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Quest for the Olympic spirit

Joannie RochetteImage by alexlc13 via Flickr

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a number of newspapers. this week's was born out of a post I did on Monday about watching the Olympics. If you've already read that post, skip to the bottom for an update!

In 1988 I was a real Canadian. I was glued to the Olympics, and was as ecstatic as every other Canuck when darling Elizabeth Manley unexpectedly walked away with the silver in women’s figure skating. To me it was even more dazzling than Ben Johnson’s medal that same year, especially since Manley’s gold has lasted so much longer.

Despite being enamoured with Manley, though, I have never been able to become emotionally invested in the Olympics. I just find it too tense. My stomach twists in knots when figure skating comes on, even though my daughter is positively addicted to it. What if they fall? Imagine, you've worked your entire life for this three minute program, and then you topple. Or maybe it’s skiing, and you lose by a fraction of a second. The world of amateur sport seems spectacularly cruel. These people have tried so hard, and yet they fail to secure a medal simply because they’re having a bad day.

I think my problem is that I don’t understand sport. After all, I’m the one who used to exacerbate my asthma to escape high school gym, so my ability to put myself in the shoes of a world-class athlete is rather severely limited.

Perhaps they're mature about it and they're just happy to be there, whether or not they win the medal. Perhaps being at the Olympics is enough to satisfy their quest for success, but being the competitive soul that I am, I find that hard to believe. I do not like losing consistently at cards, and if I play euchre too many times in a row without ever being dealt a Jack, my perspective on life dims considerably. I hate to think what I’d be like if I had dedicated my whole life to being the best in my field. But then, maybe that’s why I’m not the best!

At the Olympics, though, we’re supposed to celebrate the best, being in awe of others’ athletic prowess as we leave dents in our couches and empty bags of chips while watching their displays of physical glory. And occasionally I have overcome my fear of seeing people lose and I have turned on that television set.

In 1998 I tuned in to watch Elvis. I loved Elvis, even more than his namesake, because there was a man who redefined skating, making it more athletic, fun, and, dare I say it, masculine. I decided that my reticence to watch skating was silly, and if the skaters could take the stress, certainly I could, too. But Elvis lost the gold because he had suffered a groin injury and had been battling the flu. What an amazing performance anyway, but again, it shows that the Olympics doesn’t necessarily measure skill as much as it does luck—who’s lucky enough to escape illness, or family emergencies, or personal problems. As I’m writing this, skater Joannie Rochette has just learned that her mother died suddenly, two days before Joannie is set to compete. How absolutely horrendous, and I wish her all the best.

Sometimes all the training and all the preparation and all the work can’t compensate for the curve balls life throws you at the worst possible times.

I’m a horrible fuddy-duddy, and by the time you read this, perhaps Joannie will have already graced the medal podium. Of course, Canada will be proud of her no matter what she does, because she has already proven herself an amazing skater and a formidable competitor. I am proud and happy she represents our country, and I will proudly and happily allow my youngest daughter to stay up late to watch her and cheer her on. I just hope she doesn’t expect me to watch with her. I don’t think I can take that kind of stress.

I wrote this post on Monday, and much has happened in the Olympics since then! On Tuesday night I couldn't sleep, and since Katie was still up watching Joannie Rochette skate, I decided to join her. And I sat through the whole thing without too bad a case of nerves! I must admit that some tears definitely flowed for her after her program with the stress that must of been on her after her mother's death. As I'm typing this right now it's Thursday night, and Joannie is about to go, so I'm not sure what's going to happen!

A commenter mentioned on Monday that perhaps I was going on a slippery slope, saying that it's not worth watching if someone loses, because that means I'm saying sports are only worth doing if you win.

I can see what she means, and perhaps I need to rethink my position. But it seems that the way Olympics are hyped, it does become about winning. After all, we count our medals. Countries talk about which athletes have the best hope for medals. And I'm sure every athlete dreams of being on the podium. I just feel badly for them if they don't get there, though I still admire their work.

I could never be that devoted to something, personally. It seems like your whole life has to become that sport, and I'm not sure that's entirely healthy. But skating still is beautiful watch, and now that I have a daughter who is so into it, I'll probably have to join her more often!

UPDATE 2: Okay, so I stayed up until midnight last night watching skating. Yuna Kim was breathtaking (she trains not far from where I live). And when Joannie came on, I couldn't watch. I went downstairs to get a glass of water, and my daughter laughed at me.

