You Should Read More Fiction

I know that some people only read fiction. But, overall, I am convinced people should read more fiction. Over the years I have had many people I respect tell me that fiction is a waste of time. I get what they were saying. Why read a bunch of trashy romance novels when you could read an inspiring biographies or a captivating account of history?

There are many great reasons to read fiction. In these times, I wish more people would read fiction to gain greater empathy. Most of us live very compartmentalized lives. We often hang out with people of the same race, economic status, religious belief or political persuasion. This has not produced a more caring society. We are a society that has become a stranger to ourselves.

Let me give one example. In the NFL protests, many players were “taking a knee” during the national anthem to protest the injustices that African-Americans were experiencing. I heard many, many opinions about these acts of protest. One thing that stunned me was this… not one person that disagreed with them showed much curiosity. I never heard something along these lines: “I am really shocked by this act, it feels so wrong to me. I really need to ask an African-American why they feel this is the right thing to do.” There was such a glaring lack of curiosity to truly understand one another.

We need less of, “What is wrong with those people?!” and more of, “What don’t I understand about their perspective?” It is not so much about having to agree with someone.  I wish we had more curiosity which leads to empathy. Empathy is better than outrage when it comes to our disagreements.

Enter, fiction!

May I just put it forward that reading more fiction books that tell of stories, lives and worlds that are different to our own can be one small way we can bridge this divide.

If you feel mystified or shocked at the viewpoints of another, fiction could be a great way to gain empathy and understanding. Even if you don’t agree, a good story might at least help you say, “I don’t agree but I do understand how they got there and I get it”

Here’s some recommendations from my reading in 2017:

Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah:
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I loved Half of a Yellow Sun, the tale of a family experiencing the struggle for independence in Nigeria in the 1960’s. If you’ve heard of the many wars in Africa, this book will place you on the inside to taste, feel and experience what it is like with all it’s complexities. Great characters, great story. If you haven’t already, though, you could start with the author’s other book, Americanah. This is an absolute must read, I couldn’t put it down. It is the tale of a Nigerian couple immigrating to America. One makes it, the other doesn’t. Their journeys are captivating.

The Underground Railroad
by Colson Whitehead

This is the tale of an escaped slave girl in pre-abolition America. I loved this book because it was creative and you become very invested in the characters. The book has won multiple and well-deserved awards. Gripping, emotional and can’t put down.

The Round House
by Louise Edrich

I found this one by looking up National Book Award Winners. The setting is a Native American Reservation in North Dakota. A crime on the Ojibwe Reservation forever changes a family. This is the story of a young boys journey for justice and understanding. You will be immersed in a culture not your own. It is well worth your time.

 

Bonus:
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
by Mildred D. Taylor

My 12-year-old son was assigned this book in English class. I could tell it impacted him because he brought it up day after day. I decided to join him in reading it. It is fiction but based on true accounts of the authors family life. It is not an easy read at times. You see the reality of life for African-Americans during the Great Depression. It is well written, lovely characters and can really open up some interesting conversations if you happen to read it with your child. A good book read without your child too!

 

Books I Read in 2017

I’m so thankful I found a love of reading as a young girl and it has carried through my life. I do love reading but I also discipline myself to do it because I value how it shapes me.  Early in my marriage I read a fair amount, averaging 30-40 books a year. The arrival of babies decimated that and, honestly, the internet happened. I found myself reading a lot more short articles, blogs, etc.

The last 4-5 years my kids have gotten older so I can now stay awake longer to read. I also have found that internet reading is not as helpful or enjoyable as reading books. I’ve had a goal for about 4 years to get back up to previous reading habits. I read 30 books in 2017 and enjoyed so many of them. A friend recently encouraged me to post them. Perhaps it will give you some ideas of books you might want to read. So, here is the list.

Just briefly, I have put in parenthesis the type of literature of each book. You will see that I read a pretty wide variety of styles. I have also put an asterisk by any book that I loved and would highly recommend. I plan to release a few more posts in the coming week on some highlights.

