Tag Archives: love

When Deception Is Good For A Marriage

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Ok, ok, calm down! I’m obviously not suggesting that deception as we typically think of it is ever good for any relationship, but today I’m going to share with you a true story of “deception” that will melt your heart.

First of all, I need to give you some back story about my amazing and creative husband. This is a guy who once managed to buy me flowers while we were shopping together at the grocery store, and then surprised me with them when we got back to the car. I’m still trying to figure out how he managed this. He must have gone to “look at the deli counter” or something. Honestly, he’s either smooth, really, reaaaaally smooth, or I’m incredibly oblivious… most likely it’s a little bit of both! 😉

He’s managed to build a bit of a reputation for himself for pulling off extravagant and thoughtful surprises. When he proposed he chose a location where we had carved our initials when we were first dating, memorized my favorite Shakespearean sonnet (trust me, this guy does NOT read any Shakespeare let alone memorize it!), created his own song by splicing together bits of about 20 different songs to form a coherent message (this was in the days before iTunes, so this was quite a feat!), and threaded the ring with fishing line through the stem of a rose that he hid up his coat sleeve. It was pretty elaborate!

As elaborate as the proposal was, it was nothing compared to our first 10 wedding anniversaries. Each year he planned a surprise trip, and each year he told me where we were going in a different way. For our first anniversary he created a scavenger hunt around our town, hiding clues inside orange balloons. I had to drive all over, following the clues to find the balloons, and collecting all of the clues to figure out our destination. Another year he sent me flowers at work and the card was simply all of the letters of the location scrambled (it was a long and unusual name, so it took awhile to figure it out!). Another year, I had to play the alphabet game with license plates as we drove toward our destination several states away. The whole way, I was asking, “Is there a G? How about an M?”

The icing on the cake was our 10th anniversary. He actually convinced me that he hadn’t planned anything, and I was soooo upset I was in tears! He jokes that he got himself into trouble on that one! Darn, deception! In actuality he hadn’t planned a trip, but he had put together a slide show of the first 9 anniversaries as well as their hints and locations, and much to my surprise, all of these “random” places he decided to go weren’t so random after all! The first letter of either the place or main activity from each anniversary was used to spell D O N T F O R G E T, with the “T” for the tenth anniversary standing for “The choice is yours” in terms of where we would go for our trip. “Don’t Forget” is a phrase we made up when we were dating to encompass many sentiments including, “I love you”, “Jesus loves you”, “I care”, “I miss you”, and “All I want is you”. I have it engraved on the inside of my wedding band. He even took the Hi8 recording of our wedding to a special AV place to have it transferred to digital format so he could isolate our Best Man singing a song during the ceremony that he had written just for us. He then used this special song as the background music for the slide show! You can imagine I cried a different kind of tears when I realized he had just pulled off a surprise 10 years in the making!!!

DontForgetRing_3

We haven’t done anything quite so elaborate since #10. We still try to prioritize our anniversaries as a time for us to get away, even if getting away just means sending the kids away for a night and us taking a day trip and coming home to a quiet house and dinner in the crock pot. I’ve helped plan the last few trips, and they have been pretty low key. Part of me definitely misses looking forward to the surprise each year, but I mean, good grief, the guy needed a break after a decade of planning, and honestly, I can’t expect that he could continue at that level for our entire marriage!

This past year we celebrated our 13th anniversary. About two months before our anniversary, I was driving in the car by myself and I heard this song by Dave Barnes. As I listened to the lyrics I started tearing up thinking about my man, and what a gift he is to me from God. “God gave me you for the ups and downs. God gave me you for the days of doubt. For when I think I’ve lost my way, there are no words here left to say, it’s true, God gave me you” “On my own I’m only half of what I could be; I can’t do without you. We are stitched together, and what love has tethered, I pray we never undo.” As I listened to the song an idea came to me, inspired by interview videos our church has made to tie into sermon series. Wouldn’t it be cool if I made a surprise video for my hubby with this as the theme song, and did interviews with a bunch of our close friends talking about our marriage, and what we’ve meant to them? There would also be footage of me talking about all of things I love about my him, and what his support has meant to me through the years. The real kicker – I wanted him to be a part of the video too, so he could share his thoughts on our marriage. It would be awesome if I could pull it off, but I almost immediately dismissed the idea. It would be WAY too big of an undertaking! First of all, it would require coordinating multiple people, not to mention somehow tricking him into being part of his own surprise. Add to that the fact that I’m a terrible liar, honest to a fault, and extremely tech challenged! I knew it would be a very tech heavy project, incorporating filming, video editing, scanning of hard copy photos, manipulation of digital photos, etc. This is NOT my skill set! I would definitely need to hire someone to help me, which could be expensive, not to mention the giant question of “Who??!”  Great idea, Heather, but not exactly feasible. Plus, I only had two months! For the next week or so I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. He’s put so much effort into showing me he loves me, I would love to reciprocate and do something for him!

