Tuesday, November 29, 2016

God is Not a Cosmic Chastity Belt

Tiny ice balls pelt the windshield and bounce off the car. Sidewalks and roads glisten slick. Three-to-four inches of heavy snow loom in grey clouds overhead, and evening traffic snakes red along the highways and frontage roads. Sirens and ricocheting blue lights careen down dark streets.
Photo Credit: Flickr user Paola Kizette Cimenti, Creative Commons cc license
In this last post in our series, Let's Talk about Sex, I turn words inward towards my former twenty-year old self and to all my single friends, no matter their ages. All this talk of snow reminds me of the confused messages I've heard -- and sometimes accidentally implied in youth lessons. God is not a cosmic chastity belt. He is not a frowning father shaking his head, trying to keep his kids'  bodies snow-pure, as if sex or sexuality shocked him. God is not scandalized and disgusted by sex. Rather he is the inventor of nerves and neurons, of sensations and senses. He holds the patent on pleasure and neural pathways, on endorphins and oxytocin baths.

God's guidelines on sex are not archaic restrictions to stop our fun. Rather his desire is for our good, and his boundaries are for our safety. Throughout history, God has been the hero stepping in to say, "Enough!" at each new horrific warping of sexuality that the evil one and a cruel world wrought: Child-sex trafficking -- not okay. Incest or abuse, not okay. Destitute men or women forced into a lifestyle of prostitution -- not their fault and God advocates for their rescues. Single moms or dads raising kids on their own -- God cares for them and knows how hard they work. His perfect plan is a shared load, raising children in community. Spouses divorced cruelly, unfairly, for no reason, left as paupers with no financial or social support in society -- God calls foul and sets up parameters for their protection and care.

In my twenties, I wrestled with forgiving myself for physical forays and failures, and I see that in many of my teens' or former teens' eyes now. Girls across restaurant tables who have said, "I'm afraid they'll look at me differently now they know I've had sex." 

"No!," I urge. "God's love is unconditional, and he is so forgiving. Everyone wrestles with sin at times. No one is perfect. If you've had a chance to ask God to forgive you, it's gone. God says, 'he is faithful to forgive and to cleanse us from any unrighteousness.' You can start fresh right now, a new day, a new start, saying, 'God, from now on, I wanna try to do things your way.' God's love is so big."

With the teens and twenty-somethings in my life, we talk about how hard the physical can be. We talk about how God's ways of saying, 'Not yet. Just wait until marriage' are for our good. We pull out the statistics on co-habiting and how it drastically increases one's odds of divorce. Looking around at the prevalence of divorce and eroded marriages around us, I reason, if we really love this guy/girl, let's give this relationship the best odds and chances we can, right? We talk as well about how much this choosing to delay sexual play until marriage is about growing habits of self-control for later in life too, not just now. There will be weekend business trips for you or your spouse someday. As you practice being able to walk away from temptation now, you are building that habit for later in life. With the large number of affairs happening around us, don't we owe this to ourselves, to practice this habit and build it in each other?

My worry with the snow analogies, with junior high abstinence pledge cards, and with the hyper-focus on technical virginity, is the danger that we'll miss the bigger picture. Yes, I want to honor God with my sexual choices before and after marriage. Yes, God talks about saving sex for marriage. Indeed he talks bluntly and cheerfully about a wide range of sex topics impacting single and married people. He does this not because he is uptight and shocked, but because he created, invented, and made sex. As the inventor of it and us, he knows how it best works, and what brings the most joy and benefit.

God is not your cosmic chastity belt. Instead, he holds the instruction manual and keys to a fabulous invention he patented. In our desire to protect young people from the pains and fall-out associated with sex outside of marriage, and after generations of muddled, awkward, inadequate "birds and bees" conversations, we have left them thinking sex was dirty or something to be ashamed of. And dozens of newly-weds have since wrestled with the fallout of changing their attitudes of "Sex-No!" to "Sex Now."

