Independence Day (a letter to mom)

Dearest Mommy,

This is your first Mother’s Day as an empty-nester. When your not-so-little monkey, Paola, left home late last year, it all became official. And so it has been a long 34 years of motherhood thus far, that probably went by too quickly, depending on how you see it.

All around me, friends and relatives are becoming mothers for the first or second time. It must be an entirely different experience for you, transitioning into a new season of motherhood. One where your children no longer vie for your attention 24/7, but instead one where you wait for their Viber messages across different time zones. Where the once messy dinner affairs for eight are now intimate dates for two. Where peace and silence replace the shrill cries and raucous laughter.

Yet also one where we are no longer just a room away to kiss and hug you goodnight, or bug you for no good reason. Where we have come to rely on the virtual endearments of emoji and internet speak. And where finding us sometimes means seeing a Facebook post or an email of a flight itinerary, just to see where in the world we are.

You always told us that your main role as a parent would be to equip us for independence. That it would be your greatest joy not to keep us all close by and dependent, but standing on our own two feet, wherever our individual paths would take us.

I know this is ‘out-of-season’, but I still remember that skirt you painstakingly crafted for our Christmas tree. At some point, the holiday rush interrupted that yearly practice of adding a new star for another year passed. Growing up, it would have been unthinkable to break from tradition—like being incomplete for the annual family picture. Yet the day has come when we are all beginning to build new traditions, while gratefully drawing from our home and family that you and daddy built with great love and sacrifice.

I’m sitting outside now at some café, and I just finished my long overdue read of Joy’s novel, “All My Lonely Islands”. (As an aside, has dad gone past the fourth chapter? Please tell him to read the whole thing.)

The central mother figure to the story’s protagonist wrote to her—

“I wanted a faith that stands on its own even if it seems that God has snatched back His hand and no longer remembers my name. I hope you’ll learn to drive your roots in a deep earth so that the fullness of your life will depend on no one, not a mother or a best friend.” 

Your prayers have been answered. You have raised us as independent men and women, and I will always be grateful for that.

Rather than selfishly keep us dependent on you, you gave us the space to fight our own battles, be it as simple as nursing a cold or overcoming heartbreak. Yet not once did I feel any distance, as you always readily listened, offered your wise counsel and fervently prayed daily for every one of us.

You have shown us a better way—anchoring our faith not on filial ties or limited human capacity, but a complete trust in God alone. More than being an independent woman, over the years, I have gone through a journey of becoming God-dependent. And I thank you for supporting me through every step of this walk in faith.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3: 5-6

As it turns out, not one of your daughters is in any great hurry to become a mother. I know though, that when that time comes, if God wills, then I would like to share this same kind of God-dependent parenting. You did subscribe to the idea that your children are not entirely your own; that God blessed you with each of us, only to pass under your care for a season. And we are all ultimately, His children.

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Mommy, we can never truly be apart, as our ties have been forged by flesh and blood, by a lifetime of vivid moments, a treasure of values I hold close, and the great blessing of a shared faith. Know that I would choose to be by your side, not because of desperate need, but because of the love I have for you.

Happy Mother’s Day! In a strange way, after 34 years, Happy Independence Day to you too! 😉

Near or far, I love you always, mom.

Pamy

Staying on the path

“If it is God’s will you want more than anything else in the world, it’s going to mean endurance.” – Elisabeth Elliot, 1983

I’m not one to write down resolutions, but in recent years I’ve prayed for a guiding theme or principle to help me envision and live out the year. Coming from the highs of last year’s “arise and shine”, I had such expectation for what 2017 would be all about.

And as the arc of the year-end played out, it became clear that God was leading towards foundational work. At Church, our own personal vision spoke of living out our Christian faith that runs counter to this world, turning it right side up—the “Upside Down Faith”. And one late night on YouTube, stumbling upon Ms. Elliot preaching from the year I was born, I was struck by the quote above.

There it was. Faith and endurance.

