Weddings and Baby Showers

At twenty-eight, I fluctuate between being secure about where I am in life, and being extremely uncertain about it. Most of the time I feel really happy seeing my friends get engaged and getting pregnant, and giving birth and decorating a new home. I also feel very comfortable being on my own and enjoying the solitude that comes with it. Then there are times when I wonder when the time for me to experience love and have a kid and visit Ikea and do all those adult things will be.

Tonight we dug out this Bengawan Solo baby shower cake voucher for a walnut cake (yummy!). We all thought it was from a friend at church until I saw my name on the envelope. It was a friend more than half a year ago in November. My mother’s eyes widened, “Your friends have kids?”

There was an awkward pause and all I could afford was a “yeah?“.

Her next line was “When is it going to be your turn?” “You are almost 30!”

Then, “Are you seeing anybody right now?”

I really wanted to walk away. The aftertaste of the conversation lingered in my mind – and trust me, it wasn’t pleasant. Those questions made me feel that I should be happily married and about to give birth to a child anytime. It made me feel that I was living on a different timeline that was moving years too slowly compared to my peers – who by the way, have about 2 kids already.

I was insulted because she seemed to expect me to be seeing someone, although if she had taken notice of my life, I have been bogged down by one thing, and one thing only: schoolwork.

It really doesn’t make sense to drop such comments instead of help me remember that His plans for us are perfect. It is hard enough already making sure I remain vigilant and prayerful, and be a good friend and teacher and daughter and sister.

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Meet Optimus Prime

Three weeks after bidding Bumble Bee goodbye, Optimus Prime is now ready for action. I cannot wait to meet him tonight.

Not having a car means mum willingly sacrifices most of her morning rest to send me to school at 6:30am. It also means a whole precious hour in the morning spent on travelling to and fro. She says it teaches me to love through actions, and not only at her convenience.

Not having a car, also means I get to travel home with some of my colleagues. It has not always been re-energising, but it has always been pleasant. I enjoy the walks and bus rides back with these people who have slowly become friends.

When Words Fail, Let Our Actions Do The Talking

One week of mourning is drawing to a close. I have been drifting in and out of a mixture of emotions the past week, at times more emotional than others. My mind devoured countless of narratives and counter-narratives in the form of articles, forum posts, Facebook posts, that make the landscape of social commentary this week. As an educator in the civil service, we wear our teacher masks and tell our students of this great man and the history he has shaped in the form of our nation. Yet in doing so, we remain intellectually engaged by emotionally detached from the happenings. We all need some time to find words for how we are feeling and thinking. At this point, my mind is still incoherent, and there is little to say, although much has been coming in waves.

I still wonder how this man could evoke such powerful feeling in Singaporeans although we only read about him in our history textbooks and newspaper articles, or seen him on TV. Wouldn’t making him a public icon also render him impersonal and above us?

I think I am most moved by the idea of this man. He stood firm for the visions and beliefs he had in Singapore, arguably, he lived his life for Singapore. It is hard to imagine why someone would do that.

I am also moved by the unity of Singaporeans. Yes there are also negative criticisms that went out of line this week. But in this week, I felt a Singaporean heartbeat. A heartbeat that weakened in grief because a great man who started that heart beating had left us. Whether I was driving on the roads to work or walking in a public place, everyone seemed more resigned, quiet, silent. I hear about kind deeds Singaporeans showed to one another – taking turns to wait in line, distributing drinks, buns and food to those queuing, looking out for one another, practising patience and empathy when paying our respects. I witness how civil servants and NSmen came together to support the same cause – taking 12-hour shifts, putting other priorities and interests on hold for this one purpose, and in our own way, doing our bit to pass on this legacy to the next generation. As educators, we struggled to contain our emotions and transfer our gratefulness and understanding of a shared history to our students in the classroom. Others volunteered to manage the queues, disseminate information, and all these acts driven by gratefulness and appreciation for what Singapore has become, is indeed powerful.

The interview segments that followed the state funeral let the words and actions of a lot of Singaporeans, both young and old, testify to the legacy and influence of Mr Lee. I was pleasantly moved that toddlers and young children, could offer up their own words of thanksgiving and goodwill even though they would only have heard of him through documentaries or their parents. I am heartened that as one nation, we have come together to show our gratefulness for this one man.

