What’s the Real Divorce Rate?

I write the “Messy Faith” column for Faith Today, Canada’s Christian magazine, and here’s a recent one about the real divorce rate. You’ll be surprised (and pleased!)

Real Divorce Rate

My salt-of-the-earth family values friend was dating a friend of mine, but after four years was still hesitating to pop the question. “I’ve seen so many friends divorce,” he explained. “I don’t want to do that to us.”

Divorce, in his mind, was like a virus.

If you’re not careful, it will sneak up on you, and soon you’ll find yourself kicked out, broke, and crying into your coffee.

Our society treats divorce like it’s a contagion, and it’s not hard to see why. After all, the divorce rate is close to 50%, isn’t it? And the even sadder part: Christians divorce at the same rate as everyone else–and some say even higher.

As a marriage author and blogger, I hear these stats everyday, and they’ve always confused me. Do they even pass the smell test? In the late 80s and early 90s I was involved with the Queen’s University Christian Fellowship group. Of the dozens of friends I remember from those days, as far as I know, only three have divorced. The other marriages have so far made it, even twenty years later.

If divorce is really 50%, then we must have either been incredibly lucky or part of a bizarre subgroup with the ability to withstand Kryptonite.

But forget anecdotes–what about just plain logic? If, as Christians, we believe that God helps us forgive, God helps us through grief, and God helps us withstand temptation, then why do we not believe that God also would make a difference in marriage? Why are we so quick to accept these stats at face value?

Perhaps this “divorce virus” is much weaker than we think.

The Good News About Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and DivorceThat’s what Shaunti Feldhahn found when she analyzed the studies for her new book, The Good News About Marriage. Back in 2006 she was trying to dig up the current divorce rate for an article. She asked her assistant to check on it, so her assistant delved into footnotes from other articles. She sought out the original sources. And nothing could justify the rate of 50%–in fact, there didn’t seem to be a credible source at all. And so the two of them started a six-year project to uncover the real divorce rate.

What they found was revolutionary.

The divorce rate for first marriages is actually around 30%–and likely closer to 28%. Christians have between a 30% and 50% lower divorce rate than the general population–which puts us at around 14%-20%. Since these are American figures, we Canucks can likely shave a few points off of even that. Of course, a 15% divorce rate in the church still represents a lot of heartbreak and many hurting families, but it also means that the vast majority of marriages are happy.

The Real Divorce Rate: Good news about marriage! It's not 50%

So where did that “50% of marriages end in divorce” stat come from? In the 1970s, when divorce rates were skyrocketing, researchers were asked to estimate the divorce rate. They said, “If divorce rates continue to rise as they are now, we would expect the divorce rate to be 50%”. But divorce rates didn’t rise; they fell. And so that stat–which was never actually a statistical snapshot, but only ever a projection–never came true.

What about the idea that Christians have just as high a divorce rate? That came from a study from the Barna group, where respondents were asked to identify their religion. George Barna himself has disavowed this common interpretation of his study, since if you really want to know the Christian divorce rate, you don’t just ask what religion people claim; you ask about key things, like if they read their Bible, if they pray, or if they attend church. Do that, and the divorce rate plummets.

Feldhahn’s book is filled with all the analysis that a stats geek will love even more than Star Trek reruns, but here’s what it means for the rest of us, and here’s why Shaunti wrote it: What if the biggest threat to marriage isn’t divorce, but discouragement? If we believe that 50% of marriages end in divorce, then marriage looks really risky. People will choose to cohabit rather than take the plunge. Or, once they are married, if problems crop up, they think, “this is why marriages end. We’re one of the couples who won’t make it.”

On the other hand, if people realize that most couples do make it, then more people will tie the knot. When troubles come, they can say to themselves, “most people have problems, but most people get over those problems, and we will, too.”

Those who are married live longer. As the Institute for Marriage and the Family pointed out in a recent study, they tend to be wealthier and have a much easier time getting out of poverty. Their kids do better in school, are less likely to take drugs or alcohol, and are more likely to delay sexual activity. And, of course, they’re happier.

