Top Relationship Books of 2014

It’s coming to the end of 2014 and I’ve been reflecting on some of the top books and writings that I’ve enjoyed this year. This is a list of my favorite books on relationships of all types! I hope you get some ideas. Is there a relationship orientated book that you’ve loved this year? I would love to hear about it in the comments section.


Best Book on Relationship with God: With by Skye Jethani

This book wins far and away as my favourite book of 2014. Jethani is both engaging and penetrating as he looks at the false ways you might be relating to God. He takes on the false belief systems in Christian culture and our own individual lives, you will be left seeing things in new ways. The best part is that you are left with a deep and fresh hunger for Jesus. During a season of my life that I was struggling with stress, anxiety and fear… this book was a shining light in hard times.


Best Book on Marriage: Fun Loving You by Ted Cunningham

My husband and I both loved this book. A great read for those who have been married for a few years and need to re-focus on the fun and friendship that bring so much life to your marriage. As a bonus he gives a ton of practical ideas for dates, fun get-aways, and ways to just have fun together.


Best Book on Parenting: Boundaries With Kids by Cloud and Townsend

The “Boundaries” series is a classic in Christian and counselling circles. I had never read the parenting version and it came at just the right time for me with an 8 and 9 year old. There is a ton of helpful advice and practical tips. I think you could read this book at each stage of parenting and come away with key wisdom to apply.


Best Blog Post on Dating and Engagement: “Sex & Engagement” by Ron Smith

I haven’t read any great books on this topic this year but a great article is buy a close friend and mentor, Dr. Ron Smith. Ron and his wife did our own pre-marriage counselling. He is honest, straight forward and so excited to see people find their love for a lifetime partner. This article is honest and direct about the sexual relationship of an engaged couple.


Best Beach Read: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

If you read my husbands book list for 2014 you will see he also listed this book (along with 2 others I mention here!). I would just like to state for the record that I was the one who tipped him off to this great read. It’s the captivating story of ultra-marathon runners. You don’t need to be a runner to love it, though. It is a true-story adventure that takes you from the headquarters of Nike to a stone-age tribe in the hills of Mexico. The characters are funny and totally engaging, you will get sucked in. This is a great Christmas idea for someone that loves running, adventure or just a great read!


With-God-Devo-logo

Best Daily Devotional: With Daily Devotional by Skye Jethani

I recently had the privilege of meeting Skye Jethani. He was speaking out our Community Gathering at our campus in South Africa. I was chatting to him afterwards and told him that I was aiming to sign up as many as possible for his daily devotional, it is one of the best kept secrets on the internet. For $1.99/month you get a daily devotional e-mailed to you with scriptures to read and a prayer to meditate on for the week. It is short, engaging, challenging, personal and helps you focus on Jesus more than ever. This would be a wonderful gift idea for yourself or others!


Bonus: Favorite Music Albums

Mali Is… by Mali Music

Ok, little known info about me, I’m a huge Jazz, Black Gospel, R&B and Rap fan. I’m listening to one of these genres most of the time. My first CD was the Winans Brothers… not Bibi and Cici Winans, that’s black gospel for the masses. I was in to the real deal Winans. I seriously am tempted to do a whole post on my top ablums in these genres. But, it’s not the point of this blog… sigh. But, if you love any of these genres or want to love them, run, don’t walk, to your computer and buy this on Amazon or iTunes. Ok, you are sitting at your computer. So click on the link above. Do it. This guy is the real deal. Best relationship track on the album? “Heavy Love”. You will at least start chair dancing while he extols the beauty and power of love that lasts a lifetime. As he says, beautiful love is that “great-grand-mama and grand-daddy love ya’ll”.


The Undoing by Steffany Gretzinger

So now that you know my tastes, this album is out of my norm. Most worship albums I listen to involve Fred Hammond or Donnie McClurkin (if you just said, “Who?”, hang your head in shame and go take a time-out for 10 minutes). This album is minimal, contemplative and personal.  I found myself surprisingly drawn in. Steffany has an amazing voice, that is undeniable. But, it’s more than her voice that draws you in. Each song seems to be taken straight out of her personal journal in the best of ways. For those days when you need to hear the heart of Jesus more loudly, this album delivers exactly that.

The Best Parenting Advice I’ve Ever Gotten

I read lots of books, blogs and articles on parenting. I listen to podcasts. When I see parents I admire, I seek them out and ask for their input and advice. I’m all about good principals, best practices, practical wisdom…. I love it.

