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Singapore, the place I’ve learnt to call home

by Mark Lee | 8 August 2017, 4:48 PM

What does home mean to you?

It’s a question I’ve often asked myself. I was born in Singapore, but my family moved overseas when I was 5, so I spent many of my growing years abroad, where home at various times took the form of a taste, a familiar smell or a brand new place.

I didn’t have a singular place or idea of home — and even if there was one, Singapore definitely wasn’t it.

So you can imagine my rancour when my father moved our family back to Singapore in 2007. As I look back, however, I can see God moving in those painful years – helping me exchange my old ways of thinking for a higher mindset.

Having to return “home” to Singapore helped me realise that accepting a place as home requires a posture of investment.

My sister and I found that the first few years of being back in Singapore were extremely difficult, for so many reasons. But one big factor that was in our control, but which we failed to appreciate at the start, was that we simply weren’t looking to invest into Singapore as a place and people of our own.

Having been exposed to a plethora of cultures and perspectives in our international community, we initially wrote Singapore off as small and lame. As far as we were concerned, Singapore was a semester break and an obligation — not a home to build.

I didn’t have a singular place or idea of home — and even if there was one, Singapore definitely wasn’t it.

It took a lot of heart work before I was able to even begin to invest into the lives of those around me in Singapore. I faced regular disappointment and discouragement in my attempts to open up or to get to know the born-and-bred Singaporeans.

I had to deal with assumptions: “Huh, but you stayed in China for 8 years. Your Chinese should be better than ours what?”

Or disbelief and cynicism at my thought process: “What? Who even thinks that way?”

I consistently received a mixed message from others. They somehow knew me so well they felt they could confidently assume this or that about my identity. But at the same time, my thinking and my way of doing things were so foreign that they couldn’t possibly comprehend my side of things.

The irony was biting, and for a long time I was bitter with my “fellow” Singaporeans for failing to understand me. The last thing on my mind was investing myself into this place or its people.

Which left me with two choices:

1. I could give up, and stonewall every Singaporean who crossed paths with me, and think “this one’s just another overassuming, narrow-minded Singaporean”.

2. I could continue trying — putting myself into social situations where I would be readily identified as strange or not-really Singaporean, and keep working at integrating.

I often struggled to choose the second option, but by God’s grace, I persevered. Looking back, it was my church and cell group which really helped me to plug in. With them, though I was still the not-so-Singaporean Singaporean, I could still lay claim to one undeniable commonality:

I’m a Christian, you’re a Christian, I love God, you love God. We’re not that different, are we?

Honestly, there were some days where the awkwardness between my cell members and I was so palpable. We were just so different — at times it really felt that this professed love for God was the last and only thread which bound us together.

All I could do was just cling to this thread and pray unceasingly to God.

That the larger Singaporean society was far from welcoming — this was grudgingly acceptable in some sense. What pained me was that my God-fearing family could not, and would not, understand me.

Frustrated, I would often retreat to cry to God — plonking my tear-stained face into His embrace.

In time, He revealed the basis of my frustration and pain to me: Deep inside, there was a vast need to be understood and loved. I was hungering for identity.

I’d go as far to say I wanted to be completely understood and completely loved.

As He embraced me, I discovered the One who knows and loves me fully. Our Lord God knows us fully — down to the very hair (Luke 12:7). And He loves us fully too — nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).

Deep inside, there was a vast need to be understood and loved. I was hungering for identity.

When my spirit felt close to death, the Word of God came to life. It has continued to be life to me on my path of being Singaporean — indeed for living on earth. I realised that if God fully knows and loves me, I don’t need to feel downcast or pressured when I’m not Singaporean enough. When I’m not understood or loved enough.

In God, I am known and loved more than enough. From this position, as I followed God — knowing my identity in Him — I could then better know and love the people He placed in my life. No longer on my terms, or for my purposes, but His.

