* To read the Full Story of Grandpa Zhou, click here.

I attended a wedding dinner last night at the Shangri-La Hotel. It was a very grand wedding- men were dressed in suits, and the women were clad in sequin-studded gowns, pursing their scarlet lips, trying to breathe under their corsets. They had faces caked with make-up. It was a very grand occasion and the golden chandeliers gave an air of added sophistication to the entire event. It was a very grand event.

I couldn’t sleep last night.

This evening, after dinner with my Complete family, I asked my father if I could go and visit Grandpa Zhou. “He seems all right, you know, ” Dad said, ” I saw him the other day at the train station too- you dont have to buy him dinner every week. You can’t save the world, you know, Jia. There’re too many of them.”

My parents have a heart of gold. They really do- but I sensed it was out of concern that I was being taken advantage of that Dad voiced his concern.

I explained that I had learnt Grandpa Zhou had been born with a disability on his right arm and both feet, and that recently, his feet had swelled up very badly. I had called my friend, a doctor, the day before and she had told me swollen feet can mean a few things- heart problems, kidney problems, gout or malnutrition.

Malnutrition. That must be it, I thought.

Dad frowned. ” I see… I didn’t know that. Sure, go. And make sure you tell him to see your doctor-friend too.”

So I went.

Zhou yeye, nin hao! (Hello Grandpa Zhou!)” I chirp. I squat down beside him. I love sitting next to him on those dirty steps.

He beams at me. I love to watch him when he opens the styrofoam box of food delivered to him. There is always a look of gratitude washed over his eyes. He holds the precious box, heavy with an extra portion of rice with both his hands, lists everything he sees in that box in great detail, and tells me a little about each dish. “This vegetable, ” he says, ” this is bai cai. Haha, bo cai is very nice too.”

“Oh dear,” I say in mock sorrow, “I didn’t get your favorite vegetable!”

He shakes his head. ” Ni mai de, wo dou xi huan… Yin wei… ni shi zhen xin mai gei wo de. Ni kan de qi wo. Ni mei you dang wo shi qi gai.” ( I like whatever you buy… because you bought it for me with a sincere heart… You didn’t look down on me, you dont treat me like a beggar.)

Again, I thought about the many times I had, in my heart, considered him a well man trying to cheat passers-by of their spare change.

People walk by us and look at us.

“Grandpa Zhou,” I ask very carefully, “Remember the last time you told me to tell you about your swollen feet? I asked my doctor-friend, and she says it could be due to a few reasons but we won’t know till a proper doctor has a look at it. Can I take you to a doctor?”

“That would need money right?”

“No, you’ll be seeing my doctor-friend. I’ve spoken to her. Free-of-charge.”


I tell him about HealthServe, a clinic along Geylang that serves the marginalised- construction workers, prostitutes and those who cannot afford basic healthcare.

He tucks into his dinner and we talk. I ask him about his daily meals and routine, and he asks me two questions that chill my heart.

” Hm…. Is it okay to eat cold food? Like say, if I bought food like this and left it aside? And oh yes, expired canned food is okay right? If I boil expired sausages in hot water for a rreeaally long time, it’s okay right?”

“No it’s not okay and it’s not all right, Grandpa Zhou. It’s always better to eat warm food, and canned food should not be expired. And no cup noodles. No cup noodles, okay?”

We talk some more, and he tells me about his past when he used to work at the cinema.

Wai Jia!” I hear a voice calling me from behind. I turn around, to see a familiar face, a junior from the medical faculty. She looks at me from the top of the flight of steps while I remain squatted next to Grandpa Zhou. “I thought I recognised your hair from behind. What are you doing here? Doing CIP (Community Involvement Project)?”

There is an awkward moment. I laugh, then I smile the smile I always smile when I dont know what to say. “No, I live here. Good to see you.” I smile some more. She takes some time to understand.

Grandpa Zhou finishes his meal. This time, I didn’t buy him beancurd because I’m not sure if he has gout. People with gout should avoid beancurd and beans.

“Wah, fish and egg today, thank you so much. You know, I don’t understand one thing. One thing, I will never be able to understand…. The people here at this train station- they are so lovely. I’ve met so many kind souls… I don’t understand… Why do you people do this for me? I don’t understand…”

“Because God loves us so much I want to share the love that I’ve received with you. Is that okay?” I smile.

He nods.

We agree to see the doctor. “They’re open only on Saturdays afternoons and Tuesday nights. Next Saturday afternoon or following Tuesday then. Closed on New Year’s day. We’ll go together.”

You can’t save the world and you can’t help everybody. Many people had told me that before and the words rang in my ear loud and clear. How they stung.

Yes, we can’t save the world, but in the first place, that is not our responsibility. Our responsibility is to love, one person a time, from our families first, inside and out. If we all helped one person, on top of loving our families, perhaps everybody would receive the love they needed in different places. More people would be less broken. More people would be loved in the right places, in the right ways.

And then I realised why I could not sleep the previous night. The wedding made me think of many things. I remember asking the missionary doctor while I was in China, ” Do you ever feel oppressed by the lifestyle here in China? Restricted by the lack of material comfort? I mean, life here is so… simple.”

