Archives for July 2013

Is Purity Even Relevant Today?

There are many reasons to wait for sex –good reasons, lame reasons, and even churchy reasons.   But there aren’t many compelling reasons to actually deter most of us from the dirty deed. 

Sex feels good and life is hard enough, so goshdangdarnit, what kind of overbearing big brother meanie wants to take away all our fun any-who?

I never had to deal with all the Christian angst of dating the first time around.  I was just a big old sinner.  After a solid year in a sorority much of my anxiety swirling around sex dissipated.  I determined I was a decent person “morally,” compared to the other slutty coeds, because I reserved sex solely for relationships (which might have included friends with benefits too).

I picked up my ex-husband in a bar when I was twenty-one.  Three and a half years later we married and sometime in between meeting him and saying “I do,” I fell in love again and brought another guy into the relationship.

It was Jesus.

About a year into the whole Christian dealio, I tried to get on board with the fire and brimstone “purity” message I heard preached at my church –apparently to scare all the singles into behavior modification.  So I tentatively asked my (then) fiancé if we could cease having sex and wait until we were married to resume our intimacy. 

He vehemently said “no,” Ummmm.  Ok.

Ten years later when my ex-husband departed into the arms of another woman and left me with two small children I finally got my chance to try dating as a Christian.

But I don’t know if I was in any way more prepared despite the Christian sticker on my bumper.

Yes…I had given my heart and soul to Jesus.  I knew all the Bible verses, taught women’s Bible studies and was even enrolled in seminary.  And yet I still slipped up in the sex area.

I wanted to honor God.  I earnestly tried HARD in my dating relationships to avoid sex.  And it worked –once.  I was in one relationship where we were both committed to purity and didn’t compromise (and then I found out he was still “technically” married and that ended fast).  But the other five relationships, during my time as a single Christian woman were a little murkier.  We might not have had intercourse, but then again President Clinton redefined modern sex anyway, right?

When I met Tim Keller, now my darling hubby, I was living in this wishy-washy land of sexual compromise.  I wanted to be pure but I’m not sure I believed it was even possible.  I didn’t meet many men, even supposed good Christian men, who actually walked the talk. 

Pastor Tim Keller was an anomaly –an attractive single straight man of thirty-six years who didn’t grab my boobs on the second date.  And even though he wasn’t wealthy from a worldly perspective, usually a non-negotiable in my materialistic heart, he was hot, clearly loved Jesus and had CHARACTER (something lacking in most of the men I dated).

When Tim asked me to be his girlfriend, about five weeks after we started dating, he slipped a purity ring on my finger and fell to one knee.  He implored me, “to wait for him, to wait for God to bless our relationship, and to give “us” a chance to build true intimacy without sex complicating things.”

It sounded like a lot of waiting and I’m not that patient.

And so I freaked out (internally of course) and smiled and cried tears of sheer terror, thinking “How in the heck am I going to remain sexually pure when this man is so yummy?”

Tim also told me he had a zero tolerance policy for error.  If we messed this up: (A) he would not marry me, and (B) he would resign from the church for moral failure.

Now I didn’t want the poor man to lose his job, but dangling the condition of “sex=no wedding” really sealed the deal.   I was head over heels in love with Tim by then and I wanted to marry this man so bad I would wear a habit and chastity belt with a big lock impervious to his washboard abs if I had to.

But something drastic happened to me during our fifteen month courtship.  Something so radical it rocked me to the core.

First, I became aware of how often I pushed to be physical because I needed reassurance that Tim cared for me and was committed to the relationship.  I saw how I used my sexuality to manipulate, to hold power over and to get the attention I desperately craved.

Without sex I had to learn how to ask for what I needed.  I was able to see how Tim treated me even when I didn’t meet all his physical needs, what it meant to work out our problems with no “make-up sex” to gloss over the deeper issues, and I had to learn how to compromise –because I couldn’t hold out on the booty to get what I wanted.

Poor Tim!  I tempted him in the beginning.  I was so bad.  I wore a pink string bikini to a singles ski retreat we both attended and had the audacity to rock it at the hot tub –heathen temptress that I am.  But he held fast, kept his hands to himself and didn’t get out of the Jacuzzi for a very long time.

And slowly I realized by his not being physical, he was actually showing me he loved me.

