Naked and unashamed

Our women’s group decided to tackle the topic of love and sex in response to media coverage, especially leading up to Valentine’s Day.

Sex hasn’t been a popular topic of discussion in Christian circles.  God’s love, yes.  Sex between a man and a woman is a discussion to be avoided.  Marketing and media have had free reign to discuss sex and saturate our culture with their messages, with hardly a peep from the church.  Granted, we aren’t often able to get a word in edgewise as a Biblical viewpoint is no longer seen as credible, but we also haven’t done ourselves any favours.  Christians can be seen responding publicly with offence and lots of finger-wagging and verse-bombing.

But we need to talk about sex in the church because, guess what, God created it.  He even created orgasm. He meant it to be wonderful in the context of an intimate, God-honouring (and partner-honouring) marriage.  And no surprise here, it has been twisted and torn and turned into an obsession that leaves us feeling empty, devalued and broken.

Some things I’ve discovered from conversations with women of different shapes, sizes, ages and circumstances of life are:

  • We have all struggled with this issue.  We all have things we’re not proud of, that we regret. We have acted sexually in ways we wish we could take back.  Whether we’re married or single, we do not have it all together.
  • We are often governed by fear in this area.  We are taught to fear STIs and pregnancy when we engage in sex before marriage.  We’re afraid to get caught in extra-marital sex.  We’re afraid to leave bad relationships because of loneliness.  We seem to make our choices based on the “lesser of the evils” instead of making positive choices.
  • A lot of our poor understanding about sex comes from our upbringing.  Unhappy mothers said it was something to be “endured.”  Discontent fathers looked elsewhere for love.  We either discussed sex in whispers as a shameful act or witnessed parents who didn’t honour a marriage commitment.  No one to exemplify a great, fulfilling love left us with a lot of  questions and deep hurt.
  • We justify our actions by comparing ourselves to others.  This came up in our study that we always seem to be challenging the rules in this area – how far can we go without getting burned. It’s easy to do when we look around as see others doing “worse things” than we are.  This applies to everything from our thought life to our behaviour. We can easily reason our way into, out of or through anything.  But what are the consequences?
  • We have separated our sexual lives from our spiritual lives.  Do we pray to God about our sexual struggles?  Do we pray with others about it? Do we listen to what God has to say to us about it? Do we believe our thoughts or “secret habits” are hidden?  Do we cope with our issues when we try to do it on our own, or do we thrive with the help of the Holy Spirit?

What I learned from this study:

  • God has a better way. To follow God’s will is to know deep fulfillment on every level, even sexually.  To trust in the plan he has for us is to take any fear out of our decision-making. God created man and woman in the garden naked and unashamed.  From the moment that man and woman sinned in the garden, a barrier was created both spiritually, in their relationship with God, and sexually, in their relationship to each other.  They were naked and ashamed.  But through the power of Jesus, we can live life the way God intended, free from fear, free from condemnation, free from shame.  Why wouldn’t we choose this?

This study is extensive.  We hoped to tackle issues of lust, marriage, divorce, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality in 6 weeks.  What were we thinking?  Every point, every verse could be opened up and contemplated for hours.  This is officially a starting point.  We approach the topic now without fear, but excitement for the life-changing truths God will show us.

Let me quote a passage from The Message (a paraphrase of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 6:16-20), age-old scripture that is so poignant for our time.

There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.” There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for “becoming one” with another. Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.

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The church is not the gym

I hate it when people leave our church. It breaks my heart. They have their reasons, and a broad range of them, which I’m forced to acknowledge and accept. But it means our fellowship is broken. It means I don’t get to see them. It means they are removing themselves from our care. I wonder if I could have done more to keep them with us. I just hate it.

A light bulb went on for me recently when I realized that some people have not actually left. They just aren’t coming! If you can imagine, this got me excited!

And then concerned. Because why aren’t they coming? This is when you hear the excuses instead of the reasons.

The other day I ran into someone at the mall who said:

It has been a while since I came to church. I really should come out. It’s just that it’s hard in the winter to get up early in the morning.

