Month: October 2011

Elizabeth Scutchfield Interview

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Elizabeth Scutchfield made a memorable impression the first time I saw her in action. It was the summer of 2008, and she walked into a costume party dressed as an Olympic athlete. Then, she proceeded to behave like a total goofball. The party loved her.

From that moment, I knew she could be hilarious. Actually, I was convinced she didn’t have a serious bone in her body, but my opinion changed over time.

After knowing her for a few years now, I can confirm that her personality has a deep, reflective side that is just as pronounced as her funny side. In fact, friends have characterized her as being mostly serious and only sometimes silly.

What’s remarkable is the fact that whether you catch her in a silly mood or a solemn mood, she is always engaging. That’s the reason I decided to do a story on her this month.

When she arrived and settled in for our interview, my first question stemmed from a brief phone conversation we had.

The other day, I made a comment to you about the busy nature of your life…of all our lives, really. Do you think someday you will meet somebody who makes you say to yourself, “This person is worth slowing things down for”?

The day you said that, I thought: That was a word from the Lord. That is beautiful.

I mean it really is. “When will you slow down to let love into your life?” And that’s what I’m trying to learn. And to be perfectly honest, the person I’m meeting that’s making me slow down is myself.

So, at this point, I am purposefully trying to make time for things I enjoy, without ordering my life around always trying to connect with other people. Instead, I want to order my life a little bit more around trying to connect with myself and God.

And to the next point, loving yourself is the best gift you can give to anybody. When that other person does come along, I’ll be able to that much more give of myself if I take the time to love myself.

And I’ll throw this out there, because this was interesting: I went to a baby shower for my friend from college last weekend, and there was this little “Advice Tree”, where you take a leaf and write any advice you have for parenting or whatever.

So I was reading other people’s advice, and one of them was like, “Make sure to always spend quality time with your babies.” And one was like, “Don’t forget about your husband, because he is gonna feel neglected. So, you’re probably gonna need to make some time for him…” And I was like, “Taking care of yourself is the best gift you can give to your children.” Bam! Take that!

I think as women especially, your role in this world is to take care of everybody else. And there’s not a lot of permission to know that taking care of yourself is the best thing for yourself and everyone else, in the long run.

When you consider some of the great experiences and people you have encountered over the years, what experience has changed your outlook on life?

Right out of college, I didn’t know what I wanted, in terms of career. At that point, my dad’s opinion mattered greatly to me, and I knew he wanted me to go to graduate school. But I knew I would’ve had no idea why I was there. I would just be going in order to go and feel like I was just doing that next step, which is comfortable and easy because you know how to do the next step, but you don’t know how to do ambiguity a lot of times.

So, I love mountains, and I moved out to Colorado. What changed my perspective was that I was around all these people who had all these different definitions of success. And I had mostly been around people whose definition of success had been education or prestige – prestige associated with position more so than monetary achievement, in a lot of ways.

But then I meet an an amazing chef who teaches me to say the word gnocci, and loves cooking, and does it seasonally at different ranches. I don’t know if he had achieved full contentment with life, but he had found a sweet spot in seeing his gifts play out in the kitchen.

Or somebody else who was a wrangler, and he had never been to college. And he loves being with those horses. And that was what he needed to do for the rest of his life – to be with horses. He taught me how to keep those heels down and let it rip through the valleys of Colorado.

So, that really helped me see that there’s such a broader way to see the world, and achievement, and success, and happiness than in the world I came from.

I try to remind myself of that, though I’m an extremely achievement-oriented person. Sometimes it’s hard not to lose sight of that.

You have been exposed to a variety of church congregation styles. Probably, you’ve been exposed to some things that are not what people around you are used to and comfortable with. Is anything missing from the corporate worship and the community of fellowship you’re currently involved with?

Well, this is what comes to mind: I think we limit the ways in which God can speak to us. When I lived in Charleston, and I was part of an Episcopalian church – it was more on the charismatic side – and they really leaned into the whole idea of God revealing Himself through images. Either asking God for an image for yourself or asking for an image for somebody else you’re praying over.

I moved away from Charleston, and in my life here, I really didn’t know how to integrate some of the things I had learned about the way God relates and connects to His people. I didn’t have other people around me here who were pursuing that. And I’m just now getting back to where I’m asking God for images to reveal Himself to me.