2017 Book List:
  1. Freakonomics by Levitt & Dubner (Finance)
  2. How to Rob a Bank by Levitt & Dubner (Finance)
  3. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight (Biography)*
  4. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (Memoir)*
  5. Brave Companions by David McCullough (American History)
  6. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson (Spiritual Theology)*
  7. Half of a Yellow Sun by  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (African/Historical Fiction)*
  8. You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith (Christian-Teaching)
  9. Born A Crime by Trevor Noah (Memoir- South Africa)*
  10. The Bertie Project (44 Scotland Street Series) by Alexander McCall Smith (English Fiction)
  11. Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry (American Fiction)
  12. Ruthless by Ron Miscavige (Memoir, American)
  13. News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles (American Fiction)
  14. Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist (Christian Living)
  15. The Round House by Louise Edrich (American Fiction)*
  16. Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild
  17. The Amish by Steven M. Nolt (History/Current)
  18. The Way of the Dragon or The Way of the Lamb by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel (Christian Teaching)*
  19. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (African-American Fiction)*
  20. Growing Young by Powell, Mulder & Griffin (Christian Teaching)*
  21. What’s Wrong with Religion, by Skye Jethani (Christian Teaching)
  22. My Italian Bulldozer, by Alexander McCall Smith (English Fiction)
  23. Evicted, Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond (Non-Fiction/Current Events)
  24. Immeasurable by Skye Jethani (Christian Leadership)*
  25. Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple (American Fiction)
  26. Crossing Over by Ruth Irene Garrett (Amish Memoir)
  27. My Amish Childhood by Jerry s. Eicher (Amish Memoir)
  28. The Perils of “Privilege”, Why Injustice Can’t be Solved by Accusing Others of Privilege by Phoebe Maltz Bovy (Non-Fiction/Current Events)
  29. White Working Class by Joan C. Williams (Current Events)*
  30. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (African-American Fiction)*

 

Living for the 50

When I was a young girl, we had a lot of dogs around. A lot. My dad was breeding hunting dogs for a while so the whole puppy thing was fun (well, my mother might disagree). Eventually, though, puppies started growing and what was cute before was annoying now. A two month old labrador, what is cuter? Attempting to jump on you when their legs are only a few inches long, licking your face and biting your nose as you wrestle in the grass. All of that is decidedly un-adorable when they are two years old.

So, my Dad would begin the whole training program. Daily teaching them to sit, stay, retrieve, not pee on your couch… the whole deal. At the beginning a little doggy treat and abundant affection rewarded every behaviour. But, this constant reward system subsides as time goes on.

Let’s be honest, in marriage, we can all be growing puppies sometimes. We know what to do to make marriage successful. Give affection, listen patiently, forgive and be forgiven, serve sacrificially, communicate needs. In the beginning of the marriage we want puppy treats and abundant celebration with each completed task and chosen moment of love.

Noticing and appreciating our spouse is so important. The reality is, though, that not every act is noticed. Not every moment of love receives a thank you note and flower. There are reasons for this.

For one, it is unrealistic. Not every act of love can be noticed and celebrated.

But what do we do when we realise marriage involves a lot of unnoticed acts of sacrifice? When the reality of the work it takes comes into clear view? What do we do when there is not immediate pay-check for making the right choices? When there is no immediate reward for choosing to love and serve our spouse?

How do we make choices to invest in our marriage day in and day out when we don’t get the immediate reward?

Here’s what we say in our marriage. We are living for the 50.

My husband and I have this framed in our home:
50-new

For most marriages, the most important date is their anniversary. Celebrating the day they got married. We have another date the we look at every single day, September 14, 2052.

On this day, by God’s grace, we will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary.

This is the day we have before us day in and day out.

We don’t want to live because we once got married, when we looked so perfect and saw barely a flaw in each other. We have chosen to also live towards a day in the future. We want to live our marriage in a way so that we will still be married on September 14 2052. And not just still married. But having a marriage full of the life and love that we long for.

I want to love my husband not for today’s reward but rather towards the vision I have of our 50th.

Some days I serve my husband and there is an immediate reward… an affectionate hug, a thankful word. But many days there is no immediate gratification. Many days we annoy each other to no end. Many days our communication feels like we are literally speaking different languages.