I was really impressed with the American skater who went last, Mirai Nagasu. Her spins were absolutely beautiful. Just lovely. I think she's the future of skating. And the Finnish skater, Laura Lepisto, was breathtaking, too. Especially her arms. She had the best arms of everybody, but perhaps I'm saying that because I used to take ballet.

I still wouldn't have watched it if my daughter weren't so into it, but I was happy for Joannie, especially after the week she's had. But now that it's done, I guess her mother's death will really hit her, and she'll have to head home for the funeral. How sad.


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Wifey Wednesday: Why You Should Reconsider If You're Not in the Mood

It's Wednesday, the day that we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you all comment on it, either by writing your own post and linking it up below, or by leaving a comment.

As my frequent readers know, I write a lot about sex. It's not because this is an easy subject for me; on the contrary, it was one of the biggest stumbling blocks in our marriage early on. Eventually I got tired of fighting about it, and decided I was going to figure out how to get in the mood more often. I even wrote a book about it (my husband likes to say that he liked the reseaerch), and it really did change my perspective.

So today, I thought I'd give you some insight into a man's perspective on it. Perhaps you're in a relationship where you want it more than he does; I'll write about that again soon (and I have written about it before). But today I want to address the women who are beginning to find sex a chore. Dennis Prager, a columnist who mostly writes on political topics, last year penned a series on marriage. Here's an excerpt from his essay, "When A Woman Isn't In The Mood, Part I":

It is an axiom of contemporary marital life that if a wife is not in the mood, she need not have sex with her husband. Here are some arguments why a woman who loves her husband might want to rethink this axiom.

First, women need to recognize how a man understands a wife's refusal to have sex with him: A husband knows that his wife loves him first and foremost by her willingness to give her body to him. This is rarely the case for women. Few women know their husband loves them because he gives her his body (the idea sounds almost funny). This is, therefore, usually a revelation to a woman. Many women think men's natures are similar to theirs, and this is so different from a woman's nature, that few women know this about men unless told about it.

This is a major reason many husbands clam up. A man whose wife frequently denies him sex will first be hurt, then sad, then angry, then quiet. And most men will never tell their wives why they have become quiet and distant. They are afraid to tell their wives. They are often made to feel ashamed of their male sexual nature, and they are humiliated (indeed emasculated) by feeling that they are reduced to having to beg for sex.

And here's Prager's Part II:

1. If most women wait until they are in the mood before making love with their husband, many women will be waiting a month or more until they next have sex. When most women are young, and for some older women, spontaneously getting in the mood to have sex with the man they love can easily occur. But for most women, for myriad reasons -- female nature, childhood trauma, not feeling sexy, being preoccupied with some problem, fatigue after a day with the children and/or other work, just not being interested -- there is little comparable to a man's "out of nowhere," and seemingly constant, desire for sex.

2. Why would a loving, wise woman allow mood to determine whether or not she will give her husband one of the most important expressions of love she can show him? What else in life, of such significance, do we allow to be governed by mood?
What if your husband woke up one day and announced that he was not in the mood to go to work? If this happened a few times a year, any wife would have sympathy for her hardworking husband. But what if this happened as often as many wives announce that they are not in the mood to have sex? Most women would gradually stop respecting and therefore eventually stop loving such a man.

It's harsh, I know. But we need to understand how men feel.

I think part of the problem that we women have is that we have over-sexualized sex. Let me explain what I mean. We have bought into the world's idea that sex is all about physical pleasure. In order for it to be "pure, honest" sex, it has to be mind-blowing. It has to be stupendous. You have to want it.

If we don't want it, and we do it anyway, we're cheapening it. We feel like we're being used. We're deceiving him. So it's better to not have sex at all until we can throw ourselves into it.


What we've done is taken sex down to its lowest common denominator: physical pleasure. Why is it purer to have sex when you both want to and you both are going to get tremendous physical release from it? Isn't that turning sex into mainly a physical activity?

Sex is so much more than that. It's also emotional and spiritual, and when we make love because we want to show him how much we love him--regardless of how we currently feel about the exercise--then we're actually being more loving. It's more sacred, almost. Can you see that? Also, sex cements you in a way that nothing else does. It is a spiritual union. To dismiss that potential because we're not "in the mood" isn't operating on a higher or most honest sexual plane; it's actually being baser. We're the ones who are making sex only about physical pleasure, not our husbands. They want to make love not just to feel great, but also to feel loved. We, on the other hand, don't want to make love unless we can feel great. We're the ones who have debased it, not them.

