7 KEYS TO LIFE-LONG LOVE: Valentine Advice for Women

7 KEYS TO LIFE-LONG LOVE: Valentine Advice for Women

“Dear Pastor,

Please help. My man has gone into a shell and I can’t get him out. He used to be attentive, warm, and affectionate, but now he lives in his own world.

Don’t get me wrong. I know he loves me. He works hard and pays the bills, and helps around the house, and takes the kids to soccer practice, but he’s just, I don’t know, gone somehow. He walks with God and has good friends, but he is distant from me, operating at an emotional remove; civil, but not engaging, polite, but perfunctory. I long for the connection we had in our first years together. Is he having an affair? I don’t think so, but something is wrong. What can I do?”

That lover’s lament is fictitious, but close enough to similar stories I’ve heard in counseling to make the point: long-term romantic success isn’t easy. Worse, many women have no clue about the things motivating their man’s behavior. (Hint: neither does Cosmo).

Thus, today’s Valentine advice for women: Seven ways to build long-term love.

First: Validate his need for masculine approval.

“One motive … compels men like few others,” wrote Patrick Morely, “It is foundational, perpetual, and insatiable:” A man’s need for his father’s affirmation. You might wish your approval would be enough, but it isn’t. If your man has unresolved issues with his dad that have caused pain for him, gently encourage him to seek peace and reconciliation.[1] If his father is absent, as is the case for many men, encourage him to let God be his father and let men of the church be his mentors. He will love you for it.

Second: Validate his need for accomplishment.

Every man has “an intense desire ‘to do,’ to master his world, to shape the course of events. Every man has a desire for significance, meaning and purpose; to accomplish something with his life, especially in his work. [2]” Validate that. Pray for him to find his purpose, be his greatest cheerleader in it, and celebrate each step he takes toward fulfilling it. He will thank you for it.

Third: Validate his financial pressure and don’t increase it.

The pressure to achieve a higher standard of living is relentless and stress inducing. The best thing you can do is understand the pressure he feels to provide you with the best of everything and let him know that a used car is OK, that cheap dates are just fine, and that you can wait for that expensive honeymoon until you’ve been working long enough to afford it. Do that and he will dig for ways to spend money on you.

Fourth: Be a loyal companion.

Men are notorious loners. They learn early to keep their guard up lest someone take advantage of a vulnerability. They need a partner in life that they can trust with their weaknesses as well as their strengths. That kind of trust takes time to build and is easily broken. Ridicule him or betray his vulnerabilities and you will lose him. Keep his secrets. Prove that he can trust you, that you will not take advantage of his vulnerabilities, and he will kill himself to show his appreciation.

Fifth: Speak his love language.

Most women can talk rings around most men. It’s just the way we’re wired. Unsurprisingly, many women say that their love language is words of affirmation and many men—most in my counseling experience—that theirs is physical affection. “Whatever there is of me resides in my body,” writes Gary Chapman in his bestseller, The 5 Love Languages. “To touch my body is to touch me. To withdraw from my body is to distance yourself from me emotionally.” You may have many reasons not to touch him, but he is only hearing one thing: “she doesn’t love me.” Whatever the language, learn to “fill his love tank” with it and he will reciprocate.

Sixth: Feed him.

But you knew that.

Seventh: Let him lead.

Laura Doyle, author of The Surrendered Wife, “used to think that communication was the key to a better marriage. But that wasn’t how it turned out … Even though I have a degree in communications, trying for years to “communicate” with my husband never got me the connection I craved, but the principles of surrender did. One of those principles is that a surrendered wife is trusting where she used to be controlling.”

Interestingly, Doyle didn’t plan it that way, but like many strong-willed, strong-minded women, she realized she had to make a choice to let her man be in charge. For example, men will not prioritize a task list like women or do things in the same order when they get to the task. She wants it done her way right now so, she does it now. The man thinks, “OK, I’m not needed here, won’t go there next time.” Soon, a pattern emerges and next thing you know the woman is leading and the man is disengaging from the relationship.

