Sunday, September 18, 2011

Kind Words Bring Blessings

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.
Proverbs 16:24

Most likely you’ve heard the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Think again. Words do harm people. In fact, we have the power to hurt or to heal with our words.

Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” We can use what comes out of our mouths for building up or tearing down, for blessing or for cursing. Every word we speak can cause growth, like water to a tree, or destruction, like an axe to the tree trunk.

As a child, words – kind or harsh – were spoken to you and they became some of the building blocks of the foundation of your self. Like gray bricks in the foundation of a house, the words that were said (or not said) formed your structure. Today, you may still be trying to heal from the cracks in your soul’s foundation.

Thankfully, God’s foundation is strong; His is a foundation of love, justice and righteousness. Psalm 89:14 says, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you.” With His strength, we can learn to say kind words more often to strengthen the foundation of those around us.

They say it takes 11 positive comments to heal one negative word spoken. If that’s the case we need to heed the words of one wise person in Proverbs to build up one another, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24).

Will your words build up or destroy another today? The choice is yours.

Lord, let love be my foundation. Give me the wisdom to speak kind words to others to build them up not tear them down.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Love Yourself, Be Yourself

When you love yourself, and you know God loves you, you can make smarter choices in relationships. Loving yourself means you can be yourself, not an exact replica of the man you’re dating. You have enough self respect not grovel when he says he no longer wants to go out with you. You say “no” when you really don’t want to spend time with a guy, instead of leading him on by trying to be nice. You speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Loving others starts with Jesus’ words “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31). Like women, men need affirmation, appreciation and encouragement. They also receive love as you respect them and trust them. Whether you end up dating or marrying a new man, or just seeing him a few times, treat him well—the way you’d want to be treated—with kindness, grace and forgiveness.

Love God enough to listen to what he says, to follow Him, and to ask for wisdom. Let Him be the first one you run to when you need to make decisions. Love him enough to trust him, because He really does know what He’s doing even when we don’t understand.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs. 3:5). God is all about fixing brokenness. He delights in restoration and brings renewed hope and joy after rejection. Loving, faithful, and more than able, He is your Dream Come True.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Wait for Love, Not Just "Friends With Benefits"

Signs and signals are important for our safety on the road and in relationships. Have you ever been in traffic and the car in front of you flashes a bright red left turn signal, and then suddenly turns right.

Um – what’re ya doing?

When a man treats you like that, and sends mixed signals, it can be confusing. It’s time to ask questions and get clarification.

What kinds of signs is he giving you? Does he act like a boyfriend and then treat you like a friend? Does he just want to be physical (sexual) with you, and then act like he doesn’t even know you? If he doesn’t pursue you, don’t settle for being a “friend with benefits?” You deserve better.

Think about this: Lust visits, love stays. Lust takes, love gives. Lust is selfish, love puts the other person first. You can tell over the course of time a man’s intentions. “Only time can reveal the difference between infatuation and lasting love,” says Bill Hybels in Fit to Be Tied.

To be a woman of integrity, go to the source of integrity, the Bible. This helpful and holy book addresses what to do, and not do, with your body before you are married. We are to honor God with our bodies, not degrade them.

For instance, 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 says, “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”

Sex is for two people who’ve made a commitment, a marriage covenant. In fact, one of the best gifts you can give your husband on your wedding night is yourself. Hebrews 13:4 affirms that, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” God’s words, not mine.

Sadly, sex before marriage is so prevalent in our contemporary culture that sometimes people forget God intended this intimate expression of love for a lifelong committed relationship called marriage. Not outside of it. In the context of marriage, it’s a special and incredible thing that, like a fire in a fireplace, brings warmth, comfort and joy.

In the wrong context, it's like a cozy fire that burns outside of the fireplace’s boundaries and becomes out of control--it sets the house ablaze, damaging your property and destroying your life.

Not good.

If you’ve already gone too far sexually, you can find healing and forgiveness. You can become what one woman I know calls, “a born-again virgin.” Talk to God about it in prayer. Confess what you’ve done wrong and ask for his forgiveness. And our gracious God will forgive you and make you clean and pure again. Love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8).

