Author Archives: Joey Asher Tan
On 20 June 2017, just before 5pm, I received another incredible gift from God—my beloved son. Praise the Lord! We are thankful to Him for Huiyi’s relatively easy pregnancy and quick labour, but most of all we are grateful for another arrow added to our quiver. With him, I am well pleased, indeed.
Some of our friends might already know that my wife and I take selecting names for our children seriously; we are meticulous, intentional and prayerful about it. Click here to check out how we decided on our firstborn’s English and Chinese names. And in keeping with tradition, I will journal on how we came up with our son’s names.
For starters, we avoided names that were too common, and we also wanted a name that appears in the Bible. We preferred a name that was derived from a biblical location, just like Eden. Thus, we thought of “Israel”, a nation that is special to God, but it didn’t go well with “Tan” and we didn’t want him to explain that he’s a Singaporean, and not an Israeli, for his entire lifetime. Haha.
But because we had considered Israel, we inevitably considered “Judah” as well.
In the Bible, Judah (pronounced as “joo-duh”, not “joo-dah”) made his debut as Jacob’s fourth son (Ge 29:35). It is a Hebrew expression that means “the praised one” and “thanksgiving”, for Judah’s biblical parents shared that sentiment when he was born. Judah then became one of the 12 tribes of Israel (Ge 49)—and the only tribe that remained loyal to King David’s family line (1Ki 12:20). When the Davidic kingdom split, the Northern kingdom was called Israel, and the Southern kingdom, Judah. What’s special about the Southern kingdom was that Jesus eventually descended from it (He 7:14).
Of course, Judah is not to be mistaken with “Judas” (Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus). I’ll teach my son to lovingly educate anyone who mistakens his name with Judas with, “Perhaps it’s time you read the Bible…” Hehe.
Well, we like Judah because of his actions in the Bible. In Ge 37:26, Judah intervened for Joseph’s life to be spared; that demonstrated leadership initiative. By being responsible for the family despite not being the eldest (Ge 43:1-18), Judah prevailed above circumstances and beyond limitations. I also love how courageous Judah was especially in Ge 43:9 and 44:18, as he took charge of the situation by boldly speaking his mind. And throughout the rest of Judah’s biblical narrative, he influenced the proceedings in his household and played a principal role in leading his family to redemption.
And of course, anyone who’s described as a “Lion” (of Judah, Re 5:5) gives the impression of an imposing figure. All in all, Judah just seemed like a young man who would lead the battle from the front. I love that imagery, which is probably influenced by my training as a tank officer. #oncearmouralwaysarmour
But perhaps the most significant thing about Judah was that he was the first to receive full blessings (from his father), without any curses (like some of his brothers). In Ge 49:8-10 (NLT), it reads,
“Judah, your brothers will praise you.
You will grasp your enemies by the neck.
All your relatives will bow before you.
Judah, my son, is a young lion
that has finished eating its prey.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down;
like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants,
until the coming of the one to whom it belongs,
the one whom all nations will honour.”
As for his Chinese name, it was slightly more difficult because of the criterions we had set. Firstly, we wanted it simple, so like his sister, Judah’s Chinese name would be a single character (单名). It had to be unchanged from traditional (繁体字) to simplified (简体字) Chinese, so that no meaning is lost. It had to be in the fourth sound (第四声), so that it would sound unyielding as well as pleasant with my surname (陈). But most of all, it had to carry the meaning of “faith”, or along the lines of it, like “persevering”, “enduring” or “steadfastness”. Finding a single character that encapsulated all that was a tall order because I’m an #ACS boy and my alma-mater is (in)famously #anglominuschineseschool.
So the first person we turned to was Charles, a friend who has a PhD (!) in Chinese history (!!). He is the same church friend who gave our firstborn her exceptional Chinese name (晏). His first recommendation was 信. We liked it because it fulfilled all our conditions, but we were also open to other options. (As an aside, it would have been pretty cool to call my son 阿信 too, considering how much I liked 五月天. Ha!)
