I am so blessed by the love of my old and new-found friends. Image by Tyler Nix from Unsplash.

What can I say about the year that is coming to an end? I had great plans lines up for 2020 but it seemed that God has His own ways of wanting to get my attention.

When COVID-19 hit Singapore and the country soon had to go on lockdown followed by a variety of restrictions including working from home and closure of popular nightspots and hangout joints, my friends and family initially took the moves well.

But the isolation and limits on personal interactions (make that virtually no personal interactions) took a toll on many of our relationships. Technology such as Zoom, WhatsApp, Google Meets and a host of other tools helped in communication but it was still hard to bridge the distance. We missed one another, and with the news of rising mental illness and suicide statistics beginning to show up on our news feeds, I was concerned.

Hitting the airwaves

Early this year, my church Vicar had challenged the congregation to read through the Bible in a year and I took up the challenge. With the help of the YouVersion Bible app, I decided to share the Daily Bible Verse image on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp to my friends and family.

At first, I wondered if it was all a futile exercise and I was afraid of spamming their accounts. But after a few weeks, many friends shared how the verses ministered to them and seemed to be the right advice for them that day.

Healthy friendships

I had also decided to take my health more seriously by working out at the gym and taking long morning walks along my neighbourhood. I usually took my walks between 5am and 5.30am, when the air was cool and clear and there were fewer people out to enable for safe social distancing.

I also decided to post short videos on Facebook after each walk to encourage people to hang in there for the COVID-19 restrictions and not give up on life. It was not long before I saw reductions in my weight and I even managed to drop my shirt size from Large to Medium!

When I shared these videos, many friends reached out to me and told me how the videos motivated them to take their health seriously and improve their lifestyles too. As I took my walks, I was often surprised by how many people were out on the streets at such early hours – essential workers heading to their jobs, taxi drivers plying their trades and food delivery drivers and riders rushing to fulfil orders. All doing their best to bring normalcy in what could have easily turned into a dystopian situation.

Breakfast buddies

A dear friend saw me walking one morning as he was driving his son to school. That encounter led to post-walk breakfast sessions which we have regularly now, and we also walk together when time permits.

As we chat, he shares with me about his personal family issues and recently told me that our breakfast sessions help him keep his sanity through the pressures that he feels at home and at work. I said that I am also glad that our friendship has been strengthened through the breakfasts, no matter how short some of the sessions may be.

My neighbour and his wife were also inspired by the videos and we now take weekend walks together, catching up on events around our precinct and district and growing closer in the process!

I have even made friends with the staff at the neighbourhood eateries! After each walk, I usually head to a nearby cafe for a cup of kopi o kosong (Malay for coffee without milk or sugar).

The owner soon got used to my regularity and would often have a cup of kopi o kosong ready for me before I even turned up at the counter. Once, when I suddenly ordered a cup of coffee instead, he scolded me for being difficult!

I cannot tell you of the numerous times those walks have led to my crossing paths with friendly neighbours and residents and their children and pets too! My circle of friends and family has expanded.

And this expanded circle was of great help to me when the continuing effects of COVID-19 on the Singapore economy led to my being laid off in September. My new and old friends rallied around me to pray for me and help advise me on job openings and opportunities, eventually leading to my new job which I got this month! They were also on hand to help my elderly parents with their daily needs.

In hindsight, COVID-19 and my retrenchment were two major events that could have easily turned 2020 into a year of despair and desperation. But thanks to my new friends and the strengthened relationships with my old friends, I became part of a ‘band of brothers and sisters’ that has been a source of love and strength through thick and thin.

And I know that the band will grow on into 2021 and beyond! Thank you, brothers and sisters!