Monthly Archives: June 2014

When My Marriage Seemed Hopeless, What Made Me Stay?

I’m a big proponent of reading Christian marriage books. I have gleaned a lot of wisdom from biblically based writing about the marital relationship and practical advice on making marriages work.

That said, I’m coming clean today. I wasn’t reading a Christian marriage book when I decided to stay in my marriage even though things seemed utterly hopeless. I was reading a secular book that I researched and bought online, hid from my husband, and read in secret. Mind you, I’m not suggesting any of that. I’m simply giving my own confession.

Husband & Wife separated by a wall

Since you’re probably wanting to know the book’s title, I’ll give it to you — but don’t run out and buy it! It was Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay: A Step-by-Step Guide to Help You Decide Whether to Stay in or Get Out of a Relationship by Mira Kirshenbaum. Why do I say don’t buy the book? Because it wasn’t the book that made me stay. It was the foundation of faith I had as I read through the chapters.

One by one, the author went through various problems a relationship can have and signs that indicate things could improve or not. If a situation is unbearable and unlikely to change, the reasonable choice is to leave. Right?

But as I read through the book and sorted through the problems — some laid out in eerie resemblance to my own marriage — I realized I was willing to live with a lot more than I originally thought and I believed my God was a lot bigger than I’d originally thought.

I’m years down the road from that moment, but I vividly remember holding that book in my bathtub (where I love to read, thank you very much) and the reality that I wanted to leave my marriage hitting me like a brick in the gut. And that punch made me wonder if I had another choice — if despite the few chapters that subtly encouraged me to back out, I could find a way to honor my covenant.

Admittedly, my marriage was not dealing with any of the three awful A’s — adultery, abuse, or addiction — which are especially difficult to surmount. However, my marriage looked like Humpty-Dumpty at the time. It seemed that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put our marriage back together again. But what about the King himself? Did I believe His reassurances that I could reap good if I sowed according to His Word?

How do you know when to stay? I can’t answer that question for anyone else. I do know for certain two things:

  1. Several years down the road, I am a happily married woman. Happily. And I am ever-so-thankful that God pricked my heart and encouraged my soul, and that I stayed with my husband and kept my family intact.
  2. Research has shown that  2/3 of unhappy spouses who stayed married reported their marriages were happy 5 years later. And the most unhappy marriages had the best results, with 8 out of 10 spouses who reported “very unhappy” marriages and avoided divorce being happily married 5 years later. (See more about the study.)

What factors did I use to ultimately stay in an unhappy marriage and create a holier, happier marriage?

  • Even if I didn’t feel loved at that moment, I knew my husband had loved me. I held onto that truth and believed we could rekindle our love.
  • I was convicted that I’d been waiting for my husband to change. When I looked at the issues brought up in this secular book, I recognized that if he were reading it, he’d have grounds to leave me. So clearly, I hadn’t done everything I could do to be the wife God wanted me to be.
  • We had children, and he was a loving father. We disagreed then about parenting approaches, but we’d created human beings together and I knew he cared for them. I wasn’t ready to separate my kids from their dad.
  • We experienced good sexual intimacy, which reminded me of our deep, one-flesh connection. Our satisfying sex life was a reminder of our unique relationship and our continued desire to be together.
  • I believe God could turn us around, because I’d seen how He turned me around. I’d gone from premarital promiscuity to many years of monogamy with my husband — and he was still the only one I truly sexually desired. With God’s intervention in my life, something had changed in my core. So I knew what was possible.
  • I remembered specific verses and stories in the Bible about waiting on the Lord, sowing patiently before the harvest arrives, and being spiritually rewarded for following God’s commands (even if it meant that my marriage continued to struggle for the time being). Galatians 6:7-10 says:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

I suspect too many spouses give up before they can reap the spiritual reward of being diligent in their marriage. For most marriages, there is also a reward in the relationship — the marriage improves. Sometimes drastically.

I’ve got my own testimony about hopeless to happy. I’d love to hear yours.

Did you move from hopeless to happy? What helped you stay in your marriage? Are you struggling right now?

