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my final birthday as a bachelor.

Over the next 24 hours, I will celebrate my 8th 21st birthday, by having lunch with none other than my best friend, Lionel, and dinner with my fiancée, Huiyi. I’m just two years from turning three decades old – that’s more than twice the age of the new youths initiated into youth ministry. I feel older but more alive than ever!

  • By December, my salutation would have changed.
  • By January, my ministry responsibilities would have increased.
  • By February, I would have completed my undergraduate programme.
  • By March, I would have accomplished another of my childhood dreams.
  • By April, we would have completed the pre-wedding photo-shoot.
  • By August, Huiyi and I would have changed our marital status.
  • By September, I would have embarked on my postgraduate programme.
  • By this time next year, I should be in New Zealand with my wife, enjoying my honeymoon.

That’s a lot of things to look forward to in the next 365 days. But before I arrive at next October, There are 28 reasons to be thankful, most of which are for people who close to my heart. I believe that people define lives, not possessions or pursuits.

1. Huiyi: My fiancée has become such a big part of my life, ministry, personality and growth. There’s no one who knows and understands me better than she does. She is the strength behind my passion and the stability within my authenticity; her grace towards me and her forgiveness of my tainted past gives me more reasons to believe in young people. Without a doubt, she is the most important person in my life.

2. Home: My family has made my house feel like home. My room is the best place to be at night. I will miss it once renovations begin to transform it from an overgrown teenager’s to a newlyweds’ room.

3. Maisie: I’ve enjoyed a relationship resurgence with my beloved younger sister, and watching her flourish in her career and achieving her dreams makes me beam with pride. I love her with all my heart.

4. Mummy: Honestly, watching my mother slow down is something I am learning to cope with. Her years of sacrifice is now taking its toll on her. It is my prayer that as my mother ages, my sister and I will adapt to her changes. Home, Maisie, Mummy – the next three thanksgivings.

5-8. Family-to-be: In the last year, my knowledge of Bryan, Uncle Kheng Leong, Aunty Rosalind and Xianyi has grown. Our conversations have moved beyond the superficial and I am thankful because I am never one who likes to scratch surfaces. I look forward to getting to understand them a little more intimately in the next year. I believe by faith that my entire family will coming to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

9-10. Shepherds: My family outside of my family is one whom I’ve the privilege of shepherding. Recently on youthministry.com, it sent out an article on “Sharing Your Life With Your Team” and I see it as God’s way of affirming how I’m doing ministry with them. Huiyi and I always remind each other that it is our absolute delight, honour and privilege to have them play the role of groomsmen and bridesmaid at our wedding. But beyond that, I look forward to doing life with two groups of them; the boys – Keith, Bradley, Kun Jie, Caleb, David, Shavinn; and the girls – Melody, Natalina, Yixian, Melissa, Andrea and Sheena.

11. Grace AG: Six days ago on 15 October, I arrived at my 2nd full year in full-time ministry with Grace AG. I still feel like it’s a dream job because I don’t feel like I’ve worked a single day in the last 730 days. I wake up everyday feeling unbelievably thankful for all the way my church believes in me. And it has been fantastic working with friends – Ps Cuixian, Ps Jadene and Suhui.

12. Ps Ronald Yow: The one most responsible for my career joy is none other than my irreplaceable boss, mentor and role model. He has been unbelievable in guiding me as a youth minister and profiling me as the youth pastor. Thank you…

13. R-AGE: My my, look at how the youth group has grown! It has been a joy pastoring the flock at Bukit Batok and I look forward to journeying with those at Tanglin Road in the coming days.

14-20. Buddies: It’s never good to walk alone. I am delighted to call Lionel, Kurk, Gideon, Johann, Kenneth, Joel and Cheryl my contemporaries whom I check on, and who keep me in check.

20. RMIT: I never expected myself to perform so well in school. It is indeed by the grace of God because I know that I’m not a brainiac. I have also enjoyed learning alongside responsible classmates, and from the occasional good lecturer.

