For some, 2017 has been an utterly devastating year, a year where everything they’ve known has disappeared and they’ve had to rebuild life from scratch. For others it’s been a whirlwind, perhaps the last 365 days have just whizzed by and they’ve yet to actually take it all in.
For the record, a Gallup study showed that at least in the United States, 2017 was really worse than 2016.
But for the most part, it’s been a good year for me – with more highs than lows, more laughs than tears. And if 2014 was a year that asked plenty of questions, then 2017 was the year that answered many of them.
Is there life after death?
Will I be whole again?
Yes, love. Yes.
I’d just landed in Melbourne, Australia after a delayed flight. Impatient and bleary-eyed from terrible sleep, I just wanted to get off the plane and get to Daylesford, where one of my closest friends in the whole wide world was getting proposed to.
Then my phone vibrated. Doing a quick mental note, I realised it was early in the morning back in Singapore. It was mum, and it could only be an emergency.
“Popo just passed away,” she said, in tears. “I need you to come home.”
I got off the plane as quickly as I could and bought a ticket for the next flight home.
I’ve never lived a life without Popo, my maternal grandmother. Mum tells me she was at my birth, dressed in a surgical gown and mask, looking very much the part in the operating theatre. As a midwife, she was used to any given thing that could go wrong during the birthing process, and she wanted to be there.
Growing up, she was my caregiver, the one who rocked me to sleep and made my meals while mum was at work. I actually still have a photo of her in one of those cheesy “best friend” photo frames – I think we were on a cruise ship when it was taken. She was beaming into the camera. That became one of our favourite memories.
As I walked into the funeral home about 26 hours following that phone call, I took a deep breath. I’d prepared for this moment for about a decade, even saving certain dresses just for the occasion, but nothing could compare to what I felt next – my heart shattering into a million pieces, while watching her figure lie motionless in the white coffin mum had picked out.
No words could bring me comfort. I couldn’t even cry.
I don’t remember much of that week, except that sleep each night was fitful and I alternated between wanting to be at the funeral home and being as far away as I could. But what stands out is an overwhelming sense of love, something I did not expect to experience when death takes centrestage.
Our Kingdomcity family rallied around us from the moment they found out. Some took leave from work just to help out and keep us company. They plied me with endless cups of coffee (you know who you are – thank you), gave us tight hugs, sent flowers, and most of all they prayed with and for us. We worshipped and cried together on the very last night, and I’ll never forget watching from behind, thinking Popo would’ve loved this very sight – and just maybe, she was in our midst, too.
Family from near and far, some I hadn’t seen in years, poured into the hall. We reminisced about the good and bad times, swapped stories about Popo’s life, and I don’t think I’d ever heard that much laughter at a funeral wake. Friends and friend-lleagues popped by despite their tight schedules just to offer a hug, some chocolate, and updates about life outside the funeral home. They were like rays of sunshine on a cold winter day, reminding me that no matter what happens, they are there championing whatever it is I hold dear.
I almost didn’t make it to the crematorium. After the service, I stood outside the furnace, adamant that I wouldn’t walk in. Someone, I cannot remember who, told me I’d regret it if I didn’t say a final goodbye.
The truth was that I’d said my final goodbyes many times over, and they would never be enough. I wish, so much, that I’d visited her more often, that I didn’t use work as an excuse, that I could tell her once again how much I love her.
Watching her burn up wasn’t considered a final goodbye, not in my books anyway.
Those three words are said too much, they’re not enough.
Despite the heaviness, we knew without a shadow of a doubt that we were loved. And that was the biggest ray of light in a very, very dark season.
I miss you, Popo. And I love you. Hope you’re having a great time up there with Jesus. See you soon. x
The sky was awash in various shades of orange, purple and pink. With tears in my eyes, I took a deep breath.
Four years prior I stood at that very spot, just a stone’s throw away from AllPhones Arena in Sydney, Australia, not knowing that there would be very, very painful days ahead. Days that would cause me to doubt God’s existence, goodness and faithfulness, doubt my presence on this earth.
Four years later, I was brought back to the same spot by a God who knows exactly how my life is going to pan out. He already knew I was going to be overwhelmed by this moment.
Just a year before, I’d purchased a ticket to Hillsong Conference, one of the world’s largest gatherings of those who subscribe to the Christian faith. What I did not foresee was a year that would quite literally turn my life upside down.
One of the biggest shake-ups of 2016 was the thought of giving up my life. It had been a particularly difficult season, the details of which I won’t go into, but I very nearly convinced myself that the world would be better off if I weren’t here.
Fastforward to July 2017. With tears in my eyes I settled into my seat at AllPhones Arena, in awe of a God who helped me get out of that very dark hole I found myself in. Who sent angels to help me stay the path. Who made sure I made it to Sydney, Australia to see and experience for myself that in spite of the confusion and murkiness, there is wonder to be found.
