Akan Datang

It’s 10:30pm on a Friday night, and honestly, I haven’t been up this late for more than a year.

It’s Friday, but it feels like a Saturday because we had Xuheng with us the whole day today. He was kind of flu-ish and running a fever.

Stew is cooking in the oven. It smells amazing; but it’s meant for parents coming over tomorrow evening for dinner. Amazing smells aren’t coming out of my kitchen for some time after November. I’m gonna be too shagged with the newborn to cook. Or maybe my new helper will be so awesome that I will be able to. Who knows?

I don’t know what life will be like with 2 babies. Even now, with full attention on Xuheng, it feels like he is growing up too fast. I love his smile, his cheekiness and his warmth. I love how attached he is to us. I love him waddling up to me and throwing himself into my arms half a step before he reaches; because he knows Papa is going to catch him.

Too fast. Too fast.

I’m not ready for my daughter to come out. I haven’t prepared myself yet. It’s been such a crazy season, you know? Ending one job, starting a new one. Only a crazy man like me would do something like that. But I need to. For my family.

Help, somebody. I need to get ready. Fast.

Looking Back on the First Year of Parenthood: 4 things that helped us survive

In the blink of an eye, it’s been a year! Gosh, I can’t believe how quickly time has flown by. Maybe it’s the stress of coping with a new job, new home and a young infant; or maybe it’s just how quickly each day passes by in a flash because we try to adhere strictly to routines for baby Xuheng and so have given up much of our evening lives. In any case, with a chronic lack of sleep, our body systems are usually shutting down by 8:30pm or so.

I would be lying if I didn’t say parenting a newborn is real tough; but it is also full of joys. Cliched, I know. Yet, our reality was that the difficulties were often so in our face that it was difficult to see the joys. There were many nights Weili and I spent hugging each other in tears not knowing what to do with our screaming baby who refused to sleep; either because he was over-stimulated or sick.

Amy Begel, a family therapist I had the privilege of learning from once shared that one only gets a PhD in being human when we have kids. I suppose one day I will have to pass my Oral Defense then in the presence of my Maker.

We struggled. Big time. To adjust. Adjust what? EVERYTHING. Having a newborn turns everything upside down. I am sure my fellow parents will agree that there is no sphere of life that is left untouched by the presence of the newborn; whether it is the social, mental, emotional or spiritual. It is one of the life-changing events that rocks the proverbial family boat like few others can.

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There were some things that Weili and I decided on doing early on that helped us tremendously; some others were not so successful and we had to further adjust along the way.

1. Routine, routine, routine

In our desperation to help Xuheng sleep better so we could get more rest (trust me, it’s not easy juggling work and sleep depravation), we decided to implement a strict sleep routine for him. This meant being home every single night by 7pm so we could put him to sleep the same way in the same place. For this, we pretty much gave up our social lives and sometimes even time with our own families for the routine. It meant that it was hard for us to go for Cell Group, or have meetups with friends. But after a year, I have to say, the sacrifice was worth it.

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Credit: Fowl Language Comics – Facebook

Xuheng now sleeps pretty much on the dot from 7pm pretty much till the next morning at 5am. He still wakes up a couple of times for the pacifier, but is getting better at putting himself back to sleep. The best part is that on good days when he is not overstimulated, he takes just 10-15minutes to fall asleep. That means that Weili and I can have a leisurely dinner together and time to do our own thing afterwards be it reading, exercise or a slow warm shower before heading to bed.

2. Maintaining relationships

While it definitely was more difficult after Xuheng came, we tried our best to keep in touch with  important friendships. It helped that our Cell Group was very understanding about our absence and never once made us feel bad about not attending. We tried to attend gatherings when they were held on weekends. Whenever we could, we also made time to meet up or hang out with friends for meals.

These relationships, seriously, kept us sane. Whether they were friends who were single or fellow parents, having time when we could take our attentions away from the little ‘bundle of needs’ we were constantly having to take care of helped give us a mental breather.

3. Coming to terms with the New Normal

It took some time for me, but slowly I began to adjust and come to terms with the fact that parenting was not business as usual. We will never return to our lives as singles; or even our married life before the kid came. The very definition of ‘normal’ had changed.

For me, the biggest adjustment was to come to terms with the fact that many things in life I had chosen not to pursue before would now be impossible. I also had to come to terms with the fact that my capacity to take on and pursue new interests if they came along would now be much more limited. In fact, life now consists on very little apart from work and taking care of the little one.

One helpful thought was to realise that my first responsibility now lay in my roles as a husband and as a father; and that the rest needed to be put aside for now. It certainly helped that Xuheng is very attached to us and absolutely loves every minute and second he spends with us!

4. Good food and Coffee. Lots of it.

For a while, Weili and I ordered tingkat for our dinners as it was getting troublesome to buy dinner every day and have to think of what to eat. Honestly, it worked very well for us for a while. Quite a long time in fact, I think we were on it for about 4 months. But you know, it does get sian sometimes. And for me, a good meal is critical to my sense of wellbeing after the end of a difficult work day. Very few things are worse than a bad dinner after a long and tiring day.

And so we stopped the tingkat. Now we either dabao or I invent simple recipes that I can whip up in 20minutes after Xuheng goes to bed. Now, Jamie Oliver’s 30-minute meals make a lot of sense.

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And so we survived.

I’m think I need a nap..

The Ivory Bungalow: A Letter from a Father to Russell Tan

Picture courtesy of tyglobalist.org

By now, there have been many great responses written in response to Russell’s letter, many arguing with a sharpness of mind far greater than mine and expression of words far clearer than what I could write. “Why you can’t separate equity from equality” and “The Rafflesian elite owes society the greatest debt”  are but two great counter-arguments to Russell’s view. I am writing from the my view as a father.

Peace.


Dear Russell,

By now, you should know that your letter to the Straits Times has gone viral. There have been all manner of responses to what you wrote. To be fair to you, I am not sure how much your letter was edited before publication, as I am aware they often do. Sometimes, the tone of what is written can be changed quite dramatically.

As a father of a young son and a baby to come, I was incensed initially by your letter. Yet, I am not as worried for your naivete (for you have much to learn), as I am concerned for your sense of entitlement.

