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Lent 05: a much-needed celebration and pit-stop.

The difference between Lent and a full-on 40-day fast is that one is a journey while the other is a discipline.

One of the things I set out to do in my first Lent is to celebrate on Sundays and special occasions. And it’s been a while since I looked forward to Sunday as much as I have. It was like a much-needed pit-stop to celebrate the journey so far (however short) and to remind myself of the blessings that I’ve always enjoyed and taken for granted.

For starters, I drank my usual cup of Nespresso coffee in the morning. Then for lunch, I ordered a ribeye steak ‘xtra cut at Aston’s and even drank teh peng jia C to my heart’s content. And for dinner, I tucked into Mummy’s homemade chicken rice, helped myself to a serving of young coconut juice and before the night is over, I’m sure I’ll be gobbling down some honey mangoes.

There’s something beautiful about delayed gratification, especially in this microwave generation where everything is instant.

I also took the opportunity to log in to Facebook and Instagram and realised that there’s really nothing important that I’ve missed, despite the 100+ notifications that were beckoning my attention. Lull time (periods of inactivity where nothing happens) is better utilised when you sieve out the distractions.

But the most beautiful thing about today was the spiritual conversation that I had with Mummy in the late afternoon. She asked me all kinds of questions that young believers would ask. It felt like the Holy Spirit triggered her curiosity to learn about the things of her faith. I was energised by our interaction together and for the first time in her life, she actually said she would consider going to cell (to ask all these questions); she finally saw that there was another purpose for cell besides just sharing about her problems (which she is extremely reluctant to). Perhaps Apokalupto finally took place in her spiritual life. I am thankful. May God continue to fuel this spiritual hunger she has.

As I gave thanks for our 元宵 dinner just now, I felt an intimate connection with God; it wasn’t just customary, but heartfelt.

With that I greatly anticipate the week ahead.

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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! (:

happy mother’s day – I’ll tell you why my mother is a remarkable woman by any measure.

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.

Three is a whole number – still happy and smiling today.

i wouldn’t want it any other way.

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!

i love to be scolded, sort of.

“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:19)

“For the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” (Proverbs 3:12)

“For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:6)

“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” (Proverbs 13:24)

For all the geniuses who read my blog, you’d have already picked up the key words of the passages above. (If you haven’t, I’ve highlighted it for you.) I’m talking about serious scolding, not meaningless teasing. It seems clear to me that discipline is connected to love and vice-versa. However, in this day and age (and especially during the age of growing up), youths may struggle to understand this crucial link. I think it’s because they associate discipline with demerit. I don’t blame them – who enjoys being scolded?

I, for one, grew up getting scolded by a lot of people, left, right and centre; I was always punished in school, rebuked in church, nagged at at home and corrected by friends. It was frustrating of course, and I never saw the beauty of this until many years later. It took maturity to see beyond the unpleasantness of discipline. I’m quietly confident to think the people who looked after me bothered to discipline me simply because they loved me.

It’s actually a logical conclusion if you come to think about it. My mother has told me before that it pains her more to cane me than it literally pains me. PL and RY, the father-role models in my life, also concur – that it indeed inflicts more pain to the discipliner than the disciplined; after all, who enjoys chastising their own flesh and blood? Any normal parent would say the same thing too. Yet, it is imperative to discipline. I think parents discipline their children because they care and want the best for them; you’d hardly find a parent who scolds his or her child for his or her own personal gain.

So the next time you are confronted by your pastor, mentor, leader or teacher, or reprimanded by your parents, or chided by your friends, to sort out a particular issue in your life, know that you are being scolded because of this wonderful element called love. However, not everyone is an expert in discipline and thus may choose the wrong method even though they may have the right intentions. So, sometimes you will struggle to see this (tough) love. But I’d like to encourage you to remain positive every time you are disciplined.

But can you imagine the day where people stop disciplining you? I think it signals the end for you it tells you that they have given up on you. I always believe that one of the saddest things that could ever happen to you is when others to accept your shortcomings as part of God’s unchangeable plan for your life; in order words, they have lost all hope that you could change for the better and have decided to just embrace you as you are, without any desire to correct you anymore.

“Hey, don’t bother about him; he’s always like that.”

“Eh, forget it. There’s no use talking to him because he won’t listen.”

“Ignore him – you’re wasting your time if you think he’ll change.”

These are some of the words I will never want to hear in my life; it’s far worse than being disciplined by harsh words.

recovery reflections.

I don’t really write about events because I’ve set out this blog to capture more thoughts and reflections than moments, but I think I should remember my thoughts and feelings about this particular piece of memory in my operation recovery.

Many of you would know that on Tuesday I underwent surgery to deal with Dercum’s Disease; the team of surgeons removed all 25 lumps (L arm-2, R arm-5, L leg-2, R leg-2, F torso-9, B torso-5) which I had identified on my body. There are many things which I am thankful for throughout the entire process:

  • The excellent SGH team – be it nurses, assistants, anesthetists or administrators. There’s a lot that could be learnt from their care-giving; I left that evening with better idea of what it meant to show hospitality, from none other than a hospital team.
  • Normal bodily motion and function – with 25 dressings all over my body, my movement is restricted, uncomfortable and painful. I believe I would never take normality for granted again; the temporal inability of doing things normally heighten my appreciation.
  • Sudden and unexpected team of prayer warriors – be it from my DoYouLoveMe? cell, Shanghai MannaM@X cell, REAL2010, colleagues, family members and random friends. I must have had at least 25 people praying with and for me. God does His math properly – one for every lipoma.
  • Non-reaction to General Anesthetic – I’ve had neither allergic nor nauseating reactions to GA. Seems like everyone whom I’ve spoken to (who has undergone GA) either puked or felt really giddy. My doctor said I may also get sore throats and coughs. But praise God – I’ve had zero reactions. (By the way, I managed to stay awake for all of four seconds.)
  • Mummy’s unfailing storge (natural love and affection from parents) – 10th March marks her birthday and yet she spent the entire day making sure I was all right. The closest agape an unmarried man would experience would undoubtedly be from his mother. I could never be more thankful for the last 27 years of care-giving, self-sacrificing and out-loving from this remarkable woman.

