Why We All Should Celebrate Goodness in Media

Goodness in Movies

Yesterday was Easter. I know on Mondays I usually put up a Reader Question, but forgive me because I had some other things I wanted to share with you, so I thought I’d write a more personal post.

My daughters were together in Ottawa, where my oldest goes to university, so Keith and I were alone. I texted Rebecca in the morning, “He is risen!”, and she correctly texted back “He is risen indeed!”. I raised her well. :)

I wasn’t really in the Easter mood. I’ve had a really rough week healthwise.

Last weekend my husband and I were in Banff speaking at a FamilyLife marriage conference, and ever since we flew back on Sunday there was something wrong with my right leg. It hurt horribly at night. In the day I was okay, but at night it was excrutiating. By Wednesday the daytime was difficult, too. On Thursday I was in agony. The doctor sent me for an emergency ultrasound to make sure it wasn’t a blood clot (it wasn’t). So she put me on pain killers.

They didn’t touch the pain, and by dinner time I was back in the Emergency almost crying. They gave me even more powerful painkillers which made me awfully happy, but night time was still excrutiating, and I really couldn’t walk.

On Saturday I woke up and it was gone. Just like that! I think it was an inflammation of a blood vessel or a superficial vein, aggravated by flying. I’ve had problems with my veins ever since my kids were born, so it seems logical. When I fly to Vancouver in May I’ll have to wear pressure stockings on the flight. But needless to say I wasn’t in much of a mood for anything this weekend. It really threw me. I’m getting old!

So as good as our service was yesterday morning, I thought I needed more. And so I asked my husband and my mom, and a few other people from church, if they’d come with me to watch the Heaven is For Real movie in the afternoon.

I read that book in one sitting a few years ago on the anniversary of my baby boy’s death. I really loved it.

Heaven Is For RealFor those of you who don’t know the plot, Heaven is for Real is about a little 4-year-old boy has emergency surgery after his appendix burst. It looks bad on the table, but he pulls through. Then, over the next two years or so, he starts revealing things little by little that make very little sense. He talks about angels singing to him. He talks about seeing his mom on the phone crying at the same time as his dad is in a different room. He says that Jesus has a horse. He sees a picture of his great-grandfather when he’s old and replies, “that’s not what Pop looks like. But he’s really nice.” When he sees a picture of him when he was young, he recognizes him. And so on and so on.

The most moving part of the book for me was when he tells his mother, “I miss my sister.” His mother replies, “Cassie’s right here.” And he says, “No, I miss my other sister.” Turns out his mother had a miscarriage, and that baby is now in heaven, and she is growing. She was just about the right age when he saw her. And she doesn’t have a name. “She’s waiting for you to get to heaven to name  her.”

For someone who has always wondered what heaven is like for my baby boy, that meant a lot to me. As I said in my original post about the book, I know that this book isn’t Scripture and we shouldn’t treat it as such. But it is nonetheless interesting, and I do find comfort in it.

Anyway, they made it into a movie with some pretty big-name actors (Greg Kinnear and Thomas Haden Church, for instance). The little boy who plays Colton is great. And I thought they did the movie really well.

Was it perfect? No. There are two glaring bits for me: at one point they seem to insinuate that you get to heaven because God loves you, and that it doesn’t have to do with salvation. And they left out some of the more Christian parts of what Colton saw (the sending lightning down from heaven to strengthen people, for instance, symbolizing the Holy Spirit).

I think many people would latch on to that first part and declare it a “horrible movie” because it compromises. I just don’t see it that way.

Could it have been more Christian? Yes.

But what does the movie do? It shows very clearly that heaven IS for real, and it shows very clearly that Jesus is the central figure there. Those are two important things to know, and two important things to get people thinking about.

And it offers this challenge: “would we live life differently if we knew heaven was for real?” I think we would. And I think it’s a message the world needs to hear.

Have you been in a video store or looked through the pickings on Netflix recently? They’re awful. They make you want to take a bath after just seeing the covers. So even if a movie isn’t perfect, I’m glad they’re making some that are beautiful and that bring hope and that make people think. This one, especially, offers great potential for that.

I haven’t seen Noah, and I’ve stayed away from reading any of the articles either pro or con about whether you should see it. It’s not the kind of movie I’d see anyway, and I hate the back and forth that Christians often have about stuff like this.

But it seems to me that sometimes we demand too much purity, and declare that everything is horrible unless it’s absolutely pure.

That would be true if it was a church putting it on, or someone who claimed to be Christian. But the movie companies aren’t claiming to be Christian. And personally, I’m glad they’re making some movies with better messages that make people think.

Again, I don’t even know what all the controversy with Noah is about, but I do worry that the more we yell and say, “it wasn’t like that!”, the less likely they are to make more movies like this one, which I did believe really merited our favour.

I’m glad our society is focusing more on faith and spirituality today.

That’s going to mean that they’re going to say things that we won’t like because they aren’t doctrinally pure. But let’s be glad that our society is at least having the conversation, something that for years they wouldn’t do. And maybe we need to figure out a way to be part of that conversation without always sounding angry. We certainly don’t have to go see every movie that touches on faith that’s out there, but I don’t think we need to yell and picket, either. We can just simply become part of a dialogue with people we know, instead of sounding so angry.

And let’s remember that there are real believers working behind the scenes to try to do what they can to get the right message out there–or at least the least compromised message they can. Let’s support them in prayer, and say “thank you” a little more, and be grateful that producers are even willing to explore it. If they’re willing to explore it, it means more people are interested in it. And if they’re interested in it, then they’d be open to conversation. But they likely won’t be open if we’re yelling and angry.

Christian Discouragement: Before your give that "helpful suggestion", check yourself!I posted on Facebook that I was going to see Heaven is for Real, and several criticized me because it’s not Christian, supposedly. Doing that on Facebook, where it’s public, is really counterproductive to the gospel. It makes us all look really, really angry. Let’s go back to “what would Jesus do”? Or let’s ask “What did Paul do?” Paul stood in Athens in Acts 17, and said, “you have an idol to an ‘unknown god’. I want to tell you about that god.” He took something that was already part of their culture, and then expanded it. He didn’t yell at them for having that idol; he praised them for searching, and then helped them fill in the blanks. Maybe we should take a similar approach.

