“She’s gonna miss it so much.”

Sarah-Faith’s ice cream toy truck. Last Christmas, Cliff’s Mum gave our firstborn a little singing ice cream toy truck that fulfilled all the grand, eternal longings of a little two year old. Yet, the impending move to Singapore meant leaving behind what she loved most.

“Maybe we can bring it with us!” Cliff would say, almost seriously, giving his fatherly tenderness away.

As we commenced packing our lives into five suitcases, a question arose within me: What if it’s bad for them?

Perhaps, that’s the hardest question parents will ever ask, regarding the decisions we make for our children.

In a season of moving again, our 11th big move in the past six years of marriage over four countries, we’ve received our fair share of wagging fingers, not less now with two little ones in tow.

“Have you thought about their future?”
“Aren’t you robbing them of a stable life?”
“Isn’t it unhealthy to live this way?”

Yet, both Cliff and I know, that every move has not been a whim but a decision borne out of prayer.

I did notice, however, that since having children, my worries were amplified.

What about their education, security, development, healthcare?

“What? You don’t even know where you’ll stay when you move to Singapore? You only have a few weeks left!”

My heart sank, as the temporary accommodation options we were presented were either exorbitant or unsuitable. When a place within budget came up, it was a 1-bedroom apartment. For a family of four, it would be a squeeze.

We were desperate. After all, we needed a place to stay for at least the first month while looking for longer term accommodation for the remaining year and a half where I had to serve out my contract as a medical doctor with the government.

One day, a volunteer from Kitesong Global who lives in Australia and whom I’ve never met reached out to me about her family friend from Melbourne, who has a vacant 3-bedroom apartment in Singapore.

“Would you like to stay there for the first month?” came the question.

Tears welled up in my eyes as I felt God ask, “Is there anything your family needs that I can’t provide?”

Later on, I had goosebumps when I discovered the divine “coincidence”- that the owner’s sister, who was staying in the apartment temporarily, had planned to move out the very afternoon we landed in Singapore.

Where we fear to tread, God is already there.

One day, half-jokingly but also earnestly, I told Cliff, “I’m praying for a Singaporean Sarah to love on Sarah-Faith.”

Sarah is a close friend of ours in the States who is a homeschooling mum with two young sons, and who looks after a little girl who goes to their home every day.

With me returning back to Singapore to complete my work contract before we, God-willing, returned to serve in a developing country, I longed for a Mama friend to help Cliff with caring for our exuberant toddler for a few hours each day when I was at work, so he could work on his part time theological studies and get some rest.

But I wanted someone who would love on Sarah-Faith like family, and who loved God deeply.

For months, I kept this prayer deep in my heart, sharing it regularly only with Cliff and with God. It was a ridiculous prayer, especially since homeschooling is uncommon in Singapore.

A month ago, a lady whom I’d met only once at her wedding years ago reached out to me via text and said, “I would very very much like to take Sarah-Faith for homeschooling lessons, if you think it’s a good idea. My husband and I prayed about it and are convicted not to charge you and Cliff for it, because it’s our ministry to you both- SF would be like family to us.”

Like family to us.

Tears welled up in my eyes. In yet another divine “coincidence”, I learnt that she, too, has two little boys.

When no one knew my heart’s desires, God did. He provided our “Singaporean Sarah.” I learned, that truly, could anyone love our children more than God does?

One day, I chanced upon a photo of this Mama’s younger son. In the background, was the exact ice-cream toy truck Sarah-Faith has. It was then I was told, that the ice cream toy truck was bought by none other than the little boy’s Grandma- last Christmas too.

Tears built up behind my eyes.

In yet another uncanny coincidence, I felt God ask me, “Have I ever left you or your family to sink when you obeyed Me to walk on water?”

Truly, God is ready to meet us on the other side, even when we fail to see Him.

Days later, at a farewell visit, a close friend of Cliff gave us a big set of Megablocks for our children. As soon as he gave the gift to us, my heart sank again, knowing there was no way we could bring it back to Singapore for them to enjoy.

Two days later, a friend from Singapore who volunteered to help us collate kid items for our children before we landed, texted me, “I set aside this for you. Would you and your children like to have it?”

It was a box of Megablocks, exactly the same as the ones we had to leave behind.

When no one knew my heart’s desires for our children’s play and growth, God did. He provided an identical set of Megablocks, an identical ice cream toy truck, as if asking me once more: Can you love your children more than I can?

