Motherhood is different for everyone.

For some, it’s marked by great joy and bustling excitement- for others, with tears and loss.

For most, perhaps a mix of the above.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought my early days of motherhood would be characterized by an expression I could only find in the Chinese language.

In Chinese, when taken apart, the characters “矛盾 (mao dun)” literally refer to a spear (矛 mao) and shield (盾 dun).

Chinese legend had it that in a time of war and battle, a busker was selling “the world’s strongest shield that could defend any spear” and “the world’s sharpest spear that could pierce any shield” to the king’s army.

It beget the question from a village passer-by, “What happens when your own spear butts against your own shield?”

It was a contradiction, a paradox of sorts- illustrating the meaning of the term.

In my first weeks of motherhood, this Chinese term made its appearance over and over.

It’s a beautiful time of enjoyment, of integrating a new life into one’s own- but also a time of great demands, of dividing one’s life into hourly blocks of nursing, burping, rocking, shushing, washing… and then all over.

It’s a time of raucous gatherings and celebratory fanfare- but also of long lonely nights of quiet musings and at times, desperate tears.

It’s a time of celebration, of a baby’s first bright-eyed smile, first coo, first giggle- but also a time of mourning, of the loss of one’s personal time, space, and work.

It’s a time of assuming a proud new identity and also of losing one’s proud old identity.

One night, at our baby’s 6-week growth spurt, I finally felt the climbing sleep debt push me over the edge of a cliff. Fatigue hit like pelting hail.

With round-the-clock on-demand nursing, unpredictable schedules and multiple night wakings, I wondered how such a beautiful season of life could also be at times, so frustrating, lonely and painful.

矛盾 (Mao dun). Like how a spear clinks against a shield, the dissonance was jarring.

One cold wintry night, as tears began to roll down my face, onto a little peach-faced cherub I held tenderly in my arms, I asked myself where they had come from.

It was then I was forced to acknowledge, that while I loved and relished being a mother, part of me was missing my old life- the old structured, clean, unmessy life, which was either circumscribed in meticulous routine or scribbled with unbridled spontaneity.

Brochures and leaflets of new mums always showed them with perfect smiles and luscious hair without eyebags, frowns or tummies- who let this other world exist?

Instead, day and night was a blur.

One night, while rocking a wide-eyed newborn who had yet to develop her circadian rhythm from 1 to 4am, I felt every color of frustration, anger, and self-pity consume me.

I hated not being able to control, predict or schedule my days- or nights. I hated that I needed help from others, and that my life revolved around another being. I hated that people told me this was normal.

Normal!

I wanted out.

Desperate for relief, I prayed, pleading with God for rest, but more importantly, to show me what it was He wanted me to learn.

That night, in the tear-filled darkness, I heard Him ask me- was nursing, burping, rocking, loving on His child less important than my own pursuits?

Was mothering not productive or fruitful enough for me to feel unembarrassed to let my busy, high-flying friends know that I was busy being a mom?

There were times I could do nothing but hold a little baby on my lap trying hard to burp a frowning little tyke, and wishing I could free my hands to type, read, study, cook. But I learned, that God chose MY two little hands to hold, kiss and rock this little bub, and no one else’s.

Another pair of hands could hold, kiss and rock her but they would not be the same.

It was then that I realized where the 矛盾 or contradiction came in.

While entering a precious season of nursing, rocking, shushing, patting, kissing and holding, a part of me was still clinging onto caffeine-strung work days, schedules packed with back-to-back meetings, and late nights preparing for endless suit-and-jacket presentations.

Part of me had been clinging onto a now decaying definition of what “important” meant, giving no room for what its new meaning now held.

As I pondered upon this great paradox, it dawned upon me that the dissonance arose from resisting the process of self-crucifixion, of denying one’s flesh for a purpose greater than myself.

Therein lay the internal conflict, the 矛盾, of having to continually deny my own desires, pursuits and flesh for another.

I learnt that parenting our baby with love, was like how my husband, Cliff had and has always loved and continues to love me- putting my needs above his, ungrudgingly, even when it requires sacrifice.

His love is a promise to be there always, and in his words, “a choice I made, a commitment for life” even when the going gets tough, when one feels exhausted, frustrated or unwilling.

