Wifey Wednesday: Don’t Be the Christmas Doormat!

It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! And today Sarah Ball, aka The Virtuous Woman Exposed, joins us talking about how you can be a non-stressed wife this Christmas–by not being a Christmas martyr!

be a non-stressed wife this christmas

Dad is sitting peacefully with his pipe by the fire, the kids are playing joyfully with their new toys, the in-laws have that 1,000 pieced puzzle mastered, and Aunt Sally and Uncle Joe dance arm in arm to “I’ll be home for Christmas.”

But wait, where’s mom?

Oh, right. She’s hyperventilating in the walk-in pantry.

“It’s just the onions,” she says with a forced smile. Come on, we all know it’s not just the onions. It’s a layer of exhaustion, trying to please everyone, a failed soufflé (do women still make these?) a critical comment from the Mother-in-law, an eye roll over paper plates from the Aunt, oh…and the one gift she received under the tree.

One hand-made candleholder made with love and painted macaroni.

She loves seeing her family happy, and nothing beats watching her children open gifts, and she knows the true meaning of Christmas. Yet she can’t help but feel a little empty; so she distracts herself with giving and serving, while telling herself she ‘is being stupid and needs to suck it up.’ She takes the freshly made bacon wrapped scallops out of the oven, waves her eyes clear of tears, inhales deeply, and joins the party. “Hungry?” She sings. They all run to the platter of savory and leave her none.

Does this sound like you? The Christmas Door Mat or The Maid of Merry Men?

How not to be a Christmas martyr in your family--and find peace once again!

If so, I am here to release you from the hard bondage in which you have been forced to serve. With a loving lecture!

STOP IT!

What if I were to tell you that the reason Jesus was born, (the reason we celebrate Christmas) was so that we could rest and receive abundant blessing? Not strain ourselves to the point of tears.

Jesus knew that women have a tendency to strive to earn favor with man and Christ. Which is why God strategically left this story of Mary and Martha, in the bible….

 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”

 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10: 38-41

His peace and presence is available to all, but it is up to us Martha’s to put down our apron and just be present enough to enjoy the gift of the moment.

It is perfectly acceptable to expect blessing for yourself on Christmas. It’s not selfish and it’s not sacrilegious. No one ever called you to be a Christmas Martyr. In fact when you take it upon yourself to please everyone, you are actually taking away their opportunities to be a blessing. It feels good to give. Why not let your family experience that too.

We as moms need to help our children and husband bless us. I know that this sounds selfish, and I know that the giver in you is cringing. I realize Christmas isn’t just about gifts, but gifts are a legitimate godly way of showing care for one another.

 

I drive my children, including my teenaged son, to shop for their dad and me. I drop them off at my favorite store and tell them what I don’t want.

Last year, my teenaged boy was absolutely mortified when I dropped him off at a girly accessories store. I walked him into the store and introduced him to the cashier. “My son is shopping for me, these are the things I like, and can you help him?” I asked. She looked as awkward as he did. It was a match made in retail!

“I’ll be in the car,” I said, as I walked out the door. My son, his poor face turned Rudolph red. But that face turned into a very proud grin when I opened a great pair of gloves and scarf on Christmas morning.

I just scored points with his future wife. ‘Not afraid to shop at girly stores to buy his wife great gifts.’ CHECK!

Some husbands may need the same encouragement.

My husband loves to make me happy, and to be honest he deserves more gifts around the tree this year than I do, and he spoils me. So dropping him off at the local frilly shop will be in vain. What I can give him, that in turn blesses me, is an unstressed, joyful version of me. He’s not looking for a perfected Christmas Décor, or an overstuffed brined turkey. He is looking for moments with me, moments when he has my full, happy and content, attention.

This year I have given up the family photo, the Christmas letter and even the Christmas cards. I’m going to express my needs and ask for help. I am going to serve child decorated cookies, that look like reindeer vomit and I’m going to stick to mashed potatoes, turkey and pie. Martha Stewart, you’re fired!

What can you do for yourself this Christmas?

 

Sarah BallSarah Ball is a blogger, speaker, and mother of 5 children. She is currently working on a series called Fearless in 21 days, helping men and women break free from crippling anxiety and panic. You can follow her blog at Virtuous Woman Exposed.