Weeks passed and through the collective love of strangers and friends, we had most of the items we needed to help our children settle back in Singapore, besides housing (which we are still praying for) and one other item.

Interestingly, no one had the co-sleeper (a little basket) I needed for our infant to sleep in.

Just last week, a friend’s friend reached out to me, “Is there anything else you need?”

Half-heartedly I asked if she might have a co-sleeper, knowing the chances were extremely slim. So many mothers I had already connected with did not have this specific item. I texted her a photo of the one our baby was sleeping in, a gift that someone had handed down to us second hand.

“Oh my, I have it, identical to the one in your photo! And I have two! Would you like both?”

Again and again, through this series of uncanny coincidences, I felt God ask, “Is there anything your family needs that I cannot provide?”

Clothes, a stroller, car seats came in, from friends and people I have never met.

Just last night, as Cliff and I started to wonder about long term accommodation, a patient I had met more than ten years ago when I was a medical student, who said I had touched her life then, offered to help us with our housing search as she’s since become a real estate agent.

“I don’t need the commission fee. Could you just cover my petrol cost?”

It made me wonder- What if our stepping out in faith is bad for our children? But, what if it’s not? What if it’s good, even necessary for them?

I am constantly worrying- about whether our children might be negatively impacted by constant change, whether Sarah-Faith’s eczema might worsen with the move, by whether someday, all this might just take its toll on us and bite us in the back.

But more recently, I felt Him ask, “What if, the questions you asked were not ‘What if this jeopardizes our stability? What if the risks are too great? What if we lose what we now have?”, but rather, ‘What if we trust God?” How would our lives be led differently?

I admit, it would be far easier for all of us to stay in Canada, in a home we can finally call ours, with our green backyard overlooking a quiet forest in uneventful surburbia. It would save us the cost of long flights, the inconvenience of packing, the anxiety of having no place to stay when we land, the stresses of constantly moving, the uncertainty of entering yet another unknown future in a rural place with questionable security, healthcare and education when we finally do serve in a developing country again, God-willing.

Yet, few of us consider the danger of staying safe.

Perhaps, too few of us understand the perils of living our lives in comfort and luxury when we fail to realize how much we deprive ourselves and our children of the many miracles, great and small, that God orchestrates on our behalf when we let go of what means so much to us.

Perhaps, too few of us understand the grave crime we commit, of robbing our children of the opportunity to witness the reality of God, when we hold back out of fear.

“What if stepping out is bad for our children?” We ask innocently.

But- what if NOT stepping out was a far worse reality than what we could possibly imagine, for us AND our children?

Surely in the physical, we would be safer, more secure, more stable. The less radical life would certainly be more convenient.

But what if the consequences of NOT walking in faith were graver because we exchanged the spiritual foundations of our children, what could have grown to become a sea of faith, for sinking sand?

If you’re holding back today out of fear for what might happen to you or your children, know this- that God’s already on the other side. For everything you’ve surrendered or left behind or given up, know that He loves you and your children far too much to leave you to sink.

For when you walk on water, there’ll be an ice cream truck waiting for you on the other side.

And there will He be, too.

* if you might know of a 3-4 BR place for rental in the west/north/central of Singapore, please let us know. Thank you.

SF truck

Recently, a savage flare of eczema upon Sarah-Faith broke our hearts as we watched this trooper of a child battle through excruciating distress day after day. Angry red welts of eczema blanketed her little body and I spent many nights crying out for God to heal her.

After many months of intensive moisturizing regimens that felt bewildering and agonizing for a child going through the terrible twos, disappointing doctors visits, and what we felt was a spiritual battle that left us feeling discouraged, guilty and exhausted, especially after having just had a newborn, we finally reached tipping point and saw immense improvement over the past week.

Today, tears welled up in my eyes as Sarah-Faith stretched out both her arms and said to me, “All better now! Thank you Jesus!” before running off to the playground.

As I caught a glimpse of her precious smile as she started running, I was reminded of the joy she has kept through this entire ordeal. Through the days of unbearable itch, tears and bleeding, she always found reason every day to smile, to laugh and to say the words “Thank you Mama, thank you Papa, thank you Jesus.”

To all of you who have been praying for us, thank you.

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It’s not productive, I know,
To hold you like this.

When there’re a thousand things
I could do but now miss.

