Musings – a product of the System

I wrote this a longgg time ago (15 Dec 2012) and it has sat as a draft for a long time. I decided to read it.. and try and remember what else I wanted to add. I don’t remember.. Which is typical.. but that’s ok. So here it is.

Also a doodle, just for fun. Quite an old one but nevermind.

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I often have ridiculous flights of fancy. And often at stupid o’clock. However, it seems appropriate to share this musing before I forget it.

My train of thought runs thus:

I was thinking about how, when one succeeds – suddenly everyone wants a piece of you. Everyone wants to benefit from your fame, perhaps rise from the updraft of your supposed upward trajectory. (Who decides which way is up anyway!?) Further, when that happens, one may often be invited to institutions, perhaps even one’s alma mater – to impart some form of wisdom to the younger generations. Possibly to inspire them to try and aim high, which in itself is no bad thing. So I thought.

I know, I am a little scientist/artist who exists in a world where much of who I am and what I stand for are often considered as insignificant as dust (or whatever, take your pick). But on the off chance that something amazing happens and my ‘star rises’ (so to speak), I imagined being invited back to my secondary school in Singapore and paraded as being something worth aspiring towards. Then I imagined what I might say to them. I thought a little of what my speech would be, and promptly realised that anything that I deemed worth saying would probably not be considered the best thing to say. I imagined myself submitting a draft of my speech, and then having the chance to speak taken away.

I would have advised the students to work hard, but play harder. I would have told them that work is not the be all and end all. I would also have told them that the world’s idea of success is wrong – not that it should stop us from working hard, but that it should stop ourselves from working ourselves to death by putting financial and societal success on a pedestal. So far so good. But there my thoughts stopped – as I realised that to continue to talk about how I believed work and study should be approached, would be to share my faiths and beliefs… and that, I think, would not be welcomed very much, if at all!

What, you wonder, could be so bad that this might happen? Further, what sort of mad institution would behave in such a manner? I must admit that I might be exaggerating a little. But anyone who has been part of the system that I have come from may understand a bit better. First, the institution in question is a secular one, and is well known for producing students of the highest academic calibre (depending on your standards and whatnot). Secondly, who in their right mind would encourage students to not desire a job that would make them fabulously wealthy, or to desire to be an outcast of society?

How could I possibly explain to those students that I believe that the best way to live life is to deny myself, take up my cross and follow Christ? Sure, I may not be very good at it (and am usually reluctant, if I must be very honest), but Christ is my saviour nonetheless! A truly successful life, according to the Bible, is one lived by running and finishing (not winning mind!) the race that is set before us. It also means a life where you might be more often than not: shunned, made fun of, rejected, belittled etc – even by your own family! It means a life of being tagged as stupid, even when you are clearly not! (The shiny new letters that follow my name certainly prove that I am not stupid!) Now that I’ve described my life (that of a typical Christian), I do not think that I would be allowed to ‘inspire young minds’ – mostly since the life I describe is rather unattractive on the surface. My ideas of success would be quickly rejected by my old school.

I would rather decline the invitation and save me some trouble. I want no part in encouraging the potential crushing of souls into the machinery of the merciless educational system of Singapore. I was a product of the system, and hardly any good has come of it. Money and high ranking in society cannot offer any true freedom. I believe that only life in Christ can. Otherwise we end up being slaves – to work, to attempt to find any high that will fulfill our desires, and find nothing.

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Ok just realised I would add something after all. In the light of the post I just wrote abt the Holy Spirit and being empowered by it, I think it would be good to accept an opportunity to make a speech that might make people uncomfortable, but curious. Because then they might start asking questions. And that’s what we want.

But it would still be pretty difficult. Hmm.

The power of the Spirit

And the disciples were filled by the Holy Spirit, and they went forth to boldly proclaim the gospel, and many came to believe.

I heard this sermon today at church. I wondered what it would look like. I mean, the book of Acts tells us that the disciples boldly went forth.. and we also know that the disciples were actually quite a raggedy bunch; a few fishermen who probably werent very well educated.. and so on. And in all likelihood, would have liked to continue leading peaceful lives. But when God gives you the Holy Spirit, a quiet life is no longer a possibility.

But I am not good with words.. like Moses once said to God, Lord, who am I that you have chosen me? I am clumsy with words at best, and not the most eloquent… and yet, by Moses, the Lord God shook the Egyptian society to its very foundations, the disciples took the word to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and all through history where Martin Luther, Hudson Taylor and so on til today.. through the world.

It was amazing to be reminded that the gospel cannot be hindered.. but one cannot help but continue to doubt whether it is still true today. Sure, some churches are flourishing.. but other churches spread convincing lies and half truths.. that Jesus will bless you.if you follow him turned into, you will be healthy and rich if you follow Jesus. And people flock to these churches. How can the gospel spread unhindered if people prefer something else? We find it so hard to imagine multitudes believing today because we struggle to do the work of a disciple- to spread the gospel. We were reminded that it was really all God’s work by the Spirit, that made people do amazing things that they would not normally do, that they would be bold and clear instead of stuttering, cowering cowards. And all this even in the face of persecution and perhaps even death.

