28 Jun 2015

are you an anvil or a pickaxe aka how to really be a blessing

We all need to be beaten into shape.

Life will deal us blows. And it rarely happens when we are all alone, although it happens most when we feel we are all alone. Huge difference there.

The blows of intimidation, anger, accusation, rejection, disappointment, betrayal.

Some get these blows direct, hard, often.
Most get them on occasion.
Sometimes the blows aren't enough to kill us, but they are slowly destroying our zeal to live.

What we don't realise enough though is that we serve out those blows too. And it doesn't just happen when we are the direct agents causing the hurt. It can happen too when instead of being an anvil, we become a pickaxe (or ice pick or whatever you fancy).

The anvil is what a piece of metal to be shaped sits on. It is strong, solid and takes the blows with the poor metal being beaten into shape. without the anvil to rest on, the work does not get done. There is no stronger substance to absorb the blows. The anvil also has various parts that help to get the metal beaten into the right shape - to add a curve, to punch a hole.

The pickaxe or ice pick on the other hand works by striking and breaking a large piece up. If you are prone to analysis, love perfection, cannot stand uncertainty - this profile probably fits better. Situations, people, crises are all taken apart in your mind and heart; and comes tumbling out in words and mannerisms. Also, as most of us have become so used to being picked on; by parents, teachers, peers, even the media - it is the easier skill to imbibe.

P: I'm worried.
J: Why? What did you do? Are you sure the worry is valid?

I've come to realise that I lived a very insecure first few years; and my attempts to feel unafraid have ranged from being knowledgeable, to being funny, to be right, to being strong. {what about you?}

So it's easy to be a pickaxe.

Yet, those same experiences and my efforts to make it safely through a treacherous world have given me an empathy and mercy that is deep as it is easy.

So I can be an anvil.

I am writing this because just recently i felt the painful jabs of a pickaxe - again.

My initial response was to pickaxe back - even if I mostly do it within me. But time and many painful episodes have taught me it is a rather futile regiment. I do not ignore my pain or gloss over my sadness. I take it to the One Anvil I know who can take all the blows. I trust Him to accept the blows with me and in His Silent Sovereignty to direct those blows so that they shape me up and not smash me apart.

It is hard to not react when you sense danger or feel alarmed.
It is hard to not despair when in a moment all that you thought was in the past come rushing back.
It is hard to not fantasize of another world, another time and drug yourself with false hopes.

The metal being beat sees that threatening pickaxe or hammer coming down and it must be terrified !

But it is not destroyed. For it sits on The Anvil.

"we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." ~ 2 Corinthians 4v8-9

And while waiting for the sting to fade, such moments help a lot:

21 Jun 2015

how long it can take to say Happy Father's Day

I never said it much growing up.
We are Asians.
Father's Day wasn't invented yet - not to me anyway.
If it existed, and I knew about it, I'd probably have resisted it.

Not much to celebrate about, I'd say.

So dead wrong I was.

My children are now fifteen and turning ten.
The wheels of time just keep rolling on. In my lesser moments, with the crowding of unpleasant memories - and with Mother's Day still vivid (did he do anything anyway?) .... no need to be so insistent on fussing over what a man's got to do.

So wrong I am.

This morning, the actual Father's Day, I woke up because I heard him call my name. But I turned to see that he was still sound asleep. The voice was recognizable, distinct, clear, firm. Perhaps it was God? So I did the Samuel thing: speak, I am listening! Nothing.

I was asleep one moment. Then I am awake. It doesn't normally happen this way at all.

It's Father's Day I thought to myself. My first thought, honestly, was my preaching coming up later in the morning. Then I whispered, "Happy Father's Day'" to God!
Then I thought about my father.

The one who with my mom were the chosen lives to come together and combine their genetic material to generate me. 

My picture of my dad is not a clear portrait - all gleaming, wall-hanging ready. It's more like bits of mosaic lining up unequally and unevenly.

He could do things with his hands. I remember one time, he brought home timber! He sawed, hammered, nailed... and a chunky double decker bed emerged. I don't remember climbing into it much less sleeping it. Perhaps it wasn't sturdy and my mom had him take it down.

Then there was the time he came home once with an accordion. I had never before seen such a thing and was fascinated by the way it folds and the sounds that whinnied out from it.

He sometimes told jokes. My mother laughed once or twice at them.

Quite a few times, he returned much later than expected and it seemed he had taken the wrong bus. {like the way I get lost I suppose - the blood carries strange things}.

I remember we watched three things repeatedly: Hindi movies, nature documentaries, and wrestling. Thanks to my dad, I am adept at eating with my hands, never let skin colour bother me, can recognise David Attenborough's voice anywhere... {but no, I did not take to the wrestling bit}.

