“Why Moree?”

If you have not heard already, Joel and I are moving to an outback town in New South Wales called Moree (catch a glimpse of what we will do here). We both made the decision as a team. We talked and prayed about it. We even went up there for a week to work with the people we would be working with. Eventually, it was clear that it would be foolish not to go.

A lot of people I talked to at work asked, “Why Moree?” Is there more money there? Do I get help with my visa in return if I go? When I replied that we would be working with the church, their look was puzzled. And I get their confusion…because as the day of our moving is fast approaching, I second-doubted our decision. The thing is – our lives in Canberra is comfortable. We live in a spacious flat for $240/ week with all utilities cost included. We have lovely neighbours who look after our garden when we are away. Joel is settled in his full-time work and finds fulfilment and satisfaction in it. We are not rich, but we are not struggling either. All in all, this is not a bad place to be.

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Church in Moree, where people from many places gathered

 

But if I had learned anything from the life of Jesus, it was never about His own comfort; and always about God’s kingdom. Jesus travelled from one town to the next bringing the message of peace through healing, performing miracles and proclaiming the Good News. He said to those who wanted to follow Him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head,” (Luke 9:58). Following Jesus costs. His road is not the way of comfort, but of suffering. Of partaking the sorrow of others. Of acknowledging and overcoming evil. Of dying constantly to ourselves for His glory. Jesus’ disciples did not gain any glamorous rewards in following this Son of God. Lots of them died horrible deaths; some as strangers in a foreign land.

And we are taking this road. We do not really see it as being more special than any others’ for we believe that God calls us to do different things and to make impact wherever we are. For Joel and I, following God is simply doing what He asks us to do. It is being willing to pursue His dream, and making it ours. It is no more noteworthy than what you are doing. It is every day Christian-living, acknowledging our flaws and leading grace-filled lives…praying for and touching people with His love along the way.

Even though this decision may seem puzzling to many of my friends at work, our blessing is God’s peace. When I voiced my doubt to Joel the other day, he said, “I do love my job, but God’s work is more important. We can get jobs anywhere. This, though, is Him calling us.” So we ask for your prayers, not just for the transition, but for our lives, work, relationships and interactions with others in Moree…because we know it won’t be easy.

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Joel and Mink Gough (Photo credit: Veronica Gearhart)

 

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Why We Should Talk About Suicide

It has been a long time since I have been on a swing, feeling that elation of swooping up high and swinging down low, hearing my heart thumping in my chest all the while. There is something about being on the swing – the sense of peace and freedom. When you push yourself up really high, you are exhilarated with every new height you reach; and as you let gravity take you as you come down, you shred every care in the world into the wind. The gentleness of the breeze that caresses your face; the soft whisper of birds calling one another as evening approaches; and the golden setting sun – these are all happening here. On this swing.

For a brief moment as I was in the ecstasy of reaching the new height, a series of thoughts flashed into my brain. The time I was caught in a rip at Bondi Beach and the realisation that I could drown. The blog post I read this morning about finding joy in every circumstance. And the most recent encounter with the darkest thought I have ever had in my adulthood. I have wrestled about whether to share it. I decided to do so as communication always fosters connection and understanding. It is my hope that this entry might do just that.

The other day while on the way home from work, a sense of despair hit me very hard, so sudden and unexpected. I felt like a failure, a hypocrite, and a liar. It all became unleashed because I didn’t pass my driving assessment. That sounds rather silly, I know. But it wasn’t just the a driving assessment, was it, that undid me? Failing the review unearthed something I buried deep inside – the nagging voice that said I am a loser; and I cannot achieve anything. I have got my permanent visa application waiting to be done. I still have to enrol to study but the amount we have to pay is ridiculous. And I need to book more driving lessons so I can get my license. My friend, Lisa, put it perfectly when she said, “I think that when a big thing is paired with a bunch of other things that are going wrong, then it can quickly become overwhelming.” At that moment,  I was on the verge of drowning… that when I stopped paddling, I would be dragged down by the powerful current to the bottom of the ocean.

That sense of despair made me contemplate suicide for a brief second. That if I would end it all right now, I would be rid of hurt and pain. I felt very alone as I trudged home, thinking that no one would be able to help me bear this load because everyone else has got their own happy lives to live.

It was very fleeting, a whisper-in-the-wind kind of moment. What was worse, though, was the shock from the realisation that the thought even passed through my mind. I cried big fat tears when I got to the house, gushing out shame, because I should have known better – that my life is meaningful, precious and worthy of love.

