How Long, O Lord?

I’m in an online women’s Bible study that just started going through the book of James last night, and my home church had its second week of sermons on politics this Sunday. I am being reminded to “count it all joy” . . . “when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). I am being reminded that what affects me the most emotionally is a good sign of what I worship, that politics can become a false religion. I’m being reminded that the mature Christian will be filled with the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

But today, 200,000 people in my country are dead from Covid-19, many of which were preventable if our government had gotten its act together. But today, I cannot go outside because my lungs cannot handle breathing the air left behind by the fires surrounding us, people are losing their homes, and people have died while our president  repeatedly mocks our state and threatens not to send help. But today, three police officers who killed a black woman in her own house walked out of the court with little to no consequences, yet again. But today, myself and others like me who have lost our jobs due to the coronavirus search the news frantically to see if the government has finally found a compromise to help us with bills, our lost health insurance, and other needs. But today, my brother-in-law has to process the Zoom meeting he just had with his school district saying that he and all the other special education teachers will be going back to teaching in person on campus in October, even though they were given no plan on how this will actually be safe for them, their students, and their families. But today, evangelical pastors flout the law and refuse to take precautions on behalf of their parishioners because they’d rather take a political stance siding with a president that couldn’t care less about them. 

Today, I don’t know how to “count it all joy,” how not to be so emotionally invested in what’s going on politically, how to be at peace. Today I have no fun gifs with which to sprinkle my post. All I can do is listen to songs of lament on repeat, let the tears spill, let my heart hurt, lift up my voice in moaning grief and seething anger to my God, this God who cares for the vulnerable and lost, the widow and orphan, the sojourner and the poor so much that He came to earth to live amongst them, befriend them, teach them, feed them, heal them, then die for them. 

O, how my soul grieves! O, how my heart burns in anger! O, how my very body longs for God’s return and the redemption of this broken world! O, how helpless I feel, shut up rather safe and comfortable in my mother’s house, unable to fix anything for anyone, unable to even hug friends to comfort them, or march for righteous justice, or weep with my church in person! O, how I yearn for a new day to dawn of empathy and compassion, generosity and love! 

Politics is surrounding and directly affecting all of these things and more. There are immediate and long term needs everywhere I look. There is violence and hatred, cruelty and selfishness, a deep desire for power and a lack of care for those who need it most when I look at the political landscape. There is pain and loss and heartbreak, illness and death, grief and anger for so many who are meant to be served by our government.

Tears, slow yet steady, run down my face as I type this. I have no answers but my cries to the God of the universe, my Father, my creator, who IS love. Another day I will try to wrap my head around how to balance loving others well in this political landscape, how to find joy in it, how to find hope in the Lord in the midst of it, how to speak truth with love, how not to judge others harshly, how to view politics as important but not ultimate, how to participate in politics in ways that love my neighbors and help enact God’s desire for the flourishing of others, especially the vulnerable. Another day I, like David, will rejoice in God’s steadfast love and remember His bountiful gifts to us. But today I lament. Today I wish for sackcloth and ashes. I wish to tear out my hair and wail in the streets. Today I cannot stop the tears, I will not stop them. Today I will pray in sobs and songs and groans and wordless numbness. Today I will not be ok.

Psalm 13
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.
 
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? 
How long will you hide your face from me? 
How long must I take counsel in my soul 
and have sorrow in my heart all the day? 
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? 
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; 
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, 
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” 
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. 
But I have trusted in your steadfast love; 
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. 
I will sing to the Lord 
because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Single in the Time of Coronavirus

My life has changed entirely in the past few months, as life has changed for many. Not all, apparently – I’m still amazed to look at my social media feeds and see so many people going on vacation, visiting friends and family, eating in restaurants, traveling, dating, hanging out in other people’s houses, and acting like there isn’t a raging global virus going on all around us. Sigh. 

But for me, life is nothing like it was before mid-March. I have no job. I cannot leave town. I can’t touch anyone other than the person with whom I live – my mum. Some days, I don’t leave the house. Other days, I only get out to take my dog for a walk or go for a quick local drive, or to get take-out. I watch sermons on my laptop on Sunday mornings. About once every couple of weeks, my brother and sister and their families come over for a very socially distant paddling pool party for their kids in the backyard. Separated by picnic benches, two pools, two inflatable unicorn floaties, two sets of folding chairs, and mum and I off to yet another side on our porch swing. No hugs, yelled chatter, and a deep appreciation to even be able to see them in this limited way.

