Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It's Worth the Effort - Follow up to ...But I'd Like the Chance

Photo courtesy of Elise Marie Photography
I had NO idea when I wrote my last post about dating that I was opening up a can of worms.  By the size of my inbox and the rapidly growing number of hits, it's obvious that this is something on the hearts and minds of more than just a few people.  The debate over hanging out vs. dating has sparked a lot of great intellectual stimulation and discussion, both in our home and online.  The stories you have been sharing with me have been insightful and helpful.  Thank you for opening up your lives to me!

I'd like to use this post as a follow-up to the last to provide a little clarity where it was missing.  First of all, I am no expert on dating.  Quite the opposite.  I haven't dated anyone in fifteen years which is why this new trend and new terms are so baffling to me.  I really want to understand the current dating culture because like it or not, I have four kids who will be entering this world in a few short years.  What I wrote was simply my observations of the dating world through the eyes of the people I've mentored.

I think this was clear from my first post, but I wanted to reiterate that the audience I was observing, writing about, and writing to is NOT teens and high-schoolers.  I am writing to college students and single adults who are ready to get married and are looking for a spouse.  My counsel to younger people would look much different.

I also want to emphasize that these young adults are really dynamic and incredible.  They desire to do this right and I applaud them for it.  What a great "problem" to have - singles moving too slowly through their dating relationships!  The question now becomes, "How do we help them navigate this?"

My husband Curt is really wise.  Last night while I was unpacking groceries, Curt and I discussed dating vs. hanging out with one of our "kids" who is currently navigating this process.  After an hour of thinking out loud, Curt nailed the problem succinctly.  Hanging out is a natural part of the dating process.  Most people have some form of friendship/hang out time together before they move into a dating relationship.  Where we see a colossal shift is in the time periods allotted to hanging out and dating.

In our opinion, the hang out time should be minimal.  It doesn't take very long to realize you're attracted to someone and would like to get to know them better.  When that happens, the natural progression is to move into a dating relationship.  But what we're seeing is young adults spending too much time in the hanging out stage and too little time in the dating stage.   It feels lopsided and like it should be switched around.

When guys and girls hang out for an extended period of time without communicating their romantic interest in each other through words, confusion and heartache sets in. This lack of communication breeds poor self esteem in beautiful, capable women.  They begin to ask themselves questions like, "What's wrong with me?  Am I not pretty enough?  Smart enough? Godly enough?  Is he spending this amount of time texting/calling/hanging out with other girls?  He seems like he likes me, but maybe he really doesn't?"  They will waste hours of time wondering, crying, and beating themselves up over these issues that could be resolved with a simple but nerve-wracking conversation.  

I would love some input from you guys out there on how you feel when you are hanging out with a girl you like but haven't expressed interest in yet.  Unfortunately, the majority of the burden falls on you to be the initiator of these conversations.  What goes through your mind, emotions, and prayers?  What holds you back from taking the plunge? When/why do you decide to have the Define The Relationship (DTR) talk?

SIDE NOTE:  It is almost impossible to over-communicate.  When in doubt, use your words to talk through your feelings, emotions, and intentions.  If you are not using words but think you are communicating clearly, think again.  Hinting and body clues are really hard to read and interpret correctly so use them sparingly.

Dating reveals a lot about you.  About the person you're with.  And about your relationship.  You get real life relationship experience through the dating process that you miss out when you're just hanging out.  If you cut this process short and rush straight to engagement, you may miss out on warning signs or positive confirmations that dating each other brings out.

I know it's hard to believe, but the initial phase of being enamored will wear off.  As you date, you will start to see things you don't like about the person you're dating.  And they'll see things they don't like in you.  The question then becomes, "Is this a deal breaker?  Or is this something we can work through?"

You'll have your first fight.  How you fight and how you resolve the conflict will reveal weaknesses in you and the person you're dating.  Conflict resolution is key to a healthy relationship.  It's imperative that we learn to do this well, but as a whole, this key test is absent in the undefined friendships that come with strictly hanging out.

Our advice?  Don't be afraid to date.  And when you start dating, don't feel a need to rush into engagement.  Date long enough to work through your first fight (or two or three).  Date long enough to get multiple confirmations that this person is really who you want to be your spouse.  Date long enough that your friends and family have ample time around the person you're dating to pour wise counsel into you regarding the relationship.  Date long enough to be certain of your decision to either marry the person or break up. That's why the process exists.

