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“Our fight is simply to make it to tomorrow”: This is what depression looks like

by Mak Kean Loong | 9 October 2017, 4:34 PM

I almost committed suicide in August of 2017. I’d made plans. I’d started to put part of it into action, unbeknown to those closest to me.

I have a loving wife, a couple of good kids, and a supportive extended family. My Bible study group meets at my house every week, and we are a close-knit group. My support mechanisms are in place, and I know what I should do when depression hits, due to an earlier episode.

So why did things go wrong?

My temper had been getting worse day by day, even in the workplace. At home, I found myself over-critical of my boys, and easily tired. I withdrew from many social engagements. I forgot how to be happy. I’m still not sure how much of that was negativity, or how much of that was something else. My moods were often low. The doctors would call my persistent low mood dysthymia.

The stage was set. No one, including me, expected that the crash would happen.

Depression is a reality, and pain can lead us down paths we never knew existed. Let me try to give an idea of how depression feels.

Picture yourself putting on something that wraps itself around the top of your skull. Attached to this is a chainmail veil that drops over your eyes and ears. At the same time, a steel band is put around your heart, and starts to constrict, just a little, even as a cape of liquid metal drapes itself on your shoulders. It’s not heavy, but the weight is definitely felt. None of these can be taken off at will.

Now everything that you see and hear is filtered through this haze. All positivity is filtered out, through your eyes and ears. Pleasure is taken away, and whatever you see, touch, taste, hear, is now tinged with grey negativity. It’s never totally black. It’s a drip torture, little by little. You start losing touch with the world.

If this change was sudden, it might be easier since you know for sure you need help. Instead it drips on you, little by little, giving hope that things may improve, even as it takes away hope.

The band around your heart grows tighter. Everyday, the cape drags down further, gradually. It becomes harder to breathe, and every day grows dimmer, as you drag your feet, as you try to carry on. Soon, you can no longer lift your head. Everything feels like you’re slogging through mud. Drink tastes dry, and food tastes like sand.

Occasional bursts of enjoyment gets through, but nothing lasts beyond that sparkle of time, which makes it even more painful because you can’t reach back for it.

Despair starts to set in. Your self-worth drops. Hopelessness is your constant companion, as pain wracks your heart. Breathing becomes ever more difficult, and death itself seems like a good way out. It doesn’t matter how positive life is for you. Every step is painful, and everything is gray with despair. Every blessing becomes pale, every good thing becomes a shadow that you desperately wish to taste and enjoy, but can’t.

Words matter at this point. Words that tell you that you’re worth something; that someone cares. If you don’t even have that, suicide becomes a reality to dance with. Even with support, death becomes delicious, something to savour, because the pain is so deep that nothing else can fill your heart. As the pall continues to grow, as you struggle to breathe, to walk, to think, nothing matters anymore.

That is how depression feels for a sufferer.

I won’t publish my plan, so that others won’t get an idea of how I planned to end my life. But it had been well thought out. When I reached home that day, I knew how I was going to do it.

Yet, I promised myself – God’s grace upon me! – to call the Institute of Mental Health’s emergency helpline. If no one picked up, or I got disconnected, I would proceed as I’d planned.

I held the phone for 10 minutes. The counsellors were busy. When someone finally answered, I kept my word. I spoke. She listened. She asked. She advised me to come in to the IMH emergency clinic as soon as possible. She gave me directions, and made sure that I knew their number, so that along the way, I could call if I was in danger. I told her I would.

She had no idea that she was instrumental in saving my life.

I was admitted to IMH for my suicidal plans and tendencies. The time there wasn’t always easy, though everything was regulated and I was well taken care of. There were group therapy sessions in the ward I was in, and I responded well to medication. I was discharged after a week; other patients usually stay for at least a few weeks.

If my story speaks to you in any way, to your current struggles or past feelings, please know this: You are not alone, and help is available.

If you have never sought medical help before, please consider it. There are various means that you can use in Singapore.

If you are not having suicidal thoughts, or don’t believe that you will act on your thoughts in the short run, visit a government polyclinic to get assessed. GPs in Singapore are generally well equipped to assess such conditions. I have managed to get compassionate help from my private GP as well as a polyclinic GP. They will refer you to any government hospital specialist if there is a need.

There are also other sources that you can seek for help from, such as counselling centers, or private therapists.

If you are already seeking medical help, remember that you are not alone. There are many people who are also seeking medical help for mental issues. Don’t feel ashamed, or fall for the fallacy that if you are mentally ill, you are mentally weak. No one chooses to be ill, just as no one chooses to have a broken arm, or the flu. Don’t blame yourself.

