Bye 2018, hi 2019

Here’s my look back to 2018 and look forward to 2019.

My 2018 theme
Rest through soul harmony

I like having a theme for the year. It keeps me focused on one key leverage which pulls every other thing together. Kinda like having a strategy and then aligning the tactical plans with it. 

With this theme, I was more intentional than before to centre my life on God and cultivating a close relationship with Him. 
That was to become the domino effect that caused a chain reaction to all areas of my life.  

More chilled, less rigid (in my “standard”)
I’m a creative person who likes systems. And that’s how I approach my Bible reading and spending *quiet time with God: systematically. However, there were murmurs from my soul which started in 2017, that it wanted to slow down and rest (in God). So, I took action.

In 2018, I learnt to be more chilled and go-with-the-flow-ish, less goal-driven and achievement-centric, which is not my typical Choleric, Type A behaviour. My quiet time because less structured, less measured and sometimes it can just be a time soaking in God’s presence and worship. Probably explains why I couldn’t complete the one-year Bible reading plan. I supposed God knows what I needed most for the season. In 2018 I learnt to: so be it; let it be. 

*An article from explained quiet time as “a point during each day when we remove ourselves from the busyness of schoolwork, dorm life, and the ever-increasing demands of Facebook to spend time praying, reading God’s Word, and quietly listening to what God has to say to us.”

Less is more 
2018 was also big for me in “less is more-ism”. I became increasingly less accepting (ha, increasingly less, that’s an oxymoron!) of the world’s bigger, faster, better.

I think—in losing things, losing people, death to my misaligned dreams, and losing control (of which I never had anyway) did a brilliant job in making me realise what is really important in life. The first and most important is relationships. First with God, with that, everyone else. I think relationships are the only thing that will last after I die. And I want to leave behind memories with people that they are loved and they are important. But more than the flawed love of mine, God loves them whether they messed up or not. 

Turning points and shifts in 2018

I stepped out from my five years of church communications work with no concrete plans of what’s next. Then with no part of mine in planning—joined a non-profit organisation seven months later. My work’s role purpose is to enhance the fundraising team’s ability to generate funds by writing compelling donor proposals and reports, and innovating the proposals and reports’ processes and systems. 

Mid 2018 was the first time I dared to call myself a writer. When a new acquaintance asked me what do I do, I figured out saying, “I’m a writer,” sounds better than “I’m jobless.” It’s also the first time I have the word “writer” on my name card when I took up the fundraising writing role in the non-profit organisation. So now it’s official. “What do you do?” “I’m a writer.” 🙂

Looking ahead to 2019

My 2019 theme
Training (flex bicep emoji) 

The word “training” became clear to me as I looked ahead to what I want to do in 2019. I think after 2018’s “rest through soul harmony”, God knows I’m more ok with knowing what to drop and what to take on, yet with lesser striving. Hence, training is apt as I expand beyond my comfort zone. 

Health; cycling
I want to be able to cycle, travel and tour around with my husband. That means I got to have endurance and strength: strong core, quads, arm strength (to carry the bicycle up and down staircases!) minus the back and knee pain. 
I gotta train: schedule my workout instead of letting five days slipped by without knowing!

Writing; work
I want to consistently produce a weekly article for HopeMail without burning out in the long run. Work-wise, I want to improve my skills—writing compelling proposals and clear reports which our donors would love to read and take action upon.

I also want to have an accelerated learning curve for fundraising and the organisation I’m working with. Perhaps even tinker with Indesign (design software). Did you know that documents look awesome-r with Indesign? 
I gotta train: schedule regular writing time to practice how I deliver my written messages and to learn new skills. 

Bible reading; prayer
I yearn to draw closer to God. What’s great is there’s no limit to how deep and intimate a relationship with God can be. So I read the Bible—as God speaks through His words in the Bible “to inform my mind, inspire my heart, and instruct my behaviour”. (Borrowing a favourite quote from my pastor.) Where else prayer forms the foundation to everything!

These two spiritual disciplines have yet to be on auto-mode for me. Given the chance on certain days, I’d choose to do other things than reading the Bible. As for prayer, yes, I will still forget to pray and rely on my own wit and strength, resulting in stress and time-wasting.  
I gotta train: intentionally build the habit of setting aside a daily time of reading the Bible. And instead of worrying or doing things my own way, to always pray, pray, pray and let God direct my steps. 

By the way, for my workout, quiet time, and daily reflection, I’m using a habit-building app called Strides and it’s helping to keep me on track. 

Another fantastic way of keeping up with regular Bible reading is to use the app, Youversion. It has a feature for you to invite people to read the Bible together using a Bible plan where you can share your thoughts from the Bible passages with the group. My group has three people. We kept it small to reduce noise. This has worked marvellously for me as seeing my friends’ sharing motivates me to follow the Bible-reading plan daily.

