Mental Illness, Possessed Baby Dolls, and the Church

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I’m going to tell you an embarrassing story. When I was a teenager, in the middle of religious cultic craziness, I thought I’d been given the gift of spiritual discernment. I truly believed that I could discern whether or not people’s toys, specifically baby dolls, were possessed. Parents in my church brought me their children’s dolls so that I could stare into their eyes and tell them if there was a demon inside or not. Yes, I now recognize that this is absolutely nuts. Yikes!! But at the time, it seemed very real.

We had all heard anecdotal stories of people’s experiences with possessed toys. We had heard stories about demons coming out of synthesizers and electronic keyboards.(Because rock music, you know, was from the devil.) The amount of fear involved was ridiculous. No one wanted demons in their houses. People do strange things when they are afraid.

Mental illness often gets put in the same Christianese category as possessed toys. While not on the same level, it’s something that we fear, don’t understand, and want to control. Christians feel like there should be a formula to change it. It feels safer to tell people that it’s the result of sin. It feels more comfortable to categorize it as “spiritual warfare.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there isn’t such a thing as spiritual warfare. I just don’t think it usually looks like we think it does.

I think we give way more credit to fear, anecdotal stories, and just brokenness in the world, and not enough credit to the subtle lies the enemy whispers to us about ourselves, other people, and God. Satan isn’t necessarily behind the cold you caught, the fact that your car broke down, or even your anxiety. But, he definitely loves that you feel hopeless and doubt God’s love for you.

As humans, we are naturally afraid of things we don’t understand.  But when you combine fear with religion, the idea that I have to do something to get results, brokenness and destruction happens.

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Do you know how many people are silently struggling with things like depression and anxiety within our churches but are afraid to say anything? Do you know how many people are told that their mental illness is a result of a “lack of faith” or “bitterness” or some other problem on their part? They aren’t doing enough and that’s why they are broken. People are afraid to speak up and ashamed to seek help or admit they need medication. That’s not okay. No one should have to struggle in secret. No one should be isolated in their pain and afraid of the body of Christ. It’s wrong that the church has made them feel this way.

How did we get here? I believe three things have played a huge part.

  • Religious Christianity

“Religion is the business of appeasing gods.” This sentence from Mike Cosper’s book Recapturing the Wonder has been challenging my thinking for almost a year now. We do that within Christianity. We put our ideas about God in a tiny box. Then we work our hardest to appease our god-in-a-box because we want his approval and blessings. That’s religious Christianity. Formulaic thinking abounds within religious Christianity. We search for a magical guarantee to make our god do what we want.

We can be conservative, religious Christians, or we can be liberal, religious Christians. It’s all about the box. We might have different ideas about God in our box, but if we are focused on doing things to make our god-in-a-box happy, then we are religious.

The real Jesus doesn’t fit in a box. He will always be bigger than our understanding. He will never make sense. And He doesn’t need to be appeased, because He already appeased Himself on the cross. 🙂

  • Lack of Education

The church has been suspicious of psychology for far too long. There is nothing wrong with learning how the human brain tends to work. Just because some of the scientists that made breakthroughs in psychology weren’t Christians doesn’t make their work invalid. Psychology is a beautiful thing. It’s exciting and freeing to understand potential whys behind thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Somehow, Christians often separate the spiritual part of people from the rest of them. I just don’t think that’s an accurate way of doing things. We are complex beings. And our spirituality, that is our ability to connect with God, is interwoven deeply with our story, our beliefs about our self, the way we interact with people, etc.

The church that we currently attend loves psychology. And honestly, the more I have come to understand myself, the healthier I have become spiritually.

  • Fear

Ironically fear is often the motivator behind our religious Christianity and our lack of education. We are afraid of the god we have imagined, so we create a list of religious behaviors to follow. We are afraid of a lack of control, so we try to earn God’s blessings by our actions. People are afraid of psychology, so they don’t get better educated. We are afraid of God and people’s condemnation, so we keep our depression and anxiety to ourselves.

