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Archive for Women of Faith

The New (Single) Girl At Church

I missed church this Sunday, accidentally. Somehow, I was an hour off in my head, starting last night when I set my alarm, right up to the middle of my shower this morning when I realized my error when it was too late. I’ve been trying out a different church for the past few weeks, and was looking forward to it. Ah well, such is life.

The church I’m trying out is multi-ethnic, tiny, and only a couple years old. It is led by a young, black, male pastor who loves God’s word and his people. As someone who has been unhappy with the state of the white evangelical church since moving away from my LA church, it was time to try something different. We’ll see how it goes. I’m still leading GriefShare (a grief support group for those who have recently lost a loved one) at my former church while I figure out if I’m going to leave or stay. The counseling pastor at my former church is aware and supportive of this transitional period, as is the pastor of the new church.

Trying out new churches as a single woman is always a daunting process. I know it’s now easy for marrieds either, but at least you have someone to walk through those doors with, someone to talk to about it after, someone to run interference in awkward social situations. You also don’t get stared at quite as much as you do as a single woman. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, having tried out churches as a singleton from college through today, but it’s still unpleasant. 

You have to face confused questions like “did you come here alone?” and, once they find out you’re single, the dreaded “don’t worry, there’s still time” or “never doubt that God can still bring you a husband” or “I know someone who got married at 50!” Ugh. I actually haven’t gotten much of this at my new church, which has been a pleasant surprise. I have gained enough confidence to shut it down pretty quickly when it does happen by reassuring people that I’m actually quite happy with my single life, and that I’m glad to be following God’s plan for me. And, when I’ve got nothing to say on the tip of my brain, I echo what my llama church notebook (pictured above) says, and just say “Nope!” and leave it at that.

There’s also the fear that every man you meet in the church might think you’re trying to hit on them, or their wives may get possessive. I don’t feel this way when I meet men outside of traditional Christian environments. But after enough experiences with men in conservative Christian circles being convinced that any unattached woman must be on the hunt for a man (specifically them?), and therefore dangerous possible vixens, I always feel more nervous during the church meet and greet when I shake a woman’s hand, then turn to shake her husband’s.

Sometimes the men ignore you altogether, and won’t even greet you. It’s bizarre. Then there’s the awkward Christian hugging thing – do I side hug?Actually hug? An awkward combo. of both? Anyway, I didn’t have horrible experiences with the men here, so that was nice.

A dear friend of mine who I’ve known for years has also started trying out this new church with me. She’s a single mom, and her adult daughter has come as well. Thank goodness she started coming before we had communion, or I’d never have figured out the whole wafer shrink-wrapped on top of the juice thing! We singles need to stick together to mitigate some of the awkwardness.

I battle between hope that this could be my church home for the foreseeable future, and cynicism that there is no church where I currently live that can fill that role. I’m not naive enough to think a church that’s “perfect for me” exists. I’m well aware that church is made up of fallen, broken sinners (like myself!) and it’s a family, which comes with some good, some bad, and lots of complications. I know it’s not all about me as well.  But I still yearn for a church where I see both a deep respect for God’s word and his love for the vulnerable lived out in word and deed.

I had the chance to meet with the pastor one on one to get some answers to questions about church doctrine, structure, and accountability, as well as views on women in ministry and on social justice and community involvement. It was a great start, and I always respect a Christian man who isn’t afraid to meet with me at the church, who listens well, and who responds with thoughtful, biblical, compassionate answers. I feel hopeful.

I’ll keep trying this new church throughout fall and hope to make my decision this winter. I’ll keep you guys posted on how it goes. Your prayers are appreciated!

Other singles out there, how do you handle trying out new churches?

An Awkward Spinster Has All the Thoughts as Summer Ends

With one week left of summer vacation, I think my mind is trying to process all the things it’s been pondering this summer. Things like women’s roles in the church, how best to help those suffering through grief and loss, the effects of institutionalized racism on my bookshelves, the awesomeness of graphic novels that work for kids and adults, the joy of supporting art, and how to be both firm yet gracious. I can ponder forever, but coming to conclusions is another thing. So now that I’m down to just a few more days before my mind is filled almost entirely with the business of getting the library up and running for the school year, I’m trying to actually make some decisions based on the things on which I’ve ruminated for the past couple of months. 

On the role of women in the church, this video by N. T. Wright has had me thinking for days. It was suggested by female Anglican priest Tish Warren in an interview on Preston Sprinkle’s podcast “Theology in the Raw.” As this issue has been a concern of mine for literally my entire life, and as it is an issue that directly affects me as a woman in ministry, any conclusions I come to will probably take more time and study. If this is a topic of interest to you, please check out the video and let me know what you think. Comment below if you’d like to get a conversation going. It’s a complex issue, and one that is often considered “not a priority” (a direct quote from a pastor with whom I discussed this) by many churches as men are solely in leadership, thus think they are not directly affected by this (they are), think it’s clear (it’s not), or think it’s not that important (it is to the other 50% of the church).

