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Disciplined Giving in The Era of AutoPay

You guys left some really thoughtful, really insightful comments on my previous post about charitable giving (I would expect nothing less from you smarty-pantses). Your comments have been rolling around in my head for the past few weeks, and have sparked some new ideas, so here’s a follow-up post, and I’m sorry if it rubs you the wrong way.

A couple of you expressed a similar point, and that’s that giving isn’t about me and my growth (or us and our growth), so much as it is about providing for the needs of others, and I have to admit, at first I was a little stung by the implication that I’m giving selfishly. But then I thought about it some more, and there’s a couple things I see happening:

  1. I didn’t explain my thoughts completely the first time. This is a bad habit for me. This might sound like a cop-out, but here it is: in my head, one idea expands into a giant web of interconnected ideas so quickly, that I rush though explaining how I got from point A to point B (and C, then D, then E), in favor of writing everything out as quickly as I can, lest I forget everything. The result is too many big ideas that lack sufficient background or explanation. I’m trying to improve in this area, but also, I want to keep my posts under 500 words, so….It’s a tough compromise.
  2. I bit my tongue, and censored myself, because I don’t want to piss anyone off, or alienate you wonderful people. I have some things to say about automatic giving, and I’m afraid of how it will be received. More on that in a moment.

That all being said, let’s do this thing.

To the point that “giving is about meeting a need, and has nothing to do with what get out of it:” I don’t think God is concerned with the bottom-line, when it comes to giving. An easy example of this is the story of the widow’s offering in Mark 12:41-44, wherein she gives far less amount-wise, but far more in terms of sacrifice. This shows her great faith and gratitude. Jesus says she gave more than all the rest, though in dollars, she gave a fraction of a penny. So when I talk about not giving “enough,” I don’t mean enough in terms of the dollar amount, but in terms of expressing my faith and gratitude. In this regard, my family is very much like the wealthy folks in that story, throwing in our excess money and not even thinking about it. And boy, is that humbling.

Giving is a Discipline. Disciplines Take Practice. (Maintain a Loose Grasp.)

Our nature (and this is strictly my opinion here) is to keep a firm grasp on what “belongs to us.” You can see this in children, who are reluctant or unwilling to share toys, out of fear that the toys will never be returned, and the feeling that those toys belong to them. I think grown-ups are kind of like that, only that we’ve learned to put a smile on, and share just enough to be socially acceptable.

Because of our very human inclination towards maintaining a tight grasp on our material possessions, I know that I need to practice giving. I need to practice putting my hand into my pocket, pulling out some money, extending it to another person, opening my hand, and not expecting a single thing in return. I need to practice remembering that none of what I have “belongs to me,” and I need to practice letting that understanding overcome my will, and my desire to give just enough to be socially in the black.

(Question I like to ask myself, to check-in on the state of my heart: “How tight is my grasp on “stuff” and money, right now?”)

Automatic Giving/ Auto-Tithing Stunts Our Spiritual Growth

Someone in the comments said that automatic giving is great, because it shows that I’m “disciplined” in my giving. I would argue that the opposite is true. It’s not “disciplined giving” if it’s automatically withdrawn. “Discipline,” by definition, results from training, and training takes effort and thought. (Interesting that “discipline” and “disciple” share the same root.)

Automatic giving/auto-tithing circumvents a spiritual process of recognizing that what I have is not really mine, and really only serves the legalistic purpose of meeting the bottom line. And like I said, I don’t think God is at all concerned with the bottom line. I think God can, and does, work miracles with even the smallest portion, given from a full and loving heart. (Loaves and fishes, for example.)

I think God is more concerned with the condition of my heart, than whether or not I’m giving a lot of dollars, and in that regard, giving is more about me than meeting a need. I think God wants me to go through that process every single time: saying thank you, counting my blessings, and giving what I can for the benefit of others. And I can’t do that if my church is automatically drafting tithes from my bank account. The very reason people use auto-tithe is because it simplifies the process, and they are assured that they’ll fulfill their giving obligation for the month. And I just don’t buy that line of reasoning.

(The pastor of the church my family used to attend would remind folks, in the weeks running up to summer, that they should consider enabling auto-tithing before they go on summer vacation, that way they don’t “forget to give.” This would always make my ears ring “so the money is more important than the act of worship?” Perhaps, rather than treating the symptoms (tithing slows to a trickle over the summer), we should treat the illness (congregants don’t understand giving)?

(Um. Also, how reverent is my worship when my automatic-tithe gets the same amount of my attention as my student-loan payment?)

Giving is an Antidote to Greed.

This one is pretty easy. Habitual, intentional giving breaks us of our habit of greed, and keeps us from tightening our grasp too much. And one of my favorite things Jesus said, can be found in Matthew 6:19-21 — “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Bingo. I’ve heard this said and re-said (“Want to know a person’s priorities? Take a look at their checkbook”) so many times over the years, and it is as true today as it was when Jesus said it.

Other Assorted Bits That I Can’t Be Bothered to Organize Right This Moment:

Giving is meant to be a joyful expression of thanks to God from the heart, and not a legalistic obligation.

Amy (in the comments of my previous post) said “I think sacrificial (truly joyful) giving comes from a truly thankful heart. If we come to understand that everything given us is completely unmerited, then I think GIVING then becomes a true act of worship. It’s not the amount…not at all…it’s our attitudes behind the gift.”

And now I’m 600 words over my self-imposed limit.

I hope you’re happy. 🙂 But seriously, I want to continue this conversation, because I think we’re beginning to touch on some really sensitive issues. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve heard anyone address finances in a church-setting (not counting Dave Ramsey), and I think there’s a lot of unresolved tension in this. Wanna sort this out with me? Lord knows I have more blind-spots than I can count. Say what’s on your mind in the comments, below.

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Let’s be friends!

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The Audacity to Serve: Denying Yourself to Fulfill Your Calling

I am not talented enough, or clever enough, or righteous enough to deserve to reflect Jesus to the world, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to try and do my best. I used to believe that most people were that way, that most people had the audacity to know that they don’t “measure up,” but to carry on anyway, putting one foot in front of the other, not letting the unattainability of that calling deter them. But that’s not the case. For so many people, it’s easier to sling insults, and to disparage, from the comfort and safety of their iPhones, or computer screens. It’s easier to tear something down than to build something up. It requires zero sacrifice of self, and offers no vulnerability. Those people are the armchair-quarterbacks of the writing world.

I’m Not Doing Enough

I often am often told by the armchair-quarterback types that I’m “wasting my time,” and that “the church has bigger issues to tend to” than the ones I choose to write about on my blog. “So why bother?” they ask. But here’s the thing about that kind of talk: it is impossible to fix (or even address) all the issues of the church with a single blog post, and if it were possible, I’m certainly not the writer that’s gonna do it. Additionally, it defers responsibility for action and change onto everyone else. “Why are you writing about _______, when you SHOULD be writing about ________!?!?!” they rail on.

What if, rather than spending their time criticizing me, and telling me that I’m not doing enough, the armchair-quarterbacks of the world were doing what God was calling them to do? If you have a heart for a thing, and you feel God calling you to speak up– do it! If you’re annoyed that I don’t write enough about sex-trafficking, or water projects, or food deserts, then maybe those are the things you should be writing about. Suddenly you’ll find that you don’t have the time to criticize complete strangers on the Internet, because you’re too busy doing the little bit of work that God has put on your heart. If we all did that, what would the church look like? What would the world look like?

We Will Never Be “Good Enough”

I understand the underlying concern: there is too much wrong with the world, and the church, for me to have any sort of significant impact. Here’s what Mother Teresa has to say about that

Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.

God doesn’t require us to succeed, he only requires that you try.

My responsibility, and your responsibility, is to figure out what God’s calling for us is, and then to do it to the best of our ability. Even though we’re not talented enough, or clever enough, or righteous enough. Let me encourage you with this: God’s calling for your life is not to passively criticize other believers. It’s not to sit back and say “you shoulda said this…” It’s to take what little you have to offer, and offer it, letting God work through your offering. Think of the story of the boy with the loaves and fishes in John 6: 9-11

Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many? Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

You might think my offering isn’t sufficient. That I’m not talented enough to make a difference. And if we’re talking about me, as a person, separate from God, I agree with you. But when we offer up our imperfect and insufficient selves, God will do the rest.

