wave after wave, grace upon grace.

Just the other evening, before worship rehearsal started, I decided to have my dinner at the open space next to our church’s playground. I’ve sat at this table many times before, spending quiet moments with God when I needed to just get out of the office and have a breather. It’s a special place that holds special weight in my heart.

A friend came and sat next to me and I broke the news to him about a decision I had made (I might share more on this at a later, more appropriate time. But chances are, if you read this blog, you already know). As I finished saying what I needed to say, he pointed above my head and said, “Look, there’s a rainbow. A double rainbow, in fact.”

My friend got up, snapped a picture and dove into the social media world to share that double rainbow with everyone. But quietly, in my heart, I knew what God was up to something special in that moment. It wasn’t confirmation about the decision that I needed. God had already led me to walk this way. Rather, I needed the Father’s affirmation to let me know that He’s on my side, no matter how difficult things related to this decision are, for now. And with two rainbows, God affirmed me of his promise and presence; His presence is the promise.

Yet there is one ray of hope: his compassion never ends. It is only the Lord’s mercies that have kept us from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his loving-kindness begins afresh each day. My soul claims the Lord as my inheritance; therefore I will hope in him. The Lord is wonderfully good to those who wait for him, to those who seek for him. (Lamentations 3:21-25)

The very next day I met with a sister, and somehow our conversation drifted to where she started speaking so much hope into what lies ahead for me. Wave after wave, grace upon grace.

In walking this season, God has brought clarity into places of confusion.

Unless the Lord had helped me,
I would have settled in the silence of the grave.
I cried out, “I am slipping!”
but your unfailing love, O Lord, supported me.
When doubts filled my mind,
your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.
(Psalm 94:18-19)

Ooh little do we know, as I write, my auto-play on Spotify has shuffled to two worship songs back-to-back. One’s called “New Season” and the other’s called “Moving Forward.” The lyrics have caused my heart to skip a beat:

It’s a new season, it’s a new day
Fresh anointing is heading my way
It’s a season of power and prosperity
It’s a new season coming to me

//

You make all things new
Yes, You make all things new

And I will follow You forward

Advertisements

i won’t go chasing the wind.

Oh, my heart, y’all. My heart is filled with thankfulness.

For the past hour or so, I have been on my phone non-stop, replying to friends’ responses to a prayer newsletter I put out earlier this evening. This morning, in the midst of praying through feelings of being overwhelmed at the task set before me, I felt God’s prompting to rally friends to pray over the Christmas production I’m planning, and at first I hesitated because this seemed a little attention-seeking. But I quickly put that thought away. I mean, if any one of them sent me a prayer request I wouldn’t think that they were attention-seeking! So I took one step away from the enemy’s lie, and took one step towards faith.

Putting out the newsletter was my faith act of acknowledging that I cannot do this alone. A faith act of standing still, not having to be paralyzed in fear, but being still in knowing God is able to pull this thing off. A faith act of casting a net out into the unknown waters to see what catch God will bring in when it’s time to lift the net.

It has been the most encouraging thing to hear from all these texts from friends that they are praying, and many of them have also volunteered to help in practical ways. What a beautiful thing to see that just because people begin to pray, God awakens small stirrings in different one’s hearts, and the best part is: I didn’t even have to do a thing. I just needed to stand still, right here in the eye of the storm, and let the Lord move. A hundred pieces of flotsam and debris may be whizzing past me, but I don’t have to flinch. Every fear and every doubt meets something rock solid within me: life is sometimes hard, but God is always good.

In other news, I came across scripture in my devotions that were really apt and timely for the issue of heart longings that I wrote about last post.

There is another serious tragedy I have seen under the sun, and it weighs heavily on humanity. God gives some people great wealth and honor and everything they could ever want, but then he doesn’t give them the chance to enjoy these things. They die, and someone else, even a stranger, ends up enjoying their wealth! This is meaningless – a sickening tragedy. 

