Archive for Women of Faith

A Season of Joyful Lament

When I was little, this was the month school started, the nights became colder, and we celebrated my oldest brother’s and my mum’s birthdays. Now, school’s been in full swing since August, our cool nights compete with unseasonably hot days and wildfires, my brother and mum share their birth month with my precious nephew Benji, and all of this is tinged with the slightly nostalgic melancholy memory of those weeks 15 years ago as my dad lay dying. September.  

Perhaps I was always meant to be in education since shopping for school supplies was the highlight of my fall. Browsing through the aisles of not-yet-used pens, pencils, and notebooks filled me with a sense of euphoria. Nothing called to me quite like the neon designs of Trapper Keepers or Lisa Frank folders. We’d place new school clothes on layaway back when department stores were still a thing and there were no Targets or Walmarts, teaching us patience and the joy of delayed gratification as we had to wait a few weeks to wear our fresh duds.

This September found me frantically browsing Pinterest for bulletin board ideas and rejoicing in the small box of supplies the front office ordered for me – various types of special tape created just for books, post it notes, fall themed bookmarks, and other library necessities. Mum and I dug out our autumnal decorations from various boxes in the garage to fill the house with the semblance of fall even when it was still 109° outside.

I love fall. As someone who is constantly overheated, I embrace the time of year when our excessive Southern Californian heat gives way to cool breezes and crisp weather. Honestly, I should live in Seattle, London, or Edinburgh – somewhere the sun is not quite as prevalent as the middle of a desert in one of the sunniest states. Halloween is my favorite holiday, cinnamon apples my favorite scent, and hot toddies a favorite drink.

Yet this is the season in which my father died. Even now, 15 years later, those weeks in the hospital form some of my most vivid memories. Though I will never stop missing him, his absence has been assimilated into my existence, a normal part of who I am. As a woman who never married, he still remains the most influential man in my life.

So what to do with September? Two things: be okay with being a bit more sad this month and also celebrate as much as possible, giving thanks to God for both the joy and losses.

Grief is like a muscle memory, it often hits without thought, somehow present in the body before the brain and heart catch up. There are days I’ll wake up feeling wistful – melancholy, yearning for something but not knowing what, and then I’ll remember suddenly that it is September. My body remembers this month. So instead of fighting it, feeling confused or bad about still getting sad all these years later, I have learned to accept grief, to trust my body. There is a huge difference between wallowing and experiencing. I don’t allow myself to sit in my pain all day every day, dwelling on the hard memories or what I’ve lost – but I do allow myself to cry if I feel like crying, to remember him, to talk about him or just quietly acknowledge to myself that I have felt true loss.

I pray about this too, thanking God for giving us a good dad for as long as we had him. My family is well aware how rare and special he was. It’s an oddly beautiful thing to be able to pray with joy and deep grief at the same time, to thank God while tears slip down my face.

One of my favorite hymns expresses this dichotomy better than I can:

It Is Well with my Soul by Horatio G. Spafford

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

Refrain:
It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control,
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and hath shed his own blood for my soul.
(Refrain)

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
my sin, not in part but the whole,
is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
(Refrain)

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
if Jordan above me shall roll,
no pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
(Refrain)

But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
the sky, not the grave, is our goal;
oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!
(Refrain)

And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
even so, it is well with my soul.
(Refrain)

As Christians, we often focus on how we’re supposed to be filled with joy, as if smiling all the time will somehow bring those around us to fall in love with our God. The older I get, the more I appreciate the Christian’s call to lament. I can think of sermon after sermon that paint Christians as needing to have a positive attitude all the time, but can’t think of many I’ve heard on how we should also lament – mourn with God, cry out to him, let him see our pain and grief, let him be part of that.

There is deep beauty in simultaneously being grateful to God for what has happened in our lives while grieving what has happened, to be able to be sad,yet fine. Just as our country marks days to remember great men who helped form our ideals like George Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr., just as we build memorials and lower the flag to half mast on 9/11 and other such days of loss, it is important for us to allow these moments, days, even months of remembrance.

I know those who fear grief, who push it back and try to ignore or forget it with the mantra of moving on. I know others who cannot escape grief, who let it drown them, unable to function. There is this third option – that of trusting God in the midst of acknowledging our grief. To thank him while crying out to him. To turn our eyes to those God has placed in our path, loving and serving them, while still recognizing we are a little extra broken right now and we might need some space or more hugs or greater patience or a cup of tea. Or perhaps a trip to Disneyland to see the fall decorations.

And somehow after a couple particularly difficult years, September regained its seat as one of our favorite months. Autumn reigns once more as the best season. My family relearned how to celebrate the birthdays, the weather, the flavors and scents, the holidays, the changing leaves. Perhaps experiencing loss in this season is a bit easier, as fall represents the beautiful merging of life and death – harvest and the coming winter, leaves changing color to bright reds and yellows, then falling away for the year. Halloween and Dia de los Muertos bring the dead together with the living. Warm days merge with colder nights. It is the perfect time to be filled with joy and melancholy simultaneously. We don’t need to choose one or the other, we can dwell in both.

Saved by Beauty

Today, I am feeling the melancholy beauty that comes creeping in on a Saturday in Autumn, when the light coming in through my window is a bit dimmer, the air a bit cooler and bourbon butterscotch candle scented, and I can pretend I live somewhere with an actual fall.