I might be taking extra precautions because I live with my mum, who is more at risk due to her age, or perhaps it’s just part of my conscientious personality, or my current lack of health insurance (why on earth does the US have our health insurance attached to our jobs??????). No matter what the reason is, I spend every day thinking through the options I have and which ones might kill me, my mum, or anyone who we come in contact with. And I spend every day wrestling with anger toward those around us who don’t seem to care at all about how they could affect us, our community, and how more and more people just keep dying.

For those of us who are taking this coronavirus seriously –  what an odd time it is to be single, to not have that life partner to make these decisions with, to not have that physical contact with a spouse and kids. My single parent friends are struggling more than anyone right now as they try to balance one income with kids doing school from home – an impossible task.

My single friends who live alone are struggling with loneliness and the extra stress of being entirely alone other than Zoom or Google meetings. My elderly single friends who live in senior living communities are even more cut off than normal, not being allowed visitors and having to totally quarantine for 14 days any time they leave the campus for doctor’s appointments or supplies. My single friends with roommates are having to evaluate how much exposure each of them has with jobs and family obligations and make incredibly tough calls about how to live together safely. My single friends who, like me, lost their jobs are dealing with the fall out of not having another income to rely on, not having a spouse to float us on their insurance, not having extra support. My single friends who still have to go into work (thank you, essential workers!!!) go home after stressful days to empty apartments. 

I don’t have a solution to these struggles – they are part of the reality in which we will most likely live for many months more. I just want to let you know that I see you, I see the extra layer of loneliness and sadness, the extra layer of stress, the extra layer of grief many singles wear at this time. Yes, married couples struggle too, and there are many others who have it even harder right now – the chronically ill, black men and women, those sick with Covid-19, those who have lost loved ones recently, poor and vulnerable populations. I do not pretend this is an easy time for anyone and, in fact, have two separate friends who are in the very beginning stages of divorce in the midst of this craziness, so I know marriage doesn’t solve hardship and can actually cause more of it.

But today, I wanted to recognize my single brothers and sisters out there who are doing what they need to do to survive each day in the face of a constant looming threat. You are making all the decisions for your household yourself. You are creating quarantine bubbles so you can still reach out and love others. You are crying in your rooms alone. You are overcoming shyness and exhaustion and other difficulties to get on yet another Facetime to try not to become a total hermit. You are checking your finances and trying to be wise, all on your own. You are grieving the loss of dream jobs, family members, friends, travel plans, and other things the coronavirus has stripped away from you. You are “attending” church online and texting your greetings. You are going to work in person or online or looking for work. You are battling anxiety and depression and grief and fear each night, alone. And, on top of all this, you are still dealing with everything you already struggled with in “normal” life. 

I see you. But, more importantly, God sees you. And He loves you. And He is with you – you are not alone. Our Christ was a single man with the weight of the world on His shoulders, separated from His Father, often alone and misunderstood. He understands your fears, your worries, your concerns. You do not have to be strong on your own. 

Romans 8:35-39 

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God is here with you. I know this knowledge doesn’t make the hardships go away, but I encourage you to turn to Him in prayer with your concerns, loneliness, and fears. 

Know that there are many of us out there in similar positions – the world of singles is vast. You are not alone. I encourage you to reach out to your friends. And I’m here for you too. Comment, e-mail, reply. And if you’d like to hire me for a Biblical Counseling session or a few, just fill out the bottom form on the Speaking and Counseling page.

It’s Valentine’s Day. I’m Single. Now What?

It’s Valentine’s Day, and I know a lot of singles have a rough time today. I’m here for you. But let’s be honest, we can have tough times on average, nothing days, so it’s not that unusual. Oddly, Valentine’s Day has never been a trigger for me. Perhaps it’s my realistic (some call it cynical) nature that doesn’t think it’s that great for most couples either, or the fact that I love decorating for holidays, or the relief I feel in having absolutely no pressure to make someone else’s V-Day super special. Maybe it’s the fact that, other than one awkward day in junior high, I have always been single on Valentine’s Day, so I’m pretty used to it. I also got See’s Candies from my mum, flowers from a friend, and adorable little cardboard valentines from some students, so there’s that. 

