24 Feb 2015

The strangest coffee-shop talk ever: is this man in love...with himself or what?

I just got back from lunch. It was my usual fish soup and rice meal, simple, tasty, I'd like to believe health-full too.
Singapore's fish soup version 1 

The routine is pretty usual, I walk up to the stall, smile widely at the Chinese gal who by now recognises me, makes some small talk and repeat my order.

The coffee shop was crowded today with lunch-goers, some seated around those roll wooden table tops tossing their lo-hei on this day of humanity 人日。Maybe after all that zodiac calibration, we figure humanity should have a little affirmation even if the Chinese love to compare ourselves to animals, with sayings such as, slogging like a horse/bull.

So I sit at this table fairly close to the stall, half of it occupied by containers of nearly-finished New Year cookies. I had just begun gingerly stamping the seeds out of the chilli padi with the end of my chopsticks when a baldy skinny man with a cup of tea in his hand asked to occupy the empty chair. I nodded and smiled a little. He began to move the cookie containers to one side giving himself a decent berth; I gathered my bowls closer to myself too, in case he needs that much space!

His food arrived and he asked the server. "where is the dong gua?" The server stared blankly. So being the busybody I am, I said, it's "huang gua" (冬瓜 would be winter melon while 黄瓜 is the cucumber). And this is when he began.

"I eat here all the time. She is not here anymore. She always knows I need cucumber. If it was not ready, she would prepare it for me. She left... July 11th 2014....She's really good..."

Naturally, I smiled and said, wow. Which meant he continued.

"I used to buy her stuff. I come for lunch, I buy her mango. Sometimes I go to Paragon and get her Tiramisu from Gastronomia, I buy the good stuff you know, I think I spend maybe five, six hundred dollars..."

"Why didn't you propose to her since you are fond of her?"
"No la, I just live here, I eat here all the time. I bought her Hagen Daz, those small tubs in a box. She shares it with the others. She knows exactly what I eat and prepares it nicely for me...I will buy her..From Nov when I got to know her, I come nearly everyday. Sometimes more than once..."
 "Sounds like you found a mission"
 "Ya now so boring, don't know what to do... I wanted to give her money but she won't take it. You know she said 'O, my father is sick' or this kind of things...So only during New Year I can give her angpow, she won't take it. See? This kind of person you know. Then I knew she liked chocolates. I know her schedule each day.... "
lone man are often lonely 

So yes, in fifteen or so minutes, I found out enough and, I needed an exit strategy --  because he is pining for someone but he is unaware. He is in need of love but cannot identify it when it comes. He is retired and purposeless but he is not ready to hear any inputs. When I left, he was kinda mid-sentence!

Would you pray for this retired 50+ man who is obviously lonely, lives with his mom and sister, is financially stable, has a father in the aged home, AND really needs a life purpose plus a true friend !

"The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it..."~ Genesis 2v15
"The LORD God said, 'it is not good for the man to be alone...'.." ~ Genesis 2v18

23 Feb 2015

Falling out of love because we fix on the failings..and the One Failure that turns us into Success

No more love.

The cat's wound was inestimable. Laying on her side, the cat seemed bemused by the attention she as getting. Yet, who cannot help but stop and stare. She had a huge gaping hole in her stomach which revealed all her innards. There was movement; and I realized to my disgust and horror that maggots were already squirming. It was a marvel that the cat was still conscious. But she did not mew. A kindly man came with a small container of water and tried to flush out the maggots. The cat winced and then simply laid her head down…

My mind returned to this real-life incident because I was thinking about my wound.

It probably happens to most, if not all, marriages. The love simply runs out. I had tried hard not to go in that direction. But finally, I had to admit, the feelings had long run out. O, what a huge gaping hole I felt within me. It was unbearable. I hated myself for loving so poorly; and for being able to stop loving (for so it felt). No matter what I filled my day with, this reality swirled around within me like a haunting tune I could not stop humming; and this suggestion kept seguing in: 'get out, move on'. 

The big D word hung over me like a metal sheeted cloud. Light was finding it hard to break through.

But still, Light did. Small, faint shafts, a glimmer here, a spot there.

And of course, I was not the only one. The D word fell out of our hearts. When we heard it, a tremor shook our now wan souls. After all, we knew the Word. We knew the real-life stories. But most of all, we knew God makes a difference. But how?

We had to deal with the daily grind.
We had to struggle against a constant assault of negativity.We had to fight guilt, despair, anger, hopelessness.