The lawn needs a’mowing, the laundry a’folding,
I could go for a jog, or finally blog.
I have bills to pay, a book to write,
Emails piled up with no end in sight.

I know I should leave you in the bassinet or crib,
That’s what Super Moms do, the kinds that don’t fib.
I should always put you down drowsy but awake,
Let you cry-it-out, for goodness sake.
No nursing to bed, no rocking to sleep,
That’s how Unproductiveness will, into our lives, creep.
No spoiling the baby, that’s a crime they say,
That’s for moms who (gasp) waste their time away.

The house is quiet now,
What a rare treat.
I should put you down and cook for the week.

But instead, I bend down,
Scoop you up, unfold your frown.
Hold you close to my nose,
To smell your hair, like a rose.
Time stops, I breathe,
Promise me you’ll never leave.

It’s true what they say,
That the days are long but the years, so short.
When moments slip away, they can never be re-bought.
Your older sis is only two,
But out of the door she bolts through,
No more kisses or hugs, just “Buh-bye Mama!” Without looking back.
How times flies- she’s omnipotent now,
A big girl without any lack.

So for now, I’ll hold you, my cherry blossom,
As you breathe daisy breaths right on my bosom.
I’ll savour your face to catch a delicious milkdrunk smile,
I’ll give up the world, for this wee little while.

It’s not productive, I know,
To hold you like this.

But I’d trade that to know
What it means to know Bliss.

Love,
Mama

Bliss.

It was unanswerable, up to now.

Over and over, people would ask me, “How did you go through labor at home without drugs? Is that even possible?”

The way it was asked, it always seemed rhetorical, so I never had to answer. Few occasions provided the circumstances where answering wouldn’t make someone squirmish anyway.

Labor is, after all, pretty graphic.

It’s a relief I never had to face the question head-on, because it was not until recently that I found the answer.

And no, it has nothing to do with how high my pain threshold is, how “brave” I am or any special visualization techniques. It’s far more simple than that.

In natural labor, there is stage called the “transition point”, where the mother feels like giving up- and it is very, very close to birth. It is the point where contractions pile up one over another and the pain becomes overwhelming, giving way to an inexorable desire to push and birth something glorious.

In our first birth, this point came deep in the night, hours after contractions had begun in the early morning.

This time, however, it was all a blurry whiz.

We were having lunch when I felt like perhaps, Baby would arrive that evening. Cliff tried to convince me to let him call our midwife while I tried convincing him that finishing my spring roll was of greater urgency.

“Just a few more minutes,” I said, looking for a bottle of Thai sweet chili sauce, while our firstborn toddler pointed to her Paw Patrol book and said, “MAMA, READ! READ PATROL!”

Another contraction came, throwing me on my hands and knees, at the perfect level to read to our toddler, who was oblivious to the drama about to unfold.

“I’m calling Barb now,” said Cliff.

For both births, the pain that followed quickly intensified. They were drug-free but certainly not painless.

Later, our midwife told me, “You’re not the first woman I’ve delivered a baby for with a drug-free home birth but you’re certainly the first who’s never ASKED for pain relief during her labor.”

As I reflected on why the entire ordeal felt so painful yet drug-free, an intense spiritual lesson emerged.

I realized why it was that this labor felt so frightening, but passed even more quickly and smoothly than the first- After all, is it not true, that it is precisely when we feel so overwhelmed and helpless, that God’s power becomes tangibly present and manifest in our circumstances?

I learned, in both labors, that to overcome and triumph over real pain, is not to reject, push or run away from it, but instead, to lean into it.

In life, our instinct to pain is to fight or flee. When something hurts, we want out immediately. In today’s instant culture, any quick-fix to numb our pain is alluring.

What labor taught me, however, changed my life forever.

For every contraction that came, instead of yelling, resisting, or straining like in the movies, I remembered what Cliff had told me about his strategy in completing his IronMan endurance event- “I relaxed the whole way through the marathon, after the swim and bike. The key is to relax- I pretended to hold a potato chip with my middle finger and thumb in each hand instead of clenching my fists while I ran. It was that simple.”

Since labor was an endurance event, we felt I could apply the same. So I did.

Whenever a wave of pain came, instead of fighting it, I relaxed. At the peak of the pain, I leaned into it, like a hug.

It was counterintuitive. But it worked.

It worked, because the pain that overwhelmed me was the very pain needed to bring the baby to birth.

