So I went ahead and created a Facebook page and had all these great intentions to write daily and purposefully when suddenly, Other Stuff Hit.
And then suddenly, I realised I couldn’t publish anymore. Not in my actual name anyway. It’s one thing to have a stream of consciousness documented in the public domain when the most scandalous thing to report is our uphill battle with toilet training The Younger.
It’s quite another when it’s about a very personal journey that involves your former truths crumbling to dust and the utterly bewildering and lonely experience of figuring out where your next steps should be.
That’s cryptic. Even as I type now, I’m wondering how much to divulge. The last two years have been a marathon that’s continually tested my stamina, my optimism, my thick skin and my courage. Meanwhile, my most entrenched ideas of what it means to be a Christian and a woman have been repeatedly called into question — along with my motives, my attitudes, my faith in God, and my character. I now swear more than I ever have in my life. I’ve lost a lot of friends. (That’s unrelated to the swearing but it probably doesn’t help.) Then again, I’ve found new ones in the unlikeliest corners of my life. If anything, the last few years have crystallised who my truest friends are. And while it’s been spiritually, mentally, and emotionally bruising to find out that the set of people I’ve relied upon don’t actually fully overlap with the set of kindred who continue to come through for me, the new relationships and the depths of honesty and authenticity I’ve found in brand new quarters have renewed my faith in God’s humanity.
Church is bigger than church, y’all. And God is the biggest of all.
How it has been
The unpleasantness aside, there were some truly delightful changes in 2018. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it’s probably most indicative of the events and changes that have had the greatest impact on my life.
I started writing again
Won’t tell you where, won’t tell you what… but I’ve been writing and publishing fiction daily for over a year. Started in July/August 2017 and continued right through to November when I took a break because work was getting very busy and I was reaching a low emotional point anyway. As I like to tell a few people, “I’m famous among DOZENS!” But thanks to this outlet and the wonders of writing in this technological age, I’ve wandered into a new universe of enthusiastic readers, some of whom have reached out and become my fast friends to the point where we’ve started sending Christmas gifts to each other. We chat consistently and because we come from all corners of the globe (Canada, Israel, Spain, the Philippines, Poland, Indonesia, Hong Kong, the UK, and of course USA), I’m never short of someone to chat with.
This has been a sanity saver, having a community that is so far removed from the frustrations that otherwise preoccupy the heart. I’ve shared my Real Life heartaches with some of them, and the honesty I’ve received in return has been an honour and a privilege. In all that, I’ve also made a friend for life, and she’s practically my diary now, unfiltered. It’s utterly stunning to me that on the cusp of turning 40, my social life has gotten such a huge reboot. All from writing harmless romances.
The baby cousin got married
It was actually hard not to get teary on the day. We went back to Singapore for 2 and a bit weeks to celebrate Ben and Andy’s nuptials and it was basically three weeks of the heart running over with so much love and excitement.
My mother — Mummy, Tua-Yee, Grandma Singapore, Caroline-not-Carol — would have absolutely adored the day. We channelled her love and squees in the room as much as we could without saying her name too often. The fine line between tears of joy and heartbreak can be freakishly thin in times such as these. Also, running mascara can be a bitch to touch up.
Work is a Labour of Love
This isn’t so much a new thing in 2018 as it has been a continued blessing from when I started with them in 2016.
Essentially, I work with Christian academics and along with the students, I have been, for the last 2+ years, part of a community that is excited about Church, Ministry, God and Jesus. (Not in that order. Think of it as a web or circle, really.) Apart from my short spurts with The Gideons, it’s generally frowned upon in most workplaces (Singapore, Australia, doesn’t matter) for colleagues to wander over to the proverbial watercooler and start talking about God and faith. But here I am, and this is what we do.
It’s the dialogue I adore the most. The willingness to contemplate hairy questions and interrogate new ideas with integrity, humility, wisdom and intellectual rigour without fear of getting knickers into knots or, God forbid, offending others in the process. That we can chat about learning from one another without feeling like we’re conceding precious ground in the process. That faith seeking understanding is a community sport, and not a zero-sum game.
It’s also the fellowship that lies underneath, that they recognise me as Christian even when we hold different ideas for the present, even when we come from different worship traditions. These people are my co-workers and bosses and customers. They are also my church away from church. A few people have assumed (and told me as much) that my “new ideas” are a direct result of my job. They’re not, for the record. I’ve had the same questions for decades but had largely buried them out of love and fear until I remembered that Love is supposed to cast out Fear.
