Married to Your Best Friend…

It’s my fault. If I planned better, I would actually schedule a massage with one of my favorite female therapists. But, I usually wait until I’m in desperate pain and then I get whoever happens to be available the morning of my chiropractic appointment.

That’s how I ended up, face down, talking with my young male masseuse about relationships and his new girlfriend. After finding out I was married, he wanted to know for how long. At the time it was just over eight years. I will never forget his response.

“Wow!! (pause) You must be one of those people who is really into commitment!”

Yup! That’d be me…one of those commitment freaks.

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My wonderful and incredibly opposite husband and I are in our tenth year of marriage. After nearly a decade together, I feel like I can say a few things about married life.

Every relationship has its own unique flavor. My brother and his beautiful wife led the way in our family as classic romantics. They sat close together, gazed lovingly into each other’s eyes, and whispered sweet nothings. My father, who enjoys his children’s relationships almost as much as his own, would watch them with a sappy smile on his face. Then Josh and I came along. We preferred chasing each other through the house with water guns, or frosting, or rolled kitchen towels complete with screams and giggles. I’m pretty sure my dad thought we were nuts. On our wedding day, we chose to have cheesecake instead of traditional cake just because we wanted to avoid the whole “cake cutting” situation and the mess that was inevitable. 🙂

I married my best friend, you guys, and we have worked hard for almost a decade to maintain our best-friend-status. Some years were easier than others. The baby season was the hardest, but we conquered it…hormones, dirty diapers, sleep deprivation and all.

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Please join me for a peak into our marriage. This is shared with permission. 🙂

A couple of weeks ago Josh got sick. We have totally different sick styles. Typically when I catch a germ, it’s such a light case Josh won’t believe that I’m sick. When Josh gets sick, he almost dies.  I don’t do well when Josh is sick. I’m usually a strong, no-nonsense woman who can take whatever life throws at me.  But my husband is my rock, my support, my comrade, and when he’s practically dying, I sort of fall apart.

As I try to take care of my poor husband, I start to realize how much I love him…like LOVE him. You married people will understand this better than my single readers. Emotions and lovey feelings tend to come and go once you are married for a while. The commitment of love should stay, but the butterflies aren’t always there.

For the rest of the week, I continued to feel these super strong emotions as he recovered and I kept trying to show him how much I loved him…but he just didn’t seem to get it. (Love language differences and all.) At least he didn’t respond with reciprocal love like I wanted.

Finally we reached the last straw.

It was Josh’s day off and I knew he wanted to take a nap and I was hoping we could nap together. But he just came in and said, “I’m taking a nap” and didn’t invite me. My overly-emotional brain freaked out and felt super sad, and I wanted to go pout in the basement until he came and found me (Sound familiar, ladies?), but I knew that wouldn’t work because, duh, I’ve been married for almost a decade, and it never works. So instead I went and mowed the lawn.

I never mow the lawn. We have a push mower but a really tiny lawn so it’s not a big deal, it’s just always something Josh does. My thought was, “Maybe if I go mow the lawn (something he needed to do that day), he will get it and feel how much I love him and love me back!”

I was even nice and started on the side of the house away from our bedroom where he was napping.

My poor, tired, still-recovering husband slept all through the lawn mowing. He literally came out just as I was finishing the last 3 or 4 strips. I am pushing the lawn mower, now in the rain, and he is staring at me with a confused smile on his face. “What are you doing?”

“Trying not to pout.” It came out kind of grumpy. He shook his head and walked away.

I finished up and took the mower back to the shed where he was puttering on some stuff. “What’s going on?” he asked.

I don’t normally cry. But there we were, me blubbering about how much I love him, and him shaking his head and smiling at me and wiping the tears off my face. Next thing I know we are hugging, and I’m sniffling, and he’s laughing, and we are friends again.

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In the weeks following this, I started thinking about our relationship and wondering what it is that makes us best friends. I think these six things definitely help.

