When Life Turns Upside Down

In May, I woke up excited to spend the day playing with my 5-month-old grandson. At lunch I felt a little achy, and by the afternoon I resorted to laying on the couch. That evening, my fever finally confirmed that I was sick. But it wasn’t until a couple of days later that my life turned upside down.

The next morning, I woke up feeling like I’d been hit by a Mack truck. Gingerly I walked down stairs, feverish and achy. When my husband came to great me with a hug, I forcefully exclaimed, “DON’T TOUCH ME!” I felt awful. Yes, I had normal flu like symptoms, but over riding any normal discomfort, my mouth was a nightmare. I had sores on my tongue, my lips, the roof of my mouth, my throat and my gums felt like they were on fire. The pain in my mouth felt excruciating.

For 2 days I laid on the couch, trying to rest and let my body heal. Everything hurt. Getting sustenance involved swallowing a few bites of bland soft food followed by a desperate rinse of water to calm the pain. With my lymph glands swollen and no end in sight, I finally dragged myself to urgent care to find some answers.

After hearing my symptoms and taking a look in my mouth, I am guessing that the doctor immediately new my diagnosis, but I was not in the least bit prepared.

Herpes

As my mind raced, she gently explained, “we’ll test you to make sure, but you most likely are having a herpes outbreak. The first outbreak, you can get pretty sick with flu like symptoms and sores in your mouth. If you have more outbreaks, they won’t be near as severe, just the typical symptom of an open sore around the outside of your lips or nose….”

HERPES.

How is that possible? I’ve been married to the same man for 34 years.

HERPES!

Incurable. What I learned about in health class. Using condoms. I will always have it. I could pass it to my husband, my kids, my grandson. Herpes. What the HECK!

In that moment, my life turned upside down. I felt like I had just been given a diagnosis of Leprosy, I became the untouchable. With my body currently filled with high levels of the virus, life changed in an instant. No more sharing beverages, or tasting someone else’s desert. My husband stepped in to cook and serve our meals, while I quietly took care of the dirty dishes. Afraid that I might kiss my grandson by accident, I chose not to hold him for a while and watch him from afar.

My official diagnosis was Type 1 Herpes – the type typically spread by kissing, or sharing a tooth brush, or utensil, and resulting in sores around the mouth.  But these days, with sexual practices like oral sex, type 1 Herpes can also spread to the genitals.

I retreated from physical touch with my husband to empower him to make choices about his exposure to the virus. Hand holding stopped. Kissing became non-existent. Sex stopped. We had things to consider. Instead of the freedom we had enjoyed, sex might now require careful protection to prevent spreading the virus.  He felt angry, guilty and afraid. I felt dirty and abandoned. It was a dark time.

The Basics

I have no idea where I picked up Herpes.  Two thirds of the world’s population carry Herpes -1 and most of them were exposed during childhood. I might have had herpes all along and something triggered an outbreak. Or maybe I picked it up from a server at a restaurant. Regardless of how I got herpes, I now have it, and the question becomes how do I continue to live while protecting my family from this highly contagious virus.

Now I am going to pause right here, and acknowledge that many, many people have herpes – whether type 1 or type 2. For you, herpes might be a huge struggle, or, herpes might not be a big deal because it has always just been part of your life. I don’t want to judge your journey, or make you feel like it is a bigger deal than it is. I just want to share my story and acknowledge that for many of us herpes is a part of our life.

Whether we struggle constantly with outbreaks, or we never have another one, Herpes does not go away. We can reduce the risk of passing on the virus, but we cannot guarantee that we will not spread it to the people we love. Online information about living with herpes recommends things like always using a condom during sex or oral sex.

Yes, life goes on after a diagnosis, but life does not remain the same. In an instant, life changes and we are forced to have hard conversations, make adjustments, and to grieve the life we left behind.

Final Thoughts

You may not face a herpes diagnosis, but most of us will face at time when it feels like  your life just turned upside down. You might face a diagnosis of breast cancer, arthritis, diabetes, heart disease or some other health issue. Or maybe you finally wake up to the fact that you must battle an alcohol, porn or drug addiction in your marriage. A job change, moving to a new home, or a car accident can send you spinning. Even caring for a prodigal child, special needs child or elderly parents can add huge challenges to intimacy in marriage. Many things can test our commitment to intimacy and a great sex life in marriage.

One of my husband’s favorite verses is James 1:2-3 which says,   When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 

Even thought my diagnosis of herpes feels like my life turned upside down, I am not giving up. I know that God is going to grow my husband and me through the hard. Life will be different but God has a plan and He is good.

I just want you to know that you are not alone.

