Living for the 50

When I was a young girl, we had a lot of dogs around. A lot. My dad was breeding hunting dogs for a while so the whole puppy thing was fun (well, my mother might disagree). Eventually, though, puppies started growing and what was cute before was annoying now. A two month old labrador, what is cuter? Attempting to jump on you when their legs are only a few inches long, licking your face and biting your nose as you wrestle in the grass. All of that is decidedly un-adorable when they are two years old.

So, my Dad would begin the whole training program. Daily teaching them to sit, stay, retrieve, not pee on your couch… the whole deal. At the beginning a little doggy treat and abundant affection rewarded every behaviour. But, this constant reward system subsides as time goes on.

Let’s be honest, in marriage, we can all be growing puppies sometimes. We know what to do to make marriage successful. Give affection, listen patiently, forgive and be forgiven, serve sacrificially, communicate needs. In the beginning of the marriage we want puppy treats and abundant celebration with each completed task and chosen moment of love.

Noticing and appreciating our spouse is so important. The reality is, though, that not every act is noticed. Not every moment of love receives a thank you note and flower. There are reasons for this.

For one, it is unrealistic. Not every act of love can be noticed and celebrated.

But what do we do when we realise marriage involves a lot of unnoticed acts of sacrifice? When the reality of the work it takes comes into clear view? What do we do when there is not immediate pay-check for making the right choices? When there is no immediate reward for choosing to love and serve our spouse?

How do we make choices to invest in our marriage day in and day out when we don’t get the immediate reward?

Here’s what we say in our marriage. We are living for the 50.

My husband and I have this framed in our home:
50-new

For most marriages, the most important date is their anniversary. Celebrating the day they got married. We have another date the we look at every single day, September 14, 2052.

On this day, by God’s grace, we will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary.

This is the day we have before us day in and day out.

We don’t want to live because we once got married, when we looked so perfect and saw barely a flaw in each other. We have chosen to also live towards a day in the future. We want to live our marriage in a way so that we will still be married on September 14 2052. And not just still married. But having a marriage full of the life and love that we long for.

I want to love my husband not for today’s reward but rather towards the vision I have of our 50th.

Some days I serve my husband and there is an immediate reward… an affectionate hug, a thankful word. But many days there is no immediate gratification. Many days we annoy each other to no end. Many days our communication feels like we are literally speaking different languages.

In those moments, that framed date reminds me to not just love Chris for today’s reward. Whether he notices or not, I’m living and loving for the 50. I make daily decisions in our marriage that will get us to that 50th in the way we want.

Today’s culture tells us to “live in the moment” and “do what’s good for you”. Some moments what is good for me is a sarcastic comment and silent treatment towards my husband. That’s what would feel good in the moment.

Don’t forget to live for the 50. When you live your marriage for the 50 you don’t always do what feels good in the moment, you make daily little decisions that invest in a future reality.

Some days I think, “Why should I be generous towards him, he won’t even notice?!” In that moment, I think of September 14, 2052 and remind myself… live for the 50.

We don’t arrive happy, in love and best friends at our 50th because of one grand event or one big romantic gesture. You arrive there little by little. Day by day. Living each day for the 50.

The One Question to Ask Before Marriage

Recently, my husband and I have been doing more pre-marital counselling. This has been both fun and challenging.

Chris and I have had to really sit down and ask, what does the couple absolutely need? What are the questions we absolutely must ask to help them have a thriving marriage? What must a single person look for in a potential spouse?

I’ve been thinking, if I could only give them one trait to look for, what would it be? One way of knowing if you should or should not get married. One question that needs to be answered.

This is my question: How do you define the word love?

I reserve the right to change my mind. But, for now, I can’t think of a single more important question for a potential mate. How they (and you) answer that question will determine the health and joy of your marriage more than any other thing.

When they say, “I want to marry you because I love you”. What do they (and you) mean by that little word, love?

Once all the feelings are there. All the tingles. All the goofy grins. All the, “I love the smell of your hair” moments.

How do you define the word, love?

If I may, can I give three answers that you should run from?

The Compatibility Myth

If someone defines love as “you are the perfect fit for me”. Run. If that is the best they can give you, it’s not good enough. If they say, “You are the Whip to my Nae Nae”. Run.

