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Archive for Community

A Sudden Ambush of Grief

On my way to work this morning, I drove past the long-defunct Hometown Buffet. It closed down ages ago, but this time it was in the midst of being gutted. Walls were smashed by large machinery, insides exposed in the process of being laid to ruin. I’m sure the no-longer-with-us Toys “R” Us next to it will be next.

Glancing out my window and seeing the red and green sign still hanging on, declaring “Hometown Buffet” over wreckage hit me out of nowhere. I went from benign coffee drinking and podcast listening to brushing tears out of my eyes. My heart did that little skip, that almost-hurt. It came as a surprise.

In that second, memories of my long deceased grandpa flooded in. Birthdays and Father’s Days spent heaping plates full of meatloaf and limp salad, looking forward to soft serve ice cream with sprinkles on top were brought to mind. Thoughts came of joking with my brother and sister about how only old people ate here, about how mediocre the food was, about the birthday song played over speakers.

And my grandfather? Man, he loved that place. A typical WWII Veteran of “The Greatest Generation,” he desired the most food for the money. Even though he didn’t actually eat much, and barely ate meat after a stint working in an abattoir in his younger days. But as one who lived through the Great Depression, he couldn’t bare to see food go to waste – thus his love of a buffet.

My grandpa (my mom’s dad) was my last living grandparent, and the one to whom I was closest. He told me I was like him, that I had inherited his wanderlust which led him to enlist in the Navy, then to move around Southern California from place to place in his RV when my mom was a little girl until retirement.

He passed away about one year after my dad. That was a tough year as he was in heart failure for much of it and couldn’t get around much. He fell a lot. We sold our old house and bought a new one, moving him in with us (mom and I, and Josh on the couch during summer break from university). Lavender got married to one of my best friends and grandpa got to be there. Greg had my first nephew, Graden, a gift from God, my father’s first grandson he never got to meet. And grandpa died.

All of these memories flood back just from one building in the midst of being gutted. Grief is a funny thing. 16 years later, and it can still ambush me. But I don’t mind, not really, because these memories make me smile through the tears. I’m reminded of my grandpa’s deep and eternal love for me and all his grand-kids. Grief has somehow softly transformed over the years, and by the grace of God, into an old friend who comes to visit, bringing all the memories with them, but not staying for long.

To my friends experiencing grief that is much more fresh and raw, know that God is with you in it. Our God is a God who can lift up the downcast, he is the God of steadfast love (Psalm 42). Hope in him, and know that someday the ambushes of grief will be softer, bringing joy instead of pain.

The Transient Existence of the American Single

A childhood friend is staying with us for a few days. Like me, she is a single woman starting out her 40’s. One of our frequent conversations starts with “where will you go next?” And while this conversation isn’t limited to singles, it is one I have much more frequently with unmarried friends than married. It’s one I’ve had with myself at many different times in my life. 

The single life can have less permanence than the married one, and this is a cause of stress and anxiety for many of us. It’s also a cause of adventure and excitement, so it’s not all bad. But at certain points, the thought of “where will I go next” is exhausting and scary.

Part of this is financial – single people often can’t afford to buy a house/condo/apartment on their one income, so we are, for the most part, renters. Again, not all singles – I have single friends who are homeowners – but most aren’t. And, for most of us, renting can be too expensive for one income so we can’t even rent a place on our own – we must find one or more flatmates or roommates to share the costs. As roommates move, get married, or find other situations, we constantly have to find new ones. This, again, is exhausting and scary. 

We move back home with parents for seasons of our lives, we switch jobs to go where God leads us, but most of all we switch apartments as landlords raise rent, property values go up due to gentrification and we’re priced out, health concerns arise and we need to move, we find a better place than the last, or our roommate moves on so we must as well. 

Yes, married couples move too due to job transfers, family commitments, raised rents, and other things. But the married couple can work through those decisions together, and other than military placements or other careers where they might be separated for a time, they get to move together. That panic of “who can I rely on?” or “how do I find someone to live with yet again?” isn’t there. The frantic calling around of everyone you know, emailing local churches, looking on online forums, and praying you don’t end up with a psycho seems to be limited to us singles. 

