Love When It is Rough

We were in a van – the three of us – A, Joel and I. The morning sun was gentle on our cheeks as we drove on this dusty country road. We waved at cows; danced to the blasting music and simply enjoyed the little short ride together. Watching the two boys with wind-swept hair in the front seats having a time of their lives filled my heart with joy, especially when we are constantly reminded of brokenness around.

Having been in Moree for a little over three weeks, Joel and I have come to realise that the brokenness runs deeper than what we see. At the initial glance, it is a quaint little town with charming country houses and amazing artesian pools. But the more we get to go out into the “other” part of town, where we have been warned frequently not to go near, the more we understand why a Christ-centred ministry is so needed.

The other week, we went to the community day, where plenty of organisation stalls introduce their services, programs and resources provided for all kinds of people in need. The poor. The disable. The addicts. The youths. Even the suicidal. They offer a great range of activities that I have no doubt can make a positive impact.

But a program cannot simply fix the problems here. They can definitely provide steps to break away from the cycle, but the person needs to want to change to start; to recognise that there is a better way of life. The issue here is stemmed from an unrepentant heart. People are victims of it.

Who could explain to me how a 12-year-old girl came to be using drugs and could look like she was bearing the weight of the world? Who could help enlighten me why a young boy would look me in the face and throw the perfectly good bun on the ground when that might just be the only warm meal he had on the day? What about the druggie who grew up just like any other kids, but now cannot even manage to care for his own laundry?

Yesterday, we had a real encounter with four local kids, who bitterly reminded us why we decided to follow God out here. They were demanding, taking advantage of our offer and being completely rude in our own home. As we were pulling out of the driveway to drop them off, they had a change of mind (for maybe the 3rd time in that hour), we let them go and decided that if they came back, we would not do their bidding this time.

It was a hard decision, but we all needed to learn boundaries. When to say yes, when to say no. In the back of my mind, I kept wondering if they would be safe on the street.

As we reflected afterwards, feeling rattled, we asked among ourselves how they came to the point where they are full of anger and try to manipulate their ways in this world. And I am talking about 10-13 year-old children. Their rude manner made me want to lose all my Christian ways and just kicked them out of the door. They deserved it…

But so did I.

I was exposed to the fact that I am just as broken, manifested in different ways. I may be better at hiding my emotion and being pretentious. But I am just as much of a sinner who needs grace and forgiveness as those are. Though I do not go out and do all the hard-core stuff like getting drunk, selling myself, or killing others, the ways I sometimes indulge myself and entertain certain thoughts are just as sinful, if not worse.

This morning, God reminded me through Proverbs 10 that, “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.” It is so easy to react to people’s behaviour. But Jesus challenged us by the idea of loving our own enemies because that is where love is most needed. So as we prayed for them, we asked God to soften our hearts for these children; and for love to reign so that they will see Christ through us and know that they are forgiven and loved.

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Grief

Clear blue sky. Sunny day. Warm gentle breeze. We are now in Moree.

We drove 13 hours last night from Canberra to Sydney to here. It was exhausting physically and emotionally. Last night, as I was about to fall asleep, my mum messaged me saying that one of her dogs was run over by a car and had died. I have only heard of her, but her death shook me. The news unleashed the emotions I had tried to keep under control.

Grief.

Memories. Faces. Scenery. Laughter. Tears. They all came flooding like a broken dam. The “needle” or the Telstra Tower on the Black Mountain. The Parliament House. All the round-abouts. And the lakes. The misty morning. The golden sunset. Canberra felt very different from when I first arrived.

It was home.

I am grieving because of all the goodbyes. Work. Friends. Church family. Our house. Our old car. One of the ladies from church who recently passed away. I was so caught up with busyness that I did not have time to process any of them until now.

Grieving allows me to let go of control. It helps me to make peace with the past, whether good or bad; and acknowledge the reality of life – nothing is permanent. Grieving also allows me to depend on God, to bring these raw emotions to Him, and ask Him to fill in me a sense of gratitude and joy.

