Can I Tell You About Grace?

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This one is for those whom God has written into my life. In His divine power and mysterious plan for glory, God has purposefully converged our paths for a season in our lives and whether it is the fresh footprints in the wet sand or the hardened ones on the dry concrete, may this piece of writing convey my heartfelt gratitude that at one point (past or present) we came together at our first ‘hello’ and Love united us. May every word here speak into your heart saying thank you, my Friend, for walking with.

There are parts of our stories we prefer not to tell: we prefer if they remained under the carpet, swept beneath the rugs. Hidden in the dusty corners or better yet, locked away in the cupboard of forgetfulness. Let time wash away the memories, and let it take away the pain and the sorrow, the tears and the hurt. Our stories of fear and betrayal, anger and hurt filed into the forgotten in hopes that then, the rest of the story will be beautiful. We think, ‘Maybe then, when people read what is leftover, they will finally accept me.’ We hope that leaving out the flaws and mistakes, leaving out the things we regretted doing, those around us would finally look at us with approval and say, ‘You are good enough.’ Will they maybe even say, ‘I love you’?

Can I tell you about grace? I am but a broken person with an endless list of broken promises, broken relationships, broken memories. So much of my life has been spent walking into the broken glass of people’s dreams and hopes, descending into the deep wells of other’s failures and disappointment or my own. Like a moth attracted to a flame, I was addicted to the very things that reminded me of my own helplessness, worthlessness. But if you met me from the distance in the past or even now, it would be easy to think I have it all going for me. And from afar, that is how many of our lives look – figured out and well done. Miles away, no one can smell the stench of despair, no one can see our tear-stained scars.

Grace is the miracle that we are alive. It is the beautiful choice that our Creator made which manifests in our every breath. He chose to create us. He decided to love us. And this decision He makes sustains us in every step we take.

 It is the wonderful truth that in spite of all the wrongs we have done and regardless of the multiple falls we will continue to take in our lives, we are alive. Here we are today. Isn’t that amazing?

Truly, the shards of shattered glass can be found in every step of this road of life but because of you, I am reminded time and again that we are never alone. Grace never leaves us. Thank you for walking with me on our broken roads to redemption, for accompanying me as we journey homeward. I once lived without God and without hope. Amidst the inconsistences of those around me and myself, with the mess of my own weakness, His fingerprints of grace are found all over my life. He was there to wipe every tear. He was there to comfort. He was there to strengthen.

We have a God whose love extends beyond the depths of our fears, grace that covers over every broken piece. I am a fragile clay jar and for a long time, I’ve been trying to use my bare hands to hold together these pieces. Grace has been the Loving Hands beneath mine this whole time.

Can I tell you about grace? Grace is the Father’s heart crying when He sees us in pain, yet giving us choice to do as we will because He loves us. Grace is Jesus who has been waiting patiently all my life for the day I would let go and let Him. Grace is the God in heaven who is right by our side every day as we awaken, hoping that “maybe today, is the day, she will come home to me”.  Grace is the reason that, after all we’ve done and after all we’ve been through, we woke up this morning and we are still here.  

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The Miracle of Being Broken

As the semester draws to a close, I am thankful for the stories that began in Sydney and continue to be written still. The characters interwoven across each other’s pages and the plot twists that take us all on a ride no short of adventure. Thankful for the new encounters with love and the challenges to seek greater possibilities. The interactions over coffee and microwaved takeaways or the mealtimes in Asian restaurants, knitting our souls together in the harmony of love will remain close to my heart for a long time. Time and again, the privilege of heartfelt conversations see the unveiling of our broken memories, steepest letdowns and suffocating helplessness; as if we have lived our lives being told to sweep under the rug our truest of emotions and water down the real experiences that have shaped us into becoming. With the gentleness of the morning rays and warmth from the winter sun embrace, will you take a walk with my thoughts as I propose that we are broken for a miracle?

Our lives are littered with brokenness – our memories are shattered with disappointment, hearts broken by betrayal. Unexpected turns in our lives, like flower vases lifted high to be admired then carelessly dropped to the ground. One moment we are celebrating milestones that far exceeded our imagination, and in the next we are watching the broken pieces on the ground, wondering how could this be? How do dreams turn into nightmares? Fullness into emptiness? Long roads turn out to be dead ends? Which pain would be more tolerable, we wonder – if we stood amidst the fragments of our hopes or if we bent over on our knees to pick them up with our hands?

