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.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

To Fail at Failing

I've made no secret of our struggles with infertility. We've wanted kids from day one, been proactively adjusting our lifestyles to make room for children. We've gone through phases of quiet waiting, waiting for the Lord to intervene naturally. We've also gone through phases when the Lord leads us to try doctors, medications, procedures, and tests that poke holes in us and cause mood swings and make the journey feel even longer.

Suffice it to say that so far, neither phases have actually brought us any children.

And you know what? Sometimes, that problem looms larger than it has to because we've just never been conditioned to face failure.

The statistics tell us what to expect. Seventy-five percent of Millenials will marry, and eighty-five percent of couples will conceive after one year of trying. The majority of Filipino marriages withstand divorce, and over half a million people in our country successfully finish college every year.

But we never expect to end up in the minority.

And to be honest? The minority isn't exactly fun.

Valentine's Day sucks when your singleness is shoved in your face. Mother's Day is the worst day of the entire year when you, still, somehow, remain childless. Seeing people celebrate their 20th, 30th, or 50th anniversary can come with a bitter sting for those in broken marriages.

Time and again, people tell me to go to certain doctors who are "so good and have made hundreds of people pregnant." What they don't know is that I've already gone to those doctors. I've been there, done that - and come home teary-eyed and empty-handed. People like me don't tell you success stories because we have don't have them.

And, also, because no one wants to hear failure stories.

No one celebrates the matchmaking session that ended with awkwardly ruined friendships. No one tells you stories of the times they've gone through intrusive procedures and ruthless rounds of medication just to chase that elusive next child. No one tells you what to do when your child's health is confirmed to have worsened rather than improved, despite your every effort to nurture him.

As Christians, when we give ourselves unequal expectations, then we're sometimes not ready to brave the disappointments that inevitably come with this life.

There are 25% of Millenials who will never get married. There are 15% of couples who will not conceive after one year of trying. There are 50% of Asian marriages that will end up in some form of estrangement or divorce. There are millions of people who face the daily reality of health struggles, widowhood, secondary infertility, or inability to finish school.

Only when the Lord is our Rock, our Strength, our Everything - can we be ready to weather those off-chances.

As Christians, we're not supposed to be poster children for earthly success. We're supposed to shine God's light and spread His salt by persevering despite earthly imperfections. Yes, the church can celebrate and give thanks for triumphs, but we can't neglect the realities of stumbles as well.

A truly strong Christian testimony should result in joy in all circumstances. A person dealing with his or her valley of the shadow of death should be able to walk up to other people in church and find true Christian encouragement rather than pity or disdain. We as Christians shouldn't be praying for a smooth-sailing life. We pray for a life of walking with God.

Having that walk is what strengthens us for real life. Having that walk is what guarantees a "successful" life - defined the right way.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Screen Curfew

I really, really hated the idea when Tim first suggested it. Anyone who knows us well enough know that we live in a 4-gadget-per-capita household (not even including the ones for work). We live online and on screen. Every spare moment is spent using a gadget of some sort, and we even wear some of ours. We talk to each other on Viber for more hours each day than we do in person. We both had to get corrective eye surgery at some point. We save all our information on multiple cloud programs. We never sell an electronic gadget without getting another one in its place.

You get the picture.

The above lifestyle is why the idea of a screen curfew - a set time when we would stop using gadgets before going to bed - sounded utterly ludicrous to me.

Why would we do that (because that's what my version of a supportive wife says)? I don't think it'll really help us sleep. Why an ENTIRE HOUR before we sleep?

It was a whole different story when we tried it.

Stopping our screen exposure for a set time before bed has lessened our entertainment options by a lot, but it's also helped us in so many other ways.

My reading habits have been restored to the classic and Christian over transient online updates. I don't go to bed with my head full of covetousness over everyone else's social media accounts. We actually talk to each other so much more in person instead of just sending each other web links of every kind. I've started journaling again, and our hearts are much more prepared for our bed-time prayers than they used to be.

I don't think we'll ever be permanently unplugged, and I don't particularly advocate that kind of lifestyle either. We live in a digital world, and we function well by reaching out to others and growing ourselves through platforms that are available online. But, that said, it's not a bad idea to take a break on a regular basis. It's a quiet time of sorts, a chance to rest and refocus.

While I still shout "No! Already?" almost every time our screen curfew hits, I've actually started to enjoy those parts of the evening better and better. Stopping screen use has become something beyond the physical. It's become a choice to detach ourselves from visual stimulation and to calm down our senses inside and out.

I don't know how long we'll manage to keep up this lifestyle, but I'd like to think we'll be enjoying these habits for quite a while to come.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Happy Wife, Happy Life?

I'm a wife, and I'm happy - most of the time.

According to the age-old adage, that means my husband should be happy- most of the time. Right?


When I'm happy, I'm easier to be around; and that fact probably makes my husband have an easier time at life, I'll admit.

But as a Christian woman, I don't want my husband to just be a genie catering to my every wish and fancy. I don't need a slave; I need a leader. And if my husband is going to be the spiritual leader of our marriage, as I want him to be (in my grown-up moments), then it's distinctly NOT his job to make me happy.

In fact, I'm thankful that he doesn't.

I'm thankful that when I want something that's bad for me, he advises me against it. I'm thankful that when I have a stupid idea (and that happens more often than I'd like to admit), he's around to be the voice of reason. I'm thankful that he knows me well enough, and is in a relationship permanent enough, to point out my flaws and show me that I'm not always right.

Does that make me upset? Uhm, yes. Does that make me give him a hard time? Hehe, yes.

But that makes him to be exactly the kind of husband God wants him to be - and the kind I need him to be. Despite my negative reactions, he does what his role demands of him; and I love him all the more for that.

