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...  ;)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Fragile Eggs and Imaginary Children

One of the most infamously amusing rites of passage for every teenager is the opportunity to trial parenting for 72-hours, risk-free. In the Old School, they did it by carting around a Cabbage Patch Kid. Today's technology affords a classier (uh, creepier?) model to provide the most realistic potential Mommy/Daddy experience possible. Heck, since we're all about 3D movies and video phone calls these days, we might as well give 15-year olds more in-your-face reality in the form of little robot babies that burp, poop and wail at the top of their lungs (at the most inconvenient times). The goal of these faux kiddos is, of course, to deter immature youths from making dumb decisions about sex. As to whether or not they actually succeed in their efforts, I don't know. But what I can say is that this project has lived on in public schools for decades: A creative lesson in abstinence that never goes out of style...

I recall the first generation of "computerized infant simulators" coming out a few years post-puberty for me, which is too bad, cause that would have been fun. Not that I didn't already know how to diaper and feed a baby at that age (I became an aunt at 14), but my clever imagination conjures up endless possibilities for hilarity when it comes to teenagers attempting to care for a RealCare Baby. (Trust me, you want to check out that link. Entirely worth the ten seconds it took to discover just what lil' animatronic munchkins look like these days...)  :)

To be honest, though, the funniest scenarios that play out in my head have less to do with the technologically-advanced doll and more to do with the medium of my particular parental-deterrent. Circa 1997, fake baby of choice was not a Cabbage Patch, nor a computer, but an egg. All ironic metaphor aside (for now), for three mortifying days as an eighth grader, I had to pretend I was the legal guardian of an item that had once previously taken up residence in the fridge.

Had it not been for the insecurity that marks female junior high existence (can't take risks at the risk of being ostracized), I would have loved to have had a bit of fun with this assignment. If I were an eighth grader today and could do it all over again, you bet your sweet bippy I would use the opportunity to create the world's next viral video. My virtual baby book, complete with pastel-colored captions and a sappy soundtrack, would chronicle via YouTube a Day in the Life of my temporary infant, Shelly...

(Since I'm a little lazy right now and can't be bothered to make an actual video, humour me by reading my script and creating your own appropriate visuals as necessary...)

Scene 1:

Shelly comes home nestled amongst cotton balls in her tiny dollar-store basket. It is the cheapest car seat money can buy, and for this I am grateful, as my part-time waitressing tips simply won't suffice for the real deal.

Shelly is the antithesis of the colicky baby, as she has a constant smile on her face care of the Sharpie that recently transformed her from a food product into a pretend child. Hopefully the 24/7 grin will serve its purpose in making her cute enough so I don't forget she's here...

Scene 2:

I'm sorry to report that Project Perma-Smile did not render its intended effect. While I was successful in remembering to bring Shelly along to Walmart (mostly because Mom reminded me), I accidentally left her there. After we finished our errands, Mom and I went to McDonald's for lunch. All was well until I spotted the ad for their new breakfast sandwich: a bagel, bacon and an egg. Gasp! SHELLY!!!!!

Scene 3:

I hope I haven't scarred Shelly for life by leaving her lying there on the shelf with all those gossip magazines. I pray she won't grow up to have some weird obsession with celebrities or feel pressured to succumb to society's standards of beauty (I'm a little nervous, seeing as she is a little round in the midsection...). Given the fact that 1/3 of her life is already over, I decide not to waste too much time feeling guilty about the incident...

Scene 4:

Probably something I SHOULD feel guilty about: Shelly's accidental trip t o the "sauna..." [Camera makes three successive pans as the drama unfolds: 1) An empty basket on the counter. 2) My brother pulling the mustard and mayo out of the fridge. 3) A pot of boiling water on the stove].

No need to look inside. We already know... :(

Of course, I would reveal such a video only after receiving a passing grade on the project. At which point, I would also include a note to my Home Ec instructor: "Mrs. Archer, I should probably be honest and tell you that the Shelly that was returned to you without a single crack was actually Shelly #6..."

While the whole experiment is just ridiculous (how, in ANY way does babysitting an egg simulate rearing a child????), it's even more ridiculous to think that becoming a parent is now a pertinent topic. It's not just a little assignment anymore, I remind myself, In a short while, this could all be real!