But God did not zap these things away. Instead, he nursed the wound, slowly, gently, carefully. 

While I cried out regularly with my barrage: 'His fault!'; God's Word dew the barren landscape.

'Whoever wishes to gain his life loses it. But whoever loses his life for my sake gains it.'

'Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another.'

'For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not harm you….'

Slowly, repeatedly, I had to come before God and confessed. I blew it - yet again. It did not seem like I would succeed. It was dismal. We were too different. My heart was numb. I had a wound so deep. Often, it seems my valiant efforts went unnoticed and unrewarded.

I did not love. And I was unwilling to.

God's Word began to make clear the cost of loving. 

Yes, we have all heard to said: to put the other first blah blah….it was mostly blah to me. Not hogwash, for I know it is true; not just because of other folks and how things turned out for them. I know it is true because that is precisely what my Saviour did: Jesus did put us first; He relinquished His heavenly rights for us, out of His love and obedience to God! Jesus shows us that a Greater Love can bring about all loves.

So loving my spouse and loving God are bound together. It is all Love or it is not. But I have met my Waterloo. I cannot win this one. I dread to think that I am failing to love the One who has loved me when I was just a bundle of cells floating and forming in the darkness of the womb. "For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen" - 1 John 4v20.

There was no dogding when the Light becomes so spot-on accurate.

'O God, I am wretched! I simply cannot . do . it!'

And then, suddenly, I could. 

Very little. Very unsteadily. Inconsistent. But it comes.

Yet it is not our willpower that will save the day, or the marriage. It is God's Will that does it. When we align our wills with His, something happens - God's power in invited into the situation.

Now I see it: God's grace preserved us. Many times we would have totally broken; but His grace broke through and we mend just enough to cease hurting each other. All this time, God was slowly and gingerly, lovingly and patiently working at my wound. No, he does not throw water hoping to flush out the infection (yes, that's it). He remembers that I am but dust. 

To restore my soul and close the wound required his expert hands and the timeliness of his healing touch. 

I have slowed. I am more rested. I am more hopeful.

Whereas I tried to do what a wounded soul could not - love heroically
Whereas I kept doing what a wounded soul does - question, fight, struggle, cry, get cynical, curl up in self-defense.

God brings us again and again to the One Failure that will turn us right side up and lead into true Success: we are unable; but, are we willing?

I cast myself daily into my God's strong arms. At times, I can almost feel Him hold me. Other times, He seems awfully quiet. Over time, one thing is sure, the wound is healing, there are more bright spots than dark ones. Hope starts to float about in the air and the spaces.

Some days I wake up with a smile on my face as I contemplate an even greater wonder and an enduring Success so sublime: Christ is being formed in me (imagine that!).

reflections of Light require that
 we face it

Your Turn: what has given you hope when a relationship has been less than what you desired?


12 Feb 2015

Love, sex and The Marriage

In one conversation with a young adult about marriage, she was honest enough to say that while she wasn't crazy about settling down; she did wish to experience sex.

She is still single today; and I am glad she is living purposefully.

But society has made sex such a big deal, and such a cheap thrill.

Even while we still shift uncomfortably in our chairs and blush at this topic, the world has charged ahead to accuse us once again of being priggish, prudish and behind-the-times. Faith is for old ladies with knitting needles, not hot-blooded gals and guys. Not only that, our whole one man-one woman arrangement is outmoded and o so restrictive!

So today, we need to talk about sex, for these reasons:
1. sex has become synonymous with Love in our media.
2. sex is not properly wowed about

In our day of self-fulfillment at practically any cost, those of us who believe that sex is a holy thing properly handled in suitable places and ready hearts are made to feel backed into a corner and have to explain ourselves! We are the accused -- our broad and grand ways in Christ are made to be narrow and old-fashioned and we are labeled fear-mongers.

But I think my little parenting wisdom works here too: like I teach my kids, if you are right, you don't bother getting angry.

We work with our script and guard it. Not let some thief come in and rip it up.

