Recently, I had the pleasure of a long-overdue coffee with a sister in Christ and she mentioned how churches need both “progressives” and “conservatives” in order to thrive. “Too many Progressives”, goes the theory, “and we’re always changing and moving but sacrifice tradition.” Too many Conservatives, it goes to follow, “and we’re set in our ways and never make good changes.”Continue reading “Unpacking righteousness and our individual versions of morality”
“When the wise men saw the star, they were filled with joy. They came to the house where the child was and saw him with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. They opened their gifts and gave him treasures of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
Until the sermon on Sunday, I’d never really wondered about the significance of the gifts that the Wise Men brought.
(Growing up in a Fundy church, we seemed more focused on the number of Wise Men than the reason behind their gifts. The thinking went that traditional and commercial imagery usually depicts three wise men on donkeys when in actual fact, the gospels are silent on the actual number of men who showed up. When brought up, it was a lesson in my church about not presuming or adding to Scripture what God is silent about. I’d argue that there are more interesting lessons to glean from these ancient baby gifts, honestly.)
Interestingly, there are several possibilities for the three gifts. It could just be the “done thing” at the time — you meet a new baby, you give money and spices. Other reasons include the medicinal properties behind the spices as a symbolic and practical gift for the longevity of both mother and child, and the practical thing of giving money to a pair of refugees on the run from Mad King Herod. (Note to self: best to steer clear of Herod as a baby name.) Yet another interpretation is that the three were standard gifts for kings and deities in the ancient world.
In fact, these same three items were apparently among the gifts, recorded in ancient inscriptions, that King Seleucus II Callinicus offered to the god Apollo at the temple in Miletus in 243 B.C.E. The Book of Isaiah, when describing Jerusalem’s glorious restoration, tells of nations and kings who will come and “bring gold and frankincense and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord” (Isaiah 60:6).Why Did the Magi Bring Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh? https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/why-did-the-magi-bring-gold-frankincense-and-myrrh/
Also, check out this nerd chart:
On a separate but related note, hearing a reflection on the birth of Christ from a woman brings a slightly different flavour, I thought. As women, and particularly women who’ve been through childbirth, there is a kind of empathy in the retelling. Coincidentally (or not), there was a dedication on the day where a family brought their very smiley baby to the front, and the church pledged in unison to support this family as they bring up this child in the Lord.
It was wonderful to see both men and women contributing to the service, something they probably take for granted by now, and yet so empowering for someone like me to watch. Yes, there really is a sense of completeness when there are literally different voices heard from the front — men, women, and children. As grand as the building was (it’s a historical building with the stained glass windows and the vaulted high ceiling), somehow the fellowship was cosy, the music and singing loud and sincere (oh the lyrics! some of them were just breathtaking), their minds set on higher things. Of course, every church will have its problems and I am coming in cold as an observer, newly burnt and bruised from current troubles. “Anything but this, anywhere but here” is almost my desperate plea for a better 2019.
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.Continue reading “So what’s next”
I’ve been on a small Facebook fast. It started out as a cold-turkey thing that eventually evolved into a 5:2 diet.
I’m driving. Atticus has a full tummy, and is gurgling at the view zipping behind him in reverse. Arddun is strapped in the seat directly behind mine, her awareness of her whereabouts, the general geography of Canberra, the routes we take, the slightest departure from routine ever minutely recorded and questioned.
Ever growing, ever impressive, ever exhausting.
It’s 60kmh down Northbourne Avenue, plenty of time to discuss where we’re going.
“Where are we going now, Mummy?”
“We are going to the Singapore High Commission.”
She chews on that for a few seconds. It’s dinner time, and we are not at home. She notes the quick sinking of the sun, grows a little excited that we are deviating from the norm.
“We are going to see Grandma Singapore?” She turns to a toy companion immediately to give her the news. “We are going to see my Grandma!”
“Er… no, darlin’. We are going to the Singapore High Commission. It’s a different place.”
“Where is Grandma Singapore?”
“Are we going to her house?”
I pause. Do I tackle the bit about venues, or do I tackle the bit about the afterlife. Decisions.
“Because she doesn’t live in the Singapore High Commission. We are going there for dinner. There’s going to be lots of yummy food! Are we going to try new things tonight?”
“And then,” she continues, “We are going to Grandma Singapore’s house.”
So we are back to that.
“Will she have beds ready for us?”
“Does she have a house?”
