The older you get, the more you don’t take things for granted.
Tonight’s no-frills dinner was an example of that. This meeting was Lionel’s initiative and had to be planned a month in advance. Lionel bought dinner up to his place and I enjoyed a time of catching up with him and his wife, Jeanie. Ministry is so intricately woven in our tapestry of life that it was an inevitable conversation topic among us.
When Johann arrived 30 minutes later, we got down to why we gathered tonight. It was refreshing to share about what the Lord was doing in each of our lives, as well as how we could keep each other in prayer in such an unpretentious manner. I enjoyed how we ended the night lifting each other up in prayer.
I don’t know about other (youth) pastors, but I find that as I age and as I “climb” the leadership rungs, there are lesser and lesser spiritual friends. That is why I appreciate what we shared tonight – three men whose histories intersect, who are in different seasons of life, who like and love each other, coming together to share honestly with each other.
It was nice to find a platform to share about ministry aspirations and frustrations, marriage and wedding preparations, parenthood and career, among other things, and know that you won’t be judged or frowned at for what you say. We had nothing to lose, nothing to prove and nothing to hide. And that was a breath of fresh air.
Spiritual peers are a blessing to any man.
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?
The song that defined our relationship thus far (and our would-be proposal) was 让我照顾你 by 五月天. I rewrote the verses to contextualise it into our relationship and spent an evening recording it at Johann’s place. I spent a week rehearsing the song on my guitar, after I spent an evening learning how to play it on the guitar from Joel. I don’t play the guitar regularly so my tender finger tips were on the verge of splitting due to a week of unfamiliar overuse.
I am an ambitious sanguine and the original idea was to get Joel to teach me how to play the song on the piano. The plan was to perform the song on the piano and sing it live to her. It was a double-challenge with a difficulty that was magnified four times over.
Firstly, I can barely bang chords on the piano. Secondly, I’m a typical ACS boy and typical ACS boys do not sing Chinese songs. Thirdly, I had to do play the piano and sing the chinese song simultaneously while composing myself in public. Fourthly, I gave myself only a week to master this. And finally, unlike an acoustic guitar that uses battery power, a portable keyboard required a power outlet for it to produce sound.
Basically, it only seemed like a sound decision (no pun intended) to do something a lot more achievable – play the guitar and sing. It was actually Joel’s wisdom that helped me make this decision. He lovingly cautioned, “Joe, if you really want to play the piano and sing this song to her, I will do everything I can to help you succeed. But don’t you want to be able to look her in the eye and sing those lyrics to her instead of focussing on the next piano keys to play?”
So I heeded his advice and reverted to my tried and tested Cort.
Next chapter: the most romantic amateur Chinese song.
Preparing for this elaborate proposal required a number of props, and since it was my proposal, I wanted to accomplish most of it by myself as much as possible. I sought help of course, on matters that I didn’t consider myself familiar with.
I approached Hilary to ask him to recommend a professional printer. I liaised with a printing company and paid for five A2 and three A3 full colour prints on PP sticker with a five millimetre kappaline mounting. And I made my way to the obscure Kallang Bahru on Wednesday to pick up the prints, since delivery wasn’t worth it for such a small quantity. I took leave on Thursday to complete the remaining errands. I had no idea printing these things were so costly…
I started my day at IMM where I spent an unimaginably long time in Daiso and Giant, picking out tiny plastic bags for goodie bags (so that everyone who turned up at the party took home something), a magic chalkboard as a prop for photo-taking, seven glass cookie jars to store sweets, five luminous paint markers, and a whole stack of tidbits.
It was there and then that I discovered that I have decidophobia (no kidding!). I became unexpectedly stressed at having to choose from the huge variety that was available to me. I even made distress calls to Cheryl, Melody, Yixian and Keith because I started to panic so much. Cheryl and Keith were amused by it but realised shortly that I was seriously distressed, so they patiently walked me through every decision that I had to make at those supermarkets. It was the most stressful errand, ever!
