Dance, Daddy, Dance…

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When I was a little girl my dad would put me up on the table and say, “Dance, Sammy, dance!”

And the two of us would dance like maniacs. 

Not too long ago I caught him doing the same thing with my youngest daughter Kolby.  And she giggled and cracked up as she watched her Papa Ken dance like a big goof with all his heart.

If you ask little Kolby, “Who’s your best friend?  She will say, with no hesitation, “Papa Ken!”

Because she knows whose got her back.

……

As a little girl, it was obvious to me that my dad was different than the other daddies.  He got up earlier and he worked later.  He was ambitious, the proverbial Type A personality who drilled into me the importance of the P words!—Perseverance, Persistence and PPMF (Piss Poor Planning Means Failure). 

He was movie star handsome, charming and extremely loyal.  He was a good provider and strong leader.  He was also a bit of a brat (and that’s putting it nicely).

But in the last ten years—slowly at first and then rapidly—my dad changed dramatically.  Oh, he still had all the great qualities that made him a successful doctor and man, but he added to that the inner qualities that set great men apart from the rest—humility, patience, kindness and gentleness. 

If you asked him what the difference was, he would have said God changed his heart.  Many people will say this but my dad lived it out.

Where there was once darkness now there was light. 

I talked to my dad almost every day –although in the last six months because of his brain disease he would forget and say “I miss talking to you Sammy, and I would laugh because we’d talked for an hour that very morning. 

And during our talks he would remind me of our special stories—which usually meant some form of torment for me. 

One of his favorite tales was skiing at Park City Utah.  I was six years old and my step-mom Fran was stranded back in the hotel room with a broken tail-bone—probably relieved to get a break from the slopes with my hard driving daddy. 

We ascended to the toughest run on the mountain.  It was a triple black diamond run with “ski at your own risk” signs and “possible death warnings.”

A group of about twenty men stood at the tip of the cornice and peered over the edge which dropped straight down.  An arctic wind whipped up icy swirls taunting the timid.It was a 30 feet drop to hit the snow. 

Some men were brave and gathered enough courage to jump, but most turned around and went back to the lift with their tail between their legs.

I was terrified and pleaded to return to the lift.

My dad looked at me and said very firmly, ‘You don’t have to ski down, but you will walk. And it’s a long way back to the hotel.”

I glared at him and a deep well of anger churned in my belly. 

And indignation launched me right off the cliff. 

The entire crowd started cheering for the little girl who took the mountain.  My dad said that once he recovered from the shock, he then had to catch up with me—because I didn’t slow down to wait for him.

This same story out played over and over again throughout our lives.  He dared, or teased, and I took the bait.  It’s why I went to UCLA to spite his USC and it’s why I had a chip on my shoulder all those years to prove that a girl was just as good as a boy.

Maybe he knew exactly what he was doing, because it drove me to achieve, but in the end it didn’t matter–in the end I had nothing left to prove.

Once my dad changed, the chip on my shoulder turned to mush. 

I knew without a doubt that he simply loved me for who I was, not for what I accomplished, or the things I accumulated, just unconditionally.

And his love was life changing to a grown up woman with a little girl’s heart still seeking the love and approval of a father.

Some people never realize what they have until it’s gone.  Not my dad.  In the last few years Ken not only recognized his many blessings but he became a huge blessing to those around him.

On Thanksgiving Day this year, my dad said at the dinner table he was most grateful for his relationship with God.  I prayed for fifteen years to hear my dad say those words. 

If I had been honest, which I wasn’t because I am protective of my tears and didn’t want to cry like a baby over the turkey, I would have said, “I am most grateful for finally having the relationship of my dreams with my dad.” 

It might have taken 38 years—but the last few years made up for a lifetime.

On the night my daddy died, I sat and read to him.  He squeezed my hand as I read this verse from Eccles. 3.

“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven; a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

It was right at a time to dance that I got the squeeze.  I jumped up and I kissed his forehead and he raised his eyebrow.

(Pretty good for being in a coma)

They say it’s not how you start a race that matters; it’s how you finish it. 

I believe Jesus is now holding my dad’s hand and putting him in a place of honor.  He is saying well done, my good and faithful servant. 

And I can hear the sound of a million angels singing.

And my dad is dancing on the table like a big goof.

When Your Teen Dates

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No parent knows what their kid will be like once they get into a relationship.

I certainly didn’t.

