Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places



{Thursday’s Three Thank-yous} Ye merry gentle men

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.

1) Raymond

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.

Atticus and Raymond seeing eye to eye

Raymond tickling Atticus

2) Peter

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.

Peter with Atticus

3) Mark

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.

Atticus eating arrowroot biscuit in highchair
Arrowroot biscuits, a fabulous distraction for a first-ever haircut!





Atticus's face getting squished during haircut


Atticus with Mark
A handsome result. Thank you, Uncle Mark, for taming my unruly baby locks! Can you YouTube how to build a cubby house next?

The kind of parent, the kind parent

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

{Monday Me} In the eyes of the beholder

I can’t remember where I read it, but a blogging mother recently dared to post a picture of herself that her son took. It wasn’t a flattering shot. She was lying in the sun in her bathing costume, one arm thrown over her face at an awkward angle, and a very white bare leg in all its post-pregnancy cellulite splendour stretched out front and centre.

Why did her son take that shot, right at that precise angle, in that unguarded moment? Was it to prank his mum? Embarrass her? Build some counter-ammo for that proverbial threat about silly stories making it to the 21st birthday speech?

No. He had taken it because he thought she looked beautiful. Out there, resting and relaxed in the sun.

I don’t know if Arddun had thought I looked beautiful when she took this one, but this is my unguarded-moment photo that I’m rather embarrassed about:

Velle changing Atticus's nappy in bedroom

EEEEEAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH! Avert your eyes!!! Do you see it? DO YOU SEE IT? My muffin top! My post-pregnancy, too-much-chocolate-too-many-late-nights-too-tired-to-exercise muffin top. The secret body of a woman who doesn’t live in Hollywood (or Asia) and who grew and birthed a 9-pound bubba 7 months ago. My body hasn’t bounced back, and my preschooler outted my disgrace with her new camera.

Except all she saw was her mummy doing a diaper change. All she captured was my joy with the mundane. That look on my face was one of surprise and pleasure — I was thrilled that she was starting to get the hang of her camera, and touched that she wanted to take photos of me. In fact, she took lots of photos of me because she adores me. Just as I take lots of my children because I can’t take my eyes off them.

She sees my body, cellulite and all, every day. They both do. But they don’t see the stretch marks, the bags under the eyes, the freckles. They don’t look at my body and think that I’m fat. They don’t wish I have a sharper nose or a butt that looks great in jeans. They don’t think I’m ugly. I’m Mummy. I have pretty hair. I give good cuddles and tickly kisses. I sing silly songs. I am like no other.

In a sermon two Sundays ago, Paul had suggested that we do massive clean-ups of our house before guests come over, all because of pride. And I had disagreed out loud – mostly because I do massive clean-ups because I’m trying to spare our guests having to wade through our filth (imagined or real). But there is an element of pride – of course there is. We want to be seen as put-together. Civilised. In control of our environment.

And it’s the same with our bodies – we don’t want to seem slothful. Slovenly. Ill-disciplined.

Being Chinese puts me in a slightly more *unique* position than my non-Chinese friends in Australia because my body is always held to a higher standard in some ways. For whenever I meet an Asian woman – even a complete stranger – there’s more than half a chance that she will comment on my body. I’ve been told I looked fat and that I should get a corset a mere fortnight after giving birth, while my body was still swollen from shock and water retention. I’ve been warned that I shouldn’t let myself go (the inference being that I already have). For my birthday this year, I had bought myself a full-length navy blue dress peppered with sweet yellow-white flowers, with an empire waistline. I absolutely love it because it’s pretty and comfortable… but every other time I’ve worn it, some Chinese woman somewhere was bound to pat my tummy (for real) and ask if I was pregnant and if not, that I therefore needed to lose weight. Never mind that I was jiggling an infant in a pram while they were doing and saying so.

It’s almost enough to develop an eating disorder.

I’m almost used to it now. It’s definitely cultural, this kneejerk reaction to tell another woman why she isn’t trying hard enough. And it’s not just looks – it goes into childrearing, housekeeping, you name it. But the looks are where it starts, because it’s the first and most obvious thing when you meet another person. I don’t know why my culture perpetuates this cycle of women crushing other women with the weight of vanity and expectation, even with those we love. I know it’s very seldom done maliciously. I know it’s done unconsciously.

(Or perhaps it happens in all cultures, except Asians lack subtlety. Certainly true, if the nastiness of parenting forums are anything to go by.)

