The story of Ms Ju-ann Thong (Ju-ann), 35 with 3 kids of her own, taught me about how it takes a village to raise an adult.
No doubt Ju-ann won the Exemplary Young Mother Award given by Jamiyah Singapore, but the award is just the tip or snapshot of her hardscrabble journey where she never walked alone at every critical point of her life.
The first critical point was when Ju-ann discovered that she was adopted. When her adoptive mother went to the toilet in a casual doctor’s visit, the doctor told her this: “Do you know your mummy is not your mummy?” She was only 9 then.
She was told that she was the third child from a poor family and her biological family had a gambling habit. So she was given up for adoption.
Ju-ann said: “At a young age, your parents are your world. I felt empty, insecure and I feared that I would be abandoned one day.”
She felt that way even when her adoptive parents took good care of her and “never short-changed her”.
Then, the second critical point was her first marriage. She married young at 23 but “divorced her hairstylist husband after three years as they had very different personalities. They have a son, Mathias, who is now 12.”
This second crossroad led her into an emotional downward spiral.
Theresa Tan, who wrote the article, reports: “She got into a relationship with a man whom she later found to be an abusive gambler. The relationship lasted about three years and he left her with almost $100,000 in debt, largely from a car loan. After he fled the country, his creditors came after (Ju-ann), who fell into depression, quit her property agent job and spent her time sleeping. In seven or eight months, she lost almost 20 kg and had to seek medical treatment for depression.”
Her third critical point started off blissfully. Ju-ann remarried. Her husband, Brian Lim, was also a divorcee.
Mind you, it was not love at first sight because Brian “had tattoos all over his body.” And she had her reservations.
It took a while to win her over with what Ju-ann described as this: “He was very assuring, very attentive, very down to earth and his simplicity and sincerity won me over.”
They got married in 2016 and Meagan was born shortly after. At that time, Brian and Ju-ann had stable jobs and doing fairly well until another bombshell was dropped into their lives.
Brian was diagnosed with Stage 2 transitional cells cancer, “a type of cancer that affects the urinary system.” By this time, their youngest son, Mikel, was just 3 years old.
She said: “I felt my world crashing. I was very afraid he will die. Brian gave me a lot of light when I was at my lowest and now that my tattoo man is down, I must give him double or triple the light.”
Alas, one critical point after another, from adoption, to divorce to cancer, and depression, Ju-ann fought back, supporting her three children, working doubly hard, making ends meet and so on. She said: “Getting five hours of sleep a night is a luxury.”
This was where the village of help poured in. She posted her love story with Brian on Facebook and “received many offers of help when she shared that her family’s finances were strained after (Brian) lost his job (due to the closing down of his company).”
Not just that, “a group of mothers she befriended online has also rallied to support her. For example, they sold their bags and baby carriers and raised $15,000 for her family.”
Now, Ju-ann has gotten back to her own two feet but life is still challenging for her. She like many has gone through much and her fight goes on.
Nevertheless, I believe she was given the Exemplary Young Mother Award because she never stop moving forward with her life, never losing hope. And she couldn’t have made it without the help of others, especially her children.
Lesson? One and I take my cue from Ju-ann’s own words: “When life brings you down, don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Because when you ask for help, you never know what may come along.”
This is true, for the world out there - you may have heard - may be cruel, but humanity has a soft spot, and its button is a touch of empathy and compassion.
Sometimes, it takes courage for you to step out and press it, and in return, little miracles, or small stepping stones, can happen.
Everyday, you take the train, travel for lunch in a busy district, and walk home to your home, you are surrounded by hundreds of strangers, even your neighbours may be unfamiliar to you. And when you open up your online world, you are again immersed in an ocean of ”strangers” whom you may interact sparingly and infrequently, and never have a chance to meet.
Yet, as Ju-ann’s experiences have shown, these strangers can form a bridge or a chain of hope for you. They can help in ways that nudge you forward and the differences they make - although small - may be what it takes to lift your life and spirit up - slowing, incrementally and surely.
Apart from this village of strangers (and friends) that came to Ju-ann’s aid, there is also her immediate family that inspired her deeply. This is the part that I can resonate with.
When Ju-ann was going through depression after her divorce, the one that got her “out of her funk” was her son, no more than 6 years old at that time.
She recalled: “Mathias would knock on my door and say, “Mummy don’t cry, I will wipe your tears. Mummy don’t cry. I will hug you.””
Ju-ann said that “without him, I wouldn’t even step out. I thought: Do I want to be a leech in his life or do I want to lead him in life?”
Those words (options) were incredibly powerful as a wake up call for any parent. Sometimes, it takes our kids to remind us why we are here on this earth, our purpose, our hope.
Let me end with Ju-Ann’s words: “My kids are a very clear reminder that I should never crash. Their smiles keep me going every day. I know I need to be strong as they need me.”
Indeed, this mutual dependency leads to our independence, this mutual encouragement leads to our personal courage, and this mutual restoration and hope lead to our strength and resilience.
Alas, for me, the point of our greatest overcoming is not in the awards we get before the crowd of witnesses. That’s usually where a chapter of your life has come to a conclusion - for recognition comes after the overcoming.
However, the greatest overcoming in our life is at a point where unfailing love responds. This may just be the lowest point of your life. But when love responds, you know you cannot remain as you are, that is, defeated and dejected.
When Mathias offered to wipe Ju-ann’s tears and hug her, Ju-ann woke up and was given a new lease of life. She saw the light even in the darkest tunnel. And she took that step of faith to her eventual recovery, overcoming.
That critical point is where love is not only unfailing, but it is also unwavering, unceasing. Cheerz.