Sabah quake: Thoughts on faith, loss, and love

I struggled to get out of bed on Sunday. It’s a familiar struggle; it was early afternoon and I was tempted to sleep in, instead of heading to church. But I relented.

The moment I put my bag on the chair, the tears came and just wouldn’t stop.
For those who know me, it’s a common occurrence at church. But this time, my heart was heavy for Sabah; for the children who lost their lives; for the guides who so selflessly helped others before themselves.

I could not make sense of such a tragedy. How can I believe in a good God while eight Singaporeans are dead? 12-year-olds who will never know what it’s like to move on to secondary school, to fall in love, to argue with their parents over the most senseless things in their teenage years.

I once dated a boy from Kota Kinabalu (KK).

Sitting across from him at the dining table, I remember stories about how he scaled Mount Kinabalu for his 21st birthday, with some of his closest friends. They brought with them limited food supplies and lots of alcohol (of course); they laughed and made memories that will last a lifetime. He showed me photos too; him and his friends beaming proudly into the camera as they made the climb.

That same boy told me about captivating sunsets and unspoiled beaches, and the warmth of people from KK. About how Sabahans speak Hakka, the only dialect I am fluent in, and how they’d be welcoming to anyone. The way he said it made me want to visit one day – this beautiful place that seemed so different from anywhere else I know.

I met some of his closest friends one night. Over dinner in a restaurant at St Kilda we swapped stories about high school life. Not once did I feel excluded; on the contrary, it was as if we’d been friends for a very long time.

When the quake hit, I thought of them – I wondered if they felt the tremors and if they were safe. And even though the boy and I are no longer in touch, I sent up a prayer, hoping his loved ones would be alright.

(Image: Hillsong United/YouTube)
(Image: Hillsong United/YouTube)

As I cried on Sunday and tried to make sense of everything, of missing 12-year-olds and imagining how the kids must have felt when they saw boulders rain down on their friends, I wondered if there would be any answers.

We face so many questions each day and the answers are certainly not black and white. I have many questions and no answers.

I can only hope that the God I believe in gives the families who mourn some comfort; that He watches over those who have survived and sends them angels, who will help them on this journey called life.

How can I still believe? I believe because in spite of the world’s brokenness, there is goodness to be found. In tragedy, a nation has rallied together to lend support – in ways both big and small – to those who have lost loved ones in the quake. Some children were shielded by their teachers, shoved into overhangs, or found themselves walking out of the hut with a sprained ankle. Some survived to tell the tale.

Others knew those who are no longer with us. They shared stories of their generosity, their ingenuity, their passion for education. They remind us that even in loss, there is reason to smile and find joy in a life well-lived.

I still have no answers, but tonight I continue to pray for the missing Singaporeans who are yet to come home. My heart is grieving for the families of those who have crossed over to the next life. And I hope to God that we remember – not everything can be explained. Let’s live in the present and love till it hurts, and never ever forget that each moment we have is not to be squandered.

In the brilliant words of Hillsong United’s ‘Even When It Hurts’:

Even when my strength is lost
Even when I have no song
Even when it’s hard to find the words

Take this mountain weight
Take these ocean tears
Hold me through the trial
Come like hope again

Even when the fight seems lost
Even when it hurts like hell
I’ll praise You

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