Real love.  Not SEX/LOVE…the kind of love that holds your hand when you are losing the fight to cancer.   It’s love that sees beauty under the wrinkles and bald spots. It’s love that protects and heals and cherishes.  It’s the sort of love that doesn’t leave when it gets tough and its old people in the park holding hands kind of love.

And Tim was telling me by his behavior I was worth waiting for.  With every smile he told me I was a beautiful treasure and he would not steal from me until it was time to enjoy this gift from God –within a committed marriage relationship.

And somewhere along the way I started to buy into it.  (Not so easy when you have abandonment issues) And I saw, really saw, for the first time in my life the way God sees me.

Valuable.  Treasured.  Worth dying for.

And I believed it –because someone showed me a glimpse of the divine.

Purity isn’t just about being a good Christian and playing by the rules.  It’s about treating another human being with dignity and respect, even when they don’t deserve it.

Purity restored me. 

I am a different person because of my husband. Tim Keller walked the talk. 

And maybe God tells us to wait for sex not because he’s mean, but because he loves us more than we love ourselves.

Sounds like a compelling reason to me.

How Far is too Far?

When I tell people how long my engagement was –a mere four and a half months, they look surprised.

“Well we waited,” I stammer trying to explain.

“Oh, so you dated for many years and then you finally tied the knot?”

“Uuuhhh, no…we dated for fifteen months and WAITED to have sex.”

“What? Why? Are you Mormon?”

“No.”

Blank stare.

And so I explain why we chose purity and a bit of our story (see “Is Purity Relevant Today” for an explanation).  But then the inevitable happens.  The sex questions start.

“Ok, so I get the beautiful romance part.  You guys have this awesome God love, but how did you know the sex part wouldn’t suck? “

And I know what they are really saying is… “What if he can’t perform?  He could be a secret eunuch, or have erectile dysfunction, or be weird, or a thousand other awfuls.  And how would a silly little pure girl know?”  Smart girls apparently try the meat before they buy the bull.

Big gulp.  “I knew his parts worked because for fifteen months he lived in a constant state of anticipation.  No amount of denim can hide that.  When he kissed me goodnight I could tell the man had finesse.  When he cuddled me I knew he was tender. And when I looked into his eyes I saw raw desire -a caged lion waiting to be unleashed on our honeymoon night.

“But how far did you go?  Where did you draw the line?”

When people ask me this I want to weep.  Because it means there is a fundamental disconnect between their belief in God and BELIEVING God.  And I know the difference because I walked down this road too many times.

Here is what I discovered…If I BELIEVE God, I trust that waiting for the booty will be awesome.  I trust He loves me more than I love myself.  I trust He has a chosen a man and/or woman who will delight me.  And ultimately I trust if I follow his guidance I won’t be unsatisfied.

If I believe in God but make up my own rules I am operating under selfish tendencies.  I take because I feel entitled.  I corrupt because God is withholding.  I use sex to get my needs met-attention, power, control, release, and manipulation.  Sex becomes an act. 

When I remove God, who is love, out of the mix I remove real love from sex.  You might love sex.  You might even feel loving towards the person you are sleeping with.  But let’s be honest here…real love is patient, it is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, it does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking.  It does not rejoice in evil, it always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. (From 1 Cor. 13)

When was the last time your hook-up encapsulated any one of these?

Real love doesn’t leave you wondering if the guy is going to jump out of bed in the morning and bail before you smell the Folgers.  Real love showers your front door with rose petals on Valentine’s Day instead of a text at 4:00pm saying “Happy Heart Day.”  Real love doesn’t push for a blow job because it’s technically not intercourse.  And real love doesn’t leave a girl in the dark wondering how he feels about her. 

I wasn’t disappointed on my wedding night (don’t want to boast here).  But even if there were issues, I am confidant my husband would have been open with me.  Love does not deceive.  So when I hear about people who played by all the rules and waited for sex and then had problems, I have to ask if maybe they substituted rules instead of relationship: if authenticity and vulnerability were masked by a fear of being known?  The idea of naked and unashamed is not merely sexual -it includes full disclosure.

Purity is about love.  About treating someone the way you want to be treated -with honor and respect.  It’s not about how far you can bend the rules.  That’s just a warped form of legalism. 

