The Draw of Silence

So one of my readers asked, “What is the draw of the silence?

The silent gaze of the One who loves you conveys tenderness, understanding, compassion and so much more.

It’s pretty tangible, just as if He is standing or sitting beside you, enjoying your company, even as you enjoy His.

This cannot be imagined. It can only be experienced.

Sometimes, He speaks; and whatever He says will come to pass.

Most times, I am content just to know He is there.

Many are uncomfortable with silence and that is a pity, for God is often found in quietness. His Spirit calls to our spirit; His Deep calls to our deep.

And when we respond, He rewards us with His unwavering attention.

Each silence has its own innate quality; some silences have the essence of peace; some convey strength; others, understanding. Each silence is different. But Love is embedded in every aspect of the silences of God. That is how we know the silences are of Him.

And my reader asks, “What is the purpose?”

I have no purpose except to enjoy being with the One who loves me.

MacRitchie Reservoir, Singapore

When Perception isn’t Reality

WEDNESDAY’S WORD

“Perception is everything,” a former boss used to say frequently and quite fervently. I knew something was on his mind, but I didn’t ask. Then I noticed it playing out in my life.

The meaning of this quote, for those of you who are a little behind here, is that what people perceive to be their reality is, in fact, their own reality.

askthemanager.com

What people perceive is actually their own reality. The issue is, they play out their “reality “on me, which has resulted in hurts and drama. Then, I had to adjust my own perception — the people whom I thought were mature and objective were not. They were acting out their presuppositions on me.

What they thought was me, wasn’t me. But they thought it was. And what could have been a rational conversation to sort out an issue became… Well, you can let your imagination run riot here…

Time and time again, it happened.

It became clear that no matter what others thought, I had to practice being precise about what I was thinking and believing, and to articulate it to them.

This is what Jesus wants. He wants us to clarify wrong perceptions. When we find out someone is offended over a perceived slight, we could take a moment to talk it out with them; conversely, when we are aggravated by what we think is a slight from another, we can initiate the conversation with a view to reconciliation.

These conversations can hopefully, result in an alignment of perception and we can move forward.

And what if these conversations don’t resolve anything?

Well, what I’ve found is that God isn’t in unreality.

Living in unreality results in a lot of hurt and drama.

I prefer to be where God is.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. –Phil 4:8

Addendum: A reader asked me, “What if there isn’t trust?” My answer is, ask God to prepare all parties’ hearts and minds, to arrange a time and a place for the mutual conversation to take place. And then, let it go, forget it, stop chewing on it. It has become His responsibility; let Him handle the details.

Go on with the rest of your life.

When the time is right, you will meet and the conviction of the Spirit will be there.

When God Sends His Friends

There are good friends, and there are God-friends. We hang out with good friends as there are mutual interests, mutual support, we have fun and we look forward to meeting again.

And, there are God-friends. They are there for a season, perhaps for life, but a few things make them stand out.

They “get” you. You don’t have to explain yourself — they already believe in you. They’re in your corner.

They’re like you, yet very unlike you. They’ve been through stuff you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy and they’ve come out with a spiritual stature that people recognize and flock to. And when they see you, there’s a connection. They know, they understand — instinctively they know you; they’re on your side and they’ll fight for you. And you don’t even have to ask.

Those are God-friends.

When I reached 40, I started having God-friends. In the bible, 40 and multiples thereof are spiritually significant. That was the season God-friends started to come one after another — those He has assigned to walk beside me through tough times because He knew I was totally unprepared for them.

My God-friends guided me when I was in confusion; they outlined a strategy to handle the mess I inherited while they trained me to tackle the person behind it. They ensured my rights were respected when the majority wanted to push the issue under the carpet; when my enemies were speaking crookedly, they spoke up to set the record straight and silenced them. When I was in crisis, they made time for me and used their skills to heal me.

God-friends know my heart, they believe in me and stand up for me.

They are answers to years of prayer.

Perhaps He needs the time to prepare them for me, and me for them. Whatever the reason, they are the God-friends I need, and He sends them to light up the path before me.

