Archive for Women of Faith

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 Freedom of Not Even Trying to Date

I think my dating life peaked in middle school. In those magically awkward years from 6th to 8th grade, I had 4 boyfriends (consecutively, not simultaneously). The magic of middle school boyfriends, at least at a Christian school in the 80’s, was that very little was required. You’d tell your friends you liked a boy, then would send an envoy to his group of friends to find out if it was mutual. Short notes would be exchanged, either passed from friend to friend or shoved in their locker, often with boxes to check, folded in elaborate ways, and possibly with hearts over any i’s. Once you had assurance that you were liked back, you’d be “going out” or “boyfriend and girlfriend” or whatever phrase was in that week.

For me, a good little girl, this pretty much just meant eating a few lunches together (not all of them, we still wanted to spend most of our time with our own friends), exchanging cheesy gifts on Valentine’s Day, having our parents drop us off at the movies (also with groups of friends) and holding hands. The Couple’s Skate at the roller rink was the pinnacle of relationship status, and I think I only got there once, which was stressful as I wasn’t a very good skater so holding hands made me much more clumsy. There was one Disneyland trip filled with fabulous moments (hugging in line!) and incredibly awkward ones (when you’re bigger than your boyfriend but he still wants to sit behind you on the roller coasters, so you spend the entire time holding yourself up for fear of crushing him). Other than this, very little effort was expended. These “relationships” tended to be short-lived, and ended rather amicably due to them moving away, school ending for summer, or just disinterest on both sides. And that, it turns out, is the most successful I’d ever be at relationships in my life.

High school was a barren landscape in the world of dating for a geeky girl like me, banished to the status of “Friend Fawn.” I had 3 boyfriends between my 18th-25th years, one of whom broke my heart – not romantically, but because we had been close friends and dated on and off for years as I grew closer to the Lord and he grew further away. I even had one marriage proposal. These relationships were more complicated and stressful than I would have liked. With the good, and there was indeed good, came a painful amount of bad.

After that, I got to the point in my life where I felt I was probably ready to date seriously with the future possible goal of marriage, and this was confirmed by many mature Christian mentors in my life. I know men and women who struggle in their singleness because they are constantly being asked on dates, are constantly pursued. Just a head’s up – I am so not that person. For me, there was nothing. From 25-38 I was open to dating, and some of those periods pretty actively tried to date (ah, the brutal world of internet and app dating!), yet in that entire time I was only asked out by 2 men. One from an online dating site, another a few years later from a dating app. Both of those turned into one-date-only (by my choice) kind of situations, for very good reasons I won’t go into here.

I was not “being too picky,” I was literally only asked out by 2 men in 12 years. Yup. God was not a fan of me getting married. During those 12 years, I spend some time on and off struggling with doubts about myself. Was I too fat? Too opinionated? Too independent? Did I wear the wrong clothes, have the wrong hair, need to learn how to put on makeup for more than just special occasions? Was there some horrible character flaw that was off-putting to the universal race of men of which I was horribly unaware?

I felt like I was supposed to expend time and thought on what photos I posted on the apps, which men I reached out to, which social events I attended – all with the goal of marketing myself in the best way to get a man to see me as more than a potential friend. After all, I had heard repeatedly that if I wanted a husband, I couldn’t just sit around and wait for them to show up. Yes, I had to trust God, but I also had to make sure I was “putting myself out there,” whatever the heck that means. It’s not like I’m a hermit, never hanging out with guys. I actually had a lot of male friends and my church at that time had a pretty active group of friends filled with singles my age. I even had a friend tell me I was still single because I wasn’t sending out positive vibes, I wasn’t “naming and claiming” God’s plan to bring me my soulmate. She was right, by the way. I don’t really have positive vibes; I’m a cynic and struggle not to see the world as going to hell in a hand-basket. And I can’t bring myself to “name and claim” anything that is not an explicit promise of God. Guess what, a soulmate is not promised to anyone.

