a cold, soft heart

You can brick up your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can and down it comes in an instant, felled by a woman’s second glance, a child’s apple breath, the shatter of glass in the road, the words I have something to tell you, a cat with a broken spine dragging itself into the forest to die, the brush of your mother’s papery ancient hand in the thicket of your hair, the memory of your father’s voice early in the morning echoing from the kitchen where he is making pancakes for his children.

Brian Doyle, “Joyas Voladoras

travelling to find myself

Many people hope that traveling will help them change or find themselves, but if you can’t become the person you want to be right where you are, then you won’t be able to do it when you’re 5,000 miles distant. Because, of course, wherever you go, you bring yourself along with you. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, folks who are unhappy with their lives, and look for fulfillment in exotic and ancient lands, merely carry “ruins to ruins”.

– Brett & Kate McKay, “Against the Cult of Travel, or What Everyone Gets Wrong About the Hobbit” 

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13 days

Slightly less than 2 weeks to the big day. Anne Cousin’s verses, which have nothing and yet everything to do with earthly marriage, have been repeating in my mind recently:

O I am my Beloved and my Beloved’s mine,
He brings a poor vile sinner into His house of wine,
I stand upon His merit — I know no other stand,
Not e’en when glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

The bride eyes not her garment but her dear Bridegroom’s face,
I will not gaze at glory but on my King of grace;
Not at the crown He giveth but on His pierced hand;
The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land.

Calvin on prayer

… still it is very important for us to call upon him:

First, that our hearts may be fired with a zealous and burning desire ever to seek, love, and serve him, while we become accustomed in every need to flee to him as to a sacred anchor.

Secondly, that there may enter our hearts no desire and no wish at all of which we should be ashamed to make him a witness, while we learn to set all our wishes before his eyes, and even to pour out our whole hearts.

Thirdly, that we be prepared to receive his benefits with true gratitude of heart and thanksgiving, benefits that our prayer reminds us come from his hand.

Fourthly, moreover, that, having obtained what we were seeking, and being convinced that he has answered our prayers, we should be led to meditate upon his kindness more ardently.

And fifthly, that at the same time we embrace with greater delight those things which we acknowledge to have been obtained by prayers.

Finally, that use and experience may, according to the measure of our feebleness, confirm his providence, while we understand not only that he promises never to fail us, and of his own will opens the way to call upon him at the very point of necessity, but also that he ever extends his hand to help his own, not wet-nursing them with words but defending them with present help.

Institutes 3.20.3

on terrible skin and wedding theme songs

Some background: I’ve never had good skin, but it wasn’t awful. At university, pressed powder (used lightly) was enough to cover up some redness, and when I started work (almost two years ago) I started to use liquid foundation to cover up scars. But everything started flaring up 2-3 months ago —for unknown reasons— and now half my face is an angry red, full of bumps, and apparently bad enough that when I finally broke down to see a dermatologist yesterday, she told me to consider Roaccutane.

I didn’t think vanity was a problem for me (mostly because I’ve nothing much to be vain about), but this whole thing has been incredibly revealing. Sometimes after removing my makeup for the day, I’ll feel like bursting into tears in the shower (and occasionally do); I feel like ducking every time somebody at work talks to me from any distance less than a metre; I veer between wanting to look at a mirror (or a reflective surface, e.g., the side of an escalator) when i pass by one and being afraid to do so; I spend my train trips reading the skincareaddiction subreddit.

It feels so absurd and unhealthy just typing the paragraph above, much less having lived it the past month.

Which leads me to wedding planning. When we decided on a wedding date, the first few things I thought about the most were:
(1) our theme verse — Habakkuk 3:17-18;
(2) our worship songs;
(3) our theme song, which is:

I chose this song for many reasons, which will hopefully become evident to those who attend the wedding, but it’s been something I really need to hear and sing to myself recently. God really knows us better and holds all things in His hands.

What do I rejoice in? What’s my treasure? What do I trust? What satisfies? I know these things with my mind, I teach them to my church kids, I picked a wedding (marriage, rather) theme verse and song that tells me so. But all it takes is some acne (not painful, not crippling, not life-threatening!) to unravel the idols of my heart.

