I Can't Do This Without You

Almost every thursday for the past year I’ve gone to this meeting called Celebrate Recovery. Essentially it’s a 12 step program for anything and anyone at any stage in their life. I know that’s vague, but it’s supposed to be. Most people don’t think they need a program (as with many 12 step programs), and they think they are doing fine on their own, so they don’t even give it a chance. This is my shameless plug for Celebrate Recovery; give it a chance. If you find yourself being invited or seeing a sign for it or something about it on social media, think about it. Maybe it’s not for you... but maybe it is.

When I got to Celebrate Recovery, I knew very well that I needed to be there. I was humbled by my mistakes and shortcomings and needed healing so badly. I got a lot of it. In this past year I’ve been set free from so many things that held me captive. Things I never thought I would admit because they felt so shameful. I didn’t want to be a “bad” christian. I set down my pride and self preservation and came clean about all the things that were hurting me, all the things I wanted to let Jesus change and He did. So now I’m one year into this recovery thing and my pride is slipping in again. I’ve gotten healing, I’ve been honest, I’ve admitted hard things, I’m great. Me me me, all my accomplishments, all the things I’ve overcome.

If you see anything wrong with those last couple sentences, then we are on the same page. I do nothing good without Christ. I do believe I played a role, I said yes. But beyond that it wasn’t my strength. Logically I know that but lately I haven’t been living in that truth. I think this is a big part of why Joey and I struggled so much with our boundaries at the beginning. I didn’t want boundaries, I didn’t want rules. I wanted to claim myself healed and victorious without considering there was more work to be done. Oh, but is there work to be done. I wanted to be able to kiss Joey because I like him and it’s fun and I’ve had so much healing... it must be fine, right?

Some people can probably kiss on the lips and be okay but I knew beforehand that it wasn’t smart for me. Dating protip: don’t change your boundaries in a emotionally charged moment. I didn’t anticipate how much I would like Joey. I didn’t expect to be emotionally charged. In recovery we have this saying… if you aren’t working on your recovery, you’re working on your relapse. Something I haven’t worked towards in recovery this last year is making outreach calls. Outreach calls are when you call someone of the same gender in Celebrate Recovery to talk about your recovery. The idea is that you do this when things are going okay so that it will be easier to reach out when things are harder. It’s a habit that helps you form community. It’s vulnerable, and to me it’s scary. I didn’t have this recovery tool when I started dating Joey. When we first started dating and we struggled with our purity I knew I could reach out to a few people but I didn’t want to bother anyone. I didn’t want to reason things out and take up people’s time. And if I’m being honest, I was afraid they would call me out before I felt ready to give up my sin.

I’ve had to set up a lot more boundaries with Joey but I also have had to start being honest with people. I have a sponsor who mentors me in my recovery and I have told her what I have done and what my boundaries look like moving forward. I also have friends who are accountability partners that I can reach out to. When we first started to get our boundaries figured out, I texted someone before I saw him every time I saw him. And I texted them when he left and told them

how it went. I sometimes will text people just to tell them my thoughts aren’t pure and I’m entertaining something that makes Jesus sad. Now I reach out 3 times a week, because if I don’t then I’m not working on my recovery. If I don’t I’m taking a step towards relapse.

Something I told Joey when we started dating was that my purity meant more to me than he did. I wanted him to know I wasn’t messing around. That value was tested and sadly did not stand up perfectly but I stand by it despite my failure. I never asked Joey if I could have accountability, I never asked him if I could tell my sponsor. If he didn’t want to date someone who wants to fear God (even when she doesn’t feel like it) he could find someone else. That’s not an ultimatum. That’s a value, that’s a core belief and it’s one I stick to. I love following Joey’s lead but I as his girlfriend don’t have to submit to him and I intend to exercise that right. That is a really practical way in my relationship to put God first. I took time to write about this because I use to believe I had to get my boyfriend’s permission to follow God’s leading. My stomach turns just thinking about it. I’m all for submission in marriage. If done correctly it sounds sweet. And when it’s hard it seems like it would really sharpen me. But I think too many christians date and play married. I’m not saying I don’t do this in some way, I definitely might. I’m not hiding the fact I want to marry Joey. But I don’t want to live in a fantasy. The reality is that we’re dating and when your dating you don’t get married privileges.

It would be easier to play married though. It was easier to not have set boundaries. Don’t get me wrong, it was definitely more painful, but in the moment it was much easier. I like the easy way, it doesn’t test my character and it doesn’t point out my weaknesses the way choosing to hold yourself to a higher standard does. But that’s not love. Love only exists in reality. Reality is not defined by my feelings in a fleeting moment but by the words spoken by a constant eternal Creator. So the reality I’m trying to be aware of is that I can’t do this alone. I need people that I can confess things to and pray with. In not-so-glorious detail if that’s what it takes. In some ways I need this blog. I need to think through this relationship and have a place to check in. I need to know God is using me for this, and also for something bigger than me. Even if everyone stopped reading this blog I know that when I reach out to my accountability, other people are being blessed too. God is in the business of blessing His children when they work together. He rewards unity.

So as always, I’m learning and growing despite the days that feel like a hopeless dead end. And if I look back through these posts, even a couple months ago I was worse off. I’m learning a lot about self control, love, and the power of community. This life is a war bigger than we can see, but I’m hopeful when I see the small victories. I can’t do this without you friends, even if I wanted to.

Peace

I’ve noticed lately that “like” can be a stronger word than “love.” Love’s true meaning absolutely speaks to a deeper affection and bond, but the problem is that a man might declare that He loves his wife and loves pizza in the same sentence. Obviously this is not the same kind of love, but we still use the word to describe a connection to things both as unbreakable as a marriage vow and as fleeting as a thin crust pepperoni.