Just to clarify, I'm not about to pull a Murphy Brown (I cannot believe I just used that reference! Da-ted!) and have a baby sans a man. I'm a pretty traditional gal and I intend to do it right (much more fun that way too...). But I'm not gonna deny that the Mommy dream is there in my heart. With my requisite college feminist phase well behind me, I finally feel the freedom to say that I'm super excited for my Singleness blog to one day turn into a Wife and Motherhood blog. *Big grin*

At a recent family function, my 17 year old cousin told me that her school's particular abstinence experiment had her not only taking charge of Robo-Baby, but also donning "The Belly" (as made popular in 10 Things I Hate About You). For obvious reasons, she chose not to do the baby/belly thing that weekend (which, of course, defeats the purpose of the assignment. You can't ditch the real belly just because you're embarrassed...) For a kid, though, pregnancy and having babies have the potential to be overwhelming, even tragic. How interesting, however, that years down in the road (within the security of marriage), that same pairing of events are cause for rejoicing. 

Man, I know it's been a long time since 17, because I certainly wouldn't be embarassed to sport a cute maternity outfit over a growing bump on the arm of a wicked hot husband at this stage in life. Hopefully sooner rather than later, in fact... :)

Oh, and you don't have to worry about me: I'm much better with actual babies than with eggs  ;)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Ass

Leave it to God to put a verse like that in the Bible ;) Throw some ellipses in there and that's literally what you get when you read Exodus 20:17 in the King James. Go ahead, Google it. I'll wait...

If you're shocked to learn that Jesus has a sense of humour, you clearly need to get your nose back in the Bible. Sometimes when I'm reading scripture, I can't help but crack a smile as I re-discover God's clever wit. Why I'm surprised by it, I don't exactly know. He is, after all, the inventor of the tongue in cheek.

While the cheeky streak is my personal pick when it comes to humour, the Lord is, of course, well versed in other types of comedy as well. In Judges 3:22, He gets real with the bathroom jokes. Matthew 18:9's advice plays out like an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon. Even the traumatic Psalm 56:1 elicits a laugh every time, as the Psalmist verbalizes my personal plight perfectly: "Be merciful to me, O God, for men hotly pursue me..." (I totally get it, David. Story of my life...)

While Exodus 20:17 might actually be referring to a donkey (a general metaphor encompassing all materialistic stuff), the butt of Miss Jones three houses down might actually be a better 21st-century analogy. Preceding the use of ass in this scripture is the less taboo, but equally significant, wife (the first in a list of no-no's for coveting). While some could translate this verse is a gender neutral way and simply say "Don't lust after someone else's spouse or stuff," I happen to love this very specific wording. At first glance, it looks like it's directed to men. But look again, ladies! While it is certainly a conceivable temptation to covet our neighbor's hot husbands, we've gotta admit that we're far more likely to covet our neighbor's wives. And more specifically, their bodies.

I once heard a Christian speaker comment that women look at women's bodies more than men look at women's bodies. And while a male friend tells me that simply cannot be true, I actually believe it is (if not more than, at least equal to...). Here's a real-life scenario to prove my point (p.s. This is not original example, as much as I'd like to take credit for it. I heard it at a conference, but I can't for the life of me think of who said it. If you know who I can give credit to for this, let me know!). Driving down the highway, guy and gal spot a billboard of a girl in a bikini striking a seductive pose (to sell a product, which, incidentally, by its very inanimate nature is devoid of sex appeal). Taking in the brief image, the (not so pure) guy and gal conjure the exact same thought: "I want her body."

Like I said, same thought, but emphasized differently for each. Perhaps the variance in each one's interpretation can be punctuated like this: Guy version: "I want (to embrace) her body." Gal version: "I want (to have) her body."

Ever skim over the passages in scripture that talk about the "lust of the eyes" thinking they don't apply to you because you're not reading romance novels or looking at porn? I'd suggest that when it comes to thinking about struggling with lust, we women stop focusing solely on the way that we look at men, but consider the way that we look at women. Whether it's the latest Hollywood actress gracing the cover of Vanity Fair, or the girl on the treadmill next to us at the gym, to lust can be to look with green-eyes upon other female figures and say with a sigh: "Ugh, why can't I look like that?" (You can't tell me that's not familiar...).

Nearly every woman I know would tell you that a little everyday comparison is harmless. But in a society whose economy is under girded by the low self-esteem and striving on women (think about what we spend most of our money on...clothes, beauty products and a yo-yo combo of junk/diet food), female lust isn't just an innocent habit; I would go so far as to suggest it is the very basis of an unredeemed female worldview. If we're honest, I think most of us gals would have no trouble describing what our friend's legs/arms/bum/boobs look like and how (we think) ours measure up in comparison. It's been years since the junior high locker room, but I'd be lying if I said that I didn't occasionally use my multi-tasking ability to chat with a friend over coffee while simultaneously pondering how many crunches I would have to do to get abs like the girl I saw at the beach yesterday. Sad, but true. And it's something the Lord has been dealing with me about recently.

