Friday, January 18, 2019

The 10 Year Challenge

Watching the recent wave of Facebook posts that contrast one's former looks and current one forced me to exercise some long-due introspection.

Age has definitely touched me in the last ten years. My skin and weight and general health are not, and probably never will be, the same as they were as a college freshman ten years ago. My life is fulfilling and happy and blessed, but it's also taken on a form that my "doctorate-degree-holder-and-world-reknowned-novelist-mother-of-three-who-has-it-all" younger dreamer self would never have pictured. God's ways are higher than our ways, and His will takes us places we probably would never have pictured ourselves.

For me, however, the most thought-provoking part of these posts was the way they compelled me to consider how much I've changed from a spiritual perspective.

If I were able to contrast my behavior from ten years ago and today, would the two images reflect two levels of growth - or the same immaturity, selfishness, entitlement, self-righteousness, insecurity, and fears? If these two versions of me could converse with one another, would my younger self be able to glean from added wisdom from the older - or would my older self just agree with all the follies of youth in which my younger self delighted?

And even if I've moved on from certain obsessions or habits of the past - have I outgrown them or merely replaced them with a new array of idols?

It's fun to play a game of contrasts. I've seen so many old and new pictures of my friends and family placed side by side to fun, cute, or even comedic effect. The "10-year-challenge" is a fun thing to do.

But these posts are also a chance for self-examination in the things the human eye can't see.

I can only hope that in God's eyes, He would consider this older version of me someone kinder, wiser, more dedicated, and more joyful than the person I was before.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Six Great Books That Defined My Teenage Years

My mom taught me all my letters by the time I was two years old. I started to read, if I remember correctly, way before I turned four. It's been life-altering that I have been able to have the blessing of literacy ever since.

Having an Internet-free childhood meant that I grew up reading, a lot. We had television and cable eventually, but my parents were very strict about how much screen time we were allowed to have, particularly on school days. Those restrictions just meant that we had more time - to read and read some more.

And just because I'm turning thirty and feeling that my teenage years happened a lifetime ago, here is a list I want to share of six books (or series, in some cases, sorry I cheated) that shaped and defined who I am as a woman. I read them long ago, but their influences are still strong in my life today.

Some of these books may feel outdated now. Some of them have more archaic phrasing or seemingly antiquated values.

But I still stand by them.

And I hope young girls today can read them too - and be blessings of their wisdom as well.

1. Beautiful Girlhood by Mabel Hale. There are very few books written specifically for Christian teenage girls, and this is one of the best among those that have been done. I am blessed to have read it way before I read the world's warped versions of what a girl or woman ought to be. The book tackles very relevant topics for young teenage girls, even if they're not the most fun to talk about (sincerity and character, anyone?). My mom got me the book early on but had me wait until I was twelve to read it. That wait definitely made me feel proud that I had finally earned the right to read the book!

2. Authentic Beauty by Leslie Ludy. I am a supporter of almost everything the wonderful Leslie Ludy writes, but this is the one work from her that has shaped me the most. While I also love When God Writes Your Love Story by Leslie and her husband, this book on beauty standards and a longing for true love is what truly shaped my life and perspective. It helps too that the book tackles the very unique part of life that is young womanhood, in a distinctly modern way.

3. Boy Meets Girl by Joshua Harris. I know a lot of pastors and leaders swear by the culture-altering message in the sort-of-prequel I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and I agree that it was a game-changing book in so many great ways. What really helped me more, however, was Harris' second book: the one aptly subtitled "say hello to courtship." The practical, godly principles in the book shaped how I learned to handle my own dating season with my now-husband, and it helped me heal from the mistakes I've made in my own life. I would not be where I am and who I am without it.

And then we get to the fiction portion. Yehey!

4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I've never been subtle about my love for Austen works, and my tendency to be an "impertinent, headstrong girl" at times lends me so much resonance with the spirited Elizabeth Bennet in particular. How cool is it that she had to earn her right to a happy ending by changing her own perspectives? Who knew contemporary Regency England gentry had so many funny and witty similarities with modern Asian cultures?

5. Anne of Green Gables Series by L.M. Montgomery. There have been many adaptations of this over the years, some more faithful than others (okay, fine, most of them very unfaithful), but the Anne Shirley we get to know in the book is so much more than the sighing dreamy creature in some earlier adaptations or the defiant feminist in more recent ones. The original Anne is such a unique blend of charm and intelligence and silliness and warmth that there really has never been quite another character like her in all of literature. Her community's very wholesome, Christian setting is also such a refreshing difference from today's angsty teenage books!

