Where’s the Dad?

Child PovertyI’m taking life a little easier this summer, so I’m rerunning some columns I wrote a few years ago. Happy July 4 to all my American friends!

As I write this, two teenage girls are on trial in Toronto for murdering their mother.

Entered into evidence was a taped conversation in which the older girl explained that murder was really the only option since her mother wasn’t a mother anymore. So, with the knowledge of her younger sister, she allegedly drowned her in the bathtub to free them and their brother from the nightmare.

To kill one’s mother is obviously wrong; and yet, as I read the account, I felt little sympathy for the woman. By all accounts she was a hopeless drunk, and her daughter got one thing right: she wasn’t a mother anymore. Yet as I thought about this sad scenario, one question kept haunting me:

Where’s the dad?

Immaculate conceptions aren’t common, so there’s a man—or men—somewhere who is responsible for these kids’ creation. Would their lives have turned out differently if he had stayed on the scene?

Obviously we know nothing about this particular family, but all too frequently dads are out of the picture long before any labour pains. They spend an evening, if that, as part of a woman’s life, and they’re gone.

While this may not have much of an impact on these men’s lives, it certainly has an impact on the children’s. For years governments have been vowing to end child poverty, but it’s doubtful they can make real headway until we change our behaviour. Over 52% of children in single parent homes live in poverty, compared with 11% of children in two-parent families. Child poverty is not an economic issue as much as it is a family issue. When men leave, their kids grow up poor.

And their kids may also grow up with unstable parents, as these kids certainly did. In a home with two parents, if one starts feeding an addiction, becomes abusive, or exhibits a mental disorder, there’s another parent to step in. When there’s only one parent, the kids are held captive to that parent’s whims. But it isn’t just having a dad that makes these kids better off. Dads, you see, bring something else to the equation. With a dad often comes another set of grandparents, along with various aunts and uncles and cousins, and chances are at least a few of these relatives will have their heads on straight.

It seems this family lacked those safety checks, as far too many families do.

I can’t help feeling, in reading stories like this, that our society takes the act that creates these children far too cavalierly. If you’re not willing to commit to look after any children that may come out of a brief relationship, then you should not be having a brief relationship. It’s incredibly selfish to put your own fleeting pleasure above the well-being of children you may bring into a rather desperate, and grim, situation.

Many men, I believe, have lingering doubts as to whether there are little juniors running around out there. To investigate, though, is a big risk that could disrupt their lives and their bank accounts. However, don’t we owe something to honour, loyalty, and duty? Why not pick up the phone? You don’t have to become a super dad if you don’t want to, but at least make sure the kids are okay, and that they have enough money to get by. Some women, of course, may resent the intrusion or fear your motives, but your kids still deserve to know they are valued. Their lives may have started off by accident, but they don’t need to be defined that way.

If we treat kids, and the act that creates them, with the care and respect they deserve, we’ll all be better off.

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Why this Girl Ran Away from Home

Today Emily Wierenga shares an excerpt from her memoir Atlas Girl, called Why this Girl Ran Away from Home. Welcome Emily!

girl ran away home

For some reason I always said a prayer for her when it was dark. Mum.

Not really during the day, but always when it was night and maybe because she was like a candle. We didn’t talk a lot and we were opposite in temperament and so, we yelled a lot, and yet I missed the way she smelled of lavender and would hold me when a boy dumped me or when Dad wouldn’t listen to me.

The man with the alcoholic breath was whimpering in his sleep and I felt sorry for him and annoyed and I had a crick in my neck. No one seemed to notice this blond girl with the man asleep on her shoulder, but that was the way I wanted it. No one seeing me, all hunched over with my Margaret Atwood novel and my Walkman.

I was listening to Journey. “Just a small town girl, livin’ in a lonely world… she took a midnight train going anywhere…”

Closed my eyes against the jagged yellow of the road and buried my nose against my cardigan. It smelled of Fuzzy Peach perfume from the Body Shop. Of the mission trip to Atlanta, Georgia, to the Olympic Games; of the 21-year-old boy who had given me my sweet sixteen kiss.

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It smelled like home and my room covered in Michael W. Smith and DC Talk posters and the floral quilt with Cuddles, my bear. And I didn’t remember Dad ever entering that room. Mum sometimes slid books under the door, books on sex and why not to have it before marriage and sometimes my sisters would come in and watch me do my makeup.

Ever since the anorexia—me starving myself from the ages of nine to 13 and ending up in a hospital where my hair fell out and my nails curled under—they’d been a bit scared of me and I didn’t blame them. Mum didn’t let them visit me very often because I played secular music from the radio, stuff like Bon Jovi and Bryan Adams, stuff that made the insides of my legs ache a little.

I twisted the silver purity ring on my ring finger and it wasn’t coming off, not until my wedding day and it was the one thing my parents and I agreed on.

But I would have pulled the Kleenex from my bra, and the bra from my body, for Seth Jones.

For the scratchy way he’d said my name and the way his brown hair hung over his eyes, but I hadn’t. And Mum had knocked on my bedroom door that day, roses in her arms and she’d sat on my bed and held me, the day Seth had dumped me in the courtyard of the school. The day he’d said I was too nice. Which really just meant I wouldn’t get undressed for him.

But then Mum had given me a bouquet of roses and my fingers had bled from the thorns. And I’d known I wasn’t too nice, just too afraid of sin, and sometimes it doesn’t matter what kind of fear, so long as it steers you right.

I didn’t know why I was waiting except that sex was a big deal, even bigger than drinking, and it was only allowed after marriage.

Not that marriage meant much with my dad sleeping on the couch after staying up late on the computer and Mum getting jealous over the ladies Dad talked to after church in his long minister’s robe and his face full of laughter wrinkles, the kind of wrinkles we never saw at home.

“Edmonton,” the driver’s weary voice crackled over the speaker and the man on my shoulder was sitting up now, rubbing his eyes and yawning. As though he did that kind of thing all the time, as though we were lovers or friends, and I shrugged.

The bus was stopping and the Ojibway man inching out of his seat.

And I stood up, and my heart fell out of my chest and I couldn’t breathe.

