Top 10 Sex and Marriage Red Flags You Shouldn’t Ignore

Marriage Red Flags: Signs that something is wrong with your marriage--or your sex life

Marriage red flags–all of us have marriage issues, but how do you know if an issue crosses the line into dangerously weird territory?

Top 10 Marriage Red FlagsI receive many emails from women in crisis, and today, on Top 10 Tuesday, I thought I’d share 10 marriage and sex red flags that really shouldn’t be ignored.

Often we don’t realize when something is off, because we’re new at this whole marriage thing, and most of us don’t share personal and intimate details with our friends. So how can you know if something that worries you is actually a red flag for something quite serious?

What is a Sex or Marriage Red Flag?

It means that this is a situation which will not get better by you being nicer, by you being more understanding, by you trying to talk it through with him, or by you being more patient.

This is something which is a serious issue that will likely require a third party, like a trained counselor or a pastor, to help you.

If you ignore it, your marriage will only get worse, and your husband will only fall deeper and deeper into sin or more and more away from God and his family (depending on what the issue is).

In this post, I’m not talking about abuse–though this, too, will not get better on their own and will need a third party. Here’s a post specifically for information on emotionally destructive relationships. I want to talk more about sexual red flags in marriage.

These problems represent an issue that your husband has–not something that you have caused, and so you cannot make it better. You can, however, make it more likely that he will get the help he needs by taking it seriously. And that is the most loving thing you can do.

For information on how to involve a third party, read my post on being a spouse instead of an enabler, or check out the book Boundaries in Marriage.

My heart aches for women in these situations, because they often are so taken back with surprise that their husbands are acting this way, and they truly don’t know what to do. I’m sorry that some of these seem so extreme, but I’ve had multiple emails about each of these types of situations, and I know that there are women dealing with these things. So let’s get it all out in the open today!

Here are 10 Sex and Marriage Red Flags that shouldn’t be ignored:

1. If your husband says he enjoys sex, but he never wants to make love–Red Flag!

Men, in general, have a higher sex drive than women do. That doesn’t mean that if you have a higher sex drive than your husband that there is necessarily something wrong with him.

But if your husband never wants to make love, even though he says he enjoys it, then that is a red flag. Even if his sex drive is lower than yours, he should want to make love at least sometimes. Here’s a more in-depth series on what to do if your husband doesn’t want sex–and when this really is a red flag.

2. If your husband considers lack of sex to be a spiritual virtue–Red Flag!

One wife of a busy, hardworking pastor sent this in:

 About two months ago I was really feeling the abandonment and disconnect from my husband due to the demands of ministry. I was reading your blog and saw a comment where a woman stated that she never lets her and husband go more than two nights in a row without making love. I thought: how genius! Maybe this will help us stay connected even with his crazy schedule. This went on for a few weeks, then all of a sudden he started refusing. He would leave me laying in bed naked and alone. Again, confused and rejected, I voiced my concerns. He said, we’ve had sex more this month than we’ve had our whole marriage. He proceeded to tell me that our marriage is not based on sex but God. And he felt like I was trying to fill a void of rejection by having sex all the time instead of letting God heal me.

This marriage was already distant because this husband (and father!) was spending most of his time and energy away from the family. When the wife tried to bridge the gap with sex, he told her that she should rely on God instead (presumably like he does).

We do need to rely on God, but we also were created for intimacy with our spouses. When someone consistently rejects sex, while also rejecting an emotional relationship with their spouse, they are likely running from intimacy in general. In this man’s case, he may be lacking intimacy with God, too, thinking that activity for God is the equivalent of intimacy with God. It’s not.

He likely needs a counselor or mentor to sit down with him and talk through his priorities–and also a counselor who can walk him through why he’s running from intimacy and believes that self-sufficiency is the highest good. This attitude will make him an ineffective father and husband, but it will also ultimately make him an ineffective pastor.

3. If your husband has never been able to “complete the deed”, especially if he’s young–Red Flag!

I remember one woman who wrote me who married when she and her husband were quite naive and ignorant about how sex worked. She told me that she didn’t think she had ever had sex, and didn’t understand how it even happened.

After more questions, it turned out that her husband had never had an erection.

Young men should have no problem maintaining an erection. If he is unable to with you, then he has either major sexual issues or major psychological issues. Or, alternatively, he may have trained himself through masturbation to only respond to direct stimulation, as in this case:

My son-in-law has been unable to fully complete sexually. After a year and a half of marriage, during which they’ve never managed to “finish”, my daughter came to find out that he does masturbate quite a bit, and had looked at porn a lot. So my daughter has blocked the internet sites that she can and he is very limited to the time he is on the computer. He has been attending an accountability class at a Church that they are attending. He tried going without masturbating for 30 days and he thought things might have seemed better, but didn’t last long.  Oh, I know he was abused as a little boy by his older brother. Inappropriate touching and sodomy that she knows of. He doesn’t want to talk about that.

He asked and asked about seeing a urologist. Basically, my daughter came away thinking because there doesn’t seem to be a problem. He can ejaculate, therefore the urologists says everything is working fine. Could he have masturbated so long that he doesn’t get the same feeling inside her?

Masturbation could definitely be contributing to the problem–but so, likely, is the abuse that he won’t talk about it. Insisting that he go for counseling and get into a recovery group is so important. And you can retrain yourself to be aroused by a person, but it takes a while.

That brings us to this one:

4. If your husband chooses masturbation over intercourse–Red Flag!

I’ve had several women saying that they have been going for months without sex–but then one woman walked in on her husband masturbating in the shower. He says he does it every day, and suggests she does it, too, she they don’t have to be bothered with sex.

Solo masturbation is selfish and steals intimacy. If someone chooses masturbation over sex consistently, they likely have withdrawn in other ways and have stunted their emotional development, because they’re becoming self focused rather than relationship focused.

I speak more about masturbation in marriage here.

5. If your husband withdraws after making love–Red Flag!

Making love should bring you closer together. When you’re making love, you produce the “bonding” hormone oxytocin which helps you feel more affectionate. If, after making love, he becomes angry, distant, or disconnected, that’s likely a signal that he is fighting some sexual or psychological issues that need to be dealt with.