To make prayer an ongoing posture and habit, I’ve set the alarm clock to go off twice a day, reminding me to pause and pray, especially throughout my work day. Something as simple as setting the alarm clock worked like magic. I look forward to increasing the frequency until prayer is ingrained in me and I have a greater sense of abiding and communing with God. I learnt this tip from The Prayer Course: a six interactive sessions for small groups based on The Lord’s Prayer, covering topics such as intercession, dealing with disappointment, learning to listen and spiritual warfare.

Hospitality; care
God is working in me and my husband’s hearts, moving us from a more inward-living lifestyle to outward-living, serving others. Having people over for meals and spills; making time and space for others, etc. 
I gotta train: is there a workout to expand our hearts? 😛

That wraps my look back to 2018 and look forward to 2019. Do you have a theme for your 2019? How do you look ahead to this year? I’d be happy to hear from you. 

Great Battles Are Won From Daily Practise And Preparation

I’m not sure if it’s just me, or it’s a common thing for humans to overemphasise “bigness”. 
Big goals, big dreams, big victories, big improvements, big endings. 

I’m primarily a big picture person. I get excited over the vision I see in my mind and can be pretty driven to wanna get to the end game. Maybe that’s why I haven’t taken a great liking to artistic things like painting. It requires me to patiently, one brush at a time, one stroke at a time, inch to the completed picture I have in mind. 

In the pursuit of the big somethings, the known goals; I often forget that the process is the bridge to whatever that I’m pursuing. 

Read the entire Bible in one year, one day at a time.
Change toxic or unhealthy thoughts pattern, one thought, one day at a time. 
Stop being a complainer, one grateful attitude at a time. 

I celebrate success when I hit what I wanna achieve. 
But what about those little steps, those brush strokes that’ll eventually complete the picture?
What about those small battles, fought daily?
The small winnings that add up to a big victory?

When I read about David & Goliath from the Bible, I used to be wowed by how a small, shepherd boy brought down, literally, a giant whom other more equipped soldiers dare not fight. With one stone, a single shot from his slingshot—David hit the giant in between the eye, and the giant came toppling down. David became an instant hero. Wasn’t that a great show of how an underdog won the battle?

But the Holy Spirit revealed something else to me. 

As a shepherd, David had hours and years of practice aiming at and hitting lions and bears with his slingshot to protect his sheep from being attacked. Big and vicious beasts. It wasn’t his debut when he faced Goliath the giant. It wasn’t his maiden shot either in using the slingshot. 
David was prepared.

He had gone through the process, the little steps every day; sometimes failing, sometimes winning, but he keeps going on faithfully. God was preparing him to face the giant without him knowing it. 

We don’t go looking around for giants to fight. But those giants will come. Whatever giants that might come, be it in the form of adversities or opportunities, it’s in how we live our day-to-day that will prepare us for what’s ahead in the future. 

Preparedness is paying attention to what’s in our hands, as mundane and routine as it sometimes can be. 

Preparedness is being diligent with our daily work, whether a student, homemaker, or office worker. For we’ll never know when and how the dots will connect if we first don’t draw those dots one-by-one. 

For me, preparedness can be in faithfully writing and sharing even when I think there’s no audience reading. 

Preparedness is respecting our transition or even incubation period. It’s unsettling when we see no sight of shore after the end of a season, and we just wanna move on to a new season. But perhaps, we are not ready for a new season? So, pay attention to what’s happening now, what’s needed to be done now, and do it faithfully. 

Preparedness is the daily time with God in prayer, reading His words from the Bible, and quietening our hearts to hear him. For there will always be times where what was deposited in our hearts will be needed—to intercede, to forgive, to pray, to go into a battle. 

Preparedness is in getting better every day; when we choose not to ruminate on those unhealthy thoughts and replace them with whatever that is true, gracious, beautiful. 

Don’t look down on our daily processes and battles. 

“David said, “I’ve been a shepherd, tending sheep for my father. Whenever a lion or bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I’d go after it, knock it down, and rescue the lamb. If it turned on me, I’d grab it by the throat, wring its neck, and kill it. Lion or bear, it made no difference—I killed it. And I’ll do the same to this Philistine who is taunting the troops of God-Alive. GOD, who delivered me from the teeth of the lion and the claws of the bear, will deliver me from this Philistine.” Saul said, “Go. And GOD help you!”
‭‭1 Samuel‬ ‭17:34-37‬ ‭MSG‬‬

*Image credit: By Majumwo – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Preparedness in and through God, in knowing who God is—gives confidence in a battle. 

May we fight the good fight—being wise, being diligent, being faithful with what God has currently placed in our hands.

The ending and beginning of a season

Seven months after I’ve ended my five years of full-time ministry in the church, something new is about to begin. My transition, or rather, the incubation period of “something’s gonna happen, but I don’t know what” is coming to an end.

I’m gonna start work in a Christian nonprofit organisation soon. Back to full-time ministry.

It is unexpected.

I certainly wasn’t going around looking for it. Nope. Because even though I was waiting expectantly on the Lord on my what’s next, I’ve absolutely crossed off: employment. You see, all through my working life, I was hardly the “employed” type following to the beat of others. I like to chart my own course. I thrive in a blank canvas environment where I can start and create businesses.

