So grateful to be this little one’s mom.

Just can’t get enough of these bread-roll arms and corn-kernel toes.

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A few weeks ago, I experienced my first Father’s Day.

 

As I reflected on the joy of being a father, I realized that a huge part of that came from Wai Jia’s dedication as my wife and mother.

 

During the past weeks while Wai Jia was away at Hopkins, I had the privilege of taking care of our little one.

I was scared at the thought that I would be home alone with her. (Maybe she was just as scared of being home alone with Daddy, haha!)

 

What will she eat? 
How will I know what she wants? 
What does she like to play with?

 

Before starting school, Wai Jia would share with me her daily routines to help me transit. That’s when I realized how much she sacrifices every day to make sure our daily needs are met.

 

What amazes me is how much of a joy it is for her (and now me) to take care of our Baby.

 

Yes, parenting has its ups and downs. There are times when I wish I was doing my own thing.

 

But spending time with our baby and seeing her grow everyday is priceless.

 

Thanks to Wai Jia, I know what a great blessing it is to be a father.
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The youngest member of our summer group Orientation faculty session, weighing into the latest global health discussion.

Thankful for wonderful coursemates who’ve been so supportive and encouraging, and a faculty advisor who’s a paediatrician!

 

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“How come she never cries?” has been our most frequently asked question thus far!

This star stole the show on Mama’s first day at Orientation-

they called her Johns Hopkins’ youngest MPH (Master of Public Health) applicant.

JHU Early applicant

A big thank you to Cliff for being Super Dad,

for his generous tender loving care to both Mama and Baby.

I could not ask for more.

I remember when we transited to our new home in Baltimore, we hardly knew anyone. Our luggage was limited. We had no furniture. Cliff told me, that he noticed our little one was running out of clothes which fit, as she was growing fast.

Now, it amazes me to sit back and see a house that looks like a home- owners of furniture sold them second hand to us at a steal on the next day we arrived, our neighbors keep coming over to say hello, and when we invited a lonely gentleman who had helped us with some heavy lifting for lunch at our home one day, little did we expect him to bring a big bag of clothes for our baby, filling that exact age gap of clothes which she was missing. How could he have known?

God, You know our needs.

How You love us all.

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“Thank you for my purple owl romper and many more, Uncle S. And thank you God for my new home.”

Upon spotting a red fox during our morning run around the neighborhood soon after we had moved in (a highlight for one who grew up in a city), I shared with Cliff, “Wouldn’t it be lovely to spot a deer here sometime?”

During one morning run, who should I see but Mama Bambi staring right at me, grazing in a front yard!

Over the past two weeks, we’ve had three deer sightings, one fox, lots of wild baby rabbits, a variety of birds which come right up to our balcony, and squirrels galore.

It was a friend who commented, that no matter where we move to, God always seems to place us right in the heart of nature.

We’re so thankful for God’s wonderful creations up close,

and so close to home.

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Moving should be hard.

And yes, more often than not, it is stressful, tiring and frustrating.

Some months ago, someone encouraged us with a vision she received, of us standing in the midst of dry, barren ground, in an oasis of peace and tranquil. Upon sharing it with us, she said God wanted us to know that when we moved to Baltimore, we need not fear.

It was hard not to.

Being our first move to the States with a trailer and baby, we didn’t know what to expect. The thought of applying for visas, finding a home, packing, loading, driving two days from Canada to the States, budgeting, getting orientated and starting an intense school program amidst caring for our baby, just a few months after we had moved from Singapore to Canada (our 5th move in 4 years) seemed a bit much for our plate.

Would we cope? Would Baby adjust?

Yet, God’s grace continued to pursue us.

Just weeks before we moved, we received shocking news of a third scholarship which would cover not only the remainder of my tuition fees, but provide for our family of three in our year abroad. (So great was my shock that I immediately wrote back to the scholarship board to ask if there had been a typo error in their offer letter!)

The day before we left Canada, three friends offered to clean our car and home, making what should have been a frenzied move peaceful and easy; With an endless checklist, Cliff was a champion of a husband, ticking the items off one by one; During our two day drive, instead of being fussy and clingy as most books had dictated, Baby was a trooper, triumphing over sudden changes in schedules, assuring us with her bright smiles and undisturbed sleep routine.

Upon arrival after hours of a long drive and a series of errands, during an overwhelming moment of not having enough hands to unload and unpack our home in a trailer, soothe a crying baby, change an explosive diaper and clean a new home, a couple we had known only very recently and very serendipitously took us by surprise as they drove over and swooped in in perfect timing to lend us a hand, without us asking them to. With a pot of flowers and a hot meal for dinner, they arrived at our doorstep just moments after we arrived, chirping, “Welcome to Baltimore!”

Within 24 hours, with yet another 2 friends’ help and a lot of driving in a towering 16-foot truck by an amazing husband, a mattress, sofa set and beautiful dining set, all bought second-hand for a steal, were acquired.

And when we had run out of steam and energy to move any more furniture, a new neighbor we had just met in the parking lot came to help, lending a hand to make our house a home.

As I organized our home, I found “treats” all over our house, such as a baby stroller, toys, utensils, bedsheets, toiletries etc, all left behind for us for free by a graduate student from Hopkins who refused to charge us for them. We had never even met before.

Looking back, truly, His angels went before us.

There were hiccups- a truck rental gone awry, a sofa that wouldn’t fit in through the door, lots of perspiration and hard work in coordination and heavy lifting. But with every hurdle, came a generous portion of God’s grace, in the shape of His people caring and loving on us- helping us unhinge our doors, cook for us, entertain our baby- things we could not have done alone.

Within a record timing of a day of settling into an empty home in a new land, we now have a fully furnished home in the midst of a tranquil forest, reminding us of the vision our friend had shared with us months ago, amidst a city filled with poverty, crime, inequity and strife.

How we were connected to so many newfound friends even before we arrived, boggles us. How our home was set up within such a short time when we should have been stressed out, short-handed and overwhelmed continues to amaze and bewilder us.

But we know, deep in our hearts, that God is the one who has gone before us to prepare this home ahead of us. He does not disappoint when we obey Him.

Whether the mission field is in rural Africa or developed America, He knows our challenges and needs, and provides for them all.

To all the wonderful angels who prayed, encouraged us and lent a hand

to make our move so smooth and memorable,

here’s saying a big Thank You from Team Tam, from our home in the woods.

from our home in the woods.

Our hearts are full.

Thank you.

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Ready for our 2-day drive to our next destination- the States!

Thankful for the joy and grace God’s given us for all our moves (5 over 4 countries in the last 4 years), and a resilient, joyful baby joining us for Team Tam’s adventures!

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Our home in a box!

Oh how she’s grown!

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So that’s where she got her cheeks from- Mama!

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What a joyful bub!

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My favorite story bible!

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