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Faith

The night my mother was murdered

by Sheena Sutherson | 27 October 2017, 5:37 PM

When I first found the knife, I thought nothing of it. But I did wonder why it wasn’t in its usual place. It had been wiped clean and was lying beside a bottle of vodka and some lighter fluid which belonged to my mentally ill older brother. I put them neatly aside, back in order.

I couldn’t have known it then, but my life was about to go spinning wildly out of control as the night progressed.

I had come home after attending the Global Day of Prayer event in my church to discover that my mother was nowhere to be found. My younger brother was looking troubled because he could not reach her by phone. The older one had locked himself up in his room.

Something began to twist within my heart, so I called my uncle to come over to talk to my older brother, who was often very unpredictable due to his schizophrenia.

After coaxing him out of his room, we questioned him about the misplaced items and my missing mother, only to hear stories from him which made no sense. It became disturbingly clear that he was lying about everything.

My younger brother then told my uncle to check under my older brother’s bed because he sensed that he was hiding something. Boxes and bags had been moved around. As my uncle stepped into the room, my older brother jumped up and followed him with a feral look in his eyes. The atmosphere had become charged with danger.

After pulling out one of the boxes below my brother’s bed, my uncle shouted in horror, “Her legs are there! What have you done?”

My heart seemed to shatter into a million pieces as I started to put together what had happened while I’d been out. The words that escaped my lips were not articulate, and I began to wail. As a desperate scuffle broke out between my uncle and brother, I ran into my room where I locked the door and repeatedly screamed as the tears fell, “I want my mother back!”

Things quickly escalated into a hostage situation when my older brother locked the front door and demanded to have everyone’s phones. My younger brother threw his phone on the floor and distracted him from reaching for another knife. My uncle tried to placate him.

My eyes darted to the landline in my room.

I know that God was surely with us that day, because we were ultimately able to contact the police three times throughout the ordeal. And as my younger brother made his escape to safety, my uncle singlehandedly restrained my older brother.

To this day, my uncle testifies that it was God who held my brother. My older brother has the strength to break a door down. When he was finally arrested that night, it had taken five policemen and my uncle to handcuff him.

As the dust settled, I turned to my uncle and asked tearfully, “Is she really gone?”

Yes.

But this was the question I was really asking: “Are we orphans now?”

Grief gripped my life in the years to come. At home, I would often find myself in a pool of tears, crying out to God as I lay brokenhearted on the floor. There was no answer most times, but peace would eventually sink in and I would get up again.

In a way, I was happy that my mum was with Jesus. She would experience no more pain from all the surgeries she had and from the arthritis she was battling. She wouldn’t have to worry about how long she had to keep working, or who was going to look after my paranoid schizophrenic brother.

But little things would remind me that I had been robbed of a mother. When I watched other young women with their mums on the street, my heart would squeeze with anguish as tears flowed freely. As I walked home weeping at night, I’d hope that the darkness would mask any evidence of my pain from passersby.

My mentor and friends stood by me and sat with me as I wrestled and struggled, wondering if I could ever be who I used to be. Of what use was I to the kingdom of God? With tears in their own eyes, they listened and believed in me when I could not even believe in myself. They spoke hope over my life and truth into me.

Healing came one day as I was sobbing and praying. I saw Jesus in a vision, not in white-robed glory, but as the scarred, disfigured and crucified God-man.

In the vision, He took my hand and placed it upon His devastated body. Then He spoke these words to me: For every single person who goes through unspeakable pain, I too went through this. I know.

It wrecked me to hear. He knew. He had been with me every single time I cried. He had seen me walk home with tears streaming down from my eyes. He had seen my broken heart every time I thought about all the birthdays Mum would no longer spend with me. He heard all my regrets of not having loved her enough.

He knew. And that has been my comfort to this day.

For every single person who goes through unspeakable pain, I too went through this. I know.

I still have no answers for the horrors of that night. But I have His love and understanding. We live in a fallen, broken world where bad things happen to good people. Satan is a hell-bound enemy who loves to drag people along with him (John 10:10).

I know this is not our home. When Christ returns, He will restore things to the way they should be. There will be no more pain and no more tears, and the loved ones who are with Him will be reunited with us (Revelation 21:4).

In God, I will rise from the ashes of defeat. I have not fought this fight alone and I know that those who stood with me in the darkest times will continue to stand with me as I position myself to live on this earth as one who truly follows Jesus.

I live for the God who took unspeakable pain upon Himself so that every single person could have life, and life to the fullest.

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My parents don’t talk any more

by | 18 June 2018, 10:00 AM

“How are your parents?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Refrain from contributing or participating in any family drama.

I became their middle man and official messenger.

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

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

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

But my friends don’t understand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

HONOUR THEM STILL

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

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

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

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

MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uncommunicated expectations create more misunderstandings than needed.

KEEP ON PRAYING

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

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

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

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

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

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

/ christina@thir.st

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

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God is my Father

by | 8 June 2018, 3:07 PM

Have you ever felt heart-wrenching pain?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

/ fiona@thir.st

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

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by | 8 June 2018, 12:01 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But forgiveness was still something Sean had to learn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

/ fiona@thir.st

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

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The night my mother was murdered

My parents don’t talk any more

Daddy’s Home

God is my Father

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My father, the drug addict