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.



The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex

Marriage isn't supposed to be blah!


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

The 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.

 

The Myth of Sexual Incompatibility

Myth of Sexual IncompatibilityI’m a columnist for Canada’s Faith Today magazine, the magazine for the evangelical Christian community. And in this month’s issue I’m talking about the myth of sexual incompatibility! I’ve written before about how Christians can’t be sexually incompatible, but I thought I’d sum it up in this column.

The evangelical church has found sex.

After years of being rightfully accused of prudery, many Christians have done a 180, deciding that the best form of evangelism is showing the world just how much we get it on. In July 2013, Pastor Joe Nelms of Family Baptist Church in Lebanon, Tennessee started a firestorm when, in his opening prayer at a NASCAR race, he thanked God for his “smokin’ hot wife”. Disgraced megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll was renowned for riddling his sermons with sexual innuendos. Closer to home, Christians are hosting “Passion Parties“, just like Tupperware parties, except without as much plastic, where women can shop for lingerie, sex toys, and lubricants in their own homes, with friends.

The message: sex in marriage is awesome!

But is it? This sexual evangelism caused Rachel Pietka to pen an opinion post for Relevant Magazine saying that “Christians Aren’t Called to Have Amazing Sex.” After all, if we aren’t supposed to have sex until we’re married, there’s no way to find out if you’re sexually incompatible. Obviously, then, God never meant for amazing sex to be a staple of a good Christian marriage.

And so here I find myself in this messy middle, wondering when the church will get our act together to properly evangelize about healthy sexuality.

Let’s go back to first principles. God made sex to unite us in three ways: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Yes, we feel a physical rush, but sex is also designed to make us feel like one–the mystery of “knowing” each other, as the Hebrew word used for the sexual union suggests. This spiritual intimacy then feeds the physical side. That’s why many studies–including my own that I conducted for The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex–show that married Christians enjoy sex more. Commitment is a powerful aphrodisiac!

But our culture doesn’t understand that because it has divorced sex from marriage, and then all that’s left is genitalia. It becomes crude and ugly.

And yet the “sexually incompatible” camp pigeonholes sex as well.

If we’re capable of being sexually incompatible, then our sexuality must be something static. She by herself is a static sexual being, and he by himself is a static sexual being, and the two may not match. Not true. God designed sex to be a relational thing. And because sex is far more than physical, as we open up to each other by becoming more vulnerable, more giving, and more trusting, sex will change.

That’s why I hate the phrase “sexually incompatible”. You’re not incompatible; you just have things you need to work out. If one spouse wants to make love much more than another, and this causes hurt, it’s sin, because one (or both) are not loving each other as Christ did. If one is being selfish in bed, demanding unreasonable things, or refusing to learn how to pleasure the other, it’s sin. When physical problems come, and one spouse doesn’t make allowance, it’s sin. If the spouse experiencing difficulties won’t get help, it’s sin, too. If one is using porn or erotica to get aroused, it’s sin. If one is feeling ashamed of sex, that, too, is sin, though it may not be theirs. Perhaps they grew up in a house where their parents made them feel ashamed of the fact that they were sexual, and now they need healing. Or perhaps they were abused (someone else’s sin) and that, too, has impacted their ability to enjoy sex.

Just like in every other area of our lives, our problems with sex stem from either from our own sin (selfishness) or from being
sinned against (brokenness). And so we need to go to God for healing and restoration.

God promised that we could have amazing sex; He never promised that we would.

In the same way that we can’t live a holy life without surrendering more and more to God, we can’t have great sex without surrendering more and more of ourselves to God and to each other. Sex isn’t something that’s static; sex is a journey that married people take as we grow closer to each other and closer to our Maker.

So it’s time to stop seeing sex like the world does–as something only physical–and start remembering that real passion and intimacy come from a true spiritual connection. As we grow more and more like Christ, we’ll feel that passion more and more, and we will have amazing sex. But I still don’t think we should announce that at NASCAR races.