Many have pointed out that your narrow definition of ‘merit’ needs to be re-examined. I shall not belabour the point. What is saddening almost to the point of laughability is the thinking that the so-called elite are in their social positions because of some innate awesomeness; and that by inference, everyone else among us who are not lawyers or doctors or investment bankers are nothing more than ‘menial’ workers. For this, I think maybe your school needs to open you up to more career possibilities.

Do not forget, Russell, for a moment that where you are at this point in life has never been just about you and your awesomeness alone. You would be nothing without the teachers who have taught you. You probably would not have done as well in school if you had to juggle your studies with housechores at home; thank God for maids! For goodness’ sake, even the menial school cleaner who swept your classrooms made it possible for you to study.

Ask any doctor, and they will remind you that they would not be able to do what they do without their able nurses. Lawyers need their para-legals, MPs their grassroots volunteers. Heck, I dare say even the Prime Minister would struggle a whole lot without his PPS. So, Russell, please don’t forget, for even a moment, those who have helped you get to where you are. I haven’t even brought up your parents yet.

Young man, you do not yet appreciate the complexities of this life beyond simplistic dichotomies. You probably read too many of those simplistic rags-to-riches stories that do not do justice to the real struggles those individuals have had to endure. You, in your ivory bungalow, do not understand the intensity of the struggle that low-income families go through to try and overcome the odds of life.

The myriad of factors around the success of one individual are multi-faceted. Is it not about one’s tenacity and determination? To quote our outgoing Transport Minister, “The short answer is ‘yes’, but it is not enough.”

Young man, you do not yet know the complexities of this life.

One day, when you are a father, perhaps then you would know setbacks, failure and the reality that not everything is within your control only because of your intelligence. One day, when you are a father, you might hope as many of us do, for a society that does not measure your children’s worth only by their grades. One day, when you are a father, I hope that your eyes would be opened to see all that is beautiful and precious about their children beyond their intellect and ability – but value the innocence of their love, the valour of their dreams and the unbreakability of your bond with each other.

One day.

In the meantime, I hope you do not get to become a doctor or a lawyer (or rather, not yet) not because I do not wish you well; but because I actually do. You see, I have a wider definition of ‘good’, for you. And for our society.

Sincerely,

Liren

Kahlil Gibran: On Children

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“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

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You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

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You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

Kahlil Gibran

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Our Changing Bond – A Letter to my Wife on Valentine’s Day

My darling wife,
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It still amazes me sometimes how the words ‘Weili’ and ‘my wife’ have become so synonymous to me. On occasion, I am reminded again of those conversations I had with my best guy buddies about you – my certainty and security in the decision I was making (to be with you). I am reminded of how sure I was when I told one of them: “I don’t need your approval on this.” How I became so sure – whether it was my meditations and search into my own heart, or whether it was God steadying a normally deeply ruminative and pensive me – I do not know.
What I do know was a clear thought I had in those early days when we were not-yet-a-couple (you know, as young people nowadays call it “not not-together”): Weili will make an awesome wife and even more awesome mother. How did I know? Maybe it was my observations of you, maybe it was your deeply kind heart that shone through. Sure, there are days when we get frustrated, angry and tempted to be bitter; but your loveliness always shows.
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Parenthood has changed us. The responsibility of bonding with Xuheng, teaching him the ways of the world (so he can take care of himself) and the ways of God (so he can love people) lies squarely on us. Life will never be the same again. It will never again be just the two of us, we will rarely have those carefree, relaxing days together. Every word we utter, every response we give, every action we make, every interaction we have forms part of Xuheng’s education into his own man.
You may not know this. There are many mornings when we are driving to work, I take a glance in my rear mirror and I see only you. I see you, my wife, cooing and playing with my son who is hidden out of sight. I see you, Xuheng’s mother, so full of tenderness towards the offspring of our love and I know in those moments that I am fulfilled as a man. I know in those moments when I smile to myself in the driver’s seat, that God has fulfilled those thoughts I had of you early on as my wife and mother. I know in those split seconds that my life has meaning – hard as it is sometimes – that I will go on for you and for our family. These moments you may not know, but I know. I know them so deeply.
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When I look back, I am amazed at how far we’ve come; how much we’ve changed. This bond we share evolves with each year, each stage of life we go through. What was once fiery romance tempers into a strong tenderness, what was once impatient longing mellows into gentle missing. This bond we have changes and will continue to change, but it is no less strong day by each day.
And so this Valentines’ Day, I celebrate our bond – our ever changing, ever growing bond. Bonds strengthened by happinesses and unhappinesses, bonds tied together as much by our similarities as by our differences, bonds built by our acceptance of each other. May Xuheng find too his security here between us.
“When love beckons to you follow him, though his ways are hard and steep.” – Kahlil Gibran
Deeply,
your husband Liren

A Dark Night

Last night was particularly rough. Illness aside, only did it dawn on us in the morning that Gardens by the Bay was probably a bad idea. Pollen and airways are not the best of friends.

A night of crying, coughing, sneezing, the poor little one couldn’t sleep as he would constantly be waking up with a cough. Thankfully, he could be soothed by my voice singing some hymns to him; but he would soon be up and crying again; unable to sleep. 11pm to 7am. The hardest part was when both of us have our patience wearing thin.

A million thoughts and emotions run through me: frustration, upset, angry, pity, helpless, stressed. I take many deep breaths over the course of the night and try and maintain my mindfulness and cool. And then he cries again.

When will dawn come? When will dawn come?

Deep breath, search for whatever ounce of calm left. A hymn.

The hymn calms me. The melody is for Xu Heng, but the words are for me. “Jesus doeth all things well, Jesus doeth all things well..” I remind myself. The balm of momentary composure.

It was a rough, dark night. How many of these will we have to endure, Lord?

#sleeptrainingstories: Our Experience with SG Supernanny, Zoe

“Oh my sleeping child, the world’s so wild..

But you’ve built your own paradise..” – MLTR

Remember this song from the 90’s? Ahh yes, we used to sing it in class in unison. MLTR was probably the hottest band to us Primary Sixers back then in 1995.. we copied their lyrics left right and centre on autograph books, but I suspect none of us actually knew what the lyrics meant.

Trouble is, if your experience is anything close to mine, 18 years down the road, I sure as hell didn’t know what those lyrics meant. Not when Baby Xu Heng was born.

