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Teaching Your Children About Sexuality

Posted by Mark Forstrom on Nov 5, 2014 in Personal Reflections

The problem with most Christian sex education approaches I’ve seen:

  • It’s delayed as long as possible.
  • It begins with and primarily addresses the question: “where do babies come from?”
  • It’s characterized by shame, nervousness, and uncomfortability.
  • It’s embarrassing for the kids as well as the parents—and dreaded by both.
  • It’s compartmentalized, approaching it as “the talk” rather than as a process.
  • Its focus is on intercourse, not sexuality as a whole.
  • Delaying it naively assumes that: 1. Burying our heads in the sand will make this issue go away.  2.  Sex education isn’t necessary until puberty.  3.  Kids are not already being taught at an early age about sex by the world.  4. Kids either aren’t interested in or aren’t able to handle the truth about sex.
  • It’s clinical, impersonal, and passive:  “The ahem.. penis gets inserted into the ahem… vagina.”
  • It doesn’t allow for ongoing discussion day by day in the course of real life.
  • It’s a subject parents HATE to talk about.

Do you suppose that’s the way God views sex?  I don’t think so.  He didn’t invent sex to be a “dirty little secret”.  He invented it to be one of his greatest blessings to humanity.

My approach.

  • It begins in infancy and continues through the teenage years.
  • Its focus is on marital intimacy and satisfaction, long before it’s about babies.
  • It instills awe and wonder at God’s amazing design.
  • It’s comfortable, natural, and anticipated with eagerness.
  • It lays a foundation of truth early on and builds on that.
  • The principles are modeled, discussed, and reinforced through all of life.
  • Its focus is on sexuality as a whole, not just intercourse.
  • It’s a subject parents LOVE to talk about because they have the opportunity to instill life-changing values that run counter to our culture.

 Three Disclaimers: 1.  This approach presented here  ideally assumes a strong, healthy marriage is being modeled—the proper context for sex.  Single parents or those in dysfunctional marriages will need to teach the same values verbally and theoretically, rather than modeling them.

2. This approach is written for those with very young children to encourage sexual education as a lifestyle.  For those who neglected to properly educate their older kids, I’ve added some suggestions at the end on how to make up for lost time.

3.  In this short format, I’m presenting 11+ years of sex education condensed down into a few short pages.  Therefore it may seem like we’re dumping a lot of information on very young kids.  Keep in mind that this information is doled out little by little over a decade or more.    

My recommended approach…

 

BODY PARTS

  • It begins in infancy with the identification of body parts.  God made our sexual organs and they can be acknowledged and named without shame.
  • Rather than identifying the sex organs (including breasts) as dirty or forbidden, they should be identified as being special and set apart from all the other body parts.  So special, in fact, that displaying or discussing them is properly kept private (within the family for now, spouse later).  It’s inappropriate to show these parts publicly—that’s why we have laws against public nudity.  But the parts themselves aren’t bad—they’re just so special and private that they’re not shared with outsiders.  You can show anyone your arm or your leg or your ear, but there’s something different about these parts.  They’re the most intimate things you have to share and ultimately you will share them with your future spouse.

 

SENSUAL ATTRACTION BETWEEN PARENTS

  • I believe that sensual attraction between parents must be modeled in front of the kids at a very early age.  They need to see that God created physical craving (hormones) as a way to strengthen marital love and bond husband and wife.  This way when the kids reach puberty and begin to experience hormones, they’ll understand their proper context and purpose. Many parents appear to be asexual to their kids—a perception that will not help parents seem authoritative on the subject later when kids are looking for answers about their own emerging sexuality.
  • The husband should show his visual attraction to his wife by whistling at her in the shower and verbalizing his attraction to her beautiful naked body. This teaches them how God has wired the male brain.  God created this attraction as a way to help make sure the husband stays delighted in his wife.  It’s a good thing so long as his eyes stay focused on his wife.  This is a very important truth to teach them and talk about regularly as they grow older.
    • Recently, I came across a web link to a Britney Spears music video and decided to have the girls watch it with me.  They were shocked to think of how Britney’s body was being shared with other boys and men who were not her husband.  We talked about what they already knew:  that boys can become excited visually by a woman’s body.  They found it sad to consider that so many boys look at her as an object.  I told them how glad I am that their mom is only sharing her body with me and how special that makes me feel.
    • One day we were at the mall and my then 5-year old ran over and threw herself in front of the Victoria’s Secret window display and proceeded to shout:  “Don’t look over here, dad!”  I was amused and proud: she knew that a husband’s eyes properly belong only to his wife and that she should be his only source of sensual delight.  I wonder how many other mall shoppers were convicted by this truth coming from a 5 year old.
  • Acknowledging this truth about men being wired visually allows us to teach Scriptures that most parents avoid even through the teen years.  As soon as they began to read, I exposed my girls to the Song of Solomon and passages like Proverbs 5:19 “may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love.”  Rather than shocking them or grossing them out, this simply reinforced to them the truth that I had taught them long before: that sensuality is a healthy part of God’s design for marriage.   Bible stories, such as David gazing at the bathing Bathsheba begin to make sense and serve as a caution about misusing what God intended only within marriage.  This knowledge about guys being visually attracted to a woman’s body also encourages them to be modest, not sharing their beauty with just anyone!
  • For daughters, this understanding of a woman’s body being the delight of her husband alone can help as you discuss their own physical maturity.  Learning and talking about the two Scriptural purposes for breasts (delighting your husband and feeding babies) encourages them to not base their self-esteem on their rate of breast development.  And they need to know that size doesn’t matter—their husband will be delighted in them just the way God made them.  We talked recently about the “ideal” breast size and our conclusion was that it’s whatever size God made you.
  • For sons, talking about the way God designed our eyes to be attracted to women’s bodies is important in helping them understand their temptations and resist them.  They need to know that their eye attraction is normal, but that it should be saved for their spouse.  “Eye candy” is a cheap substitute and will never satisfy.
  • Of course every kind of love should be modeled by the parents (encouragement, compliments, acts of service, time together, tenderness, etc.)  But physical contact between the parents must also be modeled.  Parents who reserve all physical contact for the bedroom rob their kids of learning about this important aspect of marriage.   Hugs, shoulder rubs, snuggling, tussling, and sensual kissing (not just a peck), should be regularly seen by your kids from infancy on.  They need to see these activities as belonging to healthy marriages and that God designed these as a way to provide great delight and bonding.  They learn through this that physical touch strengthens your marriage and thus their family.  They also learn that we are made with physical attractions and desires.  And that some of those desires are to be met by your spouse only.  Knowing this prepares them for the day when their hormones will kick in.  Parents who appear asexual will not be consulted when teens begin to wrestle with their own sexuality.  Knowing that the desires are good but are intended for a future spouse will give them reason to wait for that spouse.   Knowing this about physical desires also gives them an understanding of the world they live in.  Flipping TV channels has given us many good discussions about the physical attraction of those portrayed.  Couples seen “making out” are evaluated based on their marital status and those who aren’t married are viewed with pity since they’re hurting their future marriages by not following God’s design.

