O Christmas Tree

O Christmas TreeWhen I was in Canadian Tire a while ago I saw an absolutely stunning Christmas tree.

It was decorated in silver bows and balls with purple accents. It was my ideal tree.

Such a tree, however, will never grace my living room. No matter how much I want a purple and silver one, I have too many other decorations that render a consistent colour scheme impossible. I have a family Christmas tree.

First comes the gold heart embossed with “Keith and Sheila, 1991″ that we received at our wedding. Then there are all the Christmas decorations we made as children which our parents thoughtfully gave us our first Christmas together (were they trying to get rid of them, I wonder?). There’s the canvas stitched candy cane Keith made, and the decorated styrofoam balls I did. Other decorations full of childhood memories hang beside them, like the angel candle holders that were on my Baby Jesus birthday cake when I was six.

And now, of course, we have added our children’s decorations. At first they were fairly innocuous ones, like “Baby’s First Christmas”. They have since become more ambitious. One year the girls and I made dough Christmas shapes and then glued little pictures to them. Katie, who is living proof that you can survive your second year of life eating only dried play dough (believe me, it wasn’t my choice), actually left nibble marks in some as she tried to eat them, too, despite the salt content. Add the decorations the girls make at Sunday school out of little paper doilies, and there’s no room for those classy purple balls.

Our lives are very much like these Christmas trees.

We spend so much effort trying to have the perfectly decorated life, with the right kids, the right jobs, and the right promotions. But it can be exhausting to live that way. Our work is never done. We’re always on the go, and when we do sit down it’s only to plan how to drive our kids to more lessons, run some more errands or throw on yet another load of laundry before we make dinner.

The family Christmas tree, with all its imperfections, is better because it is uniquely us. Anybody can have a perfectly purple Christmas tree. Not everyone can have the one decorated with your own white doily angels and pipe cleaner reindeer.

Christmas anchors us and reminds us of whose we are and of what’s important.

A sign at a local Dry Cleaners recently read, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there”. Many of us are stuck on some sideroad of endless errands and work because we need a road map to get us home, a map that can only come by slowing down and reflecting, if just for a little while. With the busyness of life, we often ignore our spiritual side, never taking time to think about life, death, parenting or our purpose on this earth. Christmas can be our roadmap, a time to take stock of our lives and consider if we’re heading in the right direction.

Whatever your spiritual background is, the challenge is the same: let’s take the time during the holidays to honour it. At my house this week, we’ll have a “Baby Jesus Birthday Cake” (chocolate, of course), to remind us that Christmas is when the all-powerful God became as helpless as a baby so he could live among us and die for us, so we could live forever with him. I don’t want that just to be my Christmas message; I want to live it through the rest of the year. But if I don’t take the chance now to see whether my daily life reflects my spiritual priorities, I may not have time once the daily grind starts anew.

I will gladly take my Baby Jesus birthday cake angels and little dough hearts over purple balls any day. That’s who I am, and who I want to be. Christmas is one of the few times of year when we can contemplate life without someone telling us to move on to the next task. Let’s make sure that this year, we take advantage of the opportunity.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Wifey Wednesday: Don’t Be the Christmas Doormat!

It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! And today Sarah Ball, aka The Virtuous Woman Exposed, joins us talking about how you can be a non-stressed wife this Christmas–by not being a Christmas martyr!

be a non-stressed wife this christmas

Dad is sitting peacefully with his pipe by the fire, the kids are playing joyfully with their new toys, the in-laws have that 1,000 pieced puzzle mastered, and Aunt Sally and Uncle Joe dance arm in arm to “I’ll be home for Christmas.”

But wait, where’s mom?

Oh, right. She’s hyperventilating in the walk-in pantry.

“It’s just the onions,” she says with a forced smile. Come on, we all know it’s not just the onions. It’s a layer of exhaustion, trying to please everyone, a failed soufflé (do women still make these?) a critical comment from the Mother-in-law, an eye roll over paper plates from the Aunt, oh…and the one gift she received under the tree.

One hand-made candleholder made with love and painted macaroni.

She loves seeing her family happy, and nothing beats watching her children open gifts, and she knows the true meaning of Christmas. Yet she can’t help but feel a little empty; so she distracts herself with giving and serving, while telling herself she ‘is being stupid and needs to suck it up.’ She takes the freshly made bacon wrapped scallops out of the oven, waves her eyes clear of tears, inhales deeply, and joins the party. “Hungry?” She sings. They all run to the platter of savory and leave her none.

Does this sound like you? The Christmas Door Mat or The Maid of Merry Men?

How not to be a Christmas martyr in your family--and find peace once again!

If so, I am here to release you from the hard bondage in which you have been forced to serve. With a loving lecture!

STOP IT!

What if I were to tell you that the reason Jesus was born, (the reason we celebrate Christmas) was so that we could rest and receive abundant blessing? Not strain ourselves to the point of tears.

Jesus knew that women have a tendency to strive to earn favor with man and Christ. Which is why God strategically left this story of Mary and Martha, in the bible….

 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”

 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10: 38-41

His peace and presence is available to all, but it is up to us Martha’s to put down our apron and just be present enough to enjoy the gift of the moment.

It is perfectly acceptable to expect blessing for yourself on Christmas. It’s not selfish and it’s not sacrilegious. No one ever called you to be a Christmas Martyr. In fact when you take it upon yourself to please everyone, you are actually taking away their opportunities to be a blessing. It feels good to give. Why not let your family experience that too.

We as moms need to help our children and husband bless us. I know that this sounds selfish, and I know that the giver in you is cringing. I realize Christmas isn’t just about gifts, but gifts are a legitimate godly way of showing care for one another.

 

I drive my children, including my teenaged son, to shop for their dad and me. I drop them off at my favorite store and tell them what I don’t want.

Last year, my teenaged boy was absolutely mortified when I dropped him off at a girly accessories store. I walked him into the store and introduced him to the cashier. “My son is shopping for me, these are the things I like, and can you help him?” I asked. She looked as awkward as he did. It was a match made in retail!

“I’ll be in the car,” I said, as I walked out the door. My son, his poor face turned Rudolph red. But that face turned into a very proud grin when I opened a great pair of gloves and scarf on Christmas morning.

I just scored points with his future wife. ‘Not afraid to shop at girly stores to buy his wife great gifts.’ CHECK!

Some husbands may need the same encouragement.

My husband loves to make me happy, and to be honest he deserves more gifts around the tree this year than I do, and he spoils me. So dropping him off at the local frilly shop will be in vain. What I can give him, that in turn blesses me, is an unstressed, joyful version of me. He’s not looking for a perfected Christmas Décor, or an overstuffed brined turkey. He is looking for moments with me, moments when he has my full, happy and content, attention.

This year I have given up the family photo, the Christmas letter and even the Christmas cards. I’m going to express my needs and ask for help. I am going to serve child decorated cookies, that look like reindeer vomit and I’m going to stick to mashed potatoes, turkey and pie. Martha Stewart, you’re fired!

What can you do for yourself this Christmas?

 

Sarah BallSarah Ball is a blogger, speaker, and mother of 5 children. She is currently working on a series called Fearless in 21 days, helping men and women break free from crippling anxiety and panic. You can follow her blog at Virtuous Woman Exposed.

Sarah says, “Head on over to my Virtuous Woman Exposed Facebook Page so we can be friends! You can also find me on Pinterest and Twitter.

WifeyWednesday175Have any Christmas marriage thoughts for us? Link up the URL of one of your marriage posts in our Wifey Wednesday Linkup below! And be sure to link back here so other people can read these great posts.



Go to Your Room! Why Kids Should Hang Out in the Living Room Instead

For my column today I thought I’d rerun a Christmas column from a few years ago where I talked about computers in kids’ rooms. It goes along well with our discussion yesterday about protecting kids with all the new gadgets at Christmas!

Computers in Kids Rooms
Disciplining children is a minefield for parents today. You’re not supposed to spank. You’re not supposed to yell. So when a 13-year-old child is tormenting his 9-year-old brother, parents utter the greatest threat that’s still acceptable: “Go to your room!”

Yeah, that’ll teach him.

Here’s a kid who obviously does not want to be with the family, and, in punishment, you send him to a place where, according to the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, 50% have their own television, and another 25% have a computer. “Go to your room!” is no longer sentencing a child to hours of boredom; it’s sending a child to a place where they have access to the outside world, with no parental interference, and often no parental guidance.

Traditionally, the living room was for living; the bedroom was for sleeping. Being banished to the bedroom was harsh indeed. Today, many children prefer to cocoon in their rooms, which they’re trying to turn into entertainment central. It’s not unusual for most kids’ Christmas lists to have “electronics” highlighted right at the top. The Santa in you may be tempted to oblige. The Scrooge in me is asking you to reconsider.

After all, what happens when kids have a television in their bedroom? According to a University of Haifa study, middle schoolers with TVs in their room sleep thirty minutes less a night, on average, than children without a television. The Canadian Pediatric Society calls televisions in bedrooms one of the biggest factors in childhood obesity. These children also score lower on reading and math tests. And perhaps most importantly, they’re twice as likely to start smoking and get involved in other delinquent activities, even controlling for all other factors.

While the health and educational detriments of television are important, it’s that last one that concerns me most.

When kids have televisions and computers in their room, they are more likely to make lifestyle and moral choices that parents don’t approve of because their lives have now become more and more independent.

Kids with TVs in their rooms live in their rooms, not in the kitchen or the family room, where they can hang out with their parents. And perhaps just as importantly, they tend to live solitary lives, not lives with their siblings. If you’ve ever wondered why kids squabble so much, perhaps it’s because they aren’t forced to play together or cure boredom together. Instead, they just retreat to their rooms to be entertained on their own.

