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

Venue:
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

Happiness is waking up every day at 6am in the village, jogging in the freezing cold underneath a canopy of stars with the missionary doctor, chatting about God and life, and eating hot, steaming roadside fare.

Happiness is spending the first day of your trip exploring the place by yourself, with no guide, nobody at all- and feeling completely at ease in the midst of humble, quiet people.

Happiness is taking public transport by yourself on your second day in a foreign land to a lake with thousands of seagulls, sitting on a stone bench and overhearing a conversation in simple Mandarin:

” Mama, wei shen me zhe zhi mao mei you er duo? (Mommy, how come this cat has no ears?” A little boy comes up to where I am sitting and stares curiously.

“Yin wei… yin wei ta bu ting hua ya… Ni kan, ling wai yi zhi mao duo ting hua ya! (Because… because it was naughty and didnt listen to what its mommy told him… See, the other cat has ears because it was a good boy!)”

The little boy, holding his mommy’s hand, uses his other hand and scratches his ear, before coming over to feel the ear-less, naughty cat.

Happiness is enjoying colourful messiness, and seeing Beauty in it.

Happiness is seeing a poor villager’s life changed- being able to function again after having a leg and fingers burnt by acid- because of what the missionary doctors and God’s love have done for him. Happiness is seeing the missionary doctor give him a haversack, and a jacket and seeing him overwhelmed with joy and thanksgiving.

Happiness is seeing how a little girl, dulled by mental retardation, constantly salivating and frowning because of her inability to walk, go completely ecstatic when you take a picture with her with a flash. Happiness is hearing her scream and shriek with joy, and seeing her mother smile.

Happiness is spending two hours to travel to another hospital, and helping a village family pay for their hospital expenses, partly with money a classmate gave you ” to use it in whatever way you want to help the poor, I don’t care how you use it…”. Happiness is praying for the family and the father who has terminal cancer, and seeing their tears of gratitude when you open your eyes.

Happiness is laying shoeless on grass, and seeing nothing but blue skies, and clouds

Happiness is walking by miles and miles of sugarcane fields, and biting refreshing sugarcane freshly chopped in front of you by the village farmers.

Happiness is throwing up all night, feeling giddy and weak but laughing the next morning at church, grateful to God for the Beautiful experience.

Happiness is feeling physically weak from puking and pooping, and emotionally exhausted- but knowing you could do it all over again.

All over again, because it makes you Happy.

Thank you all for your thoughtful emails, notes and prayers for me.

I arrived at 2am this morning, after a memorable gastronomical spewing session on the aircraft due to the result of staying for a few days in a village and eating with the beautiful people there. Miles and miles of sugarcane fields, endless cloudless blue skies, and humble, hospitable, quiet people. It was worth it.

I’m sorry I could not share Stories with you all till now. For some reason, I wasn’t able to access this space during my stay in China. Apparently, some sites are restricted in China, and this happens to be one of them.

Many sights, sounds and Stories broke my heart there. Talking to villagers stricken with lethal diseases but too poor to afford a stay at the hospital, listening to the poor tell you how they wanted to end their lives after losing their limbs in unfortunate accidents but could not afford even the most basic operations, and seeing how humble and simple people can and ought to be- can break your heart in ways you don’t even imagine.

Then you see how missionary doctors there send out teams to collect the poorest and neediest villagers, from the most inaccessible of places in the mountains, send them to hospitals to give them new hope for a new life; you see how they give them money, friendship and love; you see how they give them hope to want to live again- and something deep inside you breaks in a Good way. Like you know you could do this someday. Like maybe, for all your pampered upbringing, you could. Maybe, more than maybe- you could, and will.

The place that broke my heart the most must have been the Rehabilitation Centre.

I was on my way there when I crossed a huge park in the city, bustling with activity. In the morning, crowds of elderly people exercised, danced, played instruments and played with their grandchildren. It was a joyous, beautiful sight, brimming with energy and life.

At the end of the park were dozens of people squatting by the side, offering to polish the dirty winter boots of passers-by. I hardly stopped to look at each of them because there were so many, each doing the same thing for a living. Different lives doing the same thing to live. But she caught my eye. She caught my eye because there she was, sitting in the sunshine on a frosty winter’s day, squatting by the side, waiting to polish the dirty winter boots of passers-by… and she had no feet. Where our feet start, hers ended in stumps, as if her feet were buried under the cruel metal concrete ground below.

She had no feet, and yet, squatting by the roadside, she held a polishing cloth, waiting to polish the dirty winter boots of passers-by, boots that enveloped the very things she did not have. I watched her, rooted to the ground, outraged by the audacity of the irony. Suddenly, in that poignant moment, everything faded away. I wanted to go up to her, talk to her, but what could I say that would bring comfort or peace to her? So I watched her, rooted to the ground.

I caught her eye, and I did the only thing I knew- I smiled her my best smile.

In return, she smiled her Best smile back. It was a radiant, Beautiful smile, shining in the winter’s sunshine, without a hint of malice, or resentment at the lot life had dished her.

I turned the corner, then had to sit by the roadside where she could not see me. And I started to cry.

I pick myself up and make my way to the Rehabilitation Centre, the place where villagers who have met with devastating accidents are given new life and new hope because of what the missionary doctors have done for them. “Go and talk to the patients and spend time with them. Just, spend time with them.” the missionary doctor had told me.

I am a stranger there. With no one to tell me what to expect, I find myself shocked and deeply saddened by the sight of a man, burnt and terribly disfigured from head to toe. His skin is deep red, brown and pink. He hardly has eyes or a nose. He comes up to me with a group of patients and I brace myself.

I find it very awkward at first, and they seem not to welcome me very much. But they soon open up, and I make friends with Mei Yun (Beautiful Cloud), Xu Hai, and Tian Zi Shu.

