(The original post titled “What I Didn’t Know About Forgiveness” back in Aug 2017 experienced the unfortunate “shredder” that is the WordPress app glitch. It was frustrating, but a brilliant idea came…..)
31st December 2017 – 1st January 2018 // Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
New year’s eve.
I was not out at some party somewhere. Instead, I was home, hoping to stay away from the crowds….and of all things to happen – a major bug on the WordPress app permanently deleted a post from August. It was the one titled “What I Didn’t Know About Forgiveness.” I spent the last half hour of 2017 and another hour of 2018 doing everything I could to retrieve it, to no avail.
I thought about the loss, the disheartenment to start over, the impossiblity to recreate it word-for-word. I did, after all, write that post in the heat of the moment when things were intense emotionally.
“There’s no way I can get back into that very same headspace,” I thought to myself.
Midnight came, and 2018 was ushered in. I was not celebrating, I was mourning about the incident….well, sorta. I hit the sack thinking about all the prophecies about what would 2018 look like for me and how the 2018 really began on my end, with this issue. It felt like a smack to the face but God in all His humour, gave me something to chew on.
“Let’s look back at what else I had done concerning forgiveness this year,” said the still small voice.
July 2017 // Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
I plonked on the bed after returning from what seemed like an excruciating hour of being questioned by some authority figures, mostly about the tragic premature exit from Greece a few months before. There were things I wanted to say, but held back because it would’ve been considered “too much information,” as the situation was complicated to begin with.
I was exhausted just by not being able to talk about the truth during the meeting.
But the tears that came weren’t because of that only.
I was feeling the weight of carrying that part of my story, whether shared with others or not. And what made the story difficult to carry was my struggle to forgive myself and the people involved.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to forgive, it was because pain has a way of making one unable, or find difficult, to forget.
August 2017 // Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
I went to church this particular Saturday evening, even though I had to leave before the sermon to attend my high school class’ 10-year reunion. I was not really excited about the class reunion for a variety of reasons, but it wasn’t the main thing weighing on my heart.
It was that I thought I knew enough about forgiveness, but I didn’t.
And I was about to meet a bunch of people who would remind me of many things, especially the not-so-great ones.
The communion emblems were passed and I held them tightly in my hands. So tight that I almost smashed the wafer and spilled the grape juice. “Would You show me what forgiveness looks like?” was the whisper of my lips but the loud cry of my heart. And I swallowed the wafer and chugged the juice.
(I was so lost in the moment that I had consumed the communion emblems before the cue. Oh well.)
I walked out of the church not too long later. I just didn’t think that I was going to walk into a series of events that would answer that prayer.
“Wei-Jan, you don’t have to have it all figured out now, but what you can do is choose to forgive today. You may have to start from scratch each new day, but you have the choice to make that day count.” – Mike Oman, September 2013.
One high school reunion.
One reunion of sorts with my former colleagues.
I looked at their faces, and the filmreel of memories began rolling.
I saw the times I had been treated unkindly, unfairly, and unlovingly.
But I also saw laughter, joy, and love.
I had a choice to make. And a choice I did make.
I made a choice to release the prisoners I had made of them and spoke life.
I made a choice to stand up and pour out love onto those people, knowing that I can choose to forgive despite not being able to forget the bad memories.
I made a choice to let Him take over, even if it means 7×70 times in a day. Life and beauty were prophesied and the prison walls came down.
The lessons didn’t end when the weekend was over. The very next day I would be challenged to walk out the truth of those lessons with a person I’d find most difficult to forgive. I made a choice, again.
(That choice made a friend go, “OH SNAAAP BRING ON THE CONVICTION!”)
I didn’t think that all these choices would set me up for what was coming up ahead.
October 2017 // Kampar, Perak, Malaysia
“Father, they’re swimming in their brokenness and with the amount of conflicts happening, I’m at my wits’ end,” I said to God as I prepared to go to bed. I was exhausted and mentally drained from all that was happening with the group I was leading.
“And what choice would you make this time?” He asked in return.