The next three sex red flags are quite common today, and often result from an addiction to pornography:

6. If your husband refuses to share passwords, let you see his phone, or let you on his computer–Red Flag!

A marriage should have complete trust and openness. If he is adamant that his phone and computer are private, that is practically a guarantee that he is doing something he should not do. If you ask him, he may end up attacking you: “don’t you trust me? Are you that insecure?”

I have never known a marriage where a husband or wife refuses access to their phones who isn’t also either texting inappropriately or watching porn. Never.

If he refuses to let you see things, that’s a definite sign there’s something wrong. One more tip: If you do find something on his phone or computer, take a screen shot or a picture with your phone, so that it can’t be denied later. Then insist on talking with a counselor about it.

7. If your husband is not interested in pleasing you, and seems almost disconnected during sex–Red Flag!

If your husband becomes almost a robot in bed, closing his eyes and refusing to talk to you, then he’s disconnecting, perhaps because he can’t become aroused without picturing something else–or someone else–in his head. If he were to talk to you, it would break the fantasy. If sex is impersonal, there’s something wrong.

Note: this may not be a huge sin issue. If a guy grew up masturbating to porn, but doesn’t watch porn anymore, he could simply be having a hard time getting aroused now because he’s trained his sexual response wrong (that’s one of the side effects of porn!). It doesn’t mean he’s watching porn now (though he could be). Talk to him about it and try to work through it together, though an accountability group or counselor may be necessary.

8. If your husband is not interested in intercourse, but only wants other sexual acts–Red Flag!

Porn depicts sexual acts that are more degrading, and thus often more “photograph worthy”, then simply making love. Add that to a porn habit which is self-focused with masturbation, and many men are not interested in actual sex because it requires mutuality. If your husband prefers other sexual acts (or consistently “degrading” things) to intercourse, he likely has a problem with porn.

Note: if your husband simply wants some variation in bed, there’s nothing wrong with that! But if a man only wants oral sex–red flag!

Finally, the last two red flags represent a man with a seriously disturbed sexuality, which really does need a counselor (and unfortunately I’ve had several of these types, too):

9. If your husband has to role play himself or get you to role play to become aroused–Red Flag!

The Fantasy Fallacy: Exposing the Deeper Meaning Behind Sexual Thoughts If sex has to be rough, or if he has to pretend to be very young, or that you are very young–or any variation on this sort of thing–that’s a danger sign. Many couples like to role play; but if the role play is necessary to his arousal, then there is something at work that really does need to be dealt with, as Shannon Ethridge talks about in The Fantasy Fallacy.

10. If your husband wears strange clothing in private–Red Flag!

One reader wrote in with this story:

I have a friend who basically walks on eggshells whenever her husband is around, so as not to disrupt his delicate moods. Yet then he expects her to want to have sex more! She does not keep sex from him, she tries her best even though her emotional needs aren’t being met, yet SHE is the one who has to initiate if they do have sex. Any time she tries to talk to him about their marriage, he ends up crying, and so she never really says exactly what she feels because she doesn’t want to hurt his feelings. Lately he’s done some weird things, such as he got a thong and began wearing it to bed. No explanation, no asking her what she thought about it. She asked him why and he said “I thought you might like it.” She told him it was a big turn-off for her, yet a month later he ordered 3 more on-line.

I can imagine how bewildered this wife is. She’s trying to have a good marriage, to be good to him, to be sexually available–but he’s crying, moody, rejecting her, and now wearing lingerie!

If a man starts wearing odd clothing, especially in bed, this is a sign of a serious psychological issue that needs to be dealt with.

I’m sorry to be so graphic or to talk about such distasteful things today.

I know that this is not what the vast majority of you deal with. But what scares me when I see some of these emails is that the wives don’t seem to realize how serious many of these things are, because it’s their “normal”. So I want to say, loudly and clearly, these things are NOT normal. They ARE red flags. And you really, really do need to get help, for the sake of his own spiritual growth, and that of your relationship.

Good Girls Guide My SiteIf you want to see what normal sex is, and what God created sex to be, my book The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex explains it all, and it may help you put words to what you instinctively feel is wrong.

My sympathy for any of you who are walking through this.

Please know that God is big enough to get you through–and your husband is never so messed up that God cannot redeem him and redeem your marriage. He may not choose to do so–we all have free will to reject God’s help. But God can do amazing things when we let Him, and I pray that this will be evident in your marriages!

 

 

When the Way We Talk About Submission Turns People Off of Christ

Be careful how you comment! Sometimes we don't realize how too radical a view of submission can turn people away from Christ

On Mondays I always like to post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it, and I have a quite a backlog of questions I’m getting ready to answer!

But today I thought it was important to share instead a Reader Observation and a plea for help from the vast majority of you who read this blog. I’ll get to that observation and that plea in a minute, but first, a little bit of background:

How asking for help from my husband made our marriage so much better!Last month I published a guest post from Kate Tunstall, where she explained how after her first baby came she and her husband started to grow apart. And she grew more and more resentful about him not wanting to care for the baby until she sat down and talked to him, and realized they both were partially at fault.

They both opened up to each other, learned some new things about each other (and themselves), and sorted things out.

And it was all was because she chose to talk about it rather than keep stewing. Had she kept stewing, she wouldn’t have realized that much of their problem was due to misunderstandings. It was only in talking and creating vulnerability and openness again that they came to a solution.

I thought it was a great story that illustrated a point I’ve been trying to make on this blog a lot lately. Sometimes you have to ask your husband for help. You can’t expect your husband to know what you’re thinking unless you tell him. And in most cases, we may look for a “magic bullet” that will fix the problem, but ultimately we have to do the hard and sometimes awkward work of talking about it.

It so happens that Kate doesn’t identify herself as an evangelical Christian (though I will not presume to say what faith she does or does not have beyond that). But her post was right on about marriage and I published it.

The comments on that post, though, quickly veered in a really dangerous and counterproductive direction.

The first few comments are great; then they get weird. One woman wrote that this woman was wrong for expecting her husband to care for the baby; she used a rather derogatory and critical tone toward the guest poster, which other commenters (and I) tried to correct. Then someone else joined the fray and said this:

This post defies Scripture, as well as 1850 years of church teaching. Jesus did not tell us that communication was the most important thing, rather repentance and obedience.

I then commented that just because the church and our culture have sanctioned something does not automatically make it right–look at slavery, after all! (I brought up slavery because I thought NO ONE could defend slavery).

