Their Dreams, His Agenda: God’s Plans And Purposes For Your Children

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Today, please welcome guest author Sarah Francis Martin from Live it Out, as she shares about God’s plans and purposes for your children and how to help them walk in it.

God’s Plans And Purposes For Your ChildrenFrom the back seat I heard my son emphatically declare, “Mom, I have an idea…” The tone of his voice told me that he had been marinating on this idea for the better part of the day.

Gearing myself up for a good parenting moment at the steering wheel driving home from school, I inquired about this great idea.

My six year old: When I grow up I’m moving to New York City. Yeah. That’s what I’m going to do.

Me: Oh yeah? Well, you know that’s a big city and you have to work hard to be able to live there.

My six year old: Ok! I will do what Daddy does, you know, make money. I’m gonna work hard and make money and buy legos!

Me: Well, sounds like you have it all figured out.

My six year old: Yep, pretty much.

As I recount this conversation I remember that my initial inclination upon receiving this “big news” was to guide my son along in this “big” life decision with a real, honest look at it.

I was tempted to almost squelch this dream with questions of practicalities:

What job will you have?

Will you make enough money?

Will you thrive in a big city?

We live in a small town, and I know the allure of a big city with exciting tall skyscrapers drove this declared life path of my six year old.

Over the past year I’ve been marinating on the topics of dreaming, life paths, and purposes. The idea of seeking after God and His presence in my life parallels with the topic of purpose and dreaming. How do we marry the two in order to make a difference with our lives and find satisfaction in God and His agenda? How does taking our place in God’s kingdom allow us to find this ultimate satisfaction?

As I’ve taken more of an adult perspective on this weighty topic, the “big idea” conversation with my son caused me to look at it from a different angle.

Facilitate God’s Dreams And Purposes In The Lives Of Your Children

The following excerpt from my book Just RISE UP!: A Call To Make Jesus Famous speaks to our interactions with our kids about their dreams and purpose. It takes a perspective of the individual, adult nature. But, as I’m circling back to this material myself, I find that it applies to my interaction with my six year old dreamer as well.

There’s a verse that I’ve read in passing before and probably even doodled on a note to a friend as a means of encouragement to her. God reminds us of His Word at just the right times for encouragement. I’ve got this heaviness on my heart in my own journey to rise up, as I want to be used by God. He has planted dreams in my heart, but doors have yet to open to allow me to fully walk through and live these dreams out. I hide ideas and plans in my heart, often checking to make sure they came from the Lord and not from my own fancies. If you don’t quite identify with this, know that it is okay. But if the idea of joining God in His kingdom work and making Him famous gets your heart pumping, that means the Lord is working in you and through you.

Here’s that verse: I am confident that the Creator, who has begun such a great work among you, will not stop in mid-design but will keep perfecting you until the day Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King, returns to redeem the world. (Philippians 1:6 THE VOICE)

This great work God is doing in our lives starts with the work God does inside our hearts and minds. The word work is appropriate in my opinion as I imagine Jesus using His gardening tools while digging up roots of pride and jealousy in my heart, patting down fresh soil of trust and peace, watering my God-given talents. And if we believe Scripture, He will continue to toil, root out, plant afresh, and grow beautiful blooms in my life and yours—blooms that will RISE UP! and flourish. Even a novice gardener like me knows that before a plant comes to full bloom time, care, pruning, watering, and sunlight are in order.

Excerpt from Just Rise Up! by Sarah Francis Martin. Download a FREE Chapter from all three new Inscribed Studies Here. (No email required)

We have the privilege of working alongside the Lord to care, prune, and water our children’s life purpose. Just as we take care to nourish their bodies and minds, we can start today to nourish their souls and guide them to seek after God in all aspects of their lives.

As it is a process in our own lives, this endeavor won’t come to full bloom for some years in our child’s life. But there are a few key things to keep in mind along the journey.

Model An Attitude of Kingdom Perspective

We all know that our children are like sponges, soaking in even minute details from their environments.

