The Start of a Wet Christmas

So, I started populating entries in this blog at the beginning of the year, lasting a few weeks, and promptly stopped, before coming back again only now. Apologies! I grossly underestimate the amount of willpower, discipline, and creativity needed to sustain a blog, as well as all those book reviews (so far, I’ve only written four woeful reviews).

But anyway, December is here, and Orchard Road (the city centre shopping district in Singapore) is all decked up in colourful lights and Christmas decorations. The theme this year is gold and blue, complete with giant stars hanging off streetlamps and tree branches, which make up a rather cheerful and festive atmosphere. Every shopping mall lining the streets of Orchard Road is also resplendent with their individual sets of decorations, and I must say some of them are rather creative in putting up ambiguous décor that could pass off as both for Christmas and Chinese New Year (which is coming up in a month’s time after Christmas) – how creative and cost effective!

Alluding to the title of the post, it will be a Wet Christmas here, because it is Monsoon season during Dec-Jan in Southeast Asia, and the monsoon draught blows storm clouds all over this region, bringing with it windy and damp weather. Nice if you are staying home hiding under your covers, less nice if you are rushing for last minute Christmas shopping with the throngs of other shoppers and tourists.

I haven’t told you what I’ve been busy with in this gap of 10 months, and I assure you that many things have been going on. I’ve enrolled in and completed a 7-month long Bible School (a personal milestone I had set for myself years ago), took a short holiday in Bali, headed for a mission trip to Jakarta (more specifically, a city called Lippo Cikarang, about 2 hours’ drive from Jakarta), where I preached my first sermon in front of the Sunday crowd during Sunday morning service, completed the numerous assignments (mainly book reviews and sermon preparations), paper exams and practical tests for Bible School (such as mock cell group and preaching tests), bombed my last module for my Masters course (with a very miserable grade, sobs), and am currently working on my thesis which I hope to complete by the end of this year! In between all this, took my maiden trip to Sydney Australia to attend my brother’s wedding (my sister-in-law is Australian), and had a good time staying over at my aunt and uncle’s place, learning more about Australian wines, visiting the casino (well actually I only went in there to have meals, the food is really nice and comes with a discount!), hanging out with my Australian cousins who brought me around, playing with my nephew and nieces, and of course, enjoying the weather and scenery, something I will never get in sunny Singapore. My only cousin from Shanghai flew over to Singapore for the first time to attend my brother’s wedding (he had two, one in Australia and the other in Singapore), and we had a good time hosting him and bringing him around the different places of interest in Singapore (I had to rack my brains to think them up, in Singapore it almost seems as if the only places people frequent are air-conditioned shopping malls, which are in generous supply in urban Shanghai anyway). My little brother was back in Singapore for a full three months as well (he studies in the UK most of the year), and it was good to spend some quality time with him at home (bickering with imaginary people is a really tiresome activity, you know. I have to create all the conversation topics and arguments on my own. HAHA).

There have been other minor events during this time as well, such as the occasional trip across the causeway to Johor Bahru for a quick retreat, the church young adults’ conference we had in late October, friends’ weddings spread out across the year, frequent gatherings with my different groups of friends (from secondary school, university, church), occasional meetups with ex-colleagues with whom I’m still on rather good terms with, my weekly visits to the children’s homes, as part of serving with the Children’s service at my church, the weekly departmental brownbag sessions organised by my Psychology department (which takes me a dose of courage to attend each time, because I always go alone and never know what to expect), and so on.

Many of my activities this year revolve around things happening to other people, and I just happen to be a part of the audience, a spectator of events, a participant in these occasions. There are still things I’m hoping for, such as, to finish my Masters proper, to secure a new job (another pain in the neck), and of course, find a life partner. In Singapore, it’s kind of hard to make long term plans without a life partner – for instance, buying a new home would be virtually impossible for any young single working adult (unless you are loaded, or you have loaded parents who are willing to spare you the moolah), unless you are married / getting married, because government housing is usually reserved for couples rather than singles (until you reach the age of 35, and then you are only allowed to buy a resale flat, which will be more expensive than a brand new one, which comes with government subsidies). Renting is generally not a popular option, given the high cost of land, and thus, rent, when you have the option of staying in relative comfort with your parents in the home you grew up in. Besides, the country is so tiny there is hardly a need to move in order to live nearer to your workplace; public transport is generally efficient (with the occasional train breakdowns), and it only takes about 1.5 hours max to travel from one end of the country to the other (by public transport, might I add. It would be way faster by car). I’m thankful for my family and friends around me, who bring life and colour to my world. Still, sometimes I feel like I’m in a standstill, stuck in a vortex of spiralling wind, in the eye of a tornado, where things are moving, but to nowhere. Just revolving around in a circle. Heh, pardon these ponderous and pessimistic musings, I have these moments too.

