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The Secret of Happiness
Are you happy? Do you feel successful? Do you feel like a strong woman?

Those questions tend to make me feel defensive. Of course I'm happy! I'm doing what I'm called to do, aren't I? And what does it matter if I'm successful, if I'm living my calling?

And besides that, happiness isn't all it's cracked up to be, as I've written here on previous occasions. The secret to happiness is to not look for it. When we look for it, we're always going to be unhappy, because we'll see all the things we don't have. When we seek instead for purpose and joy in God, we tend to, in the end, find happiness as well. But it's a by-product of a life well-lived.

To me, the main questions that encapsulate the essence of one's life are more these: Do you know what you were called to do? Do you feel a calling on your life? Do you feel energized to live out that calling? Do you experience joy on a regular basis? See how those are quite different? I find this whole quest for happiness and self-fulfillment focused a little too much on the self and not enough on God. The truth is we are not called to be happy as much as we are called to be holy. But as we live out a purpose-driven life, we will experience joy, and our lives will be richer and fuller. The key is to look to God first, and not to our own hearts.

If I have that much trouble with the idea of happiness and feeling successful being the centre of your life, you can imagine how much difficulty I had with a book I was recently sent to review: Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently, by Marcus Buckingham. I didn't agree with the premise to begin with, and quite honestly, I had a hard time with a women's book that featured a picture of a guy prominently on the cover, even if he had become famous on Oprah.

The book was sent to me, I think, because it is a Christian publisher, and it's about women. Nevertheless, God is nowhere in the book, except in a brief 3-page anecdote that is cute, but does not present the gospel whatsoever. I guess the publisher is trying to branch out.

Then, the beginning of the book was focused on him (again, the self-focus that really turns me off), and it soon became quite clear he was writing from a particular perspective that I do not share. For instance, I was offended by this sentence. After talking about how women can feel stressed at work, he says, on page 38:

The good news is that this isn't stopping women from on-ramping back into work after having kids, in spite of the media stories of a new generation of women choosing to opt out.

Why is it GOOD news that women are leaving their babies and going back to work? (He later reports it as a success that the majority of women with babies are working). I can understand being neutral about it, but lauding it? That seems very strange. Later in the book he says that we should never feel guilty about choosing to work and sending kids to day care, because in surveys, what kids want is not more time with Mommy, but for Mommy to be happy.

So what? Since when do children know what's good for them? And given the abysmal rate of kids retaining their faith, and the horrible rate of kids being involved in sexual activity at a young age, maybe we need more parents around.

My initial reaction, then, was quite negative. Nevertheless, there were some very good tips in the book, and some excellent strategies to maximize the positive moments in your life, rather than the negative ones. I'm using some of them already, but he put a name to them and explained them in a way I hadn't heard for before, which was helpful. And he reminded me of some other things I haven't been doing. So while I may not agree with the philosophical underpinning of the book (and I definitely don't think it's a Christian book, publisher notwithstanding), there's some good stuff there.

I think, over the next week, I'll point out some of that good stuff, and share it here with you, bit by bit. Let me just leave you today with some of the observations that he has about the state that women find themselves in today, with which I have no argument.

First, over the last few decades, women have become steadily unhappier, while men have become happier. Having more choice has made women unhappy, largely because when we have choice, we always are reminded of what we are not doing well. Too many of us are trying to multitask all the time, and it's stressful. Choice doesn't make you happy, even if you think it's a good thing.

Second, women became unhappier as life goes on, and men become happier. We start off happier, more sure of ourselves, with more hope for our futures. But as we have kids, and move into the work world, we lose that happiness, while men gain it. Why? I think because again we are feeling guilty for what is not being done.

Also, ironically, women with children are more unhappy than women without kids, even married women. And this is true across cultures, in huge surveys, as he has shown, so I do believe him. It is not that we don't love our kids; it is that they give a level of stress to our lives that is really difficult to integrate.

That's where women find ourselves. We are stressed. We are unhappy. We feel like we have too much on our plate. The solution, though, that I would offer that he did not, is to find a purpose outside of yourself. He does this in a secular way, asking women to find what they were born to be, and then to live that out in their career lives and their stay at home lives (there are no real examples in the book of women who have completely stayed at home, though he says the book is for women of all walks of life). And I believe that we should find what we were born to be.

But the question of being born to be something is essentially one of calling. How can we be "born to be" something absent God? The author is himself a Christian, so I think he knows that, he just isn't saying it explicitly in the book. But we need to figure out what God is calling us to, and then rely on Him for peace in that calling. We'll talk later this week how to do that effectively to experience joy, but if you've never had it out with God about what you were called to do, you need to. Without a sense that God is calling you to something, whether it's your family, or your work, or a ministry, or even just how to live your life, then whenever frustrations come you will wonder if you are outside of His will. They will be magnified.

So seek out His calling. Pray with your spouse about it. Talk to your friends about it. And then focus on how to live it out. If we are doing something purposefully, it will always have more joy than if we are just living in the moment.

And perhaps that's another place where I differ from this author. I've read other books that are secular in nature, but which FEEL right. They may not say the word "God", but they are in agreement with Scriptural principles. The two that come to mind are The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey and The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth by Scott Peck. Both have to do with how to find peace in everyday life, and how to find meaning in life.

The difference, I think, is that both take very moral approaches to it. You will never be happy or fulfilled, they say, if you violate moral standards. So you need to think in terms of right and wrong. I didn't get this impression from the book. What he was saying is find those moments when you feel strongest, when you feel everything coming together, and search after those moments. But what if those moments are when you're sitting in front of a slot machine? What if they're when you're with your lover? That's not exactly the recipe for a joyful life, is it? We need to weigh what we want to do in terms of whether or not it's right.

And the other thing that Covey really gets at is that we are called to be meaningful, not happy. And when we are meaningful, when we find our purpose, our lives are better. So he spends so much time talking about what you want to accomplish--not just in terms of what matches your personality (which is what this author says), but in terms of what values you want to see evidenced in your life. And you follow those values even if it means your life is a little more complex and difficult. Do you see the difference? It's starting with values (or God), and then coming to us. This book seems to start with us. So I don't get it. It just doesn't FEEL like a Christian book, regardless of the publisher.

One more thing. Perhaps the reason that women are becoming more unhappy, too, is that we are expecting too much out of life. We are expecting that it will be easy to meld a career and kids. We are expecting to experience happiness all the time, and we don't. And we blame others. But perhaps the problem is not our lives, but our expectations. We can find great joy being at home, and perhaps, if we as women celebrated it more in an honest way (without pretending that being home is always perfect), we would stop having these expectations that at all times we must have a powerful career and a home life and a stock portfolio. Being a mom is a wonderful thing. It is a privilege. You don't have to do it all. And that is a good thing.

