What’s the Real Divorce Rate?

I write the “Messy Faith” column for Faith Today, Canada’s Christian magazine, and here’s a recent one about the real divorce rate. You’ll be surprised (and pleased!)

Real Divorce Rate

My salt-of-the-earth family values friend was dating a friend of mine, but after four years was still hesitating to pop the question. “I’ve seen so many friends divorce,” he explained. “I don’t want to do that to us.”

Divorce, in his mind, was like a virus.

If you’re not careful, it will sneak up on you, and soon you’ll find yourself kicked out, broke, and crying into your coffee.

Our society treats divorce like it’s a contagion, and it’s not hard to see why. After all, the divorce rate is close to 50%, isn’t it? And the even sadder part: Christians divorce at the same rate as everyone else–and some say even higher.

As a marriage author and blogger, I hear these stats everyday, and they’ve always confused me. Do they even pass the smell test? In the late 80s and early 90s I was involved with the Queen’s University Christian Fellowship group. Of the dozens of friends I remember from those days, as far as I know, only three have divorced. The other marriages have so far made it, even twenty years later.

If divorce is really 50%, then we must have either been incredibly lucky or part of a bizarre subgroup with the ability to withstand Kryptonite.

But forget anecdotes–what about just plain logic? If, as Christians, we believe that God helps us forgive, God helps us through grief, and God helps us withstand temptation, then why do we not believe that God also would make a difference in marriage? Why are we so quick to accept these stats at face value?

Perhaps this “divorce virus” is much weaker than we think.

The Good News About Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and DivorceThat’s what Shaunti Feldhahn found when she analyzed the studies for her new book, The Good News About Marriage. Back in 2006 she was trying to dig up the current divorce rate for an article. She asked her assistant to check on it, so her assistant delved into footnotes from other articles. She sought out the original sources. And nothing could justify the rate of 50%–in fact, there didn’t seem to be a credible source at all. And so the two of them started a six-year project to uncover the real divorce rate.

What they found was revolutionary.

The divorce rate for first marriages is actually around 30%–and likely closer to 28%. Christians have between a 30% and 50% lower divorce rate than the general population–which puts us at around 14%-20%. Since these are American figures, we Canucks can likely shave a few points off of even that. Of course, a 15% divorce rate in the church still represents a lot of heartbreak and many hurting families, but it also means that the vast majority of marriages are happy.

The Real Divorce Rate: Good news about marriage! It's not 50%

So where did that “50% of marriages end in divorce” stat come from? In the 1970s, when divorce rates were skyrocketing, researchers were asked to estimate the divorce rate. They said, “If divorce rates continue to rise as they are now, we would expect the divorce rate to be 50%”. But divorce rates didn’t rise; they fell. And so that stat–which was never actually a statistical snapshot, but only ever a projection–never came true.

What about the idea that Christians have just as high a divorce rate? That came from a study from the Barna group, where respondents were asked to identify their religion. George Barna himself has disavowed this common interpretation of his study, since if you really want to know the Christian divorce rate, you don’t just ask what religion people claim; you ask about key things, like if they read their Bible, if they pray, or if they attend church. Do that, and the divorce rate plummets.

Feldhahn’s book is filled with all the analysis that a stats geek will love even more than Star Trek reruns, but here’s what it means for the rest of us, and here’s why Shaunti wrote it: What if the biggest threat to marriage isn’t divorce, but discouragement? If we believe that 50% of marriages end in divorce, then marriage looks really risky. People will choose to cohabit rather than take the plunge. Or, once they are married, if problems crop up, they think, “this is why marriages end. We’re one of the couples who won’t make it.”

On the other hand, if people realize that most couples do make it, then more people will tie the knot. When troubles come, they can say to themselves, “most people have problems, but most people get over those problems, and we will, too.”

Those who are married live longer. As the Institute for Marriage and the Family pointed out in a recent study, they tend to be wealthier and have a much easier time getting out of poverty. Their kids do better in school, are less likely to take drugs or alcohol, and are more likely to delay sexual activity. And, of course, they’re happier.

There’s Good News About Marriage out there, and we need to listen and spread the word.

Most marriages make it. Over 90% of married people would marry the same person again. Marriage is still a wonderful thing. Pass it on.

The Good News About Marriage: The real divorce rate

Will you help to spread the good news about marriage? Pin the pictures in this post, or share it on Facebook! Just use the buttons below. Let’s not let anyone ls flee marriage or rush to divorce because they think marriages can’t last.

The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex

Marriage isn't supposed to be blah!


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

Where Have All The Men Gone?

men opting out of collegeThis week many of our teenagers headed on to higher education. And as they entered those hallowed halls of learning, they may have noticed that one thing seemed to be in short supply: men.

Why are men opting out of college?

A friend of mine attended the University of Guelph for a semester before returning home to start a successful agricultural business. It wasn’t that he couldn’t handle the academics; it was that he hated the environment. He was a hunter, an outdoorsman, a man’s man. He didn’t fit in well with what he called the “politically correct” atmosphere, so he left.

He’s not alone.

A recent survey in the United States found that for every 100 males on university campuses there are now 135 females. In Canada the story is virtually the same, as females constitute 60% of the undergraduate population, and two thirds of medical students. Of course, women aren’t overrepresented in all areas. In maths and sciences men still rule, as they do in most graduate programs. But the trends are certainly tilting towards female dominance.

