The True Softness of Men

By JMathis

My poor husband has been throwing up all night. No, not like out of a scene from Animal House, but rather a tragic case of Father’s Day food poisoning—think more like from the recent movie, Bridesmaids. For him, this Father’s Day will definitely be one for the record books, but certainly not in a way that he will want to relive. Hip hip hooray for Father’s Day.

So, in between puking sessions, I am seeing his vulnerability and his dependence on me. Cowering and shaking, his pure, infantile nature is coming through. He only wants the nurturers in his life surrounding him right now—me and my mom, but more importantly, he calls for his mommy. This is not the tough-guy husband I am used to seeing.

My husband’s impenetrable exterior, shielded by walls of sarcasm, bite and vinegar, has collapsed by the side of the bed.

My salty pirate of a husband has become a puddle of tears and whimpering.

My daughter wakes up and starts crying loudly in the middle of the night for her pet manatee, Hammy, which of course, is nowhere to be found tonight. I am beyond exasperated and quietly swear to throw Hammy “where the sun don’t shine” once his whereabouts are determined. Why can’t she quiet herself and let her father be the baby for once—just for tonight? She never wakes up like this, so, why of all nights is she making a ruckus like this? This is her daddy’s night to be babied, and yet, that just does not compute in her playbook.

In all of this madness tonight, I am realizing the true softness of men.

I am seeing that they are not so different from us women. They cry when feeling hurt, raw and exposed. It’s just that their tears are not allowed to be seen by the public. Society has taught them quite masterfully that tears are “women’s work” and are meant to be suppressed and squashed.

It is only in these rare moments of physical pain that the tears involuntarily roll down their cheeks.

The pressure to be financially successful, to be a provider to all of mankind, is all-encompassing for men and is relentless. They invented the rat race and now they fall prey to it daily—never allowed to get off, lest their manhood be called into question.

We cannot see their tears and frustration with the demands placed on their shoulders by society, family and friends. Yet, it is there, day after day, like a crushing weight. Little boys are taught to be tough from day 1, under all circumstances, regardless of the amount of strain that is put upon them.

This inability to deal with these lifelong pressures causes some men to emotionally and/or physically lash out, while causing other men to retreat into the cave of no feelings, no emotions, no weakness. In either case, it is a harsh cup out of which they drink. Yet, they partake daily because this is what they are taught to do from the very beginning of time.

Women—while we love to laugh and joke about the Neanderthal men in our lives, we cannot forget that they bleed just like us. The only difference is that their mommies and daddies told them to suck it up and “take it like a man”, while we were allowed to release our pain with our tears. In many ways, our childhoods were much more liberating than theirs.

On this day after Father’s Day, take a long, hard look at the men in your life. Have you really thought about the worries and fears that plague them internally? Have you ever waded deep to find the vulnerability that exists behind their hard shell? Have you stepped into their souls to help them search for their true softness? Or, have you too, succumbed to society’s views and expectations for men?

Pray earnestly for the men in your life. Pray for their soft, squishy interiors—the emotions, the feelings, the tears—which are never seen. Pray that their vulnerabilities are allowed to be seen by the Lord, and that their hearts are exposed to receive healing, nurture and unconditional love from their God. Pray for them to seek dependence on God as part of their daily, indestructible armor.

Pray that they are allowed to be babied from time to time.

After all, they bleed like us and cry like us.

They just need the Lord to show them that it’s okay to expose their true softness.

Basic Instincts

By Bindu Adai-Mathew

In her Chasing Cars blog yesterday, JMathis described how we as women often spend much of our lives chasing things, approval, and especially love. And sometimes the more it passes us by, the more we seem to yearn it. Why is that?

While men are characteristically the “hunters,” I think women are no less programmed with that predatory, hunting instinct. Don’t believe me? Think about the last time you were at a major Macy’s Shoe Sale…or the last time you were at the mall during holiday season…or the last time you were at a wedding with plenty of other twenty-something women and few available single men. Think about the term “Cougars.”

And why is it Mr. Unavailable is so much more appealing to us than Mr. Nice Guy? Is it because Mr. Unavailable is running away from us and therefore, bringing out our base human instinct to pursue?

Perhaps in the end, as much as we think we women have evolved as a society, we are still no better than the “Me Tarzan, You Jane” biology that men use to excuse their sometimes archaic, caveman behavior.

 Or maybe it’s even more complicated than that.

Do you recall the first time you fell in love? Do you remember how your heart soared, how your feet felt light, how your hands felt clammy, and how your stomach felt like it was about to regurgitate your last meal? Wasn’t it the most amazing feeling?

