Singleminded

canstock10668433blog

I’ll go ahead and admit it. I was working on the typical single blogger’s perspective on singlehood. You know, the generic kind, with lists such as “what singles wish you’d understand.”

I kept stalling. Perhaps it was not my time to die. Writing about emotionally explosive subjects without sounding whiny or petulant is difficult. Plus, original content was scarce. It’s all been said by every other bona fide single blogger out there.

Then God hit me with an entirely new perspective. How would it change my perspective if I viewed it from a broader one? What does marriage and singlehood look like in the context of Kingdom Christianity? I’ll try to explain this concept:

Kingdom Christianity was established by Jesus and remains an active, growing organism. It’s more than about one’s personal relationship with  Christ, and the future event of living with Him. It’s a present, global reality. It is the concentrated, intentional efforts of combined Christians working to increase it, and to shrink the gates of hell. Christ’s final commandment to go make disciples is the Kingdom cause and should be the mission statement for each Christian.

The Kingdom is not a museum, where we merely serve as exhibits of the ideology. It’s a boots-on-the-ground operative where we do active battle, where we engage the powers of darkness, pulling people into the Kingdom and into community.Where we disciple and love and live in community together.

What does this have to do with marriage and singlehood? How about everything, for starters?

What if we’ve been asking the wrong questions? What if life was bigger than marriage and singlehood? What if both thriving marriage and thriving singlehood were secondary things?

The truth is, when you look at this subject outside of a kingdom perspective, things break down. Happiness and pursuing God- given desires are sanctions for marriage but in singlehood are often labeled selfishness. The aimless, purposeless single is viewed less graciouly than the aimless, purposeless marriage. We’ve somehow promoted marriage to The Best, and anything else as somewhere beneath it. In scouring the New Testament, both in Jesus’ teachings and the teachings of the Apostles, I’m struggling to understand how we got there.

In my understanding, there are clear roles for both singles and families. The most beautiful picture is Acts 18:1-4. Paul,a Kingdom single joins forces with Aquila and Priscilla, a Kingdom couple, and together they bless the church in Corinth. Kingdom singles often have more time and resources for God’s work (1Cor 7:32). Kingdom marriages better portray Christ’s relationship with the church. Neither one is inherently better than the other.

If living the Kingdom life was the most important thing to or about us, it might change our set of questions. Instead of only asking “why aren’t our young people getting married” we could also ask, “why are our young people getting married?” “Are they staying single or getting married for selfish or for holy reasons?” What if a healthy Kingdom church is a good ratio of vibrant singles and marriages? What would happen if we’d push young people into Kingdom building instead of spouse-finding? What if we’d commission the singles and the families alike and send them on specific missions?  Wouldn’t it take singlehood and marriage to the next level?

You know what would happen? Those things that singles struggle with (identity, value, meaning, purpose), would take care of themselves, as they participate in the bigger cause.

I’m a hopeless romantic. I love building the ideal. The reality is that the real world is messy and not so easily formulated. But I still dream and struggle on to the better, and the questions above really make me excited 🙂

In many ways we’ve bought into the American/Western idea that we should get what we want, particularly if the wants are good. We believe that God wants us to have good health, financial stability, spouses, and children. We give our lives to these pursuits instead of the greater cause. We idolize the gifts and overlook the Giver.

I feel deeply about this and this is written out of life experience and circumstances. Here’s a little background:

I was raised in a home infused with Kingdom consciousness. Growing up, life wasn’t primarily about our happiness. At early ages we were pushed into spaces of Kingdom building and were introduced to a foundational Kingdom concept-servanthood. It wasn’t easy. We messed up constantly. But we struggled on. My parents didn’t try to make life easy for us, because they expected us to hit the real world realistically. They moved us to stretching places both geographically and socially. Life was far from easy. I had times of  immense frustration and resentment. They’ll be the first to tell you they didn’t do it perfectly but they did do it intentionally. Consequently they gifted us with one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child: A framework for processing life that let’s God fill His own spaces. The holy privilege of doing His work. These gifts continue to shape my life today and I hope that if I ever have children, I can pass them along to them.

