Let’s Talk About Sex

The final message in our church’s series about love, dating, and sex was this morning.  We didn’t make it as both of the boys are fighting colds but, they told us the talk this morning was about sex, so I though we’d jump in on our own.  Great reading for the holiday weekend!

My grandparents lived in the town of Spring City, PA for the majority of their adult lives.  The house was a few minutes away from Pennhurst State School and Hospital (famous for the tragic happenings inside and the haunting that followed). I remember my grandmother telling me that illegitimate and unwanted children were dropped at the entrance and left to grow up in the halls of the hospital.

Sex was different at the turn of the century.

It was always there.  You can check historical records of prostitution “the oldest trade” back thousands of years. It was used for domination, perversion, worship, and procreation. Beauty was recognized, regardless of gender, and the wealthy chased it with passion.  Times have changed.

We have reached a point of sex being a commodity. It is front and center with the advent of technology.  The secrets behind bedroom doors are now public material. The most intimate of acts has been thrust to the center of conversation for better or worse.

I spent almost a year working at the Children’s Home of Reading and spending time with the victims of human trafficking and abuse. I’ve listened to an in-service lecture at a local high school by a lawyer discussing current cases of teens “sexting” pictures of themselves and their partners. It is a dangerous world.

That’s why, as parents and couples, we must take it back.

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I look at Carter and Aiden and I don’t envy the world they will have to navigate as they get older. They will fall in love, date, have their hearts broken, date again, and keep going. They will be able to reach out and connect with love interests at the touch of a button. They need to be prepared.

As parents:

Have the Talk: Just do it. Talk about sex. Explain the importance of the act. Talk about how babies don’t just go away whether you are the mother or father.  Talk about the responsibility that comes with it. Build a bridge of trust and make sure your kids know the door is always open.  Sex is a scary thing and they don’t have to face it alone.

Use Technology to Your Advantage: There are programs available to monitor cell phone use.  Pornography is a vast and active problem in culture. Check the resources here from XXX Church based in Las Vegas. Keep an eye on browsing records, text conversations, and Instagram accounts.  Know what is happening. Be your child’s advocate. Step in when needed and show them you care.

In your marriage:

Have the Talk: Sex is made to bring you together with your partner yet, even in marriage, we use it for different reasons.  It can be a reward or withheld as punishment. It can be the foundation to the deepest level of emotional connection. It can also drive a wedge between you.

After the kids go to bed, sit at the table. Talk about what is working and what isn’t. Make sure you know what the other person wants and needs. Make sure you care.

Make the Effort: When the weight of bills, medical issues, the kids, jobs, and life starts to hit you can forget about your partner.  You walk into the room with a nod and without a touch of the hand or hug.  You say goodbye without a kiss.

You come home from work and hop on the computer, treadmill, or cell phone.

Take time for each other. Even if you have to schedule it. Pay attention. Buy the gifts. Make the dinner. Go to the movies, rent a movie, do something together. Hold hands. Compliment. Recognize the effort spent in a day of work.

Serve each other.

We can reclaim sex from this society and make it what is it supposed to be. I want Carter and Aiden to be gentlemen and, to do that, they’ll need to see my example.  It’s not always easy but it is always worth it.

~Matt and Val

 

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How to Like Your Kids

So it is Saturday night, too early for bed and too late for the playground.  You’re sitting on the couch while your kids play in front of you. Toys are everywhere. The living room looks like a construction zone. The older one makes the younger one cry for the hundredth time, waits until he calms down, and does it again. An episode of Spongebob Squarepants is on television and you’ve seen it enough that you can recite line by line.

A ball knocks your cup of coffee to the floor.  You look at the liquid as it soaks into the rug. You look at your kids and the thought crosses your mind.

How did we get here?

I mean, you know how it happened, those early days of romance and mystery, when it was you and your spouse. Friday nights were dinner and movies.  You had friends. You had money. You had time.

You could take a freakin nap.

Now the tank is empty. Pressure builds behind your temples. You shut your eyes.

These times happen as parents.  They can’t be avoided but you can fight them.

