An honest and true life builds honest relationships

Our Development Coordinator and Administrative Assistant, Holly, shares her take on the benefits of vulnerable living:

unsplash stock photos

Growing up, I had a lot of anxiety and when I was overwhelmed the last thing I wanted to do was share how I was feeling.

When my sister would ask me to talk about it with her, I would close up and could feel myself bursting at the seams. But in the end, if I didn’t talk about it, I wouldn’t have to deal with it. And that for me was the easy way out at the time.

I think the reason why it is difficult to tell our stories and connect with others is because we haven’t been honest with ourselves and we hold things back that need to come out.

Maya Angelou explains it like this: “There is no greater agony than an untold story inside of you.”

 We have to remember that our story is significant and that we are created by a God who is writing the grand narrative. Our story is a part of the reconciliation of human relationship.

 As I got older, this tactic of holding things back, pretending, and bursting at the seams did not work on other people. In college, I had a friend who learned early on that I was hiding how I really felt and wouldn’t let me pretend. She forced me to be honest with myself and with her.

And opening up was completely freeing.

This was the beginning of building true relationships in my life. Yes, I had to be honest about not only the good parts of life, but also the parts that were messy and ugly. And even though this was difficult, I began to understand more of who I really am.

And as I began to be more confident in myself, it became easier to share my story with other people and ultimately started building healthy relationships with friends and my boyfriend (now husband).

Knowing our stories and being able to share them confidently will benefit both you and the people who are hearing it. But it takes time and trust to be able to do this well.

If you think about it, this is one of the reasons why relationships are messy. Two people who have parts of themselves they are ashamed of, parts of themselves they don’t even know and parts they have never shared with anyone else. In order to be in healthy relationships, we have to know our story, own it and share it with all of the good and the bad and the messy.

Relationships are lived out through our shared stories.

As you learn to share your story with people you trust, you begin to understand more of who you really are. You start to see what is important to you, if there have been any unhealthy patterns in your life, and what have been some of your darkest times.

Having confidence in who you are and accepting the messy parts of yourself makes it possible for you to accept other people for who they are. It also makes it possible for you to give other people grace because you know first hand no one is perfect.

Until we are able to know our stories, and allow other people to be a part of them, we cannot love other people well. Knowing our true identity, accepting our story and sharing it with others is the beginning of building true relationships with other people and living a true and honest life.

 Don’t be afraid to tell your story. It’s the beginning of something beautiful that plays a crucial chapter of this grand narrative.

Evolution of the Definition of Sex

Every time I step foot into a classroom I am reminded how much has changed since I graduated high school 20 years ago.

Pagers have been replaced by smart phones.

Desktop computers have been replaced by tablets.

Blackboards have been replaced by an online version called blackboard.

The Simpsons have been replaced by…well, they are still around.

And conversations on sex have been replaced with an ambiguous collage of ‘do what feels right’ sentimentality. 

Specifically, our conversations on sex no longer come with a clear definition. What sex is and how it is practiced is different from one person to the next. Over the last few weeks I have been reminded of this reality as I relive the impact that a President’s fling with an intern had on the definition of sex.

On January 26, 1998, President Bill Clinton took to the microphone and issued a denial that would eventually come to haunt his presidency and his private life.

“I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I am not  going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” declared a remorseless Clinton.

clinton-lewinskyIt was later learned Clinton did in fact have sexual relations with his intern, Monica Lewinsky. After six months of repeatedly denying his innocence he admitted to having a relationship that was “not appropriate.” However, he never spoke of having sex with her. Only that it was not appropriate. Thus, the beginning of what I think was an evolution in the way we talk about sex that has stayed with us to this very day.

Earlier this month, Monica Lewinsky was interviewed by Vanity Fair and the story that so many had forgotten made headlines once again. From what I can tell, it is about how she has moved on from the scandal that paralyzed a presidency. Whatever your thoughts on what happened between President Clinton and Miss Lewinsky it is important to realize that their history has forever impacted the way we talk about and even practice sex in our culture.

sex-educationMost young adults agree that vaginal intercourse is sex, but less than one in five think that oral-genital contact (oral sex) as “having sex,” according to a 2007 survey of undergraduate college students.

This attitude toward oral sex represents a dramatic and sudden shift in thinking since 1991, when a similar survey found that nearly twice as many young adults (about 40%) would classify oral-genital contact as sex.

I would argue, and so do many researchers, this shift has happened in large part because of the statements President Clinton offered on that cold day in January 1998.

