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To Those Not Celebrating Father’s Day

I have nothing against Father’s Day. My family just never had the practice of celebrating it—along with other occasions like Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day.

Maybe it was because my parents were not the sentimental sort. The most we did was to attend the big, extended-family dinners my uncles or aunties would throw for my grandfathers on both sides. But with my dad, we never did anything special. No fancy dinner, no expensive gifts, no warm and fuzzy family photo.

If anyone asked, we would just say, “Nah, it’s just a commercial gimmick.” After all, we didn’t need to wait for an occasion to have a nice dinner together; if we wanted to, we just had one. And the same applied to the giving of gifts. My dad gave us gifts whenever he felt like it. So birthdays were never much of a deal in my family, either. And we were all happy with the way things were.

Perhaps that was a blessing in disguise. I have hardly gotten emotional during Father’s Day in the past four years since my dad passed on suddenly after a massive stroke. Sure, the banners and electronic displays screaming “Father’s Day Lunch Promotion”, “Father’s Day Discount”, or “Father’s Day Gift Ideas” trigger memories of my dad, but they don’t choke me up with emotion. And I’m thankful for that. I miss my dad enough, so I don’t need another occasion to get me all weepy.

You may identify with my situation. Maybe your family just doesn’t have the practice of celebrating Father’s day, or you lost your dad some time ago. Perhaps your dad has been absent in your life, or is an abusive and irresponsible figure you want nothing to do with. Perhaps Father’s Day brings you more pain and frustration than any other day, and you cringe at the mere mention of it.

Whatever your reasons for not celebrating Father’s Day, here’s what I’d like to say: You’re not alone. I know, I know, it’s clichéd—but it’s true. And it’s not because there are other people out there who are in the same boat as you. No matter how similar our circumstances may be, each of them is unique. No one can fully empathize with what you’ve been through, even your own family members. But one person can and that’s all that matters.

Mourning over the loss of my beloved father brought me closer to God than ever before. I remember nights where I wished my dad were still around so I could tell him about all that had happened during the day. But I couldn’t, so I told it to God instead. And then there were other times I would find myself tearing over a memory of my dad triggered by something—a dream, a place, or an item—and I would end up pouring my feelings to God. Each time, God never failed to comfort me with the reminder that my dad was safe in His arms, in a much better place.

Over time, I realized that what my earthly father had shown me was a glimpse of how wonderful and good my heavenly Father is. My father’s generosity, his gentle disposition, and his protective nature—God was all these and more. Regardless of how our fathers have been or are like, let’s take comfort in the ever-abiding presence of our ultimate father, God Himself. He’s the father who will never leave, disappoint, or abandon us.

 

 

3 Ways Discomfort Discomforted Me

Not again. I was at my wit’s end. A good two and a half weeks had passed since I had finished my second course of antibiotics, but as I gazed at the ceiling that night—awake, alert, and anxious—it felt as though I was back to square one.

For weeks, I had been experiencing a mild case of urinary tract infection (UTI). It was not the first time I had it; but unlike the first time, when a round of antibiotics easily cured it, the symptoms were relentless this time.

In most cases, UTI manifests as a frequent or intense urge to urinate. On some nights, I would go to the toilet as many as seven times before going to bed. On other nights, anxiety about having to visit the toilet in the middle of the night would plague me the moment I lay on the bed. I would end up tossing and turning for a couple of hours—and on some occasions, the entire night.

That night, I had just made five trips to the toilet within two hours. As I flopped onto my bed for the fifth time, I could feel my heart racing and a sense of dread setting in. I couldn’t help thinking about what else I should have done to ensure a faster recovery.

Take antibiotics, probiotics, and cranberry juice? Check. Drink a lot of water? Check. Pay a visit to the doctor? Check. Twice. Seek divine intervention? Big check. I even “formalized” my plea to God on three separate occasions by recording my prayers in my journal when the symptoms seemed to much for me to bear.

But none of these things seemed to work.

“Maybe this is the thorn in your flesh God has given you,” my brother finally said on one occasion after hearing me lament for the umpteenth time and trying unsuccessfully to cheer me.

That’s when it hit me. What if God had no intention to remove this “thorn in the flesh” from my life for the time being? What if the whole reason why I was going through this was that God was trying to teach me that His grace was sufficient for me—but I had just been too preoccupied to see it?

When I finally turned to scripture to read about Paul’s struggle and response to his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), I felt rebuked by my own less-than-ideal response. That’s when I discovered three things about myself.

 

 1. I tend to rely on myself.

As much as I know my life is in God’s hands, I almost always resort to human means to address my problems. If I’m falling sick, I make sure I get enough rest and eat the right food. If I don’t achieve positive results at work, I try to put in more effort. If people don’t respond to me, I look at what I should or shouldn’t have said, and try to make up for it. Everything in life can be “fixed” with the right solution, and so can my health.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with these actions, I realize that it’s only when I exhaust all human means that I turn to God, delve into scriptures, and pray actively and fervently for relief. This is exactly what happened in my recent case of UTI.