I hoped my son Kyle would be respectful, but after a series of Jr. High texting relationships which lasted well into high school, I wasn’t sure if any girl would move pass the social media realm and penetrate his heart for more than a ten minute crush.

But I was wrong.

My son has been in a relationship with his girlfriend Grace for about four months.  A few weeks ago they made it official and now they even have their own Instagram hashtag–#Gryle

This is serious people.

Now, my poor son has been the recipient of years of dating advice from his parents.  It’s what we write, speak and blog about.  And Kyle could probably regurgitate our shtick back to us in his sleep.

But I never knew if he truly listened—I mean really heard us—and internalized our message on dating differently.

Fortunately, I have been surprised on a million levels.

First of all, Kyle picked well.  Grace is not only lovely on the outside but on the inside as well.  She is intelligent, light-hearted, and family oriented.  She loves God, respects people and is a fiercely competitive athlete—something they both share.  She’s nice to animals, little sisters and mothers and I think this bodes well for her future.

And I really love her mom to boot.  Could it get any better?

Kyle and Grace have boundaries around school, sports and their own pursuits.  They encourage one another and push each other to excel.  It’s bizarrely mature.  And although they text each other it’s not an all day affair.  It’s after the home work is put away and the workouts are done, or a quick shout-out on the way home from school.

(I counsel thirty-five year olds who haven’t figured this out yet)

Next, Kyle treats Grace like gold. He cherishes her and respects her.  He is interested in her well-being on all levels—not just making out and hanging out (although they do those things a lot too).  But, Kyle cares about her as a person and not as a thing.  And Grace reciprocates.  It is mutual affection based on respect and appreciation.

And here is where I am deeply humbled.

Was I a part of this?  I know it’s a culmination of dad and mom and step-parents and mentors, but in a world where men treat women like objects, my son, despite being assaulted by porn and Victoria’s Secret and the onslaught of an over-sexualized culture is choosing to be different.

I know he will make many mistakes going forward (on top of those in the past) but watching him treat a woman with dignity makes my heart soar!

Especially because at that age I let men treat me badly.  I didn’t understand I was worth more.  My son’s behavior  is redemptive for me as a woman and I thank God for his grace and mercy.

(Now we just have to make sure Faith and Kolby don’t carouse with douche-bags who treat them poorly)

The biggest issue I have is that this whole experience is so wonderful I don’t want it to ever end.

I’ll dream and pray none the less—maybe high school sweethearts can still make it in our crazy world?

–Samantha

 

Just as an update on my parents and a BIG THANKS to all who are praying.  My mom is on hospice now at home.  She has stopped chemo and all treatment for her pancreatic cancer.  We are enjoying the time she has left and pouring out our love on her in abundance.  Most of my days are now spent at their home in La Quinta trying to capture her smile and elegance and etch it into my memory forever.  My step-dad is doing a beautiful job of caring for her, along with family and friends, and hospice is a God-send.

My dad is at a secure Alzheimer’s facility in Beaumont.  He is recovering from three surgeries after he jumped off a ten-foot balcony at Christmas from paranoia due to his brain disease.  Mentally, he is pretty much gone and it’s heart-breaking.  He thought my step-mom was Santa the other day.  Physically, he is still having some complications from the broken back, compound fracture of the tibia and fibula and shattered ankle.  The pin has come loose from the ankle and the hole from the pin is infected.  Please pray for healing and comfort as we journey down this very difficult road with him.  I miss him desperately! 

Bear Hunt

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“10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5…” and in a split second the year 2014 ushered in.  I sighed and squeezed Tim’s hand as he leaned over and kissed me gently.  Our neighborhood ricocheted with cheers and the shrill blare of tinny paper horns. 

Normally, when the ball drops, I am jubilant.  I lift my glass and toast to a new year of life and love and adventure.  But this year, as I watched the ball drop and the confetti swirl, I felt a tickle of dread slithering up my back.

Anxiety doesn’t rest well on my narrow shoulders—I’d rather smile and live in the land of denial and lightheartedness.  If I could only push rewind on the clock and go back about six months to the days of summer bliss—before the tempest hit. I’d fork over my entire piggy bank for just one day of my old normal.

I sing a little ditty in the shower.  My husband quizzically looks at me.  “Sam, why are you singing about bear hunts?”

I guess it’s because I can’t get the song out of my head. So, I hum some more.

“We’re going on a bear hunt, we’re gonna catch a big one.  We’re not scared.”

