The Sessions on Sex: Where’s Your Starting Point?

purity_ringI’ve come to believe that in North American Christianity, saving sex for marriage does not matter anymore.

There are a number of reasons why I’ve come to believe this.

To begin with, I’ve heard it first hand.

I go to a Christian university and I’ve been around the church scene my entire life. So, I know for a fact that the number of people I meet who are saving sex for marriage is a much smaller number than those who just don’t think it’s a big deal, or who think it’s actually important to have sex with their future spouse to test compatibility, or who have made a “mistake” in their past relationships, and will most likely choose to make the same mistake in their future relationships.

Second, I hear less and less being taught about this issue in Christian environments, including churches.

I can’t remember the last time I’ve been in a Christian service, study, or talk of some type and heard someone talk about the importance of waiting until you’re married to have sex. There has been a strong movement to elevate the importance of singleness but I hear little talk about what it means to be single while still being a sexual being.

Thirdly, we’ve moved the standard.

For a long time, a person’s virginity was assumed on the wedding day. Abstinence was encouraged to the point that youth were chaperoned by adults whenever they were in the presence of one another. Young people were challenged to sign a purity card, pledging to save sex for marriage. Boundaries were the focus of many youth group talks. Perhaps we grew tired of these things and have decided to push back, or perhaps in an attempt to be more culturally relevant we’ve placed the subject of these things to the back burner. Somewhere in all of this, the standard has been moved with only the sole proof that it’s getting harder and harder to meet a Christian young adult who is still a virgin, and who thinks it’s even important.

Fourthly, there’s been a family shift. 

It makes sense that if parents haven’t waited, then they are most likely not teaching their kids the importance of waiting. Like it or not, the kinds of values kids are raised with actually does affect who they are as young adults and adults, whether it be negative or positive. If kids are raised to believe that there is great value in saving sex for marriage, if they are raised to have open and honest discussion around this topic, then there is a good chance they will think long and hard about their choices, when it comes to relationships and boundaries.

Here’s the thing, I don’t believe that having sex before marriage is the unforgivable sin, I don’t think it makes you a bad person. The reason I believe that waiting until marriage to engage in a sexual relationship is important is because I think this shift in Christian culture to not wait actually harms our relationships, our definition of love and our ability to persevere through difficult things. 

So for the month of February, I’ve invited several guests to weigh in on this topic and some themes surrounding it, based on their experiences and personal beliefs. I’m looking forward to engaging with this topic a little bit more, and I hope you’ll consider engaging with it as well. I encourage you to think about where your starting point is. Does waiting to be married to engage in sexual intercourse matter? Are Christians settling when they allow themselves to be sexually involved with multiple partners? If you’re engaged to be married, then is sex ok? What are your thoughts?

As always, my desire is to engage with these topics in a healthy way that promotes positive discussion and thought, so let’s keep any comments in this spirit too.

So with that, where’s your starting point? Are you for or against premarital sex? Why or Why not? Have we moved the bar?

Welcome to February – a month for the sessions on sex!

Confession: I Failed Miserably at Life This Semester…

tumblr_lkmt6fBcvp1qhn4sdo1_500_largeI took a blogging hiatus for almost three weeks. I didn’t intend to. It happened because of two weeks of last minute papers, a week of exams and you know, having a total breakdown.

So here’s my confession: this semester has been a total gong show and in very many ways, a total failure on my part. Somewhere along the way I started believing that in order to have a full life without regrets, it means saying yes to everything. It means trying to be everything for everyone. It means attempting to be the fixer of all problems, and the carrier of all burdens. In trying to be fully present and not saying no because of being afraid of missing out on something, and in my attempt to try to do it all, I have failed miserably at life this semester. I took on things so I could have more life and together, all combined, they ended up sucking the life right out of me.

Last week while I was having a very candid conversation with one of my professors about an essay grade that I was not very happy with, he broke me down with a few unexpected words. I was being defensive and trying to cover up my lack of effort when he told me that he knew I hadn’t given the assignment 100%, and he felt like I had been coasting through his class. Those words struck my heart like a bullet; they were like poison to my overachieving soul, but they broke me. Everything that had been building came out. I cried, I confessed far too much, I said I was sorry, I said that I was ashamed, that I’ve never been this person, that it’s not who I am. And in those very raw moments, my professor turned into my pastor and offered me something I so desperately needed: grace.