This version of love says that I will show affection and commitment to you as long as we get along. As long as I feel that we are in harmony. As long as your personality syncs with mine. As long as this works, I’m in.

Here is a promise. If you get married, at some point in marriage you will feel that you are not compatible. It’s a guarantee. For goodness sake, someone wrote a book saying men and women are virtually born on different planets; Venus and Mars. We can feel very far apart in marriage, even when we are sleeping side by side. We can feel very out of sync. We can feel that the other just doesn’t “get” us. Even if we married a person who is perfectly compatible in all our personalities, hobbies and beliefs… we change. You change.

The truth is, we will feel incompatible at times. Another definition of love is needed to survive and thrive in marriage. This version of love will only further alienate and steal hope.

The Feelings Myth

We should know this. But it bears repeating. If your significant other defines love as a feeling. Don’t run, sprint. If they say, “I know I love you because I’ve never felt this way before” or “because my heart has never longed to be with someone like you.” That is all good and romantic (feelings are important)… but not the definition of love you should be looking for.

If their words somehow describe love as a feeling. That is romantic. But, those feelings will go away. And when those feelings go away (or develop in the direction of someone else!)… Where will you (and your children) be left?

The “You make me a better me” Myth

This would make a great line in a movie or the topic of a full season of Oprah specials.

We want to marry someone who “makes me the best person I can be”.

Your spouse just might just make you a much worse version of you. When they are grumpy. When they are impatient. When they aren’t as kind in their words. When they say something hurtful. When they don’t listen. Sometimes they will be that thorn of sanctification.

This is also unhealthy. Jesus makes you a better you. Of course our spouse should support us. They should encourage us towards all God created us to be. But they are not God. And this is God’s role.

You won’t always feel like your best version with your spouse. And when those seasons happen. How they (and you!) define love will determine where this all ends up.

The Truth

There are many definitions of love. Love as romance. Love as friendship. Love as sexual desire. These are all forms of love we experience.

But if you are getting married and you ask your potential mate, “How do you define love? The love we need for our marriage?”. I hope you hear some version of this:

The Cross.

Love as romance. Love as friendship. Love as that familiar comfort of a person that knows you through good and bad all grows from the soil of love as the cross. Sacrificial love leads to feelings, feelings don’t lead to sacrificial love.

You need a love that says,

I will prefer you above myself.
I will serve you.
I will ask forgiveness for my wrongs.
I will listen to you even when it’s hard to hear the answers.
I will not give in to selfishness.
I will swallow my pride.
I understand that I’m imperfect and that will affect you.
I will tell the truth.
I will keep my promises.
When I want to escape. I won’t. I’ll still come home to you.
When it’s hard, I won’t give up… because love doesn’t give up.
I won’t just think about how I feel, I will consider how you feel.
To love you means this will cost me something. I willing to pay that price for you. I commit to it.

Of course no person does all those things perfectly. Perfection will never be attained. But, if this is the love definition you both commit to from the day one.  The love you aim for. I can’t think of a single better place to start.

So, how do you define love?

Photo Credit: JM Scott

Beyond a Simple “Thank You”

I was visiting the home of a co-worker, sitting, chatting. Scanning her bedroom I settled on the spot above the head of her bed. There, fixed to the wall, were three small items. A picture, a scripture verse and a thank you card.

The card was from me.

A few weeks previously I had taken a few moments to thank her for the amazing work she was doing in her job. Here it was. Placed so that she could see it and be reminded every night and morning that someone simply said, “thank you”.

Those two words go deep and sometimes we forget that. They simply become the words of polite society. The lack of them a sign of bad manners. Rudeness, perhaps. Nothing more.

When my husband and I were engaged to be married, we were soaking in all the advice we could get. Go on weekly dates! Sacrificial love! Communication! Invest in intimacy! All the important and big ticket items was passed on. One couple said something that we would only understand years later, “Never, ever, stop saying, please and thank you”

I’ve thought about this a lot lately.

