The Sunflower

A warm summer rain drizzles down this morning, fogging up all the windows of our house.  I can barely see through it to my lone sunflower growing, just about to open into a beautiful beacon of joy.

That simple sunflower warms every crevice of my heart.  It makes me think of late summer days and fields overflowing with tiny sunflowers, bouncing and waving as I drive past, windows down, breathing in their scent mingled with that of dry pine…simpler times when I was mostly naive to the hard things of life.

My heart is not so naive now.  Life is full of hard things…within my family, friends, acquaintances, and the world at large.  I fully see now that life is not simple and peaceful like it was when those Flagstaff sunflowers greeted me.  It is broken, messy, and many times, sorrowful.  Yet, even in the broken a sunflower reaches up toward the sun.

God promises His peace, but His peace is not that of an easy life with few bumps in the road.  It is a peace within even when all is tumultuous without.  It is not found in the events and circumstances surrounding us…but in the deepness of our hearts.

This morning as I was reading Numbers 6:24-26, I was struck by how the Amplified version defined God’s peace: “tranquility of heart and life continually“.  God’s peace doesn’t ebb and flow.  It is constant.  In light and darkness…joy and sorrow…always.

When the storms of life beat down, may God’s peace pour over us calming our hearts…always.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with gratitude, make your requests known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will protect your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:6-7

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Dandelions

Little yellow dandelions nestle in the grass outside my window.  My children are constantly picking them and bringing them to me thinking they are “sunflowers” and I’ve never had the heart to correct them.  They know I love sunflowers, and so their gestures are some of the sweetest, most genuine that I could receive.  Yet sometimes I tire of the shriveled little remains littering my house, stuck into cups and bud vases.  Sometimes I have this urge to scream, “These are NOT SUNFLOWERS!!!  They are just WEEDS!”  Weeds that cover my grass reminding me of the perfectly manicured lawn that my yard is not. That yard is so representative of my life.

You grow up as a little child and you dream.  For me, I dreamt of little feet running around in a well-ordered home, delicious meals always cooking on the stove, and a handsome husband who came home at the end of the day tired but happy.  I dreamed that I would have everything organized just so, and that my children and I would always be put together.  I dreamed so many things.

Instead, I find myself living a life that’s just a shadow of those dreams.  Little feet do run around our home, but it is less than ordered.  Crumbs sprinkle the floor and dishes sit dirty in the sink.  The chaos of our lives encroaches on our very home.  As I type this at my dining room table, I have to deal with a mattress leaned up against it.  Boxes and tools mingle with the living room furniture.  Many days, the only things on the stove are empty pizza boxes.  My husband doesn’t often come straight home from work.  Instead he heads to our project house and works for a few hours before coming home and falling into bed exhausted and anything but happy.

My life is far from organized and put together.  I cleaned out my car last week, and four days later it was back to its cluttered, crumb-encrusted self.  My children (and myself) can often be seen out on in public in a hodge podge collection of apparel featuring stains, mismatched colors, and tangled hair.  I now avoid like the plague the certain Walmart employee who drew attention to my children loudly bickering as I was trying to scan groceries a few weeks back.  As I write this, it’s Friday afternoon, the mattress is still obstructing my view, and I have no idea what I’m going to make for dinner.

In those dreams I dreamed, I never thought I’d be living in the midst of a remodel project, dealing with a rental property business, or going through a season of such busyness and chaos.  I never thought I’d be dealing with so many health issues in my extended family in the past year, or that my mom would still be living in California 6 months later helping her parents, or that our downstairs would flood, or that friends would get in terrible accidents, or that friends would lose children, or…the list goes on and on.

I realize now that maybe those dreams I had were never what God meant for me.  “My plans are not your plans”, He says.  But what does that leave me?  Am I to just sit in despair and be okay with all of those unfulfilled dreams?

The thing I so often forget is that when He doesn’t fulfill my dreams or thwarts my plans, it’s because He has far, far better dreams and plans of His own.  His plans may not be our plans, but He does have them…plans for His glory and for our ultimate good.  Plans that take so much into account that we could never know.