It was an incredible conference, but one moment stood out: The lights were down. 30,000 of us sang, over and over:
When all’s said and done
All that matters is love
So let love take over
Not just in part, but in all that You are
Let your love take over
In that same month I also said yes to co-hosting a connect (bible study) group – something I never thought I ever would do. It was never one of those things that ever crossed my mind. When the invitation came, I genuinely thought my leaders were going to question some of my life’s decisions (haha) but I guess God had other plans (and the last laugh).
Cantonment Connect (as we called ourselves) taught me so much more than I could ever teach them. I learned that commitment speaks so much louder than anything else, that simple worship can be the most powerful. That creating a safe space for every emotion is not only possible, but should be the goal. That love wins, every single time.
God proved to be faithful through the highs and lows of this year, and I could spend probably 10,000 words on every example. But as with every year, I stand in awe of how He loves in spite of my flaws and muck ups, and that redemption can be found if only I look heavenward.
He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ. – Romans 3:24 (The Message)
“I need to talk to you.”
It was close to midnight and those words popped up on Slack, the newsroom’s messaging app of choice. My heart stopped momentarily because those aren’t exactly the words one wants to hear from their boss.
After some prayer, many months of discussions and a whirlwind work trip to Washington, DC, I found myself in a new role at work. One that looks at the big picture, that aims to grow our digital audience and engage them in ways not seen before.
Work has always been a big part of my identity, and changing roles at work also meant figuring out who I am. Am I still a journalist? What does this now mean for the years ahead?
I still don’t have answers to those questions, but what I do know is this: I am part of a kickass team, working under the best editor in Singapore, JB and some say Batam (ha). We’re pushing the boundaries of storytelling, we’re hoping to understand our audience better, and in the words of The Washington Post’s Ryan Kellett: We’re making the important interesting, because it deserves to be.
I find myself floundering almost every day, but I am learning that it means I’m learning. If I think I’m the only idiot in the room, at least I’m aware of that. And it’s okay to make mistakes, so long as I don’t make them again.
And it is my hope to help make journalism great (dare I say – again).
Care to join me? ;)
Perhaps the biggest lesson of all this year was learning to leave pain and fear behind. For a great part of my life I carried them around and welcomed them as friends. I didn’t understand how I could function without both of them, and learned to cope with a little more cynicism and anguish than most.
In part, I started to work through those emotions during a training programme that forced me to confront my choices. It provided a space for me to ask the difficult questions. There was to be no hiding, no running. Just a crystal clear mirror, metaphorically, that required me to ask myself what I was running from, and look it in the face.
It was one of my most painful experiences to date. I saw, for the first time in a long time, how ugly I could be, and how beautiful I could be as well. I didn’t understand how the two could coexist, how anyone could love me the same, and how – funnily enough – Jesus could see the depths of my heart and still choose me, choose us, over and over.
Unlike most other courses however, the lessons stuck with me like a handprint on my heart. Whenever I found myself wandering down a dark and familiar road, I’d steady myself and take a deep breath. Find my markers. Reach out to those that I trust. And remember that we really are better together.
Less hustle, more grace
After so many years of doing more, trying harder, and feeling like I’d failed for the most part, I came across this phrase thanks to my wonderful friend Carina and it resonated with something deep within. I stopped hustling for everything in 2017, and only said yes to leaps of faith, yes to the unknown. I chose to trust that still small voice, to believe that I don’t need to understand everything before taking the next step. With it came an outpouring of grace – the definition of which is really being given everything I do not deserve.
I could start renaming the highlights of 2017 but truth is, grace found me especially at my darkest. Nights when the emptiness would gnaw at my soul and I’d cry myself to sleep; days that simply overwhelmed and doubt came rushing in.
Grace met me at those moments, and that was how I knew I could move past them.
Let love lead
With my newfound lessons, it is my prayer that come 2018, I’ll let love lead.
Not pain. Not fear. Not apathy. Not confusion. Not anything else but love.
I’ve been thinking about what it means to build something, and the importance of laying good, strong foundations. If buildings need them to remain unshakeable, what does that look like for our lives?
Perhaps every decision we make is a building block for what is to come. And how we make those choices could be just as important. Are we making them out of pragmatism? Following the tried and tested path? Or will we choose to carve out one of our own, one that may (or may not) look like everyone else’s, but is something we can proudly admit to choosing?
I ask questions for a living (ha – occupational hazard), and perhaps I’d like to end this year’s post by borrowing some lyrics from The Chainsmokers/Coldplay:
Where’d you want to go?
How much do you want to risk?
Come 2018, I’m going to endeavour to dig deeper and build my life on love – and let’s see where it takes me. (Guess you’ll find out in 365 days!)
As you turn the page tonight, wherever you are, I pray you’re able to face the year with fresh eyes, knowing that no matter what 2017 was like, all things are made new.
Happy New Year, everyone. x