Archive for Balance

A Single’s Survival Guide to the Holidays

Are you facing the upcoming holidays with a blend of excitement and dismay? Happy to have a few days off to celebrate, worship, and see friends and family, but also dreading the inevitable stress, awkwardness, and loneliness that can tag along? Not quite sure exactly how to survive relatives asking about your love life, being the only one at the office party without a spouse, or being minus one on New Year’s Eve yet again, without wanting to toss all holiday cheer out the window? I’ve been there. I lived there. And, after a couple decades of adult singleness, I’ve got a few tips that might help you make the next two months more joyous and less anxiety-inducing.

Make a Game Plan

For those of you who live in cities like Los Angeles where no one ever RSVPs, creating a schedule will feel wrong. What if something better comes up? Everyone plans things last minute anyway, so you might miss out! Bear with me. I had a few LA years there where I looked ahead to my time of at Thanksgiving and Christmas as a blank slate, and rather than giving me the freedom to fill it as things came up, it left me anxious and depressed. Things did come up, but somehow they came up all at once, leaving me frantically balancing multiple events, anxiously picking and choosing what I’d do as I tried not to offend anyone. And, since everything happened all at once, there were often large swaths of time where I’d sit at home waiting for something to happen, feeling quite lonely and sorry for myself. Thus, the game plan was born.

I’ve found the best way to do it is create a blend of set-in-stone events, a couple flexible ones, some down time, and some free time to be filled in as things arise. I also try to make sure my plan includes time with family and time with friends. For instance, I have this week off for Thanksgiving Break and, instead of feeling stressed out with the million things I have to do or sad because I’m waiting around for others to make plans, I am looking forward to the week with great enthusiasm. Knowing I’ll be busy next week, I planned to stay home the Saturday before so I could get this blog done, do laundry, and rest up a bit. Then, on Sunday I’ll head to LA to go to my old church for second service, leaving lunch plans up in the air so I can go out with whoever is available after church. I’ve got dinner/drinks plans with a few friends for Sunday night, lunch plans with other friends Monday, and dinner plans with my girls Monday evening before heading back to the desert for the week. I’ve squeezed some appointments in Tuesday since they have to be done when I’m usually at work, Wednesday is left free to help my mum cook and bake for Thanksgiving, and Thursday-Friday will be for family. The weekend after Thanksgiving I’ve left open because I know my mum will want to decorate for Christmas, and I value being able to help her put the tree up. That also gives me to time to blog, do chores, and gear up for going back to work next week.

Whew! It seems like a lot, but it has a lot of space planned into it so I can love others, let others love me, celebrate, give thanks, and rest. I also remember that Christmas is coming up soon, when I’ll have some more time off, so I don’t feel pressured to see everyone or do everything this week. Never try to fit EVERYTHING into your schedule because it’s impossible and will only stress you out. Pick a couple things for each holiday as your set-in-stone plans, and save the rest for another time. Then try to hold these plans loosely, ready to be flexible if they fall through. Cold and flu season overlaps the holidays, weather can get bad (in non-southern Californian parts of the world, I’m told), and things come up. Be prepared to modify your plans if needed.

So, singles, start texting your friends and booking some lunches! Let your family know which days you’ll be there with them, and which days you’ll be gone. And don’t forget to set aside time to actually rest.

Embrace Friends as Family

When I was younger, I used to feel guilty when I wanted to spend some of my few days off with friends instead of the entire time with family. But the longer I lived in one city, the more my friendships became like family and I yearned for quality time with my friends as much as my biological family.

This became more pronounced as I got more involved with my church. Because of this, I started changing my plans to head up to my mum’s a day or two later, or head back to my apartment a couple days earlier so I could make it to church and spend time with that family as well. Now that I live with my mum, I am blocking out time to go back to my old LA neighborhood, including my old church, as part of my holiday plans.

If you don’t really have family, or they’re too far away to visit during the holidays, embrace your friends as family! Friendsgiving can be one of the most beautiful, enjoyable, worshipful meals you can have. Reach out to other singles, or married couples who live too far to travel to family. Be bold, ask what people are doing, get adopted by families in your church, or adopt a few other singles and create your own holiday celebrations with them. I had a friend who hosted Friendsgiving in her apartment every year for those who stayed behind in LA, and another who always had a Christmas Eve party for stragglers. Don’t be alone. And don’t feel like family has to be related by blood.

Start Your Own Traditions

One of the things people do when they get married, and even more when they have kids, is start their own family traditions. This is awesome as it helps them celebrate the things God is doing in their lives by marking certain days and seasons. As single adults, we often get caught up in the traditions of others and rarely make our own. If you’ve been single for awhile now, it might be time to finally embrace the holidays by creating some traditions.

When I lived a couple hours away from my family, and most of my friends were also single and away from theirs, we created a few traditions together. At the end of each semester (I was a teacher then), some of my friends (mostly teachers) and I would go to our favorite fancy Korean BBQ spot to celebrate getting through finals. These times were precious, as we could give thanks that we survived another semester, and celebrate it being over. Another tradition was my friend’s annual Christmas party; we’d all chip in by bringing food and drinks, and mark the holiday a little early before everyone went our separate ways out of town. As most of us would head back into the city on New Year’s Eve or Day, another friend hosted an annual New Year’s Day Brunch open house, where we’d slowly trickle in throughout the late morning/early afternoon for coffee, mimosas, cinnamon buns, and french toast casseroles.

Roomie Christmas was one of my favorite traditions. My fabulous flatmate and I would set aside an evening the week before Christmas, before I left town, to celebrate Christmas together. We always decorated our flat for the holidays, even getting a 6’ tall live Christmas tree a couple times, so sometimes roomie Christmas was just spent at home, eating seasonal snacks, having hot toddies and watching “Die Hard” or introducing her to “A Nightmare Before Christmas.” One year, we went to an Andrew Bird concert in a gorgeous old cathedral, another we went to Disneyland for our roomie Christmas date. That time was always special, for just the two of us, and set apart from the rest of the holiday busyness.

I would also make sure I was back in my hometown a couple days before Christmas so I could go to Christmas Eve service with my mum, brother, and sister-in-law at their church and then partake in our family’s tradition of opening our stockings that night.

Since I just moved back to the town much of my family lives in and instead live a couple hours from most of my friends, I’m working on creating some new traditions outside of my family ones, so I can still celebrate with my friends.

Get Over Not Having a Plus One

I honestly can’t remember ever having a plus one for anything – not a wedding, family Thanksgiving dinner, work Christmas party, or New Year’s Eve celebration. I had a couple boyfriends in my early 20’s, but I guess they weren’t around during the holidays, or weren’t serious enough to bring home to meet the family. So, while every one of my four siblings brought significant others, some of whom eventually turned into spouses, with them to Thanksgiving and Christmas family meals, I never did. While almost everyone else attended the annual work Christmas party accompanied by a spouse or date, I stood in the corner nursing my drink, feeling oh-so-alone. And don’t get me started on the horrors of one New Year’s Eve party after another, standing there alarmed as everyone else around me seemed to have someone to kiss except for myself and the one awkward single guy who had no intention of kissing me.