 

2. I tend to focus on myself.

In the grand scheme of things, I knew that the physical discomfort I was experiencing wasn’t that bad. For one, it would hardly constitute the kind of suffering the Bible talks about (Romans 5:3-5). Also, aside from having to make frequent toilet trips, I didn’t feel any physical pain and could function perfectly well. I could eat, work, sleep, and play. As long as my mind was distracted by something else, I wouldn’t even feel the symptoms.

But I certainly made a big deal out of it. Whenever the symptoms became more pronounced— especially in the evening when I was resting at home—I would throw a pity party for myself and invite my family members to be a part of it. I also made sure those around me—my colleagues, church friends, and close friends—knew I was “suffering” and would never fail to request for their prayer.

I’m ashamed to say I don’t always remember to pray for friends the same way, especially if they share about their “minor” problems like cough and cold. In fact, I even secretly frown on those who keep harping on the same issue, such as when my mother kept asking my brother and I to pray that God would remove the itchy sensation around her neck. It was only when I had to go through a prolonged period of physical discomfort myself that I realized how “non-issues” like these could so easily affect and discourage me.

That realization made me more sympathetic to others going through similar discomfort. I decided to consciously pray for others every night as I prayed for my own relief. And that’s when God really put my problems in perspective. Compared to the aunty at church who was having a relapse of lymphoma and a friend who had just suffered a serious viral attack that almost took her life, what did I have to complain about?

 

3. I tend to focus on this earthly life.

Though I know that this world is not my final destination, I tend to live my life as though I’m going to be here for eternity. It’s only in moments of helplessness that I’m reminded of the truth that I should not be holding on to anything in this life.

Discomforts and setbacks of any magnitude or nature serve as reminders that we live in a transient—and broken—world. Our physical bodies are not built to last; over time, they will naturally wear down and malfunction. How comforting, then, are the words of 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, which tell us that the suffering we go through in life now is preparing us for eternity: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 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.”

Though we see trouble and suffering on every front, we know that these are but signposts that there is something so much better ahead of us; difficulties and suffering in life will come to an end. And while there’s nothing we can do to escape problems in life, we can certainly change how we choose to respond to them. American pastor Charles Stanley once said that nothing attracts the unbeliever like a saint suffering successfully. Based on how I had been responding, I’m pretty sure I looked more like a saint suffering sorrowfully. Still, I thank God for using this episode to correct the way I have been viewing and responding to “suffering”.

As I write this article now, I’m thankful that God has stopped my UTI from flaring up in the past week. I’m not sure it will recur, but this experience has given me the determination to do these three things the next time I’m faced with any form of “discomfort”:

  1. Commit my discomfort to God and ask Him for strength and wisdom to respond to it.
  2. Remember that there are many others around me who are facing similar discomfort—if not worse—and pray for them.
  3. Thank God for giving me the discomfort, because it is a reminder that this earthly life was never meant to be a comfortable one.

When 2017 Starts Off on the Wrong Foot

I blame it on the two cups of tea and one cup of coffee I had earlier that day. Though it was almost 2am, my mind was still active and raring to go.

I tossed and turned, growing increasingly frustrated. I just couldn’t seem to fall asleep. My mind replayed the same prayer I had been reciting since 1am. “God, please help me sleep. Tomorrow is the first work day of 2017. Let it be a good start.” Finally, after an hour or so, I drifted off to sleep.

The next time my eyes opened, an unfamiliar clock face configuration was staring back at me.
Confusion quickly gave way to panic: It was one hour past the usual time I woke up. On the very first workday of 2017, I was going to be late.

I jumped out of bed and quickly texted my boss to apologize and let him know that I had woken up late. To save some time, I took a cab. But the cab driver somehow ended up taking the wrong route—which prolonged my travel time and put both the driver and me in a foul mood for most of the journey.

By the time I reached office, I was a good 40 minutes late. Though my boss was completely understanding about what had happened, I was disappointed with myself. Getting to work on time had been one of my resolutions for 2017 and I had broken it on the very first workday in a spectacular way.

It sure wasn’t how I wanted to start 2017.

I wasn’t the only one to suffer a bumpy start to the year—some of my friends had even more dramatic stories than mine. One friend spent her New Year’s Eve at work fighting fire—literally; a fire had broken out in one of her company’s movie theaters due to an electrical fault. So while the rest of the world was counting down to the New Year, she was busy quelling angry members of the public. She only got home at 3am on New Year’s Day.

Another friend suffered a severe asthma attack and had to be rushed to the hospital on New Year’s Day. Thankfully, his condition is now under control and he’s back to normal.

Two other friends told me how they had welcomed 2017 in tears—one because of the lack of a relationship, the other because of her relationship. For the former, the arrival of the New Year had reminded her of the reality that she might never get married, something which she had found overwhelming. The latter had gotten into a huge fight with her husband over a decision she had made without consulting him. Her eyes were still swollen when I saw her the next day.