So, in terms of something that’s missing from corporate worship, I think it’s allowing space for people to experience God in new ways. Just like each person has different learning styles, I think people can have different ways of connecting with God and understanding His character and love. I guess metaphors are big for me in how I understand God.

For example, this is a metaphor I feel like recently I’ve been given. I went to a meeting the other day, and I got there late for the meeting, which happens frequently. I’m a late person. It’s not good. I accept that. And I’m glad people have grace for me in this area.

Anyway, I get there, and there are no chairs left. Well, I see that there’s a kiddie table with kiddie chairs. A kiddie chair is there, so I go for it. I start sitting in this little kiddie chair, and this woman leans over and whispers, “You can’t sit there.”

I was thinking: I already don’t want to draw attention to the fact that I was late to this meeting, and now you’re drawing more attention. Don’t tell me that!

Of course I didn’t say that, but I was a little panicked. And she says, “I think there’s a chair across the room.”

So, I had to go across the room and pull a big person chair up to this table. And God was like, “Yep, that’s what I’m teaching you. It’s easy for you to step into a situation and say, ‘I’ll take care of this and grab whatever will temporarily ease my discomfort.”

But it’s often not a fit. And it’s a kiddie chair. And it’s uncomfortable. And while I am not drawing attention to myself, I’m awkwardly sitting in a kiddie chair for the whole meeting.

So, God’s like, “Why don’t you let Me and other people point you towards the big person chair.”

I was like, “Thanks, Lord, for that.” Because it’s harder for me to understand when it’s just in a text. But when it’s in an image, it’s easier to understand for me personally. So, I feel like there’s an opportunity to make more room for people to hear and experience God outside of just words.

I also think there’s a lot more room for addressing the emotional needs of the congregation. I think the church has become a church of reason in a lot of ways, and there’s this emphasis on the intellectualism of faith. Reason and apologetics and things like that. But people’s heart condition is often really struggling in a congregation, and the church doesn’t know how to facilitate working through that for people.

Restore Ministries, I think, is a great answer to that. It’s run out of the YMCA, and it’s really for anybody who is in a place of emotional pain to come and press into what God might want to do with that.

I also have experienced healing prayer through the congregation I was a part of in Charleston. I felt like that was a really beautiful way to invite Christ into the painful experiences of people’s lives and help them see that God is the one who is there – even when their parents weren’t there, or when they were getting abused, or when they were this, that, or the other – that God can liberate them from that.

So, I have seen a few instances where people are trying to address it, but generally I think the church has a hard time knowing what to do with the fact that people are broken in their congregation and allowing space for that. But let’s be honest, brokenness is messy and scary at times for all of us to encounter…I’m glad there is a God to put together the pieces.

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“The soul warping effects of masturbation…and how to live without it.” By Mike Genung

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Just so you know, I make no apology for a post like this. The reality is that it may benefit those who read it more than many other things I’ve published on the blog.

The piece below is by Mike Genung, and it is forever long! I read it years ago, and the cool thing was that it spoke to me even though I wasn’t struggling with the specific issue being addressed. Open your heart to it; I would wager there’s something in it for you too.

The soul warping effects of masturbation…and how to live without it.

by Mike Genung

One of the most fascinating characters in the Lord of the Rings movies is Gollum. Like Frodo, Gollum is a hobbit whose original name was Sméagol. Hobbits are stout people with elf-like faces who stand half the height of men; they enjoy good company with hearty beer in the local pubs, as did Sméagol… until he saw “the one ring to rule
them all.”

In his book “The Two Towers,” Tolkien describes the origin of the ring:

“And much of the strength and will of Sauron passed into that One Ring; for the power of the Elven Rings was very great, and that which should govern them must be a thing of surpassing potency; and Sauron forged it in the Mountain of Fire in the Land of Shadow. And while he wore the One Ring he could perceive all the things that were done by means of the lesser rings, and he could see and govern the very thoughts of those that wore them.”Sauron was the evil dark lord who sought to rule all of middle earth, and it was the One Ring that changed Smeagol’s life.

When “The Return of the King” opens we see Sméagol as a young adult, river fishing in a boat with his cousin Deagol. A big fish hits Deagol’s line and pulls him into the river; he spots the shimmering gold ring at the bottom of the riverbed, grabs it, and quickly surfaces. Sméagol sees the ring in Deagol’s hand, is immediately entranced by it, and asks his cousin to give him the ring “for his birthday present”. But when Deagol refuses, the two friends fight over it, and Sméagol strangles his cousin to death.

