Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Ride Of Our Lives

"Wow, it's been more than a week since VBS ended." I remarked casually to Joey while locking the church gate.

"Daniel, are you okay?" she asked me.

"Huh? What do you mean?"

"Why do you keep talking about VBS? Did you take up too many roles till you are now unable to forget them? Last time you were never like this."

"Oh, no lah." I looked down, slightly flustered. "When people become old, they tend to look back on memories more."

She laughed and walked off, taking care to avoid puddles on the freshly-rained pavement.

I laughed to myself too, realising what a silly lie I had told.

Yes, I was guilty as charged. I was still deeply entrenched in the memory of VBS. The only surprise was her saying that I was never this way previously. I had always thought it was a yearly affair. One only needs to take a look at my blog to see that it is the most consistently-updated event year after year.

But perhaps Joey was right in a way. This year's VBS might be hardest for me to let go. And for a simple reason: It could be the last VBS of an era.

Sure enough, this year's VBS was a bittersweet experience akin to graduating from school. Bitter due to the crazy workload I foolishly took on - worship leading, storytelling skit and organising the carnival. But as things slowly came into fruition, they became sweet. Also, it was a joy working closely alongside some of my peers - Zhi Yong, Ju Yuan and Joyce. A reunion of sorts.

In the weeks of busyness leading up to VBS, we all couldn't wait for it to be over. But as Day 1, 2 and 3 passed smoothly and quickly, a strange melancholy crept up to me on Day 4 - the second last day.

Exhausted after the worship leading and skit presentation, I recall sitting with Joyce by the stage watching children go about their lessons.

"You know," I glanced at her. "Something tells me that this is going to be your final VBS."

She stared at me, probably a little taken aback. It was not common knowledge yet that she was planning to work in Australia next year. "Who knows. But I'll help out if I happen to be around. Just not in songleading."

We mused about how VBS songleading was really getting tougher the older we got. And indeed, this year's songleading had been especially tough on us both. Due to lack of song leaders, I had to lead two days while she took THREE. Wow. In fact, I had not even planned on being involved in the worship this year. But me and my softie heart, pfft.

And then I realised: by the time the next VBS rolled around I would already be 30. And most likely married. Many of my peers, like Joyce, might not be around any more or married with new lives to build.

I'm not even sure if I will still be in this church then.

Life tends to be like a cassette rewinder, if you're old enough to know what that is. The closer you get to the end, the faster it goes. As I head to the tail end of my twenties, I'm gradually coming to grasp how limited my days are. Gone is the sense of immortality; that time is an inexhaustible resource waiting to pass on and on.

When you're younger, it's natural to think that things will stay the same forever. But age brings with it the knowledge that nothing lasts forever. Especially the days of serving alongside friends I grew up together with.

Fittingly, one and a half weeks after VBS we celebrated the farewell of Timothy, another VBS legend. He was also leaving for Australia with his family. The farewell dinner, which consisted of twenty people who were mostly my peers, ended with us seated in a circle sharing farewell wishes to Timothy and how he had impacted each of our lives.

It was a very surreal experience indeed, as though I had been transported 3-4 years back in time. That was the last time I was part of them, before I consciously decided to turn away. It was a time fraught with bitterness, anger and unhappiness. But this time round, I felt no such hardness. Just happiness. Happiness to have known Timothy and share in a part of his life. Happiness for the many friends of his who were my friends as well.

It's a strange time in my life now. Adjusting, anticipating, awakening. Best of all, I have no idea where the ride's gonna head next.

Colossal Coaster Wor-r-r-rld
Facing fear, trusting God
Colossal Coaster Wor-r-r-rld
Facing fear, trusting God
With everything, that we've got

The Sunday 2pm worship practices. The confusing dance steps. The carnival planning. The night we built Candytown in church. The decoration which took weeks to set up and just 15 minutes to destroy. The numerous script revisions. The late night rehearsals due to everyone being late. The hours spent making props.

Indeed boys and girls, it was the ride of our lives. Just very, very blessed to have been a part of it all. :)

The only skit from this year's VBS I had the foresight to record. And it is one that I am mighty proud of - a kid-friendly version of the famous Lifehouse Everything skit.
For the longest time, we were thinking of a suitable song to replace Everything as the plot was rather different. The whole fact that kids don't exactly 'struggle' with their sins, and that we had to show Jesus' death / resurrection. Then I just decided to try Here I Am To Worship.
Over the course of one afternoon in Ochado fitting the music to the scenes, I was amazed how perfectly the lyrics matched - as though the song had been written for this skit. If ever I had experienced a magical moment of epiphany, this would be it.
I'm also very proud of how well all the actors performed, especially Joyce. She really cried. Without me asking her to. And Ju Yuan, I hate to say this but... you were born to be evil.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

I'm Reminded

Jeremy the two-headed dinosaur.
It's been four weeks since I started teaching Inter class again. The last time I taught in that class (full time) was 2009.

Inter was the first class I taught when I merrily jumped onto the Sunday School teachers' bandwagon in 2007. At that time, it was the perfect choice for me - the goofy new teacher facing up to young impressionable minds. Back then the class was located at the balcony outside, separated from all the other classes and thus giving us a world of our own that was occasionally interrupted by extreme heat or the odd "TILAM TILAM" guy. Sometimes the lessons went well, sometimes not so, but there were always greater life lessons in store.

