My family was not too well-to-do. Until I was about 12 years old, my sister, mom and I used to put up in the same bedroom – after which my bedroom would be the living room for the next 15 years.
Growing up from the ages of 4 to 7 years, I used to have many soft toys, and I would always form a wall of soft-toys as a border for the mattress. Like most children I was afraid of silly things, but the softness and comfort of a trusty old mattress made me feel that much safer.
That was the first thing I found security in as a child. It’s also where I think I began my pursuit of comfort and self-validation – identity.
The insecurity manifested itself in many ways.
According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I am an ENTP. ENTPs are often labelled as debaters. So when it came to knowledge, I took great pride in being right. Being right made me feel at ease.
I am an Asian, and to top it off, I am a Singaporean. So “face” was incredibly important to me – to look good, be seen as good … to be really good. Online, the more people who liked and shared my posts, the more pleasant I feel about myself.
I thought security was about some assuredness within ourselves, that we ought to feel very good about ourselves or something. For a long time I believed that in order to be very secure, I needed everything to go my way – with me at the very centre.
But in the 9 years after I came to Christ, I found that I was advised over and over again that as a Christian, my security was now in Christ Jesus.
Your security lies in Jesus.
Like many Christian jargon, this piece of advice sounded beautiful and holy, but I think not many truly appreciated what it means. The closest explanation I heard relegated my whole insecurity struggle to an identity issue: “Your identity is now in Christ, so your heart is now secured, and you should be less affected by things like recognition and praises.”
Unsatisfied, I meditated on what security in Christ means, finally finding peace when I read a particular verse.
“For does not my house stand so with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure. For will he not cause to prosper all my help and my desire?” (2 Samuel 23:5)
I believe security is about an inner assurance (settlement, certainty, protection) from insecurities (fears, worries, suspicions, uncertainties). It is a state of the heart, when it is yielded and surrendered to God.
Security fixes our eyes on the Almighty God, instead of inferior principalities. Security talks about the faithfulness of God instead of the power of men (even through Christ). Security flows from rest instead of performance or reciprocation.
Security looks like surrendered arms, palms opened. It’s like the posture of the three young men: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).
Security is found in God’s character – not His gifts or our past experiences. He is the true and living God, in Him alone is true security.
I was around 12 when I had my first experience of pornography, one which started a love affair that lasted more than a decade. Porn seemed to satisfy this deep and dissolute hunger within me. I craved seeing women naked, doing things that aroused me.
Yet, each time after I was spent, I felt this cloak of shame fall around my head and heart. Heavy thoughts would weigh on me: You are worthless … You are pathetic.
Even after I gave over my life to Christ, I continued to watch porn.
I would try to resist the temptation, succeed for weeks or even months, then slip back into the embrace of my favourite performers – often just after a relationship breakdown, or an unexpected malady, or some other happening that laid me low.
And porn isn’t the only lust affair I’ve had – just the longest. I lost my virginity in the last years of high school and the sex that followed – however great it was – smashed my soul into little pieces which took years to put back together.
I went after women for how their physical beauty and sensuality made me feel, and when two of them broke my heart, I broke three more in return.
… only God’s redeeming touch was able to pull me out of this pit of lust some four months ago.
The toll of my lust has been enormous.
Constant fatigue, clinginess to female friends, shouting matches with my parents – not to mention the countless hours of masturbation both physical and emotional.
I think I might’ve written a novel, or even a trilogy, with that time alone. And “time alone” is apt, because the only word I can summarise all those years with is “lonely”.
Walking in the wilderness, only God’s redeeming touch was able to pull me out of this pit of lust some four months ago.
But the battle is by no means over.
Writing about this dark part of my past, I still feel a strange mix of shame and desire. On this side of eternity, there will always be a treacherous part of my heart that seeks earthly pleasure and rebels against the word of God.
But as a child of God, it’s my duty to whack that part as hard as I can until it runs squealing back to the cell it escaped from.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
Don’t lose hope: the battle against pornography and for purity can be won. We overcome solely by the Spirit, in the community of the saints.
In grief and hatred, I wanted to change my surname
by Jennifer Tan | 17 September 2018, 2:23 PM
I hit rock-bottom when I was 17.