When we turn around and make love for them, we imbue it with a bit more of the sacredness that I think God intended. But much of that depends upon how we define "giving our bodies to him". If we just lie there, counting the minutes until he's done (sorry to be so graphic, but you've all been there), we're not really giving ourselves. We need to throw ourselves into it, and see if we can give him (and ourselves) pleasure. And often when we do commit our minds and bodies to the exercise, our own pleasure does follow.

It's not wrong to simply give your body as a gift to him. We interpret it as wrong because we think of ourselves on a higher plane in relationships--we value the relationship, he values the sex, so he's the one who's debased and needs to learn to become better, like us. But he isn't worse, and we aren't better, we're just different. And God made us different to encourage both of us to step out of our comfort zones and give to one another.

I'm not suggesting that if he's asking you to act out pornography that you should do it, or that you should make love if you have physical issues, or that you should do so if you're having flashbacks of childhood trauma. If you need counselling, get it. If you're having relationship problems, tackle those. Sex shouldn't be something that hurts you.

But normally, the problem is not something huge; it's just that we can't be bothered, and we think there's something a little bit pathetic about men that they want it so much. And why should we have to use our bodies to give him that?

We do lots of things with our bodies that aren't always pleasant, though. I remember breastfeeding through blocked milk ducts and infections. I drag myself out of bed to tend to sick children. I get less sleep than I need because my kids need me. I don't mind using my body to love my kids; the problem seems to come when we need to use it to love our husbands. They should be able to cope!


God didn't put you in a marriage so that you could both cope. He put you in a marriage so that you could both lean on each other, give to each other, and love to each other. You may think it's pathetic that he needs love to be expressed in this way when you're tired, and cranky, and bloated. But he does, and he's not wrong. So challenge yourself this week to see sex as something less base than something purely physical. See it as the emotional and spiritual building bond that it can be. Love your husband in the way that he needs it, and you just may find that your marriage gets ever so much better!

Now I want to hear from you! Do you have marriage thoughts you'd like to share? Write your own Wifey Wednesday post and then link up in the Mr. Linky below. Or leave a comment! We'd love to hear your thoughts!

Want more intimacy tips on how to get in the mood? Listen to Sheila's audio download, Honey, I Don't Have a Headache Tonight! Filled with lots of laughs and practical tips to boost your marriage!
Download it now!

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So What Do You Think About the Olympics...

Yukina Ota at the 2003 NHK Trophy.Image via Wikipedia

I have a daughter who is crazy about figure skating. She actually has memorized the standings for every figure skater in the top 20 in the world for the last 10 years. She knows who won the Olympics in each figure skating category for at least the last 20. She skates herself, and she loves watching it.

So we've let her stay up late and watch the men's figure skating so far, and the ice dancing. She found the men's mildly disturbing, since I think she misses dear Canadian Elvis Stojko, who definitely was a "man's" figure skater.

But as excited as she is about the Olympics, I always have mixed feelings. I absolutely HATE watching skating because I'm so afraid they might fall. Imagine, you've worked your entire life for this one three minute program, and then you fall. I feel so badly for them! Perhaps they're mature about it and they're just happy to be there, but I find it absolutely nerve-wracking!

Olympics bother me in other ways, too. In the 100 m dash, for instance, it seems as if Canada's Jamaican is going up against America's Jamaican and Britain's Jamaican and maybe, at times, Jamaica's Jamaican. They're all of Jamaican origin, and it seems like Jamaica should just win. But it's always Canada or the States because they've trained here and grew up here. I'm not saying they're not Canadian--of course they are, since we are all a nation of immigrants. But somehow I always feel badly for Jamaica, because they just don't have as much money to pour into training and infrastructure and tracks, etc. It's obviously genetics that makes people fast, or it wouldn't always be the same genetic make-up that wins the 100 m dash or all the relays. So why should we win just because he moved to Canada?

It's amazing to see what the human body can do, and that's what the Olympics are marvelous for. I just find it difficult to get behind the whole thing because to make it to that level of competition, you've had to devote your whole life to it. It's so intense. And then what if you don't win?

I suppose I'm just a sourpuss. I really do believe that all the athletes are impressive. It's just that you can't really win anymore without major training, and that costs money. It's not just pure athletic skill anymore; it's what infrastructure is behind you.

Olympic_JohnsonLiukinImage by Bludgeoner86 via Flickr

At least in winter sports, though, most competitors are adults. In summer sports, the gymnasts always bother me. They're just so young, and it seems almost exploitative. Where is their childhood? At least the female skaters seem slightly older this year. I was always somewhat put off by Tara Lipinsky's win years ago. She was what--14? How can a girl win a woman's event? I think you should at least have to look like a woman to win.