Which made me wonder whether I had ever experienced something of the sort before. Does the Holy Spirit really make you brave? Does the Spirit really change you like that? I don’t think if myself as brave.. nor do I remember being really brave at all… aside from some times when I was in uni.. and I had many christian friends around me.. we could be brave, in our safe little pairs and crowds or bubbles. But what about alone in the workplace?

What about when proclaiming has some painful risks? Losing friends, losing jobs, losing the respect of family? Sometimes I worry that despite their Christian beliefs, my mum and some family might think that I am foolish. And that cuts pretty bad. I really want to know what being filled by the Spirit feels like… I am sure that when it has happened before, I just kinda forget about it.. and go back to being cowardly and tired and anti social and seek the easy path of less resistance from all sides.

We were encouraged to ask for opportunities to share the gospel, to be brave and for the words to say. I thought about this.. and wondered.. that it was highly likely that the words to say.. the words we really wanted, would not be what we expected. Because it would result in God being glorified, it might make us feel silly or useless. It would make us doubt if God really had given us the right words… or even if he had given us the words at all. And then when God’s power worked in these people.. we would see who really is the one at work.

Its funny that despite knowing it, we humans are always surprised by how God rarely gives us exactly what we want, and how rarely it turns out the way we want.

As I  remembered my time at my uni’s christian union, I felt a bit of a pang as I remembered my feeble efforts to kickstart some sort of international student ministry. The first problem was that people were not getting behind he idea, but I do not think it was my fault. I think I merely had a perspective that the others had not seen just yet. I think God must have said to me, “not yet.” And yet.. was I less brave to try? Were my friends and I less brave because of the apparent lack of conversions? Was our so called failure to convert a sign that we were not filled with the Holy Spirit? I don’t think so. Because of this.. in a world where people my age were seeking the next thrill in clubs and drinking and in other excesses.. there were others who would sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to the bible being taught. If nothing else, we were the converted ones! We had been in the dark as well, but someone who had been filled with the Spirit was brave enough or was given the right words.. such that we could have the spirit too. Were we not proof that we too would be doing the work that saved us?

I suppose being filled with the Spirit does not always mean bravery. I suppose it will also mean being filled with the compassion of Christ for he lost. I still remember a friend of mine, where when we almost gave up on flyering to an empty campus.. we stayed a bit longer, and instead of ignoring the next couple who walked by and packed up, we spoke to them. Now the girl is a christian (rather than roman catholic) and is active in telling others about the Christ. I often think to myself… it mught have been that one less soul was saved that day if we had chosen to pack up and give up. Praise the Lord for that one soul!

Thinking about all this has made me see that the results we see today might be highly variable from the results we saw in Acts where thousands of people came to know the Lord. I suspect that because of my personality, I might always be a little bit.. or very scared.. because I always have the Holy Spirit in me. So I guess we don’t have to wait to be filled.. more like we should go forth, go forth after asking for opportunities and the words to say. Because wanting to evangelise is already a pretty brave thing.. it’s also kinda crazy I think.. the crazy kinda thing that non Christian me would not have done at all. So I am filled with the Spirit…

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God's words have power. We do not speak our own words, but the words that the Spirit gives us

That’s pretty cool.

Church and other news

So… ok I know I haven’t exactly been updating regularly. This is pure laziness and procrastination. Anyway I have been going to the crossing church for two weeks now, and thought I’d update you on how it’s all going.

The first week was pretty scary, because I only knew a few people, and I didn’t know those few that well either. But I did meet a nice lady called Sonja who was from australia. She had been in singapore for a year and a half, and had been uprooted from a church like me. The only difference was that she had been part of a church for a much longer time. 11 years to be precise. I can’t imagine settling in! But God sent her a stranger, a christian lady who made friends with Sonja quickly and really helped her settle in by welcoming her into her home and even cooking food for her. It also happened that after church that week, it was the monthly church dinner. Guess what? We had curry! It was so funny to me because (and st helens regulars will know this) on sundays before a bank holiday Monday, a regiment from st helens will walk to brick lane for a curry. Except the crossing is currently renting out a function room in little india, so we don’t have to go that far for curry here. After dinner, I went home, and was accompanied by Sonja and Xian Min. Sonja lived an mrt stop away from me, and xian min lived a few stops further down the line. It was really nice to get to know them a bit better, and feel that I was actually beginning to get to know people better. Its really hard to make friends in singapore, especially amongst the younger people. This is because everyone still has their cliques from sixth form and university. I guess I would have been the same.. thankfully, I can see some people at the crossing really do make an effort to be friendly, and thats vey helpful to me.

Week 2, was good. So far we are goig through a series of living by the holy spirit. It has been nice to hear familiar things and remember that God is always the same. This has been an enduring source of comfort to me, especially when going through rough and uncertain times. It has however,  also been tempting to be bored by what I was hearing. It took a lot to remind myself that it was ok to be bored because it meant that the preachers were not twisting the word. I was glad to be reminded that even natural skills may count as gifts from the spirit, and it inspired me to think more about how I might be able to use my skills in church. Ideas for how to use my drawing skills are certainly useful and welcomed, because it doesnt seem like a very church-useful thing to have.

