Hear me and See me

“You sure?”

My response to a friend who just experienced a miscarriage in her home.

Little did I know that these two simple words could hurt her deeply and it is one of the worst responses coming from an ex-social worker and supposedly mature Christian.

I have been guilty in giving insensitive remarks, so-called practical advice and attempting to speak from experience (actually more like hearsay). They seemed so natural, objective and harmless.

Only when I was at the receiving end of such comments after experiencing 2 miscarriages, did I realise how hurtful they were:

“What happened again?”

“You didn’t rest?”

“Oh dear.”

“You can try again next time.”

A few years back, a good friend asked me to blog about why it’s so hurtful to hear people make such comments. Others who haven’t experience a miscarriage often don’t understand how it feels. I wasn’t able to write then because in my heart, I was still feeling hurt and guilty from the comments- both receiving and giving them . Through the years I’ve been contemplating – why such simple remarks and even a ‘silent’ reply hurt deeply.

Why do I feel discouraged?

Why do I feel so sad?

Psalm 42:11a

It was probably not pure coincidence that I read this verse when I experienced a miscarriage. I think discouragement is an understatement. Being the one fully responsible for the baby’s development in my womb, I felt condemned thinking that I indirectly killed the baby. And then sadness – a family member had passed on – my child.

When a family member passes on, there is a funeral wake or there is some visual memory, in physical appearance and life testimonies . People offer condolences, words of comfort and prayers.

But there is usually no funeral for a miscarried baby. In some cultures, it is a taboo to talk about miscarriage because it is considered a ‘mother’s shame’. No one really knows what to say as nobody has seen nor heard the baby. Only the mother has ‘felt’ the existence of the child. Hence, no one seems to be grieving alongside with you.

Humans yearn to be acknowledged. God knows we long to be heard and seen. He heard the cry of distress and saw Hagar when she was fleeing from her mistress.

And the angel also said, “You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael (which means ‘God hears’), for the Lord has heard your cry of distress.

Genesis 16: 11

Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.”[a] She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” 14 So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi (which means “well of the Living One who sees me”). It can still be found between Kadesh and Bered.

Genesis 16: 13-14

We long for our cries to be heard and we long for our tears to be seen. And I longed for people to hear and see that it was not just a sac, not just a foetus – it was hope, it was a life – my child.

If you know of a friend who has experienced a miscarriage, acknowledge her sadness and let her know you are available to listen when she is ready to share and reach out with acts of kindness. No questions asked nor advice given, I had wonderful friends who:

  • came over to my home to cook and clean
  • delivered a homecooked dinner for my whole family
  • sent flowers and snacks
  • not just say “praying for you” but really praying with me in person or in text
  • gave me virtual hugs

Thankfully Psalm 42 doesn’t just stop at sadness but ends with hope. Walk alongside her in this journey of grief by hearing her cries of distress, and acknowledging her pain so that one day she can put her hope in God again.

I will put my hope in God!

I will praise him again—

my Savior and my God!

Psalm 42: 11b

Jarful of 10

How did I come up with the name “Jarful of Plenty”? It actually started off with a very trivial obsession with the Christian rock band, “Jars of Clay” in my youth days. I loved their music, it was one of the rare times a Christian rock band’s song would be played on secular radio. It was really difficult to get access to Christian contemporary music in the past. The only way was through buying CDs at Christian bookstores and of course this pricey option was unavailable to most common folks.

My life has not been one of the easiest nor has it also been the hardest. But friends often describe me as someone who looks very tired and/or grumpy. I think it all started in university when I had to study and work part-time at the same time, it was extremely exhausting and sometimes I survived on just bread and milo for meals. More often than not, you will find me falling asleep during lectures in school and sermons at church.

Someone recently reminded me that in order to LIVE, we have to be filled first and so – “Jarful of Plenty”. Inspired by God using a simple clay jar to demonstrate His love for us, I want my life filled with Jesus, overflowing with joy and resting in His grace. Hence, to remind myself about the purpose of my blog, I created 10 different jars found in the bible – may my audience of One be pleased with my stories for His glory.

Bible Art Journalling

How do you read the Bible? Perhaps you are not sure where to start? Is the tiny font putting you to sleep? Maybe you stopped reading because it seemed too difficult to understand. Have you read it so many times that you feel bored now?