Today, I am going through the two journals filled with scribbles and ramblings from my time at English L’Abri last year, looking for that one particular entry on truth, goodness, and beauty. Flipping through these pages brings out tears as I remember the magical Autumn-winter I got to spend in that manor house in the English countryside, trying to piece together my slightly broken life with the help of Christians from all over the world walking alongside me, debating, cooking, cleaning, praying, singing, arguing, discussing, and experiencing. Still broken, but learning to accept that, I look back at my notes from lectures, recordings, books, and sermons and feel such deep joy that it makes me cry. Beauty can do that, you know, make you cry.

You see, though I know my life has been a rather easy one by universal standards, I know what depression feels like. There have been two periods of time in my life when my depression was so deep and seemed so insurmountable that I wanted to end my life. High school was the first period, and a few years ago, another such period began. I am awestruck that God brought me through these times, that for the past few months I have awakened in the morning wanting to live, able to experience real joy again.

As someone who grew up in the church, was a leader in InterVarsity at university, got her Masters in Biblical Counseling, and who counsels others, I’ve studied truth and goodness my whole life. Yet knowing what is true and what is good isn’t always enough. My head is so full of facts, laws, right and wrong, justice, and the righteousness of God and yet somehow I lose sight of him still.

One of my favorite lectures from the listening library at L’Abri was entitled “Recovering Goodness, Beauty and Truth” by Andrew Fellows. This most important, most ancient of triads is the basis for most philosophy. Fellows’ final conclusion echoed that of Dostoyevsky who, in “The Idiot,” claimed “Beauty will save the world.” In a world that has twisted truth, goodness, and our perception of beauty into the unrecognizable, we must ask what is left. Fellows quotes Russian novelist and historian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s bold response:

“And so perhaps that old trinity of Truth and Good and Beauty is not just the formal outworn formula it used to seem to us during our heady, materialistic youth. If the crests of these three trees join together, as the investigators and explorers used to affirm, and if the too obvious, too straight branches of Truth and Good are crushed or amputated and cannot reach the light – yet perhaps the whimsical, unpredictable, unexpected branches of Beauty will make their way through and soar up to that very place and in this way perform the work of all three.”

As much as my head knows what the Bible teaches, and my mind has been trained in the ways of goodness, this means nothing until my heart is able to comprehend it all. Beauty calls me to look more deeply at things, to search for the truth and good because I see its worth. Beauty awakens my soul and points to things beyond myself, beyond comprehension.

Sometimes when we grow up in the church we can forget just how beautiful God is, how lovely his creation which surrounds us, how magnificent each word spoken to us from heaven through his scriptures, how delightful each unique person, plant, and animal is. I spend lots of time thinking of what I should be doing, saying, or thinking that sometimes I forget to look up and see what he has done and what he has made us capable of.

Right now, in our broken world, suffering surrounds us. From hurricanes to earthquakes, racial hatred to vicious politics, floods to famine, poverty to greed I can get caught up in the truth that our world can be horrific and cruel. And yet there is still beauty; there are still people who sacrifice their own lives to rescue their neighbors, there is still music and art that reflects us and yet still lifts us up, there is the friend who texts when they think of you, there are two little boys of different races laughing loudly as they ride their bikes together on my street, and there is Autumn.

As I continue to seek truth and goodness, I must remember to also search out beauty. Instead of always trying to find the right answer, an impossible task, I must remember that there is beauty in the mystery of life, adventure in the ever-pondered and possibly never-answered questions. As Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” And as flawed as we are, I need to embrace the beauty which innately lives inside each person as people who bear the very image of God.

So this week I will light more fall scented candles, read wondrous books to my students, hug my family, eat delicious food, enjoy good art, and try to dwell on the beauty of my Lord and his everlasting love for me – something that just is, that I didn’t earn, and that I don’t have to work to keep.

Perhaps, after everything, beauty will indeed save the world. Or maybe it’ll just help save me today, which is enough.

*To find lectures by L’Abri such as the one mentioned above, you can go to the L’Abri Ideas Library or subscribe to the podcast English L’Abri by L’Abri Fellowship on iTunes.

Responding to Marrieds for Dummies

Welcome to Part 2 of my “for Dummies” series. This is a response to last week’s blog post Talking to Singles for Dummies. Go on, read that first, I’ll wait.

Okay, so now that you’ve read about how married people should talk to singles, let’s look at how singles should respond to the mostly well-meaning married people in our lives who just don’t know how to talk to us about our singleness. We have a few options:

Get Annoyed, Offended, or Hurt

Although this is not the best option, sometimes it just happens. For the fifth time today, someone tells you to “buck up because it’s not too late, you may still find a husband or wife” and you can no longer contain your eye roll or exaggerated sigh. I get it. We deal with this constantly and, as flawed human beings, we can’t always respond with patience and grace as much as we may like to. In these moments, I think it is important to ask ourselves if the person talking to us is trying to hurt us, or trying to help us. I guess there are probably some vindictive people out there who would say such things in order to rub in the fact that we’re single or to make themselves look better, but honestly I can’t think of anyone in my life who most likely had that motivation. Everyone I know who awkwardly stumbles through platitudes and cliche phrases about my singleness is doing so because they are trying to encourage me, make me feel better. They may do it very badly indeed, and actually make me feel worse in the process, but that was not their original intent. Remembering this can help, remembering they are saying these things out of love. I might still be annoyed, but hopefully will be able to stave off being offended or hurt.