 

THE SPECIAL SNUGGLE

  • Besides the physical touching parents model in front of the kids, reference needs to be made to what we called a“special snuggling” that parents do behind closed doors because it’s so private and wonderful.  This concept can be taught at a very early age (2-3).  Give this activity a code name, in case they ever mention it outside the home!  We called ours “doing the special snuggle” and we made it clear that it’s something God made for marriage, bonding, and pleasurable delight and that when they got older we’d tell them more details.  It needs to be seen as a type of “glue” that makes mommy and daddy’s marriage stronger.  It can be very vague at first, but as they age you increasingly give more clues.  The clues you drop may include these:  it starts with regular snuggling and progresses beyond, it’s something normally done in bed, has something to do with being “buck naked”, it’s best to not be interrupted during, has something to do with enjoying each other’s private parts (which we established long ago as belonging to the spouse).
  • There are many advantages of acknowledging the existence of a type of “special snuggling.”  A practical one is that you don’t have to make sexuality a big secret.  There’s a difference between secrecy and privacy.  You can request the kids to give you 30 minutes privacy and they’re perfectly happy to do so, because they know that whatever you’re doing in there is a private but good thing and which is somehow like glue for your marriage. It’s in their best interest for you to have your time together. When our bedroom door is closed and locked our kids know what’s going on, but it’s not a big deal at all.
    • One night we had plans for a morning “snuggle” but to our dismay one of our girls crept into our bed after a “bad dream”.  I mentioned to her that she was welcome to stay for awhile, but later if we decided to do our “special snuggle” I’d send her back to her bed.  What was her response?  Horror?  Disgust?  Not at all.  She just said, “That’ll be just fine!”
  • Another advantage of this knowledge is that they can better understand Bible stories and concepts such as “do not commit adultery” or David’s sin with Bathsheba. You simply define adultery as “doing the special snuggle with someone who’s not your husband or wife”.  They’ve already learned about the reality of physical, sexual attraction and that God made it for marriage exclusively.  So without even knowing the mechanics of sex, they can grasp these principles.  This knowledge of the existence of intimate physical contact also helps them interpret the sex-saturated world around them.  Teenagers making out on the street corner or a racy scene flashing on the TV or a provocative billboard now elicit comments like: “I’ll bet they’re gonna want to do the special snuggle next.”  “They’re probably gonna want to take their clothes off.”  “I wish they’d start thinking about their future husband.”  They’re learning about the ungodly context we live in and how it falls short of God’s ideal.  By addressing these concepts at a young age, they’ve learned the truth first and then the error is exposed for what it is.  This is a different outcome than in those families who try to ignore sexuality, hoping our kids won’t think about it, or paint sexuality as essentially “evil” or “disgusting”.  To keep from our kids the beautiful concept of sexuality in marriage is teaching them an untruth.  Many teens I work with can’t fathom their parents having sex—even for their own conception!  My kids already know that sex is a normal, regularly partaken of, God-ordained blessing in our marriage.  In fact for awhile one of our kids thought it’s something parents are supposed to do every day!  (That gives new meaning to the Scripture that says not to neglect your marital duty!)
  • During this time of knowing the sex concept without details, sometimes kids will ask where babies come from.  At this point it should be sufficient to say simply that God sometimes gives married people babies.  If they know of an unwed mother or a live-in situation, then you can expand it by saying simply that God sometimes gives babies to people who do the “special snuggle.”  That’s as much detail as they probably need.  After all, God put the moon in place and he put Baby Jesus in Mary’s tummy.  They’re not engineers—they aren’t seeking a detailed explanation of the process!

 

FILLING IN THE BLANKS

  • But eventually it will be the eagerly anticipated time to fill in the details about how sex actually works.  This is the moment that most parents dread, but I longed for this day with anticipation.  But at what age should this disclosure be made?  When you’ve laid the foundation of healthy marital sexuality, the concern isn’t going to be the shock of the revelation. But I think the timing depends on two things:  the environment and the child’s social maturity:  1. The Environment.  The world teaches our kids about sex all the time and since I want her to hear it from me first, I have to gauge when it’s time.  Parents must first consider what the child is being influenced by.  The timing for homeschoolers might be somewhat later than those in public school, just from the standpoint of what they might hear on the playground—although anyone with a TV or in view of billboards had better not wait too long!  2.  Social Maturity. Can she keep this a secret from others?  Does she tell her friends Santa is a myth?—then it’s probably too early for her to keep this secret.  The last thing you want is for other parents to complain to you about your child being a source of sex information!  (Although chances are your kid will explain the truth about sex better than the average parent!)
  • It’s a hard balance to find, but if you’re going to err, I’d say err on telling it early so they hear it in the context of wonder and awe, rather than as distorted and disgusting.   Our oldest was seven ½ and that was the perfect age for her.  Our youngest is that age now, but not quite ready to keep a secret.  Hopefully soon!
  • So what exactly do you say?  With our oldest, we made a date, telling her that it was now time to tell her the amazing details about God’s “special snuggling”, which we now recognize by its common names: “having sex” or “making love”.  There was a sense of anticipation as we sat in our living room!  I explained how amazing God made us.  And he made us two ways, male and female—in many ways the same, but in some ways different.  We reviewed what we had shared before how God made women so beautiful and the two purposes of breasts.  We talked about the opening girls have called a vagina and how God made it a place of pleasure when stroked by her husband.  We talked at length about the remarkable male sexual organs (which she was obviously less familiar with).   These organs also are places of pleasure when stroked by the wife and interestingly, when this happens the husband’s penis actually grows about twice as big and it becomes hard and sticks up, and feels even more pleasure.    Now isn’t that just amazing and interesting?  Now why do you suppose God created the man’s penis in such a way that usually it’s small and soft, but during this time it grows big and hard?  What if it was big all the time?  That would be inconvenient!  Why does it grow at all?  Hmmm, that’s a mystery isn’t it?  Do you think God knows what he’s doing?  He sure does.  Let’s stop talking about sex for a minute and let’s go back to something I taught you a while back:  how to identify connectors.  What do we call the two ends of a hose?  Or electrical plugs?  That’s right, male and female.  (I had purposefully taught her about all about how to identify “male” and “female” connectors with this day in mind.)  How do you know which end is the male?  Right it fits inside of the female end.  Good.  At that moment a light bulb came on and she finally had all the pieces fitting together.  “I think I solved the mystery!  The husband’s penis fits inside of the wife’s vagina, right?”  It was exciting to watch her experience the joy of discovering God’s truth.  We went on to explain that God created those parts like puzzle pieces, fitting together perfectly.  We then talked about the burst of pleasure that occurs during this time of closeness.  This is the most intimate human experience there is and that’s why God made it to be enjoyed by husband and wife alone.  They create a special memory together during sex that they share only with each other.  It’s their greatest physical expression of love and it’s a great gift from God.   I think it’s important to teach sex for delight before teaching sex for procreation.  After all, couples will have sex potentially 1000’s of times, and yet only get pregnant a dozen or less.  Humans have successfully accomplished God’s command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth!  Now sex is more often about intimacy and delighting in your spouse than it is about conceiving offspring.  But the revelation of how babies are made needs to be taught at some point shortly afterwards.  Having gotten through the tricky part, now it’s easy.

 

HOW ARE BABIES MADE?

  • After having established sex in marriage as about intimacy, then we later taught, “Oh, and by the way, you’ll be amazed to learn that once in a while, God uses this amazing act of intimacy and love as His way of creating babies.  Then we taught her about sperm and eggs and the amazing invention of testicles and how these sacks regulate the temperature of the sperm at 3 degrees below body temperature, pulling up tight if it’s cold and loosening up if it’s hot.  Amazing!  We talked about how the same tube that handles urine somehow miraculously switches tracks and allows the sperm to shoot out into the woman during sex.  We talked about how amazing it is that the woman’s body knows how to count to 28 and it sends out an egg every time.  And how the fertilized egg burrows itself in the womb and begins giving the baby nutrients.  We explained it all in the context of wonder and discovery.  There was no shame, no embarrassment, no regrets.  Only amazement!
  • The only thing that we didn’t share at that time was regarding hormone changes and the woman’s menstrual cycle.  A year later, her third grade class was doing a unit on sexuality and I kicked myself for not seeing the note until the same day—after the class was over.  I had wanted to be the first one to talk about those things.  So we talked as soon we could—the day after the class.  I had wanted to get the first word in, but in this case I had to be the second.  One of the values for me was to portray the menstrual cycle not primarily as “unpleasant” or “disgusting” (which was the effect of the school teaching) but rather as another example of God’s wonderful, perfect design for your life.  And how amazing and exciting it will be when God, in His perfect timing, chooses to transform her from a girl to a woman.  His biological timer will cause changes in her body that will enable her to be a wife and mother instead of a little girl.  Oh, how exciting that will be!  I explained how having a period was really a cleansing process which flushes out the important blood supply and nutrients that would have helped a baby grow.  And how even if the menstruation process may be unpleasant and admittedly an inconvenience, yet it’s a small price to pay for the blessings that will likely lie ahead.  God knows what’s best for you and He made you that way for a purpose.  I explained God’s wisdom and goodness in making the menstrual cycle 28 days, giving a wife 12 opportunities a year to get pregnant.  12 gives a lot of opportunities without too many.  Imagine if the cycle happened every 5 days—you’d never get a break!  Imagine if the cycle happened only 4 times a year and a couple was struggling with infertility.  There would not be many chances to conceive.  God’s ways are perfect.  So even though the benefits of the reproductive cycle won’t be needed for awhile (hopefully a long while!) yet we rejoice that God is putting the pieces in place that will make her the woman God created her to be.
  • Parents with boys should have a similar conversation about “wet dreams” and how it’s a natural release of excess sperm and should not be perceived with guilt or shame.  Again, he should realize that God is putting the pieces in place to make him the man God created him to be.