This little refrain is my new theme song.   It makes me feel brave when life is overwhelming.  The bear represents my fears and I’m Katnis Everdeen hunting them down.  Even when I’m quaking in my boots, I do it afraid.  I chase the bear.  If God is with me, then what bear can stop me?

In the story, the family (a mom and dad and three tots) encounter a series of obstacles while chasing a large and scary bear.

Their journey is difficult and they do everything they can to avoid the roadblocks—the raging river, the perilous mountains and the roaring blizzard.  But there is no way around the storms.

‘Oh no,” they say.  “We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, I guess we have to go through it.”

This is me in 2014.  I’m on a bear hunt.  I can’t gloss over it, or avoid it. I can’t stuff the emotions or hide from the inevitable, I must go through it.

I returned to my office last week—quiet and subdued, more melancholy than my normally chipper demeanor.

“How was your holiday Sam?” my co-worker inquired.

 “Well, my dad cornered my brother and step-mom on Christmas day and beat them with a bed post.  I spent an hour on the phone trying to talk him out of killing them.”

Pause.  Friend opens his mouth in horror.

The next day my father jumped off a balcony believing bad guys were chasing him.  It wasn’t suicide, it was paranoia—it’s evil twin.

I was in Burlington Coat Factory when I got the call–a broken back, compound fracture of the tibia and fibia, and a shattered ankle.  Three surgeries scheduled. 

I remember my dad saying only a few weeks ago, “At least I’m not in physical pain like your mom is with the pancreatic cancer.  She suffers brutally, Sammy, I’m just turning into a nutcase.”

I think it’s a toss-up now who’s in the most pain.  At least, my dad is psychotic–maybe his pain is numbed by brain atrophy? 

Christmas was a blur of beautiful and sacred moments with my mom–trying on dresses and twirling before her, watching the kids open presents, and having a Christmas meal on the sofa like a picnic because she was too weak to sit at the table.  Every minute with her, I pack into a mental scrapbook of treasures–knowing this is my last Christmas with her and cherishing every look, tear, and whisper of love.

There were many visits to the hospital to visit my dad.  It was gut-wrenching.  For a week his eyes were locked shut, his mouth open under labored breathing.  When he woke, he cried out in terror and punched nurses believing they were trying to hurt him.  The nurses retaliated by drugging him back into unconsciousness. 

I don’t blame them.  I would do the same with a random crazy guy, but it’s different when the crazy guy is your daddy. 

The family in the story finally finds the bear in a dark ominous cave.  They accidentally wake the beast and he roars a terrible roar and shows his sharp teeth. The family runs like hell back through the raging storm, the treacherous mountains and the wild river.

Finally they arrive home and lock the door.  They hide in a bedroom and hold one another close and sing, “We went on a bear hunt and we caught a big one.  We’re not scared.”  And they laugh in the nervous jittery laugh of those who have survived their worst fears and looked the demon in the eye.

And so when I answered my friend at work, I laughed this same jittery laugh and thought of the bear chasing me. 

While I’ve never been afraid to confront my fears, it seems like now my worst nightmares are chasing me.  The fear of being alone—orphaned without the safety net of my parent’s covering, the fear of watching a loved one suffer (much less two at the same time) and the fear of letting go and confronting death.

And like the family in the story, I can’t escape.  The pain is present no matter where I go and it doesn’t get any better avoiding it.

I have to face the mountains, the river and the storm. 

And one day, I imagine I’ll make my way home again and hide under the covers and look back in wonder that this journey didn’t kill me.  It feels like it should.  But it didn’t.

The bear hunt will be behind me. And I’ll be different because of it.

 

Help Me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re My Only Hope!

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“Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” –Princess Leih

My favorite tales always begin with a crisis moment where the protagonist is forced to turn in a new direction.

Going back is no longer an option.

Remember Luke Skywalker in Star Wars?—the mystery of a lovely Princess and a spunky R2 unit whisper of adventure and a different life. Luke wants to pursue, but he is held back by fear and obligation, that is until his aunt and uncle’s farm blows up.

A good story is like that.

We want to live a grand adventure, free and spontaneous, but the safety net of reality stems us in—until one day our security (our job or a relationship or our health) explodes and our only option is to travel to new and dark places.

Places we don’t want to go.

Scary Places. Places that reveal our brokenness. Places of testing and places of redemption.

The road behind us is gone. And despite our cries out to God of unbearable grief and terror, there is only the road before us.

I am at that crossroads.