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Leaving Behind the Fountain of Youth
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a variety of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's:

This Saturday night, families will be stuffing warm sweaters underneath Cinderella costumes and Superman capes as they go door to door taking candy from strangers. Personally, I’m not a big Hallowe’en fan. I love the mini chocolate bars, but I’ve never liked walking around in the cold, especially since it seems to rain on Hallowe’en about 98% of the time.

But dressing up is a time-honoured tradition, and my daughters were never content unless they had make-up caked on their faces so they could look pretty.

Fast forward twenty or thirty years and it’s not really so different. Many adult women go to great pains to try to look pretty, too. I’m a big fan of lipstick, and moisturizer does wonders. A while back I bought a special “moisturizer for men” for Keith to use when he did all that snow shovelling—I figured that was the least I could do, since I certainly wasn’t about to go out there and help him—but he refused to wear it. Turns out he likes wrinkles. He thinks they make him look distinguished, like his father.

It’s acceptable for a man to age. It’s a sin for a woman to. Our glory days are supposedly in our youth, and it’s all downhill from there, according to magazine covers and our entertainment culture. What tripe. I’m a whole lot happier at just-a-few-months-to-forty than I was right before I hit nineteen. And I’m a whole lot more awake than I was just before I hit thirty, when my children were in the rock around the clock baby stage. I love much of what has already happened in my life. I loved my babies, I loved dating my husband, and I loved my university friends. But I wasn’t necessarily able to enjoy those days well.

Either I was worried about what was ahead—would I find the right guy? Would I do well in school? Would I have children?—or I was too busy to enjoy it. Sure it’s exciting when your life is a blank slate before you, but it’s stressful, too. And relationships aren’t as easy-going as the media likes to paint them, either. The best friendships we have with other women tend to come later in life. When we’re younger, we’re often more competitive, catty, and sensitive. In later life, you chalk it up to hormones or peri-menopause or hot flashes and you move on.

As you age, too, you become far more comfortable in your own skin. You’ve come to terms with that cellulite that mortified you at 28. And you come to terms with the rest of your disappointments, too. You know life does not always go as planned, but you learn to recover. You become stronger for it. You gain perspective. You stop sweating the small stuff. Even the sex is better as you age, according to studies. Those in long term, committed relationships tend to be far more satisfied than the young singles who “hook up”, no matter what Paris Hilton may want you to believe.

It’s time we stopped idolizing youth and start idolizing aging. Youth really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, with its insecurities and stresses and questions. When we age, we forgive ourselves. We focus our priorities and figure out what really matters. And that, I think, makes life richer, even if we do have disappointments and unachieved dreams. Life isn’t going downhill; it’s getting better. One day those under 30 will realize that the perfect life isn’t young Cinderella; it’s her middle aged neighbour who has survived all that drama and now gets to write her own story. And trust me, it’s going to be a good one.

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Do you have Sacred Friendships?

We're going to do something a little differently today. We're going to talk friendship.

I've always been one of those women who has only ever had a very few close friends at a time. I have lots of people I like to hang out with, but if I need someone to bounce ideas off of, it's really only a very few. My husband plays the role of friend for most of my needs.

But I still think there's something really important about female friendships, and so I agreed to be a stop on the awesome blog tour for Bob Kelleman's and Susan Ellis' book "Sacred Friendships". This looks like an awesome book full of stories of great Christian friendships, and if you want something cozy to inspire you on a cold winter's night, snuggle up to the fire with this.

I asked the authors some questions that I thought would best relate to women who read this blog, and here's what they said:

1. Do you think it’s harder to have real godly friendships today? Or do things like the internet actually make it easier?

Every generation has had its challenges when it comes to building and keeping strong, godly friendships and each of us have our own individual challenges to overcome. Meaningful relationships take time and commitment. Technology can always be used for our benefit or our detriment and that hinges on our choices. We can choose to use e-mail and IM’ing as a way to keep people at arms length, but we can also use them as a means to stay connected to people who are physically far away from us or who are on a different schedule. We don’t see that as being any different from people relying on letters to keep them connected. Elisabeth Leseur and her dear spiritual friend, Marie Goby, only came face to face for a very brief time, but they were powerfully connected as sisters in Christ and shared with each other deeply. So, if we use technology wisely, it can help spiritual friends maintain a lasting relationship. Ideally, we would connect with our dearest friends in person…to see their facial expressions, to read the unspoken thoughts and feelings, to get a big hug…but life is not always ideal and never has been. It ultimately comes down to how badly friends want the relationship, and how willing they are to make sacrifices for each other.

2. Susan and Bob, you talk about the necessity of friendships for Christian growth. This blog tries to be a “friend” for women where they can go for help in their marriages and families. But I don’t sugar coat it; I tell it like it is. So let me ask you this: if a woman sees a friend making really poor decisions, what should be the proper response of a friend?

That’s a good question. Unfortunately, we don’t think it has a one size fits all answer. It’s essential that, as spiritual friends, we are first and foremost connected intimately with Christ. He’s the One who knows what’s best for each individual in each situation. We are certainly called to speak the truth in love. What that looks like is going to depend on the people involved, the particular situation, and their history as individuals and as friends.

In Sacred Friendships we layout a historical model of soul care and spiritual direction that includes sustaining, healing, reconciling and guiding (SHRG). In sustaining we empathize and help people understand it’s normal to hurt. With healing, we help our friends move beyond their circumstances and pain and remember it’s possible to hope. Reconciling moves us to the understanding that it’s horrible to sin, but wonderful to be forgiven. In guiding we help our friends remember that it’s supernatural to mature. We move in and out of them based on many factors as mentioned earlier. We like to call it “spaghetti relationships.” We might be in reconciling one minute and in sustaining the next. Oftentimes people who are suffering, sin out of their pain. Conversely, people who are sinning are often masking their pain. It gets very messy and requires Christ-like wisdom and discernment.

Now, within the context of sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding, taking all the other factors into consideration, there absolutely is a time and a place for “not sugar coating it” when we see a friend making poor decisions. There is also a way to lead our friends to their own godly conclusions about their poor choices by asking them good open-ended questions founded on biblical principles, that get the heart of their beliefs about themselves, the situation, other people involved, and about God and where He is in the midst of their situation. There are also times that we need to take a step back and let our friends feel the full weight and consequences of their poor decisions.

3. Who was your favourite example of friendship from the book? Why?

Susan: A spiritual friendship that quickly comes to mind as a favorite is between Betsie and Corrie ten Boom, the two Dutch sisters who found themselves in Nazi prison camps for their involvement in hiding Jews. Neither sister ever married and at the time of their capture they both lived in the house in which they were raised. They truly did life together and knew each other inside and out. They were good friends as well as sisters and clung to each other throughout their ordeal. Sadly, Betsie died shortly before the prisoners were freed, but it may very well be their deep bond that kept Corrie alive. What’s remarkable about this friendship is that it flourished in the humdrum day-to-day stuff of life as well as in the unthinkable and unimaginable. Sometimes friendships fall apart when circumstances change, but their relationship only strengthened.