The commenter then defended slavery. And then I deleted the theological arguments they left about why slavery was justified, and banned that commenter.

Seriously, can you imagine what defending slavery in public does to the name of Christ?

I think it’s perfectly valid to wrestle in a seminary with the question, “does the fact that God let the Israelites own slaves in the Old Testament mean that God permits all kinds of slavery? Was slavery just for a time?” But to debate this in public is beyond the pale (and by the way, I still don’t believe God ever really blessed the institution of slavery).

Kate actually wrote a follow-up post on her experience guest posting on a Christian blog, and here’s some of what she said:

It is the year 2015. I was of the impression that the developed world had come a long way, even if only in the last thirty or so years. Whereas it was once acceptable, expected even, that there were gender-specific roles, I thought this narrow-mindedness had all but ended. (Having said that, men and women have different strengths, and I completely advocate the right to state such a fact without the fear of being labelled sexist. It is simple good sense.)

Do you see how sad that is? She was under the impression that the world had come a long way–and we’ve now made her think that the evangelical community is narrow-minded (even though it was a minority of the commenters).

She then says:

I was dismayed to learn that having made huge efforts, at personal cost, to ensure my husband’s needs are met (frequenting the gym regularly and never having to get up to our daughter during the night, for example), there has still been a suggestion that I expect too much of him [by wanting him to interact with our daughter]. I cannot understand or agree with this view – to me it is either antiquated chauvinism in a non-religious context, or, as Sheila discusses, misinterpretation in religion.

Sometimes we leave comments on blogs because we like debate, but we forget that people who do not share our faith will be reading them.

Be careful what you say and how you word things. You are not just debating with the author of a post; you are debating with everyone who will read this post and the comments. People who are searching are on this blog. People who are struggling with God are on this blog. We have a responsibility to the weaker brother.

And I get about 10,000 visits a day from search engines–most of whom arrive here because they use a search term that relates to a crisis in their marriage. And most do not know God. Please assume that when you are commenting here, you are not just talking to Christians. You are talking to moms and wives and even some husbands who are hurting, and who are genuinely searching for help.

One other important thing:

Sometimes our interpretation of Scripture, quite frankly, means that many non-Christian marriages are healthier than many Christian marriages.

Kate’s marriage seems very healthy–or at least her conflict resolution model is. And studies consistently show that children who interact with both parents are emotionally healthier than children who only interact with the mother. A father’s hands-on role is best.

The fact that some commenters were arguing that a husband shouldn’t be expected to interact with the children shows that many non-Christian families are psychologically healthier, which is scary.

Unfortunately, it’s not all that surprising. If you subscribe to the interpretation of Scripture where a wife can never point out where her husband may be in error (even though being a suitable helpmeet obviously equipped us for this role), or that a wife should not express an opinion or call her husband out on sin (seriously, read the comments on this one), or that it is not a wife’s place to draw boundaries and say, “I will not tolerate you treating me in an abusive or demeaning way“, then I doubt that marriage is going to be very healthy.

And some teaching in the church I believe is downright dangerous, like that from Debi Pearl about how when a wife is abused it’s because we’ve provoked our husbands, or that the way to deal with any marriage problem (even severe sin) is to “win him without words”. This leaves far too many families in desperate straits, unable to deal with real abuse, or unable to confront sin and urge their spouses on towards godliness.

So here’s what I would ask:

1. Remember you are God’s ambassadors.

If you have an opinion which would make the majority of the public cringe and question whether or not God is really loving, then ask yourself, “Is it really important that I express it here?”, or, at least, “how can I phrase this so that I’m saying it lovingly?” Obviously we will all hold opinions that are counter-cultural; that’s what being a Christian is. But there is no need to be ungracious or to throw anything in someone else’s face. Instead, we are to relate to them in as many ways as we can so as to not make offense unnecessarily.

Like Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22:

To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.

2. EVERYONE: Please, please, please publicly correct those who give God a bad name.

If you see a comment on this (or any other site) that you think gives God a bad name, then leave a comment to say that that person is wrong, or that most Christians, in your opinion, do not share that point of view.

I’m saying this one to the vast majority of you who are silent, or who may comment but don’t want to touch the inflammatory ones with a ten foot pole. Even a simple, “I think that is the wrong interpretation of Scripture, and want to point out that you hold a minority view” would be awesome!

Right now the off-base comments seem more important than they really are, because 95% of people never comment. Can you imagine how powerful it would be if every time someone said something really inflammatory, a bunch of people said, “I don’t think that’s an accurate view of Scripture”?

3. Think about giving Kate some Encouragement

Her post where she talks about her experience on this blog is right here. If some of you want to go over and give her some encouragement, that would be great!

I, in turn, will:

1. Delete comments whose only purpose seems to be to be inflammatory.

2. Delete comments that may be well-reasoned, but that are so offensive and wrong that I think God will be maligned. (like the pro-slavery ones).

3. Allow comments through that are well-reasoned, even if I think they are wrong, if they don’t cross a threshold. And then I will try to correct them as often as possible.

4. Delete comments where the commenter is insulting another commenter, or making assumptions about other commenters that really aren’t warranted or that are too judgmental.

And I really will try to get to my backlog of Reader Questions too!

I was thinking yesterday in our wonderful Easter service, where I saw my “adopted” niece get baptized, that God is about grace and changing lives and Jesus so wants to bring the world to Himself.

I want this blog to be a part of that. But sometimes I worry that we do the opposite, when I let certain things through.

I do want to allow discussion, but I am really far more concerned about the impression we’re giving those who don’t know Christ than I am about fostering free flowing debate.

I still will always let things through that are respectful, even if I don’t always agree (as long as they’re not totally beyond the pale), but I’d just ask that all of us participate in policing this community and making it a safe place for those who aren’t yet Christians to visit and to learn from.

May we never inadvertently turn off, or turn away, a seeker.

Thanks, everybody! And let me know what you think of my comment policy.

[UPDATE: You guys are awesome! Thanks for all your helpful comments over on Kate’s blog! ]

[UPDATE 2: OH MY GOODNESS! One of the commenters I kept deleting just posted this comment over on Kate’s blog (she hasn’t approved it yet; she sent it to me first). Okay, people, this just proves that some of you don’t get it. How in the world does posting this comment on her blog further the cause of Christ?

