A Testimony of Marriage, Anorexia, and Healing

healing in marriage battling anorexia

Today, please welcome guest reader, Alyssa, as she shares her story of healing in marriage battling anorexia, and how God and her husband are daily helping her.  No battle is too big for God!

I grew up in a small town in Australia. I loved life in the country, there is something so freeing and satisfying about the open space, the fresh air and creation all around. It brings a peace and happiness to my heart! I was one of four kids to two amazing God centred parents. For as long as I can remember, my mum and Dad taught us about God’s word, what it meant to forgive, serve and love others. Growing up in one of the only Christian families in our small country town presented its challenges though. I was a sensitive child and from the age of 9+ I don’t really remember a time where I didn’t feel pressured or even taken advantage of. Some days I would return from school in tears only to have my mother and father sit beside me, warm me with their hugs and gently tell me to keep on loving and keep on forgiving. So I did.

But not dealing with these emotions properly left me more emotionally scarred then I could ever imagine.

Our family was different, and I knew that… but there was always a part of me, just like everyone I guess, that wanted to be accepted and fit in. By the time I hit high school, I felt an immense amount of pressure to not just be like everyone but also please everyone. I felt very insecure, timid and ugly… Along with this I had a perfectionist personality, was very quick to forgive and show kindness to everyone and therefore was walked all over. Amongst the bullying and identity issues, I was also sexually abused by several different boys/men throughout my teen years. Not only did I neglect to tell people about it, I didn’t deal with it properly, I didn’t understand it and I chose to keep forgiving and loving. When I turned 16, I moved out of home, taking myself to live in Sydney to study music and dance. I wanted to sing more than anything. Those few years in Sydney, although holding some of the greatest memories of my life, also hold some of the darkest. In those three years in Sydney, I studied full time, worked in the office of the performing arts school I attended, and went to a church that left me feeling lonely and left out. I got in a serious relationship with someone who did not want to know God at all, I had very little to no money, and I lost all four of my grandparents, whom I loved very much.

At the end of the year I left that school. I felt lonely, very isolated, overwhelmed. This is where my eating disorder came in.

At the time I didn’t realize what was wrong with me, just that I was slowly losing sight of who I was. It is now eight years later….And those last few years are also a blur. I have been in and out of treatment, private hospitals, have seen countless psychologists and counselors. In 2011, I went into a Christian Rehabilitation centre for Women struggling with addictions. It was the only program that worked for me and for a whole year I was walking free of the illness. It was in that year that my now husband proposed to me. Matt and I dated long distance.

He knew I struggled with an eating disorder, but we spent little time with each other so he was unaware of its deception, struggle and the hold it can have on one’s life.

But he knew I loved God and that despite my illness and current troubles, I persevered to love God and serve Him the best I could. At the end of 2011 I ventured into the Christian Rehabilitation. The program required me being cut off from all things, I went and lived on a farm with a dozen other women. We had no phone, access to internet and we were only allowed to watch TV on weekends for a movie night, or the news in between 4-6pm on weekdays. I communicated to people through letters. I spent my time learning to enjoy life, all of God’s goodness and meditated on His word day and night. This is what I believe healed me. I spent the next year celebrating life, enjoying peoples’ company and being thankful for what our Great God had done and would continue to do in me. I don’t know what went wrong; I have maybe spent too much time thinking about it.

But 2 weeks after we got married in November 2012, I suddenly fell back into old habits.

It wasn’t a gradual fall, it was quick and left us both feeling lost and unable to comprehend it. We had moved to Sydney, left all the people we knew and who supported us, we had very little money and struggled getting jobs. Life had thrown all different things at us, when marriage in itself seemed enough. So what has the last two years been like? Well, as most of you who are reading this would know, an eating disorder is a life threatening, serious, destructive illness. It’s a tyrant, its based on denial and deception. It involves stealing, lying, wasting money, time and life. For those who do not overcome it, unfortunately it results in death.