Questions

Do you trust God to work though your offering? Are you ready to listen and respond to the Lord, and refuse to be intimidated by the circumstances? Are you ready to look a little bit foolish, offering up your measly loaves and fishes in front of a crowd of 5,000?

Remember what Jesus said to his disciples?

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

I think part of “denying ourselves” is giving up our need to feel “good-enough.” Giving up our need to feel like we’re making a big stinking difference in the world. We have to understand that it is a privilege to die to ourselves in order to live for him.

(And I promise that you will be far more satisfied in fulfilling God’s calling for your life than you ever were armchair-quarterbacking on the Internet.)

xoxo,

mj

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I’ll be back on Friday with this week’s update on the 40 Day Makeup Fast!

Let’s be friends!

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Makeup Fast: Days 11-16 of 40 (It’s Working!)

Fresh-Faced For 40 Days Icon

Feel free to share this button to link back to the challenge!

(Saturday, July 7 through Thursday, July 12)

This week, to avoid redundancy, I’m writing about the entire week as a whole, rather than updating you day-by-day. (You only have to hear “I hate my face” so many times before you’re OVER IT, am I right?) Let’s get to it.

More unexpected perks to barefacedness

  • If I’m feeling a little sleepy, or I want a quick pick-me-up, I can splash some cold water on my face. I never understood why people did this in old-timey movies, but I get it now: it feels great! Try it, you’ll like it!
  • I can shower at the gym without having to lug all of my makeup along with me. I am ALL for packing lighter.
  • My husband can kiss me without fearing that he’ll end up wearing my “lip gunk.” (That’s lip gloss, for those of you that don’t speak Dude.)

Occasions where I notice myself wishing I were wearing makeup

  • Meeting new people (I find that I want to hand them a disclaimer like “usually I don’t look like this. Just so you know, most days, I have eyelashes, and my skin looks nice.”)
  • Running into people I know when I’m oot and aboot.
  • Every time I look in the mirror

That last one is a bit of an exaggeration, actually. Lately, especially after I wash my face, or splash it with some cold water, I’m kind of liking what I see. Not like “hubba hubba, look at that foxy mama,” but more like “oh look at her, she looks sweet.” I think if I were to meet me, I would find my bareface kind and approachable. And I like that.

Competition

There’s no graceful way to talk about one’s ugly traits, is there? If I try and dance around this, I’m basically trying to “put lipstick on a pig.” So here goes: I think makeup-Melissa felt (perhaps subconsciously) that she was in competition against every woman she met. Not necessarily in a mean way, but in a comparative way, for sure. Constantly measuring myself against others, to see how I stacked up. And why? Because I was letting my prettiness (or not-so-prettiness, depending) define a significant amount of my value. You’re probably thinking “no, duh.” But it took me TWO WEEKS of fasting from makeup to see this. Because I am stubborn. And sometimes slow to learn a lesson.

After being “off” of makeup for 16 days now, I find myself simply enjoying other people’s company, without some weird subtextual dialogue running through my head at all times. Honestly, most of the time I’m not even aware that I am barefaced. And not only do people seem not to notice my barefacedness AT ALL, but I think maybe people are being nicer to me now? (I’ll sit on this one for a few more days, until I can say conclusively whether or not this is the case.)

My Face is Not The Point

I cannot say that I “like” my naked face yet, and I am beginning to think that maybe that’s not the point. Ever since I began this fast, God’s presence has been thick, and I’ve felt a closeness to the Holy Spirit that I’ve never felt before. It’s working, just like they say it does (fasting, I mean). You want to draw closer to God? Cut something out of your life. Something that scares you. That requires sacrifice of yourself. Let that margin open up, and watch God fill it. Let the fast cause you discomfort, and then feel God comfort you. The fast has made me more vulnerable to the nudges of the Holy Spirit, and through following those nudges, my trust in God is growing, and I find myself looking for his approval first. Naturally. (I guess for this to be a big deal, you have to understand that this is not my character.)

The questions that I entered this fast with are being answered loud and clear, and I know this sounds strange, but I am really looking forward to the next two weeks of the fast.

Join Us!

In case you’re considering participating in the fast yourself, it is never too late to start! Our Facebook group has more than 40 members now, and it has been awesome to read their posts, and commiserate about our barefacedness. There are some AWESOME ladies in the group, and the more the merrier!

Xoxo,

mj

11 of 40 (just finished swimming)

Day 12 of 40

Day 13 of 40

Day 15 of 40

Day 16 of 40

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For details on the “Fresh-Faced for 40 Days” makeup fast, check out this post.

If you’re interested in participating, join the Facebook group where we can keep each other updated on our progress, post links to our blog posts, and generally hold each other accountable. Obviously, we’ll all be starting on different days, so it’ll be fun to cheer each other on through the different stages.

Also, feel free to use the button I’ve made (in the left sidebar, on the top) to link-back to the original post, so you don’t have to do all of the ‘splaining to your friends if you don’t want to.

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Let’s be friends!

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All The Good Ones Aren’t Taken: A Letter to Single Ladies

All The Single Ladies

“All the good ones are taken.” If you’re a single gal, or you’ve ever been a single gal, you’ve either A) said this yourself, or B) heard another single gal say it, and nodded your head in agreement. (Maybe even adding a sassy little “Mmm-Hmm.”)

Well, it’s not true. And? It’s offensive.

All The Single Fellas

I, personally, know of several upstanding, successful guys, who have been single for at least a year, minimum. Why? Because they’re waiting for the “right” lady to come along, and aren’t interested in dating, just for the sport of it. You heard me right: they are not looking for a hookup. They are looking for the real-deal. “Single, mature young men, without commitment issues? Openly looking for a long-term relationship?” They are not unicorns, ladies; they are real, and when you hear what they have to say, maybe you’ll think twice about all of that “all the good ones are taken” business. (Before I go too far, what I have to say is aimed at Christian young women, but regardless of your spiritual beliefs, the struggle I’ve described is universal, and is worth some consideration.)

Let me share with you something that a male reader recently wrote me, in regards to 50 Shades of Grey and Magic Mike (don’t worry, I have his permission to post this quote):

It is hard enough being expected to be a respectful, godly, and upstanding man on one hand, and seeing the women that we are interested in often fall for the exact opposite of what they say they want. But it is completely maddening to see women fall for the same type of cheap objectification and destructive appeals to venal human nature that men have been plagued by for generations, and to have that celebrated as progress rather than being viewed for what it truly is: degrading for both the producer and the consumer.

Hindsight is 20-20

When I read this, I got so frustrated, not because it’s not true, but because I see it happening all around me. I WAS one of those girls, falling for the exact opposite of what I said I wanted. Honestly, his comment was simultaneously a slap-in-the-face, and a push forward. Immediately I was confronted with visions of my past-self, and I figure that two or three of you out there might be able to relate, so allow me to get real vulnerable, real fast.

Facing visions of my past-self is always difficult. It’s getting easier, but I can’t help but hurt for young-me. How many times had I compromised myself in an attempt to win the affection of someone that was totally undeserving? How many times had I turned my back on what I knew was right, just because I wanted some cute guy to think I was cool? How many times had I made myself ultimately vulnerable to a guy who I knew wasn’t interested in me in a “real” way? (All the while griping about how “all the good ones are taken.”) Looking back on it, I see that I was looking to other people to define my value, rather than knowing my value, and standing firm on it. In retrospect, I thank God that he didn’t introduce me to my husband in that season of my life, because I hadn’t even become myself yet. I feel like God was waiting for me to get my act together before he’d deliver me a “good one.”

A Disposable Heart

If you allow an unworthy guy to define your value, do you know what your value will be? Zero. Nothing. Less than nothing. Disposable. And that’s exactly how I felt. And when you allow yourself to be treated as if you’re disposable, you begin to believe that you are disposable, so that when you do cross-paths with a really amazing, godly guy, you will not feel worthy of his affection. Not only that, but I’m convinced guys have a sixth-sense about this kind of thing; they can “smell” when a girl doesn’t value herself, and generally, they keep their distance. Like I said, the “good ones” are looking for the real-deal. Are you preparing yourself for that, or are you caught-up in pursuing guys who will ultimately treat you like you’re disposable? When you meet a “good one,” will he see a girl who knows her value and stands firm on it, or will he see a girl exhausted from chasing down the shadows of her self-worth?