Ok, scratch all those negative vibes! I am frequently comforted and assured by this verse in the Bible:

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11 (NKJV)

So I’m counting on the promises of God to bring me through both high and low! Yes, to many not in the faith, religion would be considered a crutch for those believers – but in a sense, I do admit it, because without my religion, or rather, without God, I don’t think I would be able to navigate this world.

Thanksgiving just passed, and I know while it is not an Asian tradition to celebrate Thanksgiving (really, it is only an American thing, it isn’t even a Jewish or Christian festival), and some would scorn at the ironic history of how this day came about, still it has evolved to something positive – i.e., a reminder for us to give thanks. Give thanks, for our circumstances, blessings, or, in spite of them, whatever the situation, it is still important to give thanks (because anyway, from a practical perspective, being grateful confers positive benefits for our physical and mental well-being as well!). So here are some things I am giving thanks to God for:

1. For giving me the courage to enrol in, and complete Bible School. It’s been such a huge sacrifice, and possibly shift of values for me. There were days in Bible School when I looked back and thought to myself, “What in the world am I doing here?!” when I once again felt the pain of leaving my job and plunging into the unknown. But it’s a dream You have given me so many years ago, and I’m so thankful it has finally come into fruition this year. 2 + 0 + 1 + 4 = 7, a divine year indeed.

2. For never being in financial lack. I haven’t earned a single cent this year (ok, I earned about $320 after the data analysis, which was finally credited into my bank account after 2 months), and yet each time I always had enough. Sure, I haven’t bought any new clothes, I bought two pairs of shoes this year (which are unfortunately worn out), and a bag for my brother’s wedding. And oh, I bought the dress for my brother’s wedding, which was a huge mistake (a $179 mistake, eeks). (will never spend that much on something again – constantly learning to be wise with my $$). I realise that while money isn’t everything, it is quite something, and a lack of it can be quite painful. But wise spending is a skill and habit that needs to be developed over time. I have been pretty loose with my money the previous years, and I really learnt to tighten my belt this year. No fancy accessories, clothes, etc. Thankful for my brother who wired $XX over, even though he spent so much on his honeymoon. I will make sure to pay him back once I start work again. Thankful for all the people who blessed me multiple ways, like Sophie over the lunches, Cel’s mum over the love offerings, and basically my friends who bought little things for me or gifted me with red packets. These I always remember – not so much the amount of the gift, but the thought behind the gift is what matters. Thankful.

3. For my mum’s slight change in attitude towards church. I wished I had brought my mum to church more, while my China students were still around. But I will continue trying. I am praying that my family will be saved eventually! Amen.

4. For the time in Bible School. The experiences, the people and friends I met, the knowledge I learned and gained, the experiences I encountered for the first time, like mock CG, preaching tests, Mission trip – there were times I thought I wouldn’t make it, but I got through them, and God surely has a way of bringing us through whatever we come face to face with. Same for my masters, I must tell myself this.

5. For a chance to complete my Masters. I know, it isn’t easy, and most days I’m inundated with severe doubts about my competence in academics at all (I can’t believe how someone like me, who seemed so academically promising in my younger years, can suffer so much in school as I grow older), and a sense of regret that I probably won’t pursue anything to do with this line (i.e., academia) once I’m out of  university. But being in school is a privilege, and I hope, I must, cherish the privilege, and try my best to complete what I have to do here.

6. For my family. No doubt, my parents probably definitely do not approve of many of the things I have done this year (e.g., resigning from a stable and promising job, enrolling in Bible school), but yet they quietly accommodate my actions, accept them as my growing pains and love me still the same. And this surely puts things into perspective. I may have grand dreams about doing something meaningful that will change the world, improve the lives of thousands of people, alleviate their suffering, etc, but at the end of the day, the simplest thing I can do to have made my mark is to make my parents proud of me. And this quote I read along the way is really apt:

” You don’t have to be famous. You just have to make your mother and father proud of you.” – Meryl Streep

7. For my relationship with God. It’s been times of ups and downs, I’ve confronted my weaknesses once and again. I’m so weak in faith, and yet each time God is there, and He understands, and He gives me room to grow and learn. I still have doubts, I have uncertainties about what work I will do – but I also seem to have an assurance that things will be OK, but I should focus on completing my thesis well first. Yes God, I will try.

So, 7 points! In the Bible, seven is the number of completion. So I shall stop here. Onward to a glorious end of the year, and a glorious Christmas at that! 🙂

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