I am 24 years old, I weigh 37 kgs and am 174cm tall. I have Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa. In my spare time, I live under the control of this terrible illness… I steal money, I steal food, I throw it up. Sometimes a whole day will pass and I will not remember any of it, under the trance of this illness. I have spent hundreds of dollars in days, all on food that no one ever got to see.

When we have arranged to go out and be with people, I end up cancelling, either because I am too anxious about what they are going to think of me or because secretly I have been binge eating on food and cannot go anywhere because I need to throw it up. My husband has continuously forgiven me, time and time again. He has done nothing but love me with unconditional love. He has held me, both in tears and prayed. He has bought me flowers just to see me smile, he gave up an excellent job so that I could be closer to people for support, he has filled rooms full of balloons and filled them with tiny messages to remind me that he is here and isn’t giving up. He deliberately hops into bed before me to warm my side up, as I feel the cold. During a fight, I was still upset going to bed so I resided on the couch, half way through the night I felt someone’s arms pick me up and carry me to bed.

I heard a small whisper, ‘The only time we will ever sleep in separate beds is when we are apart and cannot be in the same bed together.’

He then wrapped his arms around me and held me until I had fallen back asleep. He has put up with the mood swings that come with the illness. Sometimes I say the most terrible, heart breaking and mean things, and he will sit there and simply respond with ‘Alyssa, I love you and I am not going anywhere.’ Matt has been so sacrificial. He has stayed with me through this, when most men in our day and age would probably walk away. He has been a wonderful witness and example of Christ’s love for us. He is a beautiful man. God has been so good to me.

My husband without a doubt is the greatest gift, other than God’s grace, that I have ever been given.

When we moved this year, I decided I didn’t want this illness any longer. I want to be free of it. It has been a hard journey so far, but by God’s grace I am very slowly getting there. We take each day as it comes, and we thank the Lord for the good days and the bad days. We are so grateful and see so many blessings around us and we want to focus on those things. Please keep us in your prayers as I learn to lean, whole-heartedly serve and depend upon God and find my satisfaction, worth and contentment in him. Please keep praying for my husband, Matt, that he will continue to find the strength he needs from God and that he would have wisdom to know how to love me best and look after me best.

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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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.

Rhinestone Jesus: Are We Ready for a Messy Faith?

Rhinestone_JesusPrintables3Do you struggle with figuring out God’s calling on your life? Do you go through your day and wonder, is this really what I’m supposed to be doing? Because it doesn’t feel right. You’re tired. You lose your temper. Life is simply hard.

And if we’re in the middle of God’s will, we’ll feel peace. We’ll have His strength, so we won’t have to battle as hard. It’ll be like we’re in the peaceful part in the middle of the tornado, and the winds and the rain won’t bother us. We know that we’re safe.

Right?

What if I were to say that I don’t believe a word of that, and I don’t think that’s Scriptural at all.

I see no evidence in Scripture that says that once we’re in the middle of God’s will life somehow becomes easy, and we don’t struggle. In fact, I see the opposite. I was speaking at a retreat last weekend and told the story of Elijah, who was completely in the middle of God’s will. He had a big show-down with the priests of Baal, during which God actually rained down fire from heaven (how COOL is that?). And Elijah was vindicated. And what’s the very next thing that happens? The queen decides to have Elijah killed, and he has to flee from his life, in total depression.

Sometimes being in the middle of God’s will is not easy at all.

I think we have misunderstood the nature of the Christian life. We think when we’re Christians life should be beautiful and easy.  And we want people to come to know God, and so we’re told that we’re supposed to show them how attractive our lives are, with great kids, good marriages, good finances, a picture perfect life.

Personally, I think people will be far more attracted to something that is authentic and real and has purpose than something that simply looks good on the outside. That’s safe. That’s predictable. That’s even–shall I say it?–boring.

Jesus did not die so that we could live boring lives.