I rationalized that maybe I could save the idea for another year when I have more time, or when it was a milestone anniversary. But I couldn’t shake the nudge saying, “You have the inspiration now, so you should act now!” Hmmm… yes, he certainly won’t expect a surprise for #13! Ooooh, and it’s been 20 years since we first met, so that’s a cool, and less obvious “anniversary.” Finally, I decided to go ahead and pick up the phone to see if I could even get a commitment from the friends I wanted to participate. I called each one, explained my idea, and they all loved it and were eager to contribute! I had to create a new, secret email account to communicate about interviews and details because my husband and I are very open. Our email accounts are always open on the computer and my phone is always on the counter! It’s commonplace for him to pick up my phone when a text comes through to tell me who it’s from, so all of my usual contact routes were a no go if we were going to keep this a surprise! I hit a bit of a roadblock trying to find someone to help me with the videography until God stepped in, as only He can, and gave me further confirmation that this whole crazy idea was, in fact, a good one!

Racking my brain for anyone who might have the skills and the time to take on my project, I suddenly remembered a friend of mine had posted on Facebook a photo of their family that her college-aged son had taken. I got the impression that he was the creative type, but had no idea whether he had the tech skill set I needed. I rarely see this friend, but figured I’d keep an eye out for her at church in the off-chance that I might run into her. That very same week, I actually saw her, and didn’t have my husband with me! She said she’d ask her son if he thought he could handle the project, and got back to me quickly that he could. He was home for the summer and working part-time at the church. And wouldn’t you know that his studies in college include video/photography production and editing! Perfect! Only God could orchestrate such an ideal scenario exactly at the right time, not to mention bring a guy to mind whom I’ve never met, simply because of a photo that he had taken! I love the way God works!

Operation trick husband into participating was one of the first steps. Since I was inspired by videos our church had made, I figured the easiest thing would be to have this guy send an email to my real email account asking if we would be willing to participate in a video the church was making for an upcoming marriage series. Since this wasn’t a guy we knew, other than that his family attends our church, and since he actually was working for the church, it was pretty convincing. My husband agreed and didn’t suspect a thing. The majority of our friends involved also attend our church, and miraculously were all available to do filming on the same day (seriously, this truly was a miracle!)! I was constantly worried about the surprise being blown by someone in some way. One day I was in the church office to sort out reserving a room in the building for filming the interviews. Our pastor walked by, and a conversation started. It went something like this:

“Hey, I’m just here scheduling a room to make a surprise anniversary video.” I gave him a short explanation of the project and why my hubs is so awesome that I’m inspired to make it, etc, etc.

Pastor laughs and says, “HA! I LOVE it!”

Then I comically, yet trepidatiously admit, “I may have woven the church into my web of deception by telling him that the church is making a video for an upcoming marriage series and that’s why we’re filming. Soooo, if he asks you about it… if you could just, ya know, play along, or play dumb, that would be great.”

“Oh, I will totally lie straight to his face!!!”

And this, my friends, is how you know when deception isn’t of the sinful kind – when even the pastor thinks it’s a great idea! LOL! 😉

The next couple of months were a lot of work! The project pretty much consumed my thoughts and my entire summer! We ran into technical difficulties on multiple occasions, our out-of-state friends ended up having to mail a DVD of their video to my parents’ house, I tore the house apart looking for pictures which we have in different photo albums, file cabinets, and hard drives here, there, and everywhere around the house, and I sorted through approximately 100,000 pictures from the last 20 years (No exaggeration! We apparently need an intervention to get our photo-taking habits under control!). Between managing all of the details, plus all of the sneaking around, special trips up to the church to exchange flash drives of content with the tech master, and worrying my husband would figure it out, it was STRESSFUL! It was also really exciting though, and I could hardly wait until I could actually surprise him with the gift!