There’s Good News About Marriage out there, and we need to listen and spread the word.

Most marriages make it. Over 90% of married people would marry the same person again. Marriage is still a wonderful thing. Pass it on.

The Good News About Marriage: The real divorce rate

Will you help to spread the good news about marriage? Pin the pictures in this post, or share it on Facebook! Just use the buttons below. Let’s not let anyone ls flee marriage or rush to divorce because they think marriages can’t last.

The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex

Marriage isn't supposed to be blah!


Sex is supposed to be stupendous--physically, emotionally, AND spiritually. If it's not, get The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex--and find out what you've been missing.

6 Ways to Listen Well

6 ways to listen

Today, please welcome Time-Warp Wife,  Darlene Schacht. She has a way with telling truth–in a way that packs a punch. Here she is talking about learning how to listen.

Poetry… I’ve read Dr. Seuss. Does that count?

Ask me to write a poem, and I’m lost. Seriously. I wouldn’t know a good poem if it was staring me in the face. On the other hand, my niece Stephanie is an incredible poet. At least I think she is. I’ve never known enough about poems to tell for sure, but she puts pen to paper and off she goes creating beautiful words. The fact that she does it with ease tells me she knows what she’s doing.

A few years ago, she told me they were having an “open-mic night” at a bookstore downtown, and asked me to come along.

Why not? I figured it would be a fun way to spend an evening with her. The only problem was that it wasn’t exactly fun. It was kind of boring to be honest with you. Every writer had about 10 minutes to read while the rest of us spent the time picking at hang nails, surveying the crowd, and counting the number of chairs in the room–anything to keep us from falling asleep.

The only people who seemed to be enjoying themselves were the ones standing up at the podium. One by one they took their place up on stage excited to share their words with the world. Once their ten minutes of fame came to a close, they had a few of their own hangnails to pull.

Later that week, I asked Stephanie why she hadn’t stepped up with the rest of the writers. Why didn’t she read her poems?

Her answer is one that stuck with me…

She said that she used to be a big part of that crowd, but what she realized after a while was that everyone was there to be heard, but few came to listen. She made a choice that she wanted to give herself to the art instead of taking something away. Sounds like a true poet to me.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. – James 1:19

It’s true to life too, isn’t it?

While most of us want to be heard, few of us take the time to listen as much as we speak.

Sure I listen, but to tell you the truth most of the time that I’m listening to someone, I’m thinking about what I’m going to say next.

It’s hard to “hear” when you’re not listening, isn’t it?

We had a friend once who had the gift of listening. Did you know that listening was a gift? Neither did I, but I’m calling it one today, okay? We could be in a room full of people, but as soon as I opened my mouth to speak he leaned in, focused on what I was saying, and hung on every word that I said. Not just me, it was my husband, it was our friends–it was anyone and everyone that wanted to talk.

I’m not so gifted, which is why I have to exercise myself in this area.

 Stopping to listen to someone with both ears, is a way of showing compassion. It tells them that you care about their words. Whether they have good news to share or they’re looking for a listening ear, what they’re really wanting from you is someone who’s present in the moment. What they need is someone who values them enough to consider their words.

When Michael and I used to talk–in the early years of marriage–I didn’t understand what he needed from me. My idea of listening to him was searching for a solution, before having my turn on the soapbox.

Some days he’d tell me about a bad day at work and by the end of the conversation we were both more frustrated than we were at the start.

It wasn’t until he finally said to me,I just need you to listen to me. That’s all. I’m not looking for a magic solution–I just need my wife.” 

exchanging ideasAnd so when it comes to our marriage, listening has become a part of my vow.

My goal is to listen to him and to consider his words, before I speak an encouraging word.

And how do I do that?

Here are six ways to listen well, that I have been learning:

1.  Practice – Listening takes patience and it takes restraint. Neither of those things come easy without practice.

2.  Get Focused – Carve out time to listen to each other in a quiet place free of distractions. Maybe go for a walk or grab a coffee together.