My rough idea for my what’s next was more geared towards focusing on using my writing to encourage people (myself included!) to walk towards a joyful life through HopeMail and this website, Knowing God—Finding Hope. Also, taking on communications and copywriting projects as my income-producing work.

My idea was: logical, practical, in line with my gifts, desires, purpose. Therefore, it’s logical that the idea should materialise, right?

Nope. No sirree. Negative. Nah-ah.

Somehow my paths have converged into this soon-to-be new season. A new beginning.

A friend from a nonprofit organisation asked if I’m ready to explore working with them. Two years ago, the same question was asked, and I said no. This time, I said yes to finding out more about the opportunity, provided that it’s on a non-employment basis as I wanted the flexibility of time and location. But it turns out that the role needed someone to be a full-time employee.

I had wrestled through the decision-making process. Prayed, sought wise counsel, used logical thinking, connected dots, and prayed a lot more. Not serene, calm prayers, mind you. More like an urgent call, God! God! Are You sure? Am I making this up?! Back to ministry again? And employment? God, you know my natural bent is not suitable to be constricted to rigid rules and such. I thought the past five years with the church was a (once-in-a-lifetime) “miracle” and I’m done. Now? Again? What?! Are You sure?

I’m not sure if I drove God or the people I’ve sought counsel with crazy, for I went round in circles with my thoughts and (in)decision.

I was almost whiny, like a kid. That’s when it hits me. Has God ever short-changed me when I took a leap of faith and joined the church office? Wasn’t I blessed (even through tough lessons) beyond my imagination? Haven’t I grown in my relationship with Christ?

Also, this upcoming season may not happen if not for my past five years in the church—because I wouldn’t have the chance to prepare for it.

And it hits me when I knew I’d contradicted myself. When I earnestly told God on 31st December that I wanna surrender my life to Him, meaning, I would listen to Him and follow. Because I love Him. And He knows what’s best for me. He loves me. He is God of all.

But then, I acted like this kid who’ve been invited, but unwilling to give up her little sandbox for what’s more significant.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,” Ephesians 3:20 NIV

This verse appeared to me, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven times (yes, I’ve kept count) during the entire decision-making process. I don’t know for sure if it’s God patiently telling me this: hey, quit clutching on what you think it’s good, for I’m gonna give you something great. Now, if you can just let go and trust in Me.

Still. I was too chicken to leap as I wanted a 100% assurance that I’m hearing correctly from God to go ahead with this new season.

Finally. I can’t take this sitting on the fence any more. Furthermore, the people I’d sought counsel with, and circumstances all stacked to a yes. Most importantly, I do not wanna risk being defiant to God. So, I lept.

It’s the only way to know for sure. To quiet down my pesky, anxious, worried voice. Just like how I did with the church ministry. For when God invites His followers to His work, often some life adjustments are needed. And adjustments are uncomfortable. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem to be logical or practical in my finite human understanding too.

This period of wrestling with the decision also brought to attention how my heart has strayed from the centrality of Christ. His sovereignty. How my heart has been cluttered with worries and wants. How unrested my soul was.

And I’m sorry. I’m sorry for muddling that fine line between my dreams and God’s plan. FOMO (fear of missing n out), I had. Fearfully clutching to my own dreams and goals because letting them go to God may mean that they might not be realised.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m just like a kid not wanting to get out of the sandbox when God is saying; there is more, get out of that box (or get out of the boat, like Peter in the Bible). When I too wanted the ”there is more of God”, but I’d mistakenly turned it into a logical arithmetic exercise. I’d temporarily lost sight of how mighty, wise, and all-knowing God is. And of my desire to wanna follow Christ.

I didn’t hear what Jesus said:

“And He said to them, “ Follow Me [as My disciples, accepting Me as your Master and Teacher and walking the same path of life that I walk], and I will make you fishers of men.”

And I guess I didn’t do this either:

Immediately they left their nets and followed Him [becoming His disciples, believing and trusting in Him and following His example].”
Matthew 4:19-20 AMP (Emphasis mine)

But I’m a lifelong learner. Learning to tune, to recalibrate, to become more and more aware of the rhythm of someone walking closely with Christ. Learning to identify the beginning and end seasons of life. To accept and live with the season. To prepare and make room for a new season to begin. Following to the beat of His drum, not mine.

So help me, Lord. (and pray like mad.)

My husband’s cancer—one year down the road

A year has passed since my husband was diagnosed with stage three lymphoma. The haematologist said that my husband can opt to “watch and wait” and not proceed with chemotherapy unless the symptoms of the disease change.

We have lived an almost normal life for the past year, but are bluntly reminded of reality whenever we go to the hospital for his medical checkup. Like this trip—I was seated beside my husband at the Cancer Centre of the hospital as we waited to see the TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) doctor. We were surrounded by different people: middle-age, elderly, some are alone, some came with families. But all of them have one thing in common—cancer.

