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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Taken from Cliff’s post:

I am so proud of my wife for having our second drug-free home birth-

I tell her that she makes labor look easy!

At lunch we were still joking around but by mid afternoon,

just minutes after the midwife’s assistant arrived,

and after Sarah-Faith returned from a quick visit to the library with Grandma,

we had a new baby to cuddle.

Here’s welcoming Esther-Praise Tam Xin Le (谭心乐),

a baby filled with peace.

We love how much Sarah-Faith adores you,

and how precious you are.

Thank you for all your prayers and encouragement to our family! 

home birth

Taken shortly after our home birth.

Esther-Praise

Welcome to Team Tam,

Esther-Praise!

Cliff had warned me, the chances would be so slim.

“It’s not what you think, Wai Jia. Literally, so many factors would have to be aligned for this to happen as imagined.”

As much I didn’t want to hear it, I knew he was being kind.

By mitigating my expectations, Cliff was alleviating the disappointment I would most likely face.

Yet, like a child, I hoped and prayed with a heart full of passionate naïveté.

More than two years ago in my third trimester, as we moved from a sweltering Singapore to wintry Canada, I had hoped and prayed for a maternity shoot in the snow. Having grown up in a tropical country all my life, I was unduly fascinated by this magical season.

But it didn’t happen. That winter, was the mildest in years.

Now, two years later in winter again, with a different baby in my womb, Cliff knew I was hoping the same hopes again.

This time, he didn’t have to remind me how unrealistic my expectations were- I could see them clearly now:

The snow would have to be as fresh as cream, before it turned quickly into muddy slush. If it snowed too lightly, the ground would not be fully blanketed, leaving ugly pimply pockets of grass and tarmac. If it snowed too heavily, traffic would be disrupted, schools would be closed, and the photographer and/or makeup artist would not be able to travel down and we’d have to reschedule. Too cold, and we wouldn’t be able to withstand it; too warm, and the snow would turn into slippery ice, forcing us indoors anyway.

The chances of all this happening for the prescheduled time of the shoot was nearly impossible, since the weather forecast was so volatile.

Then, after an epic effort to coordinate multiple appointments between Cliff, myself, and my in-laws to make it for our shoot, the photographer cancelled on us last minute.

Frustrated, I went silent.

“This means a lot to you, doesn’t it?” Cliff asked.

“I guess so, but it’s silly though,” I replied. “In the grand scheme of things, this is so insignificant, so stupid to be upset over.”

This time, instead of reminding me of the cosmic impossibility of having the snow shoot I had dreamt of, Cliff said instead, “Why don’t you trust God about this, Wai Jia. Just trust Him.”

I looked at him like he was crazy, thinking- surely, God has more important things to do than coordinate our maternity photoshoot.

In the end, the day our shoot got cancelled turned out to be one of the warmest winter days- all the creamy, fluffy snow that had accumulated beautifully over the week disappeared in a wink.

“See, the cancellation turned out for good. Just trust God,” Cliff encouraged me, “Just see what He’ll do.”

By this time, I held on to little hope. Seeing how just a touch of warmer weather could melt thick, dreamy blankets of pristine snow into piles of grey, muddy slush, I came to accept that my idea of a magical snow shoot was an unreasonable expectation, a silly dream by a little unrealistic girl who had grown up in a tropical island her entire life with a disproportionate fascination with snow.

Days later, with my heart still heavy, Cliff continued to encourage me, “Just trust God.”

The day before the re-scheduled shoot date, milky pearls rained down from heaven like a magical play. It snowed so heavily that schools were closed. Everything was bathed in white, glorious lustre.

I was nervous, preparing myself for another cancellation. Surely, something would go wrong.

The next morning, it was cold enough for the snow to remain, but not bad enough to disrupt traffic. Because it was windy, not many people had left their homes and the snow remained pristine. Because it was snowing only lightly by then, roads functioned. The makeup artist who had told me she couldn’t make it said she rescheduled her medical appointment because she wanted to be there for me. Miraculously, the photographer showed up.

