Category Archives: australia

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.

 

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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.