the survey says: i'm mad (a guest post)

One of the first responses I got to my survey for women ("What Women Know about Pornography") was actually an email from a young man.  He didn't take the survey, but had a lot of things to say anyway.  

He led with "I'm mad..." 

I thought his story fits well here, after talking last time about God's first words to human beings.  Have sex, lots and lots of sex.  Remember?

With his permission, here's one voice needing to be heard.

 photograph:  Michael Bruner

photograph:  Michael Bruner

I grew up as a missionary kid. There, the three-letter s-word was a "no-no" and I mean a "no-no" to talk about. Sure, we had the birds and the bees’ talks when we were young ("we" being me and my guy friends). But, other than that we didn't hear hardly anything about it except negative statements. At least, that's what I felt.

We heard all about the consequences of pre-marital sex, masturbation, lust, and all that in Bible Study and from our mentors. We had the fear of God put into us about sex. Or, the attempt was made, at least.

Now, this is just my opinion since I haven't actually discussed this with my buddies and I haven't kept up with very many of them. But, for me personally, I couldn't even hear the word "bra" growing up without feeling like I was in some way defiled. Why?

Because 99% of what I heard from my elders regarding sex was negative.

Everyone seemed so afraid of me being hooked on pornography and lust or becoming a raving sex monster when I returned home that the entire focus of any "sex-talk" centered around me drawing my spiritual sword and raising my shield to prepare for battle.

No one thought to educate me, from the start, on the fact that it is a God-given gift that He intended to act as marital glue between the man and woman.  There was no true "sex education" in my opinion. I was taught the anatomy of sex, yes. But as a boy, I was not taught the importance of it within the covenant boundaries of marriage.

I was not taught the deeper, complex meanings behind sex and why it is incredibly spiritual in nature (two souls becoming one). I was not taught how intimacy with my wife is an overflow of the intimacy I have with God. I was not taught why "sex starts in the kitchen".

How many bumps and bruises could a couple bypass if the man went into his marriage understanding his spouse's heart and what intimacy really means to her? How different would it be if he understood that his actions of love must come from a giving heart and they must start long before the door to the bedroom closes?  And if I was told those things (which I don't remember happening) it was all built upon a foundation of fear.

If I had to sum up my sex education in one sentence, it would be this:

"Boy, you're vulnerable to lust, masturbation, and porn which can destroy your life--but sex is necessary."

I'm pretty sure that's not how God taught Adam about sex in the Garden of Eden. 

And I’m absolutely positive that Solomon worded things a bit differently in Song of Songs when he talked about it.

If I could change the way I was educated, I wish I had been instructed on sex the way I was instructed on reading the Bible, praying, living a holy life, having a good work ethic, and staying strong in the faith. I wish I had been taught a healthy, Biblical perspective on sex that included the entire books of Proverbs and Song of Songs.

I wish I had been as prepared to have a healthy sex life with my future spouse as I was to re-enter my home country.

But, that's just me. 


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the survey says: blessed with sex

Our pastor preached from Matthew 5:1-12 this past Sunday morning, the Beatitudes.  

Ed pointed out that this is Jesus' first big sermon.  God in the flesh has finally got a crowd of people in front of him, but instead of laying down the law, telling everybody how sinful they are, calling down fire on the unrighteous, he takes a whole different tack.  

The very first word that God With Us speaks to us is this:  blessed.  

Blessed are all of us, who are at the end of our rope, weeping and mourning, overlooked and downtrodden, hungry and thirsty and seeking peace and mercy.  We're blessed, and we're going to find what we need.

God speaks to us a declaration of joy, health, wellness, wholeness for a hurting world.  Blessed.

 Michael Bruner, photographer

Michael Bruner, photographer

Well.

You know that I sent out the "What Women Know About Pornography" survey last week.  As soon as the responses began to arrive, I realized I was in over my head.  

I have had such brain-buzz this week that I kept waking up and making notes in the middle of the night.  Andy claims that I woke him up to sing to him last night, but there is no evidence of this, so I continue to deny it.

I knew there was so much to say.  I didn't know where to start.

Then I went to church, and I heard this word:  blessed.

I struck me that whatever follows after this, we have to start here:  blessed.  

Here's a funny thing.  

I just went and looked at Genesis 1:28, God's first interaction with newly-created human beings, male and female.  Guess what it says?  

The very first thing is this:

God blessed them.  

I'm going to call that a pattern.  

God meets up with people face-to-face, and he blesses them.

The very next thing God says in the creation story is this: "Have lots and lots of sex."

God's first recorded words to human beings?  The birds and the bees talk.