Our first month with baby was so vexing. He woke up every hour, wanted to feed at all manner of timings and refused to sleep at night. Facebook status updates helped us to get some advice from time to time; but often these well-meaning advice was just friendly diagnoses – we still didn’t know what to do to help baby sleep better.

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Nooooooo Xuheng nooooo… 2am is NOT time to play!!

As the month went on, Weili became increasingly frustrated and so did I. One night, in the darkness and exasperation with a wailing baby, I lost it. I don’t know what happened to me, but I just lost it. I grabbed Xu Heng by the neck and shook him. Real hard. Weili was stunned, and she had to come grab the baby from me before I did any damage.

Yes, judge me if you want to. I remember being very judgmental too when I learnt of ‘Shaken Baby Syndrome’ back when I was in Social Work school. But now, I understood more the frustration the plagues parents – and especially so if the parents have little support.

That’s it, I decided. We needed help. And if we had to pay for it, so be it. It’s a small price to pay compared to watching Weili getting more burnt out by the day. Heart pain? Yes. But not as heart-pain as seeing my wife getting practically no sleep. And certainly better than wallowing in my guilt for having shaken the boy I love so much.

Engaging Zoe

If you find that name familiar, it’s because yes, her work was recently featured in the Sunday Times. After some consideration, I decided to engage her to hear about how we might get baby to sleep better. An initial phone contact was followed by a (super) long online questionnaire we had to fill up regarding all aspects of baby’s daily life and routines. Somewhere while we were filling up that form I began to think: man, we’ve got our work cut out for us.

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Zoe Chu, SG Supernanny

Consultation

After submitting the questionnaire, it was time for a face-to-face consultation with her. Zoe visited us at home to share with us what she thought was our child’s main issue with sleep and gave us some pointers on what to do.

Myth-busting Time

Interestingly, I felt the consultation session was like a myth-busting time. As I said, there are all manner of advice everywhere: Facebook statuses, Christianised paediatrics (if you know what I mean), old-wives tales and even practices from different cultural backgrounds. Which of these were helpful?

One that we heard often was: “Don’t let him sleep during the day! When he is tired, he will sleep long long at night.” But this didn’t fit with our experience at all – if he didn’t sleep in the day, he wouldn’t sleep at night, not to mention sleep long long. In fact, at one point Baby Xu Heng would be screaming his lungs out from 6-10pm every single night the moment we stepped into the house. I can’t even begin to tell you how trying those times were.

Zoe busted this myth for us: Babies sleep very poorly when they are over-tired. Because they have not learnt yet the ‘skill’ of falling asleep, they get extremely exasperated when they are tired and are not able to sleep and that’s why they scream their lungs out. The key to overcoming this is not tiring him out, but letting him get sufficient rest in the day.

OH THE LIGHT OF DAY. We both found this to be possibly one of the most helpful advice we got from Zoe. Not only did we begin to get baby to sleep more in the day (and hence had more time on our hands), but he also fell asleep SO MUCH more easily at night.

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I love this boy sooooo much… *tears* especially when he is sound asleep..

Zoe has been very helpful in sharing her experiences and advice even after the initial consult and I must say we now know much better what to do to rectify baby’s sleep issues when they crop up. After some time, we also learnt what to look out for in baby and can now better troubleshoot his sleep problems utilising the principles Zoe shared with us.

Has Xu Heng slept through the night, yet?

Nope. I must say, it’s hard for us mainly because we live with housemates. To implement any corrective action to try and alter his sleep patterns would require some amount of crying (nobody takes to change easily, after all), and that would be disturbing to our housemates’ sleep. If not for this, I think baby would have slept better earlier.

To each our own

As all new parents know, there is a bewildering amount of information out there, and some downright confusing. Every child is different, and there is no one-sized fits all solution to baby sleep. What I do firmly believe is that there is a place for good structure and routines in a baby’s life and that puts him in good stead for life itself further down the road.

Overall, we’ve had a great experience with Zoe who helped us to outline the major principles surrounding baby sleep and some really handy advice too on implementing those principles in a practical way.


If you would like to get some tips and advice from her too, now’s your chance!
Becoming Home is glad to partner with SG Supernanny, Zoe, to offer THREE 20-minute phone consultations for readers of this blog.

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A Letter to my son about Family

Dear Xu Heng 恤恒,

You are 10 days old today. As each day passes, you begin to feel more and more like a part of us; a part of our family. Of course, when we first met you, we weren’t quite sure how to feel or how to interact with you. But as each day passes, Papa and Mama start to understand you more. We begin to differentiate the soft cries for milk from the wailings when you are cold. We begin to be able to understand your needs, as communicated in your own way which only you can. We begin to experience you as family.
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Xu Heng, there are many kinds of families. Ours is one. A mother, a father, and you, our son. Our type of family is kind of common, but Papa hesitates to teach you that this is ‘normal’. You see, in some families, there are grandmothers and grandfathers. Some like you are blessed with a great-grandmother still strong and healthy. In other families, there are sisters and brothers. In some, cousins are like siblings and aunts are like mummies. Some of us have godfathers, others have ‘Uncle Papa’ or ‘Auntie Mummy’; people who cared for us with great love despite not having blood ties with us.
At some point, perhaps when you go to school, you might hear of the term ‘single-parent family’. This term is sometimes, much to Papa’s pain, used to mean the same thing as ‘broken family’. But families with only one parent are not broken, they are merely different. Sometimes, things happen in life beyond one’s control, like illness, or accidents, or death, which is a part of life. Papa can say to you with 100% certainty, that our family will one day too be a ‘single-parent family’, because it is unlikely that both your Mama and I will be called home to be with the Lord at the exact same time. Even for one second, you will be in a family someday with only one parent. Does that make us broken? No, not if we love as hard as we can, cherish every moment we have, and remember the legacies of those who have gone before us. Maybe, Xu Heng, every family is a broken family because we are all broken people; our righteousness as rags before the Lord. But in His grace, He teaches us to love and redeems our hearts often in the love of those who sacrificed much for us. The route to wholeness for our brokenness is often found through the meandering challenges of our broken homes. Home is, and will always be to you, a place of grace.
‘Absent father’ is probably another term you will hear. Xu Heng, remember, fathers are absent for many different reasons. And it’s not always because they don’t love their family any more. Many, many men are willing to go through the pain of being separated from their wives and sons because they love them. Because they yearn to provide a better life. Some work far away from home, like the Uncle Gopal who washes Papa’s car every night who comes from India. Or the men who built the comfortable church you go to every Sunday to worship Jesus. Every one of them is an ‘absent father’, but not always for the absence of love. Some families don’t have mothers too, because their Mummies have gone to countries far away to take care of other people’s babies so that they can have money to feed their own and send them to school. There are many families without men and without women, but these are families too. Some daddies are not living far away from home, but their hearts are distant. They come home every night, but their hearts are left behind in their office cubicles. These kinds of ‘absent fathers’ bring a lot of pain to Papa, and I promise to try my best never to do that to you. I pray, you will not be like that too, when you become a daddy yourself.
In some families, Papa and Mama may look different. One might have lighter skin, and another one darker. That is because they come from different parts of the world, but have decided to spend their lives together. You see, adults make these choices because of this thing called love. It’s kinda hard to explain, but it grows each day that your Papa is married to your Mama. Perhaps when you experience it one day too, you will know what I mean. Remember to share with me, ya? In other families, their papa and mama’s might speak different languages, or believe in different gods, or like to eat different foods. Some of them never knew each other until their wedding day, others were introduced to each other by their parents. Some came together with blessings, others through much tribulation. But in the midst of it all, there is love.
And yes, love is the most important foundation of a family. Love is the glue that holds a family together: more than eating or praying together. As you can probably tell by now, there are really many, many different kinds of families. As many as there are different kinds of people. No family is perfect, neither is there such a thing as a ‘normal’ family. Every family is normal, and every family is abnormal. Remember: never look for whether a family is normal; but always look for love. Always love.
We love you.
With all my heart,
Papa.

