Friday, August 22, 2014

Stuff Church People Say to Singles, Part 5.

I think its natural to assume everyone is in the same place in life as we are. So sometimes in conversation I'm asked about my spouse/kids and I say I'm not married.

Church People Say: Oh.... (Generally accompanied by wide panic-eyes and a smile/grimace... a smimace.)

Translation: Wow. I'm super uncomfortable right now for making you admit that you're single. And also, I kind of want to ask if you're a lesbian, but I'm not sure how.

Consider: I think this gets to the crux of it. You shouldn't be embarrassed for me when I tell you I'm single. I'm not embarrassed for me. In fact, in a lot of ways I'm proud of myself. I've signed a mortgage, moved, changed a garbage disposal, bought a lawn mower and assembled it and used it, negotiated salaries, pursued my dream, travelled, and all while looking stylish...well, most of the time.

I'm not saying I enjoy taking the trash out all the time. I don't. And bill paying, bleh. But when I'm done with my two-minute pity party, it feels good to know I can do this. I'm strong enough. And not in the diva way where I just snap a Z and plow over everything in the path of my stilettos. But in the way that even when I'm slogging and its hard and I just want to not be in charge for a while...I still make it.

Here's the thing. When I tell you I'm not married, you can just say "Oh, okay," and then ask me about my hobbies, how long I've been in town, where I'm from, do I have family nearby, my pets (adorbs!), my job, etc.

And you can tell me about your kids and your spouse and your hobbies and your pets too. I'm not going to be hurt or shamed because you're married and have procreated. I am pro-whale even though I don't have one. And I am pro-family even though I don't have one.

I'm glad you have a husband and maybe kids as well. I'm not jealous.  And I wouldn't take any of it from you if I could. Remember, I'm happy with life too. And even if marriage isn't in the longterm plans for me, still don't feel bad for me. I don't (most of the time.)

The National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green University found that the marriage rate for women dropped 60% between 1960 and 2012 to a mere 31 women per thousand. Even when you account for young'uns, that is a lot of singles. And that's just women (and yes, you can be single over 25 and hetero.) If the church has any desire to reach the community around it, the number of singles it interacts with is only going to rise. And I promise, when we're the majority we'll still look at you and see a normal person.

In sum, marital state doesn't define me. Or you. You and I have a whole lot in common, only I have to take the trash out all the time. And if you make a slip and say something I've mentioned this week, don't panic. It's certainly not the first time I've heard it, nor will it be the last. I guess I just want people to think about the assumptions made about the unwed.

So get to know us! We're fun! And you may find that lifelong friend you've been hoping for!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Stuff Church People Say to Singles, Part 4

I just love this froggy in hats. So I brought it back.
I heard a woman in her 60's say this to a woman in her '40's who had survived and escaped an abusive first marriage and was lonely for companionship. Yes, for real. And I'd wager every single has heard it at one point or another.

Church People Say: God's trying to teach you something, and when you're ready, he'll bring Jack/Jill.

Translation: This is basically your fault because every married person is better at relationships than you are.

Consider: I have lived in many places around the country, and the typical age people wed varies. Does this mean that entire regions North of the Mason-Dixon are relationally behind? And that those teen brides in Podunk are vastly ahead in the partnership game?

I have mentioned this earlier this week, but it bears repeating because it is a big deal. Single does not equal spiritual dunce.

And yet almost every church, if they have a singles group at all, holds a midweek service roughly three hours long that combines lots and lots of repetitive music and a reminder not to have sex. Why is it that we think singles need an extra service each week? Why not just do something fun, or meet at Starbucks just to chat?

The ultimate problem is that we forget we're all meant to be one body, and the segregation common in most churches doesn't help. Believe it or not, singles have more going on in life than not having sex.

 The early church didn't have separate small groups for single ladies, single guys, marrieds with young children, marrieds with old children, marrieds with no children, and marrieds who act like children. They were one body.

Face it, single or not, people today deal with self worth issues, jealousy, anger, childhood events, lust, lostness, and more. And I think we miss out on a lot of wisdom, camaraderie, and potentially vital friendships when we make the  people over 57 years-old meet separate from parents of babies born in January.

During my stint in Arkansas (Wooo Pig Sooie!) I made some amazing friends that I will keep always. They consist of a fifteen year-old, a (I won't say her age) spiritual mentor who has more energy than I do, and three married gals, all with young kids. I know, crazy, right? I can't imagine those years without these friends, and I would hate to miss out on more kindred spirits because I have to attend the people-with-highlighted-hair group, and they're tucked away in the people-who-write-left-handed group. It's one thing to have interest or topical groups, but another entirely when folks are told who they can "do life" with, as the fad saying goes, and you can only do life with people just. like. you.