The missionary doctor had looked at me, beamed brightly and replied, “Back home in Singapore, don’t you feel oppressed too? ” He grinned, ” By the opulence?” I thought of the many garish-looking, sequin studded gowns I saw last night.

I also remembered another missionary I had met in China, a lady in her seventies serving people with leprosy since 1960. Because of her dedication to the poor, she had turned down two proposals. Two.

So that was what I was disturbed by. The wedding banquet made me think about many things, about whether I would grow to like fancy cars and big houses and extravagant eighty-thousand dollar weddings someday. If I would have mine at the Shangri-La myself. If I could bear to serve the poor and share with them photos of my eighty-thousand dollar wedding, and my designer wedding gown.

Or if I would have a proper, simple but beautiful one, and have a table inviting people like Grandpa Zhou to it.

Or if I would have one at all.

I couldn’t sleep last night. And now I know why. I was just, wondering.

That’s all.

But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind…
– Luke 14: 13

Grandpa Zhou, have you had dinner?

I have chosen to write this because of what some of you have been sharing with me over the past few months. Some of you have been updating me on your progress, asking me questions, and sharing with me bits and pieces of your own Stories. It’s been very difficult to put my answer in an email to different people, or try and squeeze what I would go on to say in half an hour in a text-message space, so I’ve decided to write this letter to all of you whom I’ve met at the support group.

It’s been a joy knowing you all, and I thank God for each and every one of your lives. It’s a long one, so hold on tight.

My Ring

Many people ask me why I wear a ring on the fourth finger of my left hand. To most of them, I never share my answer. They think it’s because I’m attached and I let them think what they want. Today, I will share it with you.

I have heard people tell me of their recovery from depression and other challenges, because of “someone who loved me when I felt no one ever could.” I want to make it very clear that I do not believe in that. This, however, is my personal opinion and I don’t impose it on anyone.

I believe God sends us many angels to help us in our recovery, but not one person can be the reason for our recovery. Some people tell me it was a newfound boyfriend or girlfriend who made them feel like they were worth being loved, and my response to that is that for true recovery to take place, you must recover for yourself and God mostly. Neither your mother, nor your boyfriend, nor the support group, nor your counselor, nor myself even, should be the main reason for your recovery. What if your boyfriend leaves? What if he, too, faces troubles and becomes depressed-Are we all not human, susceptible to the lust of the eye and the temptations and stresses of this world?

People can inspire you, they can motivate, love, support you, open your eyes- but ultimately, you must want to recover because you want to and because you believe God loves you enough.

I wear a ring, with God’s name engraved inside of it, on the fourth finger of my left hand because it is my commitment to God with regards to my calling to be a missionary doctor, and to live my life well. And it is a reminder to me of the great love He has for us. We are like God’s bride. My ring also tells me that a relationship can only be beautiful when 2 whole people come together, not 2 halves.

That is why I wear my ring every day, all the time. And why I can’t explain why I wear it to most people I meet.

Doing what you do not wish to do

The Choices we make

We’ve talked about this before. Anorexia, for many, is about controlling the only thing you can when everything in life seems to be going out of control. It spirals into a perverse form of extreme discipline- I can’t eat this, can’t do that, have to burn these number of calories in this amount of time and the list never ends. This is discipline of the body. Since we are all so caught up with this grand notion of discipline, I want to share a higher form of discipline with all of you.

Its called the discipline of the mind and spirit. Discipline is, very often, a matter of doing what your natural impulse refuses to do. Recovery began when I started to exercise this higher discipline to replace the lowly, self-destructive discipline of the body. This higher discipline is about being positive, being alive, and being victorious. It is about doing what Anorexia refuses to do.

I ate when I knew I had to, even when Anorexia didn’t want to, even when I wasn’t hungry- because we all know that at some point, many of our stomachs shrink so much that even just a small meal fills us up so quickly. Even now, perhaps many of us find it very difficult to consume a normal-sized meal at one sitting. But at least, I make sure I eat enough throughout the day, even when I don’t feel hungry- because my hunger centre has been thrown off. I threw away my micro-skirts, even my favorite ones, the whole stack of them, because they represented insecurity, neediness and succumbing to our cultural idols of artificial perfection. I force myself to talk, write, express my feelings in times of distress even though my natural impulse is to go for a run. I have disallowed myself to participate in any form of long-distance marathon training until I know that my body and mind are fully well.

I make sure I eat with people when I lose my appetite because it lifts my spirits and helps me to eat better. I hardly watch television, and I don’t read trashy magazines even though the artist in me loves fashion- because it doesn’t help, it just doesn’t help. Can you look at me in the face and tell me reading Cleo helps you in recovering? People read trashy fashion magazines because it gives them a temporary delight of luxuriating in someone else’s fantasies. Maybe one day you’ll be able to read stacks and stacks of these magazines and be perfectly fine with it, but right now, is that the best choice to make for yourself? What you feed your mind with is essential to recovering. You can make the choice not to become a victim of superficial cultural ideals.

What is beautiful is what the eye cannot see.

You can choose to do what you do not want to do. You can choose to seek professional help even though you may need to overcome an initial barrier of feeling shy.

You always have a choice to do what you do not wish to do so that you are one step closer to getting well. You always have a choice, remember that.