Perhaps one reason fewer men are at university is because they don’t need to be.

Many trades that attract mostly men—like plumbing, contracting, or electrical work—pay more than many degree-required jobs, and come with the added bonus of no student loans. Perhaps university just isn’t very attractive for many men when other options, which aren’t as readily available to women, do exist. After all, my friend has just sold his second business, becoming a very successful man while he’s barely in his thirties.

Our universities, though, have not woken up to the new demographic reality. Much of campus life is still geared to helping women. Most universities have women’s studies departments, women’s health units, women’s clubs, women’s awareness sessions, women’s support groups, and women’s hotlines. What they don’t seem to have is anything to help men. In fact, if men started a “men’s support group” that didn’t have to do with teaching men not to rape women, it would be the subject of student editorials for months. It’s just not done.

This seems to be a strange aberration in Canadian society. Usually, whenever groups are underrepresented, we try to reach out to them. We start scholarships, mentorships, or special programs. The only thing I can conclude from the lack of pro-male initiatives is that to the universities, it really doesn’t matter that men are missing.

In the long run, though, is male underrepresentation best for the country? And is it best for the universities? Will they prove themselves relevant if 50% of the population is no longer interested in pursuing their degrees?

And what about women? Even in our more rural communities, many of our girls still aspire to university education. Since most women choose as spouses those who have as much education as they do, what will their options be as this pool shrinks? Does going to university mean putting oneself in a romantic black hole?

We need to start treating this as a serious problem and asking why men are opting out.

A lot of it has to do with the way we are teaching—or failing to teach—our boys. But I think university culture is also a large part of it. I spent seven years at Queen’s, and I cringe to remember it now. It took me years after graduation to come back to the real world and realize that, despite what I was taught—and indeed, what I taught undergraduates during my last three years—all sex is not rape, marriage is not an oppressive institution, and children actually do need their parents. These are basic values that most Canadians, and especially those who live outside the big cities, share. But they are not the values that are found on our campuses.

I think it’s time for the university, and the education establishment, to get its head out of the sand and realize that it is not women who are on the losing end of the education game, but men who are instead opting out. When women were on the losing end, we demanded that we balance the scales. Will we give men the same courtesy?

This column first appeared September 1, 2006.

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What the Mark Driscoll Mess Tells Us About Marriage

On the Mark Driscoll Mess and what we learn about power in marriage and ministryI am angry today.

I am angry that lately so many high profile leaders in the Christian church have had to step down in disgrace. I’m angry that it is giving our world, which desperately needs Christ, a negative view of the church–and of God.

I know some of my readers attend Mars Hill churches around the nation, and I know you are likely hurting much more than me. I understand that many of you still stand completely behind Mark Driscoll, and that is fine. This post is not about bashing Mark, because I do not know him. But as I have looked at various scandals over the last few years, it seems as if they have several commonalities that we need to be aware of–and those commonalities affect how we see marriage.

To sum up for those of you who aren’t aware, Mark Driscoll is the young pastor of the megachurch Mars Hill in Seattle. His vision was to create the kind of church that the liberal, non-religious Seattle would flock to, and so he made a church with super-conservative doctrine have a super liberal culture, if that makes any sense. They talked about sex. They joked around a lot. Church was fun.

But in the process, Mark apparently isolated himself at the top and silenced all critics, and it’s that behaviour that has put him in hot water. Mark Driscoll himself admitted to this when he stepped down, so I do believe the criticism was warranted. I also believe that when Mark preached thousands were saved, and that’s why this all seems like such a waste. A work was being done; and somehow ego got in the way.

And it’s that ego that I want to address.

Servanthood, Not Power, is the Focus of Jesus’ Ministry

In all Christian scandals that I can recall, and in all cults, the common denominator is a charismatic leader at the top who has consolidated power and does not tolerate dissent.

That’s why, when I hear people focusing so much on who should have power in the marriage, I know that we have lost the point of what Jesus wanted for relationship.

The very last lesson He gave His disciples about how to exercise leadership was to wash their feet (John 13). Leadership must be exercised with humility and servanthood. Indeed, if you were to look through the New Testament, servanthood is likely the key relational model that Jesus left us with.

How anyone can look at the marriage passage in Ephesians 5:21-33 and think that the main message that Paul is giving is that “men should lead and women should obey” is beyond me. Ephesians 5:21-33 is about servanthood–how the wife should serve the husband, and how the husband should serve the wife. Indeed, the very first verse in that section sets the tone for the section:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Each spouse should be asking, “how can I best serve my spouse?” That should be our goal. When we focus so much on the fact that the husband has all the power to make decisions, and the wife must obey without question, we lose the beauty of what marriage was supposed to be.

A husband leads by setting the tone and by bearing ultimate responsibility for the family. But he does this while serving the family. It is never a question of power, and yet too often when we talk about marriage, we frame it as if God wants men to have power and women to be powerless. No, God wants each of us to serve. When you’re both serving and you’re both loving, all of these other debates seem not to matter (which is what I’ve found in my marriage). We just try to love each other, and isn’t that better?

(To show what I mean about serving one’s husband, we had a bit of a to-do on the blog last week over these posts about prioritizing sex. It’s such a simple thing–a way we can serve–and I think we need to do it more).