(Some quick questions: If you are identifying with me at all right now: do you see the extent to which this cycle is damaging your ability to begin and maintain new, lasting relationships? Are you ready to dramatically shift your way of thinking? What will it take for you to be ready?)

Maybe all of the “good ones” aren’t taken. Maybe you’re blind to them, because you’re involved with a bad crowd. Or maybe they’re blind to you, because they’re looking for a girl with maturity and self-respect, and a solid foundation.

I know these might sound like harsh words, but here’s the thing: I know how you feel, because I have been there. Maybe I’m subconsciously writing this to my past-self, because the fact of the matter is that no one in my life was telling me the truth about this kind of stuff. (Even some distant stranger’s voice from across the Internet would have been better than nothing.) So I figured it out on my own, and was completely obliterated along the way, and eventually came back to square one: where, and what is my identity?

Living In The Tension

Before we get there, let’s address a very real tension that exists for women: from day one, many (most?) of us feel “less than,” as compared to women in the media. Many of us had fathers who openly lusted after women that the culture deemed worthy (or our fathers flat-out abandoned us), and though that’s not the only cause, it’s one reason why many women feel that they NEED to be more like women “of the world” than women of God. We’ve seen our fathers, step-fathers, church leaders, political officials, etc live in a way that says they place more value on “worldly women” than godly women. And over time it has caused many of us to harden our hearts, and choose to live in a way that says “Oh yeah? Well two can play at this game.” (Therapist-types call this “acting out.”)

Whose Am I?

No matter how hard you push back, nothing you do will ever undo anything that has happened to you. It won’t bring your father back; it won’t restore your trust in men. All “acting out” does do is move you further and further away from the truth, and build massive walls around your heart. It prevents you from healing, from growing up, and from moving forward. What’s left, after all of this trauma and subsequent acting-out, is a population of young women who have very little of their identity rooted in God, and most of it rooted in their worldly value.

Reversing this cycle of brokenness, claiming your identity in God, and discovering your real value takes time. But just in case you’re thinking you can cut corners and “fix it” as soon as you meet Mr. Right, let me prepare you: I’ve seen it happen so many times (I’m one of them) where a “worldly” Christian girl meets a godly guy, and changes her tune SO FAST. Suddenly she believes in modesty, purity, the whole shebang. The problem is that she is doing it to win a man’s heart, and once that has happened, she no longer has an identity. She has abandoned her worldly ways (which often means severing ties with poisonous friends), but has no identity in God; usually the relationship fails because she gets drawn back into “the world,” and the guy leaves, or she puts her identity in the relationship, and that scares the guy away. Then he leaves, she feels betrayed by (yet another) man, and the cycle repeats itself.

This cycle might be the greatest tragedy facing the young women of my generation, and the next generation, and it breaks my heart.

And lest I forget to mention them: I do know that there are young women out there who do have their identity firmly rooted in the love of God their father, alone. They are beautiful in their security, and they are choosing not to approach dating as a sport. They are serving God with their time and talent, thereby blessing their future husband and future family with a life spent in truth and light. And what an example they are to those around them!

Decisions, and Moving Forward

It is never too late to choose to begin making right decisions, and there is no shame in recognizing your mistakes, turning your back on them, and starting fresh. And depending on what, exactly, you’ve been through, I highly recommend seeing a therapist*. Most insurance plans have coverage for therapy, and it will cost you a minimal amount of money.

I would love to see a real call-to-action for change in this regard. I have this vision of fathers who have blown-it coming forward and confessing to God, and then to their daughters, and of daughters choosing forgiveness and allowing God to soften their hearts, and confessing themselves to their Father in heaven. It’s beautiful, but I’m not sure it’s realistic. It’d be amazing if we all reconciled with our fathers, but in real-life we often have to choose forgiveness, even if the other person hasn’t seen their error. Even if the other person isn’t apologetic. And it’s hard, but it’s worth it.

Does any of this resonate with you, or am I just shouting into the wind, here? Though I wouldn’t wish anyone to go through the kind of junk I put myself through in my late teens/early 20s, I think one of the reasons it all happened is so that I can share my experiences with others, for their benefit. From that perspective, I’m very happy everything happened as it did, and I hope you were able to glean something from my experiences.

As always, feel free to say whatever you want in the comments below. 🙂

xoxo,

mj

PS- Well after posting this, I was brushing my teeth and remembered this verse in Proverbs 31 (sorry to trot out Proverbs 31 :/). It’s verses 11 and 12: “Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.” (Emphasis mine.) For some reason I never understood that ALL means ALL. That means she brings her husband good and not harm before she ever meets him. So simple, but so profound. 🙂

*A quick note on therapy: Therapy was able to provide me with the tools I needed to understand what I had been through, and cope with it on an intellectual level. I couldn’t have healed if not for therapy. But even after therapy, my heart still didn’t feel right. I was bitter, and cynical, and couldn’t seem to forgive. Therapy was only one big piece of the puzzle, but the other piece was God. God was able (and continues) to restore and revive my heart. He has, as the cliché goes “created beauty from ashes.” I could not be the person, wife and mother that I am today if not for the work God did in my heart, and the work he continues to do in my heart. (I put it in bold because I am that serious.)

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Overcoming The “Dirty Girl” Paradigm: Embracing God’s Plan For Sex

The comment thread on “50 Shades of Magic Mike” is about a mile long. I’ll never do every excellent comment justice, though I wish I could. There were so many valid concerns raised, and so many worthy questions asked, that I could spend the next year writing about just that stuff alone. (But rest assured that I won’t.)

One particularly insightful commenter mentioned that telling Christian woman to “just say no” to temptation in the form of pornographic novels, and sexually objectifying films doesn’t actually address any underlying issues, and I think the commenter is right. I think the commenter’s point was that we have to ask ourselves why we feel drawn to that type of media in the first place.

Nobody Wants to Be “The Dirty Girl”

One (of the many) reasons Christian women consume media like “Magic Mike” and “50 Shades”, the commenter speculated, is that many Christian women feel sexually repressed, and when offered the opportunity for some socially-acceptable “release,” they’ll pounce. This does not sound unreasonable to me. Though I personally do not identify with this behavior, I am aware that many women have been raised to view sex as dirty, or shameful. In the church’s effort to promote chastity, many women have been made to feel that sex, in general, is wrong, and while you might not see the harm in a 13 year old girl walking around with that opinion, what happens when she grows up and gets married?

While sexual repression is certainly not the only reason Christian women have flocked to see “Magic Mike” in droves, or lost themselves in the “50 Shades of Grey” series, it is definitely a reason. And one worth exploring.

Celebrating God’s Gift of Marital Sex

I understand the social awkwardness of preaching on the beauty and pleasure of sex in a Christian context. (Our culture doesn’t seem to have a problem of doing so itself, so can we blame so many for following the culture’s lead on this?) But if we do not honestly communicate the awesomeness of God’s gift of (marital) sex, and instead limit our talking on the subject to “sex is wrong until you’re married,” we’re handicapping generation after generation of women. (I  say women, specifically, because generally men are not taught that sex is “wrong,” they are simply told to “wait,” whereas much of a young woman’s identity is wrapped-up in remaining pure. When women are taught about sex, it’s often shrouded in an element of dirtiness, as if “only bad girls think about sex.”)

If you’re not feeling “in touch” with your sexuality, or maybe you were raised to think of sex the way I described above, you need to know that it is good  for you and your marriage to improve your understanding of sexual intimacy, and devote some time to unlearning any unhealthy messages you received about sex growing up. It might be the single greatest gift you can give to your marriage, to have a healthy understanding of God’s design for sex.

Resources

One particularly great resource I’ve found is Sheila Wray Gregoire‘s (of “To Love, Honor and Vacuum“) book “The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex: (And You Thought Bad Girls Have All The Fun)” which you can pick up off of Amazon for just over $10. Here’s a snippet of the description:

Whether you’re about to walk down the aisle or you’ve been married for decades, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex will lead you on a wonderful journey of discovery towards the amazing sex life God designed you for.