Besides helping me to record the song, Johann was also generous enough to restore my guitar to showroom condition, including drying, cleaning and dressing it with a new set of strings. Having my guitar restored was also helpful for my worship set at J333 (the Wednesday prayer meeting) anyway.
But as you would know by now, it seems like I never get to do things the easy way… The E-string snapped during soundcheck and I was frustrated, not because I had to use an inferior guitar, but because I had to buy a new string! So I swung by the Clementi Yamaha and to my horror they ran out of E-strings. But fret not (no pun intended!) for I simply purchased a new set of strings.
After Clementi, I made my way to Holland Village to make orders and pay for eight tubs of ice-cream at The Daily Scoop and arranged with Wei Kurk to help me pick it up on Friday, before the engagement party. I also swung by Party City to order enough helium-filled balloons to fill the function room. It was my first time ordering balloons and I got shocked at how expensive these items were considering they only had an eight-hour lifespan! I paid for it nonetheless and arranged with Xianyi to receive the balloons at the function room on Friday evening.
My last stop was back to the office at Tanglin Road, where I dumped the loot and packed them into plastic bags, with labels on each of them for my crew to pick up; Gideon picked up the guitar, guitar stand, projector and placards, while Keith picked up the logistics needed for the engagement party.
Oh, did I mention that it was pouring this entire time and that I didn’t have an umbrella? Okay, I just did. And I accomplished all these errands without a car. Yes, I had to make do with public transport the entire time, carrying with me big and small, heavy and bulky plastic bags. And I completed all these errands just in time to meet Huiyi at her office to head for her birthday dinner together with her family. Perhaps this justifies why I forgot to buy her birthday cake that day.
Next chapter: the one regrettable conflict.
Three years ago, CN, MO, MT and HY sang and recorded RF’s “My Wish” as part of my “farewell pack”. I remember how it made me smile and cry when I viewed it immediately on my flight to Shanghai; the passenger beside me must have given me strange stares.
Fast forward to today, I have to say, that JT’s rendition of the same song heightened my appreciation of it, to whole ‘nother level; this song seems to fit almost every other occasion, as long as it’s presented to someone you love. Every wedding seems to have a tear-jerker moment and I think for JT+WS’s wedding, it was the groom’s brother and best man belting out his wish for his newly-married brother and new sister-in-law.
In all my years of knowing JT, I’ve never seen him cry, or even display emotions so publicly. For him to express himself in such a heartfelt manner today, the occasion and sentiment must have moved him tremendously. While two strangers can forge a friendship tougher than steel, there is nothing like a bond between two real brothers. I say that as I juxtapose my friendship with LK against the Tay brothers; just when I thought, “Well, this is about as tight as brothers could be…”, the two of them demonstrated “Phileos” at a level that I’d never get to experience simply because I do not have a brother as a sibling. I will never forget their scene of embrace today – it made me want to have two sons so that they could do the same for each other. Even typing this post-wedding reflection stirs up some emotion within me.
As I’ve told him personally after the special item, I thought this was JT’s most impactful and memorable performance – and it couldn’t have come at a better time than his elder brother’s wedding. What a powerful message of brotherhood, in a literal sense!
But more than anything, more than anything/ My wish, for you, is that this life becomes all that you want it to/ Your dreams stay big, and your worries stay small/ You never need to carry more than you can hold/ And while you’re out there getting where you’re getting to/ I hope you know somebody loves you, and wants the same things too/ Yeah, this, is my wish.
Once again, heartiest congratulations to JT+WS and a great big pat on the back for JT. I’m most grateful for being able to play a part in it as one of the groomsmen and as an emcee, and I can’t wait to welcome the lovely couple to Ghim Moh. I also can’t wait to engage the “Chorister” at a much deeper level; I’m greedy – I want to progress in my friendship with both JTs. It was a beautiful wedding and I’m sure all who turned up would concur.