Truth and Tips about Tan Lines

I’m a very white chick. Just so you know. You haven’t seen my face, but I’ve shown my feet before and they’re a giveaway.

my feet

Not that far off the color of that white sheet!

I’m a little jealous of those with bronzed or dark skin. From what I can tell, they don’t blind people when they wear shorts; they don’t burn to a crisp when they forget the sunscreen for an hour or so; and their blue veins don’t show through their skin. I don’t know what that feels like.

But if you’re looking to secure a tan this summer — to look better for yourself, the beach, or your husband — here’s some truth and a few tips about tanlines:

Woman sunbathing and wearing hat

Some men love ’em, some don’t. While looking up tan lines, I was fascinated to discover that some men find tan lines a huge turn-on. When a woman wears a swimsuit again and again in the summer, the lighter areas are obviously parts she doesn’t show to others. So when she shows them to hubby, it’s a reminder that he’s getting a look-see at something private, exclusive, intimate. Some husbands love that visual.

Other hubbies like a uniform color of skin, whether white, brown, black, etc. They may find tan lines distracting and prefer a smoother look so they can focus instead on the areas that capture their interest.

So take into consideration what your husband prefers. You don’t have to kowtow to his preferences, but give them some weight. It may be easy enough to alter your plan a bit and appeal to his visual interest.

Tanning doesn’t necessarily mean skin cancer. Of course, it can. When I was growing up, we thought nothing of slathering Hawaiian Tropic oil on our bodies and laying out in the sun for hours in hopes of turning a deep shade of brown. Which was like sending a personalized invitation to Mrs. Skin Cancer to attack us in later years. Bad. Idea. What were we thinking?!!

But there are other options now for getting a tanned look without putting your skin at risk. Wear sunscreen while you’re out in the sun, but grab some bronzer to apply in your own home, use a self-tanning lotion, mousse, or gel, or get an airbrush tan at a local salon. Let a beauty consultant in the store or salon assist you with choosing the right product and color for your particular skin and test your skin out first before application.

Be smart about getting a tan. You’re going for a sun-kissed look — without the sun-smacked skin cancer, thank you very much.

Be the color you are. Years ago I made peace that I will never, ever looking like the Coppertone model. God made a variety of skin color, driven by our level of pigmentation, and that makes the world a far more interesting place. A tan shouldn’t change who God made you to be, merely add a little oomph to your hue.

You’ve all seen the people who go too far when it comes to altering their appearance (whether hair color, plastic surgery, make-up, etc.), and the same issues can arise with tanning. If you choose to get a tan of some kind, keep the look within the realm of natural possibility given your skin tone and coloring. You’ll achieve a less fake, more enhancing appearance.

Take care of your skin. If you’ve experienced sun damage from prior tanning, see a dermatologist. I’m headed to one soon myself to check on an “age spot” that doesn’t look quite right. A good dermatologist can check any skin markings, moles, etc. by doing a thorough mapping of your body.

You can also perform regular self-examination with a body map. You’re looking for changes of your skin spots in size, color, texture, and more. If you discover problems, get treated. Surface skin cancer spots should be tested and can often be removed without further issues.

Love the skin you’re in. I find it fascinating to look at the array of skin colors out there. There’s something so gorgeous about everything from fair porcelain to golden tan to rich mocha skin. Whether you choose to add some tan or not, be confident with who you are.

Sometimes we gals overthink things even as basic as our skin tone. Even the lovely wife in Song of Songs had an issue:

“Do not gaze at me because I am dark,
because the sun has looked upon me.
My mother’s sons were angry with me;
they made me keeper of the vineyards,
but my own vineyard I have not kept!”

Song of Songs 1:6

Yet one verse earlier, she also said: “I am very dark, but lovely.” And a couple of verses later her husband calls her “O most beautiful among women.”

She looked fine. Lovely and beautiful, in fact! I suspect you do too. Whether you’re paper white like me or super-dark or somewhere in between. God makes good stuff, and our skin tone is among our assets.

