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When I Realized My Heart Was Divided

Being a mum to a toddler and a baby means you rarely have any time for yourself, much less for devotions, sermons, Christian literature, and the like. Or so I thought.

Three nights in a row, I stayed up until wee hours of the morning to finish a drama series a friend recommended. On the morning of the fourth, my husband woke up to a very grumpy wife, and my kids woke up to a snappy mother. I had finished the drama, receiving mild satisfaction from a romantic ending. But there was no coffee for my husband that morning, and the children had to walk on eggshells because every little thing they did annoyed me in my tiredness.

Later that afternoon, while putting the baby to sleep, the words of Psalm 86, hung up in a frame in the kids’ room, hit me like a bullet train. Verse 11 reads,

Teach me your way, LORD,
that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name.

These words are part of baby Nathan’s life verse. We chose it because he was born with a hole in his heart, and so we pray this verse over him every day. For the hole to close naturally, for it not to affect his health or physical growth, as well as for his spiritual life—that he grows up fearing the Lord with his whole heart and being. We do this religiously day after day, in part because of the fear we have about possible heart surgery, but more so because this is something only God can do.

As I read those words over and over again with my baby in my arms, guilt swept over me. Why is it that I could be so driven to pray over a physical hole in the heart, but found it so easy to overlook my own emotionally divided heart?

For three whole nights, I willingly relinquished my wife and mum duties to pursue a fictitious drama. At the same time, however, I lament to girlfriends how motherhood has made consistent, committed spiritual disciplines so hard. No time to read the Bible, but time enough to scroll through social media. No time to sit through a sermon, but happily watching one episode after another of a drama which has zero bearing on my immediate life or eternal destiny.

Loving God wholeheartedly should easily translate into loving my husband better and being more patient with my young children. Loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, does not at all contradict my daily duties of cooking, cleaning, writing, and working. But the temporal obsession with a drama did. It distracted me from my responsibilities as a wife, as a mother, as a worker accountable to God. Most importantly, it took my eyes off Christ, my first love.

The world screams for our attention in every possible way, perhaps now more than ever before. Pop-up ads on our web browsers, prompters on our social media feed, and promotions constantly clogging up our emails. While the secular world tells us to “tap here”, “read more” and so on, no internet phishing or social media profiling can know us better than the One who created us for His specific purposes and glory. No wonder Deuteronomy 6:5 tells us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind. It is only in Him that we can find true fulfillment and eternal satisfaction.

Thankfully, through this episode, I am learning to guard my time with the Lord more intentionally. I have removed Facebook and drama apps from my phone, so as to avoid being lured in. I also set an alarm on my phone to remind me each day to read God’s word. My toddler helps remind me to have daily devotion and prayer times every night. My husband often spends the evening working on sermon preparations and Bible studies until late, and this inspires me to do the same. I also try to set aside an early morning each week to hear a sermon online, since I have to be with Nathan during church hours. It has only been a month of success thus far, but I pray these will continue. Not only for my sake, but so that my children will seek to do the same.

Don’t get me wrong, I have not given up entirely on “pleasures”. Instead, I am seeking to honor God by pursuing them in moderation and with greater variety. Watching dramas, but also reading, exercising, listening to music, and so on. Rather than allowing myself to be sucked into that same black hole again, I have enlisted the help of godly girlfriends to keep me accountable. I have asked them to check in on me now and then, recognizing that I cannot and will not be able to triumph on my own.

Now, each time I pray for Nathan’s heart condition, I remember also to pray for mine—one that is quick to wander, one that is oh-so-susceptible to temptation. That the Lord would also give me an undivided heart! Because it is only by the Holy Spirit’s aid that I can love Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.

When We Found Out Our Baby Had A Heart Defect

When we first found out that our son had ventricle septal defect (VSD), we did not think much of it. Many children are born with holes in their heart, and many of these close over time. But by the third week, it was evident something was not right with our newborn son, N.

Feedings were short stints and left him extremely breathless. At times when the milk came too quickly, he’d cough and sputter, and milk might even come out through his nose. When he lay flat on his cot, we saw how vigorously his chest rose and fell, as though simply breathing took too much effort.

The pediatric cardiologist confirmed this when he measured N’s hole to be one of moderate to large size. By this point, his left lung was also slightly swollen due to the leak from the heart. His heart was also working double time to make up for the losses, leaving him more tired than most infants his age.

Though my husband and I are both seminary students, we are no spiritual giants. The diagnosis left us confused and saddened. I remember crying all the way home after that review. Recognizing that our son’s life was in danger, we had two options—to choose to believe in God’s sovereign will, or to abandon our faith altogether.The latter was ruled out almost immediately, and we knew we only wanted His will for our lives and nothing else.