When we begin to look at the church we don’t find much difference. The percentage of those whom engage in oral sex are more than individuals choosing to have vaginal sex. Now it might not always be as high in the church (in fact, one study recently suggested that it is 40%-60% lower on Christian college campuses compared to their secular counterparts) it is still important to understand that many of these youth believe that they are not having sex. This especially becomes evident from the ages of 18-22 when they have left the home and are no longer a part of a faith community.

Our need to define and have honest conversation is needed now more than ever before.

We cannot be afraid to speak plainly in church and outside of it. One of the reasons the definition of sex has evolved is because we’ve failed to clearly define what it is.  Some of this is due to fear. We are afraid that speaking the words, “oral, anal, vaginal,” will in some way harm our youth. Not realizing that they have probably already heard these words and that by not defining them we are actually doing more harm, not less. We need to be age appropriate but I would argue our need to be honest with our children is needing to happen earlier and earlier because of the internet.

Also, youth need parents to be more involved in their sex education. That means programs like the one I direct need to do a better job of engaging parents and empowering them to become the authority in their son and/or daughter’s life. This includes educating parents on sex, defining it when needed, and assisting them with best practices for communicating their value when it comes to this topic.

Something worth considering, this is the first generation of parents impacted by this scandal. This means they too may need help with defining sex. They need the tools and encouragement to make this happen in their home but also in their own life. We can’t expect parents to communicate this correctly if they themselves don’t have a clear definition.

Just because the definition of sex has evolved that doesn’t mean that it can’t look different in another 20 years. Let’s learn to speak honestly, candidly, and clearly about sex. It will make a difference.

Please…No More Answers

Always looking for answers

Always looking for answers

We seem to be living in a time where answers are plentiful but not very good. The missing Malaysian flight is proof of that fact. I turn on the news and it seems every single detail is shared, “this just in, a U.S. navy ship is now 400 miles away from a potential wreck site in the Indian Ocean. When we last reported they were 410 miles away. We will track this story as it unfolds along with every other detail.” Now this could be an exaggeration of how news works these days, but not by much. In our 24/7 news cycle we are constantly looking for new answers. However, in our constant search for answers we find that we are unable to be comfortable with the unknown.

Maybe that is why we see fewer and fewer young people who confess a faith in Jesus and even less in God. A solid majority still do – 86% – but only 58% say they are “absolutely certain” that God exists. That is lower than it has ever been according to a 2012 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project.

This reality came to life this week like never before. For the first time ever, one of our volunteers was in a school classroom where not one student had been to church or confessed a faith of any sort. That has never happened! But I am sure it will happen more and more in the future.

Faith doesn’t play a part in our lives as much as it once did. But our search for answers only continues to grow.

Remember, faith is a belief in the unseen. That includes a belief in things we just can’t answer. And for this generation, heck, even mine, that is not a comfortable place to sit.

Levi's Ad

Levi’s Ad

That is why I was so intrigued when I saw the ad to the side. It reads, “#equipped to be true.” This is a tribute to the narcissistic world we live in. It says that what I believe is truth, while also pointing to the fact that truth is not found in God but in relationship with others and in material goods.

Recently I asked a professor I deeply respect what the different is between how he used to teach when he was younger and now. His response was powerful. He said, “When I was younger I wanted to teach everything that I knew. Now I only teach the things I think are important and equip my students to find answers to the rest on their own. Thus, allowing them to learn how to learn. I am teaching them that not everything needs an answer. Sometimes they just need to have faith and allow for time to reveal what is needed to be seen.”

Now I know that as we grow older our questions change. And if our past is prologue, these young adults may develop a stronger belief in God over the course of their lives, just as previous generations have. But we have to provide dialogue, not just give in to the temptation to always give answers.

As I speak to youth I am constantly reminded that in my own journey it was when I didn’t have all the answers and had to start living by faith that God became more real, not less. It began to influence decisions I made because He was placed above everything else.

May we not forget this truth so that a new generation can live by faith and not some made up answer to fill the void of the unknown.

Porn – Not Just a Male Issue

The-porn-industry-is-a-multi-billion-dollar-moneymaker-that-will-soon-Pornography is an epidemic in our culture. Even the most progressive of voices are realizing the negative impact it is having on relationships, both platonic and romantic. What began as small murmurs have become loud cries for help. For the longest time those that struggled with porn were left to either figure it out or feel embarrassed for sharing their struggle.

