Declaration of Independence

This year was a year of being slow for me. It was a year of stepping back from what I considered, at the time, overwhelming responsibilities. I set aside a few months to rest in order that I could be healthy for the long haul.

So, that was the goal at least. What did I do with that breathing space that I created you might ask?

IndependenceWell, I travelled through more airports than I can even count. I packed my bags and my childrens bags and travelled from one end of America to the other and back again (and again and again). I home-schooled my children in the process. We bought a house here in South Africa and thought, “With all our free energy we need to renovate this thing before we move in!” I spent the days before Christmas packing and moving house.

In the process of almost single-handedly painting the entire house (that includes ceilings, rafters, the whole shabang) I had a moment of clarity. “I think I’m more independent than I first realised… I think I like to do things on my own without any help.”

The fact that this seemed like a small “revelation” is astounding (especially to my husband!). Astounding at my stupidity. Astounding at my blindness. Independent? The Declaration of Independence should be my life’s mission statement because that’s how I seem determined to live.

I start out with such ideals.

Vow: Need people more deeply.
Small Print: But not too much and always on my terms.

Vow: Rely on others.
Small Print: But only so far and use precaution.

Vow: Ask for help more.
Small Print: A good time to do this is when I have attempted it on my own for an extended length of time.

Vow: Trust people.
Small Print: Dangerous territory, use extreme caution. Only if absolutely necessary and all other options have been exhausted.

When all the other options have been exhausted I’m simply left exhausted.

This is my tendency and I’m starting to realise that it will always be my battle to fight. I’ve grown and come so far. But, for this sojourn on earth, my temptation will always be to go it alone. There will be seasons of healthy and wonderful interdependence but I need to have safeguards against veering off-road and heading into the wilderness.

I know this isn’t everyones temptation. Some of us cling too strongly to others in unhealthy and (at times) destructive ways. We make individuals our gods, the ones we think will bring us wholeness and healing.

If only ______ helped me, I would be ok.
If only ________ loved me then my life would be full.
If ________ leaves me my life will be over.
Only _______ truly “gets” me and understands me.

These are all signs of unhealthy dependence. Their mantra about people is captured so well by Jerry Maguire, “You. Complete. Me.”

All of the above statements make me throw up in my mouth a little. Sorry.

I’m just so independent.

There’s a support group out there for y’all who truly believe this dysfunctional dependency is love.

I’ve got my own support group… just me, myself and I attend it. Perfect. Heaven. Dysfunctional.

This is the catch of how God designed life.

We cannot be whole and healthy through people.
We cannot be whole and healthy without people.

Our saviour cannot be people (or a person). Our Saviour does not work apart from people.

My dear, lovely Jesus. You’ve got my number and I know it.

I’m trusting God to rid me of this “Declaration of Independence”. I’m thinking that I need a “Declaration of Asking for Help Next Time I Decide to Paint My House From Top to Bottom”. It’s a step in the right direction, right?

What about you? Are you looking to others to define your worth and value? Or are you reaching for a barf bag just reading that sentence?

Photo Credit: Rob Walker

The Beginnings of Friendship

I read the most surprising thing in the Bible last week. It not only seemed strange but I always believed the opposite was true. As soon as I read it I stopped, “I am going to have to think about this one… that makes no sense to me.”

“The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him”
Psalm 25:14

I must have scanned over this many, many times over the years. I looked at it with fresh eyes.

Friendship with God is connected to fear of God.

I don’t know about you but I’ve heard quite a few “fear of the Lord” sermons in my lifetime. I’ve even read a few books on the topic. None of them left me feeling like God’s friend. Not in the least bit. In fact, I’ve often heard in these sermons, “Stop making God merely your buddy and friend… we need to have a healthy fear of God and his holiness!”

That’s not what God says. He says friendship is for those who fear.

What am I getting wrong? Why don’t those two legos fit?

Then it struck me.

Friendship is Being Known

The holiness of God is deeply connected to God being God, not a mere man. God being perfect in all his ways. Being righteous and unchanging as opposed to sinful and fickle.

