A little on life here in the other end of the world, just before the new school year has officially begun.
A backtrack in Autumn, reflections, In Great thankfulness.
1. A calm Saturday evening, serenaded by the lovely Belmont Ladies’ Choir in St Nicholas’ Church in the marketplace, a fund-raising charity event for the Durham Christian Partnership. A broad repertoire of gentle music, the first time I’d heard an all-ladies choir. Angelic voices rose in jubilant song through the church, “Sway with me” they sang, sway with them I did. All the way up til the rooftops of the church, and high, high beyond, so my imaginations, they too, swayed along with me.
Above: Old Steve & Evelyn jamming away in good harmony 🙂
Amongst the solo renditions of lovely old tunes were: “Close to You” by The Carpenters, “Trains and boats and planes“, “The first cut is the deepest” by Cat Stevens, and finally, lovelily, finishing with a South Pacific selection.
A bit of lyrics from a song I’d never heard but have since fallen in love with,
“Younger than Springtime”
I touch your hands
And my heart grows strong,
Like a pair of birds
That burst with song.
My eyes look down
At your lovely face,
And I hold a world
In my embrace.
Younger than springtime, are you
Softer than starlight, are you,
Warmer than winds of June,
Are the gentle lips you gave me.
Gayer than laughter, are you,
Sweeter than music, are you,
Angel and lover, heaven and earth,
Are you to me.
Must be listened together with the original tune.
It was one enchanting, enchanting evening, with the Belmont Ladies’ Choir.
Thence had come a little mid-week sojourn down South to London. Thankful to God, that I had been able to reach Chalk Farm station safe, with my late-night train just pulling into King’s Cross round about midnight. Rui Ling’s lovely home was my shelter for the dawn; I had fallen asleep to the gentle sounds of overground trains chugging along the track, a little distance across the River.
2. Chalk Farm, London. I had a warm breakfast of cream cheese bagel on egg toast on a bright rainy morning the next day at Cafe 79, a little walk from Rui’s house. She had been on a medical round, and so I had been free to wander around London. I had settled in a quaint little cafe tucked away along a street of young moms pushing prams in a gentrified district. A gentle grandma, blurrily taken in the picture, had bustled about the little place, clearing plates, very generous with her nearly-toothless smiles. A quiet morning was lovingly interrupted with a Skype call with Hui-ster, just before she headed off for CBSI at Glory back home. Praise and thank God for settling her into Glory. Ain’t no better place, as Pr Loli once said, hehe, there’s only one way: We go from Glory to Glory 😉
3. Brick Lane, East London. The headmaster, who used to be a Geography teacher, spearheaded the fieldtrip with his young and eager brood, along the multicultural streets of Brick Lane. A wonderful day, with an awesome bunch of polite and cheeky youngsters, whom had been incredibly excited to be walking around (Come to think of it, I did and still do love day-trips out from the schooling norm hours. Little India, Clark Quay… Yayhey to Fieldtrips! To come!) The atmosphere was one of wonder and amazement (and mixed with fear, for we had come across a whole host of strange & quirky people, too) as they hungrily took in the sights (rainbow-speckered graffiti art, vintage shops, smoke-pot hideouts, open canvases, Turkish & Jewish restaurants and a smattering of shelves of multi-coloured and multi-shaped sweets), sounds (gentle blues, jams, and foreign accents, Singlish) of Brick Lane, East London.
Above: Chloe (left) and Evangel (right), one of my super-obliging kids for the day 🙂 Twas lovely to run along with their young and wild imaginations, Evangel’s obsessions with flies, fantasies and friendly banter among the two made me burst out laughing.
Brick Lane Jamme Masjid, ব্রিক লেন জামে মসজিদ, formerly a chapel housed by the Protestant French Huguenots, who had later migrated out of the area.
“Sir! Pick me! Pick me!”
Above: Little windows in house-tops along the now-gentrified Fournier Streets
The early eighteenth century had seen protests in the Spitalfields streets in London, with the existing residents complaining as the newly built-up area was being used to house the French Huguenots, who were refugees fleeing from religious persecution in the modern Holland and Belgium. The little windows at the top of the houses along Fournier Street, are the remaining evidences of the weaving windows (silk industry) ran by the Huguenots, for their survival.
