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A Thrill of Hope

Music gets me in the feels.  I suppose good music does that to everyone.  But the message of Christmas music finds its mark nestled especially deep inside me, and pierces my soul.  In a good way.  In a necessary way.

“Christ the babe…is Lord of all.”  I mean, …c’,mon.  That’s radical theology in a single line.

Or, “God and sinners reconciled”… I’m done. 

Isn’t that what our souls crave?  To be restored?  To find hope again?  To see light breaking up the darkness?

That’s what Christmas is!

On Christmas Eve, no matter where I am or if I’m with family or not, I will find my way to a Christmas Eve candlelight service where we end by singing Silent Night, as everyone holds a candle and we pass the flame one to another, turning out the overhead lights, until the whole room is filled with the glow of candle flames and we’re all singing together that 3rd verse,

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth”

And I can hardly get the words to escape my throat because it’s full of tears… some at the nostalgia of it all, sure.  But most of it at the idea that Jesus’ entrance into our world was love’s pure light dawning…and the beginning of the end for death and hopelessness.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I talk about how during the Advent season (that’s a churchy word for Christmastime), I find myself feeling “spiritually soft.”  A good friend recently asked if I could write something about that, since it doesn’t feel that way for him.  So – that’s what this post is.  I hope some of my Christmas spirit (which is really a gift from God) will spill over to you this season.

A King becomes a peasant.  Light spills into a dark world. 

Hope wins out over desperation.

Justice and love defeat brokenness and death.
This is what the Christmas season is for me.

(also sausage mushroom casserole and matching pajamas…)

The idea that the Creator and King of the universe would condescend to become one of us, to suffer alongside us, to face the same disappointments, rejections, loss, trauma, and deep woundedness of the soul, in order to rescue us out of the filth of this world, is just so moving to me, that when I really consider it, I can’t help but be moved.  If you add to that the evocative nature of music, twinkly lights, family gatherings, and all the other elements of the Christmas season that warm our hearts, you get a perfect recipe for a certain spiritual and emotional soft-ness or availability that I don’t necessarily experience in this same way the rest of the year.

And it’s not just about a smooshy feeling.  It’s about rescue and restoration.  It’s about the promise that comes with Christ stepping down from his throne and into our messy world, to ultimately pull us out of the muck and bring us home with him.

It’s about love.
When it comes to God, it’s always about love.

I know the holidays are hard for so many.  People close to me struggle with depression and loneliness or even just the bitter disappointment of the season itself not living up to the hype it promises.  And I get that.  Nothing on this side of heaven is going to fully satisfy us and when you add to that the pressure of having a perfect Christmas, it can be even worse.  But I think the ache in our souls also points to something else… a larger truth.

See, Christians believe that we were built as part of a larger story – that our deepest longing is to know and be known by our creator, and our 2nd deepest need is to know and be known by another person (relationships).   The problem is – when we don’t have the first, we put SO much stock in the 2nd…that it never satisfies.  And then we’re in this unending loop of expectation and disappointment.

We believe that there was a time when God and man were ‘good,’ but humanity chose to believe the lie that we didn’t need God…that we could be our own gods, and we rejected our creator and the one who loved us purely.  So that space where God and man were in harmony – went to hell.   And from that time, until now, we’ve been in an “I’ll be Home for Christmas” kinda space.  We’ve been homesick.

The Christian says, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”  [C.S.- Mere Christianity]

Advent is the season where we think about longing – that longing in each of us for things to be better… to go back to how they were before we rebelled against God… to stop being crappy…to be complete… to go home.   And we know because of what Jesus did… that eventually we will!

For Christians, this is a season of “painful pleasure” – that “can’t wait” feeling.  And I have learned to love it. 

For example, when I know I’m going to see my sister… the anticipation carries a certain ache with it… but it’s a ‘good’ kind of painful, if you know what I mean. Because I know how it’s going to end.  I’m going to see her, and it’ll be awesome!

People for thousands of years were waiting for a rescuer that was promised to them – the Messiah (we now know that was Jesus).  They didn’t know exactly what that would look like – maybe they thought he would be a warrior king who would kick Rome’s butt with his mighty army.  But, they knew he would do something to make things better…to take what was broken and make them whole again.  And we believe he did!

And while we wait for everything to be made better, there ARE some splashovers from heaven – some appetizers, if you will, that point us to a more eternal perspective – one that doesn’t bring disappointment, but promise.

 And for me, those seem to happen even moreso in this season where we celebrate not only ‘baby Jesus,” but really, the incarnation.

The incar…what?

Incarnation – becoming embodied – being in the flesh.

God becoming human.  It’s a dizzying concept.  But when you dwell on it, it’s spectacularly humbling.

Why would he do that?  Being human kinda sucks!?

But God loves us so much, that he not only became human and endured this crappy world, but he died. For us.  He was tortured and killed.  For us.  Like every great hero story  – he stepped into the belly of the beast and sacrificed himself to death.  Because that’s how you defeat death – you die, and then you rise again to new life.  Which was exactly God’s plan all along. 

