Wednesday, December 28, 2016

185: the illusion of nearsightedness

In prep for New Years, I got out my old journals. Last year's entry wasn't interesting (except for the part where I started falling asleep and wrote nonsense), so I began reading other entries and other journals. I found a few entries in one book where I was gushing about a guy. Like, really gushing.

It was rather nauseating. You know why? Because I am no longer interested in him. At all.

But at that time, all I knew was there stood a tiny doorway into a beautiful garden. All I knew was that I couldn't get in there.

"Alice opened the door and found that it led into a small passage, not much larger than a rat-hole: she knelt down and looked along the passage into the loveliest garden you ever saw. How she longed to get out of that dark hall, and wander about among those beds of bright flowers and those cool fountains, but she could not even get her head through the doorway" -Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

I know that I don't see the whole picture, the future. But still, like Alice, I fixate on something (someone) I want and believe that it (a relationship with said someone) would be amazing. Part of that is hope. Part of that is complete nearsightedness.

Of course, despite my nearsightedness, I do know a few things about him and a potential "us", some gathered from direct observation, some from generalizations based on observation. Combine that knowledge with my flittering emotions (which are part chemistry, part natural-born desire for there to be something more), and BAM! *creeeeak* my scope swivels to the target and focuses in, because, as I said, I'm pretty sure this would be amazing if I could only have the chance to pass through the narrow passageway and through the door.

I actually think it's fine that our vision is based in hope and nearsightedness. If we waited to act until we had full knowledge and understanding, nothing would ever happen. Perhaps we often haven't acted enough even. Rebellions are built on hope, after all. Rogue One reference there.

But, facts being facts, we must concede that besides the few character traits we've observed, besides the flutter of emotions, we don't know much else. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen--that has nothing to do with faith in a potential relationship. There is no virtue to holding on to an imagined amazing relationship by faith. We can pray and crack twigs and make ourselves available, but when it doesn't happen, we really had no idea if we were pursuing a lovely garden or, alternatively, a land filled with queens chopping off heads and slowly vanishing Cheshire cats (and I'm not saying the guy was a closet jerk--I'm saying we don't know what is best for him or for us). Our faith and hope and longing is not for the unseen future husband. It is for the only One who can see the end from the beginning (Is. 46:10), and who gives good gifts to His children (Mt. 7:11).

Saturday, December 24, 2016

184: on pain . . . what a happy post for Christmas Eve

I did not think I would be sad on Christmas Eve.

(This isn't another post about singleness--just hang in there.)

I sorta thought I had reached a level of contentment and self-contained happiness. Being sad as a single on Christmas is starting to sound cliché. I've got plenty to be thankful for (*cue Holiday Inn song*).

(Ok, it touches on singleness. Got to have a starting point!)

And yet, getting ready to go to my sister's this afternoon, a sadness and insecurity did start settling on me like a snow-less cloud.

Then we arrived, and I found myself in an odd in-between stage that didn't match anyone else present. There were the decade+ older-than-me marrieds/widowed, and there were the decade+ younger-than-me dating couples/families (and my single nephew--but he's only 15, give him time). I have an adorable and smiley great-nephew, but what is it about young relatives having kids before you are even engaged that makes feeling happily content more difficult?

Feelings. I'll admit to having them today. Unavoidable blah.
"The idea that my pain sets me apart from the rest of society is another isolation trick by the enemy. My pain is real, but it is not the only pain." --Natasha Metzler, Pain Redeemed, chapter 4
The last several months I've been trying to sort out what to do with pain--mostly how to deal with it when I see it in other people's lives and I can't do anything to help. [Note: I'm not talking about singleness anymore.] [Note: Seeing the pain of others added to the blah feelings accumulated today.] I've tried praying for miracles. I've tried focusing on my own choices and then ignoring the pain of theirs so it wouldn't hurt me so deeply. I've wrestled with discounting their pain because they are suffering the consequences of their own choices and so they have to just live with it. In an attempt to not have to take any responsibility for suffering unrelated to me, I've sometimes thought, well, that is life, the same could happen to me, we all just have to deal with it. Pain is common to all mankind.

Did I mention December was "compassion month" at school? Think I have some ways to go.

