Saturday, May 10, 2008

Happy Mothers' Day!

I posted the “All about women” article below two years ago in my Salt and Light blog. I am reprinting it here in view of the worldwide celebration of Mothers’ Day tomorrow. My mother died August 2004 at age 80 of an inoperable heart condition. I am missing her right now, not because I am sick with slight fever, cough and cold, but because of everything she had done for me.

Before you get into the article, however, for mothers in particular and women in general, this excerpt from “Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul” (by John Eldredge and his wife Stasi) may excite, intrigue and arouse your interest about what it really is to be a woman. Okay, okay, even men like me can learn to appreciate knowing the core of femininity. Okay, here we go!

I may not agree with everything that Eldredge has written but in terms of writing style, I love his works. The very first book by Eldredge I read was “Sacred Romance” co-written with Brent Curtis. I gave my first copy of this book to a former high school yearbook staffer. I then bought a second copy and read it through again. Three or four years ago, I gave this second copy of “Sacred Romance” to the love of my life. She is the second most beautiful woman in the universe. Who is the most beautiful woman in the universe? Well, who else but movie actress Angel Locsin!The mystery of the feminine heart was meant to be a good thing, by the way. A source of joy. Yet it has become a source of shame - women almost universally feel that they are "too much" and "not what they should be." And men tend to pull away from the deeper waters of a woman's soul, unsure of what they will find there or how to handle it. And so we have missed the treasure that is the heart of a woman, missed the richness femininity was meant to bring to our lives, missed the way it speaks to us of the heart of God.

Rest assured - this is not a book about all the things you are failing to do as a woman. We're tired of those books. As a new Christian, the first book I (Stasi) picked up to read on godly femininity I threw across the room. I never picked it up again. In the twenty-five years since, I have only read a few I could wholeheartedly recommend. The rest drive me crazy. Their messages to women make me feel as though, "You are not the woman you ought to be - but if you do the following ten things, you can make the grade." They are, by and large, soul-killing. But femininity cannot be prescribed in a formula.

We have women friends who love tea parties and china, and friends who break out in hives at the thought of them. We have women friends who love to hunt, bow hunt even. Women who love to entertain and women who don't. Women who are professors, moms, doctors, nurses, missionaries, dentists, homemakers, therapists, chefs, artists, poets, rock climbers, triathletes, secretaries, salespeople, and social workers. Beautiful women, all.

So - is a true woman Cinderella or Joan of Arc? Mary Magdalene or Oprah? How do we recover essential femininity without falling into stereotypes, or worse, ushering in more pressure and shame upon our readers? That is the last thing a woman needs. And yet, there is an essence that God has given to every woman. We share something deep and true, down in our hearts. So we venture into this exploration of femininity by way of the heart. What is at the core of a woman's heart? What are her desires? What did we long for as little girls? What do we still long for as women? And, how does a woman begin to be healed from the wounds and tragedies of her life?

Sometime between the dreams of your youth and yesterday, something precious has been lost. And that treasure is your heart, your priceless feminine heart. God has set within you a femininity that is powerful and tender, fierce and alluring. No doubt it has been misunderstood. Surely it has been assaulted. But it is there, your true heart, and it is worth recovering. You are captivating.

So we invite you to take a journey with us, a journey of discovery and healing. For your heart is the prize of God's Kingdom, and Jesus has come to win you back for himself - all of you. To help your journey, we've written Captivating: A Guided Journal. You might want to use it as you read this book. And, gather a group of women and go through it together! We pray that God will use this book in your life, in your heart, to bring healing, restoration, joy, and life! And if God does that, it will be cause for a wonderful celebration. With teacups and china. Or paper plates. Whatever. One day, we will all celebrate together. In anticipation and hope, may this little book draw you closer to God's heart - and your own.
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All about women: Move over, Jang Geum!

I have a deep and dark confession to make to all of you.