A friend was telling me about a simple lunch he was having with his leader. It was one of those, transition-wrapping-things-up type of lunches. As soon as I heard, I felt a feeling like a knife to my heart. The rest of the day I felt so down

Seeing this co-worker get thanked was bringing back a flood of memories where I had never been thanked. It was surprisingly painful.

I reflected on times when I had poured my life into a job, project or relationship and no one bothered to say, “thanks”. The impact I felt, even today, took me off guard.

I know there are times we throw tantrums when we don’t get the recognition we think we deserve. But, this was not a tantrum. I think I was feeling a healthy level of hurt. God was teaching me something.

Gratitude. It is not just about being polite and avoiding rudeness. It’s not simply good manners.

The Apostle Paul lists ungrateful people alongside those who slander, have no self-control, are conceited and treacherous. Let’s just say he doesn’t have a high regard for them.

This past week, I’ve been busy sorting through my own hurt and suddenly seeing gratitude very differently. I’m realising gratitude goes beyond good manners. Paul shows us it is so much deeper than that.

Gratitude says to a person, “I see you. I recognise you. I value you.”

A simple “thank you” can do that.

Gratitude moves a person beyond a simple cog in a machine.
Gratitude stops a gift from being an expected transaction.
Gratitude recognises gift-giving as a chance to connect hearts and relationship.
Gratitude affirms our dignity and humanity.
Gratitude says, “I don’t just affirm what you did, I affirm that I see you in the act.”

In the day to day transactions of life, gratitude boldly refuses to dehumanise. It refuses to say, “She has to do that, it’s her job” or “It’s just the teller at the bank” or “That’s just our tradition to give gifts”

It is one person saying to the other, “That act is valuable because you are valuable. I’m grateful.”

Researchers have found that children who say, “thank you” often also tend to be display more kindness, empathy and compassion towards others.

Gratitude is not just good social manners for children, it teaches them that others have intrinsic value.

I’m wondering where my lack of gratitude made people feel invisible. Where a simple “thank you” could have brought deeply needed value to human beings who sometimes do tedious work. When could my “thank you” have said, “I know your work is not just an obligation but an expression of your giftings and heart”?

I now know why we were told to never stop saying “please” and “thank you” in our marriage. What they were really saying is to never stop truly seeing each other in the daily mundane acts of life. Never stop saying, “I value you. I see you. I’m grateful.”

Grattitude. An act is valuable because the person is valuable.

Saying “thank you” is the daily practice of declaring a persons value in God’s eyes and ours.

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks

5 Observations on Porn Stats in 2014

I would like to caution those reading this. The following post is explicit. I am looking in to the reality of pornography today. If this topic triggers in you your own struggle with porn, past sexual abuse or some sort of relational pain in this area… I would encourage you to refrain from reading.

It’s that time of year again… the porn stats have been released. For normal people this is no big news. But, I suppose, I’m not normal!

I consider pornography one of the most damning and damaging drugs out there. Porn is not just college boys looking at a Victoria Secret catalog. Who knew we would arrive at the day where we wished that is all we were looking at.

Pornhub is the #1 pornography site in the world. They are in the business of selling porn and these stats show they are succeeding immensely. Pornhub has an interesting practice of releasing very detailed statistics of user behaviour on the their websites. It is a bragging sheet basically… “Look at how much porn we can sell, we are awesome!”

Each January, I take time to sit down and read through these stats. It is not for the faint of heart. As a teacher on relationships and sexuality, I consider it very helpful and almost essential to being effective. That is definitely not true for everyone.

For most of you, simply save yourself from the stomach turning and nausea inducing report.

But, for parents, educators, and Christian workers here are my 5 observations on the Pornhub 2014 report.

1. Porn Use Has Not Maxed Out

Pornhub reports 18.35 billion visits last year, with people viewing 78.9 billion videos (15 billion more than 2013). That is 11 videos viewed, in 2014, for every single person on earth.

Remember, these stats are from just one porn portal. It is the biggest but definitely not the only one. The United States, UK, Canada, India and Germany round out the top 5 nations generating this traffic.

Porn use has not slowed down or reached it’s pinnacle. There doesn’t appear to be any end in site to the growth of this industry.

2. Paedophelia is Becoming the Norm

For 2013, the number one search term was “teen”. Yes, you read that correctly. The most watched porn was paedophelia. Yet again in 2014, “teen” was still the most searched term worldwide.

