Out of the ashes, a life restored: Adia Tay on finding comfort and shelter
Photos: Lim Hui Xin
“I think if I really thought about where it all started, yes, I would think about Pokémon!”
I came to know of Adia Tay in our university days. She was often seen carrying her guitar around the campus and singing at our school’s events. I didn’t know her very well then – but I knew that she was a very talented musician. Over the years, I became one of her many fans on Instagram, silently watching the songs she was working on.
Adia, 26, tells me that her beginnings as a singer and a musician came out of a place of depression and darkness. She admits to be being a very depressed kid when she was in primary school and she used to plonk away on the school piano in the hall.
“I needed to release feelings I couldn’t otherwise express, and the piano was my first mode of musical comfort.”
And somehow one of the most-played songs in her repertoire then was the Pokémon theme song.
Growing up in church, Adia always thought that worship leaders were the coolest, so she aspired to be one. At that time, she was serving as a keyboardist in her church’s worship ministry.
“I practiced and hoped that someone would notice me and get me on stage. The main impetus behind my being a performer or worship leader was validation and approval – from man and God. I thought I wanted to be famous, I know now that I really wanted to be known then.”
This spiralled into years and years of Adia struggling with her own identity, even though she did eventually become a worship leader in that church. But even then, she still struggled to be secure in surrender.
“I grew up in a church that didn’t see God in a faithful light. Do a bad thing and you’re out of His grace.”
She reveals to me that till this point in her life, she has never dated a Christian guy.
“I’m praying for a life partner this year though,” she laughs.
“My first boyfriend was a non-Christian senior in poly, and it was puppy love. But when I went to my church seniors, they sat me down in a room and told me that if I didn’t break up with him, God would not accept me, and that they would immediately strip me of my worship leader role. It was bad.”
Adia walked away from that experience believing that if she was with someone who wasn’t Christian, she could not be near God. But still she struggled to come to terms with it.
“I didn’t use to understand that rule. I saw God’s rule as stringent, constraining – though I now know the wisdom of it.”
Just before she entered university, Adia left her church.
“I got together with a poor string of boys who were not right for me and vice versa. I really hurt a lot of people in the process. As you can tell, relationships were my area of non-surrender. I ran away from God, hated the church, and tried to find my peace in being with the right guy.”
Adia admits that she knew she was not being herself and that wilderness she was in meant years of stubbornness and pain.
“For the last five years, I was in an on-off relationship that wasn’t right for me. I was constantly broken, and God had to be so patient with me.
“I went through an abortion, did crazy stuff, struggled through depression, kept the abortion a secret from my parents for a super long time, saw my relationship with my parents go to waste, hid from people, hid from the church … and it’s only the sheer grace of God that has brought me through.”
Eventually, Adia found her way back to God and into a church where she now serves actively as a backing vocalist in the worship ministry.
“Being in my church and having so much life, love and restoration spoken over me has really changed my life.”
She recounts a time in her life when she would worry about getting her period every single month because of the mental trauma from her abortion.
“(During that time) I used to cry to sleep and I would push people away. Wow, it all seems like a distant memory now. God has restored my life.”
Her upcoming single Comfort & Shelter was one that was written on one of those bad nights.
“I was sobbing over the phone and talking to my friend Peggy. She’s seen me through all the trauma and pain. It was about 3am in the morning, and she didn’t know how to help me at all. But the very fact that she was there made the experience easier to go through.
“Her being there for me made me realise that though between loved ones, though we don’t always know how to help, being in someone’s corner is all you need to do sometimes.”
Adia credits Peggy as the main song inspiration, but points out that it’s not just about Peggy too.
“With the conception of the music video, and the inspired choreography of the dancers, I realise again that God was writing His own story in it too. Whenever I watch the video and see the dancers move, I feel that God is telling me His own things. Stuff like ‘I will push through every wall to get to you’, ‘I will be your safe place’, ‘I will pick you up out of every dark place’ and more.”
We switch gears a little bit and I ask her about her decision to go into full-time musicianship.
After graduating from university, Adia went into a full-time marketing role to “try to become a responsible adult”. But six months into her job, she knew she needed to step out of her boat – a steady 9-6 full-time job that she was not bad at.
“I started to finally agree with God that He had always meant for me to live a life walking on water and that my water was going into the Arts and music industry.”
Eventually, Adia finally quit her job. But as a full-time freelance musician, she soon ran into her next phase of struggle – money.
“But everything changed the moment I started tithing. Being in a freelance-ish role really forces you to understand and have faith that your provision doesn’t come from your boss or job, but God. Tithing helped me to treat whatever I had well, and so God dealt me more as I learned to be more responsible.”
Through tithing, Adia shares that she has learnt to put God first in her heart.
“Tithing has also totally changed the DNA of my money-making mind. The act of tithing has allowed God give me everything He has been waiting to for so long.”
“Last year, the National Arts Council provided me with a grant to finish the album, and this is a grant that I’d previously tried applying for (twice). Third time was the charm, and I’m thankful it only came in last year because if God has allowed it earlier, I would have totally bombed.”
At the end of the day, Adia recognises the importance of identity. She shares with me that there was a time that she struggled each time before getting up on stage – something people around her would not have expected given her decade-long stage experience.
“I would be nervous, feel unprepared, feel not good enough, and basically didn’t enter my performance in a healthy state of mind most of the time. Only this year has the breakthrough come where I am free and not bothered by negative thought cycles.”
Without knowing who she was, Adia also accepted things in her life that she knew was not good for herself.
“While my identity in Christ was still being drilled into me, I often did things without power and authority. I’m so glad to finally be in a place where I am strong and secure. Being in a good church for the last five years has been really life-changing.”
People who’ve been following Adia on her Instagram in the recent years would know that she has a beautiful wall of hand-written Scriptures in her room (or at least I did).
“I started (putting up Scriptures) during one of those bad nights. Some online sermon had mentioned the verse where God talks about us never letting Scripture out of our sight and I had been sobbing away.
“Fast forward a few years and now my bedroom wall is filled with bits and pieces of God’s love and faithfulness.”
I think my life has really been kintsugi in action, and know God has picked up all my broken pieces, allowed my breaking so that His gold can be seen.
I ask her to share with me one of the biggest lessons she’s learnt so far in her rollercoaster journey with God.
“One lesson I’m learning now is to take God at His word, and to have faith that pleases Him. If He says He will provide and I really believe it, I should not be anxious about anything. If He says healing is in our hands, I should pray for people with boldness.
“If He says so and so, I need to take it as 100% truth, even if truth is not yet reality.”
Adia’s upcoming EP Kintsugi reflects much of what has happened in her life thus far.
“Kintsugi is the art of repairing broken pottery with gold or silver. The value of the broken pottery is then believed to be much higher than before. I think my life has really been kintsugi in action, and know God has picked up all my broken pieces, allowed my breaking so that His gold can be seen.
“I pretty much think of myself as a broken jar of clay with cracks all over. We all carry His light in us, and it best shines forth in our cracks and weaknesses.”
Adia Tay’s debut single “Comfort & Shelter” drops on January 17, 2019, on all major music platforms. The single is part of her debut EP Kintsugi, which will be released in April 2019. Adia has also recently published a book titled ‘Close Enough’, a complementary compilation of 29 pieces of poetry and prose that will usher you into Adia’s innermost world. Find out more about the book here.