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A Sudden Ambush of Grief

On my way to work this morning, I drove past the long-defunct Hometown Buffet. It closed down ages ago, but this time it was in the midst of being gutted. Walls were smashed by large machinery, insides exposed in the process of being laid to ruin. I’m sure the no-longer-with-us Toys “R” Us next to it will be next.

Glancing out my window and seeing the red and green sign still hanging on, declaring “Hometown Buffet” over wreckage hit me out of nowhere. I went from benign coffee drinking and podcast listening to brushing tears out of my eyes. My heart did that little skip, that almost-hurt. It came as a surprise.

In that second, memories of my long deceased grandpa flooded in. Birthdays and Father’s Days spent heaping plates full of meatloaf and limp salad, looking forward to soft serve ice cream with sprinkles on top were brought to mind. Thoughts came of joking with my brother and sister about how only old people ate here, about how mediocre the food was, about the birthday song played over speakers.

And my grandfather? Man, he loved that place. A typical WWII Veteran of “The Greatest Generation,” he desired the most food for the money. Even though he didn’t actually eat much, and barely ate meat after a stint working in an abattoir in his younger days. But as one who lived through the Great Depression, he couldn’t bare to see food go to waste – thus his love of a buffet.

My grandpa (my mom’s dad) was my last living grandparent, and the one to whom I was closest. He told me I was like him, that I had inherited his wanderlust which led him to enlist in the Navy, then to move around Southern California from place to place in his RV when my mom was a little girl until retirement.

He passed away about one year after my dad. That was a tough year as he was in heart failure for much of it and couldn’t get around much. He fell a lot. We sold our old house and bought a new one, moving him in with us (mom and I, and Josh on the couch during summer break from university). Lavender got married to one of my best friends and grandpa got to be there. Greg had my first nephew, Graden, a gift from God, my father’s first grandson he never got to meet. And grandpa died.

All of these memories flood back just from one building in the midst of being gutted. Grief is a funny thing. 16 years later, and it can still ambush me. But I don’t mind, not really, because these memories make me smile through the tears. I’m reminded of my grandpa’s deep and eternal love for me and all his grand-kids. Grief has somehow softly transformed over the years, and by the grace of God, into an old friend who comes to visit, bringing all the memories with them, but not staying for long.

To my friends experiencing grief that is much more fresh and raw, know that God is with you in it. Our God is a God who can lift up the downcast, he is the God of steadfast love (Psalm 42). Hope in him, and know that someday the ambushes of grief will be softer, bringing joy instead of pain.

The Transient Existence of the American Single

A childhood friend is staying with us for a few days. Like me, she is a single woman starting out her 40’s. One of our frequent conversations starts with “where will you go next?” And while this conversation isn’t limited to singles, it is one I have much more frequently with unmarried friends than married. It’s one I’ve had with myself at many different times in my life. 

The single life can have less permanence than the married one, and this is a cause of stress and anxiety for many of us. It’s also a cause of adventure and excitement, so it’s not all bad. But at certain points, the thought of “where will I go next” is exhausting and scary.

Part of this is financial – single people often can’t afford to buy a house/condo/apartment on their one income, so we are, for the most part, renters. Again, not all singles – I have single friends who are homeowners – but most aren’t. And, for most of us, renting can be too expensive for one income so we can’t even rent a place on our own – we must find one or more flatmates or roommates to share the costs. As roommates move, get married, or find other situations, we constantly have to find new ones. This, again, is exhausting and scary. 

We move back home with parents for seasons of our lives, we switch jobs to go where God leads us, but most of all we switch apartments as landlords raise rent, property values go up due to gentrification and we’re priced out, health concerns arise and we need to move, we find a better place than the last, or our roommate moves on so we must as well. 

Yes, married couples move too due to job transfers, family commitments, raised rents, and other things. But the married couple can work through those decisions together, and other than military placements or other careers where they might be separated for a time, they get to move together. That panic of “who can I rely on?” or “how do I find someone to live with yet again?” isn’t there. The frantic calling around of everyone you know, emailing local churches, looking on online forums, and praying you don’t end up with a psycho seems to be limited to us singles. 