Sarah says, “Head on over to my Virtuous Woman Exposed Facebook Page so we can be friends! You can also find me on Pinterest and Twitter.

WifeyWednesday175Have any Christmas marriage thoughts for us? Link up the URL of one of your marriage posts in our Wifey Wednesday Linkup below! And be sure to link back here so other people can read these great posts.



Go to Your Room! Why Kids Should Hang Out in the Living Room Instead

For my column today I thought I’d rerun a Christmas column from a few years ago where I talked about computers in kids’ rooms. It goes along well with our discussion yesterday about protecting kids with all the new gadgets at Christmas!

Computers in Kids Rooms
Disciplining children is a minefield for parents today. You’re not supposed to spank. You’re not supposed to yell. So when a 13-year-old child is tormenting his 9-year-old brother, parents utter the greatest threat that’s still acceptable: “Go to your room!”

Yeah, that’ll teach him.

Here’s a kid who obviously does not want to be with the family, and, in punishment, you send him to a place where, according to the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, 50% have their own television, and another 25% have a computer. “Go to your room!” is no longer sentencing a child to hours of boredom; it’s sending a child to a place where they have access to the outside world, with no parental interference, and often no parental guidance.

Traditionally, the living room was for living; the bedroom was for sleeping. Being banished to the bedroom was harsh indeed. Today, many children prefer to cocoon in their rooms, which they’re trying to turn into entertainment central. It’s not unusual for most kids’ Christmas lists to have “electronics” highlighted right at the top. The Santa in you may be tempted to oblige. The Scrooge in me is asking you to reconsider.

After all, what happens when kids have a television in their bedroom? According to a University of Haifa study, middle schoolers with TVs in their room sleep thirty minutes less a night, on average, than children without a television. The Canadian Pediatric Society calls televisions in bedrooms one of the biggest factors in childhood obesity. These children also score lower on reading and math tests. And perhaps most importantly, they’re twice as likely to start smoking and get involved in other delinquent activities, even controlling for all other factors.

While the health and educational detriments of television are important, it’s that last one that concerns me most.

When kids have televisions and computers in their room, they are more likely to make lifestyle and moral choices that parents don’t approve of because their lives have now become more and more independent.

Kids with TVs in their rooms live in their rooms, not in the kitchen or the family room, where they can hang out with their parents. And perhaps just as importantly, they tend to live solitary lives, not lives with their siblings. If you’ve ever wondered why kids squabble so much, perhaps it’s because they aren’t forced to play together or cure boredom together. Instead, they just retreat to their rooms to be entertained on their own.

I really can’t think of anything much more destructive in a family than encouraging your child to cocoon. Kids need input from parents. They need conversation. They need meal times. They need to have fun! But we’re letting them grow up by themselves, in their wonderfully decorated rooms with every little gadget. It’s wrong.

If your lives consist mostly of gathering the children for the practical functions of life, like putting food on their plates or collecting homework or ascertaining everybody’s schedules, and then you separate during your leisure times, I doubt real conversation or sharing will happen.

If your children hang out in their own rooms, rather than in the family room with siblings, I doubt great friendships will develop.

Before you shop this Christmas, then, ask yourself: what values do you want your children to have? Do electronics in their bedrooms contribute to your vision? Probably not. So maybe the Santa in you should invest in board games for the whole family or comfortable furniture for the living room, rather than for bedrooms. Your kids may think you’ve turned into Scrooge, but they’ll be better people for it.

If your kids have gadgets, computers, or phones in their room, make sure you’ve taken steps to protect them online!

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!

 

My 3 Gifts of Christmas

Yesterday, I mentioned my 3 Gifts of Christmas, so I thought I would re-run it, in case you missed it previously. This column is a special one to me. For the last few years I’ve mentioned our method of gift giving, and inevitably people come up to me on the street, months later, telling me how much they appreciated it. Perhaps it will be something that will bless you, as well!

My Three Gifts of ChristmasApparently I buy really lousy Christmas presents. I had always mildly suspected my shortcomings, but recently economist Joel Waldfogel confirmed them. In his book Scroogenomics, he showed rather indisputably that if you ask Christmas gift recipients to assign a value to the gifts they receive, they inevitably quote a number less than the actual cost, leading to a waste of $963 million a year in Canada. And the gifts that are valued the least? Those from aunts, uncles, and grandparents, who apparently only get 75 cents of perceived value for every dollar spent.

