Where Logic Meets Love

Blog Comment Carnival: October 2012

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

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Blog Comment Carnival: October 2012 | Faith Permeating Life

At the end of every month, I share my favorite comments from that month's posts, and you're invited to do the same and link up below!

This month felt a little all over the place between interviewing for several jobs, negotiating a job offer, and going on vacation for a week and a half. But I still managed to get posts up twice a week and was rewarded with the excellent comments you all shared on them. Here are some of the comments that stood out to me!

I made a list of everything I'd done since leaving my last job in What Does Three Months of Unemployment Look Like?

LL reflected on a similar experience:
I went through a similar period last summer when we moved for my husband's job. We initially thought I would take some time and really figure out what I wanted to do, but after a few weeks I was already antsy! I volunteer twice a week at a charity thrift store and ended up being in the right place at the right time when an administrative job with the organization became available. My span of joblessness was right around 3 months and, in retrospect, I wish I had done more with it! I went on a lot of long walks, and I started meal planning and cooking a lot more. I also got more into couponing and started my blog! So it wasn't a total waste, but now that I don't have that time I wish I had been more intentional about using it well.

And Lozzz123 is planning for the future:
Once I finish my PhD thesis (hopefully in December) I have no idea what will be next, but several months of unemployment is quite a high probability. I'm glad you accomplished so much - hopefully I'll remember this in a couple of months if I'm unemployed so I'm productive instead of bored and worried!

Then I refuted the idea that living together before marriage is required in The Fallacy of the Relationship "Trial Run", and many of you agreed.

Mórrígan said:
So many things that simple, honest communication throughout a relationship would help. It's like a revolutionary notion that a philosopher suggests at a scholarly conference or something, "What if ... people talked to each other?!"

If you're even considering marrying someone, why wouldn't you have a conversation, even just out of curiosity, about who's neat and who's messy? About who does and doesn't like to cook or clean or balance the checkbook?

More and more I think that this is the thing that is most lacking in sex education: relationship education.

Queen of Carrots added:
You can find out what kind of a roommate a person will be by rooming with them. But marriage is first of all about commitment, and the only way you can test a person's commitment is through being committed; rooming with them won't give you any information at all.

And yes . . . most of the things that will drive you batty ought to be pretty obvious whether or not you live with someone, if you just take some time to observe, think, and talk. People have shaken their heads because DOB and I had spent less than six weeks actually physically around each other prior to marriage (very long-distance relationship), but there really weren't any big surprises once we were married--just the usual adjustments of two people trying to make a life together.

The two biggest questions ought to be: Are both people willing to grow and change? And do they care enough about each other to keep working at it? Because if you want to know if the other person has quirks that will drive you batty, I can tell you the answer right now: Absolutely.

And 'Becca was amazed people were even making this argument:
As a long-term unmarried cohabitor, I find it shocking that anybody thinks it's wise to learn about each other's suitability BY living together rather than discussing it BEFORE deciding to live together. Daniel and I had many discussions about issues like who is willing to do which chore, who needs a private room (he does and I don't, so we have "his den" and "our bedroom," and my desk and such are in the bedroom), at what point it's necessary to call and say you'll be home late, how to approach room decorating, etc. It was only because our answers were so compatible that we decided to live together. When we did, there were very few surprises, and the conflicts that did come up could be resolved by discussion and compromise, as you say.

I certainly wouldn't argue that living together before marriage is REQUIRED to have a healthy, happy marriage. Looking at either the people I know or the demographic statistics, it's obvious that isn't the case. Some couples never get married, some get married immediately, and some transition from unmarried cohabitation to marriage, but that isn't a variable that determines the quality of their relationship.

I announced my new job, and the difficult decision it entailed, in Loving My Job vs. Making More Money: Round 2.

Melbourne on My Mind understood my decision:
Congratulations on the new job!!! I would definitely take the job doing what I loved over the job that paid more. I've been in the situation of having a job that pays quite well (given what the job required), and I hated every second of it. I worked with great people, the job had certain perks to it, and the money was good. But I was SO. FREAKING. BORED.

I've also been in the position of doing a job I loved for not very much money. And sure, the money side of things sucked. But I was still able to save about $1000 a month, and my job made me happy.

Hopefully in the future I can find a balance of the two!

And perfectnumber628 got why it was difficult:
Very cool- I like how you thought everything through and explained it and especially focused on what's important to you and why- instead of just some simple "money vs doing a job I love" dilemma, implying that wanting money is ALWAYS BAD AND EVIL and should never be a motivation for anything. The reality is much more complicated that, and is going to depend on the situation.

I'm happy for you, finding a job you love! Good luck!

Finally, I shared 5 More Free Things I Use Every Day (a follow-up to 10 Free Things I Use Every Day), and Nikkiana suggested a site I've since started using:
Illuum (http://illuum.com) comes to mind. It's a mood tracking website. I go in every day and rank my mood that day on a scale of 1-9, and provide a short description of what happened that day, plus you can add questions about things you might want to track your feelings or progress with over time.

I'm starting my new job tomorrow (eek!), so November may be light on posts as I get used to my new schedule. But I have lots of ideas queued up and am looking forward to sharing them with you and hearing your great thoughts!

P.S. I have been getting relentlessly hit with spam comments (like, every five minutes), so I've turned Captcha back on for now. Sorry to everyone who hates it!

5 More Free Things I Use Every Day

Friday, October 26, 2012

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5 More Free Things I Use Every Day | Faith Permeating Life

About a year and a half ago, when only a handful of people read this blog, I posted 10 Free Things I Use Every Day. If you haven't read that post before, go check it out! It has 10 online resources that I use regularly that don't cost anything.