I really can’t think of anything much more destructive in a family than encouraging your child to cocoon. Kids need input from parents. They need conversation. They need meal times. They need to have fun! But we’re letting them grow up by themselves, in their wonderfully decorated rooms with every little gadget. It’s wrong.

If your lives consist mostly of gathering the children for the practical functions of life, like putting food on their plates or collecting homework or ascertaining everybody’s schedules, and then you separate during your leisure times, I doubt real conversation or sharing will happen.

If your children hang out in their own rooms, rather than in the family room with siblings, I doubt great friendships will develop.

Before you shop this Christmas, then, ask yourself: what values do you want your children to have? Do electronics in their bedrooms contribute to your vision? Probably not. So maybe the Santa in you should invest in board games for the whole family or comfortable furniture for the living room, rather than for bedrooms. Your kids may think you’ve turned into Scrooge, but they’ll be better people for it.

If your kids have gadgets, computers, or phones in their room, make sure you’ve taken steps to protect them online!

Top 10 Ways to Be a Merry Mom this Christmas

Top 10 Ways to Be a Merry Mom This Christmas
Please welcome our guest author, Lindsey Bell, who is posting with us as part of her December Blog Tour.  Today she is sharing great tips for how to be a merry mom this Christmas–words to live by every day, really .  And be sure and enter her mega- giveaway–details are at the end of this post!

Christmas is my favorite holiday, but it also has the potential to be VERY stressful. With parties to attend, goodies to bake, programs to prepare for, gifts to purchase, and cards to send, Christmas can sometimes be far from joyful.

We might say “Merry Christmas” to the checker at the grocery store, but many of us don’t always feel merry. Here are a few tips that might help!

How to Be a Merry Mom:

1. Simplify.

Most of us are on the go WAY too much. I read a book recently called Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford, and she said something in the book that stuck with me.

What she said was this: “My child cannot kiss a moving target” (23).

Our kids can’t kiss us or hug us or cuddle with us if they can’t catch us. If we’re always on the go, when will our kids have the opportunity to just BE with us?

Kids can't kiss a moving target--so slow down this Christmas season and make sure you have time to be a Merry Mom! Lindsey Bell shares how...

As much as we’d love to attend every Christmas event, there are times when it’s wiser to stay at home and be with our families.

Simplifying begins by prioritizing. Decide which events you most want to attend, and then allow the rest of fall off your calendar.

2. Begin your day well.

About six months ago, I attended The Better Together Conference put on by The MOM Initiative. At that conference, one of the speakers challenged each of us to begin our days with our faces on the ground in prayer.

I’ve been doing that since then, and my days have drastically changed.

I think the reason they have changed so much is because God is filling me up early.

Before, when my children challenged me, it was me that spilled over (me, plus a little bit of impatience, frustration, and irritability). Now, when my kids push my buttons, it’s God that spills out of me.

Because I take time each morning to have Him fill me with His presence, it’s His Spirit that seeps out of me throughout the day.

3. Work on your marriage.

When our marriages are strong, we are happier people.

As much as we’d like to believe living in an unhealthy marriage doesn’t affect our moods, that’s not reality. Happy marriages make happy people; unhappy marriages make unhappy people.

Take time this week to work on your marriage. Buy a marriage book to read together. Have a date night. Have sex with your spouse. Pray together.  

4. Count your blessings.

Many of us mistakenly assume we have to feel thankful to voice thanksgiving.

We don’t.

Instead, it’s often the voicing of thanks that creates the feelings of thanksgiving.

In other words, if you take time to count your blessings, you will grow more thankful. You’ll begin noticing more blessings in your life. Your focus will gradually shift off the hard things in your life to the blessings instead.

5. Take care of yourself.

A happy mom is a mom who takes care of herself. Sure, there are seasons in our lives when we can’t get a full night’s sleep. There are seasons we can exercise every day.

But do your best to take care of you. Eat well. Exercise regularly. Rest as much as your little ones will allow.

6. Get away from time to time.

Nothing makes you adore your little ones more than being away from them occasionally, so if you’re able, go on vacation with your spouse, go on regularly dates, take time to yourself, and don’t feel bad about doing it.

7. Stop comparing your life to the lives of others.

Steven Furtick once said, “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”

Stop comparing your life to the lives of those around you. Sure, their life might look great on Facebook or Pinterest. But you’re not in their home everyday.

The key to happiness is to stop looking outside your surroundings to find it.

8. Laugh and smile more.

Laughter is good for the body, mind, and soul, so choose to laugh more. Instead of getting angry when everything goes wrong of a morning, choose to laugh instead.

When your holiday plans don’t turn out as you expected, choose to smile and laugh instead of blow up in anger.

9. Do something you love.

Writing has always been something I loved. When my son was first born, though, I thought I needed to put my writing aside until my kids were grown.

I’m so thankful my husband told me to write then instead of waiting until later.

When moms use their gifts, talents, and abilities, they’re happier women…And when we’re happier women, we’re happier moms.

Granted, there are certainly seasons when I can’t write as much. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do it at all.

10. Be present.

It’s tempting—especially on the hard days—to escape with my phone…to log into Facebook or Pinterest and only be half-there with my children.

What happens when I do this is that I stop enjoying my kids.

It’s only when I’m fully present that I fully enjoy my life. My guess is, I’m not the only one.

So if you want to be a merry mom this Christmas, choose to be with the ones you’re with.

What other tips would you add to this list?

 

This post is part of Lindsey Bell’s December blog tour. To enter to win Lindsey’s MEGA-GIVEAWAY (the winner will receive 6 books!), leave a comment on any of Lindsey’s guest posts this month (including this one).

Enter to win

For a full list of participating blogs (and ways to enter!) visit this post on Lindsey’s blog.

About Lindsey Bell:

Lindsey BellLindsey Bell is the author of Searching for Sanity: 52 Insights from the Parents of the Bible. She’s also a stay-at-home mother of two, minister’s wife, avid reader, and chocolate lover. You can find Lindsey online at any of the following locations:

Her blog: www.lindsey-bell.com

Her website: www.lindseymbell.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/LindseyMBell

Facebook: www.facebook.com/AuthorLindseyBell

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/LindseyMBell01

 


Searching for SanityAbout Searching for Sanity:

Have you ever looked at your beloved children and wondered, what in the world am I doing? Why did God trust me—of all people—to raise them?

Motherhood is the most difficult job many of us will ever take. Searching for Sanity offers moms an opportunity to take a breath, dig into the Word, and learn from parents of the past. In short devotions designed for busy moms, this book uses the parents of the Bible—both the good and the bad—to inspire today’s mothers.

You can pick up a copy today at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Reader Question: Should You Wait Until You Finish College for a Relationship?

Reader Question of the WeekEvery Monday I like to post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. Today’s comes from a college-aged friend of my oldest daughter Rebecca. Should you wait until you finish college to have a relationship–or to marry?

This is a question that’s rather emotional to me, because both Rebecca and myself dated men who felt this way–and eventually ended it. Both of us were just starting relationships when we were around 18-19, and those men, who genuinely liked if not loved us, decided that they didn’t want to pursue a relationship because school was more important.

In retrospect, we’re both glad, even though it hurt horribly at the time, because I got my amazing husband and Rebecca is now in a serious relationship. But that man that I would have married in a heartbeat has now been divorced at least once, and the man Rebecca would likely have married is now alone.

I am not saying that we are the ones who caused these men’s heartache–as if, had they chosen us instead, they’d be happy now. I actually think that this idea they both had that school came first was the main cause of their current predicament–not that they lost us in particular. So let me share my reader’s question, and then I’ll look at it from several angles: the young woman; the young man; and the parents of that young man.

I have been close friends with a wonderful Christian guy for quite a while, and lately we’ve been getting a lot closer. It was obvious that he liked me and I liked him, and we seemed genuinely perfect for each other. Then out of the blue he told me that he needed to end it because school came first. What do I do?

I’m going to answer that by talking mostly to the guy in this scenario, so here goes:

Should you wait until college is over to pursue a relationship? Some thoughts on why that can backfire.

Priorities Follow You–if you prioritize work above all early, you will prioritize it later too

Rebecca and I were chatting about this question yesterday, and she said an insightful thing: “in marriage you have to deal with personality differences and family of origin differences and differences in expectations, but these can all be overcome if you share one important thing: you both feel the relationship comes first.” And she’s right. If the relationship comes first, you will work through these other things.

But here’s what happens to many people when they approach school: They think, I have made certain goals for my life academically and career-wise. And I can’t afford to have anything distracting me from my goals.

There’s a problem with that line of thinking, and it goes like this: If you decide that the main focus for your life will be your career, then the main focus of your life WILL BE YOUR CAREER. It will not automatically change once you graduate. Essentially you’re saying: I need to concentrate on my real life now, and when I am ready I will add a wife and children (or a husband and children, if the roles are reversed). And that’s the problem: you’re ADDING the wife to your life; she is not the central focus of it. You have compartmentalized your life, and you likely will continue to do so. It will be very difficult to all of a sudden do a 180 and then start thinking of your wife, and here’s why:

Life Does Not Get Any Easier After College is Over

This essentially is the biggest misconception people make about relationships and college. They’re so focused on reaching their goal–whether it’s becoming a doctor or getting that Ph.D. or whatever–that they think that once this is over I can start to live my real life.

But let me tell you: I have been married to a physician all during his training (including medical school and residency), and I have done postgraduate work myself. And while there is a unique kind of stress to school, there is stress at every stage of life. Every single stage. And it doesn’t get easier.

