Have A Little Faith by Mitch Albom

The Reb had lived a few days beyond his massive stroke, in a peaceful coma, long enough for his wife, children and grandchildren to get there and whisper their good-byes. I had done the same, touching his thick white hair, hugging my face to his, promising he would not die the second death, he would not be forgotten, not as long as I had a breath in me.*

And now the Reb will live on through this beautifully written book, with his teachings touching an indefinite number of lives who read the words printed on the pages.

Mitch Albom has a way to captivate his readers through his writing, and this book is no different. Have A Little Faith is said to be his second non-fiction book, after Tuesdays with Morrie, and it shows us his journey of getting to know his Rabbi, Albert Lewis, not as a clergyman, but as a person.

As I read the book, I too began to respect and love the Reb. He was down-to-earth, positive, open-minded, loving, and so wise. There were so many pages that stopped me in my tracks, and left big impressions on me.

The Reb once did a sermon on how the same things in life can be good or evil, depending on what, with free will, we do with them. Speech can bless or curse. Money can save or destroy. Science can heal or kill. Even nature can work for you or against you: fire can warm or burn; water can sustain life or flood it away.*

A few times, I had a lump in my throat while reading this book. It reminded me so much of my dad as well as Alexa.

My dad, because, well, the Reb was old and dying, and Mitch described how he hated seeing the Reb grow weaker, and how he hated the idea that the Reb would die in a very near future. I could identify with that.

And Alexa, because, the Reb too lost one daughter when she was just four years old.

“My friends, when sometimes we are asked why does someone perish, someone so young in age, I can only fall back on the wisdom of our tradition. It is true that David did not live long for his day. But while he lived, David taught, inspired, and left us a great spiritual legacy, including the Book of Psalms. One of those Psalms, the twenty-third, is read sometimes at funerals.

“Is it not better to have known Rinah, my daughter, for four years, than not to have known her at all?”*

As painful as it was, yes, it was better to have been able to carry Alexa in my womb for 9 months and to have had held her in my arms, than to have never had her at all.

Have A Little Faith made me think about the life I’m living. How can I live better? How can I love better? How can I purpose my life better? How can I deepen my faith?

As a writer, I am also greatly inspired by Mitch, as I always am after reading his books. Trained as a journalist, I am reminded of how lives can be impacted when good stories are found and written well.

p.s.: By the way, I believe the copy that I have is an updated version. There were some turn of events after the publication of the first version, that he added into this latest one. 

*Excerpts from the book

 

Love,

Nat

What is acting?

There is something about acting that captures me. And the more I learn about it, the more I need to learn about it.

While doing some reading on it in preparation for our church’s upcoming drama team meeting, I came across this article, and I really loved how the writer put it down:

The best ‘acting’ is when there is none. (There’s an oxymoron for you). The best performances are when the actor has reached a state of abandonment, release, totally letting go and truthfully living on the cusp as the character. And when the actor becomes unconscious of the ‘acting’ and conscious only of the physical, mental and emotional state of the character, this is when the actor is truly living in the moment – not as the actor – only as the character.

And that is acting – at its best.

I am not a professional actor, but I would love to work towards achieving that level in my craft.

 

Love,

Nat

Daddy

One day, I drove past The Strand at Kota Damansara.

I very seldom go to this part of town, but I had come to this place to see my dad a few times.

During my dad’s final few years, he started a new business and had a shop near The Strand. At 71 years old. That was my dad. Always the entrepreneur. Always looking for a new venture, and always ready to start a new operation.

I remember the gleam in his eyes when he announced his new idea. It brought him so much excitement. His entire being was charged up with adrenaline and energy. It was almost as though he found his calling once again.

I also remember the disheartenment in his voice when he told me he shut it down a few years later, due to his illness. The unspoken wish in his eyes. The brokenness in his spirit.

It was as though he was disappointed at himself, for not being able to make it. For not being able to make a come back, like the good ol’ days. He had so much plans and dreams, to build a great empire and leave a great legacy for his children.

My dad had all it took to be a successful businessman. He had the brains. He had the ideas. He had the wisdom. He had the personality. He definitely had the guts and determination. He was the most resilient man I know. The most optimistic. The most brave.

Yet, luck, if we can call it that, had never been on his side. And his had been a tough life.

He might have thought he did not manage to leave any heritage for all his children. But to me, he left something greater than riches.

