Embracing Your Child’s Differences

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Earlier this year, my older daughter was working on a submission for a PTA Reflections Contest at her school. Each year, the PTA holds a contest for different grade levels and encourages students to submit artwork, photography, and writing. My daughter, a budding artist at age 9, gets excited each year about the new piece she will submit.

This year, she came up with a cat reaching for balloons concept to meet the requirements of the “Aim Upward” theme. And, just as happened last year, we got into a tussle about her submission.

“Oh sweetie,” I said coming up behind her as she sketched out her cat and balloons, “make the cat bigger.”

I watched her face crumple as she erased and changed her picture to incorporate my suggestion. I left and came back to check on her progress. I could see that she wasn’t happy by the frown on her face.

“I just don’t like the cat that big,” she complained, putting her pencil down in frustration.

I could see where this was going. I leaned in and said, “Draw it like you want then. It’s your project.”

She happily got to work on a fresh sheet of paper and began filling her paper with not only a miniscule cat but miniscule balloons. Each night before bed, she colored a few more balloons, and I caught her humming happily in the midst of her work.

Though I had serious doubts about the winnability of her picture because of the too-small (in my estimation) proportions of her cat and balloons, I chose to hold my tongue because it was her project. When she submitted her piece, she waited an agonizing two months to hear back on the winning submissions. Unfortunately, her piece wasn’t selected as a winner, and I watched her face fall during the ceremony when another girl from her class won the art division prize. Would she have won had she changed up her picture? Possibly. But the more important lesson I felt was that she learn to make her own decisions and be allowed to express her vision in her picture.

Allowing Our Children to Be Who God Made Them to Be

The situation was just one of several I’ve struggled with over the years (in varying forms with all of my children): relinquishing my tendency to form them into the people I think they should be and letting them be who they are.

Because though my daughter grew in my womb and has been entrusted to me as a daughter — she belongs to God and needs to flourish into what He always intended her to be. Because that person, frankly, is going to be far better and do far more than what either of us could imagine.

Jeremiah 1:5 tells us: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” God spoke those words to Jeremiah about the ministry he would have as a prophet, telling him that he had selected him for this task before he even created him. Just as God knew Jeremiah before He made him, God knew our children before they were even on our radar.

David says a similar idea in Psalm 139:13-16:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

When David speaks of being “woven together,” the words are translated from the Hebrew word “raquam,” which means “weaver” or “embroiderer.” David identifies God as the ultimate Weaver — One who bent lovingly over the work of forming him. In the same way, God knit together our children in the secret places of the womb with careful care as to the length of their days, what they will accomplish on earth, and their temperament and gifts (which, by the way, are the perfect ones needed to carry out His call on their lives).

When I approach parenting with the knowledge that my children were intimately formed and loved by God before I knew and loved them, I realize I am, in the words of Matthew Henry, an “instrument” — an instrument in the hands of God to raise this oh-so-valuable little person to both know God (Psalm 78:4-6; Deuteronomy 4:9) and fulfill the plans of God (Philippians 2:13, Romans 8:28). In response to this knowledge, I have to let go of some of my own plans for my children and my desire for control.

I’m not saying we as parents don’t provide structure for our kids or make choices for them at times that go against what they want. Today, kids’ rebellion against the Word of God is often seen as merely letting them be who they are — when their choices are far from what God desires for them (Proverbs 22:15; Proverbs 29:15). As Christian parents, we must train them to adhere to God’s ways and walk in right paths, as part of knowing Him (Proverbs 13:24; Proverbs 22:6; Psalm 119:1). But what I am saying is that we attempt to consider our children’s preferences and interests along the way, rather than stunt their growth with our own often stifling expectations and demands (Colossians 3:21; Ephesians 6:4).

This may sound like a relatively easy task, but it’s not so easy when our kids express ideas that veer from our own, show interest in activities we have no interest in, or perhaps want to follow a track that is different than we envisioned for them.

A former pastor of mine shared in a service about the time when he had to let go of the baseball dream he had for his son. As an avid baseball fan and high school athlete, the pastor hoped his son would follow suit. But to his dismay, his son told him one day during a baseball game, “I hate this.” Though his grown-up son enjoys watching baseball, he never “took” to playing the game. It was a moment where his pastor-father had to evaluate and asses that as a father he could try and force his son to live out the dream he had for him, or he could instead look for ways to bring out the son’s God-given talents and abilities. As you can guess, he did the latter.

Awe for Our Kids as God’s Creation Helps Us Be the Parents We Should Be

I don’t believe any of us as Christian parents enter into the parenting journey hoping to be rigid narrow-minded tyrants that get into constant conflict with our children. However, we can’t always foresee how our children will affect us with their distinct personalities and differences, and frankly, we don’t always best know when to assert our authority or when to let our children have their way.

While we won’t always get it right, if we attempt to remember that our children were uniquely made by a creative God, as told of in Jeremiah 1:5 and Psalm 139, we can better evaluate situations and let some minor things go when it comes to our kids’ ideas about how they want to draw a picture for a project — or perhaps spend their free time or style their hair — and we can save our energy for drawing the line on the issues that really matter.

In addition, it’s when we acknowledge that we don’t have all the wisdom and we’re in a position of humility and dependence on God and His Word to best learn how to instruct our children that He can speak to us and help us navigate the issues that arise between us and our children.

Dependence on God and knowledge of the value our kids have will help us approach even our most challenging days as an opportunity to be ever aware of the awesome task we’ve been given as parents: to help raise God’s kids!

Related Resources:

For a more in-depth look at Psalm 139 and the value each of us have in the eyes of God, check out my previous article on being known and loved by God.

Don’t have time to read? Listen to the corresponding podcast episode where I talk with co-host Suzy Lolley and blog member Rachel Howard about the idea of being intimately known by God.

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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How to Better Love Your Spouse

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I hesitate to compare marriage to football, but there are a multitude of meaningful parallels. Many people love the game because of the suspense. No two games are the same. No two marriages look the same either.

My husband and I often talk about how some couples love to attend every event together. Where one goes, you will see the other. That’s not us. He needs social time; I need quiet time. When he is social, I get my quiet time. I don’t resent the time he spends away from me, and he doesn’t resent me for not needing him every moment. However, in the beginning of our marriage, we did try to make our marriage look the way we thought others expected it to look. We were so busy trying not trying to be ourselves that we could not function as a whole. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the quarterback get up when they call the defense in. It isn’t his role. In football, it is called a “team” because each player fills a special role, just like a husband and a wife each fill a special role in their marriage.

One term I know from football (and I don’t know many) is a “turnover.” One team can have the ball in the opposing team’s territory, close to scoring, when the defense intercepts a pass. Or the offense fumbles the ball, and the momentum falters. Sometimes a team has a chance to win a tied game just by kicking the extra point, yet they still miss the field goal. Marriage, like football, can have turnovers.

Preventing Turnovers in Marriage

In my marriage, our first “turnover” happened quickly. We were married in December and had our first child the following October — unplanned. We hardly had time to get used to being married before we also had a baby to love. Then there were all the small things that presented themselves as obstacles, like his mom’s perfect cooking. How could I compete when my specialties were Ramen noodles and frozen pizza? And then there were his buddies — friends from high school, friends from college, softball friends, basketball friends (for the winter months when it was too cold to play softball), deer hunting friends, dove hunting friends, turkey hunting friends. Let me be fair by stating that some of these friends spanned multiple categories.