One of the benefits of being perpetually single for a couple of decades is that everyone gets used to it. Your Bridget Jones awkwardly trying to make small talk with Mr. Darcy in a reindeer jumper moments decrease. Relatives eventually stop asking the horrible questions about your love life. People stop putting “Plus One” on your invitation as it becomes assumed you’ll come alone. The lone single guy at the part stops being threatened that you’ll want to flirt with him because, well, you’re older now and never really learned how to flirt in the first place. When this started happening (or not happening, I suppose) I was offended. How dare my cousin stop asking if I had a boyfriend, did they think I would be single forever? How rude for my friend to not even give me the chance to bring a Plus One to their wedding, did they think I couldn’t find a date? How condescending for the guy to assume I’m not interested in flirting, is it  just because I’m over 35? But to be honest, at this point in my life, all of these answers are pretty true. I think I will most likely be single forever, I haven’t had a date to any of these functions and probably never will, and I am probably not interested in the guy at the party at all. And I’m pretty happy this way.

So, my tip is to embrace being single during the holidays. Instead of yearning for the rom-com movie ending of every Hallmark movie, learn to love your independence. Instead of getting upset that your cousin is bothering you about not being married yet, tell her how happy you are in your current life because you’ve been able to reach out to others more and serve God in particular ways only a single person can. Explain how awesome work, travel, friendships, church, and ministry have been lately. Change the focus from your single status to your life as a child of God who is fulfilling his plan for your life.

At the office holiday party, enjoy getting the opportunity to meet the spouses and significant others of these people with whom you spend so much of your time. These are the humans that mean the most to your coworkers, so embrace getting to know them. I actually became friends with the husbands and wives of the teachers I worked with through holiday parties like this, and looked forward to getting to catch up with them each year. Don’t stand in the corner feeling awkward, instead be confident that you are just as valuable and have as much to offer as they do. Also, remember that pretty much everyone feels awkward at parties like this! If you make it  your goal to help others feel at ease, you’ll focus less on yourself and end up having an even better time as you help others feel more at ease.

As my friends dated and married over the years, they shared a secret with me: New Year’s Eve is actually one of the most overrated holidays and is almost always a let down for everyone, even when you have someone to kiss. So, take this and other holidays less seriously. Lower those romantic expectations of adventure. Yes, I spent last New Year’s Eve with my only date a nervous doggy trying to hide from the fireworks. Unexciting New Year’s have less to do with being single, and more to do with the fact that we’re all getting old! It’s not like everyone is out partying while I’m home alone. Most of my married friends with kids are in bed by the time the actual West Coast midnight rolls around. Realizing this has been freeing, and now I can enjoy my quiet holiday nights.

Worship

Holidays help us mark our days and remember what God has done. I love them. They break up our usual day to day routine, giving us days off for worship and reflection, celebration and observation. I admit that some years, the holiday season has come and gone without this as my main focus; life gets busy and I get distracted. However, many of my favorite holiday seasons throughout my life were infused by times of worship, moments of looking back at what God had done that year, glimpses of his grace, times of thankfulness, and reflection on what the nativity truly means for humanity. This year, I’d like to infuse these upcoming days and weeks with worship.

One of my favorite parts of studying at L’Abri Fellowship in England last winter was being there for some of the holiday season: Halloween, Bonfire Night, an ex-pat Thanksgiving, the beginning of Advent and the weeks leading up to Christmas. Each morning, one of the workers read to us at breakfast, bits and pieces from the Bible, literature, poetry, and even songs, all meant to focus our thoughts upward and outward. The local church I went to, in a centuries old stone chapel, celebrated the first Sunday of advent with special choral music, liturgical readings, and mulled wine warmed over the pot bellied wood stove at the back of the church. At the Manor House, we had our first advent reading in a candle and wreath filled chapel on the grounds. Now that I’m back from sabbatical, back in the busy routine of humdrum daily life, I’m working to find special ways to worship, on top of the ordinary ones.

At Thanksgiving, my sister and I make place cards by writing Bible verses of thanks on index cards and decorating them with stickers. After dinner, we go around, read our verse, and say something we’re thankful for. Singles, this is something you can do with family or friends! And this thankfulness should infuse our lives; instead of thinking about what we don’t have, we can thank God for what we do have. Holidays give us a unique opportunity to set aside time to meditate on specific things, whether it’s what God has done in our lives this year, praising him for giving up so much to become human in order to show his love for us, or looking ahead to the next year and how we can glorify him better.

As a single person, one thing I’ve missed is family worship. I don’t have kids to create a Pinterest-worthy tree filled with hand-traced leaves with thanksgiving messages on them. I don’t sing Christmas carols, read the story of the Christ child, and light the Advent candles like we used to as a family when I was little. So we singles might need to get a little creative with our worship, find ways to incorporate it into our lives, set aside time to actually write a list of our thanks, write letters to friends who have blessed us, or pray through Psalms of thanksgiving. We might need to search out a devotional book to go through for advent, or download a schedule for Advent reading such as the one offered by the Revised Common Lectionary. We might have to be bold and ask our friends, roommates, or families if they’d like to join us for the lighting of Advent candles and prayer. We worship God through how we live our lives, but sometimes we need a bit more than that to help us refocus – sometimes we need the tradition and liturgy. Seek it out. Fit it in.

My mum and I have decided we’re going to observe advent together, our first year experiencing the entire season together in a decade. We haven’t quite figured out what we’re going to do yet, what we’ll read, how often, and when, but we’ll dig out the old Advent wreath and light the candles. If you have any ideas for readings my mum and I and other singles can incorporate into our own Advent rituals, comment below.

There are many ways singles can grow in our enjoyment of the holidays, these tips merely offer a few ideas. If you have more tips singles can use the survive during this holiday season, I’d love to hear them, and I wish you the happiest of holiday seasons!

Join me next week for the Skint Spinster’s Guide to Gift Giving.

Singles and Self-Care

Somehow, I got it into my head that “self-care” is a dirty word. Not for other people, just for me. I’ve always encouraged friends and family to take care of themselves: to rest when they’re tired, see the doctor when they’re ill, care for their injuries, be gentle with themselves when they’re depressed or grieving, and to say no to other plans when they’re overwhelmed. Yet, when it came to myself, I was relentless.

I’m the girl who sprained my ankle more than 20 times and yet never went to a doctor about it. The one who worked 70 hours a week, and still agreed to volunteer at church or help out with the school play. The person who always answered her phone, texted back right away, or responded to emails at all hours of the day and night. The teacher who edited student college essays via Google Doc even on vacation, or after they had graduated and were at community college, and who never said no when asked to write a college recommendation. The insomniac counselor who could always chat at 2 in the morning when my counselee was in crisis.

That’s who I was, mostly defined by my lack of self-care. And, in the Christian community, this was seen by most as good, godly even. I got Teacher of the Year and was constantly praised for what a great role model I was. I was commended for my commitment to my counselees and students. I was encouraged to keep up the good work, and expected to do so. And all the while I was growing more and more broken inside – constantly sick, frequently injured, always exhausted, emotionally drained, depressed, and forever worried I’d disappoint everyone.

I know I developed these expectations myself, that I am responsible for living my life this way for so long. But the thoughts that this is how a Christian single woman should live her life were planted and watered somewhere.

When you grow up in the evangelical conservative church, there is often an emphasis placed on one side of Christianity or the other: grace or righteousness, faith or works. If asked, the pastors and teachers I had would have said that the Bible teaches the importance of both; however, the culture of these institutions, and often the sermons and lessons, tended to highlight righteousness and works over grace and faith. My Christian school’s motto was “Excellence in everything,” and, little straight A student that I was, I took this to heart probably a bit more than I was meant to. In my head, the idea that I needed to sacrificially serve everyone in my life, do everything in my power to help those around me, even to or especially to my own detriment, was ground in.

