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

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.

It only takes a moment

And so that song1 goes. It only takes a moment to be loved a whole life long. One sincere gesture, one solemn vow, one true word can seal the deal. On the ugly flipside, it also takes but a moment to be scarred for what could seem a lifetime. One careless gesture, one damning curse, one hurtful word can set off a series of unfortunate events.

Most of you may have heard (and that’s an understatement) about the recent2 brouhaha around Manny Pacquiao speaking out against same-sex relationships and marriage, casting aspersions on the LGBT lifestyle and offending many in the community on an international stage.

I was struck by many things on different levels—the personal, moral, social aspects of it. What happens when in sharing a personal revelation, or something we hold as truth—regardless of our motivations— we then put in question the truths that others believe, and even thrust into a negative light on the lives that others lead?

I was disturbed with how quickly people can pass harsh judgment or let words loose, in any given situation, whether you are the first to make a statement, or in violent reaction to something. In the heat of it all, I had a few choices on what I could or not do:

  1. Keep silent. What use another voice in the chaotic fray? If I would not add anything of value, then to what end?
  2. Take a stand, and defend it with all righteous indignation. With no regard for what I say or do, not caring whom I hurt along the way.
  3. Take an apologetic stance. Not all Christians present Bible truths in such contexts and with judging undertones.
  4. Truly examine the condition of my heart and reflect on how I myself have judged others. And in any situation for that matter, be it to the tiniest degree, even in the recesses of my heart, I could think of the times in that same day alone when I held myself in higher regard than I should have. Number 4 was the clear winner.

We live in a pervasive culture of snap judgments, of callous words, of an ease with which we throw around opinions or truths. People have become numb, desensitized with all the insults, vulgarity and crassness thrown around in a world that places a premium on speaking freely. And regardless of what you believe in, we are in a depraved state when negativity and personal attacks have become the norm.

***

Now Christianity is not a comfort zone or feel-good balm that soothes our problems away. And it is certainly not a pedestal that gives anyone license to feel more upright than others. That is why I cannot sit here and judge at a distance people whose struggles and reality I have never experienced. God Himself spared us from the judgment we rightly deserve, and Jesus came into this world to carry the weight of that judgment.

If I think about the instances when harshness and brute force have succeeded in “winning over” people—that would in essence be slavery. As someone who has not been shackled by my beliefs, but has instead been freed by this faith, I would only hope to speak the same Truth in a spirit of love. God has never and will never force Himself on us, but instead waits patiently as the work He does in us bears fruit and turns our hearts toward Him.

In professing this, I want to make known that the reason I have come to believe is not because human will shoved me into it, but because the LOVE of God has truly transformed my life. This love has not made me in any way perfect or immune to the temptations that abound, and yet it has opened my heart and whole being to the glory, beauty and truth of who God is. Only then could I find the humility, strength and grace to fight battles with sloth, lust, pride (the list goes on and on), and submit every detail of my life to Him. Love first above all.

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The true antidote to hypocrisy and judgment is love (Sculpture by Jean-Baptiste Debay)

Until such time, it is more often than not a losing battle for Christians to hammer down ideas that have no meaning or value to the hearer. The only true antidote to hypocrisy and judgment is LOVE. It may be the longer, less convenient route, the more deliberate way. But it is the way of Christ

 

 

“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your FAITH with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with LOVE”

2 Peter 1: 5-7

The call to spread the Truth of the Good News and to stand up for our faith is not simply in the words we say, but in the lives we lead. And even as I “only” write this, my prayer remains that I not only stop at reciting verses, but truly become a doer of the Word. May my deeds be greater than my words, and my snap judgments always cast aside by love.

In all that we do, God is most concerned about the condition of our hearts. Only God’s final judgment will stand, and through faith in Jesus’ saving work on the cross, we are free to live in truth and love. Indeed, it only took that one moment to be loved our whole lives long.

In any given moment, we can choose to speak life or death, we can shine His light or keep people in the dark, and we can offer love, hatred or indifference.

It is love that penetrates, not harsh words. And it only takes a moment.