Here's His take on the matter...

Jesus gave me my body and you, yours. That was His plan and His plan is always good. And while we can certainly get in shape as needed, it is vital for us to look in the mirror and praise God for that...not pray for something else. Not only is it a sin to compare and covet (even if the world doesn't think so, we need it call it what it is), but we all know it creates more heartbreak than its worth.

So, next time you consider the Commandments, start by thanking the Lord for whatchugot. Then, ditch that wishful thinking...or ass-coveting, as it were.

Whatever you want to call it, just know that the Bible called you out on it first... ;)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

From Purity to Promiscuity: A Cautionary Tale

Don’t you just hate getting inappropriate songs stuck in your head? Without warning, you suddenly find yourself mindlessly singing some nasty lyric under your breath while going about your normal (and normally pure) day. On a recent mall excursion, I caught myself in the act…

Scanning through the rack of peep-toe pumps (shoes deemed “acceptable” according to the extremely detailed list of what I can and cannot wear on stage as part of the church worship team), I was taken aback at the realization that I was singing along to the Top 40 radio playing in the store. While my public crooning didn’t bother me, that particular tune did. The unexpected pick of the moment? Rihanna’s “S&M.”

Oh my gosh, where did THAT come from? I thought, as a wave of guilt washed over me. That was sooooo NOT intentional! Nervously scanning to make sure no one else witnessed the girl in ministry singing about being perfectly good at being bad, I sought to deduce how such behavior could slip in so subtly. It was then that I noticed that little Miss Rihanna had actually been stalking me with her trashy confessions. Okay, not actually stalking me, but she might as well have been, as her voice was resounding from every corner of the mall that day. I realized that in a mere two hours, I had heard “S&M” three times in three different stores. Damn you catchy songs with terrible morals! Stop compelling me to sing along to your smut!

Blame it on my inner American Idol, but I must admit that when it comes to this innocent habit (consciously, anyway), I am a repeat offender. Just the other day, it happened again while washing dishes. This time is was Avril Lavigne. While Rihanna’s lyrics might be blatantly raunchy, Avril’s tactic is slightly more smooth. Maybe because it appears to be aimed at a younger audience. Which, of course, is all the more scary. Saturated in bubble-gum poppy-ness “What the Hell?” sounds like it came straight from a teen movie soundtrack. Well, isn’t that nice?  Convincing 13-year old girls (with peppy proclamation) all the fun there is to be had in ditching purity for promiscuity.

A bit of Avril’s anthem if you’re unfamiliar…

“All my life, I’ve been good, but now
Whoa, I’m thinkin what the hell
All I want is to mess around
And I, I, I don’t really care…”

Somewhere along the way, us church kids (Avril Lavigne was one) start believing a lie: The church has nothing on the world. Purity is boring; experimenting is fun.  Who wants to go to heaven when clearly hell is the top pick when it comes to party destinations.

By God’s grace, I didn’t act on the lie, but I can’t deny that there were some days that I definitely believed it. For a few years as a teenager, I secretly savored this image of how bad-ass it would be to take off my purity ring and fling it across the room just before losing my virginity to my boyfriend. It was soooo Hollywood. And so disgusting…

I truly am embarrassed to admit that now, but I share it to make a point: Isn’t that the kind of image and attitude that is constantly glorified in our society? What the hell? Might as well. Not only are adults confidently making careless choices, but kids and teenagers are now being taught to embrace the ” fun” of apathy as well. With so many kids having been sexually abused, it is tragic to think that the “damaged goods” label starts to sink in early. Girls start thinking: Sure, why not hook up with that guy? Maybe it will make me feel normal. Maybe it will make me feel loved. Maybe it will be fun this time...

Eleven year olds are telling themselves this!!!! Sorry, I get really worked up about this sort of thing. Because truly, I wish someone had told me that carelessly tossing a purity ring into the trash is, in fact, trashy. There is absolutely no semblance of “sexy” in it. All it does is lead you to depression, desperately wishing you could take back the foolishness of your youth.

Like I said, I never acted on that image, but I do know what it’s like to make mistakes. And I know those feelings, because I’ve felt them...even after pushing boundaries that the world considers “nothing." Why don’t you sing about those feelings, Avril?  I guess nobody wants to hear about the shame that comes with promiscuity. Let’s just sing about the power we feel being the object of a man’s lust…that manipulative sense of control we mistakenly confuse for confidence.