I decided it was time to add to the list some things I've discovered and started using since I wrote that post. Please add your own in comments -- I love learning about free resources!

1. RescueTime
Install this program and it will start tracking which window is active on your computer at any given time. Once a week, get an e-mail telling you how many hours you spent on the computer, how much of your time was spent productively, and what things you spent the most time doing. You can also go to your RescueTime Dashboard on their site at any time to see pretty graphs breaking down how your spent your time each day and telling you your most productive and least productive time or days.
A tip: Take the time to go to your Activity Summary and make sure the categories and productivity levels are correct, at least for the sites where you spend the most time. You can also add new categories, as their set is somewhat limited.

2. StayFocusd
After RescueTime showed me how much time I was wasting, I wanted to do something about it. You may have heard of LeechBlock, which is for Firefox, but I mainly use Google Chrome, so I had to find something comparable. After another add-on failed to work properly, I switched to StayFocusd. I entered my main time-wasting sites and set a daily limit during weekdays, and StayFocusd warns me when I'm approaching the limit (at intervals I designated) and then blocks me from going on them once I've used up my time. It prevents you from cheating by only allowing you to change limits for future days, not the current day once you've reached your limit. I also use it to keep myself from staying up too late by using "Nuclear Mode," which blocks the entire Internet during the times I set. (I set it from 10pm to 10:30pm so I'd have a push to go to bed at 10, but would only have to wait half an hour if I seriously needed to finish something.)
A tip: Nuclear Mode allows you to exclude weekends, but those are Saturday and Sunday, so it still kicks me off at 10pm on Friday nights. I'm hoping the next version will allow you to pick individual days.

3. F.lux
Simple but useful, this download changes the kind of light your computer screen gives off so you're not blinded by it if you start up your computer when it's still dark outside. During the day, your computer monitor gives off bright light like the sun, but after the sun sets, f.lux changes your computer settings to give off softer, warmer light, like indoor lighting.
A tip: Go into preferences and choose a slow transition if the sudden change in light color throws you off.

4. Boomerang for Gmail
Boomerang offers the features I wish Gmail had. It allows you to schedule messages to send at a later time, which Gmail doesn't currently allow. It also lets you archive a message but return it to your inbox later (great for future travel itineraries) or return it only if the other recipient(s) don't respond by a certain time. Or you can have a message return to your inbox at a random time, which is a great way to send your future self surprise check-ins about habits you wanted to adopt or break. A free account gives you 10 credits (actions) per month -- technically 11 because it will warn you once if you've used up all your credits but still let you do it.
A tip: If you need a reminder message sent to your inbox at a specific time in the future and you know you won't need to cancel or change it, another option without using up a Boomerang credit is to use replylater.com.

5. Pinterest
I know, I know, everyone knows about Pinterest already. But when I started using it I was just pinning random things and not actually getting much use of it. I decided that I only wanted to use it as a tool for meal planning, so I unfollowed everyone, followed only food boards, and started pinning recipes to try. Now that I've focused how I use it, it's been a great, useful, free tool for meal planning. I created a separate board for recipes we tried and would make again, and I edit pins to move them over as needed, as a way to recommend the recipes to others as well as a reminder of which ones we liked. Then I created a Faith Permeating Life Pinterest account where you can find links to many of my posts as well as other blog posts I recommend (organized by topic).
A tip from a previous post: If you're concerned about properly sourcing your pins, or just want to find the original article, save the image to your desktop, then drag the file onto Google Image Search and it'll find all the pages that image is on. If there are a lot of hits, you can limit the search time frame to narrow it down to the earliest appearances of the image.
(EDIT: I've found a faster way. Here's a Chrome extension that will allow you to research any image on Google Images with a right-click menu.)

As with the previous list of recommendations, I'm not in any way affiliated with any of these companies -- I just really love their free tools!

What are some free things you use every day that not everyone knows about it?

Ask Google Jessica: The Christian Sex Edition

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

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Ask Jessica: The Christian Sex Edition | Faith Permeating Life

Last December I wrote two posts that have received more traffic every month over the past year than any other post I've written. The posts are "Stop Telling Me I'm Too Skinny" and "How Do Christians Have Sex?"

They're the most popular posts not, as far as I can tell, because people are linking them and sharing them, but because people like to enter a lot of personal questions into Google.

I've collected some of the most interesting questions that have led people to Faith Permeating Life (to those two posts and others) and attempted to provide brief answers to each. Today's questions all have to do with Christian relationships and sex, and I'll save some others for a future post.

Please chime in with your own responses in comments!

Do some Christians have sex?
Given the number of babies running (crawling?) around in certain denominations, it seems some Christians do nothing but have sex! But I'm guessing what you mean is, do some unmarried Christians have sex? And the answer is yes, they do. Not everyone looks to the Bible and sees clear-cut prohibitions on premarital sex for modern couples. But my question to you is, why does it matter? I don't personally recommend making decisions about something like sex based on what other people are doing, whether or not they belong to your faith. What's most important is figuring out what sex means to you and what decisions are congruent with your values.

How do you tell a guy you are not kissing until marriage?
I honestly don't remember exactly how this conversation went with Mike, except that it came out of reading Joshua Harris' book and was part of a larger conversation about what our relationship was going to look like. I definitely recommend having this conversation early on, so you don't end up having to make a split second decision about sticking to your guns when he leans over to kiss you and potentially making him feeling terrible for crossing a boundary he didn't know you had. Is it possible you'll scare a guy off by telling him this? Yes. Do you want to be in a long-term relationship with someone who don't care enough about you to respect your boundaries? Um, no. Honest conversations about intentions and comfort levels are important at all stages of a relationship, from "defining the relationship" initially to navigating sex, and one way to open a conversation like this can be, "What are your thoughts on...?"