All of this reminds me of an article I wrote a year ago called, “Are you being an instrument of discouragement?” So often we discourage those in ministry by saying something like, “I just have to tell you, in Christian love, that you’re totally wrong”, or “you’re giving Christ a bad name.” It’s an important article, and it likely warrants rereading.

Tell me: have you seen Heaven is for Real? What did you think?

Blessing Your Children: How to Spiritually Bless Those You Love

Blessing your Children: How to pray a spiritual blessing over them

Today’s guest post is a wonderful one by Pat Fenner about the Judeo-Christian concept of blessing your children. I love this, because when both of my girls turned 13 I held “blessing” parties for them, where I asked 13 adult women who were important in their lives to come and say a blessing over them–name gifts they saw in the girls, or give them a word of wisdom. Their friends were invited, too, and we turned it into such a fun spa night! It was lovely. And so I’d like to spread the word about this wonderful tradition of blessing our kids–and what a difference it can make in their lives.

Many years ago, our oldest son turned 13.  It was an inspiring time for us as parents, and a significant moment in our family’s history.

About a year prior, when my husband Paul and I were still coming to grips with having our first son enter the teenage years, we began thinking and talking and praying about what we could do to make that transition year memorable and important.  We headed to Scripture, and searched it to see what ceremonies or activities we could possibly adapt from the Hebrew tradition and the early church.  For years we had already been celebrating a Christian Passover as a family, so that wasn’t really a far stretch for us.  We also sought current or popular materials on the blessing, but were somewhat dismayed at what was available at the time.  The few books we could find were dull and dry; not really engaging and a bit too, um, conceptual.  Of course, God uses all things for good (Rom 8:28), so despite the dearth of information, the net result was something that not only truly reflected our family’s beliefs, but the vision and prayers we had for our son, and subsequent children.  How it has evolved and been used over the years is something totally beyond what we could ever have imagined.

Modern Milestones vs Spiritual Steppingstones

What events can you think of that signify a child growing up?

Let’s see, first boyfriend/girlfriend (although these days I hear parents talking that way about their pre-schoolers!  Ugh!), maybe first date, getting a driver’s license, first drink, ears pierced (I guess this one could be for boys, too, these days), sweet-16 birthday, registering to vote or enter the Armed Forces…

These have become what I call modern milestones.  And while they may indeed have some significance, at best they are events on a timeline.  In and of themselves, they add no character to our children’s lives, provide no preparation for their future, and neither strengthen nor build their faith or journey with the Lord.  They are both temporal and temporary.

These modern milestones quite often occur during what we call “adolescence”, roughly between the ages of 13 and 20, when children undergo physiological changes and begin to transition their roles in the family.  (Interestingly enough, this period in life did not even exist as a concept prior to the late 19th century, was not given serious study until the early 20th century, and is generally considered to be an American “discovery”.  But that’s a whole ‘nother post…)

Spiritual steppingstones, however, are more eternal in nature.  They are more a matter of building on and building up than simply marking time.  Daily blessings or an even-bigger and more-celebrated occasion, can become a part of the fabric of your family’s life, establishing routines or customs that can help create a unique family history and identity, among other things.

Why Is It important to Bless our Children?

What are the specific benefits for them?  I believe there are 5 significant ones:

1) Blessing them builds their character and enlarges their life vision

2) Blessing your children encourages them to know you’re giving their future your intentional attention

3) Blessing your kids conveys your dreams and hopes and belief in their future

4) Blessing them daily encourages them to seek and find daily blessings in their own lives

5) Giving a blessing is a tool to grow a deeper and more “real” relationship with them

Responding to The Call

Praying for your Children

As parents, we have not only the right but the privilege to pray for and bless our kiddos, and we can find many ways to speak blessings over them frequently and informally.

1) On a daily basis, we can pray for our children by name during our quiet time.  If there are particular issues that you are working through with them, find a concordance, or use the online one here, and locate Scripture passages that speak to that struggle.  Lift them up to the Father by name.  He already knows, of course, but it’s good for us to ask on their behalf.

2) You can then share that info with your kids, and let them know what you’ve done/are doing!  Tell them how and what you’ve prayed for them (see #1) over a meal, or while you’re sitting together in the family room at the end of the day.  Follow-through by asking them about those situations and how you can further pray for them.  Reassuring them in this way that their issues/problems/requests are important enough for YOU to pray about most definitely blesses them…

3) Decide for yourself the daily events that you’ll choose to use as a blessing opportunity.  For example, when they leave for school in the morning, before practice or rehearsal in the afternoon, at supper, before bedtime.  Locate a Scripture that reflects your dreams and desires for them, or one that is relevant (see #1), replace their name in the appropriate sections and speak it aloud over them!  The first few times may be a little uncomfortable, but I promise that if you persevere, not only will these times become precious to you both, but they will start to remind you if you forget.

A Notable Spiritual Steppingstone

To get back to my opening story, all those years ago, Paul and I did fashion a beautiful ceremony that we have subsequently replicated with unique touches for each of our other children.  It has become a family tradition to celebrate their 13th birthday in this manner.   Referred to in our family simply as “the Blessing Service”, each child has spoken of it (and 1 still anticipates it!) as a memorable and pivotal time in their young lives.

Too much to describe here, I’ve included the information on that celebration in a special booklet I have available on our website, Mom’s Morning Coffee.   Just shoot us an email and we’ll be glad to send you out the free, downloadable document in PDF form, filled with resources and references, the format we use for our family’s service, and sample prayers of blessing.

Blessing your children is a wonderful way to encourage and build them up, and a great tool for releasing God’s best in their lives!

Pat FennerPat Fenner is a Yankee city-girl who has been adopted by the sleepy, sunny south. Married for 28 years and the mother of 5, she woke up one day to discover she reached the stage of life where she is the “older woman” described in Titus 2:3-5. She owns Mom’s Morning Coffee.com with her good friend Candy, and enjoys writing, homeschooling and doing whatever the Lord puts on her plate each day! You can reach her via email and look for her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest!

Keeplets to memorize Bible Verses

Does God Make a Difference Part 1: Our Expectations

Does God Make a Difference: A look at how Christians often appear insecure that God will actually workDoes God make a difference in our lives?

