How Long, O Lord?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Awkward Spinster’s Life on Social Media

I was going to start a 5 part blog series on ways to embrace prolonged adult singleness, but to be honest this week isn’t the week for it. Hurricanes, fires, over 180,000 dead of Covid-19, police still shooting Black men, the murder of protesters by a white nationalist teenager, so many lies each day of the RNC that it’s dizzying, and the constant barrage of white evangelical Christians online arguing on the side of violence, selfishness, greed, hate, ignorance, and hypocrisy has left me with little to no mental, emotional, or spiritual space for that right now. I’ll get to it because it is important, just not today, not this week.

Instead, I’d like to explain how I try to interact online in the insane world of 2020 social media. This is what I strive for, but to be honest, I constantly fall short. As a single adult in the 21st Century, a lot of my community has been facilitated via social media sites long before Covidlife made that normal. When you live alone or just with one other flatmate, and when you have a lot of friends who live in different cities, states, and countries who really are more like family, connecting online is an incredible blessing.

I don’t have a Twitter account anymore because I tried it for a year a couple years back and it just stressed me out. I already struggle with feeling the need to know everything that is going on in the world, so having that much information at my fingertips every second was overwhelming. I know I’m missing out on some awesome things, some beautiful and clever communities, some networking opportunities, etc. but I can’t do it. That’s a personal choice, you’ve got to make those too. But honestly, feel free to just delete an entire platform if you don’t like what it’s doing to you. 

What I do have is Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. Instagram is my favorite because I’m a visual learner and photography is a hobby of mine; I studied it in high school and college a bit, my first job was a Sears Portrait Studio photographer, and I love seeing people’s lives through a visual medium. In the past few months, I’ve added more of my political views into my Insta account, especially through my Stories. With stay-at-home due to coronavirus and the lack of contact I have with other humans, social media is one of the main ways I can let others know that there are indeed real true Christians who disagree with the way the current administration sees the world, who know that Black Lives Matter and aren’t afraid to stand up for them. It’s not a Private account, so anyone can follow, but I do Block people who get weird.

Pinterest is my silly space to pin pics of all things geeky, Anglophile, and bookish as well as find recipes and keep track of my reading. I’ve been in that space for years, and really enjoy it. Before my school closed the school library this year and I lost my job, it was also a great place to find ideas for bulletin boards, lesson plans, and activities. This space is still just a fun one for anyone to check out.

Facebook is my most troubled online existence, but still remains the main way I can keep up with some of my dearest family and friends. It’s also where a lot of you, my readers, find my blog. FB, for me, has always been the main space I post any political or social thoughts, so be warned. I also only add people as Friends who I actually know in “real life” or know of well enough to trust on FB. So if you try to add me and I don’t know you, it probably won’t work, but a lot of what I post is public so you’ll still be able to see some of it.

When I lived in Los Angeles, a much more liberal city than the one in which I currently live, I never blocked anyone on social media unless they got truly pervy or creepy. I figured that, since I lived in a pretty liberal area, I shouldn’t limit my bubble, so I kept a pretty even balance of conservative and liberal friends. As an alum of both UCSB and The Master’s College, as a person who has lived most of her life in either LA or the AV, as a woman who has spent many months in other countries and continents and experienced worshiping in churches that look quite different than the typical white evangelical one, my friend and acquaintance list is incredibly diverse. I used to want my daily FB feed to echo that. But since moving back to the AV and working at a Christian school, my tolerance for that balance has decreased. Most of my in-person life was surrounded by the white evangelical Christian bubble, where I never quite fit, so I needed a slightly more liberal bubble online to keep me sane. So here are some of my online rules to help keep my sanity and some semblance of balance:

  • I don’t go on other people’s FB pages and argue unless I have an actual relationship with them, and even then I very rarely do so. I’ll “Like” and comment on pictures and posts, but steer clear of arguing. If they keep posting stuff I find horrible, I’ll just unfollow them. No big deal.