If you train yourself that your way of handling stress is to be alone and buckle down and get it done, then that is also the way you will handle stress when you are married. If you think you have no time for a relationship now, you will have no time for a relationship later, either–even if you do marry. Everything in life is about priorities. And deciding that a relationship is a lower priority now is also toxic to a marriage later. Those who prioritize school now are far more likely to become workaholics and have distant marriages later. Which leads me to this thought:

Don’t Underestimate the Asset that a Relationship Can Be During College

I grew up without my dad. I endured my mother and my step-father splitting up at a very vulnerable age for me (14). My son died.

But with all that, I can tell you that the thing that took the worst toll on me is the fact that my now-husband initially broke off our engagement. For three months I was alone, thinking that relationship wouldn’t work, until he came back and we started again.

Why do I share that? Because as terrible as the death of my son was, I could deal with it because I was in a good marriage. Being married strengthened me; being alone shattered me. I learned a lot from that period of my life; it was a spiritual turning point, and God used it for good. But looking back, I also know that one reason God gave us a marriage partner is so that we don’t have to take the storms of life alone. Having someone to walk through the hard times with you is a tremendous boon.

I was married during some of Keith’s hard struggles with school. Medical school was awful for him; he’s an outgoing, energetic, kind person, and having to do extreme bookwork for two years with professors constantly talking down to you was debilitating. He almost quit, and he often says that he would have had it not been for me encouraging him and telling him that being a doctor would be completely different from being a medical student. If he could just get through this, he could get through anything.

And sex didn’t hurt either.

Seriously, sex is a great stress reliever.

So here’s the thing as a student: you’re going to go through stress anyway. It’s going to be a lot of work. So you can choose to go through it alone, or you can say, “if God brings me someone, I’ll really consider it.”

There is a degree of pride in saying “I can do it on my own better.” God made us for relationship.

God’s Agenda is Not Always Our Agenda

I’m a goal-oriented person, and so I can understand being so focused on an academic goal that you decide that relationships have to wait. But I don’t think this is a wise spiritual decision.

You may have the best plan in the world–but that’s all it is. It is a plan of your own making. Do not EVER become so wedded to your own plans that you miss out on what God has for you. Keep open to the Spirit. Keep open to new things. Keep open to changing your plans. If your plans become your life, then you are cutting God out and you are standing in His place, and that’s pride. It may seem like it’s selfless–I don’t want to get into a relationship with someone when I know how much I will have to work to get through this degree, and so I’m sacrificing my own happiness for the sake of the person I may end up hurting–but it’s really pursuing your own goals no matter what.

For some people that may be what God has for them. But in my own life, every time I have thought I had a really great plan God has changed it. The people that I see who are miserable today or not living up to their potential tend to be people who have pursued their own plans. Be careful.

A Quality, God-Fearing Spouse is Not Easy to Find

Why do those two men regret me and Rebecca? Because they let us go, thinking that in their own timing they would be able to find someone like us. They felt this was an act of faith–believing that God would bring someone else when they had made themselves ready. And now they’re both lonely. (By the way, I don’t find any particular satisfaction in that; when I was 20 I would have. Today I’m just so grateful my life turned out as it did).

God does not work on our timetable. And if you find someone that you respect and admire and get along with easily and laugh together who also loves God–do not give that up lightly.

Break Up Because the Relationship Won’t Work, Not Because the Timing Won’t Work

If you end something, it should be because God has shown you the person won’t work. Timing isn’t a deal-breaker; it’s an obstacle, that’s all. Jacob had to work fourteen years for Rachel in the Old Testament story, but he didn’t abandon her just because of timing. “A wife of noble character is hard to find”–as is a husband of noble character. Don’t shut a door that you don’t know will open again. That may feel like an act of faith, but from what I’ve seen, it’s more likely that you’re substituting your own plans for God’s plans.

But What About Money to Support a Spouse?

After all, if you marry, shouldn’t you be able to support someone? Isn’t that a legitimate reason to wait?

It may be a legitimate reason to wait to marry; but I don’t think it’s a legitimate reason to wait to have a relationship.

First, if you’re living off of student loans and part-time jobs to put yourself through school, chances are it’s cheaper to be married and live in one household anyway, so money shouldn’t really be a factor in that case. When Keith and I married we saved money, and because we were married we also qualified for more government assistance because they stopped taking our parents’ income into account.

But what if you’re going through school on your parents’ dime? Here’s where parents need to enter the conversation. With our daughters, we are paying a certain percentage of their undergraduate costs (once you’re in grad school you can earn your own way). We have always decided to do that, and it doesn’t change if they marry. So they don’t get cut off from support for school just because they marry.

Last Words to the Young Woman:

To the woman who asked this question, you need to move on and run far away from this guy. If he can’t prioritize you now, he would not be able to prioritize you if you ever married, either. Run close to God, and God will fill the gaping hole you’re feeling right now. And God will bring someone into your life who WILL prioritize you–don’t ever settle for less.

Last Words to the Young Man:

I do understand how important school is. I understand the urge not to pursue a relationship because everything is so up in the air, and you don’t feel you have the time to dedicate to a relationship right now. If no young woman presents herself, then this may honestly be okay. But be careful of ending a potential relationship with a great young woman over timing, because the timing will never get better. And ask yourself this: in twenty years, what do I want most? A great career, or a great marriage and family? If the answer is “a great career”, then you likely should remain single always. That isn’t fair to a spouse. And if the answer is “a great marriage and family”, then that doesn’t happen automatically.

You can’t wall yourself off from people now and expect to be able to prioritize them later. Tread carefully; listen to God’s voice; and keep your eyes open.

Last Words to the Parents:

We live in an age where we value status and career almost over everything else. This is a mistake. The most important aspect of your child’s life will be the legacy he or she leaves behind. For some of us, that will be about career, but for most of us, it’s about family. And family often speaks more to character than anything else. Don’t push your child away from relationships in college, because that’s giving the wrong message about what’s really important in life.

You may also like: Top 10 Reasons to Marry Young

And now, let me know: what do you think? Can and should college and relationships be combined? Leave me a comment and tell me your experiences!

 

My 3 Gifts of Christmas

Yesterday, I mentioned my 3 Gifts of Christmas, so I thought I would re-run it, in case you missed it previously. This column is a special one to me. For the last few years I’ve mentioned our method of gift giving, and inevitably people come up to me on the street, months later, telling me how much they appreciated it. Perhaps it will be something that will bless you, as well!

My Three Gifts of ChristmasApparently I buy really lousy Christmas presents. I had always mildly suspected my shortcomings, but recently economist Joel Waldfogel confirmed them. In his book Scroogenomics, he showed rather indisputably that if you ask Christmas gift recipients to assign a value to the gifts they receive, they inevitably quote a number less than the actual cost, leading to a waste of $963 million a year in Canada. And the gifts that are valued the least? Those from aunts, uncles, and grandparents, who apparently only get 75 cents of perceived value for every dollar spent.

I do have trouble buying for the nieces and nephews and various other younger people in my life. I don’t always share the same interests, and being the incorrigible aunt that I am, I refuse to pander to hobbies that don’t suit me. Instead, like many millions of aunts and grandparents and in-laws all over this nation, I buy something lousy instead. My preference is always books. Unfortunately, most younger Canadians don’t share my passion, and thus they consider these types of gifts with about the same amount of affection that I consider most X-box games. And thus we reach the gift-giving impasse.

One of my nephews announced rather brazenly that this year he’d rather just have cash. Doling out money, though, seems so crass. If gift giving is going to degenerate into passing along cash and gift cards, then Christmas becomes a season of greed, rather than a time to express our love.

Nevertheless, Waldfogel’s news isn’t all bad. We actually do quite well on certain gifts. The closer we are to people, the better the gift giving becomes. Siblings value gifts at about 99% of their value, and spouses do even better, at about $1.02. I’m pretty sure my children tend to like their gifts from me, as well.

Even if I buy my girls good gifts, though, is that really the point of the season? According to most of the seasonal flyers that pass through our mail slots it certainly is. Shoppers’ Drug Mart, for instance, in their 36 page “Gifts Made Easy” flyer managed to talk about the “Top 10 Gifts They’ll Love” (though I’m sure my nieces and nephews wouldn’t like those either), and lots of things to “Rock your Holiday”, or go “Twinkle Twinkle”, while only mentioning the Christmas word three times.

If Christmas is only about gifts, then we are in trouble.

It has become a big waste, whether we’re successful gift givers or not, because all we’re doing is breeding greed. I know it’s difficult when children are young and they desperately want the latest toy, but parenting is about identifying teaching opportunities, and I think this is one of them. Life is not about accumulating stuff with as little work as possible; life needs to be about giving, about making a difference, about family, and values, and faith, and love, or life becomes very empty indeed.

That’s why several years ago we started a new gift giving tradition with my children.

We call it the “Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh” ritual, where they each get three gifts, and nothing more. The gold gift is something they want. The frankincense gift is something they need, like socks. And the myrrh gift is something to nurture their souls. It could be a journal, or a book, or a CD, or a movie. It’s something that reminds them of their purpose here on earth, or encourages them to think, to write, and to pray about what’s important. It’s always the biggest challenge to find such a thing, but it’s a challenge I’m up for, since it reminds us of the reason for the season. And I’m pretty sure, despite what the flyers might say, that reason should not be greed. Pass it on.

Need to come up with ideas for “myrrh” gifts–Christmas gifts to nurture the soul? I’ve got a whole bunch, divided by age and gender, right here!

Christmas Gifts to Nurture the Soul

We do the three gifts of Christmas--something they need, something they want, and something to nurture their spiritual side. Here are ideas for spiritual Christmas gifts for your whole family.For several years I’ve been telling you all about our Christmas gift tradition, the Three Gifts of Christmas: Something They Need, Something They Want, and Something to Nurture their Spiritual Side. It’s the gold, frankincense and myrrh gifts!

