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

3 Go-To Reminders for Very Bad Parenting Days

Screaming, tantrums, violence towards siblings, bad language, lying, lying about the lying. You know, just another week in the life of a parent. Sometimes wisdom dictates that we do not add up all the defeats. It’s just too discouraging. Other days, parenting is full of pay-check moments. Those interactions with our kids where we say, “That moment right there makes it all worth it. Everything is going to be all-right.”

But what do we do to get through those “I give up!” moments? One day I actually caught myself mumbling, “Yay, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I will fear no evil.” I might have been feeling a touch dramatic about my children’s behaviour that day. I wasn’t laughing then, though. Death literally seemed on my doorstep. Theirs or mine, I wasn’t sure. Hostages were being taken I didn’t know if we would all survive.

I have found that I need a mental plan to get through those times. For those day, or weeks, here is my go-to list to keep my head in the game and my heart from despairing.

Keep the Long View

When times are tough in parenting land, I have to pull back. Parenting is all-consuming. It’s meant to be that way. But, it is so easy to get caught up in the minutia of the day to day.

I have to pull back and remind myself that hitting your brother today does not mean going to prison at 18. As young parents it is so easy to make every issue into a make or break issue. It isn’t, it really isn’t. Today is a bad day but we’ve got a lot of years ahead of us and no child’s destiny is determined by how I handle this specific bad attitude.

There’s lots of time for this whole circus to come together into something that works. Don’t obsess about today, keep the big picture in mind, time is on my side.

Call for Help

The help I’m referring to is prayer. We all know this but I need to remind myself in the moment… pray!

I often text a friend and just say, “Very bad parenting day, please pray.” It helps. Really, it does. I also find that praying together with my husband is a miracle worker.

Anne Lamott has some great wisdom on prayer. One of the go-to prayers she says is important is the “Help! Help! Help!” prayer. When parenting is overwhelming I like to take Anne’s advice and just say to God, “Help! Help! Help!” We really don’t need fancier words than that.

Listen to Mama Bongi

Mama Bongi is a great, long-term friend of mine. She is a wonderful South African mother who is full of wisdom.

Many years ago I asked Bongi, “What’s the secret? I want to do well at this mothering thing.”

She paused for a second and said, “This is what you have to remember Lindsey. God has brought you through many trials and challenges. You are confident and grateful for the journey that God has brought you on. That’s the same God who will do exactly that for your children. It’s not a different God and it won’t be an easy journey for them. It wasn’t easy for you. But, you have to trust that God doesn’t change when it comes to your kids. The same God who was faithful to you will be faithful to them.”

Honestly, it was sobering. I don’t want my kids to go through the challenges. I want my kids to face zero challenges, actually. But they will. I have a history in my own life that shows, God always comes through. He did it for me, He will do it for them.

I go back to this often. He did it for me, he will do it for them. He did it for me, he will do it for them. Same God. I can’t ever forget that.

Photo Credit: Giuseppe Milo

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

Kids grow up… What are we going to do about it?

Your children are getting older. The baby clothes are being given away. The high chairs are being passed on. Their first Dr. Seuss books are being packed away and replaced with video games historical novels.

My boys are 8 and 10. I’m 50% done. I’ve kept them alive. That was the goal, right? I’m looking at the horizon and it is the second half of their time in my home. Then they are off. This whole pony ride is speeding up people.

I’ve currently got two things on my mind in this season. Preparing and celebrating.

Preparing

What is the goal of parenting? To disciple them. Prepare them. Equip them for life. Apart form you. Such as, living somewhere else. I’m seeing this reality more clearly than ever and I’m getting more intentional than ever.

My 8-year-old is a self-professed “music nerd”. He’s constantly asking me to download music. All. Day. Long. Normally I have looked over the songs, deemed which were inappropriate and got him the rest. Then I had an epiphany. I’ve got an unsustainable situation. I can’t decide forever what they should listen to.

So, I switched, big time. I told them, “I am going to teach you my process of selecting music. Then you are going to do that. Whatever you decide to listen to, I will agree to it. Even if I disagree.”