Last night, I showed my mum the Anderson Cooper interview with Stephen Colbert, and we both cried a little. Colbert’s compassionate and authentic response to Cooper’s vulnerable questions on loss and grief was insightful, beautiful, and pointed to Christ. As I am gearing up to, once again, co-lead a grief group at my church, this interview will stay in my mind. Check it out. Discuss below.

This January, as I thought of what New Year’s Resolution I could make, I looked around my bookshelves and realized that the ratio of white authors to authors of color was not great. Though many of my favorite authors are men and women of color, I’m still not hearing their voices as often as white voices. And since I’m actually pretty angry with many of the white voices that can seem to screech the loudest in our culture, I thought I’d like to hear some perspectives that differ. At this moment, I’m in the middle of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me.” If the late, great, Toni Morrison said it’s “required reading,” I’m there. It’s beautiful, difficult, thought-provoking, and important. If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts below. If not, perhaps you can join me in reading it and we can discuss together when we’re done. Which will probably be tonight, because I can’t put it down.

Another way I gear up for the school year is by reading some of the kid lit I’ll be introducing to my library this fall. I had heard great things about the graphic novel series by Ben Hatke, “Zita: the Spacegirl,” but never got around to reading them. I know this shocks most people, that an English major and librarian hasn’t read Every Single Book in Existence, but hey, there are A LOT of books out there, so we can’t read them all! Anyway, I stumbled across the Zita trilogy for a great price at one of my favorite Southern California used bookstores, BookMonster in Santa Monica, and snatched them up for my kiddos. I just read all 3 in 3 days because they are fun, amazing, and lovely. I can’t wait to get them into the hands of my students as soon as the school library is open for business this fall! I’ve also been told that “Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl” is even better, so I can’t wait to read it. Someday soon. When I have time and money again. (I don’t get paid during the summer, and yet somehow I still bought 3 bags full of stuff for my library, sigh.) Are there any other graphic novels I should stock in my TK-5th grade library? Let me know.

Something that reminded me of how much I love to support others’ art was the successful Kickstarter campaign of illustrator Seth T. Hahne. His American Lit series is brilliant, and I’ve now got both the Salinger and Fitzgerald pieces framed and hanging on my living room gallery wall and mailed off a bunch of the others to some literary geek friends. Check his work out, and buy some. You can also support my two favorite artists-who-are-related-to-me, my brother Joshua Kemble, and his wife Mai S. Kemble. Their work is incredible, objectively, with no bias on my part. Check them out and support your local artists! Are there other artists I should know about? Link to them in the comments.

Another idea that’s permeated my summer is how to stop seeing people as one big group with whom I’m upset (cough *evangelical Trump supporters* cough) and instead get back to seeing individuals. And, as silly as it may seem, I’ve been convicted by the depiction of G. K. Chesterton’s gracious, kind, clever, and firm Father Brown. Mum and I happily discovered that Season 7 is now streaming on Amazon Prime’s Britbox (yes, of course we have Britbox), with a new episode offered each week on Thursdays, I think. If I could be more like Father Brown, I think I’d be doing well. His ability to both treat people with respect and grace, yet hold people accountable for their sinful actions and desires, all while calling them to repentance and reminding them of Christ’s ever-present offer of forgiveness is astounding. Are you a Father Brownian? Let me know in the comments. 

I realize I’m ending this post with very few conclusions, and possibly may be giving you more questions, but I’m an educator so questions are my favorite tool! Let’s ponder these things, and more, together. After all, a single lady needs her community to share ideas, debate, and discuss. Have at it.

An Awkward Spinster’s Summer

June meant the end of school, a trip to south Florida, a conference, lack of sleep, and lots of rest. But mostly it meant time with people – time for listening and deep conversations, time for meals/drinks together and car talks, time for late night chats and quick hugs hello/goodbye. 

Right now I know I should write about my week in Florida visiting a dear friend I’ve known since grad school, getting to know her husband, borrowing their car to zip around the area and sight see, breakfasting with another friend from my undergrad days, experiencing the southern summer rain, and having incredibly deep conversations over Star Wars themed beer, or Peruvian/Cuban/Jamaican food, or tea and seeing way fewer Florida Man incidents than I was hoping for. 

Or I should write about the biblical counseling conference I went to near San Diego the day after I got back and how I got to catch up with people from grad school and my LA home church, how I got to take part in a filmed round table discussion possibly to be used by churches as soon as next year, how I met women in my field of ministry who are inspiring powerhouses of intellect, skill, and desire to help the church, and how mum and I managed to squeeze in some vacation time in Carlsbad and San Juan Capistrano in the evenings and on the way home.