“I choose to forgive them. I release them to You.”
The next few days made history. The breakthrough came. The darkness left and light invaded. I thought that was the end. But the gentle voice spoke.
“No, you’re not stopping here, because I’m not. Go and embrace her.”
“But…I mean, things look good now. Do I really have to do that?”
“Can I do it later?”
With the quote, “Delayed obedience is disobedience” playing in my head, I looked up at the person that I had been speaking to God about. She had just been freed of a lot of pain and darkness the evening before, and she was relishing in this newfound freedom. It’s easy to think that my work was done then, but I went with that voice and approached her.
I opened my arms to hug her.
I hugged her.
I was still hugging her. Or more like she was still hugging me.
I wondered if it was time to let go, but this hug didn’t look like it was going to cease soon.
Then her tears started flowing as she repeated, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry…”
“I forgive you. You’re all good.”
Something in the atmosphere broke and she came undone. God had something bigger for her, as I was realising then. The rest surrounded us and our tears flowed. Tears of utter joy.
And the beautiful singing of these words marked that moment in history.
“Oleh darah Yesus, ku bebas dan hidupku menang,
By the blood of Jesus, we are free, we live victorious.”
1st January 2018 // Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Looking back, I actually did learn more about forgiveness after I had that post published back in August. The loss became an opportunity to revisit this. God is certainly not done teaching.
So, this thing you’re reading now – it doesn’t really end here either. 😉
The year God proved that He sees.
12th March 2017 // Thessaloniki, Greece
The stranger showed up at a church and quietly made her way to an empty seat. She sat down and looked around. It was her first time at this place. She didn’t know anyone there. In fact, she was also new to the country, the culture, the language. She was a stranger in (almost) every sense of the word. The new kid in town. The new kid in town who had no clue that everything was going to change that day.
“If you feel small, invisible, overlooked….I want you to know that God sees you. He sees you where you are. And He wants you to know that you’re seen by Him.”
She looked at the preacher as he delivered the message from the pulpit. She wondered if it’s the message for her. (She’d find out the answer later on.)
Hours after the end of the church service, she was seen in another part of the city, weeping as she hurried back to her (temporary) residence. Something had gone horribly wrong, and she couldn’t do anything to change it.
The stranger felt that her world was caving in.
The stranger felt that she was not worthy of being loved.
The stranger felt like a tiny speck in an ocean; tiny, overlooked, and probably unneeded.
The stranger wondered if God passed her by.
Even the streets that received the broken pieces of her heart and drops of tears had little to say in return.
Three weeks later, she was at the airport about to get on a flight home (that wasn’t part of her plan), still feeling like an utter stranger…when a Greek family asked her where she came from, snapping her out of her thoughts.
Bewildered, she looked at their faces that were eager to receive her answer.
“They want to know more about me, a stranger?” she thought to herself.
The irony of the situation got her pondering upon the words of that preacher from three weeks before,
“God sees you,”
and of her friend from a week before,
“I, your brother and friend, see you.”
This stranger is…seen?
We have longings to be seen and loved, for it’s strange to love someone we don’t take notice of. I didn’t think that my longings to be seen – in spite of the many things I already have – would put me on the receiving end of devastation. Devastation, that would eventually lead to the restoration of my very being.
6th April 2017 // Penang, Malaysia
The stranger showed up at a church and quietly made her way to an empty seat. She sat down and looked around. It was her first time at this place. She didn’t know anyone there. In fact, she was also new to the coun–…state, the culture (she didn’t understand the way the locals drove), the language (local dialect: Hokkien). She was a stranger in (almost) every sense of the word. The new kid in town. The new kid in town who had no clue that everything was going to change that day.
“You, the one in the grey top. I have a word from God for you.”
The stranger, who happened to be wearing a grey hoodie, looked behind to see if the person on stage was calling out to someone behind her. “There’s no way a stranger like me is getting called out in a crowd of more than a hundred,” she thought.
“Yes, you, the one who just looked around. There’s no one else dressed like you here.”
