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Charissa Ee

They Will Know Us By Our Love

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

A week ago, a friend’s Facebook post with a caption, “They will know us by our love” caught my attention. It led me to an article titled, “We die a Thousand Ways in Love” by Marshall Segal, a writer and managing editor of the website Desiring God.

In that same week, while heading to a friend’s relative’s wake, another friend Tanya shared about how she believed the importance of learning not to hold grudges.

Oftentimes when we are in the wrong, we seek grace from others. But many a time, we hold double standards without even realizing it. As I read the article by Segal, I reflected on my own extension of grace and kindness to others.

Last weekend, I took my dog Lady-Mae to the ‘dog run’ – a designated enclosed field where dogs can run freely. To me, it’s a dog’s equivalent of our cafes where we can meet with friends and hang out. A pair of dogs entered with their owner and just as they were meeting and greeting, one of the dogs had an altercation with mine.

Since there was no blood shed and Lady Mae continued to interact with the other dogs present, I thought nothing of the incident. Later, as we were leaving the park, we met the same pair of dogs and Lady Mae joyfully and earnestly went to greet the same dog that had an earlier confrontation with her.

Four days later, I noticed that my dog kept licking a certain spot on her body. When I checked it out, I found a bite on her – a deep gash resulted from her earlier encounter.

This recent incident taught me two things:

One, it exemplified how authentic kindness and grace should look like. In witnessing Lady-Mae’s desire to meet her fellow canine friend even though they just had an altercation, I am prompted to reflect on how pro-active I am in expressing kindness and grace to others. I’m certain that Lady-Mae remembered the incident with the other dog but that did not prevent her from making the first move to reach out.

My second lesson was gained from an understanding Lady-Mae’s training grounded her in a way that enabled her to walk away from the incident unaffected. The episode did not alter her temperament nor did it hinder her from interacting with other dogs. Similarly, the more grounded we are on the word of God, the more we learn and practice His Word, the more we grow in maturity especially when extending gestures of kindness to others.

I repent for not being as kind, gracious and loving as I should be. I am humbled that God always gives us many chances on this side of eternity. I am grateful that I am surrounded by friends and family who live out these values and model them to me, challenging me also live them out with authenticity so that they will know us by our Love.

Charissa is a trainer for both humans and dogs, and loves to put her observations and musings down in writing on her blog, The Orange Chalk. Very often, you’ll read about her rescue mutt, Lady-Mae, whom God uses to refine Charissa to serve like a servant and lead like a royal.

LOVE : Anything but Easy (Pt. 2)

This second installment of Charissa Ee’s  reflection on love features the remaining 3 Lessons on Loving God

LESSON 5 : Loving God means being willing to be kind and compassionate

I’m quite certain that most of us think we know about kindness and compassion. But, until you live with a dog, you’ll never really know kindness and compassion. Dogs demonstrate these qualities on a level that may sometimes seem humanly impossible!

On one occasion, I was getting water filled up from a water point at Tanjong Beach, Sentosa, when Lady-Mae ran into the female toilet. The toilet was about 5 to 6 feet away from me and dogs are not allowed in.

As I called for her to come out, she refused. Instead, she defied me and chose to stay inside. As I walked into the toilet, all I could think of was that a member of the public was going to complain that my dog was being a nuisance.

I found Lady-Mae sitting outside the door of a cubicle, whining. If you’ve ever met my dog, you’ll know that she hardly makes any vocal sounds. So, I decided to open the door and found a cleaner on the floor. She had fallen and fractured her wrist. She was in such great pain that she had no strength to call out for help and could only speak in whispers. My dog, heard her whispering and acted on her will to alert me that someone was in need.

I called the Sentosa lifeguard for help and they, in turn, called for an ambulance.

It was only after Lady-Mae had seen the cleaner being helped into the ambulance and leaving the premises that she stood up and looked at me with eyes that said, “it’s now time to go”. I need to qualify that I have never trained my dog for such a task. She did it by pure intuition alone.

This incident reminded me of the good Samaritan who not only saved the Jew who was robbed, but also made sure that he was well looked after. Not only did I learn a new definition of kindness that day but I also understood the difference between kindness and compassion.

Kindness is our willingness to render an act of service without any external prompting. Compassion is the act of service that we render to make sure that there is a follow through.

LESSON 6 : Loving God means having the moral courage to speak up even when you’re being laughed at

On another occasion in Sentosa, Lady-Mae ran up to a lifeguard and started barking at him. She was trying to get his attention because she had spotted a man floating on his back, out in the sea. In actual fact, it was an elderly gentleman doing the backstroke. Lady thought that he had drowned and needed help.

