thoughts on dating & pornography:

It was the summer of 2014 and a boy asked me to lunch. Lunch turned into late night phone calls and romantic emails. He lived in another state, but there were flowers waiting for me when I came back from a trip to Peru.

For the first time in my life I found myself open to giving someone a shot. A few weeks in I wrote, “I don’t know what I think about this boy. We can talk on the phone for hours, and I actually kind of enjoy it.”

He intrigued me and I wanted to know more.

Nearly a month after our lunch date, he came to visit. I was worried it would be weird. I also wondered if he would kiss me.

He took me to a baseball game. I was tired, he was quiet. We both thought the other person was bored. We talked about it on the drive home and realized we actually both enjoyed our time, we just had a trouble reading each other.

The next day we went to the movies. I put my head on his shoulder; he held my hand. I could barely focus on the movie because of the butterflies in my stomach.

We went for walks and talked for hours.

One night we sat on my porch when I asked him a question that changed everything.

I asked about his history with porn.

He was honest about his story, including the part where he looked at porn two months earlier.

The next morning I called my mentor and told her what happened. “I’m so angry at him!” I said and burst into tears. I also was angry at myself for being so surprised. I believed that because he was a responsible person, porn would be a thing of the past for him. I was shocked to discover I was wrong.

He didn’t know it at the time, but I had made a commitment to not from date anyone who had looked at porn in the last year of his life. Porn wasn’t something I wanted to bring into marriage, which meant I didn’t want to begin a relationship with someone who was still struggling with it. The reasons?

Research has found that after men are exposed to pornography, they rate themselves as less in love with their partner than men who didn’t see any porn.

The more pornography a person consumes the harder it becomes for them to be aroused by a real person or a real relationship.

Research has found that marriages in which one person has a porn problem or sexual compulsion are often plagued by less intimacy and sensitivity, as well as more anxiety, secrecy, isolation, and dysfunction in the relationship.

A study of the most popular porn videos found that nine scenes out of 10 showed women being verbally or physically abused, yet the female victims almost always responded with either pleasure or appeared to be neutral. 

The more porn a person looks at, the more severe the damage to their brain becomes and the more difficult it is to break free.

Porn fuels the demand for sex trafficking.

(Read more here.)

That night we went for a walk by the lake. The air was thick, I was nervous. We sat down under a gazebo and I brought the porn discussion back up, letting him know about my commitment to not start a relationship with someone who currently struggles with pornography.

“So what does this mean?” he asked.

“I… I don’t know. I’ve never run into this before.”

According to my conviction, I should cut it off. But my heart was already involved. I was torn. I told him I wouldn’t make a decision in that moment.

The next night he kissed me. “So many sensations,” I wrote. “I was nervous and excited and felt alive all over.”

He left the following morning. I was worried kissing overshadowed the concerns I had about porn, so I wrote him an email letting him know how I felt:

…I’m worried I care more about this than you do, I’m worried it will always be in the back of my mind (do I ask you if you’ve looked at it recently, or wait until you tell me? Will I always be wondering?) I’m worried if I continue to bring it up we will both grow to resent each other. I like you and I want to kiss you again, but I must be honest with you about where I am / what I’m thinking.

He responded with a long email and ended it by saying, “I’m thankful you are a person who doesn’t stand for something to avoid hard and uncomfortable conversations. I like you and, while this isn’t exactly what I imagined, I’m grateful to be able to walk through this with you.”

We saw each other again a few weeks later. We kissed in the rain and lay in the street like they do in The Notebook.

All the while I couldn’t shake my conviction. Hesitation surrounded my heart like a cloud.

We sat in my car, the sticky air nearly suffocating us, when I ended it. He was leaving for a year, so that was part of it. It was also the porn.

10 months passed.

He emailed me in June, asking if he could take me on a date in August when he was back in town. I said yes, and we started emailing back and forth. At one point I wrote, “With you, I’m curious. And hesitant. We haven’t seen each other in almost a year. I don’t know where you stand with porn right now. That’s not exactly a conversation starter. But it’s still a standard I have.”

In August he walked in my front door while I was painting my fingernails. It was such a normal moment after not seeing each other for a year. We walked to get ice cream. I got winded and had to stop to catch my breath. He offered me water. We sat on a bench at the ice cream place and I told him about how messed up I was after a hard year.

We hung out the next two nights. On that third night we sat on a couch. I was tired and said I needed to go to bed. But I didn’t move. Finally he asked, slightly annoyed, “can I kiss you already?” And then he did.

The next day we sat on my bed and I asked him where he stood with porn. March had been the last time. 5 months earlier.