Our world is crowded with brokenness – look around you and see the souls lost to anxiety, hear the unspoken thoughts about everyday worries. Do you not see? Our desperate immersion in temporal distraction? The tears we don’t know how to cry? Can you not hear? The joyful songs that have left our voices? Our childhood ambitions have been hidden to be forgotten, and the hopes that once were have been abandoned to “be realistic”. We have fallen short of the people we once dreamed to be: tapping out of the ring for an indefinite water break because the fight to become better versions of ourselves seems impossible. Our deep desires to love and be loved truly are doused by the intoxication of discouragement. We are bruised and broken by the punches hurled by the everyday crowd telling us to settle down and settle fast.

As if the days of our lives had been written into a book and we have chosen to stop flipping to the next pages because of the brokenness that had been spilled across numerous pages now. We have lost count of the occasions of stumbling and falling, feeling cornered to despair by the broken pieces scattered all over. Afraid that the subsequent pages would spell depths of brokenness we had never known before, we have decided to stay on the same page. And perhaps, you and I have been on the same page of our stories for a while now. We have been reciting the story of our brokenness far too long, we can remember every word from the lies spoken to us – “You are not good enough”, “You will never make it”, “You are struggling alone”. Our souls are starving for the truth, but it starts with turning over the page believing that the story has yet to end. There is more.

In this age where vulnerability is shunned and authenticity is rejected, we are all too afraid that the shattered pieces of another’s life will remind ourselves of our own. We are afraid to see our own reflection in the brokenness of another’s life, terrified to unwrap the bandages we have desperately bound around our bleeding hearts of hurt. Our joy is held hostage by our refusal to recognise our deepest pain. Part of being alive is to acknowledge and embrace our brokenness, to bravely lift up our sorrows and hurts for healing. The startling suicide rates are testament to the cries of this earth, our throbbing hearts of inexplicable pain and the desire to numb it all that we cannot put into words. On days that we are honest, we know little about where we are headed and what all this is for.

Dearest One, you were never meant to do this alone. Your struggle is real and the pain is searing, but there is no wound that is incurable, no sense of loss that cannot be redeemed. The lost time of your youth? Lost memories with your family? Lost relationships with those you still miss today? We are all people of brokenness – what matters is Who we place our broken pieces in the hands of. My life was transformed radically the day I came to know Jesus, He was unafraid of my own brokenness and mess, that I myself had did not dare look at. Just as I expected another one to scoff at my weaknesses or brush off my sadness as “a phase that will pass”, He spoke into my life with compassion and picked up the broken pieces, saying I love you. Little did I know then, that He has a track record of turning beauty from ashes and creating testimonies out of trials. One of His biggest miracles of feeding the 5000 men and their families with just 5 loaves and 2 fish began with His breaking the bread. The miracle of our salvation comes from the breaking of His body on the cross at Calvary.

The Miracle begins then, when we place our broken pieces in the hands of a loving God of miracles. Our souls are parched dry with hopelessness and the Hope for our hearts has never stopped knocking: will you let Him in?

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“Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. He also divided the fish for everyone to share. They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish. A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed.” (Mark 6:41-44)

Easter: There Is Food For The Hungry

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Breathe deep, slow down. As we savour the weekend in gratitude of the well-timed break, do you hear the grumbling of your soul? Do you sense the hunger of your spirit? Hungry for rest, longing to enter a safe embrace that protects you from the hustle. Hungry for freedom, longing for a refuge from constantly striving to prove yourself. Hungry for love, longing for a faithfulness that promises forever and keeps it. This piece is for the hungry; it’s for you and me, and all willing to confront the calling of our souls.

We live in a day of endless scrolling, mindless busyness and reckless pursuits. We are fueled by short-term pleasures: the cheap thrills and the expensive things. We are restored by the diesel of entertainment – episodes of a drama series, sequels to a movie and levels of a video game. We are sustained by our outfits of the day and incoming likes on social media. People’s praises, our expanding portfolios and the notifications on our phones all like breeze that brushes our faces. We are tempted to believe that they are here to stay, but they time and again reveal themselves to be distractions just passing by. Day after day, we return to the solitude of our souls, hearts and minds. As our heads lower to the pillow and we stare into the ceiling (if only we consciously put aside our phones that distract us), we are with ourselves truly. Then, the question arises, ‘What is this life for?’, ‘What is all this worth?’.