That was when I stood in front of my father’s niche, silently ranting at him for not being around to protect me and my mother in the legal mess his extended family had gotten us into. I didn’t even know the man: He passed away when I was only 18 months old, but I knew right at that moment, in that dreadful season of my life which I felt no agency over, I hated him.
I hated the fact that he was absent. I hated the life I had to lead for the last 17 years because of his absence. I hated the blood that ran through my veins. Most of all, I hated the reality of living the rest of my life as a fatherless child with no family support whatsoever.
In that moment, a rash thought popped into my head as I stood in front of the niche. Why don’t I change my surname?
I thought that if I could just drop this one syllable that was causing me so much pain and tears, life would be easier.
Ultimately, I didn’t follow through on the rash impulse to change my surname. Instead, when I cried out to my earthly father that day – it was my Heavenly Father who responded.
We are all probably familiar with the 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. 17-year-old me had mistakenly thought that I had meandered my way through all the stages and was finally at the stage of numb acceptance.
But as I stood in front of my father’s niche, the Lord opened my eyes to see that I had simply been floundering within the pool of denial and anger. Wanting to change my surname only reflected my desire to escape. I was still grieving immensely for my father, and I was on the verge of dishonouring him in my grief.
Thus began a long and painful season of understanding and accepting God’s claim of daughtership over me (2 Corinthians 6: 18). It was a season of vulnerability, one that left me no choice but to confront the open and deep wounds of my past.
Most importantly, it was time to let my Father heal them.
That season was painful but necessary, and I emerged from it convicted that the Lord is my Father and Provider.
Yet that didn’t mean I was no longer grieving. In fact, the grieving intensified because I was now struggling to reconcile the truth and reality of my life. The truth was that I could always turn to my Heavenly Father for the fatherly love I desired, the reality was that the circumstances of my life still reflected the consequences of fatherlessness.
While I no longer had the desire to change my surname, I still faced a lot of family issues. The lies and schemes my extended family surrounded me with could rival that of a Hong Kong drama – but I still needed to waddle through all of it justly, lovingly, mercifully and humbly (Micah 6:8).
The light at the end of the proverbial tunnel still seemed as far away.
Things with my extended family were eventually settled about a year ago.
I’m not proud of how I reacted towards them in many situations, but I’m certain that the Lord had enabled me to do my best. I know He was at work making my paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).
The Lord also guided me through all 5 stages of grief in the last few years gently. And lately, I have been sensing Him impressing a new stage upon my heart – reconciliation. I also feel these words upon my heart: “Jen, this chapter of your life has not ended.”
That leaves me quaking in my shoes for a lot of reasons, the largest one being that I am unwilling. After all, why would I willingly turn back towards the people who hurt me so deeply – when my scars still feel so raw?
But every time I think like this, the image of His nail-pierced hands enter my mind immediately – Jesus died for us to be reconciled to God even while we hated Him.
So while I don’t yet understand why I was chosen to bear this surname, because I know God’s Name, I can trust Him in all that He’s leading me to.
He will never forsake those who seek Him (Psalm 9:10).
The author’s name has been changed for confidentiality.
My friend was telling me about a friend who was approaching her thirties soon and struggling with singleness. We agreed that age might have played a large role in delivering a more painful punch.
Neither of us was on the brink of turning thirty, and my friend was already happily engaged. But that’s when the conversation turned to me.
“You’re asking how am I doing as a single?”
I was slightly surprised by the question, because no one ever asked me that. People usually ask me “why are you single?” or “are you looking for someone?” or “do you need help getting un-single?”.
I wouldn’t say that I’m dying to be un-single. Yes, admittedly there are times when I look at others who are in a relationship and I wonder if I would ever be in one. A relationship sounds great, and I recognise the good things that come with it.
A life of singleness has its fair share of goodness as well. We all know the freedom that comes with it. But as I let my friend’s question sink in, I realised my internal struggle has never really been about the absence of a life partner. It was something else.
This would be ideal: Being able to confidently say that my singleness is a choice. That – power to me! – I want to be single. But I can’t. To put it bluntly, I have to admit that I remain single because no one has stepped forward. I don’t exactly have any other choice. I’m pretty much single by circumstance.