In the same way, when we are overwhelmed by life’s trials and challenges, do we believe that our pain has a specific purpose, and if we allow it to do its work in our lives, it can bring forth something more precious than scars- perseverance, endurance, faith, and bring to birth some of the deepest dreams in our hearts?

I am learning- that Pain, when leaned into, can birth some of the most beautiful and glorious things in our lives.

I realized, that what was needed, was not for me to try and manage the pain or get on top of it, but to simply trust its purpose and let it do its work in my life.

Leaning in always feels excruciating in the moment- we may be forced to face our greatest flaws, our deepest doubts, our darkest hurts. But when we choose to, will we not find, looking back, that it was the most meaningful way for us to grow in greater grace and deeper maturity.

Life’s sufferings become bearable, when we fix our eyes on the joy that is set before us, that is to come, even when we cannot feel it in the moment.

As the contractions intensified and piled continuously above one another, there came a point I believed I could not withstand it. In this labor, this transition point came far sooner, so soon that it made me afraid I wouldn’t withstand the long and trying road ahead. What I didn’t know, was how quickly it would pass.

Just four minutes after the midwife’s assistant walked through our doors, I picked up our baby in my arms, through tears of joy.

Four minutes.

So often are we that close to receiving our breakthrough. But we waver, not realizing that the length of our struggle does not determine the probability or nearness of our breakthrough.

Yet, if we continue to press on and lean in, trusting that God has permitted the pain in our lives for a purpose, trusting that our responsibility is not to numb but embrace it, will we not come to enjoy the great reward borne out of our deepest, most desperate cries?

I was in pain. I felt utterly helpless. I was too far into labor to ask for any kind of relief. And yet, once I surrendered to the pain, our baby popped out, head first, with my umbilical cord wrapped twice round her neck and the rest of her slipped out, all pink.

On my knees, holding her, I cried and laughed all at once, not realizing how this short but intense labor had reflected the past season we had journeyed through- filled with pain but also glorious God-filled hope at the end.

Minutes later, I found out that in spite of the speed of the labor, I did not suffer any tears or require any stitches. It was then that I remembered what I read somewhere- that serious perineal and vaginal tears can happen when one strains too hard or resists the contractions.

Likewise, often, when we fight the pain allowed in our lives and strain against it, we can create serious collateral damage that can take even longer than the pain itself to heal from.

If you are in pain this season, trust Him and lean in. At the peak of your suffering, when you think all is lost and you feel like giving up, know that your breakthrough is near.

When you do, I promise, the most beautiful gift of joy and reward will surely be borne out of it.

May your eyes then, like mine were, be filled with tears of joy and laughter.

Happy First Month, sweetheart.

For all the joy you’ve brought into our world,

Love,
Mama

leaning in

Infinitely grateful for the spirit of peace this little child brings. 🕊

Thank you for the calmness you bring to our home, for the joy you bring, even in your sleep.

Thank you God, for answering our prayers for this sweet child.

EP Day 9

It was a paradigm shift.

After all, during our years learning in school, it was common to learn that sowing was hard work. I remember textbook illustrations showing beads of perspiration from the brows of farmers, whose faces were etched with exhaustion. So the term “sowing in tears” never surprised me.

Nonetheless, a devotional by John Piper made me rethink the principle of sowing and reaping, as he argues that sowing is neither necessarily hard nor sad, but that “it is simply the work that has to be done, even when there are things in life that make us cry. The crops won’t wait while we finish our grief or solve all our problems. If we are going to eat next winter, we must get out in the field and sow the seed, whether we are crying or not.”

He argues that if we do that, the promise of God is that we will “reap with shouts of joy” (Psalm 126:5-6) not because the tears of sowing produce the joy of reaping, which is what I had always assumed, but because “the sheer sowing produces the reaping, and we (you) need to remember this even when your tears tempt you to give up sowing.”

It made me reflect on our recent pregnancy, that during my darkest moments through it, as I struggled with guilt about whether the antepartum depression would affect our child, I entertained the dark thought that perhaps if I ended our lives, everything would be better.

I thank God that I did not, because through the valley of weeping, He gave me hope. Hope that eventually, this grief and sadness and unspeakable pain and guilt would end.

And it did. Because when Esther-Praise was born, what a joy and peace she brought to our home and our lives!

Looking back, I understand now what Piper meant- that at times, perhaps, all God is asking us to do is to be faithful and do the work that needs to be done, even if it’s through tears.