His multitude of friends meant that we were constantly invited to cookouts, weddings, and birthday parties. As I already mentioned, I like my quiet time. The problem was that I was in a new city and home, newly married, and rapidly gaining a lot of weight, not just from the baby. I felt discouraged and insecure and was overwhelmed by my new role as wife and all of the new demands on me. I wanted to be excited about all these social gatherings, but I wasn’t. I wanted to like deer meat as much as my husband and his friends, but I just couldn’t bring myself to put it in my mouth; I started gagging when I even thought about it.

For my own iniquities, it was probably much worse for my husband in our first year together, though you would have to ask my husband for details. The point is that, as soon as we found common ground on one issue, the more problems we had to work through. These didn’t even include the larger issues that presented themselves like money struggles, family dynamics, sickness, and death of loved ones.

Perhaps for you in your marriage, the threats look different. Turnovers can come at a marriage in many forms. Our phones, tablets, and computers can put a barrier between our connectedness to each other. Other people and obligations can be a barrier. However, the Bible tells us how to protect our unity and avoid “losing the ball” to the opposing team (the enemy). The strategy is simple: We love God first, then others as ourselves.

From Matthew 22:37 we read, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” It’s one of my favorites to meditate on. Follow that one up with Matthew 22:39,Love your neighbor as yourself,” and it gives a clear depiction that life focused on only on myself and my needs is not of the Lord. My ability to love my husband intentionally — who is much more than a neighbor to me — comes first from my love of the Lord. I can’t love him well when it is all about me. Honestly, I don’t even like myself on those days I don’t spend with the Lord, so I certainly can’t expect him to. However, this doesn’t mean that we don’t care for ourselves. As the verse suggests, it just means that we care for others (i.e. him) just as well.

From experience, I can tell you that when I do not begin my day with my Bible, my devotional, and my prayer journal, my husband is likely to pay the price. And that is because I begin those days focused on myself. Conversely, when my first moments of each day and my identity are grounded in the Lord, my actions and reactions to my spouse are more likely to come from God’s description of love — patient, kind, selfless, humble, forgiving, persevering (1 Corinthians 13:3-13).

One morning when I was spending time with the Lord, I recognized a yearning for unconditional love. I remember thinking of all the ways I wish I could receive it from my husband. Life would be so easy if this was a state we could actually reach as humans. I would never feel judged. I wouldn’t have to feel that I was under-performing. I get on these (really short-lived) binges where I feel like I am Wife-of-the-Year material at times, but the reality is that I probably wouldn’t even qualify for Wife-of-the-Moment.

God impressed upon me amid this daydream of unconditional love that this is what HE offers us. Of course! How could I have been so apathetic to His love? I can’t expect it from others, but I can expect it from God. In realizing this each day, I don’t need to get down when my husband can’t meet all my needs. Because God does. It’s freedom! Through accepting the love of my Savior, I am freer to love my God and my husband.

Furthermore, this same love given to me by God is offered to my husband and, with it, the same freedom. While I may be a secondary source of love and support for him, I am not personally responsible for meeting his every need. He must have his needs met by God. When we are both receiving God’s unconditional love, our strength and connectedness is much greater, not to mention our ability to defend against turnovers.

Marriage Is About Going Through Life Together

When issues interfere within the marriage, we play opposition. We actively protect and strategize to work out the issues. When outside interference initiates problems, we play defense by drawing our strength each day from God and His Word, protecting one another as naturally as our own instincts to protect ourselves. There’s a plan for dealing with the next turnover. The effort is made — holistically — for a purpose much higher than a single individual. Otherwise, a husband and a wife may grow apart from focusing on individual, selfish goals. Marriage should be played to win, and that means going through life together.

When we take on marriage this way, I can stomach a few more social gatherings than I am comfortable with. My annoying habit of gagging over deer meat won’t matter so much to my husband. I will be able to praise his mother’s cooking with him instead of feeling inadequate when my cooking doesn’t measure up. What do these things matter in a world that is — first and foremost — about God? Loving Him first fuels us with the love inside to persevere in marriage — so that we can in turn love each other. No one likes defeat, but can you imagine a football game where one team goes home at halftime simply because they were losing for moment?

There will be moments when you feel like you are losing, but we must see the game through to the finish. God hasn’t given up on us, so let’s not give up yet on our spouse.

Rebecca Lindsey

Rebecca Lindsey

After “retiring” from teaching in 2013, Rebecca is currently back at it as a high school Teacher on Assignment where she is able to help students identified as at-risk for not graduating on time. The in-between years, she worked as a therapist in private and public practice. Her interests are in helping others, hiking, kayaking, gardening, dancing, and reading. She loves exercise, nutrition, and natural healing. After completing her doctorate in organizational psychology, she plans to lead others to improve leadership, career, and personal life-skills and maybe even author a few works. In every role, she feels there is an opportunity to model the grace and redemption given to us by Jesus. Rebecca lives in Dallas, Georgia, with her husband and three boys (the middle child is a Weimeraner).

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3 Lessons We Can Learn from the Woman in Proverbs 31

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As a starry-eyed bride 18 years ago, I vowed I would never turn into some of the old boring married women I had seen growing up in the church. I would never snap at my husband, let the fire in our sex life die, or allow a divide in communication to grow.

But then I got married and realized that marriage is not that easy. Like many women, I have often surveyed the list of attributes describing the woman in Proverbs 31 and felt that I don’t measure up. It’s impossible to be like her, so why try? But I think what Proverbs is really saying isn’t just that we should abide by a list, but that we should continually look for ways to bring good to our family and community.

Proverbs 31:10-31 models for us three ways we can be wise and do just that.

3 simple principles we can implement as wives from Proverbs 31:

1. Keep faithful instruction on our tongues.

We as women have the unique opportunity of speaking into the lives of our children or those in our immediate realm that we can mentor. Often, our children are around us the most. They will come to us with all sorts of questions and concerns — at times that are extremely inconvenient or unexpected, and we have a choice to engage or stay silent.

Some time ago, while driving with my kids to a friend’s house for a playdate, my then kindergarten-age daughter launched a question from the backseat that I wasn’t expecting: “Mom, why doesn’t Jessica like me? She likes Haley better. Haley is prettier.” (*Names of friends have been changed.)

Whoa! I wasn’t expecting my daughter to drop this morsel of information in my lap at this juncture. We had made it through the school year without her ever mentioning this specific concern. Sure, this particular girl’s name had come up, but not in this way. I realized underneath my daughter’s question was fear: A fear that she didn’t measure up to this “prettier girl” in her class. So I asked her a question of my own from the front seat, “Elsbeth, who made you?”

“Jesus,” she responded.

“Did Jesus make Haley look exactly the way He wanted her to look?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“Jesus made Elsbeth pretty and special in her own way. You don’t have to look like Haley to be pretty,” I explained.

I then told a story about how I had latched onto some girls I wanted to be friends with as a middle-school student that weren’t good friends for me. Because of my desire to earn the attention of these girls, I hadn’t noticed the friends that I already had in my path. I told her that I had learned a secret: Jesus would provide friends if you asked Him, but they wouldn’t always be the friends you necessarily thought you wanted or needed.

This conversation we had was a chance for me to help her root her identity not in what others thought of her or her appearance, but what God said about her and what the truth of Scripture said about identity. Rather than ignore those concerns or questions when they come or brush them off because we’re busy, we can see them as golden moments of opportunity to speak God’s truth into the lives of our children or the young people we serve as an example/mentor to.

“She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue” (v. 26).

