Fifty Shades of… What Exactly?

What are romance movies really teaching us?

In its first weekend, 50 Shades of Grey raked in over $81 million in ticket sales. Labeled as a “dark, romantic adult fairy tale,” the movie has prompted an onslaught of articles responding to the graphic sexual content in the book.

For the past few weeks, I have seen article after article saying the same thing:

“Don’t watch 50 Shades of Grey because it’s bad,” “Stay away because it promotes abusive relationship,” “Definitely don’t watch it because it’s extremely offensive.”

So then why are so many people watching it? What’s behind the desire to watch a movie like 50 Shades of Grey?

Confronting desire

A movie like 50 Shades of Grey promises passion, desire, and romance—things that are good in and of themselves and we are wired to crave. However, when we seek fulfillment in pseudo-romantic material, are we creating a pseudo-connection? Seeking fulfillment by recreating something that’s not real can create something else: tension between us and our spouse. After 35 years of being sexually active and engaged within my marriage, I can tell you three things:

  1. No lyrical and slow-tempo music crescendos occur when making love

Movies tend to portray sex as the culmination activity of every heated or intense moment in a relationship. From the observing point in a theatre seat, we feel the tension building, the music slowing, and the heat in our bodies rising. Yet in real life, there’s no music playing when the tension and stress of kids, bills, and dishes appear. Romance movies tell us to expect something sexy that crescendos, but real life does not have the carefully cued music and scripted dialogue. Can we differentiate this when viewing a film or does viewing something like this create a disparity between what we see and what we have?

  1.  Developing a passionate love life is work

There are many different stages in developing a passionate love life that have longevity. It’s both work and pleasure—literally! Intentionality, vulnerability, and risk are all essential parts of this kind of relationship.

What if God created the intense, rip-your-clothes-off, I-want-to-have-you-now moments? What if God created the slow, methodical, I-want-to-explore-every-inch-of-you moments? What if God created the chosen risk of allowing another to hold you body, mind, and soul?

Each of these moments offers us a choice: 1) to reach toward the other to consume them, or 2) be in communion with them. I believe one of the deepest gifts of sexual engagement is knowing that this one with whom you are vulnerably sharing your body with is willing to risk being together in the “suffering” that is a part of life. A pleasurable connection with my spouse reminds and anchors me to the one who will journey with me in all intimate areas of life.

  1. Great sex in a relationship does not preempt struggles in relationship

When we engage and seek fulfillment in romance movies, we risk measuring our own sexual engagement against something/someone who is not real. We define “great sex” by something that doesn’t have the real-life struggles of learning how to engage with another human being in real time and with real differences. There are no two humans who are the same, and therefore no two sexual connections are the same. If we let movies define what “great sex” is, we are losing the opportunity to create something from discovering another human being.

Is 50 Shades of Grey bad?

When people ask me if I think it’s good or bad to see this movie, I pause. I cannot make a blanket judgment statement about this movie. Instead, I will continue to seek to engage with discovering more of what love really is and what helps men and women discover true passion that helps them create a love life with real longevity.

The Heartbeat of Valentine’s Day

How we love one another

With Valentine’s Day less than 24 hours away, the expectation to get the “perfect” gift or plan the “perfect” date for your spouse or loved one can feel like an overwhelming task. It’s easy to read stories of extravagant Valentine’s Day dates and think, “If only my spouse does (fill in the blank with your expectation)… then I would finally know how much they really love me.”

However, in the pressure of perfect gifts and grand gestures, we run the risk of loosing the simple act of expressing affection.

What if the true heartbeat of Valentine’s Day was less about “getting it right” and more about remembering ways you have loved your spouse in the past?