In other news, my mum has been worrying as usual about my job hunting. Needless to say, I am procrastinating away and have been slow in the application process. It certainly does not help that singaporean job application forms ask for the strangest information!! The one odd thing I have encountered so far is where I have been asked to provide family particulars, names and identity card numbers of my family members. Why do they need to know?? I need to submit soon though.. cant sit around forever.

Monsoon season has approached at last. This comes after the hungry ghost festival, where people believe that their deceased family members are released from hell for a while. This means that there is a copious amount of burning activity going on, where people burn paper replicas of luxury items that they hope their dead relatives will receive. And lots of burning of prayer incense as well. This means that there can often be lots of ash in the air, and the smell of incense is not nice at all either! People also set up stages to perform for the spirits. All in all, this is a pretty creepy festival that people observe. This is one festival where people don’t actually celebrate.

The monsoon season is as close to winter as singapore gets. Our tiny island is deluged by floods, and all this despite the presence of massive monsoon drains around the country. This isnt very nice, and when water is ankle to calf or knee high,  nobody wants to go out. After the rain, you either feel really nice and cool, or steamy and wet like a mangrove swamp. So see how lucky you get I suppose.

Thanks for those who have been praying for my fears of allergies playing up. I still have to keep away from certain fruit, even as my mum tries to tempt fate by pushing a forkful of sliced melon or whatever I have reacted badly to in my direction, asking me to try it. I think she is sad that I can’t enjoy the fruits that I love, but it’s not helping… it seems however, that I am not reacting as badly to air conditioned air as before. So that is a great improvement and praise God.

Another issue is that I gave my dad a lecture on whatsapp. I don’t like talking to my dad in any shape or form, and try to keep phone conversations with him under a minute or so if possible. What happened was I was very angry with him for being manipulative and making stress up in his mind. I ended up explaining how he frustrated us (his family) whilst my mum was going on in the background abt how he wouldn’t change and how lost he was blah blah blah.

Needless to say,  this made me very angry. But praise the Lord for giving me perseverance. … even though it was the last thing I wanted. I ended up with tellig my dad about a course that would help him understand us better. I forgot to tell him it was a christianity explored course…. but I hope he signs up for it. Because it is true.. if he does truly get to know God, he will see how his futile attempts to make himself great and making a name for himself have really frustrated us. But I suppose I’ll have to tell him abt it soon. Which I don’t want to. So please pray about that for me.

Please also pray that I am gracious and grateful for my mum’s unasked for efforts on finding me a job. I feel that she is intruding in my life.. like she is trying to control me.. but I guess she is just worried. It still makes me angry and frustrated.. as if she didn’t trust me to do stuff on my own.. and she also doesnt seem to like my choices for a job.. just because there dont seem to be any long term career prospects.. she cares a lot about money and being financially stable, but I also think that she has a very warped idea of living simply and getting by. My sister says its because she uses herself as a yard stick for everything, and is often surprised by very normal things, such as the convenience of public housing estates. (In singapore,  people live in high rise flats above shops, markets, restaurants and many other facilities,  so you don’t have to go very far if you need stuff) so… pray for my relationship with my parents… actually id rather not care about it… but God wants me to care.. so I’ll need a lot of prayer support. Thanks for reading!

Singapore Prime Minister National Day Rally: Thoughts on Education

Everyone has their own ideas of education, how the system should work, to make it fair and open to everyone, and so on. This post is not a comment on the PM’s national day rally (NDR) itself.

The biggest thing that keeps coming back to me is the idea of success. Of how parents and children all want to do well, to keep going UP. UPWARDS. The idea of going to the best schools, of having the highest scores. The PM announced small measures that will be introduced  to help stop the rising tide of elitism -the idea that high grades is a good marker of success.

It then made me think of what I had written in my previous post regarding how there is a dilemma between personal identity (cultural, racial, etc) and Christian identity. It also reminded me of my own struggles while growing up in the insanity of the Singaporean education system (not as insane as China, but still insane). It made me think a little about how huge a priority education is to Singaporeans, and the absolute lengths that parents and children might go through to be number one.

We know where we have come from based on our own histories, but do we know where we are going? What really is the point of merely doing better and better, and indeed to be the best? I am not saying that to seek success is wrong. It is a good thing to want to better oneself rather than being lazy. I meant.. what is the point of being better? Why do we want to have better lives for ourselves aside from comfort and happiness? (Though I am not saying we should actively seek hardships and misfortune) What indeed, is the purpose of our life? Where are we really going? Where do we think we are going? Like Paul said, if this life is all there is, then by all means, do as we please… BUT –

As Christians, we know that this life is not all there is. Therefore, we must bear in mind how this has an affect on how we live today and for the future. In the area of education – where (what school) do we study? How much does it matter to us that we or our children might end up in schools that are not in the top 5? How much do we study (how do we divide our time)? How do we consider success and work for it, striking a balance between working hard, and not making study/work our idol? As it stands, many societies do not have this priority – that is to live for God. We are not merely planning to better ourselves and our children. We are planning to make it to Eternity to be truly at peace with our Creator and Father.