How do you get a Christian girl to have sex with you?
No! Stop! I don't care if she's Christian or not, if she doesn't want to have sex with you, then you don't get to have sex with her. This is exactly why I say I don't care if people having sex are married. People who think their sex drive should override respect for whether or not their partner wants to have sex are doing way more to distort the beauty of sex than a loving, consensual, unmarried couple. Another person is not an obstacle to be conquered to appease your sex drive. That is a terrible way to view not only sex but your fellow human beings.

Should Christian couples talk about sex?
Yes! Check out the fantastic One Extraordinary Marriage podcast for tips on having conversations about sex with your partner. If you're not yet having sex, you should be on the same page as your partner about when you're waiting for and why. If you are having sex, then of course you should talk about it. There's nothing dirty about talking about sex with someone you're having sex with! It's the best way to make sure you're having a healthy, fulfilling, and trusting sexual relationship.

Why do so many Christian marriages not have healthy sex lives?
Because they don't talk about it? :)

Well, that's part of it. For Christians especially, sex is rarely discussed positively, and girls in particular can get some extreme and bizarre messages about purity that may create a strong mental association between sex and sinfulness. It's hard to see sex as a wonderful, beautiful act of love if your brain is telling you it's bad and you're a bad person for doing it. The same messages people use in a desperate attempt to keep teenagers abstinent can screw people up once they start having sex, even if they wait until marriage. So while I obviously can't say why any individual couple might be struggling with sex, this is certainly a theme I've heard over and over again in Christian circles.

Should married Christians not have sexual relations?
Really??? It's bad enough that there's so much guilt and shame piled on sex that many people who wait until marriage struggle to accept themselves as sexual beings. But people actually think they shouldn't have sex with their spouse at all if they're Christian? No, please -- go for it. And enjoy it! There's no shame in that.

Are honeymoons just sex?
Ah, the myth of the Christian honeymoon, where the shackles of abstinence are thrown off and you just have sex with wild abandon for days on end.

Look, if you want to spend your honeymoon having lots of sex, more power to you. But if you're both virgins, there's probably going to be a learning curve, and it might be frustrating at first. It's perfectly OK if you don't want to spend all day in bed. Plus, you could do that at home, right? If you're on vacation, enjoy your vacation together! Mike and I took an Alaskan cruise for our honeymoon, and we went on several shore excursions (wedding gifts!), did karaoke, played trivia, ate delicious food from the all-hours buffet, and spent a ton of time drinking tea and playing Scrabble alongside lots of old couples. It was a great way to kick off our new life together and just enjoy focusing on one another for a week before going back to school and work.

What is a Christian honeymoon like?
There's no one-size-fits-all answer for a question like this since not all Christians are the same. If you're wondering about (or worried about) it being all sex all the time, see the answer above. Beyond that, it seems like some Christians are so used to having rules put on them that they want guidelines for everything: What is the proper way to have a honeymoon if you're Christian? But I don't have an answer for that. Your honeymoon is what you make it. I do suggest discussing ahead of time with your spouse-to-be what their expectations are; when Mike and I were picking excursions to put on our registry, I asked him, "Are you hoping to get out and do a lot of different things at each stop, or would you rather spend more time on the boat and pick just a few things we really want to do?" And if your partner says, "What? I thought we were just going to have sex the whole time!" then that's a great time to talk through that expectation!

Is talking dirty off limits for sex for Christians?
Ah, more rules. Always looking for rules. I get a lot of interesting variations on this search term, asking what specific words Christians can say during sex. I think these kinds of questions, like many looking for "rules" about sex, miss the point somewhat. What you say during sex should reflect love and respect for your partner, and it's definitely possible to "talk dirty" while still doing this. Telling your partner what you'd like to do to them or what you'd like them to do to you? Great. Telling your partner how awesome what they're doing feels? Fantastic. Telling your partner what you're going to do to them, even if they don't want you to? Not so good. Talking in a way that is degrading or makes your partner feel uncomfortable? STOP. Remember that sex is one part of your larger relationship with your partner and should be a way of building up and strengthening that relationship, not tearing it down.

How should Christians have sex?
And there it is, the number one search question that brings people to my "How Do Christians Have Sex?" post. Truthfully, if you're looking for rules, your particular denomination probably has lots of them. Will they lead you to a happy, healthy relationship and a fulfilling, wonderful sex life? Not necessarily. Keep in mind that the rules have almost certainly changed over time, and they'll probably change again. I tend to ascribe to what Tony and Alisa DiLorenzo always say: "What you do in your bedroom is between you, your spouse, and God." If you are comfortable with it, your partner is comfortable with it, and you feel that it builds up the God-centered love you have for one another, then have at it.

Interesting questions, huh? What would you add to, or disagree with, these responses?

Loving My Job vs. Making More Money: Round 2

Friday, October 19, 2012

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Loving My Job vs. Making More Money: Round 2 | Faith Permeating Life

Two years ago, I was faced with a real-life choice between work I enjoy and making more money.

I chose to stick with the work I enjoyed doing. Shortly thereafter, a new position was created for me so I could keep doing that work, plus get a more appropriate title and a significant raise.

Then two years later found me in a new city, searching for a new job.

A few weeks ago, I went to interview for an evaluator position with a small consulting firm in Whoville. I knew the least about this company than anywhere else I'd applied, but even from the little I knew I was incredibly excited and nervous about this interview. I made Mike practice with me for over an hour, which I taped, watched, and then re-recorded.