Here are just three different ideas for what this could look like:

  1. Write three adjectives that describe your spouse, and why you feel they do. When you pick up a pen and actually write words on paper your brain connects differently with the subject matter than it does when you create it electronically. Plus, this act requires a sacrifice of time — from both you and your spouse.
  2. Write three things that are funny about the other one. Let this be an opportunity for you and your spouse to laugh together as you reminisce. An added bonus? Laughter helps to release dopamine in the brain.
  3. Arrange some time to remember your vows together, and if possible, write them out. Couples say vows at the beginning of marriage, but often we forget to revisit these special promises we made to one another later in marriage. There’s no better way to grow together in understanding those vows than experiencing the the ins and outs of day-to-day life.

So this Valentine’s Day, what if we choose to remember how we have loved our spouse in the past as well as the ways we will continue to love them in this coming year?

A Year-end Ministry Review

Giving thanks for this year

With the holidays upon us I can’t help but let my thoughts drift to the life of Jesus. As I think about the threads we see throughout Jesus’ life, I keep returning to two things in particular: His deep love for Scripture and His deep love for people.

These two things are hallmarks for how we at Truessence want to be about the work of healing relationships between women and men. Here is a small peek into what this past year of ministry has looked liked.

In pastoral counseling…

We seek to be a safe and trusted resources for pastors, ministries, and churches when life crises impact individuals, marriages, and communities. I cannot begin to tell you how wildly sacred it is to enter these vulnerable moments of raw, exposed sexual shame, wounded vows, or crushed dreams.

As I sit with people who feel like their identity is being swallowed up by shame from sexual choices, I repeatedly watch a mysterious strength come and help them reach toward the hope of God resting within them. In these moments, I am reminded that there is nothing beyond the healing heart of our God.

“Becky’s pastoral counseling walked our marriage out of unimaginable darkness. We marvel at our new vantage point today and could not be bigger fans and advocates of Truessence’s ministry.”  – Married couple

In socratic Scripture studies…

In creating environments for studying Scripture in the ancient socratic method, we seek to encourage pastors and leaders—women and men of all ages—to ask the important questions: to see how we are a part of a bigger story God is weaving. We believe it is imperative for church and community leaders, pastors, and teachers to know they can be in the process of learning how to live out the truths they are teaching.

“I can think of few things in my life that have been as transformational to my understanding of myself, the Bible, and the character of God as these socratic studies. –  Pastor who attended her first socratic study this fall

“In all of my theological training and learning, I have never been impacted as deeply and profoundly as I have been when studying socratically. It has changed my life. – Pastor who regularly attends socratic studies

Noticing the new life

I hold a vast well of gratitude for what has been planted and what has come to life this year—both in counseling and through studying Scripture. If Truessence is a ministry you feel compelled to invest in, I’d love to invite you to do so. Because of your continued financial support, we are able to:

  • Bring hope in dark places through counseling.
  • Provide environments for leaders to engage with Scripture in new ways and, in turn, bring what they learn into their circles of influence.

Here are a four specific ways you can support Truessence.

$25  $75   $150

“I invest in Truessence because I dearly want to give couples the opportunity to receive counseling that I never had.” – Monthly giver

A few months ago, as I was on a plane headed to a community experiencing a sexual crisis with deep wounds, I became overwhelmed by sadness. I began taking deep, yoga-like breaths to keep from wiping my nose on my seat mate’s shoulder.

Oh God how will I hold these people? Can there be hope in this hard place?

As I breathed I closed my eyes and saw an image of Jesus on the cross, hardly able to breathe. He began giving His breath me and to this community so we could continue the ministry of deeply loving God’s people.

And so, on behalf of myself and the Truessence Board, I’d like to express our gratitude for the ways your support has allowed us to invest in the lives of others this year. Keep us in your heart as we seek to listen carefully to where God is leading us in this next year of ministry.

May you breathe our God in and out with joy,

~ Becky Patton and the Board of Truessence

Conversations About Sexuality: How to begin when you’re (just a tiny bit) unsure

Unpacking our emotions around sexuality

Today I was having a conversation with a friend and it reminded me of this amazing music video about the soul returning and hearing the Creator. I’m sure most of you have heard this song by Mumford and Sons like a bazillion times, but today, as I returned to this song, I heard the lyric’s invitation in a new way.

