Emotion Is a Gift from God

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The Tantrum Specialist

Our second daughter, Mila, is one emotional child ever since her newborn-hood. Her will is unbent, her tantrum intense. She cannot contain her excitement, and she expresses her sadness in manner that (I think) is beyond baby.

In this video was one of her emotional moments. It was taken when the eldest and I went to catch the Christmas Wonderland at Gardens By The Bay, leaving her with Hubby at home. We left while she was napping. I was told later that she was visibly upset but was rather quiet the entire evening. She finally broke down in tears after a lonely dinner.

Being blessed with an emotional child provides parents with its own challenge to struggle through. While dealing with their emotion, we may very often be overwhelmed ourselves, but we must remember to look at it as a blessing.

With it, humans are enabled to live their lives meaningfully. They are made able to love and be loved, to know grief and therefore learn to cherish, to fear and revere what is beyond them.

Ultimately, emotion equips man for a rich relationship with the Creator, with which they may feel the wonder of His love and be fulfilled by His joy, presently and even more so in the eternity. What a powerful gift! A gift when rightly used, blesses mankind in ways that are beyond the capacity of any other creatures, but when corrupted, turns them into the worst of beasts. And herein lies both encouragement and solemn warning for parents. Nip it not in the bud, as it is not meant for suppression, trim it dutifully while basking it in the Light of Heaven’s Sun, and see it bloom into the beauty it is meant to be.

To the God who has bestowed this child with the gift of strong emotion, we will turn our gaze and plea.

Grant us, O Lord, everything we need
to raise this child to be the master of her emotion.
And if it pleases Thee,
a fierce lover of Thy name.

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Where Is the Baby?

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Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

In response to the recent ‘fatwa’ passed by Majelis Ulama Indonesia which rules Christmas attributes as unlawful in Islam in Indonesia, many have voiced their disagreement. But some have taken the opportunity to point out that these attributes – mainly the Santa and the Christmas trees, were never about the REAL Christmas to begin with. The latter, of course, are Christians.

They are right to a certain point; Christmas is about God sending His only Son as a baby to gift the sinful world with the salvation from His just wrath. No Santa, no heavily decorated and lighted pine trees at the night the Baby was born.

Yet, allow me to persuade, let us not only stop at declaring these attributes as the result of commercialized capitalism which exploits the real Christmas, or banishing such decorations from our homes, or taking them out from the kids’ books, or sarcastically thanking the hardliners for getting rid of a tradition and culture certain group of Christians is sick with.

Take advantage of it.

The tradition may have wandered far from its original message, let us trace it back and put it back where it should stand. That by doing so, we can tell the curious kid, or the answer seeking friend, about what drove Saint Nicholas to go around encouraging the poor children of his time with his generous gifts, and thus point them to the mercy and kindness of a God who gifted the poor souls with His beloved Son. Or about how people in the North are joyfully decorating the evergreen – the trees that stay green during the cold winter of Christmas, in anticipation of celebrating the most wonderful birthday the world has ever witnessed, and thus point them to the birth of Jesus the Undying Life.

The 25th of December is not even the definite date of the birth of Jesus. No one knows the definite date at the present. Yet man uses dates, symbols, tangible and visible things to remind themselves again and again of things that are important, and to preserve them from generation to generation.

Just as the banquet, the dresses and tuxes, the flowers, the rings, and even the vow are not the essence of the wedding, and yet every wedded couple in their respective means enrich their celebration and affirm the specialness of their union with those attributes and symbols; likewise, Christmas too, in all its richness and specialness, has inspired cultures in their expressions of celebration.

Instead of stripping Christmas off its festive association, we shall do better by tracing how the silver thread may lead us back to the manger.

There, we shall still find the Baby.

Social Media: You Have One Voice

There are many valid evidences to convince one about the harm brought about by the social media of our days. From being a platform for dangerous indulgence of narcissism (‘Selfie obsessed’ teenager Danny Bowman suicidal after failing to capture ‘the perfect selfie’) to extreme cases of cyber bullying (Bullied teen kills herself in front of her family), or from facilitating hate speeches and fake news circulation (as seen rampant in Indonesia recently) to actually enabling extremists promote their ideology and radicalize others (Indonesia woman planning to be suicide bomber worked in Singapore).