"And that girl who has never tasted infertility and this girl who has never buried a baby--together we're not alone. When I reach out from my pain to offer her comfort in hers and when she looks up from hers to comfort me--Satan's lies are buried in an avalanche of truth and none of us are really alone. . . .
There is no strength, no hope in comparing pain. . . . They are different, we are different, but in binding ourselves together we are the same.
Alone we'll slice each other to pieces.
The mother of five, who spent months in the hospital with her youngest child, does not need her ability to have children compared to my lack of ability.
We need to bind ourselves together, acknowledging that we both experience pain. She needs me and I need her and together we'll walk through hardships." --Natasha Metzler, Pain Redeemed, chapter 4

Does it really matter if a hurt sounds illegitimate? Does it really matter if that person is hurting so much that they annoyingly cannot stop talking about it on social media? Should I care less that it's because of choices made five years ago that that person is about to emotionally collapse?

What do I do with it all, Lord? I cannot help. I cannot fix it. And I cannot say "deal with it." Because while pain and hurt and unfairness are common to all humanity, pain isn't any less real or less legitimate or, well, less painful, because it is common.

You know what I think the beauty of this year is? In Isaiah 9:6--sung during Handel's "Messiah" this time of year--Jesus is declared to be the Prince of Peace.

You might have a family of 5 all sick with the flu right now. You might be only getting 4 hours of sleep every night. You might be in the hospital with a loved one, again. You might be handling the load of parenting alone. You might be feeling like you're never good enough and always misunderstood.

All I can say is He is the Prince of Peace. He is the Wonderful Counselor. He is the Great Reconciler and the Redeemer of hurt and pain. He came and took up residence among us. He is the God who sees. Who knows. He is the Mighty God.

A Light shines in the darkness. Together, let's cling to that Hope, for ourselves, for others. Lord, You who see and know, and in whose hands are the hearts of those we are feeling for, shine in this darkness! We cannot cut the darkness. We cannot solve. Help us shine Your light however You direct us, and when they are alone, visit each with Your Light that blinds out the darkness. Bring peace. Bring comfort. Do what we cannot. Come quickly. In Jesus' name, Amen.

"When I abandon the foolish idea that I'm the only one writing in sorrow I get the privilege of watching and rejoicing in more victories than just my own." --Natasha Metzler, chapter 4 of Pain Redeemed: When Our Deepest Sorrows Meet God, 2nd Edition (2015). I highly recommend this book and Blindsided by God: Disappointment, Suffering, and the Untamable Goodness of God by Peter Chin.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

183: Dear Future Husband (Meghan Trainor's song, revised)

To the tune of Meghan Trainor's "Dear Future Husband"
I hate the original lyrics, but I love the peppiness of the song when we dance to it in Jazzercise. So here are some new lyrics.
Dear future husband,
Here's a few things you'll need to know since
You are gonna be my one and only
All my life
Know that I will wait
Though it's a long, long wait
'Cause I am trusting in the Lord and His perfect way
'Cause if we trust in Christ 
I'll get to be your wife
Hoping it is soon
Pray-praying it is soon
You got that dreamy look
And, baby, I am hooked
But don't be thinking we can do this alone and make it work
We need community,
Spirit in you and me,
And lots of prayer
Listening to God in prayer
We gotta know how to ask for good advice,
And we can't give in to strife--
Admit when we're in need
Dear future husband,
Here's a few things you'll need to know since
You are gonna be my one and only
All my life
Dear future husband
If we wanna make it through with lovin'
We gotta take our vows
And keep them all our lives

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Book Review: An Uncommon Courtship by Kristi Ann Hunter

I started this book on Monday. I cannot recall the exact time--perhaps mid-morning. Yesterday I met with a visiting out-of-country friend for 3 hours. [Did you know that Noah's peppercorn potato bagels with onion and chive schmear are AMAZING? They are. I had 2. (I went back for another after I left your car with the pointsettia :-P)] Then I came home, took the dogs to the dog park, LOST MY KEYS AT THE DOG PARK, and was late getting back home where an out-of-state-most-of-the-year friend was waiting patiently on the stoop (porch steps...but we should bring back the word "stoop," no? XP). She stayed until late this morning. Then I presumed reading again--not that I hadn't snatched bits and pieces yesterday. I had! All that to say, I just finished An Uncommon Courtship, and it wasn't a novella, and I'm not as avid a reader as some, so this was like marathon reading.
And according to the Bethany House Publishers, when I sign up to do these honest reviews in exchange for a complimentary copy, I have a whole month before I have to deliver.
On the other hand, I went on a limb to try a book by an author I had never heard of before, because of this plot description:
After a night trapped together in an old stone keep, Lady Adelaide Bell and Lord Trent Hawthorne have no choice but to marry. Dismayed, Adelaide finds herself bound to a man who ignores her, as Trent has no desire to connect with the one who dashed his plans to marry for love. Can they set aside their first impressions before any chance of love is lost?
And then when I realized I had never let the publisher know I had reviewed the last book they sent me, I sent them the link submission and told them I really hoped the delay wouldn't keep me from being able to review An Uncommon Courtship.
It didn't.
I put down the other novel I was in the middle of and began reading this one.
*Book Review begins here*

I really enjoyed it. There were a few confusions--the main male character thought something earlier in the book and then was surprised by the same facts later; the main female character had portrayed her parents' marriage one way early in the book and then differently later (maybe she just came to understand the truth?). There were some proofreading blips--words left out.