As men and women, what rises in us when we think about having a conversation about sexuality with someone we love? Worry? Anger? Resignation? Excitement? Fear?

What emotions impact our conversations about sexuality? What is it that we really want to say?

What the Scriptures tell us

As I continue to study and dig through the Scriptures, I am more and more certain that our Creator wants us to experience our sexuality as good. Our sexual drive is something created with a purpose and with intention, but it also has an incredible power to create havoc in our lives.

If we are going to engage in conversations about sexuality, we must remember we are spiritual and sexual beings created by the hand of God. And this is “…good, very good!”

Do we remember who we are?

If we have have fallen asleep to this fact, forgotten this truth, or perhaps you are hearing it for the first time — I want to do nothing but encourage you.

Learning to have open and healthy conversations about sex takes work. A lot of work — trust me. It certainly doesn’t just happen overnight. As a sexual being you have something to share with your sexual partner and it’s important to learn to find language that can empower a deeper sexual connection between the two of you.

If you take a minute to watch this video, I encourage you to notice what rises up in you. What does it feel like to think about having a real conversation about sex with someone you love?

Our sexuality is designed by God for the intention of us experiencing the fullness of God’s love.

Maybe this truth might be hard to take in, but I do know one thing: it’s never too late to experience the soul being awakened and it’s never too late to let go of the shame that hides us in silence.

It’s never too late.

~ becky

Photo credit.

Airline bucket list

My starboard seatmate

After a full weekend of work that included many hard conversation-filled days and nights, I was ready for space to capture some thoughts on paper and get started on the pile of emails that needed to be sent.

I boarded a plane to return home, only to find that the plane was not working correctly. When flying you don’t want to hear, “the engine is not starting properly.” These words seemed like a good enough reason to choose to be re-routed through a southern state in order to go north.

As I squeezed into my last minute, middle-seat assignment and brought out my iPad to begin working, Jim, my starboard seatmate began a conversation. A conversation that would continue for the next hour and five minutes, with hardly a breath taken.

Jim has led a fascinating life. His bucket list is quite lengthy and holds things that I have honestly never imagined were even a possibility nor have I considered as worth pursuing.

  • “Feed the sled dogs at the start of the Iditarod race in Alaska,” – Fascinating.
  • “Cave diving in Iceland to see the crack in the platonic plates of the earth,” – Sounds cold and I am not sure I wanted to know that were cracks.
  • “Walked the trail that Christopher Columbus took from Italy to ______,” – Quite honestly I can’t remember the other city, but it sounded impressive.

As I glanced at my still open iPad, I realized my ambitious flight plans for working were slowly ebbing away and I had a choice:

  1. Listen (no, he never once asked me a question) or,
  2. Shut him down (my razor precision for doing this was definitely  an option).

I looked into his brown eyes and began to ask questions. What made him choose this trip? How did he manage to find a guide to take him into the caves?

Comparing my life to his

As he talked, my life adventures seemed small in comparison, and I realized I was beginning to compare my  life to his. A sense of measuring began to form in my brain of what “adventure” really is.

  • Do I lead a boring life?
  • Do I not dream big enough?

“I bought a bike in Columbia to ride the trails of (sorry I don’t remember this famous place), and I almost died. I wonder if my wife would have missed me.”

Suddenly I was snapped out of my trailing mind and asked, “who do you enjoy doing these adventures with?”

“No one,” came his response, “it’s my bucket list.”

After I left Jim and was sitting on my next flight I realized something. We all have our own bucket list (verbalized or preverbal) and we put on that list what is truly important to us. And while my bucket list isn’t written in draft form, divided out by continents, and time zones — yes, Jim’s is — this conversation has caused me to reflect on what I value most about the adventures I have experienced.

The most important part of life is not what I do, but who I am with.

So, if I actually did have a bucket list it might read something like this:

  • to see others
  • to listen to people
  • to value the story being created through relationships, and
  • to honor the process of life.