When we are quiet enough, still enough; we find ourselves thirsty after drinking, hungry after eating. The stomach of our souls have been corrupted by our misfeeding and the desires of our souls seem ever unsatisfied. But just as there is physical food to our stomachs and physical rest to our minds, perhaps the impending dissatisfaction points at a greater source of fulfilment. The nights of loneliness and the days of meaninglessness are all clues to a greater place of purpose. And just maybe, it hints that we are looking in the wrong places.

For all who are hungry, Easter points at the bread of life that tastes of rest, of freedom and of love. All in one, the goodness is saturated. The connection to its nutrition is a relationship that leads to fullness that is never hungry again. We so often settle for the lesser option – the nachos without cheese, popcorn without salt, peanut butter without jam. Don’t miss out on this one: the gift is the Giver.

Easter says, the hunger of our souls points us upwards. Not leftwards to the chocolate Easter eggs or rightwards to the bunnies hopping, it points us upwards. Not even forwards or backwards, because we would be bumping into each other. The out-of-the-world hunger is satisfied only by a similarly out-of-the-world source – this is why nothing we try from this world has a taste that remains past today and sustains beyond tomorrow. We are pointed to the cross on which the One who so loved you died and the tomb from which He rose again three days later. The hunger is real and the questions are valid, but we get lost in the search. The food exists and the answers await – not in this world, but out of it. Do you believe? 

Listen, nothing is without worth and neither are you. Everything with breath and place on this earth is created with a purpose, including you and I. It is this purpose that gives us worth – just as a jug is worthless until it is used to contain water and a watch useless until it is worn to tell time, we are living in fullness only when we are connected with purpose. Seek purpose wholeheartedly. Look upwards, to the only One who has the answers to your purpose. Look to the One who not only says He would give His life for you, He did. 

Easter is about Jesus, the Son of God, who died on the cross so you and I might live full lives of eternal worth. It is about the victory He has won over your past, present and future fears, insecurities and anxieties. Easter is about He who knows you fully and loves you completely, that He looks into your darkness and says “let there be light”. He looks into the mess you’re in right now and says “here I AM”. The promise has been delivered, not to be withdrawn. What will you say – do you dare believe? 

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Christmas Is About Christ

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“It really comes down to that: God loves us. The story of Christmas is the story of God’s relentless love for us. Let him love you – if God was willing to wrap himself in rags and drink from a mother’s breast, then all questions about his love for you are off the table. God has made his case: there is no place he will not go. No place is too common. No person is too hardened. No distance is too far. There is no person he cannot reach. There is no limit to his love.”
(From Because of Bethlehem by Max Lucado)

5 days away: the LED lights are set in place adorning every mall, every corner of every street. The mistletoes are plenty and Christmas trees well set up. The jingles of fa-la-la-la and ra-pa-pum-pum ring in our ears endlessly. Peace swells within our hearts and an unspeakable joy arises at the wonder of the season. It’s Christmas time. For years and years, the Christmas season has created excitement – an unexplainable generosity and tender-hearted kindness characterizes this time and a divine wave of restoration comes upon us, washing away debts and betrayals, emotional assaults and hurts. Renewal and healing reigns. There is just something about Christmas. Every year in this time, a floodgate of questions would be opened – What renders this season of such love? Why is there overwhelming generosity in this time? What are we celebrating anyway? This year is extraordinary for me: I am celebrating Christmas for what it is, truly. Returning to the reason for the season, this Christmas I am going home walking in the truth. Christmas is about Christ.

 Christmas is the celebration of an arrival as we await another – the arrival of a Savior. His name is Jesus Christ. The English name ‘Jesus’ traces its origin to the Hebrew word ‘Yeshua’ which means ‘God saves’. The story of Christmas is that of a God who loves His people so so much that He wrote Himself into the story in the form of the human flesh. An author comes to life in the midst of his characters; a playwright comes on stage amongst his cast. The story of Christmas is that of a love so so great that it saw the King of all Kings humble Himself to come into the world in lowest of forms – a little baby wrapped in rags, birthed in a manger. The all-divine, all-powerful, Almighty Prince of Peace comes into the world for His people to do for them what we could never do ourselves – to save.

