Archive for Work Life Balance

Selfishness vs. Self-Care for the Single

Because I am single and childless, people often assume I have an endless supply of free time. After all, I don’t go home to the usual husband and kids, so that must mean I’m blessed with a vast expanse of time and space. Time and space just waiting to be filled with ministry opportunities, social expectations, extra work duties, civic engagement and, of course, babysitting.

To be realistic, there have been times in my perpetual single state when I’ve probably had more free time than most married people, especially ones with kids. And even when I’m busy, I do have more time to myself merely by having a room of my own (it’s been awhile since I had a roommate and not just a flat or housemate).

Today, for instance, I’m writing the rough draft for this blog entry while sitting on a bench in the gardens of The Getty Museum, with the sound of the water fountain and the gorgeous gloom of an overcast sky as rays of sunshine  break through here and there. There are hundreds of people here today, but so far I’ve only noticed one or two other people entirely alone. For a second, I’ll notice one, and then their friend/family/date meets them to continue on together.

Throughout my life, I’ve been to many museums across the world completely on my own. There is a luxurious peace to it – no pressure to keep others entertained, no bargaining for which wings to visit, no debate over when museum fatigue hits. It is a special experience, both beautiful and lonely, a bit melancholic, but thoughtful and freeing.

This is not an opportunity I have very often these days. My weekends book up months in advance, and each weeknight seems to be spoken for. And, you know, I have a job (or two, or three) which keep my days solidly full.

Other than the almost four year period in which I lived alone in a crappy studio apartment when I first moved to Los Angeles, I’ve always lived with family or room/flatmates. The jobs I’ve held throughout my life often having me working with hundreds and hundreds of people each week, mostly children. At one point, I saw almost 1200 students every single week. They have been rather performative jobs, very public, requiring me to be “on” for hours on end.

(At this moment, I witness one solo young man strolling through the garden in front of me, peacefully and blissfully alone. He looks happy.)

The idea that singles have it good because we can do whatever we want with our time is both true and false. All humans have limitations, and have to answer to others for much of our time, whether to a boss or store hours, appointments or other’s schedules. Yes, I am often solely responsible for what to do with the rest of my time. And yes, that can be awesome. It’s also incredibly stressful and sometimes confusing. You see, one day I will stand before my creator and answer for how I used this gift of a life. And I will answer alone. If I had a husband and kids, the choice regarding time would indeed be much more limited, but also a bit more delineated. Priorities would be set. Responsibilities more spelled out.

Today, by choosing to spend 24 hours alone, I said “no” to being with family and friends, to that birthday party and that church women’s event, to my side job and being an involved aunt. I said “no” to running errands and helping others. It is easy to spiral into my head and feel guilty – to think I am being selfish.

The church tradition from which I come isn’t so hot on the idea of “self-care” and “rest” and “solitude.” It often translates all of these into “selfishness” and “isolation,” or perhaps just “an unwise use of time.” The thoughts that we need to be “intentional” and “wise,” we must be “productive” and “do all things with excellence,” that we must always be “serving one another” and “selfless” are pervasive. Not necessarily bad thoughts, just impossible ones for the long haul.

I needed today. I needed to say “no” to everything else, drive out of town, and remove myself from my day to day life. I needed to walk outside, smell flowers, stroll slowly and think. I needed to wander through vaulted rooms and narrow corridors filled with insightful depictions of the world, with beauty. I needed to be able to have one long, broken conversation in my head with my Lord.

Days like today help fuel me for all the other days; the endlessly busy days, filled with family and friends, students and their parents, counselees and ministry partners. I am better for days like today.

Lately, I’ve been feeling weighed down, exhausted. My heart has been heavy. The state of the world and the church’s role in it is breaking me, tiny piece by piece. In the same week in which Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court, I spoke with two separate women regarding their own experiences with sexual assault, both of which happened in Christian spheres. Each week, I sit with 10-20 people in the midst of deep grief over loved ones who have died, some as recently as 2 weeks ago. I help over 350 children navigate learning to read and think well, and I deal with many of their parents on top of that.

