XO Marriage Conference

This past weekend, Massimo and I had the joy of attending a simulcast presentation of XO Marriage Today Conference. It was surprising, deep, and life-giving to hear the truth of God’s word being preached over two days from some of the most intelligent, thoughtful speakers I’ve ever heard. Here, I want to break down the why, what, and how of the conference, and encourage you to attend this conference in the future!


Why did you go to a marriage conference?

To be honest, I was against attending at first. When the first announcements happened in church, I told Massimo I would go if he wanted to, but let’s be real – I was hoping he was as uninterested as I was.

Then, a few days before the conference, Massimo asked me if I wanted to go. I had a list ready to go of all the reasons – good ones, too – not to go: it costs money, it costs time (precious weekend time), we don’t have big issues in our marriage, we already talk about marriage all the time together, and (the biggest one) I’m afraid it will be cheesy, shallow, and emphasize complementarian theology.

They were good reasons, no one is denying, but after talking about it some more, and quieting my fears, we decided that we should go. Turns out, there were very good reasons to go:

1. Any time invested in marriage is time well spent, even if it means taking away from sleeping in.

2. It wasn’t that much money, and my fears about spending money are often out of proportion with reality.

3. We went to the first day of the conference last year, and they didn’t talk at all about complementarian theology, so there was a good chance that would be the case as well this year.

4. We need to support marriage ministry in our church. By attending conferences we may or may not love, we are showing those investing their time and energy into these events that there is an interest, and then they may end up doing something we do love next time.

And so, we decided that no matter how tired we were, or how many other things we could do Friday night and Saturday morning, we would still go to the conference.

What happened at the conference?

The simulcast conference was streamed live from Texas, from 8-10:30 pm Friday, and from 10-12:30 pm Saturday. There were several lecture sessions each day, with breaks (and delicious snacks) in between. For a former grad student like myself, it was so natural to be taking notes and listening to a teacher again.

The speakers were Jimmy Evans, Dr. Henry Cloud, and John Gray. Each speaker was unique, but each was also apologetically preaching! Every speaker weaved scripture seamlessly into his messages. Every speaker was counter-cultural, and straight forward. They preached the truth and were unconcerned about how you might take it. All throughout the conference, I was thinking, “These people really care about marriage, and they are all obviously in the Word all the time.” It was beautiful and life-giving.

The other gorgeous thing that happened at the conference was that they didn’t base their teaching on gender stereotypes and narrow boxes. There were occasional jokes about her not knowing what to wear, and his just wanting to watch the Superbowl without interruption, but when things got serious, they were not messing around with any tropes: they emphasized our unity, equality, and common needs. I can’t even tell you how refreshing I found this, especially since I expected the complete opposite coming in.

How did the conference help you?

If nothing else, it was a wonderful time spent together as husband and wife, listening to the same teachers, and actively participating in focusing on our marriage. It’s important to talk about marriage one-on-one, but to both be sitting side-by-side, being fed the same truth – it’s really uniting and strengthening. And since we were there together, we’ve been talking about some of the messages together practically non-stop since the conference.

I learned a lot over the few days (including that there are good marriage conferences out there); these are just a few of the quick takeaways:

  1. Marriage was created for intimacy; that’s how things were in the Garden of Eden, and that’s what God wants in our marriages. Intimacy is not automatic; it must be built and jealously protected. Intimacy is for every marriage, and can be found even after all hope seems to be lost.
  2. All humans need connection. In the beginning, we were perfectly connected to each other and to God, but now that connection has been broken. Marriage is the process of re-connecting to each other, and to God. It can be painful, but the sacrifice is well worth it.
  3. Marriage is a miracle. Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding, and he’s working miracles every day that a marriage stays alive. The covenant of marriage is sealed and signed through physical intimacy, and breaks curses of generations past. Marriage belongs to God, not our government.
  4. Physical intimacy is special and spiritual. It connects two people like nothing else can, and represents the covenant of marriage like nothing else can.

The bottom line is this: there are no quick-fixes in marriage. Culture likes to sell short cuts, but God has a process (he can accelerate that process, but there is still a process), and the result is so worth the effort! This conference did not try to sell short-cuts: they looked in the Bible, saw the goal, and gave you encouragement to press on!

I can’t say that our marriage will be radically different, or that were in a dark place and it was saved by this conference. But attending the conference was such an honor. I was blown away by how much different it was than what I was afraid it would be. Please go to a conference like this when you have a chance – you might be surprised, too!



The Beauty of a Feelings Argument

“…one of man’s core passions.”