  • If someone comes on my FB page to argue, I try to respond reasonably and with respect, but with honesty. I do not pull my punches. I will respond until it becomes obvious that the “debate” is going nowhere, and then I will end it because there is no point in continuing. This is especially true when people I have not heard from in years, or even over a decade, hop on for the sole purpose of arguing. I don’t have the time or bandwidth to “debate” with someone who obviously has no other interest in me as a human than to “prove” their point. Honestly, if you haven’t shown any level of care for someone’s actual life, you have little to no authority to jump on their page and say they’re wrong. That conversation is not going anywhere for anyone.

  • If someone comes on my page and calls people names, will not stop arguing even after a few tries of being asked to stop because it is devolving, or is belligerent in another way, I will unfollow, unfriend, or block them as needed.

  • If someone is a creep, I will block and report them. Right now, I only have 6 people on my FB Block list, 3 of whom are creepy/abusive ex husbands of friends of mine, the other 3 of whom were blatantly and repeatedly disrespectful and verbally abusive to me or my friends and family in comments on my posts. The saddest part is that 5 out of 6 of these blocked “friends” still claim to be following in the footsteps of Christ. Shudder. Honestly, if you don’t like what someone says on their social media, just stop following them. Don’t abuse them, their friends, and family. I have more people blocked on Instagram, but that’s mostly because I get random creepy comments/friend requests from guys I don’t know that are just cringey. So I block them real fast. Again, why??? Just eeeeew. No woman likes this. Not one.

  • I’m not going to lie, the longer the current administration has been in power, the more people I’ve unfriended online. I stopped feeling bad about that awhile ago.

So why do I bother saying anything online that isn’t all joy and happiness? First, there is such a thing as Toxic Positivity that claims everything is okay and we should just have a positive outlook and it’ll all get better. Which is neither biblically or demonstrably true. Second, I think it is incredibly disrespectful to the families and friends of people who have died from Covid-19, or Black Americans fighting for their very right to live, or others who are genuinely suffering to pretend everything is normal. Things are not normal. And, as a follower of Christ, I believe I should follow the advice of King Lemuel’s mother as recorded in Proverbs 31:8-9:

“Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

So I try to create an online presence that looks an awful lot like me, like my real life. A weird balance of pictures of my dog, activism, my niece and nephews, nature, my mum, books, mixed with scripture, articles, memes, comics, and other random stuff. I’ve never been one to shy away from being open and authentic, so you’re going to see that in whatever space we meet. 

I was a high school English teacher for 8 years of my life, so a lot of the people who follow me online are former students of mine, now incredible young men and women in their 20’s and even early 30’s (gasp!). Many of them are young men and women who are struggling with the current state of America. Though I’m no longer their teacher, they are still and forever will be My Kids, and I feel a responsibility to them as well as any other people who follow me online, to do all I can to stand up for what is just and right and good. Don’t mess with my kids!

Here’s the downside – I fail at this. A lot. I’ve argued more than I should. I’ve ignored comments I shouldn’t have when I was tired or just over it. I’ve reposted things with the wrong intentions – just wanting to get my thoughts out there without actually thinking how it would affect others. I’ve hurt friends inadvertently by posting things that pain them. I’ve said too much or not enough, spoken about the wrong thing in the wrong moment, been insensitive or arrogant. I know of at least 2 relationships at the moment that I need to figure out how to repair, if possible. I am imperfect, but I am trying. And, by God’s grace alone, I am growing. So, please have patience with me in all my various versions, I’m trying.

How do you guys deal with your online realities?
Any tips that have worked for you?

Mourning in Times Such as These

Today I am grieving. Grieving over 70,000 lives lost in my country from one virus in just a couple of months. Grieving yet another black man murdered months ago while his white killers still walk free. Grieving the defensive excuses so many people (mostly Christians) I know are making in order to not have to truly mourn these losses. 