“Probably. A very big one, I think.” (Will you please turn your hymnals with me to “I got a mansion just over the hilltop”.)
“She’ll have beds for us,” Arddun decides confidently.
“We are not going to her house.”
“Because it’s in heaven.”
“Where is heaven?”
“It’s outside this world.”
“OOOOOHHHHH!” she cries, as if that finally makes complete sense. And then,
“Are we in the world, Mummy?”
“Then where is Grandma’s house?”
“Out of this world.”
“Does she have a dog?”
I give a short bark of laughter. And then think about it in earnest. Dogs don’t have souls, but maybe that isn’t the way to tackle that question for now.
“Probably not,” I reply slowly. “Grandma doesn’t like dogs.”
“Oooohhh…” I imagine her nodding wisely. And then, confidentially,
“Heaven doesn’t have elephants.”
“No. It has squirrels.”
“Yes,” my sagacious four-year-old replies. “And cats. And some dogs. But not elephants.”
Atticus’s latest party trick is to fight bedtime from 7pm to 9pm, and then wake up at 2 or 3 am to fight sleep for another two hours.
And while he gets to catch up with his beauty sleep in the day, I of course do not get that luxury because I have this whole other child to stay functional for.
This is why I look like this lately:
Christian women are told a lot that they should aspire to that wonder woman in Proverbs 31 who, among other things,
- is a savvy property magnate,
- probably could win the annual Great British Sewing Bee if she was
- a) British, and
- b) had wool, flax, linen and something called a distaff at her disposal, and
- feeds the needy.
She also has a slew of female servants whom she apparently dresses up in fiendishly expensive garments, and she tarts up pretty well herself. She apparently likes purple. Woman after my own heart.
In the past, every other criterion had me going, “Yep, yep, doable, doable…”. All except for the sewing (no talents or inclination there), and that bit where she “gets up while it is still night” to provide for her family. As someone who is more night owl than daybreak do-gooder, that wake-up time used to intimidate me. It used to be the one thing that shamed me about my work ethic – the fact that I’m not a morning person.
Then I had Atticus, and the truth finally dawns on me: Proverbs 31 Wonder Woman isn’t sub-human. She’s just a mother of a baby boy who friggin’ won’t sleep through the night.
I am definitely getting up while it is still night to provide sustenance and comfort to this family member. It’s been 8 months and counting. And while I know you’re not supposed to compare your children, I just want to explain that this has all been a rude shock for me because Arddun had slept from 7 to 7 every day since she was 4 months old.
Never underestimate the soul-sapping realities of chronically broken sleep, people.
Because of the hours we keep, I haven’t been able to blog. Or write. Or pore over my roles in several church-related projects. Ironically, I haven’t been able to do what I’ve been meaning to do for months – get more organised by waking up at 5am every day. Staying ahead of the game by carving out some early morning time when I’m fresh and the batteries are fully charged, so I can write and meditate and think. So I can jump in the shower before the kids awake. So that I’m ready and able when the day officially begins.
But it’s nigh impossible to wake up at 5am every day, when I’m lucky if I get back to sleep at 4:30am after spending 2½ hours settling Atticus. And it’s incredibly frustrating when I wake up to find half the morning over, but my body is still weary and yearning for sleep.
And in case you are wondering, yes we’ve been trying controlled crying, no it doesn’t seem to be working – in fact, it seems to be getting worse. It isn’t for want of steel and effort, folks. I’m not running into the room at every whimper. But this boy has determination, stamina, and a set of lungs that would make a howler monkey think, “Hot dang!” Meanwhile, I feel guilty about possibly frying precious baby neurons in the process, and I feel defensive about the youngest member of our family turning dictator of our nights. Even while I believe that we should give our babies every reassurance of love. Even while I am patently aware that the sleeps of my husband and firstborn are also at stake. Even while I wonder if the concept of “sparing the rod = spoiling the child” should even apply this early. Even while I believe that our children shouldn’t become the all-consuming focal point of our marriage. Even while I suspect that my health is important too.
I know this is a passing season, and perhaps I’m being unrealistic about the number of outcomes I’d like to knock out of the park while mothering two young children. But right now, I just feel like my whole day revolves around this boy when I need to pack So Many Other Things in my day yet I can’t, because I have no reserves left.