Every Friday I like to write a more personal reflection piece on the things I’ve been mulling over. I’ve written about a bunch of different things lately–why teenagers rebel, women getting burnt out from church, why we yell at our kids–and as all of this has been spinning around in my head, sort of like laundry in a washing machine, turning upside down and back and forth, I’ve started to see some common threads.

And one thing that occurred to me is this:

Deep down, we’re supremely scared that God doesn’t make a difference. Deep down, we’re supremely scared that we’re in this alone, and we have to make decisions alone, and all of this rests on our shoulders.

Let’s look at the church example and the teenage rebellion example for a moment to see what I mean.

Our Churches Give off the Message that They are Extremely Insecure

Saying No to Church ActivitiesIn my article on women starting to say “no” to church activities, we had a great discussion in the comments about what sorts of activities really are vital to a church, and what sorts of activities are more like “make work” projects, that we do because churches have always done these things and there really is no way around it. But then I had a few emails that helped me see things in a different light. Jan Cox, an author friend of mine, asked this:

Why is it that we need food at every Bible study? If I go to a Bible study at 7:30 at night or at 11:00 in the morning there’s always the expectation that there will be food. But when I’m at home I eat three meals a day. I don’t eat at 11:00 or 7:30. So why is it that we always have to make and bring food? Shouldn’t the Word of God be enough?

I think that’s an excellent question, and it gets maybe to the heart of the matter. Food is a wonderful thing, and community is often built around sharing a meal. But why do we bring food when food isn’t necessary?

Maybe it’s because we’re trying to make the activity more attractive, because we’re secretly afraid that if there’s not food, and there’s not a “fellowship” time, and there’s not something “fun”, that people won’t come.

It’s almost like an incentive.

Nowhere is this more apparent in the church than in youth groups, which are little microcosms of the wider church. Youth group is set up to attract kids and make them stay by making it FUN. We don’t want to overburden them with Bible studies. We want to give them lots of messages on how God loves them, and not quite so many on holiness. We want to do lots of flashy games! We want high energy, high power, high numbers!

But isn’t this really saying, “we’re afraid that kids won’t show up unless we make every week like a party”? (My 16-year-old just made a tongue-in-cheek video on the 5 Things She Hates about Youth Group, and I think you’d enjoy it, because it gets to this issue. We give a watered down message and a ton of games, and ultimately, is that effective? I know she’d appreciate it if you watched it and SHARED it!)

There’s a very fine balance between creating a great, nurturing community at a church and being so scared that people will leave that you have to make sure that there’s a ton of energy and activity.

We certainly need fun things at church, and we certainly need some food. But I think the wider point is still there: are we throwing these activities and doing these things to try to keep the ones we’ve roped through the doors in the doors, or are we really wanting to grow in Christ? Because sometimes we give the impression that it’s the former. Like the people get through the door, but then it’s our responsibility to make sure we don’t lose any (even though it was God the Father who went out and found the lost sheep). And we seem awfully scared that we’ll lose people if we don’t have the best worship music, the best pews, the right colour carpet, and the right food at coffee time. (Though I love the coffee bars at many churches!)

We Assume Teenagers Will Rebel

Why Do Teenagers Rebel? A 19-year-old explains how it doesn't HAVE to happen!Now let’s turn to the teenage rebellion issue. My 19-year-old’s post from last month on why she didn’t rebel has gone completely viral. It took all of us by surprise, and she’s done radio interviews and been offered internships and all kinds of things since that post came out. It’s kind of ironic, too, because she wrote it in about 15 minutes when she was bored at a university statistics class. So it’s not like we planned it or anything.

But what she set out to argue was this:

Teenagers do not have to rebel. Too many parents treat rebellion as if it’s to be expected, and it’s absolutely not. Many teens won’t rebel, and we shouldn’t expect that they will.

I think that’s a perfectly valid thing to argue. But in the comments many people turned the argument on its head, as if she were arguing this:

If you do these things your kids are guaranteed NOT to rebel.

She wasn’t saying that at all, and I did think that she made it clear. But I’ve noticed a really funny phenomenon on this blog. Whenever I post about how to parent toddlers or how to discipline school-aged children, the comments all revolve around the techniques. But when I post about how to parent teenagers, the comments shift. Suddenly they’re all about, “ah, but you can do all of these things and kids can still turn out badly!” It’s like you’re not allowed to share “best practices” for how to parent teens in case we make people feel guilty.

I just sense that Becca’s first argument is still very much the underlying tone of how we approach parenting teens.

“There are no guarantees. Kids can, and often do, mess up. This has nothing to do with you, though.” Doesn’t this sound like we’re trying to give God an “out”? I believe in you, God, but if it’s not in your plan that my kids stay Christian, that’s okay. It’s not really a prayer of faith, is it?

I do agree that there are no guarantees, but it’s also a matter of emphasis. There are no guarantees that I won’t be hit by a car or get cancer tomorrow, either, but I’m operating on faith that God has me in His perfect plan. And so I don’t worry about those things. If they were to happen, I’d deal with it because God would carry me and He would be with me. But I’m not going to assume the worst right now because that isn’t biblical and it does nothing to help my life.

Yet are many of us walking on default, assuming the worst?

So let me ask you today: are you living out your Christian life as if you have faith that God is in control, knowing that you can hand things over to Him. If something bad happens, He’ll carry you, but you don’t focus on the bad. Do you assume that God will actually make a difference in your life?

Or do you assume that God will only make a difference if we work our hardest and do our best and spin those little legs as much as we can, because ultimately it all rests on us? And so it’s likely we’ll fail. It’s expected we’ll fail. And faith isn’t something we live out. We give lip service to it, but we don’t live it.

God should make a difference. If He doesn’t, what’s the point of all this? But God won’t make a difference until we start living by faith, knowing that He can do His own PR work (we don’t have to). He has the power to draw others to Himself (we don’t have to). He has the power to hold others in the palm of His hand (we don’t have to). He has a perfect plan for us and our loved ones (and we don’t have to worry about it, knowing that if we hit some major bumps in the road, He will then be there for us).

Does God makes a difference? Do you live like He does? If not, what will it take to get you there? Let’s talk in the comments!

