The Twenty-Ninth of May

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In my thoughtless candidness I announced to a fair number of close buddies that my birthday was coming, and received perhaps more than I bargained for. Many people were in the mood for celebration and three groups of colleagues burst into song in the middle of the office and left me very abashed.

Not many people knew about it, but those who did were very thoughtful. It was a day when I realised how blessed I am by a loving Heavenly Father. It felt as if He was reminding me how He loved us through all the sweet gestures by my colleagues and some students. I truly felt that the most precious gifts and birthday wishes were not the slices of cake or gifts received, but the simplest and most thoughtful gestures from the relationships I most cherish. Let me recount a few of these.

There was a sweet girl I have been trying to build rapport with for the longest time. She shares with me whatever is within her zone of comfort until I probe further. After asking me for my birthday for the longest time, she texted me to say that she had left me something in my pigeon hole (cupboard). It was a sweet little plushie key chain with a handwritten note, in her usual scrawl: “Thank you for being a great teacher/friend.” That little gesture and note just warmed my heart. No theatrics or surprises, just a simple gift from the heart.

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The Secondary 4 students were also celebrating the end of their Elective modules with a miniature fair. At each booth teachers could order a clay art figurine, a balloon art, go for a manicure or simply watch a hip hop dance performance. I took the time to mingle – I would not admit it in front of them but this batch of students I feel something different for, probably because they are the first cohort of students I taught. The ones I made all the silly mistakes with, and the ones we grew up together with. A boy offered to make me a balloon and I asked for something “special” – other than the usual flowers and penguins going around the table. I searched for a Frog and he twisted one (two, the first actually exploded when I tried to dab its eyes on it). The sweetest thing.

After learning it was my birthday, another boy asked me for my favourite animal. Without much thought I said, “kangaroo”. He began searching for a tutorial online and twisting the balloons into shape – and failed. When called to go back to class, he burst the one he was struggling to make, and promised to give me one before the end of the day. A half hour later he texted me to say my kangaroo was done and he was waiting outside with a pink kangaroo and the words, “Happy Birthday, Miss Ho” written on it. So so sweet.

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The next day I received a surprise treat from a colleague who dropped by with a cup of Starbucks Caramel Nut Crunch. (And just at the time when I was craving for some coffee too!) I felt truly moved – to be remembered not just on the actual birthday itself but the day(s) after as well.

And today, the most careless brazen fellow in class actually came for his Parent-Teacher Conference with a box of KFC egg tarts. His mum said he remembered it was my birthday a few days ago and thought it would be nice to get it for me. Sometimes the most unexpected people can do the sweetest things.

I also realised that I am probably in a very blessed environment. A place where there are people who appreciate you and care about working with you.

Makes me think twice about alternatives.

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Moment of Affirmation

Last evening A and I, together with another colleague of ours, took 60 young people to the Shakespeare in the Park, Merchant of Venice at Fort Canning Park. As a teacher overseeing the programme, I was nothing short of a gigantormous worrywart, even though I should be working with A as a team, I feel a huge burden on myself to make sure things go smoothly. And if God was not merciful, many things could have happened- it could have poured halfway, we could have been late, our payment for  the tickets may have been so delayed we were denied entry, students could have gone missing, the play could have been so boring, students got scolded in public for being a nuisance… the list goes on. But God is good, and the children enjoyed themselves, and they were thrilled at the refreshing prospect of sitting on the grass for a picnic with snacks and their group of friends to watch a live play… I think they loved the selfies and phototaking and these are the awesome memories I am so thankful will accompany them as part of their Secondary school education experience.

And after that evening I just want to remind myself that all the effort that went into the planning of this programme since months ago was worth it. The students were well-behaved generally, and they were full of excitement, enthusiasm and praise for the play and  the cast, they all brought along their picnic mats and snacks, and came happy and energetic ready to take in the experience. It was great the play coincided with the text they were studying in Secondary school, and they found it remarkably enjoyable. The excitement and the joy of basking under the stars together watching a Shakespearean play – affirmed that every effort that  we put in for our students, will pay off. Such are the moments of affirmation. Thank you Lord. :)

Porridge for Breakfast

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We have a guest among us these few days, here to share with us the good news from the Lord and the joy of life. Amidst the madness of marking during this exam season, I was blessed with the chance to eat at the same table and partake in the same conversation as Reverend J Tong and my family. This morning we were scheduled to have breakfast with him. I must admit that before this morning’s breakfast my heart was hardened to the idea of spending hours chatting. The prospect seemed almost idle and dishonourable to me – to be spending time in casual conversation, when there is a pile of work at home beckoning for your attention, just because we have a special guest from abroad with us over the weekend. I was not looking particularly forward to breakfast, and no bowl of fish porridge could warm my heart up to the idea.

The magic happened at the dining table having  the bowls of porridge laboriously cooked over the stove for hours that we young people may eat as a family with a servant of the Lord. Our conversation was indeed casual – it scraped the surface of his family, our aspirations and very briefly, our professions, as well as dreams of our relationships.

