Sometimes We All Need Someone to Save Us

Sometimes we ALL Need Someone to Save UsTo me, today is the holiest day of the year. Easter is the day of celebration; today is the sombre reflection of how much Christ paid so that we could be united with Him.

As I was thinking about what I wanted to share, this story that I wrote in a column last year kept coming back to me, and so I thought I would reprint it. Here’s why: way too often we think we can do life alone. We can just try harder, work harder, put in a little more effort, and we’ll reach our goals. But what if trying harder won’t get you anywhere? What if what we all need to do is be humble and admit that we need help? Sometimes we ALL need Someone to save us.

Christ died so that we wouldn’t have to do life alone. And today I want to tell you this funny story as a word picture that no matter where we are in life, it’s better to stop trying, and start grabbing His hand.

Apparently I value my life at twenty U.S. dollars.

At least, that’s what I tipped the Mexican guy who saved me from drowning last week.

My daughter and I were vacationing in Cozumel, eager for some wonderful snorkeling. And while two of our excursions were highly successful, on one particular day we decided to snorkel right off the beach in front of a popular restaurant. The reef was teeming with life, but unfortunately the current was surprisingly strong. We had no problem swimming out, but when we tried to swim back to the dock, we kept veering to the right.

Within a few minutes a Mexican guy had swum out to us with a flutterboard, but I refused it. I’m a good swimmer. I can tread water for hours. I’ve finished swims that were several kilometres long.

When the flutterboard was proffered, I was so embarrassed. “I should be able to do this,” I kept thinking. “Oh, come on, Sheila. This is ridiculous. Just swim harder.”

My daughter, who is a lifeguard, found it challenging, though she managed to reach the ladder. But though I got within about twenty feet of it, I couldn’t get any closer. All I was doing was standing still. So finally I reached out, grabbed that board, and was pulled in.

Looking back I’m not sure why I was so stubborn. I guess I just didn’t want to accept the fact that I needed help. I considered myself a competent, if not good, swimmer. If I took help, it was as if I would be admitting that I am not as in control as I think I am.

I wonder how often in my personal life I’ve done the same thing—I like to think of myself as in control, and accepting help is admitting weakness. None of us wants to think we are weak.

Often we’d rather have the frustration of butting our heads against a wall rather than give in to the fear of being vulnerable.

No wonder so many of us are spending our lives treading water. Maybe debt is piling up and we honestly have no idea how to create a budget. But mature people know how to stick to a budget! Admitting you have a problem is like saying you’re not mature. So the red ink keeps getting redder.

Or perhaps that pain is getting worse, but we don’t want to go to a doctor because we hate hospitals, and we’re too young to start falling apart. Maybe the principal keeps calling reporting more problems with a wayward child, but you don’t want to admit that something’s really wrong because it could reflect badly on choices you’ve made. And so you lash out at the messenger.

My husband and I speak at marriage conferences, and while I love sharing our failures and victories, the conferences always make me a little sad. There are two types of couples who go: those who can’t keep their hands off of each other, because they’re blissfully happy and want to make sure it stays that way, and those who are about to file for divorce and are giving it one last chance. I always wonder about the middle: those who have a few issues that a little help could easily remedy, but who don’t want to admit they may have problems. And so they wait until everything blows up.

We aren’t meant to walk through this life alone.

Certainly many of us just need to get more disciplined and try harder and we’d be more successful. But sometimes discipline won’t cut it. Sometimes you need help. And in that case, it’s far better to grab that flutterboard and let the hunky Mexican guy save you.

Does God Make a Difference in Marriage Part 2

Does God Make a Difference in MarriageDoes God make a difference in your marriage?

Last week I made some observations that often Christians act like God doesn’t really make a difference in our lives, and everything is ultimately up to us. We just don’t really have faith that God will actually move.

I see that in marriage, too, and I want to see how two different trends–though they may seem like they have nothing to do with each other–actually show that we have a long way to go with marriage.

1. Christians Divorce at the Same Rate as Non-Christians–Right?

You’ve heard that stat, haven’t you? In fact, it’s even worse than that. I’ve heard the stat that 50% of marriages end in divorce–but that it’s even higher in the Bible belt.

Do you believe it?

Chances are you do because Christians quote it all the time. We announce it from pews. We use it to fundraise for family organizations–Christian marriages need all the help they can get! We’re in dire straits, people!

Yet think it through logically. Do we believe that having God in your life should make a difference? Do we believe that God works in people’s lives? If we do, then how could it possibly be that our marriages are as bad as everyone else’s?

I started to wonder that recently and so I did an experiment. I looked through my church directory to see how many were divorced. It was closer to 10%.  Then I wondered–maybe that’s skewed, because once people divorce they stop going to church? So I thought back on the couples I knew in university. I wrote out a long list of all my university friends who had gotten married. And of all of them (we knew each other from the campus Christian group), only 2 had been divorced–a rate of about 5%.