Next week I’m going to talk about whether or not God makes a difference in our marriages. I want to explore the fact that in too many cases He doesn’t–and that’s because we’re not letting Him. I think secretly we’re scared that God WON’T make a difference, and so we crowd Him out and ignore what He says. And if you want to watch that video that my daughter did, here it is! (Or you can watch it full size on YouTube).

On Sin, Brokenness, and What We Should Do About It

On Sin, Judgmentalism of Christians, and Brokenness

Judgment.

That’s become a really dirty word in Christian circles lately.

A whole rash of books (like Jefferson Bethke’s great Jesus>Religion) have been published in the last few years stating that Christians are too judgmental, and this makes us irrelevant in the wider culture. But even worse, we’re hypocritical, because God judges all sins the same.

Frequently the sin that is brought up in these books is homosexuality: Fundamentalists rail loudly against homosexuality, these authors point out, but they ignore the gluttony in the pews. They rail against sexual sin, yet do nothing about gossip and pride. And as such, we turn ourselves into huge hypocrites and become the butt of jokes. A better way to approach our culture, say these authors, is to say that we are ALL sinners and ALL in need of grace.

I have noticed this preoccupation with homosexuality and shoddy doctrine myself. For instance, here’s an article about the new “Trail Life USA”, an alternative to the Boy Scouts, that is launching with tremendous fanfare. They want to return to traditional values, and I certainly support that. But in the article, one Trail Life leader said,

As Christians from a scriptural basis, we love all folks, but the Scripture is very clear that being homosexual is a sin…

No, BEING a homosexual is NOT a sin.

Participating in homosexual behaviour or entertaining lustful thoughts are sinful, as is ANY sexual activity outside of marriage. But simply BEING a homosexual is not a sin. God does not punish us for temptations but for our misdeeds. To say that being a homosexual is a sin is so hurtful to those who are trying to get right with God. We’re saying that “even if you do the right things, you will still be condemned because of your temptations.” That’s not Christian doctrine, and it is very unfortunate that in so many Christian circles we talk this way. Language matters, and we must be careful with how we portray Christ.

So I agree with 90% of what Jefferson Bethke and others in this line of thought write, because I have seen it, too.

But I worry sometimes that we’re leaving out something important, and that’s sin’s effects on people. And so I’d like to share today my train of thought when it comes to judgment and brokenness.

1. We Are All Equally Deserving of Death–All Sin Makes Us Guilty

I completely agree that any sin makes us deserving of death and deserving of judgment. James 2:10 says:

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.

No matter what we have done, even if it is only “little” in our eyes, we are guilty of breaking the whole law.

There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. None of us can stand before God and say, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as THAT guy.” Christians shouldn’t be judgmental towards others, as if we are good and they are not. We are all guilty, and we all need Jesus.

2. Some Sins Contribute More to Brokenness

I once heard a very wise man say this:

The cost of lying is that you become a liar.

Sin changes us. The price that we pay is that we are no longer the same person. We are now identified with that sin. And here’s the rub: there are some sins that change us more than others. This is where I think some of the Christian authors today run the risk of trivializing the results of some sins. Yes, all sin makes us equally guilty before GOD, but some sins have more of an effect on US than other sins do.

1 Corinthians 6:18 says:

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.

There is something about sexual sin that has a profound effect on us. I think it’s because sexuality and our ability to experience true intimacy with others and with God are so intimately connected. God created us with all kinds of chemical reactions and hormonal reactions to sex that would, in turn, bond us to our spouse. When those chemical reactions start to be paired with sexual activity that isn’t within marriage, we start literally “rewiring the brain” so that what becomes arousing is not intimacy with a spouse but anonymous encounters, pornography, or something else. And soon we lose the ability to experience true intimacy, let alone the fullness of sexuality that God designed us for.

This impacts not just our sexuality but also our relationships with others. When sexuality becomes disordered, it affects how we view other people and how we view ourselves.

We are all broken, but some brokenness is just harder to have healed, and sexual sin seems to have tentacles that worm their way into all kinds of areas of our lives.

Acting on homosexual impulses is not the only sin, of course, that does this. It is one of the most serious, in terms of its effects, but a porn and masturbation addiction can do pretty much the same thing, and is far more rampant.

My fear is that by saying so loudly, “we are all equally guilty,” we risk diminishing the seriousness of the effects of some sins.

Here’s how I would say it:

All sins make us equally guilty before God, but some sins create more brokenness. Those who have sinned in those ways are even more in need of the support, love, and accountability that a church can offer.

People who are broken don’t need our condemnation; of that the authors are perfectly correct. But let’s still remember that there is brokenness, and if we stop acknowledging that, then we also stop offering hope for healing.

3. Not All Sins are Judged Equally

I do believe that we are equally guilty before God, and equally deserving of judgment. Absolutely. However, I don’t see evidence in Scripture that we will be judged in the same way. On the contrary, there are plenty of stories in Scripture that show that some will be judged most harshly. Here’s Matthew 11:23-24:

And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.

Those who reject Christ, when they have an amazing opportunity to accept Him, will be judged more harshly. Interestingly, they will even be judged more harshly than those who are best known for homosexual sins, showing again that God does not judge homosexuality as the worst sin at all.

Here’s another example that further illustrates what I’m saying about brokenness, from Luke 17:2:

It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.

God really doesn’t like it when people cause children, or young Christians, to stumble. Why? Quite often it’s in these moments that we cause real brokenness. Those who abuse children; those who introduce a young teen to pornography; those who divorce without good grounds and cause their kids to look elsewhere for their identity and for love and affection; these people need to be very wary on the day of judgment.

God cares about our brokenness. God knows that some things hurt and wound us deeply. Sin has horrible effects on us, and the only way to find true healing is through Christ. I do believe that we as Christians have been too quick to label certain things as horribly sinful, while also ignoring the sins that we ourselves practice. But please, in our efforts to right that wrong, let’s not forget about brokenness.

Brokenness is not God’s judgment on us; brokenness is simply the natural consequence of sin.

And brokenness is so sad, and so damaging, and often so intractable.

Brokenness should cause us to run to Jesus all the more, and if we as a church present the picture that God hates those who sin sexually, people are far less likely to achieve real healing. But if we also present a picture that all sin is equal and thus we are all equally broken, we also fail to give people a proper picture of what healing is.

