Stop Chasing Perfection

Perfection doesn’t exist. Not this side of Heaven. Most of us know that, but our expectations often belie that truth.

We know nobody and nothing is perfect, yet we are quick to complain about all the imperfections in the person we’re dating, the church we attend, or the job that pays our bills.Stop Chasing Perfection

High expectations are a good thing. Having a vision for the type of marriage you want, the church you serve in, and the career you navigate is important and admirable. And I believe the vision you imagine can become a reality as long as it’s grounded in reality. There must be some compromise and tweaking to the vision along the way.

Most people understand this. Where we go astray is when our focus shifts. Instead of remembering everything in life is a process, we get impatient with the immediate. So we focus on our partner’s imperfections, our church’s problems, and our employer’s negative practices. We magnify the few things that tick us off, letting those idiosyncrasies overshadow what we enjoy about our current state of life.

Consequently, we become complainers part of the unfortunate majority miserable in our relationships and jobs, and tuned out in church. Sometimes discontent means it’s time to move on. But most of the time the discontent comes from within, not without.

Changing jobs, churches, or dating someone else won’t change things when the problem is within you. The problem is often perspective. And perspective is tainted when problems arise: when there’s tension in your relationship, when there’s disagreement in church, and when there’s frustration at work. These aren’t signs to bail out; these are signs to dig in, roll up your sleeves and get to work. The life you want takes work. The vision you have won’t manifest without pressure.

So when things in life particularly pertaining to your relationships, church, and job become frustrating, shift your focus from the negative to the positive. Intentionally dwell on the good things about your situation. This fosters peace, patience, and problem-solving ability. If the negatives outweigh the positives, then maybe it’s time to move on. But chances are you’ll realize that though life isn’t perfect, it is good, and with patience you can build something close to perfect.

 

 

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5 Lessons From My 80-year-old Self

On the heels of writing some tips to my 18-year-old self, I was thinking of what advice I could use now. If my older self,

photo by Andre Delhaye via compfight

photo by Andre Delhaye via compfight

say the 80-year-old Kevin, could give me some guidance on navigating life from here on out, I wonder what he would say? I wonder what lessons, tips, and words of wisdom he’d share.

He’d probably start by saying I know less than I think I know right now. Then he’d say my future is bright and I become filthy rich (OK, wishful thinking there).  Most of all, he’d probably focus on regrets he has and how I can change my life to avoid them. So here are five things my 80-year-old self would tell me to live a fuller life:

SPEAK YOUR MIND

You tend to be cautious, young Kevin (yes, you’re still very young). You speak up when needed, but you’re guarded with your words. You’re diplomatic by nature, which has been helpful in gaining friends, bridging gaps, and defusing conflicts. Yet, your opinion needs to be heard more — unfiltered and direct. It will catch people off-guard, and it may hurt some feelings, but as long as it’s done in truth and love, it’s worth it.

BE SILLY

There’s nothing more beautiful in life than being able to laugh at yourself. It’s more natural for the youngest and oldest among us, but it’s something you need to rediscover and embrace. Laughing is one thing, but being able to make a complete fool of yourself — and awaken the silliness in others — is a moment you’ll never forget, trust me.

TAKE RISKS

You’ll never regret taking a risk. Do they all pay off? No. Is there embarrassment or discomfort in the moment? Yes. But looking back, taking a risk was always the right decision. Risks always result in either the outcome you desire or a lesson learned. The only thing that holds you back is fear. And you’ll find out what you fear most about risks never happens. The greatest risk of all is the risk not taken.

SPEND TIME WITH PEOPLE YOU LOVE

You’ve been telling yourself to do this for years, and you’ve gotten better at it, but remember this: You can never spend too much time with the people you love. No one ever reached 80 years old and said, “You know what, I think I spent too much time with loved ones.” Take every second and every minute that they give you. Too many people let work, school, church, chores, sports, Scandal, and social media get in the way of real relationships. By the way, Facebook, Instagram, and Olivia Pope won’t last that much longer anyway. If your loved ones are really loved, prioritize time with them.

SAY ‘I LOVE YOU’ OFTEN

Those three words mean the world to people, Kevin. They don’t part your lips enough. The people you love — which include pretty much everyone — need to hear it. You’ll regret not saying it enough. Your words are sincere. You only say what you mean. If there’s anything people should remember about you, it’s that you loved them.

Enjoy the journey, young Kevin. You’ll be OK. Oh, and get off Facebook!

What do you think you’d regret most at an older age? What are some changes you can make to avoid those regrets?

