Archive for Community

Assumptions Make an Ass out of . . . Well . . . Me

As I sat down at the table with 4 other women at my new(ish) place of employment, all the socially awkward nerves fluttered in my belly, making my I’m-trying-to-leave-enough-for-everyone-else tiny scoops of salad and apparently-one-more-than-everyone-else tiny pieces of cheese bread no longer seem appetizing. They all seemed to know each other well, and quickly proceeded to dive into a conversation across the table about the various sports in which their children are involved. Neither having children nor interest in sports, I tried to look approachable and pleasant as I sat there with little to contribute. Until the moment one of the women turned to me, recognized my first name from elementary school (Fawn tends to stick in people’s minds), and proceeded to ask one of the more awkward questions I’ve gotten:

“Fawn . . . Fawn . . . hmmm . . . and what was your maiden name again?”

Flustered by a question I’ve literally never been asked before, I sputtered something along the lines of “um, Kemble? I mean, it’s the same. Kemble. I mean I don’t/didn’t have a maiden name?” And I may have vaguely pointed to the prominent work nametag I had on my shirt proudly proclaiming “Miss Kemble” in a room full of Mrs.

Returning to work at a school I attended as a child, in a city I’ve been away from for over a decade has been an interesting experience. And while I’ve been met with nothing but kindness, an adorable library to make my own, and excited students, I’ve also been met with an endless pit of awkward questions.

I get it. I’m vaguely recognizable to many people here. My mom taught here for a bit. My dad was beloved in one of the local churches, and a couple local businesses. And I attended church and school there until, well, until I didn’t. So the assumptions make sense. In this world where our city likes to pretend it’s a small town, and this protective local white evangelical bubble many never left, assumptions hold a certain logic.

“And what grade are your kids in?” Most of the people who work for this school have or once had children (plural, almost always plural) who go or went to this school. Makes sense. You get a discount if you’re on staff. So my “oh, I don’t have kids” often leads to looks of surprise and even confusion.

“What year did you graduate from here, again?” leads to my awkward grimace and the “um . . . well . . . I didn’t graduate from here. I graduated from one of the local public schools. I left here in the middle of my freshman year.” This one either entirely shuts down the conversation, or requires further explanation on my part which I usually answer partially, relying on my family’s poverty and inability to pay for private education once my mother no longer worked there. I don’t go into the rest of it, as I just met these people (or re-met them after 15+ year) and am pretty sure they wouldn’t like my full answer.

There are also the well-meaning yet slightly painful references to my parents, and how much they were loved back in the day, and by the way, how are they? Which requires my stuttered reply along the lines of, “ah, well, yes, um, my dad died? When I was 24? It’ll be 16 years ago this month. But mom’s good, she’s retired and loving being a grandma . . . “

There’s the “and what does your husband do?” question. And the surprised “you look a lot younger than you are!” when my reply to their “don’t worry, there’s still time to get married and have kids” is “I’m 40 and pretty sure it’s not going to happen, and am pretty content with that.”

And, since I’m now a librarian instead of a teacher, there’s the inevitable teacher-splaining from other educators who expect all non-teaching staff to be less educated/experienced and are therefore shocked when I say “when I was a classroom teacher for 8 years . . . “ or “when I was getting my Master’s degree . . . “ or “actually, the latest research in early childhood education says . . . “ And I know I shouldn’t do that, that I’ve got nothing to prove or whatever. But I kind of do have something to prove, don’t I? Prove that I’m worthy of the job I’ve been given. That I know what I’m talking about when it comes to their kids. Prove that there is thought and research and experience behind my decisions in the library.

That’s the thing about assumptions. When they’re made about me because I am in a conservative Christian environment in a “small” (not small at all) “town” (actually a city), I end up having to awkwardly defend myself for not aligning with them. I didn’t adore each and every moment as a student here, graduate from the high school, go on to Christian college, get married young, have babies, slap an NRA sticker on the back of my SUV or truck, vote republican, buy a MAGA hat, remodel my house from Hobby Lobby in the style of Chip and Joanna Gaines, and invest in a month’s supply of capri pants.

