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Tyler Knott Gregson: Word Alchemist

Today I want to do something a bit out of the ordinary for me. I want to highlight someone whose work I have grown to appreciate. I have had guest bloggers on this site before and will have them again (the delightful Emily T. Wierenga is sharing her story in November), but I don’t actually know this person except by his posts on Twitter.

Allow me to explain why I think his work is important. In the introduction of my book, I wrote,

“There is a rawness to sexuality – it entails body parts and fluids and technique. There is also a softness – conversations and whispers and secrets between a husband and wife. One without the other creates imbalance. And yet, when the two come together – the joining of the science and art of sexual intimacy – it is the most powerful combination known to humankind.”

I can write and speak about the “rawness” of sexuality all day long without ever blushing – that is my home turf, and I am extremely comfortable there. However, when it comes to discussing the “softness,” I still have a lot to learn. Sometimes the words are hard to find. The world of poetry and romantic expressions eludes me unless I am intentional in seeking it out. And yet, I believe it is important.

Tyler Knott Gregson moves comfortably and fluidly in this world. He is a poet, a photographer, an artist and a word alchemist (seriously, how cool is word alchemist?!). His poetry always catches me a bit off-guard and makes me reflect – which is why I like it so much. Here is one of my favourites:

If you need a dose of romantic and moving poetry in your life, I highly recommend you follow this guy. Here is his Twitter feed.

 

Questioning Country Club Christianity

One of my greatest struggles is balancing my public and personal personas. On one hand, I am an expert in the field of intimacy, and on the other, I am just a girl. One moment I am dispensing advice on the radio, TV or to a live audience, and the next I am making lunches, helping with homework and chatting with a friend. I have worked very hard to develop both my career and my relationships, but some days, especially when I feel like I am screwing up more than usual, the dichotomy between the two worlds becomes very painful. Who am I to speak about being kind to one another when I want to stuff those horrible words I uttered back in my mouth? Who am I to talk about balance when I can’t hear what my daughter is telling me because I am too absorbed with work? Who am I to talk about the wonders of marriage when Eric and I just had a knock-down drag out…on the way to the marriage conference?

In those moments of feeling like a complete fraud and failure, I realize that I am not alone. I remember the pastor’s wife who felt like she would get kicked out of the church if anyone found out that she loved Harlequin romances, the Marriage Ministry pastor who hated sex and lived like roommates with her husband, the youth leader who felt forever tainted because of a little action in the back seat of a car when she was a teenager, the elder who struggled daily with a porn addiction, and the pastor’s wife who was in love with another woman. There are other people who struggle with their public and personal realities as well. We all just do it in secret.

Sometime over the past 2000+ years, we have drifted into a country club type of Christianity. We have to show up perfectly polished and radiant. We have to look good. We have to be successful. We have to be winning the battle. Sin? Sure, that’s something that I deal with…but not often…and I gain victory over it quickly. Church is very rarely a place where you can be anything other than the public persona. Did you just find out that your husband has been cheating on you? Did you just get let go from work? Did you scream at your kids on the drive? Then put happy smiles on your faces as you walk through the door because you are going to worship Jesus.

And yet, the Jesus I read about hung out with the tainted, the screw-ups, the outsiders, and the unwanted. He had endless compassion for the people who came to him with the realization that they didn’t have it all together. In fact, the only people who pissed him off were the religious folks who, well, refused to acknowledge anything but their public personas. So why do we work so diligently to hide our sin when the church should be a place of refuge for all of us who realize how deeply broken we really are? Why do we feel the need – in our ministries and public lives – to have everything figured out, all the time?

I don’t have it together all the time. In fact, probably not even most of the time. But I also have a deeply held belief that I cannot lead other people places I myself fear to tread. If I refuse to acknowledge or examine the difficult, the scary, the thorny, the inconvenient, the ugly, and the broken parts of myself, and I am the “expert,” then what hope can I offer to the “broken” people who show up in my office?

The simple and tidy answer that the “Christian expert” would offer is, of course, I offer the hope of Jesus. And while there is truth to that – I grew up an evangelical, singing the lines, Jesus is the answer for the world today – I know that life is rarely simple and tidy. I think it’s disingenuous of us to offer up the trite “Jesus is the answer” when Jesus rarely answered questions directly when he was walking on the earth. He liked to remain silent, to tell stories or to respond with a question.

Somewhere along the line, we became afraid of questions and started worshiping the answers. Jesus camped out in the questions. I believe we will still find him there today. Because when we walk naked into the questions, we have stripped away our façade, our arrogance and our pretense, and have become those whom Jesus said he was sent to. “It is not the healthy who need a physician but the sick. But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

So after all the training, all the studying, and all the years of “becoming an expert,” what I can offer is exactly what I need myself: compassion, empathy and understanding. It is from this place that Jesus still works miracles.