It’s interesting because even those singles who are financially stable enough to get a place on their own may find themselves judged for living alone. We can then be seen as selfish for not having roommates, or antisocial. The cliche of the Crazy Cat Lady comes to mind. Friends who decide to buy a place together and commit to living a single life as flatmates can be judged as codependent, suspected to be in a homosexual relationship, or just seen as weird. 

Those of us who move back home to be part of a family are also judged harshly. We’re viewed as unable to be independent, taking advantage of our parents, immature, and, yet again, weird. Jokes about unmarried men living in their mom’s basements and old maids never leaving their parents’ house abound. There must be something wrong with us. Our parents are to be pitied. 

But we’re just like everyone else, trying to figure out where we fit, trying to find community and family, trying to feel at home. So the next time your single friend asks to stay for a week or two as they figure things out, do what you can to help them feel loved and at home. Do what you can to help them figure out where God would have them go next. Do what you can to help them make those scary decisions. Do what you can to help them feel less alone. Give them a home away from home.

That Single Social Life: from Vegas to ComicCon

One of the joys of being single and childless is getting to do lots of activities with lots of different people. Not tied to one husband or wife and one set of children, I get the opportunity to fill my calendar with a plethora of names. 

This can be exhausting, as sometimes it feels like I am constantly reaching out to people who don’t necessarily reach back, like if I don’t text first no one will ever text me, if I don’t invite myself over I’ll never get an invitation. Sadly, there is some truth to this. Since most of my friends are married with kids and all of my friends are busy, the reality is that I usually only hear from people if I reach out first. Some of this has to do with my singleness, as families tend to take precedence over single friends, but some of this just comes down to personality (where are my extroverted introverts at?). Even when I was one single among many singles, it fell to those of us who are a little more social to call and invite and text and show up. 

There are times I yearn for the one person and kiddos assigned to me by God, the church, and the state of CA. Sometimes having a calendar filled with just a couple names sounds really nice, less hectic, less lonely, and more certain. The knowledge that someone will indeed be there next week, that I have a preassigned date to a friend’s wedding, or someone to go buy me Nyquil when I’m sick sounds divine. 

On the other hand, there are moments when having the freedom to hop in my car and drive to a different city to see any old friend, to road trip to Vegas with two others, and then go to LA ComicCon with yet another two is incredible. The ability to hold many friends and family members in my heart, and try to schedule them on my calendar, is one of the reasons to be single in the first place. I can minister to many rather than a few, can try to love everyone God has placed in my life without having to prioritize just one. 

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7:34, says singleness can spare us some of the troubles in this life and can help us be more focused on the Lord’s plans for us rather than on a spouse. Our interests can be undivided. Interestingly, being able to focus on many friends and family members instead of just a spouse and kids helps my focus be less divided. I can ask “who would God have me serve, love, reach out to, hang out with today?” And the answer can be different. A husband or wife will usually need to answer “my spouse, my kids, and then maybe someone else if I have time.” 

So these past two weekends of October brought me to Las Vegas with two of my best friends in the world, and then to LA ComicCon with my sister and her friend who I was meeting for the first time. I doubt a married version of Fawn would have been able to do both trips, one after the next, especially if I had children. Yay for the joy of single freedom! This might seem like I’m rubbing it in to those who can’t jaunt off for three days, but so often singleness can be restricting, full of what we can’t do, full of what we’re missing out on that most of the world has but we don’t, so it’s nice to focus on what we do have that is unique to us.

My Las Vegas weekend was filled with incredible food and drinks, actually winning a bit at the Wheel of Fortune penny slots (we are the mildest of gamblers!), dipping in the wave pool, then reading comic books and devotionals by the pool, getting dressed up to see a Cirque show or go to a nice dinner, and wandering around the casinos looking at the art. The best part was getting to spend a few days with two of my favorite human beings, besties since grad school. They too are single, and we’ve grown up as adults together. It’s nice to be around some guys who know me, understand my life, and love me through it all. Praise God for weekends like that one where all three of us (current or recovering workaholics) kept constantly stating, with great surprise, how relaxed we felt.

