True Love

When I ask people what is true love, they will reply with various kinds of answers. Some people may not believe in it, some people believe but they still have not experienced it. Some has lowered their standard regarding of their love story because the ideal so-called ‘true love’ is too good to be true. Some wait for the mr/mrs right because they believe that will be the moment they will experience true love. So they hop in one relationship to another to seek ‘the one’ meant to be for them. I’m not an expert of love. But in this writing, I’m going to share my definition of true love.

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True love has one source, God. God IS love (1 John 4:8). In Him, we can find what is true love and what is true love in actions. I find it is impossible to try to define true love apart from this truth. God has shown us what love is through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In Rome 5:8, Paul described it so beautifully: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” True love sacrifices even to the point of death for someone who may not deserve it. We don’t deserve that kind of love from our God, but He gave it to us. He has shown us what it truly means to love someone. Love is giving … your very own for the sake of your beloved. It’s always comes from within and not because of what others have done for you. Otherwise, it will be a business transaction, no longer a ‘love’.

Yes, true love nowadays is rare. Maybe because many people refuse to believe on its existence. Even if they do believe, they believe it for the wrong reasons and motive. True love is not when you find the right one for you. It’s unrealistic to depend entirely on someone ‘perfect’ who can make your life happy. If we see it closer, it’s a bit of selfish, isn’t it? If we strive for this definition of true love, we will always fail. We will end up in jumping from one relationship to another, looking desperately for ‘the one’, leaving more scars in our hearts. True love is also not when everything is perfect. No one is perfect. Therefore there will be flaws in your partner, obstacles in your relationships. Parents’ approval, emotional baggage, difference in characters, habits, and preferences may be obstacles that you have to face together. True love isn’t free from these problems, but it always find a way out and endure the hard seasons of life together. I know it sounds so idealistic. But it really takes two people who are committed to each other through the good and bad to make love lasts. Only a love that has persevered and conquered many obstacles in life can be called true love.

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The whole point in loving someone is sacrifice. Will you sacrifice your preference in watching movies that you like and watch his/her preference? Will you sacrifice your time to be with him/her? Will you sacrifice your money to satisfy him/her? Will you sacrifice your ego to apologize to reconcile with him/her? You can see that the standard of true love is so high that we find it is very difficult to achieve the perfect score. Yes, it’s difficult. Therefore we really need to connect with the Source of love itself and draw love supply from Him. Only people who has satisfying relationship with God can satisfy his/her partner of life. Only people who feel loved all the time by God can love their partner all the time. We may dislike our partner sometimes, but we can still choose to love him/her anyway. If you feel that your relationship with God is not right or you ‘feel’ distant [I emphasize the word ‘feel’ because it is always us who feel that God is distant, but actually He is always with us], then it is wiser to build your relationship with God first before you start with someone. How can you do that? Spend time with Him. Pray and spend time to read His words and let it works in your heart. Too many people settle  in their relationship with God. They think they have it enough. Keep Him involved in everydays of your life and let Him fill you with His abundant love.

I find that the partner who is ready in a committed relationship is the one who doesn’t need a partner anymore. Why? Because God is their partner. They find Him sufficient. An earthly partner will be an addition to their wholeness in God. Don’t let human being fill your loneliness in life. Go to God. True love is given to those who are mature enough to sacrifice and love the God’s gift of partner. You don’t expect partner who has so and so qualities while you don’t have it either. Grow yourself first. Make it a purpose that you will give the very best version of you once you meet him/her. Make them feel blessed when they have a partner who love the Lord with all of their hearts, minds, and souls. Make them proud when they have a partner with mature characters, responsible, committed, honest, discipline, and strive for growth in life.

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True love is a gift from God. It happens when you REST in Him and not frantically seek potential partner of life. Some argue that we need to pray and work to find him/her. Some argue that we need only to pray and wait. So which one is right? I believe it is both in the right proportion. We don’t expect that we can only pray and really do nothing in our home and hope God will send him/her right at our door. But we also are not frantically seek him/her as if it really depends on our own effort. Do you get what I mean? It is a beautiful balance between praying, developing pure friendships with opposite sex, and waiting. I highlight “pure friendships” because most of people do not intend for friendship. They intend for dating. It’s really a different stage. The very sign whether you are developing pure friendships or dating him/her is asking yourself, “Will you still be friend with him/her when they have boyfriend/girlfriend?” I find that most people who intend for dating draws their presence from their  opposite sex ‘friend’ when they commit relationship with other. There is also none of physical contact that can send different signals when it is in pure friendship stage. Don’t rush in to “dating stage”. Take time to really know him/her. Don’t let the flings or the ‘feeling’ of love blind you from defining the truth.

I believe that as a woman, my part is to wait and not to seek. My part is to develop Godly woman qualities that will be a gift to my future partner. My part is to preserve dignity and not tossing my feelings and bodies easily to men who may not committed for long term relationship. There is no space for trial and error for me. I wait for 21 years and not get into relationship until God shows me the right time has comes. I don’t wait idly but productively doing things for His Kingdom. And in spite of many ugly realities around, I preserve my faith that my God, the Source of love, is the best Author of love story. He really writes a beautiful love story for those who give the pen for Him. Surrender your love story in full of faith. Don’t expect less because the world around you give you bad examples. Expect more in God. When it comes to your love story, aim high. Get ready to make a lot sacrifices but also get ready to reap the beautiful fruits of it in the end. Choose a partner who has been tested through difficult times. Someone … who is worthy of you. Someone who fights for you. And wait patiently for God’s timing to make His wonderful plans unfold. I can ensure you, it will be worth the wait.