My husband and I have started to become more intentional in sharing details of what we do as a family and as individuals to serve the Lord. We have learned the importance of taking time to explain on a six year old level why our family gives money to this ministry, or why mommy wrote that book about Jesus. Life gets busy and it is tempting to gloss over details like this during the rush to basketball practice!

Depending on your child’s maturity level, help them work through their own calling from God within their world. Explain how God uses them to be a sweet friend to the new girl at school. Or how they share the love of Jesus when they stand up to a bully on the playground on behalf of another kid. It’s neat to think and pray together about how God works in their lives at such a young age.

Nurture Your Child’s God-Given Talents

I love exploring my child’s gifts and talents and characteristics. It’s important that we spend time in prayer asking God for wisdom to best facilitate these gifts and talents.

How do we accentuate them and draw them out?

How do we express to our child that God blesses them with unique and individual gifts and talents that only they can fulfill?

Be The Soft Place To Land

This is one that I constantly have to remember: to allow space for dreaming and planning. I think this is best achieved when we help our child work through these dreams and plans in their own prayer lives.

If our child trusts us with their “big ideas” knowing that we won’t let practicalities squelch their passion, they will see that their Father God is the ultimate safe place as well. When we seek after the Lord, knowing we can trust Him, we become more in tune to where He is moving in our lives. Our hearts become open to following that path which will be fruitful and fulfilling. Walking with our children in this lifelong process can be exciting.

Several weeks after my six year old made his big city declaration, we sat together as a family watching the popular show American Ninja Warrior––a favorite in many households with boys. As we cheered on the men and women and heard their stories of hard work to get where they are in this physical competition, I could almost see the little cogs turning in my son’s mind. Another declaration burst out from his mouth, “I’ve changed my mind. I’m moving THERE.”

Before I could explain that he would have to train hard and sacrifice much physically to attain this goal, I let that practicality go for the moment. In the lives of our children, dreams and fancies transform and bloom. But it is God’s plan and His kingdom that never changes.

As long as our children take a stand on this firm foundation, they can not go wrong in their life purpose.

Sarah Francis MartinSarah Francis Martin is a wife, mother, friend, mentor, author and wanna be artist. She has a passion to ignite this generation to get up off the couch of complacency and do life differently for God’s kingdom. When she is not typing away at her laptop, you can often find Sarah on date nights with her husband, rough housing with her young son, or getting her hands messy with craft paint. She is the author of Just RISE UP!: A Call To Make Jesus Famous

Why I’m Anti-Divorce and Pro-Remarriage

Thoughts on the biblical grounds for divorce, what it says about remarriage, and to value both marriage AND divorced people in the church.

On Tuesday I made quite a stir on Facebook. In regards to this post on when you should give up trying to get your ex back, I wrote:

I’m having to delete a lot of comments on the blog today from people saying that divorce is never a biblical option. I find that sad. I know God hates divorce–but He hates people being wounded and abused and betrayed, too. And Jesus gave us some reasons for divorce. Anyone who reads my blog knows that I am very pro-marriage and anti-divorce, but more importantly I’m pro-truth and pro-healing. If a marriage is based on abuse, manipulation, and lies, then that is not God-honouring, either. Most of these situations are not black and white; they are grey, and I believe God’s grace is there for us. If I let those comments through, I fear that they will do emotional damage to the very hurt and wounded people whose marriages have fallen apart who wind up at my site. We need to be pointed towards following God in the situation we find ourselves in now, not being yelled at for very tortured decisions we made earlier.

The outpouring was immense, and so I thought I should do a follow-up and explain what I really think about divorce and remarriage. Please keep in mind that I am not a theologian. I have just thought about this a lot and prayed through it, and this is what I believe.

Divorce Is a Last Resort–and there are only a few reasons for it

I am absolutely against divorce. I’ve written that the vow matters. I’ve questioned whether women are leaving marriages too fast. I’ve said that sometimes we live in a loveless marriage–and we need to find a way to get through that.

However, with that said, I am also fully aware that sometimes divorce is necessary, and sometimes divorce happens when you didn’t want it to. My father left my mother. My mother certainly never wanted to divorce, and it pulled the rug out right under her. But divorce wasn’t her choice.