I read a study recently that said that in marriages where couples pray together daily the divorce rate is more like 2%. I believe that. It makes sense to me. And I’ve read critiques of that study that found that our divorce rate was just as high because they really didn’t define “Christian”. Practically everyone claims to be a Christian, and so that’s pretty meaningless. We want to flesh out what the divorce rate is among those who honestly believe and try to live out their faith. I want to write a post looking at all the accurate studies, but I haven’t done that yet. I’ve actually been talking to a major magazine about writing it, and that’s why I’m not linking to studies here. I want to make sure they’re accurate first and do my homework.

But the main question I have is:

why is it that Christians were so quick to believe that stat that God doesn’t make a difference?

2. Does God Make a Difference in YOUR Marriage?

Maybe the reason we’re so quick to believe it is because in our own lives we still really struggle with marriage. It’s an area that has brought us a lot of hurt and grief over the years, and we haven’t felt the “victory” or the “oneness” or the “intimacy” we long for.

I have to tell you that the last few weeks I’ve been really burdened by the emails that get sent to me. I had to turn off the Messages feature on Facebook because I couldn’t keep up with them all. And I’ve got Reader Questions of the Week now scheduled through to the end of June! But I started to keep track everyday of all the problems I heard about–really, really big problems–and then at the end of the day I’d show them to my husband. And we’d pray over them and I’d let them go. It helped me to realize how I was beginning to be changed by what I do, and I’m praying more for strength to really make a difference.

But the simple fact is that many, many of you are really hurting, and my heart breaks for you. Many, many of you are wondering, if we’re Christians why does my husband play video games for 6 hours a day? Why can he not get over this porn addiction? Why do I have no patience for him? Why am I always so frustrated with him? Why can I not motivate myself to show him love anymore?

From speaking at marriage conferences and talking to couples and to counselors, I completely believe that God can make a difference in a marriage. If you run to Him and you’re humble and you’re open to correction about the things that you have done wrong, and not just open to God correcting your spouse, God can do amazing things.

Even if your spouse isn’t turning to God, God can still work in your marriage. It doesn’t mean your marriage will always be saved; but He can work.

Yet often I see couples where both claim Christ, and where both go to church, and where both would say that they believe, and yet they are getting nowhere.

I don’t believe the problem is that you don’t have God. I believe the problem is that God doesn’t have you. (Click to Tweet this quote)

God is not like a mechanic where you can take your broken marriage and He’ll fix it for you. He doesn’t work that way. He’s not a mechanic; He’s a potter who wants to mold you into something better. But He can’t mold something that is hard and brittle; He can only mold us when we’re pliable, when we are humble, when we are open to be molded.

God isn’t really interested in fixing your spouse nearly as much as He’s interested in having your heart. And if we are humble before Him, He can transform us, which can start to transform a marriage. If your spouse is also humble before Him, He is then free to do a beautiful and amazing work!

But we have to stop making excuses. We have to stop pointing fingers. And we have to do the work!

I’m really burdened by a relationship issue in my extended family, and it’s causing me to pray like I never have before. That’s the beauty of relationship issues; they drive us to God. My instinct is to get on the phone and try to force the issue and make it all better, but like Calm Healthy Sexy wrote in a post she linked up to Wifey Wednesday this week, we have to wait on God’s timing. She says:

The devotional book I’m reading, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, reminded me this week to “stop trying to work things out before their times have come.”  That idea really spoke to me; it made me realize that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do.  Even though I believe in God’s timing in my life, I haven’t been operating as if I believe in it at all.  I’ve acted as if everything depends on me, as if I just need to keep charging ahead and things will fall into place exactly as I’ve planned.  The only problem is, it’s not working.

We have to pray and then honestly walk in faith. We have to wrestle. We have to cry. And we have to believe.

Yesterday I took a day to fast and pray with a “blogging buddy” of mine from the other side of the continent. We prayed for each other all day and for ourselves and then at the end of the day we called each other and prayed on the phone together. We were both burdened by something similar and we needed God to lift that burden. But that meant also emptying ourselves and fighting for it. It meant giving God more of us, not just asking for more of Him.

If you believe in God, He should be making a difference in your marriage. If He’s not, the problem is likely not with God. It’s likely that He wants to bring you deeper, or bring your husband deeper. Of course you can do everything right and lean on God and your marriage may still not be saved, but even in that God wants you to lean and trust, because He does want to make a difference even in the brokenness. But maybe, instead of getting angry at our spouses and feeling defeated and feeling lost we need to throw ourselves more on God and get back to the only source that can bring real healing.