I will most likely never dive into an underwater cave or pet a white tiger, but IF I ever do, I want to do it with someone I care about in order to share the moment — not be the sole owner of an event.

Thank you Jim for sitting beside me today, for sharing your life with me, and allowing me to see you, to listen, and to recognize the value of this moment and what I could learn.

~ becky

Photo credit.

How sweet it is to be loved by you…

I think love is risky…

I had breakfast with a friend the other day. We talked about our shared moments in history, our life stages, grown/growing children, and then we turned a dark corner into the hard stuff. The kind of things that once they’re said out loud can no longer be hidden.

I think love is messy…

We talked of our fears, our hopes, those dreams left in the dust, and the dreams that are kind of still being formed within us. Words in our throats got caught and in the pausing we made space for oozing tears to be mopped up yet again in our already-crumpled napkins.

I think love is scary…

A dream of sharing life with another is on hold for her as she gives her energies to her children growing into adulthood. “You know that point where you let go of what you think is IT and discover what’s been waiting to be seen? What if this is that point? I don’t want to miss it.”

Way too soon, she had to leave our shared space and re-enter her roles of breadwinner and single mom of two teens.

I think love is returning again and again…

We lingered a bit at the curb, she invited me into her car to listen to a song that has brought her hope in dark places. She spoke of it as a tool that strengthens her to remember how to engage in her journey to hope in hard places. She spoke of how learning to love herself is teaching her to risk loving others more fully.

I think love creates motion…

As the melody filled the car, I found myself in tears because at the core we all need to experience many different dimensions of love. Too often we run—or too often I run—when a melody of love requires my acknowledging the need for someone else or the dimension of inviting another to see our process.

I think love is nourishing…

That day at breakfast, I had a great latte, an egg sandwich, and a lesson on loving well.

I think love is a journey not a destination…

Here’s the song.

I’d love to hear how love’s journey is teaching you today.

~ Becky

The Special Vintage of Her Life

It is her birthday.

She is turning thirty.

She gathered her friends from across the structural lines of work and pleasure and asked them to all show up in a vineyard – hard to struggle through I know.

She dreamed of celebrating.

So we all came.

We met one another, shared a living space for four days, drank, cooked, toured, drank (it is wine country), laughed, swam, napped, ate amazing food and cried. Yep, all of us, even John.

What could possibly make grown people, some who barely know one another, shed tears together?

We gathered, fifteen plus around a table, food clinging to forgotten plates, loud chaotic conversations, and glasses of wine swirled, sipped, and savored. Someone rose and invited us all to gather our attention to the birthday girl – the one who had brought us all here, the one whose life had created these weekend connections between random people.

One by one we spoke of what we know to be true of the birthday girl, and as the strong affirming words rose in the air and we all began breathing the same air of knowing this woman we ALL cried.

The motion of feeling

Emotion is a funny thing – it stirs something in us. E-motion is about movement. Yet, too often, I want to move past what is being stirred and quickly step into logic and defining something that’s meant to be experienced.

I began to taste our tears, not just my own. The birthday girl gathered us and in bringing us together she was crushing and squeezing our lives into this weekend, she was creating a wine that held a special vintage of her life.

grapes

What is truly crushed is joined with and to another. It will cease to be alone and instead be a part of something bigger.

We paused to let one another’s words be shared. We honored the expansiveness of shared understanding. We drank deeply of seeing her receive these words. We finished this bottle completely not wasting one drop of the love shared.

Thank you for letting me be one small grape, crushed into the rich vintage of your life. Happy Birthday sweet friend.

~ Becky

 

I Wanted To See Whales

Living with desire

I went whale watching in Washington.

Searching for whales in the San Juan Islands is a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack—these islands are massive and waterways are 100-lane highways for freightliners. I boarded Island Adventure Cruises and we set out for a six-hour tour, with about 60 people.

