Before and After I Do (19th Edition)

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One of our passions (Edric and I) is equipping soon-to-be married couples and young married couples with biblical principles for successful marriages. We’d like to think of this as a preventive approach to the challenges people will face in their marriage. It’s much harder to go the prescriptive route, when couples come to us with major issues in order to heal what is broken.

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These Before and After I Do seminars first began with our friends, John and Monique Ong of ImagineNation Photography who thought of inviting their clients to a marriage preparation event. Having come from broken relationships themselves, they were burdened to help couples start their marriages out with God at the center. Over the years, we have continued to partner together to mount this seminar, and we’ve recruited several of our friends to team-teach with us as well.

Manny and Lisa Manansala, for example, were once upon a time on the verge of giving up on their marriage. But, after applying God’s principles, especially in the area of husband and wife roles, their marriage was revived. Today, they serve in the Family Ministry of our church.
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Edric and I, and our friends, do this because we want to equip couples with bible-based principles for a successful marriage. (None of the fees for the event go to any of us. The amount couples pay for covers lunch, materials, and venue use.) Our collective desire is to see healthy marriages giving birth to healthy families who will impact the world positively for Jesus!

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Marriage can be the most amazing relationship on earth or it can be like, pardon me, but I have to say it, LIKE HELL. The good news is no matter what stage a marriage is at, God is a master rebuilder. What we may describe as “beyond hope” can be pieced back together by Him. I’ve seen this happen over and over again. Here’s the even better news…if a marriage has the opportunity to begin the right way, a husband and wife can be spared from the heartaches that so many relationships get shipwrecked by.

The Before and After I Do Workshop is a one day seminar that targets soon-to-be weds and newly married couples. It will be held on April 18 (8 AM to 5 PM) covering four key topics — God’s Design for Marriage, Marriage Roles, Communication, and Forgiveness. Check out more information on this event and other related seminars at CCF’s Family Ministry site and Before I Do’s site. You can also contact Hanna at 0927-614-2582 or 866-9900 loc. 8828.

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When Kids See Mom and Dad Kissing

“Unless it’s mad, passionate, extraordinary love, it’s a waste of your time. There are too many mediocre things in life. Love shouldn’t be one of them.” – Dreams for an Insomniac

IMG_3756-0.JPGElijah caught sight of Edric and me, while we were dancing in our hallway. Edric had picked me up and spun me around and we were both laughing childishly, lost in a moment of sweet abandon. Unbeknownst to us, Elijah was in the living room, interpreting our playful exchange.

He commented, “I like it when you guys are like that.”

“Like what?” I probed after Edric had put me down.

He explained that he likes seeing us have fun together, like we really enjoy one another and love one another. Citing another example, he added, “Like when you are excited to go with dad on a date, I like that.”

Interesting, I thought. I have always assumed that our children know that Edric and I love one another. We say it all the time. But apparently, there’s added credibility to our professions when they witness the tenderness between us. They appreciate seeing “evidence” of our devotion to one another. When we kiss and hug in front of them (PG version, of course!), they smile and giggle at our cheesiness. But Elijah says it makes him feel “happy.”

The reality is our children are responders. They observe the dynamic of our marriage all the time. When peace and joy characterize our relationship, our kids feel at rest and secure. When our relational atmosphere is turbulent, their spirits are agitated.

IMG_3760-0.JPGSometimes we can forget how great our responsibility is, to mirror what love ought to be to our children. On the one hand, they understand love by the sacrifices we make for them and our commitment to their well-being. But marriage, unlike a parent and child relationship, represents a union that is vastly different in purpose and nature. I can love five children and even more, if God should add to that number, but I can love only one Edric, one husband. I am one with him in a manner that excludes all others, physically and emotionally.

If he and I treat each other disrespectfully, persist with unresolved conflicts, harbor bitterness and resentment, and hurt one another with our actions, then our children will adapt a distorted understanding of love. They may even have reservations about marriage. “Why get married? I don’t want to end up like my parents.”

The worst part of it all is when our children become collateral damage (in the spiritual sense) because of our choices. For example, if a husband leaves his wife, what impact will that make on a child’s concept of God’s love, which marriage is supposed to represent? If a woman cheats on her husband, how will a child grasp the permanence of a vow? How will they ever believe in bible verses like, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (‭Romans‬ ‭8‬:‭35, 38-39‬ NIV)

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When Elijah made the remark he did as spectator to our dance, I wrestled with two thoughts. On the one hand, I was grateful to be in a marriage where I do enjoy the love I believe God intended for a husband and wife to experience. But on the other hand, I know that Edric and I leak out our imperfections to one another and we do not always exemplify to our children what divine love (God’s love) ought to be like.

To what extent have we confused the ideal? I do not know. I can’t count the number of times I have snapped back in pride when Edric is correcting me, or allowed irritation to color my countenance, or disobeyed a request of Edric when it was inconvenient to submit to him.

However, what comforts me is that despite our shortcomings, grace prevails. When Edric and I restore our relationship and we come before our children and apologize for our words and untoward behaviors, they readily forgive us.

I recall instances when I have made public apologies for my disrespectful responses towards Edric, and Edric has similarly asked for forgiveness for being harsh with me. Seated around the dinner table, with our children’s faces turned towards us, they watch our interplay — two persons who want to be accurate representations of God’s unconditional love to them, yet cognizant of how short we fall in comparison to Christ’s perfect love. And to witness the mercy that flows, the grace that extends to every person seated there as we acknowledge that apart from Jesus nothing good sits in us to boast of…well, it’s humbling and beautiful at the same time. It’s the Lord who pieces us back together and gives us the courage to try again, to move forward with hope that the future can be better despite ourselves, because of Him.

As we move past our mistakes, Edric and I try our best to be loving towards one another with the ever watchful eyes of our children upon us. We don’t do it for them, but we do consider the impact that our relationship has on their image of love. More importantly, we want to reflect how wonderful it is when two people have Jesus at the center of their marriage. There is joy, unconditional love and forgiveness, mutual respect and consideration, and hey, even tenderness and romance! At the end of the day, we want our children to be attracted to Christ and not the idea of marriage itself.

Here are some questions to reflect on…Besides saying “I love you”, do our children…

Hear us laughing together, reveling in the joys of being married?
See us being affectionate? (Holding hands, embracing, and even kissing – PG version once again)
Watch us converse like we are truly interested in dialoguing with one another?
Compliment and affirm each other?
Speak highly of each other in public and at home?
Respect one another with our words and actions? 
Humbly forgive and ask for forgiveness with all sincerity? 
Honor our God-given roles? 

“Love like there’s no tomorrow, and if tomorrow comes, love again.” – Max Lucado

‘Being in love’ — is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. – C.S. Lewis

How Can I Forgive?

A few days ago I received an email with just one question on it. “How can I forgive?” It was a great question to be asked and I have written a lengthy response in this post which I hope will benefit those who may struggle with the same challenge — forgiving those who have wounded us.Sun Feb 01 2015 01-31-08 GMT 0800More than any other relationship I have, marriage has been the context for some of my greatest forgiveness “challenges.” I suppose this is because I am most vulnerable to Edric. I love him so much that I hurt worst when he makes choices or speaks in ways that are unloving. He has said the same about me. Both of us are prone to selfishness and pride. Sometimes it isn’t big offenses but the little ones, piled up together over time that are injurious — the ones that need to be forgiven over and over again.

(Early years of marriage. We look like kids!)

Last month was a particularly rough time for us. Edric was very busy and caught up with work and responsibilities. He was easily irritated with me when I didn’t meet his “standards” for wifely duties or running our home. Normally, he is gracious and looks past my inefficiencies, choosing to highlight the positive. But since his spirit was unsettled by concerns over our finances and business decisions, he was easily jostled by things I would say and do that inconvenienced him.

My problem was I put up my own version of selfishness. When he was abrasive towards me, I retaliated with my magic force field, the one that placed a safe, emotional distance between us so I would not get hurt. My methods were things like curt, unaffectionate replies, silence, retreating to my hobbies and the children, and communicating disinterest in physical intimacy.

Edric recognized my methods as feminine forms of hostility and he felt like I wasn’t supportive of him. In fact he expressed this by saying, “It’s like you only love me when I am okay, when I am lovable. But you won’t cut me slack for my reactions when you know that I am struggling with an issue.” I have paraphrased what he said but that was the essence.

His statements were justifiable. Of course, I do love him. But the reality is I intended my responses to manipulate and pressure him. I forced upon him the expectation that he should ALWAYS be a spiritual leader, that he should be better than this, that he should pull himself together. I bailed out on him emotionally when I should have applied extra grace to attend to him, minister to him, and encourage him.

One of the things I appreciate about Edric is he won’t let us spiral downward. He will take action and drop every activity to make sure our marriage is where it ought to be — with Jesus Christ at its center. And that’s exactly what happened. First, he spent time in God’s Word to renew his spirit, and then he approached me, requesting that we discuss the state of our marriage and how to improve it.

