Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Adventures in Accountability (AKA: Why Silly Schemes Never Work)

Money: Good for spending, good for saving, good for deterring sin...

Or so I thought...

As a broke, hormonal college student, I came up with a seemingly brilliant plan to kick my lustful habits after taking in a particularly fascinating lecture on the Psychology of Learning. We had been studying various theories of behavior modification, including the infamous concepts of punishment and reward, and it got the wheels in my mind a turnin' as to how I could implement greater self-control in my sex life (ahem, "sex life"...I don't feel as though I need to elaborate on that for you singles...).

Sheer willpower alone simply wasn't cutting it: When the frustration was high, I threw consequence to the wind and allowed lust to take over. "I could be strong if I wanted to...," I reasoned. Yet, I often wasn't...simply because I didn't want to be. In those moments, I wanted fun and feeling more than I wanted a particular fruit of the Spirit. So, without plain ole self-control, I decided to become my own psychological case study and test out some behavior mod plans. The first and most infamous involved a valuable and rare commodity on

Money, as we know, is a powerful motivator (ever get paid for doing your chores or getting good grades as a kid? Well, neither did I, but you see my point in principle...). By default, then, I assumed that lack of money would create an equally substantial push towards transformation. Especially for a college student (The saying is true: "There's broke...then there's college broke..."). In my ORU days, I could not conceive of anything more tragic than losing a precious $20 bill. And BOOM, in that instant, that dramatic possibility fused together with the concept of "negative punishment" just extrapolated upon by Dr. Feller.

"THAT is how I'm gonna kick this lust problem!" I shouted in victory (okay, maybe not shouted...) and ran to tell my brilliant little plan to my best friend down the hall.

"Okay, you have to be my accountability partner," I told her (busting out the requisite Christianese that my pricey Christian education taught me).

"Um...okay. For what?"

"You know what..." I glared at her, "but I have this AMAZING plan that's gonna help so much!"

I then proceeded to tell her the details of what has now become infamously known as the "Burn a $20 experiment." Yes, you read that right. Just like the name implied, every time I found myself indulging in a particular lustful habit, I would force myself to confess it to my friend, grab a lighter and painfully watch a $20 bill from my own wallet slowly disintegrate in flames. The very thought was disheartening. Surely, I would never give into lust again!

"Whoa, that's intense!" my friend said, "Are you sure?"

No price was too high to maintain my purity, I declared. Yes, THIS would be the elusive sin cure I had been looking for! (I had high hopes to market this wonderful little scheme to the rest of the college population soon...).

For weeks, I victoriously prevailed. Until one day...I didn't.

Uh oh. Here goes "the plan"...

Trouble was, I was broke. I didn't even have $20 in my bank account...much less my wallet! Hmmm...this unfortunate scenario had not been factored into my clever scheme...

I DID, however, confess my folly to my good ole AP. She told me not to feel bad...she had screwed up too and was in the same boat (lust runs rampant on the Christian college campus...).

"Just call this grace this time..." she told me.

Long story short, grace became the name of the game. It was so "convenient" that every time I fell into sin, I didn't have enough money to punish myself for my mistake (or I did, but I had a bill to pay or some other excuse why I couldn't part with my precious dinero). Eventually, the sin debt I racked up was far too high for me to pay back (much less keep track of). Thus, I dubbed the whole ritual ridiculous and abolished it. Never once did I bust out a lighter or a match. In theory, my plan was fool-proof. In practice, I just realized how much "brilliant plans" tend to suck. Especially when all they teach you to do is become a little Pharisee...

Years later, I look back at that stage and I laugh at myself. I really did think that behavior modification techniques would keep me out of trouble. Trouble is, they only dealt with my actions...not with my heart.

Jesus said the heart is what counts. He condemned the Pharisees for being "white-washed tombs," striving to look all holy on the outside (doing all the "right" things), while inside they were rotting away with the sin of pride. In the case of King David, the Bible tells us very clearly that "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).

Creating our own little rules for minimizing sin gets us nowhere. It might work for a season (or in the case of "Burn a $20," not at all), but in the end, it will never get us what we want. Behavior modification will never lead to heart transformation...which is ultimately what we are so deeply craving...

Don't fool yourself: A lust problem (as with any sin problem) is always a heart problem. As much as we try to sugarcoat it, chalk it up to "just feeling horny" or rationalize that it affects no one else but us (ahem, lie), it is very much connected to the deepest emotional/spiritual needs within us.

I dare you to be honest with God the next time you want to give into lust. Tell Him what you're feeling...honestly ("I really wanna ______ right now!"). He knows your sex drive...He created it! Trust me, He can handle anything you have to confess to Him. So, in that moment of decision (where you always have a window to escape from the intensity of the temptation...1 Corinthians 10:13), I dare you to ASK God: "Why do I want this so much?" I can guarantee that if your heart is not calloused and you still actually DO desire purity, the answer will relate to your heart, not your hormones...

We give into lust for a lot of reasons...we're bored, depressed, stressed...but primarily, we go there for one very significant (and deeply painful) reason...we're lonely. We long for a love that is deep, transcendent and real. When we are honest, we want more than just an orgasm. We want to be close to someone. We want to be embraced. We want to share that moment with someone who knows us deeply...someone who we trust.

Blame it on the romantic in me, but THESE are the desires reflected back at me every time I ask God to reveal my heart in moments of lust. Lust is so painfully counterfeit...and always leaves us empty. That's because deep down, our hearts know we were made for more...

For years, I thought I had "overcome" sexual sin through behavior modification. Living by a series of pop-psychological (Pharisaical?) techniques, I learned to carefully control my actions whist carefully neglecting my heart (it hurt too much to deal with...). I even taught those willpower methods to my discipleship students (lol...and "Burn a $20" didn't make the list, fyi). And although I do think those techniques were wise discipleship methods, without deep soul surgery, they only bandage a wound. I know that because for all those years I abstained, old habits returned shockingly quickly and became just as ritual as they once were when I abandoned my self-control. Simply because I failed to keep my heart pure.

My life as a white-washed tomb...

Yet, my friend was right...we can always call it grace. Or call on grace, to be precise. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because they thought they could count on their clever rules to fix their lives. They thought they could forget the internal stuff. They thought they didn't really need God...or His amazing gift of grace.

But nothing else...and no one else...can heal a heart. And if you struggle with lust, odds are, you need less "rule making" and behavior modification...and much, much more of the Heavenly Father's life-transforming love invading your heart.

Got idle hands? Take hold of THAT...

"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."
Ephesians 3:17-19

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Birds and the Bees (Part Two)

[If you haven't read Part One of this post, I can guarantee you will be more than a little lost if you attempt to start with this one! So, take a few minutes and read the last post. It will make much more sense that me!

Oh yeah...and that last post was the cheeky one. This one is the sappy one :) ]

2. Sin not only twists our fears and vulnerabilities into a desire to control, but also seeks to pervert our pure, God-given desire as women to be beautiful.

Song of Solomon 4:6-7 reveals some powerful truths about the nature of both men and women...

"The sweet, fragrant curves of your body,
   the soft, spiced contours of your flesh
Invite me, and I come. I stay
   until dawn breathes its light and night slips away.
You're beautiful from head to toe, my dear love,
   beautiful beyond compare, absolutely flawless."

Here, a husband is speaking to his wife. He expresses just how much he loves seeing and experiencing his lover's body. Beauty is essential to him--a comfort and an unspeakable blessing. And how incredible of God to design women in such a way that they genuinely and purely enjoy BEING beautiful. The hopeless romantic in me lets out a sigh just reading that verse. I want my husband to read that verse to me someday...because I long for that verse to be about me...

Yet, it aches to be that vulnerable. It seems childish to just want to be thought of as beautiful (singing like a Disney princess awaiting her prince). Because such heart vulnerability can be so easily crushed, young women turn to society for answers as to how they can (or how they should according to the world) express this desire. Replace "beautiful" with "hot," and "true love" with "attention" or "hooking up." It's as simple as that...

The tragic fact is, because of the overwhelming prevalence of porn in our society, women today feel as though their pure beauty simply isn't enough. Having literally seen it all (from the likes of surgically-enhanced/airbrushed/eating disordered models/actresses/porn stars), it seems it takes more and more to make a man aroused. Back in the day, a woman revealing her neck or bare ankles were thought to be "too much" outside of closed doors. But now, with skin everywhere, how can we compete?

I once heard a preacher offer an extremely wise statement about the nature of male and female lust. Although some might dismiss it as a male/female stereotype or see it as perhaps "too extreme" to be true, the more I think about it, the more I realize just how much insight lies behind it. The preacher said: "The big temptation for men is to want to look at porn. The big temptation for women is to want to BE porn."

Wow! While even the speaker himself admitted this was a generalization (women can/do struggle with looking at porn as well), as a woman, I have to be honest with myself to admit that I DO struggle with that temptation (to be, not just view). That temptation to be is there even for women who have never looked at porn, because we know that GUYS have. All of us have seen glimpses of this type of seduction, from semi-covered magazines on newsstands to risque scenes in R-rated movies--enough to give us a little clue as to what we're "competing" with. When we know that men are drawn to women who look/act a certain way, we suddenly want to be THAT. Thus, we expose the sexual parts of our bodies to random strangers (any tight jeans or short skirts in your closet?) because we want to be noticed. We push sexual boundaries with men who are not our husbands, not just because of our own hormones, but because we long to be desired. The temptation to "be porn" is simply the twisted, sinful manifestation of a deep desire to be beautiful.