  1. We communicate, eventually. After nine years of trying to be telepathic, I have come to the conclusion that Josh cannot read my mind. He doesn’t get hints, even ones that I think are obvious. He needs me to spell it out for him. We try hard to be honest with each other and we take time to talk.
  2. We serve each other. While we do have his/hers chores at our house, we are (usually) willing to jump in and help the other one out. We also take care of each other…for instance, it is pretty normal for us to give shoulder rubs/back massages at least once a week.
  3. We laugh together and at ourselves. Although becoming parents has tempered our rambunctious frosting fights a bit, we still have regular times of laughter and teasing. We enjoy humor and messing around with each other.
  4. We have never gone to bed angry. There have been times when we went to bed still not seeing eye to eye on an issue, but we have never gone to bed actually angry with each other. Not once. We have tried, but someone always wakes the other person up and makes them talk. As a result, we forgive and don’t hold grudges.
  5. We do life together. Josh has been a youth pastor for most of our marriage. I have been a youth leader with him for all of that time. Even when the kiddos were babies, we packed them up and they played on the floor of the youth room. We are in ministry, not just him. Although we have separate hobbies, we make sure that our relationship has the priority. We schedule dates every month, and try to get a night away together (or home if the kiddos are with grandparents) at least once each season.
  6. We have a bedtime routine. People laugh at this one, but I think it’s one of the main reasons for our closeness. Literally, almost every night we do the same thing. After the kiddos are in bed, we watch Netflix or CBS online together and eat ice cream. Then we brush our teeth together and go to bed. Bedtime together is our opportunity to talk, laugh, and pray. The only times in our nine years of marriage that we haven’t gone to bed together is when someone is gone or sick.

 

I don’t want you to read this and think we are perfect. Far from it. I could write many more posts about our fights, misunderstandings, and stupidities. Marriage has the potential to be a beautiful, wonderful thing! My hope is that this post will encourage you in your own marriage, to be real, to seek friendship, and to keep fighting. It’s worth it!

An Identity Crisis Pt. 1 (What Makes Me ME?)

Is anyone really as confident as they seem?

Or if we are honest, do we all struggle with insecurity to some degree?

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Most of the time I come across very confident…bold, outgoing, friendly, enthusiastic…sometimes I even fool myself. But thanks to my rough summer and subsequent counseling sessions, I am discovering just how much I struggle with insecurity. If I feel safe with you, you might already know this about me: Despite the fact that I am typically pretty friendly, my modus operandi is to assume that I’m not good enough and that therefore people don’t like me.

I often feel “not good enough” and maybe you do too.

 

It was the summer we got engaged. My then-boyfriend’s home town was having this big “start of summer” festival and he wanted to go. We were both working at camp, but it was the weekend, his town was near by, and why not? It sounded fun. Since it was a chilly evening and we were at camp, I threw on some jeans, grabbed a hoodie, and off we went.

I forgot that everyone in this town drinks “perfect juice” that miraculously turns into Barbie and Ken look-a-likes. Of course we ran into tons of his old friends, and of course most of them were girls who decided to wear awesome outfits, gorgeous makeup, and incredible hair that evening. After meeting one too many perfect women (that I definitely couldn’t compete with in my camp sweatshirt and jeans) I retreated to the nearest port-a-potty to recover. Fortunately, my cousin had come to visit for the weekend and she followed me. We had a conversation through the plastic door that went something like this.

“I can’t take it any more! I’m done.”

“What’s the matter?”

“Don’t you see these girls? They are all so much prettier and more put together than me. I can’t deal with it!”

“Christy, it’s okay. He chose you. And he loves you just like you are.”

“It’s not okay. And I’m not coming out.”

 

While I eventually left my refuge in the port-a-potty and my now-hubby comforted me enough to continue the evening, my insecurity problem remains. That was over ten years ago, but I still do silly things like this. Seriously you guys, sometimes I still hide from people who scare me! (Yup, I’m that mature. Haha!)

 

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I’ve been thinking a lot about insecurity and the identity-crisis behind it. I’m starting to see that many of my own ugly habits and sinful struggles are rooted in insecurity. Perhaps many of the difficult and/or obnoxious people we meet are also just struggling with their identity.

Our identity…who we are…this is such a large and loaded topic.

I used to say things like this: I am a pastor’s wife. I am a stay-at-home mom. I am a camp health officer. I am a blogger. I am a hopeful writer. Problem is, a lot of those things got rocky this summer and as a result, my identity was shaken and I became insecure.