(This is first of a 3 part series)

 

Married Sex Online Conference

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The Purity Culture – How to Move Beyond the Fallout

Recently the news has been filled with fallout from the short comings of the purity movement. Many wives in Awaken Love classes relate to the challenge of embracing sex when the only message they heard was, “Don’t do it!” Other women just gave up trying to be pure. Once lines were crossed – whether it was their choice or not – they figured they were already ruined, so why try. And I’ve met plenty of brides that felt confused and angry when sex didn’t feel amazing, even though they followed all the rules. But pointing out the failings of the purity culture only casts blame. How do we move beyond the purity culture, not only for ourselves but for future generations?

Healing for You

If you grew up during the purity movement, you may have related to one of the examples of fallout. Regardless, we all have believed lies about sex and we all have sexual brokenness. Don’t put off working on your marriage bed until years of resentment build. Make it all that God intended by taking an Awaken Love class, joining a Passion Pursuit study, reading my book Awaken Love, or meeting with a counselor. Regardless of where you have been or what you have been through, go after healing. We cannot change the past, but we can take responsibility for pursuing our own healing today.

Moving Forward in The Church

The main message of the purity movement, waiting to have sex until marriage, was not wrong. God created sex as a way to unite marriages and to create a deep intimacy. Connecting intimately during sex also helps us understand deep intimacy with Christ.

Saving sex for marriage shows trust in God’s goodness and spares us natural consequences. God is not stingy. He wants to protect us from broken hearts, comparisons of past experiences, or creating a habit of disconnection during sex. But when we only hear, “Don’t do it”, we haven’t received the full picture of sex. We need to know what we are saving ourselves for.

God created sex for marriage and it is definitely something to look forward to. Though it will take hard work in marriage to create a mutually satisfying sex life, God creates intimacy through the struggle. Song of Songs shows us the passion and intimacy God intends for marriage. Sex is something worth waiting for.

Single people also need to understand that crossing boundaries does not ruin them for life, like that flower that lost all of its petals. God is a God that forgives and redeems. When we repent, we can start fresh as we learn to live in a way that honors Him with sexual integrity. The church can’t be afraid to share with others what they’ve learned from their mistakes. Let’s equip others to make good choice for themselves. Let’s move beyond simple messages for “Don’t do it” or simplistic answers that convey fear and shame about sex.

Changing the Culture of Sex in the Church

It’s easy to complain about the faults of the purity movement, or throw up our arms because nothing ever changes in church. But I am here to encourage you and say that things can change. I’ve witnessed it.

Start at Home

The truth is that conversations in the home about sex have more of an impact than any youth group message, or sermon. When you grow up knowing that your parents enjoy sex and they aren’t afraid to talk with you about it, you end up with a healthy respect and attitude for sex. As parents, we cannot let message from culture, or porn, or even church, trump the influence that we have with our kids. If you don’t know where to start check out Tips for Conversations, What Do You Want to Communicate, and Creating New Messages for Teens. Work through your baggage around sex, embrace the freedom God intended for you, and start talking to your kids about what they are waiting for and why.

Churches

More and more churches address the topic of sex in a positive way. Recently a local church contacted me because they were doing a sermon series on sex.  They not only hosted an Awaken Love class, but the pastors facilitated the Men’s Edition class for the husbands. As a culmination to the series they invited me and 2 others from outside of the congregation to answer sex questions during church. Not only did we talk about sex, we talked about masturbation. This church normalized the conversation of sex and created a safe place to find answers. The silence and shame surrounding sex was replaced with God’s truth – and it came from the top down.

I’ve seen other churches open up the topic of sex when one individual stepped up. I’ve had lots of ladies seek approval to host Awaken Love video classes at their church. Sometimes the leaders are happy to help and offer a room, office help or even marketing. Other times leaders aren’t ready and the women end up hosting classes in their house.

Either way the transformation ripples out to create conversations about sex with spouses, kids, and in the church body. You do not have to wait for your church leadership to tackle the topic of sex. You can start by inviting a few friends from church in your corner of the world.

Final Thoughts

The purity movement missed the mark for many people. Thirty years later,  during the age of internet and porn, we cannot expect simple answers or formulas to work when we talk about navigating singleness. We must go after healing and embrace God’s gift of sex for ourselves first. Then when we talk to our kids, we become the source of Godly truth and real answers.

Help married couples understand the importance of sex and the freedom God offers. Create a safe place for singles to ask questions, understand natural consequences, and begin a journey of sexual integrity. Open up the conversation about sex in your church and see the impact ripple. Move beyond the purity culture and take sex back from the world.

Restore Vulvar Skin with Julva

Navigating the changes of menopause comes with extra challenges if you love to have sex on a regular basis. When already sensitive skin loses its suppleness because of a lack of estrogen, it doesn’t take much for what used to be pleasurable to turn painful in a hurry. One of the products that I became curious about in restoring vulvar health was Julva, a cream created by OB/GYN Dr. Anna Cabeca. After finally tiring Julva myself for 2 months, I am eager to share about my experience.