Fear is not from the real Jesus, friends! Do you know what the most repeated command in the Bible is? “Do not be afraid.”  Wow! While fear is a legitimate emotion, it does not need to control us. Fear is not a helpful motivator. And the real Jesus is bigger than our fears.

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Let me just close with some thoughts.

  • Spirituality is very abstract. Sometimes we need concrete help before we can deal with abstract spiritual things. I’ve struggled with anxiety my whole life. If I’m in the middle of a panic attack, frantically praying or trying to quote the Bible is not nearly as helpful as taking deep breaths, using some grounding techniques, and speaking truth to myself. Once I’m in a better place, I can take a look at what triggered me and go from there.
  • Because we are complicated, spiritual beings, many parts of us are intertwined and affected by other parts. Are there lies that we are believing about ourselves, God, and others that might be adding to our depression or anxiety? It’s very possible. However, we need to help our brains get to a place where we can logically deal with those lies.
  • If you are struggling with a mental illness, it’s not your fault. We live in a world broken by sin, and one of the things that is affected is our brains. They are complex organs, and sometimes they get sick. The best thing you can do for yourself is to reach out and look for help. You are not less spiritual because you go to therapy or are on medication. It’s okay! Those are good things. God is not disappointed and He doesn’t condemn you.

I know that the church’s attitude towards mental illness has often been more hurtful than helpful. But the church is made up of individuals. The church culture towards mental illness can change as more and more of us develop a healthy attitude and understanding. I have hope! 🙂

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The Dangers of Chocolate or Vanilla

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It’s the middle of the afternoon on a warm, sunny day and you are feeling hungry. Across the street, you see an old-fashioned ice cream shop that advertises thirty-six flavors of homemade ice cream. You begin to dream of fresh waffle cones and your mouth starts watering. Quickly crossing the street, you open the door to the sweet tinkle of a bell. There, in all their homemade glory, thirty-six beautiful containers of ice cream rest in a case behind a glass window.

The shop is quiet. You don’t really notice the tables of silent people hunched over their bowls of ice cream because your eyes are focused on the menu. How in the world are you going to choose? Maybe they will let you have more than one kind on your cone.

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You approach the case and stare dreamily at the swirls of fudge, raspberry, and peanut butter. You pause to gaze at the creamy green circle of mint chip. Then you hear a voice.

“Would you like chocolate or vanilla?”

You look up from the ice cream case to see the attendant staring at you. Puzzled, you wonder if you heard them right. “Excuse me?”

soda-jerk-713089_1920“Do you want chocolate or vanilla ice cream?” They ask again.

You are confused. There are thirty-six different flavors of ice cream. Why do they want you to chose between chocolate and vanilla?

The attendant is still staring at you. “You should pick chocolate. We all eat chocolate ice cream here. In fact, only bad people choose vanilla.”

Now you are really confused. “But, I was hoping for mint chocolate chip.” you stammer.

“Mint chip is basically vanilla. And you can’t have vanilla. Only stupid people eat vanilla. How about chocolate?”

You don’t really like chocolate ice cream, but you are starting to feel intimidated.

“Mackinaw Island Fudge?” You ask slowly. “It’s got chocolate in it.”

“That’s VANILLA ice cream!” The attendant shrieks. “Vanilla ice cream is BAD! Only terrible people eat vanilla ice cream. What’s wrong with you?”

“Butter pecan?” you whisper.

The attendant glares at you. In a cold voice, they slowly say, “If it’s not chocolate, then it’s vanilla. Vanilla is evil.”

Ice cream has lost it’s appeal and you turn to leave.

“Where are you going? You can’t leave without eating some chocolate ice cream.” The attendant has moved from behind the counter and is blocking your path to the door. The tables of customers stare silently at you, hunched over their bowls of chocolate ice cream.

With a yell, you push past the attendant and make a run for the door. Safely outside, you turn to look back. Your appetite for ice cream has been ruined and it’s doubtful you’ll be heading into any ice cream shop in the near future.

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Believing that there are only two acceptable options or opinions is called Black and White Thinking. In reality, situations, people, and beliefs are rarely black and white. Most of the world is actually a misty gray. Black and white thinking is common within religion. This mindset is also evident in the recent, extreme political divide in our country.