Do we believe God works, or not? I fear too often we really don’t, and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When Women Start Saying “No” to Church Activities

Saying No to Church Activities

On Fridays I usually publish some opinion pieces. I used to publish my columns, but I quit my weekly column a few weeks ago. I am, however, the female columnist for Faith Today, Canada’s largest Christian magazine, and I thought I’d publish my first column for them, about how overburdened many women are by church activities.

I hate it when someone from our church family dies.

I’m not talking about hating grief. Grief is a normal part of life. I’m talking about hating guilt.

And when someone I don’t know from our church passes away, I invariably receive that guilt-inducing phone call: Can you make sandwiches for the funeral?

I must have missed the Sunday School lesson when they taught girls how to make funeral sandwiches, because I don’t know where to start.

I don’t like tuna or salmon sandwiches to begin with; I’m more of a soup-for-lunch kind of gal. And I hate mustard. Sandwiches at funerals always have mustard.

But it’s not the fact that my palate doesn’t suit the typical church funerals that bothers me. It’s that I have no time. I understand that someone has to make the sandwiches, but does it have to be me?

Life is certainly busy, but I think one of the biggest sources of stress isn’t the amount of work on our plate; it’s that nagging feeling that one more straw is going to cause the whole thing to come crashing down.

And for many Christian women, church commitments feel like that final straw.

If I’m super-organized and super-energetic, it is possible to keep my house clean and to get all my work done and, hopefully, to head to the grocery store before we discover that all we have in the cupboards are tins of cranberry sauce and cream of mushroom soup.

But if an emergency–or a funeral–comes up, I’m in trouble. I have no margins in my life.

I don’t think I’m unusual. Most women are pulled in so many different directions that we’re seriously in danger of burning out. Even women who don’t work outside the home are busy. Their husbands may have shift work, or the kids are in activities, or they’re baby-sitting for grandkids. When most adults started working outside the home, it affected those inside the home, too. There’s more work to go around and fewer hands to do it.

Women have become busier, but church life hasn’t adapted to this new reality. It’s still expected that women will teach Sunday School, run the nursery, cook for the potlucks, and supply the funeral sandwiches. That’s what a church community is all about, right?

Now most churches do have a dedicated army of older women who have given selflessly over the years to create community. They’ve cooked more casseroles than President’s Choice, they’ve decorated for Christmas and Easter longer than I’ve been alive, and they’ve made church homey and inviting.  We couldn’t function without them.


Unfortunately, there aren’t very many of them left, and my generation isn’t exactly clamouring to fill their spots.  And so these ladies, who have given tirelessly for decades, have even more thrown at them. They “overfunction”, as Peter and Geri Scazzero, authors of The Emotionally Church Church say, filling in the gaps so that other people–including many of the men–can get away with underfunctioning. Churches tend to take advantage of those who consistently say yes, instead of telling them, “You’ve done enough.”

And this dysfunctional system can’t right itself until the over-functioning people start saying no.

Looking around, I think we’re just about at that point. Women are just too tired, and few men will willingly take on the jobs women have been doing in the background for years. If churches want to support the women in their midst, then, they will start adapting to the new reality.

We all still crave a vibrant community life, but let’s think outside the box about how to create it.

Host community events that don’t require work, but just let us put our feet up and relax. Hold more family games nights–after the dinner hour, so we don’t have to bring food. Invite women to simple scrapbooking and craft get-togethers where we can relax doing things we long to do–rather than organizing a big women’s day that requires a ton of volunteer hours.

Instead of focusing on church programming that adds “extras” onto our lives, incorporate things we already do. Host homework clubs on Saturday morning where parents can pool their knowledge, or host once-a-month freezer cooking days where parents can all gather together and cook meals to last a month. And, please, ask people to throw money into a pot to have the funeral catered, rather than requiring women to make sandwiches. I’d much rather give $20 than an hour of my time.

In other words, meet us where we’re at. And don’t expect me to buy any mustard.

UPDATE: I’m getting some push back in the comments, and I want to just state that I DO run a whole ministry in our church–I run our youth quizzing program which meets for two hours before the service every Sunday, and then has four out of town tournaments every year. So I am serving! I’m not saying we shouldn’t serve. What I’m saying is that many of the things we are asked to do aren’t necessary and don’t serve to build community, and maybe if we focused more on the real needs we’d be more effective. I don’t have room to say everything because I have a tight word count, but read in the comments for more thoughts!

It’s kind of ironic that I would write this, since I actually make a fair amount of my income speaking at women’s events. I know that the occasional “big” event is really helpful and necessary. But I still believe that what most women crave is fellowship, not teaching, and if we could design women’s retreats less around making crafts and more around letting women just talk, we’d get a lot further ahead (and need far fewer volunteer hours).

