Tuesday, June 29, 2010

When Failure Isn’t Important

Ever since Clarissa was enrolled in a Chinese school, I have been struggling with our local education system. Now that she is in primary 2, the standard of Chinese and Malay taught are unreasonably high whereas the English is still lingering within the region of kindergarten and primary 1! Teachers are geared towards the students' academic results rather than their overall development. I am not saying that these are all bad. There are still some good values inculcated such as respecting the elderly and even providing for our parents in their old age as a form of appreciation of what they had done for us! Such values may be regarded by many as outdated but in reality, these are important and would help to resolve many of our social problems.

I have never been so active in evaluating our education system until now. I need to amplify and reinforce the good and at the same time, critically evaluate and examine the "not so good". My most recent struggle had been to deal with Clarissa's overly poor performance in her Chinese and Malay papers during her mid-term examinations. "Clarissa needs to brush up on these 2 subjects. Otherwise, she would be lagging behind once she hits P3" advised her form teacher, Ms Ng. "It is unfortunate that she finds Malay challenging. This is accentuated by the fact that her Malay teacher, being a vice principal of the school, is regularly called away by his other commitments, resulting in an inevitable neglect of the subject in class." My heart sank as I realized that the school would not be able to help her but rather, I was expected to send her to the "right" tuition class.

It's a common strategy adopted among parents with children struggling academically. If one tutor is not adequate, get two! Therefore, most of her classmates are sent to tuitions 7 days a week. The term "childhood" is non-existent at this stage; and if anyone were to mention extra-curricular activities (like me), astonished looks would be cast. "After all, there is no time left to pursue anything. If there is, then your child is not putting enough effort in her studies!" commented a parent to me. But I am determined to be different. I would like my child to take up sports, enjoy music and attend BB so that she could learn about problem solving, team work, leadership and most importantly, God's words. All such activities come with a price tag: lower grades. "As long as Clarissa did well in English, Maths and Science, I must learn to be contended. Forget about the grades, class ranking, perpetual work and no play!" I kept telling myself and Ray.

Today I was feeling down as again, my values had been challenged when I discovered that Clarissa had failed her Malay test. "Should I cancel her music class so that I could send her to more tuition?" I kept asking myself. I had no choice but to turn to God and asked Him if I had done the right thing by refusing to conform. As I opened my daily devotional book, the verses sprung out:

"Many of those whose bodies lie dead and buried will rise up, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting disgrace. Those who are wise will shine as bright as the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever."Daniel 12:2-3

I could almost hear God telling me "Fee, you are not preparing Clarissa for her years at the primay school alone. You need to be focused on preparing her for her adulthood and eventually, if she would be regarded as one, who will shine as the stars forever!" Such words brought immense comfort and relief to me. After all, no parent would want to see her child fail in any way but after these verses, I realised some failures are not important; but there are some which are critical. May God grant me the wisdom and determination to distinguish between the two!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

When Dreams become Reality

After finishing my professional exams, I took a farewell trip with some of my close friends in UK prior to my permanent return to Malaysia. We went to the Lake District and I was totally caught by surprise by the beautiful scenery displayed by the lakes and the hills at the backdrop. We went hiking one day and unknowingly, I found myself walking up the nearby hills. As soon as I turned around, I saw the vast lakes with mirror reflections sparkling before my eyes, the dotted cottages were blooming with summer flowers and creeping plants. Such breathtaking view spelt tranquility and peace. At that very instant, I could feel my soul talking to God "If only I could work in a place like this! This would be my dream indeed! But, I know that this is not possible as there is no such village in Malaysia!" I ended with my habitual sigh.

Upon my return to Malaysia, I settled in the KL quickly and found myself pursuing a demanding career. Years went by; I got married and had children. During this period, although I was in Malaysia, I didn't have much opportunity to see my parents who reside in Kampar due to my heavy work schedule. With the clock ticking and my parents advancing in years, again, I told God earnestly "Wouldn't it be great if I could spend more time with my parents? I left them since I turned 10 and it would be my greatest regret if they were gone before I could get to know them! But, I know that this is not possible as Ray, being a typical city person, would have difficulties adapting to a small place like Kampar!"