I found it funny seeing my non-swimming dog get frustrated trying to enter the water to get to the man. As I was getting Lady-Mae away from the lifeguard to show her that she had been mistaken, the elderly gentleman came to shore and told me to never laugh at my dog for doing that, but to reward her more instead.

No one on the beach that day even bothered about my barking dog. Not even the lifeguard. He just stood there and ignored her. That image was engraved into my heart. Being a disciple of Christ means that we must be willing to be like Lady-Mae; we need to speak up for what is not right.

No one taught my dog to do what she did. She did it because it was in her instinct to do so. Likewise, if we are to be like Christ, then our instinct should be to have courage for our faith.

LESSON 7 : Loving God means having reverential worship daily

Recently, Lady-Mae hurt her dominant paw when I took her to the Green Corridor for a romp. When I got home from church later that day, she greeted me at the door, hobbling on 3 legs.

The ritual of a greeting in dog training is called, “The Reunion”. To greet a dog properly, you do not speak, have eye contact or pet a dog unless the dog is calm.

Rituals are important in a dog’s world. Unlike dogs, our rituals are based on intellect and emotion. For dogs, rituals are instinctive and natural. They do it because of who they are. Dogs can never fake their rituals; whenever dogs get into a ritual, they speak truth.

So, when Lady-Mae persisted in greeting me and refused to go back into her bed until we were done, it really left an impression on me. We may see this moment as insignificant but Lady-Mae modeled to me what total abandonment looks like. She laid aside her pain and greeted me at the door despite the deep gash in her paw.

As I was kneeling on the floor petting my dog who was gently wagging her tail, I began to reflect on how my daily reunion with God should be.

Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are those who are pure in heart, for they shall see God.” [NIV] This verse is the thread that ties these 7 lessons on loving God together. Critical lessons that I know will take a lifetime to perfect.

Charissa is a trainer for both humans and dogs, and loves to put her observations and musings down in writing on her blog, The Orange Chalk. Very often, you’ll read about her rescue mutt, Lady-Mae, whom God uses to refine Charissa to serve like a servant and lead like a royal.

LOVE: Anything but Easy (Pt.1)

Charissa Ee shares 7 How-tos on Loving God in this 2-part series inspired by her gentle resue dog, Lady-Mae

In the past couple of weekends, we’ve been hearing about discipleship, covenant and promises. We know that discipleship is a journey. Interestingly, God used the journey from Egypt to Israel to teach his people about discipleship. In essence, this journey was the beginning of discipleship.

As I am pondering about what God is saying to us in this season of Lent, a recent article in The Straits Times by well-known journalist, Sumiko Tan, helped me to encapsulate what God has been stirring in me. Tan, in her March 13, 2016 article wrote about her sick dog and how easy it is to love dogs versus loving humans.

Contrary to that article, my own dog didn’t teach me that love is easy. Lady-Mae, my rescued street dog of 4 years, taught me that love is anything but easy. She’s given me 7 lessons of what being a disciple looks like in the 21st century.

LESSON 1 : Loving God means being willing to be ridiculed

I never realized people’s biases until I adopted Lady-Mae. When I adopted her at 4-months of age, she was still rather small in size. Unlike most puppies who are silly, cute and all over the place, Lady was not like that at all. She was a very serious puppy; gentle and rather skittish. Whenever I took Lady out for walks, I never failed to encounter fellow residents who would literally screech and scream in terror just because they saw a brown puppy walking next to me.

Even though Lady-May is a well-adjusted dog today, I still get people who would pass snide remarks. Some, when they see my dog, would walk far away as if I were a leper. Some would scold me, while others would tell their children not to walk too close for fear that my dog would bite.

Lady-Mae teaches me daily that following Christ mean being willing to be jeered at just because we decide to follow in God’s ways.

LESSON 2 : Loving God means giving generously & sacrificially

Since I adopted Lady-Mae, I’ve been an active volunteer for a local shelter as a fosterer. One of the roles of a fosterer is helping to house and train a dog until it gets adopted.

One day, Lady-Mae brought her chewed up stuffed toy, dropped it in front of our foster pup and walked back to her bed to rest. The young pup took it and enjoyed chewing on the tattered toy. As I witnessed this moment between these two dogs, I could hear the Holy Spirit tell me, “That’s exactly what it looks like when you give your all.”

Giving is not about giving out our excess. Giving is about being sacrificial. 1 Chronicles 21:24 [NIV] says, “But King David replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.”

LESSON 3 : Loving God means accepting what God wants

Lady-Mae models to me daily, how a surrendered life to Jesus looks like. So, when Pastor Michael Ross-Watson was recently talking about dying to self, the image I had was how Lady-Mae was so willing to walk a familiar road with such zest and eat the same kibble everyday like it was something new.