 

A LIFESTYLE OF SEXUALITY EDUCATION

  • Sexuality education continues all the time in our home, practically every time we interact with the world.  Sometimes the opportunities present themselves unexpectedly.  Sometimes we need to take initiative in interpreting the world with them.  My most recent teachable moment was to go through a Seventeen magazine with my oldest, comparing what it says about body image and sexuality to God’s ideal design for sex in marriage.  She had never seen such a magazine before, but she learned a lot about what is taught in the world’s classroom and why it’s a distortion of God’s truth.  When the day inevitably comes where one of her friends shows her Seventeen, she’ll know the context in which it’s written and hopefully will be able to share God’s truth with the friend.   I’d rather expose her to a little of the world with the right perspective at my side, than let her stumble upon things that she hasn’t been trained how to interpret later on when I’m not around.

 

Addendum:  So what if you’ve let your kids grow up without teaching them these truths?

Unless you have very young kids, you’re likely reading this and recognizing that you haven’t taught the whole truth about sexuality in marriage.  Can you go back?  No.  But you can start from where you are and rebuild the foundation to bring you up to speed.

  1. Stop being asexual parents and start being normal humans with hormones and thus someone who can be consulted in such matters!
    1. Show your physical attraction to one another.  Start small and gradually become more open about it.
    2. Slowly, but increasingly, start to communicate the reality of sexual delight in your marriage.  Eventually you need to become the expert on this subject that they’ll consult before listening to the world’s “experts” like Lady Gaga or Miley Cyrus.
  2. Begin to talk about subjects that maybe you haven’t spoken candidly about before like guys’ eye-attraction, lust, modesty, body image, fashion, hormones, body changes, pornography, masturbation, sex, etc.  Practice first on easier topics and eventually progress to the big ones.
  3. Provide commentary on the world.  As you begin approaching sensual subjects you can at first be more analytical and concept-oriented.  “It makes me sad to see how that TV couple is jeopardizing their future marriage.”  As you grow more comfortable with these topics you can become more personal, “It’s a shame that that TV couple will never know the sexual blessing your mother and I enjoy because we saved ourselves for each other.”  I’ll frequently “talk” to the actors on TV and give them my advice!
  4. Ask questions about sexual topics.  Again, start simple and progress as your sphere of topical discussions increases.   “Why do you think Lady Gaga dresses that way?”
  5. Enter their world and discuss it.  Watch MTV for an hour with your son or daughter.  Afterwards, let them ask you questions and you ask them some.  Talk about news headlines like Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, the homosexual agenda, redefining marriage, etc.  All provide many opportunities to pass on your values on sexuality.
  6. Your kids have undoubtedly learned the biological facts about sex already through school programs, friends, the media or a book you may have handed them!   Yet, there is much more you as a parent can teach them about the “theology” of sex and it’s proper context.  Read through the Song of Solomon with them or do a Biblical study of sex and marriage.
  7. Talk to others about their “teachable moments” with their kids.  Make sexual education a topic that we’re all more comfortable addressing.

 
8

An alternative to teenage dating.

Posted by Mark Forstrom on Aug 17, 2014 in Personal Reflections, Reflections on Parenting

Since it’s a topic that affects our youth ministry, I’ve decided to put my thoughts on Teenage Dating in writing.  I don’t expect most people to agree with my views, but I do feel it might be useful for me to present them in case they might be beneficial to anyone.

I have been observing the teenage dating culture for the past 28 years that I’ve been in youth ministry and this has given me a unique vantage point for formulating my views.

I’ll start by saying right up front that I’m not “anti-dating” and I don’t judge anyone who chooses to date. Dating couples have my blessing and I really hope things work out well for them. In fact, I have known several dating couples in youth group over the years whose relationship I greatly respect. And I’ve even had the privilege of officiating at a few of their weddings!

But in my observation, for every one dating success story there are dozens that can only be described as “epic fail”. To me, teenage dating puts a couple on a precarious path right next to a cliff! Almost all of them fall off the cliff at some point and then there’s a huge relational mess to clean up at the bottom. The longer they’ve stayed on that path before falling, the greater the damage. Very few make it to the top of the hill.

I feel like far too much of youth ministry is spent cleaning up the messes left from dating (the drama, the depression, the gossip, the revenge, people choosing sides, “I’m not coming if he’s here,” etc.) So if you ever sense my hesitation at the news of another dating couple, that’s why. I’ve been conditioned by experience to predict that most will end in grief — and that grief will affect us all.

Criticism alone isn’t useful, so I want to present a positive alternative to dating at the end of this post. But before I do that, let me describe more fully what concerns me about these typical dating relationships.

MY OBSERVATIONS ABOUT TRADITIONAL DATING.

■ Getting a bf or gf is often driven by feelings, the need for self-acceptance, or social approval.
■ They experience pressure from friends to have a bf or gf in order to fit in.
■ Many students feel they “need” a bf or gf in order to function and their whole sense of well-being revolves around this.
■ They sometimes even experience pressure from parents to have a good looking bf or gf (I wonder if having “datable” kids makes parents feel more successful?)
■ The relationship usually begins with trying to impress the other person and trying to win him or her over, but the real person remains hidden behind a mask.
■ The relationship is formalized by asking the other to “go out” — which is an undefined, temporary pseudo-commitment or contract of sorts. In reality the promise made is basically “I’ll be somewhat loyal to you for now.”
■ This pseudo-commitment necessitates “Defining the Relationship” continually.
■ They rely on words like “I love you” and Facebook statuses and use pet names, flirting, teasing, good looks, and immodesty. These are shallow ways to try to keep the relationship secure.
■ Life is much more stressful, complicated, and dramatic with so much riding on the status of the relationship.
■ The more confident partner often discovers he or she has power and control over the more insecure one. Sometimes this turns into manipulation, with the more vulnerable one pressured to please the other so as not to lose the relationship.
■ The couple often gets preoccupied with the relationship which makes other things suffer (like grades or church).
■ The pursuit of God often takes a backseat to the pursuit of each other.
■ They tend to become a clique of two, isolating themselves from others.
■ Their isolation presents more opportunties for physical temptation and compromise.
■ They pursue intimacy (emotionally physically, and spiritually) without awareness that one type of intimacy often leads to the others.
■ Jealousy often occurs in others who wish to “lay claim” to the bf or gf.
■ It becomes awkward to speak with or enjoy friendships with those of the opposite sex.
■ Old friends frequently become neglected and hurt, having been replaced by the bf or gf.
■ The couple often withdraws from family to spend excessive time together.
■ They often feel a sense of entitlement over the other person’s time, attention, and body.
■ It easily focuses on “getting” rather than “giving”. This is a consumer mindset so common in our culture.
■ Dating costs a lot of time, money, and emotional investment, making it hard to objectively get out if it’s become unhealthy.
■ When one partner habitually pays for the other’s expenses, it creates a sense of “IOU” which can lead to manipulation.
■ Dating couples often live preoccupied with their future and miss enjoying the present.
■ Many dating partners continuously check up on what the other person is doing — which indicates insecurity and control. This smothers the other person and robs them of freedom.
■ Breaking up is hard to do. Many of them experience great heartbreak and sometimes even depression when they break up. Both suffer, but the one who cared the most ends up the most wounded.
■ They often end up with much regret over having invested so much time, emotion, and money in what turned out to be only a temporary relationship.
■ It gets very awkward after a breakup. They don’t know how to relate to their Ex or their Ex’s friends.
■ Friends often take sides after a breakup, causing divisions and wounds which can last for years and destroy unity.
Can dating happen without these red flags or pitfalls? Certainly.  I’ve seen it firsthand.  But can anyone deny that these concerns I’ve listed are very very common? I’m guesing, “No”. Overall, the world of teenage dating is a mess! Our youth group has been adversely affected at various times over the years by the fallout of dating-gone-bad as described above. People have even quit coming to church over such things. Do you see why traditional dating makes me a little squeemish?