I remember last year Googling “do all things with excellence” when I was looking for the verse that’s found in, since my church and school taught it so fiercely, and was shocked to find there is no verse that says this. The closest one, Colossians 3:23 actually says “whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not men.” Some translations say “work at it with all your heart,” “do it enthusiastically,” or “work from the soul.” This has a very different connotation than doing all things with excellence. You can work heartily, or do things with all your heart, and still suck at it. It’s freeing, actually! I can work from my soul, doing my job and ministry for the Lord, and still not be the best one at it, and that’s ok! It’s actually God-glorifying! I can’t even find the word “excellence” as my school defined it as necessary for us. We are told to excel still more in many of the epistles, but the vast majority of them tell us to “excel” at love for one another and for God (Philippians 1:9-10, 2 Corinthians 8:7, 1 Thessalonians 3:12, 4:1, 4:10). Nowhere does it say we have to excel academically, at sports, as missionaries, as wives and husbands, and in all other aspects of life. We don’t have to be superior in these areas, we just have to work heartily at them. We can and will fail, and it’s not the end of our faith. There is a big difference there, this is beautiful and freeing.

My mum tells a similar story, how growing up in the charismatic church as she did made her feel like she was never doing enough for the Gospel. Missionaries were held up as the gold standard for Christian living, and since she was merely a mother of 5 and a teacher, she didn’t quite make the grade. The motto at her parents’ churches was “burn out rather than rust out.” When I look at her life, I see nothing but service to her family and students, to her friends at church and her coworkers, but for her she still fights an inward battle of feeling like it’s never enough.

This weekend, I had the great joy of having afternoon tea with one of the young women I met in my term at English L’Abri last winter. During our reminiscing, we touched on this topic, remarking that many of the students ended up at the Manor House with similar questions: Is it okay to rest? What does that even mean? What is the balance between living a godly life of obedience and grace?

James 2:14-17 teaches about obedience:

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

Ephesians 2:9-89 says this about grace:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

The Scriptures are filled with verses about both of these sides to our relationship with Christ. I’m not saying I have the perfect answer to the questions listed above, but I do know it’s important to remember both the incredibly loving unending grace of God as well as showing our gratefulness to Him for his sacrifice by worshipping Him through trust and obedience, not just one or the other. While I do know there are some churches that emphasize the grace part without the works, I’ve always gone to ones that have done the opposite, telling us to glorify God without reminding us of the second half to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “and enjoy him forever.”

So here I am at 39 taking the time out of life to try to sort through what is actually expected of me, not by myself or what I think other Christians expect, but by God. And I’m realizing that the one thing God seems to want more than anything else is my love; for me to love him and love others (Matthew 22:36-40). And, as counter-cultural as this is for many in the conservative evangelical church to believe, I’m learning that one of the best ways for me to love God and love others is to be a bit less broken. This means that I am allowed to, even encouraged to, take care of myself.

I am better able to love God and others, to spend time in his word and prayer, to reach out and help my friends and family, if I am well rested, alert, and in as little pain as I can be. Getting rid of pain isn’t the goal of my life, but if I can rest my ankle by saying no to a few things the first couple weeks after I sprain it, then I will be able to say yes to more things later because it might actually heal for once. If I get more sleep, I can actually focus on conversations with my friends who are hurting or need encouragement, and I’ll be more patient with my students and more loving. My enjoyment of this incredible world around me helps me start to overcome my cynical views, and enjoy God even more.

Our culture in America today, especially in the cities where being overworked and tired is worn like a badge of honor, pushes us past what we were created to do. We were created with limitations and yet we think we can overcome them by working more. We work hard and play hard – even our free time is “hard.” The church seems to take this one step further with its obsession with the Puritan work ethic and martyr worship. And for singles, we get caught up in this without a partner to help us try to balance it all out.

Single people may die younger because of it – with no one to urge us to see a doctor, care for us after procedures, or give us companionship as we age, some studies have shown that singles, on the whole, die a bit earlier than our married counterparts. As much as married people struggle with this too – wanting to sacrifice everything for their kids or work more hours to provide for their families, they often have their husband to tell them to rest so they can be a better mother tomorrow, or to come home right away after work so they can spend time with their kids as a better father. It’s incredibly rare to hear Christians telling single men and women that they need to go home to take care of, well, themselves, that they should probably say no to this new ministry opportunity because they already need a break to just be alone. Yet, this might be even more necessary since the single person doesn’t have a spouse to pressure them into necessary rest.

Though I was taught that loving our neighbors as ourselves means we already love ourselves too much, so we need to work hard to get our love of others on par with that, I’m learning this might be the wrong view of Mark 12:31. I agree that we should not be selfish and make self-care more important than everything else in life to the point we stop caring about others; however, I do now think self-care is necessary and can actually be a beautiful part of our walk with God. It is humbling to admit we are broken and can’t do everything, to ask others for help, and admit we can’t be quite as active in ministry and work as we used to be. It takes a lot of reliance on God to follow doctor’s orders and sit on a couch, ankle on ice, instead of working overtime when finances are tight. It opens up a new kind of vulnerability in friendship when I, the counselor, tell my friends I need their help instead of the other way around.

I’m learning that I was not created to be Wonder Woman, as much as I yearn to be; instead, I am just me, a 39 year old single lady with foot problems and insomnia, a cynic who has struggled with depression, prone to sinus infections and back pain, whom God loves and cherishes and created for a community of believers in which we mutually love and help one another. In this weakness, there is beauty and true grace.

2 Corinthians 12:8-10 states:

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

So, my dear single readers, take care of yourselves, not the point of being unloving to others but to help you be able to love and enjoy God and others all the more. And my dear married readers, do the same, and try to encourage your single friends to go to the doctor when they need to, or go home to rest, or say no to some activities when they’re stressed, or just carve out time to be alone without some task to do. Remember, they might not have anyone else counteracting all the voices in their lives that tell them they have to do more and be more. Be that voice for them.

The Top 5 Things I Like to do Alone

As a perpetually single adult, I’ve spent a large portion of my life doing things alone. I even lived entirely on my own in a tiny rundown studio apartment for a few years when I first moved to LA. In all these years, I’ve grown to adore doing certain things completely solo as much as I abhor even just the thought of doing others sans company. Today’s blog will explore my top 5 list of the things I love doing all on my own, and next week I’ll tackle the things I hate.

We singles often think about how we feel awkward or depressed without a partner to do certain things with, but are we forgetting the awesomeness that comes from partaking in certain activities without anyone else? The older I get, the more I appreciate the rare opportunity I have to do the following things without one, or several, other people tagging along at all times. There can be great beauty and joy in solitude if approached the right way.

Here are the top 5 things I like to do alone:

Shopping

Some of my friends just love shopping together, but carpooling to Target or hitting up the closest outdoor mall is a bonding experience I’d rather forego. Even when I was a teen, I hated shopping with my friends, especially for clothes. As a plus size woman, I know which stores actually have clothes for my body type, and which styles may be worth trying on. When I shop with friends, many of whom are much smaller and have never had to consider that a store won’t have anything at all in their size, they inevitably want me to try stores or clothes that I already know will not work, so I’d rather just avoid that awkwardness and frustration.