Dogs die to their rights so easily. Once they find their place in a pack, they accept their roles and position within that pack and never question it. When they are living with humans, they adapt to our modern lifestyles and rely on their humans for everything – even something as simple as a pee break. That kind of daily reliance really rings home for me and causes me to reflect the extent of my reliance on God.

LESSON 4 : Loving God means being willing to be inconvenienced

In a fast-paced society like Singapore, we are usually busy with our daily schedules and places that we need to be. Most of us have a plan that includes what we want to do, to achieve, etc, but most often than not, our plans aren’t exactly what God has in mind. My parents often remind me of this proverb, “The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.” [Proverbs 16:9 – NASB]

Over the years, I’ve experienced many times when I am inconvenienced but I have learnt to hold my breath, wait and see what divine opportunities come my way. Since I’ve had Lady-Mae, I’ve received countless blessings and many of those blessings have come out of inconvenienced times.

Out of our many experiences, this is one that I hold dear to my heart…

Lady-Mae and I were scheduled to attend an event at Bishan Park on a weekend. I decided to book a taxi 2 days in advance just in case I couldn’t find transport on the day itself. Despite having my booking confirmed, an hour before our designated time to leave home, the taxi company called to inform me that the driver had cancelled the booking and that they would be getting me a replacement.

The company found a replacement driver promptly. However, the replacement driver also decided to cancel his booking with me 20 minutes prior to pick up. The hunt continued for another driver and this time, I took Lady-Mae down to wait for the taxi once the company called to confirm a third driver for us.

When the taxi arrived, I was shocked to find that the driver was a Muslim. I told him that there must have been a miscommunication with my booking and that I would call for another taxi. To my surprise, he replied that there had been no miscommunication. He had seen my booking 2 days before and when he realized that no one wanted to pick me, he answered the call.

The driver was a grandfather in his late 60s who used to live in a kampong and told me that mongrels are probably the best dogs to have as pets because they are so loyal. My point in all of this is that the driver was a very devout Muslim who risked a lot just by fetching Lady Mae and myself.

This incident taught me that being reliant on God humbles us and that when we go with God’s plan, we will always be refreshed.

Lady-Mae and I still take the public transport today.

– Look out for the lessons 5, 6 & 7 on loving God in the second installment of LOVE : Anything but Easy –

Charissa is a trainer for both humans and dogs, and loves to put her observations and musings down in writing on her blog, The Orange Chalk. Very often, you’ll read about her rescue mutt, Lady-Mae, whom God uses to refine Charissa to serve like a servant and lead like a royal.

Preserving Tradition

What traditions are worth preserving? our contributing writer, Charissa Ee, asks All-important questions to get us started on a meaningful new year ahead.

BREAKING TRADITION

Every Singaporean Chinese family has their own traditions that are unique to them. My family is without exception. As a Peranankan family, our traditions include certain types of food like Ayam Buah Keluak for our reunion dinner. This year, I felt the need to reflect more deeply on my family traditions because my only surviving grandmother decided to break with tradition. She wanted to celebrate Chinese New Year at a restaurant.

When she broke the news to the family, we were all at a loss for words. We had gotten so used to our Chinese New Year routine that we assumed this year would be no different. We were so thrown off center that we needed to reconvene over ‘Whatsapp’ to discuss this change of plans. That one decision to break with tradition got me reflecting about Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12:2 “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” [NIV] We know that Paul wrote this to the Romans particularly because they had such a strong culture that permeated throughout their empire.

APPRECIATING TRADITION

My grandmother’s decision made me re-evaluate the Chinese New Year rituals we had come to know well in our family. Of all the various traditions that my family has, I’d like to share one that perhaps does not conform with most other Chinese families. Interestingly, both my paternal and maternal grandparents shared the same tradition of giving an ang pow (a red packet containing money) to each of their children and grandchildren regardless of age and marital status. This is quite unusual because most Chinese families believe that once you’re past a certain age, or if you’re married, then you no longer qualify to receive an ang pow.

Not only did my grandparents instill an uncommon practice, they made sure that their ang pows were of substantial value. They wanted their red packets to reflect their belief that influence comes with giving and giving generously of everything that we have, be it money, time or energy. Being believers they walked and lived out Psalm 112:9 “They share freely and give generously to those in need. Their good deeds will be remembered forever. They will have influence and honor.” [NLT]

My family has taught me that influence doesn’t come from being persuasive. Instead, it comes from giving what we have in life regardless of its value. Over the course of these many Chinese New Years, I’ve realized that I have used my ang pow money towards my friends or towards attending workshops, buying books etc. In other words, I’ve used my ang pow money on things that could grow me as a person.