Jesus died so that we could live BIG lives–lives where we are sold out completely for Him. And personally I worry that I was far more sold out when I was younger and had less to lose than I do know. I think I need a messier faith.

And that’s what Kristen Welch realized. Her new book Rhinestone Jesus releases this week, and she has something very important to say, that we here in North America really need to listen to.

Rhinestone Jesus

Kristen was a stay-at-home mom, wife to a pastor. She’s the blogger at We Are THAT Family. And she had her “Rhinestone Jesus”, where He was all sparkly and faith was lovely and perfect and never messy. And then God took her to Kenya. And her heart was broken. And even though she had a messy life, and she didn’t have a lot of money, and she didn’t know what she could do, she decided to do something. Just something small.

And today the family has a second home in Kenya, paid for by generous readers of her blogs, where she runs a home for pregnant unwed moms (many of whom are victims themselves) and helps them raise their babies. It truly is a beautiful story. And as one who has done the same work as Kristen, albeit in a smaller form and at a different home, I have such a heart for what she’s doing. My own mom is going back to Kenya (for the sixth time!) next year to help young women in similar situations become self-supporting.

But you don’t have to go to Africa. You don’t have to do something “big”. You just have to do SOMETHING. Because when we do something in our mess, it’s amazing how God can work with that mess.

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What if the Rhinestone Jesus was no longer enough for us? What if we stopped trying to live sparkly lives and started trying to live REAL lives–listening to God, doing something small, one step at a time, and giving Him our yes? Even in our mess?

As Kristen says,

God isn’t waiting for you to clean up your mess. He’s just waiting on you to yes in your mess. (click to tweet)

“World changers don’t set out to change the world. They see one need and do what they can to meet it.” And then it multiplies, and you find yourself with a whole new take on life, because the mess doesn’t matter. It’s not about having things perfect. It’s about loving God and loving others.

And that is not easy. When we start saying yes, the mess doesn’t disappear. It just changes. You face opposition. Kristen did–from family, from friends, even from herself. Her kids didn’t always react the way she wanted them to. Her body didn’t like traveling. It wasn’t easy. But you get perspective, you get excitement, you get purpose. You get meaning. And that’s important.

I don’t want to live a Rhinestone Faith, trying to look sparkly. I’m okay with my mess, and as I shared yesterday, I’ve had a lot of mess this year. But if God can use me, even in my mess–if I can find a way to say yes to the small things, rather than trying to be all sparkly, I think that’s how God wants to change the world.

Will you say yes with me?


Cover-copy-smRhinestone Jesus is the spiritual adventure story of one woman who went from living a safe, “good-girl” faith that didn’t cost much, to realizing that God was daring her to say yes to a deeper, more authentic way. This book throws the doors wide open for any woman who has ever thought of herself as “just a mom”.

 

 

Stages of Parenting: Living with the Ebb and Flow of Relationships

Stages of Parenting: Going with the Natural Ebb and Flow of Relationships

The only constant in life is change. Have you heard that before? Just when you think you’ve gotten a handle on life, and you’ve figured out a good routine, and your relationships are on an even keel, something happens to upset that balance. Marriage has different stages. Jobs had different stages. There are even different stages of parenting!

This week I wrote a hard series on my blog: dealing with sexual dysfunction in marriage. So many women write to me torn up with the difficulties they have–difficulties they never thought they would experience. Things were going well, and then–BAM!
I’m glad that series is behind me, because it was hard to write. Yet that attitude–that life throws you a curve ball, and suddenly everything changes–is perhaps the root of the problem.

We expect things to stay the same. We think that SAME is the point of life.

What if it’s not? What if life is supposed to be about change, and adapting to new circumstances? After all, it’s only through change that we grow. And I don’t think God wants us to be all relaxed, with everything all figured out, with our perfect routines and schedules. He wants us to have to rely on Him, and that means that life will be in a constant state of flux. Perhaps if we expected that, and understood it, we wouldn’t interpret regular, everyday things as huge curve balls.