I don’t know. I suspect the Looks thing has a lot to do with vanity and that notion of Saving Face that is endemic to our culture. And my shame in showing others my flabby bits is part and parcel of all that. But I reckon if I see myself through the same lens that my children use, I’d be a lot happier with myself and my body. And in turn, I’d be teaching my son and daughter valuable lessons about looking right past the outsides so they can recognise true love and real beauty.

Here’s to breaking free.

Ten Years

Ten years ago,

Kiss at wedding
We chose each other to be family

Since then, we’ve cooked in three kitchens

Kitchens montage

Travelled to Singapore so many times we’ve lost count

Singapore montage

Gallivanted through parts of Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales

Travel montage

Farewelled two loved onesPhotos of Mum and Cuz

Made two beautiful babies

Children montage

Loved and laughed

couple montage

We didn’t get much chance to make it a big celebration this anniversary. Visits from family overseas and interstate was one reason. And then there was the rather tiny matter of birthing a whole other human being and being severely sleep-deprived as a result.

And yes, part of me wants to knuckle down and get real Deep and Meaningful about my marriage at this time of year. Part of me wants the big fanfare to mark this significant milestone. Ten years! It should mean something. I want to tell him how he’s changed me. I want to tell him how I never want some things about him to ever change. I want to tell you that there were rough bits and boring bits and tough bits, but they were few and far, faaar between the absolute comfort and joy and love and certainty and assurance I get to enjoy every day. Every. Day.

It’s been a real privilege being a wife and from that, a mother. Ten years! Thank you, God.

Bouquet of red roses
120 red roses over 10 years
Arddun playing with knife and fork
Some percussion entertainment while we wait for our anniversary lunch to arrive

Arddun close up

Atticus sleeping in capsule
Sleeping prince while we wait for the food to arrive
Arddun's apple juice
Arddun’s la-di-da apple juice


Arddun's gourmet carbonara lunch
Arddun’s gourmet carbonara lunch
Tony with long glass of beer
The man whose name I took as my own
Long glass of beer
Enjoying a long glass of ice cold

Close up of Tony's ring


Happy 10th Anniversary, Tony. I love you.

Photo of Tony Velle silhouette

Motherhood Mundanity and Monotony

Again, lots of wispy strands of thought that seem to belong to a common thread but I have trouble pinning them down. I think that’s why I blog (or write) as often as I do. It’s one of the quickest ways to ground myself.

I’m talking about the day-to-day of motherhood. It doesn’t matter if I’m playing stay-at-home mum or go-to-work mum or work-from-home mum… It is all too easy to fall into a pattern of things. Weeks pass into months, which string into years. Traditions get formed, the annual calendar gets that little more rigid with each passing year and somehow, we hum along.

It takes awareness and, at times, tremendous effort to conscientiously resist the ordinary.

I am torn between fighting the usual and embracing the constant. I wonder which of the two reflects the more contented heart without slipping into treacherous complacency or hooking onto selfish ambition. At heart, as much as I love my lists and my systems, I’m still a woman who adores surprises and thrives on spontaneity. But is that the most loving expectation to heap onto others around me?

I’m thinking of all these things because Boy Blob’s Birth is imminent. And with all of that preciousness comes the spit-ups and the cleaning and the washing and the napping. The training and the cooking and the diapering and the playing. And yes, we can plan holidays and yes, we can try and break things up. The odd family outing on a school night. The long weekend away. At some point late next year, it might be nice to fly back to Singapore to introduce Boy Blob to friends and family. And if I’m perfectly honest, I’d LOVE for once to go on a proper overseas holiday that was just about us and not about visiting friends and family.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

But for the most part – and especially with Arddun now entering Big School – our calendar seems carved out for us. And with it, predictability and sameness.

Parents on the other side of life’s spectrum are known to urge younger parents to treasure the moments while we have them. Because it really can feel like you’ve blinked and missed it. It’s one of the key reasons I started this blog – because it’s the quickest way for me to document the Now, to scrapbook our moments, to freeze-frame our life and times.

But in the thick of things, in the throes of mundanity… When you’re vacuuming the same floor for the hundred thousandth time, and repeating yourself about Manners to your toddler. When you have to talk to the banks before they close, but your daughter wants to start painting her masterpiece — and only with you by her side cheering her on. When there’s a nappy blow-out. When there’s foot-stamping tempers. When dinners refused to be eaten.

When chronos drags on, boring as heck at times, and the kairos can be hard to recognise.