We went out, and it was glorious.

For half an hour, the sun glistened through the trees in our backyard and all at once, I was overwhelmed.

Surrounded by speechless beauty, I felt God tell me that He answers prayers in His own time and way. It didn’t happen two years ago when I first prayed hard, or the week ago during the scheduled date, but it happened in His time, gloriously, beautifully and so perfectly.

Almost with dramatic candor, as soon as the last few pictures were taken, the photographer’s camera stopped working because of the cold, and a terrible snowstorm raged down. Had we started just minutes later, going out would not have been possible.

God’s timing was perfectly magical. And magically perfect.

I am learning, not to despise prayer or to look down on the little things we hope for, in the secret places. They may seem silly, insignificant even, but just as how a parent longs to see his/her child smile, our Heavenly Father, too, longs to fill our hearts with joy.

What may seem pithily insignificant or overly extravagant for us to ask for, could be the very way God wants to reveal His tenderness and exceeding fatherly love to us.

Now that winter has nearly ended, I marvel at that perfect winter day that never happened again.

So often we hold onto the false belief that our secret hopes are too small for consideration for a God who has to take care of the universe. Yet, we forget that He has infinite time, and infinite resources.

Surely and thankfully, not everything we ask for gets granted.

But I am learning, that when we release gumption and self-entitlement, the heavenlies unlock special slivers of spectacular moments that take our breath away, that show us a glimmer of how good He is, and how His ways are beyond our understanding.

We may not understand when, why or how those hopes may get granted, but we can be sure, that every heart cry is heard.

This coming Spring, may you experience a sliver of His spectacular love, one that might take your breath away.

Wai_Maternity086

Wai_Maternity090

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8 years ago on my 24th birthday, I was in tears.

I should have said “No” firmly and ignored the hounding calls. But my insecurity, inexperience and most of all, a deep sense of fear that everything I had been through would go to waste bound me.

So I allowed an aggressive, interrogative news reporter to hound me up till midnight, threatening me to drop the news story if I didn’t give her what she wanted.

For my birthday that year, I had envisioned it would be beautiful that I should be interviewed about my recovery journey which culminated in publishing “A Taste of Rainbow.” It seemed uncanny that my birthday landed on Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

But the reporter had different plans- her goal was to publish a sensationalist story about a medical doctor who had anorexia, and the juicy details of the sickness which every health professional had cautioned me not to share, for fear of triggering those with the illness among the public.

That night, in desperation, I remember calling Cliff who was still in Canada (we were still only penpals then)- and I’ll never forget the verse he said to me over the short conversation, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. – Genesis 50:20.”

Right after that, the aggressive, threatening calls stopped.

The story was dropped, my book never got news coverage that week, and I felt like a failure- as if my vulnerability had been a complete waste.

Yet, that verse stuck to me. And over the years, I stand amazed at the ways God has used the book I most despise and am embarrassed by, in His own time.

In those 8 years, it was the first title to undergo reprint, the first to enter America and most recently, Canada to be used by treatment centers formally to help patients in therapy, and the first that opened doors for me to be invited as a keynote speaker in USA.

This year for my birthday, as I reflected upon the ways of God, of how He turns our pain into purpose, I pre-recorded my birthday podcast entitled “The Purpose of Our Pain”, together with a special series of 5-day interviews and messages with experts in the field to answer the many, many questions I’ve received from those struggling and their loved ones over the years.

Based on Genesis 50:20, it is an intensely personal message of how God uses the pain in our lives to give us the victory and authority to bless and heal others.

This time, I wondered, again, if all my efforts of creating these resources (amidst planning Sarah-Faith’s birthday party and baby shower that week) would be of any use to anyone, if my pain would be a waste.

I thought the thought silently, but God must have heard it loud and clear.

Yesterday, on the morning of my birthday, Cliff and I decided to do something different, and visit a church nearby run by our friends.

As usual, I brought Sarah-Faith to the children’s Sunday school, and expected to sit through a lesson of crafts or of stories I had heard many times over.