Let’s look at the different stages of parenting to show you what I mean.

Our relationships with our children change over time, and that is a natural thing.

When the kids were first born, they were definitely more mine than my husband’s, in many ways. I fed them. I was with them. He played with them, but not as much as I wanted him to, although he was a great dad.

My youngest even played strange with him (and he was around a lot). She just wanted me, pure and simple. It probably had something to do with that whole nursing thing. Daddy couldn’t do that!

Then they hit one, and could run and laugh and play, and they became Daddy’s Little Girls. They’d go to me if they had a boo boo, but they’d play with Daddy. He was the fun one.

When Katie hit two she decided she preferred me again, and wouldn’t let Daddy tuck her in. That was hard on all of us, but she grew out of that, too, and Daddy became the fun one again. She would wrestle with him, and sneak up on him to see if she could pinch him without him noticing, and things like that. I was still there for the daily things, like getting her dressed, and making her meals, and bathing her, and she always came to me with those types of concerns, but Daddy was her toy.

That isn’t to say he didn’t discipline the girls; just that when they were little, let’s say up to about 10, they preferred him to me when it came to having fun. They preferred me to him when it came to talking things over, but in general they liked him.

When they hit puberty, everything changed. So much of what Keith had done with them was physical: wrestling, hugging, tickling. All of a sudden he had a weird time tickling Becca, and he stopped. It took a few years to renegotiate the “new normal”. And now, as our oldest has a relationship of her own with a guy, Keith has had to learn to deal with someone else holding her hand. It’s quite the adjustment! I’m having a much easier time with it than he is.

Sometimes I get frustrated because I expect him to parent like I do, but I have to remember that first year of their lives, when he didn’t play with them quite as much. He was still trying to figure out where they fit in, and they needed me. I think we’re going through that again. He feels like he’s on the sidelines, because they have all these “girl issues”, and their relationship needs a kickstart. But it will get one; I just have to be patient with all of them.

If you’re wondering why you’re husband doesn’t play with the kids more, ask yourself: could it just be a stage?

Or what if one of your children is preferring you to him right now, and it’s really wearing on you? Again, it could be just a fleeting stage. Katie only played strange for a few weeks. She only made me put her to bed for a little while. And it usually coincided with something big in her life, like she was learning to walk or learning to use the potty. Once these stresses were over she was okay again.

It’s not just men who have ebbs and flows, too.

I have had periods in my parenting when I felt as if I preferred one girl over the other, and it always sent me through heaps of guilt.

But when I look back, I can see that one was going through a difficult transition time, and was naturally more difficult, or moody, or stubborn. And it’s not as if it’s always the same girl, either. Quite often I’ll feel naturally close to one of them for a year or so, and then it will flip. I try not to show favouritism, and it’s not as if I love one more, it’s just that there may be one that I find it easier to be with. As time has gone on, though, I find that it’s more because of developmental stages than it is with them as people. I really do enjoy who they’re becoming.

Looking back on my life I can see years when I’ve had more energy as a parent, and years when I haven’t. I can see years when I’ve been closer to God, and years when I’ve been farther. I think this is natural. Perhaps if we kept that view of life in mind–that it’s rarely a straight line, but more of a series of hills–we’d be easier on ourselves, on our kids, and on our mates. Let’s keep the long term in mind. In the long term, if we’re consistent parents, if we love our kids, and if we nurture them, they’re going to turn out well, most likely. They will be our friends when they are older. They will follow God. But in the short term we may feel like failures with one particular child, or we may resent our spouse because he’s not as involved anymore, or we may feel as if we are doing a bad job.

I think families are more flexible and forgiving than we give them credit for. When your children look back, sure they may remember that one time you totally lost your temper and said something mean. But they’ll also remember all the great times you had, and that will be their primary memory. In the long run, two years that Keith spends renegotiating his relationship with them in these tumultuous years, or several years that I spend trying to get out of a self-imposed wilderness, won’t matter so much. It’s the collection of memories that are important, not each individual one.

