I have decided to take a mental break from preparing 14 messages (pray for me!) for this weekend’s Redeem Conference, next week’s youth camp at Elim Church and next weekend’s R-AGE Leaders Advance to record some fresh thoughts. Let’s see where this verbiage takes me…
A few times throughout the day, Huiyi will send me picture updates of Eden’s daily activities. She receives these pictures from her mother, who is Eden’s main caregiver from Tuesdays to Fridays.
And I have observed that more often than not, my typical replies to these lovely photos are, “I miss my family!” and “Love you so much!”, and not so much of responding to what Eden is actually doing in the photos.
Today, Eden’s 公公 and 嬷嬷 brought her to Jurong Bird Park. Eden looks so adorable in the photos and Huiyi commented that our baby girl “has such an awesome life”.
I wholeheartedly agreed with my wife. But there was a tinge of melancholy in my “Indeed!” reply.
As I thanked God for how blessed Eden is, a part of me yearns to be playing with her at the Bird Park instead of writing sermons in front of my laptop.
I found myself living vicariously through these daily photos.
I imagined myself taking those pictures and getting Eden to smile for the camera; I pictured myself pushing Eden in her stroller through the midday heat; I envisioned myself cradling Eden in my right arm, kissing her all over and littering her ears with, “Darling, Daddy loves you so much!”
Yes, I was truly experiencing life with Eden in my imagination through the actions of my in-laws.
And it got me thinking about the irony of parenting in Singapore; it is as if we bring our children into this world to have them being cared for by other people, and for them to spend time away from us.
When we are younger and more energetic, we have to work to earn money for our livelihood, and be away from our children. But when we are older and less spritely, we have enough money and all the time in the world, but our children have also all grown up! Surely there’s a way around this tension that I haven’t yet discovered?
My mother-in-law commented a few months ago that she is so much more active in Eden’s life than in her own children’s stage of infancy. She also said that that statement holds true for my father-in-law.
Both Huiyi and I were cared for by our grandmothers; I believe many of us in Singapore were taken care of by our grandparents and that (good) tradition seems to pass on from generation to generation.
As much as Huiyi and I are grateful for the tremendous support that we receive from our parents, we desire so much more to be Eden’s main caregivers instead. We are, after all, her parents — I mean, who wants to spend time with her more than us?
But the reality is, I have a day job (which I am most thankful for, because I enjoy what I do for a living) and by keeping it, I am fulfilling the other part of being a father by providing for my family.
On weekdays, Huiyi and I will only have about five hours with Eden — two in the morning and three in the evening. That is why, as working parents, we cherish weekends so much.
And that is why I treasure my off days that much more now because that’s the exclusive time I get to spend with my beloved princess and create memories for the both of us. On Mondays, I do not have to live vicariously through images on a mobile phone.
Every precious moment with my daughter is locked into my heart forever. I will never give up anything for time with her.
Oh man, I am getting emotional writing this…
Instead of lamenting over the Singapore haze situation and pouring out my woes on social media (which adds zero value to this pseudo national crisis IMHO), I found ten ways to be thankful for the wind beneath my wings…
- The last time Singapore had such unhealthy PSI readings was in October 2006 (I think). Let’s be thankful that we’ve enjoyed clear skies for nearly seven years!
- In moments like these, you should be pleased that you’re not in Sumatra or any of the northern Indonesian islands – it could be been far worse!
- Isn’t it good that at least Singapore has a tropical climate where rain could come anytime to wash the haze away? Places in summer now (especially desert places) won’t even smell precipitation for weeks!
- Let’s rejoice that that Singapore’s transportation system is nearly 100% air-conditioned; when I was a teenager, buses were ventilated by natural wind! And if you’re a car owner, be contented for your own set of wheels and instead of contending with the smoke while commuting – imagine those who are cycling!
- It’s a good sign that lesser people (especially teenagers) are on the streets because they’d rather be indoors, whether at home, in the office or in malls – out of the streets, out of trouble!
- Let’s be relieved that at least everyone in Singapore is united by the same public enemy – instead of population, politics or (gender) preference issues!
- Believe it or not, I’m reminded of God’s faithfulness to us in the way that He led the Israelites through the wilderness in a pillar of cloud and fire – sounds like concentrated haze in a column to me!
- For all you photographers out there, let’s get trigger happy for this is the only time where you can capture pictures with a natural “smoke out” effect without using any filter!
- For those who aspire to be ninjas, this is your time to bring out your face masks and actually look socially acceptable – when else would you get away with it!?
- And finally, if this situations worsens, the government might start ordering people to stay indoors to avoid the haze – I can hear students and national servicemen cheering already!
We spend our entire lives waiting; waiting to grow up, waiting to finish school, waiting for our first paycheck, waiting to marry our soul mate, waiting for our next vacation, waiting for traffic lights to turn green, waiting for the summer blockbuster, waiting nine months for our baby to arrive, waiting for our kids to grow up, waiting to grow old, and ultimately, waiting to die.