6. The Chronicles of Narnia Series by C.S. Lewis. I have long lost track of how many times I've read the Chronicles of Narnia Series. The original copies my family owned were in literal tatters by the time my brothers and I were through with them. I started reading my first Narnia book at age 9, and I read and reread it and all the others all the way to adulthood. The theological and story-telling magic in each book are timeless and compelling. Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen!

May the Lord keep using these books to raise more young people for His glory.

Friday, May 11, 2018

An Open Mother's Day Letter to the Childless Women around the World

Dear Ladies,

Yes, it's Mother's Day weekend again. It's that most horrible day in the entire year once more.

It's that day when social media is plastered with pictures of old and new families showing off their first, fifth, or fiftieth Mother's Day in your face. It's the day when every single restaurant is filled with promotions that don't apply to you. It's the day when every single time or place is a reminder of what we want and cannot have.

I've been there, I'm still there, and I will be here for as long as Providence wants me to be.

I'm happily married to a wonderful husband. We get to travel and save up and honeymoon forever in ways our peers who are tied down with kids can't. We have mothers and grandmothers who love us and pray for us, and we celebrate them. Life is good. But still, infertility sucks.

It takes a while for the term to sink in, doesn't it? In-fertility: what a term. It's as if we're rotten, incomplete, or broken. "Single" is a different term from "married" altogether. "Joy" and "sadness" even sound unalike. But "infertility"? That's labeling us by something we don't have. It's like being called abnormal, imperfect, or substandard.

And it stings like crazy.

It took me two years and a gazillion articles before I could accept the label. It takes time to acknowledge that maybe the timeline of my life isn't the norm. And it also takes time to accept that I can be happy exactly where I am.

And then the second Sunday of May happens.

Boom! The floodgates open, and I am a sobbing mess once more.

There's nothing wrong with Mother's Day. It's wonderful to celebrate the love of mothers everywhere, and it's perfectly fine to share that joy publicly.

But for those of us who pine so painfully, try so relentlessly, pray so unceasingly, and yearn so deeply for children - but don't have them - Mother's Day can feel like a slap on the face.

It's like Valentine's Day for singles, I know.

And it's a pain I wouldn't wish on anyone.

I know what it feels like to be mistaken for pregnant at a mall, given a free item, and have that item taken back once they realize I was just fat. I know what it feels like to attend a family reunion where every woman greets the other ladies enthusiastically with a loud, cheery, "Happy Mother's Day!" only to stop awkwardly when they get to me.

I've even stood to the side at church, trying to subdue my tears while all the other women greet each other. Then in the midst of my vehement struggle, a young mom who was formerly facing infertility rushes up to me to say, "Wen! Look! I have a baby now! Come see! Come see!"

For a day so wonderful and warm and full of maternal love, today sure sucks.

But it doesn't end there.

Thank God, it doesn't end there.

Because I am living for something greater than myself.

Ladies, meet Jesus. He is the Lover of My Soul. He is the ever-living God. He is everything I could ever want and everything I have.

And He doesn't love me any less even if I never have children.

In fact, He gives me anything that could possibly be good for me. After all, there is no good thing that He withholds from those who walk His way.

I love Him.

And He loves me.

That is more than the love any throngs of children could give me.

He shows His love in so many ways, including through a devoted husband.

And whether or not I have children one day will never diminish how much I am worth to Him. He will never greet me by an earthly label and then apologize for His mistake. He will never stare awkwardly at me, not knowing what to say. He will also never measure me by how I compare to the expected norms of life.

And because of Him, I can watch others celebrate and not find myself lacking. Because of Him, I can learn to be joyful in all circumstances. Because of Him, I can survive the onslaught of Mother's Day.

Would you let Him do the same for you?


Friday, April 13, 2018

The Friendship Agreement

From the very first moment that we got married, we learned to share our friends.

In Christian life, the merging of two people as one in the eyes of God is something very, very profound and, sometimes, unfathomable. When God leads two people to marry, He's asking them to combine everything they know, have, and are to make a new unit. It's about not keeping secrets. It's about sharing everything in your heart and home. It's about merging families and about creating something new from two old things.