Being turned on by underage girls is now considered standard and average porn.

The implications of this are enormous. What does this mean for Dad’s who are looking at porn of girls who look just like their 9th grade daughter? What does this mean for teachers in this same boat?

Remember, “teen” is not people searching for 18 and 19 year old boys and girls. It is searching for children that look 12 and 13 years old. How this does not cause an outcry in our nations is beyond comprehension

If you think that men viewing underage girls for sexual pleasure is unusual, read again. This is the the most common porn people look at. The implications on all levels of parenting, educating and ministering is enormous and needs to be openly discussed.

3. Is Pornhub Altering the Statistics?

A friend pointed out to me the lack of search terms such as “child”, “daughter”, “toddler”, etc. She suggested the possibility that Pornhub is purposely altering the statistics to remove these terms.

Remember, pornography is progressive. You do not get one picture, print it out and look at it for the next 20 years. It interacts with the human brain in the exact same way as cocaine and heroine (at the same time!). Just like you need more drugs to get the same high, so you need more porn of variety and extremity to get the same pleasure sensation.

Since “teen” has been a standard search term for a number of years (even if not #1). I would like to make a bold statement that I agree with my friend. I firmly believe Pornhub is purposely hiding stats which reveal the prevalence of “socially unacceptable pedophilia” (“teen” being acceptable but “child” not yet acceptable).

I can’t prove it but I strongly believe there are stats in the area of pedophilia porn that they are not releasing.

4. Intimacy Avoidance is Deep

There were a few unique stats that stood out to me.

  • The #1 day people look at porn is Mondays.
  • The #1 comment on porn videos is “love”.
  • Top category of porn for women: various forms of lesbian sex.
  • Most increased search terms for women: “bondage”, “rough” and other forms of violent sex.
  • The #4 most searched term for Americans is “cartoon”.

There are many reasons we pursue sexual deviancy. I speak to a lot of students about “intimacy avoidance” (or fear of intimacy). Looking at these stats, I am reminded that we are broken and have few tools, capacity or maturity to engage in intimacy. Healthy intimacy is desperately needed to deal with life’s stresses, pain and challenges. Instead, we use porn as a form of “intimacy avoidance”.

Monday is the least favourite day for most people (but the most favourite for porn!). Mondays brings the reality of life, hard work, stress, financial needs after a weekend of being able to “check-out” from reality. Instead of engaging in healthy intimacy to deal with this stress… we turn to porn. Feel better for a moment and off we go.

The view of “lesbian” sex by women is interesting because the stat is way out of proportion to those women who self-identify as a lesbian. This stat lines up with what I have observed in talking to women. Homosexual experimentation is rapidly on the rise amongst those who do not identify with the label “homosexual”. Increasingly, friendship amongst women involves sexual experimentation. In line with that, heterosexual women are regularly engaging in lesbian porn.

The sexualisation of friendships is becoming the norm for women. Increasingly, intimacy=sex in women’s friendships.

Heterosexual women are sexualising even normal friendships. More and more, intimacy=sex. As women, too often, we do not know of any other way to engage in intimacy with each other apart from sexualising it.

Can this twisted understanding of “intimacy=sex” be captured any more vividly than by the word “love” being used to describe how much every enjoys looking at teen girls or violent sex against women?

More and more we are sexualising our every day relationships.
More and more we are de-humanising our sex through violence and cartoons.
More and more we are sexualising and dehumanising the word “love”.

The fear of intimacy and inability to truly know it and engage in it runs so deep. We need to start an honest, real and true conversation on intimacy. The current unexplained use of the word by the church is not helping or adequate for those sitting in the pews.

5. Family is the Next Frontier

Lastly, family is the next frontier. The most striking fresh news from these stats is the incredible rise of sexual turn-ons by family members. Terms such as “Mother”, “Mother in law” and “step-mom” were popping up everywhere. I believe this will continue to develop in the years ahead to the rest of the family. Even a top search term for women was “old man”… a term that can be associated with fatherly figures in their life.

Mix this reality with the standard turn on of underage girls and we have an atomic bomb of abuse about to explode in new proportions.