Or I should write about my disgust for how our country is treating the vulnerable and voiceless, migrant families and refugee children, how much I struggle with the attitude of so many Christians I know toward the least of these, our neighbors, whom we’re supposed to love, and how I didn’t really miss church because of this while I was out of town.

Or I should write about taking the last week off to REST for once, but also fit in a meeting with the LA Inklings (my writer’s group), breakfast with a childhood friend, church with an old friend from high school, and some family time with the kiddos in our paddling pool in the backyard, and also how REST doesn’t necessarily equal SLEEP for an insomniac like me, especially during summer.

But my head is foggy, full of allergies and a rough night without sleep, and the typical educator’s summer vacation inability to focus. Every day these past three weeks the thought “I should write a blog post” has popped into my head at some point, and then has been shoved aside in favor of, well, all the things above. But if I keep doing that, I’ll never write again, so here I am rambling along in happy summary of my recent life with nothing much to report. 

God is good. Church is hard. Living in the desert is hot and makes sleeping even more difficult. Family is still worth it. Singleness is still bringing me joy (minus those fleeting moments when I wish I could snog that one guy I barely know and won’t see all summer anyway). Paddington Bear (the best westie ever) is snugglier than ever. My little loves fill my heart. Fourth of July means Stranger Things 3 with the besties. And I’m looking forward to the rest of the summer.

A Rambling Awkward Post

My back went out again, so I’ve spent the weekend in bed and on the couch, trying to move as little as possible, avoid deep breaths, and rest up so I can get through the next 3 days of the insanity that is the Book Fair. Did you know boxes of books are heavy? Yeah. They are. And with both my assistant and I with back injuries, it was an interesting time getting the book fair decorated and set up, and now staffing it. This is my first time running a book fair. It’s fun, but it’s incredibly exhausting.

It’s been good to rest this weekend, but that means I didn’t make it to church. Heck, I haven’t left the house since I got home from work Friday evening. Church: to be honest, that’s still a struggle for me. I still don’t fit at my church here. Which I know isn’t really the point, that it’s meant to be a coming together of a lot of people who “don’t fit” together but can love one another because God first loved us (I John 4:19). I’m trying. Well, when I can move, I’m trying.

My brain is so full right now. I realize I’m not my best when I have to make a ton of decisions all at once. Figuring out the logistics of the book fair, end of school stuff, end of this GriefShare session, summer travel plans, a conference at which I’ll be taking part in recorded panel sessions, book club, prayer group, writer’s group, getting a Real ID and renewing my passport, budgeting for summer (when I don’t get paid), birthdays, and visits to and from friends, well . . . it’s a lot to keep straight in a brain while on pain medication.

My poor blog has been the casualty of my busy life and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’m still struggling to find direction in writing. I want to write. But when I’m happy and busy, I don’t really have as much to write about as I do when I’m dissatisfied and have tons of time. I suppose that’s a rather normal thing for humans – we love to rant when we’re unhappy, but don’t feel the need as much when we are doing okay.

But I want my readers to see this side of me, the side that might be in pain and overwhelmed but is still doing just fine. The side that, in this moment at least, trusts God with her future. The part of me that has already grieved my singleness and my childlessness and has moved forward to find a new normal that includes looking ahead to my future with less fear and sadness, and more joy and excitement even though I have no idea what will happen. The part of me that revels in my single life.

So I’ll leave you with this rambling, raw post today. I’ll try to write more frequently again, but am booked solid from now to the end of June so I might post on days other than Monday more often. I hope you’ll stick with me through the busy season ahead.

The Condescending View of Christian Singles Wasting their Lives

I know I’ve been away from my blog for a few weeks, which makes me feel bad. Then I start to think of how lazy I am, how undisciplined, until I realize that I’ve just been rather busy lately, that’s all. Busy working, ministering, and doing fun things with family, which is pretty awesome. Mum and I went to Disneyland a few weekends ago, then took a serendipitous trip to San Diego for a weekend which included staying in an ever-so-slightly-sketchy Airbnb and a St. Patrick’s Day Irish Festival. And then there was WonderCon with my sister and bro-in-law last weekend. So of course I then think I should be blogging on weeknights instead of watching Britbox shows, until I remind myself that I have prayer group and GriefShare and babysitting and family dinners almost every weeknight. Perhaps I’m less lazy than I think I am, but rather am just having too much fun living my life?

Reflecting on this made me think of all the other single Christian men and women I know who are out living their lives to the fullest; they’re busy working, ministering, loving friends and family, traveling, and enjoying the life God’s given them. This isn’t exactly the picture we often get of Christian singles, and sometimes it even takes me awhile to wrap my head around the fact that my life didn’t go remotely the way I’d hoped it would, and yet I am happy, I am satisfied.