Still a one-liner wasn’t enough. As any researcher would, I wrestled with the next steps of operationalising that frame into more concrete terms.

How could I put this faith into action? What would I do to endure?

Words started to come. Build. Sow. Persevere.

***

Last Saturday, as we celebrated the 21st anniversary of our Senior Pastors in ministry, the answer played out vividly before me on stage. With every testimony and tribute shared, the story of God’s work in and through our pastors was told. I may have heard these in bits and pieces from those who have had personal encounters with them, but there was such power to see the full scope of it and the fruit it bore—our Church standing strong today.

Pastor How’s and Pastor Lia’s living testimonies pointed directly to the heart of what it means to have great faith and endurance.

With barely two years at Heart of God Church, I have little history to speak of, but it has not lacked in significant moments.

852117793_47249_3921905300531587336From that very first service on the 21st of March in 2015, Pastor How preached on “Grace for the Disgraced”, and it opened a second chance for me to get back on the right path and allow God to work on my character.

When I first served in ministry, it overwhelmed me to see the work poured into a seven-minute testimony segment, something that stemmed from the standards of excellence they set and modelled. I also saw how Pastors attended to every detail, through the processes set in place.

 

When I went on my first mission trip to Myanmar, I was deeply impressed by how one encounter that Pastors had at a Children’s Home from years ago, birthed and sustained an entire ministry, and the beginning of global outreach. All because they knew they “had to do something.” And so they did. Faithfully.

 ***

Pastors, in everything you do, you leave traces of your hearts that beat for God and others.

You build. You sow. You persevere.

Thank you for building our Church, by building up every individual person and emphasising character above all.

Thank you for tirelessly sowing and speaking into individual lives, showing that no act is too small and no person beyond help.

Thank you for persevering and never losing heart in the times of trial, always led by the joy of God’s vision set before you. And that is your heart for raising up generations of people who will give God the best years of their lives. Just as you have done.

 

“Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.”

1 Timothy 5: 17 (KJV)

In all their 21 years serving, it astounds me that this is the first time the Church has celebrated with them. It also coincides with the first time they chose to take their sabbatical after three 7-year cycles. Though I should not be surprised, given the humility and dedication with which they have conducted themselves all these years. Last Saturday’s landmark service and outpouring of love are truly nothing in comparison to their full reward awaiting in Heaven.

Twenty-one years ago, Pastor Lia had a vision of God’s will for her life— to build a strong youth church. She and Pastor How wanted it more than anything else. So they remained faithful, obedient, and patient in endurance.

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I thank God for placing me under their wise leadership. I pray that God would also grant me the same grace to stay on His path, to fulfil His vision for my life, sharing the vision of our Church, not just another two or 21 years, but to run the entire race in this lifetime.

 

 

*written on the occasion of the 21st year of ministry of Pastor How and Pastor Lia, Heart of God Church

 

Call off the search

King Solomon, in search for meaning, reflected on the futility of earthly wisdom, pleasure and work and concluded that all was meaningless1. All this coming from a man who himself was the living superlative of wisdom in his time. Now, if we were indeed to see these through an eternal lens, we could only attribute lasting significance to heavenly wisdom (James 3:17), pleasures at God’s right hand (Psalm 16:11) and the work we do for God’s kingdom (Philippians 1:6).

Yet there must be some merit to these good gifts from above. And on this occasion of thanksgiving, I ponder on the value of work—that when carried out according to His purpose, takes on meaning, and serves to exalt Him above all.

See, I started my career in market research in 2005 in Manila, buoyed by one promotion after the other, that I quickly rose up to middle management. I was much younger then, extremely driven, and better built for the sleepless nights and physical toll of the job. I wanted to do things well, as I had done in the past (i.e. academics), and the norm of hard work producing results had things going my way.