For all of my 18 years of not being able to connect with him, I missed him.

My father.

***

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This is an excerpt from my new memoir, Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look, which released this week through Baker Books. I am excited to give away TWO copies today. Just enter the Rafflecopter below to win!

I’m also giving away a FREE e-book to anyone who orders Atlas Girl. Just order HERE, and send a receipt to: atlasgirlbookreceipt@gmail.com, and you’ll receive A House That God Built: 7 Essentials to Writing Inspirational Memoir – an absolutely FREE e-book co-authored by myself and editor/memoir teacher Mick Silva.

64519_10153705975080099_2037134714_nALL proceeds from Atlas Girl will go towards my non-profit, The Lulu Tree. The Lulu Tree is dedicated to preventing tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s mothers. It is a grassroots organization bringing healing and hope to women and children in the slums of Uganda through the arts, community, and the gospel.

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How to Reset a Bad Marriage Day

Today Crystal Brothers tells us how to hit reset on a bad marriage day. Being purposeful in hitting restart and forgiving is necessary some days, isn’t it?

Reset Bad Marriage

Even in the best of marriages, we all have those days. You know the one I’m talking about. You’re in a bad mood. Your hubby is in a bad mood. Everything he does is getting on your nerves, and vice versa. He didn’t do this right. You didn’t do that right.

Because we are imperfect humans, living in a fallen world, we’re going to have bad days.

The good thing is that we don’t have to accept it. With a little work, we can change the tone of a bad day.

1. Pray

And I don’t mean the kind of prayer that says, “Lord, my husband is driving me crazy.” Pray for your heart to change and soften toward him in that moment. Spend time praising God. It’s amazing how much things can change when we choose to focus on Him and not our bad day. Pray for God to bless your husband. It’s very difficult to be angry with someone while you are praying blessings over them.

2. Serve your husband.

I remember once my husband and I were having an argument around lunchtime. We’d raised our voices, and determined to be angry. I was huffing and puffing about it in the kitchen while making myself a sandwich for lunch and the Lord spoke to my heart–make him a sandwich instead.

I’ll get honest and tell you that I was not happy about this. My heart attitude did not change. I was slapping down bread, meat and cheese, and throwing around chips and pickles to go with it. I squirted on some mustard and slammed it back in the fridge. I was mad at my husband and mad that God was asking me to serve him in that moment.

But then my husband came into the kitchen. And I presented him with his sandwich. Even though my heart wasn’t where it should have been, the Lord blessed both my husband and myself through my obedience. And that small act of service toward him turned around our whole day. (Of course, I don’t recommend the terrible attitude! lol)

3. Be spontaneous.

Sometimes a change of scenery is all it takes to change the day around. Go for a walk. Go out for an unexpected family dessert date. While you’re at it, laugh a little! When someone’s having a grumpy day in our house, the rest of the family makes funny faces to see who can be the one that makes them laugh. Even something so simple and silly like this can turn around a bad day.

Yes, sometimes it’s hard to snap out of it and cheer up in the midst of a bad day. But the Bible tells us that “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” And sometimes, I think it’s the cure for a bad day as well. Take control of your emotions. For lots of ideas for free/cheap activities, check out my free date night printable. Lots of these can be done with no prior planning.

4. Meditate on scripture.

Find a scripture that speaks to you. One that encourages, inspires, and challenges you. One that reminds you the way you should treat your husband, and reminds you that the Lord is bigger than your problems and bad attitude. Read it, repeat it, memorize it–hide it in your heart! And when you need it on those tough days, the words will come back to you.

5. Make a list of reasons you love your spouse

You may not feel them all at that exact moment. But there are amazing things about your spouse that made you marry him. Don’t let one bad moment rob you of the joy in your marriage. Remember all the reasons you have to love him.

Above all, I think that having a great attitude about our marriage is one of those things we need to practice daily, so that we can fall back on that habit when tough times hit. In my book, Intentional Marriage, I share 31 Devotions and challenge to help you get into the daily habit of investing in your husband and your marriage.

Crystal BrothersCrystal Brothers blogs at Serving Joyfully, and is the author of Intentional Marriage: The Art of Loving Your Husband (A 31 Day Devotional). She and her husband have been married nearly 9 years and she homeschools their two rambunctious boys.

How do you overcome a bad day with your husband?

10 Ways to Initiate Prayer with Your Spouse

Praying as a Couple: 10 Ways to Intiiate Prayer to make it more natural

Praying as a couple can be challenging. Many of us aren’t comfortable praying out loud, and so we’re not sure how to bring prayer into our marriage. In fact, I had a man email recently saying, “you have lots of articles on initiating sex, but how do I initiate prayer?”

Great question! Physical intimacy, after all, is wonderful, but spiritual intimacy is the glue that holds everything together. Couples who pray together feel closer in other ways, too.

Top TenSo today, on Top 10 Tuesday, I thought I’d share 10 ideas on praying as a couple. Prayer is intimidating, I think, because it’s vulnerable. You’re baring your soul before God, but you’re also baring it before your husband when you pray together. That’s what can make it awkward. There can’t really be pretentions. But that’s also what makes it intimate! So here goes.

Remember our Top 10 philosophy: Find 2-3 tips that will work for you, write them down, and start implementing them today! Don’t think you have to do all 10; think of this more as a brainstorming list so that you can find the ones that speak most to your situation.

Before I start talking about how to initiate praying, just one more thing: remember that praying doesn’t have to be a long, drawn out thing. In fact, sometimes “sentence prayers” are more effective, because when people feel awkward or nervous, understanding that it doesn’t have to be a big, flowery prayer can take the pressure off. So model this–just use a few sentences to start, and go back and forth. Even if it’s just a minute or two together, it helps remind you that there are THREE of you in this marriage (you, your husband, and God), and God wants to be a part of it with you.

I also firmly believe that prayer is more likely to happen if it’s routine (it tends to happen at the same time everyday), if it’s for a specific purpose, and if it’s relatively easy to do.

