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.

The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex

Marriage isn't supposed to be blah!


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

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

The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex

Marriage isn't supposed to be blah!


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

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.

IMG_4393

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.

***

268386_Wierenga_WB

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.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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.

Rhinestone_JesusPrintables_5

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).