Ladies’ Thursday: Friendships Between the Genders

11 Oct

Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves:  be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”

The world has changed a lot in the course of my 54 years.

I was born just before the height of the sexual revolution.  When I was young, I became aware that many of my grandmother’s generation had been pregnant when they got married but they:  a) kept it quiet (it’s amazing how many people knew though, and passed the information along to my generation) and b) always got married to make their mistake “right.”

The sexual revolution (which came after the pill was invented when I was two years old) eventually set all of those former ways on their ear.

But the sexual revolution also “sexualized” many relationships that previously would be seen as innocent.  It gave people the tendency to assume that a relationship is sexual unless proven otherwise.  The precious old-fashioned concept of friendship which has been around since Bible days became the idea of “friends with benefits” that rules today.   

Remember that.  It has become the human race’s default setting to assume sex is taking place in almost any relationship where two people spend significant amounts of time together.  This is now the case even with two same sex people.  When I was a young naval officer, it was usual for two men or two women to buy a house together for the investment value (as junior officers, they needed to pool their money to afford a house, but they also knew that renting an apartment was throwing money away). 

Now, with the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” many single officers don’t buy a house with a same sex roommate because it will be assumed that they are a couple.  For two gals who are hoping to get boyfriends at their new duty station, being known as lesbians can be a showstopper!

So, turning to relationships with the opposite gender . . . let’s project that out.

Our society is crazy about sex and about putting a sexual narrative underneath every relationship, no matter how innocent.  So we need to be forewarned and forearmed with that fact or we will get ourselves into trouble by simply being naïve.

The above verse is very appropriate here.  We must be wise as serpents but gentle as doves.  People love to gossip and they find gossip about sex to be the most titillating of all.  They don’t really need to have any facts in order to accuse us of sinful behavior.  If we are not careful, we play right into their need to be entertained.

And, as Christians, Christ’s name can be slandered in these situations.

I have many male friends, both at work and in my church and Bible study circles.  I want to address, specifically, the friendship between a man and a woman who are married to two other people. 

When I was a young woman, those friendships didn’t happen very much outside of a group setting in which couples got together for fellowship.  That was, and remains, a safe place to have friends of both genders.

However, as I have gotten older, the advent of cell phones, texting, Facebook, and private messages on Facebook have brought about situations where conversations do take place one-on-one, sometimes in person, sometimes on-line.  Sometimes it is just a case of you and that other person having an interest that your spouses do not share.   

Let’s just say it.  It is okay to not share every interest with your spouse.  There is no spouse on this planet who shares every possible interest with his or her husband or wife.  It can’t be done.  If it happened, that couple would have found paradise on earth and wouldn’t even need to look forward to heaven. 

Only Jesus fulfills every desire of our hearts.

In humans, we will find that our spouse meets many, but not all, of our needs.  Friends will fill in the gaps.  Sometimes those friends will be of the opposite gender.   (Disclaimer:  To repeat, Jesus is ultimately the One who meets all of our needs.  He uses people to do that.  Just want to make sure I am not misunderstood as overly exalting any human being, including a spouse. Also, not everything we perceive as a need is a need. But God graciously provides for us all good things to enjoy).

So how do we safeguard our marriages so that they are not threatened by our friendships with the opposite gender?

I have a few specific ideas that have worked for me and have, most of all, minimized the opportunity for others to gossip about my friendships:

1) No being behind closed doors with someone of the opposite gender who is not my husband.  In fact, I travel a lot with my workmates and one time we were in Los Angeles on a very cold week.  One coworker, who loves to build fires in hotel rooms with fireplaces, bought three of those preformed logs, one for his own hearth and two for those of us who were sharing a car with him.  When we got back to the hotel, knowing that I didn’t know how to build the fire in my room, he went in and did it for me, while I kept the door open and stood halfway out on the sidewalk.  I reassured him that that had nothing to do with him, but everything to do with not wanting to attract gossip.