So, each weekend we look over lyrics. I explain everything they don’t understand. They ask questions. They make the decision.

The first weekend I explained:
F^%k
B@$ch
Rape
“Feel you up”
“Make love all night long”

You get the idea.

This led to questions at the dinner table as to what was “child rape”. My son had read it in a newspaper headline at the shops.

To many parents, Christian or not, I’ve made a very bad parenting decision.

Perhaps.

Honestly, my husband and I were high-fiving at the end of the weekend. We had just had the most honest and engaging conversations with our children in months.

They had heard so many of the terms and had no idea of what they meant.

At one point a son said, “Mom, do you want to be called a b&^ch?”.
“No, I don’t. It makes me feel like trash when people call me that.”, I replied.
He thought about it and then said, “That’s what I would guess… I don’t want to listen to music that makes you feel that way.”

I almost wept. Instead of Mom just turning off the radio and deciding what he should or should not hear, he now get’s it on a heart level.

We did take a risk and continue to do it each weekend as they look over lyrics. But the bigger risk is to let them figure this out on their own.

The added bonus. My boys now know on a whole new level, Mom and Dad are the best source for the truth. Mom and Dad won’t flinch when we ask them stuff. (I was perhaps flinching internally though!)

At some point we have to move from total protection to teaching them how to inerpret the world. I don’t want that process to happen on accident nor when I’m forced in to it. I wouldn’t do this with a 3-year-old but my boys are no longer 3. We are taking initiative and doing it on our own terms. I’m moving that process into high gear in certain areas. Denial is out. Brave equipping for life is in.

The truth, I can have a strategy to totally protect and isolate. I can create a “bubble” where the bad stuff stays out. But, then I need to also remove scriptures from our home. Because nothing I talked about that weekend isn’t already in scripture in some way shape or form.

God talks about this stuff. So should we.

Celebrating

They are growing up. It is so sad! But they are my baby! But I’m not ready for this!

Honestly, sometimes I think we need to get a hold of ourselves. Especially Moms. This perpetual grieving and hand-wringing over our children growing up is both strange, weird and probably not helpful.

What is it like for our children to hear their whole lives, “But you are my baby! I’m not ready for you to be big? I’m not ready for you to be in 5th grade! Whaaaaaaa!!!”.

Our children do not need to grow up too fast and be adults before their time. Neither do we need to hang on, with every ounce of strength, to their toddler years. I think it’s ok to reminisce about the baby years. It’s ok to be sentimental on the first day of school. But I think we’ve collectively moved beyond reminiscing. We sometimes act like it is a crisis that our children are doing what they are meant to do, grow up.

The irony is we allow them to grow up on the outside (fish net stockings for 4 year olds anyone?!) but with none of the responsibility, courage and character that must be carried on the inside.

Parents, let’s celebrate our children growing up. Don’t make them go ahead of their times but neither do we need to perpetually tell them that “I wish you would stay my baby forever.” If they did, that is failure.

When they start a new grade or a new year, I want my boys to hear, “This is great! You are ready for this new challenge!” I want to tell them, “High school has seemed a long way off but now is the time and you can do this, I’m so excited you are at this point.”

I know parents that go into very real depression when the children leave the home. For those of us not yet there… put this before our eyes now. It will be sad. We will miss them. But our children leaving home and engaging the world is SUCCESS. It is exactly what we have been aiming for. Prepare them for that moment and then celebrate it when it comes.

Yes, it is sentimental and at times, sad. Have a moment and then step up to the plate Mom. Growing up is success. Staying a child is failure.

Last night I faced the reality that showers weren’t cutting it for my oldest. It was time for the big guns… deodorant. Here was a chance to celebrate. We talked a bit about “puberty” which was coming.

“It will be exciting… more hair, more muscles, more stink, more girls… more challenges which you are ready for and can handle. Deodorant is only the beginning and this is great!”

I want more of those conversations. Getting older isn’t always easy for parents or kids. But let’s not forget to prepare for and celebrate each step forward!

Photo Credit: Nicola Einarson

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