21. Ps Edmund Chan: In the last 13 years, there has only been one man has spoken so deeply into my life into such a deep-seated issue that no one has ever ventured into… Being with him in Perth was already a treat, but the moment that I will never erase from my mind is the lunch we had together on the last day. I couldn’t stop my tears from running down my face.

22-23. Mentors: I have the privilege of being mentored by greatly esteemed and highly respected men of God. And there are three I’d like to thank God for. Peter Chao and Ps Benny Ho who has looked out for me, given me their time and attention, dispensed invaluable advice, pointed me in the right direction, and most importantly, believed in me. I cheekily (but audaciously) asked the Lord for mentors to guide me in leadership, preaching and growing deep, and He sent me the best in the business…

24. Mentorees: I am a product of mentoring and it has been instinctive for me to mentor others. Over the year, I’ve had the wonderful privilege and opportunity to journey with young people bursting with capacity and capabilities. I still believe that the greatest gift you could ever give to a young person, is to believe in him. It’s been an absolute joy!

25. Friends overseas: This year, I’ve spent Autumn and Spring with Chin Seng and Ervina in Perth and had the privilege of being Daniel Heng’s best man, who flew back from New Zealand to hold his wedding. (I would have loved to catch up with Liang Zhi in my last trip…)

26. Going overseas: It’s amazing how the Lord rewards my desire to travel with the most number of trips I’ve ever gone on in my life in one calendar year. I am always thankful to get out of Singapore – be it for mission trips, vacations or even just a short trip up North across the Causeway for a weekend getaway! May the frequency increase with age!

27. A deeper hunger: I find myself desiring God with increasing intensity… More than just the things of God (books, sermons, conferences, ministry) but God Himself. For He alone satisfies. If Jesus is all, then Jesus is enough.

28. A consistent devotion: Of course I’ve missed some days and in some periods, even a couple of weeks. (Even pastors struggle!) But if I were to put my finger on why my hunger for and knowledge of God has increased, it is simply down to spending time with Him regularly… And just enjoying His presence… And allowing His living Word to breathe life into me.

I’ve probably missed out a couple of items or people but well, these are the first 28 thoughts that come to my mind… So here goes, happy birthday to me! I pray that I’ll easily have 29 items to thank God for 365 days later! (:

a September stock-take and an October onslaught.

It’s always therapeutic to do a stock-take after an eventful week, which would have been impossible to pull off and not fall exhausted on my face, if not for the grace of God that saw me though. Warning: long post.

Monday: attended QC (Questions and Contributions) time and a monthly mentoring session with Ps Edmund Chan; ’til this day, I still thank God for the divine appointment in which He has connected me to Ps Ed; what a privilege and honour.

Tuesday AM: led worship at the Tuesday staff devotion with Ps Meng Cham; that’s how I will do it from now on – being accompanied by a seasoned musician makes it so much more enjoyable (because I won’t need to practice with my guitar!)

Tuesday PM: prepared for and sat through a staff meeting, which was a heart-wrenching experience and threw me off my momentum; I’m thankful for Ps Ronald who patiently listened to me rant and vent my frustrations. This forced me to come before the Lord that evening to seek His face. And I’m glad I did. The Lord spoke to me through Genesis 13 and Hebrews 6.

Wednesday AM: Caleb crashed at my place the night before and we watched Man Utd surrender a 2-0 lead to Basel and equalised in typical United fashion at the dying minutes. I struggled through the second half, to be honest. I’m really getting old…

Wednesday PM: led worship at the weekly Wednesday church prayer meeting (J333) with Rafael.; exposing youth musicians through my J333 duties gives me renewed purpose when I find my name on the worship leading roster. My next session is on 30 November and I’ll go over-the-top because I’ll be teaming up with Ps Ronald and the church will be praying for R-AGE.

Thursday: presented the 2012 R-AGE budget in front of the Head of Administration, accountant and finance manager of Grace AG on Thursday (my first time presenting with Excel spreadsheets); administration is really not my strength. Thank God for Ps Ronald who rescued me by answering on my behalf on a few occasions.