Years ahead of the game, I’m already praying for the purity of the daughters (Lord-willing) I will one day have. I just want to take my little girl, whether she’s four or fourteen, put my hands on her shoulders and set her straight: “Sweetie, don’t believe the lie! Your purity is so precious and you need to put it into the hands of Jesus. Just trust Him and His way of doing things! It will be worth the wait, I promise!”

I once heard this incredible story in youth group that I’m almost positive is not actually true. Even still, the power of it continues to haunt me to this day. It’s about giving up on purity, and it goes like this: There is a man in his late 30’s who has been faithfully serving God on the mission field for years. He has also faithfully saved himself for his future wife. Finally, he finds Miss Right and is so excited to get married. Unfortunately, however, nameless missionary man decides for whatever reason that he simply cannot continue his life of celibacy anymore. It’s been too long and it’s been too difficult. So, he decides to go to a prostitute, and there, he loses his virginity. This, after 30 some-odd years of waiting and a mere three weeks until his wedding night! Just when you’re about to cry, the story gets worse: This man later learns that he contracted AIDS from the prostitute. And because of his careless lack of self-control, his new bride now has AIDS as well.

Regardless of whether this particular story is based on factual events, the basic premise is real. In the face of loneliness, depression or simple opportunity, Christians are not immune to becoming cavalier about their sexuality (and their pledges for purity). After one too many sleazy sing-alongs or seductive movie scenes tempting us into thinking that casual sex will bring us love, we start to believe the lie again. It’s easy to get apathetic when we’re not on guard. Without soaking in the Word, we quickly turn to the world: “All my life, I’ve been good, but now…what the hell.”

But HOLD ON, my single friends! Just like the missionary, matrimony is just around the corner! I’m gonna go out on a limb and just boldly speak that in faith because life is too short to be one of those Debbie-Downer types who’s like: “Well, not everyone gets married. Sorry…” I’m going to be the optimistic one who says that God gives us sex drives for a reason and I’m pretty sure he’s not trying to trick us by blessing us with 'em without giving us a chance to express them in a healthy way. (And p.s., I’ve seen heaps of my Christian friends in their late 20’s, late 30’s and even early forties get engaged in the last couple months. All the while, God’s ridiculously redemptive work in their lives is shoving me out of Cynicism-Land…).

The lesson to be learned from this cautionary tale is this: Don’t give in to's counterfeit and it sucks. And don’t for a second believe that after repentance and God's grace, there is such thing as “damaged goods." When Christ is Lord of our lives, there is no excuse for not turning around and seeking something that is truly worth the wait.

The longer I’m single, the less I’m convinced that promiscuity has any perks at all. Purity, on the other hand, always holds promise…

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Materialistic Mission at 35,000 Feet

For anyone who knows me, its no secret that I like to travel. Yet what my Facebook wall (plastered with dozens of shiny, happy photos of me in front of major world landmarks) doesn't reveal is that I'm actually a pretty nervous flyer. Each and every time my plane lifts into the sky, the turbulence unintentionally sparks frantic (albeit silent) prayers within me, as I anxiously reassure myself of my salvation. Such freak-out moments, however, present a real problem when it comes to saving face in front of my seatmate. Because, as all good Evangelical Christians know, sitting next to a stranger on a plane is always a "divine appointment" for evangelism.

"Suck it up, sister," I tell myself (recalling to mind the 1 in 11,000,000 odds stacked in my favor), "You've got a job to do... "

Unless the pre-flight atmosphere is super laid back (I was recently on a flight where an attendant told a passenger in the lavatory just before take-off to "Come out with your pants up!" That definitely lightened the mood...), I typically can't bring myself to strike up a conversation until the seat belt sign goes off. In those first five minutes, it helps to imagine I'm Diane Court in Say Anything. Not just because she‘s gorgeous (She is, as Corey says, “a brain..trapped inside the body of a game show hostess"), but because even despite her extreme intelligence, she too is freaked out to fly. Unlike moi, however, Diane has an adorable boyfriend (a young, awkwardly charming John Cusak) to hold her hand until she hears the "Ding!" that assures her all is well. Minus my own tall and nerdy BF, I am reduced to skimming through Skymall to assuage my frenzied nerves.

