Going the distance

So almost as soon as a wonderful girl and I get together to begin a relationship, she's off to Ghana for a month! Bad timing, or a great opportunity for us to experience a test together early on? Almost always I think it's the latter.

Speaking to a friend who has been in a trans-continental relationship for the past few months was really helpful - in giving me perspective, some extra ideas for how I can serve my girl, and in confirming that some of the things I had done were along the right lines. He has put together 20 tips for going the (long) distance, and with his permission I share them here. They are written from a guy's perspective but are helpful for both sides.

1. Decide if you are committed to the other person and will do everything in your power to make this work. If so, tell them. Ask them to consider this as well.

2. Keep low expectations: this is going to be hard work and it will take time to adjust to the new dynamic. That's OK though. Most of all remember the gospel - you've been forgiven, so forgive; you've been given patience and grace so give patience and grace. You've been given everything, so give everything.

3. If you feel resentful, lonely, left behind, disconnected, etc. try to see that this will almost always be because of the situation itself and not the person. And it's OK to communicate that you are finding the situation hard and that you can't wait to get to be with them. The feeling will be mutual.

4. Find something you can do together whilst you're apart, like a Bible study or reading the same book.

5. Plan parcels to send. Ask what would be useful, chuck in some surprises, and always include a thoughtful card/letter.

6. Pray for them. A lot. Pray specifically, earnestly, and believing that it does make a difference. The section on prayer in Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology is really helpful to get your thinking right on the importance of this.

7. Send emails/texts randomly, even if just to say that you're missing them.

8. Time on the phone - invest in it, even if all you get to eat is beans on toast for a month. It's worth it.

9. Time on the phone - the longer the call, often the deeper you get to to go with the conversation. The pence per min it costs you to get there is worth it.

10. Explore cheap calling cards or using Skype. When you make a call, treat it like a date - find a good time (with plenty of it), a good place (quiet, private, comfortable) and come prepared with stuff to talk about, questions to ask and something funny to say.

11. Remember things they've told you on the phone (write them down if you have to) and ask questions about these next time.

12. Try not to say anything hurtful or stupid. When you do, apologise and say something nice about them. Phone calls late at night, when they/you are tired or moody, can be tricky and maybe best avoided.

13. Share your life with them - if you've had a bad day, be honest about it with them. Trying to 'not burden them' with your troubles will actually only separate you. A problem shared is a problem halved and they'll feel involved and appreciate the chance to be sympathetic.

14. Always encourage them: speak positively about their achievements and ability to handle challenges. If they're pursuing their dreams, encourage them with just that thought.

15. Listen - let them vent at you. Just suck it up. If you then need to vent this to other people in your life, (who probably won't much care about the detail, but you'll feel better for getting it off your chest) then do that.

16. Listen some more.

17. The 'settling in period' may be longer than you think (I'd give it at least a month)

18. You will never understand women as long as you live.

19. Remember that in choosing them, you've effectively chosen this too, so give yourself time, emotional slack, and room to get used to it.

20. Trust God. He is the Sovereign King of the Universe. I am not and nor are you. He's got a good and perfect plan and He expresses that to you in everything He does.

(P.S. - Debbie, I was given this document a week after you went to Ghana - I'd already thought and prayed a lot about how best to serve you whilst you're away, and didn't just copy this! Thanks for believing me. I think you're amazing and am so looking forward to seeing you again soon.)