I’m starting to realize that much of this list is just stuff that I do; these things do not make me who I am.

So then, who am I? How do I define my identity with things that cannot be shaken or changed? I need to take my eyes off these earthly things that seem so important and go deeper, go eternal.

I am a creation of the God of the Universe. I am adored by my Creator. I am a redeemed sinner. I am a daughter of the King of Kings who also…

  • has a husband who works as a pastor.
  • has two beautiful children here on earth and two in heaven with Jesus.
  • sometimes works at camp.
  • likes to write.
  • etc.

These are descriptions of my life, but they are not who I am at my core. I’m realizing that I need to let Jesus define me, let Him give me my identity. This is way easier said than done and I’m guessing that I will be writing more than one blog post on this topic before I get it semi-figured out. 🙂 Thanks for hanging in there with me.

Sometimes I get this feeling that we are only scratching the surface of what it means to be alive in Jesus. I want more and I know that this “identity crisis” is part of the journey!

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To Be “Like Jesus”

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Staff training week is almost over at camp. I’m not there full time yet, but I’ve been working on the health clinic and getting it ready for summer almost every day.

Summer camp is like a bubble and an incubator at the same time. Everything is stronger and more vibrant, both the good and the bad. You live with this giant family all summer. People’s flaws, and idiosyncrasies, and annoying habits are in your face constantly, and they drive you crazy. You learn to give grace, forgive, and let things go. But, your flaws, idiosyncrasies, and annoying habits are also in other people’s faces constantly, so you learn humility, how to apologize, and that maybe you aren’t always right.

It’s too hard to do by yourself, so you learn to lean on each other and ask for prayer and help. You learn what it means to rely on the Holy Spirit for power and wisdom, and God becomes real as He fills you in unexplainable ways. You get to watch God use you and it feels absolutely amazing!

I recently wrote in my journal, “I’m taking a break from doing church stuff all the time (my husband is an associate pastor), to go and be the church this summer.” Working with other Christians for a common purpose, growing together, building relationships, serving, pouring yourself out…that’s summer camp! What if that was also normal life as a Christian?

I was sitting on my porch early Saturday morning with my Bible, journal, and a cup of coffee, thinking about this last week…about how amazing it felt to pour into others and watch God work through me. It’s exhausting, and sometimes incredibly frustrating, but ultimately it’s awesome! I got to thinking about Jesus and what His life on Earth looked like. And then it hit me…what if this is what the Bible means when it talks about “being like Jesus”?

Usually when I hear about how we need to “be like Jesus” a list of do’s and don’t’s follows. But what if it’s actually totally different? What if it’s not about attaining perfection (something we already have in Christ) or performing correctly…what if it’s about loving Jesus and loving people…what if it’s about pouring our life out for others…building relationships…serving…loving? Thinking about this made me cry! Then I remembered the verse in 1 Corinthians where Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” I looked it up.

It’s in 1 Corinthians 11, the first verse. So, I backed up into chapter 10 to see what Paul was talking about. Guess what?? It’s about doing everything to glorify God and reach others with the gospel! Look at these beautiful words:

“So whatever you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to the Jews or Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” 1 Cor. 10:31-11:1

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I’m sure that you could make this legalistic if you wanted to…turn it into a list of things you have to DO. But that’s not what it’s supposed to be about! It’s about doing everything with the purpose of loving God and bringing Him glory, and then loving others so that they can find true salvation and a relationship with Jesus! And THAT, I believe, is where we start to find joy, peace, and life that is really LIFE.

I don’t know about you, but when I stop focusing on making myself happy, and I ask God to give me His eyes and heart for others…when I surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit and allow Him to flow through me…when I live my life seeking to help others find Jesus…that is when I taste a tiny bit of heaven. My heart is full to overflowing, and I laugh and cry, and know that this is who I was meant to be. What if that’s what it means to “be like Jesus”?

Three Ways to Win a Man’s Heart (and help him feel loved and respected)

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DISCLAIMER: I do not claim to be anything other than a sister, wife, mother, and teacher. These are not hard and fast rules, just observations and suggestions that have repeatedly worked for me, if I’m willing to put aside myself and do them.

