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

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

Let’s Not Say That Anymore (Pretty Please?)

Ok, time for honesty. You know how there are all these phrases that we use? Ones we should really stop using? Exhibit A: “Doing life together”. Didn’t we all agree to not use that phrase anymore? If you still use that it’s probably because you are over 50 and think that the “youngsters” speak in phrases like this. We stopped saying “doing life together” years ago. We just couldn’t bare to tell you. The embarrassment factor and all.

Exhibit B: I want to see your “doing life together” and raise you a “keeping it real”.

“Hey, I’m just keeping it real!” Let’s not say that anymore either. Please. I cringe every time someone says, “just keeping it real over here!”

Let’s be honest, we normally say this when:

  1. We are fake all other times. Stop that. Being fake and false is exhausting and who wants to be so tired?
  2. We have just overshared in a hilarious and awkward way. Don’t stop that. I love it when people overshare. If you are that way, let’s have coffee! No need to tag on “just keeping it real” though.
  3. We struggle with authenticity.

Let’s sit a little in number three.

That authenticity thing, it’s so subtle. Everything we say and reveal, we wonder how it compares to others. One day, “Just ran 5 miles, baked paleo cookies and ironed my husbands underwear… really nothing at all.” Next day, “Here’s a picture of my kitchen, yes, we are living in this pig sty… just keeping it real folks!”

A few things bother me about this. First, is this what it means to be real and transparent these days? “I’ve got dirty dishes”. If dirty dishes is your “keeping it real”, I definitely want your life.

It’s funny to me that in the midst of all this “keeping it real” we are still controlling what we reveal. We “keep it real” with just enough finesse to actually make us look better (compared to others). “Oh gosh, she’s even witty and honest when her home is a mess… love her!”

Control is the enemy of authenticity.
Comparison is the enemy of authenticity.

I read a confession the other day,

“I struggle with feeling like I can’t quite figure out how other women seem to do it all”.

It is a struggle, isn’t it? We endlessly compare and thus control what we do and don’t reveal. Being falsely modest when we succeed, witty and humorous when we reveal a small misstep. We are constantly comparing and controlling, praying we don’t fail to measure up to the perceived standard.

People get mad about everyone being “fake” on Facebook. Why does that bother us? Are we comparing ourselves to them? If they want to share their good news on Facebook and bad news in person, what’s it to you? That actually sounds pretty healthy to me.

Honestly, I think it bothers us because we are comparing ourselves to them. In our view, we can’t keep up with what we perceive is their perfect life.

How much longer will we believe this lie that anyone is keeping it together? The Christian life begins with falling down in a confession of failures and brokenness. The core of the Gospel is that no one has got their crap together, we all are in imperfect. We are all stumbling towards Jesus who brings mercy, grace and rest… three things that we desperately need. I personally alternate between awkward and desperate in my stumble towards grace and help.

“Keeping it real” does not need to be an occasional #hashtag. If I see only people’s success and not their struggle, failure and fights with their kids then I assume someone else get’s the privilege of seeing those glorious moments. Someone else gets to gently say, “let your children live to see another day, walls can be re-painted”. Someone else get’s to say, “call the counsellor and I’ll babysit for you and your husband tonight”. Another friend get’s to challenge our tendency hide our weaknesses and struggle.

We don’t need to remind people that we are “keeping it real”. As if anyone’s life is perfect or pain free. It’s not and it won’t be. That’s true for all of us, whether we see it or not.

Photo Credit: misselejane

Declaration of Independence

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

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

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

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

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

I start out with such ideals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m just so independent.

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

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

This is the catch of how God designed life.

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Rob Walker

The Beginnings of Friendship

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

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

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

Friendship with God is connected to fear of God.

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

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

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

Then it struck me.

Friendship is Being Known

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friendship is Standing in Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Creditfr: Elizabeth Albert