I remember the first time I fell “in love” like that…I remember the unexpected surge of energy, the heart palpitations, my inability to sleep as my thoughts obsessively centered around that one person…it was like I was on drugs or something…

And while most of us have felt that addictive, euphoric overload at one point in our lives, haven’t we all known people who seem to be in love with being in love?  They can’t help it, they tell us…they just love LOVE! Think of JLo…and Kim Kardashian.

And according to psychiatrist Judith Orloff, who wrote two books on the subject, being “in love” can create the same chemical reactions in our body that drugs can cause: As a psychiatrist, I’ve seen how intense sexual attraction is notorious for obliterating common sense and intuition in the most sensible people. Why? Lust is an altered state of consciousness programmed by the primal urge to procreate. The brain in this phase may be much like a brain on drugs. MRI scans illustrate that the area that “lights up” (becomes active) when an addict gets a fix of cocaine is the same area that “lights up” when a person is experiencing the intense lust of physical attraction.”

Wow…the first time I read that, I felt like I finally got a true glimpse into the appeal of cocaine and other drugs…if I could bottle up the feelings I felt around Mr. Perfect and create a pill to replicate the euphoria, the excitement I felt when I was around him, I could make millions!

While lust can eventually lead to love, there are dangers in allowing our hormones to rule our heads as Dr. Orloff goes on to warn us, “In the early stage of a relationship, when the sex hormones are raging, lust is fueled by idealization and projection — you see what you hope someone will be or need them to be — rather than seeing the real person, flaws and all.”

In the words of Joey from the show, “Blossom”: WHOA!

Finally, for the first time, when I think about the crush I had on Mr. Perfect so many years ago, I began to see why I felt I was so addicted to him…because in a way, I truly was. I was addicted to the feelings he evoked in me. And I realize much of my early feelings were based on not who he truly was, but what I imagined him to be in my own imagination…like the novelist I now aspire to be, I created a fictional character in my head.

So to build on JMathis’s analogy, I wasn’t just chasing a car…I was chasing a fictional car! Ah, even better!

So the next time you think you’re “following your heart” and in hot pursuit of the unattainable, your “I just can’t help it” feelings might truly be valid…you now know that you do have science and biology backing your claims. But just also keep in mind, while you may excuse your decisions and behavior as “you’re just following your heart,” it may not be your heart that is truly guiding you…

 The human heart is the most deceitful of all things. Jeremiah 17:9a

Chasing Cars

By JMathis

“Never chase love, affection or attention. If it isn’t given freely by another person, it isn’t worth having.” –Unknown

I have a friend on Facebook who is a serial quoter. Every day she puts up a new quote that usually has zero significance or interest to me. I love her dearly, but sometimes all of this quoting just drives me bonkos. I mean, if I wanted to join the “quote of the day” club, I would have done so, right? (She will kill me when she reads this, by the way. Gulp.)

Yet, the other day, she posted the quote from above, which really caused me to stop and reflect about the entirety of my life (thank you, FB friend). I sat down and thought about all of this “chasing” that we do as women.

Chasing after men, chasing after kids, chasing for acceptance, chasing to please. It’s all so meaningless sometimes, as King Solomon would say, and yet a good chunk of my day is spent in the chase.

Like AbbyA, sadly, most of my pre-marriage days were spent in the chase of affection from men. I could write a telenovela screenplay about those days, but I’ll refrain (for the moment). Now, as much as I try to squash the impulse, most of my days are spent in the chase of pleasing ‘man’–not ‘man’, as in the male species, but ‘man’ in the generic sense–chasing the vanities and worries of humankind. Chasing the American dream, chasing the Parent of the Year award, chasing cars.

When Gary Lightbody, the frontman of Snow Patrol, was asked about the meaning of their song, “Chasing Cars”, he said that it was the “most pure and open love song [he’s] ever written.” The title, “Chasing Cars”, is actually a reference from Lightbody’s dad, who mentioned it to his son when Lightbody was obsessed with the affections of a certain girl: “You’re like a dog chasing a car. You’ll never catch it and you wouldn’t know what to do with it if you did.”

Ouch. Is that what we’re all doing everyday? Chasing metaphorical cars?

The heartbreaking thing is that we chase everything but the One Person who gives us love, attention and affection freely–the One Person who is actually worth the reward of a chase. We’re in the chase for everything, but yet at the end of the day, we’re in the chase for absolutely nothing of true meaning and eternal significance.

Meanwhile, our Heavenly Father waits. Waits patiently for us to embrace Him and all that He has to make us whole and complete.