Finally the time came to give him the completed project. I was so nervous about everything going perfectly. I filled a box with mementos from the 20 years of our relationship – a wooden plaque he’d made for me in wood shop in high school, a drawing of the two of us I made for him on our 3rd dating anniversary, a receipt from the bed and breakfast where we spent our wedding night, an airline ticket stub from our honeymoon, postcards we’d sent each other from trips we had taken separately while dating, a newborn onesie I had specially embroidered for him to tell him we were expecting our first child, notes folded like houses and footballs from high school (back in the day when people still passed skillfully folded notes on lined paper and texting hadn’t even been invented yet!). Each item he carefully removed from the box, taking the time to remember the significance of each item and to read each post card and note, folding them back into their original shapes. He thought this little time capsule was the gift, and honestly it would have been a wonderful gift in and of itself! On the bottom of the box was the wrapped DVD with a tag that said “Watch Me!”.

“Did you make me a slide show?” he asked surprised.

“Just watch it.”

The video starts with the first few notes of “God Gave Me You” and three pictures of us in slide show fashion, then it transitions to the two of us introducing ourselves for the marriage video.

“How did you get this footage?!”

“I have a small confession… the guy who filmed the video is an employee of mine.”

He is puzzled while this sinks in. “Soooo, wait, does that mean there’s no marriage series?”

I smile and slowly shake my head. He playfully grabs a pillow from the couch and swats me with it. Then I can see his wheels turning again as he remembers that a bunch of our friends were there to be interviewed also.

“But what about…”

“Just watch it!!!!”

The video I had initially intended to be about 10 minutes long, ended up being nearly an hour. Five other couples contributed segments, there were two clips from our wedding video, a clip of the proposal song he created, and a slide show of pictures from the last 20 years playing to the entire song of “God Gave Me You”. The video ends with a self-recorded video of me in front of the building where we met, telling him how much he means to me, and of course, “Don’t Forget”! We even included a gag reel of outtakes! As the video ended, I looked over at him and his eyes were full of tears, but he had a huge smile on his face! It was EXACTLY the reaction I was hoping for! He LOVED it!

“That was amazing! You got me good!!!” he exclaimed. All the effort was so totally worth it!

I think the thing that surprised me most about the process is the effect it had on my own heart. Part of me had been bummin’ that he hadn’t done anything really romantic in a few years, and wishing he’d reignite that spark in our relationship and help me feel really in love again. While making the project I spent two months focusing on all of his good qualities and everything we’ve been through, talking to everyone involved about the surprises he’s planned for me in the past, and how he’s been my rock through my battle with ulcerative colitis, and listening over and over to “God Gave Me You” and being so thankful for him, and… WOW, don’t you know I came away so incredibly in love with him! People always say that the best way to start to feel love for someone is to serve them, or to pray for them. I’m here to tell you that it’s true! When your focus is on showing love and appreciation for someone else, you really do grow your love and appreciation toward them! I always felt special and loved after the efforts my husband made for me in the past, but I never felt the love as strongly, or with such a lasting effect, as I did when I made him the recipient.

In the past when we’ve told people the stories of the elaborate surprises my husband has pulled off, guys will inevitably say, “Don’t let my wife hear that story!” So let me just say, I’m not sharing all of this to make you feel discontent in your relationship or to focus on what may be lacking. Frankly, gestures don’t have to be grandiose to be heartfelt and genuine. But I do hope that this will help you think about the blessing that your spouse is to you. Maybe spend some time thinking about all of their strengths and good qualities and what you appreciate about them without giving mental airtime to their weaknesses. Sometimes I think we focus too much on what we want to change or what isn’t going well instead of fixing our eyes on the positive. I’m not saying to ignore issues, but simply to take a break from focusing on them, and instead focus on what you DO have.

Maybe a few of you will even be inspired to actually plan your own surprise for a loved one. If this is you, I understand it’s easy to be overwhelmed, and no, you certainly don’t need be as elaborate as we have been, and surprises don’t need to break the budget! Your time, effort, and thoughtfulness is what will touch their heart. With all the chatter out there about how “you only live once” encouraging us to take foolish risks and make stupid choices, can I just say to you in this context, “You. Only. Live. Once!” Show that person that you love them and that they’re worth the effort! Reignite that fire inside yourself by making sacrifices to serve the one you love instead of placing the responsibility for your feelings on their shoulders. Love extravagantly!

What have you and your significant other done for each other in past to show love for each other? C’mon, don’t be intimidated by my story, we’d all love to hear about even the little things! Leave a comment and join the conversation! We could all use some fresh inspiration to get our romantic wheels turning! 🙂

A Love That Endures

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In the last post, Addicted to Love, I touched briefly upon the idea of “soul mates” and the unrealistic expectations we often take away from fictional stories. Today we’re going to take a closer look at the difference between reality and fantasy in our search for true love. A love that endures.