I feel incredibly lucky to have found an extensive and varied group of friends who see it that way. Most of my friends these days are married, and are fabulous. We talk about their married joys and woes and my single joys and woes and all the other parts of life that aren't marital-status dependent. I think people are trending that way (or I just found all the good ones...hehehe) and that gives me hope.

We are supposed to be diverse, not divided. Thank God we are. It's not always easy, people just like us feel safer, and I get that. But it is sooooo worth it!

Now I have to go study for my people-who-like-sparkly-things group...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Stuff Church People Say to Singles, Part 3

My friend brought this up the other day. And when it's said it's usually meant as a compliment. The thing is, we singles have asked ourselves the same thing. A lot.

Church People Say: Why are you still single?

Translation: What is so wrong with you that nobody wants to marry you?

Consider: My sister and I have fun coming up with possible answers to this one.

Because of that big growth on my back.

My other personality is a Monk.

My alien, er, bits aren't compatible with human bits, so....

I'm a raging b*tch most of the time.

Black Widow Syndrome. You take a life or two and all of a sudden people lose interest. Whatever.

Chronic halitosis.

Oh, I am. He just doesn't know it. Sssssh. (Most effective with shifty eyes and a villainous laugh.)

The actual answer is this. It's God's will for my best life (though you sound like a prig if you say that in conversation.) If I was supposed to be married, I would be. But in modern church culture--okay, probably in church culture through the ages--marriage is a status symbol. It's like of all the commandments, the most important is "Go forth and multiply." And if you can't manage that, it says something about you. Something bad.

But being single isn't bad. Its just a state of being. In fact, I bet most single people could be married right now, if that were the goal. We've all met really awful people who wear a wedding band. We've seen, hmmm, lets say people we wouldn't personally be tempted to lust after who are happily married. We've also met that beautiful couple, the ones who never get jokes, tall ones, short ones, or my favorite: the tall/short combo, the spiritual geniuses, the people who snipe uncomfortably at each other in socially inappropriate settings, the outdoorsy couples, and the ones whose favorite vacation spot is their own backyard.

I've never met someone and had the fact that they're married make me like them or admire them more. I don't know that anyone has. It's always about the person. Getting married is a blessing, for sure. But it's not an achievement. By definition blessings are events  we can't take credit for.

I am so grateful for the cadre of awesome awesome awesome single friends I have.  Because I admit that when I'm feeling all insecure or when birthdays roll around, or when my hormones are all wonky every month, ahem, I do look in the mirror and wonder. And I have to give myself a talking to. My life is good. Really good. The only answer to the cause of my marital status is God. And that has to be enough.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Stuff Church People Say to Singles, Part 2

You know how most married people have rings to declare their takenness? I propose (ha! didn't even mean that pun) singles have
rings to declare their status too. It could prevent those awkward moments when a married folk asks a question assuming you're one of them and aren't quite sure how to respond when they find out you're not. It's either a startled response intended to comfort you after forcing you to admit to being single (gasp!) or a pat answer that they carry with them for just such occasions. For example?

Church People Say: "If you just pray and trust God, he'll grant you the desires of your heart."

Translation: You have less faith and a worse prayer life than every married person. Ever.

Consider: Really? Do you really believe that? Aside from the fact that many people of all faiths or no faith at all have dreams that come true, Paul didn't. He prayed repeatedly to be rid of "a thorn in his side" and God said no. It wasn't because of a lack of faith (although he was single...) If getting the desires of our hearts was a sign of how faithful we are, then the most successful athletes, most famous actors, most wealthy world leaders would be examples to live by because they have fulfilled a desire in their lives that 99% of us will never see happen. And everyone who has lost a loved one, every family that can't put food on the table, every martyr would be examples of people who lack faith. I don't think anyone would say that. 

Let's even bring it home. Do you, or anyone you look up to, have things you want in life? Good things? Right things? That you truly, deeply want? Even things that aren't for you personally, like world peace, ending drought in Africa, rescue for those enslaved around the world....if you're blaming your own lack of faith for these horrors, you're giving yourself way too much credit. Definitely pray for those things, just understand it's not you.

Let's not forget that in addition to Paul, a lot of single people are examples of amazing faith. Mother Teresa, every Pope, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Joan of Arc, C.S. Lewis*, and yeah, Jesus.

The truth is that we all have, cradled deep in hearts, desires that haven't been met. If you believe God is good, and He is grace, then you know it's not because he's waiting for your 4,396,247th prayer. We may never know why some longings are never met on this planet. But, "If you just pray and trust God..." that's okay. 