And something we do everyday is to wait for public buses to arrive. In Singapore, IRIS (timing prediction technology) informs us of the time we would have to wait before the next bus arrives. If I could take you back to just a little over a decade ago, where none of these prediction technologies existed, you would have to wait patiently for your bus to arrive.
Naturally, we would have no idea if that wait would be three or 30 minutes long. In my childhood days, there weren’t as many bus shelters; I remember standing in the sun, squinting my eyes to look into the horizon, waiting patiently for my bus to arrive. It was uncomfortable to either read a book standing up because there were no seats in the bus shelter, or the sun would be blazing directly above you. Either way, you wouldn’t want to miss your bus because you weren’t paying attention.
In those days, only the more popular routes had double-decker air-conditioned buses (known then as a “Super Bus”) plying it. The service I took frequently was a Super Bus and it was easy to recognise one from a distance away. I’d spend the entire waiting duration anticipating a glimpse of a Super Bus. It would fill me with glee if that Super Bus was my Super Bus.
And despite the unpredictability and uncertainty of the bus arrivals, I’d still wait because the bus had ALWAYS shown up; I know it was not going to play me out suddenly or randomly. Even if the waiting time was longer than usual, I’d still wait because I know it will show up, just like it has the many previous times. And when the bus eventually shows up, it’ll make the wait worth the wait.
Today, fortunately (or unfortunately), we know exactly when our buses would arrive. Some apps can even trace the location of the oncoming bus! So we’d pop out our smartphones, books and magazines to kill the waiting time by reading an article, surfing the net or playing a game. In this age of multi-tasking, nobody likes to stand around, do nothing and just wait.
With all these seemingly helpful distractions around to occupy our time, it’s no wonder we have forgotten how to wait! Maybe that’s why we cannot relate to what Isaiah said:
But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. — Isaiah 40:31
It was a question I asked God to answer when I first stumbled upon this verse… And here’s the paradign shift – waiting for the Lord renews our strength because the Lord WILL show up. We wait for the Lord because He is certainly consistent and consistently certain. For when we are waiting, we are reminded of the Lord’s faithfulness in our lives as well as in His Word.
This is the reason why we must not give up waiting – it takes our eyes off ourselves and fixes our eyes on God; we are freed from our anxieties when we focus our attention on Him. When we wait, we ought to recall the many times that the Lord has delivered in our lives.
So the next time you need to wait for a bus to arrive, an event to pass, a promise to be fulfilled, or for the Lord to show up, know that the wait in itself is part of the process; waiting isn’t just passivity but an intentional and purposeful decision. And the Lord WILL show up in your life. No wonder our strength would be renewed, we’d mount up with wings like eagles, run and not be weary, and walk and not be faint!
Wait for it with conviction… Wait for it with confidence!
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!
For our integrated marketing communications assignment, my schoolmates and I examined how TOMS Shoes employed cause marketing as their main vehicle of publicity, and how this eventually led to sales.
There was no better way than to actually practise what the company preaches as one of their key annual activities – to go one day without shoes. At least, that’s what it challenges all its existing and potential consumers. TOMS’ business strategy is simple – you buy a pair of shoes from them and they will give another away to an underprivileged child in a third-world country. A remarkable and novel idea, really.
In our detailed analysis of this tactic, we’ve discovered that there are brilliant brains behind TOMS, from its founder Blake Mycoskie, to its sales staff, and to its interns (better known as Agents of Change – ostentatious but unique no doubt). And we’ve observed that they’ve left no stone unturned – everything that can be used has been used and their marketing strategy is one of the best we’ve seen of any footwear company, by far. It’s almost fool-proof and fail-proof; it’s so comprehensive that we’ve struggled to make recommendations to improve it. We take our hats off to TOMS Shoes.
That was until two of us (Melodie Lee and I) actually decided to go barefoot in Singapore for a day. And so it was, our very own one day without shoes. It was then we discovered the few weaknesses of such a tactic. I will share bits of it as I record my thoughts of this radical experience.
Attempting an against-the-norm feat is always easier when you do it with someone else. Melodie and I felt somewhat comforted and empowered by each other’s participation; knowing that we weren’t going to do this alone provided an impetus for the actual deed. I left home excitedly and I was curious to see the different reactions I’d receive from strangers and bystanders alike.
Coincidentally, I left home with my sister and met my mother en-route to the bus terminal; both thought that I was crazy and had my safety at the forefront of their minds. And as expected, my sister wasn’t too keen on walking beside me simply because it was weird. “So paiseh”, she stated. Funnily enough, that actually affirmed my decision more than deterred it.
I tried to behave as normally as I could. Of course I would avoid tough, dirty or wet terrain but I did not walk awkwardly or in embarrassment. I like doing radical things once in a while anyway, as my youths and peers would know, so standing out from the crowd wasn’t something that was all together foreign to me.