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Stay Active: Have a plan and structure.  Stay ahead of the game. Be active physically and mentally. Hit the playground, the walking trail, the forest. Go over homework. Read together. Idle time breeds pressure.  That doesn’t mean to avoid resting, just to make the most of each night.  Kids need structure, even if it is structured play. Have a plan and the courage to break it every once in a while for something special.

Stay Open: Listen.  When we get stressed, we close ourselves off in defense.  Your attention is valuable and the kids are worth it.  There are times they need an ear. Show them their opinions are valuable and their stories are interesting.  You’ll be surprised at what you hear.

Stay Loose: We have our own agendas.  Don’t take your work home. Yes, we have our own issues but, for a moment, put them aside. Know that kids can’t be put in a box. They will push your limits and carry you outside of yourself. That is the beauty of children. They make you better and teach you about life as you try your best to figure out the mystery of parenting.

When you find yourself at the limit, step back. Take a breath. Reset and recognize the angels in front of you. Children are blessings and, even with all the stress, they are worth every second. You will always love your kids and you can actually like them too.

How do you handle the hard times when the tank is empty?  Let us know.

~Matt and Val

Faith vs. Fear

Imagine, you’re on a boat with this guy who you’ve followed around for a few years now. He’s sleeping below deck.  A storm blows in.  Not just any storm, a perfect storm-a George Clooney passing by on a fishing boat-kind of storm. Waves tossing and turning. Guys are getting sick.  They look at each other.

How is he still sleeping?

Just when the water starts breaking on the deck, when people slip and fall and are getting pulled towards the depths, when all hope is almost lost, the door opens.  He steps out.

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” ~Mark 4: 35-41

There is a fine line between faith and fear. Maybe you’ve lived there? You come home from work dreading the mail for the next set of bills.  Every text message sends a chill down your spine.  You spend your moments waiting for the bad news. There is a line in the Bret Easton Ellis novel, Lunar Park, that resonated with me:

The main character said that every intersection felt like a traffic accident waiting to happen.

I’ve spent years there.

So tonight, I made a choice.

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I’m done with fear. I’m done with worry. I’ve been handicapped too long by a focus on what I don’t have, by the numbers in a bank account balance. The fear feeds the doubt and questions and waves that pound and pound the shore. It is not a surprise that one of my repeated dreams is standing on a beach watching massive waves as they approach.

They say dreams of ocean waves are a sign of change coming.

So tomorrow is a new day.  I know that the enemy stalks like a lion. Fear will never give up.  Doubt will always be waiting for that prime moment to strike. The fight isn’t over.

I believe that God will provide. I believe that, in serving, we find our calling.  I believe that we are called to faith in the midst of the struggle. God meets us in the moment of our biggest fear, when the wave crests over our heads and we feel the first drops of water.

We know the one who walks on water and always remember that his hand is reaching out to pull us above the waves.

~Matt

When it Isn’t You

We all face events that change our lives.  I can tell you the night I knew that Val would be my wife.  I remember proposing to her, the wedding, and the honeymoon.  There is a list of ups and a list of downs.  We’ve had our struggles. Eventually you find a rhythm with existence.

Then it happens.

You get laid off (as I did in 2008).  A family member passes away. A loved one becomes ill.  These experiences leave you asking, Why Me?

Or maybe you’ve experienced the other side.

You get passed over for a job or promotion. That person you know, the one who could care less about reality, suddenly gets what they want. You’re checking Facebook to see a stream of new houses, new cars, and new children and you can’t conceive. These experiences leave you asking Why Not Me?

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Here are two things to keep in mind when jealousy or suffering threaten to clamp on your life and both can, if around long enough, destroy your marriage and family.

1/Everything happens in time: The Scriptures contain various sections about suffering.  The early church faced persecution on a massive level.  The Emperor Nero lit his gardens at night with the bodies of believers. Faith is born in suffering.

Suffering ends in time. Not necessarily the time we want, but it will be when you need it.  I’ve written before about my visit to the Hope Rescue Mission in the city of Reading, PA. Frank, the assistant director, told me he believes that when they need something it will happen and he has more than one piece of evidence to prove it.