So I’m going for my pre-wedding photo shoot tomorrow; yes, with my mountainous face. There are/have been many mercies, like an incredibly kind MUA, Photoshop (haha), a day off work & colleagues covering me, my dad lending us his car for the day & topping up petrol beforehand, my sister being willing to help out, etc., and of course H who has always been more encouraging and patient than I deserve.

But most of all, I pray that tomorrow, the days to come, and even on the wedding day if my skin doesn’t get any better by then, I will be singing,

I rejoice in my Redeemer,
Greatest Treasure, Wellspring of my soul;
I will trust in Him, no other;
My soul is satisfied in Him alone.

In Him alone.

the old rugged vows

Happy 2017! It’s been so long since I last posted and 3.5 months of 2017 have already flown by. Since last time (October) —

  1. Peak was terrible, but I’ve never been more thankful for the work clique (:
  2. There’s still been quite a lot of work to do post-peak, which sadly means my reading has been at an all-time low :( Something about being brain-dead and eye-exhausted after work means I’m far more willing to watch a drama than to put in effort to read a good book, sigh.
  3. I’m only a chapter in to Fleming Rutledge (a super cool name, btw)’s The Crucifixion but it’s proving to be even more rich and beautiful than reviewers, or even Christianity Today’s book-of-the-year-award, say it is.

Anyway, it’s 4.5 months to 29 July 2017 (#tanwansher) and I often have to remind myself to think more deeply about marriage than about the wedding. I didn’t think I would have this problem —the beauty of Christian teaching on marriage/singlehood has always been one of the faith’s most powerful apologetics (personally), and with recent cultural shifts re: sexuality, I spent a lot of time in uni thinking through these issues— but it’s so easy to get caught up with settling/coordinating all the minute details. And, well, friends don’t tend to ask you about your marriage philosophy as much as they do about your wedding theme.

I’m glad I came across this article by Russell Moore on why he does not officiate weddings for couples who write their own vows. It boils down to this:

And when a couple writes his or her own vows, or when a couple together writes their own vows, what’s happening is that couple is suggesting somehow that their vows are unique. The vows are not unique; as a matter of fact, as a friend of mine who is a pastor puts it often, what makes the wedding, any particular wedding, significant is not what makes it different from every other wedding but what makes it the same.

Marriage is not about celebrating our individuality or grand love story; it’s about entering an institution created by God to glorify Him through reflecting Christ. Marriage is a path that has been walked, sprinted, crawled upon by multitudes wiser than we will ever be and who have lived through the things Moore mentions that we can hardly imagine —Alzheimer’s, cancer, dead babies, dying children, grave sin. The guests are not there to party; they are there to witness, to hold us accountable, to hold us when we cannot hold on, because marriage is serious and marriage is hard and marriage is big enough that it matters.

When I find myself buying yet another Taobao wedding accessory or enviously scrolling through Pinterest, I recall this piece and also the theme verse we picked:

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

I pray Habakkuk’s God-centeredness will permeate our wedding planning process, the wedding itself, our marriage, and our hearts; and may all who witness the day see His glory.

work and God’s work

It’s been a week of realising how easy it is to become an unwilling workaholic — to stay in the office past midnight each night, to go back on weekends — not simply because there’s that much work to do, but because that’s what everyone else is doing.  I’ve had to remind myself almost every day that there’s no point staying late just because a voice tells me I must be seen as the most hardworking, that it makes far more sense for me to bring work home than to go to the office (two hours’ travelling to/fro) on a Saturday, that the desire to look the busiest or the best is unhealthy and, more importantly, unGodly.

I’ve been reading Dale Ralph Davis’ commentary on 1 Samuel (spoiler: it’s wonderful). On Jonathan’s covenant with David and his willingness to give up his rightful throne and relationship with his father for the sake of his friend, Davis says:

Jonathan had acknowledged that the kingdom was Yahweh’s and therefore David’s, so his life did not need to be centered in his ambition (what can I get) but in God’s providence (what Yahweh has given)… Life does not consist in achieving your goals but in fulfilling your promises.

