lifting God high through your actions and modelling His love to those around you. You will never know the full extent your life can impact someone else’s when you let Christ to work through you!

These were handles that would have helped me, had I known them before starting university. Now that you do, I’m praying that you will end up learning even better lessons at the end of your university life, as you desire and pursue God!

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A letter to my younger self

by Loo Kee Wei | 8 August 2018, 4:02 PM

Dear Kee Wei,

You might be apprehensive about this upcoming sojourn into another Singapore educational institution.

You would think that you’ve seen it all after twelve years in the system, having gone through streaming, PSLE, and the A-levels. For all that it promised – self-realisation, meaning and fulfilment after scoring those A’s, of course— the twelve years seem to be an abject failure, resulting in a weariness that your fellow companions might be able to identify with.

You are tired of the intense competition – the constant comparisons between you and your peers in a bid to evaluate your performance in the name of meritocracy. Your disenchantment with entering university is to be expected after twelve arduous years in the system. I do not blame you. At least you are honest with yourself.

You might think that entering university is nothing special.

Perhaps it hasn’t occurred to you that not everyone gets the opportunity to enter university, and that this opportunity is a gift. To be able to spend four years attending lectures and tutorials, reading and going to labs may seem to be a boring extension of the twelve years that you’ve already endured.

But think about it. In a world that is plagued by poverty and pain, you have the privilege to spend four years studying what you like.

If you had your own way, you’d probably keep to yourself for the next upcoming four years. But I should also remind you that you’re a Christian, and Christians are more often than not called to a way that isn’t the usual path. You might insist on your own way, and there is not much I can do about it.

But the truth is being a Christian in university is going to be a herculean effort. You will need all the help you can get. This help may come in different forms: Fellow students who share your struggles, passionate professors who are excited about their classes, patient bus drivers and friendly canteen vendors.

We think that achieving the elusive “5.0” and appearing on the Dean’s List will satisfy us, but these worldly achievements often end up disappointing.

Perhaps you are still mulling over Esther’s invitation to join a student ministry on campus. All I can say to you at this point in time is that it will definitely be worth a shot. The culture at large affects us more than you think it does. The subliminal messages sent through the work ethics and priorities of your fellow students are oftentimes the most insidious ones.

We think that achieving the elusive “5.0” and appearing on the Dean’s List will satisfy us, but these worldly achievements often end up disappointing. I love how Marva Dawn puts it: “We scramble after the security of personal status and think that we will be invincible after we have climbed the corporate ladder and demanded human respect— only to discover our perpetual vulnerability.”

Perhaps you need friends who will remind you that you don’t have to do this alone.

You might be surprised at the thoughtful conversations you will have with friends like Joanne. She mentioned how her time in student ministry opened her eyes to another world she had paid little attention to previously, how she was challenged to ask questions that she would not have otherwise asked.

In our world which scoffs at anything less than perfect, a community that allows you to make mistakes as they embrace you with grace is hard to come by. I sincerely hope you will not let this golden opportunity pass you by.

Remember, your time in university is not yours to spend as you wish.

Perhaps you need mentors and peers who might help you figure out what it means to be a Christian commissioned to the university.

I know you think that being a Christian in university is primarily about excellence – exemplary conduct in classes, submitting good work, scoring well. But that’s just a small part of the exciting mandate God has for you in university. We have a much larger calling from God. This may seem daunting, but there is no need to fear, for Christ goes before us into the university.

Our call is merely to be faithful to Him.

I pray that you will use your time in university wisely. Remember, your time in university is not yours to spend as you wish. Christians are called to follow Jesus, who chose a way other than their own. You identify yourself as part of the Church, and I should remind you that the Church needs you to nurture your intellectual gifts during these four years.

You will need all the help you can get as a sojourner entering this new season. What a time to be alive!

Sincerely,

Your Older Self


This article was first published on NUS Varsity Christian Fellowship’s website, and is republished with permission.

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Article list

I was so sure where the path would lead – and then the music faded

How God saved my grades while on exchange

What if I’m bad at my major?

Are you a 5% student?

A note to the freshmen

A letter to my younger self