“These are [her] core desires….”

“…he feels a sense….”

“… the unique role God has given men to feel…”

“Part of [her] make-up is a desire….”

These are the common ways that true “biblical” manhood and womanhood are often explained: by describing feelings.

In a recent conversation with a Christian brother, he was discussing with me a book on biblical manhood. At one point in the conversation, he pointed to me and said, “It is your desire that he [my husband] initiate, that he lead.” I looked skeptical and so he said it a few more times, always saying it that way: “It is your desire….”

Speaking a while later with my husband about the topic, he asked me, “Is it your desire that I initiate things?”

First of all, I appreciated that he actually asked me, instead of telling me how I ought to feel. Second, I didn’t know how to answer.

See, the beauty of a feelings argument – looking at your own desires or telling someone else what their desires are – is that you can never be wrong. If you tell someone what they feel and need and you are right, you have the strongest evidence you need that your whole argument is right. If you tell someone what they feel and need and you are wrong, then you simply tell them that they have lost touch with their “true needs,” “womanly/manly soul,” etc. You can never be wrong.

The problem with the feelings argument, and the reason I was having so much trouble answering my husband, was that I can’t know if my feelings are trustworthy or not. If I agree and say I do like when he initiates things, I don’t know if that is because: a) it’s my biblical design as a woman to follow his leadership; b) I’ve been culturally conditioned to accept male leadership as the norm in our modern patriarchal society; or c) at my core, I am a broken, lazy, sinful human who is always looking for a way to pass responsibility on to someone else.

Feelings are created by God, and they are purposeful and complicated. I appreciate feelings, and I’m learning more and more that feelings need to be recognized and respected if you are going to respect the whole person (even “sadness” and “anger,” a la Inside Out). However, using feelings as the main thrust of your worldview is highly problematic. I can’t always trust my feelings, because Satan likes to get in there and mix things up; he likes to plant seeds of doubt where they don’t belong. My “core needs” may be coming from my core sinful nature, or my nature that is created in the image of God. Telling the difference is straight-up impossible sometimes.

Here’s what I do know: people are messy, and people are complicated. I believe in an infinitely creative God who can imagine and form billions and billions of beautiful humans and never run out of ideas. Each of us is inherently valuable, and put on this earth to bring glory to God. Learn about the people around you, and you will learn about God. I promise. God is a three-in-one eternally relating being who wants to relate to us, wants us to relate to Him, and wants us to relate to each other.

That’s where I’m at: trying to stop worrying about if my feelings are right or womanly or wrong or human and trying to humbly get back to why I was put on this planet in the first place.


Tithing, Teething, Trying


As long as I made a steady income, I was tithing. There were probably some random baby-sitting gigs where I was paid in cash and failed to give 10%, but for the most part, it was always something I tried to do.

I was fortunate enough to grow up with the example of my parents writing that check on Sunday morning and tossing it in the offering, or giving it to one of us to offer. When my father’s parents were in town, my grandfather would give us each a dollar or quarter or whatever he had so we had something to put in the offering, too. Tithing was normal to us.

Although some may look at my husband’s and my current financial situation and assume it would be crazy to give away 10% of our small weekly checks without even so much as a tax deduction in return (We don’t make enough for it to make financial sense to take the deduction), but it was something we were each committed to before we met and knew it would remain a priority after we were married.

Why do we tithe? To put it simply: because the Bible is clear that we ought to, and that it is Good to do it. Although we can debate all day long about gross income vs. net income, passive vs. active income, and whether we should tithe from our tax refund checks, there are a myriad of examples (in both the Old and New Testaments) that all clearly say that we should give some of what God has given us back to him, to be multiplied by Him for His glory, of which I am a fan.

And this command my husband and I have been following as faithfully as we could. Until July.


This summer we had a clear financial goal: to re-fill our savings account to where it should be. Ever since our season of unemployment this winter, we haven’t been able to quite refill the tank. We had a number, we did the math: we could do it.

But about 6 weeks into the summer, things weren’t going as planned. I wasn’t making as much as I had planned, and we were spending a more than we should have. Blame it on increasing gas and food prices, summer dates, or vacations and staycations, but we (well, more I) panicked.

I wanted to save like mad. I wanted to eat like we were on food stamps, and I wanted to hoard as much much as we could until we hit that number. Like a teething toddler puts everything she can find into her mouth, I put all the money I could find into our savings, whether it was good for me or not.

And in addition to my temporary fear of spending money unnecessarily, I stopped writing tithe checks to our church.