Friday AM: had a delectable dim-sum lunch at Royal China @ Raffles Hotel with Sheryl from Eagles, together with Daniel and Xavier too, and joined the Vantage Point magazine editorial team. (I just received my first email from them!)

Friday PM: sat through another staff meeting, and wondered what it would be like next year when I’m chairing it.

Friday EVE: spent time with some of my favouritest people on the planet at the GII Shepherds cell, and facilitated our Harmony of the Gospels lesson; Yixian said if we continued at this pace (in-depth but extremely slow), we’d take two years to finish the book.

Saturday AM: led the R-AGE 2012 manpower deployment discussion with Caleb, Keith, Kenneth and Rachael; yes, R-AGE leaders, we were deliberating over your fate next year! HAHAHA. I can’t wait to see youths lead youths!

Saturday PM: preached an apologetics cum evangelistic sermon (my first attempt) for the Same Same But Different evangelistic service at R-AGE@GII. I actually enjoyed my preparation more than my execution. It was intellectually stimulating to read in greater detail how atheism, pantheism and polytheism (among many other -isms) stood against theism.

Saturday EVE: chaired the Bare Bones 2012 coordination meeting with Nicole, Keith, David and Grace – who have proposed some spectacular ideas for the year-end conference. It’s gonna blow Grace AG away; everything is going to be significantly leveled-up! I’m delighted to be working with such exceptional youth leaders. Watching Man Utd defeat Norwich 2-0 capped my day.

Sunday: preached the same sermon at R-AGE@GI. I took the opportunity to clear up some personal administrative work while waiting to have lunch with Huiyi and Yixian. After a short nap to recharge my batteries, I resumed studying for my 60% News Studies paper (the next day), which I have burned midnight oil for in the past seven days. Little by little, I’ve conquered the paper.

Monday (today): praise God for a relatively easy exam paper! It’s different when you understand what you are reading and memorising instead of mugging just for the sake of. I managed to finished the paper with an hour to spare, so I brought forward my appointment with my hairstylist. It’s 4pm now (at the point of writing) and my head literally and metaphorically feels lighter.

I’m going to complete this blog post before I go ahead to prepare the slides for the R-AGE 2012 Ministry Action Plans (which I’m presenting to all pastoral staff tomorrow!) Then I’m going to head out to China Square to treat my family to a nice dinner of Crab Bee Hoon @ Don’s Pie Club. We’re celebrating my sister’s belated birthday (1 October), as well as my 8th 21st birthday in advance.

This week, I also managed to meet Caleb and Lucas for lunch and mentoring on Wednesday and Thursday respectively. I thoroughly enjoy investing time into young men who possess a desire to grow. Lucas’ huge appetite for growth reminds me of me, especially in the way that I pursue my mentors. I told him to never lose his hunger (okay, boy?).

After our  mentoring session over coffee in Starbucks@Tanglin Mall, he asked, “How do you do it, Bro Joey?” It being managing the many things on my plate. I couldn’t find an adequate way to answer him except to say, with all sincerity, that this capacity is a God-given gift; how could I take credit for the grace of God? I told him to ask God for it as well, because I think God will give it. (I didn’t tell him about the price of increased capacity though, but I’m sure he’ll figure that out himself.)

September has been an exceptional month in ministry. Besides starting R-AGE on the Spiritual Disciplines: Training in Holiness sermon series, I’ve also been planning for R-AGE in 2012 and meeting up with lots of youth leaders who might be serving alongside me next year. I am convinced that it’s my time with the Lord everyday that’s keeping me afloat.

I’ve also been reading non-stop throughout the week (and at an aggressive pace too). Besides the Bible during my daily devotions, sermon preparation materials and academic texts, I’ve also been feasting into Edmund Chan’s Cultivating Your Inner Life, Philippe Auclair’s Cantona: The Rebel Who Would Be King and Larry Crabb’s 66 Love Letters. I think I’m concurrently reading eight books – and I love the variety! This is effective for someone like me who gets bored easily.