And of course, our Creator (never doing anything "by accident") designed that desire to serve a very important purpose. Women get aroused knowing that men are aroused by them in order that they would feel free to show and give their bodies to one man (their husband!), that he (and he alone) would be aroused by and enjoy them fully. To paraphrase from Mark Driscoll's sermon series on the Song of Solomon, the ideal sex life in a marriage is that the wife would be visually generous to show her husband her beauty and body (often), and in turn, the husband would be verbally generous towards his wife to tell her how beautiful she is and how aroused he is by her (often). Marriage, by God's design, is THE place for sexual desires, visual cravings and verbal longings to be satisfied. This union is meant to guard both spouses and keep them away from sexual sin, because all three of those deep desires were designed to be fulfilled in a pure and pleasing way by the other spouse.

Yet, we live in a broken world. Our sin keeps us far from this ideal. Marrieds screw it up by withholding from each other, engaging in fantasy about someone else, or even having an affair. And singles screw it up by impatiently looking at porn, fantasizing, masturbating, pushing sexual boundaries with significant others, or just plain having sex. (Even those who ARE waiting, it seems, don't actually want to the truest sense of the word).

And if we are are bold enough to be honest with ourselves, none of the above is actually worth it. Sure, there is pleasure for a time (why else would we do it?), yet all of those things...lust, attention-getting, affairs...are so unbelievably empty. Whether it is in the immediate wake of our sin, or in the delayed contemplation of our actions, we can't deny the raw truth that digs deep in our spirit-- these things are only a shadow of the real thing. There IS more! We are meant for more...

They say that Satan's biggest strategy when it comes to lust is to get single people to have sex before they are married...and those same people to stop having sex once they get married. How messed up is that??? This is society's stereotype (singles are getting it on all over the place, and marrieds sure as heck aren't making the best use of their king size beds)--one we know, unfortunately, is often true. Satan seeks to attack our sexuality because he knows just how powerful it is when sex is actually engaged in as it was designed to be--within the marriage bed, between one woman and one often as possible! ;)

Sex is meant to show us God's incredible goodness and love towards us. He wants us to experience wonderful pleasure and intimacy with our spouse! I've said it before, but it bears repeating: In marriage, sex actually brings GLORY to God! How amazing! Now do you see the POWER in sex as it's meant to be?

So, class, your homework for the day is this: Take a long, hard look at your habits (whether you're married or single) and ask yourself whether or not your selfishness is really worth the price you're paying for it.

The truth is, you can choose to leave behind the excuses, sin and counterfeit intimacy. You can choose to embrace the best that God has for you. Because that ideal for amazing/pure sex isn't just a fairy tale--it's God's desire for us to experience on this earth.

If we choose it, that is...

Will you?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Birds and the Bees (The Revised Female Version)

Women want sex.

People laugh at such a statement for one of two reasons, either because they know it's true ("Duh...") or because they actually do find it laughable ("Really?"). In a multi-generational setting of women, the ones who find this statement all too obvious tend to fall in the younger half of the room. Unfortunately, the ones doling out the sex advice (the birds and the bees spiel) tend to come from the other half. Hmmmm. How problematic for a generation that was taught to be sexually reserved (having been fed the "Just lie on your back and wait 'til it's over" advice) to be educating a new generation raised in a porn-saturated, highly-sexualized society. That old sex ed just doesn't cut it anymore.

And besides, most of it was lies anyway...

Based on the stories of many friends (not to mention the stereotypicial societal tradition), I think it's safe to say that the majority of "talks" given to young girls have traditionally (and mistakenly) begun with a discussion of male hormones. Phrases like "Guys just have a one-track mind" and "Don't let him pressure you!" imply that the guy is the only one with the desire. A girl's desire is rarely (if ever) mentioned, as it seems to pale in light of THE most "vital" piece of sex education for females (i.e. How to resist his advances and keep yourself from getting knocked up).

But if I, as a rather candid (yet conservative) Christian woman, had the chance to educate young girls en masse about the topic of sex and sexuality, I can guarantee you that my "talk" would begin with a completely opposite premise: "Girls want sex just as much as boys. Sometimes more..."

This is not merely personal experience, mind you (although it was my idea to write this post, so you can deduce my opinion...). I cannot even tell you how many stories I've heard from teenage and twentysomething Christian females embarassingly confessing that they, in fact, are the ones sexually pressuring their boyfriends/fiances, NOT the other way around. (I would like to pause here to point out something rather interesting. It's no secret that in this day and age, men are constantly being bashed for not "stepping up and taking the initiative." Yet, given the information I just offered, I would just like to give praise to all the young Christian men who have the balls to put on the brakes in the backseat (especially when the girl is asking for more). It seems crazy because it rarely gets mentioned that guys have often been the protectors of purity and the preventors of pregnancy. Let's hear it for those boys...).

I was recently talking to a friend about this whole phenomenon of women pushing guys for sex and I pointed out how no one ever talks about the girls being the ones who need to keep it in their pants. I guess it's embarrassing for good little Christian gals to admit that they are equally as sexually driven, if not more so, than their male counterparts. Instead, we just lie and stereotype the guy as the jerk doing all the pressuring (it seems easier to shift the blame to males in order to make the whole scenario a bit more predictable...maybe even more excusable). Yet I had to laugh when my friend, in that same conversation, blurted out the sudden realization of her own (pressuring) actions towards her boyfriend: "Ugh! I'M the jerk!" true! Girls can be the jerks and guys can be the ones exercising the self-control (What??? No one ever talks about this!). The truth of what goes on behind closed doors simply isn't as black and white as you thought it was. Yet, I think there are actually several factors that contribute to this interesting phenomenon of female sexual aggressiveness. Humor me for a moment as I give you a preview of one of my (forthcoming...someday) sex ed classes...

The first factor, as previously stated, can be chalked up to pure carnal desire on the part of an otherwise demure young woman (hahaha...there's definite truth to the whole "lady in the street, but a freak in the bed" line). Due to the nature of female sexuality (generally not aroused visually, needing foreplay, etc), it's easy to assume that women aren't as interested because they usually aren't physically "ready to go" as quickly as men are. Don't be fooled! The female libido is still strong and seeks to be satisfied. After all, female mammals are the only ones with an organ that has no practical function aside from sexual pleasure (yet another topic for discussion in my sex ed class). Women aren't supposed to enjoy sex? What the crap is THAT all about? Sounds like a lie straight from the pit to me...

The second contributing factor to the sexual agressiveness of women (in my humble, virginal opinion) is not just our sexual lust, but our lust for control. Don't even think dominatrix here; this is true even on a much subtler scale. I'm talking about that sense of power that a woman gets when she realizes she can use her body to make her man powerless. Take away some clothing here or touch there...and boom...he's at your mercy. That's tough to admit so bluntly, but I'm just gonna say what so many girls are afraid to: That sense of control is compelling!

But why? Allow me to offer two thoughts--both straight from Scripture, shockingly enough...

1. Genesis 3:16 offers us incredible insight into the female struggle for power, as we learn of God's punishment for the original sin of Eve:

 "...And you will desire to control your husband,
      but he will rule over you"

Makes so much sense now, doesn't it? This punishment for sin has been passed down from generation to generation, and has sprung up in some way in every female ever since. (Okay, okay...I understand there are a lot of theological implications here which I don't intend to debate right now. Yes, we are no longer under the curse because of Christ. Yet, when we rebel and submit ourselves to sin, we can't deny that our sinful tendencies lead us straight to this...).

For some, that desire to control comes through incessant nagging of their husband ("Why can't you do things THIS way (aka MY way)?"). For others (like us unmarried chicas), we relish the opportunity (albeit often unconciously) to exercize sexual power over other men in our lives. It doesn't necessarily have to be a boyfriend--simply attracting attention from guys at the mall (you know, show a bit of cleavage, turn some heads...) will do the trick. We suddenly feel our confidence surge as we regain some sense of power in a world that otherwise feels chaotic and outside the realm of our control.

Hmmm. Consider that last part of the verse: Women seek to control what they can because they know that they ultimately aren't in control. I think that women use their sexuality (looks, seduction) to manipulate because they are all to aware that men are (generally) able to overpower them physically. Thus, we feel vulnerable in the world. We can't walk down the street alone at night (at least not without a gnawing in our stomach and a constant looking over our shoulder). Even for the strongest of us women, the world can be a scary place.

Yet we don't have to have this constant fear of rape in order to feel vulnerable to men. On a far less dramatic level, our more conscious fear is to be rejected by them. And a woman's traditional method of rejection prevention? Seduction. (Women "giving sex to get love"? Sounds about right). Women will often use their sexual power to keep a guy's attention, jealously seeking to secure his affections on them alone in order to avoid abandonment. This fear of rejection leads us to selfishly seek control, as we strive to awaken lust in our "weaker brothers."

Ladies, this is our sin...