When I go shopping on my own, I can shop as methodically and efficiently as I like. I am a list-maker, so heading down the aisles for exactly what I need and checking it off my list quickly brings me great satisfaction. I love getting in and out of the grocery store with what I need quickly and smoothly. My mother, a diligent browser who always gets things for amazing deals, can browse all day. I cannot – I reach my “shopping limit” and just don’t have it in me to go on. Honestly, most of my Christmas and birthday shopping is done online so I don’t have to worry about dealing with other humans and their differing shopping styles.

Even when it comes to larger purchases, like my car or phone, I enjoy shopping on my own. I can do as much online research as I like to find out the exact product I want, what it’s worth, and what I want to pay before heading into the dealership or shop on my own to get exactly what I’m looking for. I didn’t always enjoy doing this alone, and even cried when I was treated badly by a car dealer the first time I bought a car years ago. But, after another decade, I grew more confident and learned how to present myself, and I also learned how awesome it is to just get up and walk out if you are treated badly as a customer, especially if they are treating you disrespectfully for being a woman on your own. Now that I’m older and more confident, I don’t have that problem very often. When shopping with others for these big ticket items, I find myself trying to be polite by deferring to their opinions when I should just go with my instincts. Also, since I do extensive research and know what I’m looking for, it is easier to shop on my own without other people putting in their two cents when they don’t actually know what they’re talking about.

Many of my friends who are married with children have shared with me how much they miss just being able to shop without kids at their heels. For moms especially, shopping can become a chaotic chore. As a single woman, I can browse my way through bookstores (the one place my “shopping limit” is extended) for hours peacefully without having to worry about little ones knocking things over or husbands getting bored. Instead, shopping can become a quiet, enjoyable, independent experience.

Driving

Sometimes, when I’ve had a rough day or am just feeling antsy, I’ll get in my car and just drive. I’ll crank up the music, roll down the windows or blast the AC, pick a road or freeway, and just head out for an hour or two. When I lived in LA, my favorite time to do this was late at night – after traffic got less claustrophobic and the lights of the city blinked on to cast a romantic glow over buildings and concrete.

I remember when my dad was dying, just driving alone through the hills surrounding my desert town at night, listening to Damien Rice, crying a bit, and trying to process my grief. When you live with other people – family or roommates – a drive alone can be the best way to process tough emotions. While it is important to be vulnerable and let others help us when we’re feeling sad or are grieving, sometimes it’s nice to have the space to not have to worry about other people worrying about us.

Solo drives are also excellent opportunities for conversations with God, for crying out to him or singing his praises. Yes, sometimes I talk to myself or to God while driving, so don’t judge me too harshly if you see me driving by chattering on to no one. There is also great catharsis in blasting loud punk or rock music and singing along at the top of your lungs. Seriously, try it, it’s amazing.

Going for a solo evening stroll along a Santa Monica beach.

Beach Strolling

When I lived in West LA, one of my favorite things to do was stroll the beach by myself just before sunset. I’d park in that pay-by-the-hour lot off Ocean Park that the locals know about and the tourists never use, kick off my shoes, and walk along the sand just above the water line. Sometimes, friends would join me for this stroll, which I loved, and some of my best memories are walking with friends on the beach. But other times, it was just me, and it was beautiful.

I find my mind reaches a peaceful kind of clarity by the ocean which it rarely finds elsewhere. With my toes in the wet sand, the breeze in my hair, and the view of seagulls, giggling kids chasing waves, surfers way out where the whitecaps start, and the lights of the ferris wheel on the horizon, these walks alone were therapeutic. Again, I would find myself talking to God, though this time not out loud (I’m not that crazy yet).

In the last decade, quite a few big life decisions I’ve had to face were mulled over as I sat on the sand, looking out over the Pacific as the sun began to set. Infinity is easier to process when there is no end to the horizon, and big decisions seem more palatable. The edge of the ocean is a great place to spend some time alone.

Reading the Chronicles of Narnia alone over tea at the Vaults and Garden cafe in Oxford, England.

Reading & Writing

I was that nerdy kid in high school and college who abhorred group projects and would rather just get my work done on my own. I knew I’d either get stuck with a bossy partner who wanted to take over but do it worse than I could, or lazy students who’d make me do all the work. Either way, it wouldn’t be good. As an adult, I still feel this way.

One of my favorite things to do alone is read and write. I have some friends and family who also love to read, but even then it’s better alone because they can’t distract me, and I can’t distract them. When sitting in a room with another reader, inevitably one of us will end up commenting on something to the other and concentration is broken.

When the weather is good, it’s lovely to go outside in a garden (Descanso Gardens is great for this), or the backyard, iced tea or water in hand, and read for an hour or two. Cafes and coffee shops are perfect when it’s colder. I read well with ambient noise that doesn’t include people talking directly to me.

I also like to journal, but am rather shy about it so rarely do it when others are around. Since I’ve lived with family or roommates most of my life, I often wait until everyone else has gone to bed to write. My mum kindly set up a little desk for me in the guest room as my “home office” so I can blog peacefully in the back corner of the house without interruption.

The Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, one of my favorite places to be alone.

Traveling

One of my absolute favorite things to do alone is travel. I also enjoy traveling with friends and family, so this isn’t exclusive – I’m pretty much going to love any chance to explore new places. But, traveling alone does have some of its own perks.

As someone who is very aware of those around me and how they are feeling/reacting to the situations we’re in, traveling with others can be particularly stressful. I feel responsible for helping those I’m with feel comfortable and have a good time whether I’m actually responsible for this or not. Perhaps this stems from the fact that much of my world traveling has been as a chaperone to 50 high school students when I actually was responsible for them!

When I travel alone, most of the stress is removed. I know how to pack, how to deal with airports and transportation, I’m pretty flexible when it comes to food and places to stay, so when it’s just me, I don’t worry as much.

Traveling in groups is also difficult because everyone has different tastes in what they like to do. When I’m on my own, I can wander through museums for as long as I like, or plop myself down in front of one painting for an hour. I can discover an old cathedral and kneel to pray silently. I can stroll through cemeteries and libraries without worrying that people will think this is an odd hobby to have. I can sit at a sidewalk cafe with a cappuccino reading or journaling, people watching, and just enjoying the scenery.

Traveling alone also affords me the opportunity to stretch myself socially as well, which is stressful indeed, but good for me. When I travel with friends or family, I am usually just with them. When I travel on my own, I tend to stay at places like hostels or communes, where I am forced to interact with other people and make new friends. This is incredibly difficult for me, but also one of the most rewarding things in my life, and I now have friends all over the world who are dear to me because of experiencing new cities and countries together as strangers.

Some of my deepest spiritual moments have occurred while I traveled alone. Without the comfort of friends and family, it is easy to get lonely and feel a bit lost when traveling, especially in other countries and on other continents. It is in these times that I turn all the more to God and his word, finding comfort in knowing he is with me, finding joy in knowing I can always rely on him.

Traveling alone is not for everyone, and must be approached carefully, especially for women, but I have found those trips to be some of the most fulfilling experiences of my life.

The single life has some amazing benefits and we should remind ourselves of them more frequently. Much of what is spoken or written about singleness focuses on the negative side when some things are tremendously fulfilling and sometimes even more lovely when we get to do them on our own.

What are some of the things you enjoy doing alone?

When the World Expects Too Much

I decided to take last week off blogging since it was the first week of school. Always a hectic time, it was particularly insane this year as I was opening a school library for my first time ever, getting out consumables (workbooks) for every kid in the school (4-7 books per kid for over 1,100 students), and I had to do it all on my own as my partner had transferred to a different school and they haven’t replaced her yet. I’m trying to give myself permission to say no to things more often, but it’s still a struggle.