They say that I have to treasure these days because he won’t stay my baby forever. That these lonely stretches with him, just the two of us alone in the dark, me cold, exhausted, and – dare I say it – bored out of my mind, are actually precious, fleeting times. I know this. But gee, a part of me would really like my body back.
He’s still a very cute kid, though. And innocent. And I love him to bits.
(Want my body back!)
Love him to bits.
I grew up without a father for most of my life, but I’ve always had several father figures. There were many to be found within the church I grew up with in Singapore, and God has this wonderful way of providing different ones at each stage of my life.
My children are deeply loved by their daddy, but they are also very blessed to grow up around other men of character. On Sunday, anticipating a mini milestone, I took my camera along so I could introduce you to some of the men in Atticus’s life.
Arddun, for reasons only her young heart knows, refers to Liz as Aunty Liz but to Raymond as Mr. Ray. Even as a baby, Arddun has never been afraid of his big bushy beard and loud, hearty laugh. I still have fond memories of Arddun reaching out tentatively to pat his bristly chin like it were a curiosity. He may look a very little bit like Gimli from LOTR (or a garden gnome, depending on beard length) and in many ways, he can be just as courageous in fighting for what is right. Always generous, always opinionated, deeply in love with God, Raymond is a teddy bear.
And Atticus adores him.
Before children, I was never one of those at church who would scan the room for cuddly babies. And on looking back, I wish I had been because at the very least, I could have provided something that many mothers of young babies are always thankful for – a bit of reprieve from baby, just so they can sit down for 5 minutes with a hot cup of tea for a change.
Peter is another gentle man in Atticus’s life. He just loves children, and Atticus has been a great and ever-willing beneficiary of his cuddles and walks around the room during our Sunday morning teas. I love watching someone else light up when they see a child of mine.
Mark has three children of his own, two of whom Arddun loves playing with on Sundays. Miles (the youngest), I’m eyeing off as a playmate for Atticus in the years to come.
Being a father of two boys has also called on some resourcefulness when it comes to haircuts. Thanks to YouTube, Mark has learnt to cut his own boys’ hair. And with Atticus’s own wispy baby strands now falling over his eyes, I’d called on Mark to exercise some YouTube hair-cutting wizardry.
I woke up this morning to find an article on Brain Pickings that seemed to crystalise at once my many strands of recent reflections and ah-hahs. There was so much that resonated in that article so I’ll give a taster, but I sincerely hope you read the rest because it places a finger right where it’s most tender and sore in the world we live in.
(A)lthough kindness is the foundation of all spiritual traditions and was even a central credo for the father of modern economics, at some point in recent history, kindness became little more than an abstract aspiration, its concrete practical applications a hazardous and vulnerable-making behavior to be avoided…
The most paradoxical part of the story is that for most of our civilizational history, we’ve seen ourselves as fundamentally kind and held kindness as a high ideal of personhood. Only in recent times… did the ideal of independence and self-reliance become the benchmark of spiritual success.
Today it is only between parents and children that kindness is expected, sanctioned, and indeed obligatory… Kindness — that is, the ability to bear the vulnerability of others, and therefore of oneself — has become a sign of weakness (except of course among saintly people, in whom it is a sign of their exceptionality)… All compassion is self-pity, D. H. Lawrence remarked, and this usefully formulates the widespread modern suspicion of kindness: that it is either a higher form of selfishness (the kind that is morally triumphant and secretly exploitative) or the lowest form of weakness (kindness is the way the weak control the strong, the kind are only kind because they haven’t got the guts to be anything else).
Eddie Legg, during his recent visit in Canberra with his lovely family, had mentioned how he had done a dipstick survey one Sunday morning during a sermon. I wasn’t there in Perth, of course, but this is my best understanding of what happened: when asked if they seek help from others, a fraction of the congregation had put up hands. All of those who did had been of foreign extraction – they were neither born nor bred in Australia.
That’s right. None of the Australians had raised their hands.
It’s unfair to generalise of course, but even in my short 12-year experience here, I have found the same. Australians are kind, by and large. Big hearts, big hands that help. But many are very reluctant to accept help rendered in kindness. The Galatians admonition to “bear your own load” is one that Australians take seriously, whether they’re Christian or not. And the concept of rugged individualism (as opposed to collectivism) is something that runs deep and strong in Western ethos and pathos, whether or not they’re Liberal/Republican or Labor/Democrat.
We find our own way, we make our own way. “Can you bear it? Can you take it?” “I got it, I got it, I got it!”
