Guard Their Hearts

Next Tuesday I’m starting a series on this blog that I’m so excited about–how we need to start reframing how we teach kids about sex, and how we need to watch the messages we’re inadvertently giving about sex. To get ready for that series, I thought I’d rerun this column from a few years ago on why we need to teach kids to guard their hearts. Too often sex ed is just about guarding their bodies, but it’s the heart that can really hurt.

Guard their heartsThis column was originally written for a secular audience.

When parents contemplate their teens having sex, pregnancy and disease aren’t the first things that come to mind. Instead, it’s panic, the mere thought causing us to jump into bed and pull the covers over our heads. In more rational moments we may work through these feelings so we can talk to our kids, but our first response doesn’t tend to be terror at the possibility of disease—it’s terror at the possibility of the act itself.

Most parents would prefer, to put it mildly, that their teens not have sex.

If they do, then somebody is going to know them in certain ways even more intimately than we do. But that intimacy, in the context of what is probably a fleeting teenage relationship, seems just plain wrong. After all, sex is so much more than just a physical act; it’s intrinsically connected with our psyches. Whether we intend it to or not, it forms a bond between two people, and using it cavalierly can be damaging.

The Redbook survey of 100,000 women showed this dramatically. It found that women who had been sexually active at 15 were far less likely to have happy marriages and satisfying sex lives later in life than those who had waited. In the wrong context, then, sex can shatter our spirits, and give us sexual baggage that will affect future relationships.

As columnist Rebecca Hagelin has said, there is no condom for your heart.

There is no way to protect yourself when you’ve given your body and your soul to someone and they’ve rejected you. It’s little wonder that up to two-thirds of sexually active teens regret not waiting for this very reason. These same teens are also more likely to be depressed and suicidal that their inexperienced peers.

Yet we have a difficult time articulating this to our children in part, I think, because we’ve been told that sexual experimentation cannot and should not be interfered with. If we tell our teens to say no, we may inadvertently teach them there’s something shameful about sex.

This reminds me of a story a male teacher friend once relayed to me. A 14-year-old girl asked him privately if she should have sex with her boyfriend. The teacher asked, “what did your parents say?”. She replied, “that I should do what I think is best.” He quickly extricated himself from this compromising situation, but here’s what he was thinking. If she had wanted to have sex, she would have done so. She would not have asked her parents, and she would not have asked him. She was looking for a responsible adult to tell her it was okay to say no. Instead, everyone was telling her they expected her to say yes, even though deep inside she didn’t want to.

When we give kids the “safe sex” message, we’re essentially saying, “we know you’re going to do it anyway, so use a condom”.

We give kids the impression that the pull for sex can’t be resisted, so everybody must be doing it.

Even adults I respect expect me to say yes! I’d have to be a freak to say no.

Yet it’s a myth that teenagers aren’t able to wait. Our grandparents’ generation largely waited until the wedding night. We may believe that older people never fought these hormonal urges, but I bet the senior citizens out there could tell us a different story.

Counselling teens to wait isn’t teaching them to be ashamed of sex; it’s teaching them to give it the honour and importance that it deserves.

It’s elevating making love, not maligning it. After all, little in life will have more long-term physical, emotional and spiritual consequences than what you do with your body. It may be uncomfortable to talk about such things with teens, but we need to try. We can’t control our children, but we can make it more likely that they’ll choose a certain path. Remember, that path is better. It is more fulfilling. And our kids deserve to have us point the way.

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Wifey Wednesday: When You Blow It

Perspective in Marriage: Why Us Matters More Than Me

It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage–and then I give you a chance to link up your own marriage posts at the bottom. Today I want to talk about perspective in marriage by being a little vulnerable and telling you about how I blew it this week–and how a birthday party reminded me what was important.

My husband and I have been tired, stressed, and apart quite a bit lately, which is never a good combination. We both have too much on our plates (I’m doing the final edits for 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, and booking four speaking tours, and he’s working hard at the hospital), and Keith has been away at a conference and on call a lot, so we’ve seen each other maybe 3 nights in two weeks. It’s not normal, this too shall pass, but it’s tough. It’s a season of distance in a marriage. It’s inevitable, it’s no one’s fault, but it can impact you.

The root of a lot of my stress is that I’m naturally an extroverted person living an introverted life. An extrovert isn’t just a “people person” who is the life of the party (I’d often rather hang back in large groups); an extrovert is someone who processes things by talking about them, not just by thinking about them. Yet I spend my day making little decision upon little decision, by myself at my computer in my living room. When Keith does get home, I’d love to fill him in, but it would take so much time, and quite frankly I’d rather put it behind me and just be US.

But what that means is that I sometimes feel like there are few people in the world who understand all the things that are on my mind. So it’s a little isolating.

And when you’re feeling isolated, hurts are magnified.

The other night a hurt was magnified. It was an old hurt, and Keith did nothing to magnify it. It was something that happened a long time ago that Keith is sorry for, but that still affects me quite a bit.

It was not even something particularly awful; it was just something that happened that hurt me. And I fixated on it again and couldn’t sleep.

We talked about it (it’s often a bad idea to talk about things late at night; they totally get magnified), and I got overly emotional and it was rather embarrassing looking back now. But at one point Keith in utter frustration said something important. He said:

I just need to know that US matters more than YOU.

He wasn’t trying to get me to see his point of view; he was trying to get me to say OUR point of view. I had a right to be hurt, but I had to stop thinking about what was best for me and start thinking about what was best for us. And he was completely and utterly right. It isn’t about what’s fair; it’s about what brings oneness, and focusing on how Keith loves me now is far more important than looking at a series of hurts that I experienced earlier (of which he was only a part).

That was Incident #1.

Now I’d like to give you Incident #2.

