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an ode to lofty dreams.

Dearest Loft Bed,

This is my final night sleeping on you – a melancholic moment indeed. :(

Thank you for serving me so faithfully since 2002. You might creak and croak but you have stood tall and saw me through my days in polytechnic, National Service, Shanghai and full-time ministry. Yes, you have helped me develop from a boy to a man.

I salvaged you once when I moved from Bishan to Ghim Moh; the new ceiling was lower so I had to saw a few inches off your four feeble timber legs. Your adaptability allowed me to double the space in my room. However, this time, I cannot save you.

Removing the 3M plastic hooks and IKEA metal spotlights off you brought back a gush of memories. Some were pleasant, some painful, while some are better left unspoken. But every remembrance contributed to my growth towards maturity.

Letting you go is a milestone moment for me – that’s when I leave my days of being a swinging bachelor to become a married man. After all, you know that settling down has always been something I wanted to do, sooner than later.

It will grieve me to dismantle you in the morning but it’s something I need to do before I make Huiyi my wife. I had wanted to save you for my children but all good things must come to an end. But you will be in my heart forever – you know that.

For now, please accept my apologies; I couldn’t find you a new home and so the town council people will remove you (for good – sigh!) before the sun sets. Dusk will mark the end of your lifespan. I can’t bear to see you go…

We had a great ride. You were a great bed. We were a great team. And I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

I will miss you, Loft Bed. Goodbye. :(

Sincerely yours,

JAT

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the remnants of my surprise Shanghai visit two years ago.

The last time I returned to Shanghai was almost two years ago, for a quick 3-day 2-night getaway. This was about a month after I started working in Grace AG. It was a last-minute arrangement as my former boss needed an urgent favour. He paid for my air tickets and I thought it was a great opportunity to spring a couple of surprises on some friends as well as to bring home the extra luggage that I couldn’t carry with me the last time.

This is my walk down memory lane…

The first surprise I pulled off was on Kay and the second surprise that I pulled off was on the youth group that I had served with. I remember my heart beating rapidly as I drove to the home church where youth service was held. I had planned to attend youth service as a regular attendee – I didn’t tell anyone and arrived without much fanfare.

It was great to see so many familiar faces as I climbed the flight of steps to the fifth floor. And it was priceless to see the shocked faces when they said hi to me. The youths greeted me like they would anyone. But it was the second wait-a-minute-that-can’t-be-Joey look that I will remember for the rest of my life. I remember Janelle poking me to check if I was real. It was wonderful to be greeted by so many hugs, smiles and conversations, as well as to share a meal with Bryan.

The third surprise I pulled off was on my cell group – the wonderful group of people who took care of me when I was there. I arrived early and remained in my car while I waited for them to arrive. I remember stalking from my car when they strolled into the premise after dinner. My heart was in my mouth when I exited the car to sneak up behind them. I walked towards them covering my face with my laptop and Kay brought me into the lift lobby.

I was the last to enter the elevator. Cindy Hong exclaimed. Christine was stunned. Teresa was speechless. They asked in unison, “Are you real?” It was still too surreal for them even when we arrived at the 28th floor; they still couldn’t believe it even after I entered the apartment. Teresa immediately called Cindy Lee (who was sick) and Yee Kean (who had a lot of work to do) to make their way to cell now.

Cindy Lee was the first of the two to arrive. I opened the door. She screamed. In my face. And I think I saw tears moments later. Yee Kean arrived shortly after. This time, Teresa opened the door while I remained on the couch. Kay pushed my head down and covered me with her jacket. Yee Kean entered the apartment and sounded really grumpy as she removed her shoes. “I don’t want to play board games. I am tired. And I want to go home”, she sulked.

Then she took her seat beside me, still unaware that it was me. “I am also tired and I want to go home too”, I parroted her. She was stunned momentarily. Then she screamed (I think). After everyone recovered from the shock of watching each other get shocked, I shared my testimony of my journey into full-time ministry since I left Shanghai in August, as well as what’s in store for me in Grace AG. I am thankful that my decision to trust and obey inspired them to do likewise.

