Hard Lesson #1: Make Time

‘Make time.’

This is a principle I am not unfamiliar with since the start of my working career. All of us have twenty four solid hours in a day, nothing more, nothing less, but we choose to spend them in different ways. Time, in its measurable quantitative value, cannot be made. But Time, in its qualitative form, operates in a strange and elusive paradigm. It can be stretched and compressed, it can pass slowly or quickly, it can be worth immeasurably, or nothing at all.

From the beginning, we were urged to learn how to ‘Make time.’ It served as an effective instruction to manage our various responsibilities and commitments. Of course, it is one of most difficult lessons to master, for me at least. Inadvertently, my time is spent squandered on indulging in the convenience of my introversion and my slothful private habits. Needless to say, my spiritual life, church life, even social life, suffer the most. For my selfishness rules with great tyrannical conviction over the twenty four hours I have been blessed with, allotting minute pockets of time to what may matter most in reality, and giving lavishly to matters of personal indulgence instead. What a shame.

My few achievements and successes in my career cheers my spirit some at the end of each year, although increasingly the value of the reward is little compared to the opportunity costs of it. Each time at the end of a grand year, I experience a rather short-lived reflective period and begin to count my blessings, and remember that it is the Lord God who builds up, and it is the Lord God who sustains the work of my hands. Only in a spiritual drought nearing the end of the year, do I remember that God’s grace is sufficient, His blessings like showers that pour out upon us. Then, I give God the glory.

At a home blessing service this evening, a Bible passage struck me, harking down to the very same principle of ‘Making Time’ as from the beginning.

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
    and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
    for he grants sleep to those he loves.

Psalm 127:1-2

Unless the Lord God wills the house to be built, nothing will be accomplished. Tonight I remember the smallness of our being, and the greatness of our Lord’s might and compassion in contrast. Each time I see a child succeed, I have to give thanks and praise God – not just by my mouth, but with my heart and soul as well.

The curious thing is what follows in verse 2. When we forget who is in control, we tend to be worrywarts. I know I have a strong tendency to want to be in control. It is only then when I feel empowered, assured, and at ease, believing that I pull (most of) the strings of this puppet show. But how silly it is to think that we have access and control over all the puppet strings for the show! How silly it is to worry about those strings, when the Lord God has already promised that His will be done!

I try to, do things, even when I might guess that it is possibly in vain. When the busy season comes, my life extends late into the night, frequently tempering at deadlines, and believing that I am ‘busy‘ ‘toiling‘ away, robbed of the ability to be joyful and thankful and to have rest and sustenance when work gets tough. In verse 2, the Bible states – and right in my face – that ‘the Lord grants sleep to those He loves’. Whether this means a full 8-hour sleep package at night, or restfulness during a brief night’s nap, what it means for sure, is sustenance for the journey.

So with this promise, what God wants is probably the simplest thing from us: to ‘Make time.’ To make time for Him.

This hard lesson #1 is for Twenty Fifteen.

“Add Me on Instagram”

That was what my mum said to me this morning. It caught me absolutely off guard, and I could only muster a brief but insistent whine that hopefully indicates my discomfort towards that idea. It did not keep her from asking a second and third time in the next fifteen minutes though. And by the end of it, I was feeling flushed and on the verge of irritation with the list of reasons why I should ‘add her on Instagram’.

Among them was that we were family, or that we need to set a good example to others, or that there must not be anything that people can criticise about, or that I would willingly let my friends into my Instagram life but not my family.

I remain indignant that this is a matter of personal choice. Even I choose my Instagram and Facebook friends carefully because I do not wish for random happenings in my life to be publicised to just anyone. Sounds completely ironic given that this journal is technically speaking, public.

Christmas Blessings

This year, our caroling team comprises brothers and sisters outside of our church choir. Instead of caroling at home gatherings hosted by church members, we took a leap of faith and ventured beyond the four walls of the church and will be taking our Christmas carols to two homes in our community – Dover Park Hospice and Econ Old Age Home.

I am filled with trepidation at the possibility of screwing up our visit. We represent our church and more significantly and truly, we want to represent Christ and bring good tidings of joy, hope and peace to more people. Yet we are unprofessional singers, most of us without any musical knowledge or background. This is why I feel so blessed and grateful for the opportunity to bring our carols to a wider community today. Our voices are far from perfect, but I pray that God’s angels sing with us and fill us with overflowing joy and peace, that our entire being will be full of praise for God and we bring undeniably good tidings to the residents.