 

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The True Test of Your Love for God

By Kevin Howell

photo by Odin Photography

photo by Odin Photography

“The litmus test of our love for God is our love for our neighbor.” – Brennan Manning

The above quote from the late Brennan Manning gave me pause when I read it. It’s not a new, groundbreaking statement. In fact, it’s the underlying message of the book of 1 John. But I haven’t read 1 John in a while, so this was an unexpected character check.

We hear so much about the love of God these days. Undoubtedly, you heard it last month around Easter time. God’s love is so evident in the sacrifice of Jesus. If we truly grasp the love of God, it puts a desire in our hearts to reciprocate that love. Throughout the Word, God tells us the way to love Him is to love our neighbor.

I have no problem with the concept of loving my neighbor… it’s just the practice of it. More so the consistent practice of it. We can spend a lot of time in church, pouring out our hearts in worship, giving plenty into the offering and other projects, and even serving in an area of ministry. But the true evidence of our love for God is how we love others.

I believe this is why a lot of people get burned out serving in ministry. They do it for God, but let’s be honest, we can’t see Him. He’s invisible. And as humans, we need something tangible at some point. We need someone we can see, someone we can touch — our neighbors. If we don’t have the same love for people as we say and think we have for God, then serving can become a burden too heavy to bear.

God put our neighbors — which is everyone who’s around you — in our lives so we could learn to love. We learn more about love from each other than from God. That may sound errant, but it’s true. Obviously God set the standard for love because He is love. It’s easy to love God. It doesn’t take much to love someone who has loved us so unconditionally. But loving each other? Well, that’s another story. That takes effort, patience, peace, tolerance, forgiveness and, primarily, divine intervention.

No matter how good and loving we think we are, we can’t love everyone unconditionally. There are some people in my life who are quite easy to love. Others? Not so much. But I’ve depended on God not just to help me love the hard cases, but everyone I come in contact with. And He’s given me a supernatural love for others. I’m not always consistent with it, but the more I realize His love for others, the easier it is to love them.

Jesus alluded to this in a parable about judgment in Matthew 25 when He said anytime we feed someone hungry, give water to the thirsty, house the homeless, clothe the naked or visit the sick or imprisoned, it’s as if we are doing it to Him. When we realize that everyone we come in contact with — those we like or don’t like, those easy to love or hard to get along with, those Christian or atheist — is made in the image of God and is loved by Him the same way we are, it makes it easier for us to love them.

Who am I not to love someone God loves just as much as He loves me?

So if we truly appreciate the grace, forgiveness, and unconditional love we have received, and if we say we love God, we must love our neighbor. We can’t see God. We can’t touch Him. But in His wisdom, He established a way for us to love Him tangibly… by loving each other.

 

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What Defines You?

By Kevin Howell define

I love traveling. There’s something about seeing a new place and getting away from your normal surroundings that excites me. It’s sort of like a little adventure — and who doesn’t like an adventure?

In recent years, Southern California has been my destination of choice. I’ve fallen in love with the weather, the palm trees, the beaches, the landscape, and the laid-back lifestyle (the traffic and gas prices are another story). I met up with an old friend on a recent trip to LA. I mentioned how I’d love to live there, and he said it’s a cool place to reside as long as you relocate for the right reasons. He explained that people shouldn’t come to Cali for superficial things, such as the weather and the Hollywood lifestyle.

I began to think of why I would move to LA, besides trying to escape from Northeast’s harsh winters. Part of it may be justified, but part of it is just a desire for change. The grass is greener after all, isn’t it?

It’s easy to become disillusioned with our current state of life. We seem to be always aching for something better, at least I am. A better job, a better car, a better phone, better friends, a better church, a better mate. It seems like the hardest thing is to be content. To stay where we are and be satisfied with it.

When I graduated college, I so desperately wanted to start my adult life in a new place instead of returning home to New Jersey. I told God I’d go anywhere in the world He wanted me to go. When He said, “I want you to go back home,” I responded: “Except there.”

I’m starting to realize life is a little like those Samsung Galaxy S commercials where they mock Apple fanatics. While people camp out in front of the Apple store waiting for the “next big thing,” Samsung declares “the next big thing is already here.” I find myself looking for change,  wishing I was someplace else — in my career, my location, my relationship status, my tax bracket. But God wants me to stop looking.

“And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. God, not your marital status, defines your life.” 1 Corinthians 7:17 The Message

Though, in the above passage, the Apostle Paul was speaking of marriage and singleness, the principle applies to all areas of life. I think my search for something better is less about my discontent with where I am and more about letting where I am define me. And if you’re honest, it’s the same case with you.