He left me memories of a loving father who would do all he could to provide his best for his kids. He left me his courage to never give up and to keep headbutting on no matter how tough life could be. He left me his words to always be faithful to my family and to be true to my friends. He left me a real life example on how to be down-to-earth and humble, while still confident about one’s own strengths. He left me a glimpse of an absolute genuine and raw conversation between man and God when all else failed and all else faded. He left me countless lessons of life and love.

He left me the greatest legacy I could ever wish for – and that is the privilege of being his daughter.

 

Love,

Nat

MOF Japanese Dining @ Sunway Pyramid

Japanese is my favourite cuisine. I just can never get bored of it. If given a choice, I would go for Japanese meals at least once a week. At least.

I have heard of MOF Japanese Dining in Sunway Pyramid, but have never tried it mainly because I seldom go to the mall. Plus, I’ve always thought that MOF is all about desserts only. Well apparently, they were about desserts, but this particular outlet has decided to expand their menu to offer other meal choices. And there is such a wide selection of food – from bento sets to noodles (udon, soba, ramen) to sushi. They’ve also got pasta for those in the mood for Western Asian fusion.

There is also quite a variety of drinks. If you’re a green tea lover, you can go for their macha drinks. Or if you prefer red bean, there are the azuki drinks. For those who need some caffeine, they also have coffee selections. I went for the Cookies and Cream Shake, but there is no decent picture of it here because the hubby and I kinda gobbled it down the moment it arrived. I loved it.

Anyway, these were what we ordered and liked.

Salmon Teriyaki Bento, RM20.90

OK the salmon is in the right compartment and you can’t really see it here, but it was so good. I could finish the entire fish at one go because the teriyaki sauce made it so appetizing.

Salmon Aburi Roll, RM15.90

For me, a Japanese meal is not complete unless you have some sushi, and salmon! This roll combines both, and I highly recommend that you try it.

Tori Kara Age Jyu, RM14.90

This is apparently one of MOF’s signature dishes, and rightly so. If you feel lost flipping through the menu because of the crazy amount of choices, order this.

Chicken Katsu Tomato Pasta, RM16.90

Again, if you are looking for Western Asian fusion, this is a good dish to go for.

California Maki, RM11.90

You can never go wrong with California Maki.

5-Piece Salmon Sashimi, RM12.90

Yes, I know there are only three pieces in the picture. That is because our friends ate it before I snatched it away from them for my camera.

Rice and Noodle Teishoku, RM19.90

This is perfect for me, because I often cannot make up my mind if I should go for noodles or rice. Haha!

Shiratama Kurian, RM13.00

Soft-serve ice cream! I loved the Japanese dumpling and Hokkaido red bean paste that were paired with it. The one that I had didn’t have gyuhi though; it was replaced with marshmallows.

Macha Zen, RM13.90

My friend who ordered this said he had been looking for Hokkaido red bean dessert high and low, so he was very happy to be able to eat this! It’s Japanese green tea gelato with the said red bean and Japanese dumplings.

Overall, satisfying Japanese food and dessert at reasonable prices. Definitely worth a try.

MOF Japanese Dining
F1.67, First Floor, Sunway Pyramid, Subang Jaya, Selangor
Open 10am – 10pm, every day
Tel: 03-56110949

Moms Connect Hi-Tea

Last weekend, the mothers in my church met up for a Moms Connect Hi-Tea event at HOPP Cafe, Sunway. This was probably the third or fourth event organised by my church for mothers, and I enjoyed every one of them, including this.

There is something special about mothers meeting up together, especially when we share the same values and goals. Some of us were new mothers, some were mothers of grown children, and some were expecting moms. All from different walks and seasons, but it was a beautiful time of connecting and sharing (and complaining haha) about our motherhood experiences.

I also appreciate the candid and honest sharing by Diana, wife of one of our pastors. She talked about how when she first became a mom, it was all about survival. She rushed from one state to another, and by the end of the day, she was more than exhausted. Then the next day, the whole cycle repeats itself. After awhile, you really could lose yourself. That really resonated with us all.

So she reminded us to not just survive, but to truly live through and enjoy each moment. Also, do not underestimate the power and influence we have over our family as mothers. Intentionally set out to build a good culture in our family. Instil the five core values in our family – excellence, generosity, honour, attitude and gratefulness.

Mothers, let’s keep doing our best and not grow weary in doing good!

