Looking Back at 2021

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31/12/2021

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31/12/2021

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This blog turns 1 year old on 20 December 2021 and, looking back, it has been a good first year of learning about blogging for me. Here’s a recap of some of the highlights of this year, and some reflections as we enter the next.

When I first started blogging back then, I had a vague idea of where I was going. “Embrace Our Calling” sounded right, but how far should I include in my scope? Whose calling? What kind of calling?

And what direction should the blog take? Is it providing advice to readers? Reviewing books to do with books? Interviewing people who are clearly living out their calling?

Then there was my personal journey as well. How do I navigate my multiple callings as teacher, husband, father, and church volunteer?

Writing about calling can be like figuring out a Math problem. Theories and formulas are not enough. Sometimes you need a worked example to see how it works out in practice.

So my personal experiences in managing these multiple roles may serve as a helpful ‘worked example’, either to show what works, or what doesn’t.

Those were some of the questions on my mind as I embarked on my first year of blogging.

With that said, let’s look at some of the highlights of the year!

Creating new blog content

So, you want to know your calling?

Foundational Posts

The core content of my blog is writing about calling, and 2021 saw the creation of several blog posts on this core subject:

Interview with Steven

Interviews

Interviews are especially enriching for me personally, as I get to interact with some of the most gifted and capable people in their fields, who are also most generous and humble to share their journey and insights with me.

  • Stephen Koh, Career Coach (2020) My interview with a friend who then completed his training with the John Maxwell team. His insights on career guidance was an impetus for my blog.
  • Steven Toon, Engineer was my ex-student who shared how he found balance and direction in his life between work, ministry and theological studies.
  • Michael Low, Young Adult Pastor, Lecturer shared many practical and deep insights about helping young adults find their calling in life in this most recent interview.
Feeling Burnout

‘Feeling Burnout?’ Series

After going through a burnout season in 2020, I reflected on the lessons I learned, the causes of burnout, and how we can emerge stronger spiritually from it.

Book Reviews

Books are my soul food for blogging. Here are some of the books I have read in 2021 that made a profound impact on my understanding of calling:

The Work of Teaching

One decision I made in 2021, was to be intentional in writing about teaching. It is the profession God is calling me to at this season of my life, and it is a profession I love. By writing inspiring content about the work of teaching, not only do I encourage other teachers, but I also experience clarity and renewal myself.

The World of Work

This category of posts falls under the “embracing” part of the equation in “embracing our calling”. How do we love what we are called to do, and do it with a spirit of excellence? Even though there were only 2 posts this year, I particularly enjoyed writing them:

Engaging a web designer for my blog!

I started this website using the Hueman theme, following the instructions from a Udemy course.

I also experimented with making my own site logo and banner using Canva, that looked like this:

Embrace Our Calling
My first site logo
My first blog banner

That worked well for a while, but later I learned about the work that my friend, Jason Goh, was doing at Banah Digital.

Banah Digital is a Singaporean-run, Thailand-based web design and care agency. Its mission is to empower youths through web design. The idea is to train Thai youths in web design and development so that they can be make a living for themselves.

This vision resonated highly with me, so I engaged them to do a revamp of my personal website.

After engaging them to improve my web design, Jason guided his team of Thai youths to do the web design and development. They helped me think through the conceptualization process, from vision to target audience to content. There is frequent communication on the drafting and implementation stages, and they are very responsive to my requests.

The final product was highly satisfactory and I really appreciate the personal touch they put into it!

Jason also coached me on the post-project operation of the website, and I feel empowered to tweak things on my own using Elementor, the theme they used to build my website.

This is a worthy investment that I strongly recommend to anyone with a self-hosted website who wants a personal touch to the overall presentation and user experience.

Personal journey with mental health, COVID-19, and finding direction in my church ministry

Some time in March, I disclosed my personal struggle with bipolar disorder type 2. This was because I hope more people can know about this condition, and there can be less the stigma surrounding this and other similar mental health conditions.

After I disclosed this, many of my friends and colleagues reached out to me and encouraged me. Some confided that they faced similar mental health issues. It may not be a condition like bipolar disorder, but it could be stress, anxiety, or mild depression.

That led to a series of articles about burnout. But as I wrote, I felt I was only scratching the surface. Mental health issues affect us living in the city so much that it feels like a pandemic (much like the one plaguing us right now).