And that new thing includes the wonderful, dangerous thing called friendship.

In today's world where both men and women live single lives that have family gatherings, educational adventures, personal hobbies, and social practices even before they meet their future spouse, the merging of two people into a new social unit can be a more extensive process than one expects. Every time a couple gets together, gets engaged, or gets married, there are multiple social adjustments on their way.

Family members need to be introduced. Past stories need to be recounted. Daily tasks need to be discussed, and future plans need to be shared.

And one of those crucial areas of adjustment - is friendship, particularly with friends of the opposite gender.

My husband grew up with two sisters and numerous female cousins. While his close friends growing up were mostly boys, there have always been female friends for him in church, in school, and in other areas of life. I grew up with two brothers. That ratio in our home has made me enjoy hobbies and intellectual discussions with guy friends all my life. No matter my stage in life, I almost always had as many male friends as female friends.

That background meant that we needed to learn to share our friends, extensively.

In our marriage, we've agreed to never maintain opposite-sex friendship for any individual. In other words, I will not maintain close friendships with my guy friends (or make new guy friends) without including my husband. My husband will not maintain close friendships with his female friends (or make new female friends) without including me.

It makes for an interesting mix.

Because we aim for that particular sort of marriage, we end up having three kinds of cherished friends in the long run:

1. Couple friends - where the boy and girl are friends with both of us.
2. Single friends - individual guys and gals who are close to both of us.
3. Same gender friends - female friends I keep in touch with, or guy friends my husband keeps in touch with, often without the other spouse involved.

That list, of course, is more of a generalization. There are also cousin friends and work friends. There are social media friends and strangers-turned-friends we meet in the most random gatherings and places. There are many different sources and kinds of friends.

But, still, anyone that grows to be a long-term personal friend belongs in one of the three categories.

These things don't happen overnight.

Just because we both agree we only want to maintain those three sorts of close friendships doesn't mean we automatically have them.

In order to grow socially from two individuals to one, we had to make a few adjustments.

1. Share friends. The first thing, and often the happiest and simplest thing, is to introduce existing friends to each other. Whenever I meet a college friend, I might contact the girls on my own but always involve my husband when we meet the guys. When we visit my husband's hometown, he introduces me to all of his friends (male and female) and goes out with any of them only when I accompany him. Existing friends of one spouse can become new friends of both spouses - and it's a wonderful thing to share life that way

2. Find friends. Sometimes, it's not so easy to share existing friends. Maybe there's a distance thing. Maybe there's bad blood. Maybe there's the simple fact that spouses and friends may speak different languages, come from different cultures, or enjoy different things. Maybe there's no time or chance to meet up. Sometimes, in the most serendipitous ways, God leads us to new people who will befriend both of us in unique ways. I never advocate "replacing" friends by ignoring past friends and intentionally finding new ones. I do advocate being open to God's leading - and to the people He may place in our lives in a new chapter. 

3. Choose friends. Now, this is the most controversial of our choices. We believe - unanimously - that if any of our friends simply refuse to include our spouse in the friendship, then we must prioritize our spouse. Refusal, of course, can come in different forms. Just because a female friend, whom we share, has more common topics with my husband isn't wrong. Just because a guy friend of ours alternates talking to me, to my husband, and to both of us isn't bad. Refusal is involved when a friend bad-mouths or belittles our spouse. Refusal is involved when a guy just wants to be friends with me, without my husband; or, vice versa, when a girl just wants to be friends with him, without me. Any friend who insists on that - is offering a friendship we're afraid we can't maintain.

It's all nice theoretically, but we often have to take some physical steps before we can achieve what we both believe in.

When we communicate with any opposite-gender friends, we talk about it with our spouse. When we talk extensively with any opposite-gender friends - online or in person - we try our best to include our spouse in the conversation (which means we have lots and lots of three-persons or four-persons Viber groups, even if only two people are doing the actual talking). We know each other's account passwords for e-mail, social media, gadgets, etc., if not share our accounts altogether.

We never promise to keep secrets from each other - and tell anyone who confides in us that our spouse will know all. We never plan, and wholeheartedly avoid, isolated time with friends of the opposite sex, from sharing a car to grabbing coffee to grabbing lunch. We never spend more than a week or a few days apart, whether it's for work, for family, or for ministry. We want our social choices to reflect the fact that we are one, not two.