Oh, and by the way, when I speak about what we need to do to make our marriages better by drawing boundaries, that doesn’t mean we’re ordering our husbands around. That means that we say, “you are free to choose to do that, but I will not stay here/listen to you/etc. etc. if you sin in that way in front of me.” That is perfectly legitimate and perfectly in line with the gospel, and I’m sorry people think that women should allow men to treat them disprespectfully or destructively–or even worse that God sanctions this.

Here’s the comment:

First, I want to state that we were 2/3rds of the commentors you are referencing. Second, we want to apolagize to you in the way it came across. Our differences are with Sheila and not with you. If you are not a christian and are not teaching God’s Word then we have no problem at all with what you shared. However, please understand that is not the way it was presented at a website (Sheila’s) which is about teaching how marriage should take place in a christian marriage.

As christians we have no problem with a wife asking a husband for help and we certianly think a father should be deeply involved in raising his children. We do not beleive though that God’s Word teaches a wife has the authority to tell her husband how their marriage and parenting is going to play out. Share her hopes and feelings, most certianly. Ask for help, definetly. But not tell him or order him. It goes against scripture.

So please understand our disagreement was not with you but with Sheila whose teaching deals almost exclusively anymore with teaching wives to take the authority position in their marriages and not teaching wives the scripture that pertains to them in the Bible while yet holding husbands to the teaching that pertains to them. In other words, everyday Sheila tries to What I find unacceptable is when a difference in values, and thus opinion, gives rise to anybody forcing their own beliefs upon somebody else. There is no justification for that. Or in other words she forces values and opinions on christian men/husbands through her teaching- using God’s Word as her weapon but only applying it to men.

In other words you stepped into a long running battle that unfortunately is filled with hard feelings on both sides. We are sorry you got stuck in the middle and it would have been handled much differently had we known that you were not a christian.

I know this is not a flattering comment in regards to Sheila but I ask you to do two things before you make judgement.

Review her last year (or three years of posts). Do a count on how many address women treating their husbands better or addressing what we as christians would call women’s own sins? Now count how many are addressing men’s sins. You’ll find that somewhere around 80-90% address men’s sins and yet she is speaking to women everyday. The basic theme of her blog is not how to be a better wife or even how to have a better marriage, it is simply about taking control of your husband. If that is not the case, why the vast difference in the number of posts? Are men worse then women? Are men causing more marriage problems than women?

We do not expect someone who does not share our faith to agree with what the Bible says but even people who do not share the same beliefs can agree that the only person you can change is yourself. If you are speaking to the same group everyday, why are you constantly teaching about the sins of the other?

Respectfully and wishing you & your husband the best.

And now a word to that commenter who really doesn’t get it. If you continue to try to get a non-Christian involved in a disagreement between Christians, and continue to try to post things that defame Christ, even though I have told you not to, I WILL publish your email address. This is ridiculous. Please understand: YOU ARE GOD’S AMBASSADOR. How in the world did you think that this comment furthered the cause of Christ?

[UPDATE 3]: Just thought of something even more ironic–and kinda funny!

Okay, so that commenter who is obviously more concerned with winning an argument with me than with portraying Christ in a positive light has a beef with me: I have been teaching on this blog about how women can confront their husbands when their husbands are in sin, instead of teaching women to serve their husbands.

Emotionally Destructive Marriages: 10 Truths about marriages characterized by emotional abuseI don’t actually believe that my posts are skewed if you count them up at all, but it is true that I’ve been hammering the point about Emotionally Destructive marriages recently–and about calling your husbands out on sin. There are two main reasons for this: one is because I can see the Google searches that lead people to this page, and so, so many of them have to do with wives whose husbands use porn.

But the second is because people like this commenter keep commenting–and they scare me! Are there really that many people out there who believe that women should not confront their husbands in sin? If that’s true, then I have a lot more teaching to do! Ironically, if these commenters would stop leaving such incendiary comments about a woman’s role, I could move on to other things. But the fact that they keep popping up here shows me that there is still much teaching to do in the church about appropriate relationships. And that’s why I chose Leslie Vernick’s book The Emotionally Destructive Marriage to look at in our reading challenge last month–because what these people are advocating are essentially the blueprints for an emotionally destructive marriage. And the more I hear from them, the more I have to talk about it!

Rebuilding Trust After a Porn Addiction

Rebuilding Trust After a Porn Addiction

I get a lot of reader’s questions like this one:

I found out about my husband of 5 years had been addicted to porn and caught him by innocently searching through his photos on his phone while nursing my son in bed one morning.  I regularly asked to use his phone, so my looking through it was nothing unusual at all. The difference this time is he forgot to hide his stuff apparently this time. We have had MANY hard conversations since then. He’s been getting help, hasn’t looked at it since July (when I caught him) and has been genuinely turning his life around and back to the Lord.  Here’s my issue.  I still don’t trust him yet. I’ve forgiven him but trusting him again is something that takes a lot of work and time. We aren’t at that point yet. Is it possible to respect him without trust?  I do try but he doesn’t feel it anymore. I know it’s incredibly important to show respect and even biblical. I guess maybe I don’t know what respect truly is? I’m being the best I know how to be while feeling so broken but it doesn’t seem enough. Please help, I’m so confused.

And here is one woman’s answer to rebuilding trust after a porn addiction…welcome Jen Ferguson from Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood

I was in my bed sobbing uncontrollably.  The revelation hit me in the gut and never have I felt so alone as I did in that moment. The reality of my life hit me: I cannot trust anyone not to let me down.

Thankfully, with the new morning came new light into my darkness: No one is infallible. Everyone makes mistakes, including me. People will fail me, but this does not make all relationships destined for failure.

That wisdom right there seemed to right my sinking ship. Suddenly, I had gone from shipwrecked to being fortified with a grace I hadn’t known I was withholding from people in my life, primarily from my husband. For years we had battled together against his porn addictionNever did I consider divorce, but looking back at it, never did I consider living into the fullness of marriage again, either. For years I could not bear to think about trusting Craig again.

Could I ever stop my suspicions he would one day return to porn?  Would I ever be able to talk to him about his addiction without accusation and fear?  The truth was, I could give him my body in the bedroom, but could I ever truly again give him my heart?

Realizing my own fallibilities was the first step in helping me to rebuild trust in my husband. How many times had I hurt him over and over in the same manner?  I was not a white lamb in this relationship. My blemishes, though different than his, were still sins for which I needed forgiveness and grace. It was me that was placing his sin on a grander scale than my own. This was certainly not how God saw it.  Sin is sin.