You are not a number
We all know our blood-attachment to the weighing scale. When I was very, very ill, it was everything to me. Even during recovery, it was something to fall back on on bad days. Yet, against all obsession, I threw it away. I didn’t change its location, put it in another place so I wouldn’t see it, or tell my family to keep it from me. I did what I didn’t want to do but needed to be done. I THREW IT AWAY. DOWN THE CHUTE. There are many things in life worth throwing away. Your life is not one of them.

You are not a number. God made you a human being deserving of love, happiness and freedom.

Many of you tell me about the perverse feeling of delight when you lose extra weight, because it feels empowering and gives you a sense of control, discipline. I understand, I really do. But consider this- that that kind of discipline wastes, destroys and mocks, while a different kind of discipline, that of doing what you do not wish to do- for your own good, is a more beautiful, higher form of discipline, one that fulfills, builds, and sets free.

Remember, recovery is being strong enough to do what you do not wish to do.


You are very brave to have taken the first step to seek help, talk about your problem. You are very, very brave because so many choose to sleep over it in denial. But it doesn’t stop here. There is a difference between genuinely wanting to get better and taking action, and simply being content to wallow in the status quo because you’ve found a place to ventilate and feel comfortable among fellow people who suffer in the same place you do. There is a difference between true courage, and self-indulgence trying to pass as honesty, admitting your foibles not to improve but only to gain sympathy and consent.

That is no longer courage. It is called, at best, a more sophisticated form of cowardice.

So be strong, do what you do not wish to do in order to get better- that is making progress, that is True courage.

That good.

So many of you are very, very bright. I’m not surprised, because people susceptible to Anorexia are often perfectionists in the first place. Many of you tell me how devastated you are by your academic dip in studies, and some of you have had to stop schooling for a while.

Last year, in spite of saving a lot of travel time by staying at the hostel, I didn’t do so well in my first year of medical school myself. I know how it feels. I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t remember anything I had studied. This year, I decided to stay at home, decided to recover. This year meant having to spend at least 2 hours a day traveling to and from university, while studying for twice as many subjects as my first year of school, and choosing to spend twice as much time at church than I ever did before.

But this is also the term I have scored twice as well. Do you not miss being above average again? Not because of some deep-seated insecurity driving you to perform, but doing well, simply because you are well.

I can finally eat with my family, and go out for meals with friends, attend social functions without feeling paranoid or anxious. I can finally –think- clearly and lucidly. My mind is freed from obsessing, obsessing, obsessing… I am no longer edgy all the time. My hair doesn’t fall out anymore. I can breathe, live, create, simply Be.

Yes, life after Anorexia can be –that good-. And it most certainly is Possible.

On Winning

You can’t win overnight, but you can win small battles every day, all the time.

You win when you eat well, one meal at a time. You win when you decide today is the day you will try and recover for yourself, and for God. You win when you lose and tell yourself you’ll try again, and again, and again. You win when you cry because it’s so hard but you press on anyway. You win when you forgive yourself for backsliding but never lose hope. You win when you decide to throw your scale away. You win when you decide you want to attend church regularly and thank God for your life, even when you don’t feel like it.

You win when you do what you do not wish to do, because you want to get better. You win when you believe that God loves you. You can win every day.

Keep winning small battles, and you’ll Win big-time eventually.

I keep receiving similar messages about self-loathing. Yes, we know- it’s not about the food or vanity, but it’s about what’s inside. I want you all to read this. And then write down ten things you are grateful to God for, about your life, talents and body. Ten things. Don’t just think about it- write it down.

On God

A lot of you ask me about God. And why He is so important to me, how He played such a big role in my life and recovery. There is one thing you have to sort out- that God didn’t give you an eating disorder. Life did, and through all things, God represents that hope for us to transform any form of suffering into strength, resilience and beauty.

I don’t want to over-generalise or over-simplify by saying that God is a one-time sugar-injection, and overnight rainbow rush, an instant cure-all. But all I can say is that believing in, learning about, serving and trusting in God over time is the reason I recovered so quickly. God and church are the reason I am who I am today.

Do you not know we are God’s bride, and that His love for us is “strong as death… unyielding as the grave”, which “burns like blazing fire” (Song of Solomon 8:6-7)? Is that not the kind of love we all long for, that deep, awesome love that is almost ferocious? Does it not terrify you one bit that for all our imperfections, Someone loves us that much, that terrifyingly? I know it terrifies me. It is why I wear my ring every day, all the time.

Believing in God means believing you are worthy of love; believing in God means trusting Him enough to believe that you are beautiful, and will be even more so when you start eating normally, eating well because He made you with all the love in the world- He won’t shortchange you by turning you into a fat-mound because you decided to eat well, be well (So many of you tell me this is your greatest fear!); believing in God means letting go, letting it go and just living, trusting and exulting in life.

On the Road

So many of you thank me. You thank me for being God’s angel to you.

But I just want to tell you that you too, have taught me much. You have been of great encouragement to me in many ways. It’s been my joy knowing you. And you, too, can become God’s angel to someone else in time to come, if only you will believe in it.

It’s a journey. It’s a real journey, one that winds this way and that, and still, I am walking it. We walk everyday- it is a long road, but it is always worth it.

Life after recovery really is -that good-.