For me, a wife of a husband with lymphoma, a daughter with a biological father, mother, stepfather with cancers, and friends too; I have been in and out of the hospital environment, especially the cancer ward since 2010.

I have the cancer-patient image blazed into my memory cells. Bald, skin-and-bones scrawny. Their expressions, sometimes downcast, solemn, even fearful. Occasionally brave, with a smile.

In the cold of the air-conditioned waiting room, the whites of the hospital wall, the bending of the heads of people looking at their phones, the blank looking-into-the-distance expressions—I often wonder, what’s on their mind?

Maybe my husband heard my thought.

“I wanna do what I want while I still can,” said my husband out of the blue as we sat down for our cafeteria lunch, post-appointment with the TCM doctor.

I looked up from my meal to him, paused for a few seconds and declared,”You know, just now when I stepped out of the cold hospital to get some fresh air and sunshine, I looked up to the blue skies, and this thought came into my mind: we need to change our lifestyle.”

It’s not that we are living a dangerous lifestyle. I think we are above average concerning taking care of our health, with our food and exercises. But I just felt these words in my mind…we need to have:
More sun
More light
More openness
More happiness
More space
More hope
More energy
More smiles
More love
More prayer
More dependence on God
More letting go

It has been a very tough two years for us. Dealing with cancer of self and others, illnesses, caregiving, hospitals, death, family crisis, work crisis, work, etc. If anything, to me, these two years is an accelerated course in maturity.

Though it has taken an emotional toll on us; we’ve pulled through by the grace of God and prayer. Thank God our marriage relationship strengthened through the trials as we each formed a pillar of support for each other. We’ve pulled through too, through love being given to others and received from others. Love—soften all the blows of life.

Perhaps we’ll tweak “I wanna do what I want while I still can” to “I wanna do what I need to do while I still can”.

We’ll go on living with a renewed vision of being even more intentional with our lives.
To serve people.
To do some of the things we like that make our souls very pleased and happy, like travelling. (Double yay!)
To look at the bigger picture—life on earth is merely a journey as we are pilgrims on the way to eternity with God.
To manage or remove unhelpful external circumstances when we can; to learn to let go when we can’t.
To forgive ongoing, recurring hurts from people. (This is still tough for me.)
To learn how to de-stress.
To adopt the mindset of less is more; living a simpler life.

And because we can trust in an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present Almighty God—to keep learning and practising living with these golden words:
Instead of worrying, pray.
Let it go.


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It’s the last quarter of the year (time to reflect)

It’s October, the start to the last quarter of the year. I usually don’t wear my year-end reflection uniform (I made that up) until Dec or even January! Because I’m usually “too busy”, which is just another egoistic way to describe misaligned priorities.

This year, I’m half a year jobless (though I would seriously call my writing for HopeMail a job that doesn’t pay my bills), so I’m less swept by pressing schedules and have a head start to get my reflective mode on till the end of the year.

I’d like to pause here and invite you to join me in using this reflective moment of the year to ask ourselves this question: how did we live our days this year?

If we could name a theme to our year, what would it be? If our immediate response would be the word “busy”—can that be an invitation to look deeper—what is it that we have been primarily busy about? And why? Did it connect with the bigger picture of life?

The overarching theme I’ve set at the beginning of the year is: soul harmony through rest. I know, poetic sounding, right?

Did that—soul harmony, happened?
Yes and no.

Yes: Because I was intentional in making space to read God’s words, pray more regularly, and schedule periodical silent retreats. I’ve had moments and brief periods of time where I truly felt rested, perhaps more than my previous years.

No: Because I had more time this year during my period of not working; I think more, and the clutters from my heart surfaced more than before.

I’ve cleared loads of clutter from my physical and digital space. It’s the spiritual clutter that’s more difficult to remove. Not so straightforward.

The struggles got my heart’s attention in whether I’ve placed God as the Lord of my life. And how did I live it out in the days of the year.

This year—I learnt more of myself as I know God more and more.

The more I looked beneath the symptoms from the problems of my life, and shifted to look at Christ’s character: loving, forgiving, gentle, humble…the more God revealed to me the condition of my heart which is often not pretty. Usually, the problems are not the problem; it’s our response to the problems that is the problem. My pastor used to quote this: the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. Bingo.

This year—I’m big on digging beneath the surface of me, going beyond yearly action-based goals.

There were a lot of thoughts examination. Why I’m repeatedly triggered from the same thing, the same persons; why I’m easily angered (by the way, if you are often easily angered or irritated, this is a big symptom of something’s not right, and it’s leaking out in the form of anger). I’m still working this through, and I felt like this is just the beginning.

This year—I’m not my usual gung-ho self. The go-getter, get-it-done Type A.

Oh, I still have it in me, that’s for sure. But, I’m learning to be pliable to life as life doesn’t bend to our wishes. I’m far, far away from being this vision I have of how a rested person in Christ looks and feels like. But I’m thankful for the seed of wisdom being nurtured to grow into a person—rested because of her dependency on God.