All couples who adhere to the same principles have their own ways of making sure they are never socially isolated with people of the opposite sex. Many of our pastors share e-mails as husband and wife. My father will include his driver in a meal when he's accompanied by a female colleague. My husband's family encourages wives to accompany their husbands on business trips. Some of our friends will always bring their spouse to any social activity. Some other friends share all their mail and e-mail and financial transactions.

How we strive for the same goals can vary. The means is not absolute.

What is absolute is the goal of safeguarding and protecting our marriage - of making sure that we never jeopardize it by allowing any friend to become more important to us than our spouse is. What is absolute is the need to treasure our marriage - and to never allow anything, even something as great as friendship, to have the chance of getting in the way.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Thing with Traveling

When Tim and I started dating six years ago, we made a mutual agreement that we wouldn't take any out-of-town, overnight trips on our own until we got married. Anytime we were anywhere beyond an hour or two of our then-homes, we were with friends or with family - all of whom were very Christian, very vigilant chaperones. The rule made traveling awkward. Of course it did. (my dad kept a very keen eye on us and our photographer when my family accompanied us to our engagement photoshoot in Davao.) But, ultimately, we are thankful that we made that decision and fought to keep it.

When Tim and I discussed the decision to steer away from unchaperoned traveling when we were still unmarried, there were two words that struck us strongly in forming our convictions: "Testimony" and "Temptation."

Should unmarried couples have physical relationships before marriage? No. Can well-meaning, committed, Christian couples travel by themselves and not commit immorality? Yes, they can. There is no inherent sin involved in the act of seeing the world as a dating couple. I know couples who made sure to stay in separate rooms when traveling (in some cases, separates beds - so they say). I know couples who visit family together and choose to undergo the entire visit with only the highest standards of chastity. I know couples who did travel together and didn't participate in premarital sex.

That said, it wasn't a choice we believed wise for us.

The first reason behind our decision was testimony - a word that sounds so simple but requires a lifestyle that is actually profound.

Technically, a couple can share a house, a room, a car, or just any personal space by themselves without falling into sin. No one can be certain, no matter how much they'd like to say so, that anything untoward is happening between unaccompanied couples. There is, however, an undeniable possibility that unchaperoned traveling becomes interpreted to be a time unmarried couples engage in improper physical relationships. We wanted to avoid that chance to even be misinterpreted this way, and I am glad we chose what we did.

The second reason behind our decision to avoid traveling unchaperoned when we were dating was, in all frankness, temptation.

The charged emotions involved in a dating - and particularly engaged - relationship can make even the most sensible people talk themselves into nonsensical choices. The intimacy created by the lack of an audience can fuel those emotions to even crazier heights. Ever heard people say they were crazy about each other? That statement itself should be a clue into the unmanageable feelings that come into play when two people fall in love.

We, as a couple, decided that we didn't want to place ourselves in situations where that kind of emotion runs free. In order for us to save ourselves for marriage the way God wanted us to, we needed to take steps towards making that goal achievable.

After Tim and I started dating, our courtship proceeded quickly. The support of our families and both of our knowledge that this was a relationship rolling towards marriage led us to marry about ten months after becoming "official." The wedding planning went by in a stressful whirlwind. Before we knew it, we were on our honeymoon in a cruise to Mexico and Belize. The first time we stepped foot together on foreign shore was a shared adventure of love, joy, hope, and discovery.

We still travel these days. We often make short trips to neighboring countries and the occasional longer trip to farther parts of the world. When we travel, we share our love of eating new foods and learning new languages, of seeing historic sites and meeting interesting people, of broadening our horizons and bringing home our load of souvenirs. I love traveling, and getting to see the world with the man I love most in this world is a joy I will never trade away.

How wonderful it is to share our hearts and lives and itineraries! The thrill of our daytime visits only enhance the warmth of our nighttime snuggles. When we see new things and places, everything we learn and enjoy becomes an immovable part of us - of the life we've created together.

We didn't choose to see the world as a dating couple because we get to explore the universe as a married couple - frankly a much better thing, in my opinion. The reasons we avoided solitary traveling then still stand for us today. We still try, day after day, to avoid choices that jeopardize our testimony or provide undue temptation. The rewards are beautiful beyond compare. And, frankly, things are much, much happier this way.