Sisters Jonelle, Anna and Joanna Cheng. Anna and Joanna suffer from severe eczema. “They empathise with and encourage each other," says their mother Grace. All photos courtesy of Grace Tan.

Grace Tan cannot remember the last time she slept through the night. Her first and second daughters, aged five and four, suffer from severe eczema. The condition causes their skin to become dry, itchy and inflamed.

“I sleep with them and when they scratch, I can feel them. Every morning, there is blood everywhere. Every day, we change the bedsheets.

“We can’t tell them to stop scratching. Nothing helps. We feel so helpless.”

A beautiful start

Things started out well for each of her three children.

When Grace, now 32, was pregnant with her first child, Anna, her spiritual mentor shared with her a book that taught women to manage their pain during childbirth.

“The book talked about how it is possible to go through delivery without pain. This friend shared with me how she went through delivery without pain just by meditating on the Word of God.”

Grace delivered Anna without pain.

When it came time for Anna to be born, Grace opted not to use pain relief medication.

“I had intense contractions. It was my first delivery so I didn’t know what to expect. I kept meditating and praying.

“I spoke that Word out loud. Immediately my pain just left.”

“But there was fear in my heart, ‘Oh no, when is the next contraction? Is it going to be painful?’ That fear made it worse.

“The author talked about how fear is the main reason we feel the pain. In between contractions, I kept pulling my husband and saying, ‘Pray for me. I cannot already.’”

It was then that “God deposited a rhema word” into her heart.

“He gave me 2 Timothy 1:7,” recalled Grace. “I spoke that Word out loud. Immediately my pain just left. I started to praise God.

“The more I praised God, the more intensely the contractions came, but the less pain I felt. Zero pain, just contractions.

“With three pushes, Anna came out. That was it. Wow, so it was possible to go through delivery without pain.”

With her subsequent two children, Joanna and Jonelle, born a year apart from each other, Grace experienced childbirth without pain as well.

Why, God?

But when Joanna, Grace’s second daughter, was seven months old, she developed eczema.

She asked me: “Why did God create me like this? Doesn’t God love me?”

Then over a year ago, Anna came down with a bad bacterial infection that was exacerbated by the eczema.

“Because she scratched herself, the bacteria entered her skin and started to spread.”

Her condition got so bad that Anna was put on topical steroids and oral antibiotics. This carried on for eight months.

“We decided to stop the steroids because whenever we don’t use the steroids, the eczema comes back with a vengeance and the efficacy of the steroids reduces over time.

“My husband and I thought, ‘This cannot be.’”

But Anna’s skin condition worsened even more.

Anna’s severe eczema causes her skin to become dry and itchy.

“There was so much itching and scratching. She asked me, ‘Why did God create me like this? Doesn’t God love me?’”

Grace and her husband David Cheng, 38, are no strangers to pain and suffering. Before their third daughter Jonelle was conceived, they had suffered a miscarriage.

“How do we encourage Anna and teach her to own her faith and not give up?”

“The apostle Paul says all this suffering that we go through is for future glory (Romans 8:18). We know that God has a destiny for her.”

But even so, there were days when Grace wondered why her girls suffer from eczema.

“I look at my siblings’ kids, they are all fine. My kids are not allowed to eat candy, chocolate, biscuits.

“As a mum, I look at them when we go for family gatherings and they see their cousins eating those things, and the question I’ve been asking God is, ‘Why?’

“My husband and I always pray, ‘However You want to use our children, just do Your thing with them.’  

“But how do we encourage Anna and teach her to own her faith and not give up? It’s very hard to teach her that God still loves her with all this. It has been very new to my husband and me.”

Closer together

Eventually they took Anna to a specialist.

“When the girls shower and it is painful, they would encourage each other. They empathise with each other.”

“We found out that the bacteria on the skin was resistant to steroids. It only suppressed the symptoms. Anna and Joanna may have been spreading the bacteria to each other month after month.

“With these two findings, the specialist prescribed the right antibiotics. We have only just started the new course of antibiotics. But we are hopeful it will be better.”

Through this season, Grace has seen goodness come from the family’s suffering.

“We know that it is a bacteria and the name of the bacteria. But there is no known cause or trigger, no cure, no answers.

“So we pray. We get on our knees and pray and pray. And we do it more frequently.

“It has brought my husband and I closer together. The Lord will speak to him a word and he will share with me and vice versa.”

David and Grace, with their daughters Joanna, Anna and Jonelle. The family’s concern over the girls’ skin condition has drawn them closer to each other.

Anna and Joanna have also become closer to each other because of their common ordeal.

“When they shower and it is painful, they would encourage each other. They empathise with each other.

“And when we become overly frustrated and impatient with them because they don’t get enough sleep from scratching all night and throw quite a bit of a tantrum and we become impatient as well because we are so tired, Jonelle, our youngest, would go to them and sayang (love) her Jiejie (older sister).”

The girls are learning to turn to God as well. They ask Grace to read the Bible to them daily and love the stories of Jesus healing people with leprosy.

“Prayer and the Word of God becomes life and death to us.”

“They would make comments like, ‘Mummy, this is like eczema. Jesus healed them. Jesus can heal me too, right?’

“Going through this helps the girls experience God as well, which really is my husband’s and my heart’s cry – that they really have their own personal experience with God.”

Grace, too, is having more heart-to-hearts with God. 

“Sometimes I ask Him, ‘Have I not done a good job taking care of my children? Are You punishing me?’

“Then I quieten down and reflect on the story of Job where God said to Job, ‘Who is it that obscures My plans without knowledge? (Job 38:2)’

“And I would come before God to repent of my doubts about Him, and oftentimes my anger and disappointment toward Him.”

There may not yet be a “happy ending” for the young family, but Grace and David have seen God’s grace, and are clinging to His promises in faith. 

“Prayer and the Word of God become life and death to us. If we don’t pray, we wouldn’t survive a day. If it weren’t for God’s Word and truth, we wouldn’t last either.”


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About the author

Christine Leow

Christine believes there is always a story waiting to be told, which led to a career in MediaCorp News. Her idea of a perfect day involves a big mug of tea, a bigger muffin and a good book.