Blessings,
Leticia

Photos by Jennifer Phelps Photography

The “Say Hi” Friend

When I was in high school until college, I had lots of “say hi” friends. Why do I call them “say hi” friends? Because all that we do were just saying “Hi” each time we passed by. It seemed like I knew so many people yet in fact I knew so little about them. I may only remember their faces without name! As I grew up, I feel kind of tired having lots of “say hi” friends. Why? Maybe because deep in my heart I long for an intimate friendship. Most of my ‘friends’ during my study years are ‘gone’. No contact, no meeting. Each has their own path of life. I even wonder how can be those who used to be close (not the “say hi” friends) are not close at all by now. It feels like the passing time and lack of maintenance  in a relationship really separate people. Now, I have tendency to be more selective with whom I spend my time with. Not because I am arrogant or picky. But because I really want to use my time for a long term relationship, with people who will be my forever friends and not just momentary one.

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It is being said that friends do come and go, but a true friend is the one who comes and never leave. I really believe that if a friendship is for real, no matter how far distance separates us, we will always have a way to find one another. We will make time to maintain the relationship. Most of us are surprised when we already get so far from our used-to-be-close-friends. We expect that without investment of time to catch up with one another we can always be close. But the fact doesn’t prove that to be true. Far from it, with no investment of time, friendship dies!

Jesus regards us as His friend. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do whatever I command you. From now on I call you not servants; for the servant knows not what his lord does: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:13-15) And of course for Him, you are so much more than a “say hi” friend. You don’t die for a “say hi” friend, but you may be willing to die for your very good friend. I guess that perspective separates people whom we spend time with different categories such as: true friend, just friends, and “say hi” friends.

1. “Say hi” Friends

Our relationship with God sometimes stay in level of “say hi” friendship. We may stop by during the day or before we eat to say, “Hi” to Him. We have a fixed prayer on everything such as, “Thank you God for this food. Bless this food so it can be free from anything that can harm our body. In Jesus name we’ve prayed, amen!” On and on. We pray the same prayer. Or maybe we call on God when we are only in need. When we face problem, we immediately call on Him, “God, help me!” So let’s have a check on our own friendship with God. Is He a “say hi” friend to you?

All of us will go through this phase first before going to another. If we find God trustworthy, we will be willing to advance our friendship with God to another phase. The same thing goes with our relationship with fellow humans. If we find they are trustworthy, don’t keep them in “say hi” friends box, pursue them so that you may develop deeper friendship with them.

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2. Just Friends

This is level of friendship where we exchange names and a little bit of general information about each other’s lives. You may know their name, family, job, interests, likes or dislikes, etc. You may even often spend time with them for fun. But it stops there. You don’t encourage one another to achieve goals in life, there is no depth intimacy, and so on. Sometimes we treat God as “just friends” too! “Jesus, here is what you should know and what you can interfere in my life. But in this area, let me control it in my own way.” It’s a half-surrender relationship. It may be fun at some point, but it goes no where. It makes us stuck in our spiritual growth.

3. True Friend

When Jesus called us as His friend, He meant it for the true friend. Why? He entrusted His secrets to you. He knew you can be trusted with the knowledge of His Kingdom and about his very heart for people. He has called you to be a vessel of love to share His love to the world. That is a huge secret! And also a huge responsibility.  God longs to have an intimate relationship with you, a communication between the two of you and not just one side communication. He wants to spend time with you.

We have seen that friendship grows through the investment of time. When we don’t spend time much with Jesus, no wonder we feel Him so far away. We cannot treat Him as a “say hi” friend and expect true friendship will emerge. Start prioritizing time with Jesus that will not be bothered with other activities. Say no to all activities that will interupt your time with Jesus. We will always make time for those whom we regard as important. Having a career is good, ministry is good. But your time with God is the best of all.

Another element of a true friend that must exist is the trust you share with him/her. You absolutely can trust Jesus for all your secrets. He does not merely keep it, but He can guide you to overcome the sins that keep you in bondage. Trust Him. When you do what He commands, you allow Him to give the solution of your problems. When it is so hard to forgive people who offend you, but you know Jesus command you to forgive, and you do it anyway, you will reap the sweet harvest of peace afterward. Of course it will not be easy. Therefore it really takes TRUST in Him. When your father command you to jump from the second floor and promise that he will catch you, it is no longer depend on his power to make it work but your trust in him that will make it succeed. God is like a very good Father who will not harm you. If He commands one thing, He is trying to save you from more horrible consequences.

“Faith don’t come in a bushel basket. It comes one step at a time. Decide to trust Him for one little thing today, and before you know it, you find out He’s so trustworthy you be putting your whole life in His hands.” -Lynn Austin

Trust takes time to grow. The very reason we experience broken trust in this world is because we give it too soon to untrustworthy people. It takes both time and trustworthy character before we can give trust to someone else. You don’t need to doubt on God about this. He is the expert of it! He even cannot lie! “God is not a human that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19) But on human being, test their character first before you give trust to somebody. See what they do with little stuff. Does lying seem okay with them? [Even lying for good] Do they keep their promise? Do they prioritise friendship with you? Don’t give portions of your heart to those who are unreliable to treasure it. Allow some time and open your eyes to see straight into their hearts.