3.  Remember, You’re Not a Therapist – Listening well doesn’t mean that you have to have all of the answers. In fact some times advice is the last thing they want. What the person needs more than anything is empathy first. Just being there for them is a gift in itself.

4.  Ask Questions – The best way to continue a conversation and keep the ball in their court is to ask questions about the situation. And don’t forget about these questions as well: Is there anything I can do? How would you like me to pray?

5.  Don’t Bathe in the Spotlight – One of the hardest things I’ve had to overcome as a listener is my tendency to ignore what they’re saying while I’m thinking of my own story to tell.

6.  Lean in to Give Eye Contact – Two of the best listeners I’ve ever met have great body language. You could be standing in the midst of a multitude and feel like you’re the only two people on earth.

Learning how to listen isn’t hard. It just takes practice.

Stop what you’re doing to listen. Don’t sit there looking around at other people or hailing down a waitress for more sugar. Engage with the person you’re talking to. Give them eye contact. Immerse yourself in their words.

Lord, teach how to listen, how to be present in the moment, so that I too might bring a gift.

 

Messy Beautiful LoveDarlene SchachtDarlene Schacht is the original founder of Christian Women Online Magazine and The Internet Café Devotions and writes the popular blog Time-Warp Wife. She is coauthor of Candace Cameron Bure’s New York Time’s best-selling book, Reshaping It All: Motivation for Physical and Spiritual Fitness. Darlene has been married to Michael Schacht for more than 25 years. They have four children.

Check out Darlene’s new book, Messy Beautiful Love: Hope and Redemption for Real-Life Marriages, which releases today!

 

Wifey Wednesday: Sex and the Gospel

Sex and the Gospel: How God designed real intimacy to reflect His love

It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! And today guest poster Abigail Alleman explores whether making love can actually be a vehicle God uses to show the depth of His love. Here’s Abigail showing us where sex and the gospel intersect:

It’s Easy to Be Blind

During the first couple years of our marriage that my husband and I went to a Family Life ‘Weekend to Remember’ Conference. There were fun talks from married people including some about sex. Considering my ‘mum’s the word’ upbringing regarding ‘intimate things’ I was eating all of this good teaching right up.

It was then that I remember hearing that women need to feel loved in order to be ready for sex. I clung to that and, at times, used it as a club to beat my husband away if he wanted to have sex but I wasn’t feeling loved…for whatever reason. Even if I truly wasn’t feeling loved, those who know my husband and what an amazing servant he is, can feel free to call those ugly moments for me. I know I do.

But if any woman is willing to be honest and take the journey to find what holds her back from giving fully to her husband–and ultimately, God–she will find similar things. When we say we ‘don’t feel loved’, at the heart is the shame and mistrust and rebellion towards God we inherited from Eve. We are afraid of rejection or having our weakness used against us, so we hide and cling to some semblance of control. At the heart we are cutting ourselves off from God and therefore can’t feel His love or anyone else’s. Sadly, because we are one with our husbands, they pay the price.

…And then comes the Gospel

And yet, in the middle of all of this is the Gospel. It is where God in Christ redeems, or buys back, everything. He rescues us and binds up our wounds through His own. We are transformed by this Love that entered time and space and a fallen world and gave all of infinite God to buy back the darkness.

Nothing looks the same.

As I have been looking at my own faulty views on sex, that unconsciously included lies that it is somehow dirty (even as a married woman) or ultimately for men, I have seen how utterly wrong and devastating this thinking is.

I have become convinced that the more fiercely the darkness clings to something, the greater its potential to be transformed into something totally new this side of Calvary. This is absolutely true about sex.

God wants to blow the top off of our limited, boxed thinking about His gift of sex in marriage.

And through transformed thinking and practice, send us boldly into the world with a message it desperately needs. It’s the one where sex in God’s bounds and for His Glory brings both husband and wife healing and fullness instead of pain and emptiness.