It was the best interview I'd ever had. Not simply because I felt confident about my answers, but because I felt so comfortable with this team. They clearly loved working together -- they teased each other, laughed a lot, made me laugh, and talked about their work with genuine enthusiasm. I asked my would-be supervisor about her management style, and it sounded so much like my amazing boss at my previous job that I could practically hear the "Hallelujah" chorus singing in my head.

When I got out to my car, I texted Mike: "I WANT THIS JOB SO MUCH."

At this point, the only thing I didn't know about the job was the salary. (*cue dramatic music*)

At the same time, I was under consideration for a 30 hr/wk position at a college that paid more than my previous job (which tells you how underpaid I was, which I knew already), as well as a half-time position with an hourly wage that also well exceeded my previous job.

Long story short, I got multiple offers at once. The place I most wanted to work was the last -- they sped things up as soon as I told them I'd gotten another offer. When the firm's president called to make me an offer, everything sounded fantastic.

Until he told me the salary.

It was quite a pay cut. And I told him so. We discussed it, and he finally raised it several thousand, but it was still below my last job, and well below what I was hoping to make at my next job. I told him I needed time to look over everything and I'd get back to him.

You guys, I really, really, really wanted this job. Just like when I met Mike and it was as if God designed a husband just for me, I felt like this job was made exactly for me. But was that enough reason to take a salary well below what I knew I was capable of making?

My Christian/career struggle came back full force. Should I simply be grateful and humbled to find a job so clearly made for me? Or did I have a responsibility to women everywhere to earn a salary on par with my abilities?

I'll tell you my thought process, and then what decision I made.

There's an interesting relationship between happiness and income. The majority of articles and studies I've read about this come to the same conclusion, which is that money does improve happiness up to a point. If you're having trouble meeting your basic needs, then having more money is likely to make you a lot happier. But past a certain level, it's hard to find any consistent differences in happiness between people bringing in different incomes or spending different amounts of money.

On the other hand, life goals are important to happiness. I have very few big life goals, but as you know, they're quite expensive. Could I be happy with a salary that put our child-adopting and land-owning and house-building dreams that much farther into the future?

One of the most helpful models I've found for thinking about money is Ramit Sethi's material about being rich. (See my recommendation of his book here.) He reminded me that money is simply a tool. Having money in and of itself doesn't create the kind of life you want. It's what you do with it. You have to decide what's most important to you, and then focus your money on those aspects of your life and stop spending it on things that aren't important to you.

So I went back and reflected on what's most important to me. I've written about the motivations that drive everything I do and what larger purpose I work toward. I thought about all the time I was bored at work and when I was overwhelmed by meaningless tasks.

And I realized that happiness, for me, is largely tied to how I spend my time.

There are 168 hours in a week. When you take out the time sleeping, eating, commuting, chores, and all the other necessary parts of life, I'm going to be spending at least as much (if not more) time at work as I am on any voluntary activities I might be doing outside of work. Work is a significant part of my life.

I don't want work to be the thing I do just to make the rest of my life what I want it to be. That's not a recipe for wholeness. If I'm spending 40+ hours a week doing meaningful, fulfilling, challenging work, then I'm already creating the life I want right there.

And then on top of that, I can focus on channeling the money I do make toward the things most important to me outside of work.

So yes, I accepted the job. And I couldn't be happier. (I start November 1st.)

There are other considerations related to income and career, of course. Many aspects of this job are new to me, and I'm planning to throw myself into learning as much as I possibly can as quickly as possible. In a few years I'll either have a higher salary here or be well-equipped to find another job I love. In the meantime, we should be able to continue living on Mike's salary, so most of mine can go into savings and investments until we're able to adopt and he leaves his job.

God has provided well for us thus far, so I have faith that everything will work out just as it's supposed to.

What would you have done in my situation? ...Are you sure?

The Fallacy of the Relationship "Trial Run"

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

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The Fallacy of the Relationship 'Trial Run' | Faith Permeating Life

John Shore put up a post on Monday called "How bad is living together before marriage?" in which he responded to someone whose parents were freaking out about his wanting to live with his girlfriend. As usual, I think John is spot-on, in that he gets right to what the parents' real concerns are: premarital sex and whether the son is still a Christian.

I've written before about premarital sex in an attempt to introduce some reality into what is often an extreme black-and-white discussion. I'm tired of people saying, "Everyone MUST save sex until marriage or your marriage will be terrible," but I'm equally tired of people saying, "You MUST have sex before marriage or you risk having terrible sex for the rest of your life."

As John points out, most of the concerns around people living together before marriage are essentially concerns about premarital sex, although there is also some concern that living together before marriage leads to higher divorce rates. (This, of course, assumes that a couple will eventually get married, while more and more couples are choosing to never get married.)

However, there are people on the flip side, who say everyone should live together before marriage, with comments on the post like "I think it's absolutely ridiculous to NOT live together before getting married" and "It should be mandatory." They, however, seem to be concerned about far more than sex:
"I believe living together can indeed be a great way to learn if you and your partner are good for the long haul. Most simply put, it's one thing to seriously date a person. It's another thing entirely to share a life and a bathroom with them, 24/7."

"While i have zero desire to get married myself, i am a HUGE proponent of test driving the car before you buy it....Some people absolutely cannot co-habitate in harmony. Sure they may love each other but if one person has (for example) OCD and the other person doesn't work with them and accept it and chooses instead to roll their eyes, etc., they're going to have a whole heck of a lot of problems."