Be responsible in taking your medication, and keeping up with your follow-ups – that is already a huge thing. Be responsible for your own actions, and apologise where you need to, but don’t apologise for being sick.

If you feel suicidal, answer the following questions:

1. Do you have constant thoughts of suicide?
2. Do you have a plan on how to commit suicide? Can you describe it to some level of detail?
3. Do you have a timeline by which you wish to commit suicide?

If your answer is yes to any/all the questions above, seek immediate help. Death may seem to be the only option, and may seem delicious and easier – but your mind is lying to you. There are other ways out, and you need to seek help.

Call the Samaritans of Singapore at 1800-221 4444. Alternatively, IMH has a 24 hour helpline at 6389 2222. Both numbers are manned by trained volunteers or counsellors around the clock. Why not talk to someone who is willing to listen to you before you do anything? You have nothing to lose by calling either of these numbers as soon as possible.

There are major changes that mental health sufferers will have to adapt to. Our expectations of life and the world need to be toned down. Get well first. As long as we are not well, there are fights we cannot fight. When we are better, we can then educate others on the illness, and increase awareness of the issue.

Our fight is simply to live to the next day. When we have accomplished that, we can fight for the next week. When we have conquered thinking a week ahead, we can then learn to fight a month ahead.

Don’t expect too much of yourself, because your mind needs to recover and heal. Sometimes the healing can take years. Sometimes miracles happen, and healing is quicker. If not, don’t forget that such mental illnesses are there for the long haul.

If you find yourself dipping back into the darkness, try not to despair. Talk to your mental health professional at the closest possible opportunity. Work with your doctor or therapist, not against them. Pharmaceutical conspiracies are precisely that – conspiracies. The amounts we pay for our medicines, especially at government hospitals, don’t justify the doctors keeping us on treatment for longer than necessary.

Our doctors and therapists work hard to help us get better. If you are not comfortable with the doctor or therapist working with you, by all means, ask for another one. Just don’t do that too often, as there aren’t that many in Singapore to go around!

Get a support group that understands you without demanding more from you. Support groups can include friends, family members or members of your religious group. We need to grow and heal at our own pace, and no one has a right to dictate the pace for us. Our actions will determine how much we progress through therapy and medication.

If we are not honest with our support groups, or our doctors, we can’t expect to get better any time soon. If we are honest and responsible, reaching out for help when we need it, there is every hope and chance that we will come out from under this dark cloud at some point.

Singapore remains a country where depression and similar mental conditions remain not well understood. The medical help structure however, is robust, and has contributed to saving lives. Don’t waste our lives or hurt the ones who love us, by taking our lives into our own hands. Seek help, and remember that we are never alone in this fight. At least you now know that I’ll be struggling alongside you!


This blogpost was first published on the author’s own blog. It has been edited for length and republished with permission.

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Empowered for a purpose

by Senior Pastor Jeffrey Chong, Hope Church Singapore | 20 February 2018, 11:08 AM


The illustration used in the video was adapted from a sermon by Pastor Michael Strickland from The Cove Church


TWO NATURES

“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” (Galatians 5:16-17)

The Bible shows us that there are two natures: One of the Spirit and one of the flesh. But we can only have one.  If we really want to see life transformation, we need more of the Spirit because what the flesh desires is contrary to what the Spirit desires. They are in conflict with each other.

“Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Galatians 5:26)

As vessels of God, what we need to do is flee the evil desires of the flesh and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace. When we have more of God – there is less of ourselves. Where there is more of the Spirit – there is less of the flesh.

It’s one or the other.

SEALED AND DELIVERED

If we’ve received Jesus into our lives as our Lord and Saviour, the Bible says that we’ve received a seal of the promise of God.

“And who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 1:22)

But there’s another experience that God wants us to have in our Christian walk – it’s the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Bible says that we will be filled – to the brim – with the Holy Spirit!

That’s not all there is to it. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, though we may have changed, we are not removed from our usual environments that test our responses or reactions.

So we will react either according to our “old self” or respond through our “new self” which is being renewed in the knowledge of God. If we are not in step with the Spirit, it’s easy for us to respond in the flesh.

1. Anger
Whether you’re driving on the road or responding to your children: Are you aware of the situations and things that tend to draw anger out of you? Are you an angry person? Even though we are filled with the Holy Spirit, anger can seep into our lives through cracks and open windows of impatience and intolerance.

2. Self-righteousness
When you place white vinegar in a glass jar, it looks just like water. But vinegar stinks. We may look like water on the outside but we’re not.  We can do many Christian things yet still have a spirit of self-righteousness – trust and reliance on ourselves instead of the grace of God.

