When I got the news, I wept.

Even though really, I should have jumped for joy.

Looking back, it made me challenge all the narratives that we’ve been taught and are teaching others.

“The world depends on you. You are unstoppable. Your dream is as big as you want it to be. You can be anything.”

Once upon a time, I believed and preached it. Now, I don’t believe that anymore.

It’s not that I’ve become cynical. Far from it. But I am discovering, with great trepidation, fear and awe, that perhaps when we choose to circumscribe our dreams with our values and wants, and frame them with grandeur through our self-prescribed lenses… we can
crowd out the world.

We call it passion, drive, reckless abandonment even.

I did, too.

My crashing point came when I found out it was my third time applying to Johns Hopkins University, and it might be my third time letting it go without completing the applications- again.

The first time it happened, it was between the decision to get married to a man who had travelled 10’000 miles to Singapore, or to leave for the States and return to miss a part of my destiny. The second time it happened, God called us to serve in Uganda before I finished my application.

The third time I applied, my husband said it was time.

One day in Africa, I remember a local doctor question me about my qualifications.

“You’re just a doctor? Not even a Masters? You could have done so much more for us with more qualifications.”

I left his clinic early, ran home and wept.

As much as I knew his statement did not represent the majority of Africans who had displayed so much gratitude and hospitality to us, there was truth in what he said.

My skills were limited, they circumscribed what I had to offer. The more I served the poor, the more I realized I didn’t know.

It was a mentor, a regional leader for World Vision for over 2 decades who told me, “The world’s poor only deserves the world’s very best. You need to go to Johns Hopkins.”

I applied to only one university. Some said I was unwise; a well-meaning professor offered me a local PhD programme as a backup. I had to turn it down. That PhD would not have helped me better serve the poor in a developing context in future.

But the tidal wave came in when my husband told me that instead of our original plans of moving back to Canada for 5 months a year for 2 years to fulfill his citizenship requirements for his healthcare for his liver transplant and then for me to pursue my further studies, he was given the opportunity to take up a unique missions role based in Singapore. It was a real honor for him.

I was so proud of him.

But it was now me versus you. My dreams versus yours.

It was hard to talk that night. Two of us, crouched over, holding hands and looking into the darkness, bursting with pride for the other’s achievements and the opportunities that lay ahead, and yet bristling with turmoil. The air was electric with tension but neither of
us said a word.

Dreams should never be this way, should they? Me versus you.”

The internal turmoil grew every day. Yet the more it grew, the more we spent time holding hands, determining that God would give us a common dream to grow towards, and not separate ones to tear us apart.

Weeks later, we both decided. If God made it clear to us for Cliff to take up this role, I would give up my MPH application, or do it online, part-time and we would have to trust that God would sustain his health without the health care renewal. At the same time, if God
made it clear for us to pursue the original plan, then he would give up his role here.

That evening, holding hands, we looked out into the darkness as we both lay our dreams to rest.

I hated what came after. It resurrected the selfishness ingrained in the dreams we wanted to crucify. Well-meaning people came up to me and reminded me, “You’re missing the opportunity of a lifetime.”

I overheard the grave disappointment of my supervisors, “She could have just gone for a year and returned, couldn’t she? Poor girl, what a waste.”

I became objectified as the sacrificial, foolish wife again who couldn’t put herself above her husband. Of course, they never knew, how much Cliff had to give up and lay down all these years, every day, to intentionally help me fulfill my best. Whether it was giving up a restaurant decision, or sacrificing his time driving me to speaking engagements, it was never “me versus you”.

It was always “us”, we moved as one, towards a collective, inclusive dream which was bigger than us combined.

The night we buried our dreams, however, something magical happened.

It was like the individual dreams we had drawn for ourselves were now free of boundaries. It was not “yours” or “mine”. It was about us. Together as one, we were powerful.

But this was not a narrative I was familiar with.