Power Without Accountability is Dangerous–Even in Marriage

The leaders who have fallen in the last few years have primarily been leaders of super-conservative movements–the very ones that preach that men should have full power in their families, and that pastors should have full power in their churches. And yet we have seen, time and again, that this simply doesn’t work.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The governments that don’t work in the world are ones in which absolute power is congregated at the top, and people have no recourse.

When I hear women teach other women that they must not question their husbands, no matter what their husbands do, because that is not God’s role for them, quite frankly I wonder if they understand human behaviour.  When people have free reign and no accountability, very little good comes of it.

Throughout Scripture we are given specific ways to deal with someone when we disagree–and those methods are relevant in marriage, too. But let’s just think about this logically. How does it glorify God if a man plays video games six hours a day, and he is able to say to his wife, “this is what I want to do and you have to obey me”? How does it glorify God if a man can hit his wife and then say, “you’re my wife and you must stay with me”? How does it glorify God if a man can work 12 hours a day, never talk to his family, text and flirt with women at work, and then tell his wife, “I am providing and you can’t question me”? It doesn’t glorify God. Not at all.

Now, I have heard some Christian writers say, “if he’s really sinning, you aren’t to follow him into sin, but otherwise you must obey him.” Yet Scripture is filled with people confronting others when they are starting to go off course. Paul stood up to Peter and told him he was wrong about refusing to eat with Gentiles. Peter didn’t say, “Well, I’m the one Jesus called The Rock, so get in line.” Peter took Paul’s admonition seriously and changed.

Moses’ father-in-law came to him and said, “what you are doing is not good” when Moses was overburdening himself. Moses didn’t say, “well, I’m the one whom God appointed to lead the people, so go away”. No, he listened to Jethro.

God has set us up in Christian community so that we should have accountability, and yet too often it’s treated as if marriage is the one place where none of this applies. You can confront a pastor, an elder, a friend, or a parent, but you can’t confront your spouse, and you can’t talk to others about a problem. He should have absolute power.

This is one reason why marriages fall apart or die on the inside! We can’t have real intimacy without authenticity, and you can’t have authenticity when there is major disrespect or problems between you. Let’s stop treating marriage like he has all the power, because I have never seen that work out well in any other sphere of human interaction.

Women Deserve Respect, Too

I was quite open-minded about the Mark Driscoll mess for a long time. I figured the man was bringing thousands into the church, and he was preaching on marriage (though I haven’t read his book), so he must be doing something right. Then I saw the comments he made about women on the discussion board several years ago, and I was absolutely appalled.

He called men who didn’t take power in their marriages a derogatory term for women I can’t even print here. In fact, he used so many derogatory terms for women I felt my skin crawl. Would Jesus ever have said anything like that?

Men need respect, and women need love. I completely agree with that, in general. But women deserve respect, too. And one of the precursors for people to behave badly is that they stop respecting those under their leadership. When pastors don’t respect women, it’s awfully easy to get involved in an affair or to sexually abuse others (Mark Driscoll has not been accused of any sexual sin, as far as I know). The Bill Gothard scandal that broke earlier this year showed this perfectly. Gothard built a ministry with a very specific and narrow vision of men’s ultimate authority and women’s ultimate subservience, and then proceeded to sexually harass dozens of young women who were interning with him.

Why were slaveowners able to treat their slaves so badly? Because they dehumanized them. They said they weren’t even real people; they were animals. Why was Hitler able to convince the Germans to kill the Jews (and the Gypsies, and the Poles)? Because he told Germans these races were inferior.

When we make a whole people group into something inferior, it becomes very easy to mistreat them.

Jesus gave respect and honor to all–to women, to children, to different races. We should, too. That protects others from being mistreated, and it protects our hearts from becoming so proud that we would mistreat others.

I do not believe that Mark Driscoll started out as a very angry, authoritarian man, or that Bill Gothard necessarily started out to abuse women. But when you are given absolute power, you start to believe that there is something special about you. And when that happens, it’s easy to start dismissing your own sins. Power changes you. And so, as a church, we must stop this urge to give people power, and we must come back to the biblical model of servanthood and respect.

If we all simply respected each other, held each other accountable, and concentrated on how to serve each other, fewer of these scandals would happen, and far more people would be discipled into healthy, whole relationships.

Is Marriage Worth It? Ending Marriage’s Bad Rap

Is marriage worth it? Why we shouldn't talk down marriage so much

Is marriage worth it?

That’s a question so many people ask today. All around them it seems like everyone is divorcing and married people are miserable. But is that actually true? I wrote a column a few years ago where I tried to end marriage’s bad rap, and I thought it was time to post it again.

If an alien were to peruse the magazines at the checkout counter, he or she would likely conclude that humans are all masochists: we’re inexplicably drawn to the institution of marriage even though we know our partners will cheat on us, denigrate us, and complain about our lack of bedroom prowess. Our kids, reading those same headlines, are likely to become disenchanted with the institution, too. Marriage is a pipe dream. The most we can hope for is a few years of happiness before it all falls apart.

After all, even beauty, that most prized possession, can’t keep a spouse in line. Tiger’s wife is beautiful. Sandra Bullock is beautiful. Jennifer Aniston is beautiful. But their husbands all ran around on them. And women aren’t that much better. Leanne Rimes, Jennifer Lopez, Heidi Klum–even Whoopi Goldberg!–have all been caught cheating.