The newest issue of Faith Today has tons of great articles, including an expose on missing aboriginal women; a Q&A with the director of International Justice Mission, which frees child sex slaves (a ministry near and dear to my heart, that our family has recently started supporting); an in-depth examination of the euthanasia debate; and a look at how churches can agree to disagree–graciously. Plus tons of news about Kingdom Matters in Canada!

Check it out here.

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.

Why Your Marriage Needs Community

Today please welcome back Ngina Otiende from IntentionalToday.com, as she shares her wonderful wisdom about how your marriage needs community to thrive and grow!

Why Your Marriage Needs CommunityA few months ago, I wrote a guest post for Sheila, where I talked about the differences between marriage in Africa and marriage in North America. How in Kenya, and in Africa as a whole, we tend to do life and relationship from a community perspective. Now obviously this is a generalization. There are pockets where this is not the norm and people are not as interconnected. But it’s the case in many places, where we value and derive significance from our families and the community around us.



Many readers expressed admiration for such a lifestyle and how it seemed to affect marriages and people in a positive way.

So today I want to share a few thoughts on why community is important for your marriage and how you can go about building it.

We are generally nicer when we are around other people

We don’t always realize how rude or cold or irritating we are in our homes. Until we go out there and try to repeat the same behavior or words in public! I’ve been around wives, who sass their husbands in public. And I’ve observed how whenever there’s a sense of displeasure or discomfort following their remarks, they tend to muzzle up. Now other people’s reactions might not change someone’s behavior. But at least it helps them understand that it’s not just their spouse who finds their behavior unpleasant!

But when you close off the outside world and don’t seek to engage with others, some of these habits can go unnoticed, and therefore unchallenged or uncorrected.



Community can also be like the sun, helping you produce the much needed Vitamin D for your marriage. We’ve had instances in our marriage when we had storm brewing behind closed doors but had to honor prior commitments with others. Being out there and having to act kind and nice towards others (and my husband) ended up rubbing off on me. Spending the day, or some parts of the day, being good (or acting good) might open doors and create goodwill that did not exist before. You’ll be able to start working on your differences.

We learn differently .

Learning can happen in all sorts of ways. Sometimes we need to be taught things, other times we need to teach ourselves things. As a wife I’ve learned that my husbands likes to learn from watching other men do things as opposed to someone sitting him down and telling him what to do. So hanging out with others creates huge opportunities for our growth.

Some of those changes you want to see in your marriage might not come through the traditional ways e.g meeting your pastor, sitting down to hammer them out e.t.c. Most guys don’t like to be put on the spot. But when you hang out with other positive couples, he might see how other men treat their wives and how they carry on as husbands (it’s called learning with dignity!). You might observe how other wives treat their husbands and how they don’t personalize every little thing. These good habits might begin to rub off on both of you. Thing is and just like the sun, you have to leave your house and go out there in order to catch all the goodness!

Purpose to learn together, not apart.

I love church ministries, small groups and activities. What I don’t always like however, is activities and groups that always separate married couples. Gender based groups and activities are good, but you need couple centered interactions as well. We all have the same amount of days per week, and if you have to divide those between a women’s group, a men’s group and a couples group, it becomes a strain.

So it’s important to look out for church activities that provide opportunities for your growth and interaction as a couple. Don’t be so wrapped up in your women’s thing you forget your marriage needs. It might mean dropping out of something you love, or not picking up a ministry opportunity because you have to keep your priorities in check.

It’s easier for friends to call you out.

As a marriage writer, I receive many emails from wives, even husbands, seeking help for their marriages. While I do my best to help and counsel, I always want to find out if they are part of a community. If they have a mentor, a pastor, godly friends etc., who can walk with them through the challenge.

As one who has walked through fiery seasons myself, I know how hard it is to open up about problems.

One of the things that really helped our marriage in the early days, was having friends who were not afraid to tell us when we were messing up. I remember many afternoons, sitting with our couple friends in our living room, talking and ‘fessing up our issues, crying (we girls did all the crying), learning together. Times when our husbands would drive across town to seek counsel from one another, when they would stand outside in the dark, talking man things. And how they’d be transformed as a result.

