Tag Archives: faith

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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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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Do I Dare To Be Beautiful?

27 Oct

The glory days.  Remember those?

Lately I have been remembering my glory days, which, I might add, the Lord did not see fit to inaugurate until I was 29.

At 29 I became beautiful. Not the “you’re beautiful” kind of beauty that really only friends and family, who know and love me, see even now. No. The Lord gave me, in those days, the kind of beauty that sparkled and glittered and caused strangers to take note.

How fondly I remember the cute little suits and matching heels, the purple eye shadow, and the green, and the blue (I loved the blue!), the long straight hair cut to flip up at the ends just so. I remember being slim. Walking Everywhere. Having a super hero’s confidence. And I remember, of course, the men.

Men who just seemed to be around. Men trying to engage my attention. Men giving me things–seats on the train, rides in their cars even to locations hours out of their way, access to restricted or overcrowded places, pastries-tea-double portions (gratis), flowers, etc. I remember learning to accept these kindnesses; to say, sincerely, “Thank you.”  I learned, also, that beauty is an alternative currency, like gold or coupons, and that it is accepted everywhere, though at varying rates of exchange.

I remember captivating. And then being held captive by my own heart. And then fearing. How I remember fear. Fearing men, myself, and, most especially, my beauty. Being beautiful would lead to my ruination, insisted an insidious whisper.

So, without intending to, I moved away from the place where I became beautiful. I bought a car and walked no more. I cut my hair and put away my eyeshadow. And I ate. Bye-bye beautiful.

And in this place I have lived ever since, Ichabod.

But…

Lately fear has been giving way to faith. I have named my fears out loud and I don’t want to be afraid anymore.

Lately I have been remembering the glory days.  Remembering the glory of God in my life, and pining for it.  I don’t want to live in Ichabod anymore.

I want to be beautiful.  A planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor. Yes. I do.

So let the journey to splendor begin.

The Audacity of Hope

5 Nov

hope2

 African-American Barack Obama has won the Presidential election and will become the 44th President of the United States of America.  It is an historic moment.

 

On the news an email from an Italian national was read, “This means that anything is possible in America.  Welcome back American Dream!”

 

After his victory was announced, in my breast embers of hope that I believed long banked, glowed and became a burning flame.  And I want to cry.  Not because I am happy.  But because I did not ask to hope.  I did not call hope forth or seek it.  Hope, for me, really is the cruelest emotion of all.  It is the hardest to endure.  Such a great hope as this victory signifies terrifies me.

 

On Election Eve my dear friend DJ called me from Chicago.  We have not spoken in months.  Since she moved as a newlywed from New York, she and her husband have purchased a large, beautiful home and their family has grown to include four children.  Six or seven years ago we were prayer partners and would pray fervently for her family and for me.  That I would marry and become a mother.  Even when we stopped praying together, knowing how greatly I desire these things, DJ was a steady source of encouragement to me over the years. 

 

When we talked two days ago, she updated me on news about her and her family.  She told me of all the weddings that were taking place around her.  I updated her on what was going on for me, and told her of all our NY friends who have had babies.  At one point DJ mentioned something about a wedding and me and I did not engage her on the issue.  I distinctly recall stifling the part of me that tried to assert the thought, “Don’t patronize me with talk of my wedding.  We both know it’s not happening.  I’ll never have children like you and your husband.”  I made some pleasant, acceptable Christian responses to all she said, and ended the call.

 

That I don’t want to talk about getting married with DJ, my friend, who only wants to continue to believe God for my future, is a very bad sign.  After that call I faced the truth of my waning hope; my diminished faith in God to ever bring my desire for marriage to fruition. 

 

I used to hope.  There were years of hope, with nothing but disappointment following.  Hope deferred has made my heart sick unto death it seems.

 

Many will say that being single and over thirty is good.  It’s Oh.Kay.  They will say that they are content and that they enjoy their lives.  I say, being single and over thirty is like being in the school yard and never being picked to play on anybody’s team.  It’s knowing the game is challenging fun and wanting to play; gathering with all the other kids on the field where the captains will choose their teams.  It’s recess after recess after recess of being passed over while watching other kids get chosen. It’s watching the others run, and catch, and get tagged out, while sitting on the sidelines knowing you would play just as well as they if only you were given a chance.  After a while the ones who are never picked stop gathering with the other kids.  We pretend that we don’t really want to play anyway.

 

Because I am still single, and for dozens of other reasons, I have urged hope to die.  But with this election victory, instead of dying, hope has unilaterally determined that it will live and grow.  It urges me to live and grow.  It dares me to believe that anything is possible.  Even marriage.