Thankfully, God pulled me out of the depth. I was reminded of Jesus’ sacrifice – his life for mine on the cross. Feeling ashamed is an understatement. But God’s grace is sufficient for me. His presence, though not as forceful as a strong gale of wind, made its way into my heart and softened it. He reminded me of the things worth living for – my husband, my mum, my sisters, and my friends. I thought of Joel’s gentle touch and fierce devotion; of my mum’s long months of pregnancy, strenuous hours of hard labour and difficult years of raising me; and ultimately of Jesus, who gave up his life so I can live it to the full.

In a sense, I am thankful for the experience because it provides an insight that helps me sympathise with people who either might be contemplating suicide, or even those affected by someone’s attempt.

Here is what I learned. Loneliness is dangerous. What you see portrayed is not always what goes on inside someone’s heart. Loneliness is the biggest reason why people choose to take their own lives. We prefer snippets of chats online to real time conversation. Our interaction with each other is brief and polite but we don’t linger because we are so overprotective of our time. We lose touch with people we love because we are so busy. One by one, we slowly find ourselves at the centre of the stage, surrounded only by a handful of people who are generally there like our spouses, children or parents. We are overwhelmed by life’s responsibilities that we cannot see past what is just in front of us. We’re trapped in our own head, our own space…and that’s where it all goes wrong.

This suicidal thought can happen to anyone at the most unexpected time. It is such a terrible thing to think about that we become so afraid to even mention it as it seems cowardice, irresponsible and reckless. We think it will pass. So shame keeps us silent. I urge you – do the opposite to what you feel and choose connection with people.

If you would rather stay inside to pick your wound, go for a walk; otherwise it’ll fester. If you think you are worthless, look around for notes, letters, emails or pictures that your loved ones gave you. If you would rather keep silent about it, find someone you trust – a friend or partner or family member, and tell them in the rawest, simplest words of how you feel. (It is difficult sharing this, even at this moment, because I constantly feel like a coward; and that I am disappointing a lot of people by admitting it.) And if yelling, crying or smashing things help you knock out those nasty emotions you bottle up, go ahead. You’ll be a better person for it. Remember that at the end of the day, it is not just your life you take but those around you as well.

I don’t know where you are at the moment. You might either be someone contemplating suicide; or you might have lost someone. I will not say the cliche, “It is not your fault” because I don’t think it is true. I will say this, though, that whatever happens, we all share in the responsibilities of looking out for and after one another. God has created us in his image; and intended for us to share this beautiful world with one another. It would save us using the “should have” if we are intentional about staying connected and nurturing relationships.

I wish life was simple, the way it was in my childhood. That I could kick back in the swing, and not have to worry about anything. But as we grow, our responsibilities increase with us. And we have to take each day as it comes, constantly reminding ourselves to pause, breathe deeply and enjoy that swing ride we love so much.

Seriously, when we have our own house, I’m going to put a swing set in our backyard.

P.S. If you find yourself in a dark place, feel free to shoot me an email at mink.mijji@gmail.com. I am no councillor but I have got two ears, a willing heart and prayer for you. Please do not seclude yourself.


A Sitcom and Hope Revealed

Hope, it is a strange thing. It fires people up even when there seems not much to cling on to. When one loses it, though, it is almost impossible to muster up strength to hold on, to fight, to stay. One of the ladies where I work is on the brink of despair.

I have known her since I started work. It took her a while but she finally knows me by name. We don’t really have much to chat about because most of the time I see her is when I do morning and afternoon tea rounds. Our conversations are limited to, “Hi, how are you? Would you like a cup of tea today?” Recently, it has been, “Hi, a cup of milk?” because that has been all she wanted to drink for the past few months.

Two weeks ago, her husband passed away. He was admitted into the hospital shortly after I started work, and returned for only a few days before he took his last breath. I heard the news via the company’s text message. When I went back to work the following week, there was a flurry of visitors – her children, grandchildren and friends – to check up on her, to keep her company. Her room was bright with colours from balloons and flowers, but her face was pale. Despite the effort, it was obvious that hope started to seep out of her and took the blood that usually shed her cheeks pink away with it. She begged, as one of the staff members went in to assist her this morning, “Let me go. It is time. Let me die.”

I tried to put myself in her shoes. If I had to battle cancer alone in an aged care facility, nearing the end of my life without Joel, I would probably be begging the same thing. I really don’t know what is going through her mind at the moment, but I am praying hard for peace and a glimpse of hope to shine in her again. That when she sees the faces of her loved ones, she would realise that there is so much to live for – that she has a reason to stay.

Maybe it is selfish for me to wish that for her. Maybe all she wants now is to be reunited with the love of her life. And to try to keep her is just delaying the inevitable.