It’s a Friday night, and the banquet room in the restaurant is full of laughter and clinking glasses and loud greetings whenever someone else enters the room. It’s my father-in-law’s seventieth birthday, and certainly family is there, but also friend after friend after friend.

I looked around that room and my mind went back to their twenty-fifth anniversary, just a year or two after Keith and I married. Keith and I had hosted that surprise party and had invited all of their friends, and pretty much everyone in that room had been at that party. In fact, I remembered pretty much everyone in that room from when Keith and I married. My in-laws are loyal friends, and their friends stick around, even twenty years later.

But what really struck me was not that they had all these individual, loyal friends. It was that these friends were all couples.

There were Bob and Sheila, who took my kids fishing one year when we were camping; Jack and Marilyn, who let us borrow their canoe (and Marilyn taught my kids to quilt!); John and Marie who were adopted grandparents for my husband (and I still remember Keith sitting up with Marie one night in the hospital when we almost lost John a few years back); Linda and Karl; Paul and Cheyenne; Willard and Shirley; and the list goes on and on and on. In fact, I can’t think of a single couple friend that I knew twenty years ago who is not still a couple today (except for Tony, who is now remarried, because Claudette, my mother-in-law’s best friend, passed away a few years back. But everyone is so happy for Tony!).

Last week I wrote about The Good News About Marriage; how the divorce rate is not, and never has been, anywhere close to 50%. It’s actually closer to 28%. And looking around that table, it looked close to 0% for these people–these couples who had had euchre parties and done midnight walks for cancer and had been at each other’s kids’ weddings and baby showers for years. And lately, increasingly, they’ve been at the hospital, holding one half of a couple’s hand as they made it through a stressful night after a heart attack or a mini-stroke.

I’m sure those couples had tiffs in the middle of the night, too, especially during inevitable occasional seasons of distance.

But they all learned something important: US is more important than ME.

May "Us" Always Matter More than "Me" in our #marriage - Sheila Wray Gregoire

It’s not even that YOU are more important than ME; it’s that US is more important than ME. We fight for the “us”, so that years later we will still have a best friend, a confidante, a gem.

It’s easy to lose perspective in marriage because it’s so hard to get our eyes off of “me”, especially when you’re tired and stressed. But what good does it do to hold on to ME if you lose US? Us is such a gift, and I will fight for it. Just not necessarily again at one in the morning.

Christian Marriage Advice

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Top 10 Ways to Embrace Your Future InLaws

Embrace Your InlawsToday’s guest post is from Lauren Hanna from The Encouragement Express–a great blog site for engaged couples.

10 Great Ways to Embrace Your Inlaws

I think for most of us when we hear the word “in-laws”, something akin to the music in Jaws or Psycho starts playing in our heads. We immediately think of every awful, judging scenario Ben Stiller had to deal with in Meet the Parents, and we cringe.

As an engaged person, one wonders: What am I getting myself into? Meeting and dealing with the in-laws is a whole different ball game. I personally think it can be a wonderful experience. My fiancé, Will, and I are now two months out from our wedding, and by the grace of God, we have had remarkable success in this area. Getting married is one of the biggest transitions in life we’re ever going to have. Emotions are high, and that’s when the best and worst often come out in people. So here’s some tips that Will and I have learned on how to navigate the in-laws, so that everyone is left feeling valued and important. Also, I HIGHLY recommend Danny Silk’s book, Keep Your Love On. It has been a life saver for me through this experience and is all about how to communicate and confront others lovingly and with honor.

1. Set Boundaries

This is the number one thing I have heard as marriage advice in dealing with family members. You and your fiancé are going to have to set boundaries with each of your parents, together. It may not sound fun at the time, but it will pay off! A few weeks ago my family was trying to change my entire wedding, because it didn’t meet their expectations. I got this long phone call from my mother, telling me the 101 reasons why I needed to change it. Instead of getting all upset, I thanked her for her opinions, let her know that I valued them, and let her know that for us that the current option we have is the best one. Get this, she then apologized for stepping over the line and has been better since. Now not all boundary setting interactions will go this smoothly, but as long as you honor them and stand your ground, they will respect you – even if they don’t agree with you. To quote from Danny Silk’s Keep Your Love On: “It’s your responsibility to set a boundary for how many disrespectful or damaging exchanges you will endure. The moment you pick up a dueling sword, you are equally guilty for whatever blood is shed.”

2. Be Slow to Offense

Like I said earlier, emotions are high during this time. Unfortunately more often than not, something is going to get said that is offensive. Instead of taking the bait of provocation, take a deep breath and ask yourself “Is this worth getting upset over?” I guarantee you, 99% of the time that answer will be “No.” The deep breath is a miracle worker, because it calms you down instantly. Instead of acting out of emotion, you’ll now have a better chance of being reasonable. Furthermore, when you choose not to take offense to something, and set a boundary if needed in that situation, you are setting a standard for your relationship with that person. You are saying, “I choose to value our relationship above all else.”

3. Remember, They’re Grieving

This piece of advice given to me, before I was engaged, has been a HUGE help to me during this time. Getting married is a time of celebrating what God has put together in you and your fiancé. Although your parents and in-laws will be happy for you, for them there is often another emotion… loss. For them it is the final thing reminding them that their baby is all grown up and moving on with life. That can create a sense of grief, which can manifest itself through control, manipulation, distance and selfishness. Once you realize it’s actually grief, then you can help assuage that by reminding them that no one is losing anything. You’re creating your own family now, and that is an exciting thing. “Each display of love, no matter how seemingly small, is a powerful act of spiritual warfare that removes anxiety from the environment and replaces it with freedom and safety.” – Danny Silk.