“Christ, who, being in very natureGod, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very natureof a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – Philippians 2:6-11

In the same way that the child version of me had to wait on Christmas morning for my dad to get up and turn on the lights in the room with our presents, and it felt like an eternity, so the people who believed God was going to send someone to help us…were waiting.  But then…

“A thrill of hope – the weary world rejoices”

“The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.” – (My favorite verse in the Bible), Isaiah 9:2

Because of our own selfishness, we were under a curse (I know – that’s a world we only us in modernity to talk about witches and wizards, but go with me… it also just means the lasting consequences of essentially giving God the middle finger, and choosing to believe the lie that we can be our own gods…that we don’t need him or love him).

Where there was once flourishing and harmony and peace, because of our rebellion to God (which continues today), we brought on ourselves brokenness, division, and separation from the author of life.

You could say it like this:

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.” (O Holy Night)

But God loves us too much to leave us futilely banging our heads against the wall, unable to save ourselves.  He put himself right in the mess, to fix it…and us.

“No more let sins and sorry grow, nor thorns infest the ground.  He comes to make His blessings flow – far as the curse is found.” (Joy to the World)

I could go on!  But I suggest you start really listening to the lyrics of the great Christmas hymns this season, and let them wash over you with the truth of God’s desire to love us.  Try not to cry as you realize that they’re describing the human condition before and after Christ came into our world.  C.S. Lewis puts it like this:  “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.” – Mere Christianity

God came down to make a way for us to be restored to him, and to each other, and to have life and freedom and joy and peace.  Where there was anxiety and purposelessness and fear, there is now rest and meaning and hope.

When you think about it that way, does it not make your heart feel a little softer?  A little more thankful?

Last song lyrics, I promise.  But there’s a beautiful story of Mary, when she was pregnant with Jesus…and starting to really understand that she was carrying the Savior of the world, where she erupted into poetry and sang these words:

 “My soul glorifies the Lord
     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
 He has filled the hungry with good things

I LOVE this part of the story, for a couple reasons.  One is that Mary is actually quoting words from earlier in the Bible that she would have been taught – prophecy about a coming rescuer.  And the other is that she couldn’t help but explode with emotion and anticipation for the one who was coming to make things right again.  That’s how I feel when I think about the time of year when we celebrate Jesus coming to earth.  Me and Mary …we’re basically the same is what I’m saying. 😉

For those of you who believe, I encourage you to spend some time really thinking about how radical and amazing it is that God came to us the way He did, and why He did.  For love.  You are so loved.

And for those of you on the fence about Christianity, I’d ask you to consider Christ again – maybe in a more honest light than you’ve let yourself before.   He wants for you to know him.  You are so loved.

Let every heart prepare him room.  Jesus wants to come in.

Does God Even CARE?

wildernessI’ve been thinking a lot lately about how it is we can believe in God and trust that he actually cares about us, in the midst of pain or seeming “silence.”

There’s a lot to be said about the problem of evil in the world, but this isn’t so much about disputing God’s existence based on human suffering.  This isn’t a philosophical problem.  It’s more about questioning his care for us… his affection… when we suffer.  It’s really a resurrection problem.
What??  Stay with me.

When we are in the midst of a confusing or painful season, we wonder to ourselves – Where is God?  Does this bother him?  Why isn’t he stepping in to fix this?  Will praying about our circumstances do anything?  And if not, then why pray?

I read an article that talked about our perception of God being “silent” – that it’s merely that – a perception, not reality.  And that in those moments, we must put our trust in the promises we know, not in what we see right in front of us.

But I think it’s not so simple.  Yes, by all means, we should trust the words of Scripture that promise God will never leave us or forsake us, or that we are loved beyond all measure and comprehension.
And, often we need to believe in what we can’t see right in front of us.  “We live by faith, not by sight.”  2 Corinthians 5:7

But the problem is – the biggest evidence of God’s love and care for us is right in front of our noses, and in our minds it doesn’t count.  God’s love has never been more apparent than in the rescue mission he planned from the beginning of time – the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  And if we’re honest, we don’t really think we need saving…so then the death and resurrection of Christ…just doesn’t really matter.  And it certainly doesn’t provide much comfort.  Why would it?

Let’s take it back a few thousand years to those grumbling Israelites in the wilderness.  We give them a lot of grief for complaining about manna and building idols, but they had the same problem we do… they’d forgotten what a sorry state they’d been in just months beforehand when God miraculously rescued them from their slavery in Egypt.  Exodus and the books to follow are constantly harkening back to the rescue from Egypt in an attempt to remind the Israelites not only how bad things used to be, but that God cared about them so much, he literally moved heaven and earth (parted an ocean, sent a bunch of plagues on their captors, led them with fire…talk about a dramatic escape) to save them.  They were enslaved.  They were dying.  They were without hope.  But God.

God loved them too much to leave them in their mess.  He rescued them.  And a few weeks later, they were already forgetting how significant that was.

And we do the same thing.

We can’t be comforted by the finished work of the cross – by Christ defeating death and rescuing us to live with him forever – if we can’t even remember or acknowledge our need to be rescued.  So then, when we feel pain or loneliness and we wonder where God is, the very best ‘proof’ that he cares about us, doesn’t ‘work.’