So remember those hills and valleys. It’s okay if you’re in a valley; a hill is up ahead. And it will get better. The only constant in life is change, and change is a good thing. So weather those valleys, and keep praying. Another change is up ahead!

Does God Make a Difference Part 1: Our Expectations

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

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

And one thing that occurred to me is this:

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

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

Our Churches Give off the Message that They are Extremely Insecure

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

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

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

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

It’s almost like an incentive.

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

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

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

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

We Assume Teenagers Will Rebel

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

But what she set out to argue was this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Blessings of a Long Marriage

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

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

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

It’s a rich life.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a life well lived.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wifey Wednesday: Disability and Sexuality

Christian Marriage Advice

It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I write a post, and then you all chime in by linking up your own marriage posts to the Linky below!

Today, please welcome guest poster, Alicia Reagan, who shares a touching post about disability and sexuality: her paralysis, how it has impacted her intimacy with her husband and what they are doing to be intentional about it. 

Disability and SexualityYou read about it. You hear about it. You have talked about it. Many are on this blog because of it. Your sex life is a dreaded and frustrated area. You are unhappy and ready to give up on it all together. I get it. I really do.

On March 12, 2009 my life drastically changed. I woke up completely paralyzed. The diagnosis: Transverse Myelitis – a neurological disorder where a virus attacks your spinal cord. My life would now be lived from a wheelchair.

I became disabled shortly after my husband and I had celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. My hubby and I always had different sex drives, but other than a few conversations about my needs/his needs as we adjusted to married life, we really had no majors in our bedroom. Then paralysis came.

There really aren’t the right words to describe the emotional side of something so physically devastating. Woman are sexual beings and we already deal with enough insecurities as it is, but now add a physical problem and it takes a toll on your psyche. Muscles atrophy, your body shape changes, and you have the idea that everyone (including your husband) is looking at you like you are a nursing home resident!

I remember the first time we were going to be together sexually again. My body cannot move and position like it once did, sensations are gone and not what they used to be, spasms take over at the worst times, and nerve pain can rage and completely halt everything. “How are we going to do this?”, he asked. I answered, “I don’t know Honey. We will just have to figure it out.” Little did I know what figuring it out meant.

When a couple is fulfilled in their sex life and they find that intimacy there, that is wonderful. But when a couple is faced with a situation where they still desire certain things, but just cannot physically do what they did before, then it can be a very volatile area in their marriage. When your body quits working, it does not mean that your sexual desires stop. You have to find a way to work through this. This looks different for men and women because we are wired different. In the case of paralysis, we are even different in our physical abilities as a male or female. However, we are the same in the fact that all humans are wired for sexual needs in our relationships so this area must be figured out.

The first year I worried for his emotions so I just endured everything. I dreaded sex because I got nothing but pain….both physically and emotionally. It was hard to watch him enjoy something that I was not enjoying. I fought anger at what I could not do and jealousy towards him that, although our Iives had changed, he seemed more than happy in this area. I stayed silent. I was the perfect little martyr because I did not want to hurt him by telling him how much I did not like this part of our life anymore.

My silence and sacrifice was the wrong move! It made me feel so resentful of him. I would conjure up reasons why he was not being sensitive to my needs and he should be able to read my mind and know how I was hurting sexually. I never told him these things though he could feel it. He stayed very sweet and loving, but I was hurting.

One day, we were having an argument about something unrelated and he mentioned how distant I had become in the bedroom. Not physically, because I was a “good wife” and never told him no. But emotionally, he could tell I was different. It opened a flood gate of venom that spewed out of my mouth about how different and miserable and awful it all was and I just couldn’t deal with this part of paralysis.  By the way, this is not really a talking feature when people ask how you are doing!