Ignore the Statement

One way to respond to these unfortunate statements about our singleness is not to respond at all. Sometimes it’s best to just move on to a different topic and act like the person said nothing rather than delve into the issue. This is part of picking your battles. The older I get, the more I realize that many battles are just not worth fighting. I used to struggle with the meaning of 1 Peter 4:8 which says “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” As someone who thinks honesty and forgiveness are key to reconciliation, I used to think most sins needed to be aired. But when offense is given accidentally, and even more so out of a motivation of love, just smiling and moving on can be an incredibly gracious act, and can be freeing to us as singles as well. It’s not always our job to educate every person we come across about how best to talk to singles.

Model How You’d Like them to Talk to You

Often, one of the best responses is to reply to them with a statement you’d love to hear them say to you about your singleness. So if, on finding out you’re single, someone says “don’t worry, my friend just got married at 45, so there’s still time!” you can reply with, “Actually, I have an amazing life as a single person, for instance this week I got to visit my friends in LA…” This both gently changes the subject but also shows them there is a lot more to talk about with you than your relationship status. You can remind people that singleness has its positives, not just negatives, and they can rejoice with you in those aspects instead of merely pitying you for be unattached.

Gently Remind the Speaker of God’s Truths

When bad theology creeps its way into these conversations, this may be a battle worth gently pursuing. Some questions to ask yourself before doing this are: Is this the right time and place to address this? If we’re in a group, can I do this in a way that won’t mortify them? Am I angry, so should bite my tongue until I calm down, or can I do this lovingly? How can I make sure my words and tone are gentle, yet true? When your mature Christian friend who got married in her twenties says, “You just need to have faith that God will bring a man into your life at the right time!” you may gently remind her, that “Actually, I have faith that God is working in my life in the best way for me, and that he will complete his good work in me whether single or married” (Philippians 1:6). We can gently remind them that a spouse is not promised for everyone, but God has many other amazing promises for each of us which we can all rely on, married or single.  We can remind them of the benefits Paul sees in singleness and how Christ and most of the disciples were single. This approach is important, especially for people we know believe in the God of the Bible, because it will remind them to look to the Bible for their truth instead of the romantic ideologies of modern America which have seeped into church culture. This needn’t be a lecture, but a sentence or two to bring their encouragement back to the actual life-giving, perfect, beautiful promises of God can build up all who hear.

Privately and Lovingly Rebuke a Repeat Offender

For those who repeatedly bring up your singleness in a way that increases your pain, discourages you, or gives you false hope it might be time to have a private conversation. If you’ve already tried the above and someone just can’t seem to stop, then Matthew 18:15 is very helpful. It says “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” Honestly, I’ve never had to go beyond this point, because this one is very powerful. It can even develop a closer relationship between you and your married friend. In a one-on-one conversation, let them know how their words affect you and how they can help lift you up instead. Again, do this with love and grace instead of blame and anger and it can be an incredibly beautiful bonding time in your relationship. Being open and honest about your struggles and how their words increase them instead of alleviate them will mostly likely open their eyes to things they didn’t realize they were doing. Telling them what they can say/do to actually help you can be empowering for them as a friend, because they now won’t have to search for words or actions in, what to them might be, an uncomfortable situation with which they are unfamiliar.

Embrace Teaching Opportunities in your Church

The last thing which I’ve found very helpful is for more single people to embrace leadership and teaching opportunities in the Christian community. Sadly, many churches don’t offer many to singles, so you might have to approach your pastors or elder board yourself with suggestions. Earlier this year, my Los Angeles church held an evening conference on singleness and we marketed it for both singles and marrieds. This was important, as I believe married people are actually the key to changing the way the modern evangelical church views singleness by how they raise their children. I was able to speak at the conference to both audiences at once, to singles, and marrieds, and this was a breakthrough moment for some of my married friends. Many of them had no idea how the words they used without much thought could affect the singles in their lives, or how saying “when you get married” instead of “if you get married” to their kids added an unbiblical expectation and pressure on them. In fact, some of the best feedback I got after that session was from married men and women. Churches need to give more opportunities for single adult men and women to have voices in the church so that it becomes normal – not something to be pitied or looked down upon. So, my encouragement to you is to seek these out, and if they don’t exist, talk to your church leadership teams about creating opportunities for singles to teach other adults.

I’m sure there are other ideas on how to best respond to our married friends when they address our singleness in unhelpful ways.

Singles, let me know what has worked for you in the past.

Marrieds, what do you think would be the most helpful way for us to respond?