The Good News About Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and DivorceDisastrous relationships and celebrity seem to go hand in hand, of course, from as far back as Cleopatra. But today it’s not just celebrities whose marriages are failing. Many kids who have witnessed family breakdown firsthand. Those they know and love couldn’t make it work, so why should they expect to find lifelong companionship themselves?

Let me attempt to answer that question. Yes, marriage is hard. Yes, people can have affairs. But despite the epidemic of non-commitment in Hollywood, more than 50% of marriages do survive in the here and now—and the rate is higher for first-time marriages. Sure many marriages fail, but it’s not as if the institution is dead. In fact, Shaunti Feldhahn crunched the numbers in her book The Good News About Marriage and found that the divorce rate is closer to 30%. Things are not as bad as magazine covers make them out to be.

Thinking marriage is going to fail, though, can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If we figure marriage is doomed, we’re far less likely to look for someone that we can see ourselves growing old with, and far more likely to seek someone to be with right now. That can cause immense heartbreak, but also more seriously it can lead to pregnancies that hand us the hardest job in the world—parenthood—without a partner to shoulder the burdens and the joys with. When we don’t believe in long-term relationships, we often get too involved in short-term ones, even if these short-term ones have long-term consequences.

The problems with forsaking life-time commitment don’t just fall on those who have yet to say “I do”, though; they chase those who have already promised it. When people think that they can run if things aren’t going their way, they’re far less likely to work on problems. And if you feel like your commitment isn’t solid, you’re less likely to bring up problems, too. Your marriage can’t grow.

Case for MarriageYet problems don’t have to signal the end of a relationship.

In their book, A Case for Marriage, Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher reported on a five-year study of couples who rated their marriages as terrible. Those who divorced in that five-year span were less likely to be personally happy than those who stuck it out. But even more striking, 78% of couples who stayed in their marriages, even during the tough times, five years later rated those marriages as very good. In other words, if your marriage is in the toilet, it’s not necessarily time to flush it.

And so is marriage worth it? Well, you have to believe in marriage to see it work: it’s just too hard to keep a relationship together when one person has left the escape hatch open. Yes, people can cheat on you. Yes, they can betray you. Maybe you’ve already been married and you’ve experienced this firsthand. But it doesn’t mean that all potential spouses will forsake you. Most marriages still work. Marriage is worth it. And marriage is worth fighting for, because life is just too lonely without someone to walk through it with us.

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Preserving Childhood Innocence: The Right Not to Know

Childhood Innocence: Kids have the right not to know some things

Has our society eroded childhood innocence?

I think it has, and I wrote about it in this column from a few years ago. For twelve years I wrote a syndicated column, and I’ve decided to post my favourites that never appeared on this blog on Fridays. Hope you enjoy!

What is the dividing line between childhood and adulthood? It had better not be moving out of your parents’ house, or a lot of people who think they are adults are sorely mistaken. If it’s having a job, then those 15-year-olds who ask if you want fries with that have already reached maturity. Instead, I think the main dividing line is knowledge. Childhood is a protected state where they can learn new things slowly, once they’re mature enough to handle them.

That’s why I think a child has the right not to know some things.

I think they have a right not to know about the horror of war, except in general terms, until they enter the teenage years. I think they have a right not to know about sexuality inside and out. I think they have a right to be told only in vague terms about their parents’ neuroses, marriages or love lives.

Once you open that door into the adult world, you see, children have a difficult time just being children. Childhood innocence has been taken from them.

I’m not sure all adults understand this. I remember talking with a friend a few years ago who let his three-year-old son watch X-Files with him (largely because he couldn’t be bothered to put the child to bed). “Oh, he doesn’t care,” my friend said. “he thinks it’s funny.” And to prove his point, he nudged the child to laugh. That same child had frequent nightmares. Very young children don’t have the ability to distinguish real life from acting, and they can be shaken by many things, even those we don’t think are that bad.

But even if you try to keep the door closed on the adult media world, someone else can push it open.

When we took our children to see The Incredibles last year, we were sitting in the theatre listening to an audio soundtrack before the film began. All of a sudden someone said something extremely sexually graphic. I shot up, found the staff and asked them to turn the soundtrack off, which they gladly did. It wasn’t supposed to air before children’s movies anyway. I was glad they at least had a policy, since too many places don’t.

Take the mall, for instance. I was recently walking through it with my daughters when we passed the lingerie store. My 7-year-old said to me, “Mommy! Aren’t those women embarrassed to be seen in their underwear? I mean, what man is going to want to see that?” I paused for a minute, unsure how to answer, but very grateful my daughter was still completely oblivious to the attraction of said picture. Yet I still wish the picture weren’t there at all. Come to think of it, I could do without Cosmopolitan, and the National Enquirer, and Britney Spears all being at my kids’ eye level in the checkout line. We no longer have child-friendly zones.

We don’t have them on television, where Superbowls experience wardrobe malfunctions. We don’t have them in music, where today’s lyrics leave little to the imagination, and the singers’ wardrobes leave even less. We don’t even have it on public streets, where billboards and store windows use sex as a lure. We also don’t have it on the news, where same sex marriage is debated when many of our kids don’t even know what homosexuality is. While this is certainly too much information for little ones, it also damages those on the verge of adulthood. Before they even experience physical intimacy, they know all about it, because it’s been laid bare before them on television, the internet, and in schools.

This deprives them of the final triumph of growing up: that joyful discovery which finally unlocks adult secrets.