I'd like to think the mastermind behind Skymall was not so much a businessman as your average Joe who shares my fear of flying and affinity for randomness. Why else would you have a catalogue full of completely unnecessary Jetsons-inspired crap on every domestic flight in America if not simply to make people laugh (and help them ignore the other card in the seat-back pocket)? Unfortunately, as highly as I would like to think of American culture, I know Skymall probably was the venture of an entrepreneur. Because the sad truth is, people actually do buy this stuff. (They must: My grandmother's QVC jewellery collection and my mother's Nu-Wave Oven are proof that people impulsively purchase pointless things from infomercials all the time. And the way I see it, Skymall is like the infomercial channel of the air...).

Lest I digress and start ranting on the rampant lust and materialism that has taken over our "78% Christian" nation (seriously, its like the Tenth Commandment flew entirely out the window), I will stick to the sheer silliness of the products Skymall is peddling. And since my blog is ironically devoted to relational matters, I simply had to discover if there existed any products to assist the potential dater. (After all, in-flight magazines are stacked with dating articles and matchmaking ads, so I didn’t think it was too much of a stretch to look for similar in-flight catalogue commodities). To my dismay, however, when I searched the proverbial shelves of, there was no such label as "Dating Aides." Hmmm. Must get more creative…

Scrolling through the list of obscure items by category, I decided to try my luck at “Therapeutic Products.” (This is a G-rated catalogue, thank you, so don't even go wherever it was you were about to go...). Here I found a few could-be helpful things, including your stereotypical anti-snoring devices (deceive ‘em while you’re dating and divulge the truth after you get the ring) and a hangover remedy (helps for headaches, but not for getting rid of last night’s poor choice of a bed mate. Which, incidentally, is why I avoid getting drunk in the first place…). Also of note in my roundup of randomly romantic items was a bouquet of roses and tulips (not so uniquely titled: “A Dozen Hugs and Kisses”), a cold-sore “zapper” (for those who have had a few too many kisses in their time…), and a boxed-set of Alfred Hitchcock classics (why that one came up in a search for “Dating" is still a mystery. But if it were up to me, I'd hope it had less to do with the fact that watching movies is [yawn] stereotypically synonymous with dating [although classic suspense-y horror would certainly make for a more interesting night than a rom com...], and more to do with the director's very, um, intriguing last name...).

Two products, however, stood out among the pack of possible assistants in the dating market. They were the Magic Derriere Enhancing Panty and the Spypen. Yes, you did in fact read those two titles correctly. (And yes, they are just as hilarious as their names imply). Regarding the first, I would like to apologize for pre-emptively advertising Skymall as a G-rated catalogue (hey, if its there at kid-level on a plane!). Without being inside a guy’s brain, I couldn’t tell you whether actually seeing the butt-lifting panties on the model are as lust-inducing as when the difference is seen on the outside (It’s like seeing a girl in Spanx; an arousing title for what is otherwise known as a girdle. To me, girdle and sexy are not synonymous). Either way, in poor old Magic Panty’s defense, it seems less of a superficial find and more of a practical piece of clothing for the single person set on alluring a member of the opposite sex. (These are not just for women, believe it or not; they created a male version as well! Although I’m pretty sure they ditched the descriptors Magic and Panty and went for something much more rugged-sounding. They might have kept Enhancing in there, though…). Were it not for the fact that I’m pretty happy with the state of my bum these days, I almost lamented the lack of reviews for this particular product. Does it really work? I’m dying to know! One day I'd love to see a TV testimonial where someone attributes the snagging of their super hot spouse to a pair of magic underwear…

And, of course, who can forget the Spypen? I’m fairly certain they just swiped this from Toys R Us and re-marketed it with more mature packaging and classier rhetoric. Still, whether you’re an 11-year old boy seeking to embarrass your teenage sister, or a middle-aged single stalking the girl who dumped you after date #3, privacy-invasion is the name of the game no matter how you slice it. (And I don’t know if one can ever truly be classy having within their possession a product with such a title). Spypen, huh? Well, we do live in a pretty weird world, so I guess this sort of thing could be worth your $129.99 (???). I’ll let the description speak for itself…

“Collecting solid evidence often times requires keen discretion. That's what makes this 8GB Multi-function Sound-Activated Video Camera Pen so remarkable. This Spy Pen will remain in standby mode for up to 166 minutes and then at the first sound record up to 60 minutes of 1280 x 960 resolution video with a date and time stamp"

If I had written the copy for this, I would definitely feel like I had just sold out. Wow…there are no words. Can’t I just let the government play Big Brother (and feign ignorance) instead of worrying that my seatmate on the plane might now want to take on that role as well?

Oh yeah, my seatmate...

Damn. I was supposed to be witnessing, wasn’t I?