Once aboard, the crew began to give us detailed instructions on how we help them look for whales, which I know nothing about, thus I hired them to take me out. Quickly, I knew that if it depended on me we would not be finding whales today. I barely knew how to keep my balance on the rocking ship. Then, I began to engage with an inner dialogue that was, inch by inch, seeking to lower my desired expectations to see any whales.

You don’t have to see whales today, I reasoned with myself. After all I was,

  • on an adventure (in Washington!)
  • with my daughter
  • in the San Juan Islands
  • on a beautiful boat
  • experiencing a perfectly sunny day…

By lowering my desire, I was adjusting my expectations, preparing to be disappointed, I’ll just choose to silence my desire for anything more than all this beauty I am experiencing, right now, in this moment. This is what I began telling myself.

How often do we lower our expectations when we are beginning something that holds possibilities? How often do we not name our expectations for fear of having to face not getting to experience what we think the moment is meant to be?

So I said this, what I perceived to be a profound and rather mature thought, out loud to my daughter.

“If we don’t see whales, I will still be happy, I mean ALL of this is overwhelmingly beautiful.”

To which my daughter replied, “Yeah, that’s nice. But I’m going to be really disappointed if we don’t see any whales today.”

And, wham! She hit my “profound wisdom” like a rotten melon, shattering it right before me. You know what?

I really wanted to see whales.

I mean, I really wanted to see whales.

We are talking WHALES here—humpbacks, orcas, grays, minke, and this is the season where they hang out around here!

So, grabbing binoculars I began engaging the whale-spotting techniques we’d been instructed with in the beginning. Four hours into our trip, the radio revealed that whales had been spotted, but they were a long ways away. We headed towards the area, not knowing if we would arrive in time, but once again I felt desire rise up—I want to see whales. This time, instead of squishing it or controlling it, I let my desire jump inside me. I let it swim in hope and, you know what, I began to taste possibilities while I imagined these massive creatures.

whale-watching

When we disengage from our desires or silence stirring sensations that go with desire we begin managing an outcome that is not real. We fake living in order to not have to experience sensations on the black list of emotions:

  • Disappointment
  • Fear
  • Loss

While these emotions seem harder to deal with, they are real parts of real life. Here I was with a choice, would I taste of my desire?

“There be whales here capt’n!”

(This is one of the most-quoted lines in our family.)

Yes, I did see them that day. And let me tell you, I was not disappointed.

But as I reflect back on that moment, I realize that I was surprised by a joy that overwhelmed me. When these orcas crested and dipped in and out of the water I cried and clapped, turning to everyone around me and sharing a joy of seeing.

Desire will always leave us vulnerable. To taste of one’s desire will always involve risk.

What if we learn how to walk with desire in a new way?

 

~ Becky

Sitting With Judgment

This morning I am sitting with judgment.

It’s rather quiet right now, but it was active most of the night and robbed me of sleep.

It goes something like this: I hurt someone I love with words that came out of my mouth. Honestly I didn’t intend to, but the way they were received in our conversation, injured them.

And you know what? This someone told me. They stood face to face and shared with me how I had hurt them. What I thought was an engaging conversation, they experienced as painful. In that face-to-face moment, I felt the tugging to explain myself, so they would:

  • understand me…
  • see my heart…
  • see my point of view…
  • hear the words again…

Or, instead of scrambling to explain myself, I could instead just listen, hear them, and hold the their heart.

Who are we guarding anyway?

God is very clear in placing humankind into the garden—we have a purpose for being there. Maybe God’s words in Genesis 2:15 are painting a picture of how we are meant to live and what we can create.

“Yhwh, God took the human and set him in the garden of Eden to work it and to watch it.”

A few meanings might be helpful from the original language of Hebrew:

  • work =  work, worship, serve
  • watch = to guard
  • garden = delight
  • human = humankind (gender-full)

Foundationally speaking, how we perceive this verse in the heat-rising judgment moments will determine what we create.

If my understanding of this verse is rooted in the Garden belonging to me, myself and I, then what I am to guard and work turns my focus solely upon myself.

