Let’s Not Say That Anymore (Pretty Please?)

Ok, time for honesty. You know how there are all these phrases that we use? Ones we should really stop using? Exhibit A: “Doing life together”. Didn’t we all agree to not use that phrase anymore? If you still use that it’s probably because you are over 50 and think that the “youngsters” speak in phrases like this. We stopped saying “doing life together” years ago. We just couldn’t bare to tell you. The embarrassment factor and all.

Exhibit B: I want to see your “doing life together” and raise you a “keeping it real”.

“Hey, I’m just keeping it real!” Let’s not say that anymore either. Please. I cringe every time someone says, “just keeping it real over here!”

Let’s be honest, we normally say this when:

  1. We are fake all other times. Stop that. Being fake and false is exhausting and who wants to be so tired?
  2. We have just overshared in a hilarious and awkward way. Don’t stop that. I love it when people overshare. If you are that way, let’s have coffee! No need to tag on “just keeping it real” though.
  3. We struggle with authenticity.

Let’s sit a little in number three.

That authenticity thing, it’s so subtle. Everything we say and reveal, we wonder how it compares to others. One day, “Just ran 5 miles, baked paleo cookies and ironed my husbands underwear… really nothing at all.” Next day, “Here’s a picture of my kitchen, yes, we are living in this pig sty… just keeping it real folks!”

A few things bother me about this. First, is this what it means to be real and transparent these days? “I’ve got dirty dishes”. If dirty dishes is your “keeping it real”, I definitely want your life.

It’s funny to me that in the midst of all this “keeping it real” we are still controlling what we reveal. We “keep it real” with just enough finesse to actually make us look better (compared to others). “Oh gosh, she’s even witty and honest when her home is a mess… love her!”

Control is the enemy of authenticity.
Comparison is the enemy of authenticity.

I read a confession the other day,

“I struggle with feeling like I can’t quite figure out how other women seem to do it all”.

It is a struggle, isn’t it? We endlessly compare and thus control what we do and don’t reveal. Being falsely modest when we succeed, witty and humorous when we reveal a small misstep. We are constantly comparing and controlling, praying we don’t fail to measure up to the perceived standard.

People get mad about everyone being “fake” on Facebook. Why does that bother us? Are we comparing ourselves to them? If they want to share their good news on Facebook and bad news in person, what’s it to you? That actually sounds pretty healthy to me.

Honestly, I think it bothers us because we are comparing ourselves to them. In our view, we can’t keep up with what we perceive is their perfect life.

How much longer will we believe this lie that anyone is keeping it together? The Christian life begins with falling down in a confession of failures and brokenness. The core of the Gospel is that no one has got their crap together, we all are in imperfect. We are all stumbling towards Jesus who brings mercy, grace and rest… three things that we desperately need. I personally alternate between awkward and desperate in my stumble towards grace and help.

“Keeping it real” does not need to be an occasional #hashtag. If I see only people’s success and not their struggle, failure and fights with their kids then I assume someone else get’s the privilege of seeing those glorious moments. Someone else gets to gently say, “let your children live to see another day, walls can be re-painted”. Someone else get’s to say, “call the counsellor and I’ll babysit for you and your husband tonight”. Another friend get’s to challenge our tendency hide our weaknesses and struggle.

We don’t need to remind people that we are “keeping it real”. As if anyone’s life is perfect or pain free. It’s not and it won’t be. That’s true for all of us, whether we see it or not.

Photo Credit: misselejane

On Life

Migraines are no good friends to have. My no good friend came to visit during the annual and eagerly anticipated girls retreat away. It’s one of those events where you count down the days and then hours until you sprint out of your house away from your children, messes and responsibilities. Straight into the arms of your friends, copious amounts of cheese, dark chocolate and clean white sheets at a guest house. My participation was cut short as my husband had to rescue me in my migrained puking state.

I felt sorry for myself in appropriate amounts. Meaning, a lot. It took no less than three days to recover. From the migraine. I’m still dealing with the self-pity of the lost girls getaway.

By Saturday I had to get out of bed and face life again. Minus the restorative power of friends, cheese and clean sheets. Sometimes life is like that, isn’t it?

Small children where loaded in to the car. To the grocery store we go. Along the way I stopped by a friends house (“pick up a hard drive” were the instructions of my husband). Of course a short stop for a hard drive was quickly forgotten as our kids mingled and we quickly settled in to a conversation about those things we talk about. The worlds problems were close to resolution by the time we were done. Middle East peace. Rampant disease. Broken families. All that.

At one point I casually checked my wrist watch. Too much time had passed and I had worked my-self in to a very bad situation.

I had to get to the local Pick ‘n Pay grocery store and it was nearing 10:30 a.m.! On a Saturday! At Capricorn! At the beginning of the month! The day before Easter! With children in tow!

If you don’t live in South Africa this all means nothing to you. But if you do, you know that all of the above factors spells imminent doom for whoever foolishly proceeds with said plan to grocery shop in those circumstances. Or at least some hair loss and momentary insanity.