But since we were considering alternatives, I decided to consult Ps Walter, my superbly bilingual colleague and interpreter extraordinaire, for more suggestions. And after looking through two to three of his choices, we found one that was (close to) perfect. This new suggestion received rave reviews from Charles too. It carried the meanings of “perseverance”, “insistence”, “resolute”, “decisive”, “staunch”, “strong”, “firm”, “brave”, “fearless”, “urgency”, “determination” and “fighting against evil”, which are just about all we would want in our son, as a man, and as a future leader. (Yes, I’ve clearly done my research on its etymology.)
So, Judah’s Chinese name is 陈毅 (pronounced as “Chén Yì”). It is also a clever wordplay on 诚意 (“sincerity”, “good faith” and “frankness”). Well, 毅 has a few more strokes than we would have preferred, but a future ACSian could do with a bit more practice in Chinese! Haha! Incidentally, the English and Chinese names have similar meanings.
For Huiyi and I, the English name we pick calls forth the child’s destiny and the Chinese name describes the pregnancy journey. The lesson that God had been teaching us (especially my wife) in the year leading up to his birth, is to have faith in Him. (We’ll leave the details for a private sharing…)
We’ve always wanted to name our offspring after the fruit of the Spirit. So now we’ve got love (חֵן, “Chen”, 陈), joy (Eden), peace (晏), and now goodness (Judah, well sorta…) and faithfulness (毅). So I guess there’s still space for more! Ha-HA!
In conclusion, and on a serious note, my prayer and aspiration for my son is taken from 2Ti 2:1-2 (NASB),
“You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
Hence, it becomes our prayer that our little lion will grow up to become a humble but bold individual who will lead others to praise God and give thanks to Him through his persevering character.
Family members and friends have enquired so perhaps it is helpful to explain what I understand about my medical condition.
I have an unusual and excessive growth of lipomas. These are fatty deposits. I think my body doesn’t know where to channel or how to process fatty acids so it gets dumped in random parts of my body. Some people have one or two lumps but I have a lot more. Having multiple lipomas is called Dercum’s Disease. According to NORD, “Dercum’s disease is an extremely rare disorder characterized by multiple, painful growths consisting of fatty tissue (lipomas). These growths mainly occur on the trunk, the upper arms and upper legs and are found just below the skin (subcutaneously).”
This is an uncommon condition, so rare that there is no known cause and no known cure. I am just thankful there is also no known danger. Apparently, these folks are most prone to Dercum’s Disease: older obese menopausal women. I fit none of the above four categories. None in my bloodline have it too. So I trust God for having a purpose in my pain.
Well, I need to remove these thorns in my flesh because they cause pain and discomfort. Some lipomas grow over nerves so it is painful when pressure is applied — like when Eden steps on me, or I get tackled during football, etc. Some lipomas grow in inconvenient places so it becomes uncomfortable — like on my wrist so it affects typing/writing, and on my back so I can’t lean against a hard surface (like a chair) for too long.
Yesterday’s surgery was my third. The first in 2007 was under LA, removed three lipomas. The second in 2010 under GA removed 25. This time, also under GA, another 20+ were removed. It is obvious that the lumps have increased with my weight gain; I’ve put on about 10 kilograms in the last decade. Most of the lipomas are on my arms, trunk, thighs and groin. I’m thankful that it’s not on my face, neck, palms, feet or on any joints. By God’s grace all these lumps are benign. The truth is, because this is not a life-threatening condition, it doesn’t scare me into a drastic change of lifestyle.
Unfortunately, I only bought my insurance after my first surgery so I can’t make claims for this treating pre-existing condition (the proper name treatment is called excision and biopsy of multiple lipomas). But God is good. He’s always provided for every operation and I trust him to continue to provide for my needs. For example, this time, the Lord’s providence came in the form of the surgeon, who is my church friend, and he has helped me defray the surgery costs and ensured that I have good care. I am grateful to God for him. Pray along with me that the group hospitalisation plan that the church purchased for pastors would be able to pay for this surgery.
The two to three-week recovery phase is always the most challenging because my mobility is significantly affected. Simple activities like sleeping and sitting (where I put weight on the wounds) and showering (potentially wetting it) or even using the bathroom can become troublesome. But the most arduous task is changing the dressing. Each dressing costs $2.50 (sigh) and I may have to change some wounds twice a day. There are also some wounds (on my back) that are beyond my reach so I need others to help me change it. So sometimes changing dressing and applying scar-reducing cream can take up to an hour.
