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.??

13775451_10154228920133213_3237069196003388611_n

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.

unnamed

 

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!”

 

13912394_10157243695390635_1995033089130057013_n

 

 

 

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.

13510860_10157097044435635_3249607576512177428_n

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

13508850_10157097044230635_7573640536596481244_n

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! 

13537783_10157097044785635_6353085823253621660_n

The view from a place we stayed at overnight

13524530_10157097044770635_1508548470998956709_n

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

13533252_10157097045435635_903734704697232481_n

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.

13512170_10157096980430635_9193181907356800027_n

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.

IMG_5802

 

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

We thought she would die.

A year ago, frantic with panic and lost with hopelessness, we didn’t know how to help a newborn baby who was turning blue at a village hospital in Uganda. Today, because of God’s grace showing that He could work through broken vessels like us, baby Divine has turned a year old.

IMG_5586

Remembering the full story here.

 

 “No matter how ‘qualified’ we think we are or need to be,

we will always face situations beyond ourselves.

In those trying times of helplessness,

it is not our own abilities, but our reliance on God’s wisdom and grace

which will provide the answers to our greatest fear.

God never asks us to give what we do not have.

What He asks of us, however, is a heart completely yielded to Him”

 

“Are you trying?”

For most things in life, trying seems to be glorified as part and parcel of the journey to success. Without sweat and tears, it almost seems unjustified for anyone to become successful. Sheer hard work, grit and pain has to be part of the equation.

Sure, God can be part of the big picture too. But more often than not, our part seems to play the magnified role.

Recently, I couldn’t help but notice how we’ve translated this to every part of our lives.

“Are you trying?”

The first time someone asked, I was taken aback. I didn’t know it was a question you could ask in public, and certainly not to an acquaintance! But as time went by, I realized how fascinated people can be by parts of our most private lives, and how inquisitive they can be.

I have had my fair share of questions and advice doled upon us every now and then. Thankfully, with my husband’s winsome smile and wit, he handles them all charmingly on my behalf.

Given my age and how much we’ve been travelling, I’ve never felt the sting of the question until lately, when more people I know have confided in me the pains, shame and stigma of being perceived as (gasp) barren.

“So when are you trying?”

“What are you waiting for?”

“Do you need some advice?”

As medical doctors, many of us are attuned to the heart-wrenching stories caught in between the lines. We know the stark contrast between couples who agonize over another unwanted pregnancy (“Oh no, my fourth!”) and the tears shed in darkness for couples who’ve tried everything including in-vitro fertilization and failed.

Not everything in life is an automated machine which translates effort into success.

I want to tell the other people who ask them these questions- Please. Leave. Them. Alone.

No, they don’t need you to tell them “it’ll be very soon”. They don’t need you to give them advice. They don’t need you to say, “Yea, children are a big blessing. When are yours coming?”

Very simply, it’s not your business.

I may not know exactly how they feel. But I do know that they did not choose their situation. I do know they tried. I do know it can really hurt, when people ask and probe and act like you didn’t try hard enough when in actual fact, it could be a medical condition or very simply, not God’s timing.

Two months ago, I had a glimpse into the pains of this private chapter of life, which is often hidden from the gaze of this watching world by one too many women.

I thought I was expecting.

My husband was certain, but we had to wait. Several painstaking days later, when the pregnancy kit showed otherwise, I was surprised at how crushed I was, how devastating the news was to me after we had pinned our hopes… until a colleague informed me that a urine test would be more accurate one more week later. Another painstaking week later, too traumatized to take another urine test, a kind colleague offered a blood test which would be more definite. When it was negative, I went completely numb. This time, it was definite, in spite of what we thought God was leading us to.

It gave me a glimpse into the world of those I knew who have been crushed month after month, with tear-filled mornings and tear-stained workdays.

In shock, I felt paralyzed. I didn’t want to go to work, talk to anyone pregnant or share about how I felt with anybody. I felt completely taken for a ride. I asked God why He put me through such an experience set up to mislead us. Surely, He knew that I thought I knew what I didn’t know at all.