When a young adult walks away from church – and what parents and pastors can do

This article is borne out of experiences of hearing out various young adults about the journey of their relationship with religion, particularly in my therapeutic work as a adolescent counsellor. In some ways, the journey is not new to me; I dare say I have come full circle myself, but the power of hindsight and a deeper understanding of the young adult’s psychological development has shed much light as I ponder about this topic.
As any youth pastor would know, it is not uncommon to hear of young adults who decide to walk out on the faith of their parents. Some fade away into obscurity, others bang the door and never return. Different emotions often drive the young adult to make this decision – pain, frustration, sadness, anger and occasionally indifference. No young adult makes such a decision lightly or without pain. Very often, they are acutely aware of how their decision are going to impact the friends they have grown up with, and more importantly the parents who love them and brought them up. Unfortunately, pastors don’t matter very much unless the pastor was also a human and a friend and not merely a role.
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If they are so aware of the pain and distress their decision could cause, what then drives them to make such a decision? It seems to me that many of them hold it off, hoping to get some form of an answer to a question or healing to an injury; until one day when they can no longer bear the burden of their un-answered questions and un-healed hurts and off they go. When that happens, it often sends shock waves through the church youth community, until the community comes to terms with it, moves on business as usual, and the young adult begins to think that all those teaching about ‘God loves you and you are important to God’ seems more like a bunch of rhetorical bullcrap than a spiritual reality.
I write about this because I have been through that journey myself and I know first-hand the burdens of the questions and the injuries. For years I was a leader in the youth group, but deep inside I struggled with questions about my faith. As I grew older, I also found it harder and harder to swallow a watered-down, simplified understanding of life preached from pulpits that could not water my thirsty soul. I wondered why Christians hurt one another with their words and actions. It hurt that the secular world was often disgusted by Christians for our insensitivities in preaching and many saw us as not much more than hypocrites. Science and philosophy seemed to offer so much more wisdom to the questions of life; and in contrast the Church often could only offer spiritual cliches. It’s a mystery, they would say. Or that all things worked for the good of those who loved God – often in the face of tragic human suffering. So did wisdom truly come from a fear of the Lord?
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It was October 2001. I had just completed my A-levels, one of those subjects being International History. If you recall, it was also the time when the Sept 11 attacks shook the entire world. Lives were lost senselessly, and if there was a time I believed in evil, that was it. Questions swirling in my head, I remember having lunch with a pastor in a restaurant at Bugis Junction. Just as well, I thought. I’d ask her all my questions. ‘Why did this happen?’
‘We can only hope this brings revival to the Church in America.’
I blinked. Hard. Huh? Such tragedy, and all we can think of is.. revival? Isn’t that kind of insular given the horror of such evil? Perhaps this began my search for answers and triggered my dissatisfaction.
For the next 10 years, I began to have some very serious doubts about my faith. Why is God Trinity and not ‘unity’ or Tawhid as the Muslims believed? Do people really go to hell? What is the meaning of existence? Isn’t the Buddhist teaching that attachment brings pain much more true than the teaching that sin brings suffering? Did God really say it’s wrong to marry a non-Christian? Is it an abomination to be gay? What is love, anyway? Does God even exist? If God is love, why does the church suck so bad? A friend taught me the phrase: ‘Church sucks, God rocks.’ I couldn’t agree more, not in reference to a particular local church or para-church, but in reference to the fact that the church remains a human institution fraught with sin and pain.
It came to a point, I seriously considered renouncing quietly my faith. Since I knew that would bring a lot of pain, I coped with my own feelings of incongruence by pretending to be a Christian on the outside. I knew how to do it. I had gone through the rituals since I was 15.
Through this journey, I found it harder and harder to listen to sermons without coming away with an extremely intense anger. How could he! How could he trivialise depression as merely a lack of faith! How could he claim the first 5 books of the Bible were written by Moses because Jesus said so! How could he tell elderly that they are sent to the nursing home because they did not make themselves useful!
Yet, if there was one guy I could credit with keeping my faith alive, it was Ravi Zacharias. At one point, he was probably the only Christian speaker I could bear to listen to. I don’t agree with everything he preaches, but for once I found someone who was not afraid to confront the difficult questions of life. He faced them squarely and offered humble, human answers as best as he could. Even when I didn’t agree with him, it was hard not to give credit for his humility and human-ness. What touched me most deeply was when he said in one of his talks: ‘All apologetics must answer not merely the intellectual questions, but the existential questions for meaning.’ I found a glimmer of hope.
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Young people walk away from the church for a few different reasons. Some want personal space as they grow into adulthood, and they need to formulate for themselves exactly what they believe. Psychologically-speaking, we call this differentiation; a process where one tests out beliefs, values and ideas they were taught to examine the fit for their own lives and time.
Others have real questions about their own existential concerns: who am I? why am I here? where am I going? how do I make sense of suffering in the worldview of a loving Creator?
Some have serious questions about the validity of the faith, but this tends to happen more in young adults.
So if you are a parent, or a youth pastor, what can be done?
1. Search with all your might for the places you agree with your young adult.
Don’t assume that just because he’s younger, he’s wrong. Young people are often deemed to be idealistic, but oftentimes that is because they have not yet been tainted with the skepticism and money-chasing endeavours of the world. Their questions and doubts almost always come from good intentions and ideas of how they think life and people should be.
As a client recently articulated: “I get really offended every time the pastor says God wants everyone to be happy. I mean. I think about wars, rape victims, children in Syria, and the pastor says everybody is meant to be happy? I think it’s just bull****.’
Young people really need the adults in their lives to affirm and acknowledge their good thoughts and intentions. If not, they learn to shut up and it will be hard to ever hear an honest answer from them ever again.
2. Connect with real life
The lives of adolescents change with such astounding speed, even professionals like ourselves who specialise in working with youth find it hard to keep up. Yet, if you attempt to teach something without actually understanding what they are experiencing, you will be exposed as nothing more than a phony with no credibility. You expect them to listen to your teaching about God when you still think they are on Friendster?
One example I experienced was with a mentor who attempted to teach a youth group about why they shouldn’t go clubbing. Except, well, he had no idea what clubbing was and had never been in a club. He thought they were the same as discos. He thought you absolutely needed to take Ecstacy in order to enter a club. And he thought you could pay sexy karaoke hostesses to sit beside you and stroke your thighs.
Credibility, out the window.
3. Point them to community
Often, if they find it hard to fit in with one community, encourage them to try another one. Not everyone can fit into any community, but it’s very important that young people can find a community where they are accepted, loved and can contribute to. They need a place where their doubts and questions are entertained, embraced and not dismissed, where others can also share about their similar questions. Young adults often can live with their own doubts and questions, but if these doubts – when expressed – lead to alienation and a feeling of alone-ness, then the situation often becomes much more unbearable for them.
4. Shop around
The church is not Christ, pastors are not God. Over the years, I’ve come to realise that messages are shaped as much by the Scriptures as they are by the Pastor’s personality. Is it any surprise then that we have theologians as diverse as Stephen Tong, Edmund Chan, Ravi Zacharias, Kong Hee, John Piper, Joseph Prince? I believe we are called to be married to Christ, not married to a church. I am not advocating a consumerist mindset towards church or to embrace even heretical teaching as truth here. All I’m saying is that some pastors have messages that speak more directly to a particular background, life stage and personality than others. If your child is disillusioned with your church, instead of letting them disappear into the wilderness, encourage them to visit other churches and see if they might find a better fit for themselves.
Personally, attending a church which is authentic and real about the pains of life spoke deeply to me, and in that process I found a measure of healing that helped me to carry on.
5. Embrace doubt
As my friend Irwin reminds us often, ‘Doubt is not the absence of faith. Certainty is.’
It is normal for young adults to have many questions. Remember, doubt does not mean that one does not have faith. In fact, doubt is often a sign that one is taking faith very seriously. If I couldn’t be bothered, why would I raise any questions at all? Encourage your young people to express their questions openly and genuinely dialogue with them. No human is doubtless, particularly about an entity one cannot see. Embrace the doubt, reduce the angst.