For a long time, I had immense fear and resistance to God because the mention of Him would bring to mind a fierce disciplinarian waiting upon my failures and mistakes to reprimand and despise me. He was vastly misunderstood in my image of Him that was built on lies; the biggest lie of all was that He comes just to condemn and punish me. The story of Christmas tells the truth. The truth is that God is love and He comes first to save us from the darkness in which we unknowingly live, that which we ourselves have no power to leave. The truth is that God loves you relentlessly and He pursues you still with the wildest promise that He comes to save. God’s power is to be feared, His anger and wrath are real; but what is no less real is that nothing separates us from the love He lavishes upon us unfailingly. He is waiting on your ‘yes’. Yes, the God who created all of heavens and the earth came down beneath the very stars He created to extend the long-standing invitation to be in a relationship with you. (It is beyond imagination and beyond understanding. It is amazing grace.)

Perhaps you are confused, unsure about what you believe about God or Jesus Christ. Then, as you are reading this I pray for the eyes of your heart to see that you are not here reading this piece ‘by chance’, not ‘by the coincidental click on the mouse’ or ‘by the random leading of gut feeling’. This is an invitation from God Himself, He calls out to you and pleads with you to receive the love that is in Him. He brought you here. The truth of Christmas is that the baby in the manger knows your brokenness and understands your sorrows, He knows what is holding you back and the insecurities that trap you. He took on your face in the hope that you would see His. He sees right into the heart of your fears and wants to free you. In the words of Max Lucado, “If the King was willing to enter the world of animals and shepherds and swaddling clothes, don’t you think He’s willing to enter yours?”

There is confusion where we let Christmas be just about the jingling bells and smiling Santa Claus, where we celebrate the ornaments adorning trees and indulge in the endless sales along streets of the homeless. Do you hear the inkling in your heart saying, “there must be something more”? There is more Christmas is about hope that persists in the possibilities that life can and should be better than it currently is; Christmas is about faith that joy, peace and purpose will emerge victorious in our broken world and broken lives; Christmas is about love that remains faithful forever regardless of trials or failures. Christmas seeks the face of the answer to our questions, it seeks a love that each of our hearts long for deeply.

The face you’re seeking exists and the most radical love story is still being told today: they are found in a person that Christmas is all about. His name is Jesus Christ.

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Life Is: To Love and To Be Loved

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The countdown to returning to the sunny island we call ‘home’ begins. It was just months ago that we packed our luggages, bid our farewells, (maybe) shed our tears and embraced our loved ones; vivid memories at the airport still remain. At milestones as this, the fleeting nature of time confronts us and somehow takes us by surprise each time. Shouldn’t we have arrived at enough milestones as such to realise that our lives are like fog – here for the moment and gone in the next? Shouldn’t that realization compel continuous pursuit for greater? From the earlier days in Sydney, I had been seeking ‘love’ that I knew ‘had all answers’, that ‘always makes a way’; the ‘love’ that fills us with joy and peace, ‘love’ that builds character. Preceding years of service and volunteerism, convicted me of the incomparable value of ‘love’ that I yearned to be the foundation for my life.

Months on from leaving home, I discover the truth that we all receive an incredible love that my words do little justice to. My prayer is that reading this would encourage you to, too, seek true, pure and complete love that exists instead of settling for the counterfeit love that hinders us from that which is authentic and immeasurable.

Love is not selfish

In primary school, idle afternoons would be taken by poor movie choices, consisting mostly of chick flicks. Each of which provided an inaccurate and incomplete illustration of ‘love’ –  friendships were littered with betrayal and backstabbing, while the so-called ‘love’ between the couple that eventually gets together was more often characterized by attraction and affection, nothing more (think Mean Girls, High School Musical or Easy A). As my female peers (and now myself) enter university, there has been increasing pressure to seek ‘love’ in the ways of the world that we have been taught. We hear stories of “who’s entering the upcoming pageant”, “who’s dating who” and “who’s done it already” within the first weeks of university. No one talks about it aloud but within, fear and insecurities brew – What if I don’t find someone? What if I am unlovable? What if there’s no other way to love but this? But since when did being attached and engaging in sexual activity become measuring sticks for love and ‘lovability’.

These lies compound and we so often settle for the selfish love that is not love. The opposite of love is not hate, it is selfishness. ‘Selfish love’ is an oxymoron, for true love does not demand its own way. Love is not self-seeking. Today’s relationships (both boy-girl relationships and friendships) are so often premised on how the other can meet one’s emotional and physical needs – the increasing co-habitation trends in young couples are reflective of our taking one another on ‘trial sessions’, to see one’s fit to meeting our own needs. Friendships are no longer about sticking it out with each other through the ups and downs, but about the unspoken transactions. Until we commit to learning love that is not selfish, we are nightmares to be friends with or to date; betrayals and heartbreaks waiting to happen.