Obsessed with the ring, Smeagol leaves everything he knows and retreats alone to the Misty Mountains. His new home is now a dark, cold, damp cave, quite a departure from the warm cottage normal Hobbits live in. But none of this matters now; the ring is Sméagol’s comfort and friend, his most precious possession.

Blinded by obsession, Sméagol couldn’t see how the ring was changing him. In his isolation he turns “outside in” and his personality splits in half; in the movie we see Smeagol talking and fighting with himself as often as he does with Frodo and Sam. He gives up beer, a thing unheard of for a hobbit, and lives on raw fish. He shrivels up physically, losing most of his teeth and all but a few strands of his hair. His voice becomes a raspy hiss and he rarely smiles, except when caressing his “precious.” The warped half of Smeagol’s personality overtakes him, and he becomes Gollum, a name earned from the hard swallowing noises he makes.

Like Gollum, today there are many who obsess about a different kind of precious. They discover masturbation in their youth, and it’s something they must have so they retreat often to isolation to be alone with the precious. They don’t see what it’s doing to them until later when they sense there’s something wrong…

In his 1994 book “The Sexual Man”, Dr. Archibald Hart surveyed some 600 Christian men on the subject of masturbation. Of the married men who responded, 61% said they masturbated, with 82% saying they did it once a week. 96% of single men under the age of 20 admitted to a masturbation habit.

Since so many Christian men are having sex with themselves you’d think they liked doing it, but in Dr. Hart’s survey only 23% gave “enjoyment” as a reason for doing it. The rest said “from habit,” “because of their sex drive,” “they were addicted to it,” or from “lack of an outlet for sex” as the reason they engaged in masturbation.

In a weird twist, only 13% said they thought masturbation was a normal act, yet 97% said they didn’t feel guilty about it. (Gollum’s split personality comes to mind here.) How could this be? From experience I know my conscience is seared when I do something repeatedly that I don’t feel good about. Could it be there are many men who would rather do without self-sex but don’t know how to stop?

Yet, if so many normal Christian men are having sex with themselves is it really hurting anything? Is masturbation just a harmless act of physical release?

As we know from cigarette smoking and overeating, to know whether something is harmful we must look at how it affects the user and those around him. Of course, for spiritual guidance we always look to God’s word. In this chapter we’ll do both, beginning with the effects of masturbation.

From my teenage years until I was 36, self sex was a part of my life (I got married at age 26). Like the others who responded to Dr. Hart’s survey I don’t think I could have said enjoyment was why I did it; the emotional hangover lasts much longer than the pleasure, sometimes for days. When the act was over there was always a strong sense that something was missing.

Sex is about connection and communication, spirit-to-spirit communion with the person we love. When I masturbated there was no other person, so an emotional misfire took place. Instead of bonding with another in warmth, intimacy and love, I was haunted by loneliness, isolation and shame.

There isn’t anything about masturbation that fits. When I tried to disconnect the spiritual from the physical, telling myself I needed masturbation just for physical release, I still felt empty afterwards. The spiritual component of sex can’t be separated from the physical.

Masturbation messed up my marriage bed. I didn’t struggle with premature ejaculation, but I could have pleased my wife a lot longer than I did (today after not having masturbated since 1998 it’s different). It’s no accident when sex between husband and wife is a short story; it’s what the husband trains himself to do when he masturbates.

The man who masturbates robs his wife of himself. She wants emotional and physical intimacy, not just a rush to the finish line. She wants to know him, and for him to hold her, commune with her and cherish her, not use her like a plaything. She wants to enjoy his company, like two best friends having a good meal.

Masturbation stunted my emotional growth. Opening up with my wife on a deeper level got harder as time went on, to the point where it felt like I was running from her at times. I’d spent so much time in isolation that I felt trapped inside; yet I was the one holding myself hostage.

Like Gollum, I was blind to what my precious was doing to me. I was self and sex obsessed, driven by urges. If I couldn’t have my precious I got angry, anxious or depressed. Sex was my god, comfort and love; the source of life.