With humor, research, and lots of anecdotes, author Sheila Wray Gregoire helps women see how our culture’s version of sex, which concentrates on the physical above all else, makes sex shallow. God, on the other hand, intended sex to unite us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Gregoire walks through these three aspects of sex, showing how to make each amazing, and how to overcome the roadblocks in each area we often encounter.

At present it has 63 reviews on Amazon, and the average rating is 5 out of 5. (It’s rare that a book on such a “racy” subject averages 5/5, in case you are unfamiliar with Amazon’s book-rating-system.) If you think you might like to read it, I suggest reading through some of the reviews people have written, to ensure that it’s a good purchase for you.

And if you’re not feeling like buying a book on sex (can’t blame you. What if your kid opens the package before you get to it?), but you’re interested in improving intimacy with your husband, you might like Sheila’s series “29 Days to Great Sex,” which is available for free, online. (Even if you and your husband are already, um, “proficient,” you should check it out anyway. It never hurts to refresh your perspective, and you might get some fun ideas. I’ve read her post for “Day 9” several times since she posted it, and I always come away with, um, “renewed zeal.”)

We Are Not “The Church Lady”

Being a Christian woman, one of the most irritating stereotypes that’s perpetuated is that we’re all like Dana Carvey’s SNL character “the church lady.” Sure, some of us are. But most of us are not. God created sex, and it’s obvious how much our culture LOVES (even idolizes) sex. One way Christian women can do a better job of reflecting God to the world is by having amazing, healthy sex-lives with our husbands, and not being afraid to talk about sex, tastefully. (And I have to admit, of all the ways we can reflect God to the world, having a healthy sex-life is probably my favorite.)

What other resources are available that deal with God’s plan for sex, and maintaining an awesome sex-life with your spouse? Do you have any favorites? Share ’em in the comments!

xoxo,

mj

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Let’s be friends!

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So This is Love? (Follow-up to 50 Shades of Magic Mike)

I’m sitting here at my computer, collecting my thoughts, and on the surface, everything is exactly the same as it was yesterday. Same feeling of disapproval when I look at my face in the mirror (explanation). Same anxiety about leaning into the words that have been put on my heart. Heck, I’m even drinking from the same coffee cup (I washed it, don’t worry).

But below the surface, I’m overwhelmed. I’m completely humbled by the incredible outpouring of love and support I’ve received from strangers.

You know, when I first sat down to get that 50 Shades/Magic Mike post out, I’m going to be honest: it felt as if I was unloading a burden. I didn’t write it so much to please God, as to get him off of my back. (I wish I could say I had more righteous intentions.) I put off writing it for several days, but whenever I’d sit down to blog, or work on my book, or email a friend, I couldn’t write the words I wanted to write, because the whole 50 Shades/MM thing kept bubbling up. So late one night, annoyed that I couldn’t get any “real” work done, I finally addressed the issue that had been niggling at me for the past week. And I am so glad that I did.

God is Proving a Point

It is interesting, how even in the community of believers, one can feel so alone. At least, that’s my experience. I didn’t see much purpose in writing that post, beyond showing God that I was willing to let him interrupt my plans, even though I didn’t see a real point in it. (Though I’m well-known in my field, outside the tech-world, I’m nobody special, so the its not like anyone was going to read it anyway.) And in hindsight, I wonder if God’s purpose for me wasn’t necessarily just to address the 50 Shades/MM issue, but to show me that I’m not alone. That there are sisters (and brothers) all around me, and that I don’t have to feel so isolated.

So thank you. And “thank you” are pretty measly words, compared to how I feel. I am so grateful to each of you who has extended herself/himself in support, and has encouraged me to continue saying “yes” to God’s “interruptions.” You have blessed me immensely, and God is using you to prove a point to me: I can trust that I am not alone. I can find community and love in a group of people who used to intimidate me. A group that I used to openly despise. (Maybe sometime I’ll talk about my pre-Christian life a bit. What a change.) That I’ve been adopted by such a father, into such a family, moves me to tears. What a beautiful, beautiful gift that I absolutely do not deserve.

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This is not to say that there has not been resistance. I knew when I wrote it that it was not going to please everyone (and would probably upset some), but should pleasing people be my primary concern? Like so many people, I place too much value in how others regard me, and I often prioritize others’ comfort to a fault. Saying “yes” to the words that were placed on my heart was a way of willfully pushing myself out of my comfort zone, recognizing my error in allowing others’ opinions of me to dictate my identity, and deciding to place my security in the opinion of my Father alone. And it was hard. And just because I did it one time, doesn’t mean that it’s over. I’m afraid and excited that in this regard, my journey has only just begun.

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Feel-goods aside, I’ve learned a lot from the spectrum of responses I’ve received.

  • We can turn nasty when our earthly desires are threatened.
  • We are prone to justifying behaviors to satisfy our ideas of what is good, rather than God’s.
  • Many people have said that admonishment of wrong behavior is “why they left the church.”

“It’s people like you that caused me to leave the church.”

That third point, “Many people claim that admonishment of wrong behavior is “why they left the church,”” is an interesting one. I can see a lot of myself in that statement. Like I said earlier, even in the community of believers, I often feel alone. There is a lot that bugs me about Christians; some of it is vestigial frustration from my pre-Christian experiences, but some of it is rooted in legitimate concern. Probably the greatest factor that has influenced me to stay in the church over the past several years is that at one point I realized that authentic faith is not rooted in one’s feelings about Christians; deep, meaningful, authentic faith is rooted in one’s love for God their Father. 

If your faith is tied up in people-pleasing, and following rules in order to be accepted by people, your faith is in trouble. I used to resent Christians, because I didn’t feel like I needed to live a certain way in order for God to love me. And that’s the truth. God loves you, no matter what. But here’s the thing: if you believe that God, your Father, loves you, and only wants the best for you, it follows that you would, out of respect and love for Him, do your best to live in a way that honors Him, and brings glory to his name. It is IMPOSSIBLE to be happy living that life if you are looking to others for validation. So many of us have tried doing just that, and failed miserably.

So to those of you who would say that being admonished by other believers is pushing you away from God, I encourage you to reorganize your priorities, and begin making decisions through the lens of God your Father. If you love God, seek after Him, and his will, and his purpose for your life. It will follow naturally that you will make decisions based on His approval alone. (Though that doesn’t make those decisions easy.) Once that becomes your new normal, I believe you will have a whole new perspective on admonishment from other believers.

God, The Dictator

If you’re trying to live under God without loving him, or without knowing his love for you, you’re missing out entirely, and you’re going to feel like you’re beating your head against a wall. If you feel as if God your Father is demanding, and oppressive, and you’re constantly struggling to please him, you’re not getting it, and my prayer for you is that something will happen that will reveal God’s overwhelming love for you, because it will change your life.

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Thank you, again, for encouraging me, and for correcting me that sharing God’s truth doesn’t have to be “quick, like a bandaid,” (my words), but “loud, and clear, like a trumpet call” (words of a particularly inspiring commenter.

I love you. I really do. And that’s the first time I’ve ever felt that for our big, crazy, sometimes loud-mouthed family. (Even though there are a few of you that fall into the “crazy uncle” category, and a few of you who I’m SURE would argue with me about politics over the Thanksgiving turkey.) 🙂

So this is brotherly love, huh? It’s a whole new world.

Xoxo,

mj

50 Shades of Magic Mike (In Which I Am VERY UNCOOL)

This is a post that will not make me any friends, and will alienate some of my existing friends, and generally make me look like a complete stick-in-the-mud. Do people still say that? Stick-in-the-mud? How about killjoy/spoilsport/wet-blanket, etc? You get what I mean.

Explanation

The only reason I’m writing this at all is because I feel compelled to do so. I’m not sure if you ever had this feeling, but sometimes there are words that I need to write, only I don’t want to write them. So I push them deep down, underneath all of the other words I actually want to write, and beneath my mental-list of chores and errands, so far down that I think they basically don’t exist anymore. But that’s never the case. Something always causes them to spring back up, and this will continue happening until I sit down and write the words out. Then I can move on with my life. That’s what this is.