We need both messages: we are all equally guilty, but some people desperately need major healing, and Jesus wants to give you that healing. That, I think, is the Christian approach to sin, and I hope that my attempt to flesh it out makes sense.



The Blessings of a Long Marriage

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week I’m sharing about the richness and value gleaned from a long marriage.

The blessings of a long marriageThe best part of the sixty-fifth birthday party I attended last night, other than the Chinese buffet, was definitely the slide show. Of course black and white pictures of a cherubic-looking boy are always adorable, but it was those late teen years pictures, when a rather familiar looking girl starting showing up, that made me smile.

And so we watched through forty-five years of hilarious photos, with the wedding, the babies, the cottage, and then more weddings and now lots more babies.

It’s a rich life.

When we first moved to our small town Roger became my husband Keith’s mentor, going out for coffee with him every so often and talking about work and parenting and marriage. Roger would, of course, be quick to tell you that the mentorship really went in the other direction. He’s the kind of person who genuinely enjoys and appreciates people.

So there he was last night, with his daughters directing the show (insisting they were being “decisive”, not “bossy”), and his wife grinning from ear to ear, as people praised him and told him about all the seniors’ discounts he could now claim.

Twelve hours later, though, it is still the pictures that keep flashing through my mind.

They show heritage, dedication, and a whole lot of barbecuing. And yet I know that behind all those smiling, laughing faces there were moments when things weren’t as rosy. There were moments when even a Roger, the nicest guy you could ever meet, lost his temper. There were moments when he and Heather truly didn’t know what to do with some of their children. There were health problems and family problems and all those things that none of us can escape.

And yet last night Roger and Heather stood with their arms around each other greeting their friends, beaming.

It’s a life well lived.

The idea of forty plus years together with one person seems so daunting. Wouldn’t that get boring? Most of us suffer wanderlust at one time or another. We’re with the same person, day after day, with all these responsibilities, and we wonder, “what would life have been like if I had married my high school boyfriend?” Or we think, “I bet life would be a whole lot more exciting if I were with my co-worker, who’s always the life of the party, rather than my husband, who is always grumpy.”

We want something new and something exciting, not something that we’ve had everyday for sixteen years, through seventeen hundred diaper changes, or twenty-two hundred loads of laundry. Life just gets monotonous.

The measurement of maturity, though, is whether or not one can forego immediate rewards for delayed gratification of better rewards. Too often people throw something away because they want the excitement of something new.

Everything new, though, will eventually be old. Unless you want to cycle through constant change your whole life, at some point you’re going to have to decide to commit to someone or something.

Sometimes everyone needs a fresh start if the life they’re living is dangerous, abusive, or degrading. And sometimes we’re thrown into that fresh start through no fault of our own. Yet too often people chuck something just because it’s lost that “newness” feeling.

Yes, infatuation is heady, but you know what’s even better? Forty years of friends and family who can stand there when you’re sixty-five and still say all kinds of great things about you–because you’re still around. You haven’t gone anywhere. You’re with the same people, you’ve invested, and now you’re reaping the rewards. There’s no awkwardness with the kids or grandkids. There are no pictures you have to exclude from a lifetime of memories. There’s just a life well lived, and that is something exciting.

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Planning Now for Normal Christmas Disappointment

Avoiding Christmas DisappointmentToday’s post is a Guest Post by my good friend and frequent commenter Cheri Gregory, writing about dealing with disappointment at Christmas.

For my nephew’s 3rd birthday, my sister-in-law, Karen, ordered a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cake. Her instructions for the baker were crystal clear: NO FLOWERS.

But when she went to pick up the cake, the plastic figures of Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael stood–in all their Ninja fighting glory–in the midst of blue, yellow, and pink icing roses.

With no time for a re-do, Karen improvised Plan B. She smeared all the frosting flowers together into a brown puddle atop the cake and stuck the four Ninja Turtle figures in the middle.

Little Justin’s first response to seeing his cake was,  “Eeeeewww!  What’s that?”

When Karen replied, “It’s sewer slime!” Justin was thrilled.

And I was in awe of her ability to flex instead of fume.

To Avoid Christmas Disappointment, Plan Your Attitude Now

With so much happening during the holiday season, there’s a lot we can’t control. Yet I often act as if I do. And it starts with an attitude of how things “have to” turn out.

  • I have to find the obscure ingredients for this one exotic recipe
  • The kids have to be well-behaved during photographs.
  • She has to be excited about the gift I I give her.
  • He has to be in a good mood while gifts are being opened.
  • We all have to have fun together.

Now don’t get me wrong: It’s wonderful when everything goes smoothly. And I always hope it will.

But I also need to recognize that nothing has to happen the way I want it to. I’d prefer if it did. But it doesn’t have to.

The sun will still rise on December 26 if none of the above happen.

The opposite of the “it has to happen” attitude is the “it will be what it will be” approach, which I’ve always found rather fatalistic.

I prefer a “We’ll make the best of what we’ve got” perspective: proactive yet flexible.

Make Your Back-Up Plan(s) Now

Aside from all the unnecessary stress and anxiety that an “it has to happen” attitude can cause, it can also delude us into thinking that we don’t need any back up plans.

But what if…

  • …someone (or everyone!) gets sick? (1992, 1995, 1999, 2001, 2005, 2009)
  • …the food turns out awful?  (2003, 2010)
  • …someone’s in a bad mood? (every year since 1988)
  • …the power goes out? (2005, 2009, 2011)
  • …the car needs 4 new tires? (2012)
  • …the cat almost gets killed by a coyote? (2013)

Without any contingency plans, the only fallback reaction is “This can’t be happening.” Which is not particularly useful when, in fact, “this” actually is happening.

Here’s a starter list of Plan B preparations:

  • ___    Water bottles
  • ___    Staple food items
  • ___    Medications (pain, allergy, cold & flu, stomach, etc.)
  • ___    First Aid kit
  • ___    Baby/Toddler needs (bottle liners, baby food, diapers, Pull-Ups, etc.)
  • ___    Feminine supplies
  • ___    Power bars
  • ___    Flashlights & batteries
  • ___    Back-up meal(s) in the freezer (or ingredients for a throw-together rescue meal)
  • ___    Other:  Add your own based on your own location, circumstances, and family needs!