I do have trouble buying for the nieces and nephews and various other younger people in my life. I don’t always share the same interests, and being the incorrigible aunt that I am, I refuse to pander to hobbies that don’t suit me. Instead, like many millions of aunts and grandparents and in-laws all over this nation, I buy something lousy instead. My preference is always books. Unfortunately, most younger Canadians don’t share my passion, and thus they consider these types of gifts with about the same amount of affection that I consider most X-box games. And thus we reach the gift-giving impasse.

One of my nephews announced rather brazenly that this year he’d rather just have cash. Doling out money, though, seems so crass. If gift giving is going to degenerate into passing along cash and gift cards, then Christmas becomes a season of greed, rather than a time to express our love.

Nevertheless, Waldfogel’s news isn’t all bad. We actually do quite well on certain gifts. The closer we are to people, the better the gift giving becomes. Siblings value gifts at about 99% of their value, and spouses do even better, at about $1.02. I’m pretty sure my children tend to like their gifts from me, as well.

Even if I buy my girls good gifts, though, is that really the point of the season? According to most of the seasonal flyers that pass through our mail slots it certainly is. Shoppers’ Drug Mart, for instance, in their 36 page “Gifts Made Easy” flyer managed to talk about the “Top 10 Gifts They’ll Love” (though I’m sure my nieces and nephews wouldn’t like those either), and lots of things to “Rock your Holiday”, or go “Twinkle Twinkle”, while only mentioning the Christmas word three times.

If Christmas is only about gifts, then we are in trouble.

It has become a big waste, whether we’re successful gift givers or not, because all we’re doing is breeding greed. I know it’s difficult when children are young and they desperately want the latest toy, but parenting is about identifying teaching opportunities, and I think this is one of them. Life is not about accumulating stuff with as little work as possible; life needs to be about giving, about making a difference, about family, and values, and faith, and love, or life becomes very empty indeed.

That’s why several years ago we started a new gift giving tradition with my children.

We call it the “Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh” ritual, where they each get three gifts, and nothing more. The gold gift is something they want. The frankincense gift is something they need, like socks. And the myrrh gift is something to nurture their souls. It could be a journal, or a book, or a CD, or a movie. It’s something that reminds them of their purpose here on earth, or encourages them to think, to write, and to pray about what’s important. It’s always the biggest challenge to find such a thing, but it’s a challenge I’m up for, since it reminds us of the reason for the season. And I’m pretty sure, despite what the flyers might say, that reason should not be greed. Pass it on.

Need to come up with ideas for “myrrh” gifts–Christmas gifts to nurture the soul? I’ve got a whole bunch, divided by age and gender, right here!

The Lulu Tree, Christmas Giving, and How One Blogger Made a Difference

Today lean in close, as author Emily T. Wierenga shares a story about The Lulu Tree, which will mark and change your life.  Engage her story and respond. It may change countless lives.

I never planned to start a non-profit.

But then again, I didn’t plan to fall in love, either.

It happened on a bloggers’ trip to Uganda this past winter. I fell in love with a third world country. I fell in love with an ebony people, with the red dirt roads and the lush green of banana trees, with barefoot mamas bearing babies on their backs and yellow water jugs on their heads, with daughters balancing more water behind them. I fell in love with the cows lying in the middle of intersections, with the chickens and the dogs and the smell of plantain and a world that lived outside—because there was nothing inside except dirt floors covered in thin mattresses or burlap sacks for sleeping. They cooked, swept, washed dishes and did the laundry together, as a community.

They had nothing to hide.

How Your Christmas Shopping Can Save a Ugandan Mother-- The Lulu Tree

We took a charter plane to Gulu to meet former child soldiers who were picking up the pieces of their ravaged past and becoming seamstresses and mechanics, and I couldn’t stop hugging them, trying somehow to relieve the horrors of the past.

We flew back to Kampala and visited the slum of Katwe. Alleys full of garbage and children with bare, distended bellies and I walked down those alleys, shook the hands of mothers bent over dirty buckets of water, mothers whose eyes held a thousand sleepless nights.