It is enough, some days, to make me seriously question why I didn’t opt for a more high-octane, extraordinary life. Were all those years of book-learning and God-given talent-honing meant to culminate to this suburban tedium?

Have I copped out? Am I not fulfilling my potential?

These are almost sacrilegious thoughts when you are a mother, but they exist. At least for me.

And then I found this quote on Through a Glass:

“But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.”

Motherhood, life. Seemingly an endless chain of ever-changing routines. You get good at one stage and settle into sameness, and then it changes and you scramble for homeostasis. Rinse, repeat. But the truth is, as much as I may secretly wonder about the value of this ordinary life, I also yearn for equilibrium and tranquility. Because within all of that, there can be so much joy and wonder and growth and opportunity.

Another great quote from another great blog:

I remember that my goal in life is not to be happy. Or organized. Or on time. It is to be holy. To that end, God has orchestrated every circumstance of every day for my own good, to draw me nearer to Himself and to change me into His likeness. Every circumstance has my refinement in mind, even motherhood. Especially motherhood.

Because it is in motherhood that I have the opportunity not only to be like Christ, but to demonstrate Christ to my children. Day after day, under this roof with these children, I have the opportunity to be Jesus passing out the leftovers, Jesus holding babies and breaking up arguments, Jesus washing stinky feet, Jesus who is never too busy to be touched, never too busy to be needed. I even have the opportunity to be Jesus, filled with power and overcoming this world of spilled milk and spaghetti stains, if I let him.

The slow, plodding things aren’t the obstacles to my happiness. Missing the Shiny for what it is, is the greater tragedy. And I have it real good.

I want to exult in monotony.

B1 staring at kiwi fruits
What do I see? (a) Kitchen bench-top clutter to clear, or (b) B1 grinning stupidly at a plastic cage of kiwi fruits.
Arddun grinning with stickers on face
The face that upended my prior ambitions

This Christian’s response to Halloween

It’s the 31st of October, and I’ve got something big on my mind – the final settlement of my birth home in Singapore, the flat my mother and aunt grew up in. But to the rest of the western world, it’s about something far more entertaining – Halloween.

Australia isn’t real big on the Halloween shindig. Part of it is due to the Aussie aversion to anything they perceive as overtly American, and part of it just got left out of its immigrant DNA way back when British settlers arrived, all newly buttoned up and Victorianised. As to its origins, there is a little argy-bargy there too. Some say it was a pagan festival made Christian (like Christmas and Easter – which also have debatable origins, by the way). Others say both early Christian and pagan festivals co-existed before they got merged when Christianity moved through Europe. Mostly out of expediency, because both festival dates were so close.

The name “Halloween” comes from the All Saints Day celebration of the early Christian church, a day set aside for the solemn remembrance of the martyrs. All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints Day, began the time of remembrance. “All Hallows Eve” was eventually contracted to “Hallow-e’en,” which became “Halloween.”

As Christianity moved through Europe it collided with indigenous pagan cultures and confronted established customs. Pagan holidays and festivals were so entrenched that new converts found them to be a stumbling block to their faith. To deal with the problem, the organized church would commonly move a distinctively Christian holiday to a spot on the calendar that would directly challenge a pagan holiday. The intent was to counter pagan influences and provide a Christian alternative. But most often the church only succeeded in “Christianizing” a pagan ritual—the ritual was still pagan, but mixed with Christian symbolism. That’s what happened to All Saints Eve—it was the original Halloween alternative!

Why am I telling you all this? Because this morning, Arddun finally got to wear her Spider Witch costume – the one with the pointy hat. It’s Halloween dress-up at school today, not that Arddun would have understood its debated Christo-Pagan origins, nor cared. If Spider Pig

  • was a costume that sold in Big W for $12, and
  • included a pointy hat

Arddun would have gone to school as Spider Pig. Because that would have been funnier. And I like funny.

But today, she went to school as a pink spider witch.

Arddun dressed as Spider Witch

On Facebook today, I’m getting a weird mix of Halloween costume selfies and groupies, and a couple of rather upset feeds decrying this pagan festival and its growing encroachment into Australian culture. And while the former is largely to be expected and can be quite entertaining, it’s the latter types that are perplexing me.

Because they seem to be saying – repeatedly – that as a Christian mother, I’m being spiritually remiss in allowing my daughter to participate in these festivities.

I’ve thought about Halloween in passing through my Christian walk, and I’ve had at least three years to think about my convictions on the subject in earnest since I became a mother. So yes, the decision to get Arddun a Halloween costume was hardly a flippant one.