(To be continued)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Seasons of Satisfaction and Sorrow

To my lovely followers who have asked or been curious about my memoir, here is a little slice pertaining to singleness. The title of this post is the title of the chapter in the book. As you might suspect, it's a bit lengthy, so I'll have to break it up into about four or so more little sections and post them periodically over the next few weeks. So, here goes: True story... :)

Unpublished Blog Entry (found in a journal three years later): March 2007, Age 24

“People tell me that I need to get married.

Ha! As if it were all that easy! The problem, I tell them, is that my single state isn’t entirely up to me (as though I were simply a finicky girl, turning up my nose to the dozens of amazing men fawning daily at my beautifully pedicured feet. Sadly, this was not the case...).

I spent my high-school and college-years with my mascara-enhanced eyes wide open for a potential boyfriend. I was my own perpetual project…ironing out my flaws, updating my style and incorporating the proper flirting techniques into my everyday habits (making it appear seamless, of course). I constantly went back and forth over the question as to the "cause" of my singleness—was it the way I looked, or my personality? This question haunted me for years, and thus, in my insecurity, I beat myself up over things I couldn’t control (my height that had me towering over 98% of guys my age, and a nose that I was convinced took up too much of my face).

Ironically enough, in the years since, I have received genuine complements on each one of the “flaws” I once considered a deterrent to would-be suitors. And you would think that encouragement would make me happy. No, it only frustrated me all the more. If those things aren’t it, what is it? What is wrong with me??????”

(In other words: "Why am I still single?")

Lies I Believed and Advice I Didn’t Take

Ever since I was 12 years old, people have been telling me that getting married would neither be a magic cure-all to my problems, nor a road to instant and fulfilling happiness (Hmmm, what does that say about our society that we can use the words instant and fulfilling in the same sentence without second thought?). Well-meaning adults would encourage me with trite little relationship statements like: “Two halves don’t make a whole!“ and “Make sure you are happy and complete in yourself first!” From youth leaders to college professors to extended relatives, I was bombarded with these words of wisdom...which, of course, increased with every passing lack of relationship year.

To me, each statement seemed terribly cliché and was easily shrugged off. Marrieds were getting the better end of the deal--I was sure of it. They were experiencing the joys of weddings, having a standing date for Saturday night, and of course, sex. Since I was void of all these things, I was convinced that this whole “Marriage won’t make you happy” thing was, indeed, a sham.

It wasn’t until last year that I actually believed it...

Counselling singles, I see two types of people when it comes to their thoughts on marriage: Those who look upon matrimony with bitterness, cynicism and disdain...and those absolutely desperate to walk down the aisle at any cost. The former have witnessed (and been screwed up by) their parents affairs, abuse or multiple marriages. They have seen the reality of marriage--its ugliness and all--and they want no part of it. The latter have faced rejection and fear they won’t measure up as a potential pick for spouse-hood (yet desire it all the more). For them, the idea of finally being accepted and chosen, would certainly be a dream come true.

The first group needs a revelation of Almighty God--the One who has the power to transform who we are and redeem our pasts. The second needs a revelation of Daddy God--the One who generously and graciously gives his children good gifts (they don't deserve) because he delights in their joy. Ultimately, though, both revelations are a journey in trust...

As the "counselee," that second one was my category. At 11 years old, it seemed I was ruined for singleness when I watched my oldest sister get married at the ripe age of 21. Jessica and her husband met in the fall of her freshman year of college...and were engaged to by the time she came home that Christmas. In my little middle-school mind, all the cues around me (the attention to the bride, the congratulations on such a “point of arrival…”) led me to conclude that my quest from that day forward was to look pretty...and start looking for my Husband. (Ick. I hate to see it written out like that, but that is exactly how I pictured it in my head. My Husband idol, with a capital H).

“You’ll find him when you’re not looking,” people would tell me in college (after first semester came and went without so much as a viable prospect). What does that even MEAN? Cruel, torturous irony is what it is! It's like how a friend once described to me how subtly pride can take over your life. Just when you start to think about how humble you are, you realize pride has hit you like a baseball bat to the back of the knees and has taken you down again. When it came to singleness, this Catch-22 situation seemed to be the story of my life. Every now and then, I would realize “Wow, I’m not looking anymore!” Just, of course, to turn around and remind myself what “happens” when I’m not looking. Suddenly, I’m aware of the unawareness of potential men in my life. Damn cycle starts all over again...

I wish I could say that I took the high road when it came to accepting my singleness. For many years, however, this was simply not so. Being the “heart on my sleeve” type that I am, it seems I let my disappointment slip to, well, just about everyone in my life. My mini quarter-life crises usually stemmed from this topic, and in my early twenties, I admit I wasn’t so classy in the way I expressed things (there is a little collection of things done or said out of impulse that I desperately wish I could erase from the minds of others…as well as my own).

Amazingly and thankfully, however, God’s incredible grace and wisdom completely transformed my view of singleness...and shut my self-pitying mouth. I see singleness quite differently now, but it took an unexpected and painful season to get me there...

To be Continued


Friday, October 14, 2011

Hello, My Name Is... (Part Two)

Nature vs. Nurture: The great debate. Are we who we are because of our genes (aka God's design) or because of our great (or ghastly) upbringing? Hmmmm...ponder, ponder. Scholars have debated it for centuries. But now in the 21st, we have a new philosopher shedding light on this ever important dilemma of the origin of identity.

Her name is Lady Gaga... 

"Oh, there ain't no other way, baby, I was BORN THIS WAY." A simple statement couched in a catchy tune; who knew it would help start a brand new sexual revolution fifty years or so after "free love" shed it's taboo? In 2011, however, it's not just about "Do what you want! Be free!" The message has morphed into a far more philosophical (and perhaps even more dangerous...), "Do what you want! It's who you ARE! It feels so good because you were made for this..."

Lately, I've been thinking about all these lame-ass excuses we make for our sin (note the "we" there...this is my story too...). Like I said in the last post, anyone can rationalize away their thoughts/behaviors simply by shifting the blame to the Lord. "This is just the way God made me!" we easily say of our desires. (Incidentally, Lady Gaga reinforces this view in Born This Way with the line "'Cause God makes no mistakes").

Since the dawn of time (I'm sure), people have been quick to point the finger at God for the death, destruction and heartbreak present in our world. It's only fitting, then, that now people look to the Lord as the source of their sin. Because He made us, we think, He must be the author of not just the good, but also the bad (i.e. Sexual desires gone awry, mental illness, my craving for sin and death...). Tack on Lady Gaga's logic to that, and it suddenly goes one step further. Since God is good and doesn't make mistakes, everything we feel or think, therefore, MUST be good. There is no such thing as doing or being "bad."

What a friggin' Slip N Slide of a thought process! But this is exactly the slippery slope that society is caught up on! And what makes it all the more dangerous is that even pop icons recognize the Truth of God's character...He IS good! He DOESN'T make mistakes! And those two assumptions are absolutely correct. But what a fallacy to stop short and say that those Truths suddenly equal "Nothing is bad if (a good) God made it."

Now it all makes sense: This is why you get labeled a "bigot" if you make a clear distinction between right and wrong. This is why you are accused of being intolerant if you don't tout "To each his own" when it comes to people's choices and desires (even your own). If you're worldview is rooted in the concept of original sin (that's a pretty basic belief for Christians...recognizing that you were sinful from the start and that you despertately need a savior), it's gonna be an uphill battle to live in the last days (ahem, the present...). Because that conviction stands in stark contrast to that of the rest of society. Mainstream America (whose collective worldview tends to be reflected by the imitates life...) will go to the grave convinced that human beings are inherently good. And so it goes...who needs a savior when you haven't done anything wrong? After all, your so-called "sin" was merely "following your instincts"...Or, according to those who love to twist scripture to make themselves feel better, you were just acting upon "who God made you" to be.

Wait a minute! Is anyone paying attention to what is really going on here? There is a manipulative ENEMY out there, disguised as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), whose very goal is to wreak havoc on our desires. He makes sin look good...not just compelling, but normal and natural. The lies are subtle, but powerful: "God is good. You are His child. Of course, anything IN you is good. Right...?"

I'm convinced that what the Church in America needs most is NOT to change surface-y logistics like shifting from the mega churches to home groups, doing more outreach projects, or striving to be more "culturally relevant" (although those are all valid and important things). No, I think that followers of Christ in this country desperately need to study and actively EMBRACE the concept of spiritual warfare.

If the battle analogy is too cliche for you...get over it, because it's Biblical :) The Truth is, our world IS a war zone and we need to be diligent about living "set apart" (aka holy) lives and FIGHTING to keep our minds renewed in a world saturated with incredibly cunning lies. Do I know what I believe enough not to sucumb to the enemy's false (even "Christiany" sounding...throwing God in the mix) logic? Am I doing battle not just for my friends and family, but also for myself and my own mind?

My most recent internal discipleship debate is what exactly it means to wash your mind with water through the Word (Eph 5:26). My personal litmus test is this...What comes to my mind first when I'm washing dishes or driving in my car? A song lyric telling me that I am, in fact, good (without God's redemption) and I just need to be myself. Or the Scripture that says "Apart from [Christ] I can do nothing."

Maybe I need to turn down the radio...