See...this is what happens when you succumb to the seduction of shopping!!!!!!!

Oh well, I guess there’s always next time. With open seating on Southwest, I'll just keep an eye out at the gate for a potentially lost soul, "casually" settle myself into the seat next to them and gear up for some good, old-fashioned "What's the meaning of life?" Q&A.

I’ve got this whole spiel about how materialism is bad and it distracts us from our true purpose on earth. I’ll see how that one works out...  ;)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Celibacy for Sugar Daddies

Yesterday, I watched a marathon of Millionaire Matchmaker. Lest you chastise me for wasting 1/6th of my Saturday lazily consuming highly-edited "reality" TV, allow me to rationalize my lack of activity by pointing to the disgusting 110-degree Tulsa heat outside (and the allure of my friend's wonderfully air-conditioned apartment). Whilst keeping cool, however, I felt it only right to put my college degree to good use and use this rare TV consumption opportunity to do a bit of "worldview research."

"How can I be a pop-culture critic without first being a connoisseur?" I justified when Bravo churned out its third, 60-minute episode in a row (with my only attempt to get off the couch being to get some nachos). The fact is, my life over the past few years has been far too busy to take in the latest trends...cable-TV not withstanding. Before coming back to the States, I owned the lowest-end cell phone Australian-money could buy (one can live without wi-fi, shocking as it may seem), was still catching up on Season 3 of The Office and hadn't seen a Hollywood movie in the theater in nearly 9 months. With all the fun I was having overseas (btdubs...If you've never been to an Are You Serious party, you are seriously missing out), there simply wasn't time to correct (or lament) my "unfortunate" deficit of cultural savvy.

So, here I am, attempting to make up for lost time. And I would be lying if I said I haven't been absolutely fascinated by how the world works when you're not living under a rock. Wide-eyed and intrigued by this particular program, fascinated, in this case, is not a synonym for appealing so much as it is for shocked. Since the show's content is as raw and as "worldly" (I feel like a Fundamentalist Granny using that word...) as you can get, I was surprised to get a bit of Biblical worldview care of the gay-friendly network that brought us such gems as My Life on the D-List and The Real Housewives of New Jersey.

Allow me to introduce you to the Millionaire Matchmaker herself: Patti Stanger. While the rest of single society is relegated to eHarmony, the rich people get Patti. Aside from her unique choice of career, I'm convinced Patti has her own reality show simply because of her sass. For what she lacks in tact, she makes up for in blunt honesty. (After all, she can afford to say what she wants, seeing as her clients shell out big bucks for her set-up services). And its through that big-mouth candor that she educates the world with a rather old-fashioned view of romance.

"No sex!" she tells her male clientele when counselling them on beginning a new relationship. (And this to millionaire men who are used to getting all the action they want...). According to Patti, sex from the start screws up everything (lust, anyone?) and only hurts the cause of getting to know someone in order to settle down. (Exercising celibacy to build pre-marital intimacy? Sounds familiar...)

As a part of her match-making plan, Patti interviews dozens of successful, attractive potentials and invites the crème de la crème to a mixer where they can get to know her millionaire client. During the mixer, Patti observes the clients to make sure the conversation content is appropriate (i.e. Don't discuss possibilities of what you can "do later...") and that focus and fidelity are being practiced (no getting phone numbers from other girls. The client can only choose one woman). Additionally, as Patti coaches her clients pre-date, she expects nothing less than absolute chivalry on the part of males, and absolutely no leading of the relationship on the part of the females (starting from Day 1). Men open doors, initiate appropriate conversation and plan the date, says Patti. Likewise, women are told to dress flatteringly (guys are visual, don't look like a frump), cut the slutty act, and don't even think about taking control of the first date (the guy shouldn't get off that any sense of the word...).

"If you want to get married," Patti boldly claims, "you have to play by my rules." With clients whose questionable relationship habits include casual sex and cheating (normalcy for the rest of the world), Patti is not shy about questioning their motives. Such behaviour, she claims, shows that they don't truly want to get married. The truth? If they really wanted to be a "one-woman man," they would get serious about the process. Because finding a spouse takes work, and being married takes self-control...