A man might have a hundred children and live to be very old. But if he finds no satisfaction in life and doesn’t even get a decent burial, it would have been better for him to be born dead. His birth would have been meaningless, and he would have ended in darkness. He wouldn’t even have had a name, and he would have never seen the sun or known of its existence. Yet he would have had more peace than in growing up to be an unhappy man. He might live a thousand years twice over but still not find contentment. And since he must die like everyone else – well, what’s the use?

All people spend their lives scratching for food, but they never seem to have enough. So are wise people really better off than fools? Do poor people gain anything by being wise and knowing how to act in front of others?

Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless – like chasing the wind.

–Ecclesiastes 6:1-9

I love that metaphor of chasing the wind. It’s an exercise in futility. The wind cannot be caught, cannot be contained. It goes wherever it wants and chases course whenever it wants. The wind is empty and fleeting.

Focusing on our have-nots, incessantly paying attention to our longings, will rob us the blessing of enjoying the very presence of our Giver. It’s not the gifts that satisfy, it’s the gift-Giver himself. He has given us promises, but it is not the fulfillment of those promises by which are sustained. Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!

xoxo
Samantha

 

heart strings and silly things.

Hello again, friends. It’s a lovely Monday evening after the rains, and I’m putting away my Church History study notes for a while, because I recalled that earlier this morning I wanted to pause and process something that’s been going on in my heart for a while now.

I think that God’s been tugging at my heart strings recently, in the department of fluttering emotions, beat-skipping heart matters, do you follow my drift? No? Okay, more plainly speaking: I’m opening my heart up again to consider a relationship that could lead to marriage. Nope, no one has come knocking yet, but there is someone who I think could be suitable. Someone who’s not only caught my eye, but who has captured the tender places and silent attentions of my heart. Which is all good, except I don’t like the frequency at which I am thinking about him. What’s that word we use? Yes, I’m obsessing. Or at least, I catch myself beginning to.

My girl friend tells me maybe God’s trying to direct my attention to open my eyes to possibilities. Maybe so. But I will say this, though: It feels like un-chartered territory, it feels foreign, and if I’m being honest, it feels unsettling and faith-stretching. Actually I think I meant faith-testing. Not that I’ve never fancied someone before, or have never experienced the ensuing ups and downs of the emotional roller-coaster ride that these feelings involve. It’s just – I’ve been so occupied with work and ministry and friends and family that I never stopped long enough to let a “good feeling” about someone develop into something more, like serious interest, and deep longings to be with that person. Also, the topic of relationships just never lingered in my mind long enough to become significant because I told God in December 2015 that I wanted to give Him two good years of my youth to dedicate fully in serving in ministry. And recently, with the more frequent rains and chilly winds (a welcome change I must say), I’ve come to realize, golly, December 2017 is almost here. It’s a matter of two months to the completion of those two years. And so the possibility that a relationship might blossom in 2018 is to be entertained. Along with that exciting possibility also comes the inevitable following question: what if it is not to be, yet again?

I’ve been wrestling with God over this. I ask Him, each time Mr. Interest comes to mind, to take this cup from me, please, and yes Lord I am being dramatic. I’d rather not deal with the aching of feelings not-returned, and the puzzle of what Mr. Interest’s words and actions mean. I’d rather not have my head and heart space occupied with dreams and longings, if they are not to be fulfilled anyway. I wrestle with God to take my wrestling away.

But I think He doesn’t intend to take it away soon. Another girl friend tells me, we’ll always have longing this side of eternity, and there is so much wisdom in that. When I’m single, I’ll want to be married. When I’m married, I’ll long for children. When I am a mother, I’ll long for my peace and quiet in the house, and time just for myself. I’ll long for my children to behave. When I’m a grandmother, and my children have their own children, I’ll long for the vitality and energy of my youthful days again. I will have-not for as long as I have.

And so I think… I suspect… if I know my Abba well, that His preferred solution for me is not to walk this out in the absence of my longing, but to learn what to do with my longing. To direct the longings of my heart not towards the obsession of what I long for, but to the remembering of how God has already blessed me. How I am blessed, just by believing Him for the things He has promised (Luke 1:45). And He has promised, indeed, good to me. Single is good, and married is good (1 Corinthians 7). Child-less is good. And a soccer team of children is good too. Life is sometimes hard, but God is always, always good (John 16:33).