The cardiologist told us that N needed surgery, and the thought of it scared us, but we knew it was time to call for our brothers and sisters to come alongside us. Perhaps our faith was being tested, but we surely did not have to brave this storm alone.

My husband Jonathan typed out a simple text explaining N’s situation and our need for prayer. I set up a broadcast group on WhatsApp and blasted that text to any and every one whom I knew would pray. Little did we expect the ripples of encouragement and practical help that came our way, and has continued to pour in till this day.

Right from the beginning, not a day passed without us receiving an encouraging text or message. Friends and friends of friends would drop me a note to press on with the feeding—tough as it was with N feeding twice as often as a regular newborn—and remind me that they are praying for us. God has used close girlfriends, aunties in church, and even the most obscure of friends from Secondary School to give me a boost every single day without fail. It gets very lonely and discouraging when you are all alone with an infant for hours on end, but these little messages reminded me of God’s love throughout the hardest days, and I knew N and I were remembered even through the roughest nights.

In church, people we hardly speak to came up to us and offered to pay for a session of N’s medical review, or to write us a cheque with an amount God had impressed upon their hearts. The church rallied intercessors in prayer, and cell groups have been moved to adopt us in their prayers. One pastor even allowed us to share N’s situation via a short video clip during his sermon on suffering, so the entire congregation will know what we’ve been going through.

As if these were not enough, God surprised us further when two family friends decided spontaneously that they would bring us homecooked soups once a week, so I would have less to prepare in the evenings. Pastors came and laid hands to bless and anoint our little family. Youth and young adults offered to take our older child to the playground to relieve us and give her some undivided attention. Clothing for N keep coming in bags such that we have not had to buy him a single thing since he was born.

And the blessings just keep coming.

This trial has only begun. But it has been made so much easier because of the community of believers rallying behind us in prayer and in every other practical way possible. We are reminded of the picture Paul painted in 1 Corinthians 12:25-26a, that God has put the body together, “so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. . .”

We now know in a very tangible way what it means to be One Body, and we are confident that we can stand firm in our faith because of those carrying us on their shoulders.

 

Oh Dear, Am I Ashamed of the Gospel?

It’s that season of the year again. My church calls it the “evangelism season”.

My Pastor tells us to rise up in evangelistic fervor, saying that it’s the best time to invite friends and family to church. I scroll through the list of contacts in my phone. Who could I possibly invite to church this time? They all know the Easter story. I mean, almost all my friends attended the same Methodist school for a decade, what else could I possibly tell them?

I feel even worse during youth group. They tell us we can use social media to spread the gospel to our friends. Hand-written verses backed by lovely photography. Post titles like “Have you ever felt lost and alone?” Quotes by popular Christian authors saying “Don’t waste your life.” I shrink deeper into my seat. I’ve heard friends complain about people’s lives not living up to their inspirational social media feed. It’s not authentic, they say. I certainly didn’t want others saying the same of me.

When I share my reservations with my group leader, she quickly concludes, “You are ashamed of the gospel.”

How did she come to that conclusion?

I think back on my own conversion. It had nothing to do with the above-mentioned methods. While I had attended dozens of Holy Week services and came across hundreds of Christianese social media posts, such inspirational portrayals of the Gospel were not what convinced me of the truth.

On the contrary, it was the very real flaws of Bible characters and Christians around me that convicted me of the reality of the gospel message. If God could declare a liar like Abraham to be righteous, and an adulterer like David to be a man after His own heart. If God could bring salvation to that once vulgar and obnoxious senior in high school, or bring that ex-drug dealer to tears at His altar. If God would bother with sinners like these, then perhaps He wanted me as well. I wanted in.

Don’t get me wrong. I certainly do not want to undermine special church services or social media outreach methods. I’ve seen people greatly encouraged by the message shared through these methods. But they didn’t work for me. And maybe they don’t work for you. What I’m saying is, we are not any less of a Christian for not using these methods.

So how do I evangelize?

I don’t. At least not in the way my church seems to want me to. Instead, I have people over to our home for meals every now and then. I keep close and regular contact with my non-Christian friends. Like everyone else, I attend their weddings, parent’s funerals, and kid’s birthday parties. I let them share their struggles, and they hear mine. And when they ask me how I get by difficult times, I tell them honestly that I draw strength from my hope in Christ. When they have to go for scary operations or their children fall sick, and ask me if I can pray to my God on their behalf, I do it gladly, but on the condition that they allow me to pray with them.

