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Marriage is Great, But…

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Weekly dates. Flowers. Candlelit dinners. Holding hands while walking. Holding hands while biking. Holding hands while reading. That tingly feeling that no English word can accurately describe when your loved one is near.

Who doesn’t want that? I mean, why else would we cry and sigh over fast food commercials that tug our hearts?

Enter your married friends. Or just the statistics on marriage. They tell you how married life is challenging. And how you wake up after honeymoon period is over and realize just how idealistic you were when you were single. And how surreal that you just used to appreciate the cinematography on films showing expectations versus reality… and now you’re living in it.

You hear about couples fighting over small things like leaving the lights on at night when you go to sleep, leaving the toilet seat up, squeezing the toothpaste tube in different parts, etc. That’s not even the worst of it. How can you submit to your husband when you think he’s making the wrong decision? How can you deal with the aftermath of a wrong decision? And personally, that makes me hesitant about tying the knot.

Because the reality is that, yes… Marriage is GREAT and all, but let’s face it…

… BEING SINGLE IS MORE COMFORTABLE.

I get to decide on anything without consulting anyone. I’m free to squeeze my toothpaste tube anywhere. I can sleep in the dark in peace. I can decide on my weekly menu at a snap of the finger. I don’t have to work my schedule around anyone.

So, why in the world should I want to get married?

I want to get married because only in marriage can my selfishness come to the surface. And when it does, then I can deal with it by the grace of God. I realize that even the fact that I want to get married to someone who I have a lot of things in common with shows how selfish I can be. It shows my unwillingness to adjust.  Marriage is not comfortable because I have to face the fact that I’m not as mature as I thought I was and that I’m not even close to being like Christ. But I cannot change what I am ignorant of. When I get married, I’m afraid to know how evil I can be and yet I look forward to rooting it out of me. I want to get married not because I want someone to make me happy. I want him to be committed to make me like Christ. I want him to look forward to God telling me in heaven, “Well done, good and faithful servant” and know that he has been a big part of that commendation. I love how Tim Keller stated it in The Meaning of Marriage.

The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us. Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.

In marriage, you get to experience a reflection of God’s love. The kilig, the romance, the intimacy you get to enjoy, the milestones you accomplish together, the children you get to raise, the blessings you enjoy… those are just bonuses. And that’s really AWESOME.

So yes, I want to get married because marriage is great, but…

… IT IS NOT THE GREATEST.

The love of God that is shown in Jesus dying on the cross still is the greatest love one can experience.  It is God who first knows the worst of us and yet still chose to die a painful death on the cross for us. It says in the Bible:

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, ESV)

It is only in knowing the depth of God’s love do we desire to be selfless in a relationship. Another quote from The Meaning of Marriage articulates this experience so well.

When over the years someone has seen you at your worst, and knows you with all your strengths and flaws, yet commits him- or herself to you wholly, it is a consummate experience. To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.

So, for the single people, be excited as you wait, but for the right reasons and with less idealistic expectations. Wait on someone who is committed to become more like Christ because then, you are both sure of your desire to choose truth and love in the relationship. For the married ones, my hope is that your spouse is as committed to be selfless in your relationship as you are. But if he/she is not, there is always hope in Christ.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1Corinthians 13:7, ESV)

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Wisdom from the (Parent)Hood 2: A Mess Management

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Well, you can always give her a bath again :P.

It’s interesting when you find yourself in another nation with an entirely different culture, and yet because you share the same faith, you have the same perspective that transcends the differences. Today’s blog is in honor of a dedicated wife and mother, who taught me so much with how she lives her life and raises her children without the benefit of a stay-in helper (the way we have them in the Philippines) and with only God’s grace to back her up.

During one of our random discussions, Anna told me how she was able to raise her children to be responsible and capable at a very young age. Her 15 year old daughter can look after her two siblings with her eyes closed; her 10 year old daughter cooked a whole meal during my stay because their mom got sick (said daughter also brought up a tray of food for her); her 4 year old son is a pro in washing dishes (we’re talking about ceramic bowls and plates here).  On my latest visit, she taught me a very important lesson. All her kids were able to use chopsticks, spoons, and forks expertly at 3 years of age.  She started training them at 1 year and 3 months. ONE YEAR and THREE MONTHS? That must have made quite a mess! Laughingly, she admitted that she put layers of newspaper under her baby’s high chair when she started training each of them. After lots of food throwing and utensil banging, she could just clean up her baby, wipe the high chair, and then roll up the newspaper straight into the trash. You’ll have to learn to deal with a messy kitchen because once babies are past 2 years old and have not learned to feed themselves, they would expect to be spoon fed every time and it gets harder to wean them from it. So yes, take that short, opportune time that they desire to learn and just deal with the messy aftermath, because it will be worth it not having to pander to their needs every mealtime.