 

Love,

Nat

Baby Alexa

This post was written three months after Alexa was born still. It was published in my previous blog, and I’ve decided to put it here as well.

In memory of Alexa Enyi Yong, born asleep on March 5th, 2013, 10.07pm at 1.9kg. 

My husband and I were very excited when we conceived our first baby. We had been married for 4 years and decided that it was time for us to expand our little family of two.

The entire pregnancy was smooth and almost textbook, with almost every visit to the doctor ending with her commenting “I am very happy with you and your baby.” It was great! All we had to do was to look forward to seeing our little baby girl on April 1st, 2013.

That all changed on March 4th.

The News

A few days before, I started noticing a change in my baby’s movement. However, when I described the movement to experienced mothers, they did not suspect anything amiss. We all thought it was ok, that this change in movement is normal in third trimester.

Still, something in me told me I should go and check, just to be sure. I called the hospital and brought forward my appointment date with the gynae. And so, my husband I went in on Monday, the 4th, when I was 36 weeks pregnant.

The doctor greeted me cheerfully as usual, and she proceeded to do the ultrasound scan. We were both chatting and expecting everything to be quick and normal, as usual. The first thing that made my heart sink was when she said, “Aiya, she is back in breech!” Immediately I thought, oh no, does that mean I have to undergo C-section??

Seconds later, the doctor said, “Hold on, there is a problem.” She has never said that before. All my smiles vanished. I kept quiet and stared at the ultrasound, trying to see the ‘problem’, hoping that it was not as serious. Then she said the words that would change our lives forever:

“There is no heartbeat.”

The room became so quiet. My husband, who was sitting at a corner, stood up. My heart stopped and then slammed wildly against my chest. I started shaking, and it actually felt as though I was out of my body, watching a drama unfold. My eyes searched the ultrasound screen, hoping to see that little beating dot.

The doctor looked at me with such sad eyes, and said once again, “I am so sorry. There is no heartbeat. I am so sorry.”

I looked at her and asked, “What does that mean?” My mind was numb. I couldn’t take it in. This couldn’t be happening. It couldn’t be true!

With a painful expression, she answered, “That means the baby has passed away. I am so sorry.”

Immediately tears sprang to my eyes. I continued laying on the checkup bed, with a million things and at the same time nothing on my mind. According to my husband, I started wailing, but I couldn’t remember much. Everything felt so surreal. It was as if I was watching someone else’s life, not mine.

But there I was, looking at my husband who was looking back at me with red, teary eyes. What happened? Our baby had been so good all this while. What happened? How could she have passed away?

Throughout these harrowing minutes, the worship song “You Are Good” by Kari Jobe kept playing in my head. And the sermon that my husband preached over the weekend kept coming back. “If like Job, God took away everything you held dear, would you still love Him?” My body was shaking, my mind was confused, my heart was broken, but my spirit was still declaring that God is good and His mercy lives forever.

The doctor gave my husband and I some moments alone in the checkup room, and we just hugged each other and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. We caressed my belly, calling out Alexa’s name again and again, as though it would revive her. Time seemed to have stood still then, and after what seemed like an eternity, the doctor came back in to check on us.

I felt so mentally exhausted, and my mind seemed to have shut down. My husband asked the doctor, what was the next step. Suddenly I felt nervous. Do I have to undergo C-section, since Alexa’s in breech position?

The doctor said she’d have to induce me for natural delivery. I didn’t know what to feel. On one hand I felt relief because I did not have to go under the knife. But, I was still nervous about going through labour and delivery. That had been my biggest fear throughout my pregnancy. And now, I had to go through it without a good ending.

The doctor asked if I wanted to deliver immediately, or do it the next day. The husband and I decided to do it the next day, because I was in shock, and we needed time to digest the news, and pray.

And so we went home. We cried, we prayed. We tried to sleep, then we cried again. We only shared the news with a handful of close friends, and they came to visit us and prayed for us. We wanted to believe for a miracle. If anyone could revive our baby, if anyone could make heart beat again, it was God.

With hearts believing God for a miracle, and yet prepared for the worst outcome, my husband and I decided to make some preparations just in case baby Alexa came home alive the next day. We fixed our Graco Pack ‘n’ Play, and learned how to use it. We installed the baby car seat in our car. We packed my hospital bag, putting in some baby clothes. We had tears in our eyes but were trying so hard to be positive. It felt as though our hearts were sinking to the bottom but we were doing all we could to hold it up.

