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Faith of the ‘what if’

What if you are wheelchair bound and your recent operation is the first of the two you had to go through?

What if you are the main caregiver of your aged parents, one of whom is also wheelchair bound like yourself?

What if your aged parents who have never being apart in their 70 years of marriage now face the prospect of moving into different nursing home ‘cos of illness and financial constraints?

What if your only child’s only son had Asperger and they live hundreds of miles away for all of you to be of support to each other?

Except these are not ‘what-ifs’ for G. This is her life.

And my faith, my so-called faith pales in the light of hers. My faith seems like a walk in the park even though it didn’t seem like it sometimes. Hers, on the other hand, seems like that of an athlete in a hurdles race.

Ironically it was me who broke down while praying for her. She didn’t even tear when she shared with me earlier. That goes to show the strength of her inner being as compared to mine.

And before going onstage to emcee at the church service later, I asked God for a word to encourage His people, particularly G. I was led to read Habbukuk 3: 17 – 19 (The Message):

“Though the cherry trees don’t blossom and the strawberries don’t ripen, Though the apples are worm-eaten and the wheat fields stunted, Though the sheep pens are sheepless and the cattle barns empty, I’m singing joyful praise to God. I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God. Counting on God’s Rule to prevail, I take heart and gain strength. I run like a deer. I feel like I’m king of the mountain!”

Still, I cried when we were worshipping God. I had no answer why certain things happen to certain people. But this I know – He gives grace and strength when we never thought they existed because I saw them in G today.

extraordinary week, so far

Sharing stories – On Sunday, we had Pastor Charlie and his wife over for dinner for the first time. He was the reason we kept returning to the church when we first visited. His friendliness and down to earth nature was so evident even in our first encounter with him. Dinner lasted three hours and it would have gone on longer if not for the fact that the next day was Monday. It is always refreshing to interact with the pastors outside their main “domain”, the church, and see the humanity that lies beneath.

Ministry at work – On Monday, I took a staff out for coffee when I sensed she wasn’t herself that morning. For an hour, in between sobs she shared her anger and pain from a relationship. I just held her hand and listened. I wished I was brave enough to pray with her there and then so she knew there is a God who cares…

Dinner with the boys – That night, we invited two young adults over for a roasted dinner. Good meals are always a great start! We chatted and caught up with one another. One is getting married in a year’s time; the other is still in uni. We shared about how we were travelling in life and some God-stuff. And I hoped the boys also got to know us better.

Church Connect group – On Wednesday, we had our fortnightly meeting again. The topic that night was the grace of God. And everyone shared about how their faith journey began. There were ten of us. I looked around the room and saw the most diverse bunch of people before me. Just in terms of age, we were ranging from 18 to 41 years old. Unsurprisingly, everyone was at different life stage – married couple, mother-to-be, students, working adults. Yet most of us have been meeting fortnightly for two years now since CS and I started the group. I felt blessed to be part of a group that God had brought together – a bunch of people who under normal circumstances, wouldn’t be hanging out together; yet here we are, fellow travel companions on a faith journey.

Heart-to-heart – On Thursday, I received an email from a young adult who shared openly about her disappointment and hurt from a friendship. I deliberated over what to write, stayed back after work and replied to her email. The same night, I chatted with another young adult about his struggle on how to handle a situation he was in. We disagreed at some point but there was no love lost. And I ended our hour-long chat by praying with him. In both instances, I made it a point to share from my own personal experiences. It is so easy to talk in cliches but what if it is me who is in the situation? Would I do likewise? I am learning to be authentic.

Is it any ‘coincidence’ that all these encounters happened at the time I’ve been thinking about relationships and community in our 21st century from one of the books I’ve been reading ‘Above the Line’ ? And attending Edmund Chan’s discipleship conference two weeks ago was a reiteration of what has been on my heart lately. Discipleship – the philosophy and its practical outworking in my life; I think I am slowly getting a glimpse of that…

“biblical Christianity assumes disciples of Jesus are being transformed by life changing encounters with God, a transformation that results in qualities such as gentleness, meekness, and humility being expressed deeply and regularly in the way Christians relate to one another.” Peter McHugh

arrgh…there’s a tear in my skirt!

Yesterday I woke up earlier than I usually do on Sundays to spend some time reading God’s word. I was also the emcee for church worship service later and had wanted to prepare myself for that.