Plan Your Non-Negotiables Now

What’s the one thing that really says “Christmas” for you?

For me, it’s sitting in front of the fireplace, with all the lights out (except, of course, for the Christmas trees) and listening to Mannheim Steamroller Christmas, especially “Silent Night.” For Daniel, it’s watching Miracle on 34th Street. For our kids, it’s listening to us read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever aloud on Christmas Eve.

Find out what the one most important thing is for each member of your family. Make those your priorities. Even if plans have to flex and change, make sure everyone gets their one thing at some point during the holiday season.

Trade Christmas Expectations for Christmas Hope, Starting Now

One word I learned not to use when our children were little was “promise.” As in, “I promise that we will…” They took it so literally that when life happened, I had to choose between looking like a liar by breaking the promise or tying myself into pretzel bending over backward to fulfill my foolish promise.

Although expectations can build anticipation, they can also lead to Christmas disappointment when things don’t turn out. The dictionary definition for “expect” includes words like “necessary” and “require”…rather inflexible terms.

In contrast, the definition for “hope” includes the far less rigid terms “wish” and “possibility.” And Romans 5:5 says that “hope does not disappoint.” That’s because while expectations are about what we want to do, hope is about what God has already done: “the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

I hope you have a very Merry Christmas­­–whether or not you end up using your back-up plans!

FREE Resources to Help You Expect Less & Hope More:

  • Free eBook: Top 10 Priceless Gifts for Each PURSE-onality that Don’t Cost a Dime
  • Audio: De-LIGHT-full Giving in a Weighty World
  • Videos: “Personality Puzzle for Parents of Preschoolers” and “You’ve Got PURSE-onality!”

Gregory_Cheri_Photo_Square

Cheri Gregory is a Certified Personality Trainer; contributor to half a dozen books, including Wired That Way (by Marita Littauer) and 21 Ways to Connect With Your Kids (by Kathi Lipp); and frequent speaker for MOPS groups, women’s retreats, parent workshops, and educational seminars. She holds an M.A. in Leadership and is working on her PhD. Cheri has been “wife of my youth” to Daniel, a pastor, for over a quarter-of-a-century; they have two college-aged kids. She blogs about expectations, “baditude,” and hope at CheriGregory.com/blog.

Wifey Wednesday: Do You Help Your Husband Through Stress?

Christian Marriage Advice

It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I write a post, and then you all chime in by linking up your own marriage posts to the Linky below! Today Jennifer of Unveiled Wife shares honestly about helping her husband through stress.

Stress: a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.

do you help your husband through stressWhen Sheila invited me to write this article I accepted with enthusiasm.  I thought sharing a few tips on how to help your husband through stress would be a simple and fun way to encourage wives in this area of marriage.  But if you allow me to be honest with you, when I sat down to write, I was confronted with a question:

Do I help my husband through stress?

In an effort to self-preserve and avoid looking like a horrible wife, I pushed the question aside and decided to start this article with the definition of stress and continue on to encourage you.  However, one glance at that definition and my heart dropped.  If there had been a picture next to the google definition it would have been my portrait.  I was confronted again.  The first thing that popped into my mind of the most stressful thing in my husband’s life is me and my never-ending demands.

I humbly admit to you today that I am not very good at helping my husband through stress.

In fact, I know I add more stress to him because when he is stressed I take it personally.  I feel as if he is ignoring me, as if he is not interested in me, as if he does not love me.  In my hurt I retaliate.  This doesn’t happen every time, but often enough that The Lord has convicted my heart of the issue in our marriage.  My eyes are self-focused in those moments.

The heart wrenching part is that I know what my husband needs in times of stress:

  • He needs a wife who will affirm him with words of affirmation.
  • He needs a wife who be selfless and serve his needs.
  • He needs a wife who will be confident of his love for her despite his weary heart and the other demanding circumstances that steal his attention.
  • He needs a wife who will rub the tension out of his shoulders.
  • He needs a wife who understands the burden of stress and does what she can to not add to the stress.
  • He needs a wife who will be gracious to him when he acts out as a result of his stress.
  • He needs a wife who will cheer him on and cheer him up!

I cannot be that kind of wife if my eyes are focused on myself.

I need to live with the compassion of Christ dwelling in my heart.  The kind of compassion that comforts with overwhelming peace.  I need to reach out and calm the storms.  I need to love like Jesus!

I could have written a “How-to” article that would have encouraged you and given you some tips to better your marriage…but I hope my transparency does more than that.  I hope my honesty shows you that you are not alone as you grow into your role as wife and you are not alone in the struggles you face in marriage.  I don’t think we’ll ever hit a plateau of growth, for there will always be areas of our character that we can strive to improve.  Writing this article has opened my eyes to this area of my marriage that I need to be more intentional about.  I need to be better at helping my husband through stress.  By doing so, my husband will feel loved and our marriage will be blessed.

Will you do me a favor and ask yourself the same question I was confronted with:

Do I help my husband through stress?

When you answer, whatever the answer, will you commit with me to be a wife who is willing to go above and beyond to help her husband through stress?

If you will commit with me to being better in this area of marriage will you comment below and say “I Commit!”

Unveiled-wife-portraitI hope you have a beautiful day!

- Jennifer Smith    Unveiledwife.com

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Leave the URL of a blog post about marriage in the Linky below. And be sure to link back here so that other people can read this great marriage advice!

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A 7 Step Plan for Financial Freedom

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week, in light of the Christmas season and our spending habits, I want to share seven ways to help avoid financial stress. 

UPDATE: I wrote this for a secular audience, but it really should have an 8th: Tithe. No matter what your financial situation, give 10% off of the top. We have always done that (and made our goals higher than 10%), and it is amazing how God has always blessed us. It also helps you keep the right perspective and not be so caught up in money, but instead excited about what God is doing in your community and around the world.

7 steps to financial freedomChristmas isn’t the only thing that’s fast approaching. So is indigestion, and not just because you had to eat Aunt Ruth’s lumpy mashed potatoes. It’s because after Christmas comes all the credit card bills, and those can cast a pallor over the whole season.