I’m also especially thankful for HY. Three years ago, immediately after I left the SAF, I went for a minor operation to remove three lipomas on both arms. HY was there with me; back then, I was still courting her. Three years on, HY was also there with me, this time as my girlfriend and what a difference three years have made:

  • The comfort and assurance I felt when I was pushed back to my ward to recover, and to find a familiar face of love who had been waiting there for the last two hours. That is something I should never take for granted because she doesn’t owe it to me; she didn’t need to do it, she wanted to.
  • HY had a fear and natural dislike for hospitals and yet she overcame that to care for me. Of course there were boo-boo moments (for us to know, for others never to find out), but it made it all the more memorable.
  • She demonstrated patience for my impatience and a cool head for my hot head. This last statement actually does sum up how HY makes me a holier person by allowing me to overcome my weaknesses by learning from her strengths.
  • HY came to my place today to also celebrate Mummy’s birthday. She bought and brought along with her my recovery pack – two boxes of Post cereal and Magnolia milk for my breakfasts over the next week, Bee Cheng Hiang pork floss for my congee lunches and (my two favourite snacks of) Famous Amos cookies and Jollybean peanut pancakes in case I go hungry at night. It doesn’t get more thoughtful than that! HY never fails to demonstrate to me that love is indeed a verb.
  • Her presence during my absence from work this week have made and will continue to make a world of difference. She was there on Tuesday, Wednesday and she has offered to accompany me for Thursday. Every Naruto needs a Sakura in their lives for speedy healing, uh? (:

All right, I’ll be missing in action until next Monday (when I visit my doctor for the follow-up medical appointment). I doubt I’ll be mobile enough to make it to church services this weekend. I’m gonna try to work on the Newbies sermon series during this period of absence but I highly doubt my productivity. There’s little packing that I can do at home due to the awkwardness in moving around too. So… I think I’ll just be reading, playing FM (hehe), watching free movies on MioTV and couch-potato-ing a lot during the next few days. I welcome company.

There’s so much to praise God and to give Him glory for. He is good, in control and will bring it to pass. I serve a God who heals and a God who provides. And so I continue to covet your prayers. Please pray that:

  1. The root of the disease has been removed;
  2. There won’t be a recurrence – new lumps won’t grow, old lumps won’t return;
  3. Insurance will cover the bulk of the surgery cost – it wasn’t a cheap operation by any measure, and as it stands, I’m footing the entire bill;
  4. My body will heal well;
  5. Scars will be minimal;
  6. Wounds won’t be painful when I move around, sit or sleep, and
  7. There will be no infections or complications

And now I shall head off to watch Man Utd beat the living daylights out of AC Milan. (It’s 1-0 now but I may come back to edit this last sentence depending on the final score 90 minutes later…) [Edit: I’m a prophet. The final score: Man Utd 4 AC Milan 0.]

what does it mean to give?

I snapped this picture at the 777-feet Seoul Tower, located on the summit of Namsan Mountain, South Korea, where stalls upon stalls displayed little knick-knacks for sale. I aptly titled this photograph, “Useless”, simply because (almost) everything in this picture is. Why do we even bother buying gifts of little or no practical use? This reminds me of what it means to give.

Christmas is a time of giving and receiving. The gift of God is in His Son, Jesus Christ. The gift of Jesus Christ is His own life. I’d like to think that Jesus could have chosen not to die even though He was sent to die, hence I refuse to take for granted His sacrifice for me on the cross. With Jesus, it was solely Him giving and us receiving. So, what could we actually give to Jesus?

Try as I may, I am unable to find anything worthy to give to Jesus as a form of reciprocation. Even if I were to give my life – and that’s about all that I can give – it is still an unworthy gift. To better grasp the unparalleled gift of Jesus, I realise that I could neither out-give my mother’s 26 years of sacrifice nor HY’s gift of purity; regardless of what I do now, I will never be able to give my mother or HY the equal value of their gift to me.

I cannot imagine being born to die. That statement may be extreme, but even if I were to water it down, I still cannot imagine being born to give. I’m inclined to think that we have been wired to receive, regardless of how generous we have been raised to be or innately are. Every fibre of my being longs to receive more – pleasure, love, happiness, etc. It takes effort to give – at least for me it does.

And so this Christmas, I’d like to give to Jesus the best gift, still unworthy as it may be, that I can ever give right now – my future – because it is unknown to me and out of my control. Join me then, in rededicating and surrendering your life to Jesus once again as He dedicated His whole life to you. It is my earnest prayer that you will find new faith, hope and love in the Lover and Savior of your soul. And just to put the icing on the cake – He’s also the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and He lived to die just for you.

I conclude this entry with lyrics from two Relient K songs that made me tear the first time I heard it – “Give” and “I Celebrate The Day”.

“I’ll give, give, give – until there’s nothing else
Give my all – until it all runs out
Give, give – and I’ll have no regrets
I’ll give until there’s nothing left
I’ll give”

“And the first time that You opened Your eyes
Did You realise that You would be my Saviour?
And the first breath that left Your lips
Did You know that it would change this world forever?

And I, I celebrate the day
That You were born to die
So I could one day pray for You to save my life”

Have a blessed and meaningful Christmas, dear readers. (:

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