 

 

1“It Only Takes a Moment” (Jerry Herman). You may recognize the song from ‘Hello Dolly’ or ‘Wall-E’ (borrowing from Hello Dolly)

2In Internet time or any time, this may come as a delayed reaction, but true to that title, I wanted to consider the weight of that moment and not make a snap judgment 😉

Life and Choices in Slow Motion

“If you have not chosen the kingdom of God, it will make in the end no difference what you have chosen instead… The tempter tells me, ‘Take care, think how much this good resolve, the acceptance of this grace is going to cost.’ But Our Lord equally tells us to count the cost.”                

 (C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”)

***

At dusk, the last orange hues faintly lined the cloudy horizon and the calm over the water expanded all over the Upper Pierce, for as far my eyes could take in the view. On my bike, with only the GPS as my guide, I ventured out that Saturday evening, cruising unknown roads and going the opposite direction from planned. All I wanted was a place of quiet, a body of water to gaze out on. I remember being ensconced in the forest—greenery to no end—the smell of the earth and leaves heavy in the air. I railed against the uphill pedal, then swiftly let loose downhill. The rush of the wind and the evening cool signalled what felt like higher altitudes, but may have well just been a fantastic perception shift.

 

This passage would have gone a different direction, if I were not nursing a minor knee injury for two weeks now after that weekend of relentless action.

Earlier that Saturday morning, I read the tale of Jonah and the whale. It was a quaint choice harking back to Bible stories of childhood. In younger days, all that stood out was God’s care of Jonah—rescuing him from the storm, placing him in the belly of that sea creature, and delivering him to the shore of Nineveh, as planned. But there is always more to a story when revisited many decades after.

I was provoked with a question—how do I react when plans fail? What do I do when what I envision doesn’t go my way? At the beginning of the year, I was pondering big plans, possible mission trips, new travel destinations, and grand hiking adventures, down to simpler resolutions like cycling or running every weekend.

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Choices we make, steps we take

Little did I know, it would be that “simple” yet crucial ability to walk and run with abandon that would be temporarily slowed down, and right around the corner of the Lunar New Year holiday. All because I overdid my fitness and recreation routine. Apparently, the quest for health can become a dazzlingly blinding idol.

More than being an alarming call about my physical limits or even a demand for sounder warm-up routines, it became a reflection of the choices I make and the steps I take. Am I too cavalier with the freedom and time I have in my singlehood? Do I over-indulge in pleasures and adventures with wanton disregard for the consequences? Do I find myself in little moments of “falling in love” with the world and dismiss them as harmless flights of fancy?

“Do not love the world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with its desires. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.”                                                                          

(1 John 2: 15-17)

 

How frail and fleeting this world is. As the pain on my left knee sharpened, it was sobering to be reminded that literally every step I take is anchored on You, Lord, on the strength that you deem to give me. That the choices I make will ultimately bring me nearer or farther from You—one sure step at a time. And how all my plans are never completely my own.

Sometimes it is beautiful to go off-plan. I could have sulked about the missed nature walks on the marshes of Kranji, or the forfeited trails of MacRitchie. Instead, I had time to walk slowly through the halls of the National Gallery and appreciate the art more intently. I found domestic pleasures and soothing catharsis in weekend spring cleaning. I had time to lovingly arrange flowers for display at home. And I had time to write all this down.

In those moments I pushed myself running the Marina and cycling Old Upper Thomson, I felt exhilaration and a sense of miraculous accomplishment. Yet sometimes it is wiser to exercise prudence, to slow down, take stock, and count the cost. I’ve a way to go in learning the art of living life on the deliberate, intentional lane, not too fast as to crash, but not too slow short of inaction.

When God has a plan and we commit to it, He will surely see it through. Neither external obstacles, nor internal objections will block His work. Inasmuch as He uses us, it is never left completely to us. Jonah may have gone in the other direction, but nothing could prevent God’s divine redemptive plan for Nineveh. With God taking the reins, there is always progress, whether we are racing or at the pit stops.

 

Twilight had darkened the sky. It was time to head back. I laughed by myself, anticipating the steep, uphill climb I would have to face. Crazy girl, what have you gotten yourself into again? All for the sake of a little quiet, and of course, a photograph. Pushing on less than a kilometer, there it was, my very own “Jonah’s whale”, a miracle of a van. A kind man and his family slowed down inviting me onboard the rescue vehicle, preventing far more serious injury that I had no idea was going to present itself a day later. And with that, I was set straight on the safe path back home to Ang Mo Kio.