The guilt over not tithing, though almost constant, like a thorn in my flesh, was not as bad as our financial state. Although I stopped writing those checks and did everything I could, we still didn’t reach our goal. If anything, we had less money than at the beginning of the summer. Something had to change.

I am a planner, and as all my family knows, a control freak. But no matter how much planning and stress I put into this savings project, I yielded no results

Finally, I confessed to my husband that the stress we’d both been feeling over this savings goal had also lead me to stop tithing. I said that I just wanted to store everything up that I could find until we hit our mark, and then we could start tithing again.

But this was totally the wrong attitude. God doesn’t want a piece of our extras, he wants our first fruits. God doesn’t just want us to be faithful when we have much, but also when we have little. I felt like an Israelite, when they were wandering in the desert after they left Egypt. God provided manna and quail for them, and told them to take exactly what they needed only. He said if they took too much, out of fear, there would be none the next day; it would be full of maggots by morning. I was storing up too much manna in my tent, out of fear I would be soon cut off, left out in the desert alone by my Father. I was wrong.

Massimo didn’t know we weren’t tithing for a month, and said that of course we needed to give what we’ve been holding back. “I like tithing because it’s like the blind bet in Texas hold ‘em: you don’t have to think about it, you just put it in,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what your cards are, you just do it.”

I didn’t think that a poker analogy would work, but he was absolutely right: it doesn’t matter about the math. When we’ve been given something from God, our automatic response should be to return a portion to him.

And of course, the next day God reassured me that everything would be fine when I went to the mailbox and got a significant refund check from the electric company and our rebate card from my contacts purchase months earlier. I also got to work an extra few days this month, out of the blue, and after I wrote our over-due tithe checks, we had hit our savings goal!

I can’t control everything, and everything we have is a gift to be given again. It seems counter-intuitive, but by giving more you actually find you have more. Investing in the Kingdom of God is always a sound idea. Keeping it for myself will give me nothing but maggots in my cupboard and a stressful summer. So even though it’s difficult, we have to try.

“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce…” Proverbs 3:9


Rhythms of Grace: 3 Songs I Wish We Could Do On Sunday Morning

I finally finished the book I started reading for fun back in January. It’s only 212 pages, but took me 6 months. Don’t judge.

It’s called Rythms of Grace, by Mike Cosper, and it’s all about how the church’s worship through music tells the story of the gospel. I got it from my cousin Lauren following a conversation about how we feel, in many evangelical churches anyway, the music/worship teams don’t spend a whole lot of time talking about why we do what we do, or how we ought to be going about that purpose. We also don’t tend to talk a lot about what the church’s music history, just about what’s new.

I don’t think at all that worship teams leave this conversation out of our meetings on purpose. I think it just happens – most teams meet once a week or so for practice, and then arrive early Sunday morning to rehearse again before the service. It’s all we can do sometimes to make sure the microphones stop buzzing and the bass is balanced, so conducting an intellectual study about where we came from, musically, is not really on the schedule.

The book begins with an extensive history and description of the music and worship in our Christian heritage (all the way back to the creation of the universe). He talks about how worship is not just music, but all of creation moving towards glorifying the Father. (After all, “[t]he word worship comes from the Old English weorthscipe, which combines who words meaning ‘ascribe worth.’” Pg. 27.) But today, we tend to think of worship as being done through music, and he cautions about idolatry in the Contemporary Christian Music industry.

Two things really stood out to me as take-aways from this book. One is that the church service as we know it is fairly new, and I think we may have strayed a bit from it’s original purpose. Cosper encourages church leaders to adopt a gospel-shaped liturgy (the elements of the weekly service corresponding to phases in the salvation story), and thereby reinforce the salvation message into our weekly rhythm.

The other idea that stood out to me in this book is his discussion of the types of songs we sing. I’ll confess, at this part in the book, the author got too vague for me (I may re-read this chapter at some point), but he did get me thinking about our language, purpose, sounds, and heritage in the songs we sing. Cosper essentially asserts that the songs we sing ought to be culturally relevant to our Congregation, honor and remember those who were here before us, and embrace the local community, allowing them to be welcomed with open arms in all times.