Prior to that conversation, I never would have admitted that I thought I could do it all. Yet, I think deep down I really did think I could do it all. I thought I could be everything to everyone. And now, after a semester that has left me utterly exhausted, with a tank on empty, I’m finally ready to admit that I can’t do it all. Because trying to do it all robs you of joy and fun and rest. It robs you of having time to really see people, instead of blankly staring at them while you think about everything else you have to do. It robs you of patience, and time and of bring able to breath deeply.

And I’ve found that there are two beings that it robs. First, it robs me. My body gets the shaft because I don’t make time to get the proper rest, I don’t make time to eat right and exercise and do the things that fill me up so that I can pour out. And so what happens is that by doing more, I really have less to give and offer others.

The second being it robs is Jesus. I’d like to say that in my efforts to do it all, I put Jesus first, but I can’t. He gets put on the back burner because after all, it’s all for him. Right? My manager said to me the other day that you can do ministry without God. It’s a simple thought and probably obvious to most, but it hit me when she said it. Have I been doing that? Have I been going so fast that I haven’t left any margin for Jesus to actually fill me? Maybe he doesn’t actually want me to be doing everything I’m doing? Could it be? And furthermore, in robbing Jesus of my time, I’ve also robbed myself of his presence. So I get robbed twice.

I’ve felt like a failure for the past week because I couldn’t do it all. I’ve felt like a disappointment to God because I’m supposed to be his superstar servant and I came up short. And the guilt flows easily in my tired and anxious state. I want to throw in the towel because the bar is too high and I’ve always been able to reach it, until now.

So as I enter into this week of celebration and rest, I cling to the promise that his burden is light and his yoke is easy. I’m clinging to that part where Jesus tells me to cast all of my stuff on him. I’m clinging to that story in the Bible when God gave David rest because that’s what he needed. I’m holding on to that small voice that whispers that despite failing, somehow I’m still enough. I wish it would shout it at me, maybe then it would sink in and take root.

If denial is the first step then I’m hoping confession puts me a little farther down the line. So here’s to the ones who like me thought, or still think they can do it all. May you find grace when you hit burn out and realize your expectations of yourself are not God’s (thank goodness).

And may you trade your burden for his because his yoke is easy.

I’ve Lost Myself…

1z32l4oSomewhere in the last 3 weeks, I’ve lost myself.

I want to be fully present where I am. I want to treasure the person in front of me. I want them to know that they are seen. I don’t want to be distracted.

But somewhere in between the days and the all nighters, I’ve become distracted and worried. I’ve given into anxiety. I’ve given into stressing over my future.

Somewhere in the last 3 weeks I’ve stopped trusting Jesus and started trusting no one, not even myself. And so I’ve traded peace for angst, joy for worry, and hope for fear. I speak against these things and yet I’ve forgotten my own words.

This is what happens when I let go of what I know…

I let myself believe that God wants me to figure my life out all on my own. And because I might make the wrong choice and screw it all up, I have extreme anxiety. It all depends on me. I must make enough money. I must find the right job. I must make decisions that make everyone happy. And in between those demands that I place on myself, I repeat the words “don’t fail”, “don’t fail”, “don’t fail”. If you fail, imagine what others will think, imagine the opportunities you will miss out on, imagine the opportunities that God will take from you. God doesn’t want failures. So don’t be one. Even if you have to run yourself ragged, do not fail.

In my tiredness, I give into these lies.

And in these moments all I feel is failure and all I feel is doubt and hopelessness. I don’t want to do it alone, I don’t want it to depend on me and I want to scream out “don’t let me do it alone”!

I CAN’T DO IT ALONE!!!

Somewhere in the last 3 weeks, I’ve lost myself.

I don’t know how I did it? Is it a lack of sleep, an overload of reading and papers and exams? Is it too much activity, not enough down time, a schedule with no room? Is it saying yes to everything and no to nothing? Is it people taking and not giving?

What causes you to lose yourself? And how do you find yourself again? What decisions must you make?

I’m asking because I want to know. Tell me how you do it. When you get to that point, you know the one I’m talking about, when you get there, how do you get back?

I am an advocate of being real, and honest, and owning who you are and where you’re at. And so I’m actively and intentionally telling you that right now I feel like I’m running on empty. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

So how do you find yourself when you feel like you’ve lost yourself?

Speak it out, write it out, let this be a place where we speak candidly, and yet encourage one another.

I’m inviting it, because I know I’m not the only one.

Leaving My Childhood…

SONY DSCToday is a big day. My family is moving from the place where I grew up. Since they will be 10 minutes down the road from me, you can imagine my excitement. However, I can honestly tell you that this move is somewhat bittersweet. Sure it’s more sweet, but I can’t deny that there is just a little bitter.