But…for the sake of experiment… just TRY it.  Try for a moment to imagine a world in which God cared about you so much, that he went through the most gut-wrenching broken heart anyone has ever experienced.  That his body was ripped apart, he was treated with merciless cruelty, mocked, teased, broken, beaten, dismissed, and rejected.

All to rescue you.

All to save you.

Because you actually do have a problem.  You need a savior.  I do too.  We’re enslaved…not by Egyptians, but by our selfishness and pride and greed and disordered desires and beliefs that we’re just as important as God or that we don’t need him.  Ephesians 2 says that we were dead.  Unable to do anything to save ourselves.  Dead people can’t grab the paddles, yell “clear,” and restart their own hearts.  Someone has to step in on their behalf.  And God not only did just that, but he planned it since before you were even born.  He loves you enough to step into our crappy world, live among us, suffer and die with the weight of every evil  – every hell – crushing him.

So, if we imagine such a world, does that change things?  When we endure loss, when we’re depressed, when we lose a job, when we go through a breakup… could it be that we can turn our eyes back to the love poured out on us at the cross as a reminder that God cares the MOST?

I’m not saying it makes pain go away.  Sadly, that’s the nature of a broken world filled with a bunch of free agents who choose to rebel against God all the time.  This life is full of suffering.  But we do have a rescuing God.   If we choose to believe in our need…then that rescue means everything.

Last thing.  If you’re reading this and you’re my friend, then know that you are loved.  By me.  By God.  If you can’t sense his love right now, lean on mine and take my word for it that it comes from a deep well of supernatural making.  Maybe God has me in a season where I can ‘see’ God’s goodness and care, so that I can have an extra dose of trusting him, to share with you for a while until you see it again too.  I’m praying for you.  I trust that God loves you, and has never left you.  Let’s walk along together in the gift of community God has given us, as you come home to him.

Love Kills

Warning – the following blog post is wrought with reverse sexism.  It’s a joke, people.  Please don’t comment about how I’m setting women’s rights back. 

 

Recently, I’ve had a bit of a bug problem.  Gross, huh?  Well – it’s all fixed now, but when I was texting my landlord about it, I was joking with her that she could either call an exterminator or, …find me a man.  A man who will kill bugs for me.

* Swoon *

Well, I’m still waiting on the man (thanks a LOT, Glenda… geez…what do I even pay you rent for?), but we did get to talking about how many dates you’d have to go on to be able to ask for such favors.  I propose that a girl should be able to ask for such things on date 1… as part of the sizing-up process.  You see… there’s lots of different methods for disposing of 6 and 8-legged creatures (yes, yes, I know spiders aren’t technically insects… You can spare me the science lesson on thoraxes and such… but if they’re an abomination (which spiders CLEARLY are), they count toward my thesis…and they need to die), and the way a man kills them tells you tons about him.

Bug Killing Personalities:Bug killer

1.  The “Squash and Scram” –
This is the guy who rides in on his noble steed, who bravely vanquishes the befouled beast, and then leaves you to …clean up the guts?

Guh….ross.
Where is the chilvalry?  Where is the sacrifice?  The guts clean-up is the worst part.  Nay – it is the essential part.  It’s that “fashion a giant mitt of paper towels to mop up all manner of pest entrails and juice, whilst fighting back the bile creeping up your throat” moment that begs for a big strong man who will smash it, and conceal all evidence.
That’s the stuff of fairy tales.

2.  The “ ‘If you Love it, Set it Free’ Bug Hippy” –

We all know these people.
They take that whole “why he wouldn’t even hurt a fly” thing WAY too seriously.
They’re the ones tenderly corralling the 4-foot cockroach into your good Tupperware (which now has to be burned), only then to liberate it from it’s human home-shaped prison, back into the wild where mother nature intended.

Nuh-uh.

The only catch-and-release program happening in my home, is the one for the guy who won’t actually kill the bug.  ‘Cause I know what happens….. that bug, once emancipated, goes and tells all its horrid little friends about the mean lady who was scowling and rolling her eyes while the knight in shining armor rescued it from its certain death…. And then they conspire to come and get me in the night.

Yup…I’m fairly certain I have my finger on the pulse of the bug community and this is exactly how it goes down.  Town meetings, assembling a quorum, grabbing their tiny pitchforks and storming the castle of my bedroom to call down their reign of terror.  So – if you’re going to set it free… you might as well just keep walking.  Your alleged mercy is my impending doom.

 

Bug Killer 3

3.  The “Girly-Girl Trapped in a Man’s Body”

(if it wasn’t already anti-feminist before…buckle up)

Look – I want a man who kills a bug like it’s built into his DNA.  …Like it’s no big deal or better yet, like he enjoys protecting me from the multi-legged menaces.  I don’t want someone to cower or whimper or scream like a girl while performing bug murder.  (I’m not making it up – I’ve had two significant men in my life who would literally scream while taking care of an unwanted critter).

75% of the bug killing’s purpose is to actually exterminate the invaders.
The other 25% is to display his bravery, so I’ll practically faint with adoration.