"I think it's good to live together before getting married. You start to become a bit closer to the person if you really love them, and plus you are thinking about marrying them, so….You obviously have to get used to living together if you're going to put up with all of their crap."

"You should know what it is like to live together, day in and day out, with that person. You need to know whether you can share all of the same personal space. How much their nasty habits oog you out. Whether you can divide chores fairly. You will never, ever know this unless you live with this person."

These kinds of arguments, though, have the same fallacy that the "what if the sex is bad?" argument does. I'll call it the "trial run" fallacy.

The trial run fallacy seems to operate on the assumption that people's behavior is fixed, unchanging. You have to find out whether someone IS messy or bad at sex or whatever before getting married or else doom yourself to a life of misery. I previously challenged the idea that everyone has a fixed sexual ability.

But if questioned, I don't think the above commenters would say they believe that people are actually unable to change their habits or compromise (except in certain cases, which I'll get to in a minute). So it's either that they think you shouldn't have to change or compromise when living together, or that you won't know your partner's willingness to change unless you live together.

I have a serious issue with these arguments.

To the first: It's true that you should be able to "be yourself" in a relationship. I don't think it's healthy to have what I call a "bubble relationship" in which you try to put up a façade of what you think your significant other wants you to be. But I also think it's possible to take this notion too far. There's a difference between who you are at your core and how you choose to behave. If you are in a relationship with the attitude that your significant other just needs to put up with whatever you do and cater to whatever you want, then it doesn't matter who you're with -- it's probably not going to last long.

Mike and I have been together nearly eight years, three of which we've been married and sharing an apartment. Both of us have had to change certain ingrained habits in order to live harmoniously together, and while that sometimes takes time, by and large it hasn't been an issue because we both have the understanding that living together means we need to 1) communicate our needs, 2) change our habits sometimes, and 3) let go of some things that bug us. Which is also how we approach most other aspects of our relationship, such as how we talk to each other.

Your marriage is not somehow doomed to fail because you didn't do a trial run living with someone and rubber-stamp them as having no annoying habits and not being annoyed by any of your habits. If you both approach living together -- whether after marriage or before -- with a spirit of service and flexibility, then when you discover that something you or your partner does irritates the other, it doesn't have to mean the end of the relationship, but rather the beginning of trying to work it out.

To the second: With all that I just said about the need for flexibility and an attitude of service, that brings us back to this notion that "there's no way to know if your partner has horrible habits that they're unwilling to change without living together!"

I have to disagree.

Even those who don't live together are typically going to spend some time in their significant other's apartment or house. Mike and I were both in college in the years leading up to getting married, so when visiting each other we had the opportunity to see how the other person kept their personal space. We observed each other's working habits. We cooked meals together in each other's kitchens and discussed our approaches to doing the dishes. We also just had a lot of discussions about our personal habits and pet peeves; Mike was upfront about the fact that he's a naturally messy person, but that he makes an effort to keep shared spaces clean. We determined that I didn't mind mess, just disorganization; Mike didn't mind if I wanted to create a place for everything, but he wasn't going to do it himself.

But even without really having to deal with living habits head on yet, there were plenty of opportunities to see whether Mike was the kind of partner who was willing to respect my concerns and make an effort to change those things that really bothered me. Both of us matured so much and worked through so many different issues during the course of our relationship in college that it would have been completely bizarre if after five years Mike had suddenly become inflexible and unwilling to listen to concerns that I had when we got married and started living together.

Well, what about those things that people are unable to change through simply making an effort on their own? Things like mental illness and addiction typically need professional help and sometimes may only be managed, not truly changed.

Again, I don't think that living together is somehow the only way to uncover these things "before it's too late." In a healthy, open relationship, these things will be disclosed and discussed well in advance of marriage anyway. If someone has a diagnosed illness and never discloses that to their significant other, or hides their addiction, then living together may make it more likely that the problem will be discovered, but not necessarily -- and I'd say it's the secrecy, far more than the not-living-together-soon-enough, that is the biggest threat to a healthy relationship here.

So I reject the notion that having a successful relationship is 100% a matter of "finding the right person for you," and that living together is the only way to discover whether you've found that right person. You will never find a partner who is 100%, completely perfectly compatible with you in every way at the moment you meet. And it's entirely possible for a couple to have a successful marriage without living together first if they have open, honest communication and a flexible, service-minded approach to making their relationship work.

Just so it's completely clear, this is not an argument against living together before marriage. It's a rebuttal to those who think living together before marriage is mandatory for a healthy, lifelong marital relationship.

Agree? Disagree? What, if anything, does living together teach you about a person that nothing else can, and is it necessary to learn those lessons before making a lifelong commitment? Do you see the trial run fallacy show up in other arguments?

When Your Judgments Reflect Your Own Flaws

Friday, October 12, 2012

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When Your Judgments Reflect Your Own Flaws | Faith Permeating Life

Does God have to hit you over the head sometimes with your flaws?

Yeah, me too.

I'm currently reading a book called Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas, who essentially argues that the purpose of marriage is not to make us happier, but to make us into better people, specifically better Christians. Alternate this with reading the epistles in The Message at night, and I'm getting a lot of "When you're tempted to judge someone else (especially your spouse), look first at your own flaws."

One of the downsides to Mike's position as a hall director is that his work is inextricably entwined with his life, so he always has multiple things competing for his attention. Lately I've been getting really frustrated with him for not listening. I'll be telling him something as we're walking to dinner and he'll keep stopping to say hi to students, or his mind will just be elsewhere so he'll agree to something and not remember five minutes later we even had the conversation. It's turning me into not the kind of wife I want to be, because I keep second-guessing and trying to "catch" him whenever I think he's not listening.