From my mother, I got the story that he had been suspended from school because he was too playful. Apparently, in order to keep him restrained, the teacher had drawn a circle. He stepped out of it. They asked him to step out from school. His father and mother didn't cared. He never graced the doors of a school again. He never took us to school, except to bike my baby sister to her kindergarten.

He loved the thrill of a good gamble; but he made humble bets. Although we did have encounters with loan sharks at one time. Each time he did win, the house would fill with something. But they don't last very long. They go missing pretty quickly. He must have lost then.

He smoked. I had a sensitive nose. When I turned teen, I self-righteously berate and made him feel bad/guilty/worthless for inflicting us with second hand smoke.

If I loved my dad as a child I do not remember it. I wished I did. I would have made music with him, learnt to build a thing or two, maybe got lost together on those bus rides. 
Perhaps I did not love him because we were busy getting by.
Perhaps I did not love him because my mother was struggling with her deep disappointments in life: she had vowed not to marry someone who gambled, but her mother set her up with my dad. And a mother's shattered dreams are shards that are best avoided.
Perhaps I did not love him because there was a sorry need for love in my own little heart.

Thankfully, at age eight, God became a reality for me. Among the many things I would learn and discover about God, I found I had a heavenly father.

God became the father I wanted and needed.

But when I was old enough, God turned my attention back to my earthly father. It began with the mission all good Christians embark on: saving folks. My dad needed saving, that wasn't difficult to see. But in time, God showed me, my father would once again be God's instrument: his cold, indifferent, cavalier attitude about God, called forth Christ in me. I needed to be saved from my lovelessness.
Patiently God waited for me to grow up. When God said, be a friend to your dad through my gushing tears - and I said 'yes' - a whole new capacity opened up within me. I saw how he was a hurt, unloved person in so many ways; and appreciated how much it must take for him to even be who he was.

I miss my father. I certainly miss it that he did not get to walk me down the aisle or see my children. His silliness would be wild fun for them!

I cannot recall how many 'happy father's day' I managed to say in the end. But I am glad I got to say it, finally. 

That verse in Malachi about God turning the hearts of children to their fathers? God is always doing that. He is love; it's what he does. Later Paul puts it slightly differently when he said that God has entrusted us with the ministry of reconciliation.

It took me a long time to say Happy Father's Day because I could not see what a gift my dad was, stuck as I was in what the model dad should be; forgetting that he did not have a father who showed him how, and without God in his life; how was he to ever know?

Yet this is valour --

When he got married and he saw his bride thumbed and abused by his mom, he courageously took her, their two pots and one bag and left in the middle of the night. 
When the children started coming, he worked with a changkol [shovel], he worked as a coolie. It was back breaking and he was tempted to get faster gains and his gambling habit grew. But he never indulged himself. It was always to help us live a little better. Get a toy or two. Eventually he became a clerk at the Harbour Board. But a horrendous driver came up and threw him off his rickety bicycle. They gave his job away. There was no one to look to for recourse. 
If his work outside did not work out, he worked at home. He cleaned and cooked. I still miss his best dish - pig's tongue stewed with soy beans and onions. No one makes it like he does. Sometimes we came home to hand written messages that the water had been boiled and is safe to drink. In a lighter moment, we captured a photo of him using our first vacuum cleaner. 

He didn't have much going for him in life really. But he had an optimistic, can-survive demeanour. We probably got them from him too. Not to mention his linguistic ability. He didn't have many opportunities and no patrons or mentors.

But God did give him am amazing wife. With her, they had nine children! I am glad to be one of them.

When a man has given life his one best shot, as he knows how... it is worth celebrating. And Mr Ho, he gave being a dad a shot. He did not supply us with plenty, but he looked to see that the rice urn and the sugar and salt was there. He did not know how to egg us on to success, but he never held us back and we could see his quiet pride at every graduation. He never told us his love or demanded from us anything. He accepted gifts reluctantly and his sanguine self can go very quiet when attention was fastened on him. But God knows, he tried. I thank God for opening my eyes to see it before it was all too late.

Now, he is having a well deserved rest and a truly wild time in heaven, just fit for his personality. He is home, safe and free at last.

Happy Father's Day dad!

where I grew up

And - to the man who is partner to the children I now have, that's a different and no less important Father's Day to celebrate for sure!

31 May 2015

It's all about The View: I zoom out and try to get God's view!

Did you ever feel like you are backed into a corner and have only so many options?

I am feeling it right now. In my case, it's just one option. Nothing life-threatening thankfully; but here is what is happening.

I have lived in my flat now for eleven years. We renovated it when we first moved in. Then we had to repair the toilet - twice! (At one time, and it still happens some days, I live in a first-world flat with a toilet that annoys me with third-world sewer smells. It's a mystery says the plumber... and I remind myself what privileges I enjoy already).

Now we are about to embark on another project to create a personal space for the mighty teen. There is a natural space for it but because of The View, we have to carve out the dining area to create her room.