In the midst of this avalanche of parenting advice and wisdom, I always come back to a short phrase God whispered in my ear 7 years ago.

“Lindsey, stay the course.”

My 2 year old son was in the bathroom, ranting and raging. Tears were flowing and fists were clenched. I was outside the door, like a PTSD victim about to go back into another raging battle, shaking at the sound of every gunshot (or scream, as the case may be).

As I stood outside the door, I contemplated the correct plan of action. I was tossing up hail Mary prayers to Jesus. Honestly, I was hoping some magical formula would resolve this behavioural issue. What I really wanted was to lock myself in a closet with a good book and coffee, oblivious to the outside world! This son came out of the womb with boxing gloves on and it lasted for years. Those who know him now can testify to his tender and emotional heart. But we went through some rough years together.

As I stood outside the door God put in my heart those words, “Lindsey, stay the course.”

I knew what He was saying:

Don’t grow weary in doing good.
Don’t expect results today.
Wake up each day and faithfully parent and love this child.
Hour by hour persistence.
The goal is not to be the perfect parent, but to faithfully parent imperfectly.

Never truer were the word of Euguene Peterson than it is for parenting: parenting is “a long obedience in the same direction”.

The growth was slow. The softening of his heart was like a glacial melt. At least that is what it felt like to us in the midst of the minute by minute faithfulness.

My husband and I didn’t always get it right. I lost my own temper many times and I’m not proud of that. My husband would turn him over to me and I would return the favor on other days. He’d walk in the door and I would say, “Your son is in time-out in the bathroom… as you can surely hear from down the street!”.

He wasn’t that bad… but for two weary parents, it was hard and baffling.

But, we stayed the course. We didn’t give up or throw in the towel. We stopped demanding change today. We began trusting for change over time. For that I am proud.

I, now, pass on the words of the Father to you.

Weary and wobbly parent, stay the course. One foot in front of the other. Even if, today, it feels like no change is happening. Don’t give up and tap out. The Father sees your hour by hour persistence and He’s right there with you. Our kids don’t have perfect parents… they’ve got a perfect Heavenly Father.

Remind yourself on days when you wonder if you are doing it right or want to give up:

Parenting is a long obedience in the same direction.

Parenting is not daily victories and quick results. Daily, faithfully, cultivate that garden. In the end it is God who will give the growth.

Parent, stay the course.

4 Simple Questions for Marriage Health

My husband and I are about to celebrate 12 years of marriage. We are not typical “romance” people. Our anniversary generally doesn’t involve me getting flowers, jewelery or chocolate. I don’t buy him… well, men are hard to shop for so that’s my excuse.

For us, an ideal anniversary involves the two of us being alone, away from the kids, overnight and with… wait for it… UNINTERRUPTED CONVERSATION. It is a rare thing but it does exist!

Since our first anniversary, we have a tradition of spending some time to just ask questions of each other. Questions that don’t normally get asked in the day to day of life.

If you don’t do this in your marriage, you should. Asking questions and then truly listening is one of the most powerful communication tools to keep a whole and healthy marriage.

Here are 4 simple questions on 5 important areas. Pick a topic, ask and listen.

4 Questions on Your Friendship:

Do you feel that we are having enough fun and light hearted moments together?
What events or dates could we plan that build our friendship?
Do we have any hobbies together? If not, what hobby could we do together?
Do we have mutual friends that we both like to hang out with? If not, who could we pursue?

4 Questions on Communication:

Do you feel I truly listen to you?
Do you feel that my words and tone show that I respect and value you?
Are there times that our communication struggles? What are those times?
Are there topics or areas you wish we would communicate about more?

4 Questions on Sex:

How is the frequency for you?
Are you feeling loved and cared for in this area?
In what ways could we make more time for it?
What could we do to make this area better?

4 Questions on Parenting:

How do you feel we are doing in being loving parents?
How are we doing in being consistent and following through?
What “season” do you think each child is in?
How are our family times, are they bringing us together or apart?

4 Questions on Spiritual Health:

What is God teaching and growing you in, right now?
What areas do you feel spiritually weak in?
What things do you do that feed your walk with Jesus?
What ways could I support you in your walk with Jesus?

More resources on question asking and date night ideas:
4 Types of Date Nights
Date Night on the Cheap
20 Ways to Take Initiative in Your Marriage
Questions to Take You Deeper in Friendship or Marriage

I’m Not a Good Mother and Neither Are You

It’s Mother’s Day, such a great holiday in my opinion. Well, not just because I’m a Mom. I love the opportunity to honor our parents… it’s one of the 10 Commandments after all!