Growing up in the church, I was taught from a very young age that Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so. Which it does. And He does. But one of the most exciting things I have learned recently is that Jesus doesn’t just love me, He actually likes me. He wants to hear about the highs and lows of my day, as well as the desires of my heart. David demonstrates these types of confessions in the Psalms. I’ll get back to this idea in a moment.

Something else I heard about a lot growing up in the church was having physical boundaries in dating relationships. It’s every youth group’s favorite sermon series. At my church, we would have “ditch the guys, ditch the girls” nights in middle school. As the name suggests, the guys and girls would separate, and we were given the opportunity to ask anything we wanted that might be too uncomfortable to ask with the other gender present. These types of talks continued throughout high school and college at varying degrees of intensity and directness, and though the battle for purity has been difficult these past 3 months, it’s something I felt at least a little bit prepared for.

The battle I did not feel prepared for was for keeping emotional boundaries. Emotional boundaries were like a footnote in the margin of these sex and dating talks. I knew it was a thing, but I didn’t take the time to jot down those notes because honestly, it didn’t sound that dangerous. Sex before marriage? Clearly sin. My middle school brain could wrap itself around that. Got it. But not getting too emotionally close to girls before marriage? Um, okay. I guess. I’m a guy though, I’m not emotional. And what’s the big deal if we are? We’re not hurting each other. It’s not like having sex.

The bucket of ice water was that if sex is just a way to become more emotionally connected, you could theoretically just skip it and share your deepest thoughts and feelings with someone to achieve a similar effect. Which, if you’ve been reading this blog, Sam and I did.

A brief side note… Something else I’ve learned in this relationship is that it’s my responsibility to know how to love Sam well. Ignorantly committing a crime is still a crime, because it’s your responsibility to know the law. I’m not a victim of what I wasn’t told, it was on me to learn it. And I’ve hurt a girl I really love because of my lack of preparation.

End side note. Anyway, I knew something was wrong. But I still didn’t feel like I had a good grasp on how to fix it, or even how to do define what the problem was. Fortunately, a trusted friend and mentor gave me a definition. “Sin occurs when you are going to anyone else to get what you should be going to God for. An emotional affair occurs when you are going to another human to get filled up emotionally.” This definition made sense, and I immediately thought of the woman at the well. Jesus used that well as a metaphor for getting filled up from the things of this world, as opposed to getting filled up from him, the living water that would satisfy.

I’ve tried putting this into practice by telling God things that I’m thinking and feeling, and processing them with him. He has been getting some of my most raw and honest thoughts lately. Sam observed that it’s easier and much more direct to process something with a person because they speak back audibly and directly. I think God gave us people for that exact purpose, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I’m learning that if you go to God, He has something much more powerful and profound to offer you.

This verse has been so encouraging to me over the past few months…

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

Sometimes I don’t understand my own feelings. I’m generally a pretty self-aware person, and think about things deeply. But my feelings can still take me by surprise. One of the most profound verses in all of Scripture, in my opinion, is Jeremiah 17:9… “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” If I could preach on one verse to the entire world, I think it might be this one. It goes against the “follow your dreams” mentality of this culture. I don’t trust my thoughts and feelings, and therefore don’t make decisions based on them. I make decisions based on God’s peace. I’ve found it to be present in some of the darkest moments, and in some of the most confusing and unsure times. It guards my heart and my mind, and lately, I’ve been letting it light the way.

For me emotional boundaries have been all about feeling things with God. It sounds strange, but it’s real, and it’s powerful. Since God knows my heart and mind, he is the only only one worthy of my innermost thoughts and feelings. He can also touch my heart and mind in a way that no one else can. I can get really great thoughts and feelings from Sam. She warms my heart and gives me butterflies. We also have really great conversations about the Bible and who God is, and she shares things with me that have never occurred to me before. But God is the only one from whom I can receive a peace that transcends all understanding. So at the end of the day, He’s the one I want to go to with all my most uncensored thoughts and feelings. As I said at the beginning of this post, He likes me. He’s just as excited about this relationship as I am, and I have felt it. I’m thankful for his love and for his peace.

First Fight

This is the story of our first fight. I’m actually still not sure if it counts as a fight. Is there a time requirement for an argument to be considered a fight? It didn’t last very long and didn’t involve any raised voices, but it was definitely a tense couple of minutes. I don’t want to speak on behalf of Sam or her feelings, so I can only tell you what happened from my perspective.

After church, I went out of my way to do something for Sam that I knew would make her happy. She didn’t realize that it was such a sacrifice for me, because I didn’t tell her. I had a pretty busy evening coming up (our college group was hosting an outreach event in the form of a hoedown), and Sam wanted to spend some time worshipping and reading the Bible together before things got crazy. I had a few hours to spare before I needed to start working, so I took her back to my house, and we spent about an hour playing through some songs. Then, feeling anxious about all I had to do to prepare for the event, I asked if we could run errands.

She said yes.

The first thing Sam did right was not voice the frustration she felt in that moment. And she didn't plan too. I like that about Sam. She is slow to speak, but doesn’t use silence as a tactic. I know her pretty well though, and asked if she was okay. As always, she was honest with me. She told me she was frustrated that I hadn’t given her the time she wanted, and that I was already thinking about preparing for the hoedown. She said that if she had known it would be so short, she would have just gone home after church.

I’ll be honest friends, this pissed me off. I had made a sacrifice to give her that time, and she was acting completely ungrateful. I said something that I knew would pierce her heart, and convey just how heated I was. “I’m going to drop you off at your car.” Not a question… a statement. Something she didn’t get a say in. I made it clear I didn’t want to be with her.

It was silent for a few minutes. In those minutes, I began to regret what I said. Eventually she said, “Hey babe, would it be okay if I dropped you off at your car?” She was offering an alternative to the words that had come out of my mouth. This made me even angrier.

“Can you tell me what you’re feeling?” she said after a few minutes of silence.

I wanted so badly to give her the silent treatment. Drop her off without saying a word.