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Just like having so many “say hi” friends eventually makes me tired, our spiritual life may be dry too when we treat our supposed-to-be True Friend as “say hi” friends. We will get bored with shallow relationships. Go deeper in your relationship with God. Do you find it hard to understand your Bible? Start reading, googling its background, and search for what He wants for you. Do you find it is hard to find time to have quiet time? Wake up earlier or schedule some time later that is unnegotiable with other activities. Guard your friendship with God with all your might.

Friendship may start effortless. You know someone when he is your classmate back then and it happened that you were in the same group study as him. But our friendship with God started with a very high price, His blood at the cross. Treasure it. He did not start it easy, so it is so worth catching up on regular basis. Value each of your friendship too with others. Invest your time more on your true friends, and if you find them can build you up, leverage their level from “say hi” or “just friend” to true friends.

Have a truly fulfilling friendship with God and others!

Blessings,
Leticia

Photos by Jennifer Phelps Photography

Blessings in Disguise

There are seasons of life. There are people who go through the same season like us, there are also some who face different season than us.  Among the crowd, I observed that there were some teenagers who were hanging out with their peers, some were young parents with their babies, some were families who were looking for a place to have a lunch, and so on. They are in completely different ages and seasons of life which later on lead to different priorities. For teenagers, their social life might mean the whole world. Their friends are everything. Hanging out with friends can make them feel cool and secure. For young parents, their babies are the attention grabber of their new life. They can’t do whatever they want without being interrupted by the babies’ needs. What about my world? Well, my role now in my home is as a young adult daughter with parents. It is quite challenging when we are in the age that society defines us as mature while we still need to submit to authority of our parents at many points in our lives. The culture I live in has a normal standard that a daughter lives their parents only when she gets married. Living alone when you haven’t got married for our typical parents can be regarded as dangerous. Moreover when our generation’s purity standard is in pitifully rate. So in sum, I feel stuck. I feel like I can’t be free as I supposed to be on my age. I can’t have a place to stay on my own, I can’t fully decide everything major without permission from parents. To ignore their  prohibitions will be regarded as an act of disrespect according to them. But my view has changed when one incident came into my life … and here I want to share what I find regarding obedience to parents.

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Parents … can be real enemy but can also be our true friends. It can be real enemy because they are mostly opposed your wants and current values in many areas of life. They are the one who can say, “No!” when everybody surrounds us shout, “Yes!” They are those who loves us but sometimes cannot express it the way it should be. Well, parents are still human you know.. In my culture, parents who can say, “I love you,” everyday to their children are completely rare. They perhaps express their love on their provision of daily needs and protection. Please do highlight the word “protection” before! The willingness to protect us can be actualized in the forms of prohibitions, rules, and restraints. If you are young, you know that way is totally ineffective. More rules will only make young people get more rebellious either in their hearts or actions. So, conflict between parents and children are totally unavoidable. There will always be difference of points of view, miscommunication, misunderstandings, and so on. Our language of love may be different from theirs. But on the opposite sites, parents are totally our true friends. Why do I think so? It’s because they are those who will be on our side even when the whole world leave us out. They will always be there in our toughest moments of life. Friends do come and go, but parents … will always forever be parents. They stick with us no matter what.

Apart from understanding this, I still find myself struggling with submission at times. Love … seems natural for parents to children. But for children to love parents? It takes what I call: REAL MATURITY! We can see that we are accustomed to receive since we were being born to this earth. We receive milk, food, education, compassion, attention, gifts, and uncountable things to be mentioned. It would be unnatural for us to love because love demands us to take position as a giver unconditionally. That unconditional part sounds hard, does it? Parents’ love are unconditional. They love us no matter what.. simply because we are their flesh and blood, their children. Keep a note that ‘love’ does not always go along with ‘like’. There are a lot of our characters and behaviours which they may don’t like. But no matter how many they are, they don’t change our parents’ love to us. That’s how amazing their love is! They can tell out the world about all your weakness and even pissed off with you, but at the same time they also can’t stop thinking and worrying about you [Okay, I do realise that not all parents are the same. But what I convey here is the truth in general which I see through my very own eyes :D) Back to my main point, so how can we love our parents unconditionally? And how can we submit to them more easily?

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The first fact we need to establish here is acknowledging that we are not love ‘producers’. Only God, who is love (1 John 4:8), can produce the wellspring of love within us. It takes us to catch His heart regarding honoring and obeying our parents and let Him work within us to will to do so. Realise that love is a decision, not a feeling. Like is a feeling. Love is the compassion you decide to give no matter how you feel. And that’s lift up love to entirely a higher standard! It is completely a decision to keep caring and loving no matter they ‘deserve’ it or not. I have learned that it is through loving the things I don’t like is where my character grows. When my parents asked me to do things I dislike, it takes a decision to obey as an expression of love to them. Since I was not a very good girl back then in this area of obedience, it is common that I am still treated as a disobedient girl most of the time. Parents can say many discouraging words that do not motivate us to express love further. I used to be discouraged because of such response. But as I grow now, I know that it should never hinder my very intention to express love to them.

What we don’t realise is, parents’ hearts have many pains caused by others in this world. It is not easy for them to receive love as love and be gratitude because of it instantly. For some, it takes continuous actions of love for years to make them believe that they are loved. Now we get into very important point here: our love is not love until the receiver feels loved. We may argue that we have done this and that but unless our receiver of love feels loved, that means nothing. It really takes … patience to be a lover. 

