Archive for Lifestyle

Sudden Sad Thoughts and What to Do About Them

There was a moment this week as I sat in my car after work, about to pull out of the school parking lot and head to the comic book store to pick up the new Captain Marvel, a moment in which a fleeting thought flitted through my brain. It was unprovoked and, for me, unusual. The thought was this: “I will never have children.” Attached to this thought was an emotion: a simple, melancholy sadness. Just a statement of fact in my brain and one emotion which then led to other thoughts such as: “I wonder why God didn’t have it in his plan for me to marry and have kids?” and “I wonder why, in this brief moment, I feel sad about this when I thought I was okay with it now?” and “I don’t think I would’ve been a bad mom” and “did I do something wrong?”

Thoughts and emotions like these seem strange to me. Where do they come from? I’d had a good day at work, had actually spent the day with about 150 children in the school library, and was feeling tired and content. I’ve wrestled with the no kid thing for a couple of years now, ever since my body started going into perimenopause early and I was told by the doctor it’s a good thing I wasn’t planning on having children because it would quickly become more and more difficult to do so anyway. Other than the sheer weirdness of being a woman and being told my body can’t do what most other women do at some point in their lives, I was (mostly) okay with this.

I never really had a biological clock tick. Even when I was in my 20s and thought I’d one day be a wife and mother, adoption was my preferred route. I mean, my career right out of college was working with a Family Preservation organization, with foster children and kids at risk of removal from their parents for neglect or abuse. I had already met too many children living in group homes, or shuffled from one temporary foster home to the next, so the desire to adopt grew quickly and powerfully.

As I got into my 30s, I considered trying to adopt as a single woman since a husband didn’t seem to be on the table, but as a typical Californian I could not afford a house or apartment on my own, lived with a roommate, and worked way too many hours to raise a child alone. I deeply respect single women who foster or adopt, but it was just not an option for me with my limited funds and time.

Most of the time, even in those younger years, this didn’t bother me. I was a teacher, a godmother, an auntie, and had tons of kids, from babies through high schoolers, to help raise. I was living the life God led me to live, and was busy and fulfilled. I struggled more with the lack of a date, boyfriend, or husband than I did a child.

Now, in my (very early) 40s, I spend a lot of time being thankful that I don’t have children, that God has allowed me the freedom of singleness and childlessness to pursue a dream job (librarian), to have traveled so much, to be involved in counseling ministries, and to love so widely. Also, I’m exhausted. I don’t know how parents my age do it.

Yet there goes my brain having THOUGHTS, and my heart feeling EMOTIONS, both of which are unexpected and confusing. In the GriefShare sessions I help facilitate at my church, we talk a lot about how grief can come seemingly out of nowhere, how you might think you have it all under control and then, WHAM, it hits you all over again. I’m realizing my grief over the loss of a lifelong dream, expectation, and thing most people do indeed get in their lifetime (but some of us don’t), can still hit me in the midst of contentment and joy.

There are usually triggers for such thoughts and emotions: for me perhaps it was sitting in the car and seeing all of the moms and dads picking up their kids from after school activities. It may have been the fact that no fewer than 5 babies were born to dear friends of mine over Christmas break, which brought me great joy (even now, as I type this, I’m catching myself smiling at the thought of those 5 little scrunchy baby faces and their awesome parents). Another mother I know just suffered a tragic miscarriage, so that is on my heart as well. Perhaps it was purely hormonal (dude, you guys, menopause sucks, and hormones are for real!!!). Maybe the gloomy weather drew out the melancholic in me.

Most likely, there was more than one trigger, as we humans are complex, and there are usually multiple causes for everything we experience. Honestly, getting to the bottom of the trigger doesn’t really concern me. I’m sure this exact same thought and attached emotion will hit me again as it has before. Instead, I’d rather focus on what to do when such thoughts and emotions wage a sneak attack on us.

My mom happened to call about 30 seconds after the follow-up questions had started to spiral in my brain. It would have been easy to ignore the moment, and just pretend like I hadn’t just been sad about not having kids. I would have forgotten about it until the next time it hit. Instead, I decided to tell my mom about it. I just mentioned that I’d had this thought, and it was weird, and I felt a little bit sad, and how odd that was for me. Just acknowledging that it was real, and indeed sad, and okay to feel that way was a relief. Taking 5 minutes to remember that I am in the process of losing a dream and that it’s okay to be a little sad about that every once in awhile was beautiful and freeing. Being able to speak this to my mother and have her listen without judgement, have her tell me it’s okay to feel this way, that it’s normal, that I can feel sad sometimes even though I’m very happy with my life, that was what I needed.

Philippians 4:4-9 says “rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 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.”

