10 Ways to Be Awesome on Valentine’s Day

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Well, friends, once again we have reached that special day of the year that we’re either really jazzed about, dreading, or have simply just completely forgotten until reading this post.

Valentine’s Day is a magical day if, like me, you enjoy the color pink and the sudden abundance of cupcakes and candy. Even on the Valentine’s Days of years past when I have had a significant other, my one true love has been, and always will be, copious amounts of sugar.

On Valentine’s Day, the world is divided into two types of people.

There are the single people and the non-single people (and then of course there’s the undefined relationships, which on Valentine’s Day suddenly feels like a very, very confusing time).

Valentine’s Day can be stressful for both types of people, whether you are agonizing over what to buy your sweetheart or what show to pick on Netflix as you sit alone in your pajamas.

Whatever camp you find yourself in this Valentine’s Day, here are 10 ways to make the 24 hours of love a little more awesome:

Call your parents.

Hey, your parents put up with you for a lot of years. They bought you clothes, made sure you didn’t only eat candy for breakfast (despite your best wishes), and kept you company while you were sick (and probably experienced way more vomiting than they actually wanted to). If that’s not true love, I don’t know what is.

Leave a valentine for your next door neighbor.

You don’t even have to sign it! Can you imagine how much it would make your day to find an encouraging note on your door step?

Compliment your server.

Whether you stop by a coffee shop or go out for a romantic dinner, point out something awesome about the person serving you.

Make a donation to a local organization.

Show some love to the animal shelter, YWCA, or an organization that holds a lot of meaning for you.

Pick up litter.

If you’re out and about and see some trash where it shouldn’t be, throw it away! The planet deserves some affection, too.

Make a gratitude list to God.

Gratitude is one of the most beautiful and life-giving forms of worship. When we take a moment to stop and really say thank you for the beauty in our life and what God is doing, we honor the way He loves us.

Make a Love Myself list, to yourself.

Sometimes we get so caught up in everything we think we could be doing better, that we forget to be in awe of just how awesome we are! Make a list of things you love about yourself – traits, dreams, physical aspects, etc.

Text a friend you haven’t talked to in a while.

Let them know you’re thinking about them, and be sure to include a unicorn emoji.

Leave an encouraging comment on someone’s Instagram photo.

A little affirmation is way better than a simple “like.”

Show your health some love.

Go for a quick walk, breathe deeply in and out, or rest your eyes by not looking at your screen for a while. Good health is an amazing gift that is easy to take for granted – enjoy the freedom your well-functioning body provides you every day.

SHARE this post with a friend this Valentine’s Day – and tell them they rock while you’re at it.

Why Your Sex Life is Their Business

By Amy Juran

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Contrary to the words of Salt N Pepa, “If I wanna take a guy home with me tonight, IT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!” it’s actually really important that we talk to friends and family about our sex lives (or lack thereof).

The funny thing about sex and sexuality is that it’s always influencing our behavior and decisions, even in Christian relationships, and yet we rarely want to talk about it.

I would consider myself a pretty private person. This is not necessarily because I have much to hide, but because I think there are some things that are not anyone else’s business, and it takes a certain degree of trust between people to earn this kind of vulnerability. My view of sexuality used to be very much in line with this, considering how personal physical intimacy is. However, I’ve found being transparent with trusted friends and family about my sexuality is one of the healthiest things I could do for my romantic relationships.

In her book Real Sex, author Lauren Winner touches on the idea of “communal sex.” Communal sex does not mean sex between multiple people, but that sexuality is something meant to be talked about and worked through with other believers. Winner asks the reader the question of whether or not it’s appropriate to ask our Christian friends about their sex lives, and – on the flip side –  whether we should be talking vulnerably with others about our own physical intimacy.

God calls us to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galations 6:2) and to speak truth in love to each other. Sharing in our personal lives gives us the opportunity to grow together and challenge ourselves. It can develop a beautiful community striving for God’s will, and can prevent and heal so much of the hurt that comes with isolation.

We’re all familiar with this situation: a friend starts dating someone, and they are happy and blissful at first, but little by little start to pull away from close friends and social situations to spend time with just that person. Sometimes this can be an indication of an abusive or controlling partner, but sometimes we tend to think our relationships and sexuality are our business alone.

When we believe this idea, we naturally start to isolate from others.

If you’re unmarried it’s important to set physical boundaries with your significant other, but when you are both being driven by emotions it can be easy to flex the lines. There can also be an element of shame that comes with crossing those boundaries. It can be easy to want to avoid the judgment of others by not sharing your struggles. But when you get other people involved, and they are able to ask you the tough questions and keep you accountable, they can restore the validity of promises you made to yourself, your partner, and to God.

