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Relationships

What if I’m just a calefare?

by | 12 October 2017, 3:48 PM

As you scan the crowded bus for a seat, you see a familiar book cover. Ah, somebody’s reading the same book as you! At the cinema, the crowd’s in-sync surround-sound laughter triggers a split second where awareness meets detachment – you’re again reminded that we’re not all that different.

We co-exist in the same time and space, together with a lot of people. We are passersby in the blurry background of a stranger’s story – hundreds of times a day – but that sense of vagueness is easily broken by a smile, a collective chuckle in a movie, a “today weather very hot ah“, a shared interest with a fellow human …

These connections tug on our heartstrings to the extent that you allow it. And if you do, the music that it makes cannot be ignored. There is something grand and poetic about our existence –  listen close enough and you’ll hear it. 

But life is never easy to navigate. It’s like buying furniture from IKEA, you have to assemble it, put things together. And you cannot opt for assembly service.

Top of the World” by the Carpenters was my favourite song growing up. Back in the day, home printers weren’t a thing yet so I would hand-write the lyrics on paper and sing my heart out to it.

“Such a feeling’s coming over me, there is wonder in most everything I see.”

That was my favourite line (if I really had to choose one) from the theme song of my childhood. When I first stepped foot into primary school, I was that kid who was always filled with wonder and ready to conquer the world.

And you can probably guess what’s coming next.

The rose-tinted lens through which I saw life began to lose its sheen. Nothing seemed to be happening for me anymore.

I didn’t feel as special as I used to, my family was falling apart, and I was lagging behind at school.

The new recurring theme of disappointment in my life made me consider if perhaps I was born just to be a film extra – a calefare, a nobody – in the grand scheme of things. Maybe I just wasn’t main-character material.

Yet in my heart, I knew that it wasn’t so. There was a gulf that had to be bridged – one within my very conscience. How could I possibly feel like a nobody and a somebody at the same time?

“You’re nobody till somebody loves you
You’re nobody till somebody cares”

(Russ Morgan, Larry Stock, and James Cavanaugh)

These lines are from the famous pop song first published in 1946 and made popular by Dean Martin. It’s one of those things that sound like a truism. But is it?

If a child came up to me, crying, saying that he feels unloved, I probably wouldn’t tell him that there is a possibility he might be right, even if I felt that way about myself sometimes.

I would ask him about his parents, his friends and his family. And even if the evidence shows that that child is indeed unloved by all the people who should have loved him – we know in our hearts that he should be loved. 

Some of us would rather be convinced that we are not nobody, but isn’t there greater comfort in knowing that we’re loved by somebody?

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

God, the King of all Heaven and Earth, fought to be our somebody.

Regardless whether you believe in God, the fact remains: God loves you and so gave His life so that you may know His love for you.

And if there’s even just a smidgen of hope in your heart that you are not nobody, despite what circumstances might suggest, would you consider the possibility that it is because God – the greatest Somebody – first loved you? 

Even before your parents could, even before anyone else did, He loved you.

When someone says that “Jesus died on the cross for you”, it can sound quite jarring. I used to think that it was a bit uncalled for since I didn’t ask Him to die for me! But if Jesus didn’t die for us (John 3:16), we cannot say for certain that He loves us.

Would you consider the possibility that it is because God – the greatest Somebody – first loved you?

We are all valuable because God first loved us. And that is the firm foundation for our worth, one worthy to build our lives upon (2 Thessalonians 3:5).

What are the things that give you a sense of security in your worth as a person?

Is it a big loving family? A great group of friends (#squadgoals), a 10/10 spouse, or a promising career?

If there is even a chance – no matter how slight – that those things may fail you, then it is at best shifting-sand when compared to the security that God’s love promises us.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Knowledge of this Love frees us to persist in wonder, no matter what life throws at us.

You’re somebody because God loves you!

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious and one of her dogs thinks so too. She loves a good chat with strangers, store assistants, and fluffy dogs.

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I got stood up on Valentine’s Day

by Geraldine Koh | 15 February 2018, 3:48 PM

It was Valentine’s Day. I could have gone on a date with my husband. But I had looked forward to meeting Miss L. She was a freelance sex worker from East Asia, pacing the streets of Geylang’s red-light district to eke out a living.

In her 30s, she was new to Singapore, having travelled a long way here from her hometown.

I had met her on a warm Friday night under the faint neon lights of a corridor in Geylang. I was on one of my regular walks with a group of volunteers who were committed to expressing the love of Jesus with marginalised communities working in the red-light district.

Miss L had been friendly during our first meeting. She was chatty, talking incessantly about her hometown. She was clearly missing home badly. She had no friends, never taking the initiative to mix with fellow sex workers from her home country who stood along the same glitzy street.

I met her the second time on another Friday. I braced myself to ask if she had someone to celebrate the Lunar New Year with. She looked down forlornly and shook her head in silence. I suggested having reunion dinner with her.

Her eyes lit up, and she said “Yes!” without much hesitation. Having a reunion dinner together would have made her feel at home during this festive season which can ironically be superficial, long-drawn and lonely.