I am grateful for family members and friends who have uplifted me in their prayers — thank you for raising your shield of faith for me. Every prayer counts. I am also believing that God my healer will one day heal me completely of this condition. Perhaps there’s a miracle waiting to happen with my body and I look forward to it. I have faith in God and I trust in His plans. For now, I shall look forward to my two weeks of rest and recovery, and I believe by faith that this surgery will be the last of my lipoma-related condition. Amen. God is good!
And yes, I’m going to make some lifestyle changes…
These observations are a little backdated (three months late), but these lessons are timeless and will be relevant in almost every season of my life.
In no order of importance, here are 20 (albeit cryptic) reflections from Eden’s five-day stay in Gleneagles Hospital in September 2014…
1. Family trumps everybody and is my greatest priority.
It was a no-brainer forfeiting my mission trip to be with Huiyi and Eden.
2. Don’t expect sheep to show concern for shepherds.
Pastoral care is freely dispensed by the pastor, but will hardly be reciprocated in equal measure.
3. Only my immediate family and I will be there for my immediate family and I.
Every hospitalised person can rely on only two groups of people — parents and grandparents.
4. The way I shepherd in a crisis is a reflection of the way I was shepherded in a crisis.
Where is my reference point? What is my yardstick? To lead by example, I must first be led by example.
5. Being wise is more important than being loving or sacrificial.
It is better for the main caregivers to take turns to get quality rest instead of staying vigil all the time.
6. The lesser I expect, the lesser I will be disappointed.
I realised that I have unspoken expectations and it’s toxic for me to hold on to these.
7. My single presence is more important than the sum total of my prayers.
Support is meant to be felt. Prayers are meant to be answered. Both require action.
8. Be kind and courteous to everyone because nobody knows what I am going through.
Nobody owes me a living so I learnt to be polite to everyone even when I was highly strung.
9. Don’t bother updating those who don’t bother to update themselves.
Those who really want to know will naturally contact me and that’s all the people I need to update.
10. My wife and baby’s comfort outweighs showing courtesy to visitors.
If Eden or Huiyi was resting when visitors came and wanted to say hello, too bad for my visitors.
11. I am not obligated to explain or respond to everything to and from everyone.
Strange and uncalled-for comments should be ignored and deemed as insensitive or immature.
12. Guard my emotions: the devil will exploit my vulnerability.
My security is found in who I am to God and not who I am to people.
13. People care more for my work than for my worth and my family’s welfare.
Well, I honestly didn’t really care about anything else regardless of how pressing they were.
14. Strangers and acquaintances can be more supportive than relatives and friends.
We experienced unexpected favour through our paediatrician, nurses and even security guards.
15. In distress, do not miss out on walking into divine appointments.
I took the opportunity to demonstrate God’s to the seven-year-old boy warded beside Eden.
16. No point asking for prayer if I don’t even pray myself.
Believing in God becomes authentic when I do much more than what I ask others to do on my behalf.
17. Always be patient with my wife and overlook any wrong choice of expression.
Huiyi is way more stressed and affected than me and the last thing on her mind is to offend me.
18. The only person I must practically serve and verbally encourage is my wife.
Tell Huiyi she’s doing a good job and prove that I’m right behind her in everything.
19. If I can’t take care of myself, I won’t be able to take care of anyone else.
Either I treat my splitting headache by going home to rest or I become Huiyi’s extra burden.
20. Considering others better than myself is viewing my contributions less than theirs.
Becoming the logistics guy was nothing compared to being a breastfeeding mother to a sick baby.
I have decided to take a mental break from preparing 14 messages (pray for me!) for this weekend’s Redeem Conference, next week’s youth camp at Elim Church and next weekend’s R-AGE Leaders Advance to record some fresh thoughts. Let’s see where this verbiage takes me…
A few times throughout the day, Huiyi will send me picture updates of Eden’s daily activities. She receives these pictures from her mother, who is Eden’s main caregiver from Tuesdays to Fridays.
And I have observed that more often than not, my typical replies to these lovely photos are, “I miss my family!” and “Love you so much!”, and not so much of responding to what Eden is actually doing in the photos.
Today, Eden’s 公公 and 嬷嬷 brought her to Jurong Bird Park. Eden looks so adorable in the photos and Huiyi commented that our baby girl “has such an awesome life”.