This got me thinking about the songs we sing now, about where they came from and if we could improve our repertoire. First, there’s the sound issue. Music is cultural, and our culture changes. “For the past twelve years of so, ‘worship music’ has been its own musical style, a sort of quasi-Britpop sound pioneered by British artists like Delirious, Matt Redman, and other Kingsway artists. Somehow, the good work those men and women did in writing songs for their context became ‘canon’ (the rule) for everyone else. Now people hear is and say, ‘It sounds like worship…’” Pg. 180.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a four-on-the-floor driving Britpop sound, but that’s not the only sound for worship. In Heaven, it will be every tribe, tongue, and instrument rising together somehow in perfect blend and majesty. There will be no foreign sound because God made it all, and it will all be for Him. I wonder if we could add new sounds, different, strange sounds into our Sunday mornings so that we can experience even a taste of that beauty. (Yet at the same time, not so strange as to alienate our local community as well. It takes a lot of listening.)

Then there is the language issue. Cosper talks about how language, too, is cultural. We tend to stick with church-speak and jargon because it’s comfortable, if is it’s not understood by newer Christians, or even those who grew up with it. I remember when I was a child I was scolded one day for not singing with the church one of the songs. I said I didn’t sing it because I didn’t understand what it was saying. “Should I be singing if I don’t understand it?” I don’t remember what my parent’s answer was, but I still think about that today sometimes. Sometimes there are metaphors and references in songs I just don’t understand, as least not in the way the writer intended. Should we be singing those, or exchange them for words that mean something to us?

Language and music are infinitely mold-able, and we are very creative people. There are certain songs that mean so much to me, and to me they sound like worship, like Sunday morning or any time. I wish that we would sing them in church. But even on weeks when Massimo and I are leading we don’t chose these songs, because the Congregation may not know them, so they can’t sing along, or they don’t mean the same to them, so it would not be a time of worship. So we submit to the needs of our church and I sing along to them in my own time.

Nonetheless, I would like to share a few of them below as perhaps fresh songs to listen to on your own, or even add to your own services. To me, these songs “sound like worship,” not because of their particular music style (which does not really fit into the typical corporate worship sound), but because of their lyrics, spirit, and truth. I hope, too, that anyone interested in worship takes a look at Cosper’s book. It will not take you six months to read, I promise, and it will give a new appreciation for what happens on a Sunday morning.

“Ultimately, the future hope of worship rests not on the shoulders of any of us getting the equation right, but on the God who promises to restore it.” Pg. 42.


How Not to Talk about Purity and Modesty


I’ve been reading a lot the last couple of years about how emphasizing purity can actually be a problem. Listen, I’m one of those crazy people who thinks that sex should be saved for marriage, but I also empathize with those who heard some weird stuff about purity, modesty, and sexuality growing up in the church. (But the problems are not just in the church; public schools across the continent have been called out lately for “slut shaming” and being unequally harsh towards girls for breaching dress codes.)

I’m not a parent. I’m not a youth leader, a church leader, or anyone with formal training in theology or any other -ology. However, I am a girl, who grew up in the church, and I call myself a Christ-follower. These are my only credentials to give a heads-up to those leaders and parents out there who do get to teach young-ens about purity, modesty, and sexuality. And thus here, in the same vein as How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, I’m hoping we can learn what to do by talking about what not to do.

1. Do not assume modesty is just about hemlines and strap thicknesses.

Modesty has a lot more to with your attitude than it does with the length of your dress. As one blogger pointed out recently on “Bunkers Down”, modesty with your clothes is great, but we also should be modest in how we talk, in how we spend our money, and in how we act. Narrowing this fabulous virtue down to a few numbers in a rule book do nothing for the other areas we need to address (like bragging and narcissism on *ahem* social media).

However, I do totally respect church and other leaders’ need to lay down rules. Don’t get me wrong. I’m going to be a lawyer, so I absolutely appreciate the value of a written code. Just don’t forget to mention that just because your shorts are long enough doesn’t mean you’re nailing the whole “modesty” thing. There are other battles to be won.

2. Do not tell girls they have to be modest for the purpose of protecting their Christian brothers.

Bad. Bad. Bad. Bad. This was probably the worst one for me growing up. This is bad for boys and for girls. It’s bad for girls because we feel guilty about finally being confident as who God made us because some creepy guy can’t take his eyes off of us. It’s creepy and gross and does not help our self-esteem. At all. I was literally told once that I needed to stop shaking my hips because some guys were uncomfortable with it. I have curves. That’s just the way my body moves. You boys prefer me to be a slender double-zero with a run-way look (aka lack of any curves at all)? Me too. I”m fourteen, we all prefer that. But this is who I am. (I’m not kidding. That happened.)