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The Basics of Vulvar Skin Care

I have always had sensitive skin that required special care – especially my vulva. With a tendency toward yeast infections, an auto immune skin disease called Lichen Sclerosus, and the challenges of menopause, I finally made an appointment to see a Vulvar pain specialist. I found an amazing doctor who immediately put me at ease by asking questions and listening to my story.  What surprised me most was the importance she placed on the basics of vulvar skin care.  Many of her tips confirmed practices I had already put in place, but these important guidelines might be helpful for you too.

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Understanding Sexual Fantasies

Fantasies allow us to experience pleasure during sex in the midst of boredom, conflicted feelings, or even painful memories. Though fantasies are complex and not simple to understand, let me at least give you some basic insight. I like to think of fantasies in three categories. Dreams, Fantasy to Orgasm, and Ingrained Fantasies.

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5 Ideas for Couples Struggling to Connect After a New Baby

Recently I received an email from a woman that had taken an Awaken Love class. Though she has embraced God’s design for sex, the arrival of another baby has left her struggling to connect with her husband.

I just had a baby about two months ago. During pregnancy and now with an infant and toddler our intimate life has been a struggle. I’m really having a hard time getting in the mood. I have a baby nursing all day long and still have some residual healing that needs to take place post birth. My husband is getting sexually frustrated and I’m sort of at a loss. It feels like I serve the kids all day long and then don’t have it in me to serve him by being there sexually. I feel like my body is just a milk machine. Do you have any advice? Is it okay to be less intimate during this life phase? I just mentally struggle with feeling like I’m ‘faking it’ with him because I do not feel sexual or turned on, no matter how hard I try 🙁 Any advice would be wonderful!

Seasons of life filled with exhaustion present extra challenges. But I am so glad this young mom asked for advice. Instead of letting the lack of sex drive a wedge in her marriage, working together they can embrace the opportunity to redefine intimacy. No easy answers exist for the exhaustion that babies, nursing and raising kids create. So let me just offer a few ideas for couples to ponder and maybe try….

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Anxiety – The Destroyer During Sexual Experiences

One of the biggest destroyers of having great sex is anxiety.  Worrying about sex prevents our body from naturally responding the way that God designed it to. Anxiety draws us into our head instead of letting ourselves enjoy what happens. Worry creates fear about performance that can  cause us to avoid sex. Even a small amount of anxiety can impact connection and enjoyment during sex. Anxiety can make you feel like you are drowning with nothing to grab hold of.

When my husband and I weren’t having sex often, my body often felt nervous each time we engaged. I remember telling my husband, “I don’t know if I remember how to do this.” It took me a long time to relax and to warm up. Each time I felt like I was starting over during sex because I didn’t know my body well enough and trust it to respond. I felt anxious and worried.

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Stepping Into Freedom

Before my awakening, I had no idea how much freedom God wanted me to experience in our marriage bed. Though we explored more than missionary position, I felt uneasy expressing myself. At times I reined myself in out of fear of going too far or losing control. Where were the guardrails? Could we enjoy what the world enjoys? What was okay and what was not? How much pleasure was too much pleasure?

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Adapting to Physical Limitations During Sex

A few weeks ago, I had a molar pulled that had bothered me for years. The recovery of an implant has been slow. With activities like kissing eliminated, my husband and are learning to adapt. Rubbing noses and burrowing into each other’s necks have helped us stay connected during sex. Rather than avoid sex we are learning new things, and grateful for what we have – not unlike a friend of mine.

I will never forget the night that Stacy showed up in class. With eyes that sparkled, and a smile that lit up the room, she rolled into class on her scooter. Years of a physical disability might have limited her mobility but God filled her soul with a passion for living that made me just want to hang out and learn from her.

After reconnecting with her at my book signing party, I asked if she would share a few thoughts to help others challenged by a physical limitation. What follows are her words.

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Finding Miss America

Marie is guest posting today from the mission field. For years has quietly spoken truth to women about sexuality, one woman at a time. This year she discovered Awaken-Love and is facilitating video classes to other missionaries.

I was on my way to another house visit in Asia. Temperatures were sweltering over 120 degrees and no one had air conditioning. I was soaked with sweat down to my underclothes, with my hair flat, wet and clinging to my face. Then I heard a desperate cry: “Miss America, wait”.  Images of Miss America in her tiara and evening gown began to flood my mind, and they just did not mesh with the hot, dusty, dirty streets surrounding me. “Miss America, please don’t go.” I turned around, and a lady who must have been following me began running toward me, crying.

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