Having grown up in an ultra religious sub-culture of Christianity where black and white was just the way we thought, I’d like to share some reasons why I believe this mindset is dangerous.

Black and White Thinking isolates us. We always think our perspective it correct; its OUR perspective after all! But in reality, our perspective is warped because of our biases, experiences, personalities, etc. By only surrounding ourselves with other people who think like us, our biased perspective is confirmed. We are right and they are wrong.

Honestly, if we are going to have a more accurate understanding of life, we need to get to know and listen to people who are different from us. We need to hear the heart of who they are, the experiences they have had, and the reasons they think and feel the way they do. Reality is found within a combination of different perspectives.

Black and White Thinking creates enemies. If there are only two options, then life quickly becomes us versus them. Supposed truth and safety is found within the comfort of our camp. Anyone who doesn’t think like us is viewed with suspicion. We do not see the complexities of others’ humanity and we ignore their stories and experiences. We are quick to bestow motives on them based on our own opinions and not on their actual intentions. In reality, there are very few truly evil people in the world. Most people have legitimate reasons for their perspectives, whether or not we agree with them.

Black and White Thinking is often based in fear. We are naturally afraid of things we do not understand. This fear can easily be exploited by people who are trying to control us. Most differences are not bad, they are just different. When we are controlled by black and white thinking, our fear keeps us from exploring or pursuing people who have differences. That fear traps us within our own narrow perspective. Fear is not from God! We need to evaluate our fear and discover if it is truly rational or not. Is our enemy Satan, a spiritual leader, or even the media exploiting our fear in an effort to control us? This leads me to my next point.

Black and White Thinking only benefits those in power. This is true in a religious setting, in a political one, and anywhere in between. People in power love to promote black and white thinking because minions who think like this are easier to control. If we went back to the ice cream illustration I started with, who is benefiting in that scenario? The makers of chocolate ice cream! Who benefits in a religious system? The guy in charge of the church, cult, or organization. Who benefits in politics? The media and the people in political power. Black and white thinking is not helpful for the minions. We would be much better off connecting with all sorts of people with various backgrounds and beliefs. Our own opinions might be strengthened or changed as they are challenged, but we will be free to hear from one another.

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And so, I would challenge all of us to take a good look at our own hearts and minds. Do we really think there are only two options? Do we have to be right? Is it possible to live in the tension of misty gray?  Are we willing to see other human beings as valuable whether or not we agree? Can we choose to listen carefully and ask questions as others share their opinions and beliefs? Will we challenge the powers who are encouraging this dangerous mindset?

I’ve experienced the damage that black and white thinking produces first hand. It’s not worth it! The best thing that ever happened to me was learning to listen to people that I didn’t agree with… We don’t all have to be on the same page in order to get along.

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Embracing My Strength

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“Do not let your adornment be merely outward…rather let it be…the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” 1 Peter 3:4. (NKJV)

How did this verse get so twisted and taken out of context that it stopped meaning having a heart that trusts Jesus and started meaning having a soft voice and quiet demeanor? I have no idea. Welcome to the crazy place where I lived during my teens and early twenties.

When you spend a decade or more being told that your personality, gifts, and abilities are sin, it takes a while to recover. But I’m working on it.

I know that I’m not the only strong woman out there who has been shut down by the traditions of religious Christianity. I’m not here today to argue theology, but rather to share my story in the hopes that it will encourage you. I want to encourage strong women to flourish in the gifts God has given them, and I want to encourage men to stand up and support women of strength as co-laborers for the kingdom!

***

A year ago, my husband and I started attending a small group with our new church. It was amazing to meet with these people who were honest about themselves and accepting of us on our journey. God put that small group together and I loved it.

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But as we drove away that winter night, I was curled in a ball in the front seat, tears running down my face, my heart breaking and terrified. I’d done it again. The bad part of me had escaped and now they wouldn’t like me.

“What is wrong with me? Why can’t I keep myself contained?” I moaned. Then it got real. “How can they like me,” I asked my husband in desperation, “when I don’t even like myself?” Gut level stuff was spewing from a wound that I didn’t even know I had.