3. Jealousy
Things get nastier when you throw jealousy into the mix. Some of us get jealous when others do better than us: We write off others’ successes and we point fingers at them. We cannot stand not being the best. Don’t let jealousy make you a miserable person.

4. Other sinful desires  
Lastly, there are the darker things that we may not talk about openly – or at all. Things like adultery, pornography, stealing and backstabbing. These desires belong to our fleshly nature.

In order to keep in step with the Spirit and defeat our fleshly nature, we can’t just be filled with the Spirit one time. We need to continually be filled and continually be empowered so that God’s light won’t dull in us.

Think about the first thing you do in the morning. Do you reach for your smartphone or for the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit? Each morning, tell the Holy Spirit, “Speak and I’ll listen. Lead and I’ll follow.”

Jesus said, “Let those who are thirsty come to me and drink, and out of your belly will come out an abundant flow of the Holy Spirit.” When we are continually filled with the Holy Spirit, not only are we filled – Jesus says we will be filled until we overflow!

By the continual empowerment of the Holy Spirit – through the overflow of our revived heart – we can bring revival everywhere we go: Our homes, schools, army camps, and workplaces.


This article was adapted from a sermon first preached on Jan 14, 2018, by Senior Pastor Jeffrey Chong of Hope Church Singapore.

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Don’t follow your heart

by | 19 February 2018, 11:17 AM

Don’t follow your heart.

Sure, most hearts do a fine job of pumping blood to keep us alive. But while it sustains life – it doesn’t lead us well at all. 

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

I’m sure you’ve felt the fickle nature of your own heart before. Right when we think we finally know what our heart wants – we’ve changed our minds by the next moment.

Our minds rationalise and soothe our easy hearts that it’s OK to run away from things we hate or fear. So we escape, and strive to find fulfilment in all manner of things.

Consider what’s frequently right at your fingertips: Instagram, Facebook, Netflix, YouTube – porn. These are so easily the well-worn holes which an escapist crawls into willingly.

But some holes are pits.

“I just wanted to disappear. Specifically, I wanted to disappear to an isolated and desolate place that reflected how I felt inside.” said Holly Baxter, who spent five weeks along the Trans-Siberian Railway in Russia to escape social media.

Has your heart ever felt like escaping? You may even have thought of doing something like Baxter. I suppose that’s one way of being in touch with ourselves – by being somewhere which encompasses our inner turmoil.

Here’s the point: What really needs to be changed is what’s happening on the inside.

If we’re restless and constantly on the run, it more than likely reflects an absence of peace within. And sure, life can be difficult – but life is difficult.

The real question is: What do you have in this difficult life that’s unshakeable (Psalm 62:6)? My gentle words are that you find it, because a day will come when what your whole life stands upon is tested.

There is just one thing in this world worth pursuing. It is Jesus Christ – only Jesus satisfies!

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:25-26)

We were made to walk with God, we who are so prone to walk away. I want to tell you with all my being – shout it from the rooftops – that He is enough. We have all we’ll ever need in God.

We cannot go wrong by desiring Him, so let us choose and love Him.

/ fiona@thir.st

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How are those resolutions coming along?

by Alex Park | 19 February 2018, 9:48 AM

We’re already about two months into 2018 — how are your new year resolutions coming along?

Mine was “get busy”. Not get busy trying to fill myself with things that don’t last, or things that bring temporal fulfilment. I wanted to get busy with the things of God.

I thought of it after a conversation with a close friend who shared how working with God proved so much better than just staying at home all day watching Netflix and gaming.

Choosing to serve God … Though it seemed like it would tire me out more — it actually did the opposite. He restored me, especially after a very difficult 2017. Walking with God more intentionally this year, I’ve learnt that He will faithfully guide me through life.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29)

In Rhythms of Grace, Judas Smith gives us an insight to this verse: “In farming, a yoke is a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plough or cart that they are to pull. However, in the past getting two oxen would be costly for farmers. So, farmers would get an experienced, mature ox pair it with a younger, weaker calf. This way, the younger calf would follow the pace of the older ox, not going too fast or too slow. Both of these two animals harnessed together would then begin to plough the field, doing the same amount of work two oxen would.”

I hadn’t seen it that way. Jesus is the stronger and experienced one. We are like the calf, frequently getting ahead of ourselves — sometimes too weak to even keep up. But Jesus invites us to follow His pace — the unforced rhythms of grace (Matthew 11:29 MSG).

He’s calling us to partner Him in this journey that we run. Only follow His pace, learn from the One who created you and loved you before the foundations of the earth. As you choose to follow Him — He will guide the path and walk with you.