Seasons, cycles, mountains and valleys, every life has ups and downs, and so too does every relationship. We’re all familiar with the words “for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health,” and we know that these words are almost always promised from a mountain top in a relationship and not from a valley. When we pledge to love, honor, and cherish our spouse until one of us breathes our last breath, we all hope that our love story will have the longevity to last the better part of a century, and that death will truly be the only thing strong enough to separate us. In that honeymoon phase we think we’ve already found true love. The truth is, we’re only just beginning on the journey to discover it. True love is something that is proven over time; something refined and strengthened by the fires of life.

Think right now about the most powerful and inspirational real life love story you’ve ever seen. I’m going to guess that there was likely great adversity overcome; adversity so great that only true love could withstand it. These are the stories that move us to tears. These are the stories that restore our faith in humanity and in love. I have seen relationships that have withstood life altering accidents that forever change the way one of the spouses looks or acts. I have seen couples stick together through tragic loss, financial bankruptcy, and crippling illness. Have you ever been to a wedding where they get all of the married couples out dancing and then slowly have them sit down until only the couple that has been married the longest remains? They inevitably receive resounding applause because we all know that a marriage that survives for 50, 60, or 70 years is something worth celebrating. Nothing lasts that long without seeing its fair share of hardships. So how can this change the way we view our own marriages?

"It's all about love" by Candida.Performa https://flic.kr/p/6ZWzRB

“It’s all about love” by Candida.Performa
https://flic.kr/p/6ZWzRB

As discussed in the previous post, we see “soul mates” being portrayed in a relationship that is blissful and easy. I wonder that we ever confuse this with true love when the most poignant examples of true love are those that are proven through endurance not ease. How many of us have hit dry seasons and valleys in our relationships and felt like maybe it just wasn’t meant to be? Sadly, we’ve all seen loved ones separate when the pressure and tension of life reaches a breaking point. What makes some couples stick it out when others throw in the towel? And how can we have our marriages beat the odds and someday be the last couple standing at our great-grandchild’s wedding?

My husband and I have been married for 13 years. It may not seem like a lot when the end goal is 70, but even 13 years has been long enough to throw us some real curve balls. My battle with ulcerative colitis has by far been the longest ongoing stressor on our marriage, and one we certainly didn’t see coming on the sunny, August afternoon when we said our vows. There have been a lot of tears, a multitude of days filled with just getting by, and way too much of getting to know the not-so-beautiful parts of me (It’s a bowel disease… enough said!). We’ve been frustrated. We’ve been tired, really, REALLLLY bone-tired exhausted! We’ve gone through the motions and had long stretches of time that weren’t particularly lovey dovey, blissful, or easy. Nine years of battling illness takes its toll, but through it all we were committed, we were a team, and at the end of the day we were a family. We didn’t see chronic illness on the horizon, but my husband has definitely honored his “in sickness and in health” vow. And you know what? Our love is deeper and more true than it was on that August afternoon 13 years ago. We’re more a part of each other with every new chapter written in the story of us.

If you’ve found yourself in a marriage with some rough patches, take heart; you’re in good company. Every great love story has been tested in the fire. Challenges are an opportunity to grow together in trust and in faith. When we see the weakest and most raw parts of each other we can begin to know and understand each other more deeply, and we find our most honest acceptance in those places. Just because it isn’t easy doesn’t mean you’re not soul mates. After all, the true soul mates are the ones who keep on fighting until only death parts them. The true soul mates are the ones who have found a love that endures.

 

Addicted to Love

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Butterflies, goose bumps, the jolt up your spine, ecstasy, and agony, there’s no question that love is a powerful thing. Anything with the power to awaken such a strong response in us can be downright addictive! I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a good love story? We start our fascination with love at a very young age. Girls especially are drawn to stories of “true love” and the princess finding her prince. Disney’s go-to story line is cliche for a reason; it’s the happily ever after we all crave on a soul level. But like every good and perfect gift created by God, Satan has cunningly designed a very close counterfeit. Counterfeits mimic the original, and distract us enough to make us miss or at least corrupt the real deal. So what is love’s counterfeit? Lust. And a truly cunning counterfeit it is indeed. So much so, that I’ve recently started upon a personal journey of trying to tease these two things apart in my own head and heart, and it’s not as easy as it sounds. Lust has so corrupted love that sometimes we think good things may actually be evil, and that evil things may actually be good. You may well wonder what the big deal is. If we’re not engaging in adultery, viewing porn, or committing assault, is the difference really that important? I didn’t used to think so, but the more I tried to figure out what was pure and what was lust, the more I realized how pervasive lust is in our culture, and I started to see a true battle unfolding. Lust has an insatiable appetite. It is the very definition of an addiction. It wants more, and then more, and then more still, and this is the slippery slope than can sadly lead to the more overt sins like the ones listed above. It twists our thoughts and our desires and instead of leading us to love, it leads us to destruction. But before I lose you completely, let me take you on a little journey through my battle zone. It may be more similar to your own than you realize.