Ladies, is there a man in your life that you wish you had a better relationship with? It could be your husband, boyfriend, fiance, brother, son, step-son, or maybe just that really tough kid in your Sunday School class… I want to share three suggestions, keys if you will, that will win your man’s heart by making them feel loved and respected. These suggestions are not easy. They take humility, grace, forgiveness, and letting go of control on our part. But, they are worth it!

Start by praying and asking Jesus for His strength and grace, because you cannot do this alone and you don’t have to! If you have trusted Jesus as your Savior, then you have His very Spirit living inside of you, able to give you everything you need! (Phil. 4:13) Okay, here we go.

#1: Accept him

So easy to say, and so hard to do! Let’s face it girls, we are often much better at trying to change our men than we are at accepting them. 😦 But, as I’ve found in my marriage over the last 8.5 years, nagging and complaining get me nowhere. In fact, I swear it just makes my husband more stubborn. Not what I’m trying to accomplish at all!

Are you willing to just accept the men and boys in your life? Give them grace (the same grace that God gives you) and let them feel that grace? Are you willing to close your mouth and let God be the one that changes their heart? Can you look at them and see their gifts, their potential, their sin, and their flaws and just accept them? I have found that acceptance makes a man feel safe and able to let down his guard. And, when I stop trying to be the “holy spirit”, my husband is better able to hear the real Holy Spirit, the only One who can change him from the inside out!

#2 Approve of him

My younger brother and I spent most of our childhood in competition, fighting to see who was the best. As a teenager, I was challenged by my pastor to build a relationship with him. Whew! It was a process… I started noticing how much my brother wanted my approval. When I told him how talented/strong/capable he was, he would glow, and it would bring us closer together. I struggled at first because he was a cocky, teenage boy who didn’t seem like he needed any more compliments. But, in reality, he was insecure, and the cockiness was often a cover. When he felt my approval, and became secure in my good opinion of him, my annoying little brother became significantly less annoying!

Will you choose to approve of your man? Tell him you approve of him! Can’t think of anything to compliment him on? Here are some starters. “Wow, you are so good at…” (Be creative!), “You look really nice today”, “I’m so proud of…”, “You handled_______really well!” Girls, you can do it! Don’t make excuses, or justify, or start being critical. Ask God for strength and try it. We are way too negative too often. Let’s encourage. Let’s approve.

Also, on a side note. Listening is a way of approving. You say guys don’t talk? Here’s something I’ve noticed. Men and boys will often test your listening skills with a “stupid” topic. You will think, why is he telling me about this? Maybe he is testing you. When I would actively listen to my brother’s dumb conversation, it often turned into something serious that he really wanted to talk about. The same is true of my husband…only I am often guilty of shutting down his “‘stupid” topics and never getting to the real stuff. 😦 Yup, I need to work on all this too!

#3 Need him

It’s easy to want to be a tough girl. Sometimes it can be hard to admit we need anything. Our men want to be needed! Even my 3 year old loves it when I need him. He pushes open doors, carries things, helps me check out groceries, etc. When I call, “Titus, I need you! Can you help Mama?”, he comes running. He gets taller, puffs out his chest, and flexes his muscles. 🙂 It’s the way God designed him.

Your men want to be needed, love to be needed. It makes them feel strong, brave, and manly. Are you willing to be vulnerable? Are you willing to stop being so tough? Admit that you need them? Let go of your pride?

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Here is a perfect scenario to put all three suggestions into practice. You are struggling to open something. “____________, can you come help me open this? I’m not strong enough.” They come in. Open jar or whatever. “Wow! Look at you! That’s amazing. You’re so strong! Thanks for helping me.”

You can do it, girls! Accepting, approving, and needing will make your men feel loved and respected. You will win their hearts. It is worth it. Ask God to help you! I’d love to hear stories about what happens in your relationships.

 

Taking Back the Bedroom – Six Suggestions for Awesome Married Sex

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[The first thing you should know is that I am writing this as a married Christian woman who believes that God designed sexual intimacy between a husband and a wife. Secondly, I am not a counselor or therapist, but I have unofficially “counseled” many women in this area. I am incredibly passionate about fantastic sex and healthy marriages.]

We live in a hyper-sexualized culture. Sex is talked about everywhere. Except for in the church. If we as Christians believe that sexuality is part of God’s design for us as humans, and that God created intimacy as a special part of the marriage relationship, shouldn’t married Christians be having the best sex?

