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Seeing Christmas in a New Light

Written By Lee Soo Yi, Malaysia, originally in Simplified Chinese

My all-time favorite occasion is Christmas. Why, you may ask? Well, which other occasion can match up to the myriad of activities?

There are heartwarming stage plays of the Christmas story at church, fun Christmas parties and gatherings with friends and family, soulful Christmas concerts, sumptuous Christmas dinners—the list goes on. I absolutely love the celebrative mood of the season and harbor hopes of having a white Christmas someday—imagine a snow capped backdrop with warm festive lights and the chorus of carols in the background. Just thinking about this makes me bubble over with joy!

But I eventually came to realize: I was so caught up with the sentiment of Christmas that I never really gave much thought to how I could make the time meaningful.

Having grown up in church, there were always plenty of opportunities to serve during Christmas. Deep down, I knew all the right reasons for why I should be involved but the constant thought of ‘Christmas is meant to be happily enjoyed!’ was hard to brush aside. I was worried that I would be too exhausted if I said ‘Yes’ and feared missing out on all the fun Christmas parties with my friends. It didn’t matter if it was sharing the Christmas story through stage plays or Christmas choirs or the giving out of gospel tracts—they were all politely turned down. I would tell myself: as long as I take time to remember Jesus and what He has done for me, that’s all that matters, isn’t it?

I would come to discover that these were all silly excuses and that I had my focus on the wrong person: myself instead of Christ. My desire to enjoy the spirit of Christmas overpowered my desire to serve the One who came to humbly serve us.

It was in my third year of university that my perspective on Christmas changed entirely. It was a special Christmas that has left the deepest impression on my heart.

I remember joining the choir at church due to the persistent encouragement of a friend. Interestingly enough, that was the year when the church decided to organize a large scale Christmas stage play (it was going to be held in a venue that could house thousands of people!). Hence, every single choir member was mobilized to be a part of this huge production and you had no excuse not to join (unless you had a really special reason). At the start, things turned out exactly as I expected: sheer exhaustion. I had to memorize a number of new songs, attend countless practices and rehearsals at church and to top it all off, deal with my jumpy nerves. It was clear to me that I was doing all this for God, yet I still felt disgruntled that I was seemingly ‘sacrificing’ so much time for this. Many a time, I contemplated just throwing in the towel. This constant grumbling continued in my heart, but sheer embarrassment prevented me from giving up.

Before I knew it, the day of the performance arrived.

I vividly remember standing in the second row, being close enough to the audience to clearly see the varied expressions on their faces. A few impatient faces caught my eye—they belonged to a group of local students who were sitting upfront and seemed indifferent towards all that was going on around them (their phones took all the attention). I was affected by their lack of interest and assumed that they would just maintain this attitude from the start to the end of the program.

However, I was caught by surprise as I witnessed a gradual change in their attitude as the program progressed: they were giving their fullest attention during the choir performance! I almost fell off my feet when they actually responded to the pastor’s call to prayer. I noticed at this time too that many in the audience were responding in their own ways—some were swaying along to the carols, some were crying silently, some clapping along and others praying with their heads bowed etc. It all moved me deeply.

I’m so thankful to God for this experience of serving Him at Christmas that led me to discover anew the true meaning of Christmas. It’s not just about my good feelings or nice fantasies of Christmas but a time to truly contemplate the implications of my Savior coming to be among us and the work that He came to do. He came to serve and not to be served—our Servant King! Let’s walk in His footsteps and make Christmas not just a time of festive celebration but more so –  the best time for us to share the good news of the Christmas Story with those who have yet to know Him, and as a time to love and serve others around us.

“He has caused His wonders to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and compassionate.” –Psalms 111:4

A Letter to SHINee’s Jonghyun: What If There was Hope?

Photo by saranghaegdoppa on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Written By Lee Soo Yi, Malaysia, originally in Simplified Chinese

Dearest Jonghyun,

I was in disbelief when I first heard the news that you took your own life. I didn’t believe it was real. I thought it was a hoax, a sick prank someone had played. I couldn’t believe someone as jovial and happy-go-lucky as you would ever commit suicide.

It was only until I read various media reports on your death and the official press release by your management company, that it finally hit me: I would never get to see your cheerful face and your cute expressions, or hear your angelic voice again.

It breaks my heart.

I had always thought that you would use your voice to bring happiness to those who love your music. That I would get to see you releasing your next self-composed song, reuniting with the rest of SHINee, serving the nation, getting married, and even becoming a father in the future. It never crossed my mind that you would choose the lonely road of no return.