Counseling is good. In fact we need counseling for deep-seated issues or “preventative maintenance”. But some things won’t need counseling if we address them at their infancy. Issues won’t become monsters when we have friends and a supportive community that keeps us accountable and in check. We fare better when we have men and women who have permission and a say over our lives.

So we need to start knowing people. Cultivate quality relationships so that they (and you) have access and permission in each others lives  when you need it.

You can develop your community, but it’s not easy.

My husband and I moved to the United States three years ago. And by that single act, we lost all our community! We’ve been trying to build new friendships and connections. Last week I told my husband I was done trying; no more reaching out, no more hopes, no more silent aspirations when we meet new people. I am soul-tired. My man sensed I needed to vent, so he allowed me to talk and listened and nodded. I have not given up on friendships or community, but I am learning it’s not easy to build from scratch.

Creating community is a delicate balance. Still we can create our own – a small tight-knit community or a huge rolling mix of people. Thing is you have to be ready to give yourself too. To go out of your way, not just once or twice, but all the time. To take an interest in others, invite people to your home, be there for coffee dates, release  – in fact encourage highly! – your husband to hang out with friends (and don’t be sour when he comes back!), keep an open door to your heart and home.

Being part of a community of people will be an inconvenience sometimes. You can’t do life with others from a place of comfort. You will have to make sacrifices e.g maybe miss out on extra pay because you did not pick up the extra shift because you had a life group meeting to attend. You don’t connect only when you feel like e.g you honor prior coffee dates with your girlfriend even when your own marriage is stormy.

Bottom line; God did not create us to do life alone. He made us for community, to know people and to be known.

And so we need to go out of our way to create these friendships and closeness because we need people and people need us.

 

Ngina OtiendeNgina Otiende is a wife and writer, who blogs at IntentionalToday.com where she encourages and equips the earlywed wives with tips, tools and resources to establish strong foundation for their marriage. She and her husband are passionate about making a difference in their world and are currently organizing a marriage retreat for Pastors and Leaders in their native Kenya. You can connect with her on Pinterest and Facebook.

A Little Etiquette: Why Manners Matter

Why Matters Matter: We could all use a little etiquette!

I’ve been on a mission lately to encourage people to do the little things in marriage–say thank you to your husband, and when he reaches out, reach back. Little things. Not huge things. But they make a big difference. Manners matter.

What a Husband Needs: GratitudeIt reminded me of a column I wrote a few years ago about etiquette. We don’t like to think about manners anymore–we figure we’re above that. But manners had a purpose. See if you agree!

I am not one of those people who rejoices in the intricacies of etiquette.

I avoided certain distant relatives for a decade after my wedding in mortal dread that I had forgotten to send a thank you card. I’m committed to etiquette enough to feel guilty when I don’t do it, but not committed enough to follow through on all the details. It’s the worst of both worlds. Nevertheless, I do believe that simple politeness is one of the cornerstones of our society. Saying please and thank you, deferring to those who are older than you, or offering to help a young mom struggling with a stroller are all basic things that keep our society functioning.

I must admit to getting a little bit teed off when clerks who are waiting on me won’t make eye contact, don’t say thank you, and treat me as if I’m an inconvenience. An older gentleman I know recently expressed his dismay that teens, hanging out on sidewalks near high schools, often don’t vacate that sidewalk while he walks by, forcing him into the street. At one point, younger people made way for older people. We gave up seats on trains or buses, and we let them through the doors first. Now it’s a dog eat dog world.

Politeness, on the other hand, reminds us that others are worthy of respect.

Vacating the sidewalk sends a mental note to our brains that other people are important, too. Staying there sends the opposite message: we are the only ones that matter. And that’s not healthy, either for society’s smooth functioning or for the moral and emotional health of our families. Etiquette reminds us that we are not the centre of the universe. Others deserve our deference simply because they, too, are people.

