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! (:
Huiyi and I are halfway through a four-session marriage preparation workshop (MPW) organised by Grace AG. We signed up for this together with Johann and Rachel, as well as Gideon and Kyann. This is the second MPW we’re attending, the first one being in Shanghai, so it’s quite refreshing revisiting some topics, which always make for meaningful conversations.
In the last session, our facilitator (Dr Alton Chua) shared with us John Gottman’s materials. I thought it was a pragmatic read, so I’d like to share it here. Here are the seven principles Gottman proposes to increase positive couple interactions:
- Know each other: Learn all about each other’s likes, dislikes, wishes, hopes and dreams.
- Focus on each other’s positive qualities: Develop positives feelings for each other, and remember the good times you have shared with each other.
- Interact frequently: tell each other about your day, your thoughts and your experiences. Romance is fueled not by candlelight dinners, but by interacting with your partner in numerous little ways.
- Let your partner influence you: Share power and be opened to change.
- Solve your solvable problems: Communicate respectfully. Criticise behavior without criticising your partner. Take a break when you’re getting too upset, and compromise.
- Overcome gridlock: Understand your partner’s underlying feelings which are preventing resolution of the conflict.
- Create shared meaning: Share values, attitudes, interests and traditions.
Gottman believes that couples have lesser trouble resolving conflicts when they feel positively towards one another. But one of the best things I learnt from last night was that frequent and positive couple interactions (such as communicating or negotiating) result in reducing unnecessary conflict resolution (or make it easier to resolve). Gottman also argues that “successful conflict resolution does not necessarily lead to successful marriages”, which I wholeheartedly agree with because every relationship must have elements of fun, romance and spontaneity.
Here are three more observations from Gottman which I thought are helpful to know:
- Couples in successful marriages were found to be willing to be mutually influenced. For example, the husband makes adjustments to his schedule when his wife plans something out of the blue.
- They know how to repair and exit an argument and not let it fester. And know when to change the topic, use humour, offer positive remarks, or seek to stand on common ground.
- In a happy marriage, couples make at least five times as many positive statements to each other and their relationship as negative ones.
On hindsight, signing up for MPW was one of the best things that Huiyi and I did together in Shanghai. It allowed us to talk about issues that are not normally discussed during dates, such as dealing with in-laws, managing finances and dealing with past baggages, amongst many others.
We were both surprised by what we discovered about each other, and it was reassuring for both of us to know how willing we were to embrace each other’s differences. I am thankful that I acted on the Holy Spirit’s prompting to sign up for MPW in the second year of our courtship despite us being just a one-year-old couple.
With that, I’d urge all serious and committed couples to sign up for a marriage preparation workshop whenever they can, instead of waiting until they are engaged or have made all the wedding bookings. Remember, an MPW isn’t a WPW; you’re preparing for a marriage, not a wedding!
I’m never one to use age to determine readiness because I believe that it is down to which season of life one is in. (That would be a blog post in itself!) So generally speaking, I won’t recommend MPW for most of my young people or for most couples still in school. But if you are serious about each other and working towards marriage, then it may be wise (and mutually responsible) to include MPW as one of the landmarks you arrive at in your 20’s.
Dr Alton told us that some couples have actually chosen to go their separate ways after attending MPW, and that he has seen some people return to MPW after a few years with another partner. MPW does provides a platform for couples to discover irreconcilable differences. Honestly, I think that’s a good thing!
I also reckon that it is much wiser for a dating couple to end their two-year courtship after attending MPW, than for a married couple to sign divorce papers two years after their solemnisation.
My friends, the odds are stacked against us – one in two marriages end up in divorce – and being a Christian couple doesn’t guarantee that you’re on the successful side of this alarming statistic. Marriage, as all married men and women would know, requires serious effort and commitment from one another.
But if you wait until you’re married to discover that, you’re going to dig a hole for yourself. Would you rather be a wise one that learns from the mistakes of others, or a fool that learns from his own?
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.
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.
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.
We took the elevator up to the ground floor and I made her show me where the toilet was. After all, she thought it was my first time at the clubhouse, remember? So thankfully, she ushered us into the washrooms that I had hope both of us would change in respectively.
I entered the gents and found Gideon and Caleb inside. All three of us were excited. I could finally show my true emotions and I could barely contain my excitement! They had to hush me down in case my voice travelled to the adjacent ladies.
I realised then that all my years of executing a change-parade in the SAF was a dress rehearsal (no pun intended!) in preparation for this. I changed into a checkered Esprit shirt, slipped on my new favourite pair of black Levi’s jeans, laced up my brown Timberland boots, touched up my hair, made a final check of the logistics required (especially the ring!) and was out of the washroom within three minutes.
Huiyi, however, took her own sweet time in changing and dolling up for the dinner. So I spent the next 10 minutes waiting for her to emerge from the ladies. Gideon and Caleb patiently waited inside the gents the entire time.
When she emerged from the washroom, she looked exactly the way I had hope she would look – the stylish girl-next-door look that I fell in love with and grew to adore. I was pleased that everything had turned out fine so far (except for the rain).
I didn’t say much to her except that I was going to bring her to somewhere special and that she needed to put on a blindfold and listen to music from my iPod (so that she could neither see the path nor hear the clicking sounds from the camera shutter).
She hesitantly complied, thinking that I must probably have something silly up my sleeves, as one of the mini-birthday surprises planned for her. Surprise, yes. Mini, I’m not too sure about that…
Next chapter: the wait is finally over!