Really.  

"Be fruitful and multiply."  

How else can we take that, other than:  have lots and lots of sex?

God has blessed us with our sexuality, to give us joy and health and wellness and wholeness.  

There's a lot more to say, for sure.  There are so many complications in our culture around sex, especially since the internet explosion, which is what got me started on this whole thing in the first place.  

Before we try to tease apart this topic of sexuality, and especially the pornography phenomenon and how that impacts us, let's sit with this for a while.

We are blessed.

With sex.  

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a little survey for the ladies, about pornography

UPDATE: This survey is closed now. To see the results click here

A while back, I found this great TED Talk about pornography.  I was listening to it with ear buds in, and I pulled them out so often to quote things at Andy that he finally said, "Just start it over and let me hear the whole thing."  

It really is that good.  

And that scary.  

One of the main things I took away was the story of researchers who wanted to study how the use of internet pornography is impacting relationships for young people today.  Turned out they couldn't do the study.  

Because?  

They couldn't find a control group.  

They couldn't find a control group, people.

The researchers could not find a group of young men who had not been significantly exposed to pornography.  

Lest we think that this is just a bunch of secular crazy people, and this isn't reality in the Christian world, let me quote you this one stat from Covenant Eyes, where you'll find some of the best, most extensive resources for Christians living with the internet:  

85% of all young men are looking at pornography on a regular basis (monthly, weekly, or more often).

Now, before some of you start thanking God that you only have daughters, think about this:

Who exactly do you think your daughters are going to date and marry?

And how, exactly, are young women going to cope with that reality?

So we have this phenomenon of internet pornography that's hugely impacting our kids--and a whole heapin' helpin' of the adults, too, since pornography is a factor in 50% of divorces.

And I think that we are seriously lagging in our ability to cope with it.

Here are some of the reasons why I think we're not dealing with reality very well in this area:

  • Porn is a guy thing.  Even though women are increasingly viewing pornography, men are still 543% more likely to view it.
  • The moms of this world grew up before the internet.  We aren't drawn to it like our husbands and sons are, so we're just a bit blind to the problem.  AND:
  • The moms of this world are the ones who see problems in the family, bring them up, and work to resolve them.  Whether this is nature or nurture or some malicious combination of the two, this is just the way the world works.   
  • The shame is huge.  Men are ashamed.  Women are ashamed.  Kids are ashamed.  And the first thing we do, as human beings, when we're ashamed, is run and hide.  Which makes it worse.

I feel like I hammer on the porn thing a good bit here on the blog, but this is why:  I want all my mom-friends to roll into full momma-bear mode on this thing so we can help our kids, our husbands, and ourselves.  

I want younger women to know where to look for help, resources, and encouragement.

And I want men to know that they are loved and supported in this battle, rather than feeling isolated, alone, and ashamed. 

I really do think all of that is possible.  Not easy, but possible.

Before I say anything else, though, I'd like to hear from YOU, ladies, so I know where to target my posts.  

Please take just a few minutes to fill out the ANONYMOUS survey below.  

I've included lots of comment boxes, so please comment away.  

And, if you would be so kind, SHARE THIS POST so that others can participate in the survey as well.

I would love to hear from guys, too, but the present survey is just for women.  Guys, you can use the regular comment box on this post to comment (anonymously if you want)--or you can inbox me.  

Thanks for helping to shape this series into something helpful for everybody!  If you want to see the results of the survey be sure to subscribe to my blog by filling in the form in the left column.

(If you haven't read the story about the impact of pornography on our marriage, and the way God has worked to redeem, start here.)

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the real truth about those ideal, "boring" men? they're kind of hard to find.

Ann Voskamp wrote an article in praise of "boring" men that has been viral on my Facebook feed this week.  

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Basic premise:  a lifetime of dedication together is better than the over-the-top romantic/sexual brouhaha you'll find in various forms on the internet.

Awesome.

She gives this advice to her sons:

"And a man begins being romantic years before any ring - romance begins with only having eyes for one woman now - so you don't go giving your eyes away to cheap porn."

She talks about how her husband has only ever had eyes for her.

Also awesome.

But--you knew it was coming--***asterisk.  

GIANT, HUMONGOUS, ASTEROID-SIZED ***ASTERISK.

Some women get to have that "I only have eyes for you" guy, which is great for them.  

But what about the rest of us?

***About half of women my age (40 something) are dealing with a situation that is significantly less than optimal when it comes to that particular standard.

***As for younger women?  Probably 80% of college women are going to end up with a guy who's had significant pornography exposure.  