Yet Lady Gaga tells me exactly what I want to hear: That I'm amazing and awesome..."Rah, rah, rah! Go me!" While she gives a token nod to the Big Guy (make the church kids feel a little less guilty...and pisses off the fundamentalists), the whole concept is clearly about taking pride in yourself and your unique design...not giving praise to the Designer.Yet, isn't this the focus of thousands of children's books and kids cartoons? "Be yourself! You're great! Accept who you are! Don't apologize for being you!" It seems that that deceptive "discipleship" of self-love and pride starts early...

Truth is, it's much easier to swallow (seemingly) shallow song lyrics than it is the Gospel. Because when I take the Gospel seriously, I am forced to see myself for what I truly am without Christ: "Naked and poor," spending my days surrendering myself to man-made idols like a whore, amassing filthy rags of "good deeds" that fool others into thinking I'm good, yet are nothing but a stench in the nostrils of God. The Gospel tells me that I am fallen, selfish, empty and incomplete without a Savior.

And Scripture doesn't pull any punches in assuming this concept will sit right with us. "Who can accept such things?" people asked Jesus. THE GOSPEL IS OFFENSIVE, Peter reminds us (1 Peter 2:8). It's a stumbling block that many people can't get around. 'Cause they don't have the guts to say that they are bad...and they need help.

But we do need help. I need help. To the world, I earn major "Good Girl" points for my "Never done drugs/got drunk/had sex" record. Yet, for the last 28 years, living day in and day out in my naturally depraved body/mind, all too aware of my own selfishness, filth and messed-up, sin-soaked desires. In the past, I denied them. In the past, I downplayed them. But in the light of Christ's stunning perfection, I can't deceive myself any longer.

The Truth is...God did make me. My original design was good. But some of my ancestors way back in the day, while chillin' in this amazing Garden, suddenly up and decided to trade God's glory in for a lie. In the process, they passed that generational curse of sin onto me. The Truth is, I am NOT who I was meant to be. In and of myself, I am NOT good.

YET...I am unfathomably adored by my Creator. So much so that He let people kill His completely righteous son, so that my broken and rebellious self could have life. He ransomed me from my own destruction of self-love and pride. He redeemed me and put His perfectly good (Holy!) Spirit inside me. Now I am truly FREE to do good. Not because I am good, but only because HE is good. And He is gracious enough to allow His goodness to flow through me.

And if that whole thing weren't enough of a paradox, it is only in Him that I find my identity. It is not because I am somehow special/wonderful/"beautiful in my way" (as Gaga would say). My identity is not found in my face, my talents or even my desires. My confidence comes from believing that Christ is standing between me and the Father.

The other day, I worshiping and this one amazing line came to my mind. I kept singing it over and over: "You see me as pure. You see me as clean. Even though, there is nothing good in me." While we MUST remember that last part (and begin our worldview from that standpoint), we can truly accept the Father's grace and walk in His love when we finally get that revelation: That He is looking at us through Jesus.

I am who I am because Christ has made me new. There is no other basis for my identity.

So, how do I really know when I've begun to grasp this whole identity thing? When the Gospel makes me cry. Because in that moment, I suddenly remember that what it says is absolutely true...

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Hello, My Name is (My Desires)"

If there was ever a desperate need so evident in our Western society today, it would be identity. Who am I? is the rhetorical (yet not so rhetorical) question that everyone asks. It starts with the terrible two's ("Don't tell me what to do! I'm my own person!" says the defiant young toddler. Well, if they weren't lacking proper eloquence at that age, I'm sure that's how their rebellion would translate into a string of words beyond the simple, "No!!!!"), and, unfortunately, only seems to grow more intense throughout life. Teenage struggles with peer pressure and experimenting? Quarter-life crisis? Mid-life crisis? All stem from this innate desire to know who we are and what we were created for.

Of course, "solutions" to the identity crisis are to be found everywhere we turn: Change your look. Get a significant other. Get a degree. Be different than everyone else. Perhaps the most traditionally cliche means for deriving our identity, however, is from our jobs. Fortunately, society has done a decent job at at least unmasking this sham for what it is (although certainly not eliminating it yet). We often hear admonitions like, "You are not your job!" and frustrated statements such as, "When we first meet someone, why do we always ask them their name...and then immediately, 'So, what do you do?' ?" The implication, of course, is that most people DO attempt to define who they are according to their work. Now, I'm quite sure that this has been the case throughout the centuries. Nothing terribly new. However, what I find disturbing is how our society today (more subtly over the past 50 years, but pretty blatantly now) is convincing people that they are not what they do, but who they do. Sex, they tell us, is the defining aspect of who we are.

Not so much our sex as in gender (which, ironically enough, seems to be an ambiguous concept nowadays anyway...), but our sexual desires. Years ago, the homosexual community began linking sexual desires to identity, and the concept caught on surprisingly well. This strategy, although a blatant lie, managed to make a pretty compelling argument: Don't just call your sexual desires a choice. Tie them to who you are as a person. That way, no one can disagree with you. Can you see how subtle and manipulative that is? Foolish choices can be argued with, but identity can't. The minute you start arguing about identity (whether it's homosexuality, personality traits or personal weaknesses), people simply  counter any opposition with a cutesy little phrase:

"Well, that's just the way God made me!"

Immediate shut down. What do you do with that? Most people, unfortunately, have absolutely no clue what to say in that scenario (which is becoming increasingly more common). And the truth is, every rebuttal will come up short unless you yourself have an understanding of what true identity really is. Because true identity is not self-defined. And true identity is not, in any way, based on our choices, predispositions or desires.

Pause. Stop and actually reflect for a moment about what those two statements mean. First of all, we self-define our identity ALL THE TIME (or at least what we think is our identity). Think about the following phrases: I'm fun. I'm quiet. That's my style. I like this. These are my kind of people. I'm not like that. That's not me. That's totally me! We believe we are the ones to create our identity. And, of course, those definitions stem from what we naturally do or don't desire (sexually or otherwise). This two concepts rarely get questioned: The fact that we seek to define our own identity, and that identity is based on what we like or don't like (our deep desires and predispositions present since we were kids). Yet, these are FALSE concepts. As Christians, we so desperately need to recognize and reject these concepts before they completely screw up our entire understanding of identity. After all, if the world is craving identity, we need to be the ones to show them the only place they can go to get it.
(p.s. If you have never read Wild at Heart or Captivating by John Eldredge, you're about to get the one-paragraph paraphrase of both...)

Identity is bestowed. We must grasp our minds around those three vital words. We cannot give ourselves our has to come from outside of us. In the same breath, however, not just anyone can tell us who we are. It can only be One person. But before we go there, let's be honest to say that we have spent much of our lives looking to others to define us--friends, co-workers, teachers, bosses. Yet, it all started with our fathers. Whether male or female, we looked to them first to give us the affirmation that we so desperately craved. We wanted to capture their attention to know that we were strong/beautiful, important and wanted. Yet, our Dad's failed us...even the very best of them. Despite their best efforts, still we rebelled. Still we sought love from unhealthy relationships. Still we lay in bed at night asking "Who am I?" Even our own flesh-and-blood Dad couldn't give us what we truly needed.

I first got the idea for this post when I heard one of my favorite singers do a cover of the song "Father Figure." For those unfamiliar, this song was originally written by George Michael (whom, if you don't know, is gay and notorious for an infamous public sexual incident several years ago). All of that to say, the song is actually deeply personal and intensely revealing about the nature of identity.

It starts like this...

That's all I wanted, something special,
Something sacred in your eyes

And then the chorus...

I will be your father figure
Put your tiny hand in mine...
I will be the one who loves you
till the end of time

So, given the prior information I've offered, I think it is safe to deduce that George Michael is singing this song to his gay lover. Yet, the father imagery here is both blatant and heart-wrenching. He begins with a lament that certainly was first made to his real Daddy many years before. Wanting something special and sacred? This song screams identity. And we can only presume that Daddy missed the boat on that one, because here is his little boy, now all grown up, desperately seeking redemption in the embrace of a man who likely had the same ache in his heart for fatherly affirmation. So, attempts to bandage old wounds end up resurfacing as love song lyrics: "I will be your father figure...I will love you..."

On one hand, we can see how clearly messed up this is (very Freudian...). On the other hand, however, this song is brutally honest about the desires of our own hearts. Disregard for a minute the gay love story aspect and think about it from a heterosexual perspective. Women are often drawn to men who are like their fathers. Even when we don't want it to happen, it often does. Call it coincidence, but it just might be subconscious. Forgive the Freudian-ness, but I use that verbiage because even the world understands this...that deep (often unrecognized) craving within us for Daddy love. And left unchecked, that craving will compel us women to seek affirmation and attention from men who represent the image of what we longed for Dad to be.

Like I said, even though our fathe was the first we looked to to bestow our identity, he still could never be the one to give it. Earthly, imperfect Dad was just a shadow meant to reflect and point the way to Heavenly Dad. No human being can be our "father figure" (to show us love in the deepest way we crave). Nor can we find any identity outside of what our Heavenly Father calls us.

But do we really believe that? That there is no lasting way to derive our identity outside of Him? No matter how spectacular our relationships, job, looks or accomplishments are, they are meaningless. Have you read Ecclesiastes? Or how about Isaiah 1:31..."The mighty man will become tinder and his work a spark; both will burn together, with no one to quench the fire." In other words, we might as well go grab a match now...because everything we attempt to base our identity around (outside of Christ) is going to burn anyway.