We’ve been doing this with our girls for years now, and I’ve started doing it for my husband, too. But coming up with a good idea for a “spiritual” gift is always a bit of a challenge–and, quite frankly, the most fun challenge I have at Christmas! I always want to make it meaningful.

I often get asked by people who read about my “three gifts of Christmas” idea for thoughts on what they can do for the “myrrh” gift, or the spiritual gift, and so today I thought I’d share some ideas for different ages and genders to get you started.

I’ll be doing this post a little bit differently, though. I’ll be updating it constantly until Christmas, making use of the comment section and adding good ideas when they come in! So be sure to pin it or bookmark it so you can come back and refer to it later–I may have even more ideas!

But Christmas should never be only about getting what you want. We have to also remind ourselves of the meaning behind the season, and that’s why I always try to include something that will help girls think about who they are in Christ, or will help them grow in their relationship with Him.

You don’t want to get a “bad” present, though–a present that no one will actually like. You want to get something that’s actually useful and that they will use and appreciate.

So here we go–spiritual gifts for your family, divided by age and gender!

Christmas Gifts for the Spiritual Side–young children (4-11)

In this category I’m big on books, because reading out loud to children is one of the best things we can do! I’m focusing on kids that are 4 and up here.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever – Book $4.87

The Best Christmas Pageant EverThis is the best book ever written. Seriously. As a child, we read it out loud every Christmas Eve. The problem was that my aunt would know what was coming, and would be laughing so hard she would find it hard to keep going. When my kids were 4 or 5, we started reading it out loud on Christmas Eve with them, too (it’s a long read, but you can do it in a few hours while you’re all sitting around doing crafts or eating or something. And it’s so wonderful!) Now that my daughter has a significant other, we’ll be making him listen to the reading of it, even though he’s 20. You’re never too old for this one!

It is hilarious, it is heartwarming, and it is wonderful.

Treasures of the Snow (Patricia St John Series)Treasures of the Snow – Book $7.32

Another of my favourite novels growing up. I read it to my girls as well, and it was one of the ways they best understood the gospel at a young age. Just a beautiful story of sibling love, and the hardship of life in poverty in the mountains of Switzerland. It’s lovely.

The Chronicles of Narnia Boxed SetChronicles of Narnia Box Set – $31.49

I’ve read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe out loud to so many kids I’ve lost count. It was my go-to read aloud book when I was a camp counselor, and I used it to lead several kids to Christ. I also read it to my cousins and to my own kids several times. And when you reread the books as adults, you see so much more! To me, this is the best book series ever.

Adventure Bible, NIVThe Adventure Bible – $19.65

Want your children to learn to start doing devotions on their own? Here’s a full Bible that’s meant for kids–highlighting great stories, great verses, and containing lots of info about Bible times (as well as beautiful pictures). It’s meant for kids 9-12 (or 8 if your kids are good readers). If you have children younger than 9 years old, you can also get The Adventure Bible, early readers edition.

Apples to Apples Bible EditionApples to Apples Bible Edition – $20.57

Our family is big on board games, and often our “spiritual” gift to the kids over the years has been a Bible based game. The kids love Apples to Apples, and so this one would fit well for kids 8 and up. Sometimes games help the spiritual side the best, because they also encourage family time! And we’ve found that when we have other families over for dinner, we often end up playing games, so it’s a great way for fellowship, too.

Stocking Stuffers for Your Husband

Christmas Gifts for the Spiritual Side–preteens

For this group, I’d still recommend the Narnia series if they haven’t read it, along with The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and the Apples to Apples game. Then we’ll add these options. Again, it’s big on games because games mean FAMILY TIME, which also nurtures your spiritual side!

Cactus Games Scattergories-Bible EditionScattergories Bible Edition – $20.61

Again, games are awesome! Here’s the classic game of Scattergories, where one team is given a letter, and you have to match as many things on that category with that letter in each round. So fun!

Bible TabooTaboo Bible Edition – $20.64

I am seriously good at Taboo, if I’m the one giving the clues. Seriously. No one can beat me. And this game is awfully fun! You have to get your teammates to say a specific word or phrase WITHOUT using any of the words on the card (so you may have to get them to say the word “manger” without being allowed to say Mary, Joseph, Jesus, Bethlehem, Shepherds, Inn for instance).

Cactus Games Outburst-Bible EditionOutburst Bible Edition – $23.59

We’ve got this one and we play it all the time. There’s a card with ten answers on it, like 10 Names of Christ or 10 Places Jesus Visited or whatever, and your team has to name as many as possible in the time allotted.

Bible Games Combo w/Free Deck of Standard Playing CardsIt’s been great with youth groups, too!

Bible Games Combo – $89.99

Includes all of the games I’ve mentioned here, plus Mad Gab Bible and a free deck of cards. This is awesome!

Specifically for Preteen Girls:

Daughter of China – Novel $7.75

Daughter of ChinaI read this book a few years ago and was so touched by it. It’s all about the persecuted church in China, but you learn about it through the eyes of one teenaged girl, who has normal hopes and dreams that don’t seem to be able to be realized. At this age kids often read the Beverly Lewis Amish series or start reading other Christian romances. If you want to get a book that’s accessible that’s also really beautiful, try this one.

Swimming Through Clouds: A Contemporary Young Adult NovelNovels by Rajdeep Paulus – Swimming Through Clouds – $9.58

Rajdeep is a good friend of mine, and she’s written two novels for teen girls that deal with friendship, grace, and finding your way in the world when you start off with a really dysfunctional family. Will help teens see their friends with new eyes, too.

NIV Backpack BibleNIV Backpack Bible – $16.09

Here’s a small Bible that lays flat that will fit in a backpack or anywhere else for kids on the go! It’s pretty and purple and girls will love it.

Specifically for Preteen Boys:

God's SmugglerGod’s Smuggler  by Brother Andrew (updated) $12.37

GIRLS CAN READ THIS TOO!!!! But it’s a great book for boys, and those are sometimes hard to find, so I’m putting it in the boys’ section. Brother Andrew was an amazing man who smuggled Bibles into communist countries throughout the 1970s an 1980s. His stories are absolutely riveting. This edition has been updated and slightly rewritten to make it more accessible, and it’s a great biography to read. It’s more like reading The Bourne Identity or something–it’s that fast paced.

NIV Boys Backpack BibleBoys’ NIV Backpack Bible – $13.98

A smaller Bible that lays flat which will fit in a backpack or which a boy can easily take along to church. It’s brown, so not girly at all!

Stocking Stuffers for Your HusbandChristmas Gifts for the Spiritual Side–Teenagers

For teens I’d recommend any of the games, especially Scattergories and Outburst and Taboo. And no matter the age, you still have to read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever out loud. At this age I’d stress starting to get into some serious Bible study, which is why I’m including wide-margin Bibles or Bibles that are designed for taking notes. I bought a wide margined Bible about a decade ago and I don’t know what I’d do if I ever lost it because it’s got all of my notes and thoughts in it! I think encouraging kids to start actually writing notes in their Bibles is a good thing–and this is what I’ll be getting my girls this Christmas (I just realized that as I was typing this! I’ve been trying to figure out a spiritual gift, and this fits the bill. I’ve bought them the smaller Bibles before, but it’s time they had something to actually write in).

Here are two Bibles that fit the bill, but there are likely many others. Just make sure they have wide enough margins to take notes!

NIV Note-Taker's BibleNIV Note Takers’ Bible – $38.40

A Bible with wide margins specifically designed for you to take notes during Bible studies, sermons, etc. It doesn’t have a lot of study aids, but it’s great for just being the plain Bible text–with your own personal commentary.

ESV Single Column Journaling Bible (Black)ESV Journalling Bible – $31.36

Here’s a Bible with the text in a single column, verse by verse, to let you take notes on each verse. Lots of room for writing! The pictured one is in black, but it comes in many different colours as well.

ACCU-Gel Highlighters Study KitBible Highlighters - $6.70

Okay, that must be a gimmick. BIBLE highlighters? Is that like Bible pencils and Bible erasers, where people put “Bible” in front of it to sell it? Actually, in this case, no. It’s a real thing. And here’s why: if you’re going to highlight in your Bible, you need highlighters that won’t bleed through the page to the other side. So these are awesome, because they let you highlight on one side, but when you flip the page it’s still okay. Bible pages are super-thin, because the Bible is so long, so normal highlighters won’t work. If you have a teen who is serious about Bible study, these are great.

Sakura 30081 Pigma Micron Blister Card 005 Ink Pen, 0.20-mm, BlackBible Pens – $4.79

Again, the best way to write in a Bible is with special pens that won’t bleed through. Often normal ballpoint pens do, and the markers that won’t fade often bleed as well. These pens don’t bleed, but they’re crisp and clear.

Crayola Colored Pencils, Assorted Colors, 24 count (68-4024)Pencil Crayons – $2.99

You can never fail with pencil crayons to colour in verses you like or words you want to highlight! I still colour all the verses I’ve memorized yellow. These are just standard Crayola coloured pencils, but even if you have some in your house, it’s good to buy a set for each person so that they have their own to keep with their Bible and they’re not searching all over the house when it’s time to do devotions.

Safely HomeSafely Home - $12.37

Very rarely has a novel impacted me as much as Safely Home by Randy Alcorn. Again, another book about the persecuted church in China. There are two specific incidents that stand out to me: first, everyone in one town decides to leave, making the town abandoned. The reason? Everyone has already accepted Christ, so there is no more mission work that can be done there. It is time to move on. Second, in China, people pray for having the honour of being the last martyr before Christ returns. Can you imagine making such a prayer for yourself–or your child? It helps you get a totally new perspective on what it means to follow Christ.