Although I regret spewing it all over him in that kind of scenario, it opened a door for us to communicate about this area of our lives. This kind of conversation is hard to have with your spouse, but I have learned it is much harder if you do not have these conversations.

I don’t have the answer for every couple as that is a personal area, but Jimmy and I finally came to the conclusion that what we both were desperate for was intimacy. As a female paraplegic, I was physically able for my husband to have sex with me (although many people thought that we could not and were mourning for Jimmy — that made me mad!), but the lack of connection with my paralyzed body also brought a disconnection with my emotions.

Years 2 & 3 were years of adjustment for us sexually. We realized that in many ways we were like newlyweds again having to discover what works and what doesn’t. Although many things are different (my body, abilities, sensations, self-image, energy, pain levels, spasms), other things have not changed. We could not focus on how things had been, we could only focus on how things were going to be from now on.

Since Jimmy had felt like we were in a good place sexually because his needs were being met, we had to focus on what was frustrating me. Paralysis changes nerve sensations and things that used to feel good can feel horrible, or non-existent. However, there were new things that were to be discovered that never worked before and now brought pleasure. Jimmy had to learn to be sensitive to my emotions as it doesn’t take much to flash you into the past and be upsetting, and he had to learn to listen to what my body was saying to me and he had to follow my directions. We learned to see this time of adjustment as a disability problem, not a relational one.

There are times that I have sex with Jimmy when my body is screaming no. I do it because I love him and I know that he physically needs me at that time. There are times we do not have sex when Jimmy’s body is screaming yes. He does that because he knows that it would pain me too much and he loves me more than himself. This is intimacy.

Jimmy and I are far from perfect in our marriage and in our sex life. However, this imperfection is the exact place where we know this is bigger than us and so we cling to God. We need His help every day to help us be the couple He desires us to be. We are a work in progress and we will still be when we are married 50 years. We love being married to each other and are committed that we are going to keep fighting for what we love.

Statistics show that marriages with disabilities have a very small percentage of making it. Being disabled has added a whole new layer of struggles in our marriage, but we don’t want to be a statistic. We would like to help change that trend and say that all marriages are worth fighting for. If our story helps to encourage other couples to stay committed in their marriages, then it is all worth it.

I get that you may be frustrated in your sex life. Don’t settle. True love can conquer all – even paralysis. If you are going to fight, then fight for that love.

Alicia ReaganI am Alicia Reagan — a Christian, a wife, a mommy and a paraplegic. No that ins’t a disease — it means that I am paralyzed. I use a wheelchair full-time and that keeps my life as a Christian, a wife and a mommy very interesting and exciting. I talk about all of these things at aliciareagan.wordpress.com. I love writing, and my blog is a combination of everything I am, who I am becoming, and what I think about enjoying the ride of life. I hope you will enjoy this journey with me.

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Just enter the URL of the individual post in the linky below! And make sure to link back here, too, so that other people can read all these great marriage posts!

 

 

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Wifey Wednesday: Waking Up

Christian Marriage AdviceIt’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you follow up either by commenting or by writing your own post and then linking up in the comments!  Today, guest author Holly Smith shares about some major groundwork God laid in her marriage.  It all began with a prayer.

I had been praying about it for a couple of months, and God answered in the most unusual, but faithful way. This is what I prayed, “Lord, please wake my Chris up—make him fully engaged in life again–for he is sleep-walking. Wake him up, Father.”

So God did. He sent a friend first of all. The friend offered a challenge and invitation for my Chris to participate in a mission trip to India—to design something, life-giving and life-saving for these people. That spoke Chris’ language. I saw the tears and I saw the awakening gradually begin.

That evening came another type of news from our mortgage company. We were behind in payments and if we did not get things in order, we would be on the road to foreclosure. Now let me say it plainly. Chris did not intentionally let us fall behind. He was not fully aware. But he also was not fully awake. And when we stop watching, guarding and being on the alert, we miss important choices. To fail to choose is to not choose.

