Happiness vs. Holiness

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[From Noel] noel portrait1BW

Some more thoughts about marriage and happiness (kind of a part three post continuing the thoughts of part 1 and part 2):

Bound and DeterminedIn her book, Bound and Determined: Christian Men and Women in Partnership, Jeanene Reese observed that happiness is a bit of a fixation for Western culture. Many believe that marriage is for making people happy, and its not just marriages.
Most parents too, at least in North America, if they were asked what it was they wished for their kids, they would say, “I just want my kids to be happy.” (Aside: If this topic is more interesting to you go here and read Dr. Robin Berman’s article on “Unhappiness: The Key to raising Happy Children”)

Now Jeanene doesn’t want her kids to be unhappy (neither you nor I do either) but she says that in marriage, happiness is the wrong target to aim for, both for your kids and for your marriage. Happiness is too dependent on our emotional state, and our circumstances, both things we cannot change nor control.

31540211943_3a9b74dc95_nPinterest is full of little projects that celebrate the “happiness of marriage.” But what if you follow the recipe shown here and find that it isn’t all that happy? What if marriage is instead frustrating and difficult, even when you follow the recipe?

Marriage was created by God and one of the things marriage does is help us practice loving someone the way God loves people. Unlike people, God loves the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. God never tires of loving. On the other hand, remember the way you loved your spouse back at the beginning of your marriage. Everything they did just tickled and delighted you. The cute way they sneezed, the way they folded towels, the way they left the seat up / or down, the way they left the dirty dishes on the counter even though the dish washer is empty and ready to be loaded again. How about now? Not so much.

The truth is that humans aren’t natural lovers. We learn to love from the example that God gives us and marriage is a place where we can safely learn to get better at it. Jeanene reminds us,

Do [you] always feel the love? No. Love is not an emotional response but an ongoing choice. There are times, however when I don’t even have the will to choose to love. Jack (her husband) and I, like all married couples, have experienced our share of hard times. I used to think that if things got difficult enough that I couldn’t love with my love, I could always love with God’s. Then I discovered that I cannot love with God’s love unless I am fully surrendered to it (p. 141).

What Jeanene means here is that I need God to be at the center of my marriage and I need to love in the same way I am loved by God. When I can accept that unconditional love that God has for me, I can then be a conduit of God’s love to others. If I don’t accept that God loves me and is working a miracle in my heart, then I only have a limited supply of love to give. When that runs out, I will naturally switch gears and begin my games of manipulation and distrust (something humans are naturally good at).

There are times when I am not feeling it and on those days love is a choice. Marriage is tough and sometimes I am so fed up and frustrated that I don’t want to choose love anymore. Then I need to trust God to fill my choices with his love. (There is, of course, no place for abusive or destructive behaviours in a marriage relationship. Abuse is not something that is tolerated or worked through. This deserves its own blog article sometime, but I feel compelled at this point to mention that I am not suggesting that God will help you love an actively abusive spouse until they stop abusing you some time down the road. Abusive behaviours are unacceptable and need to be addressed as the sin that they are. You will need to seek the help of a counselor and in some cases you may need to involve the police.)

Marriage was invented by God as a way to train our hearts to love like God loves. Theologians call this “progressive sanctification.” It is the gradual process where you learn to forgive and learn to love in ways that wouldn’t have been possible before. You are being transformed into the image of God. You are becoming holy, in one of the ways that God is holy. It is a difficult, and yet beautiful process, and it starts with submitting to the love that God has for you, and then embodying it for someone else.

Marriage was designed by God to produce holiness, not happiness.

ncw

Marriage Doesn’t Make You Happy

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[From Noel] noel portrait1BWIt turns out I have already blogged on this topic: Joy vs Happiness in marriage but I’m not going to let that stop me.  Just think of this as Chapter 2 of an emerging written work :).

Marriage in western culture is really taking a beating out there.  Today, like all adult relationships these days, marriages are becoming more and more provisional: they are simply assumed to be temporary – “we’re just going to make the best of it while we can.”