We’re not responsible for whether or not others take care of us or understand us — unless we’re deliberately trying to make it hard for them to do so. But we are responsible for our relationship with the One who does those things best: Our Lord and our God.

For me, adapting to Singapore — or indeed any place, people or situation — has to first begin with the question, “What is God doing here? And how can I be a part of it?” 

When I started to ask such questions, God began to reveal His fingerprints in my life.

As I look back on my difficult transition years, I can say with full confidence that God knows what He’s doing. He never forces Himself upon us, but always invites us to recognisereceive, and realise His ways in our lives — and then relay those higher ways to others.

Our part is then to consistently grow in knowing our Father God intimately — that we may be true bearers of His intimacy, no matter the people or place.

This world needs a Home, and we’re bringing it down to them.

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I looked down on women

by Eunice Sng | 22 September 2017, 4:10 PM

As the younger sister, I compared myself to my brother all my life. Perhaps I had some sort of inferiority complex. Or maybe I was just a kiasu individual. Either way, it just didn’t help that I felt my parents played favourites – they were always partial to my brother.

I grew up being told:

  • You’re a girl, you should learn how to cook.
  • You’re a girl, you need to know how to sew.
  • You’re a girl, go help your mother out with the laundry.
  • You’re a girl, if you don’t keep a clean room, how on earth are you going to run your future household?

So over the years, my frustration turned into bitterness and resentment. For one reason or another, I started to believe that a powerful and independent woman must look perfect all the time and be able to run a business. And any successful woman must surely not have the time for children.

As a result, for a time, I felt that housewives and mothers were roles that are looked down on in society. Ask any girl in her early 20s what she wants to be when she grows up – you’ll find that very few would reply, “I want to be a mother.”

Besides, most of my female friends aren’t thinking of marriage. You’re young. Why get tied down?

I spent a long time confused and angry, because of my wrong belief that God made us inferior to men. That clashed with the reality of my household, where it was the women who held many responsibilities and did many jobs. In comparison, I thought that the men were just slacking around.

My bitter view of things led to many debates in my home. Eventually my Mother told me to read Proverbs 31 and examine “the wife of noble character”. In this chapter, I read all the scriptural attributes of the ideal woman – and I was completely surprised.

I realised, “Hey, this chick has it all under control at home, and she does not sound like a frail human being!”

So, if I must make a comparison with anyone, it’s to the wife in Proverbs 31.

Some time after this revelation, one of my girlfriends spoke to me about gender roles. She spoke clarity into my life.

“We are so busy comparing ourselves to men, that we fail to see God created us differently for different things. Think about it: God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus are One – but each play different roles. They don’t compare themselves to each other, or wish they could do what the other does. They are the perfect Trinity,” she told me.

“Of course we’re not God. But in a similar way, men and women are different and have different roles. Only we can do what we were created to do. Sure, a man could do what a mother does – but there’s nothing like a mother’s touch.”

Now, whenever I’m asked to do chores, there are days when I’m still that frustrated little girl. But I find strength when I do all these things for God, who gives me joy and love for others.

So, if I must make a comparison, it’s to the wife in Proverbs 31.

What a high standard to live up to! But with God, there is grace – and there’s nothing impossible for Him.

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Influencer or influenza: What are we spreading online?

by Charmaine Ang | 21 September 2017, 6:12 PM

Along with the rise of social media platforms – with Facebook hitting almost 2 billion global monthly active users, more than a quarter of the world’s population – many have risen to popularity and become what we know as “influencers”.

Apart from singers, actors and other celebrities, social media has allowed influencers to come from almost anywhere and any background; as long as you have a following, you have influence. It’s easy: The larger the following, the larger the influence.

Suddenly, just about anybody can be an influencer.

There is nothing wrong with being influencers on such platforms. I think it is great when we are put into positions of being that town built on a hill, the light that cannot be hidden under a bowl (Matthew 5:14-16).