Talking to Singles for Dummies

“Never say never!”
“You’re still young.”
“Don’t give up hope!”
“Don’t be so negative.”
“There’s someone for everyone.”
“Don’t worry, you still have time.”
“You should put yourself out there!”
“When the timing’s right, it’ll happen.”
“Must be nice to do whatever you want.”
“Are you praying for your future spouse?”
“You should open yourself up to the idea!”
“I have a friend who got married when she was in her 50’s!”
“Enjoy this season of your life, you’ll miss it when it’s gone.”
“When you’re married, you won’t be able to do this anymore.”
“When you get married (and have kids), then you’ll understand.”
“The moment you’re content being single, God will send someone.”
“Just trust God’s plan for you, he’ll send a spouse when you’re ready.”

Each Sunday, I brace myself for these words to be poured over my head like a blessing from well-meaning churchgoers. Each time I meet someone new at work or in social settings, I grit my teeth, knowing one of these phrases will probably follow the inevitable question of “Are you married?” and its frequent partner “Do you have kids?” My response of “No” seems to be an invitation for all sorts of fake encouragements, unfulfillable promises, empty hopes, exposed judgments, and subtle insults. Or there’s the awkward silence as their brains scramble to figure out what to say next.

I understand this, I don’t fit the usual script for a 39 year old Christian woman. They can’t easily move on to “how long have you been married? What does your husband do? How many kids? How old are they? Where do they go to school? etc.”  I require more thought, some creativity even. Married men and women without children go through this, as well as anyone else who doesn’t fit whatever mold is seen by their community as A Typical Christian/American/Grown Man or Woman. Words matter.

What’s happening with these stilted conversations, filled with phrases like those listed above, is a revelation of your heart, your values, and your biases, not mine. Rather than getting to know me before discussing how I might actually feel and think about my singleness, you’re assuming you already know. I might be incredibly happy about being single, or devastated. Your words in this moment could make me doubt my happiness or increase my grief. Wouldn’t you rather speak words to me that will encourage, bring joy, and invite a deeper relationship?

Words matter; they can lift up or crush, encourage or dismay, offer true hope or false promises, offer helpful insight or reinforce bad beliefs. God chose to speak to future generations through the written word of man, the act of divine creation occurs when God speaks it in words, and in John 1 Christ is referred to as the Word. Proverbs is filled with the importance of choosing our words carefully, of taming our tongues. Luke 6:45 states “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Words reveal what is in our hearts; words matter.

I realize this means the stereotypical small talk won’t cut it, and you’ll have to work a bit harder to actually converse. But shouldn’t we be trying to do that with everyone anyway?

Here are some tips on how to talk to a single person you’ve just met:

Read the Tone

Sarcasm is my love language. I like to joke and laugh. Sometimes I joke about my singleness, hilarious jokes in my mind. But more times than not I have been almost rebuked in these moments. When I’m trying to lighten the mood and make it less awkward for all of us, I’m often met with sincere concern, as if I just said I was dying or a drug addict. Please, read my tone. If I’m happy and laughing about my singleness, don’t turn it into a moment to remind me to trust God or not give up hope or some other shallow theological phrase that doesn’t belong. Saying I’m single is just a factual statement, not an invitation for a sermon. If the single person in question is joking, maybe the best bet is to laugh with them. On the other hand, just because I am currently happy being single, this doesn’t mean I always have been or that everyone else is, so keep the tone in mind and respond accordingly.

Don’t Make Assumptions

Until you get to know me,  you have no idea what singleness in my life is like. You don’t know if it’s by choice or by accident, through tragedy or just regular life occurrences, if it’s the best thing that ever happened to me or the worst, if I love it or hate it. Like most things with humans, it’s probably a very complex combination of some the above and more. Please do not heap all singles into one big box, thinking you know what we’re going through because you were single until the ripe old age of 27. Your experiences are not mine, and mine are not yours. Take the time to get to know me before you start talking about my singleness.

Check your Theology

Telling someone not to lose hope because they’re single is just bad theology. First, you’re assuming they are hopeless, which you can’t know at this point. Second, you’re telling them their hope should be found in another person which is just theologically wrong. Our hope is in Christ, nothing more or less; not that Christ will magically grant us all of our desires, but in Christ himself. By reaffirming the false promise that “God has someone for everyone,” you can only harm a single person. Soulmates aren’t promised in the Bible, guys. If you want to find terrible theology, Just run a Google Image search on “God has someone for you” and you’ll encounter platitude after platitude like the one above, ascribed to God, which are not biblical. You can either help singles continue to place their focus, dreams, and hearts on something that may or may not come true, stir up discontentment, confuse them about what promises are actually in the Bible, or just piss them off. If you tell a single person that they “just need to grow more mature, and more content in God, and then when they’re ready God will send a spouse,” you are lying to them. This is not a biblical statement, not a promise God makes, nor is it reality. There are a heck of a lot of messed up, discontent, immature married people, and many incredible single ones.  Nothing good comes from preaching bad theology, false promises, and incorrect priorities through easy, quick, thoughtless small talk.