Undeniably, there is a special and unique kind of being wanted, loved and cared for in the context of a covenantal relationship or marriage. The Bible tells us so (Ephesians 5:28-29).
Where then, does this leave the singles?
In the words of Marshall Segal, singleness became an unwanted and unneeded judge and roommate in my life.
My problem didn’t lie with my singleness. It was with what my singleness implied.
Am I single because I am not wanted?
Am I single because I am not cherishable?
Am I single because I am not loveable?
I know that these questions are far from the truth, but my fear is that these questions have already silently taken up residence in the deepest recesses of my heart, and in many others’ too.
I am also learning that not being wanted as a spouse is not the same as being unwanted.
But I am also learning that not being wanted as a spouse is not the same as being unwanted. Just like how you can be qualified and competent, but not employed. Or how you can be musically gifted, but not be a successful musician. Poor, but not given extra cash. Hungry, but not fed. The list goes on.
Basically, while there are definitely highly attractive traits about you, as there are in everyone, it doesn’t mean that someone will necessarily respond to those traits. And there’s nothing much you can do to change the situation. It’s not exactly your fault.
Isn’t it unfair, then?
While God remains silent on some of these questions, I find great comfort in the life of Paul the Apostle. Paul remained unmarried while doing God’s work across the nations. His life was also far from being smooth and comfortable.
But yet as he lived without the unique love, care and cherishing that a relationship with the opposite gender gives, Paul speaks confidently of the surpassing preciousness of knowing Christ over all these things.
“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” (Philippians 3:8)
There is a unique kind of loving and cherishing from God for every unique individual. It is so unique that is truly between God and myself, that no one else can ever know or experience on my behalf.
The prize isn’t human companionship, a diamond ring, or a BTO flat – the prize is Jesus and His promised fullness of life.
This special kind of intimacy is only experienced when we allow ourselves to draw closer to Him – that might also mean taking our eyes and minds off our family circumstance, our relationship status, our financial situation and everything else, and keeping our eyes on the prize (Philippians 3:14).
And no, the prize isn’t human companionship, a diamond ring, or a BTO flat. These things are good, but life has got to be way more than that. The prize is Jesus and His promised fullness of life.
So back to the burning questions.
Am I single because I am not wanted?
Am I single because I am not cherishable?
Am I single because I am not loveable?
Even if you feel that you are not wanted, God says, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
If you feel that you are not cherished, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:25)
And if you feel that you are not loved, “I have always loved you,” says the Lord (Malachi 1:2).
Singles! Send us your thoughts and stories on your journeys with God through this season. Drop us an email here.
Born without sight, raised without my parents: Seeing hope in the darkness
by Stephanie Ow | 11 September 2018, 9:15 PM
Born with retinal dystrophy, Stephanie plays the erhu with The Purple Symphony, which comprises musicians with and without special needs, and the Singapore National Youth Chinese Orchestra, where she is the only person with special needs. This is our first story written by a person with visual impairment.
I have been blind since birth. At infancy, I was diagnosed with retinal dystrophy, which means that by the age of 5, I was almost completely blind. I can only perceive light, which means I live mostly in darkness and shadows.
Around the time that I was losing whatever little sight I had, my mother left me in the care of my father’s sister and her husband. They never heard from her again. My father, an odd job labourer, would visit once in a while, but we barely talked. Over the years, we grew very distant.
My aunty and uncle treated me like their own instead of a strange who suddenly appeared in their home. They even brought me to various specialists, hoping to find out if anything could be done to help me see again.
However, the answer we always got was: “There is nothing we can do. We will have to wait for future research to discover something that will cure her condition.” And my aunty and uncle will be disappointed, even though it really wasn’t a big deal for me. It still isn’t now.
Yet, they never stopped hoping. They still tell me, “You know, if only your vision gets better, you will be much better at whatever you want.”
I have been so blessed to have them in my life, which is why I worshipped whatever they worshipped, and believed whatever they believed.
To me, at that time, God was a distant being who watched over us, rewarding those who did good things and punishing those who were evil. The statues on my family altar and those in the temples were what I knew as gods.