I accepted Jesus into my life at 10 years old. I remember that afternoon, seated in a small group, clutching my Bible and saying the salvation prayer. And as a new believer, I devoured the Bible and went for every Bible study faithfully, memorising scripture verses. Quiet times were filled with devotion magazines from Scripture Union. There were quizzes, crossword puzzles, games and colouring pages. When I started reading the bible without a devotion guide, I diligently wrote according to the outline: summary-learning points-reflection-prayer. And then the Pass-it-On Message Cards became popular. Anyone remember those? Wow, I had tons of those in my wallet. Before Bible lettering was trending, I was already writing verses and drawing pictures to make my own ‘pass-it-on’ cards.

But as time went on, and the busyness of life taking over, transitioning to young adulthood and then becoming a parent, I stopped reading the Bible altogether. The Bible was still on my table but not touched. Initially I gave excuses like not having time or I was too tired. But honestly, I got bored. The Bible sounded like a broken record, a nagging parent. Once in a while, I would read a devotion emailed to my inbox or I would flip to a passage when the pastor referred to it. But not reading the Bible as it is, on my own accord – I did not purpose in my heart to read the Bible anymore.

Then the warning lights came: anxiety, anger, bitterness, envy. You know they are warning lights when your body starts to break down physically and mentally due to stress. Desperate to find answers, I started reading the Bible again. But this time, I went back to my childhood first love – writing the verses and drawing the pictures. It wasn’t a sudden realisation, but a journey of being inspired by close family and friends. Social media played a part as well. So I started drawing and I started with my favourite thing to draw when I was young – coconut trees – I can’t remember why I was obsessed with drawing them though.

Creating art from Bible verses stirred in me the desire to read the Bible faithfully again. I seldom get bored even though I’m now bad at memorizing verses. I’ve been discovering new things from those seemingly ‘boring’ passages that I’ve been reading over and over again.

However I’m not art-trained nor do I’ve any special talent in art. Many times I ask myself, “Why do I bother? No one is going to look at my art. I’m not a professional artist.” I also fall back into the same old rhetoric of “I have no time”. But I continued to create art while reading the bible and continued to ask God the purpose of creating. Then one day, I heard Pastor Joseph Prince speak about “Building Faith Pictures” – how forming a picture of God’s word in our mind served as important visual reminders of God’s promises in our lives. He shared that God himself illustrated His promise to Abraham:

Then the Lord took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!

Genesis 15:5

It took me about 5 years to figure out this creative journey with God, and I wrote a book called “Building Faith Pictures” to encourage others to create art while reading God’s word. Through reading this devotional, my hope is for everyone to discover the joy of reading the Bible and hearing God’s word through building faith pictures – beautiful visual reminders of His grace, love, hope and peace. You do not have to love art or know art or be good at art. You simply to wish to dig deeper into His word and explore creative ways in expressing your reflections. There is a total of 7 weeks and each week, there is 1 devotion reading with invitation-to-create prompts which will help you in making art. A white page is provided for you to write, sketch, draw or paint.

The 5th word in the Bible is “create”. God is the creator and we are made in God’s image, so we are creators too. His created ‘artwork’ is creation itself. We can create, we can create art. Will you accept my invitation to respond to God’s Word through art?

Click HERE to buy “Building Faith Pictures”

Green is also the colour of hope

One day, I had a dream in the day, maybe it was a vision or an imagination, or a subconscious thought:

I am running a race but at a leisurely pace because I tell myself to take it easy and not get stressed. So I take a break and rest on the green pastures. The rest is nice and relaxing, but I look back and noticed all the mistakes I made. I try to tell myself all the things I will make right the next time but I can’t seem to stop rehearsing the past. Finally I look up and I see everyone, even close friends, all running past me. I try to say “Hi”, but they seem to have no time to pause. I’m still resting on the grass and everyone is going so fast. I start to envy their speed, their progress in the race. I also get angry that they are leaving me behind. Then I start to wonder – will I still receive the prize?

ENVY. It was an ugly image of ‘envy’ – growing quietly like a weed, growing quickly. I thought I was just making comparisons or I was just a little jealous. But this ‘weed’ was competing for a space in my thoughts and it was corrupting my heart. It was messing with my mental health. It was time to cut it out of my life. As with any plant, this ‘weed’ has a root. I asked God again and again, what is the root of envy?