Remember, God loves you. He loves you so very, very much. For every valley we go through, a mountain-top experience awaits. It may be a long journey, but it is worthwhile. A beautiful place awaits.

I am praying for each and every one of you. Be well for yourself and for God, no one else.

Be strong, and do what you do not wish to do, because you’ll be one step closer to that beautiful place.

You are very precious indeed.

Go and be Well.

God bless your hearts.

Wai Jia

I nearly forgot.

“I’m only at this train station on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Other days, I’m at Yishun train station,” Grandpa Zhou had told me the last time.

And there he was on Christmas day by the dirty steps, playing a broken tune on his harmonica.

Zhou yeye (Grandpa Zhou)!” I called out, before sitting down next to him. He broke into a smile, the kind I never saw when my heart was angry with pettiness at his seeming arrogance previously.

I squatted down to take his order. “Christmas dinner on me,” I joked.

He replied gently, shaking his head, “Anything will do. But 2-dollar meal only, okay? Extra rice will do. I love to eat rice. Two dollars okay? Fish all that, I like, but too expensive.”

I returned with dinner and wanted to leave. Having spent a lot of time this holiday being overseas on a mission trip in China, celebrating Christmas with family, spending time at church… I was very tired, and the Practical side of me wanted to go back and sort out a little work. A major exam in less than two weeks suddenly loomed into view. So much work, so little time.

And then I remembered what Christmas meant. It meant God loving us so much that all He asked was for us to love others as deeply as He loved us. It is something you and I can do, very simply, to share the joy of love with whoever we meet, wherever we are. It was all God asked for on Christmas Day a long, long time ago.

Sometimes, stuck in a dilemma, a voice in my head whispers, “What would you do if that person were Mister God himself?”

I looked at Grandpa Zhou sitting by the steps, his harmonica by his side- If he were God, I would most certainly want to sit with him, I thought. Buy him a meal, chat, and ask for the annihilation of Crocs from the face of the earth.

So I sat down. I have never seen such a small, old person eat so much for a meal. There was a thick slice of fish the size of a large palm, a huge cube of tofu, vegetables and a double serving of white rice. This time, I ordered more food than the last time, and just like the last time, he finished everything.

“ You call me Grandpa Zhou ya? Please call me that from now on… Don’t call me ‘Uncle’ anymore, is that okay? ‘Grandpa Zhou’… it makes me feel so good to hear that. You know, people look down on us… People look down on us, how many people will stop to talk with us? I have a license to busk, but people still see us as beggars. Don’t leave yet okay? I have some questions for you after dinner.”

I looked at him as he tucked into his warm meal. Not too long ago, I was one of those people, angry with pettiness at him for seeming to be a prideful, lowly thorn.

“You know, how many people will sit down and talk to us like that, buy us a meal? I will never buy this for myself… Fish… I like but so expensive. This morning I ate cup noodles- it’s so cheap. Cheap and filling. My daughter… thirty over years old, she’s never bought me a meal and sat down to talk with me like this… Thank you so much you know.”

“Grandpa Zhou,” I said in mandarin, “You know, we all struggle with different issues in our life. Meeting you has been a great blessing to me, you challenged me to open my eyes to what it means to love my own family more deeply.”

He looked at me, stunned. “Really?”

I nodded. “Looking back, I think I’ve a lot to learn about gratitude and being filial… maybe… maybe this is something your daughter will come to learn in time… Just like how I took a long time to realise I took a lot of things for granted.”

He eventually finished his meal.

“My first question. Why is my leg like that?” He pointed at his swollen distorted feet, the skin cracked painfully at the sides, “You’re a medical student ya? Can you do some research and tell me why?”

Then, “Second question, what did you do at church yesterday? Singing and dancing right? Must be… Christmas is special for you Jesus-believing people. That, I know, haha! “

I answered his questions faithfully and was about to leave when he said, “One more question, one more. But don’t be angry okay? Don’t be angry okay?”

I nodded.

He paused, then said, “ You have boyfriend?”

I laughed. All these old people always ask the same thing. “No Uncle, I mean, Grandpa Zhou. No.”

“Good,” he said. “ You finish studying first, concentrate in school, graduate and be a good doctor. All this romantic stuff can come later. Girls will always have suitors, but study first, that later. Ya, you’re not angry, are you? ”

I laughed. “No, I’m not,” I said. “I’m sorry, I’ve to go, Grandpa Zhou. I’ve got to spend time with my family tonight… It’s Christmas Day ya. Cant stay too long this time… So sorry.”

“Yup, sure. Oh yes, the last time I told you I couldn’t sleep ya? And you said you would bring me some oils or something like that?”

I had told him about some bottles of essential oil I had bought from Nepal, from the missionary who helps women support themselves by offering them jobs to make essential oils, soaps and candles. “ I’ll bring it for you this Saturday, okay?”

“Okay. Please remember okay? Cannot sleep ya… And beer is bad.”

Grandpa Zhou taught me many things. Loving your family, loving God, and loving people in small, humble ways. He opened my eyes to see that for every mile we are willing to go for Strangers we love, we should be prepared to go twice the distance for family. Twice, because family aren’t Strangers- shouldn’t be, at least.

He taught me many things. That for all the time we have in the world, there can never be too much time spent Stopping for someone who needs love, stopping for someone, family or Stranger, the way we would stop in our tracks if we knew that person were… God.