This year’s NDR has prompted me to think more about how to view success. It is also a great indication of where the world’s desires and priorities lie. Being a Christian in a world of temptation to follow our earthly passions is always going to be difficult. My mother who has lived and worked in an intensely competitive sector (Law), her entire life, constantly worries about my personal financial stability and success. I know she wants me to work hard and not be lazy; she wants me to succeed. She doesn’t just want a successful career for me, she also wants me to be a good person. I wish that she wanted me to be a Christian who would run the race to the finish, multiple degrees or not. Maybe in time this will change. As long as she makes it to the end as well, that the best that anyone can have,. If I ever become a parent, I hope to be one that considers godliness above worldiness; particularly as the pressure will inevitably rise.

In some ways, I feel very isolated by this idea. The more I thought about the pursuit of godliness – the potential prospect of sacrificing worldly success, acclaim, and comfort.. particularly to the disapproval of my elders.. the more isolated I feel. The more I think – how am I going to do this? Please pray for us all as a nation that as our leaders continue to seek the good of the people, that they might turn to Christ and that they will guide the country as godly men and women. I do not understand how politics works. I cannot even pretend to know how the economy and financial stuff works. But I still hope that our leaders will turn to Christ and lead the country accordingly. I also hope to be able to remember that making it to the New Creation remains my topmost priority. And God willing, to be able to go with many others. Let’s support each other in this endeavour.

of Cultural Integration and Understanding

Hm, weighty subject to discuss today.. since culture is the basis of our entire lives . It helps us to form our own identity and idea of self.

I watched Wolverine today. I found it interesting; the fight scenes were good, but there was also a degree of portrayal of the difference between eastern and western cultures. The scene that inspired me was where Wolverine is eating with Mariko, a Japanese heiress. He puts his chopsticks upright in his rice bowl, and Mariko immediately corrects him. They then proceed to have a short conversation about family and dishonour – and Mariko says to him (something along the lines of) “I do not expect you to understand, because you are not Japanese.”

This reminded me of my time in London, where many of my English friends failed to understand why we bowed to our teachers in school, and why, despite being an ‘adult’, we were always obedient (as much as we could) to our parents. Some of my friends accepted this idea, whilst others would argue a little bit (or quite a lot!) as to why they felt certain cultural practices were illogical. As I have spent my life living in a country surrounded by people of different cultural practices and celebrating religious festivals with my friends, I might have found some of their practices a little strange, but it was their culture, I did not really question them much.

When I lived in London, I began to meet English people who had never had the opportunity to mix with people of other cultures. I made friends with people who found me culturally strange and frustrating (particularly with my sense of duty to family). As I learned more about what being a Christian was like, I began to be increasingly involved in evangelising to international students. All these combined with my attempts to get my international friends to meet local friends showed how difficult cultural integration could be, and merely putting people from around the world in one room did not mean that they would get along and understand each other. Naturally, everyone gravitates towards people who are more like themselves, particularly in strange situations. When I was in high school, the mainland Chinese scholars would not make friends with the local students, and instead congregate with other mainlanders. I’ll talk more about this in a bit.

In the book of Revelation, God showed us his vision – his New Creation that we are so looking forward to. In attendance will be every tribe and tongue and nation who will be worshipping God together. They will all be united in their salvation from the penalty of sin, and united in their love for Christ. During the international students’ bible studies that I attended, we made sure to exhort to our new international friends that our God is not an English God, or a Chinese God, or a Spanish, Malay, Indian – whatever God. He is God of everybody, and his word matters to everyone.  Mixing with people of other ethnicities, cultures – to engage with them so that they may see God in our lives, and that we might speak his word to them.. Is that not part of being involved in God’s good work, towards the New Creation? I ask that of course, as a rhetorical question.

So why is cultural integration so difficult? We know from the bible (Genesis 11:1-9) from the story of the tower of Babel that God cursed mankind to speak many languages, that they might be separate from one another and not rise up against God. We also know from earlier parts of Genesis (chapter 3) that God curses the relationships between man and woman. I hope I am not wrong in extrapolating that therefore the relationships between people in general have also been cursed.  So we are a cursed species. We have already been separated by language, and we like hurting each other to get ahead, or even hurt each other without meaning to. Even within our own culture groups, we can still find strife. With the additional barrier of different habits and practices, engaging with people can be a problem. I still haven’t really answered the question though. I guess the main thing is comfort. Like I mentioned earlier, we like to stay in our comfort zones, we like familiar things. We stick with people we know as far as possible. Otherwise we are shy and afraid of socialising, perhaps afraid of making mistakes, afraid of not being able to fit in, and many other reasons that I have not mentioned/thought about yet.

Another thing is we just don’t understand each other. We might all be speaking plain english, but when it comes to talking about things such as family, or food – we might be completely different. Cue disgust when I express a fondness for braised chicken feet, or duck tongue, or fish heads. (Not much would gross me out in the food world compared to my Western counterparts) How much more of a problem it becomes when we talk about what is closest to our hearts – our families? I am perfectly aware that there are different kinds of families. You have a whole spectrum. From the crazy ones, amazing ones, close ones.. all the way to the ones that hate each other so much they all have to be on different continents. I am not massively fond of my family at times, but they are my family, and like it or not, I have been brought up to be loyal to my siblings and obedient to my parents. This brings to mind the old phrase that is oft used by teachers in Singapore: “Your friend tell you to tiao lou (jump off a building and commit suicide), you also must follow is it?” (Singlish grammar for those who don’t know) So no, as an adult, I won’t jump off a building even if my parents tell me to, but there might be cultures I am unaware of where it does happen. (On a more realistic note, there are families out there that disown their relatives and make them leave the family home etc) But if my parents counsel me about jobs, and work, and how to deal with my money.. then I would take their advice! This is where it gets difficult.