Like many little girls, I loved happily-ever-after fairy tales. I never outgrew my love for these stories, I simply matured into a self-professed chick flick junkie! Frankly, if there isn’t at least some romantic plot line to a story, I’m not likely to be all that interested in it. My growing collection of cheesy romantic comedies sure seem like pretty harmless entertainment. No one at church would judge me for my choices in movies, well, except maybe to roll their eyes at the predictability of the plot lines. By and large, I have for years convinced myself that my media habits are perfectly acceptable. Then recently I started to see how the common themes among my media of choice were eroding the clarity of my moral compass, infiltrating my thoughts, and even impacting my marriage. It was so subtle, I didn’t even recognize the cause at first. In fact, I had actually convinced myself that viewing romantic themes was beneficial for my marriage by fueling my desire to be romantic! But just like Disney plays the same plot lines out over and over with different characters, so also does Hollywood.

Girl and Boy are in an ordinary, ho-hum relationship. Girl or Boy meet someone else. It’s love at first sight, the chemistry is electric, no ho-hum here! We find ourselves cheering for the breakup, and even excusing a little adulterous behavior, so the new couple can live happily ever after. After all, they’re soul mates, right?! They were meant for each other, so the death of the prior relationship is simply a little necessary collateral damage. Sound familiar? I am sorry to say that I own at least a dozen DVDs with this “grass is greener” theme, and many of them have at some point been on my favorite list. How about this one…Boy meets Girl, their attraction is so intense that they can’t resist the passion and quickly and casually hook up. They don’t start out with any intentions of a committed relationship, yet somehow, building on the foundation of sex and attraction alone, their relationship transforms into true love. This theme is becoming more and more prevalent and it downright terrifies me for the message it sends our young people! Last, but not least, the common thread of so many love stories is the “soul mate” theme. A soul mate is a truly mystical concept that transcends time and space and is deeply rooted in the idea of destiny. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that God designs people to compliment their spouse and that He can lead us on a path that brings us together. What I don’t like about the soul mate theme, as it is often depicted in fictional stories, is the impression that when one has found their soul mate, that love and life and relationship will be blissful and easy. It also conveys the idea that the soul mate has the ability to complete the other person and fill all of their deepest needs. So when we find ourselves in a real life marriage, two broken and imperfect people that need to work at love, and who can’t fill each other’s deepest needs, we’re convinced that we missed it. This leads to frustration and disillusionment, and where do we go from there? How about eying that grass on the other side of the fence? Sure looks green from here. I love a few quotes I’ve seen floating around lately. One states, “The grass is greener where you water it.” The other says, “The grass is greener on the other side because it’s fertilized with bull sh!t.” We chuckle, but seriously, both are so very true.

Beyond the etching away over time of our belief systems, the other major danger of any addiction is desensitization. This is how it played out for me… That adrenaline rush, that tingly feeling we get from the first kiss; we all love that, don’t we? A little embarrassing to admit, but I would find myself playing videos I’ve seen a million times and fast forwarding through to all of the “good parts”. The good parts, of course, are the ones that bring about the emotional response. Those parts in a movie where the chemistry is tangible. I’m not even talking specifically about sex here. I’m talking about eyes locking for the first time, the acute awareness of fingers brushing up against each other, a slow dance, a meaningful conversation or laughter-filled moment where you can see the relationship deepening. These are all good things!!! Things God designed to bring us together and give us joy. But for me, living through media and chasing the thrill of this feeling over and over made the feeling harder to accomplish. I found myself trying to conjure the feeling when I was with my husband by replaying the movie in my head instead of being present in my reality. I’ve even realized my real relationship is pretty darn movie worthy at times, and yet somehow, I’m not always experiencing the full joy of it. The edge has been dulled and I’ve become desensitized by living too much in fantasy. Maintenance of the “thrill” becomes more and more elevated in importance and things begin to shift out of balance. The focus becomes passion and the sexual side of love instead of the steadfast friendship and partnership of love. One day I got tired of constantly doing battle with my thoughts and actually started to look seriously at what was fueling them. That’s when I realized I was being a passive pupil, allowing media and culture to instruct my worldview.