4. Plan Things for You All to Do Together

A great way to ease the tension with the in-laws is to do stuff together. Get to know each other better. Try and find some common ground. You and your fiancé can take them out to dinner or to a movie or some fun activity. For example, one of the things that Will and I are going to do for his parents is take them whale-watching. Neither of them have ever been, and it’s been something they have both been wanting to do. So ask about their interests and do stuff together! If you’re in different places, talk on the phone or have Skype dates! It’ll show them that you are excited to become a part of their family, as well as welcoming them into yours.

5. Have Them Be A Part of the Wedding Planning Process

I know some of you just cringed at this, especially if you’ve been dealing with controlling in-laws. My wedding planner suggested to me to have each set of parents in charge of something when this happens. If they’ve been unpleasant in the planning part so far, make it a small thing. Something that won’t be the end of the world to you if it isn’t exactly what you want. Since our parents are so different, we decided to do that, so there would be no toes stepped on. We made my parents in charge of table decor. We made his parents in charge of hotel services. We also sent them pictures/info on decisions we were making and asked their opinion. Each time we thanked them for their opinion, regardless of whether or not we went with it. This makes them feel valued and included, as they should be.

6. What’s Their Love Language?

Watch your in-laws. How do they receive/give affection? Is it through words of affirmation, acts of service, spending time with you, gift-giving, or physical touch? When you notice, respond in like manner. This will communicate to them that you value and appreciate them.

7. Be Thankful

Make sure to sincerely thank them every time they bless you. If they give you a gift or pay for something, send a thank you note at least. This is so simple, but it is not done very often and will go much farther than you realize. When our parents let us know that they wanted to help us out financially with the wedding, Will and I each sent them flowers with a thank you note in them. They loved it! I mean who wouldn’t? So gratitude… it’s a big deal.

8. Value Relationship Over Being Right

To quote Danny Silk again, “Refuse to let disagreements intimidate you into moving away from one another. Prioritize the connection above the argument.” You’re going to disagree with your in-laws on things. You are different people, and therefore see the world in a different light. That’s okay. Differences are supposed to be used to strengthen us. Don’t let your need to be right kill an important relationship before you even get married. You’re going to be connected to your in-laws for a long time. Is it worth being right if it damages your relationship?

9. Pick Your Battles

Here’s another life-saver piece of advice that someone gave me–it goes hand-in-hand with being slow to offense: Pick your battles. Not everything needs to be fought, and it’ll make your life and their lives a lot easier. Now I’m not saying to let them walk all over you in the name of “getting along.” However, just as there are some battles to stand up and fight, there are also ones that you don’t need to. The ones that don’t need to, are usually dealing with the little things that might be irritating. They might not know that they are bugging you, and think they are helping you out. So give them a break every once in a while. It’ll save your relationship. One more thing, don’t dwell on the battles you decided not to pick. As women we tend to go over things again and again and again in our heads. That’s still choosing to fight that battle. Only now it’s being fought internally. You have enough stuff to do and focus on during this time. Just let it go.

10. Be Excited

You are getting married! I mean that is exciting! The one that you have waited for, dreamed of, thought about constantly is finally here. Be excited! Try not to let all of the stress of planning a wedding, and going through this transition rob you of the joy you should be feeling. The more excited you are, the more fun you have, the more everyone else around you will feel the same thing. Joy is highly contagious. An unsure in-law will come around so quickly when they are dealing with a joyful and excited bride. After all, the joy of the Lord is your strength!

So have fun in the process of being engaged! It is possible to have great relationships with your in-laws, and I pray that each and every one of you feel valued and favored by them. Relationships do take work, sometimes a lot of work, but they are so worth it!

 

Lauren HannaLauren Hanna is a 25 year old composer based out of LA. She took up blog writing about five years ago when people started asking her to send them daily encouragements. One thing lead to another and now she is the writer of a successful blog called The Encouragement Express. She loves God with all her heart, and loves seeing people become who He made them to be. She is currently engaged to her best friend, and very excited to start this new season of her life.

 

What’s the Real Divorce Rate?

I write the “Messy Faith” column for Faith Today, Canada’s Christian magazine, and here’s a recent one about the real divorce rate. You’ll be surprised (and pleased!)

Real Divorce Rate

My salt-of-the-earth family values friend was dating a friend of mine, but after four years was still hesitating to pop the question. “I’ve seen so many friends divorce,” he explained. “I don’t want to do that to us.”

Divorce, in his mind, was like a virus.

If you’re not careful, it will sneak up on you, and soon you’ll find yourself kicked out, broke, and crying into your coffee.

Our society treats divorce like it’s a contagion, and it’s not hard to see why. After all, the divorce rate is close to 50%, isn’t it? And the even sadder part: Christians divorce at the same rate as everyone else–and some say even higher.

As a marriage author and blogger, I hear these stats everyday, and they’ve always confused me. Do they even pass the smell test? In the late 80s and early 90s I was involved with the Queen’s University Christian Fellowship group. Of the dozens of friends I remember from those days, as far as I know, only three have divorced. The other marriages have so far made it, even twenty years later.

If divorce is really 50%, then we must have either been incredibly lucky or part of a bizarre subgroup with the ability to withstand Kryptonite.

But forget anecdotes–what about just plain logic? If, as Christians, we believe that God helps us forgive, God helps us through grief, and God helps us withstand temptation, then why do we not believe that God also would make a difference in marriage? Why are we so quick to accept these stats at face value?

Perhaps this “divorce virus” is much weaker than we think.

The Good News About Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and DivorceThat’s what Shaunti Feldhahn found when she analyzed the studies for her new book, The Good News About Marriage. Back in 2006 she was trying to dig up the current divorce rate for an article. She asked her assistant to check on it, so her assistant delved into footnotes from other articles. She sought out the original sources. And nothing could justify the rate of 50%–in fact, there didn’t seem to be a credible source at all. And so the two of them started a six-year project to uncover the real divorce rate.

What they found was revolutionary.

