Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Lifting the lid on sex and sickness

Ever since I've been blogging I've tried to stay faithful to the message I believe God has given me to share.

Sometimes that can make me uncomfortable.

 My natural desire, yearning really, is to be bright, chatty, light and encouraging.

But, more often than not, I've been asked to go deep, intense even.

To write about things that are not usually discussed in polite conversation.

Now I am lifting the lid on sex and sickness issues.

Did that 3 letter word grab your attention?

It has a way of doing that. 

Our world celebrates, deifies and worships at the altar of sex as if it's going out of fashion...as if...and advertising glorifies it in all its air-brushed, honed and toned, artificial perfection.

We can be left feeling deflated, discouraged and defeated before we ever get round to performance.

So what is a mature (in years anyway) Christian woman like me doing by opening up this proverbial can of worms?

It's precisely because God invented it in the first place and ordained it as an act of consummation, union and communion of marriage that it is open to discussion for Christian believers.

And in Scripture, the Song of Songs/Solomon stands alone as a celebration of sexual love as well as being perceived as an allegory for Christ and the church.

I'm not coming at this from the stance of moral, theological debate or opinion (though I have a strong personal persuasion there), nor from a medical, ethical viewpoint ~ though I used to be a nurse and worked in gynaecology for a few years.

Rather, my part is to share some thoughts from experience as a woman in her 50s with chronic health problems who wants to raise awareness.

Contrary to popular opinion, one doesn't necessarily lose interest in sexual intimacy in mid-life, age 50, 60 or beyond, even if ability and agility may be less reliable than before.

Neither does interest necessarily wane when chronic illness/disability affects and afflicts us and make functioning complicated.

Couples in this scenario who love one another, and desire to be physically intimate, may have to be more sensitive, understanding, patient (and inventive) but not necessarily desist altogether.

An inability (enforced by physical illness) to make love fully and freely is an additional burden, strain and frustration in a limited and constrained life.

When chronic illness affects either partner, it can leave a legacy of great fatigue, pain and weakness that make any kind of sexual contact (never mind gymnastics) very hard to achieve.

Yes, I am fully aware that there is so much more to a marriage relationship than sex, and those other factors enhance the love and friendship that already exists between a couple.

Though nothing beats the deep bonding effect of sexual intimacy; it's an act where mind, body and spirit engage together and can provide a brief touch of 'heaven on earth' at its most sublime.

But, for those who are forced to prematurely alter or relinquish what they had previously enjoyed it is a bitter pill to swallow, requiring further adjustments to a changed lifestyle.

I've outlined these potential problems in long-term relationships. Just think about how great the problems are for those who are younger and/or single, with every expectation of a healthy sex life to come.

To find those normal and natural expectations thwarted or unmet due to chronic sickness is a huge disappointment, source of frustration, sadness and discouragement.

Loving and being loved are among the greatest human needs we have and they encompass multiple expressions of being close and special to one another in various ways.

Adjustments are often necessary as we reach senior years, and also as we adapt to having long-term health problems at any age.

Despite media hype, very few of us will have a so-called 'perfect' sex life. The best we can hope for is that our sex lives will be mutually satisfying and fulfilling.

I haven't included mental health issues, problems or illness here. But they (and the side effects of medication) all play a highly significant role in potentially causing alteration in both sexual function and self-esteem, requiring further adaptation and adjustment.

So why am I speaking out about these issues?

Surely they are private things?

Well, yes, and no. So many issues get side-lined, ignored or neglected simply due to fear or embarrassment about "What might people think?"