Rebuilding trust was a dual effort for us. Yes, he had betrayed me by using pornography and needed to show me that he was actively pursing a life without it. But, truthfully, I had lost some of his trust, too. When I first discovered his porn addiction, I went into “control” mode. I watched over his every move. I accused him before listening to him. I became a parent instead of a spouse. I let my anger rule my words.  We both had to come to a place of acknowledging our own needs for forgiveness and recognize our marriage wouldn’t thrive without a foundation of trust.

Four Steps to Go from Ruin to Reunion

1. He communicates with me and I listen.

One of Craig’s major triggers that would propel him into his porn addiction cycle was stress.  When things felt too hard or too much, when he felt as though he was at risk for failing or rejection, he would shut me out and get lost in the world of porn for release and escape.  Before he really became invested in freedom, I would ask him questions, knowing something was wrong, and he would simply give me a pat answer like “things are busy at work.”  Now, he knows I know when something is bothering him and he is willing to sit down with me and be real and honest with what is happening and how he is responding to those situations.

2.  I respond with wisdom and he listens. 

One day, Craig’s friend invited him over to watch the TV show, Game of Thrones. I happened to see part of one episode the previous season and I knew there was nudity in it.  When I saw the invitation on Craig’s computer, my first reaction (that thankfully, I kept in my head) was “No! You can’t do that! It’s not good for you!”  If I had said that, I would have regressed back into my fear-based, parenting-like behavior, where he felt disrespected.  Instead, I simply told him how I thought the show might trigger him back into porn and asked him to pray about whether or not he should view the show. He ended up not going, not because I demanded him to stay home, but because God led him to the conclusion that watching nudity on TV would not be conducive to his walk toward freedom. He felt respected by the fact that I asked him to fully consider the ramifications and seek God instead of shouting at him about what he should or shouldn’t do.

3.  He accepts accountability.

I know the password to all of Craig’s electronic devices and have permission at any time to view anything on them. There is a password on our cable account that restricts adult entertainment access and MA-rated television shows and movies that only I have (which he asked me to put on). He has a regular group of friends he can count on to pray for him and from whom he seeks counsel. All of these things give me tangible ways to see that he is trying to keep himself safe from things that could easily ensnare him.

4. We forgive each other continually.

We must make it a practice to forgive and extend grace. We will both mess up in a variety of ways, but instead of using these mistakes as ammunition against each other to try to prove that we are not trustworthy, we choose to use them so to practice the character of Jesus, who always extends forgiveness.

Rebuilding trust does not happen overnight and it can feel like an impossible goal, but with God, anything is possible. Trust is a crucial piece to your marriage and it will not thrive without it. God knows this and He will actively help you rebuild it. You’re not in it alone.

 

Jen FergusonJen Ferguson is passionate about Jesus, her husband, and her two girls. She is the facilitator of The Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood and loves to encourage women to bring their true selves out into the light.  She is the co-author of Pure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple’s Journey to Freedom from Pornography.  

WifeyWednesday175Now it’s your turn! Have some marriage advice? Leave a comment, or link up a URL of your own Wifey Wednesday marriage post in the linky below!

This Wifey Wednesday we talk about how to rebuild when he’s the one who has sinned sexually. Next Wednesday we’ll look at how to rebuild trust when it’s been you–especially if you’ve been withholding sex, and now you want to change but your husband doesn’t trust you yet.



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Wifey Wednesday: Putting Your Husband First

Today, welcome guest author Kate from Making Space, a mom, wife and reader from the UK, who like many of us asks an important question, what comes first, children or marriage? Here’s what she says about putting your husband first.

Children or Marriage: Putting Your Husband First

This is what a normal day in our household looks like.

Jonas wakes up, if I’m organised enough I will have woken up before him to shower and get myself ready. I put him on the potty (and continue to do so regularly for the rest of the day), get him dressed, we go downstairs, I make him breakfast. I wash up all the dummies and beakers he used last night. I empty the dishwasher, and then load it, whilst talking to Jonas as he has breakfast. I get him down from the table, he plays whilst I have breakfast. I quickly load the washing machine and prepare his changing bag. A neighbour might knock on the door and come in for a quick chat. We quickly rush out the door trying to get to a toddler group on time, but often running 30 minutes late. We stay there until lunch and then walk home super quickly to get back in time for Jonas to have a quick lunch and then nap. He wakes about 2 or 3pm, leaving me a couple of hours to spend some 1-1 time with him, do cleaning, hang the washing, prepare dinner and do any other chores around the house for which there always seem to be many.

Engagement

Before Children

Around 5 or 6pm I am so happy to see Alan’s car pull up in the driveway. Honestly, not because I am excited to chat to my husband or give him a kiss for all his hard work in the office enabling me to be a stay at home mum, but because seeing him walk through the door means he can assist me in looking after Jonas, or sorting bits in the kitchen, or putting Jonas on the potty for the 20th time that day, or just lending a helping hand. Just doing anything which enables me a couple of minutes to breathe and have some time off from being a ‘mummy on duty’. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mummy, but I think most mummies will understand, some days it is relentless and there is such freedom in being ‘off duty’ for even 5 minutes.

As I started writing this post, I was going to write about juggling things in motherhood, something I’m sure I will write about soon, but as I started typing I realised something. Sometimes, and probably often, my focus in my day is so much on my son, and my long list of chores or jobs to achieve, that I forget something equally as important. I forget something that was here before any of these ‘to do’s’ or ‘priorities’, I forget my marriage. I forget to give myself to my husband.

I spend so much of my day giving my best to my son, that when Alan walks in the door and we go through the strict paces of the dinner/bedtime routine for Jonas, there is very little of my best left to give.

By the time 7pm on a good day, or 8pm on a not so good day comes, and Jonas is asleep in his cot, this mummy is knackered. Desperate for some me time, just to do something other than give of myself, longing to chill or zone out. I don’t really want to hear about his day, because surely it can’t compare to the importance of him needing to hear about the events of our day, the laughs, the new developments, the tears or tantrums, the accidents or successes of potty training, surely my husband’s tale of the day can’t compare to this, right?

As I type this I am reminded of something one of my close friends once said:

Our husbands were there before we had kids and they will still be there after.