Then there are those who live in a dangerous marriage. For them, too, divorce was likely not what they wanted–but they had no option.

What are biblical grounds for divorce?

The Bible lists two: adultery and abandonment.

Adultery

Matthew 19:9 says:

And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.

Abandonment

Then 1 Corinthians 7:12-15 says this:

If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.(emphasis mine)

Clearly Paul here is saying that if a spouse leaves you, you are no longer bound.

Notice anything that isn’t mentioned here? You’ve got it:

What about Abuse?

And this is where I get really uncomfortable and why I started deleting those comments. The divorce “purists”, as I will call them, read the Matthew passage (and seem to ignore the Corinthians passage) and say that the only acceptable reason for divorce is adultery. Because Jesus gave us no other reason, then there can be no other reason.

To them I would ask this:

Why do you believe abortion is wrong?

It’s because we’ve inferred an awful lot from a few verses. Abortion itself isn’t mentioned in the Bible because it wasn’t relevant for the culture. So the Bible doesn’t speak directly about it, yet pretty much all Christians fight against it for one simple reason: Because of what we know about God from the rest of Scripture. He knew us while we were yet unformed in our mother’s womb, and He planned our days (Psalm 139:13-16). He planned good works for us before the foundation of the earth (Ephesians 2:10). God is love. The rest of Scripture speaks to the sanctity of life. The Bible doesn’t mention lots of things we struggle with today–pornography, career choices, education choices–because these weren’t talked about or relevant then. But we can still infer from the Bible what godly decisions are.

So what, then, can we infer from the rest of Scripture about living in an abusive marriage? Does God expect us to stay?

Absolutely not. Read the Old Testament prophets and you come away with the overwhelming impression of a God who goes to battle for the downtrodden and who notices injustice. We serve a God who hates abuse in all its forms.

God Cares About Children

And here’s an important point: living in an abusive marriage, even if the woman is willing to put up with it, harms the children. Over and over again in Scripture God talks about rescuing children from those who would mistreat them (see Luke 17:2).

If staying in a marriage to an abusive person, or staying in a marriage to an alcoholic or drug addict, would hurt a child, then God does not want that.

I do believe that the word abuse is thrown around a little too quickly today, and I’ve written what is abuse and what is not. Not all yelling is abusive; it depends on the pattern, the effect, and the bigger picture. But emotional, sexual, and physical abuse are real and this is not God’s plan for His children.

One important point, though: We often believe that “kids are only happy if the parents are happy, so if the parents’ marriage is unhappy, it’s better to divorce.” Not true. Researcher Judith Wallerstein found that kids who grew up in an unhappy marriage fared better than kids who grew up with divorced parents. The effect of parents’ unhappiness on the kids is not a legitimate reason to divorce–except in one case. Studies also showed that children who grew up in violent or abusive marriages did better if the parents did divorce. So if you’re just unhappy in your marriage, it’s better for the kids if you stick with it and make it work. If you’re being abused or in a high-conflict marriage, it’s not.

God Cares About Sin

Another theme of Scripture is that God cares about the heart, not appearances. Divorce purists seem to stress the form over the heart–as long as the two people are technically married, God is happy. But no, God doesn’t want appearances. God wants changed hearts and changed lives! Here’s what I wrote in another post, Are You a Spouse or an Enabler?:

If your spouse is acting in such a way that they are denying a vital part of themselves and a vital part of the Christian life–like responsibility or intimacy or community–then doing nothing about it enables that spouse to avoid any impetus for spiritual growth.

Churches should be places where the wounded come to find healing, not where the wounded come to give them cover so they can avoid healing.

And yet all too often that is what we’ve done–we hate divorce so much that we ignore the other side: God does not want an army of wounded, damaged people. He wants wholeness. And so we must deal with people who are refusing to confront huge issues.