As for me, I’ll be adding a touch of tan here and there. Fake tan. And I’ll be heading outdoors at times to enjoy God’s beautiful creation, while slapping on a healthy dose of sunscreen to protect the skin God gave me.

What are your own observations or tips about tan lines?

5 (Random) Analogies for Sex in Marriage

I have a tendency to use analogies to make points about sex in marriage. For instance, I’ve compared to sex to food, sports, and bunnies (yes, bunnies).

While I certainly believe God made us humans more complex than many of the word pictures I paint, comparing sex to other things we relate to can help us better understand a principle or application. So I got to thinking . . . what else could I compare sex to? I suspect I could draw a principle or application from just about any analogy someone suggested.

Today I’m giving it a shot.

I started with the statement in my head of “Sex in marriage is like ____.” Then I used an online random word generator and got five nouns — completely random! — and here I go.

Sex in marriage is like a tower. Easy phallic references aside, sex in marriage is like a tower. How so? Put simply, it stands above the rest.

Towers are taller than the buildings around them — whether it’s the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or the water tower in your small town. Likewise, godly sex in marriage rises above the rest, its intimacy superior to any other sexual relationships. And it needs to be held up like a tower for others to see that it supersedes the short, squat versions of sex that don’t mirror God’s design. Indeed, God is the master architect of sex, and when we follow His plan, our sexual intimacy with our husband can soar to great heights. Let’s aim to climb to that top and enjoy the amazing view.

Marital Intimacy Man superhero

courtesy of Create Your Own Superhero

Sex in marriage is like a cape. Capes are known for doing two things — keeping you warm and signifying you’re a superhero. Both apply to sex in marriage.

Experiencing true intimacy with your husband in the marriage bed gives your relationship a comforting warmth. You can snuggle right into that secure feeling of knowing that you belong to him and his desire is for you (Song of Songs 7:10). Moreover, that foundation of satisfying intimacy can give you greater confidence to get through your day and accomplish what you need to accomplish. It likely has that effect on your husband too. Many husbands report feeling like Superman when they experience great lovemaking and especially when they pleasure their wife to climax.

So yeah, grab your cape.

Sex in marriage is like an encyclopedia. The constant message in our world is that unmarried, uncommitted people are having the best sex. And that’s a lie. Both the Bible and research are clear that married couples have more frequent and more satisfying sexual intimacy. Why? Because sex in marriage is like an encyclopedia.

Over the course of many years in a marriage, you build up so many entries of what your husband likes, what arouses you, positions you tried, locations you made love, activities you enjoy, and on and on and on. Dating relationships, “friends with benefits,” and one-night stands are like a single entry, whereas a covenant relationship allows you time and opportunity to get to know one another so deeply that you can become the expert on your spouse. Who wants a single page torn out of Britannica when you can get the whole set of encyclopedias?

Michelangelo’s Pietà — by Stanislav Traykov, via Wikimedia Commons

Sex in marriage is like a statue. It’s a goal in my life to see Michelangelo’s work in person — specifically, his statues. I’m awed by his ability to sculpt marble into beautiful carved likenesses. When you look up Michelangelo’s famous statues, you discover that they took time — years. Surprisingly, Wikipedia reports that “Sculpting of the [Pietà] took less than two years” — like that’s a short time!

Sex in marriage is like a statue in that same way — it takes time to bring the best out of the block of marble you begin with. We can get frustrated at the time and effort required to deal with obstacles and challenges; sometimes, it feels like the “marble” is hard and uncooperative. But with God guiding our hands, with patience and care, and with ongoing hope that a beautiful statue waits to be brought forth, we can sculpt something absolutely gorgeous in our marriage bed — an intimacy unrivaled here on earth. As Michelangelo famously said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” Be the sculptor of your marital intimacy, and let God guide your hand.

Sex in Marriage is Like a SquareSex in marriage is like a square. Not being very big on math and spatial relations, I had to think about this one for a bit. But yeah, sex in marriage is like a square.