The thing is that I care . . . a lot . . . about a lot of things. I care about my students and teachers. I care about my family. I care about my friends. I care about my community, especially the poor and underrepresented, the voiceless and the weak. I care about my fellow Christians. I care about my country and my world.

But it’s just not enough.

As much as I tried, I didn’t have time for a kind word to each and every one of my students, many who really needed to be seen and appreciated in the first week of school. Even though I worked for hours and hours on the schedule, I still made a mistake and was unable to accommodate a couple of the teachers right away. Even though I prayed for energy, endurance, and patience I still complained more than I should have, still struggled not to cry at the end of a rough Friday. Even though I wanted to spend time with my brother and his son, I sat out their zoo trip on Saturday and stayed home instead because I felt like a giant walking bruise. Even though I followed the news all weekend and posted condemnation of the racist violence of the alt-right and the equivocating weak rhetoric of our president, I couldn’t actually make anything better. Even though I wanted to try hard to get to know people at my old/new church, I felt closed off and defensive Sunday morning at a church which seemed to act like nothing had happened, like America hadn’t just experienced horrible sin and violence.

It’s just not enough. I’m just not enough.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much our modern world demands of us and how much we demand of ourselves because of these expectations. As work got more and more stressful this week, I thought of every single person I know and realized not one of them has a job which is not frequently stressful. This brought up the question, are all jobs stressful? Is it a requirement to our survival (financial, physical) to be constantly stressed out?

Since Genesis 3 promises post-Fall humanity pain, sweat, and toil just for us to be able to eat, I suppose the answer to this is a resounding “Yes!” Which I find utterly depressing. I get that we can find rest in the Lord and all that, I even wrote a previous blog entry about that sort of thing, but some days I just can’t figure out how to practically do that in this difficult world of ours.

When I think about what the world expects of me and what I expect of myself, the only logical response seems to be feeling overwhelmed. Let’s break this down.

Expectations of the Awkward Spinster:

As a 39 year old, educated, Master’s degree carrying single adult woman

  • I should be doing quite well in my career by now.
  • I should be earning a decent wage with a retirement fund, savings account, and health insurance.
  • I should be either finished or almost finished with paying off my school loans and car.
  • I should be a leader or mentor at work at this point, helping newer younger coworkers find their way.
  • I shouldn’t just be writing a blog, but should be also working on my book and speaking career to go along with it.
  • I should have close relationships with the women in my church and be a vital part of a weekly Bible Study as well as my biweekly global prayer group.
  • I should be an involved aunt, a role model to my little loves, a reliable help to their parents.
  • I should be a helpful daughter to my mother financially, physically, and emotionally.
  • I should be a mature Christian woman who reads her Bible and has a significant time of prayer every day, memorizes scripture, journals, and processes it all.
  • I should somehow be both strong and meek, quiet and confident, submissive and yet a teacher.
  • I should be a dedicated biblical counselor, helping my church to set up a counseling training program, mentoring newer counselors, while counseling as many people as I can for free.
  • I should be active in my community, helping those in need with donations, volunteering, etc.
  • I should be an involved friend to those who’ve poured into me throughout my life, keeping up with them by writing e-mails, letters, text messages, social media comments, inviting them over, and talking to them on the phone.
  • I should be an involved member of the human race by keeping up with the news, being aware of what’s going on, and finding ways to help.
  • I should continue to be a passionate advocate for my former students and clients, encouraging them as they go off to college and careers and families, letting them know they are still loved and supported.
  • I should be an expert in my fields, keeping up with the latest in literature, writing, education, and biblical counseling.
  • I should be creative, writing poetry and journaling, blogging, and creating.
  • I should be a student of the world by traveling each year.
  • I should be a patron of the arts and news, things that matter to me and the world.
  • I should help around the house with cooking, cleaning, & maintenance. 
  • I should support my friends in the mission field through letters, prayer, and finances.
  • I should visit my friends and family out of state at least once a year.
  • I should spend time with my friends in LA by visiting once a month at least, and yet still be able to make new friends in my current town and invest in them too.
  • I should be a good doggy mamma and take him for walks and to the park.
  • I should keep up my geek cred by watching the latest Marvel or DC movies, reading the latest comic books, and going to a convention or two.
  • I should try online dating again and be open to possibilities.
  • I should lose weight, eat healthy, go to my doctor, and exercise daily.
  • I should march against white supremacy, protest the cruel regime shaping America today, stand up for the little guy.
  • I should, I should, I should . . .

This list never ends. I’m sure if you make a list for yourself, it will be just as long and overwhelming. Now, many of these expectations come from the world around me, what people expect of me, while some of them are what I expect of myself. It’s hard to parse through this list and separate them as many are intrinsically linked; I expect things of myself because I think others expect them of me.

It’s too much.

Wonder Woman #15 art by Terry & Rachel Dodson, story by Gail Simone

After a weekend like this one, when I wish I could just chuck everything else and go be a freedom fighter for a few months, I don’t even know where to start.

Which things are the most important of all? I am a finite human and cannot do everything. So where do I begin? In Mark 12:28-31, a scribe approaches Jesus and asks him,

“Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Since many, if not most, of the things on my list of “shoulds” are related to trying to love God and love others, I’m still struggling my way through these top two commandments. The practical application of theology is rarely straightforward. This is not one of those blogs where I post a question and then answer it at the end. I’m still scratching my way to the surface on this one, still overwhelmed, still confused. Just thought I’d put this out there because I’m pretty sure there are a lot of us in this predicament.

So, if you’ve got any answers for me, please comment away. In the meantime, I’ll be looking through this list of mine trying to figure out where these expectations come from, which ones really matter, and which ones take priority. Prayers, encouragement, British chocolate, and scotch are appreciated along the way!

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.

Oops . . . My Feminist is Showing!

As a girl, I learned about friendship from Frog and Toad, Anne and Diana, Frodo and Samwise, Han and Chewie. I learned about adventure from Huck Finn, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and Peter Pan. I learned about growing up from Jo March, Douglas Spaulding, Ender Wiggin, and the Cosby children. I learned about courage from Spider-Man, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman. What an amazing way to grow up! I had so many kick-ass role models to look up to. The fact that the vast majority of these characters were male never really registered with me. I was able to read books and watch movies, identifying with the hero or heroine, enjoying the stories of both men and women, getting something out of male or female targeted fiction. This is the world I grew up in, what I knew and never questioned, an excellent world – one which I loved.

As I got older, I noticed more and more how much of the literature I read and the films I watched were dominated by male heroes. Ensemble casts would add in one or two women, but were still mostly male, one Hermione to both a Harry and a Ron, a Black Widow and a Scarlet Witch to the rest of the Avengers.  As an elementary school librarian, I still have to search to find books with female leads – even when they’re about animals and not humans. Even after the fabulous push for strong heroines in sci-fi books like “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent,” they are still the minority. At school, at least three out of every four books assigned were by male authors.

And yet, as a girl who grew up on this literature, watching these films, reading these stories and poems and books in school, I was still able to find great value in them. I never really had a choice – it was either find something I could identify with, appreciate, or be entirely left out of the story. I was never taught to do this – no one ever sat my sister and I down and said, “now we’re going to read a book written by a man about boys, but you can still appreciate it and get something out of it.” No, we just learned to do that by reading and watching and putting ourselves into the heroes’ shoes. It was expected that this would come naturally to us, and, for the most part, it did.