Of course, there are a few elements to Halloween (as it tends to be celebrated) that I take issue with. The sexualising of costumes as children get older, for instance. The fact that Halloween adult parties can rapidly descend to drunken debauchery in certain circles. The greed and sense of entitlement that can come about. (Had quite a few kids expect candies from our house, but didn’t think to prepare a trick when we didn’t have any. They just wanted the lollies and were miffed we were such killjoys. Actually, we forgot.)

The thing is, all of these are within the parents’ control – certainly in the very early years. As with anything, moderation and consistent teaching are required. Manners when approaching someone’s home. Stranger danger and safety. Values surrounding modesty while still maintaining fun. Arddun is not going trick-or-treating this year because I think she’s still too young to be exposed to that many lollies. But that’s a personal judgement call. I think it’s actually a wonderful way to foster neighbourliness, and she’d love it. And maybe we’ll do it next year.

The verses that many Christians often quote to underline the evils of Halloween are as follows:

There shall not be found among you anyone…who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord (Deuteronomy 18: 10-13)

Except why limit that to just Halloween? Don’t we need to be vigilant at ALL times? In such an overwhelmingly secular society as Australia, the religious/pagan element of Halloween has been neutered by supermarket commercialism. And yet, think of other forms of literature we’ve exposed our children to.

  • Harry Potter (witches and wizards, spells, Dark Lord with No Nose)
  • Sleeping Beauty (one really ticked off sorceress or fairy)
  • Snow White (witch/sorceress)
  • Hansel and Gretel (witch)
  • Cinderella (fairy godmother with fashion spells and lousy curfew)
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (vampires, ghouls, monsters, werewolves, you-name-it-they’ve-covered-it including bringing Buffy back from Heaven)
  • Frozen (Elsa’s floaty arms are pretty spell-binding.)
  • Lord of the Rings (Sauron, wizards, elves)
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Christian allegory with… a white witch)
  • Enid Blyton (witches, wizards)

Ironically, the only times I’d encountered anything remotely resembling Deuteronomy 18 was when I did door-to-door evangelism in Singapore, and knocked on the doors of a few bomohs and Chinese mediums. Believe me folks, it wasn’t Halloween – it was broad daylight – and there were no scary costumes or candy. But my skin prickled and my hairs stood on end in a way I’d never experienced before. Nor ever want to again.

My faith in Christ is my victory. In Him, there is no darkness and I am under His protection. If I honestly believe that – and I do – then I believe that I can cautiously and intelligently allow my daughter to enjoy this day of dress-up, just as I’ve allowed her to read about Hansel and Gretel, and pretend to be Elsa making a magic living snowman. All while still teaching her who God is.

Also, here’s a really sensible take on Christian responsibility during Halloween.

Values: the life blocks, the moral foundation

We just ended this excellent series at bible class on how we communicate to family members. Amongst many other things, the series involved identifying our personal styles and reactions in times of conflict, and having a look at other historical examples in the bible. I am kicking myself at the moment because I’d stored my notes from 2 weeks ago in a real safe place… which of course now means I can’t find them. But I did remember that the first question on the top of the list had to do with personal values.

It was something along the lines of,

Have your told your family what your personal values are?

It’s a great question, at least for me. Mostly because I have no idea what my personal values are, much less thought about articulating it to my family of origin, or to Tony and Arddun. It’s also a great question because it highlights that most fundamental assumption that trips all of us up: just because we’re in the same family, doesn’t mean we all inhabit the same attitudes and exhibit the same behaviours.

It’s like common sense in housework. It’s not actually that common. So if that’s tricky enough to determine sometimes, then we need to start talking out loud about what we think our personal and family values are.

A quick look around the interweb has produced a number of familiar and less familiar examples. More than anything, I’m awed and rather ashamed that I had never thought to do this.

In This House
I’ve seen this around. Like it, but only two out of three of us do Loud really well. And even then, I’ve mellowed lots.
Steele Family
Ooohhh I like this one
Family words rather than values per se
Something more abstract. Not sure that I care for this “Tag Cloud” style
One-word family values list
Also like this one
Homemade family values flower
Clearly, there were SEVERAL family meetings and a parenting textbook/workbook attached to this one. Wow!
Christian Vanilla
The Christian Comprehensive approach
We Are Kind
The Focused approach
Jennings family values
I thought I recognised the handwriting!!! I’ve seen that poster before!!! #kjennings #whilerandomlygoogling

Of course, articulating family values is something that needs to be discussed and agreed on, and not just cobbled together by me, the overenthusiastic part-time SAHM. But even before I’m ready to go broach the subject with Tony (and Tony, my love, consider the subject already partially broached!) I need to work out what it is that I value.