Again, I was surprised.

Again, I burst into tears.

Again, my heart was torn.

Because I was so emotional (aka sobbing) I decided to hold off making a decision. We stayed in limbo for a few weeks, before I finally, painfully, cut if off.

Then he moved here.

It was awkward. We avoided each other.

Four months later (January 2016) he asked me out. It still hadn’t been a year since he last looked at porn. I was confused, calling mentors and friends and begging for their advice. The idea of saying no to him gave me anxiety, but I didn’t want that to be reason I said yes.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the commitment I made was actually a vow before God. Which is why I couldn’t break it.

In the end, I told him no.

More awkwardness.

March rolled around — the year mark since he last looked at porn. I felt my heart change. The veil of confusion and cloudiness began to lift. I was surprised by the way I felt and wondered if I should let him know. I was cautious, however, about opening the door because of the mess behind us.

The last Sunday in March he stopped by, which was unusual. We chatted in the kitchen for a few hours before he said, “Will you go on a date with me?”

I couldn’t believe he asked.

“Sure,” I said.

He couldn’t believe I said yes.

We’ve been dating ever since.

I felt compelled to write about this for because I think porn needs to be talked about more, especially when people date. Also to show that freedom is possible!

I know women look at porn too, but overall I believe it’s a bigger struggle for men. I personally only know one man who has never looked at porn. (If there are more of you out there, AWESOME.)

Pornography is layered with shame, secrets, lust, longing, loneliness, fear, fantasy, lack of intimacy, insecurity, aggression, submission, objectification, violence, and abuse (almost always toward women.) To overlook or ignore this conversation is a huge miss in building a relationship… especially one headed toward marriage.

I don’t think everyone needs to hold my standard of waiting a year to date someone, but I do think woman need to know what they’re worth and men need to rise to the challenge.

Men, I encourage you to bring up your history with porn or your current struggles with the woman you’re dating. Yes, it will be awkward. But you can do this!

Women, I encourage you to ask the man you’re dating about his history with porn (and share your own story if you have one.) Make sure your heart is in a good place to extend compassion and grace.

Some questions to consider:

How did you become exposed to porn?
How old were you when you started looking at porn?

When was the last time you looked at porn?
Do you tell anyone when you look at porn? Who?
Do you know what your triggers are? What about the root issue?
What steps have you taken to overcome this addiction?
Do you believe freedom is possible?

One counselor I know says you should ask about the kind of porn your significant other has looked at. (I’ve asked him this!)

I think it’s wise to invite an older, healthy married couple into this conversation if necessary. Every person and every story is different, so they can help you navigate whatever your specific situation may be.

No, there’s no rule book for this. When is the right time to talk about this? First date? Second? (Joking…) I’m sure the answer is different for everyone. I wanted to have the conversation before I fell for someone, more toward the beginning of a relationship. It was around a month in when I asked.

In March it will be two years since Justin has looked at porn. I am proud of him for overcoming this addiction and continuing to walk in freedom. He did it for himself. He did it for me. This is a huge deal, and makes me feel safe. He isn’t free from temptation, however; he still has to resist. I asked him to write about his side of this journey, so you can expect that in my next post!

In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Feel free to leave a comment with any insight or questions you may have… no shaming please!

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2016: a goodbye letter

Dear 2016,

When we met I was wearing a black dress; my heart full of expectation for what you had in store. I was over 2015 and ready for a new year. Later that day I dyed my hair purple. I wanted to signify change; I wanted to enter our relationship with style.

My hair came out pink. It looked cool… but I wanted purple. It took three attempts and too many hours to get the purple I had in mind.

I realize now I should have taken that as a sign.

Maybe my expectations were too high, maybe I put too much pressure on you. I wanted you to be fun and easy and make up for all the ways 2015 failed me.

But you also failed me.

2015 was hard because I carried too much weight and responsibility; you were hard because I suffered wounds and rejection.

2015 crushed me from the outside, you crushed me from the inside. Feeling forgotten will do that to a person.

I said it last year and I’ll say it again: only you and God will understand what I’ve been through.

You were there in early February when I was making a grilled cheese sandwich. It was cold and dark outside and I looked at the skillet and started crying. Afraid I was losing it, I grabbed my phone and texted my mentor, Rozy.

“Do you think it’s possible for someone to be really close with God but still feel lonely?”

Her response? “Yes, of course that can be true.”

On those cold days when I was alone, I cooked soup, wrote, read books, cried. People I thought would be there for me weren’t. I was in transition and it hurt.

Instead of dating to find love, I was more interested in dating to find friends.

“She seems fun…”

“I feel like we have a lot in common…”

“Oh my gosh she texted me!!”

