A toast to the first

It has been over a month now since our family congregated on that lawn in Semara Beach, Bali. And today is Lex and Ashna’s first wedding anniversary from last year’s solemnization rites. I’d like to share this supposedly five minute speech that I gave during the wedding dinner in Bali. This was the script at least, but I’m sure I may have deviated from it slightly.

Lex and Ash, we will never tire of seeing you two exchange vows. Give us another reason to celebrate. 😉

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This is my first time to give the Best Man speech, but being Lex’s sister, I shouldn’t be surprised at this choice. If there’s anyone in our family who firmly believes in a true gender egalitarian utopia, that person would be Lex—the man formerly known as PB boy, but will always be Pablo.

I still remember that morning Lex went into my room and said he needed to tell me something. I had the privilege and what I felt then was a responsibility of being the first person to find out about his plan to propose marriage to Ashna. I launched into a long spiel about marriage and the motivations for doing so, which he probably wasn’t expecting. Turns out that what he needed was “logistical” help – a credit card with a certain limit to secure the ring.

Not that he needed my unsolicited advice. For the longest time, Lex has been blazing trails in our family—the first-born boy after two older sisters, the first to leave home, the first go overseas (back in 2004) and carve out his independence. And now the first to marry.

As a child, Lex was never afraid to stand out. When he outgrew the literal leash that we, his older sisters, used to tied around his neck,  he showed early signs of his avant garde, unconventional tastes. His talents as an orator are fondly remembered with his original dramatic performance of “The Egg”. And once he discovered the art of argument, it was hard to keep the outspoken Lex down.

It is hard to imagine that young PB once wanted to live in a functional box, with just his Linux powered computer and nothing else. Hard to remember his reluctance to go overseas. How far you have come indeed from our days as housemates in Ang Mo Kio. Almost a year ago (July 23, 2016), and once more today, you have made a decision to build a life together.

Throughout their six or so years together as a couple, I have seen glimpses of how they have conducted their affairs. Many of you will know them as an intensely private couple, and they have forged their own way of doing things, never to be defined by convention. We are definitely the few privileged to share this joyous occasion with them.

It amazes me how time and love can truly transform a man, one who could never be coerced to do anything if not by logic, to one who now spends his Sunday afternoons at wedding dance practice, social painting sessions, and even ice cream-making classes (*edit to reflect today’s events in July 2017).  And I see how both Lex and Ashna bring a grounded and stable counterpoint to each other when needed the most.

Lex and Ash, indeed what a blessing that you get to marry the same person twice, and in such poetic fashion for Lex, my fellow Piscean, to be wed by the sea.

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In many ways Lex has set the stage for how our lives played out. If you had not gone to Singapore 13 years ago, many of us would probably not be here today, finding our own paths outside the familiarity of our childhood home. It is always comforting to know that someone goes ahead, and your courage gave us that push to make it on our own. With you being the first, you go where none of us have gone. Yet take heart, that in our parents (daddy and mommy) and in Uncle SK and Auntie Sushma you have fine examples of marriages tested by time.

And so to my dear brother and my lovely new sister— I pray that you would find your strength in each other. But more than that you would find an anchor to place as first in your lives, a higher calling or purpose, something, Someone to place your faith in.

Yes, put each other first. But also find the Anchor that stands firm when all else fails and nothing remains. As the wise King Solomon has written,

A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer.

Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:12

And so I propose a toast to my favorite married couple in Singapore. To Lex and Ashna, may you live each day with the same fervor and wonder as if it were your first together. I love you both.

 

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Never Alone

It took me awhile to be absolutely sure of what I would do on that Sunday, the thirteenth of March. For many reasons—aborted plans, physical limitations, work schedules, among other things—I waited until the day before to map out my activities. Planning and preparation are key, but there is also wisdom in leaving room for a change in course, and joy in welcoming the unexpected.

My 13 year-old self would never have envisioned this kind of a life at 33. Flashback to summers with cousins, “making” our wedding invitations (sorry girls, I’m outing us all here), fantasizing future fairy tales that would come true circa 2010 or thereabouts. Yes, we would be married in our mid-twenties, because that only seemed natural. In my youth and naiveté, it never crossed my mind that I would be very much single well into my thirties.

I find that I struggle when writing about love and relationships, especially the quest for a life partner. I don’t want to sound obsessed or desperate, as if all life depended on it. Yet by the very personal and significant nature of the topic, I would be a hypocrite to pretend to be immune to the yearnings and pleasures of love’s fulfilment.

I had been meaning to pen this down, until that moment I took a detour to explore another aspect of love. So here goes.

Last February, I made a statement to myself on Valentine’s Day—

I have never been happier in my singlehood.

That on a day when my Facebook feed was flooded with pictures of lovestruck couples, I could be genuinely happy and rejoice for them. To see the beauty of love in all its forms, and experience the joy of one who gives and receives it.

For the first time in a long time, an unrivalled peace held this hopeful romantic’s heart. Not because of a promise of a future partner to come, but the very real present, the true gift that comes on this 33rd year.

Down on my knees on the eve of my birthday, all my bursting heart could hold and utter forth—

Lord, you love me. You really really really love me.