If you’re married, it is still important to talk about your sex life. To some this might seem like a violation of the sacredness of marriage, but it’s actually the opposite. In James we read, “Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” By sharing in community about our struggles and our joys, we can build each other up and bring peace to the fact that everyone hits rough patches.

God never intended for us to do this life alone. (Tweet this!)

He desires rich, challenging and caring community, and this can only be accomplished when we are transparent with each other. The result of this community is a healthier view of romantic relationships. It allows us to see things from the bigger picture and keep God at the core of everything we do. From now on I’ve chosen not to shy away from conversations with trusted people about sexuality because I know healing, growth, and relational intimacy will come from it.

The Importance of Nonsexual Touch

By Amy Juran, Writing Assistant Intern

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I think we underestimate the value of nonsexual touch.

It can be so easy to overlook all of the benefits we can glean from giving and receiving affection in ways as simple as a hug or a soft pat on the back. It’s these simple interactions that can really tighten the bonds of our friendships and build trust between us. I think we associate touch so strongly with romantic relationships that we overlook the times people reached out a hand in comfort, and in doing so, we miss out on an amazing resource that we have in times of need.

It can actually be pretty risky to reserve physical touch purely for intimacy, the downfall being that our bodies need physical touch for edification, not just from a lover, but simply from people that we love. When we associate touch as a primarily sexual thing, we build up a huge storehouse of repressed physical desire that can get carried away when we are put in a romantic situation. The thought occurred to me that maybe if we recognize the value of nonsexual touch in our plutonic relationships and friendships, it might displace some of the craving that our hearts have for physical intimacy, and our romantic relationships might be healthier and less focused on the physical aspect.

Verbal affirmation can do so much for us, and kind words can heal all sorts of hurt, but nothing quite compares to a kind embrace for comfort. Conversations become memories with that little slip of an arm into the crook of an elbow as friends walk through the park, or the firm grasp of both arms in excitement. My favorite endearing gesture: the hand grab. You know, when you and a friend are in the midst of an intentional conversation and you both connect on something or share a nice, deep, gut laugh, and to seal the moment one of you clasps the other’s hand with a tight squeeze. It’s such a beautiful, heartfelt impulse.

We need more hand grabs in the world​.

Nonsexual touch tends to have almost this supernatural power to ease tension and anxiety. It seems almost impossible to remain stressed after I’ve confided in a loved one and they just wrap me up. It’s like there is a displacement of energy that happens where they take a bit of my burden and I get relief in return. And when we extend this comfort and kindness even to people we don’t know very well, we heal wounds and bridge gaps we never imagined. In Column McCan’s book, Let the Great World Spin, he paints a beautiful picture of a crowd all gathered around the spectacle of a man tightrope walking between two buildings. He describes how “perfect strangers touched one another on the elbows.” It’s a beautiful image, and McCan clearly understands the magic that happens when people draw near to each other in moments of chaos or panic. Any number of causes can bring us together, but it’s that simple touch and connection that really forms a bond.

One individual who immediately comes to mind when I think of extending a kind touch to strangers is Pope Francis. On multiple occasions he is seen publicly embracing beggars, kissing children, reaching out to anyone and everyone. It seems like he doesn’t have the capacity to pull away when he sees someone to care for, and he is a beautiful example of how opening our arms can build people up and make them feel affirmed.

Pope Francis hugs a child as he arrives to lead the weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican June 19, 2013.   REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini     (VATICAN - Tags: RELIGION)

Pope Francis hugs a child as he arrives to lead the weekly audience in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican June 19, 2013. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini (VATICAN – Tags: RELIGION)

Physical touch is something I truly struggle with, because it forces me to be vulnerable. It’s not necessarily second nature for me to reach out for a hug, even with my family, not to mention an acquaintance I hardly know. I tend to be more like a stiff board when it comes to nurturing and embracing. But every time someone else extends the gesture, it’s such a comfort. There’s almost an empowering effect, and an unspoken understanding of closeness that can truly boost my confidence. I think if we all dug deep into the innermost cravings of our souls, we would all arrive at nearly the same place: the desire to feel loved. And I say ​feel​ loved versus be loved, because it’s easy to assume that people know we love them, but when we reach out and touch, when we declare in a tangible way how much they mean to us, that’s when they truly feel validated.

Non-sexual touch can not only enhance our relationships, but I think our bodies need it. Instead of saving our physical contact just for our significant others, we should work towards being generous with our touch towards friends, family, and even strangers. When we arrive at a place where we love people, and are willing to care for them in our hearts and with our words, it can really make a difference to take one step further, and extend a hand or a kind embrace.

Is My Singleness Making Me Selfish?

By Amy Juran, Writing Assistant Intern

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Lately I’ve been having this inner struggle about how my singleness might be making me into a selfish person.