As I sat there, my hair stood on end, as of all verses that could have been taught that Sunday, the lesson that was taught to a group of rambunctious kids in a place I decided to visit once was exactly the verse that was spoken to me on my birthday 8 years ago by Cliff, the same one I had used to share my birthday message on the podcast that weekend- “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. – Genesis 50:20.”

As I sat there in awe, tears built behind my eyes, as I thought about the incredulity of this all coming full circle.

I felt God speaking to me, that He knows what He is doing, and that He doesn’t need our striving to bring His plans to pass.

As I turn 32, my hope is that these series of messages will be a blessing, to those who are struggling and to those who carry the heavy burden of seeing others struggle.

If you know someone who might be blessed, please share these series of messages this week with them at www.kitesong.com/podcast

And to those of you know the taste of sorrow, know this- that God uses all our pains for His purposes, and they shall never be wasted in eternity.

 

On our special 5-day “Faith, Hope & Recovery” Series, we’re answering questions sent in by our brave listeners from the Kitesong Podcast!

 

With a power-packed week of inspiring interviews and messages, join us as we unpack how our pain has a purpose, in light of Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

 

We have RaeLynn Spanagel DeAngelis, the Founder of Living in Truth Ministries sharing a powerful story of recovery; Amanda Stutz, a mental health counsellor from McCallum Place, a treatment center in Missouri USA, and our very own Founder Wai Jia sharing their wisdom and experience with us.

 

Share this with your friends and family who need a word of hope, especially if they know someone struggling with an eating disorder.

 

_Your pain has a Purpose. Hold on._

About a year later from that special day, I stand back and marvel at the incredible miracle that happened.

A little bashful dream to celebrate your 1st birthday and share a story about a kitesong in a little classroom with a humble homemade cake with a few friends, through prayer & Providence, turned into a public event at the largest function hall of an Ivy League university, with sponsored cake and pizza enough to feed 200, professional videography whose cost was waived because the staff adored you, and seats filled to overflowing into the corridors that summoned the attention of security guards… all because of everyone’s great love for a little baby they claimed to bring them so much joy.

Truly, when we present our littlest of dreams into the world, could it be that it is more than chance that listens, but God Himself who intervenes because of His great love.

As you turn 2 and Kitesong Global turns 1, as you leaf through Mama’s books, sit on my lap and insist I read them to you (“BOOK!! BOOK! MAMA BOOK!!”) my eyes tear with wonder at the time that has passed-

– at the time a towering four-year old boy screamed at you at the public library when we first moved to a new country and everyone froze, watching you, certain that you would melt and cry… my arms were wide open to receive you, but you stood your ground, and for the first time ever in your little life, you summoned all the courage in the world to wag your index finger at him with a triumphant “no-no”, and ran back to me with a big smile on your face, leaving the staring crowd of grandmas and mamas laughing in stitches and cheering you on, all at 16 months of age.

– at the time Mama was certain her nose bridge had broken when you fell on my face at a bad angle by accident, and you disappeared suddenly- only to have me realize that you had independently climbed two flights of stairs, walked to the kitchen and (who-knows-how) found a ziplock bag and walked down by yourself again, dabbing my nose with it because you had remembered how I had dabbed a ziplock bag with ice on your head previously when you fell, all at 18 months of age.

– and at the times you fell and just laughed, the way you prayed before meals and bedtime and made your bear-friends do the same, at the times you could shake off the dust from all our crazy house-moving and transitions and just laugh with wide-eyed, awe-inspired wonder at the days to come…

… all before you turned two.

For all the miracles of faith that have happened in your little life filled with big dreams, for all the hearts that you drew to His even before you spoke a word, for all the smiles and laughter you bring to all around you, for all the wonder you carry- Happy 2nd Birthday Sarah-Faith.

We’re looking forward to celebrating it with Mama’s this weekend- May all your dreams be set free, to light up our world, as you already do.

Love,
Mama

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