In those moments, that framed date reminds me to not just love Chris for today’s reward. Whether he notices or not, I’m living and loving for the 50. I make daily decisions in our marriage that will get us to that 50th in the way we want.

Today’s culture tells us to “live in the moment” and “do what’s good for you”. Some moments what is good for me is a sarcastic comment and silent treatment towards my husband. That’s what would feel good in the moment.

Don’t forget to live for the 50. When you live your marriage for the 50 you don’t always do what feels good in the moment, you make daily little decisions that invest in a future reality.

Some days I think, “Why should I be generous towards him, he won’t even notice?!” In that moment, I think of September 14, 2052 and remind myself… live for the 50.

We don’t arrive happy, in love and best friends at our 50th because of one grand event or one big romantic gesture. You arrive there little by little. Day by day. Living each day for the 50.

The One Question to Ask Before Marriage

Recently, my husband and I have been doing more pre-marital counselling. This has been both fun and challenging.

Chris and I have had to really sit down and ask, what does the couple absolutely need? What are the questions we absolutely must ask to help them have a thriving marriage? What must a single person look for in a potential spouse?

I’ve been thinking, if I could only give them one trait to look for, what would it be? One way of knowing if you should or should not get married. One question that needs to be answered.

This is my question: How do you define the word love?

I reserve the right to change my mind. But, for now, I can’t think of a single more important question for a potential mate. How they (and you) answer that question will determine the health and joy of your marriage more than any other thing.

When they say, “I want to marry you because I love you”. What do they (and you) mean by that little word, love?

Once all the feelings are there. All the tingles. All the goofy grins. All the, “I love the smell of your hair” moments.

How do you define the word, love?

If I may, can I give three answers that you should run from?

The Compatibility Myth

If someone defines love as “you are the perfect fit for me”. Run. If that is the best they can give you, it’s not good enough. If they say, “You are the Whip to my Nae Nae”. Run.

This version of love says that I will show affection and commitment to you as long as we get along. As long as I feel that we are in harmony. As long as your personality syncs with mine. As long as this works, I’m in.

Here is a promise. If you get married, at some point in marriage you will feel that you are not compatible. It’s a guarantee. For goodness sake, someone wrote a book saying men and women are virtually born on different planets; Venus and Mars. We can feel very far apart in marriage, even when we are sleeping side by side. We can feel very out of sync. We can feel that the other just doesn’t “get” us. Even if we married a person who is perfectly compatible in all our personalities, hobbies and beliefs… we change. You change.

The truth is, we will feel incompatible at times. Another definition of love is needed to survive and thrive in marriage. This version of love will only further alienate and steal hope.

The Feelings Myth

We should know this. But it bears repeating. If your significant other defines love as a feeling. Don’t run, sprint. If they say, “I know I love you because I’ve never felt this way before” or “because my heart has never longed to be with someone like you.” That is all good and romantic (feelings are important)… but not the definition of love you should be looking for.

If their words somehow describe love as a feeling. That is romantic. But, those feelings will go away. And when those feelings go away (or develop in the direction of someone else!)… Where will you (and your children) be left?

The “You make me a better me” Myth

This would make a great line in a movie or the topic of a full season of Oprah specials.

We want to marry someone who “makes me the best person I can be”.

Your spouse just might just make you a much worse version of you. When they are grumpy. When they are impatient. When they aren’t as kind in their words. When they say something hurtful. When they don’t listen. Sometimes they will be that thorn of sanctification.

This is also unhealthy. Jesus makes you a better you. Of course our spouse should support us. They should encourage us towards all God created us to be. But they are not God. And this is God’s role.

You won’t always feel like your best version with your spouse. And when those seasons happen. How they (and you!) define love will determine where this all ends up.

The Truth

There are many definitions of love. Love as romance. Love as friendship. Love as sexual desire. These are all forms of love we experience.

But if you are getting married and you ask your potential mate, “How do you define love? The love we need for our marriage?”. I hope you hear some version of this:

The Cross.