2) Making sure my husband knows about my friendships.  I believe this may have been what doomed the political campaign of Herman Cain.  Remember?  He had exchanged about 100 texts with a woman and given her money when she was down-and-out.  Because his wife knew nothing about this when questioned, everyone assumed that he was having sex with this other woman. 

My take on that was that he was perhaps just unwise.  He was on the road, campaigning.  He probably got out of touch with his wife for a few days.  It is not, in itself, a sin to exchange texts with people of the opposite gender.  You would find those on my phone. With some good friends, you would easily find 100 of them, over the course of time.  The difference is that my husband knows about them.

I have also given money to a younger male friend whose house was flooded out as a hurricane came through Virginia Beach.  The floor needed emergency repairs.  I think his wife was still out of town when I gave him the money but, again, my husband knew about it.  Hard for people to make an accusation there.     

3) Try to make it a foursome whenever possible.  If you and your opposite gender friend have esoteric interests in common (for me, read:  theology), the eyes of your spouse and your friend’s spouse may glaze over sometimes in the conversation, but make the effort anyway.  Find out what interests the friend’s spouse and talk about that, too.

I always remember that it is my husband’s strong interest in and talent for finance that gave me the mental space even to be able to study theology in the first place. If he had not been a good earner from the git-go, I would have had to work a lot more hours outside of the home over the years and would not have been able to homeschool (where my son learned to share my love for reading by reading good books with me) and attend seminary.

4) I highly recommend that opposite sex friendships not involve any touching at all. The way God has created us, our feelings tend to follow touch. Probably enough said about that. Be wise.

5) Stay above it when petty things intrude into your friendship, just as you would in same sex friendships. People may talk at some point. Prove them wrong. Be willing to listen to the folks who teach that opposite sex friendships are an impossibility after marriage. You don’t have to agree with them to listen. And you may learn something new that will help make your friendships safer.

6) As in all parts of life as a Christian, exceptions will occur where we just plain need to be Spirit-led. If I could write an exhaustive list of rules for opposite gender relationships, it would tend to make us think we could successfully do them without God in the picture!

An example of this from my travel with my job was I once found myself in a Burger King, sitting with a coworker and counseling him about an abortion that took place when he was young. If we had been home, I would never have gone alone with him to get lunch and, in fact, I don’t usually do that on the road either. I had thought several of us were going and then it turned out there were only two of us. I didn’t have my own rental car, so I went. But notice, we were in a public place, not behind closed doors. I don’t intend to ever make an exception of that!

Also, notice that there were not any Christian men readily available to counsel him. I think that would have been the ideal. But if someone needs Christian counsel and I can’t find a man to do it, by God’s grace I am going to do the best I can do.

We are all different. In my case, I have always had many male friends. I remember being 13 and feeling terribly awkward, thinking I had nothing to say to a boy who was trying to talk to me. Then I turned 14, a switch seemed to be thrown, and I have not shut up since in friendships with guys.

There were several men I dated, off and on, in college, remaining friends with them while dating others. The only way to do this is, of course, to maintain chaste relationships in the dating years. Once more than a casual kiss becomes part of the dating relationship, it opens up the possibility of jealousy when someone is back and forth between several relationships. We are created to desire exclusivity in the physical realm. That is why is it best to leave the physical part largely for marriage.

Just as I found myself able to maintain several chaste relationships with male friends in college, there is nothing stopping me from having chaste relationships with male friends now (and my husband from having chaste relationships with female friends). A desire to please God in every sphere of life and a core belief that we are to express ourselves physically in only one relationship, marriage, will help these friendships stay on course.

6) Realize that, if you are Christians, God fits friends together in a unique way.  Since no husband and wife share every interest in common, you will share some interests with your friend that his spouse does not.  Keep the perspective that you are one unique voice in his life that God has brought into place (as he is in yours).  We are all members of one another and need each other.  Don’t think of yourself as too important nor as too unimportant in that friend’s life.  You are one piece of the puzzle that enables him to be the person he is.  And he is the same for you.

As I write this, I am looking at two postcards recently sent to me by a friend who is an airline pilot.  He and I were in a Navy squadron together back in the mid-1980’s.  We were both single then.  He is still single, but is in a committed relationship with a friend of mine.  I introduced them almost ten years ago. 