We tend to identify ourselves with our circumstances, therefore defining our worth by what we do and how we live instead of who we are… instead of who God says we are.

Where you are, right now, is where you are. It doesn’t mean you will be there forever, and it doesn’t mean it has to define you. Just live, love, and trust God in the now, and let that define you.

Like my friend advised, I don’t want to move or change or wish for something else because of superficial reasons. The next big thing or a better life isn’t necessarily on the opposite coast. It’s right here, wherever I am.

 

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A Love Story Cynic

By Kevin Howelllove story

I’ve never been a cynic. Not in any area of life. I’ve always been a positive, glass-is-half-full, things-will-work-out-for-the-best type of guy.

But that attitude has been changing as of late. The cynic in me has started to rise up. I don’t see all things as pure as much. I don’t see things as black and white. I see gray. A lot of gray. Particularly when it comes to God.

TIRED CHRISTIAN CLICHÉS

Now I still believe in absolute truth. I still believe every word in the Bible. I just don’t know if I still believe in some of the clichés, concepts, and statements we hear as Christians. In particular, the ones we say and hear about relationships.

You know, things like:

  • Just have patience, wait on God and He will bring you the right one.
  • If you focus on God and fall in love with Him first, then He’ll bring you the love of your life.
  • Or, learn to be content in your singleness and God will provide you the spouse of your dreams sooner than you think.

Sounds good, even biblical, but lately I’ve felt like it’s a bunch of bull. Personal experience hasn’t jived with these sayings. I’ve gone through several stages of waiting on God, being content, serving in ministry, growing in faith, not pursuing some relationships because God instructed me not to, and ending others because God told me to. Yet after all these seasons, I’m still where I started.

WHEN IS IT GOING TO HAPPEN?

It’s not that I don’t believe God will provide me with a great wife some day — and no, I don’t expect her to be dropped off on my doorstep — I just question why He it hasn’t happened already, and will it truly be worth what I’ve gone through?

I wonder if it hasn’t happened yet because of His timing or my actions. No doubt, I’ve made mistakes in relationships. Action and inaction have their consequences. But either way, how long is this wait?

And, is this wait really worth it? Will He really give me a friend and life partner that will outweigh the frustration over the years? Will she be better than the women I let go?

TRUTH TRUMPS CYNICISM

Conventional Christianity says so, but does the Bible? Can I believe that God is orchestrating my life and my love story into a beautiful symphony that will exceed my expectations? The cynic in me isn’t buying it.

I don’t put much trust in Christian sayings any more, but I have absolute faith in the Word of God. And that Word says whatever I’ve given up for God’s sake I “will be given much more in this lifetime” (Luke 18:29). And it says He is able to do far more than I could ever imagine or guess or request in my wildest dreams! (Eph. 3:20). There’s not much gray in those statements. He’s trustworthy and He wants to blow my mind when it comes to fulfilling my desires — including a spouse. The cynic in me questions the Christian clichés, but I know better than to doubt God’s character. What He says is true. So I choose to believe, even as I wait.

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Small Talk = Shallow Relationships

beyond surface

By Kevin Howell

When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up and be a botanist. Not the most popular profession for nine-year-old. Heck, I’m sure most nine-year-olds don’t even know what a botanist is. My interest in the field came from my fascination with black history. I read a biography about George Washington Carver, a former slave who became a renowned botanist and revolutionized the resourcefulness of peanuts. So, yes, we can thank him for the modern-day tree nuts allergies. Eventually, my career choice changed — like 10 different times. But I still have an affinity for plants. But one thing I’m not crazy about when tending my garden is breaking up the soil and digging, particularly when I encounter worms and insect life. It gets a little messy under the surface.

Maybe that’s why I’m prone to surface relationships. You know the type: friends or acquaintances we have small talk with yet never dig any deeper into their souls. Why should we? After all, nobody wants to expose his or her personal business these days (except on Facebook or Twitter). And God knows I keep my personal life quite private as well. So I choose to stay safe. Stay on the surface.

The problem is I do this too often, in too many relationships. I’ve become a pro at small talk. I mosey over to people in church, at work, or in my neighborhood, and keep the conversation short and sweet. If it starts to linger too long — meaning the other person becomes a bit too loquacious — my body gets antsy. My toes are pointed away from the individual, ready for my legs to move the rest of my body along. This was supposed to be a drive-by talk. I expected to stay on the surface.

The problem with going beyond the surface of an individual is that you don’t know what’s down there. It can get dirty. It can get messy. It can get complicated. And really, do any of us need more drama in our lives? The thing is, that’s exactly the place Jesus dug to in people’s lives. He got down and dirty with them. The woman at the well. The shady tax collector. The adulteress. He wasn’t afraid to dig deep into their lives. Neither should we.