Bob: It’s so hard to select a favorite from among these 50 remarkable women, but forced to do so, I would say the relationship between Elizabeth Keckley and Mary Todd Lincoln. Keckley was African American and had been enslaved as a child. Gaining her freedom as an adult, she became the seamstress for Mrs. Lincoln. More importantly, she became Mrs. Lincoln’s lifetime spiritual friend. When President Lincoln was assassinated, the only person Mrs. Lincoln wanted to talk to was Elizabeth, or Lizzy, as she called her. Elizabeth “soothed the terrible tornado of tumult” the best she could through listening, empathy, and shared sorrow. Mrs. Lincoln lived a troubled life outside the White House, but for the rest of her life the one person who was always there for her was Elizabeth Keckley. Among many lessons, we can learn from this that sacred friendships can and should cross cultural and racial boundaries.

4. To tell you the truth, I’ve had great friends at different periods of my life, but today I have few friends I talk to on a regular basis that go back more than 10 years. I seem to have friends, change cities, and then move on. Does that make me a bad friend? Have we lost the art of lifelong friendships?

We think it makes you quite normal, frankly! And, the fact that you’re asking the question strikes us as a great sign that you have a passionate heart for spiritual friendships.

Have we lost the art of lifelong friendships? In Sacred Friendships some of the women were engaged in lifelong spiritual friendships, while others, like you describe, had short-term or intermittent spiritual friendships. Life has never been a nice, neat package that makes relationships easy. However, historically, many women did maintain lifelong connections through letters of spiritual consolation, spiritual direction, and spiritual counsel. With modern technology we can certainly do the same even when separated geographically.

One of our hopes in writing Sacred Friendships is that our readers who don’t have sacred friendships would see that they are possible and valuable and that they would be in prayer for them, seek them out, and be willing to give of themselves in order to also receive. And for our readers who do have sacred friendships, our hope is that they would be encouraged and reminded that they are blessed and it is worth it, even when it’s hard.

5. How can a woman be strong in ministry for the Lord when she’s also at home ministering to her young kids? Can you give me an example from your book of women who have made a big difference for the wider kingdom while their primary calling is still motherhood?

Susan: I have a twofold response to that. First, I think that we moms sometimes forget that our children are certainly part of the ministry that God has for us. For some women, their children are their primary, if not their only, ministry and that’s ok and it can make a big difference for the kingdom. Our culture puts such an emphasis on doing and producing, that I get a little concerned sometimes that moms, especially stay at home moms, sometimes feel that they are not contributing members of society or the kingdom and that simply is not true. Changing one more diaper or cleaning up one more mess doesn’t seem like it adds a great deal to the kingdom, but little eyes are watching and our responses to the routine…and sometimes the drudgery of life teaches our children more about love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control, than our words and a Bible study ever could.

Second, we need to go back to one of the key points of Sacred Friendships, and that is the necessity of being connected to the Lord so that we know and hear His voice above all others. If the assignment isn’t coming from God, it will be fruitless. But, when God has a plan for one of His children, He will make a way for it to be fulfilled. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote one of America’s greatest novels while raising a family and running a household, It has often been said that Uncle Tom’s Cabin launched our nation into civil war and consequently changed our nation’s history for the better; that seems like a pretty significant impact to me. Laura Haviland was a key player in the underground railroad, and the founder of a free school for children, all the while raising a large family by herself after her husband died. The Lord gave them each a calling and provided a way for them to fulfill it. But, once again, the key for both of them was their complete dependence on Him. They heard His voice, trusted, and responded.

6. With all that’s going on in the world, why this book now? What’s unique about Sacred Friendships?

There are a few scattered books out there on the history of women in the church. There are a few books out there on women counseling women. Sacred Friendships is not just a history book. It’s not just a counseling/spiritual friendship book. Frankly, there’s not another book out there that applies the history of the legacy of godly women to life and ministry today.

Sacred Friendships is especially vital in our world today. We are so disconnected from one another. We sit by our computers . . . alone. We send quick text messages . . . without any depth.

People are hungry for profound relationships, for meaningful connections. But they have few examples showing how to connect to others in practical ways. Sacred Friendships provides over 50 concrete models that teach us how to be real and raw, how to change lives with Christ’s changeless truth, how to be a . . . sacred friend.

7. Who should read Sacred Friendships?

First, anyone who loves riveting stories of victory snatched from the jaws of defeat should read Sacred Friendships. Susan and I like to think of our roles as “story-tellers”—we share stories from the lives of over 50 remarkable Christian women. If you like a good, true story, read Sacred Friendships. Second, people might assume that Sacred Friendships is a book only for women. Not true. Susan and I like to say that Sacred Friendships is a gift to women and a gift from women.

As a gift to women, Sacred Friendships puts to rest the lie of Satan that women in church history have been second-class spiritual citizens! Just one example: the famous Church Fathers were mentored by the lesser-known but incredibly gifted Church Mothers. Sacred Friendships encourages and empowers women to realize that as bearers of God’s image they have equal worth, dignity, value, and giftedness as men have. Women young and mature need the message told by these stories—because the world surely is not the place to turn for validation of worth in Christ.

As a gift from women, Sacred Friendships is for men and women—it’s for anyone who learns best by example. Men and women can read Sacred Friendships and glean life-changing skills to empathize with hurting people, to encouraging people with Christ’s sure hope, to exhort people by speaking the truth in love, and to equip people to tap into Christ’s resurrection power.

A free sample chapter of Sacred Friendships is available at:

Sacred Friendships is on sale at 40% off for $12.99 at:
Or simply by going to orders at:

People can also order at Susan’s new website:

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Wifey Wednesday: When He Doesn't Turn Your Crank
Good morning, everyone!

Welcome to Wifey Wednesday, where we talk marriage here, and then you go and write on your own blog your marriage thoughts and link back here.

I had an interesting weekend last weekend speaking. I did four plenary sessions, but then a breakout workshop on "Honey, I Don't Have a Headache Tonight"--or how to increase your libido. Before I could do the workshop, though, a number of women came up to me saying they have the opposite problem--he's the one with the headache. What should they do?

So I tossed my notes and did a workshop that was half and half, and I think it went quite well. I recorded it, and I'll put the recording up at my store soon.

But in that workshop, one woman asked a question which I think, if we're honest, has occurred to many of us women. What do you do when your husband fails to keep his body attractive? What do you do when he's gained 75 pounds? 100 pounds? When he won't take care of himself? How do you stay attracted when he's just not that nice to look at?

