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 15

Daily reflection has proved to be very beneficial. Over time, I have formed the habit of going over in my mind the day’s events. And I allow the feelings to bubble up.

  • If it’s joy, I re-enter the event in my imagination, and relive it again. I am reinforcing and strengthening my joy.
  • If it’s something negative like hurt or irritation, I would reflect on the cause. Is it my own unfulfilled expectations? Is it the other person’s lack of consideration? How can I do better next time?

For people who like a more deliberate structure and the authority of 400 years of tradition initiated by St Ignatius of Loyola, these five steps are very helpful.

The Pocket Examen is from Loyola University, Maryland

These daily reflections gets me unstuck from today and moves me on to tomorrow.

An unexamined life is not worth living

Socrates

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.

Finding Direction in Life

Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash

When I was a youth worker during a wave of charismatic revival, I was asked by an 18-year-old: “What do you think God’s purpose is, in my life? What courses should I take in the university?” I answered quite logically: “Why don’t you choose the courses you’re good at?” The teen was disappointed. I think he expected me to lay hands on him and prophesy: “Thus saith the Lord…”

Nope.

So, how do you discover your life purpose?

You begin with your natural inclinations. As a child, I loved reading. I also loved writing. It’s just there. So it was natural that I would major in English Literature and then move on to journalism. I started out as a sub-editor and later moved on to reporting, magazine journalism, tried a stint at PR (didn’t like it) and then started freelancing.

A few months later, God intervened and changed the whole direction of my life. My parents were non-Christians although I was exposed to some smatterings of the Christian faith. After an unexpected God-encounter (I plan to write about that later), He called me to full-time ministry; so I attended theological college and then started what would be the beginning of 21 years of church work.

I began with two ministries — youth and prayer — but through trial and error, I found my ultimate calling was prayer, and the particular audience that was attracted to me were young adults.

But there were new skills I had to learn. I had to adapt to the church hierarchy; recruit, lead and sometimes counsel volunteers. I had to work with a pastor, my colleagues and with a string of secretaries with varying competencies and temperaments. I organised events for forty, and for a few hundred. Occasionally, I preached or taught.

As I was in charge of the prayer ministry, I was also expected to have some competence in spiritual healing! Another learning journey started; I tried various ministries and methodologies, but it took years to find a ministry with leadership and people I could resonate with. And I found that ministry, not in Singapore, but in the U.S.

In Aug 2018, I retired. Naturally, I continued the spiritual healing ministry I had started. But the people that stuck with me were getting healed — I was working myself out of a job! So, I wondered what to do.

Then an email flew in with a suggestion that I attend a course that’s about Unveiling Beauty — seeking and articulating God-given design in yourself and in others. In that course, I rediscovered my first love — writing. And this blog is the outcome.

God had brought me back one full circle but now with a new set of skills I had acquired along the way. The platform has changed — instead of the church, I am now reaching out through my writing to the diverse community that’s out there.

The Methodist preacher John Wesley had declared, “The world is my parish.” Mine too.

Re-gifting your Christmas gifts

Many put a lot of thought into their Christmas gifts, but sometimes, what they give you may not be appropriate. For instance, I received a large-sized Yankee Candle — I know it’s a nice gift coming from a warm heart, but I am allergic to some fragrances, especially Yankee Candle’s. If I keep it, it would gather dust. So I decided to give it away.

(Refer to my article, the Trojan Horse Gift https://wordpress.com/post/tree-of-healing.com/228 for my rationale in giving away gifts)

But who would like it? I went through my list of friends — most have allergies or prefer gifts that are organic in origin — then, I recalled one of them loves fragrances. How do I know? Most people give as gifts the things that they themselves enjoy. So I sent a text:

I also added in the gift I originally intended to give her. So she had a bonus!

Christmas is a time of giving — a time of being generous in love, thought and deed. May your Christmas season be rich in all three.

Dealing with Life’s Disappointments

It’s the time of the year when many of us look back at our goals and desires — and we may return from that self-imposed inventory with an empty feeling, a sense of desolation and abandonment and the eternal question, “Why, God? Why, when I’ve prayed so hard, and tried so hard?”