I say “we” because in this regard, I’ve always identified more strongly with “Western” ideals than “Eastern” ones. In fact, most Singaporeans do. Singapore is a society that largely believes that hard work pays off, and if you’re not successful in this world it’s because you couldn’t hack it. (Subsets of our society can also be very eager to dispense advice without taking it. I’m talking about the I-don’t-know-you-but-I-need-to-tell-you-you’re-fat Aunty culture that I simultaneously love and loathe.)
But the Singapore fabric is still largely cut out of close family ties and the reliance on relations and domestic helpers for assistance. The village is still alive and kicking, intrusive and kind. And above all, allowed in.
It is with all this in mind that I’ve come to assess how I parent.
In the last week and a half, I’ve had three friends tell me (in mostly admiring and incredulous tones) that they couldn’t believe I’m mothering two young children on my own. This is to say, no maids, no family, just us. Between Tony and I, we cook, we clean, we parent. We juggle a house sale while building another. In telling you this, it sounds like the humble brag, and maybe it is a little. I am proud of our little family and our resilience. Personally, I’m almost relieved that I’m holding up; my house is mostly clean, the kids are still alive and healthy, the husband is fed, the nitty-gritty of selling, packing for, and building houses dealt with in between school drop-offs and play dates.
I know we can do this by the grace of God because we are allowed to have good health and a stable income (for now). And because He knows what an obstinate cow I can be, my inner rebel has been given the most benign outlet: that of co-managing my own household without maid or kin.
Thing is, what I do isn’t extraordinary by Australian standards, not really. Because of its huge land mass, many nuclear families are separated from their relations. For us, the medium-term plan had always been for my mother to live in Canberra while I go back to work. Tony’s parents are ensconced in Queensland with his other two siblings, although we love their frequent visits. Domestic live-in helpers are not affordable, and contracted house cleaners are a luxury. Childcare fees in Canberra easily surpass $100 a day. In fact, childcare fees are a crazy balancing act; earn too little, and it’s not worth going back to work.
It is against this backdrop that Tony and I are flying solo. That said, we have an excellent community of church and mother’s group. But like other Australian families around us, we feel that we need to “bear our own load” without counting too much on others. Even though I’m pretty sure others would jump at the chance to help us.
There is a cost for this self-reliance, this stoic resilience. There always is. There is the physical toll – Tony and I don’t exercise much, if at all. I haven’t slept for more than 7 hours in consecutive days in years – until recently, I’d been operating on a daily average of 5 hours’ sleep. There are spiritual ramifications; all this self-reliance has made me more insular, introverted, and distant from God.
And then there’s my capacity for compassion.
In the last little while, ever since Atticus’s birth, I’ve been growing uneasy about my relationship with Arddun. And yes, I know she’s turned 4. She’s developed a more independent will as she tests the walls of her boundaries. She dreams more, negotiates more, rebels more. All that.
But I haven’t been kind.
With the birth of Atticus, all the stereotypes seem to be rushing to the fore because suddenly, Arddun is the Big Girl. She is the older, the elder, and suddenly much is expected of her. I find myself less tolerant of her childish foibles. I want, need her to pick up some of the slack. In parenting circles (and especially in Christian ones), we talk about teaching responsibility and other-centredness. And it sounds good on paper, and maybe that’s true of the intention.
But oh, there are days when my reserves are low. When I can feel myself running on empty. And it can be a culmination of things – housework undone, packing undone, decluttering unaccomplished, husband not doing what you think in your mind he ought to be doing in the sequence your OCD brain has determined without actually communicating the same to him. Because, you know, we are one flesh. Why shouldn’t he read my mind and know better? All that.
But the trigger point ends up being something Arddun does. Like picking at her dinner for 90 minutes. And then before I can even reason some perspective within myself, my tongue lashes and she bears the brunt of a day’s frustration.
And oh the regret after.
I seldom see myself as a kind person. Kindness doesn’t come naturally to me, because I am a selfish person. I really have to make an effort, almost plan to be kind to others. I have to sit there are diarise it.
But until I had kids, I had never realised how Unkind I can be.
In flying solo, I wonder if I’ve willfully bitten off more than I should chew. All things are allowable, but not all things are profitable. Just because I can, doesn’t mean I should. I don’t know what I can change, but I know I need to change some things. Carving out time to sit and distill through writing and praying is one way to start.
My dearest girl, today I resolve to do better by you. xx