My heart has been squeezed with painful things so many times in this past year.  Yet as I come out on the other end, I can see that He’s been using that pain to teach me and shape me.  I’m not the same woman, nor do I have the same walk with Him, as I did a year ago, and I wouldn’t be able to say that if it weren’t for all of those hard, painful things I’ve walked through and watched those I love walk through.  I’ve learned that when my heart is breaking, His is breaking too, and as I fix my gaze more and more on Him, I watch Him take these broken pieces, these shattered dreams, and these heartaches into His loving hands.  I watch Him not make these bad things good, but instead work them all together for good.  I see Him take away my faulty, uninformed plans and dreams, and replace them with His own.

You see, happiness is not found in fulfilled dreams.  It’s found when we give up our dreams and embrace His dreams instead.  It’s found when we learn to not just go along with His plans, but take joy and fulfillment in them as well, no matter how hard or painful they are.

I don’t know where you are today, but I would venture to guess that your life isn’t anything like you thought it would be.  Maybe your life is full of pain right now.  Maybe your plans are constantly falling apart.  Maybe you’re just not in the the job, marriage, or family you always thought you’d be in.  What I do know is that, while these may not be part of your dreams or plans, they are part of His.  Whatever He has planned for you, He will equip you for, whatever His dreams are for you, there is beauty to found in them, and whatever sorrows you have experienced, He will work them together for good.

My house is chaotic, but it is warm, snug, safe, and full of memories.  My children are never well-dress or well-behaved, but they are my children and they still want to crawl up in my lap.  When my handsome, hard working husband finally does make it home at night and falls into bed, it is me he still wants to snuggle up with.  After two babies, seven years, stretch marks, and fights, he still comes home and wants to be with me.  Our lives may have been full of hard things this past year, but they’ve also been full of joy and laughter, love and growth.  Our days are so far from perfect…but there is beauty in the imperfect.

My lawn will probably never be weed free and well-manicured.  The only yellow flowers available for my children to pick will most likely always be dandelions.  Yet, how much joy and love and beauty am I missing out on when I snub the dandelions whilst dreaming of sunflowers?  Sunflowers are beautiful…but dandelions can be too.  They may be weeds, but they are yellow, cheery, and impossible to kill.  They don’t need diligent watering, fertilizing, or weeding.  Most importantly, the love my children have for me pours over me every time they pick a tiny weed and bring it to me…the love of my safe, healthy children, might I add.

Dandelions can bring even more joy than sunflowers.  I just need to learn to embrace them.  And really, it doesn’t matter if my grass is perfect or weed ridden…I can still lay in it to gaze at the wonders of God’s creation…and the beauty He’s placed in it, just for me. 

The “Jah Jah” Song

We were eating breakfast this morning and, as usual, Miles was talking about a million words per minute.  The poor kid is so quiet in public that no one would ever guess how truly capable he is of talking your ear off.  I was about to start tuning him out when he said, “And, Mommy, who was it that wanted to sing the ‘Jah Jah’ Song again?”

I was stopped in my tracks.  It has been a week, to say the least.  Both my grandparents were hospitalized, our downstairs flooded Sunday night, and it seems like it’s been one thing after another proving that, quite literally, when it rains it pours.

But then my sweet 4-year-old asked me about the ‘Jah Jah’ Song.  

You see, the ‘Jah Jah’ song is a little family story that was told to me by my mom, and that I, in turn, have told to my son.  The story goes that, when my mom and her two younger brothers were children, they and their parents were on a road trip and were singing songs.  The youngest, Mark, said he wanted to sing the “Jah Jah Song”.  Guesses were thrown out, but nobody could figure out what song he was talking to.  Finally, Mark broke down in tears sobbing, “The ‘Jah Jah Song!”.  At last something clicked and somebody finally realized what he was talking about…”I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy”.

My heart was warmed that my son would remember such a story.  “It was Uncle Mark,” I told him. “When he was a little boy.”