Etiquette keeps us humble.

Recently, while out shopping, my youngest daughter said, “thank you” loudly to the cashier as we left, and then rebuked me, saying, “Honestly, Mommy, you never say thank you.” She took me aback. I thought I always said thank you. But I guess sometimes I mumble, or if I’m in a hurry, I don’t. As our culture has forgotten etiquette, I guess I’ve started to let it go, too.

We are growing increasingly lazy about matters of etiquette, at the same time as we are becoming an increasingly callous and self-focused society. Those two things are connected. We only break rules when we think they no longer apply to us. When thinking of others and treating them well is way further down on our priority list than doing what we want, etiquette falls by the wayside, and with it, all the things that brightened our culture.

Saying “please” and “thank you” can seem like a throwback. Hand written thank you notes? So blasé. Holding the door open for others? Neanderthal.

Maybe we need a dose of Neanderthal to jerk us out of our selfishness.

I want to make it a practice to say “thank you” more. I’m even going to start writing notes–even to people that I don’t always particularly appreciate (in fact, perhaps especially to those I don’t always appreciate when I see that they have done something worthwhile). I’ll thank them for being cheerful, for helping my child with something, for making a meal. It’s part of recognizing the good in others, and recognizing the lack in ourselves. That’s what healthy societies are built on. Manners matter. When we forget that, and just focus on what we can get out of others, we become boors. And nobody wants to live with a boor.

A Romance Writer Tells Us What Marriages Of the Past Have to Teach us Today

Danica Favorite, a historical romance writer, shares what we can learn about marriages from the past.A big part of my book To Love, Honor and Vacuum is letting women in on something that’s so obvious we all should know–and yet we often forget. Life is very different today than it was one hundred years ago. Parenting has changed. Marriage has changed. And so if you’re wondering what’s wrong with you that you can’t keep up with the job of mothering the way your mom or grandmother could, maybe it’s because we’re doing a whole different job today!

We sometimes forget that about marriage, too. We assume that marriage has always been about the same things it is today: falling in love, keeping the romance going, feeling positively towards each other. And because of that, we can get this idealized notion of marriage that can actually hurt us.

Back in August I went to a conference with my agent, Chip MacGregor, and met a ton of other writers he represents. I got talking to Danica Favorite, who writes historical romance, and I said to her: I think that we as a society have forgotten what marriage used to be. She volunteered to write a post about that for me, and she joins us today.

As a historical romance writer, I get to look back on marriage and relationship history. While I focus on getting to the happily ever after in my books, it’s important to note that historically, being happy wasn’t the priority. In fact, much of what we take for granted in modern marriage wasn’t an important consideration back then. Even though much of what I write in historical romance is fiction, I’ve learned a lot from historical marriage to help my own marriage.

One of the most important differences between historical marriage and marriages of today is the idea of choice.

Being able to marry the person you choose is a fairly modern idea. Many women were simply told who they would marry. If your parents said to marry Joe Smith, you married Joe Smith, regardless of whether or not you liked the man. Sure, most parents would take into consideration what their children wanted, but not always. Historically, women had very few rights, especially in terms of marriage and finances. Because a woman was dependent on her family or husband for protection and financial support, she had to marry to survive.

When I was in college, my mother had picked out the perfect husband for me. I’d gone to school with him, and had never really gotten to know him. But my mother seemed to think he was The One for me. For a while, she even called him “her son-in-law.” As in, “I was at the store today and I ran into my son-in-law. Next time you’re home, you should get together.” Or, “I just saw my son-in-law and I was thinking that you guys would have the cutest babies.”

How many of you are saying, “EW!” right about now?

But if we’d been living a hundred and fifty years ago, I probably would be married to the guy who, for better or for worse, is best known for getting pantsed in gym class in middle school. He may be a perfectly nice person. But we never hung out in the same circles, and judging by his Facebook page, I can’t imagine we’d have all that much to talk about.

Sometimes having a choice makes us look at the other options and wonder if we made the right choice.