Might I also say that I did not ask why they hadn’t been at church. I’ve stopped asking. Not because I don’t miss them, but because they say things like this.

I give this person credit for her painful honesty. But what made her think that this is an acceptable thing to say, to me, someone who wakes up on Sunday mornings in the winter? I’m not being self-righteous, it’s the truth of it, certainly as a Pastor’s Wife.

No, this is something someone would say to their personal trainer… A-ha! People treat going to church like going to the gym!  They know they should go. They know it’s healthy for them. They know that if they are disciplined about going, they’ll see changes–Stop. Just stop. The church is not the gym.

Ironically, we meet in a gym. Make that a gymnatorium. Which urbandictionary.com defines as:

The most craptastic multi use performance space in the world… second only to the cafegymnatorium… When you see a gymnatorium you know your day will suck.

I hope you pulled out the operative word “multi use.”

Yes, we have basketball nets, floors with shock absorption, poor acoustics, zero ambiance… and you can play volleyball on Monday nights where you worship on Sunday mornings. But that’s too obvious. I believe other churches with wooden pews, pipe organs, and stained glass windows hear excuses like this as well, “My bed is too comfy.”

We do a different kind of body-building at church. We, collectively, you who attend and you who believe while you sleep, are called the Body of Christ.

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:25-26)

When you stop attending, you miss out in one of the greatest blessings: doing life together. Having your people in your corner when you are in pain and celebrating your victories. That’s the benefit.

If the cozy family vibe doesn’t getcha, how about this? What about the call?

So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. (Romans 7:4)

…so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:5)

We belong to Christ and each other. To clarify, this is not an “assimilation” type of belonging. (I may have to do another post called The Church is not The Borg.)

Just for kicks, I referenced urbandictionary.com again for the word “belong.” And like gymnatorium, they hit the nail on the head:

loving someone as much as your life.

Perhaps we’ve forgotten that whomever belongs to us should mean the most to us and vice versa. God proved this by literally giving up his life out of love for us. But we can’t get out of bed.

Let me clear, this isn’t about rules or points for perfect attendance. It will not be necessary for you to swipe your membership card at the door. God designed the Body*, so that we would love one another, build one another up, work together for the benefit of his Kingdom, to know what it is to be a part of something infinitely greater than we are on our own. Sunday mornings are a regular opportunity to get in on that. If we understood the call and the blessing of belonging, we would want to do this as frequently as possible.


*How and why God designed us to be the Body of Christ… is worthy of a proper Bible study. Do a word search for “Body of Christ” at www.biblegateway.com to learn more about who you are and where you belong.

54th Grammy Awards – read this post backwards

Conclusion: Besides the Minaj Misfortune, one of the best Grammys EVER. But I say that every year. Shout out to my girls and their insightful comments.  Next year they’ll be able to stay up even later.

11:23 LL Cool J gives us a good night.  Paul McCartney takes us home. Still. Got. It.  Plus I take back what we said about the Boo Fighters.

11:20 Nominations for Album of the Year…  Based on best reaction to announcement of name, award should not go to Adele Atkins… but she redeemed herself with snotty-nosed emotional fank you speech.

11:11 Ms. Atkins won again!  Best New Artist.  “This is ridiculous!” she says, “Fank you!”

11:07 Nikki Minaj = very Rocky Horror Picture Show.  The girl can rap, but awfully irreverent.  Did a psycho choir just since “Oh Come all ye faithful?”  She’s proven that I can still get offended. I’m not even sorry I maybe spelled her name wrong.

11:04  Still find it hard to believe that Drake is (a) Canadian and (b) went to Degrassi High.  Nikki Minaj – is she singing to one of the Beach Boys in a confessional?

10:57 Creepy Mickey Mouse?  Must Google who–what this is?  Feeling old and so are the Foo Fighters, but they won’t admit it.

10:50 Chris Brown was obviously warming up for this performance and he’s finally dressed. Re David Guetta, DJing is a sweet gig.  Boo Fighters are back – not so bad.  Feeling the 90s vibe again.

