Top 10 Ways to Be a Merry Mom this Christmas

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

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

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

How to Be a Merry Mom:

1. Simplify.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Begin your day well.

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

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

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

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

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

3. Work on your marriage.

When our marriages are strong, we are happier people.

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

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

4. Count your blessings.

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

We don’t.

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

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

5. Take care of yourself.

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

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

6. Get away from time to time.

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

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

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

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

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

8. Laugh and smile more.

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

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

9. Do something you love.

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

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

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

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

10. Be present.

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

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

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

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

What other tips would you add to this list?

 

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

Enter to win

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

About Lindsey Bell:

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

Her blog: www.lindsey-bell.com

Her website: www.lindseymbell.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/LindseyMBell

Facebook: www.facebook.com/AuthorLindseyBell

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/LindseyMBell01

 


Searching for SanityAbout Searching for Sanity:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life Does Not Get Any Easier After College is Over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And sex didn’t hurt either.

Seriously, sex is a great stress reliever.

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

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

God’s Agenda is Not Always Our Agenda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But What About Money to Support a Spouse?

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

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

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

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

Last Words to the Young Woman:

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

Last Words to the Young Man:

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

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

Last Words to the Parents:

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

You may also like: Top 10 Reasons to Marry Young

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

 

Why Your Marriage Needs Community

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

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



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

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

We are generally nicer when we are around other people

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

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



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

We learn differently .

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

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

Purpose to learn together, not apart.

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

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

It’s easier for friends to call you out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Helping our Daughters Navigate Through a Sexually Aggressive Culture

Today please welcome Sarah Ball, aka The Virtuous Woman Exposed, as she shares about how to help protect and teach our daughters in a sexually aggressive culture.

Sexually Aggressive CultureMy husband was shocked to hear from me that from the age of 13 -19, I had never had a job where I wasn’t sexually harassed by a male boss or coworker.

It was to be expected as a young teenaged waitress, for my boss to ‘brush’ past me, pushing his crotch against me, as I stood collecting food from the back. It was the running joke for him to make a comment about how perky my breasts were, and if he could check out for himself if they were real. It was even more common for old male customers to invite me back to their place, or for a drunken man to try and put a tip down my shirt. I wasn’t a waitress at a strip club if that’s what you’re thinking; I was working at a small town golf course, midday, every Sunday afternoon, and I thought it was normal, so I giggled.

It was not uncommon in high school either, for me to receive sexually implied comments from male teachers, or for another male student to pinch, grab or whistle as I walked down the hall to class.

As a college student, my friends and I had to be extra cautious at parties, making vows to not let any of us go off alone with anyone we didn’t know. This caution was before the date rape drug was mainstream. It still didn’t prevent some young college girls from being raped, or if they drank too much, sexually assaulted while they were passed out, which in my opinion is rape. This was not shocking news to us. It didn’t set off alarms and cause us to storm the campus, because it was normal to us. It was an expected part of college culture in Canada.

I was sexually abused at the age of 12 by a friend of the family, and at the age of 19 I ran out of a room seconds away from being date raped.

I have never not known sexual exploitation, and it’s not my fault.

We think we are so progressive as a culture, and we think we are getting this female exploitation theme beaten, but we are not.  We live in a culture that is so twisted in their thinking. Posts go viral on social media of women of all colors; shapes and sizes posing in their underwear, in the attempts to say all women are sexy and of value. Then, the next viral video is a post blaring outrage that women aren’t being taken seriously by the universities they were raped in. We are a culture of mixed messages, trying desperate to find a solution to our sexually aggressive culture, and failing miserably.

Even Christian culture is making it worse.

We are told to shelter our kids from the world and shove purity messages at them.  So we avoid talking about sex with our daughters, instead we just shelter them from movies and stories that reveal any sexual theme, and we call it a great day in the parenting world.

These approaches will not protect your daughter from a culture that paints its walls with sexuality–walls your daughter is eventually going to live under without you.

What we need is a reality check and a never-ending conversation with our daughter about it.

Ask my teen-aged daughter, who works at a fast food restaurant. She has been raised to stay a virgin until she is married and to avoid watching shows that are above a PG rating. My husband annoys the heck out of her, as he frequently bursts out into song “be careful little eyes what you see.”

I send her back to her room to change several mornings a week, and Modesty is Hotesty is a song on our family playlist (yes, that is actually a song!) Yet, my daughter, at age 15, shows up to work in the most unattractive; button-upped, mustard yellow, starched, stained, short sleeved, burger attire, and she still receives countless offers for sex by creepy customers and comments on her looks. She’s not flirting and she is not dressed immodestly. She is merely being a young woman, with a beautiful smile in a sexually aggressive culture.