When we come to God as a Holy God, we are basically saying, “Ok, you are not an idol that I make in my own image. You are the true God that is who He is. I don’t shape you, you shape me. I don’t decide who you are, you reveal who you are.”

This is the beginning of friendship, isn’t it? To know someone for who they truly are. For someone to be vulnerable enough to be truly themselves without hiding.

I don’t step in and say, “To be my friend, you actually need to be like this.” When that is said, there is no possibility for friendship.

Marriages often go through phases where one of us wants to change the other. Sometimes the phase turns into a lifetime. We think in our mind, “If only you would be a little bit more like this or a little less like that.” When I go down that path, the creeping distance between my husband and I is almost tangible. Even though I never said a word of it to him. I am not allowing him to be who he is.

So, friendship with God is not just connected to his closeness and humility, it is deeply connected to his holiness. For Him to be who He is, and us to humble ourselves and allow Him to reveal that, is the beginning of true friendship with him.

Friendship is Standing in Truth

Holiness is also deeply connected with truth. I don’t see scripture refer to holiness without truth being deeply weaved in. Lies, deception and sin do not go together with fear of a holy God.

God’s holiness is also his sinlessness. We can be friends with God because there is not sin and deception.

The same cannot be said of people and our friendships. Friendship with anyone is fraught with difficulty because of our fallen nature. On offer is to enter the realm where I see who you are in Christ and also see who you are apart from Him.

Perhaps that’s why poets through the ages have always said finding a true friend is so rare. It is a scary and dangerous path to tread.

When I am messy and sinful I’m not just saying, “Accept me!”. I also say, “I’m allowing you to see parts of me you won’t approve of it all!”. It’s risking that we will choose to steadfastly communicate through the hurt and pain that comes with seeing people for who they truly are.

Friendship is standing in truth for one another despite how dark the circumstance.

Where does friendship with God begin? With me humbling myself and saying to God, “I want to see you for who you truly are, not who I want to shape you in to.” It’s realising that truth makes this possible and sin would destroy it but for His grace.

Where does friendship with one another begin? With each person humbly saying, “It’s safe here for us to expose who we truly are… even when it gets ugly and painful. Stand in and for truth on my behalf and I’ll do the same for you.”

Friendship with the Lord is for those who fear Him. It’s more true than I first realised.

Photo Creditfr: Elizabeth Albert

“Do you understand anything I’m saying?”

My son and I were driving to the butcher when he looked off in the distance. We were discussing the pros and cons of using golf carts on a golf course (as we do).

“You know Mom, I think the reason old people don’t use golf carts, is… they’re old… carts can be used for…”

A long silence enveloped the car.

He looked up at me, “Ummm, I have absolutely no idea what I was going to say so never mind about that!”. We laughed together at the humour of it.

He suddenly said, “If I forget my thought in the middle of my sentence that must mean I’m becoming a grown-up!”.

“Yes, son, losing your words (and mind) is a definite marker of growing up”

A few days before that my husband and I got in a tense conversation over absolutely nothing and almost everything. All at the same time. Does that ever happen to you too? I was frustrated and couldn’t find the words out of the swamp of confusion, so I just walked away. My husband came back to our bedroom where I was hiding (as he always graciously does). He started talking, tentatively searching for a way out of a simple argument over a child’s car seat. Yet it was really about so much more.

Communication, words, listening, talking, all that stuff… it isn’t easy is it?

These words of Eugene Peterson struck me:

Because we speak our language so casually, it is easy to fall into the habit of treating it casually. But language is persistently difficult to understand. We spend our early lives learning the language, and just when we think we have it mastered our spouse says, “You don’t understand a thing I’m saying, do you?” We teach our children to talk, and just about the time we think they might be getting it, they quit talking to us … A close relationship doesn’t guarantee understanding. A long affection doesn’t guarantee understanding. In fact, the closer we are to one another and the more intimate our relations, the more care we must exercise to hear accurately, to understand more thoroughly, to answer appropriately.

I don’t want that to be true, but my experience affirms what he is saying.

Modern culture makes false promises about love and communication.

The deeper the love, the wider the years; the less the effort to communicate.
In true intimacy, we should know what the other is thinking even before they say it.