With great power comes great potential for irresponsibility.

However, many times things can go wrong. With great power comes great potential for irresponsibility. And instead of being positive influencers who push the human race forward, we’ve become a network of negativity, spreaders of social influenza that stumbles, cripples and sickens.

As Christians, all the more we want our online influence to mirror the God in whom we profess to have faith in. All the more we are exposed to a watching world who has access to dimensions of our life previously not available to most.

Here are a few reflections I have made on how then we must live in this digital space:

1. REMEMBER WE ARE DUST

“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:22-25)

My friends and I often joke with each other and use this line: You Christian or not. Jokes aside, I think one thing that struck me was that Christian or not, I am not righteous on my own. I am not as great as I think I am.

And truth of the matter is that change in action and freedom from my own wretchedness is a journey – one where I sometimes fail and have to go back to God, my moral compass and Saviour and try again.

Social media might want me to think that way, but I am not God. You are not God. We all have sinned and fallen short of His glory.

2. SEARCH MY ONLINE HEART, O GOD

In one of my classes, we learnt about the concept of social desirability bias. It is but human to want to present the best of ourselves to others. I question myself from time to time as I type a social media post or even as I read something on social media: Am I being real? Or am I posting this with the intention of showing off?

Consider the hashtag #blessed. While it is often used as a synonym for “lucky”, especially when portraying a good – even extravagant – lifestyle, its dictionary meaning is to be “endowed with divine favour and protection”.

What is real blessing? Jesus used the word repeatedly in his famous Sermon on the Mount when he talked about the Beatitudes. It is in situations where the odds might be stacked against us and we see the hand of God that we know that we have that “divine favour and protection”.

A friend once shared with me that she is uncomfortable saying too much on social media because it reveals too much of our lives. At the same time, I’ve also found myself very encouraged when I read about the reality of God through people’s vulnerable and authentic sharing of their lives online.

It is my choice of what I want to share and how much I want to share, but one thing I try to actively do is to prayerfully allow God to search me as I write and prepare a social media post. What am I posting? Why am I posting this? These are the best filters, IMHO.

3. WHAT WOULD JESUS POST

As an online citizen with influence over those in my social media space, I take as much ownership and responsibility for what I post, share and comment on. During my short internship in a cyber wellness department, I learnt that being a keyboard warrior and online vigilante can often be similar, if not scarier than an outright bully.

Of course, it is important to be able to distinguish right from wrong and stand up for the truth (2 Timothy 2:24-26). But while we are called correct wrongs, it is also important to adopt the correct attitudes – to be kind to everyone and respond in gentleness, with the intention of restoring the person.

Kindness leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). Conviction and subsequent turning back to what’s right comes from an encounter with love, not condemnation.

You may not feel worthy to own the title, but you are an influencer in your own right.  We all have a voice to speak up and share the goodness of God to those who follow us – that they may one day follow Jesus.

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My ideal picture of life

by | 21 September 2017, 3:51 PM

I’m a dreamer.

I have an idealistic version of every possible situation in life. I take joy in imagining the best case scenarios and its fruition.

Some ideals are universal: We all want loving and conflict-free relationships, jobs we never dread going to, a happy family, a decent education. At the end of the day, we all want lives filled with joy and fulfilment.

The problem is: Whose joy? Whose fulfilment? Whose ideal life are we living: Ours or God’s?

For example, instead of finding joy in our work, what if this joy could be found in seeing God working through our work? Instead of seeking happiness in what a partner can offer us, how about finding it by looking at how God has been moulding us as a couple?

I’ve had to put some of my dreams to death. My human response was to be frustrated with God — I felt like I had to make a huge sacrifice in giving up the things that I thought would have brought me much joy.

In my finite mind, forsaking my dreams came at a huge cost. These were dreams I’d spent most of my life chasing and yearning after. My picture of an ideal husband. My idea of a dream job.