The need to control is generated by impatience, sometimes, and fear, but not trust. The Apostle Peter wrote: “For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope (or trust) in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear,” (emphasis added).[3]

Ladies, don’t let the words “submissive” and “master” throw you off. In our context it means follow the leader. If you’re in a relationship with an abusive man do not submit to it and do not make excuses for him. But if you’re a woman who is destroying her romance by over controlling her relationship I encourage you to let go of your fear, trust God, and let your man lead. You will be amazed at the results.

Happy Valentines Day!

[1] Patrick Morley, What Husbands Wish Their Wives Knew About Men, p. 16 & 30.

[2] Ibid, pgs. 35 & 46.

[3] 1 Peter 3: 5-6

Can We Hear Them Now?

Can We Hear Them Now?

Facebook, 2018: A young father shared the moment he felt his daughter in her mother’s womb.

“I’d only briefly felt this baby move before. I tried to feel her move again and again to no avail. But finally, lying there last night next to her mom, snuggled up close because of the cold, I felt kick after kick. Long after my lady had gone to sleep, there was our little one still kicking away. There ain’t words to truly describe what my heart felt.”

I read that post and smiled, remembering what it was like to be a young father many years ago, when before my daughters had voices they spoke to us with kicks.

Another story I saw this week took me back even further, to the moment the world stopped hearing the voiceless words of children in the womb.

Dr. Richard Selzer, an enlightened surgeon, fully committed to the latest medical philosophies, and desiring to learn the best techniques, wanted to watch a new procedure. He’d heard of it, but never seen one performed so he asked a fellow physician if he could attend.

The patient was 19 weeks pregnant, lying on the table, prepped for the procedure. The surgeon took a syringe filled with a prostaglandin solution, sank the needle up to its hub into the woman’s belly, pushed the plunger down and left it there for a few moments.

Selzer described what happened next. ““I see something other than what I expected here. … It is the hub of the needle in the woman’s belly that has jerked. … Once more it wobbles, is tugged, like a fishing line nibbled by a sunfish.”

Slowly, the desperate fight for life faded. The needle stopped jerking. The voiceless screaming ceased, but not in Selzer’s head. “Nothing can argue against the truth of what I saw that day.”

That story, “What I Saw at the Abortion,” originally appeared in Esquire in January 1976, and appeared most recently in Marvin Olasky’s World Magazine interview with pro-life feminist Frederica Matthews-Green.*

The trajectory of Green’s life was changed by that brief paragraph in Esquire. Up until then she sported a bumper sticker that read, “Don’t labor under a misconception. Legalize abortion.” Now she is known by her most famous quote: “No woman wants an abortion like she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion like an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg.”

Would that the trajectory of the world had changed with her.

Ideas have consequences and, as John Stonestreet says, they also have victims. The two greatest victims of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s were women, who lost the protection long afforded to them by traditional mores and the covenant of marriage, and children, who lost the protection not only of a two-parent home, but of the womb. Both suffer in abortion. Both need our help.

The women were voiceless until 2017, stifled by fear, or powerful men, or both. Now they are speaking and the nation is listening. Maybe in the context of so much truth-telling those other heretofore voiceless victims will also speak.

Can we hear them now?

*Marvin Olasky, “Path to Pro-Life: Overcoming Pro-Abortion Peer Pressure with Facts.” Interview with Frederica Matthews-Green by Marvin Olasky in World Magazine, January 20, 2018. https://world.wng.org/2018/01/path_to_pro_life

THE MEMORY TREE

THE MEMORY TREE

The tree appears like magic every year, the day after Thanksgiving. Rising from the floor to its full seven feet, strung with lights and nothing else, a green canvas of branches waiting to be adorned by the master artist I married.