But we aren’t, because sex has been a taboo subject for far too long. As Christians begin to have conversations and ask questions, this is starting to change. I believe this is healthy and beneficial! God was the one who designed sex in the first place. We shouldn’t be ashamed of it. Let’s be honest and open. Let’s have amazing, God honoring sex! Let’s take back the bedroom!

I am not an expert, but I want to join the conversation with six suggestions that helped me and some of my friends.

  1. Check Your Attitude 

Do you believe that sex is a beautiful, exciting, fun experience that God designed specifically for a man and woman to enjoy in marriage? Do you struggle with the sentence I just wrote? What about it bothers you?

We all come into marriage with sexual baggage. Maybe you were raised in a family where sex was made to seem dirty or wrong, or maybe it just wasn’t talked about. You might have been exposed to or were/are involved in porn. Maybe you were sexually abused. Our experiences shape our attitude toward sex. A negative attitude can destroy our sexual intimacy. Ask God to help you to see sex like He sees it; ask Him to change your attitude and heal the broken parts inside of you. Maybe you need to talk with a counselor. That’s okay!

  1. Let Go of Guilt

Does sex make you feel guilty? Sometimes that guilt comes from a family or culture that told you sex was dirty or wrong. Sometimes it comes from sexual experiences you had before you were married either with your spouse or someone else. When we feel guilt connected to sex, especially as women, it will destroy the fun. Negative emotions ruin our drive. Even a random negative thought can kill the mood. Good news, Jesus forgave all of our sins when he died on the cross, past, present, and future! He said we are separated from our sin as far as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103:12) God has completely forgiven us, but sometimes the hardest person to forgive is ourselves. Ask God to take away your guilt, bring you peace, and show you truth. Again, seeing a counselor might be a good option if you have sexual trauma in your past.

  1. Get Educated

This is one of the biggest problems that I have found among Christian women. Fortunately there are a lot of great books available. I found a website that lists a bunch of them along with reviews. My favorite book to pass out, especially to pretty “innocent” girls is an oldy but goody, “The Act of Marriage” by Tim and Beverley LeHay. And I haven’t read it personally yet, but “The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex” by Sheila Wray Gregoire has some pretty rave reviews.

Books are good, but a real person to talk to is even better. I realize that it takes vulnerability to ask someone for help with sex, but if you can find a more experienced woman (that you think has great sex) to answer your questions, it’s worth it! And most of us are happy to talk about it.

  1. Have Realistic Expectations

Maybe you’ve figured this out already, but real life isn’t like the movies! Movie sex is a great example. For instance, actors that “wake up” in the “morning” and instantly make-out. Eww! I have two words: Morning Breath! It just doesn’t happen.

Realistically, it takes time to build a great sexual relationship. If you go into your wedding night as two virgins, expect your first sexual interaction to be about a C, if you’re lucky. The good news is, practice makes better! There will be times as a couple that you will have amazing sex, and other times that you will look at each other and say, “Well, that was awkward.” But when you are married, and are friends as well as lovers, the pressure to perform isn’t as strong. After all, there is always tomorrow. After eight years of marriage, my husband and I have WAY better sex than we ever had on our honeymoon, or even first year together for that matter!

  1. Communicate

Your spouse cannot read your mind. If you like something, you need to tell them. If something is weird to you, tell them. If you want something different, you got it, tell them! I realize that sex can be awkward to talk about, but if you want great married sex, you need to communicate. My husband and I have been open about talking since the very beginning thanks to some excellent pre-marital counseling. I know that this is a vital part of our, “ahem”, adventurous sex life. Which brings me to number six.

  1. Be Creative and Have Fun

I know I titled this, “Taking Back the Bedroom”, but don’t limit yourself to the bedroom. Be creative. Try new places, new positions, and new techniques. Be bold. Be adventurous. Be fun. Make time for each other. Surprise each other. Text each other suggestive messages. Nap together. Shower together. Snuggle together. You never know what might happen… Enjoy the beautiful gift that God has given you.