Ok, enough with the negatives.

Kristi Ann Hunter has taken on an ambitious project: to attempt to explain the mystery of how two people go from beings strangers to married . . . while already being legally married. How does a man accept his wife as permanently his, court her, love her, and live as a fully married man? How does a woman who has never had a voice in her family and has never been taught how to be a woman step into the foreign role of wife? To a lord, nonetheless.

How do two people that are inexperienced figure out how to make this relationship work when those who should have been their advisors are unavailable in that role? Part of me is like this has some too PG-13 elements (mostly in content matter, not graphic-ness). Please be forewarned! I need to give that caveat. Another part of me realizes that, in the kingdom of the world, this novel is a model for God's way of doing relationships. Not the part about being thrown into marriage with a stranger! But in the characters themselves. I was skimming through books for sale at the library today and realized I mostly only look for Christian novels because you don't have to then sift through unchecked lust and fornication. Although An Uncommon Courtship starts with the marriage contract already signed, it still portrays an uncommonly high value for purity in the overt innocence of the characters. The story is about building a marriage relationship with depth--winning the heart--not just about kisses and romance.

Two people thrown together with absolutely no idea how to make a good marriage, relying on familiar community, their own feeble wits and good character, and an unfailing hope for more than what they have so far--An Uncommon Courtship was a riveting read for me. I'll have to try Kristi Ann Hunter again.

Oh! There are also several delightful humorous turns of phrases, and it's set in the Regency Era, so if you are a Jane Austen fan, you will definitely find yourself comparing one of the characters to Mrs. Bennett. ;)

"Back home they'd stood awkwardly in the hall, facing each other but staring at points on either side. Adelaide chose a strange still-life painting to inspect, noting that the bowl of fruit all appeared to have faces. Her humiliation was being witnessed by a painting of sentient fruit. She'd truly reached the bottom of her ladder."

"Mother smiled, that indulgent smile only women seem to be able to perfect--the one that told Trent he obviously didn't understand and that he was rather pitiful and adorable at the same time. He hated that smile."

"Her eyes looked somewhere in the vicinity of his left elbow. He'd thought they'd moved past her talking to various parts of his person instead of his face."

(P.S. I've really enjoyed Melissa Tagg's One Enchanted Eve and Sarah Sundin's With Every Letter recently too!)

Monday, December 19, 2016

182: current thoughts on singleness as an identity

Well, first off, this Sunday will be my 31st Christmas spent as a single. So, you could say singleness has rather solidified as the norm.

Someone somewhere told me once that the 30s are better than the 20s because in your 20s you are still finding yourself (or whatever), and everything is still a struggle and in flux, but in your 30s things settle down.

It's kinda true. I can wistfully wish for marriage, and then listen to God and actually pray for it, but, in reality, being single is what I know.

I'm very familiar with it.

It's like an old coat. Might feel scratchy some days. Might wear a little thin in some places. But, overall, hey, it's all I've known and it's me.

It's me.

Does Michelle = single?

Am I my singleness?

I've wondered about this. I've wondered because the longer I am single, the more I identify with the moniker. So, if I married, would I be less "me"? Or more "me"? Or a different "me"?

Why do I associate my identify with my marital status?

I suppose it's only natural. Some might claim, I'm a happy wife, I'm an unhappy wife, I'm a teacher, I'm a blogger, I'm a grandma, I'm an American, I'm a suburb-dweller. Whatever the case, it's only natural to find something and absorb that as your identity. We get comfortable in our own skin.

Teacher Life
Only, it's not our skin. It's our circumstantial skin, our circumstantial identity. We think we are strong and steadfast, self-contained and content. Able. We think we are able.

But that's only because we have slid into the route of our circumstantial norm and have adjusted our minds accordingly.

Does me = the circumstances I'm used to?

I am single. I am a believer. Both fit as gloves on my hands.