Ask Thoughtful Questions

Since I’ve inadvertently removed the next few inane comments you usually say when meeting someone, what should you do once the “are you married?” receives a glaring “no”? Rather than following it with one of the above problematic comments or standing awkwardly silent, may I suggest asking some thoughtful questions? Let’s rule out asking why someone is single, because most of us don’t know. If you’re just meeting me, some better questions to ask are “what do you spend a lot of your time doing? What are some of your interests? Can you tell me a bit about your job? What have you been up to this week? Are you reading any good books or watching any great shows lately?” There are literally hundreds if not thousands of other questions to ask that don’t have anything to do with the lack of a spouse or children. This doesn’t mean singleness should be completely off the table, as it is a big part of our lives. However, maybe hold off on this topic until you’ve invested a little bit more time in getting to know me. As a friendship forms, if you’d like to be able to actually help me in regards to this aspect of my life, feel free to ask questions like “How do you feel about being single?” and “How can I be an encouragement in this area in your life?” I’d rather get a well meaning question about my singleness than a comment, even if it’s an awkward one. A question reveals an interest in the other person’s experience rather than a patronizing assumption. Questions can lead to actually getting to know each other.

Treat Us Like Adults

One of the most frustrating things about meeting new people as a singleton is being patronized by people younger than us. I realize I look a bit young for my age, but when you add singleness on top of it, I am constantly being patronized by men and women 10-20 years younger than me. This is annoying. My telling you I’m single is not opening up the door for you to school me on dating, married life, or parenthood. Maybe wait a bit to see if I actually want advice in any of these areas. Instead, why not treat me like the grown woman I am and have an adult conversation with me about topics of importance to our society today?

Switch out “When” for “If”

Growing up in the church, I heard “when you’re a wife” or “when you’re a mother” over and over again. Teenage girls are taught to pray and prepare for their future husbands. (Again, if you’d like a vomit-inducing picture of terrible theology, Google search “Praying for your future husband.”) Godly character traits were taught with the caveat “you’ll need this when you’re married” or “this will make you a better mom someday.” Little boys are taught they must be good, godly men so they can become good, godly husbands and fathers. There is some truth here, but not all truth. Yes, having godly character traits is important in being excellent husbands, wives, mothers, and fathers. But I’d argue they’re pretty important in just being great humans in general, helping us glorify God in the workplace, at church, with roommates and friends, with our parents and siblings, in our art and ministry, and in our communities. Can we stop raising our kids with the final goal of wife/mother or husband/father but with a goal of glorifying God in all we do? Can we switch out the inevitable “when” for “if”? Let’s tell our girls and boys things like, “if you get married someday…” and “if you have kids…” instead of “when” so that when they grow up, if they don’t actually marry or have kids but are living awesome, God-glorifying lives, they won’t feel like they’re still doing something wrong. And when you meet singles, just leave off any statement that starts with “when you get married…” 

Don’t Underestimate the Depth of our Love

One assumption I’m constantly battling is that I somehow can’t understand love because I’m single. Seemingly benign statements like “I didn’t really know how selfish I was until I got married,” “The main thing God uses to sanctify us is our spouse,” or “I didn’t know real love until I had kids” and are actually quite insulting to those of us who aren’t married and don’t have children. The flip side says to us “you must be a very selfish, unsanctified person because you live with roommates or on your own, not with a spouse” and “because you don’t have kids, you can’t possibly know a love this deep or real.” In one phrase, you have just called me self-centered and relegated any love I have to second class. You cannot know how much God has used my roommates or times alone to help sanctify me, nor know the deep, beautiful, and sacrificial love I have for my family and my friends. You also assume all spouses are no longer childish, and all parents are just automatically imbued with a supernatural, deep, selfless love. I worked in social work and counseling for years so I know this is not the case. Some of the worst relationships I’ve seen have been marriages, and some of the most selfish people I have met were parents with more love for themselves than their children. Some of the most mature selfless people I know are single men and women who pour out their lives for their friends, families, and communities. There are also a lot of us out there who have “fallen in love” but are still single for one reason or another. Don’t underestimate us. Singleness can actually mature us and increase our capacity to love others, as we don’t have children and a spouse to take up our affections and can therefore look outward to our parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, friends, fellow Christians, and communities. Our hearts are often full to the brim with true, deep, beautiful love.

There are many other things to say on this topic, but I think this is enough for now. Please, just think before you speak. Words matter, affecting those who hear them. And for those of us who feel like we’re often seen as outside the normal expectations of what a Good Christian should be at this point in our lives, your words can help us feel like we’re part of the community instead of in the waiting room.

  • Singles, what are some more pet peeves about singleness that come up in small talk?
  • Marrieds, what are some of the questions/concerns you have about conversing with singles?

Check back next Monday for “Responding to Marrieds for Dummies” to see how we singletons can better respond to these awkward small talk moments with the marrieds we meet.

*If you are reading this via e-mail and are unable to see the gifs, please click through to the webpage, there are a lot in this one! 🙂

That Auntie Life

Sunday night I sat at a posh Los Angeles restaurant with two of my best friends, single men, who took me out for a belated birthday meal. We met early at the restaurant bar for an hour of pre-dinner drinks and catching up, then enjoyed 2 hours of a multi-course meal. Uninterrupted by children or spouses, we were able to discuss whatever we liked, laugh, encourage, and brainstorm together. In my 20’s and early 30’s, nights like this were common, but they are increasingly more rare these days.

One of my friends brought up how awesome their new Bible study group is, but how it would be even nicer if they weren’t the only single people in it. I’m a bit older than them, so I broke the news that, the longer we’re in the church, the older we get, the less likely it is that we will actually be able to have other singles in our church circles who are anywhere close to our age. The choice seems to become either you hang out with young single 20-somethings forever, jump up to the older single widows and widowers in their 60’s and over, or you just have to get comfortable with being the token single in your group of people your age.

