Archive for June 2017

Human Kind Cannot Bear Very Much Reality

Somehow, I have the ability to unlearn everything I learned only a few days ago. A week ago, I was sitting in a hammock, ginger beer in hand, reading a domestic thriller under the canopy of pine trees. I went partially outside of my comfort zone to go camping (pretty normal for me) with 3 married couples (not normal for me) and it was wonderful.

I had made up my mind the week before the trip that I would enjoy it. There was that one moment of panic and dread when I found out I would be the only single person going, but I took that thought captive like a pro and decided I’d go into it with a great attitude, reasonable expectations, and the goal of trying to get to know these couples better.

In the early mornings, just as dawn started to peep out over the treetops, I would sit on the picnic bench reading and journaling alone as everyone else slept. I’ve been rereading T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” since I was in England last fall, a little here, a little there, and then again. It’s one of those pieces of art you can peruse over and over again but never grasp in its entirety, which keeps me coming back to it. The first of the quartets, “Burnt Norton,” introduces the theme of time past, future, and present. One set of lines in particular keeps circling around my mind:

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind

Cannot bear very much reality.

Time past and time future

What might have been and what has been

Point to one end, which is always present.

Now there is a lot to get from this poem, dissertations could be written on these lines alone, but up there in the fresh air of the mountains, dodging mosquitos, bundled against the cool morning, I kept thinking how important it is to be present. As the bird says, I often feel I “cannot bear very much reality,” but dwelling in “what might have been and what has been” will get me nowhere.

At L’Abri, something I was reminded of by one of the workers is that we are already in eternity. It doesn’t just start when we die or when Christ returns again – eternity includes our current earthly lives. God is eternal, was, and forever will be. My life entered into this eternity – I am not eternal, for I had a beginning – but I have joined God’s timeline. These thoughts, hard to put into words, “point to one end, which is always present.” Last weekend, when camping, I made it my goal to work at this presence.

This is easier to do on a mountaintop where there is no cell phone reception, I admit. And monster mallow mushy s’mores, giant telescopes staring up at Jupiter, wine, and friendly people help. So instead of feeling left out or awkward or uncomfortable because I was the lone single surrounded by 3 couples, only one of which I knew very well, I asked questions. I listened. I laughed. I rambled on. I stayed behind by myself as couples broke off for walks on their own and enjoyed reading in a hammock, just me and the birds. I learned the pleasure of having a tent to myself for the first time in my life – my gosh, the space!!! A tent of one’s own is a magical thing, especially if you’re an insomniac like me. It ended up being one of the easier weekends away I’ve experienced.

Coming back, I was tired but happy. Due to the exhaustion, extra work hours, and time with my family I decided to take last week off blogging, but planned to write about being present and that weekend today. But then it got hot, very very hot as only the desert can get, and work got a bit more complicated, and the Philando Castile verdict still weighed upon my heart, and the Senate healthcare bill proposed taking away coverage for many people I love and possibly myself, and Trump tweeted stupid things, and Panda Express forgot my orange chicken. And I got tired. And grumpy. So right now, the last thing I want to be is present. Instead, I want to “go, go, go” as the bird said, for I “cannot bear very much reality.”

This Saturday, we had a blackout which affected a few blocks, our house included – and instead of staying home to deal with the increasing heat as the AC didn’t work and the encroaching darkness of night, my mum and I hopped in the car, and drove to the movie theater to see “Wonder Woman” again. And it was fabulous. I cried, again. We both adored it, again. And we came home to a house with electricity. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that at all – going to see “Wonder Woman” is a good life choice. But it shows my reluctance to bear with reality.

And tonight I cannot dodge it – I must be present, for tonight is our biweekly global prayer meeting. In 15 minutes, I need to be present to discuss current events in our world and pray through them with several women who are equally concerned about our world and our country. So I will turn to Philippians once again, and beg God to help me be able to both be present and yet still find peace and rejoice.

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 with thanksgiving 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.

Here’s hoping I’ll be able to better remember my mountain top lesson throughout the rest of this hot, busy week instead of only around the campfire. Here’s hoping you will all be able to find a way to be present, not dodge reality, not dwell in the might-have-beens, and yet still experience true peace and joy.