Likewise, we can’t be afraid to allow others in our lives, beyond the surface smiles and emotional facades. Yeah, our lives are messy, too. But deep relationships only enrich our souls, and add to the human experience. I got a lesson in this several years ago. I would talk weekly at church with a friend of mine — small talk, of course. During one conversation, she asked how I was doing. And I responded: “Well, work is going well, and…” Before I could finish, she interrupted: “No, not work. How are you doing?” She wanted to go beyond the surface. She wanted to explore who I was and the complexities within me.

Writer Donald Miller recently wrote a blog post where he proposed that the least explored territory is humanity. He wrote: “Where is there more fearful darkness or illuminating beauty than in the depths of the person sitting next to you on a bus? Where is there more evil or more beauty than in the unexplored cosmos of a human being?” I agree, because when I have conversations of depth, and dig into the soul of another —and bear my own — I always learn something, and I’m often enriched by the experience. Every person is worth exploring because within him or her is a depth of beauty, fear, hope, and untold potential. There’s a story beyond the surface, and every story needs to be shared. Essentially, that’s what this site, Transparency Magazine, is about — people going beyond the surface to share the story within their souls. So why don’t you join me on this exploration.

 

Kevin is the founder and editor of Transparency Magazine. You can explore with him beyond the surface at twitter.com/transparencymag or Kevin@transparencymag.com

 

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Another Sad Love Song

By Kevin Howell

As I was flipping through the radio the other day, trying to find the right sound for my mood, I noticed from station to station everyone was singing about the same thing — love and relationships. Obviously this was no epiphany, most genres of music primarily deal with those themes; however, I wasn’t in the mood to hear “Oh my gosh, I’m so in love,” nor anything Trey Songz, Katy Perry, or Adam Lambert had to offer. As Ithought about it,music from as far back as I can remember has always been about love and relationships. It sort of makes sense because, in essence, life is about relationships; therefore, every form of entertainment — be it movies, television, music, or theater — usually involves a romantic relationship in its expression. It’s part of the artistic formula because we all can relate to it. There are certain elements of storytelling that work and connect with the audience, so you have to stick to them, and love and romance is one of those elements…OK, it’s the primary element.

You have to admit though, it has become pretty excessive, and when there’s excess, there’s little creativity. Seriously, how many ways can you present the same theme? It’s just packaged differently — Alicia Keys for the urban-soul crowd, Carrie Underwood for the country folks, Justin Bieber for the teeny-boppers — but they’re all saying the same thing. Not that there’s anything wrong with love songs, but the music that resonates most is that which transcends convention. Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” is far more celebrated than “Let’s Get it On” (well, artistically speaking, not sensually). Just look at the most recent winners for Song or Record of the Year at the Grammys: Kings of Leon’s Use Somebody in 2010, Coldplay’s Viva la Vida in ’09, Amy Winehouse’s Rehab in ’08, and The Dixie Chicks’ Not Ready to Make Nice in ’07.  These songs explore themes outside of love clichés. The fact that it’s easy to make a song about love or relationships is symbolic of our culture’s casual approach to the same. Love is something we try then ditch when it gets difficult, complicated, stressful, boring, or too demanding. As easily as we flip through the slow jams on our iPods, our society moves from relationship to relationship looking for a love better than the previous one. Yet we can’t find real love when our concept of a relationship is based on a Mary J. Blige song.

Though art does imitate life, it rarely presents a balanced depiction of the multifaceted nature of love. So we’re inundated with shallow, fairy tale-like expressions of romance that tickle our emotions and leave us with unrealistic expectations for relationships. Now of course as adults we’re supposed to be sound enough to separate real life from what Ne-Yo sings about, but when you hear the same thing constantly, it starts to affect you. Not only can it distort our concept of love, but it can also bait us into discontent if we’re not involved with someone. For the most part I don’t listen to much R&B (or even some pop music) for those reasons. Being single, if I listen to these types of songs regularly they plant seeds of discontent in my emotions. Inevitably, it stirs up feelings of loneliness, lust, and envy as I develop an unhealthy desire for something that I lack. Granted, though I naturally desire a relationship, it’s not something that consumes my thoughts. Contrary to the famous line from Jerry McGuire, no one “completes me.” God has already made me whole.