10:43 Jennifer Hudson sings Whitney.  Beautiful, moving… what Whitney was, and then wasn’t.  More tragic because we all saw it coming.

10:40 I watch most of the In Memoriam clips thinking, Oh THAT’s who sang/wrote that and now I miss them.

10:33 Best New Artist, Bon Iver.  His falsetto won the votes, not his charisma.  “Sweet hookup.”  Glad he mentioned the elephant in the room, his own discomfort.

10:31 Speaking of legends, Tony Bennett, sings with hand in pocket.  He’s that classy.

10:20 Glenn Campbell, feeling his legend, finishes with “and cowgirl…!” How did he think that up?

10:18 Tribute to the Rhinestone Cowboy!   Love it when musicians look like they are having fun when they play and enjoying this whole singing thing. Into the Band Perry and Blake Shelton versions!

10:06  Adele Atkins belting out the song that makes every preteen girl dream big.  Someday they will sing THIS SONG at the Grammys. Rolling in the Deep.  An emotional performance… by Sophia.  Go to bed, Sophia!

10:02 Lady Antebellum wins Best Country Album.  We never recognize the girl singer, she looks different every time.

9:58  The eternal dilemma with awards shows – how late is too late? OK, for real, girls, you have to go to bed.

9:54 Planned technical difficulties?!  How did Katy Perry do that?

9:51 Somewhat happy that Adele Atkins won Song of the Year. Still rooting for Mumford & Sons, but… any song that gets that much airplay on the radio, has to win something.  Had NO IDEA she had a last name.

9:40  Speaking of getting dressed, Taylor Swift is dressed like Grammy at the Grammys.  Get it?  Cute reaction at the end of her song, like she just realized all these people are clapping for lil old me?

9:37  Chris Brown wins best R&B and finally gets dressed.  Somehow it still seems like he’s missing an item of clothing.

9:33 We find Paul McCartney’s vibrato impressive.  We’re wondering why we’re enjoying this song although it isn’t too lively.  Sophia says, It’s because you can feel the passion.

9:31  Mallory asks, Does Stevie Wonder go to every Grammy Awards?  Sophia asks, Is he blind?

9:25 I contemplate sending girls to bed. It’s already 25 minutes past their bedtime.  What’s a few more?  If Daddy were here right now, he would not allow this.  That’s why I’m the favourite.

9:23 Glimpse of Lady Gaga in audience.  Girls worried that if she wins she won’t be able to say her speech.  How will she manipulate her mouth to say t-h-a-n-k–y-o-u?

9:22 Always worried about band reunions.  Hardly ever a good idea.  This time, it was a smart risk.  Not much movement from the original Beach Boys, but their sound is good.  Sophia thinks they look cute together.

9:18  Surprisingly impressed with Maroon 5’s version of Beach Boy’s “Surfer Girl.”  Girls singing along not to make it sound better, just because they like the song.

9:16 “Long live Rock & Roll!” yelled out to LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem.  Ironic, no?

9:14 Foo Fighters win Best Rock Performance.  Sophia says “Boo Fighters.”  We were rooting for Mumford & Sons.  This is not unbiased reporting.

9:02 Coldplay’s Graffiti – Sophia’s favourite art form.  Mallory feels she has to sing along with Chris Martin to make it sound better.  Sophia feels the only explanation is that he’s either sick or it’s his evil twin.

8:58 Mallory on Rihanna, “I thought her hair was normally bright red.” Sophia is disturbed by the dancing.

8:51 Sophia on Foo Fighters performance, “I’m glad THAT’s over with.”  We put up with it like we put up with the commercials, except the commercials are more interesting.

8:40 Girls trying to figure out who Kelly Clarkson is.

8:38 Best Rap Performance goes to Jay-Z and Kanye West.  Mallory thinks that if you win an award and aren’t there to collect it, it should go to the next person.  It’s only fair.