From old boxes emerge simple ornaments, each a reminder of years and blessings past. First the forty, communion cup ice cream sundaes, created the year we met.  Then twenty-five Nut Cracker characters, crafted from clothes pins our first year of marriage when we were poor as church mice. Twenty decorative fans follow, formed from folded Christmas cards and glue-on lace that second year of seminary poverty. Cross-stitched frames with our girls’ names find their favorite branches, gifts from Grandma’s hand. Miniature presents from the “My Gift is Me” story, wrapped in metallic green, red, blue, silver, and purple are accompanied by popsicle-stick sleds the girls made with Mom.

A starfish Santa that came from the lady who had a Christmas tree in every room – “Can we do that?” my dear decorator asked.

“NO!”

But she could make driftwood Santa’s to keep the solidified starfish company, and she did, along with thirty of our fifty-odd nativities, made of cloth, flower pots, fabric, wooden spoons, and everything you can think of. An angel from our missionary friend, a star from Sandie, in our then-new pastorate. And finally, on winter’s first whisper, sixty hand crocheted snowflakes, gifts from another pastor’s wife, because snow can’t fall till it gets cold.

I gaze with greater wonder each year. How does she do it? There is no plan, no scheme, no blueprint or photo of where to place each ornament. Even if I had one I couldn’t do it, not without her. She has the eye, the perspective, the balance of all the elements in her head. By themselves in a box they are just pieces of paper, thread, and popsicle sticks. Stuff other folks would throw away. But in her hands, they come together to form something money cannot buy: beauty.

Simple, lovely, one-of-a-kind, a memory tree never exactly the same from year to year, but always a powerful visual aid that the Creator-Redeemer can take whatever we give him, no matter how plain or simple, and arrange it into something beautiful.

Merry Christmas!

TIME FOR A NEW REVOLUTION: Thoughts on Rampant Sexual Assault

My dad, Schafer J. Skelton Jr., never played flag football. That puzzled us because we knew he was on three Conference and two State championship teams in high school, earning all-state guard honors in 1950. Mom asked him once, when the men at a church outing were dividing into teams, why he wasn’t joining in the fun?

“I play football for keeps,” he said. “If I go out there, somebody’s going to get hurt.”

Dad understood himself well enough to know that once on the field, in the heat of competition, his natural aggression and fierce competitiveness would likely send somebody to the hospital. I wonder if we understand our sexual selves that well.

What does this have to do with the epidemic of sexual assault?

The Bible is clear that from Noah’s son Ham to Harvey Weinstein, men have been guilty of sexual harassment and assault. The sexual revolution of the 1960’s, however, tossed out every warning the Bible had to give. It said that sex is like flag football; everybody has fun, and no one gets hurt. But the headlines tell the tale. Sex is one of the most powerful forces within us.

Ideas have consequences and, as John Stonestreet likes to say, they also have victims. The sexual revolution kicked the referees off the field, pitched the helmets and pads that once protected the players, and produced predictable fruit: millions of women, children, and men have been hurt.

But the men are the primary perpetrators, so allow me to speak directly about them.

As a pastor, my exposure to some of the grimier parts of life is limited. So, I did an informal survey of my wife, mom, three daughters, and two female cousins, asking, “How bad is it out there with men?”

It is very bad, much worse than I imagined. Some of the things men say and do are too foul to print. Combined with the reports we’ve all read about high profile abusers and rapists my first reaction is profound grief. My second is deep anger.

Schafer would have broken their teeth out.

A word to those men, and the ones like them. The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.[1] You may imagine that you are too smart to be caught, but no one gets away with it. I urge you to repent and ask Jesus Christ for mercy and forgiveness. If you refuse, do not imagine that you will escape the wrath of God.

But what about the rest of us? The climate is so charged with rancor and suspicion that some men are wondering if they should ever ask a girl out on a date, and some women are wondering if they should accept.

I had in mind a list of practical guidelines for men and women to help cultivate virtue and curb our baser instincts, but anyone can come up with a list of do’s and don’ts. Here at the nasty end of the sexual revolution we need a reason to follow the list in the first place. Rod Dreher reminded me of one in The Benedict Option.