This, by the way, is how half the world grows up – being exposed over and over again to the male perspective as representative and authoritative, and we mostly accept it, even love and appreciate it. These mostly male-dominated stories and characters are dear to my heart, and helped shape me growing up – I have nothing against them. I am the first in line for the latest “Batman” movie clearly targeting a male audience, and have read and reread the almost entirely male “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

As a geek and a Christian, this ability to put myself into the male narrative became even more necessary. Both of these cultures are dominated by male voices, so I learned to listen to pastors give illustration after illustration of being husbands and fathers, and I learned to somehow apply the lesson to my life. I read comic book after comic book in which many of the female characters were just there to be rescued, depicted scantily clad, or were just absent and I learned to love the story line, the artistry, and the adventure anyway.

And yet, when the 13th Doctor is announced as female, the internet reveals pockets of geeky men who just can’t handle this. When “Wonder Woman” strikes a powerful emotional chord with its female audiences, boys are confused about why. When Christian women bloggers start to bring up topics like this one, articles are written on how they need more male supervision.

I realize the trolls in comment sections aren’t the best way to judge how most people feel or think about controversial topics, but they do represent a growing, vocal cohort of the population. About a female lead for “Doctor Who,” one thing the more logical, thoughtful male commentators say is, “well, I’m not a misogynist and have no problem with women, but I just think this is going to alienate the original fan-base.” The assumption that the original fan-base was all male, and all macho men who can’t handle a female lead, is problematic in and of itself. I personally, woman that I am, have been watching “Doctor Who” since Eccleston resurrected it back in 2005. More importantly, why on earth should a female lead alienate anyone? Male leads haven’t alienated female audiences, why can’t men appreciate the courage, passion, and awesomeness of women in fiction just as much as we appreciate it in male characters?

“Wonder Woman” was a big deal, but if we bring up how powerful and important it is for us to see a strong female superhero as the lead of her own blockbuster movie, we are called “libtards,” “PC snowflakes,” or other words I won’t honor in print. When Christian women ask genuine, important, thoughtful questions about gender roles in the church, even those of us who are actually quite conservative in our beliefs, we are called “rebellious,” “unbiblical,” “upstarts,” and again other words I won’t honor in print by so-called Christian men.

In the library, I’ve had multiple little boys tell me they can’t read particular titles because they’re “girl books.” I have yet to have a single little girl tell me they won’t read a “boy book.” When I was a high school teacher, I never had a female student groan about the assigned text just because it was written by a man or for a mostly male audience, but the minute I assigned a text by a woman or one written for a mostly female audience, the teenage boys would whine and complain as if I was asking them to exert themselves in some horrible way.

As my wonderful brother-in-law pointed out, this isn’t just a problem of sexist men, but rather the result of a society in which men are expected to behave in very specific ways, one which is sadly emphasized too often in the church. “Manly” men are all the rage – some churches even preach this as the theologically necessary view of manhood. Therefore, even if a little boy wants to read “Nancy Drew” books along with his “Hardy Boys,” he might be bullied or seen as effeminate, so that desire is crushed out of him. In this way, I actually had more freedom as a little girl since I was never judged too harshly for reading “boy books” along with my “girl books.” So this issue goes beyond just a few sexist men to the way both fathers and mothers, pastors and teachers, really our whole society, raises its children. 

As I would tell my teenage boys when they groaned as I assigned Charlotte Bronte or Maya Angelou: “your female classmates, half the class, have been reading books by and for men since they started school and they haven’t once complained, the least you can do is read one or two by and for women.” All I’m asking is for those threatened guys to quiet down for a moment about not liking a woman being cast as the lead, or not understanding why a female superhero movie is a big deal, or not wanting pastors to allow female voices and stories be heard in the church, and instead learn to find the value in hearing someone else’s story. Rather than only being able to identify with stories when they feature someone exactly like you, do what the rest of us do and learn to use your imagination to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. And if you don’t understand why things are a big deal to women, please ask us. Avoid the temptation to mansplain why it shouldn’t matter, and just listen for once.

This disparity in representation between men and women only increases when discussing people of color, and especially women of color. At least as a white woman, I have a few heroes that look like me – but the minute you add any race other than Caucasian into the equation, the chances that you’ll find yourselves depicted as the hero or lead diminish to almost nothing. Though the focus of this article is on sex and not race, I cannot keep from mentioning this because it is a topic which seems to bring out the worst in people. If you think men shouldn’t have to be alienated by trying to appreciate a female lead, then how much more do you think men and women of color are alienated by having to try to identify with often stereotypically white macho males being held up as the quintessential hero?

What is my goal with this rant? I call upon my two favorite communities, Christians and geeks, to take a step back and ask ourselves if we are showing compassion and understanding to those different from us by allowing them to tell us their stories. Are we shying away from hearing someone else’s voice because it does not specifically represent us? Are we refusing to read or watch or listen to something because we might feel uncomfortable or alienated? Are we raising our sons to think anything written by a woman or with a female lead is too girly for them? Are we judging the value of story only based on things we know we already like, already can relate to? Like men and women of color, and women in general, have we ever trained ourselves to be able to listen to voices other than our own and still find value in them, or do we groan, whine, get angry, turn away, and search for a face that looks just like us?

My challenge to all of us this week is to read a blog or a book, watch a movie, or listen to a sermon by someone totally different from ourselves, aimed at a different audience. Take it in. Ponder. Look for something other than confirmation bias from it. Try to find points of connection. Do what every single woman and person of color spends their life doing. Who knows, you might find a new voice you actually like.

*If you are reading this via e-mail and are unable to see the gifs, please click through to the webpage, there are a lot in this one! 🙂

Top 5 Things I Love About Being Single

Last week I looked at the Top 5 Things I Hate About Being Single, so it’s time to explore what I love about the single life. The more I ponder this, I realize the things I currently love coincide well with what I hate about it. Instead of just giving me what I think I need or want, removing difficulties, and fulfilling my desires, God is giving me different gifts to fulfill my needs, using difficulties to grow me, and helping me prioritize my desires to recognize that his will truly is best. I have a long way to go before my mind and heart constantly dwell on this list rather than the previous one, but when I do, I realize that my single celibate life can actually be pretty sweet. Just as life can be tough for everyone no matter what state they find themselves in, it has joys and good gifts from the Lord as well, so here are my current favorite aspects of life in Episode VI as a single woman at the end of my 30’s.

1. Embracing My Own Team

I may not have been chosen by one other human being to be his lifelong teammate, but I have an epically awesome team in my life. And the fact that I’m not committed to a husband and possibly kids allows me to build closer relationships with the rest of my family and friends.

At the end of last January, I sat in the room I’d just moved into in my third Los Angeles apartment trying to catch my breath in the midst of some of the deepest grief I’d felt. I was now living with my 11th amazing roommate (not counting family) in the 16th residence (not counting study and travel abroad) of my life. And all I could see ahead of me was a lifetime of moves like this, from flat to flat, flatmate to flatmate, never having someone else help me carry the burden, always fighting through life alone. I guess somewhere in the back of my mind I must’ve always thought I’d have a husband by this point, a more permanent roomie, so it hit me hard – panic, grief, anger, fear…all of it. The depressed, suicidal thoughts of my teenage years crept back into my mind, unbidden and unwelcome. I was crushed, exhausted, lost. I was much too focused on what I didn’t have to see what was right there in front of me – a family.

