Greetings from America-land

About 3 weeks before I left South Africa I had a final coffee with my Pastor’s wife, a woman whom I have immense respect for. She had, herself, done what I was about to do. That is, leave an adopted homeland to move back to her country of birth. For them it was to Pastor and lead our church in Cape Town. For us, it was for Chris to become a Pastor at our church here in Lancaster, PA.

I remember her asking me, “What do you plan to do in America? Have you thought about that?” I replied, “Well, I really feel strongly to not make any immediate commitments and just take the first 6 months to settle.”  She smiled kindly. I thought that taking 6 months was very self-aware and wise of me.

She looked me in the eyes and smiled.  She then said in her classic, direct but caring way, “Oh, six months is just the beginning… it will take you 2-3 years. There is no way around that.”

I smiled back and thought, “Well, we’ll see.” Famous last words.

In this process I have been off social media a lot. Facebook has almost gone the way of the dinosaurs for me. I quickly realized that my “processing” posts on Facebook would elicit some very defensive Americans who felt I was being too negative about America (and felt to tell me this). So, I stepped back. I wasn’t in the place to receive criticism from people I barely talked to.

So, I have been quiet on social media but I do want to give an update for many who care and wonder how this move has been. For the many friends who have e-mailed or messaged and just never got a reply from me (forgive me!).

So, this is an update from American-land, (almost) 18 months in.

The Boys:

We have felt a lot of care and love from people asking about how the boys have adjusted. I would not be exaggerating to say, they have flourished. It has not been easy. They still face challenges. But they are well.

Absolutely everything was new to them. To be dropped off one day in a new school in a foreign country (remember, America was a foreign country to them)… and have Mom and Dad say, “You can do this!”. That ain’t easy.

They have figured out new schools, new friends, new church, new food, new homes, new languages (Farewell Afrikaans and Xhosa! Hola, Espanol!). In the midst of it we’ve had lots of funny moments that have made us all laugh. They have gained a full vocabulary of Mexican foods. They now know enchiladas, burritos, tostadas, quesadillas and more! They also now know that Tacos are an actual ethnic food from Mexico and not a food their mother invented in South Africa. They still drink Rooibos tea. They have never accepted the mayonnaise and bread here (“Absolutely disgusting, Mom. Why don’t they have regular mayo?”).

Church has been a highlight for them (after they got over the shock of how big and loud it was).  After the first Sunday, I asked Thabo how he found church. He replied, “Well that whole experience was super American!” We both intuitively understood what he meant by that. But after the initial cross-cultural adjustments, they found their place.  Both volunteer with the young kids on a weekly basis. They also attend the Youth Group, are in Small Groups and really feel a sense of belonging. We are thankful.

Garett continues to play Rugby and Soccer. Thabo continues to play Soccer and has joined a basketball team.

When hard days come, they have the dog who has been a therapy pet for us all. Well, maybe not Chris but he likes him most days.   

They are doing well.

Personally:

I think most people knew that I would have never chosen to leave South Africa. There was not a day in 15 years where I said, “I wish I was in America”. Not a day.

Since we have left, there has not been a day where I said, “This was the wrong move”. Not a day. That has been a grace. Every step of the way I knew, in God’s wisdom not mine, this was the right move.

In the conversation with my Pastor’s wife she said another thing that struck me in between the eyes and heart. It was this, “Lindsey, you may be moving for a job for your husband. But, He doesn’t call one person and have a plan for one to flourish. God calls you all and has a plan for all to flourish.”

Those words have not just been a hope, they have been a reality.

There are many thing that are still very unknown to me in America-land. The repeated question we got from friends and co-workers in South Africa was, “But…. But, what will YOU do Lindsey?!”

They knew I was not one to sit on the sidelines and observe life go by. I always was on the move. I took on a lot of responsibilities through the years. Always tackling challenges. I did not hide in my husbands shadow (which he loves). But the thought of moving for an opportunity for Chris and not me was strange to everyone around us.