So what do I mean by a sexually aggressive culture?  These recent Canadian statistics should share some light. According to The Justice Institute of British Columbia, these statistics will have us hiding our daughters under a rock.

One out of every 17 Canadian women is raped at some point in her life

A woman is sexually assaulted by forced intercourse every 17 minutes in Canada

Girls and young women between the ages of 15-24 are the most likely victims

80% of assaults happen in the victim’s home

70% of rapes are committed by a perpetrator who knows the victims (relative, friend, neighbor, colleague, or other acquaintance)

Approximately one half of all rapes occur on dates

62% of victims are physically injured in the attack; 9% are beaten severely or disfigured

Statistics Canada has found that one in four girls and one in eight boys have been sexually abused by the time they are eighteen.

 Source : www.assultcare.ca

Pause for a sobering moment.

I am not writing this to be a dooms-day prophet, but I am writing this to say, it’s not enough to talk to our daughters about virginity and shelter them from the media. One day our daughters will be university students, professionals, and young mothers, and we need to prepare them for a sexually aggressive culture without shaming sex, scaring them, and making them prudes.

This is one tough topic parents, and we need God’s wisdom to navigate them through it and I am so thankful that we have voices like Sheila’s who are initiating this conversation.

So where do we begin? How do we teach our daughters to love sex, to embrace their sexiness for their husbands, feel no shame, guard their hearts, and protect themselves from assault or harassment?

Let your daughters have an attitude!

I want my daughter to walk around confident, knowing she is carrying a treasure inside of her, proud of who she is and sassy. I want her to spit in the face of a man who tries to exploit her, not giggle shyly in embarrassment like I did.  I want her to be street-wise, knowing she has to be smart, and cautious, because she has a treasure hidden. There are a lot of pirates out there who will sail any sea to get it.

I want her to think boys are cute, and smile and giggle at the one she REALLY thinks is cute, and I want her to experience love. I want her to be able to pick out a good man from a line up of rats. I want her to marry that good man, and be a sexual goddess for him.

I don’t want my daughter to be a man-hater, be mistrusting or paranoid. I want her to respect men in authority, but respect herself more. I recently asked my daughter what she thought of the biblical teaching that husband’s should have authority over their wives. She responded – “I think God meant that he wants husbands to protect their wives, and you can’t have someone protect you if they don’t have authority over you.”  I love her point of view!

This is a big, tall order I am asking God for–and this is not a “sit down” and have ‘the talk’ kind of teaching. This is a lifetime of discussion and relationship we have to continually have with our daughters and our sons!

This is you, Mom, having the courage to reach into the skeletons of your past and share them, at an appropriate age, with your daughter. This is about dads, stepping up to be the 1st example of a GOOD MAN, and setting her bar high. This is about us as parents, allowing our daughters to feel safe enough to talk to us about anything. You don’t overreact, and scramble to find the chastity belt, you talk to her, you love her and you walk with her.

If it’s too late, and your daughter has already fit into the statistics, I want to tell you that I am so sorry. I also want to tell you there is hope.

I stood, face to face with my sexual abuser, under oath, 15 years after I was victimized. My eyes were blurry with tears, my hands shaking in fear. I was in immense pain, but I had a loving husband, waiting in the gallery to console me, treasure me and pour purity back into my heart with his love and respect for me.

 I also have a God who puts his arm around me, drawing a line in the sand with his hand against a culture that wants to stone me.  Hagar, Sarah’s bondwoman, – which you can read more on here – was sexually exploited, the woman who washed Jesus’s feet with her tears who was labeled a slut, and even King David’s daughter was raped by her own brother. This is not a new issue.

God always defended these precious women, pursued them and pursued justice. Jesus came to pour hope, value and purity back into a shamed culture, and we must look to him for healing.

So tonight, before your daughter goes to bed, give her a big hug, tell her how precious she is, show her how to drop kick a pirate and pray for her, a lot.

 

Sarah BallSarah Ball is the blogger behind Virtuous Woman Exposed, a columnist, freelance writer and mother of 5 children ages 4-15 and she’s exhausted just writing that. Her passion is to see women set free from shame, fear and bondage. She wants you to know that you can hold your head up high knowing they you are a precious daughter of God.  You can visit her blog at http://www.virtuouswomanexposed.com and you can follow her on FACEBOOK & TWITTER

 

 

A Little Higher Than the Squirrels

character of humanitySquirrels are nature’s little speedbumps, my daughter likes to say.