Therapeutic Garden, Bishan Park, Singapore

When I was a new Christian freshly baptized in the Spirit, I was asking God for many things, and it seemed like He was indulging me quite a bit! Among the many things, I asked for my dream job — a certain position in a magazine, a certain pay — and the owners were willing to accommodate! I was excited. But I also had an uneasy feeling as there was a sense of disapproval coming from Him. It was as if he was saying, “I’m giving it to you because you asked for it, but it won’t do you good.” I backed out.

Then, God gave me His Plan A. He led me into full-time ministry — it took nine years altogether from being a new Christian hearing His call, then working my way into theological college and into a full-time position as a church worker. I was in charge of the prayer ministry — He had the perfect position for me, and it has been a rich, fulfilling 21 years on which I look back with no regret and much satisfaction. He knew exactly what He made me for, and He put me into the right path.

Then, there was another prayer request: I was still single. There were a few relationships I had as a pre-Christian, but I had no peace in any of them. When the Lord became a more constant factor in my life, He made it crystal clear I had to let go of the current boyfriend. And it was easy, because I loved God so much more.

So, my prayers for a life partner were answered with a “No”. Was I upset? Yes. Was I disappointed? Yes. But after expressing my deep disappointment with Him — not once, but many times — there gradually came a peace and rest in my spirit. I didn’t get what I wanted, but He gave me what I needed — His peace and rest, His presence, love and guidance, and so much more revelation of Him and His Creation than I’d ever dreamed of or imagined.

My experience has been that when we’re willing to trust Him, He will lead us into the more abundant life. God may sometimes deny us our requests, but He always fulfills His promises.

So my question is, are you willing to trust His much greater wisdom?

Navigating around Noxious Leaders

What happens when the leader appointed over you is insecure and somewhat unpleasant to deal with? What happens if you are the noxious leader? Let’s deal with the first category, before we go to the second.

If you’re in the first category, there are three clear options:

First, ask for a transfer. I was known as a capable writer and I got transferred to another department to get it started. But I didn’t like the new boss, so I tweaked a connection and got myself out. This is one of the advantages of working in a big organisation and of being junior in ranking. There are more options.

Second, grit your teeth and bulldoze your way through. This was viable as the boss liked me, although I disliked his style. The positive factor was that I had established trust with him over time by constantly being able to meet expectations as well as taking over a project that another colleague had overtly rejected, to his great discomfiture. I was also very honest with him.

By God’s grace, I could handle the pressure for some time. When I was near the end of my tether, another more mature boss took over. Thank God.

Third, resign. This is a viable option when you find that what your boss wants doesn’t coincide with your design. As the saying goes, It’s like trying to force a square peg into a round hole. It’s doing violence to who you are, and what God has designed you to be. It’s not a good situation to be in and it’s better to resign and look for another position — and so preserve your mental health — than stay and be miserable.

If you cannot change your situation, then it’s time to evaluate if God is trying to develop certain attributes in you that you don’t have yet. And the likely reason you don’t have it is that you never learned it from your family — the first place where you’re exposed to leadership, good and bad.

For instance, if one of your parents was controlling or inflexible, then it’s quite likely you’re going to repeat that behaviour in the workplace — it’s the only kind of “leadership” style that you know. And God allows you to lead a team and in a confrontation, a member calls you controlling and inflexible. Oops.

Or to remedy that awful controlling behaviour you so despise, you become so un-controlling and so flexible that your leader tells you that your team is out of control. Oops… again.

Then, what to do? Learn to balance both structure and freedom. Those are key values for me. In a previous article on forming a prayer team, I integrated both values in the way the team functioned https://wordpress.com/post/tree-of-healing.com/104

Agreement was also important — I spell out my working style and ensure the other person understands and agrees before moving ahead. Then, there’s unity. And with unity, there’s power to do God’s work (Psalm 133).

In God’s moulding process, I found out some of my key values: structure and freedom, agreement and unity. What are you finding out about yourself?

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.

Working with Good Leaders

I am known for working well with some prominent leaders and sometimes am the target of jealousy because of that. 

While my enemies like to think I was plotting, planning and scheming, actually it was simpler than that. God was arranging a series of divine appointments all along.

By His direction, I joined a prominent organisation, and just over a year later, a mature, respected leader was appointed to lead it. Staff were generally happy about it and when he came, the first thing he did was set expectations. Our organisation, he said, was a big one and change had to be done slowly. He also set the tone of our interaction — we were not to act like fishwives, but were to address each other respectfully, regardless of our position. Then, he set about having one on one conversations with the staff.