Many twenty-somethings have only known serial relationships without any formal act of commitment and research shows that, outside of marriage, adult romantic relationships like this (read: living together) only last about two years on average.

When a relationship of mine is provisional, I am constantly checking to see  if it is still alive.  “Are we still an item?” And to answer this question I look inward at myself.  “Am I still in love?”  “Is he/she still sexually compatible with me and my needs?” “Do I still have feelings for him/her?” And this is where a big problem lies.  Joy (lasting happiness) is not something we find through self gratification.  It will not be found through facing inward but instead joy is found through attending to the other in a self sacrificing, sort of way. It reminds me of a story I read recently: A desperate man wrote Rabbi Menachem Schneersohn seeking advice.  He wrote,

I need the Rabbi’s help. I am deeply depressed.  I pray and find no comfort.  I perform the commands but feel nothing. I find it hard to carry on…

The Rabbi sent a compelling reply without writing a single word.  He returned the man’s note and circled the first word of every sentence.  At the bottom of the note he wrote one sentence.  “The door to happiness opens outward, not inward.” Happiness is not something that we will find through looking after our own needs. but instead, it is found through looking after the needs of someone else.

There is a word in the Old Testament that makes this point beautifully.  It is the Hebrew word simchah. It is translated as “joy,” “gladness,” “mirth,” but translators  have trouble because it has no exact equivalent in English.  Johnathan Sacks writes in his book The Great Partnership, “in English … all our emotion words refer to states of mind we can experience alone. Simchah is something we cannot experience alone.  Simchah is joy shared.”  (p. 203-4)

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You know that Internet video of the guy getting hit in the head with a soccer ball.  It’s funny, but sharing it with someone is almost as much fun as seeing it again for the first time. It’s a joy shared.  That’s what married joy is like. 🙂 To truly experience it you need to want it for the other person.  If you are trying to get it for yourself you will be disappointed but when you want it for your spouse, in time, you can find it too.

So being married is like getting hit in the face with a …. no, getting married is hitting someone in the face with a soccer ball…  Or is it being married is watching someone getting hit with a soccer ball…?

Where’s Julie?   I think I need her to finish this blog post off.

ncw

Book Review: A Dude’s Guide to Marriage

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book-reviewdudesguideI meet a friend for coffee every week or so and we have been working our way through The Dude’s Guide To Marriage: Ten Skills Every Husband Must Develop to Love His Wife Well.  It is an investment that we are both making in our marriages. We read a chapter, talk about it, and then try to go home and apply what we’ve learned.

While I must confess that I am usually allergic to books that have numbers in the title: “Seven Steps to Successful Marriage,” “Five Focus Points For Fostering Fidelity.” It’s almost as bad as my allergy to alliteration. Despite the numeration, I would recommend this book if you are looking to invest in the health of your marriage.

It’s written by a Darrin and Amie Patrick, who are in full-time church ministry and it is specifically written for “guys who want to grow. For guys who want to stop using their strengths to excuse their weaknesses.” (p. xiii)

It is sadly true that one cannot take for granted that you, dear reader, are willing to work on your marriage. Today people get married for love (and research would suggest that about 50% of people get unmarried for the same reason). Marriages take work and this book gives you some very practical things that you can work on.

One focus that I appreciated was on communication. The first three chapters are entitled, Listen, Talk, Fight, all dealing with vital communication skills. Darrin writes that men and women have different communication styles because they have different communication purposes. Men tend to “report-talk” while women often “rapport-talk” (p. 5). There are, of course, exceptions to every sweeping generalization but I think that Darrin captures something here that men often miss.
Women often communicate as a means of developing closeness, not just sharing information. So that’s why, Darrin says, women share their struggles without necessarily needing a solution to their problem. Women want to be heard, not fixed. (I wish someone had told me this about twenty years ago. BTW teens want to be heard and not fixed too. In fact, it turns out that very few people want to be fixed… Good to know).

Darrin’s wife Amie adds a brief comment to most chapters, but one of the highlights of the book is a chapter she writes herself concerning the need for husbands to pursue their wives (in a healthy, non-stalker like way). She writes that a woman wants to be known, loved and enjoyed for who she is. That’s what it means to pursue your spouse: it is a “personal, intentional, and specific commitment to actively love your wife where she is right now and to be intimately involved in the process of who she is becoming” (p. 140).