God is faithful, and He sends good and faithful friends.


(Picture taken at the MacRitchie Reservoir, Singapore)

An Encounter with Beauty

CREATION FRIDAY

A few days ago, I met a new friend who’d agreed to hike around the MacRitchie Reservoir with me. Our mutual friend couldn’t make it, so I met J by myself. As we got to know each other, it was interesting how she directed the conversation. First, she wanted to know how long I usually walked — it was 1.5 hours. Then I told her I’d just done some Pilates classes which helped me get my legs back into good order. Before, they were aching.

When she found out that my legs had just recovered, she suggested a shorter 1-hour walk. She knew where the Prunus trail would lead to, and how to loop back to the car park. She knew which trail was a boardwalk, which was rocky, which was sandy, and which was rubberised. She also knew that walking 1.5km would take approximately half an hour.

Knowing that I enjoyed walking, she suggested I hike the Green Corridor from Hillview to Buona Vista, ending there for a meal at the mall. The total time, including stopping for some pictures, would be 1hr 45 mins. She also said I should start early in the early morning as there are no trees providing shelter from the heat of the day.

I was blown away by her practical Servant mindset — in the first 20 mins of getting acquainted, she found out what I liked, how much walking I could handle and shared with me something she knew I would enjoy.

In return, I took a picture of her standing as the morning sun’s rays shone through the forest.

What a beautiful lady.

The Power of Blessing

COMMUNITY MONDAYS

For some weeks now, I’ve had a small group practice meeting one-on-one and affirming the good qualities they see in each other.

In Asia, this is counter-culture. In most Chinese families, children are seldom praised. The only exception is when a child gets no less than an A grade or is admitted into a well-known university — think Ivy League or Oxbridge. The metric for worthiness is performance, usually to do with academics, not quality of character.

So, meeting regularly with a group that desires to find their positive attributes and articulating them to each other is rather unusual. The result has been much self-discovery as each person realises that traits they take for granted are unique, and a blessing to the community.

I can’t reverse thousands of years of Chinese tradition through these exercises, but seeing people light up as their good qualities are blessed, is a reward in itself. And second, having them internalise these truths in their quiet time have resulted in greater self-confidence and so, a greater ability to tackle the challenges that life throws at them.

We’re still a work in progress, but I hope that affirming one another will be a lifestyle. When we are blessed, we are empowered to bless others.

I am really grateful to Rebekah Scott for her course in Unveiling Beauty, that started the ball rolling for me.

If you’re interested, go to https://sapphiretrainingcenter.com/ to check when it’s next being offered.

Photo by Vonecia Carswell on Unsplash

(This is a re-post as I’d accidentally deleted it)

Four Factors in a Friendship

COMMUNITY MONDAY

You’d think that being a new Christian and joining a church would be the beginning of a wonderful time with like-minded people. It wasn’t so for me –took me 10 years to find my sweet, wacky, out-of-the-box kind of believers — just like me!

Our church had a congregation of thousands and being a newcomer was hard going. On a whim, I joined a retreat with a friend, thinking that it would be a good way to get to know people and promising each other we’ll skip out on the teaching sessions once they get boring.

Image by rawpixel.com

We were divided into small groups for discussion. The leader, Stanley, asked me to start the session with prayer. I was taken aback. I had never prayed aloud before, and I told him so. He prayed instead.

Next session, Stanley again asked me to open the meeting with prayer! Well, I thought, this guy is persistent. Anyway, to get rid of him, I opened my mouth and uttered my first public prayer. This was the first step of many leading me to head the prayer ministry in the same church. (Stanley subsequently went into the pastoral ministry, eventually became senior pastor of the church and then President of the Methodist Church in Singapore).

But even though I eventually joined Stanley’s fellowship group of about 50 people which had Common Interests, I couldn’t find close friends there. The Chemistry was missing.

It’s difficult to define chemistry but we all know it when we feel it. It’s that spark that tells us we are kindred spirits. Their company makes us sparkle and shine. It’s invigorating to be with them — they seek us out, and we them. Life’s possibilities get bigger, we’re challenged to try new things and travel to new places. And this is the defining factor — we laugh longer and louder with them.

