a party, with lanterns

I’ve lived with my new housemates for five days now, and it’s been thoroughly good so far. Nothing earth-shattering, just little things like eating breakfast together bleary-eyed in the mornings, asking if anyone needs the bathroom before you shower, and swapping accounts of the day before bed. But it’s exactly those little things that make us feel known and valued and like we’re not alone in the world, far away from home.

Speaking of feeling known and valued, a lovely friend of mine, Emma, had a pretty special birthday party last weekend. Besides the usual food/music/conversations, she asked each guest to bring along a story, poem, song, magic trick, craft, or just any other creative thing to share on the spot with everyone else.

This past week it was Mid-Autumn Festival, so I brought along some Chinese paper lanterns, and told the story behind the festival. Other friends composed Emma a birthday song, read from this hilarious book, sang Bruce Springsteen and the Civil Wars covers, and put a broken matchstick back together (how?! These tricks always baffle me).

It was so fun learning about friends, some old and some new, through what they had brought. And it reminded me that people carry such fascinating interests and skills with them all the time, if only we have eyes to see.

Isn’t that such a fun, simple party idea? I had a great time.

lanterns

(Photo: from here, with thanks.)

Ps. In case you’re wondering how furnishing the house is going – I got given a bedframe that is (guess what) exactly the same model as the old one that got thrown out due to bedbugs months ago! Plus, two really great friends of mine have just moved in round the corner. Amazingness. 🙂

Thankfulness: a commercial

colour run

I was at a festival recently, where one of the speakers said that she does ‘thankfulness commercials’. When her kids start to get grumpy or complain, she makes them stop, and each name five things that they are thankful for.

And you know what? She said that once they start, they never ever can only name five. They just carry on – “I’m thankful for…my mum, my dad, my brother, my house, the sun, the moon, the stars…” etc.

It made me think how mostly, the white noise of my heart is not thankful noise. It is grumbly, complain-y, ‘if only…’ noise.

This week, I am thankful for:

  • A fab weekend away – the Colo(u)r Run, thin-crust pizza, a sandsculpture festival, the sea, and About Time
  • A warm, sunshine-y afternoon
  • Casual weekday badminton (and flexible working)
  • One of my new housemates discovering that he owns a microwave (!)
  • Other furniture gifts still coming in: a dining table, another sofa, a wardrobe, vintage porcelain dishes, money
  • A garden harvest of fat green beans and six beautiful tomatoes
  • A team and job that I love
  • A friend to sit with while reading
  • Winning at this game.
  • Long-distance phone chats
  • Encouragement to persevere, from the book of Hebrews
  • A borrowed umbrella when it was raining
  • This good read
  • The most bombastic crumble ever – plum, peach, rhubarb, fig and ginger
  • My entire church staff helping me to move house
  • My vicar/boss sawing a hole in the back of my bookcase so that I have access to power sockets
  • A helpful contact agreeing to be interviewed for an assignment
  • Cantonese curry. Stroopwafels. Home-baked jam cookies the size of your hand.
  • That man in the queue behind me at Costa, who helped pick up my change that had fallen all over the floor. (He also said it was an ‘omen from the Lord, telling me to relax today’…! Maybe so, Mr. Helpful)
  • My baby nephew. Oh the cuteness, oh the chub.
  • Complete support from ex-housemates (‘do you need any food? Cleaning supplies? Anything at all?’)
  • Indoor picnics with the just-moved-in look

 indoor picnic

And that, my friends, is all.

Have a weekend full of things to be thankful for!

the Color Run, vindication, and…an exciting announcement

Dearies, it has been a most up-and-down week. There was a big misunderstanding with this course that I’m doing, with them threatening to make me resubmit an assignment and cap my score at 50%. But after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and sleepless nights, it has all been resolved with me not needing to do anything – very relieved and thankful to all who prayed and said kind things and got indignant on my behalf. One thing I have discovered, my people are very sweet.

And now, onward – to Brighton for THIS. And camping and eating Italian and Japanese food and exploring a sand sculpture festival, with my lovely lovely housemate. Feels like a proper last hurrah to the summer, and a much needed getaway.

