Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

Can I say, “I love you, I honestly love you” when I say “I fear this, I honestly fear this”?

In Uncategorized on January 31, 2011 at 8:51 am

Let me tell you honestly that I do not like where I am.  I am not talking about my physical location albeit newly settled and dealing with foundation problems and learning to maintain a pool.  Once a missionary, always a missionary – especially at heart and in my mindset.  We are just “a-passin’ through” this pilgrim land.  In many ways, we have arrived  – a house with a pool, 3 bedrooms + 1 study.  But this is all temporary (even a 3o-year mortgage is temporary!).  Cracks in the walls and floor can be patched, shifting earth is a fact of life in McLennan County.  But these are just stuff.  Many others would be thanking God and praising God for such blessings.  Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not ungrateful, I am inwardly pleased to have a house to live in (but vocally unhappy about the amount of housework and upkeep that comes with the house). Before you tell me to get my attitude right, my contentment level up, let me just say, I am not going to pretend to anyone that everything’s rosy.  Neither am I saying that I will wash all dirty linen and share all my grumblings with the world (virtual).  This is where I am coming from – a stark honesty about being both/and, about living in liminal space a lot and about having been ready for heaven a long time ago.  But I am still in this world, left here to learn, to teach, to share, to care, to serve and to have things get on my nerves.  I am in the school of the Holy Spirit and I feel very much that I am in kindergarten.  I need to break out and move on, upwards and onwards.  But I keep getting retained!

I don’t like the state I am in.  It’s been dragging for a few years  now.  I am pressed into a space where I must test and practise all that I have preached.  Like the Grief Process (Elizabeth Kubler-Ross), I have experienced denial, anger, …

five stages of grief – elisabeth kübler ross

EKR stage Interpretation
1 – Denial Denial is a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information, reality, etc., relating to the situation concerned. It’s a defence mechanism and perfectly natural. Some people can become locked in this stage when dealing with a traumatic change that can be ignored. Death of course is not particularly easy to avoid or evade indefinitely.
2 – Anger Anger can manifest in different ways. People dealing with emotional upset can be angry with themselves, and/or with others, especially those close to them. Knowing this helps keep detached and non-judgemental when experiencing the anger of someone who is very upset.
3 – Bargaining Traditionally the bargaining stage for people facing death can involve attempting to bargain with whatever God the person believes in. People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise. For example “Can we still be friends?..” when facing a break-up. Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution, especially if it’s a matter of life or death.
4 – Depression Also referred to as preparatory grieving. In a way it’s the dress rehearsal or the practice run for the ‘aftermath’ although this stage means different things depending on whom it involves. It’s a sort of acceptance with emotional attachment. It’s natural to feel sadness and regret, fear, uncertainty, etc. It shows that the person has at least begun to accept the reality.
5 – Acceptance Again this stage definitely varies according to the person’s situation, although broadly it is an indication that there is some emotional detachment and objectivity. People dying can enter this stage a long time before the people they leave behind, who must necessarily pass through their own individual stages of dealing with the grief.

(Based on the Grief Cycle model first published in On Death & Dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, 1969. Interpretation by Alan Chapman 2006-2009.)

I have to prove to myself if no one else that I am not the hypocritical pastor who tells her/his congregation, “Do as I say, not as I do.”  I believe in the 7 years of pastoral ministry in the hamlet of Quakertown, NJ, my growth did not keep up with my preaching.  There wasn’t the time to learn the lessons before I preached the lessons.

When I wrote my research paper for my 1986 graduation from Trinity Theological College, I experienced what I had been thinking about, “suffering” and those who helped me had their fair share of “suffering” as well.  It was an uphill task.  We all survived it – this before days of the Internet and Wikipedia, before days of super fast and stable computers and laser printers.

I learnt in rural NJ, that being a farmer is one of the biggest tests and lessons in depending on God.  To a big extent, what a farmer can control s/he will control.  To a bigger extent is the absolute necessity of trusting in God for the growth, the harvest of crops or animals.  And the biggest extent one must go to is trusting God when the crop fails and the animals get sick and die.  During my younger days, Habakkuk’s words in chapter 3 were good to sing, now that I am older, these same words hold a greater meaning.

17 Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

19 The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

Looking back on 25 years of ministry, I know I have not progressed like many of my cohort, contemporaries or friends.  No clerical credentials (dropped out of ordination process), no tenured position in the hierarchy of the denomination (in Singapore, was always a lay worker, never on any committee that had the power to wheel and deal), no status.  One of the minions!

Yet, while I say i do not like where I am now, I have often said, I want to be like John the Baptist who said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30 NASB)  I have also tried to emulate Mary the Mother of Jesus who said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)  You know, it’s one thing to say, repeat and impress people with these phrases.  It is another thing to learn that my spiritual sojourn through this barren land is one of downward mobility.