Free furniture to furnish thirty rooms, a new floor for their kitchen, new showers for the dorm that houses almost sixty homeless men.  All provided right when they needed it.

God is faithful and always on time.

2/Empathy- As a parent, you become hardwired for empathy.  You look at your children and feel every bruise, cut, and emotional injury.  You hurt when they come home and talk about a bad day at school.  You put yourself in their shoes and try to help them handle what they are facing.

Use this in life.

Most people you meet are self-centered.  It is human nature. The camera is on us, all the time.  The fight is to turn your glance outward.  Empathy can help in cases of both suffering and jealously.

Keep your heart open, even if it means coming to terms with success for someone else.

How have you handled situations where you found yourself asking Why Not or Why Not Me? Let us know in the comments and share if you enjoy it!

~Matt and Val

The Importance of Fatherhood

This post in our marriage and family series is focused on the male half of the equation and inspired by the current message series at our home church.  You can find videos of the messages here.

The other night we were watching the Philadelphia Eagles preseason football game.  I cover the Eagles for the website Philly Sports Space. It is something I love to do as I’m a huge fan of the team and analyzing the game.  Carter was laying on the couch watching it with us as Aiden was already in bed.  The broadcast cut back from a commercial to show a group of Eagles’ cheerleaders dancing.  The image then cut to the players.

“Dad can you put them back on?”

The question came from the couch. Val and I looked at each other.

“What did you say?” I asked.

“The cheerleaders.  Can you put them back on the t.v.?” Carter asked.  Then he laughed.   I’m not ready for that conversation, not at six years old!

At church we are going through a short series on Marriage, Love, Sex, and Dating.  The message today, delivered by Pastor Scott Kramer, talked about some responsibilities of men in our marriages and relationships.  He mentioned how society does not help us in the fight to make women equals and not commodities. He talked about how the early church was revolutionary in seeing women as people and not slaves or items to be sold. Turn on the news, check your smart phone, it would not be long until you find an article from the sports, music, or entertainment world written to objectify women. And wow, men, do we eat it up.

Scott mentioned starving your eyes and how these images hurt our marriages and relationships.  They create unrealistic expectations of significant others. They sell the fantasy and, in times of struggle, fantasy can be very addictive.

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I just started reading Manhood by Terry Crews. Crews is an actor and a former NFL player and a man of faith. He’s the star of Old Spice commercials, over forty films, and hundreds of television episodes. He is married to his wife of twenty-five years and they have five children. He also battled a strong addiction to pornography that almost cost him his marriage. (check out his commercial below and you’ll be singing the song all week)

In the beginning of the book, he talks about growing up with parents who battled nightly and a father who was an alcoholic. He and his siblings were abused. They relied on each other to survive.  He mentions going to church and just wanting to be good enough for God, to avoid sin at all costs, to be a handler (as many children of alcoholics are) and make everyone happy. He realizes how this isn’t possible.

I love his honesty and his profession of grace.

As men we have important jobs. We stand in the gaze of our children.  Our sons and daughters learn from our examples. They see what it means to be a support for a family. If we want things to change, society to be different, women to be respected, the work force to even out, and the future to brighten, then it starts with us. Want to change poverty and stall crime? Be there as fathers.  Want to start chipping away at racism? Be there as fathers. Want to stop the violence? Be there as fathers. Engage. Support. Listen. Respect. Serve.

I don’t know about you but I want my boys to be the difference and live the change.

I want them to have hope, to reach out hands in support, respect and value women, hold doors, say please, say thank you, tip well, and pray with their own families. I want them to see Val and I as inspiration.  It is a big job but, with God, anything is possible.

~Matt

Just Keep Fighting: Staying Unified Part 2

In our fourth post, we are looking at marriage again as a follow-up to our second post about Staying Unified. Enjoy!