I love it when Sheila talks about the idea of whether or not you married the wrong person. Maybe you feel like you married the wrong person. But consider the fact that you chose him. There was something about that person that made you think, “Yes! This is the one.” Focus on that good point. Generations of women before us didn’t even have that to focus on, and yet they were able to find enough good in that person to build a life together.

I’ll admit, I never looked at the man my mother chose for me as a serious option. But when we make the mistake of looking at what we could have done, who we could have married, we fall into the trap of thinking that something else would have been better. The problem is, we’ve already made our choice. You got to marry the man you chose. Be grateful, and remember to appreciate the reasons you married the man you did.

Even on our worst day of marriage, I would definitely want to have my husband over the guy my mother was certain would be the perfect man for me.

I still choose you!

The idea of choice highlights a second lesson we can learn from women in history- that of necessity.

The Bible talks a lot about the need for man and woman to have each other. But we don’t need to go as far back as the Bible to underscore this lesson. Before we had the luxury of modern kitchen appliances and grocery stores, making a simple meal for the family took hours. Running a household took teamwork. It was too much of a job for a person to do alone.

Believe it or not, that’s still true today. Last week, as I struggled in the family room to help our daughter with her report, my husband was in the kitchen helping our other daughter with her geometry. I am terrible at geometry. My husband is terrible at spelling, which is what I was helping our little one with.

When I look at how completely opposite my husband and I are, I could complain about how awful it is that we have so little in common. (And sometimes I do. ☺ )But then I look at how having differences benefits our kids. My weaknesses are often his strengths. My strengths are often his weaknesses.

The couples in the past knew this truth, and while some of the roles they created seem antiquated now, they had a point. We can’t do it alone. Our society tells us that we can have it all- we can be everything, everyone, and still have a wonderful life. The focus is so much on independence, and not wanting to be dependent on anyone else, that we forget the benefits of interdependence.

Marriage is a recognition that we both bring something valuable to the table.

Just as men of the past needed their wives, our husbands need us too. The great thing about modern marriage is that we can work together with our spouses to define those roles. In my house, that means my husband deals with all bodily fluids and I deal with all the logistics and organizational issues. My friend’s husband does all the cooking, and she does all the home repair. When we chaperoned a school field trip, he packed her a lunch in a little brown bag, complete with a love note. Maybe that wouldn’t have been so cool a hundred years ago, but today, it’s a great reminder of the special gifts we bring to our spouses.

The final lesson from historical marriage is this- there was no way out.

Now, I want to be clear here, because I do think that one of the great advances in our society is that women can get out of abusive marriages. So I want to take that off the table in terms of this discussion. I believe that if you are in an abusive situation, you need to find a way to get safe.

In the past, if a couple was unhappy, they had no choice but to stay together. To separate meant to have your reputations ruined, and in many cases, you were left with no way to survive. There weren’t many respectable jobs available to divorced women. Because there was no way out, they found a way to make their marriage work. A fight with your husband meant you had to figure out how to deal with your differences. Love was less about the emotion of how you felt about the person and more about how you chose to act.

We can learn from the idea of not having an out. Because getting a divorce is so easy in this day, it’s tempting to go back to the idea of choice, of making a better choice. Rather, we can take a look at our marriages and find ways of making it work. Again, I point back to Sheila’s posts about how we need to love one another as an action, instead of getting wrapped up in the heady rush of attraction. The difference between then and now is that now we have so many more resources to give us advice on how to make it through. There are amazing counselors, books, and even blogs like Sheila’s to give you a knot to hang on to when you’re at the end of the rope.

What’s wonderful about being married in today’s day and age is that we have a great deal of wisdom we can draw from. Back when women didn’t have any rights, they did what they could to make the best out of what wasn’t always the situation they wanted for themselves.