So most of these suggestions may sound “trite” to people who already pray a lot. But remember: if prayer is already a big part of your life, you may not need these suggestions as much! Most people just need ideas to get going, so here are some that can help start your prayer life well.

1. Pray Over Your Children’s Beds

Maybe you can bend over the baby’s crib at night and say a prayer for the baby, or stand over the older children’s beds once they’re asleep and before you go to bed. Just say to your husband (or wife), “I’d like if we prayed quickly for our kids at night. Will you come do that with me?”

2. Pray As You Part in the Morning

Here’s another idea: ask your husband before you part in the morning, “Can I pray for your day today?” And go to the door with him and hold his hands and just pray a really quick prayer for him at work today. Then kiss him and say good bye. It doesn’t need to be a big thing (and if often is better if it isn’t!)

3. Think of New Ways to Say Grace

Grace can get really old. And I firmly believe that there is nothing wrong with memorizing prayers, or saying pre-written ones, as long as you mean them. We have this idea that all prayer needs to be spontaneous, but some people have written beautiful prayers in the past that sum things up perfectly, and if your heart agrees, I think that’s fine. It can also be a lot less intimidating to people.

You can write out a number of graces onto cards, and put them in a “Grace” Bowl. Then have a different person pick a card and lead in grace each night.

Here’s a website with a few ideas, and the book 100 Meal Graces is also awesome!

4. Read Prayers at Other Times

What about reading a longer prayer after the dinner hour together? Again, if people are uncomfortable praying out loud, or aren’t used to it, reading a prayer can be freeing. I love Stormie Omartian’s Little Book of Powerful Prayers, but there are others. You can pick up the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, which has lots of prayers and “collects” mixed in with orders of service, or my family has used the Celtic Benediction (celtic prayers for morning and night) while we’ve been camping.

5. Pray for a Need Right Then

My assistant Holly told me this story recently.

I called my husband, asking for prayer for something stressful that happened, and he said, well can I pray over you right now? And it happened to be a time that I had my hands full with taking out the neighbor’s dogs and don’t have a hands’ free for my cell, so I asked if I could call him back in a few minutes. I did and he prayed. It helped so much!

If it feels like a good time to pray, then just offer to right then and there. If your husband is sharing a concern, just ask, “can I pray for you?” And put your hand on his shoulder and pray a quick but heartfelt prayer for God to intervene. If you get in the habit of doing it right then and there, then it becomes a more regular part of your day and a more regular part of your routine. And then it can feel more comfortable for him, too!

6. Pray During a Conflict

This one’s important! When you’re really mad at each other, before you start really discussing the issues, ask, “can we just pray together?” And then pray something like this:

God, we’re really angry now and we need you. Help us to find the win-win solution here. Let us both be open to what you have to say. Bring your peace to your children. Amen.

My husband’s really good at suggesting we do this (I’m often too angry!), and it’s amazing how much it helps to bring God in early.

7. Take His Hand First Thing in the Morning, While Lying in Bed

I like to say a quick prayer every morning as I wake up, “Lord, today I pray that I will glorify you in all I do. May you use me and help me to be a blessing to others.” It’s quite simple. You could take his hand and pray that, or ask, “can we say a prayer together in the morning? I’ll say a sentence, and you say a sentence, and we’ll make it our ‘thing’ .”

8. Put your Hand on his Shoulder in Bed and Pray

You can do this out loud, or you can tell him that you’re doing it but do it silently.

9. Write an “I Need Prayer For…” Whiteboard on the Fridge

Put a little box for everybody in the family, and encourage people to write their needs on it. Then people can spontaneously pray throughout the day when they see it, and people know their own needs are getting prayed for!

10. Plan an Extended Prayer Time Once a Week

If you are comfortable praying together, then once a week, say on a Sunday night before bed, or on a Saturday morning when you get up, pray for a longer time about all your needs as a family and for other concerns you have. Remember to include times that you praise God for who He is, and thank Him for what He’s done! Again, if this is a regular, standing date that you have together, it’s more likely to become a part of your routine.

There you go! Ten ways to bring “little” prayers into your day. Tell me in the comments: which ones have you tried? Which ones have become regular for you? Or do you have something different that you do? Let me know!

Fatherhood Material

Here’s a reprint from a few years ago that I think fits in really well with this week’s posts on 10 things I wish I knew before I got married and how to prepare for marriage–not just the wedding. Let’s talk today about what makes good fatherhood material.

Fatherhood MaterialIn the recently released movie Knocked Up, professional journalist Alison discovers she is pregnant from a drunken one-night stand with loser Ben. She doesn’t want to raise the child alone, so she chases Ben down and tries to turn him into fatherhood material. I think Alison’s onto something. Single parenthood is a rough road, and Alison knows that her baby will need a dad.

Unfortunately, Alison did everything backwards. She got into a relationship without realizing that this guy may end up being the father of her children. It’s better to make sure a guy will make a good dad before you wind up pregnant. For many young women, though, fatherhood material is the last thing on their minds. They’re looking for cool, popular, even a little dangerous, or simply someone to like them. None of those things ultimately holds up.

So to prepare for Father’s Day, I thought I’d explore what makes a guy a good catch.

My friend Richard, who has four daughters, has imprinted the following qualities into his girls’ heads, and they’re so good I wanted to share them with everybody.

Number one: a guy should be a Provider.

Now I know that sounds sexist and many of you are ready to line your birdcages with this paper right about now. But think about it: if you want to stay home with your kids, at least for a while, you need to be with someone who can pay the bills, not someone who will sponge off of you. That doesn’t mean he has to be rich! It simply means that the guy should have a good work ethic, should be motivated to find a job, and should take this responsibility seriously. It also means that he can’t have any major addictions that are going to keep him from working. Alcoholics, chronic drug users, or gamblers should be disqualified immediately. You’re relying on this man to help keep your family together, so choose well.

Next, he needs to be a Protector.

You’re giving him your heart; how is he going to treat it? Will he be faithful, or will he think only of himself? Will he be kind, or will be constantly berate you? And how does he treat your body? Does he value that, too, or does he pressure you into things you’d rather not do? That’s not real love, and that’s definitely grounds for dumping him before the relationship goes too far.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he has to be a Pearl.