So realizing that this was a real problem, and in light of what I've been reading, I brought this to God, and God was basically like, "Hey, how are your listening skills? "

And I'm like, "Oh, you know, they're pretty good."

And God's like, "Yeah, OK. For the rest of the month, I want you to focus on doing one thing: listening."

Holy crap, you guys, I suck at listening.

I am worst about this when somebody stops by to talk to Mike and me. Mike is just such a natural conversationalist, and I can never think of questions to ask people, so we'll all start talking and then halfway through the conversation I'll just zone out and start checking my e-mail.

I discovered this is especially bad when we're in the car with someone, as we were yesterday getting dropped off at the airport by a friend and then picked up this evening by Mike's mom. I start out listening to the conversation between Mike and the other person, and then I end up just staring out the window at things and missing large parts of the conversation.

Also, sometimes students come by looking for Mike when he's off somewhere, and they end up just wanting to tell me all about everything that's going on with them. I thought I was doing a good job at listening to them because I would nod and react to what they were saying, but then I realized that people were saying things like, "So how did your job interview go?" or "So are you excited to go to Ohio?" and I could remember nothing about what was going on with their classes or where they were going for fall break. Listening fail.

As I've made a more concerted effort at listening the past week, I've realized how hard it is for me to stop everything I'm doing to listen. If people interrupt me, I want them to know they're interrupting me -- sure, come in and chat, but I'm going to keep walking around and picking things up. But God has made it clear that the top priority on my to-do list needs to be to listen to people. That means stopping what I'm doing, inviting people in, and making whatever they have to say the complete focus of my attention.

It's been a painfully humbling experience, and an important reminder that the flaws I find in others (particularly my husband) are often a reflection of my own weak spots. Is it still frustrating to me when Mike doesn't listen carefully? Yes. But my energy is much better spent improving this skill in myself than trying to catch every time Mike makes a mistake.

What's something that frustrates you about other people that you're still working on yourself?

Two Books for Advancing Gay Rights in the Church

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

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Recently I received review copies of two books, both dealing with one of my favorite topics: the relationship between the LGBTQ community and the Church.
  • The first was an Advance Reading Copy of Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee, president of the Gay Christian Network. More information on the book here. The book comes out November 13.
  • The second was the audiobook version of God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage by Rev. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. More information on the audiobook and an audio sample here. This book was published September 18.

I'm reviewing these together because they cover a lot of the same ground, but I would recommend them to different groups of people.

I recommend Torn if you or someone you know is struggling to accept lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as they are. If the whole idea of someone being gay weirds you out, or you think it's a choice, or you think that accepting someone's sexual orientation is condoning sinfulness, then this is the book to start with. The book is primarily Justin's own story of growing up as an evangelical Christian and discovering he was gay, interspersed with some history lessons, statistics, and other people's stories.

I recommend God Believes in Love if you or someone you know accepts lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as they are, but can't get behind same-sex marriage. This is for people who love their gay friends and family members but are afraid that same-sex marriage will "change the definition of marriage" or infringe on churches' religious freedom. It's for people who say, "I'm cool with him being gay and all, but does he have to flaunt it so much?" or "Why can't gay people just be happy with civil unions? Why do they want special treatment?" It starts out with Gene's own story, but most of the book is a series of questions and answers drawing on Scripture, research, stories, and logic.

What I Liked
The primary reason I would recommend both these books is the gentle, loving approach that both authors take. Neither Justin nor Gene take a hard "Here's why you're wrong" approach. Both of them are part of large Christian communities where they see the struggles that real people are going through related to the issues of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Their books are offered as roadmaps for thinking through these issues in an informed and Christian-minded way.

Justin positions his book as a guide for those who have had a loved one come out and who are receiving no real support from their church family, and who want to understand what their loved one is going through and how to help them in a way that's consistent with their faith. Gene speaks to those who know someone in a committed, same-sex relationship, who have love and respect for this person but don't understand why the person wants to marry their partner, or are unsure if they can reconcile their faith with attending a gay wedding.

Because they both take this approach, these are not books to give to someone who, for example, has devoted their energy to fighting same-sex marriage. Neither book gets into the nitty-gritty of dismantling every possible argument against their point of view. It's a much gentler approach than would be used in a full-on debate. These are books for Christians who are feeling lost and confused, people who never gave much thought to homosexuality or same-sex marriage until it suddenly affected them personally, or perhaps who accepted what they heard in church about gay people until someone close to them came out and didn't fit anything they'd been taught.

Justin's story is compelling because he is essentially the antithesis of every myth and misconception about what makes someone gay; he has loving parents, was never abused, is celibate, even preaches "loving the sinner, hating the sin" himself in high school. His research into ex-gay ministries (the route everyone at his church points him to) uncovers that they don't actually change anyone's orientation; those touted as success stories talk instead about recovering from a life of substance abuse and promiscuous sex, neither of which apply to Justin. It becomes exceedingly clear that the current approach to "dealing with" gay people in the church is misguided at best, and destructive at worst.

Both books also tackle the relevant Scripture passages. And they reach the same conclusion, essentially: that the question of whether the Bible condemns same-sex relationships comes down to the translation of the word arsenokoitai and whether you believe it refers to loving, committed same-sex relationships. Although they both reach the same conclusion about that (that it doesn't), Justin struggles with his conclusion because it means radically transforming his worldview, and in the end he has advice both for people who agree and those who disagree with him on this question.

