Archive for Family

A Season of Joyful Lament

When I was little, this was the month school started, the nights became colder, and we celebrated my oldest brother’s and my mum’s birthdays. Now, school’s been in full swing since August, our cool nights compete with unseasonably hot days and wildfires, my brother and mum share their birth month with my precious nephew Benji, and all of this is tinged with the slightly nostalgic melancholy memory of those weeks 15 years ago as my dad lay dying. September.  

Perhaps I was always meant to be in education since shopping for school supplies was the highlight of my fall. Browsing through the aisles of not-yet-used pens, pencils, and notebooks filled me with a sense of euphoria. Nothing called to me quite like the neon designs of Trapper Keepers or Lisa Frank folders. We’d place new school clothes on layaway back when department stores were still a thing and there were no Targets or Walmarts, teaching us patience and the joy of delayed gratification as we had to wait a few weeks to wear our fresh duds.

This September found me frantically browsing Pinterest for bulletin board ideas and rejoicing in the small box of supplies the front office ordered for me – various types of special tape created just for books, post it notes, fall themed bookmarks, and other library necessities. Mum and I dug out our autumnal decorations from various boxes in the garage to fill the house with the semblance of fall even when it was still 109° outside.

I love fall. As someone who is constantly overheated, I embrace the time of year when our excessive Southern Californian heat gives way to cool breezes and crisp weather. Honestly, I should live in Seattle, London, or Edinburgh – somewhere the sun is not quite as prevalent as the middle of a desert in one of the sunniest states. Halloween is my favorite holiday, cinnamon apples my favorite scent, and hot toddies a favorite drink.

Yet this is the season in which my father died. Even now, 15 years later, those weeks in the hospital form some of my most vivid memories. Though I will never stop missing him, his absence has been assimilated into my existence, a normal part of who I am. As a woman who never married, he still remains the most influential man in my life.

So what to do with September? Two things: be okay with being a bit more sad this month and also celebrate as much as possible, giving thanks to God for both the joy and losses.

Grief is like a muscle memory, it often hits without thought, somehow present in the body before the brain and heart catch up. There are days I’ll wake up feeling wistful – melancholy, yearning for something but not knowing what, and then I’ll remember suddenly that it is September. My body remembers this month. So instead of fighting it, feeling confused or bad about still getting sad all these years later, I have learned to accept grief, to trust my body. There is a huge difference between wallowing and experiencing. I don’t allow myself to sit in my pain all day every day, dwelling on the hard memories or what I’ve lost – but I do allow myself to cry if I feel like crying, to remember him, to talk about him or just quietly acknowledge to myself that I have felt true loss.

I pray about this too, thanking God for giving us a good dad for as long as we had him. My family is well aware how rare and special he was. It’s an oddly beautiful thing to be able to pray with joy and deep grief at the same time, to thank God while tears slip down my face.

One of my favorite hymns expresses this dichotomy better than I can:

It Is Well with my Soul by Horatio G. Spafford

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

Refrain:
It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control,
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and hath shed his own blood for my soul.
(Refrain)

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
my sin, not in part but the whole,
is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
(Refrain)

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
if Jordan above me shall roll,
no pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
(Refrain)

But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
the sky, not the grave, is our goal;
oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!
(Refrain)

And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
even so, it is well with my soul.
(Refrain)

As Christians, we often focus on how we’re supposed to be filled with joy, as if smiling all the time will somehow bring those around us to fall in love with our God. The older I get, the more I appreciate the Christian’s call to lament. I can think of sermon after sermon that paint Christians as needing to have a positive attitude all the time, but can’t think of many I’ve heard on how we should also lament – mourn with God, cry out to him, let him see our pain and grief, let him be part of that.

There is deep beauty in simultaneously being grateful to God for what has happened in our lives while grieving what has happened, to be able to be sad,yet fine. Just as our country marks days to remember great men who helped form our ideals like George Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr., just as we build memorials and lower the flag to half mast on 9/11 and other such days of loss, it is important for us to allow these moments, days, even months of remembrance.

I know those who fear grief, who push it back and try to ignore or forget it with the mantra of moving on. I know others who cannot escape grief, who let it drown them, unable to function. There is this third option – that of trusting God in the midst of acknowledging our grief. To thank him while crying out to him. To turn our eyes to those God has placed in our path, loving and serving them, while still recognizing we are a little extra broken right now and we might need some space or more hugs or greater patience or a cup of tea. Or perhaps a trip to Disneyland to see the fall decorations.

And somehow after a couple particularly difficult years, September regained its seat as one of our favorite months. Autumn reigns once more as the best season. My family relearned how to celebrate the birthdays, the weather, the flavors and scents, the holidays, the changing leaves. Perhaps experiencing loss in this season is a bit easier, as fall represents the beautiful merging of life and death – harvest and the coming winter, leaves changing color to bright reds and yellows, then falling away for the year. Halloween and Dia de los Muertos bring the dead together with the living. Warm days merge with colder nights. It is the perfect time to be filled with joy and melancholy simultaneously. We don’t need to choose one or the other, we can dwell in both.