Come to think of it, there’s a parallel in our spiritual walk. There is an opportune time when someone new in the faith desires to go deeper in his or her walk with God. We should always take that time to encourage them to seek God daily, go deeper into studying His word, and obey Him no matter what to exercise their faith muscles. We remind them that their faith is their own, and that there are some faith journeys which they will need to walk by themselves. We also encourage them to share their faith and their passion by leading others to Christ. When we miss this golden opportunity, we end up with entitled Christians, expecting to be fed all the time and to be entertained all the time, and are unwilling to serve the church or reach the lost. Yes, the process can be messy–there may be mistakes in doctrine, there may be bursts of impatience with people who do not respond, or there may be offenses. But the mess is the best opportunity to exercise forgiveness, love, humility and dependence on God. To be honest, if the mess produces responsible servant leaders, I’d take the mess anytime.

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Wisdom from the (Parent)Hood 1: Reward Systems

3122985108-undermining-children-s-intrinsic-interest-with-extrinsic-rewardsAs a way to honor my parents, I’ll be writing about how they have influenced us to become who we are now. Like any earthly parent, they are not perfect, but I believe they have mostly been wise.

Some time ago, our parents were interviewed in a local radio program on how to raise kids who are “achievers”. My mom was honestly at a loss. She never did intentionally set out to push us to achieve. One thing she and our Dad did agree on, was that we would be raised in an environment where we will crave to learn. If they splurged on any kid stuff, it would be on anything educational.

We were never rewarded for getting awards or high grades. They believed that the feeling of fulfillment we get when we learn something new is reward enough for us, although they would appreciate us not for the recognition we get, but for setting out to always increase our learning. As a sign of appreciation for our hard work, we would have some kind of celebration, but we never thought of the celebration as a reward. Instead, it was an acknowledgement of our courage in facing a challenge to grow.

Even as little kids, they trained us to discern if an activity offered growth for us and to dismiss anything that would allow us to stagnate, which made it easy for us to not get addicted to the boob tube. I remember getting hooked with a digital game and my grades suffered. They did not punish me for it, but I came to a realization that I missed a lot of opportunities to learn, so I stopped. When I travelled for competitions more than I studied in my senior year in high school, which led to lower-than-usual grades, they did not freak out. Instead, they showed me how travelling exposed me to things I would never have learned inside the classroom otherwise.

So, dear Tatay and Nanay, thank you both for showing us how to value education and how to have the right attitude towards achievement. I love you to bits.

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Wonderfully Terrifying

blog images.002A few years ago, I did a Bible Reading plan during Christmas season, entitled Rediscovering the Christmas Season.

It was very refreshing especially since there are application questions to reflect on for every passage.  One passage was particularly striking since it was something that I had read over and over again and yet somehow overlooked.  It seems when it comes to the Bible, I suck at being an active reader sometimes =P.  Maybe that’s why we need to always re-read.

The passage was in Luke 2:1-20.  In a nutshell, it’s about a group of shepherds being informed that Jesus Christ was born and how they responded to the news.  One of the application questions struck me: “Have you had an experience where God interrupted your life with an important message? How was that a combination of terrifying and wonderful?”

I thought of dramatic instances when God sent an angel to speak to me audibly or probably appear to me in a dream and I came up with NOTHING.  I don’t know why us girls always look for drama.  Maybe it’s in our genetic makeup. LOL.

Then I came upon the realization that the all-important message that both terrified me and awed me was no different from the message that the shepherds received that night.  They probably were wrapped up in their own lives before this encounter.  They were probably aiming for the “Shepherd of the Month” award, or finding ways to successfully keep off the wolves from the flock, or maybe discovering the DNA to make the sheep produce more wool, hence more money =).

And then came the announcement, “A baby has been born who will both be your Savior and your Lord.  That means he will not just die for you, he will also be in charge.”  And that was exactly what the terrifying message of God was to me…that I am just an ordinary human being, when all along, I thought I came to save the world in one form or another =P… I thought I had everything figured out and I thought that my life would be extraordinary in the eyes of everyone (glory to me!).  It terrified me to think that I may not get into the ranks of the rich and the famous.