This is not a knock on artistic expression, nor a call for more creativity from the music industry (though that would be appreciated). It’s simply an observation that the love that’s pushed through the airwaves is a fabrication. Love is not an emotion – it’s a decision, it’s a commitment, it’s a process. It’s nothing you fall into and fall out of…you grow into love. So no matter how many times you hear “Crazy in Love,” “You Belong to Me,” or “There Goes My Baby,” realize it’s just another sad attempt at a love song.

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Overcoming Abusive Relationships

One in four women experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. That’s an alarming stat, and unfortunately, it doesn’t exclude Christian women. You can be educated, attractive and have a strong moral foundation, and still get caught up in an unhealthy relationship. That’s what happened to Jessica Martin. For nearly three years, she found herself trapped in an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship. Like many women, she failed to heed the warning signs, with her conscience blinded by guilt, ignorance, fear, and love.

Martin emerged from that experience as a victor, not victim, and she has helped other young girls and women escape from unhealthy relationships through her work as a community domestic violence counselor and member of TEAR (Teens Experiencing Abusive Relationships). In her new book, The Christian Lady’s Dating Constitution, Martin outlines keys to a healthy relationship, debunks myths about abusive relationships, and shares Biblical scriptures vital to guarding one’s heart.

Transparency recently caught up with the author to talk about the book and her experiences overcoming an abusive relationship.

Why did you decide to do the book as a constitution/memorandum?

I was actually training to be a part of a community response team for domestic violence situations in the community I resided in. I learned so much from the training that I received. After receiving that training I became a member of Teens Experiencing Abusive Relationships. The knowledge that I received from both trainings encouraged me to reach teens that are raised in Christian households. It is my belief that many Christian pre-teens and teens face difficulties filtering what they observe in their households, in schools, information from peers, and making a commitment to have a transparent walk with Jesus Christ. The statistics show that Christians are not immune to unhealthy relationships. I decided to write this book to encourage teens to maintain or re-establish a transparent walk with Jesus Christ by sharing my story. My mother has always told me that prevention is better than cure. I hold onto that belief as well. I believe knowledge and testimonies are tools that empower and may prevent an individual from making poor choices.

What are the biggest myths about abusive relationships?

There are a lot of myths; however, the biggest one to me is that some individuals believe that abuse is only physical abuse. Abuse many times starts as verbal and emotional, then proceeds to being physical.

What are some characteristics of an unhealthy relationship?

Lying, manipulation, fear, constant accountability of time, unexpected verbal or emotional outbursts, unfounded jealousy, constant ultimatums, character assassination, physical assaults, threats, and etc.

What are characteristics of a healthy relationship?

God outlines the characteristics of a healthy relationship with these two scriptures: Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-8: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

What are some warning signs in the “pre-dating” phase women should look out for?

I am not an expert, but according to what I have learned from the training that I received, usually emotional abuse occurs first in the relationship; such as constant accountability of your time, monopolizing your time, mind games, belittling behavior, verbal outbursts, emotional outbursts, unfounded jealousy, stalking, and etc. Some individuals, especially teens, view some of the warning signs I indicated as normal and/or endearing and they believe that the longer they stay in the relationship that jealousy and other behaviors will fall away, however, a majority of the time they intensify and may progress to physical violence.

In your speaking engagements and involvement with various organizations, what has been the feedback from girls?

I have received a lot of positive feedback from parents. Overall very positive feedback from both girls and guys. In dealing with teenagers, sometimes they poke fun at the subject; especially after the Rihanna and Chris Brown incident. However, many times girls in privacy after the presentation or over email ask questions and seek advice.

You wrote: “You have to right to be mean” in a relationship. Explain that.

There are cases when an individual may go along with a situation or circumstance that they do not feel comfortable with because they did not want to appear mean. The Lord says to “submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you,” (James 4:7).  It also says in Ephesians 6:12, “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. 1 Corinthians 5:11: “But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.”

The definition of resist is, “refuse to comply or stand up or offer resistance to something.” There are situations and perhaps individuals that you may have to walk away from. Peers or family may classify that as being “mean” whereas you are being wise and resisting an avenue for the devil to enter your life.

Much of the book focuses on self-affirmation and scriptures that affirm. How much does a healthy self-image or good self-esteem have to do with avoiding abusive relationships, and is it possible for someone with a good self-image and solid biblical foundation to still get tangled in an abusive relationship?

Yes, it is. Recent cases like Juanita Bynum are a perfect example. Again, I am not an expert, nor have I ever been physically assaulted, however, I do believe that an individual can start off with high self esteem and a great positive self image going into a relationship, however, due to the unhealthy nature of the relationship, it quickly chips away at the victims self esteem and distorts their expectations and vision of their relationship.