I had Christian friends who told me about Jesus, although I didn’t bother to find out more. But that changed when one of my teachers, a kind and loving woman, shared the Gospel with me. It was then that something clicked within me, a feeling I cannot describe even until now.
It was like a sense of direction given to me, a guide for my life ahead. I wanted so badly to go to church with her, but my family believed it was an “ang moh” religion. We were Chinese, so we should worship Chinese gods!
But I remember thinking to myself – if the Christian God is an all-loving, supreme deity and He alone is God, shouldn’t we all give Him our reverence, regardless of our ethnicity? And if He sacrificed His only Son to save the whole human race from eternal separation from Him, shouldn’t we turn back to Him?
So I decided to persist in my faith. I read the Bible in braille and listened to sermons in my bedroom. My family wasn’t averse to my exploration of this faith as they felt it was good for me to learn about other religions, but they hoped that I would stay true to our Chinese beliefs.
But at age 14, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Saviour. This was the same year that I started going for music lessons.
My uncle always loved traditional Chinese music, so I began with the erhu, a two-stringed fiddle. At first, I wasn’t too happy with this, as I’d always thought this was played at Chinese operas for the elderly. I wanted to learn the guitar or violin instead.
As it turns out, the erhu wasn’t as outdated as I thought. In fact, the pieces I was learning to play were written by musicians in the 20th Century who were trained in western music, but had a passion to write for Chinese instruments. And they did not write for operas.
Interestingly, their music reflected the struggles of native Chinese before the 1949 liberation, and their aspirations for a better future. Within a year of lessons, and with the encouragement of my first music teacher, I sat for an exam and scored a distinction!
This motivated me to keep getting better, and soon I was receiving invitations from various organisations to perform at their fundraising events from time to time. At 17, I had the privilege of performing with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO), and the next year I joined their youth wing.
Being part of the Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra (SYCO) gave me the opportunity to be tutored by one of the musicians in the SCO, and by age 19, I had also joined the Purple Symphony, Singapore’s largest inclusive orchestra consisting musicians with and without disabilities.
At this time, Deutsche Bank awarded me with a scholarship to study music, which would have been impossible without their help. It was a real blessing from God and a dream come true, as it had always been my goal to be a full-time musician who could teacher the visually impaired to read scores in braille.
In the whirlwind of these happenings, I drifted away from God slowly. I stopped praying, reading the Bible and listening to sermons. Instead, I began to obsess with my current ideals and goals. I felt like I was the master of my own destiny. Whenever I ran into trouble, it was my friends I turned to for advice.
Wasn’t it enough to acknowledge that God exists and that Jesus is the only way to Him?
It took a long while – 4 years to be exact – for me to realise I was becoming more of a lost soul than I was before I became a Christian. It was as though I was holding the Word of God in one hand, and the world in the other.
Fortunately, a senior in the music institution I’m studying at reached out to me. Her father is a preacher, and she introduced me to a phone app that had sermons and hymns for me to listen to. She also invited me to Bible study with other students, where her father would teach us.
Through their mentoring, my understanding of Scriptures and my Heavenly Father became much clearer. I learnt how to put all my hope and trust in the Lord, even though there were times where I had so many questions.
But I would be lying if I said I did not envy other children who had their biological parents with them. I always knew this was something I’d never have in life. But it took a lot out of me to accept that fully.
On some days my mood got very bad; I felt like the whole world was against me. I had no appetite and just wanted to be alone. There were nights I cried myself to sleep as I prayed. But one day, as I was deep in thought, the words of Isaiah 55:8-9 surfaced in my mind.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
A sense of peace, hope and joy surrounded me all of a sudden – it was something I’d never felt until that moment. I realised I did not need to feel sad about not having biological parents when I have a Father in Heaven who loves me in spite of all my flaws, but continues to renew me every day.
Through the difficulties of life, I have the Lord to lead me. Even as I graduate with a diploma in music in less than a year’s time and am feeling anxious about the new season of life to come, I know that He will guide me through this once again.
My family is also warming up to the idea of me being a Christian. I am praying for their salvation, and for God to lead me to a church where I can grow spiritually.