He was fully awake that October day! We got back-to-back in the fight. I believe this is key in any marriage issue. We choose to be on the same team. We choose to fight against all forces together. We choose to forgive. We choose to love.

The overflow is that God took this awakening opportunity to raise up not only miraculous help that was beyond our ability, but also He awakened the giant in my husband—the one who fights for family, who is fully alert and who wants other families to not miss one opportunity.

It was a gift in disguise.

Today we are on the last month of paying the missed payments back. By month’s end, we will be fully out of debt, except for a very small mortgage payment. We will also be on the road to saving – for the first time in our marriage of 22 years! We have seen God’s provision and we are making Him known in the way we share our story—the good, the bad and the ugly.

Waking UpChris is now leading a men’s Bible study in our home. He’s sharing our testimony. He has been invited to serve as a deacon at our church. He is leading our family with eyes wide open. No more is he sleeping. He is in God’s Word, prayerful and watchful—our family’s point man. Every step he takes is purposeful and under the Holy Spirit’s leading. He is also watching over our finances in a way unlike he has ever watched before—he has learned and grown so much!

I, too, am fully awake. I have found freedom in forgiveness, in choosing to not say—it’s your fault. But what shall we do together now? For I know this is OUR problem and we shall face it together. “Two are better than one for if one falls down the other can help them up,” the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 4:9.

Most of us live like we have fallen asleep. We try to satiate the aching holes in our soul by feeding on mindless things. I am guilty of this for sure. To relax, I want to watch something that will not make me think–maybe laugh–but thinking is something that I try to turn off. I want to accomplish the things I have to, while doing something I like that somehow entertains me. As a nation, we rely on empty entertainment. Silence is a lost art.

Silence can be a springboard for waking up. For we use noise and entertainment to numb the pains of life. I know. For I have done it myself.

Recently my Chris traveled out of the country for the week with work. During that time, I made myself be silent rather than turning on the TV, radio or calling somebody. In the silences, I found a refuge of strength and healing in my spirit. I would be on the cusp of tears, as I missed my Chris so much. But also, I realized that some of our usual daily habits (staying up too late, falling into a mindless routine) were not happening. Perhaps as a couple–as a family even–we need to mix it up a little. We need to wake up!

For the groundwork we are laying in our families—it is of utmost importance. It may seem trivial now. But one day, we will find it was the means by which God did the most effective and active works we have ever seen. Those works will count throughout the generations—they will be told and re-told. And it all began with a prayer, obedience, watchfulness and silence. It all began with God, who invited us from the start.

About Holly Smith

Holly SmithHolly loves her job as wife to Chris and mom to Noah, Kylie, Tabor and Sydney. God has gifted Holly with a love of all things creative ~ from painting and wall papering to scrap-booking and design work. In addition to co-founding and managing A Martha Heart, she designs web pages (www.crownlaiddowndesigns.com) and marketing pieces. She also participates with a wonderful team of moms in writing at The M.O.M. Initiative. Holly and her family make their home within site of year ’round snow-capped mountains in Colorado. She can be reached by emailing Holly@amarthaheart.com or connect with her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HollyGorinSmith.  Read more from Holly’s heart at:  www.amarthaheart.com

Now, what about you?  Your spouse?  Is it time for doing some waking up in your home, too? Write your own Wifey Wednesday post that links back to here, and then leave the link of THAT POST in the comments. Thanks!

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A Walk Through the Dark with Your Husband: Eva Piper Speaks

Eva-Piper-Book

Today, please welcome our guest author, Eva Piper.  Eva shares her unique perspective as a wife, walking with her husband Don, through very dark, challenging and difficult days, when an accident occurred that would change their lives forever  He shares his story in 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Life and Death.  Eva has written her side of that amazing story in A Walk Through the Dark, which has just been released.