2. Provide for the members of our household.

I remember once in a preschool orientation for my daughter how the director shared that all she ever did was go to the store. When teachers needed supplies, she went to the store and bought what was needed. And because she ran a daycare with many teachers and students, she was always at the store. I can relate.

Though I am not a preschool teacher, I am a mom of three and I spend a whole lot of time at the store buying groceries, household supplies, essentials for my children’s school projects, deodorant for my husband, clothes for my growing kids. Someone always needs something. And, oftentimes, the someone that picks it up is me.

While I spent a whole lot of time shopping for myself as a single girl and young married wife, now our limited money is usually divided each month to meet my children’s needs: Who is in need of shoes? Who has no shorts for summer? Who has outgrown their underwear? Off I go to fill the ever-evolving list. Clearly, this can be exhausting, but the passage tells us that women have a unique role of providing for their families’ needs. I can tell you that my husband has no idea what size shoes my kids wear or who is running low on underwear.

The roles don’t necessarily have to be defined the same in every relationship, but women have been gifted to both assess and take care of the needs of the people in their households.

“She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants” (vv. 14, 15)

“When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet” (v. 21)

“She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness” (v. 27).

3. Bring honor to our husband.

The fiction novel The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, focuses on a small Southern town in the 60s where the white women of the town have racist attitudes and often mistreat their African-American maids. Encouraged by an up-and-coming journalist, the African-American women get the courage to tell their stories of mistreatment, and a fallout ensues after the book is published and their white employees learn of their truth-telling. Granted, although I like the idea of marginalized women getting a voice and speaking out against injustice, I don’t agree with the way some of the women go about doing it, as their methods are about retaliation.

However, there are so many insights that one can learn from the characters, even beyond racial ones — even if it’s what not to do in a situation. In particular, one character that stood out to me is a woman shunned by the other women in her community. She is a white woman that is not liked by the other white women in town because of her lack of family connections, which makes her undesirable for the other status-obsessed women. But she doesn’t help matters any. She wears tight, revealing clothing and acts in ways that don’t stack up women in the friend department. At a social gathering, she gets drunk and makes a scene in front of the whole town.

Clearly, though she isn’t intentionally trying to disgrace her husband, her actions are those that don’t exactly make people think highly of him. Elsewhere in Proverbs it tells us that a wise woman builds her house while a foolish woman tears hers down (Proverbs 14:1). A wise woman acts in ways that will help people think highly of her husband and family. While we shouldn’t pander to the opinions of others, we can show self-control by the way we dress and present ourselves at work and church functions; we can keep our words in check by not rebuking or speaking ill of our husband in public; we can build him up on social media; we can make ourselves available to him when he comes home from work.

“Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value” (v. 11).

“Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land” (v. 23).

“Her children arise and call her blessed, her husband also, and he praises her” (v. 28)

Conclusion:

The points I mentioned don’t encompass all of what we can learn from the woman in Proverbs 31, but these are a few practical things we can do to begin to emulate the example of a godly woman given to us in this passage. The book of Proverbs is bent on helping us to live wise lives — and as it shares with us at the end of Proverbs 31, such living is not without reward. Orienting our actions and lives in such a way that brings good to the members of our household and others around us is ultimately going to bring good our way as well.

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate” (vv. 30,31).

*Updated March 10, 2018.

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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Marital Intimacy: Practical Tips to Enhance Your Sex Life

 

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As this is the month of love, I wanted to take some time to give a few practical points of encouragement and advice, as well as resources, to the married readers out there.

This will be an overview of some of the most common issues that arise in couples’ sex lives. I hope to provide some practical tips and resources that may be beneficial. I also hope to normalize some of the very common struggles that arise. As one of my good friends would often say, “Two of the most healing words in the English language are, ‘Me too.’ ” Know you are not alone in any problem or struggle. Many have walked through it before you, and you have Emmanuel — God with us — by your side every step of the way. With that, let’s dive in!

Practical Advice to Improve Your Sex Life

1. Discuss what is pleasurable and appealing to both partners.

Talk about your sex life with one another! For some reason, we often think sex should just come naturally and we don’t need to communicate about it, but that is so untrue. We need to talk to our spouse about the things he does that arouse us or the things he does that are, well, not-so-arousing.

This conversation is best had after the heat of the moment where it can usually be received with more grace and less embarrassment or offense. Giving each other insight into your experience allows it to be more pleasurable for each of you. There is freedom in the marital bed to explore, learn, and have fun. That being said, 1 Corinthians 6:12 (CSB) states, “Everything is permissible for me — but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me — but I will not be mastered by anything.”

Freedom must always be balanced with self-control. To me, this means that if both couples cannot say “yes” with their whole heart, then it does not have a place in the marital bed. No sexual act should ever cause a spouse to feel used, less than, or hurt. The marriage is about a partnership, and we are called to love one another as Christ loves the Church. He loved us so much that He died for us. If we are forcing our spouse to do something they are uncomfortable with or do not feel peace about, we are placing our needs before theirs and possibly causing one another to sin.

2. Make intimacy the goal, not orgasm.

If there was one message I could share about sex, this is it. To me, this encompasses so much of God’s heart. While I believe He gave us orgasms as a complete gift (fun fact: they are completely unnecessary to reproduction and most living creatures do not have them), I do not believe God ever wanted them to be our focus. He knows our hearts so much better than us and created us to be in community.

While orgasm may help us to feel close to our spouse, the nearness does not last near as long as a deeper intimacy. This type of intimacy is fostered both inside and outside of the bedroom by mutual submission, service, quality time, and a foundation in the Lord. I encourage you to check your heart’s motivation as you engage sexually with your spouse. I so often find myself feeling like an encounter was a failure if one or both of us did not experience an orgasm, but that is such a deceptive way of viewing that interaction! I end up feeling more distant from my husband than close to him, which I believe is exactly where the enemy would like us to be.

Orgasms can be impacted by so many things — stress, hormones, and performance anxiety to name a few. This cannot be the standard by which we measure our sex lives. I believe God’s standard is intimacy, yada sex — truly knowing and connecting with our spouses. Seek pleasure with your spouse within that covering and make intimacy and honoring one another the ultimate goal.

3. Talk about frequency.

Again, talk about it! I cannot tell you how much this simple conversation changed my sex life with my husband. We too frequently put unrealistic expectations on ourselves or on our spouse that could be greatly changed by some clear communication. In every couple there is going to be what is called a desire discrepancy — essentially one spouse is going to want to have sex more often than the other. That is because we are uniquely created human beings, so we are rarely going to spontaneously desire one another at the exact same time (as much as the movies and TV shows would lead us to think otherwise).

It differs in each couple which partner has the higher desire. Both roles present their own unique blessings and challenges. The most important way we can avoid conflict and hurting one another as a result of this discrepancy is to communicate about it and lay out our hopes and expectations. Instead of assuming that you know what your partner wants, ask him!

I will never forget when I finally got up the courage to ask my husband what he desired and expected regarding the frequency of sex — it was so different that what I thought and lifted such a weight off my shoulders! I had been placing an expectation on myself that was unrealistic and constantly had me feeling like a failure. Discuss your desires and set achievable realistic goals. Keep in mind that these goals will likely change with seasons of life. Also, if you are the lower desire partner, begin to recognize receptive desire (saying “yes” to your higher desire partner’s initiation) as desire. Just because you may not be the initiator the majority of the time, does not mean you do not desire sex.

