Warning: A non-numeric value encountered in /home/awkward9/public_html/wp-content/themes/Builder-Cohen/lib/builder-core/lib/layout-engine/modules/class-layout-module.php on line 505

Archive for Women

The New (Single) Girl At Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Little Girl Power Goes a Long Way

*This post contains very minor spoilers for Captain Marvel, like barely at all, but just a head’s up if you haven’t had the chance to see it yet.

As I stood in line to get my picture taken with the Dora Milaje at Disney’s California Adventure this weekend, my mum and I both got a little choked up. These women, two “cast members” hired to pose for photos with Disney guests, took their time with some of those in line – the ones who needed it. A group of women celebrating a bachelorette weekend walked by, and one of the actresses gruffly called out the bride’s name and stalked after them to give them a hard time. She returned, unapologetic for the extended wait for our short line, explaining tersely “We know them. They were here earlier. We never forget a name.” Next up was an overweight, middle-aged, black man wearing a “Straight Outta Wakanda” shirt. He was clearly excited to get his photo with them, but was shy and a little intimidated by them. Heck, we were all intimidated by them. They were incredibly respectful to him, treating him like a Wakandan warrior, showing him how to pose so his shirt would still show in the picture. He left, head held high.

Ahead of us was a little girl. For her, they knelt down to be at her level. They took the time to talk with her. From the snippets we could hear, they were telling her that she was a warrior, strong and brave. She looked nervous and very serious, taking in every word. They told her to repeat after them, “I am strong. I am brave.” We couldn’t hear the rest. She repeated so quietly, and the moment wasn’t for the crowd anyway, it was just for her. For this little girl. This one little girl who stood up tall and strong afterward for the photo, flanked by these beautiful black women who had poured into her, built her up. Mum and I were both teary-eyed by the end of her time. My moment with them was brief and professional. I did not want to take up too long, just posed and thanked them for the time they spend with that little girl. They nodded, then moved on to the next, never breaking character.

It would have been such a simple thing to pose, and move on, but Disney and these actresses took their role as role models seriously and turned a tourist photo-op into small, powerful moments of influence.

Today, mum and I finally got a chance to sneak away and see Captain Marvel. Like Wonder Woman and Black Panther before it, there were moments that gave me goosebumps and a time or two where I held back a couple tears. One such moment was Maria Rambeau telling Carol Danvers she was already amazing, even before she got her powers, the two powerful women serving as examples for the young Monica Rambeau, poised to become a superhero herself one day. There’s a moment like this between Jessica Drew and Carol Danvers in the latest iteration of the Captain Marvel comic book, one of encouragement and empowerment between best friends.

I hope I can find small moments in my days and weeks to help the people in my life feel stronger, braver, better. As Christians, we are told to “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). And as a woman, I see how impactful even a minute or two can be in the life of someone who might not hear these words very often.

It may seem silly, to be inspired by fictional superheroes, but I’m an English major librarian who lives in the realm of books and stories, so what did you expect? I know the little incel boys have the opposite reaction to these moments, but perhaps that’s what makes them all the more powerful. I am a woman, not a man, and my students are children – vulnerable, often voiceless, representing many races and backgrounds. I may not have super powers, but I do have the gift of moments with them. May I use them wisely. Because, as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility. May I pass on the inspiration that was given to me to be who God made us to be.

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.

Sudden Sad Thoughts and What to Do About Them

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philippians 4:4-9 says “rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

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

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

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

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

On Cousins and Capitals

I wasn’t expecting to like Washington DC as much as I did. I mean, I’m no fan of the current administration, and thought it was a little sad that this is the first time I’d see the capital. I’ve always struggled with patriotism because my love of country is not a blind love; I am all too aware of the bodies we left behind and continue to break in the name of power. Yet there I was, wandering around the city with my mum, uncle, and cousin and enjoying every bit of it (and not just because the Library of Congress is my little librarian heart’s national home).

Everywhere we turned there were great buildings inscribed with noble, courageous, and beautiful quotes reminding me that some of the dreams this country was built on were beautiful. It’s been hard to remember that lately. In a time with Truth is NOT Truth, it’s easy to get more and more jaded about America.

There are also reminders of some of the worst our country had and has to offer. Exhibits in various Smithsonian museums revealing our poverty, racism, sexism, and cruelty. Memorials and monuments honoring brave men and women who sacrificed their own lives for mine.

But also memorials and monuments to some pretty vicious, violent, selfish people as well.

Portraits of presidents both good and bad, but mostly men with mixtures of both; all men, no women, all white, save one. Somehow, this district manages to be inspiring and sobering simultaneously.

It was in this environment that I got to know my cousin, who I had only met once before when I was 11 and she was 17. I was worried it would be awkward, but instead it felt like we’d always known each other. I consider this smart, kind, kick-ass single mom yet another answer to my prayer for family made 2 years ago.

As we wandered around DC and then various cities in Virginia, chatting and laughing together, there were so many moments when we realized how many things we have in common which must either be genetic or from the fact that my mum and her dad grew up together and therefore raised us with some commonalities. Gringo tacos. A love of Bob Ross and his happy little trees and clouds. A passion for reading. Wanderlust. A Puritan work ethic. Shared memories of our grandparents.

I’m sorry it took me so long to visit DC, and even more sorry it took so many years to get to know my cousin. But God is good and it wasn’t too late. I flew back to my beloved LA with more hope for my country and my family. With the reminder that the current president is not (yet) a dictator and my voice of dissent can still be expressed (for now). With the conviction that I must not stop praying and marching and voting and calling and caring. With the joy of knowing my cousin, new-to-me, is just a text away.

God is good; I’m working on remembering this, praying to grow in faith, hope, and love.