Today’s event made me look at Ecclesiastes 3, where King Solomon wrote,

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (3: 1,2,4)

Though it was difficult seeing someone willing herself to leave this earth, I was still reminded of joy through a 92-year-old war veteran, who beamed at the picture of his great-grandson and who continued to tease my ability to balance all the cups and plates in one hand. I was blessed to hear an old lady, who I had passed off as being paralysed and mute, address me in a very clear and precise manner (I was almost knocked off my feet when she spoke to me! I was seriously yelling joyously inside, “she talks and she eats all by herself!”).

Yes, I often complain about my work, and blame God about being stuck in a job that I don’t want to do. But from time to time, when my heart is clear, I can see His hands in my life; and His face in the residents I serve – from the “three musketeers” ladies, who  laughed at my sneeze, to the grumpy old man who always lost his glasses (and guess what, they were in his shoe!).

Going to work is like watching a sitcom, really, except I am in it. There is stress, oh yes, but there is also humour. There is all these emotions, but at the end of the day, when I come home, I am thanking God for the rich conversation I get to have with Him throughout the day; and for the part I get to play in these people’s lives even though it may seem insignificant at times.

And I suppose that is hope for me – not that I will get another job soon, but that whilst I serve people food here, God would continue to build me up spiritually so that those who surround me may see Him at work in my life. And isn’t that something we all should strive for? To make God known wherever we are in everything we do.


Hope and Dream

Two weeks ago, I submitted the application for a job at Compassion, an organisation I have always admired, and a workplace where I used to work for five years in Thailand. For a long time, after realising that qualifications and experiences from back home as I know it seemed to be irrelevant to the workforce here, I had stopped hoping for a better job as I seemed to always run into brick walls.  So I settled for anything that would provide us with income. I battled with a lot of self doubt, wondering if I really have anything to offer. Then, a little ad on Facebook sparked something in me again. A job that would get me jump out of bed every morning. An environment where I can proclaim freely of God’s love. And a ministry that would give meaning to my existence. I dared to hope again…

As I prepared my application, I was praying…because I knew full well that I would either get it or I wouldn’t. I did not want to fall hard onto the ground and curse God when the latter happened. I prayed that His will would be done, whether I was successful or not…because, ultimately, it is not what I want but what He has in mind. Like Jacob, I wrestled. I struggled to find the balance in this tension. I tried to tame my desire because I did not want to be disappointed. But God reminded me that expressing my longing to Him is healthy; and the important thing was not whether my wish was fulfilled; but knowing that God…my Father…the God of love knows me and will lead me to a destination so richly saturated with His presence…that there will be nothing in this world I will want more, but Him.

SoI waited. I dreamed of finally leaving my days of washing dishes and standing in front of steamy bain marie behind, and spending my time advocating for children around the world. Joel and I talked about the possibility of moving to a new town, where winter is not harsh and the sea breeze caresses our faces. We chatted about which church to go to in the area, and how I appreciated Joel’s willingness to give up his own security so I could have mine.

It was all but a dream.

My days of dirty dishes and hot bain marie are not yet over. We will plunge into this winter along with everyone else in Canberra. I would be lying if I did not feel stung by the rejection, or disappointed by another failed attempt in getting into a field I am passionate in. But the prayer that has been upholding me from the beginning, the knowledge that not only God but my family and friends are all in this journey with me, strengthens me. The knowledge that regardless of what I do, I am still the daughter of our God and King, keeps me walking forward with purpose and peace.

During the time of preparation, Proverbs 16:9 was the anthem to me, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” To this day, I am still not sure where I will be going professionally, but one thing I know is that whatever career I am in, He will want me to demonstrate my faith and commitment to Him in the most tangible ways possible. Whether it be doing dishes, serving old people or teaching children, it is all for the glory of the Lord.

Thank you for praying and dreaming with me.


Basil & the Living Water

It is December in Canberra. I should be outside in the sun, with my singlet, shorts and thongs. Instead, I am sitting with a wool blanket on my lap, a cup of tea on the table, and a heater blowing at my feet. It has been wet and cold for the past week. But we did have a nice break in between last weekend, when the sun came out gently. It was a perfect day to start gardening – my first ever herb garden.

A friend from church, Janette, offered to help since I had zero knowledge about gardening. All I knew was that if I stick a root of a store-bought spring onion in a glass of water, it regrows. But otherwise, my lack of knowledge in gardening had proved true when I watered my basil that I bought from Woolworths every day until it wilted and almost died.