  • What is best for me?
  • What serves my purpose and creates what I want?

But, if my understanding of this verse is rooted in the Garden belonging to us all, then, together we are meant to guard one another and yes, this will mean engaging in the work of often hard conversations in order to build community.

  • What is best in this moment?
  • What are we seeking to create together?

Using the original Hebrew words this verse sounds like this to me:

“Yhwh, God, took the humankind and set them in the garden of delight to work, worship, serve it, and to guard it.”

Community can be uncomfortable

Judgment came and slept with me last night. And this morning I had to look up the meaning of the word. It means, “the ability to make considered decision or come to sensible conclusions.”

Yep, I think this definition is giving some direction to what it means to be engaged in creating a community who guards and works the garden in order to create together something that’s bigger than just about guarding me, myself and I.

My sleep-deprived night with judgment invited me into being in the risky place of forgiving and being forgiven. I was misunderstood. I also hurt another. Together we meet face-to-face and something is created in, around, and for both of us. In asking for forgiveness there’s an invitation to myself and another to enter into a new place—a place that involves the ability for us both to consider decisions that will help us see one another more vulnerably.

Dear judgment, I thank you for you for interrupting my sleep last night and inviting me to “revisit my words.” I don’t get to change what happened, instead I get to change only how I will choose to be in God’s garden.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if community were easy? It isn’t, but you know what? It’s good, very good.

Photo credit.

Easter Interruptions

My time is coming to a close there in this beautiful place called South Africa. I had my morning planned, eat a healthy breakfast, write a profound Easter blog, do a bit of cleaning for my daughter and then head to the seashore. So I headed to a local coffee shop I have fallen in love with and will miss deeply.

I was about halfway into intensely writing an Easter blog with amazingly profound thoughts on Jesus living aware to others during his final week and how death creates life, when I got interrupted. Andre was sitting at the breakfast bar to my right and had to keep asking me for a condiment sauce, sugar or the pepper grinder in order to not reach over my laptop to retrieve it. I enjoyed our simple interchanges, any excuse to hear this great South African accent. At one point he asked me about my accent, where I was from and what I did. I politely gave him a simple answer about being a pastor and working to help men and women discover relational wholeness.

Over the course of the next hour and a half he shared his story with me. He is taking leave for six weeks from working as a counselor for addicts in recovery, to do some healing around the loss of both of his parents in the course of one week—a tragically beautiful love story, they died within two days of one another, even death could not separate them. Andre is the son who was closest in proximity, he had managed all the practical end of life details for them, but capacity to function did not mean he had grieved.

Grief had returned him to his faith, these past three months something that because of his sexuality he had fled in order to not be abused. Grief was teaching him to risk being in relationship, and as he jokingly said, even talking to a pastor. We talked about God, love, life now and life eternally. He shared about how deeply he misses his parents, how he longs for a love that can impact another’s life—like his parents had experienced.  I listened, mostly looked at pictures of his vineyards, images of a Tuscany style home he is building and tasted a sample of olive oil that he had just harvested from his olive groves.

At one point he offered an apology for interrupting my morning and my writing. My writing, my plan, my words seemed far away and very insignificant at this moment, and quite truthfully I could have missed the whole experience. God laid a test out there for me to trip into—would I live aware? Could I let my profound words die and let someone else tell the Easter story about life?

As we were preparing to each go our own way, he reached out and touched my hand, looked me in the eyes and said, “You have a beautiful heart.” I asked if I could give him a hug, a motherly embrace and there in the coffee shop a grown man laid his head on my shoulder and cried and cried and cried and I cried with him.  When we wiped our snotty noses and laughed at the spectacle we must have created, he looked me in the eye and said,

“I needed to share this morning with someone to be reminded of what love is, one can’t face death alone.”

No Andre, one cannot and because of Jesus, neither of us have to. So, thank you for letting me taste of Easter, instead of just write about it. Thank you for taking the risk.

Christ is risen, He is risen indeed. Jesus lived aware, will I?