8:29 Chris Brown looks like he got dressed for rehearsal, not performance.  His rubber band legs are mesmerizing.

We started a little late – had to get PJ’s on and teeth brushed first for quick entry into bed on my say-so. The girls and I are trying out our own version of live blogging.

Through the snow

I knew I would have to get up early to shovel.  Weather reports yesterday had said to expect snow squalls and up to 15 cm accumulation.  Really, though, that means nothing to me.  John-Mark manages the snow removal department in our family.  If it wasn’t for the fact that he’s in Ghana for two weeks on a mission trip, I would just anticipate a prettier view out my kitchen window.

Today I’ve learned that up to 15 cm  is snow above your knees when you open your door to the world outside.  Up to 15 cm means visible shock as you process what it would take to physically move the snow to hit asphalt.  Up to 15 cm means hoping you can remember where the shovel is and how to run the snow blower on your own.  Up to 15 cm also means a whoop from the kids as they grab their snow gear and run outside ahead of you.  Apparently up to 15 cm forecast turned into 30-40 cm reality.

It was lonely at dawn, out on my driveway.  The road, normally busy, was still asleep.  After I figured out it needed to be plugged in to work, our snow blower broke the silence with a pathetic whirr.  The thing is made out of tin cans and cannot even get through the first layer without high-pitched whining.

I tried to remember John-Mark’s instructions to me.  Think of the driveway as a rib cage.  Make the spine down the middle and then extend the ribs out to one side and then the other.  One rib at a time.  That’s right.

I pushed and shoved and heaved our little snowblower to make a squiggly spine and yelled at my daughter to grab a shovel. We’re gonna be here a while.

Neighbours started showing up, dotting the road.  I don’t know my neighbours well. I’ve always blamed the traffic for that.  But there’s something about a shared burden that can draw a friendly wave from four doors down, or a shrug from across the way.  Hands cupped to yell, “Can you believe this?!” from a person whose name you don’t know.

As more and more folks made their way out of hibernation, the street scene became jovial.  We laughed between grunts as we worked and somehow this was becoming fun.  There was victorious “right on!” when someone found the sidewalk.

An hour or so of shoveling and whirring, people retreated indoors.   A few doors down, across the way, a truck pulled up to the driveway.  I’d never met those neighbours and it looked like I wouldn’t today.  A maintenance service, three men pulled out two massive snowblowers and a shovel.  Within 10 minutes, the driveway was finished and they were gone.  Those of us who remained looked a little dejected.

I started to think, I could finish this later, right?  I could take a break.  I could race my car through the chunk at the end if I had to get out?  Vehicle ramming was the precisely the way we dealt with snow in our first year of marriage. I could relive the good old days when we couldn’t afford a shovel.

My next door neighbour was the last to arrive on the scene.  He pulled out his beast of a snowblower, twice the size of mine.  He walked right over. Before even starting his driveway, he finished mine.  I kept yelling, Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! at him over the roar of his snow blower’s engine.  He eventually ignored me.

Another neighbour said we’re expecting 15 cm of snow tonight again.  I now know exactly what to expect.

Left Behind

John-Mark just left for Ghana.  This will be the fifth time, outside of the two years we lived there, that he will be going.  This will be the third time he’s going without me. Can someone tell me why it doesn’t get easier to be the one left behind?

Not only do I completely support his reasons for going, but I believe it’s important for him to go.  He is the mission pastor at our church, this is the partnership that we started and it’s heading into some exciting new developments in the areas of leadership development and the building project.  He needs to go.

I don’t particularly want to go with him either.  I have lived and breathed Ghana for the past eight years, from the start of this project, to our life there, to the Fair-Trade business I own. I’ll be going myself in April.  Almost every day involves the word “Ghana” coming out of my mouth.  Those closest to me have developed an eye-roll reflex when it happens.

When John-Mark leaves the family behind, it’s not just the practical things we struggle with: who will remove the snow and take out the garbage.  It’s not even the insecurities or loneliness: who will make sure the doors are locked at night and check on those strange sounds. All these things I can handle, begrudgingly.