Christmas is every day, every person, all the time.

I gave him a side hug, and wished him a merry Christmas. As I turned to leave, he called out behind me, “Thank you so much. Call me ‘Grandpa Zhou’, okay? Not ‘Uncle’. It makes me so happy.”

“Bye, Grandpa Zhou. Merry Christmas.”

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me… … I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did unto me.”

– Matthew 25: 34-40

I Run
Away, in rebellion.
Like a forked tongue from the sea.
In an angry spit of jealous froth,
I Run from You.

I Run
Away, in rebellion
Like bitter streams snaking from the sea.
But You Pursue me
With haste, and make chase.

For Your love for me,
Strong as death, unyielding as the grave
Terrifies me.
Your love is a sea of fire, cruel,
No water can quench.

And I Run
Away, in rebellion,
But like a dark knight,
You lean and hearken after me
With haste, and win the chase.

I tire,
I am drawn back to You.

Water into water,
My hair loosens, mingles into You
As I unfold,

Spill into
Your vastness.

Water into water,
I unfold, spill into the sea,
Back to the beginning,
I return to the One
Calling me.

In rebellion I Run.
And in brokeness,

Slain, speared, succumbed.
Full circle,
I have come.

In brokenness I Return,
As all rivers do the sea.

Back to you, I Run.

For Your love makes my journey just,
And lets me end where I begun.

Back to You, I Run,
Yours, betrothed.

Song of Solomon 8: 6-7

Maybe Christmas is:

– sending out Christmas cards, writing to people you love and realizing you have written more than 80 letters to more than 80 people you love in 2 days.

– waking up at 5am to bake cookies for your family, neighbours and friends, and feeling refreshed.

– talking to God.

– emceeing for your church’s children Christmas programme in public, having fun teaching kids (and adults) an action song and laughing yourself silly on stage till you realise you’re being videotaped.

– having your sister return from overseas for a week and having family dinner- together, finally, and laughing till your tummies hurt, like we’ve not done for a really long time. Laughing the way we do only when the four, not three, of us are together, Complete. Four of us, together again, Complete, like the way things should be-even if it’s only for the next seven days.

– the four of us opening presents under the same Christmas tree we’ve had since I was twelve.

– knowing that Santa doesn’t exist- But that that’s the best news there ever was, because Someone else who does exist can give us more than Santa ever could.

There’s nothing more I really want for Christmas than what I already have for free.

A family of the four of us, Complete, laughing about stupid things till our tummies hurt; presents that only mean anything because of who gave it to us; and something deep inside so rich, and real and wholesome it could only be called God’s love.

What I want, I already have for free. God’s love, in the form of family, laughter and hugs. This has been the simplest and best Christmas Eve ever.

Merry Christmas to each and every one of you, and Happy Birthday, God.

I love You.

Extract from education material by SEDS:

Support for Eating Disorders (SEDS)

SEDS is a support group for sufferers and survivors of Eating Disorders. Details of meeting:

Day: First thursday of every month

Time: 7.00-8.30pm

Life Centre
Bowyer Block A (Clock Tower)
Level 1
Singapore General Hospital

Two facilitated groups will be carried out, one for those seeking help (called survivors), and the other for family and friends (supporters).

You may email sedshelp@yahoo.com.sg which is managed by a survivor of Eating Disorders, call 1800-283-7019 or email counselling@samhealth.org.sg for more information on the support group.

Remember, Eating Disorders can be life-threatening. Wanting to recover is the bravest step to make. Please come for help, or bring a loved one to seek professional help.

We first met at the eating disorders support group. I think it was my first or second time there, after I had decided to perhaps work with Singapore General Hospital to raise awareness about eating disorders in Singapore.

Aiya, Sweet child, I was just dropping by your space today, and you made me cry again.

Thank you for your letter.

“I don’t know how to describe tearing but I’ll try.
Because despite the immense hurt I felt at the moment I teared, it was eventually overwhelmed by that bliss feeling. And that was what made it just so much more beautiful.

I didn’t really take it in when I first saw you (at the eating disorders support group). I walked in with Nic and thought, okay here’s a face I’ve never seen before, a pretty face. I saw you lean over and talk to Ryan and saw how you smiled so comfortably and smiled inside. Because you seemed so warm and friendly. So well. And realized that that made you all the more prettier.

You sat next to her and were the first to say something. Expressing yourself so colorfully and at such ease. Like you had so much to say but had too little time to say it. But in that forty-five minutes or so, you did so well. At least I felt you did. You managed to bring me back a little closer from how far I had let myself drift off. It wasn’t that immense a feeling but it gave me just the amount of push needed to stand firmer on the two feet that you had said we should all be thankful for. The two feet that He had made exactly how they were and didn’t need any other reason, other than because He made them, to accept and not hate them.

Nic and me were waiting outside the door. I wouldn’t have talked to you if it weren’t for her. “I think she’s really nice, Sarah. I want to go talk to her.” Because I didn’t really know how the conversation would go nor was I confident enough that I could get it started but I didn’t have to. Because Nic was by my side and you smiled at us and started the conversation.