A New Chapter–And My Last Column

Sheila Knitting

Today is my last Reality Check column that I’m writing for newspapers.

I’ve been doing this for 11 1/2 years, but after a lot of prayer and thought I notified the papers that this would be my last week.

I’m just finding that my other writing responsibilities are expanding so fast, and a weekly deadline is a stress that is getting too hard to manage.

Another Reality Check cover 175I’m not going to stop writing, though, and I’m actually excited about what this opens up on the blog. On Fridays I’d like to start writing more contemplative/commentary pieces, rather than advice pieces. Just posts about what I’m thinking, or what God’s telling me, or what ticks me off in the news right now (sometimes we all need posts like that!). I guess basically the same sort of thing I wrote my columns about, except that I can be explicitly Christian if I want to be, and I don’t have to aim for just 600 words.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

Playing with Fire (do we treat adultery too cavalierly?) I’d love to run more where I’m just thinking out loud about current issues!

So I’m not going anywhere–I’m just not going to be in the paper anymore. I’m so glad that God gave me that opportunity to write in a bunch of local papers, but it has come time to move on.

In the meantime, if you’ve liked my columns, I do have a book with my absolute favourite ones since 2005 right here. You can also get the .pdf for just $2.99 (it’s on sale this week!)

Here’s my column:


The only constant in life is change. Some seasons of life, though, rush changes through even more than others, and I’m in the midst of one of those seasons. One daughter has left home; one is learning to drive. I have two book contracts due this year. And perimenopause is causing my hemoglobin levels to plummet faster than Rob Ford’s reputation. Call me unimpressed.

When I started writing this column my children were five and seven. We were just beginning our homeschooling journey. Today instead of my days being consumed with teaching math and reading great books out loud, I’m writing blog posts and planning speaking tours and trying to find time to write more books.

And so it is that after eleven and a half years, and six hundred columns, I’ve decided to concentrate on other things. My blog is taking so much of my attention that I find deadlines a little more intimidating than I did when the biggest thing on my plate was finishing a Science lesson with my daughters.

I type this with a heavy heart, because I have so enjoyed having this outlet for my thoughts. Whenever I felt ticked about something, I would always think, “I can write a column about that!” And I’d start planning it–while driving, while in the shower, while making dinner. It was wonderful to know that I’d be able to put my thoughts down on paper.

Being a local columnist was such a treat, too. I couldn’t go to the grocery store, or take my kids to swimming, or walk into church without someone mentioning last week’s column. People read what I wrote, and for that I am very humbled and very grateful.

I still have issues which I wish I could have explored more, or at least lended a little more eloquence. I am dreadfully worried about the institution of marriage, because I do think that it’s the bedrock of healthy children, healthy families, and a healthy society.

I am constantly frustrated by our entitlement culture, and by the way the government bends over backwards for those who have messed up, while leaving those who have done nothing wrong flailing. And I can’t think of a better example of government’s failing than with the foster care system. We give biological parents chance after chance, letting them collect welfare money, methadone treatments, and many other government programs, while their kids languish in care. Too few are adopted out, because parents are given “second chances”. And by the time the kids are taken away for good, they’re so scarred that adopting them is difficult. Why do parents get second chances while kids don’t even get first chances?

We will never have a healthy society until people bear the consequences of their actions. We are fostering too much irresponsibility, and not enough maturity and independence. And it scares me.

And so there is still much to say, and much work to do. I will just be doing it a different way. I’m in the middle of writing a book for Simon & Schuster called 9 Thoughts That Will Change Your Marriage. My blog, To Love, Honor and Vacuum (tolovehonorandvacuum.com), had 600,000 visits last month, and it’s growing all the time. I share my parenting and marriage thoughts there, and I do hope you will join me.

Most of all, though, I hope that over the last eleven and a half years I have written something that has made you love your family more, smile at strangers more, or consider faith again. If I have done that, then I will be happy indeed.

When Are You An Adult?

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week let’s talk about what it means to be an adult. This week we’ve been talking about how to raise great kids, and my own daughters have chimed in with my 16-year-old explaining why she’s not dating in high school and my 19-year-old explaining why she didn’t rebel as a teen. I thought this was a good way to finish up the series.

When are you an adult.Canadians rejoiced loudly last week when we were victorious in Olympic hockey. Facebook was taken over for 48 hours by a constant barrage of “Way to Go, Canada!” while #WeAreWinter surged on Twitter.

In the midst of the revelry, though, an American story about freestyle skiing halfpipe gold medalist David Wise caught my attention.

Wise is 23-years-old, and has been married for several years to his wife Alexandra. They have a two-year-old daughter together. NBC reported on his win like this: “David Wise’s alternative lifestyle leads to Olympic gold.”