How many of us truly enter the relationships in our lives seeking to serve the other person wholeheartedly, instead of considering what we can gain from the relationship? Have we chosen selfishness over love that is not selfish?

Love is complete acceptance

For some part of my life, my frizzy hair was a source of great insecurity. Growing up amongst girls with long and straight hair made me think that my curly hair was unusual rather than unique. It is rarely discussed, but I came to find out from vulnerable conversations that every person struggles with some part of their appearance or their character – it is a shared human experience. Each of us, if asked for a part of ourselves we hoped to change, could most definitely come up with a list immediately. There is a difference, though, between wanting that change from a place of love (seeking growth) and wanting that change from a place of resentment (seeding destruction).

Especially in the Asian context, we are taught to treat ourselves harshly as a form of discipline towards change and betterment. There is, though, a discipline that comes from love that begins from a place of complete acceptance. Think of someone in your life whom you are certain about his/her love for you and consider this – in your imperfection and many weaknesses, this person has chosen to love you and loves you still. Does that mean that he/she will not want you to seek development and growth? Does that mean that he/she will love you any less when you change because you pursue a better version of yourself? One who truly loves you will love you too much to let you remain the way you are and instead, compel you with that love of complete acceptance to become better and better every day.

I have lost count of the number of times my emotional vulnerability has been taken advantage of in relationships. Over time, I have come to learn that those who truly love me not only protect and cherish it, but support me in learning to harness empathy as a strength. Love rejoices in our gifts being brought to light and tramples upon injustice. Are we pursuing the best version of ourselves every day from a place of love or resentment? Are we assured that we receive unconditional love even if we are imperfect and we will change? Or is conditional love taking the guise of true love, limiting the greatness that you were made for?

Love is life

Let’s ask ourselves, “What in this life is worth dying for?” because that same thing would then, be worth living for. Our futile pursuits that lead us deeper into emptiness assure us of the many things that are not worthwhile – our grades, achievements, travels and even memories will fade away in the matter of time. This strategy of elimination, though, is not quite time effective especially considering the fog-like nature of our lives. The dissipation is already happening; with every moment we draw closer to the end of this life.

We are all on our own journeys towards the truth of what this time on earth is meant for: for a long time, I had been lost in the roundabout busyness that our world draws us into. Today, I feel more alive every day and the turning point started in the moment I decided to make love my one calling. Throwing aside the things that were hollow of meaning, so that I had two hands empty to embrace the calling to love. I challenge you to do the same – reject the counterfeit love of this world and seek love, truly – then watch your life be radically changed as was mine. One that is not selfish and accepts completely, truly. I look forward to your testimony of life change, write to me at shng4630@uni.sydney.edu.au.

“Many of us live with incredible tension and anxiety because we think that our dreams will come true if we just get the right degree, if we just meet the right people, if we just get the right job. We assume our happiness is tied to our success, and our success depends on our performance. So we sweat and struggle and scheme and strategize, and we wonder why we aren’t enjoying life.” 
 Judah Smith, Author of Life Is ­­­­­­_______

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You Were Made For Greater

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What if I told you you were made for greater? You were made for greater. Greater than the unending busyness, greater than the relentless routines and mindless pursuits. You were made for greater than travelling to that job you don’t enjoy every day or studying the subjects you see no purpose in. You were made for greater. There is something greater in store for you than the endless scrolling through social media and the conversations that bring you more emptiness than fullness. Greater than you can even imagine and certainly greater than the greatest you think you’ve experienced. This piece is about the greater in store for you, inspired by a recent read Greater by Steven Furtick and the fires we are to start setting should we want to uncover the promise of something greater.

Set fire to our silliness

‘What is your passion?’ is the buzz of the generation. Left, right, centre, we are told to ‘follow our hearts’ and ‘pursue our dreams’ – we are the generation walking on the clouds, seeking something greater but getting lost in rollercoaster rides of adrenaline and burn out. Worse, we are confused and mislead in the false dichotomy of passion and practicality. Say this world we live in were a mansion, we feel like we are taking a gamble whenever we decide which doors to open and which others to close. The door of practicality appears to bring us into a room with cement flooring of stable ground but white walls of meaninglessness; vitality is lacking. Peeking through the slit of the door of passion, there are radiant colours and music plays but we fear that the ground there will not hold us. ‘It’s impractical’ or ‘You’re going to fail’ are the criticisms that hold us back from that first step that could make all the difference.