That brief conversation that meant so much and left me walking through the corridor with that jumpy feeling inside. You smiled when we told you how well we thought you were doing and how pretty you looked and credited him fully. I went home, smiled and thought about how strong in Faith you were when you pointed up and said “Through Him.” with your ever confident grin. The strongness of how you felt so deeply rooted and confident radiated so strongly that I was smiling the whole way back. “She’s so nice Mummy. I really want to be like her (:” Mummy agreed with me and I thought of how proud any parent would feel. Even without having gone through parenthood, I felt proud.

During the normal monthly meeting in the yellow lited room, someone gave me your blog address. I smiled because you had a blog (: I got home and keyed it in first thing and smiled. To see the colourful pictures, simplicity and same Georgia font I use on my blog. My space. I went to bed smiling after having glanced through some posts and knew that like powder they give you when rockclimbing, your blog was somehow going to be a help in taking a higher step on that humongous and scary wall.

And tonight, I had the same feeling I did as when I saw you for the first time. Because although it was just another blog I was browsing through, this one was so much more special.

Because the humility, genuinity and compassion depicted through the words on the screen made me tear. Tear because it made alot of the things I do seem much more shallow than what they should be. Tear because it was so amazing to see how people like you actually exist in the world and can feel such beautiful feelings. Tear because of how strongly rooted you seemed in Him and how much compassion poured out through that. And tear because I realized that you weren’t just another pretty face- you were genuinely beautiful.

I want to sculpt something as beautiful as the lives you are helping to sculpt. Because it is just so humbling, to read how you fall at His feet and give yourself so freely. To read how much trust you have in Him and constantly rely on Him to guide in everything. To read how much you contribute everything to Him. To feel how you are able to touch me so strongly although not here tangibly and how much you are able to urge me to want to be just like you. So beautiful in His eyes.

I’m not that teary anymore and that scares me for a second. Because what if that was just a feeling? An impermanent feeling that vaporises like alcohol. What if it was a feeling that was actually, useless? Like Twisties- and how in peoples eyes they seem to taste beautiful at the moment, but have zilch nutritional value in the long run. What if, that feeling was just a temporary feeling I’m toying with?

Then I remembered how I picked up the washable marker this morning and had written Faith on my mirror. And how I wanted it there because it would be thing I looked at every morning when I wake up. And I remembered what I said before- about how He knows how the limit we can take and how He promised to guide us through the trying moments. And I realized that it really is real. Because it seems like you’re one of the guides you know? (: Like a angel by the side he’s sent.

So yes, if you’re reading this. I just want to say thank you.

Thank you for being there, not tangibly, but real enough to be like the powder I can feel on my hands when rockclimbing. Thank you for being there strongly enough, to make me tear then realize how real I want the word on my mirror to be. So now, I think I don’t mind tearing if it’s in this way.
It’s emotional numbness.
But it’s a beautiful emotional numbness (:

Yes, I’m reading this my dear. And you’re welcome, sweet child. Be strong, and thank God for everything, for all things so you can be the Child you were made to be.

Beautiful child, thank you, too.

It is a beautiful tragedy, but a tragedy, nonetheless.

It took me this long to understand.

That you cannot love a Stranger, you cannot truly love a stranger, touch lives, change the world, unless you love and touch those who were destined to love you-your own family, and change yourself to love them, deeply, genuinely, wholeheartedly- regardless of circumstance or situation.

It took me this long to understand.

Grandpa Zhou said, “Even my daughter has never done this (buy me a meal and talk with me) before…” There he was, by the steps, luxuriating in the company of a complete Stranger, me, because of what he missed. Our stars collided and it was beautiful. But even then, the beautiful moment was tainted by the remembrance of a time lost, missed and longed for.

I went home that night and thought about the last time I sat down with Dad to talk, talk for hours into the night like we used to-it’s been a while. So there I was, by the steps, luxuriating in the company of a complete Stranger, him, because of what I missed. Our stars collided and it was beautiful. But even then, the beautiful moment was tainted by my own remembrance of a time too long ago, too far back.

So love begins right here, at home.

The world is a beautifully interconnected meshwork of lives, Stories and memories. The individual lives and Stories differ always, but the feelings, the hurts and joys, the complicatedness repeat themselves. Over and over again, the same stars collide in the same broken, complicated places.

Therein lies the beauty, that ultimately because of our sameness, because of the same hurts and joys, we, complete Strangers from completely different families, connect in special ways and are able to understand, empathize, love and touch lives. We are, in spite of our differences, bridges, connections, starstreams spun every instant that collide randomly into each other.

But therein lies, too, the tragedy- that in the beauty of this sugarspun cobweb of special and mysterious connections, is a secret that took us too long to understand. If only every family loved itself deeply, genuinely, wholeheartedly from within, there would lay in this world a lot less grieving, and a lot less need for Strangers to fill in the broken, complicated gaps in our lives.

The collision of starstreams and the spinning of sugarspun cobwebs are beautiful- they really are.

But a lot of those starstreams could be saved from colliding, cobwebs spared from being spun, had we loved the right way from the right place from the beginning, loved starting from Home. It is an unecessary mess.

And risk losing the creation of intricate, randomly-weaved webs and connections you say? Yes, but only because it is simpler, more Beautiful this way.

In this, there is simple beauty and no tragedy therein.