Wainfleet is a small country township (not even a town) in the Niagara Region. We moved there just before my 5th birthday in 1992, when my Dad accepted a job as Lead Pastor at a local church. I was too young at the time to know that I would grow to love that place, that it would shape the woman I would become. I didn’t know that in that place I would welcome a new baby brother, that I would say goodbye to my older brother, that I would grow to love Jesus and his church, that our family would be so deeply loved by so many people, and I didn’t know that saying goodbye would feel like this.

Three years ago I left Wainfleet for the big city. But my home and my family was still there, I knew I could visit and I knew that I would return often. I would return to see the changing of the seasons, the corn stalks tall and then cut short, the backroads covered with snow, the sweet smell of summer in the air, and the buds on the trees telling us that spring has come. When my parents decided that it was time to leave Wainfleet, I was very excited because I knew that they would be moving closer to me. I also knew that their time in Wainfleet had come to a close and that God was directing them to a new place. So a few weeks ago I went home for my last visit in our home. My spirit was upset all weekend and I was agitated. I wasn’t sure why my emotions seemed to be all over the place. One evening I sat on the floor in my room and started to pack up the things left on my shelves. I began to read through notes that I had kept from years before, I looked at pictures taken from a time ago, and scenes from my childhood flashed in my mind. My Mom came in and sat with me for a while; she knew something was bothering me. My words turned into sobs and heaves as I sat on the floor packing. I told my Mom that I didn’t know why I was crying, that I was happy they were moving, but that this place had so many memories.

I once heard that grief isn’t just about losing people, it’s about losing. Grieving is a natural response to change, to losing something that once was. As I sat on the floor of my bedroom, I was grieving my childhood and the places and people that I have loved. I was grieving the memories of walks down Perry road, church Christmas pageants, youth retreats, drives by the lake, and trick-or-treating for hours because my Dad knew all the good houses to visit. I was grieving late night drives to Starbucks with my kindred spirit, grieving being able to walk across the road to my Dad’s office just to say hi, grieving the times I stayed home sick so I could go to morning break with my Mom. I was grieving missions pot-luck’s and pioneer girls and vacation Bible school. I was grieving a childhood that was wonderful in every way.

And I was crying because I was realizing just how good it was. I was crying because I can’t go back, because I can’t go back in time when things were different and make it like it used to be. I cried because I am no longer a child. And it might seem obvious that I’m not a child, but what’s not obvious is that there are parts that used to be that I want to hold onto so tightly. But I can’t. I have to let go. I have to grieve all that was so good and all the things that I am so thankful for. I have to remember those people and those places for everything that they were and are, and all of the ways that they have shaped me.

Sometimes we hold so tightly to how things used to be; wishing that we could go back, wishing that things could be just how they were with those people or that relationship, but we can’t go back. We can’t make it like it was because we are not the same people and they are not the same people. We were not created to be static; time changes us. We cannot be fully alive and fully present when we are living in what was, what used to be, what is no more.

So we celebrate what used to be, we remember and we give thanks that it happened. But we can’t stay there because we weren’t meant to. We cannot be static because God is not static, it is not his way. He has new things for us. He wants to move and mould and change us. And we can’t experience all that God has for us if we aren’t willing to embrace the now and the not yet, the things we can’t see.

Today my family is moving from a place that was so good to us. It’s a place where we gained so much and also lost so much. It’s a place that will always hold rich memories for us. We will go back and visit and we will keep in touch with many friends, but we look forward to the new things that God has for us. We give thanks that the story isn’t over, that we get the chance to live it, and so we choose life! We choose to change and grow and grieve and celebrate all that is.

Donald Miller spends a lot of time writing about how to live a good story. His writing has impacted me in many ways because his honesty connects with the deepest parts of my soul. This quote from him sums up everything I desire and hope for today, for this season and for my life:

“I want to keep my soul fertile for the changes, so things keep getting born in me, so things keep dying when it is time for things to die. I want to keep walking away from the person I was a moment ago because a mind was made to figure things out, not to read the same page recurrently. Only the good stories have the characters different at the end than they were at the beginning.”

Today we turn a new page in a story that is evolving and changing and different than anything we could imagine. And it’s ok, because when we decide not to be static, we realize that God is pretty good at helping people to write a good story with their lives.

So let the adventure continue.

More Balloons, Please…

There are some stories that I come across and I mark them in my mind as ‘life stories’. They are stories that I need to read on a regular basis for the good of my soul and spirit. Stories that remind me of truth that I need to choose to remember. This is one of my ‘life stories’, and it’s one that I’ve shared before, and will probably share again.