Got line or not huh?

It was just a regular Wendesday, but not all Wednesdays are created equal. There are some of these innocent mid-week days that possess the incredible power to change your life permanently, forever.

She walked out of the toilet and found me praying on the bed. What does one pray about in such times? What does one ask God for? I wasn’t even sure what I wanted.
‘Got line or not?’ 
‘Dunno?’
‘Ok let’s wait for the 5 minutes it says there on the packet.’
‘Ok.’
We paced up and down the empty living room, not quite sure what to do with ourselves.
And there we saw it. The faintest of lines. Almost invisible. 
‘Huh? Like that means got pregnant or not?’
‘Let’s google.’
‘Any line, even the faintest one, means you are pregnant. Just to be safe, try again a few more days.’
We decided to use the digital kind that gives us a ‘YES/ NO’ answer that coming Saturday. Just so the darned pregnancy test kit wouldn’t screw our brains. 
faint test kit
And so our lives changed forever.
Once we decided to do away with the birth control, it was a decision on my part to leave the timing of our family to God, and I knew then that I would need to be prepared for it to happen anytime. Well-timed too, I must say, given that we had been going for couples counselling with my therapist because of the 5 sessions that I have as a part of my Diploma. And of course the thought in my subconscious mind the past months was: ‘When will the baby happen?’ It seemed like only a matter of time, but I also knew many couples who try for years before they get a baby. I was anxious, but anxiety is hard to put a finger to unless I take time to ponder its meaning intentionally. The thought of having a baby was scary, and I didn’t want to think more about why I was scared.
Naturally, it came out in therapy and upon a lot of thought triggered by our therapist Elijah, I realised I was afraid I wouldn’t be a good role model for my child. I have a fantastic father of impeccable integrity, hard work and humour. I’m hardly as perfect. What if I couldn’t live up to what I know a father should be? Weili was somewhat surprised, but she had no doubt at all that I would be a good parent. I wasn’t so sure; but her affirmation helped me to sit with the uncertainty more.
So it is. Our lives have changed forever. Permanence has happened.
What will parenthood entail? What challenges will it bring to the fore? What mirrors to our own character and lives will it hold up and force us to think about and change? How will we cope with less sleep? Less time for each other? Less time for careers and other pursuits? How will our relationship and our relationships change?

I don’t know. But for now, I will learn to sit with this not-knowing.