I suggested having reunion dinner with her. Her eyes lit up, and she said “Yes!” without much hesitation.

She had agreed to meet me on Valentine’s Day, the same week of the Lunar New Year celebrations. I got myself ready and travelled quite a distance from my home to Geylang, looking forward to meet Miss L and bless her with a sumptuous meal.

I waited and waited. The dreaded message came. Miss L texted, I have not slept since I finished work with a client. I am very tired. I need to have a good sleep before heading back into the streets again. I cannot meet you for dinner.

I had a surge of mixed feelings. I did not feel too much disappointment. This was not my first time being “stood up”. Several other street ladies I had arranged to meet before also did not turn up, citing similar reasons as Miss L.

On the other hand, I felt immensely sorry for Miss L. She needed her sleep from working long hours in the prostitution trade. In fact, she needed more than a physical state of rest. She needed the rest only Jesus could give her.

I hope to have that reunion dinner with Miss L soon. Reunion is about families reuniting and getting together to celebrate love and kinship. For my reunion dinner with Miss L, it would be special; it would include having fellowship with a very special family guest — Abba Father — someone I know it would be worth it for Miss L to know and embrace.


Operation Mobilisation (OM) Singapore has a ministry reaching out to marginalised communities working in the red-light district of Singapore with the love of Jesus. If you and your friends are interested to pray, give and go with this ministry, please write to info.sg@om.org

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Love hurts … But not like that

by | 13 February 2018, 2:34 PM

What is love? Baby don’t hurt me.

Fifty Shades Freed, the movie adaptation of EL James’ last book in her Fifty Shades trilogy, is released this Valentine’s season. In most cultures, Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate love, so the movie’s release in this season might suggest that it’s a movie about love.

But nothing could be further from the truth. I urge you to think long and hard about what kind of love is in the movie. The root of that romance is selfishness.

If love is self-centred, it’s not true love. True love looks to the interest and wellbeing of someone else before their own – so where does inflicting physical pain onto a lover come into the picture?

And it doesn’t insist on its own way. It’s not about taking control over someone. Selfish love only leads to more pain for both parties. It is deriving personal pleasure at another’s pain.

Now if you say, “But this isn’t meant to be about love – it’s consensual pleasure!” That might well be so according to society’s rules. But out of love, I must attempt to convince you how destructive such a twisted view of love and sex can be.

Broken relationships, divorces, adultery, fatherlessness and even sexual confusion – these are but the offshoots of selfish love. It’s why I am urging you not to watch this movie or engage in deviant sexual practices – even within marriage.

The kind of selfish love you might witness in Fifty Shades sits upon the spectrum of BDSM pornography. Fifty Shades is a soft-core variant – porn with a marginally better plot.

Also, Christian Grey is portrayed as a man whose child abuse results in his BDSM fetish. If the normalising of BDSM fetishes in mainstream media wasn’t already problematic for me – it is exacerbated by the fact that it is done so while glossing over child abuse.

True love looks to the interest and wellbeing of someone else before their own – so where does inflicting physical pain onto a lover come into the picture?

But there is a better way – real love exists – and I want to tell you all about it.

“For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation.” (Psalm 149:4)

If God brought us salvation, delighting in us – then I wonder if Jesus experienced profound joy while suffering on His way to the cross.

Fifty Shades is about suffering for mere pleasure – but God suffered for our salvation. Mere pleasure is never the purpose. Love is the end where sacrifice is the means.

So, true love isn’t the eros (erotic) love of Christian Grey – but Christ’s agape love. It is saving love freely given to us when He came to earth to die – wiping out the death this world’s bogus loves bring.

And it’s waiting for us to believe.

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:10-12)

This Valentine’s Day, think about true love. Love God selflessly, love one another sacrificially.

/ roytay@thir.st

Roy has a peculiar appreciation for subtle wordplay, an inexplorable passion for competitive sports, and an insatiable hunger for delicious food.

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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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What if my family makes for an unhappy CNY?

by | 9 February 2018, 6:05 PM

Happy Chinese New Year! … Or is it?

Speaking to a number of people recently, I’ve realised that the festivities can be a difficult time for some. Not all’s well at family reunions, it increasingly appears to be.

Are you one of them? Are the relationships in your family breaking down faster than traditions can keep them together?

Maybe you once held out hope as a child, that things would get better in the family. Maybe you’ve tried, over the years, to get everyone together – but you no longer see a point to it when you’re the only one trying.

Maybe the relationships in your family are breaking down. Maybe you’re not even sure if there’s going to be a reunion dinner this year.

But what I do know is that it’s easy to feel like everyone else is having an amazing time when you’re scrolling through Instagram. It’s important to have perspective: We’re looking at the highlight reel of other people’s lives on social media.

Think about the things not present on Instagram: Strained relationships, family deaths, generational tensions, divorces, bitterness … The list goes on.

But I’m not interested in staying stuck in self-pity – we don’t have time for that. I want to think about how we can respond, if in reality, our family isn’t that perfect, shiny and colour-coordinated dream we see on-screen.

Love gets harder as we grow up – which only means our love needs growing up too.