I had what I thought was a good time with God. Lately, I think I am learning to read God’s word simply for what it’s worth. Not trying to “apply” it to any situation I am facing. Not trying to “read” into the Bible what it could be saying to me. Just simply reading His word for its own sake. No hidden agenda of asking God to show me direction, grant me revelation or give me signs. Not that any of these is wrong, of course. But I think I am learning to simply enjoy God for who He is as revealed in His word.

And that was what I did yesterday morning; had a great time and thought I was ready to worship God in church later. I was about to leave the house, took one last look in the mirror and that’s when I noticed a small tear at the hem of my skirt.

Arrgh…I sighed or rather, growled. “I am going on stage later and the whole church is going to notice the tear!” I debated whether I should change but time was running out, so I wore the skirt.

But honestly, I was still fretting when I got into the car. And then a prompting:

“It certainly didn’t take you very long to lose your focus on Me, did it?”

Then I realized it was just minutes ago that I thought I had a great time with God and was ready to worship Him in church later. And now I am fretting over a slight tear at the hem of my skirt.
“Don’t major on the minor” was the next thing I heard. And I had to repeat that to myself a few times while on the way to church because frankly, I didn’t ‘feel’ great.

But by the time we arrived in church, I was over it. So I decided to share that little episode with the church to encourage them to leave aside whatever may be on their mind that morning, and focus on worshipping God. Yes, I showed everyone the little tear at the hem of my skirt on stage!

God really has a sense of humour because he turned what would otherwise be a humdrum incident into a teachable moment for me.

Dear Pastor George…

As a young graduate, my first job was working as a secretary to one of the lead pastors in my home church which I grew up in. And so for three and a half years, I was blessed to work closely under a man who is not only a great boss but who has become for me, an inspiring role model. And after 15 years of working life, a huge part of my work ethos is influenced by him. So I decided to email him today:

Dear Pastor George

This is a long overdue letter from me but I thought ‘hey,it’s better late than never’!

It’s been four years since Chin Seng and I moved to Perth. I am now working in a local university. As I entered into my third year working here, I found myself reflecting where I’d come from in my working life journey. That’s when I realized a huge part of my work ethos has been influenced by you. And I’d never told you but I’ve always considered you to be a mentor during those years we worked together. In my current role, I have a fair share of management and leadership responsibility. So I have been reminded of you on occasions. I really wanted to appreciate you for teaching me, and more importantly, modeling for me, these lessons:
1. ‘Expect what you inspect’ – if something is worth doing, it is worth investing my time to make sure it is doing well
2. ‘Spirit of excellence’ – it can never be perfect but at least we have given our best
3. ‘Contingency, contingency, contingency’ – it’s not good enough to have a contingency plan, we need to have contingency plan for the contingency plan!
4. ‘I’ll back you up’ – supporting staff in their decisions not just in my words but through my actions
5. ‘You can do it’ – empowering staff to go beyond their own perceived limitation
6. ‘The importance of follow-up’ – never forget to follow up with a phone call or email or both!
7. ‘Sense of purpose and destiny’ – it is never about how much money one makes but the difference one makes in the lives of others

So really, this is a thank-you note.

1. Thank you for being a godly leader who always seeks to do what is right according to what God has placed upon your heart, no matter what
2. Thank you for being a leader who demonstrates you are a follower first of all
3. Thank you for being a courageous leader who never walks away from a challenging situation
4. Thank you for being a leader who tempers justice with mercy
5. Thank you for being a leader who leads louder through your walk than your talk
6. Thank you for being a leader who is real because you would share candidly about your struggles
7. Thank you for being the best boss one could ever have, especially to a young graduate who just started on her first job!

As I journeyed on in my working life, you will continue to be an inspiration to me. It is my desire that I will, do for others who come along my way, what you’ve done for me.

Yours,
Ervina

savoring anne lamott – part two

page 152: (on finding yourself or someone you know in a ‘bad’ situation) “Sometimes we let them resist finding any meaning or solace in anything that had to do with their daughter’s diagnosis…to stop trying to make things come out better than they were. We let them spew when they needed to; we offered the gift of no comfort when there being no comfort was where they had landed.”

page 163: “I believe that when all is said and done, all you can do is to show up for someone in crisis, which seems so inadequate. But then when you do, it can radically change everything. Your there-ness, your stepping into a sacred parent’s line of vision, can be life-giving, because often everyone else is hiding…so you keep them company when it feels like the whole world is falling apart, and your being there says that just for this moment, this one tiny piece of the world is OK, or is at least better.”