When Janette came over, I showed her my drooping basil. I wondered if I could transplant it into the soil still, considering that it had mould growing near the stalks. She had a quick look and pointed out straight away, “Oh that is a sign of over-watering.” With her fingers, she gently pulled apart the soil and said, “See, the roots are made to search for water. They have to stretch and grow in order to find and absorb moisture. What you did was feeding it too much water, so it stopped spreading. In a sense, it drowned.”

As we worked on our knees planting my store-bought basil into the soil, I mulled over Janette’s words. I did not know that watering plants too much would hinder their roots to stretch; hence, their growth too. And God reminded me of something. In our attempt to succeed or in the hours of our loneliness, we searched for something to quench our thirst, even for only temporarily – acceptance in the workplace, praise for the job well-done or respect from our peers. We also filled our time with shopping, television, video games or pornography to ease our longings. But they only dulled our senses, and we became complacent. Our roots had become shallow, our growth slowed down. In a sense, we were drowning in the sea of temporaries.

Yet there is another type of Water, the one the Bible talks about. It is the Living Water, the kind that flows like a river and gushes like a fountain. It is the water that fills you permanently. John 4:13-14 says,

“Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.'”

In this story, Jesus encountered with a Samaritan woman. It was about noon, and Jesus was tired from travelling. As the disciples went into town to buy food, he sat down by the well, where the Samaritan woman was drawing the water. Customarily, this is a bit unusual because in those days women would usually do this chore late afternoon or in the evening, sometimes early in the morning, so they could use the water in their cooking, washing or feeding animals. It would also be the time where they would catch up with their neighbours, maybe with their children playing nearby. Yet this Samaritan woman was alone, drawing water at noon, under the scorching sun. We can argue that she might already have come out in the morning but already ran out of water. But we could also speculate that she felt obligated to seclude herself out of shame, of who she was and how she lived, that led her out to do this heavy task under the noon sun. For whatever the reasons, she met Jesus.

Another unusual thing about this encounter is the fact that Jesus was a Jewish man conversing with a Samaritan woman. In their culture, Jews and Samaritans were enemies. Their hatred for each other was dated back to the Old Testament time. For a Jew to engage with a Samaritan would have been abhorrent. Now Australia and New Zealand have a big rivalry between them as well. We argue over the origin of Vegemite and Pavlova. We fight to be the first in either Rugby or Cricket. We tease each other over our accents. But we are not enemies, at least not in the Jewish-Samaritan sense.

When Jesus initiated the conversation, he crossed the barriers of racial and gender classes to meet with her – this woman who had been in five failed marriages and now in a de facto relationship. She was not a woman acquainted with status, but more familiar with sorrow and shame. She trudged to this well every day carrying loads of burden that were not just the weight of her pitchers but the sense of failure and guilt over her life. Then Jesus turned up and said, “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

This Samaritan woman had been watering her parched soul with temporary companionship and security. Her life, her identity have led her to the margin of the society. People gossiped behind her backs and tolerated her presence. But that did not stop Jesus to cross all boundaries to offer her the Water of Life. Through Him, she would no longer thirst because He had found her. All doubts, fear, shame and disappointment were gone. Her past had been forgiven. She found a new identity in Christ.

So did we.

But her story did not end at the well. She ran out to tell the people in town about Jesus. And everyone came to believe that He was the Messiah they were looking for. Now that we know Jesus is the Water of Life, what do we do? How should it look like in our own lives?

Well, for a start, it should look like my transplanted basil, that hopefully will grow because I have decided to not over water it anymore (it could still die…but I keep my fingers crossed). Janette has taught me to gauge if the soil needs water by sticking my finger into it. If it is still moist, even though it looks dry, it does not need any more water. Hopefully, the roots get the message that there is plenty of moisture under the soil there… and they will stretch, absorb, and grow.

For us, instead of feeding our souls with temporary fulfilment, we should pursue God in every way we know how, whether through studying the bible, praying, going to church, serving in a soup kitchen, teaching children in remote areas, going on mission trips or telling people about Christ. Practising spiritual discipline is a way we can access that Water of Life that Jesus has offered to us. Christianity is a combination of faith and work. We cannot have one without the other. For us to grow and mature, complacency must have no place in us.

Before Janette left, she parted with some words of advice. “The hardest part for any gardeners is waiting for their crops to grow. Be patient.” We can get impatient and discouraged when our patch of dirt still looks like…the same old boring patch of dirt. But by doing the right thing – feeding the plants with right food and giving it sufficient water, they will hopefully bud and sprout. God’s creation, becoming the beings they were created to be. Just wait, and see.

 


Joel’s Health Update and My Musing

It is about time for an update. In the past few weeks, if you follow my Facebook, you would have seen several pictures of Joel and I inside an ambulance, at a hospital waiting room or in the emergency. Well, let me explain.