I hope this story speaks to your heart like it speaks to mine every time I read it.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Nena-300x201

“Several years ago, I conducted a wedding ceremony on a Saturday afternoon in June. The bride wore a white summer dress, the groom a white linen shirt. They insisted on the simplest ceremony possible. It was held in a park in a grove of trees. Their family and friends stood in a circle, with the three of us in the middle. I began with a welcome, they exchanged vows and rings, I pronounced them husband and wife, they kissed, everybody clapped. The ceremony took seven minutes.

They were then each handed a cluster of helium balloons on strings. The balloons, I told everybody, were symbols of their past marriages, pregnancies they had chosen to terminate, people they had had affairs with when they were previously married, relationships that had not lasted. As a picture of starting over, together, they wanted their first act as a married couple to be letting the balloons go.

They walked out of the grove of trees into an adjoining field. Just the two of them, holding hands, standing in knee-high grass, exchanging words that only they could hear. Then they raised the balloons above their heads and let them go. We all stood there, watching those balloons float away until they drifted from sight.

There are moment you wonder if you’ll ever forget. Events that sear themselves on your conscience. That moment was one of those for me.

A few years later their marriage imploded. She moved an hour away. He relocated to another part of the country. They divorced.

I finish with this story because life is messy. Gut wrenching. Risky. Things don’t always turn out well. Sometimes they don’t turn out at all. Sometimes everything falls apart and we wonder if there’s any point to any of it. We’re tempted to shut ourselves off, fortify the walls around our hearts, and forge ahead, promising ourselves that we will never open ourselves up like that again.

But I have to believe that we can recover from anything. I have to believe that God can put anything – anyone – back together. I have to believe that the God Jesus invites us to trust is as good as he says he is.

Loving,

Forgiving.

Merciful.

Full of grace.

And I have to believe that God does not run out of balloons.”

(*Story taken from Sexgod by Rob Bell.)

I Can’t Deal: A Guest Blog by Laura Winger…

My vocabulary is fairly extensive, but it varies depending on the audience to whom I’m speaking. I’ve found recently that many of the things that come out of my mouth started out intending to be ironic, making fun of those who say them seriously, and then made a home in my vernacular as if they were meant to be there all along. Examples include: peeps, cray cray, legit, and using hashtag in every day speech… yup! Out loud. I know… #ridiculous.

Some of the phrases or words that have crept into my speech patterns are not quite so egregious (like the word egregious… I think it needs to come out more often). I took note a couple weeks ago that the phrase “I can’t deal,” or its close cousin “I can’t even deal” has become something I utter often.

When I’m standing in front of my kindergarten phys. ed. class, and only six kids are listening because they’re distracted by the giant parachute on the floor, I speak over them: “Kindergarten friends! When the whistle blows, we freeze, please!” Then, I look at the EA or the ECE and I mutter “I can’t even deal with this right now.”

When discussing my many failed attempts at dating over the interwebz, I’ve exclaimed to many a friend in extreme frustration “Gah! I can’t even deal! Why does this always go down this way!?” It’s usually followed up with something ridiculous like “peeps be cray cray, I tells ya!”

When I want to emphasize my point, particularly in writing (where I emphasize my point best), I often separate my phrase by breaking it up with a bunch of periods. Can. Not. Deal. I feel like eliminating the use of contractions in a sentence broken up by periods just adds much more of a sense of weight to it.

But I noticed something.

After months of slowly letting “I can’t even deal” creep into my every day speech patterns, and letting it become something that I’m now quoted as saying by colleagues and friends, I’ve started to question the attitude and the mind set behind it.

I’m a language lover, so I’m always interested when a sentence can be deconstructed and the language in it can be examined. This sentence has three parts.

1. I

No one else, just me. I haven’t invited anyone else into whatever the situation, no matter how dire, to help me deal. I am attempting to deal on my own. I’m flying solo and I have no trouble admitting it when I declare “I can’t deal.” Notice how many times the word ‘I’ was used in that point?

2. can’t

This implies that what I’m trying to do (on my own, you remember) is not something I’m capable of accomplishing. When I’m struggling with any situation and I decide that I can’t deal, I’ve checked out, and really the only options I’m left with are accepting defeat or continuing to whine.

3. deal.

This part may not seem quite as important as the others…. but this is the verb. It’s the action. It’s the one thing I repeatedly declare for the masses to hear that I can not do. Deal. I can’t deal. Loose synonyms include: I can’t handle this, I can’t take it anymore, I can’t go on, I can’t function.