I was featured on Forbes, Prestige magazine, the Straits Times… the angle of success always focused on what I had achieved, what I had done, how I had gone against the odds to pursue my dreams.

But what about the dreams of heroes that died, which were buried for a reason more worthwhile than themselves? Did they not take more courage, more humility, more self-sacrifice than any pompous, self-gratifying, and single-headed pursuit of a dream at all costs?

I learned an important life lesson that day- that it is a myth that our dreams belong to us.

The world does not depend on me, I am not indispensable. I am not unstoppable- a relative’s illness, an expecting child, a husband’s dream, does not take a pitiable second place to my
own.

My dream should never be as big as I want it to be, but what God has destined for it to become, in His way, in His timing.

Contrary to what the world says, I can’t be anything.

This is the narrative I discovered, which was so true. And yet, I knew, so unpopular and contrary to all the talks and stories which people invited me to speak about in public.

That night holding Cliff’s hand, with tears in both our eyes, I realized there were things, values, people that were far more important than our own dreams at times.

Our personal dreams are not the end-all, be-all.

That night as we slept, I had a dream. I dreamt that I was flying a kite, like the kite in my first book, Kitesong, a book about finding one’s dreams. The string broke, and it came crashing down. I ran to it, picked it up, and ran to deliver it to Cliff. In his hands, it
lay intact and he helped me to fly it again.

I woke up.

That eventful week, Cliff got news that his leaders unanimously felt to release us to our original plans. They proposed Cliff could take up the job offer at another later season in his life. I was speechless.

But he wasn’t the least bit disappointed. Instead, like a man truly surrendered to God’s will, he smiled and said, “God’s way is the best way. Let’s celebrate.”

So when I got the news that I was accepted to Johns Hopkins University, I wept.

When we found out they would allow me to defer my program because of our pregnancy and convert the original online/part-time program to a full-time/on-campus program so I could start school when baby was bigger, I was in shock. When I found out I was 1 of 2 selected for the Fulbright scholarship which would only sponsor on-campus (and not online) programs, I reeled in amazement. Although it covers only a part of my school fees, we have to trust that He will provide the rest of the 60K or so and more.

I should have jumped for joy, but being overpowered with gratitude sent me to my knees instead.

I am learning, that the kites we fly are never our own. They must never be about us. They belong to others, to those who love us. They belong to the One who created them.

If we hold on too tight, the kitestrings will break.

But when we release them to the people who taught us how to fly them in the first place, when we surrender our dreams to the One who created them, that’s when we can truly learn how to fly.

Thank you Cliff, for teaching me to fly my kites, and to God, for creating them.

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“If you never mentioned, I never would have known!”
 
I knew what people were referring to. Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder how it also applied to many other facets of our lives- a dream, concealed from the public eye, quietly simmering away; an idea, too shy to be disclosed, shaping itself; a song, veiled undercover, composing itself inaudibly.
 
Besides early pregnancy, there are a lot of things in our lives which we don’t announce, which people never know, and yet hold incredible significance for us, and the world.
 
For my gestational age of 5 months, I know I’m considered “small”. Until the fiery karate kicks came on board, I often felt very much un-pregnant on most days.
 
In the same way, I believe many of us carry a dream in our wombs. Yet, because it’s not “showing” yet, we may grow discouraged from the lack of sentiment and fanfare from those around us.
 
What amazed me, however, was seeing Baby on the ultrasound at the five-month mark. In just a matter of 5 short weeks, its delicate frame and fragile, toothpick legs had grown into a chubby torso and chewy drumstick legs responsible for its daily kickboxing routine.
 
I learnt- that even when we don’t feel like anything is happening, that doesn’t put a dent on God’s continuous miraculous working in our lives.
 
What amazed, and continues to amaze me, is how little control I have over this budding creation forming inside me. For all the privilege I have for being the very vessel and steward to bring this life to birth, I have absolutely no active say in forming Baby’s face, gender, or heart in the womb.
 