By the time we went to sleep at night, we were exhausted. But still, I couldn’t sleep. I was heartbroken about her death, yet at the same time, I was nervous about delivery the next day. Oh God, how am I going to do it? Please let this all be just a dream, and let everything be back to normal when I wake up.

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The Labour and Delivery

March 5th, Tuesday. My husband and I woke up at 7am, got ready, and went to the hospital. During the journey, we prayed for a miracle once more. That somehow when Alexa came out, she would be kicking and screaming and alive.

We went straight to the labour suite, and I got checked in. After changing into my hospital gown, we had to wait for my doctor to come and see me. But we asked the nurse if we could check for the baby’s heartbeat, for the final time. She looked at me with such a sad expression, and agreed. After checking and re-checking, she chokingly told us, there was no heartbeat.

My husband and I were prepared to accept Alexa’s death. But we were trying so hard to still believe for a miracle. It was so hard to stay positive. But I didn’t want to give up.

The doctor came in at 10am, and started the labour induction. She told me that it would be a long process, and that I’d probably only give birth late at night or even the next morning. My heart sank. I had hoped that it would all be over quickly.

The husband and I started calling our parents and families to inform them of what had happened. Needless to say, they were shocked, and came immediately to see us. I was an emotional wreck, but was strangely at peace at the same time.

My contractions started to become more regular by 2pm, and they were getting a bit painful. The doctor came back at 5.30pm to check on me, and told me that everything was going well, but again, it would be a long process. She put in another tablet for the labour induction, and also checked on my dilation (2cm at that time) and tried to stretch it to make it bigger. It was SO PAINFUL. She held my gaze and told me I got to be strong and go through with this. It was a statement that motivated me throughout the labour and delivery.

Right after that, my contractions became more consistent and close to each other. They were also becoming more and more unbearable. At the same time, we still had visitors, and so my husband had to leave me in the labour suite to go see them in the visitors lounge. The moments he was away were some of my most difficult ones. I felt so alone and so afraid.

Soon I was unable to move much due to the pain, and my mental strength was giving way. I could hear the cries of newborn babies outside my labour suite, and I kept looking at the empty newborn bed trolley in my own labour suite, wishing that it would hold my crying, living baby later.

When my husband finally came back in after meeting another group of visitors, I broke down and cried. I told him I was not crying because of the pain, but because I had nothing to look forward to after this suffering. What was the point of going through this pain? It was so not worth it.

My husband later told me that he felt so powerless seeing me struggle with my contractions, because, while other husbands could cheer their wives on, he could not.

Amidst it all, we tried to keep ourselves sane with humour. There was one point when my contractions were about 10 minutes apart, that I started cursing Eve. Why on earth did she eat that apple? Because of her, women now have to suffer the pain of childbirth.

By 8.30pm, my contractions were about 3 minutes apart, and I was 4cm. I could only lie down on the bed and not move or even talk. It was so so so painful. The nurses kept asking me to take the epidural, but I refused. They also asked me to take the pain killer injection, but I told them I was afraid of the needle.

Finally, I succumbed and asked for the pain killer injection at 8.45pm. The drug did not take away my pain and I could still feel every contraction. But at least it made me drowsy in between, so that I could rest.

From then on, I was so drowsy, and was in between reality and lalaland. I only remembered suddenly feeling as though the contractions were making me feel like I was going to pass motion. I knew from my pre-natal classes that it meant the baby was coming out, so I quickly told my husband to call the nurses in. According to my husband, that was 9.45pm.

The nurse came in and was shocked to see that I was already 10cm. She shouted for the other nurses to come in and immediately gave my doctor a call. I guess they didn’t expect me to dilate so quickly, which was a blessing.

I tried so hard to hold baby Alexa in, because my doctor wasn’t there yet; she was rushing back to the hospital. However, I told the nurse I really couldn’t hold it in anymore. She discussed a little with the other nurses and then told me it was ok to start pushing. Immediately I gave a few big pushes, and baby Alexa, my sweet baby girl, was out at 10.07pm.

She was not crying.

Right after she came out, my doctor stepped into the room and went straight to check on the baby. I was still drowsy and woozy, but I could hear the nurses telling the doctor that the baby was not strangled, but her umbilical cord was twisted like a telephone cord.