Parting is never easy, but it is normal. It really sets our perspective straight; and helps us see what matters the most – relationships. With one another and with God.

There is time for everything, as King Solomon said. This season for us is a time to uproot, and a time to mourn. We are in it, but we do not lose heart over it because there will be a time to plant,  build and dance again.


You Say, “Stop worrying!” But How?

We were in our car, running some errands. I was yawning and rubbing my eyes even though I had a solid 8-hours sleep the night before. As each minute went by, I was becoming increasingly irritated at everything. When the conversation turned to dinner and Joel was overflowing with ideas, “I wonder if there is curry in the Honduran or Hungarian cuisine. You know, something new but still familiar,” I became so overwhelmed that I burst into tears. Confused is probably an understatement on Joel’s part. Bewildered, more like. “I just wanted comfort food, something that feels like home,” I cried.

He cooked red curry for dinner that night. Bless his heart.

After finishing the errands and sipping hot coffee on the way home, we reflected on what was happening to me before. Surely it was not just the unhappiness of having to eat weird dishes. The thing was I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. Changes, as we all know, can take a toll on us.

The past month had been a whirlwind – leaving our jobs, saying goodbye, dealing with a broken car, scrambling to find a new car (and thankfully found one), transferring the car registration and insurance over, organising logistics on the moving day, hiring a truck, getting rid of things, packing and cleaning. (Not to mention dealing with my nerves from having to drive the truck interstate at night while it rained immediately after I got my full license!) I would tick off one thing from my to-do list and add another back pretty immediately. Last week, when we were 90% finished with our packing, I looked around our house and all I saw was a mess. I said to Joel, “I feel like a failure. It is not even done. How do you feel?” He replied rather proudly, “I feel accomplished!”

Some of our belongings 

Our last night in the Calwell home with our bed propped against the wall and stuff everywhere

Oh how different were our perspective! Obviously, mine needed to change. Often, I unnecessarily burdened myself with too much pressure for no reason at all. I want things done certain ways, and it has to be perfect. Neat. Spotless. Yet what this perfectionist mentality did to me was making me discontent and unhappy. I am reminded again of these classic verses from Philippians 4:6-7:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Mulling problems over in my head does one thing – making me anxious, and not getting me close to achieving any goals. But it is fair and simple to say, “stop thinking!” and hoping that the anxiety would go away. The reality is it won’t. Something I learned from Joel recently, based on his work with the drug and alcohol addicts, is that you have to replace that thing you ask a certain person to stop doing with something else. “Don’t use drugs” Maybe fill your time with sports? “Don’t eat lollies” How about trying some berry smoothies? “Don’t be anxious” Let’s pray! To tell someone to stop doing something, one should do their best to present an alternative, an option, a way out.

Of course, it is never as easy as it sounds. We all have our struggles. More often than not, we resort to what we are used to doing; and keep on struggling. But God knows our hearts, and understands our human nature. He is caring and forgiving. He does expect me to get better, but when I stuff up, He does not turn His back away from me. Instead, He gave me Jesus and His better ways. Paul urged the Philippians to stop worrying because he trusted in God’s power to deal with all kinds of situations. He encouraged them, and me, to present their requests to Him in prayers, with a thankful heart. We are undermining God’s great love and power when we fret while knowing full well how capable He is, and what He can achieve in, through and for us.

I am thankful that Joel and I have been granted this last week in Canberra after having driven up to Moree and unloaded our belongings there. We are able to take a breather, to catch up with the people we would not have had time to do otherwise, and to mentally prepare ourselves for the next phase of life. Yes, the uncertainty is scary, but being gripped with and disabled by fear is even more terrifying. Through Jesus, we have been gifted freedom. He has emboldened us, even amidst our fear, to follow Him even when we can’t clearly see. And I suppose, that is what faith is all about.

The roadside bouquet – a token of goodbye and anticipating reunion

The drive to Moree


“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.

church

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.

joel and mink 1

Joel and Mink Gough (Photo credit: Veronica Gearhart)

 


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)