I’m being silly, but there’s something to this… I’ve watched as friends of mine handily kill and dispose of a bug and I find my insides getting all squishy with desire.  Recently a friend killed a spider outside my house and I think I may have audibly moaned.  Yup.  That happened.

So, if he winces and eeks in fear, I’m still glad for the insect death, but I’m not going to pounce on him for a smooch either.

 

4.  The “Half-Hearted Warrior”

This is the guy who doesn’t really get what the big deal is.
You’ll find out who these men are when faced with the bugs who get away…
you know – one of those “I just saw him, but I don’t know where he went” moments. bug killer 2

Guys – we want a man who will go on the hunt – for LOVE!  I mean… er… for the bug.  If you say, “well, I don’t see it now…” and sit down on the couch expecting my affection to resume at the same level where we left off… you are sadly mistaken.

See, the importance of my happiness to you is directly correlated to how long and how hard you’ll search to end the little devil’s life.  Will you move a couch?  Will you look under a bed?  Will you lie in wait for the creature to think he’s bested you and leave his hiding place, only to suffer your wrath?  Now THAT’s romance.

 

I could go on, but I think we get the idea.

There are a few things you have to experience with a significant other – to truly know whether it’s a good fit.  Dance with ‘em, play Monopoly, have them meet your parents, and maybe most importantly …see if/how they’ll kill bugs for you.

Look…this life is hard.  If I can find some small measure of solace in the strong arms of a bug killing man… is that too much to ask?

Kill bugs.  Kill ‘em good.  Clean ‘em up, and come back to claim your reward.  Rrrrrr….

A Study in Santa – Pt. III …Do You Believe?

Do you believe in Santa Claus?
I mean…duh… obviously, you know that he isn’t real.  But still…….do you believe in the magic and wonder that sits just beneath the fantasy?

Let me explain…
(and yes…I’m reusing a post from last Christmas, because I still stand behind what I said then!)

 

What do we do with Santa Claus?   Jolly ‘ol Saint Nick.

Some people don’t believe we should propagate the false story with kids, some people are neutral, some people go full-tilt fantasy as long as their kids keep believing and then some (*raises hand*).

I’d like to make a case for Santa.  After all, he’s WAY too busy today to speak on his own behalf.

This year, my little girl is right on the cusp of belief and disbelief.  It’s definitely the last Christmas I can pull off the fantasy.   So, I enlisted the help of my dad (an excellent storyteller) to tell the kids about the origins and evolution of Santa Claus – the REAL Santa Claus – to drive home all those smooshy feelings that keep you choosing to believe in something, even when the evidence is beginning to outweigh the power of imagination.

santa 4Turns out the REAL story of St. Nick is the story of love, kindness, and helping those in need.  Isn’t that a story we can ALL get behind?

santa 1The original Saint Nicholas, who was later made Bishop and mimicked by countless other secret night-time gift-givers, was so convicted about giving to the needy and providing money, food, and toys to children who had nothing, that it caught on.  Talk about a trend worth following!

Whether you’re spiritual/religious or not, the idea of showing basic human kindness to others is something everyone can agree on.

So, the question isn’t really whether you ‘agree’ with Santa, it’s – are you on board with our modern-day take on him?

santa 8And, yes, I admit, the idea has morphed into a more materialistic chase that frustrates even the unbreakable Christmas spirit in me, at times.  But, we don’t have to let it BE that.  Instead of surrendering to the greediness that can be bred by the Santa story, we can use the idea of Father Christmas to do two things:

1.  Enjoy the gift of creativity and imagination.  There is such beautiful artistry in a great story.  Think of the delicious elements of a timeless fairy tale…   The way we weave the best aspects of the known world we can think of – pleasure, love, good winning over evil, bravery, sacrifice, etc., along with the supernatural or impossibly wonderful – (i.e. magic) – into a narrative that fills us with wonder… is there anything better?santa 5

 

You do this on a small scale – all the time.  Even bah-humbug grown-ups make up miniature fantasies anytime we WISH traffic would just part and make way for us to scurry home, or we close our eyes for a milisecond in hopes that that guy will call us back after a date, or we hope, beyond all reason that it’ll be sunny even when the weather channel says there’s a 100% chance of rain on a special day.  We WANT there to be MAGIC.  It’s in our nature to yearn for fantasy.  It’s why stories and movies like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are so popular!

Passing this on to our children is a gift.  The gift of creativity and the gift of WONDER.  Teaching them that there is a possibility ….that there exists the tiniest crack in reality that …COULD be magical.
That COULD be other-worldly…
it not only stirs their imagination, but it breeds hope.

2.  Appreciate the thrill of anonymous giving.  The anonymity that exists in the legend – that is, the fact that you don’t get CREDIT for the gift – gives it a another layer of honest goodness and sweet satisfaction.  Any selfish desire to get that kickback feeling that comes when someone recognizes you… is gone.  So, it removes any self-centerdness to reveal a pure underlying love of giving and generosity.

Have you ever given a gift where the person never knew it was from you?  Wasn’t it divine?  This is another certain privilege of participating in the Santa story.

santa 9

This is a season where that crack of possibility, that there might be such as thing as magic, opens just a little wider;
Our capacity to dream becomes a little larger;
Our willingness to open ourselves up to whimsy and wonder and even the foolishness that a fairy tale brings, becomes greater.
And our reluctance to suspend disbelief starts to chip away.