So I thought today I’d share seven quick tidbits that, if properly followed, can help us avoid financial stress.

One: only go into debt for four things: a house, a car, education, or to start a business.

Even some of those are debatable: it’s usually not worth $40,000 in debt for a Philosophy degree, and many people can save and buy a used car without debt. Nevertheless, these are the four things where debt may be necessary. Notice that Christmas isn’t on the list!

Two: Know your financial situation.

If you don’t know your income and expenses you can’t budget and you can’t plan, and that means debt is almost inevitable. So add up all of your assets (like a house, a car, savings) and all of your debts (credit cards, lines of credit), and the difference is your net worth. Then figure out your income and your expenses. If you own a business and don’t have a regular income, check your net income on your tax returns for the last three years. The average of that is likely pretty close to your income. Divide that by twelve, and now you have your monthly income.

Three: Make a budget.

Know how much you’re going to spend in each category on a monthly basis. Then spend cash, not credit. Stash cash in envelopes for food, entertainment, miscellaneous, etc. Include in that budget money for debt repayment, and repay debt, starting with the highest interest debt, as fast as you can.

Four: Create an emergency savings fund.

Once your debt is paid off, save the equivalent of three months’ income and put it in a savings account or money market account where it’s easy to access. That way, if you ever are out of work for a time, due to a layoff, an accident, or a family emergency, you won’t have to borrow money.

Five: Start saving for the long term.

Now that you have your safety net, take at least 10% off the top of your income and invest it in an RRSP. Pay yourself first through an automatic monthly contribution so that you’re not waiting until the end of the month to save “whatever’s left”.

Six: Budget for upcoming big expenses.

Let’s say you want to send your kids to camp next summer, but that will cost $1000. You’re unlikely to have $1000 in July, so budget for it throughout the year. Similarly, if you need $1000 for Christmas, don’t think that will magically appear in December. Let’s say you also want to take a cruise next year that’s $3000, and you want to buy clothes over the course of the year for the family for about $1000. Add that up and you need $6000, or $500 a month in savings.

If you will need another car in three years, and you want to spend about $15,000, you need to save $5000 a year. So add another $417 in savings every month, for a total of $917. Set up an automatic payment into a savings account for that amount on a monthly basis. If that price tag sounds too steep, remember: If you can’t afford to pay for it beforehand, you certainly can’t afford to pay for it after the fact, when you’ll end up doling out interest, too!

Seven: Finally, here’s the clincher. Don’t buy stuff you can’t afford.

The stress isn’t worth it. And the freedom that comes from being out of debt and having a financial plan? That’s something money can’t buy.

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My daughter actually wrote on this same topic this week, although she was writing from the perspective of how to budget as a student. I love her idea of the separate accounts. Check out how to save money as a student.

Letting Kids Admit You’re Not Perfect

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. I had a week off this week, so I’ve decided to rerun a column from 2010 that I really liked, about the difference between a healthy family and a perfect family.

Let Kids Admit You;re Not PerfectI have incredible vision. I can see things that nobody else in my family can. If clean, folded laundry is sitting on the stairs, waiting to be transported into the owners’ rooms, I am the only person residing in our home who can detect that laundry. If there are dishes in the upstairs hall, waiting to be transported into the kitchen and then placed into our very convenient dishwasher, I am also the only person whose eyes pick up on the presence of these glasses and plates. My children missed that genetic trait, as my husband apparently also lacks it.

I find it easy to see the things that my kids miss, and if you’re a parent, you probably can name a ton of things your kids do that bug you, too. And because we’re the parents, it’s easy to order our kids around to fix these flaws. We’re louder, we’re bigger, and we control the chocolate. What’s harder is allowing our kids the freedom, with respect, to call us on things that we do wrong.

In our house, everybody knows my biggest fault. When I’m stressed, I believe it’s my God-given right to make sure that everybody is stressed right along with me. I take that “if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” saying to ridiculous extremes, interpreting every smile as an affront to me if my blood pressure happens to be elevated. In my more lucid moments, I allow everyone to laugh with me about this. And that makes my dysfunctional behaviour, when it occurs, a little easier to take.

I don’t think perfect families exist, but I think healthy families do. And that’s one of the key criteria of a healthy family: being able to speak the truth. The real test of a healthy family doesn’t lie in parents’ 20/20 vision, but in whether parents help their children develop good vision, too. Sure we notice the things they do wrong, but do we let them acknowledge that we, their parents, aren’t perfect, either? Unfortunately, many families like to maintain the illusion of perfection, even if that means denying the truth.

In families where children aren’t allowed to notice flaws, it’s not as if the kids suddenly grow blind to them. They’re just not allowed to do anything about it, or parents subject them to the silent treatment, yell at them or belittle them. Most kids, when experiencing this kind of rejection, run in the other direction, deciding to never question their parents again. They want to be loved, and if being loved means not noticing when others are wrong, then that’s what they’ll do.

Children in families like these grow up learning not to trust their own instincts. To make it even worse, they often have very conflicting feelings about their parents which can never really be resolved, because until you can admit that your parents did wrong, you can’t forgive them for that wrong.

That’s why we need to let our kids work on their vision. They need to be allowed not just to see our imperfections, but also to name them. Of course kids still need to respect us and defer to our authority, which is legitimate. You are the parent, not the best friend. But to imagine that kids will idolize us and never notice anything wrong is doing them a grave disservice. It’s asking them to pretend the world is different from the way it actually is. It’s raising our kids to be liars. And as the old saying goes, it is the truth that sets us free. Even if the truth hurts.

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Dream Together: Developing a Vision for Your Family

Ignite the Fire Christian Marriage Series

Ignite the Fire Christian Marriage Series

It’s time for our Ignite the Fire Marriage blog series, with three bloggy friends! We’re all writing on the same topic today, so you can read this post and then follow the links to see their unique take on how we can ignite the fire in our marriages.

Today we’re talking about vision in marriage: pursuing your dreams together.

In many ways, this post is the closest to my heart of anything I have written ever on this blog, so please listen to me here. It can be summed up like this:

If we do not live intentionally, then we will never, ever live out our values or have the impact we long for. Too many of us let life happen to us, we don’t bother to live it.

LifeHappens

 

Are you familiar with the saying, “without vision a people perish?”