 

new house keys

In other news, my community house is multiplying! This has been in the works for awhile; I had a sense that while we all dearly love one another, it was time to share that with some other people, to grow to include more friends in our community life. So over the next couple of weeks I’ll be moving down the road to live with two friends, both international students, who are just great, and to build up a community life of our own. At the same time, it’s not the end for my current housemates; we’re going to share rhythms of prayer and mealtimes across the two houses, and obviously stay fast friends. Exciting (and crazy) times! We got the keys to our new house yesterday 🙂

Our new house is also unfurnished apart from kitchen appliances, and God’s massively come through on providing furniture that we can’t easily afford to buy so far. We’ve been offered, by people in our communities, entirely free:

– Two single bedframes
– A wardrobe
– Three chairs
– Two dining tables
– Two sofas
– Three desks
– A picture
– Two armchairs
– A portable radiator
– Six standing lamps

And…entirely unnecessarily:

– A piano keyboard and stand (which I just tacked onto my wishlist, thinking, “Oh, we’ll never get that”)
– A murder mystery game (the day after I had thought how nice it would be to have a collection of games)

Don’t you love it when the standard for reasonable provision is not ‘bread and water’ but chocolate too 😉 wish us luck/pray!

Have a colo(u)rful weekend, everyone.

 

if you’re looking for ‘meaty teaching’

“We operate with the assumption that giving people new ideas changes people. It doesn’t. Believing ideas is, in fact, a way of not having to change in any significant way, especially if you can argue about them. Ideas become defenses.

If you have the right words, you are considered an orthodox and law-abiding Christian. We burned people at the stake for not having the right words, but never to my knowledge for failing to love or forgive, or to care for the poor. Religion has had a love affair with words and correct ideas, whereas Jesus loved people, who are always imperfect.

You do not have to substantially change to think some new ideas. You always have to change to love and forgive ordinary people. We love any religion that asks us to change other people. We avoid any religion that keeps telling us to change.”

Richard Rohr hits hard at shallow consumerism among churchgoers. Ouch. In this book.

a song for your summer

For the sound of your summer, there can be no other than the esteemed Ben Howard. What an awesome music video!

Have a summery, hanging-out-y, playful weekend.

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In other news, a friend has demanded to know what exactly my community house‘s “season of high challenge” consisted of, as soon as possible – so, here’s the reveal…

Some of us in the house were really challenged by this story, particularly Jesus’ words to “sell what you possess and give to the poor”. So we gave away all our income for a month, keeping it a secret from most people, and lived ‘by faith’, i.e. just on what we happened to receive.

At the same time, we also really wanted to keep being more and more hospitable as a house, so we decided that we would keep having friends over and feeding them whatever we had. We also didn’t want to start behaving in a poor way, i.e. just hoarding and trying to make whatever we had last as long as possible, since that doesn’t require any faith, so we ate as much and as good quality as we normally would.

Some things I learnt during this time:

  • ‘Not having anything’ (or rather, thinking we don’t have anything) is immensely freeing and a great stimulant to creativity. It is nowhere near as scary as I thought it would be. It did, however, feel nasty, all stripped down like fasting (which I am really bad at). Which leads me to…
  • My spirituality is flabby. Quite often my comfort does not come from God; it comes from new clothes and £3 hot chocolates in cafes. Loving money and ‘stuff’ is a stronghold that needs to be contested regularly
  • However, God can totally be trusted to provide. Quite a lot of free stuff appeared during this time…
  1. Petrol – the few people we had told decided to fill up our tanks! So we had enough to go places
  2. Food – always enough to feed ourselves and any friends we had over; lots of timely leftovers from various shindigs
  3. A replacement bedframe and mattress when I had bedbugs! – my parents had promised me a new mattress ages ago, so it was time to cash in; my housemate had a spare bedframe
  4. Lifts – quite a lot of them just when they would have been nice (and sometimes necessary); from people that we knew, who happened to be driving by
  5. Fun! – Charlecote Park, a cool art installation project, Coventry cathedral secondhand book sale, a barbecue, getting kidnapped to go and see As You Like It by the Royal Shakespeare Company, seeing Watford FC play live (!) etc etc
  • Manifestly, God is in the business of providing beyond the stale-crusts-and-water lifestyle
  • He is also a big fan of hospitality
  • If your finances aren’t in shape, it’s hard to bless other people
  • I don’t tell God nearly enough what I want
  • These things are better done in community. Much better. It’s amazing how powerful community is to keep people alive and happy.

On reflection, I have realised that while my feelings associated with this season were of misery and there not being enough, the fact is that there was always enough, and then some. It’s just that my idea of what is ‘enough’ is a lot beyond what is actually needed to have a perfectly adequate, enjoyable life.