It's a tough question, and I think a lot of women are dealing with it. After all, not to get too graphic, but there's the simple issue of how heavy he is. You want to be able to breathe, after all! You can be more creative in terms of HOW you may make love, but it still can be worrying. So here are some broad thoughts, and I'd love for you to add your own!

1. Let's remember that sex is more than just the physical. It's the union between the spiritual, emotional, and physical aspects of our lives. Our society tends to glorify the physical over everything else, and so the intimacy that we can feel just from being close to someone we love is underrated. If the physical isn't 100%, maybe the companionship really is. So focus on being intimate. Take walks together. Do things together. Laugh together. Play together. The more you spend time in each other's company, cherishing each other, the more you will want to express that physically.

And then just stress the companionship during making love. Look into his eyes. Tell him you love him. Let's stop the idea that everybody needs to have killer abs in order to be sexy. Most people, after all, don't! So see if you can make him feel good, and then take the initiative to show him what you like. Even if he isn't a perfect 10, he can be a good lover with your guidance!

Remember, too, what you love about him. What is sweet about him? What makes him a great husband? Repeat these things over and over to yourself, so that you're concentrating on his assets, rather than his paunch. After all, wouldn't you rather have him, even with the extra weight, than not have him at all?

2. Now let's get back to the issue of what he looks like. You're the woman. Chances are you control what food comes into the house. So start cooking well. Get rid of all high fat foods. Invest in more vegggies. Make salads for every meal. He may not like it, but if you're going to cook, cook what is healthy. Don't buy cookies and white bread. Steer clear of too much high fat cheese. Keep good stuff in the house, and he may start to lose weight.

3. Exercise together. Suggest that you go for a walk every evening after dinner. Get rid of the television, or move it to a place where it's not central in the house. Take up cross country skiing, or bowling, or ballroom dancing. Do something where you can have fun together where you're not just sitting around on a couch. It's hard to stay active today. It means that we have to get committed to stepping outside our comfort zones. Of course it's easier to sit on our butts, especially in the winter. But you've got to do it for everyone's health. And as the woman, chances are you control the focus of the household more than he does, so use that influence to your advantage!

Men who are married live, on average, about eight years longer than men who are not because their wives take care of them. So start taking care of your husband! He may still be overweight, but you can help. And the more active he is, the better shape he will eventually be in.

Do you have any great tips for the woman who asked this question? I think she's probably reading this blog today, since I directed her here. So what would you say? Have you had a similar problem? Or do you want to talk about something else in marriage? Feel free! Just leave your link in the box below. And don't forget to comment!

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Nurturing Your Child's Friendships
We've been talking over the last few days about how to make sure that children adopt the family's values, and spend enough family time with their parents. But we all know that parents are not the only important influence in a child's life (if we were, parenting would be a lot easier). Friends play a huge role, too, especially as kids get older.

So I believe a big job of parenting is helping kids find and keep good friends. In effect, we should act as quasi-matchmakers (I think matchmaking has gotten a bad rap. I think I'd be extremely capable of choosing my girls' husbands. Just wish they'd agree :) ).

That's easy when kids are little. Find families who have similar value systems from you and invite them over for dinner. Have their kids over to play. Kids tend to play with the children of our own friends, because that's who tends to be at our house. When children are small, they can't play with anyone else, except perhaps neighbours. So invite families that are strong with good value systems over. (And this includes the children of single parents, by the way. I was the child of a single mother, and I was at times shunned because of that. But I was a really good kid. Trust me. So if there's a single mother in your church who is doing a good job, and she has some kids who could use a play date, target them first. Chances are that mom needs a break!).

I once lived on a street with lots of great families and lots of kids. Some of them were solid kids; some of them were questionable. But my kids played with them all. The main thing was that they played at our house, not at the homes of the kids who were questionable. And over the course of a number of years, I think we had a good impact on those kids who were struggling. So reach out to those kids, but keep them close. Monitor their games (I remember when one girl wanted my 6-year-old to play "Spice Girls" and learn how to dance sexy. I put a quick stop to that one). Get to know them. Teach them to share and to problem solve.

Nevertheless, you need those really close few friends that your kids really bond with. Kids tend to do that--they'll have ten kids they regularly play with (because kids love playing with others)--and then only two or three that are their best friends. It's those two or three you want to identify and make sure they have good value systems, or are at least willing to live under yours.

I really believe the best place to find these kids is in a church. It doesn't even have to be your church, if you don't have a lot of kids. Go to a lot of city-wide events and get to know other Christian parents in your area. Socialize as much as possible, and you will find people. It means being willing to open up your home and have people over for dinner. It means being willing to go out to some of these events as a family. But the great thing about finding friends for your kids is that chances are you find friends for yourselves, too!

Then, as kids get older, the key is youth groups. You need a youth group where kids can explore their faith, feel safe, and negotiate leaving the nest a bit. My kids have been in two different youth groups at two different churches, and let me tell you, not all youth groups are a good influence.

They've been in one where it was just so large you got lost in the crowd. It was so focused on outreach (which is a good thing) that there wasn't solid teaching for the kids who did believe (which is a bad thing). The culture of the group was so "seeker oriented" that those who were new or who were exploring the faith often set the tone for what was acceptable behaviour. The end result is that the girls spent their lives talking fashion magazines and celebrity culture and make-up--in grade 7! I fail to see how this is much different from school.

At the other youth group it's only about twenty kids. Every kid knows each other. They hang out together. They have debates on whether it's okay to date before you're 18, or whether there's a purpose to dating if you're not going ot marry the person. When they find out that one kid is smoking, they all collectively do an intervention. They're there for each other. The kids are not all perfect, not by a long shot. Many are from difficult family situations. But the atmosphere is different.

Find a youth group for your teen where they connect and feel comfortable in a good way (if they feel comfortable talking about fashion magazines and how much of a pain mothers are, that's not good). Talk to other parents. Ask what their children get out of youth group. If nothing spiritual is brought up, that's likely a bad sign.

Sometimes you may have to go to a youth group at a church other than yours. I think that's okay, and many kids, especially at the junior high age, are more than willing to try something else, especially if they have one friend who is going. So it's not always a bad idea to try a number of youth groups until you find a good fit.

Now let me rant for a minute (as if I haven't been doing so already) and tell you why I believe that kids fall away from the church as they leave for university, and why this youth group thing is so important.

Christian teens need to have their faith strong enough that they believe that their best friends must be Christians. They must have the experience of Christian friendship over their teen years that they will want to recreate it. Their first allegiance must be to some Christian friends, which is why it is so important that you work on cultivating those friendships.

Otherwise they will go away to college, or move away to work, and they will not seek out a campus Christian group or a good church. When kids feel that their friends must be Christian, they will gravitate towards Christian groups because they need friends. The first thing I did on arriving at Queen's University was to find Queen's Christian Fellowship, within a day of getting on campus. There I met my husband and friends I still have today. Of course I had other friends in my university days. But I knew I would only find kindred spirits at the Christian group, so I went out of my way to connect there.