I learnt that while parenthood can drive a wedge between a couple, it can also draw two people even closer together as a team. I’ve never appreciated Cliff more- for how he can joyfully bring Baby out in a stroller walking for miles just so I can get a haircut; how he can persist in bottlefeeding her amidst bawling refusals; how he endlessly smiles through the stains of parenthood and laughs it all off, because everything can be washed and cleaned in the end.

I learnt that motherhood is a mystery- not everything is linear, or can be explained by a formula or theory. Sometimes you do everything “right,” and the outcome is still a curveball. I learnt, for example, that newborn sleep comes in fits and spurts, and is ambiguous at times no matter what techniques you use, even though I am infinitely more comfortable with predictability, clarity and hard answers.

I learnt that no baby or mother deserves to be compared to others, because each one is unique. Every baby is different, and so is every mother.

That night, after three hours of soothing, rocking and crying (on both sides), as I lifted my tired, bleary-eyed head up, I saw our newborn’s eyes finally flutter shut. I then caught, in the darkness, a magical moment- the biggest sleepiest smile spread wide across her cherubic face before she drifted to sleep.

It was at that moment I learnt a key lesson about motherhood- that it is when we learn to surrender our rights- rights to our own pursuits, time, sleep, and really, rights to our entire lives…. that we can fully find joy in giving our lives for another, the way Jesus did for us.

For when we lose our lives for another, yes even in this context, that is when we truly gain.
I realized, that the way Cliff had loved me, was the model of sacrificial love that lay the perfect foundation for parenthood.

Since that night God spoke, that outrageous sleepless episode never repeated itself.

I am learning, that when we lay the battle between our flesh and spirit to rest, the spear and shield (矛盾)within us can be laid down.

The conflict within ourselves stops when we not necessarily discard, but simply lay down our professional and corporate identities to assume a new and sacred one- that of being a mother.

Our internal strife ends when we hand over our lives to God.

Only then, can we grow into grace-sown, faith-filled parents, who are continually being stretched, tested and growing.

I am learning, that God is far less concerned about what we own than what we are willing to give up. He is far less concerned about our definition of success, than the definition of significance we place on what He calls us to do- whether it is submitting a project grant for tens of thousands of dollars, or wiping drool off a cherub’s face.

He is far less concerned about the money we make for the house we think we need for our families, than the kind of home we build as a legacy for our children, one that is built upon pillars of faith, surrender and obedience.

He cares most about where we place our identity, what we value, and whether we are willing to surrender our lives to what He calls us to, just as how Jesus surrendered His life in obedience unto Him.

He is pleased when we are so focused on Him that we can surrender and lay our lives down for love with these words: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” – John 15:14

Some say a life of success as a working woman, and significance as a mother, are contrary to each other. They say as a working mother, you have to take up your sword and fight the world.

But I’m learning, that when we choose to define success and significance on God’s terms, love, and not spear and shield, wins the battle.

When we lay our weapons down, that is when we become free to luxuriate indulgently in the boundless joys of motherhood. The night wakings become special moments with our little miracles; each whimper, burp, and cry to be soothed, a sacred privilege. Our homes no longer look messy, only lived-in, loved on. After all, this time will pass all too soon.

Now, tears still often well up in my eyes- but they are tears of joy, of nostalgia, as l desperately yearn for those special moments with Baby to be folded like origami and stored into a treasure chest forever.

Motherhood loses its sting, when the 矛(spear) and 盾(shield) are laid to rest, when we surrender to God, the way we ought to surrender every aspect of our lives.

Thank you Cliff, for being the example of a surrendered soul, willing to love me, and now our family selflessly, at the expense of your needs. You set an example for me in every way.

Thank you Baby, for being the vessel God is using to enlighten and encourage me, with your mile-wide smiles and generous giggles. You bring more joy to Mama than you’ll ever know.

And thank you God, for the incredible reward and abounding joy that comes with parenthood, when we lay our spears and shields down to surrender our lives wholly to you.

Truly, the battle laid down is the one that’s won- with love and love alone.

 

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“These things I have spoken to you,

that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.

This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 

Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”

an to lay down one’s life for his friends.”

– John 15:11-14

Some words from my husband…

I’m so proud of my wife for attaining her Masters of Theological Studies degree today at Zion Fellowship.