Living in the thick of the matriarchal Filipino culture, it's ridiculously easy to think that women rule - that men are better off listening to their wives. It seems easier - right? Wives are happy; husbands are safe.

But that's not what a godly husband should be.

I'll say it frankly. A man who does not lead - a man who listens to his wife in everything, whose goal in life is to please his wife - is not a godly husband. He may look like a good husband to lots of people - obedient, compliant, and softspoken - but he is distinctly NOT the model of a Christian husband.

A good Christian husband exercises servant leadership. He cares and he guides. He provides and he sustains. He encourages, but he also rebukes.

I just happen to be lucky enough to be married to one.

I've heard fathers teach sons, and older men tell younger men, that the key to a happy life is to always take your wife's side and to acknowledge that she's always right.

That's a load of nonsense.

No human being is "always right," and marrying her doesn't qualify her for that label either.

I know some women might be upset at me for writing this, for "taking the man's side," so to speak. I'm sorry if my generic examples inadvertently offend. That's not my intention.

I don't take the man's side. I take God's side. I respect and honor what He designed marriage to be.

It's one man, one woman, one lifetime.

It's a leader, a helpmeet, and a commitment.

I don't always succeed in playing the role of a godly wife. I sometimes (i.e. often) take over things that are not my job. I reject the tasks my husband delegates to me, choosing instead to complain and lament. I know the model of a biblical marriage, but I seldom follow it completely.

I'm not perfect, my husband is not perfect, and our marriage is not perfect. No marriage is.

But that's why we need Him, right?

That's why Tim and I are incredibly blessed to have a biblical model to follow. We are blessed to know that God will look favorably upon a marriage where a man leads and a woman helps. We are happy to know that when the husband faithfully leads and loves, and the wife consistently respects and submits, we would be able to have a God-honoring marriage.

We've seen these principles applied, kept, and rewarded in many marriages around us. It's possible, people.

We've been given the blueprint of a truly happy marriage. Why follow anything else?

Happy God, happy marriage. And everybody wins.

Monday, January 30, 2017

When I Grow Up

"I want to be a mom!"

That was my answer from day one. I was five, having braved half a decade of existence with gusto, when I made that declaration. Over the years, other opinions came and went. I went through the flight attendant stage, the fashion designer stage, the celebrity chef stage, and even the princess stage (Prince William was still single then, okay?).

But the fundamental wish never changed.

I wanted to be a mom. That was my goal in life.

I still do want to be a mom...but that's not my goal in life.

Biology aside, becoming a good mom required being a good wife first. My urgency to get to that stage almost caused multiple stupidities as a single girl. I knew I wanted to be a mom; so I had to find a husband by necessity. At that time, any random one would do.

God, of course, had better plans. It's by His miraculous guidance that I fell in love with my husband and married him as soon as we knew it was His will.

In my mind, step one was done.

Becoming a mom - the ultimate dream - felt only a stone's throw away.

For the first 18 months of marriage, I constantly expected myself to be pregnant. Month after month, I bought pregnancy tests. Month after month, I geared myself up to buy maternity clothes. Week after week, I tracked my body. Week after week, I nodded silently as family members gave me mythic tips on how to get pregnant. Day after day, I sacrificed high heels and caffeine and eating processed food.

Day after day, I cried.

Why wasn't it happening? Upon multiple occasions, I had dear older people in church walking up to me to say, "You should have kids as soon as possible. Don't wait until you're older."

It pained me every single time to say, "I know. I know."

I wasn't waiting. We wanted kids, and we wanted them right away. We even expected to be holding a child (or at least a pregnant belly) by the time our first anniversary rolled along.

God didn't let that happen.

We ran tests. We took medication. We consulted doctors both Western and Oriental in training. We consulted doctors for women, doctors for men. We got masseuses, herbs, vitamins, and a dozen other means of supposedly aiding fertility.

Our bodies aren't perfect. We can have kids, but it's hard to have them.

The thought was sobering.

But God is our sun and shield. No good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless.

He is the strength of our hearts, and our portion forever.

He sent people to cross our paths. A wonderful church deaconess reminded me that having children or not didn't matter in eternity. A pastor's wife shared with me that God's legacy in us reached beyond that of sons or daughters. A loving husband reminds me repeatedly that he will never love me any less even if I never bear him any children.

Don't get me wrong. We received tons of wrong advice too.

Some people said that it would surely happen someday, though they couldn't guarantee it. Some people told me I just didn't have enough faith. Some others claimed that I just "didn't want it enough."

Friends and family conceive - quickly and repeatedly - and I feel that life is just utterly unfair.

They sound silly in my saner days. But whenever I come home after a family reunion where EVERYONE had a kid, I feel lonely and sad and feeling entirely inadequate. When Mother's Day rolls around and a new mother runs up to me to say, "Look! Look! I have a baby now!"...I still go home and cry out half of my body's water content.

It's in those days that I forget what it truly means to be a Christian, and all the wrong advice sounds almost right.

Being a Christian means that there is nothing on earth I desire besides God. It means that despite what society might tell me, my life is not missing anything.

I am complete.

I am complete in Him.

I am not living an unfinished life. I am not in any way less of a person than the person with half a dozen kids. I am a child of a King. That's all that matters.

Hey, guess I did end up being a princess, after all.

When I grow up, I still want to be a mom; but I don't HAVE to be one.

Not having children allows us to study, to shop, to grow, to travel, and to do so many things we wouldn't be able to if we were tied down with any children. Not having kids lets us have so many more years alone to prune and fine-tune our marriage. Not having kids helps me understand what it means to be complete, complete in my God.

I am the child of a King. Nothing else really matters. And even when I forget that at times, it doesn't make it any less true.