SO WHAT’S MY ALTERNATIVE? FRIENDATIONSHIP!

Instead of blindly conforming to the world’s custom of dating, what if guys and girls could experience something entirely different — with none of the consequences and almost all of the benefits! I’ve seen a few counter-cultural teenagers over the years who have modeled what I’m about to describe and they’ve earned my respect. I don’t know of a name for this kind of relating, so I’m going to use one my friend Erin proposed. Let’s call it “Friendationship.”

Friendationship — to me — is when a guy and a girl enjoy a healthy friendship without any of the negatives listed above. Like any normal friendship, they spend time getting to know each other. The friendship just happens slowly over time with no pretense. As their natural friendship grows, they find that they enjoy being together and so they naturally spend more time together. Their time together is often spent with others and in groups and with families in a variety of setting (missions trips, etc). They may go on occasional dates but these are not the substance of their relational time and they don’t overinflate their importance or obsess over them. They may freely go on dates with others as well — it’s not “cheating” because such dates do not infer commitment. In fact, they likely have several friendationships going on simultaneously as they connect socially people of the opposite sex.  This helps them learn what qualities they like or don’t like in members of the opposite sex.  The friendationship may grow closer or futher apart over time, but this happens naturally and mutually and without a lot of stress or emotional turmoil. Their emotional health never hinges on “where they stand”. It’s impossible for them to “break up” because no “contract” was ever made regarding their status. They don’t need or rely on “I love you’s,” labels (BFF), exchanging of tokens, etc. They don’t need to “define the relationship” much at all except to learn ways to be a better friend to the other. These teens find no shame in their Facebook status of “single” because they fully enjoy living freely rather than enter the world of “it’s complicated”. They purposefully avoid dwelling on thoughts of romantic relationships or marriage, recognizing that those decisions are many years away and can wait. They recognize that they must restrain themselves from getting too close, keeping intimacy at a healthy level. They guard their hearts and work hard to be accountable and to keep their feelings in check, knowing that now is not the time to explore those areas. Their lives revolve around God, not each other. Their pursuit of God exceeds their pursuit of romance. They keep their natural sex drives under control by choosing to avoid pornography, steamy romance novels and sensually-charged entertainment. They patiently trust God to provide for their needs and their future — in His time.

THE OUTCOME OF FRIENDATIONSHIP.

Over time the guy and girl may end up being somewhat distant friends, great friends, or maybe even best friends — all are good options! Friendships just happen and they are to be enjoyed when they do.

After the couple leaves their teen years (for most, not all) and when they know themselves better and have their life direction and financial means figured out, then they can begin focusing on choosing a marriage partner. This is the time to leave the Friendationship Stage and enter what many refer to as the “courtship” stage of life.  But unlike other courtship models, this stage implies a formal pursuit of marriage with the person who has already become your best friend – the one you’ve figured out you can’t live without!  It’s true that love can be blind, so you’ll also have an added safeguard — the confirmation of others.  Your friendationship has been on display to everyone around you to observe, so if you’re obviously well-matched the decision for the two of you to pursue marriage will become a social mandate!  You’ll hear comments like “When are the two of you going to start pursuing marriage?”

CONCLUSION.

I think seven of the most precarious words in the teenage world are, “Will you go out with me…yes!” Those few words magically and instantly set them upon that precarious path. At that point there are only two possible outcomes of such an arrangement: breaking up (painful) or marriage (unlikely). I think teenagers would be wise to avoid placing themselves in such a vulnerable position and focus on developing healthy Friendationships instead.

That’s my conclusion for you to consider. I’d love to hear your feedback and comments!

CLARIFICATION.

Regardless of whether you are doing traditional dating or seeking a Friendationship, I think it’s important to be sure to communicate your relationship intentions so the person you’re relating to doesn’t have different expectations. If you’re simply pursuing a healthy friendationship make that very clear so the other person doesn’t read romantic intentions into your friendly behavior. If you choose a dating relationship, talk about what that does or doesn’t mean.

Girls, who often crave security, are prone to having their hearts wounded by false expectations of commitment, so guys take the lead and be clear about what kind of relationship you are initiating.

 
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Try Enforceable Statements instead of screaming!

Posted by Mark Forstrom on Jul 4, 2014 in Personal Reflections, Reflections on Parenting

Many of you know that I love the parenting principles in the Parenting with Love and Logic book series.

One of the key Love & Logic concepts that has helped Cindy and me is this one:  Enforceable Statements. This is one of the most useful parenting tools ever!  Here’s why…

Invariably there will be a gap between the behavior that we want from our kids and the behavior they display.  In response to such “bad behavior” it’s easy for parents to resort to either nagging, scolding, threatening, or yelling.  The result is tension in the home at best, resentment, and at worst, hatred.

When we see undesirable behavior in our kids, our natural tendency is to tell them what they should do.  In English, we call that using the “imperative mood”.  The problem with this strategy is two-fold.  1. People generally resent being told what to do — our kids are no different.  and 2. It forces you and your kids into a “battle of the wills” in which everyone ends up losing.

Here are some examples of this imperative approach:  “Sit still”. “Be quiet.”  “Keep your hands to yourself.”  “Eat your peas.” “Clean your room right now.”  “Stop that screaming.”  “Do your homework.”  “Take out the trash.”  “Do the dishes.” “Get out there and mow the yard!!”

These statements are not very enforceable.   If a child has a mind to ignore these demands, it becomes a battle that is impossible for the adult to win without resorting to brute force.

Introducing another way:  Enforceable Statements!

Enforceable Statements are declarations of realities that are entirely within the control of parents. Here’s an example,  “You are free to use my car as soon as the yard is mowed.”  Do you see the difference?  The parent is informing the child what the parent will do as it relates to the kid’s behavior.

Here’s an example from earlier this evening in our home.  We have a family rule in our home that says, “You may have any pet that you completely pay for and take care of.”  (Notice that this rule is also an Enforceable Statement”.)  So Lexi, our 17 year old owns a cat.  The only part of cat ownership she dislikes is changing the kitty litter, and so you can imagine the potential this has to turn into a household battle!  Rather than nagging her day after day or raising my voice in any way, I came up with this Enforceable Statement:  “Lexi, guess what?  Today is kitty litter changing day!  You may change it yourself by midnight or I will change it and deduct $5 from your allowance.”  She understood the deal, and later that night without another word I was pleased to find the box had been changed.  Had she not changed it, I would have made $5.  Either way I would go to bed satisfied.  Sure beats an evening of nagging, eye-rolling, raised voices, and resentment!

