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! (:
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!
As we entered the function room, the air-conditioning suddenly hit us and we nearly stumbled into the glass door. Huiyi almost tripped as she asked if she was at her function room. And as soon as I gave her a cursory reply to distract her from our grand entrance…
“SURPRISE!!!” Everyone screamed at my cue to perfection!
See the video of her shocked reaction here.
And I kid you not. She literally shook and practically got the shock of her life when she opened her eyes. It was quite a sight!
She expected one present from one person, but she was greeted by nearly 40 people instead. I gathered both sides of the family, her closest girlfriends, my closest man-friends and our beloved cell group. What a gathering!
But seriously, how could I ever allow her birthday to pass without a birthday party? I saw absolute delight on her face as she celebrated with the some of the people she was most intimate with in her 24th year on Earth.
See how she was nearly presented her cake by the wrong guy here.
They were ready to see her through a new phase of her life.
“Okay, this is the final part – I have no more surprises after this.” I told her and her parents (who found out about this party just 15 minutes ago) as I finally began to unwind in my mind.
I have never been happier telling the completely honest truth.
One by one, our friends approached my mother, her parents and the both of us to congratulate us of our engagement. We were flooded with handshakes and hugs, and it was such an unbeatable feeling.
Throwing a party to celebrate this moment proved to be a wise choice after all. And I was pleased with my decision to go over-the-top. I gave a short speech after the birthday cake and song presentation to thank everyone for turning up as well as to give credit to our friends who worked so hard behind the scenes to make this proposal so successful.
It was joyous time of merry-making, congratulatory conversations and re-telling of the entire day’s worth of memories. Huiyi and I individually and together, felt the love in the room for the both of us. We felt so blessed to be so wonderfully supported.
(By the way, every ice-cream flavour was generally well-received except the ginger and sesame tubs. I was so tickled by the younger ones lamenting about my peculiar choice of flavours. But I digress…)
I am intentional in almost everything that I do. And one of the reasons why I wanted to throw a party for Huiyi was to show her parents how well-loved and supported we were.
I also wanted both sets of parents to interact in the midst of our friends, just as I wanted Maisie (and her boyfriend, Bryan) to get to know Xianyi (and his girlfriend, Eileen) a little better.
Having this precious group of people turn up was extremely meaningful and significant for us. More importantly, I wanted to show Huiyi’s family what a Christian community was all about.
And I think we managed to achieve it.
(While you await the final few entries to be published, click here to read Huiyi’s perspective of the party!)
Next chapter: the professional post-production pace.
It’s Mother’s Day! I’m single-dating her tonight and I hope that she would have enjoyed the food and the company of her favourite son (Ha!). And since I (think I) am a writer, I will of course blog about my mother on this day that rightly belongs to her.
Mummy, I know you’re reading this – I love you and I want you to know that I am immensely proud of you for raising Maisie and me. You have done a remarkable job with your limited resources and no amount of words will do justice to the sacrifice that you have put in. But I do hope that you will be honoured this way – because I respect and love you very much. 放心，我和妹妹会照顾你的！
I found the transcript of an email interview my mentor Peter Lim conducted with me. It was part of his article for Motherhood magazine. And I was hoping that this may turn out to be a good read. This document dates back to June 2006 – so what you are about to read is my perspective half a decade ago, when I was still in the Army. And I’d like to think I’ll probably answer these questions in the same way if I am asked again today.
Anyhow, I’m publishing the document as it is. Enjoy the read. (:
1. Do you mind if I title it (the article): “Our mum is a divorcee”? And you can send me a happy smiling picture of yourself and your sister?
>>> Ya, actually I do mind. Because I never saw her as a divorcee. So I don’t want others to think that we think of her that way. In my head and heart she’s one amazing super mother. She’s living proof that you can raise two kids properly without a husband and with income that could only make ends meet. Her sacrifice is second to none. Perhaps you could skew your title to something with sacrifice? I’ll leave the coining of the title to you then.
2. How old were both of you when your parents divorced?
>>> Maisie and I were 5 and 8 years old respectively when our parents officially divorced.
3. Did you know why they divorced?
>>> Over the years, many different reasons have surfaced; some were conventional ones like financial disputes and failure to meet expectations, but there are also a couple of reasons that I cannot share because it’s just too personal. Both our father and mother gave us different perspectives on why the marriage failed; and of course they absolved themselves of any traces of blame. When we were younger we couldn’t understand why, but now that we are older, we see a much clearer picture by piecing all these information together. We’d blame neither of them for what has happened – or we’d blame the both of them.