Silhouette Kiss by Christian Schulze https://flic.kr/p/7M9MzN

Silhouette Kiss by Christian Schulze
https://flic.kr/p/7M9MzN

It’s frankly pretty scary and humbling to put myself out there like this, yet I feel compelled to do it because maybe, just maybe, I’m not the only one feeling this tug. And maybe just maybe someone else needs to know they’re not alone (me included!). The private battlefields of our minds and hearts are lonely places. We don’t want to invite anyone else to help us in the fight because that would mean admitting the thoughts and habits we’re ashamed of. In a culture that gets the formula of love, joy, and fulfillment all wrong, we can have a hard time finding God’s way.

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve been careful not to list specific titles that I think cross the line, and yes, that’s intentional, and no, it’s not because I fear the backlash of calling specific titles out on their bogus messages. It’s because this battle can never be won by following a set list of dos and don’ts. It’s a heart work. What culture accepts, even Christian culture, should never be our yardstick by which we measure what is acceptable. As I said above, depending on the state of my heart, my mind could twist even the depiction of pure love into something lustful. What we need is a renewing of our mind and a surrender to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. That amazing and true love we yearn for – it’s the love God has for us, and it’s the love He wants us to have for Him and for each other. A love that is committed and unconditional. I think one of the largest errors we make is feeling conviction and confusing it with shame and guilt. This makes us defensive because we experience shame and guilt as cyclical negative emotions that lead to bondage. But conviction is very different. Conviction sheds light on our errors, so we can genuinely repent and turn from them, and this leads not to bondage, but to FREEDOM! If you feel the Holy Spirit convicting you, welcome the conviction. He’s not trying to punish you, He wants to set you free.

Whenever I feel God speak to me through a scripture I underline it in my Bible. Years ago, I underlined Psalm 101:3a, “I will set before my eyes no vile thing.” It is the only verse underlined on that page, so naturally if I turn to that page, it is the first thing my eyes land upon. I kid you not when I say there have been at least half a dozen times in the last several years when I have contemplated watching or reading things I knew were crossing the line and God has led me to this verse or brought it to mind. Not knowing what to read at bedtime, I’d randomly open my Bible to exactly this page and read just that one line – I will set before my eyes no vile thing. We’re not alone in our battles. God knows every thought and every struggle and He longs to give us the ammunition to win. Time and again He would show up with this gentle reminder when I knew what I should do, but really didn’t want to listen because, let’s face it, lust seems fun and enticing and temptation can be powerful. Whether I surrendered to the conviction was always my choice, and sometimes I didn’t choose wisely. Sometimes I chose to feed lust and its grip grew stronger, and my eyes captured images I later wished my mind could erase. By God’s grace, often times I chose repentance and freedom.

So as you think about what you put before your eyes and your ears, don’t look at those around you for validation about what is acceptable. Consider whether you would watch, read, or listen to this with Jesus physically sitting next to you. Would you watch or listen to it with your children if you believed they could actually understand it and that it was instructing their value system? Ask yourself how media is impacting your expectations of life and relationships. How is it impacting your contentment? Really ponder these things and let the truth of them land in your heart and mind.

John Wesley’s very wise mother once instructed him:

“Take this rule: whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off the relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.”

Lord, you designed attraction and passion and true love for us to enjoy as part of an amazingly abundant life. Help us to recognize counterfeit when we see it, and help us to refuse to give into the temptation to accept the cheap substitute. Give us a revelation of the beauty and fullness of your original design. Convict us out of your immense love for us to draw us back to freedom. Safeguard our marriages, bond us together, and help us to love each other with a love that is true and pure, committed and unconditional. Bless us with love that endures. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

If this is an area of struggle for you, I encourage you to pray that God would bring a godly friend to your mind who you can ask to be your accountability partner. Broaching the subject initially can be extremely difficult, but you’ll then find that silence was your prison. The struggles may still remain, but much of their power is lost simply by speaking them aloud to another and allowing light to be shed in the dark places. Trust me on this, it is worth the risk. I haven’t found very much literature on this topic, especially that is written for women, but I have read and been encouraged by “Sex is Not the Problem (Lust Is)” by Joshua Harris. The book is useful for both men and women, and specifically discusses the misconception that lust is something only men struggle with. I also highly recommend “The Fantasy Fallacy” by Shannon Ethridge, and another of her books titled “Every Woman’s Battle” (There’s a version for men as well called “Every Man’s Battle” by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker). I hope this post helps you to feel like you’re not alone, and encourages you to take a step toward freedom. Please feel free to leave a comment, even anonymously if that’s where you’re at, and I will most certainly pray for you.