4. Don’t push through the pain.

Pain is a very common issue in sex. It is important that if you are experiencing ongoing pain during sex, you do not just try to push through it or accept it, but seek help, whether it be through reading resources that give tips for better understanding or seeking counseling from a Christian sex therapist. This is important because when we try to push through pain, we stop associating sex with intimacy and pleasure and start associating it with pain and disappointment. This then decreases our desire for sex, which can become more painful if we are less aroused.

For a practical tip, I greatly encourage you to use lubricant if you are experiencing pain during sex and see if that helps. Wet is a great one to try and PreSeed is a great option if you are trying to conceive. (Don’t lubricants just have the best names?) Keep in mind that some lubricants can make it more difficult to conceive, so do your research if that is your stage of life. If this does not help, please refer to some of the resources I will provide or seek counseling. There is victory for you in this — please do not give up!

5. Seek help if you are struggling with the aftereffects of sexual abuse.

It is heartbreaking to know how common this is. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2006), statistics show that 1 in 3 girls will be abused and 1 in 6 boys. As I discussed in my first article, sex is an incredibly powerful act and the enemy will do all he can to use what God created for good to bring about pain and destruction. But we serve an even greater God who is faithful to redeem and heal. He says, “I will repay you for the years that the locusts have eaten” (Joel 2:25).

His testimony in you will be great. I encourage you to seek healing through discipleship, small groups, counseling, and Christian sex therapy. God often chooses to heal us through His people, and this is a journey that is so difficult to recover from alone. Press into the more He has for you, friend. He weeps over your pain and seeks to heal the hurting places. He will honor your bravery as you take courage and seek the healing He offers.

6. Make an effort to keep things fun!

I know this can sound so cliché, but it truly is a challenge for most of us married couples. We get into our routines and sex can often become an afterthought or just something we need to check off our weekly to-do list. It can become something we dread if there is no excitement or fun in it. Some ways to incorporate more fun into your sex life:

  • Be willing to try new positions or plan to be intimate in a different room of the house if possible.
  • Plan a vacation or a mini-weekend getaway. Make sure that where you go and what you do are things that are refreshing and relaxing to you as a couple so that you have the energy to invest in time making love. For most women, our bodies are very sensitive to stress, and it can shut down our sex drives when we are overwhelmed. (Now, how often are most women in modern-day America not stressed?) Taking time to re-connect and enjoy one another’s company will likely help your body get ready for intimacy and make you more attracted to your spouse as you connect more deeply with him.
  • Prepare yourself and allow the Lord to stir desire in you for your spouse. This is sometimes a strange concept to grasp because we often want to think that God is somehow separated from our sexuality, but as we have discussed in the past two posts, He is the One who created our sexuality and intended sex as the ultimate way to connect with one’s spouse — mind, body, and spirit. That being said, I believe God is very faithful to answer the prayers of a wife who longs to enjoy sex and please her husband. What a blessing it is to our spouses when we enjoy the intimate act with them! Invite God to stir up desire in you and to bless your sex lives. Also, practically prepare yourself. For women, this may mean making time to shave your legs that morning or having a cute pair of underwear on that make you feel attractive and sexy. I have become convinced that lingerie was invented as much for women as it was for men because it reminds us that we were created as sexual beings, which can often be a part of ourselves that goes unnoticed or is pushed back behind work schedules, children’s needs, meal planning, running errands — you name it. Spending this time to prepare and invest in your sex life can make a huge difference.
  • Set the atmosphere — that may mean dimming the lights, putting on clean sheets, lighting up that favorite candle. Anything that helps you relax and be present goes a long way.

Bless you, sweet friends! It has been a privilege to come alongside you for these past few weeks. I pray that God would continue to mold us and our relationships increasingly into His likeness as we seek to know Him more intimately and honor Him with our thoughts and actions. Thank you for taking the time to read (or listen!). May He continue to whisper sweet things to your hearts as you trust in Him.

Related Resources:

A few of the Christian resources Amy recommends to help you navigate issues related to purity, sex in marriage, struggles with homosexuality, sex abuse, etc., to aid you in whatever season of life or stage you find yourself in:

A Celebration of Sex, by Dr. Douglas E. Rosenau

A Celebration of Sex for Newlyweds, by Dr. Douglas E. Rosenau

When Two Become One: Enhancing Sexual Intimacy in Marriage, by Christopher and Rachel McCluskey

The Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide to Survivors of Sexual Abuse, by Wendy Maltz

Passion and Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under God’s Control, by Elizabeth Elliot

A Celebration of Sex After 50, by Dr. Douglas E. Rosenau and Dr. Jim and Carolyn Childerston

Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends, by Dr. Mark  A. Yarhouse

Sheet Music: Uncovering the Secrets of Sexual Intimacy in Marriage, by Dr. Kevin Leman

Soul Virgins: Redefining Single Sexuality, by Dr. Douglas E. Rosenau and Michael Todd Wilson

If you need to find a certified Christian sex therapist in your area, check out the following link: http://abcst.sexualwholeness.com/abcst-therapists-list.

Amy Owen

Amy Owen

Amy Owen is a Jesus-follower, wife, doggy-mom, and counselor. She studied Child and Family Development at University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!) for her undergraduate and obtained a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy at Richmont Graduate University. While at Richmont, Amy had the privilege to study Christian Sex Therapy, which is one of her passions. Currently, Amy lives in South Georgia and works with youth and their families. Her previous counseling work includes private practice with teens and adults, as well as inpatient and residential settings with adults struggling with acute mental illness and addiction. In her free time, Amy is an avid fiction-reader and walker; in addition, she loves to make new friends.

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3 Scriptural Truths That Reveal God’s Plan for Sex

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As I look around in culture today, the thought so often enters my mind, “Lord, where are you? How did we get here?” It seems that so much of our media is sex-crazed, almost to a point of worshiping it. Sex has become confused with the notion of love and intimacy. While it can certainly be an act that represents and expresses precisely those things, the way it is often portrayed in movies or shows is quite the opposite. It tends to be self-centered, greedy, and far more depictive of lust than love in the world. What are God’s thoughts on sex? What does His Word provide as our guidance on how we can align our thoughts, actions, and speech with His?

Coming into college, I had no idea what path I was going to choose for my life. On one hand, I had been introduced to Jesus and had been invited to a student ministry that I knew had been a large part of changing my sister’s life. On the other hand, I still struggled with a lot of insecurity, and my primary way of finding security in the past had been by seeking romantic relationships or friendships to give me a sense of value, so the partying side appealed to me greatly too. Through a series of events, I wound up attending a prayer and worship service with my sister, and God’s love touched me in a way that I had never experienced. I felt His conviction heavy upon my heart. As I repented of my sin, I felt His freedom and nearness like never before. I was sold and fell in love with Jesus and His people.

Shortly afterward, the student ministry advertised a new small group being offered that semester on God’s heart for sex. I was very intrigued because all I had ever been taught regarding what the Bible had to say about sex was that Christians were supposed to wait until marriage. Most Christians I knew would never dare talk to me about sex, so the idea that someone was inviting me to a group where we would openly talk about what the Bible had to say about sex was fascinating to me.

As I joined this group, God began to fill me with His passion for His creation of sex. I saw how He created boundaries around sex to protect us, not to deprive us. It was His perfect love for His children that created these laws, not His desire to test our obedience to Him. He knew what would be best for our hearts and spirits because He is the One who made us precisely as we are in the first place.

That being said, I would like to share with you a few of the Scriptures and truths that God revealed to me through this group. I pray that as you read His Word, God would ignite a fire in you to seek after and pray for His righteous sexuality to grow in us and in our nation.