I guess it makes sense that because I don’t have a husband or a family of my own, it appears I don’t have anyone to look out for but myself and my own needs. I can duck out early from social situations so I can get something done that I’ve been working on, or so I can get some ​me ​time in before work in the morning.  I look around at people who have spouses and families, who probably barely remember what personal time feels like, and have to ask myself, ­­ “Is my singleness making me selfish?” To counteract the natural tendency to be self­-centered, there are three resolutions I have made to help keep myself in check.

1.)  Avoid Comparisons

It probably doesn’t help that I’m reaching a time in my life where the majority of my family and friends are married and an increasing number are pregnant or have kids. As a result, I get to hear a lot about the frustrations and challenges of marriage: how difficult it can be to coexist with another person, what little sleep you get with a crying newborn, and so on. There’s no arguing either, because it all does seem like a lot of work, but it’s the kind of work that gleans fulfilling rewards.  Granted, I’ve never been married, so I may be completely off in my theory, but one of the beautiful things that I’ve observed in marriage is having an automatic purpose and mission right in front of you all the time. Of course people in relationships are called to many other tasks than being a good partner and providing for their spouse’s needs. However, when they are confronted with the daunting question of “What is my purpose in life?”, they have at least one go-­to answer of “I am called to care for and honor my spouse” or “My mission is to set a good example for my children.”

Sometimes when I ask myself this same question, I get frustrated because it can be unclear what God wants for me in my life because I don’t have the automatic purpose married people do. 

I have a wonderful friend, who has taught me a lot on this subject. She coordinates the children’s ministry at church, plans events for our life group, and cares for a home, all with a rambunctious two year old on her hip.

One day I had made a bunch of treats for the service, and she came up to me and was thanking me profusely for all my hard work. I couldn’t help but shy away from the compliment, and think how small my token was in comparison to everything she is involved with and responsible for. And then she said one of the kindest things I could hope to hear at this point in my life: ­­”Hey, your life is important too! Your contribution is no less than anyone else’s, and this place wouldn’t be the same without you.”

That validation got me a little emotional, to be honest, and it made me really reevaluate how I view singleness. I concluded that it’s not that I resent being alone or this season of my life because I am partnerless, but instead I am frustrated sometimes at how much more difficult it can be to live a life that seems meaningful or impactful in my community when realistically, my life is all about me right now.

The path isn’t always straight out ahead of me, and sometimes I’m searching vigorously before I find the answer.  What I need to keep in mind, though, is that this challenge isn’t a bad thing.  It forces me to stretch myself in personal interactions, and to step out in faith to do things that might make me uncomfortable.  These inconsistencies between myself and others can lead to some pretty dangerous comparisons.  When we feel that we don’t measure up, or that we should be further along in our journey than we are, some definite narcissism can emerge.  By trying to look a certain way, or have the right things, it’s a way we can control the things that are in our power, and keep that dividing line between us and our peers as minimal as possible.  And when it comes to being single, comparing yourself to others who are married or have children can lead to a skewed self-image or a discontent that makes us focus even more attention on ourselves and what we don’t have.

2.)  Seek Out the Needs of Others

I must search for places to pour out love and to exert energy constructively. Instead of using my time only to do things that gratify myself, I must be intentional about seeking out others in need. When I have some spare time, instead of binge watching my favorite Netflix show, or rearranging my apartment for the tenth time, I could reach out to a friend, or call up my mom to see how she’s doing. There is something so healthy that happens when we put someone else’s needs ahead of our own. It definitely feels uncomfortable at first, but once I’ve made a habit of focusing my attention towards those around me, I begin to feel fulfilled.

3.)  Find Contentment in Where God Has Me

When I begin to use singleness for these purposes, I don’t have time to focus on what I ​don’t ​have, or who I ​should ​be dating, or what I want my future to look like. Instead I can reach a place of contentment, in this place God has me for the present. And I can actually reap the benefits of this unique time of life where I don’t have a relationship or a family, and I can be wholly available to do whatever He calls me to.

So can singleness lead to selfish behavior? Absolutely. If I’m not consciously making an effort to put others first, I could quickly spiral into the black hole of my own needs and self-­focus. But by seeking out the needs of others, cutting the comparisons, and finding contentment in where God has me at this time, singleness can actually be an extremely rich time of servant hood and caring.

4 Big Questions You Need to Ask About Your Relationship

By Julia Feeser

Love is, most definitely, blind.

I dated my high school boyfriend, Tony, for ten months. We had been together approximately four months when my parents invited him over for dinner. We chatted and laughed (as much as two dating 16-year-olds can comfortably chat and laugh when parents are present), and in my opinion the dinner went great.

But after Tony left my mom turned to me and said, “That Tony’s kind of a know-it-all, isn’t he?”

