love is my miracle

27 years ago today, Andy and I were married in little hilltop church in Kentucky. 

The bridesmaids wore tea-length royal blue dresses with big puffy sleeves.  I wore self-made ivory satin, overlaid with hand-beaded lace.  My hair was not as big as I wanted it to be on that June day in 1987; in retrospect, a great mercy. 

I loved Andy then, I really did.  And he loved me, too.  He really did.  But we were barely into our 20’s, and as sweet as the day was, we didn’t have a clue. 

 photo:  Andy Bruner

photo:  Andy Bruner

Like Paul says in the famous love chapter of I Corinthians 13, I was a child and I understood as a child.

When it came to love, I didn’t know I would need anything more than nice.  I'll be nice to you, you be nice to me, and we'll be just fine.  That's what I thought.

But it turned out that Love was more than nice, and "just fine" was really not the plan God had.

Love is so much more, and it does so much more.

Love is strong, and passionate about justice.

Love doesn’t just let the mess have its horrible way.

Love doesn’t give up. 

Love is vulnerable, but in the fiercest way:  digging deep, pulling out the pain, living real.

Love is the truth. 

Love doesn’t live in lies. 

Love doesn’t need to pretend or deny. 

Love rejoices in the truth. 

Because the truth, no matter how difficult, sets us free, and that’s what Love came to do.

Love wins our freedom, and so it never overrides our free will. 

It waits and it hopes and endures.  

Love lets us choose.  

And it keeps on loving, no matter what.

Love, for me, has been the great healing force of my life. 

When there was no way, Love made a way.

Love found us where we were, and it did not leave us there alone. 

And that is a miracle to celebrate every single day.

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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 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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and they lived egalitarianly ever after

It's funny how Andy and I ended up in an egalitarian marriage.  We didn't do it on purpose.

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We were both raised in traditional, conservative Christian households, where the assumption was man=leader, woman=follower.

We had been told, "This is God's design for marriage."  We thought it was true, and we tried to make it work.

Andy was supposed to be the stalwart, adventuresome spiritual leader.  On the inside, he felt young and scared and incompetent.  

But it was wrong to be that way, so he covered it up.

I was supposed to be meek and submissive and to let my husband do the talking for me.  On the inside, I was mad because I had important things to say, and I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to do with the brain God gave me.  

But it was wrong to be that way, and my anger turned into depression.

It looked fine on the outside, because we both knew how to  play the game.  But our insides were way different from our outsides.

Andy was looking at pornography, and I was getting suicidal.

After we got deeply, painfully, agonizingly real with each other, our relationship grew into something completely different.

We learned Andy was not strong all the time.  He needs love and attention and reassurance and care, just like I do.  

We learned that my voice is a valuable gift, and not something to be locked inside my head.  I need respect and affirmation of my gifts and abilities, just like he does.

We found that real unity is what we wanted, not role-playing.

And as we experienced that real unity, we both discovered the incredible freedom that comes with being loved and accepted and celebrated for exactly who you are.  

We ended up egalitarian, and now we wouldn't have it any other way.

I know there are individual proof texts telling wives to submit.  But there are also individual proof texts telling us to have our heads covered, telling slaves to submit to masters, and telling us not to eat bacon.  We're good at picking and choosing.

The scriptures say things like, if the Son has set you free you are free indeed (John 8:36).  And:  you're free, so don't get tangled up in slavery again (Galatians 5:1).

So God would make me free, but then my husband would somehow be designed and called by God to curtail that freedom?  

I don't see how that works.  

So I've gone out of the individual proof-texting business and I'm going with a model that seems to fit the bigger picture of scripture, and also the joyful life I have.

The question that people ask is this:  "Who makes the final decision when you disagree?"

Answer:  NOBODY.

Our unity matters to us way more than any decision.

99.9% of decisions just don't matter all that much.  We decide together, and sometimes one of us has a stronger opinion, so we go that way.  No big deal.  Happy to do it. 

If we have gotten to a place where we are so divided that "somebody" has to make a final decision that we can't both agree with?  Our unity is in deep trouble, and we will backtrack, regroup, and work it forward.

Here's another thing to know.  

This kind of unity doesn't fall down in a shower of rain.  It doesn't happen accidentally, automatically, or overnight.  We wept bitter tears and sweated blood for it.  We spend time on it every single day, because we are not letting go of it. 

But it's worth it, so worth it, and we love living egalitarianly ever after.

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therapy or gossip?

"How can I get relationship advice without gossiping?  And is therapy just a big gossip fest?" Somebody asked me to write a blog post about this, and I think those are really interesting questions.

Gossip is "idle talk, groundless rumor."  (The Oxford Desk Dictionary)

When we're gossiping, it's none of our business.  But I feel better when I talk about so-and-so's terrible trouble with her children.  I go away feeling satisfied because she is way worse off than I am.  It is unhealthy, harmful, and mean-spirited, even when I dress it up with a "bless her heart and call the prayer chain."