Uncle Tom's CabinUncle Tom’s Cabin – $9.49

This used to be required reading in high school, but few teens read it anymore. And quite frankly, this is one of the most Christian books I have ever read. It is quite simply beautiful. It opens people’s eyes to the horror that was slavery, but also lets you see how Christ can enter in and transform lives. Another thing I appreciated: not all whites were bad, and not all blacks were good. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote a novel about the complexities of real life, and she accomplished something so well that we are still trying to figure out today. Also, this books has the best gospel presentation I have ever read. Every person needs to read this book, at least once in their lives.

Specifically for teenage boys

C80L Forgiven Jewelry-3 Nail Cross Necklace on Suede Cord-Christian Jewelry3-Nail Cross Necklace on Suede $9.49

Here’s jewelry for boys–it’s a cross necklace with a twist, constructed out of 3 nails (the nails in both hands, and the nail in His feet). It’s powerful.

Specifically for teenage girls

Shine Necklace – $40

It’s gold plated, and it gives the message: I want to shine wherever I am, in school, at work, at home. It’s lovely, and a conversation starter.

Shine Necklace

 

Stocking Stuffers for Your Husband

Christmas Gifts for the Spiritual Side–adult women

I’d add the wide margin Bibles from above, along with the highlighters and Bible pen, as well as the family games. Then here are a few other choices:

 It is well with my soul necklace – $36

If you have a woman in your life who has gone through a difficult time this year, here’s a lovely piece of jewelry to remind her that God is always with her bringing peace.

It Is Well Necklace

Grateful Necklace - $39

A beautiful pewter necklace that you can add charms to–either words like “family”, or initials of your family members, or anything else!

Grateful Necklace

How Great Thou Art wall plaque – $14.99

This is my mother’s favourite hymn, and it means so much to us as a family. You can find plaques of many of your other favourite hymns, or other verses, over at Dayspring.

How Great Thou Art Plaque

 

Stocking Stuffers for Your HusbandChristmas Gifts for the Spiritual Side–adult men (like husbands!)

Men can be harder to buy for. You can include the study Bibles mentioned above, or some great books, but some guys don’t like reading books. If your husband isn’t a reader, don’t get him a book just because you love it. Here are some other ideas that may work:

Sermons to listen to in the car

Download some awesome sermons and create a CD for him (or put them on his iPod) so he can listen in the car while he drives to work! If you know of a great site to download sermons, or some wonderful ones, let me know in the comments and I’ll add the links here.

Audio Books

If your husband drives a lot for work, then listening to a good book can help break up the trip and give him something meaningful to think about. When I drive to speaking engagements I often listen to books. Search around for some good ones you think he’d like and download them to a CD or to his iPod. I’m linking here to the book Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas, but you can find a ton of books at Audible that he will like!

Noble Man Mug – $9.99

Show your husband that you think he’s a noble man! A sturdy mug with an inspirational message.

Dayspring Noble Man Mug

So remember our theme: 3 Gifts at Christmas for those you love. Something they need, something they want, and something to nurture their spiritual side. It’s the gold, frankincense and myrrh method of gift giving! And see if it helps you and your family think of Christmas in a new way.

My 3 Gifts of Christmas: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Something they want, something they need, and something to nurture their soul. Read on for ideas!

Now, I would love to hear your suggestions! Leave them in the comments, and let’s brainstorm together about how to make this season meaningful!

 

 

Beauty from Ashes: Part 2

Sexual Shame in Marriage: A beautiful 2-part series of a true story of how one woman broke free of sexual shame and found God's love--and a great marriage!

What is it like to recover from sexual shame and live a full life with your husband? That’s what Joy McMillan is writing about in her book XES:Why Church Girls Tend to Get it Backwards…and How to Get it Right. Yesterday I published an excerpt of her story, and today, for Wifey Wednesday, I’m going to run the ending to that story. There’s so much more to Joy’s book, but I thought you’d really enjoy her lovely testimony, which moved me.

Read Part 1 of Joy’s Story here.

XES: Why Church Girls Tend To Get It Backwards...And How To Get It RightThe very same week my world fell apart, Jehovah Sneaky was at work behind the scenes. The women from the Bible study that my mum led on a Thursday morning were taking a trip down to North Carolina for a conference. And I just happened to be desperate enough to go with them. While I don’t recall too much from the weekend, teaching or ministry wise, I distinctly remember the women who carried me through some of the loneliest days of my life. They scooped me up, lifted my chin, and like a flock of mommas, enveloped me with love.

I spent the next couple of years digging into my relationship with God, avoiding boys like the plague, weaning myself off shop-lifting, and trying desperately to avoid the temptation to slip into the sexual habits I had created years before.

Painfully aware of my inability to have healthy relationships, I told God that my heart was His. Fully and completely. I knew I couldn’t be trusted with my heart, as I had flung it at every passing boy over the past several years, so I surrendered that decision to Him, committing to not pursue a relationship again without knowing He was releasing my heart into their care.

I started leading youth group, teaching a Bible study, and even stumbled my way into Christian radio. I had started over, stuffed my past down deep enough that it was hardly even discernible, and was now determined to earn my way back into God’s good grace. I was going to prove to Him that I was worth saving.

After three years of celibacy, while perfecting my new ‘God’s girl’ image, a pastor I worked with at the radio station introduced me to a young man. While I didn’t notice him at first, we kept running into each other at random media events, first at a Michael W. Smith concert, then at a SonicFlood concert, and again at Festival Con Dios. We finally started to connect the dots when the general manager of the station, and our pastor friend, exchanged our emails and got the ball rolling. Because of the hour-long distance between us, we got to know each other via phone and email, and after a month of lengthily conversations, we had our first date.

When I had surrendered my heart to God a couple of years earlier, I had begged him for wisdom. Having run so quickly into physical encounters with boys in the past, rarely connecting emotionally, and never sharing a spiritual bond, I had asked God to reverse that trend when the man He had for me came along. I watched him honor this request in the following months as we connected instantly over our mutual love for Jesus first, developing a sweet friendship after that, and carefully putting boundaries in place for sexual purity. Everything seemed to be going just peachy!

An interesting thing happened on our second date, however, when the topic of sexual purity arose. Sitting in his Ford Escort in the Farmer Jack’s parking lot, I panicked. The conversation had turned to me and I had a choice to make. To tell, or not to tell. Dry heaving out the window, I turned back to him and whispered, “I was date raped when I was 15.” Nothing more. I had decided to share the ‘poor me’ part of my story, and keep the ‘bad me’ portion in hiding, assuming the basic knowledge of me being ‘used goods’ would validate the presence of some junk to work through.

Heaven knows, if he really knew the amount of sexual baggage I came with, he’d head for the hills.

Our relationship progressed and in March of the following year, he proposed in the white sand of a Florida beach at sunset. It was beautiful and glorious, and on that day I was only slightly aware of the farce I had become. I had grown so accustomed to pretending that I had almost managed to convince myself that my ugly past was simply a figment of my imagination. I would go through the mental motions of carving out ground at the bottom of the ocean, dumping all my iniquities into the pit, and then smothering them in cement. I would repeatedly drown out the memories each and every time they threatened to rear their ugly heads and remind me of who I was.

From the outside looking in, I had it all. The perfect job, a wonderful family, an amazing fiancé, and impeccable faith. The only problem was, I knew my life was still a charade, and the fear of exposure — and the subsequent ruin — kept me tightly enslaved.

While everything blossomed on the outside, I was quietly withering on the inside.

Secrets will do that to you.

I have learned over the course of the past decade or two that whenever I keep dirt hidden, it has power over me. These secrets fester and take on a life of their own, devouring my confidence and joy, and driving me further back into the shadows of insecurity. But when brought out into the light, they lose their power, and I gain power over them. As long as we allow the enemy a foothold in the darkest recesses of our heart, in amongst the secrets and cobwebs, he will poison our self-image, smudge our purpose, and chain us down with fear.

I developed such a warped sense of reality that I — to this day — have chunks of memory completely blotted out. I remember several times waking up in a cold sweat from a dream that left me gasping for breath, heart pounding out of my chest. Vivid scenes of my involvement in a murder, and the messy attempt to cover it up. I spent many days searching through my fractured memories, desperate to know whether this was something I had actually been a part of, or whether the devil was simply capitalizing on my inability to separate fact from fiction.

In the months leading up to our wedding, we did everything we knew to do in preparation — we took every marriage class, read every book, and spent time with older, wiser couples who invested in our relationship. While at times I felt like a fraud in talking about past experiences, simply leaving out massive chunks of my history, I had finally managed to convince myself that as long as I could keep up the performance, no one would ever be the wiser. But the alternative was no longer an option.

It was mind over matter, and I was determined to protect this beautiful new life I was living.

Two months before our wedding, in August of 2003, I ended up driving to New York with a close friend for a media event. I assumed it would just be a fun-filled few days at Six Flags, hobnobbing with artists and brushing shoulders with the big wigs of the music industry. But God had other plans.

On the final evening of the event, I found myself sitting front and center in the stadium, media pass hanging proudly around my neck. After Michael W. Smith’s set, TobyMac rocked the stage, followed by the delightful presence of Kirk Cameron. I was loving my front row seat, until she came out. Pam Stenzel1, purity advocate extraordinaire. She talked about abstinence and purity and virginity and boundaries, all the things I assumed I didn’t really need to hear at that point. After all, I was gettin’ hitched in 2 months. She went on to share how important it is to live with full disclosure in marriage, to dialog with honesty and transparency. And I wanted to die. I hoped the earth would just open up and swallow me whole. This was not what I wanted to hear. After all, I had quietly dragged these secrets around for the past several years, and with my wedding just around the corner, it made no sense for me to go rummaging through the trash now. Let bygones be bygones. Don’t stir up this hornet’s nest, woman.