This weekend brought me to LA ComicCon with my sister and her friend, two married women with kids, and we had a different kind of fun. Lavender and I cosplayed Daria and Jane and truly enjoyed weeding out the 90’s fans and seeing their faces light up when they figure out who we were. It was a joy to get to know her friend, and introduce her to the comiccon life as it was her first one. As always, the best part was the people watching, though we did get some freakin’ adorable geek chic jewelry. Again, getting to whisk these two women away from their husbands and children for a few hours and bask in the world of geekdom brought me great joy, and I hope they both felt loved and encouraged by me in our hours spent together.

The next couple of months bring the holidays, and my calendar will fill up to the brim with as many friends and family members as I can fit. And yes, I will have to call and text and e-mail inviting myself over, and I will have to push aside my pride and reach out more than I’ll be reached out to. But I’ve got the space to do so, and the conviction that God would have me continue to love these people he’s placed in my life whenever possible. So praise God for a heart that is free to love many instead of a few. 

And praise God that I also have those special moments when I can house-sit at a friend’s and have a place (and a doggo) to myself to recharge before the next round of social madness!

From Sprained Ankles to Leaky Hot Water Heaters

This time of year is always a mixed bag of emotions. In the span of one week we celebrate my mum’s birthday as well as my littlest nephew’s, then move right into the anniversary of my father’s death. This year my life decided to also throw in a mild ankle sprain and a leaky hot water heater.

In the midst of hobbling through my usual workday, birthday parties, a writer’s group dinner, the Downton Abbey movie, GriefShare, a going away party, church, heating up water on the stove, and all the various other little details of daily life there was a low-lying hum of something just not being quite right. For others in my family this year, the hum this week was more like incredible sadness or constant anxiety, but for me grief remained under the surface. It doesn’t always, some years they are pretty unaffected and I’m the one with more obvious symptoms. It’s rarely the same for all of us at the same time, which is nice because we can help each other through when needed. 

So this year I managed to get through the 17th anniversary of dad’s death without too much sadness, but with a couple tears alone at night, digging up a beautiful old photo of us snuggling, and stopping every once in awhile to recognize how much I still miss him. The moment of digging out his old crutches from the garage, the very ones he and I used to trade off between our constantly sprained ankles, brought memories flooding back. And I know the thought of “I wish Gordon was here to help deal with this” is constantly in the back of my mum’s head as she deals with the broken hot water heater. But God gave me encouraging students to help cheer me on as I hobbled around this week, and an endlessly kind and patient neighbor to come rescue us with his special vacuum, and tools, and truck, and knowledge. 

Ah Fall, my favorite season and yet one filled with so much emotion. Our house is already decorated with fake fall leaves, pumpkins, scarecrows, and various adorably haunted things. The nights are cool enough that I can snuggle under my top covers again, bringing me better sleep. Even the days are finally cooling down – I’m even wearing a long-sleeved top as I type this! We are burning pumpkin or apple scented candles non-stop, and may even fire up the fireplace tonight! I love it. But I also have that undercurrent of melancholy coursing through my body at all times.

Perhaps that’s part of growing up, of becoming an adult: we learn to hold both joy and sorrow at the same time, to celebrate life and grieve death simultaneously, to yearn for something lost or that we know we will never have while also reveling in the beauty that surrounds us. I no longer fear holding both things at once, no longer feel the need to only experience one at a time. Part of how I’m able to do this relies on talking to God about it, letting him know what I’m experiencing throughout the day and relying on him to give me peace.

Philippians 4:4-13 keeps coming up, at GriefShare, in my own study, and at church again this Sunday. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

I’m learning that rejoicing in everything and not being anxious require facing the truth of what’s going on and relying on God to get me through it, knowing he always has done and always will. Peace and contentment don’t magically appear after I pray, or throughout the day as I talk to God, but this week I’ve experienced moment after moment when I can choose anxiety or peace, when I can panic or trust God, and this week God’s been gracious enough to grant me the peace. 