Anger. Tears. Frustration.

One morning, however, something changed in me. I couldn’t explain it. I woke up having decided I was through with this- that a month of waiting, tears and wrestling with God wasn’t going to repeat itself again because it simply wasn’t His fault.

And. It wasn’t mine either.

This was not about me not doing the right things, reading the right books, picking up the right symptoms or about trying.

It wasn’t about me at all.

And if I believed that God was a good Father who gave good gifts, then why should I be sad, mad or upset with Him for not giving us a gift at a time I thought we would receive it?

You see, in spite of the roller-coaster of emotions I had that month, God never changed. His character never changed. He was constant.

So I decided I was through with that agony.

It doesn’t mean I’ve stopped praying about being a mother. It just means that whatever the outcome every month, I can rejoice, I can laugh, I can say, “God, you are good” because whatever the outcome, I know that God has His best timing, far better than I could ever plan in my life. That means that I should never be worried, be in a hurry, feel hurt or ashamed or belittled because we don’t have a child, yet. He decides whether or not. He decides when.

I am learning, that surrender doesn’t mean not praying, not hoping or not caring. It simply means saying, “God, you are God and I am not”. Surrender means letting go. It means not blaming ourselves. It means trusting God wholeheartedly that because He is essentially GOOD and withholds no good thing from us, I can let go. I can trust Him. Completely.

That means I never need to feel that sense of anxiety, rejection or devastation I felt over those trying weeks of waiting for the results that month, because any result would still mean He is Good and in control.

I am learning, that if we cannot surrender ourselves wholly to God at the point of conception, then it will only be an uphill task for us to be fully surrendered mothers, in our journey in motherhood. After all, as our child grows, there will be more and more for us to lay down and trust God for in his/her life. It never gets easier. The surrender has to start right from the beginning, before conception.

It’s not that I don’t care. Don’t get me wrong. But I don’t want to have to explain when we are planning for a family and “how it’s going” because none of our four parents ask us that question. God knows, and He alone decides on the timing. If God is not worried about His timing for us, then why should anyone else be?

We pray, we wait, we continue to trust.

I am learning, that He has plenty of spiritual children for us to love, bless and mentor at the present. I am learning, that there’s no point moping or feeling sorry for ourselves, because God sees what we don’t. I am learning, that God desires us to keep hoping, praying, trusting and waiting in anticipation. Not everything is about trying and doing and acting upon the right things.

Some things belong wholly to God, just like everything else should.

So whatever your situation and whatever the expectations that others have imposed upon you, would you surrender it to God, trust Him and wait upon Him with me?

He is good God, and He has eternity in the palm of His hand.

If you’ve released it, if you’re praying, if you know that He is good, then you are no longer accountable to anybody’s anxiety, inquisitiveness or probing.

He is a good God who gives good gifts, in His good, good time.

 

Here’s wishing all mothers, and mothers-to-be

a very Blessed Mothers’ Day.

Wait on the LORD: be of good courage,

and He shall strengthen thine heart:

wait, I say, on the LORD.

  • – Psalm 27:14

I felt like a fool.

It wasn’t a new feeling. But sitting there at that point, I understood the Chinese saying of what “diulian” meant. Literally, it means having one’s “face” thrown on the floor, an expression to describe an undignified loss of face.

I suppose, the truth of the matter is this- that there will always come a time where our core values will be challenged, amidst the flux of this changing world. We go about each day trying to do our best to earn the favour of men. But when crunch time comes to make a decision that reflects who we are and what we stand for, are we afraid to go against the grain, even at the expense of looking silly?

I knew I did. At that point, I felt like I had lost all credibility.

After all, how was I going to explain my decision? That I was throwing away a perfectly amazing career opportunity for something as nebulous as “serving God”? What? Seriously? You giving THAT up, for what?

It’s happened before. But these situations don’t really go away for good, do they. One is constantly tested. The fact is- are we willing to surrender all, at all times, at all cost?

What is precious in the eyes of God, can often appear foolish in the eyes of the world.