What Is Hard to See

Let’s go back to the truth that women need to feel loved to have sex. Did you know that the reverse is also true? Men have sex to feel loved. They probably shared this at the Family Life Conference, but it conveniently did not make it into my head and definitely not my heart. It wasn’t until after 10 years of marriage, three kids, international moves, and reading Sheila’s book that I saw the whole picture.

And when I did, I was humbled at the gift God has given me as a wife. Through giving myself fully to my husband in sex, I partner with God in the revelation of His love for my husband. I had prayed for years that my husband could experience God’s infinite love for him in radical ways. So when I read that my husband’s desire for love was expressed through his desire for sex, I was blown away. I instantly saw that his seeking of physical intimacy and my full open response are a tremendous gift through the Gospel where he can know and receive the love of God.

You see, it’s not just the sex, it’s the experience of it when two people have put their faith in the Gospel .

Recently, at a concert in a conservative Baptist Church, I heard one of the pastors describe the beautiful worship we had experienced in a way that made me think of sex. He said that for him, as a guy, he often lacks the language to express what God’s love and beauty means to him. But when he worships God through great music and lyric, his heart, soul and mind find satisfying expression.

I tapped my hubby on the shoulder and whispered in his ear, ‘Honey, that’s what sex is like for guys, isn’t it?’ He smiled at me in a way that told me, ‘yes, that’s just how it is.’

Why It’s So Important To See

I’ve heard a lot about my duties as a wife. Obedience to God is a key element in the life of the believer. And, yes, the Bible says that my body is no longer my own and as a married woman I no longer have authority over it (neither does my husband over his).

But if I stop there, I do an All-Gracious God, myself and my husband a great injustice. The chief end of my life is not obedience, but to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. My body, and my life, are not my own BECAUSE I have been bought with a price. Infinite God emptied of infinite Glory to make a way back to the Presence of God where I know as I am fully known.

In this, my understanding of sex, through the lens of the Gospel, is completely transformed. So are the patterns of guilt and shame or whatever may keep me holding back a body, a life, that is no longer my own. I am called to give it all freely to my husband so that in great beauty and mystery we experience the fullness of Grace and Truth that is meant to shape every area of our lives. In the consecrated act of sex in the sacred space of our marriage we BOTH are wrapped more tightly, fully, deeply into the only Love that remains.

The felt needs of love for me and sex for my husband are becoming, for us, one consuming desire to know and embrace and enjoy God together. It is changing everything for us. And I want that for you too.

AbigailAbigail says: I 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. 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 few 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!

 

Christian Marriage Advice

Good Girls Guide My SiteThanks for joining me for Wifey Wednesday!

If the idea of sex and spiritual intimacy seems foreign to you, I talk about how to get to the point where sex is something more than physical in both my books The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex and in 31 Days to Great Sex. I encourage you to check them out–don’t miss out on something this amazing in your marriage!

 

The Truth In Love: Finding the Balance During Marriage Conflict

The Truth in Love Challenge from To Love, Honor and VacuumTruth and love don’t seem like opposites, but they can be. Someone can use truth as a weapon, hurting others. Someone else can try so hard to save someone’s feelings that they fail to confront some serious sin.

All of us veer more towards one or the other. For those of you familiar with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator personality test, you could see them as the Thinking/Feeling dichotomy (though it doesn’t always fall along these lines). But some of us will be more prone to fight for the truth, no matter what gets blown up in the process, and some of us will want to avoid truth to minimize casualties.

Jesus, though, wasn’t on the side of truth OR love; like with everything, Jesus found the balance of confronting sin while upholding the dignity of the person.

Unfortunately, there are two competing philosophies which encourage us not to emulate Jesus, but instead to lean to one side or the other–and both philosophies are wrong.

First, there’s the secular feminist one, which goes something like this:

You are an adult human being, and as such, you should never take any crap from anyone–especially your husband! Stand up for yourself, no matter what, or you’ll become a doormat. Put a firm line in the sand, and DO NOT let him cross it.