Statistics only reinforce this truth. You can view some of the specifics by clicking here and here. I’ve also written briefly on it here. One thing that is not often discussed is the growing number of women who have or are struggling with pornography. It is the silent world that few are willing to talk about. That is why I am thankful for women like Project Six19’s intern, Katelyn.

I asked her to briefly share her testimony. Hopefully they move you as much as they moved me…

“I am a woman who has recently chosen a new lifestyle; one of health, beauty, and strength. I have chosen to embrace me. To become the woman I am meant to be. Each day, I wake up and know that it is MY day. Today, I feel beautiful. Today, I am going to do something great. Each day is a new adventure, a different journey; each more exciting than the last. Tomorrow will bring more joy than today, if at all I thought possible. Each day is full of precious moments, filled with beauty, joy, and reflection; reflections of who I am and who I used to be; the progress that I have made. Today, I am a beautiful woman of God, one who has a bright future and has been washed clean of her struggle with pornography. It all started when I was about 12 years old.

It could be anything; a scene in a movie, that pop up on the internet…anything can trigger the curiosity. Pornography played a large role in my life for about three years, until God called me out of the pit. The journey I went on was difficult not only because pornography is like a fish hook that won’t let go, but because I went on it alone.

According to our society, pornography is a male issue. Not only is it somewhat of a taboo to talk about for males, but it is an issue that is simply not addressed for women; especially in the church. I went through this struggle in my own little world, thinking that I was the only female to have ever struggled with this. There was shame tied to what I was doing, and then there was more shame built on top of the loneliness. Pornography is NOT just a male issue. More women than you would think are struggling with pornography and someone has got to stand up and be a voice. Women need help.

I am one woman, but I have a voice; a voice that I will use to encourage healing and restoration in the lives of women struggling with pornography. I want to talk about it. I want women to know they are not alone. I have been there, and let me tell you, the feeling of being alone in such a place of struggle is unbearable.

We, as a generation of beautiful women need to stand up for the broken. We need to have the courage to talk about the things that aren’t talked about; to deal with the areas that women ‘are not supposed to struggle with.’ Women are carrying these buried burdens alone. Something needs to change. We need to be women clothed in strength and dignity; women who stand for those who can’t stand themselves.”

The Love Partner

Gosh, what do you know it’s Valentine’s Day, or rather, singles awareness day, or rather, spend a whole lot of money on the person you love because you never spend money on them the rest of the year. Whatever you call it this day has become a beast for profits for several industries. It is estimated that over $13 Billion is spent on flowers, cards, dinners and whatever else. Wow!

Something strikes me about this day. It has to do with our culture’s fascination with love and the love partner, or our constant search for one. It almost seems like love has become a religion of sorts. And I am not the only one to think this.

Ernest Becker, in his book The Denial of Death, actually spoke the same thing. He essentially wrote that there has never been such a society that has an insignificant view of its future. As a result there has never been a society that puts as much emphasis on finding true love and romance as our society here and now. The self-glorification that human beings need in our inner-most being is now found not in God, but in the love partner. So what is it that we want when we elevate the love partner to this level?  We want to rid ourselves of our faults, rid ourselves of feelings of nothingness, we want to be justified, we want to know our existence matters, we want redemption! Nothing less.

Specifically he writes, “Modern man’s dependency on the love partner is a result of the loss of spiritual ideologies.” Later on he writes, “If you don’t have a God in heaven, an invisible dimension that justifies the visible one, then you take what is nearest at hand and work out your problems on that.”

No greater example of this is shown then in the shows The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. It is a show that is all about love and romance and its long life on TV is proof of just how much of a religion it has become. However, it is no surprise that it never really produces any lasting relationships. Again I refer to what Becker says, “But sex is a ‘disappointing answer to life’s riddle,’ and if we pretend that it is an adequate one, we are lying both to ourselves and to our children.” In other words, if we really try to put all our eggs into this relationship basket it will ultimately fail us. That is why I appreciated a recent interview from Sean Lowe, the previous bachelor. You can view it below. His words and description of the show are right on. His success on the show in being the first bachelor to marry the first person he chose was due to who he put his hope in. It was never in the person he would ultimately marry. It was in something higher, the true love partner, Jesus Christ.

As we celebrate this holiday with our loved ones let us not forget the ultimate love partner.

Sometimes We Just Need to Pray…

Not sure if you knew this or not but Justin Beiber has been in the news a lot lately. From his antics in Miami (DUI, resisting arrest, and invalid license) to his assault against a limo driver in Toronto and now news that he was abusive and smoking marijuana on a flight arriving in New Jersey for the Super Bowl. He has been anything but the role model that many have made him to be over the last few years.