I want to pause in this moment, and tell you that I have experienced many of these moments in past relationships. One thing is said, then another, then another. All of a sudden you’re too tied up in your emotions to care about the other person’s feelings even a little bit. You think of all kinds of mean and hurtful things you could say. Emotions can become a thick cloud that keep you from seeing what you really love about a person. I handled things pretty well from this point on, but I just wanted you to know that it took many immature fights and arguments for me to learn that it’s just not worth it. Not even a little bit. You have to reject the voice inside your head telling you to unleash all your hurt and brokenness on them. Plus, I love Sam a lot more than I have loved anyone else, and I want to treat her better than anyone else I’ve dated. Anyway, I don’t know why the next words were so difficult for me to say, but they were.

“I feel frustrated,” I said slowly. “It was a big sacrifice for me to spend some time with you this afternoon, and I feel like you aren’t being very grateful.” That was all it took. She threw her arms around my arm, and said she was sorry. I apologized too. Fight over.

Emotions can be embarrassing, huh? It’s not easy to be honest about what’s really going on in your heart. But I think honesty has been one of the most important elements in my relationship with Sam. We say the things that are hard to say, but need to be said. I want to give you a piece of super spiritual advice, and a peace of super practical advice, both from the same verse.

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. James 1:19-20

Here’s my super spiritual advice. What does being slow to speak and slow to anger produce?Righteousness. The righteousness that God desires. Proverbs 21:21 says that whoever pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor. I don’t know about you, but I want my relationship to be full of life, to prosper, and to be honoring to God. I want both of us to live and walk in righteousness, and that can’t happen if you’re saying the first thing that pops into your head. Or the second. Or the third. Because typically all of the first thoughts you have are pretty destructive. That’s why my super practical advice will come in handy.

Take a breath. Literally. Or maybe ten. Not only does taking a breath take time, it also sends oxygen to your brain. And in the middle of a tense moment when your heart is hurting or angry, you’re going to want to rely more on your brain than your heart to guide you. I have a feeling you already know the right thing to say. It just takes self-control and humility to say it.

I Love You, I Do

I like Joey. I like him so much I told him I loved him before we even got off the plane. It was technically our second day of dating. I don’t recommend that, I can’t even say with full confidence I should have done that but I did and now we’re here. I will say, though I have regrets in life, that is not one of them. I didn’t say I love you to hear it said to me, I actually told him not to say it back. It was sweet.

I’ve struggled in the past with saying I love you at the wrong time to the wrong people for the wrong reasons. I used to say I love you to get my way, to keep toxic people around, to feel less lonely. I’m not doing that now. I went through a season of growth and healing recently (I think most seasons can have growth and healing but this one specifically was focused on that). But before that season, I went through a season of crippling codependency. Codependency can be defined as excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically a partner who requires support due to an illness or addiction. That’s the web definition, it’s not a bad one but I could write a whole post just about codependency. I probably will eventually.

The season I found myself in wasn’t codependency with one single person but many. It was a church, a small church. They needed me, and that’s where I kept my identity. I thought it was safe, I tucked pieces of myself in between worship practices and youth nights. I knew what doors you needed to jiggle the keys in order to get in. I could have laid on the old pews every night and called it home. They told me they loved me, and I put more weight into their I love you than I did the Lord’s.

God allowed this community to be taken away from me. I found myself alone for the first time in my life, no friend group, no boyfriend, I didn’t have a lot of family. I was really alone. Before when I found myself alone too long I would find someone to hang out with but that felt cheap in this season. I knew it was a bandaid to mask my pain. So I sat with Jesus and told Him I was lonely, that I was hurting and I wanted so badly just to be held. It wasn’t immediately that I felt peace. I had to really sit and give Him my time. I know He wanted to speak to me, He just wanted to know I was really listening. I had to be honest, I cried more than I have in a long time. I felt crazy.In the past I use to cry out to God. I didn’t know Him well enough so when He didn’t reply when I wanted Him to I thought He wasn’t listening. It’s taken me a long time to start to open up to God again. If you live in lies long enough, the truth feels foreign to you.

“Why are you talking to Him? He wasn’t listening before, why would He care now?”

Those lies were enough for me to swallow my tears and grit my teeth till I fell asleep.

If you’re not listening God that’s fine. I don’t need you, I don’t need anything.

But I found myself a lone and I needed company. I needed His presence. He talked to me. He likes to do that- talk to the needy. I think we’re all needy but He really speaks to those who know it. This is the season I found out who I was, for the first time in my life I felt God’s love. Not for a moment during a worship song but I got to walk in it daily.

Me? You love me?

“Yeah, I do. And guess what? Others do too.”

This was the first time in my life that I entertained the thought that I might be enjoyable just because that’s the way that God made me. That was not a truth that someone could prove to me. No, I had to be still and let God whisper it to me, right into all the cracks in my heart. God started heart surgery. I don’t think I’m done, I have a lot of wounds. I have wounds that were given to me that I can’t even see clearly because I’ve lived with them for so long. I also have self inflicted injuries, whether I knew it or not, I was hurting myself with my years of codependency. Something that I’m sure of is that I don’t NEED any one person. I need people, I need community, don’t get me wrong- I am needy. The lesson I started to learn is that people weren’t made to fill my God sized needs.

When I said I love you to Joey, I knew I didn’t need him to love me back. I mean, eventually if he didn’t love me there obviously wouldn’t be a relationship but I knew I didn’t need that either. It was so freeing. I loved being able to tell Joey I love him before he had the chance to do anything for me. I loved all the ways I saw him reflecting Jesus in Tanzania. I’m still pretty excited about him so I don’t know, maybe reality hasn’t popped my “puppy love” bubble yet but I  knew I wasn’t seeing him solely through rose colored glasses. I saw his imperfection, I feel like Jesus showed them to me. None of his shortcoming have really surprised me yet. Easily understood, easily forgiven. I haven’t kept track of his mistakes and I pray he doesn’t keep track of mine. Because if love was a game, I know I’m the one with the attitude problem and he’s definitely winning.