Newly arrived and desiring to get things going ASAP, he wanted me to lead a key position. It would be a position of prominence and if I had been ambitious, I would have leaped at it. Except that I had a reservation and decided to tell him to direct his queries a certain direction.  And said no more.

Later, he came back with a look in his eye and immediately changed his plans — I had told him what the issue was, without telling him anything. He could see for himself. And also because I wasn’t fighting him when he wanted to lead in certain areas of my domain, he trusted me more.

As far as I was concerned, he could take the lead if he wanted to. He had made it clear he wanted the right to make the final decision on any matter as he would be taking the blame if anything went wrong. That was fair enough. He was a far cry from the insecure leaders I had to work with, who would take the credit for themselves when things went well, but blame the subordinate when things went awry.

We worked well because we had similar values.

Because I was a leader [of 50s, he was a leader of 5,000 (Exodus 18:21)], I also knew what a leader needed and because I was an introvert — and he even more so — I knew he needed space and I gave it to him.

I respected his privacy and his boundaries. And he also respected mine. Because of his unofficial mentoring, I became a better leader. From him, I learned how to have friends in the office without practicing favoritism. He was the most humane and effective leader I had ever met.

The Lump in the Carpet

Many hate confrontation. They prefer to ignore the issue and let the anger pile up until one day, they can’t stand it anymore and there’s one BIG explosion and… well, I think you know how it goes.

Many opt for avoidance, or “peace at any price”; others engage in endless bitter wars over the same old thing. The issue never gets resolved as both parties haven’t learned the skills of reconciliation. Both “resolve” it by sweeping it under the carpet and ignoring it until the lump under the carpet becomes a festering and foul smelling hill, making them sick.

But there’s a third way, a skill that few have learned and that’s to confront with love. I encountered it a few times, and only with the best people — those who rose up through the ranks because of outstanding competence and character.

The first time was when I was working as a rookie reporter and made a mistake that was published in the newspaper and the editor, a rising star, asked to see me. I expected to be flamed, and I went into his office with some trepidation. To my surprise, he gently pointed out my transgression, forgave me on the spot and sent me back to my desk. There was judgement, but also grace at the same time.

Then I made a career transition. I had learned how to work as a journalist — getting the editor’s brief, interviewing the people and then submitting the report. In journalism, you work to communicate ideas in the best way possible and within the set deadline. You learn to work fast and work well.

In church, I was expected to work with people — a very different scenario. And of course, I made mistakes. But I was again, blessed with pastors who were aware that I was learning a new profession — they confronted me with the issue, then either advised me or stepped in to remedy the situation. I received both truth and grace.

It gets a lot messier when the issues are not work issues, but people issues. I knew I had to learn how to confront in love, and enlisted the help of my colleague, a trained counsellor, who coached me.

First, I have to discern if it’s my issue or their issue. If it’s my issue — i.e. an old wound that suddenly got triggered — it’s quite straightforward. I bring it to the Lord for healing, and He does heal. If healing doesn’t happen immediately, I will enlist the help of a friend to discern what is hindering the process. I know it’s healed when I meet the person and there’s no distance between us.

If it’s their issue and it’s hindering our friendship, I will ask the Lord to prepare the time, the place and our hearts. If the wound is still festering and anger is going to spew out, then I need to work on forgiveness before arranging the meeting, else I would be inflicting more wounds on the relationship instead of healing it.

I would bring up my complaint and tell my friend what happened and what I felt about it; then I listen; then I give my feedback about what I heard from her; she clarifies; and then we go back and forth until we have a good mutual understanding and come up with some solutions for next time. I think I have learned that skill fairly well.

But having learned it, God has now given me a new challenge: learning to address repeated rude behavior. If it happens once, I take it as an aberration. If it’s more than once, I know it’s a habit and has to be addressed. Usually, calling it out there and then is very effective; if we leave it too late, the party is likely to have forgotten the whole thing. So, we need to be fast in processing the incident — which usually catches us by surprise — our thoughts and feelings, and calling out the behavior.

What usually inhibits us from doing so is fear of losing the friendship. But I have realised that if we don’t call this out, we’re going to lose the friendship anyway. As we start sweeping it under the carpet, we’re going to trip over the lump, or it will smell in time and make us sick. Ultimately, if we wish to stay well, we have no choice but to follow Jesus’ instruction that if someone offends us, we need to point it out just between the two of us. That’s the only way to go.