It makes me sad, but not for the reason’s you might at first suspect.

I remember having a discussion several years ago with a parent who raved about the values that both Miley Cyrus and Justin Beiber displayed in their life, most notably their desire to honor God and waiting to have sex. They professed it on camera and in books. The media grabbed a hold of this and, in the case of Miley, Disney flaunted her virginity and good values to parents.

Those values seem to be no longer as important as they once might have been…but it is not surprising.

My response at that time and now is the same. We need to be praying for those we try to place on a pedestal, like Justin Beiber. Especially if they are young celebrities that we’ve allowed our sons and daughters to emulate or, at the very least, watch and listen to. Why? Because these individuals have been given so much power. Tons of money at a young age. It doesn’t matter what your roots are, the older you get, the more money you make, the harder it is to stay true to the place you began. Showbiz has a way of pushing parents of these young children to the side and bringing in others to become their “family.” Eventually this new “family” becomes the authority and the machine that is needed to move a child star into adulthood. Among other things, they use their sexuality to help a growing fan base grow with them. It makes sense and we’ve seen this with people like Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. It is no surprise that we are now seeing Justin Beiber and Miley Cyrus doing the same thing but amplified to fit into the ever grown hyper sexualized culture we live in. Miley even admits as much here!

Christians have contributed to the celebrity focused culture.

Often times we try to find that one example that we can give to our children. Just one! When we find someone that fits the mold and says the same things we say, we think finally!

This is a terrible dynamic. It is bad for the people we venerate because they then feel the stress of keeping a certain reputation, which, as we are seeing, can take a devastating toll. It is bad for the Christian because we end up putting too much trust in that person and so our faith is shattered when it doesn’t go the way we all hoped for and anticipated. So what happens when we’ve taught our kids to compare their lives with a celebrity? I think we can all take a guess. Instead of them looking to something or someone that is life-giving, we’ve given them a model of life that is anything but fulfilling.

It seems that Justin’s mother would agree with some of my earlier sentiment about prayer. I applaud her response. Pattie Mallete, Justin Beiber’s mother, recently stated in The Sun, “the world of showbiz is a dark place, and struggling young celebs need our prayers and not our judgement.” She goes on, “I think so many people go into the entertainment industry with amazing Christian roots and they get influenced somehow. I ask that people keep me and Justin in their minds. I pray for him every day. If Justin’s struggling, don’t kick him when he’s down or condemn him – pray for him.”

I agree.

I am always careful to avoid pointing out individuals as examples for us to be like. I’ve always believed it is dangerous to create and follow the Christian celebrity or those celebs that seem to have it all together. Who are we teaching our youth to follow?

It would be better served in the future for us not to lift the celebrity above the source of true life, Jesus Christ. Over and over again we read about life in Christ. Yet, we so often put our hope in a model that is only 14, 15 or 16 years old, only to become devastated when they don’t live up to our expectations. How quickly we turn to name calling, condemning remarks, and speaking horrible things that we would have never said just a few months earlier.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Last week I came across the video below from Craig Ferguson. He talks about why he was not going to joke about another young pop star’s problems. Ferguson, an alcoholic, spoke from the heart about how he was feeling “uncomfortable about making fun of these people” – troubled stars such as Britany Spears. It is an older clip but it reminded me of the current situation with Justin Beiber. And I think I am going to do what I’ve always said I would do and what Justin’s mother says we should do for her son…pray!

Hannah Montana is Dead

Miley on SNLIn fact, Miley Cyrus declared that she murdered her on Saturday Night Live this past weekend. And from the looks of her recent antics on the VMAs, SNL, and just about everywhere in the social media sphere I would say that runs truer than ever before. Hannah Montana is dead and we are not going to get her back.

I’ve not spoken about Miley yet mostly because others have done a good job of breaking down what they are observing. If you want to read some good explanations of what we see happening with Miley I suggest reading a blog from a good friend, Walt Mueller. His post last month on Miley and her recent transformation can be found here. He also writes some on the VMAs here. Which includes an excerpt on the realities of the world that Disney has brought us through their legion of former Mickey Mouse Club members (Justin Timberlake, Brittany Spears, Christina Aguilera) and TV show break outs (Selena Gomez, Amanda Bynes, and Miley Cyrus).