Beautiful Adjustments

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We have always known that we are very different, but it wasn’t until we were going through all that wedding preparation leading to our big day that our differences showed up so clearly. There are two new things we learnt about each other as we are planning for our wedding: 1. He probably got a shock when he first realised that I think by listing down items, while I couldn’t figure out what he meant when he said he thinks by looking at processes. 2. He couldn’t understand my urgent need to see tasks completed, and to have them completed them NOW, because his preference is to take things SLOW and to enjoy the process. clang! That’s how we clashed!

After we got married, we comfortably ease into our roles as a married couple. No one had to tell each other what to do, the dinner gets cooked, the clothes are washed, the bed sheets get changed, and surprises are planned. Whatever requires more creativity is done by him; whatever was considered routine and boring, I gladly volunteer myself. Preparing the meals is his way of loving me, while completing the mundane stuff is my way of serving him.

There will of course be areas that would have to be sorted out in a marriage, and differences to accept of each other. This is especially so for habits learnt from young. There will be new house rules that we will have to create together: rules like whether it is ok to wash the socks together with the rest of the clothes and the underwear, or whether it is ok to lie on the bed before we bathe, etc. And sometimes, I may even be surprised by some unusual sounds or smells, which he claims is a “privilege” because I am now regarded as “inner circle”.

We often heard of the toothpaste conflict in married couples, and we may even have laughed about it, but we didn’t have a problem over that toothpaste. The daily war we have is the 22 degrees C vs 25 degrees C fight. Sleeping in the same room is difficult, especially when he is afraid of hot, while I am afraid of cold. As you may have guess, we often spend the last few moments of the waking hour adjusting the air-con controller. And sometimes, you may even hear suspicion in our voice, “What is the temperature now huh?”

It was only after we begin managing our own house that I realised that I have a high need for things to be “in order” – and it’s not just any order, it must be the order I like it to be. I never thought I would worry myself over trivial things like toilet roll, but I was wrong! Once, the toilet roll was placed in the wrong direction, and I found myself strangely uncomfortable with the orientation of the toilet roll. I just had to change it. It should roll forward when pulled, instead of rolling backwards, that’s obvious isn’t it? And though it did not cause any conflict between us, it just tickled him that I would have taken the toilet roll so seriously.

We were having this short conversation one day that we thought nicely epitomised our differences:

L: Before I cook, I google for many recipes.

W: So do I!

L: I google for ideas.

W: I google for security.

L: After googling and looking at many recipes, I recreate my own dish!

W: No no! After googling I choose the best recipe and follow it to the tee!

One of the reasons why he loves cooking is because cooking allows him to try and experiment something new. It is an outlet for him to be creative. Not for me! One of the reasons I do not enjoy cooking is because there are no “correct answer” at all. There are simply too many ways a dish could go wrong! Too much salt, too much water, cook too long, or sometimes it may not even be your fault – perhaps the meat is not fresh to begin with! At least when washing dishes, I can easily hit the “correct answer” when I have washed the dishes cleanly without stains or grease. It raises my internal locus of control!

Despite our many differences, I know I’ve found someone whom I can have nice long chats with, someone to have meals with, someone to go on nice strolls with, someone whom I can vent, complain and grumble to, someone who may not fully understand what I am going through but will try to offer the support he can.

We have so many differences between us, yet we are loving our differences, and admiring each other for them. And I think, our shared life that has brought us a whole lot of joy in our marriage!

Redmart vs Honestbee vs PurelyFresh: Which one do you use?

I’m not a techie per se – I don’t hanker after the latest gadgets or the funkiest new technology. Many of the electronic items in my house were bought on a budget, some are even pre-loved. But one thing that I’ve been quite pleased with in recent months has been the advent of the grocery delivery services.

I’m the one who does most of the meal-planning and cooking at home, and so naturally the responsibility of grocery shopping falls on my shoulders. With two under 2, I initially tried to do one major grocery run to the wet market/ supermarket a week to save time; but honestly the carrying got to me. It’s not easy juggling 20kgs of groceries with a stroller and an easily-bored toddler.

Each of the 3 big players in the grocery delivery market have their strengths; but also weaknesses. Let me share with you:

Redmart:

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Redmart is the biggest player possibly because they were first-movers. The co-founder of Facebook is apparently an investor. They stock their own inventory in the warehouse.

Strengths:

  • Huge variety, excellent range. But, why you no sell bittergourd!!?
  • Generally, they carry higher quality items; some even from artisanal stores.
  • Good range of ‘angmoh’ items – if you need stuff like gluten-free, organic etc.
  • Excellent web & app user experience. It actually makes grocery shopping fun.
  • Excellent and responsive customer service.

Weaknesses:

  • I seem to no longer be able to get same-day or even next-day deliveries now that they are getting more popular.
  • I’ve encountered late deliveries a few times, but to their credit, they do give me some cash credit in my account to make up for it.
  • Their meat items, while fresh, tend to be of the more expensive range.

Honestbee:

honestbee

They don’t carry their own inventory. Essentially what they have is an army of shoppers ready to chiong down the NTUC aisles for you when you place an order and deliver it to your place.

Strengths:

  • Exact same pricing as what you get in stores.
  • Managed to get same day delivery once.

Weaknesses:

  • Because they don’t stock their own inventory, you can order the item online but when the guy shops for you, the item isn’t available. Now, that sucks. And in my experience, it happens really often – especially if you pick a delivery time like evenings (which I do because that’s the only time I’m home) and the shopper starts shopping for your items at 5pm. That’s when all the veges and fruits are gone already.
  • Their website only has pictures, but not descriptions, of the items. Sometimes, I need more information of the item but there’s none.

PurelyFresh:

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PurelyFresh is actually the owner of several wet markets and they have leveraged on this supply chain to grab the market share of people like me – still like the quality afforded by the traditional wet market but needing the convenience of online shopping.

Strengths:

  • Their veges, meats and fish are seriously fresh. Excellent quality. The pomfret I bought was fresher than the freshest fish I could get as the first customer at NTUC.
  • Customisation. You can request for any type of customisation for your items – just like you can at a wet market. Chopping, slicing, gutting, de-skinning, de-boning, portioning. And no mistakes so far.
  • Clean packaging. The items come perfectly wrapped and clean. No leaking of blood etc from the meats. I just pop it all directly into my chest freezer.