She confesses that the times in her marriage that she has felt the loneliest, the most unloved, were the times when Darrin failed to pursue her well. Amie says that women who are not being pursued withdraw (out of fear or a desire to avoid further disappointment). Not being pursued leaves a woman doubting the character of her husband, and the security of her marriage.

Pursuit is not important because a woman can’t take care of herself or must have a man to meet her needs. Pursuit is living out a heartfelt concern for your wife’s long term good, no matter what the cost. It is a deliberate, physical, act of servant hearted love.

Her challenge to pursue struck a chord with me. In my marriage to Julie we have weathered seasons where my pursuit has waned. It’s not that I loved her any less, or felt any less strong about our marriage. It was rather, a failure of priorities, a failure to carve out time. If I’m honest, my pursuit of Julie was poor at times when there were idolatries working on my heart that were getting in the way of my marriage flourishing. I needed to be seen as being busy and I was given positive strokes for all the extracurricular activities that I was involved in. Nobody was praising me for spending an evening giving the kids a bath and going to bed early with my wife but that was one of the things that I should have been doing more of. Julie was feeling lonely and like she was not a priority in my life.

We would sometimes fight about it and talk past each other. She would say that I was not making family life (and her) a priority and I would say that she did not understand all the responsibilities that I was juggling. We would go round and round expressing ourselves very clearly and concisely while at the same time not hearing each other very well. It took a few years for me to understand how Julie experiences presence as a love language (see Gary Chapman’s Love Languages).

Amie ends the chapter with a collection of very helpful suggestions (some of which Julie and I discovered on our own.)

  • Do physical things together, life washing and drying dishes, going for walks, filing papers, etc.
  • Start and end the day with some kind of physical touch: a hand on a shoulder, a hug, a peck on the cheek, a squeeze on the hand, or something spicier (use your own imagination).
  • Put down your phone while talking with each other. Eye contact speaks volumes.

Amie also talks about the importance of taking responsibility for your physical health. “Your wife benefits when you feel better, have more energy, and live a long healthy life” (p. 150). I recently discovered how important this is when Julie is working. I strategically make sure I am well rested when she is going to be available to talk or go for a walk. I want to give her some of the best of my time, not just what is left.

The book is full of practical, well reflected biblical advice and would be a great place to learn how to love your wife better.

NCW

A Forgiveness Story

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Passengers Movie

<Spoiler Alert: If you were planning on going to see Passengers any time soon stop reading now!>

[From Noel] noel portrait1BW
In the recent movie Passengers, Jim Preston (played by Chris Pratt) is himself a passenger on an interstellar spacecraft who is woken from hibernation 90 years too early by a mysterious computer failure. As a result, he is trapped, alone on a spacecraft carrying more than 5 000 other sleeping passengers on the way to their eventual destination: a new planetary colony 60 light years from Earth.

The Avalon

I think part of the critical failure of the movie (only 31% of the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes were positive) can be blamed on the fact that the movie was sold to the public as something that it wasn’t ultimately trying to be. Movie trailers for the movie (see links below) and TV commercials cast it as an interstellar romance between Jim and another passenger named Aurora Lane (played by Jennifer Lawrence). The star-crossed lovers find themselves (and each other) facing a technological disaster that was (perhaps) caused by corporate greed or some other nefarious deed.

In one of the trailers, Jim ominously says that “there’s a reason that we woke up early,” and in another, “there’s something they didn’t tell us,” implying that some greater purpose was at work, leading to a desperate challenge that must now be answered by our heroes: Save the ship or be lost in space! Neither of these lines appeared in the film.

Jim and ArthurThe truth is that the movie is centered around something entirely different: a horrible dilemma that causes Jim to commit an unthinkable betrayal. (Last chance to get out before the spoiler). Inexplicably, Jim wakes up early, and alone, and spends more than a year as the only upright passenger aboard the Avalon, except for the android bartender. He tries everything he can to get help from the sleeping crew, or to contact Earth (already 15 light years away) but to no avail. Finally, in a desperate scene, he is also pushed to the brink of suicide, pondering his prospects in one of the air locks leading out into space.