Let’s just say that there are 1001 voices out there, in and through the social media. The wise will exercise caution in filtering and digesting their information consumption, no doubt. Some will do well by distancing themselves from it altogether.

But every user has one voice. Among the 1001, there may be some true, good, and helpful contents; there must be. And where else will such voices come from if not from the fingertips of those who know the truth, the good and what is helpful?

Every one of us is entrusted with a voice. Let truth, hope and love be sounded in the polluted streams of information of our days. For we are living in the days when the world can be made a better (or worse) place from behind the keyboard.

“Finally, let all whom God has entrusted with the talent of writing well on theology, take heed to not hide it in a napkin or bury it in the earth. Never was there a time when there was greater need of good thinking and writing to counteract the floods of error, which are coming now from a thousand sources.

Never was there a time when the effect of good writing was so extensive.

By unprecedented means we have opportunity to circulate truth and opinion throughout the world. If godly men sleep, there is no doubt that the enemy will sow his tares plentifully.

Let the friends of truth, therefore, be watchful and wise, and on the alert to seize opportunities to enlighten the world with the pure doctrines of the word of God.”
– Archibald Alexander, 1837

Hidup Hemat: Kebajikan dari Masa Lampau

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(This is the Indonesian translation of the original post Frugality: Virtue of The Past, as it was meant to be a tribute to my parents, who will better understand the article in their national language.)

Baru-baru ini saya nganterin anak ke pesta ulang tahun temannya, biasalah, kalau sudah punya anak, kita pada cuma jadi supir atau bodyguard, anak-anak inilah yang menjadi tamunya. Sore itu cuaca panas dan acaranya di ruang terbuka, pas sekali para tamu disuguhi cemilan Es Ganefo – es yang biasanya dibuat dengan membekukan minuman bermacam rasa dalam wadah plastik silinder. Sering juga dikenal dengan sebutan Es Lilin.

Gegara Es Ganefo ini, saya jadi teringat kenangan masa kecil, kenangan baik yang membuat kangen. Oh bukan, saya bukannya sering jajan Es Ganefo semasa kecil, saya lebih sering dengar cerita tentang Es Ganefo. Soalnya Es Ganefo ini obyek ceramah favorit Papa di rumah, semacam kuliah beliau di meja makan.

“Kalian ini tidak sadar diri seberuntung apa ya? Waktu Papa seumur kalian, Papa mesti keliling-keliling berpanas-panas jualan Es Ganefo naik sepeda!”, begitulah Papa memulai ceramahnya, “Yaa elahhh Es Ganefo, Es Ganefo lagiiii…”, pikir kami diam-diam.

Orangtua kami memegang standar yang ketat kalau urusan membelanjakan uang. Seperti umumnya etnis Cina keturunan generasi mereka, mereka besar dalam masa yang sulit. Mereka mengalami dan tau jelas apa itu hidup miskin dan berkekurangan.

“Habiskan makananmu!”
Papa selalu membelikan makanan apa saja yang kami minta, tapi jangan coba-coba menyisakan makanan sehingga terbuang. “Tidak tau bersyukur ya kalian ini, waktu kami kecil, mau makan yang kalian buang ini pun kami tak bisa! Tau tidak, mie pansit pun kami cuma bisa makan setahun sekali!” Belum lagi cerita beliau tentang gulai ikan.. “Kami delapan bersaudara kalau mau makan gulai ikan, cuma bisa beli ikannya satu, minta kuahnya sepanci.”

Soal mainan, Papa sedikitpun tidak melonggarkan standar. Saya masih ingat dua kalinya saya pernah minta dibelikan mainan. Yang satu adalah boneka beruang berwarna ungu saat masih duduk di bangku TK. Berkali-kali kami mendatangi toko kelontong penjual boneka ini, dengan rengekan yang tidak berhenti, akhirnya saya dibelikan juga. Yang satunya lagi adalah Playstation set, kira-kira sewaktu saya kelas 4 SD. Saya dan adik terus-menerus meminta untuk dibelikan Playstation. Setelah lama didesak terus, akhirnya beliau mengalah, tapi bukan tanpa mengomeli kami dengan “Bapakmu tukang cetak duit ya.”