Then there’s the hyper-conservative Christian one, like Debi Pearl, that says this:

Wives are to submit to their husbands in EVERYTHING–even if their husbands ask them to do something the wife is uncomfortable with. He is the leader; what he says goes, and if you continue to disagree after you have shared your views, you are sinning.

(Interestingly, this perspective seems to ignore the fact that Sapphira was struck dead in Acts for obeying her husband, and Abigail was rewarded for disobeying her husband in 1 Samuel 25. See Visionary Womanhood for a great rundown of these and other examples.) 

Here’s the problem: When our fundamental personality matches with a philosophy we follow, we will tend to stay stuck on the extreme, unable to find a healthy balance.

Here’s a very insightful comment that was left here last week in my post about Mark Driscoll’s mess. Commenting to a DIFFERENT blogger who was also active in the comments, Tracy wrote:

Lori, I read your blog, too. You almost seem legalistic about submission. By my very nature I am very introverted. I find it difficult to express myself to most people, and most especially to my husband. When I read your posts about wifely submission I get more of the same of what I already do: Shut Up, Put Up, and Cover Up. So when I disagree with my husband I shut up, put up with whatever he wants and cover up my thoughts and emotions. What I need are more posts like Shelia’s (what I probably need is counseling but I know me and I know I likely won’t), but I gravitate more to yours because through yours I can justify not communicating like I should with my husband.

Commenter Tracy says that it’s in her nature to put up with stuff and not speak up for truth, and so when she reads something encouraging her to do that very thing, she does it. It justifies her own fallen nature.

God Wants Two Primary Things From Us: Worship and Spiritual Growth

He wants us to worship Him, and He wants us to reflect Christ more and more everyday (Romans 8:29). Or you could phrase it, we are to love God and we are to love our neighbours as ourselves. Two things.

Now, if we’re to look more and more like Christ, then that also means that we are to have a balance between truth and love. We are to stand up for truth while also loving others. Indeed, I think that’s what submission boils down to; we submit ourselves to God, and then we willingly love and serve others in accordance with our love for God. But that service would never, ever contravene God.

In fact, let’s take it one step further.

It is not only God’s purpose that WE look more and more like Christ; it is also God’s purpose that OUR HUSBANDS look more and more like Christ.

  • When we speak the truth in love we urge husbands towards godliness;
  • When we speak only truth, we push them away through nagging, criticizing and blaming;
  • And when we speak only love, we allow husbands to continue in selfishness and sin.

If God wants BOTH you and your husband to grow, then that means that God wants you to move towards a balance of truth and love. If we are followers of Christ, God is always stretching us, even just a little bit. If you’re not being stretched, then maybe God is asking you to step outside of your comfort zone and find that proper balance. Here are some practical steps to take to do that:

Finding the Truth in Love Balance For “Truthers” (that’s ME!!!)

  • Practice listening before you speak. Let the other person finish talking before you open your mouth
  • Ask about emotions: what do you need from me right now? What are you feeling right now? Understand the emotions behind the issue before you try to tackle the issue
  • Use a quiet voice
  • Before you mention something critical, say two encouraging things
  • Periodically (say once a week), invite your spouse to share some concerns for five minutes and say nothing at all. At the end, just give him a hug. Still say nothing. Seriously. Zip it.

Finding the Truth in Love Balance For “Lovers”

  • Learn to say no to others. Say, “I don’t think I will enjoy that particular Bible study this week”, or “I’m not able to attend that women’s social because I have too much on my plate right now.”
  • Make it a habit of expressing your feelings. If you are upset at your husband, communicate that in a non-blaming way. “I feel lonely when you play video games for hours after coming home”, or “I feel taken for granted when you don’t do any dinner prep or clean up, and leave me with the food mess and the children.”
  • Use a confident voice
  • Do not end a conversation about a conflict unless you have agreed on something practical to do about it or have agreed to talk about it another time. If he wants to end it, you can say, “I understand you want to be finished talking about this, but I still think this is a serious issue. When would you like to continue our conversation?”