And like Luke, I’m unsure of this journey ahead. I want to live a grand story and run towards what God has for me—but this cup of suffering isn’t what I had in mind.

On Thursday, I met with my dad’s neurologist and received the news no one wants to hear. “Prepare for the end. We don’t know how long. His brain is shrinking and atrophying rapidly all the way around.”

Insert a bad word. Insert gut-wrenching sadness.

My dad tried to accept the words. His disease–Picks–now makes it hard for him to get out his thoughts coherently, but I knew what he was saying.

“It’s ok. God knows. I hope I lived a good life.”

We went to Chili’s. I held my daddy’s hand. We had a margarita. We laughed the jittery laughs of shock and wiped up the tears silently creeping out of our nose.

This weekend was hard. Greif is like that. One minute you are fine and the next—blubbering over a song or a stupid USC flag. For my dad’s sake, I hope my Bruins lose this year. Just this once. Just to make my daddy gloat and smile.

But Monday was the final explosion. It was the no going back moment.

I got the call.

They found a large mass on my mom’s pancreas. They said the two words you never want to hear—Pancreas and Cancer.

And now we wait for biopsies and treatment plans and a new journey into a place of unknown.

And so I am crying out like the desperate princess watching her planet blow up, “Help me Jesus, You’re my only hope.”

My parents are not old.

They are brilliant and strong and beautiful. I am not ready to lose them. I am greedy for their care, their protection, their covering. My mom and dad are supposed to help pick out my Faith’s formal dress, and be at graduations and Kyle’s Varsity football games and recitals where little Kolby wears a halo and sings about Baby Jesus.

There is so much life I want to share.

I feel robbed.

As a Christian—as a speaker and writer, as someone who is supposed to encourage and motivate people to draw closer to Christ—I want to be better at this. But I’m not.

I feel like a fraud. I don’t have any pat answers.

I’m supposed to put on the happy face and smile and say it’s ok. Praise Jesus. Hallelujah.

But I don’t feel that way. I’m DEVESTATED. I want my mommy and my daddy. Here. Now. I want my blankie, and my teddy and to suck my thumb with a vengeance until everything is put back together right.

I don’t believe life is fair. Suffering sucks. Death was never meant to be.

But what I cling to is that God sees. He hears. He comforts. He is close. I don’t have to fear this journey. I have an eternal home where death is a merely a blip until I see my loved ones again. They might beat me there, but God provides a way though the pain and to this Jesus I lay down my life.

I also have an enemy who is out to steal and kill and destroy—who delights in crushing hope and joy. I’ve got two middle fingers pointed in his direction. (Sorry church people, I’m a little raw right now)

But I refuse to let him distract me from sharing the one thing that can never be taken away from me–and that’s Jesus.

And so I can choose to pick up my feet and march forward or I can linger in this wooing darkness—suffering, stalled, and bitter. I can ask “why” all day long and get pissed and hold on to a pain I was never meant to carry.

Or, I start a new story. I trust. I praise. I hope for miracles. I choose a double fisted faith despite the outcome. I get out of bed tomorrow and believe somehow, some way, some good will come out of this trial.

And I learn to use a light saber while blind folded—apparently I will need this skill where I am going.

If you know my mom, I’ve started a Caring Bridge site for her. Click here to visit.

The Family Discussion

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“Mom, Dad, we have something we want to discuss with you.”

My husband and I looked at each other in apprehension.  It’s always a little scary when your three kids—even the toddler—band together for a “family discussion.”

My oldest son Kyle took the lead, “You said if mom didn’t get pregnant by Christmas, we could get a puppy.”

The girls nodded their head in agreement and three-year-old Kolby chimed in with a chant, “puppy, puppy, puppy!”

I exhaled a big whoosh of exasperation, delighted at my children’s tenacity and complete frustration at my old and rusty uterus. 

The kids are right.  We’ve tried and tried and it’s time to own up and pay our puppy dues.

I really do want my kids to get their dream dog.  I also really want one more baby.  I guess I want both.

I don’t want to throw in the towel yet (I’ve still got a month) but my biological clock seems to have stalled and stuck—it’s been two years and two miscarriages—so unless we explore infertility, I am more likely picking up dog poop in the near future than changing diapers.

(Insert a melancholy tune)

Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only one who feels this breathtaking sadness at hanging up the cleats in the baby making department. 

I see women all the time who have one or two kids and are so adamant they are DONE. 

While I respect their resolve, I’ve never had that feeling stick.  Not even once! 