Scripture gives us a reason to respect the bodies of others and refrain from sex until marriage that is much more powerful than the fear of punishment. Our bodies, the complementarity of male and female together, bear the image of God and are thus sacred. Using another human being for sexual gratification without the protective covenant of marriage is, at the very least, to undermine their dignity. Abusing or assaulting another human being for sexual gratification is to desecrate the sacred.

Bottom line, when we see other human bodies as sacred, the rules about how we should treat them, the respect we owe to them, become self-evident and internally energized.

Dreher writes, “… man has a purpose. He is meant for something, to achieve certain ends. When Paul warned the Christians of Corinth that having sex with a prostitute meant that they were joining Jesus Christ to that prostitute, he was not speaking metaphorically. Because we belong to Christ as a unity of body, mind, and soul, how we use the body and the mind sexually is a very big deal.”

“Anything we do that falls short of the perfect harmony with the will of God is sin. Sin is not merely rule breaking but failing to live in accord with the structure of reality itself.”[2]

We have been living contrary to the structure of reality now for over fifty years and the results are obvious. Isn’t it time for a new revolution? Isn’t it time to turn around?

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Pr 15:3). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option. Sentinel, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York, 2017. P. 200.

ECSTASY THY NAME IS CHASTITY Seven Ways Married Sex is Best

Yes, that is a very COSMO-like headline for a preacher’s blog. But we live in the COSMO generation. We’ve bought into the idea that the best sex is low on commitment, high on recreation, and all about the right “moves.”

Guess what? The best sex isn’t about the right moves. In fact, the moves have very little to do with it. God didn’t make it that complicated. Our bodies can figure out the mechanics of sex without much help.

The best sex happens under the best conditions and it happens that way because we are so much more than bodies with sex organs. We are men and women, made in the image of God, with physical, emotional, and spiritual capacities for intimacy and ecstasy reaching far beyond anything pornography peddlers can imagine.

Thus, chastity is much more than “not doing it.” Chastity before and fidelity within marriage is the best path to ecstasy.

If you have been burned by the COSMO world, or if you are a young adult contemplating your path through our sex-is-everything culture I want to offer you a better way. In fact, I want to offer you a better world.

Married men and women have a better, more consistent sexual experience over the whole course of their lives than unmarried people. The statistics are available to anyone who wants to look, so I won’t spend any time there.[1] Instead here are seven reasons married sex is best.

First, married sex is richer because it can afford to be completely emotionally vulnerable, no fear of being left behind. The deeper the vulnerability the greater the ecstasy, but vulnerability requires levels of trust unavailable to the uncommitted.

Sex can be separated from vulnerability. People do it all the time. But they are missing at least half of the experience, probably more. Many things happen in the marriage, and in the marriage bed before and after lovemaking, that bind husband and wife together heart and soul. Unmarried sex is as risky to the heart as it is to the body, the emotional equivalent of trapeze work without a net. The marriage covenant makes both people more secure, willing to take greater emotional risks and gather its deeper sensual rewards.

Second, married sex is more generous. It is about giving pleasure as much or more than getting it. The marriage covenant fulfills our longing for existential meaning by giving our lives a higher purpose: The good of our mates and our families. Each person is already committed via a covenant spoken before God, to the death, to the other’s well being. That commitment reshapes the entire approach to lovemaking into an act of service, a free act of self-giving. Paradoxically, as Jesus taught, the more we give of ourselves the more we get in return.

Third, married sex preserves dignity. Each one honors the other and doesn’t push them to places where they don’t want to go. Married sex protects our dignity from the pornographization of everything. We treat each other as whole persons rather than objects that exist solely for individual gratification.

Fourth, married sex comes without shame before others and without guilt before God. Our cultural moment has managed to dull this sense of accountability to our creator, but it is not extinct. It is still common for unmarried people to keep the sexual nature of their relationship secret and un-celebrated. Yet celebration attends every wedding and none greater than the departure for the honeymoon where everyone in attendance knows what’s coming next.