After a torturous year in isolation he notices an interesting passenger on the ship manifest, Aurora Lane, who is still sleeping in suspended animation. Jim is then faced with the horrible dilemma: would he wake someone who could then be his companion and, as a result, damn them to the same fate?

After months of unsuccessfully trying to forget the possibility, he does this unthinkable thing, and turns off her sleep chamber, bringing Aurora into his personal nightmare – pretending at first that it was the result of another “malfunction.”

Things are great for Jim and Aurora, at least for a few months, as the two seem to make the best of a terrible situation but unfortunately for Jim the truth comes out. Aurora is enraged, feeling cruelly betrayed by the only other person she can spend the rest of her life with. The two interstellar castaways are left in an even more bitter isolation: alone together.

Jim and Aurora

As movies usually do, a crisis comes along where Jim and Aurora must avert disaster by depending on each other and Aurora reaches her own moment of desperation when she realizes that unless she can save Jim, she will face the same fate that he did originally: spending the rest of her life alone.

Critics who panned the flick all observe that the romantic relationship the movie is supposed to be based on is terminally flawed. How can there ever be love in a relationship that was based such manipulation and deceit? Richard Roeper of The Chicago Sun writes that the movie “is a well-designed, initially intriguing, visually interesting sci-fi romance torpedoed by a premise … so creepy and misogynistic, it’s amazing nobody… raised concerns about [it].” Kwame Opam of The Verge writes that the relationship is “deeply disturbing, even enraging.”

In space, no one can hear you scream, “Restraining order!” – Kwame Opam

The critics are right of course. How could a relationship ever recover from such a betrayal? It is absurd and unrealistic. The whole premise of this relationship is built on a cruel, self-serving lie.

The mistake the critics make is that this movie is not a sappy love story. It is a forgiveness story. Aurora cannot forgive Jim for how he has betrayed her. She also bitterly realizes that she cannot punish him in such a way that would make this whole thing fair. In the film she says to Jim, “you have taken my life away from me! It’s like murder!” The betrayal has been committed and they are stuck with it.

While no couples you and I will ever know will be intractably stuck on a space ship for the rest of their lives, we likely all know more than one couple that have faced a cruel betrayal that cannot be humanly made right again. When I counsel soon-to-be married couples I warn them that they need to have a plan for what to do when they sin against each other, not if.

Christians should see marriage as being all about forgiveness, and it comes from a proper understanding of the cross and the resurrection. Forgiveness is not just something that occasionally happens in a world where Jesus is raised from the dead. N.T. Wright in his book The Day the Revolution Began, writes

Resurrection and forgiveness belong together. Both are the direct result of the victory won on the cross, because the victory won on the cross was won by dealing with sin and hence with death. Resurrection is the result of death’s defeat; forgiveness, the result of sin’s defeat. Those who learn to forgive discover that they are not only offering healing to others. They are receiving it in themselves. (p. 386)

Forgiveness is hard work and it takes time (much more than 1h 56 min, the running time of the film). One thing that helps with forgiveness is remembering the humanity of the offender, and that is something that Jesus helps us do. Aurora could not forgive Jim, at least not until she was forced into a situation where she can see things the way Jim saw them when he was first stranded on the spaceship.

In the same way, a first step for us when we are trying to forgive is to reflect on the fact that we are valuable because of what God says about us (we are an inherently valuable child of God) and so is the other person in our conflict.

Contrary to what you may have heard, love does not mean “never having to say you’re sorry.” In fact, true love comes only once you start getting good at it.