But what awed me was that to this great big God, even if I would live an ordinary life in my eyes or in the eyes of other people, if I live for Him, it will be an extraordinary life in His eyes, and that is all that matters.

After all, if I did become rich and famous, people will forget about me someday. The story of my life will be buried in a dusty corner or in the deepest recesses of the minds of the future generation.  But what matters in the light of eternity, is that God has an extraordinary purpose for me even if I am just an ordinary teacher, employee, missionary, daughter, and sister (and someday, wife and mom).  That is what’s wonderful about God, He always picks the ordinary things, places, and people to bring about the extraordinary, not for our glory, but for His =).

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Discipleship is Teamwork

Small group circa 2010. Everyone's a small group leader now!A few months ago, I was speaking with a new small group leader. Due to a recent influx of new members in her group, she is worried that she will not be able to effectively disciple these women.  She has a full time job and they did not work near each other, so she was worried she could not effectively guide them in their newfound faith. Then I asked her, “Why do you think you are alone in this?” I shared to her that I found myself in the same position six years ago. I was a new small group leader at Victory Fort and it was the first time for me to handle young professionals.  Before this, I handled students and I knew I was not entirely equipped to lead single professionals, who have an entirely different set of issues to deal with. I had five new girls, all of whom needed to go through personal discipleship.  I admit, I could not do personal discipleship with more than two people in the same period.  I like to focus on one, if possible. And yet, I could not miss the golden opportunity for the rest to grow in their relationship with God.

Joint small group cook-off competition

Joint small group cook-off competition (Lindsey’s coaching and small group, Novie’s small group, Gwen and I as guests)

Honestly, though, we were never taught in campus ministry that we have to do discipleship alone.  One of the biggest discipleship lessons I learned from Victory LB is to connect new believers with as many mature Christians as possible. So that night, I asked God for someone to help me. The next day, I saw one of the girls I volunteer in Kids Church with. She was having lunch alone in the cafeteria, and since I usually hate to see others eating by themselves (unless they give off the “Don’t bother me, please” vibe), I approached her and made small talk.

Joint small group Christmas party three years ago

Joint small group Christmas party three years ago

During the course of our conversation, I learned that she was looking for a victory group, since her leader joined a church plant. So, I invited her to my group. And, boy, was she was such a great addition! She helped me with the other girls who were ready for personal discipleship. Moreover, she was also a volunteer in Kids Church and helped me encourage the other girls to volunteer as well. Volunteering together brought us closer to each other, as well as to other people not in our group. This method of teaming up and connecting new people to others became a culture in our group.  In the past few years, we’ve travelled together for fun and we’ve gone to missions trips together. We’ve gone through different seasons in life. We’ve been bridesmaids to those who got married and godmothers to their children.  We’ve offended each other when we spoke the truth in love and yet resolved those offenses with forgiveness. We’ve prayed through ups and downs and we’ve had one goal in mind: for each of us to honor God and make disciples.

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Missions trip to Indonesia with Lindsey and Gwen

More than just different women placed in the same small group, we have become the greatest of friends despite each one being a leader of a different small group already.  We’ve also done our best to connect the girls in our groups with each other. I look forward to more years of shared life with them.

So, if you find yourself becoming a new leader and floundering, know that you need not be alone.  Seek to connect by asking God and looking for opportunities to team up with someone. And because this is all for His glory, surely He has prepared a teammate for you already.

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The applause of the fickle-minded

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For most of my life, I’ve striven to please people around me, especially those closest to my heart.  Sometimes, even up to now, whenever I make a decision, the reaction of these people matter so much to me, even to the point of driving me to doubt or to fear whenever I expect a negative one.

Yesterday, I read a chapter in the Bible that reminded me how fickle-minded human beings really are– so much so that we need to establish first what we believe in, and consequently, our values and our priorities, so that during those times that we get negativity or even opposition, we stick to what we’ve decided on.

The bible excerpt I’m referring to is Luke 4:14-30.  To summarize the story, Jesus had just come from a powerful time with God in the desert, and his values were tested by Satan.  Because he knew what he believed in, he was able to shoot down every temptation by quoting the word of God.  Now, it was time to start his ministry.  As he finished the introduction to his first “preaching” in his hometown, his neighbors declared their admiration.