If kids have as their primary kindred spirits kids who don't believe, then it's highly unlikely they will make a big effort to find a church or fellowship. They're used to existing socially without it. They may love God, but they figure that they can go to church when they visit home. They don't have to keep it up. So they don't, and they fall away.

If you want your kids to continue in the faith, make sure their deepest friendships, as teens, are with other Christians. Encourage those friendships. Seek out good youth groups. Change churches if you have to. If your child identifies too much with school or with peer groups that aren't Christian, then chances are they won't seek out a church later. I have seen so many of my dearest friends and relatives go that route, and it's heartbreaking. They believed as a teen, but they didn't stay because they didn't need the social circle.

So matchmake for your kids. Get them good friends. And keep your kids loving God.

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Are Extracurricular Activities Helpful?
This is a continuation to my Saturday post, which was a continuation to my Thursday post! So you may want to scroll down and read those first. But here's the basic problem I'm looking at: do we as parents sign our children up for too many activities, and does that have a toll on our family time? I believe it does, and I laid it out on Saturday that the average family with school aged kids has, at maximum, 19 hours a week of potential quality time. That's not much. And that's before they do any lessons. Take skating for 8 hours a week and you're down to 11. Not a pretty picture.

But let's take this one step further. I believe that with parenting it is so important to keep the long-term goal in mind. We talked on Saturday about what those goals for our children should be. Let's focus today on one specific one, and one very general one. First, the specific: we want our kids to develop fitness habits. After all, one of the reasons that we put our kids in sports lessons is so that they can stay fit! We live in a very sedentary society, and we need to encourage all the exercise we can, right?

I'm not so sure. I took ballet a ton as a child. Two nights a week when I was 13 and 14, one night a week from 6-13. I actually was quite good. And you know what? I can't do any of it now. I took adult ballet lessons when I was 30 for fun, and wrecked my knee because I tried to do the "turn-out" as much as I did at 14, and found my body no longer cooperated. Ballet isn't the type of thing you can just keep doing. It doesn't keep you fit. Sure it keeps you fit then, and it does help your posture (and it taught me to suck my stomach in, which I still do today), but you can't keep it up. There's no natural place "just to do ballet" in your life. So it doesn't encourage long-term fitness.

What about sports? Hockey and soccer are almost the same. Some men are involved in leagues as adults, as are fewer women, but it's not widely done as an adult. So you can't rely on those things to keep you fit. You may love them, but if you're only playing hockey as an adult once a week over the course of four months, it isn't going to cut it.

Skating or gymnastics? Don't even get me started. Those aren't going to keep you fit as an adult, either.

There's really only one sport that I can see that does have the potential to keep you fit, and that would be swimming. (And, of course, track and field, but few children do this as an extracurricular activity.) So you may have your child in some sport for 5-10 hours a week, and that sport will do diddly squat for them when they are adults. It isn't going to encourage fitness. It's simply going to keep them fit right now. There is some benefit to that, of course, and those kids who like being fit are more likely to adopt other fitness activities, but the sport itself won't do much.

If you really want your children to be fit, they need to develop habits that they can continue easily as an adult. And what are such habits? Biking. Walking. Playing soccer and frisbee and touch football with family. Working out at the Y together (if they have kids' programs). Swimming together. Cross-country skiing. Jogging. As kids get older, these are all things you can do with them, which will keep you fit, too. They contribute to family time, they don't take away from it. And they're more likely to meet your goals of raising a child who is healthy than putting that child into hockey 10 hours a week. Even more importantly, if your child is in extracurricular activities multiple nights a week, you won't have time to develop these activities as a family. So they won't get done.

Now let's look at something more general. I believe that children who are most likely to adopt their parents' value systems are those children who most identify with their parents and their family as the primary influence in their lives. They're kids who enjoy their parents, enjoy their family, and want to remain close. Kids who primarily identify with peers do not tend to adopt their parents' value systems, as Judith Harris' book The Nurther Assumption showed.

How, then, do you get kids to identify with the family? You have fun. You hang out. You spend time together. You make the default in their lives "being with the family". So many times kids are in so many activities that their primary relationships aren't even with siblings anymore. And if you stop identifying with your siblings or your parents to such a great extent, it's unlikely that "family" will be considered your first priority.

You can't just have fun on a schedule. You need downtime for that. You need time for people to laugh, and be themselves. You need time for siblings to decide that spending time together is actually worth it. Often kids need to get bored before they will do something together, but if everything is hyper scheduled, they're never bored, and they don't turn to each other.

There's nothing wrong with boredom. It's the birthplace of many a great idea or great game. Kids get bored, so they need to find something to do. That's when they reach out to little, bratty brothers or sisters. That's when they make up games. That's when they use their imagination.

Let's stop giving our kids deliberately to a schedule which denies them so much family time. They may enjoy it at the time, but in the long run, what is the most important goal for your family? Some families may be able to squeeze everything in, and more power to you! But I have seen families who have thought they were doing it well, only to find fifteen years later that their kids weren't following God and weren't overly involved with their families. It's a big risk. It may be one you want to take, because your child is gifted or really wants to do something. Just realize it's a risk. Count the cost first, so that you can be sure that you are doing everything you can to preserve your family life in the time you have left. But I hope most of you may choose just to hang out at home and maybe, occasionally, throw a football around together. I think, in the long run, that may be more valuable.

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Time, Opportunity Cost, and Kids
A fundamental premise of Economics is that everything has an opportunity cost. If I buy a chocolate bar, I'm not buying a pop with that money. So the opportunity cost of the chocolate bar is whatever I could have bought--a can of pop, 20 jujubes, two stamps, whatever.

But while we're used to opportunity cost when it comes to money, we don't tend to think of it when it comes to time. And yet the time crunch can be just as acute as the budget crunch. As commenter Valleygirl said earlier this week (and I paraphrase), why do we yearn so much for those bygone years of sitting on the porch, and then overschedule our lives so much that we have no time for it?

When you schedule your own lives, or your kids' lives, with many activities, you're simultaneously denying them whatever else they could have done with that time. There is an opportunity cost.

So much for Economics. Now let's turn to Math. Let's look at how much disposable time the average mom with school-aged kids has in the course of a week. We'll be nice and even assume that she doesn't have an outside job, to give her as much time as possible.

Weekday mornings, before school, are a write off. You rush around and get the kids on the bus or out the door. Not really quality time. Then they're at school, usually home around 4:00. So let's begin our day at 4. Most kids are in bed by 9, so that leaves 5 hours per weekday.

On the weekends, let's give you 12 hours a day, with 12 for sleeping. Over the course of the week, that gives you 49 hours. For comparison's sake, the kids spend about 40 hours in school and with school peers. So it's almost even.