They all grew up in villages. Born with a disability, Xu Hai cannot walk normally. Mei Yun lost sensation of her left calf when she was little but surgery at the Rehab Centre allowed her to walk again. Tian Zi Shu sits in a wheelchair. His legs are tiny, shriveled, but his face is determined, radiant even. His leg muscles hurt when he was fourteen- they still do.

They all had one thing in common- they all told me they had wanted to die at some point, but coming to the Rehab Centre, learning about God’s love and purpose for their lives gave them new hope, new life, made them want to live again.

Xu Hai

Mei Yun (Beautiful Cloud)

Tian Zi Shu

We sit in the warm sunshine, talk, eat fruit. I meet Yang Yao, a man with long hair tied in a ponytail, and with one leg. He lost his hearing in one ear and his left leg after a mining accident.

“I heard the tssssss…. of the dynamite wick and knew haha, it was over,” he says with a smile, “I thought I would die actually.”

I ask him how long he has been at the Rehab Centre and he replies, “Oh, my treatment has long been over. My lover. This time, I’m here cos of my lover.” He says those two words with a charm I cannot fully reconcile with.

“My lover,” he says, “My wife, she is having treatment. She lost both her feet because of severe burns. Her legs are stumps. I have no job now, but we’re thankful we earn enough because she polishes boots in the day.”

Later, I learn he is the husband of the woman I smiled to at the parade square, the one who made me cry because of her Beautiful smile.

There are other visitors too. One of them comes up to tell me, “I was watching you just now with all the patients. I just wanted to say you have this special gift of involving everyone in having fun. It’s a special gift, just wanted you to know that.” Another young lady comes up to talk to me and says, “ You look like you’ve been working here for a long time. You really have a way with these patients.”

I had been there for an hour at most. One young girl who had lost her leg in a tragic car accident when she was sixteen spilled her entire Story to me within the first 5 minutes of our encounter, without me even asking her. I was afraid to ask, really. Some hurts, we as Strangers, have no right to ask.

It took me days to figure it out. And suddenly, it came to me- the reason why we became friends so easily, the reason why the patients told me, “I don’t usually share this with people. But somehow, I feel I want to share this with you.”

The answer was very simple. We, not just they, had one thing in common. We all knew the taste of depression, what it meant to want to kill yourself. We had been there and back, been there, played and toyed with it until we knew what God’s love is, what it does. We had that one thing in common, and that was enough. In that warm sunshine, we talked, and ate fruit, and became instant friends.

That night I woke up at 3am, and could no longer sleep. Something inside was stirring within me. Haunted by the day’s events and haunted by the inner demon I had promised myself to deal with, I could not go back to sleep. All my life, I have been battling with my inner demon of low self-esteem, of not feeling pretty, smart, good-enough and that night it haunted me with a hollow Blackness.

The next evening, I returned to the Rehab Centre. Cui Hua, a village lady who had lost both her legs just two years ago shared with me, ” You know, this made me feel like a lesser person. It made me feel like I wasnt good enough for anything.” She sighed before she continued, “But then I knew God, and then I felt life was worth living all over again.”

I looked at her, sitting in a wheelchair with her thighs as stumps and it hit me like a train. It made me feel like I wasnt good enough for anything, she said. The tears started to come, and I had to leave. ” See you all soon!” I said, trying to hide my tears as I turned to leave.

That night, I wept myself to sleep. I wept so hard the lady who housed me had to hold me in her arms, warm my cold, cold hands and tell me it was okay to let it all out, okay to let it all out.

Here Cui Hua was, saying she wasn’t good enough for anything- the exact same thing I have been haunted with for the whole of my life. Here these poor villager patients were, with limbs and skin and faces lost, saying they felt like they wanted to die- the exact same thing I had thought before. Except that- they had lost limbs, skin and faces… and I had…

-Everything.

That night, I wept myself to sleep. I wept so hard the lady who housed me had to hold me in her arms, warm my cold, cold hands and tell me it was okay to let it all out, okay to let it all out.

Suddenly I was ashamed, ashamed and thankful to the point of tears and weeping. Weeping because I was ashamed and thankful at the same time. Thankful because I felt blessed to have had the peculiar privilege of understanding the taste of sadness, of understanding the hollow, empty feeling of not feeling good enough but having my limbs, skin and face intact. I wept that night, and I kept having to feel my legs. Ashamed also, because I had everything that should seem not to warrant any of those feelings at all.

I wept my heart out that night.

I thought of the poor villager patients, their limbs, skin, faces lost. Thought of their thoughts, and mine, thought of their lives, and mine. I thought their traffic, mining and occupational accidents, and anorexia- how anorexia had been my accident which amputated my limbs, skin and face.

Most people don’t understand what a weighing scale means to someone with anorexia. It means a number, and self-worth. They are obsessed with the number, because everything in their lives rest upon it. It is an altar which they worship. Everything revolves around it, and everything important in their lives rests upon it. In deep sickness, they can weigh themselves up to more than ten times a day. I was that ill before. Even on my worst days now, I am never that ill anymore. But though I have thought of ridding it many times before, I have never been able to.

That night, I wept. And finally, I knew what it meant to be blessed. I knew the meaning and weight of being blessed. I wept myself to sleep, kept feeling my legs, legs that had cartilages worn out too soon, too early by an illness but were intact, and made a Promise to myself.

I will always remember these Beautiful people, people who were brave, strong and humble enough to grab hold of pain, wrench it dry and re-fill their lives with a brand of hope only God’s love can give.

I got home, and threw away the scale today. It went down the chute, just like the stack of micro-skirts, and my trophies. It just isn’t worth it.

Beautiful People.