Okay, so I guess I have some assumptions about others to break through myself.

I guess we all have to deal with assumptions made about us by others. Married, or single, parents or childless, old or young, liberal or conservative, men or women, we are all viewed through other people’s expectations. I’m working on trying to remove the cultural lens through which I view people, and replace with the love and grace of Christ. For each person is Christ’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10) and bears the image of God (Genesis 1:27). The only assumption I should make is that every person I come across is the beloved child of my heavenly father. Cheesy, yes, but wouldn’t that be an amazing way to see the world?

What are some of the assumptions you’ve had made about you, and how did you respond?

On Cousins and Capitals

I wasn’t expecting to like Washington DC as much as I did. I mean, I’m no fan of the current administration, and thought it was a little sad that this is the first time I’d see the capital. I’ve always struggled with patriotism because my love of country is not a blind love; I am all too aware of the bodies we left behind and continue to break in the name of power. Yet there I was, wandering around the city with my mum, uncle, and cousin and enjoying every bit of it (and not just because the Library of Congress is my little librarian heart’s national home).

Everywhere we turned there were great buildings inscribed with noble, courageous, and beautiful quotes reminding me that some of the dreams this country was built on were beautiful. It’s been hard to remember that lately. In a time with Truth is NOT Truth, it’s easy to get more and more jaded about America.

There are also reminders of some of the worst our country had and has to offer. Exhibits in various Smithsonian museums revealing our poverty, racism, sexism, and cruelty. Memorials and monuments honoring brave men and women who sacrificed their own lives for mine.

But also memorials and monuments to some pretty vicious, violent, selfish people as well.

Portraits of presidents both good and bad, but mostly men with mixtures of both; all men, no women, all white, save one. Somehow, this district manages to be inspiring and sobering simultaneously.

It was in this environment that I got to know my cousin, who I had only met once before when I was 11 and she was 17. I was worried it would be awkward, but instead it felt like we’d always known each other. I consider this smart, kind, kick-ass single mom yet another answer to my prayer for family made 2 years ago.

As we wandered around DC and then various cities in Virginia, chatting and laughing together, there were so many moments when we realized how many things we have in common which must either be genetic or from the fact that my mum and her dad grew up together and therefore raised us with some commonalities. Gringo tacos. A love of Bob Ross and his happy little trees and clouds. A passion for reading. Wanderlust. A Puritan work ethic. Shared memories of our grandparents.

I’m sorry it took me so long to visit DC, and even more sorry it took so many years to get to know my cousin. But God is good and it wasn’t too late. I flew back to my beloved LA with more hope for my country and my family. With the reminder that the current president is not (yet) a dictator and my voice of dissent can still be expressed (for now). With the conviction that I must not stop praying and marching and voting and calling and caring. With the joy of knowing my cousin, new-to-me, is just a text away.

God is good; I’m working on remembering this, praying to grow in faith, hope, and love.

How to be Single, Celibate, and Happily Turn 40 – Embrace Having Nothing to Prove

High school was not a pleasant time for me. A geeky girl with few friends, I could not wait for those years to be over. And then something happened the second semester of my senior year – somehow, I stopped caring what everyone else thought and started doing what I wanted to do. I went on the senior trip even though none of my little group of close friends were going. I went to grad night. I read a poem at graduation even though it terrified me. I started going to the college group at my church because I didn’t fit in the high school group. That last semester was the first time I enjoyed high school even a little bit.

Tip 4: Embrace Having Nothing to Prove

There is a certain wisdom that can come with age if we let it, a freedom from the fear of man. For me, this includes the fear of my own previous expectations of myself as well as those of others. By I now have 4 decades to look back on God’s faithfulness in my life, which helps me realize I truly can trust in him to love me and guide me; I don’t need to be anything other than what he wants me to be (Proverbs 29:25, Ecclesiastes 4:4).