Passengers Official Trailer

NCW

The Power of Monogamy

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[From Noel] noel portrait1BWThe Globe and Mail published a review of a new book (pretty good summary here) out next week entitled, Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships, by Ottawa clinical psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson, not to be confused with famous Toronto sex educator Sue Johanson. In it, Johnson argues that clinical research shows that monogamous relationships provide a meaningful emotional benefit to those who are in them.
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(Quick sarcastic aside: If you are a Christian and want to shut down any meaningful conversation you might have with friends who aren’t believers, make sure to mention this book and then go on about how the Bible has been talking about this for centuries. Even Jesus didn’t like know-it-alls (Mark 3:5) so I won’t do that here. Instead of nagging people with this knowledge, use it to help people who are struggling to make shallow relationships work.)

This book is helpful because the prevailing position in secular circles these days is that monogamous relationships are a left over practice from a by-gone era dominated by religious superstition. Secular thinkers would say, “the church has always wanted control of people’s lives so they pushed monogamous relationships on the general public because they are easier to monitor and control.” Popular secular humanist thinkers like Richard Dawkins say that humans are genetically predisposed to infidelity in order to spread their genetic material as widely as possible (see The Selfish Gene, p. 164) . What Johnson says in this book is that it isn’t that simple. There is more to sex than “spreading your seed.”

92657349Her thesis, based on decades of neuroscience research into human emotion, is that just like the bond parents have with their offspring, monogamous love makes sense as a survival code. She writes, “We’ve understood so much about the power of adult love relationships, how this emotional bond creates a safe haven for us in life, allows us to grow and function on an optimal level, as well as how emotional isolation and disconnection are extremely costly to us as a species.” Things like pornography, the friends-with-benefits culture and attention dividing technology all threaten healthy relationships.

I’ll say more about this book in future posts but for now I’ll say this. What is refreshing about this perspective is that here we have clinical research telling us that casual sexual relationships are far more expensive than anyone previously thought.

Johnson is saying that in the same way that parenting and babysitting operate at different depths, casual sex and long term relationships are not just slightly different; they emotionally operate at radically different depths. If you treat parenting like an endless babysitting gig, you rob yourself of the rich relationship that is possible with your own children. In the same way, serial casual sexual encounters emotionally numbs you, and trains your heart to not make lasting rich connections. This makes it very difficult to form lasting relationships later in life.

God created us and he wants rich relationships for us. God isn’t keeping you from true enjoyment, he is trying to lead you to it. Clinical research agrees that waiting to have sex with a permanent committed partner leads to a life that has the most enjoyment, and the most emotionally stability.

NCW

True Love in the Media

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[From Noel] noel portrait1BWI saw an interview with Tim Keller where he was talking about his book The Meaning of Marriage. He explained that marriage is based on the idea of a covenant, and not on the idea of a contract. Covenant love is not based on what the receiver has done to deserve covenant love. It is based on the character of the lover. Covenant is a promise made between two people that is unconditional. I promise to love Julie not because she loves me back but just because I love her. If she loves me in return in the same selfless way it creates a beautiful testimony of the way God loves. It is, in fact, a little miniature picture of the Kingdom of God. Two people that covenant love each other no matter what is a pencil sketch of the love that God has for us.  The interviewer asked Keller, “don’t we need a new word for this?  If nobody knows what ‘covenant love’ is, do we need to find a 21st century equivalent for it?”  Keller replied, “we don’t know what the word ‘covenant’ means but we all know covenant love when we see it.”

Covenant love is part of God’s divine economy, an economy of abundance. How much love does the lover have for his beloved? All of it! An infinite amount. There is an abundance of love in a covenant relationship.

Contract love is part of the world’s economy, an economy of scarcity. The boundaries are set. They might even be generous, but they are limited, harsh and sharp. Contracts are bitter and breakable. They fail to satisfy the longings of our heart because it know better. Our hearts were made for covenant love and they shrivel up and dry out when soaked in anything less.

That is why covenant love is so beautiful. That is also why it is so rare. It is only with the help of the Holy Spirit that we are able to love like that. People are inherently selfish. Of my own accord, I am unable to love someone else like that. I can try to love Julie, but deep down I know I have ulterior motives. I love her because of what she can do for me. I express my affection in ways that I know are likely to make her love me back. It is only through the active work of the Holy Spirit that I can actually love someone unconditionally. This is how marriages can survive terrible mistakes. wayford and WilmaSpouses can forgive because they trust God to make it possible to forgive. When you see a couple celebrating 30, 40, or 50 years of marriage you are witnessing a little bit of a miracle. God’s Spirit has come to live in the midst of two people and has made it possible for them to forgive each other. It is nothing short of miraculous. Normally people are not able to love like that.