Now let's start being realistic:

Time spent making dinner, doing laundry, cleaning up, mopping the floor, and other housework that can't wait: 1 hour a day (and I'm being nice. It's probably more). Down to 42 hours.

Time spent doing homework with your child: 1 hour a day (this can include anything that goes into organizing them for school). Down to 35 hours.

Time spent on meetings or with other adults. Chances are you have at least one during the week: a committee meeting, a small-group meeting, an evening out with the girls, dinner out with your husband, whatever: 3 hours a week. Down to 32 hours.

Time your child spends in front of some sort of screen. The average child spends 3.5 hours a day in front of either a video game, computer, or television. But let's be nice. Let's say it's only 1.5 hours a day. Down to 22 hours.

Time your child spends bathing, getting dressed, cleaning their room, or looking after him or herself. 1/2 hour a day, or 3 hours a week. Down to 19 hours.

So in a family with no play dates, no working mother, very little technology addiction, and no lessons only gets 19 hours a week of quality time when people aren't doing housework, aren't in a meeting, aren't taking a shower, and aren't making dinner. That's 19 hours when you can potentially hang out with your child, take a walk, play a game, do a hobby in the same room, talk, or spend time together. I would guess that for many families it's less than that.

Note, too, that schools get 40 hours. Schools have 40 hours, you have 19. How are you going to spend those 19? Some of them are going to be spent eating dinner as a family. Some will be spent in church (I counted that as quality family time, though chances are for most of that your children won't be with you). You don't have a lot of time to work with.

And in those 19 hours you have to teach them to do chores, to become independent, to love God, to be responsible, to not give in to peer pressure, to handle money well, to be nice to their friends, and to get along with their siblings. That's a heavy task.

So let's look at it from another point of view. What is it that you want your child to be like as an adult? What are the most important things for you to pass on? If I were to rank them, I would say this:

1. Love Jesus
2. Be able to form close personal relationships (including, I hope, marriage and motherhood)
3. Be independent, able to get a job when they need one and able to care for their own homes.
4. Be responsible with money and personal possessions
5. Be generous.
6. Adopt healthy attitudes and behaviours (including fitness).

Perhaps some are out of order. Obviously I would like them to reach all of those goals. But I would rather have a child who is 300 lbs. and who loves Jesus than one who is fit but can't hold a job and doesn't know God. So fitness, while it's important, is lower on the list.

Therefore, if those are my priorities, in that order, how am I working towards them? They're not automatically going to develop those traits. They need to be taught, nurtured, and mentored in them. They need to be shown, as they hit the teen years, that the culture which preaches against almost all of these things is wrong and not something you want to emulate.

And if your children are in school, you are fighting against a system that for 40 hours a week teaches that God is irrelevant to their lives. It teaches things that are not conducive to forming healthy marriages. It teaches unhealthy attitudes. It does very little to teach responsibility. So not only do you only have 19 hours to teach these things; you need to dedicate some of those hours to explicitly working against what the school is already teaching.

That's why I'm adamant about family time. It is more important than sports lessons. It is more important than music lessons. You can never get that time back. And the more time your child spends away from your family, the more time he or she spends immersed in a culture which, in many ways, is antithetical to what you believe, especially if you are Christian. Sports may teach discipline, for instance, but they teach it absent from God. They teach it as its own reward, rather than being a spiritual discipline in and of itself. You can become too focused on performance and worth in that arena, rather than on worth as a human being.

On Monday I'm going to add one more thought regarding sports lessons, and one more regarding siblings, but this post is getting long enough as it is. So what do you think? Please, let's discuss this! Am I off base? Do I have my calculations wrong? Have I left something important out? Let me know!

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Are You Worried?
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a variety of newspapers. Here's today's:

Are you worried? You should be. According to the latest research, you should be worried about approximately 692,398 things, including worrying about columnists spouting false statistics.

First there’s H1N1, though I much prefer calling it swine flu. Swine flu makes me think of germs and sneezing. H1N1 makes me think of a science fiction mutant virus. Much scarier.

Recently I was also rendered paranoid by several episodes of the highly entertaining British show How Clean is Your House, where they analyze all the bacteria that is lurking throughout your abode and conclude that you are within a few hours of certain death. Families who are supposed to have bacteria counts of 50 have counts of 19,376. It’s great fun to laugh at people who live like pigs, but it’s made me a tad neurotic. I’ve taken to carrying hand sanitizer in my purse. I’m teaching the kids to sanitize the doorknobs, light switches, and bathroom handles. And I was once a big believer in “eating a little dirt never hurt anyone”. What is happening to me?

Then there’s pop. I forsook Pepsi a few years ago because I was worried about all that extra sugar. One hits 30, and one’s metabolism slows. At 35 it begins to sputter. I’m almost hitting the age when it begins crawling backwards. So I did the thing that weight loss programs recommended—I switched to Diet Pepsi! None of that fruit juice or pop for me. The only problem is that I have now learned that Diet Pepsi leads to osteoperosis, and my doctor cousin tells me they think it’s linked to brain diseases, too. I’m destined to be an old person who laments about being Sudoku-challenged while I’m holed up in bed with broken bones. But at least I’ll have my caffeine.

Of course it’s also imperative that we worry about all the toxins in our environment. We must buy filters on everything to give us clean air and clean water. We must banish smokers at least a kilometer and a half away from any living thing. And while we’re at it, we should really get rid of all preservatives and additives in our food, too.

Apparently global warming should also worry us to death, so much so that our media betters believe we should stop most industry and all that infernal driving. And since we know India and China aren’t going to stop anything, it’s time to admit we’re doomed. Even if it is getting colder.

Whenever you watch the news there’s something more to worry about. Last week many millions of us were glued to our televisions sets worried about a little 6-year-old boy floating around Colorado. He had apparently crawled into the basket of this huge inflatable balloon that his father just happened to keep in his backyard, become untethered, and floated off who-knows-where. As helicopters recorded and news vans rushed to the scene, the balloon crashed with nary a child in sight. Then, a few hours later, out pops the little tyke, safe and sound. While we were, of course, relieved that he had not met an untimely demise, I’m sure many viewers also felt a little ripped off. We were waiting for a tragedy, and it all came to nothing.

It’s a good metaphor for what’s happening in our society. As much as we worry, we actually live longer, healthier, more active lives than our ancestors did. We’re less prone to death from disease, infection, or accident than at any other point in human history.

Sure there are tons of things to worry about, if you want to. But if you want my advice, I’d turn off the news and go eat some chocolate. It can’t hurt, can it?

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Why Do Some People Deliberately Have No Life?
(UPDATE below)

My 12-year-old daughter has recently started intense lessons in a certain sport (which shall remain nameless because there are local people reading this blog). She's never taken lessons before, but she's entered at quite a high level because she's been practising on her own for quite a while and is actually quite good. But she decided it was finally time for lessons, so we signed her up for one night a week.