Photo courtesy of Elise Marie Photography
One of my newly married readers offered this bit of wisdom.  She said, "My friends, who I love and adore and would do anything for, are waiting for perfection.  What they don't realize is that by refusing to experience what may very well not be the real deal, they're wasting not only time, but the experience of LIFE."  She concludes by saying, "We have to trust our Lord and Savior that He will see us through whether it turns out the way we want or not.  And we can't expect finding our spouse to be easy or comfortable, at least right from the start.  This especially goes for men since they typically make the first move."  

Another reader summed it up beautifully.  She said, "It's hard to take that step forward, but it's worth it.  Life is hard.  Dating is hard.  Marriage is hard.  But they are ALL worth the effort."

Good relationships are seldom easy.  They may start off with a bang, but they take concentrated effort to continue to grow, deepen and mature.  Nothing has demonstrated this more than my relationship with Jesus.  The more I know him, the more I love him AND the more obvious my own deficiencies become.  It's in the process of learning, wrestling, refining and maturing, that my love for Jesus grows.  The same is true with Curt and I.  We've been married for almost fifteen years.  Those fifteen years haven't always been easy, but they sure have been fulfilling.  Being married to Curt is worth the effort.

Be honest.  Be open.  Be courageous.  And have fun.  It's worth the effort.

I want to hear from you.  What am I missing?  What has your experience been with hanging out and dating?  I'd love to hear your story.  

Monday, October 29, 2012

...But I'd Like the Chance

Do we look old enough to be called "mature?"
Curt and I attend a church that is filled with literally thousands of young people in the 18-26 age category, most of them single.  It's unlike anything I have ever seen - thousands of beautiful, stylish, Jesus-following young adults coming week after week to worship God and to serve in kids ministry, directing traffic, making coffee, sweeping floors, playing music, etc.

A few years ago a couple of college students were talking to Curt and I and they said something along the lines of "we're so glad to have mature, godly people pouring into our lives."  We looked over our shoulder to see who they were talking about and laughed when we realized they meant us!  It's happened so frequently that we know now to stop looking over our shoulder and embrace our role as mentor to these outstanding young people.

One thing that has really stumped Curt and I is the way dating has changed.  When we were in college, we dated.  If a guy was interested in a girl, he asked her out.  They dated as part of the process of getting to know each other on a deeper level.  If they liked what they saw, they kept dating.  If they weren't compatible, they broke up.  Through this process of trial and error called dating, we eventually met our spouse and got married.

But it's different now.  The college kids we talk to "hang out."  Or "go to coffee" (but that's not a date).  Or "get to know each other as friends to see if there might be some potential for dating."  They call all this hanging out/flirting/getting to know each other part of being "brothers and sisters in Christ."  If and when they make the actual jump to giving their friendship a "dating" label it's such a big deal that it's practically a pre-engagement.  I don't understand this process.  And if I'm honest, I don't like it.  Like Elaine from the Seinfeld episode where she doesn't like George's toupee and chucks it out the window...  "I don't like it.  I don't like it one bit.  And this is what I'm going to do about it..."

(I'm hopping on my soapbox now).  I appreciate the fact that these young people are concerned about purity.  Concerned about doing things right.  Concerned about not wounding other people they care about.  These are all good things.  But this process of Over Cautiousness muddies the water so much that no one who is in the potential dating pool has any idea where they stand with any of their "friends."

The desire for perfection - in the process and in the person - paralyzes the entire dating process.  Girls get their hearts broken by guys who never even knew the girl liked them.  Guys let incredible girls walk in and out of their lives because they are so hung up on "could this be my future wife?" that they never even ask her out.

Young people listen up:  there is a huge pool of godly, good looking, intriguing, funny and single people who want to be married.  The truth is you may have to date a few of them before you find Mr. or Mrs. Right.  And that's okay.  You don't have to marry the first person you date.  Did you catch that?  Let me say it again and my George Fox students please hear this: You don't have to marry the first person you date.

