Book Notes: The Storm-Tossed Family by Russell Moore

The Storm-Tossed Family by Russell Moore is the final of the 4 books I have recommended from my reading in 2019.

I’ve read a lot of books on marriage, singleness, dating, friendship, parenting and sexuality. The Storm-Tossed family has been my favorite of them all.

In The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home, Russell Moore connects the reality of our experiences in families to the cross of Christ.

If you are looking for a book of “Top Ten Ways to Parent Your Children” or “Life Hacks for a Single Christian”, this is not it. This book is for those longing for a voice to speak deeply to the brokenness of our families and the hope of Jesus and His Kingdom.

It was a pleasant surprise to read a book about family that does not make an idol of it. What a cup of cold water to have someone say, “Marriage and children is not the pinnacle of the Christian life”. This is a book that seeks first the Kingdom of God, not the American Dream with 2.5 children.

To give you a taste of the truth and wisdom found in this book, here are a few quotes that stuck with me through the year.

“In both the blessings of rain and the perils of storms, we lose our illusion of control. Family is like that too: the source of life-giving blessing but also excruciating terror, often all at the same time.”

The Storm-Tossed Family, page 3
“Family humbles us. Family humiliates us. Family crucifies us. That’s because family is one of the ways God gets us small enough to fight the sort of battle that can’t be won by horses or chariots but by the Spirit of the Lord.”

The Storm-Tossed Family, page 21
“Family is a blessing, yes. But family is only a blessing if family is not first.”

The Storm-Tossed Family, page 57

“The church is not a collection of families. The church is a family. We are not ‘family friendly’; we are family.”

The Storm-Tossed Family, page 60

“In the first sight of a new baby, whether by ultrasound technology or in person, we say, ‘It’s a Girl!’ or ‘It’s a Boy.’ We do not say, ‘It’s going to be a woman one day if she finds a man,’ or visa versa.”

The Storm-Tossed Family, page 77

“A covenantal view of marriage would show that you are not partners keeping score on your contract agreements, but you are one flesh, committed to love and serve each other not because of what you can get out of it, but because you simply belong to each other.”

The Storm-Tossed Family, page 112

We have “an individualized view of marriage in which my spouse will always be ‘the one’ to meet my needs, and an individualized view of the gospel in which Jesus exists to meet my needs just as my spouse does, except for eternity.”

The Storm-Tossed Family, page 168

“You cannot know why you’ve endured what you’ve endured. You can know, though, that you survived. You bear wounds, yes, and they make up a part of who you are. When you first encounter the Lord Jesus at your resurrection, notice, though, his hands and his side. They still bear the marks of Roman spikes and spears. And yet, he is no victim. He is the triumphant Lion of Judah, the One who is the heir of the universe. In him so are you.”

The Storm-Tossed Family, page 257

If you need a book that speaks deeply to the joys and pain of family, I would highly recommend, The Storm-Tossed Family.

Book Notes: Can We Trust the Gospels? by Peter J. Williams

Can We Trust the Gospels? it the third of four books I am recommending from my reading in 2019.

Did you ever get a boost to your faith in Christ and you didn’t even know that you needed it? This book was exactly that for me. It was a boost to my faith in the historical truth of Christ, the resurrection and the Gospels themselves. I didn’t even know I needed it but I’m glad I’ve had it now.

In a mere 140 pages, Williams takes the reader through the historical evidence for the trustworthiness of the four Gospels. This type of book can normally be dry, long, technical and bogged down by research details that only the brainiest of us would actually enjoy. But, somehow, Williams makes technical details absolutely riveting.

Several times, while reading, I would yell excitedly at my husband across the house. “You would not believe this!”, “Oh my word, you have to read this!”, “Babe!! The Gospels are actually historical fact… this is unreal!!”. I’m not joking, I yelled all those things and more.

I’ve been a lifelong Christian. I’ve studied the scriptures more than the average Christian. But, I realized, I had some of the old tropes in my thinking. “Just believe. Just have faith. The Bible says it so I believe it.” I don’t say those things, but I realized some of them were still rattling around in my faith.

Reading this short and concise book, shows it takes wild faith and denial of facts to disbelieve the Gospels. The four writers were absolutely in agreement about what they saw, heard and experienced. They did not revise history to make Jesus seem like he resurrected in order to give psychological hope. Williams shows in engaging detail, the only way for the four Gospels to turn out like they did… is if the events actually happened.