I guess the state of our marriage will be dependant upon the attention we give it during these years when it’s hard to give again when we have done so all day.

I think this will probably be a challenge for a lot of mums, especially in those early years when our little ones are so dependant on us. We can feel like we have literally given so much that we have emptied ourself of all energy, that there is none left to find.

If this resonates with you, I challenge you, like I challenge myself, to remember the one that was there first. To remember our husbands who have given us these precious children. And on those days when we literally feel like we have given above and beyond for our babies, to somehow muster up something else, to give to our husbands. To remember that when they walk in the door, although you may feel desperate for them to help, to take time to give them a kiss. Or when you feel like you have to tell them the events of the day because you haven’t had any other adult conversation within the last 4 hours, to remember, maybe they want to share their days events with you first. And when you hand them a list of ‘to do’s’, perhaps stop to think what this type of welcome might feel like to them as they step in the front door. Perhaps think that they may have had their own challenges or stress that day, and they may need a breather too.

And then remember this: we give to our children firstly because we love them, but also because we are investing in their lives. Don’t allow yourself to lose your love for your husband, but on the days that maybe you don’t feel it because you are so exhausted, remember you are investing in them too. Investing in your marriage, and when your babies have grown up, and flown the nest, your husband will still be there. And the success of our relationship will depend on what we put in now and how much we give to them now.

If this seems impossible, because you can’t possibly think of anyone else other than your little bundle of joy that is also a bundle of a lot of hard work, ask God for help. Ask Him for strength. Ask Him to show you little ways you can bless your husband, or help you to organise things so you have more time. Because the same is true of our children and our husbands; what we put in in the early years, most definitely affects what we get out in the later years.

Decide that what you get out of your marriage in years to come will be good!

Me-and-My-Boy-150x150My name’s Kate. Two and a half years ago I became a mummy. My life massively changed! I left my career, fell madly in love and started the biggest learning curve of my life. I have learnt many things since then but the biggest by far is that by the grace of God all things are possible. God has given me wisdom when I’ve needed answers, given me strength when I’ve been overwhelmed and given me capacity beyond my natural ability. I write a blog because honestly some days we all need something to read where we can find hope, encouragement or just a space to hear, it’s normal! You can find it here: Making Space.

The Appeal of 50 Shades of Grey–and Why We Should Fight

Why 50 Shades of Grey Appeals--and what our response should be

Fifty Shades of Grey is coming to theaters everywhere next Valentine’s Day. It’s become the highest advanced ticket sales for any R-rated movie ever. Groups of women are going to see it together.

What should our response be?

It’s sold as a series that can reignite women’s sex drives, boost their libidos, and even enhance their marriages. But is that true?

Today all over the online world bloggers are uniting to talk about this movie and why it’s a bad idea. I’ve written several posts on the book before, including:

I want to take a bit of a different approach in today’s post and talk about why the movie appeals–and then what we should do about that.

Why Are Women Drawn to 50 Shades of Grey?

Honestly, I’ve read a lot of Christian commentary on 50 Shades of Grey, and the response is often something like: “it’s wrong, period!” People see the whips and the chains and the awful language and we’re horrified.

I agree that reading erotica is wrong and that it will harm your marriage. And this particular series glamourizes what is essentially a violent, abusive relationship (with shades of pedophilia in there, too).

Nevertheless, many women are drawn into the sexual fantasy about it.

But here’s the complicating factor: a lot of sin in our lives isn’t caused by sinful hearts as much as it is caused by brokenness–by deep places of hurt within ourselves. Remember when Jesus warned people not to be a stumbling block to one of his little ones and cause them to sin? He wasn’t denying that the little ones were sinning; but he was saying that the cause of that sin was not some evil on the part of the little ones, but some way that they had been hurt or harmed by someone else.

Brokenness is as much a cause of sin as our own sinful nature. Brokenness is dangerous.

And just like many men (and women) are tempted towards porn because they feel lonely and it gives them a sense of control, so there is something inside of many women which draws them towards this kind of erotica.

Pulling Back the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman's HeartDannah Gresh and Juli Slattery do a great job in the book Pulling Back the Shades to explain why 50 Shades of Grey is so alluring to so many. But I want to take it even farther today. They talk about how women are looking for more excitement in their sex life; how they’re sick of being bored (among other things), and that’s all true. But that would apply to any kind of erotica or any kind of sex toys, etc. The simple fact is that there is something unique about this particular brand of erotica–this particular story of bondage and sado-masochism that has captivated millions. What is it? That’s what I want to figure out today, because I think when we understand the root we’ll understand the response.

Root #1: Feeling Alone

The Fantasy Fallacy: Exposing the Deeper Meaning Behind Sexual ThoughtsIn her book The Fantasy Fallacy, Shannon Ethridge looks at how we all have sexual fantasies, and those fantasies are not all bad. Some, however, cross a line. But where do those fantasies come from? Our sexual self is very rooted in our identities, our fears, and our deepest longings. And those are shaped especially by our brokenness. So it’s hardly surprising that our sexual fantasies often say much about the state of our hearts.

When you look at the root of the fantasy appeal of 50 Shades of Grey, you can see a lot of brokenness.

Let’s start with this: The book centers on a naive 21-year-old who is alone in the world and just beginning her adult life.

Do you remember those years?

I do, and they weren’t pretty. They were the loneliest and scariest of my life. I didn’t know what I’d be doing. I didn’t know who I’d marry (or if I’d marry). I didn’t know if I’d be alone my whole life.

I have two daughters aged 17 and 20, and so I’m surrounded by them and by their friends. And this is a hard, horrible time for many of them. It’s just really unsettling. I wouldn’t want to go back at all.

And so, in the midst of feeling naive and unprepared for life, she meets this strong, confident billionaire (yes, billionaire. Good, realistic plotting isn’t exactly what this series is known for). She gets someone who will take care of her (even in a warped way). And that can be really intoxicating.

 Root #2: Feeling Like You Don’t Have To Be In Control

A lot of women are control freaks. It’s not necessarily because we want to be in control, though. It’s because there are so many things we’re desperately worried about, and because we’re multitaskers, we think about them all the time. We can’t get away from them. And because we worry so much, we feel like everything rests on our shoulders. If we don’t do all the right things, everything will fall apart.

That’s a heavy responsibility.