I think part of being able to rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS is being able to be sad and yet still rejoice. We live in a broken world, and the Lord does not command us to pretend otherwise. We are not meant to bury our heads in the sand and act like everything is always perfect and happy. Christ himself did no such thing in his time here on earth, instead he faced hard times head on. But rather than allowing these unwelcome sad thoughts and emotions to take over, to lead us into the downward spiral of depression (toward which I am already prone), we can have these thoughts and still be okay.

Because I have been praying about the no husband and kid thing for a couple decades now, I am no longer anxious or depressed about it. I feel a peace about my single status that certainly surpasses my understanding. Over the past few years, I’ve also practiced thinking on and practicing the true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy things. And, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, it gets easier the more I practice.

So now, I can have a thought and emotion of grief and loss and sadness, like “I will never be able to have a child of my own (whether by birth or adoption), like all these other moms have.” And I can dwell in that sadness for a moment, acknowledge it is real and true, that it is a good and commendable desire, and then I can move on. The downward spiral into deeper sadness or depression is not required, nor is a false pretense that I never feel this way and am always fine with my single, non-mother status. I can feel sad. And I can still rejoice. And I can move on with my day and my life in a way that glorifies God, helps others, and brings me true joy and peace.

Whatever random (or probably not quite so random) thoughts and emotions you have that hit you from time to time, know that you don’t have to wallow in them nor ignore them. You can honor them and yet still find joy and peace in this life. The more you practice acknowledging these thoughts, praying about them with thanksgiving, and turning your minds to the praiseworthy things, the more you will experience the reality that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” And having your little nephew make you an imaginary cup of tea won’t hurt either.

The Awkward Spinster’s Best of 2018

There is one day left of 2018, one more day to reflect on the good, the bad, and the ugly that this year offered up. Instead, I think mum and I are going to go play in our city, LA, for the day, and try to squeeze the last bits of Christmas out of the year before undecorating and starting fresh. And yes, just in case you were wondering, I will be wearing this sparkly fuzzy tiara and drinking mini-champagne-for-one tonight at home with my mother. Because as great as my life is, I am still a total singleton surrounded by marrieds who can’t go out on New Year’s Eve. Alas.

This year, blogging has become more difficult as I’ve grown more and more content in my status as Awkward Spinster. I guess it’s always easier to complain and grumble and point out all the down sides than it is to express contentment and joy in something that used to be so difficult. Yes, singleness at 40 still isn’t my Plan A, never was, but God has other plans for me and I’m loving them. Thank you, as always, to my readers, both single and married, for continuing on in this awkward yet fabulous life of a recovering cynical single! 

To continue the tradition I started last year, for those of you who missed or would like to revisit them, here’s a look back at the 5 most popular Awkward Spinster blog posts of 2018:

5. The fifth most popular blog post of this year delves into a topic most people try to avoid because they’re worried it’ll be too painful, or too personal, or just too awkward: The Childless Woman.

4. Even though I’ve discovered more peace with my singleness this year, there is one area of my life which is still an endless struggle. Sadly, it’s the church: When Sunday Is the Most Difficult Day of the Week.

3. The third most popular post was one of my more cheerful, optimistic posts about how lovely life can be for a single person who comes to accept it and stops trying to change their status: The Freedom of Not Even Trying to Date.

2. Coming in second place is my contemplation on how the church often squashes the voice of the single woman in its congregation: The Church’s Silencing of Single Women.

1. The most popular post this year, by far, explored how difficult living a single and celibate life can be, even in the modern protestant church: Single and Celibate in the Church. This article was Part One of the series “Single and Celibate: Always the Odd One Out.”

And here’s my choice for the most underrated post that I wish more people had read because I love it: Of Toddlers and Time Travel.

This year, I also updated my About page and added Speaking and Contact pages, which have added a lot to The Awkward Spinster.

Looking back on 2018, here are a few more favorites of the year:

Favorite Song of 2018: “This Is America” by Childish Gambino, aka Donald Glover. This is one of the more powerful pieces of music from this year of increased militant nationalism.

Favorite TV Show of 2018: Season 5 of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I love this show so much and am thrilled it was picked up by NBC for a sixth and final season. Follow them on social media for some uplifting fun posts.

Favorite Movies of 2018: There was no way I could pick one. This was the year of “Black Panther,” “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.” I can not and will not choose just one.

Favorite Comic Book of 2018: Image Comics released graphic novels 4 and 5 of “Paper Girls” this year. This time traveling, sci-fi story of newspaper girls from the 80’s, futuristic humans, and dinosaurs is always a favorite of mine.