It has been eight long years since that step up to a managerial position. After coming to Singapore in 2010, it all came to a halt when I faced the challenges of being in a new environment and a much larger team. It was a bitter cliché to swallow—had I become that big fish in a previously smaller pond, now thrown out into sea? Sure, work had always been tough, but never (seemingly) thankless. So this was the sense of hollowness and meaninglessness that Solomon talked about.

Where praise was harder to come by and self-doubt hovered above my every move—at this lowest point—little did I know that God was opening the door for the only validation I would ever need. A real encounter of His Love.

And so three years into this new job, the milestone has come, and not a moment too early or too late. At a time, when I am called to rise up in all ways possible, in areas of Church and ministry, on the domestic front as I live on my own, this new role at work is perfect in timing and significance. As all things came crashing down some four years ago, so do all things come together in 2016.

 

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Others may chalk it to coincidence, and perhaps if I had not come to believe as I do, I would be quick to brush it off the same way. On August 23, on the same day that I was to pay my new rent, the official promotion letter was placed in my hand.

And that is why it is not simply about the new title, not the pay raise, not even the recognition, but how the process traces God’s hand moving through it all.  Through the dry years, when I had nothing more to give, He was hardest at work, moulding my character and recalibrating my motivations, humbling me and leading me to a greater trust in Him.

Truly, I thank You Lord—for all You have done and all You will do*.

Eleven years ago, I wrote as a fresh grad twentysomething, searching for that elusive thing called “meaning”. Now it dawns on me that all meaning founded on human understanding alone will always be subject to the beating down of the tides of circumstance and shifting emotions. Only an unchanging and unfailing God can perfectly define our purpose, prosper our work, and bring the meaning or significance we seek.

Call off the search. I am through chasing after fickle winds of illusion, done striving for what cannot last. For in my God, I have an unshakeable hope, my all in all, the real deal.

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.”

1 Corinthians 15:58

 

 

1Read more at the book of Ecclesiastes, chapters 1 and 2

*I overflow with thanks to the tune of Bethel Music’s “Thank You”.

**Pardon the vanity that Solomon speaks of, but this serves to document God’s faithfulness in my life. And fine, I like these corporate shots 😉

 

Why am I still here? (Or the Five Truths of 2015)

 

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Here’s to 2016. Better than before.

A blank page is a daunting, unforgiving thing—a clean slate open to all the possible ways one can fill the gaping void. It is both a terrifying and exciting prospect to get the chance to start afresh. While Don Draper “only likes the beginning of things”, let me boldly say that with God willing it, my faith journey and endless attempts at reviving this blog will not go down the same cynical route. So as Jon Hamm finally ended Mad Men with his Emmy (and the Golden Globe), so shall I finish what I’ve set out to do.

 

 

Rather than postponing this further for lack of a more creative presentation, let me list down the truths that hit in the year just passed, as culled from my 2015 journals. One person’s platitudes may be another’s revelation, so take what you will from here.

Seasons are not just marked by the passing of time, events or even people who come and go, but by a change of heart.

No five years of my life have been as kaleidoscopic, transformative, yes even chaotic, as the ones lived here in Singapore—and what a blessed thrill. God has given me the courage, strengthened my heart and renewed my spirit by living through these changes. I remain grateful for past and present relationships, and brim with hope for the bonds to be formed. And I can only enter and embrace new seasons, by acknowledging the passing of the old, the lessons it brought, and the purpose it served.

Have the humility to accept and face what needs pruning and disciplining in one’s life.

It was time to stop circling around the same issues that have caused repeated downward spirals in my life. No longer would I delude myself by masking my sin as mistakes, bad habits, life’s little inconveniences, or even human nature. No longer would I cram my chaos into a box with a lid that could barely stay shut. Instead, God carefully handled all of the pieces so I could come to terms with my brokenness for what it was. What a liberation for this heart to finally break free.

Authenticity and vulnerability are gifts to be nurtured—they open us up to others and allow people to enter our lives as we come into theirs.