This time of year it’s a pretty apt description, with all the plump squirrels scampering to and fro fervently collecting food for the winter. They’re bulking up, so they’re a tad slower when cars rush by.

A few farmers have told me recently that we should be paying closer attention to these hyperactive rodents. They seem to be gathering more than usual, signalling that we’re in for a bad winter. Animals, you see, operate on instinct. They know when it’s time to gather, and when it’s time to sleep, or mate, or fight. It’s all hardwired.

That’s why animals are mostly concerned with the here and now.

Their goal in life—in as much as they’re able to make goals—is to get all their physical needs met. And by and large, they instinctually know how to do that.

People, on the other hand, have to be taught. Then, even when we are taught, we have the capacity to refuse. We can act in ways diametrically opposed to our well-being. We can be stupid. We can be selfish. We can even be noble, something most animals, with the exception of a few dogs, aren’t able to do. That’s what makes us essentially human: we have a choice. And because of that, we have the capacity to actually be good and to choose to do what’s right.

So let’s do a thought experiment. When you sit with your mother who has Alzheimer’s, even when she can’t recognize you, are you closer to a human or a reptile? On the other hand, when you leave your baby with a baby-sitter you hardly know so you can party at the bar, are you closer to a chimp or to Mother Teresa? When you stick with your marriage vows, even during the rocky times, I think you’re being human. When you have an affair because you feel like it, and betray your kids and your spouse in the process, you’re being a lizard, a rhino, or a baboon.

When we decide that our lives are all about our appetites—eating more and better food, getting more and better sex, having more and more fun—are we not becoming mere animals?

There’s nothing wrong with the fun things in life, of course, but if we deliberately ignore our responsibilities, or betray our commitments, in order to get those appetites filled, then the character of humanity isn’t advancing. We’re regressing.

A few centuries ago people had to work hard in order to survive. The rock fences that dot the countryside in my native Ontario hometown are standing monuments to the effort that farmers of old had to put in to clear their fields just to be able to plant. You worked, or you did not eat.

Today we have the freedom to be far lazier and far more self-centred than people did when work was a necessity to life. Our basic needs are much more easily met. And yet that also means that we have the opportunity to be even more human. When we choose to do what is right, to work with integrity, or to honour our commitments, even when we don’t have to, then we grow as people.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure those kinds of decisions are really honoured. Our society celebrates lavish lifestyles and the baser instincts rather than integrity, responsibility, and generosity. Too often we’re just living for the moment and doing what makes us feel good, rather than thinking about our character. In so doing, I think we’re losing what makes us human. We are, after all, a little higher than the squirrels. It’s time we remembered that, before life runs us over.

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.

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Embracing Change in Your Marriage

Facing Change as a Couple

Last week I went out for dinner with some dear friends Derek and Lisa and their two boys. My husband and I and my two daughters have been camping with them every summer for almost 16 years, and our kids are great friends. Derek has a job that keeps him away from home quite a bit, but last week he made a point of being home for dinner on multiple nights. Often his job doesn’t allow him that luxury, but he put his foot down and insisted.

He wanted to be there for Lisa, because last week their oldest son started college in another town, and he knew it would be difficult for her.

But that’s not all. As we headed out to the parking lot to our cars after our meal, he put his arm around her and he said, “Next year Paul will be gone, too, and I’ll be all Lisa has. I want to make sure there’s something left of us so she still wants to be with me.”

He was laughing when he said it, but that’s a serious concern, and Derek’s right. This year brought a big change to their marriage, but next year will bring an explosive one. And so they’re preparing.

I know how they feel, because I’m in the same boat. This is my last year with Katie (meet her here!) at home, and I’m relishing my time with her. But Keith and I are also planning things to do shortly after she leaves so the change won’t be as jarring.

It will be a big change, but marriage is full of change.

Today I’m part of an “Embrace Your Marriage” virtual marriage retreat, where 6 bloggers all talk about an aspect of marriage. And this week we’re tackling this idea of embracing the change that comes in marriage. Last week I did my “typical” thing and talked about sex (I am the Christian sex lady after all), but today we’re tackling change.

Our marriage has seen some major changes.

We started out marriage as students, and then later with Keith as a doctor and me as a SAHM. I transitioned into writing, and we had to find time for me to do that while still homeschooling our girls. But we’ve lived through other changes, too.

Our sex life was just started to get better when I got pregnant. And nauseous. Remember those days?

We were starting to feel like life was going well when our second child was born with a heart defect, and later passed away.

We’ve lived in downtown Toronto and then in a small town. We’ve moved. Keith has switched jobs. We’ve switched churches.