I’m so sorry that I only learned of your struggle with depression after reading the letter that you sent to your friend, Nine from Dear Cloud. In it, you wrote that “the depression that was slowly devouring me at last consumed me”.

On behalf of other Shawols who have supported you ever since you debuted in 2008, I’m truly sorry that we were unaware of all the pain and exhaustion you felt.

It feels particularly sorrowful to hear of your passing in this season of Christmas, and to think that you won’t be around to spend it with us. For all those who love you, this Christmas is going to be exceptionally difficult to go through.

Dearest Jonghyun, as I’m penning this letter to you, I can’t help but wonder what I would have said to you if I actually had the chance. Right now, the words that come to my mind are from Isaiah 9:2-6:

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned . . . For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

It’s not your fault for falling into depression and despair. But I wonder if death was the only way out for you? I wonder if you would still have made the same choice if you knew about Jesus, our true hope?

If you had known that 2,000 years ago, a baby—Jesus Christ—was born among us and His arrival brought light into this world of darkness and despair, and that He bore our sins and sacrificed Himself on the cross in our place so that we could have true joy and everlasting hope, would that have given you the courage to cling on despite the despair you felt?

It’s heartbreaking that we’d never be able to know the answer to this “if”.

Dearest Bling Bling Jonghyun, it saddens me that I would not have the chance to call you by this name again.

You’ve worked hard and we will always miss you.

Finally, I wish that nobody on this earth will have to feel the despair and hopelessness you felt, because there is an everlasting hope who can give us the grace to face the challenges of tomorrow.

His name is Jesus.

 

Your fan of nine years,
Lee Soo Yi

My Awful Baptism Story

Written By Soo Yi, Malaysia, originally in Simplified Chinese

Holding a sunflower stalk, I waited at the foot of the stage. That day, my cell group member was getting baptized. When the pastor congratulated her with a hug, a huge smile spread across her face as tears streamed down her cheeks. Everyone stood up and clapped. I followed the rest of my cell members to surround her and handed her the sunflower. As I put my arms around her, I started to tear as well.

Since returning to God just a year ago, I had witnessed many touching baptism ceremonies. The joy written on each of the candidates’ faces never failed to move me. On some occasions, I would even feel envious. If only I had experienced the same joy during my own baptism as a teenager!

Growing up in a Christian family, I attended a traditional church when I was young. At the time, it was like attending a social gathering; it was an opportunity to meet up with and mingle with friends. The Bible stories I heard at church sounded like fairy tales to me, so I didn’t pay much attention to them. I also had a superficial understanding of the Bible: although I heard about Jesus, I wasn’t really interested to find out who He was, and I didn’t think He had anything to do with me. I used to wonder how one could believe in or rely on a God who was invisible. Slowly, I stopped going to church whenever there was an opportunity to skip it; I went only when I didn’t want to face my mother’s incessant nagging.

In my church, you could be baptized once you turn 15. So my mother and Sunday School teacher signed me up for baptism classes. However, I was clueless about the significance of baptism; the classes were a mere formality to me.

On the day of my baptism, I didn’t feel particularly joyful or happy. Instead, I was hoping for the ceremony to end quickly. To make matters worse, a fellow brother-in-Christ who was supposed to be baptized on the same day suffered a spiritual attack. As a result, I was afraid to attend church for several days following the episode. As far as I was concerned, being baptized made no difference to my life.

Some years later, I stepped out of the comfort of my home for the very first time to pursue an education overseas, in Taiwan. I was immediately drawn to the glitz and glamor of the outside world. At the same time, being alone in a foreign land, I was insecure and unfamiliar with my surroundings. So, when I finally made friends with a fun-loving group of individuals, I became very reliant on them and would follow them everywhere, including to karaoke outlets, pubs, and night clubs. Over time, however, a sense of emptiness crept in. I also felt it was unsafe going to those venues and having to return to my accommodation on my own every night. Yet, despite not enjoying those outings, I continued to go with my friends for fear of losing them if I stopped.

At the time, one of my seniors who was a Christian would invite me to attend her church every week. I went a few times, but found the service too boring, so I ignored her subsequent calls. It was only when I felt I could not continue living this way, that I started to think about church again. I contacted my senior and told her I wanted to attend church. However, nothing much changed when I did so. I still had my doubts about the faith, so I didn’t attend church regularly.

One day, my senior invited me to watch a play organized by the church. It was about a girl who used to have a close and joyful relationship with God, but was later enticed by worldly temptations like money, desires, and beauty. She started to drift away from God, unaware that God was calling out to her. But God didn’t give up on her. When the girl decided to break free of the temptations, God pulled her back to Him.