It’s an interesting conundrum, the desire to be with those who are like us. I don’t really fit into any category as the vast majority of the people I went to college with are now married with multiple children, or at least a house and some dogs. Most singles I meet in the church are at least a decade or two younger than me or several decades older. I treasure my relationships with both these groups, but am not quite one of either. Right now, since I’m trying out a church after my move, I often hear “well, there are a couple other singles in the group, but they’re in their 20’s,” or “everyone in the group is married with kids, well, except for that one widow in her 80’s.”

So what can we singles in the middle do? I’ve found great joy and success in embracing The Auntie Life. I no longer seek a Bible study with mostly singles, but look for one with lots of different types of people; different ages, life stages, genders, races, outlooks, etc. Then, even if I am the only or one of the only singles in the group, I can just be another different voice among many. If there are younger singles, I can mentor them, if there are older couples, they can give me wise counsel, if there are parents with kids, I can be another support to them in the hard task of raising kids and they can bless me with their friendship.

Before my Sunday oh-so-urban-LA dinner with my guys, I had spent the entire week embracing my role as Auntie. My oldest brother and his two boys came for their annual week at grandma’s. And, since I now live with her, I was there for the entirety. It’s actually the longest sustained amount of time I’ve ever spent with my nephews. To be honest, I was nervous – worried that I’d tire out or not get along with the teen and preteen guys. But after a week with them, I adore them even more than I did before and wish I could spend even more time with them. My little loves, the 3+ year old nephew and niece that live nearby, were also around most of the week and it was such a joy to see them bonding as cousins.

Saturday, my sister and I took her little daughter, my niece, to the California Science Center to meet up with her beloved college roommate, a mutual friend of ours. She too is single, just a year older than I, but she took the time to drive out to a kid-friendly spot just so she could meet her friend’s little girl. Like me, she has grown to love the Auntie Life and build it into her life.

I realize that my life is a bit more flexible than my married friends’, especially once kids enter the picture. So instead of letting those relationships drop off or waiting until they stretch themselves to go out with me one on one, I’ve been trying to fit myself into their lives. If I wait for the one-on-one happy hour drink, it might just never happen – instead, I can just meet them at Chik-fil-A where the kids can get nuggets and play in the playground, and I can catch up with their mum or dad.

Yes, it’s chaotic and loud and interrupted, but it’s also fun and real. I can drive two hours to go to a dear friend’s daughter’s second birthday party – after all, I was there at the hospital the day she was born, trying to nap in the waiting room with my roommate as we awaited her arrival. I can meet friends at children’s museums, parks, and libraries instead of our favorite sushi spot. Or, better yet, I can bring our favorite sushi to their house to savor as their kids show me their latest drawings and toys.

Yes, this is complicated and messy, and it’s not as easy as it used to be when we were all 25 and single. But unless I want to spend my life hanging out with 25 year old singles with whom I have even less in common, and honestly, with whom I no longer have the desire or ability to keep up, I need to help my mostly married with kids friends incorporate me into their lives.

I have a godson and whatever the protestant equivalent is of a goddaughter, 3 nephews and 1 niece, 3 children of my childhood best friend, 2 of my sister’s childhood best friend, and 1 of a dear friend in LA who all call me Auntie Fawn, not to mention all the other amazing children of friends and fellow church-goers. Hanging out with these kids isn’t a compromise or burden for me, just so I can see their parents – it’s a joy and honor. My life is better for having them in it. It can be exhausting and sometimes I have to take a moment for an attitude check before driving over to see them, but it’s always worth it. Always.

So, instead of being saddened or even a bit bitter about not having as many singles around us as we’d like, a diminishing number year after year, I challenge you to embrace the Auntie or Uncle Life. It’s pretty awesome – you can reach out to the married friends and family around you and minister to them, you can be an incredible influence on their kids as they grow up, and you can experience the love that comes from being a part of their extended family.

And yes, when you do get the opportunity to go out to dinner with other singles anywhere close to your age, or your friends who are parents can get a babysitter for once, jump on it. These grown up moments alone are rare blessings and should also be celebrated.

Teach Us to Number Our Days

From before I was born until I was out of college, my mother made scrapbooks filled with photos of all the major and sometimes more minor events of the year. In her lovely calligraphy, surrounded by stickers, she began most of these tomes with Psalm 90:12: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

This week, I turned 39, entering the last year of my 30’s. Many single men and women I know panic at this point, ashamed of how old they are, refusing to reveal their age, downplaying birthdays, and sometimes even experiencing bouts of anxiety and depression around this annual date. They see the end of their 30’s as a closing door on hopes of marriage, family, and whatever other milestone they think they should have accomplished by now. For a celibate single Christian woman, these ages do have biological significance as the likelihood of us being able to have our own healthy biological children decreases with each year. And we get to that point in our lives when every time we meet up with friends we’re comparing medical issues and talking about how tired we are.