It was April 11, our 2-year wedding anniversary, that Joel was scheduled to have a cysts removal surgery in his anus. Yes. Looking back now, it seems pretty comical to have celebrated our anniversary at the hospital…talking about anesthetic and bottoms. I had thought long and hard whether this would be too much information for you, readers; but since my husband does not care, I hope you grit your teeth and read along.

Two hours passed after Joel went inside, a nurse came out and said, “You could go see Joel now.” I was greeted by this suspiciously jolly husband, who I learned later was still high from whatever drugs they gave him. It was not long, though, before the medication wore off, and the surgical pain rolled in. This was to be expected. The doctor gave instructions on what to do and discharged him. Our friend picked us up and took us home. At that moment, we both thought Joel would recover soon; that within a few days, he would be able to sit and go back to work as usual.

Wrong.

We play this game called “What’s your pain level?” The rule is simple. I ask, he answers. The level is scaled from 1-10. One being the lowest, barely noticeable pain; and ten being the most excruciating, I am going to die kind of pain. The first two nights, his answer was always 8-9. We rarely slept because Joel had to move around every few minutes or so. When he was awake, I was pretty much awake.

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Our day at the hospital full of fancy gown and waiting around

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Pizza to celebrate our 2-year anniversary? Why not?!

Anyway, three days after Joel’s surgery, I went to work as usual. Everything seemed normal. Since the Easter weekend was starting the next day, and everything would be closed, I thought I would grab a few necessary items from the shop. Just before I walked out of the house, Joel showed a sign of mild pain, but I thought it was the usual stuff. So I left, thinking whether I should buy extra ingredients to make hot cross buns over the weekend.

It was a glorious walk. I could see the sun setting over the mountains range and smell smoke coming from chimneys. I was listening and singing to the song “And Can It Be”, a powerful hymn that talks about how undeserving we are, how amazing God’s grace is and the victory that we get to share in Christ’s blood as I trudged down the hill. In no time, I was lost among the aisles. The shop was bustling with last-minute shoppers and I was just looking at gelatin when my phone rang.

“Mink, I have got a chest pain. I just called the ambulance. They are on their way,” Joel spoke shakily.

I could feel blood seep out of my face. I quickly dropped the gelatin, and ran as fast as I could back up the hill. Though it is just one kilometer away, I could not run fast enough because of its steep road and my short legs. I asked Joel to be on the phone with me so I could keep myself sane, being assured that he was still alive (I know, I am such a drama queen). I could hear him panting and drawing short shaky breath. Fear gripped my heart. When you realized that death is just only one breath away, nothing else in the world matters. Thankfully, the ambulance had arrived; and I breathed sigh of relief. The paramedic gave him some painkillers and took both of us to the hospital.

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Inside the ambulance for the first time

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All wired up, waiting to find out what was wrong

The results from that day showed no sign of heart disease (thank God), but the doctor suspected it could be his inflamed pancreas or gallstone. However, the result of his ultrasound around his torso revealed nothing remarkable either. So the general surgeon, whom we saw yesterday, suspected that it could be post-op side effect with some clots in his lungs.

With all that said, Joel’s current condition is improving, if ever so slowly to my liking. These two major events; the surgery and the mysterious chest pain, had thrown us some curve balls. In the past 20 days, we have been to the hospital five times, three of those were in the emergency room; paid a few visits to the GP (general practitioner); had a home doctor come over once; and purchased several pre-scripted drugs. When I was at the chemist yesterday, a staff member said, “You are only 15 points away from receiving a voucher.” Reluctantly, I replied, “I am not sure if I should be happy about this, because it means we have spent too much money on medication.” And guess what, I have to go to the chemist again…tomorrow.

Around the same time we were in and out of the hospital, three people whom we knew passed away. I was forced to deal with my fear of pain and death, which I had always tried to avoid dwelling my thoughts on. When dad died, I was only 14. The image of him writhing in agony in bed and lying still in his business suit all pale and stiff after he died have haunted me. His death left a big wound in my heart. Even after so many years, I had never been able to escape from this emergency room that smelled like death.

Strangely enough, God used the memory of a beautiful old grandma, Nan Raine, who is now with him, to help me make peace with dying. I was in her hospital room, in Tauranga, New Zealand; with a few of her direct families and my classmates. I remembered how frail she looked, yet still remained witty and kept a sense of humor. We sang to her a few songs; one of them was “Soon and Very Soon”.

