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Archive for Balance – Page 2

A Scattered Mind

It’s a rainy day in the desert, an experience made all the more beautiful by its rarity. And I’m having trouble focusing my thoughts to settle on one topic for this blog. These past couple weeks I’ve felt – SCATTERED.

My mind, like a butterfly, flits from thing to thing, alighting on one only for a moment before winding its way to the next. Laundry, school shootings, dream tattoo designs, my data entry job, taxes, blogging, book club, my tutoring job, the windshield wipers on my car, some necessary correspondence I keep putting off, my librarian job, Russian hackers, feeding the dog, the current state of Biblical Counseling, the Agatha Christie book I’m trying to finish, civilian lives in Syria, my new church, plans for spring break in a few weeks, Trump’s ceaseless tweets, doctor’s appointments, prayers for friends, doggy snuggles, conversations with mum, that poem I heard two days ago, gun control in relation to suicide & domestic violence, texts from friends, the gorgeous grey clouds outside my guest room office window . . . an endless stream of thoughts.

How do I UN-SCATTER? Is that even possible in modern American life?

I’ve listened to two different blogs about rest, honoring a Sabbath, and they have been filled with great ideas. Yet my mind has already added their suggestions to my infinite to-do list.

Often, when I feel this way, I just want to hibernate. Not face reality. Curl up in bed in cozy pjs, with a nice cuppa tea and a good book. Instead of doing that, today I am tackling that to-do list one entry at a time using my 2-highlighter system of prioritization. Blogging was in pink, so here I am trying not to half-ass it too badly. I already did my laundry and finished my latest invoice for one of my jobs, texted a couple friends, looked out the window, and snuggled the dog, so stuff’s getting done.

Next up – a cup of tea and taxes.

How do you un-scatter?

The Skint Spinster’s Guide to Gift-Giving

As a follow up to last week’s A Single’s Survival Guide to the Holidays, this week I’ll be getting into how we singles can still manage to give gifts for the holidays while on a tight budget and without the stress.

We don’t have husbands or wives depending on us for the Most Awesome Christmas Gift Ever. A lot of us don’t have children relying on us to channel Santa Claus and bring The Perfect Present. Instead, we have friends and flatmates, siblings and parents, nieces and nephews and godchildren, coworkers and bosses and neighbors, aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins, Bible study and book club members. . . an embarrassment of riches for whom we are truly grateful but also truly feeling the gift-giving stress of the season.

Here are my tips to help make giving gifts this year an enjoyable, fun, meaningful experience and cut out the anxiety and pressure.

Make A List and Budget Early

One late November day a few years ago, I realized that my list of names for Christmas gifts had grown exponentially from what it once was. See, when you’re single, everyone just has to get one little gift for you. But then people go and get married and have kids, and all of a sudden instead of the 1 friend you bought a gift for, you have their husband, adorable kids, and even in-laws.

I thought to myself, I can’t afford my friends getting married and reproducing! It’s just so expensive! I mean, I already bought the bridesmaid dress, shoes, jewelry, weird wrappy shawl thing that always falls off, bridal shower decor, food, and gifts, bachelorette party accoutrement, wedding gift, baby shower gift, kid’s first birthday present, etc. and now I have to get 3 Christmas presents? There’s just no way I can afford it. So, early on, I made a deal with myself that I don’t have to buy presents for friends’ spouses or kids, coworkers, extended family or acquaintances unless I absolutely want to and it is financially feasible.

Sit down and make a list, on paper or in your phone, of all the people you’d like to give Christmas gifts to. Then go through and ask yourself if you actually need to get gifts for every name on the list, because I guarantee you don’t. Say this with me now, “I don’t have to give gifts to everyone!”