Where Does this Leave Us?

If you have made it to the end of this let me extend my apologies. The picture is not hope filled or positive.

Let us turn to a God who is not surprised by this report nor unable to overcome. May we engage with God with a fresh commitment to face reality.

The path of porn is a pursuit of death and not life.

It is not life to the young boys and girls being trafficked to supply this drug.
It it not life to the young men and women being used for lust and then cast aside.
It is not life for our marriages.
It is not life for our spirits and souls as we use others to feed an ever addicting monster.

In the midst of that reality, let us be carriers of hope. Truly, there is always hope because there is always Jesus.

Other Articles on Porn from ThisIsLoveActually.com:
Porn 101: Waking Up
Porn 101: Marriage Edition
Porn 101: Parenting Edition

Photo Credit: Kristina Alexanderson

Top Relationship Books of 2014

It’s coming to the end of 2014 and I’ve been reflecting on some of the top books and writings that I’ve enjoyed this year. This is a list of my favorite books on relationships of all types! I hope you get some ideas. Is there a relationship orientated book that you’ve loved this year? I would love to hear about it in the comments section.


With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God

Best Book on Relationship with God: With by Skye Jethani

This book wins far and away as my favourite book of 2014. Jethani is both engaging and penetrating as he looks at the false ways you might be relating to God. He takes on the false belief systems in Christian culture and our own individual lives, you will be left seeing things in new ways. The best part is that you are left with a deep and fresh hunger for Jesus. During a season of my life that I was struggling with stress, anxiety and fear… this book was a shining light in hard times.


Fun Loving You: Enjoying Your Marriage in the Midst of the Grind

Best Book on Marriage: Fun Loving You by Ted Cunningham

My husband and I both loved this book. A great read for those who have been married for a few years and need to re-focus on the fun and friendship that bring so much life to your marriage. As a bonus he gives a ton of practical ideas for dates, fun get-aways, and ways to just have fun together.


Boundaries with Kids: When to Say Yes, When to Say No, to Help Your Children Gain Control of Their Lives

Best Book on Parenting: Boundaries With Kids by Cloud and Townsend

The “Boundaries” series is a classic in Christian and counselling circles. I had never read the parenting version and it came at just the right time for me with an 8 and 9 year old. There is a ton of helpful advice and practical tips. I think you could read this book at each stage of parenting and come away with key wisdom to apply.


Best Blog Post on Dating and Engagement: “Sex & Engagement” by Ron Smith

I haven’t read any great books on this topic this year but a great article is buy a close friend and mentor, Dr. Ron Smith. Ron and his wife did our own pre-marriage counselling. He is honest, straight forward and so excited to see people find their love for a lifetime partner. This article is honest and direct about the sexual relationship of an engaged couple.


Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Best Beach Read: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

If you read my husbands book list for 2014 you will see he also listed this book (along with 2 others I mention here!). I would just like to state for the record that I was the one who tipped him off to this great read. It’s the captivating story of ultra-marathon runners. You don’t need to be a runner to love it, though. It is a true-story adventure that takes you from the headquarters of Nike to a stone-age tribe in the hills of Mexico. The characters are funny and totally engaging, you will get sucked in. This is a great Christmas idea for someone that loves running, adventure or just a great read!


With-God-Devo-logo

Best Daily Devotional: With Daily Devotional by Skye Jethani

I recently had the privilege of meeting Skye Jethani. He was speaking out our Community Gathering at our campus in South Africa. I was chatting to him afterwards and told him that I was aiming to sign up as many as possible for his daily devotional, it is one of the best kept secrets on the internet. For $1.99/month you get a daily devotional e-mailed to you with scriptures to read and a prayer to meditate on for the week. It is short, engaging, challenging, personal and helps you focus on Jesus more than ever. This would be a wonderful gift idea for yourself or others!


Bonus: Favorite Music Albums

Mali Is...

