Treat or Trick?

17 Jan

Early last year, after a series of curious events, I decided that in 2011 I was going to take a trip to Uganda, Africa.  I pledged to the Lord, and to my family, that in 2011 I was going, even if I had to make the trip alone.  Crazy, right?  (Remind me to tell you about that summer during  my college years when I went to Alaska alone, ostensibly to work on a fishing boat and earn lots of moolah, only I ended up not working on the boat and instead lodging in a halfway house.  But I digress…).

My plan was that in December 2010, I would plot out my vacation/travel schedule for 2011, and finalize the plans for my trip to Africa.  By November, however, I had three far-flung weddings on my calendar for 2011–Dominican Republic, Vegas, and the wedding in which I would be a bridesmaid here in New York.  It was after I was invited to be a bridesmaid for my friend that I said to the Lord, “Africa might have to wait for 2012, huh?” 

Two to three days after saying this to the Lord, I was at dinner with a friend involved in short-term missions.  Over dinner she rattled off a list of trips that the missions ministry at my church would be taking in 2011.  In the midst of all the usual places she threw in a couple of new spots including, you guessed it, Uganda.  I was in shock.  Who goes to Uganda?  “Why are they going?  How did this happen?  I’ve got to go with them!”, I told her.  Within 3 weeks, through another series of Divine coincidences, I was interviewed to be a part of the team going to Uganda.  At the beginning of January I found out that I was accepted to be on the Uganda team.  Hooray!!  Still Single is going to Africa in 2011!

Now it is important to know about Still Single at this point that she does not possess the usual missions-type personality.  She is more of the American-tourist type.  Give her a 4 or 5 star hotel, ample, clean, English-speaking, dining accommodations and she is a happy visitor.  Still Single likes hotel/spas, turn-down service, fresh flowers on the credenza, and like that.

Fast forward to my first missions meeting.  In addition to the spiritual components of missions work, the Missions Pastor reviewed, what I would call, missionary protocol.  He discussed cultural differences, relational improprieties, food and lodging in the field.  He described the insects we would likely encounter in our rooms, the pests that might be found in our rooms that could be as large as one’s head, the necessity of bagging our clothes and luggage at all times while in the field, and segregating and immediately washing and spraying everything upon our return to the States.  He mentioned that we should only drink bottled water, and only eat food approved by those in charge of approving the food.

As I listened, I naturally pondered why on earth I was going on this trip.  And I began to chuckle at the hilarity of God.  He tricked me!  Many, many times my missionary friends have asked me when I would take a missions trip.  Many, many times I have answered, “Never.  Missions work is not for me.”  But there I was.  I had walked into the missions meeting delighted, eager, and compelled by the Holy Spirit to head to one of the hardest locations where one could ever hope to minister.  If God had said, “Still Single I want you to go to Africa on a missions trip,” I would have resisted hard.  I know this about myself.  In fact, I do not think I would have recognized or acknowledged even the possibility that God might say such a thing to me, as, clearly, I am not the missionary type.  But being God, and knowing my frame, instead of commanding that I take a missions trip, He drew me mysteriously towards a country that I knew nothing about, made me yearn and long to go to that country, and then provided the means for my travel.  Then, only when He’d fully secured my commitment, did He, incidentally, inform me of all the challenges and hardships that the trip would entail. 

Only God could make you want something, that He wants for you, that He knows you would not want if you really knew what was involved. 

Which reminds me of marriage.

At some point, God begins to stir our hearts with longing to go to this new relational place, a place we don’t know and have never been and which may or may not be hospitable to us.  We long to go into a marriage.  And then God (hopefully) leads us towards this place, and provides the means (i.e., the other person) for us to actually marry.  But only after we are there in the engagement or marriage, only after we have crossed the threshold of commitment, does God reveal the challenges and hardships that we will encounter in this new place.  And so it is with parenting, ministry, work, and every big step we take in life in general. 

So I am walking by faith.  And packing light.

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Wedding Jitters?

14 Dec

Recently, I went bridal gown shopping with my friend.  Just us two.  Imagine.