Love as romance. Love as friendship. Love as that familiar comfort of a person that knows you through good and bad all grows from the soil of love as the cross. Sacrificial love leads to feelings, feelings don’t lead to sacrificial love.

You need a love that says,

I will prefer you above myself.
I will serve you.
I will ask forgiveness for my wrongs.
I will listen to you even when it’s hard to hear the answers.
I will not give in to selfishness.
I will swallow my pride.
I understand that I’m imperfect and that will affect you.
I will tell the truth.
I will keep my promises.
When I want to escape. I won’t. I’ll still come home to you.
When it’s hard, I won’t give up… because love doesn’t give up.
I won’t just think about how I feel, I will consider how you feel.
To love you means this will cost me something. I willing to pay that price for you. I commit to it.

Of course no person does all those things perfectly. Perfection will never be attained. But, if this is the love definition you both commit to from the day one.  The love you aim for. I can’t think of a single better place to start.

So, how do you define love?

Photo Credit: JM Scott

You need this type of woman in your life.

In 2015 I launched a new ministry endeavour to women called The Exchange. We held our first weekend retreat for women in October. A time for them to get refreshed and encouraged. This was a long-held dream becoming a reality. So although it was humble beginnings to most, it was a big deal to me.

It was the first night of the retreat. In the middle of trying to track down lost women on their way to the venue and figuring out where everyone was going to sit for dinner, I got a phone call.

“Hello?”
“Hi Lindsey, It’s me, Gillian!”
“Who?”
“Gillian… from church!”
“Oh, Gillian!”
“Are you at your retreat?”
“Yes!”
“Well, I just called to say, I’m praying for you and I wanted you to know that. It’s going to be a wonderful time and you will bless many women. Keep going and enjoy every minute. I support you!”

Oh. My. Goodness.

Now, Gillian is 70…ish. I know her from church, have been in her home and she is so lovely. She has followed Jesus more years than I have been alive. I had mentioned this retreat to her but not a lot. How she remembered that it was that specific weekend is a mystery to me. But she remembered. And she was praying.

The fact that she called me… it just sent courage straight down in to my toes.

You see, I’ve got a secret weapon in my life and it’s called older women. I’ve seen the power of having older women in my life. I actually seek it out now because they are simply the best. The support, encouragement and wisdom they offer is one-of-a-kind.

In scripture it actually commands the “older women to teach the younger women”. Often we side-step this verse because it has been used to trap women into being Sunday School teachers or doing Women’s ministry in the form of tea parties. While the men do the real work.

But, let’s not miss out. Older women pouring into younger women. Older women can give us something that we are so desperate for. They often have a courage and steadfastness that comes from years of fighting battles. They have a wisdom that comes from successes and failures. They know God in a way that is so attractive to me because it has stood the test of time. They have a perspective that I lack.

I have some great older women.

I have Judy that listens to me and tells me to “God can be trusted!” When Judy says, “Lindsey, you can do it, you can trust God in this journey. He is a big God.” I believe her. My doubts fade and my vision of God get’s bigger.

When Joanne listened to me as a 20 year old and sincerely said, “I’m proud of all you are doing”. My heart grew more full.

Some days I’m trying to keep it all together and look strong. Then Susan says, “How are you doing? You seem tired… can I give you a hug?” I’m like, “Forget strong and put together! I definitely need a hug! And some of your coffee… can I come to your house and drink your coffee?”

And my Mom, of course, who has told me approximately 3,415 times that she is so proud of me and to never stop obeying God.

There are more older women, I could go on. Each one has been significant to me.

When Gillian says, “I’m praying for you, good job!” it is different than when a 25 year old says it.

Not better, just different.

When an older woman says, “Yes, raising kids is difficult, I’ve been there.” It is different then when one of my friends says it.

So, to all the “older women” in my life. I thank you. And I say, younger women need you.

If you are a younger woman and don’t have this in your life… you are missing out.

A month after the phone call, Gillian typed out a verse that was significant. She had glued it to a pretty piece of paper and gave it to me with a hand-written note on the back.