How beautiful it is to see the selflessness of social workers, the radical transformation of deliquents; how beautiful it is to see the understanding of counsellors, the healing of hurting patients; how beautiful it is to see the random acts of kindness, the hearts of complete strangers touched by simple gestures.

But how tragic it is to realise- that deliquents aren’t born- they are driven away from places they could not find love in, Home; that depression isn’t an overnight affair, it grows insidiously, every day, in a place underneath your own roof; that we would be happier, simpler people had we all loved the right way from the right place, Home, right at the very beginning.

So, I am convinced, that love begins right here, at Home. Every family has its own fair share of tangled webs to work through, and if we worked through them, that would be enough. We keep helping, keep loving, keep touching lives outside of our homes, because it is easier to love those whom you do not expect love from. But all griefs, all griefs run from Home- in some way or another. And if only we chose to run Home, to the place of hurts, vengeances and unforgiveness, we would see that the answer, love, lay in the midst of all those cobwebs all along.

Grandpa Zhou wouldn’t need the spare change from passers-by if his son gave him money, wouldn’t desperately need a listening ear if his daughter bought him dinner and stayed to chat with him. We, Grandpa Zhou and I, would then have shared a beautiful moment, untainted by a remembrance of a time lost, missed and longed for. Just a beautiful, simple moment where our stars shone for each other, but didn’t collide in broken, complicated places.

When we love the right way from the right place, our stars can shine without the affair of messy collisions.

We cannot love a Stranger, we cannot truly love a stranger, touch lives, change the world, unless we love and touch those who were destined to love us-our own families, and change ourselves to love them, deeply, genuinely, wholeheartedly- regardless of circumstance or situation.

It took me this long to understand. To truly understand.

Last night Daddy and I talked into the night like the way we used to when I was little. Talking about all sorts of nonsensical and deep things.

I’m going Home now. I’m packing up my things from a makeshift tent in a dingy waterway underneath a bridge of passing Strangers and finally going Home now.

And what unspeakable joy it brings.

Stars are shining.

I never did like that old man very much.

Often, he sat by the train station, playing his harmonica, singing a hoarse tune with a dirty box with spare change inside. A few times, I had Stopped to ask him how he was, if he wanted any food, and each time he would turn my question back on me, saying, “You want to give me ah? Just give me money la, then no trouble to you!”

I thought he was very cocky. He was shriveled and small, but looked very alert. He seemed to play his harmonica un-intently, sing his hoarse songs without any sense of pride. I never did like that old man very much.

The last time I saw him was before I left for China. I thought to myself, one day I have to talk to him.

Last night, I did.

“Uncle, have you eaten?”

He looked up at me, recognizing my familiar face and question, for I had asked him that many times before, and had returned with a box of noodles or a bun from a nearby convenience store. Again came the reply I had expected- “You want to buy for me ah? Can la! You buy la, buy la.” Ha waved his hand as he spoke.

“What do you want Uncle?”

He seemed unpicky at first, but later started to become more specific. “I want anything… No, er… maybe just some snacks… curry puffs or, no no no, bao (Chinese bun). I want a bao.”

“Okay, Uncle. I’ll get it for you.” I walked into the convenience store in front of us, then turned back to ask, “What kind do you want? Is it enough?”

“Chicken. I want chicken, not as if they have pork what. Of course one bao is not enough! Very, very hungry…”

I looked at him sitting by the steps. He was being cocky, and trying my patience too. People often warned me of being taken advantage of, and I thought this may be that instance. His requests, from a hungry old man, were legitimate, but I hated his cockiness with me, that air of disdain and presumption. I never did like that old man.

I returned with a Chinese chicken bun. He thanked me very briefly.

Every mission trip changes me in ways I can never fully explain or understand. Cambodia grew my wings for independence, Nepal opened my eyes to orphans and my heart to Strangers, India broke my pride for going solo and China… China gave me new eyes to see, and strength to enlarge my tiny heart.

I wanted to leave, but didn’t. Church didn’t teach us to be like that. God loves us so much He gives us strength to love the unloveable. He Stopped for everyone, didn’t He? To love, that is all He asks of us. Not just callously, in a salve-your-conscience kind of way, but deeply, thoroughly, genuinely.

“I’ll get you noodles then,” I said, “You like that? Or rice? There is one packet of nasi lemak (coconut rice) and one packet of noodles left. Which do you like?” But as I turned towards the convenience store, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it.

I stated the obvious. “It’s cold ya, Uncle? The noodles from the store… they’re cold ya?”

“Or you can get me the hot one then. The instant cup noodles! Yup that would be much better!”

Given a choice, I would never serve anyone cup noodles. And I would have to be in dire, dire circumstance before consuming waxed junk that tried to imitate itself as food. Something in me broke when he asked for cup noodles. He was old enough to be my grandfather, and though I never saw both my grandfathers, I would never, ever serve my own grandpa food from a Styrofoam cup.

I wanted to go home, I was carrying many things, I was tired, and the Chinese stall was two streets away. But something in me broke when he asked for cup noodles. Things shouldn’t have to be this way.

I stooped down and crouched next to him. “Uncle. You like Chinese mixed rice? I buy for you, can? Tell me what you like.”