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” – 1 Corintians 13:4[NIV]

In its origin language, “love”  here is using the word “agapao” which is the highest form of love from God to men. Unconditional and sacrificial love. And it becomes more interesting when “patient” in its original language is “makrothumeo” which means long-suffering, to persevere patiently and bravely in enduring misfortunes and troubles, offenses and injuries of others, not to lose heart, slow to anger, slow to punish. A double WOW! Love is not that simple. Even the word ‘patient’ lost its deep significance to describe what love really is. Love is a gift that can only be given by a real mature person.

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As now I am growing as a young adult, I need to lift up my standard in my relationship with my parents. It is no longer about me as a spoil little princess who receive anything she wants and demanding love and attention from them, but me as young adult seeks to love, honor, respect, and serve them as my gratitude for raising me up this far. It’s not an obligation, but the way to express my gratitude to them. And through the ups and downs in my journey of learning to love my parents, I have learned that parents do feel loved the most when they feel respected. Respect is being actualised through obedience. Of course, it doesn’t make us to be like a robot who needs to do everything they want, but it is very very very (when I repeat it three times it means verrryy important) important to convey our opinions in respectable manner and neutral tone. Through my experience, it really sadden them a lot when you speak rudely to them.

We will never can feel how hard it is being a mom/dad before being one. But trying to feel what it’s like on their shoes will help us a lot to change our attitude to them. Rules and restrictions they give can be translated as, “I am worrying about you when you do this and that..” So we need to ensure that worry-producer factor is being resolved. For example, when parents say, “You are not allowed to come home above 10 pm!” They are actually worrying about many crimes during late night especially when you are a girl and alone outside. They will feel safer when you go home earlier. Respect their feelings. Go home earlier will not make an end to our world  anyway 🙂 Our friends, if they are really good, will understand about that. For every restriction, there will always be a reason behind it. They may not able to communicate it clearly, but try to understand even it doesn’t make sense to our logic. It takes faith to obey your parents just like it takes faith to obey our God. We have to believe first that they will always think for our own good. If they have to change their mind, trust that God will do it in His time. It is never our job to change them. Our job is to provide a safe environment to allow the required changes to happen through continuous love and respect.

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Last but not least, for me, parents are blessings in disguise from the Lord. There are so many blessings hidden behind their words and actions that we may don’t like. We can only receive those blessings when we walk in obedience and faith day by day.  There are so many things that I am glad I obeyed my parents back then and it protected me from unnecessary hurts. God has given our parents for a reason. Embrace them the way they are as they have embraced you since you were in the womb.

Proverbs 10:1
The proverbs of Solomon: A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son brings grief to his mother.”

Proverbs 13:1
“Wise children take their parents’ advice, but whoever makes fun of wisdom won’t listen to correction.”

Blessings,
Leticia

Photos by Jennifer Phelps Photography

The Beauty of Submission

Have you ever thought why do married couple get divorced? How can a relationship that started so sweet and romantic turns into bitter and painful? How do they get from where they were to where they are now? What went wrong? Is there any way to prevent that happen to us? As you can see, it is hard to find a harmonious and long-lasting marriage these days. The celebrity whose movies we often watch may already have three marriages and they are going to divorce their current spouse. Most of the people are eager to find “the right one” and when they find their spouse isn’t “the-right-one-should-be”, they find an excuse to break the vow they made on their wedding day. Life has become an endless search for “the other half” and will not find rest until they find one. Reasons for divorce are also varying from unnegotiable differences, unfaithfulness, dishonesty, domestic violence, lack of money, no more love, and many more. I am not going to discuss whether we should or should not divorce out of these various reasons. What I would like to address in this post is to show us the picture of marriage as God has designed it to be. I know the world gives us many examples which are so different than what I want to reveal to you. But could it be the world’s way simply does not work so that they end up mostly in heartbreak and divorce? If we want a different result from most of marriages around, we need to take a different role model, a marriage that is designed by God and not human. Before we make any decision that will change our entire life regarding marriage, whether entering marriage or getting out of it, let us move backward and see marriage as God sees it 🙂

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Marriage … in God’s eyes is very special. God LOVES marriage. Jesus even made His first miracle, turning water into wine, in a wedding party just to save the party so that it would not ruin. One of the first thing happened in the beginning of the Bible was the  marriage between Adam and Eve, and also will end with a great wedding banquet in heaven. Marriage is very dear to God’s heart because it is the kind of relationship that reflects His love to human the most. Jesus consider us, sinful human, as bride while He is the groom. So man plays the role of Jesus while the woman plays the role as the church in a marriage (Ephesians 5).