There is a difference between guarding oneself and the heart, and keeping a guarded front and a hardened heart. I will not allow past hurts to stop me from giving of myself genuinely and generously. A friend and counselor once told me (and she also paraphrases from Brene Brown), “We all have a story to tell, but not everyone deserves to or gets the privilege to hear it.” I do not want to be a sad sack of an emotional cliché, so may God help me channel these emotions into worthy pursuits and passions.

Learn to love, forgive and live with oneself. Say sorry, accept apologies and mean it.

I broke the trust of those close to me, acted insensitively, isolated myself to avoid pain, but through it all, God was merciful, abounding with love and blessings, and restored me to even greater heights.

“What if I forgave myself, I thought, what if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was also what had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?”                     

 – from ‘Wild’ by Cheryl Strayed

 

I don’t have to ask the last two questions that Ms. Strayed posits. For God took me through and saw me through that wilderness into the clarity of His great light.

Never lose sight of what is good and beautiful in the world. And anchor that goodness on God’s standard for holiness.

I have yet to finish Pastor John Bevere’s book “Good or God”, but from his unforgettable weekend preaching at Church—there truly is nothing good for me, apart from You, Lord. So let’s revise that. Never lose sight of what God deems good and perfect for your life.

And if I may subvert my own title, just because I can’t resist a bonus track—the verse for the year.

“For God gave us not a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-control.”

(2 Timothy 1:7)

 

More than just an awareness of my continued existence, it overwhelms me why I continue to be here. I am not standing here by my own sheer willpower or discipline, not only because of the love of family or friends, old and new. I am here not because of man, but because of God. You, my Lord, my Savior, my friend, my one true Love, my Healer, my Truth, my Joy, my Help, my Strength. You, who remain faithful, even when I wavered, rejected, and chose to go my own way.

I could not have imagined that the moment I started this walk I would find myself where I am now, having gone through a cyclical process of breaking down, rebuilding, breaking down yet again and into renewal once more. This is no misguided detour from the life I had formerly known. God continues to lead me back on the path He’s set me on.

There is an unmatched intensity of faith and love in someone, when you know your life is entirely dependent on their existence. And there is no more comforting truth that my heart belongs to Him alone.

Why am I still here?

By grace, He alone brings me to where I stand today. Still here. Still trusting. Still hoping. Still keeping the faith. Still running the race to the end.

Writing the last ten years and onward

Where Time Stands Still
On the hills of Batanes: Where Time Stands Still

The 9th of August marked not only Singapore’s 49th National Day, but it was also on that day in 2004 when I wrote my first entry on my LiveJournal.

On and off in the past decade, it has become the playground for my fascination with music and live acts (from jazz to the Idol franchise), stray travelogues, odes to romance and twentysomething musings on the myth and truth of “quarter-life”. The life of jamypye as I knew it.

And all throughout, I held a sense of wonder at the rarity of my own updates (yes, narcissistic that way), with every post a major and sporadic effort to break the monotony of wordlessness. Yes, something akin to the recent UP men’s basketball win and matching bonfire over the weekend.

DSC03453For that was the tone I set from the beginning. “Good to hear from you: An attempt at the possible”. An allusion to hearing a song not often played, or receiving word from an old friend. At the same time, holding the optimism that one will, in time, hear from them again.

I’m not sure if it was pretension or false humility that led me to refer to myself from a second person perspective. Well, it did sound better than saying the even more self-serving “Good to Hear from Me”. Most of the time, this journal felt like me talking to myself, which is what writing in a journal tends to be about anyway.

But as life and the years would have it, a twentysomething’s concerns eventually make way for a thirtysomething’s realization that there is more to all of this, than vain attempts at making my voice heard.

What a difference ten years made.

With this life and blogging entering a new phase, I make one small, yet significant change from a lower to an upper case “Y”–“Good to hear from You: Nothing is impossible with God”. And with that, the same title takes on fresh meaning, as with the thrust of my life and words to come.

