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Archive for Women of Faith

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.

I’m Dreaming of Expanded Ministry Opportunities for Celibate Single Christians

The singles ministry is led by a male pastor in his early 30’s who happily married quite young, had three little kids, and thinks everyone else should follow his example. The women’s retreat speaker has been married for 20 years and all of her illustrations refer to being a wife and mother. The high school youth group is run by a still-in-seminary early-20-something man who just got married two years ago, and his newly pregnant wife who helps out. The Women’s and Children’s Ministry Directors are married women with children who home schooled their kids and never had careers outside of the home. The break-out session at the parenting conference for single parents is facilitated by a middle aged married couple who blended their families from previous marriages. The entire paid counseling staff of the large church is made up of married men (a couple of women are available for an hour here or there as unpaid counselors who voluntarily counsel in the little spare time they can offer up). In fact, the entire pastoral staff is made up of married men.

When a single person does appear in paid ministry in these churches, it is usually an annoyingly energetic young man, currently in or freshly out of seminary, being groomed for future leadership in the church with the very strong expectation that they will soon get married and have kids,just like every other man on staff. A single young woman in a similar situation is never even a consideration.

This is the status quo of the churches in which I grew up and continue to be a part of. Every. Single. One of them. There may be an exception here or there in some more open minded churches, but for the vast majority of evangelicals, this is our experience.

In some denominations, most, if not all ministry is performed by single members of the clergy. Monks, priests, and nuns who took vows of service and celibacy led (and still lead) parishes and churches worldwide. They were and are respected, useful members of society and leaders in ministry. Yes, there are some who abused and continue to abuse this position (horribly and with lasting effect on those abused and the church itself), but this isn’t because they are single (married pastors are capable of just as much abuse as unmarried priests). The ability for ministers to marry is allowed in Scripture and has benefits of its own, so I get why the Protestant church pushed for that change in leadership policy. But instead of building a church body that allows married AND single men and women to minister in varied ways that utilize their skills and encourage spiritual growth across the board, the conservative evangelical church has relegated single Christians to the corners of ministry, especially single women.

Single women are encouraged to work in the nursery, or maybe the church office. Single men are encouraged to help out in youth group with the sporty stuff and help pass out the communion trays. Both are encouraged even more strongly to find Christian spouses and start “a family” as their main focus of ministry. And, for almost everything else, married men and maybe women will fill ministry roles.

So why is this? If I offered to speak at the next marriage conference, to married couples, about marriage, I’d be considered a bit nuts. So why is it that married people get to lead everything, even ministries specifically to singles? Why has marriage become a seminal part of the conscious or unconscious criteria for what it means to be a ministry-ready mature Christian? Christ was unmarried, as were Paul and Timothy and many other saints of the early church. It’s time to remember that.

Here’s what I’d like to see:

  • I’d love to see middle aged single men and women encouraged to lead the singles ministry, even hired (gasp!) to do so. If the main goal of the singles pastor is to get his parishioners married off, and to teach them how to be good future husbands and wives, then you’ve hired the wrong person for this job. If they view singleness as a temporary state to be raced through as quickly as possible, then assign them to a different ministry. We do not have singles leading married ministries, so why do we have married pastors leading singles?
  • I’d love to see youth groups invite dedicated, celibate, older-than-20-or-30-something single speakers when they discuss “purity culture” so there can be a balance to the whole “save sex until marriage” and “your virginity is for your husband/wife” message. Wouldn’t it be amazing if our teenagers realized that not everyone is actually going to get married? And that marriage isn’t actually the only way to honor God? And that celibacy is not punishment, but a form of worship? Only a single speaker can convincingly make this argument, not a married one.
  • I’d love for the next women’s retreat or conference to headline a single woman speaker rather than just have one break-out session (if any) for the singles that focuses on not wasting this valuable time until marriage (with eventual marriage assumed, of course). Let’s have sermons by women where being a wife and mother fills 10% of the illustrations instead of 100%, just every once in awhile to remind the other women that probably over 50% of adults in church actually aren’t married. Let’s have single male speakers at men’s conferences too, who can shift the focus from godly man=husband/father to godly man=godly man.
  • I’d love for every church that has a counseling program to hire a full time female counselor on staff, and why not some single ones while we’re at it? See, most of the people who turn to churches for counsel are women. And by most, it’s like 80%. Sadly, due to our culture’s weird view of masculinity, men don’t tend to ask for counseling. It’s tragic, really. But this does mean that more women are coming to churches for counseling, and most churches only have male pastors on staff to help them. They may have a few women who volunteer to counsel in between their jobs and kids and everything else, but our time is always limited, and we rarely get paid for it meaning we can’t offer as much. And, when women are not on staff at churches, the elder board will actually have zero clue what needs the women of the church actually have because they have no voice at the table. Single counselors would be awesome too, as we have a lot to offer!
  • I’d love for the next parenting conference to host a break-out session by a single teacher who can help them speak to their kids about the possibility that Prince Charming or their Disney Princess may not exist. Parents need to know that God may have chosen a path of singleness for their children, that they may not get grandkids, and that this, if it is God’s will, is truly beautiful and fine and good. Parents need to be told that putting undue pressure on their kids to find a spouse and “settle down” (as if all singles are unsettled???) is not showing trust in God. They need to know that it’s okay for them to pray for their kids’ future spouses, as long as they’re also praying for God’s will which may actually not include a spouse at all.
  • I’d love for Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries to hire single male and female professors to teach and mentor and for churches to hire full-time single Christians on staff. The next generation of Christians needs to see there are valuable places in the Christian community for singles. They need mentors who can minister differently. They need a variety of voices and perspectives pointing to the same God, using the same Scripture, loving the same body of Christ. They need to see that singleness can be used for the glory of God, that committed celibate singleness is respected, and that life is not over if you can’t find a spouse.