Sering juara kelas itu tidak bisa dijadikan alasan untuk minta dibelikan macam-macam mainan. Nilai bagus untuk mainan? Tujuan pendidikan kami bukan untuk sesuatu yang sedangkal itu.

Segala sesuatu pakainya harus hemat. Kami paling takut kalau Papa sudah mulai merapikan isi lemari TV, biasanya tanpa terduga. Kalau sudah kami lihat Papa mulai beberes, biasanya kami cepat-cepat kabur ke kamar. Tak lama pasti terdengar omelan Papa sambil mengumpulkan banyak penghapus, pensil dan barang-barang kami lainnya yang kami sangka sudah lama hilang dari dalam lemari. “Terus! Beli baru, beli baru terus ya!”

Almarhumah Nenek dari pihak Papa bahkan lebih ketat lagi standarnya. Pernah sekali saya dimarahi beliau karena minta pulpen baru setelah menghilangkan yang lama. “Kecil-kecil sudah royal ya! Besar mau jadi apa?” Padahal juga bukan Montblanc (memang sih anak kelas 2 SD juga tidak kenal Montblanc), cuma pulpen murah yang semua anak tahun 90an pasti pernah punya. “Tuh kan, memang keturunan..”, kami biasa bergosip dengan para sepupu. Kaum Hainan memang katanya menjunjung tinggi nilai berhemat. Tapi untuk anak-anak seperti kami pasti berpikir itu namanya pelit. Tiga sepupu kami bahkan berasal dari kelompok dialek yang lebih hemat lagi dari kaum Hainan. Kami hanya bisa menyelamati mereka, semoga bertahan.

Kami juga dilatih untuk memakai air dan listrik secara teliti. (Setelah bertahun-tahun diomeli, mematikan saklar ketika meninggalkan ruangan itu menjadi kebiasaan yang otomatis, seolah-olah akan ada alarm yang berbunyi kalau lupa mematikan.) Menampung air dalam ember juga umum meskipun kamar mandi kami sudah modern.

“Coba jual kerupuk Jangek ini, baru kalian tahu untuk mendapatkan lima ratus rupiah itu usahanya seberapa.” (Kalau dikurs ke mata uang Singapura saat itu kira-kira senilai 10 sen.) Uang dinilai dengan kerja dan usaha, bukan dari bunga bank ataupun bunga saham, ini pegangan kami ketika membelanjakan uang. Jadi memang “uang hasil keringat” dalam arti sesungguhnya. Dalam enam bulan pertama saya di Singapura untuk studi, berat badan saya menurun sebanyak 8 kg. Sama halnya dengan kedua adik saya, berat badan mereka menurun banyak ketika awal-awal keluar kota melanjutkan studi. Datang dari kota kecil seperti Pematangsiantar, biaya hidup di kota besar, bahkan biaya sekali makan saja, bisa berkali-kali lipat dari normal kami. Wajar kalau kami akhirnya menghemat makan dengan ketat untuk mengurangi rasa bersalah kami yang sudah menghabiskan banyak uang hasil keringat orangtua (tentu saja orangtua sedih ketika tahu kami berbuat demikian).

Dengan begitu banyak omongan tentang bagaimana kami harus hidup hemat, mungkin membuat orang berpikir bahwa Papa seorang kikir yang pantang mengeluarkan satu peser pun. Tapi kebiasaan keluarga kami seminggu sekali untuk makan bersama di luar, dan juga pemakaian uang untuk Mama berbelanja pakaian maupun untuk tujuan amal menunjukkan sebaliknya. Kuncinya mungkin bukan ‘tidak membelanjakan uang’, melainkan ‘memanfaatkan uang secara bijak dan bertanggungjawab’. Sesungguhnya nilai uang itu terletak justru pada penggunaannya, sebab uang yang diam dan tersimpan selamanya itu sama tidak bergunanya seperti talenta yang terkubur dalam perumpamaan Yesus tentang talenta, atau seperti seguci kepingan emas yang terkubur dan akhirnya dicuri dalam salah satu  dongeng karangan Aesop, tanpa guna di dalam simpanan.