When we were single, I traveled overseas with his flight crew.  We also got together as a twosome after hours a few times while we were home in Jacksonville (he was and remains an incredible cook!).  And we talked and talked during those times.  No romantic attachment, just deep friendship and good discussion (well, actually I am going to “out” myself here and tell him, if he is reading this, that I did have quite a crush on him in the early days.  Never let him know that because I didn’t want to take the chance of ruining a good friendship.  And I turned out to be right, as we have remained solid friends for thirty years). 

The thing that jumps out at me is the fact that there were certain things that we talked about back then that he still brings up every once in a while, on a postcard or when he sends me a foreign newspaper because it reminds him of something we once did together or talked about.  That is an amazing thing.  He remembers our discussions of Russian Orthodox icons and still sends me things to remind me after thirty years.  His partner understands that we share that interest and rejoices that he has someone to talk to about it.  It is really a beautiful thing to look back on, as we have grown thirty years into the future. 

Opposite gender friendships can be rewarding, if approached with the proper perspective.  I am not an expert on them, but just share what I have found in life so far.  I covet input by other people in the comments section down below.   

A Dream about Shame . . .

28 Jun

Last night I had one of those dreams we all have periodically. I dreamt I was at a church camp-type place with a group of Christians who were strangers to me except for Joey (my son) and one person from my current church.

As it turned out, I was rushing to get ready to go home from the camp when I took a shower and put on a long tee shirt to get back to my cabin to pack. Only . . . my long tee shirt turned out to not be quite long enough. It covered me like a mini skirt until I moved. When I walked, it was possible to see I was not wearing underwear.

And, of course, on my way back to my cabin, I ran into a crowd of people, one of whom, a male, had wanted to get a picture of me. Until . . . they all realized that I was not fully covered.

No one said a word, but the silence was deafening. All of us knew what all of us were thinking. I walked away, realizing that I would never again look any of these people in the eye, including the one from my church. I had stumbled into an awkward social situation and one strike equalled an out with this group.

When I woke up, I was thinking about this scenario, which we all dream from time to time but which rarely happens in real life. I was thinking about how different the outcome would have been with my secular work group. For some reason, secular folks would either ignore the situation (only talking about it privately behind the person’s back until they got tired of talking about it and moved on) or . . . more likely, make a joke about it and clear the air. Either way, there would be no ostracism over the issue, but just an appreciation of the absurdity of life, which includes inadvertent nakedness sometimes.

And then it occurred to me that the Christianity to which I cling can be a system that shames its adherents. Honestly, if I were inadvertently naked in front of someone, there are many cases in which fellowship with that person would be expected to end thereafter. The shame (or presumed shame) would lie between us like a chasm.

That would not affect my relationship with the Lord. He never shames me. My sin might do that at times, but He never does.

So why do His people shame each other? Why do I participate in that sort of thing sometimes?

It seems that, for some, the unforgivable sin is to embarrass them. If you do something socially inept that involves them, one strike does equal an out. As the mom of someone with special needs, I am fairly attuned to what does and does not fly socially. And, yes, there seem to be times when those who have committed things that are classified as sins (as preached from the pulpits of our churches) find it easier to get a pass for their behavior than do the socially awkward people.

This is key to consider as our baby boomer generation ages. There will be times when we are suddenly taken ill in public and can’t get to a restroom in time. There will be times when we unexpectedly get visitors in a hospital room and don’t have proper coverage from those stupid gowns they give us there. If all such times are treated as something that set us apart from the rest of the human race and mark us as socially inept old people who don’t have the sense to come in from the cold, we are going to be heartbroken to realize that we don’t fully belong to our community of believers anymore.

I have a better solution for us. We can learn from the secular world in this. Last week, running with my class of students at our Coast Guard base, one of the men was suddenly overcome with a need to use a bathroom (in the worst possible way). He managed to make it back to the gate and use the guardhouse but had he not, he was surrounded by discreet folks who were all commisserating with him about his condition. Even though he and they are in their 20’s, they were all realizing that that condition can happen to anyone.