You also don't have to be married by the time you graduate from college to be successful.  I went to a small, Christian liberal arts college like Fox and I felt the pressure that exists to marry young and to maintain a high standard of purity in your dating relationships.  I know this pressure still exists today and I fear that it leads to hasty marriages that are either really troubled or end in divorce.  I cringe to think what my life would look like if I would have married the first guy I dated exclusively.  We'd both be miserable right now because we were a terrible match.  But we were young, immature and blinded by the romantic idea of marriage since that's what all our friends were doing.  Our breakup was incredibly painful but it was God's way of protecting us both from a marriage that would have been a train wreck without some huge God-sized intervention.  Sometimes you have to experience a counterfeit first so you can recognize the authentic, real deal when it comes along.

Last night I witnessed an incredible scene.  I watched a courageous young man walk up to a beautiful girl that he admired.  He said, "I don't know you that well but I'd like to have the chance to get to know you.  Would you go out with me?"  Single People take note.  THAT is how you get it done.  (And she said yes.)

I have no idea how their story will end.  They could go out and discover that while they are both incredible, godly, smart, and beautiful people, they aren't right for each other.  Or they could go out and find that they really like each other.  The point is neither of them would ever know if he didn't have the courage to ask.

Guys:  Get off the fence.  Stop inadvertently leading the girl on that you're "hanging out with."  Take her on a real date.  Tell her why you are drawn to her.  And if the feeling is mutual, honor her by calling your relationship what it is: dating.  And if you find that she is incredible but not the woman for you, break up with her gently as soon as you know.

Girls:  Don't waste your time pining over a guy who has no clue you even like him.  If you are hanging out all the time with no forward progress and your heart is starting to break over it, then do something about it.  Stop hanging out with him.  Or let him know there's a reason why you've been so available to answer his texts, his calls, and to hang out.  If you realize he is not the guy for you, then let him know gently and respectfully.

(Stepping off my soapbox now).  Be pure.  Be kind and thoughtful.  But be courageous like my friend last night.  Don't you think the risk is worth it?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Why The Battle for Joy Is Worth It - with some help from Ann Voskamp

It's a cold, rainy Monday morning.  Our long, dry and incredible summer and fall seem to have come to an end.  Winter is setting in.  While I love the rain, I'm not ready the damp, bone-chilling cold that comes with it.  The onset of the cold made me grouchy, self-centered, and short-tempered.  I searched all weekend for my happy attitude and I'm not sure I ever really found it.

This morning Curt woke me from a sound sleep.  I forced myself out of my nice, warm bed into the pitch dark chill of the early morning.  As I stumbled to the kitchen for my cup of coffee, I could hear the rain pitter pattering on the window.  It looked to be a cold, wet start to the week.  The next two hours were spent helping all four Stilp kids get through their pre-school chores.  In spite of the fact that we've been through this drill two-hundred-eighty-six-thousand times, it remains a challenge to get out the door on time and in a decent state of mind.  My kids missed the memo that winter is here and continue to dress like it's summer.  A lightweight sweatshirt in the pouring rain with shorts and leggings should keep me dry and warm right Mom?  I walked back from the bus stop, carrying more than just two umbrellas and a discarded sweatshirt.  I also carried back an ugly attitude.  Why can't they ever get it right?

A few minutes later my text notification rang on my phone.  My friend Ashley wrote, "Crying as I read this!  So true!  Hope it encourages you," and attached a link to a devotional written by Ann Voskamp called Why the Battle for Joy is Worth It.   I almost didn't read.  I was so blinded my ugly state of mind that I didn't think I needed tips on choosing joy.

But praise Jesus - I did read it.  And I wept.  Because I too have a gangly, almost-teen-age boy who does so many things well.  But caught up in his world of distractibility and responsibility, he often needs to be told 5.8975 times to do stuff.  Even then he forgets to throw his garbage in the can two feet away.  Just minutes before reading this devotional, I had angrily thrown all his unkempt treasures and trash in a pile in the middle of his room and taped a note on his door letting him know how disgusted I was.

And I'm not proud.  As the devotional says, these failures are what make me a "Cross Clinger."  Without grace, I am a miserable, ugly mess.  Thank you Jesus for forgiveness.  For second-chances.  For the reminder that the battle for joy is worth it.  Thank you for time to dry my tears, crumble up that ugly note, and set about joyfully cleaning up my boy's mess.