Fifth, married sex is spiritually deeper, if the couple are believers, than even the emotional depths mentioned in number one. The Apostle Paul hinted at the spiritual dimension in Ephesians chapter five saying, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.[2] The marriage bed foreshadows the great consummation of the ages in profoundly mysterious ways. The exquisite joy, the honor, security, and oneness we find there is merely the overture of the grand symphony we will join when he returns for his bride, the Church.

Sixth, married sex preserves the neuro-chemical high. The delicate interchange of pheromones, hormones, and neurotransmitters that fire during the act of marriage — oxytocin, nor epinephrine, serotonin, adrenaline and dopamine — along with all the neural pathways of ecstasy God designed for our good create chemical bonds between lovers broken only at great cost. That is why so many of our love songs are about the pain of loss. Multiple liaisons, no matter how greatly lauded in popular entertainment, dull those neural networks, reducing something exquisite into ordinariness and diluting the power of the chemical bond which is one of the factors driving people into stranger and kinkier attempts to reclaim the ecstasy of their first encounters.

Seventh, married sex rejoices in life. It doesn’t resent children and try to get rid of them, it celebrates children as what they really are: the incredible gift of co-creation with our loving father, the fruit of love that comes from love.

No doubt I’ve raised many questions. But this post is too long and the topic is too broad and I don’t want to linger on it, so I’ve listed resources that have been helpful to me below[3]. However, if you would like to know more I’m happy to help.

For too long preachers like me have cursed the darkness of our sexual brokenness.  We need to turn on the light. I hope this post has done that for you.

[1] http://www.nationalsexstudy.indiana.edu/; The Science of Shacking Up

Why cohabitating couples are putting their future at risk. An interview with Glenn Stanton on ‘The Ring Makes All the Difference.’

Interview by Caryn Rivadeneira. Christianity Today. 2011.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 5:31–32). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3] https://daneskelton.com/2017/02/08/one-ring-to-bind-them/; http://www.breakpoint.org/2016/12/progressively-regressive-sexuality-rebroadcast/; http://www.breakpoint.org/2014/12/time-new-sexual-revolution/; http://www.breakpoint.org/2013/07/recovering-sexual-wholeness/; http://www.ruthinstitute.org/; http://www.breakpoint.org/2011/11/so-long-sex-week-at-yale/; http://www.miriamgrossmanmd.com/books/; http://www.boundless.org/relationships/2007/a-review-of-unprotected-by-anonymous-md; http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/september/science-of-cohabitating.html; http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/august/16.22.html;

THE SELAH CENTER: New Help for an Old Problem

“We need to talk.” The message alarmed Tom because his girlfriend, whom he had dated since middle school, usually felt free to text anything. But this time she would only agree to meet in person. With his subconscious screaming, you know what this is! but his frontal lobe in full denial mode, he made his way to their favorite spot in the stairwell at the high school. The look on her face said it all, “I’m pregnant.”

If you can identify with the desperate situation in which these teens find themselves, and statistics tell us that about thirty percent of us can, you know what it is like to be unmarried, pregnant, or with a pregnant girlfriend, and totally unprepared. For over forty years the standard procedure for people in this situation has been to find the local abortion provider and “deal with the problem.” One in seven pregnancies still ends in abortion.

But a combination of improved ultra-sound technology, multiple stories of abortion-injured women, and Planned Parenthood scandals is causing more and more women to seek an alternative solution.

That’s the role that Southside Virginia’s newest crisis pregnancy service provider, The Selah Center, hopes to fill in ever greater ways as it observes its first anniversary in operation.

The Selah (pronounced Say-la) Center, located at 403 Virginia Avenue, between Pizza Pub and United Country in Clarksville, opened on May 26, 2016, has helped many clients in its first year with services including pregnancy testing, post abortion peer counseling, pre-natal and parenting care techniques for mothers-to-be. But Selah also provides male mentoring, peer counseling, and classes on finding a job, making and keeping a budget, and how to buy a good used car for future fathers.