Because I am seeking to press past people-approval issues in my life in general, it seems timely to write about it now in a 'feel-the-fear-and-do-it-anyway' kind of way. Also:
  • It affects me a great deal personally ~ due to my chronic illness, disability, history of childhood sexual and emotional abuse leading to mental health breakdown and sexual dysfunction, I cannot easily be the sexy wife my husband deserves and needs ~ as I have shared in this open post about my marriage.
  • Many suffer silently and need to know they are not isolated or alone.
  • Sweeping these problems under the carpet only leads to them creeping out again, ready to trip us up when we least expect it.
  • Providing an open forum aids greater understanding and respect for sufferers.
  • Life is enhanced by mutual support and hope of seeing change.
  • Finally, I'm at that stage when I'm growing older and bolder in my life and writing!
And, though we may try hard to conceal it, all of us are broken, wounded people to some extent or other.

Though Jesus defeated sin, sickness and death on the cross, we do not witness the full physical reality of that in this lifetime, but will only do so in His kingdom to come. For not everyone gets healed or delivered this side of heaven. 

We live with contradiction and mystery. We also live with great hope for the future. Here now, with God, we are on a journey toward greater healing and wholeness.

One day, these perishable, earthly bodies will be fully redeemed and become imperishable, eternal, resurrection bodies. And I, for one, can't wait!

What do you think?

How have these issues impacted your life or the life of your loved ones?

Please feel free to join the discussion in the comments below.


**Note** This post was partly written in draft form several months ago, awaiting such a time as this when I felt brave enough to share. My hope and prayer is that it will help others who are struggling in this area too.

Thank you to all those who took part in the 'Love Idol' draw in my last post. A winner has been selected at random from all who left a comment. I'm sorry it has taken me so long to complete the draw, but my health has been particularly challenging over the last month.

However, I'm delighted to announce that Ceil's name was drawn (by my OH) as the winner. Congratulations, Ceil! Please send me your snail mail address and a copy of 'Love Idol' will be winging it's way to you asap. 

Monday, 14 April 2014

Love Idol ~ a review

Sometimes you grasp a book in your hands and sense it was written just for you ~ heart to heart.

You'll find yourself wanting to add numerous memory jogging highlights and underlining to what feels more like a private journal than anything else.

C.S Lewis said, "Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another:"What! You too? I thought that no one but myself.." Right from the start the author feels like a good friend, so frequent are the 'You too?' moments within it. 

Jennifer Dukes Lee's warm, engaging prose, intimate sharing, open vulnerability and heartfelt message also invite trust and reassuring confidence.

Here is a woman who is still a 'work in progress' and willing to admit it. She eagerly desires for others to join her in seeking to identify and demolish their own love idols.

So what is a 'love idol' Primarily, whatever rules our hearts is at risk of "becoming our lord" when "instead of resting in the love and approval of an unseen God, we chase after the temporary pleasures of human validation" 

People-approval issues are so widespread that it begs the question:How on earth do we overcome them? Insightful, God-inspired suggestions (based on her own tried and tested application) are heavily strewn throughout this book.

We are encouraged to see ourselves as already pre-approved. Together, as co-pilgrims, we can learn how to surrender "our need for human approval in exchange for a godly approval that is already bought and paid for."

Whether you are in the first flush of youth or the hot flush of mid-life, male or female, this book is relevant for all. These issues can plague our lives and cause enormous stress and strain until we have awareness and insight into their devastating consequences and find the means to address them.

We don't have to live lives plagued and tormented, held captive to the fluctuating opinions of others or wearied and discouraged by our low self-esteem.

There is hope at hand.

There is grace to help.

There is freedom to be gained.

We can discover our true identity in Christ.

"Every small death of an idol is another tiny resurrection of our identity in Christ" ~ Jennifer Dukes Lee 'Love Idol'

Are you ready?

I will continue sharing my journey in the overcoming of love idols over at poetryjoy.com. You can check out my progress there.

There is a growing, supportive Facebook community to help you along the way.

Jennifer's site has plenty of information about her own journey and shared stories of how others are walking this pathway.

You can order the book on Amazon by clicking here.

And I am offering a free copy of 'Love Idol' to a person selected at random from those who leave a comment below. Do join in the conversation below to be in with a chance to win a copy for yourself or for a friend. You won't regret it!