Growing up as a guy in the suburbs of Philadelphia, you knew about Rocky.  You knew about the movies. You went to the Philadelphia Art Museum on a field trip and ran up the steps, stopping at the top and shadowboxing, arms then raised up in victory. The movie, and sequels, were classic underdog stories.  Rocky represented the city, the fight of the downtrodden, the backbone that would raise a man up from the dirt and help him see his dream. You couldn’t attend a sporting event and not hear the theme.  Rocky showed us all the value of fighting, of stepping in the ring and not going out until the enemy is defeated.

Today, a friend told me her marriage was ending.

My heart broke as Val and I both know the family. Divorce is ugly. Marriages take effort, especially when kids are in the mix.  They take time and focused movement towards a goal. They take one eye on the present, and one on the future. I spent the remainder of the day thinking about the situation.  As a writer, I naturally gravitate towards empathy. As much as I tried to put myself in her shoes, I could not. Her life changed today and it will never go back to the way it was before.

After work, Val and I talked about it.  Here are a few ways we pinpointed to keep fighting and never lose hope:

~Have Goals: A marriage is like a business.  All successful businesses have plans. They look to next week, next quarter, and next year.  They think about what is coming and adjust focus accordingly. You must, as a couple, have goals. You must be able to picture the future and, in the hard times, remind each other of the idealized end result. Write it down. Hang it in the bedroom or kitchen. Make it clear and present. Know that, when everything weighs you down, you have a direction you are headed.  It can help to snap you out of the funk.

~Date Again: When we had the boys, the dating stopped.  We have friends that have date nights every week.  With our work schedule, it just isn’t possible. We needed to make time and make the most of the time to go out to dinner, coffee, or even a walk. Don’t forget what it was like to date. Don’t forget the magic of the first days, when every glance was a mystery to be unraveled and every touch was electric. Love. Be in love and show love. Buy the flowers. Dress up. Make the effort and pour it into your relationship and, when you are out, try not to talk about the kids.  Make it about you and your partner and you can find that spark again.

~Fight Smart: Every marriage can build up negative energies.  We’ve felt it many times. Something will create tension and it will build until it is let out and addressed.  Now we’ve both raised our voices and said things that were cutting but, in the end, we made a plan to go forward and handle the issue that caused the fight in the first place.  Never, I repeat, never drop the word divorce in the conversation. When that comes out, it can’t be removed or unheard. State your case, listen to theirs, handle the issue and move on. When you fight smart, the dark times can pass quicker and you’ll emerge stronger on the other end.

I’m praying for this family and blessed to have a wife that is willing to stick it out until the end. As you go into the weekend, remember that marriage takes effort, kids are work, and your spouse is your teammate to get it done.  You can run together, climb the stairs, and shadowbox on the Art Museum steps.  It would make a great date night!

~Matt and Val

Surviving Back to School

For our third post, we are looking at that great time of year: back to school! Hope you enjoy it:

School. Just the word conjures up memories both good and bad.  Val and I met in high school. I remember classes, friends, and favorite teachers.  I can still picture the spots in our town where we would hang out on Saturday afternoons without a care in the world but when we could steal the next kiss. I remember back even more to riding my bike around the block, playing street hockey with friends, and going to Allen’s Variety Store to buy penny candy and load up a paper bag with two quarter’s worth of Cry Babies. I remember football games on Friday nights, walking the track around the field while the band played and the smells of woodsmoke and hot chocolate drifted on the air.

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I remember being picked on.

When Carter started school, my anxieties kicked in. I prayed he made friends with nice kids. He has a great heart and I wanted to protect him as much as possible.  The first day was so hard for me and emotional for all of us.  I still have the picture on my phone that I took of him sitting in the lobby of the school, lunch box in hand and nervous smile on his face. Somehow, by the end of the year, we all survived.  Now he goes back in one week.  For those of you in our boat or facing your first school year, here’s some ideas how to make it a smooth transition:

1/Organize: You will get a mountain of papers from the teachers, the school, and the district.  Keep things separated and make a space for them in your house. Some papers will need to be returned, others will need to be returned later.  You’ll be surprised how many ways a school can demand your money.  All of these things will come via the mail or your child’s backpack. Keep them under control.

