Wifey Wednesday: Don’t Be the Christmas Doormat!

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

be a non-stressed wife this christmas

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

But wait, where’s mom?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STOP IT!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Some husbands may need the same encouragement.

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

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

What can you do for yourself this Christmas?

 

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

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

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



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

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

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

Yeah, that’ll teach him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 10 Ways to Be a Merry Mom this Christmas

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

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

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

How to Be a Merry Mom:

1. Simplify.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Begin your day well.

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

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

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

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

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

3. Work on your marriage.

When our marriages are strong, we are happier people.

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

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

4. Count your blessings.

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

We don’t.

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

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

5. Take care of yourself.

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

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

6. Get away from time to time.

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

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

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

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

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

8. Laugh and smile more.

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

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

9. Do something you love.

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

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

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

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

10. Be present.

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

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

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

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

What other tips would you add to this list?

 

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

Enter to win

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

About Lindsey Bell:

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

Her blog: www.lindsey-bell.com

Her website: www.lindseymbell.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/LindseyMBell

Facebook: www.facebook.com/AuthorLindseyBell

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/LindseyMBell01

 


Searching for SanityAbout Searching for Sanity:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life Does Not Get Any Easier After College is Over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And sex didn’t hurt either.

Seriously, sex is a great stress reliever.

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

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

God’s Agenda is Not Always Our Agenda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But What About Money to Support a Spouse?

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

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

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

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

Last Words to the Young Woman:

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

Last Words to the Young Man:

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

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

Last Words to the Parents:

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

You may also like: Top 10 Reasons to Marry Young

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

 

My 3 Gifts of Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Gifts to Nurture the Soul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever – Book $4.87

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adventure Bible, NIVThe Adventure Bible – $19.65

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

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

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

Stocking Stuffers for Your Husband

Christmas Gifts for the Spiritual Side–preteens

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

Cactus Games Scattergories-Bible EditionScattergories Bible Edition – $20.61

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

Bible TabooTaboo Bible Edition – $20.64

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

Cactus Games Outburst-Bible EditionOutburst Bible Edition – $23.59

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

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

Bible Games Combo – $89.99

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

Specifically for Preteen Girls:

Daughter of China – Novel $7.75

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

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

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

NIV Backpack BibleNIV Backpack Bible – $16.09

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

Specifically for Preteen Boys:

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

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

NIV Boys Backpack BibleBoys’ NIV Backpack Bible – $13.98

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACCU-Gel Highlighters Study KitBible Highlighters - $6.70

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

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

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

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

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

Safely HomeSafely Home - $12.37

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

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

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

Specifically for teenage boys

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

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

Specifically for teenage girls

Shine Necklace – $40

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

Shine Necklace

 

Stocking Stuffers for Your Husband

Christmas Gifts for the Spiritual Side–adult women

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

 It is well with my soul necklace – $36

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

It Is Well Necklace

Grateful Necklace - $39

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

Grateful Necklace

How Great Thou Art wall plaque – $14.99

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

How Great Thou Art Plaque

 

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

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

Sermons to listen to in the car

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

Audio Books

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

Noble Man Mug – $9.99

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

Dayspring Noble Man Mug

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

Unglamorous Life of a Porn Star

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When you feel the need to compare, pray.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex

Marriage isn't supposed to be blah!


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The Lulu Tree, Christmas Giving, and How One Blogger Made a Difference

Today lean in close, as author Emily T. Wierenga shares a story about The Lulu Tree, which will mark and change your life.  Engage her story and respond. It may change countless lives.

I never planned to start a non-profit.

But then again, I didn’t plan to fall in love, either.

It happened on a bloggers’ trip to Uganda this past winter. I fell in love with a third world country. I fell in love with an ebony people, with the red dirt roads and the lush green of banana trees, with barefoot mamas bearing babies on their backs and yellow water jugs on their heads, with daughters balancing more water behind them. I fell in love with the cows lying in the middle of intersections, with the chickens and the dogs and the smell of plantain and a world that lived outside—because there was nothing inside except dirt floors covered in thin mattresses or burlap sacks for sleeping. They cooked, swept, washed dishes and did the laundry together, as a community.