Weaknesses:

  • Small variety.
  • Despite running their operations as an “online wet market”, there are many items you can get at the wet market that you can’t get here. Items like shui jiao skin, salted vegetables, salted fish etc are strangely not available. Low margins, I suppose?
  • I think they don’t deliver on Mondays (traditionally the day most wet markets are closed).

Conclusion:

You can probably tell by now, my experience with HonestBee hasn’t been fantastic. Given their operations model, I think there’s not much they can do to rectify the issues.

I continue to use both Redmart and PurelyFresh (I just ordered a third weekly order from PurelyFresh). Redmart is the mainstay for heavy groceries like rice, laundry detergent or drinks when I’m having guests over. Those tend to take time for me to accumulate enough for free delivery. For weekly vegetables, meats and groceries, I think I’m gonna stick to PurelyFresh for its quality and freshness.

Which grocery delivery service is your favourite?

 

Every first is a last; every beginning an end

walking together

Xuheng, a few days ago, we were about to go out together in the morning. It was just another regular morning when Papa drives you to school before going to work. Or maybe, not.

Unlike every other morning I have known since you were born, on this day you refused to allow Papa to carry you. Instead, you stood at the door of our house and waved goodbye to your Mama. You pointed at the door and made the noise that tells us you want to go outside. And you shook your head when Papa stretched out his arms to carry you.

Yes, you shook your head. It was not a normal morning.

On this day, you no longer wanted to be carried by Papa to the car. You wanted to walk on your own.

At first, Papa didn’t quite know how to react. A hundred thoughts ran through my mind. Have I brought everything I need to bring? Are his legs strong enough to carry him to the carpark? Dangerous or not? Erm, what do I do with my empty arms now?

Ironically, I was going to buy a new pair of shoes that day. “No laces please, I want slip-ons. Got baby la, I can’t tie my laces when I’m carrying him out the door in the morning.” I told the salesman. How quickly things change when you’re a parent.

We took that walk to the carpark together. It took longer, I walked more slowly that day. You were sometimes distracted by a button, or a fence, or a pebble on the floor. You stooped to pick them up and pass them to me.

I did my best to get us on our way. We were in a rush, I thought. But what is this rush we’re on?

The rush to grow up, perhaps?

“Xuheng, remember, must always hold Papa’s hand when you walk, ok?” I said, as I tightened my fingers around your little palm.

No rush, my dear little one. No rush.

5 reasons to really respect Confinement Nannies

Some of you might have seen my Facebook posts on this topic. To be honest, I’m not fully a believer in all the confinement practices; particularly the ones that are somehow only apply to Chinese humans.

However, having experienced the presence of a confinement aunty in our house over the past month; there is a part of me that begins to realise why Chinese place so much emphasis on confinement month. The reason is simple really: so that Mummy can rest. Weili is so much more relaxed and rested this time round that I really regret we didn’t hire one when Xuheng was born.

And I’ve got a new-found respect for these nannies too.

1. They are basically superhuman.

Imagine this: They cook all 3 meals, clean up the kitchen afterwards, prepare the herbs for Mummy to bathe and basically take care of baby 24/7 for the first month including nights. To be honest, I’m not sure if all confinement nannies practice the same way, but I seriously think ours is superhuman. Basically she’s a live-in SAHM who somehow manages to cook 2 dishes and 1 soup for lunch and dinner in between everything else. Not to mention lack of sleep. Amazing.

2. They spend long periods of time away from their family.

Most of the confinement nannies nowadays come from Malaysia; thankfully so – given their proximity geographically and culturally from us. And not to mention Malaysian food is like epic tasty. But this also means that when they come over to work, they spend long periods of time away from their own families in order to earn their income. Most of them have children and grandchildren of their own, who they miss terribly when they travel here to work.

3. They practically live out of their suitcases.

And because they are here only for 28 days, they usually try to travel light. Life in those 28 days is simple. She completes the tasks she needs to and spends the bulk of the time catching up on her 40 winks. Ask any expat or those who travel frequently for work – living out of a suitcase is fun for a start but it’s incredibly draining emotionally after a while. The lack of a psychological sense of ‘belonging’ or ‘rootedness’ – always being a nomad – can literally make one go mad. These confinement nannies are emotionally really strong.

4. They have to put up with a lotta shit.

Of course, when the confinement nannies first come into a family, there is very little knowledge of each other. Trust takes time to develop and so of course many families will try to ensure there is more than 1 pair of eyes watching her at any time. Our auntie tells us of how one family made crazy arrangements just to make sure there was always someone at home; and that someone made her presence so obvious by walking past the room she was in every few minutes. From my perspective, it’s completely understandable; yet as anyone who has worked in a shitty office knows: the feeling of being watched every minute and every second really shreds away at your psyche. No wonder there’s been some families she’s quit after a few days.

5. They would make awesome family therapists.

Because they live in such close proximity with so many families for such extended periods, they have literally seen all kinds of families up close. Knowing they are there just to do their job of ensuring baby is cared for and mother recuperates well, they are highly sensitive to family dynamics and are good at making themselves less conspicuous. They learn to adjust to the spoken and unspoken family rules and hierarchies of every family they meet in order to make their own jobs easier.

I just want to say to husbands out there: getting a confinement nanny – though expensive – is completely worth it. I don’t really care for the herbs or the bathing practices; but just the fact that mums can get good rest, good food and relaxation for this month after 9 months of exertion over the course of the pregnancy is good enough reason for me. And trust me, getting mothers or mother-in-laws to do it is just not the same.

“She’s beautiful..” I whispered to myself

The wait felt longer this time. Maybe I was mired in anxiety the first time round, but this time I actually felt bored while waiting for Minyue to be born.

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It was a really strange feeling. Ok, I’m bored. 8 Days is such a crappy magazine. Now, is it even right to feel bored? Shouldn’t I be praying and twiddling my thumbs?

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And then, after almost exactly an hour, I heard the nurse call out “Mr Zheng Liren? Husband of Ling Wee Lee?” I jumped out of that little sofa.

“Is that her? My daughter?”

She’s beautiful.. I looked at her closely. Her eyes were still closed and she was covered in vernix. She’s beautiful, I whispered to myself. Minyue.. my daughter.

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You have the same frowny lines on your forehead as your korkor when he was just born!