I don’t know whether you are familiar with the Bible passage below or not. Some people think that the Bible is boring, but I’d love to help to show you God’s heart through this passage. So please bear with me and learn to read it slowly 🙂

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church -for we are members of his body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery -but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” 
-Ephesians 5:21-33 [NIV]

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Why do I include a long passage here? It’s because many people take only part of it but seldom see the whole picture. I found men who demand his wife to respect and submit to him because he is the head of the family. He can use Ephesians 5:22 which says, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord” or Ephesians 5:33b which says, “…and the wife must respect her husband.” But the question is, “Is it really what God want?” Nope. The verse before Eph 5:22 clearly says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” How can we submit to one another? What is it look like? How can the head of family submit to his wife?? Let us look at verse 25, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her..” How does Christ shows love to us (the church)? By dying for us. He sacrificed himself for us. When Paul said, “Husbands, love your wives ..” he used the word ‘agapao’ for ‘love’. Agape is the form of love from God to human. Agape is unconditional and sacrificial! Men are called to love with the highest form of love to their wives! Amazing 😀 And what an interesting connection with what Jesus once said, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over them; yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant.” (Luke 22:25-26, NLT)

So, what the “head” in the family should do? To serve. The best way to go up is to go down. The best way to lead is to serve. That’s what Jesus was saying. He even gave us example though washing His disciples’ feet (John 13:1-16). In those days, washing feet is a job of the lowest of the lowest slave who cannot do anything else in the house! There was no way to be heard that a person in upper social hierarchy washed the feet of persons with lower social hierarchy! Jesus turned around the whole system. If you want to lead, serve. Don’t call yourselves as the head of family when serving is the least thing you would want to do for our family members.

Marriage in God’s eyes is the best place to practice servanthood. Marriage can only work when what we prioritise the most is “How can I serve my spouse better?” and not “What can you do for me?”. It is so important that we should not allow one day even passes without considering how to make our spouse’s life happier and easier. Imagine when both husband and wife serve one another daily like this! I bet there is no need divorce between marriage couple anymore. But of course, it won’t be easy. It takes us to die to ourselves to serve others. It takes us to let our ego and pride die to make a way for love to grow and live. But  I never get bored saying this: hard does not mean impossible. It is possible as long as we are willing.

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The world’s ways of marriage turn into failure with one main general cause: because one or both of the couple use marriage as a place for them “to take” and not “to give”. They focuses on, “What can I get” rather than “What can I give.” Can you give me love, enough money to cover expenses, attention, faithfulness, security knowing that I am no longer single?” How about we think the other way around? Let’s ask ourselves, “Can I give you love as God loves you? Can I commit to serve you all the days of my life?” If we are not ready to serve, then we are actually not ready for marriage. That makes marriage is only for mature persons. Maturity itself is not defined by our age. Many people get married because their age says so. But we can find 40-years old person who only think about themselves only. Maturity is when we are able to think others more than ourselves, bear the responsibility and willing to sacrifice ego for greater cause (long-lasting and enjoyable marriage, for example.)

Love is not enough to be a strong foundation of marriage. Moreover, lust of sex will be much weaker foundation for marriage. Great marriage does not just happen. It requires intentional hard work. Our career is a work, but our relationship within marriage is the greater and more important work. A neglect of its importance can cause us a great heartache and sad ending as most people have. Submit to one another. Submission isn’t the sign of the weak, but the strong. Strong is the man who can put down their ego for the greater cause, happiness of both. I believe we don’t have to experience bad marriage as people do. There is a HOPE! What a good news! But we need to start and work on it with a different way, God’s way. Would you like to embrace His way and make it your own too?

Blessings,
Leticia

Photos by Jennifer Phelps Photography

First Thing First

One of my favourite TV Reality Show is Master Chef US. I love seeing people cook passionately as they pursue their dreams. After watching it, I was inspired to learn cooking by myself as well haha.. I started to watch some Youtube videos about the basics in cooking. What I love most is what Gordon Ramsay said in one of the episode of his Ultimate Cooking Course: “When you cut your ingredients, use your three-fingers-rule to hold it and start to cut it slowly. Don’t worry about the speed. If you get the basic right, speed will come along.

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It is kind of reminding me about the basic of piano when I learned when I was teenager. When I started to play piano, all I wanted was to learn a new song every week. I disliked practicing for fingering (which is not in a form of song). It consisted of a lot of repetition  of tones that are close in its position to strengthen your fingers.  All great piano players started with that since they were very young. But what I wanted was skipping that part and learning difficult songs right away. As you may guess, it didn’t work well. I might be able to play the song, but not as good as people who has more refined techniques and strong fingers. I think most of us who has a nature of being impatient struggle with this kind of stuff in many areas of life. We don’t want spend a lot of time to learn about the basics, all we want is to go to the advanced stuff so that we can be perform cool in front of others.

Unfortunately, this also happened in church life. You may often hear, “All we want is to get married, don’t tell us to join pre-marital classes to be fed up with lots of theories. We want to just do it and let it flow. We love each other. We can get married NOW.” Or you may also hear, “I can preach! I know lots of stuff in the Bible. I can preach NOW.” Wow.. such impatience can really lead us to disaster! Why? Because it is like building a tall building without a strong foundation. It just cannot be. Even if it can stand tall by now, it is only a matter of time, when trouble hits, it will be destroyed. Imagine if we start to cut the ingredients as if we are a Master Chef when we have zero experience with the knife. We tried to cut it as fast as we can just like what we watch in TV. We don’t want to cut it slow like a snail. We ignore the bla-bla-bla rules of how to cut properly and all we think about is the speed. We may cut our finger accidentally as a result.

Imagine, if we enter marriage without enough knowledge and skills about how to build a great marriage. Many failed marriages around us should make us think that marriage is not easy. There were things that they did which eventually make their marriages failed. And there must be also things that we can do to make it work. How can we know?  We can steal the precious lessons when we learn from those who have a great marriage! And the more we learn before we marry, the better preparation and the stronger foundation we have to move ahead.