There is also brainwashing involved in the relationship; therefore the victim may believe that she deserves to be treated this way or can change their behavior if they behave in the manner that their partner is demanding.

The book is addressed to ladies, but is it possible for a male to be a victim in an emotionally abusive relationship?

Yes, they can be. Abuse is about power and control. The gender of an individual does not dictate abuse.

You have a chapter on “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” How did you struggle with that question as you healed from your experience?

I realized that I ignored many of the warning signs. Looking back, God was so awesome in that He gave me numerous moments where I spotted certain behaviors; however, I glanced over the warning signs. I now know that God is not the author of confusion and He does not lead me into evil (1 Corinthians 14:33). God delivers us from evil, not lead us to it. The only way that I can live an upright life is by seeking God and His wisdom.

God called me to be wise (Matthew 10:16), to pray (James 1:5-6), to discern (Ephesians 5:6), and to walk away (2 Timothy 3:5). I did none of those things at that time. So when I realized these things, it was no longer a struggle for me to realize that my inability to discern led me into that unhealthy relationship.

After experiencing an abusive relationship was it and is it difficult to trust a man in dating? If so, how do you overcome that?

I didn’t date after I broke up with my ex-boyfriend for almost one year. I was on a crusade to figure out why and how I got into that relationship. Presently, I have noproblems; however, I now know that trust has to be earned. I make it a point to be friends with someone before giving that individual certain degrees of trust. I do this in both female and male friendships. God told us to test the spirits (1 John 4:1), and He also says that a righteous person chooses their friends wisely (Prov. 12:26).

I am still in the process of learning; however, in all of my friendships, I am constantly critiquing the relationship to see if it is healthy and if it is of God. Thehardest thing that I had to overcome was criticism. I have been criticized for ending friendships and relationships; however, I have learned that God’s word has to be my standard and not others’ opinions.

At this moment I am single, but I am continuing to develop strong friendships with my Christian brothers. I am trusting that God will guide and lead the right man into my life, a man of God, whom a strong friendship would be built before we begin dating as boyfriend and girlfriend. From my relationship withHim, I am certain that He will do that in His timing.

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The Anatomy of a Healthy Marriage

healthy marriageYou’ve devoured the heart-shaped box of chocolates, finished the date at the expensive restaurant, and the dozen roses are starting to fade. Valentine’s Day is just a memory, but where does the relationship or your romantic life go from here? If you’re thinking of holy matrimony, or if you’re already married, it takes more than a romantic weekend to keep the love flame blazing.

We interviewed five married couples to found out what it takes to have a healthy marriage. David and Julie Heras (14 years married); Dominick and Tisha Stokes (10 years); William and Candice Knight (five years); Justin and Stephanie Jones-Fosu (three years); and Abiola and Emily Ijalana (three years) share there hearts with Transparency.

  • WHAT IS THE KEY TO LONGEVITY IN MARRIAGE?

Heras

Julie: Having a sense of vision and purpose for your marriage.

David: Early in our marriage we did adopt a vision statement for our marriage. I think also humility is key. It helps to keep the marriage alive when you know that you’re not always right, and you’re willing to come from that stance.

Jones-Fosu

Justin: Full submission to God. I just can’t believe that a person can be fully submitted to God and not have the best marriage possible…I also believe accountability is key, and that is why we started Christian Couples United (CCU) to bring together couples of all cultures and different churches.

Stephanie: I think God must be the foundation of each person’s individual life and the foundation of the marriage…Marriage is not for the weak, the selfish or the simple, but is for those who are willing to work at it and invest into it.

Knight

Candice: There are four keys to longevity in marriage — humility, forgiveness, the fear of the Lord, and prayer…In our wedding vows, we chose to include the statement: “We promise to forgive, as Christ in God has forgiven us” (Ephesians 4:31-32). When I forgive, I am also acknowledging that Will’s sins against me are no greater than my sins against him.

Stokes

Dominick: God, conflict resolution, communication, commitment, loyalty, and forgiveness.

  • There’s a saying that goes: “Love is blind, but marriage is an eye-opener.” Was there an “eye-opening” moment for you in marriage?

Heras

David: I think there was a moment where we learned that we disagree differently. When Julie would get angry, she would get quiet. When I would get angry, I would get loud. We had a period of time in which we had to learn, ironically, not each other’s love language, but each other’s anger language.

Julie: And change it, and figure out what is healthy and what is unhealthy, because some of the things you do growing up aren’t healthy.

Knight

William: I don’t agree with the saying to be honest. I had heard so many surprise horror stories; I did the best I could to give Candice a realistic picture of who I was in both public and private. I think it’s essential couples be real with each other.