On this Mother’s Day, I think it is a good chance for all Mom’s to remind ourselves of a few things.

God didn’t invent Pinterest.

Pinterest has become the symbol of societal pressure on women the world over.

Mother’s can no longer bake a simple cake for the Birthday party. Move over sheet cake, hello Dora in buttercream.

We can no longer just decorate our homes, they need to be gorgeous, unique and reflect our “personal style”.

Don’t just take your kids to church, family devotions with a craft each night would be better!

Let us remember this Mother’s Day that God didn’t invent Pinterest. The pressure we feel. The expectations we carry. The standards we hold to. Those are not from God. They may be real to us but they ain’t from the Father.

No matter what type of Mom you are, it’s not good enough.

So what about the things that do matter? Well, we fail at those too.

We yell when we shouldn’t. We show endless re-runs of cartoons just to survive certain days. We hold secret guilt over our failures. We hide in the bathroom reading People Magazine while our children fight outside the door. We take pride in things that don’t really matter.

Basically, we can be a bit of a mess.

The good news is we don’t have to hide this. With Jesus, our role as Mother can be enough because it’s not about what we can do, it’s about what He has done and will do.

God made us a Mother and he will sustain us… He was “good enough” so that our “not good enough” can be enough. Got that?

It is a miracle that God would trust any human being in to my care… truly. I think of this every day. Some days more than others, as I’m sure you can relate. On those days that we wonder if we are ruining these young persons lives, remember this: He’s not entrusting us to be good enough. God is trusting us to trust Him.

When it comes to being a mother, let this be our motto: God draws straight lines with crooked sticks. It’s his speciality. That is exactly why he made you a mother.

I’m not succeeding because I’m so great. I’m succeeding because He is so great.

Mom’s need Jesus to survive.

Today, while everyone is celebrating us we can have a different celebration that is going on inside our hearts. A celebration that looks like this: Falling into the arms of the Father.

We need Jesus to survive this journey. We need Jesus to make straight lines with our crooked sticks of a life. We need Jesus to rescue our children from our own inabilities.

Our hearts are willing but the flesh is week. That’s ok. Jesus is in this journey. He knows that secret list we have of “Top 10 Reasons my Children might end up in Prison by their 21st Birthday.”  Let us throw ourselves, with all our weaknesses and worries, in to the hands of the Father who will carry our family in to the future.

May our children not remember any craft projects, wonderful meals, or well planned birthday parties. May our children honestly say, “Mom wasn’t perfect but she sure did trust Jesus.”

I don’t know about you but that sounds doable to me. I can throw all my mothering dreams and failures into the hands of Jesus and trust Him with this journey. I can’t trust myself always. But I know He is always trustworthy.

That’s the type of mother I want to be on this Mother’s Day. I’ll leave everything else to Pinterest.

My Mountain is My Greatest Ally

The things that made me, shaped me, and defined me all came out of seasons of pain and struggle. I have not once been deeply shaped by a success that I just stumbled in to. I hate it to be true but the reality is, my mountains have been my greatest allies in reaching peace, contentment and true joy.

We look at the Biblical heroes and they also were all profoundly shaped through deep struggle. Joseph, David, Ruth, Esther, Daniel, Paul, Peter… Jesus. Not once does the Bible say, “and then they had a wonderful life and God was glorified, Amen”.

Yet, these mountains we find on our journey… we fight them, hide from them and sometimes are ashamed of them. These mountains are the sins we wrestle with, the disadvantages we face, the pain that knocks on our door at the most unexpected times.

But truly, the whole Biblical narrative shows one thing: facing that thing that causes us the most struggle is the only pathway to peace, contentment and joy. We think the absence of mountains brings joy but deep down we simply know this is not true.

Mountain_allyWhat if this year ahead was the year we faced our mountains instead of: pretending they aren’t there, wishing them away, hoping for them to just vanish. What if, on the other side of that mountain is exactly what we were hoping for all along.

This is true with our children also. It is so tempting to search longingly for every glimmer of worldly success. We downplay or secretly fear the struggles our children have to face. We are convinced that the struggles will ruin them so we make it our job to safeguard them from struggles and pain. Is this really helping them though?

Here’s my honesty: my children don’t win any awards. They aren’t the top of their class for reading, math, science or anything else. They have been in speech therapy, occupational therapy, and the whole list. My one son was so afraid of swimming, he wet his pants at school when faced with the prospect of the school pool. When he told me I instantly wanted to make the whole situation go away. The embarrassment he felt was terrible for him. Struggles like this are a 1st world recipe for parenting anxiety!