Bedwork 4: Practice Sex

Here is my radio interview with Susan Knight of Calgary’s up!97.7 FM this week:

Last week, after I had done a seminar on sexual intimacy, a man walked up to me and said, “When you told us that we could have ‘practice sex’ a huge weight rolled off my shoulders.” His words reflected what I see in so many, many people. We put enormous expectations on our sexual relationships. There have to be fireworks each and every time. Every encounter has to live up to the passion that we see onscreen at the movies. Sex has to be good. All. The. Time. There is very little room for “practice sex.”

But in order to really get good at sex (yes, it’s a skill set), you must practice. I don’t just mean have sex more often, although that can be helpful too. I mean you must have times in which you consciously lower your expectations of each other. In practice sex, the two of you decide you want to get more skilled in a particular area. Perhaps she has never had multiple orgasms before, and you want to see what it takes to get her there. Perhaps he would like oral sex as part of your foreplay, and you are completely intimidated by this concept. Perhaps you are bored silly of the same three positions you have been using for the past decade and want to learn something new. Perhaps you just want to slow down a bit and not sprint to the finish line.

Here is your Bedwork for this week: Set aside one time when you and your spouse agree that you are going to try out practice sex. By agreeing ahead of time, you ease the pressure of performance. This experience is all about enjoying each other, not perfection. Then, allow for “mistakes” and “mediocre” sex during this time. Remember, to get really good at sex, you have to go through the awkward learning stage. So be patient with each other and enjoy it as much as possible. It might not be the best in and of itself, but this experience is moving you towards the goal of a deeper, richer skill set together. And that’s when the fireworks happen.

 

Play time!

There is a story that is often told of Gregory Bateson, an anthropologist and the husband of the Margaret Mead. He was asked to come observe a group of otters that seemed depressed to their zookeepers. Otters, if you didn’t know, love to play. You can watch them for hours as they leap, swim, wrestle with each other and get up to all sorts of antics. These otters, however, seemed listless and lethargic.

 

After watching the animals for a number of days, Bateson dangled a piece of paper on string into their habitat. Before long, an otter came over to the string and began to bat at it. Very soon after, another otter joined in and then both otters started to play with each other. Even when Bateson removed the paper on the string, the otters continued to play.

How did two otters – creatures that are playful by nature – stop playing? Simply put, they got bored.

 

It is very easy for couples to get bored and, by extension, stop playing with each other when they have been married for years.

 

I was recently chatting with a client, and she mentioned that her husband liked to pull out a stuffed animal, put on an alter-ego voice, and make silly comments. She didn’t have a clue how to respond. Naturally a very serious person, this activity seemed very confusing to her. When I suggested that she make a silly comment in return – something fun and playful – it made her stop and think because it had been so long since she had been playful in their marriage.

 

Are you playful together? Believe it or not, this can be one of the most effective tools to making your relationship last. If you are having a lot of fun together, it makes it much harder to split up.

 

What are you doing to be playful with your spouse? Do you need to introduce something new into your environment to remind the two of you how to play again? What will that something new be? (as a suggestion: you might want to try something different than a just piece of paper on a string!) How can you make your spouse laugh this week? Can you surprise your spouse with something that will completely delight him or her?

 

As you think about those questions, let me leave you with a video of two otters, taking a nap at the Vancouver Aquarium. They are holding hands so that they will not float apart.

Remember: Playfulness not only combats boredom, but it also engenders intimacy.

The Quickie vs. Making Love Debate

This past weekend, I was speaking to a group of pastors and their spouses on The Essential Elements of Sex. As I began to talk about the concept of making love versus having a quickie, one woman called out, “Sometimes you just need a snack!” The room dissolved into laughter and even the most shy in the room were giggling in approval.

As a coach, one of the common complaints that I hear is that the woman wants to “make love” and feels that her husband just wants to have “a quickie”. The former evokes images of a couple looking into each other’s eyes and kissing deeply while the latter conjures up the picture of getting pinned against the wall and being taken right then and there. Both can be deeply passionate, just different forms of expressing the passion.

 

Sometimes, sex will be a deep, soul-connecting intimacy with our spouse. Other times, it will just be a way to experience pleasure together quickly. Sometimes it will be a two-hour experience; sometimes it won’t last ten minutes. Sometimes it will be long and luxurious; other times it will be fast and frantic. Sometimes both spouses will walk away having experienced orgasm; other times the focus is on one person alone.