Yet, while I grieve, I still sit at my computer updating the school website for the teachers. I wait for phone calls from our textbook reps to get quotes for next school year. I research free ebooks and read alouds and virtual field trips for my students. I increase the tip on my instacart order to make up for the income loss due to items not being in stock. I pet my dog, who comes to visit me in my “home office” for a quick snuggle. I text my global prayer group about books I’ll be dropping off for their kids. I drink my morning coffee, and turn on the fan as the day begins to heat up. 

And yet, I mourn. Or at least, I try to. 

In the middle of an email about school accounts, logins, and passwords I feel like bursting into tears. It passes quickly, and I move on with my tasks for the morning. Lately, my days feel like this – a slightly jumbled mix of emotions as I try to balance living life day to day in faith and hope (one of the most difficult things for cynical me – hope), while experiencing grief for these deep losses we are facing globally and locally. 

I have friends that can’t even try to balance this. And I get it. Friends who are so focused on the pragmatic side of life that they just can’t give in to any emotion right now. The economy, kids at home 24/7, working from home, getting groceries – this is what they can focus on. And, often, only this. 

Then I have friends who are paralyzed in their grief and mourning, lamenting and gasping for breath at the mere thought of the immense loss surrounding us. They become unable to deal with the practical side of day to day life.

But most of us are somewhere in between, just trying to figure out how to survive this time without becoming callous or overwhelmed. It’s a tricky balance, and I don’t think I know anyone who has gotten it just right. Most of us lean one direction or the other, becoming either too cold or too emotional, prioritizing either the compassion or the practicalities. 

I challenge each of us to continue to seek ways to be both practical and survive, yet compassionately mourn. If you lean toward just getting on with life, and accepting all of this death and injustice as “normal,” “inevitable,” “necessary,” or “not that bad,” I challenge you to learn to lament. My dear friend, an incredible woman who lives with chronic illness, has a blog called The Curse and the Blessings which can walk you through lamenting via the Psalms. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma has been recording a series of Songs of Comfort as the pandemic rages, that can help you process your emotions. Spend time in prayer, asking God to help us “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15) during this season of loss for so many.

For those of us who lean more toward the emotional side of things, and are struggling to get through the day to day tasks of life, I encourage setting aside time to pray for God to help comfort you, but in a way that makes you capable of reaching out and comforting others (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Don’t let this overwhelm you, keeping you in your head. Set some practical steps, like limiting your time on social media and the news. Make a To-Do List that has one achievable goal for each day that week. Bathe your days in gratitude for every little gift from God, from spring flowers outside (even if you’re allergic to them) to a bed in which to rest.

I’m trying to take one or two small steps each day to help me continue to live life and be useful where God has given me tasks to do, but also hold a compassionate heart for those who are hurting right now, including myself. 

If you have anything that is helping you lament, or helping you continue living daily life, please share with the group. We can all use the encouragement and support!

Selfishness vs. Self-Care for the Single

Because I am single and childless, people often assume I have an endless supply of free time. After all, I don’t go home to the usual husband and kids, so that must mean I’m blessed with a vast expanse of time and space. Time and space just waiting to be filled with ministry opportunities, social expectations, extra work duties, civic engagement and, of course, babysitting.

To be realistic, there have been times in my perpetual single state when I’ve probably had more free time than most married people, especially ones with kids. And even when I’m busy, I do have more time to myself merely by having a room of my own (it’s been awhile since I had a roommate and not just a flat or housemate).

Today, for instance, I’m writing the rough draft for this blog entry while sitting on a bench in the gardens of The Getty Museum, with the sound of the water fountain and the gorgeous gloom of an overcast sky as rays of sunshine  break through here and there. There are hundreds of people here today, but so far I’ve only noticed one or two other people entirely alone. For a second, I’ll notice one, and then their friend/family/date meets them to continue on together.