“Mommy Porn”

“50 Shades of Grey” is an erotic novel, and “Magic Mike” is a movie about male strippers, and both are very, very popular with women right now. In fact, they’re being called “Mommy Porn.” (I won’t go into more detail, because there is enough about them both on the Internet already.) I can’t check Twitter or Facebook without reading another enthusiastic update about both of them. Seems like every woman I know is into one of those works, or both. I am not surprised that both of these works are being celebrated so openly; there are so many equivalent works that are aimed at men that garner major public attention that I’m actually surprised it took women this long to get their own “thing.” I am surprised, though, at how completely accepting Christian culture is to both of these works. I’ve read a few dozen different updates from Christian women regarding “50 Shades” and “Magic Mike,” and the verdict? They love them. I mean they really looooove them. They can’t stop talking about them.

(Quick, like a bandaid:) This is not okay.

Christian women need to reject both of these works, and instead, use our voices in support of what is good, right and true. It is our responsibility, as daughters of the Heavenly King, to remain set-apart from the poisons of our culture, to rebuke temptation, and to celebrate and honor righteousness.

Some Scriptural Support

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8

If your enemy thinks he can snare you with something as “acceptable” as 50 Shades or Magic Mike, you better believe he will take advantage. Don’t let the culture’s acceptance and celebration of these works confuse you, or put you off your guard.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:1-9

(Emphasis my own.) Do not conform to the patterns of this world. In other words, just because everyone else is reading it/watching it, that doesn’t make it acceptable.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” Matthew 6:22-23

Is what you’re putting in front of your eyes healthy? Is what you’re putting into your imagination healthy?

Put Yourself in His Shoes

To gain another perspective, imagine your husband (or father/brother/church leader) going around bragging about how much he loved reading last month’s Playboy magazine, or rallying all of his guy friends to go see “Magic Meghan” for the third time. If our husbands were drooling over a movie about female strippers, we would be livid. It wouldn’t be tolerated. Church leaders would be publicly denouncing men’s sudden acceptance of pornography and erotic films. (Why aren’t church leaders publicly denouncing 50 Shades or Magic Mike, by the way?)

Make Good Decisions


If you’re a Christian woman, and you’re reading this, know that I am not judging you. (I own 50 Shades myself. I bought it before I knew what it was, on the recommendation of a friend, and after reading some pages and discovering that it’s pornography, I cast it aside.) We all have poor judgement sometimes, and leave ourselves open to temptation. But we can also use our agency to make good decisions. Like throwing 50 Shades away (don’t re-gift it!), and not going to see Magic Mike. (Or if you’ve already seen it, stop encouraging all of your friends to go see it.)
Rather than causing each other to stumble by putting our sisters in the path of temptation, what if we decided to use our voices to celebrate our marriages? Or the marriages of your friends and family? What if we championed healthy relationships?

Taking Things Up a Notch

(This next paragraph talks about sex a little bit, so stop reading if you don’t want to read about sex.)
What if we invested our time and energy into spicing things up in our bedrooms? Rather than spending $12 on that movie, or the book, why not save the money, and instead, wear something sexy to bed, just because? And what if all the time that you would have spent reading 50 Shades, you instead spent making love to your husband? (Though probably not all in one day…unless you’re, like, training for a marathon.) We can definitely kick things up a notch without resorting to reading pornography, or lusting after celebrity-strippers.

Non-Christian Perspective

It is not okay to sexually objectify people. Just because evidently this summer we’re all about objectifying men, that doesn’t make it okay. It’s not like there’s a scale, and all these years, it’s been heavy on the objectification-of-women side, and we need to balance it out by objectifying men now. It doesn’t work that way. The only way we “balance the scale” is by quitting objectifying anyone, and leaving the scale empty. Oh, and that saying “you are what you eat?” I’d say the same thing goes for media: you are what you consume. Pornography is unhealthy. There, I said it.

Do I win some kind of prize for being the least popular person on the Internet for this? Like I’ve said: I did not want to write this. Please be nice to me in the comments, because if you know me at all, you know that this is totally out of character for me. I don’t preach at people…well, ever. I’m just glad these words are out so I can finally write the things I want to write.

xoxo, mj

[Edited to add a link to a follow-up post I’ve written]

So This is Love?

If your faith is tied up in people-pleasing, and following rules in order to be accepted by people, your faith is in trouble. I used to resent Christians, because I didn’t feel like I needed to live a certain way in order for God to love me. And that’s the truth. God loves you, no matter what. But here’s the thing: if you believe that God, your Father, loves you, and only wants the best for you, it follows that you would, out of respect and love for Him, do your best to live in a way that honors Him, and brings glory to his name. It is IMPOSSIBLE to be happy living that life if you are looking to others for validation. So many of us have tried doing just that, and failed miserably.

[Edited to add additional links on the subject, if you’d like to read more]

A Nun Reviews “Magic Mike” – From Sister Helena Burns (If you only read one additional post on the subject, make it this one. Sister Helena NAILS IT.

Why is a nun always* talking about sin? Because sin is real. And it’s bad. And it hurts us. And it’s mean. As “Sister” from Late Nite Catechism sez: “Sometimes we feel guilty because we are.” Guilt is good! It’s an indicator that something is wrong! And then we can do something about it! Yay, guilt! Just like we get aches and pain as symptoms that something is wrong in our bodies. But of course we need a healthy conscience, not a lax or scrupulous one. That’s why we need “formation of conscience.”

I’m Not Reading Fifty Shades of Grey – From Dannah Gresh at purefreedom.org

Over time your body becomes conditioned to self-stimulation and gratification. It’s not just a preference. It’s physiological. The lust cuts a literal pathway in your brain tissue that’s kinda like a rut. A rut you better be prepared to get stuck in. While at first a little bit of erotica might give you a taste for your spouse, overtime that rut reminds you how great you are at self-stimulation and how powerful your imagination can be.

Fifty Shades of Great Sex With Your Husband – From intimacyinmarriage.com

The landscape is cluttered with shiny things masquerading as pathways to authentic intimacy, and I’m fairly certain that Fifty Shades of Grey is merely finding its place in the mix.

Escape into Grey – from the-generous-wife.com

The problem is that reading erotic novels is like eating Twinkies to stop your hunger. It’s sweet. It’s gives you a sugar high. It makes good food taste bland. It doesn’t give your body the nutrition it needs and all you do is crave more sugar, more Twinkies.

The Fifty Shades of Magic Mike – from Fatherhood and Other Unknowns

I will be the first person to tell you that we, as men, are called to a much higher standard and have to do our best to protect our ears, our eyes, and our mind from the gutters of junk that surround us on a daily basis and we also have a responsibility to, by doing that, protect the hearts and image of the women in our lives.

Shades of Grey: Media Choices and Marriage – from Mulberry & Magnolia

Praise God (for own my broken self and for every other broken person out there) that GRACE ABOUNDS and repentance is just a prayer away.  Let’s all aim to be quicker to recognize danger zones and flee from them, and let’s turn to God and do our best to filter all of our decisions through His Word.  Will we do it perfectly?  Heck, no!  But, I think if we ask, the Holy Spirit will file the junk far away before we come close to damaging our hearts or our husbands.

What is The Functional Purpose of Love?

View from the bottom of a vineyard in Paso Robles

Why are things beautiful? I mean, what’s the functional purpose of beauty? Of a breathtaking sunset? The truth is, in and of themselves, sunsets are not beautiful. So what’s the difference between a real-life sunset, and a picture of a sunset, or a drawing of a sunset? The only real difference (that I can discern), is that real-life sunsets poke a spot in my brain that recognizes beauty. Other things that poke that spot in my brain include: wildflowers, the ocean, fields of tall grass in the wind, Zion National Park, the starry sky when I’m far far away from manmade lights, etc. And I only find them to be “beautiful,” because my brain tells me it thinks they’re beautiful. Makes sense, right? But why? Why do we have a spot in our brain that is excited by beauty? What functional purpose does it serve me as a human that I recognize beauty?

Same goes for love. We certainly don’t need “love” for the purposes of procreation (we can look at the stats on random hookups and pregnancy for that one). As a matter of fact, animals do just fine without love. Why are we capable of love when we could be wired, like animals, to instinctively procreate and nurture our young until they are self-sufficient? What functional purpose does love serve to the survival of the human species?