Ijalana

Emily: To be honest, marriage was better than I expected.

  • How has your spouse made you a better person?

Stokes

Dominick: She constantly tells me: “You ain’t all that and a bag of chips.”

Tisha: Helping me not to take things too seriously.

Jones-Fosu

Justin: She has challenged me to be more like Jesus. As the husband role I am supposed to be Jesus and she is supposed to be the church, so day by day, I am asking “Am I being like Jesus to her?”

Stephanie: Justin has been a mirror to me, showing me things about me that need to change. He has also challenged my walk with Jesus, getting me to get out my comfort zone. The submitting thing is always humbling, but I’ll take it over being the “Jesus” in the relationship. I know that can’t be any easier.

Knight

Candice: I admire William’s humility. Since the beginning of our relationship, if we ever had an argument, William was usually the first to apologize. I know that this is pretty sad, but I had never really apologized to someone else in a serious way until we were dating.

  • What has been the greatest adjustment you’ve had to make since being married?

Heras

David: Having kids is the greatest adjustment, I think. The world shifts as the focus comes upon providing and nurturing these little individuals. And the world has to shift. I think it’s very sad to see people who try to run their lives with children just as they did before children. True, Julie and I used to like going out to eat and sleeping in on a Saturday morning, but we have a charge…a responsibility, and it’s an important one.

Jones-Fosu

Justin: To stop being so selfish. You really do not realize how selfish you are until you are down to that last piece of freshly-made salmon and you want to eat it so bad, but you know she likes it too. That is where you have to make a choice to please me or her.

Ijalana

Abiola: Understanding that we both have input into things that happen. Decisions have to be made together, not just by me.

Emily: With marriage you must be unselfish. I’ve learned to not only be aware of my needs, but also my husband’s needs.

  • Is there a certain challenge or trial in your life you’ve overcome that you may not have without your spouse?

Stokes

Dominick: Yes. Without her, I would still be clueless about my vanity, selfishness, pride and ego-centric mind-set.

Tisha: Yes, because of him, I have a better relationship with my father.

Ijalana

Abiola: I was able to handle the fact that the company I was working for was closing and to look for a new job with the help of her support and prayers.

Emily: One of the toughest challenges I’ve had to overcome had been family issues. I know I probably would not overcome these issues as positively had it been without my husband. I feel like sometimes it’s hard to have a clear perspective when you’re going through a tough time, and having a husband who knows you intimately can be that guide and leader that is needed.

  • What has challenged the health of your marriage the most?

Jones-Fosu

Justin: Well the challenge for us was continuing to be married. I was unfaithful in the beginning of our marriage, and we were separated for about nine months. It really took her praying for me as well as others, and me accepting God’s grace and mercy. We now are on our mission to help other marriages never get to where we were, and others that are there to hold on to God’s promise.

Stephanie: The journey to rebuild trust has also challenged our marriage. But I am glad to say that since we have overcome that situation, God has healed us and restored the trust in our marriage. That situation challenged every fiber of our beings, but we are better for it. I am a stronger woman and wife. My husband is a stronger warrior in God’s Kingdom. And out of it, God birthed a ministry where other marriages can find refuge.

Ijalana

Abiola & Emily: Our family. Although we love them, they still need to understand that we are our own family now so the dynamics of our birth families has to change.

  • What key advice would you give to a dating or engaged couple?

Knight

Will: Do your marriage for Jesus. He delights in you and your future spouse, but believe it or not, he takes delight in you two as a couple together before Him. Enjoy that and enjoy Him together; that is what it means to make Him the center.

Candice: Pray, pray, pray! The best preparation for marriage is to pray together now and pray for each other individually. Reliance on God is the answer. Don’t be afraid to obey the direction that He leads you as a couple. God has a different plan for every family.

Stokes

Dominick: Don’t rush, get to know your spouse, find a good premarital counselor, don’t spend too much on the wedding; plan everything: kids, finances, vacations, holidays, etc.

Tisha: Always keep lines of communication open. Don’t sweat the small stuff, and pray together.

Jones-Fosu

Stephanie: Allow God to confirm that you two are to be together for the purpose of marriage. 2) Know who you are in God first. 3) Be whole. No man or woman wants a broken boy or girl.

Heras

Julie: I would say make some rules for your marriage. Like, never use insults, abusive language, or behavior…And never use the “d” word. Divorce is not a joke, and it’s destructive to bring it up, especially in the heat of an argument. You’ve sworn before God and man. Take that oath seriously before you get in. And once you get in, stay in and work the problem through.