Peace and Joy

sailing

Thursday, the 18th of December, was a significant day for many of us. I was worried for many things, with all sorts of thoughts floating in and out of my head. The following scenarios kept playing out in my head: What if the cohort did the worse out of the previous cohorts and was terribly unimpressive? What if the students did unexpectedly terribly? What if we did not do our students justice? 

I was not freaking out – I was still enjoying my little K reality drama show the night before and having a very restful sleep. But those thoughts did nibble at my mind every now and then. After a while, I realised that my biggest concern wasn’t the results analysis or what the school would think of the quality of our teaching, but the kids. This would mean so much to them, not just English per se, but all the other subjects together. This would mark the end of their journey of their Secondary education with us, and the start of a new one somewhere else. And what else could that be full of but hope and anticipation? I wish and prayed that they would see it as just that, no matter what the outcome of their N levels are. I prayed that they might have the wisdom and insight to recognise that every one of them would have a different path to travel, one that would suit them, one that would inspire them.

It gave me peace to know that the Sovereign Lord is in control of every single one of their lives, what we have no control over.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 14:27

It also struck me that I have so much to be thankful for. Just when I felt extremely drained after close to four years of teaching them, it took the 18th of December to remind me why I enjoyed teaching in the first place. God is so good – this is the first cohort of students I have taught since 2011 as a beginning teacher, and it is such a privilege to be able to teach them English since four years ago – my very first cohort of students I have seen through to graduation. Of course, there are many things I have done (or not done) which I am not terribly proud of. There is always something more that could be done, and I could never compare to Jean or other inspiring teacher figures who have really chosen to give up almost everything else for their students. But I try, and I know that this is one class that I probably have the most personal relationship with.

I remember going through the feelings of anger, diasppointment, frustration with them; they have driven me up to boiling point, to my wits’ end. But by the beginning of this year, I think we have come to an acceptance of each other: my temper and whinyness on some days, their laziness on (most) other days, but our tolerance and acceptance towards all those things. It isn’t the most professional thing to do, but this is one class I felt I could rant and share about certain things with them, without worrying that they might hate or misunderstand me, perhaps because they have seen the ugliest and best sides of me, and I them.

Coming one full circle with this class of students is truly an amazing experience. I can truly say that I have grown to love and care for every one of them, even the most trying students. And I thank God for this wholesome experience.

So how did we do? By God’s divine grace, our school achieved 100% passes and an improvement in both the percentage passes and percentage distinctions from previous years. The breakdown of results analysis was not all that fantastic – I had expected some students to do better by 1 or 2 grades. This was where I felt we fell short, and we could have done more for these students. I realised that God gave us again, just enough, to make us realise that it is He who holds everything in His hands. If he had given us too much, I may have jumped through the roof and forgot that it is God who has always brought us through. So thank you, Lord, for your wisdom and grace is upholding me and my students all these years.

Tulips to 2015

tulip

 

There have been friends who have been very honest with me about their struggles of the heart and soul, and compared to them, I have not been as forthcoming as they have been with regard to my personal feelings. It takes a lot to acknowledge the existence of your emotions, put it into words, and even more to take that and bare them to someone else outside.

So I have been praying about mister shao again, and I know that I should not be praying for my future partner only once in a while when inspiration (or desperation) kicks me.

I was introduced to someone one year ago and I realised that in those twelve hours I was drawn to a very pleasant idea of a man I could get to know even better as a friend, perhaps more.  I would be lying to say that that one meeting did not influence what I look for in a person. I would also be lying to myself though, if I allowed myself to believe that I understood him well enough to be able to like him after one day. It gets so complicated that it really is the Lord who is in control of our lives and Him we should commit our lives to.

I prayed that if it is God’s will for us to become friends, we would meet again before the end of the year. In saying that, it also means that I am prepared to let it go completely after December 31 2014. I cannot and will not carry this with me into Twenty Fifteen.

Thank you Lord for your promise that you love us. :)

Hong Kong Diaries

This December, I went to Hong Kong for a short trip with M. In the five days there, I have returned wholeheartedly acknowledging the heartiness of food at the centre of Hong Kong’s lifestyle. It was massive, excessive even, and yet the amount of physical exercise we did on foot seemed to offset the indulgence we spent taking care of our tummies.