Emotional and physical boundaries
A few years ago, Scott Croft wrote a column for the website, a Focus on the Family webzine for singles. In it, he talked about how God’s word (in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8) “admonishes us not to wrong or ‘defraud’ our brother or sister by implying a marital level of commitment (through sexual involvement) when it does not exist.”

The passage tells us, among other things, to avoid sexual immorality, control your body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust.

Many times women have come to me and said they felt terrible (used, shamed, hurt) when they gave in to the sexual demands of a man who was not their husband.

Whether it was a boyfriend trying to push his limits or just a guy they hooked up with, they were "defrauded," used, and not treated as they deserved to be—with love, respect, and honor. When someone uses you for his or her own selfish pleasure, no matter what the level of physical intimacy, it can be inappropriate both physically and emotionally, according to Croft.

And hurtful.

People can wound you with words or with their actions. That’s why boundaries are vital in dating and relationships—both the physical limits of how far you will or will not go sexually (to guard your body) and emotional limits of what you will or will not accept from others verbally and relationally (to guard your heart).

In their classic book, Boundaries, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend describe the protective device like a fence, “Boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out. They guard our treasures (Matthew 7:6) so that people will not steal them.”Your heart is a treasure, and so is your body.

Guarding your heart means you don’t “play house” by acting like you’re married when you are not. Doing so can be very hurtful when you break up because the emotional ties you’ve created now need to be severed. Protect your heart from emotional injuries you were never designed to incur.

What will your boundaries be in your next relationship? How will you enforce them?

Your precious heart's depending on it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Looking for Love? Having Realistic Expectations

While it’s good to have standards and consider the spiritual, intellectual, social, emotional, and physical aspects of your ideal person, it’s also wise not to expect perfection. The “right one” will be the one best suited for you if you include God in your love life. Make a list and pray about this important choice.

Love will be more successful when you don’t expect a man—or anyone—to be faultless. Of course, we know that men and women are different in many ways, so the more we learn about the opposite sex, the greater chance we’ll have for better communication, with less frustration and more mutual enjoyment of each other.

In Finding Mr. Right, Stephen Arterburn reveals that the heart of a man is the most important part of his anatomy. “Often women focus on the wrong traits and mistake character flaws for strengths. They desire the confident, self-assured man, and mistakenly end up with an uncaring and demanding jerk. Wanting strength, they may shun a man who has a sensitive side, who actually is interested in who they are and how to please them.”

He also says that the wise woman looks for the inner man, not the exterior. “…the inner man who is secure enough to love, free enough to laugh, and humble enough to learn.”

It’s also important not to have unrealistic expectations about marriage. Some people idealize the fantasy of what they think marriage is supposed to be, and sometimes a reality check is needed.

I have a coworker friend who’s been married for over a decade. He and his wife have a large family and, from seeing them at a few work functions I surmised that they had a happy, strong marriage that was conflict-free and breezy. I once said to him, “You guys make it look so easy.” His easy grin turned serious when he replied, “It’s taken us years to get to this place.” Huh. I needed to heart that. I needed to know that marriage, like any relationship, has its ups and downs. It takes dedication to live out the commitment.

As challenging as it can be at times, marriage can also be amazing. The bride and the bridegroom are a picture of how Christ loves the Church. It’s a commitment before God and man to love, honor, and cherish this person all the days of your life—for better or worse. Even when he scatters his clothes on the floor or you are sick. Even when your kids are screaming and you haven’t talked to another adult all day. But when you’ve found someone who accepts you even when you have PMS, and he passionately loves you and loves God with all his heart, you know you’ve found a really good thing.

As you think and pray about what you want in a life partner, keep a realistic view of marriage, both the bright side and challenging side.

Friendship or Dating – Discerning the Difference
Another place to open your eyes and have realistic expectations is in knowing where you stand with a guy. “The Unknown Zone,” the peculiar place between friendship and dating where you don’t really know what your relationship is or where you stand. It may turn into something real and lasting, or it may not. How can you know when he doesn’t communicate or his signals are mixed?