Based on her frankness (I won't repeat her crude, yet ironically wise, view on male sexuality) and frequent use of the F-word on the show, I'm pretty positive Patti is not a believer. Yet, in spite of everything, she has a better Biblical worldview than the likes of pre-teen chick flicks and squeaky-clean 90's sitcoms. (One day I'll write a blog about how watching Mary and Lucy's dating adventures on Seventh Heaven screwed up my view on "Christian relationships" in my teenage years). As I said, this Millionaire Matchmaker encourages chivalry, fidelity, male leadership and delayed gratification. Patti is 100% confident that her way works, yet she probably has zero idea that those methods came straight from the mind of God  :)

Lately, I've contemplated becoming a covert missionary. You know, infiltrating culture in culture's way just to bring in a Biblical worldview in disguise. The fact is, most people in our culture won't take a dose of Truth unless its sugar-coated. But we can work with that...the important thing is that it gets in there. Whether its my film-maker friends who are strategically slinking into Hollywood via normal (think non-Christian) movies or believing business-men who take the high road of integrity in an age of compromise, I believer there is greater influence to be had within secular culture than outside its bounds. 

While perusing the complimentary magazine on a Southwest flight last month, I was appalled by a simple Top Five list of tips on raising children. Lo and behold, what do I find? Tip #3 was basically Lady Gaga's Born This Way, minus the catchy beat and big hair. In a brief, yet pointed, two sentences (there's no such thing as agenda-free media, I'm convinced), parents were urged not to judge their children's choices on clothing or how they spend their free time. While there is certainly something to be said for moms and dad's who live vicariously through their children (pushing them to do/be very specific things), I think the "Let them live how they want to live" parenting advice is downright foolish. Teaching right from wrong (i.e. don't wear clothes that flaunt your goodies) and setting boundaries (i.e. Go outside and exercise instead of playing video games all day) are the very characteristics of good parent! But to the un-discerning Southwest passenger in an age of tolerance, the advice appears wise. And that is what makes me so angry. Worldviews are constructed and corrupted from a series of simple things just like that...

But what if those of us with a Biblical worldview had more of a say in secular society? I think Christians underestimate just what a powerful position magazine advice columnists or TV reality show producers have when it comes to shaping society's worldview. Yet, what an opportunity for us to break into these fields! Hollywood films that promote the reconciliation of marriages or novels where the protagonist selflessly risks his life in order to save someone else's (perhaps even an enemy): Those are does of truth, friends! The world needs them and we need to offer them.

Even if they're not couched in God-words and Christian labels, I'm happy to applaud those rare pieces of media that takes Kingdom-concepts to the masses. Like Millionaire Matchmaker: It tells men to step up and women to stop being tramps. And it was all there first in Ephesians 5:23 and Proverbs 11:22.

Thanks Bravo for the Bible study...  ;)

p.s. If you're gonna look up those scriptures, I'd suggest the Message paraphrase (verses 23-25) for the first one. The second one is just straight up, now matter how you translate it (harsh but true).

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Lie #3: Everyone Settles

(The back-story behind this series of posts is "Relationship Lies Exposed." Check it out if you haven't already. That will clue you in on what this and the previous two posts are all about)

Muscles and integrity. That’s what I used to tell people I was looking for in a man. All I wanted, I claimed, was a good guy in a bad boy’s body.

It was meant to get a laugh, but it was about as far from the truth as you could get. Truth is, over the last ten years (okay, 15 years…), I’ve created around a dozen “lists.” (You know “the List:” Just like the ones we take the store to remember everything we need, or the ones we used to send to Santa Claus when we were kids to tell him everything we wanted, the capital-L list I’m referring to pertains to the qualifications we seek in a future spouse). The creation of each of my lists was sparked by different circumstances. Some were tossed over my shoulder in late-night conversation with college pals about “the perfect man." Others were bulleted, extremely detailed lists that came in the wake of finishing a dating book, listening to a marriage message in chapel or watching an episode of Oprah (p.s. That last one was not the greatest of advice sources. Just sayin...).

Much to my dismay, I've discovered it to be quite an acceptable practice for standards (“the lists” as it were) to fluctuate based on age. For example, at 21, my college friends felt it was more than fair for me to have a 37-point list of qualifications for an FH. After all, I was young...the whole world ahead of me and all that. As the years progress, however, people feel the need to insist that I “stop being so picky” and remind me that I “can’t expect perfection.” Subsequently, I feel compelled to cross two or three things off the list every time another birthday comes and goes with no ring.

Not that I actually do cross these things off my list, just that I feel the pressure to. And why should I? At the risk of being misperceived as a colossal snob, I don't ask for anything that I don't have myself (or at least the complimentary characteristic). The whole “Becoming the One before finding the One” cliché is good advice. My twenties have been spent primarily in intention, not desperation. I want to be a wife who is wise, confident, fit and full of Jesus...and I know that starts before I say "I do."