 

And maybe for just a moment – BELIEF in something magical becomes a reality.  Even if it happens for a fleeting moment…just a flash of “what if?” …isn’t it wonderful?

santa 7So – I don’t know about you, but as long as there are Christmases, I’m going to choose to engage in the mysterious wonder of Santa Claus.

Merry Christmas to ALL of you, and to all – a good night!

A Study in Santa – Pt. II …Naughty or Nice?

I’m co-opting a blog from another site for this post.  But never fear…the author is just as amazing as I am…  😉

And yes, you’ll note some similar themes as the previous post, but it’s coming from a different angle.
If you want to read it on the original website, click here.


In recent Christmas discussions, my children have been pondering (and possibly worrying) about whether they’ve made the cut. Whether they’ve been “naughty or nice,” as it relates to Santa coming, this is. Now, while my daughter still believes in Jolly ‘ol St. Nick, my son, Timothy, only participates in these conversations to keep the fantasy alive for her, which is pretty sweet, actually.

As we talked, the question at hand was something like this: No kid can ever be good ALL the time, …that would be impossible… So, …what “counts” as far as Santa is concerned? How good does one have to be to avoid the lump of coal? And how much naughtiness is assumed in the normal kid behavior bell curve? Is it just during the Christmas season? What about when you do extra nice things…do those “buy” you a later screw-up? Are there levels of goodness? Like – sorta good gets you a scooter, but REALLY good gets you an iPad? Basically…we were trying to define “naughty and nice.”funny santa

At first, I gave them an answer along these lines: “Well, I think it’s more about your heart. Do you try to be obedient? Do you apologize when you make mistakes?” I was trying to get at the idea that Santa looks for children who are generally good, knowing full well that no one is perfect. And apparently, we decided that if you’re better than Hudson (a kid at Timothy’s school who’s notorious for getting into trouble), then you’re probably ok. But still… fingers crossed on Christmas Eve… and let’s hope the letter we send to the North Pole is cute enough to push us over the edge into the “nice” camp, if Santa was on the fence.

But, as the conversation was humming along in the back seat of the car, in my mind, all I could think of was, “of course ‘Santa’ is coming! Because… I’m Santa (really hoping I didn’t just spoil the surprise for any of you…), and I WANT to bring them gifts! I mean – I REALLY want to. I can’t WAIT to give them gifts.

Santa gives gifts on the condition that they’re good…
Mommy gives gifts out of pure love.

My children receiving gifts depends much less on them and so much more …on me…on my desire to bless them. And, sure, I much prefer when they’re well-behaved, but Timothy’s right – no one can be good all the time. And if true goodness is what we’re aiming for,…everyone will fail. In truth, we ALL deserve a lump of coal.

Thank goodness God works more like the real Santa (parents), and less like the song. He doesn’t give us good gifts because we’re good (despite what some folksy theology may teach), but because HE – the giver of all good gifts – is pleased to give them to us. It makes HIM happy. And if you’ve ever given a child a really amazing gift on Christmas morning, you know the feeling!

In the end, that creepy Christmas ditty we sing to children this time of year… you know the one – the stalker tune about how Santa knows when we’re sleeping and when we’re awake, …how “he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake” – isn’t at all the spirit of Christmas OR the truth of life. If you do things that way, you’re not even behaving for “goodness’ sake,” you’re behaving to hopefully earn good gifts. But, moreso – the real gift giver wants to give the gifts, regardless of our behavior.

Santa gives gifts on the condition that we’re good…
God gives gifts – including the gift of His Son – out of pure love.

So, perhaps in this season of presents and stockings and holiday gift-lists, we should spend less time trying to achieve the bare minimum “goodness” to be in Santa’s good graces, and more time being thankful for Emmanuel – God with us – the giver of grace.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” – James 1:17

Ask Sarah – When to NOT have sex?

Dear Sarah,

I’m convinced that God intended physical intimacy as a gift that should be reserved for marriage. However, I get the impression that this is not the normal practice on the dating scene, especially when you’re a grown adult, even within Christian communities. This is a really important faith practice to me, so much so that I want to find someone who shares the same perspective. That brings me to two related questions: 1) How unusual do you think this belief is within the 30’s+ dating scene? 2) How do you advise someone who holds this belief to communicate it both (a) early enough to be forthright and (b) not so early that you’re a creepster?

 

Dear Sex-Saver,

What a great question – and you’ve definitely come to the right place.
I am an expert in how to NOT have sex.  In fact – a whole lotta of my single life has been comprised of just that.

Oh…that’s not what you meant?

Whoopsie…

Well, regardless of where your ‘line’ is for sex, most people have SOME standard they try to follow…and when should such a thing come up?  How do you talk about it with a potential relationship partner?  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first question you asked was how common your perspective is.  I can only answer from my own experience, but I’d say it’s (sadly) EXTREMELY RARE.  I can count on one hand the number of people I know or have ever met in this season of dating,  who hold to the ‘wait until marriage’ sexual standard.