Our culture doesn’t know what covenant means but it sure likes it when it sees it. In songs, TV shows and movies, we love stories of selfless love. It stirs our heart and brings a tear to our eyes. We know it when we see it: a no matter what, never ending kind of love is a beautiful thing to behold.

Serena Ryder WhatIWouldntDo_01THUMB

Song writers often write about covenant love. Whether they are Christian or not, they testify to the kind of love we hunger for. A wise man once said, “All truth is God’s truth” so I am grateful when I hear “secular” music singing better than it knows. Serena Ryder (Canadian content eh?) sounds like she is talking about God when she sings,

Your love is like an ocean that always takes me home.
Whispering wind is blowing, telling me I’m not alone.
Your love is like a river that I am floating down.
I’ve never been a swimmer, but I know that I’ll never drown.

The current grows stronger under different shades of blue
I’ve fallen in your water, forget everything I knew.
Oh what I wouldn’t do, Oh what I wouldn’t do.

It is a great mistake to assume that “Christian musicians” are the only ones who can speak truth. God uses all kinds of messengers to speak his truth. We just need ears to hear it.

NCW

Most Popular Post of All Time

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[From Noel] noel portrait1BWSince Julie and I started this blog almost two years ago, one post has since received more page reads than any other post by far.  It receives more search engine queries than all of our other 95 posts combined and it draws 15-20 page views every day.  It is not the most insightful of our posts, nor the funniest.  It’s not one of my favourite, nor Julie’s but it continues to draw controversy, discussion, debate, and even from time to time, angry hate mail! And that post is ….

Question: Does the Bible Really Say No Sex Before Marriage?
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Why does this post continue to draw so many readers? It plays, of course, to our more basic instincts: tell me what I can get away with! But, by looking at the comments, and thinking back over the emails we’ve received over the past year or so, I think there are two different groups of people searching this question on Google and coming to our blog:

  1. The Uninformed: Those who grew up in religiously unaffiliated homes and are genuinely curious about what the Bible says.  We get messages, from time to time, from people genuinely curious or confused about Biblical teaching on sex and marriage.  They are often shocked to hear how much the Bible has to say about sex.
  2. The Over-informed: Those who grew up in church-going homes and know already what the Bible says about premarital sex. These are readers who are getting acquainted, re-acquainted, and re-re-acquainted with Biblical teaching about sex and marriage.  We get messages from them from time to time seeking clarification for the teaching about sex that they already know about.  They are surprised by how LITTLE the Bible says about sex.  “Why aren’t the directions more explicit?  Why can’t the Bible be more clear?”

Whether under-informed or over-informed, one things is for sure: growing up in a Bible-believing home seems to make almost no difference to your sexual behaviour at all:

BeforeMarriageIn 2011, Oxford University Press published a book Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying. In this book they discuss the latest psycho-social research into sexual practices in the United States.  In one study of unmarried college educated males ages 18-25, they isolated two groups: One group grew up in homes where sex before marriage was considered perfectly fine. In this group, 23% were virgins.

The other group grew up in homes where pre-marital sex was considered immoral. 28% of them were virgins. The researchers consider this difference to be statistically insignificant, so what does this mean?  It means that the teaching that you received in your formative teen years (either pro or con) has almost no impact on your sexual practices once you become an adult.  Now, I don’t want to trash promise rings and solemn covenants between parents and children, but the truth of the matter is that the True Love Waits generation didn’t.  Is it possible we are missing the point? For the 25% or so of young adults who are still virgins and are considering getting married, what made the difference for them?  I think that it is fair to conclude three things:

  1. We Need A New Imagination for Marriage: Marriage is not like a drivers license for sex.  Marriage is a physical manifestation of a covenant agreement between a man and a woman to love each other no matter what.  It is an acted out parable where we try to model the way God has loved us.  The Bible is full of beautiful pictures of the unconditional affection God has for us and that is what we are doing when we are married.  Sex operates best within the context of marriage, not because God is a kill-joy.  God wants to lead us into the most rewarding joy we will know this side of heaven.  God knows what is best for us and the question we should be asking is not “when can I have sex” but “can I trust God to lead me to my greatest joy?”  “Is God trustworthy?”  We need to be talking to our teens about that message, not what will happen if they have sex.  We are clearly not making any progress with scare tactics or promise jewlery.  We need a whole new imagination.
  2. Information Doesn’t Transform: We tend to operate in a modernist mindset that says “poor behaviour is the product of misinformation.  If I learn better I will behave better.” That simply isn’t true.  We do not operate out of a lack of information.  Kids who grew up hearing “wait for marriage” behaved almost exactly like kids who heard no direction at all.  Information is not making much of a difference.  What will make a difference is knowing Jesus better.
  3. Limiting Exposure To Sexually Explicit Media Isn’t The Answer: I don’t have good data on this yet but I can guarantee that my 15 year old son has had more opportunity to see naked ladies than I did by the time I was 15. I despair that there is no way I will be able to keep him from seeing things he shouldn’t so I am putting all my hope in training him to seek God when looking for pleasure that will last. That doesn’t mean I won’t be diligent and wise in managing media consumption in my home, but what it does mean is that I am working hard at telling a better story.

Our culture tells the story that fulfillment is found in better technique.  The community of faith need to do better than just disagree.  We need to tell a better story. Jesus is all-satisfying and what He says about me and my value as a human being is more true than what my culture says about me. Sex is a mingling of souls and is a joy and delight given to humanity but sex does not define our entire purpose.  It fails miserably to be a reason for living.  Sex is a human reflection of the intimacy we were meant to have with God.

“You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” -St. Augustine

I’m Married to a Crazy Person!!

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The title says it all.  Noel is crazy, but a good kind of crazy.  He can get more done in one day then most people can in a full week.  This fall he is heading into his last two classes to finish his Masters of Divinity.  It’s been a long haul getting here.  Six years of part time study while being a full time minister and full time dad.  I don’t know how he has done it but here we are with the end in sight.  So close we can almost taste it.  I feel exhausted and I’m not the one doing the work.

You would think that there would be a big sigh of relief at the thought of a graduate school free existence but alas, no.  My husband has decide that now is the time to start  his doctorate of ministry.  Well of course, why wouldn’t this be a most excellent time.  So Lord willing, Noel will be starting his doctoral studies in June 2014.  He loves school.  I love being educated, not the process of getting educated.

When he said he wanted to start his doctoral work right away, I must admit that I wasn’t very excited.  I was really looking forward to having school off the plate for awhile.  You see, he is the one getting the degree but I feel like there should be some kind of honorary degree presented to the spouses of those getting their masters/doctorates.  It’s a lot of stress, time, money – and holy cow – the proof reading!  I’ve watched Noel pour hours into his studies and spend hours at the computer writing papers.  Not to mention the year of the thesis, that was intense.  That thesis is awesome man!  I read it more than once.  I continue to be amazed at how smart Noel is and how good he is at presenting ideas.  He has so much crammed into his brain I’m surprised it’s not spurting out his ears and he remembers it.  I don’t know how this is possible.

So, two choices are before me.  Get supportive or start trying to talk him out of this crazy doctoral studies plan.  I have to admit I tried the second choice.  We have four kids that we need to educate and I thought Noel should take a pause with his education while we focus on the boys.  That would mean no more school for Noel for approx 10 years.  That’s a long time and he is in the school groove now.  I wanted to hear the reasons why he wanted a doctorate in the first place.  I’m not interested in just having more letters after his name.  That’s not high value unless it’s helpful in service to others.  He assured me that it would be helpful and it would present more opportunities in the future.  After much discussion and deep sighing on my part I had to agree with Noel that now is as good a time as any.  At this point I’m embracing the first choice, get supportive.  I don’t know how we are going to do this but we’ll get it done.  By the time our first born is in university we’ll have a doctor in the house but please, please let that be the end.