A few points about Enforceable Statements.

1. Make them very measurable and clear. “I pay $1 a bag for leaves put in yard bags to my satisfaction.”

2. Only give options you’re willing to live with. Don’t say, “I’ll feed you tomorrow if you finish your supper.”

3. Don’t word them as threats, but rather positive statements and/or rewards.  “I read bedtime stories to kids who treat me with kindness during the day.  Compare the tone of that to, “I’m not reading to you because you were so rude to me earlier.”

4. Be gutsy.  The parent must be willing (and courageous enough) to actually enforce it what he or she says.  If a parent says, “We will stay here at the amusement park as long as you exhibit a pleasant attitude,” then the parent must be willing to actually leave a minute later and head home with screaming child in tow.  Think long-term:  consistency in your enforcement will make them think twice before disobeying the next time.

5.  No empty threats. If you make an empty threat that you don’t intend to enforce, the child will quickly figure that out — and leave you helpless forever!  Most of us have seen a parent say to their child in the middle of the mall, “Come over here right now or I’m going to leave without you?”  This is a statement the parent has no intention of enforcing.  Not only does this undermine the parent’s authority, it would undermine a young child’s basic trust and security.

Here are a bunch of examples of Enforceable Statements that I brainstormed for different ages of kids to give you some ideas of how these work in day to day life.  Consider how approaching bad behavior in this way might reduce scolding and nagging in the home.

Early Childhood

  • I’ll serve your food as soon as you are buckled in your booster seat.
  • I allow children to be at the table as long as they’re not throwing food on the floor.
  • I respond to requests from those who 1. put it in the form of a question, 2. use the word, “Please” and 3. use a pleasant tone of voice.
  • I provide “big girl pants” to children who are potty trained.
  • I close the door when children scream.  I open it when they are quiet.
  • My ears are special — they don’t recognize the sound of whining, so if it seems like I’m not responding to you sometimes, that must be why.
  • The car is leaving in 10 minutes.  You may walk or I can carry you.  You may be dressed or you can go to school in your jammies.
  • I make disappear all toys that are thrown.
  • I give treats to children who share their toys with others.
  • I read TWO stories at bedtime to children who have shown extra kindness to others during the day.
  • Elementary
  • For children who are disrespectful to the babysitter, I will pay her out of their allowances.
  • I charge two dollars a minute to listen to fighting in the car.  You may pay me with cash, confiscated toys, or extra chores.”
  • You may keep the toys you pick up by 8 pm or I will put them in “Toy Jail” where you can bail them out later.
  • I will serve supper until 7 pm.  After that you’ll have to wait until breakfast to eat.
  • I’ll provide you with a meal of my choosing, which you must eat without complaining — if you don’t like what I serve feel free to eat leftovers .  When you cook, I’ll promise not to complain and if I don’t like what you serve I’ll eat leftovers.
  • I don’t allow pets to be mistreated.  If I feel they are being neglected or abused I will find a new home for them.
  • I provide doors to kids who don’t slam them.
  • I give treats to kids who are sweet.
  • I’ll be happy to take you shopping as soon as your chores are done to my satisfaction.
  • I’ll wash any clothes that are put in the hamper.
  • I’ll consider any dishes that aren’t rinsed and in the dishwasher to be considered by you to be reusable, so that’s what I’ll use in serving your next meal or beverage.
  • I lend money to those who have collateral.
  • I will match you dollar for dollar for birthday presents you purchase for your friends.
  • We allow kids to have electronic devices as long as they check them in with us each night before bed. We’ll return them in the morning as long as there are no problems.
  • I drive to practice those who behave pleasantly in the car.
  • I made an adjustment to my car.  The gas pedal now only works when there’s LOVE in the car!
  • I’ll provide the power cord for the router whenever chores are done to my satisfaction.
  • I’ll pay for sports for those who show good sportsmanship on and off the field.
  • I charge 50 cents a mile for extra driving caused by your negligence.
  • I’ll pay for music lessons for those who practice in between time.
  • I’m going to mow the lawn at 7 pm.  Any toys that are in the yard at that time will either be mowed or sent to “Toy Jail” at my discretion.
  • If it hasn’t been done by then, at 9 pm I will change your cat’s litter box and deduct the cost of my inconvenience from your next allowance.
  • I’ll enter the parental control password to the cable tv when you’ve finished all your homework.
  • Pre-teens / Teens
  • I’ll listen as soon as your voice is as calm as mine.
  • I’ll be glad to discuss this when I feel I’m being treated respectfully.
  • I pay show choir expenses for those who treat me like a celebrity.
  • I pay sports team expenses for those who treat me like a superstar.
  • I’ll pay for lessons for one thing at a time (sports, music, etc.)
  • I don’t call in excused absences for procrastination.
  • I write school notes that are truthful.  “Lexi is arriving late to school today because apparently she needs more than 4 alarm clocks.”
  • I impound possessions of those who owe me money until the amount is paid. If need be I will sell those items on ebay or at a pawn shop to repay myself what you owe me.
  • I’ll pay you $10 per hour for time you spend diligently working through the Smart Prep (ACT preparation) course.
  • I’ll pay $6 per book report you get done in June, $3.50 for ones done in July; or $2.00 for ones done in August (to combat procrastination)
  • I’ll pay 75% of all your church trip expenses; 50% of all school expenses.
  • I’m happy to help you with homework until 10 pm, after which time I’m going to bed.
  • I provide internet for those who use it responsibly, have accountability software installed, and who provide all passwords.
  • I’ll pay for a phone for you after you’ve first paid for replacement insurance.
  • I’ll allow you to have a smart phone, as long as you report to me any apps you’ve installed, given me a “tour” of them, and provided their passwords to me.
  • I will make random inspections of your apps to verify your trustworthiness, but I promise not to snoop through your private messages unless you give me reason to doubt your truthfulness or your judgment.
  • I’ll install pornography protection software on my computer and designate your mother to receive reports of my internet use just like I will expect from you.
  • I provide electricity to the rooms of those whose music doesn’t disturb other family members.
  • I provide 10 minutes worth of hot water.  After that I charge $1 a minute, deducted from your allowance.
  • I allow kids to go out at night who come home when they say they will.
  • I will be comfortable letting you go on solo dates when you’ve convinced me I don’t have to worry about you giving in to physical temptations.
  • I will be comfortable letting you go to school parties when I am convinced you are responsible enough to avoid substance use temptations.
  • I will be comfortable letting you go to a strangers house party when their parents have convinced me there won’t be drugs or alcohol present.
  • I will provide dishes to those who properly rinse them and put them in the dishwasher.  Others may purchase their own paper plates, or eat off the tabletop (which will need cleaning afterwards).
  • I’ll let you drive my car by yourself as soon as you’ve paid me a deposit in the amount of our insurance deductible.
  • I’ll be happy to let you use the car as long as I don’t have to worry about you using alcohol.
  • I’ll be willing to let you stay out late on a school night as long as I’m convinced it won’t be detrimental to your school performance.
  • I’ll make exceptions to the normal “curfew” when you’ve convinced me there’s a good reason for it and that I don’t have to worry about what you’re doing.
  • Young Adults
  • I’ll help pay for college for those who don’t smoke pot (as determined by random drug testing).
  • I’ll match you dollar for dollar for paying college expenses.
  • I’ll let you live here during your college breaks as long as you abide by my house rules without complaining, which involve keeping me informed of your whereabouts, being respectful, bringing no alcohol onto my property, asking my permission before having friends over, and doing chores or paying rent.
  • Spouse
  • I consider projects finished only when all the tools and mess are put away. At that time I will demonstrate my thanks to you! xoxoxo
  • I’ll purchase grocery items that are written on the list on the refrigerator.
  • I’ll wash any clothes that are put in the hamper.
  • I’ll iron any shirts that are hung in the laundry room by 8 pm.
  • I’m always happy to kiss lips that aren’t covered up with lipstick.
  • I’m always happy to kiss faces that aren’t prickly.
  • I’m happy to wash dishes that are rinsed and placed in the right hand sink.
  • I’ll put away all of the clean dishes that don’t stress me out.