I’m still working through the list, but I thought I’d start with what I already do. I think we ALL like to think that we champion huge concepts all the time like Love, Justice, Loyalty, Kindness, Purity, Courage. And we aspire to be diligent and successful in areas like Health, Beauty, Finances. Still, I think we all know that attitudes don’t speak the loudest – actions do.  So here’s what I’ve come up with so far this week, based partly on what I spend my heart on. And I’m sure there’s more to come.

My Personal Values (that I’ve come to recgonise anyway)

I value continual self improvement, hard work, and the desire to reach my full potential

This one took a while for me to get to, especially the bit about reaching my full potential. I think we get constantly inundated with the World’s vision of how someone reaches their full potential. They get a Nobel Peace Prize, for instance. Climb a mountain. Start a company. Become a celebrity. Write a book. Write 10 books. Work 85 hours a week. Have 7 children, foster 10 more, adopt 3. Basically spend every waking moment Living and Doing, in the hopes of becoming the best version of themselves.

I believe it’s no coincidence that I choose to be a Christian. It’s also not a coincidence that I choose to blog. The former requires a lifetime of a renewing of the mind, and the unlearning of old ways while putting on Christ. The latter is one of my means of documenting the process, and checking in. My problem is finishing – I’m not great at that. But I do genuinely seek to do better, and I do spend quite a bit of time examining my faith, my actions, and my shortcomings. Which is why I’m constantly goal-setting (but still suck at seeing some of it through). And also, I get REAL excited putting together a 23-step program to get me there. That’s probably the funnest bit for me.

I value Discernment, Sagacity, Temperate Judgement

This one came about because I’m increasingly aware of how I balk when given “expert advice” on many subject matters – health and nutrition, parenting, technology, religion, self-help… I am especially leery of magic bullets. Yet when Celina and I were growing up and identifying our polar-opposite traits, we had always regarded her as the suspicious one, while I would swallow a concept whole first because I trusted people so quickly. That seems to have changed along the way.

Don’t get me wrong – I can still get incredibly excited over new shiny concepts. But Tony often balances off such enthusiasm with a measured, factual response (and the occasional eyebrow-raise) that I’ve grown to appreciate his cautiousness. And I’ve become a lot more moderate (and sadly, a little cynical) over the last decade and a half, after an entire adolescence of my mother tsk-tsking me for being Too Emotional.

I value having the courage to speak up, to change, to meddle

While packing my old bedroom in Singapore last year, I came across a letter I had written to a sister in Christ and it took my breath away. It was basically me broaching the subject of how I’d noticed her changing away from God and church, and how I really yearn for her to hang on to her faith. It was earnest, it was honest, it was surprisingly loving and gentle (not my best traits), and because it had been such a long time since I’d done something like that, it touched me. Weirdly, I wish others had written that way to me when I was going through big stuff in my late teens and early twenties. I wish I had sent that letter to that sister. But perhaps I only wrote what I needed to hear for myself. Communicating through the prism of my own love language.

I can be blunt now, I know. I have a forthright manner. I call a spade a spade, sometimes worse. But I think I’ve mellowed. I used to have a lot more courage to speak up for the underdog, to broach difficult ideas, to poke at the glass ceiling, question the status quo, meddle with love. Of course, that also meant I tread on many toes, flummoxed many Aunties and Uncles in church, intimidated others without necessarily winning them over, and made enemies. I still do some of these things quite well. :-(

Coming to a different country and starting out as an outsider has subdued me somewhat. I am also more mindful, now that I’m married, of charging ahead but leaving my introverted, circumspect husband and partner exposed and hating it. And yet I wonder if I’ve swung too far the other way, like a pendulum. Where the good stuff is getting muffled with the bad. I believe I still have it in me to fight the good fight when it counts.

This personal value isn’t so much one that I’m exercising regularly, but one that is dormant and needs refining.


I’m sure there are many others – the dead obvious ones like I Value Beauty (which is why I window shop so much), and the more surprising one like I Value Family, which is why I’ve put the corporate career ladder climbing schtick aside for now, and am still working out how to reinvent that bit. This isn’t a comprehensive list, like I said, but it was the first 3 that came to mind and it’s an interesting start.


Soooo… what are your personal values?

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