And so God, in his wonderful timing, has finally walked me into a room that gives oxygen to such questioning. And oh, I get to earn a living at the same time. Score.
My WILD women
Again, this has been a development even before 2018 but in all this time of soul searching, truth-seeking and paradigm-shifting, I’ve become fast friends with three women in particular. Their wisdom, patience, authenticity, raw honesty, humour, shared pain, regrets, love, strength and courage have been most welcome in what has otherwise been a hugely alienating journey in my church life.
These women are old enough to be my mothers, each of them. And yet, as much accumulated knowledge and wisdom as they have collected… as much life experience as they have garnered, I am their equal and they are mine. It’s tremendously freeing to be unencumbered by ageism and to connect with these gorgeous human beings soul to soul; to recognise a shared purpose and common heritage, to understand that we come from different walks and generations without pulling rank, to love inclusively and more honestly as a result. The four of us are very different people but as much as the differences sometimes bemuse me (I wasn’t kidding when I say that we’re supremely different superficially), the honesty and humility are what ultimately win me over always. I am mad for these women.
I cannot possibly talk about 2018 without at least mentioning them, so intrinsic as they have been in my life and my Christian walk of late. And even though 2019 will mean that we will physically part ways, my hope and prayer is that we will continue to strengthen the ties that bind, and also forge new ones untainted or twisted by our present circumstances.
Even in Singapore, I have never been comfortable with the notion that people who are baptised and attend my church are “Christians” while churchgoers from Christian communities different to mine should be politely referred to as “other believers”. Growing up in PP, I’d been rather schizophrenic on this front, alternately hunkering down on the party line with bullish and searing determination, or else cringing when someone in the pulpit decides to rubbish other denominations. The latter became a particular bugbear when I started dating Christians of other ilk and traditions, and my discomfort with our exclusionist attitudes has only increased over the years along with the growing conviction that it is only God who gets to determine where the redemptive powers of His Grace start and end.
This conviction, along with the wilderness wandering I’ve taken of late, has thus prompted me to reach out and get to know other Christian groups around me. I’m not “leaving church”, nor have I “lost my faith” — indeed the first two questions out of people’s mouths as soon as they hear what I’m doing. The assumption inherent in both questions, of course, is that to wander is to be lost — and to be lost to God. But to quote a corny bumper sticker: not all who wander ARE lost. If anything, I’ll quote an even more bathetic saying now and assure you all that I’m wandering in order to find myself… And to find a more perfect fellowship with God and His broad church.
I had done this for a time when I was in my late teens, even going as far as attending other church camps. I had received so much flak even then from wandering from the nest that I eventually gave it up, if only to assuage my mother’s fears. But she’s dead now and so here I am once more, doing what I like to do unencumbered: talk to new people, exchange ideas, make friends, entertain the possibility that I might have been completely and utterly wrong on certain fronts, make necessary changes when it turns out I have. I love my mother, but I have to own my own faith. I’d always asked different questions, and processed and expressed my faith using different paintbrush strokes. It’s taken me a long time to pull away from feeling like I’m the Worst Daughter Ever and betraying her memory by pursuing this new direction with God. That somehow, I’ve confined us to different cells in God’s heavenly kingdom if I were to step away from the dance she showed me.
So far, I’ve worshipped God alongside Anglicans, Baptists, Pentecostals, and a few independent groups, one of which is post-Evangelical. I helped out at the Canberra Christian Women’s Convention (and promptly couldn’t attend it because I was in Singapore.) A group of us did House Church a couple of times. I was part of two women-only gatherings that were possibly the most edifying sessions I had all year.
I was especially moved when someone mentioned how their group had a two-week break and their “mission” was to worship God with other church groups and denominations, and then return to share what they found edifying about the way others approached God. And even if they didn’t find edification, to learn through dialogue with others how that worship service edified them.
In the end, it worked out that many in the congregation, harried parents of young children, really sought a time of deep reflection and meditation with God. And so they made roads to introduce such opportunities every now and then.
It was all done in such a spirit of humility and learning. There was no sense of competition, no agenda to prove that one way of doing things was superior to the other… just an acknowledgment that others seek Jesus diligently, even if differently. That change isn’t threatening but a natural and necessary component of growth. That God teaches and blesses in a multitude of ways.
At a time of tough questioning and genuine searching, I have found fellowship and even some answers in the unlikeliest of places. If that ain’t a God thing, I don’t know what is.
