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 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

Wanted: Friends Who Judge

“I don’t want to be judged, I just want to be unconditionally loved”
“No one wants a judge, everyone wants a friend”
“Don’t judge me!”

It is universally accepted that true friends don’t judge. They simply love, accept and support you.

In my early 20’s I was a young single women in the new South Africa. I loved the adventure and possibility of living and working in this nation. I was just beginning to form friendships in a diverse community of people. One weekend at the office, only myself and one other lady were there. We were trying to get ahead on work. New students were arriving that week. We discussed tasks and ideas back and forth. We were as different as night and day and so often would not see eye to eye. As the day wore on, I was getting more and more frustrated at her lack of seeing things my way. Eventually I got so angry I went quiet and ominously brooded around the office, physically present but ignoring her in all other ways. I would show her!

Suddenly, I could hear her chair spin around and her strong voice break the silence. “Lindsey, are you going to talk about this or do you plan to give me the silent treatment all day. I don’t like tantrums.”

I was shocked. She was direct almost to the point of rudeness. I stumbled over my words. Feebly I attempted to sort things out… I don’t really remember how it resolved.

Two months later someone asked me, “Lindsey, who do you hang out with? Who do you consider your friends here in South Africa?” To my surprise, this lady’s name immediately came out of my mouth.

I had other friends who I hung out with more, had more in common with. But this women spoke truth to me. Truth that often offended me. Sometimes it wasn’t truth, it was just her opinion and she would apologise later. Sometimes it came out a bit rude. But, she kept speaking. Of all the people I was around, I knew this one was a friend. She was a friend who was willing to wound me. She was a friend who judged.

But “friend” and “judge” are not supposed to go together. What I think we really mean is that “friend” and “condemn” don’t go together. But, judge?

In a sense, to judge is simply an act of determining right and wrong. It is distinguishing from one thing and another. It is coming to conclusions and testing whether there is truth in it. A judge is a person who is mandated to speak truth no matter what. I want friends who judge.

Today, I think our friendships lack depth because we not only expect but often say outright, “Don’t judge me, I just want you to support and accept me”.

I don’t want my friends to do that. I want them to speak truth to me. I ask them to. With grace, mercy and love… yes, yes, yes. But love cannot be love if it is forbidden from speaking truth. Love cannot be love if truth-speaking is considered an act of aggression and condemnation.

Scripture says it well, “Speak the truth in love” and “Wounds from a sincere friend are better than kisses from an enemy”. Paul says that Christian friendship actually does judge (1 Cor 5:9-13).

This is the type of friends I want and need. I need this when I am careening towards a cliff. I don’t want my friends to say, “Lindsey, I sure love and accept you no matter what!”. I want them to grab that wheel and say, “Lindsey, what you are doing leads to death instead of life. You are driving towards brokenness instead of wholeness.”

And my friends have done this. Sometimes it was well received by me. Other times… well it took me a while to come around. But their willingness to say something that could offend me communicated a deep love. Sometimes their timing wasn’t perfect. Sometimes they way it came out was not perfect. But they spoke truth in love. They said it without condemnation.

Truly, friends do not condemn. Condemnation is when we use truth as a weapon to harm. Condemnation says, if you don’t measure up I won’t love you. That’s not friendship.

Friends should speak truth (judge) because their heart for us is life, wholeness and joy. Truth-speaking says, I love you even with your imperfections, I have them too. We won’t pretend they aren’t there. Often what we call judgement can actually be speaking truth as an act of safety and grace, even if it stings in the moment.

Do you have people who will “speak the truth in love” even if it wounds?
If not how could you invite that in to your life?

Photo Credit: Radcliffe Dacanay

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

Waiting and Dwelling in a Digital Age

Waiting & Dwelling

We are in a time collective hand-wringing over our digital addictions, vices and escapism. Whether a follower of Jesus or not, this is an age where one and all is wondering the effect of our romance turned co-dependency on a digital device. What effect is this having on our marriages? What does this do to our children and parenting? Are we literally altering our brains in ways that are a very real and present danger?

Putting guilt and condemnation aside, this season of Advent is the perfect time assess my place in this digital journey.

Advent is a Season of Waiting

Advent is a season of waiting, anticipating, expecting. Seasons of waiting are pregnant with possibility to dive deeper into our relationship with God and others. More than ever, our times of waiting are filled with the temptation to distract ourselves into our phones, i-pads or other devices.

Not all of our distractions are useless. In fact, “waiting” can become small gaps of time to fill up with “useful activities”. It is common to hear Christians say we need to “redeem the time”. So instead of waiting quietly at a doctors office, you can “redeem the time” by writing an important e-mail or listening to a podcast to learn something new.

The undercurrent is that simple, quiet waiting is wasted time.

The truth is that God repeatedly extols the virtue of simple waiting even when it has no clear- marked goal in sight. Mary and Elisabeth both waited. One for a long-desired birth. The other during an expected birth. Both waited for the coming of the Messiah.

What would happen if you embrace times of waiting instead of distract yourself from it?

Advent is a Season of Dwelling

Advent is also a time of reflecting on the incarnation, when God literally dwells with man. The magnitude of this event on our own lives is rarely understood. We accept that God became flesh all the while trying to escape our own fleshly living. We live in an age when dwelling in the flesh is the antithesis of our normal lives.