They had nothing to hide.

How Your Christmas Shopping Can Save a Ugandan Mother-- The Lulu Tree

We took a charter plane to Gulu to meet former child soldiers who were picking up the pieces of their ravaged past and becoming seamstresses and mechanics, and I couldn’t stop hugging them, trying somehow to relieve the horrors of the past.

We flew back to Kampala and visited the slum of Katwe. Alleys full of garbage and children with bare, distended bellies and I walked down those alleys, shook the hands of mothers bent over dirty buckets of water, mothers whose eyes held a thousand sleepless nights.

I bent low and picked up as many tiny children as possible, kissed their thin cheeks and felt the emptiness of their future.

The Lulu Tree

We traveled by van to a nearby village, then, to a children’s home, where I met my sponsor child.

And I met his mother.

She’d walked for four hours just to meet me.

Her soles were red from Uganda’s earth and she didn’t break a sweat in the high heat. Her eyes shone but she lowered them, looked at her sandals, even as I reached out a hand to touch her shoulder, and I could feel the strength in this peasant farmer’s arm.

She’d lost her husband just weeks earlier to HIV/Aids, an illness people still talk about in hushed tones because of the shame associated with it.

She’d lost her children long before that to this home I was visiting—because she had a sick husband to care for and a farm that wasn’t bringing in money and no way to feed her sons or daughters.

Uganda - The Lulu Tree

And here I was, able to pay for her kids’ clothes and education while she wasn’t. And not because I worked harder. No, she worked sun-up to sundown and had callouses across her hands and feet. No, it was because I came from a first class country overflowing with food and privilege while the rest of the world is forced to feed from our trash cans.

I smiled at her, but I felt sick.

I am a mother. Every night I walk into my boys’ room and ache for them lying there in their beds, because I cannot eliminate the pain they will encounter in life. I cannot imagine how humbling, or humiliating, it would be, to have to ask someone else to take care of my children. To not be able to give them food or water, to not be able to keep them under your own roof-and THEN, to walk four hours to meet the woman who can?

This woman (me) who flies over in her airplane with her suitcase full of clothes and her bag full of lipstick and her wallet full of money, and says it’s all in the name of Jesus—a God this farmer worships more reverently each day than I ever have in my life?

Our Father weeps. He anguishes over every single mother—because there are hundreds of thousands of them across Africa in the same situation—who has to lose her child, who cannot take care of her children.

And friends? He’s asking us to do something about it.

Do Something About the Lulu Tree

Sponsoring a child is good, don’t get me wrong. I sponsor as many children as I am able.

But standing there with this beautiful woman in her brown hat and her downcast gaze, her son’s eyes shining as he looked at me, I thought, No. Enough. There has to be more.

I want this son to look at his MOTHER with adoration, not me—a stranger.

I want him to look at HER to provide his needs, not me—an outsider who didn’t birth him without an epidural, who didn’t weep and pray over him every night of his childhood, who didn’t spend every minute of every day trying to earn enough money to buy him a bowl of Matoke (cooked banana) so he wouldn’t starve to death.

Upon returning home to Canada, I spent months falling on my knees after my family went to bed. I would bow low on the carpet in front of the wood stove and cry.

I kept seeing those HIV-positive babies lying in the dirt crying for mothers who won’t come because they’re dead. Those teenage boys sniffing glue to numb their hunger pains. Those grandmothers working 20-hour days to find enough food for their dead daughter’s children who lay on the ground while chickens defecate around them.

I didn’t start a non-profit to help mothers in the slum of Katwe because I felt guilty. I just knew that my life could not be the same, because once God opens your eyes to people’s suffering, you become responsible. I could no longer pretend I hadn’t seen. I could no longer pretend everyone in the world lived as I did. I knew better. And it had wrecked me.

Our vision at The Lulu Tree is to work with widowed, HIV mothers in the slum of Katwe, Uganda (the worst of Kampala’s eight slums), equipping them to be care for their kids. Our slogan is Preventing tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s mothers.