This is The View.

The Bishan Park - one of Singaporean's favourite local spot!

To keep this view; we will embark on an inconvenient and unconventional plan involving carving out a room on one side of the dining area. This will create a less than satisfactory balcony space, permanently remove my sunny spot for the laundry, involve relocating three bicyles, and, upset the cat... it's a lot to deal with.

But it was hard to battle The View.

We all agreed that we loved The View and the area should remain as is and not become someone's bedroom.

In a way we kinda worked ourselves into this spot. We chose to turn one of the rooms into our home office complete with so many shelves lining the walls; sleeping in it will feel way too bookish; and a bed cannot fit in anymore. So yes, this decision made it necessary to make the current one, because of course of The View!

The view is great. It's hard to beat in a city. It's been paid for and scrupulously maintained by the government. You can see life, families, animals all having a spot of life with exercise and movement and the occasional picnic and photo shoot. Why, even the Prime Minister has chosen this spot to make his speeches!

But one consideration can sometimes limit us.

Like the time I spoke with a retiree who said he wouldn't think of traveling overseas even though his skills are most helpful; because he gets motion sickness.

It is really funny how one thing can dictate another. I have stopped eating chicken lately because I suspect the feathered friends are not longer on chummy terms with me as I get hives from so much as drinking the stock!

What's more; sometimes. the one thing can run our lives!

There are those who can analyse a situation to death; but for most of us, I notice that we mostly live with a view round about the tip of our noses. We don't make all the connections or think hard and long enough about most things. I notice 3 things about most of us:

Our attention spans: brief.
Our analysis: limited to what we can associate with.
Our responses: hemmed in by emotions that cloud our seeing.

So perhaps we live a little too close to ourselves, and not enough in touch with others. Really.

Besides, every one else must fit into the frame of our view or be blurred and lost in peripheral vision. 

All the more so when you live in a competitive, fast-paced island with a narrative that we must keep swimming faster or we sink; our view can become pretty narrow. We can go so fast, things can get so blur; we don't notice, care or engage - really.

So here we are, each one of us, muddling and hustling along with the weight of our own universes on our backs.

It's a sadly funny sight at the train stations in the morning: teeming scores of people looking bored, tired, and wishing they were somewhere else. Our own weights get so much some resort to pretend to sleep to avoid giving up their seat to others; while others require a poster to remind them to 'bag down' so they don't hit others with their bags! Don't we notice that there are other people?

Just the tips of our noses and our own heavy bundle.

What happens when we can zoom the lens out and see a wider picture? 

I have noticed things I didn't before.
I see connections I didn't pick up earlier; that may explain some things.
I have realised that things take time to pan out; and my present panic isn't worth it!

What happens if we can pan out some more -- all the way to where God sees things?

I try to imagine.

A lot of what I fuss over probably won't matter.

and -

Patience ~

the situation may change.
your heart may grow stronger.
your spouse may get the chore done.
your child will grow up and be more responsible.

On Mother's day I had gone to speak at a church where we were at more than ten years ago. I can remember the parents who angst over their teens. The teens who didn't seem headed anywhere. Then I see them - some have gotten married. Some have really surprised us! The parents are in such a different place.

No matter how many flowers we have seen blossom; each flowering still needs its time to go through the stages. We have to be patient.

And I remember too that there are different ways to think about Time.
 The time we are most used to is chronological time (Greeks call it chronos). But there are other ways to see the passing of the moments, the events, the seasons. There is kairos, when time is ripe, special, a divine intervention, a heaven-touching-earth moment. Then there is teleos which speaks of time moving towards a final purpose and towards an end goal.

For the faithful, kairos and teleos shape and define chronos. Our daily hours and moments are meaningful and important because they can be interrupted by Grace and explode with potential. It is not a mere ticking of the hours. We live present, and with a sense of joyful expectancy because things are leading up to something.

This is The View - the really big picture!

When I look out my window onto the park; I imagine God looking at us. I see the the smallish people alone or in groups. I notice the water, and I often hear the noises, cries and barks. All of it forms the picture of the park at that point of time. I don't have the wisdom or insight into the specifics or can quite describe how they fit into that day's plans. But God - when he looks at us - He alone knows how the puny bits that are us fit together in the grand scheme of things.

So, when I get too caught up with the minutiae of my life and begin fussing over what I feel is missing; I remind myself to expand my horizons and think of other women, mothers, wives who live in the next block, the neighbouring nation, the further reaches of our earth. This I remind myself is God's view.

My prayers and requests are valid but they are not definitive for life.

When I feel like it is but a daily grind; I try to spot the kairos moments of Grace and pray to see that things are shaping up and working out. I plaster patience over my anxious heart and call it to be still once again.

It's all about The View.

How's yours?