But the pit in my stomach deepened as she drove home the need for relationships to be built on foundations of trust. “Fine, God. Just fine. I get it” I whimpered. Paralyzed in my seat I watched as people flooded the prayer tent. I was so very aware of an urgency in my spirit, a sense that God was saying, “Joy, I’m giving you the opportunity of a lifetime…but you have got to act within the lifetime of this opportunity.” I knew that window would close quickly, as making it to our wedding day without telling him the truth, would mean taking my secrets to the grave. I couldn’t possibly burden him with that after he was tied to me.

It was now, or never.

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives”

Genesis 50:20

The thought of allowing my fiancé into those dark, dirty places of my life seemed impossible, so I thought I’d outsmart God at His own game. “Okay, God. Let’s make a deal,” I started, “if I speak to Pam and she tells me I should tell him everything, I’ll do it.” Looking at the growing mass of sniffling bodies in and around the prayer tent, I was certain this was my ticket out. I wandered over, sheepishly standing off at a distance, trying to plan my next move, when I turned to go. Standing directly behind me was Pam Stenzel. How He did that, I will never know, but there she was in all her purity-advocating glory, and I couldn’t escape. 7 years of running came to a screeching halt and I fell apart in her arms. She cried with me, prayed with me, and confirmed what I felt God was prompting me to do; it was time to take out the trash.

I am so thankful for the precious friend who accompanied me on this trip, a dear friend of my fiancé’s long before she became my own. She quietly listened as I processed through my raw emotions, ranging from terror to anger and back again, and then helped me prepare my heart for what was about to take place in my relationship. She, too, prayed with me, encouraging me and speaking hope into my heart, and was the first person to hear snippets of the life I had kept secret.

Once home in Michigan, I went to the apartment we were renting, where my fiancé was currently staying, and waited for him to return home from work. Apart from the day I spent staring at my newborn son through cold ICU glass, being intubated and cardioverted, as medical staff fought to save his life, this was the longest day I’d ever known.

After avoiding eye-contact and dancing around the subject for as long as possible, he pried, and I cracked. I don’t recall how the words emerged from my lips, but through snot and tears, he heard snippets of a life very different from the one I had painted. Certain the filth of my true identity had manifested on my face, my chin remained planted on my chest as I dredged the secrets up from hiding.

Lies upon lies. Relationship after relationship. Sin cloaked in more sin.

And then he asked me what I feared most he might ask. “How many were there?” The number slipped from my lips, and then I was gone.

Convinced this sealed the fate of our relationship, I left my engagement ring on the couch and ran for the bathroom. Curled up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor, I ached for God to just take me home. I was an undone, incoherent and utterly destroyed by my own failed masquerade. Surely death would feel better than this mess I had made.

What felt like hours later, but I’m sure was closer to 30 minutes, I heard him in the doorway. He bent down, scooped me up and, hands firmly holding my face, forced me to look at him. I will never forget the pain I saw in his eyes. A pain I had caused. But mingled with the hurt, was a compassion I didn’t understand.

He took my hand, got down on his knee, and asked me — once again — to marry him.

Restored

Oh, friend. This moment will forever be sealed in my memory. Heaven kissed earth in the wee hours of the morning in that little apartment on Potter Street, and through this extravagant expression of grace and forgiveness, that boy changed my life. For the first time, truly, in my life, I understood — tangibly — the radical love of Jesus. The love that says, “even though I know you completely — with all the ugliness and brokenness you carry — I still want you!”

I was utterly wrecked in the most beautiful of ways.

The next morning, puffy-eyed and surprisingly courageous, I sat on my momma’s lap and told her what had happened back on the night of September 15th, 1996, and how it had impacted the choices I’d made over the next few years. We wept together as she wrestled to understand how they’d missed the warning signs that I was so deeply in trouble. She asked to share it with my dad, and shortly afterwards asked that I share my story with our women’s group at church.

Faster than I ever thought possible, this terrible tale that had held me captive all these years lost its power and become a powerful weapon against the very one who had tried to destroy me.

The following year, as we navigated the unchartered territory of life as newlyweds, we spoke at a purity conference. Sharing honestly and transparently from our personal journey, we were able to reflect on some of the struggles we were working through as a couple as a result of our poor choices, while celebrating God’s extraordinary faithfulness.

And while I’d love to tell you that our life has been sunshine and roses since the truth emerged, we’ve had a whole heck of a lot to work through.

My husband wisely sought counsel from a Godly mentor. He reminded him how hard it must have been for me to bring this to him, and how important it was that he work through it, forgive me, and then let it go. “Never bring it up again,” he added. And I am so incredibly thankful and blessed to say, he never has.

While I’m still uprooting lies I believed and associations I made during sexual encounters as a teenager, we’ve come a mighty long way! Despite the years of junk we’ve had to wade through, the many soul ties we’ve had to sever, and the deep insecurities I continue to wrestle with, the sweetness and freedom of our intimacy has grown exponentially over the past several years.

To add to the sexual baggage, I dragged a boatload of emotional wounding into our marriage. I had so cemented into my mind the notion that ‘conflict destroys relationships’ that it took me years to not shy away from it. Past experience had proven this theory time and time again, so when something was bothering me, I stuffed it. And when my hubby picked up that something wasn’t right, and brought it up…I hid.

Fear of disappointing him fueled my drive for perfection and gave voice to my inner critic. The lingering sense that I was never good enough, in the kitchen, bedroom or laundry room, bubbled close to the surface, rearing its head in hyper-sensitivity and defensiveness.

This poor guy had NO idea what he had gotten himself into.

I cannot imagine what life would be like for us today, had I tried to keep everything locked up inside.

I wonder whether we would have even survived. Secrets tend to breed more secrets, which destroy the trust and safety of a marriage, and eventually unravel the very fabric of your relationship.

While those tools we’d placed in our marital tool belt came in handy when dealing with love and respect issues, or gender roles, and finances, nothing could quite prepare us for the daily walking out of married life. Especially one that required much healing and reprogramming for our interludes between the sheets. Our sex life, once settled into, was lack luster at best, as I struggled to stay emotionally present, while shying away from anything creative that might recall the experiences I’d had years earlier. Honest, open discussion, coupled with prayer, really helped us overcome many of these issues, and continues to act as our go-to when, from time to time, unexpected things emerge.

It’s been amazing watching God use our journey and our struggles to encourage other couples wrestling with the same stuff. We’ve had the opportunity to mentor several couples, and lead many different marriage courses, simply because we’ve made our imperfect selves available to Him, and because we truly love watching our resourceful God redeem our brokenness and use it for His glory.

Redeemed

We had the opportunity to fly home to South Africa and Namibia in 2006, in celebration of our third anniversary, and to connect my hubby with the family of mine he’d not yet met. Many of our fondest memories together were created during the 5 glorious weeks we spent gallivanting across the countryside.

On our last evening in South Africa, before heading over to Namibia for our final week of vacation, I had another of those ‘God opportunities’. One of those, “I’m giving you the opportunity of a lifetime…but you have to act within the lifetime of the opportunity” moments.

We had spent a week with my parents’ best friends in Johannesburg and I had been sharing how I was still wrestling with some severe insecurity. In fact, my people-pleaser streak was threatening to become a fully-blown way of life. I was terrified of disappointing people and in my effort to never rock the proverbial boat, I had become relatively passive-aggressive in the way I dealt with things.

My mom’s longtime best friend, who had headed up their area’s Theophostic Ministry2 (and inner healing ministry; ”Theo” meaning God, “Phos” meaning light), had asked whether I’d wanted to set aside some time to really pray about these things and ask God what the root issue was. Initially I’d been eager, but as the clock ticked down and our final hours with them became fewer, I felt a mild panic. “I don’t really feel like being an emotional, snotty mess,” I reasoned. “Don’t worry about it…I’m good.” But there, in the pit of my stomach, was that bubbling sense of urgency.

Don’t miss it, Joy. Don’t miss what I have for you.

Just before we were scheduled to be picked up by my dad’s sister, who was going to take us to their place, and then drive us to the airport in the morning, I dove in headfirst.

Wait. I want in. I want everything God has for me…bring it on!

So we called and asked her to come 2 hours later, then jumped in with both feet. As I sat cross-legged on her bed, begging God to uproot this life-sucking burden from me, we waited. Allowing God to take me back to the beginning, where lies took root and truths got twisted, the tears and snot began to flow. From the forgotten parts of my heart, God brought to mind snippets of scenes that had taken place when my older sister and I were 4 and 6. He took me, in my mind’s eye, to the white garage door of our favorite worker’s apartment on the grounds of the hostel we’d lived in. As vice-principle of the high school, my dad also had the position of superintendent of the girls’ hostel attached to the school, and it’s the place we called home for 4 years after our arrival from Cape Town.

What took place in that small bedroom had been all but erased from my memory. Only fragments had remained, but slowly things shifted into place. Suddenly it all made sense.

All those years I’d wrestled with shame and guilt because something about our childhood had felt mysteriously dirty, but without remembering what had actually happened, I simply stuffed the feeling, owned the shame, and believed that something must just be wrong with me. I was broken. And dirty. And disturbed.

All those years my sister and I dabbled in things we had no place dabbling in. And now it made sense.

This was the missing piece of the puzzle I’d been desperately trying to assemble, and God — in His sweetness — had revealed it at the perfect time. The very next day we landed in Namibia, and as we walked the grounds a few days later, hand-in-hand, processing through and releasing the wound of innocence stolen, God brought closure to an incredibly confusing chapter of my life. We stood outside that white door, cried, and let it go.