Let's return to point 1: sex = Love. The equation is clearly flawed. Love is far more than sexual intimacy (& intimacy ala Hollywood's sizzle).
Ask the couple who struggles to consummate but have stayed married. 
Or the couple that no longer can due to illness, imprisonment or abandonment. 
Ask those who had a go but have since been let go because a wilder body walked by. 
See the unlikely couple who is now going to have a second boy. (this world-class guy-without-limb Nick V).
nick 's family last year

Sex is a gift so powerful we unwrap it too early and wrong to our peril. Ps Scott Sauls puts it this way:
God put guardrails around sex because sex is the most delightful, and also the most dangerous, of all human capacities. It is a transcendent, other-worldly experience. Sex works a lot like fire. On one hand, fire can warm and purify. On the other hand, if not contained properly and handled with care, it can burn, leave permanent scars, infect, and destroy. So it is with sex. I have seen this play out in scores of pastoral situations over the years. “There is a way that seems right to a man,” says the sacred Proverb, “but in the end it leads to death.”

The Bible describes sex as an interchange of two souls within the boundaries of a marriage between a man and a woman. It is meant to be a physical expression (and not the only expression) of our human longing and experience for love. And this particular expression is a fire that must be lit only when one is mature enough to be committed to handle the fire that it is: you do not walk from a fire as it can burn things down.

So, the larger thing is the Marriage. And that is the real Wow.

For those who fight for their right to marry whoever they love and want to commit to; their frame of reference is self, love and sex. The marriage arrangement is plagiarized in order to become mainstream.(and if we out ourselves in the shoes of those who have been the target of venom and deep prejudice, we would empathise). But it goes to show that --

Marriage is the real wow.  Whether arranged by elders or the outcome of a pursue-response of two who felt drawn to each other... or even the political outcomes of a lobby for reasons ideological and economic, marriage remains for many a state to be much desired.  So whether you entered it to become like the others, to escape, to grow up, to move on.... All married people soon hit a fog almost impenetrable. It is so much more and way too little at the same time. Yes it has taken us millennial to uncover this and we may never fully figure it out - because even Paul, enlightened by the Spirit only manages to say this much: it's a mystery folks.
We had paternalistic models that we balk at today. Thankfully many societies have moved beyond that and Jesus' treatment of women was most instructive and catalytic towards this huge sea change. Yes there are many marriages that do not shine or even survive. Yes, you and I may not have an easy go at it for many reasons including the intrinsic difference between the genders which can make union challenging.

But that the realities are broken shards does not mean the actual Vase did not exist before. It just means someone broke the Vase. And since we no longer have that pristine Vase, frankly, we're all a bit lost! But the answer is not to each grab a shard and cut ourselves till we bleed for our sense of mastery of the mystery. No, we take the shard we have and we imagine the Vase while we appreciate the shard!

This imagination is what we need.

a surprising rainbow and its glow on a dark evening - the whole rainhow is in your mind

What would happen if we could recover Love and Marriage for the grand vision that we glimpse from revelation? 

"What if we  shifted our emphasis toward THE MARRIAGE to which all other marriages are but a shadow—the mystical union between Jesus and his bride, the Church, which is inclusive of believing husbands and wives, as well as widows and widowers, divorcees, and other unmarried men and women? According to sacred Scripture, no matter what one’s marital status or sexual orientation, the first moment of trust in Jesus makes that person as married and complete as s/he will ever be. From our first moment of faith, Jesus is our Bridegroom and we are his Bride." (Scott Saul)

What if we thought and started to feel along these lines? Those of us married, longing to, unable to, not yet ready to... 

We would cultivate our hearts and coach our lives towards the purity, passion and purpose that Christ deserves.

The longings of our hearts and the yearning of our souls which are satisfied when we commune and unite with God is what this marriage picture is about. it is about lives reconciled and at peace with God. It is about hearts on fire with passion for God. It is about time, talent and tools all directed for the purposes of God. This is what lovers feel - the desire to join, and this is what the sex act does.

At the heart of all of life is our need to return to God, to be united with Him. We did not just go through a status change, much less a change in our habits or lifestyles alone. We underwent an essential change of DNA. The Western church with its rationalistic mindset is not so familiar with this way of seeing or saying things. But Paul talks about it from various ways:
But he who is joined to the LORD is one spirit with Him ~ 1 Corinthians 6v17 (NKJV)
...put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of is Creator ~ Colossians 3v10 (RSV)

The new DNA opens up our original need and longing for God. Some of us feel it more keenly in nature and beauty. Walking among the trees and feeling the wind gently on our cheeks awaken something in us and we come alive. Some of us gravitate towards ideals and strong causes and are energized as we pursue just actions. Others of us enjoy quietly making notes and marking our trails....behind it all is Love's creation of us and drawing us to His naturally inclusive, embracing reality. Our desire for love is a response to the call of Love. And it does not take marriage (and sex) to respond.

You are loved my friend.