It will be very difficult to say these things if you are a “Lover”, and it will be very difficult to say nothing if you are a “Truther”. But if we don’t grow in life, what’s the point? If you stay comfortable with your own personality, choosing a misguided philosophy which doesn’t stretch you and which doesn’t promote health in your relationship, you’ve accomplished nothing.

God wants to mold you, and that means taking you out of your Truth or Love comfort zone.

I have a committee meeting later this month for a ministry I’m involved in. In the past, I have really pushed my agenda, because I was sure I was right (I still am, actually). But I didn’t get what I wanted, and I burned some bridges in the process. There has been much healing, but as I was praying last weekend on how I should handle this meeting, one thing I was told clearly is that I am not to bring anything up. I can express my opinions if there is a discussion, but I am not to bring up new issues. I won’t pursue my agenda; I will step back. More love (and listening), less truth (and lecturing). That is what I am doing to try to find that godly balance.

What about you? Let me know in the comments if you’re a Truther or a Lover, and tell me how you think God wants to stretch you!

And come back tomorrow for my great Truth in Love Comments challenge–with a prize, too!

Preserving Childhood Innocence: The Right Not to Know

Childhood Innocence: Kids have the right not to know some things

Has our society eroded childhood innocence?

I think it has, and I wrote about it in this column from a few years ago. For twelve years I wrote a syndicated column, and I’ve decided to post my favourites that never appeared on this blog on Fridays. Hope you enjoy!

What is the dividing line between childhood and adulthood? It had better not be moving out of your parents’ house, or a lot of people who think they are adults are sorely mistaken. If it’s having a job, then those 15-year-olds who ask if you want fries with that have already reached maturity. Instead, I think the main dividing line is knowledge. Childhood is a protected state where they can learn new things slowly, once they’re mature enough to handle them.

That’s why I think a child has the right not to know some things.

I think they have a right not to know about the horror of war, except in general terms, until they enter the teenage years. I think they have a right not to know about sexuality inside and out. I think they have a right to be told only in vague terms about their parents’ neuroses, marriages or love lives.

Once you open that door into the adult world, you see, children have a difficult time just being children. Childhood innocence has been taken from them.

I’m not sure all adults understand this. I remember talking with a friend a few years ago who let his three-year-old son watch X-Files with him (largely because he couldn’t be bothered to put the child to bed). “Oh, he doesn’t care,” my friend said. “he thinks it’s funny.” And to prove his point, he nudged the child to laugh. That same child had frequent nightmares. Very young children don’t have the ability to distinguish real life from acting, and they can be shaken by many things, even those we don’t think are that bad.

But even if you try to keep the door closed on the adult media world, someone else can push it open.

When we took our children to see The Incredibles last year, we were sitting in the theatre listening to an audio soundtrack before the film began. All of a sudden someone said something extremely sexually graphic. I shot up, found the staff and asked them to turn the soundtrack off, which they gladly did. It wasn’t supposed to air before children’s movies anyway. I was glad they at least had a policy, since too many places don’t.

Take the mall, for instance. I was recently walking through it with my daughters when we passed the lingerie store. My 7-year-old said to me, “Mommy! Aren’t those women embarrassed to be seen in their underwear? I mean, what man is going to want to see that?” I paused for a minute, unsure how to answer, but very grateful my daughter was still completely oblivious to the attraction of said picture. Yet I still wish the picture weren’t there at all. Come to think of it, I could do without Cosmopolitan, and the National Enquirer, and Britney Spears all being at my kids’ eye level in the checkout line. We no longer have child-friendly zones.

We don’t have them on television, where Superbowls experience wardrobe malfunctions. We don’t have them in music, where today’s lyrics leave little to the imagination, and the singers’ wardrobes leave even less. We don’t even have it on public streets, where billboards and store windows use sex as a lure. We also don’t have it on the news, where same sex marriage is debated when many of our kids don’t even know what homosexuality is. While this is certainly too much information for little ones, it also damages those on the verge of adulthood. Before they even experience physical intimacy, they know all about it, because it’s been laid bare before them on television, the internet, and in schools.