So I lived the majority of my life in places where potential life-mates were/are scarce. Has that been devastating? No. Disappointing? In some ways, yes. In ministry, there are times that I long for a strong shoulder on which to cry, a balancing perspective, and companionship. If there were a  1-800-KINGDOM HUSBAND number, I sure would have called it.  But in these times, God continues to fill His spaces. I’m living and breathing the most fulfilling life imaginable: I’m loved by the Almighty, and attempting to live that love to a world that’s falling apart

I’m not saying what God has been calling me to is the only or best calling one can have. If God were to bring a man into my life, I could happily change it, so long as I’m joining forces with a man who also is pursuing his calling.

I will get vulnerable here for a minute. It is hard to respond graciously when well-meaning people continue to push/wish marriage on me as though its the only life worth living, and as though it’s the gift I should want most. It’s hard because marriage is only one of my dreams, and it’s the only one a lot of people care about. Wish and pray bigger for me. God has called me to good and hard things. Pray for wisdom, for empathy, for courage. Pray that God will continue to give me what I need for what He wants me to do. It might or might not include a husband. And I will cheer you on in your marriages, in the good places where God has blessed you, in the hard places where it’s not easy. In the kingdom we are better working together, on the same team, for the same cause.

At the end of the day, and in the perspective of eternity (where the only marriage is the best of all-Christ and his Church), it’s not really about marital status. Those warriors from history:  Jim and Elizabeth Elliot, Amy Carmichael, Adoniram Judson, Paul, Jesus, they stand out in history not because they were married or single, but because they lived for God, breathed Kingdom air, and impacted their worlds.

To idolize or treat flippantly the concepts of marriage and singlehood is to destroy their strengths.

We can’t afford that. We need to affirm and value both. Because together, we’re stronger.

For Christ and for the Kingdom.

Dumpster Diving

It wasn’t the morning of my dreams. There I stood, one foot on top of the dumpster, the other shakily on the ladder. I am usually drinking my steaming latte, and spending some quiet time with God at this time, but this morning was a Different Kind of Morning. I accidentally threw away my retainer, and it would cost upwards of $300 to replace. I had better uses for that money. That’s a trip somewhere, a weeks wages. So I made plans for my first ever dumpster dive (at our deli), and that’s where I was found that morning.

Opening the lid was the hardest part. I wasn’t high enough to give it the swing power it needed to fall back. Trying to maintain equal amounts of balance and forward arm motion proved futile, and with despair I realized that I needed less balance and more arm motion. That left only one option. Fall in.

Now I’m a lover of beauty. I thrill and think poetry when I sit by the river with my book. Little spots of unexpected beauty don’t go unnoticed. I like to make my world a more attractive place.

Falling into a dumpster isn’t something I do regularly or mentally prepare for. But $300 is what it is and so as the heavy lid fell back, I fell in, with as much grace as I could muster, and with fervent prayers that our business neighbors weren’t looking out their windows.

I dug around, amid the dirty plates, the crusts of bread, the congealed bits of soup. My mom came, because my mom has a beautiful, sympathetic kind of heart, and because I learned the value of $300 from her.

It was gross. It was disgusting. I tried thinking spiritual thoughts such as “The God who sees the sparrow fall can surely direct me to my retainer.” and, “what a great testimony this would be if I find it.” It’s kinda hard to be spiritual in a smelly dumpster, I soon discovered.

I didn’t find it. So I made an appointment and thought about playing my waves app as they made the new impression, and pretend I was at the beach spending $300. I ended up getting hit with a big wave of kindness, when my good orthodontist team informed me there would be no charge. Humbly accepting bits of grace like that are harder for me than extending them. I managed a few wondrous “thank you’s”, and stumbled out in a daze.

I learned something in the dumpster.We try to rearrange the pain and the ugly in our lives to make it seem less terrible than it is both to ourselves and to others. There’s always a filter to make the picture brighter, to cover up the junk on the side, to make black and white the areas of color clash. The struggle isn’t trying to find the beauty, its struggling to be okay with the rawness of the mess.

Sometimes life is just ugly, and the moments painful. It’s okay to acknowledge those areas as well as the spots of beauty. I’d be as brave as to say it’s actually healthy. Sometimes those areas don’t need a filter or a redemptive hashtag. When Jesus looked into the cup of sorrows, He felt it for what it was. He didn’t imagine it away or pretend it was to be easy. He let Himself feel the awfulness, and he wept.

Running from the hard, the pain, the brokenness is a natural human reaction. Insulating ourselves from it all is our first instinct. “It’s not as bad as it seems”, is what we try to pretend, but the healing can’t come when we are in denial. A good cry, honesty with ourselves and the Healer, is where the relief is found.