When he visited last year, his sharing always stir up some greater aspiration in me, like many other youths I am certain. He was always able to live out a sense of Joy in everything, no matter the circumstance. Coming to Singapore, his schedule is packed with meetings, sharing and teaching sessions, with little personal time to rest and recuperate from the jet lag. Yet there is always a certain charm and exuberance he lives out from within him when he interacts with the brothers and sisters, a glisten in his eye that reflects a sense of eternal joy and hope in the world that he lives and the life that he is living.

His thoughts and principles were also equally intriguing and profound. As a psychologist, he knew more than just what we would read from textbooks and encyclopaedias. His thoughts were always lateral and different from what we are used to in a typical Singaporean person. He had the wisdom and joy from the Lord to accompany him in all his journeys. I have always envied at secretly marvelled at the wisdom and joy he could live his life based on. In fact, his principles and sharing have caused me to re-look at the reasons and basis to the way I lead my life, the values I guard so closely in my heart for the past twenty-seven years, and re-evaluate assumptions I have always held confidently dear to my heart.

The call for reconfiguration is necessary and refreshing, however unsettling it may be at the beginning. A simple way of looking from his perspective is in education, a child’s purpose is to learn, and the most basic testimony of the degree of learning that has taken place in a child is by formal modes of assessment to determine how much my child has learnt, to quantify it knowledge and skill. We would always look at the numbers and data, average it to find the cumulative grade for the year, and measure that against the rest of his peers or the national average, whichever you choose. The bottomline is, isn’t there another way to measure how much a child has learned? What about common or general knowledge, the soft skills in communication, problem-solving and team work? What about the ability to articulate the essence of morality and social values? What if a child did not use the given route to reach the same end point – would we be big-hearted and open-minded enough to embrace the wisdom in the child for being – different?

There seems to be examples all around us speaking of this ‘difference in thought’. I just finished watching X-Men: The Last Stand on Channel 5, and no prizes for guessing how the homosapiens reacted when they discovered they lived among mutants – people who were genetically different than they were. What about Divergent – a movie that speaks volumes about how their modes of thinking is so distinct from the others, they cannot be controlled or managed. I see it in education all the time, especially when not all of our students fit the classical way of rote learning in school.

In church, I sometimes wonder to what extent the Bible imposes expectations and regulations on us. Are we not suppose to be yoked together with a non-Christian? Are we suppose to shun those who come to church for the wrong reasons, perhaps to look for a partner or a look for some fun? Should we judge our friends because they proclaim an alternative sexual orientation or condemn those who behave in a certain way? I wonder if we are unnecessarily conservative at times, and this was a time I found myself thinking about the root of these principles.

‘Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.’ (1 Corinthians 10:23)

There are many things that we can do and we can proceed to embrace, but when we allow ourselves to be protected by the rules and expectations in our church community, I don’t think we are building ourselves up adequately.

Another example is that of offering. As the offering bag pass, an old man drops a twenty dollar bill in the bag. A young lady sitting two seats from him whispers a kind admonishment saying, “Dear Sir, you do not need to offer your money because you are not a Christian”. She proceeds to kick up a fuss because she felt concerned that a pagan’s salary would be used in the kingdom of God, and isn’t offering for Christians? The twenty dollars that was offered help to pay for the lunch of twenty of the little children in the church kindergarten, and the expenditure was used beautifully. Without that twenty dollars, it would have been hard for that church to make ends meet that week. Couldn’t it be possible that God used a non-believing man to help sustain His kingdom’s work? Our God is perfectly capable of creating his own resources, and we should not let our assumptions and expectations hinder that possibility for God to work wonders.

Mum always said it is important to look for a Christian partner. I have grown up all my life believing and expecting to date and marry only a good Christian man. In my mind my heart blocks out any man who is not a Christian as a potential partner because well, it is “unbiblical”. I realised how wrong it is, and this is a guise for many other assumptions we may be making unaware. Although there are plenty of reasons why it is advisable not to, why do we cut off all possible relationships (friendships, even!) with men who may be our potential partner because they are not Christian?

I think it may be a way for us to prevent ourselves from slipping. We are afraid of making mistakes, of falling below the grade, that we install plenty of rules and regulations to help keep our act together. If we have these rules institutionalised to follow, it makes following God easier. But I question that now – would it actually hinder the work of God? If we were truly His children with the Holy Spirit living within us, capable of prayerfully following God’s counsel, do we need the harsh conventional rules and regulations imposed upon us?

God gave Adam and Eve the choice – and they chose to sin. God could have easily taken that choice away so Adam and Eve would have to be given the burden of a task to make a choice – and risk making a wrong choice. But that wouldn’t be loving us and giving us the freedom in our spirit to make our own choices. It cannot truly be a choice be no choice was being made, can it. Similarly, you cannot have someone love you unless the person is free to love another, but chooses to love you instead. That choice, I think, is key to human relationships and life, and we should not shy away from the possibility or the risk of danger.