No timer dinged loudly in my brain or heart.  The only thing holding me back from the Brangelina adoption of a mini-tribe is money. 

As far as I concerned, the more (munchkins) the merrier.

When I hear people complain about their kids I cover my ears.  Yes, these little (and big) suckers drive me bazonkers, but it’s a beautiful chaos. 

Call me crazy, but I just want more.  More kisses, more cuddles, more baseball games and tutu’s, more giggles and yes…even more teenage angst. 

Children are life—ravishing reminders of God’s blessing and love in a world of chaos. 

Maybe my thinking is broken.  Maybe it’s letting go of control?  I don’t know.  It’s just hard to watch the baby years come to a halt. 

Maybe I’m afraid of who I am when I don’t have a passel of children around to distract me.  Before I had kids, I was a little lonely.  I was a (mostly) only child with a large age gap between myself and my half-brother.  A large family fills that gap. 

The laughter, the noise, the energy…I love it.

Tim and I told the kids we would seriously consider our prior agreement. 

I also told them to ignore any strange noises from our bedroom. 

 “EEEEWWWWWW!!!!! Gross!” yelled my middle schooler.  Kyle just smirked.

(This is one way to guarantee you will never have sex, because kids are smarter.  Kyle simply stays up until 1:00am doing homework, Kolby and Faith wake up at 5:00am since the time change and just for good measure, Kolby also wakes up in the middle of the night to go potty)

We have to be sneaky in this house.

And we just might need to call a handyman to repair the broken fence on our dog run (just in case).

AAAHHH! My Son Brought a Girl Home!

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I saw lots of adorable scarecrows costumes this Halloween—dainty Dorothy’s with a Toto peeping from a basket spilling over with candy—and of course, spooky green witches—but not once did I encounter my favorite character—the cowardly lion.

In all honesty, I believe it’s the costume that best represents us all—a fearful people—raging and roaring in image management as we tremble in our boots and hope no one see through us.

We have moments of glory where we roar our terrible roars and knash our terrible teeth, and then reality rears its ugly head and we go back to worrying about the bills and our health, Obamacare and North Korea, our marriages, teenagers, and a million other concerns.

Fear steals our joy and anxiety makes tyrants of all, but courage—glorious courage—when it breaks through—shines like the light of a million stars.

I saw a glimpse of a courageous little lion stepping out of her comfort zone and into bravery the other night.

On Halloween evening, a friend of Kyle’s—a specific Girl friend stopped by the house to meet us.  The beautiful young lady, accompanied by a friend and her mom, walked up to the door and introduced herself.

Grace and Kyle—while not officially dating—have a strong fondness for each other.  I can see the sparkle in her eyes when she looks at my son.  At the Varsity football games, when they call his name over the loud-speaker for a tackle, she squeals with delight.  She wears his number #34 proudly on her cheek and she even dressed in one of old jerseys for Halloween. 

They are sweet together—it’s high emotion and furious texting and the blood racing tingles of high school romance. 

And to their benefit, these two are trying to navigate the space of family, church, age-appropriateness and really liking each other in a God honoring way

So what was so scary to Grace?  Apparently us. 

Meeting the parent’s—the scary dating experts—the pastor and the blogger—the mom of her crush—were all just terrifying to the poor girl.

I can’t imagine how awkward it was for her.  I was dressed as a saloon girl and Tim was a cowboy.  Our porch was covered in candles, strobe lights, pumpkins, bats and thumping ghoulie tunes.  Kids and neighbors poured over our walkway. 

It was funny way to meet the first girl he’s ever brought home—strangely formal, bizarre, and so endearing.

But I knew if Kyle was making the effort to include us we’d better pay attention.

And so little Grace—the competitive gymnast with the strawberry blond hair—bucked up, put on her big girl pants and braved the parents. 

Although I don’t know her very well and I’m not sure I’m ready for dating, I like how Grace operates. 

Fear does not define her.  She moved at the scary ‘meet the parents “moment with quaking feet and a fluttering heart, (our son told us this all later) but the point is she moved.  She planted those feet on our porch and stuck out her hand with a smile.

Grace defined her circumstances instead of letting her fear (or circumstances) define her.

The cowardly lion ends up learning courage because there is something MORE important enough in his life than the fear to make it worth the frightening journey.

And it makes this mama smile to think my son was the important thing that motivated her to be brave. 

Is there something scary or overwhelming in your life where you need an extra dose of courage?