So, why the heck are we wasting our time on it?

As C.S. Lewis so courageously reminds us of the pursuits we devote our lives to...

"Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." (emphasis mine)

We work to base our identity on our ever-changing (lowly) desires, which frankly, are pathetic in comparison to what we could have. Like Lewis says, we are ignorant. We don't even know how much joy, peace and security comes from deeply knowing and having our identity established in Christ. I agree with Lewis: We are far too easily pleased...especially when it comes to our sexuality ("fooling about with sex," as it were). In today's world, experimenting is "hot" (thank you, Katy Perry...) and entertaining (and engaging in) our most twisted fantasies is simply "feeding a natural appetite" (thank you, Kinsey...). And when we elevate our sexuality and desire for gratification to identity status, we easily excuse sin. In fact, we don't call it sin at all. Instead, we look to our Maker, not for the identity He longs to give us, but to blame Him for our desires: "How can this be wrong if I want it this much? Why did you make me with such intense longings if I can't express them?"

Remember, this is not just a homosexual argument. For as much experience as I have had in ministry, I know that there are many heterosexual Christians who wrestle with the intense desires created by their sexuality. In trying to discern God's role in our making (the creation of both our sexuality and our desires), we can easily rationalize behaviour related to our design as sexual beings. Surely masturbation is okay (physical release, right?). Fantasy about my future spouse (or faceless person) is normal, isn't it? The fact is, sin has tainted "normal."  And the only way we can really know what normal is (i.e. the most beautiful and glorious experiences that God originally intended) is by dumping all the messed up things our minds and bodies have done, at the feet of Jesus.

All it takes is a simple prayer...

"Jesus, HELP ME! I need to think beyond all this. I want to know who I am!"

To be continued...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sexy Habits (Part Two)

(If you haven't already read it, check out Part One of this post: "Sexy Habits to Develop While You're Single." The name says it all!)

I don't like to waste time, so let's get right down to it, shall we? :)

6. Chuck your granny panties

Forgive me if this is TMI, but I'm very proud to admit that I have not purchased (or been given, thank God!) a single pair of white, cotton underwear over the last ten years. Heck no!!!! And while it is certainly true that my personal preference is to wear pretty/colorful/flattering pieces of clothing (underwear notwithstanding), I submit that wearing cute lingerie is a healthy, sexy habit that all single girls should strive to embrace.

First of all, what we wear (even when no one else sees it), says a lot about how we feel about our bodies. While some may argue that frumpy, cotton undies say: "I like being comfortable. I don't need to impress anyone," am of the opinion that they are really communicating: "I'm uncomfortable with my beauty and the sexual parts of my body. In fact, I'm ashamed of my body."

It almost brings me to tears to write that because I know how deep those fears/insecurities can be. We worry that we are not attractive or somehow we don't deserve to feel sexy because of our past sexual brokennesss. I know, ladies, I've been there! But I'm bringing this up because we need to deal with that baggage NOW. Someday, you will be married and you will suddenly be faced with some very in-your-face realities. Like the fact that your husband will want to look at your naked body. A lot ;) If you feel ugly or ashamed, you will work hard to hide your body from your husband; you will feel gross and unworthy. If you struggle with insecurity, you will want to cover up, not just because it is what you've always done (if you've been in the habit of wearing granny panties/flannel/other unattractive things to bed...), but because of your deeper issues with fear and shame. Believe me, girls, marriage will not solve your body/sexual issues! Allow Jesus to re-new your thinking about who he has made you to be as a woman. Remember, when God created Eve, he said she was "Good!" And you, my sister, are a daugther of Eve. You have her genes! The Lord made all of us beautiful and sexy in our own unique ways. But don't take my word for it...let Him tell you!

"But Jen," you might say, "I don't wear sexy underwear because it makes me think about sex!" True, true. I've wrestled with that as well (no pun intended...until Like I said in my very first VV blog post, I do believe we can navigate our God-given sexual desires in a pure way. To be honest, you probably will struggle with greater temptation to lust when you start shopping at Victoria's Secret...not gonna lie to you there. Mind you, I'm NOT giving you an excuse to sin, but I am suggesting that you explore this possibility (seeing yourself as a sexual person) with creativity and...gasp!...with the help of the Spirit. Ask Him: "God, please show me how to be comfortable in, and even to love, the body you have given me. Show me how I can dress attractively, but not slutty." Hahahaha...God can take that!

Forgive me if this offends you (it shouldn't), but God knows what is under your underwear! He took time to make you specifically that way! And guess what? Perhaps the trippiest thought here is that someday, God is gonna watch you and your hubby gettin it on...and He's gonna be happy! :) One day, your sex will be holy! In your marriage, you will be naked and unashamed...freakin' worshipping Jesus by rolling around with your spouse in bed! Whew! Sorry to put that image in your mind prematurely, but we need to think about that because that is the reality of sex in marriage. And we best be preppin' now by investing in cute bras/panties...and...dare I say it...getting used to walking around our rooms in little to no clothing! (Again, hubby is gonna want that...make it a habit now!). Besides, if it's only Jesus seein' you naked while you're single (as it should be), trust me when I say that it is pure and it's not gonna freak Him out...

7. Get acquainted with the kitchen

So, I'm what theologians call a "complimentarian." Basically, that's a fancy way of saying that I believe feminism is BS :) I think that it is clear, not just from simply observing men and women (one of my favourite past-times), but throughout Scripture, that men and women are created with different (but beautiful and amazing) roles. These roles are meant to compliment each other (hence the name...). I think there are certain things that God has gifted men to do (be the protector/provider/spiritual leader, etc), and likewise, women have equally signficiant (albeit different) giftings (having babies/nurturing the kiddos/supporting and encouraging their husbands, etc). And while I do know and appreciate many men in my life who can cook (you've gotta admit that a guy in the kitchen is kinda sexy...), I think that this is a wonderful skill for single women to cultivate.

We all know the cliche: "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach." Well, if that's true (and I'm convinced it is...especially after living in YWAM! lol), then why do we insist on gettin all up in here and throw a little feminist hissy fit when someone suggests we learn to cook? No,your femininity is not defined by your culinary artistry or ability to make a cake from scratch. BUT, if you know that you can be a blessing to your husband by cooking for him, then why not do it? Again, remember the last post: Effort is hot! Men like food...and by you getting into the habit of being able to make some delicious food now, you are preparing yourself to be a selfless and wonderful blessing to him someday.

p.s. Give yourself some grace! Learning to cook doesn't always take right away. But keep experimenting and seeing what you're good at. Even if you can get 10 solid meals down now, that's a great start! :)

p.p.s. There's a Christian book title that says it all: "Sex Begins in the Kitchen" by Kevin Leman. Mmmmhmmm...that's right... :)

8. Know what you like

When it comes to whether or not people should get married young (which I would define as 25 or younger), I've heard decent arguments for both sides. One the one hand, people say it's good to marry young because you get to explore life, find out what you like and grow together. On the other hand, however, people who get married later in life have a greater chance of knowing themselves and knowing what they want/like/need, which can be a great help in choosing a spouse with similiar wants/needs/life goals. Truthfully, I think both sides are valid. But, while you are in the waiting...20 year old, 30 year taking some time to figure out who God made you to be. Take tests, even if you're not a fan of them, do it anyway :) You know, spiritual gifts, love languages, Myers Briggs, Strengthsfinder...all that. My suggestion? Go buy a notebook or keep a file on your computer that's solely about you. Give it a title that, if other people saw it, they would think you're completely vain. Call it something like: "Me and My Awesomeness" or "Ridiculously Amazing and Attractive Things about (Insert Your Name Here)." LOL

While you're writing, think about both the practical things you like/dislike (food, music, styles, etc), as well as the deeper things you want out of life (desires of your heart, goals for the future). Granted, all of those things will change/shift in different ways over the years (and you will no doubt add to those lists new things you discover more of the world), but generally, most things on that list would remain pretty stable. And that's cool...and super important to know. That way, when you do get into a new relationship, you'll be able to look at it more objectively. You can stop and think about your likes/dislikes and determine whether or not you and the other person are actually compatable (not just super swoony over each other). Also, when you know what you like (and you know who you are enough not to be swayed by someone else's opinion), you can be honest with a potential significant other without feeling the pressure to have to do/be/like something just because they do. Remember, to BE you, you first have to KNOW you. So, ask Jesus about it... :)

9. Move it, move it

Exercize is definitely sexy, in my book. Not only do I feel more attractive after a run, but I can't deny that seeing a group of guys all sweaty after a rugby match (harken back to Oz!) is hot! While I won't dwell on the latter, I will speak to YOU and ask you what your exercize habits are. Hmmmm??? Thank God for ORU: the fact that it was a requirement of our college education to get aerobics points (equates to working out 4x a week, for you non-ORUers) and to run/power walk a 3-mile race every semester was not so much a pain in the ass, as much as it was an excellent motivator! In college, I started to really get what the Bible means when it says "Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit." Your physical health and wellness is completely intertwined with your spiritual life. No matter what you may believe, the truth is, you can't separate the two. We are called to be good stewards of our body because our physical health affects everything else in our lives!

