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October 2012 Archives

Changing Checkboxes

So it was with a little fanfare that I stepped into the 35th year of my life. Caleb’s preschool concert, along with the Hari Raya Haji long weekend meant that I had a bit of time to reflect on what I have been given, and more importantly, what I have given.

My 35th birthday

When you get older birthdays mean less, probably because the older you grow the more of them you’ve had. The mental milestone for me this year was that I’ve shifted up an age bracket — I can no longer check on the “29-34 years old” demographic when I fill up surveys. I am now in the “35-40 years old” category, and that scares me a little. For a person whose few prized possessions in life include a skatescooter; and whose wardrobe is made up of a lot of t-shirts (Threadless sales ftw) and a grand total of 3 polo-shirts, all about a decade old; growing up is a sober reality.

A quick mental flashback of the last 35 years brings out so many memories, and many things to be thankful for. I was by no means a model child, and yet somehow God preserved me through a childhood where so many things could have gone wrong.

In my early teens I hung out with fellow delinquents in the neighbourhood, some of whom would serve time for drug use, and others who eventually became policemen due to constant interaction with the men in blue. Most would say I hung out with “bad company”, but looking closely and examining those relationships, I would say I hung out with better company than most teenagers would ever have. It was the situations we found ourselves in that weren’t great. Though we no longer keep in touch, I remember the many late nights we hung out at the void decks, them smoking, and me talking about Jesus. It was such a funny combination, but that meant my brothers kept me out of the rough stuff. They’d only tell me about fights after they happened; and they never once doubted my friendship because I refused a cigarette.

Falling head over heels in love with Faith over the past two and a half decades has been a large part of my life. As with every relationship, it had its share of heartbreak, longing and tumultuous times, but every moment points us onward to Christ’s longing for His bride, and for the eventual reality that Christians await.

And then there’s Anne and Caleb, whose warm little palms fill our hands and hearts every time we stretch out — sometimes to cross the road, but most of the time for no reason at all other than just to feel their presence in our lives. There will come a day when we will stretch out our hands to find that they’ve outgrown us, but Faith and I will enjoy these small pleasures every second till then.

It is suffice to say that God has been enormously generous with his blessing on my 35 years on earth. But the question is whether I have been faithful to Him with that which I have been entrusted with.

Have I invested the time He has given me unto eternal things, or earthly things? Have I used the gifts He has given to glorify His name, or mine? Have I taken up the spiritual leadership in my family, or let the world and its values run rampant in the family?

The account of Dr Richard Teo has been making its rounds on the internet, and the theme has been a recurrent one in my life these past few months. Faith and I set up our family before God, with the verse “That in all things, He might have the preeminence” (Col 1:18), and it is time to renew that pledge, and hack away the barnacles of worldly wisdom that I might have considered treasure.

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.

Isaiah 55:1-3

Keith Green was 29 when he died. Jesus was 33. I’ve outlived them in time, but scarcely a shadow in quality.

May Christ increase, and I, decrease.

OurSGConv's 1st Citizen Dialogue

When I was asked if I wanted to participate in Our SG Conversation’s first public citizen dialogue, I jumped at the chance to spend a few hours with fellow Singaporeans who were passionate about helping shape Singapore for future generations.

It did not take long for our small group conversations to gain momentum as individuals shared their struggles, and then their hopes.

These were but a few of the very heartfelt conversations shared.

To be frank, the beginning of my small group conversation began with complaints that the government was utterly incompetent and wasn’t solving the problems citizens faced. But that quickly fell away as we came to the realisation that the building of the country required the ingenuity and will of all Singaporeans, wherever life has placed us.

What really got to me was that despite the very diverse group of citizens assembled, there was so much consensus on where the country ought to be headed. One of the main themes that emerged was the need to (re)establish values in a society that most agreed had become overly materialistic and competitive. Singapore needed to be more compassionate and caring, more creative and daring to innovate.

And being pragmatic Singaporeans, we immediately set to work out how the education system needed to be changed, how policies needed to be rewritten and how government agencies and political leaders needed to espouse these values we all felt had been eroded in our hasty climb up the ladder of global meritocracy.

But it is impossible to speak of Singapore without asking the same hard questions of ourselves as Singaporeans: a compassionate Singapore is made up of compassionate Singaporeans. And thankfully, these are changes not entirely subject to the bureaucracy of government policy.

We need only choose to exhibit the traits which we think the country currently lacks, and if enough of us do, a significant change would begin, and the country’s countenance, once cold and hard, would melt. Yes it is a naive thought, an overly optimistic hope perhaps, that our whole society could change simply because it chose to. But for that one brief moment, when 60 of us — most of whom knew nothing of each other — gathered into a room and shared our hearts out, there was a common foundation and strength that makes me believe that this is change we can enact from the ground up.

Balancing Act

My dearest wife,

Thought it would be important to write this memory down — it is one that has helped define our two decades together.

I don’t remember the exact date of that church outing to Pulau Ubin, but it was very early in our relationship. We couldn’t have been older than seventeen.

We had rented tandem bicycles to ride around Pulau Ubin. In those days, the bicycles were nowhere as fancy as the ones today. The bikes were a little rusty, the tires a little misaligned, and you could count on them squeaking to their own rhythm as the group of us rode down the path from the bike shop near the jetty. We didn’t obsess so much about equipment in those days. The tandem we rode on did not have any functioning gears, and the two black gear levers on the handlebars were perpetually stuck.

I couldn’t care less. The fact that we were on the same bicycle in front of God and everyone at church left me a little giddy with exhilaration. Boy-girl relationships, between teenagers no less, were still sort of taboo during those times. There were a number of us on bicycles, many exploring Ubin for the first time.

We came to the foot of a very steep slope and the bunch of us were either too lazy or too stupid to get off our bikes, opting instead to power these rusty frames we were sitting on up that slope through sheer obstinacy. And so we huffed and we puffed, and what seemed like a small slope grew into a mental Mount Everest. Our little group starting falling out en masse, and with more than halfway to go, only two tandems were still battling it out with Father Gravity.

I turned my head back to find out if you wanted to stop, and you managed to huff an “I’m ok, keep going”. We put every last ounce of willpower into the singular goal of keeping our feet off the ground, one downward stroke of the pedal at a time. I stood on the pedals, leaned forward and pushed on with all my body weight.

The girl on the other tandem tapped out, and the couple hit their brakes and got off. We were now the only bike still trying, with a third left to go.

We kept our eyes down, focused on the road and kept pushing on until we made the top.

I was so very, very proud of you; proud that I had in you a partner who didn’t hold anything back, and put in everything so that we’d overcome as a team. I felt no feeling of personal accomplishment whatsoever: it had been overshadowed by the euphoria that came with the confirmation in my heart that I had chosen someone as special as you to be my partner for life.

And in the last 20 years I have had that privilege to experience it over and over again. Whether in housework or taking care of the children, it is a blessing to know that if I go all out, you’d do the same. There is no need to calculate who’s doing more, or who’s holding back. It is a most precious assurance to have.

Caleb said the other day, “The two of you are always fighting!” We were a little shocked and wondered if the children saw something we didn’t. “You’re always fighting over who picks Anne up from school.” Anne chimed in, “You always fight to make sure the other person gets to rest”. We laughed. It was true.

My sweetest wife, I hope these will be the fights we have for the rest of our lives together. To be able to protect and care for you has been the greatest honour of my life, and God willing, I intend to always do my best. I’m able to go way out on a limb, only because I know that you’d do the same.

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