To my surprise this time, that cell session evolved into a prayer meeting. I received so many prayers and much encouragement and affirmation from the body of Christ. I also had the privilege to pray a prayer of blessing over everyone present. On a personal note, it felt really good to be feel so loved and wanted. I am thankful for all the da-jies God brought into my life in my short stay in Shanghai.

The other incident that I remember clearly from those 72 hours there was meeting up with Kim Soon, Kay, Kurk, as well as Cindy and Christine for lunch at Vargas. I nearly lost Kim Soon as a friend because he reacted badly to my teasing (of how Liverpool lost a game the night before). I had no ill intentions of course, but I should have seen the warning signs. I won’t give details of what was exchanged because I respect him and don’t want to paint a wrong picture of him but I learnt two things over that meal:

  1. It’s not worth risking friendship over football rivalry
  2. Not everyone shares the same harmless ribbing relationship that Xianyi and Daniel Heng and I share so don’t ever assume familiarity.
  3. When you are sorry, just say and be sorry. There’s no need to cover up or make excuses. Sincerity is the greatest apology.

But all ended well eventually so I was thankful for a restored relationship. That incident really caught me off guard.

On a happier note, my cell mates had a meal together the week before I arrived and Christine randomly remarked that she would “love to have brunch with Joey again”. And as we shared a meal on that table, she said, her “dream came true”. Sweet things like these, a sentimental guy like me will cherish for a long time.

My final lasting impression of those three days in Shanghai was heading to Loushanguan Lu to buy a bag for Huiyi from a local store that carried Korea-looking items. As I drove out of the car park, a drunkard suddenly appeared in front of me – so I had to jam brake the vehicle. Thank God I didn’t hit him. But he remained standing in front of me and kept egging me to hit him. Honestly, I wasn’t really annoyed because I just wanted to leave the car park, but on hindsight it was an extremely daring deed committed. It was the first time I encountered something bizarre like that in my two years in Shanghai.

But the craziest thing wasn’t him acting crazy but the parking warden and the security guard who did absolutely nothing about it. “Bear with him – he’s drunk”, said the former, matter-of-fact. “Call the police – we’ll be your witnesses”, said the latter, nonchalantly. No wonder I wasn’t all that surprised by the recent videos that came out of China – the inhumane running over of the little girl, and the intoxicated lady who got molested in broad daylight – to seemingly oblivious bystanders.

On my flight home, I remember looking forward to returning home quite badly and realised that Huiyi and I would really struggle to survive another long-distance relationship. It’s a miracle in itself how we managed to pull through 15 months of that!

I know this post is random and appeared from out of nowhere but it feels good to finally transfer these memories out of my system. I really miss Shanghai. Hope I get a chance to return someday.

melancholic musings that move me.

I’m always drawn to those who dare to wear their hearts on their sleeves. It shows a certain amount of security and authenticity in a person, and maybe even a fearlessness, knowing that his or her self-worth is fully found in God. I love the way he expresses himself so sincerely in prose and poetry.

However, it takes more than just mental-diarrhoea-rants to actually move and inspire me. And Jaeson Ma has done it. He’s just three years my senior and is an American-born Chinese pastor who also performs as a musician. I heard about his work when I was in Shanghai and decided to check him out when I learnt that he played a part in the salvation story of Vanness Wu (another man I’d love to meet some day).

It’d be great to meet him in person one day – to be able to speak to someone with such a journey as he has must be refreshing. But for now, before I get to rub shoulders with him in a divine appointment, here are some of his blog posts that have struck a chord in my heart:

Jaeson, you inspire me to love and know God more. Thank you.

seven principles for successful relationships.

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:

  1. Know each other: Learn all about each other’s likes, dislikes, wishes, hopes and dreams.
  2. Focus on each other’s positive qualities: Develop positives feelings for each other, and remember the good times you have shared with each other.
  3. 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.
  4. Let your partner influence you: Share power and be opened to change.
  5. Solve your solvable problems: Communicate respectfully. Criticise behavior without criticising your partner. Take a break when you’re getting too upset, and compromise.
  6. Overcome gridlock: Understand your partner’s underlying feelings which are preventing resolution of the conflict.
  7. 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?

perth day 5: in wide open wonder.