While I have control over certain lifestyle decisions which can help Baby, I often feel I have no direct control over my burgeoning body, expanding itself every day to accommodate this amplifying being, stretching itself in its inexorable draw towards life.
 
But God does.
 
It made me wonder, if perhaps, this applies not just to carrying a baby, but really, being a steward of the dreams God has placed in each of our wombs.
 
The truth is, we’ve all been called to steward something- our studies, finances, job, project, or ministry. Like a baby in the womb, each of these has the potential to birth into something powerful and meaningful into the world, or die a premature death.
 
As stewards of the dream, we feel ultimately responsible for how our dreams turn out. So we strive and strain, we toil and tug. At times, we work ourselves to death.
 
Yet, I am learning- could it be that all that we have been called to steward are just like the baby formed in a mother’s womb- entirely ours, and yet, entirely not.
 
Could it be that all we are called to do, is to labor at rest, and put our faith in a God whom we can trust will bring this life-filled dream to pass?
 
After all, all that we have been called to steward- from our finances to our jobs to our children- never really belonged to us. They do and do not. We are but temporary stewards, of what ultimately, belongs to Him.
 
Just like the mother who reads up on what to eat, what to do, what not to do, we too, have a part to play in sowing, watering and nourishing what God has blessed us to steward.
 
Yet, it boggles my mind, in awe-inspiring wonder, to know that it is God who created the seed, the destiny packed within that tiny seed, and Him who makes things grow.
 
We plant, we water, but He makes it grow.
 
This paradigm shift changed everything for me. It made me not worry about whether Baby would be affected by Zika, whether we would “shortchange” Baby’s future by serving in the mission field, or whether Baby would become a successful human being in the eyes of the world.
 
Because ultimately, what defines the success of the fruit we bear, does not lie directly in our striving and strife, as much as it does upon the restful faithfulness with which we cultivate our relationship with the Creator who creates, grows and flourishes.
 
What we commit to Him, He gives back to us. Just as how we don’t own anything we have, we don’t own our children either. We are but stewards of this great honor, chosen to govern dreams and lives.
 
Looking back, this directly applied to our time in Africa as well. With just a year there, we often wondered what impact that would make at all. Yet, more than a year later, quietly and without fanfare, we’ve seen how a small weekly village sewing project has flourished into a full-fledged vocational school teaching underprivileged women how to sew bags and footwear; the little village girl whose life we helped save has grown to become a beautiful toddler; the dismal healthcare project I helped to initiate has become a transnational partnership with Singapore.
 
I’m not discounting the effort we put into what we steward. At the end of the day, I believe God does ask us to give an account for what we were called to guard, protect, sow into. Yet, I am learning, that just as how God is the Creator and Lord of this growing baby within me, He, too, is the Lord of every other aspect of our lives.
 
In these past 5 months, I have been well conscious of the fact that I don’t look pregnant. Similarly, when we live our lives, it may just very well seem like nothing very much is happening.
 
Yet day by day, Cliff and I pray for our baby; I eat my multivitamins, we sow words of faith into our child. Similarly, shall we not continue to sow, to plant, to water, even when things look dormant?
 
After 13 months of what seemed like a stagnating partnership, I was on the verge of giving up on the Ugandan-Singapore healthcare training project. Then, just a few weeks ago when I was abruptly transferred to a new workplace, my supervisor requested me to present the project to the senior management and on the spot, they agreed to fund this project, so that it could be used as a model of outreach to other ASEAN nations in the near future.
 
We plant, we water, we are called to be faithful- but God makes things grow.
 
I don’t know what it is you’re waiting for today- it could be an outcome, a result, a birth of a dream you’ve been longing and travailing over in prayer, in your studies, workplace or calling in life.
 
People all around you could be telling you how abysmal your situation is, how unpromising things are, how unlikely it looks that anything is growing inside of you.
 
But just as how unpregnant I’ve looked for the past 5 months, I am learning, how amazingly silent our God can be when He works the miraculous, humbly and unapologetically.
 