One of the more prominent lessons I’ve learnt to f-l-o-w with God’s leading is during my transition period; when I left my previous work with no idea of what should I do next. I’m not in my 20s to have this boho spirit, mind you.

After a tug-of-war phase of toggling between doing the logical thing of planning to launch my copywriting business; while keeping an eye for directions from God—I hit the oasis of having peace in my heart with uncertainties rather than chasing over what’s uncertain.

That’s when I had a clear why and direction for my then blog, now, newsletter+ website for the first time in four years. And also that building a copywriting business might not be the best thing for me now. Though I’m pretty sure I can push for a decent business to happen, but it may not be well with my soul to chase for it. I don’t know why. Just doesn’t feel right.

So I learnt to let go of my stubborn bite. I’m learning to channel my bull-dog tenacity away from things that don’t matter in light of eternity (which is A LOT); directing it to be watchful of when I stray away from having Christ as my true north. I discovered that like sheep, despite being shown green pastures, I like to waddle away from my Shepherd. A lot.

This year—I’m learning to simplify. To cull: goals, wants, apps, tools, ways, information, social media.

The world: its stimuli and its good intentions are just getting too much for me.

Take productivity tools for example; I know there are loads of useful apps out there for task-tracking, reminders, planning, note-taking, etc. But that also means I have to keep all those different apps synced to one another. So, I chose to stick to Evernote. One app for almost everything. My grocery list, to-dos, meeting notes, idea dump, prayer journals, sermon notes, travel planning, blog post drafts, and many more. It syncs across all my devices. I love it when I can access what I need wherever I am.

This year—I’m learning to focus on the process towards a goal.

Wanna get fitter, lose or gain 2kg? It’s those three-four times a week of workout that we need to be diligent with. Small things done consistently is powerful. And oh, how I love the word “diligent”. Let everything we do be with diligence. Let diligence be in everything we do. We can’t be “diligent” with our goals, but we can be diligent in our steps, our process, our actions.

This is the year that I dare to, albeit gingerly, stick my head out and called myself a writer.

I remembered the very first time I did that was in August. A newly-met friend asked, “what do I do”. I figured saying “I’m jobless” is not so appealing so I said, “I’m a writer.” “Oh, what do you write about?”, she asked. “Articles that’ll help people find hope in trials and walk towards a joyful life.”, I pitched. That led to both of us, strangers just a few minutes ago, sharing about the pains from our lives. I also had the privilege of praying for her.

This is the year I learnt to say no to many things and be intentional in enlarging the space of my heart for God.

I’m ever thankful to God for this season where I have the blessing of time away from full-time work to sit still, be solitary, be present with and for people, “waste time” with God, pausing long enough for truths to surface within my heart so that they can be dealt with.

Have I lived a good life this year? The ambitious Type A in me might dismiss it saying, “it could have been better, ” followed with a long list of things-to-improve. But I hope my developing Type B will say, “Keep walking with Christ. I’m happy that you have become so aware of your need for Christ in your life—yes, you did well this year.”

Your turn (to reflect).

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Annie Dillard


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Look beneath a person’s exterior

Looking past or beneath a person’s exterior is something I struggle with. And hence, something I’m continually reminding myself to do—to go beyond the outside and see the real person as God created he or she to be.

It’s hard because most of us look at the world through our lenses.
We sometimes perceive things and people at face value.
We might jump into conclusion of who a person is based on what he or she did (or didn’t!). Hello, acceptance-by-performance—I had loads of that dished out on me for the last decade. Trying to fit into the expectations of certain people, and when failed, was given the no eye contact, cold shoulder treatment. Like an outcast. Doesn’t belong to the tribe.

Sometimes we form opinions of people based on colours, educational background, even how a person sounds like when conversing in English. Sometimes, we pridefully use these limited data to put people in a box.

I’m guilty as charged on many occasions.

We look at the exterior:
How polished someone looks or behaves.
How rude someone is.
How different someone is.
They dress differently.
They smell differently.
They speak differently.
Of the foreign worker who struggled to take our order in the restaurant.
Of the old man; grumpy and demanding.
Of the blue-collared worker; rough in his words.
Of the teenager or young adult who didn’t fit into our standard of acceptance.

And we allow these elements to filter how we see the person. We might even label them before we had a chance to know them.

We look at the world through our lenses.

And you know what? Our lenses often need a thorough wiping from God. Because our lenses are filthy; masked by the grime of: pride, self-righteousness, shame, blame, divisiveness…
These grime are pervasive. Found in homes, office, churches, temples, schools, malls, etc. And it makes us critical and judgmental people, to a greater or lesser extent.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever have a clean lens. But I do pray that my lens gets cleaner day by day.

That I’ll see people the way how our loving and just God sees them.
And I’ll have the wisdom to understand that we are different because these are different: culture, background, upbringing, experience, surrounding, belief.

That I’ll see beneath the tough or rude shell—hides a fearful and hurting person.
That I’ll see the families of the foreign worker—missing his children back in his home country.
That I’ll see the confusions of the teenager—struggling to find his or her footing in a too-much, too-fast, information-overload, and media-dominated world.