As another example, imagine if we preach just out of knowledge without enough good practical example and character that we have lived in our own life. People will see our double-life and soon they will not listen anymore to our teaching. Why? Because people will respect what they see more than what they hear from us. So, if this is not the time for us to appear in front of public, call it a preparation phase to build our character, which will be a strong foundation in our future ministry. So, first thing first. Build the foundation of everything in your life, before you build anything. 

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We have known that foundation is so important. Now, what does a strong foundation look like? The Bible always points Jesus Christ as the foundation of everything. As believers, Jesus is ought to be the centre of our lives. A strong marriage is the one who place Jesus as the centre and build up after his wills.

“For by him all things are created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” -Colossians 1:16-17 (ESV).

“The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” -Psalm 18:2 (NIV)

We have seen many people tend to rush in building their dreams with least preparation or wrong foundation. For example, many people enter marriage with weak motives such as, “Because my age is already 29.” Many don’t realise that such weak motives can create cracks on the building of marriage they are going to build. The most common question which is being asked by psychologist when they face problematic couple is, “Why did you marry at the first place?” Weak motives are weak foundation and no wonder the road will get bumpier in days to come. So, first thing first. Find the WHY before you make every huge decision in life. And make the WHY become your strong statement so that each time you are tempted to give up in the middle, you can go back and be strengthened with it.

If you ask me why I choose to marry, I will give these answers:

1. Because I want to build a Godly marriage, family, and home. A marriage that will glorify God and become blessing for others. A marriage that will inspire others to love their spouse in the way God wants it.

2. Because I trust completely in my partner and together we can build a stronger partnership for ministry.

3. Because I want to grow more in Christ-like characters. I am fully aware that marriage will become the toughest school of character in life, yet it will also be the most rewarding. I realise that in order to make a great marriage, I have to die to self. I have to say goodbye to my ego, I have to serve, sacrifice, and prioritise my spouse and others to bring harmony at home and glory to God. I am also aware that marriage comes with a huge responsibility. I honestly feel that I haven’t ready yet to do it now and I manage to focus on keep building my character as foundation later on so that once I enter marriage I am already a fully grown woman (cannot be perfect for sure!) and mature in Christ so I will be more equipped to be Godly wife and mother.

These reasons may sound so ideal. But as we have discussed before, we need to set up the WHY so strong at the very beginning so that when we are tempted to give up, we can re-focus again and gain strength for the long haul.

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Your marriage and your dreams in the end are not about YOU. It’s all about JESUS. The question is not: “How can my marriage makes me happy? How can my dreams make me happy?” But instead, “How can God’s name be glorified through my marriage and dreams?” Many do whatever it takes to reach their success in life, but do we do whatever it takes to please God in every area of our lives? First thing first. Behind everything you do, aim for pleasing God in every step of it. Thereby, we won’t be confused of taking the wrong steps where God clearly won’t guide us to do. If our role are as husbands and wives, aim to be the best spouse we could ever be. If our role are businessmen, aim to be the successful one while maintaining integrity in the eyes of God. In everything … do as if  unto the LORD.

“Whatever you do, work it with all your heart, as working for the LORD, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” -Colossians 3:23-24 [NIV]

The fact that we have built a strong foundation and aimed for pleasing the Lord in everything we do doesn’t mean that we are immune from calamities, suffering, and failure in the eyes of the world. The fact that we live in a fallen world will keep being our background of our daily lives. We will be different from the majority who do things in worldly ways. We may be considered weird, odd, ‘holy’, conventional, and many others. We may be even mocked or get into trouble simply because we are different from them. That’s why we need to keep back on trusting the Lord day by day. First thing first. The whole journey of life is not about how many people you please. It is not how many achievements you get from the world. It is not about how much money you earn. It is a constant journey of trusting the Lord from the beginning until the end. Do we believe that the Lord will protect us from any harm? Do we believe that if I refuse to do things in worldly ways, God will reward me? Do we believe that God’s peace will abide in us in spite of our circumstances? Do we believe that God will provide for whatever we need?

“For in the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”
 -Romans 1:17

Our whole journey of live began with faith in God and will end with faith also. Stay steadfast on your faith in God. Believe that God is good no matter what. Because with such strong and steady faith, we can conquer every suffering of the world and every attacks from the enemy. Of course, it doesn’t make any sense to our logic to believe the goodness of God when everything in our lives go from bad to worse. I have to admit that it is difficult. You know what I did when I face difficulties in life? I poured out my heart to God. My sorrow, my complaints, everything. I am honest with the Lord. I will tell Him when it is painful. I will cry. I live as a normal human being when facing difficulties. But after that, I will come back in track. I will seek what is God’s will for me at that moment. I will find my refuge back in His faithfulness which has been proven for thousands of years in the Scripture. I learn to be grateful and to praise Him even though it is hard. And I believe, by doing that, I grow. I grow stronger in my faith with the Lord and more intimate with Him. King David, a man after God’s own heart, wrote so many complaints to God in the book of Psalms. But I like his attitude after delivering those complaints, he would go back to praise God and declared his trust on Him.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,

    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,

    by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
    you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;

    they trusted and you delivered them.

To you they cried out and were saved;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.” 
-Psalm 22:1-5 [NIV]

There is nothing please God more than when we trust in Him. Trust will lead to obedience to His Word (because we trust that His Words will be a great recipe to solve ALL of our problems even it doesn’t happen in our time, but His time!)

