One of my fondest memories of celebration is not my own. It was the day of the historic World Cup match between Germany and Brazil in 2014. I was on a Lufthansa plane and about to arrive in Frankfurt, Germany. 

Both football teams had been trading blows while an airplane cabin full of excited German nationals waited in bated breath.  Soon, the safety instructions for landing bellowed out on the PA system, followed by a short bit of German that I did not comprehend.

The reaction of the crowd was instantaneous, jubilant joy. It told me enough.

Germany 7 – Brazil 1

Tears and hugs flowed freely among strangers who had barely spoken a word to each other for hours past. It was a picture of spontaneity and contagion I had rarely witnessed in our far more restrained island nation. For this reason, it is a picture I still remember fondly.

I share this anecdote because I could never imagine the events that followed would be marked by a completely opposite emotion. I learnt that MH17 had just been shot down over Ukraine while on the way to board my plane home that was supposed to fly on the same route.

The joy and celebration I experienced days earlier in the airport had now turned to pain and worry. Panicked “I love you” messages were sent to dear ones. 

Then as now, the reality that we live in a broken world is being made clear to us. There was never any “normal” life to live. Every day was given by grace.

Dear 2020 graduate, I join you in expectation that the commemoration of your journey of a lifetime will be a joyous one. However, our ceremonies will not be met with thunderous applause.

Our victories will be private. Tears of joy will be unseen apart from the family closest to us. All these will probably be replaced by emoticons on a Zoom call.

It is a truly anti-climactic end – one none of us wanted or expected.

I received news that my college life in the US would come to an unexpected end during my mid-semester break. I was on a bus chatting with church friends. Up until that moment, there had been no indication that COVID-19 would disrupt our lives in any significant way.

I was looking forward to spending the rest of my semester with these brothers and sisters, to more times of corporate worship and college fellowship, to more “last meals” and coffee hangouts, to a graduation trip that never came.

It all ended with a few simultaneous chimes that came through our email app on that bus, a collective silence, then a stunned realisation of a newfound reality.

I will forever remember the days that followed. It was a hurried mess of rushed goodbyes, huddled prayers, private tears and gnawing emptiness. I tried to stay on campus for as long as policies would permit, but soon reality started to dawn on me. I had to go home. 

I had taken this flight halfway across the world many times, each time dreading the moment that it would be my last. I had imagined the tears that would flow, the inescapable pain that would brutalise me knowing that there would be no going back. 

Yet, this time, when the dreaded last flight back finally came around, I found it difficult to be sad. I was far too worried, far too overwhelmed, far too anxious about the dangers of travel to cry.

The reality of what had happened and the death of the conclusion that I had spent weeks dreaming about only hit home weeks later in quarantine.

And yet God has a funny way of confounding our expectations. He responds in ways that we least expect. He gives and He takes away.

I will be the first to admit that it was difficult to remain thankful amid all that transpired, but I realise now that I have so many reasons to be joyful. 

I had entered college expecting it to be a breeze. I had done well in Singapore’s brutal academic system and had heeded the words of seniors who had gone before me: that the US would simply be “more of the same”. 

It did not take long for me to be brought to a humbling realisation of my inadequacy. I did not do well in my first semester. My faith life had basically collapsed.

I was completely running on empty and placing my joy in things that could never seem to supply it. No amount of parties or late-night study sessions could salve the wounds that this experience was exposing in me. 

Up till a year into college, I could still be found in my room late at night, forehead pressed on my dorm room wall, wailing for God to reveal Himself. The nights were terrifying, lonely and awfully cold.

Here, 10,000 miles from home with no support system to speak of, I was truly overwhelmed.

I would not have been able to enjoy His gifts had I not come to the end of myself.  

Everything changed when God spoke to me one fine day in my second year. I felt God’s call to attend a church retreat that I had previously been putting off. It was an awkward experience, turning up to spend two nights among friendly strangers from another culture. 

And yet, God met me there. He met me with simple love and stories of people who simply believed in God and sought to show that. There I was shown that I could be vulnerable, that I could let my guard down and that I could trust in Him completely. That He had been here all this while waiting for me to come back to Him. 

This community nurtured me, supported me and allowed me to serve them. They made Christ’s love real to me. I had no idea that the simple act of getting on a bus to a college retreat would have such consequences. 

Today, as I type this and await my graduation, I have nothing else to say but to give God all the glory.

I would not have survived college without His grace. I would not have friends on the other side of the world to miss. I would not have been able to enjoy His gifts had I not come to the end of myself.  

The lessons I learnt from my professors were excellent and wonderful, but my greatest takeaway from these four years has been the constancy of Christ and the supremacy of His wisdom.

Dear 2020 graduate, I pray and hope it is the same for you today. 

Every day has been given by grace. We are in a more interconnected world than ever before. We are also in a virus-infested one.

Thus, we must choose to live each day, prioritising what is in front of us as we know the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16). 

It does not mean that we should not rejoice. But in this big and scary world, we’ve been equipped to do more about it than ever before.

Go forth and use it well.

  1. What big plans of yours has COVID-19 disrupted?
  2. How can you make the best of the opportunities God has given you in times like this?
  3. What can you be thankful for today?