Even friends who share this same mobility have academic degrees (another desire or burden of mine) which with added letters before and after their names give their lowly position a much prettier flourish.  Right away they are elevated in the eyes of many people.  Impressed!

So what about this state where I am in or have been?  Everything I believed or counted valuable has been stripped from me.  I have nothing, no safety railing to hold on to; human relationships are untenable, too.  Positions and status slip out the door very quickly where I am concerned.  This realisation was brought home just last week when a student needed an urgent reference sent to a university because the one from the ecclesial head of his denomination went missing.  When I looked at the form to fill in, I wrote back and said, “Are you sure you want me to be your reference for your application to do a PhD?”  It wasn’t a reference for a job.  It was one for a terminal degree.  What clout did I have to help this young man?  No employer to speak of, no position/status to show, no title to own!  No published articles or books to prove that I know what I am talking about.  So I finally asked him if he wanted a “No One” to be his referee.  I told him I might hurt his application rather than help it.  I mean this is to a university looking for the next big scholar to carry their name.  I may have graduated from there and even with a “cum laude” but I am mostly remembered to have spent most of my time in the Student Lounge drinking coffee!

I told my husband later that day that he had a “No One” wife.  I guess I was looking for some pity.  Some affirmation of my value.  But I was looking in the wrong place.

This place I do not like is tough because after so many years of thinking and believing I had been “doing” it all right or “doing alright” I am stopped short in my tracks by none other than God, Godself.  It might be easier if I had been willing to press through in earlier days when God did stop me and call me to retreat and be renewed, re-moulded and re-membered.  But while I did retreat and go to a quiet place, I did not press in harder.  I was wimpy.  I believed I was doing alright.

So now on the cusp of 50, I am in a forced situation because God is not going to let go of me.

Will it result in me doing a PhD?  Writing the articles and books many have told me I should write because that’s my gift?  Getting ordained even though I pulled myself out of the process? (I do have my Local Pastor Licence).  Will I avoid God by burying my nose in books/magazines/beads/movies?  Will I E-dge G-od O-ut?

If i press on, it is only by the grace of God.  It is always easier for me to quit.  I have a track record for running away when things get tough.  (It is easier to say “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” – attributed to Joseph P. Kennedy (1888-1969), the father of (U.S.) President John F. Kennedy.

But this enforced solitude because I cannot work (visa restrictions) forces me to face up to many issues.  It is overwhelming to see the “naked” woman in the mirror.  But once again, I will preach to myself and remind myself that God said this many times in Scripture, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.  So we say with confidence,  “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?” Here taken from Hebrews 13:5-6

So I don’t like this liminality.  But I figure it’s time to throw myself totally and fully into it.  This is a vision I have held in my mind and heart for a long, long time – God is the sea and there I am fearful of the mysteries of the ocean but God invites me to sit in a rubber tube and float peacefully on the surface of the water.  God is not teasing me or threatening to throw me into the depths of the ocean.  God simply calls me to float.

I honestly do not like this state I am in.  But it sure feels like it could get better if I stopped flailing my arms and just float.

May it be unto me according to God’s word to me.


Discussing my funeral

In Uncategorized on January 16, 2011 at 10:11 pm

Discussing my funeral, I was told people would not come because I am really not a nice person.  I thought they would come to celebrate that I was really dead.


No, they will not come because you are an angry and bitter person and you don’t realise that people really do not like you.


okay. I’ll be dead anyway.


and I know writing this will gather responses from friends who will say that it’s not true at all – that I am such a terrible person.


But in reality, do you really know me?  You see the person passionate about certain issues.  Maybe you see her humour (MCS staff with whom I lunched with will attest to that!) and her wit.  Or you see her creativity and craziness.


But inner circle people (I don’t even know who these are) will say, “She’s sarcastic not witty.”


Or “she’s crazy mad not fun-loving crazy.”


Or “she’s socially inept and quite uncouth.”


Just because I help you a bit, talk to you and listen to you, maybe give you some help or advice, you think I am wonderful.


But I was told only a few people have really really seen my anger and my hatred.  Basically, few have seen my sinful, fallen nature.  And what a nature it is.


So at my funeral, you have two choices – come and poke and make sure I am stone cold dead or come and regret you never saw Mad Maria in action.


NB. Some song choices

Come, Thou Traveler Unknown

Hymn of Promise (First Choice)


If no one turns up, just play a CD.


No fancy funeral liturgics, please.  If you do it, do it for yourself.  I am dust returning to dust.


Sit down, have a drink and talk about me all you like because I’ll finally be homeward bound.


Thank you.