I have to stop and remind myself that the busy, ever-filled pace of life so common to the Southern Californian Christian is not a biblically mandated one. There are entire cultures and churches which appreciate stopping. Ruminating. Resting. Being. Slowing down. A Sabbath is good and holy and necessary for all of us. Sometimes, the best rest is with others we love. But for singles who do not have a partner, sometimes time alone can also be helpful. And the example Christ himself set includes many moments of solitude.

This both goes against my nature and releases it at the same time.

So no, I don’t have tons of spare time because I work hard, and I choose to put effort into being part of the local church and my family. And yet, I do have tons of time – often at night when my brain is no longer functioning well and my body is tired.

On days like today, when I have the chance to carve out and protect time, my soul yearns for my beloved city. For refreshment. For time to talk to God one on one as I witness his creation and the creation of those made in his image. For slowing down from my usual quick pace to a stroll.

I’m learning the difference between selfishness and self-care. I’m learning that true self-care is not wrong. And I’m learning that, in order to preempt another physical breakdown and emotional burnout, self-care is not only a requirement, but a beautiful and good use of this one body and mind given me by God.

Scattered Thoughts for September

I’ve been feeling a bit scattered, which is normal for the first couple weeks of the school year. That’s my excuse for missing last week’s blog. And for this week’s disjointed list. I’ve been doing a bit too much.

I have been experiencing more joy and less cynicism these past two years since actively adjusting my priorities to this new phase of my life. Philippians 4:8-9 is endlessly helpful in this endeavor. In it, Paul tells the church, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

In keeping with this, today’s blog post will be dedicated to a few of the moments of joy experienced by The Awkward Spinster this month, as I pretend autumn is here:

(I actually prefer chai lattes.)

Spending an afternoon at The Original Farmers Market in LA with mum, as we have done my whole life. Eating BBQ pork sandwiches from Bryan’s Pit Barbecue, checking out the toys at Kip’s Toyland, and stocking up on fall things from World Market.

Meeting with 5 other women of God to pray for our broken world, our broken country, over tea and cake. Sick of summer, we turned up the AC slightly, got out scarves for everyone, lit autumnal candles, and switched from iced tea to our favorite hot tea.

Participating in many theological and political discussions with intelligent, godly, and compassionate family and friends as we try to sort through what the heck is going on in modern evangelicalism. Finding comfort in the fact that there are others who are not happy with the latest attack against social justice creating a false dichotomy with the gospel.

Completing a complete inventory of both the elementary and middle school libraries and realizing our migration to the new computer system went more smoothly than we’d hoped.

Swinging by the comic book store on new comic Wednesday to pick up the newest journey into Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Universe with “The Dreaming.”

Night swimming in a friend of a friend’s pool, all by myself, as I was house-sitting.

Wiping away the tears of a little boy who could not find a book he wanted to read that was at his level, when his friends were mostly in higher ranges. Seeing his face light up with glee as I handed him just the right book for both his range and tastes.

Eating adorable and delicious peach gummy candy shaped like hedgehog paw pads that my sis-in-law brought back from her trip to the Japanese market.

Starting up a new session of GriefShare as co-leader, with some old and new participants who are courageous enough to be vulnerable in the midst of their grief. Seeing God’s word pour out comfort and hope even after just a couple of weeks. Having these dear souls allow me to sit with them in the toughest of times.

Feasting on a delicious dinner with old friends and acquaintances becoming friends in West LA at Farmshop, where one of my besties is the brilliant pastry chef. Going from 103 temperatures to 68 degrees and foggy for the night made it finally feel like fall.

(Oops, wrong Foggy.)

Hearing the joyous cry of “Auntie Fawn!” as my little 5-year-old nephew came to visit me in my library. Helping his mom pick out two incredible children’s books to relish: Frederick by Leo Lionni and Chrysanthemum by Kevin Hankes.

Finally getting a Skype date with one of my Colorado cousins to talk about transitioning back to life stateside one year after her return from L’Abri, and two years after mine.