Suddenly, I could see she was absolutely right. Tony did have a tendency to share his wealth of knowledge about, well, anything. My mother had noticed it immediately. I, so taken with Tony’s guitar-playing and adorable braces, had not.

Tony’s somewhat know-it-all personality was certainly not a deal-breaker in our relationship. But it’s true that when we have deep feelings for someone we tend to overlook or simply not see certain things about our significant other and thus potential problems within our relationship. Our affection and nearness to the relationship can easily “blind” us to things that may not be functioning well or need attention. When this happens it’s difficult to see what may appear obvious to others.

This is why it’s so important to invite trusted people into our relationships. I don’t mean they have to join you on dates or read your texts to each other, but allowing a trusted friend or adult to see and know your relationship is crucial to maintaining a healthy love life.

Giving someone else insight into your dating relationship allows him or her to see both the good and bad and thus give you honest feedback about how they see the relationship going. However, this is not always an easy thing.

Asking for someone’s honest opinion on anything in our lives can be difficult, but this can be especially true when it comes to romantic relationships. We don’t always want to know if there is something in our relationship that may need fixing or, worst of all, may be a deal-breaker. But knowing these things help us see our relationships in an honest way and thus know how to make the best decisions for ourselves and our significant others.

Before you run out and start asking everyone’s opinion about your relationship, make sure you deliberately find someone you trust. Know whose opinions are of value and come from a place of truth and love. It’s all right to be picky about who you let into something as significant as your relationship.

Here are four big questions you need to ask about your relationship:

  1.  Do you think this person fits me well? Do we have personalities, lifestyles and values that work well together? Am I accommodating anything about this person that could potentially become more difficult down the road?
  2. Do you see anything about this relationship that is unhealthy? How do you see us handling things like communication, quality time or physicality?
  3. Am I being myself? When I am around this person, do you see me being fully myself or am I acting in a way I think will get this person to like me most?
  4. Am I showing this person the love/attention/respect they deserve? Pretty self-explanatory.

We’re not always capable of seeing things other may notice in our relationships, both good and bad. But seeking an honest and healthy relationship starts with having a clear (and willing) perspective.

An honest and true life builds honest relationships

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

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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.

Relationships…

This summer our offices will be researching, studying, and looking at the beauty, complexity, and chaos that relationships bring. Most of our study will be around dating and how this fairly new concept is changing for today’s teens. As we started compiling resources our social media coordinator pointed me towards a blog that her friend, Holly Clark, writes on pleasepassthetea.com. One specific entry caught her eye. Enjoy!

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“Finding a balance between spending time with the person you are dating and trying to build community with others is not an easy task. Jeremy and I started dating our freshman year of college. As you know, if you have gone to college, this year especially is complicated in itself.

Jeremy and I were trying to navigate a very new relationship while trying to find genuine friendship. Unfortunately, I didn’t want people thinking Jeremy and I were just your typical “high school sweet-hearts” so I tended to focus more on friends than I did on our relationship.

But soon, my relationship with Jeremy suffered and we struggled to find a good balance. So, I started inviting Jeremy to join in on my time with my friends, and my friends loved him. I began to trust others with our relationship and it was such a joy to have people support us together. This was the beginning of why community became such a crucial part of our lives together.

Relationships have always been important to me. I desire genuine, intentional relationships and love bringing people together. And I knew that my relationship with Jeremy was a gift from God; ultimately I knew we could be a couple who loves people well and brings others into our relationship.

So, throughout college and our dating life, we went through a very consistent cycle of wanting to build community and struggling to find a balance of time alone and time with people. We seemed to always choose to be with others.

Our view of community has changed significantly since college. While at Whitworth University, awesome people were just always around. It wasn’t a struggle to find intentional people and we didn’t have to trust God. Now that I am graduated, I know community is way more than just people you think like you do; it is dependent on Jesus Christ being the head of the body.

Before, I was completely dependent on my own ability to be a good girlfriend and friend. And now, I know that in order to have a healthy community, Christ has to be the focus. Since Jeremy and I have been married, we have come to realize that without Christ being our focus, we cannot have a healthy relationship, and if we aren’t healthy together, we cannot be healthy in community.

I have learned not to try to please others because I cannot. I have learned not to try to put others before my husband because he is my main priority. And I have learned to trust that God is going to provide community in my life because true relationship is a gift from God. I have been blessed by people who support my marriage and remind me why having people in our life is so important. I have spent countless nights at the dinner table with a group of people that I love, sharing their hearts over a great meal. And I have shed countless tears over relationships that have hurt me.

In the end, all of these things are gifts from God. We are called to love our neighbor and I believe this means being intentional with the people that God puts in our path. For me that means loving my husband first, loving the people around me and continuing to live into community because I believe I am called to bring people together. I have learned a lot about the complexity of relationships and I know I will continue to pursue, fail, cry and find meaning in loving others.”