Don’t marry the grain of sand expecting that one day a pearl will emerge. Find the pearl first. Many of us women marry the sand—the potential that we see inside our guys. But what if that potential stays hidden forever? You can’t change someone, and it could be that your sandy guy actually likes his rough edges. If you want to marry a good guy, then only date good guys.

That may sound like a pretty tall order, but I think too many girls give up, figure such a thing isn’t possible, and date losers instead.

Treat yourself, and your future children, with more respect. Once you’re in a dysfunctional relationship, it’s much harder to get out, and, like Alison, you may find yourself tied to this guy forever. It’s better to be alone than with someone who will end up being bad for your kids. And ironically, the more we treat ourselves with respect, the more likely it is that we will start to attract these Pearls.

If we’re going to wait for the Pearl, though, we also have to make ourselves Pearls, too.

That means building a good life so we have something to contribute, and it means valuing the steady guy more than the dangerous guy who seems so cool. I don’t think such great men are as few and far between as we sometimes believe, and settling for less only hurts your future children. This Father’s Day, I’m teaching my kids to look for the Protector, the Provider, and the Pearl. They have a great example in their dad, so they have a leg up on other young women. But regardless of family background, a girl can ensure the next generation is stable and happy if she saves her heart for someone who truly deserves it. It’s worth the wait.

If you like Sheila’s social commentary, don’t miss Reality Check, the book! It’s chock full of her musings on where society is headed–and what we can do about it!

Roses, Chocolate and Lots of Love: How to Throw a Blessing Party for Your kids

Today I want to talk about how to throw a Blessing Party for your kids!

I’m in full-blown writing mode, since my manuscript for 9 Thoughts That Will Change Your Marriage is due in at Waterbrook on June 20. I thought I’d publish this older column from 2008, talking about the blessing party we threw for Rebecca, who had then just turned 13. I thought of the column because I’m writing this in her townhouse right now. She’s working on a book proposal for the blog post she wrote on Why She Didn’t Rebel, and I’m trying to get my manuscript done. We did point her in a good direction when she was 13, but God held her in her teen years, and Becca has always clung to him.

A few months ago I published a guest post on how to bless your kids. I loved it! And here is my contribution to the same idea: 

How to Throw a Blessing Party for Your KidsOn top of my friend Jill’s piano used to sit a dried bunch of roses. They weren’t particularly breathtaking, but they were special, for they were the first roses her daughter Pam ever received.

Pam’s dad gave them to her on her thirteenth birthday, because he wanted to make sure that when Pam got her first roses, they would be from him.

He loved her first, and he figured that anyone else that she would love better be willing to love her just as much. He set the standard.

Bob wasn’t there to give Pam away at her wedding last year. He died two years too early. But when Pam walked down the aisle to her husband Andrew, she walked towards a man who did truly love her, just as her father had modelled. Bob was not a perfect father by any means, just as none of us is a perfect parent. But he really got that right.

That story has stayed with me, and so when my daughter Rebecca turned thirteen last month, she answered the doorbell to receive a dozen roses from her dad.

And the message he wanted to send? You’re precious. Don’t hang out with others who don’t believe that.

I didn’t let Keith have all the fun, though. I decided I wanted a chance to speak some words of wisdom into my daughter’s life, too, but I did it in a very girly way. I threw a chocolate-fountain-spa party, with the important girls and women in our lives. And I asked twelve women—aunts, grandmothers, friends, mentors—to say something either affirming what they see in Rebecca, or giving her advice on growing up. It was a lovely party, as most interactions that involve chocolate turn out to be, but this was even more special because of the timeless truths my daughter heard.

Our girls get so many negative messages in this culture.

They hear that looks are all that matters, that our worth is best judged by our sexual conquests, and that feeling good is more important than being good. I wanted this to be an opportunity to counteract this garbage in a real and meaningful way. And so let me share with you some of the things Rebecca learned that night.

One aunt reminded her that 10% of life is what gets thrown at you, while 90% of life is how you react to it.

One of her best friend’s moms gave a rah-rah speech: “your generation is the first of the new millennium. What will you make the world?” One of her favourite baby-sitters whom we watched walk down the aisle a month ago still had marriage on her mind, as she told Becca that when it comes time for men, “don’t settle! You deserve the very best in a guy!”. A woman we travelled to Kenya with reminded Becca to remain humble, and remember that everything we have is simply a gift.

My cousin commiserated with Becca since they both suffer from perfectionism. She told her, “Don’t let the need to be perfect stop you from trying things. The important thing is to try your best, and whatever your best is, remember its good enough.”

My mother told her how impressed she was by Becca’s creativity and compassion. My mother-in-law echoed how proud she was of Becca, and admonished her to always keep her word. Be someone others can trust. A family friend who has watched Rebecca learn to ride a bike, learn to swim, and learn to start fires—in our campsites, that is—said, “My deepest prayer for you is that you will continue to have a heart for God.” And on and on it went, with women sharing some of the greatest lessons they’ve learned.

Maybe you have a child approaching a milestone—13, 16, graduation. Why not take that opportunity to bless them and launch them well?

That night my daughter heard, keep your word. Keep trying. Don’t settle. We love you, you’re special, and we can see so much in you. All of that, and a dozen roses from Daddy. Now if her life can live out those values, we will be very proud parents indeed.

Wifey Wednesday: Confessions of a Tired Wife

Today’s guest post is from Abigail Allemann. Abigail tells how she found Sheila’s book, 31 Days to Great Sex, and how it transformed her marriage in her confessions of a tired wife.


Confessions of a Tired Wife
Missionary Life Snapshot –Why I Was Tired

My husband and I are missionaries who have been serving overseas in Budapest, Hungary for the last two years.  I have only recently started to take offense at the classic boring sexual position named for people like us, because, well, if the shoe fits…

You see, I feel like I can re-phrase a portion of Paul’s letter to the Philippians like this:

If anyone else thinks they have reason to be tired, I have more: Two years of living with in-laws while raising missionary support; five years and three babies born in Pennsylvania, Florida and Hungary respectively; 24 hour drives through blizzards while using a nebulizer for a three month-old with RSV; two summers of overseas travel with babies and toddlers; three months with 5000 miles in cross-country travel, 3 hotels and 3 more homes for overnights, 5 different places to call home (i.e. contained our family and all unpacked wordly goods); full-time language-learning, cultural adjustment and a baby born a few months after moving overseas…

You get the point. (Actually my tired is one many missionary wives can claim!)