“But now Uncle Mark is all grown up, right?” Miles queried.

A shadow passed over the memory, “Well, yes, he did grow up.  But Uncle Mark is in heaven now.  He died when I was a baby.”

Miles fell silent for a minute.  I knew he was thinking.  He’s been wrestling with this concept of dying and going to heaven.  He knows that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, but, quite honestly, he doesn’t want to leave his home and his “cozy bed” and move anywhere.  Not even heaven.

At last he spoke, “But, Mommy, I will get to see Uncle Mark when I go to heaven.  Isn’t that so exciting?”

“Yes, Baby, it is.”

Lord, even in the midst of chaos and hardships, let me see the good.  Let me have the faith of a child.  Most of all, show me how to shepherd these two precious little hearts you’ve placed in my care.  Help me to point them to you.

 

The Stillness and the Truth

Some many days I feel like I’m just treading water–struggling to keep afloat but not really going anywhere.  Waves come at me over and over, but for the most part the water is still and there is no current.

I used to love being still.  I treasured it.  These days, however, more often than not the stillness is suffocating…and inside my heart is anything but peaceful.

Can I be honest with you for a moment?  Sometimes being a stay-at-home mom is a really lonely place to be in.  Many of my days don’t even involve conversation with another adult.  Amidst the loneliness, I am constantly being bombarded with thoughts that I am not enough…that other women do so much more ministry and work and reaching out to others than I do.

Yet, even with all the stillness of not really “going” anywhere, I struggle to keep my head above water.  My days are full of repetitive, mundane, and yet inexplicably stressful tasks.  My house is never clean like I want it to be, and the laundry is never done.  I can’t even keep up with the “simple” tasks of a stay-at-home mom, let alone find time for “ministry” or “work”.

But then, God speaks to me like He did to Martha.  “Caitlin, Caitlin,” He says. “Do you not know that I have called you for such a time as this?  You worry about many things, but one thing is needed.  Your identity and worth and daily goals should be from Me alone!”

And I look into the beautiful blue eyes of my children, and realize that in the bustle of trying to “do enough”, I have neglected to really look and listen to them lately.  I have forgotten what my days are supposed to be about…training and teaching these sweet little gifts in the fear of the Lord.  I have forgotten to make this the sole focus of my days, and have forgotten to delight in this work as my life work for this season.

And I look into the pale blue eyes of the man who won my heart, and realize that I’ve also neglected my relationship with him.  I’ve forgotten that spending time with him is a must and a need.  I’ve forgotten that it’s okay to stop working and just sit and watch a show with him on the rare day he comes home early from work.  I’ve forgotten to seek out and do what would help him better to do his work.  I’ve forgotten to seek and pursue him.  In my self deprecation I have forgotten that he could care less if the house is spotless as long as it’s tidy.

And I look around at the wonders of creation, and realize that I’ve neglected my relationship with the Creator of it all, my First and Truest Love.  I’ve neglected to sit with Him, listen to Him, and delight in Him.  I’ve forgotten how to just sit and open my eyes to the gifts He’s given me.  I’ve forgotten to see those gifts around me and within nature, and to thank Him for them all.

 

Thank you, Lord, for this beautiful calling You’ve set for my days in this season of life.  Forgive me for focusing on what I’m not doing instead of on what You’ve called me to do.  Help me to find joy in this season of life.  Help me to find joy in the stillness and repetitive tasks.  Thank You, Lord, for the gift that is this stillness.  

 

halfdome

Dear Single Girl: What The Bible Says About What Matters in a Man

There is nothing sweeter and more innocent than a couple in the blossoming stages of young love.  The other day my 3-year-old asked me why I was smiling so big, and honestly it was because I was reading a text from a friend who is in the throes of it.  She was experiencing what almost every young woman hopes to experience.  Sadly, though, as the years inch ever forward, I still find myself with many, MANY single friends still aching to experience that and marry the “man of their dreams”.