Upon arriving home in the States, just before Thanksgiving, we discovered we were pregnant with our first child. We did the math and discovered our little lady was conceived in Namibia. How like our God to bring new life out of a chapter of my life that had reeked of decay.

We named our daughter ‘Alathea Grace’, Alathea being Greek for “truth.”

For she, our precious gift, was the new life birthed out of a season saturated in truth, and seasoned heavily with grace.

XES: Why Church Girls Tend To Get It Backwards...And How To Get It RightIf you’ve enjoyed these excerpts from Joy’s book, XES: Why Church Girls Tend to Get it Backwards…And How to Get It Right, pick it up now! She shares not just her own story but also what she’s learned along the way about how to nurture a fulfilling sexual relationship with her husband, too–despite sexual baggage, exhaustion from kids, or shame.

Joy-Bio-ROUNDJoy McMillan is a freelance graphic designer, writer, conference speaker, and tea drinker extraordinaire. She is the founder of Simply Bloom Productions LLC, a creative little company with a big heart and an even bigger dream.

Joy & Joe have been involved in leadership & marriage ministry for as long as they’ve been married (2003), and with one foot planted firmly in the law enforcement world, they feel a tremendous burden to champion and celebrate God’s passion & purpose for marriage.

Originally hailing from Southern Africa, Joy lives with her scrumptious husband and two beautiful loin-fruit in Michigan.

WifeyWednesday175Now, what marriage thoughts do you have for us today? Leave your own URL of a marriage post in the linky below!



Beauty from Ashes: From Sexual Shame to Grace and Healing

Sexual Shame in Marriage: A beautiful 2-part series of a true story of how one woman broke free of sexual shame and found God's love--and a great marriage!

Recently Joy McMillan asked me to review her new book XES: Why Church Girls Tend to Get it Backwards…And How to Get it Right. I read it and wrote an endorsement. But I was so touched by her personal story of sexual shame and redemption, and I knew my readers would be, too. And so I asked Joy if I could run an excerpt from her book on the blog.

It’s long, so I’m going to run it over two days. It reads like a fast paced novel, and I know you’ll love it! Here’s Joy:

XES: Why Church Girls Tend To Get It Backwards...And How To Get It RightMy older sister and I were born in Cape Town, South Africa, and grew up in Windhoek, Namibia, where our parents moved to a few years later to avoid the discrimination of the apartheid government. That may sound unusual coming from a white South African, but my parents were passionate about us growing up in multi-racial schools, and felt led to transplant our family in what was then called South West Africa. A few years later, my younger sister arrived, and 3 years after that, our baby sister.

If you’re doing the math, yes, that’s 4 girls. And a mum. And yes, my dad is a rockstar.

Random fun fact: with my dad also hailing from South Africa and my mom from Zimbabwe, our family of six were born in 3 different countries across Southern Africa.

I have many fond memories of my young childhood, and a startling amount of negative ones. Not because there were more negative than positive, not by a long shot, but because I think that this tends to be the way our brains process life. And the way the enemy of our souls wages war on the battlefield of the mind.

It floors me how, looking back, I can recall things my parents did in complete innocence that were misinterpreted and twisted in my vulnerable little heart. My older sister, with her skinny little body, did ballet. I, however, was “muscular,” so I did gymnastics, even though I ached to dance. Sarah, with her beautiful brown eyes, looked lovely in pink, so she got a pink ballerina dress. A blue dress was a natural fit for me with my piercing blue eyes. Sarah’s hair was straight and long. Mine, on the other hand, was curly. Only nobody knew this. We lived in a semi-arid desert climate, much like Arizona, which is very unsupportive of follicularly swirly girls. And let me just tell you, if you’re going to brush a gal’s hair like it’s straight — when it’s not — and not give her any anti-frizz serum to make it look good, it is not going to cooperate. And it didn’t. My super fine, frizzy hair went every which way, except when we made trips to the coast. Then it curled and looked lovely. Who knew!? So, my mum kept it cut short because it was the only way to manage my mop.

Blue dress. Short hair. No ballet. Large Unabomber glasses. They all spelled out the same thing: “You are not feminine, Joy, in fact you’re sort of like a boy.” It didn’t help that I naturally gravitated to the boys, because they were uncomplicated and fun, which further alienated me from the girls. When my body started to do weird things and the boys wondered what was going on, I simply lifted my shirt and said, “Yeah…check it out…isn’t that crazy? I’m sprouting boobs! Wanna touch em?” I was just one of the boys, and while I loved feeling like I belonged, I ached to feel accepted within my own tribe…

I started snipping diet tips from beauty magazines and compiling health folders before I hit my double-digits. I became obsessed with my appearance, desperate to battle the bulge before it battled me. Watching my mom struggle with her weight for as long as I could recall, and seeing the resemblance in how we were built, struck a fear in me that fueled my obsession.

Despite the lies I believed about my lack of worth and value, I became that girl. The one making out with the boys at every middle school dance, not because I really loved to suck face, but because it made me feel pursued and valued, and was, admittedly, rather fun to shock the other girls. I had a new ‘boyfriend’ every week and lapped up the false sense of confidence it provided me.

While I started to appear happy and confident on the outside, I was empty and broken inside.

My family moved to America near the end of 1994, where I attended my second high school. Talk about culture shock. By the time I had found my feet and nestled into a good group of friends, our visas had expired and we were moving back home to Namibia. With the difference in school year (our school year mirrors the calendar year, while a school year in the States runs from September through June), I begged my parents to allow me to try correspondence schooling, rather than repeat 6 months of school, and struggle once again to fit in with the other kids who’d maintained their friendships in my absence.

The few friends who had stayed in touch with me during my 18 months overseas, via snail mail, were eager to hear how life had treated me. And I was not one to disappoint. I conjured up all sorts of stories about beach volleyball and cheerleading, of which I knew nothing, because the pitiful time I’d spend shuffling through the halls, trying not to be noticed, was too painful to relive. Lying became second nature to me, and with no one to contradict my stories, I simply painted the picture of the life I’d wanted to live. I created the image of the girl I wanted to be, and they bought it, hook, line and sinker.

It seemed, for a time, that life was looking up for me, but the veneer was only paper thin.

After years of childishly dabbling in promiscuity, and yet never crossing the virginity line firmly established in our conservative Christian home, I started dating older boys on the sly. In September of 1996, shortly after I turned 15, I met the sons of one of my dad’s colleagues who were visiting from England. I quickly connected with the older one and started spending more time with him. Little did I know of the competition raging behind the scenes in this testosterone-charged household, and the night before their family flew back home, they spiked my drink and the younger one took me downstairs to his room. I don’t recall much of the rest of the night, except spending the wee hours of the morning rocking in the fetal position in my older sister’s bedroom repeating, “I’m not a virgin, I’m not a virgin, I’m not a virgin.” And then there was the phone call I received from a very angry older brother who wanted to know what the hell I’d done with his brother (that I’d refused to do with him) the night before.

I knew little, but I knew enough.

This was a pivotal point in my journey. Life as I knew it had officially changed. The little value I felt I had left had been taken from me, and I suddenly had no reason to say, “no.” I threw myself into the arms of any interested male in a hopeless attempt to find significance. I used people and pleasure to temporarily numb the pain, desperately trying to quench my thirst for meaning and value.

Following in the steps of Adam and Eve, I allowed my shame to drive me into hiding, away from exposure and away from God.

The deeper I slipped into promiscuity, the harder it was to get out. Not only was I worthless, now I was dirty.

I jumped from relationship to relationship, going home from the bar with boys I barely knew, often much older than myself. I was only 15, but looked much older, and in a country where underage drinking was the norm and no one was carded, I continued to slip beneath the radar. I had a love-hate relationship with this thing I had going on. I loved the temporary thrill of being pursued, but I hated that it only briefly drowned out the loneliness and isolation. Once over the high, I slipped further into the dark.

“One who is full loathes honey from the comb, but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet.” Proverbs 27:7

I remember lying dazed in some guy’s bed late one night when his housemate returned home. There had been no tenderness, no affection. Only business, without any form of protection. And now, with a third person in the room, there was no introduction. No closing of doors. No respect. Only a sick awareness that I was his prey for the night and the joke was on me. He threw me my clothes and quietly drove me back to the bar where he left me. The next time I saw him was on the rugby field, where I discovered he played for our national team.

You might have thought, by the way I strutted my stuff around town, that I was making a bold proclamation to clear up any doubts about my questionable femininity, “See people, I have a vagina…and I’m not afraid to use it.” But it was nothing that blatant. Or glamorous.

It was a well assembled front that afforded me the attention I craved, while quietly destroying any remaining shreds of my identity.

I’d nab the boys with my charm and enjoy the temporary thrill of feeling valued. But then it would be time to cough up the goods, and I’d feel stuck. I couldn’t escape the hell hole I’d dug for myself, so I learned quickly to run away mentally, while remaining present — albeit half-dead — physically. A habit it took me years to break once married.

I was drowning, and no one knew it.

Looking back I’ve wondered where my parents were while I traipsed around town, wasted and used. But as I get older and wiser, and after several hard conversations with them, I’ve realized that they were battling their own devils. Knee-deep in good works, they were busy proving their own worth and value, while raising 4 girls.

While my older sister had openly rebelled and fast earned herself the label of ‘black sheep’, I was still trying desperately to keep my iniquities hidden. I had seen the devastation my sister’s exit from our faith had caused my parents, and had determined to not put them through that again. So I was a respectful, hard-working student by day and a faithful pew-warming kid on Sunday mornings…and a bar-hopping floozy by night.