So, since I've been busy letting God work on me, I figure it's best for me to hold out for someone else He is working on too...

Throughout my single years, there has been a single piece of advice that has shaped much of my decisions on relationships. As a five year old in pigtails, sipping a Capri Sun and soaking in my first perspectives of romance via Disney princess cartoons, my very wise mother took the opportunity to tell me four little words: “The boys aren’t worthy!”

That phrase came to be repeated quite possibly hundreds of times in our house over my coming of age years. The words were packed with meaning, encompassing everything from “Don’t give it up until your wedding night,” to “Don’t settle for a boy when you can have a man.” Although I have and still intend to do the former, the latter version is the one that rings most true for me now.

Just because there are “lots of fish” in the sea doesn’t mean they are all good catches. A lot of them smell. Maybe not literally (I was never into jocks…), but definitely in the metaphorical sense of having poor character and shallow personalities. I knew that if I was going to take the risk of going out on the boat, I was going after the best fish I could find. Not just whatever was biting...

Sadly, though, I’ve watched a lot of friends take whatever looked good at the time. When we talk about their marriages, their reasons for getting hitched stemmed either from convenience (“I really wanted to get married“), opportunity (“He was the only guy who was pursuing me”) or guilt (“We’ve been together three years. We should get married…”). As I looked at each, cynicism tempted and taunted me. I honestly wanted to know, “Is this all there is? Does everyone settle?”

Just when I was about to believe it was true (after all, my college profs shot down the idea of “the One” freshman year: "You can be happy with anyone..."), I started meeting dozens of married couple who hadn't settled. These people made their lists, asked God for them, and got exactly what they asked for. Now, lest I paint God as a cosmic genie (prosperity gospel...bleh!), I believe that the reason these stories were a success was that their lists weren’t merely their own ideas; they were God-initiated. The Lord led these people to ask for the things they needed, instead of just what they wanted in a spouse. More often than not, those who were faithful to wait got way more than they expected (Far better than that silly little crush who fulfilled 2% of their list but was just "Sooo hot"...).

What you should know about me and my theology (yes, this bubbly, valley girl digs deep into doctrine) is that I’m not a deist. Just because the Lord is high in heaven doesn’t mean He doesn’t want to be involved...especially in something as significant as a decision about a spouse. Marriage is sacred and it affects the course of our lives: Why should we be so non-chalant about something so serious?

Over the years, I’ve learned to recognize what God’s leading looks like, and (unfortunately) also what it looks like to ignore it. During my rebellious, stubborn seasons, I chose the world's way, succumbing to lust and lack of patience. Needless to say, such seasons yielded sucky results. Yet, the times I have chosen to obey God, waiting and saying “No” to opportunities that society told me were foolish to decline, I have been far more content. A mixed bag of good and bad choices (steeped in God's grace and redemption) has convinced me that following His leading will always yield greater results than giving in to the world’s "logic."

Upon further investigation, the dozens of friends who got their lists were certainly definitely tempted to settle. Physical boundaries were stretched, or the allure of "the spark" clouded their better judgement in choosing whom to date, yet these people repented and sought for something more. They had the courage to believe God's redemption and to trust that He still had one special person in mind for them. And oddly enough, sometimes a person whom two years prior would have been a choice to "settle," was actually “the One" in the making. How could that be? Well, that person (much like they themselves) finally grew up, got serious with the Lord and started following His leading. And in those two years, they became the One that God intended them to be.

Believe it or not, I can recount tales of Christians (friends, mind you, not urban myths) who knew whom their spouse would be months and even years prior to them getting together. In those instances, however, one or both wasn’t quite ready (spiritually, emotionally, financially). So, they waited. How amazing is that? To actually believe God when He says that that other person is, in fact, it...but just not now. That takes trust! In those moments, those people could have easily taken what was in front of them ("After all, he/she is going to be my spouse, why wait?") instead of holding off until God gave the okay. Deep in their hearts, however, they just couldn‘t shake the thought of 1 Corinthians 1:25: “This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans…”

This seemingly crazy, wildness of God is one of my favourite things about Him. In His equation, greater risk = greater reward. And I might just have to step out on a limb not to settle. After all, TRUE safety and security only comes through obedience…

p.s. While I haven't stripped down my standards simply because I'm 28, I did manage to simplify my list over the years, narrowing it down to 10 non-negotiables. You know, the stuff that actually matters ("Nice abs" is certainly nice, but lack of isn't a deal breaker...). All of that to say, there isn't actually a 37-point list...just for the record. Hyperbole, it seems, doesn't always come across as intended  ;)