And, let's just get real for a minute...When you workout, you're gonna start to look better. You might (and hopefully will) still have some curve on you. That's good: God designed us to be that way. Plus, you're a need a little fat, if not just to nurture your babies someday. All of that to say, while I think "2% body fat and curve-free" is gross and unhealthy, I do believe it is super important to give our future husbands the very best version of our ourselves that we can be. You might not be able to fit into the size you did when you were 16, but you should be dilligent about being the best you that your current age/body type will allow for. And when you consistently work out and eat healthy, you might actually surprise yourself.

True story: I went to get fitted for a bridesmaids dress recently and told the attendant the size that I guessed I might be (based on the last bridemaids dress I wore from the same store several years ago). The attendant brought me a few dresses in that size, but after she saw me in the first two (and she had to pin them in the back), she was like "That is NOT your size." She then got me a smaller size and I almost lost it (happy tears) because I fit perfectly into a size I never thought I could fit into. I had actually told myself years ago that I didn't think it was physically possible for my body to get down to a certain size. But I did! And through very healthy means, mind you! I still eat treats in moderation, but generally, I strive to be very balanced in my eating and exercize habits. And it pays off!

All of that to say, your very visual husband will definitely appreciate seeing his wife rocking a fit, healthy body. And, of course, there's that whole "Exercize gives you endorphins and energy" thing. You're gonna want a good energy level for doing certain things when you get married. Cliche excuses are lame! If you're tired or you have a headache, it's probably because you've been eating crappy foods, not getting enough exercize or you have an unhealthy lifestyle. All of which can be remedied before marriage, so as to be simply sustained during marriage. (p.s. I understand there are other factors here like someone having a major illness or having morning sickness while pregnant. I'm simply talking about doing the simple things you can do now. Usually those by themselves work wonders for our health!). Oh...and one last note...when you exercize, always take time to stretch afterwords. I don't need to tell you that flexibility is a good marital skill to invest in... ;)

10. Speak up

I guess this is easy for me to say because I'm communicator. After all, talking is fun for me and comes naturally. Even still, the ability to honestly and boldy communicate my feelings has been a skill that I have worked hard to cultivate throughout my twenties. And although I'm pretty outgoing and bold, there have been hundreds of times where it was much easier NOT to say what I needed to say or to give into fear of man and say something just to appease someone else. I have made many, many mistakes in the area of communication over the years. But praise Jesus for His redemption! As I've walked through the inner healing issues of my life (fear of man, fear of rejection, etc), I've realized that most of my communication mistakes stemmed from those deeper rooted struggles/strongholds. When I dealt with those (ongoing process, mind you, but having at least dug into the hardest parts already...), I felt the freedom to be able to communicate my emotions/opinions freely.

So YWAMers, remember what our good ole' friend Dean Sherman says? "Every problem is a relationship problem!" And that can go one logical step further still: "Every relationship problem is a communication problem." Isn't that true? So often, we live in ambiguity and assumption over a certain situation or the actions of a certain person simply because we haven't taken the time (or haven't been bold enough) to honestly share our perception and to hear theirs. And because we fail to even broach the topic, we don't even get around to talking through (and not dismissing) the issue.

Intimacy is cultivated through communication. If we learn how to honestly communicate our fears/expectations/desires while we are single (with your friends/family/Jesus), I would think it would be a heck of a lot less shock to do in a marriage. This is the reason why I blog about typically taboo topics (for the Christian anyway). I want to be able to honestly talk about issues of sexuality, insecurity and my past/present struggles so that it becomes a habit. I want to be honest because I know my honesty will be one of the greatest gifts I can give my spouse one day. None of this whole: "If you loved me, you would know (what I need/want/am thinking)!" Absolute BS! It would be a great service to your hubby to give him a break and LET HIM KNOW how he can bless you. When you get over your expectations and pride, I think in most cases, your husband will be MORE than happy to know (and give you!) what you want. So, know what you want and tell him!

p.s. And since I can't end any of these little tips without talking about sex ;), let me just say that the #1 thing every young adult pastor/pre-marital counselor/Christian marriage book will tell you is the key to an amazing sex life is to COMMUNICATE. So, if you can't even tell your friend that she hurt your feelings, your parents that you want to be treated like an adult, or your boyfriend that you wish he would stop playing Xbox and talk to you, how on earth are you gonna tell your husband someday what he needs to do to make you have an orgasm?

Think about it...

But I know you're not. You're just thinking about the fact that I just said "orgasm" on my blog. LOL!

I forgive you. And please forgive me. None of this is meant to be crude, or to make you stumble. I just want us all to make the connection about these things while we are still single. Because, Lord knows that marriage won't solve the struggles we have now. Marriage also won't magically awaken in us a new set of habits that we are just soooo thrilled to start incoroporating into our lifestyle (yeah, try shaving your legs every day after marriage if you haven't already been doing it for the past few years. That'll last about a month...).

Respect yourself, your future man and your Jesus, and be a good steward of your singleness. And don't forget to write me back in a couple of years and tell me how it's going. Like I said in my first post, when we put forth that super sexy effort and intention, I have no doubt that the harvest will be good... :)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sexy Habits to Develop While You're Single

I'm gonna let you in on a little secret...

Perhaps one of THE sexiest things you or your future spouse can do for each other can be summed up in thirteen letters. If you take nothing else away from my blog, please remember these two little words of immense importance: Be intentional!

Effort, I'm convinced, is really hot. The fact that you purposefully thought through the potential benefits of doing a particular thing (i.e. blessing someone through your words or actions), and went out of your way to actually take the time and energy to do that thing, communicates that you have tremendous respect for yourself, your future man and your God.

Throughout the New Testament, we constantly hear phrases like: "Everything you do, do it for the glory of God" (Colossians 3:17 and 1 Corinthians 10:31 are just two examples). Let me tell you right now, the Lord isn't about half-ass. He designed us to live in excellence! God's heart and command is for us to be good stewards of everything He has given us, including (but not limited to!) our bodies, money, work and relationships. He desires that we set goals, create good habits and work hard/sacrifice for what we want, knowing that after that vital season of planting, we're eventually gonna reap a friggin' amazing harvest!

Forgive me, I'm speaking in generalities right now. What exactly are some of these "particular things" we need to be intentional about? Well, bear with me, cause I'm about to let you know (i.e. Don't just skip ahead to the actual list just yet. Stay and get the heart behind it first...). Let me just say that the following list, while certainly influenced by the opinions of others, is my own personal invention. Over the years, as I would listen to messages on marriage or observe the praises/complaints of my friends and their spouses, I would silently collect these factual statements, which I quickly turned into a practical To-Do list of habits that would help me invest into my future. And, by the grace of Jesus, I've since been very intentional about putting them into practice over the past two (at least, but often more) years.

Why I never thought to actually share these with you singles (even in my teaching/counseling), I'm not sure. I guess that doing these things had become so normal to me that I forgot that many other people (both singles and marrieds) don't do them! But if the following habits aren't part of your daily/weekly routine, START DOING THEM! Seriously! Although I don't know for 100% certain, I'I strongly believe that the sowing of these seeds into my future marriage will reap some MAJOR benefits down the road. Just ten less things that I'll have to intentionally work on in marriage (because right now, they are simply natural for me to do them). You know, so I can spend that extra time doing the things I'm not doing now... (wink, wink) ;)

You'll no doubt laugh at some of the following suggestions (which can appear either really silly or completely Captain Obvious), but trust me that there is a bigger picture purpose (and great benefit) to you intentionally turning these things into habits while you're still single. Quick! Get a pen, you're about to take notes...  :)

1. Wash your dishes

Believe it or not, I actually have a lot to say on this little topic, but I'll spare you here and save it for an in-person convo if you really want to know my views. But I will say that if someone doesn't wash their dishes on a regular basis (everyday), it communicates many things...namely, laziness, lack of responsibility and lack of cleanliness. Effort, responsibility and cleanliness are three vital things you need in life, not to mention a marriage (people might disagree on the third one, but I would say that it has to do with health, if nothing else). Washing your dishes on a regular basis is a very small, but powerful, indicator that you are diligent and self-controlled enough to get the "have to" stuff out of the way first in order to have more time to enjoy the significant, fun things in life. In the words of Christian sex-counselor, Doug Weiss, speaking to singles: "If you're not washing your own dishes, you're NOT ready to get married!"