We don’t seem to be any the worse for the wear, and it’s definitely gotten under the veneer of my religion (the stuff I say I believe) to show me the condition of my faith (what I actually believe). Feels like just the beginning of a much longer process of faith adventures, cultivating a simple life and growing in trust…

majulah

(Mentos being very silly and funny)

Hey folks. I was going to write you a totally navel-gazing, soul-searchingly deep post about what it means to be Singaporean and all, but on this my country’s 48th birthday, I’m just going to relax. Submitted the third of my four fundraising course assignments yesterday, and I still feel a little like a new mum who’s given birth but her body hasn’t quite realised it yet. My brain is still all jumpy and thinking about word counts and ROI and LTV. I even woke up with the hiccups that I had while doing final essay edits last night! What.

So it’s time to properly wind down for the summer. The last of my stressful deadlines is over. You know, I used to never wind down; up until four years ago I’d never intentionally had a day off in my life. (Going on holidays doesn’t count – that’s like binge-resting.) And in some ways, that was easier, because boy, working is what I do best. When I’m achieving and producing, I’m worth something. It took so much more character and discipline to just start cherishing myself and my relationships, than it did to carry on staying late at the office.

But I’ve found that there’s a real wisdom in that, because that’s how the upside-down secret way works in life. Want to live? Die to yourself. Want to be rich and successful? Learn to be poor and childlike. Want to find freedom? Train to surrender and submit. Want to produce and contribute the most? Take a break.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” – Jesus, John 15.5

So as we celebrate Singapore’s great successes today, I’d like to invite you to remember that progress isn’t linear, but seasonal, and that most of what causes success to apparently just pop up all of a sudden is long, slow spiritual and character formation in secret. Perhaps you can use some of your long weekend to find that secret, still space.

I, for one, am going to find some bubble tea in Coventry city centre and harvest my friends’ garden (hello, courgettes and rhubarb! Nice to eat choo).

Have a secret, still weekend, everyone.

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Also, I give you some more National Day-themed links:

Singaporean 90s-kid nostalgia.

Google loves us.

And ok not really National Day-themed, but Singaporean and close to my heart – include an ‘outsider’ in some way this weekend, won’t you.

Excerpts from my favourite Singapore film ever, here and here.

And, wah! Mr Brown got music video.

solitude, calling, and the internet man

sheep

Ok friends, and here we screech to the end of a rather bumpy week. I was alone at home for a lot of it because my exciting housemates are all away. Oh, and also because the internet man decided that this was the week he would come and fix us up, which meant having to work from home A LOT and wait (and wait and wait) for routers etc to appear. Hopefully, by end of today, we will have the internets and this will conclude THREE MONTHS OF SORROW AND AGONY (talktalk I am never talking to you ever again *£^%&*@gfthgft).

Anyway. Do you find that as you get older, you seem to develop towards the opposite extreme from your personality type? As in, e.g., you used to introvertedly suck up alone time, but now you can’t live without human interaction for even one evening? That is what I have discovered about myself this week. Hmm. Interesting considering what Bonhoeffer says:

“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community […] let him who is not in community beware of being alone […] each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.”

Maybe it’s time for me to learn to be by myself again for a bit. Summer is a good time for that.

(Speaking of which, have you seen this comic about understanding introverts yet? Pretty good stuff.)

landscape

My other big reflection on the week is that no one has a full understanding of what I am called to do with my life except God. Not my friends, not my parents, not my church leader, not myself. And everyone, myself included, will sooner or later bump up against something in my life that they/I don’t think I’m called to do, but which is in fact right to do.

This is why following this particular God isn’t about rules, because sometimes obedience will look like steeling myself to defy the talking heads in my life, while other times (like right now with fundraising) it looks like everyone trying to nudge me towards this thing that I so feel inadequate for.

This is also why Jesus had so much to say about unity, I think. Because unity means that his followers keep on loving each other even when they are being led down completely different paths, encouraging each other to do completely different, even opposite things.

Practically, right now, here’s how this stuff is hitting me:

1. I want to learn to experiment again with fundraising, to unashamedly start from zero knowledge. To not let childlikeness make me feel inadequate, but to actually learn that this is the best preparation for learning.

2. I want to refuse to compare. How should I know whether these guys are supposed to be in this career or not, married or not, spending money on this or not? All I know is, I’m trying to follow Jesus, and presumably, so are they.

sweeping

Oh and finally, there’s been an awful lot of sanctimonious talk coming out of Singapore this past week. Pastor Kong Hee, Family Pledge, opine opine, waffle waffle…can we all just give our judging skills a rest now, please? Judging skills, it’s holiday time, ok?! You just sit yourselves right down and take a little break.

Have a restful, non-judgemental weekend, everyone.

PS. A coffee personality type chart that made me laugh.

(Photos: Are mine from a day trip to the Cotswolds.)