Whereas in the past I faced my depression alone, hiding it from the world, this time I shared it with my pastor, weeping in the counseling room as he listened. I visited my mum and cried on her shoulder. I told my sister that the dark thoughts were back. And it helped – they all helped. They listened and cried with me, held me, brainstormed ways to overcome these feelings, and challenged me to change my perspective. I was not alone. I did have a team – a very dedicated one.

Those dark couple of months last year spurred me on to view family differently – less traditionally, and hopefully more the way God views it. I felt so alone, but that feeling wasn’t trustworthy. The “American Dream” still thrives in the modern American church, forever including the husband/wife, 2.2 kids, house, and dog. But this isn’t necessarily God’s dream life for all of us, just as it wasn’t the goal of the disciples nor Christ himself. While he may not have provided spouses for all of us, he does provide us all with family.

So, the older I get, the more I embrace my rambling, internationally scattered, diverse family made up of old friends and new, of my mum, siblings, nephews, niece, and cousins, of pastors and biblical counselors, former flatmates and travel buddies. I no longer see these relationships as mere ministry opportunities for me to serve others, but as loving, complex, mutually challenging and beneficial bonds between people who love each other. I am not all on my own or insignificant – God has provided me with an entire family to help me try to glorify him and enjoy him forever.

Romans 12:4-5

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

2. Future Freedom

One of the most awesome things about being single is how much freedom it allows. I’ve never been that person who knew exactly what I wanted to do when I grew up. Other than wanting to help people, there was no specific dream occupation. Because I don’t have to worry about what a husband wants or my children need, I’ve been able to pursue a couple of different careers in my life, from social work to teaching, and to move so I could live close to these jobs and give my all to them.

When I was a high school English teacher, our school offered international trips each year and since I never had to worry about who would take care of my kids for 2 weeks, I got to go on more of these trips than most of my married coworkers. I had passport, could travel. I got to see the world through the eyes of dozens of teenagers, which was surprisingly moving. I got to serve them and care for them while they were far from home, and experience some of the most amazing countries on earth.

As in the past when I decided to go to grad school, move, quit my job to go to England for 3 months, or work 3 part time jobs I enjoy instead of 1 full time one I might hate – I currently have the freedom in my life to figure this out. I can spend focused time in prayer, get wise counsel from people I trust, delve into what the Bible has to say, and be free to walk the path I think God has for me without hesitation, not having to acquiesce to a spouse’s desires. Singleness does not mean we should be foolish and make selfish, careless decisions but it does give us a slightly more blank slate to work with.

When I think ahead to my future, I have no idea what it will look like. Other than my couple of months of panic last year and when future fears crop up now and again, I usually find this exciting. God can do what he pleases with my life – he can keep me in the desert with my family, or take me somewhere else. He can allow me to continue on as an elementary school librarian, which I adore, or he can lead me to a different job. He can open up doors for me to get into counseling ministry again or keep them shut. No matter what happens, it’s just between God and I, and that is beautiful and freeing. I can be anxious about the things of the Lord and not worry about having to please anyone else.

1 Corinthians 7:32-34

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband.

3. Gaining Space

The whole not having sex part of the celibate single life can suck, and as mentioned in the last post, it is difficult to live without the human connection of touch. Still, I’ve gotta say – having a room all to myself is one of the greatest things ever. I often think if I ever do marry I’d prefer to go Ricky and Lucy in it and have separate beds at least, if not separate bedrooms like the upper class gentry in all those period pieces I love to watch.

Growing up the fourth of five children in a family that at times was middle class and others was, well, just poor, I shared a room with my sister and sometimes our little brother too. Memories of sneaking out of my room after everyone else went to bed to raid the bookcases for the next classic I hadn’t yet read, of reading by flashlight or just laying there frustrated until tears came, an insomniac trying so hard to just sleep like everyone else still haunt me to this day. On family trips, I was often found at 2 or 3 in the morning sitting reading in the motel bathtub so as not to disturb the rest of the peacefully slumbering family. Even now, traveling with others or staying with friends can be difficult as I must take my night owlish ways into consideration. Just the sound of someone else’s breathing, let alone snoring, can make falling asleep that much more of an arduous task.

As a much younger single in college and just out of grad school, I always had to share a bedroom, so at this point in my single life having space to myself is a treasure. I can stay up as late as I like, lights on, reading away. I can light scented candles without worrying about someone else’s allergies. I can sit on my bed blogging quietly, or dance around like a maniac to the Hamilton soundtrack. And I have uninterrupted time to pray and worship, journal and read my Bible.

The older I get, the more free I feel to carve out some space for myself without feeling selfish. As an extroverted introvert at L’Abri Fellowship in England last year, I felt guilty for struggling so much in my dorm room with up to 8 other women and in a manor house with 40 other people. After being encouraged by my tutor to seek time where I could be alone – especially space for me to be alone with God, I was better able to serve those around me. I started waking up a bit earlier so I could have time to read,journal, and pray at the desk in the morning room while everyone else was getting ready after breakfast. On some of our days off I went into a neighboring town on my own to rest and recharge for the very social days ahead. Having my own room for the last couple of weeks allowed me to sleep – and it’s amazing how necessary that is for this whole life thing, especially when that includes reaching out to help others.

Yes, the desire for space can be a selfish one, but it can also be necessary and good. We were built for rest, with limitations, and different people rest in different ways. Some recharge when they’re around other people, and some of us need a bit of time between human interactions to refocus. Christ, even in the midst of his busy season of teaching and healing when people needed him and sought him out, made a habit of going off completely by himself to spend time in prayer to his father. While married people can often use moments alone too, it is a lot easier to find them when you’re single.

Luke 5:15

But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.

4. Justified Self-Confidence

As much as I hate constantly having to justify myself as a single woman who should be taken seriously, I do love the fact that I can be independent. After a couple of decades as a single adult, I’ve learned how to take care of myself. I can look back on years of having to make the tough decisions on my own and trust my judgement. I can look forward to the unknown future and have confidence that I am equipped to face it.

I’ve bought cars, rented apartments, researched phone plans, Googled how to fix laptop issues, and killed all my own bugs long enough now to have a level of confidence in my own abilities. I also know when something is beyond me and how to either get a friend to help or hire a professional. Instead of going to my husband when I have a concern or question, I have to ask myself what God would have me to do, look in his word, remember the wise teaching I’ve received throughout my life, trust my education, and have faith that God will lead me.

Because of my track record of being a relatively responsible independent adult, I embrace my autonomous decision making opportunities. As a woman who paid her own way through college, and life thereafter (with some help here and there, thank you mum!) I have become very good at budgeting. My singleness means I get to spend the money I earn the way I think the Lord wants me to, the way I want to, and I don’t have to worry about my husband not seeing eye to eye on this. I’ve had friends who marry men who are thoughtless with money, which causes their wives a lot of anxiety as they try to balance not being nags with being able to pay the bills. I know people who married others who didn’t grow up donating money to charity or giving to the church, so there are arguments about how much they help others. As a counselor, I’ve had many married women express deep concern about the stress caused by the differences in how money is used in their marriage. I just have to look at my list of necessary expenditures, make sure they’re covered, see if anything is left over, and wonder what God would have me do with it.