On a more personal note, I’ve also been spending lots of time with Huiyi with our wedding preparation; we’ve reserved Sunday afternoons to visit bridal studios and photographers, as well as to plan for our big day. The highlight of these trips is to catch a sneak preview of my wife-to-be when she emerges from the changing room in glorious, gorgeous white; she’s gonna be the most stunning bride in all of Singapore next August – you have no idea how much we are looking forward to be married to each other!

I’d probably be packing my luggage midway when this post is published; Jetstar is going to take me to Perth at 5:45pm (Tuesday). I look forward to hanging out with Chin Seng, Ervina and Liang Zhi, but the highlight of my trip is to spend time with Ps Edmund and Ps Ann. I’ve been looking forward to this trip ever since I purchased the air tickets (super cheap!) a few months ago.

When I began my mentoring journey with Ps Edmund around this time last year, he emailed me his traveling itinerary and invited me to follow him on one of his countless trips; so here I am, excited and still starstruck, counting down the hours before I get to spend quality, uninterrupted and extended time with a God-given mentor, whom I’m sure will sharpen, challenge and inspire me!

October, I am ready for your onslaught!

Quenching my spiritual thirst with living water! (@ The Pinnacles, Perth, Australia)

XXXVII. the analysis of the video.

Please forgive me for doing something as technical as this. Think of it as a literature review fused together with romance.

The sound of raindrops practically set the tone of the video. And if you match the Chinese lyrics of the song to what was happening in the video, you’d realise that everything was poetic.

We first appeared in the video, side-by-side under the umbrella to “坐在我身旁”. And as you hear “回家的太阳“, the scene had the sunset in the backdrop, with us walking towards the camera.

Now for my first favourite scene…

Caleb captured our synchronised footsteps in the pouring rain as we walked across the frame. WOW – what a moment! It was an encapsulation of a journey that we would walk together, even in stormy seasons of life! Indulge me please, for I am moved by my own vivid imagination…

The silly way that I swiveled the ring box was something completely spontaneous; I actually did it because I was nervous! But look at how nicely it turned out – the camera transformed my anxiety into cheekiness. And speaking of camera magic, what looked like me gently kissing her on her cheeks was actually me whispering instruction into Huiyi’s ear.

And here comes my rock star moment!

Actually, it wouldn’t have been possible because the original instruction I gave to the crew was to set up my guitar on the guitar stand I asked them to bring along. But I think they didn’t not because they forgot but because they didn’t want to expose my Cort to the rain. They practically saved my guitar…

This meant that I had to take it out from the case when I got there and it created a wonderful MTV-esque scene. I felt like a rock star filming a music video in the rain! It’s like a dream come true, really – to do in real life what I’ve always seen in reel life (without spoiling my guitar). Wonderful!

And the next scene tops it all…

I must really hand it to Caleb’s technical brilliance. As the song reached its chorus and the scene reached its climax, the soundtrack was removed and in place of it was the live recording of my song presentation to Huiyi, complete with the rawness of the rain!

I loved it! And the stunned look on Huiyi’s face was absolutely priceless! Especially when she turned her head to the left and back immediately to size up what was going on – this was captured candidly and beautifully!

At this point, I think Huiyi still had no idea that she was gripping the placards in her hands. On hindsight, looking at those placards must have spurred me on and gave me courage to do what I did. I was staring straight at the love of my life and the answer that she was going to give.

This “YES!” placard, juxtaposed with the five placards in the background, formed a wonderful and self-explanatory picture of a proposal in its purest form.

The raindrops that ricocheted on the camera lens and the glowing lamps created such a wonderful lens flare! It was truly a cinematic moment that only God could help us to create, and at no cost!

(Please continue to indulge me because I think it was so cool when I removed the guitar! Wearing that checkered shirt proved to be priceless too! Yes, my imagination is running amok!)