Inclusion of mature, dedicated, celibate single Christians is even more important in a time when we demand that same-sex attracted Christians remain celibate for life, closing themselves off to the possibility of any kind of traditional family, or marry someone they are not attracted to. We expect a woman who has never been sought after as a wife to remain faithful to God alone and find her fulfillment in Him instead of being a wife and mother, even when we preach that a woman’s highest calling is to be just that. We look at older single men in the church with suspicion. We demand a difficult commitment to purity and service, yet relegate singles to second-class status with few opportunities for Christian vocation, little respect, no possibility of paid ministry, no voice in church leadership, and ultimately a life on the fringes of the community that is meant to be our family.

The church is meant to be made up of all image bearers of God; this includes both men and women, people of every tongue and race, all socioeconomic backgrounds,  and it should also include singles as well as married Christians. If any of these are lacking, then the church is bound to not even realize the gaps in who they are not able to serve. The blind spots will be insurmountable because they won’t even know they exist. It’s time for singles to be involved in every aspect of church life, including leadership.

When an Awkward Blogger Gets Writer’s Block

I’m going to be completely transparent here – I’ve been having a difficult time coming up with ideas for The Awkward Spinster for a few months now. You may have noticed, dear readers, that my every-Monday-posting that was pretty regular for the past couple of years (with a couple of breaks here and there) has become every other week, or even once a month since the holidays. Sigh. Perhaps I’ve been embracing my inner sloth.

It’s not that I’ve been more busy than usual, or can blame the cold I had or being out of town, because that stuff has always happened. It’s mostly because I can’t come up with things to write. I don’t want to NOT write, it just keeps happening. I even have a list of ideas, but none of them seem interesting to me, and if they’re not interesting to me, I doubt I can write on them well enough to be interesting to you. I haven’t been brave enough to post if I think it’s not going to be “good enough.”

Perhaps that’s part of the problem? I know blogs are a place where writers can be more casual, where we can journal and brainstorm and freestyle, but I’ve always struggled with that side of things. My first experience in blogging was a 3 year stint writing posts for my church. My pieces had to be thoughtful, well-designed, biblically grounded, and complete. I was responsible to not only my pastors, but my church body. The other main writing I did in my life was for the school at which I taught – lessons, curriculum, chapel talks, etc. Always with an audience to whom and for whom I was responsible, always from a position of teaching.

Other than intermittent journaling throughout my entire life – mostly when I travel or am more depressed than usual – I haven’t ever just written for myself.

I’m not sure what that would even look like, not sure what my style would be if I wasn’t constantly thinking of my audience and my responsibility to them, my responsibility to my boss, school, or church, and ultimately, God.

The irony of this is that I’ve never been that important. What I’ve written has never been big or groundbreaking, it’s never had a huge audience or a publishing deal relying on it. The pressure I’ve felt is at least 70% just from me, not from these outside entities. Call it perfectionism, pride, fear of disappointing others, high standards, whatever. It’s mostly me. Isn’t that usually how these things go?

So, this year, brace yourselves; the Awkward Spinster is going to get, well, even more AWKWARD. I’m going to try to get back to my usual weekly posts, but in order to do so, they may kind of suck. Yep. Sometimes I have it in me to research, write multiple drafts, ponder an idea for days and weeks first, and put something together of which I can be proud. But other days, days like today, my blog is going to contain some “verbal vomit.” This is, after all, my blog, not a book or sermon or lesson plan. Perhaps I’ll lose some readers, and I won’t feel as important or helpful, but I think it’s better than me feeling so much pressure from myself that I just stop writing all together.

Thanks to those of you who have stuck with me along the way. Seriously, dear readers, you are much appreciated. And I hope that at least some of you will come along for the ride as I try to find my voice once I figure out how to mute some of the more judgmental ones in my head.

How the Awkward Spinster Does Valentine’s Day

One of the benefits of having been perpetually single throughout my life is that my expectations of Valentine’s Day are incredibly low. I’m pretty sure I only ever had one boyfriend on this holiday, way back in Jr. High (and he did great, got me a stuffed bear music box that played Elvis’ “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” and little gold plated heart necklace, well done Jr. High boy!), so I don’t really equate this day with big romantic gestures or expensive gifts. It’s actually a day I enjoy, which isn’t the case for all singles, so below I’ll list what I’ve done or am doing this year to celebrate this day of love as a single in the hope that it will inspire you, single or not, to enjoy it too.