It was one meaningful afternoon spent, wandering around the streets of Brick Lane.
In the evening which followed, I had met both Michelle (whom I hadn’t seen in three good years!) and Shun Ling at Rui Ling’s house that evening, where she had cooked a sumptious Singaporean meal of fried beehoon and boiled corn-and-pork soup. My stomach rumbles a little as I remember how savoury it had been 🙂 It was an evening of blessed conversation. Words which had remained in my thoughts and which continue to process as the lovely evening passed: ‘Alpha-female’, a mind of one’s own, unassuming…. and
Above: Rui Ling & I over dinner at her place, mooncakes & oolong tea
Heheh, Rui Ling’s Singaporean Fried Bee Hoon!!!!
4. Primrose Hill, London. Rui Ling and I had risen fairly early, for our plan for the day was to catch a little of the rising sun above the hill famously known to offer an amazing panoramic view of London town, and then jet off to ye Old Spitalfields Market to potter around for litle bits and things to decorate Rui Ling’s apartment. As we ascended the hill, two things I do remember:
A) The words carved in stone at the peak of the Primrose Hill:
“I have conversed with the spiritual Sun. I saw Him on Primrose Hill” -William Blake
B) Two absolutely joyfully-abounding dogs, one black and the other a light brown, running up to me as I admired the scene before me, and the skies above me. Blackie had deposited an incredibly soggy squash ball at my feet. I hesitated for all but two seconds, and then decided that I would obligingly take up his kind offer. I hurled it far beyond (I had once been a runner, but had never excelled much in short put) before he would bring it to me again, a wagging tail of friendliness.
A picture just before both came around the fence to me, glad taken before for if not I would have loving dog saliva on my phone screen, heheh. Not that I mind, though 😀
“A cross! A cross!” Two criss-crossing train of clouds in the skies, spotted as we were leaving Primrose Hill for the train station.
Above: A Sun-kissed picture on the peak of Primrose Hill, with the Cross behind us, & one before us 🙂
5. Old Spitalfields Market, Liverpool Street, London. (Open once every week on a Thursday). A treasure we had found indeed. A treasure stove. Caveat: Not the best treasure I had ever found 😉
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Above: An olde typewriter: If you peek real close, you note the Love of God.
Hanging overalls worn by a little boy in 18th century, perched high above hunted antlers (year hunted: 1991), ancient pendants, and a smattering of beautiful trinklets, pearls and necklaces.
Took my breath away, this old wooden player did. Music from the 60s and 20s generously perforated the entire square and serenaded the whole market, enjoyed as Rui Ling & I sat on a bench to a lunch of fajitas and Coke bottles.
Ontowards Kings’ Cross: Rui with her marvellous painting alike to Les Miserables’ French revolution, and the friendly mister who had sold me his beautiful 1920 Farfisa musical organ at a very generous 45 quid. ! And whom had very graciously offered to carry it through the gentle rain, all the way through to the train station. Not so for the rest of London, but a good many kind gentlemen had helped along with its transportation after I had alighted from the train at Durham. One of them being my brother, Timmy. It was good to be back home in dear Durham 🙂 Always good to be home.
The Farfisa now sits in my living room at 15 Lambton Street, I must say it has gone to one good home 😉 All its keys are intact, so also, are the beats. (Not its volume level though! It is quite loud, which restricts its playing to the morning and afternoons, and well, I managed a few evenings heheh). I had learnt to play the piano when I was younger, but had gotten distracted at age eight at Grade 2. My heart was yearning for another – I had needed sound, vivaciosity, multi-tri-complex kaleidoscope of sounds beyond the piano-sound, so my Pa had recommended that I switch to playing the Yamaha Electone, one of the Japanese. My heart had been stolen since; there was no turning back. Electone it was, electone it was, and continues to be.
Farfisa, freshly assembled in my living room on a rainy Thursday evening.