Same goes for fun. Same goes for pleasure. Same goes for grief, and loneliness, and laughter and tears, and music and dancing and celebration. What functional purpose do any of those serve?

When people ask me to explain my belief in God, I can’t do it. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that I can’t. Something deep down in me–in my heart, or in my head, or both, I can’t tell–compels me to believe, but I cannot explain why, just like I cannot explain the purpose of beauty, or love, or grief or laughter or tears. We’re endowed with a capacity for feeling life, and an ability and instinctive desire to love others. God is in that. I think that’s a tiny glimpse into the very heart of God, and he’s given it to each of us, freely and abundantly.

I believe that the functional purpose of each of those miraculous gifts is to help us to begin know and understand a God that is so much bigger than ourselves, and so far beyond our understanding. We will never comprehend the fullness of God, but we can comprehend the beauty we are surrounded with, the love we feel for our children, and the love we feel for each other.

How to Be Joyful When Nothing is Perfect

Dude. Life is so good, isn’t it? I feel like I’m living in the sweet-spot lately, and it’ll be nice, when October rolls around, to look back at days like today and remember that I’m capable of being this joyful. I’d say “happy,” but to me, “happy” is to “joyful,” what “pretty” is to “beautiful,” you know what I mean? And yes, while I am “happy,” more than that, I’m deep-down-in-my-bones joyful, and that’s a whole other thing entirely.

Melissa Jenna and Ellie Godsey

We just got done swimming and were giddy from all the excitement.

Am I saying nothing is wrong or bothering me? Absolutely not. There are plenty of things that aren’t the way they would be “in a perfect world,” and a few situations that I would wave a magic-wand over if I could. (You guys: the first time I typed that sentence, I typed “magic wang.” And then I snickered like a twelve year old boy.) But, and I think this is the trick to “joy” versus “happiness” (if I may be so bold as to claim that I “get” joy): those temporary things do not matter, and I know it. Like, more than head-know-it, I heart-know-it. And, at least for me, it doesn’t matter how much I “head-know” something; if I don’t “heart-know” it, it might as well not even be true.

I’m joyful in my housework, and errands, and snail-hunting (garden’s full of ’em), and in swimming with my kiddo, and my silly little blog, and sharing dinner with my husband. And in probably the darkest, most psychologically upsetting circumstance of my life (my mother “disowned” me over a year ago, and continues to remain divorced from me and my family to this day), guess what? I’m joyful. It’s electric.

Past versions of myself would be ears-deep in depression right now, looking for a thing or a person to throw myself into, to lose myself in the midst of my anguish and multiply pain upon pain. But that person died, and continues to die over and over again, as my present and future self continues to be reborn. (My husband would call this “circling upward, rather than just going in circles.”) It’s amazing, and beautiful, and I’d say “unbelievable,” except that I have to believe it, because I am living it.

Do I “get” it? Why I have this deep wellspring of joy? I mean, why me, and not so many others? I certainly don’t “deserve” it. I wish I could give it away to everyone I know, but if I tried, I’d hand them a box, and they’d open it, and it’d be empty. Because the source of my joy isn’t a thing I can contain, or a thing I can impart on anyone, no matter how much I want to share it; the source of my joy has always been, and will always be, and is right there in front of each of our faces, just waiting, patiently, to be noticed.

But many of us are so focused on other things, red-herrings of joy, that we miss it, that plain, soft-spoken voice that patiently calls to us. We peruse those red-herrings, and each time we realize that the source of joy that we’re chasing is inauthentic, a phony, we simply begin chasing another red-herring. I did that for years. Some people do it for a lifetime. How exhausting. How depressingly and frustratingly exhausting. Why not consider giving up the chase? Take a break, and examine that patient voice that is waiting to be heard. You’ve got nothing to lose. And trust me, the red-herring chase will be there if you decide you want to go back to it.

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I really didn’t mean to get all spiritually weird on you with this one. I honestly just sat down to explain that the reason I didn’t follow any of the “Seven Sacred Pauses” for my “Summer of 7” today, was because I am so gosh darned joyful, that that book was actually messing me up in a bad way. (And that, my friends, is called burying the lede.)

This is seriously not a cop-out: the book was screwing with my biorhythms, okay? I had to put it down. So today, to remain faithful to cutting out the excess stress in my life (per my “Summer of 7” requirement), instead of obeying the “Seven Sacred Pauses,” once Ellie went down for her nap, I did my housework, then laid on my front lawn in my bathing suit and listened to an audio book. AND I FEEL NO GUILT.

I smell like warm Hawaiian Tropic and sweat, and I couldn’t be more joyful.

So there.

xoxo, mj

Oh, one more thing. Storyline Conference in TWO days! I am pretty gosh darn excited. You know who wrote a funny thing about Storyline? Jamie, The Very Worst Missionary, that’s who. Never read her? You’ll love her, trust me. See you soon, Westmont!

Booyah. A “Summer of 7” Revelation.

The Summer of 7 Melissa Jenna GodseyExcuse my while I share a revelation.

Summer of 7, in a nutshell: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” –John 15:1-2

And this:

Pruning (via wikipedia): Pruning is a horticultural practice involving the selective removal of parts of a plant, such as branches, buds, or roots. Reasons to prune plants include deadwood removal, shaping (by controlling or directing growth), improving or maintaining health, and both harvesting and increasing the yield or quality of flowers and fruits. The practice entails targeted removal of diseased, damaged, dead, non-productive, structurally unsound, or otherwise unwanted tissue from crop and landscape plants.

Doesn’t this just sum-up “Summer of 7” perfectly? ‘Targeted removal of diseased, damaged, dead, non-productive, structurally unsound’ bits, in order to shape (by directing growth), improve health, and “harvest and increase the yield or quality of fruits?”

Booyah. John 15:1-2 manages to communicate what took me, like, 2,000 words, in a single sentence. Our “Summer of 7” is about pruning, both physically and spiritually. Cutting the ties of the earthly things that bind us that we might bear more and better fruit.

One more bit of spiritual smack-talk, then I’m done.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” –Galatians 5:22-26

Booyah (again). A reminder that we’ve already won, and if we’re living by the Spirit, that we need to “keep in step” with the Spirit, not becoming conceited, ie. this isn’t about me and my struggle in being pruned (“Ohmygoshyouguys, summer of 7 is so haaaaard!”). The story in our Summer of 7 is how what we’re being changed into, and by whom.

xoxo, Melissa

*** Not sure what I’m talking about when I mention the “Summer of 7?” Well, go here the post in which I ‘splain all about it, and here to read all about it from the perspective of the gal who wrangled me into it, Katrina from thepoorganiclife.com. ***

Join Me in Living “The Summer of 7!”

The Summer of 7 Melissa Jenna Godsey

Remember back when I said I was “being haunted by a book?” Well, I’m not the only one being haunted by “7: An ExperimentalMutiny Against Excess.” Turns out that “7” (by Jen Hatmaker) is ruining the lives of families across America! (Just in case you can’t sense my sarcasm, let me just tell you that I’m kidding. No need to go getting all nasty on me in the comments about Jen Hatmaker being a Saint. I know. I’m on Team Hatmaker. I even read her husband’s book, okay?)

Here’s the gist of Jen’s book “7”: most of us live lives of crazy excess. We might not see it, and we might, in fact, want more stuff, but that’s kind of the point. We’re so caught up in the pursuit of “stuff,” and the image of having lots of stuff, that we don’t even realize what we’ve become: a people who exist for the purpose of obtaining and enjoying comfort. Sloths, basically. Sloths with closets full of clothes we don’t wear, and stuff we don’t use, existing on diets of processed food. (My words here, not Jen’s.) And that–if I may be so informal–totally sucks. So Jen took seven months, and focused on eliminating excess from seven categories: food, clothes, possessions, media, waste, spending, and stress (which is where the subtitle comes from: “An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess). If I could force you to read the book I would, and though her journey is a spiritual one (Christian, specifically), the lessons learned, and the realizations acquired are worth reading about, regardless of your personal religious affiliation.

Why give stuff up?