Something I am learning about saying I love you is that it means a little less if your actions don’t follow. Joey and I have been struggling with our physical boundaries. It’s been pretty devastating. I’m actually really thankful that it breaks my heart, I know it breaks Jesus’ heart when we don’t walk in purity. I want to be like Jesus, even when it’s painful. Every time we mess up, the first thing I think is-

This isn’t love.

And it isn’t. If I can’t grow in self control, if I can’t say no and stick to my boundaries then I need to get out of this relationship. I want to help Joey not hurt him. All that to say, I don’t regret saying I love you but for now, I’m going to cool it. If I can’t love Joey well with my actions, I don’t get to use my words to tell him. I don’t want my talk to be cheap.

Maybe I love you is kind of like currency. If money isn’t backed by anything (gold and silver) it’s just a piece of paper. American money isn’t backed by anything, that’s why inflation is a thing I think. When it’s not tied to anything it loses it’s value. I think I love you is the same way, if it’s not backed by our actions then it’s just words. It loses value over time if you don’t tie it to your actions. I like that, I don’t actually know a whole lot about currency so I hope that analogy holds up. I’m pretty sure I can find a Bible verse on this…

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Romans 12:9‭-‬10 ESV

I love that verse. My love was genuine on the plane, and I want it to continue to be. I know I can’t do it without Jesus, the really exciting part is that He’s on my side. However this goes, you better believe that I’m going to look more like Jesus by the end of it. He is the most important and as long as I’m seeking His will I’m coming out on top. I want my love to be a rich currency backed with consistent actions. If I’m spending time with Love, I believe that is available to me because Love Himself is for me.

Protecting Beauty

 “Jesus didn’t have boundaries. He loved everybody, always.”

This was my opinion just a few months ago. I hadn’t read the book titled Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend that so many of my friends loved and recommended, but I was sure I disagreed with it. I had big plans to read it and then write a response about how we’re supposed to love everybody, always, and how there are no boundaries in love. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Sam was reading Boundaries before we started dating, and loved it. When she suggested that we read Boundaries in Dating, the authors’ follow up to Boundaries, I was willing and excited. Boundaries in dating did make sense to me. Kind of...

As I mentioned in a previous blogpost, my big plan was to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide and convict me and Sam. And as I wrote before, I was horribly mistaken. So I was going into Boundaries with an open heart, but was still skeptical of the whole idea of putting up walls and restrictions and barriers between me and others.

Then, in chapter one, the shortest little sentence changed my entire worldview.

“Boundaries keep good things in.”

It all instantly clicked for me. God brought Sam and I together, and anything that God creates is beautiful. I had witnessed that beauty firsthand, and had sent up many prayers thanking God for the gift of this girl. This one sentence reminded me that there are powers in the world that will seek to destroy our love and purity. Boundaries are about protecting the good things God has given us.

Suddenly, I wanted to do whatever I could to guard both my purity and Sam’s purity. I cherished her love and our story, and was ready to put safeguards in place to protect the gifts God has given us.

It’s been a while since either of us wrote a post, and the truth is that we’ve really been struggling over the past few weeks. There’s been a lot to figure out. On my birthday, I wrote out what I felt were healthy boundaries and talked about them with Sam. It was an elaborate plan in which we could cuddle OR kiss, but never both. There was a cuddling column and a kissing column with different things that were and weren’t allowed for each. We both agreed to them, and within a few hours had broken most of the boundaries we had just set. Sam wrote a whole post about that, and you can read it here.

Then, Sam took a shot at a list of boundaries that was much stricter than mine. We broke those within a few days.

Here’s what I’ve found to be the hardest thing. There’s things that are okay to do that lead to things that aren’t okay to do. For example, there’s nothing inherently wrong with cuddling on Sam’s bed while watching Netflix. But it’s basically impossible to stop ourselves from doing more. We made that mistake several weekends in a row, naively assuming each time that we wouldn’t mess up again. Finally, we had had enough, and now we’re not allowed in each other’s bedrooms.

Here’s the point... God has given us the privilege to do so much. We get to talk to each other, laugh with each other, go on dates together, and hold hands. Those are all incredible gifts, and they should be enough. Those are the things inside the boundaries. Those are the things we’re protecting. We aren’t protecting those things when we make out on or in a bed.

The first boundary was in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve weren’t allowed to eat from the one tree. There was a line around that tree that they were told not to cross. Something interesting I realized about that period of time was that everything was reversed... the entire world was good, and that boundary was keeping the evil in. Now that we live in a fallen world, evil is everywhere, and boundaries keep the good in.

If you’re in a relationship, protect the good. Sam and I highly recommend Boundaries in Dating. We’ve been learning so much about ourselves and about each other. Right now we’re reading about how our beliefs and convictions will play into our relationship. It’s amazing, and I hope you’ll take the time to read it.

That’s all for now, more posts coming soon.

Conviction

Have you ever had the wind knocked out of you? When I was growing up my best friend and I made a game out of it. I swear we loved eachother but the rules of the game were vicious- if you were the last person to knock the wind out of the other then you were winning. I had the wind knocked out of me probably once a week. 

If you've never experienced this, let me explain. When you get hit in just the right spot, your diaphragm spasms and breathing becomes almost impossible. If you're lucky it will last a minute before you can breathe deep again. But if you grew up like me, with an incredibly strong best friend, then you might be on the ground for a few minutes. 

When I get the wind knocked out of me (which thankfully happens much less now), I am all of a sudden very aware of how little control I have over my body. I can't will myself to breathe slower or stand up straight. My face is probably going to go through all the colors of a sunset and I won't be able to form a sentence until my body allows me to breathe again. 