And it may have taken awhile to get here, but that 20 year-old “curse” of desperately seeking my one true love, of moving from one object of affection (or obsession) to the next, has been lifted. I have awaken from that intoxicating delusion. To borrow from Leonardo Di Caprio’s long-awaited Oscars acceptance speech, I do not take this for granted.

That all the love in the world could never compare to what Christ has done on the cross, to just one drop of His precious blood. It was that which freed me, that which fills me.

And a love this great must be shared. This March, on Women’s month, I pray for all women, most especially those nearest and dearest to me.

That all women, single or attached, may come to an awakening of God’s eternal and complete love. We all know of women who despair and struggle, who attach their worth and purpose to their relationships and perfecting their roles as wives, mothers, daughters, sisters. Of women who constantly fear loneliness, barrenness, abandonment, rejection—festering lies that the devil has deviously planted in their hearts. And to varying degrees, we are those women who have experienced the sadness, emptiness, and heartache that come with this longing.

Beyond this sense of worth, I pray that we would truly delight in God, live each day in His loving presence, and desire something more than just a man.

That we will live our days, planning not only for dream weddings, rising in our careers, charting exotic travel destinations, chasing after noble pursuits, or even building a life with our partners or ensuring our children’s futures—but also readying our hearts and souls for the eternity ahead.

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord, trust in Him and He will act.”

Psalm 37:4-5

In the end, I woke up last Sunday, racing to greet the Punggol sunrise in solitude. I looked forward to attending service on my actual birthday, sans the company of the connect group who had gone the day before, then maybe spend some time at the museum or even try to get this entry finished before dinner (clearly that didn’t happen until today).

Instead, my sister Patty joined me around mid-day at the park, Chloe sat with me during service and greeted me with flowers and gifts from the rest of the girls, friends messaged me throughout the day, my parents and scattered siblings Google hung out in the afternoon, until I finally had dinner with my Singapore family. I hadn’t planned most of that, but God always has a beautiful way with surprises.

Sisters, we are never alone. We have our families. We have friends. We have each other. We also have the men God places in our lives in different roles, purposes and seasons. For God knows we are not meant to live in isolation, but are made for relationships with others and with Him.

Ultimately, we have a God who has promised that He will never forsake us, who will be with us until the end of the ages, who prepares for us an eternal union with Him, and who will never ever leave us alone.

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Thirty-three, single and free

Thirty-three, single and free. Sometimes I wonder how it would be if I had come to this place sooner, but I brush aside the thought, knowing this is exactly how He wanted it to unfold.

May you too find true freedom, overwhelming peace, great comfort and delight in our Lord always.

They can’t take that (Joy) away from me

Up at the crack of dawn on Easter morning. After lingering a moment in that state between sleep and wakefulness, I compelled myself to get out of bed and cycle down to the park. The thought of the sunrise, and all the attendant meaning of this day, excited me.

It was a different salubong*, but in that exhilarating ride, catching the first light of this greatest of Sundays, I experienced a rush of giddiness and a calm contentment all at once. I found that perfect spot, by the sculpture on a hill, sunlight peeking through the trees, and a clear view was laid out before me.

For this felt like another kind of Easter, with a new story to tell–where the overriding emotion of the concluded Lenten season, was not so much the arduous suffering, but the LOVE. Jesus’ love. A love so great and incomprehensible, but in the grand plan made sense of all that suffering and sacrifice. Indeed, the past weeks were a time of greater realization and a heightened awareness of His real, utmost, unconditional, selfless, beautiful and outrageous love.

After the hemming and hawing, the going back and forth, clarity found its way, as light rays growing ever brighter with the day. Through the glass, and not quite as darkly as before. There it was, a refocus on the first truth of my life, that He lived and died out of a love for me, breaking the barriers for me to come to Him and love in all freedom.

To hold on to this eternal gift, how can I not rejoice?

And from here on, no matter the circumstances, this JOY cannot be taken away. Suddenly, the title of that old standard “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” brims with new meaning.

And perhaps there is a reason why I write this only now (aside from procrastination). For when the high of scaling a summit dies down and routines go back to normal, it becomes all the more precious to have this joy and believe this love down to my core. Beyond the loud praise, the invigorating intonation of “Oh Happy Day”, the inspirational messages, or even the simple beauty of sunrise–when reality sets in, how do you and I proceed and respond?

Coming face-to-face with little skirmishes at the airport or even in the midst of a critical time for the family, I see God’s hand at work. We do not hinge our hopes on just one happy day, but a promise of a joyful eternity to come.


“So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you…Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

(John 16:22,24)


And this is true joy. To know that whatever it is we ask, the answer will always find its way back to Him and His Love. In His Name, we press on not in futility, but in faith, being witnesses and living in the grace of His glorious conquering of death.

Let me go back to that spot on the hill, and send out this love letter to God:

On that beautiful Easter morning, I knew then, as I know now and always will–that You love me, Lord. And that You are all I need above all. With this Love, undeserving as I remain, You ultimately saved me from my broken self.

In You, Lord, my joy is complete and unending.

*Literally “meeting”, from that age-old ritual performed before the Easter Dawn mass, where in a reenactment/procession, Jesus meets his grieving Mother.