Conversion

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C.S. Lewis, after serving in the British army during the First World War, “returned to Oxford University, he received a First in Honour Moderations (Greek and Latin literature) in 1920, a First in Greats (Philosophy and Ancient History) in 1922, and a First in English in 1923. In 1924 he became a philosophy tutor at University College and, in 1925, was elected a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Magdalen College, where he served for 29 years until 1954.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/).

In his partial autobiography `Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life”, he reflected on his conversion:

You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The prodigal son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape?… The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and his compulsion is our liberation.

G.K. Chesterton, one of the dominating figures of the London literary scene in the early twentieth century, a journalist and social philosopher, converted to Catholicism at the age of 48. He wrote a poem titled `The Convert’ (1927):

After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white.
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

As I read about their lives and encounters with God, it made me reflect on mine. When I was 16, my family moved to a new home and I shared a bedroom with my sister and we had a dressing table with a large mirror where at a short distance, you can see yourself from head to toe. It was very useful for checking out how you look or dress before going out. Unlike my sister, I hardly checked how I dressed but that did not make me less vain. Come to think of it, my vanity was more deep rooted even though my sister is 6 years older.

I was very active in school and spent most of my time out of the house. However, when alone in my bedroom, I would at times sit at the dressing table and take a look at myself. One day, I began to talk to myself at the mirror and examined my face closely. I remembered asking myself, “Who am I?” I recalled not being able to answer that question and went on to ask more questions like `What am I here for?’, ‘What is life all about?’ and `Who is God?’ Although I was raised in a family that goes to church and I went to a Methodist school (primary), it didn’t make me a believer. I know all the church speak and was involved in a lot of the activities in church since young and even excelled in them like I did for my school activities. Somehow, I had never really known why I was involved and just played along with the activities as there was nothing wrong with them. In fact you can say they were mostly good and noble stuff.

But there was always this emptiness inside, like a vacuum that couldn’t be filled with all the hype and activities going on in my life. That’s when I asked myself those questions. I took the time to stop all the `noise’ and searched my heart. Something was stirring within me and I saw bible verses at my study table that states:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication
with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:6-7 ESV).

They were the key verses I used to look at and quietly pray when I studied for my GCE O levels exams. It was more because I was in panic mode as I had not been studying and it was less than 3 months before the exams. I have been using God for emergencies only.

But back to the mirror reflection… this was something else. I could not let this go on. The best I can describe this feeling was I had no peace within me. There must be a reason for me to be born, to live and eventually die. It was not meant to be in vain or vain glorious. That was clear to me. It was when I acknowledged my human condition, the need to be saved from my wretchedness, and the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that the love of God swept in to fill that vacuum so perfectly that I could only bow down in humble adoration. This was why Chesterton could say he was Lazarus and he lives. Likewise I was dead to sin and the resurrection power of Christ has brought me back to life.

What then, was the road smooth sailing? It surely wasn’t. In fact, it gets harder as long as I am in this human condition and in this world. However, the BIG difference is, the peace of God that surpasses all understanding has filled that vacuum. Life becomes richer and clearer, and God is no longer an emergency number but a blessed assurance of a relationship with an omnipresent and loving God who walks and talks with me every moment of my life. It’s no longer I that live but Christ that lives in me.

I can only conclude this experience with this passage which I read to my grandmother by her hospital bed in 2001:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life, and
I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
(Psalm 23 ESV)

Free Our Children

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Where can we find today, the likes of Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Picasso, Isaac Newton, Einstein, Wordsworth, Keats, Charles Dickens or Shakespeare ? Our modern day prominent figures are mainly those who have built their corporations through their creativity and business acumen, such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Jack Ma. There are many other inventors and talented people out there but we hardly hear of any that can match the classics of the past. Why is this so? There should be many reasons but I would like to explore further on one aspect: the education of the young; our future leaders, inventors, artists and teachers.

Back in 1955, C.S. Lewis, a great philospher and author, wrote an essay, “Lilies that Fester” which I found quite applicable in today’s context. Surprisingly back then, it was already seen as a problem or troubling concern and it was about how the young were being educated. C.S. Lewis saw how it would impact future generations and felt ‘lucky’ that his childhood was spared this stifling situation. The following are excerpts from his essay:

“The pupil is now far more defenceless in the hands of the teachers… He has hardly ever been alone. The educational machine seizes him very early and organises his whole life, to the exclusion of all unsuperintended solitude or leisure.”

“The hours of unsponsored, uninspected, perhaps even forbidden, reading, the ramblings, and the ‘long, long thoughts’ in which those of luckier generations first discovered literature and nature and themselves are a thing of the past.”