One of the things I like about God Believes in Love is that Gene also spends a chapter talking about the Gospels. Although I think he goes a little too far with his argument (more on that in a moment), I appreciate that he takes the time to consider questions like "What does it mean that Jesus said nothing about homosexuality?" and "How would Jesus treat gay people, based on what we know of how He treated others?"

Finally, Gene told one stellar story that encapsulates the pervasiveness of heteronormativity. He talks about attending a conference in which everyone was asked to introduce themselves to the people around them with their name and "I'm a gay man" or "I'm a lesbian" and then to avoid doing or saying anything to contradict that statement for the rest of the day. Straight people ended the day exhausted from trying to navigate small talk without mentioning their significant others and with a deeper understanding that far from "flaunting their sexuality," gay people have to exert an enormous effort to try to hide their sexual orientation in day-to-day conversations.

What I Didn't Like
Both authors are gay men, and I think this gives them a somewhat limited perspective. As is too often the case even within the LGBTQ community, "BTQ" (bisexual, transgender, queer) individuals were mentioned mostly as an afterthought and not always in ways that made sense. I particularly noticed this in God Believes in Love because it is about same-sex marriage; Gene ignored the particular struggles of bisexual individuals who are expected to marry a partner of the opposite sex because they "can" regardless of whom they fall in love with, and he also failed to distinguish between sexual orientation and gender identity when talking about the struggles of "lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender" people for marriage equality. I would have liked to see issues of gender identity addressed separately or, if they were beyond the scope of the book, for transgender individuals to be left out rather than lumped into the "LGBTQ" acronym.

On a related note, Gene repeatedly refers to "gay and lesbian couples," which I think is confusing; two people of the same gender can both identify as bisexual and be in a relationship with one another, which doesn't make them gay or lesbian. I think he was trying to be inclusive of both male-male and female-female pairs, but "same-gender couples" would have worked as well. I appreciated that he intentionally used no gendered pronouns for God, but wished he would have used a more inclusive "they" for a gender-neutral pronoun for people rather than constantly saying "he or she"; perhaps that was a grammatical decision as the publisher's level.

I appreciated Gene's argument that Jesus did not place as high a value on the nuclear family as the Religious Right would like us to think (an argument explained well in this article by Ben Witherington), and instead surrounded Himself with a family of choice. I do think he went too far in his emphasis on Jesus' special relationship with John, the beloved disciple, saying that he's not trying to imply that Jesus was gay but that He would understand having a close and loving relationship with someone not in one's nuclear family. It was an odd and not well-constructed argument for same-sex marriage, and he then repeated the entire argument again in the following chapter.

Another consideration: While I enjoyed having the audiobook narrated by Gene because I was already familiar with him and like him, it was clear he was not a practiced audiobook narrator and sometimes the words came off a little stilted, unemotional, or pronounced with odd emphasis. Also, if you're recommending the book to someone because of their current prejudices, you might consider whether that particular person would find it more compelling or more off-putting to have the book narrated in the gay author's own voice. Finally, at the end of the audiobook there's a truly bizarre interview with the author in which the interviewer didn't seem to have read the book or prepared much at all and spent a good portion of the time just rambling and not really asking any questions. So those would be some things to consider when deciding whether to read it as an audiobook like I did.

Final Thoughts
The topics discussed in these books are the issues in America that are currently (1) driving people from church and (2) splitting churches apart. If we as Christians care about loving and ministering to all God's children, then that requires educating ourselves. And I mean that for everyone -- straight Christians have an obligation to truly understand the experiences and feelings of their LGBTQ neighbors, and LGBTQ Christians and their allies have an obligation to try to understand others' concerns, fears, and misconceptions rather than simply writing them off as ignorant bigots.

That is what I think both of these books do well: They bring everyone to the same table and promote compassion and understanding. They spell out what people are thinking but possibly afraid to say. And they do this with the understanding that faith, religion, and the Bible must be considered and respected at all times.

For more resources like these books, I invite you to check out my Resource Guide to Christianity and Homosexuality!

What Does Three Months of Unemployment Look Like?

Friday, October 5, 2012

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What Does Three Months of Unemployment Look Like? | Faith Permeating Life

It has now been three months since I left my job in Chicago. I made the leap to Whoville partly wanting to enjoy a break from work and partly scared of how long it would take me to get another job. It was undoubtedly the very best decision for us, but it doesn't change the fact that being out of work for several months is not a situation I ever planned to be in again.

What I've found is that employers don't care that I've been out of work for several months, or even that I didn't have the title of research analyst for three years, as most of the job postings say they want. I have the skills and experience they need, so they want to talk to me. I had two fantastic interviews this week and can't wait to see what happens next!

Because it has taken me so long to land a job here, I wanted to take the time to remind myself of all that I have accomplished in the past three months. This is part record for myself, to look back when I say, "What did I do those first few months after moving to Whoville?", and part to inspire those of you who might be feeling stuck and need a push to see how far you've come -- or remind you what you're capable of.