This deprives them of the final triumph of growing up: that joyful discovery which finally unlocks adult secrets.

By the time today’s young adults finally experience physical intimacy in a committed relationship, they have already had sex so dissected and analyzed and explained that it’s lost much of its wonder.

There are no more secrets. It’s not something spiritually intimate that two people enjoy alone, with the rest of the world blocked out; the rest of the world has already burst in. And that’s too bad. We’ve taken their innocence from them, and now they know too much. Maybe that’s a sign that we adults know too little.

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Genetic Curse?

Genetic CurseIs the genetic curse real–are we destined to copy our parents?

In my quest to take a bit more vacation this summer, I’m rerunning some older columns. This one, which addresses this whole “genetic curse” issue, first appeared January 14, 2005.

When I was a kid my mother was always telling me to stand up straight. I really wish I had listened to her. A few weeks ago I threw my back out yet again, and the chiropractor and the massage therapist (no, that’s not as fun as it sounds) both came to the general conclusion—surprise, surprise—that I need to stand up straight.

My father and my grandfather were both very stooped. I get my body shape from them, and so I’m genetically predispositioned to slouch. Plus I’m at the computer way too much, which does very little for one’s posture.

I have two approaches to this problem. I could shrug, say, “what are you going to do?”, and go back to slouching, condemning myself to decades of intermittent pain. Or I can bite the bullet and cause pain now as I try to relearn how to stand up. I’ve chosen to go back to the toddler mode and boy, is it difficult. But at least I can walk again.

Our parents bequeath us many things, like hugs, smiles, love, and Christmas decorations we made when we were 7. But they also pass on a number of bad things.

Maybe it’s a tendency to gain weight just by looking at chocolate truffles. Maybe it’s a predisposition to alcoholism, health problems, or receding hairlines. Or perhaps it’s a personality issue: you’re too shy, too angry, too impulsive, too scared.

Unfortunately, at the same time as I have noticed the traits that my parents passed on to me, I have also noticed those that I have bequeathed to my own offspring. I am blessed with one daughter whom I love to pieces who is also the spitting image of me (minus the slouching), both physically and emotionally. All of the things that bug me about me I see in her, too. And I don’t want her plagued with my problems!

The funny thing about our personalities, though, is that our strengths are also often our greatest weaknesses.

For instance, my daughter Katie has a real ability to make people laugh. She’s a ham, and sometimes when you’re in the middle of disciplining her she comes out with something that is so funny you have to leave the room so she doesn’t see that she’s broken through your stern composure. At the same time, Katie is also the one who is hard to take anything seriously, or to work hard. While Rebecca is our little perfectionist, Katie would rather put on a ridiculous looking skirt, stand on a table, and twirl. I want Katie to learn how to be appropriate in different circumstances, but I don’t want her to lose her playfulness. In fact, I want to encourage her, because she has the gift of making those around her smile. But it needs to be steered in the right direction.

In the same way, my older daughter is a perfectionist, and takes life too seriously. Speaking as one who can identify, this is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because you tend to be a high achiever. It’s a curse because you make yourself miserable in the process. Learning to give yourself a break, to allow mistakes, to see areas where you’ve stumbled not as huge personal failures but as simply being human is vital to growing up without giving oneself an ulcer.

As parents, we’re the ones who can best see where our kids may be heading in the wrong direction, especially if those weaknesses are also in us.

But when we do see those weaknesses, we often over-reach in our criticism because we’re so sensitive about them. We don’t help our kids grow; we just make them feel ashamed. Let’s resist the temptation to lash out and criticize. Remember that every fault that we see probably has a flipside that’s positive. The best way to break this “genetic curse”, for lack of a better term, may not be to purge it altogether, but to steer your child see towards the positive aspect of this characteristic. Then you can help them minimize the negative. And now you’ll have to excuse me. I’ve been sitting at the computer too long and I have to do my stretching again.

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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!