Twirling, my fall-colored kimono puffed out from the flurry of movement, as my 4-year-old niece danced circles around me in her slightly-too-small pink ballet slippers. My sister, her mother, watching us from the couch, laughing.

Helping my friend in Malawi apply for grad school in the States by toggling back and forth between Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and the school’s website on our respective smartphones across the world from each other. Getting to praise the Lord with him before he headed out to church and I drifted off to sleep.

Receiving photos of my Russian friend’s new baby daughter, also via WhatsApp.

Sleeping in on the weekend to recover from my insomniac self’s lack of sleep now that school has started up again. Looking down to the foot of my bed to see my little westie curled up there, keeping me company.

Teaching myself how to program Google Docs to automatically insert an em dash when I want it to—thank you, Interwebs!

(Respect, from one Dash to another.)

And that’s just September so far.

What moments have brought you joy so far this month?

How to be Single, Celibate, and Happily Turn 40 – Reassess Your Priorities

Even before celebrating the actual day or month with your friends and family, the thought of turning 40 often leads us to rethink where we are at in life. Instead of fearing this process, avoiding it, turning 40 (or any other milestone) gives us a great opportunity to look at our lives and see if there are some changes we should make to help us grow into our next decade.

Tip 2: Reassess Your Priorities

In the last couple of years leading up to turning 40, I’ve been reassessing my life. Necessitated by experiencing a season of rather deep depression as I had in my teen years, I took stock of my life in my mid to late 30’s and started to ask some new questions. I had been pretty certain I was where God had wanted me over the last decade, and had therefore been pretty content (with the yearning for a spouse yet present). I loved my city, my church, my friends, my ministry. But now I was pretty sure it was time for a drastic change.

In my 20’s-30’s, most of my life had been committed to my career as a teacher and to building friendships in my local church. These were good, fulfilling things – I was helping others and had support and love. But as I got older with less energy and more desires outside of my job, it was impossible for me to give as much as I felt was necessary for me to continue teaching at that level. Almost my entire identity was caught up in being a teacher, my pride, my purpose in life, and it became overwhelming.

I also stood by as friend after friend found the love of their life, got married, had kids, and often moved out of the city so they could afford a house and settle down. I yearned for family, for something more permanent. I was exhausted by having to find new apartments, new roommates, and the thought that I would be doing that for the rest of my life hit me hard.

The realization that I didn’t have to continue to live the way I had in my 20s and early 30s was freeing. The realization that I was not a slave, therefore did not have to stay in the same job, opened up worlds for me. The realization that I did, in fact, have a family – a permanent one – with my mom and my siblings, my nephews, and my niece, was somehow new to me, a revelation. The realization that I was okay with giving up financial security and professional reputation in order to pursue a different type of job, one where I didn’t have to work 70-80 hours a week, one where I’d still having time for my family, friends, and counseling ministry without only getting 3-4 hours of sleep a night, this new awareness was groundbreaking for me.

ProTip:

Remember that you don’t always have to live your life the same way. As you approach a new decade, it might be time to reassess what your priorities are now. You may find they have changed. Don’t be afraid to change along with them.

Swing by the Awkward Spinster tomorrow for the next tip in the How to be Single, Celibate, and Happily Turn 40 series.

The Traditions of Single Friendship

Last weekend, two of my best friends swept me off to Las Vegas for an early birthday weekend. They do this every couple of years, braving the immense heat of July to drink mojitos poolside, play penny slots and quarter roulette, eat incredible food at nice restaurants, see shows, and get beef jerky at Alien Jerky in Baker on the way there or back. This time we even stopped by a geeky haven called Rogue Toys on our way out so that I could pick up some 1980’s swag.

I do not deserve friends like these. I’m not just saying that – I seriously don’t deserve them. But that’s the incredible thing about true friendship, it doesn’t matter. You see, the three of us have gone through over a decade of being continually single adults together. We’ve done grad school together, and post grad life. We’ve helped each other move, well, mostly they’ve helped me move repeatedly. We’ve tried online dating together and given up on it all. We’ve supported each other through career changes and church searches, through family crises and joys. For better or worse, they are stuck with me.

