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

Beyond a Simple “Thank You”

I was visiting the home of a co-worker, sitting, chatting. Scanning her bedroom I settled on the spot above the head of her bed. There, fixed to the wall, were three small items. A picture, a scripture verse and a thank you card.

The card was from me.

A few weeks previously I had taken a few moments to thank her for the amazing work she was doing in her job. Here it was. Placed so that she could see it and be reminded every night and morning that someone simply said, “thank you”.

Those two words go deep and sometimes we forget that. They simply become the words of polite society. The lack of them a sign of bad manners. Rudeness, perhaps. Nothing more.

When my husband and I were engaged to be married, we were soaking in all the advice we could get. Go on weekly dates! Sacrificial love! Communication! Invest in intimacy! All the important and big ticket items was passed on. One couple said something that we would only understand years later, “Never, ever, stop saying, please and thank you”

I’ve thought about this a lot lately.

A friend was telling me about a simple lunch he was having with his leader. It was one of those, transition-wrapping-things-up type of lunches. As soon as I heard, I felt a feeling like a knife to my heart. The rest of the day I felt so down

Seeing this co-worker get thanked was bringing back a flood of memories where I had never been thanked. It was surprisingly painful.

I reflected on times when I had poured my life into a job, project or relationship and no one bothered to say, “thanks”. The impact I felt, even today, took me off guard.

I know there are times we throw tantrums when we don’t get the recognition we think we deserve. But, this was not a tantrum. I think I was feeling a healthy level of hurt. God was teaching me something.

Gratitude. It is not just about being polite and avoiding rudeness. It’s not simply good manners.

The Apostle Paul lists ungrateful people alongside those who slander, have no self-control, are conceited and treacherous. Let’s just say he doesn’t have a high regard for them.

This past week, I’ve been busy sorting through my own hurt and suddenly seeing gratitude very differently. I’m realising gratitude goes beyond good manners. Paul shows us it is so much deeper than that.

Gratitude says to a person, “I see you. I recognise you. I value you.”

A simple “thank you” can do that.

Gratitude moves a person beyond a simple cog in a machine.
Gratitude stops a gift from being an expected transaction.
Gratitude recognises gift-giving as a chance to connect hearts and relationship.
Gratitude affirms our dignity and humanity.
Gratitude says, “I don’t just affirm what you did, I affirm that I see you in the act.”

In the day to day transactions of life, gratitude boldly refuses to dehumanise. It refuses to say, “She has to do that, it’s her job” or “It’s just the teller at the bank” or “That’s just our tradition to give gifts”

It is one person saying to the other, “That act is valuable because you are valuable. I’m grateful.”

Researchers have found that children who say, “thank you” often also tend to be display more kindness, empathy and compassion towards others.

Gratitude is not just good social manners for children, it teaches them that others have intrinsic value.

I’m wondering where my lack of gratitude made people feel invisible. Where a simple “thank you” could have brought deeply needed value to human beings who sometimes do tedious work. When could my “thank you” have said, “I know your work is not just an obligation but an expression of your giftings and heart”?

I now know why we were told to never stop saying “please” and “thank you” in our marriage. What they were really saying is to never stop truly seeing each other in the daily mundane acts of life. Never stop saying, “I value you. I see you. I’m grateful.”

Grattitude. An act is valuable because the person is valuable.

Saying “thank you” is the daily practice of declaring a persons value in God’s eyes and ours.

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks

The Temporary Break-Up

When crisis hits, we cry out.  Bad times come, religious fervor strikes. We cry out, “God, come to the rescue!” It’s kind of human nature. The amazing thing is not that we do this. The amazing thing is that God actually responds to such shallow cries of desperation.

The book of Judges cycles over this sort of situation, ad naseum, within the nation of Israel.

The people of Israel said to the Lord, “We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day. So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord” (Judges 10:15-16)

God is merciful, so he did rescue them. They put away their idols as a show of good faith. In order to secure a rescue from very bad circumstances.

This is human nature: we change actions or habits in order to gain a temporary reprieve or rescue.

We change because we can no longer manage the consequences of our actions, habits and true heart desires.

We do not throw away our idols because we relise they are false. We throw them away because the consequences of serving them is temporarily too great. Once the consequence becomes bearable again, we quickly rush out to the dustbin, brush off the idols and welcome them back with open arms. We never threw them out because we hated them. We just couldn’t live with the reality of loving them as much as we did. So, we took a little holiday.

The classic picture is of an alcoholic. The drinking goes from bad to worse. Family threatens to walk out. Law enforcement threatens to lock up. Employers threatens no more grace. So, the alcoholic says, “I’m done! No more drinks!” Of course, this won’t last. He doesn’t truly hate the alcohol. The consequences simply got to be more than he could bare. At least for now.

It is winter here in South Africa. That means my boys need to wake up in the cold and dark for school. The desire just isn’t there. I found myself coaxing, cajoling, coaching, outright threatening. The whole circus was employed to get the oldest out the door on time.

I finally said, “Enough!”.

Now, my boys get to play a video games for 30 minutes a day on a Saturday and Sunday of each weekend. That’s all they get, so weekend video game access is highly anticipated.

On the way to school I said, “No more! If you don’t wake up, get ready, do the whole shebang without a word from me, then no video games. No warnings. No threats. Poof, it will be gone. I can’t do this anymore, it ruins my mornings. You know what to do and I need you to do it.”

The next morning was a picture of military precision. The day after that was the same. Up early, dressed, packed, teeth brushed, not a hair out of place. I hadn’t seen such a turn-around in a while.

This morning I pulled my son aside and thanked him. “I just so appreciate that you listened to what I said. Thank you for respecting me. Thank you for stepping up and making the changes.”

What a son I had, listening to his mother!

Without missing a beat, he looked at me and said, “Oh Mom, I live for video games. If I loose that I couldn’t survive!”

Just like the Israelites. Just like me. My son was the same. He didn’t change behaviour out of true heart transformation. He changed because the consequences had temporarily gotten too great.

What about you? What issue do you keep coming back to? What idols do you keep digging out of the dustbin after you swore you were done with them?

Perhaps the truth is, you simply threw them away because the consequences of serving them had gotten too great.

We all do it. “That’s it! I will never over-eat again! I’m done!” Perhaps our blood pressure was dangerously high or the doctor was giving us dire warnings. The current consequences caused us to declare a holiday with our idol of food. But, once the storm passed, life returned as normal.

When change in our life is not precipitated by deep heart work we can be sure the idol will return as quickly as it departed.

These are the questions I’m asking:
How could I journey with God this?
How can I move towards truly choosing God over idols? Choosing because He truly is more beautiful and merciful and my heart knows that and chooses that and truly rejects the idol.
In what areas am I only “returning to God” because I need a break from a toxic relationship with something that will never truly save?

Photo Credit: Cory Schmitz