It’s interesting because even those singles who are financially stable enough to get a place on their own may find themselves judged for living alone. We can then be seen as selfish for not having roommates, or antisocial. The cliche of the Crazy Cat Lady comes to mind. Friends who decide to buy a place together and commit to living a single life as flatmates can be judged as codependent, suspected to be in a homosexual relationship, or just seen as weird. 

Those of us who move back home to be part of a family are also judged harshly. We’re viewed as unable to be independent, taking advantage of our parents, immature, and, yet again, weird. Jokes about unmarried men living in their mom’s basements and old maids never leaving their parents’ house abound. There must be something wrong with us. Our parents are to be pitied. 

But we’re just like everyone else, trying to figure out where we fit, trying to find community and family, trying to feel at home. So the next time your single friend asks to stay for a week or two as they figure things out, do what you can to help them feel loved and at home. Do what you can to help them figure out where God would have them go next. Do what you can to help them make those scary decisions. Do what you can to help them feel less alone. Give them a home away from home.

Star Wars Land and Summer Brain

My summertime brain is muddled and lazy – perhaps the result of actually getting a normal human sized amount of sleep for two days in a row? I’ve always wondered what I’d be like if I didn’t have lifelong insomnia, with the oh-so-humble suspicion that I’d be a genius, sharp minded with an incredible memory, driven, energetic, and even more productive. But now I’m starting to suspect a well rested me might just be too relaxed. Perhaps the caffeine-driven, slightly stressed out, exhausted me is the only one who can get things done?

All this to say I’m struggling, yet again, you write a coherent blog that is both interesting and holds some value. I tried writing about Joshua Harris kissing his marriage and God goodbye, but everyone and their mom have already tackled it, some well. Katelyn Beatty’s was the most interesting take to me. She brings up the danger of the “sexual prosperity gospel” that many Christians were taught growing up.

Instead of delving into the depths of purity culture or some other hot topic in the single Christian world today, my relaxed mind keeps wandering back to how awesome it was to fly in the Millennium Falcon with my sister, brother-in-law, and little brother last week. How much joy it brought me to wander through Black Spire Outpost, drinking a thermal detonator Diet Coke (it turns out I’m not a big fan of the Blue Milk) and falling in love with the baby Jabba plushies. Watching my little niece shout “No” and stomp her foot firmly when a stormtrooper asked her if she supports the First Order was hilarious. We were so proud.

I’ve also been able to enjoy spending time with some of my best female friends, starting with going for drinks and dessert with 3 of them at a local art deco themed bar on my 41st birthday. Earlier in the day, I’d gotten a fortune cookie that said “the evening promises romantic interests” (oo-er). In usual Awkward Spinster fashion, however, those interests were not for me. Instead, a couple got engaged in a little alcove behind me, with staff and customers looking on. But not really me, because they were behind me and it felt weird to awkwardly crane my neck at them. So good job, little fortune cookie! Next time I get a romantic one, I should post about it so my other single friends can hang out with me and get the benefits.

I also got to meet up for lunch or snacks a couple times with some of my favorite single women who’ve been in my life since college, or since my time in LA. Between these visits, and a long texting session with a dear friend who has recently gone through a horrible divorce so is a newly single mom, I’m reminded of how diverse the world of singletons is, and how strong you have to be to exist in it without bitterness and fear, and how important lasting friendships are.

Right, this is one of those rambly ones I threatened a few posts ago. I blame 8 hours of sleep. This is me, summer-brained and newly 41, enjoying a rare lazy moment before the craziness that is the rest of my summer and then school starting begins. I’m learning to embrace rest, or at least not feel guilty when I can get it. I’ve been working (oh, the irony at having to WORK at rest) on this since my time at L’Abri a few years ago. I feel like I should apologize for a less-than-stellar blog post, but I think I actually shouldn’t because summer brain is fine, and in the case of an insomniac who got sick and broken down from years of doing too much and rarely sleeping, summer brain is actually just what the doctor ordered.

So happy summer to you, I hope no matter how much work you have on your plate, you find moments to rest and let your brain get smooshy and relaxed. I hope you can carve out even one day where you throw away your to-do list and just exist. It’s lovely.