And yet, I still love birthdays, they may be my favorite thing to celebrate, my favorite kind of party. Not a fan of baby or wedding showers (those games are seriously torturous, you guys), and a firm believer that some weddings are just way too awkward and long (and if I hear one more horrible toast about how “relieved they were that the bride FINALLY found her man and now maybe they’ll get grandchildren” I might smack someone), my extroverted introvert self can look forward to celebrating birthdays with minimal to no dread.

Psalm 90:12-17 gives us part of a prayer of Moses which influences how I see marking a new year in each of our lives.

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

I grew up with this refrain ringing in my head, maybe that’s why I’ve always loved birthdays no matter how old we all get. Each year I wear the new number like a badge of honor. I survived another year. God has granted me another year. I have learned more about life and myself and God in this year. I pray that my heart has grown more wise this year. My dream is that I’ll just get better with age, like a fine wine, or Maggie Smith.

“Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!”

Yes, the past year of my life has included some incredibly tough things as well as joyous ones. So even in the midst of celebrating another year of life, I do still desire the Lord’s return – more for our stricken planet than just  me alone. I grow weary of this world and the sin in it, affecting all of us from the little ones to the oldest of my loves. I have lost people that meant something to me. I grieve the state of our nation, its attitudes toward the poor, weak, and broken. Rejoicing in another year of life does not mean we have to ignore or forget the hardships we’ve had in that same year. As much as I celebrate another year of life, I do long for the redemption of the earth and God’s children.

“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”

I can rejoice and be glad no matter what has happened in my last year because my satisfaction comes from God’s steadfast love above all things. The unchanging, eternal love of my heavenly father is where I seek my contentment, and out of this spills joy and celebration.

“Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.”

In the hardest years, the ones filled with more loss and pain than others, only God can make us glad to celebrate more days. If you read Psalm 90 in its entirety, you’ll see that it actually starts by comparing our limited time to God’s eternity and emphasizes God’s anger and wrath at the sin of man. It’s actually a pretty pessimistic prayer, which might be why it appeals to my cynical realist heart. As much as I am grieved by the sin of the world, my own included, God sees all of it and is angered, and he will bring it to justice. And yet, Moses prays for God to “make us glad” for all of these days and years! We are meant to be both heartbroken over the sin of the world, and joyous for each and every day of our lives. I think only God can give us that joy.

“Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.”

How can we be glad for more days in which there might be suffering and evil? By seeing what God is doing. Each year, we can look back and remember God’s work in our lives and those of our friends. We can see his power and mercy, his love and beauty. This is why birthdays excite me so, I can look back and see God’s presence in my life over an entire year! There is so much for which to give thanks even in the toughest of years. And, if we are having trouble seeing this, like Moses we can pray that God’s work and glorious power be shown to us, that we may celebrate.

“Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!”

My favorite birthday wishes end in blessings, and that’s how Moses ends this Psalm. He prays for God’s favor to be upon us. He prays for everything we have worked hard for to last. I love this. Each new year of my life, I hope for the favor of the Lord to fall upon me and those I love, and I hope that the things that mattered, the work I put into my relationships, my jobs, and trying to help those around me, I hope it endures.

My birthday wish this year is for all of you to be able to celebrate your lives and the lives of those around you. May the favor of the Lord be upon you, and may the work of your hands be established.

Oops . . . My Feminist is Showing!

As a girl, I learned about friendship from Frog and Toad, Anne and Diana, Frodo and Samwise, Han and Chewie. I learned about adventure from Huck Finn, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and Peter Pan. I learned about growing up from Jo March, Douglas Spaulding, Ender Wiggin, and the Cosby children. I learned about courage from Spider-Man, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman. What an amazing way to grow up! I had so many kick-ass role models to look up to. The fact that the vast majority of these characters were male never really registered with me. I was able to read books and watch movies, identifying with the hero or heroine, enjoying the stories of both men and women, getting something out of male or female targeted fiction. This is the world I grew up in, what I knew and never questioned, an excellent world – one which I loved.

As I got older, I noticed more and more how much of the literature I read and the films I watched were dominated by male heroes. Ensemble casts would add in one or two women, but were still mostly male, one Hermione to both a Harry and a Ron, a Black Widow and a Scarlet Witch to the rest of the Avengers.  As an elementary school librarian, I still have to search to find books with female leads – even when they’re about animals and not humans. Even after the fabulous push for strong heroines in sci-fi books like “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent,” they are still the minority. At school, at least three out of every four books assigned were by male authors.

And yet, as a girl who grew up on this literature, watching these films, reading these stories and poems and books in school, I was still able to find great value in them. I never really had a choice – it was either find something I could identify with, appreciate, or be entirely left out of the story. I was never taught to do this – no one ever sat my sister and I down and said, “now we’re going to read a book written by a man about boys, but you can still appreciate it and get something out of it.” No, we just learned to do that by reading and watching and putting ourselves into the heroes’ shoes. It was expected that this would come naturally to us, and, for the most part, it did.

This, by the way, is how half the world grows up – being exposed over and over again to the male perspective as representative and authoritative, and we mostly accept it, even love and appreciate it. These mostly male-dominated stories and characters are dear to my heart, and helped shape me growing up – I have nothing against them. I am the first in line for the latest “Batman” movie clearly targeting a male audience, and have read and reread the almost entirely male “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

As a geek and a Christian, this ability to put myself into the male narrative became even more necessary. Both of these cultures are dominated by male voices, so I learned to listen to pastors give illustration after illustration of being husbands and fathers, and I learned to somehow apply the lesson to my life. I read comic book after comic book in which many of the female characters were just there to be rescued, depicted scantily clad, or were just absent and I learned to love the story line, the artistry, and the adventure anyway.