Naturally, forgiveness was part of this interchange. I was blessed by Edric’s humility as he asked for my forgiveness. It convicted me to do the same. And then we made proposals on how to avoid falling into the same predicament.

This scene has been repeated many times in our marriage. We often come to a point where we must give forgiveness and receive it. There’s no way to move forward in our marriage if we don’t do so.

In John Piper’s book, This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence, he writes “Before a man and woman can live out the unique roles of headship and submission in a biblical and gracious way, they must experience what it means to build their lives on the vertical experience of God’s forgiveness and justification and promised help, and then bend it out horizontally to their spouse.” (Pg.44)

I like how he puts it. In marriage, we need to vertically experience God’s forgiveness, justification and help before we can bend these out horizontally towards our spouse. This actually makes the shape of a cross!

This past month I was tired of trying to be a “good wife.” I wanted a break. My focus was on myself and my capacities. However I was reminded that looking at myself can never be the answer. Apart from Christ, I am definitely NOT a good wife. “As it is written, ‘THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.'” (Romans 3:10-12 NASB)

Whether in the context of marriage or outside of it, the answer to the question how we can forgive is this: we can forgive because God first forgave us. Forgiveness is not a response to the degree of the offense so much as it is an acknowledgement of God’s forgiveness and mercy to us, then flowing that forgiveness and mercy outward, to others. Until we understand this it’s hard to forgive, especially when the offenses are serious and deeply painful.       (A few years after the rape)

Many of you who have followed this blog already know that I was once upon a time a victim of rape. Unlike a marriage where two people are of the same mind to repair it and right the wrongs suffered in it, there are forgiveness situations in life that do not involve the offending party apologizing for their sins against us. Instead we are left at a junction where we must make the choice to forgive regardless of whether the other person is sorry or not.

I knew that my rapists and abusers would not offer me their repentance. It is the same way for many of us who are betrayed, taken advantage of, deceived, or physically harmed by others. The likelihood of these persons returning to us in order to ask for an apology is slim to nil. To bank on this happening as the prerequisite to extending forgiveness only makes us a slave to a timetable of uncertainty.

Can we hope and pray that they will one day apologize, expressing deep remorse? Sure. But what are we going to do in the meantime? What is within our control?

What helped me make the choice to forgive was recognizing that I too was guilty, not of the same crimes committed against me, but of the same sinful disposition before God. Yet, God sent His Son to die for me. The Bible tells us “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”(Romans 5:8 NIV)

It also says, “In Him (Christ) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us…” (Ephesians 1:7-8 NASB)

If God forgave me by giving his own Son to die for me, who was I not to forgive the hurt done against me? In Ephesians 4:32 it says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Therefore, I could take the same forgiveness bestowed upon me through Christ and turn it into the kindness and compassion needed to bestow the same forgiveness towards my offenders.

It’s hard to explain without sounding like a deranged person but my heart felt a miraculous compassion for my offenders when I realized that I was no better than they were before God. Anything that was righteous in me was due to Jesus Christ. However way I esteemed myself as better than they were wasn’t due to my own goodness. So I couldn’t elevate myself and think I was holier for not being a rapist, a murderer, a thief, an adulterer, etc.

I could understand the darkness that was in their hearts and how it held them captive to do what was wicked and ungodly. So this compassion I am referring to was about wanting them to come to know Jesus Christ. Why? So their lives could be transformed. So they would stop hurting others the way they hurt me. Just like them, I was once lost and dead in my sins until Jesus Christ saved me.

Ephesians 2:3-5 explains this very clearly. “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)…”

We can punish people for the bad things they do to us by imposing external consequences like withholding forgiveness as a form of revenge, but this is a superficial fix to the real problem. First, people need Jesus Christ. Second, our unforgiveness is not the best form of justice if that is what we seek.

What do we hope to accomplish by clinging to unforgiveness? Is it to satisfy our sense of fairness? “You hurt me so I am not going to let you off that easily.” Or, “I want you to feel what it is like to be me.” Or, “I want you to pay for your sins before I forgive you.” We can require emotional or physical payment for the offenses done against us. But what if the persons we impose these upon are never reformed and never truly sorry for their crimes and wrong choices? Who is to know what the truthful condition of their hearts is in regards to repentance? The answer is we can’t guarantee either. This falls under the scope of God’s power and omniscience.

We need to consider, “Does UNforgiveness cause an offender to wake up to the reality of his or her wrong?” “Does UNforgiveness inspire them to pursue lasting change?” While our outcry for justice may demand penitence, might I suggest that we consider the ONE who has the power to effect change in the heart of a sinner and the capacity to execute real justice if the same sinner remains unrepentant.

“…Vindicate me, O LORD, according to my righteousness and my integrity that is in me. O let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous; For the righteous God tries the hearts and minds. My shield is with God, Who saves the upright in heart. God is a righteous judge, And a God who has indignation every day. If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword; He has bent His bow and made it ready…” (Psalms 7:8-12 NASB)

When several of my rapists were caught and put in jail, that was a good thing. Criminals need to be jailed to protect others from being victimized. But long before this happened, I chose to forgive them for what they did to me. I did my part to meet with the police and identify the gang members as best as I could, but if they were not caught, I believed God would deal with them. As for me, I didn’t want to remain a victim twice over — first as one who lost her innocence and virginity to cruel men, and second, as one who was defiled by her own bitterness.

Bitterness is so carcinogenic to the soul. “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15 NIV)

I recall attending a woman’s conference where the speaker talked about the characteristics of bitter people. They are like a cup of perpetually hot coffee, filled to the brim. Any circumstance, even the smallest ones cause a spill that hurts! No one likes to be around people like this! I’ve caught myself on several occasions “spilling” over with irritation towards my children when Edric and I have unresolved conflicts. My frustration and anger get channeled towards my kids. So the sooner I address what’s going on inside and arrest the anger, the quicker I can halt the defiling overspill.

When the root is bitterness, imagine what the fruit might be. Woodrow Kroll

I am not trying to make pain simplistic. Some of us have been through major trauma due to people’s betrayal, physical injury, thievery, immorality, etc. But I have also seen two sides of the same coin. I have been around people who refuse to forgive and observed how it aged them, turned them ugly, and paralyzed them from true healing. And I have been around people who have chosen to forgive the most hateful persons, people who deserved no less than total unforgiveness for their crimes and sins. Yet, the forgiveness extended transformed the hurting person into someone more beautiful inside and out. Furthermore, the choice to forgive advanced them towards healing. In the process of surrendering their anger, their hearts were opened up to love others. In certain instances, God allowed this grace-extended to cause repentance and change in the life of the offender, too (although this isn’t always the case).

Bitterness and love cannot be neighbors in our hearts. They cannot co-exist without fighting for occupancy of the entire space. We either let love win or bitterness will take over.  To say we can reserve a spot of anger for certain people or circumstances and still define ourselves as loving persons is to misunderstand the deceptiveness of anger. Sooner or later anger will conquer more ground and ease love out. Forgiveness, however, extracts the bitterness and makes room for love. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 gives a definition of love, which includes a part that says, “love does not take into account a wrong suffered.”

What if an offense is repeated over and over again? Whenever Edric and I resolve our disputes, choosing to forgive one another and release the anger, we always hope that the same situations won’t happen again. But we don’t extend forgiveness by coupling it with an ultimatum that says, “You better not repeat the same mistake!”

After all, who can really make this demand without setting themselves up for greater hurt? We can’t control people’s mistakes, past, present, or future. We can’t control how remorseful they should be either. These are demands that make us more vulnerable to disappointment when we put conditions on forgiveness.

On the one hand, forgiveness is a decision “not to count one’s trespasses against us” as 1 Corinthians 13 puts it. It is extended in reference to a known offense. On the other hand, it is a state of being that extends forward, too. I have forgiven you and I will forgive you. It’s not saying I condone your sin or approve of your wrong choices. This isn’t about giving someone the license to keep hurting us either. (If a person is being battered or abused, they need to find a way to physically remove themselves from that situation and go somewhere safe or get help from someone who can effectively intervene.)

However, we can keep on forgiving because God continues to do so for us.

“For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.” (Psalms 86:5 NASB)

In summary…

  1. Forgiveness is possible because of what God has done for us. It is not contingent upon the degree of the offense done towards us or whether the offender asks for our forgiveness.
  1. The kindness and compassion to forgive comes when we recognize that ALL people, including ourselves, are lost in the darkness of sin apart from Jesus Christ.
  1. The option to withhold forgiveness does not accomplish the heart transformation of the offender or the justice we seek. Only God can cause a person to repent wholeheartedly and deal with someone who is unrepentant.
  1. Forgiveness liberates us from the bitterness which defiles us and those around us. We cannot say we are loving if we harbor resentment and anger – there is no room for both in our hearts.
  1. We can keep on forgiving just as God continues to offer his forgiveness to us.