The crazy thing is, this is how I feel after I sin. Not usually in the moment it happens, but the dust starts to settle and conviction sets in which is healthy. Conviction is a good thing, but I have never been able to sit in conviction without letting shame creep in. Shame is really crippling, it's the kind of punch that knocks you off your feet. In this relationship I'm learning the difference and I'm really thankful for that but I'm not a fan of the way I've been learning it.

Last night was Joey's birthday and we hung out and it was great, until it wasn't. We went to whole foods and got a vegan chocolate cake, listened to country music on the drive, sat and talked about boundaries and laughed SO much. I honestly have the time of my life with Joey and it's really cool because neither of us are really trying to. Have you ever been on a date or even just friends with someone and in your head you're trying to figure out how to make it fun? I've never had that thought with Joey. I don't even really try to make him laugh, it just happens. Wow, what a blessing. 

Anyways, we were having a great night. And then we weren't. We had just set up these boundaries (post on that coming soon) and they're great, really die to yourself kind of stuff. But you see, last night was Joey's birthday. And those are definitely the boundaries that we are going to adhere to in general but today? This is a special occasion! We can definitely handle kissing (which we haven't done in a week so it's extra exciting), taking a break to eat some cake and then cuddling late at night. What could go wrong? 

So much friends. I'm having a hard time figuring out how to explain this, because I don't really want to go into the details. But I'm afraid if I'm too vague you'll think we had sex. Okay listen, we didn't have sex or any variation of it. The mark of too far for a Christ follower starts in the mind. How far is too far? It's not even a matter of where your hands can go, it's about keeping your thoughts pure. Part of boundaries is keeping what's true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable and praiseworthy in your head. And you can't have both impure thoughts and pure thoughts. One will win, because darkness and light cannot coexist. 

So anyways, we look at the time and it's 2 something in the morning. And reality sinks in. We had not been wise and we had not been honoring God. The drive back to my car was rough. I apologized for ruining Joey's birthday (I know that's dramatic but it's really how I felt) and Joey took my hand and prayed. When we parked Joey reminded me that even though this sucks, Jesus died for this sin too. I knew that was true but I was having a hard time believing it. 

How many times will the Lord forgive me? I should know better by now. I was sitting and praying and begging God not to leave me. I have a real fear of abandonment, and I've come to really believe all I need is God but for some reason I'm afraid He'll leave me too. I know it's not true guys, but saying that to myself doesn't usually help. I'm learning that God can handle my insecurities, so I really try to just tell Him what they are- He is much better at assuring me than I am. I worry that God will leave because I let Him down again. I heard something really great at the Celebrate Recovery Summit this year in response to the fear of letting God down- you can't let Him down because you were never holding Him up. Wow. I hope that helps you as much as it helps me. 

I got down on my knees and gave Jesus my heart, broken over my sin. I was so sad because I'd lost sight of Him for a moment and without Him I can't see anything. I can't see who I am, or where I'm going. I can't breathe.

He understood and He held me. I wish I had better words to describe that, and I know some people may think it sounds a little crazy. But I think it's important to tell you that the Creator of the Universe comforts me so deeply because I wasn't held as a child and I'm not the only one. I use to run into relationships to try to make up for the deficit of physical affections I had from the way I was raised. I know in that moment, I could have turned to Joey and he would have held me. But I needed Jesus, and He really is enough. If you've lived your whole life running into unsafe arms, for whatever reason, I want you to know that Jesus is safe. He knows your needs and your longings. He created you for more than just surviving, and if you can go to Him in your honesty, I know that He will meet you. Because He did that for me. 

I couldn't breathe, spiritually I was trying to get back to the thing that sustains me. My soul needs Jesus more than my lungs need oxygen. And after a few minutes on my knees, I had peace. Joey and I had a great rest of the night, I got up from my knees and walked in the grace I had received. We worshipped and prayed and went home. 

Conviction is hard. It's the next day and it still stings. Sometimes your sore for a couple days after being punched. But I'm grateful for the reminder- it's great motivation to get our boundaries solidified. I'm not complaining about conviction because my Saviour is so sweet. He shields me from shame, while at the same time teaching me through the pain.

I think little Sam might have had it right. As a kid I didn't try not to play the game, I wasn't afraid of the pain. The punches were coming, but I knew I could choose to stay alert and block them. Sometimes I didn't, I was focused on other things and left myself open to get hit. It might have left me on my knees for a moment, but I knew I was going to catch my breath eventually. And when I did, I was back on my feet waiting for my moment to fight back. 

And that's what I'm doing right now. I'm getting back up on my feet and I'm fighting as I'm typing this. I'm fighting for our purity with honesty. I'm fighting by getting back on my feet and not listening to shame. I'm fighting by finding my comfort in my Saviour. And the best part? It's already finished, I'm on the winning team.

The Gift of No

Sam and I went farther than we wanted to last weekend. Our only boundary had been not to turn each other on. But it’s kind of hard not to get turned on when you’re making out on top of each other in the dark on the beach. Or again the next night on a bed. We both felt incredibly heavy the following morning, and knew that we had definitely done something wrong.

The week before, I was trying to figure out the whole boundaries thing. I’ll admit… I didn’t want boundaries. It’s not because I didn’t want to fight for purity. It’s because I didn’t understand their purpose. “Shouldn’t we just rely on the Holy Spirit to convict us?” I thought. “Didn’t Jesus come to abolish the law? I don’t think a list of specific rules is going to help.”

Then we were making out on a beach and I realized I had a lot to learn. I’m pleased to report that just one week later, I already have a little more insight.

Sam and I just started reading Boundaries in Dating by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, and it’s changing my perspective on a lot of things. The biggest thing I’ve learned so far from this book is that boundaries are much more about keeping the good things in than keeping the bad things out. Boundaries are about protecting the good things that God has given you. Every time you say no to one thing, you are saying yes to another.