Love Thy Neighbor

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When we purchased our home 6 years ago there was no doubt in my mind that this is where God wanted us to be. The sheer number of it-has-to-be-a-God-thing scenarios that were necessary to make the purchase a reality were a testimony to the fact that this was the place. Our “promised land” I remember calling it. Well over the past few years I’ve been reminded of the fact that the Israelites were surrounded by enemies that bordered their Promised Land. Since moving into our home there have been several occasions that have left us feeling that we are living in the shadow of hostility. It’s a very unsettling feeling, and one I work hard to avoid. I like to think of myself as a likable person. A peace keeper. Someone who is kind and respectful of everyone. But what do you do when you’re hated without cause? When someone refuses to speak to you or dislikes you even though you’ve done nothing wrong? How do you love your neighbor when your neighbor sets themselves up as the enemy? It’s not easy, I tell you! In fact, I’ve determined that on my own, it’s impossible.

Our next door neighbor is a miserable kind of woman. I suspect she likely struggles with either extreme sadness, smoldering anger, or both, and possibly some type of mental illness. Honestly, I’ve never met anyone else quite like her. She is boldly rude – she’ll completely ignore you when you say “Hi” to her and she is just 3 feet away from you! She’s reclusive, rarely out of her house, and except for when her husband is home from work, no one ever visits. When she does talk, she has a propensity for flying off the handle. She has cussed me out for landscaping the side of my house that borders their lot, and yelled at the cable guy for burying new wires on the lot line (a utility easement). Most of the time she is passive aggressive, and prefers to show her disdain by setting up little flags to mark the lot line, or spraying RoundUp on her grass inches from my perennials and from where I am sitting weeding my garden. To sum it up, she is C R A Z Y!

Many of the neighbors on the street have lived in their homes for 25-35 years and have witnessed her antics before. Apparently our neighbor has always been this way, so I know I shouldn’t take it personally, but her proximity makes the hostility impossible for me to ignore. I wish I had my husband’s gift for apathy about such matters, but unfortunately I’m plagued with a deep sensitivity that I just can’t seem to shake. I know I didn’t do anything to deserve the hostility, so there’s nothing to make amends for; no way to resolve the problem. You can’t fix crazy. The result is a feeling of both helplessness and hopelessness. I hate the tension, but I’m powerless to remove it.

I wish I were writing this post to share with you the secret for how to love your enemies, or even just the annoying people in your life, but unfortunately, I don’t have this mastered. If I’m honest, her behavior has driven me to hate her back. Have I ever mentioned that I hate hating people? It’s not therapeutic at all. In fact, it’s the opposite. It eats away at you; consumes you. As soon as I think I’ve made progress with letting go, she does something that brings all of my emotions flooding back. I’ve managed self-restraint – I don’t yell back at her, and I don’t stoop to her level of passive aggression. Those are merely a display of outward discipline on my part though. They speak nothing about the true state of my heart. If I look at my heart, I’m not doing a very good job at loving my neighbor; the second most important commandment no less! The problem is, I can’t make myself love her. I’ve tried to conjure up compassion for her by thinking of how miserable her life must be living with so much bitterness. I’ve tried to imagine all of the horrible things that could have happened in her past to make her this way. I’ve tried logic and reasoning to realize that I could have worse neighbors, and that it has nothing to do with me so I shouldn’t let it bother me. None of it has worked. I have concluded that loving the unlovable truly is something that only Jesus is good at. I’ve also realized that He knows we don’t have this capacity within ourselves.

So, I’m changing my strategy. I’m trying (albeit sometimes through gritted teeth) to pray for my enemy. I’m not saying I don’t still pray for God to simply change her or to move her, but I’m trying also to pray that she can overcome her demons. More importantly, I’ve begun praying for myself. Many years ago, on a junior high retreat, I felt God put His love for other people in my heart. Way more love than I’d ever had for strangers before, or ever experienced since. I need Him to do that again. The Holy Spirit lives in me. I have the power of Jesus’ love inside of me. I just need to lay down my own hate, my own sin, my own bitterness, and ask Him to change my heart to be like His. I’m praying He will. More than that, I believe that He will if I continue to surrender because I know it’s what He wants for me. It’s what He wants for all of us. To love with a supernatural love. A love that doesn’t make sense. A love that isn’t just. A love that isn’t deserved. A love that is merciful.