He waits for us to stop running, to stop panicking, to stop vain pursuits, to stop worrying, to stop the cycle of hurt in our lives.

He sits there just waiting.

Waiting for us to stop…chasing cars.

Serve the Lord Who Fills the Hole

By AbbyA

Lady in Waiting and In the Waiting . . . For me, I was a young woman, late-teens/early-twenties who had an eraser-on-the-top-of-a-pencil sized hole in my heart. That means that the hole was small, but really needed to be filled. I had a daddy a few states away and a fairly sucky step dad at home . . . I was accustomed to the little hole in my heart. Of course, I didn’t have enough objectivity to see my hole; Satan used it as a playing field and, thankfully, my Lord protected me until I was spiritually ready to receive His healing.

So, late-teens/early-twenties girl ran her life. Working hard, studying hard. I had deep girl-friendships. Had a pretty great boyfriend (who turned out to be my husband). But I had this little hole in my heart. What was the harm of the hole? It transfigured itself into my life as attention. Yes, the hole really liked to be flattered by guys. There are all types of girls running around with a hole in their hearts. Mine didn’t lead me to sleep around or to drugs. Mine didn’t make me jaded or anti-male race. Mine just wanted attention.

What was the harm of the hole? Get it? That’s what Satan made me believe about the attention. What’s the harm of setting out to get attention? Since I hadn’t been really informed of my hole, I just kept on desiring and getting attention. And didn’t really get the harm at all.

I’m not one for reliving the sin. So, I will pass on the unnecessary details and give you one example of the harm of the hole. Trotting around Coconut Grove with best friend. Seeing someone that caught my eye. Setting out to catch his eye. Liking that I caught his eye. Carrying on for a few hours. After all the lead-on, abruptly leaving with a smile. I am way over hiding the truth, so I will add that there are way worse illustrations than abruptly leaving with a smile. The fact of the matter is that at the end of the day, I wasn’t interested in sex at all. It is no fun asking his roommate to drive you home because you really aren’t up for living up to his expectation after all that . . . attention.  Maybe I wanted to see if the guy would try for a kiss. I am not even sure that I wanted a relationship or a friend. I just wanted to be sure that I had the attention of whomever I wanted attention from whenever I wanted it. Man, what a self-serving hole I was serving.

What was the harm of the hole? Killing my boyfriend who really wanted all of my attention. Hurting my best friend who was more deserving of my attention. Hiding from my mom who knew that I was hiding from the hole. Naively hurting my soul by my endeavors to fill it up.

Where does all this fit? Well, it is the month of males. It is the month of admissions, looking back, going forward. So, what did ever happen to that hole in my heart? God showed me it. It took me some time to unravel the consequences of a lifetime of seeking and getting attention. It took me a few years to hear what God was saying to me about why I did what I did. It took sacrifice, crying out to God, a lot of fasting, trusting the one who is trustworthy. Shedding all those years of lack of attention that led to all the years of looking for attention.

I have learned that none of us has perfect lives. We have failures, imperfections, built-in nonsense that we were born with or born into. If you didn’t already notice, this is not heaven. I don’t mean to belittle your pain or mine. But, the fact that this it is not heaven, is the point. This is where we stumble and fall, bruise, bleed and fully embarrass ourselves and our creator on a regular basis. This is also the place where we get to choose. We can choose to blindly serve the hole or intentionally serve the God who can fill the hole. The journey is from empty to full. The adventure is the faith to believe that there is a face to our faith, and then, getting to see His face. I hate the hole, but I love the God who has a plan to fill it.

In the Waiting

By JMathis

So much can go wrong when you are A Lady in Waiting.

You lose your love. No wonder no one will love me. I’m disgusting. I hate myself for what I have become.

You lose your joy. What’s the point of hanging out with my best friend? She’s married; she just doesn’t understand me anymore.

You lose your peace. What if he’s not calling because he thinks I’m psycho? What if he’s still interested in his ex? What if he’s just not that into me? What if? What if? What if?

You lose your patience. Why is it taking so long for me to meet The One?? I should just settle and go out with Dan. At least I know that he won’t beat me.  

You lose your kindness. If he’s taking this long to propose, he must be a jerk anyway. No guy is worth this wait…especially him.

You lose your goodness. It’s just one hook-up. How long is a girl supposed to wait? Forever?

You lose your faithfulness. God, where are you? Don’t you see that you have abandoned me? Are you even listening? Do you even exist?

You lose your gentleness. I feel like ripping his head off! What does she have that I don’t?