I told my friend where I was headed and she just shook her head and muttered, “Well, good luck to you. You are a braver woman than I.” She was no help.

I steeled myself as we entered. “Thabo, get the cart! Garett hold the list! Now listen closely and let’s all stay focused”. We weaved in and out of aisles navigating each obstacle.

A large group of young girls was gathered near the pasta talking loudly and laughing like they were waiting to see One Direction. Another group of men was walking ever so slowly past the dried beans like they were sight-seeing and had spotted the Leaning Tower of Pisa. They did not want to be rushed.

I herded my boys through, on a mission to get in and out before even more people packed in an already packed full store.

We finally got to checkout where everybody was squeezing into various lines trying not to knock over the lemons in the process. It was my turn and I could feel a tap on my shoulder. A tall strong man was standing behind me holding a deli pack of fried chicken and a large bottle of bright green Cream Soda. I looked at him and he said something I could not understand.

All the noise, chaos and accents were blocking his meaning from my understanding. He pointed at his chicken and cream soda and said it again.

I responded how I always do when strangers say something I don’t understand.

“No!”

His face sort of pleaded. Again the pointing at the chicken and cream soda and then at the check-out lady. He wants me pay for his food. This is what he wants.

I mentally added up his bill, feigned a look of compassion and said again, “No”.

Again the talking in the accent I didn’t understand with the noise and the chaos.

Again I said, “No, I’m not paying, sorry!”

He looked confused and his words became suddenly clear. “I just want to pay quickly lady, I’m late for work. Couldn’t I jump in front of you?”

I turned red in the face. I was embarrassed. He was generous. I assumed he wanted me to buy his food, that he had no money. Honestly, it’s not an uncommon request. I stepped aside and he quickly paid and rushed off to work. I finished up and escaped Pick ‘n Pay (On a Saturday! The day before Easter! With kids in tow!).

Things happen. Things just do. Lot’s of little moments of unmet expectations, crowded grocery stores and strangers speaking in accents you don’t understand.

A lot of kindness and grace is required. Wether you missed your friend-cheese-chocolate-clean-sheet escape or mistook the tall-strong-employed-man for a beggar. A lot of kindness and grace is required. It just is.

Photo Credit: Kate Ter Haar

The Cross

I want to wish you all a Happy Easter. Easter is the most personal holiday for those of us who follow Christ.

As we reflect on the journey and story of Jesus let us remember that this is our story and our journey.

When the world tells us so much about what love is, let us remember that this is love, actually.

The Cross from IF : Equip on Vimeo.

The Pharisee’s Guide to Parenting

The following two mundane moments are so revealing in my parenting journey. Both happened the day that we had parent-teacher meetings at my boys’ school. The first teacher looked at us and said, “Your son is so well mannered, so well behaved, whatever you are doing, keep doing it!” Ah, the deep pleasure of parenting arrogance overflowed in my life. I’m surprised I didn’t pull out a recording device and ask her to repeat it in to the little microphone. Well behaved! Well mannered! Keep it up, you are parent of the year! Just think of all those rude children causing havoc in the classroom… not my child, not under my watch.

The second meeting just deepened my Pharisaic heart. The teacher looked at his report card and said, “What a smart child you have, I honestly can’t say anything he should be doing differently, he just consistently improves and achieves to a high standard”. I’m surprised my pride could fit through the door as I walked out. I was floating on cloud nine of outward behaviour, outward accomplishment and outward manners.

Compare this to a situation I had afterwards. Now, I’ve documented my to-be-unamed son’s expertise in lying. Garett has a problem and its been a work in progress.

It was the end of the school day. As he walked out off the school grounds with me I said, “Did you give my note to your teacher?” “Yes I did Mom.” he smoothly replied. “Well, what did she say?” Without skipping a beat he said, “She will think about it and reply to you on Monday.”

Innocent conversation. Except my husband found the “note to the teacher” in his school bag over the weekend. And when confronted he admitted that the whole and entire conversation was a lie. He never gave her the note and “what the teacher said” was entirely made up.

You know what? When someone asked me how my day was I replied, “Rough! What a day, Garett lied to my face and we are trying to figure out what to do about it.”

Do you see what just happened there? Let me write it as a math equation.

Desired behaviour by child+public knowledge of said behaviour = Good parenting day.

Undesired outward behaviour by child+public knowledge of said behaviour = bad parenting day.

This isn’t the Jesus guide to parenting. Jesus shows to us parenting of the Kingdom.

Jesus seemed to revel in the moments of failure. When failure happened it’s like Jesus was given a treat. The exposure of failure and sin was to Jesus as a blank canvas was to Michelangelo.

Think of Peter. Peter covered up his black heart at the last supper (Who me? Never!) Jesus jumped right in there with Peter and didn’t sulk and say, “Have I taught you nothing?!” In fact he promised Peter it was about to get really bad! I imagine Jesus rolling up his sleeves at that moment and saying, “Great, now we’ve got something to work with, Peter!”