page 167: (on finding God in the ordinary) “…sometimes when you need to feel the all-embracing nature of God, paradoxically you need to hang out in ordinariness, in daily ritual and comfort.”

page 197: (on her battle with bulimia) “Over the years my body has not gotten firmer. Just the opposite in fact. But when I feel fattest and flabbiest and most repulsive, I try to remember that gravity speaks…I do not live in my thighs or in my droopy butt. I live in joy and motion and cover-ups. I live in the nourishment of food and the sun and the warmth of the people who love me.”

page 213: (on forgiveness) “Who was it who said that forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a different past?”

page 219: (on family) “…my family is like this old sweater – it keeps unraveling, but then someone figures out how to sew it up one more time; it has lumps and then it unravels again, but you can still wear it; and it still keeps away the chill.”

page 219 (on forgiveness and family) “…families are definitely the training ground for forgiveness. At some point you pardon the people in your family for being stuck together in all their weirdness.”

page 255 (on God’s love) “The mystery of God’s love as I understand it is that God loves the man who was being mean to his dog as much as he loves babies. So of course he loves old ordinary me, even or especially at my most scared and petty and mean and obsessive. Loves me; chooses me.”

I have to say discovering Anne Lamott and her works was one of my literary highlights of the year. I know, I am a nerd. One reason why I’d really enjoyed ‘Traveling Mercies’ was her raw honesty with herself and her readers. Here’s someone who:

  • was an alcoholic and drug addict
  • was bulimic
  • had a child out of wedlock and didn’t seem to get married after all
  • wears dreadlocks in her 40s cos she has had enough of her unruly mess of hair
  • frets about finding the ‘right’ man
  • struggles to love and accept her ageing mother sometimes (gasp, did she really confess to that?!)
  • uses swear words in her book (really, should a Christian even do that!)

You know, Anne probably wouldn’t be ranking very high in the typical Christian circle. Yet how many of us can identify with her struggles and wish we were as honest as she was about it? No pretenses; not trying to appear all-put-together; just speaking from one’s heart to the other.

Godspeaks

I woke up yesterday morning in the midst of the howling winds and decided to do a bit of Bible reading before church afterwards. Not my usual practice for a Sunday to be honest.

Our church is doing ‘Reading through the Bible in one year’ and so everyone has a booklet to help with the daily Bible reading. One of  yesterday’s passages was Proverbs 23: 19-21:
“Oh listen, dear child—become wise; point your life in the right direction. Don’t drink too much wine and get drunk; don’t eat too much food and get fat. Drunks and gluttons will end up on skid row, in a stupor and dressed in rags.

At first glance, those verses didn’t seem to have anything to do with me.

Then a thought: Am I thinking about food more than I think about God? Do I spend more time baking and reading cook books more than I do on the things of God? Yes, on both counts. I hung my head in shame. Suddenly, the word ‘glutton’ doesn’t seem as irrelevant as before.

It’s interesting how I am perhaps more on my guard against the ‘blatant’ sins but happily oblivious to the ‘subtle’ ones in my life – ‘respectable’ sins, as Jerry Bridges titles it in one of his books.

one.life by Scot McKnight

At the church camp debrief this week, the pastor passed me this book and wanted me to see if we could do a book club about it with the young adults. I’d meant to just quickly flipped through it since I am reading ‘Blue like Jazz’ by Donald Miller and really want to get right into it. However, I was hooked from the start reading his ‘first words’. And I am surprised at how ‘read-able’ the book is considering that he is a college professor with PhD in religious studies but writes crisply and concisely without fanciful words of triple or quadruple syllabuses.

I found myself challenged by the questions thrown at me so far: ‘What is a Christian?’ ‘What do I think of whenever I read Jesus’ mention of the kingdom of God?’ ‘Did Jesus come just to die for my sins and get me to heaven?’ ‘Why did Jesus come?’

On a lighter note, I couldn’t help but laugh at his ‘subtle’ product endorsements about Apple (and I can hear all die-hard Apple fans go ‘YES!’). Here’s a funny one:

“…I’m hardly an objective reporter, but I have to say there’s nothing like a Mac. Everything all the other writing machines wanted to be when they were little boys and girls is what this adult machine is. (Ok, maybe you’re not biased in my direction as a writer. So, take phones – and skip from those phones that hung on a walls to the early Motorola boxy things and on to those Nokias until you get to…yes…an iPhone. Same company. Same dream come true. Just sayin’.).”

camp afterglow

Last weekend was our first ever church camp – two nights away in a rustic bushland with 130 people. Being one of the 2 key organizers, it was pretty awesome to see how we could pull off something like that in under two months. Thankfully, years of serving in church retreat committees came in handy.