What Scripture Teaches Us About Sexuality According to God’s Design:

1. Sex is innately pure.

The first commandment God gives to Adam and Eve as a couple is, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). The Lord saw that it was “not good for man that the man should be alone” and gave him a helper in Eve; similarly, he made it so a man and woman would leave their mother and father and become “one flesh” (Genesis 2:18, 24). God created sex and He made us to be incredibly relational beings. He is the one who formed our anatomy and chose for this to be the path through which He creates new human life.

How sweet that He chose to bring children from an act of love. Our sexuality was present before the Fall, so we can know that it was His intention from the beginning and was originally marked by complete purity. Now that we are living in the world after the Fall, however, this purity must be sought after with vigilance. In 2 Corinthians 6:18-20, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to “flee from sexual immorality” because it is a sin again one’s own body, which is a “temple of the Holy Spirit.”

2. Sex is powerful.

In Ephesians 5:31, 32 (ESV), the apostle Paul begins by citing Genesis 2:24 regarding marriage and explains he believes marriage is a metaphor of Jesus’ union with His Bride, the Church: “ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” No wonder it has such power! The act of sex not only has the potential to create life, but also the potential for the most intimate act of unity a couple can partake in, as it is an opportunity to connect physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Although we rarely do engage in this potential because of our own wounds and baggage, the potential remains there.

Just as in all things that God creates for good, the enemy will try to use them for destruction, so sex also holds the power for great harm as well. It is often used to abuse, shame, control, or exploit others. This is a heartbreaking reality that must be addressed as it is often the source of many women’s pain and skepticism in approaching sexuality — and rightfully so! But we know that God is a miracle-worker and whatever the enemy intends for evil, He will use for our good. He offers healing in His Presence and the presence of His people. He is faithful to make any experience a testimony to His goodness and power.

3. Sex offers potential for intimate oneness.

The Hebrew word often used to describe sex in the Bible is “yada” which means “to know.” Any sexual act requires incredible vulnerability and openness. Our physical nakedness represents a full bearing and surrender of ourselves. And this is the first thing that Satan attacked. In Genesis 2:25 (ESV), prior to the Fall, Scripture tells us, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” However, after Adam and Eve took of the fruit and ate, both of their eyes were opened. Therefore, they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths in an attempt to hide their nakedness (Genesis 3:6, 7). Shame covered them and kept them from engaging in intimate relationship with the Lord and others.

It is so common for us to hide our sins, especially sexual sins, allowing them to grow in the darkness. Instead, we are urged to “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12, ESV) and to “walk in the light . . . [to] have fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:7). We are promised that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, ESV).

In other words, shame holds us back from true healing and reconciliation with God and others! Our Lover urges us to come out of hiding. In Song of Solomon 2:14 (ESV) He cries, “Let Me see your face. Let Me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.” This vulnerability takes a great deal of confidence and trust, which is why I believe God has gone to such great lengths to warn us of its potential for harm if used outside of His good purposes.

Conclusion:

This is just a beginning into what God’s Word has to say about His divine plan for sex and includes some of the highlights that I have learned on my own journey of studying this topic. As our nation continues to indulge in the world’s way of viewing sexuality, I believe God is calling us to be lights in the darkness to offer hope and healing to those who have been hurt, disappointed, or disillusioned by what the world teaches. In the words of Chris and Rachel McCluskey in their book When Two Become One: Enhancing Sexual Intimacy in Marriage, “The church must take back sex and claim the truth that it belongs to God and it is good — but only when practiced within His guidelines . . . Our union as husband and wife bears testimony in the heavenlies to the promised consummation of Jesus Christ and his bride, the church.”

Related Resources:

Like this article and want to read more from Amy? This article is the first in a 3-part series on love and sex. Check out Amy’s article next week about the deceptiveness of our heart and the following week for her tips on enhancing sex in the marriage relationship.

Don’t have time to read a post or prefer to listen to the points in podcast form? Check out the podcast episode above this article where Amy explains the major ideas and concepts discussed in her writing.

Amy Owen

Amy Owen

Amy Owen is a Jesus-follower, wife, doggy-mom, and counselor. She studied Child and Family Development at University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!) for her undergraduate and obtained a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy at Richmont Graduate University. While at Richmont, Amy had the privilege to study Christian Sex Therapy, which is one of her passions. Currently, Amy lives in South Georgia and works with youth and their families. Her previous counseling work includes private practice with teens and adults, as well as inpatient and residential settings with adults struggling with acute mental illness and addiction. In her free time, Amy is an avid fiction-reader and walker; in addition, she loves to make new friends.

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As Christian Parents, Why We Need to Talk to Our Kids About Sex

Untitled designIt happened at dinner the other day.

The sex talk with my kids. I expected it to go differently.

My 7-year-old daughter posed a question about babies, and somehow the stage was set for me to explain what Mommy and Daddy do to get a baby in Mommy’s tummy.

After the blurting out of key body parts and necessary actions, I felt my stomach do a near back-flip and the color leave my face, but I felt proud of myself. I had conquered the Mt. Everest of parental duty: I had explained the birds-and-the-bees to my offspring.

I had even accomplished this feat in a fairly timely, age-appropriate manner. Granted, my 4-year-old was listening in on the conversation, and I hadn’t exactly intended for him to be part of the audience, but overall, I felt it went pretty well.

After my explanation, I waited for screams of shock, my daughter fainting from the trauma of hearing me speak of, gasp, sex. But no such moment happened. My daughter wrinkled her nose and said, “Ewww!” with a giggle. My son chimed in an enthusiastic comment which doesn’t seem appropriate to repeat here and then finished up his plate. A minute later, both kids pushed back their chairs, got up from the table, and noisily requested permission to play the Wii.

I shrugged. Well, OK. That wasn’t so bad. Is it possible that as a Christian parent I might be able to navigate this topic with grace and ease? I had assumed otherwise.

In all honesty, communicating with our kids about sex as a Christian parent is not without its challenges. We may not know how to approach the subject. Therefore, we may just avoid the topic altogether or bumble our way through it in a way that is awkward for ourselves and our kids. However, kids need to have honest discussions with their parents about sex. Therefore, even though I am learning as I go, here are a few things I plan to do with my own kids when it comes to talking about sex:

The Decision to Talk Openly About Sex With My Kids as a Christian Parent

1. Make it an ongoing conversation.

Obviously, I described a big moment at the dinner table where I explained sex to my kids using correct anatomical terms. However, I had decided before that point that I would make sex and growing up an ongoing conversation with my kids. Rather than white-knuckle my way through one big uncomfortable conversation (or avoid it completely) well past the time my kids had heard it from someone else, I decided I would answer my kids’ questions when they came up and give the information that was age-appropriate as they progressed.

Therefore, even though we did have a conversation that was big at the table in terms of me revealing with honesty what happens to get a baby in Mommy’s tummy, there were several small conversations before that point where I told them a fraction about sex and baby development that contributed to the dinner conversation. As my kids grow, I want to continue to provide them with information and materials that will help them to know what is happening to their changing bodies, as well as God’s plan for sex. Although not every parent needs to have the exact same approach, I believe that it’s far more effective to have a series of small conversations about sex and the body as our children grow rather than one enormous conversation that we never touch on again (or no conversation at all).