And all of these things has brought stress. Take the most apparently mundane thing there: Moving. We live in a large house, and in a lot of ways it would make sense to move when Katie leaves. But there is no way I’m moving again, because I read a study once that said that moving takes 6 months of productivity out of your life, and I believe it. You have to pack up your house. You have to keep it clean so you can sell it. Then you have to physically move. You have to unpack. You have to get used to where things are in the house now. You have to figure out where you’ll go grocery shopping and where things are. It’s exhausting. And I don’t want to do it again.

Change isn’t nice, and yet change is inevitable.

And if there’s one piece of advice I can give you, it’s this:

Hold on to everything on earth lightly, but hold on to God tightly. (click to tweet!)

Hold on to everything on earth lightly, and to God tightly. -- Sheila Wray Gregoire

I know it sounds like I should be saying hold on to your husband tightly, and I do believe that, too. But I think the most important part of navigating change is actually navigating our own attitude. And often the reason we don’t like change is because we begin to get too comfortable in the life we have, and then we resent it when we have to give it up. Or perhaps we get this picture of what life “should” be, and when life changes, we get resentful at those around us who caused the change.

But this life is not meant to be your real life; your real life is with God, and this is only temporary. When we keep our focus on God, then we’re better able to navigate change.

Here are just a few other principles to help:

1. Keep a Friendship with Your Husband

No matter where you are in life right now–whether you’re pregnant, or working opposite shifts, or getting out of bankruptcy, or preparing for a move, keep spending time with your husband, like my friend Derek did. Often people justify not spending time, saying, “this is just a phase, and it will pass, and so right now I have to throw myself into my work/kids/church.” There may be a time for that (I remember an email I received from a woman who was spending six months across the country away from her husband, because her son was sick and needed treatment at a specific hospital, and she was going with him. In that case, there was little they could do except for Skyping a lot.

But in general, do not say, “this is just a phase, so we’ll spend time together later.” You don’t know what other changes will come. Always keep your marriage as your first earthly priority.

2. Recognize that Change is Stressful–Even if it’s Good Change

We humans crave routine. We want to know what’s coming, so that we don’t have to expend so much emotional energy figuring out what we’re going to do everyday. So change–even if it’s good change–is stressful.

In those periods of “good” stress, like having a new baby, a new job, or a new house, cling to each other even more.

3. Change Together

I am not the same woman who walked down the aisle, and Keith is not the same man who was waiting for me. After two decades of marriage we have changed. And that’s inevitable.

So make sure that when you change, you change together, and the easiest way to manage this is to do things together and keep talking. I have talked to so many women who married young, who then say, “I matured after we married, and he never did mature.” Well, I matured after we married, too, but my husband matured with me because we stayed side by side in everything. It is possible to change together–but you have to be together to change together. So keep communicating!

We’ll talk more in this Virtual Retreat on the next few Mondays about how to do that. But for now, why not read the posts by the other great bloggers at the Embrace Your Marriage retreat, talking about how they Embrace Change.

And here’s your challenge this week:

Consider some of the ways that your marriage has changed over time. Start counting the blessings that these changes have brought. Write them down.

Embrace Your Marriage Virtual Marriage Retreat

Courtney: Women Living Well
Ashleigh: Ashleigh Slater
Darlene: The Time Warp Wife
Lisa: Club 31 Women
Jennifer: Unveiled Wife

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The Least of These

My story of how we were pressured to abort our son, but chose not to. And how his short life mattered anyway.Yesterday would have been my son Christopher’s 18th birthday. Or rather, it was his birthday, but he celebrated in heaven. I wonder if he’s all grown up now?

One of the things that I wonder about is what I would have called him. I call my daughters by the short forms of their names–Rebecca is Becca, Kathryn is Katie. Would Christopher have been Chris? I never had time to find out. I guess that’s still to come.

It really was Christopher’s short life and death that started me writing. My first few articles I wrote were all about grief and going through hard times, and one of my first books was How Big Is Your Umbrella: Weathering the Storms of Life, where I share some of the things I learned about yelling at God–and what God whispers back. I’ve written a second edition to that book now.

The very first thing I ever had published, though, is still one of my favourites, and I thought it fitting to run it today. I couldn’t run it on his birthday since it was a Wednesday, and I always do marriage posts then. But here it is. It was first in print in the magazine Celebrate Life back in 1999.


The cardiologist walked into the room, glanced at my chart and asked, “So you didn’t get an abortion?”. As I was 34 weeks pregnant, it seemed an unnecessary question.