Love tapping away on the black keys 😉
6. Dinner, 15 Lambton Street, Durham. That evening, I had also timely returned to a sumptious spread conjured by Ah Mo and Renee, it had been a farewell/welcome party. A farewell for Timmy and Johe, who were due to leave Durham in the following week, and a welcome of sorts for both Keith & Renee (though they have indeed been in Durham for quite awhile already, heheh.) It’d been more so a farewell for Johe, I had been sad to bid goodbye. More in a a moment.
7. Vennels’ Cafe: Cakes, scones and Rose Petal tea (Number one tea in the Universe & some say beyond). I had a good conversation with Cathy & Cynthia at Vennels’ on a Friday afternoon, two girls, especially Cathy, who had been incredibly eager to come to various church events to explore Christianity. iClub, TNT and even a prayer meeting. I think both settled in well thus far, and a question by Michael that day remains in my head however:
“If non-Christians pray, does God hear their prayers?”
I remain puzzled, and am without answer. This could go a million ways, but this is good fodder for critical thought.
Thankful to God, for good conversation and testimonies as it poured intermittently outside, the bright Sun shone as we later stepped out into the sun-lit afternoon for a look around Whittard’s, sipping more tea on the way.
It was finally then, time to have a little time on my own, sky-watching over the River Wear.
Skies like these, are part of the reason why I believe in miracles, these tremendous works of my Heavenly Father’s hands, from Whom is the Source of Beauty.
Hehehe, on a Saturday morning, and I do mean morning here very seriously indeed, for I had strangely stayed up all morning to skype Debs and Hui (a FIG meeting!), and had not felt tired until half 6 in the morning when I had then returned to a sound sleep til 11. I am thankful for FIG, and Deb’s ‘invisible spider’ leadership in it – Invisible spider I say, hehe, because I think to one of the theories I had come across last year which talked about the assumed working and functioning of a group, a web of structure and a web of continuance, under the operation of the ‘Invisible spider’. Debs, with her ‘ehhey’s and wonderful sense of amusement and humour hehe, has led and continues to lead FIG well. Having found and having joined this Cell Group whilst back in Singapore over the summer, is something which I am incredibly thankful to God for. We do joke that we are the ‘MOE/civil service’ CG, with a number of us working with in the iron-rice-bowl industry, and a handful (a humble underestimate, really) of us as future educators of Generation 123 (since we’ve gotten past Gen Z, thought it’d be good to begin with numbers). We are pretty much at the same stage of life, which allows us to fellowship in a way that encourages heart-felt sharing as well as deeper questions in Life. Our lives, now His, and interweaved in beautiful ways. I am thankful to God for this fellowship, and do so pray that it shall continue even as I am away.
Above: Photo whatsapped by Debs :D, Debs and Hui-ster in a tiny corner on the right. Had no idea my face had been as enlarged as this on their screen!!!!!
Thoughts which had stayed with me from the Bible Study we talked through on Acts 11:
– Reaching out beyond ‘cliques in church’, mission: embrace lone sitters in church! Heheh 🙂 Something we three seek to be learning to do in the year ahead.
– The nature and character of Barnabas, a “good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11: 24). In this context he had been glad to see the grace of God in the salvation of those who had heard the Word and received Him, and here he had “exhorted them all to remain faithful to the LORD with steadfast purpose” (v23). Admirable qualities indeed, these words definitely on which greatly encourage, and whose qualities may we seek to emulate. Barnabas was one whom, as I remember in another context, had stepped aside to let the Apostle Paul share his testimony with the crowds, whilst himself being a man of grace and knowledge in God and who could presumably do the same task of ministering, equally well. This character had made me ponder about how we should really be humble before the LORD in ministry, stepping aside to let others lead, in acknowledging God’s Sovereign choice of time and person, and indeed, this idea of Partnership being one which I had been dwelling on over the weeks.
Indeed, another book I had begun reading (yes I am the sort who has to begin with several books at one time heheh, has been like that since young, and lol i think this habit will stay with me til a ripe old age) is that of the “Grand Weaver” by Ravi Zacharias, whose words of late has very much ministered to me.