As September turns into October, I’m looking forward to more and more crisp, cool weather and nights by the fire with cups of tea and delicious smelling candles. I know the melancholy will be there, but so will the joy. And, as I’m about to dash out to go shower at my sister’s house, I’m really looking forward to hot water again. Praise God for fall, and for healed ankles and appliances.

The New (Single) Girl At Church

I missed church this Sunday, accidentally. Somehow, I was an hour off in my head, starting last night when I set my alarm, right up to the middle of my shower this morning when I realized my error when it was too late. I’ve been trying out a different church for the past few weeks, and was looking forward to it. Ah well, such is life.

The church I’m trying out is multi-ethnic, tiny, and only a couple years old. It is led by a young, black, male pastor who loves God’s word and his people. As someone who has been unhappy with the state of the white evangelical church since moving away from my LA church, it was time to try something different. We’ll see how it goes. I’m still leading GriefShare (a grief support group for those who have recently lost a loved one) at my former church while I figure out if I’m going to leave or stay. The counseling pastor at my former church is aware and supportive of this transitional period, as is the pastor of the new church.

Trying out new churches as a single woman is always a daunting process. I know it’s now easy for marrieds either, but at least you have someone to walk through those doors with, someone to talk to about it after, someone to run interference in awkward social situations. You also don’t get stared at quite as much as you do as a single woman. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, having tried out churches as a singleton from college through today, but it’s still unpleasant. 

You have to face confused questions like “did you come here alone?” and, once they find out you’re single, the dreaded “don’t worry, there’s still time” or “never doubt that God can still bring you a husband” or “I know someone who got married at 50!” Ugh. I actually haven’t gotten much of this at my new church, which has been a pleasant surprise. I have gained enough confidence to shut it down pretty quickly when it does happen by reassuring people that I’m actually quite happy with my single life, and that I’m glad to be following God’s plan for me. And, when I’ve got nothing to say on the tip of my brain, I echo what my llama church notebook (pictured above) says, and just say “Nope!” and leave it at that.

There’s also the fear that every man you meet in the church might think you’re trying to hit on them, or their wives may get possessive. I don’t feel this way when I meet men outside of traditional Christian environments. But after enough experiences with men in conservative Christian circles being convinced that any unattached woman must be on the hunt for a man (specifically them?), and therefore dangerous possible vixens, I always feel more nervous during the church meet and greet when I shake a woman’s hand, then turn to shake her husband’s.

Sometimes the men ignore you altogether, and won’t even greet you. It’s bizarre. Then there’s the awkward Christian hugging thing – do I side hug?Actually hug? An awkward combo. of both? Anyway, I didn’t have horrible experiences with the men here, so that was nice.

A dear friend of mine who I’ve known for years has also started trying out this new church with me. She’s a single mom, and her adult daughter has come as well. Thank goodness she started coming before we had communion, or I’d never have figured out the whole wafer shrink-wrapped on top of the juice thing! We singles need to stick together to mitigate some of the awkwardness.

I battle between hope that this could be my church home for the foreseeable future, and cynicism that there is no church where I currently live that can fill that role. I’m not naive enough to think a church that’s “perfect for me” exists. I’m well aware that church is made up of fallen, broken sinners (like myself!) and it’s a family, which comes with some good, some bad, and lots of complications. I know it’s not all about me as well.  But I still yearn for a church where I see both a deep respect for God’s word and his love for the vulnerable lived out in word and deed.

I had the chance to meet with the pastor one on one to get some answers to questions about church doctrine, structure, and accountability, as well as views on women in ministry and on social justice and community involvement. It was a great start, and I always respect a Christian man who isn’t afraid to meet with me at the church, who listens well, and who responds with thoughtful, biblical, compassionate answers. I feel hopeful.

I’ll keep trying this new church throughout fall and hope to make my decision this winter. I’ll keep you guys posted on how it goes. Your prayers are appreciated!

Other singles out there, how do you handle trying out new churches?