The stats vary, but they go something like this:

80% of teens.  47% of Christian homes.  53% of Promise Keepers.  All viewing porn.  Starting about age 10 these days.  

https://wsr.byu.edu/pornographystats

We've spent several decades hoping that guys would figure this out.  I don't see it happening.

God said in the Garden, "It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a companion who will help him." (Genesis 2:18)

I love this:  God sees a man in trouble, he sends a woman in to help.

Let's start helping. 

Women before us have been queens and judges and prophets and warriors.  We can do it, too.

To get battle-ready, we need to understand a few things:

1.  God redeems.

Many of us have worked hard to have the ideal marriage.  When that ideal fails, we fear it's all over.

And that is just not true.  When the perfect ship has sailed, and we are out of options, God still works.  

Andy and me?  This is our story:  God redeems.  

God doesn't redeem because our life is a chocolate sundae and He just needs to stick the cherry on top.  God redeems because we are in deep trouble, and His redemption is essential to the next breath we take.

I may be out of options, but God is not.  He redeems.  That's his job.

2.  Sometimes perfection is just not all that perfect.

As one of my battle-ready friends wisely said yesterday, "Doing things the right way can actually be a way of avoiding emotional intimacy."

Having our "perfect" marriage fall apart was the best thing that ever happened to us.  

It was painful and scary, for sure.  

But it was an opportunity to be honest, to get real, to be vulnerable and connected with each other like we never were when we were "perfect."

And guess what.  

I would not trade away the life I have now for a pornography-free past.  

True story:  I am grateful.  For everything.

3.  Get connected to resources.

Get information.  Here's a post we did a while back that includes advice and resources.

Get your internet filtered, using a good resource like Covenant Eyes.  I love CE because it's internet-based; if it gets uninstalled, if the settings get changed, we get a message.  I would not feel secure with a "parent-controlled" filter.  

Get help:  individual therapy, Celebrate Recovery, a 12-Step group.  The offender needs to own the problem and work on it, to restore trust by being trustworthy.  The injured person needs a safe place to feel emotions, work on boundaries, and move toward forgiveness and healing.

4.  You are not alone.

Look at the statistics!  You are NOT the only one dealing with this.  

Almost every single time I tell my story in a new setting, somebody lets me know that they are struggling too.  That's one of the incredible joys of telling my story: the community that gets built.  

We can fight through this together, as a band of sisters.  

So.  

Wish your guy was more "boring"?  

Wish Al Gore had never invented the *^$###!! internet?

I hear ya.

But listen to me now, because this is what I know:

God's redemption is way better than my perfection.

And all of us together can be on the side of that redemption, strong and courageous.

Even though our romantic ideal has failed, God never fails.

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today's guest post at Covenant Eyes

I was invited to guest-post over at the Covenant Eyes blog this week.  Covenant Eyes is the guardian of internet safety at our house, and when they ask me to write for them, it's a pleasure to give back just a little bit for all the peace of mind they've given me over the years. A few months ago, I wrote a piece for them that was more of an endorsement of their product.  Why do we need internet filtering at our house, anyway?

Because sometimes people will say to me, well, I  just want my husband/my kids to learn to deal with what's out there, so we don't filter.

It's why I don't have ice cream in my freezer, folks.  I don't want to eat ice cream all the time.  Well, I do want to eat it all the time.  But it's not good for me.  So I don't have it around.

Same thing with the bad stuff on the internet.  We don't want it in our house.  So we keep it out.  And Covenant Eyes helps us do that.  Super simple and lots of heartache saved.

But that was last time. This time they asked me for more of my own story.  How did I find out about Andy's issue with pornography?  How did it make me feel?  What did we do about it?  And how are things now?  Click here to have all your questions answered.

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Pornography Saved My Marriage

Pornography Saved My Marriage. I've been wanting to use that title for years.  Imagine how it would just fly off the shelves of the Christian book store.

Companion volume:  Martinis for Missionaries.

(I'll be here all week, folks.)

But seriously.  Really.

God can use anything.  Balaam's donkey, Jonah's whale, you name it.  Nothing is outside the realm of redemption when God gets a hold of it.  Not even a pornography addiction.

Romans 5:20-21 says this:  "But as people sinned more and more, God's wonderful kindness became more abundant.  So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, so now God's wonderful kindness rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."  (New Living Translation)

The  more sin there is, the more grace we find.

But "should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more kindness and forgiveness?  Of course not!"  (Romans 6:1-2, NLT)

I can't help it y'all.  I live in south Dallas.  This is the picture that comes into my mind:

The sin is not good.  But the grace of God and His power to redeem is awesome indeed.