 

Difficulty arises, however, when couples fall into a rut of believing that it has to be one or the other… all the time. I have seen husbands refuse to acknowledge the need to make love and I have met wives who insist that each and every sexual encounter must be “making love”. A dogmatic adherence to one or the other undermines true intimacy. A steady diet of quickies denies the concepts of exploration, creativity, and deep communication because, amongst other reasons, there is simply no time to venture into those areas. On the other hand, if couples only have sex when they have time to make love, they might never get to it out of sheer busyness!

 

Both types of sex build intimacy if they are done in balance. Sometimes you need a gourmet meal; sometimes you need a snack.

 

Which one do you need to work into your sex life to regain balance?

Practice Makes Perfect (even in sex)

Right now, I am in the middle of fairly intense media training. My assignment is to shoot 5 one-minute videos each day. That’s not so difficult. However, later that day, I have sit down with a team of people while we all watch and critique the videos. And believe me, there is a lot to critique.

The team tackles issues such as gestures, phraseology, eye movements, expression, emphasis, content, lighting, makeup, and wardrobe. Yesterday was a particularly spectacular day because I wore a sweater that blended into the background and made me appear as though I had no arms.  Seriously, every person watching the video laughed out loud, pointed and said, “you have no arms!!” or “wardrobe malfunction!!”

It sucks.

I am deriving very little pleasure from this process.

All my insecurities and perfectionist tendencies are coming to the surface.

I want to run and hide every time the team meets.

I cringe every time a new video starts.

And yet, I am keenly aware that if I want to accomplish some of my goals for 2011 this is exactly the type of training that I need. I will only develop this skill set by completing my assignment each and every day and then learning how I can improve – not just through my own eyes, but from the perspectives of others too. It helps that when I look up from my computer to the list of goals that hangs on the wall across from me, I am able to remember the reasons why I must press on despite the fact that I am miles outside of my comfort zone.

But it still sucks.

As I ponder what I am doing, it occurs to me that it is not unlike one of the principles that I teach my coaching clients.

If you are going to become a better lover, you must practice. I don’t just mean have sex more often; I mean have times in which you consciously lower your expectations of each other. I find that we put enormous expectations on our sexual relationships. They have to be good, all the time. There is very little room for “practice sex”.

In practice sex, the two of you decide that you want to get more skilled in a particular area. Perhaps she has never had multiple orgasms before, and you want to see what it takes to get her there. Perhaps he would like oral sex as part of your foreplay, and you are completely intimidated by this concept.

Set aside time when the two of you agree that you are going to practice. By agreeing ahead of time, you ease the pressure of performance. Then, allow for mistakes (and possibly even mediocre sex) during this time.  Remember that it’s okay to not be great when you are practicing!!  The goal is learning how to become better!!

Just as I am learning as I shoot these videos, couples need to remember that in order to get really good at sex, you have to go through the awkward learning stage. So be patient with each other and enjoy it as much as possible!

I am now going to take my own advice and set up the video camera.

PS – My goal is to start rolling out “Vlogs” soon. Hopefully, I will have arms in them.

Language Affects Intimacy

From the San Francisco Chronicle, “A Communication Expert Tells How Language Affects Intimacy”.

David Cunningham offers these tips for people to avoid inadvertently talking themselves out of love:
  1. Choose Words Wisely
  2. Avoid Negative Talk
  3. Focus on Your Commitment
What do you think?  Can how your lover talks to you affect the intimacy you feel?

Post Halloween Reflections

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Since my daughter is still young, Halloween is a HUGE event in our household. The conversations about costumes and candy and safety begin literally weeks before the big event. This year, Riley’s teacher fully embraced the season and read what Riley called “spooky-scary” books to them, wore Halloween ties and pumpkin earrings, and sent home a list of ways to be safe and responsible while Trick or Treating. Riley was so excited that she could barely see straight.

One morning, she announced to me that her teacher had said that they could wear heels to the class Halloween party, as long as they “went with the outfit”.

Now, allow me to give you a little insight on my daughter. She is a fashionista. Young though she is, she has an innate sense of style – albeit her own unique style which often involves pairing pink fluffy dresses with cowboy boots and a string of costume pearls. I seriously doubt that you would find anything even remotely resembling a “Riley Line” on the catwalks of Wal-Mart much less Milan or Paris. But it nevertheless emanates from who she is and how she wants to present herself to the world.  And ever since her MiMi bought her first (and only) pair for her this summer, she has absolutely adored heels.

So after her big announcement regarding the permissibility of wearing heels, I then asked her, “What do you want to be for Halloween?”

“A WITCH!” She cried excitedly.

“Do witches wear heels??” I was a little dubious.