I happen to have today off because of a 4 day President’s Day weekend, so I find myself with much more time to fill than usual on Valentine’s Day. So for my friends out there who are feeling a little more alone than usual, here’s how I’m dealing with it:

Step 1: Get some exercise. Shocking, I know, for a couch potato like me to suggest this, but it’s how I started my day. My exercise consisted of my last physical therapy session for my crappy back which was pretty much lots and lots of stretching. Lots. And lots. Of stretching. Anyway, instead of sleeping in and starting off slow like my insomniac body loves, it was a mood lifter to start with movement.

Step 2: Eat yummy food. On my way home from PT, I drove through the local Tom’s and treated myself to one of the yummiest breakfast burritos around. Tonight, mum and I will be grabbing our favorite kebab plates for take out, and I will finish off the bottle of wine I opened a couple nights ago, because I’m classy like that. And yes, there will be chocolate.

Step 3: Rest. I brought that burrito home and ate it on the couch while watching the cheer-leading thing on Netflix. This helped me rest and recover from PT before moving on to some chores, while reminding me how insane I think people that do athletics at that level are. So it was a win-win.

Step 4: Help someone else. After the burrito brunch, I did some house cleaning for my mum because she’s nicer than I am and is having lots of (mostly older, widowed, or divorced) people over tomorrow for a post-Valentine’s Day lunch. The windows haven’t looked this good in a long while. (Except for the ones that seem to be dirty between the double panes and impossible to reach? Those are beyond my skill level.)

Step 5: Do something creative. I have a short story deadline tomorrow for a project with which I’ve been helping, so I got that done today and sent off to the editor. Something about gospel care, suffering, and lament. After a couple months off from writing (sorry!) it was nice to get back to it.

Step 6: Spend some time with God. The story I was working on required some biblical research and prayer, so I was able to spend some time talking with God and reading his word. I was also able to spend a lot of the window washing time in prayer for my friends and family because my wireless speaker stopped working so I couldn’t listen to podcasts, so that worked out well.

Step 7: Avoid the interwebs. For some, it might be best to stay off social media so you don’t have to witness every couple on the planet shove their adorableness in your face via three different types of media. For others, like me, you might just need a break from the insanity that is Donald Trump and his ilk.

Step 8: If possible, spend at least some time with another person. I know this isn’t always possible. I lived alone for many years, so I get it. But if you can, spend at least some of this weekend around other people. I’m looking forward to hanging out with my mum tonight and watching “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You” together. If you are alone and can’t find someone to hang out with, feel free to send me a note here and we’ll hang out in spirit.

Step 9: Hug a good doggo. Again, if you can. You might need to borrow a friend or neighbor’s pet for this. Or, if you’re not allergic like I sadly am, find an obliging kitty. Anyway, I’m getting lots of oxytocin hits by snuggling my old little puppy. He’s a gift.

Step 10: Don’t take it all so seriously. This goes for singles and couples alike. It’s just another day. And yes, it’s cool to have a day to express love for the people in our lives, but it’s not the only day we can do that so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Don’t take all the happy couple photos too seriously either, it’s just one nice moment amongst the very hard work it takes every one of those people to make their relationships work. Props to them. Be silly. Wear pink or don’t. I currently have on a black t-shirt stating boldly “Books Not Bullets: march for our lives av”. (That made for a could-have-been awkward moment in PT this morning when the Air Force veteran was on the table next to mine. But we’re good. I thanked him for his service, he cracked some jokes about the stretches, and we were best buds by the time I had to go away to the leg press.) I do have hedgehogs with hearts socks on.

Step 11: Tell people you love them. But not just today. Tell them all the time. Tell your family and your friends. Tell God. Tell your pets. Tell anyone you love that you love them. Let them know. 

How do you get through Valentine’s Day (or any other time where singleness is a bit more obvious than others)? What are your plans? Oh, and dear readers, I love you.

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.