That beneath the exterior of a person, I’ll see:
The hopes of a mother.
The dreams of a school dropout.
The courage of a father.
The hurts of a man.
I went to a photography exhibition recently. This photo caught my eye and heart.

Photo of a Jahai family
Photo of a Jahai family in front of their home in the Belum flooded forests in Perak, Malaysia.

The family in this photo is different to mine as day & night. Yet beneath the exterior—we are the same in the sense that we want and need the same things: love, acceptance, happiness, family, and relationships.

Can we allow God to wipe our lenses clean?

Photo from the book Grit & Grace, the grandeur of monochrome Malaysia.
*Photo of a Jahai family in front of their home in the Belum flooded forests in Perak, Malaysia.

Photograph by SC Shekar.
*Text by Liew Suet Fun.


Receive the HopeMail newsletter on Sundays.

I send one article a week exclusively to this mailing list before it’s posted on this site and anywhere else.

There’s no spam. Just honest, useful content to help walk toward a joyful life. Why not join us?

Send me HopeMail!


Talking about suicide

The news of the suicide of a lead pastor, Andrew Stoeklein, broke my heart. He was 30 years old, a loving husband and a father to three kids. Before his suicide, he was open with his battles with depression and anxiety.

At this time of writing, I’m still mourning the loss of this person who I don’t know personally. All the while thinking, what happened?

To a person who obviously knows Christ deep in his being and his soul.
Knows of the hope of Christ.
Knows the power of prayer.
Knows about seeking help. (which he did)
Knows how much His Heavenly Father loves him.

Yet he was in so much pain and darkness that he wanted to take the pain away. And he did.

My heart is broken for him, his family, his friends, his church.

Please join me in sending lots of prayers to his family. If you are inclined to do so, you can contribute to #careforkayla at This campaign will provide education costs for Andrew’s boys, day-to-day expenses for his wife, Kayla, and financial security during a tough season.

Many of us may not be able to comprehend how a person could take his or her own life. But to the sufferer, they may feel that death is the only way out.

The sad and scary thing is, there could be people around us who are in danger of suicide. Either we may not know the signs of suicide (though not everyone would display the signs), or we have a misconception about a suicidal person. Saying that it’s a cowardly act is one of them.

Understanding more about suicide.

How might someone think or feel like to be suicidal?

Hopeless, there’s no way out.
Overwhelmed by negative thoughts.
Their pain is unbearable, and there’ll be no end to it.
They are of no use to anyone.

Some of the outward behaviours could be:
Avoiding or isolating from others.
Self-harm or have the intention to self-harm.
Change in appetite.
Sleep is affected.
No desire to take care of yourself.

Facts and Myth about Suicide

(information from Befrienders)

Suicide Myth
People who talk about suicide are just trying to get attention.

Suicide Fact
People who die by suicide usually talk about it first. They are in pain and oftentimes reach out for help because they do not know what to do and have lost hope. Always take talk about suicide seriously. Always.


Suicide Myth
Suicide always occurs without any warning signs.

Suicide Fact
Sometimes there are warning signs. (However, there might not be signs or you might not be able to tell)


Suicide Myth
Once people decide to die by suicide, there is nothing you can do to stop them.

Suicide Fact
Suicide can be prevented. Most people who are suicidal do not want to die; they just want to stop their pain.


Suicide Myth
Suicide only strikes people of a certain gender, race, financial status, age, etc.

Suicide Fact
Suicide can strike anyone.


Suicide Myth
People who attempt suicide and survive will not attempt suicide again.

Suicide Fact
People who attempt suicide and survive will oftentimes make additional attempts.


Suicide Myth
People who attempt suicide are crazy.

Suicide Fact
Not necessary. They are in pain, and probably have a chemical imbalance in their brain. Anyone could attempt suicide.


Suicide Myth
People who attempt suicide are weak.

Suicide Fact
Not necessary. They are in pain and probably have a chemical imbalance in their brain. Many people who are very “strong” die by suicide.


Suicide Myth
People who talk about suicide are trying to manipulate others.

Suicide Fact
No. People who talk about suicide are in pain and need help. And telling them that they “just want something” or “are trying to manipulate” is both insensitive and ignorant. People often talk about suicide before dying by suicide. Always take talk about suicide seriously. Always.


Suicide Myth
When people become suicidal, they will always be suicidal.

Suicide Fact
Most people are suicidal for a limited period of time. However, suicidal feelings can recur.


Suicide Myth
People who are suicidal definitely want to die.

Suicide Fact
The vast majority of people who are suicidal do not want to die. They are in pain, and they want to stop the pain.


Suicide Myth
You should never ask people who are a suicidal person if they are thinking about suicide or if they have thought about a method because just talking about it will give them the idea.

Suicide Fact
Asking people if they are thinking about suicide does not give them the idea for suicide. And it is important to talk about suicide with people who are suicidal because you will learn more about their mindset and intentions, and allow them to diffuse some of the tension that is causing their suicidal feelings.