Lofty, I know. But you have to dream big, right? Shoot for the moon and you’ll land somewhere among the stars?

So we’re shooting for the moon.

Uganda Mother The Lulu TreeYet it’s taken reading countless books like When Helping Hurts, The Blue Sweater, and The Hole in Our Gospel; it’s taken talking to numerous other non-profit organizations and thinking I had a plan and then realizing my plan was wrong; it’s taken trying to do things on my own and then realizing I needed to hire nationals who had a heart for their people, who lived there, who understood things like not giving the mamas too much sponsorship money or it would steal their instinct to survive—it’s taken all of this to realize, again, that it’s not about me doing something for them. It’s about us working with each other, for God. It’s about us doing laundry, and life, together—outside, under the sun, in view of everyone else, because we’ve got nothing to hide.

I’m no one special, friends. I just have a heart, as do you. If we allow God to use our hearts—if we allow His love to define us, to shape us, and to overflow through us—He can change the world.

preventing tomorrows orphans The LuluTree

(Will you consider partnering with us today friends? The Lulu Tree is a fledgling organization which survives off the generosity of people like you. We carry some beautiful products, made by local mamas, in our Lulu Tree Boutique. One hundred percent of the profits from these products go towards the women we’re helping in Katwe, Uganda. Quilts, baby boots, knitted toques, accessories, dolls, and more—they make for trendy Christmas gifts that carry a purpose. Visit HERE to peruse our shop—and note, FREE shipping with every purchase! You can also sponsor a mama, HERE. If you’d like to partner with us in another way, we’d love to hear from you. Just contact us using our website, and we’ll be sure to connect with you as soon as possible. Bless you, sisters, as you wrap your arms around a hurting world.)

 

*Photos by Allyn Lyttle of the World Help Organization

Emily T. WierengaAtlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to LookEmily T. Wierenga is an award-winning journalist, blogger, commissioned artist and columnist, and the author of five books including the memoir Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look (Baker Books). All proceeds from Atlas Girl benefit Emily’s non-profit, The Lulu Tree. She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and two sons. For more info, please visit www.emilywierenga.com. Find her on Twitter or Facebook.

 

The Myth of Sexual Incompatibility

Myth of Sexual IncompatibilityI’m a columnist for Canada’s Faith Today magazine, the magazine for the evangelical Christian community. And in this month’s issue I’m talking about the myth of sexual incompatibility! I’ve written before about how Christians can’t be sexually incompatible, but I thought I’d sum it up in this column.

The evangelical church has found sex.

After years of being rightfully accused of prudery, many Christians have done a 180, deciding that the best form of evangelism is showing the world just how much we get it on. In July 2013, Pastor Joe Nelms of Family Baptist Church in Lebanon, Tennessee started a firestorm when, in his opening prayer at a NASCAR race, he thanked God for his “smokin’ hot wife”. Disgraced megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll was renowned for riddling his sermons with sexual innuendos. Closer to home, Christians are hosting “Passion Parties“, just like Tupperware parties, except without as much plastic, where women can shop for lingerie, sex toys, and lubricants in their own homes, with friends.

The message: sex in marriage is awesome!

But is it? This sexual evangelism caused Rachel Pietka to pen an opinion post for Relevant Magazine saying that “Christians Aren’t Called to Have Amazing Sex.” After all, if we aren’t supposed to have sex until we’re married, there’s no way to find out if you’re sexually incompatible. Obviously, then, God never meant for amazing sex to be a staple of a good Christian marriage.

And so here I find myself in this messy middle, wondering when the church will get our act together to properly evangelize about healthy sexuality.

Let’s go back to first principles. God made sex to unite us in three ways: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Yes, we feel a physical rush, but sex is also designed to make us feel like one–the mystery of “knowing” each other, as the Hebrew word used for the sexual union suggests. This spiritual intimacy then feeds the physical side. That’s why many studies–including my own that I conducted for The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex–show that married Christians enjoy sex more. Commitment is a powerful aphrodisiac!

But our culture doesn’t understand that because it has divorced sex from marriage, and then all that’s left is genitalia. It becomes crude and ugly.