Find Your Family

One of the prevailing tropes of science fiction is the pain of being the only one of your kind, or worse, the last of your kind. A species unto oneself, they are often alienated, lonely, independent and strange. From ET, the stranded little alien who just wants to get back to his planet, to the Doctor, the last of the Time Lords, we are shown the grief and loss of being completely alone. Both of these creatures struggle on their own, not only with loneliness, but with understanding their surroundings, their purpose, and being able to find joy. Like ET, we need a friend to help us find our home, and like the Doctor, we need companions to keep us sane and hold us accountable to being our best selves.

In Genesis, God looked upon his creation and it was good . . . well, all except one thing. When he looked at man, he said “it is not good that the man should be alone,” and in that moment God created family (Genesis 2:18). Notice, it doesn’t say it was not good for man to not have sex, or not have a wife, or not have kids – the problem is that man should not be alone. We are created for family, for community.

So what are we single folks to do? When I first moved to LA, I didn’t know a soul in my area. Sure, my actual biological family was just a couple hours away, but I wasn’t living my life with them daily. I got a tiny studio apartment by myself and dedicated almost every moment of my life to my job. After some time of this, I realized it wasn’t enough. The Bible is full of these imperatives, these things that help us live a good, joyous, godly life – and almost every single one of these includes the phrase “one another.” I realized it was kinda hard to do anything for one another if there was just me. Yes, I had my students to reach out to, but I didn’t have many people to reach back. I had to find my family in Los Angeles, so I sought out closer relationships with my fellow teachers, and committed to a local church. These people became my family for the last decade, and even though I’ve moved, I still consider them family.

In my final installment of the “What Do You Believe About Singleness” series, it’s time to redefine family. Often we think of ourselves as alone, and when singles look ahead to the future, this can be quite daunting. The “what ifs” come to mind, making us freak out at times. “What if I never get married? What if I never get to raise kids? What if I have to keep finding roommate after roommate for the rest of my life? What if I die alone?”

As Bridget Jones so eloquently put it, “I suddenly realised that unless something changed soon I was going to live a life where my major relationship was with a bottle of wine…and I’d finally die, fat and alone, and be found three weeks later half-eaten by alsatians. Or I was about to turn into Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.” Thoughts like these can take over until we stop and remind ourselves that we are not actually alone. If we are Christians, we are part of the family of God. Ephesians 2:19-22 says:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

The question then is are we taking advantage of the fact that we are part of this family, or are we trying to lone wolf it? Just like any family, being part of this one can be hard and it takes work, but it’s so worth it.

Here are some ideas to help us get more involved in the family of God:

  • Join a Bible study, community group, Sunday School, or whatever random thing your church calls small groups, and go as often as you can, even when you don’t particularly want to.
  • Pray for the people in your church.
  • Push yourself outside of your comfort zone by reaching out to people of different ages and different life stages. Try to befriend other singles and married couples, people with kids and people without, the couple that’s been married for 60 years and the recent widow, the pastors, parishioners, and the quiet guy in the back corner.
  • Ask for help when you need it. Be humble and realize you don’t have to do everything on your own. Ask people for all kinds of help from loading up your moving van to helping you eat the dozens of scones you baked, from quizzing you as you prep for the Bar Exam to helping you cheer on the LA Kings the next time they make it to the playoffs.
  • As you get to know people, invite them over, even when things aren’t perfect and you don’t have snacks. Walk to Subway together. Order pizza. Actually set a day for it. Everyone is busy, so don’t just say, “hey, we should hang out,” but try to put an actual date and time in your phones.
  • And for your married friends with kids, invite yourself over to their house – it’s probably easier to just show up with some bread and a bottle of wine some Wednesday night than for them to pack up the family and squeeze into your tiny apartment kitchen. Be polite, say “hey, I’d love to come hang out with the family sometime soon. What are a few dates in the next 2-3 weeks that would work for you?” Then go and hang out with the whole family, kids and parents alike.
  • Find a family or two to adopt you, people who see you as more than just a babysitter, but rather someone who adds to their family, and someone they’d like to pour into. Seek people who can take care of you and who will allow you to help take care of them. This is where being an aunt, uncle, or godparent is awesome, even if it’s not by blood. Every person should have kids in their lives – even single ones.
  • Be honest with yourself, with God, and with your friends – ask for help when you need it, weep with them when you need to, laugh with them as much as you can. Ask questions. Listen well. Learn to love and be loved.