I wholeheartedly agreed with my wife. But there was a tinge of melancholy in my “Indeed!” reply.
As I thanked God for how blessed Eden is, a part of me yearns to be playing with her at the Bird Park instead of writing sermons in front of my laptop.
I found myself living vicariously through these daily photos.
I imagined myself taking those pictures and getting Eden to smile for the camera; I pictured myself pushing Eden in her stroller through the midday heat; I envisioned myself cradling Eden in my right arm, kissing her all over and littering her ears with, “Darling, Daddy loves you so much!”
Yes, I was truly experiencing life with Eden in my imagination through the actions of my in-laws.
And it got me thinking about the irony of parenting in Singapore; it is as if we bring our children into this world to have them being cared for by other people, and for them to spend time away from us.
When we are younger and more energetic, we have to work to earn money for our livelihood, and be away from our children. But when we are older and less spritely, we have enough money and all the time in the world, but our children have also all grown up! Surely there’s a way around this tension that I haven’t yet discovered?
My mother-in-law commented a few months ago that she is so much more active in Eden’s life than in her own children’s stage of infancy. She also said that that statement holds true for my father-in-law.
Both Huiyi and I were cared for by our grandmothers; I believe many of us in Singapore were taken care of by our grandparents and that (good) tradition seems to pass on from generation to generation.
As much as Huiyi and I are grateful for the tremendous support that we receive from our parents, we desire so much more to be Eden’s main caregivers instead. We are, after all, her parents — I mean, who wants to spend time with her more than us?
But the reality is, I have a day job (which I am most thankful for, because I enjoy what I do for a living) and by keeping it, I am fulfilling the other part of being a father by providing for my family.
On weekdays, Huiyi and I will only have about five hours with Eden — two in the morning and three in the evening. That is why, as working parents, we cherish weekends so much.
And that is why I treasure my off days that much more now because that’s the exclusive time I get to spend with my beloved princess and create memories for the both of us. On Mondays, I do not have to live vicariously through images on a mobile phone.
Every precious moment with my daughter is locked into my heart forever. I will never give up anything for time with her.
Oh man, I am getting emotional writing this…
Last weekend, in my excitement to leave the house for a Christmas party, I clumsily knocked over the bottle of wine I was going to bring out. Well, my living room ended up looking like a homicide scene.
Thankfully, Eden was on her high chair and Huiyi was in the kitchen when the bottle shattered. I, on the other hand (HA), was left to pick up the pieces (HAHA) of my broken
heart Montes Merlot 2010.
As I closed the lid of the rubbish chute, I carelessly sliced my thumb against a glass shard that protruded from the plastic bag. It literally became a bloody mess, and my sink ended up resembling an amateur suicide scene.
Yes, my well-documented fears — odynophobia (pain) and haemophobia (blood) — went into overdrive; Sheryl Crow said the first cut is the deepest and baby I know she’s right about that. It was painful and I bled a lot, but I wasn’t sure if my lips turned pale from the loss of blood or the amalgamation of phobias.
I was grateful for my cool-as-a-cucumber wife who took command of the situation; she cleaned up my mess (as always), attended to me with the issue of blood (phrase credits: DL) and even fed our bemused baby while we waited for my blood to clot and composure to return.
It’s been more than 24 hours since I’ve been deprived of my right thumb (now bandaged) and I’ve learnt how essential this small part of my body is, not just in function, but also in presence.
Functionally speaking, losing (the use of) my thumb was obviously and extremely inconvenient. I’ve come to realise how I probably need my thumb for just about everything I do: using the toilet, taking a shower, driving the car, eating my meals, carrying my baby, feeding her porridge, peeling her blueberries, washing the dishes, using my iPhone, locking my door, shaking someone’s hand, typing this post, patting Eden to sleep and even sleeping itself (fearing I might squash and injure it further)!
Percentage-wise, a thumb is a fraction of my body weight but its significance is unquestionable.
But what was more interesting for me was how I perceived the presence of my thumb, or better phrased, the impact of its absence; it was, after all, impossible for others to miss my bandaged thumb.