What Your Marriage Really Needs

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There have been few days in my life so impactful they are singed into my memory as “best days ever.”

The birth of my kids, the day my ex-husband walked, the day I ran down the aisle into the arms of Tim Keller…

Ravishing love, unbearable sorrow, joy beyond imagination – I recall every detail swirled with emotion.

This last weekend I added a new “best day ever” to my mental picture book.

Tim and I attended Relationship BootCamp and it rocked my world.

I’ve always thought marriage was hard work and I just needed to buck up and put in the effort. 

I tell myself, “Don’t give up.  Try harder.  Ok, that didn’t work…Sam, try EVEN harder!”

(After one failed marriage, I have NO intention of a repeat performance)

But is working harder at doing the same thing over and over anything more than a spinning hamster wheel of frustration? Certainly, relationship takes effort, and yet my soul groans for something more –understanding, compassion and a deeper connection.

Why are relationships so difficult?  Why do I struggle (at times) with the man of my dreams?

Why, why, why Jesus?  Why don’t Christians have awesome marriages?  Aren’t we supposed to be getting this right?

I believe I have a good marriage, but in the back of my mind I long and thirst for a glimpse of heaven.  And I feel guilty for wanting more.  I hate the repeated arguments about the same dumb thing.  I hate the communication gap.  I despise the feeling that we are so close to getting this right –and yet a million miles away all at the same time.

I discovered a lot from Relationship BootCamp.

Most of all, I recognized I desperately need healing from past wounds (that I drag into my marriage!) and a huge dose of forgiveness if I want EPIC instead of just ok. 

Surprise, surprise…relationship issues are not about dealing with the difficult people in our life.

Relationship issues are about dealing with the face in the mirror.

I saw five couples this weekend either seperated or with divorce papers signed who turned it around and recommitted.  I saw miracles happen.

I also saw my husband have epiphany after epiphany, right along WITH me. 

I ahhed and oohed too many times to count and I cried desperate tears as I saw my husband in a new light. 

And in the dark recesses of my heart, a glorious unlocking began and HOPE kicked out the despair I didn’t even know I stuffed in there.

I ALMOST NEVER recommend you buy or do anything on this blog, but if you want the relationship you’ve always dreamed about, I highly recommend you consider signing up for a BootCamp!

You’ll probably run into me volunteering and I’ll hug you through the hard parts! 

I believe our country is going through a marriage and relationship crisis.

And I want to be a part of the R3Volution! 

Click Here to find out more and Register!

Sexual Matters

There is something sacred about stumbling upon an older couple sneaking kisses or holding hands.  In our counter-cultural age of fast-food relationships over before the kids have reached kindergarten, seasoned love is a treat to behold.

I don’t know about you, but I crave this “old people in the park holding hands kind of love.”  I want my husband to desire me at 41, 51, 61 and 91 (Lord willing we attain this age).

But sex is such a tough issue to broach in the church.  We clam up, get awkward and pretend that good Christians don’t really need it.

(As if God didn’t create us to be sexual beings)

We forget that sex is a crucial factor in romance and it is the glue that keeps a marriage chugging on and on over the years.

It is also the one vital factor which separates friendship from love.

Sex matters in a marriage!

Sex helps you feel more connected to your partner, it makes you feel cared for and comforted, and, hello ladies, it’s fun, remember?

My friend reminded me of a comment I made to her years ago.

Sex is like working out.  It’s a pain in the ass to schlep all your gear to the gym and to drag your butt on to the treadmill or into the Zumba class, but once you get there and get warmed up you remember how much you actually like it and then you relax and enjoy the ride (no pun intended).

Yep. Sex is like working out.  And we all know the benefits of a regular workout routine.

The problem is (with both sex and exercise) we make excuses to not be active.  Because, let’s be honest, it’s far easier to be lazy and pretend to be asleep when our husbands make a move toward us.

Life certainly invades…

Through the years, we all change both physically and emotionally, and the days become chaotic with family and sports and demanding work schedules. But, even with the inevitable curve balls we will all encounter in and outside of our relationships, it is possible to keep the sparks flying (or at least smoldering!)

Many couples erroneously believe that the natural attraction and sexual desire they enjoyed during the honeymoon of their relationship will seamlessly carry over, without any effort, throughout their marriage.

Sorry folks…this is a lie.

Romance, desire and sex, will cease to exist unless it is both honored and nurtured by both parties in a couple.  