***

Lead me where you will, Lord. You are my choice. And with You, I am going to make every step count.

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.

The Fearless Forecast

If you knew me from earlier years, you may remember me as a timid, even fearful child on many fronts.

–One who would shy away from active outdoor play after one ugly scrape.
–One who would think twice to re-audition for school choir after not making the cut once before.
–One who would take all the time in the world to make even the simplest decision—from choosing a book at the store to thinking of what to wear that day.

Fast forward to age 30, I’d like to think I’ve shed a good deal of these hang-ups growing up, but every now and then, this hesitation wells within me, and only a good dose of prayer, an internal pep talk and deep breaths, set me straight on my path.

And so in our first life group this year, we all cast our personal “visions”—naming them with short, punchy phrases, and encapsulating them in those ubiquitous “hashtags”, for easy ownership, even accountability.

It was perhaps no coincidence that everyone spoke about some desire for reaching higher ground, doing and experiencing new things, all which could only be attained by letting go (yes, “Frozen” reference there) of all those nagging doubts. #Fearless, so we said.

For my part, the confirmation came in three’s; it left no doubt as to what 2014 would be about—

First, a surprise Lego Gingerbread man from Jeannie, raising its cup with an encouraging “Dunk Me” sign, and urging me to just dive in.
Next, my aunt’s diagnosis of “fear” as the only negative energy she could sense in me after an acupuncture session.
But most importantly, a recurring verse that has presented itself countless times, toward the end of last year, to the first weeks of this year and all the way to last night’s devo huddle.


“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)


I’d like to share a personal prayer, reflecting on this verse I’ve claimed as a compass for the year.

“Lord, in the moments that I am gripped and paralyzed by fear, may I be reminded of Your saving and selfless Love. Take away all my anxiety, and may I allow you God, to be my God. Help me let go of these small, earthly comforts, these unnecessary attachments. For in cowering in a supposed safety zone, there is no safe haven, but only fear. Break down this wall that separates me from truly embracing and receiving all that You wish to bless me with, and in turn allowing me to bless and love others.
Lord, lead me down Your path, strengthen my faith—make me fearless in the assurance of Your Love.”

As I mused in my previous post, I knew there would be more to this story of “diving in”. And it excites and amazes me that in just the first month, circumstances placed me squarely in front of long-standing sources of “distress”.

Prompted by a recently concluded trip to Batanes, I mustered the will to learn to ride an honest-to-goodness bicycle—a serious feat for someone who isn’t the most balanced or coordinated person to hit the bicycle lanes of East Coast Park. Two weeks after picking it up, those “skills” were put to the test on the uphill roads of Batan Island. It was a thrill to traverse the town, ride around the Basco airport tarmac, and just be one with the wind.

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Then, in the so-called adult “real world” there were investment opportunities cropping up. I was faced with that daunting of making grown-up financial decisions that have never been my cup of tea, but with the help of His wisdom and advice from money-savvy friends, I made up my mind with full peace.

Now, every step of the way, I trust in God’s grace to get over the fear, the self-judgment — the idea of not being good enough, or not being cut out to do something out of my perceived nature. The girl who once shunned the outdoors, now looks forward to mornings in the park.

All things are possible, precisely because I am not the one in-charge.
As in finding my way with a bicycle, I have to let God be God and surrender completely to His will. Looking straight at the road He has laid out, a relaxed hold on the handlebars, eyes on the horizon, fearless.

***

I urge you then to think of the things that prevent you from making that step into the path He lays down before you. What are you fearful of?

In this next month, offer these all up to Him. I daresay it will erase the fear and bring complete rest and peace to your heart, far better than any horoscope forecast can conjure.

*The push to write this down finally came as a result of commemorating a year since that paradigm-shifting retreat and joining my beloved Life Group. Well, technically, that was toward the end of January 2013. Yes, it has been one year—and what a beautiful year.

Thank you, Lord. You never give up on this sporadic, errant and hesitant writer. 🙂