I remembered she started this about two years ago when we were in Uganda. Never could we have imagined the day we would have the opportunity to go to the graduation ceremony in the States, a 4.5 hr drive from where we stay now in Canada.

Now I’m motivated to complete my Masters of Divinity.

Must finish strong.

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Never in my life would I have imagined pursuing theological studies, getting married or becoming a mom.

But because of your unwavering persistence and steadfast love, you not only turned me into a wife and mother, but a pursuer of God with you.

In uncanny coincidence, on the very morning of my graduation from a Masters of Theological Studies, I received news that a project I’d ploughed through back as a doctor in Singapore to advocate for the healthcare of vulnerable migrant workers, finally came through.

After meeting with roadblock after roadblock, I had given up hope. I remember wondering if my work in my day job would have any significance in the light of eternity. After countless hours of interviews with injured migrants, I was heartbroken to think it could all go to waste.

You assured me it wouldn’t.

Many doubt-filled, faith-filled, tear-stained prayers later, with your hand over mine, God finally brought the project to fruition, as a key first step in advocating for their equitable care.

Today reminds me of the surrender our lives should be, without segregation between what is secular or sacred. It reminds me of my theology thesis on why our faith and work should be integrated in beautiful tapestry, since everything in life we do is unto God.

For all the times you sacrificed your time and surrendered your pursuits for me, I can’t thank you enough for giving me a glimpse of God’s love.

For all the times I struggled and fell short, thank you for reminding me that I’m still a work in progress, an unpolished vessel in His hands.

 

I graduate today on Zion Hill from a Masters of Theological Studies,

only because of God’s amazing grace,

and you.

Thank you.

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“Brethren, I count myself not to have apprehended,

but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, 

and reaching forth into those things which are before,

I press toward the mark for the prize of

the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

– Phil 3:13-14

17862786_10158507916515635_4567630664641287895_nWould anyone like a cuddle?”

17992233_10158534509965635_891358754878087489_nHello there.

18118490_10158560070080635_1019179221847518915_nGood morning, sunshine!

Thankful to God for all He’s done,

and the gift of life to us.

When I heard his voice, my jaw almost dropped.

It just seemed surreal, that even after moving thousands of miles away to an opposite time zone and we were certain to lose touch, that somehow, a blog reader and stranger-turned-friend should contact me, because “I’m with Grandpa Zhou now and I showed him photos of your baby girl. He says she is very cute. Do you want to talk to him now? I’ll call you.”

I was watching our baby, barely a month old at the time, when she fell to sleep.

“Yes of course!”

As you might know, Grandpa Zhou is the elderly busker who sits by the train station near where I used to live, earning a living through playing the harmonica. Being crippled on one leg, he used to be angry, bitter and caustic to anyone who crossed his path. He hated God for his life, and never believed in the concept of faith, dismissing it as a crutch for the emotionally weak.

After years of befriending him, however, love changed him.

I remember him being the first to run (yes, run with his disability) down the church aisle when he said yes to God, a sight which I never thought I would see and which moved me to tears; I remember him playing a crucial part in my accepting Cliff as God’s plan for my life, when I finally saw Cliff for who he was as he sat down to talk to Grandpa Zhou in such a personal, easy way, without awkwardness or disdain for how he looked or smelled at the time; I remember him performing for our wedding reception, and him asking to be baptized in our home, which we arranged for him.

At every crucial life stage, he journeyed with us as much as we did with him.

And now, thousands of miles away, I had the joy of hearing his voice because a passer-by and blog reader knew what it would mean to me.

”?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????” ( She’s so cute, your daughter. Your friend here showed me her photos through your blog. When do you go for further studies in America? It’s a messy place there now, I’ll be praying for your family. Pray for me too- when you return, I might not be alive anymore.”)

Baby, just so you know, Grandpa Zhou is just one of the many people we hope you will come to know and love in your lifetime. If it weren’t for the way God weaved our lives together, Mama might never have loved Papa the way she did. And maybe, just maybe, there could be no you.

You see, there’s no such thing as “people like them” or “people like us,” like how the world might say or see it, because when you start seeing “them” the way God does, then we are all the same in some way, and we give God the opportunity to weave our lives together in beautiful ways, across strata, circumstances and continents, even.

