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 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

Five Women to not Forget on Mothers Day

Mothers Day, a wonderful time of joy and appreciation for millions of women and families. As with any holiday, it can also be a hard day for some.

If you have a Mother who is still with you, make sure you tell her exactly what you are grateful for. Even if it is as simple as, “Thank you for giving me life”.

Whatever this day is like for you, it is also an opportunity to reach out to those who experience pain or sorrow on Mothers Day. We all know at least one of these five people on Mothers Day.

Those who struggle with infertility

Infertility is one of the most painful challenges any couple can face. Take time to pray for those who struggle with infertility. If you know them well, take time to just simply say, “I don’t know if this day is hard for you but I want you to know I’m thinking of you and praying”. Don’t make empty promises or give pity. Simple heart-felt words can mean a lot.

Those who have lost a child

Is there anything more painful than to lose a child? I honestly can’t imagine what could be. For some, Mothers Day highlights the child they have lost… either by mis-carriage or the death of a child that they were able to hold and mother. Take time to pray for them… a day mixed with joy and sorrow.

Those who have lost a Mother

Especially if the loss is recent, Mothers day is bittersweet for those who have recently lost theirs. It often brings the joy of remembrance and the pain of loss. You could pray but sometimes actions show so much love. How about inviting someone into your home on Mother’s Day? Give them time to share what they loved and valued about their Mother. Ask questions and listen to their stories. Let them reminisce. Once the immediacy of death has passed, many don’t have an opportunity to share the stories they long to remember.

Those who are estranged from their children

Mothers Day can be quite painful for women who are estranged from their children. There are so many possible reasons this came about. A child who rejected their mother. A child who disconnected because the relationship was painful or dysfunctional. It really doesn’t matter and is never straight-forward. No matter who made more mistakes… a mother almost always longs for relationship with her child. If you know of a mother who will not be invited over for dinner because of an estranged relationship… why not reach out and make space for them in your home? Or perhaps just a small gift to recognise the Mother they are.

Those who have impacted you like a Mother

Don’t forget to tell those “almost Moms” what they mean to you! A women doesn’t need to have given birth to or adopted you to influence you like a Mom. Today is a great day to bless those “other Mothers” in your life.

If your Mother is around, bless her and show her your love! But, don’t forget, there are many women around us that would be equally as blessed by our love and affection on this day.

Photo Credit: The U.S. National Archives