During this same year, I started shop-lifting. It started small, with a lipbalm here or a pack of gum there, and grew to include near daily fixes of clothes, CDs and make-up. Getting things for free became such a thrill, despite the gnawing awareness that what I was doing was wrong, that when I finally committed to stop (years later), it was incredibly hard. Unless you’ve experience the pull of an addiction, and the cycle of adrenaline and pleasure you experience, it’s hard to understand the way in which it sucks you in and then quickly spirals out of control.

I lost two little side-jobs that year as a result of stealing. I even stole several home pregnancy tests that I hurriedly took in grocery story bathrooms, vowing to God that if he would not make me pregnant, I would stop what I was doing. I knew that if that little line were to imply ‘with child’, that I would be thrust into a new world of scary choices and heart-breaking consequences.

When my parents discovered I had stolen their bank card and had made several withdrawals, and after they’d driven around town early one morning trying to locate me after I’d lied about where I’d spent the night, they knew correspondence schooling had afforded me freedom I had no place managing. Into my third high school I went, where I earned the nickname “the body” and started dating the older brother of a school friend. I kept the fact that he had a son a secret, as I was sure my parents couldn’t handle the truth.

More secrets, more separation.

As the crowd I spent time with morphed into a different breed of people, pornography became something I was regularly exposed to. Once again fueling the dump of adrenaline that coursed through my young veins, I got sucked further out to sea.

When we got the news that our visas had been renewed, and that we would be returning to the States, I was all too happy to leave a country that had grown to represent a season of so much guilt and shame.

Two weeks before we flew out, while visiting family in South Africa, I met a young man. I had just turned 16, and he’d just turned 21. We got hammered, along with 2 others, then went for a joyride out on the town. Trucking down a main street in Cape Town at a ridiculous speed, we hit the broadside of a taxi that had pulled out in front of us. The next thing I knew I was getting a morphine shot in my butt and surgery scheduled for my jaw, broken in two places. You would think that the events of the evening would act as perfectly clear warning signals, but I was too blind to recognize them.

Our relationship continued, long-distance, over the next two and a half years.

I viewed moving across the world as a much-needed fresh start, and I could, once again, present the image of the person I hoped to be. Only this time…one unblemished by sexual baggage. I started my senior year at a small town school (my 4th high school, if you’re keeping track), and slunk into the background. Sadly, having an accent makes you stand out by default, but with ‘insecure’ written all over my face, I became prime real estate for those meanies looking for a target.

I had transitioned from a young girl who loved people and thrived in school to a shattered young woman who was afraid of letting people in and who hated the emotional torture of school. I was terrified of my mask slipping, convinced that if anyone knew who I really was, I would be hung out to dry.

While I wasn’t physically bullied or tormented, the battle that raged in my head made any encounter with unfriendly people miserable. If someone laughed in the hallway while I was walking through it, they were laughing at me. If more than one person smiled at me when I walked in to the room, it was because I was the butt of their joke. When people didn’t greet me in passing, I thought it was because they didn’t like me. I longed to be invisible, and yet, watching others blossom in things I was too scared to try out for — like sports or theater — made my heart ache for more. I was desperately jealous of their confidence and courage, but the thought of risking failure was too much to bear.

So I stayed in my shell, dragging my dirty-girl secrets everywhere I went. When my boyfriend would come up to visit, for months at a time, I’d quietly slip back into the lifestyle I’d lived back home, and then seamlessly revert back once he left.

After I had graduated, and while working on my massage therapy certification at the local community college, this boyfriend of mine popped the question. It wasn’t really a lovely surprise seeing I’d sort of pushed him into it. I was convinced he was the only one who would ever want me, so I informed him that this was the natural progression of our relationship. I bugged him to hurry up and buy me a ring… while simultaneously insisting that we stop having sex. Not really a good combination for the average male.

God had started to woo my heart and there were certain things I knew I had to weed out of my life in order to get my life back in order.

Little did I know, a new girlfriend had popped up on the other side of the globe — one who wasn’t insisting on a ring or pushing for purity — and when the email arrived that 18th day of February 2000, informing me that it was no longer working out and that we should go our separate ways, the world as I knew it crumbled. I slept and wept, unable to get out of my bed, spinning that meaningless new ring on my finger.

Renewed

But this, my friend, is where it starts to get good….

Come back tomorrow for the follow-up to Joy’s story, when you hear what happened when she reveals all! Or you can find out right now by buying Joy’s book XES today!

XES: Why Church Girls Tend To Get It Backwards...And How To Get It RightIf you’ve enjoyed these excerpts from Joy’s book, XES: Why Church Girls Tend to Get it Backwards…And How to Get It Right, pick it up now! She shares not just her own story but also what she’s learned along the way about how to nurture a fulfilling sexual relationship with her husband, too–despite sexual baggage, exhaustion from kids, or shame.

Joy-Bio-ROUNDJoy McMillan is a freelance graphic designer, writer, conference speaker, and tea drinker extraordinaire. She is the founder of Simply Bloom Productions LLC, a creative little company with a big heart and an even bigger dream.

Joy & Joe have been involved in leadership & marriage ministry for as long as they’ve been married (2003), and with one foot planted firmly in the law enforcement world, they feel a tremendous burden to champion and celebrate God’s passion & purpose for marriage.

Originally hailing from Southern Africa, Joy lives with her scrumptious husband and two beautiful loin-fruit in Michigan.

The Unglamorous Life of a Porn Star–and Why We Don’t Have to Compete

PureEyesCleanHeartIt’s Wednesday, that day that we always talk marriage! Today’s guest post is from Jennifer Ferguson, whose husband, Craig, battled through and recovered from a pornography addiction. Together they’ve written the book Pure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple’s Journey to Freedom from Pornography. Today she tells part of her story and how she had an attitude shift, regarding the unglamorous life of a porn star.

I used to think the voluptuous girls with the sleek bodies, cascading hair, and pouty lips were the enemies.

I would think horrid thoughts about them, judging them as they flaunted their goods in front of a camera to be broadcast for the entire world to see. I judged them the first time I saw them by accident on my husband’s computer screen and every time the incident replayed itself in my mind.

Unglamorous Life of a Porn Star

I couldn’t ask him, “What do they have that I don’t?” because the answer was obvious to me: Everything.

And it seemed that everything I had was detrimental to my ability to even try to get close to achieving what they had:

  • Baby fat…from 2 babies
  • An “A” cup
  • Stretch marks
  • Cellulite

The only time my lips were pouty was when I was complaining about lack of sleep. Not sure that jives with the sex appeal I was going for.

Even though I knew I could never look like them (at least, not on my budget), I tried to do what I could. I lost weight. I became a runner. I started trying to look better generally (a.k.a. taking five minutes to throw on some mascara).

But a shrinking me didn’t equate to less porn use by my husband. Trying to become more like them did not draw him more towards me. And the bitterness and rage building in my heart towards these porn stars started making me a jealous fool regarding any woman.

I gave anyone the power to make me feel less-than without the utterance of one single word. All they had to do was walk by. Wear a low-cut shirt. Breathe.

As Craig started his journey to freedom from porn addiction, God pointed out I had been ensnared by images of fantasy, too. Where he had been trapped by lust, I had been trapped by comparison.

Somehow, while working on our book, a miracle happened. I found myself filled with compassion for these women who had paraded across the screen and in my husband’s mind. Those whom I perceived as home-wreckers, I now viewed as women with wrecked hearts. Those whom I thought had it all, I realized had very little: safety, self-worth, family who cared. Those I thought were the definition of sexy were actually sex slaves.

Instead of spending so much time pitying myself, I found myself weeping for them.

And repenting. I had judged deeply and wrongly. I had let hate obscure my vision, not only of them, but also of myself. I thought I knew their world, but the truth is, I knew nothing. I started to turn my harsh language into compassionate prayers, that the women in the industry would find freedom, hope, and Jesus.

Because no one should think this is the way to live. No one should think they are worth nothing more than what the porn industry has to offer. The grass is definitely not greener. Consider these facts:
• One male pornographic performer, Rocco (600 films and 3,000 women), said: “Every professional in the porn-world has herpes, male or female.” (www.covenanteyes.com)
• The average life expectancy of a porn performer is only 37.43 years. The average American lives to be 78.1 years old. (www.shelleylubben.com/porn-industry)
• The US adult film industry earns between $9-13 billion annually. Performers make $400-$1000 per shoot and are not compensated based on distribution or sales. (www.shelleylubben.com/porn-industry)
• “Nobody really wants to date a porn star, stripper or escort. Also the whole family thing and having kids, I’m like ‘who’s gonna have kids with an ex-porn star,’” Belmond said, according to the Christian Post. “And even when I’m 60 I’m still gonna have this porn on the Internet. It’s like having a virus or something that never goes away.” Vanessa Belmond, former porn star (http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/10/24/ex-porn-star-reveals-the-horrors-of-working-in-the-sex-industry/)

Ladies, these women, or any woman, you deem as prettier, sexier, whatever-ier, is not your enemy. As Paul writes in Ephesians, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12, NIV)

When you feel the need to compare, pray.

Pray for yourself that God might show you how intricately you were made.

Pray for the woman you feel you’re up against, that she might know the same – that there is a God who loves her passionately.

Pray thanksgiving for beauty – that which is in you and every other sister – the beauty that is worn on the outside as well as the beauty that blooms on the inside.

Pray against the forces of darkness that belittle, that lie, that damage – those things within the porn industry and all the other dark places in this world.

And pray there would be no room for bitterness or rage to take root, for there is little beauty in those things at all.

JenniferFergusonPure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple's Journey to Freedom from PornographyJennifer Ferguson and her husband Craig are the authors of Pure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple’s Journey to Freedom from Pornography.

WifeyWednesday175Now it’s your turn to be part of Wifey Wednesday! What advice do you have for us today? Leave the link to your marriage post in the linky below.



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