In that post I show what the Bible says we should do if a spouse is sinning. One of the Facebook commenters on Tuesday wrote this:

One truth that I believe that is overlooked or dismissed by people who are quick to judge those of us who have suffered through divorce (it was a heartrending and crushing experience) is that pleasing God and being like Him is not about keeping up appearances. God looks at the heart, and in light of that reality a true divorce has happened long before any secular legal actions have been taken – or can happen even when no actions are taken. A dead marriage is equal to a divorce in all the ways that are visible and valuable to God, and it’s sad to me to see married couples who obviously despise one another or (perhaps worse) are completely indifferent – especially if children are involved and being hurt by their parents’ situation. I am a child of Christian divorce as well and our young lives were fraught with secret abuse, sadness and confusion until my father (a well-educated preacher who led a double life) left my mom and abandoned us. Life was hard and sad growing up after that too, and I felt very mixed emotions of relief, abandonment and guilt once our father was gone. However, I was nothing but glad for my mom because she had done all she could to be a good wife, and had been so mistreated and disrespected by him in every area you could imagine – she didnt deserve that.

Scripture does not contradict Scripture. We aren’t told in one place to confront sin and live blameless lives and look to the heart and then told in another place to just keep the form in place and ignore sin. The heart matters. And if someone is sinning so much, either through abuse or adultery or an addiction or a refusal to work, then this must be dealt with.

Love Must Be ToughNone of this means that divorce is necessary in these cases; usually, I believe, a separation is a better tool. If a spouse is addicted to porn, or refusing to work, or an alcoholic, or gambling away the paycheque, then a separation says, “you need to shape up and this will no longer be tolerated.” That’s what James Dobson recommends in Love Must Be Tough. And, ironically, it’s this separation that often kickstarts real change which leads to reconciliation.

Why Does God Hate Divorce?

Divorce “purists” point to the verse that God hates divorce as proof that we should not divorce except in the rarest circumstances. But here’s the thing–I think we would all agree. In fact, most divorced people would be the first to say that God hates divorce, because they hate divorce, too. They know how awful it is.

The more important question is WHY does God hate divorce?

I do not believe that He hates divorce because people who divorce are somehow worse sinners. I believe He hates divorce because He loves us so much, and He knows the severe trauma of divorce. He knows the havoc it wreaks on our hearts. He knows what it does to the children. And He knows what a culture of divorce does to undermine the culture of marriage and family and commitment. Divorce has major ripple effects.

So God hates divorce because of its effects–not because divorce is any worse sin. We know that if one is guilty of breaking one part of the law, one is guilty of breaking the whole law. We are all sinners. I believe that when it says, “God hates divorce”, it’s really saying that if your husband left you or beat you or made your marriage unbearable, and you are weeping buckets of tears, that God is weeping those tears with you.

The Beauty of Grace and Living in the Present

I’ve explained why I believe that adultery, abuse, abandonment, and other major sins that endanger the whole family (like addictions or refusal to work) are grounds for separation and/or divorce.

But what if you don’t have those?

Another commenter wrote:

I’m divorced. No excuses, no Biblically sound reason. I was young, stupid, and a big ol’ sinner. He didn’t beat me or abuse me in any way. However, it’s done. It’s in the past and I feel absolutely certain that it is forgiven like any number of other sins in my past. I was wrong but that awesomely mighty God forgave it AND was generous enough to send me a husband who loves me and doesn’t judge my past.

She did not have biblical grounds for divorce, and she knows that. But now she is a believer, and that means that she is a new creation. And you can’t turn back the clock, and God does not intend you to. Why is that we say some sins can be forgiven but not others? Paul was a murderer, yet God still used him. David was an adulterer, yet God still used him (and his son through Bathsheba). Indeed, that adulterous relationship is in Jesus’ line.

God hates divorce–but there is grace.

Choosing Him All Over Again: A Story of Romance and RedemptionSo if you divorced in the past, and then became a believer, are you supposed to reconcile with your husband? I believe that, if possible, you should try. That’s what Juana Mikels did in Choosing Him All Over Again, and God showed them tremendous grace.

But that does not always work. Sometimes you can’t reconcile because he doesn’t want to, or he’s moved on. So then what?

What About Remarriage?

Divorce purists will also say that there is never permission to remarry. God may have given us grounds for divorce, but not remarriage.