So don’t give up- keep planting, keep watering, keep being faithful.
 
After all, if God planted His seed in you and chose you to steward it, will He not grant you the ability, strength and favor to mother the dream He created for you in the first place?
 
The rest, belongs to Him.
 
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“For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen,
being understood by the things that are made,
even his eternal power and Godhead;
so that they are without excuse.”
-Romans 1:20
 

I’ve always been terrified of pregnancy.

Mood swings, perpetual discomforts, unbearable pain.. were what I’d learnt from the media. Medical school primed me for worse- complications, interventions, terminations… It looked arduous, and not for the fainthearted.

Yet, I knew I had to face this someday. Cliff had always longed to be a father. What he eventually found out, though, was that I was terrified to be a mother.

Absolutely petrified.

But how prayer changes things.

While I prayed for God to change my heart, Cliff had prayed for Him to help me overcome my fears, and for an easy, joyful pregnancy, whenever that would be.

As time passed, my fears about pregnancy and parenting didn’t dissipate- but they became small, insignificant even, in comparison to the plans and purposes God had in store for us as a family.

A mentor of mine texted me one day, “Wai Jia, I think you’re going to start a family very soon.” Filled with sadness from a false pregnancy alarm just 2 months before, I asked directly if she was so sure because she had heard from God.

“Well, yes.”

The very next month, we found out I was expecting at 5 weeks.

Here it goes, I thought.

I anticipated it would be dreadful, that I would struggle with the battery of pregnancy sicknesses and battle with dark moods.

Instead, the past 20 weeks have been one exhilarating discovery after another, as we peeled away petal after petal of God’s amazing goodness, to come closer to the core of His heart for us three, in a lifetime of serving the needy together.

Instead, we stand in wondrous awe at the life that is growing, kicking, loving us from the inside, establishing itself not from our own capabilities, but because of God putting His plan, set before the foundation of the world, into motion.

He sows, and He grows. What a privilege that He should count us worthy to carry a life to fruition, and to steward its destiny.

In the limitations of my human mind, I expected this new transition to add new challenges and thus, strains onto marriage.

Instead, I am in awe of how a husband’s love for his wife could grow even more, beyond what I could ever imagine.

It’s as if when we married, I saw my husband’s love for me fill the sea. And now, it seems like it’s filling the skies too.

When you had to leave overseas for a work trip, you left a daily treasure hunt and flowers for me, telling me how proud you were of your pregnant wife taking care of “two of you”. When I was feeling blue and overwhelmed, you turned the entire day around by ending it with a fun and romantic trip to buy a beautiful maternity dress for me- you were the only man in the shop! And amidst your busyness, you signed us up for parenting and prenatal courses, and continue to devour one parenting book a week.

In the limitations of my human mind, I think to myself: pregnancy ought to be hard. I imagine it’s hard because the world continues to tell us how difficult the journey is. It continues to spin recklessly while our own world starts to change, transform, slow down.

The dissonance can be alienating, distressing even. But you’ve changed the whole dynamics of it, dancing in rhythm to a changing song I keep feeling out of sync with, creating a parallel universe for me that feels safe, and memorable, even.

You’ve made pregnancy so joyful, I think I could do it all over again.

In the limitations of my human mind, I think to myself: pregnancy ought to be hard. When I was scheduled for a sponsored work trip to Norway right in what was supposed to be the peak of morning symptoms in my first trimester, I thought it would be a disaster.

Yet, it turned out to be the best road trip ever, with us going on planes and ferries and long hikes to see astounding sights. It became an unexpected ‘babymoon’ that could only have been planned by God in His timely fashion.

It should be an expensive endeavour, but God has blessed us with a Gynae who refuses to charge us a cent for consults at her private clinic here.

It should have been an emotional roller coaster, but Baby has been such a joy and ease to carry- my mood has been the most stable its ever been, I’ve felt healthier and happier, and sleep far more soundly than I ever used to.