Adalah bijak untuk mengingat pentingnya uang, tetapi kita pun harus berhati-hati untuk tidak menggelembungkan uang hingga melampaui ukuran sepantasnya. “Ingat, jangan memandang koin uang sampai sebesar roda pedati.”, demikian nasihat rutin Papa. Kalimat inilah yang menjadi penyeimbang terhadap semua ajaran beliau tentang pentingnya uang dan berhemat.

Kini, kami mengelola rumah tangga kami sendiri dan membesarkan anak-anak kami sendiri dalam kehidupan yang cukup nyaman di Singapura. Mungkin tidak lagi ada keperluan untuk hidup berhemat. Hemat itu tidak gampang, tidak nyaman, dan tidak menyenangkan. Tapi kita sejatinya sedang melakukan pembodohan terhadap diri dan anak-anak kita kalau kita berpikir dan mengajarkan bahwa hidup hemat dan beririt itu hanya respon semata terhadap masa sulit. Rasa berkecukupan, bersahaja, pengendalian diri, pemakaian sumber daya yang bertanggungjawab, dan tenggang rasa terhadap kaum tak berpunya yang dipupuk melalui kebiasaan hidup irit, uang lebih yang boleh disisihkan dari hidup berhemat untuk tujuan amal; kebajikan-kebajikan seperti inilah yang menjadikan kita manusia yang lebih baik. Seperti kata William J. Bennett, anak-anak (manusia) itu pada dasarnya adalah makhluk moral dan rohani, dan inti dari pendidikan adalah nilai-nilai kebajikan.

Orangtua yang memaksa dan melatih anak-anaknya untuk hidup irit mungkin bukan orangtua yang disenangi (untung saja mereka tidak mempermasalahkan suka tidaknya kita kepada mereka). Setiap didikan memang sepertinya tidak menyenangkan pada saat diterapkan, namun seiring waktu ia menghasilkan buah kebenaran dan damai bagi mereka yang dilatih olehnya (kitab Ibrani 12:11). Melihat ke belakang, saya mensyukuri dan mengagumi dedikasi orangtua dalam menerapkan hidup hemat dan sikap irit. Semoga saya pun bisa mewariskan kebajikan ini kepada generasi selanjutnya.

“Isilah pikiranmu dengan semua yang benar, semua yang mulia, semua yang adil, semua yang suci, semua yang manis, semua yang sedap didengar, semua yang disebut kebajikan dan yang terpuji.” – Rasul Paulus, kitab Filipi 4:8

Frugality: Virtue of The Past

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I went to a birthday party recently, my daughter’s friend’s party to be exact because once you are a parent you don’t get to attend a birthday party as the guest anymore, your kids do. It was a warm outdoor party, and we were aptly served Ice Ganefo – frozen snacks made by freezing flavored liquid in a clear and slim plastic tube. It is also known as ‘Es Lilin’ in Indonesian.

The thing about this Ice Ganefo is, it brings me back to my childhood. Fond memories, they are. No, I didn’t grow up eating it, I grew up hearing about it. It’s my father’s favorite topic of preaching, his kind of ‘table talk’.

“You bunch of ungrateful brats, be mindful of how fortunate you are! When I was your age I would be out there under the hot sun selling sticks of ice Ganefo on bike!”, he would start his lecture and we would roll our eyes thinking “here comes the ice Ganefo. Again..”

My parents were very strict about how money was spent. As was common for the Indonesian Chinese of their generation, they grew up in a tough time. They knew poverty and were acquainted with wants first hand.