In one article, it described us as the politically silent ones who only in his death, are now compelled into action, and given a voice. After watching the state funeral, I am convinced that I need to become less politically-apathetic and stop taking the peace and security in Singapore for granted. I wish we future generations will be able to continue to do justice to this country we call Home.

Verdict

A few days ago, because of the constant chiding from my mother to take care of my health, I went to see a doctor (who happens also to be an elder from my church) at a Weight Management Clinic.

After spending a few hours at Gleneagles and taking a series of tests (which is a rather novel experience for me, really), it was concluded that I am in the pre-diabetic state with two weight-related problems on the line. After a talk to evaluate the root cause of the issue at hand, it was decided that the primary factor is the irregular eating hours, motivated by my unhealthy lifestyle.

To sum it up, there was no fixed (period of) time for my meals. At times breakfast would be at eight a.m., and at other times, it could be as late as noon – or not at all. At times lunch would be at ten a.m., and at other times, it would be at four in the afternoon. Of course this affected dinner as well. As a result, it is said that my body has no idea how to work with my food intake and is confused because of the constant irregularity of my meal times. On some days, after a long day of near-starvation, S and I would have dinner after work – this often happens at eight, and it would likely be a huge treat to make up for the lack of food in the day.

I think our minds play tricks on us too. I feel hunger pangs at the strangest hours – sometimes at seven a.m., sometimes at eleven, sometimes at two … you get the drift.

I am worried about my health. I certainly do not want to be a position where I helplessly rely on others to care for me in my later years, and desperately turn to insurance claims and medical coverage to support me. That being said, my greatest concern is that it is going to be tough to effect any change in my present lifestyle and dietary habits.

Already as it is, there is barely time to reconfigure life and indulge in some ‘head space’. This new healthy diet the doctor proposes requires a commitment in my food choices and in regularising my eating hours. This requires meticulous thoughtful planning, the self-discipline and inner strength to resist temptations when a scrumptious snack presents itself, the thoughtfulness to the little details – such as the kind of coffee, milk and sugar I should have in the morning.

Sometimes there are no options and no freedom of choice. My canteen serves only 1 type of coffee. By the time I finish my lessons and have time for a break, there are only the remains of the day left at the counter – leftover fried rice, curry chicken, fried patties. I am told that I should pack lunches to school – healthy oats, blended drinks, fruits and nuts, salads, and nutritious home-cooked leftovers from dinner… Yet again, it seems that what this new diet plan requires, is a consistent dedication to sticking with it.

What I can say is that I am grateful. I am grateful that people around me care enough to want to make sure that I am OK. I am grateful that God is giving me a chance to reverse the awful habits I have laboured on my body. I am grateful that as a single, independent woman, I have the financial means to support this diet. Above all, I am grateful for the reminder to take care of our bodies for they are the temple of God.

How Can We Live No Differently?

I met up with an old old friend and sister-in-Christ this evening, only to be asked some really hard questions. I did not need to play ignorant or pretend that my current lifestyle and mental/emotional health is not reflective of my spiritual state. She knew the void that I was struggling with and how I desperately wanted to fix my eyes on something more — something higher than what I could see.

I shared with her my fear that I would still be in the same position, working equally hard, but still as a teacher, years from now. And she asked directly, Why do you need to know how you will advance? That question caught me unexpectedly, and I had no sure answer. Why did it matter so much that I know where I would be headed three years from now? Why did it matter that I ensured I advanced in my career, either on a teaching or leadership track? Things are different for us as Christians, she posited.

She also asked, What is your weakness? For her she confessed it boiled down to two things: Pride, in wanting to be in control, and the Desire for approval from others. I had not thought about it prior to hearing this question in my face. Why was I trying to do so much, what was keeping me from leaning on God?

I think it is a sense of self-pride, of wanting to be in control. I want to know where I am headed, and what I am capable of, and what is in store in the future. I also think it is slothfulness. Rather than spending my time efficiently, I give myself excuses far too easily to watch a movie, enjoy a good meal, or catch up on sleep. I think diligence should not come only in the form of long working hours, but time spent in a focus and driven manner as well.