In spite of — even because of the frustrations and anguish in my church life, I’ve spoken more freely about my faith and frustrations than I have in years.
And maybe in spite of, or because of my rawness, I’ve had some truly empathetic and eye-opening heart to hearts with friends and acquaintances about their spirituality. Muslims. Deists. Atheists. Agnostics. Spiritual-but-unchurched Christians. A darling Buddhist friend who waxed lyrical about how secular Australian society needs to engage their spiritual selves in their everyday. She was genuinely excited about my being in the Christian theological education space, if only because it keeps spirituality in the national psyche and reminds us all of its relevance to human life and living. A Buddhist. I wanted to hug and kiss her, I was so wildly comforted.
As much as it’s been like pulling teeth on the personal church front, God is still good. And universal. And alive.
Arddun started with a new school this year, and it’s Catholic. I’d always been leery of Catholic schools (long, looooong story coupled with family baggage when it comes to Catholicism and general suspicion growing up in a fundamentalist protestant church.)
But honestly, it’s been a fabulous decision and one that I am quietly relieved over. It’s a smaller school with older and less sophisticated facilities, but the principal is fantastic and the community is wonderful. I loved the previous school Arddun was at as well and it remains a very good educational institution. But whether it’s her age or the way this school weaves in values education in their curriculum, I can really see how God is front and centre of their ethos, and how it rubs off on the children.
Sure, I’ve had to do a couple of adjustments (“We don’t do Mary in our house, darling.”) and there was an amusing moment when Arddun gravely informed me that she is the only Catholic in our family. (“I don’t think it means what you think it means, darling.”) But it’s a load off the heart to have Arddun in a school that accepts God as the beginning and end of life. She’s going to meet other perspectives about faith and God eventually — including atheism, of course — but I’d like her to be exposed to a life that includes and accepts spirituality, at least for a while.
The Boy is Toilet Trained. Ish.
Atticus is a busy little guy, so full of joy and mischief. He’s got gorgeous big Chinese eyes that well up too easily with giant tears when his lower lip starts to tremble. For the most part, he’s a happy chappy and provides much of the laughs in our household.
Still, it took him right up to almost his 4th birthday before he finally figured out how his internal plumbing works. And even now, he can get so busy and enthralled with his trains etc that he totally forgets to take himself to the toilet. Febreeze is my friend.
New Year’s Resolutions can often act like a bit of a curse: as soon as I articulate them, it’s like I’ve set myself up to fail somehow.
But here’s some things I hope to do, change and/or to continue.
- Broaden my fellowship — I’m going to continue to worship with other groups alongside the folks at Weston. The idea that we have to belong to one kind of fellowship only… it’s tribalistic and it’s learned and I’m no longer convinced it’s biblical.
- Celebrate my 40th in Singapore. You heard me.
- Carve out a better routine on weekends with the kids — They’re growing so fast and as with all good intentions, no meaningful work can really get done unless there’s an action plan stuck to it. Our weekends tend to drift after the set activities like dancing and swimming. I need to be more purposeful with the kids, so I can be more purposeful with my alone time as well.
- Continue questioning — I have a stack of topics I’m exploring, including the different perspectives on baptism and its relation to grace and salvation; the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven, whether it’s already established, in part, here on earth and if so, All The Implications for Christians; the Triune God and the theory of the eternal subordination of the Son; and biblical literalism and inerrancy. The last topic is a doozy, and really, really fascinating. In some ways, I’ve learnt more about the Old Testament in one year than I have in all the decades I’ve been exposed to church doctrine.
- Get back to writing — I’ve had a longish hiatus now, and I miss writing. Also, I just got a new MacBook Pro. No more lag!
- Get involved — whether it’s helping out in discrete projects run by other parachurch organisations, or learning how to use (long suppressed) God-given gifts among other Christian communities, I’m game.
- Be free — “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” There comes a point when constant rejection and disappointment becomes the canker that poisons all other good. I feel the festering, the constant roil of indignation, of being “hard done by”, of the death of my spirit by a thousand papercuts. I feel most of all betrayed and disappointed, deeply wounded and stupidly naive to have hoped for and expected a different outcome. No more. 2019 — the year I turn 40 — can be a different year. Onward and upward. And if I cannot bring them along with me, I will move nevertheless. The lighter my load, the easier journey. Besides, Bitterness is a heavy sonofabitch.
Sorry I didn’t write more about the children or the husband. Maybe next time.