Without Him, we can never have true, pure and unbridled joy. Everything else is a discounted version of it.

But I’m reminded that the trade-up is infinitely, always in my favour when I choose His will over my own. God is the giver of my purpose and joy. He’s the one who crafts the things that I derive joy from and puts this same desire into my DNA. I believe that God knows me, and would never hold anything good from me if I walk with Him (Psalm 84:11).

I still struggle with feelings of regret whenever I think about the dreams that I’ve had to lay down. But I’ve learnt that instead of shaking my fists at God, I should go to Him with my requests and doubts, knowing that He will give me a peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7).

I’ve learnt that while I shouldn’t always pursue the things that I want, I can always pursue joy in Him. He honours those who honour him (1 Samuel 2:30). When I seek God in all I do, I will ultimately find the joy that I’ve been looking for.

Ultimately, He knows what lights me up and what gives me passion and satisfaction. If I follow him all the days of my life, goodness and love will follow me (Psalm 23:6).

So instead of striving to make it on my own, blindly pursuing the fleeting joys of life, I’ve learnt to find it all with Him. Even if I’ve had to let go of my dreams, I know that He won’t let go of me (Hebrews 13:5).

Without Him, we can never have true, pure and unbridled joy. Everything else is a discounted version of it. God alone is the fullness of our joy (Psalm 16:11).

/ sarakohxx@gmail.com

Sara is inquisitive and a self-professed conversationalist. She hopes to learn something new with every interaction and also happens to enjoy writing about them.

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Why was I made a woman?

by Ashley Chan | 21 September 2017, 3:50 PM

When I was younger, the only thing I wanted was to be male.

I think this impulse began when I was about 5. I frequently cried in frustration at how differently – biased, I felt – my parents raised my brother and I.

For instance, I wasn’t allowed to play with trucks and monster cars even though I loved them, because they were boy’s toys. I wasn’t allowed to change outside the pool after swimming because it was “shameful” for girls to do so.

There were a lot of restrictions on what a girl could and couldn’t do, so I tried to be a boy. The queues were absurdly long at female toilets and I got reprimanded for using the male toilet instead. I desperately wanted to pee standing up; it just seemed like a more convenient, efficient way.

I didn’t know about gender norms then, but I certainly wasn’t a good fit as a female. I climbed trees and kept spiders as pets. I never wore a dress. Unafraid of dirt, I would jump around in muddy puddles after a storm. I kept my hair short till I was 17.

I was an anomaly – and a huge source of frustration to my parents.

But God recently revealed to me as I prayed that what I wanted wasn’t to be male.

What I desired was really what I felt were the things that came with being male: Social superiority, power, dominance, control and freedom.

Having been sexually abused in my childhood, I grew up not wanting to be passive anymore. The masculine identity seemed more empowering than the feminine one to me; I didn’t want to be the weaker sex.

My friends said I was “too sensitive” and that I should learn to “take a joke”. But these comments regularly crushed my self-esteem.

I was chiefly angry about my situation – not my identity as a woman.

But growing up was difficult. I was insulted for the masculine persona I tried to establish.

At 180cm and 68 kg, I’m much bigger than the typical Asian girl. And as a competitive athlete, rigorous training and strict diets were good for my sport, but bad for other’s impressions of me. My broad shoulders and muscular thighs only emphasised my large frame, especially in comparison to my friends. So I kept hearing people saying stuff like:

  • “You’d be so much more attractive if you were a guy.”
  • “I sometimes wish you’re a guy so I can date you.”
  • “No guy will like you lah. I mean, look at you. You’re basically a guy. You’re huge!”
  • “Where are you hiding your penis? You confirm hiding it, right? Don’t scare other people, leh.”
  • “You should do a sex-change operation. I think better for you lah. Girls like you are damn disgusting.”
  • “OMG, you’re damn big sized. Why don’t you try this diet …”
  • “Tranny.”
  • “Shemale.”
  • “F***ing disgusting …”

When I grew frustrated by such comments, my friends said I was “too sensitive” and that I should learn to “take a joke”. But these comments regularly crushed my self-esteem.