 

 

So I went off the grid…

Oh gosh! It’s so difficult to write an entry after a long hiatus.

I’ve kind of gone off the social media grid these recent months. There was something about the constant hum and buzz of my social media feeds that became an issue for me. It became a noise that filled my ears, filled my eyes, filled my mind, to the point that one day I realized I could not live without that noise. I was afraid of facing my own bare thoughts, and sit in silence with nothing to see or hear. When I went to bed, I wasn’t used to having just silence and the four walls around me and my own last thoughts before drifting off to sleep. Of course this dulled my spiritual and emotional health. Spiritually, God’s voice wasn’t cutting through clearly. I lost my appetite for reading the Bible and for thinking about God things. I sought out easy entertainment rather than listen to soul-feeding podcasts or watching sermons, or even good ol’ reading books. In that mix, I lost my peace and I felt unsteady, tossing about the waves of my emotions on a day to day basis.

Emotionally, social media had its toll too. I wasn’t very conscious of it at first, but I realized I grew discontented with my own life. Others’ lives always seemed more fun, more luxurious, more fulfilling. In comparison, I began to feel unpopular, uninteresting, uninvited and unloved. What a lie I sold myself!

So I went off the grid! Have not posted anything (except for a ministry advert haha) on my facebook or instagram for a number of months now. I feel lighter, happier, and less of a busybody. Social news still travels to me via friends who take it upon themselves to update me about important things I might have missed – like whose baby popped, who got engaged, who posted a socially unacceptable selfie (haha!), stuff like that.

I think that social media makes me think that I have a lot of friends, but then bursts my bubble immediately because these friends who just celebrated above-mentioned events aren’t close enough that they would tell me in person or directly via a text message or a phone call. Which means that in actuality, I have many friends breadth-wise, not depth-wise. And functioning on that surface level with so many people actually steals time that I could connect with people on a deeper level, in real time.

Oh and one more thing – I was beginning to post a helluva lot of posts. Pictures, quotations, sunrises, sunsets, what I’m having for lunch, who I’m hanging with etc etc. Just mindlessly joining in the noise parade. So with the exit from these feeds, I think a side effect was that I had not much to say here on my blog too.

BUT – one can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater right? Or so the saying goes. There are benefits to blogging, or posting: recording memories. Oh my. Feels so good when an old memory pops up and brings a smile to your face. Or when you scroll through old posts and find silly things to laugh at. Or see how God showed you something new about a struggle you went through back then. Time passes so fast and this is a great way to defy it sometimes. Each blog, or insta/fb post can be a marker of an important moment.

So I guess with all that I’ve learnt so far, I’m not hopping back on my social media feeds too soon. But that’s not to say I’ll stay away forever too. As long as I feel that my heart’s in a healthier place without them, I’ll keep my distance. With all God’s help I can get, I want to focus on building a life that’s as good in reality as it is in my pictures.

A Mid-Year Review

“This will be a year of breakthrough,” the Lord said. I took it he was referring to work and ministry. January brought fresh excitement. I thought I could turn everything that was messy and broken and difficult around, just as easy as I turned the calendar page.

Six months in and we meet July. She is unrelenting. Her weather is erratic, both the heat and rain equally unforgiving. Dust has settled, dreams have shrunk. What good are dreams if they keep shrinking in size to meet the present circumstances?

Six months in and I find more brokenness than breakthroughs in my life. But I know that this very brokenness is the path to breakthrough. And I’ve got to trust that while I come face to face with all that’s broken in me, God will not let me be crushed. No, he is building me.

It’s the middle of the year and there’s still time before the next. Time to dig in, dig deep, get down to processing with the Lord. I’m asking myself questions to which the answers I’m not sure I’m brave enough to face.

Six months in, and every sunset is still beautiful, and He is still faithful.

2 Corinthians 4

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

les contradictions

I am
a mountain lover
who is also afraid of heights;

I am
a city dweller
who hates city noise and city lights

I live
in the midst of tension,
but tension lives in me too –
always here, but also always not yet;
always remembering
in a bid to forget.