If you’re familiar with the idea of “fasting,” (abstaining from all or some kinds of foods or drinks, especially as a religious observance) then take that concept, and apply it to things other than food, and you “get” the idea behind “7.”

Jen explains fasting well in 7: “A fast creates margin for God to move. Temporarily changing or routine of comfort jars us off high center. A fast is not necessarily something we offer God, but it assists us in offering ourselves.” She also lists six circumstances in which one might initiate a fast to “summon God’s movement in [their] life:”

  • Mourning
  • Inquiry
  • Repentance
  • Preparation
  • Crisis
  • Worship

Like Jen, I can definitely identify with fasting for repentance. Jen sees fasting for repentance as “a tangible way to bow low and repent of greed, ungratefulness, ruined opportunities, and irresponsibility.” To which I say yes, yes, yes and yes. Though I consider myself a thoughtful and grateful person, my actions simply do not match my view of myself. In so many ways, I’m a hypocrite, and I need to repent for that big-time, and will have to continue repenting for that all the days of my life. I’ll never be “perfect,” but that’s not the goal. I want to become more and more like the one who created me; that’s the goal.

And again, like Jen, I can identify with fasting for preparation. Like I may (or may not?) have mentioned previously, I feel as if I’m at a crossroads with my work, yet I can’t see a clear path ahead of me. I have a cloudy picture of where I might be headed, and I want to know for sure that it’s something God is calling me to do, not something that I simply want to do. So I guess I’m “fasting” for preparation AND inquiry. Even better!

So what does this all mean?

So yeah, here’s the kicker: I’ve joined a blogging group, y’all. Next stop: couponing, watching The Bachelor and, throwing linky-parties or whatever. (Does one “throw” a linky-party?) If you’d have told twenty-three-year-old me that in five years I’d be “serious” about my faith, or a mother, or PART OF A BLOGGING GROUP, I’d be all like, “this gypsy fortune-teller has got me all wrong. Doesn’t she know that I, like Miley Cyrus, Can’t Be Tamed?”

SO. I’m banding together with a group of bloggers (who are basically strangers to me, as much as anyone can be a stranger on the Internet) to try our hand at a summer-length version of “7.” I’ve considered going whole-hog on this thing, but I have a tendency to jump into things with two feet, only to realize that I’m in way over my head, and then I somehow have to weasel my way out. (I know, I know: I’m so honorable.) So rather than burning myself out and quitting halfway through, I’m committing to our “Summer of 7” project enough to give it its VERY OWN CATEGORY in my nav. bar. (Is this the blogging equivalent of getting your own drawer at your boyfriend’s house? Like, he’s “committing” to you, but not enough to put a ring on it quite yet?)

Digressions aside, I’d like to invite you all along with me on a mini-journey. A blogging-roadtrip, if you will. Here’s my (very flexible) “Summer of 7” schedule, and I’d love it if you participated right along with me!

Summer of 7 “Schedule”

(Details and rules and the like will be posted on the first day of the week. Or maybe the day before the first day of the week, I’m not sure.)

June 3-9, Stress: I’ll follow Macrina Wiederkehr’s “structured” prayer schedule in her book “Seven Sacred Pauses,” thereby forcing myself to pause throughout the day for prayer. Something tells me this is going to be more difficult than I imagine, what with chasing around a toddler and all. Also, I’ll be attending Storyline Conference this week, and I’m a little concerned about the timing of the sessions, and how they’ll coincide with Seven Sacred Pauses.

June 10-16, Food: Only eat seven foods for a week. I don’t have to eat them all in one sitting, and condiments count as foods. When Food Week begins, I’ll post a list of my seven foods. (Bear in mind that I’m going to be as nutritionally well-rounded as possible.)

June 17-23, Possessions: Each day I’m going to purge things from our closets, cabinets and garage, and at the end of the week I’ll bring them by a local women’s shelter.

June 24-30, WEEK OFF: I might be traveling to VidCon this week, and thinking back to how insane the week leading up to VidCon was last year, I’d be crazy not to take this week off. So, a brief intermission from “Summer of 7” is in order. If I don’t go to VidCon, then I’ll adjust my schedule and let you know.

July 1-7, Clothes: I’ll wear seven items of clothing for the week, which I’ll list at the beginning of the week. This one isn’t going to be difficult, because I live in California, and it’ll be summertime (“and the livin’s easy…”). I have plans to ramp this one up considerably, but I’m still hashing them out, so second half of this one is TBA. (Be excited.)

July 8-14, Spending: We will only spend our money in seven locations. I’ll kick this week off with a list of those places.

July 15-21 , Media: No Twittering, Facebooking, blog-reading, Instagramming, Pinteresting, TV-watching, video-game playing, etc for the entire week. BUT, and this is a big but, part of my job at iFixit is to be ever-present on social media, so when I’m being paid by iFixit, I will do my job as usual. It will take every once of my will-power not to log in to my personal accounts, but so help me, I can do this. I’m still not sure how I’ll update the blog on my progress for that week. Maybe I’ll journal it all on pen and paper, scan it, then upload full-res images of my scanned journal pages? That might be fun. We’ll see.

July 22-28, Waste: I’ve always wanted to start composting, so maybe this will be the week that I do that. Also, we’re TERRIBLE at recycling, so this might be a good time to establish solid recycling practices in our house. This is also Ellie’s birthday week, so I’ll figure this one out a bit better as I have time to think about it.

Things That Make Me Anxious About “Summer of 7”

(In no particular order)

  • I’m concerned that people will see this as simply a test of will-power, like “CAN I only eat seven foods for a week?” rather than an exercise in purposeful reduction in order to examine the condition of our hearts. How will limiting my buffet of choices make me feel? How will the very human part of me that cherishes comfort react to new boundaries? Of course I CAN do each of these challenges, but if the focus is just a matter of “how strong is my will-power?” then this whole thing is totally pointless. Fasting and restriction is not the point, but a means to an end.
  • Is my insecurity going to make me feel the need to explain every weirdo thing I’m doing whenever I feel uncomfortable? Or worse, will I end up bragging about it? Am I going to make this more about me externally, than me internally? A week is a short amount of time, and if I’m not careful, I could very well spend the entire week mourning my creature-comforts and not actually be changed on a heart-level at all. Double pointless!
  • Is a week really enough time to be affected? Won’t I just spend the whole week counting down the days until the next week of suffering begins? I’m not really sure that a week is enough, but I’m going to give it an honest shot.
  • I’m in a blogging group.

PLEASE let me know if you’ll be participating at all. I’d love love love to cheer you on, and hey, accountability is important! And if you’re not going get crazy and do “Summer of 7” right along with me, then leave me some encouraging words of support, because I will need it.

Last thing, promise: ‘member that I’m blogging with a group? Here are the other crazies that are blogging The Summer of 7 along with me:

Katrina from The Poorganic Life (whose post you should read if you want more info on The Summer of 7 and all the ladies involved)

Kay from Kay’s Counseling Blog

Steph from Only Here, Only Now

Amy from Permission to Peruse 

Alene from Positively Alene

Jamie from Six Brick High

Rachel from Occassional Boredom

Amy from Amy in Wanderland

And, well, me right here at melissajenna.com of course.

Love you all! xoxo, Gossip Girl

Just kidding.

xoxo, mj


I’m Being Haunted By A Book

It’s rare (at least for me) to be so aware of a shift in (personal) seasons as it’s happening, so, for my own benefit, I thought I’d write down some thoughts and feelings before they evaporate.

This book is ruining my life.

Okay, yes, that’s a gross exaggeration, and I’m trying not to exaggerate as frequently. How about this:

This book is haunting me. It’s set-up a semi-permenant camp in the back of my mind, and is basically eating-up all of my spare thoughts. It’s constantly churning my quiet-time, generating a sense of immediacy that I cannot ignore.

This book is completely messing with my head. It’s making me uncomfortable in my own skin. It’s stirring up a deep sense of dissatisfaction within me. I feel as if this book is holding a brand new mirror in front of my face, and I do not like what I see.

None of the above sounds good, but I promise you, those are all good things. It’s what I’ve been yearning and praying for. I don’t know about you, but I am far too comfortable, and when I’m comfortable, I don’t grow much. I certainly don’t change much. Comfort is…paralyzing, in a way, and I am practically itching for growth. Thank God (seriously, not, like, in a figure-of-speech way) for Jen Hatmaker and her totally uncomfortable book, “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.” I am ripe for change, and this book has lit a fire underneath me.