By the time today’s young adults finally experience physical intimacy in a committed relationship, they have already had sex so dissected and analyzed and explained that it’s lost much of its wonder.

There are no more secrets. It’s not something spiritually intimate that two people enjoy alone, with the rest of the world blocked out; the rest of the world has already burst in. And that’s too bad. We’ve taken their innocence from them, and now they know too much. Maybe that’s a sign that we adults know too little.

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Maybe Boys Need a Little Danger

Boys Need a Little DangerAre we making life too boring for little boys? What if boys need a little bit of danger?

I wrote a column about that a few years ago, and I thought I’d rerun it today. In my post where I recommended 10 different summer reads, I recommended the book Why Gender Matters, which looks at the hard-wired gender differences between boys and girls. And one of those differences is that boys naturally lean more towards danger and risk-taking–and too often we moms, and the schools, and society in general, are trying to eradicate that from boys’ lives. But what if they need it? Let’s talk about it today!

I have a little friend who, when he was only five, did a horrendous thing. He bit a boy at school.

This particular boy had been pestering him for months, and my little friend lashed out by sinking his teeth in.

A human bite, unfortunately, is not clean, and it sent the bully on a trip to the Emergency Room. Meanwhile my little friend was given quite the verbal lashing by the principal about how violence is never the answer.

His mother, a good friend of mine, was quite perplexed about how to react. Personally, I told her, I think his transgression was twofold: he used his teeth rather than his hands, and he did so at school where violence is never permitted. Other than that, was he really so wrong? Kids have been fighting back against bullies for time immemorial, and it’s often quite effective in getting bullies to back off.

Taking the publishing world by storm a few years ago was The Dangerous Book for Boys. It doesn’t give secrets on how to get your mothers to feed you chocolate or how to get your way with women.

It simply talks common sense about things that have been part of boyhood almost forever, until our generation forgot them.

Things like how to tie a knot, how to fish, how to jump from a rock into the water, or how to survive in the wilderness. These were the plotlines of most boys’ novels until relatively recently, when we started to believe that what boys truly desired was to share their feelings.

When places like schools try to curb boys’ natural impulses to be active, risk-taking, and even a bit violent, we run the risk that children will start acting out inappropriately in places with less supervision. If boys are told they must sit still and listen to books all day, they’re more likely to go off the rails after school. If boys can’t play tag at recess because it’s too competitive, or they can only play if everyone gets to be “it”, we aren’t going to curb their natural boyhood impulses. They’re simply going to express them in other ways.

Over the years we have taken all the danger out of childhood. We do this in the interest of safety, and few could argue against bicycle helmets for children, or against safe playground equipment, or for playing with matches. But there is a part of boys, and even many girls, that still yearns for risk.

Remember the playground equipment when we were young? You ran a risk every time you used the teeter totter because you had to trust the guy on the other end not to jump off suddenly. And what about that merry go round? They’re removed from most playgrounds today because if you get a few bigger kids creating momentum, a smaller child could go flinging off. Of course, that’s why many boys ride them in the first place—the flinging part is the attraction! But that’s all the more reason to get rid of these dangers.

As schools banish anything resembling danger, much of the adventure of childhood is being removed.

For all children, but especially for boys who tend to gravitate towards risk-taking more than girls do, this isn’t always a good thing. That’s why The Dangerous Book for Boys is needed. It’s a philosophy to bring adventure back into family life, even if the schools are squeezing it out because they’re afraid of being sued. And now that summer’s here, we’ve got a great chance to create some danger all on our own!

Most boys love seeing things explode, or collapse, or go bang. They love starting fires, sleeping outdoors, and even killing things. It’s time for some adventurous, adult men to step up to the plate and let boys be just a little bit dangerous. What else is childhood for?


Okay, everybody, true story:

When my girls were little, we took a yearly camping trip with another family who had two boys pretty much exactly the same age as our girls. The kids would love helping Derek (the other dad) start the fire at night. After the little kids went to sleep, we adults would play games late into the night. When the kids woke up at 6:30, then, we really didn’t want to get up yet.

And so I will tell you about one of the bad parenting things I did. I actually let Katie and her friend Liam start fires when they were about 6 and 7. It kept them busy for like half an hour so we could still sleep! And they would resurrect the coals from last night. When I talked to Derek about it (he’s a “dangerous” kind of man’s man himself) he always said, “the problem is letting kids PLAY with fire. Liam and Katie aren’t PLAYING with fire. They’re building a fire. And they know what they’re doing.” And they actually are really good at starting fires today! (Likely still shouldn’t have done it, but there you go).

Here’s a pic from the summer of 2000 when the kids were little–and enthralled by fire:

2000CampingPaulLiamBeccaFire

(That’s Paul at the fire with his older brother Liam on the right; Becca’s sitting down. Katie’s not pictured. She’s probably raiding the cooler for more chocolate to make smores).

And here’s Katie and Liam on Liam’s 4-wheeler last Sunday for Katie’s 17th birthday:

2014LiamKatie4wheeling

So now you tell me: what “dangerous” things do your sons–or nephews–do? What dangerous things does your husband do? And how do you deal with it?

A Testimony of Marriage, Anorexia, and Healing

healing in marriage battling anorexia

Today, please welcome guest reader, Alyssa, as she shares her story of healing in marriage battling anorexia, and how God and her husband are daily helping her.  No battle is too big for God!