I have lived tired.  And, in the times when I was pretending I wasn’t between babies, moves and languages, a simple conversation chronicling our lives over the past 7 years could take me right back.

By the Grace of God, my husband and I survived all of this craziness. More than survived. We thrived in faith and service to one another, our kids and God and knew a love that was warm, honest and exciting as we lived the adventure of God’s calling on our lives in a way few are privileged to experience.

Something Was Missing –Searching for Hope

But something was desperately missing.

I think you know where this is going.

Like so many women, sex had become duty for me. My husband has always been patient, sacrificial and desires to give me pleasure. Yet, this too, had become predictable and just not very fun.  We had our moments, but, the sad truth was we were living the adventure in big ways and yet it was missing from the most intimate space between us.

I knew things would have been different as far as frequency in our sex life if I could get over my tiredness which, of course, made me feel more guilty and, in turn, more tired. Why couldn’t I give more? Why didn’t I want to? What was wrong with me?

It was an evening last fall when I somehow (can you say divine inspiration?) found Sheila’s book 31 Days to Great Sex. Much to my husband’s delight we began to read it together that night. The next morning I woke up with a profound sense of hope in my spirit.

It was a strange thought to me, yet I knew it was from God. You see, I had been meditating on hope and seeking answers through His Word. But I just couldn’t grasp it. I was body, mind, soul weary. That fall was full of intense spiritual warfare as the Enemy of souls, marriage and ministry was gunning hard for me to give up.

So many things were coming together in our new life, but I was dying inside. And at the depth of my struggle, I was crying out for hope.

God’s Surprising AnswerHoly Sex Embodies Hope

So, just how does spicing up my sex life give me hope?

The Bible calls hope an anchor of our soul. The hope in which we are saved is the redemption of our bodies as we bear the firstfruits of the Spirit, groaning with all of creation, yet set apart as image-bearers.

Through sex, as God’s very good gift in marriage, we experience tangible hope.

When my husband and I come together as one flesh, as a loving sacrifice of ourselves for the other, our minds, hearts and souls are bound and sealed in hope through our physical joining, and it is beautiful. We grasp the promise of Heaven; the restoration of all that was lost in the fall as together we restore God’s perfect design for sex.

Essentially, we see the redemption of our bodies in the most vulnerable way possible as we experience the truth of all that Jesus bought back; taking away our shame that puts all kinds of walls around us. We look into each other’s eyes, speak words of love, touch and taste our bodies given to one another. It all says, “Thank You Jesus.  It is all because of what you have done that we are naked, unashamed and full of love for one another.”

I may have believed words like these before I purposed to see my sex life renewed, but now I live them.

I also experienced the freedom of hope.

My faith says that, no matter what comes, God is bringing me Home.  It will happen One Day and all of my hopes are bound up in this promised consummation.

But that can all be hard to know while I struggle in the here and now.

In the thick of my overseas adjustment, I was grieving the loss of friends, family, basic competency, heart language and it was blinding me to everything else. I have learned to practice thanks yet the cathedral of my life was small, filled with the stale air of the forgetful. I just couldn’t get to the hope that is Christ in me–glory.

Enter sex. It wasn’t just that my hubby and I started having sex more, it was that it went from a duty to a beauty in my life. I started to let go and have fun. I lived like my eternity is secure and there’s an amazing way to bring Heaven here, right now. Because there is.

I have become a Proverbs 31 woman who laughs at the days to come. I live vibrantly, sure of who and whose I am and where I am ultimately going—so I can have fun and enjoy today. I can let go of to-do lists and send my husband a ‘come hither’ look. I’m not looking for the adventure on the screen or in the book, when there is hot, holy, hilarity with a best friend who is my one and only lover.

It is living free in hope when the kid in me plays with my husband and is re-charged to have fun with my kids. It is embracing true hope to know I am someone’s prize and to share the secret smile and wink of behind-the-bedroom-door love.  And it feels so good, right, true, lovely and honorable to know that God smiles on our unashamed, wild, free love.

I am still very much in process with all of this. We are finishing up two months of travel in the States on furlough. This is something that still greatly tires me and makes finding time to connect hard for my husband and me. BUT I have pushed through the weary to hope and vision and I won’t go back. This makes working through the hard and tired so much easier and so much more fun! My prayer is that you are uplifted, not weighed down, through what I shared today. We are in this together!

AbigailI am wife to a wonderful man, mama to three precious now-little-but-soon-will-not-be loves. Each born in a different place–two states {Pennsylvania & Florida} and two countries {U.S. & Hungary}. I can now claim fluency in 3 languages :: English;) Spanish & Hungarian. This combined with the all-too-true ‘mommy brain’ explains much regarding my mental state most days. I am a sojourner longing for Home. Yet, in my messy and broken, I embrace the moments given with all I have. For the past 2 months I have been writing about my journey in understanding sex and sexuality in a series called Pure Passion. You can check it out here!

 

31 Days to Great SexIf you long to make sex a positive thing in your marriage, check out Sheila’s book 31 Days to Great Sex, that Abigail talks about. It’s not 31 Days OF Great Sex (don’t worry!); it’s 31 Days of short challenges that can help you rediscover intimacy and fun in the bedroom!


WifeyWednesday175Want some other great links to help you if you’re a tired wife? Here are other marriage bloggers chiming in for our Wifey Wednesday round up:

Intentional Today: Productivity Apps that Help My Marriage!

Calm Healthy Sexy: 4 Reasons to Take a Summer Vacation (Where you don’t even have to leave home!)

Women Living Well: When You’ve Lost Your Joy for Marriage and Motherhood

Women Living Well: How Important is Date Night to your Marriage?