I think the worst part was the separation from the Lord I experienced when I made a few seconds of pleasure my source of life and acceptance. I knew Jesus had living water that could fill my soul, but I “drank from myself” instead (sounds a little sick doesn’t it?) I grieved the Lord with my choice to make self sex my comfort.

Of course, the other obvious problem with masturbation is that many men use it with pornography, and/or they run sexual fantasies in their mind during the act. From Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:28 we know this is sin, mixing self-sex with lust.

Let’s turn our attention to God’s word now and see what He might say about masturbation. What I hear the most from other Christians about masturbation is it’s ok “because it’s not in the Bible.” But, if “thou shalt not” is the standard for whether something is sin or not then we can light up a joint because there is no “thou shalt not smoke pot” in the Bible.

“Hey wait a minute!” you say. “It’s obvious smoking marijuana is a sin because of the verses in the Bible prohibiting drunkenness, and smoking pot clearly violates this principle in God’s word!”

I agree; we need to look at the principles in God’s word as well as the Thou Shalt Nots. Let’s examine a few of those principles.

Principle #1:  The only time when sex is sanctioned in God’s word is in the context of a marriage between one man and one woman. In Genesis 2 we read “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh”. Note the “two becoming one” emphasis – that connection-communion thing again.

In Hebrews 13:4 we read:
Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be
undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.

Here again, the marriage bed is the sole context given for God sanctioned sex.

Now, carefully read this verse:

Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am (single). However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

1 Corinthians 7:7-9

If masturbation was a viable outlet for expressing sexual burning, wouldn’t God have had Paul write something like this: “But if they do not have self-control, let them masturbate or marry; for it is better to have sex with self or marry than to burn with passion?”  Masturbation is never mentioned as a legitimate means for fulfilling sexual desire in God’s word; marriage is the only outlet given. Or, put another way, masturbation isn’t in the Bible.

The one man/one woman connection is developed again in the following verses:

Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “The two shall become one flesh.” But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee sexual immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral man sins against his own body.  Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 6:13,15-20

Note how “the body… is for the Lord,” “your bodies are member of Christ,” “But the one who join himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him,” and “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit,” are weaved in with the prohibitions against immoral sex, highlighting the importance of spirit to spirit communion. As God’s children we are one spirit with Him and He lives in the temple of our bodies. We’ll come back to this.

Principle #2: Masturbation is never offered as a way to deal with depression or find comfort.

When Elijah fell into depression after Jezebel vowed to kill him we don’t read “and Elijah the prophet of the Lord masturbated to comfort himself.” Sex with self isn’t our comfort, instead…

 Principle #3:  We are to receive our comfort from Christ

…Who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

2 Corinthians 1:4

Principle #4: We are to be the master of our bodies and their accompanying  urges; we don’t allow our flesh to rule over us.

But I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

I Corinthians 9:27

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts
which wage war against the soul.

1 Peter 2:11

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.

1 Corinthians 6:12

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion like the Gentiles who do not know God…

1 Thessalonians 4:3-5

We are to “discipline our bodies and make them our slaves,” “know how to posses our bodies in sanctification and honor,” and we’re not to be “mastered by anything.” We are to control our fleshly impulses, not be led by them. We are to be men with strong hearts; men of courage who can stand firm in the storms and temptations of life. If we can’t say no to pleasure, it reveals a soft, vulnerable spot in our character, which the forces of darkness will exploit until we deal with it.

Our culture bombards us with messages like, “if it feels good, do it now,” and, “you deserve a break today.” If you’re sexually aroused, hey just feed the impulse, it won’t hurt anything. Go ahead… have sex with yourself or anyone you want. God’s way and our culture’s message are at war with each other. The world tells us to obey our urges while God tells us to master and control them. It’s Instant Gratification vs. Self Discipline; a passive man weakened from pleasure vs. a strong man of character who can say no; “It’s all about me” vs. “I will have sex with no one but my wife;” Softheart vs. Braveheart.

Let’s stack up the scales for and against masturbation and see which one holds the most weight:

The bad and the ugly:                               The good:

Loneliness                                                         Can do it alone
No connection with another                          It feels good for a few seconds
Shame                                                                Can have orgasm on demand
Robs wife emotionally and physically         Don’t need to please your wife
Places wedge between God and self             No more lack of sex outlet problem
Promotes instant gratification mentality   Won’t lose hair and teeth like Gollum
Promotes “It’s all about me”                          Can feed sex obsession
Violates marriage alone principle
Violates comfort from Christ principle
Violates mastery of flesh principle
Softens the character
Is used as a counterfeit substitute for love

The scale’s a little heavy on the left, don’t you think?

Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “OK, I want live without masturbation, but how do I stop? I’ve tried before and the urges always overwhelm me.”

1. First, let’s be honest: this won’t be easy, especially if masturbation is an ingrained habit. Dealing with our sexuality doesn’t mean we deny it, stuff it, or put on a phony Good Christian Who Never Gets Horny act. We do have these desires, and it’s not always easy to say no.

2. When sexual desire hits, remember that sex is about connection with another; you are one spirit with the Lord and He dwells in your temple, and He waits for you to come to Him. Instead of misfiring with masturbation, boldly approach Abba at the Throne of Grace for His strength and comfort (Hebrews 4:16). Look at His face and expose the struggle in your flesh to Him. Drink deeply of His Living water and soak in His presence.

3. The first few months are always the toughest and there will be times when you need help to make it. (You are involved with a group or have at least one accountability partner by now, right?) When you’re overwhelmed, get on the phone with a brother as quickly as possible and ask him to pray with you. I’ve been the recipient of many phone calls like this, and the temptations are always cut down to size after we pray together.

4. Be aware of situations going on behind the scenes that add to the battle, such as an inordinate amount of stress, unconfessed sin, or an unresolved relationship (perhaps with your spouse.) Do what you need to do now to resolve these issues.

5. Don’t let failure get you down; learn from your mistakes and move on. Failure is a teacher; learn from it, make adjustments and keep going. The forces of darkness love to pound us with thoughts of despair and hopelessness; don’t buy into it.

6. Remember that sex is not life; Jesus is (I am the way, the truth and the life. John 14:6). You don’t need sex. Solo ejaculation is a quick shot of pleasure that will leave you miserable, empty and lonelier than you were before. Sex isn’t love, it’s the expression of love to your spouse. Put sex in its proper perspective.

7. Physical fitness plays a big part in the battle. You should be vigorously exercising several times a week, and I don’t mean walking around the block. Personally I like to work out with weights; it’s a great stress reliever and I sleep better. If I don’t work out for a few days I feel like a full can of coke that’s been shaken and ready to explode. Eating too many comfort foods (ice cream, sweets, packaged foods) is using food for pleasure and will feed the instant gratification mentality you’re trying to silence.

8. Your character will grow stronger every time you say no to instant gratification. Be persistent and never say die; in time you will become the master of your body.

9. Every marriage goes through an occasional period of time where sex dries up. My wife has been pregnant 3 times since 1999, and after the fifth month of pregnancy she doesn’t want sex. It’s uncomfortable for her and she’s self-conscious about her appearance. Counting her recovery time from three C-sections this means I’ve had about 21 months of celibacy in the past 5 years. I had three choices as to how I could have dealt with this:

A. Masturbate. No way, precious.

B. I could have pulled out 1st Corinthians 7:5 (that stop depriving one another verse) and hit her with a manipulative guilt trip. We still wouldn’t have had sex and I would have driven us further apart; I would have been stuck in resentment for what I couldn’t have, and she would have resented me for not seeing her situation with an understanding heart. We both lose.

C. I could have chosen death:

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her…”
Ephesians 5:25

Jesus is saying we must be willing to die for our wives just as He died for us. In marriage there will be times when we need to allow our right to sex to be crucified for a little while. Just as Jesus approached Jerusalem determined to die, so there are times where we must choose death so our spouses can live.

Death is painful, and putting what we want up on the cross is neither easy nor pleasant. To sleep next to the one woman in the universe I could have sex with and hold back for a period of months was a struggle. There were times where I found myself pulling away from her emotionally and I had to remind myself that (1) our marriage wasn’t just about sex, (2) Michelle was my best friend, and (3) she was going through a lot of physical discomfort being pregnant. My clay pot weakness kept me on my knees drawing strength from the Lord, and I shared my struggles with my brothers who would bless me by praying for my wife and me.

As all things come to an end so did our period of marital celibacy. When it did end I was able to come back to my wife with confidence, knowing I had not been setting our marriage up for more problems by masturbating (and it would have opened me up to the temptation to use porn to “spice it up”).