2. Shave your legs

Go ahead...laugh. I just did! But this is so true! Ladies, your future husband isn't gonna wanna feel your nasty-as, prickly legs when you're making love. Ick! Talk about ruining the mood! Let me pause here to say that I'm not naive...I know people still get it on whether the woman has hairy legs or not. But, seriously, what a major blessing to give your hubby the very best version of  you (soft skin!). Again, this intentional effort takes very little time, but communicates that you care about both him and yourself. Girls, even in the winter, when no one else is gonna know, I think it's important to keep up this sexy habit so it becomes second-nature by the time you hit the season where you so desperately need it most! Trust me, hubby will definitely appreciate those extra 5 minutes you take in the shower... ;)

3. Get rid of your bags

No, this isn't about de-puffing your eyes (although, while we're on that, drink more water, eat less salt and use a cold compress...), but about dealing with the baggage of your past. None of us need to bring emotional junk into our future marriages. This includes unconfessed (secret) sin, guilt/shame over past mistakes, unrealistic expectations of a partner, and lingering bitterness/unforgiveness towards an ex, your Daddy or an abuser (among others). Personally, I'm an advocate of counseling in many different forms: self-guided counseling (reading books/attending conferences about inner healing, journaling, processing with God...), informal counseling with a mentor (older Christian woman, pastor, or your "one on one" for you YWAMers to listen/offer wisdom), as well as formal Christian counseling (get over the stigma of what it means to "Go see someone." It is almost always worth me!). Throughout my twenties, I've regularly practiced a combination of all three of these things in order to deal with the things that have/are/could make me emotionally unhealthy. Although we'll still have our fair share of crying/emo days in a marriage, I'm sure, I think our future husbands would definitely appreciate having wives who aren't total basket cases...

4.  Chill with some kiddos

Whether we're break dancing to "Party Rock Anthem" or taking dorky pictures on PhotoBooth, I absolutely love to spend time with my nephews. And of course, my nieces too...and I guess, any cool little kids for that matter! lol  Hanging out with kids has so many benefits! For me, I completely de-stress when I spend time with children, seeing as I can just let my guard down and laugh at (and learn from) their innocent, uninhibited silliness. Plus, it blesses them to get attention and affirmation from a grownup (and an ego boost, I'm sure, when they realize they can make you laugh with a funny voice or a silly song). In addition to all those things, the "Duh!" statement here is this: Spending time with kids prepares you for having kids of your own! So, if you're not used to doing this, here is my suggestion...Call up a married friend/sibling with kids and offer to babysit (and, dare I say, offer to do it for free!). Not only would this bless your friend by giving him/her a free date night with their spouse, but it will bless you to be a blessing to a child. After all, Jesus modeled spending time with and investing into children, so I'd say that's pretty Biblical advice :)

5. Make Jesus your man

Not in the sappy, swoony "I'm dating Jesus!!!" kinda way, but in the sense that you are already making Him your ultimate priority. Are you living in such a way that your Saviour and Redeemer is not just #1 in your life, but that He IS your life? You don't have to be some holy-roller weirdo to make Jesus the center of all you are. It just means that you are choosing--again and again, each and every day--to focus the goals of your life on getting to know Him better, doing His will and giving Him glory. In practical terms, this means that we (again) make the effort to carve out time for worship, study of Scripture, prayer and listening to the Holy Spirit. Seriously, if time is an issue, fast Facebook for a day and see if that adds a few extra minutes (er, hours?) to your day. Again, it all comes down to priorities. We all know (head knowledge) that we need to hang out with Jesus regularly, yet many of us fail to do this (myself included). But remember, it is only through HIS guidance and grace that we experience anything of lasting fulfillment in our lives. When we are seeking first His heart and ways, life in abundance is the natural by-product. And who doesn't want abundance, both now and in your future marriage?

Yeah, I thought so...

LOL...well, THAT was fun to write :) I seriously hope that you did put some pencil to paper there, or that you're at least saving this blog on your desktop ;) Really, I think that these are small, but significant steps we can all take now in order to invest into our work ethic/outward beauty/servant hood/spiritual life in the future.

And, if you didn't catch it when I said it before, there are actually ten things on this list, so this is just Part One. But between now and when I post Part Two, seriously consider this list and the importance of each suggestion. I hope you are able to see the bigger picture and choose to cultivate effort and selflessness in your life prior to reaching the altar. Like I said, I'm highly convinced that it is well worth it!

Until next time...  :)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Attention Adults: Boost your Boundaries!

Whoever said that we get wiser with age was a bit too quick to speak, in my opinion. Because sometimes, grownups (in the name of "maturity") can be really dumb...

So, true story...I have a decent number of friends currently rockin' the online dating scene. Gone are the days of the sketchy encounters found in "1995 Internet chat rooms," says a good friend (who recently experienced success with an eHarmony match). Obviously, there will always be people using the latest technology inappropriately, but today, the social stigma once attached to online dating seems to have, in large part, faded. Personally, I know several people who met their spouses online, not to mention those who are currently perusing match-making websites. Having been both intrigued and encouraged by their successes, I decided to have a little go myself (I'll let you know how it pans out...)  :)

While my friend's successes have been, for the most part, encouraging, I have been a little shocked at some of their fails. Not on their part so much as on the part of the (ahem) "Christian" men pursuing them. From more than a few sources, I've heard the stories of ladies who love Jesus and are striving to maintain purity, and the men they are matched with who claim to be the former, but have totally disregarded the latter. To put it so eloquently, their potentials (again, Christians) expect to get some before they "put a ring on it." You know, to see if they like it... After all (the excuse goes), "Sex is a vital part of an adult relationship. It's important to know if we are 'sexually compatible' before we get married."

What the heck kind of BS is that??? I hear this same tale over and over from a myriad of female friends (not to mention a few male friends who have had Christian girls straight up proposition them...). And frankly, the fact that this happens so frequently within Christian culture disturbs me...

What's up with the whole "picking and choosing the Scriptures you wanna follow" phenomenon? I mean, the Bible talks quite a bit about avoiding sexual immorality. It's not like there's just two little Scriptures on purity that you might accidentally skip over and could easily chalk up to Biblical ignorance if you didn't follow them. Controlling our bodies, guarding our hearts and avoiding adultery (any sex outside of the marriage covenant...including pre-marital sex) are all huge topics in the Bible. These subjects are incredibly important to God--so much so that He had absolutely no trouble making our Holy Scriptures, the most popular Book of all time, R-rated, in order to broach some of these typically taboo topics.

It's unsettling when people relegate God's Word to cutesy little Sunday School tales of morality, not regarding it as the wisdom of God and practical guide for our daily decisions that it is. Thinking the Bible is somehow outdated, some adults in the Church tend to follow their rational logic over the "suggestions" of Scripture. As Mark Driscoll paraphrases the attitude of some of his congregation in the highly-educated city of Seattle: "I don't need to listen to the Bible. I went to college!"

We laugh, but we really do think like that sometimes. Consider this: We encourage our teenagers in youth group to "Choose Abstinence", yet, if those same people are still single 10 or 15 years down the road, it is considered far more acceptable for them to be having sex (as Christians) at that point. In fact, many people expect that older Christian singles are having sex: There's something in our logic that convinces us that it is either okay or "not as bad" simply because they are mature adults. (Besides, if we truly did see a "40 year-old virgin," I think that even other Christians would tend to view that person as pathetic, instead of seeing them as a powerful example of self-control and patience).

Even within the church, we tend to give much more allowance to adults about their lifestyle choices than we do to the younger generation. Why is that? Grownups are the ones who should know better! While a teenager's choice to have sex outside of marriage is definitely sin, you could also call it youthful foolishness. If wisdom truly did come with age, you would think that single Christian adults would be THE most vigilant ones about maintaining their purity. Apparently, though, this isn't the case for a lot of them these days...

The first Christian dating book I ever read as a teenager was the widely-popular (and controversial) I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Today, I stopped to ask myself: Does that book, aimed at young people in their late teens and early twenties, have anything to say to me now as a 28 year-old single? Should a potential man in my life still ask my Dad's permission to date me (as the book suggests)? Should we go so far as to hold off on even kissing until the engagement...or even more extreme, the wedding day? Those seem like very noble and romantic ideas for 21 year-old's. But if a 30 year-old goes about dating in the same manner, people think it's weird. I'd venture to say that most single Christian adults haven't even considered the possibility of implementing such "juvenille" boundaries. They simply assume: "Of course we're going to kiss! Of course we're going to make our own decisions about dating (no outside accountability)! We are adults, after all..."

Not gonna lie, even though I'm the one writing this, this whole concept challenges me! Because I do feel that sense that I have more freedom as an adult (which, of course, is true). Yet I must remind myself that making purity a priority is important at any age. It's not an issue of maturity, but of holiness: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as opportunity for the flesh..." (Galatians 5:13).

Ouch! Conviction, conviction...

Take the whole "No kissing until the altar" thing. (Btdubs...I have several friends who actually did achieve that goal. Even as adults in their mid to late twenties!). The purpose behind that is NOT to be legalistic, but to safeguard the future marriage bed and not allow sin a foothold into our lives. As Paul urges us, we need to have "not even a hint" of lust in our lives (Eph. 5:3). These kiss-free couples were honest enough with themselves and their significant others to admit that if they started kissing too soon, that boundary would likely be pushed further and further (into impurity before marriage). Even though I hate the cliche, I know it's completely true: "Kissing starts what kissing can't finish."

That's not just kiddie advice: That's a thought to be truly considered (the implications are pretty serious). Instead of trying to discern "How far is too far? (code for "What can I get my hands on and still be considered 'pure enough'?") when it comes to pre-marital physical boundaries, we adults should be asking different questions. You know, spiritually mature questions like: "How can I most honor God when interacting with the person I'm dating? How can I keep from "awakening love [sexual desire] before its time" (Song of Solomon 3:5)? How can I walk in true purity and holiness before the Lord?"