I don’t think their singleness is their “fault” by any means, and I absolutely do not think that marriage is the end-all goal for a woman.  But I do know the growth and happiness it’s brought me, and I know that many of these single women do long for and dream of marriage.  Yet, there seems to be a general pickiness that is throwing road blocks in their path to love and marriage.

Sometimes the pickiness comes from their own high standards and expectations.  Other times, the pickiness stems from their parents and friends having too high of standards for them.  Don’t get me wrong…there’s nothing wrong with having high standards!  Only, sometimes I wonder if these standards are really biblical…and whether these women might be much happier and much less single if they stopped holding fast to man-made “spouse shopping lists” and relied instead on just the Bible.  

Another friend of mine, who is very happily married, shared with me the three things her father and her thought were important in a spouse for her.  In almost every case, if the answer is “yes” to these three things, then there is very little that wouldn’t be able to be worked through.  I think these things are highly biblical and I share them with you today:

1.) Does he love the Lord and have a real relationship with him?

Frankly, I think this one should be an obvious necessity.  Why would you want to be married to someone who didn’t serve your Savior, who will not be a spiritual leader in your home, and who will not be nodded and prodded by the Holy Spirit?

But if you need more convincing than that, look no further than 2 Corinthians 6:14:

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” 

If marriage isn’t a yoking together, then I don’t know what is.

But, really, if he’s seeking the Lord first and you’re seeking the Lord first, then what can’t be worked through?

But how do you know he has a real, active relationship with the Lord?

Obviously there are a lot of fakers out there (Josh Duggar, anyone???).  But the Bible is pretty clear how we know the truth from the lie…look at the fruit.

Luke 6:45-45 says:

“For each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.  The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

Sometimes a lack of fruit is the sign that something isn’t quite right.  A guy can talk a great talk, and even talk up his Bible reading and memorization…but what fruit is there in his life?  What ministries is he involved in?  Furthermore, does he not just attend a local church, but is an active member in it (Hebrews 10:25, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31)?

Finally, watch for the little signs of fruit.  One of the biggest assurances to my heart of my husband’s salvation is after we’ve had a fight.  I know that the times when I hold my tongue and just pray, he will undoubtedly come back to me and apologize and make things right.  The Holy Spirit is constantly tapping on his shoulder, and he’s listening.

2.) Does he love you?

Again, this seems like an obvious one, but it means so much more than that feeling of being in love that’s a crazy mix of emotions and hormones that people call “being in love”.  That’s usually what starts it, but from there it becomes a daily choice to love and cherish you, no matter what.

But let’s look at what the Bible says.

Ephesians 5:25, 28-33a (and I love these verses in the Amplified):

“Husbands, love your wives [seek the highest good for her and surround her with a caring, unselfish love], just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her…Even so husbands should and are morally obligated to love their own wives as [being in a sense] their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own body, but [instead] he nourishes and protects and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members (parts) of His body. 31 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall be joined [and be faithfully devoted] to his wife, and the two shall become [e]one flesh. 32 This mystery [of two becoming one] is great; but I am speaking with reference to [the relationship of] Christ and the church. 33 However, each man among you [without exception] is to love his wife as his very own self [with behavior worthy of respect and esteem, always seeking the best for her with an attitude of lovingkindness]…”

The Bible doesn’t say, “Husbands, make sure you have an amazing job for your wife.  Husbands, be perfect for your wives.  Husbands, be able to stand on your own two feet without your wife.”  Its merely says love your wives, sacrificing yourself for her daily.

No man can love you perfectly as Christ does, but if he’s genuinely trying and loving you out of a love for Christ, then you’ve got a catch indeed.

3.) Will he take care of you always?

I’m not talking about providing a big house for you and making all of your dreams come true in that area (although that’s not necessarily a bad thing either!).  I’m talking about he will always work hard to provide the necessities plus some for you and your family.  Titus 2:5 says that the older woman are to exhort the younger women to be “keepers at home”.  It would follow, then that a husband is supposed to be able to provide so that his wife can do that.