My personal guideline for avoiding gossip is to tell my own story.

I can't completely avoid talking about other people, because my life is comprised mostly of relationships.  Other people's actions do impact me, and often I need to process what I think and feel in response to someone else.

But I can feel in my gut when I've crossed the line from telling my story to making somebody else look bad for my own entertainment.  Doesn't always stop me, but I can feel it there.

Advice is "counsel, guidance, suggestion."  (Oxford)

And I hope this is what happens in therapy.  My goal in therapy is to  help my clients tell the truth, sort out their feelings, own what they can, and decide upon a healthy course of action in the relationship.   We're trying to be healthy, to respect everyone involved, and to work toward understanding and forgiveness.  I think all those things separate therapy from gossip.

So that's my basic answer.

But then there's this other fascinating thing, called triangulation.  

When we triangulate, we "reduce anxiety in one relationship by focusing on a third party, who we unconsciously pull into the situation to lower the emotional intensity in the original pair."  (Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Anger.)

We can use gossip to triangulate, and I think women do this a lot.

Say I'm anxious about my relationship with Friend A.  She and I get together for lunch, and I feel like there's a distance between us.  It's really easy to say, "Hey, did you hear about Friend B?" and then Friend A and I can agree about whatever bad thing is going on with Friend B, and we feel closer together.

Triangulation can go far beyond simple gossip, especially when there's entrenched anxiety in important relationships, especially in marriages.  A lot of times, people will blow up another relationship when their marriage is in difficulty.  It's better, on the relationship-anxiety scale, to be upset and distracted about a bad friend or a bad kid or a bad boss than a bad marriage.

So, what do you think?  

What tempts you to gossip?  Why?  

Can you find patterns of triangulation in your life?  What's the underlying anxiety?

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it never hurts to be vulnerable

I heard my husband say this to one of our kids on the phone a couple of days ago: "It never hurts to be vulnerable."

(Things I Love About My Husband, Number 4,682)

We talked about it later, and I said, "But that's why we're not vulnerable.  Because we're afraid that it will hurt us."

And we talked about the fear we have of losing a relationship if we say something that might not be acceptable to the other person.

What if we hit that person's hot button on politics or abortion or homosexuality or gun control?

What if we use a word they don't like?

What if they want something and we don't?

What if we're vulnerable, and they reject us?

We concluded that if we're not vulnerable, we don't have a real relationship anyway.  

We might have the illusion of a relationship.  

But it's not a real relationship, if we can't be vulnerable and still be acceptable.

Mike Yaconelli puts it like this:  "People who pretend, have pretend relationships."

So.  If you want real, it never hurts to be vulnerable.

But.  If you haven't had a lot of practice being vulnerable, or if there is something you experience as deep and dark and shameful, and if you've gotten a lot of messages from your nearest and dearest about how important it is to be perfect--well, being vulnerable can feel like a big huge leap into the abyss.

Pretend relationships seem like better than no relationships, when we're standing on the edge of that cliff.

And this is where I would say, find somebody who is safe and start to be vulnerable.  

For many of us, a safe place for vulnerability might be a counselor or a pastor or a close friend.  It could be a Celebrate Recovery group, Alcoholics Anonymous, or AlAnon.

Some of us have tried being vulnerable, only to have it blow up in our faces.

We got told to read our Bibles more.  To pray better.  To just stop it, because Christians don't do those things.

And here is another genius thought from my husband.

He says what if you had a leaky toilet, and you got a handyman to come and fix it.  But instead of fixing it, he made it worse and left you with a geyser in your bathroom instead of a simple little leak.

You would not conclude that toilets could not be fixed.

You would conclude that the guy was an idiot, and then call in somebody reputable.

But when it comes to emotional stuff, when we reach out for help and find ourselves dealing with idiots (and there are lots of them out there, so it's inevitable), somehow we conclude that nobody could possibly love and accept us, and that our emotional world is broken beyond hope of redemption, and we must die lost and alone.  (We catastrophize in these situations, you know we do.)

Of course emotional risks are the big ones.

But they are also the most rewarding, when they pay off.  And I think the pay off is worth trying--again and again and again, if you have to--until you find other people who get it.

Who are sick of pretend.

Who want to be real.

Who know that it never hurts to be vulnerable.

Because the weird thing about vulnerability is that it seems like weakness at the time, admitting how bad things are.  But once you've told the truth, the lies don't control you any more.  There's freedom.  Power.

The truth sets you free.  

Somebody said that once, and it appears to actually be true.

Over the past couple of years, I have developed a teensy little addiction to TED Talks.  A couple of my favorites are Brene Brown's talks on vulnerability and shame.  She's funny, she's real, she's so worth listening to.  So here you go.  (One of my favorite lines is, "We're falling apart and it feels great!")

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psN1DORYYV0]

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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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