As neuroscientific research has proven, during the first six to eighteen months of a new relationship, our brain excretes a variety of neurochemicals, which helps to accelerate our biological mating dance.  Our brains are flooded with serotonin and dopamine, which keeps passion ignited, with very little effort on our part.

Then, as mysteriously as these mating neurochemicals arrive, they depart. And when this happens, usually within eighteen months of the start of a relationship, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and work a little harder when it comes to our sex life.

So if sex is a priority, (which it should be!) then we need to make it important and red flag it on the calendar for the one we love.

Maybe it means taping a favorite show or going to bed earlier or putting the kids in their own room…

According to Rachel Sussman –author of the Breakup Bible, you can keep passion alive and thriving through regular and productive (no blaming, shaming, or complaining, please) communication with your partner about sex.

Be sure to discuss the following:

  • Make a commitment to make sex a priority!
  • Take the time to discuss what sex means to each of you.  To my husband sex=love.  To me it equals affection.  His need might be a little more pressing than mine.
  • If you lead a busy life (and who doesn’t) it’s perfectly OK to put sex dates on the calendar. Don’t worry that scheduling may become “formulaic” –looking forward to sex is a treat for a guy.  And ladies, if you put it on the calendar…do not change the playdate without a conversation and a reschedule. (It’s like telling your kid you are going to Disneyland and canceling because you  have a headache.  Be kind to your man!)
  • Shake it up.  Try something new.  I’ll leave it at that!
  • Worried that you won’t be “in the mood”? Allow yourself a “transitional time”. If sex is in the calendar tonight (or if you’d like it to be) – prepare yourself earlier in the day. Send your spouse a flirty text. Take a bubble bath, grab a glass of wine and allow the days stressors to slide off. Light a few candles, grab your iPod and set the mood.

Have fun, enjoy the love of your life, and make your marriage a priority!

Will Your Kid Leave the Church?

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It’s been a hot topic lately –“why kids are leaving the church.”  Over and over it seems church pundits want to blame old pastors wearing skinny jeans as the culprit.  Apparently, the sight of a forty year old with a goatee and paste on jeans makes our youth want to barf and disassociate from the gospel.

They say the church isn’t authentic enough… “Relevant” yes, but lacking meat and potatoes. They say it’s a McDonaldized version of the world with a happy meal Jesus.  The church entertains but fails to teach.  The atheists come at youth with science; the church comes at kids with rules.  The church is judgmental to their gay friends and we focus too much on sex and marriage and “looking good” vs. being good.

This anti-church message propagated on the radio by the rapper Macklemore, whom my kids love, claims the church paraphrases verses out of a 3500 year old book to shame and browbeat those outside the religious parameters.

And our kids are listening. They hear celebrities and artists who lift up and associate Jesus with everything BUT the church.

And it makes me sad, because this hasn’t been my experience with ministry.

(If you go to one of these terrible places that treat its youth with disdain, then leave.)

My experience with the church and youth ministry has simply been befuddlement.  Why are so many kids leaving the church and not coming back?  We try so hard and yet we are losing them?  What is the secret sauce to draw them back?

While I believe some of the millennial critiques hold credence in a sad and awkward way, I’m not buying the laundry list of nitpicky justifications young people use to reject the church as the real and underlying reason. 

All of the millennial criticism I hear boils down to one thing.  (And I don’t need a top ten list to tell you with neat little bulleted points)

So why kids are kids leaving the church?

I believe it’s a lack of love.

Remember Jesus?  He’s the guy who ate with sinners and gangsters, hookers, pimps and hoes.  Jesus is the man who loved the sexually immoral (pretty sure this includes gays too), turned over tables and healed the seriously messed up.

The church in its efforts to gain the youth and save the “lost generation” have forgotten the main thing.

Love

We focus on new buildings, more awesome bands, food trucks and large crowds.  We think we need just one more thing to get them to come back, but when we do this we get lost and caught up in the swirly whirly distraction of the world.

I know great parents who have sent their kids to the mega awesome Church to be DAZZLED and instead their kids come home with a drug addiction from dealers in the church parking lot.

Just because a church attracts a big crowd doesn’t mean Jesus is moving in the lives of our kids.  The draw at these BIG TEEN EVENTS might be good drugs, hot chicks and free food.  Last time I checked, I can send my teen to a rave for a $10 fee.  I certainly don’t need my tithe money to cover it.