I realize I haven’t said anything actually about the book yet, but that’s because I haven’t finished reading it, and what I have read is still “digesting,” if you get what I mean. You can (and should!) click over to the book, read the description, buy yourself a copy, and get yourself uncomfortable, too. I’ve got about 75 pages left, so we can finish it together!

If I were a shrubbery (oh yes, I went there), I’d have grown wild, and would have ceased bearing fruit a long time ago. It’s time for a good clean pruning, and I couldn’t be more looking forward to it. Don’t get me wrong: I am scared. I feel anxious. I don’t know what I’m going to be pruned into, but I’ve been through enough of these seasons to know that in order for me to do the works that lay ahead of me, a change needs to happen. I need to be refined. (I need to stop mixing metaphors. :/ )

I am so excited for what’s to come: to be free of the dead-weight of my broken ways of thinking and untrue beliefs about myself that play on loop in my head. To (once again) relinquish control of situations that I never had control over in the first place. To bear good fruit again. What an adventure!

What Christmas Means to Me

So, I got some interesting feedback about my “I’m failing at Christmas” video, and I thought I’d just address it here. Lots of people seem to think that I’m not aware of the history of Christmas, or the origin of many of our most popular christmas traditions. Rest assured that I’m aware. Nowadays, anyone with a computer can become privy to the details without investing too much time. So yes, I’m aware that a Christmas tree has nothing to do with Jesus. I’m also aware that Christians have co-opted many traditions that they themselves did not create.

I’m aware.

I’m educated.

This is not about that.

This is about what Christmas means to me, and before I get to that, I need to share some history with you.

This might come as a surprise to you, but I’m not perfect. (Shocker, right?) Actually, if we’re going to be totally honest, I used to be a pretty rotten person. So if you were unfortunate enough to know me (or perhaps date me) many years ago…I’m sorry. Basically, I was a bitter, cynical, mean, selfish jerk. I was manipulative, and took advantage of a lot of good people. But, because my misdeeds aren’t the point of this post, we can leave it at that.

I was incredibly judgmental, and I didn’t like most people. Christians, specifically, were probably my least favorite, but religious folk in general were intolerable to me. I thought they were stupid (belief in Creation), lazy (“God’ll keep forgiving me, so I can keep on sinning as much as I want!”), hypocritical (Christian marriages end in divorce as often as secular marriages), mean, judgmental (treating my tattooed/pierced friends like demons), intolerant (“It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”), and hateful (Westboro Baptist Church, etc). And guess what?

They are.

We all are.

Not just Christians, but people in general. People can be pretty wretched. Don’t get me wrong, we certainly have our shining moments, but in general, we all are very very far from perfect, Christians included. But that’s not the point. Perfection I mean. Perfection is not the point.

So, at some point, in the middle of all of my partying and raining on everybody’s parade, I met a few new friends who represented Christianity differently to me. They were way smarter than me for starters (Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering and Organic Chemistry, to be more specific), and more thoughtful, and just happier in general, and as much as I wanted to dislike them the way I disliked most other religious people, I couldn’t, because they were different. They didn’t pretend they were holy and above reproach, and I respected that. And I think that’s, in part, what made it possible for me to give God and the Bible a chance. (Like, a real chance.)

I already knew a lot about Christianity and God and the Bible, because I was the kind of person that would argue points of the Bible with Christians until they broke down and cried in front of their friends. I did that. (True story.)

Eventually I made the decision to give God a chance (which felt TERRIBLE, like, almost humiliating in some ways) and considered the question “what if what they say about God is true?” And slowly (v-e-r-y slowly), I began to see things differently. Opening my mind (and heart) to the idea that maybe, possibly, I didn’t “know” as much as I thought I did, kind of set a change in motion, and I haven’t been the same person since. Which is so totally cliché that I feel nauseous even writing that. I didn’t have some radical, in-the-moment conversion experience, and even if I had, I don’t think I would have believed it. (I’m still too cynical for that kind of thing.)

So my mind began to change about some things, and as I started to learn about God as a Father, my heart began to change, too. Growing up, I never had a Father, and my Mother was never really interested in me enough to set any kind of standards for my behavior, or an understanding of having healthy boundaries or anything. Basically, there was no one in my life offering any sort of guidance, and no one was really into me enough to care about who I was becoming or what kind of person I was. And I ended up engaging in a lot of behaviors that are totally embarrassing to look back on now.

Once I began to realize that I do have a Father in God, and that he created me intentionally, and that I’m accountable to Him, I naturally shifted away from my old lifestyle, and started living in a way that a child of God would live. And it felt (and feels) SO GOOD. I think a lot of people see living life with God as their father as restrictive, or boring or whatever, but it’s so totally the opposite. Even in my down times, I’ve never been happier, and I can say with complete honesty that every day gets better. Even when crummy things happen. If I seem happy at all, it’s because my deepest joy is totally unconnected from the events of the day.

So, nowadays, I call myself a Christian, albeit reluctantly, because I know first-hand what many people think about Christians. But now I know that being a Christian is about knowing God as my Father, and understanding that he loves me enough to trade all of my nastiness for a life with him, through the redemptive work of Jesus. It’s about knowing that even though I’m still not perfect, and never will be, that He will always be my Father, and will always want me as his child. He loves me enough to care, and that’s huge. For someone without a father, and with no contact with her mother, it’s a lifeline. Sure, the fact that I don’t have like, real physical parents makes me sad, but knowing that God is my father…that’s where all of my joy comes from. (And you can psychoanalyze my daddy-issues as much as you want, that’s fine. I sure have. You wouldn’t be the first to do so.) I’ll never be able to convince you of anything, but at the very least, you can trust that I’m being sincere.

So Christmas, to me, and to some other people, is a celebration of God’s love for us. That he loves each of us–you too even if you don’t know it–and desires us as his children. (Yes, even if you are a total Christian-hater like I was.)

He wants us to recognize and claim our role as his children, because here’s the thing: we’re all equally flawed. Knowing God as your father isn’t, like, limited to just the “good” people. Don’t let those holier-than-thou Christians keep you from experiencing life with God, just because you’re gay, or divorced, or have a prison record, or a substance addition, or have persecuted Christians to the point of tears, just for sport (that one’s all me). He made you and He loves you, regardless of whatever messed up stuff you’ve done. Christmas is a remembrance of the day that God turned his love into flesh and blood and revealed himself directly to the world, just like he promised he would. Christmas is a promise kept, and a promise of a future with God. For everyone. Equally.

I can’t convince you that anything that I said about God is true, but really, that’s not my goal. All I can do is share my story, and how I’ve changed, and what I believe, and listen to your stories and your perspectives. And I hope that you give as much value to me and my experiences as I give to you and yours. Chances are, I used to be in your shoes.

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays!

Of Past Lives and Present Loves

Zion National Park

An image of Zion National Park, which I took during the road-trip mentioned in this entry.

As I was driving home from Morro Bay this evening, a certain song came on that reminds me very much of the last vacation I took before I was married, and well before I had a child. It began to rain, and as my eyes adjusted to see through the wet windshield, I tried to pretend for a moment that I was that girl again, the one who took weeks-long road-trips by herself, and who could only find peace by watching everyone and everything familiar to her disappear in her rearview mirror.

In my “former” life, I would search out God by thrusting myself into the unfamiliar, anxious for a beauty I had never seen, but in my present life I’ve found limitless beauty in the people that I am blessed to be so permanently bonded to, the home that I am so completely familiar with, and the simple pleasure of finding God in the day-to-day routine of my life. Upon arriving home and pulling into my driveway, I realized just how far I’ve actually travelled since my “explorer” days; no longer must I remove myself from the familiar to feel near to God’s heart, but rather I feel drawn towards home and the people who live there and the wild beauty of what we’re creating. My memory of my explorer days is a romantic one, but truthfully, my present life is so much more thick with God’s presence that the observance of my distance traveled brings peace beyond description.

So cheers to the Adventure of Home, a journey I get to share right alongside my two great loves.

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