This little chapter of my story has a happy ending.  Our marriage is exponentially better than it was before.

I realize that many, many people don't get that particular happy ending.  And maybe it seems like the story just gets worse and worse.

I don't know how God is going to redeem in all those other stories, but I believe with all my heart that He will.  I believe that He is alive and well and at work.

And our job is to keep pressing on, toward That Day, believing that God can use anything and everything to bring us Home together.

***

So.  I think I've said what I wanted to say in this series.  This has been a challenging enterprise for yours truly.  I'm grateful to my nearest and dearest, who held my hand through the anxiety-laden days leading up to publication.  You know who you are.  Thanks for loving me through it.

I'm especially grateful to Andy, for his vulnerability, unwavering support, and encouragement.  I love you more.

If you've picked up partway through the series, and want to read the whole thing, it starts here.

And up next, here on the blog, I'm going to indulge  my passion for Handel's Messiah during the holiday season.  I haven't written anything yet, but I already cried while listening to the overture this morning.  So I'm off to a good start.

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An Anatomy of Redemption: The Baby Bears

"You're like a momma bear with her cubs." The person who said this to me (right in the middle of the worst year of my life) was, I think, attempting to admonish me.

But all I could say in reply was, "Well, yes.  Yes, I am like a momma bear with her cubs.  That is my job."

I have four children.  I love them fiercely.  If you try to hurt one of them, you will run off with claw marks down your back.

(I can't figure out a way to feel bad about that.  Although I must admit that I haven't tried real hard, either.)

That was one of the hardest things for me about the whole pornography mess in our family:  how it impacted our children.

Maybe you're a fairly perfect parent.  If so, you can spend the next few minutes reading a post you don't need.  Or go back to the football game.  Whatever.

But maybe you're a human being.  And you've screwed up.  Or you're married to a human being who has screwed up.  And you're worried about how your baby bears are going to survive the mess.

Let me tell you some things about our experience.  I hope they'll give you hope.

When we returned to Dallas in April 2003, it was our 5th international move in 3 years.  It was also our kids' third school situation--and third country--in one school year.  They had been home schooled in the Solomon Islands, attended a small mission school in Papua New Guinea, and then went into huge public schools in suburban Dallas county in April.

They were at four different ages and four different stages of life and the multiple moves and family upheaval impacted each of them differently.

To say that it was an emotional disaster zone is not an exaggeration.  And there was not much we could do about it, except cry through it with them.  And wait for the healing.  There was a lot of pain and I think some of the healing is still happening.

But Andy made a really good choice, back in 2003, that I think has made healing and redemption possible.

He told our kids the truth.  He told the older two at the time, and then waited to tell the younger two when they got a bit older.

I will admit that I was opposed.  I thought it would just hurt them more, at a time when it seemed to me that they'd had way more than enough.

But he felt strongly that he should tell them.

And he was right.  Genius, in fact.

It was difficult.  Painful.  But absolutely the best thing he could have done.

Telling the kids means that we're not hiding things from them.  

They know what's going on.  They don't have to make up stuff to explain the emotions in the house.

And that's what kids do when they don't have the facts.  They create a story that explains the emotions.  And usually that story involves self-blame, because every child believes that the world revolves around them.

Our kids are free to be angry with us, but they don't have to blame themselves.

Telling the kids means that they aren't responsible to fix the family.

This is an adult problem, the adults are taking responsibility, and the adults are doing what needs to be done to fix it.

When the adults aren't honest and when the adults aren't taking responsibility, the kids will do their best to fix their family.

Some will turn to perfectionism.  They'll try hard to make their parents feel better by being perfect or funny or beautiful or care-taking.  Others will become the black sheep.  They'll try hard to fix the family by creating problems that bring everyone together to work on solutions.

Our kids can be mad at us, but they don't have to fix the family.

Telling the kids means that we admit that we are human and imperfect.

It would be nice if we were perfect, and they never had to deal with this.  Because at some level, kids want their parents to be perfect.  So when we give them hurtful evidence of our imperfection, it's painful for them.

But the perfect ship has sailed.

So we tell the truth and we deal.

Telling the kids means that when they're struggling, they know it's OK to tell the truth and ask for help.

Our kids are having to learn how to cope with the internet in a healthy way, and it's tough!  Accidental exposure to pornography is almost a given at some point.  (Unless you're Amish.  And if you're reading this post, you aren't.)  Because our kids know what Andy's dealt with, they can come to him and say, "Dad, you need to block this one website, cuz it's giving me grief."