 
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Finished!

Posted by Mark Forstrom on Apr 15, 2014 in Personal Reflections
Photo by Brad Tucker

Photo by Brad Tucker

 

Hey everyone,

The race is finished and I completed all 50 miles!  Praise the Lord.  And the best part is that we raised $16,586.50 (so far) by 236 people to fight sex trafficking in Nepal!  That averages $70 per person!
Click the picture to the left for a photo album with captions to describe the whole event!

 

MAKING A PLEDGE.

You can still go to www.tinyurl.com/marks50milerun to make a pledge to help fight sex trafficking in Nepal.

 

PAYING YOUR PLEDGES.
Since pledges were anonymous, no one is able to send anyone a reminder or invoice. So the fulfillment of any pledge you may have made will require your initiative.

MAKING YOUR CONTRIBUTION ELECTRONICALLY…
Once you’ve calculated your pledge total (pledge times 50 miles) you may send it electronically to
https://www.tinyhandsinternational.org/donate (under “ministry area” I suggest you select “Fight Sex Trafficking”)

MAILING YOUR PLEDGE…
Or you may mail the pledge at any time to the organization directly. Details will be on their websites. For Tiny Hands, the address is as follows:
P.O. Box 67195
Lincoln, NE 68506
(indicate that you’d like it to go toward fighting sex trafficking in Nepal).

 
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Surprise Party for my 50th birthday

Posted by Mark Forstrom on Apr 10, 2014 in Personal Reflections

Fiftiety birthday or anniversaryOn Tuesday, April 15th I, Mark Forstrom, will turn 50 years old and I’m planning my own surprise party!

How can I get away with planning my own surprise party?  Because the “Surprises” will be to see 1. how many miles I can run and 2. how much money we can raise to fight Sex Trafficking in Nepal!

During the whole day of my birthday, I will attempt to run the biggest race of my life:  50 miles, from Cedar Falls to Cedar Rapids on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail!

(Note: I’m the only one in the “race” and for those interested I’ll post my mile-to-mile progress on my Facebook wall as I go.)

The run will not only be a test of my vanishing youthfulness, but more importantly, it will be a way for us to raise money together for victims of sex trafficking in Nepal.

In celebration of this milestone in my life, all my family, friends, and acquaintances are encouraged to pledge any amount per mile that I run — up to 50!

After my run, shortly after 7:30 pm on the 15th, I will post on my Facebook wall and on my blog at www.markforstrom.com how many of the 50 miles I was able to run.  (Pledgers will need to know that info to calculate their pledge amount.)

Pledges will be anonymous, only the totals will be known.

Why fight Sex Trafficking in Nepal?  Each year in Nepal, an estimated 10,000-15,000 girls are trafficked across the border where they are sold into Indian brothels and forced to become prostitutes. These girls range between ages 7 and 24, with an average age of 15.

To combat this horrific injustice, I’m suggesting the money raised on April 15th be sent to Tiny Hands, International, a *Christian organization that not only rescues 100 girls a month at over a dozen border stations, but also prosecutes the perpetrators and cuts off the supply chain.  I heard about them through a speaker we had come to our youth group this fall.  Check out the amazing things Tiny Hands does in this 6 minute video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwKqBfq8M4E#t=300

IF YOU WANT TO PARTICIPATE, PLEASE ANONYMOUSLY REGISTER YOUR PLEDGE.BEFORE MY RACE
Please click here to register your pledge amount (per mile)…. www.tinyurl.com/marks50milerace

THEN AFTER MY RACE, YOU CAN PAY YOUR PLEDGE.
On the pledge registration link above, you’ll find instructions for how to send in your pledge electronically or otherwise.

tinyhandsinternational

AND YES, THERE IS ACTUALLY A PARTY!!
When I finish my run at 7:30 pm, the finish line will be at New Covenant Bible Church, where I will host a party for all my local friends and family.  At the party we’ll enjoy “post-race” snacks and unveil the two big surprises of the night (the number of miles I ran and the total amount of money raised to fight sex trafficking!)

Note: I would prefer friends not give me birthday gifts other than giving to the Tiny Hands cause.

Local friends who prefer not to give online may bring your pledges in cash or check (made out to “Tiny Hands International”)  to the party that night.  Or you may hand the pledge to me at any time.

*Note for my non-Christian friends: if you’re conscientiously opposed to supporting a Christian organization, please consider fighting sex trafficking in Nepal through this alternate organization:   http://abcnepal.org.np/

 
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My April Fool’s Prank on the New Covenant Staff

Posted by Mark Forstrom on Apr 1, 2014 in Personal Reflections

Prank

On Tues, April 1, 2014, I pulled another fun April Fools Day prank on the staff of my church, New Covenant Bible Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Luckily, this is a church of grace! I hope you enjoy the video. Thanks to Andrew Male with the video splicing!

Correction: my speeding ticket prank was actually 2 years ago, not last year as I mistakenly stated in the video.

 
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Immediate Consequences for child discipline? Worst idea ever!

Posted by Mark Forstrom on Mar 15, 2014 in Reflections on Parenting

Upset Senior Woman with The Wooden Spoon Isolated on a White Background.Somehow, most of grew up with the idea that when it comes to disciplining our kids, implementing immediate consequences is paramount.  Perhaps with toddlers it works, but with school-age children I couldn’t disagree more!

Perhaps this idea emerged from the behavior modification approach that they teach in psychology.  It’s true that Pavlov effectively learned to train dogs this way using immediate consequences and rewards, but children are vastly different from animals!  They can project into the future, reflect on the past, and utilize reason– something dogs just can’t do.

Think of how risky it is to enact immediate consequences for our kids’ misbehavior.

  1. First of all, we’re putting a consequence in place when we’re likely red-hot with anger. The chances of us thinking objectively at this point is remote.  We might be unreasonably harsh or we might implement something that would be counter productive.
  2. If we’re visibly steamed in that moment, the child likely will perceive that the consequence is motivated by vengeance rather than love and care.   His perception of you will be “Son, you made us mad, so now we’re going to do something to make you mad.”  This diverts the kid’s attention from the actual conflict that he/she caused to a completely new issue — the conflict that ensued over the initial conflict.  He might scapegoat you, rather than take responsibility for his actions.
  3. We’d be putting a consequence in place when our kids are angry, upset or dealing with their own failure.  They aren’t able to think objectively or articulate clearly at times like that, so it’s pointless to enact a consequence at that moment. Once everyone’s calmed down they can better ascertain what went wrong and how to make things right.
  4. Lastly, we’d be having to make a quick, impulsive, knee-jerk reaction to the misbehavior.  There’s no time to think through what actually went wrong and what would be the best response.  There’s no time to consult with other sources of wisdom, and no opportunity to ensure that the consequence is appropriate to the offence as well and instructive.

 

WHAT IF.

What if the next time we have a conflict we buy ourselves some time to figure out how best to respond?  To be sure, I do think it’s wise to immediately acknowledge that something just occurred that will need a response — but what if we waited on the sentencing?

Here are some possible ways to respond.

“Billy, the way you just spoke to me felt very disrespectful and I’m not ok with that.  Something needs to be done about this and I’m going to take some time to figure out what to do about it.  I’ll talk to your dad as well as some others and get their input and when we’ve reached my decision we’ll get back to you.  But try not to worry about it.”

“Sally, the damage you caused my car by your irresponsibility is going to need fixing.  I’m pretty angry right now, but I’m going give myself some time to cool off and talk to some other parents and then I will figure out what would be a fair way to respond.  I’ll get back to you.  But try not to worry about it.”