It was then that I felt like I had entered the twilight zone. When we show up for lessons, there are about 25 other children there, with various coaches. The first thing said to me was, "why only one night a week", in a rather judgmental tone. Turns out everyone else is there for at least two nights a week, if not more.

Now these lessons are two hours long. They interrupt the dinner hour. But I felt that it was okay to do once a week, since we're together most other nights. It was important to Katie.

But she's starting to question it. She said to me this week that nobody there actually smiles. They take it SO seriously. They're not practising so that they can have fun and learn a skill; they're practising to be the best. Watching them this week I felt like standing up and yelling, "Take a chill pill, everyone! Nobody here is going to the Olympics. So just have fun!". But I didn't. I didn't want the other mothers attacking me.

And the other mothers are strange, too. They seem nice enough, but get this: everyone I've talked to has multiple children in stuff like this. I talked to one this week whose daughter is in this particular sport two nights a week, but her other daughter is, too, but she's more advanced. So for four nights a week they do this. I gasped and said, "when do you eat dinner"? She laughed and said, "we don't! We just grab it on the run, or eat in shifts."

What kind of a life is that? Everyone there is judging me and my daughter because she hasn't been in lessons before (we never really had the time, and Katie didn't particularly want to do it). Everybody else has been doing it since they were 2. They're much better, and they snicker at Katie, even though Katie is only doing it because she sincerely loves it and wants to learn to be better. But she's starting not to love it so much anymore. The lessons thing is just too weird for her, so I don't know how long we'll keep it up.

It got me thinking, though, about how hard it is to learn to do something when you're a little bit older. You have to put kids in stuff when they're 3 or 4 and keep at it. But at 3, what kid knows what they want to do? I did have the girls in lessons at 3 and 4, just for fun, but it was all in things they decided not to pursue. The thing Katie actually likes we never had her in.

I was in ballet from a very young age, and by 14 I was quite good. I was on pointe, and pirouetting, and all that sort of fun stuff. But I remember a 15-year-old who wanted to start lessons. She was a lovely girl, and just wanted to learn for fun. She didn't fit in anywhere. She ended up going with an adult class, which was really slow and probably too easy for her.

Who knows what they want to do when they're 3? I don't think any kid does. I think it's the parents that push them, and tell them this is what they're going to do. Some kids, of course, do love it. I have a cousin who was in competitive gymnastics for years and did love it. But she never went to the provincials, let alone the nationals or the Olympics, even though she was good. It's hard to get to that level, even if you practice all the time.

And besides that, it's horrendously expensive. We're shelling out I don't know how much money for this one lesson a week. I could calculate if I wanted to, but suffice it to say it's a lot. We're always coming home with fundraising flyers. How do people put their kids in for four days a week when it's that expensive? And a lot of these parents live half an hour to 45 minutes away, too.

On the surface everybody looks like nice, middle class families, but I really feel when I'm entering that place that the whole world has gone mad. No child should be away from their family that much. Families need to be together. And stressing sports over family life gives a mistaken idea of what's really important. I have seen so many nice kids grow up in a particular sport, working like crazy at it, and not having a life. Or, when they're older, not being particularly attached to their families. Even though they were good kids, they didn't spend that much time with their families. They did school, did the sport, and did their homework. And that was it.

How can you raise a godly child like that? How can you influence a child for good like that? You need time to just sit around and do nothing. And you need to eat together.

This is a crazy world we live in, and I really don't want to be a part of this mess. I don't know how long Katie's going to keep going, but one thing I'm proud of is that she sees how dysfunctional the whole situation was. I didn't even need to tell her. That's my girl. And I'll take her, even though she may not be as skilled, over someone who has been practising their entire life any day of the week.


ValleyGirl published this comment in the comments thread, but I just have to put it here, too. So don't just comment on what I wrote; comment on what she wrote as well. And let's get a discussion going on how we can change the trend! Here she is:

So why is it, if there are so many of us mothers who feel this way, that whenever we get into these situations, we still feel alone ~ like we're the only ones who don't want to constantly be shuttling our kids from one lesson or practise to another? Why are so many parents, Christians included, buying into this idea that our kids need to be so busy? We all look back on the simpler times of bygone eras and wish for the feeling it gives us and yet here we are, figuring that we must keep our kids busy rather than encouraging them to use their imaginations and invite their friends over.

I am trying to rebel against this trend, but it's hard. It's hard to hear my girls feeling left out because they're the only ones in their class who aren't in skating lessons or dance classes. It's hard to tell them we're not renting the school gym and inviting the whole grade to a birthday party that's going to cost me hundreds of dollars just because some other people do it that way.

One thing I think is a problem is our society's "one man really is an island" philosophy. We don't live relational lives anymore. We don't know our neighbours and all the people on our street and we certainly don't show hospitality to them. I know I'm guilty of this.

But maybe, if I was a little more willing to open my home to my girls' friends and their parents, and if hospitality would become fashionable again with families desiring to spend time together and actually get to know each other, our children could still become well-rounded, well-behaved adult citizens without the necessity of hours and hours of childhood lost to lessons. (emphasis mine)

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Wifey Wednesday: Do You Appreciate Your Mate?
It's Wednesday, which means it's time to talk marriage!

Today I want to talk about appreciation. A counsellor I know sent me an email about a study that was done where people were asked to say the first thing that came into your mind when you heard certain words. Here's a sample, which she says was quite representative of the responses:

Your significant other? doghouse
Your mother? helpful
Your father? wise
Your friends? supportive

Your significant other? pain
Your mother? Love
Your father? quiet
Your friends? silly

Your significant other? irritating
Your mother? working
Your father? gone
Your friends? spectacular

Your significant other? annoyingY
Your mother? loving
Your father? smart
Your friends? important

Your significant other? messy
Your mother? friend
Your father? unique
Your friends? amazing

See a trend there? People love their moms. They adore their friends. But the words for significant other are always negative.

Perhaps she sent me a skewed sample, but I wouldn't doubt that this is true. I think we're most negative about the ones who are supposed to be the closest to us. Those are the ones who are supposed to complete us, who are supposed to meet all these expectations, and when they don't, we get mad.

But people don't thrive on condemnation; they thrive on appreciation. I honestly don't know what we think: do we figure that if we criticize enough, or withhold affection, or complain, that they'll magically change? Or are we trying to punish them for not being what we want them to be? If we do, we simply push them away, and we end up punishing ourselves. What we really want, you see, is a truly intimate relationship, where we are known and still accepted. But how can we get that unless we're also willing to give it?

Perhaps you think he doesn't deserve it. After all, you're a better spouse. You care for him, cook for him, raise his kids, and all he does is sit in front of the television. You have a valid complaint. But expressing it in a judgmental way will not help you. Working on yourself as a wife, and learning how to build intimacy before we confront will go so much further.