Jesus overcomes the strongholds of sin and darkness in your life.

Everyone struggles with sin and we are all on the journey to become more like Jesus everyday. But the fight with sin seems almost impossible at times. How do you love when there is so much hate, be pure when there is so much lust, or worship Him amidst a million things fighting for your attention?

Depression, fear, anxiety, loneliness … The list is endless and the struggle is real.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Did you catch that? It’s not about trying to be better or merely resisting temptation. It’s about being wholly surrendered — “fixing our eyes on Jesus”.

If we could overcome sin and the powers of darkness by sheer willpower or discipline, we wouldn’t need Jesus. He wouldn’t have to come down to save us at all.

During His time on earth, Jesus focused one purpose: Not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom to many (Matthew 20:26). In the same way, steward with great focus the ministry you have been assigned to — loving His people and pursuing Him.

Don’t be despondent at the sin or oppression in your life. There’s hope! Where light is, darkness ceases to be. Keep running because He guides you and walks with you. He overcomes the sin and darkness in your life.

If you’ve been serving and fighting for His Kingdom — don’t lose sight of Him. Wherever He has called you to be, He has gone before and He is with you in that place.

So, again, how are those resolutions coming along? There’s still time for 2018 to be the year you allowed God’s faithfulness to move in your life. The best place you can ever be is at the centre of God’s will.

I’ll leave you with Erwin Mcmanus’ words in The Last Arrow.

“It makes me wonder how many times in my own life I thought I failed, but actually the only thing that happened was that I quit. When you come to the end of your life, will you be able to say, “I gave everything I had,” or will you have a hollow feeling inside of your soul that you quit too soon, that you expected too little, that you did not strike the last arrow? Make the commitment to not stop before you are finished, because you are truly stopping before God is finished.”

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Belinda Lee: My mother’s unwavering faith

by | 15 February 2018, 3:37 PM

As she recalled her mother’s final days in her 6-year-long battle with cancer, Belinda Lee took a moment to compose herself before she continued.

The former Mediacorp actress and host spoke of moments when her mom would get up in the middle of the night, when she was in great pain, to cry out to God.

“At that time, she was already on morphine and was very weak. I don’t know where she got the energy from, but she would shout with all her strength for God to take her home.”

“She would cry out with all her might like this: ‘Jehovah, I beg you to bring me home.’

“It was then that my family knew that she was ready to go home. It was painful for us to let her go but we knew that she was ready,” Belinda said.

It was the beginning of the end of a journey which saw her mother go from being anti-Christian to embracing the love of Jesus.

Said Belinda: “My mom, who told the whole world that she would never become a Christian, received Christ when I was in Bible college, and she actually got water baptised on her own without telling the family.

“To me, that shows how true her conviction was, because she willingly did it on her own without pressure from anyone – she did it on her own accord because she truly wants to know who this amazing God is, and she welcomed Him into her life.”

(Belinda Lee’s sharing on her mother’s faith begins at 40:44 in this video)

Belinda shared that her mother, who was illiterate, would pray for God to teach her how to read the Bible.

And He did.

“A miracle happened one day. She came to me beaming with joy, sharing that God answered her prayer and she could finally read the Bible! Not every word, but she was able to at least understand the gist of what she was reading.”

Belinda found it hard to believe, but was encouraged by a neighbour, who said the same prayer had come true for her own elderly parents. “She told me that I have too little faith in God!”

And the way her mother spent her last days stood out to Belinda.

“A week before she finally took her last breath, she instructed one of my aunties to cook a scrumptious breakfast to serve her friends, the members, and the pastors of the Chinese Church she was attending – because that was what she used to do when she was still mobile.”

Belinda recalls her mom saying this to her in Hokkien: “Belinda, I wasn’t educated and I’m not good at studying, but I know how to cook. With my gift, I hope that I can serve God and His children.

“My mom was a dying women, but while on her deathbed, she wasn’t thinking about her own needs or blaming God. All she was thinking about was how she could continue serving God and His people to the very end of her life.

“Mom did not fear death because she believed with all her heart that our Abba Father was going to welcome her with open arms and personally lead her through the white gates of heaven when she meets Him one day.”

“I was told I was doomed to fail”: Belinda Lee’s journey from insecurity to purpose

/ fiona@thir.st

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Porn and the things I’d rather love

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

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

The truth is I belong to both categories.

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

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

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

But I did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And He did. He called me back to life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Article list

“Our fight is simply to make it to tomorrow”: This is what depression looks like

Empowered for a purpose

Don’t follow your heart

How are those resolutions coming along?

Belinda Lee: My mother’s unwavering faith

Porn and the things I’d rather love