Michelle McKinney Hammond gets to the heart of the matter in The Unspoken Rules of Love. “If he does not ask you to have an exclusive relationship with him, assume that you are not in one.” He needs to be initiating and pursuing you. If not, she continues, “Consider and enjoy your other options. Do not behave as if you are in a committed relationship when you are not. Doing so will only entangle your heart and set you up for disappointment and heartbreak. If he doesn’t tell you he wants to be in a committed relationship, consider yourself officially ‘just a friend.’”

A pastor I know once said, “The proof of desire is in the pursuit.” If a man wants to get to know you, you will know his intentions. You won’t have to guess. Don’t give him excuses like maybe he’s busy, maybe he’s shy, maybe he’s had a family crisis, or maybe (fill in the blank).

Bottom line: For whatever reason (you don’t even have to know what it is) if he is not pursuing you, then you need to let it go. March forward with your life and trust God for the right man for you.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Looking for Love? Become the Right Person

Becoming a woman of high standards

Often books on relationships emphasize finding the right person to date or marry, but it’s also important to become the right person.

To have the lasting love and intimacy you desire it’s essential to identify unhealthy patterns in your own life, change what you can about yourself, and then come into greater clarity about the qualities you want in another person.

Identify unhealthy patterns. Healthy relationships grow when we know our true identity (who we are in Christ) and respect our individuality and uniqueness. They also flourish when we know and connect with who God is (His character) and how that makes a difference in our life.

We are all made with different habits, personality traits and ways of relating. However, sometimes we do things in a relationship that hurt ourselves or damage the connection and we don’t know why.

Sometimes we know our weak spots and sometimes we are blind-sighted. Beth works at a major university and she’s been a Christian believer for years. Like many women she talks with her friends about men and reads books and articles about them. She thought she had relationships figured out—and then Ty showed up. He was not on the same page spiritually or emotionally, and she knew he wasn’t right for her. Yet little by little he wore her down with his charisma and charming words.

Beth spent time with him knowing it couldn’t go anywhere and every day her heart got more and more invested in the wrong man. She also knew she was spiritually starving because she hadn’t read her Bible (her spiritual food) for months. Hungry for attention, she forgot the wise words in Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

Her affections of the heart were strong and were leading her down a path that only meant trouble. Although she was strong in her faith, she realized that without the firm planting of God's word as her truth, she was just as vulnerable as the next person.

She knew something had to change and over the next few months she began to remember where her true value came from; it was God’s opinion of her, not a man that really counted. As she filled her heart with God’s promises about her worth and value, and how much God loves her, Beth became stronger and was able to make better decisions about who she would spend time with in the future.

Think about your past dating experiences. What went wrong? Why did it end? It’s helpful to identify any patterns in your dating experiences that may be sabotaging the love you desire. You can start by making a list of things you’ve learned from past relationships—things you’ve done that you don’t want to do again. Here are some examples:

* stayed too long in a dead end relationship
* didn’t stand up for yourself when he hurt you with words or actions
* gave in when he wanted to go farther physically than you wanted to
* stubbornly wanted your own way all the time
* didn’t know what to do when he treated you poorly
* lived in a fantasy world of thinking one day “it will be more” when he only wanted friendship
* pursued him when you should’ve waited for him to pursue you
* rushed from one relationship to next when you weren’t ready love again.

Change your thoughts and actions. Now that you know what you don’t want, it’s time to get to make some changes. What do you want to do differently next time? Maybe you didn’t know you were being treated poorly by a man because that’s what you’ve been used to your entire life. You didn’t know “nice” men existed, or that you were worth being treated well. Maybe you’re the kind of person who breaks up because you don’t want the other person to leave you first. Or you repeatedly pick Mr. Wrong, and don’t know why.

You don’t have to stay stuck in patterns of the past. Ask yourself why you’ve made unwise relationship choices? If you don’t know, then pray and ask God to reveal to you any habits or patterns that have been holding you back.