“In short, the modern pupil is the ideal patient for those masters who, not content with teaching a subject, would create a character; helpless Plasticine.”

Fast forward 2015; 60 years has passed since this essay was written, what has become of those children? Where are they today? What kind of leaders, inventors, artists or teachers have come forth? Ordinary or extraordinary; common or unique?

I would like to pose 5 questions about children today:

1 Is our education geared towards developing the potential of each individual according to their own ability?
2 Does the child have enough time (no rush) to play and spend time with the family?
3 Are the holidays filled with nature, motor-skill games, sunshine and lots of laughter?
4 Does the child get to day dream or look at the stars and enjoy the breeze or nature?
5 Do we let our children grow in their own pace and time to discover their own talents without letting the school determine that for us?

If most of our answers are “No”, then we have a troubling future. This would mean that there will be less and less people who can think, dream or discover as we let the school or society do that for them. Now I see why the term ‘Plasticine’ was used by C.S. Lewis as the young were being molded into whatever shape the education or system wants them to be.

I don’t think anyone of us wants our children to become like this and we can all stop by helping them have a life of their own, to learn and grow in a safe and real environment, not a stifling or artificial one.

Caregivers UNITE!

Anne Frank

I was catching up with three friends whom as a group, have not met for several years. We are all in our fifties and sixties. The three of us are caregivers to our mothers who have survived their husbands for some years already. The oldest in the group was not in this situation as her parents had passed on some years back but she observed that it was common to find the `burden’ falling on single daughters to look after their aged parents. Statistically, 75% in this group are looking after their mothers who are in their late 70s to 80s.

I hope by sharing some of the struggles the caregivers in this group are facing, it will divide the burdens, struggles and challenges that other caregivers face with the hope that it will bring comfort and solace, possibly giving some respite.

Our group’s conversations soon went into how our mothers faced ageing and health issues, struggling to cope with day to day living. Although we laughed at the mind-blowing and mind-boggling situations in caring for our mothers, it was also a deep and constant struggle for us to cope on a daily basis.

One shared how her mother hoarded things in the house and they were items of no use or purpose. These things or items can be considered rubbish and cluttered the house. The house needs to be kept clean and safe so they (mothers) would not stumble over things or go in a frenzy searching for things they had misplaced in the clutter (a common happening nevertheless). Another shared how her mother had faeces on her hand after going to the toilet and when she tried to get her to wash her hands, the mother scolded her for being picky and a clean freak! The one with the oldest mother find it hard to keep her occupied through the day as she would be bored quickly from watching television, to doing jigsaw puzzles and then wants to walk around the house and do something when she was not able to do so unaided. When she tried to help her walk safely, she was chided for trying to be troublesome with her.

Oh what wonderful and lovely mothers we have. No, I am not trying to be sarcastic here. This is how we single daughters cope with mothers having dementia or illnesses that have robbed them of their ability to reason, to think clearly or logically. To look beyond their failings and see the person in them that is still around in whatever ways possible. We often say we do not know whether to laugh or to cry in our struggles. We will also let it out when talking to family or close friends about how ridiculous or tough it has been as it was a form of relief but we struggle not to say too much as it is our mothers that we are talking about. Being daughters, we struggle with whether we have failed or did not do enough as we see them deteriorate, and whether we were wrong to talk about their `unsavoury’ behaviour to others.

One of the hardest illness to cope with as a caregiver, is dementia. To see your loved ones gone into a different time zone and perhaps, dimension. A dimension where human reason and logic do not exist, where confusion and abstract ideas flourish. Another world has been created in their minds and eyes. Some would be filled with suspicion, with darkness and evil forces in their thoughts. Some with utter joy at the sight of flowers, cute pets, cartoons, and balloons, much like children. Some have a combination, depending on their mood swings. And sadly, some will not remember their own flesh and blood right before their eyes, and treat them with disdain or apprehension.

I believe there are many, not just single ladies, who are struggling as caregivers of parents, grandparents, spouse or siblings. It is a very lonely and hard journey. As the person whom they care for are often unable to appreciate them or even worse, curse them and speak ill of them in front of other people. Some may ask to be killed or to let them die as they do not want to suffer. Day in and day out you hear cries such as, “Let me die!”, “Why let me suffer?”, “I am going to die!”, “Why are you so cruel to me?” Furthermore, the people around you (relatives included) may pass remarks and comments that only add to the pressure and pain of caregivers. Many of you suffer in silence.

I would like to let you know, you are not alone, and if you need to talk to someone, drop me an email and we’ll see how we can share/divide our `misery’.