I bent low and picked up as many tiny children as possible, kissed their thin cheeks and felt the emptiness of their future.

The Lulu Tree

We traveled by van to a nearby village, then, to a children’s home, where I met my sponsor child.

And I met his mother.

She’d walked for four hours just to meet me.

Her soles were red from Uganda’s earth and she didn’t break a sweat in the high heat. Her eyes shone but she lowered them, looked at her sandals, even as I reached out a hand to touch her shoulder, and I could feel the strength in this peasant farmer’s arm.

She’d lost her husband just weeks earlier to HIV/Aids, an illness people still talk about in hushed tones because of the shame associated with it.

She’d lost her children long before that to this home I was visiting—because she had a sick husband to care for and a farm that wasn’t bringing in money and no way to feed her sons or daughters.

Uganda - The Lulu Tree

And here I was, able to pay for her kids’ clothes and education while she wasn’t. And not because I worked harder. No, she worked sun-up to sundown and had callouses across her hands and feet. No, it was because I came from a first class country overflowing with food and privilege while the rest of the world is forced to feed from our trash cans.

I smiled at her, but I felt sick.

I am a mother. Every night I walk into my boys’ room and ache for them lying there in their beds, because I cannot eliminate the pain they will encounter in life. I cannot imagine how humbling, or humiliating, it would be, to have to ask someone else to take care of my children. To not be able to give them food or water, to not be able to keep them under your own roof-and THEN, to walk four hours to meet the woman who can?

This woman (me) who flies over in her airplane with her suitcase full of clothes and her bag full of lipstick and her wallet full of money, and says it’s all in the name of Jesus—a God this farmer worships more reverently each day than I ever have in my life?

Our Father weeps. He anguishes over every single mother—because there are hundreds of thousands of them across Africa in the same situation—who has to lose her child, who cannot take care of her children.

And friends? He’s asking us to do something about it.

Do Something About the Lulu Tree

Sponsoring a child is good, don’t get me wrong. I sponsor as many children as I am able.

But standing there with this beautiful woman in her brown hat and her downcast gaze, her son’s eyes shining as he looked at me, I thought, No. Enough. There has to be more.

I want this son to look at his MOTHER with adoration, not me—a stranger.

I want him to look at HER to provide his needs, not me—an outsider who didn’t birth him without an epidural, who didn’t weep and pray over him every night of his childhood, who didn’t spend every minute of every day trying to earn enough money to buy him a bowl of Matoke (cooked banana) so he wouldn’t starve to death.

Upon returning home to Canada, I spent months falling on my knees after my family went to bed. I would bow low on the carpet in front of the wood stove and cry.

I kept seeing those HIV-positive babies lying in the dirt crying for mothers who won’t come because they’re dead. Those teenage boys sniffing glue to numb their hunger pains. Those grandmothers working 20-hour days to find enough food for their dead daughter’s children who lay on the ground while chickens defecate around them.

I didn’t start a non-profit to help mothers in the slum of Katwe because I felt guilty. I just knew that my life could not be the same, because once God opens your eyes to people’s suffering, you become responsible. I could no longer pretend I hadn’t seen. I could no longer pretend everyone in the world lived as I did. I knew better. And it had wrecked me.

Our vision at The Lulu Tree is to work with widowed, HIV mothers in the slum of Katwe, Uganda (the worst of Kampala’s eight slums), equipping them to be care for their kids. Our slogan is Preventing tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s mothers.

Lofty, I know. But you have to dream big, right? Shoot for the moon and you’ll land somewhere among the stars?

So we’re shooting for the moon.

Uganda Mother The Lulu TreeYet it’s taken reading countless books like When Helping Hurts, The Blue Sweater, and The Hole in Our Gospel; it’s taken talking to numerous other non-profit organizations and thinking I had a plan and then realizing my plan was wrong; it’s taken trying to do things on my own and then realizing I needed to hire nationals who had a heart for their people, who lived there, who understood things like not giving the mamas too much sponsorship money or it would steal their instinct to survive—it’s taken all of this to realize, again, that it’s not about me doing something for them. It’s about us working with each other, for God. It’s about us doing laundry, and life, together—outside, under the sun, in view of everyone else, because we’ve got nothing to hide.