But when I go back to the Bible I see that I shouldn’t feel anxiety at all. Ease of  success promises my kids nothing. Lack of challenges doesn’t safeguard them at all. Teaching them to face their struggles and never give up is the greatest hope I have as a parent. We don’t seek the challenges but we can’t can’t cower from them either.

What if, we as parents, embraced our child’s mountains eagerly? What if we taught our kids to tackle that mountain like it’s their destiny? As painful as it would be, facing that struggle could be our child’s greatest opportunity and gift in their life.

I fear that today we are teaching our children that happiness, joy and contentment can be had without a fight. We do this because we  desperately want it to be true. But, in our own lives this has never been true… and it won’t be true for them either.

Do we face the mountains in our personal life, marriages, families, and friendships like it is our greatest opportunity or our greatest threat? Do you see your mountains as an ally or an adversary? It doesn’t make the struggle any easier to embrace this reality. But the truth is, mountains are our ally if we face them with courage and don’t give up without a fight.

What have your most formative events in life? Was it mountains or easy victories that most shaped you?

Let’s Talk About Sex: With Your Kids

Recently, the web has been ablaze with panicking parents and worried sociologists.  All around the issue of children and porn use.

The latest research and studies can be fear inducing… 8 year olds addicted to porn, really!?! (Yes, too often, porn starts early, is addictive and changes futures). Without a doubt the world our children are growing up in is a completely different world than the past.  The stakes are higher and the rules different. The parent that denies this reality does great harm to their child, without exception, in my opinion.

But what is a parent to do?  Should we walk up to our 8-year-old and begin talking about porn?!

I think what we do today has the same foundation as in all generations past, start with the basics.  If we don’t talk about relationships, love, and sex we can never get to the issue of porn.

In the hundreds of articles I have read about porn use, I also couldn’t help but notice that often there were basic things that could have been done. I’m not blaming all the parents but the reality is this; if something can’t be done to prevent this then we should just throw in the towel.

What can be done?

We as parents can take our cues from the ancient book. In the Bible, there is a man named Paul who is my hero in the area of dealing with complicated sexual issues. He ministered in highly sexualised cultures in Asia.  Paul was the church leader who found himself dealing with church members who were having sex with their mother-in-law and flaunting it (1 Cor 6:1). It’s the first Cougars with a family twist! Reality TV dreams of situations like this.

early-openly-oftenFrom Paul’s writings in the the Bible I have observed that his strategy was basically this: Talk about sex early, openly and often.  Paul quickly jumped in to the issue of sex with his people, constantly talked about sex, and openly talking about sex.

I think his principals can give us a grid for raising our own kids today.

Here’s some thoughts on the “early, openly and often” strategy.

Early:
Human development studies suggest that we talk about sex earlier than you might think.  The average age suggested from both religious and non-religious sources is between the ages of 8 and 9.  If you add to that, the amount of sexual content available to our children, I believe it is even more relevant to begin the discussion about sex and relationships earlier rather than later.  This sets the foundation to continue to add more information as they grow older.  We want our sons and daughters, when faced with comments or information from friends to say, “Oh, I know all about that stuff, my Dad talks to me about it”  instead of standing there with wide eyes and a confused mind and heart.

Openly:
Being honest and open is always the best strategy.  Using code words and beating around the bush only confuses.  It might feel awkward to us as parents.  But, we need to be the adults they need us to be and not act like an immature playmate who explains sex in code words and immature giggles.  What can we be open about?  In age appropriate ways we explain what sex physically is, when sex happens, how sex is fun and makes us feel good, and how sex can be a burden and bring pain.  Not all of this needs to happen at 8 years old!  But, through the years this openness about sex needs to pervade our conversations.

Often:
I have asked many, many people how they found out about sex.  Of those that heard from their parents there were basically two categories.  The first is parents that sat down, explained things and never spoke of it again.  The second are parents that had the big explanation but also had an ongoing conversation through the years.  Of those that had parents that spoke of sex in an ongoing manner, I find they are healthier and can be more open today about their sexuality.  My husband and I, in our own family try to find little opportunities to talk about things that pertain to sex.

Here are a few resources we have found helpful in explaining sex to our boys:
Two helpful articles from Focus on the Family here and here.
A very detailed article on how and what to talk about at each age.
Information from the perspective of human development.

Coming soon I will be giving more detailed thoughts and strategies for raising children in a porn filled world.