Suicide Myth
When people who are suicidal feel better, they are no longer suicidal.

Suicide Fact
Sometimes suicidal people feel better because they have decided to die by suicide, and may feel a sense of relief that the pain will soon be over.


Suicide Myth
Young people never think about suicide, they have their entire life ahead of them.

Suicide Fact
Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people aged 15-24. Sometimes children under 10 want die by suicide.


Suicide Myth
There is little correlation between alcohol or drug abuse and suicide.

Suicide Fact
Oftentimes people who die by suicide are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.


Suicide Myth
People who are suicidal do not seek help.

Suicide Fact
Many people who are suicidal reach out for help.

Counselling, support, someone to talk to:

Please help someone or yourself to seek help. Here are some links you can use. 

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Before it’s too late…

I never thought I’d see the day
when I can hear my husband say
“I wanna spend more time with my dad
and see him every day.”

He then gently sang out these verses
from the song The Living Years
As the lyrics pierced my heart
My eyes were wet as I melted in tears

The lyrics goes
*I wasn’t there that morning
When my father passed away
I didn’t get to tell him
All the things I had to say

Half a decade of heartaches
from a father who always has his way
Never a tender word
Never a “son, you’ve made my day.”

Neither any affirmation
try as he might
All he gets from his dad is
You never get things right

But now lies his dad
as my husband sits beside his bed
plucking up all courage
to tell his dad all the things that need to be said

We don’t have a good relationship, dad
But I’m thankful for what I have
You’ve given me a good education, dad
You’ve given me all that you can

And so the conversations have started
for the first time in their lives
sitting beside the bed
where his weak and ill dad lies

Where Love is allowed to go
into the deepest hurts of your soul
It is there you’ll find healing
Wherever forgiveness flows

As Christ hung high up on the cross
Looking at the people below
Forgive them, Father, he said
For they do not know

And now that you know
where would you allow Love to go?
Would you let Love into your heart
Where forgiveness need to flow?

*Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye

Who do you need to forgive
What do you want to say?
Why don’t you let Love win
And say it before it’s too late

The Living Years
Mike & The Mechanics

Every generation
Blames the one before
And all of their frustrations
Come beating on your door

I know that I’m a prisoner to all my father held so dear
I know that I’m a hostage, to all his hopes and fears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years

Crumpled bits of paper
Filled with imperfect thought
Stilted conversations
I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got

You say you just don’t see it
He says it’s perfect sense
You just can’t get agreement
In this present tense
We all talk a different language
Talking in defence

Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye

So we open up a quarrel
Between the present and the past
We only sacrifice the future
It’s the bitterness that lasts

So don’t yield to the fortunes
You sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective
On a different day
And if you don’t give up, and don’t give in
You may just be OK


I wasn’t there that morning
When my father passed away
I didn’t get to tell him
All the things I had to say

I think I caught his spirit
Later that same year
I’m sure I heard his echo
In my baby’s new born tears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years

*Lyrics from


Mike Rutherford and BA Robertson wrote The Living Years about a year after Mike’s dad died. He shared in an interview, “As a teenager in the late 1960s, the last thing I wanted was to be like my father.” Read more

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There’s no spam. Just honest, useful content to help walk toward a joyful life. Why not join us?

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Confessions of a stepmum

Confessions of a stepmum.

“I will love this child as my own. Raise her together with my husband, and give her a stable home. We can build a happy, loving family.” 11 years ago—I said this to myself with all honesty and naivety. Zero ideas of what I was getting myself into.

“Love will prevail” was my pure and simple answer to questions I didn’t ask myself before marrying him.

“Does she like you?”
“Why don’t you have one of your own?”
“It’s different, you know.”

Nobody asks me any of the above questions when husband and I were still dating. No, they somehow chose to ask me after we got married. Like, right after.

Some friends ask me. Two fathers ask me ( But mostly mothers, oh, those mothers who have given painful birth to their own.

Thanks to those “well-meaning” advice, I’ve gone into a marriage as a new wife and instant mum—handicapped from day one because I’ve listened to those lies.

That because I didn’t have this umbilical cord connected to her, I didn’t carry her for nine months, I didn’t scream in pain; therefore we will always be different.
Because there’s no blood bond. I will always lack. I will always be handicapped; no matter what I do.

“You are not her real mother.”
“Just accept that you can’t replace her mother.”
“Oh, leave the disciplining to her father. Don’t do it as a stepmum.”

and get this, “you are her spiritual mother.” As if, I’m the fairy godmother with the fake, blond hair.

Now, the thing is, I don’t want to replace her mother. I can’t. Because I can’t reverse the process, stuff the kid in my womb and give birth to who had been born. It’s impossible. Did you guys study science in school?

“Love will prevail” was tainted then because I believe the lies. And I lived them out.

Try loving someone yet having this taunting sensor in you; constantly checking if that someone loves you back. If so—how much. And if it’s lacking, of course! That darn handicap. I can never live up to be a mother to her.