Change doesn’t have to be scary. You can start by picking one area at a time and doing something, because small steps lead to big changes. By altering what you do, your actions, it will change how you think and feel. In his book, “Pleasers,” Dr. Kevin Leman affirms that, “When you start changing your behavior, your attitudes, emotions, and feelings will change as well.” He suggests, “Ask yourself, How would the ‘old me’ react in this situation? How is the ‘new’ me going to react?”

Be clear on you really need in a relationship.
My friend Heidi once said, “The difference between the wrong man and the right man is like the difference between the darkest night and the brightest day.”

In order to make choices that lead to the love and intimacy you desire, it’s important to know the characteristics you want—and don’t want—in a man. What are your criteria for the things you look? Think about the kind of men you’ve picked in the past? What do you want now? What needs to change? Make a list of things you need in a relationship. For instance, you could list, “I need:

• to have a better idea of what I need in another person
• to learn to assess more quickly if a man is right for me or not
• to be clear with myself and the other person what behaviors I will and will not accept
• someone who is consistent in his words and actions
• to make time for a quality relationship; to feel more connected
• a man who will pursue me, be available, and treat me with respect.”

The five C’s for finding Mr. Right

There are many essential traits to look for in a date, and eventually a life partner. I have five listed here, the five C’s: Christian, Communication, Character, Chemistry, and Calling.

Christian means that he has a committed walk with God, he’s accepted Jesus as his personal Savior and Lord, and he’s on a path of growth and discovery. What else does that mean for you? Do you want someone who will attend church with you every Sunday? Do you want to pray together as a couple? Think about how you want to live out your spiritual life with another person.

Communication is key to any good relationship. It’s talking and listening, building rapport and intimacy, sharing, and more. What kind of communication important to you in a relationship? Are you comfortable going deep in conversation, or do you prefer to stay in the shallow end? What is “good communication” to you?

I remember a dreadful date with a man who did not talk to me almost the entire time we were together. Ron was a man from church with whom I’d spoken a few times. We had mutual friends and saw each other at singles events. One Sunday afternoon we drove to Green Bay for a Packers football game and he was completely silent throughout the entire game—including halftime! Even the long, soundless drive home was awful. I told myself that day that I needed a man who would not only talk with me but be a good communicator.

Character refers to his temperament, personality and moral fiber. Does he have integrity? Does his keep his promises, say what he means and mean what he says? How do your personalities mesh? Do you have temperaments that are complementary?

Chemistry is another word for attraction. Is he handsome in your eyes? Does he have qualities that appeal to you? Is there that intangible “certain something” that makes you click as a couple? Of course, chemistry and attraction are important in a relationship, but don’t let your feelings dictate your choices based only upon someone’s looks. True beauty is more than a perfect smile or fit body. It’s both inner and outer qualities, and how that person makes you feel. Additionally, chemistry is just one of the essential five C’s for a healthy and fulfilling match, one piece of the entire love puzzle.

Calling is the term I’ll use here for God’s vision for your relationship. Is it right for the long term? Has God called you to marriage with this man to be his life partner? You can have all four of the five C’s, but if the “C” of Calling is not there, it will never work.

A few years ago I met someone online and we seemed to be a very good match. We corresponded for months and emailed almost every day. I was excited when he suggested the idea of coming to Colorado over the holidays to meet. I was planning to take him downtown to see the New Year’s Eve ball drop, but what I got instead was a bomb dropped on me in the form of an email two days before he was supposed to fly here from another state. He wasn’t coming. In fact, he said he wasn’t ready for any relationship and he called the whole thing off. Just like that!

A few months later we talked, only once, and he told me he’d taken a job on the other side of the world. Then I came to realize that while Mr. Almost Perfect had four of the five C’s, he did not have the crucial fifth one: calling. God was not calling me to date or marry this man because He had a different life path for each of us.

In retrospect I could see that God was protecting me from hurt down the road since we never met in person. Of course, it still hurt to cut off all connection with someone I’d been bonding with for the past few months. But it became yet another opportunity to trust God for His best for me.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Getting Over a Breakup, Making Better Choices Next Time

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.