One is my identity. I am a sojourner living as a member of the Kingdom of God while living among the kingdoms of men. Change my circumstances--bring unmet trials to bear--and my mental state might twist into a whirl, but Lord-willing, the Spirit that has sealed me will make me rise above circumstances and bring me safely through in faith and faithfulness.

But singleness--that's not a true identity. It's only a circumstance. It is not who I am. It is...but it isn't.

When I think about me as a 31 yr. old single--it's like the cream separating from the milk. The real me, the me who has an identity apart from circumstances, the me whose name is graven on my Savior's hands, that "me" will continue on through singleness or marriage or widowhood or motherhood . . . and will continue on through death into eternity.

So yes, singleness has become my norm and, honestly, makes this Christmas a lot like all my other previous Christmases because that's what I'm used to. But I think just thinking of "me" as "me" apart from marital status is getting easier too. I'm frightened that I focus so hard verbally on wanting a change of marital status that I've lost perspective. Well, here is the perspective: I'm still me, and I'm going to remain still being me, whether I stay single or get married.

And I'm good with that.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

181: my current take on contentment

Contentment lies not in wanting your dreams less per se, but in accepting that, if the Playwright completely turns your desired plotline on its head, contrary to all logic and historic normalcy, if He brings years instead of fortnights, pain instead of expected pleasure, lonely nights with no guaranteed end, then He is still in His rights to do so, He is still good, and if, through the years and confusion, you come to know and believe and understand that He is (Is. 43:10), then your life will not be for naught.

While the purpose of your life was suppose to involve investing in a marital relationship and raising children in the fear and admonition of the Lord (and you still hope it does), maybe the purpose for all living is simply to know Him, something that exceeds circumstances. Maybe true ministry to others, true purpose, doesn't depend on anything circumstantial, but rather believing that He is God and living out that growing knowledge of Him, being a witness of the One you love, wherever you are, even in the solitary passing of time. To know Him. Just simply to know Him. To grow in knowing Him.

Accept that, and even as you long for something more temporal, you can be content.

Quoting Elisabeth Elliot from The Savage My Kinsman:
"[T]o be a witness to God is, above all, to know, believe, and understand Him. All that He asks us to do is but means to this end. He will go to any lengths to teach us, and His manipulation of the movements of men . . . is never accidental. Those movements may be incidental to the one thing toward which He goads us: the recognition of Christ."
 Methinks perhaps that's why I'm still single.

"'You are My witnesses,' says the LORD,
'And My servant whom I have chosen;
That you may know and believe Me,
And understand that I am He.'"
(Isaiah 43:10)

Book Review: For the Record by Regina Jennings

Some of you might suspect the truth--I really like novels and movies with marriage-of-convenience/accident stories, or stories where someone has to pretend to be another's fiance for some outlandish reason and then, of course, they fall in love even though it wasn't in the plan. (Like Hitched for the Holidays, among many, many others)

For the Record by Regina Jennings isn't one of those stories. So it took me a little of a running start to get into it. But once I did, the story unfolded a worth-while romance between two characters who were not looking to get hitched at all.
The setting is Pine Gap, Missouri, back in the day of outlaws and sheriffs. Betsy is an independent-type, 24 yr. old girl. Unlike most independent stereotypes in fiction, she is not anti-family. Rather, she has spent the last however many years raising her cousins after their mom died, and now that her uncle has remarried, she finds herself a financial burden on the family. She wants independence so she can be her own mistress--a reasonable enough desire for a girl in her mid-20s that has managed a house before.

The rest of the plot-line you can get from Amazon, but basically it includes a deputy running from unfounded accusations, a gang of masked vigilantes, and a web of uncertainty about who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.
Part way through my reading today, as the circumstances got even more complicated and dire, I had to remind myself that the author would make sure that everything turned out okay in the end. Sometimes you have to with suspense! And she did. :) The beauty of fiction. The beauty of "love wins out in the end." I hate the oh-so-predictable miscommunication in many novels for the purpose of creating relational conflict. You know the kind I mean--so-and-so has a secret and so-and-so has a secret, and both secrets get revealed suddenly and unexpectedly, and now both parties are so mad that they won't get to the truth of the matter, and you want to yell at the characters to stop and JUST COMMUNICATE! It's like seeing an impending train wreck from afar and cringing as you watch it happen. This story, fortunately, wasn't like that. You could still see the impending disaster, but when the inevitable occurred, you saw the hurt, you saw the doubt, but, in the end, the characters acted like reasonable human beings. Actually, they acted quite stellar.

Overall, I enjoyed the novel. I enjoyed the characters. I enjoyed the halting-developing romance. Finishing For the Record was a sweet way to end my Saturday.