I never quite saw the need to explain myself- why my perspective has changed so drastically. My career used to mean everything to me. Everything.  If I could reach the stars, why not?

When Cliff came into my life, my priorities changed. It wasn’t love. I didn’t even like him at first. But God challenged me- He asked me if I would be like this man, who understood the transience and brevity of life because of his cancer and transplant, if I was willing to surrender everything I held on to, if I would be willing to live for only what really mattered at the end of our lives.

That gripped me. It changed my worldview forever.

It was as if everything I had and stood for turned into ash. Thus commenced my journey of loss and release, letting go of what I had so strongly tied my identity to, but never brought me or anyone lasting joy or eternal purpose. Before we left for Africa, we sold and gave away things which were precious to us, because we saw that the truly precious things in life, are things you cannot see or wrap in a box.

Then I wrote “Savour”, a book challenging us about the true meaning of success. I thought I was through with this struggle.

I am learning, that as long as we want to hold true to ourselves, that there will always be times we will have to take a hit for what we believe in.

Yes, I understand it looks like a loss to my career. Yes, I understand the implications. Yes, I’ve discussed this with my husband.

No, I don’t feel like I’m taking a step back. No, it’s not a rash decision. No, it’s not “my sacrifice for him”, because it’s what we both feel God has called us to. It’s the best decision we can make at the moment- jointly. I’m not prepared to put our marriage or our lives on the line for a giant leap in my career.

Yes. No. Yes. Yes. No. No. No.

There are times we have to make decisions and we will seem foolish. There are times we might even be asked to explain ourselves, and it might not feel good.

But remember, that when Jesus went on the Cross, it never felt good, even though it was the will of the Father. The key is this, when you know what you’ve been called to do, just do it.

People see the awards I’ve got and think I’ve got it all, that I’ve got the path to success all sorted out. The truth is awards don’t matter. That’s right, they don’t. They don’t count for anything when we die, except turn to dust, rust and ashes.

What counts is truth. What counts is whether we lived our lives accountable to ourselves, to our community and to God. What counts is whether we lived a life filled with joy and meaning to give to others.

When I die, I want to be emptied of what I had to give for others, filled with joy and fulfillment that I led a life well-lived.

This is the life God’s challenged me to live for, and I’m going to live it.

 

“To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways,

not knowing what tomorrow may bring.

This is generally expressed with a sigh of sadness,

but it should be an expression of breathless expectation.

We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God.

As soon as we abandon ourselves to God and do the task He has placed closest to us,

He begins to fill our lives with surprises.

When we become simply a promoter or a defender of a particular belief,

something within us dies.

That is not believing God– it is only believing our belief about Him.

Jesus said, “…unless you…become as little children…” (Matthew 18:3).

The spiritual life is the life of a child.”

– Oswald Chambers, Utmost for His Highest

When the ground under our feet began to shake last week, I knew it was the earthquake. Minutes later, we found out that the epicentre was in our district in Nepal. As we shuddered from the memories of the devastating earthquake which had released its full wrath one year ago, our Nepalese friends unleashed a stream of stories- of crumbling buildings, makeshift tents, and restless nights.

We were nervous, not knowing if this was the beginning of another massive quake, or just another one of the over 400 aftershocks.

A year ago when the vengeful April 2015 earthquake struck Nepal, my husband and I were in Uganda, far away from the convulsive tremors coming from the heart of the earth. Yet, as I saw pictures of the children I knew so fondly sleeping in tents for nearly two months in the winter, I was heartbroken.

This wasn’t –just- news. These were people we knew, children and friends who had changed my life.

I wondered if they were safe, or injured. Shortly after, my thoughts drifted to their Home, the Home which my first book, Kitesong, had sowed into ten years ago, when I was an awkward teenager wondering if life was really meaningful and if God really existed.

Had it crumbled? Was it now rubble and stone? With a magnitude of 7.8 on the Richter scale right in the heart of the city where the Home was located, no one could be sure.