The soundtrack returned to the video at its crescendo as I got down on one knee to open the ring box to present the ring to Huiyi to ask her to marry me.

And then came Huiyi’s favourite moment of the video…

It was the few seconds when she said “YES!” to me and when I smiled the widest and happiest smile of my life as I removed the ring from the ring box. Frankly, I’ve never seen myself so happy before too! And yes, Huiyi still beams each time she sees that scene.

And as she revealed the other two placards in her hands (that also read “YES!”), her best friend appeared, as if to endorse and affirm her of her decision…

I think it was a special and wonderful moment for the two of them to remember and talk about for the rest of their lives… I’m sure of that!

Again, I must compliment Caleb for syncing “把你未来放在我肩上” with the moment I put the ring on her finger. I don’t care whether it was by incidental or intentional, I only care that it was an inspired moment! Absolutely brilliant timing!

The video closes with us exchanging a kiss with her holding the “YES!” placard and the two of us standing at the front of “Will You Marry Me? / 让我照顾你”. Again, another award-winning moment.

The final Hollywood moment that we enjoyed came at the last shot…

As the camera focus blurred, leaving two orange lights (which matched the orange umbrella) in the background (complete with the lens flare effect), it concluded the entire video for us before it moved into the photo slideshow.

And if you haven’t already realised, what you hear during the slideshow is what Huiyi heard in her earphones just before I removed it.

Man, I think I should enter this out-of-the-world video (which I will embed for the last time) for some wedding competition… Wait a minute – I did!

Next chapter: the after-proposal reflection and reaction.

XXXVI. the professional post-production pace.

An amusing moment was when Huiyi suddenly recalled our parting words to Gideon, Caleb and Yvonne at KBM, before we started dinner. What she didn’t know was that Gideon and Caleb drove to a coffeeshop in Bukit Gombak (the Chargrill one!) not just to have dinner but to furiously edit the photographs and the video that they just captured.

One of the key reasons for throwing a party was to screen the video and photo slideshow of the proposal at KBM. I wanted all who were present to see what transpired; and it was became a highlight for everyone, including Huiyi and myself. We watched this video after I gave a speech and it caught Huiyi by surprise too.

The crew was superb and they delivered as promised. And get this, they were furiously editing away on their laptops while they were still soaked in sweat and rainwater! Now, that’s what I call dedication. That’s what I would salute as commitment.

That, my friends, is a no-questions-asked kind of brotherhood. And it still leaves me in a state of indebtedness even as I jot it down. Their effort to bless Huiyi and I was second-to-none.

It was then that I saw how these professionals got personal with me. And this time, I’d much rather settle for the latter.

When you view the video again, bear in mind that it was produced by two remarkable men, on two empty stomachs, within two hours, and under the most unpleasant physical conditions.

They truly went all the way for Huiyi and I. Thank you, Gideon and Caleb – I will never forget your love!

Next chapter: the analysis of the video.

XXXI. the question we’ve all been waiting for.

I finished the song, put my guitar away, and asked her to turn around to see the other five placards behind her. Yes, she was still in shock. (Wouldn’t you, if you were her?) I reveled at her reaction, knowing that my Perth decoys worked to perfection.

Yes, I knew in my heart that the grand surprise proposal was a smashing success! It was worth every inch and ounce of effort put in! What a spectacular result that went beyond my expectations!

I gave her a little over three seconds to savour the moment.

Then I dropped to one knee, removed the engagement ring from the ring box and popped the question. I had rehearsed this a million times but something like this is beyond anyone’s preparation.

I had always wanted to be unique in the way that I phrased the million-dollar question but I thought, “Ah, what the heck, let’s keep it simple and straightforward!”

So I simply asked her, “Will you be my wife?”

(At this point, Yvonne was nodding away furiously as if to egg Huiyi on…)

Huiyi paused, and knowing her, she probably had a billion inner conversations in her head in that two seconds. Then she looked at her three placards and bashfully told me, “YES!”

This was the happiest moment of my life! Of course I beamed to no end – I was delirious!