That there is great comfort and blessing in silencing my own voice and all the internal and external noise, so that I may hear more clearly what God wills. And even as my own thoughts make their way to this blog, they can never be higher than His infinitely wiser thoughts and ways. And I pray this will serve to record His authorship of my life, as the story is revealed in the days, years and seasons to come. Truly, the writing, the living,everything happens through Him, in His perfect time.

Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”
Ecclesiastes 3:11

May I neither become overwhelmed by the enormity of an eternity I am too small to fathom, nor too self-sufficient in whatever earthly knowledge or understanding I have within my grasp. For I would be deluded by such foolish wisdom. Instead, may I listen closely to His voice and trust entirely on His faithfulness that remains unchanged from season to season.

Watching that obstructed view of the National Day fireworks by the Kallang river, with spark and color peeking through silhouettes of trees and buildings, that word Majulah*rang through my head. And so it goes, that profound sense of gratitude for the decade past, and greater hope for what lies ahead.

Onward with this new space.

New seasons, new dreams, and this new heart under renovation.

*Majulah, from Singapore’s National anthem, “Majulah Singapura” meaning ‘Onward’

Like a river, my gratitude flows

It was the first of September when I finally took the Singapore River cruise, after living in the city for well over three years. That spontaneous evening exploration, post-service, with Nelli and Berto, happened on the first decreed day of thanksgiving season at Church.

What a shift of perspective, seeing the riverside view and the office vicinity at week’s end, the Fullerton, Clifford Pier and Marina Bay lights, and the skyscrapers standing in solemn silence, out on the water.
And perhaps by no coincidence, at the end of the 21 days of thanksgiving, I found myself back at the river—this time, strolling the after-hours of the F1 weekend with Juni, Jen and Benjie. By then, so much had happened not just in those three weeks, but in the year that had passed thus far.

So much, in great part, by way of the Lord’s blessings. That if I were to write everything here in full detail, this would no longer be an easy read, and my words would probably not be enough. Still, there is none more fitting (or more cliché!) a time than year-end to finally pen this down.

There were so many moments, events, changes, opportunities and people in 2013, that all deserved their own pieces, and I’d like to think one can neither be too grateful, nor should there be an expiration date from receipt to thanksgiving. And in taking this time to give thanks, I realize all the more how immeasurably blessed I am.

By the time Christmas—my favorite season of giving—rolled in, I could not even dare to think of what I would receive, having already been so generously gifted throughout the year.

The gift of knowing God more—more intimately as His child, and in ways I would not have imagined I could. The gift of seeing His Word come to life, and experiencing the Hope and Joy that comes with that Truth in every day.

The gift of prayer, for a line of communication and communion, for being free to come before Him, be in His presence and speak to Him in all comfort and confidence. And that privilege to intercede for others and share both their sorrows and triumphs.

The gift of starting anew. For the life changes in career, relationships, and that journey inward, all with an extraordinary period of rest, as the slate was wiped clean.

The gift of marking 30 years, and in such momentous fashion. That peace in turning a new decade, having a little more confidence in who I am, where I am, in things I’d like to pursue, and yet still have so much open to possibility and the unknown.

The gift of a new way to live and make a living. For new challenges in the workplace and being trusted enough to do things I had not done before. But even more so the life I’ve built outside of my job—pursuits in faith, health, music and travel among many others—and the home I’ve finally come to know in Singapore.

And most of all, 2013 was about the gift of strengthened relationships. I am blessed by the people around me, the tangible, human manifestations of God’s love and provision in my life. For the constancy of family, for fierce friendship and soulmates, for the bond in my life group, for a welcoming faith community, for inspiring colleagues, and for all personal encounters that enriched my life in the past year.

These people have taught me about love and have shown me how it is possible to be loved exactly for who I am, and not for an ideal I strive to be. Any of my small gestures, endless love letters, paeans and odes to them are but a pittance in comparison to the richness they fill my days with.