Now, that certainly doesn’t comment on the rightness or wrongness of anything.  It’s just to say – VERY few people I’ve interacted with fall into this camp.  So, yes, that makes it really difficult to hold to your beliefs…when almost no one else is – even in the Christian community.
Le sigh…

One side note of encouragement on this front:  it works to your advantage that you’re a man.  Men who want to wait until marriage, (in my opinion) have an easier go than women who do.  Women who want to abstain have to find a man who wants to wait (and we all know that, statistically, men – on the whole – have a greater or more seemingly ‘urgent’ sex drive than women.  Oh…chill people.  I know it’s not true across the board.  I also know that sex drives are expressed differently between the sexes… but c’mon… typically men want sex sooner and more aggressively than women do.)  Anyway – if that’s true, it’s going to be a lot easier for YOU to convince a woman to wait, than for me to convince a man.  Women are touched/impressed with men’s resolve in this arena.  Men are typically just turned off.  I’m just sayin’…

I would say this… like SO many other sticky-wickets of dating… people are a whole lot more likely to get on board with something they might not otherwise agree with or choose…if they find themselves smitten by you.  I’m not saying to TRICK people, but I AM saying…let them see how great you are before dropping the “fat chance of gettin’ lucky tonight, babe!” card on ’em.

On my online profile, I have it listed like this:

waiting for sex 6

 

Why that one?  Because it’s the truth – but it’s not enough to scare someone away.  I’d much rather wait until after having met a guy and started getting to know each other – to drop the “I’m kinda a prude” hammer on him.  It’s my HOPE that by that time, he’ll be so insanely smitten with me that he’ll be willing to wait longer than he had originally planned.

Another thing I did – just to put this on the radar of anyone interested… was to put this in my profile:

waiting for sex 1

And it’s not just religious folk who think it’s a good idea to wait.  Even Steve Harvey tells women not to “give up the cookie” for 90 days.  That’s a long time in the modern dating world!  Why 90 days?  Because Christians or not, smart people know that when you hold off on sex… there are loads of relational advantages, not the least of which is seeing if the person is even willing to stick around to get to know and love YOU!

And there are lots of other ways to let someone know you’re sexually conservative without spilling the “on the wedding night” beans so early it scares ’em.  I’ll sometimes use the opportunity of flirty texting to throw it out there.  If a guy makes a joking reference to sex (which…hello….give any of them enough time, and they all will), I’ll sometimes text back, “haha – rewrrrr!  But I should tell you… as much as I love the entendre jokes and flirty banter, I’m actually a good girl.”  I’ve never had a guy respond negatively to that.  Probably because if I’m texting him, he’s likely a decent fellow – and they tend to actually WANT to date someone with a bit of moral fiber in her character.

Also, if you use OKCupid (which is the one I recommend to people), you get to answer tons of questions about all kinds of topics.  Then, when you have a potential match, not only can you peruse his/her profile, but you can see how your answers line up with theirs – AND you can search by category!  What?!

waiting for sex 5

It also lets you leave comments on the questions to clarify your stance.  Here’s an example of one I wrote – to let people know I’m not a goodie goodie for lack of desire…but because I think there’s something there worth waiting for.

waiting for sex 3

So, I guess what I’m saying is this:

Don’t focus on the fact that the majority of the dating/single world doesn’t hold to your standard.  Focus on getting to know someone who seems otherwise great – let her see how great YOU are, and she might just be willing to wait for cookies…

In the meantime, you can put some hints out there – (see above examples) – but I wouldn’t explicitly bring it up until at LEAST date 3.  And trust me… a guy who will wait to talk/joke/intimate about sex… is a pretty dreamy anomaly in today’s dating world.  Women (the good ones, at least), will find it refreshing.  Let her know you’re interested and you desire her, without chomping at the bit.  That’s the sexiest thing in the world.

Sometimes The Glass IS Half-Empty…

I was inspired to write this supremely depressing 2-part post (can’t wait to read it now, can ya?) by a middle-of-the-night phone call I got the other night.  Here’s how it went down:

Phone vibrates.  It’s 1:48 a.m.  You know who calls at 1:38 a.m.?  People whose limbs are falling off or people who want to cut off your limbs.  Oh, and occasionally – drunk men, in the mood for ….well, yeah.

I look and it says, “Unknown Caller.”  I answer in my groggy, but firmly “I’m certainly not all alone in my home, just waiting to be killed” voice, “Hello?”
-silence-
Hello??”
-hang up-

Now, ordinarily, that would just be a minor inconvenience, but for some reason, it awoke me in just such a state that getting a hang-up call from a blocked number scared the sense right out of me.  I was now in full-panic mode – the kind where you just KNOW that if you shift in the bed too noisily, a terrible man is going to come upstairs and remove all the skin from your body like peeling a grape, or something (I MAY have watched a few too many episodes of Criminal Minds.  I’m never worried about dying, mind you…I’m always more concerned about the bag of tools in tow, and the bizarre form of torture I’ll inevitably endure.)
So, while I’m trying to talk myself out of being irrationally afraid…a good 5 minutes later, I get this text:

Glass Half Empty 1Ok – At least now I was on the path to believing there wasn’t a serial rapist downstairs ….and yet… I needed more details.