Jesus was seeking out the messy and sin-prone children. He could work with that. He couldn’t work with hiders, cover-up artists and those with a facade of outward behaviour, accomplishments and manners. The Pharisees, the perfect ones did not appeal to Jesus. The failures, misfits and mess-makers were right were Jesus wanted to be.

The only difference between the messes and the pharisees was one was socially acceptable and one was not. The inward heart was quite possibly the same. Jesus didn’t get too excited with outward success. He got very excited with outward failure.

Do I do that? Do I get excited when my I catch my child in a lie? Do I think, “Wonderful, now we’ve gotten to the good stuff!” I should.

If I make parenting about my reputation or my pride, then I can’t parent well.
If I make parenting about outward accomplishments and not inward heart change, I will not parent well.
If I make parenting about minimising problems and keeping life calm, I will not parent well.

Jesus never changed course when people said, “Look at your disciples, what bunch of failures!” He didn’t get defensive or hopeless. Jesus was going for the heart change and that takes time. It takes outward lies and sins to be exposed. It takes disciples fighting and threatening violence. It takes bad days when everything is going wrong.

Those are the teachable moments. That is when all the good stuff happens.

We all want grace and mercy for our children without them actually needing grace and mercy. Let me not be afraid to see clearly their need for grace and mercy. Let me not make it about myself and my parenting failures but rather about Jesus and his hope for them.

Parenting pharisees feel defeated by the failures, messes and disobedience. Jesus saw it an opportunity for the truth of the need to meet the answer of grace and new life.

Outward accomplishment is good. Outward success should be rejoiced in. But Jesus went for the heart and so should we. The quickest way there is the mess and moments of failure.

When my children succeed outwardly I rejoice. But I don’t let it blind me that all is necessarily fine. I want their hearts like Jesus wants mine. Lord, let it be so.

Declaration of Independence

This year was a year of being slow for me. It was a year of stepping back from what I considered, at the time, overwhelming responsibilities. I set aside a few months to rest in order that I could be healthy for the long haul.

So, that was the goal at least. What did I do with that breathing space that I created you might ask?

IndependenceWell, I travelled through more airports than I can even count. I packed my bags and my childrens bags and travelled from one end of America to the other and back again (and again and again). I home-schooled my children in the process. We bought a house here in South Africa and thought, “With all our free energy we need to renovate this thing before we move in!” I spent the days before Christmas packing and moving house.

In the process of almost single-handedly painting the entire house (that includes ceilings, rafters, the whole shabang) I had a moment of clarity. “I think I’m more independent than I first realised… I think I like to do things on my own without any help.”

The fact that this seemed like a small “revelation” is astounding (especially to my husband!). Astounding at my stupidity. Astounding at my blindness. Independent? The Declaration of Independence should be my life’s mission statement because that’s how I seem determined to live.

I start out with such ideals.

Vow: Need people more deeply.
Small Print: But not too much and always on my terms.

Vow: Rely on others.
Small Print: But only so far and use precaution.

Vow: Ask for help more.
Small Print: A good time to do this is when I have attempted it on my own for an extended length of time.

Vow: Trust people.
Small Print: Dangerous territory, use extreme caution. Only if absolutely necessary and all other options have been exhausted.

When all the other options have been exhausted I’m simply left exhausted.

This is my tendency and I’m starting to realise that it will always be my battle to fight. I’ve grown and come so far. But, for this sojourn on earth, my temptation will always be to go it alone. There will be seasons of healthy and wonderful interdependence but I need to have safeguards against veering off-road and heading into the wilderness.

I know this isn’t everyones temptation. Some of us cling too strongly to others in unhealthy and (at times) destructive ways. We make individuals our gods, the ones we think will bring us wholeness and healing.

If only ______ helped me, I would be ok.
If only ________ loved me then my life would be full.
If ________ leaves me my life will be over.
Only _______ truly “gets” me and understands me.

These are all signs of unhealthy dependence. Their mantra about people is captured so well by Jerry Maguire, “You. Complete. Me.”

All of the above statements make me throw up in my mouth a little. Sorry.

I’m just so independent.

There’s a support group out there for y’all who truly believe this dysfunctional dependency is love.

I’ve got my own support group… just me, myself and I attend it. Perfect. Heaven. Dysfunctional.

This is the catch of how God designed life.

We cannot be whole and healthy through people.
We cannot be whole and healthy without people.

Our saviour cannot be people (or a person). Our Saviour does not work apart from people.

My dear, lovely Jesus. You’ve got my number and I know it.

I’m trusting God to rid me of this “Declaration of Independence”. I’m thinking that I need a “Declaration of Asking for Help Next Time I Decide to Paint My House From Top to Bottom”. It’s a step in the right direction, right?

What about you? Are you looking to others to define your worth and value? Or are you reaching for a barf bag just reading that sentence?

Photo Credit: Rob Walker

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