M was patient and accommodating, and we went around to some lovely touristy places and visited the streets of Mongkok and explored some of the lovely HK eateries. The best part of the eating must be the HK congee. I fell in love with the generous flavours and cook of the rice. Although I have never been a huge fan of porridge, I loved and polished every bowl of porridge I had in Hong Kong. We also had our fair share of egg tart and bread tasting at several bakeries, including Kum Wah Cafe & Cakes as well as Tai Cheong Bakery. There was a lot more variety and flavour in the food and I definitely enjoyed savouring each dish I was introduced to. I could not appreciate every dish though – the traditional HK dim sum with the beef balls and fish balls were strange to the palate and I had to rely on M to help finish up the food. But goodness we ate so much – almost every thing we had could have been halved and we would still be full. There just was not enough time spent in HK to fully explore the different foods and flavours!

We also went to Disneyland, Ocean Park, and The Peak – which were exciting places to spend time at. It would have been great if we had other company to give us that boost in bravery to take more rides. M isn’t quite a thrill seeker when it comes to theme parks, and I needed that extra persuasion to truly make our every penny count. It is my first time in Disneyland, and the experience was truly magical – it is probably the best time I had in Hong Kong these five days. We had a nice variety of thrill rides, fairytal-ish exhibits and performances, and delicious park snacks like caramel popcorn with Mickey sitting on the pack, and a Mickey Mouse shaped rice with grilled chicken from their Starlight Fast Food stop yum. M specially requested to stay for the evening parade, which really killed my feet by the time we got back to our hostel – but I thought was something we could not miss out on! It was amazing the lights, logistics and detail that goes into the parade, and I was nothing short of being blown away.

Our accommodation was at the HK Youth Hostel Association’s Mei Ho House at Sham Shui Po / Shek Kip Mei – one of the revitalisation projects that aimed to preserve the historical aspect of the district after the 1953 big fire that wiped out many families’ housing. The hostel was only opened a year ago, and the building was beautifully furnished, complete with a gift shop, laundry room, huge kitchen pantry, beautiful eclectic cafe, open-air lounge areas, and even an indoor museum that presented the story of Mei Ho House.

I did not think I would need that long to walk through the exhibits in the museum, but I spent almost one and a half hours in that 2-storey showroom. There was a fair balance of videos, photographs, artefacts from the past and more importantly, write ups that presented very honest but courageous real life stories of people who experienced the fire in one way or another. In the midst of the disaster, the strength and resilience of the victims of the fire really moved me in a powerful way – almost as if there was something that connected me with these families that I had not even met. The burning down of the residential buildings made way for restorative projects and the new housing policies from the government. It also brought out the best in other people in communities near and far. People who generously donated to the needs of the victims, people who contributed their time and energy to raise funds for the victims, even the victims themselves who came together to tide through the difficult times, sharing bathrooms and food and money. I was just amazed by the strength in humanity to face adversity in such a courageous way, something I am not sure I can manage. It is in times like these that we see the providence and sovereignty of our God who gives strength to the weary and hope to those in darkness.

It is a lot to take back, in a strange way. During the week-long vacation in Hong Kong, M visited her aunt several times, which allowed me opportunity for some personal reflection and prayer. As she shares with me the personal stories of her relatives and family in Hong Kong, what strikes me is that they have endured certain kinds of hardship that required them to stand up strong from beneath it by relying on the Lord, and in a very humble way, they have done so.

When my ankle gave me all sorts of mobility problems – we had to plan our itinerary around it in some way, resting at regular intervals, avoiding walking long distances (and eating more) – M’s relatives kept asking after us, reminding us to rest enough and apply medication and what not. As much as the attention can be overwhelming, their concern is undeniable as well. Despite wheelchair-bound, living in an elderly care home, M’s aunt bought pork buns for us as she worried we may not have time to grab dinner.

More than anything else, these five days gave me plenty of time to spend with my good friend and sister-in-Christ, and catch up on what has happened in the past one semester of our lives. We had plenty of time to pray and think and engage in conversation, and I give thanks for that.

Lots of take back, lots to remember to keep moving forward.