Like me, none of them had expected their new year to start off on the wrong foot. Everyone wants a good start. Everyone wants his or her life to improve in the new year. And this usually translates into making resolutions or actively seeking ways to help us start the year well—whether it’s physically, mentally, psychologically, emotionally and even spiritually.

But as my friends’ and my experience showed, life doesn’t always turn out the way we want. Things still break down and problems still plague us from all sides—even on New Year’s Day. And even if we start the year well, there’s no guarantee that resolutions won’t be broken or we would end the year well.

In case it sounds like I’m making light of New Year resolutions and encouraging a defeatist outlook to life, I’m not. By all means, let’s continue making resolutions with hope and optimism.

But my point is this: It doesn’t matter how we start. We could start the year feeling completely jaded and ashamed because we failed to meet any of our resolutions last year, or we could be all fired up to make 2017 the most fruitful year of our lives.

As clichéd as this sounds, it’s not the start but the end that matters (and I’m not referring to the end of 2017). As long as we have breath, let’s not let disruptions, disappointments or even dates determine our outlook to life. So what if life doesn’t deal us the cards we want? So what if our year started off poorly? So what if we have broken our New Year resolutions by the second week of the new year?

In the face of my repeated failures, I’m reminded that every day is a brand new day and God’s compassions never fail—they are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). Even if we’ve made terrible mistakes in the past, like the Apostle Paul, there’s still time for us to turn from our ways and start afresh.

It could be as simple as setting the exact same New Year resolution as the year before. Or it could be seeking a community to help us get back on track after a particularly difficult period of our lives. Even if we have failed repeatedly before, it’s okay. Even if our start didn’t work out the way we wanted, it’s fine. Let’s not give in to despair. Get up and try again.

May we, like Paul, be able to say confidently by the end of our lives, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:7)

2016: When Death Is On A Roll

As if the sudden deaths of British pop singer George Michael, 53, and American actress Carrie Fisher, 60—just four days apart—weren’t shocking enough, Fisher’s mother, renowned US actress Debbie Reynolds, also passed away yesterday, just one day after her daughter’s death. It was reported that she had suffered a stroke while planning for her beloved daughter’s funeral arrangements and never regained consciousness. She was 84.

The untimely deaths of these three entertainers, all within the span of a week, wrap up a year that has seen the demise of many beloved celebrities. They include rock legends David Bowie and Prince, as well as British actor Alan Rickman of Harry Potter fame. For me, it was the death of American YouTuber Christina Grimmie that affected me the most as I had been following her journey as a singer since she first started.

But while there is nothing surprising about death (after all, people die every day), there’s no way of getting used to it—especially if it involves our loved ones or someone we know.

Perhaps it was the fact that I had just watched Rogue One: A Star Wars Story a day before Fisher’s passing, and Princess Leia (acted by Fisher) was the last person that appeared before the credits rolled. Or maybe it was because Fisher had been in the headlines lately after her latest memoir, The Princess Diarist, revealed that she had had an affair with fellow actor Harrison Ford while filming the original Star Wars trilogy. For some reason, I felt like I had lost a friend when I heard the news of her death.

And then to hear that her mother passed away merely one day later—I can’t even imagine what the family must be going through. I wonder what they had talked about the week before as they gathered around the family table. Did they discuss plans for the future? Their dreams for 2017? Did anyone have any premonition that a double tragedy would happen just a week later?

As I try to wrap my head around this spate of deaths, I reach the same conclusion I had three years ago when my own father passed away after a massive stroke: Death is no respecter of persons. It can strike anyone anytime, anywhere.

Even as I write this, I’m fully cognizant of the fact that my turn on earth could be up anytime. I may not make it into 2017. I may not be able to achieve or complete what I plan to. Life is fleeting. Tomorrow is never a certainty. Whatever I have now is temporary.

What’s with all this doomsday talk? you must be thinking. We’re on the cusp of the new year, you’re probably saying, let’s look forward to 2017 with anticipation and positivity.

I cannot agree more. But if it’s the “new year” we’re waiting for in order to make new resolutions, to set our priorities right, and to devote time to what really matters, I’d say we might be missing an important lesson.

If not for anything, this year’s spate of deaths should sound the alarm that life is fleeting. We simply cannot afford to put off what’s important. Let’s not busy ourselves with urgent but unimportant stuff. Let’s find time for the important (but not necessarily urgent) matters.

The parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) highlights the temporal nature of our earthly lives and what our preoccupations should be—certainly not our earthly possessions. Have we been spending our time, effort, and resources on storing treasures in heaven? Do we pursue God’s kingdom and live for others?

In Mitch Albom’s memoir of his sociology professor Morrie Schwartz, Tuesdays with Morrie, he quotes something his late professor said which has stuck with me all this while: “When you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”

I wonder how differently Michael, Fisher, and Reynolds would have chosen to spend their last days had they known those were their last. How would we spend our days differently if we knew they were our last?