I arrived at our meeting point in Forum, drank a small serving of Caramel Latte from Coffeebean and discussed how we were going to capture people’s responses on film. And on my own, I intentionally recorded as many of these steps as I could through Twitter. After all, it was through social media that this campaign spread like a virus. As expected, I received a flurry of responses almost immediately on both Facebook and Twitter, from both friends and acquaintances. And just as I had expected, the attention waned as dramatically as it had built up as the day progressed, despite my regular pictorial updates.
Hence it leaves me to conclude that a wholesale dependence on social media has its own limitations. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a celebrity with an enormous reputation, but isn’t viral marketing all about the word-of-mouth from the man on the ground? It’s short-lived at best; my network’s interest in my adventure sustained for a couple of hours and my own interest was roused for a day at most. My mini-campaign was as current and newsworthy as the next 160-character tweet by a teenager about where he was or what she was doing. How effective could this method be for the long-run then?
I hereby propose that social media is only good for initial awareness but not prolonged interest.
One talking point in my day without shoes was when I nearly lost my right big toe. I am so used to everyday-walking that it slipped my mind the importance of literally watching my next step. It was a near-death experience (haha pardon the drama-mama) and my odynophobia caused me to visualise a severed foot. I still cringe at the thought of that near-mishap and I understood why Crocs encountered a safety issue with their footwear – people are negligent because they take things for granted and when they think they can depend on what they are used to (can’t help but to think of Psalm 119:105).
There are only two retailers in Singapore that sell TOMS Shoes and we had to visit one of course. It was a disappointing experience to say the least. We all thought that this could be one of the greatest flaw in this otherwise great company. A retail shop is quite possibly the most appropriate touch point for a fashion product (to see and touch the actual shoe and try it for sizing) and interacting with the sales staff left a horrible taste in our mouths; they were apathetic, ignorant, uninvolved, not helpful and unnecessarily rude.
While this reflects more badly on the reputation of the shop, it indirectly impacts a consumer’s attitude towards TOMS; you cannot help but think that TOMS did not conduct a meticulous screening of their franchisees or provide them with sufficient product training. Their unacceptable service became a fundamental failure in representing the goodwill that TOMS have existed to create all this while. After all, we’ve observed that intimate interaction with consumers is one of the keys to their outstanding business model.
We started our barefoot adventure at 3pm but by 6pm the novelty of this activity had already worn thin on us. We were no longer amused by people’s stares or consciously thought about what we were doing. I asked Melodie, “Are you even thinking about the children in Africa without shoes to wear?” Our answers to that question was synonymously negative. Perhaps we were inadequately prepared for this activity, throwing ourselves in without much fanfare (like posters or tee shirts) or perhaps we didn’t do it with an entourage. But honestly, the thought of doing this for the less-fortunate and under-privileged probably crossed our minds only once, and for a fleeting moment.
While those kids suffered from inevitable abrasions, we sampled invited attention; while those kids struggled to go to school, we savoured what it felt like to do something cool; while those kids survived on a single pair of shoes for years, we stepped into shops that sold enough shoes to last a village for years. How effective then, is this campaign to actually help those kids?
I began to question the integrity of this apparently fantastic movement and I couldn’t help but to conclude that cause marketing should only be employed for the short-term and not to be exploited for the long-term.
I’ve written these thoughts on my way to school and during lecture itself. Honestly, while going without shoes was fun while it lasted, I cannot be bothered anymore about how this makes me feel or what message it sends out because the only entity that benefits from this seemingly out-of-this-world initiative is the company itself. Based on my experience today, I scribbled down five recommendations that may make TOMS Shoes a tad bit more successful and perhaps, less suspect. We will propose them at our presentation next week.
As with many things in life that the world offers us as a tradeoff for satisfaction, it can feel good at the start but it is still hugely inadequate and empty eventually. “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity”, as King Solomon famously philosophised. The words of the Psalmist Asaph resonates in my head: “You’re all I want in heaven! You’re all I want on earth!” (Psalm 73:25, The Message Bible.)
Oh, the temporal happiness of earthly pursuits and the heavenly void that we all need God to help us fill!
Top: Fremantle, 2007 and Bottom: Fremantle, 2011
Incidentally, I intentionally and instinctively posed the same way at the same place!
At around this time 48 hours later, I’ll be onboard the plane back to Singapore. It’s been a great holiday. I shall make the most of it and try to get some rest tonight. I’ve enjoyed attending Ps Benny Ho’s church (Faith Community Church) this morning, heading to the Love Birds’ church (Christian City Church International), eating at Little Creatures Brewery, walking around Fremantle, visiting the Easter Markets, having dinner at Nishi Japanese Restaurant and hanging out at home… It typifies the kind of holiday I’ve enjoyed – agenda-less and without programme or structure. I absolutely needed something like this.
Amidst all the sights and sounds I took in today, I also made three observations:
- It doesn’t matter where you are located; as long as you’re beside the one you love.
- It doesn’t matter how funny you are; the one who loves you will laugh with you.
- It doesn’t matter what you say; the one whom you love hears what’s in your heart.
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!