Archive for God’s Gifts

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?

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 – Recognize Celibacy as Worship

When I started reassessing my life, I realized I needed to give up some of my previous dreams in order to make room for new ones. One of those dreams was that of marriage and children. I’m not saying I won’t ever marry if God chooses to introduce a man into my life who loves me and who I love back, but that I no longer see this as a requirement for my joy or God’s glory. Instead, I have come to a new appreciation for the celibate life.

Tip 3: Recognize Celibacy as Worship

Rather than looking at my singleness, lack of sex life, loss of motherhood, and nonexistent partner in life as a hardship to be endured, more and more I am able to see it as a gift from God (1 Corinthians 7:7). Whereas before, when I was younger, I could accept it more easily as a temporary gift, I am now able to view it as an opportunity to worship God daily through living a celibate life to honor him.

Romans 12:1 and 1 Samuel 15:22 both introduce the idea that living lives of obedience to the Lord, even with our very bodies, is our spiritual worship. I know a 40 year old virgin can be viewed with mockery and disdain – as if I’m somehow less mature or more naive than everyone else, there must be something incredibly wrong with me.

I know many Christians at this point in their extended singleness throw celibacy out the window, seeing it as unrealistic or unfair. I can understand that. The “gift of singleness” in my life doesn’t mean God took away my desire for men, for a partner in life, for sex, or for children. I still have all of those desires. Anyone who tells you those with the “gift of singleness” will have these desires removed by God is the naive one.

But what he has done is make my desire to worship him in all I do, with my very body even, greater than these others. It doesn’t mean it’s not a struggle, but it’s a worthy one when I know that each day I recommit to a celibate life, I am honoring the true love my life, God.

I’m also not buying into the modern western world’s obsession with sexuality being one of the most important markers in our identity, nor the modern Christian church’s obsession with marriage and children as the main goal for a woman’s life.

I am so much more than my sexual identity. God’s plans for me are perfect, so if you look at life without a spouse and kids as lacking, you are not seeing it clearly. We are brainwashed by culture, even or perhaps especially Christian culture, to view marriage as the ultimate relationship, when it is meant to be a beautiful metaphor of Christ’s love for the church. A single Christian’s celibate commitment to loving God body and soul is also sacrificially beautiful and should not be discounted.

ProTip:

If you’re getting older and God still hasn’t brought the love of your life into it, look into the beauty and fulfillment that can be found in worshiping God through celibacy.

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

Independence Day: a Treatise on Being Happily Single

I am happily single. I wasn’t always quite so happy about my unchanging relationship status, but I’ve grown into it and it fits me comfortably like my favorite pair of old jeans. And, oddly, the more my contentment has grown recently, the more I struggle to write about it.

This weekend at my writer’s group (who never let me get away with any excuses) I realized that my current joy in my single status makes me feel almost unqualified to write about singleness. Many of the men and women I talk to who are my age or younger and still single are struggling with it immensely; for some, this is the battle of their lives. And I’ve been there. I lived there for quite some time. But, by the grace of God, I’m not there anymore.

Yes, I still get pangs every once in awhile while watching a romcom or at a friend’s wedding, that lingering desire to be desired, to have a partner, to be loved like that. But, more frequently of late, I find myself having thoughts of gratefulness to God that I’m not married. And, in counseling, I’ve noticed that this isn’t something many single people who’d rather not be single like to hear.

I am their worst nightmare. They don’t want God to grow them into contentment in their singleness, they want God to bring them a spouse. They don’t want me to tell them that there is a possibility they’ll never marry, but it’s okay because God still has plans in that for their good and his glory. They want to hear tales of people who met the man or woman of their dreams the minute they “stopped looking,” about the friend of a friend who married at 40, or of the newest dating app that’s somehow better than the last 5 they tried. They yearn for promises that God will bring them the desire of their heart instead of the truth that they may need to ask God for new desires.

Many a pastor, singles group leader, or self-help guru sees me as their worst nightmare as well. You see, I do not believe the pinnacle of Christian life is to be a wife or husband, a mother or a father. I believe these are incredibly good things to be, gifts and examples of Christ in our world. But I also believe, like the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 7), that singleness is a gift as well, and that single people are a blessing to the world and the church in unique valuable ways.

Parents of still-single adult children can join in the chorus against contentment in singleness too. The cry of “when am I going to have grandchildren?” or “if you just lost some weight, I’m sure you’d find a man!” has been heard by singles the world over. They do not always want their children to find deep joy and contentment in this state, because they see it as a lesser existence. They sometimes purposefully add to the discontentment of their children in the hopes it will spur them on to marriage. The idea that marriage may actually not be best for them isn’t an option.