Tomorrow – there is more food for thought. Let me keep these questions and emotions in my mind where it belongs for now.

Restlessness

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I googled “restlessness” for apt images related to my current status and settled on this discomforting photograph of an empty bed, sheets unfolded and creases intact. Whether it is a scene of a person’s bed before, during and after sleep we cannot tell. We only know as much as the fact that it is in media res, it is at a point of incompletion, it mirrors the yet to be.

They say the three year mark is the point where one wavers the most in their career. You either choose to stay, or choose to leave. We are at our most volatile, because we crave for more – more excitement, more drama, more adrenaline rushes and challenges. We crave for differentiation and change, we crave for new things to anticipate, we run away from stagnation, from the mechanics of routine, and we try not to remain in the same place at one time.

This restlessness is hard to put in words. But I shall try.

I do not know what God has in store for me at this present moment of my life. I am twenty-seven years old this year, and yet I have no clue what God wants or what I want to do with my life. I am beginning to feel boredom in the routine of things we do. Do not get me wrong, I still love being in the classroom and interacting with my students. I find all that meaningful and valuable time spent. I glow when I see the students grow. Yet I feel weary at the writing of reports, the meetings, the presentations, the emails and the office politics.

I have been urged to consider moving ahead in the leadership track in education. I have been encouraged to think about my professional development. I have been blessed to be looked upon rather favourably by the leaders in the school, and hence given opportunities to attend workshops and developmental courses. But when I stop to consider what I want for myself, I cringe in confusion. I don’t think I want to pursue further study in Literature or in teaching Literature. I could – but at this point I have not gathered enough experience to make an informed decision about my interest and capacity for it. I could take on CELTA to earn myself an added qualification from BC, but the teaching of English Language does not fuel my soul and interest. I have had moments where I thought of going to childhood or preschool education, or special education, this (more of) idealism stemming from my inspirational mum, who had an undeniable passion for those two areas in education.

I am in charge of the career guidance programme in my school and yet I remain so tentative and unsure about my own future and career progression.

Recently I surfed around some websites and found a specific area of interest – children’s literature. For some reason, this specialisation calls out to me more than others. It seems like an intersection of some of my favourite areas of interest – Literature, childhood and sociology. If I was keen, I might be able to make it through the applications and interviews to get a postgraduate scholarship, enough to finance most if not all of my further study. If the application failed, I may still likely be able to secure a study loan at the very least. The catch? Children’s Literature seems like a rare breed and I have only read of courses overseas in the UK or US. Thinking of a year abroad to pursue a Masters degree is even more imminent a decision to make.

I also want to carve out some time to well, be available. The elusive new friend I met at the end of last year still creeps into my mind at times and I wonder when God will allow Mister Shao to come into my life. Perhaps I am not yet ready, and my heart and soul is not yet settled in the Lord.

Restlessness? What better word than to describe my current state of being?

 

 

I Made My Mum Cry

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I had a run in with my mother tonight when I had a flu and gastric and did not attend my cell group fellowship. I was overwhelmed with irritation that she did not trust me to make my own choices as an adult, and she was overwhelmed with disappointment and worry that I was well, slipping away.

It is more than that, really. My life is slipping away from my own fingers and I don’t seem to be able to do anything about it. Perhaps that is the source and stem of my annoyance. I have been putting on weight because of our irregular eating and sleeping hours, and my awful binging habits. It is a shame my de-stressor mechanism involves indulging in food. Emotional empathy has been hard to establish because I think I automatically maintain a cordial distance from everyone, even the brothers and sisters at church. Except my colleagues in school of course, I am beginning to suspect I have the mental bandwidth only to focus on one group of friends at any one time in my life. (gasp.)

A few days ago as I sat next to my mother I noticed that she was shrinking in size. Her bones seemed smaller and she no longer seemed round and robust with energy. She seemed to move around the house with a certain sense of lethargy but contentment with her lot. I think she is getting older. I realised I need to stop living in this fantasy where we are still the babies and she is still the young and energetic supermum who singlehandedly raised four children through adolescence into adulthood. It is time we reversed the roles and took care of her instead.

I also compare myself in 2014 with photographs of myself in 2010 or 2011, four or five years ago. A time that seemed far away but still within grasp of my memory. I looked youthful, radiant and happy. Tired, but happy to be with friends. I knew the time of kairos was always rewarding and a blessing. Today, give me a take-out meal and I would gladly confine myself to my room with my laptop or a book while the rest of the world drifts away.

I also think about my future husband, if any, of course. And how ugly I am. Ugly not just in terms of the physical, but also the heart and mind. I feel so ugly I don’t think anyone could ever love and accept me the way I am, actually.

Maybe this is why I made my mother cry; I made her sad.