A square is a four-sided figure with sides and angles of equal length. It’s a balanced figure, with two sets of parallel lines, and a line running through its center produces two figures of the same shape and size (triangles). There is true symmetry to a square. Likewise, marriage without sex is unbalanced, unconnected. It’s like two triangles that never fully meet, while sex in your marriage brings them together and creates a new whole — a square.

But that square has boundaries too. There are outer limits and those “walls” need to be maintained to keep sexual intimacy where it belongs — exclusive to you two and your marriage.

So that’s my sex in marriage is like ___ exercise! I really, truly did use the five random words given to me. Now let’s hear your take: How do you think sex in marriage is like a tower, a cape, an encyclopedia, a statue, or a square? Or what other analogies do you have for sex in marriage?

Real Women Come in All Shapes and Sizes

Not too long ago, I read a social media conversation in which average-sized women were bashing the fashion industry. That’s reasonably popular, isn’t it? After all, we’ve had years and years of fashion moguls telling us through commercials, advertisements, and runway shows what the right look for a women should be — and it isn’t what most of us look like.

But the conversation of these women turned to statements I’ve heard before, like these:

  • “Normal-sized women don’t wear those clothes.”
  • “I’d have to be a toothpick to wear that!” (Or twig or pole or ___.)
  • “Real women have curves.”

And I thought about that — how quickly the conversation turned from blaming the fashion industry for hurting women’s image of themselves to comments that likely hurt other women’s image of themselves. Strange as it may seem, some women really are a size 2, naturally, without starving themselves for a photo shoot.

Unfortunately, we ladies sometimes fall prey to the same one-size-fits-all thinking that we decry the fashion industry for having. And I’m just going to say it: We need to give each other a break, ladies.

While we have certain womanly aspects in common, God our Creator has made us gals in a variety of shapes and sizes. Just how pronounced our curves are or the number on our clothing’s label doesn’t define us as “normal” or “real-sized.” If God made you that size and you’re maintaining your health, you’re very real, very womanly, and very beautiful.

Silhouettes of women

I’ve honestly never known any woman who didn’t struggle in some way with her appearance. Maybe you struggle with maintaining a healthy weight. Maybe you feel like your body is disproportionate. Maybe you wish you could have some of those curves that other women talk about, but you just don’t.

I doubt that many of us fit the “ideal woman” size and shape, and our perceived shortcomings are in different areas. By the way, those gorgeous models don’t even fit the ideal woman size and shape, as the vast majority of them are “photoshopped” into a fictional version of themselves. Famed supermodel Cindy Crawford once said, “I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford.” I’m giving Cindy a break for not looking perfect, but I’m giving that break to every woman out there too.

Let’s collectively fight against the popular voices that attack our self-image. We need to embrace the reality that we are wonderfully made by our Creator (Psalm 139:14) and beautiful to those who love us (Song of Songs 4:7). We also need to stop creating some unrealistic version of what a “real woman” looks like — whatever that image is.

Real women are as varied as snowflakes.

You are a real woman. I am a real woman. We do not look alike. And that is God’s favor upon us in this world. He is a true Artist, creating an array of beauty that extends past anyone’s effort to box us in and make us conform like factory-produced dolls. Big or small, tall or short, large or thin, curvy or straight, let’s look deeper into the heart of the women we interact with.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).

Let’s build up the self-image of the wives in our midst.

7 Tips for New or Aspiring Marriage Bloggers

I’m a bit reluctant about today’s post, since it won’t appeal to a number of my readers. However, I don’t know where else to publish this, and I wanted to give a few tips to those who are new to blogging or considering a blog.

Here are some things I’ve learned in my years of blogging:

Blogging word cloudFind your voice. When I first started writing fiction, I really wanted to write like Jane Austen. But I couldn’t get too many words on the page before my characters started cracking jokes, and eventually I figured out I was just a snarky girl.

Likewise, I hesitated writing and speaking for a long time because I didn’t sound like a lot of the female Christian authors and speakers I admire. But I am no Stormie O’Martian, Beth Moore, or Sheila Gregoire. My voice is my voice. And once I embraced that I enjoy writing about biblical sex (holy), that I believed it could be exciting (hot), and that certain things about sex crack me up (humorous), I’d found my voice.