In full disclosure, I need to mention that I am writing this while listening to the soundtrack from “Buffy the Musical: Once More with Feeling” as my “romantic” background noise. So yeah, that may effect my subconscious.

To get into the holiday spirit, my mum and I decorated. We have some heart garlands, red glass birds, ribbons, and Winnie the Pooh stuffed animals (from my dad years ago) to scatter about the house. I even brought a garland to hang up in my school library, as well as a sparkly heart. This might seem cheesy or unnecessary, but my family is one that loves to celebrate holidays, and nothing gets you in the mood like a few decorations to mark that this season is a bit different. My students are loving even the couple of little things up in the library because it makes it feel special.

My mum hosted her annual Valentine Tea for the ladies in her Sunday School class. My sister and I used to help host this, but haven’t participated in the last few years as it’s harder and harder to get our friends to come as they marry and have kids and life gets more complicated. But, when we do it, it is surprisingly fun. Finger sandwiches, pots of tea, pastries, and tons of art supplies with which to make homemade valentines will brighten anyone’s February. But, since my mum was having mostly older ladies over who I don’t know well, I took the opportunity to have a few hours on my own – took myself out to lunch, and stopped by See’s Candies for a box of chocolates for mum, and a few truffles for myself. I may have also purchased a nice cabernet sauvignon for myself this week.

(My little niece just came into my “study” to give me a cuddle, then quickly left and said “Ok, now you can continue your work.” Who needs a Valentine when you’ve got this kind of love?)

Another thing I love to do this time of year is rant about the insulting marketing targeting singles. So many companies are trying to include singles in their ad campaigns for Valentine’s Day, as we are a growing economic force, and most are doing it quite poorly. We get the “You don’t need no man, so buy yourself an expensive, unnecessary diamond” ads, and the crate boxes full of stereotypical feminine things single women are supposed to crave like self-help books, skin care items, and chocolate. There are the companies encouraging bitterness toward your exes, ogling scantily clad women, and the ever present call to selfishness as a lifestyle choice since we don’t have anyone else to care for, apparently.

We’re planning on making homemade valentines tonight with our women’s global prayer group, Tea Persisted. And we have Marie Callender’s pie to go along with it. Who do you make valentines for if you’re single, you may ask? Come on guys, love comes in many forms. Just pick anyone you’d like to feel special for a moment – a family member, a godchild, a coworker, or your friendly neighborhood librarian. Stick them in the mail, hide them on a desk, drop them on doorsteps, wherever. Valentines are for everyone.

One of the ladies from my mum’s tea even brought a squeaky, fluffy, heart-shaped dog toy for our westie, so even pets can get valentines!

I’m also going to be contacting my state representatives this week to ask them to fight for government policies that will help the vulnerable. One of the best ways to show love is to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves: the poor, the refugees, the children, the disenfranchised, the sick, the elderly, the disabled, the unborn, the abused, the forgotten. We can say we love people until we’re blue in the face, but it means little if we aren’t trying to help our country enact policies of love rather hate, of care and protection rather than hatred and violence.

And then, on Valentine’s Day itself, my plan is to get in my pajamas as soon as I get home from work, make some dinner with mum, and settle in for some Midsomer Murders or another cozy British mystery series. Avoiding couples taking over restaurants is important. Ice cream or pie or chocolate will be involved for both of us, and quite possibly a good single malt scotch for me.

For those of you who are struggling with this season because of grief, loss, and deep loneliness, know you are not alone. There is a whole army of singletons out there just like you. Feel free to message me through my blog or social media, I’d love to send you an encouraging note. Reach out to others in your life who may also be feeling this grief and offer them comfort, especially single men and women who recently lost loved ones. One of my favorite British comedians, Miranda Hart, is creating a community on social media for those of us who might struggle with grief on Valentine’s Day, so check her out under #HartsValentinesDay. She is in England, so there will be a time difference. But I’m in the States, so again you are welcome to message me!

I’m also working at reminding myself WHY we love in the first place. 1 John 4:19 makes it very simple, “We love because he [God] first loved us.” Simple. Easy. God loved us so much he sent his son to die for us. His love is unending and true. And that’s why we love others. Because if the God of the universe can love a broken soul like me, I should offer that love to everyone around me.

So this year, I encourage you to embrace having no expectations for great gestures, and instead embrace the little expressions of love you can make for the loved ones in your life, near or far. Text your other single friends to let them know you love them. Instead of ignoring it, why not enjoy celebrating the kinds of love we singles have in our lives? Coworkers. Fellow church members. Community members. Pets. Friends. Family. Take a moment out of this week to remind yourself that you are, indeed, loved, that there are people on this messed up planet who care about you, and that the God of the universe loved you first. It might not look like the traditional end to a rom-com, but love comes in many forms and it is all worth celebrating.