How far did Tim and I go?  We kissed.  We necked like high school kids at a Drive In theatre and there were too many nights to count when Tim actually got up to run to the restroom and called me from his car ten minutes later.  Like Joseph he fled from temptation, even though half the time I didn’t even know he was struggling.  He also had a group of guys holding him accountable.

But everyone’s limits are different.  If you can’t kiss a girl without ripping off her clothes then don’t kiss her.  Give her a peck on the check.  If holding hands makes you crazy…well then you might need some professional help.  And if you tell me you can go really far without any issues, you’ve missed the point entirely.  (Re-read 1 Cor. 13). 

Waiting might look different to each individual and/or couple but purity is the same. It’s not about how far is too far -it’s about choosing to BELIEVE God has got your back and marriage is well worth the wait!

Pharisees in Skirts

She caught my eye just as I opened the door to my gym locker fresh out of the shower; there stood Mrs. Pharisee in all her fitness glory with pert blonde hair, a haughty sneer and an agenda written all over her face. I furtively glanced around for a place to hide, but my options were limited by the water dripping from my soaked head and a large towel that was the only thing covering my derriere.

I braced myself for the forthcoming interaction as the woman spotted me, smiled like the big bad wolf about to devour grandma, and catapulted over benches and tennis shoes to reach me.

I remembered our last conversation at the church picnic all too well. I dared to bring a male companion I had recently started dating to the event. Mrs. Pharisee pounced and sweetly commented, like icing on a butcher knife, “Wow, Samantha, you sure got over your divorce fast. How long has it been dear?”

Her glib comment glossed over the last two years of abandonment, betrayal, instant single motherhood and the onslaught of accompanying pain. Her snarky insinuation implied I should still be mourning and wearing widow’s garb for a few more years in reverent obedience to a rule she had clearly made up about appropriate post-divorce behavior. 

“Well, it’s been a long journey from my end,” I replied as I tried to get my horrified date away from the “tsk- tsking,” of her disapproval.

The truth is legalists (or Pharisees in skirts as I like to call the female variety) abound in every church.  Sadly, if you leave one church there will probably be seven more at the next.   My neighbor recently had a run-in with a few lovelies that did some serious damage to her heart.

My neighbor is a seeker and recently began attending a local church.  She tried to connect and make some Christian friends by joining a women’s Bunco group she saw advertised in the church bulletin. After a few weeks of throwing dice, my neighbor volunteered to host the game night at her house and was surprisingly met with veiled hostility by the women in the group.  When she inquired about the tension, the ladies let her know that she was welcome to come to their church, but she was not allowed to host an event at her home until she accepted Jesus as her savior.  In this uncomfortable discourse, it also came out that some of the women didn’t think she should be attending the monthly Bunco game either. 

Now, my neighbor grew up in a strict Jewish home and any decision to follow Christ would affect her entire extended family.  Many of her relationships might suffer and her parents would more than likely be embarrassed.  It wasn’t a decision she took lightly and it wouldn’t be forced into over a Bunko game.

My neighbor confided in me one late summer evening as we were sitting on my porch.  Shocked, I inquired how these ladies extra religious rules made her feel. “Well, I don’t want to go their church anymore,” she said dejectedly. “It’s a complete turn-off. But I’m still curious about Jesus.  Could you,” she stuttered, “explain salvation to me?”

Needless to say, I took a deep breath, opened a bottle of wine and we talked and searched the scriptures together for hours.

I run into this religious spirit all too often at women’s bible studies.   At our growing church, new women join our studies each week.  When an attractive woman shows up for the first time dressed less than modestly, it seems as if a self-protective fog of dissention falls upon the group of women in a shield of exclusion.  And when I sense this gang-mentality resistance drawing me in- to reject instead of lean in and connect with a new, albeit pretty face, I call it out for what it is-fear.

Our female fears and insecurity regarding body image, lack of security and control issues turn us into modern day Pharisees as we bind heavy burdens on women and distort God’s word with a long list of she-made rules.  And I believe when we do this, we open the door for the enemy to create strife and a critical spirit that is detrimental to the church and to the world at large.

We bow our heads each week and sing, “Come just as you are,” and then negate this very invitation with body language that says, “Not so fast sweetie”.  If we were honest, we would post a warning sign at the church entrance reading: “Ladies, you are welcome if: 1. you keep your boobs properly covered 2. no midriff is revealed 3. all tattoos remain covered (unless it’s a trendy cross in an approved location…i.e. ankles are good, tramp stamps are bad) 4. you abstain from inappropriate footwear (six-inchstilettos are highly discouraged). 