For those of you who are history buffs, are there any pieces of historical marriage advice you’d offer? How can we use the wisdom of the women of the past to make our marriages better?

mainRocky Mountain Dreams (Love Inspired Historical)A self-professed crazy chicken lady, Danica Favorite loves the adventure of living a creative life. She loves to explore the depths of human nature and follow people on the journey to happily ever after. Though the journey is often bumpy, those bumps are what refine imperfect characters as they live the life God created them for. Oops, that just spoiled the ending of all of Danica’s stories. Then again, getting there is all the fun. You can find her at Danica Favorite or follow along with her on Facebook or Twitter. Her first book, Rocky Mountain Dreams, is available now.

Helping our Daughters Navigate Through a Sexually Aggressive Culture

Today please welcome Sarah Ball, aka The Virtuous Woman Exposed, as she shares about how to help protect and teach our daughters in a sexually aggressive culture.

Sexually Aggressive CultureMy husband was shocked to hear from me that from the age of 13 -19, I had never had a job where I wasn’t sexually harassed by a male boss or coworker.

It was to be expected as a young teenaged waitress, for my boss to ‘brush’ past me, pushing his crotch against me, as I stood collecting food from the back. It was the running joke for him to make a comment about how perky my breasts were, and if he could check out for himself if they were real. It was even more common for old male customers to invite me back to their place, or for a drunken man to try and put a tip down my shirt. I wasn’t a waitress at a strip club if that’s what you’re thinking; I was working at a small town golf course, midday, every Sunday afternoon, and I thought it was normal, so I giggled.

It was not uncommon in high school either, for me to receive sexually implied comments from male teachers, or for another male student to pinch, grab or whistle as I walked down the hall to class.

As a college student, my friends and I had to be extra cautious at parties, making vows to not let any of us go off alone with anyone we didn’t know. This caution was before the date rape drug was mainstream. It still didn’t prevent some young college girls from being raped, or if they drank too much, sexually assaulted while they were passed out, which in my opinion is rape. This was not shocking news to us. It didn’t set off alarms and cause us to storm the campus, because it was normal to us. It was an expected part of college culture in Canada.

I was sexually abused at the age of 12 by a friend of the family, and at the age of 19 I ran out of a room seconds away from being date raped.

I have never not known sexual exploitation, and it’s not my fault.

We think we are so progressive as a culture, and we think we are getting this female exploitation theme beaten, but we are not.  We live in a culture that is so twisted in their thinking. Posts go viral on social media of women of all colors; shapes and sizes posing in their underwear, in the attempts to say all women are sexy and of value. Then, the next viral video is a post blaring outrage that women aren’t being taken seriously by the universities they were raped in. We are a culture of mixed messages, trying desperate to find a solution to our sexually aggressive culture, and failing miserably.

Even Christian culture is making it worse.

We are told to shelter our kids from the world and shove purity messages at them.  So we avoid talking about sex with our daughters, instead we just shelter them from movies and stories that reveal any sexual theme, and we call it a great day in the parenting world.

These approaches will not protect your daughter from a culture that paints its walls with sexuality–walls your daughter is eventually going to live under without you.

What we need is a reality check and a never-ending conversation with our daughter about it.

Ask my teen-aged daughter, who works at a fast food restaurant. She has been raised to stay a virgin until she is married and to avoid watching shows that are above a PG rating. My husband annoys the heck out of her, as he frequently bursts out into song “be careful little eyes what you see.”

I send her back to her room to change several mornings a week, and Modesty is Hotesty is a song on our family playlist (yes, that is actually a song!) Yet, my daughter, at age 15, shows up to work in the most unattractive; button-upped, mustard yellow, starched, stained, short sleeved, burger attire, and she still receives countless offers for sex by creepy customers and comments on her looks. She’s not flirting and she is not dressed immodestly. She is merely being a young woman, with a beautiful smile in a sexually aggressive culture.

So what do I mean by a sexually aggressive culture?  These recent Canadian statistics should share some light. According to The Justice Institute of British Columbia, these statistics will have us hiding our daughters under a rock.