In closing, let me end with a passage of Scripture that puts everything into perspective, and it centers around the personhood of Jesus Christ – what He went through for our sakes, His response to offenses done against him, how He surrendered Himself to God the Father, and what His death and resurrection accomplished for us.

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. (1 Peter 2:21-24 NASB)

NOTE: If you are one who needs to ask for forgiveness, consider reading The Five Languages of Apology by authors Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas which explains that apologizing involves five aspects: expressing regret, accepting responsibility, making restitution, genuinely repenting, and requesting forgiveness.

Love Beyond Us

It is always a privilege when Edric and I are invited to speak at retreats, give seminars, counsel couples, and lead discipleship groups as a team. Of course it isn’t always easy because we have young children to attend to. But, when God gives us a green light to accept a ministry assignment and we follow through with it, we come away from the experience more in love with Him, and with one another.

Why? Because ministry commits us to a common purpose, one that enriches our marriage and causes us to look outside of it. The ceiling for love feels limitless as we receive God’s love and channel it others.

In contrast, when our attentions and energies are directed MERELY towards our relationship, marriage can start to feel like an ingrown-toenail. Sounds pretty ugly, huh?

There’s no other person I would rather be with than Edric and I know he would say the same about me. Yet we also learned, years ago, that God brought us together for something much more abundant and more fulfilling than the mere enjoyment of one another.

When God brings a man and a woman together, happily ever after is not his main goal. While this is a part of it when we follow his principles, it’s not the chief end. The greater aspect is forming an alliance of personalities, strengths and weaknesses, experiences, and capabilities to serve him and display the glories of his love through a covenant relationship.

In Genesis 1 we read: God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (‭Genesis‬ ‭1‬:‭27-28‬ NASB)

Adam and Eve were given the privilege of bearing God’s image. They were to be His image bearers in fruitfulness and multiplication, as they filled the earth and subdued it, and as they exercised dominion over it. Through Adam and Eve, the world was to reflect the glory of God and be the blessed recipient of it.

Yet we know from Genesis 3 that Adam and Eve did not cooperate with God’s plan. As a result we are all born with the same fallen nature. While we bear the likeness of God in the sense that we can feel, reason, imagine, and create in ways that animals cannot, our spiritual genetics carry the imperfection of man’s first sinful choice. We became a corrupted form of God’s original design, separated from delightful fellowship with Him because of sin.

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Romans‬ ‭8‬:‭18-21

In His great love for us, God offered himself through His Son as a solution to our sinful orientation. He gave us the opportunity to become His children once again.

But as many as received Him (Christ), to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (‭John‬ ‭1‬:‭12-13‬ NASB)

In order to fulfill God’s purpose to be  fruitful, multiply, subdue and rule over the earth as image bearers of His love and glory, a man and a woman must begin their marriage reconciled to God first, as His children. This is the designated starting point, the genesis of purpose.

Years ago, I made an independent decision to repent of my sins and accept God’s gift of forgiveness through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. I asked Him to be my Lord and Savior, and I committed to live for Him. Edric did the same.

As a result, we had unity of spirit before unity of flesh. We agreed upon God’s principles for marriage, parenting, and ministry. And then we agreed to pursue these principles together, in a covenant relationship, as husband and wife.

This didn’t meant we were exempt from problems. In fact, our first year of marriage was difficult because of personality clashes. However we were committed to working it out because we knew that God brought us together in marriage. We knew he could fix our relational issues.We knew he had a plan and purpose for us to fulfill.

The Bible tells us that God “reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭5‬:‭18-20‬ NASB)

When I look back on the journey that our marriage has been, our highest highs and greatest joys have been shared in the context of serving the Lord’s purposes as a team. What a privilege to reconcile people to God through Jesus Christ; to invite them to be His children so they can bear His image and display His love to the world.

On the way home from one Saturday marriage seminar we spoke at, Edric turned to me in the car and reiterated how much he loves me, how much he enjoys serving the Lord together. The afternoon was coming to a close and we were headed to see our children. He asked me, “Is it possible to love you more?” Although he meant it as a rhetorical question, I will answer it here…

God multiplied whatever love we thought we had for each other when we stood at the altar on the day of our wedding. He multiplies it still. It’s not a love that surfaces or extends from our exhaustible and finite selves. It’s one that comes from Him, a love beyond us, so we can love beyond us.

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Love and Joy

I need someone like Edric in my life, someone who is spontaneous, quirky, silly, and totally corny. Contrary to what my name implies, I can be serious too often. Edric doesn’t let me be that way. He is a great counterbalance to my tendency towards melancholy and introspection.

He plays tricks on me, like hiding behind doors to scare me, even though he knows I hate this. One time he surprised me in the shower and I screamed and cried. When he realized my tears were real, he totally apologized and hasn’t done the shower surprise since. But he certainly loves to get a reaction out of me.

Sometimes he will call and pretend to be another person. Or he will come up to me when I am shopping and act like a stranger who is hitting on me. He is also a big tease and will playfully prey on my insecurities. And he will flirt with me in public which often makes me awkward, and then say, “What?! We are married! We have five kids!”

I have never really given it much thought but, boy, would it be boring if he was a serious, uptight and always proper Edric more often than his emotionally-liberated self. Don’t get me wrong. He is well-mannered and knows how to be a gentleman. However I am glad he knows how to be a fun husband and a fun dad, too. Let me rephrase that. HE IS a fun husband and a fun dad.

At the dinner table, he acts out a character called “Mini-rat” which is a horror version of Mickey Mouse when the kids don’t eat their food right away. He will crawl under the table and “attack” them. The kids will squeal and shout in delight as he does this dialogue with an imaginary cast of characters. Mini-rat is the star of the show. The kids really get a kick out of it.

I have often watched Edric laughing during these ridiculous moments and wondered why I am not that way. I tend to be the observer on the sidelines, the one to tell the story afterwards. My problem is I can be too detached and not invested enough to join in the craziness. Edric teaches me to be otherwise.

God knows how to put two people together. When I was younger I thought I would fall in love with the quiet, brooding type — the talented artist or the fascinating intellectual, someone who hopefully looked like a Marlboro Man, gruff and scruffy and very manly (sans the smoking, of course!) I was never the kind of girl who liked the poster boy jocks or the men with perfect faces. Typical was not attractive to me.

When I met Edric, he happened to be the right combination of everything I was looking for and wasn’t looking for. I am not just referring to the physical. Yes, I thought he was very good-looking. But I was drawn to him in an unexpected sort of way — to his unpretentiousness and charm, to his protective and gentlemanly nature, to the ease at which we were able to communicate, to the many similar values and spiritual perspectives we shared, to his bent towards heroism, to his natural leadership and passion for a cause. But it wasn’t really until marriage that I discovered how fun a person he was. It was a delightful bonus.

Marriage should be fun. Imagine being with someone for decades and decades and taking everything so seriously? That’s probably what would have happened if I married someone I picked! Thankfully, God chose Edric for me. He tailor-fit him to my personality, to my strengths and weaknesses.

Being married to Edric has taught me another way to live — to relax and enjoy a bit of healthy silliness. I laugh more now. I crack dumb jokes. I know how to play a prank or two. I even like corny. (I am still working on the spontaneous part.) But one thing is for sure…I am a better version of JOY because God gave Edric to me.

To the laughs we share through richer or poorer, for better or worse…

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Cozy Cabin Honesty

It’s a miracle when twenty-three people can live in a cabin together for four days and not go crazy. Soon after Christmas day, my parents along with four of us siblings and our families traveled to Tahoe Donner.

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We rented a beautiful, huge cabin that had five large rooms to house all of our families. It came with a Jacuzzi, too!

The weather was perfect – super cold so the kids could experience a “real” winter, and it snowed the day before we left.

I went sledding for the first time and threw a couple of snowballs. I didn’t realize how much a snowball could hurt! One of my nephews got a bloody lip (not by my doing!)

The highlight for me was sitting around the dinner table with my siblings and parents, and our spouses as we shared about our marriages. My parents try to do this with us periodically in Manila but we are all pretty busy so it’s not a consistent activity. This vacation we were stuck in the house together so the opportunity presented itself when the kitchen was cleaned up and the kids were busy entertaining one another.

Each one of us gave insight into our relationships. I shared that Edric and I don’t have any major issues except that I react to his impatience and irritation when these traits are manifest. It’s not often that he will get upset but I noticed that he was edgier during this trip. This was the first time he had to do chores and help me take care of all of our kids. I know he learned a lot about sacrifice and service. He would say this vacation made him a better man and I wholeheartedly agree. However, there were a few incidences when he lost his cool.

Thankfully, we resolved whatever issues we had between us, and we were able to come before my parents and siblings to openheartedly hear their perspectives on our marital issues. As the more intense person between us, Edric is more prone to irritation when he has to deal with inefficiencies and inconveniences. But my mistake is challenging his responses and correcting him when he is upset which snowballs the situation into an unnecessary argument or unhealthy discussion.