After cleaning me up, the doctor showed my husband and I our baby, and told us what went wrong. Alexa’s umbilical cord was twisted and it cut off my blood supply to her. Her skin also changed a bit, which meant that she had passed away a few days before our checkup.

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The Goodbyes

The doctor then asked me if I wanted to carry Alexa, and my immediate response was to shake my head, as tears started to fall. I could not bear to carry my baby. She was dead. I could not bear to hold her in my arms.

But the doctor tried to persuade me. She said it would help with closure, and until today, I am so grateful that she made me hold my baby. I took baby Alexa into my arms, held her against my chest, and cried. And cried and cried and cried.

The doctor and nurses gave us time alone, and my husband and I just looked at our little girl. She was so tiny. She was beautiful. She had a head full of hair, and my husband said she had my cute big nose.

I wish I could hold her forever. But I couldn’t. I passed her to my husband, who held her before putting her back onto the newborn bed trolley. My husband then called the nurse in, and I asked the nurse if she could bring Alexa back in after she cleaned her up. The nurse was very nice, and agreed to do so.

When Alexa was brought in again, now cleaned up and in a white shirt, we took pictures of her. My parents-in-law and my pastor came in to pay their last respects to her. And then, I was left alone with Alexa as my husband escorted the visitors out. I was on my bed, while she was on hers. How I wish the situation was different. My husband then came back in with a nurse, and Alexa was wheeled out again for the last time.

After that I was wheeled to the maternity ward. Due to the pain killer that I took, I was still drowsy, and so I was able to sleep through the night without any problems. In the morning at 7.30am, the doctor came to check on my stitches and overall health, and told me that I was ok, and could be discharged the same day. She told me it was normal to feel down. She would see me again when I go back for a follow-up post-partum checkup.

At about 9am I had some visitors, and while talking to them, a nurse came in to give me a baby pack – with a onesie, mittens and booties. She said it was a gift from their sponsor. I froze, and so did my visitors. But I was not upset. The nurse was not aware that I was a mother of a stillborn.

After getting all the procedure done, my husband came and helped me get ready to leave the hospital. My visitors left to give us privacy, and that was when I broke down. I looked at my husband and I told him I was so so so sad that we were going back without our baby.

On our way out of the hospital building into the carpark, we passed some mothers with newborns. I found myself asking God, why couldn’t I be like that? Why couldn’t we be the ones leaving with joy, with our cute little baby in our arms?

When we reached home, again I had concerned visitors. While I was talking to them, I saw my husband removing the baby car seat from our car. With all my might, I held back my tears. But my heart was breaking into a million pieces.

Being a Chinese, I had to still do my “confinement”, because I had given birth. But the entire confinement month was a torture. During confinement, mothers were supposed to be tired and busy trying to adapt to their new role, and trying to meet the needs of a relentlessly crying baby. But for me, I had to adapt to the silence of my home. I had to learn to look at the empty nursery and be OK. I had to wake up every morning and remind myself that it was all real. Every day I would feel that I had no more tears to cry, but still more would keep coming. Every day I would feel that my heart could not break any more, but still it would keep shattering.

Two days after delivery, on Thursday, March 7th, we had the funeral for baby Alexa. Before leaving home, I told myself that I would not be in despair. Alexa is now in heaven. She has Jesus with her. She will know no pain and suffering.

But when we were there at the burial ground, looking at her tiny coffin deep down in the earth, the dam broke and I wailed. Before they started shoveling to close the burial hole, I had to throw the last flower into her grave. It was all so final. And then her grave was fully covered. She was now fully buried six feet under. It was a symbol of a chapter closing. The chapter of Alexa in our lives.

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The After

Since then, I have been adapting to a new life. A new life with our daughter in heaven. A new life with new ‘normals’. I still struggle with pain and despair. Sometimes, I struggle with anger.

But I know that all joy and hope is not lost, because we have a living God. He has overcome death. Because of Him, death has lost its sting. Because of Him, I know that we will one day see Alexa again. I know that one day, our joy will be complete.

UPDATE: Today, I am blessed to have my second daughter, Amy, healthy and well. I am beyond grateful to God for giving this second child to me. I love her so so so much. She has truly helped me move on from the season of grief and sadness. But I have not forgotten Alexa, and I still look forward to the day when I would be able to see my firstborn again.

My book, ‘Alexa: A Mother’s Journey of Love, Loss and Hope’ will soon be out. To pre-order, please drop me an email at hello@nataliesia.com

 

Love,

Nat