This season has been different. I have not purposely hidden but I have been still. I needed the stillness more than I could ever comprehend 18 months ago.

I could go on forever but I’ll highlight a couple of things.

Firstly.

I initially settled, furnished, painted and renovated my whole house (it’s small tiny addiction I have). I got the kids on their way with school and sports. I got a counselor.

I’ve always valued having a counselor in my life but this one has been different. She had a skill set that I needed. I go very regularly and haven’t slowed down for a year. I’ve cried a lot (well, for me). I knew I had a lot of pain that needed attending to. It has not been comfortable or pleasant.

The internal and emotional shift that has happened has been significant far beyond my expectations. I won’t go into detail here since it’s not really your business:) But, if we moved to America only for this… it would have been worth it for me. Healing and health feels good. I’ve still got a ways to go. The distance I’ve travelled so far has been significant.

Secondly.

For the last 10+ years I have struggled with chronic pain. This involved regular and increasingly frequent migraines. Constant and overwhelming muscle tension in my neck and scalp. The pain had become so frequent and constant that I was in significant pain about 90% of the time. My life had sadly come to that.

Moving countries is not helpful for chronic pain sufferers. Even with my prescription medication, which I took daily, I had to go to the ER a few times. The last few years I had grieved my new reality and accepted that this would be the rest of my life. I could write a book on how chronic pain had altered my life and relationships. I had made use of every medical doctor and intervention possible.

I’ll save you from the book for now. But, today as I sit here, I haven’t taken pain or migraine medication in 5 weeks. In the last 5 months I’ve taken it a total of about 10 times (compared to daily before). I’ve learned a lot about chronic pain through counseling, reading books and other crucial conversations.

My counselor told me one day, “If you had just described your life to me, I could have told you in detail your physical reality. None of this is a surprise.” I learned the physical impact my emotional life has had on my body. There has been a lot of sadness around the loss of healthy years.

By the pure grace of God a friend texted me one day and said, “Hey, I just read about this phone App for chronic pain sufferers. I’m going to check it out, you should to.”  I did check it out and realized it was exactly what I needed.

Yes, you read that correctly a phone app. It is called Curable (For those interested, you can read this, this and this.)

I’m not trying to be a used car salesman (although this company has my forever undying love). It’s just the truth, this app has changed my life. Words I never dreamed I would say.  It is a resource that is based on all the science behind how chronic pain actually works in our bodies. It is hard work. It has been a process. It has been a grace to me.

All this to say, between the tool of Curable and my counseling, I’m healed. I am in that stage where I wake up each day and still think, “Wait, I’m not feeling any pain. What?!”. I don’t think the shock of  being pain-free will wear off any time soon.

Not only that, going off all my medication has been phenomenal as it affected my mental and physical clarity more than I realized.

Once again, if we moved to America for this, I’d do it a million times over.

Thirdly.

My husband is amazing. I just have to add this. He has taken on a new job with courage and skill. He has walked alongside the boys and I with compassion and grace. As always, he has supported me every step of the way. In this process, not once did he say anything but, “Take your time, Babe, there’s no rush to be anywhere but where you are.” More than once he has asked, “So, when is your next counseling appointment?” Ha!

In closing. For those asking, “Ok Lindsey, wonderful news! But what are you doing with your days and what are you going to do with your life?!” (I do get asked that exact question often).

I don’t feel the need to run my schedule by you but I do want to say, I’m happy. I’m not panicked about finding the answer. No, I don’t have a job. I haven’t found my niche yet. But, I’m content. My days are pretty full doing this, that and the other.

I am feeling more ready to answer the question, “Ok, what do I want to do?” I’m glad I haven’t rushed the process.

God didn’t call one, he called all four of us. I know this.

God’s plans for flourishing are not for one, they are for all four of us. I know this, too.

Greetings from America-land. I’m glad I’m here.

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