Being married with a child in your early twenties is now an “alternative lifestyle”, and the statistics actually bear this out.

According to Stats Canada, the average age of first marriage in Canada is now 29 for women and 31 for men.

Even more telling to me, though, was that NBC also added this line: “At such a young age, Wise has the lifestyle of an adult.”

The lifestyle of an adult when you’re 23 and–how shall I put this?–an adult! The fact that we can be so surprised that a 23-year-old is behaving like an adult makes me a little sad.

I was married at 21; when I was 23 I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, who is now studying in second year at university. I raised my kids while I was in my mid-twenties, and still in great shape to lug babies and strollers up flights of stairs in the subway system in Toronto. When Keith and I were first married we started saving like crazy. We budgeted well and managed to scrounge together enough for a small downpayment on a house when we were in our late twenties. It wasn’t a large house, and back then neither of us had very well paying jobs. But we figured out how to stretch our money, and we made it work.

When we announced our engagement back in 1991, many were a little incredulous. How can we be so sure when we’re that young? You need to live more, see more of the world, try more things before you settle down! In fact, “settling down” was portrayed as something bad, as if life ends once you make a commitment. Yet for me, that was more when life began. In fact, happiness studies show that satisfaction comes not from living a carefree lifestyle, but instead from finding meaning and belonging while also feeling productive. Maybe younger people have trouble “finding themselves” because they’re looking in the wrong place.

I’m not arguing that people should get married younger; most people, after all, really aren’t ready.

But maybe that’s the root of the problem: we are raising people to not be “adults” until they reach thirty.

That’s become the culturally accepted norm.

Instead of the teen years being the decade in which you grow up, it’s now the twenties. Is that healthy for a society?
I always believed you were an adult at eighteen, but for that to happen an 18-year-old has to be ready to launch into the adult world. That means they have to know how to maintain a household, including knowing how to cook and clean. They have to know how to manage money. They have to be employable (or at least in school to become employable). They have to be responsible. And few 18-year-olds can accomplish all that unless we as parents start raising them to be adults earlier.

I’m not sure we’re doing favours by extending childhood until people are thirty. Perhaps we’d all be better off if we expected people to act like adults once they were, actually, adults.

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On Those Who Deserve Fame

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week I wanted to address what it means to be a True Hero.

On Those Who Deserve FameI recently served on a committee looking for leadership for a nonprofit organization, and we joked that one of our criteria was that the people we would ask would not want to do it. People who don’t want the spotlight often end up being better leaders.

People who crave attention usually don’t deserve it.

I was reminded of this when I read the story of Nicholas Winton. Winton grew up in a British Jewish family that later converted to Christianity. In 1938 he decided to forego a ski holiday in Switzerland to go to Prague to help a friend who was involved with Jewish refugee work.

After Kristallnacht, when the Nazis started overt persecution of the Jews, Winton single-handedly set up an aid organization to transport Czechoslavakian Jewish children to Britain, arranging for families to look after them once they arrived.

Most of those children’s parents later perished in Auschwitz, but 669 children made it to Britain. Tragically, the last train that was scheduled to leave, full of 250 little ones, never made it. Those children were sent to Auschwitz instead.

Winton had to contend with physical danger in Czechoslavakia, red tape in Britain, and trouble in the Netherlands to get the kids to safety, but he persevered with no resources except his own determination.

What hit me most about his story, though, other than the amazing heroism, was the fact that he never told anybody.

In 1988, his wife Grete was rooting through the attic when she came across his famous ledger where he had taken painstaking notes about the identity and whereabouts of all of the children. She went public and he has since been honoured by the British government, the Czechoslavakian government, and the Israeli government. He was even touchingly reunited on a television documentary with dozens of the children that he rescued.

At 104 years of age Winton has outlived many of the children that he saved. And yet he never desired fame or recognition. He did it because he felt compelled to. He couldn’t NOT do it.

I wonder, though, if one of the reasons he couldn’t come forward was that even though he saved 669, the 250 who didn’t make it still haunted him. I remember the end of Schindler’s List, when Oskar Schindler was overwhelmed with the thought that if he had just sold a few more possessions he could have saved dozens more. Or there is Charles Mulli, a Kenyan who opened a children’s home initially for a dozen children, and now cares for more than 3000. When he goes into the slums, though, he’s still overwhelmed by the need.

Real heroes don’t look for fame, because real heroes pay the price. It’s not a game about fame or fortune; it’s a real life struggle to do what’s right, to stand up to evil, to make a real difference in the midst of heartbreaking circumstances. It means opening yourself up to true tragedy. That is never easy.

Winton was and is a real hero, and his story deserves to be told, far more than whether or not Jennifer Aniston is pregnant or whether or not another Kardashian is getting a divorce.