For example, Edric was stern with Elijah for playing with his baby cousin, Joshua, near the garage door. When Edric walked through the door, he accidentally knocked Joshua on the head and blamed Elijah for sitting in the way. This time I pounced back by throwing the Tupperware I was putting away into the cupboard. Edric noticed this and challenge me by asking, “What?!” To which I replied while stooped behind the kitchen island and away from Elijah’s vista, “Don’t talk to him (Elijah) like that.” He mistakenly heard, “Don’t talk to me.” So he countered, “No, you don’t talk to me,” which doubly irked me. However, I stopped inciting Edric because neither of us was in the right frame of mind to resolve our altercation at that moment.

That evening Edric and I had a date night with my sister, Candy, and her husband, Jeff. They were holding hands while strolling through the streets of Old Sacramento, unaware that Edric and I had a tiff with one another earlier that day. Edric and I were walking about two feet apart behind Jeff and Candy. I leaned over to Edric and asked, “Do you have something to say to me?” insinuating that I had received no apology for his earlier behavior. He replied, “Nope. Do you have something to say to me?”

Seriously?! I thought. He was the prime instigator of our conflict earlier! I kept silent wishing he would put his arm around me and apologize because we were walking in 7 degree Celsius weather that night. Plus, I wanted to maximize this date night since we hired babysitters who weren’t cheap!

Still, Edric didn’t budge, so I proudly held my own position, shivering inside. After a few minutes, he wandered off to buy a mistletoe from a street vendor who was raising money to help his sister travel to Washington D.C. (Edric is drawn to random attractions that other people don’t always notice.) I don’t know if Edric was planning to hold that mistletoe over my head in the hopes for a kiss but that was the last thing I wanted to do.

In the meantime, Jeff, Candy, and I were seated in the restaurant talking about our marriages. I volunteered to confess that Edric and I were kind of fighting. (Usually I won’t do this until I work it out with Edric first.) Candy’s advice was exactly what I didn’t want to hear but needed to. She suggested I apologize to Edric for reacting to his outburst. Even if he was not right for getting unnecessarily upset, she told me to humble myself because that’s what God would want me to do.

When Edric came into the restaurant (without the mistletoe because he didn’t have small change to buy it with), I immediately volunteered, “I’m sorry, hon, for earlier. Please forgive me.” He wasn’t expecting to have been the topic of conversation and looked perturbed. “So what were you guys talking about?” He asked with suspicion.

That dinner turned out to be an interesting one for all of us as Edric and I addressed the day’s dramatics right there and then, with Jeff and Candy looking on. And all was well again as we apologized to one another. For the rest of our evening, we dialogued about how our marriages were doing and I appreciated the time to be able to be honest with one another.

When we were in Tahoe we did the same thing with my other siblings and their spouses. Each one gave their own spiritual insights and solutions, which was great because Edric and I don’t get to sit down with counselors or mentors that often. Our ministry targets young families and couples so we need to grow in our own marriage, and that means receiving feedback and guidance from those who know us best.

Edric was advised that he needs to think through the pattern of behavior that leads to unwanted outbursts. I was advised that I ought to stay quiet instead of reacting to his negativity. Although I already knew this, it was a good reminder to apply being gentle and quiet when I am tempted to fight back. During moments when I’m not the first to commit the “crime” I can be like the whiplash that adds trauma to injury. The reality is, spirit-filled silence has always worked better but sometimes I intentionally forget this when I’m dealing with my own version of anger.

After Edric and I shared, each family member did the same – identifying areas of improvement in their own persons and marriages, and what aspects they appreciated about one another. It was a blessed discussion that left us all a little wiser and closer to our spouses and one another as a family.

It’s not always easy to bear our weaknesses with others or to listen attentively to the suggestions that are offered to help us better our relationships. But no marriage is an island. Sometimes we may feel like we don’t have problems or it is nobody’s business to know what our marital issues are, but every marriage can improve to become sweeter, more loving, and more Christ-like.

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I’m blessed to have family members (on my side and Edric’s side) who are committed to strengthening our marriage in Christ. We all share the same mind when it comes to biblical principles and their applications in husband and wife relationships. But the secret is each one of us has a relationship with Jesus Christ first. Therefore we can commune about our marriages openly, and digest each other’s advice without becoming embittered. I’m not saying it’s easy to do this but the context is, Hey, it’s okay to have these struggles in your marriage. All of us do. What counts is that we all want to please God in our relationships. We share the desire to change and improve because we love God, our spouses, and one another.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as also you are doing.”

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I Love This Chick

Edric and I locked ourselves in the bedroom this morning to share a private conversation. He sat on one end of the bed and I sat on the other. The kids attempted to knock their way in and Titus spied on us from the balcony. (He peered through the blinds, grinning mischievously. Typical Titus.) But Edric was adamant, “Mommy and Daddy have to talk,” shooing them away gently.

We needed this conversation.

Lately, our relationship felt functional and our intimacy waned. Concerned about my unresponsiveness and general indifference, Edric insisted that we identify why I was emotionally distant. He invited me to psychoanalyze myself as he propped himself against a pillow and folded his hands, looking very much like an attentive psychologist.

I mouthed out all kinds of superficial issues that skirted the deeper longings of my heart…

I feel blah. I need intellectual and spiritual feeding…

You and I have been so pragmatic with one another. We are together often but I haven’t felt connected to you…

Sometimes I feel tired of following God’s principles for marriage. Like I’m trying to imagine how I can keep on submitting as a wife and resisting the tendencies of my personality and it’s tiring to think of what the next years will be like…

I also feel like I am disappointing you as a wife and homemaker, like there’s always a detail that I miss and fail at…

Edric was silent. Unusual for my intense and talkative husband. He motioned to me to come lay on his chest. “Come here, I know what you need…” His voice trailed off.

At first I didn’t want to be vulnerable, but Edric was persistent, so I relented and inched toward him, resting my head against his arm.

It was his turn. “I want you to know how much I appreciate you, as a wife, as a mother to our kids. Lately, I have been so self-absorbed and selfish. Will you forgive me? Of all the people in the world, you are the most important to me. And I think you are feeling a lot of the things you are because I haven’t affirmed you enough. I could counteract every statement you made but all you need to know right now is that I love you so much. I don’t know what I would do without you.” He held me closer.

“Do you really mean that?” I asked, latching on to every word and hungry for more of this tender interchange.

“Of course!” He cradled part of my face and smiled. “I love this Chick!”

And just like that I felt a renewed inspiration to be Mrs. Edric Mendoza. Before this day, I evaded Mr. Mendoza, announcing excuses each time he wanted to be alone with me. I would say, “Okay but I have to take care of such and such first.”

I am pretty easy. Just give me a concentrated dose of positive words and I perk up immediately. It’s like Edan’s bean plant experience. When he noticed it languishing, with its withered leaves drooping low and sad, he transferred it to a place where it could receive a softer version of the sun. The next day he declared with pride, “Mom! My bean plant is okay now! Look at the leaves! Come see!” Sure enough, it was standing up tall.

Like the bean plant I deteriorate without encouragement from Edric. This past week, I felt like he was nitpicky and easily agitated. Admittedly, I did have my shortcomings. On Thursday, I packed him lunch so he could eat on the way to his ANC taping because he was running late, but I forgot to put cutlery in the bag. I apologized profusely when he called me befuddled by my forgetfulness. The poor guy had to find a spoon and fork at a gasoline station, which delayed him further. So yes, I will not make false claims about myself and say that I am always on top of things. But, everyday this last week, there seemed to be a failure to highlight and after a while, I retreated to activities and busyness so I could avoid interacting with Edric.

In contrast, when Edric affirmed me this morning, it was like being injected with an adrenaline shot of love. I stood tall once again!

The Bible says, “So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does this church…(Ephesians 5:28-29)

Previously, the passage of Ephesians highlights that a man is to be the head of his marriage. Verses 28 and 29 expound on what it means to love his wife. I interviewed Edric so he can teach about this part (in case you wives hand this article to your husbands!)…

To nourish, he began, is enabling a wife to maximize her potential. It is placing her in an environment where she can bloom into the woman God wants her to be. This means equipping and enabling her with the tools and opportunities to develop her gifts and abilities.

In our marriage, Edric studied me well. (He still does.) He knew I gravitated towards writing and enjoyed it, so three years ago he provided the means to start a blog site. When we moved into our home, he kept prodding me to do acrylic painting again. He bought me large canvases to paint on so I could resurrect this hobby.

Edric has reiterated on many occasions that one of his responsibilities is to help me grow and mature as a person. (He actually has a spreadsheet where he indicates yearly, 5-year, and 10-year goals for each person in the family!)

The word, cherish, he expounded, is to make a wife feel convincingly loved and valued. Does my wife feel secure in my love and affections? Does she believe that her concerns are important to me? Do I treat her with kindness and patience, seeking to understand her?