I stand
on the cusp of change
but it feels like a rocky precipice
instead of a tarmac intersect
what if i fall?
“oh, but what if you fly?”

I crave
Silence to hear myself think and yet,
the answer would be given to me
in loudly heard blasts and neon lights
say, where do we go from here?

Where’s God in the Picture?

I’ve been on a mini hiatus from the blogosphere again. Totally unintended though. Well, it’s because I haven’t exactly been in the best headspace lately. I’ve been worrying about my life (not for my life, I’m not in danger thank God). A lot. And particularly the kind of worry that begins with the question, “What if this (insert situation name here) fails?”

Totally disgregarding Matthew 6:25-34. You know, that do not worry passage.

In fact I’ve gone and done just the exact opposite. All week long for the past couple of weeks, I’ve jumped back and forth many plans in my mind and found peace in none. Many of them sound like backup plans for possible failures in my current endeavours. I’ve even thought that if one day, I make a total flop of my current ministry work and have to leave, then perhaps I’ll venture into opening a cafe that doubles, no triples up as a bookshop plus florist plus art studio plus cozy music corner. Oh oops that’s quadruple upping. The plan is to set up this quadruple cafe thing, let it run and when it’s steady, I’ll finally be able to go do missions work overseas just like I’ve always sensed God calling me to in my long term future. Key caveat: without having to worry about income. I’ve also researched on how I can tap on eligibility to buy my own house using my CPF in 5 years’ time so that too can become side rolling income while I maintain my job.

And so this has sent me on a downward spiral in all kinds of ways and on multiple areas in my life. I don’t know why I felt such a need to carve elaborate backup plans, but I’m willing to bet it has something to do with excessive worry, and worry from a lack of trust in God. I truly don’t know the measure of my faith until God says to me, as if using a loudhailer and stopping me in my tracks, “You’ve gotta stop worrying and start trusting me!”

In yesterday’s dinner conversation with a friend, I found myself thinking aloud the same brand of worry in the area of friendships. With all my friendships, there always is the looming question in my mind: “What if this fails one day?” To that she said, “Where is God in this picture?” I managed to squeeze a tiny try of an answer last night, but today I’ve given it more thought.

As I reflect a little more today, I realise that I tend to build relationships up to a certain level of intimacy and when it reaches that point, I start to wonder how much further the friendship could go before something happens and the relationship sours. Long before anything even happens and unbeknownst to these dear, dear souls , I build safety barriers and find safety nets so that the crash wouldn’t be so hard-hitting if something really does happen to the friendship. Especially since becoming a ministry staff (where church friends are also the volunteers I “manage”), this has brought a new level of complication to relationships that I haven’t yet worked through. I began to doubt people’s sincerity and the strength of each relationship.

In this way of thinking, there’s very little room for hope and genuine love. There’s a whole lot of self-preservation and fear. I’m afraid of intimacy that demands my vulnerability and potentially getting hurt in the process. There’s worry rearing its ugly head again. The kind of worry that begins even where nothing has happened. I really need God on this one, to intervene in my mind, help me unlearn and relearn His approach to relationships. Gosh, how did Jesus love the disciples so dearly given that He knew for sure how they would desert and betray Him when push comes to shove? How did Jesus keep His head in a good headspace when the lines between ministry and personal life were blurred? Maybe it’s not about finding this elusive line that’s supposed to magically bring harmony and balance.

I’ve been hanging a banner of worry over my neck and that banner weighs a ton more than God would have me carry. That banner spells “inevitable disappointment in the future whether sooner or later” but I know in my heart of hearts that this is not how God designed me to approach life. I have trained myself to become a pragmatist in response to experiencing hurt in life, and while some pragmatism is beneficial since it increases wisdom, my pragmatism is tinged with the absence of hope. In this picture, where is my God in whom I hope?

Looking at another friend’s missions funding page this morning, I see a glimmer of God in my future, a thrill of hope. Before she left for her missions stint in South Africa (you go girl! So proud of you), she started a funding page that needed X amount of money. I’ve had the privilege of journeying her from the very start of this whole process – from conception to execution. I remember how I would see with my own eyes, funds rolling in online and offline. I saw how people would pass her envelopes and angbaos. In today’s page update, I saw that she had received funds waaayyyy exceeding what she stated she needed. When the missions stint was merely just a dream we were discussing, we never saw God on this day, a great big smile on his fatherly face giving her a nice thumbs-up and a knowing wink, knowing how He’s provided all the funds she needed with extra to spare.