If I may stretch the application: My workplace (kingdom) is God’s. Any possible appraisal, promotion, or opinion of my managers is His to determine for me. My task is faithfulness, which includes carrying out my promise to serve and love God by serving and loving His people. If that results in spending my Saturdays / Sundays baking for my YF kids, planning publicity for church musical, studying Scripture, printing Bible Study material, praising God as a congregation, teaching and learning from God’s Word, at the cost of racking up work-points with my managers / partners (or mostly just in my mind, honestly), then so be it.

(Of course obedience to God means working as if I were working for the Lord, etc. etc.)

I come back once and again to Mike Cain’s wonderful sermon on 2 Corinthians 3:

Judged by outward appearance the ministry we have is not very glorious. Open a community centre and the world will be very impressed. Open a Bible with someone, and the world will say – that is so lame. But Paul is saying, whose definition of glory are you working with? Opening the Bible with someone may seem so lame, but what the gospel does in their hearts is glorious.

And friends, if you don‘t believe me, ask me again in a hundred years’ time. Ask me in five hundred years’ time. Ask me in a thousand years’ time, when that community centre is dust, and there are people with you in glory whose hearts God wrote on, who were brought from death to life, restored forever because you showed Christ to them. Paul says – that is the kind of brilliance I want you to marvel at.

May I always remember that the urgent is hardly ever the important; that the visible is hardly ever the permanent; that playing the world’s game on its terms is a fruitless exercise, and that true Glory dwells in Immanuel’s land.

& september ends;

Happy October! This officially marks the start of peak PEAK at work (tax filing deadline is 30 November), although it’s already been go-home-after-9 every day for the past 2.5 months and bring-home-CIT-queries-over-the-weekend (mostly because I can’t bring home tax computations, they don’t work very well on my iMac). It’s tiring, but in a happy productive way, and being closer with my colleagues means more dinners and desserts in between our OT-ing. I’m glad, and I still like my work (:

Being busy for me, though, also means short-temperedness and irritability. It’s so easy to be “caught up” in everything around me, and ironically to end up remarkably self-centered. One of the songs that keeps helping to anchor me to what truly matters is the Gettys’ My Worth is Not in What I Own. On days when I’m tempted to lash out, I plug in and loop this while I prepare tax computations / reply emails / explain to the IRAS why we’re right etc.

To remember that it’s not about proving myself over and against others at work:

My worth is not in skill or name
In win or lose, in pride or shame
But in the blood of Christ that flowed
At the cross

To remember to watch my pride:

I will not boast in wealth or might
Or human wisdom’s fleeting light
But I will boast in knowing Christ
At the cross

To remember not to measure my, or others’, worth by the world’s weights:

Two wonders here that I confess
My worth and my unworthiness
My value fixed – my ransom paid
At the cross

And most of all, to rejoice with “soul-deep joy”, especially when things aren’t going well and stress is building:

I rejoice in my Redeemer
Greatest Treasure, 
Wellspring of my soul
I will trust in Him, no other. 
My soul is satisfied in Him alone. 

I’m so thankful for true words, sang well, in a beautiful melody. On a sidenote, definitely playing / singing this for my wedding (:

My soul is satisfied in You alone.

on the inseparability of faith and hope

How do faith and hope belong together?

For if faith, as has been said above, is a sure persuasion of the truth of God —that it can neither lie to us, nor deceive us, nor become void— then those who have grasped this certainty assuredly expect the time to come when God will fulfil His promises, which they are persuaded cannot but be true.

Accordingly, in brief, hope is nothing else than the expectation of those things which faith has believed to have been truly promised by God. Thus, faith believes God to be true, hope awaits the time when His truth shall be manifested; faith believes that He is our Father, hope anticipates that He will ever show Himself to be a Father toward us; faith believes that eternal life has been given to us, hope anticipates that it will some time be revealed; faith is the foundation upon which hope rests, hope nourishes and sustains faith.

Institutes 3.2.42