I recently read a blog that made a great point about how we broach the issue of purity as Christians. To summarize, the blogger pointed out that we give youth a lot of reasons not to have sex too young: You can get an STD, you can get pregnant, it can damage you emotionally, etc. But those facts, although true, aren't actually the REAL reason why singles need to stay away from sex. They need to abstain because sexual immorality is sin. That's what it comes down to above everything else. The choice to have sex outside of marriage is not one that can be based simply on age or life experience. And it's not just a nice suggestion we can take or leave if we are serious about being disciples of Christ...

So I submit that adult men and women need boundaries just as much as young people. We don't "outgrow" the need to stay pure (even if we have already had sex...). And while we might not do the whole Josh Harris-thing and postpone kissing till after the vows (differing convictions...I don't think kissing is a sin...), we DO need to be as wise, discerning and diligent in our own lives as we encourage youth to be (Titus 2).

Don't be a dumb grownup. Instead, use your maturity to exercise self-control. Show the younger people you disciple that you yourself hold to the same standard that you encourage them to strive for. That's a pretty awesome example. And a rarity in today's world...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Risky Business (Reaps Rewards)

Ruth is my hero...

As in (the Eldredge-coined) "valiant, vulnerable and scandalous" Ruth--namesake of the Old Testament book. Hers is a story of incredible beauty, redemption...and shocking relational strategy. Seriously, ladies, never waste good money on a dating guide when you have a Bible sitting on your shelf. I know you've probably already read Ruth, but it's definitely worth a second (third, fourth...) look. It might as well be subtitled: "The Christian Girl's Guide to Landing A Man." (I really do love Scripture. Just sayin...)

Somewhere along the way in my female Christian journey, I think I lost some of my nerve. Once upon a time, I recall possessing a lot more of this Ruth-type boldness: I knew what I wanted and I went for it. In certain cases, however, when the end result of that boldness was rejection, I falsely equated risk-taking with foolishness.

With a few years hindsight under my belt, though, I've begun to rethink the assumptions I made about those past decisions. Were they wrong? Was I overzealous and foolish? In some cases, I certainly was. But in a world with hundreds of media voices daily seducing us to share their convictions, our ever present challenge is to discern the difference between which words are wise and which are folly. Because we may watch a movie and it gives us just the perspective we need. On the other hand, we may read a Christian book that is full of non-Biblical crap that just sounds holy and proper. But then, we read Ruth and her story throws everything off: Holy and improper  :) Well, at least at first glance. The love story between her and Boaz flies in the face of most Christian counsel, yet it is the Biblical example for women wanting to get married. Whoa. Can you handle it?

Go check it out! Get yourself a nice hot drink, curl up in that comfy chair and have a re-read of Ruth. And while you're at it, it might be worth it to re-consider the fundamentalist advice you've been fed about what good little Christian girls "should" do and be. (Yeah, a little echo from the last post, I know..). Dare we take the risk to be sexy without being a tease or a tramp? While modest is always the hottest (I really do believe that...), you don't have to hide your beauty. Believe me, I know just how much courage it takes to let your attractiveness show. Some days I have that internal debate before going to Walmart over what to wear (stylish work clothes or the comfy chill out clothes. After all, it is just Walmart...). I get it: You run errands in sweats because you just don't want to be hassled. But we all need to be reminded that women are made to be beautiful. Remember that? (Hearken back to Captivating). Satan savors watching us hide--he knows just how powerful it is to the world (and dare I say, to men) when women are truly seen in all their beauty.

What courage it takes to believe what God says about us: That we are not too much, nor are we not enough (as the Eldredge's articulated it). What courage it takes to step out and boldly let that gorgeous girl inside us show...

God has amazing plans and we need to trust that the right respective men will come along for each of us. But trust, I've learned, isn't always hands-off. Somtimes God is encouraging us to take that Ruth-inspired risk.

What does that look like? Let's get practical...

God's Hand in Our Risks (Mark Driscoll Sermon)  A wise investment of your next 65 minutes. Trust me...

In the end, Ruth's gutsy maneuver turns out to be the very thing that brings in the ring. Sowing and reaping, friends: That's how the good Christian girls do it...  ;)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sassy Grandmas and Other Apparent Oxymorons

If you don't have a sassy Grandma in your life, you are definitely missing out...

Most of you, I suspect, probably don't. Perhaps the Mum's of your Mummy's and Daddy's are the quintessential Granny-types portrayed on TV and film: Conservative, well-mannered, bakers and knitters who don short, permed coifs, over sized glasses and elastic waistband-clad clothing. These are the Grandma's who, like Pauly's mom in Juno, were "possibly attractive once," but in whom there is presently no semblance of sexiness. (If you have this kind of Grandma, I imagine you just shuddered and let out a knee-jerk "Ewwww..." at the thought of Grandma's former...or gasp, life). Double shudder...

For the Sassy Grandma, however, sexy isn't her's her moniker. Sassy Grandma's live their lives no holds barred, with a "Life's too short. I'm gonna do what I want!" motto. To them, there is no satisfactory reason to possess an internal filter for conversation, or to shift their wardrobe into Frump-ville just because their baby had a baby. "Oh, no," Sassy Grandma says, "We ain't havin none of that..." (Insert "up snap" here).

Sassy Grandma's come in all shapes and sizes. Some, like the 83 year old yoga instructor from Australia, are bringin' sexy back with their Mrs. Robinson-esque cougar charm. You can't tell them they can't shop at Vicki's, especially if they're still rockin a hot body (but even if they aren't, the girls going south is certainly the prime excuse for a push-up bra...). Conversely, some Granny's have completely let themselves go, without a care in the world. They've had their fun and are quite content not to re-live their corseted and stilettoed glory days.

The craziest example of this I've seen of the latter phenomenon was in Russia. I swear that every Russian woman under the age of 30 looks like Barbie: Stick-thin with perfect skin, donning designer fashions and 4-inch heels. (I always warn women that a trip to Russia will take a toll on your confidence if you're not careful). Amongst this land of models, however, tucked away in little cottages away from the city are the Russian women over 30. The contrast is shocking. It's like the minute a Russian woman starts having kids, there is absolutely no turning back to the days of youth. Nearly every Russian mom/grandma that I met was overweight and made zero attempt to dress attractively. And while the probing into that particular trend is blog-worthy in and of itself, I'll just say for the sake of brevity that at a certain age, these Grandma's simply stop worrying about their identity. Their sass, then, comes not from their "I still got it" insistence, but from their "I don't care what you think" lack of tact. No doubt you've experienced this: Old people who have no trouble telling you how it is...

Several months ago, one of my students told me the story of her own "lack of tact" Sassy Grandma. Before going to Australia, this beautiful, young California girl went to visit her grandmother, reminding her what she would be doing over the next six months: "Remember, Nana? I'm going to be a missionary!"

Without missing a beat, Nana looked at her gorgeous granddaughter and retorted with ghetto sass: "You don't look like no damn missionary to me!"

After literally laughing out loud at the re-telling of the tale, the next logical question simply begged to be asked: "Well, what is a missionary supposed to look like?" Over the last several months since I've been home, I have been collecting the consensus from various sources. Here's the latest noteworthy observation...

A few nights ago, a friend here in Tulsa invited me to a girl's night with some ladies she knew from church. When she asked if she could bring along a missionary friend (i.e. Me), the hostess paused.

"Um, I bought some wine..."

Quickly deducing the implication of her hesitation, my friend offered some additional information to the hostess: "Oh, she's not like that. She's cool."

The hostess let out a sigh, "Oh, good. Then, sure, bring her along!"

My friend told me about her little pre-introduction of me as we were driving to the party: "I had to describe you because I think she thought that you were like some 50 year old, never married, wears-skirts-to-her-shins type who thinks alcohol is evil," she said, "You know, because that's what a lot of people think of when they hear "missionary..."

Yet again! Why is "hot, young missionary" such an oxymoron? Maybe that's the new "M" word that scared away all the men I'd met over the last several months (Ponder, ponder...). Seriously, though, I don't get the stigma. The night I sat down to write this blog, I was sporting a super chic leopard-print dress (male-friend approved, with an embarrassed smile and a "Oh yeah..." thumbs up), waiting for my roommate to finish getting ready so we could go out dancing. I like to have fun, but I keep it clean. I know I'm not the only one, but apparently we need better PR or something, because folks clearly have not made that "Sexy, single missionary" association yet...

Which brings me to my advice for the day: Sack the stereotypes! The ones you've placed on others and the ones people have tried to put on you. It's like me: I'm this ultra girly-girl who loves reading, researching and deep, philosophical debates. There doesn't seem to be much precedent for that (no one else at the library appears to care about accessorising), but that's what I have to work with. I've quit trying to figure myself out long ago and I now just embrace the random conglomeration of "ness" that is me

It's like Sassy Grandma's. People might try to put them in their place and tell them to act like a Grandma "should." But, there is something to be said for the no-nonsense Nana. If life is too short for them not to care what others think, we might as well run with that wisdom while we are young. (This would be the "No fear of man!" speech I was always giving my students, for those who remember...). After all, what fun is life without a little box-breaking and head-turning every now and then?

A virtual toast to all you non-teetotaling ministry gals who love Jesus, dance parties and cute shoes. Keep spreadin' the word that we actually do exist...  ;)