If only either of those statements were true.

The converse of this is old married couples warning us, “communication takes hard work people!”. So, the options become either effortless communication (not attainable) or a life-time prison sentence to hard labor (not enjoyable).

The truth is deeper than both these.

Communication will not flutter down on the wings of a dove like a moment of “eureka!” Nor will mere back-breaking work get us there.

Communication takes commitment, it is a heart issue. An unmovable heart to stay there and journey the path over and over until the right tributary is found. Not giving up until the path to understanding is walked upon.

Communication takes intention. True, deep communication takes days and months of chipping away at a thought or feeling of the heart until both can see it clearly. This is humbly sought after with immense amounts of love and care of the other.

Communication takes grace. True heart-felt communication is a messy and danger filled path. There are so many opportunities to hurt the other (whether friend, spouse or child). So many chances to be mis-understood. Constant temptations to build more walls than bridges and to throw our hands up in exasperation. Immense grace is needed.

Perhaps you are like my son who can’t find the right words in the right moment. Or like me who is tempted to hide in your room instead of treading deeper into a conversation that has no clear-marked exit.

Either way, there is only one path to deeper intimacy in our relationships. Communication. Get there by any means necessary, the journey is worth the destination.

The Good ‘ol Days Are Ahead of Us

I’m not one to pick on old people (hi Dad!) but I’ve been noticing a common refrain coming out of the 60 and older crowd (There, that’s my marker for old… old ain’t bad but it is… old).

It goes something like this,

“Things sure have changed. Back in my day, life was simpler. Back in my day, there was a right and wrong and we all knew the difference. The way this world is going… it makes me shudder.”

Lest I pick on the all you old ones, I see my generation grabbing this outlook and running with it. Where do we get this? Overly rosy history books? Stories from our grandparents about the “good ‘ol days?”. Perhaps it is the constant news telling us that marriage is in ruins, young people just want to smoke weed and play video games and terrorists are hiding in bushes.

good-days

By: Vic

The contrast to the present world circumstances is the shiny and rosy past.  Things were just better back then. The present, however, is dark and out of control. The future, we only speak of in whispers because it is unthinkably bad.

Fear grips us. Pessimism reigns supreme. Exasperated sighs can be heard across the land. What are we to do when the present is bad and the future is fear-inducing?

If you find yourself in that place, here’s a few thoughts to consider:

The past wasn’t so rosy.

I was recently in the United States for an extended visit. People were constantly warning me of how far America has fallen. I heard comments along these lines often.

I bit my tongue but wanted to say,

“Were those good ‘ol days when Rosa Parks couldn’t sit in the front of the bus because she was black? Was it when children worked in factories or when women couldn’t vote? Perhaps it was when we bought and sold slaves? When, precisely, were the good ‘ol days?”

My heart was not be snarky… but truly, we idealise the past. Let us remind ourselves that the past was not as rosy as we want to believe. Every single generation has had it’s challenges and mountains to climb. Every generation. Our current generation is no different.

In fact, if you read your history books (including the Bible) you will see that often, the past was much, much worse than how events are unfolding today. This perspective should re-assure us that our situation is not unique.

The fear can be real.

Even with this reminder, the fear can be real. The challenges can be intimidating. It’s ok to acknowledge that.

I think to be more accurate, though, I should say “I’m intimidated by the challenges today”. That is more in line with reality and empowering. I can’t change the situations but I can grow in my peace and trust in God. This gives hope and joy in the midst of trials.

We should not claim that, “I have a right to be trapped by fear because these world events are unprecedented!”. It is both a false statement and a dis-empowering one. My life and future is not controlled by circumstances “out there”. The reality is that God is sovereign and he can work in my life for peace and goodness. God can give us the wisdom to face our mountains.

The only response is light.

Today has challenges and so will tomorrow. What is our response?  All the more to trust God, continue to flourish, and stand against it by living lives that plan for a hope filled future. We should not stop having children (a very real consideration of many). We should not stop reaching out. We should not stop building towards the future.