Bewildered, the stranger awkwardly stood up. This makes no sense. I’m just a stranger.
“God is saying that He didn’t pass you by.”
The next few minutes became a defining moment in her life. The confusion, uncertainty and questions that she carried with her met with laughter and peace, lots of it. The people on stage were speaking about what was on the Father’s heart. The crowd cheered in agreement.
This stranger was seen.
Not only was she seen, her destiny and calling were revealed to her in the presence of many witnesses. They didn’t know who she was, but soon enough they’d remember her as the one with a unique future coming up ahead.
They never once mentioned that she was a stranger.
There are many things in life that we don’t understand, nor will we ever understand. We’d feel like we’re on our own, trying to make sense of things.
But God sees.
When I questioned why I even chose to pursue something (that would lead to devastation) in the first place, God saw me in my regret and disappointment.
When I questioned why what once made sense didn’t any more, God saw me in my confusion.
When I felt that He had passed me by, God went above and beyond to show me that it was so not true.
He saw me, and He called me, proving that He can make even a grey hoodie stand out in a crowd.
I began the year as a stranger.
I am ending the year as the one who is seen.
And God can do the same for you.
(This post got deleted because of a WordPress app glitch. So this has been rewritten, with a twist. Read here: https://thecloudchaser.wordpress.com/2018/01/01/starting-the-new-year-with-forgiveness/ )
To us, who are no strangers to loss.
Spring 2015 // Herrnhut, Germany
It was quiet and sombre. In this hall, three people stood in front of everyone – two of which parents of a friend loved dearly and the other a translator. All eyes were on them as the community braced themselves for news that wouldn’t come easy to the ears, but with hope that it would bring some closure.
I sat there then, remembering what it was like sitting in that same hall a few months before when winter was closing in. Everyone was called into an emergency meeting on a Sunday (which hardly happens). We showed up just as the sun had gone down, for news no one would’ve expected. Our composure crumbled as the news that a dear friend had passed on sank in.
There was not a dry eye that evening.
I made my way to the UK for my Christmas break a few days after that intense evening, packing unresolved grief with me. I spent a good amount of time reuniting with friends and family, yet I also spent a lot of time by myself trying to wrap my mind around the events of that December of 2014.
On one of those days alone, I walked into a cemetery behind a small 100-year-old church and decided to read the inscription on every tombstone there. I took into account the deceased’s dates of birth and even the dates of when they passed on.
One tombstone for a young man intrigued me like none other. The year he died, he was the same age as my friend whose death had been announced right before my Christmas break.
I was snapped out of my thoughts when the gardener approached me that chilly afternoon and started telling me stories about the people behind the tombstones. And this particular tombstone was for a man who experienced multiple storms in his life and had chosen to end it. His mother would visit his grave every year and place fresh flowers. He was still loved despite the storms of his life and choices made.
I befriended that kind gardener and visited him at the cemetery whenever I could. God gave me multiple revelations about life and death that winter and I didn’t doubt that God used that gardener with a past of his own to help me make sense of things. It was thanks to him that I had received some resolution for my grief surrounding the death of my friend.
And there I was again in the same hall in Herrnhut a few months later. Our dear friend’s parents shared the news we’d all been waiting for. We listened to the story, the results of the autopsy and the outcome of the investigation.
There was finally a conclusion to the story, but grief didn’t come to an end that day.
I spent that evening taking care of another grieving friend and going, “I’m here for you,” until she drifted into deep sleep.
Spring 2017 // Thessaloniki, Greece
I walked into the Archaelogical Museum of Thessaloniki treating it like another item on the schedule. A good schedule, no doubt, but it’s not like I would’ve had a choice not to go anyway, considering the complications of the situation I was stuck in then.
I was amazed by the exhibits nevertheless, but one particular exhibit moved me deeply, more than any other that day. It was thanks to this particular museum guide who was more talkative than the others that I learned the truth of what I’d been staring at – jars to contain tears of ones in mourning.
These jars recovered from ancient tombs were once held by people whose loved ones had passed on; their tears were collected in jars to accompany the deceased in the tombs as symbols of love and respect.