Skye Jethani reflected on this,

We may have no problem celebrating Jesus’ incarnation during this season, but we have great difficulty accepting our own. We live in an age that is in active denial of our bodies. Digital technology, for example, offers us the illusion of divine omnipresence. Through our devices we are no longer limited to our physical location. Any given day we may offer more of our attention to people and events on the other side of the planet than to what is happening in our own homes. Christ may have come to “dwell with us” but we prefer to dwell with the people on our phones.

Waiting and Dwelling

And so this season is both a time of waiting and a time of dwelling. Two things that digital devices cannot help us with. They are good for so much but in waiting and dwelling they hinder.

What would it look like for you to embrace quiet waiting and physical dwelling as you head in to Christmas? What practical steps could you take to avoid diving into digital distractions? How could you be more physically present in the location God has placed you each and every day?

Waiting and dwelling, may this advent season find you doing more of both.

Photo Credit: Joe Hunt

Immigrants, Orphans and Jesus

My maternal grandparents were immigrants from Norway. My Grandma Edie would enthrall me with the story of her first sighting of American soil. As a young girl, she peaked through the window of the ship and there stood the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island, New York City.

When Grandma Edie and Grandpa John fought around my sister and I, often they would do it in Norwegian so we couldn’t understand what they were saying! My grandmother made fish-balls and lutefisk and lefse. The town they lived in was full of Norwegian immigrants and it’s official motto is still officially, “Little Norway”.

Being surrounded by so many Norwegians brought the inevitable Swedish jokes. I just thought it was like an old high-school rivalry. I didn’t know why Norwegians and Swedes teased each-other, it’s just what we did. In fact, my Grandfather posted a sign at the top of his drive-way that said, “Norwegians Only! No Swedes Allowed!” Little did I know that this rivalry came out of a deep-rooted history. But, it was all good fun for the family in those times.

The last two weeks I’ve thought a lot about my precious grandparents. I was always acutely aware we were a Norwegian-American family. But, there was so much I never knew to ask them. They were immigrants. The family didn’t know english when they came, I know that. But what else? What was it like to be foreigners in a strange land?

The reason I thought of this was because I’ve been surrounded by a whole new set of “foreigners” here in South Africa. My husband and I bought a house and we are doing a few renovations this month before we move in. We’ve had the privilege of hiring a number of men from Malawi to help us with some of the work.

In talking with them, they’ve told us stories of living in a country where they are not always wanted or welcome. Just this morning I dealt with a situation where Victor and Dave (two of these men from Malawi) shared how they felt targeted for bad treatment in our area. I’m a foreigner here too. People often make fun of my accent or make known to me their distaste for America. But I’m not unwanted like them… that is the painful truth.

My home country, the United States, is consumed with this same word, “immigrant”. The headlines are filled with a conversation America is having on the presence of immigrants in her land.

In fact it seems everywhere I looked this week, immigrants or immigration was being talked about.

This is what brings me to my Grandpa John and Grandma Edie and my un-asked questions. What was it like for them to be an “immigrant”? How were they treated? Did people target them for ill-treatment? Did they get accused of stealing jobs? Did people make fun of the way they spoke English? Were they refused service because they couldn’t yet speak english? What was it like to walk their journey and be the outsider?

Each day these past two weeks I would make Victor and Dave (and others) their lunch. Each morning I would bring them tea as they got the day started. I contemplated what they would like for a tea break and lunch. What was my obligation to provide for them? God dropped a thought in my mind the first day, “Remember Lindsey, the majority of the time in scripture, immigrant or foreigner is mentioned with two other groups… orphan and widow.”

This wasn’t a new thought to me. I actually read through the Bible one year and circled the word “immigrant” or “foreigner” every time it was mentioned. I was shocked. God see’s immigrants the same way as widows and orphans. Not as weak, not to be pitied… but they are vulnerable and deserve a special place of honour and care in the Christian community.

So every time I made mid-morning tea and lunches I thought, “What would I make if a widow was eating this? What would I want provided if it was for an orphan?” I let that guide me. I then realised, “What would I make if it was my Grandpa John and Grandma Edie”? This was once them and their parents. They were once the immigrant worker.

I wonder if people gave my great-grandparents the worst mid-morning tea and and the cheapest lunches. I wonder if they even fed them anything at all? I wonder if they paid them a fair wage?

Then I thought of Jesus. Not his heart or his values. I thought of his life. Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus fleeing to the foreign land of Egypt. I wonder if people made fun of the way Joseph and Mary spoke the local language. I wonder what sort of lunches Joseph’s boss made him… or if he even fed him at all?

Foreigners, exiles, aliens, immigrants. Let us not forget that these people’s names are always mentioned in the same breath as orphans and widows in God’s living word. “The alien, the orphan and the widow”… the trinity of the vulnerable.

Let us remember that these precious people are somebodies parents, grandparents and great-grandparents… they were once mine. Let us not forget they have other names: Dave, Victor, Grandpa John, Grandma Edie, Joseph, Mary… Jesus.

When you make lunch, mention their status, read headlines about them or have to summon the patience to truly listen as they stumble along in broken English… is your heart shaped by God’s heart for these precious people? Would you speak of an orphan and widow in the same way as the immigrant? Would you post Facebook memes about orphans and widows the same as we do of immigrants? Would you post a sign in your restaurant that said, “Orphan who doesn’t speak English? No Service!”

Immigrants, orphans and widows… God’s precious people. Full of dignity and value even if it’s not always recognized by those who profess the name of our own Egyptian-immigrant saviour, Jesus Christ.