Gracefully powering Albany – taken by Huiyi on my iPhone 4.

You could never, ever, get sick of looking at the awesomeness of God’s beautiful creations – be it rock formations, waves crashing onto the coastline or just another sunset; Man could never recreate anything of this magnitude and yet God’s work takes place on a moment-by-moment basis, every single day of our lives! Is there a day that the waves would stop crashing or the sun stop setting? God is consistently faithful indeed.

To wake up from an 8-hour rest always feels good; to arise to the smell of baked bacon – that’s even better; and to walk out to bright sunshine, fresh air and air-conditioned temperature – I couldn’t ask for more. How could I not relax in such amazing conditions?

I already had a good feeling about today during breakfast – when Chin Seng and Ervina reminisced about their initial days in Perth and the struggles and victories they experienced, both individually and as a couple. I could relate to some of those settling-down blues as I experienced it in my first couple of months in Shanghai – those kind of days make you want to return home immediately.

I volunteered to take the steering wheel for most parts of today and in Australia, a driver’s best friend is Miss GPS. Our itinerary today were within close proximity of each other. We started our day with a brief visit to the strawberry park; this open-air one felt slightly different from the enclosed one at Zhao Tun in Shanghai; of the three strawberry farms I’ve visited (the other one in Cameron Highlands), I like the Shanghai one best – simply because I could eat the strawberries as I picked it.

Next up, Whale World, where we learnt about the history of the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company and how it played an integral role in the entire make-up of Albany; in short, the whaling industry made Albany. I’m relieved that these seemingly inhumane killings are now a thing of the past. Lunch served at the Whalers Galley Cafe was just as good as yesterday’s dinner; meals in Australia are costly, so I’m glad that portions are huge enough to share. The little wildlife farm at the back of Whale World (called Discovery Bay’s Walk on the Wild Side) felt like a repeat of the first wildlife farm we visited.

Sights and sounds started to get awe-inspiring when we made our way out of the man-made Whale World…

First, to The Blowholes at Torndirrup National Park. Wikipedia does a better job at describing it – a blowhole is formed as sea caves grow landwards and upwards into vertical shafts and expose themselves towards the surface, which can result in quite spectacular blasts of water from the top of the blowhole. There was a local who literally sprawled his body across a blowhole. What he did looked cool but honestly, it was a stupid thing to do for he could have gotten blown away by the blast!

Next, to The Gap and The Natural Bridge, also in the same park. No words would describe what I saw, so it may be better if you googled these two terms instead if you are keen to see what it looks like and how it was formed (since my photos are still sitting in my DSLR). We enjoyed these natural phenomenons against a backdrop of the setting sun and I must say every shot taken looked brilliant.

Finally, our day reached a literal high at the Albany Wind Farms, where we saw 12 gigantic (!) high-tech, sci-fi looking wind mills. From a distance, these blades looked like they were revolving slowly, but they are actually rotating at a speed of nearly 200 km/h! We also learnt that wind power accounts for 80% of Albany’s power supply; I can understand why after seeing these giants in action in front of a dramatic purple-hue sunset.

That more than sums up Good Friday… The girls are preparing a sumptuous dinner as I write this entry… Oh man, I can’t wait to sink my teeth into beef steaks, pork chops and potato salad over D&M dialogues… It’s going to be a great evening!

perth day 4: mentoring on the road.

I don’t normally fancy driving on road trips because I do not have good driving stamina; by about 60 minutes I’ll start to feel fatigued and would want to do a pit-stop – my last road trips from Shanghai to Hangzhou and from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur were no different. It certain didn’t help when my navigators started to sleep on the job. Haha. This time however, enroute from Perth City to Albany, I got past that dreaded hour-mark by singing to 五月天 music and engaging in good conversations with the rest of the passengers.