Most of all, what I've learned is this:  when we are not perfect, God can still take care of our kids.

I Corinthians 12:9 says this:  "My gracious favor is all you need.  My power works best in your weakness."  (New Living Translation)

God's power works best in our weakness.  His grace is all we need.  Even for the baby bears.

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An Anatomy of Redemption: Deal With It

I have been reading romance novels most of my life. And it started way before I discovered the Harlequin romances in the high school library.

I was in love with Gilbert Blythe in junior high.

Almanzo Wilder before that.

And the movie version of Prince Caspian just confirmed what I knew at age 10:  I want to be a princess!  Pick me!  Pick me!

But there's a reason this stuff is called fiction.  (Spoiler alert.)

IT'S NOT REAL.

We might wish, that in some perfect world, our knight in shining armor would come riding up and sweep us away from "all this."  But in reality, he just pulled into the driveway in a dinged-up Honda that has 225,000 miles on it.  People have been after him for computer support all day, somebody in  Singapore is still not able to upload their files, the boss is back in town with a long list of what went wrong, there were no good snacks in the break room, and he just wants to sit down, watch the ball game and not talk to anybody for a while.

He might come into the house wishing to find Angelina Jolie, wearing a low-cut ball gown and having the kids singing a ballad in 6-part harmony.  But he's going to find the dogs barking, homework all over the kitchen table, the kids needing a ride into Oak Cliff 10 minutes ago, the computer with the blue screen of death, and me in my sweats.

Reality bites.  Pretty hard sometimes.

But underneath the surface stresses we can slap up for a Facebook status, the deep questions remain:

  • Am I an OK person?  Am I normal?  Does anybody else understand how I feel?  Or care?
  • Am I worthy of love?  If you really, really knew me, would you still love me?
  • If I'm not perfectly beautiful/perfectly strong every day, will you still love me?
  • If I told you the truth, could we still be OK together?

I think, in particular, when we start talking about sexual issues in marriage, a lot of us women would rather not go there.

But we are fighting a war for healthy sexuality.  Let me remind you of the statistics:

  • 67% of children admit to clearing their Internet history to hide their online activity
  • 79% of accidental exposures to Internet porn among kids take place in the home
  • 56% of divorce cases involve one party having an obsessive interest in online porn
  • 29% of working adults accessed explicit websites on work computers  (Source:  covenant eyes.com)

If we're going to help, we need to stop being Rapunzel in the tower, and start being Rosie the Riveter, building bombs in the factory.

One of the first books I read, after finding out about Andy's pornography use, was The Sexual Man by Dr. Archibald Hart.  I wish he would write another book, now that the internet is such a part of our lives.  But his research is incredibly valuable.  Dr. Hart has worked for many years, both as a clinical psychotherapist, and as a seminary professor.  For this book, he surveyed over 600 men:  Christians, seminary students, clergy.  The good guys, y'all.  He was trying to determine what's normal for men who are trying hard to do the right thing.  The subtitle is "Masculinity without guilt."

So I would read passages out loud to Andy, and say (possibly in an accusing tone), "Is this true?"  And he would sheepishly say, "Well, yeah..."

Another great book on marriage is The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman.  He's done a truly ridiculous amount of research, and he can tell within 5 minutes of meeting with a couple whether they will divorce or not.  You'll have to read the book for his seven principles--and also for his Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  Fascinating stuff.

Here's one thing Gottman found:

"The determining factor in whether wives feel satisfied with the sex, romance, and passion in their marriage is, by 70 percent, the quality of the couple's friendship.  For men, the factor is, by 70 percent, the quality of the couple's friendship."

Many of us are saying to our husbands, "There's this whole part of you that I don't want to know anything about.  If you told me the truth, I couldn't handle it.  So let's just pretend it doesn't exist."

He asks, "Could you love me if you knew?"

And we say, "No way.  Keep it to yourself."

In our quest for comfort, we reject our husbands at a deep level.

What quality of friendship can we expect when we do that?  Not a good one.

What impact will that have on our marriages?  Not a good one.

Here's what I know.  Prince Gilmanzo can take a hike into the sunset.

I just want my BFF.

And I want him, being who he is, not feeling like he has to hide stuff about himself and protect me from reality.

I'm a big girl now.  I can deal with it.

So here's what I would say to other big girls.

  • Read The Sexual Man.  Learn, grow, accept.
  • Read The Seven Principles.  It's really positive and empowering for marriages.
  • Get your shields up and your internet filtered.  Covenant Eyes is our friend.
  • If you need counseling, go!  Even if you have to go alone.
  • You might be scared, but you can still be strong.
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