* Our boy, C.S. did tie the knot, but not until his 50's and after he'd written most of his timeless works. He was single when he penned those.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Stuff Church People Say to Singles, Part 1

So, this week I'm doing a little series to highlight the kinds of conversations that are typical for singles who go to church. What is said, and what that really means when you stop to think about it. 

I have been in the church since I was in diapers, and for all of that time I have been single. Many of my friends are not, and I love them.  And I believe they love me. Those that know me know I'm a happy, fulfilled person (most of the time.) But most people I interact with under the steeple don't. You see, within the church there are a lot of assumptions about single people and those who make them don't even realize it.

Church People Say: "You know, the moment I stopped looking I found Jack/Jill."

Translation: Clearly you must be desperate and needy because all single people are. You can't possibly have any love in your life. At all. And so you want it and are searching for it all around you. Tsk, tsk, tsk

God is waiting for you to give up hope before he answers your prayers. And until you do, you can blame yourself for being lonely (I mean, what else would you be, single person?) You just want love too much. So stop it. Stop it! After all, he is a God of hopelessness…

Consider: God is a God of hope. I don't believe he dangles dreams out there before us until we give up. That goes for singles, the childless, the ailing, and everyone else who has a desire in their heart that might hibernate, but refuses to die.  Jesus told the story of the persistent widow, not the depressed widow. Even though you can’t imagine life without your beloved, your life is unique to you, as each life is unique.  Perhaps that single person’s life is fabulous and they’re totally at peace. It happens more often than you might expect. 

Face it, you don't have to raise your hand, but can't you think of a few moments at least when you thought, "Gee, life would be so much easier right now if I weren't married!" So yeah, if not every single person wants to find "the one" now and then, I'd wager most of us do. But its those same moments. It's not a blight on every day, it doesn't make life less beautiful.  It doesn't mean life hasn't begun. In fact, as a gen-u-ine single person I can tell you I've had some amazing opportunities professionally and personally that wouldn't have worked well if I had a family. And I'm grateful...most of the time.

If I pitied everyone who didn't have my same life I would have to pity all non-readers (okay, I kind of do...) all non-writers, those who don't have pets, those who do like to exercise, meat eaters, those who haven't traveled internationally, people who don't like to dance, anyone without a TV, those who don't write stories, people without fun earrings, etc. 

Life is too wild and unpredictable and beautifully diverse for me to think everyone needs to have my same experiences.

Monday, January 6, 2014

I Don't Envy Jane Austen

I have begun the  editing rewrite* process on my latest manuscript. If I'm honest, I much prefer this stage to the rough draft writing.

Shaping the world for the first time, growing characters who are three-dimensional, complex, imperfect and yet heroic, conjuring the best scene and the best point of view to propel the's pretty exhausting actually. Not torturous, I do take pleasure in it. But its the same pleasure you get from running a 10k. The kind that requires music to ease the way and caffeine. Lots of caffeine.

But when I can look back at a completed rough draft, I have something to work with. I get caught up for hours reading a scene and wondering if the emotion is deep enough, clear. If there's room for better words or symbolism or greater tension. If that scene is in the right place or if it should be relocated for maximum impact.

Yes, I know how it sounds, but I really do enjoy it. It's kind of like visiting friends you've not seen in a while and catching up, only you get to rewrite their past if you're not satisfied.

Which is why I'm so grateful for Word. I am not a throw-up-genius-on-the-page kind of writer. I'm not sure any of us are. But I will rewrite sentences, move them through paragraphs, and today I split a scene in half and punted a good bit of it to mid-manuscript.

Back in Jane Austen's day this would mean pages of crossing out words prose and dipping quill in ink on a fresh sheet, or making those little carrots to insert words. Mostly crossing out though, I imagine.  But for me, it means save a copy of the first version, then cut, paste, delete, insert, and then cut some more to my heart's content.

If I'd lived back in the typewriter days, or even the archaic fountain pen days, I'd still be a writer. I'd just probably restrict myself to short stories, greeting cards, and one massive, unedited Master Work.

So, I'm grateful for Bill Gates, for all the computer folks who coded Microsoft products and send me the debugging updates, for Steve Jobs too
, since I have an Apple, for the auto save feature, and that I don't live in Austenian times. For a lot of reasons, hygienic and literary.

*edit implies a blip of red pen that one must address, including the odd mispelled or misused word, and minor points of confusion. This is not what I do. My overhaul is the story equivalent of extensive plastic surgery. Like the kind a mob boss would get before going on the lam.