“Jane, you told us you’d be home at 11 pm and it’s now 12:15 when you’re walking in the door.  We’ve been frightened and scared for the past hour and we’re honestly pretty steamed right now. It’s enough for us to say that we’ll be giving thought to what the consequences for this should be and we’ll get back to you.  But try not to worry about it. Good night.”

AN ADDED BENEFIT.

What I’ve found in enacting delayed consequences is that sometimes the kids take responsibility to solve their own problem during the time-lapse between the infraction and the consequence.  Recently I confronted two high schoolers at church for their behavior and told them I was going to have to give thought to what my proper response should be and that I’d get back to them.  A few days later, I got a FB message from one of them, apologizing, explaining that they had talked about what went wrong with their behavior, and told me of their commitment and plans to prevent it from ever happening again.  Happily, I didn’t have to enforce any discipline at all — they did it to themselves.  Imagine the different ending to the story if I’d blown up at them and implemented a quick consequence that made them feel judged by me.

 

 
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The greatest Christmas gift you can give your kids.

Posted by Mark Forstrom on Dec 12, 2013 in Reflections on Parenting

We live in a culture consumed with consuming, and at no time is this more obvious than at Christmastime.

Ironically, Jesus–whose birth we celebrate–said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  Yet, two of the most common questions children are asked this time of year will be “What do you want for Christmas?”  and afterwards, “What did you get for Christmas?”  If Jesus is right, then we have it backwards.

Over the years, we’ve done three things in our home to reorient Christmas toward giving.

First, we simply don’t spend a lot of money on Christmas presents to each other.  We exchange presents that are meaningful, but far from extravagant. We’ve intentionally avoided the treadmill of having to keep up with the coolest and latest–and endless–fads and trends.  (That’s a treadmill that speeds up once you’re on it making it near impossible to ever get off.)  When the girls were young, they would take an annual Christmas Eve trip to the Dollar Store to buy us all gifts.  Of course things have progressed since then, but we still retain the value that it’s “the thought that counts” more than the monetary value or cultural trendiness.

The second thing pertains to the way we opened the presents under our tree.  Rather than delivering presents to the recipients, we delivered them to the giver.  This resulted in each person having a pile of presents next to them reflecting what they had to give.  Then, one-by-one, the family member would present his gift to to the recipient and they both had joy at the opening of the gift.  That way the focus was on the one who gave the gift every bit as much as the one who received it.

The third thing we did in our home to get the focus onto giving was an idea inspired by the excellent book by Randy Alcorn, “Money, Possession, & Eternity.”  It has to do with letting our kids experience the joy of giving generously to those in need.  He suggested we designate money for the kids to give away to worthy causes.

By his advice we decided to take some of the money we would normally give away at Christmastime and allow the girls to direct it to causes they were excited about.  The amount we gave each of them control over was hefty (over 10 times the value of our normal Christmas gifts to them) because we wanted them to experience the blessing of knowing they had changed the world.

They had to research where they wanted the money to be spent and be able to articulate to us why they felt it was important.  This has become our annual tradition–one that we now wished we had heard of long ago instead of when they were teenagers.  Over the years, Brenda and Lexi have purchased water buffaloes for families in Bangladesh, purchased a well in India, supported individual missionaries with whom they had a connection, given to the Advent Conspiracy, local ministries, and more.  The letters of thanks, photos, and reports of how their money was used confirmed to them that they had indeed made the world a better place.

We believe that allowing our kids to experience the blessing of giving will be the best Christmas gift we ever gave them.

 
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Resolved…

Posted by Mark Forstrom on Jan 1, 2013 in Personal Reflections

(A re-post, with this year’s revisions.)

New Year’s Day is a good time to think about where we’ve been and what lies ahead in the coming year.  Today, many will be setting New Year’s Resolutions in hopes for better days ahead, but it’s well-known that most of these short-term goals will be short-lived. But what if we had a longer-term at the things we need to change?

A few years ago,  I was challenged by reading The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards, by Steven J Lawson. It’s about the determination and focus in the life of Jonathan Edwards, one of my heroes of the faith. This man from the 1700’s was a spiritual giant, a great evangelist, and an intellectual genius (he was a President of Princeton) who has also been called the greatest theologian America ever produced. This is someone to learn from! While still a teenager, Jonathan carefully crafted seventy Resolutions that he would live out during his entire life. They are amazing to read, in fact, click here to read them now! They make most of our New Year’s Resolutions seem shallow by comparison!

Reading Edwards’ resolutions made me resolve to come up with my own Lifelong Resolution list, which I’ve been working on over the past few years and revising annually. Jan 1st is a good time to re-post them in their latest form.

Here then, in the spirit of Jonathan Edwards, is my updated list of my Forty Life Resolutions.

 

MY FORTY LIFE RESOLUTIONS

Note:  I do not claim to yet be living out all of these resolutions consistently in my life.  They are more statements of intent — the things I want to be realities in my life.  

In cases where I still need work at living them consistently I will add an asterisk “*” to the word Resolved.   In cases where the resolution is yet untested due to life circumstances, I will add a “^” sign.  Unmarked resolutions are ones where I feel I am living them out consistently. 

 

Revised Jan 1, 2014

Preamble (copied from Edwards): Aware that “apart from Him I can do nothing” I humbly entreat God by His grace to enable me to keep these resolutions, as much as they align with His will.

RESOLUTIONS OF THE HEART

1. Resolved* that my primary delight be in God alone, irrespective of my circumstances, regarding Him as my only true need.
2. Resolved* to view His Word as a chest full of treasures providing spiritual riches, and to partake of that Treasure often–daily when possible.
3. Resolved* to attentively listen to the voice of God by whatever means God would speak—general or special revelation—and not to limit God’s channels by my narrow thinking, prejudices, and assumptions.
4. Resolved* to make personal prayer a lifeline priority—surrendering myself to His service and pursuing relational intimacy with Him
5. Resolved* to seek to love God with my emotions, fighting against my natural tendency toward stoicism and intellectualism.
6. Resolved* to make intercession a priority, praying God-sized prayers, expecting the miraculous.
7. Resolved* to increasingly develop and portray a longing for heaven and to maintain an eternal perspective.
8. Resolved^ to allow any discomfort, suffering, or mistreatment I experience to deepen my appreciation of the suffering Jesus embraced for me.
9. Resolved^ to sacrifice my life willingly and gladly if God directs.
10. Resolved to be a faithful husband to Cindy until death, dedicating my eyes, my body, and my affections to her alone out of obedience to Christ. I will therefore never willingly gaze upon the nakedness of other women or let my thoughts dwell thereupon.
11. Resolved to have absolutely no secrets of any kind in my personal life. I will fully disclose all my areas of weakness to trusted friends that they may hold me accountable that I may always be a man of complete authenticity and integrity.
12. Resolved to be at peace with all men as far as it depends on me, (Rom 12:18) meaning to me that there should be no one on the planet to whom I would not gladly share a meal.
13. Resolved always to treat every person with utmost respect regardless of how much I may like or dislike that person’s personality, values, or behavior.  I will take special care to show extra love and respect to those whom evangelical Christians and others have have historically mistreated, such as homosexuals, atheists, liberals, people of other religions & those society would call “ugly”.

