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...