I am a Christian. A baby one, one suffering growing pains -constantly-.. but still a Christian. I try to identify myself as one as far as I can. Herein lies the dilemma. My mum in particular (when I refer to my parents – I always mean her) often worries (as mothers will) about my lack of a job and an income. This is a common Asian parental mindset. My mum wants me to climb the career ladder. When we discuss full time ministry (like.. for 5 minutes), she always gives me the impression that such a work is fine for someone else’s children, just not hers. I am not actually thinking about full time ministry, as I do not really think that I am cut out for it.  My mum is a baby Christian too, but she hasn’t had the learning opportunities that I have, and doesn’t always seem to understand why I have certain priorities. She always says – “so what will you do about your future?” It is a foolish idea to be flippant and say, “God will take care of it”, but it is also foolish to say “I must find the best paying job there is, I must have a good career and a good future plan!” Either way I am a fool.. Jokes aside, I am finding it terribly hard to get the balance right. Not that I will get it perfect, but I do want to get it right. At the moment, I have not yet had the chance to talk to my mum about my idea of success. Even if I was a toilet cleaner (though I hope not, for my and my mother’s sake), if I remained a Christian to my last day, God would still say “Well done for finishing.” She doesn’t like the idea of stagnation. She doesn’t like the idea that I might remain a ‘lowly’ tuition teacher for the rest of my life. She doesn’t like the idea of ‘merely’ giving tours in the science centre. It is true that some jobs are not suitable in terms of income and for raising a family (which she assumes I will do, and I would like to if God gives me the chance), but I have no idea about what is OK for me at my stage in life. I don’t just want to wait for opportunities to drop on my head (守株待兔 for my chinese friends), but I’d like to trust that God gives me everything that I need and to work with what I am given.

How does that work? I think it means putting one foot in front of another in faith to find out. It also means constantly reviewing your spending and your financial needs. My mum has taught me to save for a future generation – Her favourite saying (out of many) is that Asians always save money for their children, the ang mohs (westerners) don’t understand saving. Whilst this is a gross stereotype, it does give you an idea of what kind of plans I might want to make. Since there seems to be no right or wrong  in God’s eyes for this kind of future planning (providing for your adult children financially), I am free to choose what is best. So I would need to think about what I need, that I am not a burden to my church family, and that I am not on the streets. It also means thinking about how much I want to give to God’s work (based on financial situation and income). It means looking at what God has given or is giving to you, and things like that. It might mean not shopping at Waitrose all the time (not that I do!). There’s a lot of things that one will need to think about regarding being godly with how you think about your job and thus your money. BUT there is also the parental expectation to consider! It is very painful to disappoint your parents by living a life that they do not find ideal. Yes, my life is not theirs, but I must emphasise the great importance that many children put on their parents’ words, whether they are conscious of it or not.

This stuff makes me dizzy. Thinking too much I mean. Luckily I have some time as I am still on my own and live with my mum. Money talk aside, I hope this gives you an idea of what someone might struggle with (speaking as a Singaporean Chinese person) in terms of making godly decisions within their cultural identity, but above that, their identity as a Christian. I am aware that some of the problems I listed above might sound quite common. This is because I am not so good at writing about subtleties and nuances between cultures. I hope to improve on that. Thanks for reading to the end. I was going to talk about expatriates in Singapore, but I think it can wait. i’ve written nearly two thousand words, and unless you’ve read this in instalments, your eyes must be tired. (It is also 2am on a Sunday morning and I am going to church soon) You are all awesome. Please pray for an international friend that you know, please pray for yourselves, and pray for me. Please ask that we might be wise with honouring our parents, but make godly decisions that reflect our identities as Christians.

Public Transport.. and Church

Strange how one forgets culture shock so easily.. Looking back, I have found that I do not really remember how hard I found it to make my way around London.  I did carry an A-Z with me wherever I went for a while, and even felt like Harry Potter trying to find platform 9 and 3/4 at Kings Cross. After some time though, it seemed to be very easy. And all this even with delays, cancellations, replacement buses and anything else that nature and TFL dealt out to customers. I even began to enjoy the laconic comments that occasionally came from some tube drivers, as well as the entertaining platform announcers who could easily consider a job as radio show hosts.  (All this particularly after I began to truly understand British sarcasm and wit!)

must have struggled at some point, taking pains to realise how everything worked, and to be inducted into the so called ‘secret society’ (thanks, C. Skrine for this term) of people who actually knew what the signs and letters at the bus stops meant. And then I became a Londoner. I don’t know how it happened, but it happened very easily. I developed a healthy dislike for tourists, people who walked too slowly, and people who did not understand what “stand on the right” meant. I enjoyed bad puns, sometimes enjoyed banter, and was even able to hit back in my own way.