Even as I said it out loud, it hit me. “I don’t even like myself.” It was true.

What terrible thing did I do to cause this trauma? It was simple. Our group leaders had shared their stories and, along with the rest of the group, I asked some questions and made comments. Everything was fine until our leader complimented his wife for answering “when Christy came on strong.”

And that’s when I freaked out and shut down. I hadn’t meant to be strong; I didn’t even know I’d been strong! My strength had gotten me in trouble so many times before…

I’ve always wished I was naturally sweet, quiet, and gentle. I even spent three years in my teens pretending I was. But I’m not. I’m loud, and blunt, and passionate. And I have a really hard time keeping my mouth shut.

I’ve learned over the years to keep myself in check, but the strength still occasionally escapes. Mostly because I’m not really a quiet pushover. I have strong feelings and opinions. I love truth. I care deeply about people…sometimes too much. I identify with Elsa from Frozen. When my strength finally blasts its way to the surface, it’s usually unhealthy and unhelpful. It gets me in trouble. I do and say things I shouldn’t…

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“Why do you have to control and hide your strength?” my patient husband asked. “Why can’t you just be who God made you?”

Because it’s bad.” was my quick reply.

My experiences, both during my ultra-conservative season and even more recently, told me my strength was dangerous, unwanted, and possibly even sinful. How could God have made me this way?

Why can’t you just be who God made you to be?” It was a valid question. What would happen if I accepted my strength and lived out of it? What if I stopped stuffing it down until it exploded? I decided it was time for help.

Our church has certified counselors on staff. Isn’t that amazing?! I went to see of them. I wanted to know if it was possible to be a strong woman and love Jesus at the same time.

The counselor listened patiently, like great counselors do. Then he made two observations and one suggestion.

  • “I think you have a deep need to be heard.”

I’d never thought about it that way before, but it was true. In fact, just about every big conflict in my life has happened because I didn’t feel heard or understood and then responded with negative strength.

  • “I like your strength and your passion.”

Being told my strength was good, even likable, was amazing.

  • “Try to let your strength come from a place of brokenness rather than a place of needing to be heard.”

Brokenness…I’ve got lots of that! But, it is interesting to stand back and recognize the way Jesus has used every bit of the brokenness I’ve experienced in both my recent and distant past to make me who I am today. He has humbled and softened me through pain. It’s funny how that works.

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Being broken myself allows me to understand other people’s brokenness a little better. I have more empathy and less judgement. Embracing my brokenness seems to stabilize my strength on a deep level. It is good.

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Probably the most healing part of this journey of living in my God-given strength is the men in my life recently who have encouraged me. It was a patriarchal society that originally told me I was bad, and unfortunately that same attitude often trickles into traditional Christian circles as well.

My wonderfully-opposite-husband, who never even heard the word patriarchal before he met me, has always supported and even pushed me to be the woman God created me to be. He’s never been intimidated by my strength, and from the beginning of our relationship knew how to lead and guide me in a way that encouraged rather than suppressed me.

I’m at a church right now that wants me, with my strength. When I was honest about what happened that night in small group, our leader not only acknowledged my feelings, but let me know that he didn’t mean strong in a bad way. The counselor I spoke with (who is also a pastor) told me he liked me with my strength and gave me pointers to use it well.

We were recently talking to our pastor of young adults. My husband mentioned a conversation the two of us had where I had called him out on something. The pastor laughed, and said, “Christy doesn’t beat around the bush, does she?” But there was no condemnation in his voice, just appreciation. He went on to say, “I want Christy and her passion in this ministry. I am excited to have you guys working with us.”

I’ve got tears in my eyes right now as I write this. Being accepted and loved like that…being appreciated and wanted…is an amazingly powerful thing. 

These days I am embracing words like strong, passionate, and fierce. I am passionate about truth; God has gifted me with strong faith and the ability to love fiercely. Strength can be a beautiful thing when it isn’t exploding in unhealthy ways, even in a woman.

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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. 🙂