As we sang “soon and very soon, we are going to see the King,” it hit me how this was becoming a reality for Nan Raine. In the midst of our tears and futile effort to hold on to her a little bit longer, the image of her taking off her “earthly body” and putting on “the heavenly body” standing before our God the King in all His glory overwhelmed me. The picture accelerated my vision past the blurry, soggy, muddled bits of life; and placed me at the foot of His throne. It is so hard to explain, but in this room with the smell of death approaching, I was released from the cage of fear I had been imprisoned in since 14 years ago. Nan Raine had managed to give me a gift of hope and a glimpse of eternity on her last day on earth. This glimpse, however small, is something I will hold on tight when my heart is filled with despair, when the day I will have to deal with grief so immense comes again.

To this day, Joel and I are thankful for our family and friends, who have been so kind to us. We have received all kinds of messages – from concerning to well-wishing to almost rebuking why we haven’t let them know what’s going on. We have also been blessed by our  church family and Canberra friend, who have given me ride to work at 5:30 in the morning, who have come by our house for a chat and brought food and treats with them. This is an amazing season in our lives. We are not quite sure why we have to go through this – the pain, the sleepless nights, the long wait at hospitals, the uncertainty, etc. But, I guess, why not? Perhaps there are other reasons, but one I know for sure – God is using this as an opportunity to refine our hearts and redefine our faith. Every moment is a chance for us to pray and to put our trust in Him.

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All the goodies our friends brought us.

 


Valentine’s in My Kitchen

It was a long  day, and we were both exhausted. I opened our front door, and the first thing I saw was the sink full of dirty dishes, messy floor and crumbs on the kitchen bench. Fuming, I stomped into the kitchen and started cleaning without talking to Joel. I thought to myself, “What a great valentine’s day we have”. My husband, noticing that I was upset, asked what he could do, and then quietly went about coating the chicken drumsticks with flour and frying them for dinner.

As the chickens sizzled away in the pan and all the dishes were clean and put away to dry on the rack, I became calmer and realized that I could have treated Joel more kindly. You see, I was hoping for some sparkling romance. I was expecting a bouquet of flowers or a box of chocolate. I wanted to be assured of Joel’s love by this physical expression. Yet if I had looked more intently, I would see that my husband loves me through his quiet servitude – when he gets up early so he can take me to work; when he gives me a back scratch because my sun-burnt skin is peeling; when he sits with me through a chick flick to keep me company; when he drives out of the way so we can get Thai food; or when he chooses cookbooks as gifts because he knows I love cooking.

For the past year and ten months, marriage has taught me that love is a commitment between the two of us. Yes, there is the romantic aspect that comes with candle-lit dinner and sitting under starry night. But, most of the time, it is the display of fierce loyalty to one another and the overflowing of grace and forgiveness in this household. In this dirty kitchen, we are truly rid of any pretense. We recognize our imperfection; and we strive to love better by imitating Jesus Christ.

I am slowly learning to keep my words few and my attitude kind towards Joel; and to make space for God in this relationship so He may fill us up with the depth of insight into how He loves. After all, dirty dishes can be cleaned in a few minutes. But broken heart may take months, if not years, to heal.

 

“And this is my prayer: That our love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that we may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
(from Phil. 1:9-11)


Dressember: how can a dress a day end modern day slavery

My mom has been a dressmaker for over 30 years. As a girl, I remember watching her design the clothes, make the pattern, cut the fabric and sew the dresses. Sometimes I helped her sewing the hem with  my stubby little fingers and a needle. I grew up with mom’s handmade clothes. In those days, though, I would rather wear leggings and t-shirts from the Body Glove brand than putting on some neat little skirts that my mom lovingly made for me.

Yes, love. For mom, making dress has always been about love. The love for creativity, for the career and for the people. She lavished her love on me and my sisters by making matching dresses for us to wear.

Sadly, there are many girls who are stripped of this love and care they deserve. There are those who are sold into sex business because their parents are poor; those who are constantly molested and violated by their very own relatives; and those who are physically abused day-in and day-out within their own homes.

This is why I joined the Dressember Foundation this year. I was introduced to this organization through a friend, who posted her pictures wearing different dresses for the whole month of December last year. Seeing her in those dresses somehow triggered my childhood memory, of my mom’s dresses. So I made a quick comment in one of her posts that I would like to join.

And here I am.

To be honest, I am scared of fundraising because I hate asking people for money. Yet a wise friend said to me, “Do not assume what other people think. You have to put it out there, because otherwise you may be robbing someone of their giving” (paraphrased). So this post is to inform you about what I do; and hopefully it will help you make a decision whether or not you want to join in this cause.

The core of Dressember is to advocate for the dignity of women all over the world. Its mission is to “oppose the worldwide trafficking and exploitation of women”. It has aligned itself with the work of International Justice Mission and A21. The money raised has gone to support the work that these guys do to put the end to the modern day slavery. You can read about them more here.