But even when we find someone with common interests and chemistry, the friendship breaks if there aren’t Common Values.

For me, bearing grudges is a deal-breaker. Either we talk it out and make up, or we move on. For some weird reason, some people believe they still can stay in the midst of community while harboring angry thoughts about another. It doesn’t work. Sooner or later, the volcano will erupt.

And lastly, there’s Trust. Trust involves risk. We can slowly risk telling more about ourselves to the other, and see if they can keep that confidential. We also need to see if they have integrity. Do they do what they say they will do? Or are words just sweet nothings?

Four factors in a friendship: Common interests, chemistry, common values and trust. A client asked me if she should stay in a relationship. I described all four factors and let her decide.

Cultivate your community now —

before it’s too late.

Photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash

When I was a young adult, the message was, “you’ve made it when you’ve gotten married.” Once my friends were married, I didn’t hear much from them. I was disappointed at being summarily abandoned once their goal was reached, but I decided I would make new friends.

After many years, I found I was pretty good at making and keeping friends. It wasn’t intentional, but many of them were more accomplished, more well-travelled, had more resources than I had. They were like me in the sense that they were always working on growing, on being better than before. Some had a better start; others seemed to have had it worse, but being gifted with much intelligence, natural energy and an incredible work ethic, became proficient in their field.

And then recently, I realised how my early losses and my positive response, which was making friends with the younger generation as my own generation dumped me, have buffered me against a reality that those my age and older are facing — a shrinking community and the prospect of loneliness.

Desperate, these people try to cultivate relationships that were abandoned decades ago, and to be honest, it feels odd, weird. Relationships take time to cultivate; they can’t be revived overnight. If you’ve ignored someone for decades and then suddenly decide you want a relationship with them, the normal response would be, “What??” Or worse.

My takeaway is, don’t just discard your friends just because you’ve gotten married and have had children, an exciting career and a higher social status. Friendship, like marriage, is for life. Take time to nurture your friendships so that when you need your friends, they’ll be there — naturally.

Bloganuary Day 14

As a child, I was brought up to instantly obey my elders, to never question them (at least outwardly) and to take whatever they dish out. This mentality set me up for victimization and it took me years to change.

But, change I must. I found I was attracting predators because I was tolerating bad behaviour. There’s nothing more attractive to a predator than someone who has been continually brainwashed to think that the interests of others always took precedence over hers.

So I got to work on establishing boundaries. The book on Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend was pivotal in my life; so was some coaching on confrontation by my counsellor friend, David Blakely. I would be tested on my boundaries, time and again, by young and old.

One day I was sitting across from a much older lady who had invited me for lunch. We chatted, but I noticed that whenever I glanced away from her to reflect on what is said and to formulate my response, she would immediately tap her hand on mine. After three or four times, my annoyance was rising. She was giving me no personal respite. Whether she was conscious of it or not, she was tugging at me emotionally like a puppet on a string. And no one likes to be controlled.

I took a deep breath and countering cultural expectations — we have been taught to never be “rude” to hosts, even more so, to an older person — I said, “Would you stop touching me, please?”

This was the litmus test for a friendship.

In my culture, if we rebuke someone, there’s a high probability the other person would take it as a put-down and find ways to take revenge, whether passively avoiding you or aggressively badmouthing you. The cultural “unforgivable sin” is to cause someone to “lose face” (i.e. be embarrassed), especially in front of others. So inappropriate behavior is rarely confronted.

That day, my friend was shocked and taken aback; I could see the emotions rolling across her face. Subsequently, she caught herself trying to tap my hand, and stopped.

To my relief, she didn’t take offence. We still have a good connection.

But I took a 50-50 risk. It could have gone either way.

Having a Famous Friend

I have watched with disbelief as some people stumble over one another to make an impression on a well-known person, or try to be this leader’s “friend”. Others are intimidated and stay far away.