Well, I don’t have to remember how I felt back then, because I am facing the exact same thing again. Needless to say, public transport in Singapore has changed vastly over the past five years that I was gone. Prices have gone up (though still pale in comparison to price hikes in Europe), certain rules have gotten more strict (eating was not allowed, and now drinking too, is not allowed on the MRT), and as I rarely took the bus before, I was completely unfamiliar with bus routes except for the ones that I had taken when I was 14. Some help that knowledge was going to be. In addition, I have now moved to the more western side of Singapore. New travelling routes, and struggling to find my orientation – it is no surprise that there have been many days so far where I’d much rather stay at home than wander around in the afternoon heat trying to find how to get from A to B.

Which brings me to the topic of church. As many of my readers may know, I decided to join a small, growing (mostly student based) church called the Crossing. For those of you who are not acquainted, it is a church that has been set up by a guy who used to be a student in London, and who attended St Helen’s Bishopsgate while he was studying. I have been to the Crossing a few times, and each time I went, I was amazed by how much it had grown. I made the decision to leave my old church where I had grown up (for a variety of reasons – church instability and some inhibition to my personal Christian growth being the main reasons), and to attend the Crossing. I felt very confident, as I knew a few people there, and I had even attended a few services while I was at home for the summer. And yet – for some reason all my confidence and bravado was gone. I felt afraid of going alone, and I even foolishly said to myself, “But I do not even know which floor the function room is on!” (As the Crossing currently rents a function room in a hotel to hold its services) Even when my rational self looked up the location on google, I still decided not to go. I was too afraid. I had been back two Sundays, and I was still too afraid to take the bus and go to church.

Thankfully, my mum has not been pressuring me to attend my old home church, and has left me alone while she and the rest of my siblings (if in the country) attend the morning service. Not going to church makes me feel very guilty, and though I know I am not saved, or a better person if I attend church, I am sorely lacking in the two things my soul needs – that is, to hear God’s word, and to be around God’s people. Right now, it is so so easy to be tempted into worrying about jobs and money and prestige and having to work hard. I forgot that everything I have, and will receive is from God. I forgot that worldly prestige means nothing.. After all, those who aim to receive worldly praise, have received their reward. How easy it is for a few days to pass, and for me to forget the Lord. Next week, I must be brave, and go to church. I will get my friend to meet up with me, and we will go together. It will work out. And if she can’t go because she is working.. well, then, I will need some courage to go on my own.

In the meantime, I sat down to listen to a sermon series on Job. This was one I had planned to listen to many months ago, but could not bring myself to. Now that I am much better and suffering much less from the clutches of depression and anxiety, I could put it off no longer. Besides, I needed God’s word, and what better way than to do that something that I’d been putting off? I am 2/3 of the way through, and am content. Content in the sense that all the things I have been thinking about my illness, and why God put me through it.. They were all confirmed by the actions of Job and his friends. I am not saying I am like Job, though I would like to continue to praise God in my suffering. But I was glad to hear that my suffering was not a punishment, although it might have been for teaching (which may feel like punishment). It also might have been for others, just as I have received comfort from knowing that I do not suffer alone. And finally, it would have been to the glory of God. It would at least show that Satan the deceiver was wrong. We do not love God merely because of what he gives us.. for he gives us joy and sadness in their measures (though it is all towards our eternal goal and reward). We love God because our sins are no longer counted against us. We love God because we have been set free – and do not need to follow every whim and tide of the ways of the world. We love God because he is why we no longer need fear condemnation.

So I know that God isn’t condemning me for not going to church, though I know that he might be disappointed as a parent might by a child’s foolish ways and reasonings. But I can also trust that God will give me courage to go this coming Sunday. I can also trust that I will make new friends (as afraid of that as I am), and I can also trust that just like being in London, I will soon be undaunted by public transport, and settle in.

As always, thank you for your prayers. Please let me know how I might be able to pray for you as well!

Birthday

Strange to think that a year ago, I was hiding in my bed, under my duvet, staring at the ceiling and lost in dark thoughts.  Back then, I was in the grips of depression, and did not care whether I lived or died, did not eat or sleep, and could not leave the house because it was too terrifying a prospect. I could not even go downstairs without feeling confused or that I had no sense of purpose.

Time stretched out interminably before me, in a way that I hope to never experience again. Since I have been on medication for nearly a year, I have improved so much. There is much to be thankful for, but I must emphasise that I cannot say this glibly.

This past year, God has taught me through my despair and suffering. He taught me how to accept the support and love of my family in Christ. He taught me to value things other than academic success and worldly glory. When I was unable to do things on my own, I had no choice but to rely on others to take care of me. When they realised that it was dangerous for me to be alone with suicidal thoughts, my family in Christ gathered around me and prayed for me. Even as I cried and declared my anger and hatred at the words in Romans 8:28… When everything I cared about, intelligence, good memory, the ability to do much despite limited sleep, when all these had been rendered severely limited, and all I could do was sleep and stare at the ceiling, God showed me that I had lost nothing. I had free time, which I was then able to give without worrying about work and time constraints. I was able to develop my art, as I could express myself best by means of illustration.

I could go on about how I have learned to be more content in my suffering. But I will not. I do not welcome suffering, and it is strange how God decides to make us stronger through it. God has worked a miracle, but the miracle was not merely in improving my physical and mental health, but in my spirit. I still wonder if God made me go through this to prepare me for the return home.