It's complicated, yeah? I agree, but the good news is that we can start over. Look deep and see all that God has to say about sex and marriage. The Bible drips with it. In marriage, sex is a delightful gift. So to my single friends trying to live out their Jesus-life convictions, it's not "Sex -- No!" It's "Sex, Not Yet..." and I'm cheering you on from the side and available to talk anytime.

(If you missed the first, second, and third article in this series, Let's Talk about Sex, feel free to click on the links and join us.)

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Unearthing Thanks (and a special Audio for You)

Can you see them? The condensation-dripping plastic ziplock bags hanging from the clean dishes rack. And I'm not sure if it's just the frugal missionary kid in me that still washes plastic bags, or the trying-to-go-more-green-girl in me who is sad about too many plastic bags floating in the oceans, but nonetheless, three bags hang drying in the rack beside the Thanksgiving pies.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends! I am thankful for you, thankful for these places online where we get to exchange emails, exchange blog posts, and where we get to rekindle flames in our walk with God, in our marriage and family, and in our spheres of influence.

I am thankful for a warm house where the smell of pumpkin and pecan pies wafts buttery and with scents of freshly-ground cloves, cinnamon, and drizzled vanilla extract. I am thankful for tall grown children, climbing the stairs happy after a rare chance to sleep in, and for a slender eight year old  who chirps cheerful welcomes to his older siblings. I am thankful for fresh ground coffee in a scuffed up french press cylinder still oily from yesterday's brew.

From my pie-smelling home (with baked-on unknown browns on my stove top) and drippy plastic re-used bags, know that I bid you a warm Happy Thanksgiving. You are loved and delighted in. You are seen and heard. Your voice and story matters, and the Creator of the world is right beside you.

Feel free to grin along with my husband and I... We were honored to give a Thanksgiving sermon at our church this last Sunday, sitting together on stage, and digging into some of the surprising statistics and benefits of becoming people of gratitude, and seeing where God's ways bring the greatest joy. (Click here to listen online. Sorry, without visuals you are missing a cute photo of Mark as a six year old, and of me as a fifteen year old holding a pet monkey.)

(Next week, we'll finish the last post in this series of Let's Talk about Sex.)

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Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Chicken and the Egg in a Bedroom of Silk Sheets

I've seen the chill creep right up through a marriage -- seen it in others and watched it frost up my own. I know firsthand the battle to restore romance, one choice at a time. And while experts are right that hostility shrinks up desire, experts also point out this powerful hope: any relationship can be transformed as both people work at it.
Photo Credit: Flickr user Mercedes Dayonara, Creative Commons, cc license
Restoring romance, chiseling off the chinked walls that creep in, and softening our hearts one moment at a time can bring amazing hope and change. Rekindling instant romance with the one you love starts with smaller steps than I thought possible. With our gritty grace-filled words, re-focused attitudes, and softened hearts, we can melt angry hurt and restore intimacy.

...I like science.

And you grin to hear me say this in a post about marriage, but there is some neurological chemistry that has changed how I view sex. For many women, sex is something we are interested in once we feel connected to our man. (And the days' harried pace needs to be beaten back with some conversation, eye contact, cuddling, and a helpful hand around the house from our handsome men.) For many married men, however, sex is the solace, the conduit, and the very act that rekindles connection and intimacy with their wives. It's the chicken and the egg dilemma, except in a bedroom with silk sheets.

And the science behind What Sex Unlocks in Marriage is fascinating. This neurological chemistry floods oxytocin through a man's brain, instantly re-bonding him and connecting him more devotedly to his wife and family. Gary Thomas, in his article, The Power of Pure Passion, unpacks this further.

So, grab your man. Have him splash on that cologne, and go disappear into your room.

Our God is a clever and playful inventor, isn't he?

(This is the third post in a series on Let's Talk about Sex. The first two are: The Lie that Will Ruin Your Sex Life, and Of Sex and Cheesecake.)