I’d like to share with you something new that I learned this week out of a passage that I was already very familiar with… the story of the first man and woman.

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Genesis 2:16-17

Two major events had not yet occurred when God spoke this command to Adam: the creation of woman, and fall of man.

We often think of “no” as being the sad opposite to the word “yes.” In most cases, we would rather have a yes than no. I think somewhere throughout childhood, we experience the sad feeling of being told “no” when we ask for a cookie, and then we are told that heaven is the greatest, happiest place there is, free from sadness. I think we assume that there will be no “no” in heaven. We assume that “no” is bad.

Well in Genesis, we find evidence to the contrary. “No” existed in God’s perfect paradise. Adam and Eve were placed in a garden that was supposed to be the ideal place for the human soul. And what do we find in the middle of all that beauty and wonder?

No.

This tells me that there is something good about saying no… about denying yourself a pleasure or a desire.

“No” is one of the most loving things you can give someone. Why? Because often, a small no is actually a much bigger yes. Every time I say no to myself when I want to touch Sam somewhere I shouldn’t or do something to turn her on, I’m saying yes to so much more. Here’s 3 things that come to mind.

  1. I’m saying yes to trust. I’m saying that she can trust me to keep my promises, to hold my ground, and to remain strong in the face of temptation. When will that be useful? In marriage. I want her to have absolutely confidence that I will never be tempted to violate the promise we make some day. This is my opportunity to lay that foundation.

  2. I’m saying yes to freedom. When we sin, if we have the Holy Spirit inside of us, we feel guilt immediately or soon after. Jesus died to release us from that guilt, and when we choose to sin, we’re running back into the graves that he set us free from. I don’t ever want Sam to feel the shame of sin with me. I want to help her walk in freedom.

  3. I’m saying yes to a better sex life. This is the fun one. God rewards those who keep his promises, and I have a feeling that when you commit to fighting for purity, he rewards it in a very literal way! It’s like a child who is given the option of 1 chocolate bar now, or 10 tomorrow. Which will he choose? It’s not easy, but it pays off in the end. I have faith that no effort made to honor him will ever be in vain.

These are just a few examples. There are so many more.

At the beginning of this post, I also mentioned that God gave Adam the command before he even made Eve. I think this is significant, and I view it as a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. I believe it’s my job as the man in this relationship to hear God’s voice, and share it with Sam, my Eve. Am I saying that Sam can’t hear God’s voice? Absolutely not. But when it comes to purity and boundaries, I want to be taking the lead. I want to be constantly seeking out his voice. I’m committing to take extensive time each week to listen to God and to ask for clarity on how I should be treating and taking care of Sam. She is a gift that he has given me, and I don’t take it for granted.

Wanted & Respected

A lot of my views on things have been changing in this relationship. I've grown up in two worlds at the same time. I went to a New Age church while I was growing up and I also went to a Christian school. I've heard very strict religious views on boys, relationships, and sex. I've also heard "follow your heart", "if it feels right", and "as long as it's special." I've also had some solid wisdom spoken to me, but with all these different perspectives it has been really hard to figure out the truth. 

I've listened to a lot of sermons on singleness, dating, and marriage. I realized coming out of my last relationship that I really knew nothing. Now, I've got some idea of what's right but living it out is so much different. 

All that to say, the other night, Joey and I were kissing.

Pause: I don't know where everyone stands on kissing. I don't have a rule to follow here. I told Joey the other day that I tell my accountability every time we make out. Do you know what he said?

"Good."

If it can't be brought into the light we can't see it for what it is. So in the light, kissing right now seems to be okay. If something changes, you'll all know it. So if you don't like it, I'm sorry but I'm being honest and I'm learning. 

Okay so we're kissing and we stop. And something I said to him (because I want to encourage the good God things in him) was "I love that you respect me" and then it hit me... "and you want me!". That was like a revelation to me. Listen, I've had a lot of relationships, too many really... I'll write about that eventually. But I've never had these two things together. If a guy wanted me physically, he didn't respect me. If a guy respected me, he didn't want me. Honestly, praise God for the later but either way I felt used and rejected. 

So I'm trying to weed through all these "truths" that I've heard. And I thought that a good Christian would be in a committed respect-filled relationship. But desire? Forget about it. Desire had ruled my life and as far as I was concerned, it was the problem. Desire must be worldly, right? That's where I heard about it most. I didn't realize this till the other night, but in my mind, Christian's had holy relationships with no desire and not a lot of fun. What a lie. 

It's hard for me to see things clearly for myself, so I usually pick a friend I love and ask the question- what would I want for them? Would I want my friend, beautifully and wonderfully made, to be in a relationship where they are not wanted? Of course not. Well I'm a good friend but God is the best friend. He wanted me to be wanted while also being respected. And I am, and it's not a sin. I guess it makes sense, but I couldn't believe it for myself. Not until now. Now it's a reality. Praise God. 

Okay, one more thing... Desire isn't a bad thing, but (like most things) it could be. Praise God, but also... honor Him. All the freedom I have from sexual immorality is only possible because I ran the other way. I ran into the arms of my Father where it was safe.  So I don't really want to list a bunch of rules, mostly because I don't think I would follow them. As I figure out what all this looks like, you will be along for the ride. I want to be wise, but I also don't want to be fearful. And most of all, I want to listen to God.

Plugged In

I left for a mission trip to Africa feeling incredibly sure of my singleness. I came back 12 days later with a girlfriend, and in the final hours of the trip home, we each said “I love you.”

I don’t think there’s anyone who would deny that we went extremely fast, and when we got back, we were definitely told so by peers and mentors alike. It’s been hard to explain to people the peace and certainty we felt every step of the way. Sam put it best when she said that she wouldn’t recommend doing what we did to anyone. It's true... if a guy came to me with this story, I would definitely tell him he was crazy and needed to slow the heck down. And yet, we both knew in our hearts and minds that we had done it right. We had followed God’s lead.