You may need to redefine what family is for different seasons of your life. When I was younger and had a large group of single friends, we were family – in and out of each other’s apartments throughout the week. We sat together at church on Sundays and hung out at group on Thursday nights, but we also met for happy hour, movies, camping trips, Target runs, and even grading or study sessions. As we got older and more and more friends married and had kids, the dynamic changed and we had to change with it. I became friends with my friends’ spouses, and godmother or adopted auntie to their kids. At this point in my life, I realize there’s a good chance I won’t have kids of my own to raise so I decided to move to be closer to my mom, my sister and her family, and my little brother and his family. I wanted to be close to my little nephew and niece as they grow up, to have a great influence on them, to help out, and be helped by them.

The hardest part of moving was leaving my church family behind. I’m trying to find a new one, and it can be painful and even a bit heartbreaking. After almost 10 years with the same family, I just don’t fit into another one and have to overcome doubts that I ever will. Yet, I will keep trying because I know the value of it. ⅓ of the “one another” verses in the Bible are about loving one another and are specific to the family of God (John 13:34, 15:12 & 17; Romans 12:10, 13:8; Galatians 5:13; Ephesians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:12, 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22, 5:14; 1 John 3:11, 4:7 & 11; 2 John 5). Kinda hard for me love others and let others love me if I’m not getting to know the Christians around me so I can know how best to love them.

So, think about your life. Are you part of a family? Are you an active part of the family of God? If not, you’re missing out on one of the greatest blessings to a single Christian. I challenge you to try, but try hard. Sometimes the best things are the most difficult and the most rewarding.

The One About Dating

At this point in my “What Do You Believe About Singleness” series based on the conference at which I spoke, I’m supposed to talk to you guys about dating. I’d rather gush about how brilliant “Wonder Woman” was, or rant about the latest Trump tweet; heck, I’d rather write about most things other than dating. However, it’s important in the life of the single person, so it’s important to me.

But, in the spirit of full disclosure, I don’t really date so I’m not an expert on this topic at all. To be fair, I like to think of my lack of dating life as something almost entirely out of my control. You see, I did date a tiny bit here and there when I was a younger, thinner, and an ever-so-slightly-more-optimistic 20-something, but even that was usually accidentally ending up dating a friend with whom I probably should’ve just stayed friends. I even experienced one incredibly awkward proposal which I declined (cold-hearted vixen that I was) because I didn’t trust him. Turns out my instincts were good and I frequently praise God for saving me from that potential disaster, but that’s another story.  And then I moved to Los Angeles and I only went on one date in almost a decade; my dating life was a desert. This is where people either *GASP* in shock or think, “well, at least you had some dates, I’ve never even had a boyfriend or girlfriend.”

This nonexistent dating life was unexpected, unplanned, and almost completely involuntary. I had a rather large group of friends that included dateable Christian guys, but it was totally platonic between all of us and ended in amazing friendships, most of which are still valuable to us today though many of those young men have since married. I tried various forms of online and app dating, only to be shunned by anyone remotely normal and approached only by 65 year old men with various levels of English looking for a Green Card Marriage (for real, guys) or easy sex. The one date I went on was with a nice-ish Christian man I met on Coffee Meets Bagel but he was deathly boring, it was so awkward, and there was zero chemistry so I decided I’d rather be single for the rest of my life than go on another date with him. And that was before he kissed me when I was belted into the seat in my car and couldn’t dodge it! Blech. Chemistry-less kisses are pretty horrible, especially when you can’t get away. I’ve never even been set up on a blind date because none of my friends has ever met maybe-possibly-the-perfect-geeky-Christian-guy-for-Fawn.