How God confounds us, in His amazing grace and mercy.

In the limitations of my human mind, I think to myself: pregnancy ought to be hard.

But God has a different message- one of grace which knows no depth, and love that knows no end.

I am learning, that when we release our fears and subject our lives to His plans, how He can break the limitations of our minds, surpass our human understanding and confound the wise.

This journey ought to be hard, what with the multiple upcoming transitions of crossing continents, and what could be another 6 moves in 2 years to do what He has called us to. But God has surprised us again and again, with His amazing blessings which never cease to confound, and break the limitations of our understanding.

Thank you to all of you have been journeying with us, and to an amazing husband whose love reflects His. <3

More updates to come about our next big transition halfway across the world.

Love,
Team Tam (with Tiny Tam)

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Baby Tam praying in the womb at 13 wks (LEFT)

and kicking (What a KICKER Baby is!) since 16 weeks up to this point at 20 wks (RIGHT)!

Love how those chubby legs have grown!

Inching towards their halfway mark in their pregnancy triathlon,

Team Tam is pleased to announce a new addition

to their Tri-Team in Jan 2017!

(More to share, in time to come!)

Thanking God for our Team-Tam Trio!

Thank you for journeying with us!

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During the interview by Focus on the Family, they asked me what I appreciated most about my husband. My candid reply was,

Something I see evidently in Cliff, which I’m so grateful for, is that he really invests into his wife’s life. He is constantly laying himself down, making it intentional to enable me to reach the fullness of my calling. That’s the greatest blessing I’ve received in our marriage.”

And Cliff’s reply,

One thing I really appreciate about Wai Jia is that she is willing to go out on the mission field to serve the needy with me. That means we are on the same team. We can overcome our misunderstandings and conflicts because we know that we have a common goal and these issues we face are not something that will tear us apart.”

 Believing in Marriage with you.??

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This year on my birthday, the message I felt for me this year was, “For such a time as this!”

As some of you may know, this relates to the story of Queen Esther, a girl of extraordinary courage who had to make a decision of boldness and courage which could have cost her her life.

So I could not pass up the invitation to share at this conference with the same theme.

Entitled Brave-hearted Women’s Conference, this conference calls for young women to live out their fullest destinies in their lives. The other speakers are exceptional!

More details and registration at: http://www.globaltickets.sg/en/brave-hearted-womens-conference

PS: I’ll be speaking on Saturday afternoon 20 August at one of the workshops.

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Having never stayed a night apart from the husband since we married, we wondered how I’d fare with him leaving on a missions/work trip for four days. I’ll have to hand it to him to prepare a treasure hunt for me to find handwritten letters at home each day, with each day’s treasure hidden with increasing difficulty, and to have flowers personally delivered to a cafe I was having dinner at one evening.

“Since you’re coming home, no more surprises right?” I asked.

“You’re wrong,” he said. “I’m your BIGGEST present and I’m on my way!”

 

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When no one is listening, could it be that God is always, always listening?

Some time ago I remember wondering how lovely it would be to visit Europe one day with Cliff. Amidst the work we were doing among the poor in Africa, I brushed the thought aside as a self-centered one. It was a fleeting thought, one which never materialized into prayer.

A year later back in Singapore, I worked intensively for 10 months on a research policy paper looking into healthcare needs of vulnerable migrant workers. My professor told me, “It’s challenging to present sensitive topics like this internationally. And it’s a European conference focused on European issues, so objectively your chances are very slim.” Nonetheless, we gave it a shot. Neither of us expected it to be selected, much less for me to be fully sponsored by the Ministry to present my work at an international healthcare conference in… of all places, beautiful, breathtaking Norway.

A love gift given to us a year ago which had been strictly stipulated for “vacation only” covered Cliff’s travel cost. When we discovered, to our dismay, how expensive Norway was, we were randomly given four free hotel stays worldwide, to cover nearly all of the remaining days, at rates higher than we could ever afford ourselves.