Understand, I am not saying a wife should purposely withhold sex from her husband, and he should passively say “ok” if she does this. Marriage is the fireplace where the flames of sexual desire should be fanned into a glorious bonfire; they should never be snuffed out. The point is there will be times when your wife will go through emotional hardships, such as grieving a loss or encountering physical difficulties and you will both be blessed if you show her grace, understanding, and love instead of demanding your due.

Picture a church filled with an army of powerful men who say no to instant gratification and self-centered pleasure; they are warriors with strong hearts who stand firm in the culture of lust and, through the cracks of their weakness, allow God’s grace to shine through them to others. They model strength, transparency and integrity to their families and love their wives as Christ called them to. This is the high standard we are challenged to aspire to.

Or, you could hobble around hissing “the precioussss… I needs the preciousss…”

Ten Things I’m Thankful For Tuesday

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Ten things I’m thankful for…

1. Strawberry shortcake dessert. Especially the one I just got for free at a restaurant. It was huge and only lacked one ingredient – homemade vanilla ice cream.

2. IN THE HEIGHTS. The Tony Award-winning musical I’m about to see for the third time in as many years.

3. Television’s The Wonder Years, now streaming on Netflix! I could name a couple of t.v. shows that are better overall, but this one is hands down my all-time favorite. It had so many amazing little elements. Universal themes about growing up… Audio soundtrack featuring classic music from the 1960s and 1970s… Hilarious narration voiced by Daniel Stern… Acoustic guitar compositions by Snuffy Walden, written specifically for the show…  Not to mention the creative skill of some of the child actors.

4. The white coconut slush at SONIC. You won’t see it on the menu, so ask for it.

5. Brazilian music. My connection with bossa nova makes me think my ancestry must certainly involve Brazil somehow.

6. Good return policies. I always find it satisfying when money goes back on the card.

7. Cozy establishments with groovy live music and napkins for scribbling ideas.

8. Heat. Finding warmth when you are cold is one of the beautiful things in life. Warming up by a fire or beneath a blanket. Or through the use of a hot beverage. It’s almost like being in love.

9. An empty mailbox at home. Sometimes this is actually the thing that reminds you to reach out to someone else – someone who might like to find a surprise in the mail.

10. God’s giving. Of all the times I wonder how to sense God’s leading on different things, I appreciate and marvel at how clearly I’m impressed to give when that’s the thing He wants.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Comfort

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It seems WordPress.com has another good idea. I was already looking to incorporate photography as part of my blog, so I think the Weekly Photo Challenge will come in handy. The way it works: they provide a theme, blogger produces a photo interpretation.

On weeks when the photo theme doesn’t capture my imagination, I may decide to pass up the challenge. But I really liked this week’s theme – comfort.

Photo by Joshua Kerley

Anytime this is your location at 2pm on a weekend, you are probably experiencing comfort.

All The Single Ladies: Five Ill-advised Dating Behaviors For Women

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This is my first post for the “Here’s To Women!” category.

You may be asking yourself why I would dedicate an entire post category to saluting and encouraging women. But if you know me well, you’ve had the chance to pick up on the fact that I’m a big advocate for them.

So, for anyone who visits the blog and is a woman, I hope the posts in this category will amuse and inspire you somehow.

All The Single Ladies: Five Ill-advised Dating Behaviors For Women

Let me begin with a confession: for basically my entire life, I have been on the sidelines of dating rather than in the game. That said, another truth about me is I learn a lot by observing things other people go through.

Over the years, I have noted certain dating/relationship behaviors in some females – behaviors that seem unlikely to make a woman successful in relationships.

I know these behaviors may stem from myths that have been widely accepted and unfortunately perpetuated. And I’m sure there are women who will have a difficult time letting go of those myths. Still, for your consideration, I’ll discuss here five dating behaviors that are understandable but not recommended.

Behavior #1: Failing to directly decline an undesirable invitation.

You probably know what it’s like to be approached by a guy you’re not interested in at all. He asks for your phone number or asks if he can take you to lunch sometime, but you want no part of it. Life would be a lot easier if no one ever had to experience that situation.

To reject someone face to face is hard. Then there’s the fact that, as a female, you’ve probably been socialized to be polite and not direct.