I’m sure you noticed that of these six suggestions, five of them had nothing to do with actual sex. Unlike what our culture tells us, I believe that healthy sex is way more than just the physical act. What do you think? What are you struggling with? Which of these six suggestions stuck out to you the most? Do you have other suggestions to make? I’d love to hear from you!

A Response to the Virginity Debate

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I read an article today that made me cringe and then, for the first time, want to join in on one of the many debates that run around the internet. The article was written by a woman who saved her virginity for her wedding night and wished she hadn’t. You can find the original article here: http://www.xojane.com/sex/true-love-waits-pledge

Here is my response.

Dear Samantha,

First off, let me say that it sounds like you were raised in a legalistic, possibly semi-cultic Baptist church. So was I. You said in your article that you no longer go to church and do not consider yourself to be religious. Fine. I don’t consider myself religious either. It sounds like this church of yours may have missed the real Jesus. Sure, they may have used His name, and read out of His book, but they probably twisted a lot of things. One of the first things that I noticed when you talked about church and Christianity was an emphasis on performance. Keeping your virginity was supposed to make you a “good Christian”. Trust me, I get this. I was raised in a performance driven Christian cult. Fortunately, the real Jesus found me and showed me that it’s not about my “goodness” or “badness”,  but about His perfection and grace. I would like to suggest that a lot of what you learned about God, the Bible, Christianity, and sex was a lie.

Secondly, after reading your article, it sounds like the biggest problem you had with sex in your early marriage was guilt baggage. Your upbringing taught you that sex was bad and gave you a negative attitude towards it. Then as you and your boyfriend pushed boundaries physically, more guilt was attached to anything sexual. So that, by the time you got to your wedding night, the idea of sex was so riddled with guilt that it was impossible for you to enjoy it (hence the tears in the bathroom). This guilt and shame continued to haunt you through your early marriage and it was compounded by the idea that you “had” to meet your husbands sexual needs, that it was a duty.

You are not alone. There are a lot of women who end up this way. But, it’s not because “God is not blessing” their marriage.

It’s a lack of good education about sex and a lack of reasonable expectations. It’s a negative attitude toward sex passed down by the church, a mother, or other people in your life. It’s guilt piled on by sexual boundaries being pushed in past or present relationships.

I’m sorry, Samantha, that you regret saving your virginity. However, I don’t think your purity pledge and the real God were to blame for your negative sexual experience; I think it was more the legalism you grew up with, the lies you were told, a lack of education, and the guilt you felt.

I was 26 when I got married. My first kiss was at my wedding. I lost my virginity on my wedding night. Was all of this my idea? Not originally. Like I said, I was raised in a conservative Christian cult, so dating was out and courtship was in. I didn’t have the opportunity for a boyfriend or first kiss in my teens. But, once I got out and was in my 20s, I didn’t see the point in dating around or experimenting sexually. I still wanted to wait for my future husband. It was my choice. I also wanted to honor this real Jesus I’d found with my life and my body.

My mom had a great attitude toward sex, and while she didn’t give me much education, she made sure I knew it was a fun and beautiful thing in the context of marriage. When my hubby came along, we were from opposite lifestyles. Because of some past experiences he’d had, and because we wanted to honor God in our relationship, we set some ridiculously high physical standards. It wasn’t out of legalism or trying to impress God or people, but for our own purity. We had pre-marital counseling with a couple from my church and read “The Act of Marriage” by Tim and Beverly LaHaye. We had more reasonable expectations for sex based on good education.

I have absolutely no regrets. Kissing was…interesting, at first…but after 45 minutes of wedding pictures (in none of which are we looking at the camera), I started to get the hang of it. Sure, honeymoon sex was awkward and slightly painful, but it was beautiful. We got to practice and laugh without fear of rejection or failure. And it just got better over time!

I love married sex! We have a great sex life. It’s fun and special and fabulous. We have been married for seven years and sex is WAY better now that it was in the beginning (and it was great then)! I am passionate about good married sex and I talk about it with ladies all the time. Maybe this is why your article hit me so hard and made me want to respond. I believe that sex was created by God as a fun, beautiful experience to be shared between a husband and wife. And I hate it when things (lies, guilt, etc) mess up how God planned things to be. I realize this is not a popular belief, but hey, there’s a reason this blog is called Let Me Be Foolish. 🙂