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I half-walked, half-skipped up to the nursery with the nurse to get you measured up and the documents signed. Inside, I was leaping with joy. Why? I wasn’t quite sure, but I was.

Daddy of two, I was. Two beautiful little ones.

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And when all the documentation was done, the nurse asked me to rest in the ward while waiting for Weili to return from the operating theatre.

I took a light stroll back to the room, and as soon as I was alone in the quiet of the room, I broke down. Tears overwhelmed me as the combination of sweet relief, joy, anxiety and sheer exhaustion from the emotional toil took over.

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It’s been a difficult year. A difficult job in a difficult environment, moving house, planning for the arrival of Minyue and all this in addition to the day to day struggles of parenting and work.

It’s gonna be tough, but for now, it was ok. It was all ok. For now, all I felt was joy. The joy of being daddy all over again.

Maybe it’s easier the second time. I know better what to expect; and I can focus more on the joy than the anxieties.

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Xuheng loves to sayang his MeiMei. I truly pray they will be friends for life.

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Thank you, Lord.

The journey thus far

Some of you who know me well know that I hate spiritual cliches. I don’t like to spew ‘Christianese’ with little thought given to what I am actually saying. In fact, I sometimes kind of enjoy challenging some of these cliches because I believe our faith needs to go deeper.

Yet, at this juncture 15 months into parenthood and on the eve of my daughter’s birth, I find in myself a need to say this.

GOD IS FAITHFUL.

I do not say this flippantly or as a way to comfort myself or to celebrate my own humanly successes. In actual fact, many days are filled with self-doubt, frustration, lethargy and darkness. Many days I struggle with my self-worth, with finding meaning in my work, with juggling the stresses of work placed on a modern man’s shoulders with my hopes of being a good father. Especially on those days when the kid doesn’t want me at all and just threshes about in my arms screaming until mummy arrives. Trust me, Facebook doesn’t tell the whole story.

Yet, on Sunday as I sat in church, I was reminded by Pastor that we don’t have to act like victims even though every life circumstance qualifies us to be one. Much less me – someone who by all means is more than blessed.

I look back on our journey as parents and I can see truly how God has provided, often in the most unexpected of ways. Like how we discovered the childcare Xuheng is currently going to entirely by chance; and found out that Weili actually qualified for a discount by virtue of being MOE staff. And even more preciously, how the teachers are so joyful, caring and stable in their care for our son. And then somehow, I landed myself a job in that area too.

When it was time for me to move on from my previous workplace, our first struggle was: how now? The 30km commute from Punggol to Bukit Timah was too long to make given that my workplace was now in Yio Chu Kang. We prayed, we asked our CG to pray.. and through a series of what I can only conclude to be divinely arranged conversations, we managed to get a place at the centre we really wanted to – at a really good rate too so we can save on our finances.

And while we spent months worrying over whether or not to get a helper and making contingency plans in case she was unreliable – we looked at maid interviews one day and something clicked inside me saying ’employ her’. I encouraged wifey to sign her up early. We knew she was a Christian too but never did we imagine we would find such a joyful, God-loving, patient and enthusiastic one – who spent her time in prayer every night for our family every night before coming to SIngapore, who uses her off-day to spend the entire day in church serving and ministering to others, and who loves missions and teaching children. Of course, it’s still early days yet – but I’m praying that she will truly become a blessing to our family and our children.

Our parents too, have been so willing to support us and help us out every time we need help to care for Xuheng so we can run errands or get other things done. They often change their plans to accommodate our contingencies. My daddy sometimes works through the night on his assignments just so he can help us out the next day. What else can I say?

And of course, I am so thankful for my wife – who faithfully plans and researches and thinks through the decisions we make. I have my moods sometimes, and decision-fatigue is real, but she puts up with me and waits till I am ok before discussing again. Her faithfulness, calmness and patience is such a gift to the excitable and anxious me.

Really, God has been so faithful; even when we have been so faithless. It is with a contrite heart that I remember His goodness to me. And when I look back, I can only give thanks for His provisions.

Lao Po, let’s jiayou together for the next lap!

A Letter to my Daughter-to-be

Dear Minyue,

How time flies! Just not too long ago, you were two little cells, the stuff of champions – Papa’s champion sperm and Mama’s egg. And suddenly, you are almost ready to come into his world! Each time we see you on the ultrasound at the doctor’s, you always show the cute side of yourself. You scratch your head, smile, and sometimes even wave at us!

Minyue cover

My dear Min Min, Papa is sorry that he didn’t talk much to you while you are in Mama’s tummy and did not pray as much for you as for your Korkor. Maybe it is because I am less anxious about Mama’s pregnancy this time, or maybe it is just because we have been so busy with work and with taking care of your Korkor.

Papa loves you so much, Min Min. I have always wanted a daughter. When I was younger, I used to imagine my daughter running to me when I reach home after work, and I would lift you up in my arms and twirl you around with lots of kisses. Yes, YOU!

Yet, when I became a parent with your Korkor, I realised the child’s gender didn’t matter. Parents love all their children the same. Because you are a girl and Korkor is a boy, as you grow up, you may experience Papa differently in the ways I relate with and parent you, but know this always: Papa will always love, take care and protect both of you and your Mama with all my life. You are to love, take care and protect your Mama in the same ways too. This, I charge you with.

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It has been a fairly stressful year for your Papa. He changed jobs at the beginning of the year, and is recently making another switch. Some people say he is crazy to forego his increased paternity leave of 2 weeks by changing jobs at this time. Sometimes, I really do think I am crazy. Deep inside, I am hoping that this will be a good change for the sake of our family. Less nights, more regularity – so I can take care of all of you.

You have a wonderful Korkor. He is the most adorable and sweet boy ever. Because he is so sensitive, he might struggle a bit at the start with having to ‘share’ us with you, but I am sure he will grow up to be the most loving and protective Korkor ever.

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Minyue, you have spent the past 9 months in Mama’s tummy. In Mama’s embrace, these past months you have always been warm, protected and connected. But in this world, there will be times you will experience cold, pain and alienation. These are the realities of the dark and sinful world we are in; but no matter what Minyue – always remember – you can always come home.

We want to Become Home for you.

We love you!

Lovingly,

Papa

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