We feel responsible for making the right decisions about our kids. We feel responsible for our marriages, for our parents, for our friends. We feel responsible for keeping ministries going at church. We have so much on our shoulders.

Doesn’t being free of the burden of control sound intoxicating?

A while back I had some health scares and I had to go through a number of tests. I posted a Facebook update that I had had an MRI–and despite all the banging (MRIs are really loud) I almost fell asleep. It was one of the most relaxing times I’d had in ages! I got to lie there, and there was absolutely nothing I was allowed to do except be still. It was heaven. And all kinds of women echoed similar things.

So perhaps it’s no wonder that the whole idea of bondage and someone else being in control and making all the decisions appeals in a deep way to women. Many of us are wounded because we are carrying around burdens and cares that cannot and should not be our own.

Root #3: Dealing with Shame

Many of us are just plain ashamed of our sexuality. We equate being aggressive in bed or even enjoying ourselves with being slutty or being “bad”. It’s hard for us to initiate sex, or to tell our husbands what we want in bed.

Having a man that takes the choice out of it, then, is freeing. If he’s doing something TO you, and you can’t resist, then you’re free to enjoy yourself without having to admit that you’re somehow bad.

So those are many of the roots. They aren’t the only ones, but they’re the obvious ones. Do you see yourself in any of them? If you can understand why you may be drawn to these things, then it’s easier to fight against it. You don’t need to beat yourself up; you need to deal with the underlying brokenness.

Dealing with the Ugly Fruit

Remember, the root just shows us what our heart issues are. But when we let that root take hold and we let that grow, we can bear some awfully ugly fruit.

And that’s what happens with erotica like this. We may have reasons to be drawn to it, but when we read a lot of erotica, or watch it in movies, it clouds our fantasies. It starts to pair our sexual response with a fantasy rather than a person (our husbands), and just like porn does, it makes it harder to stay present with our husbands. We’re not making love with them; we’re using them while fantasies are going through our heads.

And those fantasies are hard to remove. Soon you need them even to get aroused. Not a good thing. And that’s when we cross the line from brokenness into sin.

Then there are those who will eventually start to act this stuff out. There’s a reason demand for bondage gear is growing. But when you start living this out in real life, you cement a relationship which is the farthest thing from truly intimate you can find. You create a violent, degrading relationship instead of a healthy meeting of two equals.

What Should Our Response to 50 Shades of Grey Be?

If you’re drawn to 50 Shades of Grey:

Recognize the reasons. Try to identify the roots of the appeal of the fantasy. Is it that you don’t want to be alone? Don’t want to feel in control all the time? Want to enjoy sex without feeling shame? If you can identify the root, then you can help heal any brokenness that’s there. You can run to God to work out your insecurities. You can work with your husband on how to feel more comfortable with your sexuality. You can start wrestling with God about how to trust Him in faith and not having to be so in control.

That’s a tall order, I know, because for many of us these roots run deep. Many porn addicts suffer from a similar thing. Their roots are often things like never being properly affirmed (in porn the women are always there and ready and eager), or never feeling like  you’re powerful enough. Sometimes a big part of defeating the temptation of these things is seeing the root.

If you’re talking with someone who is thinking of seeing the 50 Shades movie:

Explain the chemical process of how we start to pair sexual arousal with fantasy, and then we can’t get aroused in a relationship anymore. Tell her it’s a very similar physiological response as men with porn. And here’s what else happens: once we start using erotica, we tend to want more–and different. So we read weirder and weirder stuff that we would never have been drawn to before. It changes you in ways you don’t want.

Emphasize this rather than just “it’s sinful”. The “it’s sinful” doesn’t always help. Yes, it is, but sin has repercussions. If you explain the repercussions, it’s easier for people to see the danger.

The Pull for Porn & Erotica for Women Is Going to Escalate

Porn is a problem for men today in a way it never was before the internet. It was always a temptation, but it was never this widespread.

This is going to escalate for women now, too. We’re the next target. And it’s an easy progression from erotica to full blown porn.

So let’s start realizing that not all porn users are male, and that females struggle too. And let’s protect ourselves (and our daughters). Talk openly with your friends so that we make talking about this mainstream. Get filters on your computer. And fight against it!

Sex Can Be Fun–and Healthy!

So let’s spread the word that we don’t need bondage, whips and chains to have fun in bed! What we need is greater openness, less shame, and more intimacy.

31 Days to Great SexAnd that’s why on this Fight Back Against 50 Shades of Grey weekend I’m going to put 31 Days to Great Sex on for just $2.99 from my store (in .pdf) and on Kindle at Amazon.

I want to give you EVERY REASON to pick up this book. Seriously, it’s only 3 dollars! And it’s got 31 challenges you and your husband can do together to help you talk about sex again, explore more, flirt more, be more affectionate, and spice things up. And I have several days where we deal with all the junk that’s holding us back, too.

Already have it? Pick up a copy for a friend, or a sister, or a relative that is thinking of going to see the movie. Show them there’s another way!

31 Days 50 Shades Sale

O Christmas Tree

O Christmas TreeWhen I was in Canadian Tire a while ago I saw an absolutely stunning Christmas tree.

It was decorated in silver bows and balls with purple accents. It was my ideal tree.

Such a tree, however, will never grace my living room. No matter how much I want a purple and silver one, I have too many other decorations that render a consistent colour scheme impossible. I have a family Christmas tree.

First comes the gold heart embossed with “Keith and Sheila, 1991″ that we received at our wedding. Then there are all the Christmas decorations we made as children which our parents thoughtfully gave us our first Christmas together (were they trying to get rid of them, I wonder?). There’s the canvas stitched candy cane Keith made, and the decorated styrofoam balls I did. Other decorations full of childhood memories hang beside them, like the angel candle holders that were on my Baby Jesus birthday cake when I was six.

And now, of course, we have added our children’s decorations. At first they were fairly innocuous ones, like “Baby’s First Christmas”. They have since become more ambitious. One year the girls and I made dough Christmas shapes and then glued little pictures to them. Katie, who is living proof that you can survive your second year of life eating only dried play dough (believe me, it wasn’t my choice), actually left nibble marks in some as she tried to eat them, too, despite the salt content. Add the decorations the girls make at Sunday school out of little paper doilies, and there’s no room for those classy purple balls.

Our lives are very much like these Christmas trees.