It was advantageous for me to have worked as a reporter for some time before going into the church world. The copydesk is a most egalitarian place. Editors and reporters alike are working for one common goal — get the news out for publication the next day. Hierarchy and status are set aside.

I also got used to interviewing a CEO one day, and next day, the man in the street. I found everyone to be interesting, everyone to have something to say.

Church was a huge contrast — it was hierarchical and there were people there who just wanted to be seen. So it took some time to figure out who were the people who genuinely wanted to help, and those who were there because of legitimacy issues.

I got to know some pretty good people through church. But I never presume on a friendship that may not be there. That is where I see people stumble.

Leaders are by nature charismatic and friendly. They hold attention on stage; they speak well, usually dress well, and are generally courteous. They can be famous in their area of specialty. Many are attracted to them, and try to find ways to connect with them, sometimes disastrously. A more patient leader may tolerate these intrusions, a more testy leader would immediately cut them out. The more famous the person is, the more testy he can become….

First, as I said, I never presume on a friendship that may not be there. Leaders can and do act friendly — they meet many people, it’s become second nature. But don’t make the mistake of thinking he’s a friend — he’s just friendly. If he has a public email, then email, ask your question, and thank him for his time when he does answer.

Basic courtesy goes a long way. So many people have forgotten basic courtesy — or perhaps they never learnt it — that when you’re courteous and considerate, you stand out.

Then, let the relationship develop — or not. They may be on the way to being a friend with you, but if you start acting familiar with them, getting bold or presumptuous, you risk a breach in the relationship. Don’t base your self-worth on having a famous friend. They’re people too; don’t treat them like an object, a trophy. They won’t like it.

Some leaders have helped me a lot, but they have also said to not hold onto them. Leaders are on a journey, they are going somewhere and your paths are likely to diverge. I put these altruistic leaders in the category of “friends for a season”, people willing to help you for some time. And of course, if they need your help, return the favor. Don’t let it be a one-way street.

If you need to contact them, ask, “How may I contact you?” And let them choose their mode of communication. Some of them are pursued by literally hundreds of people, and are rightfully reluctant to reveal their phone number, especially if they’ve just met you.

In the end, the famous person becomes your friend mainly because of common interests, common values, chemistry and trust. He knows you won’t namedrop him to try and boost your status among your friends and colleagues — I know someone who absolutely hates this and changed his email address when he found that strangers were bragging that they knew him personally because they could write him through his business email!

Be discreet, be trustworthy. The famous person who enjoys your emails may just decide to be your friend.

Goodbye, My Friend

She wasn’t judgmental, she had a strong sense of justice, quick to leap to help, either lending a listening ear or praying for the best outcomes. She was willing to share knowledge in her area of specialty. She also set boundaries, saying right from the start to not cling on to her.

Being smart, popular, kind and caring it would be almost inevitable for most people to hang on to her. It was clear she needed space, and so I gave it to her.

When we were introduced in 2016, she was studying for her Bachelor’s; and after accomplishing that, she embarked on her Master’s. In the midst of all the academia, she moved house, and that house had issues for some time. Then, she learned her mother had cancer and she made sure she took care of her until she passed away. And then, she moved again.

In the last couple of weeks of my friend’s life, she was awaiting the results of two papers she had submitted, she was interning at a company that was keen to hire her… and then she had an aneurysm and a stroke and passed away.

Family and friends were shocked.

How to grieve, when she was half a world away? How does one have closure? And then a mutual friend said she baked a cake and ate it as a form of celebration of Kristan’s life. That was new to me, but it was biblical.

Deuteronomy 14 speaks of preparing and eating a special meal as a worship and thanksgiving before the Lord. So I did that, thanking God for the gift of Kristan, being grateful for the time we had together and the friendship that was formed in the midst of prayer battles. And while honoring the Lord for enabling me to know her for a season, eating a small meal while the sun was setting, I saw some of the clouds turn pink. And they were in the shape of a hand, as if waving goodbye.

Goodbye, my friend. Till we meet again at the meal that surpasses all other meals.