And yet, when the 13th Doctor is announced as female, the internet reveals pockets of geeky men who just can’t handle this. When “Wonder Woman” strikes a powerful emotional chord with its female audiences, boys are confused about why. When Christian women bloggers start to bring up topics like this one, articles are written on how they need more male supervision.

I realize the trolls in comment sections aren’t the best way to judge how most people feel or think about controversial topics, but they do represent a growing, vocal cohort of the population. About a female lead for “Doctor Who,” one thing the more logical, thoughtful male commentators say is, “well, I’m not a misogynist and have no problem with women, but I just think this is going to alienate the original fan-base.” The assumption that the original fan-base was all male, and all macho men who can’t handle a female lead, is problematic in and of itself. I personally, woman that I am, have been watching “Doctor Who” since Eccleston resurrected it back in 2005. More importantly, why on earth should a female lead alienate anyone? Male leads haven’t alienated female audiences, why can’t men appreciate the courage, passion, and awesomeness of women in fiction just as much as we appreciate it in male characters?

“Wonder Woman” was a big deal, but if we bring up how powerful and important it is for us to see a strong female superhero as the lead of her own blockbuster movie, we are called “libtards,” “PC snowflakes,” or other words I won’t honor in print. When Christian women ask genuine, important, thoughtful questions about gender roles in the church, even those of us who are actually quite conservative in our beliefs, we are called “rebellious,” “unbiblical,” “upstarts,” and again other words I won’t honor in print by so-called Christian men.

In the library, I’ve had multiple little boys tell me they can’t read particular titles because they’re “girl books.” I have yet to have a single little girl tell me they won’t read a “boy book.” When I was a high school teacher, I never had a female student groan about the assigned text just because it was written by a man or for a mostly male audience, but the minute I assigned a text by a woman or one written for a mostly female audience, the teenage boys would whine and complain as if I was asking them to exert themselves in some horrible way.

As my wonderful brother-in-law pointed out, this isn’t just a problem of sexist men, but rather the result of a society in which men are expected to behave in very specific ways, one which is sadly emphasized too often in the church. “Manly” men are all the rage – some churches even preach this as the theologically necessary view of manhood. Therefore, even if a little boy wants to read “Nancy Drew” books along with his “Hardy Boys,” he might be bullied or seen as effeminate, so that desire is crushed out of him. In this way, I actually had more freedom as a little girl since I was never judged too harshly for reading “boy books” along with my “girl books.” So this issue goes beyond just a few sexist men to the way both fathers and mothers, pastors and teachers, really our whole society, raises its children. 

As I would tell my teenage boys when they groaned as I assigned Charlotte Bronte or Maya Angelou: “your female classmates, half the class, have been reading books by and for men since they started school and they haven’t once complained, the least you can do is read one or two by and for women.” All I’m asking is for those threatened guys to quiet down for a moment about not liking a woman being cast as the lead, or not understanding why a female superhero movie is a big deal, or not wanting pastors to allow female voices and stories be heard in the church, and instead learn to find the value in hearing someone else’s story. Rather than only being able to identify with stories when they feature someone exactly like you, do what the rest of us do and learn to use your imagination to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. And if you don’t understand why things are a big deal to women, please ask us. Avoid the temptation to mansplain why it shouldn’t matter, and just listen for once.

This disparity in representation between men and women only increases when discussing people of color, and especially women of color. At least as a white woman, I have a few heroes that look like me – but the minute you add any race other than Caucasian into the equation, the chances that you’ll find yourselves depicted as the hero or lead diminish to almost nothing. Though the focus of this article is on sex and not race, I cannot keep from mentioning this because it is a topic which seems to bring out the worst in people. If you think men shouldn’t have to be alienated by trying to appreciate a female lead, then how much more do you think men and women of color are alienated by having to try to identify with often stereotypically white macho males being held up as the quintessential hero?

What is my goal with this rant? I call upon my two favorite communities, Christians and geeks, to take a step back and ask ourselves if we are showing compassion and understanding to those different from us by allowing them to tell us their stories. Are we shying away from hearing someone else’s voice because it does not specifically represent us? Are we refusing to read or watch or listen to something because we might feel uncomfortable or alienated? Are we raising our sons to think anything written by a woman or with a female lead is too girly for them? Are we judging the value of story only based on things we know we already like, already can relate to? Like men and women of color, and women in general, have we ever trained ourselves to be able to listen to voices other than our own and still find value in them, or do we groan, whine, get angry, turn away, and search for a face that looks just like us?

My challenge to all of us this week is to read a blog or a book, watch a movie, or listen to a sermon by someone totally different from ourselves, aimed at a different audience. Take it in. Ponder. Look for something other than confirmation bias from it. Try to find points of connection. Do what every single woman and person of color spends their life doing. Who knows, you might find a new voice you actually like.

*If you are reading this via e-mail and are unable to see the gifs, please click through to the webpage, there are a lot in this one! 🙂