Why the paradox? Why am I so confident about a decision that seems so foolish and impulsive? For several days, I honestly didn’t know. But as I pondered the events of those 2 weeks, the answer became clear.

Mission trips are highly-charged spiritual events; their very nature requires you to be plugged into the Holy Spirit at all times. I was in constant prayer, and was both reading the Bible and worshipping for at least an hour every morning and every night. I have to be honest, that’s not normal for me. I wish it was, but life is busy and the things of this world love to steal our attention away from God. Even ministry work can become more important than our relationship with the Father. Saying no to things that shouldn’t be a priority is a big struggle for me, and it’s something I’m working on. I don’t spend as much time with God as I wish I did, simply due to business and stress. However, things were different on this trip.

Here’s the first lesson I learned in my relationship with Sam: When you’re plugged into God, there is light to see clearly. When you aren’t, you’re forced to stumble around in the dark.

Those two weeks in Africa are a long and beautiful story of faith in God. I’m so thankful for them, and there’s nothing I would change about them. At some point soon I will write about them in glorious detail. Right now, I have another story to tell.

I’m writing this exactly 2 weeks after Sam and I first used the words girlfriend and boyfriend to describe each other. We both agreed it felt childish, but knew it was already what we were.

2 weeks later, I’m experiencing what it’s like to not be plugged in… to be stumbling around in the darkness. And last night, I got hurt.

Like I said, I struggle with busyness. I work at a church, and there is always something calling for my attention. It’s literally endless, and some weeks it overcomes me. This was one of those weeks. In the mornings I would rush to work, in the evenings I would get home late and immediately fall into bed, only to do it all again the next day. There was no time for God this week. I read the verse of the day on the Bible app and listened to worship music in the car, pretending that it was enough to satisfy me. That’s like living off of two Snickers bars a day.

Last night, I felt the sting of it. Sam and I were cuddling at her house (one of our favorite activities), and after a bit of kissing, in an emotional moment of passion, I told her that I was all in, and that I wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.

Foul on the field.

I didn’t realize it in the moment, but that was way too far. It turns out Sam felt it insurability, but it took me a little longer. I didn’t have God’s permission to say that, and it wasn’t the time to be making such sweeping declarations.

Later in the night, it sunk in. I completely lost the peace that I had had only an hour before, and knew I had done something wrong. I was suddenly filled with anxiety and worry, and it seemed like Sam felt it too.

The best decision I made that night was to go to bed as soon as possible. I try not to make life decisions when I’m exhausted.

The next morning I woke up, and still felt a little anxious. I decided to give God my day, and have spent it reading his word, worshipping, and listening for his voice. Bit by bit, my peace has returned. He convicted me that I needed to reconcile with Sam, so I sent her this text:

-

I want to ask for your forgiveness. I crossed a line last night. As usual, not a traditional line. Not something the world would see as that bad. It was an emotional line that we weren't ready to cross yet. For heavens sake, it's only been 2 weeks. We need to slow down. I know we keep saying it, but somehow we keep finding new ways to speed things up.

I need to have emotional self control in this relationship. I never knew that was a thing. I mean, I kind of heard people talk about it, but now I understand. Right now we're dating, and wow, I love it. 10/10 would recommend. I want to live in it, and enjoy it. As much as I REALLY want you to be the one, I don't know that you are for sure yet. That's so scary to me. I don't like variables. I don't like uncertainty. I don't like grey.

I'm sorry Sam, please forgive me. Like I keep saying, I want to do this right. I'm realizing more and more I have no idea what I'm doing. I'm just trying to follow God's lead. I'm sorry that I didn't do that last night. I'm going to try to do better in the future. I'm finally spending some extended time with him today, so hopefully I'll have a lot more clarity by the end of it.

Thank you for being patient with me. You remind me of God in that way. I love you, and I can't wait to see you tonight. :)

-

She replied a few hours later and forgave me, and told me that she still trusted me. Everything I said about Sam in that text is true. She is patient with me, and follows my lead, even when I don’t do or say the right thing. I’m thankful to be in a relationship with someone like that. No, I don’t know if she’s the one. I want her to be, but I’m choosing to be patient and wait on God’s timing. Emotional boundaries and just as important as physical boundaries, and I’m sure at some point I’ll post about that.

Stay plugged into God, friend. Follow his lead. He knows what’s best.

Purpose Prevails

Last night I had a hard conversation with a friend. She was really upset that she wasn't part of my decision to jump into this relationship. She doesn’t like how fast Joey and I are taking things. She thinks calling someone my boyfriend is a really big commitment and saying I love you is ridiculous. I know she's worried about my heart. She wants me to take steps back. She wants me to be wise. I want to be wise too, and when she asked me to define love and boyfriend I told her I didn't know. I'm not sure how to explain to her that I don't have definitions for these things but I know God was with me in the decision and I have peace. I don't believe I need to take steps back because the steps forward I made in certainty. I'm not trying to hide, I don't want to live in a fantasy. In the past when I tried to run away from reality I never had peace. Wisdom is a spiritual gift that has been spoken over me my whole life, and so even when I couldn't define my mistake I knew I was doing the wrong thing. I knew I was hiding. I'm not hiding anymore. I got to talk to Joey last night which was sweet. I told him I'd had a hard day. It was so cool because he sympathized but he didn't try to make it all okay. That conversation kind of sucked, and I didn't feel like he was trying to fix it for me. He didn't reassure me that we were doing the right thing. I get to decide if it's the right thing for me. Also, I asked him if we said I love you too fast and he said the most amazing thing- "I dont know". Wow, look at that uncertainty. I love it, there is so much room for faith in that honesty. There's also so much peace. I don't know either, and I wish I could logically explain more for the people that care about me. I think my feelings hold as much weight in this situation as wikipedia does on a college essay. And that's hard. 