This knowledge rocked me, for I had shed hours – even days – of tears that spring. One lost love leading to the next. The amount of time spent on crying my eyes out could not resolve the grief I had then (even till today as I’m writing this).
“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”
Yet these jars – removed from the ancient tombs they had once served – stared back at me, as if to say, “Every tear of yours has been accounted for.”
We have our lost loves. Love that was placed in the wrong hands. Love betrayed. Love towards someone gone too soon. Love for a vision that would not come to pass. Love that walked away. Love in the hard work that failed. Love that might never be returned the same way. Love regretted. Love that resulted in death of sorts.
And so we grieve and mourn those lost loves.
Grief tells us that normal might never be the same again.
Grief asks if and when we’ll be able to say we’re okay.
Grief is when a mere apology could comfort or unleash more tears.
Grief is a place where you hammer down the nails on the coffin containing what you had or wished to have – one sombre reminder of a nail at a time.
Grief looks like tears being collected in jars.
It is in the grieving and mourning that we’d find ourselves in the messiest of states – the uncontrollable tears, the body that places itself in a fetal position, the difficulty and sometimes inability to start our day(s), and/or the words not wished to be said.
But it is also in the grieving and mourning that people would come together like never before. The gardener, the guide at the museum, the people who reach out to us – let’s not forget them.
One’s body may seem to have lost control to pain and sorrow, but amidst our countless sorries and expressions of guilt for coming off like a mess, they’d say, “We’re here for you.” Even if it means exchanging stories of lost loves. Even if it means staying by our side till sleep takes over. Even if it means booking a flight to get to where we are to make life bearable. And even if it means sending that text or email that would give us a reason to hope for the future.
We’ll take the time to cry, laugh, maybe cry again and hopefully, laugh again at the memory of what was.
We’d unlikely forget, but we’ll also choose to remember. We’d unlikely forget about the lost loves and deaths, but we’ll choose to remember its life. We’d unlikely forget what hindered love, but we’ll choose to remember that it becomes part of our story.
A lost love might never return, but the story continues, even if it’s difficult to believe that it could.
So we raise our jars of tears.
Not one drop forgotten by Him, and every drop necessary to write the next chapter.
A true story about risk, consequences and new beginnings.
February 2017 // Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
“Don’t get on the plane.”
“Don’t get on the plane.”
“Don’t get on the plane.”
These few words repeated themselves like a broken record in my mind. It sounded like danger was coming my way, but the voice seemed unfamiliar.
Why would I be warned not to get on the plane if I’d received multiple confirmations about going to Greece in the past?
And the clock was ticking. 3 weeks till I leave for Greece – the place I’d be calling my new home.
(Or so I thought.)
My heart was terribly unsettled. I knew I was in a storm of sorts – anxiety and fear about this voice I was hearing, about some things that I do have reservations about, about the possibility that I might be making it up, about my denial of the reality of things, about this unfamiliar voice that might be right about the imminent danger…
My world was shaking and it was all because of this voice. So I reached out.
“Mate, I’ve been feeling the same way too about my next step,” he responded.
I was not alone. I was not crazy.
So we prayed and we spoke again a few days later.
“Jan, it’s like Peter and getting out of the boat, I want to want to get out of the boat! I realised though that the important thing is actually stepping out of the boat, not my feelings about wanting to. Otherwise I just get too internal and immobilised. Especially those feelings about the future that don’t actually exist haha.
But I won’t ever know unless I go. So it’s more of a trust thing even if everything else says otherwise.”
take a risk
to do something although you know that something unpleasant or dangerous could happen.
Let’s be real – the possibilities are endless when it comes to how things could go wrong. Rejection, alienation, betrayal, loss, pain etc. Too often we shy away from ever trying because the risks are too high when calculated. “Better safe than sorry,” we’d hear and say to ourselves. And we retreat to our safe place, never knowing what could’ve been.