You lose your self-control. He’s probably The One, so what’s the point in us waiting to have sex? I just want to show him how much I love him.

The Fruits of the Spirit get trampled, discarded and lost In the Waiting. It is easy to compromise or lose yourself In the Waiting, as day after day, the tide of hopelessness sweeps in to erode your faith and your resolve.

Think of the Pinot Noir. A complex, rich wine bursting with aromatic intensity and a wide magnitude of subtlety in its notes and depth.

Yet, this wine is the most difficult to cultivate In the Waiting.

It is one of the most expensive and overly burdensome wines for a winemaker to grow, because the skin of these grapes is so thin and delicate—so easily susceptible to viruses, frost, disease and parasites (no wonder they are called “heartbreak grapes”). The fermentation process is so violent that it requires an inordinate amount of patience for the winemaker to craft this wine to perfection.

Yet, the end result is worth waiting through this difficult and temperamental process of cultivation and fermentation: a wine that is elegant, bold, velvety, bright and tantalizing in all of its nobility.

You are worth the wait, ladies.

In the Waiting, there are daunting challenges, where you begin to doubt God and self. Your delicate shell is constantly being assaulted by fear and questioning. However, when your Fruits of the Spirit are tested and strained, know that your faith in God will result in unparalleled beauty and richness in your life and your relationships.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

The Lord will never leave you alone or defenseless In the Waiting. He is there to cultivate you into something sweet and lustrous–into a fruit bursting with flavor and life.

Will you just trust Him?

Don’t Be a Lady in Waiting

By Bindu Adai-Mathew

It was 1998. Friends ruled the local channels, and Sex and The City ruled cable television. The Internet was still taking the world by storm and just starting to change our lives. Email, surfing, and cyberspace were becoming everyday terms, and cell phones were just beginning to replace pagers. Oprah was nowhere close to retirement, and Michael Jackson…well, he was still weird…weird, but alive.

I remember looking at the world around me, and realizing much had changed since I had graduated high school and college.  And yet, in many ways, nothing had changed at all…at least not in my life.

I was in grad school at the time, living on my own in my own apartment in the Dallas suburb of Denton, a small college town.

On the outside, I seemed to have it all—a beautifully furnished apartment, a brand new sports car, all the freedom, all the free time I could have ever wanted…but on the inside I felt lost, dazed, and confused regarding my career and my purpose in life. I also had this vacuum of emptiness. Emptiness that longed to be filled with a relationship, complete with romantic candlelight dinners and the promise of a happily ever after.

A constant question mark seemed to loom over my head. When was my life going to start? And by start, I mean, when was I going to finally meet someone?  And not just any someone…The Someone.

This was not how I had planned my life. I was 26. Back in the 1990s, that means you were supposed to be married, engaged, or dating someone.  And I was not alone. I had six close girlfriends. All single…all just as confused, frustrated…waiting. Waiting to find the One. Waiting to Get Married. And Determined Not to be Happy Until One or the Other Happened. I was beginning to live my life like a Lady in Waiting.

Flashforward to 2011, and I’m on the phone with one of those six girlfriends, all of whom, by the way, are married. Before either of us had kids, we talked almost every day on the phone. After her first child, our conversations decreased to a one or two a week. After my daughter was born, they decreased even more. After her second child was born, we have snippets of conversation whenever we can catch a break. But that doesn’t hold true just for our phone conversations, we realized…it seemed to hold true for everything. Time for baths, cleaning the house, and even cooking all suddenly seemed like luxuries rather than something we no longer had a right to.

What were we complaining about in our twenties, she asks me. I can hear the exhaustion and exasperation in her voice. I have no idea, I reply with a laugh as I recall the ability to watch a movie through its entirety. Heck, I even remember having time to go to the movies! We were so stupid not to realize how good we had it, she says. Tell me about it, I reply. Together we breathe in a deep sigh of regret. Why didn’t anyone warn us back then how life just got tougher and more stressful after marriage and kids?  Oh, they warned us, I reminded her. There were plenty of married women and married women with children, encouraging us to enjoy our lives. We were just idiots and didn’t listen. Hindsight is always 20/20.

How ironic…we were finally at the place we had always wanted to be…and what were we doing? Lamenting, missing what we once had…

What I wouldn’t do to be able to jump into a time machine, march up to the second floor of Pace’s Crossing Apartments, and slap my former self back to reality, Moonstruck-style, “Snap out of it!”