When you have your pared-down list, realistically look at your bank account and figure out how much money you can spend on gifts this year. Be honest with yourself, don’t inflate the amount. Then, if there is money can can afford to spend, divide it by the number of names on your list. Don’t forget tax! There you have it, the dollar amount you can spend on each person. I try to stick to around $10-15 per person each year, not more. Well, my mum gets a bit more because I stuff her stocking, but she’s mum so she deserves everything.

Then, here’s the most important part, stick to your budget like MacGyver stuck to a paper-clip and duct tape. Seriously.

Be Thoughtful and Creative

How in the world does one stick to a tight budget when gift-giving? Well, find little things that fit the person well. I love little things – was so the kid with the sticker collection who adored scented pens or an animal shaped eraser when everyone else wanted the big-ticket items. Little things can still bring a lot of joy to both the giver and the getter. So, be thoughtful by keeping these people in mind as you are out and about, in case you run into something they might enjoy. This is one reason why starting to gift shop a bit earlier is better as you have time to stumble upon awesome things at affordable prices.

Think of your friends and family and start to curate your go-to stores and websites that have things just for people like them. I am a geek in a family of geeks, so the vast majority of the gifts that I give (and receive, incidentally) are found in bookstores, websites like ThinkGeek, Etsy, or Amazon, in Hot Topic or BoxLunch, comic book shops, World Market, or the Disney store. In past years, I did most of my Christmas shopping on Cyber Monday online because I am so not a Black Friday kind of shopper.

I also buy things on a credit card that gives me points and then pay the card off right away. This way, I get a little more for my buck but can still be responsible financially and not run up debt.

This year, I asked my girls in LA if it would be ok for us to not exchange gifts at all, but to hang out together instead. I realized that I can’t afford to both go out for coffee, lunch, or drinks with them AND get gifts, and the former is so much more important to me than getting more stuff. I was nervous asking this, but they seemed just as happy with the idea as I was! So, when I’m off for a few days at Christmas time, I’ll spend my budgeted money on gas to drive back down to LA and on being able to go out with them and spend some quality time together. To me, their time and company is so much more awesome than things.

Another option for thrifty yet thoughtful gift giving is make stuff. I remember one year when I was totally skint in college and couldn’t afford gifts for anyone, even mum. Instead of presents, I made homemade cookies and candies (my classic chocolate chip cookies are to die for), put then in little plastic baggies, and gave those out with great love. Yeah, it wasn’t the most exciting thing in the world to get, I’m sure, but I was still able to express my great love and appreciation for those that mean the most to me. I have a lot of friends and family who are artistic and many of us would love to get a drawing, sketch, little painted card, knitted scarf, photo, or other crafted object than any store-bought thing from them.

And never underestimate the power of words as the perfect gift. Some of the random objects I’ve received over the years don’t even last a year, but I’ve kept every letter and note I’ve gotten my entire life. Handwritten letters, poems, anecdotes, favorite verses, affirmations, and notes of appreciation are truly valuable to humanity. If you gift some personal words of thanks and encouragement, they may turn out to be that friend’s favorite present.

Have fun

One of the benefits of being the single friend or family member is that we are very rarely anyone’s main gift giver. What an amazingly freeing thought this is! I don’t feel the pressure that this will be the most important thing someone gets this year. That’s usually on the parent or spouse! Ha! We can just embrace the fact that whatever we give anyone is like the sprinkles on the cupcake, but not the cupcake itself. It’s the fun, colorful, crunchy bit, not the base! Awesome.

So now you know you don’t have to overthink anything. Just take the time to look around until you find something that reminds you of that friend, and makes you smile or laugh thinking about them opening it. Or turn up the Christmas music while you make a mess in the kitchen baking snicker-doodles. Or dig out some old stationary and just enjoy the deep freedom that comes from pouring out your gratitude to someone else through words as a gift. Again, there’s no pressure. It’s all just extra fun, extra blessing. So no more stressing.

But if you happen to be one of those incredibly wealthy individuals who still really wants to lavish all your friends and family with expensive gifts, just DM me and I’ll get you my student loan payoff info. 😉

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?