Club 31 Women: 9 Classy Reasons to Go on a Cheap Date

Intimacy in Marriage: 5 Ways to Find More Time for Sex

Christian Legalism Part 2: Good vs. Evil or Wise vs. Unwise?

Christian Legalism Part 2 Good vs. Evil or Wise vs Unwise

Last week I wrote a post against Christian legalism. I said that too often, especially on the internet, we create extra “rules” about what it means to be a Christian.

Lots of great feedback on the post, but in reading some of the comments I realized I need to explain this a little more, because some were missing my main point (perhaps because I could have made it better?). In that post, I was trying to argue that too often we take things that are negotiables, and try to make them sound like they’re non-negotiables. Should Christians wear tattoos, drink a glass of wine, put their kids in daycare, let kids go to public schools, wear bathing suits or listen to secular music? I argued that we really shouldn’t become legalistic about these things.

Some people were saying, though, that as we know Christ, we do become holier, and so saying that these things don’t matter is wrong. I completely agree with the doctrine of sanctification (that the Holy Spirit makes us more Christ-like once we are Christians). I certainly didn’t mean to imply that Christians should be able to do absolutely anything because of grace.

What I wanted to do was to contrast things that are part of our moral code with things that are part of our cultural code. I was talking about cultural things; some people thought that implied that I didn’t think there was a moral code. I absolutely do; I just don’t think it’s the same thing as our cultural code. So let’s look into that a bit more today to get a fuller picture of what kind of legalism we need to steer clear of–and what rules we need to definitely obey. Here are a few key points:

1. Many of the prescriptions in the Bible were based on the culture at the time

Both the Old Testament and New Testament are filled with two basic different kinds of laws: Cultural edicts and Moral edicts (the Old Testament also had civil edicts, like how the temple was to be built and how ceremonies were to be performed, but let’s just stick with these two for a moment). The moral edicts are obvious: The 10 commandments encapsulates them perfectly. When the New Testament talks about “The Law”, it tends to be referring to these moral codes. They’re repeated over and over again in the New Testament; for instance, in Galatians 5:19-21, Paul writes this:

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

These are moral laws, and they didn’t go extinct when Jesus came to give us a “new covenant”. They define what it is to love God.

However, the Old Testament also has some cultural laws, like Leviticus 19:19:

Keep my decrees. “‘Do not mate different kinds of animals. “‘Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. “‘Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.”

We don’t need to follow these laws to the letter anymore, but we do need to figure out the reason for them. And the reason was to demonstrate God’s absolute holiness. Most of God’s cultural and civic laws in the Old Testament were visual representations and object lessons about who God was. And God is pure and holy, just as we should aim to be pure and holy. The application of this verse today does not mean you can’t plant basil plants near your tomatoes to ward off bugs, or you can’t wear a cotton/poly blend; it means that there can be no excuse for sin because God is holy.

There are similar edicts in the New Testament. For instance, Paul talks about how slaves should act. That doesn’t mean Paul condoned slavery; it means that in their culture, this is how you should glorify Jesus. Paul said you shouldn’t wear braided hair. That didn’t mean that Paul had something against Laura Ingalls; it meant that at the time, braids equated with temple prostitution, and women should try to not look like street walkers. That’s the REASON behind the edict. The reason is still relevant; the cultural expression of it is not.

2. Not Every Bible Story is an Example We are to Follow

The Bible is the story of how God speaks to and works in very imperfect people. It is not a story of people who have all their stuff together.

With the exception of Ruth and Boaz, I can’t think of a single marriage in the Old Testament that we would want to emulate. And yet I don’t know how many times I have heard people say, “Rebecca and Isaac are a beautiful example of courtship. We should do that, too!”

Rebecca and Isaac had a horrible example of a marriage. The only thing we know about their married life is that they were both far too emotionally invested in one of their sons, and they weren’t a unit. They were each closer to one son than they were to each other. Rebecca encouraged her son to manipulate his father. That’s not an intimate marriage.

David was a polygamist who was a terrible father. He allowed his kids to run rampant and never punished them; and he allowed his daughter to be raped with no consequences.

Esther and the king is not a love story, and Mordechai is not a hero. Mordechai sold his niece to a harem. There’s a word for that, but I won’t print it here.

Esther herself was chosen to be the new queen after spending a night with the king. I don’t think we should whitewash what must have been done during that night.

But here’s the thing: just because these Bible characters were flawed does not mean that our faith is flawed. On the contrary: God worked through these circumstances. Through Esther God saved His people.

There is no need to see these Bible characters as perfect, because how people behave does not reflect on God. God is God. And yet by twisting ourselves into knots trying to make these stories look Disney-worthy, we forget that the interplay between God and culture has always been messy. No culture has ever lived out God’s edicts perfectly, even those cultures from biblical times. And that’s why the point is not to create the perfect culture; the point is to honour God within the culture that we are.

We don’t need to bring back the Old Testament times, or the 1800s, or the 1950s. We don’t need to bring them back in terms of dress, or language, or family style, or anything. We just need to worship God authentically today.

Some religions do treat Scripture as if the prophets of old could not have done anything wrong, and thus we must emulate everything they did. The problem with seeing prophets like this is that you get stuck in the past. If you must emulate what they did, then you must perpetuate the culture. We’re not supposed to perpetuate the culture; we’re supposed to worship God.

3. There is a Difference Between Good vs. Evil and Wise vs. Unwise

All of this leads me to my main point, which is this:

When we’re talking about universal moral laws, we’re talking about good vs. evil. When we’re talking primarily about cultural expressions of Christianity, we’re talking wise vs. unwise.

There is no doubt that sex outside of marriage is wrong. There is no doubt that lying is wrong. There is no doubt that greed is wrong. But drinking a glass of wine (not drunkenness; just having a glass of wine)? That one is a cultural choice. And that falls under the category of wise vs. unwise.

It is fine for people to have disagreements about what is wise vs. what is unwise. As Christians, we are to wrestle with the cultural expression of our own salvation, and that means that we will have to make choices about what we will or won’t do.