This year, I’ve decided to use my ang pow money as a yard stick to evaluate how I have been using the talents that God has endowed upon me.

USING TRADITION

Last year, one of my goals was to grow one of my Top 5 ‘talent themes’ (personal-character attributes) of StrengthsFinder® (a personal strengths assessment test) from infancy to maturity. Of all my Top 5 ‘talent themes’, the theme, Command has always gotten me into trouble and very misunderstood. So, I decided to put it to good use by offering to foster delinquent dogs from a local shelter. Through the grace and strength of God, I managed to foster and rehabilitate 5 dogs amidst a highly stressful and heavy work load. What I loved about the experience was that I got to know 5 new pre-believing families. On top of that, word got around that I could help others with problem dogs and by the end of 2015, I got to know more pre-believers in that one year than I ever have in my entire life. Looking back, Psalm 112:9 came very much alive for me.

As I look towards this Chinese New Year and the year ahead, I’m re-energized because I know that if I make the effort to invest in my talents, His might and His Spirit will bring about growth and influence.

SHARING TRADITION

As you think about Chinese New Year, what are some traditions that you have as a family that has spiritual significance? If you’re a parent or grandparent, be sure to specifically share why these traditions or family rituals are important. The Bible is full of rituals that God wanted the Israelites to remember not because He wanted a scared cow but rather because He knew that rituals shape our culture. Culture shapes our values and influences the way in which we do things and the life choices that we make.

As someone who grew up with dogs, I know that regardless of breed, size, and background, ALL dogs share the same rituals in greeting one another and how they behave in pack. You will notice that every dog seems to know what to do despite not knowing or having met the other dog; dogs share the same language even though they are raised in different households.

Every dog owner knows that in order to have a well-adjusted dog, it is highly important to be able to communicate effectively to your dog through training. Because they do not speak English, the onus is on us – beings of higher intelligence – to be the ones to learn how to speak ‘dog’. Dogs will only listen to you if you actually mean what you say. Dogs are loyal and highly social creatures that need to live in packs like we do in families. In every pack there’s a top dog. But no matter which country they come from, or which breed they are, they all follow the same rituals of meeting, greeting, playing and living with one another.

PRESERVING TRADITION

So why are dogs so in-tune to a united ritual unlike us humans? Why can’t we, the modern-day church, be as unified? What rituals have we preserved or lost that has caused us to be so removed from the natural world? Why can’t we seem to agree on what defines the Kingdom of God?

In a fast-changing city like Singapore, what is worth preserving in our culture? Perhaps the more important question we should be asking is – What traditions can we preserve to create the Kingdom culture that Christ so often speaks of in the New Testament?

Charissa is a trainer for both humans and dogs and loves to put her observations and musings down in writing on her blog “The Orange Chalk”. Very often, you’ll read about her rescue mutt, Lady-Mae, whom God uses to refine Charissa to serve like a servant and lead like royal.

To Singapore, With Love

I got inspired by contributing columnist Kishore Mahbubani, from my local newspaper The Straits Times,  to write a thank you letter to Singapore as a tribute for her 50th birthday. I was going to write it and publish it on our National Day, 9 August but I thought it’d be more meaningful if I had it publish on my birthday because it was the day I was a Singaporean.

I come from a non-traditional Singaporean family because my both sets of grandparents never differentiated girls from boys. They loved us equally. My both grandfathers were bilingual but they wanted their grandchildren to get ahead hence they encouraged us to only speak English at home. My both grandmothers came from Peranakan lineage that meant, they were absolute great cooks. Interestingly, in my family, the men cook better than the women with exception to my grandmothers. My male cousins are definitely better cooks than I am.

What Singapore did for my grandparents was to give them a mindset that there was equality among genders. It didn’t matter if you were male or female. Gender was not something that would hinder you from pursuing your passions. That value passed from my grandparents to my parents and now, us, the present generation.

Being born in the early 70s, I was part of the generation that went through a number of changes in the education system in Singapore. I was an under weight, skinny kid that had to be part of the milk programme. To give you an idea of how skinny I was, my family had a pet name for me, I was “Sticky”. I was called that because I looked like a stick. The milk programme here in our schools basically gives students like me who are under weight extra nutrition by supplying us a week’s supply of milk and a special brew that we had to line up for it with our mugs.

Frankly, I hated it so much but the Flame of the Forest tree at St. Hilda’s at Ceylon Road thanked me for it. She blossomed every season while I remained under weight. I went to St. Hilda’s because all the women in my family did. My mother went there so did her sisters so I got in because I was a legacy child. If not for my alma mater, I would not be where I am today.