Having established that, I realised that the way we make life decisions should differ from the way others do, as sound and solid their advice might be. Just like how we check ourselves when we wait for a partner for life, waiting in faith for God’s timeline to unfold in our lives, we should also have patience and godliness as we listen and humbly submit to His Will – even if I have no idea where my current life decisions will take me.

It is truly a time to kick myself awake and start making changes to my life. So how can we live no different from others, when we have the ultimate promise in an eternal living God? How can I struggle with the same jadedness and cynicism towards life and work, how can I claim to be a child of God, when I fight the same inner-demons to do my work with conviction and joy?

It is a troubling and embarrassing testimony of the power to freedom we have in Christ. I need to live a victorious life, and take on my challenges with wisdom and patience and humility. Colleagues may be difficult and challenges may be tough. But if God opens a way and I prayerfully submit to His will, I can only be certain that His good and perfect plan will unfold.

Time for change, hoshao. Time for change and plenty of prayer.

Balance

This is my very feeble and subjective attempt to explain my current relationship status. It is by no means accurate or meant to be objective. Rather, it is a way to consolidate my thoughts on what  the terms ‘dating’ and being ‘in a relationship’ has come to mean for me over the years as I was growing up.

I must have grown up indignant about the need for companionship from the opposite gender. My education in an all-girls’ mission school for ten whole years has certainly etched that feminine identity and independence in my fellow schoolmates and I. My parents’ rocky marriage and subsequent divorce throughout my Primary School years must have also played a part to warn me that first of all, marriage and relationships may not last; and second of all, you did not need a man to be complete. (You did not look far beyond my mother to be persuaded – she is the epitome of independence and success, having raised four children on her own during the most turbulent times of her life.)

It was in Secondary School when my family began to go to church regularly and the church became an essential part of my teenage years. Although I started to develop feelings (more like an interest) in friends of the opposite gender during this time, I never acted on it. During this time, I met girls who got squealish and excited being around boys at some of the combined church camps and events. At one camp, girls skimpily clad in bikinis were at the beach playing beach volleyball and water polo with the boys. Needless to say, I was hugely affected by the culture I observed and wrote an article about it, expressing my discomfort at the inappropriate outfit and behavioral choices of teenagers, as well as implying my conviction to remain blameless and pure.

I read my first teenage girls’ magazine Brio shipped monthly from Colorado Springs. It taught me how to be discerning about many things related to my faith. It also introduced me to Joshua Harris, and his huge release, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”, a romantically unromantic story about how he and his wife met and kept their love pure before God. What I took from this book was a deep (and probably very misguided) conviction that the concept of ‘dating’ is secular and unbiblical. In fact, ever since, I frowned upon spending one-to-one time with guys I did not know would be my future husband.

It gifted me with a very unrealistic and idealised version of love. On top of that, my mother cautioned me against seeing any boys until I quote, ‘grew up and started work’. She may not have meant it verbatim, but it was a guideline a shy girl would live by. In any case, junior college came and went by too quickly – I had no time to mingle socialise and fall in love. Growing up in a conservative family did not exactly give me reason to challenge these beliefs and guidelines either. I did not know how to look good, use cosmetics, buy pretty dresses or do my hair, and my mother did not exactly have the time to teach me. Everything I knew I learnt via trial-and-error and from my friends. Oftimes I looked like a fool.

In university, my ideal romantic story continued to accompany me. Each time I went out with a guy for lunch or dinner – alone, I would start questioning myself: ‘Did I like him more than a friend?’, ‘What was my purpose?’, ‘What was his purpose?’ and it hardly ended. I over-complicated and over-analysed every friendship I had with a guy, unless (1) he was already attached, or (2) he was not a Christian. I did not envy my social circle (given my very cautious way of managing my friendships), but I did not know how to balance it either.

And sadly, now that I have graduated and started working for nearly four years, there is barely any time to mingle, widen my social circle, meet new friends or invest in friends who could be potential boyfriends. I have fed myself with my own career and self-love that I find it hard to break down the idealised Joshua Harris-love I carried with me for so long.

It is only lately that I admit how imbalanced, and possibly hurtful, this view of love is. We do not lightly invest our heart and mind into relationships, but neither do we hold back from getting to know someone just because we are not sure where it may lead to. The truth is that we will never know who that person may be, and by writing off every single person you might like, just because there is no certainty involved, you are in actuality writing off your future.