As it turned out I loved bridal gown shopping.  My friend took me to RK Bridal, which is a warehouse of sorts.  At RK there are about six bridal consultants, six fitting rooms, and six brides at a time modeling gowns for the friends and family that accompanied them to the store–all while other brides await their chance to be assisted.  It was a show.  My friend tried on several gowns and then narrowed down her choices to three.  She made an appointment to return the next day with her mom to make the final selection.  And just like that she had a wedding gown in the $1k price range (excluding alterations), which was her goal.  Onward, looked the bride, to bridesmaids’ gowns.  And this is where the trouble began. 

My impression was that the bride did not have a concrete vision for the bridesmaids.  That she wanted to collaborate; have us all select gowns that were flattering.  However, as the process moved forward, it became apparent that the bride, in fact has a clear vision of what she wants for the bridesmaids, and that what she wants is not particularly…nice.

“Ugly bridesmaids’ dresses are de rigueur, so suck it up,” I told myself.

“Whatever the bride wants, she gets.  So get over it,” I told myself.

“At least the dress will be inexpensive,” I told myself.

But in spite of my best efforts at self-talk, I still felt unsatisfied, frustrated, even angry.  Anger was such an over-the-top reaction, though, that I had to figure out what my problem was.  Maybe it was context.  My last bride chose for me a bridesmaid gown that was stunning, in a merlot-colored satin.  Before that wedding, another girlfriend chose for me a champagne-colored Vera Wang—elegant and sophisticated.  Maybe, I told myself, I am not mentally prepared for the step-down in style.  But then I realized that, actually, I just did not want this bride to choose my bridesmaid gown.  Which took me to the heart of the matter.

I do not like the bride’s choices.  I would never choose the catering hall that she chose, or the menu that she chose, or the bridal salon or the dress that she chose; I would never choose the kind of ceremony or the kind of honeymoon that she is planning.  I do not prefer any of it!  But, and this is the thing, it is not my wedding.  And I am upset because I want it to be.  I want to be the person making choices for my own special day.

“Father, I get a special day, don’t I?,” I questioned God.  And I didn’t hear any kind of response.  The only thing I knew for sure was that God wanted me to be satisfied with Him, whether I get a day or not.   And I said in my heart, OK.  Again, surrendering what I want and embracing whatever the Lord wants for me.

A short while later I was Christmas shopping for my nieces, who are sisters aged 16 and 13.  I bought perfume and body cream for the older niece.  And, as I have for years and years gone by, I also picked up similar things for the younger niece.  Because I knew that if I got something for one, but not the other of them, there would be an issue; even though they are old enough to know better.  And right there on the selling floor I had a revelation. “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”  So I am encouraged.

Am I A Bad Friend?

2 Dec

This past weekend I offended a friend. 

Job and His False Comforters, Jean Fouquet c. 1460

We made a plan to pray together, and before we did, I discussed with her how difficult Thanksgiving had been for me.  Dinner was just right, just what I needed, but the lead up to the family gathering had me in a state of severe woe.  I’m ready for a different kind of family gathering already, you know? I want to have my own place, with my own china, with my own food selections, and my own choice of guests.

So my friend listened and commiserated.  Then told me that, like mine, her own Thanksgiving was quite difficult.  It capped a particularly difficult week for her.  Her car broke down on the highway at 10 o’clock at night and she’d felt scared and alone.  Though she was immensely grateful to God for the impressive rescue that He maneuvered out of the situation, she was tired.  She wanted to have a husband to call who would come to her rescue.  So later that week, during a 2 hour sojourn by bus and train, alone, to her Thanksgiving dinner, she was depressed and lonely.  My friend begged God that this be her last Thanksgiving as an unmarried woman.

Unlike her commiseration with me, I offered her insensitivity.  I responded with something along the lines of, “How could you not be completely satisfied with the Lord seeing the amazing way that He took care of you that night on the highway?”  When she defended herself, and her feelings, I realized what an idiot I was.  She is entitled to feel how she feels. “You are right and I am wrong,” I apologized.  But when we prayed, I did not pray that God would hasten the arrival of her husband. I prayed that He would bring her peace and a friend, or something like that.  Afterwards, I got the impression that my prayer was not appreciated very much.  There wasn’t exactly hearty agreement.  Which made me feel bad. Had my prayer been laced with judgment?  The next day I texted another apology.  And my friend did not respond.