I’m no one special, friends. I just have a heart, as do you. If we allow God to use our hearts—if we allow His love to define us, to shape us, and to overflow through us—He can change the world.

preventing tomorrows orphans The LuluTree

(Will you consider partnering with us today friends? The Lulu Tree is a fledgling organization which survives off the generosity of people like you. We carry some beautiful products, made by local mamas, in our Lulu Tree Boutique. One hundred percent of the profits from these products go towards the women we’re helping in Katwe, Uganda. Quilts, baby boots, knitted toques, accessories, dolls, and more—they make for trendy Christmas gifts that carry a purpose. Visit HERE to peruse our shop—and note, FREE shipping with every purchase! You can also sponsor a mama, HERE. If you’d like to partner with us in another way, we’d love to hear from you. Just contact us using our website, and we’ll be sure to connect with you as soon as possible. Bless you, sisters, as you wrap your arms around a hurting world.)

 

*Photos by Allyn Lyttle of the World Help Organization

Emily T. WierengaAtlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to LookEmily T. Wierenga is an award-winning journalist, blogger, commissioned artist and columnist, and the author of five books including the memoir Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look (Baker Books). All proceeds from Atlas Girl benefit Emily’s non-profit, The Lulu Tree. She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and two sons. For more info, please visit www.emilywierenga.com. Find her on Twitter or Facebook.

 

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.

Top 10 Ways to Show Your Husband He’s Important After the Baby Comes

How to show your husband he's important after the baby comes!

How do you show your husband he’s important when you have a new baby and you’re exhausted?

A reader asks this question:

I’m wondering what there is that I can do to make sure my husband feels looked after in the time after a baby arrives. We just welcomed our first 16 days ago and I feel bad for my husband because taking care of the baby takes so much time I feel like I have no time to take care of his needs too. Do you have any advice? I know it’s very soon after baby but I want to make sure my husband knows he’s still a priority despite how much the baby needs.

That is a challenge, isn’t it? I’d say carve out “us time” when the baby goes in the swing for half an hour, but my youngest was colicky and that wouldn’t even have been an option. So I asked Arlene Pellicane, author of Growing Up Social and 31 Days to a Happy Husband, to share her best tips for letting your husband know he still matters to you.

When our first baby came into the world ten years ago, he was like little Simba being presented in the Lion King.  That exalted, tiny 7-pound lump was about to cause some serious changes to the kingdom of our home.  When baby makes three, it’s extremely helpful to realize that baby is prince (or princess) but daddy is still king.

If you’re not intentional about it, your husband can become like wallpaper in your home, quietly existing while all your attention goes to your sweet baby.

Here are the TOP TEN ways to make your husband feel special after baby:

Keep gazing into his eyes. 

The picture of a mom gazing into her baby’s eyes is powerful and iconic.  Deep bonding happens through this eye contact.  Make sure you spend time gazing into your husband’s eyes too.  You don’t have to stare at him for hours, but whenever you have the chance, savor each opportunity to look into his eyes.  By the way, this includes putting your phone down more often and looking him in the eyes when talking.
Top Ten

Oxytocin is for him too. 

Oxytocin is the bonding hormone – if you’re breast feeding, oxytocin is produced so you feel close to your baby.  When you kiss or hug your baby, your oxytocin level goes up and you like your baby more.  Guess what?  Oxytocin is necessary for you and your husband too!  Don’t forget to kiss, hug, and make love (once you’re physically able to again) to your man.  It will make you like him more and vice versa.

Kiss everyday for 5 seconds. 

In my book, 31 Days to a Happy Husband, I interviewed sex therapists Dr. Cliff and Joyce Penner who suggested a daily 5 – 30 second kiss.  Since you have a baby, I’m making the assignment easier:  5 seconds will do!  Let your husband know that this daily kiss is not the “GO!” signal.  It’s just a way that you want to stay close and keep the pilot light lit between you.  These 5 seconds will speak volumes to your husband.  Just 5 seconds will let him know you still find him desirable and you care about him.

Bring on the babysitter.