Even though these things are working against you, it’s important to rise above them. It’s time to learn to say, “I don’t mean to disregard your feelings, but no thank you.” This response is much better than pretending you’d like to get together or giving your phone number only to never answer or return calls. Besides, in your dealings with men, do you really want to reinforce the idea that women say the opposite of what they mean?

Behavior #2: Flirting/spending time with a guy’s male friend in hopes of provoking the guy to approach you.

A guy either is interested in you and will be making his way to you (whether smoothly or clumsily), or he is not interested in you and won’t be coming your way. Or perhaps he’s one of those guys who likes you but lacks the initiative or courage to approach you – and let’s face it: this type of guy isn’t ready to be what you deserve anyway.

Whatever the case, toying with a man’s male friend is not only misleading and confusing for the friend, but also it makes you seem insecure, immature, and manipulative. You’re probably none of those things. But if you are, you have the ability to change.

As tempting as it may be, using a guy’s male friend as a way to get the guy’s attention is a silly game. And since we’re not kids anymore, why not skip the game, and let “Romeo” prove his confidence and your worth by finding a way to engage you?  I mean think about it – guys figure out ways to put themselves in other situations they’re interested in, don’t they? Just watch how they go after material possessions, career advancement, or other opportunities that catch their eye! Don’t sell yourself short, ladies.

Behavior #3: Directly pursuing a guy or initiating with him instead of allowing him to be the one exhibiting that kind of leadership.

See note about Behavior #2.

Behavior #4: Hinting.

You’ve heard it before – “Subtle hints don’t work with men; strong hints don’t work with men; OBVIOUS HINTS don’t work with men.” Guys can be oblivious, in case you didn’t notice yet. I don’t think it’s a matter of not caring; I believe it’s a matter of literally not being aware of what a woman is wishing for inside. So, save some frustration for you and for him, and make a clear communication.

Generally, the purpose of any communication is to establish understanding between parties. Hints often fall short as a vehicle for facilitating that goal. In other words, between men and women, hints simply do not promote effective communication.

Something I actually tell my female friends is this: with your male relatives, friends, and dating partners alike, you will increase your chances of getting what you want if you plainly ask for it. I said those words to my good friend from college recently, and she responded by promptly putting a request to me in a very plain fashion! Did it work out for her? Absolutely.

Now keep in mind I haven’t told you this is a foolproof approach (there’s probably no such thing). But I did say it will make you much more likely to get whatever it is you hoped for in the first place.

Not only is this applicable when it comes to asking for something you want, but also it applies to letting a man know what you’re feeling or thinking. Forget about dropping hints; plainly (and calmly) state what you really mean. Then, if he still doesn’t grasp what you’re feeling or thinking, at least it’s not because you didn’t lay it out for him.

Behavior #5: Ignoring clear statements a man makes about not wanting a relationship.

As much as you may not want to hear or believe it, you will do well to listen when a man tells you he’s not ready to commit (or when he tells you he just wants to be your friend). I know the hard thing with this is that his behavior towards you may not be consistent with that message. He’s a guy, and yes, he may be inclined to give in to selfish gratification if the two of you have made a habit of playing tonsil hockey in his car at night.

If he says you are only a friend but behaves like you’re more than just a friend, he is guilty of sending conflicting messages. It isn’t right or mature, but it does not necessarily mean what you may want it to mean – that deep down he really wants more than friendship but is scared of getting hurt or jeopardizing the wonderful friendship the two of you share.

And it’s a bad day for everyone when he finally cuts off the relationship he allowed to go further than he believed it should.

Also, remember that if a guy calls you “friend” but treats you like more, it’s not to be taken as a sign that you’ll be able to change his mind or wear him down through flattery or physical affection. Whoever originated this quote was right: there is a degree of power in seduction, but it is short-lived and false. Another quote also comes to mind here and seems fitting: your body is not bait.

If a man tells you he’s not ready or not interested, don’t fool yourself by thinking he’s wrong or that you can convince him otherwise. You stand to lose too much in that kind of gamble.

(If any women feel I should write about ill-advised dating behaviors for men, feel free to contact me – I welcome suggestions for behaviors to discuss.)

Ten Things I’m Thankful For Tuesday

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1. Haddon, Hayes, and Clara Li Phipps. Two brothers and their adopted sister. The story of these little siblings is so moving it always makes my eyeballs perspire. (Please do not mistake perspiring eyeballs for crying.)