As Christians, we can humbly realize things happen, even embarrassing things. Cutting someone off for a socially awkward moment might stem some embarrassment later, but it also makes our circle very prematurely narrow. And God help the person who has been that judgmental to others when she herself faces an embarrassing incident, as I did in my dream.

The Best Duggar Post I Have Seen By Another Blogger . . .

2 Jun

How should we then live? Pay attention, closely . . .

Living in a Beautiful World with Splashes of Wickedness Everywhere . . .

25 May

I love this present world. So much so that I know I will fight to stay in it when it comes time for me to go to the next one. Even though I am totally sure that my Saviour has made the next world stunningly, amazingly beautiful, beyond anything one could even comprehend while here . . . (I also believe that eternity will occur on a remade earth, but that is the subject for another post . . .).

Nonetheless, one cannot be here long without realizing there is some very real evil in this world. To be succinct, all stories about sexual exploitation have several things in common (and let’s be honest about them from the beginning):

1. They are *always based on an imbalance of power, with one person treating another person as an object just because they can . . . Part of the humiliation of sexual abuse is the opportunism of it. No one likes to realize that another person has so stripped their humanity from them that they perceive them on the same level as a table or chair in the room.

2. They are *never about sex, but about a power play. Sexual predators get sexually excited at the idea of being able to have sex *without the other person’s consent.

3. They occur in *every strata of society.

Think of this last point. Josh Duggar’s current situation shows us that the fundamentalist “quiverful” movement has as much perversion as the other parts of society it tries to avoid. I, for one, would have much more respect for the Duggars had they incorporated the story of Josh and his sisters into their television narrative from the beginning (since it happened before the show began), revealing to an American public that mostly doesn’t understand sin and redemption how a family can legally and purposefully deal with the sins and infractions of fallen people in a fallen world. *That would have been a good (and honest) story of God’s grace. Not the way they handled it, covering it up while they criticized the fallen sexuality of other people. (And, no, I don’t regard it as “their family’s business” because once they crossed the line into a reality television show, their family’s business became America’s business, ya see!).

Even while we contemplate the story arc of the Duggars, we are still hearing from other parts of our sexually fallen world.

There are still accusations surfacing in the Catholic church about priests abusing children of both genders. And why would that not be so? Priests are revered and trusted. They are allowed to be alone with people, at confession and otherwise. Predators know that!

There is still the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State. He started a foundation for disadvantaged boys that allowed the boys to think they could have a future in college football, as long as they didn’t mind being sodomized in a shower . . . (I am being purposely shocking here because we need to be shocked by the idea that some people start foundations to reach out to disadvantaged kids because they *know they will have an inherent imbalance of power with these kids!).

There is a breaking story in England about high powered entertainers, politicians, sports figures, etc. who, for decades, had a pedophile ring in London using . . . disadvantaged kids they brought in from London’s East End (the poorer area of town). Jimmy Savile is only the tip of the iceberg in this sordid story. Apparently there were luxury apartment complexes and hotels that were regularly used to wine and dine these kids into thinking it was okay for an adult to penetrate them. So utterly sick! God help us.

When NPR was talking about the above story last week, they mentioned that it seemed to originate in the boarding school culture of England–kids would be separated from their families and would be hungry to fit in. The teachers and staff at the schools often exploited an imbalance of power to draw these children into their webs.

I found myself glad that my husband was solidly middle class in England and never went to boarding school!

I also found myself glad, earlier this year, when reading about the specific situation with priests in Ireland in the early 20th century (lots of exploitation of kids in orphanages), that my inlaws (who grew up in Ireland) remained in intact families, even while not always having much money.

Such sickness, with imbalance of power leading to exploitation, time after time after time.

Yes, there are pockets of this beautiful world that are real cesspools, largely due to the fallen human race and the depravity our hearts can imagine when we are not fixed on Christ.