And so, the following middle-of-the-night conversation ensued.  (So, to all the Words-With-Friends opponents who asked why I was playing at that crazy hour…now you know… to distract myself from thoughts of medieval torment machines being assembled in my living room).

glass half empty 2Yes.  That would be inadvisable…ESPECIALLY considering that that was my “I’m not alone!” voice… not my sexy voice.
*rethinks ‘not alone voice’*

So, I was finally able to calm myself down and drift back off into sleepy land, when what should happen…?
He called!
AGAIN!
what??  Oy…

Let’s just review… this is a guy who I had ONE conversation with (by phone… in daylight hours), who said he would follow up with me and take me out for lunch.  Then I didn’t hear from him for weeks, until he messaged me….  Well, actually, let me just SHOW you.

Here’s our first encounter – on the IM feature on OKCupid – many months ago…

first convo

Seems cool, right?  He tracked with me on theological stuff, joked about smooching, …there was some banter there.  Decent stuff, no?

He called the next day (as in…while the sun was still shining and I wasn’t asleep…) and we had a pleasant-ish conversation.  He came off sorta pretentious…but not enough to not see how lunch went.  He said he’d call or text about lunch…then nothing.

For several weeks.

Then, this conversation:

post convo convo

And then……. you guessed it…. nada.

No contact again.

I figured between the flakey plan-making (a particularly unseemly quality in my book), AND the snobby tone he’d adopted on the phone call…that I had zero interest.

So…when he disrupted my beauty sleep – on a school night, no less, and called a SECOND time…
– I was particularly miffed:
glass half empty 3

You were bored, were you?  BORED?  Well, color me smitten.  A man who would rudely awake me and then ‘woo’ me with words like, “just bored” is the kind of guy who inspires some disillusionment.

I mean – I expect this stuff from the low-life guys I quickly swipe past on online sites, but… “et TU, professor of philosophy?”  If an educated, witty guy can succumb to late night fishing expeditions, then who the heck is LEFT?  So, while I promise to return to my normal cheerful, holding-onto-hope in this world of dating tone soon…  for now, I’m going to just shake my head in dismay.
Join me, will you?

A 2:00 a.m. booty call from a guy who seemed so great…is the kind of thing that has so many single people convinced that there’s nothing of quality left out there.

So, before I rally and give you my speech about how there ARE still great guys out there and that you should hold onto your hope and your standards, I thought I’d languish in the pit just a BIT longer… Come back another day for a better-rested, more hopeful blogger.

Lovers Gon’ Love

MjAxMy1mYTc1NjkzZDJhZDU1NzBk_511718d534a78Why do so many people hate Valentine’s Day?

Right, right, I can hear many of you reciting that over-used line, “It’s just a ‘Hallmark holiday’.”

And…?

Is Hallmark inherently evil?
Don’t thousands of companies latch onto holidays to boost sales?  We’re capitalists!
We don’t hate Presidents Day because linens are discounted, do we?
Does Egyptian Cotton trump flowers and candy?

Perhaps you’d say, “It’s an invented holiday.”
OOooooooh, ok… not like those organic ones we’ve found while out farming the land.  Right…

Maybe you’d respond with, “Why should someone else tell me when to show the person I love that I love him/her.  I SHOULD be showing them all year ‘round!
Great!  Yes!
You should!
Go do that!  Valentine’s Day isn’t keeping anyone from showering their loved ones with affection on the other 364 days of the year.

Are you afraid you’re going to think up a romantic gesture for your sweetheart and right when you’re about to leave her that note or give her that gift, you’ll get a firm knock on the door from the Valentine’s Day Police?  “Sir, …sir, are you aware that it’s April 12th?  What were you THINKING?  Loving your significant other is strickly forbidden.  Any thoughts, words, or actions of amorous expression must wait until next February 14th.  V-day LAW.”

hate-valentines-day-unless-bounty-hunter-ecard-someecards

Truth be told, Valentine’s Day isn’t making anyone do anything.  It just is.

If there were such a thing as “Hug Day,” would you fold your arms and refuse free hugs?  What about “Compliment Day?”  or “Get $100 Day?”  These are all good things… things that should not make people bitter, but excited!

The beautifully sweet thing about this holiday is this:
It’s one day a year, set aside, to celebrate love.

That’s it.
Love.

LOVE, people!!

The most important thing in this life… ought to have a day…right?

I mean… even people who aren’t at all religious, let baby Jesus have a day.  (That’s Christmas, y’all)
And hardly anyone turns away green beer on St. Patrick’s Day.
No one complains that the 4th of July FORCES them to play with fireworks and eat BBQ.

Why does Valentine’s Day get such a bad rap?

I think the answer is this:  people resent the fact that they don’t have the love they most want.
Valentine’s Day shines a light on the places where we feel lonely or hurt.  Stick with me for a moment.

– Married people who are unhappy in their marriages – hate the idea of a spotlight on love… because they are feeling that awful cringing pain of not feeling loved.

solo– Single people who crave a relationship, but don’t have one – hate the world turning their red and pink attention on those who HAVE found their lobster (which are, appropriately red…).