But let’s not elevate cultural expressions to moral laws. It would have been culturally wrong to wear a modern bathing suit in 1890; in most places in North America today it would not be. The culture has changed. So the question is: how do we honour God in the culture we are in, not how do we bring our culture back to some previous ideal (which was likely never that ideal in the first place).

4. If You Can’t Name the Reason, You’re Likely Being Legalistic

A final point: God didn’t just say “Thou shalt not do X” for His own pleasure, to see us squirm. He made His laws to be intrinsically consistent and to fit with Truth–because He is Truth. This, by the way, is something that distinguishes Christianity from Islam or other religions. In Christianity, God limits Himself. He cannot lie, and He cannot change. What He says, then, must be consistent. In Islam, God can do whatever he wants and he isn’t limited. That means that God is ultimately not as knowable–and the world isn’t as knowable either, because his creation doesn’t need to be as consistent and doesn’t need to make sense. But that’s the subject of another post.

Therefore, if God orders something, there is a reason behind it. And we do far better if we articulate that reason than if we just say, “Because God said so.” For instance, when I argue why we should wait for marriage for sex, my primary argument is not “because the Bible says so”. I explain why this edict makes sense–because all of God’s edicts do.

If you cannot name the reason behind something, but are simply pulling out Bible verses, then it could be that you are relying on a cultural interpretation rather than the Spirit behind it. And so that’s the litmus test that I use: if my main reason for saying something is a rule is “because God says so”, I likely haven’t studied Scripture or prayed enough about it. If it is important, God will also reveal the reason.

So that’s a wrap up to what I said last week. I know many will disagree, but I worry about the tendency I see in online communities to try to recreate the 1880s, down to how women dress, how we court, what we eat, or what we listen to. This is not the 1880s; this is the 2010s. And people today desperately need to know Jesus. They need to know The Truth, which is timeless, not the cultural expressions, which are not. Are we prepared to give up our cherished culture, or would we rather stay where it’s safe, where there are rules that show us that we’re “in”, and where we can feel secure?

Real Christians Can Get Tattoos

Christian Legalism: Have we gone too far with rules?Is there a litmus test for being a Christian?

Absolutely. And I think they figured it out around 300 A.D., when a group of bishops got together and wrote the Apostle’s Creed. It’s short, it’s to the point, and it’s everything that should unite us.

Interestingly, though, if you read that creed, you’ll find that it says nothing about tattoos or yoga or spanking or day care or alcohol or modesty or music choices. It concentrates on things like believing that Jesus is the Son of God who died for your sins, was crucified, died and buried; He descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. You know, stuff like who God is; what He did for us in the past; what He does for us now; and what He’ll do in the future.

Real Christianity Isn’t About Christian Legalism

I’ve always been of the opinion that you can be a real Christian without having to follow a bunch of man-made rules. Real Christians can get tattoos. Real Christians can drink a beer after work or a glass of wine at dinner. Real Christians can do yoga, can date, can leave their kids in day care, can decide not to spank, can wear shorts, can listen to secular music, can kiss before they’re married, and can even vote Democrat (or Liberal).

Now, there are quite a few of those things that I would never do. I certainly have my opinions about the wisdom of many of those behaviours–as I’ve written about on my blog before. And I do think that most Christians, once they know God better, will start to have opinions on some of them, too.

Nevertheless, I am quite dismayed at the stringency with which many Christians loudly declare that so many of these things are absolute sins and lead to incurring God’s wrath.

It leads me to wonder: are we more concerned about showing people Jesus or about feeling righteous ourselves?

Because sometimes it really looks like the latter. It looks like Christian legalism has made a real comeback.

I wonder if this is more a problem on the internet than in real life.

The internet can be a very polarizing place. I can write a post where I think I take a reasoned approach, and then someone will comment with something so extreme that it seems out of left field. Yet because that comment is there, people tend to assume that opinion is widely held, even if it’s not. Regular people read that comment, and then figure they can’t say anything because they’ll get ridiculed. And thus the comments section of most blogs and websites is dominated by the extremes, giving the impression that that vast middle is underrepresented, when it’s not.

This week alone, I have had comments left on older posts on my blog telling me that it is impossible to do the stretches in yoga without worshiping an Eastern god (even though the yoga exercises I do with my Wii don’t mention anything about emptying your mind, but tons about stretching your hamstrings). I have been told that “courting” is too liberal, because it’s too much like dating, and we should move towards betrothal instead, where a boy “proposes” to the girl’s father before any relationship has started. I have been told that if parents don’t spank their kids their children will go to hell. And I have been told that my daughter is in mortal danger because she read Harry Potter.

Stop it, people, with the Christian legalism. Just stop it.

Paul was not impressed with this kind of behaviour. In fact, he thought it was rather immature. Paul himself ate food that had been sacrificed to idols. He talked to women. He ate food that wasn’t kosher. He did all kinds of things that would have been seen as “breaking the rules”. And then he said this, in Colossians 2:20-23:

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21“Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Are we spending so much emotional energy creating a whole new set of increasingly stringent rules which have no power in and of themselves to change behaviour, while ignoring the fact that we are called to show Jesus to the world?  Remember that the more insane and extreme we look, the less likely we’ll have an effective witness.

“Ah,” but some will reply. “Jesus was radically counter-cultural, and so we should be radically counter-cultural, too.”

Yes, but Jesus was radically counter-cultural not to regular people, but to the Pharisees.

It wasn’t the regular people who had issues with Him; it was those who were in the business of writing rules about who would get into the kingdom of God and who would not.

It’s interesting, but in my “real” life (as opposed to my internet life) I don’t seem to have these struggles. In fact, our struggles tend to go in the opposite direction. My daughters had some major conflict at different camps and youth groups because it seemed that all that was ever preached was grace, and not holiness. Yes, God is gracious, and yes, forgiveness is freely offered, but if you love God, you will also live a godly lifestyle. Telling teens that “God accepts you no matter what” isn’t a complete picture of the gospel. Grace without repentance is empty.