And yet the “sexually incompatible” camp pigeonholes sex as well.

If we’re capable of being sexually incompatible, then our sexuality must be something static. She by herself is a static sexual being, and he by himself is a static sexual being, and the two may not match. Not true. God designed sex to be a relational thing. And because sex is far more than physical, as we open up to each other by becoming more vulnerable, more giving, and more trusting, sex will change.

That’s why I hate the phrase “sexually incompatible”. You’re not incompatible; you just have things you need to work out. If one spouse wants to make love much more than another, and this causes hurt, it’s sin, because one (or both) are not loving each other as Christ did. If one is being selfish in bed, demanding unreasonable things, or refusing to learn how to pleasure the other, it’s sin. When physical problems come, and one spouse doesn’t make allowance, it’s sin. If the spouse experiencing difficulties won’t get help, it’s sin, too. If one is using porn or erotica to get aroused, it’s sin. If one is feeling ashamed of sex, that, too, is sin, though it may not be theirs. Perhaps they grew up in a house where their parents made them feel ashamed of the fact that they were sexual, and now they need healing. Or perhaps they were abused (someone else’s sin) and that, too, has impacted their ability to enjoy sex.

Just like in every other area of our lives, our problems with sex stem from either from our own sin (selfishness) or from being
sinned against (brokenness). And so we need to go to God for healing and restoration.

God promised that we could have amazing sex; He never promised that we would.

In the same way that we can’t live a holy life without surrendering more and more to God, we can’t have great sex without surrendering more and more of ourselves to God and to each other. Sex isn’t something that’s static; sex is a journey that married people take as we grow closer to each other and closer to our Maker.

So it’s time to stop seeing sex like the world does–as something only physical–and start remembering that real passion and intimacy come from a true spiritual connection. As we grow more and more like Christ, we’ll feel that passion more and more, and we will have amazing sex. But I still don’t think we should announce that at NASCAR races.

The newest issue of Faith Today has tons of great articles, including an expose on missing aboriginal women; a Q&A with the director of International Justice Mission, which frees child sex slaves (a ministry near and dear to my heart, that our family has recently started supporting); an in-depth examination of the euthanasia debate; and a look at how churches can agree to disagree–graciously. Plus tons of news about Kingdom Matters in Canada!

Check it out here.

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Why Your Marriage Needs Community

Today please welcome back Ngina Otiende from IntentionalToday.com, as she shares her wonderful wisdom about how your marriage needs community to thrive and grow!

Why Your Marriage Needs CommunityA few months ago, I wrote a guest post for Sheila, where I talked about the differences between marriage in Africa and marriage in North America. How in Kenya, and in Africa as a whole, we tend to do life and relationship from a community perspective. Now obviously this is a generalization. There are pockets where this is not the norm and people are not as interconnected. But it’s the case in many places, where we value and derive significance from our families and the community around us.



Many readers expressed admiration for such a lifestyle and how it seemed to affect marriages and people in a positive way.

So today I want to share a few thoughts on why community is important for your marriage and how you can go about building it.

We are generally nicer when we are around other people

We don’t always realize how rude or cold or irritating we are in our homes. Until we go out there and try to repeat the same behavior or words in public! I’ve been around wives, who sass their husbands in public. And I’ve observed how whenever there’s a sense of displeasure or discomfort following their remarks, they tend to muzzle up. Now other people’s reactions might not change someone’s behavior. But at least it helps them understand that it’s not just their spouse who finds their behavior unpleasant!

But when you close off the outside world and don’t seek to engage with others, some of these habits can go unnoticed, and therefore unchallenged or uncorrected.



Community can also be like the sun, helping you produce the much needed Vitamin D for your marriage. We’ve had instances in our marriage when we had storm brewing behind closed doors but had to honor prior commitments with others. Being out there and having to act kind and nice towards others (and my husband) ended up rubbing off on me. Spending the day, or some parts of the day, being good (or acting good) might open doors and create goodwill that did not exist before. You’ll be able to start working on your differences.

We learn differently .