Lord, I confess my anger and bitterness toward my neighbor. You have called me to love her, but I don’t know how. I need You to change my heart. I need You to give me Your love for the people around me. I need Your help to let go of the hate and anxiety I feel, and I need You to help me accept Your love and peace instead. Please God, bring peace to our situation, and let this promised land that You’ve given us be a place of joy and refuge for our family. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Sexiest Man Alive

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The title of this post probably conjures images of a People magazine cover of a handsome man with dreamy eyes and chiseled abs. Someone successful in the world’s eyes, and fawned over by women everywhere. Based on movies, popular novels, and TV shows like The Bachelor, we are programmed to think that a buff body and the ability to be a player with the ladies are desirable traits. But is that what sexy really is? Men, did you ever wonder what you can do to be considered sexier? Well, guys, this post is for you.

Image by Ian Carroll

Image by Ian Carroll, Caza_No_7

I realize that I can’t speak for all women, but I can tell you honestly from my own perspective, and one that is shared by many drop dead gorgeous and amazing women I call friends, that while ripped muscles may be a fleeting distraction, they are hollow and soulless.

You know what women of character, the real marriage material girls out there are looking for…. men of honor. Honor is all but dead in our society, but there was once a time when a man was defined by his integrity. He’d rather die than lose his honor. He’d fight for his honor, and the honor of others. Perhaps this is why women are so drawn to period films that depict courageous men of great merit and worth. Men like William Wallace in Braveheart who rallied a nation of men to fight for the honor of their wives, and their claim to their homeland. Men like Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, who although they have high social standing and many women who desire them, refuse to cheapen themselves or others by taking advantage of their position. Men who live above reproach, who live out purity, honesty, and bold faith. Men who lead other men toward greater integrity. Men who find their identity and strength on their knees before an Almighty God. Now that is sexy!

I am blessed to know a handful of men that exemplify what it means to live with honor and integrity, and you know what stands out about my reaction to these men? I respect them. These are the men I want my son spending time with as he grows. These are the men I want to see in leadership. This is the only type of man I would consider marrying and gladly submit to as he leads our family.

I have heard a lot of talk lately about love and respect being the key aspects of a successful relationship between a man and a woman. There are books explaining how the thing women need the most is love, and the thing men need the most is respect. Being respected is so important and necessary to a man, that it is even more important than love. In fact, a wife most truly displays her love for her husband by respecting him. Interesting then that a natural reaction toward men of great integrity is to respect them.

I know many men who are physically attractive, funny, successful in their careers, and in general would be considered “good” people. However, they also spend their nights out chasing tail at bars, they go to strip clubs, they look at porn, they read magazines that objectify women, or they date girls they have no intention of marrying because they meet their immediate physical needs. Are these guys fun to be around? Yes. Do I consider some men that fit this description to be my friends. Sure. But here’s the below the belt punch. Do I respect them? No. Sorry, it’s the truth, I don’t. Men like this aren’t real men. They’re boys. They’re immature adolescents in mature bodies. They live by impulse and let their desires control them. And sadly, they are the societal norm.

Now on the other hand, do I know men that struggle with addiction to pornography or other entrapments that I do respect. Yes. Want to know the difference? The men who earn their respect back are the ones who are on their knees fighting for their integrity. They are the ones who are open about their struggles and actually stand up to lead other men away from these traps. They are transparent, and they are willing to be changed and used by God. They have been redeemed.

Men, it’s time to man up! Some people cringe at this statement thinking that it conveys that men shouldn’t cry or show emotion. In actuality, a real man isn’t afraid to show true compassion, or to grieve, or to love deeply. “Man up” isn’t a call to put on a hard face, it’s a call back to honor, integrity, and true leadership. It’s a call to courage and faith, self-control and dignity.

Men, you may think that your decisions today don’t matter. That what you look at on the computer, or what you do behind closed doors doesn’t impact your future, your family, or the world. But that’s a lie. We need you! We need you to be men worthy of a great calling. We need leaders we can respect to lead our families and our communities. On a personal level to you, your choices do impact the type of woman you’ll be able to attract if you’re not already married. If you’re married, your decisions directly impact the health and stability of your marriage and your family.

Men, do you want to be sexy? Man up! Want to be respected? Man up! It’s time for honor to make a come back!