Interestingly, Edric and I were at an event today where we were one of the guest speakers. At the end of our talk, we were asked, “How can a husband prioritize his wife when he is so busy?”

Here are some tips that we shared (and more)…

  • Block off date nights where you can talk heart-to-heart, address issues in your relationship, and enjoy one another.
  • Put the gadgets away when you are spending time together, especially at the dinner table.
  • Learn your wife’s language of love. Edric knows that words of affirmation matter to me. Gary Chapman names four others – time, touch, gifts, and service. A woman whose language of love is met by her husband is an inspired woman eager to fulfill her role as wife and mother!
  • Remember special events – birthdays, anniversaries, mother’s day, etc. Edric writes me long letters that I’ve kept through the years. He doesn’t always give me extravagant gifts, but his gestures are extravagant and these matter more to me.
  • Be a gentleman. More often than not, Edric opens the door for me, pulls out my chair before I sit down, makes me walk on the safe side of the road, and carries my shopping bags. I hope he does these things forever!
  • Make sacrifices that communicate concern and thoughtfulness. Early in the morning, when Catalina wakes up, Edric takes her down to our househelp so I can rest. I know other husbands who give bottles to babies and change diapers in the middle of the night so their wives don’t shoulder the burden of caring for an infant. These small acts of kindness are exclamatory statements of love.
  • Compliment your wife in public. My dad is a businessman but he also preaches the Bible. During worship services when he is giving a message, he singles out my mom if the context makes sense and declares how much he loves her and appreciates her. Edric does the same when we are with others. He will compliment me when we are with friends and family. He will say things like, “My wife is the best…My wife is amazing…” I don’t want it to seem like I’m tooting my own horn here. The point is that he finds ways to make me feel special.
  • Be generous. I don’t shop that much because I really don’t need to. I’m at home most of the time. However, when I want to get something and it is out of my budget, Edric will usually say, “Sure. I want to bless you.” (I think the key for the wife is not to be extravagant either! My sister rarely shops for clothes so her husband actually tells her to go shopping!)
  • Listen to and acknowledge your wife’s feelings. This is a challenging one. Women can be dramatic and emotional. Edric listening to my morning rant about nonsensical issues was not pleasant for him but he made me feel like I could tell him anything.
  • Say I love you everyday. I once heard a speaker say “Tell your wife you love her before someone else does!”
  • Pray for your wife. Wives need prayer! We can’t manage everything we have to without supernatural enabling by the Lord. When Edric prays for me, I feel empowered by the Holy Spirit.

It may take time for a husband to change and learn what it means to nourish and cherish his wife. But take heart. The Bible says, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it whoever He wishes.” (Proverbs 21:1 NASB) A husband’s heart is not so out of reach that God cannot minister to it or direct it. Edric and I have counselled many couples and seen God transform husbands from insensitive, selfish, and unloving to the complete opposite!

“And Jesus said to them, ‘With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'” (Matthew 19:26) This passage was given right after Jesus’ disciples asked how anyone can possibly be saved. If we look to people only, change seems implausible. Therefore we must hope in Christ to do the unimaginable work in our hearts and the hearts of others!

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Assume the Best About Your Spouse

I ran over my littlest toe with a grocery cart Sunday afternoon while I was in a mad rush to prepare for a party in our home. We were hosting the yayas and drivers Christmas event for the Tan-Chi side of the family. Nearly forty people were coming over in three hours and I hadn’t prepared my part of the food contribution, finalized all the game mechanics, or finished decorating. My toe was the unfortunate causality of my flurry.

During the party, I was the game master by default. Naturally, after two hours of standing on my feet yelling out instructions, my toe swelled uncomfortably. I actually thought I might have broken it when I began to feel the pain and it turned black and blue.

Edric came down to check on the party, and I showed him my toe. He was very sympathetic and concerned, asking if I was alright. Even though I appreciated his pity, there was no time to baby my toe because I had to head to the kitchen. We had another set of guests arriving for dinner, around thirty people, and I didn’t want to take my househelp away from their party.

While Edric shared a short bible study with the yayas and drivers, I cooked a pasta dish, put a salad together, and made dip for the chips with my mom. (My sisters-in-law and my mom helped with food as well so it wasn’t like I had to do everything.)

The yayas and drivers with their families after the games…

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By 7 PM, the guests were settled in and dinner was served. The party had come to a close downstairs and our househelp could finally assist me in the dining room. My toe had been throbbing so I resorted to limping to alleviate the pain. It felt great to be able to sit down after so many hours and relax with our company. Finally, I can enjoy myself, I thought.

However, shortly after I was engaged in an interesting discussion with the women at the table, Edric asked me to serve him. This really annoyed me. Even though I didn’t manifest it, I emphasized my displeasure by hobbling more obviously. He didn’t notice because he was equally engrossed in a conversation with the men, at the other end of the table. Our table is fairly huge so he was a significant number of feet away. But still…I grumbled to myself…I told him earlier that my toe was in bad shape, and he knew I had been on my feet for a good number of hours hosting the party and getting dinner ready. How could he be insensitive like this?! If he was really mindful of me, he would serve himself.

My mom was at the “buffet” table and I made the mistake of whispering, “I’m annoyed because Edric asked me to get him something when my toe is in bad shape.” Wrong, wrong, wrong. Edric and I tell couples not to do this! It’s a good thing my mom isn’t the type to take sides just because I am her daughter. She will set me straight by offering another perspective. In fact she said, “It’s okay. He works hard all day.”

I knew that she was trying to be encouraging, but the judgemental thoughts began to percolate in my head and I felt hurt by Edric. I didn’t bring it up that evening because I was dead tired and crashed when the guests left. But last night, over an unimpressive slice of carrot cake at an unnamed coffee shop, while Edric and I killed some time before a dinner engagement, I commented, “I think if I contributed income to our family, you will be more reasonable about me serving you.”

Edric had no idea what I was talking about. He gave me a scowl that translated into the statement, “Whoa, whoa, what do you mean by that? We need to talk about this.”

I don’t know why I drew the conclusion I did but I suppose my main point was I wanted to be treated with more respect and courtesy. And as illogical a connection as I had made, I thought there might have been some merit to saying if he knew that I worked hard everyday because I had a desk job that he esteemed instead of housework, homeschooling, parenting, and hosting dinner parties, then perhaps it would increase his mindfulness of me. Perhaps he wouldn’t ask me to get up during dinner when my toe is hurting to bring him a bowl and spoon for his ice-cream!

So it was just a bowl and spoon but the timing of his request made me feel like he was totally inconsiderate of me. Of course, Edric requested that I clarify my ill-stated observation. I finally blurted out, “You asked me to serve you when you knew my toe was hurting me.”

With sincerity, Edric replied, “I’m so sorry hon, I totally forgot. I was so caught up in the conversation that I didn’t think about it when I asked you. You should have signaled me somehow or reminded me about your toe and I would have gotten the bowl myself. I hope you realize that I am not that much of jerk…that I would not knowingly ask you to serve me if you were in pain. You don’t think that about me, do you?”

My reply was, “I guess you left me no choice because I had just informed you about my toe and then you still asked me to serve you. So to me, even the forgetfulness was hurtful.”

“Okay, there’s no excuse for my forgetfulness either. Will you forgive me for that?”

This was part one of our dialogue. I’ve rephrased some of the statements but this was the gist of it. The next part continued while we were running this morning…

I began with, “So let’s just be clear…What if I was very tired because you knew that I was busy with preparations for a dinner event or activity in our home, would you still expect me to serve you? This question was posited as we ran up a hill.

His reply was, “Yes. I’ve equipped you with an army of household help and a driver so the answer is yes. It’s not like we are living in the U.S. where you and I have to do everything. Our circumstances are very different. Managing the home is your department, so you need to be on top of these things.”

“Wow, it’s like there’s no margin of error with you. Isn’t marriage also about teamwork? Like we are a team and we help one another out?” I countered.

“Give me some credit. When we were first married and didn’t have househelp I was in charge of the dishes.”

“You would leave the dishes for days in the sink.” I snickered.

“Still, I did them.” Edric said.

It’s amazing how much physical fuel you get from a marital discussion. I felt like each exchange pumped energy into my muscles to run!

“I suppose I just want to know that you will respond positively if there is an exemption. Like that night when the yayas and driver were enjoying a party? What about those instances?” I was looking for some reassurance.

“Well then tell me ahead of time so I can adjust my expectations, because in my mind, this is your department. So you need to manage parties we host in our home. But yes, I will rescue you.”

“I’m not sure I believe you.” I was skeptical.

“Well if you are going to think that way, we aren’t going to make any progress.” He began to sound annoyed. (I was being kind of annoying.)

“How come it seems like your tone is antagonistic?” This was unnecessary but I’m allergic to harsh decibel levels. We were now headed back home.

“So I have to say this in a sweeter tone for your to believe me?”

I was quiet. My thought was, YES.

In a sweeter manner Edric announced, “I-WILL-RESCUE-YOU.”