It was just so special to me that this wise and faithful woman took the time to do that for me… verses on colourful paper! I can’t even. I still have it in my bedside stand and re-read the verse often.

No matter how old you are, what older woman could you seek out and say, “Could I come to your house and drink your coffee?” You will be glad you did.

Photo Credit: Tiago Vidal Dutra

Straining to See the Light

I first set foot in South Africa in 1996. This was two years after their first democratically held elections. The icon Nelson Mandela was president. Every thing seemed so new. I knew little about South Africa when I moved here as a 19-year-old but I caught on quickly. This was a nation in transition and it was happening right before my very eyes.

Every day was living history. Simple things left me amazed. A black man driving a car in a formally white area would be exciting. One time I explained to my white South African friend that when black and white people married, they did not have mentally disabled babies. I then marvelled as this new information registered with him. Seeing new businesses started by formally marginalised people felt like a reason for a victory parade. Every thing was just so full of hope.

I have now lived here for 13 years and am facing a territory that I never anticipated. I’m struggling to hope for the very nation that defined it for the world. This took me completely by surprise.

I have always been able to find a reason for hope. Even when there is literally no reason to be hopeful. One of my students would be hauled off to jail but I had hope that as soon as he got out, things could be turned around. Hope was always there.

For some reason, life chipped away at hope. I didn’t even know it was happening. Little by little. News headline by news headline. Corruption story after corruption story. Electricity blackout after electricity blackout.

I can’t point to one exact moment. One day, I woke up and realised, “I’m not sure how South Africa’s story ends.” This was a painful realisation for me. It is uncharted waters. Whereas hope was always there, if even a glimmer… I could now no longer sense it or perceive it.

Somehow, through the years, I had embraced the South African past-time of despair for our collective feature.

In the midst of this, God spoke a question. “What happens when those who carry within them the hope of the world, no longer have hope for the world?”

Initially this seemed more painful than helpful. What sort of Christian am I? Not a hopeful or helpful one it seemed.

I let the question turn in my heart for weeks and months. I just sat in it.

God brought me to these two important realisations:

Hopelessness is not a place we can reside in for long as Christians.

When those who carry the hope of the world no longer have hope for the world… it is a dark place indeed. A place of despair.

This is not a word of condemnation. It was a word of protection. I could not stay in this place. It would kill my vision. It would kill my motivation. It would kill my spirit. It would leave me in a place of personal despair. When we find ourselves in a place of hopelessness for a nation, community or situation then we need to be active to get support and help. Hopelessness it not something we just “hope” goes away.

Hope is not the guarantee of an outcome, it is the promise of the Lord’s presence in a situation.

I don’t hope because I have a guarantee in South Africa’s future. I have hope because the Lord is and will be present.

Psalm 130 describes hope as the act of waiting for the Lord’s presence like a watchmen waits for the dawn.

The Lord’s presence.

Do I know what direction South Africa will head? No, I really don’t. What about France, Syria, Libya or the United States? We don’t know the outcome.

Hope says, “I will not stop straining to see on the horizon the arrival of God in this situation.” I don’t know the future but I can wait with an expectation that God will be there. Just like a night watchman knows the sun will appear on the horizon.

I don’t know what the future holds but I know who will be there. Hope is the act of straining to see glimmers of Him where there appears only the darkness of night.

Hope is in a “who” not a “what”. Hope is not the guarantee of what will happen. It is the guarantee of who will be there.

I had become consumed in “what is happening” in this nation. I needed to recast my eyes on the hope of the world. I needed my soul to wait for the Lord once again.

I look beyond the signs of imminent doom. I find ways to strain towards the horizon, nervously longing to see how God might appear in each situation.

Hope never denies the painful realities of the world. Hope see’s those realities and has a quiet confidence that they will not have the final word.

Hope is rising, slowly and tentatively. It is a glimmer. The very first signs of dawn. That is the very essence of hope.

Sitting, waiting, straining to see God appear, like a watchman for the dawn.

How are you doing with hope for your nation, community or situation?
Are you hoping in a “what” or a “who”?
What would it look like for you to be a watchmen waiting for the dawn?

Photo Credit: Sean MacEntee