Were all things I thought or said out loud (the last one actually being said while on a date.)

In March you whisked me away to Nepal and wowed me with the mountains. I felt small. My problems felt small. I wanted to remember that ‘small’ feeling when I was back in Gainesville and everything felt big and scary and against me. I got those mountains tattooed on my arm.

The mountains didn’t help five months later when the ache of rejection remained. I wondered if I was destined to feel that way forever… and should I try antidepressants?

In the end, grieving and forgiveness are the meds that worked. I found freedom in September and was finally able to fully let go of what once was, which helped me fully embrace the season I was in and the people in front of me. I only wish it hadn’t taken me so long.

It’s interesting writing about this now, a few months later, because the pain feels so removed from who I am even though it consumed me for so long.

At times I resented you, 2016, but in the end you came through. I felt mixed emotions when the clock struck midnight two days ago. You weren’t all bad.

You took me to London for my 30th birthday. I entered 30 alone, in a hostel, with an attitude of ‘bring it on.’ I saw Les Misérables at night and was moved to tears. The next day I took a train to Edinburgh, where I sat in the coffee shop where J.K. Rowling started writing Harry Potter. The inspiration in the air intoxicated me.

You brought me love. Crazy, stupid, love. It wasn’t what I expected. It was hard. And messy. And passionate. We would fight and cry and kiss and make up. It didn’t look like any other dating relationship around me, so I was confused about whether or not we were meant to be. I wanted a rulebook. Or a formula. I didn’t even know I was in love – someone else had to tell me. “You’re in love with him,” Rozy said. “What?!” I responded. “How can I be in love and not know it?”

Turns out that is possible.

You gave me girlfriends. Quite possibly my deepest desire this year. Some friendships took a little while to form, others came as a surprise. In February, when I was lonely and crying over grilled cheese, God said, “Don’t fear about friendships – they will come. They will be deep. You will be surprised.” (exact quote from my journal).

Turns out he was right.

You gave me strength. You knocked me down time and time again, but each time I stood back up on shaky legs I was stronger than before. I fought loneliness, rejection, darkness, depression, and doubt, at times wanting to scream to Satan “YOU WIN, I give up, I can’t… I’ll just lay here and you can stomp all over me.” I wanted God to comfort me, to save me. He didn’t. Instead he would say, firmly, “Get up.” Again? I asked. Get up again, only to be knocked down the next time? “Get up,” he repeated. “You need to learn how to defend yourself.” I knew it was because he loved me.

A few months ago I wouldn’t have said this… but thank you, 2016. Thank you for the things you gave me. At first all I thought you were doing was take-take-taking from me, but now I know you were trying to give me something the whole time. I’m sorry it took me so long to catch on.

I will do my best to take the things you’ve given me – the friendships, the lessons, the love – and nurture them as I enter 2017.

Goodbye, 2016…

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Love,
Hope

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2016: a year in lists

I’m one of those people who remembers the oddest things that no one recalls, but can’t remember most of my life beyond the high or low moments. Because of that I try to keep lists… otherwise did it happen? Exactly. (I can only imagine when I’m 80…)

Here’s a snapshot of some things from 2016!

Concerts:
Rend Collective – Atlanta
Hillsong United – Atlanta
John Mark McMillan/Mat Kearney/Needtobreathe – Red Rocks, Colorado
Ingrid Michaelson – Atlanta

Books:
Sounds Like Me: My Life So Far in Song by Sara Bareilles (Audible)
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (Audible)
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Barton
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
Crash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick
Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind by Bill Johnson

Started but didn’t finish:

Necessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud
Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Barton (Audible)
The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (I’m 1/4 the way though… it’s more than 600 pages!)
My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem (going on the 2017 list of books I read…)

Movies seen in a theater:
Captain America: Civil War
Finding Dory
Me Before You
The Shallows
The Edge of Seventeen
Rouge One: A Star Wars Story
Passengers
Moana

States visited:
Ohio (Columbus)
Colorado (Denver, Golden, Estes Park)
Utah (Moab)
Florida (Pensacola)
North Carolina (Asheville, High Point, Matthews)

Countries visited:
Malaysia (4th time)
Nepal (1st time!!)
South Africa (3rd time)
England (1st!)
Scotland (1st!)
Ecuador (3rd time)
Nicaragua (3rd time)

**once again, I visited more countries than states!

Cool things (in chronological order):
Ran the Savage Race
Became CPR certified (3rd time? 4th?)
Got into indoor rock climbing (conquered a 5.8)
Trekked the Mardi Hamal trail in the Himalayas (made it to 14,600-ish feet)
Got my second tattoo
Dyed my hair blonde(er)
Got a boyfriend
Turned 30
Saw Les Misérables in London (life.changed.)
Started using Instagram (I know, I know…)
Stood as the maid of honor in my sister’s wedding
Got a car from this decade
Loped/galloped on a horse (nearly peed my pants)
Hiked to Chasm Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park (nearly 12,000 ft)
Hiked through Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Dead Horse State Park in Utah
Went zip lining in Ecuador
Got 3rd place in a blog contest

…also, I think this was the first year I didn’t purchase a CD. So, there’s that.