It’s that for a time his family will not be his priority. For a while, all his energies, his thoughts, his gestures, his love will be directed to the Ghana mission and the people there.   I’m used to sharing J-M with others – it’s the realities of his pastoral role – but I don’t enjoy it when it’s removed completely, even if just for a time.

When he was packing earlier this week, I may have whined. A couple of nights ago, when he was getting documents together, I might have picked a fight.  For the past month, I’ve inserted “don’t go” randomly into our conversations.

J-M has handled these purely selfish reactions of mine with great care and concern.   “I’m not listening till you change your tone.”   “You’re being totally unreasonable.” “Are you PMSing?”  I must be, because right now my eyes are really leaky.

If we, the couple somewhat seasoned in short-term missions, struggle with this, how much more do other couples?  We are fortunate enough to share a passion for this mission. What about those couples who don’t see eye-to-eye ?  How much harder would it be?  What toll does it take when the emboldened short-term missionary cannot share the excitement of the preparation or the after-glow with his or her spouse?  How hard is it on the left behind spouse who has to hold the fort down and deal with the “every day problems” while the other goes to have an often “life-changing experience.”

One way to keep this turmoil from driving a wedge in your relationship is to be the first to smile despite the hurt and cheer the other one on.   I’m ashamed to say that J-M always beats me to it.

Today, before he left, J-M filled up the car with gas, changed the oil, did the dishes, and showed me how to work the DVD player.  I realized all the things I hadn’t done to make his preparations easy.  When he told me as he was leaving that he’d always prefer to be with me, I was woefully repentant.

I wrote this post to remind myself that the next time may not be easier, but it will be different.

No stranger to these parts

I have been blogging for over six years.  I jumped on the bandwagon in September ’05 with an apologetic first entry, sorry that I hadn’t adopted the trend earlier, not unlike Baby Boomers and The Facebook.

I was an almost-daily blogger for the years 2006-2008 when my husband and I, with our two daughters, moved to Ghana, West Africa to establish a mission partnership with our sister church there.  After realizing that cross-cultural work is much harder than those triumphant missionary biographies would have you believe (see Jackie Pullinger for details), I found it cathartic to tell my story of day-to-day living in Africa to the internet.

The Silent Years were when we returned to Canada to change my husband’s job description from “Missionary” to “Pastor.”  As faithful a listener as the internet had been, I didn’t feel up to processing my intense reverse culture shock so publicly.  You would have enjoyed some of the stories, though.  Like the time, at the peak of it, at a girly get-together, I listened to my friends’ oh-so-dogmatic opinions about whether one should find out the sex of their baby before he/she is born.  I might have thought “Blah… blah… blah…” OUT LOUD.  And we had at least 12 seconds of uninterrupted, awkward silence.  Sitcom Gold.

I kept trying to write, even got a nudge in that direction when I was published in a small Christian magazine. I tried opening a new blog (right here), but I was uninspired and my posts sporadic.

Instead, I started a Fair-Trade business.  For 3 1/2  years, I built a business importing beads, baskets and batik from my friends back in Ghana.  A large part of my job was marketing the products by talking about the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the Ghanaian people, which inevitably opened a way for me to speak of my experiences.  I may have gained friends of customers by over-disclosing.

As of last week, I have sold the business and have an itch to fire up the old blog.  I’ve gained some new experiences in my recent roles as a business owner, (reluctant) Pastor’s Wife, (enthusiastic) Women’s Ministry Leader, (reluctant and enthusiastic) mother of two girls entering their teens.

As I approach middle age–I’ve been trying out this term  since I recently had to move a product away from my face to read the fine print.  Horrifying.–I’m reflecting on my life experiences: the different jobs I’ve had, the places I’ve been, where God has led my husband and I in ministry and our relationships… They seem so varied it’s hard to see where or how they might  be channeled for use in the future.

The way I see it, there are two things that link my past experiences and my new adventures.  The first is an absolute peace that God is working out the details, just as he promises.  The second is that I can write about them.