To be honest, I’m still working on this one. There are still voices in the back of my head that shame me for working fewer hours, or earning so little compared to my education level, or no longer having a position of honor at my church. It’s hard to let go of my pride and allow myself to be free to spend time with my family, enjoy rest and sleep, and follow others’ leadership instead of being the ever-busy leader myself. I’m still learning that Christ came that I “may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

When I took my little sabbatical at English L’Abri for 3 months in the midst of reevaluating my life, my tutor reminded me that there is nothing I can do today that will make God love me any more than he already does. I am his beloved, and nothing will change that.

One of the hardest parts about being single into adulthood is feeling the judgment of others. We experience expressions of pity from the old couple at church who’ve been married 50 years. We dodge scathing critiques from those who think it’s our fault because we’re too fat, too opinionated, too ambitious, too selfish, too something they obviously are not. We suffer through bad advice fed by even worse theology – lines like “just give it time, God has someone for everyone,” “make sure you’re putting yourself out there,” “have enough faith, and God will bring them when you’re ready,” or “perhaps you should just change this huge part of yourself and then you’ll get a date!”

At this point, 40 years in, I’ve heard it all and I honestly can say I just don’t care anymore. I know what the Bible says. I know what God thinks of me. And it gets easier year by year to let these comments slide off my back, or even better, to gently reply to the well-meaning critic with truth instead of these silly platitudes.

ProTip:

Realize the love of God emanates out of himself, and therefore is not contingent on you fulfilling everyone else’s expectations. You have nothing to prove.

Swing by the Awkward Spinster tomorrow for the last tip in the How to be Single, Celibate, and Happily Turn 40 series.

How to be Single, Celibate, and Happily Turn 40 – Celebrate with Friends and Family

So it happened; a few days ago I turned the Big 4-0. And I’ve got to be honest, it’s been pretty awesome. I’ve never been someone who shies away from my age or dreads birthdays, so it’s not a huge surprise to me that I enjoyed turning 40 immensely. But now, a couple weeks later, I still feel a sense of peace and joy wash over me whenever I remember I’m 40 now. I wasn’t expecting that.

So how did I, the perpetually single, childless, celibate, poor, awkward spinster, get to this place of incredible contentment while entering into middle age? I’m taking this week to write a series on 5 tips for singles to grow older with joy and hope, with 1 tip per day.

Tip 1: Celebrate with Friends and Family

Many men and women don’t enjoy their birthdays. For some, the thought of growing older each year is terrifying, others don’t want to make a big deal out of it or have attention on themselves, while others feel they don’t have close friends or family with whom to celebrate. We can choose to look at birthdays as reminders of our mortality, or like me, see them more like merit badges. Each year, I’m like “stick that new year onto my age, I earned that sucker!”

Part of rejoicing in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4) is learning how to rejoice in what he’s done in our lives. Each new year of life gives us another opportunity to rejoice in him. Even if it’s been a tough year, the fact that he got us through it is enough to celebrate. So, find a way to rejoice that works for you, but I encourage you to include others. Some years, my birthday is marked by a small immediate family dinner at home with a cake made by my mum. Every once in awhile I’m out of the state or country on my birthday, so celebrate with one or two other people who happen to be near. Other years, the whole month is filled with lunches, dinners, coffees, and mini-celebrations here and there as I touch base with friends as we come and go in the middle of summer. And other years, like this one, I get to have a huge birthday bash.

No matter what, I try my best to celebrate with friends and family. To thank God for being with me through yet another year, and for giving me the gift of a new one written for me, though yet unseen. Because I am prone to depression and cynicism, these moments of planned rejoicing are even more important – they force me to stop and give thanks (I Thessalonians 5:18).

ProTip:

If you’re a perpetually single man or woman who is about to get a little older than you’d like, my suggestion to you is to celebrate the heck out of it. Give thanks God got you through another year. Add that year on and wear it with honor.

Swing by the Awkward Spinster tomorrow for the next tip in the How to be Single, Celibate, and Happily Turn 40 series.