She also lived out those lies being sown by others into her young heart. With both of us living out those evil lies, it was like throwing kerosene-soaked paper into a burning pile of mess.

So, the poor girl grew up in a world of confusion. From the separation of her biological parents to now having this insecure-lied-to-person taking up the role of a mother; at one time, loving her with all her heart, and another, shrinking back after a rejection (perceived and real).

My heart goes out to her. I want her to know that it’s never her fault.
It’s never anything that she can do. It’s the adults who messed up big time.
And I’m so sorry that she had to bear the consequences.

Yet, I have fresh wounds to deal with regularly. So though I want to do my best to protect her from these pain, I was grimacing in mine.

I also didn’t know then that I was carrying a subconscious dream of having an ideal family, one where the parents have a good marriage, and lovingly raising their kids (biological or not!) together. Because I didn’t have that, not my generation, not my mum’s generation.

I looked longingly at other families: husband, wife, kids. Somehow just being together as one unit feels right, perfect, safe for me. And I wanted that for her—right and safe—especially after such a traumatic situation of her biological parents getting divorced.

So, I tried. I tried with all my might, all my strength, all my will. Especially after I’ve known the unconditional love of God and accepted Christ into my life.

I tried to love despite the hurts. I tried to love despite not receiving anything back. I tried to love despite the lies in my head—”you will always lack because you didn’t give birth to her”.

I feel silly whenever my church celebrates Mother’s Day by asking all the mothers to stand and be recognised, given a gift, and for the kids and husband to pray for them.

Bless the church’s heart and intention, but when I hesitantly, yet bravely stood up, and my then nine years old daughter refused to budge and come over to my side—that was my first taste of being publicly humiliated. I felt ashamed as I imagined the eyes of people sitting around us looking, judging.

I tried in vain to stop the tears from pouring throughout the service. I couldn’t listen to a word from the sermon.
It sure made me feel like an imposter. It sure made me not to step into the church for Mother’s Day again for years after that.

I also doubt my love for her when I got angry and resentful of her. Was it because we don’t have that elusive biological bond; thus I love her less? How else to explain these feelings of anger?

I went on carrying those lies in my heart that I’m not a mother—when the reality is—I had to be one, and I am one.

The thing that screws up my mind is—what do you mean by “you can’t replace her mother?” Does it mean that there can only be one mother?
But, erm, if I’m the one raising her together with her father—what role am I playing then? A nanny? A sister? An aunt?
What role am I playing that requires these crazy sacrifices and loving-despite-the-hurts love?
A substitute non-mother?

Does it mean that all I can do is know my place and accept whatever situation, just because she didn’t come out from my womb?

It wasn’t until recently when I heard from friends—stories of them and their respective biological mum; that I saw the truth: being bonded by blood doesn’t mean there will be bonding in the hearts.

A healthy relationship depends on what we put in, what we take out, respecting each other, and (add in other ingredients). In other words, healthy relationship development is organic.
Nope, there’s no instant relationship.

With that, the “curse” is broken, and I saw the lies for the first time. The lies that crippled me for 11 years.

I’m a mother.

I didn’t give birth to her. But I took care of her. Place her needs before mine. Do things for her benefit. Guide her.
Love her despite the hurts. I’m a mother. I am not her biological mother. But I’m her mother.

A stepmother is a peculiar role to be.
I still struggle when the Devil who wants to steal, kill, and destroy (families, relationships, joy, life!) repeats those lies to me. But, I chose to believe in the truth.
And I chose to live out this role with gratitude and a heck lot of prayer. Amen.

By the way, the sweetest icing on the cake (zero calories), her message to me on this year’s Mother’s Day:

Confessions of a stepmum

Receive the HopeMail newsletter on Sundays.

I send one article a week exclusively to this mailing list before it’s posted on this site and anywhere else.

There’s no spam. Just honest, useful content to help walk toward a joyful life. Why not join us?

Send me HopeMail!


Note: In respect of her privacy, I’ve asked her and have been given the permission to write and share this article.

Featured image photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

Be right back: Taking a one month break

Hi there,
I’ve been writing my heart out on this blog since 2008, and the blog has been evolving since the last decade.

It started out as an anything-goes (and I write whenever I want) online journal to a committed, weekly sharing of my life’s journey with God.

Lately, my heart has been feeling strongly about this beautiful thing called ‘hope”. Having gone through crises and sorting out my hurts, I’m painfully aware (pun intended) how hope is the superpower to go on with life amidst adversities.
And when we have hope, we can help others to have hope too.

With that (and many earnest prayers), I’m giving my blog a “renovation” with a renewed vision.

There is plenty of work to be done on the blog. The changes and bulk of the work will be more on the vision, direction, content and not so much on web aesthetics. During this time, I’m not confident that I’ll have the focus to write good articles to share with you. Hence, it’s practical that I take a month break to focus on getting the site ready to serve you again.

Let me tell you how excited I am to be working on this, and I look forward to sharing more updates with you soon.

Please drop your email here to be notified when this site is ready:

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