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Later in the year, the media threw the spotlight on this very issue of teachers’ mental health. For example, a Straits Times article wrote about how more than 80 per cent of teachers said their mental health has been negatively impacted by their work amid the Covid-19 pandemic in a nationwide survey:

https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/parenting-education/more-than-80-of-teachers-say-the-pandemic-has-hurt-their-mental-health

This article by CNA reported how teachers received inadequate support as they struggled with a heavier workload due to the pandemic:

https://www.channelnewsasia.com/cna-insider/my-mental-health-all-time-low-teachers-talk-burnout-moe-aware-gaps-need-plugging-2157151

Personally, I think it’s about time we pay this close attention to teachers’ mental health. Most of the teachers I know are highly conscientious. They hold noble ideals and will go the extra mile for the students, even at the expense of their well-being. They have high expectations for themselves, and often blame themselves for small mistakes. This can be a recipe for anxiety and burnout, especially during this highly stressful pandemic period.

So it is heartening to see our society acknowledging this very real problem, and affirming the sacrifices and emotional stress that teachers go through on a daily basis.

Our Minister for Education also publicly acknowledged the mental health challenges that teachers faced today. In his Teachers’ Day 2021 message, he affirmed the importance of our well-being, and outlined several measures to support us. The goal is “to build a positive culture that focuses on our teachers’ well-being, and support good work-life balance.”

 As the saying goes – one cannot pour from an empty cup.

– Mr Chan Chun Sing, Teachers’ Day Message 2021

As for myself, I am thankful that I feel really well-supported throughout the year. My school leaders have been really understanding, and my colleagues are the best I can ever asked for. In one sense, being able to open up about my weakness also opens up more honest conversations with people, and I am humbled to share encouragements with others who are also struggling.

My medication is also working well for me. Honestly, I feel so normal that sometimes I wonder whether I was misdiagnosed. But I am not going to risk stopping my medication!

Some of you have also read about my family’s episode with COVID-19. While it was quite a traumatic week at first, it did force us to slow down and take stock of our lives and our relationship with one another. I thank God that we came out of this with a deeper trust in Him.

Finding direction in my church ministry

In the last quarter of 2021, there were some significant leadership changes in my church. Some of our pastors and members felt led to start a new church plant, and part of me wanted to join them. But after much prayer and conversations, I believe God wants me to remain in my current church. To continue serving the brothers and sisters here.

So, I am currently finding a clearer direction for how I am to serve God in the new year.

One area is teaching. Teaching the Word of God is very different from teaching a class in school. There is a divine authority in the Scriptures that is mediated through the illumination of the Holy Spirit. I need to submit myself to Scriptural authority each time I teach, whether on the pulpit or one-to-one.

But there are many aspects that overlap. My experiences in the classroom help me relate with young people, and connect the application of God’s Word with their joys and struggles. My passion in becoming a better communicator ignites me to be a better lay preacher.

As such, with God’s help, I will be serving as a Bible teacher in the young people ministry this year. I will also be serving as a lay preacher. Both are sacred and solemn responsibilities and I seek your prayers as I commit myself to serve well in these roles.

Another area is building spiritual friendships. Despite my sociable personality (or so I thought), I struggle to form deep, sustainable friendships with people. In times of stress, I tend to withdraw into myself and shut off from others. This is not healthy. If I learnt anything from my bipolar attacks, it is the need to have close friends who accept me no matter what I become.

So how is spiritual friendship different from, say, an ordinary friendship?

Graceworks has this article on the topic, which I find really helpful. It says,

“Spiritual friendship is friendship that is rooted in Christ, for the purpose of growing in Christ. 
The basis of spiritual friendship is a shared relationship with Jesus Christ. 
The purpose of spiritual friendship is a common commitment to help one another grow in Christlikeness”.  

One of the insights from my interview with Michael Low, was that we all need spiritual friends. Not just Bible study groups or discipleship groups, but spiritual friends who will journey with us to grow in Christlikeness.

Spiritual friends
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

For 2022, I hope to encourage the young adults in my church to build spiritual friendships with one another. This is especially crucial in the current times, when we live isolated lives due to the pandemic restrictions. Many have lost the habit of attending in-person worship services, and some even gave up meeting fellow Christians altogether.

It is time to rebuild.

Teaching.

Relationships.

Our walk with one another, and our walk with God.

I tend to complicate things. But 2021 is complicated enough. I cannot afford to complicate 2022.

So I’m keeping my focus for 2022 simple. To commit to the above, and to do them well.

So help me, God.

Thank you for reading my reflections for 2021. How about you? What has God taught you in 2021? Share your thoughts in the comments below! If you are a fellow blogger, you can post a link to your blog here as well.

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