It is after all, like our plans isn’t it? We never know the full picture or the final destination, only God does. But that doesn’t stop us from taking the plunge to try something radically different, or giving new ideas a shot to see where it may lead us. I hope 2015 becomes that kind of year. One of self-fulfillment, passion and love.

Head Space during the Lunar New Year

Things seem to just spiral on, event after event, day after day, week after week, the moment 2015 started. It is a little too quick to handle, too fast for me to stop and ‘smell the roses’, to notice and appreciate the other insignificant little things that could together make up a very pretty picture.

In yesterday’s “MIND YOUR BODY” Living column, I read about the necessity for ‘head space’ – the alone personal time you have to be disengaged from all electronic (and non-electronic) distractions, and just reflect, think and pray about life and you, and everything else that truly matter in kairos. And I realised I have not had that time to pause, reflect and write or read, as a form of re-calibrating my lifestyle, if you would have it.

Even during the festive Lunar New Year period, the home visiting can easily become one of those very things that demand your attention and energy. Which is why I am hugely thankful for the time to break away and find some time to think about how the past 2 months have been since the start of 2015, even if it comes at the expense of my marking.

I am thankful for friends. The past two months have been manageable because of friendships that support. S and our random dinner dates when we get too zonked out from school is always a refreshing way to end a long day of fire-fighting or nonsense. When we get upset our colleagues are there to give us a hand or offer a piece of candy to brighten up our day.

I am thankful for my students. As miserable as they can make me, they are also the meaning behind what we do. We want them to learn, we want them to mature, we want them to become people of sound and steadfast character, who is able to find succeed in life in the future. They challenge me to take my job seriously (no half-hearted lessons!), to find ways to make myself better (a good adult role model, as I try to walk the talk), to inspire me when life’s circumstances make them hardier than me.

I am thankful for my family. There is always a home to come back to, a safe environment (although there is not much room for a study/work space) to relax and unwind in, a working television set (haha! what could be more important?), my own bedroom (because my brothers are abroad), and the comforts of a stable loving family.

I am thankful for my job. As practical as that sounds, it provides me with the stability and financial independence to make decisions such as where to have dinner at, what clothes to buy, what movie to watch. It gives me something meaningful to do and challenges me to make myself better and more confident than previously.

We are going for an overseas camp next week. Here’s hoping everyone stays safe, and the trip is an uplifting and positive experience for all of us!

Hello Twenty Fifteen!

Last evening before the new year countdown, about a hundred and twenty family and friends from our church gathered to share our thanksgivings for 2014. It is my promise that I count my blessings for 2014 in words, even if I do not share it.

I am closing in on the end of four years of my first career. A lot of people say that you tend to face an ‘existential drought’ at the end of the first four years of your career, resulting in many switching careers. I reckon that it may not be true, but at the same time, 2014 was a year of questions, answered mainly with frustrations and disappointments. It did lead to a lot of personal reflection, taking the time to slow down and rethink my raison d’etre.

In 2014, I lost the friendship of someone very dear to me. But through it, I learnt that everything is volatile, and as cliche it sounds, change is the only constant in life. I learnt that I need to cherish every person in my life, and not take their friendships for granted.

In 2014, I also learnt that God is sovereign. He has always been and always will be. He works in the hearts and minds of not just our peers but our students, and although it may not be clear, it is clear to me that He was there when W, N X and H struggled to come to school and fight their own shadows. It gives me much peace and comfort to know that He is Lord and I can pray and commit all my little students’ futures to Him. There is always a way out, a way that the Lord has prepared for each child.

I learnt that words can be cheap, but they can also cut deep. But my run-ins with some people only made me more certain of my purpose and abilities. Despite all the challenges, God sustained me through the love of close friends and family. Every little success and failure that happened in 2014 is a result of His mercy and grace. Praise the Lord!

I am thankful for the privilege to watch my little kids grow from when they were twelve to when they graduate at sixteen, making decisions concerning their future, preparing to chase their dreams.

I know that no matter what challenge 2015 flings at me, God is able to catch me and His sovereignty and love will empower me to tide through all of that! There are a lot of new changes to welcome and embrace this year, not to mention that 2015 is Singapore’s 50th year! I pray that I walk more closely with the Lord, and listen to His leading.