Whether it’s stewarding a dream He has given, carrying a baby to term, doing the dishes, filing taxes, making the next meal… we have to trust that the simple, faithful, hopeful work of sowing will bring in the harvest, and our tears will be turned to joy.

For all that time, God never stopped growing our child.

Yet, I do think that during the process of “sowing in tears”, many of us doubt a joyful outcome. Perhaps, we even suspect that our sadness might affect the sowing, and eventually, the quality of the harvest. We falsely believe that if someone else carried our dream to pass, the outcome would be far better.

I know I felt that way. Every day during that period, the guilt of my pain possibly affecting our unborn child weighed on me heavily.

One day, however, at a conference, I accidentally seated ourselves at a table where the guest speaker and his assistant were at. Midway through a very awkward lunch, his assistant, seated next to me, said, “I see a picture in my mind that I feel God wants me to share with you.   It’s a picture of a beautiful rose in a glass jar, like the one from Beauty and the Beast. And I feel like God is saying you don’t have to try and protect the rose or feel guilty about not protecting it enough, because He is the Giver of Life and He is protecting your child.”

Tears welled up in my eyes, knowing that it was message from God- this person didn’t know a thing about my struggles.

Then, as if to confirm His message to me again, as doubts about whether the depression had affected our child in the womb came to haunt me, I received a beautiful bouquet of red roses soon after my labor from my mother-in-law who didn’t know about that incident. These were not ordinary roses- when they bloomed, they were as large as your palms, and they bore an uncanny resemblance to the rose described in that prophetic picture. The depression lifted, feeling like a faded memory in history.

True enough, over the weeks, we’ve discovered Esther-Praise to be the calmest, most easily content baby we’ve ever heard of or seen. Since her third day of life, she’s been smiling in her sleep, sleeping mostly through the night, and hardly crying much.

Even though the sowing was in tears, God protected the seed and glorified the harvest.

This weekend, as we reflect on Christ’s death and resurrection, as we grapple with the tension between the extremes of death and life, tears and joy, defeat and glory, can we take heart in knowing that as long as we stay faithful to continue sowing, even amidst our tears, that God Himself will be faithful to turn our tears into joy, and cause us to come home with shouts of joy, bringing sheaves from a glorious harvest with us.

Through your tears, know this- that as long as you keep sowing, God gives us hope that our sowing, however painful, shall ultimately reap joy.

After all, He rose from the dead, He defeated even death.

 

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Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.
-Psalm 126:5-6

Listen to the podcast, Episode 20 at www.kitesong.com/podcast

Two nights ago, as I lay my head on your chest listening to the sound of your heartbeat, my tears fell as I realized how surreal this all was.

29 years ago, you were diagnosed with a cancer that should have killed you. Had your parents not decided that year to migrate and do those blood tests, no one would have ever discovered those abnormal blood results in an otherwise asymptomatic, happy child.

When we married, I asked God for three good years of marriage. I didn’t think we would have children- I wasn’t sure if your long-term medication, a kind of poison that has strangely prolonged your life, permitted it.

But here we are today, with two little ones, and you turning 39, as I watch from the sides as you sacrificially lay down your life for us. I see joy in your eyes when you lower yourself for the mundane- cleaning, changing diapers, burping the baby, learning to cook, taking out the trash, volunteering for night shifts with our newborn.

That smile as you redefine Joyful Fatherhood shows me you don’t care what the world thinks as much as you do our Father.

At a birthday celebration recently, where a group of your friends gathered to pray for you, I asked what impacted you the most. Without a doubt, you said it was the prayer and advice to “love your wife in ALL circumstances.”

As I reflected upon a TED talk I had watched a few days ago on Grief, I remembered again the expectation I had had when we married, that one day, I would carry it when you leave, for the rest of my remaining life. But before that day, I would cherish every moment.


Thank you for everything you’ve laid down to love on us,

for the death in the flesh you go through each day

to bring to those around you, life.

And thank you God, for each passing year you’re alive.


Here’s to many more years of life to you.

Please be strong enough to play with our grandkids,

to grow really, really old with me.

Happy 39th Birthday, Cliff.

Wai0050

A year ago on my birthday, I prayed that Sarah-Faith would have a sibling.

This year, we give thanks to God for our little blessing,

Esther-Praise, who arrived in a beautiful home birth,

who has been such a delight and joy to love,

and a precious friend to Sarah-Faith.

Those eyes, those fingers!

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