Favorite Book of 2018: “Party of One: Truth, Longing, and the Subtle Art of Singleness” by Joy Beth Smith. I don’t often like books about singleness, especially not Christian ones, but this one broke the mold and is worth the read. Check out my book review, “A Galentine’s Reading Recommendation,” if you’re interested.

Let me know what your favorites of 2018 were, and have a happy new year.

I wish you all a 2019 filled with love, joy, and peace.

Advent, Waiting, and Singleness

Each night in the month of December leading up to Christmas, my family would gather at the table for advent. Mum or dad would light one of the candles, then read part of the Christmas story from the Bible. Then, we’d pick a couple Christmas carols to sing together, mostly off-key, before taking turns to blow out the candle. It was a time of waiting, preparing, getting ready for the great celebrations that would come Christmas Eve night with the last night of advent, then stockings and one little gift to be followed by the opening of presents on Christmas morning, then a delicious late lunch.

I must admit that, as a child, most of my anticipation was looking forward to opening presents and spending time together as a family. Much of the magic of this season came from the twinkling lights, the beautiful tree, the repeated traditions, the sentimental decorations. Waiting was difficult, yet exciting, I didn’t mind this particular waiting – a practice of delayed gratification and the building up of expectations.

There is beauty in the waiting of advent season. Israel knew a Messiah was to come, but they waited for decades, centuries. Zechariah waited for Christ’s birth before he could speak again. Elizabeth and Mary waited to meet their sons, to see what God’s miracle meant. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we remember and honor this waiting for a savior, for the promised hope. We feel a tiny piece of what those before us felt, and we can’t help but ache for the waiting we now experience before Christ’s return to us, or before we meet him after death.

Over the past 15 years of my life, I’ve had moments (or even years) where I felt like I was stuck, just waiting for my future to happen. Waiting to see where I would end up, what job I’d have, what ministry I’d take part in. Even more so, waiting to see if I would marry, if I’d have children. Waiting. Not knowing if it would happen or not. Not being able to plan for the future without actually have two plans: If I get married then I’ll do this . . . if not, I’ll do this other thing.

I was taught to wait to have sex, wait to give my heart away, wait to have children, wait on God’s plans for my life to reveal themselves; wait, wait, wait. Yet here I am, celibate, single, with no children and no assurances of what exactly God wants to do with my future. This type of waiting wore me down, and my anxiety about the future increased. Waiting can be good, but we are often taught to wait for the wrong things and in the wrong way.

There is a deep beauty in the waiting, but only if we wait for the right things, and wait well.

Single Christians are often raised with the expectation that God will indeed bring us a spouse and maybe some children, if we just wait on his time. Fathers pray with their daughters for their future husbands. Mothers raise their sons to be good husbands. Parents raise their children to be excellent parents someday. Youth pastors encourage teens not to hang out with the opposite sex unless they are “ready” (by their own subjective standard) to seek a potential marriage partner. Churches preach at singles to be celibate until they get married, then they are suddenly expected to have the Best Sex Life Ever with their spouse.

Women who struggle to get pregnant are prayed over and told to wait on God’s time. For those of us who never get the spouse, never get the kids, we can become bitter and confused. After all, we waited! We did what we were supposed to do. Yet the expected result never came. So at this point, why bother with the waiting?

Much of Israel must’ve felt this way when Christ came. After all, they waited for centuries! They tried to follow the rules, and yet the military leader they expected to come crush Rome never appeared. To many, the Messiah or savior still hasn’t come. They are still waiting, to the point where some believe it’s actually now just more of a tradition than a reality; they don’t believe it’ll ever actually happen because it didn’t happen the way they wanted it to.

I’ve had to go through my expectations and remove the ones that aren’t actually promised in Scripture. I’ve had to realign my expectations, to reevaluate what it is I’m actually waiting for. Because if we’re waiting for something that’s not even promised, we are bound to be disappointed. However, waiting for something that is guaranteed? Something that is promised by someone who never breaks their promises? This is worth the wait.

I can wait on the Lord, on his justice and mercy and goodness. I can wait on the promises that he is working in my life, and that one day I will be united with him. I can wait on the guarantee of an eternal life without pain, with all beauty and truth, in community with the one who knows me and loves me better than anyone else. I can wait on an eternity with the truest of all loves.

Our waiting can look like little kids in the weeks before Christmas who get more and more hyper and excited, with increasing expectations. They are bound to crash on Christmas day, and be disappointed when they finally get what they have waiting for so long. Or we are like the children who get more and more grumpy, rebellious, bitter, and impatient because Christmas can’t come quickly enough for us.

Instead, I’m learning to dwell in the waiting with joy, to seek out the beauty of God with me now – not just at some time in the future, to walk day by day knowing my own plans might not come to fruition, but God’s plan is still moving forward and it is better.