In a modern age, Can We Trust the Gospels? would be a great book for any young adult before going off to college. A great book for those who struggle with doubt and need a reminder in the trustworthiness of scripture. Anyone that wonders, is the Christian faith just an emotional fairytale to make us feel better… or could it possibly be historical fact? This book gives answers in spades. Your faith will rise, mine did.

Digital Discipleship

Can you fall asleep at night without listening to a podcast or having a TV playing in the background?
Do you get anxious if you can’t find your phone?
When is the last time you forgot to check your phone for 3 or more hours?
Can you have a coffee with a friend without your phone on the table?
Can you share a meal with friends without checking your phone?
Are you able to read a book or sit quietly without feeling anxious or a having a constant distracted mind?
Can you post something on social media and not check the response until six or more hours later?
When is the last time you woke up and didn’t look at your phone until one or two hours later?

If you are like me… one or more of those questions might have caused a small cringe moment.

I believe one of the greatest needs amongst Christians today is digital discipleship. I do not mean people discipled through digital outlets. Digital discipleship is followers of Jesus who are purposeful and intentional in their relationship with the digital world. People who have gone through a serious and strenuous re-orientation when needed. People who have brutally faced how their phone and social media have shaped their inner world and dehumanized their outer world.

Basically asking question, how would Jesus use a cell phone?

The only serious discussion happening in the church is regarding porn. It is no secret that I think porn ruins our sexual, relational and spiritual lives. But let’s set that aside.

Where are intentional discussions happening around every other aspect of this digital world we swim in? Where and how are Christians being challenged to think about what how a Jesus follower interacts with their phone, Netflix or podcasts?

The reality is, we are affected deeply by the invasive presence of text messages, social media, web browsing, on-demand television, and podcasts.

We often feel a nagging discomfort about this area of our lives. But there are hard realities we rarely face.

Daily digital presence predicts, with scary accuracy, a persons’ levels of anxiety and depression. Do you constantly check social media and binge on Netflix regularly? The statistics tell us you likely also struggle with regular anxiety and/or bouts of depression.

Did you know that silence is actually needed to regenerate brain cells in your hippocampus? This is the area of the brain associated with learning, memory and emotion. The average person now has almost zero minutes of silence each day. Our brains are like toddlers who ate Twinkies all day, skipped both naps and who has stayed at a party way to long.

Of course we all see daily parents who talk to their kids while staring at a screen. Friends who sit in a restaurant, speaking out snippets of thoughts here or there, never engaging in deep meaningful conversation.

I’m not saying all this to point a finger or induce false guilt. But, truly, this is us.

Here’s where some of those questions are leading. Would you (or me!) describe your relationship with the digital world as compulsive, invasive or controlling?

I’ll be brutally honest. In Christian circles, I hear a lot of people declaring that depression and anxiety have no hold on them.

We want less anxiety but we can’t be alone with our own thoughts. Our lives set-up our brains to produce more and more stress hormones with hour after hour of digital engagement. Whether scrolling Instagram for an hour each night or watching hours of Netflix instead of being bored. The enemy is in the camp. We need to admit that.

I believe in God’s power to heal but God is not going to magically heal anxiety in a life we can’t face. Anxiety will not decrease while our escapism increases.

I also hear Christians say with conviction that loving people is their life purpose.

I don’t know who we plan on loving when we spend more time with pictures of people than actual people. “Loving people” will be a nice saying painted on our wall but not a reality in our lives.

We need to get serious about digital discipleship. Being people who are intentionally and painfully re-orientating our lives in this digital age.

He longs for us to serve a more generous and life-giving Master.

We can embrace the benefits of this digital world (there are many). We can also reject the burden it has become on our lives.

In my next post I will share some thoughts on practical ways we can slowly start to re-orientate our lives. Away from a life filled with noise, anxiety and non-human relationships. Towards living with more peace, life and God intended relational wholeness.

Until then, take some time to think, “Am I content with my relationship to the digital world? Is it bringing me peace, life and relational wholeness?”

** I am not suggesting that all anxiety and depression is solely caused by our levels of digital engagement. These issues are unique and multi-layered for each person. Increasingly, though, studies do suggest that re-calibrating our digital engagement would, at the minimum, be extremely helpful in our journey with these issues.

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