That Auntie Life

Sunday night I sat at a posh Los Angeles restaurant with two of my best friends, single men, who took me out for a belated birthday meal. We met early at the restaurant bar for an hour of pre-dinner drinks and catching up, then enjoyed 2 hours of a multi-course meal. Uninterrupted by children or spouses, we were able to discuss whatever we liked, laugh, encourage, and brainstorm together. In my 20’s and early 30’s, nights like this were common, but they are increasingly more rare these days.

One of my friends brought up how awesome their new Bible study group is, but how it would be even nicer if they weren’t the only single people in it. I’m a bit older than them, so I broke the news that, the longer we’re in the church, the older we get, the less likely it is that we will actually be able to have other singles in our church circles who are anywhere close to our age. The choice seems to become either you hang out with young single 20-somethings forever, jump up to the older single widows and widowers in their 60’s and over, or you just have to get comfortable with being the token single in your group of people your age.

It’s an interesting conundrum, the desire to be with those who are like us. I don’t really fit into any category as the vast majority of the people I went to college with are now married with multiple children, or at least a house and some dogs. Most singles I meet in the church are at least a decade or two younger than me or several decades older. I treasure my relationships with both these groups, but am not quite one of either. Right now, since I’m trying out a church after my move, I often hear “well, there are a couple other singles in the group, but they’re in their 20’s,” or “everyone in the group is married with kids, well, except for that one widow in her 80’s.”

So what can we singles in the middle do? I’ve found great joy and success in embracing The Auntie Life. I no longer seek a Bible study with mostly singles, but look for one with lots of different types of people; different ages, life stages, genders, races, outlooks, etc. Then, even if I am the only or one of the only singles in the group, I can just be another different voice among many. If there are younger singles, I can mentor them, if there are older couples, they can give me wise counsel, if there are parents with kids, I can be another support to them in the hard task of raising kids and they can bless me with their friendship.

Before my Sunday oh-so-urban-LA dinner with my guys, I had spent the entire week embracing my role as Auntie. My oldest brother and his two boys came for their annual week at grandma’s. And, since I now live with her, I was there for the entirety. It’s actually the longest sustained amount of time I’ve ever spent with my nephews. To be honest, I was nervous – worried that I’d tire out or not get along with the teen and preteen guys. But after a week with them, I adore them even more than I did before and wish I could spend even more time with them. My little loves, the 3+ year old nephew and niece that live nearby, were also around most of the week and it was such a joy to see them bonding as cousins.

Saturday, my sister and I took her little daughter, my niece, to the California Science Center to meet up with her beloved college roommate, a mutual friend of ours. She too is single, just a year older than I, but she took the time to drive out to a kid-friendly spot just so she could meet her friend’s little girl. Like me, she has grown to love the Auntie Life and build it into her life.

I realize that my life is a bit more flexible than my married friends’, especially once kids enter the picture. So instead of letting those relationships drop off or waiting until they stretch themselves to go out with me one on one, I’ve been trying to fit myself into their lives. If I wait for the one-on-one happy hour drink, it might just never happen – instead, I can just meet them at Chik-fil-A where the kids can get nuggets and play in the playground, and I can catch up with their mum or dad.

Yes, it’s chaotic and loud and interrupted, but it’s also fun and real. I can drive two hours to go to a dear friend’s daughter’s second birthday party – after all, I was there at the hospital the day she was born, trying to nap in the waiting room with my roommate as we awaited her arrival. I can meet friends at children’s museums, parks, and libraries instead of our favorite sushi spot. Or, better yet, I can bring our favorite sushi to their house to savor as their kids show me their latest drawings and toys.

Yes, this is complicated and messy, and it’s not as easy as it used to be when we were all 25 and single. But unless I want to spend my life hanging out with 25 year old singles with whom I have even less in common, and honestly, with whom I no longer have the desire or ability to keep up, I need to help my mostly married with kids friends incorporate me into their lives.

I have a godson and whatever the protestant equivalent is of a goddaughter, 3 nephews and 1 niece, 3 children of my childhood best friend, 2 of my sister’s childhood best friend, and 1 of a dear friend in LA who all call me Auntie Fawn, not to mention all the other amazing children of friends and fellow church-goers. Hanging out with these kids isn’t a compromise or burden for me, just so I can see their parents – it’s a joy and honor. My life is better for having them in it. It can be exhausting and sometimes I have to take a moment for an attitude check before driving over to see them, but it’s always worth it. Always.

So, instead of being saddened or even a bit bitter about not having as many singles around us as we’d like, a diminishing number year after year, I challenge you to embrace the Auntie or Uncle Life. It’s pretty awesome – you can reach out to the married friends and family around you and minister to them, you can be an incredible influence on their kids as they grow up, and you can experience the love that comes from being a part of their extended family.

And yes, when you do get the opportunity to go out to dinner with other singles anywhere close to your age, or your friends who are parents can get a babysitter for once, jump on it. These grown up moments alone are rare blessings and should also be celebrated.

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.