So this advent season, I encourage you to douse yourself in the waiting. Just make sure you’re waiting for the right things in the right way.

Here are a few things that are helping me wait this advent season:

The Melancholy Necessity of Autumn

Today I’m feeling a bit off. It’s November, which seems odd, and my body thinks it’s one hour later than my phone says it is due to the ridiculousness that is Daylight Saving. That means this week I’ll be hungry when I shouldn’t be and tired when I ought not be. Well, okay, to be fair I’m pretty much always tired (that’s the lot of an insomniac) so I can’t blame DST. Perhaps it’s more  a general sense of ennui after the busy pace of Halloween week. Too much work on the computer. Not enough reading. Or maybe it’s my cynical self doubting my district will flip, which will dishearten me yet again.

There is something a bit melancholy about this time of year that speaks to my soul. Perhaps that’s why Autumn is my favorite season, why Halloween speaks to me, why I feel most myself this time of year. Spring is beautiful, full of life and promise and hope in a way that is bound to disappoint. Then summer bleaches everything, and I melt in the too-bright sun. Winter where I live is all cold and no snow, little rain, just more cold, windy, sunny days. But Autumn – Autumn is crisp and cinnamon tea-scented, the time to dig fire logs out of the garage and boots out of the closet. It is a reminder that things can become the most beautiful in their last days, that the value of things can increase when we know they are short-lived.

Working with GriefShare this past year, and remembering the many losses of my life, has death on my mind these days. Not in a bad way, but in a “it’s going to happen to us all, to everyone we know and love” way. I am from a culture that does not handle death well. We don’t handle it at all, mostly, which does not work. For us, death is always a surprise, like we expect a different conclusion. We take care of our elderly until we can’t, then place them in homes where someone else handles death as it approaches. We have funerals as soon as possible, then expect the grieving to suck it up and move on quickly and quietly. We have little to no context for lament. We do not know the meaning of the word “keen” and we feel forever awkward with wailing.

Some cultures have assigned periods of time where the family wears all black, ceases work, where mourners weep over the open casket. Others have long parades alternating from joyous celebration of the lost one’s life to loud, communal sobbing. Some allow families to remember the lost ones once a year, every year, with photos, favorite mementos, food, and music. In some places, the entire town will show up at the local pub for the wake, telling stories for hours and hours, crying and laughing and drinking together.

But my culture is very orderly and clinical. People, if it can be helped at all, die in hospitals and care facilities. We have memorial services in churches with no casket present. We go back to work as soon as we are able because we can’t bear the free time, can’t be with our thoughts. There are no arm bands to mark the family so everyone knows. Black clothes are no longer required.

I think this is why I’ve always loved Halloween and have been fascinated by Dia de los Muertos since Ray Bradbury introduced it to me as a child. The thought that death is so close to life was somehow freeing, the idea that there can be days when we look death and darkness in the eyes and come out the other side alive and smiling.

I had a professor at university who taught about the human fascination with monsters that transcends cultures, and the psychology behind it. We must face death and darkness, evil and uncertainty, in stories so we can process these very real, very scary things behind the fictional ones from the safety of a book’s pages, which we can close, or a screen, which we can shut off.

G.K. Chesterton said “fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.”

In “Coraline,” Neil Gaiman puts it this way, “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

For me, Autumn provides a kind of sacred space for this processing. Halloween pushes us up closer to death and darkness than the rest of the year. The beautiful, yet ephemeral, turning of the leaves from green to yellow and red before they fall, leaving branches bare and skeletal inevitably leads the mind to think on the passing of time and the temporary nature of all living things.

Autumn is a thoughtful season, well-suited for pondering over large cups of tea and quiet conversations by the fire. It is subtle, and if purposefully ignored, easy to pass through untouched. But, if we stop and take it all in, if we allow ourselves to dwell in the melancholy just for a short while, we will come out all the better for it.

Jane Austen highlighted the sensibilities that only this season of Autumn can bring, as she writes about Anne Elliot, our heroine of “Persuasion.” Anne, the single old maid (thought not at all old), has no beau to walk with. Austen tells us, “her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn–that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness–that season which has drawn from every poet worthy of being read some attempt at description, some lines of feeling.”

So these are my lines of feeling, meant to draw attention to that influence Autumn has “on the mind of taste and tenderness.” These are my lines to encourage you to lean into the melancholy, just a little bit, just enough to be reminded that true beauty is worthy of appreciation, death will come to all, and that Christ is our St. George – he has slain the dragon for us, so we no longer need to fear death.

Selfishness vs. Self-Care for the Single

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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