Firstly, agreeing with Ravi, that “I do not believe that one can earnestly seek and find the priceless treasure of God’s call without a devout prayer life”. Each of us is the temple of the LORD, and it was the LORD who said, “My house will be called a house of prayer” (Isaiah 56: 7). That is where God speaks, the purpose of prayer and of God’s call in your life is not to make you number one in the world’s eyes, but to make Him Number One in your life. His calling is perfect, and He has a specific place for each one. Every member of the body of Christ has a particular role, and we find our fulfillment in filling that role. Note to self: Not all roles. That role.
Secondly, and leading from the first, the willingness to be outshone while shining for God. Humility is the touchstone of serving God. Many do fail in the pulpit because of failure in this area.
“We hear so much these days about ‘bigger churches’ and ‘bigger church events’ and ‘greater attendance’. We hear very little about being smaller in our own self-estimate.”
From these lessons of F. W. Boreham, I learn:
“There is a very lovable thing about the poppies in the corn that I can sufficiently admire. The poppies never belittle the corn, they glorify it. You think not less but the more of the corn because of the presence of the poppies. At a rose show, one particularly radiant blossom puts to shame all the surrounding roses. They are beggared by comparison. That is because a show is all artificiality and affectation. Nature never humiliates her more modest children in that ridiculous way. As you watch the blood-red poppies tossing in a sea of golden corn, it never occurs to you to institute a comparison. The poppies and the corn seem equally lovely. That is the glory of true greatness.
A commonplace life, we say and we sigh,
But why do we sigh as we say?
The commonplace sun in the commonplace sky
Makes up the commonplace day
The moon and the stars are commonplace things
And the flower that blooms and the bird that sings;
But dark were the world and sad our lot,
If the flowers failed and the sun shone not.
And God who studies each separate soul
Out of commonplace lives makes His beautiful whole.”
The Carpenter I now must learn to be, “the carpenter encouraged the goldsmith” (Isaiah 41: 7). One who stands under the bright lights of history will never, in God’s eyes, outshine the humble attractiveness of the one who humbly serves God. This is a good reminder, to be constantly prayerful in and about my service to the Lord.
On a personal note, I had finally taken time aside to really dwell and pray about how the year ahead should be, this final year in Durham. A Saturday noon Gmail chat (Johe upon hearing of this had incredulously exclaimed “What?! Who uses Gmail chat?!” haha, yes, we are and remain of the dinosaur age, well so as Lijie had been at work and had very graciously offered her break time to catch up, thank God 🙂 ) had helped me process my thoughts and sort out a thus-far fairly busy life I have had. I had begun initially with the goal of committing to three groups run here in Christchurch – iClub (of non-Christian international students who come to find out more about Jesus Christ) which meets on a Monday evening, iFocus (of Christian international students who encourage each other in the Gospel and seek to grow together in the Christian faith) which meets on Tuesday evenings, and TnT (in some senses I would deem the ‘highest level’, arbitrarily, comprising of older Christians who are presently working/teaching, married/single and the like) which meets on Wednesday evenings. These groups are clearly distinct in their aims, their goals, and the nature of fellowship and spiritual depth explored in the Bible Study’s contents. As became clear, it was incredibly humbling to come before God and realize that I might, in doing so, fall into the danger of spreading myself too thinly and as a result, affecting ministry, myself and the people to whom I am ministering to. It had been quite an overwhelming thought, I must confess, when I had initially considered committing myself whole to all three in the year ahead. It had been a great privilege to serve at iClub on Mondays in the past years, refreshing insights on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, various epistles even, and to witness God bringing sisters to Him in salvation. Yet this year, God had also clearly raised up amazingly capable leaders to serve at iClub, with a huge number of people, men and women, British and non-British alike, joining the outreach team this year. iClub serving non-Christian international students was, and continues to be an amazing ministry, but perhaps it was also God’s way of saying, it is time to focus… on iFocus. Leading iFocus would entail preparing Bible studies each week, with ‘SLOBS’ (Study Leaders Own Bible Study) meetings, and also meeting with sisters round the table individually to grow in faith and read good books together, as iron sharpens iron, sustained and upheld, again and once more, by the abundantly sufficient grace of God. TnT had been a hard decision – the first session I had attended had been convicting and well-received – and continues to be as I ponder my schedule for the year ahead. It had been lovely to meet with Garr Layy at my table, and to have the Skerratts graciously lead the group each week had been a great blessing – Shepherds they are indeed.