And gymnasts never look like women. They look like little girls. If it's a sport you can no longer do once you're mature and past puberty, then there's something wrong with that sport.

Okay, so maybe I am a fuddy-duddy. But I do let my daughter watch the Olympics! I just can't bear to watch it with her!

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We Are The World, We Love Ourselves
I was 15 when the original We Are the World hit the airwaves. I think it was for Ethiopia at the time, was it not? It kind of escapes me now. But I remember thinking that it was an interesting idea, but I didn't know what kind of a dent it would make.

Now, 25 years later, they've recorded another "We are the World", this time for Haiti. And Michael Jackson's still in it, using footage from the original. If you haven't seen it, here it is:

My daughters have both been very active raising money for Haiti. We have a friend who runs an orphanage outside the capital city, and they've been overrun with refugees, so we've been helping to support them, sending money down.

So please understand, what follows is not mean to disparage anyone's fundraising efforts for Haiti. The country is in desperate straits.

No, what interests me more about this video is what struck me 25 years ago, too, as a teenager. Take a look at the words:

We are the world,
We are the children,
We are the ones who make a brighter day,
So let's start giving.

It's a choice we're making,
We're saving our own lives
It's true we make a better day,
Just you and me.

Okay, here's a grammar question: who is the subject in the majority of those phrases?

It's "we". The song is supposed to be about people who are suffering, but instead it's actually a song about how we feel about the people who are suffering, and how we can make a difference, and how we feel about the fact that we can make a difference. It's a song glorifying our generosity.

Does anyone else find that a bit jarring? First of all, we AREN'T the children. I think the point they're poetically trying to make is that those starving kids are no different from us, so we should really give. But what would it matter if they were different from us? Shouldn't we give anyway? No matter which way you look at it, the reference point in this song is US, not those who need help.

It's true we make a better day, just you and me. It's about you and me! We can sing about ourselves and feel better about ourselves because we care about others who are just like ourselves.

It's a perfect metaphor for what has happened in our society over the last few decades. As the idea of objective truth and objective morality have dissipated, it's been replaced by the ultimate idea that our feelings should now be an arbiter for the goodness or rightness of anything. Truth is what we feel truth to be. Truth is what feels right to us. Love is what feels right; if it doesn't feel right, it's not love, and we can give it up. We don't want to be judgmental, so what you want is fine and what I want is fine. Everybody should just get along, and decide on their own what they think is best.

At one point, people believed in a higher morality, even if they themselves weren't religious. You should do the right thing because it was the right thing. So people gave generously, or volunteered, or lent a hand, because it was the right thing to do. They didn't have to be convinced to do it because it would make them feel good about themselves; they did it simply because it was the right thing to do, and doing the right thing mattered to people.

We no longer believe in "the right thing" as much as we believe in "the right thing for me". I am the reference point, not the right thing. Everything revolves around me.

The area of Bas-Ravine, in the northern part o...Image via Wikipedia

When Jesus makes His case for why we should help the poor, He says, "for as much as you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it for Me." We should feed the poor because Jesus Himself identifies with the poor. He is the poor. When we feed them, we feed Him, because we care about what He cares about.

This song, on the other hand, doesn't identify God with the poor; it identifies US with the poor. God is no longer our main reference point; it is simply how we feel about things. We aren't then really honouring the poor in Haiti; we're actually diminishing their humanity by saying they aren't important in and of themselves; they're only important inasmuch as they remind us of ourselves. We can only have sympathy for those who are like us, because our world has been reduced to what we want and what we think, and it's no longer as wide and as big as it was when God was at the centre. When we are at the centre, the world is small. When God is at the centre, it's full of immense possibilities and dreams and futures and hopes.

It's amazing how we thought that in getting rid of God we could achieve more for humanity. It seems instead that we have become self-centred narcissists who exist to feel good about ourselves. Again, let me reiterate: I am glad that these artists are attempting to raise money and awareness of Haiti, and I hope and pray their efforts succeed. The fact that they have done it in this way, though, shows something rather disturbing. It's now all about us. And if it's all about us, and we decide that we really don't want to care, what's to stop us? If it's really about us, and we decide we don't want to stay married, or be bothered to be good parents, what's to stop us? If we are the only arbiters of truth, then what is the higher purpose of life, except for trying to feel better and better about ourselves? It seems like a rather empty life, and I hope that someday soon we may remember a better song:

He's got the whole world in His hands.



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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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