Everyone spoke well of him and was amazed by the gracious words that came from his lips. ‘How can this be?’ they asked. ‘Isn’t this Joseph’s son?'” (Luke 4:22)

But in the next breath, as Jesus exposed the truth of what was in their hearts, they were ready to kill him.

“‘But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown. Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.’  When they heard this, the people in the synagogue were furious. Jumping up, they mobbed him and forced him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push him over the cliff, but he passed right through the crowd and went on his way.” (Luke 4:24 – 30)

I am just amazed at the calmness of Jesus and I chuckle at the frustration his neighbors must have felt when their intention to hurt Jesus did not faze him at all.  Jesus knew Who he aimed to please, and it certainly was not his family, nor his relatives, nor his childhood friends and this gave him a peace beyond understanding.

Likewise, whenever we make unpopular decisions, there is nothing that would give us peace of mind better than knowing that we have the applause of the One whose opinion matters most. 

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A Performance-Mindset Kills Love

Love of a Lifetime

I grew up in a family where excellence is implicitly expected from each one. My parents never said so, but everyone else around us thought it was a given that we would do better than others academically and professionally. After all, both parents studied at the esteemed Unibersidad ng Pilipinas (my parents were in the same yearbook and little did my mom know that the funny-looking stick-thin guy she and her friends were laughing at would become the man she’d marry someday, haha).

Our eldest sister raised the bar high. She graduated on top of their class in elementary and got into U.P High School. In college, aside from being the Student Council Representative, she also was quite the athlete, graduated magna cum laude from U.P. and was in the Top 6 of the CPA board exam.

My next sister did well herself. She got into the same high school, graduated from U.P. and proceeded to become a medical doctor.

As the third daughter and the middle child, I had high expectations from myself. I wanted no less than to outperform my older sisters. I wanted my own identity to not be lost in the shadow of my siblings’ outstanding performances.

I aimed to be on top of all my classes, from elementary to college. I wanted to go into the same schools so all the teachers would remember me as they remembered my sisters.

To make the long story short, I got what I wanted, but I didn’t realize that I carried with me all the pride that came with a performance mindset.

During the course of my college years, I came to know the truth that God loves me no matter who I am or what I do or how accomplished I was. I don’t need to impress him so I could go to heaven. I need not perform before him.

Still, I didn’t realize that I was a slave to performance. I thought I just wanted to be excellent.

I had a list of how a Christian should act and I expected others to abide by the list as I have done. I expected myself to conform, to perform, and I was disappointed when I or others did not meet my expectations. I carried that mindset subconsciously even up to the time I taught in UP.

I expected my students to excel…rationalizing that since I was able to survive even the worst terror teacher, then they could meet the level of excellence I’ve set before them. The thing was, I wasn’t even willing to help them excel. They were on their own. If they needed help to catch up, it wasn’t my job to help them. They need to survive and excel in the course. On their own. Alone. I was thinking in my puffed up pride, “…like I did“.

Then after my second year of teaching, I encountered a rut called burn out.

I was trying to excel at work, in the ministry, in my master’s education, in pursuing God. Everything was dependent on me.

To my horror, I failed. 

My students found me unapproachable. The women I mentored felt too much pressure from me to adhere to the “standards.” I was having a hard time loving my master’s courses. My times with God were dry. I felt incapable of love and I felt unloved.

That was when I realized that God didn’t expect me to do all that on my own. Because of my pride, I thought everything I excelled in in the past were due to my own efforts. But I realized that it was only because of God’s love and grace that I was able to excel. That without him, I wouldn’t even have survived, much less excel.

I was so overwhelmed with the realization and I couldn’t stop crying for days. I was sorry for those times I was too hard on myself and consequently, on others.

I thought about all my students who were failing in my class. Although they never heard detrimental words from me, they never felt hope from me either, nor did they receive any assistance to understand the course better.

I thought about the women who came to me brokenhearted and needing comfort, but instead were met with an unsympathetic ear and a barrage of unencouraging tips to be better equipped next time. They came away uncomforted and worse, feeling weak and pressured to have higher expectations from themselves.

I can only say “Sorry” to these people and pray and hope that God can redeem my actions–for not giving them the love they need– for not giving the grace and mercy that were given to me when I myself make mistakes.

And I thank God for making me realize just how far I was from meeting His expectations on my own and despite that He continues loves me like no one can.

Now, I can love much because, likewise, I realized that I am loved and forgiven much.