2. Spiritual gifts in action. There’s not much that compares to having someone serve you through whatever divine enablement he/she has to offer. It’s like a little piece of heaven comes down to touch the place where your need is.

3. Promises from God. The Lord always makes good on His promises. Could be within 24 hours, could be after six years.

4. Modern Day Drifter. An old Dierks Bentley album I just listened to for the first time in years. I’m a collector of timeless music – I buy the kind of albums I’ll still play and savor when I’m a senior citizen.

I can’t say I love every track on this disc, but half or more of the songs have that magic I’m always in search of.

5. Chocolate covered almonds. Not cashews. Not peanuts. And milk chocolate only.

I seldom find these with the right ratio of chocolate to almond. Only a thin layer of chocolate is necessary, you see.

6. Bachelorhood. It’s the reason I can channel time and money any way I want. If I want to support a minister or missionary with my physical labor or financial gifts, it’s nice to be able to do so without checking with or taking anything away from a spouse. All that will change someday, so I’m enjoying the privilege while I have the chance.

7. The sky. There’s just something between the sky and me. I’ve felt it for years. I love being outside on a blanket, marveling at the wonders in the daytime sky. Or the nighttime sky.

8. The Book of Daniel. I believe someday the church in America will experience a form of exile – a time of being persecuted and dominated like Christians are in other countries today.

The Book of Daniel is gonna come in handy when American believers need to learn how God’s people survived it all in the past.

9. Lactaid. Let’s just say the world around me is a better place because of it.

10. Autumn. Also known as fall. Also known as by far the best season of the year. The only problem with fall is that it seems to last only about two weeks before giving way to winter.

But there is a long list of things about fall that are no problem at all. In fact, one of these days, I’ll have to write about ten autumn things I’m thankful for.

“Forgetting what you’ve given and remembering what you’ve received is the key to maintaining happiness.”

For Young Men: What Life Has Taught Me

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If a younger man asked to be let in on some things life has taught me, here’s what I would say:

-Eat and exercise to stay fit.

Figure out what physical activities you enjoy enough to engage in every week – activities you can manage regardless of weather.

-Save $100 each month for one year, and book a trip to New York City.

Also, compel a college buddy to do the same; traveling is more fun with a travel dawg.

-“You will never change your life until you change something you do every day.”

-Get rid of debt from college loans as fast as humanly possible.

The journey toward completing this within three years of finishing school turned out to be one of my favorite adventures in life, strange as that may sound.

-Memorize this: Part of being a man is learning to think about someone other than yourself.

-Check out Dave Ramsey’s ideas about money.

-Watch and love college football. Georgia Bulldogs most of all.

Also, decide that the outcome of college football will not be allowed to negatively affect your mental health if your team loses.

-Look into different art forms to discover which ones move you.

When it comes to art forms, avoid the phenomenon of condemnation without investigation; don’t knock it til you try it.

-There are probably some pure, simple, inexpensive joys you’ve loved for years; know what they are, and never let them slip out of your life.

-Aim for solid friendships with guys who make you better.

-Know which man you can call for spiritual encouragement or ministry regardless of what you’re facing.

-Consider this question: In the experience of your male friends, what difference do you make?

Always look for ways to introduce both fun and spiritual value in the lives of your dudes.

-Be mindful of the amount of one-on-one time you spend with female friends.

If there is no romantic interest, limit alone time. If there is romantic interest, you should probably limit alone time still! Guy friends tend not to smell as good, but solid relationships with good men require fewer boundaries and are more likely to endure. Those friendships may be more likely to sustain you through life in healthy ways too.

-Memorize this definition. Defraud: to evoke desires one cannot righteously fulfill.

-Focus on the things your mother did well while raising you; choose a way to express those thoughts to her.

It will make you feel worse than nauseous to speak to her that way, but she is worth it.

-Give your mom a break as often as possible, even if she’s someone who doesn’t deserve it, and especially if she is someone who does.

-Find a good Men’s Conference to attend every year.

The one at First Baptist Woodstock in Georgia is an option; the first thing that happens there is a steak dinner.

-Find a way to express your gifts, talents, and strengths in a way that contributes continually to your local church.

-Buy Hillsong music.