The owner of the convenience store I visited today didn’t, and made small talk with me about my injury; my friends at the party, with every handshake, asked me what happened; even my baby girl couldn’t stop touching my bandaged thumb — she’s either wondering how daddy hurt himself or thinking if that white thing is edible.
It got me thinking about the body of Christ (the Church), or applicable in this instance, any group of friends. Often, we instinctively miss people because of what they could do and have done for us (function), but there are times we will also miss people simply because of who they are innately and who they are to us (presence).
Perhaps as we approach Christmas, it makes for a good opportunity to remember the ones who have gone missing in our lives. Go ahead — give her a call and tell her how much you miss her, or text him and let him how much you miss having him around.
You have nothing to lose, except the friend you already lost.
In the meantime, I shall read 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 and enjoy sticking out like a sore thumb for the next few days.
It has been over half a year since I last blogged. I had always wanted to resume writing regularly, not for public reading but personal rigour. However, it has become increasingly difficult with different commitments vying for my time and attention.
I certainly miss the catharsis of writing — where I can reflect, process and record my frank thoughts, raw feelings and divinely appointed experiences. Somehow, writing slows down my life and helps me to savour the moments.
So without much fanfare, I shall attempt to restart tonight. After all, there is no better time to write than now.
A few days ago, I stopped my car in the middle of Grange Road to attend to a motorist who was trapped underneath her own motorcycle.
I was about 300 metres away when I saw the toppled motorcycle. In those short seconds of approaching her location, I was certain that there must have been many other drivers who had driven past her earlier on, and pretended to be oblivious to her obvious distress.
True enough, at least another five vehicles had zoomed past her before I could turn on my hazard lights and stop my car just behind her motorbike. I literally parked in the centre of a three-lane road and a potential traffic congestion was the last thing on my mind.
I did what every normal person would do if he witnessed something abnormal on the road — help.
I never knew how heavy a motorcycle was until I assisted her; there was no way she could have lifted it up on her own.
She told me that a taxi driver had hit her and then sped away. Thankfully, she said she was not hurt and surprisingly, she was not upset at all. Maybe it was the adrenaline from her struggle, maybe she was at fault, or maybe she was just grateful to be alive.
As I raised her motorbike, I was joined by another man who did the same normal thing I did; he stopped his SUV and got out to help this woman in her late 40’s.
Once she was back on her feet and sat on her motorbike, she appreciated the both of us, assured us that she was fit enough to resume riding, and went on her way. I would probably never meet her again and chances are, even if I did, I would not recognise her.
The entire incident was over in less than a couple of minutes (and I was on my bluetooth headset with KY the whole time) but it got me thinking about what it meant to help others.
1. The right person to help is often the first person who helps.
2. The first person who helps naturally invites the second person to help.
3. Everyone needs help, but they may not be able or know how to tell you.
4. The best help you can offer could be as simple as a minute or two.
5. Helping others is an end in itself because it is not about you.
On 18 March 2014 just after 5pm, I received the greatest gift in the world — my precious baby girl. I’ll chronicle the epic labour process in another entry but today, I want to record a memoir of how my princess’ English and Chinese names came about.
Names mean a lot to me. A name carries identity, prophecy and destiny. And sometimes, it does feel like if you pick a good name, you’ve got half the battle won. You see, I selected “Asher” as my baptism name because it means “blessed, joyful and happy”, as well as “the most favoured one”.
As for our children, we’ve already shortlisted a number of English and Chinese names. The plan was to pick one that described the pregnancy journey. We’ve decided in the second trimester that our firstborn would be named “Eden”, because like her name suggests, she has brought us and others around us so much joy and delight. In Hebrew, it means “paradise” (she’s our utopia after all). And practically speaking, Eden is a simple, two-syllable, and easy-to-remember name.
Some years ago, I discovered the meaning of my surname, Chen (陈). While its most obvious meaning represents the sun (阳) that rises from the east (东), it’s actually also pronounced like a Hebrew word (חֵן) that means “loveliness, grace, and favour with God and men”. Not too shabby for one of the most common surnames in the world!
We’ve always wanted to name our offsprings after the fruit of the Spirit and since we had “love” and “joy” already working in Eden’s favour, we wanted to select a Chinese name that either described love or joy, or another of the remaining seven parts of the fruit of the Spirit.