The things that our culture cares about are a measure of that culture. We are a petty culture, and yet amongst us there are still calm, quiet giants. It behooves us to wade through all of our silly noise and take time listen to their very important stories.

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UPDATE: I made an error in the original version of this column and said that he rescued the children from Austria. It was really Czechoslavakia. I’m sorry for the mistake; I’ve corrected it now.

Finding Mr. Right: Making It More Likely that Love Shows Up

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week let’s talk about meeting that Love of a Lifetime.
Finding Mr. Right

Finding Mr. (or Mrs.) Right

The hashtag #foreveralone is trending on Twitter as Valentine’s Day nears.

While those in relationships may cheer February 14 because they’ll get chocolate (hint, hint), for many it’s just another reminder that they are frustratingly single.

Maybe it’s because I have a good marriage that it bothers me when people are single and don’t want to be. I wish everyone could have what I have! After all, most people do yearn for a love that lasts forever. We may not think it’s possible, but we still dream of it.

But so often we act in ways that make it far less likely to occur. I think too often we believe that “love will just happen”, like in Nora Roberts books, but love often shows up when you’re getting busy meeting people, not when you’re sitting at home dreaming of it.

So ask yourself, “If I want to marry someone who will be faithful, who will love me, whom I can love and respect in turn, and who will be a good financial and parenting partner, is what I’m doing right now helping me to meet that sort of person?”

And let me tell you, you’re unlikely to meet that person in a bar.

Most of us will marry someone through our social circle–a friend of a friend–or through our workplaces. Thus, it makes sense to fill your social circle with the kinds of people that you would consider marriageable material. If the people you hang out with think getting drunk every weekend is the pinnacle of fun, then you’re unlikely to cross paths with Mr. Right.

Instead, reconnect with friends from school that you really enjoyed who were going someplace in life. Suggest coffee to women you work with. It isn’t only about getting to know more men; I met my husband because he was the friend of the boyfriend of one of my best girlfriends! The more people you know, and the more friendships you invest in, the more likely you are to meet a potential spouse.

Want to marry someone interesting? Make sure you’re doing interesting things, too!

Learn some new skills. Take up a new hobby. Join a club. Even rediscover faith! A recent Facebook Data Science study found that religious colleges make up the vast majority of the top 25 universities with married students. People of faith tend to also be people who value marriage.

And here’s where I say something that will get me in real hot water: take care of yourself. First impressions do matter. Put some effort into your appearance. Get in shape. Go to a drug store and ask for some makeup tips. People may say, “I want him to love me for who I am,” and I completely agree. But that kind of love grows from first showing an interest, and for most of us, initial interest is largely determined by attraction.

Attraction isn’t only about being beautiful, though; it’s often just as much about confidence and the pride you take in yourself. Treat yourself well, and learn to exude genuine confidence, and that is attractive in and of itself.

Finally, as someone who makes a decent living blogging, I do believe that the online world has a lot to offer. Signing up for online dating, as long as you’re smart and take the proper precautions, isn’t a bad idea. In fact, for many of my friends who met their spouses that way, it ended up being a very good idea indeed!

Will these tips automatically work? Nope. Unfortunately there isn’t a guarantee. But if you do nurture a healthy social circle, volunteer and fill your life with good things, and take care of yourself, you’ll have a richer life regardless. And then you really won’t be forever alone.

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Sacred SearchThe best book I have ever read about finding the right person to marry, and deciding if this person IS the right person, is Sacred Search by Gary Thomas. He spends the first half of the book by explaining how our “fairy tale” culture about “the one that completes us” can actually steer us in the wrong direction. Then he spends the second half getting very practical–how do you meet someone? Where should you look? And what should be your deal breakers? I really appreciated this book, and I’m making my girls read it!

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Why Do We Have Middle School Dances Again?

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week I tackle the ridiculousness of middle school dances.
Middle School Dances are Ridiculous on so many levels. Read on...

Love is the Air.

Drug stores are selling boxloads of cards so that 8-year-olds can tell all 23 kids in their class, “You’re special!” Flyers are reminding men that they had better show up with a gift. Engagement rings are selling like hotcakes.

Yet perhaps love shouldn’t be in the air for everyone.

When it comes to middle schoolers, for instance, love is definitely better off waiting.

In fact, a study reported in USA Today found that the age that kids start dating is highly correlated to the age at which they first have intercourse. Ninety-one percent of kids who started dating at 12 had had sex by high school graduation, compared with just 20% of kids who started dating at age 16. Delaying pairing off pays off. And a huge 2012 University of Texas study found that delaying sex until your twenties meant better romantic relationships later. People who wait for both dating and sex tend to end up happier.