It is at times like this I tear, thinking of the goodness of our Heavenly Father, who does not merely choose to answer what we ask for, but He fills, gives and pours out even when we hold back. Overwhelmed with gratitude, I can only thank Him- not merely for His mind-blowing gifts which are unexpected and undeserved, but His astounding Creation of unending mountains, glaciers and waterfalls spilling out at every turn, and His unchanging character of a Father who loves to love lavishly.

Thank you, Cliff, for being the world’s best travel planner and companion. You pulled off this EPIC do-it-yourself 1000km road trip with such ease and charisma I feel like I fell in love with you all over again.

Thank you for living life with me.

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The famous fjords of Norway, with natural waterfalls plunging like pearls from every slope

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Beautiful ice-capped mountains and glaciers not at a tourist site, but just by the roadside.

We simply had to get out of the car to capture the picture perfect postcard moment! 

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The view from a place we stayed at overnight

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These unexpected sights in summer loomed at us as our train slid past

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On the day we were supposed to take a ferry to cross a famous fjord, it started to rain.

I was so disappointed and prayed that God would simply hold the rain for just an hour for us to enjoy the views.

Amazingly, the drizzle halted for about an hour before the rain pelted down again into an unforgiving storm.

But the stormy weather and gusty winds made for unbelievably formidable sights, with a flock of seagulls chasing us.

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Can God really not exist?

When I was first asked to be interviewed by Straits Times and to speak at a national mental health conference, my instinct was to say no. After all, of all the things to speak about in my life, this has always been the hardest.

But through God’s grace, the prayer and encouragement of friends and family, and Cliff, whom many have astutely called “my rock”, this has been, by far, one of the most significant milestones in my life

Last Saturday, must have been one of most enjoyable talks I‘ve given about my “Journey of Resilience” to a group of health professionals at the Singapore Mental Health Conference 2016.

Without the love of Cornerstone Community Church, key friends & mentors, my family, Cliff and God, my life would have taken a turn far different from that of today. Thank you to all of you who’ve been a part of my journey.

Love and blessings.

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It was a privilege to be at the inaugural Forbes Asia “30 under 30” Summit this week.

One of the amazing things which stood out was the consistent Asian narrative cited by many listees, about their parents being key to their journey of growth. One of the judges rightly pointed out, that this would be uncommon at the Forbes event in America.

While some parents had to uproot to foreign countries and struggle to provide their children with better opportunities, others played a part in instilling foundational Asian values in their lives which were key to their success today. Some parents earned a living making roti prata (an awesome kind of Indian street food), others who moved to western countries never mastered English. None of their sacrifices were ever glamorized, awarded, or put on the big screen.

Before the event ended, an older lady from Afghanistan went on stage to share about her initiative to help girls in Afghanistan go to school and get an education. In that context, this was absolutely taboo. When she gently probed the audience to share their impression of Afghan men, the words which came up were “dominating”, “tyrannical” and “dangerous”. Yet, these very same men were the fathers of the girls attending her school, in spite of death threats from the Taleban.

Amidst these amazing people, I felt like a fraud of course.

Nothing I have done has even come close to the world-changing impact that many have made. I might have had some tough choices about my career to make, but my life pales in comparison to the sacrifice, struggle and surrender of some of these outstanding individuals, who have laid down their lives for a cause bigger than themselves.

They risked their lives. And had parents who risked theirs for them, too.

Growing up, my father, who grew up in a village and suffered from malnourishment as a youth, always told me, “You have to make the most of every opportunity you have to give something useful back to society.

This is the tenacity which binds the Asian-family narrative which many of us grew up in. This is the nobility of our Asian parental heritage that laid the foundation for our lives today.

As much as I was privileged to be in that hall of 150 outstanding world change-makers aged under 30 (feeling like an odd-ball next to their entrepreneurial achievements), it blows my mind to think of the amazing parents, who were responsible for raising them.

This picture is for my Dad.

Forbes