It was then that I noticed. I had always thought he was normal and healthy. Cocky, but normal and healthy. But it was then, when I Stopped, when I crouched down next to him to take his order that I noticed- his right forearm was unnaturally shriveled like a toothpick and his feet were swollen with distortion. I had never noticed it before, because he always huddles his limbs together. Congenital disabilities.

“I want cabbage. And chicken. Two dollars only, I know… Or three vegetables, that’s two dollars too! I know all the price of everything!”

As I turned to leave, he shouted behind me, “And extra rice! Extra rice!”

I returned with his meal. This time I didn’t want to leave. “Uncle, please eat. It’ll get cold and then it wont be nice.” He looked at the food and was pleasantly surprised.

“Sometimes I only eat one meal a day,” he said.

We talked. For more than an hour. People stopped to watch us, some intently, others glancing back for a second glance as they walked past. It must have been a strange sight. Young girl with long hair, fancy dress and high heels sitting by dirty steps with a shriveled old man, listening with fascination to his Stories. He was surprisingly very, very knowledgeable.

Suddenly I loved him. Loved his Stories, loved his interest in my life, loved that underneath that cocky façade was an old grandpa who just wanted some food and company. Grandpa Zhou, I called him. Very old men who are not lewd have a soft spot in my heart. The lewd ones, on the other hand, make me want to gouge their eyes out and burn their… nevermind.

“You… you must be one of those who believe in Jesus right?” he said, as he tucked into the first warm meal he had had in a while.

“That’s right, Uncle. Heh.” I said.

“Yeah, I know… You Jesus-believing people like to buy food for people, ha. I don’t believe in any religion though. It’s not as if anyone has ever seen God, you know. Right? Ya, but I don’t hold anything against you all…”

We talked about many things. Chinese politics, his background, his suffering from congenital disabilities, my life and my future… “I like your harmonica-playing,” I said.

And played he did. I never thought he would finish such a large packet of rice but this tiny, shriveled old man finished every bit, including the bao too. And when he did, he sang his favourite Hokkien song and played on his humble harmonica for me. “I love to sing,” he said.

We agreed to meet on the weekend so he could teach me a tune or two.

How I had wronged him. I thought he had no pride, but it was just that he was old, and his voice was hoarse; I thought he was cocky, but it was just that he was preserving his dignity- after all, he never asked for money from his son; I thought he was taking advantage of me, but it was just that he hadn’t eaten a good meal for a long, long time.

We keep thinking these people don’t really need our help, keep thinking we need to travel far and wide to help the less fortunate, keep thinking that underneath that façade, these people have quite a good life cheating passers-by of their money. But he earns $300 a month, tries to save by spending $2 a day on food and needs the rest to support his wife and pay for utility bills.

“I can’t sleep every night, you know. Sometimes I drink a little beer just so I can sleep. But now, I don’t even do that because do you know how expensive beer is?”

“Beer is not good ya. Don’t smoke or drink beer okay? Beer can cause liver cancer ya…”

“Ya I don’t anymore. I want to be healthy. I’m past seventy already.”

I shared with him my pictures from China which were in my bag. He was fascinated, especially with the picture I had taken with the patients from the Rehab Centre. They too, like him, were crippled or had handicaps, but were joyful and grateful for their lives. I explained the reason for my visiting China, and told him about the missionary doctor who had given up his comfortable life here to be there to serve the poor.

“What a noble man. You, too, are very noble ya,” he said pensively, blinking his eyes. “ You are very blessed too. You have money, good life, so you can bless other people. Study hard.” He paused before he continued. “I don’t think God is real cos I’ve never seen Him but one thing is for real… I don’t believe in any religion but you Jesus-believing people… you fellows that Ive met are very kind, always loving people… that I know for real.”

As he looked at his takeaway box, he said, “Thank you. Thank you for the food- this is more than two dollars. Thank you for sitting to talk with me. Even my daughter has never done this before…”

It was late, we had talked for more than an hour and I was becoming tired. “Take care, Grandpa Zhou. I have to go. Thank you so much.”

“I’m not fit to be your grandpa- I’m too poor… I should be the one thanking you. Thank you for stopping to talk with me.”

We think it strange for us to stop to talk to Strangers. Some of us put a coin or two to salve our conscience, some of us buy a packet of bread, leave it by their side, smile and walk away. But I will always remember what Grandpa Zhou said, “ There is this other lady who always buys things for me. She always leaves it by me and walks away. But she never, ever stops to talk… … How Strange.”

How strange.

How strange that we think it strange to stop to talk, but it is stranger still not to.

I thought of all the times I had wronged him, all the times I had chosen to walk away, all the times that my actions were driven more by the need to salve my conscience than the genuine desire to love, to love the way God loves us.

I thought of all the times we chose to give our love to Strangers, rather than the people in our own homes, all the times we took love for granted, and the times ahead that we can create, can change to bring that kind of love under own own roofs, for our own mothers, and fathers and siblings- people who were destined to love us deeply, thoroughly, genuinely till the end.

How far I fell short. How far we all do.

“Bye Grandpa Zhou. God loves you very much. See you on Saturday.” I gave him a side hug.

“Bye bye, and see you. I’ll be here till late on Saturday… Bring your harmonica!”

“I will, Grandpa Zhou. I will.”

“… Love one another…”
John 13: 34-35