Jesus revealed to us that the only way for darkness to flourish is the absence of light. As for me and my family, when we see darkness, I want our first response to be… let’s light a match! Not, it’s never been darker, run for the hills!

Hey, old people, help us out!

To those who are older and wiser: you do damage when you constantly paint the past as some utopia of flowers and daisies. Past generations, you got some things very right. Well done and thank you! You also faced challenges and often didn’t respond well. This isn’t being negative, this is actually being encouraging.

We need your stories of success and failure. It does not give us hope to hear that you had it all figured out and we are stuck with a society falling apart for the first time. It’s not true anyways, right? (see above for confirmation of this). Doesn’t scripture show us to not shrink back from telling both the victories and failures personally and corporately?

Here is what you can say,

“These days we are facing a lot of challenges. But, you know what? My generation faced a lot of challenges too. God has the wisdom and strength for you to lead us forward.”

Say that. Or something like it. Just please don’t say, “I long for the good ‘ol days when everything was perfect… too bad for you and those like you that messed it all up.” Definitely don’t say that.

What about you? Are you scared of the current state of the world? How could your perspective shift?

SHE is marrying HIM?!?

I love seeing people get married. This is nothing short of a miracle considering that marriage was at the very bottom of my goals in life. Well, that is before I met my husband Chris. Funny thing how that works.

Marriage does not solve life’s problems (it creates a few more actually). Marriage is not a utopia of romantic bliss. Marriage is not for everyone. I know this. With all of this, many people still want to get married and I think this is a good thing.

Those who know me also know about my “prayer list”. This is a list of people that I regularly pray for… that they would meet someone who would be their best friend in marriage. I have to say, these last few years have been good one for me. I’ve been crossing people off the list one by one as wedding bells have been ringing. (I’ve also had years of stagnation to the point that people wanted off my list because it wasn’t helping!)

In the midst of all this, I find another conversation going on. As singles are longing for, loving and pursuing someone there is a chorus of friends that are cheering publicly but doubting privately.

The doubts are varied and many:

Does this couple have what it takes for marriage?
Are they a good match?
Do they have any idea what they are getting themselves in to?
Shouldn’t someone tell them the hard truths?
Aren’t they being too naive and not counting the costs?
Is it a good thing that “she” is marrying that “he”?
Does “he” really want to marry that “she”?

We all can think of couples that married, all the while everyone had doubts in their mind if it would actually work.

Here’s the big question: “When do you say something and when do you keep silent?”.

I’ve thought about this a lot. I’ve boldly gone to friends months before the big day, said the hard thing and gotten the response, “Did I ask you?! Keep your advice to yourself!” Other friends have come to me after a first year of marriage that was full of tears and sorrow. They have looked me in the eye and asked, “Did you have doubts about this relationship and not tell me before the wedding?” Gulp.

So, when should you say something to a couple that you are concerned about? Here is the grid that I use:

When to pause before you speak.

“They have no idea how hard marriage is”

This is the most common thing I hear by myself and others. This is said by married couples who also had no idea what they were getting themselves in to on the day of marriage. If the only reason you want to say something is to give this couple an “education on the reality of how hard marriage is” then perhaps you should keep quiet. No one has a clue on their wedding day what is ahead.

“No one is being direct enough with them!”

This is also said by people who actually aren’t involved in the day to day of the relationship. I have actually had people come and ask me to step in to a relationship where I was not invited and did not know the couple very well. Others simply perceived that I was able to be “direct and honest” with the couple. I declined. I don’t fancy myself a professional “hit man” on those headed to the alter.

When to speak up and speak in love:

If they have invited your input.

If someone in the couple has invited my input, then I am obligated, by love, to ask the hard questions. I have been given permission to do so!

When the issues are repetitive sin.

If I see issues from the outside that are blatant, un-dealt with sin… I feel the Christian community can approach them with concern. I once asked a girl, “Does it concern you that your fiance regularly get’s drunk on the weekends to blow off steam?”. I knew her but not well. She later thanked me for being bold enough to ask the question.

When no one else is speaking in to their life.