We spend so much effort trying to have the perfectly decorated life, with the right kids, the right jobs, and the right promotions. But it can be exhausting to live that way. Our work is never done. We’re always on the go, and when we do sit down it’s only to plan how to drive our kids to more lessons, run some more errands or throw on yet another load of laundry before we make dinner.

The family Christmas tree, with all its imperfections, is better because it is uniquely us. Anybody can have a perfectly purple Christmas tree. Not everyone can have the one decorated with your own white doily angels and pipe cleaner reindeer.

Christmas anchors us and reminds us of whose we are and of what’s important.

A sign at a local Dry Cleaners recently read, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there”. Many of us are stuck on some sideroad of endless errands and work because we need a road map to get us home, a map that can only come by slowing down and reflecting, if just for a little while. With the busyness of life, we often ignore our spiritual side, never taking time to think about life, death, parenting or our purpose on this earth. Christmas can be our roadmap, a time to take stock of our lives and consider if we’re heading in the right direction.

Whatever your spiritual background is, the challenge is the same: let’s take the time during the holidays to honour it. At my house this week, we’ll have a “Baby Jesus Birthday Cake” (chocolate, of course), to remind us that Christmas is when the all-powerful God became as helpless as a baby so he could live among us and die for us, so we could live forever with him. I don’t want that just to be my Christmas message; I want to live it through the rest of the year. But if I don’t take the chance now to see whether my daily life reflects my spiritual priorities, I may not have time once the daily grind starts anew.

I will gladly take my Baby Jesus birthday cake angels and little dough hearts over purple balls any day. That’s who I am, and who I want to be. Christmas is one of the few times of year when we can contemplate life without someone telling us to move on to the next task. Let’s make sure that this year, we take advantage of the opportunity.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

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!

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 Unglamorous Life of a Porn Star–and Why We Don’t Have to Compete

PureEyesCleanHeartIt’s Wednesday, that day that we always talk marriage! Today’s guest post is from Jennifer Ferguson, whose husband, Craig, battled through and recovered from a pornography addiction. Together they’ve written the book Pure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple’s Journey to Freedom from Pornography. Today she tells part of her story and how she had an attitude shift, regarding the unglamorous life of a porn star.

I used to think the voluptuous girls with the sleek bodies, cascading hair, and pouty lips were the enemies.

I would think horrid thoughts about them, judging them as they flaunted their goods in front of a camera to be broadcast for the entire world to see. I judged them the first time I saw them by accident on my husband’s computer screen and every time the incident replayed itself in my mind.

Unglamorous Life of a Porn Star

I couldn’t ask him, “What do they have that I don’t?” because the answer was obvious to me: Everything.

And it seemed that everything I had was detrimental to my ability to even try to get close to achieving what they had:

  • Baby fat…from 2 babies
  • An “A” cup
  • Stretch marks
  • Cellulite

The only time my lips were pouty was when I was complaining about lack of sleep. Not sure that jives with the sex appeal I was going for.

Even though I knew I could never look like them (at least, not on my budget), I tried to do what I could. I lost weight. I became a runner. I started trying to look better generally (a.k.a. taking five minutes to throw on some mascara).

But a shrinking me didn’t equate to less porn use by my husband. Trying to become more like them did not draw him more towards me. And the bitterness and rage building in my heart towards these porn stars started making me a jealous fool regarding any woman.

I gave anyone the power to make me feel less-than without the utterance of one single word. All they had to do was walk by. Wear a low-cut shirt. Breathe.

As Craig started his journey to freedom from porn addiction, God pointed out I had been ensnared by images of fantasy, too. Where he had been trapped by lust, I had been trapped by comparison.

Somehow, while working on our book, a miracle happened. I found myself filled with compassion for these women who had paraded across the screen and in my husband’s mind. Those whom I perceived as home-wreckers, I now viewed as women with wrecked hearts. Those whom I thought had it all, I realized had very little: safety, self-worth, family who cared. Those I thought were the definition of sexy were actually sex slaves.

Instead of spending so much time pitying myself, I found myself weeping for them.

And repenting. I had judged deeply and wrongly. I had let hate obscure my vision, not only of them, but also of myself. I thought I knew their world, but the truth is, I knew nothing. I started to turn my harsh language into compassionate prayers, that the women in the industry would find freedom, hope, and Jesus.

Because no one should think this is the way to live. No one should think they are worth nothing more than what the porn industry has to offer. The grass is definitely not greener. Consider these facts:
• One male pornographic performer, Rocco (600 films and 3,000 women), said: “Every professional in the porn-world has herpes, male or female.” (www.covenanteyes.com)
• The average life expectancy of a porn performer is only 37.43 years. The average American lives to be 78.1 years old. (www.shelleylubben.com/porn-industry)
• The US adult film industry earns between $9-13 billion annually. Performers make $400-$1000 per shoot and are not compensated based on distribution or sales. (www.shelleylubben.com/porn-industry)
• “Nobody really wants to date a porn star, stripper or escort. Also the whole family thing and having kids, I’m like ‘who’s gonna have kids with an ex-porn star,’” Belmond said, according to the Christian Post. “And even when I’m 60 I’m still gonna have this porn on the Internet. It’s like having a virus or something that never goes away.” Vanessa Belmond, former porn star (http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/10/24/ex-porn-star-reveals-the-horrors-of-working-in-the-sex-industry/)

Ladies, these women, or any woman, you deem as prettier, sexier, whatever-ier, is not your enemy. As Paul writes in Ephesians, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12, NIV)

When you feel the need to compare, pray.

Pray for yourself that God might show you how intricately you were made.

Pray for the woman you feel you’re up against, that she might know the same – that there is a God who loves her passionately.

Pray thanksgiving for beauty – that which is in you and every other sister – the beauty that is worn on the outside as well as the beauty that blooms on the inside.

Pray against the forces of darkness that belittle, that lie, that damage – those things within the porn industry and all the other dark places in this world.

And pray there would be no room for bitterness or rage to take root, for there is little beauty in those things at all.

JenniferFergusonPure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple's Journey to Freedom from PornographyJennifer Ferguson and her husband Craig are the authors of Pure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple’s Journey to Freedom from Pornography.

WifeyWednesday175Now it’s your turn to be part of Wifey Wednesday! What advice do you have for us today? Leave the link to your marriage post in the linky below.



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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.