I was deeply convicted and moved by the play; I felt as though I was the girl and God was using this play to reach out to me. By the end of the play, tears were streaming down my face. I felt disappointed with myself. As my senior accompanied me back to my accommodation, I kept sobbing throughout the journey. For the first time that night, I prayed a very long and solemn prayer, asking God to forgive me and to help me break free from all the worldly things that were unsettling me. I prayed that I would get to know God intimately and return to Him wholeheartedly.

That was my turning point. From that point onwards, I felt as though God had woken me up spiritually. I wanted to attend church, be a part of a cell group, and rebuild my relationship with God. Amazingly, I also felt more at peace and was able to turn down invites to the places I used to visit. I no longer felt insecure and tempted by the things of the world. I started to attend church regularly and serve actively in various ministries. The more I got to know God, the more joyful, peaceful, and secure I felt.

Looking back now, I can see clearly how God’s love remained true despite my awful baptism experience and my years of rebellion. Although struggles and challenges didn’t disappear from my life, they prompted me to draw near to God and rely on Him more. Through each difficult moment, God’s tender love has never failed to guide me through. I have finally understood what it means to have faith and trust in a God who is unseen.

“Me Before You”: Is Dying Ever Justified?

Written By Soo Yi, Malaysia

Some time ago, one movie caught my attention. It was the romantic film, “Me Before You”. I first saw the trailer on Facebook, and was particularly intrigued by the scene where the male lead tells the female lead, “You are pretty much the only thing that makes me wanna get up in the morning.” I remember thinking to myself: What could one be going through that causes him to make such a statement?

While I don’t really like watching romantic films, this statement fascinated me so much that I decided to get my hands on the novel.

In a nutshell, the story revolves around an ordinary girl, Louisa Clark, who becomes a caregiver to Will, a once-promising entrepreneur who had become a paraplegic due to an accident. Depressed by his disability, Will loses his will for living and is set on ending his life after six months. When Louisa learns of Will’s plan, she tries to change his mind by engaging him in a myriad of activities, which include watching horse races and going on holidays. Through the course of these activities, they develop feelings for each other.

At this point, I was convinced that Louisa would be able to change Will’s mind and inspire him to continue living. Little did I know that the ending would be the complete opposite (spoilers ahead). Not only is Will adamant on undergoing euthanasia, he even changes Louisa’s attitude to life.

When I finished reading the book, I was upset for an entire day.

The novel got me thinking seriously about suffering and the sanctity of life, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of Job in the Bible. Like Will, Job used to own a lot but suffered immense personal loss when everything he had—his loved ones, wealth, and health—was taken away from him. Job was in such deep agony that he cursed the day that he was born and wished he was never born (Job 3:11). He even cried out to God and questioned why God put him through such difficult circumstances. Despite all that he faced, however, Job never gave up on God. Eventually, Job recognized that God was in ultimate control and God blessed Job with more than he had at the start.

At this juncture, let me qualify that I’m not trying to compare the degree of misery and suffering faced by Job and Will because I’m not in either of their shoes. Just the thought of what they went through sends shivers down my spine. But one lesson I think we can learn from both of them is that what we value in life will affect our perspective towards life. If we place our meaning in life on material and secular things, we can easily lose the resolve to go on when these things are taken away from us. Perhaps that is one of the key reasons why the Bible urges us to “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” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

From the Bible, we also learn that death is never the solution. Sure, we may go through great trial and agony, such as in the case of Job, who lost all his strength, prospects, and power to help himself (Job 6:11-13). Some people may choose to end their lives because they simply cannot see any way out of their difficulties. But as Christians, we do know that there is a way out. There is a hope for us. No matter how difficult or challenging our circumstances may be, or how despondent we feel, we have the hope of returning to our heavenly home someday. And we have this hope because Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33).

In Psalm 46:1, we are also reminded that God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. God also promised us in Psalm 121:1-8 that He will protect us. As such, even though it is inevitable that we will encounter trials and challenges, we can be comforted by the fact that God is present and faithful. When we are tempted, He will provide us a way out so that we can endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Even though “Me Before You” is just a fictional story, I cannot help but think that the ending would be a lot different if the character Will had God in his life. Similarly, it is my prayer that all of us will always remember to hold onto God’s promises in our life, especially in times of great suffering. Let’s not let adversity get the better of us, because Jesus has won the ultimate victory over suffering and death.