2/Communicate: You will also be amazed at how many ways the school will want and need to contact you.  Our district does automated messages on our home phone. You are required to call to explain any changes in arrival or pickup time.  This is understandable for security purposes but can be so easily forgotten. I’ve exchanged emails with Carter’s teacher, guidance counselor, and principal before and we were encouraged to do so.  Use it whenever possible and make sure to keep an open line of dialogue going with the school. Be nice to the office workers.  They are the gate keepers for a variety of your needs.

3/ Pray: The year will bring challenges on a realm of fronts.  Your child will have homework, social events, and sports.  They will be forced to make choices that, for some, will be made the first time without your input standing at their shoulder.  Talk to them about their day and, if you hear any hints of anxiety or concern, bring them up in prayer. Pray for the school and the teachers.  This will unify you as a family and offer comfort to your child as they think about the next day.  Remember, their issues may be small to you but look like mountains to them.

School changes lives.  You will notice a difference after the first week, month, and year. As you proceed, do what you can to make it easy on your son or daughter.  They will thank you for it and your model will serve as inspiration in the years to come. I know I’ll still get emotional next week as Carter goes back to school. They grow up way too fast.  Make the most of your time, record video, take pictures, save the memories. When they graduate, show them the pictures and celebrate their accomplishments.

When they go back for day one and you go home, take a deep breath and enjoy some free time. You deserve it!

~Matt and Val

 

Divided and Conquered: Staying Unified in Marriage

Here is our second post on marriage and family. We hope you enjoy!

Remember your honeymoon? Val and I went to Mexico and stayed at a resort on the beach. It was all-inclusive.  We lounged by the water and in the pool.  The hotel room had a hammock on the deck overlooking the pool and I remember falling asleep in the hammock.

Falling asleep in the hammock.

That sentence reads foreign to me. Seven years after that beach in Mexico, we’re in our living room with both boys sleeping upstairs. Carter turned six years old today.  He enjoyed his gift, destroyed the house, and clashed with Val. Basically, a normal routine. One of the biggest challenges in our marriage, and any marriage, is staying unified.  You will face life together and must fight to keep it that way.

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Here are some ways to maintain unity in your marriage:

1/ Make a plan: Carter knows how to play us like an instrument.  He tests Val more than he tests me and knows what to say or do to get a reaction. There will be more than one force like this in your marriage.  It can be bill collectors, bad neighbors, your kids, or family members.  Each day take time to identify your conflicts, lay them out, and pick a course of action that you both can follow. When these things arise, go back to your plan and stick to it. There will always be surprises. When you have a foundation, the surprises are much easier to digest and overcome.

2/Pray together: Val and I don’t do this nearly enough. Find time each day to pray together. This can be at night, a meal, or any moments you can steal away.  Go to God. Find scripture you can use and pray as promises. We don’t spend enough time building each other up and prayer is an easy way to do it. Come next to your spouse and lift them up. Prayer is the first and most powerful way you can fight for your marriage and family.

3/Stay Open: I, like most guys, have a tendency to close up and not talk about my feelings.  I can block things off with the best of them.  Make sure you keep talking.  This can be over the phone, text messages, social media, or in person. Reach out and send an encouraging thought their direction. Compliment. Praise. Serve. When you stay closed off you set yourself up on an island.  No man, or marriage, is an island. Speak up and listen.  Those two things can work wonders for a relationship.

Marriages are always evolving and growing.  They change yearly, sometimes daily.  They take an effort. In the quiet moments, when you look at each other years from now, you’ll know it was all worth it and your souls are truly connected. You’ll find peace and that’s better than falling asleep in any hammock.