The divorce rate for first marriages is actually around 30%–and likely closer to 28%. Christians have between a 30% and 50% lower divorce rate than the general population–which puts us at around 14%-20%. Since these are American figures, we Canucks can likely shave a few points off of even that. Of course, a 15% divorce rate in the church still represents a lot of heartbreak and many hurting families, but it also means that the vast majority of marriages are happy.

The Real Divorce Rate: Good news about marriage! It's not 50%

So where did that “50% of marriages end in divorce” stat come from? In the 1970s, when divorce rates were skyrocketing, researchers were asked to estimate the divorce rate. They said, “If divorce rates continue to rise as they are now, we would expect the divorce rate to be 50%”. But divorce rates didn’t rise; they fell. And so that stat–which was never actually a statistical snapshot, but only ever a projection–never came true.

What about the idea that Christians have just as high a divorce rate? That came from a study from the Barna group, where respondents were asked to identify their religion. George Barna himself has disavowed this common interpretation of his study, since if you really want to know the Christian divorce rate, you don’t just ask what religion people claim; you ask about key things, like if they read their Bible, if they pray, or if they attend church. Do that, and the divorce rate plummets.

Feldhahn’s book is filled with all the analysis that a stats geek will love even more than Star Trek reruns, but here’s what it means for the rest of us, and here’s why Shaunti wrote it: What if the biggest threat to marriage isn’t divorce, but discouragement? If we believe that 50% of marriages end in divorce, then marriage looks really risky. People will choose to cohabit rather than take the plunge. Or, once they are married, if problems crop up, they think, “this is why marriages end. We’re one of the couples who won’t make it.”

On the other hand, if people realize that most couples do make it, then more people will tie the knot. When troubles come, they can say to themselves, “most people have problems, but most people get over those problems, and we will, too.”

Those who are married live longer. As the Institute for Marriage and the Family pointed out in a recent study, they tend to be wealthier and have a much easier time getting out of poverty. Their kids do better in school, are less likely to take drugs or alcohol, and are more likely to delay sexual activity. And, of course, they’re happier.

There’s Good News About Marriage out there, and we need to listen and spread the word.

Most marriages make it. Over 90% of married people would marry the same person again. Marriage is still a wonderful thing. Pass it on.

The Good News About Marriage: The real divorce rate

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6 Ways to Listen Well

6 ways to listen

Today, please welcome Time-Warp Wife,  Darlene Schacht. She has a way with telling truth–in a way that packs a punch. Here she is talking about learning how to listen.

Poetry… I’ve read Dr. Seuss. Does that count?

Ask me to write a poem, and I’m lost. Seriously. I wouldn’t know a good poem if it was staring me in the face. On the other hand, my niece Stephanie is an incredible poet. At least I think she is. I’ve never known enough about poems to tell for sure, but she puts pen to paper and off she goes creating beautiful words. The fact that she does it with ease tells me she knows what she’s doing.

A few years ago, she told me they were having an “open-mic night” at a bookstore downtown, and asked me to come along.

Why not? I figured it would be a fun way to spend an evening with her. The only problem was that it wasn’t exactly fun. It was kind of boring to be honest with you. Every writer had about 10 minutes to read while the rest of us spent the time picking at hang nails, surveying the crowd, and counting the number of chairs in the room–anything to keep us from falling asleep.

The only people who seemed to be enjoying themselves were the ones standing up at the podium. One by one they took their place up on stage excited to share their words with the world. Once their ten minutes of fame came to a close, they had a few of their own hangnails to pull.

Later that week, I asked Stephanie why she hadn’t stepped up with the rest of the writers. Why didn’t she read her poems?

Her answer is one that stuck with me…

She said that she used to be a big part of that crowd, but what she realized after a while was that everyone was there to be heard, but few came to listen. She made a choice that she wanted to give herself to the art instead of taking something away. Sounds like a true poet to me.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. – James 1:19

It’s true to life too, isn’t it?

While most of us want to be heard, few of us take the time to listen as much as we speak.

Sure I listen, but to tell you the truth most of the time that I’m listening to someone, I’m thinking about what I’m going to say next.

It’s hard to “hear” when you’re not listening, isn’t it?

We had a friend once who had the gift of listening. Did you know that listening was a gift? Neither did I, but I’m calling it one today, okay? We could be in a room full of people, but as soon as I opened my mouth to speak he leaned in, focused on what I was saying, and hung on every word that I said. Not just me, it was my husband, it was our friends–it was anyone and everyone that wanted to talk.

I’m not so gifted, which is why I have to exercise myself in this area.

 Stopping to listen to someone with both ears, is a way of showing compassion. It tells them that you care about their words. Whether they have good news to share or they’re looking for a listening ear, what they’re really wanting from you is someone who’s present in the moment. What they need is someone who values them enough to consider their words.

When Michael and I used to talk–in the early years of marriage–I didn’t understand what he needed from me. My idea of listening to him was searching for a solution, before having my turn on the soapbox.

Some days he’d tell me about a bad day at work and by the end of the conversation we were both more frustrated than we were at the start.

It wasn’t until he finally said to me,I just need you to listen to me. That’s all. I’m not looking for a magic solution–I just need my wife.” 

exchanging ideasAnd so when it comes to our marriage, listening has become a part of my vow.

My goal is to listen to him and to consider his words, before I speak an encouraging word.

And how do I do that?

Here are six ways to listen well, that I have been learning:

1.  Practice – Listening takes patience and it takes restraint. Neither of those things come easy without practice.

2.  Get Focused – Carve out time to listen to each other in a quiet place free of distractions. Maybe go for a walk or grab a coffee together.

3.  Remember, You’re Not a Therapist – Listening well doesn’t mean that you have to have all of the answers. In fact some times advice is the last thing they want. What the person needs more than anything is empathy first. Just being there for them is a gift in itself.

4.  Ask Questions – The best way to continue a conversation and keep the ball in their court is to ask questions about the situation. And don’t forget about these questions as well: Is there anything I can do? How would you like me to pray?