So today, I have an assignment for each of you. In the comments, tell me what you appreciate about your husband, even if you're mad at him right now. And then tell him, too! If we start talking the language of appreciation, we build him up, and we concentrate on what we like, rather than on what we resent. And then both of us will be in a much more positive framework to work on our issues!

And, if you want to participate even more fully, why not write a Wifey Wednesday post? Go to your own blog and write a post about what marriage & appreciation, or whatever else is on your mind about marriage. Then come back here and enter your link! You'll be eligible to win one of my audio downloads: Protect Your Marriage! I so appreciate everyone who contributes!

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Podcast: The Prodigal Son and What Not to Wear

I just love the show What Not to Wear. I love Stacey. She tells it like it is. I love the guests, who seem so shy and timid at the beginning, but just shine at the end.

And then one day I was reading the story of the Prodigal Son, and it struck me that it's a big What Not to Wear episode. There's a lot about clothes. There's a lot about transformations. And grace. And accepting grace.

And as much as God wants to give it, we have to be the ones to accept it, just as those women have to accept the makeover. Accepting can be hard, if we've grown accustomed to thinking of ourselves in a certain way. But God doesn't want us limited; He wants us to live a big life with Him.

So if you're stuck, and you need a pick-me-up, listen in to this quick podcast of the makeover that God wants to do in our lives--and that we need to accept!

It's an analogy I talk about a lot in my speaking, and I'll be focusing my talk this Friday night for Women at the Well on this story! It's a lot of fun, and I wanted to share it with you, my regular visitors, too!

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Any Homeschoolers Out There?
I'm part of The Homeschool Blog Awards gang, and I sometimes guest post over at The Homeschool Post. I've got a new post up today on some of my favourite online homeschooling helps!

That is all. Regular programming will resume shortly.

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The Heart of the Matter
I had a distressing week in many ways. I kept hearing about more couples I know and love who are splitting up.

Some of those separations are likely temporary, and are likely a good idea given the issues involved. Others are likely permanent, and are pulling their families apart.

It's just really, really sad. And then I started looking at how many of the teens I know are hurting right now because of the home situations they come from. That's to be expected, I suppose, for people who don't necessarily live their lives on God's principles for strong families, but it should not happen to those who claim to be Christian. And yet it is.

I have known several worship leaders, for instance, that I loved to listen to. For years I've heard their prayers, and their music, and I've just felt that they were so close to Jesus and were leading us well. And later I find out that they've walked out on their marriages because of affairs, or addictions, or whatever.

Truthfully, we can never really know what goes on in someone's house. And too often, I think, Christians take the wrong approach when people split up. Our first instinct is to try to get them back together, at all costs. But that's not always a good idea. There could be good reasons for the split, and until those reasons are dealt with honestly and thoroughly, you're not going to repair a marriage. You're just going to paper over something.

I'm not talking about splitting up because you don't feel loved, or because you feel taken for granted. I'm talking about the big issues: gambling, abuse, alcoholism, affairs, pornography. The things that can't be dismissed (emotional issues shouldn't be dismissed, either, but because there aren't necessarily addictions in the mix, more change is likely to happen).

Too often I have seen people go in for one session with the pastor, or a counsellor, and declare themselves "starting over" and "a clean slate" and "all that is behind us", and then they don't get why the wife isn't so excited to jump back into the marriage. True repentance, I think, comes from owning up to what you did, not by berating the wife (or the husband) for not being Christian enough to forgive. And owning up doesn't mean just owning up in front of the wife, and perhaps a pastor. It means admitting it in your small group, or to your friends and family, and in an age-appropriate way to your kids. It means saying that Mommy (or Daddy) was right to instigate a separation, and that I did make a lot of mistakes, and I want to start over, and I need those I love to keep me accountable, because these are my weaknesses. Do you see the difference?

Anyway, I say all of that as a preamble to what I really want to say, which is this: it seems to me that the time to fix these messes is not after they happen. By that time it's really late, and chances are things will be too entrenched and too difficult to mend (though it can happen if both adopt a godly attitude). The time to fix it is at the beginning, to make sure it doesn't happen. We need to put fences around our marriage for protection.

And that means living out your faith; acting out your faith; putting your marriage first. It is not enough to go to church. It is not enough to believe in God. Unless you put God first and act out His priorities in your marriage, your marriage will get rocky and your kids will suffer. You can't just sit there complaining about your husband and nurturing thoughts of how much better life would be if... He can't just sit there ignoring you and figuring that now that he's said "I do", we you don't have to date anymore and he doesn't have to be nice to you, because he's got you.

The most important thing you have is your marriage. It makes you richer, healthier, safer, happier, and more fulfilled. It is the best method you have for feeling satisfied in life and raising kids who will succeed. That means that it has to be your number one priority. Even if it's not your husband's. And as you start to change, he'll likely change in return.

If you're not satisfied with your marriage right now, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT before things degenerate to the point that it did for my friends. Learn to speak each others' love languages. Arrange to have a date every week. Stop nagging and start supporting. Think about how you can be a good wife, and not just what he should do for you. And if he's involved in some bad stuff, like gambling or pornography, get help now before it gets too bad. Confront him on it. Take major action, even if it's just a "little bit". Things like that can escalate and threaten your whole family.

I'm quite passionate about this because I'm mad today. I'm mad at all the wasted lives, I'm mad for the children, I'm mad for the spouses who have been betrayed. But none of this had to happen if people just honestly lived out their faith, and read their Bibles, and prayed, and didn't just "do church" on Sundays.

I have a tool that I think can help in this endeavour, and I've decided to put it on special just this week to make it more accessible to people. It's my recording "Protect Your Marriage from Outside Threats", where I talk about the weaknesses that men have, and the weaknesses that women tend to have, and what we as women can do proactively to stop problems before they start. I've put the audio download on for only $2, and you can see it here. Set up those fences in your marriage so you don't fall prey to heartache later! And if you'd prefer the physical CD, you can see that here, too.

I hope this blesses you. And remember: your marriage is your most important possession. Cherish it. For everyone's sakes.

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To Love, Honor and Vacuum

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I Have a Day to Myself!
This is a silly post about nothing.

I'm just so excited. All my plans for today fell through, so I have NOTHING TO DO all day.

I got up and made the children make waffles for everyone. They are now instructed to clean up after breakfast.

I'm going to go to a Wii Fit Workout and then I'm plopping myself on the couch and I'm going to knit while watching Jane Austen movies. ALL DAY. I think this will be the biggest blissful day I've had in a long time!

And if you never get days like that, don't worry. One day your children will be old enough to make waffles, and old enough that you can leave them in another room without supervision.

And then you can have a blissful day like me!

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To Love, Honor and Vacuum


About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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