David: Don’t go telling everyone about the troubles you’re having with your spouse. Why do my co-workers need to know an ounce of what happens in my home? If I have an issue, I want to discuss it with people who care about supporting the health of my marriage.

Ijalana

Abiola: Besides keeping and developing your relationship with God first, also have a great friendship with one another, love and trust each other, and always represent each other well in front of others, even when you’re by yourself, because you each represent each other.

Emily: Continue to build and strengthen your friendship. Even if that means going through some bumps and building along the way.

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Better Than Sex

By Kevin Howell

Recently at work, I came across a photo of Miley Cyrus from her performance on the Teen Choice Awards. It caught my eye because there was the 16-year-old “Hannah Montana” star straddling a pole as she sang and danced. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions because I didn’t see the show, but when a female is wearing short shorts, high-heel black leather boots, and dancing by a pole, she’s generally trying to make it rain — dollars, that is.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one disturbed by Cyrus’ striptease, as not-so-young-anymore Miley stirred up plenty of criticism for her performance. Some have started to compare her to Britney Spears, which usually isn’t a good thing. But perhaps that’s what Miley is going for.

“She already has this risqué image, so it really wasn’t much of a stretch,” Us Weekly magazine senior editor Ian Drew told New York Newsday. “That’s how Britney took off. She was the good girl gone bad, and it looks to be working for Miley as well.”

Of course, I get the argument that teen stars must shed their wholesome images in order to grow up and reach a broader fan base.  We’ve seen it for years, even if we look at Miley’s fellow Disney alumnae Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan. Both built a following from innocent Disney TV and film roles then turned freaky quickly.

Ultimately, the core of the problem isn’t Miley, Britney, Lindsay, or whoever pioneered the “innocent-to-explicit” career path. The problem is a society that oversells sex. You’ve probably heard this argument before, but honestly, you can’t deny the truth of it. Look at it objectively: when companies have to use sex to advertise website domain registration (GoDaddy.com) and shampoo (Herbal Essence), we’re grossly over-sexed.

We can’t necessarily blamethe advertisers for our shallow obsession, because the tactic wouldn’t work if there wasn’t a market for it. They simply continue to feed the beast — society’s bottomless craving for anything sexual — even if it means itching to turn a teenybopper into a temptress.

I’m starting to see past the hype. I’ve cometo realize that anytime something is excessively promoted, it’s usually lacking at its core. For example, the movies with the biggest advertising budgets and superior special effects usually suck. All the flashiness on the outside tends to hide a weak storyline and poor character development. It’s the same thing with people. We put up personality facades to overcompensate for our insecurities. Guys who flaunt their masculinity and appear tough or hard tend to be insecure and self-conscious. Girls that dress like Lil’ Kim and show off all their “goods” usually lack self-esteem. In the same way, a society that saturates itself with sex is hiding an inner need that sex can’t satisfy. Dawn Eden, a freelance journalist and author of The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On, discussed this in a 2007 interview with Relevant Magazine.

“I know from what I see in the pop culture, people know that sex is not satisfying because that’s why the popular culture promotes it so much,” Eden said. “If it were satisfying, it wouldn’t have to be on every advertising billboard and on the radio and in all the movies. People would just know, yeah, that’s what you do if you want to be satisfied. But the culture keeps promoting it because it knows that we really feel a lack with premarital sex; we really feel that something is missing.”

There’s a line in a hip-hop song “Satisfied”that says, “None of it satisfies, some of it gratifies…the fun under the sun is glamorized.” I believe that hook accurately depicts the entrapment of our culture. It offers us gratification — namely sex and the images, appeal, and acts that come with it — but can’t give us satisfaction.

We want hope. We want happiness. We want meaningful relationships.  We want acceptance. We want love. These virtues aren’t sexy. They’re somewhat elusive and take patience to obtain. But they bring fulfillment to the true desire of our souls.

DESTINY’S HOPE

I was doing some Wikipedia research on young Miley and found out her birth name is Destiny Hope Cyrus. Her parents chose the name because they believed she was destined to accomplish great things. There’s no doubt she’s a beautiful, talented, and influential girl. My hope is that her career destiny is different from that of her predecessors.

The culture, music industry, Hollywood, and even fans may be anticipating a Miley more like the one who performed at the Teen Choice Awards. She has a choice. She can follow the culture, dress a little less, sex up the lyrics, and draw the attention of an older male audience. You know, the normal way. Or, she can be different. She can be an individual, be countercultural, and blaze a different path. Destiny can offer hope to the millions of little girls who idolize her.

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