But the possibilities are also endless when it comes to how things could go right despite all that could go wrong. So we end up taking the risks by the neck, stepping out of the boat in the dark and walk on friggin water towards a ghostly apparition…all because we hear a voice calling out to us amidst the howling winds and the sloshing of seawater, saying, “It’s Me – Jesus.”
(He sure was schooling His disciples big time on how to take risks. Bless their hearts.)
It’s tricky though, when the scales are balanced by equal amounts of warnings and go-aheads. That is to say, we wouldn’t know unless we try.
March 2017 // Thessaloniki, Greece.
I grabbed a seat at the airport.
No, this part isn’t about when I had finally made it to Thessaloniki and things went well, but rather when I had to exit prematurely just three weeks after I had arrived with lots of tears shed in between.
Yes, I did get on the plane to Greece. And yes, unexpectedly, I had to leave less than a month later.
I sat there, waiting for the gate to be opened. I unzipped my guitar case and started playing the guitar softly. The riff I played was one I knew too well, for it was the same one I was inspired to create and play when I was trying to wrap my mind around some difficult times last year.
I fought back tears. Tears about how it all came to this – from having my heart broken to being victim of a misdiagnosis, which eventually forced me to return home. Like being dealt a bad hand, all of which I couldn’t do anything about. Tranquilisers had already made my body its home by then, but I knew this was something that even tranquilisers couldn’t do anything about.
No one tells you about the pain that comes with losing control of your present.
No one tells you that people’s actions are difficult to be undone.
No one tells you about the ache that comes with the questions – what, how, why – when you board that plane to leave the place you thought you were going to build a home in.
No one tells you that you’ll have to relearn and re-release forgiveness each time you’re asked to tell the story.
Half a year before all of these happened, I was told to come out of hiding. So I did.
Risking safety to experience loss.
Risking excitement for a painful letdown.
Risking idealised stability in favour of uncertain and undesirable outcomes.
Risking happiness for jars of tears.
See, I could’ve been fine and comfortable where I was without coming out of hiding, or stepping out of the boat like Peter. I could’ve been safe, protected in the bubble I had formed for myself.
But I obeyed, for the sake of not disobeying. And yes, through being obedient, I had been subjected to many a heartache.
I got on the flight to Greece because I hung on to what God said about my future there. I had bad vibes (let’s not forget the title of this story) yet I chose to pursue the good that could come.
And right there and then, I was on my way out just as soon as I had started. Confused about what God was up to. Lost and uncertain about what my future holds.
Risk is just that messy.
As I continued playing that riff from a not-so-distant past, a memory from a week before this day at the airport popped up in my mind. It made sense, because the friend in this memory was there when that riff was created.
“Jan, do you know what I think about your future? I know I mentioned ‘God sees your future’ in the past, and I didn’t mean to be insensitive but I’ll say this – I, your brother and friend, see you and I know what it looks like when you have been dealt a bad hand. I was there when you were accused. I was there when you were broken down. I was there when you were seeing the best in people. I was there, especially when you were able to thrive again, having fun with us.
Jan, you’ve been hurt and wronged, (even now) people don’t always understand you. And yes you need healing BUT I know that you are an incredibly strong person. I’m not the only one. You have friends who would go out of their way to show you they care.
Can you imagine what God is doing right now? He is pulling all the stops, I’m sure of it. I’m not trying to be dramatic with spiritual talk but God’s reality is hopeful.”
And with that memory as a send-off, I boarded the flight back home.
June 2017, three months later // Penang, Malaysia
I grabbed a seat at the airport.
Penang International Airport, to be exact.
Funny, ain’t it, that three months had passed so quickly. I should’ve spent those few months in Greece, but I arrived home and made an almost immediate detour to this island that was never part of my original plan. I didn’t calculate any risks with the decision to go to Penang. I didn’t have the mental nor emotional capacity to do any calculations, even. I just knew that I had to go.
Amazingly, as my time in Penang began and ended, I learned some things about myself: I could crave calculation all I want, I could put myself in a headlock with anxiety and fear as long as I’d like…but I gained a deeper assurance that no matter what happens, I’d come out fine regardless. And it was only made possible through God pulling all the stops (which He certainly did in Penang). It’s true – His reality is truly hopeful.