Huiyi stretched out her left hand towards me. I remained on one knee and I put the most beautiful ring in the world on the most beautiful finger in the world that belonged to the most beautiful lady in the world – an absolutely magnificent moment!

By now, I was completely drenched. So Huiyi put aside the orange umbrella, stepped into the rain with me, brought me back to my feet, held my hands, kissed my lips, and gave me the longest and most assuring embrace I could ever ask for. With that, she convinced me that I was the man whom she was going to spend the rest of her life with.

This was it! We were now officially engaged and probably the happiest couple on the face of this planet!

We enjoyed our long walk back to Privé and exchanged some banter along the way. Huiyi was still in shock – so most of what we did was to smile, and smile, and smile, and smile, and repeatedly declare our love for each other in the simplest ways.

We returned to the clubhouse in complete bliss. There, we thanked the crew for their hard work and dedication, and parted ways with them. Gideon and Caleb were soaked to their undergarments; they went all the way for us and we will always be grateful for their critical roles in capturing our engagement.

“Thanks everyone – see you this weekend!” We bade them farewell as they disappeared into the elevator while as we sashayed into Privé.

Next chapter: the first meal together as an engaged couple.

XXX. the love at first sight.

The walk from the clubhouse to the pier must have been at least around 600 metres. We took nearly 12 minutes to get there. By then, my right arm carrying the heavy umbrella was about to give way and my left arm carrying Huiyi’s bag was completely drenched.

It was such a long walk that I had to reassure her countless times that we were about to arrive. The further we walked, the heavier the rain poured and the darker the sky became. In my mind, my hope for a sunset vanished with every passing minute.

And you know the sunset is over when the street lamps start to glow.

By the time we arrived at the pier, the placards had already lost its adhesive power to remain on the railings. Yvonne improvised and leaned these placards along the railings instead. She looked like a cartoon character carrying a blue polka-dotted umbrella, guarding a $3,000 guitar and five placards that read, “Will You Marry Me? / 让我照顾你”. All this, by herself, as she waited for nearly 30 minutes.

When we finally arrived at the scene, I whispered “Hold the umbrella and enjoy the music, dear!” loudly into Huiyi’s ear. Then I strapped on my guitar and reached into my pocket for my plastic pick. I made a final mental run-through of the chord progression and the Chinese lyrics.

I looked at my iPod and realised that it was still playing the third song so I skipped that track and moved to the fourth song immediately – the original version of 让我照顾你. I left the song to play for just one minute (so that Huiyi would register it in her head), then I pressed “Next track”.

At long last, Huiyi was listening to my version of 让我照顾你

I signaled to Gideon and Caleb that Huiyi’s blindfold would be removed in less than two minutes. And they got into position. I decided to give Yvonne the honour of removing the blindfold. And she took her place beside Huiyi.

They were ever-ready. I was more than ready. This was it already!

On my cue, Yvonne proceeded to lift Huiyi’s blindfold.

Huiyi finally regained sight and had all of five seconds to take in what was going on around her – the venue, the rain, the crew, the guitar, the three “YES!” placards Yvonne slotted into her hands, the drama of the moment… And her fiancé-to-be standing in the rain, ready to belt out the song of their courtship.

EVERYTHING led up to this moment.

If you know me well enough, I would never do anything without reason. The last person she saw (before being blindfolded) was me and the last voice she heard (through the iPod) was mine as well. So I planned it in such a way that I was the first person she saw when she opened her eyes, and the first voice she heard when the earphones were removed.

I looked into her eyes, and chorused 让我照顾你 as earnestly and as sincerely as I could.

I meant every single word I sang. And I sang my heart out to her. I wasn’t there to impress… I was there to assure. I wasn’t there to be a star… I was there to start a new phase of my relationship with her.

Huiyi stood there with bewilderment in her eyes. She was shell-shocked to say the least, and was still trying to get her head around what was going on. She had no idea this was coming her way… Nothing in life prepared her for this moment…

Next chapter: the question we’ve all been waiting for.

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