When Joseph turned 2 three years ago, there was an opening for me to move back to Kampar. The most amazing part is: God has been preparing both Ray and I for the move. For Ray, He had to show him that his career was not in KL and when He called his nanny home, Ray felt that he could go wherever God led since he needn't be around to take care of his nanny anymore. For me, I had quit my job in KL and was looking for a job that offered both challenge and quality time with my children. Therefore, this opportunity came at the right time.

When we first moved back, I noticed the mountain range near my house but didn't give much thought to it. In fact, I thought that it had looked out of place for a small town! But when I saw the many lakes nearby, I was reminded of my "dream job" conversation that took place 10 years ago. Looking back, that wasn't just a casual conversation, but one that God took seriously. In fact, He had never took it otherwise as He knew all along that my dream job would materialize in His leading hands. I felt like I was unwrapping a much anticipated Christmas present while our Father must be thinking all along "I can't wait to see the smile on your face, when you realized what I had in stored for you!" In this instance, I had opened 2 presents at one go! Praise Him for His faithfulness and everlasting love!

The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer is from the Lord. (Proverbs 16:1)

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Better Person

When Joseph is caught doing something wrong, he is prompt to apologise; Clarissa on the other hand will take her time to analyse the situation to ascertain if an apology is due; if so, she would apologise 24 hours later, when she is done being angry! As a parent and being in the receiving end, I welcome my children's apologies like morning dew as they help me to diffuse my anger. Clarissa noticed that I praised Joseph for his quick response despite the fact that his next course of action might betray his sincerity.

Once, Clarissa questioned my love for her and even challenged me, if I had favoured her mischievous brother more. "I like the fact that Joseph says sorry when told to do so. This shows that he knows that he is wrong." I began my attempt at explaining. "But, he will do the same thing again!" she objected. "Well, he is still young and is likely to make the same mistakes again. We all make mistakes now and again. The important thing is: we must remember to say sorry and say it quickly" I persisted.

I didn't expect her to change as I know that it takes more than mere words to change a person; it requires divine intervention. However, I believed that she had taken my point seriously. After that conversation, I started to pay more attention to her love language (primarily food). Then last Saturday, while we were having dinner at a restaurant, everyone's order had come except for mine. "Hi mummy, are you ok? Would you like some of my food?" she offered kindly and totally out my expectation! "Why? What a sweet offer!" I was touched beyond words. Later, I asked her about her behavior during dinner time and she replied "Mummy, I have decided to be a better person. For example, I will try to say sorry quickly whenever I am wrong and be kind to others!" And for the rest of the weekend, whenever she did something wrong, she would apologise even before I asked her to!

Her action has inspired me to be a better person too as I realized that if God can work in her; He can surely works in me too! There will be the occasional failure of course, but it's encouraging to see that one is never too young nor too old for character moulding!

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Hope for the Hopeless

Over the weekend, my soul was warmly refreshed by a conversation I shared with my cousin, El. El is the same age as me and was brought up as a Catholic. Despite our different upbringing, we got on well as kids and now that both of us are married with children, we could still chat like old friends.

We were on the challenging topic of educating our children when she confessed "I didn't have a personal relationship with God until recently. I would like Nicholas (her 7 year old son) to go to a Chinese primary school but up till two days before the new semester was due to start, I still didn't receive any acceptance letter from the school (located in the heavily populated suberb Puchong). To make matter worst, when Nicholas asked me which school he was going, I couldn't answer him. In fact, I was close to tears when I heard his question. There and then, I told him that we would pray and ask God to show us. And the very next day, we received the letter of acceptance from the school!" I was so touched that our Heavenly Father has been working in her life. "From then onwards, I could really see that Nicholas has developed faith in God" she added.