And it was finally time for me to leave Penang and make my re-entry to Kuala Lumpur. I would leave healed and stronger. I would leave being the truest me I’ve ever been. I would also leave with a certainty about the future, that things would be good whether I know or don’t know what it’d look like.
(back in February)
“Jan, I heard an awesome quote today:
‘There are no failures. If I’m making a cake and it doesn’t work out, then I have pudding.’ – 102 year old man
It’s so beautiful and simple but also hilarious.”
I do like this failed-cake-turned-beautiful-pudding that came to be. (And I did get a Starbucks frappuccino with pudding at the airport.)
So I boarded the plane and off into the sky it went. The plane ride felt like a roller coaster ride due to turbulence (the plane felt as if it was gonna fall to the ground) and caused a number of passengers to scream. I laughed (even though I was nauseated by the turbulence) because it helps to have joy, even if the decision to take risks isn’t necessarily dependent on it. And this risk was certainly one I didn’t calculate.
I got on the plane regardless. That’s all that matters.
P/S: Thank you, Braden and Kenny.
March 2017 // Thessaloniki, Greece
This photo was taken the day I was handed my first ever dose of tranquilisers. Tranquilisers, because the other psychiatric medication option was one with multiple side effects that I couldn’t fathom opening myself to. Tranquilisers, because it was the safer option. Tranquilisers, because I was cornered and chose the lesser of two evils.
(Even so, it was revealed a month later that I was misdiagnosed.)
I stood in the living room of an apartment that wasn’t mine (but my temporary home nonetheless), and realised that I was looking at this half-tablet as I faced the large world map pasted on the wall. I saw the nations before my eyes, and I moved on to look at the very country my feet were standing on – Greece.
Who would’ve thought that I’d fly into Greece to start a new chapter of my life only to be popping pills less than two weeks later.
And the nations on the wall stared back at me and watched me gulp this tablet down.
December 2011 // Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
My body was weak and tired from fighting tuberculosis that attacked my lungs. I was heavily drugged, stuck to a prescription of a daily cocktail of various coloured pills and tablets. One in particular made my pee orange. Very orange.
(“Hey…I know this sounds really weird, but could you please take a photo of your pee? I’m really curious about this funky orange pee you have.” – Sam.)
(I didn’t forget about your request, Sam.)
I had never spent that much time on my bed until I was diagnosed with tuberculosis. I was quarantined too and barely had any contact with the outside world. Yet, that was the time I pored over the Bible like never before and found myself at Isaiah. Isaiah 55 to be exact.
“Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendor.“
I sat on my bed, bewildered at the 5th verse. These words were calling out to me. I had no idea why.
What was prophesied over Israel was, right there and then, used to change the course of my life, while the medication cocktail coursed through my veins.
I was called to the nations while I was trapped in medication.
And send me out to the nations He did, not too long later.
It has been almost six years since that very day in my bedroom, and I left Greece a little over a week after this photo was taken. It wasn’t a choice. This #plottwist was to do with the aforementioned misdiagnosis.
This image of my fingers holding up this tiny little half-tablet (which gave me some of the weirdest experiences of my life) was taken before I took that first dose. I didn’t know what to expect from it then, nor did I know about the unfavourable news that would come my way not too long later – news that would send me back to where I came from and out of the nation I thought I was going to build a new home in.
There, in front of that map, I wondered what on earth (pun unintended, or maybe it is) God was up to.
I wondered how it came to this.
I wondered if something major was going to happen after this moment.
I wondered what it meant for these nations once I consumed it.
And here I am some months later, having been weaned off of such medication, having been on the receiving end of proper help, having had the truth revealed. I am better. So much better.
I am not in a host nation right now. I am writing this in the house I grew up in. Yet God is still calling me to the nations. Isaiah 55:5 has not lost its voice.
“You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.”
So I will go.
Medication, meet the nations.