Yet here I am, happily deleting e-mails from dating apps trying to woo me back after a couple years’ hiatus. I’ve embraced the idea that singleness is the life God has planned for me, and have even told him in prayer that if he does want me to marry someday, he’s going to have to bring the man to my doorstep and make it pretty darn obvious, because at this time it’s not even on my radar.

I’ve grieved not having a husband, not having children. I’ve gone through years of intense yearning for things I could not have. I’ve wept with friends, counselors, and God over this. I’ve torn myself down for not being good enough for a spouse, and fed other lies like this. I’ve averted my eyes at friends’ weddings as their fathers walked them down the aisle or danced with them, knowing I would never have that moment. I’ve silently and internally grieved the loss of potential motherhood.

So for my friends and counselees who are in the midst of this grief and pain, I understand. I’ve been there. For a couple decades even. The pain and loss are real, and it is good to recognize it. But, for those of you who don’t end up with the romcom ending, there is such joy to be found in embracing the permanently single life. There is confidence in loving your independence and letting the parents, pastors, and friends who are not content with you being single know that this is what God has for you and it is good.

When Moses went up to Mount Sinai for God to rewrite the 10 Commandments and renew his covenant with Israel, the Lord spoke to Moses about himself. “The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’” (Exodus 34:6). This is the reality of who our God is. Our Lord is merciful and gracious, so the gift of singleness in our lives, whether temporary or permanent, is part of his mercy and grace toward us. He is slow to anger – there is no punishment in our singleness. He is abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness meaning he is the love of our lives and we are the love of his.

Married readers, ask yourself if you are helping your single friends find contentment or are you adding to their pain? Single readers, I pray you will find contentment in your independence no matter how long it lasts. I know the heartbreak that can come with it, but I also know that deep joy and peace are possible. 

Not Everything is Terrible

Looking back over my blog, I realize that I often highlight the negative. If you only know me through this blog, you definitely see my struggles and my cynicism, but I’m not sure if you can see my joy. Perhaps joy is actually more difficult for someone like me to express in blog form because there can be something so ineffable about it, something hard to put my finger on.

After struggling through my last bad bout of depression two years ago I made some radical changes in my life (which I explain in my first ever Awkward Spinster blog “Life, Episode VI”). One of the things which has really helped change my outlook is learning to consciously realize not everything is terrible, and to actually put in work to change my focus from all the bad things to the good as well. For this pessimistic soul, this takes continual effort and does not come naturally.

Perhaps this shift in thinking doesn’t come naturally for you either, so I invite you to try out the following steps for a bit and see if they help. If you’re an optimist, that’s awesome, keep reading for tips for your not-quite-so-perky friends, or for the inevitable crash that will happen when things don’t turn out quite as brilliantly as you thought they would (Oops, my cynicism is showing a bit too much!).

So, here are the Awkward Spinster’s 4 steps to realizing that not everything is terrible:

Recognize the Excellent Times

Philippians 4:8 tells us: “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.”

But how can we think on these things if we don’t even realize they’re happening? In the midst of hard times, it can be difficult to see past our struggles. The first step I have to take to overcome my pessimistic mind is first to even recognize that truth that not everything actually is terrible, no matter how much it might feel like it is. I must pay attention to and acknowledge the true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy things as they happen.

Last Monday, I got to spend an evening with two of my best friends. As we sat on the patio drinking good wine, eating good food, and talking I realized that for once, all three of us were happy. At the same time! For a few years now, we’ve each gone through some tough times personally, physically, and professionally, but in this moment we were all doing well. Instead of letting that realization pass by, I acknowledged it out loud. Somewhat incredulously, with a huge grin, I asked them “Wait a second, are all three of us actually happy with where we’re at right now?” They responded with big smiles as we toasted this precious moment.

You see, the three of us have picked each other back up from hard times, encouraged one another, and prayed with and for each other time and time again. It was important for us to pause and acknowledge this wonderful moment, to not let it slip past.

It’s also helpful for me, when trying to see the good things in life and not just the bad, to celebrate the excellent times in the lives of others as well. Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” I’m pretty good at weeping with those who weep, but we also need to rejoice with our friends and family in their good moments!

My little niece is so excited about birthdays and Christmas, pretty much any opportunity for gifts to be opened. But when my nephew had a little graduation party, she struggled to enjoy it in its entirety because she didn’t know how to rejoice with him when he was being celebrated instead of her. She is just beginning to learn the freedom and excitement of being genuinely happy for others’ good fortune instead of giving in to jealousy.

