I came to Singapore way back when I was just 11 or 12 years old.
I stepped into this country as a shy, timid and fearful girl. I was terrified to speak to anyone because of the fear that I would be judged for my accent and my limited English.
This fear followed me as I entered a local primary school. It eventually got worse when I entered Primary 6. At the time, I was verbally bullied by a boy, whose name and face I can still vividly remember today. Because of my race as a Filipino, he actually labelled me as a “Filipino maid”.
I wanted to fit in and made sure I always did.
His silly remark was a turning point in my life where I began to strive to be different from all Filipino girls.
The happiness I had as a young girl turned into a striving to be recognised as a “local girl”. I was pleased on the inside whenever someone told me I didn’t look like a Filipino at all.
My happiness became based on people’s approval – how they saw me and whether I was treated as one of them. I wanted to fit in and made sure I always did.
In secondary school, I started to “act cool” – in an almost ah-lian way.
I wore ankle socks and cut my fringe so that it was all over my face. My skirts were always above my knees and I made sure to have girlfriends all around me.
My happiness had shifted from wanting to fit into society to being recognised and popular. The more friends I had and the more boys who recognised me, the happier I was.
In my search for happiness, I entered into several relationships one after another just to fill the void in my heart. I was deceiving myself that relationships would make me happy. But over the years, I realised that jumping in and out of relationships doesn’t do that because each heartbreak became emotional baggage that weighed heavily in my heart.
Though I had all the friends I wanted in school or on my phone, deep inside I felt like there was something missing. And I realised that I had been pretending all along in school – I was holding on to a mask that hid the emptiness deep inside of me.
I remember sitting in my room feeling broken after a quarrel with an ex-boyfriend. My heavy heart felt like a mirror completely shattered into pieces that was impossible to be fixed. I was hopeless.
In my moment of desperation, I humbled myself and remembered God. I prayed quietly to God to rescue me from the brokenness and hopelessness I was feeling. Then God quietly revealed Jeremiah 29:11 to me: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
At 17 years old, that verse became my anchor and my hope. I hold on to this truth that God has a plan for my life.
I may not know it now, I may not see it now – but I can trust in His promise. And in that moment, I was set free from needing to find my identity in people’s approval and the fear of the future.
I may not know it now, I may not see it now – but I can trust in His promise.
At that time, I had also been diligently attending church services every Saturday by myself.
I grew up in the church and decided to stay on even after my parents left. I felt there was something different with the people I knew in church.
My leaders were serving regularly every Saturday in the children and youth ministry – this was on top of their full-time career as a teacher and lawyer. They were patient, loving, easy-going and genuine.
Their years of faithfulness in reaching out to me really impacted me, and my outlook on life gradually started to change.
Honestly, I was wondering why people as smart and established as my leaders would be so willing to sacrifice their time and effort to meet, eat and go through life with a naive 15-year-old girl.
My cell group only consisted of just 2 members (including me) and 2 leaders, and my leaders would meet me every week to attend service together. They also invested time to be my friend.
Each time we had a cell group, my leader would share about the struggles and pain she went through. She shared her life with me so vulnerably. Because of her, I began to wonder and be curious about who is this God that could meet her needs. Like my leader, I was desperate to have that true happiness deep within me.
My cell group showed me what a “safe place” is all about. A place where I could be who I am. A place where it was okay to be vulnerable and weak because the people in there had experienced these struggles before too.
In my journey with my church leaders and church community over the years, I was slowly able to put down the mask I had been holding on so tightly to.
The process of putting down this mask was very intangible. It was a process of dealing with my insecurity and the fear of being judged if I were to reveal my true self.
But as I look back, I can testify that God was doing something within me – He was teaching me 2 principles in life.
1. BE VULNERABLE
As far as I can remember, the very first time I put down my mask was in front of my leaders. In a moment of vulnerability, I opened up about an underground relationship I had been hiding for over a year with a pre-believing boy in my school.
I was just 17 years old when I entered that relationship searching for true love and true happiness. I wanted to feel accepted and receive love. But I was deceiving myself by thinking that as long as I got together with a guy, I would be “complete” and feel “complete”.
Being vulnerable enough to talk about it helped me to realise that relationships couldn’t fix the deeper loneliness that I was experiencing.
2. BE HUMBLE
It changed my world when I acknowledged that I was weak, and that I was longing for a perfect love.
I came to see that I was, in reality, searching for a blameless and sinless love, a love that could make me whole again. I realised that no man could ever fulfil such a standard of love other than God.
Therefore, I traded my mask for a heart of humility, acknowledging that I’m just a human being.
Though I still struggle with being accepted today, I’ve learnt to renew my mind. I no longer allow my thoughts to conform to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:2). And knowing who my enemy is, I’m constantly on my knees, ready to fight the battle (Ephesians 6:12).
I don’t have to try and fit in and be a local girl anymore, for I belong to God.