What strikes me most about Miley is not just her transformation, but the overall trend among today’s young pop stars to one up one another sexually. I just learned this weekend of Rihanna’s newest video and song, ‘Pour It Up’, which promotes stripping and has her simulating sex acts throughout the video. It makes Britany Spears new video for her song ‘Work B***h’ tame compared to Rihanna’s video and Miley’s videos for her recent songs ‘Can’t Hold Us’ and ‘Wrecking Ball’. Now this is nothing new. However, the level at which they are upping their game is. It has moved from scantily clad to almost nothing. From a few sexy dance moves to having sex with the floor.

Sex, it seems, still sells. Only it looks like we need more of it to notice any difference.

Many of the videos we are able to watch on YouTube today we could have never dreamed of watching 15 years ago without calling it soft porn. In order to stand out in todays pop culture you have to sell your sexuality. And at a younger and younger age. Which means making your video pornographic. It’s no wonder why we are seeing pre-teens and teens engage in sex earlier and earlier.

I remember having a conversation with a parent a few years ago about Miley. She beamed at the fact that she was a believer in Jesus Christ and was waiting until marriage to have sex. She expressed how happy she was that their was a female that her pre-teen could look up to and model her life after. At first, I shared her excitement but then I started to think about the long history of artists like Miley that have done the same thing. Jessica Simpson, Mandy Moore, and Britany Spears at some point confided in their desire to wait. They sold their purity to break down the fear that parents might have and used their virginity and innocence to gain trust. But around the age of 18 that changed. They moved from an innocent role model to a sex symbol. However, I don’t remember a former child star going so far so quick as Miley.

When Miley said that Hannah Montana was dead on Saturday Night Live I felt those words hang in the air. Miley is right. Hannah Montana is dead. But it’s not just Hannah Montana that I mourn for in this current state of our culture. It’s what this statement symbolizes for me as a parent, for the teens I work with and the world we live in.

PlanBChildren and teens are exposed to more sexually provocative messages and sexually mature messages then ever before. Many long before they are ready. Our social media coordinator at Project Six19 was with his 3-year-old daughter recently at Walgreens when he saw a Plan B package for sell next to the candy. If you’re not familiar with Plan B it is emergency contraceptive. It was not found behind the counter or in the pharmacy but right there near the M&Ms. Not only do we have to talk with our kids younger and younger about their bodies but now we also have to talk to them about things like this…long before they are ready. Then place the fact that we have to teach our children that todays favorite childhood celebrities might be tomorrows sex symbols means one thing.

Yes, it does look like Hannah Montana is dead and all the innocence that came with her.

As I reflect on Miley’s comments, her actions and those of her counterparts, and the Plan B cartridge on the candy aisle, I don’t blame anyone in particular. We’ve all contributed to this. We buy Miley’s music, watch Rihanna’s videos and buy Plan B for our teenagers so that they can skip the reality of the consequences of the decisions they made without realizing that we may just be creating others. No, I don’t blame anyone but I think it is time we start recognizing what is happening and taking responsibility where we can.

First, we’ve got to take some responsibility for this demand for the sexualization of the young men and women who feel like they have to bust free of this prudish image by flaunting their birthday suit in front of millions. Miley, Britany and Rihanna are no less valuable then you or I. And it is not just women. Daniel Radcliffe who you might remember for playing the part of Harry Potter is also getting into the mix and moving from child actor to adult by posing nude in several of his recent endeavors. It seems like it is a calculated career move. One that none of them would make if it didn’t pay the bills.

However, we must remember one fact. They were each made in the image of God just like you and I. Our sexuality can be a beautiful and wonderful force if in the proper context. But it can also be a tool for manipulation.

Second, GK Chesterton once said, “when we go knocking on the door of a brothel what we are really looking for is God.” Our deepest longings for sex, food, things, or whatever it is that we crave is really just a longing for God. We see this throughout Scripture. It is the reason I rejoice in the redemption story that all of the Bible points to and our opportunity to step into it through our relationship with Christ. I think there is a lot of longing happening in the stories of each of these individuals. As well as those that participate in their success by watching, viewing, and sharing their videos, music and movies.

Finally, let’s recognize that there is something holy that we are seeking when sexuality is placed before us. So often we want to place rules and restrictions around sex and relationships as Christians but I don’t think they work unless it is an act of obedience. That is why we must use the power of sex as a catalyst for discussions on the one that created this great gift and point individuals towards God. Only then can they understand the beauty of their body, the gift of their sexuality and where it is to be shared.