I have loads to be thankful for because I was a handful even as a young child. My kindergarten principal told me that if I wouldn’t stop bullying the boys in my class, she’d have to kick me out of school. Since I chose to go to that particular kindergarten, I got my act together and spared one of the boys in my class. (For the record, we’re still friends today!)

In the 80s, there wasn’t a programme for kids with special needs. The only programme that was pioneering then was the gift programme. To my teacher’s dismay, I was one of those kids that would day dream in class and if something caught my attention outside, I’d happily leave my seat to investigate the matter. My classroom was an old colonial one which meant we had big and wide doors lining each side. That meant you could walk freely into the school garden.

However, my form teacher who suspected I was a kid with special needs, had a better idea. She gave me a task in class. She told me that I could doodle on the right hand side of my notebook instead. She also told me I could write my thoughts, draw them or put down questions on that right hand column. That got me to be able to focus better in class. I am ever grateful to her because I still do that today to help me focus when I need to be seated. What she did for me was to be flexible even in a rigid system.

By some miracle, I passed my primary 3 exams and didn’t get kicked out of school to an abnormal school. I got to stay on in school until PSLE.

School was a chore for me. It was probably the hardest time of my life as a young child. Looking back, I am grateful to my teachers who had so much patience and dedication to make sure each of their pupils had a good chance within a rigid education system.

Secondary school saved me although I hated it then. My form teacher Mrs. Sundram nominated me to be a prefect in school. I detested it because that meant I had to be a model student. Blah. I was a rebel at heart.

But what that did for me was to cultivate my character and leadership. Through being a prefect, I got to attend leadership camps by NACLI and many other symposiums that I wouldn’t have had opportunities for. Although we had a rigid education system, we were encouraged to take on an ECA (Extra Curricular Activity). I chose to be part of my school band. Juggling school, band and youth ministry, that kept me off the streets and out of trouble because I was labelled as a latch key kid – meaning my both parents were working parents.

Although I didn’t have stellar grades and struggled through the rigid system, I survived. Thank God.

What I really treasured from school really were my friends. I had friends from various races. And we would be invited to celebrate our New Year’s. I remember spending a lot of my Deepavalis at my good friend Varsha’s home. Her parents would have an entire open house day and a bunch of us would just go and hang out together. It was the same for Hari Raya.

Frankly, I was like many Singaporeans today who complained and disliked the government a lot. Everything changed when I went to the US for college. Having to studying American Government taught me to learn to separate ruling party from love and devotion to my country.

Everyone thinks living abroad is easy. It is not. I’ve lived in the US and in England. Having travelled extensively around Europe and the United States, the number 1 thing I missed about Singapore while living abroad is safety. The second thing I appreciate about my home country is her public transportation. (I’m not saying we don’t have room for improvement, there’ll always be.) The third thing I love about Singapore is we’re truly mutli-cultured. How do we know? We can switch from English, to Mandarin to Malay words or throw in a dialect or two. The last thing we always take for granted is our weather. Wait till you have to shovel 2 to 3 feet of snow and you’ll be thankful for the tropical storms.

What I love about celebrating Singapore’s 50th birthday is that I have the rare privilege of being part of that generation to see Singapore grow from her teenage pangs into maturity. I’m part of that generation that stands at the threshold to bear witness of our forefather’s legacy. I’m also part of that generation that has to fight hard to keep that legacy and not squander it away.

So, Singapore; I’m glad I call you home. I’m glad that as a woman, I had equal opportunities. I’m thankful that I can have the privilege of being a home owner at 35. I’m thankful that I have security here to walk the streets at midnight or at dawn. I’m thankful that I don’t need a car to go anywhere. I’m privileged to have seen our airport grow from being at Paya Lebar to the current Changi International Airport. I’m thankful that I don’t need a visa to go visit most countries. And it is because of this that I’ve had the privilege to see many countries even before my 30th birthday. I’m so thankful that as a young child, I had so many trips to our wonderful zoo. That taught me to respect nature. It taught me to appreciate wildlife and created a sense of adventure.

While the years ahead look blurry, I stand hopeful because I know there will be fellow Singaporeans who will continue to stand for what is true and good for this sunny island we call Home.

Happy 50th birthday Singapore, I’m so glad God placed me here.

Charissa works in the Arts and loves to put her observations and musings down in writing on her blog “The Orange Chalk”. Very often, you’ll read about her rescue mutt, Lady-Mae, whom God uses to refine Charissa to serve like a servant and lead like a royal.

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