So I pray, Sweetheart, that you’ll continue to grow in beauty and grace, that you’ll live out the fullness of your name, to lead a life of faith, grace and sincerity, all the days of your life.

“???????????????????????????” We’ll be praying for you, Grandpa Zhou. We pray you’ll stay in good health. See you in two years.”

*If you see Grandpa Zhou by the train station at Kembangan or Yishun MRT, please stop by to say hello. Tell him you read about him, ask him how his health is keeping up, and if you feel led to, ask if he needs some help with his medical appointments- he does not beg for money. Better still, sit down with him on the dirty stair steps and enjoy a conversation with him or buy him a meal. His favorite food is Chinese rice takeout with soft veggies, tofu, and ??(custard eggs).

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In a friend’s words, “why you put Siew Mai in her cheeks?”

In another friend’s words, “This is the definition for Adorable.”

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Thankful for this little bundle of joy reaching 2 months!

So grateful for God answering our prayers,

that she would be a child filled with abounding joy and love.

Just some of her smiles when she sees Mama in the morning!

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“I have nothing else to give.”

At some point in our lives, we’ve probably all felt that way.

A demanding job, a loved one’s terminal illness, a toxic relationship… can gnaw at us like a cancerous sore. We brace and resist it, but eventually physical fatigue and emotional exhaustion take their toll on us.

When we first became parents of a newborn, everyone asked us how we were coping with sleep. Having worked 80-hour work weeks before and being married to a hands-on and loving husband, I gave myself no reason for complaint nor pity, by myself or others.

But five weeks later, with an unabating series of nights of broken sleep, I found myself sitting on the sofa one evening with tears rolling down my cheeks, not from resentment nor self-pity, but sheer exhaustion.

Cliff and I had, however, agreed to visit the Syrian refugee family we had come to be friends with, the next morning. Over the months, together with a group of friends, we had sought to help them integrate into Canadian life, after they had, in a previous life, escaped the face of war and terror.

That morning, feeling flat, I wondered- how could I possibly have anything to give when I myself felt so tired and empty?

When we arrived, however, the family was thrilled to see us. Their smiles seeing Baby made our visit worth every effort.

Even when I had felt I had nothing to give, God’s grace and ways gave us joy to share, a life to rejoice over.

Since more than a year ago, Cliff and I had been praying for opportunities to help and reach out to refugees, and as they shared their gratitude over small victories- a new job at a bakery, speaking better English, adjusting to the wintry weather, it was surreal, knowing that we could play a tiny part in rebuilding their new lives in Canada. We had heard of families like theirs who had come with little, and had to rebuild their homes from the love of the communities which welcomed them.

Feeling exhausted, we had to leave earlier than we would have liked. But just before we left, the Syrian mother of two young children stopped us.

With our language barrier, we thought she was showing us something she liked. But it became clear to us, that the beautiful blanket she was holding, was meant for us.

“For Baby,” she said. “Cold in Canada.”

As I held the gift in my hands, I knew I had come in empty but was then leaving filled with gratitude, touched by their profound generosity and thoughtfulness, and the joy of seeing their excitement over Baby’s birth.

That evening, however, I came to learn their tragic news- that just recently, that same mother had had a miscarriage.

It then dawned upon me- If there were anyone who should have been feeling empty, it should have been her. Yet, her countenance was filled with joy, her disposition, filled with hospitality.

I am learning, that no matter how empty we might feel or how little we think we might have to give, God always gives us the grace to give something of ourselves to others. Feeling like I had nothing left to give, I had asked God for grace. And grace He did provide- through the joy He gave others through our baby.

And while that mother must have struggled with a heartwrenching void, she continued to give, in spite of her loss.

I am learning, that even in our lack, God can turn the little we have, to become the key that fits the lock to someone else’s heart. As long as we are willing, He can turn our perceived emptiness into someone else’s blessing.

After all, God always has something more, from the surplus of His abundant grace and rich love, for us to be a giver of, a channel of, and a recipient of His blessing and love.

On behalf of Baby, thank you.

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“One gives freely, yet grows all the richer;

Another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.

Whoever brings blessing will be enriched,

and one who waters will himself be watered.”

– Prov 11:24-25