Since last year, I have been completely out of touch with millions of Filipinos …

Okay, okay, enough already. I’m getting so melodramatic in this introduction that some of you might be jumping to wild conclusions about what this is all about. Actually, what I want to say is that last year, when millions of Filipinos were glued to their television sets nightly watching GMA 7’s “Jewel in the Palace”
I didn’t have a clue what the fuss was all about. The Koreanovela began and ended, and all I got to view was a few minutes of the show while I was riding on a Crossing bound aircon bus traveling along Ayala Avenue.

The only inkling I had of the show’s enormous popularity was when I heard a well-known Filipino pastor speak at length in a world missions conference about how he was forced to watch the show (its stars like Jang Geum and various cooking techniques) simply because his wife adamantly refused to watch any other show during that time slot.

Well, I found about two or three weeks ago, while waiting for the 6:30 news on television, that due to enormous public demand, “Jewel in the Palace” was being aired again by GMA 7. I’m catching snatches here and there of the show, of Jang Geum and kitchen politics in the royal palace, while I’m channel surfing waiting for the news programs to come on. Truth to tell, I just can’t relate to a show where the men wear funny looking hats! Give me the telenovela “Gokusen” anytime! The only Korean words I know and like are Tae Kwon Do, Hwa Rang Do, Tang Soo Do, Kuk Sool Won and Hapkido. (Some of you might know that all of these terms refer to Korean martial arts, with Hwa Rang Do founded by Joo Bang Lee, Tang Soo Do popularized in the US by Chuck Norris and his spinning back kick, and Hapkido featured in the 1970’s “Billy Jack” movies starring Tom Laughlin and Bong Soo Han.)

Anyway, I can’t argue with millions of Filipino women (and about several hundred men) who passionately follow the triumphs and travails of Jang Geum and who hold her up as the ideal woman. So if it suddenly becomes quiet in your neighborhood tonight, you’ll know that it’s Jang Geum time.

Sex is a gift of God that strengthens the marriage bond

While browsing in a used books stall in SM Centerpoint, Sta. Mesa, Manila more than a month ago, I found a book by Debra Evans entitled “The Christian Woman’s Guide to Sexuality” (copyright 1997; Published by Crossway Books). Okay, okay, I know some of you are now shaking your heads and wondering why I would be reading this kind of a book. Well, for two reasons. One, I will give this book as a gift to my future wife, whoever she might be by God's gracious provision. Two, I want to understand what makes women tick, so to speak. I think it was poet John Donne who said, “Every woman is a science.” In the 1970’s I had a National Science Development Board engineering scholarship in UP Diliman. I lost the scholarship when I failed Physics 41, Math 53, Engineering Science I, and barely passed Chem 17. Hmm, this must be the reason why I don’t understand women…

Evans, a healthcare educator specializing in women’s health issues and family wellness, clearly discusses, with charts and detailed illustrations, the practical, physical and physiological aspects of sex within marriage, the female anatomy, childbearing, family planning, etc. from a medical and Biblical viewpoint. In one of the annexes to her book, Evans summarizes the Judeo-Christian views of sex, in opposition to the humanistic and hedonistic views. Some of these views are:

[A] Origin of human life: Humans were created in the image of their Creator God.

[B] Purpose of sex: Sex is viewed as a means to an end: (1) The means through which “two become one flesh.” (2) To make the earth fruitful for God. (3) An end to “aloneness” and emotional isolation.

[C] Acceptable forms of sexual expression: Sexual activity between a man and a woman within marriage only.

[D] View of sex as it relates to the family: Sex is a gift of God that strengthens the marriage bond; children are viewed as a blessing, and certain forms of sexuality are viewed as destructive to sexual identity in all situations: adultery, prostitution, rape, promiscuity, incest, bestiality, homosexuality, pornography, exhibitionism.

[E] Individual rights: An individual expresses his or her sexuality in accordance with the will of God as laid out in the Bible; he or she belongs to God. Each spouse’s body belongs to the other.

[F] Belief in an afterlife: Beyond death lies heaven or hell, eternal life or eternal damnation.