4. What were your reactions then? (Or were you too young to understand?)
>>> At 5 and 8 years old, I honestly think we were too young to understand. The fact that I existed in a single-parent family only hit me when I was 15 years old. It hit my sister too, but differently. I hated my father for not being around, for not lighting my path to manhood, for not disciplining me etc., etc. Kids who have their fathers by their side through their growing up years will never understand what I went through so I’d say to treasure your father – they are a gift from God to their children. My sister struggled with another set of hurts; once the apple of her father’s eye, she found herself “demoted” to second-best when my father remarried and his wife bore him a son. She was no longer daddy’s girl and not being able to approach our Papa like the loving father that he used to be that hurt her the most.
5. What do you feel is missing (if anything at all) from a single-parent family?
>>> Nothing is missing from a single-parent family. 3 is a whole number and not an odd number. Our mother has done such a remarkable job at playing different roles you couldn’t tell that we were from a single-parent home. It did help that we became Christians; in church, we’ve been blessed to have a lot of brothers and sisters, both young and old, to love and protect us. Our maternal and paternal relatives are also a closely knit group. Maisie and I were never lacking in any area.
6. Do you compare yourselves to friends who have both parents in their growing up years?
>>> Comparisons are inevitable. We look at “complete” families and although we are delighted for them, we also feel a tinge of envy. But we wouldn’t have traded our single-parent upbringing for an “ideal” family (by the world’s standard). Our family background has allowed us to experience things that some kids would never even imagine. It has made us stronger, wiser and certainly more independent than most kids. We are more aware of what’s going on around us and there’s this unmistakable drive that Maisie and I both have; I firmly believe this was birthed out of a unique upbringing.
7. In your parents’ case, was there anything positive in being divorced (from your perspectives, not theirs)?
>>> Our mother married our father when she was 20 years old. She had her firstborn at 22 years old. While it was common for women in the past to marry early, it also meant that she never had the chance to “see the world”, and had to care and provide for her own family at a premature age. The divorce allowed her to expand her horizons, social circle and of course the way she perceives things.
>>> For our father, as he was the initial custodian to us both, his life revolved around us. His first and last thoughts of the day were of and for us. He was quite an extraordinary father. However, due to circumstances, my sister moved in with my mother after a couple of years, and I followed suit after another couple of years. I believe my dad’s life picked up from there. To date, I’m not sure if the path he chose (to start another family) was what he desired, or what he needed to do to feel normal again.
>>> Both of them have become a very different person from who they knew each other to be.
8. What’s your advice to parents who are divorcing/divorced, in relation to consideration for their kids?
>>> Regardless of marital status, always be there for your children whenever they need you. Your children belong to both of you, not one of you. It is possible to raise good and sensible kids even if you are divorced, but it requires an intentional and active sacrifice. Time is the greatest gift you can give to your children. Your presence makes a difference in their lives so don’t let your absence become the difference in their lives.
These are people who I will never, ever get sick of for I will be spending the rest of my life, celebrating every birthday with them. (This, incidentally, is the first time we’ve ever cut cake in our Ghim Moh flat since we moved here in 2007! And a long while since we celebrated a birthday with a cake!) I love you all, more than anyone else in the world. You are my family and I am proud to be a part of this bloodline. To Mummy especially – without you, there’s no me; you are the reason I am able to celebrate the day of my birth. Thank you!
From left: Mummy, Huiyi, Mr Forever 21, Maisie, Bryan
Kindly ignore the extra candles on the cake. And yes, I was really, really happy.
My goodness!!! (((:
I’ve been so blessed by the scores (I gave up counting!) of well-wishes that have poured in through Facebook, email, SMS, phone calls and in person! Thank you for making me feel cherished on this day. I’m blessed to be surrounded by friends like you; I’m tremendously touched by all your kind gestures! Words are my love language and I cherish all the notes that I’ve received, especially the snail-mailed ones from the Shepherds! – thank you for all your love! – handmade poloroids with attached messages is a great way to be remember my special day! A special shout out to my amazing girlfriend, Huiyi, for coordinating this effort! I’ll post pictures soon! I praise the Lord for blessing me this way! I wouldn’t want it any other way!
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.