But the main thing is, as much as I yearned for a partner in life, as much as I crushed on many a man, I never actually wanted to spend the emotional or mental effort on making myself attractive for some possible dream man. There were so many other things on which to spend my limited human effort! I wanted to help people, to learn more about the Bible and God and how I could use what I knew to counsel those in pain. I wanted to see the world, meet and make friends wherever I went, and try to leave places a little better off than when I arrived. I had students to care for, lesson plans to write, incredible books to read, wonderful friends to pour into (both men and women), ministries to help flourish, a family to love, new places to visit . . . an endless list of things I’d rather spend my time on than trying another diet, switching out profile pics yet again, swiping right, or waiting for some guy to maybe, possibly, for once stop just texting and actually ask to meet me IRL.

I also didn’t like who I became during those seasons in which I was more intent on trying to date. It was depressing, and I am prone to depression as it is. I spent too much time thinking about myself and what was wrong with me. How come friend after friend kept finding boyfriends, getting engaged, marrying, having kids, and I was still just single Fawn, scraping by alone? What was wrong with me?

Realizing that what is wrong with me happens to be the exact same thing that’s wrong with every person – I am a sinner in need of a Savior – was incredibly freeing, because I happen to have a Savior, so that’s taken care of. I recognized that I could look at all the women in relationships around me and compare myself to them to try to figure out why I didn’t get chosen and they did, or I could look and notice how many of them were just normal women, actually a lot like me. If you look closely, you’ll see that men marry skinny women and overweight ones, quiet ones and loud-mouthed ones, younger ones and older ones, selfish ones and generous ones, needy ones and independent ones, optimistic ones and pessimistic ones. All kinds. And when I looked at others who were still single, like me, I realized how many of those men and women were pretty kick ass. It’s not like those of us who are still single are all pathetic, ugly, socially inept people. We’re all pretty darn normal, oddly similar to married peeps.

So, at 38, I decided to scrap the whole trying to date thing entirely. Yeah, in the depths of my heart I’d still love to get married – but God really is going to have to bring the man to my doorstep because I’m done expending any time or energy on that at all. Who knows if I’ll always feel this way, but after 2 solid years of this attitude, I feel more content and free than I ever did when I was yearning to date and get married.

Instead of worrying about posting a certain picture because it might be unflattering, I can just post whatever reminds me of a joyful moment in time. Instead of wondering why only creepy men or old guys who want me to marry them for a Green Card click on my profile on some app, I can spend my phone time messaging my writer’s group, listening to podcasts, and clicking “like” on my friends’ adorable pics of kids and pets and all things geeky. It’s rather stress-free.

Even better, I’m not going through the emotional roller coaster of the will he/won’t he see me as more than just a friend. I don’t have the first date fears (Will he see me and just leave? Will he be a douche-bag? Will he be a true Christian? Will he be terribly boring with no chemistry? Will he try to molest me?). When I meet men, I can truly enjoy getting to know them as friends with zero pressure for anything more on either of us. And let me tell you, friendship is not a secondary status of relationship, but is beautiful and valuable.

And, when I think about myself, I don’t have all those doubts about what’s wrong with me. I can look to Scripture to find out how God sees me, to know in which areas I should grow, where I need to repent, where I need to seek advice or accountability. I can do this while knowing I am unconditionally loved. There is no need to even try attaining some imagined standard of womanhood, to try to be Perfect Christian Wife Material. Instead of feeling like I’m missing something, I know I am whole. I am exactly where God wants me to be in my life and I no longer need to second guess that, to feel like I’m missing something.

I realize this isn’t the message many single men and women want to hear – I probably didn’t want to hear it when I was younger and still trying to date. But when you get to the point in your life when you might be ready to embrace your singleness on a more permanent basis, let me encourage you that there is deep freedom to be found there. Freedom to spend your emotional and mental energy on loving God and loving others in a profound way. Freedom to be loved and served by God and your sisters and brothers in Christ as you realize how much you need them. Freedom, by the grace of God who has special care for the lonely, to be single, confident, and happy.