British-Ethiopian poet, Lemn Sissay, was fostered from birth and abandoned at the age of 12. By 18, he had lived in four children’s homes. He illustrates the importance of family using the game of squash:

“Family are like the walls in a game of squash. You hit the ball and it comes back at strange angles and you try to get it again … It develops your muscles in strange places, because you have to stretch sometimes to get the ball back in to continue the game.”

You have to stretch sometimes. The stretch is the place where love is learnt. We begin young with the easier stuff: We shared our favourite biscuit with dad, or gave our favourite toy to our sister.

But love gets harder as we grow up – which only means our love needs growing up too!

It’s harder when love requires more from us, like when we’re faced with an aunt whom we just don’t want to tahan any longer. It’s hard when family culture seems impossible to change. It’s hard when money gets involved or when “face” gets in the way.

But when it’s hard that’s precisely when we need to persevere.

It’s not easy to be the first one in the family to say a loving word in response to toxicity or sarcasm. Unity is not easy. It’s not easy to put aside our pride and ask for forgiveness. And it’s not easy to choose to love when others don’t care.

If we give up on family, we never develop the “muscles” that we need. Sissay also says this:

“And that all that would happen throughout my life is that my muscles would waste away beneath me because I’m not using the muscles that develop in the game of family … Family is defined by how it deals with difficult issues. It is strengthened by how it resolves them and weakened when it tries to ignore them.”

So don’t be discouraged if your family is facing difficult issues. Consider what real love is to your family members. Be the one who would love them.

Why should you do it? 1 John 4:19. “We love because he first loved us.” Jesus Christ loved us to the point that He would die for us – all while we were still sinners. God’s love takes the initiative. Jesus did – so we must do the same.

If we give up on family, we never develop the “muscles” that we need.

We may not have gotten the love we needed from our family. We may even have even been disappointed by the very people who were supposed to be our best bets – but we always have a Father in Heaven who loves us perfectly.

“And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:18)

Being filled with our Father’s perfect love for us enables us to love those around us. If your family is challenging, then let it challenge you. That’s where the growth is at.

I pray you’ll have faith to see that your best days are ahead of you. I pray you’ll have hope in God to do what you cannot on your own, and I pray that you will love someone enough to step out of your comfort zone.


Screenshots were taken from our Chinese New Year initiative, “One More Rice Bowl“.

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious and one of her dogs thinks so too. She loves a good chat with strangers, store assistants, and fluffy dogs.

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For the lonely ones this Chinese New Year

by | 9 February 2018, 4:37 PM

Dear you,

I know how it feels to have your heart twist when you’re bombarded with all these pictures of everyone around you having fun during the Chinese New Year festivities. All these pictures of your friends enjoying themselves at house-parties, surrounded by friends and family — it all looks perfect and fun.

But it’s also hard not to feel the grip of envy and a deep seated pang of loneliness.

You might be home alone by choice or by circumstance. You might be one of the “floaters” — people who don’t belong to any one social group/clique — and may inevitably fall to the sidelines when it comes to party invitations.

You also might be averse to going to parties for reasons that may include being a hardcore introvert or simply because you don’t feel up for it. Either way, it’s hard not to feel lonely when everyone seems to be having a good time and you’ve only got yourself for company during this period.

I won’t tell you all the cliches about how this feeling will past. Some of us struggle with the deep ache of existence regardless of what time of the year it is. And that’s okay. I’m here to tell you that it gets easier when you make the decision to approach God — even in the bareness of your schedule on a Friday night when everyone else is out having fun.

In Matthew 8, a leper — who probably knows best what being outrightly ostracised by the rest of society feels like — found joy once he approached Jesus. In an instant and through that brief encounter, he received the healing he needed; all because he was brave enough to approach Jesus even in that moment of vulnerability.

You might struggle with feelings of isolation, of being left out or that you don’t belong. You probably also believe that no one will understand how you feel, and that no one ever could.

But the fact is, Jesus knows exactly how you feel (Hebrews 4:14-16). He was flesh and blood, just like you and me. And He probably felt the epitome of loneliness when His apostles fell asleep during one of his darkest hour at Gethsemane (Matthew 26:38-46) and as He hung on the cross (Matthew 27:46).

And as you chew on that thought, I want to remind you that your identity is not found in which social group you belong to, nor does it matter how many party invitations you’ve gotten — or the lack thereof. It doesn’t matter whether or not you have someone special to introduce your grandparents to.

You belong to One Person and God has already given you all freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17); you can live free from the chains of loneliness and isolation!

If you’re reading this and feeling like the loneliness is getting too much to bear, you just need to take one brave step — believe that the moment you approach God and ask Him for whatever you need, He will be faithful to provide it (Mark 11:24, Matthew 21:22).

No matter where you are, just know that Jesus sticks closer to you than a brother and will meet you wherever you’re at.  

I love you so much, dear friend! 新年快乐. 🙂

With the warmest hug,
Sara

/ 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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Article list

What if I’m just a calefare?

I got stood up on Valentine’s Day

Love hurts … But not like that

Porn and the things I’d rather love

What if my family makes for an unhappy CNY?

For the lonely ones this Chinese New Year