And so I often find myself in this strange middle, where I do believe that most Christians need to take their faith far more seriously, and yet I also believe that too many Christians are piling burden upon burden and rule upon rule, making the Christian life almost impossible, if not downright unattractive.

We need to get back to fixing our eyes on Jesus.

When we do that, we won’t have cheap grace, because we’ll be so overwhelmed by His sacrifice that we will repent. But we will also see clearly that Jesus loves people, not rules. And Jesus wants to call people to Himself, not separate His children into internet and cultural enclaves until we become so strange to regular people that Jesus’ message is no longer accessible.

Let’s keep the focus where it belongs: on Jesus. That’s the heart of the gospel far more than Christian legalism with a bunch of “do not touch, do not taste” rules.

 

How to Face Today When You Want to Turn Your Back On It

At the young age of fifteen, Jennifer Rothschild was diagnosed with a rare, degenerative eye disease that would eventually steal her sight. Known for her substance, and a down-to-earth style, Jennifer weaves together colorful illustrations, universal principles, and music to help audiences find contentment, walk with endurance, and celebrate the ordinary. Today she shares about how to face today, when you feel sad, depressed or stuck. 

face today“Mom, do I have to get up?

“Yes Jennifer, you have to get up; you are the mom!”

I would begin most days coaching myself to get up and be the grown up I was supposed to be. I didn’t want to face the day because that day was probably going to be like all the yesterdays… dark, hard and long.

That’s how I felt most mornings for a solid year. It was a long year of depression that was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I had been blind since a teenager and I was used to darkness – physical darkness, that is. But, this darkness was different. It was scary and stifling; I had more fatigue than faith.

The doctor explained how menopause had come and my body’s chemical support had gone haywire. I was full blown, chemically depressed! It had affected everything. I was tired, hopeless, forgetful and afraid.

I had relied totally on my mind to navigate blindness. You know, I’d have to pay attention to how many steps I took, which direction I was facing, where I placed my cup, and the like. I had to keep so much information in my brain like my calendar, my to do list, my phone numbers… and on and on.

Then, my brain chemistry and my female hormones engaged in World War Whew! Let’s just say, when blindness met menopause, they did not play nice. I was depressed. Plus, on top of that, I was depressed that I was depressed.

I’d tried to fix myself but I just couldn’t. So, every day felt the same – dark, hard and long. I didn’t want to face my day; I wanted to turn my back on it and roll over and pull up the covers.

Ever felt that way?

I bet you have. We all have. It is for different reasons that we share that dread.

It may be because of illness or debt that you don’t feel you can face your day.

It may be because you dread another encounter with that teenage child, aging parent or controlling boss that you feel you can’t face your day. It may be rejection, insecurity or depression that makes you want to turn your back on today.

Or, it could be your despair, your weight or your bank account that makes you want to call out, “Mom, do I have to get up?”

But, my friend, you do have to get up! Deep down, you want to. So, here are 3 ways to face your day when you want to turn your back on it:

1.  Cry when you hurt

Jesus wept (John 11:35) and so should you. When life hurts, admit your pain and cry. The physical act of shedding tears is important and protects our physical health.

But, crying out to God or emotionally expressing our sorrow is also vital in protecting the spiritual health of our souls.

When you cry out to God and tell Him your fear, despair and concern, you invite Him to join you in it. Don’t try to hold it in, suck it up or pull it off all on your own. When you’re hurt, abandon your pride and reservation and humbly admit your disillusionment to God.

Honesty leads to intimacy but repression leads to isolation. Don’t go it alone my friend. Cry when it hurts; your tears are safe with Him.

 2.  Trust God more than your feelings

Feelings are real, but they don’t always reflect absolute reality. In other words, our feelings about a situation may not always match the facts of the situation. We can misunderstand, misinterpret, and become miserable because of it!

Feelings may be unreliable at times, but they are still important to acknowledge. They hint at what is in your heart and in your head. They point to what you fear and what you desire. They often reveal beliefs you didn’t even know you held. So, don’t totally disregard them. Learn from them. What do those feelings represent? What are they inviting you to pay attention to?

Feelings can be incredibly revealing, so don’t repress them. But, let them serve you rather than govern you. If you let them serve you, you employ them as an intuitive detective that can lead you to ultimate truth. Feel your emotions, but don’t confuse them with facts or base your faith on them.

Your feelings will change; this season of pain will change. But, God never changes. That’s why we ultimately trust him more than our feelings (2 Corinthians 5:7).

God is faithful, God is with you, and you can trust Him with every detail and moment of your day…of your life!

3.  Choose loyalty over logic

Choose to loyally love God and faithfully follow Him even when the path you travel feels dark, hard and long. When sorrow invades our lives it rarely seem sensible to us. Just settle in the mystery of God and be more devoted to His revealed character than your mind’s natural reasoning.

Rest in the fact that your logic sometimes just isn’t enough. What God says about Himself is more dependable than what you “think” during a time of trial.

You can face your day when you know He is with you; He is for you; He is compassionate; He is good, and His ways are perfect.

God has been and will be faithful to you. Don’t miss the blessing that waits just around the bend by abandoning the walk of faith. As you choose to remain faithful to Him, you will see His faithfulness to you more clearly.

My year of depression came to a gradual end and God used it to usher in greater perseverance and gratitude. God can use whatever you are facing that makes you want to turn away also.

Don’t be discouraged my friend, and don’t lose heart. The next time you want to call out, “Do I have to get up?!”  whisper to yourself, “No, you don’t have to, but you want to because you don’t face this day alone!”

God is Just Not Fair Jennifer RothschildJennifer RothschildJennifer is a wife, mother of 2 boys, speaker, and writer. Connect with Jennifer at www.jenniferrothschild.com. Jennifer’s new book, God is Just Not Fair: Finding Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense, walks through 6 tough questions of faith including, God do you care? Are you fair? Do you hear prayer? These are questions Jennifer wrestled with during her time of depression, and maybe you’ve been there too. Jennifer serves as your guide as you delve into the deep questions and doubts, and all the while, she holds your hand to comfort. She meets hearts right where they are when life doesn’t make sense. Learn more about the book at www.notfairbook.com.