It made me try everything to lose weight. Laxatives, diet pills, starving myself, purging – I tried everything.

Even after I was hospitalised because of an eating disorder, it didn’t stop a male teacher from telling me:“You so big-sized can faint one, meh? Don’t cause so much trouble for other people, leh …”

When a male friend tried to sexually assault me, he sighed at my aggressive resistance. “You should be honoured that I’d even want to touch you,” he said. “This may be the last time a guy is touching you, you know. Just look at yourself.”

That drove me to attempt suicide. It was my first attempt after a long period of struggling against self-mutilation and taking anti-depressants. When I finally found the confidence to share that with a friend, she said she was disgusted with me. “Why did you do such a stupid thing? That’s so selfish … Don’t you think about people who love you?”

I lost yet another friend that day.

In the hurt and confusion, God came through the storm and lifted my eyes back onto Him: “Even now, return to me with all your heart, I will restore you.”

To the world I appeared strong, independent and unemotional but I was so broken on the inside. God saw through my façade – and He still loved me so deeply. It broke my heart to realise that He had been pursuing me, but I was simply too caught up in my pain to notice.

Even though I hated being different, He was showing me His glory in the creation of Man and Woman as good designs. God sees me, and He sees that I am good, not because of who I am – but because I am His.

Overwhelmed by His love and glory, I surrendered myself completely to Him.

Our sense of self should never be based on how we view ourselves, or how others view us, but how God views us: We are beautifully and wonderfully made by the author of life Himself.

I told Him: “God, I’ve never seen myself as a woman, but I know You chose to create me as one. I don’t know what it means to be a woman because I’ve never been treated as one.

“Teach me what it means to be a woman of God. Mould me into Your original design – who I was made to be.”

He didn’t make me a man, and that must mean that being a woman and embodying a feminine identity is the best possible creation that He intended me to be. God knows the past, present and future – and still chose to create me as a female.

By choosing to undertake another identity, it implies that God makes imperfect creation, which is absurd. Blasphemous. False.

We are all made the way we’re made to glorify God. We may not look how we’d want, but even so, we lack nothing because we were made by perfect hands.

The potter has embedded purpose and destiny in our souls. He has imprinted His love on us through the meticulous, complex and amazing way the human body and mind have been designed.

Gender is not arbitrary.

God made you, even the parts of you that you hate.

I hated myself not because His creation in me is flawed, but because the way I viewed myself was sinful. I viewed my body as a commodity, a piece of flesh, on display for judgement and scrutiny by fickle society.

What I’ve come to realise is that when people criticise your appearance, they don’t realise that by saying “you’re ugly” or “you’re disgusting”, they’re not only insulting a person – they’re criticising the artistry and creativity of a God who we know doesn’t make mistakes.

Our sense of self should never be based on how we view ourselves, or how others view us, but how God views us: We are beautifully and wonderfully made by the author of life Himself.

God decided that I was good enough to be born. Good enough to bring this far. He looked at my body and decided that no edits were necessary.

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Birthday musings of a twenty-something: What is there to celebrate?

by | 20 September 2017, 11:07 PM

So, how does it feel on your birthday?

I didn’t know how to respond when someone asked me this last week on my birthday. To be honest, I felt older, that’s all. What are birthdays supposed to feel like, anyway?

Past a certain point, you realise you’re not getting any younger. Each birthday brings with it further responsibilities and greater levels of #adulting. Not to be morbid, but I once had a secondary school teacher who put it this way – with each birthday, you move one step closer to the grave. Nice.

Then there’s the hype – I cannot stand the hype of my birthday. People fuss over you more than usual, asking what you would like for everything! I understand everyone means well, but after what seems like a barrage of birthday interrogations, sometimes it gets tempting to say I don’t want anything at all, just to stop the questions.