Whether it’s a grandparent or a trusted teenager, hire a babysitter so you can go out.  Sometimes mothers are afraid to leave their precious baby, but trust me on this one.  As long as your baby is being watched responsibly, your baby will not remember that you went on a 3-hour date when he or she was 6 months old.  (But your husband will).

Skip the donut.

I had three babies and two miscarriages in my 30s.  My weight went up of course with each pregnancy, and it meant a lot to my husband when he saw me trying to lose that baby weight.  Men are wired to be visually stimulated so don’t be mad at your husband if he would love to see your “before pregnancy” body back.  Obviously your body changes through the years.  But when you skip the donut and grab the apple instead, it communicates you are doing your best to by physically healthy which means a lot to your husband.

Plan for sex. 

Exhausted and sleep deprived, you may not want to have spontaneous sex for a very long time!  But when your body is able, plan for romance and put it on the calendar.  Dr. David Clarke says parents who don’t schedule their sex, don’t have sex.  I agree!  You’ve got to make room in your calendar for what’s most important to your marriage and lovemaking falls into that category.

When baby naps, you nap.

It’s hard to be a caring wife, let alone an amorous one, when you are so sleepy and tired.  When your baby takes a nap, leave the laundry alone.  Fall off the planet with social media.  Don’t watch TV.  Take a nap instead.  The more you can snatch pockets of time to catch up on your zzz’s, the nicer you will be to your husband and everyone else.

Connect with other positive moms.

You need time with adults who are not burping, drooling, or needing to be changed.  This way you’re not expecting your husband to meet every conversational need in your life.   Join MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) or other mom group that will connect you to positive moms.  Or you can have a weekly playdate with a friend who has a child similar in age.  Just make sure that the moms you hang out with are positive.  Avoid moms who constantly complain about their spouses and their kids.  Complaining is contagious and that’s a virus you don’t want to catch.

Pray for your spouse.

My friend Sharon Jaynes has a wonderful book, Praying for Your Husband from Head to Toe.  It’s easy to use, giving you Scriptures to pray over your man to protect and bless him.  As you bring your husband to God in prayer, he will feel your prayers and love.  And your heart will turn towards your husband.  When you’re praying for your husband, it’s hard to be irritated or callous toward him.

Respect his opinion.

Yes, you may know more about how the baby should be burped and when she was last changed, but when your husband has something to say about parenting, listen to him.  Continue to show him respect in your marriage, especially in this new role of child rearing.  So many men feel inept as fathers because their wives make them feel foolish.  Instead view parenting as a team sport, where both husband and wife have something valuable to offer.

Okay…which way are you going to practice today to make your hubby feel special?  After all, it’s awfully hard to compete with a 7-pound lump of cuteness and perfection! 

family website

Arlene Pellicane31 Days to a Happy Husband: What a Man Needs Most from His WifeArlene Pellicane is a speaker and author of Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World (co-authored with Gary Chapman), 31 Days to a Happy Husband, and 31 Days to Becoming a Happy Wife.

Arlene has been featured on the Today Show, Fox & Friends, Focus on the Family, Family Life Today, The Better Show, The 700 Club, Turning Point with Dr. David Jeremiah, and TLC’s Home Made Simple.

She and her husband James live in San Diego with their three children.  You can learn more about her ministry at www.ArlenePellicane.com

How to Really Make a Difference

A few years ago I was absolutely obsessed with politics. I read the news voraciously, I devoured blogs, and I complained nonstop about the country’s direction and the political system.

There was just one problem. I wasn’t actually changing anything. I could see what needed changing, but I was putting all sorts of emotional energy into worrying about something that I couldn’t actually do much about.

I came to the conclusion that the world wasn’t going to get better until people understood that family mattered and that morals mattered. We needed to take responsibility for ourselves and act right. Reading the news constantly reinforced my views and made me sure I was right (which is a very heady and great feeling–to be right), but it didn’t do anything about the essential problem–that people were ignoring their families.

And so after one election I quit cold turkey. I decided no more blogs, no more news, I would just write this blog. By writing this blog I might be able to actually help a family or two. I decided to put my energy into the places where I might actually have influence.

My mother shared with me this concept about influence, and I thought it was brilliant. I’m going to adapt it slightly here, but essentially we live in a world that can be divided up into three circles: the things you can control; the things you can influence; and the things that you cannot influence or control.