Mali Is… by Mali Music

Ok, little known info about me, I’m a huge Jazz, Black Gospel, R&B and Rap fan. I’m listening to one of these genres most of the time. My first CD was the Winans Brothers… not Bibi and Cici Winans, that’s black gospel for the masses. I was in to the real deal Winans. I seriously am tempted to do a whole post on my top ablums in these genres. But, it’s not the point of this blog… sigh. But, if you love any of these genres or want to love them, run, don’t walk, to your computer and buy this on Amazon or iTunes. Ok, you are sitting at your computer. So click on the link above. Do it. This guy is the real deal. Best relationship track on the album? “Heavy Love”. You will at least start chair dancing while he extols the beauty and power of love that lasts a lifetime. As he says, beautiful love is that “great-grand-mama and grand-daddy love ya’ll”.


The Undoing

The Undoing by Steffany Gretzinger

So now that you know my tastes, this album is out of my norm. Most worship albums I listen to involve Fred Hammond or Donnie McClurkin (if you just said, “Who?”, hang your head in shame and go take a time-out for 10 minutes). This album is minimal, contemplative and personal.  I found myself surprisingly drawn in. Steffany has an amazing voice, that is undeniable. But, it’s more than her voice that draws you in. Each song seems to be taken straight out of her personal journal in the best of ways. For those days when you need to hear the heart of Jesus more loudly, this album delivers exactly that.

“Do you understand anything I’m saying?”

My son and I were driving to the butcher when he looked off in the distance. We were discussing the pros and cons of using golf carts on a golf course (as we do).

“You know Mom, I think the reason old people don’t use golf carts, is… they’re old… carts can be used for…”

A long silence enveloped the car.

He looked up at me, “Ummm, I have absolutely no idea what I was going to say so never mind about that!”. We laughed together at the humour of it.

He suddenly said, “If I forget my thought in the middle of my sentence that must mean I’m becoming a grown-up!”.

“Yes, son, losing your words (and mind) is a definite marker of growing up”

A few days before that my husband and I got in a tense conversation over absolutely nothing and almost everything. All at the same time. Does that ever happen to you too? I was frustrated and couldn’t find the words out of the swamp of confusion, so I just walked away. My husband came back to our bedroom where I was hiding (as he always graciously does). He started talking, tentatively searching for a way out of a simple argument over a child’s car seat. Yet it was really about so much more.

Communication, words, listening, talking, all that stuff… it isn’t easy is it?

These words of Eugene Peterson struck me:

Because we speak our language so casually, it is easy to fall into the habit of treating it casually. But language is persistently difficult to understand. We spend our early lives learning the language, and just when we think we have it mastered our spouse says, “You don’t understand a thing I’m saying, do you?” We teach our children to talk, and just about the time we think they might be getting it, they quit talking to us … A close relationship doesn’t guarantee understanding. A long affection doesn’t guarantee understanding. In fact, the closer we are to one another and the more intimate our relations, the more care we must exercise to hear accurately, to understand more thoroughly, to answer appropriately.

I don’t want that to be true, but my experience affirms what he is saying.

Modern culture makes false promises about love and communication.

The deeper the love, the wider the years; the less the effort to communicate.
In true intimacy, we should know what the other is thinking even before they say it.

If only either of those statements were true.

The converse of this is old married couples warning us, “communication takes hard work people!”. So, the options become either effortless communication (not attainable) or a life-time prison sentence to hard labor (not enjoyable).

The truth is deeper than both these.

Communication will not flutter down on the wings of a dove like a moment of “eureka!” Nor will mere back-breaking work get us there.

Communication takes commitment, it is a heart issue. An unmovable heart to stay there and journey the path over and over until the right tributary is found. Not giving up until the path to understanding is walked upon.

Communication takes intention. True, deep communication takes days and months of chipping away at a thought or feeling of the heart until both can see it clearly. This is humbly sought after with immense amounts of love and care of the other.

Communication takes grace. True heart-felt communication is a messy and danger filled path. There are so many opportunities to hurt the other (whether friend, spouse or child). So many chances to be mis-understood. Constant temptations to build more walls than bridges and to throw our hands up in exasperation. Immense grace is needed.

Perhaps you are like my son who can’t find the right words in the right moment. Or like me who is tempted to hide in your room instead of treading deeper into a conversation that has no clear-marked exit.

Either way, there is only one path to deeper intimacy in our relationships. Communication. Get there by any means necessary, the journey is worth the destination.