We smile at each other and he raced me home. He beat me.

At home, the third part of our dialogue ensued while working out our abdominals on the floor.

He was lying on his gray yoga mat and I was sprawled out on my purple one when he proposed, “We have to practice what we preach. What do we teach other couples about roles?”

“Do your part.” I must confess that I said this without too much enthusiasm!

“That’s right. So don’t worry about my responses. You do your part. I will worry about my role.”

I’m going to cut the story here because I’ve covered the most essential parts of it. My preconceived notion was HE KNEW about my toe. His honest confession was HE FORGOT. My interpretation of his forgetfulness was HE WASN’T MINDFUL OF ME. His sincere explanation was HE WAS DISTRACTED. My argument was WHAT IF I AM REALLY TIRED will you be reasonable about your expectations for service? His response was, generally, NO BECAUSE WE’VE DELINEATED ROLES AND I’VE EQUIPPED YOU WITH THE PERSONNEL TO HANDLE THE DIFFICULT WORK SO YOU CAN FOCUS ON ME. However, he did add that if I really needed him to be flexible, of course HE WOULD UNDERSTAND AND RESCUE ME, especially if I managed his expectations by communicating my need before hand.

So that was the end of the tale of my injured toe and the ice cream bowl and spoon, and here is what I learned/re-learned about marriage:

My initial inability to receive Edric’s confessions as true – that he had simply forgotten about my toe and he was distracted — told me that I had pent-up notions about Edric that assumed the worst rather than the best of him. I had judged him without hearing his perspective. Overnight, I cooked up some pretty destructive emotions.

Yes, Edric can have a bad memory. Yes, he can be insensitive. However, I’m accountable to the Lord for the thoughts I entertain. Edric’s uncommendable behavior (which isn’t frequent by God’s grace!) cannot be an excuse for me to harbor resentment towards him, leading me to forgo my desire to serve him and meet his needs as a wife. In the future I must be careful of poisonous presuppositions that begin with, “If Edric loves me he won’t…If he loves me he will…”

Edric loves me. Period. There’s no need to fill in the blanks.

Is it always a perfect love? Certainly not. I can’t promise him a perfect love either. But in marriage, he and I must begin with the assumption that we love one another and we mean well. To assume the best and not the worst is to hope in the heart transforming work that God is doing in Edric’s life and in mine. Christ is causing us to love one another the way we should.

Furthermore, I would like Edric to believe that when I make a mistake as a wife and he is the unpremeditated victim, I don’t will-fully want to injure his heart. Similarly, Edric would like to believe that when he messes up as a husband and I get hurt in the process, it’s not because he wants to be unloving towards me. It’s when he or I formulate judgmental conclusions based on appearances that we develop hostile feelings which eclipse our love and trust for one another.

“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” John 7:24

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.” Luke 6:37

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What if a spouse makes wounding choices consistently? Wouldn’t it be logical to assume that this spouse doesn’t love her husband or his wife? Might I propose a different perspective? When a spouse thinks, acts, or speaks in habitually hurtful ways it’s not because they don’t love their husband or wife. It’s because they haven’t experienced the love of Christ, nor do they love him in return. Love’s starting point is not Christ but the self. A love whose source is the self will miss the mark — the higher standard of Christ-like love.
A husband and wife must therefore strive to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength first (Matthew 22:37), after which they can love their neighbor (Matthew 6:38), also known as one another!

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You Are Treasured

I was counseling a young woman over the weekend who confessed that all her life she was trying to prove her worth and value to herself and others. She was so exhausted, emotionally and spiritually that she tried to commit suicide. God ordained for us to meet through a series of circumstances and I sat down with her to share the gospel.

When she realized that she is perfectly loved, despite each and every tragic experience; completely accepted, despite her many godless choices; valued beyond measure, despite the ill-treatment she has received from undeserving men, her face changed and she began to tear. I asked her to read this passage:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:28, 31-32, 38-39 NASB)

The love and acceptance she had spent years searching for and failed to find, she found in Jesus Christ.

God’s unfailing love for us is an objective fact affirmed over and over in the Scriptures. It is true whether we believe it or not. Our doubts do not destroy God’s love, nor does our faith create it. It originates in the very nature of God, who is love, and it flows to us through our union with His beloved Son.  ~ Jerry Bridges

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Women want to be TREASURED. Married or single, underneath our choices, perspectives, fears and frustrations, there is a current of desire. We want to be treated as special and affirmed for who we are. The problem is we often look to people and accomplishments to fill this longing.

Most of the time, when I get upset with Edric, it’s usually because I feel like he is not considering me or weighing what’s important to me. My judgmental thoughts are, “I don’t DESERVE to be treated this way. Of all people and preoccupations in his life, I should be número uno.” Why? I want to be cherished by him. It makes me feel important and special. But as amazing I think Edric is, there’s no way he can meet 100% of my expectations 100% of the time.

A few months ago, we were discussing my five-time-affected-post-baby-body. I was worried that I had fallen short of his “standard” because he told me that he found some (unnamed) women attractive. Edric and I are very open with one another. I can put on the best-friend hat. But at that point in time, I was looking at my body in the mirror (without him around) and I was like, man…the heights from which I’ve fallen! Why, gravity?! Why?! I used to be this and that, etc. etc.

Well, we had a long, drawn-out conversation that had me in tears and he felt powerless to comfort me. Edric tried everything to reassure me that I was still the most beautiful woman to him, that he had eyes only for me, and on and on. I was past that point of rationality, where there was nothing Edric could say to make me believe him.

On the one hand, I had to embrace contentment with who I am today. On the other hand, when I stepped back to pay attention to what was really going on inside of me, I realized that I was looking to Edric to make me feel special, happy and good about myself. Even though Edric is a great husband…the best, in my opinion, he cannot COMPLETELY meet, what I would like to call, a black-hole-need…this longing to be treasured.

If I make my self-worth dependent on Edric, I might as well be a yoyo. Up and down, up and down…emotionally unstable and volatile. Edric will feel suffocated, incapable of pleasing me, unable to enjoy our marriage, and very tired!

There’s only one person who can COMPLETELY meet the longing to be treasured – Jesus Christ.

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Christ is the one who loves you and me perfectly, completely, wholly, unchangingly, and eternally. He treasures us, as we want to be treasured. When we struggle with feelings of insecurity, when we feel alone, unappreciated, unimportant, inadequate, cast aside, rejected, betrayed, or forgotten, the solution is not to expect people to heal what is hurting in us or preoccupy ourselves with doings that mask the hollow in us. The answer is to run into the arms of Christ, to abide there, to dwell in his love and be full of it.

You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. Psalm 16:11

Kari Jobe sings a beautiful song called “My Beloved,” and I’ve included her lyrics here, but it’s much better listened to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqr-Q1U87fY

 

You’re my beloved, you’re my bride

To sing over you is my delight

Come away with me my love

 

Under my mercy come and wait

Till we are standing face to face

I see no stain on you my child

 

You’re beautiful to me

So beautiful to me

 

I sing over you my song of peace

Cast all your care down at my feet

Come and find your rest in me

 

I’ll breathe my life inside of you

I’ll bear you up on eagle’s wings

And hide you in the shadow of my strength

 

I’ll take you to my quiet waters

I’ll restore your soul

Come rest in me and be made whole

 

You’re my beloved, you’re my bride

To sing over you is my delight

Come away with me my love

 

1 John 4:9 “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.”

 

 

 

Modeling Womanhood

Tiana, my four year old daughter, likes to copy everything I do. I am her reference for womanhood. The other day she was talking about her hair when she said, “Mom I need one of those airconditioners for the hair.” She meant a blow dryer, which she had seen me use at a hotel.

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I was blessed to have my mom as a role-model for womanhood. Ever since I was a little girl, I looked up to her. She epitomized who I wanted to be. When people told me I sounded just like my mom or I reminded them of her, it was a compliment I gladly received.

The most important example she mirrored for me was how to be a wife and mother, how to be a woman who seeks to honor God in her life and relationships, especially at home.

What was often remarkable to me was my mom’s willingness to submit to my dad’s authority. Was she an opinionated and strong woman? Definitely. But she displayed strength under the Holy Spirit’s control. She knew that God’s will was often disclosed through the leadership of my father so she chose to follow him.

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If they were not in agreement, she would pray that God would change my dad’s heart (if that was His will.) For example, years ago she wanted to home school my siblings and me when we were in elementary. She had this epiphany before my dad did. Excited to communicate to him her plan, she asked him if she could pull my siblings and me out of a Chinese school to teach us at home. His response was, “Deonna that’s a big responsibility and I know your personality so I want you to pray about it for one year.”

Even though my mom was disappointed, she surrendered this desire to the Lord and obeyed my dad. After one year, she asked him again before re-enrolling us for the next school year. Calling him in the office with her sing-song-y voice she said, “Honey, today is the day for the enrollment of the kids but I have been praying about homeschooling. What has God showed you? Can we?”