There are strict unwritten rules of hierarchy in our Christian Women’s Social Club; you must act like a Christian, even if you don’t know Christ.  It doesn’t matter what your spiritual condition is as long as you modify your worldly behavior. If you get vulnerable and share something you are struggling with, we’ll pray for you with feigned empathy and talk about you behind your back.  And if it’s really bad, we’ll send your plight out to the prayer chain so the whole church knows what you are struggling with.  This may result in your being blacklisted from future leadership. And, if you don’t except Jesus fast enough we reserve the right to cancel your Bunco privileges.

So when Mrs. Pharisee approached me at the gym, my knees went weak and I prayed for strength. It had been some time since the church picnic; almost a year to be exact and certain events-namely my engagement to a pastor in our church, had increased my Klout for Christian score-keepers.

“So, I hear you are going to marry that pastor you’ve been dating, “Mrs. Pharisee gushed like a little girl wooing a queen bee with honey. “What an honor! How are you going to be able to handle this prestigious spiritual mantle?”

Unsuccessfully struggling to reel in my sarcasm, I replied, “Well I’m trying not to swear so much.”

Mrs. Pharisee’s poppy red mouth made an “Ooohhh” sound and she nodded her head very seriously.

“And,” I decided to take a chance, “I’m working on not being so judgmental.  I’m trying to love people more,” I said. “You know what? Sometimes I struggle with that.”

“Me too,” she whispered, “Me too.”

I guess there is a little Pharisee in all of us.

The Awkward Baby Daddy

Once a month or so I head over to Mission Hills Church and teach a class to a group of unwed pregnant young women and the occasional baby daddy supporting them. I run into a cast of characters at Birthchoice but this week might have been the most memorable EVER.

In the front row sat a very pregnant and lovely young gal. Beside her was an older gentleman who resembled Santa Claus. The age gap between the two was close to forty years.

I almost asked if the man rubbing her shoulders and cooing support in her ear was her grandpa or father but I felt prompted to hold my tongue.

As I started the class I bantered with the girls and asked a few questions. When I got to these two, it didn’t take long before the story poured out.

Santa was the baby daddy.

And it wasn’t pretty.

The girl clearly had some mental disabilities attributed to an accident during her teen years where she had lingered in a coma for weeks. Although still able to comprehend, there was dullness behind her beautiful brown eyes. She struggled with social filters and boundaries.

And from a distance (without perspective) it looked like this man had taken advantage of a young mentally disabled girl.

My stomach dropped and I choked back the rising waves off revulsion behind my tongue.

But as I talked, I secretly watched the two and how he interacted with her. Surprisingly he was gentle and patient and kind. I saw true delight and care behind his eyes.

Huh?

And then all of a sudden Jacob came to mind –Jacob, the biblical patriarch who dealt a shady hand all his days. This is the man who stole a birthright from his brother Esau, finagled the best livestock from his father in law and took his wives and kids and hitched the first camel train out of town.

But then one night it all came crashing down and Jacob was forced to confront his brother and the past.

He spent a night near the river Jabbock (which means wrestle in Hebrew) and Jacob did exactly that –he wrestled with God. He came clean. He owned his past and persistently dealt with his junk until God allowed him to pass through. He came out on the other side wounded (with a lingering blow to the hip) but able to move into his future unencumbered.

And here was this man before me -a man with kids my age who had impregnated a young girl, who didn’t run for the hills.

He didn’t abandon her.

He didn’t encourage her to abort the baby.

I imagine he had to face some ANGRY parents and possibly law enforcement.

Instead he owned it.

He accompanied her to parenting classes, assembled a team of friends and family to assist her and stayed close by her side.

I saw a man wrestling with God.

His sin was painfully obvious. It was the eye-sore in the room. Even the young knocked up sixteen year old girls felt justified that their mistake certainly wasn’t as heinous as his.

And I was reminded that in God’s economy nothing is ever black or white. And grace and forgiveness and sacrificial love trump righteousness every time.

God gave me new eyes that night. I saw myself in this man and my own struggles with failure and brokenness. The Jabbock nights flashed before my eyes where I have confronted the past and wrested with my soul.