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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Lie that'll Ruin Your Sex Life

(This is the second post in the series, Let's Talk about Sex. The first is here.)
Photo Credit: Flickr user Milena Mihaylova, Creative Commons cc license
You've crept up to me quiet and said it in hushed voices. In conference hallways, outside workshop doors, or pulling me aside at retreats and MOPS groups, you've swiped hair back from your face, and bravely opened up.

"I know the stereotype is that men want sex more than women, but it's the opposite with us. He's not interested in sex any more. I'm the one always asking."  


"We haven't had sex in months, and I know it's important to guys, but I'm never in the mood. What should we do?"

And women --you with your eyes down, your face flushed, and your voice quiet and worried --I've loved your honesty, and you are not alone. I am so proud of you for voicing what is a concern to lots of people. In your courage, you stood up and broke the power of the lie.

And the lie that will ruin your sex life is this: "Nothing will change. It's no use talking about it."

Because the truth is far from this. Experts in the field assure married couples everywhere that sex can just keep getting better and better. Redbook magazine shocked themselves several years ago after compiling content from surveyed couples and individuals. Working from a non-biblical worldview, they gathered information from a variety of people's sex lives, and what they found surprised them. >> Married monogamous couples rated the highest in mutually-satisfying sex lives, with the most active sex lives, including the most frequent orgasms, and the highest-reported satisfaction in males and females.

And this shouldn't surprise us since sex was God's idea. He created it and us, and called it good. He sculpted male and female bodies beautifully, and purposely entwined nerve bundles and sensory organs that would trigger pleasure. Our Creator even devoted multiple sections in the Bible to talk openly about issues surrounding sex, giving guidelines for its best use, and desiring for it to be a gift, not a weapon or tool to cause damage. We have a God who talks bluntly and unblushingly about sexual intimacy.

Dr. Willard Harley, author of His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-proof Marriage, states: "Since men and women differ so greatly in the way they come to enjoy sex, no wonder we find so much sexual incompatibility in marriage. The key of communication unlocks the doors of ignorance and opens up to each couple the opportunity for sexual compatibility" (Harley, 52).

Because in truth, "...any marriage can have that sizzle!" affirms Harley, from the vantage point of years of counseling couples. His book then delves into some of the complexities of sexual intimacy that can be resolved with communication. For example,
 "Men experience sexual arousal and climax with relative ease. Precisely the opposite is true for the majority of women," states Harley. "...My counseling experience has shown me that even sexually-active women usually enter marriage having rarely experienced arousal or climax..."

"Husbands often enter marriage assuming their wives have far more sexual sophistication than they have. Because they don't want to appear naive or lacking in sexual prowess, some wives don't level with their husbands. Instead they act as though they truly experience sexual arousal or climax, when in fact they do not.... Many otherwise compatible couples fail to find sexual fulfillment due to their own ignorance or deception."

"As the bottom line, many husbands do without sex or exist on a very limited diet (in their opinion). The husband blames the wife, of course, but the real culprit is sexual incompatibility, which needs to be overcome through the efforts of both partners, not just the woman" (Harley, 52).
Dr. Ed Wheat, author of a great sex and marriage book entitled, Love Life for Every Married Couple: How to Fall in Love and Stay in Love spends several chapters pinpointing and solving various complexities in couples' sex lives. Addressing issues of past sexual abuse, flagging libido or desire, effective foreplay, the role that emotional issues play in a couple's physical life, and more, Wheat outlines the biological, psychological and physiological circuits of our desire, arousal, and climax stages. At each stage, he illuminates possible weak areas that would hinder the process, and then offers solutions for each break in the circuit. Wheat's book even raises awareness of which medicines may accidentally be affecting one's libido, and how to change that.

Feeling uncomfortable with all this talk of sex? You are not alone. Lots of people clam up at the topic of sex. But the truth is, "Any marriage can have that sizzle!" And my desire for you is a passionate married sex life, with confidence and sensitivity to each other.

Thoughts? Have any marriage or sex books that you've appreciated? Found this helpful? Please feel free to forward any of these posts onto friends or family, or to share them on facebook.

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Revised and reprinted from the archives in 2014.