Back to the topic on future plans – my one day maybe cafe (ooh One Day Cafe’s not a bad name!); my future missions tripping life, my future income churning house, my future whatever… I think dreams are good in and of themselves. And God has given us a great gift to be able to dream. But it’s far better to dream from a place of hope than because of fear. “Where is God in this picture?” is a far better question to ask than “what if this fails?”

God, show me where You are in all life’s pictures.

On Platforms: Ann Voskamp

One of my favourite wordsmiths writes to my heart with this article on the truth about platforms. It’s so good I’ll just clip the whole article here on my blog:

* * *

We plant seeds here on the farm, kneel and put hands in the dirt.

From dust we have come and to dust we will return — we’re all just dust.

One of the kids kneels in the dirt, looks up, and asks:

“So, I asked this kid yesterday what he wanted to be someday? And he said he was going to be a famous player. Why do all the kids want to be famous? Is that kinda the point of everything — to become famous? What if I just — wanna be a farmer?”

I mention that to the kid:

That when plucky Jennifer Lawrence tripped in her festooning white gown, trying to get up on that platform to get her Oscar—the world kinda fell in love a bit more for her stumbling, blessed humanity.

Because, really now, who teaches you how to hold up the piles of taffeta and take the stairs for an Oscar?

Who teaches anyone how to stand up and be famous?

It just isn’t done—or at least, if you check out the headlines in the checkout aisle, it’s rarely done well.

Because the thing is, no one is meant to really stand on platforms.

Sure, everyone’s got a platform under them—every parent, every creative, every businessperson, every person who is standing somewhere, near someone.

Sure, the movers and shakers would have us thinking that a platform is what elevates your visibility above the crowd so your message finds its your audience.

But there’s a deeper current of Truth running through the cosmos: 

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”

And in a world where there are 93 million selfies taken a day and counting — the strange thing is, for all the striving to be seen:  The more exposed we are, the more unknown we can feel. 

Fame and feeling noticed —- isn’t the same as being known and feeling loved.

How do you tell the kids — that the truth is:

You don’t have to pursue fame to transcend your own mortality, because Christ pursues you and in Him you transcend all of time right into eternity.

The greatest venom of fame can be that you start thinking mostly about yourself — to the point of death by self.

And you’re not made to think mostly about self — you’re made to think about serving, about others, about giving away yourself.

It’s a conversation to have when you’re bending low in dirt, planting small seeds, dirt under your fingernails:

A platform is whatever one finds under one’s feet—and the only thing that is meant to be under a Christian is an altar.

The only call on a Christian is not to pick up a microphone, not to pick some stairs to some higher platform, but to pick up a cross and come die.

The only call on a Christian is to build every platform into the shape of an altar, to shape every platform into the form of sacrificial service.

Every platform, every microphone, every podium is meant to be a nail—fixing us to Christ, the only One lifted up.

The loamy earth is dark in our hands.

When our culture places a premium upon stardom — we live in perpetual dark.

Culture that is fixated on stardom misses the light of extraordinary people doing holy, ordinary work.

The sun is catching in the trees over the field, falling on the Farmer’s bent back, on the backs of the kids with their hands in dirt.

A boy looks up at his dad, smiles. And my heart kinda burns:

 You will most deeply find yourself when you find yourself serving others — and looking up into the face of God.

The world tilts upside down and finally aright — when we see all platforms and the purpose of everything is simply taking on the form of service.

Serve from a real place:

A platform isn’t about remarkable marketing; it’s about serving in a remarkable way.

It’s about serving from a real place of humility, authenticity, and vulnerable transparency.

Cease striving to get to a higher, greater platform—and start praying to go lower to serve greater.

Jesus’ platform was a place of serving from His real humanity, as He walked and talked and broke and gave away His real life. The most remarkable platforms are those that are altars that leave the mark of the sacrificed Christ. 