My part in this is to wear dresses everyday for the whole month. It is challenging because sometimes I would rather just wear tank tops and shorts in this heat. But I am now committed.

My goal is to raise $300 by the end of December. If you would like to join in with me and consider giving, visit my page here. Click on “Donate” tab and follow the prompts. You can choose how much you want to give by clicking on the amount the site provides, or type in your own amount you are willing to donate. Remember, there is no such thing as too little when it comes to supporting good work.

The other way to get involved is to pray. There are still many girls and boys trapped in brothels, mines, orphanages or even their own homes. They need help. Pray for them to be rescued. Pray for the workers’s boldness and protection. Pray for healing. Pray for justice. Pray for grace and hope to shine lights into those dark corners of the world.

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This is one of the five dresses that mom made for me. I have had it for over five years now. This dress went with me to Chiang-Mai, New Zealand and now Australia. 

P.S. I will be posting my picture on Instagram and Facebook at least twice a week until the end of this month. Feel free to comment or shoot me a message if you have any questions.

 


In the Honour of King Bhumibhol

The night was dark and cool. There was not a single sound outside. I was plunging deeper into my sleep when I felt Joel calling my name. “Mink. Read this.” Wincing at the glow of the screen, a big bold headline wrote, “King Bhumibhol, the king of Thailand, died at age 88.” My heart dropped. Tears streaked down my cheeks. Though I knew this was going to happen, I still wished it was a dream. It was October 13, 2016. 

It has been a month since. I have wanted to write something to honour my late king, but words escaped me. Whenever I started typing, nothing I wanted to say seemed sufficient to describe what I felt, what most Thai people felt, when we heard the news. The sadness runs deep, but more than the sorrow is the realisation that we will no longer live under his reign anymore, this history-maker king.

King Bhumibhol had reigned over the kingdom of Thailand for 70 years. He and his wife were barely getting out of their teenage years when the coronation ceremony took place. They were confronted with poverty problems and political issues. With determination, perseverance and grace, they penetrated the walls of all social classes and united people together. They rose early and retired late, working doggedly alongside their staff and the local people. Their shoes were caked with mud as they trudged into the jungle; their pants dirty from sitting on the dirt floor, and their hair windswept and dusty from spending time outside talking to villagers as they brought medical aid and farming advices to villagers.


For most Thais, we have spent most of our lives living under King Rama IX’s reign. We celebrated his birthday every December 5. We listened to his speech. And we watched about his works and activities that ALWAYS involved the people of Thailand on TV. When I was young, every Friday afternoon before school finished, every student in the school would stand in line outside their classrooms to sing the king’s anthem together. Even in cinemas all over the country, before the movie starts, we would have to stand up for the king’s anthem. As a child, I did not really see the importance of all this. But as I grew older, the knowledge of his goodness and the understanding of how much he sacrificed for our sake has given me appreciation of and deepest respect for the king. 

Sometimes I wonder why we mourn so much for him, the king whom most of us had never met in person. I wonder why a multitude of people are willing to stand in the sun for hours only to see the van that carried the late king’s body to the grand palace. And I wonder why there is such hollowness in my heart since he has been gone…

The only answer I can come up with is because King Bhumibhol loved us so fiercely that he dedicated his life for the country. We see his love through his deeds. His genuine interest in the well-being of Thai citizens took him to the most dangerous part of the country, where he was vulnerable to harm. He didn’t care about whose sides people were on, whether they were democratic or communists. In one of the interviews given to BBC, he was asked if he had won over the communist insurgency by managing to build a dam in the area. He said,

“Oh I don’t know. But we are winning against hunger. This is what we are doing. We are not fighting against people. We are fighting against hunger. We want them to have a better life. If we make this and they have a better life, the people you call ‘communist insurgency’ will also have a better life also. So everybody is happy.”


As a Christian, King Bhumibhol had helped me understand what Jesus’ love must have meant for his disciples and the people in his time. I am not saying that the king was god or even had god-like attributes. Rather, his attributes and traits that portrayed selflessness and enduring love had captivated our hearts. His love makes us want to be better – to drop the differences, to stop fighting over things that do not really matter and to unite for the better of our country.

I am so thankful to have lived under his reign, to have witnessed his majesty and to be able to carry this heritage to the next generation. When we have children, I will tell them of our Thai king, the man who devoted his life for the people of our country. More than that, I will also point them to the God-man, King Jesus, who is the ultimate model of selfless love, when he gave his life for the people in the whole world as well. 

