Jean Tan

  • Blog
  • Hallelujah When It Hurts

    By Jean Tan

    It’s easy to sing praise when all is well. What happens when the realities of your world don’t seem to match up with the goodness of God’s promises?

    I was born with a cleft palate and lip. My first operation was at 3 months of age, my second when I was 1 year’s old. My third at 9, when they discovered a hole under my lip. My fourth at 16, when my jaw grew out so much I couldn’t talk or eat well. My fifth at 17, and then sixth at 18.

    I had to go through 6 surgeries to look and speak as normally as I can today.

    I have been called a monster, crooked, ugly. People stared in the streets, boys laughed or recoiled.

    Somewhere along the way, my parents divorced and my dad went bankrupt. I did well in school to make things better for myself and ease the finances on my family, but also so that I could go away for college and live life on my own terms for a change.

    And when life was finally heading somewhere, I was diagnosed with kidney disease at 24. The doctor’s prognosis: a 30% chance that this would go away after treatment, another 30% that symptoms would recur through life, and another 30% that I would have kidney failure by the age of 40-50.

    It didn’t make sense. Somewhere, somehow, I felt betrayed, unfairly given a load I’d never asked for, and one that few else understood. I stood by pews and cried, soaked up hospital bedsheets with blame, couldn’t utter the words of the songs on Sundays.

    But even through all of that, I couldn’t rid myself of an undeniable sense that Someone was with me. And that, despite the madness of life and the questions that came with it, that He was palpably real, present, and was giving me a great measure of resources to deal with whatever I needed to deal with.

    So through all that madness, I knew I always had a choice: to turn further inward, and away, into the poison of bitterness, doubt, and anger, or move into the light in an almost insane trust in the goodness of God. The former consumed me alive, again and again; the latter was the only thing left to save.

    For the next 6 years, as I lost practically everything, I kept turning to the light. Every time I stumbled, I turned. Every time I didn’t understand, I turned. Every time I was hospitalised, I puked, I fell, I turned –

    Turned to One I was angry with, and yet the only Person whom I could trust. The only One who saw it from the start and understood; who knew pain and chose to take it upon Himself so we would know what strength and hope was. The One I’ve come to intimately know as Lord, because He’s proven Himself faithful, time and again.

    Because when I began to turn to the light, regardless of the darkness that loomed – the light began to form itself in me. Light replaced night, and hope replaced the hollow. Instead of anger, thankfulness grew. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, I learnt to give strength to others. Instead of despair, I found confidence and faith: that no matter what happens, everything will be okay.

    And strangely, as I turned – all the things I’d lost began returning, one at a time, like flowers blooming out of the wintry cold. Relationships, job opportunities, money, music, travel… they came back with a vengeance and with a beautiful sweetness I’d never known.

    It was in that journey that “Hallelujah” was written. It’s a song about giving your very last breath and turning to the light again and again, even when you don’t see the good that comes out of it. It’s about making the choice to trust, even when you are riddled with doubt. It’s about knowing that there is darkness in this world, but that His goodness overcomes it.

    Because He is good.

    And He will never fail you.

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  • Behind the Scenes
  • Jean Tan: Finding Inspiration as a Songwriter

    jean-tan--guitar-

    by Jean Tan


    Everything can be inspiration.

    I remember turning my head to see the world upside down as a kid; staring at my fingers & wondering how my invisible will could control their tiny movements.

    Today, I wonder at crazy movie plots, the interesting people I meet & the mind-boggling beauty of nature. Many things speak deeply about life & its fullness: its beauty, as well as its pain.

    Once I met a taxi uncle & spoke with him at length, starting with the usual questions of how long he’d driven for & what he thought about the country. Then we arrived at the topic of his family. He hardly saw or talked to his family, seemed evasive when I asked about his children, & through the rear view mirror I saw a deep longing & loneliness in his eyes. That spoke volumes to me about humanity – & how we, like this particular uncle, drift in search for connection despite the seeming busy-ness of everyday business —

    Circle round in a taxi
    In a one-man space of a one-man car

    (‘Taxi’, from the album Dance, 2010)

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    Then there was an insane time of my life when auto-immune kidney disease jolted me out of normalcy & confined me at home months at a go across a span of 5 years. At one point I was 20kg heavier with water, puked 5 times a day for a month, & was so bloated it would take 4-5 tries each time to draw blood or inject medications. My vision was blurry, & walking was difficult.  At that point, the only thing you could do to survive was to focus your mind on what was good & give thanks. I gave thanks for a bed to lie on, for being able to stand for 20 minutes, for being able to sing, even in gasps. For still having the ability to see colour, & all its splendid arrays —

    Even when it’s lonely,
    even when it hurts sometimes
    There is so much more to see
    The little things so beautiful

    (‘Colours’, written for the 28th SEA Games, 2015)

    I’m currently working on my third album, & in the collection are songs inspired by biblical text, poets, pictures of dandelions, & a song cover by Tommy Emmanuel. Anything can be inspiration when we open our eyes to the world & our ears to hear its whispers. Peel your eyes for inspiration & get ready to receive.

    Let to, let in
    Something is waiting
    And where my heart is beating
    I have love to keep me going

    (‘Walls’, to be released in 2017)


    Jean is a part-time songwriting mentor at Awaken Generation. She has released two full-length albums (Dance, 2010; Passage, 2012) with a third to be released in the following year. She is a great educator, worship leader & wonderful woman of faith who has inspired many with her story & simple love for Jesus.