“I have learned now that while those who speak about one’s miseries usually hurt, those who keep silence hurt more.”

― C.S. Lewis

There’s a time for everything, even Grief

Tomorrow, 29 March 2015 will be the State funeral for Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. It will be an unprecedented experience for the nation. The last 6 days of paying tributes and last respects have also been an unprecedented experience for the people to mourn the loss of its great leader.

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The spirit of unity and outpouring of grief and appreciation of the multitides for this great man was overwhelming, comforting and yet, heart breaking.

When I think of how my late grandmother and father, and my mother suffered hardships through the 2nd World War lacking in food, without education or jobs, yet able to eke out a livelihood to eventually raise children like me, I am grateful they were in Singapore.

I thank God for putting great leaders like Mr Lee Kuan Yew to lead this small country to where it is today and have a community of various cultures, race and religion to grow and live in peace.

I miss my grandmother and father dearly and think of them often. I have grieved over losing them more than ten years ago and celebrate their lives and the impact they had on me and my family through making Photobooks about them and many blog posts on experiences growing up with them. They have given much of their lives to the family and we will cherish memories of them always, gratefully.

To give one’s life for a country is a noble cause and often regarded as heroic when it comes to saving lives or in battle. I wonder what it should be regarded as when it involved toiling tirelessly and selflessly, in and out of the country, for several decades to see a nation rise from almost nothing to call their own and make a significant mark in the global arena.

I have cried and will cry for the loss of our great leader. We wish his family will find comfort and peace during this painful period. After this grieving period, I will look forward to celebrate his life well lived and pray that Singapore will continue to be blessed with good leaders and good people who will strive to love the country over self.

BEWARE! We only have one set of TEETH!

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Of course you know this already. I am not trying to be sarcastic or insulting but merely making a proclamation of enamel enlightenment. Over the years, my visits to the dentist has turned into a steep-upward climb in costs and saving my teeth but I think saving Gaia (the earth) has a far better chance than my teeth.

Why did I choose to write about this? Well, I told the dentist at my last visit when I boldly propped myself up on the reclined chair, raised my hand, pointed upwards and said, “I must tell all parents and parents-to-be about how important it is to inculcate good dental hygiene in their children.” Actually, this also applies to everyone who have teeth (real ones).

I have bragged in several posts about my kampung (village) life but there was one area that I cannot and that was because adults then had little knowledge of dental care and it had caused many kids, including myself to suffer the consequences of this. I was called “Bo geh” (no teeth)

bo geh

when I was 4 or 5 years old and it was not uncommon for kids in the kampung to have rotting teeth and pulling them out with their fingers every now and then. Our second set of teeth had to come out prematurely and they looked over-sized on most of the kids. My mouth had no space for the permanent set, so the canines grew above the incisors and premolars (the photo below will help you visualise).

Teeth

Then I was given other nick names like “Dracula” or “Vampire”. Well, the growing up years will continue to fill other blog topics but for now, the main focus is on the recent dental saga.

It was the first time that I chose to visit another dentist to seek a second opinion. Over the past 6 years I have been visiting a particular dentist near my neighborhood and it belonged to a dental group (more established and has several clinics). After sometime like several root canals, crowning and a bridge later, I was taken aback when my concerns raised in a routine visit was brushed off. Somehow, I felt that there were cavities or problems that need to be looked into but the dentist only clean the teeth and asked me to come back in 6 months.

Obviously, I was back before the 6-month period as I was having pain. The dentist analysed and took an x-ray and then recommended another root canal and crowning job for the molar or a referral to the specialist as it was near the nerves. It took two dentists and two visits where they `knocked the rockers off’ my poor tooth to figure whether it was cracked or not. I felt that it may have cracked just by their knocking! In the end, the inlay on the tooth was taken out and a temporary filling was made and I was given 3 months to come back for another assessment. I left 250 bucks poorer and none the better :(.

“That was it!”, I said to myself and looked for another dentist’s opinion.

I visited another neighborhood dental clinic near my home which did not have the corporate stylish-look-and-feel of the previous one. It was homely and cosy inside and when I entered the dentist office, a young female dentist attended to me. I related my experience, she patiently listened and never once concurred with my critical slant on the other clinic (without revealing their identity). She started by checking every single tooth asking her assistant to record down what she said as she move from one tooth to another. My heart sank as I heard her uttering coded language for practically every tooth as the assistant frantically wrote down her rather long assessment. It sounded like I was a badly wounded soldier in an ER!