Ten years ago when I was 18, a 6-week stay with the children changed my worldview forever. God used a little dream I had to paint a picture book to raise $110’000 for a permanent home for these little ones. As I returned to visit them twice more after, they became a significant part of my life. That one incident shaped and continues to shape my belief in humanity and God.

But for the remaining 7 years, as I travelled on different mission trips, I didn’t have the opportunity to return.

I wondered- had all the work now been wasted? Was everything now cinders and ash? Should I have visited them earlier, more often? Would it have made a difference.

Sitting at the porch of our little African home, I was reminded of a verse:

Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.(1 Cor. 3:13)

I was shaken.

The thought of a crumbled home sent tremors into my being. But really, it was the sobering reality that our work, tried by trials, fires and shakings, may crumble- which shook me to my core.

For all the fanfare and man’s praise that we receive on earth for our work, how much of it will really stand in eternity? I knew I stood guilty- all these years, I had received attention, awards and recognition for the work which really was the culmination of a collective effort, orchestrated by God. Now, would it stand, or would it perish?

I was reminded of a story, of a little old lady and a sterling evangelist in heaven, carrying a pile of works they had accomplished on earth. Before they entered the heavenly gates, however, their works went up in flames. The evangelist’s towering pile of works were burnt like tinder, leaving only a handful of works remaining. The little old lady’s pile, however, though much smaller initially compared to the evangelist’s, left behind a far greater pile of works, glistening like precious gold, purified from the fiery flames.

At the end of our lives, shall we not be judged by the purity of our motives, and the intents of our hearts, more than the showy, glamourous accomplishments applauded by the eyes of a spectating world.

At the end of the day, Who and what are we living for?

A few days camping in the fields turned into months for the children, due to the recurrent aftershocks. But I received news that the Home remained intact. Not a brick crumbled.

Eventually, all 30 children moved back into the Home. The 5th storey was hacked off to placate the neighbours, anxious that it might collapse on them in another earthquake.

Seven years ago at my last visit, the girls made me promise I would bring my boyfriend in future. I promised myself, that as soon as the opportunity availed itself, I would bring Cliff to see the work that began ten years ago, when God revealed His miraculous self to a broken 18-year old who was looking for hope and meaning in life.

Over the past ten days, as we accepted an invite to conduct a youth conference in Nepal, all the seismic unrest my heart had experienced came into divine alignment. We saw the smoggy city still framed by beautiful mountains, the Home now painted in emerald blue and yellow, and the children whom I had remembered, now growing up into blossoming young ladies.

They remembered me, as I remembered them.

As I sat down with some of the girls to take the exact same photo we had taken ten years ago, it was Cliff who reminded me, that this photo showed not merely the friendship that stood the test of time and distance, but the faithfulness of God to uphold not only the physical building, but to grow each and every one of these young girls into pillars of a palace, daughters of a better kingdom.

Those who had graduated from the Home were now living lives far better than if they had never entered those loving doors. Some would have died being abandoned, others mistreated. Two had married, one had delivered a child, one had become a nurse. Upon knowing we were visiting, they had travelled for hours back to the Home for to see us.

“Didi (big sister) Wai Jia, thank you for bringing Bhena (big brother) Cliff to see us. He is so funny, so much fun.”

We are living in days of uncertainty- days where earthquakes, fires and natural disasters will only become more common. I am reminded to cherish relationships which matter, and plough into works which will last for eternity.

When tested by shakings and fire, will we stand or fall?

I am certain that in my life, I have stumbled in pride, self-righteousness and vainglory, even when “doing good” in the eyes of men. But my prayer is that as I stand in reverence at the work that remains, that I will always remember that it is, and has always been, God who chooses us to partner in His work, never the other way around…

… such that when I see Him face to face, I shall not have a heapful of ashes, but precious gold, gold which has withstood the furnace of fire and the shakings of the earth, to return gloriously back to Him.

This is the Home

the Home, standing strong today

IMG_5253

the same girls (nearly!), ten years apart

All Kids

All the girls in the Home, as of April 2016

“Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers;

but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart;

With good will doing service,

as to God, and not to men.”

– Ephesians 6:6-7