I still occasionally wake with chest pains and feel afraid for no reason. But I am no longer the person who looked forward and saw no light. I am not fully recovered, but I know that this does not matter anymore. I do not need to resent the little pills I am so reliant on. The problem now is to keep going. To try and strike a balance between being wise with my worldly possessions, yet not store them up for myself. To be able to do so whilst being aware of familial and cultural expectations… only the Lord knows how I will be able to handle them.

But today is not just a celebration of how old I am (which i detest on principle because many of my birthdays in the past ended in parental dispute). Today is a celebration of how much God has guided me through one of the darkest times of my life, and has preserved me through it. Today is a celebration of God’s morals, values, and ideas – the body of Christ, the groaning of the Spirit, and the care of the true Father.

Day/Week one

Day one. It’s been difficult as expected. Reverse culture shock.. knowing about it is not the same as being prepared for it. And I am woefully unprepared. I think I have been prepared for the most important things, such as family, and finding a church. But i haven’t been prepared for smaller things, such as finding my way around the city, getting accustomed to a different transport system. London has been home for five years now, I could navigate it comfortably, even if it meant taking a bus or a route that I have not travelled before. But back ‘home’, my anxiety has not lifted. I seem to be doing well on the depression front, though I still get tired quickly, and still find it hard to be sociable. The anxiety often comes unbidden, but not as much as it used to, which is good. But at the moment, time stretches out interminably before me, and it is a frightening prospect to even attempt to plan for the future in a now foreign city.

It feels odd being a stranger in my own country. It’s very hard to be godly when you are feeling awkward and tired and frustrated…. The weather is a factor as well, but luckily I am getting used to the weather and try not to go outside when it is too hot, so I am not really that grumpy.

The two biggest challenges at home are my mum and sister. The other challenge is our family domestic helper. Trying to communicate with my mum and sister is difficult, as we are all very stubborn, and my sister is often tired from her daily work and other commitments,  and tends to be quite grumpy. She flashes quickly between moods like my mum, so it is sometimes hard to know where you stand. I think I am glad that God has taught me to be more patient, so that I shout less, and turn away from violence instead of choosing to express my frustration. Please pray that I remember that they are my family in Christ first, and that despite how isolated and frustrated I might feel sometimes, I will treat them rightly. It is very easy to get distracted by discussing the day’s events or future plans, and not talk of God, particularly when we are not accustomed to it.

With the family helper, I find it a struggle to know how best to relate, as she is, in one sense an employee, but she is also a human being. Members of the older generation tend to treat helpers (or maids) as second class citizens, with many facing verbal and physical abuse from employers. Ours is quite lucky as we treat her like family. She has served us for nearly 16 years now, and remains cheerful. It helps that she is a Catholic, and has many Godly attitudes towards her work, which I admire. But my mum does sometimes still say “she is just a maid”, which makes me feel very defensive, as I find that statement rather condescending. Please pray that I would know best how to relate with her, without upsetting my mum. It is not currently a problem, but please also pray that I will stand for what is right if the opportunity to do so ever arises.

Another thing is struggling with the idea of wealth. Having moved into a new home, my mum is currently near the end of the furnishing process. She is by no means ostentatious, but does have a different idea of spending from what I have been used to in university (as a ‘poor’ student). I would like to remember that what I have is all God given, which means preparing to know how to utilise it for His work when my mum’s money and assets are passed to me for stewardship. This reminds me of the parable of the talents, where I have come to learn that a talent is not necessarily monetary wealth, but also time, patience, and the threshold for being sociable.

Today is Hari Raya Adilfitri (or Eid), which is the end of Ramadan. To celebrate, old family friends invited us over to an open house. Their house is huge. It is beautifully furnished, and when we visited, was full of beautifully dressed guests. Just as my family and I dress well for the Lunar new year, the hosts and guests were attired in a variety of traditional dress, in a huge array of fabrics and adornments. I could not help but be jealous of what they had, despite what I have myself. I then saw a plaque above their front door which had a verse from the Koran on it (in Arabic), which reminded me that this family was Muslim. I do not know much about the ways of Islam, but I had to remind myself that I should not be jealous of what others had, nor should I want for a big house and worldly success. Because what is coming, is far far better than I can imagine, and the glory greater than anyone has known. The only problem is getting to the end of the race..

It is harder here as I am not yet involved in a church, and am not surrounded with a multitude of Christians as I was in St. Helen’s. In addition, I think I might have seriously upset a good friend of mine whom I had introduced to the Crossing Church. (A St. H. style church led by a guy who had attended St. H. as a student). I upset her by complaining about the Singaporean public transport system (which is a bit slower than the Tube, but cleaner because they don’t let you eat or drink on the trains/platforms). I did not deal with the situation very well, and although I sent an apology text, I do not know whether she is still upset. I don’t know when I will see her next, but I really must remember to be gentler with her as she struggles with being heavily burdened by her own sin, and to come to terms with how her sins have all been forgiven. Thankfully, she is part of a CG (Community Group, which is the RML/IGG equivalent), and someone is reading Romans 1-2-1 with her. I really must be more patient and gentle.. after all, it is not like I understand God’s word completely either. I do not think I have lost her as a friend, although friendships have dissolved over less, but I am in dire need of having Christians to remind me what is most important. As she is a younger Christian than I, there are very few opportunities where she will remind me of the gospel, and our relationship tends to be that of an RML leader and a group member. Please pray for our relationship, that I will be patient and gentle, without losing any excitement of sharing what I have learned. Pray for her understanding of God’s word, and that despite past misfortunes and sad events, she will come to see God clearer each day.