And it’s also bad for boys because it’s a cop-out. We don’t give thieves an excuse when they steal, saying that the stolen goods were left unattended, so what do they expect?! How about instead of telling girls that it is our responsibility to keep boy’s minds pure, we teach boys that they need to keep their thoughts pure. Philippians 4:8 says”Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” It doesn’t say, “Take away every distraction, ladies, so the guys can think about pure things.” Lust is a sin, and I am not responsible for your individual sins.

That said, we should dress modestly for our own good and the good of our brothers and sisters. If you dress in a distracting way, you are going to cause a distraction. If you would like to be ogled and objectified, you can easily accomplish that with your outfits (men AND women). While you are not responsible for another’s ultimate actions and thoughts, what you do or don’t do can have an effect on others. And out of respect for yourself and others, it is best to be dress appropriately.

3. Do not use creepy analogies that equate virginity with value.

Chewed up gum? A ripped-open package? A torn up paper heart? Not only are these graphically violent, but they also tend to equate value with virginity, which is just not true. My value comes from my being created in God’s image. And while I do agree that sex should be saved for marriage, these analogies just don’t hold up after the wedding night. Nor do they help any victim of sexual assault.

How about instead of telling our teens they are only good if they are virgins, we let them know that while mistakes we’ve made (just like any) can be forgiven and we may be made pure in His sight, we will always have to live with the consequences of our actions.

4. Do not assume that men are the only ones who struggle with lust and porn.

The sin of lust is not gender-specific, and the number of women who are addicted to porn is on the rise. Could we just put aside stereotypes and talk about the real issues: that porn is harmful to everyone (the viewer, the family, the church, the company, the community, and the nation), and that lust is not something we can blame on low-cut shirts, it’s a sin. If we take away distracting stereo types, we can have a  much more constructive dialogue and, hopefully, actual progress towards a pron-free society.

I’ve heard so often that “men are more visual than women,” Please don’t say that. I don’t even know what this means, really, but I do know that lust plagues both sexes, and that both men and women can be negatively affected by visual images. (That’s why we talk about the negative body image problem being caused, in part, by models and magazine covers.)

5. Do not quote the old “men think about sex every seven seconds,” “fact.”

How would you even know that? I just refuse to believe this is true, and while quoting it is more or less a joke now, the message is that men like/think about/need sex more than women. And that’s just a lie! Please don’t use lies in your presentation on the “Truth about Modesty and Purity”. Thank you.

6. Do not under any circumstances say that a man will “go as far as you let him, ladies.”

Women are not the gatekeepers to sexual impurity. And men are not speeding trains that will only stop at any time if the women pulls the brakes. Men need to take responsibility for their own actions, and blaming it on her for,”Not saying anything,” is just a cop-out. A healthy physical relationship involves communication, trust, respect, and self-control; not locks and keys.

Somehow we got into this pattern of talking about sex as male-centered, which is harmful to men and women. As Kat on the blog “culture war reporters” wrote, “I’ve read many a Christian marriage book that primarily focused on the husband’s sexuality vs. the wife’s emotionality. While you can maybe argue that men lean more towards the physical and women towards the emotional, by reducing men and women to one characteristic we limit both genders. It tells men they aren’t allowed to be emotional, but it also tells the woman that sex is for the man. This male-centric aspect of purity culture automatically bases sex around a man’s pleasure. It also tells women their sexuality doesn’t matter as much as their husbands’.”

And once again – this does nothing to help relieve the guilt and shame for victims of sexual assault. (Are we sensing a theme here?)

7. Do not assume purity is just a physical line.

Jesus was very clear that both impure thoughts and impure actions violate God’s law. Similarly, purity is not accomplished by being able to say, “I didn’t do this or that.”  Purity is a state of your heart, which manifests itself in your physical actions. And don’t forget that God knows the deeper condition of your heart. You may be able to keep the rules that you’ve laid down, but your heart is what matters to God. “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord.” Proverbs 16:2.

8. Do not give girls thirty-seven rules for “modesty,” while giving the guys none.

If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a thousand times: in handbooks, lessons, devotionals, and rules, girls have a list as long as their shorts ought to be about what they can’t wear, while men may not have any rules at all. And it’s not just in Christian circles.

And while I understand that girl’s clothes in our society tend to be tighter and show off more skin than guy’s clothes, it can feel like being handed a straightjacket to try to conform to all those rules, especially when the guys have none. Go ahead, make rules, but please make them fair, and at least put some boundaries on the men. (For example, I don’t want to see your underwear under any circumstances, guys, and I don’t need to see inappropriate or sexist messages on your t-shirts. But no matter how hot it is, please keep your shirt on, as we are not at the beach, and do remember to take a shower, and keep the Axe to a minimum. Thank you.)