5.  Don’t Bathe in the Spotlight – One of the hardest things I’ve had to overcome as a listener is my tendency to ignore what they’re saying while I’m thinking of my own story to tell.

6.  Lean in to Give Eye Contact – Two of the best listeners I’ve ever met have great body language. You could be standing in the midst of a multitude and feel like you’re the only two people on earth.

Learning how to listen isn’t hard. It just takes practice.

Stop what you’re doing to listen. Don’t sit there looking around at other people or hailing down a waitress for more sugar. Engage with the person you’re talking to. Give them eye contact. Immerse yourself in their words.

Lord, teach how to listen, how to be present in the moment, so that I too might bring a gift.

 

Messy Beautiful LoveDarlene SchachtDarlene Schacht is the original founder of Christian Women Online Magazine and The Internet Café Devotions and writes the popular blog Time-Warp Wife. She is coauthor of Candace Cameron Bure’s New York Time’s best-selling book, Reshaping It All: Motivation for Physical and Spiritual Fitness. Darlene has been married to Michael Schacht for more than 25 years. They have four children.

Check out Darlene’s new book, Messy Beautiful Love: Hope and Redemption for Real-Life Marriages, which releases today!

 

Stuff Happens. So Don’t Let Fear Paralyze You

Anxiety and parenting: Don't let fear paralyze youAnxiety and parenting seem to go hand in hand.

A long, long time ago, I had a little cherub of a girl who was 2 1/2, and a little baby who was 2 weeks old. My husband had gone back to work after Katie’s birth, and I decided that it was time for me to see if I could manage two children and still have a normal life.

So I decided that no matter what, I was going to have a shower. I stuck the baby in the baby swing, and set up Rebecca’s easel with some paints. She had lots to do for the five minutes it was going to take me in the shower, and Katie was safe in her swing. So I was all set.

As I was shampooing my hair, though, all of a sudden I heard Becca scream, “Mommy!” And not in a good way.

I leapt out, shampoo stinging my eyes, to find Katie hanging upside down from her swing. I can still picture it exactly in my mind, though it’s been seventeen years now, and it still scares me silly. And I have no idea how she got in this position. But her little legs were sticking up through the leg holes, and she was hanging down. The only thing preventing her from falling the 2 1/2 feet to the floor was that she went rigid with fear and her legs crossed against each other, forming an X. So there she was, hanging upside down, with just her anger and fear keeping her from falling.

I grabbed her in one swooping motion, and she calmed down quite quickly, as babies tend to. Once everyone stopped crying, I turned to Rebecca and asked, “Did you touch the baby?” She vehemently denied touching Katie.

But there, all over Katie’s little sleeper, were handprints in green and black paint.

I felt like the worst mother in the world. I had let my baby almost get seriously injured, and I had put my toddler in the position of having to care for her sister when Rebecca was not at all capable of it. I thought I didn’t deserve these kids. Such things can happen in an instant, and in that instant I wasn’t there.

I decided that I couldn’t leave Katie with Rebecca while I showered again, and so from then on she came into the shower with me, stopping only when she was 4 and I finally put my foot down. At first she just sat in her seat in the bathroom, but once she could sit up she wanted in with me, and so we’d shower together. It was actually kind of fun, and I loved holding her little chubby body in the warm water. It was a bonding time for us, though I still appreciated having the shower back to myself a few years later.

I share that just to let you know that sometimes things just happen.

My story could have had a very different ending. Had Katie fallen head first like that, she could have done some serious injury to her neck. Now despite what I felt, am I a bad mother? I don’t think so. I think sometimes life just happens, and the truth is that as much as we may try to keep everything safe, we can’t. We can reduce risks, but we can’t eliminate them. Things can happen.

So where does that leave us as anxious moms? We have two possible routes ahead of us. We can become completely paranoid and over-protective, or we can give ourselves a break, realize that we’re doing the best we can, and then learn as a mom to rest in God. Nothing will happen that He can’t see you through, and to try to deal with all possible contingencies in life is to drive yourself crazy. When you become a mother, your heart begins permanently to reside outside your body. The world has now become a terribly scary place.

Hold on to everything on earth lightly, and to God tightly. -- Sheila Wray Gregoire

But God is not smaller; it’s just that our love is bigger, and when love is big, fear can be big, too.

What we need to do, I believe, is not just to grow our love for our kids, but to grow also our love for God. Perfect love casts out fear, but only love that is focused on God. When we love everybody else and God fades, then our worries multiply. When we fall in love with God, then we know that no matter what happens on this earth, we will be okay and our children will be okay. And when we know that, we can focus on being a good mom instead of fretting!

You probably can point to several times in your parenting when you most definitely made a mistake. We all do. Don’t let those mistakes turn you into an overprotective mom, or a mom who constantly berates herself for not being good enough. Let those mistakes push you into God’s arms, realizing that you will never be perfect, but that He is there to carry you all anyway!

Have you ever really messed up as a parent? How did you deal with it?

Wifey Wednesday: Sex and the Gospel

Sex and the Gospel: How God designed real intimacy to reflect His love

It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! And today guest poster Abigail Alleman explores whether making love can actually be a vehicle God uses to show the depth of His love. Here’s Abigail showing us where sex and the gospel intersect:

It’s Easy to Be Blind

During the first couple years of our marriage that my husband and I went to a Family Life ‘Weekend to Remember’ Conference. There were fun talks from married people including some about sex. Considering my ‘mum’s the word’ upbringing regarding ‘intimate things’ I was eating all of this good teaching right up.

It was then that I remember hearing that women need to feel loved in order to be ready for sex. I clung to that and, at times, used it as a club to beat my husband away if he wanted to have sex but I wasn’t feeling loved…for whatever reason. Even if I truly wasn’t feeling loved, those who know my husband and what an amazing servant he is, can feel free to call those ugly moments for me. I know I do.