I think back to many of the conference sessions I’ve heard preached to singles with the main message of “don’t waste this valuable time of your life waiting around!” Like singleness is this temporary state we treat like a waiting room for the rest of life. I believe I’ve even spoken and written on similar things. And I have actually known some single men and women who were so focused on the need to get married, that they put off careers, education, and ministry opportunities only to spend much of their time miserably waiting for a spouse who may not even exist.

But today, when I realized just how busy I’ve been out and about doing things, I thought about all the other single men and women I know who are my age or older and realized they’re all out living life too! I actually couldn’t think of one single Christian friend who is “wasting their singleness” at this point in our lives. To be honest, once you’ve been single long enough, you either have to settle and marry someone you probably shouldn’t, throw Christian celibacy out the window and embrace relationships that don’t necessarily glorify God, or just get on with your life as a single person. After awhile, you just can’t sit around being sad about being single anymore. You have to work. You have to have somewhere to live. You need other people in your life to survive so you’ve had to find some community. You just get on with things.

This idea that the main thing we need to tell singles is not to waste this valuable time, I’ve realized, is rather condescending. Most singles I know are busy doing incredible things for humanity: they’re nurses or administrators in war torn and famine ridden countries with organizations like Doctors without Borders, they’re teachers and librarians raising the next generation of kids, they’re caring for elderly parents, they’re completing grad school, they’re helping deaf people hear again, they’re buying homes, they’re planting churches, they’re baking delicious food, they’re taking other widows to their doctors’ appointments, they’re adopting pets, they’re dedicated flatmates and friends, they’re raising their children on their own, they’re leading support groups and prayer meetings, they’re founding ministries and organizations, they’re interviewing for dream jobs over and over again, they’re influencing nephews and nieces and godchildren, they’re texting encouraging things to friends who are struggling with marriage or parenthood, they’re doing IT support and training for missionaries or they are the missionaries themselves, they’re counseling younger Christians, they’re writing books and leading conferences, they’re busy doing what the Lord would have them to do. Seriously, I know single people doing each of the things listed here – these are real examples.

When most of the people speaking to singles are married men and women, their main reference for what singleness is like comes from their late teens-early 20’s, the few adult years of their own lives before they were married. They assume they know what singleness is actually like because they were once single for like a minute. Their frame of reference for singles is often stuck in a time of life when we are all figuring out who we are and what we’re doing, when we’re all a bit more transient, and bit more unsettled and confused.

And yes, during that time in my life, my hopes for marriage were strong, the dream of a spouse and kids and all that were still alive. This did, at times, lead to feelings of discontentment and fear, especially as my 20’s turned into my 30’s. And yes, I did have some friends who seemed to let this overwhelm them, this desire for marriage became their main goal. And, for a few of them, I saw this paralyze them or lead them away from God. But, looking back, most of us just got on with it. We got on with life, work, and ministry. Because we had to. I mean, who really has the luxury to “waste” that time of their life? What other option did we have?

And now that my 30’s have turned into my 40’s, I’m less discontent, less fearful, and less concerned about the possibility of marriage than ever before. I can look back and see that not one year of my life has been “wasted,” and neither have most of my single friend’s years. We are, most of us, much more settled in who we are and what God would have us do. Ephesians 2:10 says “for we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” If our main goal is to glorify God, to do his will, then our lives will never be “wasted” because he’s got plans for us. He’s got good works all ready for us to do. Single. Married. Parents. Childless. Energetic. Exhausted. Healthy. Disabled. It doesn’t matter. God still has good works prepared beforehand for each of us which we will be capable of doing, by his grace.

Instead of underestimating singles, instead of assuming most singles need to be reminded not to waste this time, as if it’s some temporary reprieve from responsibility, full of free time and endless opportunity, we all need to remember that singles grow up just like everyone else does. 30 year old singles will be different from 20 year old ones, and now at 40, I’m even more different – I hope I’m more mature, a bit more wise, and a bit more free in Christ. And my mother, in her second-singleness as a widow, has also grown as a single person now that she’s in her second decade of singleness after my dad’s death.

Instead of treating all singles like we’re college students sleeping in all day during summer vacation, shirking any ministry opportunities, dating around irresponsibly with a fear of commitment, putting our lives on hold until our “perfect mate” shows up out of the blue, let’s see singles as full and complete humans who will mature, like everyone else, as we age and experience life. Let’s see singles as individuals who are different and complex. Let’s stop the condescending view of singles as struggling with waiting for life to happen and realize, while lots of Christians were busy thinking that, most of us have been out there living our lives to the fullest, to the glory of God, for years, maybe even decades.