Just because no one else is invited does not give me an automatic right. But, if I see a couple that I love “going it alone”, it concerns me. I will simply encourage them to find another older, wiser couple to walk with them. I have seen many times that one or both resist this because there are dysfunctions they are hiding. Overcoming this resistance is not always successful but I give it my best shot.

I might say something like, “I love you both so much. Marriage is difficult but wonderful. I want to strongly, strongly encourage you to find someone that can ask you both the hard questions as you prepare for your big day! If you need suggestions for people, just ask.” I then follow it up later and ask them if they have acted on my advice.

So that is my grid, what about you? Are you bold enough to ask the hard questions or are you too bold and an unwelcome counsellor in a couples life?

By the way, if you are actual friends with an engaged couple, here are 3 simple questions that will help them immensely! You don’t need to be their wise sage, but can raise the value of having input in any couples life!
  • Who are you going to for pre-marriage guidance and counselling?
  • How are you doing with preparing for the wedding, is there any way I can help and support?
  • Do you have people that you can talk to after you get married?

Christianity is a crutch. And other true statements.

If you are a parent, or around kids for any amount of time, you know how they love a good cover-up. My boys can compound a deception with another lie in record time. I love being a parent because I know EXACTLY what they are doing and they seem oblivious that “I AM ON TO YOU, BUDDY!”

So often, one of them has something in their hand. Candy, an off limits electronic item… just anything they know is contraband. They see me, they subtly hide it. But, I know. I know the whole thing.

“What are you doing?” I ask.
“Nothing” they reply in a contrived innocent tone.
I prod some more, “Do you have something in your hand?”
“No, nothing, I’ve got nothing”
Smiling sweetly I say, “Well you are adding lying to your thievery, it’s all going down-hill isn’t it?”
“Mom!!! How do you know!!?!”

How? Because Mom’s and Dad’s know. They see all the great things about their kids but they know the rest too.

Too often, the cover-up becomes a life-long way of living. Even as adults, we are reluctant to come out of hiding. If we can hide, we will hide. That seems to be our default ever since the Garden of Eden.

Why do we do this? Our Father knows. He’s watching it all. We are that kid with the contraband chocolate chips from the kitchen cupboard.

Why? Because we still have a death-grip on a faith that is about me and what I do instead of about Him and what He’s done. When it’s about me and what I do, cover-up is necessary, hiding is essential. In order to measure up we have to cover up anything that feels messed up.

Our inner life becomes like a Queen Size mattress with Single bed sheets… something is always exposed and we are constantly trying to fix that.

So goes the great life-long effort at covering up our weaknesses, failures and sins. And when we do this, you know what happens? Crap. Crap happens. That’s the truth.

My son covers up stealing with a lie. Then he lies about the lie. Then he starts accusing me of being unfair. Then our relationship because distant and hurtful.

When I lack humility and honesty I am doing the same thing with the same consequences to myself and those around me.

Living a life of constantly trying to avoid exposing the unseemly bits destroys us and our relationships. It may be slow but it is unrelenting.

What’s the markings of a Christian? Love? Patience? Peace? Yes. But before all that our first act is one of honesty and humility. We can’t let it stop there, the gosepl is not an event, it is a way of life.

Some people say to me, “You know, religion is a crutch” or “Religion is for weak people”.

I don’t deny this at all. In fact, that just is not taking it far enough in my opinion. Faith is not a crutch, it’s a stretcher. Jesus is for dead people. Jesus is for weak people. Jesus is for tired of the cover-up people.

Who do I want to be? I want to be this:

God: “Lindsey, what’s in your hands”
Me: “It’s stolen candy!! And that’s not all, I’ve got a bunch of crap in my pockets that doesn’t belong to me! In fact, things are pretty messy here God!

All our relationships need deep honesty and humility. Our relationship with God would be deeper if we’d be quicker to transparency. Humility and honesty is the oxygen to a life-giving marriage. We are willing to work with anything, if our kids would just be quick to be open with us. A boss, so often is willing to extend mercy if the employee will confess right away an error.

What about you? Christianity is for messed up people. This is the truth. In what ways can you dive more deeply into humility and honesty with God and those around you?