sambal_belachan

Photo by Marie Grob on Unsplash

There must be something in the mix of sambal belacan that brings on the unexpected.

Here I am, minding my own business, savouring my way through my lunch of nasi padang.

There she is, sitting across the table from me, flushed from the heat in the basement coffee shop. The splash of freckles across her cheekbones is as pronounced as it could ever be – a much prettier pink than that pungent splotch of chilli paste alongside her nasi padang.

Bless her and the baby she’s expecting, my thoughts waft with the steam as silent prayer makes its way through the recesses of my mind.

I chew on my last mouthful, and she ventures: “You ate all that without drinking any water?”

I recover: “I’m local,” and brave a smile. “Are you?”

The mother lode

Thus begins a conversation that meanders easily from food to family to faith.

The spoken words fill all of 20 minutes, maybe, but swift as the wind, the Holy Spirit is sending the sensibilities to a Cloud platform in God’s Suite.

Mind His shekinah and upload the unadulterated truth: There’s just something about the shared experience of mothers that’s special. And secret. And searing.

No matter that she’s from Japan and I’m from Singapore, we’ve been shaken by the jolts, yet steadied by the joys of having children – three each, with her being courageous enough now to be having her fourth.

When the need for mothering ends, the entire depth of a mother’s love is still there – unconditionally (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 13). 

The language of our conversation belies the scars that acid tears have burned into our experience through the years, even though I’m a long way further in age than she is. Her eldest is seven this year; mine is 22.

She recounts how she had lost her little boy on his first day in primary school and cried tears of relief when she finally found him.

Then she watched him in the tuckshop queue, buying his own food, and felt so proud that he was – on the same day – such a big boy.

Different tears flowed.

The poignance of the moment is not lost on either of us. Someday, he’ll be in a different stage of life, such a man, and who knows if she’ll have the privilege of watching him stand so tall? 

For a certainty, she’ll cry.

I watch the realisation sweep across her face. “The day will come when the need for you is no longer,” I say gently. “Make sure love remains.”

Gospel truth

We talk about what it takes to build relationship as our children grow through the stages of their lives and how, with the change in each of their seasons, ours change too.

“You’re working yourself out of a job,” I say. “I’m almost done with mine.”

She wipes away a tear, and her eyes gaze into mine where the desolation in our hearts meet.

“Do you believe in God?” I ask. She contemplates the question, then answers quietly: “Yes.”

The role of a mother must necessarily be all-encompassing and multi-faceted, such that when the need for mothering ends, the entire depth of her love is still there – unconditionally (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 13).

It’s a frightfully lonely place (Proverbs 14:10).

And, somehow, we understand that this mellowing comes with suffering: Open hands and a loose grip are not in our human nature.

It’s hardly a new, or an exclusive, revelation. Scripture tells us that 2000-odd years ago, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19 NIV). It’s as old, and universal, a truth as the Cross.

“Do you believe in God?” I ask. She contemplates the question, then answers quietly: “Yes.”

But for the fans whirring in the background, time seems to stand still and it feels as if the heavens are open and angels are fluttering their wings and whispering sure hope above.

All too prematurely, her snazzy iPhone rings and the worshipful disappears; we’re women again in the millennial here and now.

“I have to go back to work,” she says apologetically. 

I take it as a sign that there’ll be more nasi padang another day. 

We walk out together and, jumping on a connectivity glitch, I say: “May I pray for you?”

She laughs: “Yes!” And wraps me in a hug.

Tears flow, and so do the words. This baby will bring much joy and laughter, and there will be love, deep and strong; bonding, tender yet tenacious.

God will take care of them: This I know, as I give her my number.

Twenty years in Singapore, with Singlish as good as mine, my new friend is poised for the latest in God’s Cloud. I’ve merely been one chilli seed in that concoction of sambal belacan in her life. She’s picked up His signal, and His bandwidth into her life is supernaturally well-defined.

“You’re as good as local,” I laugh, and watch her wave goodbye. God’s watching too. And He’s not saying goodbye. 

Reflection and Discussion

  1. The next time you are out to lunch, pray silently for the person next to you and see where the Spirit leads.
  2. Sharing Christ may not come about immediately. For starters, you could befriend this person and share your life. Are you willing?
  3. Do your homework! (2 Timothy 2:15, 1 Peter 3:15) And ask God to move your heart to obey, to open your mouth and give you the words to share Christ when the opportunity arises. 
About the author

Emilyn Tan

Emilyn once spent morning, noon and night in a newsroom in the US, as well as in the Mediacorp office in Singapore. She gave it up to spend morning, noon and night at home, in the hope that someday she’d have an epiphany of God with His hands in the suds, washing the dishes too.