Learning can happen in all sorts of ways. Sometimes we need to be taught things, other times we need to teach ourselves things. As a wife I’ve learned that my husbands likes to learn from watching other men do things as opposed to someone sitting him down and telling him what to do. So hanging out with others creates huge opportunities for our growth.

Some of those changes you want to see in your marriage might not come through the traditional ways e.g meeting your pastor, sitting down to hammer them out e.t.c. Most guys don’t like to be put on the spot. But when you hang out with other positive couples, he might see how other men treat their wives and how they carry on as husbands (it’s called learning with dignity!). You might observe how other wives treat their husbands and how they don’t personalize every little thing. These good habits might begin to rub off on both of you. Thing is and just like the sun, you have to leave your house and go out there in order to catch all the goodness!

Purpose to learn together, not apart.

I love church ministries, small groups and activities. What I don’t always like however, is activities and groups that always separate married couples. Gender based groups and activities are good, but you need couple centered interactions as well. We all have the same amount of days per week, and if you have to divide those between a women’s group, a men’s group and a couples group, it becomes a strain.

So it’s important to look out for church activities that provide opportunities for your growth and interaction as a couple. Don’t be so wrapped up in your women’s thing you forget your marriage needs. It might mean dropping out of something you love, or not picking up a ministry opportunity because you have to keep your priorities in check.

It’s easier for friends to call you out.

As a marriage writer, I receive many emails from wives, even husbands, seeking help for their marriages. While I do my best to help and counsel, I always want to find out if they are part of a community. If they have a mentor, a pastor, godly friends etc., who can walk with them through the challenge.

As one who has walked through fiery seasons myself, I know how hard it is to open up about problems.

One of the things that really helped our marriage in the early days, was having friends who were not afraid to tell us when we were messing up. I remember many afternoons, sitting with our couple friends in our living room, talking and ‘fessing up our issues, crying (we girls did all the crying), learning together. Times when our husbands would drive across town to seek counsel from one another, when they would stand outside in the dark, talking man things. And how they’d be transformed as a result.

Counseling is good. In fact we need counseling for deep-seated issues or “preventative maintenance”. But some things won’t need counseling if we address them at their infancy. Issues won’t become monsters when we have friends and a supportive community that keeps us accountable and in check. We fare better when we have men and women who have permission and a say over our lives.

So we need to start knowing people. Cultivate quality relationships so that they (and you) have access and permission in each others lives  when you need it.

You can develop your community, but it’s not easy.

My husband and I moved to the United States three years ago. And by that single act, we lost all our community! We’ve been trying to build new friendships and connections. Last week I told my husband I was done trying; no more reaching out, no more hopes, no more silent aspirations when we meet new people. I am soul-tired. My man sensed I needed to vent, so he allowed me to talk and listened and nodded. I have not given up on friendships or community, but I am learning it’s not easy to build from scratch.

Creating community is a delicate balance. Still we can create our own – a small tight-knit community or a huge rolling mix of people. Thing is you have to be ready to give yourself too. To go out of your way, not just once or twice, but all the time. To take an interest in others, invite people to your home, be there for coffee dates, release  – in fact encourage highly! – your husband to hang out with friends (and don’t be sour when he comes back!), keep an open door to your heart and home.

Being part of a community of people will be an inconvenience sometimes. You can’t do life with others from a place of comfort. You will have to make sacrifices e.g maybe miss out on extra pay because you did not pick up the extra shift because you had a life group meeting to attend. You don’t connect only when you feel like e.g you honor prior coffee dates with your girlfriend even when your own marriage is stormy.

Bottom line; God did not create us to do life alone. He made us for community, to know people and to be known.

And so we need to go out of our way to create these friendships and closeness because we need people and people need us.

 

Ngina OtiendeNgina Otiende is a wife and writer, who blogs at IntentionalToday.com where she encourages and equips the earlywed wives with tips, tools and resources to establish strong foundation for their marriage. She and her husband are passionate about making a difference in their world and are currently organizing a marriage retreat for Pastors and Leaders in their native Kenya. You can connect with her on Pinterest and Facebook.