The same joy of being able to do what I think is best applies to how I use my time and skills as well. Singleness allows me to say yes to what I think God would have me say yes to, and no to the rest, without having to double check with a spouse. Singleness is never an excuse for selfishness or wasting what God has given us. To counteract this temptation, I have amassed quite a few friends and family members who are wise advisers and counselors, to whom I can turn for advice when needed and who will hold me accountable if I start to make foolish decisions.

Proverbs 4:5-13

Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown. Hear my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many. I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness. When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble. Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life.

5. Being Grown and Loved

The last thing I love about being single is how much I have grown to rely on God. Not fitting into the typical view of what a Christian woman my age is expected to be makes me turn my eyes to God, wondering how he sees me. You might judge me or pity me, but since Christ’s death has covered my sin, God looks upon me with love and joy. I am not missing my other half, I am wholly his. Instead of judgement, there is grace; instead of pity, there is compassion.

Instead of focusing my future hopes upon the shaky possibility that I may one day marry, I can place all of my hopes, current and future, upon his unshakable promises. And so far I can confirm that he is, indeed, enough. As a woman who lost her father and never married, I feel especially cared for by my father in heaven. There have been moments when he was all I could cling to, and he sustained me just as he promised he would.

The best part of this point is that we can all experience it, whether married or single. God reveals his love to us and grows us in all of our circumstances. If you are married, he will use your marriage, if you are single, he will use your singleness. He will also use our jobs, families, friends, locations, hobbies, and even things like technology or the weather. God is using everything in our lives to reveal his endless love and grow us into his likeness.

Psalm 68:4-6a

Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the Lord; exult before him! Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity.

So, all in all, although there are some things I hate about the single life, it can be pretty spectacular if my eyes remain fixed on his.

Psalm 16:8

I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

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.

Just Another Manic Morning

I wake up each morning to the chimes of my cell phone alarm, roll over, and hit “cancel” (which always takes 3-4 tries to turn off in my not-yet-functional state). In those few seconds, when my brain is not yet awake, I see news alert after news alert – tweet-sized headlines that appear on my lock screen – causing my first thoughts as a sentient human to become “Damage Report!” Because I’m waking up on the west coast, it is 3 hours later than Washington DC, New York, and let’s be real, Florida, whence much of the news that concerns me these days emanates. It’s amazing how much can already have happened in those 3 little hours. Ten minutes later, still lying in bed staring at a screen, my brain struggling to string words together into reality, I realize I’m well on my way down the rabbit hole and that, if I don’t shut my phone off now, I’ll be late for work.

The tone of the morning is now set as sadness, anxiety, and often anger seeps into my consciousness. As I shower, the morning’s headlines race through my mind. As I make my coffee and down breakfast, I’m pondering the possible ramifications of the latest article or blog topic. On my drive to work, it takes all my self-control not to check headlines at the red lights and stop signs. And then, there I am, in a library full of my fabulous little children and I have to somehow immediately switch my mode of thinking into work mode.

When my insomniac self goes to bed at night, instead of reading a novel (I’ve been ⅓ of the way through Belgravia for weeks now) lately I’ve been back on social media and news sites on my phone. I think it’s good to be informed and know what is going on, even taking part in the online conversation here and there to try to help push forward justice and overcome evil. Still, my poor anxious brain is having trouble winding down so I can actually sleep (something my body already struggles against).

This is not okay. I know most of you have probably already figured this out, but it’s pretty new to me. You see, for years I was a teacher, which meant I got to school in the morning before most people were even awake. There wasn’t much news yet because, well, it was often still dark outside. Then, during the election season of last year, I was staying in a tiny English country town which had little to no internet connection so I had a bit of a buffer. But now, having 3 part time jobs, my day starts later and I have bits of time here and there throughout the day. Into those minutes goes my smart phone, always ready to tantalize me with the most recent shocking thing, always ready to grieve this non-Republican heart disgusted by the greed, hatred, and lies permeating America today. I find myself missing the days before our president could tweet his every thought multiple times a day, missing the times when I used to have to actually turn on my car radio on the drive to work before I knew what was going on. Missing having to wait for the newspaper or news hour after school or work for a recap (yes, I’m older than many of you, and thus didn’t have a cellphone until after my undergrad years at university).

I have to admit that the accessibility of news and the particularly extreme and divided nature of politics and society today is testing my faith. I am often worried. I am often heartsick. I am often devastated. There seems to be no escaping my ability to get news anywhere and anytime!

And then, at the end of this week, I had an epiphany. Again, one many of you have probably already had, but what can I stay, I’m stubborn and cynical and things take me awhile. I realized that my 10 minutes of online news binging here, 15 minutes of Facebook there, and 30 seconds of Twitter there is adding up to drastically more time than I’m spending in both Bible reading and prayer put together.

This brings me back to some of the passages of scripture so common to biblical counselors, ones I should remember and apply more than I have:

Philippians 4:4-9.
“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 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 [Paul] – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Psalm 1:1-3
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”

I have not been rejoicing in the Lord as often as I used to, nor delighting in His law. I’ve been withering a bit, to be completely honest. So, how do I find a way to still be aware of what’s going on in the world, still be engaged in the important global and national conversation, still do my best to give voice to the voiceless, help the weak and poor, and champion justice, without becoming overwhelmed by it all?

Here are some of the intentional steps I am taking to change my focus a bit and give Christ and his teachings prevalence:

  • Join a global prayer group – Twice a month I meet with a small group of Christian women who pray for the things going on in this world which concern us. Instead of feeling like we are outsiders for being some of the rare non-Republican Christians in our area, we decided to band together and bring our concerns to the Lord. This is not a space for us to rant or discuss political issues at length, but to present our concerns to each other, then pray together, “letting our requests be known to God.” We also drink tea and have snacks. We actually started out meeting once a month, but doubled it when we realized how much these nights were helping us.
  • Set an actual alarm clock – I just now took the time to figure out how to set the alarm on the speaker I usually use for my phone. Though it was harder than assembling IKEA furniture, I think it will be helpful for me to no longer wake up to a screen. My goal is to do what all the sleep studies say, to plug my phone in across the room so it’s inaccessible, and not use it before bed or when I wake up. I hope this will allow my mornings to be filled with prayer and worship, as they used to be.
  • Put my phone in a different room when I’m reading my Bible – It’s just too easy for my mind to be fragmented the minute an alert pops up when I’m in prayer or in God’s word. I want to be single-minded for once in my life, not multi-tasking while studying and meditating on my Lord’s teachings.
  • Reassess all of the alerts on my phone – I do want to know if something serious occurs so I can keep my students safe, pray for what is occurring as it happens, or know to look into something further when I have time. I do not, however, need to read every single tweet by our president as it’s posted. That is a recipe for madness.
  • Carve out time and space for meditation on God’s word – This was so much easier at L’Abri, where 3 hours a day are set aside for study. I need to apply this to my daily life, to actually put on my calendar and schedule time. To figure out a space where I can truly be alone for a few minutes with God.
  • Pray in my car as I drive to work and drive home – I used to do this as a teacher, pray for the specific classes and lessons I had ahead of me that day, for specific students who were on my heart, for coworkers and the school in general. By the time I got to work, my heart and mind were already engaged with the tasks I had before me, with hope. Praying on the way home instead of listening to the news allows me to lift up any concerns from the day to God, and prepare mentally and spiritually for my next job, or for spending time with family or friends. I need to get to that place again.

These are just a few of the things I am trying or will be trying in order to try to calm my manic mind and spend more time with God and His Word than my news apps or Facebook linked articles. If you have any other ideas that might help me or others like me, please share in the comments!