It’s not just happiness, though, that improves if you wait. It’s also academic achievement. Kids who remain virgins throughout high school are one third as likely to drop out of high school and twice as likely to graduate college. Other important findings: kids who remain virgins in high school are less than half as likely to suffer from depression and less than half as likely to go on welfare as adults.

If you want a society with predominantly productive citizens in stable relationships, then, we’ll want to encourage kids to wait to have sex, which includes encouraging them to wait to date. Whether you’re looking at it from an economic standpoint, a moral standpoint, or a public health standpoint, it just doesn’t make sense to encourage kids to date at early ages.

All of this leads me to ask: why on earth, then, do we have middle school dances, all put on by our Boards of Education?

Are we out of our collective minds? We’re taking kids as young as grade 6 and holding dances during school hours. Why encourage kids that young to pair off?

I got my first “boyfriend” because of a middle school dance in grade 7. I’d never even thought of dating him before, but he asked me to dance, and all of a sudden we were “going out”. Looking back it was embarrassing, but then all I felt was pressure. All the girls were wondering, “is anyone going to dance with me?” And all the boys were wondering what the girls would wear. Kids who had never thought of “asking someone out” suddenly got fixated on it.

Ask a school principal and they’ll likely say they only hold these middle school dances because parents insist on it, and that’s probably true.

Too many parents think “it’s so cute” when little Jenny has a boyfriend at ten.

But even if this starts out as clean fun, the younger kids start to date, the more they’ll experiment as they age. Do you really want your child going down that road?

Maybe some parents want middle school dances, and likely a lot of the kids do, too. But that doesn’t mean other parents have to stand for it. You could suggest a square dance caller instead. You could offer to host a party with hula hoop contests and limbo contests instead of a traditional dance. You could pick up your kids early and take them home that day. Or better still, you could ask at the next PTA meeting “what advantage are we getting from asking 12 and 13-year-olds to pair up?” Because unless you can tell me the benefit, I’ll never believe that it will outweigh the potential harm.

The Talk(s)Do you want to open up conversation with your child about dating? I’ve got a great resource–Barrett Johnson’s book “The Talk(s)”, about how to keep those conversations regular and natural. Get the ebook or get it in paperback. It’s the best book of its kind that I’ve seen!

Have your kids attended middle school dances? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

Are Kids’ Sports Teams Worth It?

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. I know a bunch of you are going to want to throw tomatoes at me when you’re finished reading this column, so I’m prepared.

Scared of Reaction

I don’t know why I write stuff that I know will get people riled up, but I guess I was all riled up myself on Monday when we wrote this, because we’ve had snow like you wouldn’t believe here. The major highways have been closed. There have been tons of accidents. And still people are driving their kids to sports tournaments. It just seemed so unsafe to me, and so I went off on a tangent.

I know that there are good things about team sports, but I do sometimes wonder if it’s all worth it. I’ve written about the usefulness of some of these extracurricular sports before. But believe me, I know some families who balance it all wonderfully.

If that’s you, I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m not saying you’re a bad parent. Please believe me. But I still wonder, when I look at the time and money commitment (let alone the safety issues in weather like we’ve been having) if it’s always a good idea.

So I wrote this column.

You can commence throwing tomatoes now.

are kids sports worth itI’m the wrong one to write a column called “Are Sports Teams Worth It?”, because I was the kid who hyperventilated whenever we played soccer in gym class. I hated team sports; other people would be looking at me and relying on me.

So when I see parents in my social circle spending most weekends on the road to sports tournaments, and forking over huge amounts of cash in the process, I just don’t get it. It’s almost like I’m watching a foreign movie without subtitles. It doesn’t compute.

Once upon a time, of course, sports were easy.

In the 1950s, my father-in-law and his friends would lace up their skates on a pond and play hockey all day. Soccer was just kicking a ball around in the local field. But now everything is so regimented and expensive and complicated. And instead of being just a fun, informal thing, it becomes a Very Big Deal.

Certainly hockey is the Canadian birthright, and one shouldn’t question it, but have you ever done the math? If you have your child in a hockey league, it can easily cost $3000 a year per child. There’s the hockey equipment and the team fees, which can often be $1000. But the real kicker comes with all the travel. Driving to games, paying for hotels, paying for food and grabbing a drink while you’re out really adds up. Even a relatively cheap sport, like soccer, can run into several thousand if the kids have to go out of town for games. Then, to add to the indignity, the clubs spend their lives fundraising, and as a parent you’re stuck selling 100 chocolate almond bars or bags of Florida oranges to everyone you work with.

But it’s not just the cost. It’s the time.

I see families with two or more kids on different teams, and almost every weekend they’re heading out somewhere, often separately. Practices and games eat up multiple nights a week. When do you have dinner as a family? When do you do homework? When do you just relax?