First thing first. Build such a strong foundation in our lives although it will require us to have a long preparation. Do everything as if unto the Lord and make it a purpose for us to pursue. And trust God’s faithfulness and goodness no matter what. By then, we will grow strong in the Lord and live a life in a way that will give a meaning to God and others.

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Love,
Leticia

Photos by Jennifer Phelps Photography and Axioo

The Right Person

There is a saying goes like this: “Show me your friends, I will show you your future.” Wow.. that’s deep you know. I mean.. is it really you can tell more about me or even my future just by seeing who are my friends? Yup.. we may not realise it, but the people surrounds us most of the time influence us more than we can imagine. The way they talk will much or less influence the way we talk too. What they regard as right or wrong somehow will give influence in what we regard as right or wrong too. If a friend who may not live with you 24-hours and perhaps spend time with you only about three times a week will shape your future, how much more do you think your partner of life (spouse) will eventually influence you?

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I have been thinking lately about how much our boyfriend/girlfriend can start influencing us in many ways. I have felt that and I have seen that happens to other couple as well. I heard a mother says, “I do not have to know my son’s girlfriend. I need only to see what change she has made into my son’s life.” It sounds harsh at first, but as I think about it more, I find a hidden wisdom there. Yes, this mother knows exactly that a partner will unavoidably influence her son. She has experienced itself in her marriage anyway! The simplest way to know whether his son’s girlfriend will do good for her son in the future is by seeing whether her son grow in character and behaviour after dating with the girl.

When we are in love, many people say that we will be blind. We cannot see our partner’s flaws so clearly because we are under the spell called “love”. In contrast, our parents and good friends, can see much more clearly and objectively. Me, as a young woman, of course, there is so much energy to rebel and prove that they are wrong and my judgment is right. But reality has convicted me that most of the time, they are right, and I have to learn so much more. What a lesson! Yes, receiving someone’s advice and admitting humbly that they may be right is a process of falling down to your knees and put to death to our young ego and truly seeks what God really wants for us in romantic relationship. His will, not ours. His best plan, not our plan. His choice, not mine. So that makes me pondering what are the qualities for the right person to be with for the rest of our lives? Of course, I’m not referring to the perfect person which never exists. So we are talking about a person whose both strength and weakness can make our ship of love sail against all kinds of storm of life. The kind of partner who will build a love that endures and thrives until death set us apart.  Here are some of the qualities of “the right person”:

1. The right person will make you grow deeper in your relationship with God

This is the first and most important quality that our partner should have. The world often reverse the order in knowing someone to: body -> soul -> spirit. When we see hollywood movie, they all define the process of love backwards:

one night stand -> knowing who you slept with -> I don’t care what your believe system is as long as we are in love.

We can see clearly that when we prioritise physical intimacy ahead of spiritual intimacy, our judgment will be clouded under the spell of ‘love’ or perhaps to be exact, ‘lust’. We cannot see the purpose of the relationship objectively anymore. We don’t even bother the necessity of such thing. “I know he has different belief with me, but we are in love. He promises to come to church when we get married.” If we are doing the order backwards, we are cooking with a recipe for disasters.

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God wants there is a unity in spirit –> soul –> body. We should be standing in common ground in regard of our faith. Does he/she believe that Jesus Christ is their personal saviour? Does he/she live out their faith? Does he/she has a desire to grow, to serve, and to learn God’s Word? Because many will admit as Christians, but many are doing that for lips service, or they might be in a baby stage of growth. They still need some time to grow. Their life will show whether their faith is genuine or not. We don’t want to be judgmental regarding people’s spirituality, but we are doing this to assess our compability in spiritual area with our potential partner. Be honest with your own eyes. You get what you see now. When you are in doubt, pray to the Lord, and ask what He wants for you and obey Him. The unity of body (sex) is preserved for marriage only. Outside of marriage, sex can only lead to misery: unwanted pregnancy, sexual diseases, heartache, and many more. The best time to control our sexual desire is now, when we are still single. When we can’t control it when we are unmarried, how can we be sure that we are able to control it when we are married? It is just the way our body works. Pray for God’s grace to enable you to do so. Because the best way to follow God’s way, is to use God’s strength and our decision to be willing to obey Him 🙂

2. The right person will challenge you to grow to be a better person inside and out

Let us recall what the mother said before. If her son gets worse in behaviour, in his speech, etc, there is no doubt for her that her son’s girlfriend has influenced him. We may not realise that we have changed in a certain way, but those who live with us and observe us continually will do. They see what we cannot see. When parents are pointing out something that they disagree with, our response should be to humble ourselves and listen although it’s hard. They give us a precious hint of what should be changed in our characters and behaviour. I dislike being treated with full of correction at first, but as I grow, I realise what my parents do is a favor. I mean, it is better for them to correct me now, rather than my (for example) mother-in-law to do so! It is better to be embarrassed in front our our own parents  rather than someone outside correct us more harshly.

The right person, will simply make you a better person. If you always late before, he/she will challenge you to be on time. If you are lacking of patience, he/she will help you to be more patient. A good relationship will be as iron sharpens iron.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” -Proverbs 27:17 [NIV] 

It may get uncomfortable for us, but if we are willing to grow in character, the process will go less painful and it will get easier by time. Real love is tough, you may have heard. Tough love is defined as an expression when someone treats other person he loves sternly with the intent of helping him in the long run. If we don’t want to make our partner uncomfortable in the process of growing their characters, we are actually letting them get into some difficulties in the future (same like parents’ love to their children.)