Throughout my life, I’ve been to many museums across the world completely on my own. There is a luxurious peace to it – no pressure to keep others entertained, no bargaining for which wings to visit, no debate over when museum fatigue hits. It is a special experience, both beautiful and lonely, a bit melancholic, but thoughtful and freeing.

This is not an opportunity I have very often these days. My weekends book up months in advance, and each weeknight seems to be spoken for. And, you know, I have a job (or two, or three) which keep my days solidly full.

Other than the almost four year period in which I lived alone in a crappy studio apartment when I first moved to Los Angeles, I’ve always lived with family or room/flatmates. The jobs I’ve held throughout my life often having me working with hundreds and hundreds of people each week, mostly children. At one point, I saw almost 1200 students every single week. They have been rather performative jobs, very public, requiring me to be “on” for hours on end.

(At this moment, I witness one solo young man strolling through the garden in front of me, peacefully and blissfully alone. He looks happy.)

The idea that singles have it good because we can do whatever we want with our time is both true and false. All humans have limitations, and have to answer to others for much of our time, whether to a boss or store hours, appointments or other’s schedules. Yes, I am often solely responsible for what to do with the rest of my time. And yes, that can be awesome. It’s also incredibly stressful and sometimes confusing. You see, one day I will stand before my creator and answer for how I used this gift of a life. And I will answer alone. If I had a husband and kids, the choice regarding time would indeed be much more limited, but also a bit more delineated. Priorities would be set. Responsibilities more spelled out.

Today, by choosing to spend 24 hours alone, I said “no” to being with family and friends, to that birthday party and that church women’s event, to my side job and being an involved aunt. I said “no” to running errands and helping others. It is easy to spiral into my head and feel guilty – to think I am being selfish.

The church tradition from which I come isn’t so hot on the idea of “self-care” and “rest” and “solitude.” It often translates all of these into “selfishness” and “isolation,” or perhaps just “an unwise use of time.” The thoughts that we need to be “intentional” and “wise,” we must be “productive” and “do all things with excellence,” that we must always be “serving one another” and “selfless” are pervasive. Not necessarily bad thoughts, just impossible ones for the long haul.

I needed today. I needed to say “no” to everything else, drive out of town, and remove myself from my day to day life. I needed to walk outside, smell flowers, stroll slowly and think. I needed to wander through vaulted rooms and narrow corridors filled with insightful depictions of the world, with beauty. I needed to be able to have one long, broken conversation in my head with my Lord.

Days like today help fuel me for all the other days; the endlessly busy days, filled with family and friends, students and their parents, counselees and ministry partners. I am better for days like today.

Lately, I’ve been feeling weighed down, exhausted. My heart has been heavy. The state of the world and the church’s role in it is breaking me, tiny piece by piece. In the same week in which Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court, I spoke with two separate women regarding their own experiences with sexual assault, both of which happened in Christian spheres. Each week, I sit with 10-20 people in the midst of deep grief over loved ones who have died, some as recently as 2 weeks ago. I help over 350 children navigate learning to read and think well, and I deal with many of their parents on top of that.

I have to stop and remind myself that the busy, ever-filled pace of life so common to the Southern Californian Christian is not a biblically mandated one. There are entire cultures and churches which appreciate stopping. Ruminating. Resting. Being. Slowing down. A Sabbath is good and holy and necessary for all of us. Sometimes, the best rest is with others we love. But for singles who do not have a partner, sometimes time alone can also be helpful. And the example Christ himself set includes many moments of solitude.

This both goes against my nature and releases it at the same time.

So no, I don’t have tons of spare time because I work hard, and I choose to put effort into being part of the local church and my family. And yet, I do have tons of time – often at night when my brain is no longer functioning well and my body is tired.

On days like today, when I have the chance to carve out and protect time, my soul yearns for my beloved city. For refreshment. For time to talk to God one on one as I witness his creation and the creation of those made in his image. For slowing down from my usual quick pace to a stroll.