So the first thing I wish people out in the world knew about singles and dating is that some of just don’t seem to have that as an option. If I hear one more professor or older Christian say singles today “are just too picky” I might have to pull out my soap box and spiel. I suppose there might be that young woman out there who won’t give a wonderful Christian young man a chance just because he doesn’t fit some unrealistic standard she has of perfection, but I have yet to meet that young woman. I’m even guilty myself of judging some of my guy friends for not asking the young ladies in our church out, but instead dating women from other circles – but then I see who they chose to marry and am nothing but pleased with the women they eventually ended up with! So yes, I do think some people are possibly too picky, but I don’t think it’s the majority of us. It’s not like guys are begging to date me and I’m standing there like “No! I’m sorry! You’re not the Benedict Cumberbatch of my dreams!” Most of the adults I know are perfectly capable of telling the fantasy from reality and not expecting the former over the latter. Actually, the people I have met who had unrealistic expectations of a spouse are usually already married and quite possibly should have been more picky when dating.

Also, dating today when you are a committed Christian, celibate and passionate about Christ, is tough. Every article I read about creating a great online dating profile says not to limit by religion, that is the kiss of death for options. But for me, that was the most important thing in my life. Why would I talk about how I like to travel and eat gelato but leave out my savior? It just doesn’t make sense. We can also end up the wrong age, the wrong size, and the wrong personality for many “Christians,” apparently. And I’m good with that. I like my age, and size, and personality, but I do realize it’s not typical – I’m always way too liberal for conservative Christians and a bit too conservative for liberals.

So if you are single and don’t seem to get dates, realize that’s okay, and actually surprisingly normal. There are a lot of us out there. You then have a couple of options:

  1. You can mope and be sad about it (easy, but terrible option).
  2. You can embrace your singleness and seek contentment in it for the long run (hard, but awesome option).
  3. Or you can seek contentment in it but also keep trying to date (hard, but also awesome option).

If you decide you want to date, then my encouragement to you is to be picky. Only date Christians. Look for people you think could be interesting, good to talk to, to hang out with, but most of all who love Christ and are trying to grow in living godly lives. Trying is the key word here. No one is perfect, but if they are willing to grow and learn then that’s a great sign. One great thing to look for is if your potential date is active in their church. There are a lot of people out there who believe in God but don’t have an active faith. If being part of the body of Christ is important to you, then seek someone who has it as a priority as well.

Dating someone who doesn’t believe in God or believes in a different God is a seriously bad idea. If you love God more than anything else, then date someone else who at least has the potential to have that same love. I adore books, reading, and geeking out over literature – if a man says “I don’t like reading, I just don’t see the point” then that’s a turn-off for me. How much more so should I not be interested in a man who says “Yeah, I don’t really believe the whole God thing.”

As for online dating, only try it if you can do so and hold to a high standard and not let it consume you or depress you. Don’t allow dating apps to become the main priority in your life. Don’t allow them to take over your thought life. There are more important things to focus on. And be smart and safe.

For my married readers, please realize that some of us have little to no control over whether we date or not. If we have high standards for a godly partner we actually like and aren’t willing to just date random people who may or may not love our God the way we do and who we’d be miserable living with for the rest of our lives, then we honestly might not get asked on dates. It happens. We are not being too picky. It’s not like flocks of men and women are knocking on our doors and we’re turning them all away. A lot of people never get asked on dates, not for years.

If we view singleness as a gift just as marriage is a gift, then dating becomes less of a priority, there’s less pressure to find “the one.” Because if we meet a godly man or woman who we like and who likes us back, then great, we should date them and see if maybe the like can be love and if they are a worthy person to marry. And if the rest of us crush on people who don’t return it, or are asked out by creepy people only or no one at all, or are attracted to those who are bad for us, or aren’t really attracted to anyone, then we can just live awesome single lives. If our churches could move in this direction instead of the “everyone should be married by 25” model in which many of us were raised, then maybe churches could better support and encourage their singles in the ways they need it without the constant emphasis on dating and marriage.

So, rant over (for now). Please like, comment, and share. I’d love to know your thoughts, as there’s a lot more to say about this topic.