1 Timothy 5:8 says that:

 “…if anyone does not provide for his own, that is his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

So, obviously there has to be a balance.  He can’t just sit on his rear end all day and expect money to fall off of trees, nor should he expect to be able to provide for all of his families needs by working a minimum wage job his entire life.  Yet, providing isn’t the same thing that most equate it with today.  The Bible says absolutely nothing about a man having to be ambitious, have high aspirations, or have a “good” job.  (Because we all know a “good” job means nothing more than a very well paying one.)

Look closely at other verses in the Bible as well.  The Proverbs 31 woman is bringing in money for her household  (I’m not advocating that every woman has to work, just that her bringing in money didn’t make her husband “lazy” or a “bad provider”).  The Proverbs 31 woman blesses her husband and he gains because of her.  He is lifted up to a place of honor and respect because of her.  My guess is that he wouldn’t be where he was if he didn’t have such an amazing wife standing behind him, helping and supporting him.

There’s also Matthew 6:25-34, that tells us not to worry about what we’ll eat or wear, but to seek first the kingdom of God.  And the qualifications for church elders and overseers in both 1 Timothy 3 and Titus mention that he must not be a lover of money or greedy for gain.  1 Timothy 3:3 says specifically that he “must not be a bully, but gentle”.  How many “successful” men in the world today could be considered “gentle”?  Are we looking for men that are successful in the world’s eyes, or God’s?

Finally, I would add a fourth standard…

4.) Do you love him and want to marry him?

He may be a great guy and he may be crazy about you, but don’t even think about marrying someone unless you feel the same way about him too.  Make sure you know your heart.  Make sure you know that you could honor and respect and love him.

Furthermore, think carefully about whether the dreams and callings in your heart line up with his.  If he feels called to be a missionary in Africa and you feel called to raise a family in your local city, then there’s a problem right there.  Do your God given missions line up?  Can you serve God better together rather than apart?

Think of Priscilla and Aquila in the Bible.  They were an amazing husband and wife team that served the Lord together (how many women in the Bible are mentioned by name alongside their husbands?).  They were a team in occupation (Acts 18:3 says that they were tentmakers), they were a team in their knowledge and proclamation of the Gospel (Acts 18:26), and they were a team in their sacred calling and mission.  Do you feel like you could serve together in that way?    (This article is a really interesting read for more on them.)

So think hard about whether you want to marry him.  Going all the way back to Genesis 24, Rebekah was given the ultimate choice whether she wanted to go and marry Isaac (a man she had never met) or not.  Her parents wanted her to stay longer, but she agreed to go right away.  It was her choice.  Her heart.

Your friends and parents and even the guy you’re dating may love you dearly and want what’s best for you, but they aren’t you.  They don’t know the secret things God has laid on your heart, and they certainly can’t know what’s in your heart.

So don’t marry a guy just because everyone thinks you’re “perfect” for each other.  Don’t marry him even because he’s crazy for you.  Marry him because you love him and want to marry him.  Marry him because you know without a doubt that God is calling you together, for His ultimate glory.

 

 “Then Adam said,

‘This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.’

 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”

Genesis 2:23-241936213_10209013585717488_7295882737241859114_n

Introverts…God Made You Brave

Would you believe me if I told you that I used to throw up before going into a new group where I didn’t know anyone?  Because that is 100% completely true.  On the way to the airport the morning I flew out to the conference where I ended up meeting my future husband, I puked in my dad’s car.  And that wasn’t the first time…nor was it the last time.

I was born an introvert, through and through.  I liked people, but I got my energy from being alone.  And I was painfully shy.  My younger sister still reminds me of the time our mom sent us into the gas station to pay for drinks and I made her do it because I was too afraid.  As I turned from a child into a teenager, I relied on others to introduce themselves first and seek me out.  The mere thought of having to go up to a stranger and start a conversation invoked incredible anxiety in me.

And then there was the time that my 17-year-old self sat in my mother’s car crying, because I was too afraid to go into my first college class.  It was silly, and she made me go anyways, but I promise you I really was deathly afraid.