One out of every 17 Canadian women is raped at some point in her life

A woman is sexually assaulted by forced intercourse every 17 minutes in Canada

Girls and young women between the ages of 15-24 are the most likely victims

80% of assaults happen in the victim’s home

70% of rapes are committed by a perpetrator who knows the victims (relative, friend, neighbor, colleague, or other acquaintance)

Approximately one half of all rapes occur on dates

62% of victims are physically injured in the attack; 9% are beaten severely or disfigured

Statistics Canada has found that one in four girls and one in eight boys have been sexually abused by the time they are eighteen.

 Source : www.assultcare.ca

Pause for a sobering moment.

I am not writing this to be a dooms-day prophet, but I am writing this to say, it’s not enough to talk to our daughters about virginity and shelter them from the media. One day our daughters will be university students, professionals, and young mothers, and we need to prepare them for a sexually aggressive culture without shaming sex, scaring them, and making them prudes.

This is one tough topic parents, and we need God’s wisdom to navigate them through it and I am so thankful that we have voices like Sheila’s who are initiating this conversation.

So where do we begin? How do we teach our daughters to love sex, to embrace their sexiness for their husbands, feel no shame, guard their hearts, and protect themselves from assault or harassment?

Let your daughters have an attitude!

I want my daughter to walk around confident, knowing she is carrying a treasure inside of her, proud of who she is and sassy. I want her to spit in the face of a man who tries to exploit her, not giggle shyly in embarrassment like I did.  I want her to be street-wise, knowing she has to be smart, and cautious, because she has a treasure hidden. There are a lot of pirates out there who will sail any sea to get it.

I want her to think boys are cute, and smile and giggle at the one she REALLY thinks is cute, and I want her to experience love. I want her to be able to pick out a good man from a line up of rats. I want her to marry that good man, and be a sexual goddess for him.

I don’t want my daughter to be a man-hater, be mistrusting or paranoid. I want her to respect men in authority, but respect herself more. I recently asked my daughter what she thought of the biblical teaching that husband’s should have authority over their wives. She responded – “I think God meant that he wants husbands to protect their wives, and you can’t have someone protect you if they don’t have authority over you.”  I love her point of view!

This is a big, tall order I am asking God for–and this is not a “sit down” and have ‘the talk’ kind of teaching. This is a lifetime of discussion and relationship we have to continually have with our daughters and our sons!

This is you, Mom, having the courage to reach into the skeletons of your past and share them, at an appropriate age, with your daughter. This is about dads, stepping up to be the 1st example of a GOOD MAN, and setting her bar high. This is about us as parents, allowing our daughters to feel safe enough to talk to us about anything. You don’t overreact, and scramble to find the chastity belt, you talk to her, you love her and you walk with her.

If it’s too late, and your daughter has already fit into the statistics, I want to tell you that I am so sorry. I also want to tell you there is hope.

I stood, face to face with my sexual abuser, under oath, 15 years after I was victimized. My eyes were blurry with tears, my hands shaking in fear. I was in immense pain, but I had a loving husband, waiting in the gallery to console me, treasure me and pour purity back into my heart with his love and respect for me.

 I also have a God who puts his arm around me, drawing a line in the sand with his hand against a culture that wants to stone me.  Hagar, Sarah’s bondwoman, – which you can read more on here – was sexually exploited, the woman who washed Jesus’s feet with her tears who was labeled a slut, and even King David’s daughter was raped by her own brother. This is not a new issue.

God always defended these precious women, pursued them and pursued justice. Jesus came to pour hope, value and purity back into a shamed culture, and we must look to him for healing.

So tonight, before your daughter goes to bed, give her a big hug, tell her how precious she is, show her how to drop kick a pirate and pray for her, a lot.

 

Sarah BallSarah Ball is the blogger behind Virtuous Woman Exposed, a columnist, freelance writer and mother of 5 children ages 4-15 and she’s exhausted just writing that. Her passion is to see women set free from shame, fear and bondage. She wants you to know that you can hold your head up high knowing they you are a precious daughter of God.  You can visit her blog at http://www.virtuouswomanexposed.com and you can follow her on FACEBOOK & TWITTER