With each birthday, you move one step closer to the grave.

As for birthday cake-cutting and birthday song-singing, I’m not sure when I grew averse to them – in recent years, they have become part of the hype I cannot stand. I love cake, but surely one need not be obligated to partake in these birthday customs, long-held as they may be, right?

And don’t get me started on those Facebook friends you forgot you had who reappear that one time in a year …

But don’t get me wrong – I appreciate the love and thought that goes into each birthday gathering. So before I make myself sound more cynical than I already am, I am thankful for my birthday, though I hesitate to display it openly.

Perhaps it’s because I’m at an age where one starts counting blessings more closely. Or I’ve heard more stories of friends who’ve lost their loved ones in the last couple of years. Regardless, these make me keenly aware of the need to treasure those around me.

This year, I’m thankful for family and friends alike.

It brings to mind a conversation I had with a friend during the Lunar New Year period this year – she had asked me how I would be spending reunion dinner. I replied that as usual, I would be spending it at my grandma’s place with the extended family for steamboat, a family tradition that’s taken place for as long as I can remember.

I think my jaw dropped a little when she said, “Wow, you mean you have grandparents?” As I tried to mask my surprise and confusion, she continued, “I’ve never met any of my grandparents, all of them passed away before I was born.”

Since then, it has brought me renewed appreciation to have grandparents who’ve been able to watch me grow up, and that I still have my grandma today.

This year, I’m thankful for health.

They say being twenty-something is the prime time of one’s life – my fellow twenty-somethings have used this season of life to do volunteer work, travel abroad with friends, and take part in mission trips before they are tied down by having spouses and children to care for, among other things.

It is a season where one gets numerous opportunities to meet diverse groups of people through various life experiences. I am thankful that I, too, have had opportunities to do these, but realise these are impossible without good health – a blessing I cannot take for granted.

The caution not to take good health for granted hits home because several months ago, a friend my age had had a cancer scare. It turned out negative in the end, to her relief. Yet, it was sufficient reminder that illness can strike at any age, and being in good health is not always a given.

This year, I’m thankful to be alive.

The awareness of mortality isn’t limited to old age – on the contrary, I’ve been made more aware of my own mortality on hearing of the passing of friends’ friends, who are fellow young adults – the young victim of the fatal car accident in Johor Bahru last month was a friend of a cell group member.

As my cell group member informed us of his friend’s subsequent passing and shared with us his prayer requests for his friend’s family, it was a stark reminder of the fragility of life – that I must be thankful for each new day of life and the time I have with those I love.

This year, I’m thankful for God’s gifts.

As I spent this birthday with the Thir.st team, I found myself thankful for the opportunities to testify of God’s work in my life through writing – both within and without of Thir.st. It has been such a blessing and joy, especially because I am less than qualified.

Most friends I know who write for their day jobs have some form of media or communications background – unlike them, I am not a trained writer and all I have learnt about writing has been by exposure. I started as a contributing writer by chance about a year and a half ago, and am thankful for the opportunities I’ve had since then.

As I move into another year of life, my heart echoes these words in Keith and Kristyn Getty’s modern hymn:

My heart is filled with thankfulness
To him who reigns above,
Whose wisdom is my perfect peace,
Whose ev’ry thought is love.
For ev’ry day I have on earth
Is given by the King;
So I will give my life, my all,
To love and follow him.

For this reason alone, there will always be something to celebrate.

/ eudora@thir.st

Eudora found herself writing on public platforms by chance. Apart from writing, she likes many random things, including spoken word poetry, adult colouring books, tea, stationery and fresh, clean laundry.

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Article list

Singapore, the place I’ve learnt to call home

I looked down on women

Influencer or influenza: What are we spreading online?

My ideal picture of life

Why was I made a woman?

Birthday musings of a twenty-something: What is there to celebrate?