Bring on 2017!

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P.S. would love to hear what books you’ve read, movies you’ve seen, places you’ve visited, etc etc…

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It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year…

Welp, I did it again. Said yes too much. Moved too fast. I thought I could handle it all (the work, the fun) because in the moment it felt so right. Work hard, play hard, drink more caffeine. Just keep swimming.

My lifelong struggle. Remembering my rhythms. Remembering I’m human. I have limits.

I felt it a few days ago. That spread thin feeling. My body and soul let me know when they’ve had enough. They protest until I slow down and take care of myself. Thank God.

I’m slowing down. Letting myself sleep. Saying no. Cracking open my journal. Being kind to myself even though I failed… again. Allowing space for God’s grace.

I’m grateful for the gift I have to work from home (aka my parent’s house in Ohio) during the holiday season. “For the next week and a half it’s just family, a few friends, and the couch,” I wrote in my journal earlier today.

Time to reset.

Time to write.

To reflect on what God did in 2016…

And get ready for 2017.

Who’s with me?

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on depression and grief and acceptance:

At the end of August I wrote a post about the spiritual/emotional hole I felt in my heart. Many people resonated. Some didn’t, and wondered if I was depressed. At first I felt defensive like HOW COULD YOU EVEN THINK THAT, but then I was like “they are probably right.” And that’s okay.

I fully believe seasonal/situational depression is part of the human experience. Life is hard. If someone has made it to their mid-20s without experiencing a stint of depression, I have many questions that include but are not limited to: were you raised on the same planet?

As my friend Jolie recently wrote on her blog:

“Life is hard. For everyone. I don’t care if you’re the richest person alive, single, married, childless, with seven kids, working, unemployed, I don’t care. Human existence is full of a lot of pain. It’s just how it is. It’s full of good things, too, but our struggling, our suffering, is universal. Are there degrees of suffering? Absolutely. Are there more important sufferings happening than my mental gymnastics in relation to my worth in society as a woman? You bet ya. Does that mean any degree of internal struggle I feel doesn’t actually exist? I don’t think so.”

By the beginning of September I accepted that I was depressed, and the next day God revealed to me that I was actually in grief. So I looked up the 5 stages of grief. Low and behold, the 4th stage of grief is depression. So yes, I was depressed, but more than that I was stuck in grief and didn’t even know it. With this newfound awareness I was able to move onto stage 5 of grief: acceptance.

It took me less than 10 days.

(It took 11 months to go through the first 4 stages… but who’s counting??)

Since then I can’t help but wonder: how many people are stuck in grief and don’t know it? How many people are in denial, or angry, or wishing they could change things (bargaining) instead of moving through these stages toward acceptance?

We usually link grief with death of a loved one, which of course is accurate. But grief can be linked to so much more. I believe there is a level of grief that comes with any change we go through in life. The bigger the change, the more grief we experience. Change happens in jobs, friendships, marital status, location, etc. We gain something in change, but we also lose something along the way. Sometimes we choose change and sometimes change happens to us whether we want it or not.

I’ve known this. I learned this concept many years ago at my own WR Training Camp. But somewhere along the way I forgot or got tunnel vision.

So this is a reminder to myself, and perhaps to you, that it’s important to grieve the changing season of life. And that it’s OKAY to be depressed sometimes. You aren’t weird. You’re human.

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when god’s promises come to pass:

Two years ago this month I came to Starbucks and poured my heart out to God; pen scribbling in diary, tears dripping on table.

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I had been asked to take over the college-age program (Passport). My insides screamed no, but my mouth said yes because I knew it was what God had for me. He would have to change my heart to match his.

My heart didn’t change. Even though I prayed, even though I asked. Months passed. I felt trapped. The only thing keeping me going was realizing Kingdom work is not about me, it’s about the Kingdom, and I could suffer for that.

On January 28, 2015 I wrote: “I cried four times today. FOUR TIMES. The first time was triggered by failure, the other three were triggered by the fact I’m not excited about Passport. So why does God have me here? One day I’ll know. In the meantime I will suffer and struggle and push through to the Promised Land.”