I was at a friend’s fiftieth birthday recently where a bunch of grandmas sat around the table comparing stories. One shared about her daughter and son-in-law’s schedule with three boys in hockey. She was flabbergasted at how much money they were spending (they’re just racking up debt, she said), and how their lives were so chaotic. I asked her, “When do the parents get any time together alone?” “They don’t,” she chuckled ruefully.

Then last weekend the skies opened up and dumped so much snow on my community that I can hardly see over our snowbanks. Police warned motorists to stay off the roads. There were over 1700 collisions in Ontario on Saturday alone. And yet I know of several local sports teams where parents drove their kids to out-of-town tournaments–and all the kids showed up. Facebook was littered with, “It was a really stressful drive, but we made it!”

Really? Parents risked their children’s lives in the worst weather we’ve had all year, with highway closures and whiteouts, just for a game? And the organizers didn’t cancel? I can understand heading out if your job depended on it, or if it was a major life event.

But perhaps we’re taking this too seriously.

That’s the only explanation I have. I know parents who do a great job with sports, and they love it, and the kids are thriving. It certainly can be done. But when I look at the financial outlay, and the time commitment, and the fact that you have so little time at home, I just find it hard to think it’s worth the cost. Maybe I should relinquish my Canadian citizenship for even daring to suggest it, but I don’t get it. Am I the only one?

We’ve Got Cooties!

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s column was really just a shortened version of yesterday’s post, so instead I thought I’d run a column from back in 2007, that I really enjoyed. We’ve had some heavy posts this week, and I thought we needed something lighter! So my daughter does not have lice RIGHT NOW; it was back in 2007!

We've got CootiesRecently, a friend warned me that one of my daughter’s playmates had lice, so before Katie went to bed that night, I called her over to take a peek at her scalp. As I parted her hair, I was greeted by a bug running for cover.

I did what any normal mother would do. “Keith,” I shrieked, “get over here!” He ambled over, not too worried, and gazed at the offending creature. “Huh,” he said. “Look at that.” He’s a pediatrician, and pediatricians have no sympathy unless someone is coughing up a lung.

I insisted that he leave right that instant and get some lice killer shampoo. He asked if it could wait until morning. I gave him That Look. Off he went.

We stayed up until midnight as I picked eggs out of my daughter’s hair. We changed everyone’s bedding, even mine, because she likes to crawl into bed and wrestle in the morning. We banished all stuffed animals to garbage bags in the garage for two weeks. We vacuumed the sofa. Basically, I overreacted. But let me reiterate: my kid had something crawling in her hair. I think I was entitled.

The next day, I ran an internet search for information about lice, and found a very comprehensive site put out by Harvard University. But the more I read, the more I felt that these people had far too much education to understand the real world.

First, Harvard went to great pains to declare that having lice is not a big deal.

It doesn’t cause any illness or infection, and it’s not nearly as transmissible as a cold or flu virus. They went on to say that kids with lice should be allowed in school, because we let kids in who have colds. And colds, to Harvard, are far worse.

Obviously no one at Harvard has ever done laundry.

But here’s the thing, Harvard. I knew Katie wasn’t going to die, or get a debilitating illness, or be disabled. I was not worried about her health. But I was worried because my kid had bugs in her hair. Bugs. In. Her. Hair. Pardon me if I think that’s a big deal, but I think having insects crawling on one’s scalp is enough to cause most mothers to go into panic mode.

Harvard then went on to explain how lice tend to like clean hair, so there should be no stigma attached to it. Again, I understand. I know that it was not Katie’s fault that she got it.

But it would be my fault, I think, if she failed to get rid of it. While clean kids get it, dirty kids rarely get over it. It’s not easy to fight the little buggers; you have to comb those eggs out, and they’re sticky little things. You have to kill all the little babies. You have to wash your child’s bedding and toys. But some parents don’t do all this. And then a few weeks later the child has a full blown case again.

It’s almost guaranteed that there will be at least one child per classroom who has chronic lice, and I know some parents who make sure their children’s hair is not “clean” at school as a precaution. It’s not that they swear off shampoo; it’s that they pile on the gel and hair spray. Apparently the bugs don’t like goop, so it’s like putting a “No Trespassing” sign on your children’s heads. We’re going to do that from now on, even though Harvard failed to recommend it.

They did, however, try to put a positive spin on the lice thing in general, proving once again that academics are overpaid.

“A few lice on the head should not cause alarm; rather, they present an opportunity for parents to spend the needed time with their children in order to find and remove the offending insects.” What a great bonding opportunity!

If any of you would like such an opportunity, we saved a few eggs in a plastic bag to use in a science experiment later. I’d be glad to give them up. Personally, though, I’d suggest a game of Monopoly or a walk around the block. But then, I don’t have a Ph.D., so you’ll have to make that judgment yourself.

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