Hindsight is always 20/20. But I realize, it doesn’t have to be. As I’ve been on the phone, my 1½ old has been tugging on my leg incessantly. I finally glance down, and she raises her hands and  “eeeehhh—ooooohs” like a monkey, begging to be picked up. I guess the lesson is enjoy whatever stage you are in, I remind my friend. One day, we may be tugging on our kids’ legs, begging them to stay and spend some time with us. Just the other day, I was holding this toddler in my arms as an infant.

Enjoy your lives, ladies. Whatever stage you are in. For our lives are like as James 4:14 says, How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.

And that especially goes for you single ladies, particularly to those of you who are living your life as “Ladies in Waiting.” I’m not trying to stop you from wanting, dreaming about a relationship. I just want you to make sure you don’t allow that desire, that dream to stop you from living your life in the meantime. Because I know how those feelings can gnaw on your insides, further hollowing out the emptiness in your gut. You think there’s only one remedy for that emptiness…only to find out years later, it was never really about a boy.

Gotta Love Those Pesky Boundaries…

By JMathis

It is the initial, small decisions that lead to eventual, large moral blunders,” says AbbyA.

Yeah, how about that rather minor decision to not get involved with the opposite sex, in the first place?

Honestly, sometimes I feel as if the world would be better off without the complicated morass of feelings and emotions between men and women.

Men enjoy the presence of other men. Women enjoy the presence of other women.

So, why do we screw it all up? Didn’t we all have a better understanding of the world in first grade when boys were just gross and girls all had cooties?

Ahhh, it must be that whole sex thing.

I think When Harry Met Sally captured it best:

Harry: You realize of course that we could never be friends.

Sally: Why not?

Harry: What I’m saying is — and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form — is that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.

Sally: That’s not true. I have a number of men friends and there is no sex involved.

Harry: No you don’t.

Sally: Yes I do.

Harry: No you don’t.

Sally: Yes I do.

Harry: You only think you do.

Sally: You say I’m having sex with these men without my knowledge?

Harry: No, what I’m saying is they all want to have sex with you.

Sally: They do not.

Harry: Do too.

Sally: They do not.

Harry: Do too.

Sally: How do you know?

Harry: Because no man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her.

Sally: So you’re saying that a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?

Harry: No, you pretty much want to nail ’em too.

Sally: What if they don’t want to have sex with you?

Harry: Doesn’t matter because the sex thing is already out there so the friendship is ultimately doomed and that is the end of the story.

Sally: Well, I guess we’re not going to be friends then.

Harry: Guess not.

Sally: That’s too bad. You were the only person that I knew in New York.

Speaking from personal experience, I think there’s a lot of truth in this famous scene.

In college, I had a ton of close guy friends in my circle—kind of like a flirty set of brothers who always had my back 24 hours a day. Unfortunately, these friendships just could not hold when each of us eventually broke away from our core group of friends to start dating someone from outside of this circle.

The girls outside of the circle were always jealous of the girls inside of the circle—that somehow we knew their boyfriends better than they ever would.

The girls on the inside of the circle felt perpetually threatened by the newness, freshness and hotness of the girls outside of the circle.

The boys on the inside of the circle felt less manly than boys chosen from outside of the circle, and the boys outside of the circle were always worried about getting sloppy seconds from the boys inside of the circle.

Then to top it all off and make matters worse, once new people from the outside were introduced into our circle, the boys and the girls on the inside suddenly started seeing each other in a different light–no longer as friends–and then started swapping partners and exes as quickly as they did on Beverly Hills 90210.

It was an incestuous train wreck of high drama that eventually collapsed like a deck of cards.

To this day, there is “weirdness” in all of my old friendships because sex, feelings and emotions got in the way of what initially started off as pure and innocent friendships.

This weirdness exists even today—a whole lifetime after my college years—because there was no respect of boundaries at that time. Flirty “brothers” became flirty lovers who turned into fighting exes who started dating your flirty “sisters”, leaving you with an underwear drawer full of ex-boyfriends and ex-best friends.

It is the initial, small decisions that lead to eventual, large moral blunders,” says AbbyA.

Perhaps the best initial, small decision you can ever make is to respect boundaries.

1) Getting too emotionally involved with a work colleague: messing with boundaries.

2) Engaging in Facebook chats with someone you had a crush on in high school: messing with boundaries.

3) Sending a suggestive TwitPic of yourself to someone who is not your spouse: messing with boundaries (ahem…and this includes sending a pic to someone who you are in a serious relationship with, but not married to…you never know when that one’s going to bite you in the…)

4) Falling in love with someone who is not a Christian: messing with boundaries.

Sticking to your God-given boundaries helps you to avoid large, moral blunders.

Respect those boundaries. They’re there for a reason.