Several of my friends have come to Christ, and at least two families have come to attend my own church as well. Not only that, but God has used my attempts at openness and graciousness to soften the hearts of people who had been openly hostile to Christianity, and He has allowed me to build meaningful, growing relationships with people who believe differently than I do, so that the gospel may be shared, and perhaps one day accepted.

 The power of the gospel goes beyond pretty Bible verses or famous quotes. Its reach is far greater than any charismatic preacher and marketing gimmick. The power of God is magnified through our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and I am certainly not ashamed to boast about them.

In sharing my life with those around me, I share my fears of being a mother or my struggles with youth ministry. In the reality and flaws of my life, may others see the glorious work of God.

Who Would Give This Bride Away?

It was the night of our first planning meeting for our wedding. All of us involved in the preparation were all buzzing with ideas and enthusiasm, right until the pastor turned to me and asked, “Who would be walking you down the aisle?” All the brainstorming gave way to a deafening silence.

Who was going to walk me down the aisle? I had no ready answer.

My parents separated when I was four. After a few scheduled monthly meetings and increasingly awkward yearly holidays, I saw my dad less and less. It came to a point when I stopped missing him altogether, and it did not matter whether I saw him or not. Before the pastor had asked that question, it had not occurred to me that I had not forgiven my dad all these years.

Memories are funny things; they seem to have a life of their own. Whenever people ask about my dad, I have difficulty recounting shared experiences. I even had to ask my mum what she knew of the time I had with my dad.

Ironically, she had an endless string of wonderful things to share, complete with photo albums filled with evidence—the twice-yearly beach holidays when we had picnics and built sandcastles, the season when we did cycling trips, and that one family holiday to Disneyland. It was as if my mind had an in-built defense mechanism that had caused me to somehow forget the entire divorce proceedings—along with all the good memories of my dad.

Despite the years of what might be termed estrangement, my then-fiancé thought it would be best to let my dad do the honors anyhow. “It might help the relationship”, he said optimistically. He had no idea how difficult it would be for me to even initiate that first meet-up, much less broach the request. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a go, choosing to meet at lunch because that would limit my time with dad and any awkwardness that could ensue.

Unfortunately, it did not turn out better than expected. Meeting a distant parent is not quite the same as meeting a long-lost friend. Instead of sentimental hugs to exchange and juicy gossip to share, it was formal and distant, no different from meeting one of my primary school teachers. He quizzed me about how I did in school, asked about what I did for work, and finally asked about the family. Lunch was full of niceties and roundabout conversations, with me not being able to broach the subject.

That night, I could not sleep. As I reflected on the way our conversation played out, it became obvious to me that I was still bitter towards my father. Years of respectful and courteous meetings had merely built walls between my dad and me. After two decades, these walls had unknowingly become an impenetrable fortress. The reason I did not want him to have a share in the joys of my wedding day was that I continued to harbor hatred in my heart towards him. I felt abandoned and unloved.

Ironically, my Bible reading plan that week led me to Luke 15, that familiar series of “lost” parables. The parable of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son. It felt like a mockery of sorts reading about the prodigal son who left his loving father after cursing him to death (which he effectively did by asking for his inheritance) because in each of the stories, the lost one was found; but in my case, I was “thrown away”. The voice in my head screamed, “It’s the father who’s the prodigal in my story—not his innocent children!” But as I read the chapter again, the full weight and meaning of the word “found” hit me.

In a bid to find me, my loving heavenly Father had to do much more than what the father of the prodigal son and the woman looking for her coin did. He had to allow his precious Son to come to earth, to live as a man, and to die for my sins. If He had not abandoned His son that day on the cross, if He had kept the Lord Jesus in heaven, there would have been no way I could become a child of God. He gave up His most beloved possession in exchange for sinful, flippant, and selfish people like me.

My realization of the Father’s love for me, shown through His abandoning of Jesus, His Son, overwhelmed me. You can still see the tear stains on the pages of my journal where I wrote, “How can I, a mere sinner, loved and found by the Most High God, harbor any hatred or bitterness in my heart? The sheer love of God fills my heart to the brim and overflows. With the power of the Holy Spirit living in me, I release the hurt, the anger, and the pain to make way for His love which has found me once again, even now.”

A week later, I met my dad again. This time, it was at his house and on a weekend. This time, there was no escaping or skirting around the issue. To my surprise, he was touched and grateful that I would let him do the honors. What’s more, he even offered to get a suit for the occasion and participate in the rehearsal at the church. That being said, forgiveness did not come completely or miraculously in a single instant. But it was certainly the start of the journey towards reconciliation.

On our wedding day, now four years ago, my father took my arm in his and walked me down the long aisle. To give me away to a man whom God had prepared years before, a man who promised to love and never forsake me, as long and until I am prepared to be received into the arms of my Heavenly Father.