The greater life that we were made for though, is a mansion of open doors one after another – a myriad of colours painted on the walls and diverse types of flooring await our adventurous steps. There are many more doors than just two, passion and practicality are characteristics (that can coexist) not categories (that are mutually exclusive). There is more than enough room in this mansion to try and fail, if we only tried. Too often, it is not our intellect protecting us from regret but our fear preventing us from revolutionary. In the words of Steven Furtick, the real danger we experience in this generation is not that of losing our lives but of wasting them – wasting them for anything less than the greater we were made for. How greater looks for every person might differ, but we all start from the same place – setting fire to our silliness.

The silly things we do in this life are many. We hold onto our pasts that leave no room in our hearts for the present. We chase perfection to please. We spend more time doing things that mean less to us. We settle for less. We let irrational fears be our excuses. We let the people who don’t value us be our measures of worth. We are less aware of our convictions that shape our everyday lives than we should be. We are slaves to our silliness – making room for greater calls us to set on fire silliness taking up the rooms of our hearts.

What irrational fears and doubts are you holding on to? Who are the people who are telling you you are anything less than strong and courageous? Which commitments are you dreading more and more, to bring yourself to? How are you spending every moment in this precious life?

Set fire to our souls

In Youth Corps Singapore, we speak of the ‘fire in our bellies’ to refer to the innate passions that tug at our heart strings. It is that social cause that brings tears to your eyes, that sport that brings you to your feet, that topic of conversation that brings adrenaline throughout your body, that art form you could indulge in for hours and lose track of time. It takes different shapes and forms for each person but one thing is for sure – the mention of that fire enlivens an inner spark, warming our hardened hearts as if bringing us to life for the first time. It only takes a spark to get a fire a going and I encourage you to be mindful of the everyday conversations and choices you make, for they give you clues to what your spark might be. There is light in each of us, a spark that isn’t meant to remain as it is – like the sizzle from a match that strikes against its box, it is purposed to be thrown into the stack of wood to light ablaze the bonfire.

When was the last time you were excited about something? When was the last time you got lost in time because you enjoyed doing something so much? When was the last time you left a conversation fuller than you were before it? Let’s find that spark and set fire to our souls, the greater life awaits.

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Church Testimony: The Transcript

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5 months from the last time I’ve been given the privilege to speak before an audience and so much has happened ever since. Life has a way of tossing you into the least expected places in the most surprising of twists and turn – today, in a much more humble setting, before an audience of 30, I shared my favourite story yet

“Church, today I am privileged and excited to be sharing my story with you – this is a story of how I grew up and how I ended up in Sydney, a story about who I thought I was and who I’ve found I am. This is a story that God has woven into a masterpiece through my life.

God has been working in and through me before I even came to recognise Him.

For many years in my life, I have been an active volunteer and it is something many people remember or recognise me for. When I was 16, I rallied my class to sponsor a child together in Uganda; by 17, I developed a social emotional learning curriculum that was adopted by a primary school in Singapore; at 18, I lead a team of adults mostly in their mid-twenties to Vietnam’s Ministry of Environment to share a waste management plan we had developed; at 19 (last year), I started a social enterprise with my sister called Strong Mind Fit Body. We bring elderly Singaporeans together with youth volunteers for strength training exercises.

I didn’t know then, but God had been working through me and using me in countless ways to bring blessing and light to the darkness of so many.

 God came at a time I was exhausted and hopeless.

In my family, my parents are Buddhist and my siblings and I grew up mostly regarding ourselves as ‘non-religious’. (I have an older sister and a younger brother) The rest of my extended family on my mother’s side are Christian, but because of past conflicts and other negative experiences for my parents, we pretty much grew up being taught to reject Christianity.

The teaching was, “There are many things in life we cannot explain and there might be a higher being. But this higher being is not here to love you but to punish you – so be careful, do good and you’ll receive goodness but do anything bad and be condemned.” If you understand the ‘karma’, the idea is that “if you want anything you must deserve it and to deserve it you must work for and earn it”. How absolutely wrong we were.

Growing up believing that, even love had to be earned.