As a typical ACS boy, I knew I needed some help with picking the right Chinese name for my daughter. So I approached a church friend, Charles, who’s studying for his PhD in Chinese history, who had very kindly agreed to help Huiyi and I pick a Chinese name for Eden. We met for coffee one afternoon and went through a few possibilities. I mentioned to him that I wanted Eden to have a single character (单名) in her Chinese name. So instead of the typical three characters, all my children’s Chinese names will only have two.
It’s not easy find a name that fits with the dialect and English “Tan” as well as the hanyupinyin “Chen” so we decided that Eden’s given name on her birth certificate will simply show “Eden Tan”, without her Chinese hanyupinyin name. After all, when you do introduce yourself, you don’t say, “My name is Joey Tan Chong Yi” or “你好, 我是Joey陈崇仪 but simply, “My name is Joey Tan” or, “我是陈晏”.
After an hour of tossing up possibilities of his initial suggestions and the Chinese names that I preferred, Charles and I went off topic and shared about the respective journeys we’ve each gone through watching our wives get pregnant. Many of which are very private so I’ll leave it that way. But as with several seasons of my life, God has always been teaching me about what it means to surrender… And everyone knows surrendering (to God) isn’t always the most pleasant or easy thing to do. I told Charles that through this process of surrendering, God has really taught me about His peace that surpasses all understanding — that assuring knowledge that He is with me and His presence is all I need.
That little sharing seemed to have ignited something in Charles’ eyes. He began sharing with me a little of his own journey into parenthood and how he’s learnt to trust God for all outcomes. Then he paused, and it was as if he rummaged through the virtual annuls of thousands of Chinese characters in his mind, then keyed one in on his cellphone. With aplomb, he made a suggestion…
“How about this character — 晏?”
Unsurprisingly, I did not recognise that Chinese character at all. And I’m confident that unless I’ve explained it to you before, or if you’re also studying for your Chinese history doctorate, chances are that this is the first time you’re seeing this character and you, like the rest of the modern world, have no idea how to pronounce “晏”.
“It’s pronounced as ‘yàn'”, he explained, “and it means ‘peace'”, he continued.
Upon seeing “晏” and perceiving its meaning, it became one of those moments for me. You know, those moments where you kind of know, this is it. I think Charles must have saw it in my eyes too. Like “Eden”, “晏” had a nice ring to it and immediately resonated with my heart. There was a certain sense of conviction about it. I knew there and then (barring consultation with my wife) that “晏” would be Eden’s (only) Chinese name. “Eden Tan” and “陈晏” — what a perfect combination of love, joy and peace.
Charles went on to explain that 晏 in one character, carries the same meaning as 平安 (peace) in two characters. Not only that, but it’s “peace that comes with day” because it’s “日” (day) + “安” (peace). To help me understand this, he explained that we sing “Silent Night, Holy Night” because we are looking forward to the peace that comes in the morning, knowing that we have survived yet another unknown night; that’s why we chorus “All is calm, all is bright” in the following line. It was like a double Eureka moment for me — new understanding of that Christmas carol and new knowledge to appreciate the profound meaning of this Chinese character. Another way of looking at 晏 is that everyday (日) Eden will be filled with peace (安) — 每日平安.
Charles also explained that 晏 is one of those rare Chinese characters that has not simplified its strokes over the centuries; 晏 in written the same way in both traditional (繁体字) and simplified (简体字) Chinese. So that means that it’s meaning has not changed through time! In addition, what I also liked about this character is how feminine it looks — don’t you think it looks really pretty?
And finally, I also saw a pictograph in 晏 — it looks like the sun (日) is forming a protection (宀) over my little girl (女)! And if I may stretch it and “Christianise” its meaning, it kind of looks like the Son is watching over my daughter! In summary, looking at 晏 was like marvelling at Eden for the first time — love at first sight.
Through bringing our baby girl to full-term, God has indeed brought us joy and delight, allowed us to experience His grace and love, and taught us the precious lesson of knowing His peace that surpasses all understanding.
Eden Tan, Mummy and Papa love you very much — beyond what you can imagine. Thank you for teaching us love, joy and peace even before you’ve met us. You’re going to be an awesome, and very precious daughter. What a privilege it is for Huiyi and I to be your parents.