– Boyfriends and girlfriends in undefined, ambiguous relationships, don’t enjoy the holiday that breathes down your neck and whispers, “you know… you really ought to think about what you want, and what this is.  …I’m just sayin’…”

Anyone who is at all unfulfilled in any relational way – feels the heat of a day whose focus is the very thing you want, but don’t fully have.

And I get that… if there was a day that celebrated designer clothes or cool cars or fancy big houses, …I might feel left out.  Like, “hey – I want those things too… but, alas… not this year.”

The DIFFERENCE is that  Valentine’s Day is about ALL love… not just the Rom-Com, smoochy, McDreamy, end-of-the-movie-swoon-worthy-speech, PDA, fluttery tummy, grand gesture, sweeping soundtrack, surprised by flowers and poems kind of love.  Valentine’s Day is about so much more.

Those things are all fine…but they are one sliver of the story.

I propose… you look a little further.

Celebrating love doesn’t have to be a romantic love.

cheesy v-dayI know, I know…this sounds trite…you’ve heard it before, …but all those super classy corner tables/tents full of roses and cheap teddy bears don’t exactly scream equal opportunity love…they ONLY make us think of 2 groups:
1. gooey-eyed lovebirds – new to the sweetheart scene, and untarnished by the world.  Or,
2. guilt-driven men in panic-mode, on their way home from work

But, I’d encourage you to look beyond the consumeristic piece of this holiday and contemplate the heart of it.  Aha!  The HEART!  😉

You really can take a step back and look at your life…and appreciate the love of your parents, you can ponder the love you have for your children.  You can take an honest look at the friends, co-workers, roommates, neighbors, etc. in your life…and have a moment of happiness when you realize they are all gifts.  And maybe, …maybe you’ll even be inspired to tell them so!?

And if you look around at your life, and you truly have NO one to love… then (and I’m not pandering… I mean this), reach out.  Maybe that means seeking out friendship, maybe that means reconciling with someone who’s caused you pain or who was the recipient of your anger/distancing/etc.  Maybe it means visiting a church to find a new community.  Heck, come visit MY church!

I know you all probably get sick of me going on and on about how I still have hope for finding love… and I do.  But today is about appreciating and celebrating the love you ALREADY have.  I’m blessed to have so much love in my life – amazing friends (I mean, AMAZING), awesome family (who I can call ANYTIME when I need a ‘shoulder to cry on’), and the two most beautiful, creative, sweet children a person could hope for.  So, on a day made to honor love… I am full to the brim.  🙂

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you!

Val-Day 2014 print

 

Yuletide Misrepresentation

Friends/Readers,

I know it’s been a while since I posted something… our family has been battling Ebola.  Well, ok – maybe it’s just a winter cold, but it feels much more dramatic.

So – I’ll be back to my regular bloggy self soon, but just a quick thought for today.


 

“Oh, I’m dreaming tonight of a place I love
Even more than I usually do
And although I know it’s a long road back
I promise you…”

Xmas 1I heard this song on the radio last night – one of my favorites –

I’ll be home for Christmas…you can count on me.   
…if only in my dreams.”

Wait, What?
‘If only in your dreams?’  As in…you’re NOT coming?

That’s like saying – “you have my WORD I’ll be there for the most significant family gathering of the year……. PSYCH!!

I totally got you!  Right?? I got you!  Oh, the look on your face… when you thought you’d be with someone you loved…bahahahahaha….. I got you GOOD.”

That’s terrible!  Why make up a whole song dedicated to lying to your poor sweet family?

It occurred to me that this is the Christmas equivalent of guys in the online dating world who misrepresent themselves…in any of various ways – by putting up photos that don’t really look like themselves, saying they believe things that they don’t, claiming they don’t smoke when they do (or drink or whatever…), seeming like charming and thoughtful gentlemen… and then turning around and being the guy who blows smoke in your face while cursing like a sailor and later sending you a text photo of his….
ok, you get the point.

This Christmas song, though squishy and sentimental (and don’t get me wrong – I have no plans of not listening to it and crooning along in the future…) – is a dressed up, tinseled up, ornamented up, holiday-ised version of the dating world’s “gotcha!”

No fair!

So, for whatever it’s worth – if I’ve told you I’m going to do something Christmas-y with you this year – you can count on me.
And not just in my dreams.
In real life.  We may not have snow or mistletoe or presents on the tree,
but Christmas events will find me – where the love light gleams.

I’ll be around for Christmas – in more than just my dreams.
I’m just sayin’

 

The New Digs…

I just wanted to take a minute to address a few of the “first days in our new home” issues.  🙂

Some of you (quite a few) have commented about the difficulty of reading white text on a dark background.  I’ve heard your suggestions and I’m working on it.  So…don’t go anywhere!  The problem will be addressed soon. 

Next, others have had difficulty with resubscribing.  I’m also working on that and once I find a way to make it easy and user-friendly, I’ll let you all know.

If there are other issues I should be aware of, please don’t hesitate to fill out the “Ask Sarah” form and let me know. 

I want this site to be entertaining, fun and easy-to-read for everyone…so stick with me while we iron out the wrinkles. 

-sarah-