What about you?  Do you come by joy easily?  Or is it a battle? Will you share with us how you choose joy?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Krista's Fantastic Flyers - Girlfriends Half Marathon 2012

Photo courtesy of J. Carmon Photography

On October 29th of 2011, Krista Jean Maffia - wife, mother of three, daughter, and friend– was released from her pain and her battle against cancer.  We all lost an angel when she died.  In early January, one of the neighborhood gals suggested that we keep Krista’s spirit alive by running the Girlfriends Half Marathon together.  Unified by our love for Krista and moved by our grief to DO something, we jumped on board.

The best part about training for this race was watching woman after woman – many who had never run even a mile before - transform their minds and bodies.  Inspired by Krista’s zest for life, my friends put one foot in front of another and slowly but surely started covering mile after training mile.  They lost weight.  Changed their eating habits.  Discovered their inner strength.  Their beauty.  They became athletes.  It was powerful.

My journey to race day was marked with emotional highs and lows.  I ran a Boston qualifying and personal best marathon in April, but was sidelined by an overuse injury and two minor surgeries.  My attempt at a comeback half marathon was a train wreck.  When I started running consistently again in late July, I was stiff, sore, and slow. 

Typically speed is not the dominate driving factor for me in approaching a race, but I really (really, REALLY) wanted to run faster than I’ve ever run in my life for this race.  My hope was that by some miracle I’d place in the top three in my division, win a trophy, and be able to give it to Krista’s husband.  I tried following a training schedule loaded with speed work, but I loathe speed work.  Midway through the schedule, I dropped the speed work, cut my mileage back, and added in cross training with my husband.  It was a risk but my speed slowly came back the stronger I got.  I just wasn’t sure if it would be enough for me to place in my division.

My friend Danielle is amazing.  She heals the sick for her day job and comes home to a husband and two great kids.  She’s also an endurance athlete and has run three marathons in the past six months.  She spoke these words of wisdom into my life last week when I was worried about my pace.  She said, “Jodi, I’m positive your friend’s husband will be honored with the physical sacrifice and mental endurance you will give in her name during those 13.1 miles no matter what the timer and placing results are.  I think your friend would have wished she could just run, even if it was to just feel her heart beat faster and to feel the fun of accomplishment.  My mantra these days…  Because I Can.” Her wisdom set my mind at ease and I decided to run on race day as fast as my legs would carry me… because I can.

I also studied I Corinthians chapter 9 leading up to the race.  Verse 24 says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way as to get the prize.”  I knew I would not be the woman breaking the tape for this race, but I needed the reminder to run the entire 13.1 miles to get the prize.   

Eighteen Strong and running for Krista
The morning of the race, eighteen women from our neighborhood proudly wore our Krista’s Fantastic Flyer’s shirts and assembled for a team picture. Donated by Nike and designed by two of Krista’s close friends, the front read,  Never run faster than your angels can fly” and the back said, “Krista’s Fantastic Flyers – in celebration and honor of her memory – Krista Jean Maffia – Girlfriends Half Marathon – October 14, 2012. The weather forecast called for “soaking rain” during the time of the race. Instead, the sun shone through the rain clouds revealing a glorious and perfect morning.  It was like Krista knew this day would be a big one for her friends and she decided to run with us and light the way. 

Carissa and I before the race
I fought back tears all morning and was thrilled to finally release the pent-up emotions on the course.  Caught up in the moment and the spirit of the event, I went out WAY too fast.  (Check out my splits for the full story.)  I cherished the part of the course that looped around and I got to see my friends.  Carissa was in the lead pack and we high fived as she ran past me.  Then I started seeing Krista’s Fantastic Flyers in the crowd.  We cheered each other on and fist bumped the air as we passed each other.  I knew people were reading our shirts and it made me stand taller and run a little faster.  What an honor.

I used up all my adrenaline in the first seven miles and suddenly realized I was tired. Oddly, at that point I was running ALL.BY.MYSELF in a race with almost 3,000 participants.  I ran the next two miles – except the thirty seconds when a girl came out of nowhere and passed me - alone.  It was just me, Jesus, and that Beautiful Sunshine. 
Carissa and I after the race

By mile nine, my legs felt like dead weight and I got passed again.  I was completely irritated that this race was so hard.  I knew if I didn’t find another energy reserve somewhere my chances of hitting my time goal would be shot.  I took my frustrations to Jesus and did a lot of praying.  When I wasn’t praying, I was internally chanting, “Because I can.  GET THE PRIZE!”