I have found soul-deep joy in the marriages and children of my dear friends, even though God has chosen not to give them to me. Enjoying when lovely things happen to those around us, even if things aren’t particularly great in our lives at the moment, can help us see past ourselves and remember there is good. Instead of feeling sad or bitter when we’re stuck at home while a friend goes on a lovely vacation, our love for them can lead us to feel happiness on their behalf, which spills over into our own lives.

Linger in the Sweet Moments

Once we recognize that we are, indeed, in the midst of a particularly sweet moment, we can do our best to linger in it. This isn’t always possible, as some moments of grace and goodness are fleeting. But I’m actually starting to realize that, even in the midst of my busy days, I have the ability to pause a little longer and change the course of my day ever so slightly by lingering in these moments of joy.

When we recognize that good things aren’t always big things, then even pausing on the walk from the car to the classroom to look up to the sky can help change my focus. After all, Psalm 19:1 tells us “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”

I blogged a bit about my quest to find more beauty in life, and once I’ve found those moments I’m trying to stay in them a bit longer. I’m an efficient worker, so this takes practice for me. It can feel wasteful or hedonistic at first – but it is necessary and life-giving, bringing glory to God and peace to our souls.

This Sunday afternoon, my mom invited my brother, his wife, and son over after church for lunch. She told them that I needed to blog, so probably wouldn’t be able to stay outside with them for very long, but they were welcome to stay as long as they liked. But the minute we set up the little paddling pool and Benji jumped in with glee, my heart was filled with incredible joy.

Several times I tried to head back in to my desk to work on this post, but I kept ending up back outside with the family, laughing with my sweet boy as he splashed around with sheer joy. Instead of stressing me out because I didn’t get my writing done when I’d planned on it, I came back to my laptop after they’d gone, inspired and refreshed. Prioritizing that beautiful time, choosing to linger outside, helped change my perspective.

Be Grateful for all Good Gifts

Acknowledging and extending beautiful moments should naturally result in feelings of gratitude. Interestingly, even if these feelings don’t come naturally all the time, we can develop them with practice. On joyous occasions, our gratitude should bubble out of us like children at Christmas who can’t stop thanking their parents for getting them exactly what they wanted even though they weren’t sure they’d get it.

James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Each moment of beauty, each time of rest, each bit of peace we experience, each laugh and smile – these are all gifts from God.

When I watch my little nephew giggle with such pure glee from splashing in the water, when I see my brother and his wife laughing with him and experiencing so much pleasure watching him have fun, I am overcome by gratitude to God for giving us this moment.

As we recognize awesome times, and try to linger in them a bit longer, our gratitude should extend to others as well as God. By stopping to thank my mom for making us lunch and getting the little pool, it helps me appreciate the thought and effort she put in to making this day happen. By thanking my friends for having me over after a long day of work, making me drinks and cooking for me, I’m noticing even more little things which were gifts that night.

I’m learning that a heart filled with gratitude is a bit less easily darkened by depression.

Remember the Not-Terrible Things

My last tip is to fix all these little joy-filled moments in your mind to remember when things do get terrible again. Because they will. That’s not the cynic in me speaking, it’s the reality of this world. And for those of us prone more to negative thinking or even depression, it’s easy in the hard times to forget the good, it’s easy to feel like things will always be this bad. This is when we must preach the truth to ourselves over and over again – after all, Philippians 4:8 begins by telling us to think on “whatever is true,” it is the first thought on which all else hangs. And the truth is that God is good and he loves us.

If we’ve rehearsed thinking on these things – the times in our lives he has given us good gifts of children’s laughter, majestic skies, good meals with friends, an endless array of beautiful things both big and small – then in our darker moments we can remind ourselves that not everything is terrible, even if it feels like it is.

Psalm 116:5-7 states “Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful. The Lord preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me. Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” Our souls can return to rest in these memories instead of letting the negative ones swarm over us completely.

These steps aren’t the magic bullet to contentment and happiness, there is no such thing. But they’ve helped me through the past couple of years. They’ve helped me this Sunday, as I struggled once again with trying to fit into a church family, yet ended up feeling like the bastard child yet again. Even now, I can choose to spend my mental energy replaying the difficult time I had this morning, or Benjamin’s laugh.

Not everything was terrible today, after all.

*The fabulous “Not Everything Is Terrible” bandana pictured above was a gift from a dear friend, and was designed and screen printed by artist Janine Kwoh. You can find her fabulous work for sale at her Etsy shop: kwohtations