I’m learning the difference between selfishness and self-care. I’m learning that true self-care is not wrong. And I’m learning that, in order to preempt another physical breakdown and emotional burnout, self-care is not only a requirement, but a beautiful and good use of this one body and mind given me by God.

Scattered Thoughts for September

I’ve been feeling a bit scattered, which is normal for the first couple weeks of the school year. That’s my excuse for missing last week’s blog. And for this week’s disjointed list. I’ve been doing a bit too much.

I have been experiencing more joy and less cynicism these past two years since actively adjusting my priorities to this new phase of my life. Philippians 4:8-9 is endlessly helpful in this endeavor. In it, Paul tells the church, “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.”

In keeping with this, today’s blog post will be dedicated to a few of the moments of joy experienced by The Awkward Spinster this month, as I pretend autumn is here:

(I actually prefer chai lattes.)

Spending an afternoon at The Original Farmers Market in LA with mum, as we have done my whole life. Eating BBQ pork sandwiches from Bryan’s Pit Barbecue, checking out the toys at Kip’s Toyland, and stocking up on fall things from World Market.

Meeting with 5 other women of God to pray for our broken world, our broken country, over tea and cake. Sick of summer, we turned up the AC slightly, got out scarves for everyone, lit autumnal candles, and switched from iced tea to our favorite hot tea.

Participating in many theological and political discussions with intelligent, godly, and compassionate family and friends as we try to sort through what the heck is going on in modern evangelicalism. Finding comfort in the fact that there are others who are not happy with the latest attack against social justice creating a false dichotomy with the gospel.

Completing a complete inventory of both the elementary and middle school libraries and realizing our migration to the new computer system went more smoothly than we’d hoped.

Swinging by the comic book store on new comic Wednesday to pick up the newest journey into Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Universe with “The Dreaming.”

Night swimming in a friend of a friend’s pool, all by myself, as I was house-sitting.

Wiping away the tears of a little boy who could not find a book he wanted to read that was at his level, when his friends were mostly in higher ranges. Seeing his face light up with glee as I handed him just the right book for both his range and tastes.

Eating adorable and delicious peach gummy candy shaped like hedgehog paw pads that my sis-in-law brought back from her trip to the Japanese market.

Starting up a new session of GriefShare as co-leader, with some old and new participants who are courageous enough to be vulnerable in the midst of their grief. Seeing God’s word pour out comfort and hope even after just a couple of weeks. Having these dear souls allow me to sit with them in the toughest of times.

Feasting on a delicious dinner with old friends and acquaintances becoming friends in West LA at Farmshop, where one of my besties is the brilliant pastry chef. Going from 103 temperatures to 68 degrees and foggy for the night made it finally feel like fall.

(Oops, wrong Foggy.)

Hearing the joyous cry of “Auntie Fawn!” as my little 5-year-old nephew came to visit me in my library. Helping his mom pick out two incredible children’s books to relish: Frederick by Leo Lionni and Chrysanthemum by Kevin Hankes.

Finally getting a Skype date with one of my Colorado cousins to talk about transitioning back to life stateside one year after her return from L’Abri, and two years after mine.

Twirling, my fall-colored kimono puffed out from the flurry of movement, as my 4-year-old niece danced circles around me in her slightly-too-small pink ballet slippers. My sister, her mother, watching us from the couch, laughing.

Helping my friend in Malawi apply for grad school in the States by toggling back and forth between Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and the school’s website on our respective smartphones across the world from each other. Getting to praise the Lord with him before he headed out to church and I drifted off to sleep.

Receiving photos of my Russian friend’s new baby daughter, also via WhatsApp.

Sleeping in on the weekend to recover from my insomniac self’s lack of sleep now that school has started up again. Looking down to the foot of my bed to see my little westie curled up there, keeping me company.

Teaching myself how to program Google Docs to automatically insert an em dash when I want it to—thank you, Interwebs!

(Respect, from one Dash to another.)

And that’s just September so far.

What moments have brought you joy so far this month?