And, over the years, our friendship has created its own traditions. We celebrate birthdays and holidays, we binge watch shows like “Stranger Things” and “MST3K,” we try new restaurants, and we text silly memes and cartoons. I used to do my taxes at their condo until we switched systems. We even travelled Japan together. We constantly pray for each other and ask for prayer. And all of this with us only living in the same area for 1 year of our friendship.

Single friendships, just like married ones, need traditions. Traditions help us mark time, celebrate, lament, and experience stability. Since we singletons often move frequently and experience upheaval as jobs, cities, and churches change having some traditions on which we can rely helps us feel settled. We don’t go home to the same person each night. We don’t have spouses and children which remain constants when everything else is new. But we can have loyal friendships to anchor us.

I’m not saying friendships like this one won’t change. There is every possibility that these two amazing men will each fall in love and marry their respective dream girls. Or not. Who knows but God, really. They may move out of the state or country. Or I might. The outside things in our lives might change so much that our traditions will have to stop. Because I am well aware of this, and have experienced it with other friendships, I value these moments even more. They are precious. They help me feel known and seen and valued.

I pray that every single person has friendships in their lives which help them grow into the best versions of themselves. Friends who will call them out when they need it, walk alongside them when things are bad, laugh and smile with them when things are great, and pray for them always. Married people probably need this too.

So thank you to the friends in my life, for I have been blessed by a few loyal, wise, hilarious, gifted, challenging, and kind ones. Thank you for developing traditions with me – for book clubs, and writing groups, for going out to the good Korean BBQ and the cheap sushi, for texting me when you can’t sleep and praying for me when I’m down, for bringing me wonton soup when I’m sick and letting me crash in your guest rooms or on your couches. Thank you for letting me become part of your families, for encouraging my friendship with your spouses and children, for making me honorary auntie or godparent. Thank you for holding me accountable in ministry and writing, and for encouraging my faith to grow. Thank you for geeking out with me at late night rooftop movies and trips to Wonder Con. As the Golden Girls said it best, “thank you for being a friend / traveled down a road and back again / your heart is true, you’re a pal and a confidant.”

A Scattered Mind

It’s a rainy day in the desert, an experience made all the more beautiful by its rarity. And I’m having trouble focusing my thoughts to settle on one topic for this blog. These past couple weeks I’ve felt – SCATTERED.

My mind, like a butterfly, flits from thing to thing, alighting on one only for a moment before winding its way to the next. Laundry, school shootings, dream tattoo designs, my data entry job, taxes, blogging, book club, my tutoring job, the windshield wipers on my car, some necessary correspondence I keep putting off, my librarian job, Russian hackers, feeding the dog, the current state of Biblical Counseling, the Agatha Christie book I’m trying to finish, civilian lives in Syria, my new church, plans for spring break in a few weeks, Trump’s ceaseless tweets, doctor’s appointments, prayers for friends, doggy snuggles, conversations with mum, that poem I heard two days ago, gun control in relation to suicide & domestic violence, texts from friends, the gorgeous grey clouds outside my guest room office window . . . an endless stream of thoughts.

How do I UN-SCATTER? Is that even possible in modern American life?

I’ve listened to two different blogs about rest, honoring a Sabbath, and they have been filled with great ideas. Yet my mind has already added their suggestions to my infinite to-do list.

Often, when I feel this way, I just want to hibernate. Not face reality. Curl up in bed in cozy pjs, with a nice cuppa tea and a good book. Instead of doing that, today I am tackling that to-do list one entry at a time using my 2-highlighter system of prioritization. Blogging was in pink, so here I am trying not to half-ass it too badly. I already did my laundry and finished my latest invoice for one of my jobs, texted a couple friends, looked out the window, and snuggled the dog, so stuff’s getting done.

Next up – a cup of tea and taxes.

How do you un-scatter?