Tomorrow is my birthday. It is also Singapore’s independence day. My grand aunt and uncle are hosting a National Day celebration lunch, which will be very nice. But I am afraid of the social side, and pretending to be happy and excited when it really isn’t in my nature to be super excited about national day OR my birthday for that matter. Also, my grand aunt has offered an extremely generous angbao (money in a red packet) incentive for us to dress up in red and white (colours of the Singapore flag), or to dress in military uniform or the uniform of a uniformed group if we were a part of it. This rather upsets me, but I cannot upset my grand aunt on this ‘double’ occasion, and should at least try to make an effort to be festive to keep the peace. I would much rather come in my usual black.. oh well.

This is a terribly long post, but there is so much prayer that I need, and I need to develop a habit of daily prayer.. so hopefully this blog will help me see how I can pray for the people around me, and to pray for my own pursuit of holiness.

Perplexed, but not driven to despair, Struck down, but not destroyed.

I am sure we all agree (I hope!) that God and change are the few constants in this world.

Too much has been happening (and it’s only life, after all) for me to write it down, and I don’t think it’s that helpful for me to give you a blow by blow account of my life. Which you don’t need because you have your own.

So, suffice to say then, that my decision to stay in London or go home to Singapore has been going up and down like a see-saw, and I really wish that God would help me to balance it and that it would lie flat. Meaning, that I can be content whatever the outcome. I know God is working in me because it is slowly balancing out in a way. I don’t feel like I MUST stay in London (as much as I had last year anyway), and my relationship with a few people in Singapore, especially my mum, has improved slowly and in a way that means only the Lord can be praised. God is great! Over the past few months, I have been shown how I might be able to serve back home and here. God has helped me crystallise my thoughts and to make solid decisions on how I aim to prioritise things in my life. It’s been tough though.

I must not keep my eyes on the world, but I must keep my eyes on the ultimate goal. To be honest, I am quite tired and I am flagging badly. I don’t want to care about anything anymore, and I want to just lie in bed and wait for the end to come. (Might get bored though…) I’m just looking forward to REAL rest, where I will be made perfect and won’t guilt trip myself for taking breaks.

I have been leading a small group (with two other girls) in studying an overview of the bible, which we will complete within a British academic year. So far, it has been very exciting. I have just been reminded of how God’s consistency and faithfulness and care has been described even as the world began, where there was nobody else to see it. God’s word does not come back to him empty. Ever. We see that in Genesis 1, where his Word created everything. We see that now in our own lives (or we hope to!) where God’s word in the bible is changing our hearts from one degree to another, making us more like him. I am going to try and remember that. The power that created, always works and never fails.

This weekend just gone, I was on a small group leaders’ weekend away. We looked at 2 Corinthians and Pauls ministry and reminded ourselves what we are really doing. If I am shown to be weak, it is not because I have been cursed by God, nor is it because I seek weakness. It is because I am a jar of clay full of cracks and holes so that God’s light shines through. I must remember that. But in my weakness I am also strong. Since I carry the light of God in me, even as people try to exploit the cracks, even as they try to create more cracks – They cannot destroy this little jar.

Hello, this is me.

So, I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Biochemistry (BSc Hons yadda yadda), and a Master’s Degree in Biomedical Research (etcetera). And it feels like all the doors are ajar. Anything could happen.. but that includes the good, the bad, and the pug-ugly. We shall see.

I love London so much because of my church and my friends. I love the streets of London, despite all the dirt and the pollution. I love how you can speak your mind without fear of being arrested or quietly hidden (as far as I know). I barely exist. I love the anonymity of this city. This quiet reserve that can also host a decent party really fits with my personality. In London, we like our version of ‘peace and quiet’, and like to be left alone for most of it.

However.

I hold a Singaporean passport. Therefore in the eyes of the British general public and the UKBA (UK Border Agency), I should be despised and kicked out as soon as possible. (Ok, that’s not true, but that’s the welcome that I feel I get!) I get it, I don’t belong.

Thanks to globalisation and air travel and so on, I can be a Chinese Singaporean living in London, and studying in some of Britain’s best institutions, and living in one of the most mixed-culture cities in the world. So I am allowed to say that I have seen (a little of) the world, and know what I am talking about.

Therefore, you will forgive me, or so I hope, for saying that I do not want to go back to Singapore! I have many may reasons for saying this, although I would say that chief of all is my church. My family that will endure til the end of time. Because of this family, I can see very well that I do not in fact, belong anywhere. Not even where my passport claims. Home is the eternal kingdom, the New Creation of God. Now, before you dismiss me as a religious fanatic, I would invite you to please read the top two paragraphs again and see that I am a nice human being with a relatively interesting life. Further, Christianity can hardly be called a religion – it is a relationship with the true and living God but you won’t get it unless you look into it for yourself.

Anyway, in the entries to come, I will talk more about how being a Christian has and will direct my decisions in life. Hopefully this will be a little encouraging to my Christian brothers and sisters out there who may face the same things.