Singleness In the Church Isn’t One Size Fits All

It’s disturbing to me, a very single 40 year old woman, to hear the much younger, married, male singles group pastor express his frustration with a young widow because she hasn’t started dating again and still has photos of her dead husband up all over her house which might discourage a new guy from being part of her life. When I asked him if she was even interested in dating at this point, or even remarrying ever, he looked confused and had no answers for me. When I stated that her husband was the father of her children, so she will have photos of him up in her house probably forever, he looked surprised. When I went on to say that perhaps she doesn’t want to remarry, he was stunned. He couldn’t imagine a world in which a single woman would want to remain single. Even in the midst of deep grief over the loss of her husband.

The GriefShare group I help facilitate is giving me a new perspective on singleness as many of its participants are widows and widowers of varying ages, some with children, some without. Since my widowed mother is and has been one of my best friends, this second singleness has always been a concern for me. One thing that comes up over and over again is how many people in churches think grief ends when a new relationship begins. That “moving on” is the goal of grief recovery (it’s not, moving forward is, there is no “moving on”) and this will be recognized as complete when there’s a second marriage.

One of my beloved widowers was telling our group that he hadn’t gone to church since his wife died. He said “I just can’t do it. It’s full of couples and families and I just don’t fit anymore.” This is where I stepped in and told him that this isn’t a true thought. The church is actually full of single people as well as couples and families. I reminded him that my mum and I, both single in different ways, go to first service each Sunday and he’s welcome to sit with us. I encouraged him to go, and look around more closely the next time and he’ll see quite a few singles either alone or with friends or families. The church is full of perpetual singles like me, widows and widowers like him, divorced men and women, single moms and dads, young singles who may or may not marry, even men and women who were married more than once and have lost more than one spouse. The body of Christ is made up of all types, not just the typical family. We just need to look more closely.

I understand why he feels this way though, I struggle with that feeling as well. I think it’s because the ideal held up of Christian life is husband, wife, and kids. From the pulpit (since every pastor I’ve ever had has been married with children) most examples of Christian living involves being married. Church leadership tends to be completely made up of married men, with perhaps one or two exceptions. We don’t often see an ever-single man or woman on stage, or a widow or widower, or a divorced and not remarried man or woman (even if it was a biblically allowed divorce). And, since we don’t see ourselves in leadership, nor hear our lot mentioned in most sermons, but see the opposite held up as the perfect Christian life, it’s easy to think we’re alone. And, since we’re often not involved in the leadership of the church as much, our voices aren’t represented so our concerns may not even be noticed or recognized.

This is such an odd state of things, considering the early church was founded by single people and the church, historically, held singles in high esteem. The entire catholic leadership model formed around single believers. The Protestant church has, sadly, not really found a place for celibate single Christians in our average churches. Again, there are exceptions, but it certainly is not the rule.

Singleness isn’t a one size fits all type of thing, so our churches shouldn’t treat it as such. The joke of most “singles ministries” is that most of the single people in a church won’t be included. Once you pass the age of 30, or you’ve been divorced, or your spouse dies, or you’re not actively looking for a spouse, you don’t fit into the singles ministry. Rather, all ministries should embrace singles – in women’s and men’s groups, in Bible studies, in Sunday School, in counseling ministries, in college groups and elderly groups. Sunday morning sermons should include examples that can apply to many different demographics, different types of singles included. Messages that end with applications should work for unmarried parishioners as well as married ones. And articles about singleness shouldn’t focus on the usual “don’t waste this season in your life” and “pray and wait for God to bring your meant-to-be-spouse to you.” There’s more to singleness, and more types of singleness. Let’s make sure we’re asking questions and listening to the singles in our churches so we can understand their specific circumstances, and learn to love and serve them better as one of the unique and varied children of God.

Singleness and the “Mike Pence Rule”

This summer, I’ll be visiting an old friend of mine who now lives, with her husband I have yet to meet, out of state. We booked the flight together so the timing would be just right, but then her work required her to be somewhere else the first day and half I’ll be there. Changing my flight at this point would cost us hundreds of dollars. I’m a pretty chill solo traveler, so don’t mind exploring her town on my own for a day or two so the question in my mind became: would her husband feel comfortable picking me up from the airport and letting me stay in their home without his wife there for a couple days, and would she be okay with that as well? Her fear was that I’d feel uncomfortable. After we talked, we realized none of us felt uncomfortable, we’re all pretty chill, all trust each other (a trust earned over years of faithful friendship), and we’re all fine just saving the money and not changing the flight.