The thing is, I feel bad because I couldn’t pray a more supportive prayer. But I couldn’t pray a more supportive prayer because I honestly do not support my friend’s point of view. I emphatically do not believe that marriage is the answer to what ails my friend. 

She thinks, as do a lot of singles, that marriage will make everything better.  If she were married she would not have to deal with a broken down car on the highway alone at night.  But who says so? Having a husband, even a godly husband, does not guarantee that you will get the exact kind of support that you need exactly when you need it. This kind of expectation is a paving stone on the road to divorce, even in Christendom.   Maybe your only-too-human husband would come to the scene and make things worse instead of better.  Maybe he would be so nervous and worried, about the car, about you, about the money, that you would regret even telling him that you had a problem.  Maybe he would be so tired or busy or saddled with childcare that he decides not to come out to meet you, but maybe to stay on the line with you if you want.

My friend thinks that if she were married she would not have to feel angst on Thanksgiving about being alone.  But what about the angst that she might feel because she has a family and is not alone?  Marriage is not a magic elixir that instantly takes the emotional edge off. Marriage might even add an additional emotional edge. In-laws anyone? What about having to host Thanksgiving for your family and his, doing the shopping, cleaning, cooking, and baking, while still going to work and being Mommy to the kids? What about Thanksgiving road trips with a car full of tired, cranky, or bored kids? What about the added financial strain associated with said Thanksgiving travel?

The point is that marriage is not the answer to every problem that the single woman faces.  The unpleasant emotions that surface in all of our lives, married or single, are a cue to listen to what is happening in our souls.  And then to bring our real issues or concerns to the Lord.  Sadness about breaking down on the highway at night, could be an indication that your soul is longing for intimate relationship with someone, not necessarily a husband. Maybe your soul is wondering if anyone really, truly, cares and needs to be connected to a friend or a relative who will remind you of their care and concern when you are in a bind.  Or perhaps feeling sadness signals worry about the cost of car repairs and a fear of inadequate resources.  Maybe the feeling of sadness is an indication of sheer fatigue and worry about being able to get done everything that had to be gotten done that night, and then also in the morning despite being doubly tired.  Each of these unspoken thoughts, though, because they remained unspoken, could not be addressed or refuted by the Lord.  Instead my friend’s true needs, to know that she is loved, that God will provide, and that God will give her strength and grace besides, were transformed into a fantasy wish for a husband who would make all things better. 

God help me not to be like one of Job’s comforters.  And God help my friend to know You like Job came to know you.

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Have I mentioned that I have been obsessed with homeownership all year long?

29 Nov

All year I have looked, searched and hunted for the right property, and have been unable to find it.  I have found frustration at every turn– prices too high, taxes too high, too many repairs needed, or all-cash buyers outbidding me.  Not to mention my own ambivalence about what amount I can really afford, in light of my continuing student loan debt.

During the last couple of months I have gotten the distinct spiritual impression that I have to cease being obsessed about, distressed over, and consumed with buying a home.  That I have to trust God.  Just like with my desire to be married.  Releasing this desire to the Lord has been as hard as releasing the desire to be married.  It feels even harder, if you can believe that, because buying a house feels like something that should be within my control.  But God is helping me to release the thing.  To not just think, but to truly mean that He is my security, my shelter, my refuge, my everything.

In the meantime I find myself taking first-time homebuyer preparation courses, which is humbling.  I used to work as a bank real estate closing attorney, and privately as an attorney I have performed a number of closings for clients.  But I’m honest enough with myself to admit that I need help developing a realistic budget, and assessing the current marketplace (e.g., is a short sale better than a normal sale for a buyer like me or not?), and understanding different financing options.  So I’m seeking guidance while I await the Lord’s provision.

Tonight I attended a class where there were presentations from a mortgage expert who works for TD Bank, and also from a home inspector who detailed the intricacies involved in assessing the condition of a property.

I was the only single person there.  The only person sitting alone.

I remember dreaming that one day my husband and I would go house-hunting together.  Just like on HGTV.

Alas.

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What Do We Older Singles Have to be Thankful For?