[G] Accountability: Each individual is accountable to a personal Creator for his or her choices, words or actions.
Menstruation and the Levitical law

The Old and New Testaments mention that a woman while having her menstrual period is considered as “unclean.” For a lot of people reading these Bible passages, especially Leviticus 15:19-21, 24 and 31, all this talk of a woman being “unclean” smacks of gross ignorance, chauvinism and prejudice against women. But Evans explains in pages 65 and 66 of her book the reasons for the Levitical prohibitions on touching an “unclean” woman or anything she uses or touches. Evans explains that the menstrual flow comes from the discharge from the endometrium and blood from the capillaries lining the uterus. This discharge leaves the female body in a clean state but becomes a medium for bacterial growth once it is exposed to air, leading to diseases and infections. Evans reminds her readers that at the time of the Levitical law, Jewish women lived in the desert, without a reliable source of water, without soap (invented only in the 1800’s) and definitely without the sanitary items women today can simply buy at any store. She says that the Levitical prohibitions were God's omniscient way of protecting the health of the Jewish people.

Except for her view on mutual submission, I highly endorse Debra Evans’ book to you. There’s a phrase Evans used twice or thrice in her book that completely took me by surprise by its frankness and uniqueness (she first used the phrase in page 77, if I remember correctly). The phrase is …. Nah, I can’t tell you in public, not like this! Read the book! Read the book!

Other books by Evans which you might be interested in are the following: Heart and Home; Beauty for Ashes; Preparing for Childbirth; Preparing for Childbirth; The Woman’s Complete Guide to Personal Health Care; Women of Character; Kindred Hearts; and, Blessing Your Husband.

Great materials from the Women Today Magazine website

One website which the women among you might be interested in is “Women Today Magazine” published, if I’m not mistaken, by Campus Crusade for Christ. There’s a link to this website from this blog; look for it on the right hand column. Okay, okay, I’ll make it easy for you. To get to Women Today Magazine website, just click here.

I’ve browsed the site and found it chock-full of great articles for women. Okay, okay, I know some of you are now definitely shaking your heads and wondering why I would be browsing this kind of a website. Well, for two reasons …

“What wives wish their husbands knew about women”

One book which you might really be interested in reading, whether you’re a man or a woman, is Dr. James Dobson’s “What wives wish their husbands knew about women” (copyright 1975 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc; published by Living Books). The book is a worldwide bestseller, having sold more than two million copies, and the words on the frontispiece really get your attention – “Women have needs men don’t understand.” In this book, Dobson enumerates and discusses the top ten problems women face:

[1] Low self-esteem
[2] Fatigue and time pressure
[3] Loneliness, isolation, and boredom and absence of romantic love in marriage
[4] Financial difficulties
[5] Sexual problems in marriage
[6] Menstrual and physiological problems
[7] Problems with the children
[8] Problems with in-laws
[9] Aging
Number [3] in the enumeration above is actually a combination of two related problems – absence of romantic love leading to loneliness, isolation and boredom. The book is available locally in Christian bookstores like OMF Lit, PCBS, etc.

While Dobson wrote this book 31 years ago from a survey of American women, I would dare say that his findings and discussions still hold true today not only for Americans but also for Filipino women.

Bored, lonely housewives and the temptations of online affairs

When Dobson wrote this book in 1975, computers were clunky, room-sized contraptions powered by vacuum tubes (later on by transistors) and miles of electrical wiring. The Internet was then a highly technical tool used exclusively by the military and university researchers, and meant for making communicating with one another possible in case of a nuclear war. Today, 900 million people use the Internet (e-mail, websites and chat rooms) on a daily basis for professional, educational and personal purposes. Probe Ministries, in an article by Kerby Anderson, points out a danger that lonely and bored housewives are falling into, that is, online affairs or the allure of cyber-relationships. Anderson, citing the work of Peggy Vaughn, states:

Peggy Vaughn is the author of “The Monogamy Myth” and also serves as an expert for America Online on problems caused by infidelity. She predicts that one “role of the Internet in the future will be as a source of affairs.” She is writing a second book on the subject of adultery and says she could base half of it just on the letters she receives from people who started an affair online.

An online affair (or cyberaffair) is an intimate or sexually explicit communication between a married person and someone other than their spouse that takes place on the Internet. Usually this communication takes place through an online service such as America Online or CompuServe. Participants usually visit a chat room to begin a group conversation and then often move into a one-to-one mode of communication. Chat room categories range from “single and liking it” to “married and flirting” to “naked on the keyboard.”