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.

Paper Cuts, Singleness, and Politics

Since school started up again a few weeks ago, my hands are covered in little paper cuts. As a book-wielding librarian, these little slices are the inevitable collateral damage. In the midst of a busy class, I often don’t even notice when a page I’m turning or a plastic book cover has broken the skin until after the kids file out of the library and I glance down to see yet another angry red slash on my fingers. In that moment, when noticed, the pain finally hits and can take days to heal enough to no longer irritate me.

Similarly, these past couple of years, I feel like I’m walking around with little barely-there slices and dices out of my heart, my soul, myself.

A much beloved former student reposts a meme about how untrustworthy all single people are, how married folks need to avoid us lest we seduce them away from their spouses. Supportive comments follow, mostly by men, all affirming the truth of this ridiculous cliché. And it cuts.

Kavanaugh lies and dissembles before the senate and is defended and even praised by people I know, people who claim to love God and love others. He would never assault a woman because he’s such a “good” guy. And why didn’t she report it? And if he did . . . it was just a youthful indiscretion. And if we start holding all men accountable for the dumb things they do as teenage boys, where would we be? These slices hurt more than you initially think possible, endlessly causing pain and discomfort. Even when I’m not thinking about it directly, the pain lingers.

The mother waiting for her child to finish his AR test after school strikes up small talk by asking me how old my kids are. I flinch, awkwardly not knowing how to respond, confused by this out-of-nowhere assumption. When I reply that I don’t have any kids, she looks at me with confusion, then surprise, then pity. One more slash.

Alums from my graduate school days post unwavering support for a divisive, unnecessary, and incredibly problematic statement made by many modern American evangelical pastors and leaders against social justice. Another furrow gashes my heart.

I know many people who would just call me a Snowflake and tell me to suck it up. They’d look at my sliced up self and scoff, thinking I must be weak and overly sensitive, a SJW who just needs to lighten up. But the minute I question the church’s idolatrous views of marriage, the GOP’s continued support of irrational, abusive, but powerful men, or the shirking of the church’s mandate to love its neighbor, I am faced with people questioning my faith, my character, and my intellect in shocked, offended tones.

What’s so wrong about being sensitive to others? I’m a Christian forgiven and beloved by God, a school librarian who works with little children, and a counselor who helps those in the darkest of times – shouldn’t sensitivity be a requirement in my life? Can’t that sensitivity strengthen my resolve to fight for what is right and good and just? Shouldn’t I be a warrior for all kinds of justice?

I am an educated, middle class, employed, white woman living in a first world country with a supportive family. If I walk through each day like the walking wounded, bracing myself for the next injury, flinching at each attack, I cannot imagine what life must be like right now for those with less privilege.

So each day, I walk through life with tiny open wounds – not enough to kill or cause permanent damage, but enough that even tiny movements are felt, every flex of my fingers may make me wince. Each turn of the page reminds me that my skin is breakable, that I’m at risk. I used to be tougher, better able to ignore all the incisions, but now I’m just tired and sore.

So each day, I apply bandages to these injuries, to protect myself. I fortify myself with prayer and Scripture. I deleted Twitter. I stopped going to small group at church. I give myself permission to block or mute people on social media so they cannot continue to wound me or my readers. I read fewer news articles. I seek out podcasts and sermons that lift my eyes to the Lord. I cling to my family and friends. I check to make sure I’m registered to vote. I co-facilitate GriefShare each week, and grieve deep losses with those who suffer deeper wounds than mine. I listen to music that lifts up my soul. Little things that help me heal. Band-aids and plasters to cover up the cruelty of this world. I know these paper cuts are part of our broken world, inevitable and unstoppable, but I still pray for a day when fewer of them are caused by those of us who claim faith in Christ.

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?