My dad gave her a flat, “No.”

After she put the phone down, my mom sat in the bathroom and cried. She had hoped to homeschool my siblings and me that year, but that dream seemed like it was not going to happen. So she decided to pray again.

After she got dressed, she ventured another attempt and phoned my dad. “Peter, I’m about to leave for the school, but I just want to check one more time, what’s your final decision?”

Between the first call and the next, which couldn’t have been more than an hour, God miraculously worked in the heart of my dad. When I asked him what changed, he explained to me that he was convicted to make a faith decision. So he replied, “Okay, let’s go for it.” My mom put the phone down and sat in the bathroom again and cried…this time for joy!

Stories like this one demonstrated to me how God uses a wife to minister, bless, support, and encourage her husband to pursue God’s will when she submits to his authority.

When I got married and struggled with submission (it’s not a genetically inherited trait to be submissive, right?!) I remembered my mom’s example. She was a reference for me.

For the record, I still struggle. But I praise God for the example my mom modeled to me. Her desire to obey God by obeying my dad resulted in His favor in her marriage and in our family.

Was she always perfect? Nope. When my parents were building a house, my mom’s strong personality would seep out as a reaction to my dad’s perspective of function over form. When it came to design they had conflicting views. There were moments when my mom wanted to convince him about her more enlightened aesthetic preferences. However, she did so in a manner that would come across as agitated. Tiles, windows, doors, ceiling heights, railings, stairs, balconies, and room configurations would sometimes became tense discussions. If she ever did get annoyed to the point of disrespect, what she did model was a humble apology to my dad and to us, kids. She would say things like, “Kids will you forgive me for speaking to your dad that way. I was wrong.”

It was certainly clear to me that my dad was my mom’s number one priority next to God. One simple way she would prioritize him was asking for his permission before booking schedules or making commitments. She would tell the persons who invited her, “Okay let me get back to you, I will just check with Peter.” I learned to do the same as a wife, verifying with Edric before scheduling any activity that will conflict with his schedule, take me away from the home, or involve his presence. When people want to get together with us or make an appointment, I don’t say Yes, Edric and I can make it unless I confirm with him first. This also applies to occasions when my side of the family invites us over or tries to make plans.

My mom tried her best to make sure that my dad came home to a well-managed and happy home. When she was first married, she cooked everything in the same color. She didn’t know a lot of recipes so my dad bought her a cookbook one day and asked, “Do you think you could try some of the dishes in this cookbook?” She gladly did so. In fact, she became an amazing cook. I spent a lot of time with her in the kitchen watching her cook and bake, and learned to do the same with her.

She was intentional about modeling and teaching home making skills to me. When I got married, Edric was pleasantly surprised that I knew how to bake cookies, sew buttons on shirts, hem pants, make throw pillows, handwash clothing if necessary, etc. (I also knew how to clean toilets and do some minor plumbing work.) These abilities especially helped in the first year of our marriage when we didn’t have househelp. There was nothing extraordinary about what I could do. Most people who don’t grow up with househelp learn these basic home survival skills. Nevertheless, Edric greatly appreciated that I wasn’t clueless when it came to managing the home. Thanks, Mom!

Instead of pursuing a career outside the home, my mom homeschooled my siblings and me for a good number of years. Even when we went to a conventional school, she remained a stay-at-home mom. We were privileged to have her available to us 24/7. She also arranged her ministry work, appointments, and activities around us so we didn’t have to compete for her attention.

Because she was present, it was natural for us to tell her about our day and discuss what was going on in our lives. I remember an occasion when I was asked by friends to try marijuana. When I got home, I told her, “Mom, my friends said I should try marijuana. They said I can’t say it’s not for me if I’ve never tried it.”

She didn’t go ballistic. She didn’t say, “Hey you are a pastor’s kid, you better not touch that stuff!” In fact, didn’t even show signs of elevated blood pressure. Instead she listened to my reasoning. That night she prayed for me and researched about drugs. The next day, she non-threateningly presented to me a Reader’s Digest article so I could have material to read. By God’s grace I never touched marijuana or other drugs as a result of her gentle intervention and influence.

My mom handled many parenting issues with grace. I don’t ever remember her shouting at me or any of my siblings. Instead, her method of correction was the sandwich approach. Pad the meat of what you want to say with a lot of sincere praise – the bread — so a person can swallow your correction – the meat – without gagging to death from discouragement. This approach came in very handy in marriage, raising my children, or ministering to others. I would imagine my mom and think, How would she say this in a way that speaks the truth in love?

It was my mom’s relationship with Jesus that made her the mother she was, and still is. She showed me what biblical womanhood is about – that a woman must desire to please God and follow his principles for her life, especially when it comes to marriage and parenting. When she does this it gives her a quality of beauty and spirit that makes her husband and children treasure her. As a bonus, her influence and ministry will reach far beyond the home. My mom may not have been a career woman but she touched the lives of women all over the world by her example and ministry.

May God receive the glory for the woman she is!

Date Your Spouse

Edric planned a surprise date for us on the balcony last night. I didn’t suspect anything until the boys said they needed to roll down all the blinds. When their bedroom and ours looked unusually dark, I asked, “What are you guys doing?”

“We, uh, we want to make the room dark.”

“Huh? Why?” They were acting weird.

“We can’t tell you.”

“What? What’s going on?”

“We can’t say, mom.”

Of course this made me even more suspicious. I went downstairs and started grilling the househelp, and they evaded my questioning with chuckles.

There was no special occasion so I had no idea what was happening. All I knew was the second floor balcony was off limits. I wasn’t even supposed to take a peek.

I called the most likely suspect in all of this — Edric. “Hon, why can’t I go out on the balcony?” He said, “Basta!” which, in this instance, meant “Don’t ask.”

When he arrived from work, he took me upstairs and explained that he brought our date night home. He had coordinated with our househelp to set the table and light candles. It was home cooked food presented in a different setting but it was the thought that counted. Since we had a busy week to deal with this was the best way to spend time with one another, away from the kids, and do what date nights are for — CONNECT AND COMMUNICATE.

Our children were thrilled that we were in the house instead of out for dinner or a movie, and they did their best to avoid visiting the balcony to give us privacy. I sat across from Edric dressed in athletic gear which had been my garb for the day, and he was in his office clothes. It didn’t matter. We spent two hours up there talking.

At a certain point the kids came out one by one in their pajamas. Tiana drew me a picture. “Mommy, I made this for you!” Edan reported to me that Titus lost the marble of his science experiment kit. Elijah conferred with Edric about a stocks option. (Ok, wait a minute, I don’t remember seeing Titus. Maybe he was hiding because of the lost magnet.) The kids disappeared as quickly as they popped in to spy on us.

It turned out that Edric and I had so much to talk about. From our personal struggles, frustrations, joys and adventures, goals, parenting, ministry, work…Of course we also asked one another the most important question we ask on our dates: “How can I improve?”

Sometimes I dread hearing the answer to this question. Of all the days in the week, this is the day we have reserved for these types of conversations. As humbling as it can be, it has become essential to preserving good communication in our marriage. We have given one another the liberty to say what areas can change for the better. After all, we know one another most intimately. We see what others do not. Furthermore, asking the question, “how can I improve?” keeps the issues from compiling and compounding between us. Even if I don’t always like what Edric has to say, I know God speaks through him.

Edric told me three things:

1. Pray for him. He came back from a U.S. trip with a renewed passion for home education in the Philippines so I am excited to see how this affects his other preoccupations.

2. Do what he asks me to do, with a positive attitude. Whenever he makes a last minute request that requires me to rearrange my own schedule, I will do it, but I must confess that I complain or give him a hard time.

3. Pay attention to details in our home so I can be more organized. Generally, he thinks the home is orderly but he notices everything now. For example, he didn’t like the soap dispenser I was using in the kitchen or the inaccessibility of the hand towel. At first I was annoyed and defensive because it seemed like he was being a nit-picker. But then I thought, okay if it really matters to him, I can change. Why not? It’s just my pride. Plus, after I examined the soap dispenser and hand towel, I realized he had a point. The dispenser wasn’t efficient and the hand towels were positioned in an awkward location.

When he asked how he can improve, I told him one main thing: Continue to be patient and spirit-filled towards me and the children. (Like don’t make a big deal out of soap dispensers! Just kidding!)

Edric likes examples and specifics so I used a recent incident. I was late picking him up for his taping at ABS-CBN because I spent a longer time in the grocery than anticipated. This was my mistake and as a result, Edric was on edge. He tried to squeeze in a quick errand with Elijah, who was with us. They were going to set up his online bank account. Unfortunately, Elijah couldn’t remember his PIN number. Because Edric was in a hurry, he reprimanded him rather harshly.

I could sense that Elijah felt badly so I nudged Edric to console him with an apology. (Elijah was seated in the front so he didn’t see our interplay.) At first Edric resisted, claiming that his response was triggered by my lateness, but a few minutes later, he very sincerely apologized to Elijah.