Thankfully, what’s demonstrated again and again in Scripture is that God wants all personality types and spiritual gifts engaged in furthering His kingdom. Your own perspective, aligned with God’s Word, can be the fresh take that helps someone else who finds your blog. As Oscar Wilde (reportedly) said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”

Keep your posts brief and readable. What constitutes “brief” may vary from reader to reader, blog to blog, but as a rule of thumb, most people don’t want super-long posts. So if your standard writing length is 2000+ words, consider whether you can pare that down or break it into a series of posts.

You may need to edit your posts several times to get to a manageable length. Writing shorter posts can at times be harder than long ones. After all, consider Mark Twain’s marvelous observation: “‘I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” But make the extra effort, and resist the urge to cover everything about a topic in one post.

Get to the point quickly. Sometimes I read blog posts in which the introduction is half the post. My own drafts often start this way, with my explaining how I got an idea for a post and then why I want to cover it and what difference it will make. Or telling a personal story or an apt analogy with deep description and fervor. Blah, blah, blah. Your reader needs to know pretty quickly why she’s reading this post — what’s in it for her.

Imagine a 250-page book that didn’t get to anything meaty until page 100. You’d stop reading, right? Use a few words of introduction, but get to your theme fairly quickly. Honor your reader’s time.

Be consistent. Try not to post 11 times in November and twice in the next six months. Some successful blog authors do post whenever time and inspiration allow. However, the more common pattern for success is consistent posting, whether that’s once a week, twice a week, or every day of the week.

Choose what frequency you can honestly manage, and then try to stick to it. If you miss a day, don’t worry about it. If you want to put up an extra post, go for it. But remain fairly consistent so your readers know what to anticipate and expect.

Watch what you cite. Quotations and statistics are often cited incorrectly. Make an extra effort to check your sources. You needn’t hunt down every single citation like a bloodhound on a scavenger hunt, but try to find two sources or the original study or a reputable source. It’s easy to get this stuff wrong, because bad statistics, in particular, float around like dust specks in the air. For instance, in Shaunti Feldhahn’s recent book, The Good News about Marriage (which I haven’t read but plan to!), she talks about how we’ve all been citing a 50% divorce rate for years — and it’s flat-out wrong.

I’m sure I’ve messed up a citation now and then, but I try to get it right. And it’s one thing to be human and err, and another thing altogether to be careless and irresponsible. Check your citations as best you can. And while you’re at it, give credit to others for their words, stats, and ideas.

Decide what your comment policy will be. Some blogs take any and all comments, others moderate all comments, and some are in between. Simply consider ahead of time what kind of blog you want this to be. Do you want to encourage vigorous debate, like a public forum? Do you want to have deep discussions, like a college class? Do you want more lighthearted give-and-take, like a cocktail party? It really helped me when I finally realized I want my blog to be like my home. Respectful guests and lively conversation are welcome. People who insult or make others extremely uncomfortable are not asked back. Those who encourage me and make me laugh will probably get served dessert first. *smile*

Imagining my blog as a particular setting helped me figure out how to treat the variety of comments I receive. Encouragement, respectful disagreement, helpful tips, and personal testimony are welcome, but disrespectful trolls are shown the door.* My house, my rules.

Keep your own priorities. Sometimes it’s difficult to walk away from answering comments or emails or drafting another blog post, when I really need to go on a date with my husband or spend time with my family. You can get swept up interacting with others on your blog or social media, or feel the strong tug of wanting to help others. But having a marriage ministry should never take precedence over your own marriage.

Maintain your own priorities. Since I write about sex, I’d better step away from this screen when my husband approaches me to engage in sexual intimacy. (Sure, I’ll say, “Let me finish this thought,” but then I step away and head to our bedroom.)  First things first, and that includes God and your family.

So those are my tips for new or inspiring bloggers. Do you have any tips of your own to share?

*By the way, spam is constant, but disrespectful trolls are not common.