But if any woman is willing to be honest and take the journey to find what holds her back from giving fully to her husband–and ultimately, God–she will find similar things. When we say we ‘don’t feel loved’, at the heart is the shame and mistrust and rebellion towards God we inherited from Eve. We are afraid of rejection or having our weakness used against us, so we hide and cling to some semblance of control. At the heart we are cutting ourselves off from God and therefore can’t feel His love or anyone else’s. Sadly, because we are one with our husbands, they pay the price.

…And then comes the Gospel

And yet, in the middle of all of this is the Gospel. It is where God in Christ redeems, or buys back, everything. He rescues us and binds up our wounds through His own. We are transformed by this Love that entered time and space and a fallen world and gave all of infinite God to buy back the darkness.

Nothing looks the same.

As I have been looking at my own faulty views on sex, that unconsciously included lies that it is somehow dirty (even as a married woman) or ultimately for men, I have seen how utterly wrong and devastating this thinking is.

I have become convinced that the more fiercely the darkness clings to something, the greater its potential to be transformed into something totally new this side of Calvary. This is absolutely true about sex.

God wants to blow the top off of our limited, boxed thinking about His gift of sex in marriage.

And through transformed thinking and practice, send us boldly into the world with a message it desperately needs. It’s the one where sex in God’s bounds and for His Glory brings both husband and wife healing and fullness instead of pain and emptiness.

What Is Hard to See

Let’s go back to the truth that women need to feel loved to have sex. Did you know that the reverse is also true? Men have sex to feel loved. They probably shared this at the Family Life Conference, but it conveniently did not make it into my head and definitely not my heart. It wasn’t until after 10 years of marriage, three kids, international moves, and reading Sheila’s book that I saw the whole picture.

And when I did, I was humbled at the gift God has given me as a wife. Through giving myself fully to my husband in sex, I partner with God in the revelation of His love for my husband. I had prayed for years that my husband could experience God’s infinite love for him in radical ways. So when I read that my husband’s desire for love was expressed through his desire for sex, I was blown away. I instantly saw that his seeking of physical intimacy and my full open response are a tremendous gift through the Gospel where he can know and receive the love of God.

You see, it’s not just the sex, it’s the experience of it when two people have put their faith in the Gospel .

Recently, at a concert in a conservative Baptist Church, I heard one of the pastors describe the beautiful worship we had experienced in a way that made me think of sex. He said that for him, as a guy, he often lacks the language to express what God’s love and beauty means to him. But when he worships God through great music and lyric, his heart, soul and mind find satisfying expression.

I tapped my hubby on the shoulder and whispered in his ear, ‘Honey, that’s what sex is like for guys, isn’t it?’ He smiled at me in a way that told me, ‘yes, that’s just how it is.’

Why It’s So Important To See

I’ve heard a lot about my duties as a wife. Obedience to God is a key element in the life of the believer. And, yes, the Bible says that my body is no longer my own and as a married woman I no longer have authority over it (neither does my husband over his).

But if I stop there, I do an All-Gracious God, myself and my husband a great injustice. The chief end of my life is not obedience, but to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. My body, and my life, are not my own BECAUSE I have been bought with a price. Infinite God emptied of infinite Glory to make a way back to the Presence of God where I know as I am fully known.

In this, my understanding of sex, through the lens of the Gospel, is completely transformed. So are the patterns of guilt and shame or whatever may keep me holding back a body, a life, that is no longer my own. I am called to give it all freely to my husband so that in great beauty and mystery we experience the fullness of Grace and Truth that is meant to shape every area of our lives. In the consecrated act of sex in the sacred space of our marriage we BOTH are wrapped more tightly, fully, deeply into the only Love that remains.

The felt needs of love for me and sex for my husband are becoming, for us, one consuming desire to know and embrace and enjoy God together. It is changing everything for us. And I want that for you too.

AbigailAbigail says: I am wife to a wonderful man, mama to three precious now-little-but-soon-will-not-be loves. Each born in a different place–two states {Pennsylvania & Florida} and two countries {U.S. & Hungary}. I can now claim fluency in 3 languages: English;) Spanish & Hungarian. I am a sojourner longing for Home. Yet, in my messy and broken, I embrace the moments given with all I have. For the past few months I have been writing about my journey in understanding sex and sexuality in a series called Pure Passion. You can check it out here!

 

Christian Marriage Advice

Good Girls Guide My SiteThanks for joining me for Wifey Wednesday!

If the idea of sex and spiritual intimacy seems foreign to you, I talk about how to get to the point where sex is something more than physical in both my books The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex and in 31 Days to Great Sex. I encourage you to check them out–don’t miss out on something this amazing in your marriage!

 

Embracing Change in Your Marriage

Facing Change as a Couple

Last week I went out for dinner with some dear friends Derek and Lisa and their two boys. My husband and I and my two daughters have been camping with them every summer for almost 16 years, and our kids are great friends. Derek has a job that keeps him away from home quite a bit, but last week he made a point of being home for dinner on multiple nights. Often his job doesn’t allow him that luxury, but he put his foot down and insisted.

He wanted to be there for Lisa, because last week their oldest son started college in another town, and he knew it would be difficult for her.

But that’s not all. As we headed out to the parking lot to our cars after our meal, he put his arm around her and he said, “Next year Paul will be gone, too, and I’ll be all Lisa has. I want to make sure there’s something left of us so she still wants to be with me.”

He was laughing when he said it, but that’s a serious concern, and Derek’s right. This year brought a big change to their marriage, but next year will bring an explosive one. And so they’re preparing.

I know how they feel, because I’m in the same boat. This is my last year with Katie (meet her here!) at home, and I’m relishing my time with her. But Keith and I are also planning things to do shortly after she leaves so the change won’t be as jarring.