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3. The right person accepts you as you are, readily forgive your flaws, but also encourage you to be all that you can be in the future

Jesus accepts us the way we are. He forgives once and for all of our sins at the cross. He knows that we will sin again and again, but he has always been ready to forgive us on and on. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He challenges you too to grow so that you can fulfil His wonderful plans for you. He loves you too much to let you stay the same either. If we are still sinning as if we never know Him, we cannot fulfil His destiny for us. So he has shown us what real love is. There will be moment when we make mistakes. Our partner, too, will make mistakes at some point. But a mature partner will accept and learn to forgive continually. Ruth Graham Bell once says, “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” The right partner accepts and celebrates who you are at the present, but he/she will keep encouraging you to grow to be what possible you can be in the future.

After reading this, you may think, “Is there any person who is like that? It seems to good to be true.” Oh yes, there is! Not many, to be honest, but there is 🙂 It always starts with faith. Do you believe that God is so good and He won’t forget to give you the right partner? But we ourselves, need to grow first. Be the one you’re looking for is looking for. When you want your partner to possess all these qualities, grow in such a way so that you may have it also. Be the right person first. The right person will attract the right person. And here’s a little secret: after married, your spouse IS the right person! No matter how awful you start your marriage, keep in mind, the person you made vow with at the altar, IS and ALWAYS BE the right person. It keeps our lives from unnecessary regret and close the door for another adventure of love when we have got married. Treat your spouse “as if” he/she is the right person, have faith in what God can do in human’s hearts, and one day (yes there will be some time.. and you need to have faith!) he/she will completely become the right person. Yes of course it will be easier if we choose carefully from the early beginning, it gives us a better start 🙂

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So, are you the person you are looking for is looking for?

Blessings,
Leticia

Photos by Jennifer Phelps Photography

Kindness Changes Everything

And become useful and helpful and kind to one another, tenderhearted (compassionate, understanding, loving-hearted), forgiving one another [readily and freely], as God in Christ forgave you.” –Ephesians 4:32 [AMP] 

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Kind hearts are the gardens,
Kind thoughts are the roots,
Kind words are the blossoms,
Kind deeds are the fruits;
Love is the sweet sunshine
That warms into life,
For only in darkness
Grow hatred and strife.

-Kind Hearts by Unknown-

No one hates when someone being kind to them. Kindness is a language that even a baby can understand. It is simple, yet has a profound impact. Kindness is the quality of being gentle, considerate, helpful, generous. Kindness is simply doing something pleasant and helpful for the sake of others.

Jesus Christ is the ultimate kindest man ever lived on earth. One day Jesus went into the town of Jericho and was about to pass through it. In this town, there lived a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was,  but because he was short, he could not see him over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” But despite of all their grumblings, Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10, paraphrased)

For the Jews at that time, tax-collector was an occupation for sinners. Because the tax-collectors were Jews also, but they worked for Roman government to claim the taxes of their fellow nation. Tax-collector was regarded as betrayer of their own nation. It got worse because usually the nominal being asked for them to pay for tax  was much higher than what was required by the government. That was the source of the tax-collectors’ profit and wealth. Zacchaeus was not only a tax-collector, but he was a chief tax-collector. Imagine the head of the outcast! So, he was hated so much because of what he did for living. Moreover, his physical appearance made him less attractive than others. He was short. But the interesting part is this: Jesus, the all-knowing God himself, knew his presence on the top of the tree. To add it up, he said that he MUST stay for a night in his home. This gesture showed that Jesus did not regard Zacchaeus as people need to be isolated as most people did. He accepted Zacchaeus for who he was (even when he had not repented yet). Jesus showed a mind-blowing kindness when Zacchaeus did not deserve it.

Another beautiful part came next was the response of Zacchaeus who welcome Jesus gladly and went further by his willingness to give away his money and give back four times of the tax he had claimed in his life. This was a generous gift and showed that Zacchaeus treasured Jesus more than all his treasures. Compare this event with the story of rich man who was reluctant to let go his wealth to follow Jesus (Mat 19:21-22). The life of Zacchaeus changed completely because of one touch of kindness of Jesus. Jesus also responded Zacchaeus by giving the most priceless gift: the salvation of Zacchaeus and his family.

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Kindness changes everything. Whenever kindness is given to the undeserving ones, it becomes a nudge of love for them to go back to the way of God. Of course, not everybody may respond our kindness in a good way as Zacchaeus did. There are also people who will reject our kindness, take it for granted, and ungrateful. But the true focus of kindness is never to get anything in return, even the word of gratitude such as “thank you.” The focus of kindness is simply we want to reflect the kindness we have already received from God by extending it to others. It is always about receiving from God and giving to others. By doing so we become the extension of the hands of God to touch many lives with his kindness. There is nothing that can make us more like Jesus than when we love and do good to others.

Therefore, be kind. Because every person we meet day by day perhaps is facing unimaginable problems that weigh them down. Be kind. Because kindness changes everything. Kindness can turn enemy into friends. Kindness can mend a broken relationship. Kindness can carve a smile in the face of a stranger. Kindness can turn sorrow into joy. Be kind, then. Because God first has been good to us.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. -Romans 5:8

 Just a kind word or a greeting;
Just a warm grasp or a smile—
These are the flowers that will lighten
The burdens for many a mile.

– Leigh M. Hodges

  

-by Leticia

Photos in courtesy of Jennifer Phelps Photography