Then somewhere in the space of the next three years, I changed.  Or rather, God changed me.  Over and over and over again He put me into situations that were out of my comfort zone.  But the funny thing was, each time I stretched out of my comfort zone, my comfort zone only grew.

Today, I feel pretty comfortable going almost anywhere and talking to almost anybody.  It’s still a challenge for me and I’m still most definitely an introvert.  When it was my turn to lead the small group discussion at Bible study last month, I did so with a knot in my stomach.  I honestly still hate calling people on the phone, and I still hate public speaking, but I can obviously do them both when necessary.

What’s my secret?  I’ve come to realize that God is so much bigger than any piddly little fear I may have.  Furthermore, when I focus on my fears, I become self-focused rather than God-focused.  When we are so focused on our own fears and anxieties and insecurities, we’ve taken the focus off of God and put it squarely on ourselves.  My guess is that, if you’re an introvert, your world probably does revolve greatly around yourself and your enjoyment of alone time.  And there’s nothing wrong with being an introvert if God made you that way.  But I don’t believe that He made you an introvert so that you could use that as an excuse to be self-focused.  If anything, He wants to use your introverted ways to show you how big He is…to show you that He’s got you right in His hand, and that He can be trusted.

To quote Nelson Mandela (although, to be honest, I feel like I’m quoting Princess Diaries here…anyone in my generation know what I’m talking about?):

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

When we give in to our anxieties and let them keep us from acting, going, or saying, we may just be doing exactly what the devil wants us to do.  He knows that if he can keep us living according to our comfort zone that we will never live life fully as God intended.  He knows that if he can keep us blaming our introvertedness for our inability to act, that we will never step up and realize the bravery and courage that God has instilled in us.     

We all have fears and insecurities and comfort zones.  But, friends, God didn’t create you to live in those fears and let them dictate your life.  He never intended you to use your introverted self as an excuse to keep you from living and working for Him.  God didn’t make you to dwell and act in fear.  God made you brave.

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 “Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Ephesians 6:10-12

 

*PS: This post is the combination of some thoughts I’ve been mulling over for a while, and the Bible study I’ve recently studied…Priscilla Shirer’s The Armor of God.  It’s been very challenging for me…and I highly recommend it!

 

Caitlin

Dear Single Girl: True Love (and Real Men) Wait

I grew up in the area of True Love Waits pledge cards, Brio magazine, and Superchick singing about princes starting as frogs.  Saving sex for marriage was practically drilled into my head.  Looking back, one strange thing I remember was that there was a huge emphasis on “if he loves you, he’ll wait”.  Notice, the idea is that he’ll wait because you want to…not because he sees the value in it or wants to wait himself.  Over and over I read lists of ways to tell a guy “no”, tactics for making sure you didn’t “go too far”, etc.  I remember distinctly feeling like the overarching message was that guys, even good Christian ones, had no self-control.  It was up to us women to set and stick to standards…up to us to not let our raging hormones take things too far.

In certain Conservative homeschool circles, this idea has been taken as far as to include both sexes.  Apparently nobody can have convictions and standards and stick to them…hence the need for these people called “chaperones”.  Because, we all know that when we get married all temptations and the need for self-control suddenly disappears.  NOT!!!

You know what, though?  It doesn’t have to be that way, nor should it.  Ladies, I want you to know that before my husband and I were married I never had to tell him “no” or “stop”…never had to argue to him the merits of “waiting”.  You see, the truth is that if a guy actually has a real, active relationship with the Lord and is pursuing Him daily, he won’t be some brainless, hormone-controlled, sex-obsessed ape.  A guy that’s really seeking the Lord will have his own convictions and standards.  A guy worth giving a second glance will be actively fleeing temptation on his own.  Sure, we all slip up and make mistakes, but a man who has the Holy Spirit living within him will never pressure you, rely on you to keep things in check, or be unable to control himself.  A man after God’s own heart will not just submit to your convictions in this area…he will take the lead himself.

Bottom Line: A man worthy of your heart will be controlled by the Holy Spirit living within him…not by his hormones.  Don’t settle for less, Ladies.