However, I don’t believe this is true for two reasons. In the Matthew verse quoted above, Jesus said:

And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.

That means that if you divorce and marry another and it was because of sexual immorality, you are not committing adultery. So if you had grounds for divorce, you also have grounds for remarriage.

Yes, it says “whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Luke 16:18), but you can’t look at that verse without also looking at this one. Jesus obviously was carving out an exception.

And in Corinthians, Paul wrote that the husband or wife was no longer bound if they were abandoned. They aren’t bound anymore–therefore they can remarry.

The Cultural Reason for Remarriage

Why isn’t the Bible more obvious that remarriage after divorce is okay? Because it was just assumed. In those days a woman was either under her father’s care or under her husband’s care. There was no way for an adult single woman to make a living. That’s why caring for widows was such a huge deal in the New Testament church. For Jesus to allow divorce, then, meant that He was also allowing remarriage. He would not allow divorce just to consign women to desperation and abject poverty. People simply had to remarry.

I know many of you who are here on this site are remarried–and want to make these remarriages work. I welcome you here; and I hope that I can help you with just that! I never want you to feel that because you are not on your first marriage that you are somehow inferior. God wants you to honour Him in the here and now.

And so that’s where I’m at: I’m anti-divorce, because I think it should be the last resort, and only in certain circumstances. But if divorce has been inevitable for you, then I wish you great happiness and intimacy with someone else, if God brings someone into your life.

The comment with the most likes was one from my friend Kathy, whom I know in real life. I’d like to leave you with it:

As a divorced person myself (with what I understand to be a biblical divorce–abandoned by an unbelieving spouse who was committing adultery), and someone who desperately wanted her marriage back, I feel the weight & sting of those who think in judgmental terms as if their own sin issues are minor compared to a divorce. I always jokingly say that divorce is the unpardonable sin in the church, but sadly, it seems far too often that it is looked at in that way. I have done my share of study on the topic of divorce and remarriage as a biblical counsellor, but also as someone who hoped to be married again one day, but only if it did not offend God. As far as I can understand in my simplistic way, God has allowed for remarriage in my circumstance. I was blessed with the offer of marriage just over two years ago from a wonderful Christian man who took divorce and remarriage as seriously as I, and also did his research (and by the way, he was widowed after 36 years of marriage so no divorce on his record). We consulted many “wise counsellors” and studied God’s Word before taking on our vows of marriage because again, we did not want to be out of step with God. We are convinced God is the author of our love story, but should we find that in our fallible state we were mistaken, is not the blood of Christ valid even on this? I believe we should take marriage, divorce, and remarriage very, very seriously, but I also believe we must approach it all with truth IN LOVE. Divorce seems to just be one of those divisive issues, and invokes much emotion, but hopefully it will not invoke undue unkindness from those of us who have been shown unfathomable love.

Blessings on all of you.

 

Top 12 Ways to Pray for Your Kids and Grandkids

Scripture to Pray for Your Kids (or your grandkids!)

Today’s guest post is by author Wayne Stiles, who writes about making the Bible–and its lands–relevant to us today. I saw this awesome list on his site about how to pray for your kids and asked if I could reprint it! I thought it was a great way to start the New Year–with more intention about praying God’s Word for your kids.

We all pray for our children. We want them to do well in school, or to get a good job, or to stay healthy. But their greatest need for prayer is their spiritual lives.

The longer I am a parent, the more I see the truth in the Apostle John’s words:

I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth. —3 John 4

If our children have a genuine walk with God, they will be better equipped to make wise choices throughout their lives. Our challenge, then, is how to pray for our children in this way.

When our daughters were only toddlers, Cathy and I participated an excellent parenting class that gave us a handout called: “How to Pray for Your Children.” We prayed through this list for years. In fact, as I read through each point today, I can remember specific instances in which God answered the prayers. He is still answering them.

I have edited the list and added some verses to it. I have also made a PDF you can download and print to keep in your Bible or prayer journal.

It’s never too late to begin praying for your children—and your grandchildren.

It is one of the greatest investments you will ever make into their lives.