“Do you take this woman/ man to be your lawfully wedded wife/husband?  For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health ‘til death do you part?”

Many young couples have stood in marriage ceremonies across the world and romantically answered “I do.” Fifteen years before Don’s accident we stood at the front of Barksdale Baptist Church with family and friends looking on as we uttered those words “I do”. I must admit that as a young bride I had no idea how my promise would be tested in the years to come. No bride or groom wants to think anything troublesome will come their way. Standing there in front of the altar I was filled with marriage giddiness. I was marrying the most handsome, intelligent, strong Christian man I had ever met. It was a girl’s dream come true.

Shortly after our fifteenth wedding anniversary, I was standing beside a hospital bed looking at a man I could scarcely recognize. His physical appearance had changed after numerous surgeries to piece him back together after being hit head-on by an 18 wheeler which left him encased in metal frames on his left leg and arm in an attempt to repair broken and lost bone. Those were changes I could pass over and still see the man I loved. No, it wasn’t his physical change that disturbed me, it was the change in his personality that was difficult to understand and accept. For weeks following Don’s accident he plunged into a deep depression, one where he wouldn’t speak to me, where the only response I could get was a grunt or single syllable monotone answers. There was no joy, no willingness to get better, no appreciation, nothing. It was like talking to a zombie. As his wife I couldn’t understand why he was not rejoicing in the fact he had survived a horrific wreck followed by medical complications. It didn’t seem like he cared about anything or anyone.

One evening about mid-February I arrived at St. Luke’s Hospital after teaching school. I had a book bag on my arm filled with papers to grade, lesson plans to write, and thank-you notes to send. I stood outside his room for a moment, pasted on my Suzy Sunshine smile, and walked in. As usual I got no response when I entered. The rest of the evening I spent working through the items in my bag and finished before visiting hours were over. Though I typically stayed until the very last minute that evening I decided to head home early. I was exhausted on all levels…physically, emotionally, mentally, and even spiritually. The thought of getting home early, taking a long, hot shower, and then heading to bed sounded like a wonderful escape. I began to gather my things and head toward the door. As I reached for the handle I turned and said, “Guess I’ll head home. See you tomorrow. Love you.” His grunt of response hit me hard. I turned, dropped my book bag, marched over to the foot of his bed and let him have it.

“Why are you acting like this? Aren’t you glad to be alive and here with our kids, with me? Don’t you love me anymore? You are so mean, mean to me , mean to our children, mean to anyone who comes to see you. What’s wrong with you?”

I couldn’t believe I was saying those things but I couldn’t seem to stop myself. All my frustrations came to a boiling point in the moment between the door and the foot of his bed. Seeing my bag on the floor I reached for it ready to storm out the door, that’s when I noticed Don’s face in the large, wall mirror next to his bed. Tears were streaming down his face and his chest was heaving in heavy sobs. Instantly I was at his side, trying my best to put my arms around him, in and through all the metal, saying over and over “It’s Ok, things will be alright, I’m here.We’ll make it through this. Don’t worry. ”

Often I’d put my arms around our children to soothe hurts and pain, now I was doing that for my husband. God took that opportunity to teach me a great lesson.

“God loves us even in all our ugliness. I needed to see Don through God’s eyes.” I stood there holding Don and realized for the first time how hard this was for him. How much pain he was going through and how that had to affect his state of mind. I knew then that we were living through a ‘worse’ time but that God had used it to bond us more tightly together.

It is a blessing I am forever thankful for.

Eva-Piper
Eva Piper
is a speaker and author with a unique insight into the trials of heartache and the triumph of overcoming. The wife of best-selling author Don Piper, Eva was the glue that held her broken husband and her family together. Don’s story, recounted in the New York Times bestseller, 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Life and Death, is Eva’s story too. A teacher of 34 years, she and Don now live in Pasadena, Texas. Visit http://evapiper.com/ to reserve your copy of A Walk Through the Dark today, or order at Amazon!