For one agonizing night we actually considered it. Twenty-two weeks into my second pregnancy we learned the boy I was carrying had Down Syndrome and a serious heart defect. Though my husband and I detested the idea of abortion, we wondered if we were cruel to let him live. On April 17, 1996 we sat in our living room, numb with shock. “What if sparing him suffering is the only thing we can do for him?” Keith asked our minister, Duke Vipperman, who had come by to talk to us.

“You sound as if you believe it is you who are causing his suffering,” Duke replied. Then he explained that we do not cause suffering, it just happens. Those closest to God, who are most at peace, are often those who have suffered the most. “If you try to ease his suffering by denying him life,” Duke told us, “you are in essence saying you can do God’s job better than God.”

For Keith this settled the issue. He had never wanted to abort, but as a physician he wanted to “fix the problem”–to make sure he was doing all he could for our baby.

I knew I could never go through with an abortion, but it was not just because of my moral objections. I had felt him kick. Even though he was small, I sensed him fluttering at only 14 weeks, and he just kept growing more active. I could never abort him. I loved him. He was my son.

Christopher arrived eleven days early on August 6, 1996. Suddenly he was no longer a medical problem but a tiny bundle who breathed a little too fast, and who stared into my eyes with recognition and, I think, love.

His first two weeks were peaceful ones, as he was healthier than we expected, and we learned all the facets of his personality. He enjoyed being cradled and listening to singing, but would kick and scream in indignation if he lost his soother. When our 1 ½ year old daughter Rebecca visited him, she would lean over the bassinet, pat his blond fuzzy head and say, “My baby?” I would nod, and promise that we would take him home soon.

But we couldn’t. As his heart began to fail Christopher grew increasingly tired and lost weight instead of gaining it. He was transferred to Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children to await surgery.

During the evening, as I sat alone with him in his room, I would hold him and whisper, “Do you know how much Mommy loves you?”. Babies, so tiny and helpless, inspire a purer love than most. It is an unselfish love, since babies–and especially those who are sick–cannot promise anything in return. I am a goal oriented person, yet with Christopher, I learned to sit and just “be”. I had no choice. And in the quiet, I sensed God whispering His own unconditional love to me, too. “Thank you, God,” I whispered, “for the chance to know this precious boy.”

Usually his room was bustling with visiting friends, relatives, and Keith’s colleagues. We even held a dedication service there. The event was somber, for though we were celebrating his life, we all could see how tiny he was for the battle that lay ahead. The doctors gave Christopher a 25% chance of post-operative survival, for he was only 4 ½ pounds.

On the morning of his surgery I was terrified I wouldn’t hold him again. “I want so much more for you, honey,” I said. “But I am glad to have the chance to love you. No matter what happens, I will see you again.”

For five days he recovered well, and the doctors grew optimistic about his chances. But on September 3 Christopher’s breathing again grew rapid. That night my mother watched Rebecca, and Keith and I visited him together. “Mommy loves you, sweetheart”, I whispered as we left his room. It was 9:30 p.m.

He was only 29 days old when he died later that night.

The number of people at the funeral amazed us. Along with family and friends, many from the hospital attended, too. We asked Duke to talk about the importance of Christopher’s life, as we felt so many had discounted him because of his disabilities. “We must not look down on little children, for they are our model of God’s kingdom,” Duke preached. Jesus Himself chooses to identify with them, for whoever welcomes them, welcomes Him (Matthew 18:5). “Christopher was what we are to be: a little one, utterly dependent on God, struggling against apathy and everything that would deny us the sweetness of life.”

The two years since his death have been full ones. I have shed many tears, but I also smile now when I remember him. We have a new baby girl, and Keith is establishing his own pediatric practice. I often think about how different life would be had I aborted him. I would have no memories and no peace. And how do you talk about your pain? People understand my pain when I say I had a baby who died. Would they understand if I had aborted a baby at 4 ½ months? I can visit him at his grave. But most of all, I can look my girls in the eyes and tell them with conviction that I love them unconditionally. And they believe me, for I loved him.

How Big Is Your Umbrella: Weathering the Storms of Life, Second EditionMany may think his was a wasted life. He never came home from the hospital, he never smiled, and he was rarely even awake. But they didn’t watch the faces of his grandparents when they held him, the nurses as they watched us, or the people we have comforted since. They do not know how Christopher changed us. And so they cannot see that his life is much more than those 29 days. Recently Rebecca told me not to be sad, because Christopher is in heaven, and he is happy now. I think she is right. And one day we will meet him again, and the blessing that was his life will be complete.

My book, How Big Is Your Umbrella: Weathering the Storms of Life, deals more fully with this story. Find out more here.

You can also watch a DVD series that deals with the pain in our lives here.

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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