“THIS witch does!” She grinned from ear to ear. Her enthusiasm was matched only by her self-confidence.  However, in an unfortunate blow to fashionable Halloween witches everywhere, when we went looking for costumes, she decided that big pointy hats and black shawls were not so stylish and she ended up going as a mermaid.  And with the same enthusiasm she employed towards her first idea, she made no bones about the fact that mermaids also wear heels.

And so, when the big night finally rolled around, we dressed up and unashamedly set off to randomly knock on doors, beg for food and take candy from strangers.

Like all kids, Riley loves the costumes and candy, but I love the community spirit that Halloween builds. It is one of the few times when we actually see and interact with our neighbours. Parents linger along the streets as their children go from door to door. I met – for the first time – the moms and dads of many of Riley’s schoolmates. I walked through my neighbourhood rather than driving. I slowed down. I chatted. I began relationships.

One couple in particular stood out to me. As they walked along, they held hands and were as warm in their affection for each other as the night was cold. But when I realized that they newly dating and not married, it made me very sad that they were showing up all the rest of us who were.

But it also gave me pause to think, as I grabbed Eric’s hand and cuddled up to him.  I know for a fact that I am more in love with my husband than she is with her boyfriend.  I know this because we have 18 years of history, of moments lived and memories shared.  So why on earth would I not be more affectionate towards my husband?

So here is my thought for you: make time this week for a little PDA (public display of affection) with your spouse. Nothing obscene, of course.  But hold a hand, give a smooch, link arms together. And then write me to tell what you did and what the reaction was around you. I want to know!

And then have some left over candy as a “reward”!

Happy Birthday to Me

When one of our friends was in his twenties and his son Adam was just three, his son saw him step out of the shower.

“Dad, when I get older, will my penis get bigger?”

“Sure, son.  It will.”

“Is mine going to be as big as yours when I am your age?”

The dad felt both awkward and amused by the question.

“Well, probably yeah.”

His son thought about that for a minute, and then with eyes getting wider by the moment said, “that means that when I am forty, it’ll be HUGE!!”

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Aging is just a matter of perspective. Many people dread adding candles to their birthday cakes, but this little boy could only think of the benefits of getting older. And, in such boy-like fashion too!

Today is my birthday.

I love my birthday. Not because I look forward to the gifts, or phone calls or Facebook messages – although those are wonderful and if you are sending them to me, keep ’em coming!

I love my birthday for two reasons. The first is out of sheer competitiveness. I am trying to beat my parents. You see, my mom died when she was 46 and my father died when he was 51. Neither of them lived for very long. I very simply want to outlast them. (I am hearing Billy Joel’s song Only the Good Die Young as I type this. What that says about my desire to be “good”, I will refrain from commenting on.)

But the second reason that I love my birthday is that every year, I have accumulated more knowledge, more understanding and hopefully more wisdom. The person who I am today is happier, has a deeper sense of self, has helped more people, is more comfortable with the body God gave me, has grown in courage, has learned more from mistakes and has had more adventures than the “me” of last year. I know “me” better. I like “me” better. I can’t wait to see who “me” is at the end of each year. I have to admit that, looking forward, the idea of turning 50 just thrills me to no end!

Why do I blog about turning older on a website which is devoted to passion, love and intimacy? Because I know – from personal experience as well watching the lives of the my clients – that when you are excited about getting better with each year, your sex life gets better too. There is a direct correlation between becoming more comfortable in your own skin and getting better at sex. Why? Because sex is one of the ways we express who we are on the deepest of levels. Our wants, our desires, our proclivities – they all emanate from a place of who we are. And the more we know and understand that, the better we will be able to express it in a truly authentic way. Trust me, when you get there, it is an amazing place to be.

I find that most people who are afraid of turning older feel that they have something missing in their lives. There is something that they want to do which has not yet materialized. Perhaps it is a relationship that they are seeking. Perhaps it is career they have always wanted which has not turned out as planned. Perhaps they don’t even know – they just wander around with a vague sense of aimlessness in life. For those people, the thought of years rolling by is terrifying.

But if you are actively searching for the very best you that you can find, when you are taking the time to listen to that inner voice that acts as your compass to direct you to the reason you were put on this earth and then go after it, the years merely become a companion as you pursue what you were destined to do.

We have another friend who is 62. He was recently asked what he was going to do with his “last 18 summers”. The question was so jarring to him that he spent hours thinking of his answer. And then he made some radical changes in his life.

Can you say that every year you get better? Do you like yourself more? How many summers do you have left? Are you doing what you were meant to do in this life?

If not, you have some work to do. But it will be worth it.

Today, I am going to begin my year by having a ridiculous amount of fun with family and friends.

And, my husband turns forty this year. So, thanks to Adam’s perspective, I have that to look forward to too!