Some practical tips that parents and other people who influence children can take from all of this sordidness:

1) Don’t let your children be alone with adults. Never, ever, ever. It doesn’t matter that 99% of clergy are probably trustworthy. You don’t want to encounter that 1%. And since they are predators, they will be experts at hiding, blending in, and talking the religious talk so that you will think they are truly holy people . . . until you find out what they are doing to your child.

2) Be aware that evil can lurk *anywhere. Don’t put your trust in man. We are *all totally depraved. Our only hope is in Christ. Don’t trust a foundation for disadvantaged youth, don’t trust a college, don’t trust even your church unilaterally. If you are a Christian, trust Christ and Christ alone.

I call this the 95% confidence factor. I trust other people who seem trustworthy 95% but I will never trust them blindly. I don’t even trust my husband blindly after 26 years (he is at a 99% confidence factor). This seems to be the best we can do in a fallen world, guys.

3) Check your pride at the door. If you need to groom your image more than you need to protect your children, you may encounter issues at some point. God help you if you decide incorrectly when you do. A specific example would be if an adult is making an argument for being alone with your child and . . . it is important to you to remain in that adult’s good graces. Think how easy it would be to give in, just this once, and let the adult spend time alone with your child. But what if you have miscalculated and have sent your child away with a predator???

4) Hiring babysitters is going to be a problematic situation no matter what you do, especially if you have an only child (there can be strength in numbers). It is probably best to *avoid those who keep asking *you to let them babysit. Choose someone who seems responsible and approach that person. Get references, check what goes on in your home when you are gone and . . . pray a lot. As the Josh Duggar story has shown us, even young teens can be guilty of unspeakable evil.

I pray this post has added some light to a rather heated situation. Wisdom comes only from God, but these observations are what I have learned over a lifetime so far!

When we struggle to love . . .

17 May

One of the most balanced pieces I have ever read. God has made it so that we *can’t be properly related to Him on the vertical without being properly related to His children on the horizontal. Natural law.

Meanwhile, aside from the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we *can’t properly love God’s other children. They just annoy us, that is all . . .

It is why we need to stay on our knees, entreating His Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth (and love).

The Twilight Bark

12 May


About three weeks ago, some friends who have become very precious to me these past two years engaged in the Twilight Bark with me and with each other.

Do you know the Twilight Bark? It comes from the book and movie “101 Dalmatians.” It happens after Cruella DeVil kidnaps Pungo and Perdita’s puppies and takes them out to the countryside. Hearing of the missing puppies, the dogs closest in to Pungo and Perdita start barking at twilight as a signal to the dogs that can hear them that Pungo and Perdita are in trouble. Each dog that hears passes the message onward to all the dogs that can hear him until . . . the message travels to the countryside, where someone has seen the puppies and reports their location back along the chain.

So it happened that three weeks ago, the chain of love in a special needs college in Wisconsin started the Twilight Bark to alert us that a family among us was in trouble. A 21-year-old former student of the college who had left to battle cancer was losing his battle. His family needed our prayers. Our students who had known Justin needed our prayers. The school staff needed our prayers. We needed our prayers!

And pray we did. Intimately and openly, with tears running down our faces. Justin lost his battle several days later but we continued to pray, for the family and friends left behind. We still continue to pray. He has left a hole in our hearts that will not be filled again until we see him in heaven someday. And it is right that we miss him, especially that my son and his fellow classmates miss him.

The precious part of all this to me was how readily we reached out to wrap each other up in compassion. These people whom I met for the first time as we dropped our children off at the college in August of 2013, and whom I have seen twice since then, have become a cherished community of brothers and sisters in Christ to me. I love their children and I love them. And I know they love me.

At one point I was toggling back and forth between four parents on Facebook Messenger, all of us numb with grief that one of our children had died. Yet all of us reassuring each other of the hope that he will live again, and so will we.

Sometimes life can be hard, but our special needs children at their special needs college are a miracle in progress. And our community of support, and of Twilight Barks when needed, is another life-sustaining miracle.

Considering Baltimore (not being a know-it-all white person!)

12 May

Very compassionately written and good!

The Best Blog Post on Assurance of Salvation I Have Seen!

12 May

And it’s all from I John!!!


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