Serve a real need:

A platform is a holy place to kneel down and wash the very real wounds of the hurting. Jesus’ platform wasn’t about pushing his agenda or ‘product,’ but about caring for people’s afflictions and pain.

Serve real value:

A platform isn’t about self-serving, but is about humbly serving possible solutions. Jesus’ platform was about bending low to offer that which had real, eternal value.

I find a way to tell that kid kneeling down in the dirt:

Could have been the tulle and satin that made Jennifer Lawrence trip trying to get up to that platform. Might be what you see in checkout headlines and in the pages of the Good Book:

The soul was never made to carry the weight of fame. 

The frame of a soul was never made for fame. The frame of a soul was made to serve. 

Fame can only be carried by the One who could carry the weight of the world on that Cross.

“You know what I think, Son?” I turn to the boy planting his seeds in dirt. “I think if you could talk to Jennifer Lawrence or all the famous players in whatever big league they’ve landed in? I think they’d tell you all the same thing….”

I lean over, lay a few more seeds into his open hand.

“I think everyone should get rich and famous and get all the things they want — to find out that none of that’s the answer that they really want.”

And the boy half-grins and nods, plants his small seeds in the warm dirt.

And there’s a way to believe in the value of The Seed Life, a way to believe in the eternal answers found in small things that do the best work in hidden ways.

The boy and I and his dad, we plant seeds, the knees of old jeans worn and dirt-laden with the bending, with the brave beauty of going lower.

carrying promise

What is it like to carry promise? To remember, to remember, places and faces the Lord has etched into your heart and have grabbed at your affections. To surrender, to surrender, that this dream was his to give and to him alone it belongs. To wonder, to wonder, where the breakthrough he declared would be and when it would come. To suffer, to suffer, the grief of dreams not yet achieved.

A month ago I was fascinated by this line in the Bible, when I was writing my paper and studying Luke for it: “Mary kept these things in her heart.”

Luke 2:19 “But Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.”

Luke 2:51 “And his mother stored all these things in her heart.”

In the midst of a dense narrative where each line carries so much passing time condensed, these words catch my eye and snag at my heart. The author wrote in such a way that the reader would pause to listen in, for a few melancholy moments, to the inner thoughts and emotions of Mary, mother of Jesus.

She carried the Promised son of God in her womb for nine months. And when the child was born and grew up, she carried the promise that God spoke of Jesus: he would be very great and be called the son of the Most High, heir to the throne of David, reign over Israel forever and whose kingdom will never end. What a promise to carry, and to wait upon as she must have wondered in amazement how this would unfold upon this tumbling toddler, this temple-roaming pre-teenager, this thirty year old man fresh into ministry, this very human son of hers. It would all become clear only much later, when he in his most human moment was laid upon stone in Joseph’s tomb, and three days later rose again. And still, clear would be seen but through a tainted glass, for who knows how His great kingdom lasts when there are rulers of earth and rulers under wreaking havoc everywhere there is to rest one’s eye on?

She has my sympathies. I carry promise too, and more than one or two. The Lord said, this is going to be a year of breakthrough. The Lord said, you will send and lead teams from here, you will write songs of healing to the nations and with words set captives free. The Lord said, this is where I have called you, serve this house, I will use you. In his unfolding of time, I find my faith often folding inside. It is not clear now, but I will see, sooner and later. But seeing does not always lead to believing, and believing is going to require more than my sense of sight.

She has my admiration. It is no simple feat to carry, to labour, to ponder, to store hope in her heart, to treasure the words of God. It is no small thing, that over her lifetime, her days were lived to remember, to surrender, to wonder, to suffer.

But we will always have hope. An anchor steady and sure for our souls. Though the victory is not yet felt, the victory is already won. His kingdom is forever established over the earth while kings and rulers yet enact their plans.

What is it like to carry promise? It is to remember, to surrender, to wonder, to suffer, and all this is eternal gain as I stand under the shadow of the Cross, at which even my richest earthly gain would be counted as loss.

Happy Good Friday dear Jesus, You made the worst day in human history the best day in all eternity.