God told me but it took a while for me to acknowledge it. The root of envy is ‘fear’.

This ‘fear’ was no stranger nor an unfamiliar feeling. This fear had manifested itself in different ways before:

  • fear of letting history repeat itself
  • fear of making mistakes again
  • fear of never being good enough
  • fear of never feeling truly whole
  • fear of not being loved
  • fear of losing out

Thankfully, where sin abounded, grace abounded much more (Romans 5:20). God replaced that ugly image with His beautiful word:

No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Philippians 3:13-14

Recovery is a continuous journey of discovering one’s true self, healing from hurts and learning contentment. The first thing I did was to start a ‘Gratitude Journal’, noting down once a day for 365 days, one thing I was grateful for. I needed to forget the past, I needed to focus on the present, on the here and now. I’m running a race, a race of His destiny for me, towards my heavenly prize.

God has created new faith pictures of me:

  • I am a new creation in Christ. Old things have passed away, all things have become new.
  • I have peace with God. Jesus’ love has cast out all fear, even the fear of failure
  • I am enough. Jesus is my more than enough.
  • I am the righteousness of God through Christ. Jesus has forgiven my sins.
  • I am God’s beloved. He is my good father and and His love endures forever.
  • I can tap on God’s unlimited supply. He supplies all of our needs.

There is a prize for everyone – there is a prize for me.

But like a weed, if you’re not watchful, envy can start creeping back in again. Only ‘hope’ can cut out fear and anxiety and bring forth LIFE:

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out it roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of the drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit.

Jeremiah 17:7-8

There is hope. There is life. A life that is not struggling and striving with envy but living and thriving with hope. Green might be the colour of envy but green is also the colour of HOPE.

My small village

When I decided to become a stay-home mum, I thought it was a job that suited me very well because I am an introverted homebody. I even had the nickname of ‘anti-social’ during my university days and the number of friends whom I hung out with regularly could be counted within one hand.

However just 6 months into my new job, the monotony of doing the same things over and over again and facing only a baby at home, made me realised that it was the toughest job I ever took on. Furthermore, most of my peers were either unmarried or had no children. I didn’t even have a smartphone which could take non-pixelated photos nor access Facebook. But I still manage to stay the course and persevere for about 7 years because gradually there were friends who came along to support me.

In my 8th year, my social circle started shrinking. At first I didn’t care much about it. But suddenly, my few close friends went back to full time work, some went back to part-time work and then others just stopped contacting for no reason in particular. All this happened in about 3 months.

My counsellor friend recently reminded me that ‘alone’ and ‘lonely’ have different meanings. You can be alone and not feel lonely. You can feel lonely even when you’re not alone. As an introverted homebody and anti-social person, I’ve always been alone. But for the first time in my life, I was alone and lonely. Loneliness is a terrible and scary feeling because it makes you focused only on one thing in your life – your negative self – all your weaknesses, past hurts, wrongdoings and fears. The loneliness then manifests itself as anger, envy, depression. And that was when I deleted my Facebook and Instagram accounts.

One day, God brought to mind a good friend – one who stopped contacting for no particular reason, and no longer active in the group chat. I was not in the mood nor in the ‘right mind’ to contact someone else but somehow I couldn’t stop worrying about this friend. Since she didn’t respond to my messages, I decided to write her a letter – a very honest letter – I asked how she was doing and I ended up telling her I had a problem. I think she was the second person (besides my husband) who would then know about my mental health state.

She read the letter and contacted me and we met, for one entire day. There was no drama of crying on each others shoulders, no aunty agony giving advice session but we had a very real conversation. After that meeting God brought to my mind a few other friends whom have been my support – actually only 2. But that 2 was enough to take away the focus on myself. I still felt alone but when I reached out to someone else, I didn’t feel lonely. I could live life again.

I can still count my close friends whom I can find support from, within one hand but now I’ve another hand for those whom I can reach out to. Even when you’re not okay, you can still reach out to others. It takes a village to “Live Life”, even it is a small village.

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:12

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them

Matthew 18:20 

A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

Proverbs 11:25