But who cares about my logic anyways? 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5 NIV

A tool that I heard... in a sermon probably. To test the spirits and see what's of God and what isn't comes from Galatians 5:19-23. 

Wow this is good, I'm so glad God reminded me. In this passage we see the fruits of the flesh and of the Spirit. I first looked at this when I was trying to discern with a friend between pastors and doctrine and church agendas. Who's right, who's godly? It's kind of an exhausting conversation. But I had a lot of peace when it was revealed to me... we could debate theology all day but what fruits do you see? Is there unity or dissension? Harsh words or gentleness? Amazing, it gave me so much peace. I don't think me and Joey have all the fruits of the Spirit down, part of being in a relationship is about maturing. But I look at the fruits of the flesh and we are not participating. I'm learning a lot already about love and peace. I'm learning how to act out of faith too. I'm certain that my lessons in self control and patience are just beginning and I'm equally excited and also not at the same time. I think that's the test, are we looking more like Jesus? Christians always want rules and guidelines, and for good reason, they want to do it right. But what does doing it right even mean? There's not a secret perfect formula to dating... part of me wishes there was. But relying on Jesus and learning how to listen to the Holy Spirit is exciting. 

As I think about leading younger people and teaching them, I hate that I don't have a plan or some perfect rule to live by and teach. But I'm learning to live in the uncertainty that brings about peace and amazing worship filled moments with my King. So for now, "I don't know" is a great place to be.

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord ’s purpose that prevails. Proverbs 19:21 NIV

Refocus on the King

This morning I was sad. See, I looked at Joey's Facebook again. I looked at it a couple days ago... and it said he was still in his relationship from 2 years ago. Now, to be fair, he doesn't use it or go on it. I think he thought it was deactivated. But it's not and I did bring it up. We talked about it and honestly, that should have been enough for me. This morning I went to check to see if it was still there, it was. It has only been 2 days so I'm not worried. But then I did something real dumb. I scrolled down. He posted something on their year anniversary. And then, despite the God given wisdom to scroll past it that was yelling at me, I read it. Bummer. He loved her. Which I knew, she broke up with him and it was hard for him. I knew that. As I sat on my bed trying to process how all that made me feel, wondering if his words meant less if he's said it to someone else, something really cool happened. Build my life by Housefires came on. This phrase specifically- "we live for you" jumped out at me. Oh man, this life is so not about me. I deleted all my social media awhile ago but if I hadn't there would be so many things in my past that Joey could compare himself to. But that was my yesterday, it amazes me how little Joey cares about that. He's looking ahead and I'm so grateful. I'm sure someday Joey will delete it... but even if he didn't, that's okay. If social media isn't honest it's not worth using. Today, I get to go to church and see Joey. He's going to talk about our trip to Tanzania and play an amazing video I got to watch him make. He's so cool, and he's so not mine to be jealous over. What a waste of time, to be jealous over a gift I've already received? I'm so thankful for his past, because it prepared him for our future. I'm thankful for all the ways God is going to use his experience with heart break in the lives of others. So I think I'll take the focus off me and refocus on the King. I trust God is working everything out. Even in something as small as a Facebook post. If nothing else, God is growing my confidence in all the healing He has given me. I'm so not jealous, it feels unreal. I could never have been at peace with this out of my own strength. This is all Jesus and I'm beyond grateful.

First Kiss

I didn't want to kiss until my wedding day. I thought it was because I valued purity. I thought it was the only way to make it to my wedding day. I didn't want to kiss because I wanted to be different. I wanted to prove God had healed me. Something I'm learning, is God doesn't need me to prove anything. He cares about my authenticity in each moment more than whether I look like a "good" christian to the people around me. There's a different between looking like a good christian and being one. When I looked at Joey last night, I wanted to kiss him. Last week I told him I wouldn't kiss until my wedding day. He agreed to it, because he loves me. And love doesn't need kisses... it just likes them a lot. Last night I wanted to kiss Joey... I told him I did. Would it be so bad? No it wouldn't... but it could be. In the past, if something went wrong, I would write the whole experience off.

Last night, Joey and I kissed. It was great and magical and sweet. Honestly, it made me thank God. And then... something changed. If I was hiding I could say it was JUST kissing. But the important thing is the heart behind it. And my heart changed to selfish motives along the way. Eventually, Joey stopped things. Praise God...no really. We untangled ourselves and prayed. I was starting to feel ashamed but thankfully sometimes Joey can read the thoughts in my mind by looking in my eyes. He reminded me that Jesus is not as bent out of shape about our sins as we are. He reminded me that we are in process and though there was a mistake, it was rooted in a beautiful thing. Joey sees the beautiful positive things where I tend to be afraid. As I drove away that night, I was able to forsake shame and think clearly. God really showed me in this situation that shame doesn't serve me. Because I was able to think clearly I was able to properly evaluate my feelings and motives. What I wanted was to move forward and be wise. Fear wanted me to stay sitting in my guilt and shame. Jesus (through Joey) showed me there was another way. I've never walked away from a mistake with a clear view of reality without being crippled by shame. And I'm so grateful because I feel like I'm allowed to join Jesus in His victory.

Okay okay, practically? How do we stick to loving each other selflessly? I'm going to get really blunt here. Everyone knows when they're horny. If you don't, you probably aren't living in reality. The point is, being turned on does not have to be a bad thing. It's the vehicle to get you to something made specifically and beautifully to join you to your spouse. But let's remember song of Solomon...  don't awaken love till it's time. So, for me, kissing is sweet. But making out, that's when my mouth gets to busy to praise Jesus name. Getting kisses on my neck or whispers in my ear, that turns me on too. That's all I can say with certainty. Everybody is different but I'm sure I'm not alone. So to wrap up-  don't set boundaries to prove something, if we can forsake shame then we can shine light on our mistakes and that will bring about change, and stay away from getting turned on until your wedding day.