RESOLUTIONS OF THE HEAD

14. Resolved to be continuously attentive to my weaknesses, that I may surrender them to Christ’s mercy and transforming power, but not so obsessed with them that they distract my attention from God thus becoming an idol.
15. Resolved^ to hold my loved ones loosely: never presuming upon Gods propensity to bless, but rather viewing them always as a temporary privilege and never as an entitlement.
16. Resolved^, like Paul in Philippians 4, to be content with and thankful for whatever God gives me: whether prosperity or adversity, comfort or suffering, joy or sorrow, sickness or health, abundance or scarcity.
17. Resolved^ to gladly submit to any injustice done to me without claiming my so-called “rights” just as Jesus modeled.
18. Resolved^ to protect and preserve my life only as much as is prudent and a matter of reasonable stewardship of the earthly life God has granted me.
19. Resolved never to hold a grudge against, seek revenge from, nor to rejoice at the misfortune of anyone who may have wronged me or surpassed me in achievement.
20. Resolved to never take personal offense at anyone, knowing that given the same circumstances and apart from the grace of God I would have treated myself likewise.
21. Resolved to recognize that we live in a spiritual as well as physical world and that our true battle is not against flesh and blood but is fought through prayer in the unseen spiritual realm.
22. Resolved to be a lifelong thinker, learner and reader so that I may continuously challenge my own perspective and worldview. I want my faith to be an intelligent one and one that recognizes truth, wherever it may be found.
23. Resolved to never put my hope in political parties, governments, or ideologies, or in anything other than God Himself and His church insofar as it submits to His guidance.
24. Resolved to care very little about fashion or fads or trends or amusements, except as they serve to advance what I perceive to be the purposes of God in my life, i.e. being in the world, but not of the world.
25. Resolved never to judge anyone inwardly or outwardly to whom God might hold to a different standard in these matters of asceticism, spiritual disciplines, fitness, finances, and lifestyle.

RESOLUTIONS OF THE HABITS

26. Resolved*, like Jonathan Edwards in his 63rd Resolution, to seek to behave in the same way as if I were aspiring to be the godliest person in my generation.
27. Resolved* to live an authentic, exemplary life worthy of imitation as I seek to imitate Christ.
28. As long as I’m physically able, resolved to keep my body in excellent physical condition as a matter of stewardship, but not of vanity.
29. Resolved* to continually fight against my flesh in the area of food so it doesn’t control me as is my natural tendency and to always remain thin as an outward display of my inward convictions about living an ascetic lifestyle of moderation & restraint.
30. Resolved to fight against my natural tendency toward introversion that I may better influence others by investing my life in them.
31. Resolved to fight against my natural inclinations toward laziness and selfishness seeking instead to be diligent and proactive.
32. Resolved* to fight against my natural lack of proficiency at remembering names, faces, and details; i.e. to sharpen my mind and take extra effort to remember, allowing me to better honor and influence.
33. Resolved* to be faithful in praying regularly for those God has put in my world to the extent that I perceive Him to direct.
34. Resolved to become highly influential in the lives of those around me as I seek ways to encourage, equip and train them to grow in godliness.
35. Resolved to be honest, direct, and prompt to hold crucial conversations and provide crucial accountability rather than resorting to silence (as is my tendency)
36. Resolved to continuously strive to improve in my effectiveness as a highly involved husband, father, son, relative, friend, and pastor/employee.
37. Resolved to be a fully engaged, responsible citizen in whatever country, state, city, and neighborhood God may put me.
38. Resolved to strive to remain debt-free (except in the matter of love, Romans 13:8) and to generously give away as much as I reasonably can, considering my obligations to love and provide for my family.
39. Resolved to bear as much fruit as I reasonably can, storing up treasures in heaven in order to reap a bountiful eternal harvest.
40. Resolved^ to stay attentive to keeping these resolutions for the duration of my life that I may finish well to the very end and hear the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

One final, but important section must be added to communicate the attitude of Jonathan Edwards towards the resolutions that he set.

Jonathan recognized that sheer will power alone is useless in keeping any such resolutions. God has to do it—we are unable. The book mentioned above includes quotations from his journal, reflecting on how he viewed them and lived them out. Here are some excerpts.

“ If God should withdraw His Spirit a little more, I should not hesitate to break my resolutions, and should soon arrive at my old state. There is no dependence on myself.”

“But alas, how soon do I decay! O how weak, how infirm, how unable to do anything of myself! What a poor inconsistent being! What a miserable wretch, without the assistance of the Spirit of God…How weak do I find myself! O let it teach me to depend less on myself, to be more humble.”

“Our resolutions may be at the highest one day, and yet, the next day we may be in a miserable dead condition, not at all like the same person who resolved. So that it is to no purpose to resolve, except that we depend on the grace of God. For if it were not for is mere grace, one might be a very good man one day, and a very wicked one the next.”

May this be the attitude of all who set resolutions of any kind, whether they be for the New Year or for the rest of life! Only then can we hope to accomplish them!

 
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Reflecting on the NCBC Youth Group Reunion and my twenty years of ministry here

Posted by Mark Forstrom on Dec 31, 2012 in Personal Reflections, Scripture Studies

Saturday was one of the greatest days of my life.   Thanks to everyone who participated in the youth group reunion — either by your physical attendance or by your updates, thoughts and kind words.

I was profoundly and emotionally affected by the whole experience.  I need to blog about it to help me process it all –and for those of you who weren’t there, I want to tell you how it went.

For months I personally invested a lot of time, effort, and mental energy getting ready for this reunion.  It was the right thing to do and I was going to get it done.  The preparations were all very task-oriented and I like tasks:  planning, communicating, reserving, organizing, displaying, etc.  I spent the last two nights at church, maximizing the time needed in making the final preparations.

At 7 am Saturday morning we loaded up all the memorabilia and refreshments for the “Meet & Greet”, which was held at our old church building.  (Thanks to Faith Bible for letting us use their facility.)  We set up 20 tables in their gym and displayed a year’s worth of memories on each (photos, t-shirts, trip booklets, etc).  Haley Neiderhizer, our intern, surprised Mark and I with giant photo posters of us for people to sign.  It was neat that she gave people a way to express themselves.  Gina, my admin, set up the refreshments.

At 10 am, people from the “early years” started arriving, and it was fun to see people reconnecting and reminiscing and sharing long-forgotten stories.  As the “Meet & Greet” progressed, alumni from later years arrived.  It was delightful watching these students and sponsors reconnect with each other.  My enjoyment was watching them enjoy it.  This event was planned just for them!

When the “Meet & Greet” ended at 3 pm we had a mere three hours to clean up and transport everything back to our new building for the Banquet.  We set up the memorabilia display tables once again and checked on the decorations and food (Ken Owens and his team did a fabulous job!)

Alumni started arriving just before 6 and I again enjoyed watching them enjoy their event.  During the delicious dinner, we projected the 100+ current family photos that had been submitted by alumni and we played a youth group worship CD that was recorded in 1997.   Everything was going just as I had planned.

The after-dinner program was to be simple.  We would sing worship songs from over the years–using an overhead projector for the earliest ones!  We would recognize the sponsors for their service and present a special gift to Charley Snodgrass, who has been a sponsor for 25 consecutive years.  And then Mark Eades and I would each share about 15 minutes of reflections.

When Mark E got up to speak, rather than address the alumni, he started addressing me.  I could sense that something was going on that I had not planned.  Little did I realize that the party that I had planned was about to be sabotaged!  Suddenly, he announced that a special guest from my past had arrived to join me for this celebration of mine!  Just as suddenly, my old friend Brian Carroll emerged from the side room and came up on the stage.  He had driven 20 hours from Texas just to surprise me.

But I think the greater surprise to us all was the emotional impact that occurred within me at that moment.  It wasn’t about Brian — because I’ve never gotten emotional over him before — but it was about what he represented.  Since we became friends in college, Brian has been influential in my life — helping me to grow, challenging me to godliness, calling me on my sin, modeling Christlikeness to me.  When he walked in, it reminded me of how significant relationships are.

And then I looked across the room full of people and I realized that what was true about Brian was equally true about every person in the room — and many more who couldn’t attend.  During our youth group years together each of these precious people had shaped my life and I had shaped theirs in some way — on a retreat, in a bus, on a trip, in a stairway, etc.  I realized at that moment that this reunion was not just for them, it was for me too.  It wasn’t about well-managed tasks resulting in a party, it was about celebrating life-altering relationships.  That is what had brought us together this day.  A day that I will never forget.

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