I grew up in a small town in Australia. I loved life in the country, there is something so freeing and satisfying about the open space, the fresh air and creation all around. It brings a peace and happiness to my heart! I was one of four kids to two amazing God centred parents. For as long as I can remember, my mum and Dad taught us about God’s word, what it meant to forgive, serve and love others. Growing up in one of the only Christian families in our small country town presented its challenges though. I was a sensitive child and from the age of 9+ I don’t really remember a time where I didn’t feel pressured or even taken advantage of. Some days I would return from school in tears only to have my mother and father sit beside me, warm me with their hugs and gently tell me to keep on loving and keep on forgiving. So I did.

But not dealing with these emotions properly left me more emotionally scarred then I could ever imagine.

Our family was different, and I knew that… but there was always a part of me, just like everyone I guess, that wanted to be accepted and fit in. By the time I hit high school, I felt an immense amount of pressure to not just be like everyone but also please everyone. I felt very insecure, timid and ugly… Along with this I had a perfectionist personality, was very quick to forgive and show kindness to everyone and therefore was walked all over. Amongst the bullying and identity issues, I was also sexually abused by several different boys/men throughout my teen years. Not only did I neglect to tell people about it, I didn’t deal with it properly, I didn’t understand it and I chose to keep forgiving and loving. When I turned 16, I moved out of home, taking myself to live in Sydney to study music and dance. I wanted to sing more than anything. Those few years in Sydney, although holding some of the greatest memories of my life, also hold some of the darkest. In those three years in Sydney, I studied full time, worked in the office of the performing arts school I attended, and went to a church that left me feeling lonely and left out. I got in a serious relationship with someone who did not want to know God at all, I had very little to no money, and I lost all four of my grandparents, whom I loved very much.

At the end of the year I left that school. I felt lonely, very isolated, overwhelmed. This is where my eating disorder came in.

At the time I didn’t realize what was wrong with me, just that I was slowly losing sight of who I was. It is now eight years later….And those last few years are also a blur. I have been in and out of treatment, private hospitals, have seen countless psychologists and counselors. In 2011, I went into a Christian Rehabilitation centre for Women struggling with addictions. It was the only program that worked for me and for a whole year I was walking free of the illness. It was in that year that my now husband proposed to me. Matt and I dated long distance.

He knew I struggled with an eating disorder, but we spent little time with each other so he was unaware of its deception, struggle and the hold it can have on one’s life.

But he knew I loved God and that despite my illness and current troubles, I persevered to love God and serve Him the best I could. At the end of 2011 I ventured into the Christian Rehabilitation. The program required me being cut off from all things, I went and lived on a farm with a dozen other women. We had no phone, access to internet and we were only allowed to watch TV on weekends for a movie night, or the news in between 4-6pm on weekdays. I communicated to people through letters. I spent my time learning to enjoy life, all of God’s goodness and meditated on His word day and night. This is what I believe healed me. I spent the next year celebrating life, enjoying peoples’ company and being thankful for what our Great God had done and would continue to do in me. I don’t know what went wrong; I have maybe spent too much time thinking about it.

But 2 weeks after we got married in November 2012, I suddenly fell back into old habits.

It wasn’t a gradual fall, it was quick and left us both feeling lost and unable to comprehend it. We had moved to Sydney, left all the people we knew and who supported us, we had very little money and struggled getting jobs. Life had thrown all different things at us, when marriage in itself seemed enough. So what has the last two years been like? Well, as most of you who are reading this would know, an eating disorder is a life threatening, serious, destructive illness. It’s a tyrant, its based on denial and deception. It involves stealing, lying, wasting money, time and life. For those who do not overcome it, unfortunately it results in death.

I am 24 years old, I weigh 37 kgs and am 174cm tall. I have Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa. In my spare time, I live under the control of this terrible illness… I steal money, I steal food, I throw it up. Sometimes a whole day will pass and I will not remember any of it, under the trance of this illness. I have spent hundreds of dollars in days, all on food that no one ever got to see.

When we have arranged to go out and be with people, I end up cancelling, either because I am too anxious about what they are going to think of me or because secretly I have been binge eating on food and cannot go anywhere because I need to throw it up. My husband has continuously forgiven me, time and time again. He has done nothing but love me with unconditional love. He has held me, both in tears and prayed. He has bought me flowers just to see me smile, he gave up an excellent job so that I could be closer to people for support, he has filled rooms full of balloons and filled them with tiny messages to remind me that he is here and isn’t giving up. He deliberately hops into bed before me to warm my side up, as I feel the cold. During a fight, I was still upset going to bed so I resided on the couch, half way through the night I felt someone’s arms pick me up and carry me to bed.

I heard a small whisper, ‘The only time we will ever sleep in separate beds is when we are apart and cannot be in the same bed together.’

He then wrapped his arms around me and held me until I had fallen back asleep. He has put up with the mood swings that come with the illness. Sometimes I say the most terrible, heart breaking and mean things, and he will sit there and simply respond with ‘Alyssa, I love you and I am not going anywhere.’ Matt has been so sacrificial. He has stayed with me through this, when most men in our day and age would probably walk away. He has been a wonderful witness and example of Christ’s love for us. He is a beautiful man. God has been so good to me.

My husband without a doubt is the greatest gift, other than God’s grace, that I have ever been given.