I’ve lived most of my life thinking of myself and relying on myself, but at a time when I had ‘nothing’ to my name, I have come to truly receive His saving grace. In ceding that control to Him, and letting others into my life, I know that nothing I do on my own can prosper. And even in these times of abundance, my prayer is to hold on to that spirit of total dependence and trust in His plans.

In this downpour of blessings and outpouring of gratefulness, it is now time to get my feet wet, nay, immerse myself completely as this river bends into the beginning of another year. As Michael has rightly sensed my excitement for 2014, and the happiest gingerbread (wo)man has boldly declared, I am ready to dive in. But that is another story.

I now look back at that cruise in September, remembering the feeling of experiencing something that had always been there, but finally seen with a different point-of-view. In the same manner that I had not fully appreciated the environs before, I have only truly realized and joyfully received His blessings when I opened myself up to Him.

For what is gratitude but opening our eyes afresh, and opening our hearts in all humility, taking it all in and pouring our love out?

I thank You, Lord for Your unmatched and all-encompassing love, for this precious life, and for each new day that never ceases to run out of reasons for my gratitude to flow.

*The image above is a result of some amateur afternoon dabbling with vintage Marabu Deckfarbkasten paints, inspired by Paola’s watercolor prowess.

**Hello Pats woodycakes, this is also for you, for never giving up on this sporadic blogger, and resisting that urge to de-friend me on LJ 😉

***Pardon me if some words were abused in writing this piece, there are only so many synonyms for gratitude and blessing. Be assured that I meant every line, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Singing in the Rain*

When I think of this song entitled above, I remember that graduation picture (better known as the ‘creative shot’) from eight years ago.

I’m not quite sure what got into me that rainy Wednesday afternoon, but with all whimsical determination I thought I’d dig up the old light trench coat and strap on some boot-like footwear.

There I was, a little late to my original plans for the day, and the sudden downpour dictated another change in my course. Yes, there was still time to turn back, suit-up for the situation, I thought. Why get soaked?

Maybe channeling the attire of that foggy city was an act of claiming and declaring that trip mine. Never mind that I’d look a little strange in the tropics.

Then again, not everything makes complete sense in the moment-as-experienced, and there are many divine acts that defy conventional human logic.

Eight years ago, I was the picture of a girl who carried an umbrella, a song and a smile, come rain or come shine. And somehow over time, without my understanding, that song fell to a faint hum and the smile sagged to a stretched limit. My umbrella protested against the torrential beating, and soon it was no longer enough to grin through gritted teeth.

As I wore a part of that storied ensemble once again, this time with renewed purpose, I realized the rain was much reduced, but with still enough precipitation to justify my seemingly frivolous garb.

There truly is wisdom in waiting for God’s perfect timing, in knowing when to retreat and rest in Him, until such time one is called to rise again, equipped to face a new season.

Once accustomed to the rhythms of the blessed rain, I trust enough to follow wherever His clouds may roll.

And so I went, onward with my walk, my feet safe and dry, pattering through the remaining puddles; my coat allowing just enough cool air to permeate and touch my skin.

Then washing over me, this unfolding story of the past year–all the events that took place, all the people who came my way, whether it made sense to me or not–how beautiful it all appeared to me now. He has brought me to this moment, to this mundane but all-important errand–photocopying a stack of documents. A stroll down to Block 202 has never been this enlightening.

As one of my favorite songs** goes, “every time it rains, it rains pennies from heaven, don’t you know each cloud contains pennies from heaven?”. But you see, this isn’t just spare change I’m singing about, the Lord is far too generous for that.

And I’m just slightly ashamed to trot out this apt cliche– but when it rains, it most certainly pours.

My heart, it bursts. My soul, He stirs.

For here I am, a thousand blessings deep and overflowing.

*May I sing forever of Your love, O Lord. This is hopefully the start of chronicling with increased faithfulness the wonder of finding You in every moment of every day.

**”Pennies from Heaven” (music by Arthur Johnston, words by Johnny Burke)