As the conversation continued, I realized that there was so much that I didn't know about her. "My husband was a staunched Christians many years ago but now things have changed. During the birth of both my children, he went to see a traditional feng shui master to obtain "good fortune" names for the children. When he came back, El was informed that her children are not the studious type and are mostly to fail in their education. Therefore, El was advised not to place too much hope in them! I could imagine the shock and disappointment El faced back then. Afterall, both of us in our younger days, despite being in different schools, were competitive as far as study was concerned. To top it all, El's mother was a secondary school teacher in one of Ipoh's most well known schools. And to think that our childrens' future could be determined by a stranger and worst, accepted by the husband!

"I am all out to prove him (the feng shui master) wrong!" she said emotionally. My own emotions were in turmoil as I listened to her struggles: I could hardly contain my own anger. The only thing that was holding me back was that I realized that God is playing a big part in her life, giving her strength and answering her prayers! In fact, her discovery of God reminded me that I should not take my relationship with God for granted. He is REAL and ACTIVE.

"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" Romans 10:13

An additional love language – food!

As I am not a food lover, I can't imagine nor appreciate the joy and satisfaction one could derive from having a sumptuous meal. I eat for survival but I noticed that Clarissa eats for enjoyment and indulgence! Over time, I realized that for Asians especially, we must not overlook that our children can speak the love language of Food!

After a series of conflicts with my girl, I realized that the topic of food could quite often melt her hardened heart. Once, we had some frozen Australian abalones from a friend. My mum did the simple tasks of boiling and slicing them into thin slices but the response was totally out of this world! "Its heaven to me! Now, please could I have another slice of heaven?" exclaimed Clarissa after the first slice landed in her mouth. I was both amused and surprised that one piece of abalone could draw such praises and smiles of appreciation from her!

As a parent in this generation, I must learn to be sensitive towards my children, especially towards their love language. Afterall, I need to know their soft spots, in order that I could stand a better chance of winning them over and building a lasting, influential relationship with them.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Which of You Forgot to Pray?

Every year, the month of May brings forth many challenges (hence my silence and limited blogging). This is the time when we are busy with new students checking-in. My previous experience tells me one thing: expect the unexpected! Everyone, students and parents alike, has different views on one single issue – choosing the right room. And if they are not satisfied with their choice of rooms, they would come up with many reasons as to why the room is not suitable. As the management company, we could only stand firm and explain to them our position. On a good, prayer-filled day, students or parents tend to accept our reasoning with little resistance.

Today, I forgot to pray. Well, after one week of hassle-free check-in (close to 1,300 students and families were served), I didn't anticipate any further problems and had taken it for granted that the week had been a breeze! I had forgotten that it was God who heard my prayer every morning and He had been at work, in people's hearts. This time last year, our whole team was under mountainous pressure, due not only to the sheer volume of work but also the emotional stress imposed by our tenants. We were working flat out and our faces carried only one expression – burnt out! I could still recall candidly that one of our senior staff's advice prior to the peak period " It is time to put on our armour, as we are preparing for warfare!" At that point in time, it did not occur to me that I could have called on the Lord of Hosts to fight alongside with us. This year I remembered until today.

As I went to the office and expected things to be running smoothly, one of my colleagues said "Well, I think one of us had forgotten to pray today! Its only 11am and I have had 4 major complaints!" I turned my head towards her and before I could say anything, she asked "Did you forget to pray to your God?" "Actually, this morning, I was in a hurry and I had forgotten to pray!" I confessed.

Immediately, I felt ashamed for taking lightly the power of prayer! Indeed, as Christians, we have the most powerful weapon in our hands –prayer! Time and again, the Lord has shown me that He is interested in all aspects of my life, including my secular work and parenting! Dear God, forgive me for being complacent in my prayer life as I realized that much trouble could have been avoided, if only I had spent time praying, rather than "doing".

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened." (Matthew 7:7)

Joseph restoring joy to a friend

We were at a family retreat at Cameron Highlands. Children were having a fun time playing frisbees when one child, Ashton, threw the frisbee...