The Center is also committed to the development of expectant moms as whole persons. Clients receive “Boutique Bucks” for each class attended that are then redeemed for diapers, wipes, bath items, children’s clothing up to 2T, and other baby care necessities.

Selah Center Executive Director, Christie Russell says, “Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that God would ask me to join Him in this work.” But Russell, who holds a B.S. in Global Marketing Management from Averett College, and a Masters in Biblical Counseling from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said that over the years she had so many conversations with so many hurting young women, that when a speaker from the Tidewater Area issued a challenge to her congregation to open their own pregnancy center she found she could not say “No”.

With Transitions Pregnancy Services in Danville, and The Selah Center in Clarksville, Halifax County women and men now have two options for help during a crisis pregnancy. If you need help with a pregnancy, or you would like to donate, you can contact them at 434-362-2207, or find them on the web at theselahcenter.org.

ONE RING TO BIND THEM

Glenn T. Stanton’s The Ring Makes All the Difference: The Hidden Consequences of Cohabitation and the Strong Benefits of Marriage

Ask any pastor what the toughest part of his job is and, second only to funerals of the young, he will tell you “counseling broken marriages.” Nothing else wreaks more emotional, spiritual, familial, and financial havoc than divorce. No wonder then that we are always on the lookout for resources to help couples, especially pre-marital couples, prevent that disaster. Glenn T. Stanton’s THE RING MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE (Moody Publishers, 2011) takes aim at one of the preeminent pre-cursors to broken marriages today: pre-marital cohabitation, and does so with pinpoint accuracy.

Stanton is the director for Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family, and a leading spokesperson on marriage and family issues. He can also be heard on the weekly “Breakpoint This Week” podcast, hosted by John Stonestreet.

At fewer than one hundred and fifty pages, The Ring is an easy read, incredibly well-documented, and highly practical for couples or individuals who want to think carefully and act wisely as they approach marriage. Each chapter has large-print summary quotes for quick review along with five or six insight-inducing questions at the end.

The book is also a great example of science “catching up” with scripture. Anyone familiar with the biblical understanding of marriage knows that sex before marriage is sin and cohabitation is not equal to marriage. The mid-twentieth century sexual revolution and feminist movements undermined that message, and cohabitation has skyrocketed as a result. Most couples just sort of slide in to the arrangement, not intending to commit sin so much as failing to see why it matters. But social scientists have been tracking the results of that sea-change for fifty years and the results support the biblical view. A few of the findings are indicative:

“Marriage matters, not just because it is preceded by a wedding that costs us or our parents tens of thousands of dollars, but because the nature of the relationship itself makes a difference in ways you probably never imagined.”

“Even if (cohabiting) couples consider themselves essentially “married,” they know that without a marriage license, they are freer to exit the relationship at any time. This lack of security in the mind of each partner affects how they deal with each other.”

“Marriage involves things the cohabiting couple–or at least one of them–would rather not deal with. This is why cohabitation even exists.”

“People with cohabiting experience who marry have a 50 to 80 percent higher likelihood of divorcing than married couples who never cohabited.”

All of those findings are important, but the one that stood out most, because it is the one that I deal with most often in counseling, is that cohabitation, even with someone you eventually wed, sets up unhealthy relationship patterns that carry over into the marriage. Cohabitors have fewer and weaker conflict resolution skills. They are less likely to be supportive and self-sacrificing. Most notably, “the lack of relational clarity is likely to foster more controlling and manipulative interactions to try to keep the relationship together and get the partner to do what the other desires. As a result, cohabitors are much more likely to report a sense of relational instability than their married peers.”

Any married person would benefit from Stanton’s book, but I highly recommend it to young men and women contemplating marriage, as well as to those who haven’t yet found that special someone. Read it, and protect yourself from a world of hurt.