“Joy and pain are flip sides of the same coin. If you succeed at insulating yourself against the one, you deny yourself the ability to experience the other.” -Kelly Grayson

The truth is, most of life usually happens between the dumpster and the river. Between the harshest pain and most intense beauty. Allowing yourself to experience both is to allow yourself to be most fully human in all the beautiful ways God designed us.

And I think I’m done dumpster-diving for awhile.

Wherein she cleans up her mind and house

I wasn’t going to be one of those people. Newly arrived back home from living in Liberia for four years, I stood in bewilderment before the shampoo shelves at Walmart. Not just ten different brands, but ten different varieties within the brands. The card section was no better. I stood with a jet-lagged headache and wanted to cry. The myriad of options and decisions were overwhelming.

Nine years later, I’m a different person, and I’m sad. I’ve become the standard American consumer and I’ve accumulated stuff. Not at the hoarder level, but just clutter. Stuff I thought I’d use. Stuff that was too cheap to resist. Clothes I thought I liked. Books I thought I’d read.

dscn9339

The more I collected, the foggier my mind got. When the mind is constantly bombarded with new information and ideas, and the acquiring and storing of possessions, however good they may be, it tends to slow down and gets sluggish, much like an electronic with little memory. Pinterest with its never ending feed, and the cheap book section at the thrift store had my house and my mind filling up faster than I could handle. Input was far greater than output, and though I had a great bookshelf,and boards with many great ideas, my mind couldn’t keep up.

2017 is going to be a lifestyle change for me, and I’m excited about what all has been done. In an effort to reclaim and clean out both my physical and mental space, here is what will change:

  1. No more Pinterest, unless I’m needing something specific or needing an idea. I helped make a very basic, delicious supper recently using old, favorite recipes, and was amazed at how simple and yummy it was. No more overthinking food and ingredients. I’m freeing up a bit of brain space that way.
  2. Cutting way back on shopping. I love shopping, so this is going to be hard. I’m getting rid of stuff, so giving myself opportunities to acquire more would be bad for me.
  3. Being smarter about my social media. I’m pulling the plug on bloggers/vloggers whose content isn’t inspiring or worthwhile to me personally. I’m also unfollowing facebook groups that tempt me to buy more stuff.
  4. Being choosy about my clothing purchases. Unless I absolutely love or need something, it will not be coming home with me. I had far too many barely-used, ill-fitting pieces that I’m giving away.

dscn9341

I’m a creative person, and love the creative process so this is really going to cramp my style. This will bring a whole new discipline to my life that hasn’t been around, and it’s going to be challenging.

Here are the goals for my labors 🙂

  1. Bible memory. My church is learning Psalm 119 right now and its been hard. Do you know how many synonyms there are for commandments? They are all used at least 12 times throughout the chapter, I think 🙂 Less stuff and more time will help me concentrate on this discipline.
  2. More creative output. I love writing and creating and I feel like God can use these talents to glorify Himself and bless others. I want to start peddling in the marketplace of ideas, not just consuming. I foresee more blog posts in the near future.
  3. The reading of my good books. A book is only good when it is read and enjoyed and there are so many I have yet to read. Slowing down on accumulating will enable me to get through these faster. Not gonna lie though, I’m not promising to completely refrain from purchasing books. I sorta can’t really help myself there, and I don’t think its bad, but I do have to slow down.
  4. Saving money. Not buying the cheap sweater or the discounted lotion will save me money. A deal is only good if it is useful. While these two trash bags of clutter to give away was most likely purchased inexpensively, I’m giving it back so it wasn’t a good deal. I want to start collecting moments,not things. Traveling is a big part of those moments so less stuff= more travel money.
  5. Understanding contentment and simplicity and integrating these virtues into the fabrics of my life could be life-changing.

dscn9340Another goal is to keep collecting favorite literary pieces and printing them out for my literature binder. The following is one of  my new finds, but the photo shows just part of it. A google search will bring up the whole piece.

dscn9344

The kick-start of this process came in a series of messages my dad is preaching on “Loving God With All Your Mind.” I’ve been trying to love God with a foggy, cluttered, distracted mind, and that’s not fair to Him or to me. Giving God the best of my mind is a spiritual goal in all this and I take it seriously. Having space to take in more truths and continue growing and learning should be every Christian’s desire, and I haven’t done so well in the past.

Here’s to an uncluttered 2017, both in mind and in house, and I wish the same for all of you.