It’s from Proverbs 29:18, but I don’t think God meant that just for the nation of Israel. I think He meant it for marriages and families, too. If we have no clear idea where we are going, then we will never, ever get there.

I have heard people say, “You can tell what someone values just by looking at how they spend their time,” but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. If you look at many men, they spend more time on video games than they do talking to their kids. Does that mean they don’t love their kids? And many women spend more time on Facebook everyday than they do talking to their husbands. Does that mean they like Facebook more?

No, I honestly don’t think it does. I think what happens is LIFE. We love certain things, and we value certain things, but we’re not intentional about actually living those things out. We don’t take the time to figure out how to make those things part of our daily routine. And so, when other things threaten to crowd in, like technology, or screen time, or too many extracurricular activities, we let them. And then we wonder why we feel so unfulfilled, as if something is off, not quite right. It’s because we’re not valuing the things we value! It’s because we’re not living our lives with purpose.

And so today I want to invite you to take a journey with me first, and then with your husband.

Developing a Vision for Your FamilyI want to invite you to dream: to dream about what you want for your family, and what you want for your marriage, and what you want for your home.

And then I’m going to encourage you to share those dreams with your husband, listen to his, but most importantly–figure out practically how to put them into action. I’ve even got some free printables you can download to help in that conversation!

But first let me tell you two stories, of two families that I know. Some details  have been changed to preserve privacy, but both families are quite wealthy. In both cases the parents are totally committed to Christ. Both sets of parents serve in the church. Yet only one family is on solid footing.

The first family, and we’ll call them Sam and Betty, are both family doctors. They could have focused on making a ton of money, but they didn’t. They lived moderately, and the mom worked very part-time when the kids were small. Once the kids were big enough, they started involving them in volunteer activities, even taking them on missions trips occasionally. Whenever the kids would mention a problem or something they found was disturbing, Sam and Betty would always turn it into a challenge: What do you think God is asking you to do about it? Anything? How can you be part of the solution? How can we pray about it?

Their attitude, in everything they did, was, “how can we shine a light here?” They taught their kids to be lights to their neighbours, and living in a really small town, with few good churches or a good youth group, they had to provide that themselves. And they worked hard to do so. Even though the parents could have been the most important people in the town, the ones everybody wanted to know, they became more beacons for those a little down and out, and to many teenagers. Even though they were wealthy, their favourite place to shop was the second hand store. They had oodles of fun trying to come up with new outfits and learning how to live by a budget. Because of that, other teens never thought Sam and Betty’s kids “were too good for me”. They were regular people.

Their kids are grown now; Sam and Betty are empty nesters. And their lives are focusing more on each other as they continue to pray for their kids, who are all out in the world, asking, “how can I shine a light here?”

The second family I’ll call John and Helen. They loved their kids with a fierce love, too. Helen stayed home with them; John worked major hours in the corporate world. Helen made sure the kids always went to church and were always involved. But Helen also wanted the kids to have fun. Everytime there was a party, she’d make sure the kids had new stuff to wear. The kids were involved in all kinds of activities; because John was always at work, Helen found it easier to have the kids be busy, too. And so gradually the kids’ friends came primarily from outside the church. And as those kids entered high school, Helen was often shocked to see what was on their Facebook statuses. But “kids will be kids”, she thought. And so she did nothing about it, and the kids are really drifting.

Both families had more resources than most, yet only one had a firm vision of how they were raising their kids and who they were raising them to be. And because they had that vision, they were able to figure out how to put things into place so that their kids would pick up on the vision, too. And the kids grew up caring deeply about the things the parents also cared deeply about.

I went to a family camp every summer with Betty and Sam, and I will never forget how they would use that week to do their planning for the year, pulling out their calendars, scheduling in all of their conferences and work, and then figuring out what they were going to do with their kids this year, and what they would concentrate on as a family. They spent time praying, visioning, planning together.

If we don’t take time to take stock, plan, and develop a vision for our family, it’s very unlikely that we actually live out our values. Other things will creep in and steal our time.

And what is a vision?

A vision for your family, I believe, is simply a plan of how you will live out your values.

God gives us specific visions about specific things we are to do, certainly. But sometimes I think we wait too much for God, and we don’t bother to work with what He’s already given us. And so today I’d like to give you some tools to turn the values that you and your husband already share into a vision for your marriage and for your family.

Values and Vision for Your Family

Here’s how it works:

I’ve got some printables to download that you can pray through and create an “action plan” to live out your vision.

It’s divided into three sections: Character things (like what God wants to refine in you); The “Feel” of your home (like what vibe you want your home and family to give off); and Calling things (like what role God specifically has for you as a family).

I’d suggest working through this on three different “date nights”, or nights when you set aside time to talk. Stress to your husband that this isn’t about telling him what he is doing wrong; it’s about you both thinking and praying about where your family is heading. He gets input, too!

It helps you figure out what you value–because each family will value slightly different things–and then it encourages you to break these things down into small, manageable steps that you can do to work toward this goal. Betty and Sam, for instance, valued service and generosity. That was their big family value, and they lived it out. Other families may have slightly different values: one may value influencing the political process; one may value music; one may value becoming self-sustaining on a farm. There isn’t a right or a wrong; it’s what you feel called to as a family. But if you both have dreams of being self-sustaining, for instance, but you’ve never learned how to can your own tomatoes and you still order pizza 3 nights a week, you likely have to work at making this dream more of a reality.

I’d encourage you to work through this sheet with your husband. I’ve tried to keep it simple and relatively short, but with enough “meat” that you can talk about the issues.

I truly hope and pray this helps you.

Download the Printable Worksheets Here

Most of us do value good things; we just have little vision of how to put that into practice. I pray that these worksheets help you do just that as you develop a true vision for what God wants to do in your family!

Ignite the Fire Challenge: Make a list with your husband about your future marriage dreams and talk about how you can work towards these dreams together. Then spend time praying over this list together.

My three blogging friends have also written on this today, and you can see what they have to say, too!

Courtney from WomenLivingWell, Darlene from TimeWarpWife.com, and Jennifer from UnveiledWife.com have all written awesome posts on passion! Click on through to see what they have to say.

UW-button Time Warp Wife

 

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