When we moved this year, I decided I didn’t want this illness any longer. I want to be free of it. It has been a hard journey so far, but by God’s grace I am very slowly getting there. We take each day as it comes, and we thank the Lord for the good days and the bad days. We are so grateful and see so many blessings around us and we want to focus on those things. Please keep us in your prayers as I learn to lean, whole-heartedly serve and depend upon God and find my satisfaction, worth and contentment in him. Please keep praying for my husband, Matt, that he will continue to find the strength he needs from God and that he would have wisdom to know how to love me best and look after me best.

Where’s the Dad?

Child PovertyI’m taking life a little easier this summer, so I’m rerunning some columns I wrote a few years ago. Happy July 4 to all my American friends!

As I write this, two teenage girls are on trial in Toronto for murdering their mother.

Entered into evidence was a taped conversation in which the older girl explained that murder was really the only option since her mother wasn’t a mother anymore. So, with the knowledge of her younger sister, she allegedly drowned her in the bathtub to free them and their brother from the nightmare.

To kill one’s mother is obviously wrong; and yet, as I read the account, I felt little sympathy for the woman. By all accounts she was a hopeless drunk, and her daughter got one thing right: she wasn’t a mother anymore. Yet as I thought about this sad scenario, one question kept haunting me:

Where’s the dad?

Immaculate conceptions aren’t common, so there’s a man—or men—somewhere who is responsible for these kids’ creation. Would their lives have turned out differently if he had stayed on the scene?

Obviously we know nothing about this particular family, but all too frequently dads are out of the picture long before any labour pains. They spend an evening, if that, as part of a woman’s life, and they’re gone.

While this may not have much of an impact on these men’s lives, it certainly has an impact on the children’s. For years governments have been vowing to end child poverty, but it’s doubtful they can make real headway until we change our behaviour. Over 52% of children in single parent homes live in poverty, compared with 11% of children in two-parent families. Child poverty is not an economic issue as much as it is a family issue. When men leave, their kids grow up poor.

And their kids may also grow up with unstable parents, as these kids certainly did. In a home with two parents, if one starts feeding an addiction, becomes abusive, or exhibits a mental disorder, there’s another parent to step in. When there’s only one parent, the kids are held captive to that parent’s whims. But it isn’t just having a dad that makes these kids better off. Dads, you see, bring something else to the equation. With a dad often comes another set of grandparents, along with various aunts and uncles and cousins, and chances are at least a few of these relatives will have their heads on straight.

It seems this family lacked those safety checks, as far too many families do.

I can’t help feeling, in reading stories like this, that our society takes the act that creates these children far too cavalierly. If you’re not willing to commit to look after any children that may come out of a brief relationship, then you should not be having a brief relationship. It’s incredibly selfish to put your own fleeting pleasure above the well-being of children you may bring into a rather desperate, and grim, situation.

Many men, I believe, have lingering doubts as to whether there are little juniors running around out there. To investigate, though, is a big risk that could disrupt their lives and their bank accounts. However, don’t we owe something to honour, loyalty, and duty? Why not pick up the phone? You don’t have to become a super dad if you don’t want to, but at least make sure the kids are okay, and that they have enough money to get by. Some women, of course, may resent the intrusion or fear your motives, but your kids still deserve to know they are valued. Their lives may have started off by accident, but they don’t need to be defined that way.

If we treat kids, and the act that creates them, with the care and respect they deserve, we’ll all be better off.

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Why this Girl Ran Away from Home

Today Emily Wierenga shares an excerpt from her memoir Atlas Girl, called Why this Girl Ran Away from Home. Welcome Emily!

girl ran away home

For some reason I always said a prayer for her when it was dark. Mum.

Not really during the day, but always when it was night and maybe because she was like a candle. We didn’t talk a lot and we were opposite in temperament and so, we yelled a lot, and yet I missed the way she smelled of lavender and would hold me when a boy dumped me or when Dad wouldn’t listen to me.

The man with the alcoholic breath was whimpering in his sleep and I felt sorry for him and annoyed and I had a crick in my neck. No one seemed to notice this blond girl with the man asleep on her shoulder, but that was the way I wanted it. No one seeing me, all hunched over with my Margaret Atwood novel and my Walkman.

I was listening to Journey. “Just a small town girl, livin’ in a lonely world… she took a midnight train going anywhere…”

Closed my eyes against the jagged yellow of the road and buried my nose against my cardigan. It smelled of Fuzzy Peach perfume from the Body Shop. Of the mission trip to Atlanta, Georgia, to the Olympic Games; of the 21-year-old boy who had given me my sweet sixteen kiss.

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It smelled like home and my room covered in Michael W. Smith and DC Talk posters and the floral quilt with Cuddles, my bear. And I didn’t remember Dad ever entering that room. Mum sometimes slid books under the door, books on sex and why not to have it before marriage and sometimes my sisters would come in and watch me do my makeup.

Ever since the anorexia—me starving myself from the ages of nine to 13 and ending up in a hospital where my hair fell out and my nails curled under—they’d been a bit scared of me and I didn’t blame them. Mum didn’t let them visit me very often because I played secular music from the radio, stuff like Bon Jovi and Bryan Adams, stuff that made the insides of my legs ache a little.

I twisted the silver purity ring on my ring finger and it wasn’t coming off, not until my wedding day and it was the one thing my parents and I agreed on.

But I would have pulled the Kleenex from my bra, and the bra from my body, for Seth Jones.