Psalm 143:8

Now that you are getting over Mr. Wonderful (or Mr. Wonder-Where-He-Went) you may want to think about how you will do things differently in your next relationship.

You can be ready for love again and make wiser and healthier choices by becoming a woman of: wisdom, high standards, realistic expectations, integrity, love, and faith. We'll talk about each healthier choice each day this week.

Become a woman of wisdom

Making better choices in relationships begins as you think about the kind of person you want to date and how you’ll date—the world’s way or God’s way.

In Western culture, dating is often recreational and include levels of emotional and physical intimacy (like having sex before marriage) that are contrary to Christian beliefs.

While the word “dating” does not appear in the Bible, it does say that a Christ-follower is to marry a believer. 2 Corinthians 4:16 reads, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”

God’s word does not have an Intro to Dating 101 section, however we know that He desires people to treat each other with honesty, respect and honor. Honoring another person following biblical principles means being more other-centered than self-centered, and intimacy after commitment (the commitment of marriage).

It seems wise to get to know someone first to see if you are compatible before you connect in a dating relationship. Spend time with your friends, his friends or your singles group instead of instant one-on-one time. That way you can prevent heartbreak for both parties if either of you discover you the other person is not for you after all.

We can look at the commands living a holy life and apply them to all our relationships, including dating and marriage. The book of Ephesians lists a few: Be completely humble, be patient, bear with one another (4:2); speak truthfully (4:25); in your anger do not sin (4:26); build up others with your words (4:29); get rid of bitterness (4:31); be kind and compassionate, forgive each other (4:32); and live a life of love (5:2).

Just as natural light dispels the darkness; the light of God’s word reveals truth. Step by step, moment by moment and choice by choice, your heart is illuminated with understanding and “aha!” moments; you finally get it and begin to change how you see yourself, God, and His role in your love life.

Wisdom is essential making changes. Without it we do really dumb things that hurt others or ourselves. Wisdom protects, leads, guides, and gives knowledge and understanding. Wisdom gives us victory!

As you follow the path of wisdom something wonderful happens. You grow up
on the inside. When hard things happen, like a breakup, it can cause us to wise up and become more emotionally and spiritually mature. What does that kind of person look like?

A mature person loves, accepts and respects herself. She learns to put rejection and loss in perspective, and trust the bigger picture of God’s guiding hand. She deals with issues as they come up and doesn't let them accumulate. Garbage needs to be taken out regularly, and emotional garbage needs to be processed and dumped frequently, too. She doesn't hold on to the past but clings tightly to the Savior who is her future and her hope.

A mature person lives in the reality of present, not the fantasy of the past or the future. She doesn’t obsess over a guy who’s dumped her for far too long or imagine herself in a white dress and veil with someone who is clearly not pursing her. A mature person trusts that God really does know best. And she lives what she believes. James 1:22 says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Know it, do it, change your life.

When you live in the light of God’s truth, you begin to feel stronger and more confident, and you become more equipped to make healthier relationship choices.

What keeps women from making better choices in the men they choose and how they act when they’re with them? Selfishness. Rebellion. Ignorance. Apathy. Many things.

But it’s also important to know that as much as you want to get it right, the evil one wants you to get it wrong. The Christian life is a constant struggle between good and evil, truth and lies. Your enemy wants you to fail. In fact, he is like a thief who only wants to “steal, kill and destroy.” (John 10:10). He wants to steal your joy, kill your dreams and destroy your relationships. But take heart, Jesus came so that you “may have life, and have it to the full.”(same verse).

The enemy lies to you when you hear that you’re not enough (not pretty enough, thin enough or good enough to find a man). He lies when you feel like you’ll never find someone special, that you’ll be alone forever, that no one really cares, or that you will never change. Not true. Don’t buy into the evil one’s lies. He’s been doing it since the Garden of Eden. He deceived Eve and he will try to deceive you.

When you know the truth and stand you can combat the enemy’s lies and find victory in your love life and your entire life.