Some favourite memories I took away from were:

1. The smell of crispy cold air in the morning;

2. Going for a mini bush walk with 5 talkative girls and seeing kids having a wild time roughing it out; childhood memories should be made of these;3. Eating toasted marshmallows straight out of the campfire.

On a personal note, the two things God began speaking to me last week (see previous post) was reiterated through the camp speaker’s messages: the importance of a disciplined life and being still before God today, not yesterday, not tomorrow.

life is easy, no?

A recent exchange of emails with a girlfriend prompted this entry. With her permission, I am sharing this on my blog.

She’d found out recently that a Christian she’d looked up to is now a single mother of a baby – a result of her 10-year relationship with a married man. And the relationship is still going on with her hoping that someday, marriage will happen.

According to my girlfriend, “she still has faith in God and reads her Bible everyday but just doesn’t have the courage to attend a church because of the stigma. Her previous church would never accept her. So, I invited her to xx (my church) and my cell-group. At least my cell-group has two single moms among us so she wouldn’t feel so judged. I told her that church ought to be a place for people who don’t have their life together. On the one hand, this is adultery but on the other hand, she is in need of acceptance. I guess my limited life experience and world view really could not prepare me for this. A person I admired so much as a faith giant has chosen to compromise after so many years of singlehood. She’s a mature adult and I have to trust that she knows what she is doing.

The consequence of this is that she now looks after her son fulltime and is dependent on the man’s limited provision. Her dire living condition forces me to think about visiting and doing something for her once every couple of months.”

My reply:

“…I guess that is the best you can do for her at the moment – being supportive. As I grow older in life, I am beginning to realize that life is not all black and white. In fact, I wonder if God’s ever intended it to be that way. Perhaps, it is us who like life in black and white so it’s easier for us to respond accordingly. But life is not meant to be easy.

For instance, I shared a link on FB lately about ‘The Online Citizen’ (TOC- an alternative political platform on SG politics) and received a message from a friend afterward who visited that website and asked if I realized that they are supportive of gays cos they had a gay group banners on their website? I was like “so what?” Does that make them any less human? Or for that matter, does that make TOC a less credible source? To me, those are 2 separate issues here. But I guess that response could be typical of many Christians out there – “they are gays or associated with gays so let’s not hear them out at all”. To me, when I shared that link on FB, raising political awareness was what I wanted to do. It didn’t matter to me that they had a gay group banner on their website (yes, I was aware of that before my friend pointed that out). Yet interestingly, that was what my friend chose to focus on. And that is why the church will always find it difficult to handle the gay issue. How to when we put up our fists or cringe whenever we encounter them?

I think you did the right thing, xx. Jesus didn’t lecture the Samaritan woman (she with her ‘promiscuous’ history) at the well (John 4) – he’d simply pointed out to her who he was. And she drew her own conclusion. We were never told what happened to her in the end. Did she make right her existing relationship with the man who wasn’t even her husband then? Perhaps the ending wasn’t as important as the lesson Jesus wanted us to learn here. I will be saying a prayer for her tonight. Continue the great ministry you have with her.”

Christmas camping trip

Over the Christmas period, we went on a mini roadtrip to a seaside town with some friends. And it was memorable for many reasons:

1) It was my maiden camping trip – that’s right, I’ve never done camping ever. The closest experience to that would be those campus crusade camps I’d attended during uni days where we would sleep in classrooms.

2) I don’t survive well under heat so thankfully the extreme heat only happened during the first afternoon we were there. All it does is make me want to drink Coke, Coke and more Coke…

3) Travelling with a dog. The story of how Missy was adopted by Jay was a touching one and the bond between them is definitely noticeable.

4) Eating freshly cooked fish that we caught from the sea ourselves.

5) Sunset fishing – for a non-fisherman like me, the gorgeous sunset is enough to take my breath away.

6) Going for an ‘off-road’ driving – since we drove up in two four-wheel drive vehicles, we decided to venture into a national park for a little adventure. And it was certainly well-worth it. We saw many wild kangaroos (in fact, they were known as the Big Red cos of their massive size).

This camping trip had whetted my appetite for more. And I definitely look forward to the next one!

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