It will be a big change, but marriage is full of change.

Today I’m part of an “Embrace Your Marriage” virtual marriage retreat, where 6 bloggers all talk about an aspect of marriage. And this week we’re tackling this idea of embracing the change that comes in marriage. Last week I did my “typical” thing and talked about sex (I am the Christian sex lady after all), but today we’re tackling change.

Our marriage has seen some major changes.

We started out marriage as students, and then later with Keith as a doctor and me as a SAHM. I transitioned into writing, and we had to find time for me to do that while still homeschooling our girls. But we’ve lived through other changes, too.

Our sex life was just started to get better when I got pregnant. And nauseous. Remember those days?

We were starting to feel like life was going well when our second child was born with a heart defect, and later passed away.

We’ve lived in downtown Toronto and then in a small town. We’ve moved. Keith has switched jobs. We’ve switched churches.

And all of these things has brought stress. Take the most apparently mundane thing there: Moving. We live in a large house, and in a lot of ways it would make sense to move when Katie leaves. But there is no way I’m moving again, because I read a study once that said that moving takes 6 months of productivity out of your life, and I believe it. You have to pack up your house. You have to keep it clean so you can sell it. Then you have to physically move. You have to unpack. You have to get used to where things are in the house now. You have to figure out where you’ll go grocery shopping and where things are. It’s exhausting. And I don’t want to do it again.

Change isn’t nice, and yet change is inevitable.

And if there’s one piece of advice I can give you, it’s this:

Hold on to everything on earth lightly, but hold on to God tightly. (click to tweet!)

Hold on to everything on earth lightly, and to God tightly. -- Sheila Wray Gregoire

I know it sounds like I should be saying hold on to your husband tightly, and I do believe that, too. But I think the most important part of navigating change is actually navigating our own attitude. And often the reason we don’t like change is because we begin to get too comfortable in the life we have, and then we resent it when we have to give it up. Or perhaps we get this picture of what life “should” be, and when life changes, we get resentful at those around us who caused the change.

But this life is not meant to be your real life; your real life is with God, and this is only temporary. When we keep our focus on God, then we’re better able to navigate change.

Here are just a few other principles to help:

1. Keep a Friendship with Your Husband

No matter where you are in life right now–whether you’re pregnant, or working opposite shifts, or getting out of bankruptcy, or preparing for a move, keep spending time with your husband, like my friend Derek did. Often people justify not spending time, saying, “this is just a phase, and it will pass, and so right now I have to throw myself into my work/kids/church.” There may be a time for that (I remember an email I received from a woman who was spending six months across the country away from her husband, because her son was sick and needed treatment at a specific hospital, and she was going with him. In that case, there was little they could do except for Skyping a lot.

But in general, do not say, “this is just a phase, so we’ll spend time together later.” You don’t know what other changes will come. Always keep your marriage as your first earthly priority.

2. Recognize that Change is Stressful–Even if it’s Good Change

We humans crave routine. We want to know what’s coming, so that we don’t have to expend so much emotional energy figuring out what we’re going to do everyday. So change–even if it’s good change–is stressful.

In those periods of “good” stress, like having a new baby, a new job, or a new house, cling to each other even more.

3. Change Together

I am not the same woman who walked down the aisle, and Keith is not the same man who was waiting for me. After two decades of marriage we have changed. And that’s inevitable.

So make sure that when you change, you change together, and the easiest way to manage this is to do things together and keep talking. I have talked to so many women who married young, who then say, “I matured after we married, and he never did mature.” Well, I matured after we married, too, but my husband matured with me because we stayed side by side in everything. It is possible to change together–but you have to be together to change together. So keep communicating!

We’ll talk more in this Virtual Retreat on the next few Mondays about how to do that. But for now, why not read the posts by the other great bloggers at the Embrace Your Marriage retreat, talking about how they Embrace Change.

And here’s your challenge this week:

Consider some of the ways that your marriage has changed over time. Start counting the blessings that these changes have brought. Write them down.

Embrace Your Marriage Virtual Marriage Retreat

Courtney: Women Living Well
Ashleigh: Ashleigh Slater
Darlene: The Time Warp Wife
Lisa: Club 31 Women
Jennifer: Unveiled Wife

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Where Have All The Men Gone?

men opting out of collegeThis week many of our teenagers headed on to higher education. And as they entered those hallowed halls of learning, they may have noticed that one thing seemed to be in short supply: men.

Why are men opting out of college?

A friend of mine attended the University of Guelph for a semester before returning home to start a successful agricultural business. It wasn’t that he couldn’t handle the academics; it was that he hated the environment. He was a hunter, an outdoorsman, a man’s man. He didn’t fit in well with what he called the “politically correct” atmosphere, so he left.

He’s not alone.

A recent survey in the United States found that for every 100 males on university campuses there are now 135 females. In Canada the story is virtually the same, as females constitute 60% of the undergraduate population, and two thirds of medical students. Of course, women aren’t overrepresented in all areas. In maths and sciences men still rule, as they do in most graduate programs. But the trends are certainly tilting towards female dominance.

Perhaps one reason fewer men are at university is because they don’t need to be.

Many trades that attract mostly men—like plumbing, contracting, or electrical work—pay more than many degree-required jobs, and come with the added bonus of no student loans. Perhaps university just isn’t very attractive for many men when other options, which aren’t as readily available to women, do exist. After all, my friend has just sold his second business, becoming a very successful man while he’s barely in his thirties.

Our universities, though, have not woken up to the new demographic reality. Much of campus life is still geared to helping women. Most universities have women’s studies departments, women’s health units, women’s clubs, women’s awareness sessions, women’s support groups, and women’s hotlines. What they don’t seem to have is anything to help men. In fact, if men started a “men’s support group” that didn’t have to do with teaching men not to rape women, it would be the subject of student editorials for months. It’s just not done.