2. Take shame out of the equation.

Because I didn’t hear many adults in my life (other than the educational figures at school) talk about sex when I was growing up, sex had an air of secrecy to it. I got the impression that sex was bad. It was too bad to talk about. There must be something dirty about it. It wasn’t until I watched a Song of Songs series as an adult that I realized that it’s OK to talk about sex in the appropriate context. God talks about sex, and it’s not shameful to mention certain body parts or acknowledge that they exist. God spends a lot of time talking about His design for intimate relationships and sex in His Word. We should follow His model and not make our kids feel bad or ashamed when they come across a word that they are curious about or have a question about sex or their bodies. Answering their questions and engaging their concerns without shutting them down or looking at them in horror when they bring up a query helps our kids to have a healthy view of sex and takes shame out of the equation.

3. Discuss sex in terms beyond just “Don’t do it.”

As Christian parents, our discussion of sex needs to be in the context of “Here’s God’s Framework for Sex and Why,” rather than just “Don’t!” 

For many of us who grew up in the church, the main message we got was just that: “Don’t do it!” I received this particular message of “Don’t” in a myriad of ways: through talks at youth groups, the encouragement to sign a purity contract at church, articles I read in Christian teen magazines, etc. Although the message of purity needs to be one that is given to young people, we need to tell our young people why, not just don’t. If we take time to explain to our kids that God has created boundaries for relationships and sex to protect us from forming unhealthy soul ties and hurting ourselves emotionally, physically, and spiritually, kids might be more inclined to get on board with God’s plan for sex, instead of hurting themselves by engaging in promiscuous behavior.

Breaking the Silence: Talking About Sex With Your Kids

Not being open about the topic of sex with kids can cause them to receive confusing or misleading messages about sex and God’s plan for intimacy. Never telling your child about sex in the hopes that he or she won’t do it isn’t realistic. Similarly, acting embarrassed or alarmed when your child asks questions about sex may cause them to view sex as shameful.

As parents, we need to teach our kids what God’s Word says about sex, but also prepare them for the reality that the boundaries for sex and marriage given to us by God will be challenged by the culture. If we create a safe place for our kids to talk with us about sex when they are young and continue the conversation with them with age-appropriate information as they grow, they will be less likely to find out their information from erroneous sources that do not have their best interests in mind — and be more likely to develop a healthy view of sex they will carry into adulthood.

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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The Secret to Being Content in any Circumstance

The Secret to Being Content in any Cirumstance

“Mom, our playground is so small. It’s like a baby playground,” my daughter announced as I eased the minivan into the carpool line that snaked in front of her school.

We had recently moved into a new community, and after only a month in her new first grade class, my daughter had been giving me an earful about the inadequacies of her new surroundings: The “baby” playground that did not compare to the one at her old school. The cafeteria that smelled like “stinky green beans.” The public library near our house that didn’t have the chapter books she liked.

She continued, “The only thing I like playing on are the swings, and you only get one turn.”

“And you probably can’t swing that long because everybody else wants a turn, right?” I ventured.

“Yes!” She sighed.

Although I forced a positive tilt in my voice, my shoulders sagged as she conveyed her displeasure over her playground situation. As she walked into school and I drove away, I reflected on the fact that lately I felt frustrated every time I talked with her. Our conversations over the past few weeks had left me feeling like a complete failure as a mom.

Later in my quiet time, I confessed my feelings of mom-inadequacy to God. Why did I feel like I couldn’t connect with my daughter lately? Why was I so irritated and exhausted by her litany of complaints?

As I poured out my feelings to God, I didn’t really expect to get an answer. But almost immediately after I expressed my frustrations, a little question bubbled up in my mind: Is it your responsibility to fix everything?

I pondered over that for a moment and realized that God was helping me pinpoint what was going on: every time my daughter expressed a disappointment, I felt like I had to fix it.

When she complained about anything, my mind immediately went to ways I could smooth over the situation, make it work the way she wanted. Without realizing it, I was equating how I was doing as a mom with her satisfaction level in her environment.

Perhaps this situation presented a lesson not only for me as a mom and a Christian but a lesson that I could impart to my daughter about life.

Yes, I wanted her to be happy, and I wanted to consider her needs, but perhaps I was doing a great disservice by allowing her to grow up thinking that the world could and should be changed according to her demands. Because it couldn’t and wouldn’t.

And perhaps our conversations could be a little less stressful for me if I took the pressure off myself to fix things I couldn’t fix. (Yes, I admit as she was talking I was thinking about how I hoped perhaps the PTA was looking into designating funds for a new playground.)

The Apostle Paul: A Lesson in Contentment

We need only look to the apostle Paul to learn a lesson in contentment. Paul certainly knew what it was like to be in adverse circumstances. In the book of Philippians, Paul is imprisoned in Rome. He had limited mobility, no permanent residence, scarcity in his food supply at times — yet he has this to say:

 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12, 13)

The Philippians had sent him a gift but had lamented over the fact that they had not been able to support him recently in the way they had done in the past. With his words, Paul assures them that he is content with little or much. He mentions that he has “learned the secret of being content” (v. 12). His words suggest that he had been learning this lesson over the course of many situations — both lean and prosperous. His secret?

He finds contentment “through” Christ (v. 13). He is able to endure any situation not because of his own strength but because of the strength of Christ who lives within him. As the Pulpit Commentary suggests: “It is only in Christ, in spiritual union with him, that the Christian is … self-sufficient. His presence gives strength to do and suffer all things.”

The self-sufficiency Paul mentions is not a sufficiency of looking to one’s own self, but a “Christ-sufficiency” — an ability to “accept whatever came his way, knowing that his life was not conditioned by either [want or plenty]” (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series).

Not only that, earlier in Philippians 1:12, Paul shares the method by which he measures his situations. He finds cause for rejoicing, even in trials, as long as his greatest mission — to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ — is being accomplished.

Learning to Be Content in all Circumstances

This afternoon I plan to turn what I was seeing as a communication gap between me and my daughter as a communication opportunity: I am going to sit down and read Philippians 4:12 to her and explain that we can be content no matter our situation looks like.

That, yes, I too had noticed some new things I didn’t like since we moved (and had found myself missing our old house and old community in moments), but dwelling on those thoughts had led me to discontentment.

Rather than just considering if our situation brought us comfort or suited our every whim, we could use both Paul’s source of strength and means of measurement by which to approach our circumstance.

God’s words in my quiet time and my later reflection on Paul’s words to the Philippians reinforced to me that the next time my daughter began grumbling, and I felt the urge to do mental gymnastics thinking of solutions, I could relax and just listen.

I could consider whether or not the situation really needed to be changed or if God had us right where He wanted us — living out His will — in a place that didn’t necessarily need “fixing” at all.

Want to listen in to learn more about Philippians 4:12 and chat about the topic of contentment? To join in for a discussion on confrontation, subscribe to our free video chat this Monday, August 1 @ 9 PM EST, or leave a comment below.

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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Dear Woman Who Feels Unwanted: Here’s Hope You Can Cling to

Dear Woman Who Feels Unwanted_

When I was an unmarried college student, I got a job working at a retail store in the local mall.

People that I knew would frequently come through, but I was surprised one day to see a good looking young man approach me. I recognized him as the brother of a boy I had known in my middle school days.

He smiled at me and struck up a conversation. As he continued talking to me for more than a few minutes, I found his attention flattering but began to wonder why he was lingering around me for so long. Right around the time that I began to assume that he was being flirtatious with me, these words came out of his mouth: “So, tell me about her. Does she have a boyfriend?”