In the days I started volunteering, I was schooling in one of the most prestigious institutions in Singapore. Every day, we were reminded of ‘noblesse oblige’, which is Latin for “the privileged have an obligation of serving”. The label that enslaved me was ‘privileged’. The more social needs I saw volunteering, the more I was reaffirmed that nothing in this life that I experience and enjoy are deserved – not this privilege of literacy when millions of children don’t have a pencil to hold, not this privilege of safety when so many live on the streets in fear, not this privilege of a proper meal when millions struggle to even be fed. With no concept of God’s grace, the only logical response to this horrific realization was to be constantly in service to others and to deny myself any more of it if I could help it.

Closer friends knew how terrible I became at taking care of myself – my days would be packed from even before the sky awakens to prepare for our workout sessions all over Singapore, meetings with volunteers to whom I became a personal counsellor, travelling to schools to do mentorships, conducting volunteer trainings, facilitating camps and leadership trainings, speaking at forums and conferences.

Deep within on days I was tired of this life, there would be a voice that says “Who do you think you are? Who do you think you are that you deserve anything more? Who are you that you deserve a better meal? Or a decent sleep?” What I didn’t know then, was that God was in all of it. All the times I held the hands of our elderly participants at workout sessions or gave hugs to those who cried, He was holding my hands and embracing me in His warmth. All the times I missed meals and someone would think of surprising me with a proper meal (that was not fast food), all the times my volunteers surprised me with handwritten notes and affirming messages, all the times random strangers came up to me wanting to pray for me and all the times He let people walk in on me crying from exasperation; I was clueless and faithless, yet He was knowing and faithful.

Just as God chose me; for all of my life, I want to choose Him.

One of the first things I did after coming to Sydney, was to enrol myself into a self-compassion course. I had come to a rock bottom where I almost had no reason at all to be loving or taking care of myself. The voice that said, “You deserve nothing” had grown too loud to be silenced. It was then that a coursemate invited me to a church camp over the Easter Break. The first sermon that broke me was about 1 Peter 2:9. It says “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  

The name of the camp was ‘Chosen’ and the pastor talked about how each of us were God’s chosen people. Not because of what we did or will do or can do, but because He loved us so. We did nothing to be worthy of being chosen but we were and because there is no condition for this unconditional love, there is also no reason the love will be lost. We are chosen, and God isn’t going to withdraw this choice ever – the response we get to make lies only in ‘accept’ or ‘ignore’. There is no option to ‘reject’, for it wouldn’t be withdrawn.

In this world that we live in, everything is transactional – in every relationship and every person, it is about what you can give me and what I can give in return. All my life, this is the only type of relationship I’ve recognised; I can’t even count the number of strangers I’ve spoken to, conversations I’ve had, relationships I’ve been in that came from the intention of putting forth a request – “Could you help us with this?”, “Could we meet you to ask you questions about this?”, “Can you be the one to do this?”

When God came to me, He came, too, with a request. But His was not about what I could give Him or what He wanted from me; His was an invitation to receive. To receive something so so precious, something unimaginable. He didn’t come to count tabs or take back what I did not deserve, He didn’t come to punish or to reprimand. He came first to love and embrace and to serve.

My entire self and life is God’s.

I am an avid reader, I absolutely love reading books and writing my own prose. In a recent read, Desiring God by John Piper, the author proposes that we each live a life pinning our hopes on a single treasure – the ‘treasure’ might be family, career ambitions, grades, that ‘comfortable life’ or that holiday dream. We pin our hopes on those treasures such that our lives would be a waste if the value of those treasures were not real.

I once settled for treasures that were going to fail me eventually, treasures that would truly have made my life a ‘waste’. It is by God’s grace alone, in His giving me what I do not deserve, that I live and breathe in His truth. Every day now, I want to live a life that would be a waste if Jesus didn’t love me, if the resurrection were not true or if God were not real. So I know for sure, it will not be a waste for there is no more certain truth I know than the fact that Jesus loves me more than I can even imagine, the resurrection is the most important historical fact in humanity’s past and God’s presence is undeniable – for all of my days, I will pin my hopes on the One who will continue to pick me up no matter how many times I let Him down, who will continue to forgive me no matter how many times I fall short.

In every moment that He breathes life into me, I wish only to bask in His relentless love and bring Him glory in all that I do. Jesus freed me from the burden of my sins and the weight of the chains upon my soul; I have decided to follow Him with all my heart, all my mind and all my soul. And I’m never turning back. Thank you Lord, for bringing to me a place of childlike faith and untradeable joy.”

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