24 Nov

Here’s my Top 5:

5:         Career

Though I am not satisfied in my career, I am stable.  Stable enough to consciously explore what more I might attempt with my life.  I am clearheaded enough to recognize that my stability at work is determined by how I handle relationships at work, just as much as how I handle the work itself.  I am thankful that I am, finally, becoming stable enough at relationships to be stable at my job.

 4:         Health

Readers, I will confess to you that I turned 40 this year.  For women forty is the year of mammograms, the year when baby-making faculties really begin to shut down, the year when we begin to notice changes in our hair, skin, eyesight and energy level.  I am forty.  And I am thankful that physically (aside from being too fat) I am in excellent health.

 3:         Good women friends

When I was younger all my friends were male.  I prayed and believed that one day I would have women friends.  One day has quietly come.  As I blogged in days gone by, thank goodness for Sex and the City’s Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte for demonstrating to us all the ineffable value of girlfriends in these curious times in which we live.  I am thankful for my girls.

2:         Family (and Boundaries with family)

When I was younger I thought my father was the most brilliant man alive and that my mother was the very image of what a mother should be.  I never acknowledged their humanity, or the pain that they caused me.  Then, for a while, I could only see the pain that they both caused me.  I am thankful that I am finally reaching a place of balance, with respect to my parents and the rest of my family.  I love them and thank God for them, they are only human, they did– and do–their best, wherever they may fail, I forgive them.  I am thankful for the knowledge that the family that I create can be different from the family that created me.

1:         Maturity in the Lord

Somewhere in the last few years I have moved from the position of one who primarily seeks counsel, to one who is able offer counsel; from one who has many questions to one who has a few answers (even/especially with regard to singleness); from ministry worker to ministry leader.

I am truly thankful this year.  What are you thankful for?

Of What Should I Be Afriad?

24 Nov
MultipleChoice single
Image via Wikipedia

It’s been one week and I am progressing through eharmony’s stages of communication with three different men.  Two of these men requested that we skip the preliminary, get-to-know-you stages, and move directly into speaking with each other without the structure of the staged communication.  I declined.  I like the progression of the stages.  You can learn some things by the way a person answers questions, and the kinds of questions that a person asks.

Case in point: Corrado.  Corrado is my favorite match so far.  Not because he’s cute and 6’5” tall, not because he’s fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Hebrew, not because he’s planning to go to med school and is also an artist—Ok, who am I kidding? These things have a lot to do with why he’s my favorite!  In any case, Corrado asked me his set of multiple choice questions and in almost every case my answers were original.  I did not select a, b, c, or d.  I selected “other,” and supplied my own response to the questions.  I noticed this pattern and thought, “Hmmm, what does that say about me?”  Now, Corrado, in replying to my questions, did not choose “other” even once.  He stuck with the multiple choice responses offered.  What does that say about him?  Probably not much, but definitely something.

Now let me tell you what I absolutely love about how this communication with Corrado began. 

I saw his photo and read his profile, and re-read his profile, and was seriously intrigued.  He seemed…just right.  Except that he is 8 years younger than me.  Which seemed too much.  After due consideration of this age gap, I gave his photo one final glance and decided to put him in the neutral pile, which is my pile for profiles that I am neither rejecting nor initiating contact with.  Lo and behold, the following day I received a communication from himself.  At first I was confused by the communication because he did not answer my questions, but supplied his own set of questions for me to answer.  Then I remembered.  Corrado didn’t respond to my questions because I never sent Corrado any questions.  Corrado initiated contact with me on his own.  I could not believe it.  He is the first match of mine where there has been reciprocal liking.

So, 8-year age gap notwithstanding, we are now communicating.  And I am too tickled by the whole thing.

The moral of this story is that last week, when I first began this eharmony journey, I was more afraid than I could put into words of beginning again the boy-meets-girl process.  This week, having begun to actually engage the process, I see that the fear of the thing was 100xs worse than the actual thing itself.  Isn’t that always the way?

How Old Do I Look?

21 Nov

Today in church one of my new choir friends asked me, “Do you go to Transitions meetings?”

Transitions is the Young Adult group in the church. It’s a ministry designed for those aged 20-29.

I told her no, I do not go to Transitions meetings. She then continued to commiserate with me and explain why this group is not meeting her needs either.

While she was talking, my thought was, “Does she seriously think that I could be in Transitions?”