I have never seen with my own eyes, but I believe that God can heal me in His beautiful time. Of course, I might never get to see in this lifetime, but when my eyes finally open in a new and perfect body, the first person I hope to see is my Saviour Jesus Christ.
“Hi Carmen, I was wondering if you would like to come down earlier before your consultation? Perhaps we could go for lunch?”
My already furiously beating heart raced even faster and I could feel my stomach turn itself inside out as I clutched tightly to my phone. After I hung up the call, the friend whom I was lunching with asked concernedly, “Are you alright? You’ve gone pale, is this some guy you’re trying to reject?”
But this wasn’t just any guy, this was my professor.The circumstances I found myself in with my professor felt like a Korean drama, except that I did not enjoy it one bit. It started out with an innocent mistake in my first semester of university – he had called my name wrongly in class and I had corrected him sarcastically.
From then on, he paid special attention to me, whether in class or out of class. He would greet me in every lecture and tutorial, he complimented my appearance, and occasionally made inappropriate comments about me in class.
I was 18, with zero experience and expectations in the relationships arena, so to have a slightly older, intelligent and articulate man give me so much attention made me freak out.
I spent the next 2 years of my university life avoiding anything related to him, even taking detours in my route so that I wouldn’t have to walk past the building his office was housed in.
In hindsight, it does seem silly of me to have panicked to such an extent. My conscience was clear, and it was (and is) after all, an offence in the university’s code of conduct for professors and students to have romantic relationships with each other.
Whilst I remain unclear of his intentions till today, I realised that I needed to relook the way I perceived and maintained boundaries with the other gender, even if they were older and in positions of authority. Here are 3 thoughts I have on responding to ambiguous attention.
3 WAYS TO DRAW BOUNDARIES
1. Check your heart
Even as I was careful that my responses to my professor’s actions did not disrespect his position of authority over me or encourage him further, I needed to search my heart and be very clear of my feelings and intentions surrounding the situation.
There was a pressing need for me to distinguish between feeling truly uncomfortable and the unfamiliarity of feeling flattered from the attention he paid me. I grew up without the presence of a father and was thus not comfortable with older men in positions of authority.
These emotions are, of course, not mutually exclusive, but there was a need to discern and possibly, admit to them before they misled me any further.
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
Once I was clear about the distinctions, it helped me take captive of my thoughts: Did I really dread having to go to class or was I secretly anticipating his interactions with me?
While I was very clear that I did not want a romantic relationship with him, I needed to be as clear that I was not attracted to him. He was after all, still very much an eligible bachelor.
Being clear of my emotions set a healthy standard for the types of actions and responses I had towards my professor, and could also hold towards my interactions with other guys.
2. Clarify, if not, seek help
Clarifying anything ambiguous in relationships of any kind is always the best move. But honestly, I lacked the guts to approach my professor to do just that. But if you have the courage to speak politely but firmly with the other party, it would definitely be beneficial for both of you.
I am thankful for a group of friends, both girls and guys, Christians and non-believers, whom I could confide in and give me perspective on my situation. Some of them even walked me to classes or consultations I had with him (and waited for me) just so that I had someone who could help me if needed and keep me accountable.
However, if the situation is highly uncomfortable and have no other means of assistance, you can approach your school’s student welfare office. They do take such cases seriously and will ensure that your identity is protected in the process.
3. Protecting your heart
Checking my heart earlier helped me protect myself emotionally in that season. It was also a catalyst for me to begin considering and noting the qualities I would like in my future spouse so that until I met him, I could protect my heart and purity.
(I think you start knowing what you want when you know what you don’t want!)
Beyond surrendering that list of qualities I had drawn up to God, more importantly, I had to surrender my heart to Him as well and it allowed me to experience Him as my heavenly Father as well.
Protecting my heart allowed nothing to take the centre position He had in my life, even if it was a momentary attraction.I eventually bumped into my professor in my third year of university, and I’m thankful that we received each other with warmth and courtesy. The peace I felt while speaking to him informed me of my own emotional growth.
This reassured me that my heart was the safest in the hands of its Creator, and I was allowing myself to be moulded such that I would eventually be ready – both spiritually and emotionally – to one day be in a committed relationship with the man He has set aside for me.
The author’s name has been changed for confidentiality.