I immediately paused in my shirt folding and looked to see where he was gesturing. My gaze fell on the beautiful young high school student that had just joined our staff. She had long, straight brown hair and a bubbly smile.

I felt a jolt of unpleasantness course through my veins. Though I had no interest in this young man and did not desire to “hook up” with him, I was flattered by the idea that he might be talking to me because he thought I was interesting or attractive. However, his comment underlined the real reason he was acting so friendly in my presence.

The idea made me freeze a little because I had observed flocks of guys around this particular girl on a regular basis, and it was hard not to be feel terribly plain and unnoticed working beside her.

“She has a boyfriend,” I said very evenly as I finished the last of the shirts in my pile.

His face fell and within seconds he mumbled his goodbyes and quickly exited the store. I stood there feeling slightly used and annoyed. Could he not just chat with me a few moments because I grew up near his family, and I had gone to school with his brother? Why was his only intent to use me to get to this other girl?

Although this irritated feeling in this particular incident was one I was able to shrug off within a matter of moments, I suppose that the reason the irritation was there to begin with was because of something deep within me that this situation touched on. A fear that perhaps I didn’t have what other girls had to offer.

A longing to be noticed and admired — even by somebody’s brother whom I wasn’t even interested in.

Leah from the Bible: A Woman Insecure and Unwanted

When I was a young girl, I was familiar with the story of Leah and Rachel, and here was my honest thought concerning God’s placement of it in the Bible: it reinforced my belief that it was important to be more like Rachel than Leah. Males loved Rachels.

I had a few Rachels in my immediate realm who proved this point. They were pretty, popular, sought after. Enough said.

But I never considered that the story in the Bible wasn’t to make insecure girls feel even more insecure. God’s intention in placing it there was most likely to show overlooked-feeling girls such as myself how to find confidence and belonging.

Let’s look at Leah’s story in Genesis 29. Leah was given to Jacob when Jacob didn’t even want her. Rather than the sister he thought he was getting on his wedding night, he got Leah. And when he discovered that his trickster father-in-law had made the switch, he was angry and demanded that he have Rachel. And there was nothing Leah could do to change the situation she found herself in.

She didn’t have a choice when her father, Laban, chose her to dupe Jacob, and she couldn’t get out of a marriage she was bound by covenant into, even though it meant sharing her husband with a sister that was the favored one, the one that Jacob loved.

So, as blogger and Proverbs 31 contributor Lynn Cowell points out in a blog post, Leah did what any desperate woman would do, and she attempted to offer Jacob something that would make him love her. In her society, because a woman’s fertility was valued, she bore him sons. And with each son she birthed, the Bible says that Leah believed that the child would help Jacob feel attached to her. Three times, she did this!

It’s easy to look at poor Leah here and claim that we would never repeatedly engage in the same cycle of approval-seeking (when it clearly isn’t working), but that is exactly some of us have done a thousand times.

We continue to call the man who won’t commit to a serious relationship and make excuses when he never calls us. We continue to kill ourselves out-performing everyone at our job to prove to a hard-to-please male boss that we are a good employee. We think of ways we can dress better, do our hair differently, lose a few pounds to keep the affections of a husband who is distant and unaffectionate. And though our efforts don’t work, we lie to ourselves and tell ourselves that if we just do [fill in the blank], we will finally win him.

Leah fell into this trap again and again. You can almost imagine her as she presented her newest newborn to her husband with eager expectation, but he did not waver in his love for Rachel. In fact, the irony is that Rachel was barren for many years when they were first married, but Jacob showed devotion and favoritism towards her even when she had difficulty conceiving.

Have you ever been there?

But as Cowell observes, there is a turning point in the story where Leah had a heart-change. She stopped looking to her husband, and she started looking to God for her love and fulfillment. In verse 35, after the birth of her fourth son, Leah said: “This time I will praise the Lord.” And then Leah stopped bearing children for a time.

Aren’t you just cheering for Leah here? She adjusted her focus to the One who created her.

However, her change of heart may have only been temporary. She began child-bearing again — it doesn’t expressly say that did this to try once again to gain her husband’s attention, but more out of competition with her sister.

Regardless of whether Leah changed her approval-seeking ways with her husband permanently or not, her heart-change (even if only temporary) did not change her circumstances. The Scriptures give no indication that her husband began to love her. In fact, it indicates that she remained unloved. When Jacob was afraid to meet his brother, Esau, later in the story, he sent Leah out in front. Rachel was safely positioned back with him.

But Leah’s best moment was when she found strength in a God who loved her and had a purpose for her when the world was unfair to her. It turns out that Leah was in the lineage of Jesus Christ! And, though the biblical account doesn’t tell us what happened between Jacob and Leah later in life, I’d like to think that perhaps Jacob grew to respect and perhaps even love this wife he initially didn’t want.

What we do know is that Leah outlived Rachel and was buried next to him (an honor not even Rachel had).

If You Feel Unwanted

I know if you are reading this and find yourself feeling left out and unloved like Leah, you might be wondering: Does this mean my circumstances will never change? I can’t answer that. I do know that God wants us to find meaningful connections in our relationships, and I believe that He can restore any relationship.

However, I also know that sometimes God doesn’t change our circumstances the way we want. Instead, He may change us.

The encouragement is that if we find ourselves in a challenging work situation or relationship, we can know that God has a purpose for us, and though we may not be able to change the people in our situation, we can change our own perspective and find contentment and belonging despite how people may view us.

For some of us, God may make it obvious that we do need to move on from the situation we’re in. But for others of us, God may have us stick out a stressful work environment, tough family situation we want to run from, or marriage that isn’t ideal.

The Real Lesson of the Story: You Can Be Loved For Being You

So the real lesson the story isn’t that I should try to be a Rachel if I’m not. The story reminds me not to find my sole value in the desires of a person because I may be sorely disappointed. God gave us male-female relationships for our enjoyment and fulfillment, yes, but if the male is our source, the one we look to for our sense of worth, we will find ourselves on shaky ground. We may find ourselves in an unhealthy cycle of striving, like Leah, to get him to notice us or try to make him love us.

God is the only One who can love you completely in the way that you need to be loved. And He finds delight in you, just the way you are! A better way to live is to be secure in who God made you to be. When we rest in the truth that God loves us, we find the strength and grace to navigate the relationships in our life in a healthy manner — whether the people in our closest realm see the value God sees in us — or not.

Carol’s note: Please understand that my intent in writing this article is not to encourage you to stay in an abusive situation. Please seek out the help of a Christian counselor or pastor if you are being physically or emotionally abused.

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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The Thing That Surprised Me the Most About Having Children

Beulah Girl April May 2016 (3)

Having kids proved to me that God has a sense of humor.

I had always suspected that He did (after all, He gave us the ability to laugh, and we’re made in His image), but having children confirmed it for me.

Here’s how: nearly every expectation or preconceived notion I had about having children was irrevocably wrong.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was convinced that I was having a boy. Convinced because I thought I wanted a boy. I told my husband that I didn’t even need to go to the ultrasound — I was 100 percent sure I was having a boy. My husband was convinced of the opposite, and he was right.

I was having a girl. And when plans of my “Keegan” boy name and the sports nursery I had already planned in my head were turned upside down with one matter-of-fact announcement from the ultrasound technician, I was horribly upset. But after I got over the shock, I went out and bought the pinkest, frilliest nursery set I could find and embraced the girl thing with open arms.

And you know what? I love having a girl and a first-born girl at that. She is my number-one helper around the house. She is so responsible and pleasant and hilarious. I can’t imagine her not being my child.