Today my heart weeps with the people of Thailand again because I have remembered that king Bhumibhol is no longer with us. He spent 88 years on this earth with excitement, enthusiasm and unapologetic way of serving. He gave his all for his family and his countrymen. It is now time for him to rest. What a privilege for me to be a part of this glorious historical period. Yet what a loss for us all…

Recently, hundreds of thousands of people gathered to sing the king’s anthem at the royal field near the Grand Palace for a major music production, and to show solidarity and honour to the late king. The singing was loud and full of emotions. Usually, after singing the anthem, we usually chanted “long live the king, long live the king” over and over again. But on that day, there was no more chant. All we could hear was the deafening silence that echoed in everyone’s heart. It is still echoing in my heart today…


My Job Search Experience

Before I came to Australia, I painted a beautiful picture in my head, of me working in a respectable company and earning sufficient income to send money home to pay off my debts and support my family. For some reasons, I thought finding a job would be easy. 

In my first week here, someone told me to beware of discrimination in workplace, especially because I am Asian. Naively, I laughed and brushed it off, thinking it was their own prejudice against the society. Now I am wondering if they were right…

My job search experience has been one of a crazy ride. In my first month, I almost got a job at a restaurant but my pride kicked in and I denied the job because the pay was too low. Then, I spent three hours doing a job trial at a cafe, thinking that this could be it, only to be informed later that they found someone with more suitable qualifications. Unwavered, I kept sending out emails with my resume attached, hoping to hear something from someone. I put up with hours of filling out forms that basically ask for the same information already provided in my resume. And nothing but”We regret to inform you that we will not take your application any further…”, without so much of explanation why, came back to me.

In my last post, I mentioned about a waitress job at a Thai restaurant. It also fell through. I did go in to work for two days, quickly learning the menu and the way they took order; floating between tables, serving food and taking away dishes. Everyone was nice to me. The only issue I had was that they took advantage of the casual staff members, who worked for five to six hours everyday but were paid below a minimum standard. You may think I am a fool for not enduring like others do; but I simply could not tolerate the practise, where my value is at stake.

So I had to start from scratch again. More emails. More rejection letters. What is more disheartening is that even chain companies, like supermarket or hardware store, turned me down. It is demoralising to be told, “We are not looking for senior staff, only junior.” Whether I am under or overqualified, the message is blatantly clear – there is not a place for me. Not yet anyway.

I can understand from the employers’ point of view why they are hesitant to hire me. I have only been in the country for less than three months. I have no relevant local experiences. And I am on a temporary partner visa. There is no guarantee that I am a good person or that I will stay committed to them long term. 

At times like this, I am thinking of my sister’s word before I departed to Australia, “This is the way you chose. This is your path now. Don’t worry about us here.” What else can I do but keep chipping away at this thick wall? I have to swallow my pride, grit my teeth and keep putting myself out there. 

Sometimes, though, I run into an existential and identity crisis. Stripped away from my roots and connection, I am at a loss. The things I once thought was my passion seem irrelevant. I am not even sure what I like to do or what I want with my life. It is selfish of me to think this thought since we need another income, whatever job it may be. But in the deeper part of my romantic heart, I am afraid of living to just get by, of falling into a status quo.

Joel’s squash team member, who is from South Africa, told me that when he first arrived in Australia, it took him eight months to get a job. I do not wish to have to wait this long, but at least someone had already gone on before me. It was comforting to know that I am not alone in this plight. He is now working at a government agency in a respectable role.

When I feel crushed from rejection, I read and I cook. This explains why there are plenty of updates on my Goodreads reading progress and also lots of food photos and videos on my Facebook profile. These activities give me solace as I meditate on my life’s problems and personal struggles. Reading puts me in someone’s world and gives me a different perspective towards my circumstance. I am currently reading Elizabet Bard’s “Lunch in Paris: a Love Story with Recipes.”   She is an American, who married a Frenchman and left her home country to make a new home in France. Like me, she asked questions about life, purpose and passion while trying to make sense of the new culture and fitting in. And like her, I go to food for comfort. Cooking purely gives me something to have control over when my life spins out of balance. I can add more spices if I want to in my meatball or reduce the amount of sugar in my cookies. Making food that is whole and delicious, and being able to feed people makes me happy. It reminds me that there is more to life. I am a better person because of it.

Burger Night with the youths from church. The food was supposedly “Montenegrin-inspired”.

Spanish meatball with roasted potato, carrots and green apples


What now? A friend from church, who is from Ghana, told me to work towards something. With no acknowledged qualifications, the opportunities are limited here in Australia. So get whatever job I can find (trust me, I am praying for one), save enough money for education and chase my dream…

The question, though, is what is it, this dream?