How to Pray for Your Children and Grandchildren

The list is not a magic formula. It doesn’t guarantee that God will answer right away. But prayer is powerful, even when the answer is delayed.

Because there are 12 prayers in this list, you could concentrate on one prayer per month. Within a year you will have consistently prayed the entire list.

1. That they will know Christ as Savior early in life.

Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. —Romans 10:1

From infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. —2 Timothy 3:15

2. That they will have a hatred for sin.

Let those who love the LORD hate evil, for He guards the lives of His faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked. —Psalm 97:10

3. That they will be caught when guilty.

It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. —Psalm 119:71

4. That they will be protected from the evil one in each area of their lives: spiritual, physical, emotional, social.

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. —Luke 2:52

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. —John 17:15

5. That they will have a responsible attitude in all their interpersonal relationships.

Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. —Daniel 6:3

6. That they will respect those in authority over them.

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. —Romans 13:1

7. That they will desire the right kind of friends and be protected from the wrong friends.

My son, if sinners entice you, do not give in to them. If they say, “Come along with us; let’s lie in wait for someone’s blood, let’s waylay some harmless soul.” —Proverbs 1:10-11

8. That they will be kept from the wrong mate and directed to the right one.

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? —2 Corinthians 6:14

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” —Genesis 2:18

9. That they, as well as the one they marry, will remain pure before and after marriage.

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. —1 Corinthians 6:18-19

Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. —Hebrews 13:4

10. That they will learn to submit completely to God and actively resist Satan in all circumstances.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. —James 4:7

11. That they will be single-hearted, willing to be sold out to Jesus Christ.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God –this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. —Romans 12:1-2

12. That they will be hedged in so they cannot find their way to wrong people or wrong places and that the wrong people cannot find their way to them.

Therefore I will block her path with thornbushes; I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way. —Hosea 2:6

Praying for your Children - Free Printables

Prayer ExamplesWant to pray more? Download these prayers–and more!

Download the .pdf of Wayne’s prayers here.

I’ve also created a group of Paul’s prayers for his “spiritual” children that you can use to pray for your own kids and grandkids! You can either download the printable version, or the version for mobile phones.

Printables of Paul’s Prayers

For Mobile (no background): Mobile Version of Paul’s Prayers

 

Wayne Stiles Waiting on God: What to Do When God Does NothingWayne Stiles loves connecting the Bible and its lands to life. He leads tours of the Holy Land and writes devotionals that help you incorporate history with God’s work today. He is the author of several books, including Waiting on God: What to Do When God Does Nothing. Download his free 30-day devotional, Grow Strong, when you subscribe to his blog here.

How Sex is a Spiritual Experience

Can sex really be a spiritual experience? I thought I’d launch into 2015 by combining my two favourite topics: Sex and God. And I’m going to let one of my favourite guest posters, J from Hot, Holy and Humorous, give us her insight since I’m still on holidays. Here we go!

Sex can be a spiritual experience--not just physical. A look at how God, sex and #marriage go together.As Sheila has stressed here many times, and in her marvelous book A Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, sexual intimacy is more than just the physical. When we make love according to God’s design, there’s a spiritual depth to the experience.

Unfortunately, sometimes we wives don’t feel or believe that. Sex seems purely carnal, as if it couldn’t be associated with our deeper soul. Frankly, the only time God is brought into many marital bedrooms is when someone yells “Oh my God!” in the heat of climax.

Look, sex is physical. It’s very physical. But I believe this act can also honor God and touch our spirit.

Here are some reasons why.
God the Creator designed sex and said it was good. Who thought up this crazy thing called sex? Well, that would be God. He could have made sex a fairly straightforward, reproduction-only event. But instead He designed it for intimacy and pleasure as well.

Consider the pleasure centers of our bodies, the way humans often make love facing one another (not a feature of the animal world), and His words about husband and wife becoming “one flesh.” It was after God commanded humans to “go forth and multiply” (and we know how that’s done) that He labeled His creation “very good” (Genesis 1:28, 31, NRSV). His design for sexual intimacy in marriage was good from the beginning.