This reminded me of a case I was trying recently. My adversary was a younger guy. Very friendly. On our first day, during a break he asked if I wanted to come and hang out with him and his friend, who was also an attorney. I thought this was weird because opposing sides don’t generally lunch together. But I knew the other guy from around the courthouse, so I said sure. So the three of us went to lunch. It felt like a college outing. We snuck our food into an office space that was not in use at the time, and which we were not authorized to use. Like college pranksters, they told me that though we shouldn’t be in there, they eat in this space all the time, so I shouldn’t worry.

While we ate the guy who invited me asked me, “So is this your first job out of law school too?” After he’d told me that he’d graduated less than 2 years ago.

I was a little surprised at the question. I’ve been out of school for well over ten years. I told him no, this was not my first job. That I had been at this particular job for six years, and had worked at a couple of other places prior to this job. At which point he wrinkled his brow and asked, “How old are you?”

Which is when it occurred to me that he thought that I was one of them. A newbie. Just starting out. Twenty-something.

What a curious thing to think, it seemed to me.  I don’t look like a recent graduate.

But now I’m wondering if maybe I do.

I am feeling like God has invented a different and special metric of time just for me, alá Benjamin Button.  And it makes me SMILE.

God=Love=Risk=Eharmony?

19 Nov

I did not join eharmony as I had planned weeks ago. The special offer expired. I just wasn’t ready. But I promised myself, and God I think, that if I got another chance–if they made another special offer–that I would join immediately and not delay.

Of course, in the days following this commitment, eharmony extended another offer to me on the same terms: $30 for 3 months of service. The offer was emailed to me in the morning and knew that I had to join that day. I was committed. I felt reluctant to leave work that evening. Then on the way home, I felt the urge to stop to get a fancy dessert from the Grand Lux Cafe, which is kind of like the Cheesecake Factory. I hardly ever go to the Grand Lux. I talked myself out of the fancy dessert and in so doing realized that I was anxious. That I was fretting about the idea of joining eharmony. I very much did not want to do it. I drove around and around talking myself out of fancy desserts and oversized slices of pie. Finally (the price of gas being $3.09 a gallon), I decided that I had to go home. I decided that I would allow myself a small sweet something , an empanada from Taco Bell, and that I would then go home, and sign up. So I had the empanada (plus two 160-calorie tacos), and, being thus fortified, I signed up.

That was two and a half days ago.  I have been seeking fortification in food all day, every day, since. I cannot put into words how scared I am of being rejected and of being hurt. Again.

I am conscious of this fear, though. As I am conscious of the food that I have been eating to ease my discomfort–diet food, like Special K Bars and pita chips (thankfully not cheeseburgers and bread pudding). I long for the day when I won’t reach for a snack or an edible anything to quell my emotions. But for today I am satisfied enough that I am feeling the fear. That I am moving forward despite my fear.  That I am meeting men online. Like Keith…

How Does It Feel to Have an Engaged Friend?

16 Nov

My friend is engaged. She met her future husband on eharmony a little over one year ago. He is not what she expected (pastor-type and father of two) but everything she hoped for (too much to list).

It’s wonderful to see marriage happening for one of my close friends who is 35-plus. At this point, which is the very beginning of the engagement, it feels pretty much the same as it feels whenever someone close to me marries. Bittersweet. (I’m sure I don’t have to explain.) But a few other things come to mind as well.

First, I feel gratified to be a part of this love story. It makes me only too happy to believe, whether or not it’s completely true, that my crusade in favor of getting myself and the 30-somethings around me married has not been in vain. It is happening. At less than one wedding per year it is happening at a trickle currently, true, but I am hopeful that this trickle will turn into much, much more in the future as I continue to beat my drum.

In the beginning I wanted to sound some kind of an alarm and shout from the rooftops, “This state of marriagelessness all around me is unacceptable! Do something! Anybody!” My friends were in inertia thinking “If I’m a good Christian and I wait patiently my husband will come.” Church leaders were either silent or 25 years behind on the issue.

Like a woman crazed at times I urged whoever I could to take a different point of view. I gave books to read. I talked, and prayed, together with others and alone (I do not minimize the impact of my prayers), and I went outside-the-box and took risks that my friends were as yet not willing to take. “See, you CAN talk to strangers,” my actions said.