What about love?  What about people who care about our kids?  What about parents engaging with their kids and serving side by side with them and using less words and more action? 

We can’t just tell our kids to be good; we need to be honest about our own brokenness and the healing power of Christ. 

We need to be let down our perfectly pinned up church hair and remember our struggles with temptation as teenagers.  We need to let them know we went down some dark roads too and that God’s love is relentless in its pursuit. 

I didn’t make it through high school with my innocence intact and quite honestly; my brokenness is what leads me to Christ. 

The kid that tries drugs or pre-marital sex or even walking away from Christ with unanswered questions may actually be closer to God than the devoted and quiet student who shows up every week to Sunday School and serves in Children’s Ministry.

Who are we to judge the state of a man’s heart?

I hold on to the verse, ”Raise up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

Why do we gloss over the “when he is old” part?  There is a gap in between the youth and old.  Maybe the gap includes living and loving, hurting, questioning, and finally returning to the arms of the father.

Why do we punish our kids for the gap years?  Why do we focus on the prodigal son and forget that God gave us two stories –one of a kid who followed the rules and one who ran away –and yet both were loved.

We need to allow our kids to question the mystery and bigness of God and we need to stop acting like we have all the answers. (Read the book of Job again if you think you know it all)

The appeal of Jesus to anyone – a millennial, a young family, a divorced woman, or an old codger is love.  We are to love God and love one another.  We aren’t instructed to put on a show and work our ministers to death so they are so exhausted and grumpy and so un-loving that our kids see just another man (or woman) in a monkey suit (insert skinny jeans) working for achievement.   

When a pastor or a CHRISTIAN doesn’t have time for a hurting kid, we missed an important step along the way.

My son met a kid at the Spectrum (about 15 years old) who passionately spoke his mind about Jesus and God and love. After that night, my kid has looked at his relationship with Christ a little differently.  He prays more.  I find his Bible (gasp) open in the morning next to his bed. 

This is a kid who also has a chip on his shoulder about the church.  My son is a pastor’s kid and survived a church plant.  And while some kids make it through puberty thinking the church is AMAZING, my son has seen some of the darker sides of ministry. 

And yet he is still drawn to Jesus.  When he saw another kid s passion and love for the Lord, it made an impact.

Love burst forth from this kid and mountains moved.

We need to teach our kids that we can’t judge Jesus by the church.  Jesus loves the church and died for the church, but we are a broken lot who mess and muddle up love on a regular basis.  We need Jesus to forgive us for misrepresenting him.  And we need to ask our kids to forgive us for giving them a half version of the gospel.

Jesus is to be our model of love.  The church is the place we try to work it out in community.  Do our kids understand this?

I don’ think kid’s care so much about “cool church” as we think…

My middle daughter is wooed to Jesus through the relationships in her life. I have been consistently overwhelmed at the women surrounding her (female youth pastor, worship leader, and BEAUTIFUL neighbors) who are pouring into her heart and showing her what love and God look like on a daily basis.  She is encouraged to serve alongside them, care for their children, worship God with all her heart and model their love in action.

She could care less if they are cool.  She cares that they love her and they love God.

I remember the same thing in college.  I heard a young pastor explain Jesus in a simple way.  He was bursting with fire and exuberance.  And I was drawn to the person of Jesus Christ.  I couldn’t help but connect with authentic love, relevant sacrifice and a purpose to seek and save the lost, the broken and the disenfranchised of the world.

It’s about love –not REASONS why the church is blowing it.  Those are just distractions.

When I hear someone go on and on about what moves them, I can’t help but get excited.  It’s why we sob at weddings and act like idiots at football games. 

We engage in a story that’s bigger than ourselves and we remember what it feels like to be alive.

And we fall in love all over again. 

I don’t think our kids are leaving because we (the church) haven’t tried.  We have tried until we are blue in the face.  I just think we have forgotten the main thing.

We think kids want skate parks and nifty bracelets, Chick Fillet and hip lounge chairs.

Really?  I think a crappy old sofa with a caring young adult eating PB& J’s would suffice.

When we allow Jesus to not only transform us but to move within us, love becomes the fabric of our being.

And it changes lives.

I believe the biggest obstacle to our kids not finding Jesus is not the failure of the church…I know the church has tried, it’s a failure to remember what drew us to God in the first place.

What do you think? 

For further reading: Why Millennials Need the Church

Photo Source: http://www.csulb.edu/divisions/students2/intouch/archives/2007-08/vol16_no1/01.htm

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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