Similarly, I had other expectations when I was pregnant with my son. I did think I was having a boy (and was accurate the second time around), but when I got the boy I couldn’t wait to have, I was surprised by just how much of a boy he was. I didn’t anticipate that he would enjoy hanging off the blinds like a trapeze artist (until all of the supports snapped in half), or bring all of the rough-and-tumble and grime of the outdoors in my house. All the time.

And yet — I love my son dearly, and I have learned to let go of my cherished possessions and take it in stride when a lamp (or two or three) breaks.

And I feel pretty sure God laughs. Not in a malicious way, but just at how silly I must appear with my plans and ideas that I am so sure of. Then He unveils His plans and ideas, and they are nothing like mine!

A few other things I have found surprising:

1. My children have pieces of me.

I know this probably seems like an extremely narcissistic way to start this conversation, but I am most amazed by the fact that my children have some of me in them. Sure, I assumed they would somewhat look like me and perhaps display some of my traits, but I didn’t really think about what this would look like in reality.

My daughter has the same taste in movies as me. We love to watch Disney Princess Diaries together, and I have already introduced her to some of my other Disney favorites when I was a child: Parent Trap, Pollyanna, etc. She loves to write stories, and she took off with reading three months into her kindergarten year. Now, as a first grader, she has stacks of chapter books on her nightstand, and I catch her reading every free second she has.

I assumed that my love of all things reading wouldn’t transfer to my son. He didn’t speak in full sentences until he was three, so I thought that he might be slightly delayed with reading or not have an interest in it at all. But I was wrong. He pesters me all day about how to spell words (Mom, how do you spell?) and reads small words on signs and on book covers at the age of four.

Each night he won’t let me leave the room unless the light is on and he has at least 20 children’s tales littering the bottom half of his bed. As I go downstairs to clean the kitchen and tidy up the family room, I hear him reading out loud to himself in his childish voice.

I am reminded of all the nights I read late into the night as a young person, and I am astounded by this love for words that my children share with me. It makes me proud! I bet God looks down and smiles when we display traits of His — and feels that same parental pride.

2. How different my children are from me.

Not only did it surprise me that my children would have some of the same interests as me, I was equally surprised by their uniqueness as individuals. Even though I suspected that they would be different than me, I sometimes feel that these differences are shocking. Sometimes I am not sure if I am dealing with my own children or aliens.

The fact that they have opinions and want their own thing — A LOT — makes it hard for me to always relate to them. My daughter, for instance, is very caring and loves animals. I have never been much of an animal lover, so when she cuddles up to some of the smelly goats and calves at the petting zoo or talks to me about the traits of a particular four-legged friend, I have to feign interest.

It’s a stretch for me when she gets in caring animal mode. It’s just not something I relate to. However, I don’t want to take that away from her because I know how important animals are to her. So we go to farms and zoos and buy kitty fact books and collect stuffed animals from the Five and Below store. I definitely want to be her biggest support, but I have to work at it when that includes orchestrating activities that take me out of my comfort zone.

3. That my children would bring me pain.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I envisioned rosy moments of cradling an infant in my arms — and yes, I had those — but I didn’t realize that infant would also bring me hurt at times. All of those corny things you hear about your children being your hearts walking around are completely true. I feel the hurts that my children feel.

For instance, when my daughter came home and reported a few incidents where a certain girl excluded her in kindergarten, I felt like I had been mortally wounded. I wanted to go and take care of it right then and there (I know, super mature), but I had to instead talk to Elsbeth about her worth and her value whether other people noticed it or not. When she tells me about a girl not being nice to her, I feel like a stake is piercing straight through me. There has been this lurking fear that she will turn out just like me. And I don’t want that for her.

And I have similar pains (for different reasons) when my son throws exhausting fits and makes me wonder if I am doing anything right. Recently, my son went into a phase when we put him into preschool — a hitting Mommy phase — where many afternoons after I picked him up he would throw large-scale tantrums when I didn’t give him the snack he wanted or told him to turn off the video game.

He would come up and give me a defiant punch in the arm or kick in the shin. I know little boys are supposed to be physical, but I figured that would be with other little boys rather than his own mother.

But this little boy whom I rocked to sleep through long nights of colic when he was first born; the same one who wanted only his mother for three straight years (much to the disappointment of his father); the one who bounced into his classroom the first day of preschool holding onto my hand, proud to be sporting a brand-new Mario backpack — yes, this same one also has a temper that rears up against me.

Though he is pulling out of the phase now, there have been moments when I have cringed as I have pulled up in the preschool carpool line — afraid that his teachers will lean in the car and report that my son had gone bezerk during school hours, and they couldn’t control him. But they usually just smile and tell me he was very quiet in school.

Apparently, he reserves this behavior just for me.

No one told me the ache I would feel — loving a child who has such adorable qualities but yet can be so challenging to manage on certain days.

4. That my children would teach me things.

I grew up in the 80s where parents were strict disciplinarians (the ones I observed, anyway). They laid down the law and children were just children. The parents I knew were busy making all of the rules and the kids’ job was to follow them.

Don’t get me wrong. I certainly don’t believe kids should call the shots or make the rules in a household, but I have found since having children of my own that I really do learn valuable things from listening to them. They have, in many ways, helped me learn how to parent them and relate to them in more ways than I imagined.

Armed with parenting books when my daughter arrived, I was careful to follow the advice of the experts and psychologists. But I quickly learned that my daughter didn’t need all of the three-step plans for getting her sleeping through the night or weaning her from her pacifier. She was a very easy, compliant baby and needed very little coaxing to do the things we wanted her to.

She never tried to climb out of her crib or escape from her bed when we introduced her to a “big girl bed.” She helped me calm down as a mom, and I realized that she was more resilient than I thought she would be. She had to weather a few of my blunders — like when I washed her bottles for two straight weeks without realizing that I needed to separate the nipple parts to ensure their cleanliness, or tried a boot camp approach to potty-training.

However, she survived both of those mama fails and didn’t seem to notice or care when I finally figured out how to use the bottle dishwasher container I had received at my baby shower and got into a groove with potty-training.

5. That my children would reveal more of God to me.

Although I know and believe my children were made in God’s image, I wasn’t prepared for how much my children would heighten my awareness of who God is and His special plan for each of us — one conceived before we were even born.

With both of my children, I struggled to come up with names because my husband and I had such vastly different ideas concerning names, and nothing sounded right. So I prayed about what to name them, and God delivered.

I dreamed of my daughter’s name, and my son’s name just popped in my head one day when my husband and I were at an impasse as to what to call him. And these names fit both perfectly. I know and see that God knew my children before He formed them.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb … My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all of the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13-16).

Therefore, the most surprising thing of all, the thing that I wasn’t expecting is that my kids reveal more of God to me: they reveal how much He loves us, how much care He took to create us.

Beulah Girl April May 2016 (4)

Though I laugh at how my children didn’t (and don’t) fit my own ideas of who they would be  — those silly ideas I had revealed how little I understood about what a mother does or who she is.

My job as a mother isn’t to put my children or myself on display through my children — though they share some of my traits. My job is to continually point my children to their Maker, understanding that as my children grow in their walks with Jesus and get to know Him better, the Person that will shine the brightest through them is Him.

That though I already see His creative fingerprints all over them, the noblest task of motherhood is this: to know that the greatest plan for my children is to reflect God’s glory. To encourage them to continue to become, as the writer of Ephesians says, God’s masterpiece or poema — not mine.

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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