Below I’ll share the rest of this series of posts as they’re published.
Tip 2: Reassess Your Priorities
Tip 3: Recognize Celibacy as Worship
Tip 4: Embrace Having Nothing to Prove
Tip 5: Trust God with your Future

A Very Potter Birthday

What is the best way to turn 40? With a surprise Harry Potter party thrown by your best friends and family, of course! And yes, I really was surprised.

Some backstory: several years ago, after it became apparent that there was a likelihood my singleness may be a permanent state rather than a “season of life,” I developed a plan. If I didn’t get married and do the whole wedding/reception with all the friends and family thing, I’d throw a huge 40th birthday party. But not just any party, I planned to rent out the Great Hall of the world’s best Harry Potter store, Whimsic Alley on the Miracle Mile in Los Angeles, and have an adults only Potterfest worthy of J.K. Rowling herself. A Pinterest board was created. Research into costs and options was done. Friends and family were told.

And then, shortly after my 39th birthday, Whimsic Alley closed its doors for good. My sister and I pondered other venues, but nothing remotely affordable was even close. I decided that I’d rather just have a small family thing at home, and go out for coffee or lunch with friends throughout my birth month.

Fast-forward to July, 2018, and I was happily getting together with old friends for lunches here and there, and going to Las Vegas for a weekend with two of my best friends. Very content with my 40th birth month so far, I was supposed to go out the Saturday before my birthday for a sister night; she had something planned but wouldn’t tell me.

The day before, she called and told me the time to be ready, and that I should wear my Harry Potter swag and bring one of my wands. Now, for a lot of people this might seem like an odd request, but in our family it’s actually not that weird at all. We are one geeky brood. Check out my sister’s blog, my oldest brother’s blog, and my youngest brother’s art for further evidence. I figured she was taking me to a rooftop movie screening of HP, an HP themed puzzle room, or maybe even Wizarding World for the night.

So that afternoon, I put on my Hot Topic Harry Potter Great Hall Dress, “Books Turn Muggles into Wizards” necklace, golden snitch bracelet, and Hedwig earrings, chose one of my three wands, and hopped in my sister’s car. We headed to one of our favorite spots to eat, Little Osaka (Sawtelle Japantown). She then said we were going to meet two of my friends at my LA home church parking lot because they were coming with us. This seemed logical to me, as meeting in that parking lot was something we’d done many times when I still lived in West LA. Once at the church, the sis said she needed to use the bathroom, so we headed through the only door that appeared to be unlocked and up the stairs to encounter a “brick wall” over the door way.

I was stunned. It finally clicked that we weren’t here to pick up friends or use the bathroom, but that behind this curtain would be some sort of surprise party for me. But I honestly hadn’t seen it coming! I’d come to terms with the fact that my dream party wouldn’t happen, had accepted it, and moved on. Then I walked through the brick wall reminiscent of the entrance to Diagon Alley, and there was the entire Great Hall of Hogwarts laid out before me, and almost 40 of my friends screaming “Surprise!”

It was overwhelming, still is actually. The amount of work and creativity they put into transforming a room in a church to a banquet hall, the months of planning without me catching even a hint, the love and care put into this one night still blows my mind.

The Platform 9 ¾ photo booth. The butterbeer, firewhiskey, and smoking punch. The house themed tables, banners, and house gemstones (with Ravenclaw in the lead, of course!). The portraits of witches and wizards on the walls. The props and decorations and food. It was all perfect.

On a table to the side sat the most beautiful birthday cake I’ve ever gotten, made by one of my best friends, a brilliant pastry chef. It was also freakin’ delicious.

Moaning Myrtle even made an appearance in the ladies’ bathroom.

And, just like I’d dreamt, friends from many different aspects of my life joined together to hang out for one night – from my current town, from my old West LA life, family, roommates, dear friends from ministries past, my writer’s group, grad school, and childhood. Some who had never read the HP books or seen the movies still came and posed in the photo booth with beards and wands and a fabulous Hedwig balloon. Many came in full costume (my mom was seriously the cutest Molly Weasley ever) or Potterbounded.

It was my dream party even after I thought that dream was put aside. It was the best way to enter my forties – with love, joy, and whimsy.