There’s a whole book in the Bible about sex. God made certain an entire book celebrating marital intimacy – the Song of Solomon – was included in His Word. This book is instructive to couples on what thriving intimacy looks like in marriage. It includes affection, affirmation, connection, and yes, sex.

Song of Solomon even includes a passage in which the married couple engages in sexual intimacy, followed by the encouragement to “be intoxicated with love!” (5:1, HCSB). In other words, get the full amount of pleasure and excitement from this experience that a husband and wife can. God is in favor of physically expressing love in marriage, and expressing it fully.

Sexual intimacy between a husband and wife is a metaphor for our relationship with God. This one can be difficult to imagine.

How can a physical experience between husband and wife relate to anything in the spiritual realm between God and His people?

Yet, that’s what God says. In the book of Hosea, God promises to take His people as his wife, in that intimate relationship of marriage (see Hosea 2). And in Ephesians 5:31-32, the Apostle Paul expresses it in this way: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church.” God likens the one-flesh experience of husband and wife, that deep intimacy, to the relationship our Lord wants to have with His church. When fully making love with your husband, you can’t get any closer physically. And this intimacy is a metaphor for how close God desires us to be with Him.

Sex is most intimate when we bring God’s commands and biblical principles into the marriage bed.

Intimacy Revealed: 52 Devotions to Enhance Sex in MarriageSex by itself is a purely physical act, but we know that in relationship – in marriage specifically – it means far more. Sex becomes an expression of emotional closeness, of trusting another with your most private self, of covenant love. As said before, it should be physically pleasurable. God created to feel good. But if you want the very best in your marriage bed, you’ll approach it with God’s commands and biblical principles in mind. That is, with love, kindness, patience, honesty, goodness, and joy.

That’s why I wrote Intimacy Revealed: 52 Devotions to Enhance Sex in Marriage—to help wives improve their sexual intimacy by applying the Word of God to their marriage.

No, I’m not constantly picturing God while making love with my husband. (That could feel awkward.) But I don’t leave behind the person God wants me to be when I enter the marital bedroom. Rather, I want to honor Him there too, while having a fabulous time with my husband.

God created my soul, and He created my body.

I can use both in tandem to follow His design. Indeed, as I’ve learned how to approach my marriage bed with a more spiritual focus, the sex has become even more physically exciting.

So yes, sex is physical. But God created it to go beyond the physical in your marriage. Even to embracing the spiritual in your life.

J from Hot, Holy and HumorousSex Savvy WifeJ. Parker is also the author of Sex Savvy: A Lovemaking Guide for Christian Wives. She writes the Hot, Holy & Humorous blog, where she uses a biblical perspective and blunt sense of humor to foster Christian sexuality in marriage.

 

Intimacy Revealed: 52 Devotions to Enhance Sex in MarriageSheila says:

J writes so well and so REAL about sex. And with the New Year upon us, it’s a great time to make a resolution to make sex awesome for BOTH of you this year. If you’ve always struggled to make sex intimate, and not just physical, why not embark on a journey with J this year and work through her book Intimacy Revealed? It’s one devotional a week–one thought to chew on and pray about all week–so that by the end of the year you’ll feel more confident, more excited, and more in awe of how God created sex to be.

From marriage-specific scriptures to biblical principles, Intimacy Revealed: 52 Devotions to Enhance Sex in Marriage guides Christian wives through weekly devotions that shed light on God’s gift of marital sex.

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 early in university, 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’ve been best friends with a guy from my church for years, and lately I’ve been interested in him for an actual relationship. We went on a few dates, but then out of the blue he told me that he didn’t want to keep seeing me because he doesn’t want a relationship until he’s finished medical school–and he hasn’t even started yet! Do I let him go? And if so, how?

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 two important things: you both love God, and you both feel the relationship comes first.” And she’s right. If you both love God and you both value the relationship, you can work through anything else.

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 the 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

Many people who delay relationships for school figure that they will meet someone wonderful later. They may even see this as an act of faith–believing that God would bring someone else when they had made themselves ready. (And if God has honestly told you to wait, it likely is an act of faith. But save a word from God, I’d just be very careful.)

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!