“Finish up your food!”
While we were never denied the food we crave, leaving food to waste was a big sin in our family. “How ungrateful! In our childhood, we didn’t even dream to enjoy what you are wasting now. Wonton noodle is a once a year treat, you know!” And don’t get him started on the curry fish; “…we eight siblings would carry an empty pan to buy only one curry kembong fish while asking for a full pan of gravy…”

On toys, my father was no less strict. I still remember the two times I pressed him hard to buy me certain toys. One was a purple teddy bear, I was in my kindy. We visited the mama-shop several times with me nagging constantly before I finally got the teddy. The other one was the Playstation set, probably when I was in grade 4. My younger brother and I pestered him a lot and for a long time, he gave in but not without nagging back at us with “Right, your father is a money printer.”

Topping the class regularly had no bargaining power on him. Toys for score? Our purpose of education was never for something so banal and shallow.

Resources were to be used thriftily. As kids we dreaded the moment when our father would declutter the TV cabinets, which he did unpredictably once in a blue moon. We would all quickly siam* to the bedroom at the first sign of it. Because soon enough, he would be heard nagging while digging out many of our ‘supposedly-already-gone-missing’ erasers, pencils, and whatever sorts of stationary. “Everything buy new, buy new, buy new…”

My late paternal grandmother was even more strict. I was once strongly rebuked by her for asking for a new pen, having misplaced one previously. “What a young spendthrift! What will you be when you grow up?” No Montblanc here (not that a grade two kid would know a Montblanc anyway), just a simple pink with white stripes pen all the 90’s kids probably owned before. “See, it’s running in the bloodlines,” we cousins would gossip among ourselves. The Hainanese pride themselves for being frugal, or so we heard. But to us kids, it was just plain stingy. And three of our cousins are from a paternal dialect group that is known to be even more frugal. We bid them good luck.

We were trained to use water and electricity mindfully. (After years of being nagged at, turning off the switches when leaving the room just became a second nature, as if an alarm would go off if you stepped out while leaving one switch on). Having pails of water in our modernized bathroom is also common.

“Sit here and try selling this Kerupuk Jangek (fish cracker) then you’ll know how much effort goes into earning your 500 rupiahs.” (That’s probably the equivalent of 10 cents in Singapore currency of that time.) Money is valued by the amount of real work, so we are to base our calculation on this when spending. It’s hard-earned money in its literal sense. When I first came to Singapore to study, I lost 8 kgs in the first 6 months. Just as my two younger brothers did as they went to major cities for further study as well. Coming from a small town as Pematangsiantar, the cost of living, or a mere meal, in big cities is many times our normal. So we naturally skimped on meals to ease our guilt for spending so much of the hard-earned money from home (to our parents’ heartache of course).

With so much talk about thriftiness and frugality, one would probably think of my father as a scrooge who clutches his wallet tight unwilling to part with a buck. But our weekly family dining out and his approval for my mother’s occasional wardrobe spending and charity commitment proved otherwise. The key is probably not ‘not spending the money’, but rather ‘spending it wisely and responsibly’. Indeed, its meaning lies in its spending, for an idle, or permanently kept money is as no-good as the buried talent in Jesus’ Parable of The Talents, or the buried gold coins that were stolen away in one of Aesop’s fables, being good for nothing in the keeping.

While it is important to acknowledge the importance of money, one must also guard against magnifying it unproportionally. “In your mind, do not enlarge the coin to the size of the cart wheel, ” is my father’s regular advice. And it provides the much needed balance to our view of frugality.

Today, as we run our own household and parent our own kids in a generally comfortable life in Singapore, the need for practicing frugality may be virtually nonexistent. It is inconvenient, it is uncomfortable, it is unpopular. But we are fooling ourselves and our children if we are to believe frugality is merely a response to hard times. The contentment, modesty, self-discipline, responsible stewardship and empathy towards the needy it instills, the extra resource for charity it affords; virtue makes us better human. As William J. Bennett pointed out, children, human, are essentially moral and spiritual beings and the central task of education is virtue.

My father, and the elders who insisted frugality on us, might not be the most likable adults of our childhood (as if they’d care). But no discipline seems pleasant at the time, only later does it produce a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Looking back, I admire and am grateful for the persistent pursuit of a frugal life instilled by our elders, and I wish to carry this legacy forward to the next generation.

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.” – Saint Paul

*siam: evade in Hokkian/Singlish.