In the past three months, I have:
  • Moved across the country
  • Unpacked about 100 boxes of stuff
  • Updated our address on everything
  • Attended a meal with strangers and made some new friends
  • Converted our counter into a standing desk
  • Volunteered at the local food bank four times
  • Cleaned up all my old blog posts to not be giant blocks of text anymore
  • Opened a local credit union account
  • Changed auto insurance companies
  • Had one phone and five in-person job interviews
  • Met six local professionals for informational interviews
  • Scanned everything in our filing cabinet and recycled or shredded most of it
  • Attended a cousin's bridal shower
  • Analyzed focus group transcripts for a non-profit I worked with in Chicago
  • Researched my aunt's family tree
  • Been at the hospital for the birth of a cousin's baby
  • Bought a ticket, flight, and hotel for the Gay Christian Network conference in January
  • Edited a friend's book manuscript
  • Provided free consultation for a local health clinic's website
  • Obtained my new driver's license and state license plates
  • Typed up a bunch of my great-grandfather's letters and stories
  • Helped three people prepare for job interviews
  • Baked cookies for freshman move-in day
  • Taken our car to get detailed for the first time ever
  • Spent time with a cousin and her little kids
  • Attended a cousin's wedding
  • Started Couch to 5K and Zumba
  • Gained six pounds and lost four pounds
  • Attended a local Nerdfighter gathering
  • Bought four wedding gifts and two bridal shower gifts
  • Tagged all of my photos in iPhoto with their locations
  • Volunteered at a local vegan festival
  • Participated in Whoville's AIDS Walk
  • Attended an aunt and uncle's annual Oktoberfest party
  • Gave blood for the first time
  • Signed up for my college's alumni mentoring program (to mentor current undergrads)
  • Hosted a 10-person board game and potluck night
  • Written 30 blog posts on here
  • Written two blog posts for the local LGBTQ community center
  • Read 10 books

It's been a mix of necessary tasks, personal projects, and fun events. Some of these are certainly things I can continue doing once I land a job, but I've enjoyed having this time to explore, try new things, and tackle some projects that had been on my to-do list for too long.

On a similar note, check out my guest post over at Girl With Curls. She recently made a big move and asked for tips on exploring a new city and meeting new people, so I shared my experiences. See what you think!

If you've ever had a period of non-voluntary unemployment, what is your favorite thing you did during that time?

3BoT Vol. 12: Three Financial Books for Life After College

Thursday, October 4, 2012

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3BoT Vol. 12: Three Financial Books for Life After College | Faith Permeating Life

The first Thursday of every month, I share three related book recommendations with you. You are invited to link up at the end of the post with three recommendations of your own! Click here for more info about Three Books on Thursday.

First, apologies for missing a Wednesday post this week. I've had two job interviews this week, so I've been a little crazy preparing for those. But I have high hopes I'll have a job before too long!

This month's topic was suggested by a reader and friend of mine, who said he has liked my previous posts on personal finance and wondered if I had any book recommendations. These three books are the ones that have most influenced my own thinking about finances. I'd love to hear your recommendations as well -- particularly for a better book on money and relationships than the one listed below.

What these books have in common is that they're geared toward people just starting out, individuals and couples in their 20s and early 30s who need guidance on the basics of money management. Of course, if you're older than that but feel like you need some basic guidance on getting your finances under control, these books may be helpful for you too!

If you want some straightforward advice on budgeting, saving, and investing, check out these books:

Life After School. Explained.
#1: Life After School. Explained. by Cap & Compass
Cap & Compass did a presentation at my college, and it was so helpful that afterwards I immediately went to look up their book. I am the kind of person who likes "explain it like I'm five" approaches to complex topics, and I appreciated that this book assumed I knew basically nothing about taxes, investing, 401(k)s, etc. They break everything down from square one, including those things everyone seems to assume you somehow just "know." If you start reading some other financial advice and they're using words that you have no idea what they mean, this book will come to the rescue. As a bonus, they cover topics more indirectly related to finances, like choosing between health insurance options, renting your first apartment, and shopping for an engagement ring. This is like Being a Grown-up For Dummies.

I Will Teach You to Be Rich
#2: I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi
Ramit Sethi shoots straight, so if you don't like people steamrolling over your excuses, you may not like this book. But the stuff he says works. The book is written as a 6-week program where each week gives you assignments to complete to get your finances in order. Sethi first makes you decide what a rich life looks like to you, and then shows you how to cut costs on the things you don't care about so you can spend as much as you want on the things you do care about. One of the great things about this book is that it's flexible: If you just want someone to tell you what to do with your money, the steps are all there; if you want more freedom and choices, he tells you how to make those decisions wisely. What he doesn't do is allow you to cop out of managing your money by making excuses like "I don't make enough money to save any of it" or "I don't want to be a pennypincher." Need your finances whipped into shape? Here's your book.

The Complete Financial Guide for Young Couples
#3: The Complete Financial Guide for Young Couples by Larry Burkett
The copy of this book that I have is a 1977 printing I got at a garage sale, so I'm hoping some of the more ridiculous advice, like about working wives being a financial "danger sign," has been erased or updated. Nonetheless, I think there's a lot of good stuff in this book. As one of the top reasons cited for divorce is money problems, Burkett wants to help young couples get their money in order. This book adds a layer to basic personal finance advice by addressing how to combine finances, how to talk about money problems, and even how to teach your children about money. It has a strong Christian focus: For example, he talks about how it's important to trust God but not to use that as an excuse not to manage your money. One of most reassuring messages I took away (in contrast to other books like Rich Dad, Poor Dad) was that you don't need to be always looking for shortcuts to make more money; there's nothing wrong with being part of "the rat race" if it's a career you actually enjoy and you're able to make enough money to be secure and save for retirement.

Bonus recommendation: If you like the idea of a broader "Life After College" book like the first one listed here, the Quick and Dirty Tips team has put out a new book called Quick and Dirty Tips for Life After College. I haven't read it, but I listen to nearly all the QDT podcasts and find them extremely useful, so I would imagine the book is equally as helpful, and I know it includes some financial topics along with others.

What books have you read that have helped you with your personal finances?

Click here for other 3BoT posts!

Please note that this post contains Amazon Affiliate links. If you click on a book cover and make any purchase at Amazon (including but not limited to the books suggested here), your purchase will be supporting Faith Permeating Life. Thanks!

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