The evening after this conversation had taken place, I was talking about my plans with my mum and found myself getting a little emotional. “Why?” I asked myself. And I told my mum how nice it was to be trusted, and to be treated, well, like a person. Because I am a person. And sometimes we singles are treated like “single people” which can have an air of distrust about it, an air of suspicion or danger. But this friend and I have been through an awful lot together over the past decade, and I have earned her trust as she has earned mine. And her husband has also been through a lot (as most humans have) and has earned her trust, as she has earned his. So instead of me being seen as some threat, a potential seductress, or a temptation one or both of us might not be able to withstand, I was seen as a person. A trusted person. Which is really nice.

In an era where the “Mike Pence Rule” (formerly known as the “Billy Graham Rule”) is touted by many church-going people as the way to live a pure life, and when the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements remind us how often vulnerable people are preyed upon, being reminded that we can still be treated like people instead of sexual objects or temptations, still earn each other’s trust, still respect and care for others, is beautiful.

Now, I have known a couple of single people who I wouldn’t trust around married friends of the opposite sex because they were grotesquely flirtatious when inappropriate, or worse. But, to be fair, I’ve also known married men and women who were as bad, or worse. So just labeling singles as the dangerous ones, and only hanging out with other couples, isn’t going to stop someone who wants to be unfaithful to their spouse from giving in to that temptation. Married people cheat on their spouses with other marrieds too, not just with singles.  

Yes, men and women should be wise in how they interact with others of the opposite sex, but this wisdom should apply to everyone – married and single alike. If we boil down the relationship between the sexes into men and women who are married, men with male friends and women with female friends, we are severely limiting the body of Christ. Jesus himself spent time alone with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) and had women as some of his closest friends like Mary, Martha (Luke 10), Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and others (Luke 8).

If married couples only go out with other married couples, married women only go out with women, married men only go out with men, then single men and women are going to be significantly cut out of the fellowship of the church. And we are. This happens in most churches. We aren’t invited to lunch or dinner as often as other couples are. And we aren’t given as many opportunities to get the perspective of members of the opposite sex, to be influenced by their wisdom and insight, because we aren’t trusted to be alone with them. We are often only allowed public, cursory, shallow relationships with them which hinders our ability to participate in the very community that is meant to be our family.

I’m not suggesting people put themselves into dangerous situations – there are people we should never be alone with, people who are untrustworthy, situations in which it would be foolish to be alone with a particular member of the opposite sex. But if this becomes the rule instead of the exception, our communities will suffer. We will start to see the unmarried of the opposite sex as dangerous objects of temptation and view them with fear, threats to our chastity, as if every single is just dying to have sex with your husband or wife.

Rather, we should see them as valuable members of our churches with insight and wisdom that could help everyone. And, since the majority of church leadership is made of up married men, the concerns of single people, particularly single women, will never reach their ears and therefore will not be given a voice in the decision making of the church. Since we don’t have husbands to share our concerns, it pushes an already vulnerable population in the church into even more obscurity.

So instead of cutting off personal relationships from every person of the opposite sex except your wife or husband once you get married, let’s work to create god-glorifying ones that defy what the world might think – single people are not threats to your marriage. We’re just people. Some of us are trustworthy. Some of us aren’t. But hey, some married people aren’t trustworthy either. Welcome to humanity. Let’s judge wisely who we spend time with not based on gender or marital status, but on who we actually have proven to be.

I realize that, in many churches, what I’m saying is controversial. I’m here for the debate, so please feel free to comment or message your concerns or questions. But let me assure you that it is possible to live a life free from anything shady (“above reproach”) and have friends of the opposite sex who are single and friends who are married. And, as a single woman, I value my friendships with my male friends tremendously – my single guys and my married ones – as they are often the main thing that holds me back from becoming sexist and anti-male in this era of toxic masculinity so pervasive in our country and in the church.

When I start to despair of all men, I think of my guys and how good they are, how kind, how wise, how godly, how fun, how loving, and it reminds me to be more balanced and careful. If you took them away from me, if I wasn’t allowed to have these friendships, if lunches and dinners and e-mails and counseling sessions weren’t allowed, I’d lose that perspective. And they wouldn’t know that many women are struggling in this current climate because they’d have no one to tell them. I need that perspective. They need that perspective. We all do.