strength in weakness.

June 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

this episode deserves some reflection.

last sunday, i was at church helping out with taking care of the 5-7 years old kids while their parents attended service. it was my first time with this particular age group, basically in the 1.5 hrs session the kids are supposed to play games, do crafts and get involved in some form of biblical education. so 30mins into the session while we were all gathered in a room watching a video, i caught an asian mom with her daughter outside the glass door in the corner of my eye. i turned to take a better look at them, and they seemed to be gesticulating towards someone in the room. unsure of what they might be after, i simply redirected my attention back to the pair of twin girls who were giggling a little too loudly and taking turns to collapse dramatically on my lap. i managed to smooth out both of them, and all was well until about 30 seconds later, i felt someone cold-tapping my shoulder. i turned around again only to come face to face with the asian mom i saw just now outside the door, now wearing the most upset expression. ‘YOU.’ she spat through clenched teeth. ‘YOU SAW US. WHY DIDN’T YOU OPEN THE DOOR FOR US? HOW CAN YOU LET US WAIT OUTSIDE, WHEN I AM WITH A CHILD?’

some kids looked up, puzzled. Angelika, another helper, also glanced in my direction. at that point my world froze as i tried to process the meaning of her words, the gravity of the situation. what did i do to get into this mess? a weak voice inside me whispered. i didn’t even know that they were trying to get into the room. nor have i been around long enough to know what is the procedure for signing in late-coming kids. her piercing angry voice soon tore me out from my confusion. ‘KEEP PRAYING TO GOD. KEEP LEARNING GOD’S WORD.’ she twirled around on her heels and started to walk out of the room, not before hissing at me again: ‘KEEP PRAYING TO GOD.’

as she disappeared around the corner i was thoroughly shaken. a thousand and one feelings welled up in my chest and i had to muster every last ounce of strength to fight back tears. the entire confrontation only lasted 2mins, but in that fleeting timespan i was uprooted, and brutally unpacked; bits of me scattered all over the floor and for a moment i didn’t want to exist. the shock, the confusion, the shame – to realise that everything happened in front of a room of 25 kids and adults. i was at the wrong place at the wrong time, being wronged. i wondered what sort of things would she have said if she knew that i was in fact, not a christian. i was not there to dress myself up to please anyone. i am not obligated. i love the kids, that’s all. if i had known her intention, i would have hurtled through a bed of giant cactus on bare feet to let her child in (so that she can presumably rush off to stop WWIII) the almost poisonous contradiction that kept on playing in my mind was how she instructed me to pray (in such caustic sarcasm) while she displayed a complete lack of patience, tolerance, and tact. it was almost as if she set out to hurt, to punish, instead of protecting her child. i have not come across any christians with such kind of disposition, never in my life.

but i didn’t let any of these show. i kept the tears in. i continued to play with the two girls who had started to crawl all over me again after focusing on the video for 5mins. i smiled at Angelika, who smiled back. at some point a boy asked ‘why did she ask you to pray to god?’ to which i answered ‘i don’t know’. i went through the rest of the session as if nothing happened, as if that 2mins of my life was excised and erased.

i thought that i could bottle that bitterness up and dwell on it later while i’m alone, to feel sorry for myself, to feel victimised and misunderstood. but it turned out that i never got a chance to do that. the kids continued to bounce around and smile at me, attacking me with questions of the upcoming movie ‘Kung fu Panda 2’, completely oblivious to the unhappy episode during their video-watching. Vivian, the leader of the 5-7 age group was so incredibly warm and friendly towards me, even apologising profusely on behalf of some of the boisterous kids whom i had to tackle. as the session went on, the cold wall that i had mentally constructed around myself started to crumble, slowly but surely. i could not hold on to the poison in face of such genuine sweetness. i simply could not. so what if a single person was unkind? i am strong enough to look past that. i am open enough to readmit kindness, to return warmness, and to be thankful inside out. bitterness is not for me. if there’s anything that i have a talent in, it is the ability to see the best in every one. i cannot let myself down.

as i stayed behind after all the kids have been collected by their parents (the angry asian mom was not seen) to clean up the room, Angelika came over, signalling a word with me. she wanted to know what exactly happened just now so i proceeded to tell her the facts – surprisingly, without any bitterness. she looked thoughtful for a while and then leaned forward to give me the sweetest hug. it was during that 2 seconds that the last remnants of bad feelings melted away, and i was overwhelmed by the kindness i received. ‘don’t worry, and don’t feel bad about it. i know that some parents can be a little difficult. don’t let it bother you.’ she told me gently.

‘thank you. i can understand.’ i replied, and with that a sudden surge of bravery washed over and i continued, ‘i will apologise to her if i see her next week. i need to tell her that i didn’t mean to be unresponsive, and i should have paid more attention and been more proactive.’ Angelika smiled.

an episode that started out to dissemble me ended up making me stronger. i can take a little nastiness, but i will turn it into genuine understanding and humility, and give it back to you. i will not be a victim, and i think there’s something to be learnt from every stumble.

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