Somehow my legs kept moving forward and that blessed “Mile 13” marker came into sight.  I turned the corner into the home stretch and saw Carissa cheering loudly.  It was the encouragement I needed to sprint to the finish.  I couldn’t believe it when I saw my time: 1:36:24!  A personal record (PR) by almost two minutes and 16th place overall.  My time wasn’t fast enough to win a trophy to give to Krista’s husband, but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t care.  Danielle was right about that.

Setting a PR was great, but the best part about the entire day came after I finished.  I ran back out on the course and found my friend Kristen.  Her story is one for another day, but she is a huge inspiration.  I was able to run the last mile of her race with her and watch her face fill with pride as she slaughtered her previous personal best and finished her second half marathon at a 9:30 pace.   
Kristen and I
My friend Zora was running her first half marathon.  Initially she thought she would walk-run, but she got caught up in the spirit of the event and decided to run the whole way.  She made me promise to bring cowbells to the finish.  When she came into view, she was radiant.  Strong, confident, and beaming with pride, I chased her down the finish chute shaking a cowbell in her face and screaming, “Look at you!  You did it.”  It was a favorite moment for both of us.

One by one, all eighteen of Krista’s Fantastic Flyers came through the finish.  My girlfriends transformed before my eyes.  They came around the corner exhausted and spent, but with head held high and faces filled with pride.  It was like they were realizing something they didn’t know before.  My friends are athletes. Strong.  Healthy.  Capable.  Determined.  Inspiring.  Beautiful.  I’m certain this will be the first of many races for a lot of these Girlfriends.
Krista's Fantastic Flyers post-race:  Polly, Jackie, Shelby, Morgan, Jenni, and Julie
The common theme at the post-race party was the sunshine and the sense that Krista’s spirit was shining on us as we ran.  By the time we changed and headed to our cars, the sky was getting gray.  The rain came in buckets just hours later.  But Krista’s Fantastic Flyers - we had our Beautiful Sunshine.

~~~~ *****  ~~~~ ***** ~~~~ *****

My splits for the few people who care and so I don’t have to look them up later…

Mile 1:  6:52
Mile 2: 7:13
Mile 3: 7:17
Mile 4: 7:16
Mile 5:  7:09
Mile 6: 7:14
Mile 7: 7:20
Mile 8: 7:38
Mile 9:  7:36
Mile 10: 7:42
Mile 11: 8:00
Mile 12: 7:50
Mile 13:  7:31

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Seven 2012

Solid Rock (our church) is joining with twenty-five other churches around the Portland-metro area for a week of prayer and fasting for our city.  The event is called Seven and each year it grows bigger and pulls in more churches.

This is not about denominations or one church promoting itself.  Seven is about the people of God - those who follow Jesus -  uniting with one voice through prayer to ask God to bring His kingdom crashing into our cities, our lives, and our homes.  It's exciting.

Prayer moves the hand of God.  Think about that for a minute...  Prayer moves the hand of God.  John Mark (Solid Rock's lead pastor) reminded us in his message this past weekend that when we align our prayers with God's heart and His will, He is waiting to say YES.  He wants to say yes.  How incredible is that?

But do I really believe this?  Do you?

I am challenged this week to get off the couch of apathy and pray like God is really listening.  Pray that He will break my heart with what breaks His.  Pray that He will open my eyes to His heart, His dream, and His passion for the city of Newberg - for my friends - for my neighbors - for my family - for my life.  I want to pray with the expectation that God hears.  And He loves.  And He answers. I want to pray that I will catch the vision of "your kingdom come, your will be done on EARTH - right now, right here - as it is in heaven." 

II Chronicles chapter seven tells a story that in some ways parallels what the churches of Portland are doing this week.  King Solomon spent years building a temple for God.  When it was finally finished, he held a city-wide celebration and dedication party.  The king led the Israelites - known for their inconsistency and unfaithfulness in following God - in a corporate prayer gathering.  During that gathering, the Israelites with one voice confessed their sin and renewed their commitment to follow God.  

Later that night, God appeared to Solomon and said, "I have heard your prayer....  If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land." (vs. 12a, 14)

Portland needs healing.  Newberg needs healing.  I need healing.  

God is waiting to hear our prayers.  Won't you join me and thousands of other Portlanders this week as we ask Him to change us from the inside out?