We discoursed a plethora of issues, be it inevitable topics like Grace AG, R-AGE and YAYP, to more interesting topics like:

  • Mentoring is dynamic (i.e. organic), not decisive.
  • Mentors are one-off, but mentoring is life-long.
  • Mentoring is complex – both systemic and seasonal.
  • Mentoring is about the process and the product.
  • What happens when meritocracy creeps into mentoring?
  • Who’s going to mentor those whose potential isn’t obvious?
  • Could mentoring success be derived from duplicity alone?
  • What is the sustainability and repeatability of a mentoring cycle?
  • What is the optimum age gap for mentors to retain their relevancy?
  • If Jesus had more than 3 years in ministry, would he have continued journeying with his 12 disciples or would he have “released” them to be disciple-makers and gone ahead to make 12 new disciples?

At the end of the day, I arrived at one conclusion, as cliche as it may sound, that human mentors are finite while God’s sovereignty is infinite. We as disciple-makers can only impact, invest and impart so much, and it’s not very much at all! Hence, I honestly opine that regardless of all the possible answers we could find from the above questions, it’s more important for any mentor to enjoy the entire journey, regardless of its outcome, and trust God to shape lives for His glory.

Well, back to the extraordinary mundane… (:

Today packed a straightforward itinerary; we had breakfast at home before setting off to Albany via a 420-kilometre/ 5-hour road trip; saw and fed Alpacas on our first pit stop; fed ourselves over lunch at Black Cockatoo Cafe; drove past Dog Rock and checked into our beach house destination at Barry Court; went for a walk at Albany Town Centre, had dinner of fish, squid and chips at The Squid Shack near Emu Point; went to Albany Creek to do some grocery shopping at Coles Supermarket; and finally returned to our single-storey bungalow. It’s 10:30pm as I write this entry and I am about to retreat to bed – finally, a good night’s rest beckons!

As usual, I always learn from Hunk (aka Chin Seng) every time we interact. This time, he imparted a life-and-death lesson into my system – about decisiveness on the road. Read that as metaphorically as you want… All I shall say is, by the grace of God, I thank God for allowing that overtaking incident to have taken place smoothly… (:

P/S 1: Huiyi and I celebrate our 40th month together today! It is a good Friday indeed. (:

P/S 2: We’re praying for “Never Let Go”! Keep up the good work, R-AGE! Invite friends!

P/S 3: I will post more pictures in my DSLR when I get my hands on a USB cable. For now, here’s what I found in a shop called “Thingz”. I didn’t buy it of course… Bottoms up!

thirteen thoughts after 30 hours of Rhema.

1. Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1, NLT).

2. Faith is not what you do but who you know, not where you go but who you follow and not what you hear but who you hear from.

3. For the first time in the history of Grace AG, R-AGE and Rhema, our young people worshipped God without anyone on stage leading them.

4. The greatest testimony today belonged to Kenneth, who by faith rehearsed last night, before requesting for unlikely eventual approval from his CO.

5. Putting out 2 drum sets was sparked by a Newsboys video I watched more than a decade ago and it was a delight to see Janice and CAMY actualising it.

6. I felt the Spirit’s stirring as early as 7:15am, during prayer time with my team, resulting in lots of tears, snot and a revitalised spirit.

7. While the “musician-less” idea was inspired from my time with SOAR247 in Shanghai, it was Melody’s earnest reading of Scripture that moved me deeply.

8. Completely non-sequitur, but I do miss jamming with a band, rocking with a team of musicians and performing my heart out.

9. I will always, always retain a soft spot for the worship team because I spent my first decade of ministry as a worship leader.

10. I enjoy breaking norms, casting vision and accomplishing feats no one has done before; the more it can’t be done, the more I want to do it.

11. When the respect is earned, when the authority is established, when the role is played out, when the work is finished, the title becomes secondary.

12. Ministry is about people. Sometimes it’s about work, but this work should always revolved around people; I thank God I work with young people.

13. Talking to young people whom you’re unfamiliar with at first soon ignites in you God’s love for them, and you’ll never see them the same way again.

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