Lesson learned:

I like to try to find something that I can take away from a musing like this, especially when it sits on my heart and my brain for weeks like this one has.

While I occasionally say “I can’t deal” for comedic effect, and I know as well as everyone around me that I in fact CAN deal with the situation… there are times when it gives a really clear peek into my heart.

When I declare to everyone around me that I can’t deal, I’m also declaring (while not everyone may realize it) that I haven’t taken whatever the situation is to my Saviour, and that even though I don’t think I can handle it, I don’t want to give it up, either. I don’t want to let go of my control over whatever that thing I can’t deal with is. I imagine God doesn’t like my attitude much when I go “ugh! I can’t deal!” instead of saying “God, I can’t deal with this, so I’m trusting You to step in. Your plans are bigger than my plans, and You know what’s going on here. Please do what You need to do in Your timing and in Your will, I trust You.” How little trust does it show to say “I can’t deal” but still not give it up to the One who CAN deal with it?

Does this strike a chord with anyone else?

~ ~ ~ ~

1415764_10100315611180360_358670549_nLaura is an (almost!) 29 year old primary teacher living in South-Western Ontario. She grew up in the Niagara Region in a great church with a great church family, but really had to start owning her own faith in God since she moved out on her own and started teaching in 2008. She loves to write, sing, play the fiddle, watch movies, and read. Laura would gladly quit her day-job and write full time if someone would hire her. Please check out her blog where she writes fairly frequently at http://thisblogisepic.wordpress.com

unthankful…

escapingbitternessCanadian Thanksgiving has just come and gone. For many people it was a time of getting together with family and friends and eating turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes, while sipping tomato juice. It’s was a time of sitting around the table and sharing about the things that we are thankful for in life. It was a holiday perfect for a hike in the great outdoors, pumpkin carving and playing in the leaves.

I love Thanksgiving, it’s one of the my favourite celebrations. I think that as a person of faith this holiday reminds me to be thankful not only when sitting around the table and eating turkey, but each and everyday to give thanks. I’m starting to realize that there is a large correlation between how much I give thanks and how much joy I experience in my life. But having just celebrated Thanksgiving I want to recognize that for some people, being thankful is just plain difficult.

For some Thanksgiving is a reminder that their family is broken and full of dissension. For some, there is no sitting around the table giving thanks. The coming together of family only means fighting, tension and bitterness. Thanksgiving, for some, is a reminder of the deep sense of loneliness that they feel, the kind that hasn’t always been their companion.

For some, Thanksgiving means being unthankful.

As human beings we can experience every emotion under the sun. We go through seasons where it’s easy to be thankful and laugh and love others. We also go through seasons that are full of pain and it’s an inner struggle just to force a smile. Somebody asks you what you’re thankful for and you just feel like smacking them (we’ve all had this moment)! It’s what I like to call the “why me moment”: the moment where we give into bitterness and pity and we wonder why me, why now, why this, why not him or her, why why why?!?

I think asking why is a normal human response and sometimes we just need to shout it out loud and release it from our systems. The problem is that sometimes we pitch a tent in the “why me moment” and we don’t leave. We stay bitter, we stay mad, we stay in the place of self-pity, and we want the whole world to know it. We take every opportunity to let those around us know that our life sucks. We show it in our face, in our posture, in the way we walk and talk. We take jabs at people without thinking, our humour becomes edgier and we think about ourselves a lot. So easily, our “why me moment” can seep into a lifestyle of being unthankful. Ask me why I know this, I’ll tell you that it’s because I’ve lived there, staying in that place too long.

I used to work in a job where I did a lot of volunteer recruiting. The longer I did it, the more I began to believe that people needed to serve and be involved somewhere. They needed to help others because it affected the way they lived. I saw this regularly; someone would come into a situation feeling tired and blue and for one hour they would pour into the life of a kid, and 8 out of 10 times that person would leave in an entirely different mood. Thinking about someone else changed their situation, their mood and the way they felt about themselves. Giving thanks does the same thing. When we start to speak out the things we can be thankful for it begins to change our situation. Gratitude paints our lives with colour. Learning to laugh and speak our thankfuls in the midst of even our darkest days somehow enables us to move past the “why me moment.”

There is a place and time for brokenness, for tears, for anger, and even for the “why me moment”, but don’t stay there.

Don’t pitch your tent in the land of unthankfulness.

Force yourself to leave, even if it hurts. Find something to be thankful for, find someone who is worse off than you and show them some love. You might not even know in the moment why you’re forcing yourself to do it, but do it anyways.

Because sometimes the best things in life are worth fighting for, and thankfulness is surely one of them.