During our date night, Edric received my suggestion with grace and humility, which I appreciated. After all, I was the catalyst for his ire. I was late when we had agreed on a specific time. However, he still took the observation positively and agreed to improve.

Dialoguing about “how to improve” can be a sensitive discussion for many husbands and wives. So having a time and place to do so helps a lot. When Edric and I are in the state of mind to receive correction because we have agreed upon this aspect of our date nights, we tend to be more responsive rather than reactive.

I have written all of this to say keep dating your spouse. It may not be necessary to spend for a dinner out or movie EVERY week. For my parents, they take evening and morning walks. Whatever formula works for a couple, the objective ought to be improved connectedness and communication.

Here are the components of a REAL date :

– A real date can happen anywhere that’s conducive to private conversation. Venue is secondary to no kids running around vying for mom’s attention and distracting cell phones are set aside.

– A date involves open communication, where one another’s perspectives, feelings and insights are welcomed and affirmed.

– A date involves humility and grace to receive and acknowledge one another’s different perspectives, feelings, and insights!

– A date is purposeful — to connect and grow in intimacy, to get to know one another better so we can pray more effectively and love one another more deeply.

If these aspects are present during a “date,” I am certain it will be mutually enjoyable, too!

God’s intention and design for husband and wife is oneness. But we have to make the effort to safeguard this oneness. Don’t stop dating after you get married. Start having the best dates of your life!

Matthew 19:4-6
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ ? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

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Just A Little MORE Respect

I am on a role with this respect series so I am going to go ahead and post what I just shared at a couples’ retreat in Baguio…

At the beginning of my marriage I struggled in the area of respect. (For those of you who have followed my blog, you have heard me say this a number of times.)

I thought I had married the man of my dreams. He was (still is) but in our marriage, certain realties presented themselves.

Edric had temper issues. I didn’t see this when we were dating. But my father-in-law jokingly told me once, “Edric can be a monster.” I laughed because I thought it was an exaggeration. This couldn’t possibly be true, I thought.

However, a few weeks after we got married I began to see what my father-in-law meant. Edric had a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to him. When he was in good spirits he was the most fun person to be with. He was energetic, intense, and passionate. But, when he was uncomfortable due to heat, hunger, fatigue, or stress, he was the binary opposite. If his expectations were not met he tended to be critical. Furthermore, as the only son in his family, he wasn’t used to being flexible with inefficiencies and changes in plans. He admitted that he was used to being treated like a PRINCE. Naturally, in marriage, he graduated to KING and wanted to be treated that way.

I began to entertain thoughts like, “Is this the man I married? Is this how marriage is going to be?”

One of the mistakes I made was I compared Edric to my dad. Even though I didn’t vocalize this, it was like I had a mental chart in my head with two names on it..Edric versus my father. And then I went down the list of “categories” and said things like, “Why can’t Edric be more even-keeled like dad? Why doesn’t he make choices like dad in this area? Why isn’t he a better provider?”

So I made it my mission to help Edric be a better husband and leader. I thought I was doing him a favor by correcting and pinpointing areas for improvement. But this didn’t work. It only lead to more conflict.

Edric would be driving down Edsa and if someone cut him off, he would try to chase the person down and antagonize him. This would deeply annoy me, so I would say things like, “Why do you have to get angry? You shouldn’t do that. That’s not a godly response.”

He would react with greater irritation at my attempts to teach him, and tell me to back off and leave him alone, that it wasn’t the time or place to correct him. According to him, he already knew he was wrong and he didn’t need me to say it.

This sort of scenario and many others repeated themselves over and over so that I developed a resentment toward Edric. I became an expert at rolling my eyeballs, deep sighing, snide remarking, contradicting and arguing, the silent treatment, even withholding sex at times, and a host of other tactics to communicate my disappointment in his leadership and choices.

I even kept journals where I enumerated my frustrations and hoped that he would read them. He didn’t. He had no idea what kinds of ugly feelings inspired me to fill pages and pages of my notebooks. After a while, I worried that if my children or others ever read my journals in the future they would think I had such an awful marriage which wasn’t true. But since I tended to write more when I was upset at Edric, my journals reflected this!

I praise God for couples’ retreats and seminars, the advice of wise women who have gone before me, and for God’s word where I learned and relearned about my role as a wife. I had failed to respect Edric because I thought of it as conditional. My perspective was, If he was deserving I would respect him. And what about me? What about being cherished and treated with respect?

God showed me that I was neck-deep in ugly pride and bitterness, and these hidden sins of my heart were making me a contentious and unpleasant wife. I mistakenly thought I was the better half in our relationship, the one who was more spiritually mature. But I wasn’t! My attitude was turning Edric’s heart away from me and it wasn’t inspiring him to grow spiritually either.

I realized that respect was one of Edric’s needs and desires, and I wasn’t meeting it. More importantly, I was disobeying God’s command to respect Edric as the head of our marriage and family. God convicted me to look at the many ways that I needed to change. How could I be a better helpmate? Edric’s strong supporter? A life-giver along side him? What did I have to stop doing and start doing?

I determined to do four things:

The first was I PRAYED for Edric and SURRENDERED him to the Lord. Instead of nagging Edric, I began to beseech God, presenting to him very specific requests about Edric, myself and our marriage. As I came before the Lord in dependence and brokenness, I experienced God’s peace, assurance, and security. The burden to change Edric was turned over to Jesus and I relaxed as a wife.

For the first time I began to understand what it meant to be a gentle and quiet spirit. It was resting in who God is amidst circumstances, amidst the urge to manipulate or control Edric, or fight for my rights as a wife. It was knowing that I was heard — my hurts, longings and desires — by the ONE who knew me best and loved me most.

Second, I FORGAVE Edric and chose to apply the principle of a CLEAN SLATE. If Jesus had died for me and forgiven me completely, who was I not to do the same for my husband?

The Bible tells us the God’s mercies are new every morning. Similarly, I needed to let go of the compounded hurt that kept stealing my joy. Instead of thinking, “he’s never going to change”, or “see he’s going to do the same thing again,” I said to myself each day is a new opportunity to love and forgive Edric.

Third, I asked Edric “HOW CAN I BE A BETTER WIFE? This is, of course, a dangerous question to ask! I discovered I had to improve a lot! I needed to speak in a more gentle way, I needed to do what he told me right away (as often as possible), I needed to prioritize his want for companionship, attention, service, and intimacy. So I humbled myself and asked for forgiveness for my disrespect and the things I had done to hurt him. I still have to do this when I repeat the same mistakes.

Fourth, I learned to BE A MORE AFFIRMING AND ENCOURAGING WIFE. Instead of telling him how he should lead spiritually, I affirmed his love for God and desire to follow him. Instead of second-guessing and challenging his decision-making, I expressed confidence in his leadership. Instead of wishing we had more money, I thanked him for working hard and trying his best to provide for our needs. Instead of focusing on what he was doing wrong, I tried to pay closer attention to instances when he made godly choices.

When I chose to be more positive, I realized what an amazing man I was and am married to. There were so many things that I didn’t see when I was focused on the negative aspects of his person (which were really minimal in light of all his great facets). When I was zoning in on his faults and criticizing them, I had tunnel vision for the bad that blackened out his wonderful traits.

Slowly but most certainly, Edric began to transform. It wasn’t overnight but God worked in his heart and made him a more selfless, patient, and Spirit-filled man. Today I see the old Edric less and less. If I had the beta version when we got married, God has upgraded him to version 10.0 x 10.0. God keeps on upgrading him!

For example, in the mornings I get my baby from her room and breastfeed her in ours. This is early in the morning. Sometimes, I get her at 5 or 5:30 am. Afterwards, she doesn’t go back to bed again. She is fully awake. In the past, Edric would have ordered me to bring her out so he can get more sleep. But he is the one who lovingly takes her and brings her downstairs to our househelp so I can rest. It’s a sweet gesture that demonstrates how different he has become. From expecting to be treated like a KING, he is willing to serve me and inconvenience himself for me.

A few weeks ago we were enjoying our date night when he asked me, “How can I improve and change as a husband?” I had to think long and hard and I replied, “Honestly, you have been great! I can’t really think of anything.”

Photos from that date night…

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Years ago I would have jumped at the opportunity to bullet point all the ways I wanted him to change. But by God’s grace he is a transformed person because of Christ’s continued work in his life. He is truly a godly leader, a loving and understanding husband, and a good provider. He is a man that I admire and respect with all my heart.

While I still struggle with respect and Edric still struggles with impatience from time to time, the secret to victory, romance and joy in our marriage is keeping Christ at the center of our relationship. When the motivation to keep improving wanes or when we are tempted to return to the selfish version of our Christ-less selves, Jesus becomes our superseding why, compelling us to press on in obedience and hopeful expectation.

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me
. (‭Galatians‬ ‭2‬:‭20‬ NASB)

Serving together at the CCF Couples Retreat in Baguio. I love this man!

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