Women in a chat room are often surprised at what develops in a fairly short period of time. At first the conversation is stimulating, though flirtatious. Quickly, however, women are often confronted with increasingly sexual questions and comments. Even if the comments don’t turn personal, women find themselves quickly sharing intimate information about themselves and their relationships that they would never share with someone in person. Peggy Vaughn says, “Stay-at-home moms in chat rooms are sharing all this personal stuff they are hiding from their partners.” She finds that the intensity of women’s online relationships can “quickly escalate into thinking they have found a soulmate.” [emphasis by boldfacing supplied - GTG]

Online affairs differ from physical world affairs in some ways, but are similar in others. Cyberaffairs are based upon written communication where a person may feel more free to express herself anonymously than in person. Frequently the communication becomes sexually graphic and kinky in ways that probably would not occur if a real person were hearing these comments and could act on them. Participants in an online affair will often tell their life stories and their innermost secrets. They will also create a new persona, become sexually adventurous, and pretend to be different than they really are. [emphasis by boldfacing supplied - GTG]
“A Woman Among The Pillars”

In a previous article “Why do men think the things they think, say the things they say, and do the things they do?”, I mentioned Stu Webber’s book “Four Pillars of a Man’s Heart” (reprinted locally by OMF Literature). As I mentioned in that article, Webber is a man’s man. After training as an Airborne Ranger, he fought in Vietnam with the battle-hardened 5th US Special Forces. A bonus part of Webber’s book is the postscript “A Woman Among The Pillars.” Here, Webber discusses the ways women can support the King Pillar of their husband’s hearts:

[1] Read, learn, apply and learn.
[2] Love unconditionally.
[3] Listen intently.
[4] Don’t expect him to meet all your emotional needs.
[5] Understand the power you have.
[6] See your husband as God’s gift to you.
[7] Appreciate the little things he does, as well as the “big” things.
[8] Give him some space.
[9] Physically appreciate him
[10] Follow his leadership.
[11] See your marriage as a journey, not a destination.
The definitive woman

Anyway, we really don’t have far to go if we want a portrait of the definitive woman, to know what the ideal wife is and what she does for her husband and children. We only have to pick up our Bible, open it up to the Old Testament and turn to Proverbs chapter 31. Not much is known about King Lemuel according to Bible scholars, but it is a common mistake to say that he wrote Proverbs 31. If you look closely at verse 1, you’ll know that these words were given and taught to him by his mother.

Proverbs 31, King James Version

10. Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
11. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
12. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
13. She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
14. She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her food from afar.
15. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
16. She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.
17. She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.
18. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night. 19. She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
20. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.
21. She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
22. She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.
23. Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.
24. She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.
25. Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.
26. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.
27. She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.
28. Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.
29. Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.
30. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.
31. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.
Hey, in case you didn’t notice, with the woman described in Proverbs 31 above, there aren’t any issues of low self-esteem, loneliness, boredom, the lack of romantic love … Perhaps, Dr. Dobson, in pages 185 and 186 of his book, best sums it all up when he states:

We have been examining, I believe, a single problem with ten different manifestations. Simply stated, the family was designed by God Almighty to have a specific purpose and function: when it operates as intended, the emotional and physical needs of husbands, wives and children are met in a beautiful relationship of symbiotic love. But when the function is inhibited or destroyed, then every member of the family experiences the discomfort of unmet needs … When the family conforms to God’s blueprint, then self-esteem is available for everyone – which satisfies romantic aspirations – which abolishes loneliness, isolation and boredom – which contributes to sexual fulfillment – which binds the marriage together in fidelity – which provides security for children – which gives parents a sense of purpose – which contributes to self-esteem once more. The chain has no weak links. It reveals the beauty of God’s own creation, as does the rest of his universe.
Well, well, well, Jang Geum, Jewel in the Palace and all about women … Hmm, I wonder, has Jang Geum written a book? Does she have a website? Let me find out and I’ll get right back to you …

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