Of course she needed an x-ray to have a better assessment of the whole teeth so it was done with my agreement that it would be a large one rather than focus on the problem tooth only. Then she went through the `war zone’ with me. She stated about 4 more cavities that needed attention and gave me an idea of the urgency of each where the more important ones could be worked on first. This made me feel that the previous clinic was not interested in `small’ jobs and did not highlight any of these problems during the routine check. They wanted the more `lucrative’ ones and I am all the more angry about this but did not say it to this dentist.

The problem molar was the real intense discussion after the overview was done. I had 3 options; root canal with crown, extraction, or implant. Each had its pros and cons and they were not at all rosy. Hope by now you know why I am compelled to write about this as it is really not worth experiencing all these in your adulthood as it affects your general well being as well as burn a rather big hole not only in your teeth but also in your pockets!

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So take care everyone!

This Silly Little Thing Called Love

As I read a recent post from a series of postings by my niece and seeing The Daily Post’s writing prompt’s “I Want to Know What Love Is.”, this post is made.

The series written by my niece was titled “this silly little thing called love” and you can see the latest post here.

The perspective of someone more than 20 years younger, made me realise that love knows no boundaries to age, gender, race, color or creed, including the knowledge and learning from it. For those who choose to love, they may be scarred, burned, scorned or choked but they may also experience or learn about forgiveness, healing, mercy, grace, friendship, humanity and what really matters and what don’t.

A very old song rung in my head when the title of the prompt was read. It was “To know him is to love him”. Although this does not seem to flow with what was said earlier…. does love always flow that way?

[In response to daily prompt : “I Want to Know What Love Is.”]

Candy Crush vs Angry Ball

I think there are two groups of people today. Those who play games on computers or mobile devices and those who don’t. My guess is that the group that plays these games are much larger than those who don’t. Those who do not play these games would find it harder to play other games as the numbers had shrunk and the interests in such games are fading.

I missed those times when I could play games with my fellow kampung (village) friends. There was nothing digital going on at that time and there were many situations that required improvisation and imagination to play. It involved leadership, teamwork and it built camaraderie. We grew up appreciating and respecting each other and I am grateful to still be in touch with some of these friends today. The whole kampung was our playground. The kind of games we played was simple yet fun and adventurous, at times even dangerous.

One of the games was `Police and Thief’ where half the group (thieves) will have a headstart to run and hide while the other half (police) will have to find and catch them. They need to catch and bring them to a detention place (designated before the game starts).  To win the game, the police need to catch all the thieves. The thieves who were yet to be caught could attempt to rescue those detained by running pass the guard and tapping any of the detainees to set them free. One round of game can last over an hour and can be very tiring. It seemed simple but it was an elaborate game covering an area about the size of a football field. The area had clusters of wooden houses, trees, back alleys, lumber yard, shops and huts. Each group had to come together and strategise before playing the game and leaders were appointed to make decisions and negotiate terms with the opponents along the way. This elaborate game needed quite a number of players to make it work so when the numbers were low, other games were played.

One such game was called `Hantam Bola’ (meaning `Hit with Ball’ in Malay). This was a painful game and most girls would make excuses not to play (except for hyperactive me). Why was it painful?  The ball was made of a leathery-rubber material, hollow and about the size of a tennis ball. The photo below is a close example but the ones we used had red oriental patterns on it:

Old rubber ball

This ball, when thrown at high speed and hits you, it would really hurt and sting. How was the game played? Players had to stand inside a rectangle drawn on the ground, about the size of half a basketball court. There will be a small hole dug out at one side of the court in the middle and each player will take turns to attempt to put the ball in the hole by rolling it on the ground towards the hole. The diagram below will give you a better idea of the layout (the stars represent the players):

Hantam Bola field

Once anyone managed to get the ball in, he or she would run to the ball, grab it and throw it from the position of the hole towards the other players who would be running frantically to dodge the ball. Whoever gets hit by the ball or run out of the rectangle will be out of the game. If the thrower missed hitting anyone, he or she will be out of the game. The game was a process of elimination where the last kid standing will become the champion. Can you imagine what happens when the ball gets in the hole?  It will become an angry ball indeed and you will hear the piercing, terrified screams of the players as well. Those who got hit by the ball was not only out of the game but received a souvenir in the form of the ball’s imprint wherever it landed. It will remain for a day or two.. ouch! Some were hit at the back, arm or leg and some less fortunate ones, on the face!

I believe my real school was from these games and not from formal education as I cannot recall any of those lessons today. Most of all, we were all as fit as a fiddle running around like headless chickens as we were screaming our heads off in most of the games. It was terrifying yet wonderful!

I shall leave you with what happened to fit as fiddle these days through my favourite character as usual 🙂

Snoopy's Brother