p.s. He’s still crazy. 🙂

Something Special

We are celebrating some really special occasions this year at our church along with our usual crop of new babies (which are extremely special in and of themselves).  Genesis 9:7 seems to be our congregational life verse.  Good job everyone.  We are exceedingly well blessed and God is faithful.

sadieDuring the summer we celebrated a wonderful lady who turned 100 years old.  Her family had a special family dinner.  Turkey dinner with all the trimmings followed by the birthday cake she always made for her family. As a special treat her daughter-in-law put loonies in each piece so that everyone present would leave with a 2013 one dollar coin.  Her church family surrounded her the following Sunday to mark the occasion with hugs, well wishes and of course more cake.  What a treat for all of us.

wayford and Wilma

This past Sunday we marked the 61st Anniversary of a wonderful couple.  They are leaders and mentors in our church family and special people to many, Noel and I included.  My Sunday isn’t complete without a hug from Wayford and Wilma.  Wilma has shared her wisdom with many women’s groups over the years as a leader and participant.  She has even shared with all of you as a guess writer for our blog.  Wayford is a wonderful man of God who has served many as a minister and continues to be an encouragement to us as an elder in our church.  They are a joy.  I’m so glad I’ve had the opportunity to sit at their feet.

So, Happy 100th Birthday Sadie and Happy 61st Anniversary Wayford and Wilma.  We love you.

wayford and Wilma2

My Mirror

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julie portrait3BW[From Julie]

Can I just say that mirrors are not my friend?  The scale and I aren’t even on speaking terms and don’t get me started on swim suit shopping.  It’s a struggle.  Amen?  I could give you a comprehensive list of all the things I don’t like about myself and I have been known to share said list with Noel from time to time.  Usually this ‘sharing’ produces a deep sigh from my beloved’s mouth followed by some appropriate response designed to make me feel better.  He’s a good man.  I appreciate his efforts.

Girl at Mirror

We’ve been together for 27 years and he has spent much of that time telling me I’m beautiful.  Repeatedly and in detail and often totally out of the blue.  Not just on the outside but on the inside too.  Have I mentioned that he’s a good man?  He tells me what he loves about my character and what he thinks I’m good at.  He asks my opinion about what he’s thinking about or what he should do because he trusts my instincts.  He calls me his emotional rock because he can count on me to be solid when he is feeling overwhelmed and he can pretty much predict how I will respond to something.

While the inside of a person is what really matters I can’t deny that I love to hear what Noel loves about the outside of me.  When I met him at the tender and influential age of 16 I didn’t feel attractive in any way.  Believe me when I say that Noel has spent all of our 27 years together trying his best to change my opinion of myself.  He has succeeded for the most part, however there are times when I can hear the old voices shouting louder than his voice.  Voices that say I don’t measure up.  This is a size 00 world and that size doesn’t really work for me so obviously I’m not attractive.  When I look in the mirror I see stretch marks and to much extra ‘stuff’.  The last time I thoughtfully brought this observation to Noel he gave me his best response to date.  He said “You’ve had four people in there.  Of course you have stretch marks.  I love your stomach.”  Okay then.

Ladies, don’t you love to hear your man tell you that you’re beautiful?  When he does say it, be thankful and then chose to believe him.  That’s the part I’ve struggled with over the years.  Letting Noel be my mirror.  After all, Noel’s opinion about the way I look is the only one that truly matters.  His constant encouragement gives me comfort and confidence that he will find beauty in me no matter what.  I’ve gone up and down the scale more than once in our married life and Noel was supportive every step of the way.  No matter what the number was he delighted in how I looked.  I have no doubt that his opinion won’t change despite the addition of (gasp) newly spotted wrinkles or bizarro hair growth.  Again, good man.  How did I ever find this dude?

This may all be very trivial and surface.  Shouldn’t we be concerned with more important things in our marriages?  There is definitely more important things in life and beauty is fleeting after all but it is a joy to know that the most important person in my life likes to look at me.  For that I am thankful.

Husbands, I hope you are doing the same for your wife.  She’ll love you for it.

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JW