~Matt and Val

3 Ways to Take Back Your Time as Parents

I’m excited to be adding a new addition to this site.  Val and I will be posting together and covering some topics related to marriage and families. We’ve been married for seven years and in a relationship for sixteen years as we met in high school.  She is a hair stylist and a Thirty-One consultant.  You can find her website here. Now for the first post of the series:

Friday morning I asked a coworker how her kids were doing.  We each have two boys, roughly the same age.  Val and I had met her and her husband for once for a play date with all our kids.  She proceeded to tell me a story about the day before and  struggles to get the kids in the car, dropped off at their daycare, picked up, and dealing with them destroying the house at home.  I could identify with every issue.  Her husband works later hours and drives a good distance to get to his job.  She finished her story with this important question that she asked her husband:

“When do I get a break?”

Val and I work opposite hours.  She has the boys during the day and they often find ways to drive her crazy. She needs a break. I know she needs a break and yet the hardest thing is to engineer ways to get it done.  Carter and Aiden love her and want to be around her so any suggestion I have to take the boys on my own is often met with resistance from their end. We talked last night and realized that we needed a strategy, a plan to take back some time as parents.  Kids can rule your world but, only if you let them. Here are three tips to take back your time:

1/Meet at the table: Unity is powerful. Your children need to see you together and a meal is the perfect place.  If you are in a marriage where you work different hours, then pick one of the meals of the day and have it together.  If this needs to be on the weekend, make it happen. When the family shares a meal as a unit, great things can happen. You parent as a team, talk about the day, plan for the future, and touch base on any issues.  Being together as spouses creates valuable time when one party usually has the kids for the majority.

2/Open Communication: American Beauty is one of my favorite movies.  It is a tragic story that hits home on many levels.  In this clip you’ll see an interaction between Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening (husband and wife).

How many of us have had talks like this with our spouses? On the surface, we see the conflicts.  Spacey has traded in their family car for his dream car. He asks Bening why she has no joy in her life.  In the movie Bening is having an affair, thus her response to his question. They are living on two different levels, just look at their outfits.   To combat this in the real world, make sure you have open communication.  Use social media, phone calls, text messages, whatever you can find.  Leave notes around the house of instruction and encouragement. Stay unified as parents and you’ll be able to meet conflicts and solve problems as they arise.

3/ Rewards: We all want rewards. We want acknowledgement of our efforts at work and at home.  Schedule a personal reward each week, even daily if you want.  Make it a hot bath, watching the football game, getting that one ____ that you’ve been walking by on your trips to Target. We need to pay ourselves every now and then.  If you structure in a personal reward, stick to it. Create a goal and your days will have direction and momentum. Create a goal as a couple and you have unity. Create goals as a family and bring everyone on board. Achieve these goals and let the rewards flow.

I’m excited to keep this series going as we head into fall.  Keep your eye out for more posts from Val and I together as we move into that magical time of year, Back to School. Let us know what you think and we look forward to your responses.!

~Matt and Val

Can’t we all just get along?

I remember watching the footage of Rodney King getting beaten at the hands of four LAPD officers. I was young enough to know that it was wrong and shocked when the officers were acquitted.  The city of Los Angeles exploded with rioting and violence. King famously quoted the title to this post at a press conference.  It is a valid question

One of my favorite books is The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. and it is an amazing read.  King had his troubles and his own struggles but he was the man God tabbed at the time to do one of the most important jobs in the history of this country.  He stood in Washington and stated his dream that one day children of all races could play together.  It is a valid dream.

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The events happening in suburban St. Louis have captivated the country and the facts of the shooting are disputed between the police and the friend of the victim, Michael Brown. At these moments I always think of my sons. We are still in a world of race relations and power dynamics.  Whatever you believe, me being a white male will get me more readily accepted in certain situations than a younger man or woman of a different race. This is a sad truth.  I pray for my boys and try my best to show them that all people are equal.  The hope lies with their generation. Grace is for everyone. Jesus offered perfect love.  The Cross eliminates power dynamics.

It is the final answer.

There will always be shootings and victims.  There will always be a need for peace. As believers, we must fight for this peace. We must radically love those who live on our block and in our city.   We are called to love those who persecute us. My friends span race, gender, and sexual orientation.  As I watch my sons at the playground, I pray they will be change agents and always hold on to that innocence and that drive to play with another kid because they are there and they want to be friends.

May we all reclaim some of that innocence.

~Matt