For awhile I had debated with myself as to whether it should be either iClub or TnT that I should in a sense ‘step back’ from – I had thought I would be able to stick and ‘manage’ with two. I was duly reminded, however, that there is nothing indeed, to prevent God from desiring for me to give up two (both iClub and TnT, in this case) and to really focus deeply on one ministry, and studies, alongside these.
That meant I had to do some real reflections and tracing of my thoughts and where they had stemmed from.
Reading a page from a book by Ajith Fernando,
1 Timothy 1: 17 To the King of ages, Immortal, Invisible the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever! Amen.This spontaneous outburst of joyous praise came from Paul after lengthy reflection on the fact that God showed him great mercy in giving him a ministry despite his unworthiness.see 1 Tim 1: 11-16:I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to His service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His immense patience as an example for those who would believe in Him and receive eternal life.”We are reminded, ‘therefore having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart’ – 2 Corinthians 4: 1.Indeed, our greatest qualification for ministry is the mercy of God. Such reflection on mercy does not cause discouragement, rather it causes great joy. For however great our weaknesses may be, the grace of God who called us to ministry’ super abounds’, so that we can continue to serve Him.
“My Beloved speaks and says to me: ‘Arise, My love, My beautiful one, and come with Me”– Song of Songs 2: 10
How timely that it had been planned that evening, one filled with the grace of God in fellowship with a nestbed of younger sisters in my home, all whom had recently returned from various countries to Durham for the new school year. I look forward to a year ahead of fellowship in work, play and spiritual growth, knowing in full faith and confidence that God’s grace will see us through.
He will see us through.
Thankful to God for speaking in His Word, for speaking through dear mentors, and for all whom He has placed in my midst.
It is timely to move on to Goodbyes, as I tie up the last few threads in the woven piece.
8. Goodbyes at Lambton Street, Durham. Johe and I had chuckled as we belted our hearts later in the evening on Tim’s ukelele and her egg-shaker… One friend and sister, whom I shall miss dearly, but whom, I know I shall see again in Singapore. That is the thing about Christian friendships and relationships aye? You know it’ll be a long, long time you’d see each other, stretching ontowards eternity and when we meet God in the New Heavens and New Earth. What a thought. (Requiring thus, a recent acquisition by a study by Randy Alcorn, who had been appraised and critiqued on his interpretations from the Bible on Heaven and what it shall be like. Do be looking forward to thoughts shared on Heaven!) As a token of our sisterhood, here we are pictured, a picture I must say which we both love: I in a flowerband I had owned since my first year in Durham, which had accompanied me as I had strolled through sunny days and enigmatic evenings on the streets of Paris, and Johe in a newer, embellished, red-rosed one, sprinkled with little fruits. The semblances are there – the crown, the Cross, and fruits of the Spirit which shall be borne forth even as Johe leaves Durham for London and for Singapore. Heavenwards in Christ we march on in good faith, sustained and upheld by the Abundant Grace of God. Warm wishes to you, Johe. May the words of Philippians 1 encourage us in our walk with Him.
So also, most recent of today, I had spent a good morning with Tim as he prepared to leave for Singapore, too.
A very affordable full English breakfast (all but 3 pounds 50!) at Cafe Nine Altars by the River Wear
I had had to leave for a meeting at the Geography department a little earlier than the time that Tim had been due to leave for the train station, and our final siblings hug before I left, had brought tears to my eyes, making me think of hugs from Pa and also Mom, too with Renee, as I bid them goodbye everytime I walk through the departure gates at Changi Airport. I hadn’t had the time to dwell as I half-ran to the Geography department, but a meaningful afternoon had ended with the discovery of a letter I found, left on my desk when I reached home.