Friday, 4 April 2014

Surprised by joy

Can we slip easy into the shoes of another?

See life from their perspective and leave our own preconceptions behind.

Maybe discover, like a child stepping into an adult's shoes, that it looks exciting but feels quite precarious.

Stepping into another person's life ~ using our God-given imaginations and empathy ~ will soon reveal things very similar to our own, in spite of vastly differing circumstances.

Suffering and adversity are universal, though they are not easily measurable.

One person's tragedy is another's light and momentary trouble. We all have our individual sinking points and ways of reacting to them.

It is often those who say little (or nothing), yet offer to sit in the ashes with us, who make us feel less alone. Hugs can speak volumes, as can shared tears.

I used to think greater resilience grew from multiplicity of trials. Maybe it does for some.

Much depends on the severity and duration of challenging circumstances.

My experience is more like the camel's back breaking under the strain. 

And yet, the 'last straw' a human frame can handle is just the starting point for God to enter in.

When I have surrendered situations beyond my control (isn't everything, at heart?) to God, then He supplies all I require to not only keep my head above water but to swim confidently in His river of grace.

"This circumstantial wilderness is a terrible, frightening, and dangerous place; but I also believe it's a place of beauty" ~ Eugene H. Peterson 'Leap Over A Wall'

C.S Lewis wrote about being 'Surprised by Joy' when he recounted his coming to faith experiences.

I'm slowly discovering it is possible to be surprised by joy in the darkest of places.

Beauty comes forth from ashes.

Faith strengthens when we feel the fear and 'do it afraid'.

Hope springs out of helplessness.

"Believe that the deepest afflictions are neighbours to the highest joy" ~ Charles Spurgeon

It sounds like an enormous effort of will to find cheer in the midst of difficulties and problems. I'm gradually seeing that our part is to simply rest and trust in God's promises:

"Those who sow in tears, will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him." ~ Psalm 126:5 - 6

Those seeds we sow?  ~ faith, love, kindness, encouragement etc ~  may seem tiny and insubstantial, but God will produce an abundant harvest in our lives at just the right time.

There is joy in knowing this too shall pass; we are helped, comforted and strengthened by the One who holds us fast, just as He also holds all things together and works in them for our good.

We can rest in knowing God has got us covered.

We can give thanks, not for the circumstances, but in them, trusting God to keep us safe and see us through.
" I asked God for strength, that I might achieve, I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey. I asked for health, that I might do greater things, I was given infirmity, that I might do better things. I asked for riches, that I might be happy, I was given poverty, that I might be wise. I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men, I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God. 
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life, I was given life, that I might enjoy all things. I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I had hoped for. Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered. I am among all men, most richly blessed." ~ An unknown soldier in the American Civil War
"Awareness of My Face shining upon you can instill Joy into the most difficult day" ~ Sarah Young 'Jesus Today'

Dear Father,

So many of us are struggling right now. Life is challenging and hearts ache heavy. We need a sense of perspective as much as we need Your healing touch. Help us to see how very close You are, always ready to comfort, encourage and bless, full of mercy, grace and forgiveness.

Your hand is not too short to reach down and pull us out of any pit we may have fallen into, even those of our own making. We need to be aware of Your presence with us, hear the soft whisper of Your voice, sense how near and dear we are to You as Your beloved children. 

Grant us encouragement from Your word, the ability to receive all we need to revive flagging spirits, lift weary heads, ignite hope, restore joy, bring rest and peace.

Help us to realise these seasons may seem never ending but they will come to their own conclusion in Your perfect timing. And as we co-operate with You in coming through them we will be able to see the lessons learnt along the way.

Enable and equip us to sit alongside our brother and sisters in faith who are suffering and offer them the same comfort, help and strength you have given to us.

Joining with encouraging friends Holley, LyliJennifer and Mel