For the scratchy way he’d said my name and the way his brown hair hung over his eyes, but I hadn’t. And Mum had knocked on my bedroom door that day, roses in her arms and she’d sat on my bed and held me, the day Seth had dumped me in the courtyard of the school. The day he’d said I was too nice. Which really just meant I wouldn’t get undressed for him.

But then Mum had given me a bouquet of roses and my fingers had bled from the thorns. And I’d known I wasn’t too nice, just too afraid of sin, and sometimes it doesn’t matter what kind of fear, so long as it steers you right.

I didn’t know why I was waiting except that sex was a big deal, even bigger than drinking, and it was only allowed after marriage.

Not that marriage meant much with my dad sleeping on the couch after staying up late on the computer and Mum getting jealous over the ladies Dad talked to after church in his long minister’s robe and his face full of laughter wrinkles, the kind of wrinkles we never saw at home.

“Edmonton,” the driver’s weary voice crackled over the speaker and the man on my shoulder was sitting up now, rubbing his eyes and yawning. As though he did that kind of thing all the time, as though we were lovers or friends, and I shrugged.

The bus was stopping and the Ojibway man inching out of his seat.

And I stood up, and my heart fell out of my chest and I couldn’t breathe.

For all of my 18 years of not being able to connect with him, I missed him.

My father.

***

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This is an excerpt from my new memoir, Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look, which released this week through Baker Books. I am excited to give away TWO copies today. Just enter the Rafflecopter below to win!

I’m also giving away a FREE e-book to anyone who orders Atlas Girl. Just order HERE, and send a receipt to: atlasgirlbookreceipt@gmail.com, and you’ll receive A House That God Built: 7 Essentials to Writing Inspirational Memoir – an absolutely FREE e-book co-authored by myself and editor/memoir teacher Mick Silva.

64519_10153705975080099_2037134714_nALL proceeds from Atlas Girl will go towards my non-profit, The Lulu Tree. The Lulu Tree is dedicated to preventing tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s mothers. It is a grassroots organization bringing healing and hope to women and children in the slums of Uganda through the arts, community, and the gospel.

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Lizard Instincts: How Sexually We’re Going Backwards

Lizard InstinctsMy lizard is either gay or extremely stupid.

We bought him a few years ago as a birthday present for my daughter, and as my luck would have it, my girls decided it would be fun to have baby Spotty’s. Once he reached sexual maturity (don’t even ask how we figured that out), we dutifully borrowed a female leopard gecko from a friend and put them in the same cage.

It was then that Spotty’s lack of normal lizard instincts became apparent. Lizards don’t have much of a brain, but there are two things they’re supposed to be able to do: catch live crickets and mate. He seemed more interested in hiding. In desperation we consulted a lizard specialist (yes, there is such a thing) who suggested that we borrow another male gecko and put him in the cage, too. If Spotty felt the competition, he would perform. That wasn’t exactly the lesson on reproduction I wanted to teach my daughters, so we just told them that the lizards weren’t in love and left it at that.

It occurred to me afterwards, though, that our society increasingly treats sex as if we’re lizards. The wonderful thing about human beings is that sexual intimacy takes place within relationship. For women, especially, that feeling of closeness is necessary before anything else is attempted.

It’s one of the things that separates us from the animal kingdom: the fact that sex is not purely instinctual, but imbued with relational and spiritual components.

Yet on the covers of Cosmopolitan, on reality TV shows, and all over the media women are depicted trying to attract men, with most of their thoughts going towards biceps and other physical traits rather than character or personality. Pornography, of course, takes this to the extreme, but it’s all part of the same continuum. When this is how we frame sex, though, sex becomes something purely physical, rather than relational. We lose out on all the wonder that it can embody. And when our kids get this message, even if it’s inadvertently, it’s even more dangerous.

When we were young, if we wanted to have a glimpse of pornography we had to find our dad’s—or our friend’s dad’s—stash of Playboys. That’s not the case anymore. You just need to know how to use a computer or rent a video. However, to put it mildly, it is not good for a young teen to have his or her first experience with sexuality to be pornographic. It can be very, very harmful. When kids are exposed to pornography at the same time as they are just starting to experience sexual feelings, they’re going to associate those feelings with pornography, rather than with a relationship. They actually can wire their brains to think of the paper image or the computer screen as sexy, rather than relationship, making it more difficult to become attracted later on to your chosen life partner. Relationship isn’t sexy; anonymous stuff is.

As parents, then, we need to keep control of the computer, especially in children’s vulnerable years in their early teens. Put it in the kitchen, rather than a bedroom. Install parental control software. And, perhaps most importantly, be careful where your children hang out. Make your house the preferred hang out by providing lots of snacks and fun, or your kids may gravitate to someone else’s house where the computer is far more accessible.

Finally, let’s make sure we, too, don’t rewire our brains inappropriately. One of the best things in life is feeling that closeness to one’s spouse that derives from true intimacy.

If we need to distance ourselves mentally to feel sexy, then it’s as if we’re not interested in our spouse, but just in a body. The whole relationship is threatened, because it’s clear you’re more interested in a paper image than in the person we’re supposed to love. That kind of rejection can devastate a relationship.

The sexual revolution was supposed to free us by allowing us to explore. I think it actually made us go backwards. Don’t throw something precious away with pornography. Love your spouse, the one relationship where you can be yourself, make mistakes, and have years and years to work on intimacy.

Don’t be a lizard. The crickets are gross, and the sex isn’t much better.