I paused, still, as the tears welled up again. I read and re-read the letter, and I give thanks to God for a fruitful time spent here in Durham over the past three weeks. He had been disciplined in his devotions, and as he had shared, being humbled very much by the words of Kempis in ‘The Imitation of Christ’ (a book he shall be bringing to the army when it begins in a few weeks, alongside his Bible!), and had been a very loving and patient brother and housemate with Johe and I in his time here. He had volunteered his time at the Salvation Army, the good boy that he is, and had made a good many aged friends in his time there, several grandmothers whom had adopted him as their ‘grandson’ 🙂
I deserve nothing of those words he had graciously penned. As I think back, there were so many instances for which I could have a much better sister, a more patient sister, a more loving sister, in thoughts, in speech, in action. I think then, to our sibling-hood, and indeed united by real blood, for which God has graciously given – the opportunities for meaningful conversation as we caught up on life (having not much time to do that, myself being so busy in my summer home, as he had been as well, with work and internships, for which God has graciously granted us this window of time together in Durham! See how gracious God is indeed), and as we grew together in our walk with God. Tim is a dear brother whom I am able to be most honest, open and sincere with – for indeed, it is our families often who also sees the worst sides of us, and yet loves us all the same, and he is very much, very much, I tear as I say this,
The best brother God has given.
I do miss Tim. Yet I know he is safe on the plane home, and God would continue to sustain us and our siblinghood in Him even as he is away in Singapore and as he embarks on a new journey with God in the army.
How Gracious is God, How Gracious is He.
I am Thankful.
God has been Good, and continues to be, Eternal, Unchanging is He.
Praise and thanks be to God, for a meaningful, revealing and refreshing last weeks of the holidays.
School has since begun, and the first day had gone well indeed – an all-encompassing overview presented by the staff at the Department and thought-provoking sessions on Global Urbanism in the afternoon which had followed. There is a ton of challenging readings to be done, and for this, I do pray for discipline and perseverance in good faith as I embark on this new school year.
Psalm 23, an expanded version, one which has since been written carefully and blu-tacked to my wall here in my petit chambre (little room) which I shall see every morning,
The LORD is my Shepherd – that’s relationship!
I shall not be in want – that’s supply!
He makes me lie down in green pastures – that’s rest!
He leads me beside quiet waters – that’s refreshment!
He restores my soul – that’s healing!
He guides me in paths of righteousness – that’s guidance!
For His name’s sake – that’s purpose!
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death – that’s testing!
I will fear no evil – that’s protection!
For You are with me – that’s faithfulness!
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me – that’s discipline!
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies – that’s hope!
You anoint my head with oil – that’s consecration!
My cup overflows – that’s abundance!
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life – that’s deep blessing!
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD – that’s security!
Forever – that’s Eternity!
– Anon, on Psalm 23. To the Glory of God.
Over and over again, these words never fail to bring me back to Who God is, He who is Faithful, He whose Promises hold steadfast and sure.
In Christ alone. By faith, we see the hand of God.
A beautiful year ahead has since begun, and it is my heartfelt prayer, that as I embark on this journey, I keep His words here dear,
in remembering who my King is, who I am in Christ by faith, and who He is, He who has so faithfully and graciously brought me through so, so much that my mind fails to comprehend,
“Be Still, and know that I am God.”
~ Psalm 46: 10
Be all Praise, Glory and Honour to God above.
Let all earth shout and proclaim, shout with joy and thanksgiving,
that He is a God of Great Love,
He is a God of great Mercy,
and above all,
that He is God who has, in His Love,
Given unto us the greatest gift the world could ever have,
could ever know,
Jesus Christ His Son,
who has died for our sins and who has risen to Life,
and so us with Him,
in Whom we have salvation by faith,
Welcomed into His Kingdom,
Welcomed into His family.
Press on in good faith, dear sisters, for God is Good, and only ever Good, always and forevermore.
Mr Beaver: “Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight. At the sound of His roar, sorrows will be no more. When He bares His teeth, winter meets its death. And when He shakes His mane, it will be spring again.”
Lucy: “Is He…. safe?”
Mr Beaver: “Safe? Don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Of course He isn’t safe.
But He’s Good.
And He’s the King.”
~ ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’, C.S. Lewis, 1988