As is often the case when one looks back, those were much simpler times. I taught without thinking too much, never forgetting to have fun without being overly worried about meeting set objectives. Sure, there were times things got random and awkward but it was always all good the following week. I was humbled, challenged and pestered like never before but through it all, I loved the idea of us against the rest of the world, huddled and laughing together before they graduated to the cooler Younger Youth class.

But then I left for 3 and a half years. The first year was a quest to 'rescue' the dying Older Youth class - an ultimately doomed mission fraught with disappointment and discouragement. For the first time, I was confronted with the ugly truth that sometimes, a good lesson alone isn't enough.

The following year, I took a break for six months before suddenly being a 'substitute' teacher in Inter for another six months. It was fun returning to the class for a while, but I never really got over my identity as a random replacement guy.

As 2012 dawned, I decided to venture into teaching the Youth class for the first time (surprise, surprise!). And how nice, most of my former students from Inter were in the same class - all grown up. But as the months wore on, I sensed their former enthusiasm replaced with lingering jadedness and skepticism. Gone were the eager babes happy with simple truths; now those who sat before me were disinterested youngsters who knew enough.

Through the year, I taught some of my best lessons but deep inside the passion was dying out. A teacher's joy stems from seeing his students grow through the lessons. There was none to be found here. I pray that within their minds they were secretly transformed, but on the outside it never showed.

Slowly, surely, I was losing hope. Why, I wondered? Was it a lack of effort on my part? Or a sign of the times? Or simply the culmination of years of things gone wrong?

Mid-2013, circumstances arose to lead me back to Inter. At that moment, it was just another assignment for me - the next chapter in my Sunday School teaching journey. Never did I expect rediscovering my first love.

"Are you done, class?" I checked on their progress in drawing their own cartoon character - an illustration of creation in Genesis.

"Not yet lah, teacher!"

"Ish...faster lah, so slow! You think this is art class ah? I give you all two more minutes only kay."

Two minutes later, the boys and girls met Jeremy the Two-Headed Dinosaur with a chorus of oooohs.

I was home.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Writing Backwards

Yes, I did not update this blog for five and a half months. And counting.

No, I did not get married. No, I did not become a millionaire. And no, I was not eaten by cannibals or crocodiles during the Mission Trip.

I will also not claim to have been too busy, as bloggers are wont to do.

Fact is, Twisted Tales never left my mind. Like a lover pining after her departed soulmate, wondering whether he gazes at the same moon she does, for five and a half months I never stopped visiting and stealing glances.

But I would not write.

Why? I don't know. It wasn't a deliberate decision. It just happened.

It would be romantic to think that I intentionally took a writing hiatus to reflect and sharpen. Like how a kung fu master retreats to meditate in the wilderness before emerging a changed warrior.

I'm not sure if that's what I did. Hopefully I will emerge as a better writer, but there certainly was no plan for that.

Anyway, let's make it simple. Here at Twisted Tales, I hold on to a proud tradition of posting at least once a month. That's since October 2004, when this place opened shop. The only exception was June 2011, which was subsequently fashioned into a brilliant breaking-the-fourth-wall story.

So to keep the tradition alive, I'm going to write backwards! Yep, I'll be posting stuff for January, February, March, April and May which I insist is IN MY HEAD BUT NOT WRITTEN DOWN YET. So it's almost like I did not stop blogging for five and a half months!

Dumb? Yes. Pointless? Yes. Cheating? Yes.
But it's my blog, and I'll do whatever I want with it! I bet nobody will even notice 10 years from now. They'll be browsing through month after month and be amazed by this amazing young man who tirelessly posted every single month. Every single month!

So scroll down, and party like it's early 2013 again!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

Post coming soon!

Most of us find it very difficult to want "Heaven" at all-except in so far as "Heaven" means meeting again our friends who have died. One reason for this difficulty is that we have not been trained: our whole education tends to fix our minds on this world. Another reason is that when the real want for Heaven is present in us, we do not recognise it. Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world.

There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning,  can really satisfy. I am not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers. I am speaking of the best possible ones.

There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality. I think everyone knows what I mean. The wife may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be a very interesting job:  but something has evaded us. Now there are two wrong ways of dealing with this fact, and one right one.
(1) The Fool's Way: He puts the blame on the things themselves. He goes on all his life thinking that if only he tried another woman, or went for a more expensive holiday, or whatever it is, then, this time, he really would catch the mysterious something we are all after. Most of the bored, discontented, rich people in the world are of this type.  They spend their whole lives trotting from woman to woman (through the divorce courts), from continent to continent, from hobby to hobby, always thinking that the latest is "the Real Thing" at last, and always disappointed.
(2) The Way of the Disillusioned “Sensible Man.”: He soon decides that the whole thing was moonshine (a kind of hard liquor popular in the author’s days). “Of course,” he says, “one feels like that when one's young. But by the time you get to my age you've given up chasing the rainbow's end.” And so he settles down and learns not to expect too much and represses the part of himself which used, as he would say, “to cry for the moon.”

This is, of course, a much better way than the first, and makes a man much happier, and less of a nuisance to society. It tends to make him a prig (he is apt to be rather superior towards what he calls “adolescents”), but, on the whole, he rubs along fairly comfortably. It would be the best line we could take if man did not live for ever.

But supposing infinite happiness really is there, waiting for us? Supposing one really can reach the rainbow's end? In that case it would be a pity to find out too late (a moment after death) that by our supposed "common sense" we had stifled in ourselves the faculty of enjoying it.
(3) The Christian Way: The Christian says, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud.  Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same."