And things changed. My friends– nearly every single dateless one–began dating. Some married.

And now this friend is marrying. This friend who was a sounding board for a few of my incubating theories concerning Why We Are Still Single. Her reactions to my more unorthodox points of view still bring a smile to my face. “But we really do want to be married! It is not our fault that we aren’t. It’s circumstances, or God, or men, or all thee!”, insisted this friend. Ultimately, though, it wasn’t circumstances, or God, or men that changed during the time between our discussion and her engagement. She changed. She took steps to intentionally bring about change in her mind and heart. In the course of her transformation she met her Boaz.

So in addition to bittersweet, I feel proud. Satisfied. Like a momma bird whose baby bird is flying from the nest.

Are Wives Still Supposed to Submit?

11 Nov

Excuse me while I mount my soapbox.

I went out with my girlfriends recently and my engaged friend (yeeaaaahhhh!!—more about that later) was discussing moving to a new city and a new church after she marries.  Her church-leader fiancé asked her if she was sure that she would be able to make the adjustment to the new, and very different, church.  What would happen, he wondered, if in three years she decided that she wasn’t comfortable at this new church and that she wanted to change churches?

One of my girlfriends responded that, in the event that she wasn’t happy, her husband would have to take her wishes into consideration and, with prayer, they would have to find a new church together.  He could be a church leader anywhere after all.  My response was that, happy or not, ultimately she would just have to stick it out with him at that church if that is where he believes God wants them to be.  The wife is called to follow her husband after all.  I did not agree with my girlfriend’s assessment and she did not agree with mine.  My friend’s comment about a husband yielding to his wife’s complaints, is not a point of view that is limited to her. 

It is common for women to want to marry and be assured that if they become unhappy their husbands will change–their minds, their ways, or their plans–and do what the woman wants so that she is not made unhappy. And so the marriage relationship has been converted in our minds from one of authority and submission, to one of egalitarian consent.  There is no more demarcation of man and wife; instead we are partners or we are mates.  But there is no egalitarian model of the Christian family.  There is a hierarchy—God, man, wife–no matter what our culture may tell us to the contrary.

If a husband does not take full authority, but instead allows himself to be swayed or manipulated by his wife’s logic and/or emotions, not only is he responsible before God for his own abdication of his role as leader, but he might also be responsible for his wife’s failure to develop into the kind of wife that God expects her to be.  Namely, a wife who does not look to her husband to make perfect decisions at all times, but a wife who trusts God that, regardless of what decisions her husband makes, God will work things out for their family.  Likewise, if a wife does not yield to her husband’s leadership, not only is she responsible before God for her own rebellion against authority, but she might also be responsible for her husband’s failure to develop into the kind of husband that God expects him to be.  Namely, the kind of husband who does not look to make perfect decisions at all time, but who leads his family by example, in seeking God and in trusting God, so that regardless of the course the he takes, the family can rest assured that God will work things out.

Maybe the privilege of the wife is simply to prevail in prayer.  These days it is regarded as a lowly calling, compared to having final authority or signing the checks, but I ask you, is it?

Does prayer work?  Is God interested and concerned with the direction that the family is heading?  Is God able to change the heart of a husband (or wife)?  Does God want wives (in particular, I might ask) to know of His faithfulness, provision, protection, and providence?  Will not God cause all things to work together for good in each of our lives?  Is not God sovereign? Is not God worthy of praise with thanksgiving, whatever He allows to occur in our lives?

Yes, a husband should be considerate of and kind to his wife; he should talk with her, seek her opinions, and value her input, both the intellectual and the intuitive.  But he must then decide what’s best and do it.  Now because the Holy Spirit leads the husband as well as the wife, typically the husband will be led the same way that the wife is led.  Or a husband will graciously allow a wife her preference.  He will.  Most of the time.

But there will come times when a husband and wife are not led in the same direction, and the husband will not or cannot accommodate the wife’s preference.  In which case, the wife’s posture cannot be, “But I want what I want because I know that I’m right.”  It has to be, “I’m leaving this in Your hands, Lord. Let Your will be done.” 

No, this is not easy.  But He who called her to be a wife is faithful, and He will help her to do it.