This seems to be a strange aberration in Canadian society. Usually, whenever groups are underrepresented, we try to reach out to them. We start scholarships, mentorships, or special programs. The only thing I can conclude from the lack of pro-male initiatives is that to the universities, it really doesn’t matter that men are missing.

In the long run, though, is male underrepresentation best for the country? And is it best for the universities? Will they prove themselves relevant if 50% of the population is no longer interested in pursuing their degrees?

And what about women? Even in our more rural communities, many of our girls still aspire to university education. Since most women choose as spouses those who have as much education as they do, what will their options be as this pool shrinks? Does going to university mean putting oneself in a romantic black hole?

We need to start treating this as a serious problem and asking why men are opting out.

A lot of it has to do with the way we are teaching—or failing to teach—our boys. But I think university culture is also a large part of it. I spent seven years at Queen’s, and I cringe to remember it now. It took me years after graduation to come back to the real world and realize that, despite what I was taught—and indeed, what I taught undergraduates during my last three years—all sex is not rape, marriage is not an oppressive institution, and children actually do need their parents. These are basic values that most Canadians, and especially those who live outside the big cities, share. But they are not the values that are found on our campuses.

I think it’s time for the university, and the education establishment, to get its head out of the sand and realize that it is not women who are on the losing end of the education game, but men who are instead opting out. When women were on the losing end, we demanded that we balance the scales. Will we give men the same courtesy?

This column first appeared September 1, 2006.

If you appreciate these Reality Check columns, be sure to check out Reality Check, the book!

When Baby Isn’t Perfect

something is wrong with your babyToday is the eighteenth anniversary of my son Christopher’s death, and I’ll be heading out to the graveyard later, likely by myself. I like it better there alone. But I thought this post may be appropriate for the day–about what to do when you get a diagnosis that something is wrong with your baby.

I shifted uncomfortably on the cot. The baby had been pushing on my ribs for over an hour as the technician kept trying to get a better view.

“It’s a boy,” she announced as my husband entered the cubicle holding our 15-month-old daughter. We were ecstatic, but I couldn’t figure out why she wouldn’t look me in the eye.

The next day I learned the answer. “I’m sorry, Sheila,” my doctor told me. “There’s something wrong with his heart.”

It’s hard to explain the panic you feel when you hear that something is wrong with your baby, even one who isn’t born yet. And that panic only worsened for us as, over the next few weeks, I endured a dizzying battery of tests. We learned our son had Down Syndrome and a very serious heart defect.

I experienced such intense fears during that time. Could I handle a sick child? What would this mean for my daughter? Would all my time be taken up in caring for my son? What would his future be like? And above all, would I have to watch him die?

As soon as we learn we are pregnant—and for many of us, even before—we start dreaming of what it will be like to hold the baby, to watch him grow, or to see her blossom. But for some of us, those dreams are shattered. The child we dreamt about isn’t coming. The one we have has something wrong.

The first few weeks can be the most difficult in your life as you struggle to cope with grief and fear, care for a new baby and perhaps even rearrange your life. Here are some steps to help you through this challenging time.

1. Nurture your marriage

An estimated 25% to 33% of marriages break up within a year of the birth of a handicapped child. That’s not a statistic you want to join. Resolve now, before you do anything else, that you will still be each other’s greatest priority. Speak and act kindly to one another. Give each other space to handle the grief differently, without passing judgment. You will need each other in the years ahead. Remember that if you walk through this valley together, your marriage can emerge stronger and more precious to you than you had ever thought possible.

2. Take your feelings to God

Cheryl Molenaar’s daughter Lindsay, now 12, was born with a chromosomal defect that has left her profoundly disabled and with the mental level of a one-year-old. Cheryl remembers feeling grief at the loss of all her hopes and dreams, mingled with intense frustration at not being able to ease her daughter’s suffering.

It’s only natural that these feelings lead to anger toward God. How could He let this happen? For Cheryl, the experience shook her faith. Yet through wrestling with God, Cheryl learned God will always carry you through. “Sometimes you can’t feel God,” she says, “But ask God to let you see Him, and He will show you Himself.”

My son Christopher died when he was 29 days old. Though I never received an answer why, I was given something better: a peace I cannot explain that could only have come from God. God is big enough to handle our questions, when we seek Him out and let Him in.

3. Seek early intervention

Paul and Judith Colley’s daughter Laura was born prematurely at 25 weeks. A year later she was diagnosed with hearing problems and possible developmental delay, so she was quickly fitted with a hearing aid. At two years of age her speech was slow and doctors were concerned with her development. Today, though, after years of speech therapy, she is above average on almost every scale. This child, whom they once thought might be permanently delayed, is flourishing. The reason is early intervention.

When you’re given a diagnosis for your child, the simple truth is that no one knows the potential he or she has. Certainly some children will have a harder time learning than others; but for many early stimulation can help. Ask your paediatrician to connect you with community resources or books that can guide you through the process.

4. Ask for help

No one likes to feel that they can’t cope. Yet for Cheryl, outside help saves her sanity and keeps her from the brink of exhaustion. Seek out help from friends, relatives, your church, and community resources. You’ve been given a big burden to carry, but God never meant for us to carry our burdens alone (Galatians 6:2).

We live in a society that values perfection. Having a baby who’s not perfect throws us through a loop and challenges everything we believe. Yet through that challenge, we will inevitably come to “taste” God more as He sustains us day by day. As Cheryl cares for Lindsay, she is constantly reminded that His “grace is made perfect in weakness”. Her child has taught her things about God no sermon ever could. And as she loves Lindsay, so protectively and fiercely, she gets a clearer picture of how God cherishes her.

If you’re dealing with disappointment and grief, Sheila’s book, How Big Is Your Umbrella?, can help. Read more here.