How to make a difference: Spend time in your sphere of influence

Things I Can Control

Basically, this circle is very small. It contains only one person: yourself. You can control what you do, how you react, how you spend your time, etc.

Things I Can Influence

You can influence those closest to you: your family, your friends, your coworkers. And you have a higher degree of influence on those closest to you.

Things I Can’t Influence or Control

You can’t change the weather, the economy, what your boss decides to do with your company, what ISIS terrorists do, what happens with Ebola, etc. etc etc. Most things are out of our control, and God does not ask us to spend time in areas that are out of our control. He asks us to do what we can–in the areas we can control.

But where do we spend most of our emotional energy? Worrying about things that we can’t control or influence.

Yet here’s something interesting: the more time we spend in the circles we can control and influence, the more influence we will have. And as we do that, often our sphere of influence grows. We’re actually more effective. And there’s a side benefit: people who spend most of their emotional energy in these two circles tend to be more joyful and peaceful. They aren’t worrying about things they can do nothing about; they’re pouring their energy into things they can influence, and often they’re seeing real changes.

Let me give you two examples of how this plays out. In marriage, we often spend most of the time wondering how we can get our husbands to change: how to make them more romantic; how to get them to spend more time with the family; how to get them to want to talk to us. But you can’t change him. If you spend more time in the circle you can control, though–yourself–you will likely see your marriage changing. You can change how you react to him. You can find ways to insert joy into your life. You can change how you react to the kids and change the tone of the house. And as you do that, you’ll find your marriage, and your attitude about marriage, improving.

Here’s another one: when I was pregnant with my second child, we find out that he had a serious heart defect that would likely end his life early. I spent a lot of time in that outer circle, worrying about him and fretting and crying. But I couldn’t do anything about his heart defect. When I decided to spend time in the circle I could control–my own reactions–I started looking for little things to be grateful for everyday. I started learning to savour every moment I had with him. And when Christopher did pass away, I was much more peaceful about it because I had leaned on God rather than given over to worry.

How Big Is Your Umbrella: Weathering the Storms of Life, Second Edition

If you want to read more about this story, my book How Big Is Your Umbrella talks about the things that we yell at God when life is difficult, and what God whispers back. It’s available in paperback and for only $2.99 as an ebook.

When we spend time with our kids and their friends, we can change this little bit of our culture, and that can have an effect on the wider society. When we help out a single mom in our neighbourhood, we can give her kids hope that marriage can work and show them good role models of strong, responsible men. When we choose to act in our circle of influence, we can end up changing, albeit in a small way, the culture that so upsets us.

they call me dadThis week I’ve read a memoir called They Call Me Dad where this idea of influence really struck me. It reads like a novel–almost an action thriller–and it’s the story of how an American pastor ended up rescuing kids from the Romanian orphanages in the early 1990s. It will bring tears to your eyes and cover you in goosebumps.

But what really struck me was how the whole story started. The pastor was happy in his life at his home, speaking and raising his kids and loving his wife. And then his dad in Scotland, who was suffering from cancer, called and started pestering him. “Babies are dying!” Camera crews had gone into Romania and were sending back pictures on the news of these horrible conditions, and this poor old man was overcome. He pestered and pestered his son until finally he flew over to Scotland to take his dad to Romania.

Meanwhile, his dad had been on the phone constantly, drumming up donations of diapers and formula and clothing and medicine. By the time he got there, the guy had a tractor trailer worth of stuff. And soon, after getting on the phone some more, they found a tractor trailer to haul the stuff, too. So off they went.

The story doesn’t end there, it only starts there. But that old man saw a picture on the news and he didn’t just cry about it or worry about it or lament about it. He did something about it. He thought of all the people that he knew that he could influence, and then he began calling in favours. And it wasn’t through that old man that God rescued those orphans; it was through his son Philip. But that man started the chain of events by spending time in his circle of influence.

I don’t know how many of us are called to do big things like Philip Cameron was, but his story is still amazing and I hope all of you read it. Yet the principle, I think, is a sound one: if you want to have influence, don’t just worry and fret and complain. Actually do something in your circle of influence. That’s the way we change our marriages, our communities, and the world–and that’s the way we find true joy, true purpose, and true effectiveness in this life.

 

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