The nights where I have ripped open the shiny facades I hide behind to expose the real me within and acknowledge the deep crevices and prickly darkness to the one who knows my most secret sins.

I saw a man who courageously faced his grimy soul and sat before me humbled and refreshed.

Not many sixty-five year old men get to be new daddies. There was humor and pain as he shared his unfortunate tale.

And it made me smile.

I believe God brings families together in the most bizarre ways.

I believe he can restore relationship out of ashes.

And I believe he can build something new and wonderful out of a contrite grandpa/baby daddy holding the hand of his greatest source of brokenness and future blessing.

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Hint, Hint…

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A few weeks ago I started writing for a new client who runs a relationship bootcamp and does intensive couples coaching. 

At first I thought it was simply a good writing gig.  But now, after writing and researching numerous articles on marriage (and tips to improve relationships), I wonder if there isn’t some sort of grand scheme going on here behind the scenes.

Is the big man upstairs giving me subtle hints?

Jesus, are you trying to tell me I could use a little relational coaching myself?

Because in the last few weeks I’ve done a ton of research and it’s becoming increasingly clear I have a preschooler’s knowledge of building a healthy relationship.

Despite what you may believe, pastors and writers and ministry types don’t always have it all figured out.  We swamp through and muddle and muck up relationships too.

(But generally we get fired if our marriage tanks so we have more incentive than you to make it work)

Now I am certainly no expert.

I’ve been divorced.  I know there is no “happily ever after.” 

But I do believe marriage is worth every tear and argument and struggle.

I know the rewards are far greater than the tough moments.  I know there is crazy joy in the journey, delight in the dumbest moments, and glimpses of God through imperfect people trying to love and sacrifice for each other.

As much as I love my husband, I am not the best wife.  I honestly cry when I think of how badly I want to be better and the reality of who and what I am.

Broken. Selfish.  Human.  Capable of snarky quips and extreme disrespect.

But in that space I invite God to do a miracle; to somehow take my tiny little seed of faith and build something more beautiful than I can imagine.

A marriage.  Unity.  Family.  Interdependence. 

A strand of three chords not easily broken.

Here are the articles I wrote in the last few weeks for Relationship Help Centers.    Check out their website and look at the bootcamps for marrieds and singles. 

Because can’t we all use a little help in our relationships?

–Blessings,

Sam

How to Rekindle the Passion

In days of old, people accepted marriage would have its doldrums, but these days unhappiness is not an option. According to a survey conducted among 100 family lawyers –boredom and monotony are now the number one reasons for divorce.  Our expectation for marriage is that it will be fulfilling, vital and passionate.  But how do we keep the flames of passion strong? Lust initially propels us to the altar. It’s when endorphins surge through our brains and create a chemical cocktail that makes our beloved appear bigger than life. But what happens when these sexual opiates fade – as they inevitably will? This becomes the defining moment when a couple can choose whether or not they will continue to have passion in their relationship. Yes, passion is a choice. I can already hear you grumbling…”how am I supposed to feel something I don’t feel?”  Read More

#1 T­ool to make Marriage Last

If there was one thing –one tool to apply to your marriage today that would yield the biggest relational return, wouldn’t you want to own it? No matter what the cost, no matter what the effort…you would have to have it. But what if you already owned the tool? What if you simply forgot how to use it? According to SmartMarriages.com and leading marital relationship experts, you already have what it takes within you to build a foundation for a great marriage. In fact, you’ve probably used this tool before –back when you were dating. Back when you doted on and lingered over and filed away in your mental rolodex every single word your beloved uttered. So what is the MAGIC TOOL?  Read More

10 Tips to Fight Fair

When conflict erupts in a marriage –an inevitable part of all relationships, you can choose to draw closer to one another or barrel through, throw darts and damage the relationship. But unlike the old Pat Benetar song, love does not have to be a battleground.  Instead, the marriage relationship can be a safe place for reconciliation when differences arise. But it takes a little sweat equity and a sound plan. A clear-cut and pro-active approach to conflict sets the boundaries before the argument arises. Set the Rules Here are some “Rules” adapted from Ground Rules for Handling Conflict, John A. Larsen, PhD and “Rules for Fighting Fair” by Priscilla and Greg Hunt, PhD  Read More

 

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