The months continued to pass, the tears continued to flow…

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And then, somewhere along the way my heart changed.

I often ask married people “when was the moment you knew you wanted to marry your husband/wife?” The answer is always the same. It wasn’t a moment, it was a gradual progression.

A year ago I watched Chris and Katherine compete in the Passport dance-off for the third time. As they flailed around the dance floor to “Don’t Stop Believing” I felt my heart rush with warmth. I wanted to be there. I didn’t want to be anywhere else. That feeling surprised me.

My heart continued to warm up and grow to love what I was doing.

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Yesterday concluded my last Passport camp of the year (my 6th since I took on this role.)

Today I came to Starbucks to catch up on alone time, to read and write. As I wrote in my journal I was overcome with gratitude, thanking God for so many things. “Thank you for letting me work with college-age students.” Suddenly I flashed back to September 2014. I continued to write. “Thank you for breaking me and building me up again. Two years ago I sat in this Starbucks and wept over the ‘new’ you had for me. Today, I’m grateful.”

From there I looked up the blog I published two years about this transition, and I was shocked to see what I wrote:

truth: this new role will become my dream job, and I will look back and see how God spared me. Even though it kills me right now.

I was right. This role became my dream job. God came through.

Today I carry the weight of that promise coming to pass.

These kind of moments make it all worth it. The suffering, the questions, the confusion. The journey is messy and the giants are scary, but the milk & honey are that much sweeter because of it.

Whatever you are waiting on God to do, don’t lose heart. He will turn your pain into joy and your tears into laughter. I don’t know when, but I know he will.

I’m still waiting on some promises to be fulfilled, but today this one’s in the books.

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a follow-up to “when god doesn’t fill the hole in your heart”:

Well, I’m glad I posted that last blog. It was worth the risk, because in putting my heart out there I was able to receive some of yours in return. Thanks to all who left a comment or contacted me in one way or another. It shows me I’m not alone; we’re not alone.

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Here are a few of my takeaways from comments I received and discussions I had about my last post:

1) We all long for something more. Everyone seems to agree: no matter how close you are to Jesus, there is still a longing, an ache we carry. Paul says in Romans,

“And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us, as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us.”

I think it’s important to identify this idea as part of the gospel. YES, Jesus died for our sins and came back to life, bringing reconciliation between God and people. YES, Jesus offers abundant life here on earth, not just in heaven. YES, we are called to suffer. NO, the story isn’t finished.

Often Western Christianity only paints half the picture… a bunch of animals on an ark, cute! Let’s tell the kids about this one. Oh wait, God regretted making humans and wanted to destroy them all? Let’s just skip to the rainbow, that’s pretty. What about that time Jonah was swallowed by a whale? So fun! (Or was it a whale? Who really cares!) And so on and so forth.

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Jesus tells us he has come so we may have abundant life, but he also says “here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.” He conquered this world, but we are still waiting for that part of the story to unfold completely… your kingdom come, we pray.

This summer I started teaching evangelism at World Race Training Camps. This, in addition to my current season, has made me think a lot about how to communicate the gospel to someone who is unfamiliar with it. I’m still not sure where I stand entirely, besides the fact I disagree with The Donut Man theology. We need to acknowledge that pain and suffering are still a part of life with Jesus. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies.

This much I know: Jesus is worth it, and our hope in him and the life to come has to be big enough to sustain us during the life we are living now. For hope that is seen is no hope at all…

2) Certain seasons accentuate our longing. After hearing people’s stories (and comparing them to my own), it seems there are seasons or situations where our longing increases more than the average ache. I personally think it has to do with change. With change comes loss, and with loss, longing.

That’s how I view my current state of affairs. This year I went through a massive relational shift that resulted in great loss. I cried about it (again) to one of my mentors this morning. She challenged me to view it as something positive, not negative. I stared at her. Loss, loneliness, longing… are positive things? I needed more convincing.

She gave me the following picture: my life was a full cup of water…Print
Then, because I wanted more of God, my cup was poured into a bigger container…

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Meaning I’m left with all this extra space in my life. This space feels like lack, which translates to loss and loneliness and longing. But this space is actually a place for God to provide more water than my original cup could ever hold. I’m just waiting on the fullness, the promise, to come to pass.

That does feel a little more positive. Pitcher half empty, yes, but hopeful nonetheless.

To those of you who obeyed God, who risked by getting out of the boat, who moved somewhere new, who chose change (and therefore loss), who are waiting and hoping and praying for more of God to fill your empty spaces… this is also for you.

Our time is coming.

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