Reality

In spite of the haze of speculation, it is still something of a shock to find myself here, coming to terms with an enormous trust placed in my hands and with the inevitable sense of inadequacy that goes with that.
– Rowan Williams

There have been many days spent in thought about all the responsibilities that will be placed on my shoulders this upcoming year. It’s easy to be overwhelmed when I consider all the reading, paperwork, writing, research, and extra things associated with graduate school. Not only will I be a grad student, I’ll be an international one. This comes with its own particular set of worries and struggles, not completely unknown to me. Thankfully, my move to France prepared me for the process of moving to a foreign country, which was no easy walk in the park.

But there are moments where I feel incandescently happy about what lies ahead. In these fleeting seconds, my heart swells with anticipation and excitement about continuing my studies at such a great program. But crouching behind these glimpses of nerdy glory, the reality of next year quickly follows. In the quiet of my heart, in the silence of my thoughts, I am afraid to be inadequate. I fear showing up and failing miserably.

And it seems so silly to be afraid but so natural at the same time. Here I am, making moves and confidently stepping into my career and future. But I still feel like a kid in the waiting room of a dentist, anxious and unsure of what’s behind the shiny glass doors. I guess at the heart of it, I’m a full-fledged, mid 20’s adult, which kinda still freaks me out. The last time I checked, I was waking up late for high school and running out the door with my backpack to catch the bus. I look in the mirror and don’t see that kid anymore.

I know that because I am a Christian, God has promised to provide and care for me. I know that I am not forgotten, that my fears are not misunderstood or misinterpreted by my creator. I am known, fully and completely. He knows the days in front of me, the moments  lost to the past. In this respect, I feel secure and settled. I am taking steps forward in peace and confidence. So when I am afraid, when I fear failure in any respect, when I don’t feel “enough” or “able”, I can, according to Hebrews 4:16, come “boldly to the throne of grace” and I am told that I will find mercy and grace. The Lord is merciful, He is gracious, He is loving, and He is making a path for me in England. It is my delight to follow.

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Moving Backwards

I hate moving backwards” I thought to myself, sitting on the train from Paris. I was, literally, sitting backwards on the train. I could feel my body fighting the push of momentum and it began to give me a headache. The train was full, the afternoon sun beginning to dip toward the west. The windows were dirty and a bit cloudy, the rapidly passing landscape softly muted out of focus. I clutched my purse on my lap, set my gaze on the horizon, and began to let my mind wander, as it is so prone to do. I tried to capture what this “moment” must feel like, this experience, this out-of-body life that I seem to be living.

Somedays, I wake up and can’t believe that I lived halfway around the world. Other days, it feels like I’d always been there. And soon after, comes the realization that I’m going to do it all over again in a few short days. These experiences, these dramatic seasons of life that I seem to have, they almost feel like they belong to someone else. I mean, I’m thankful and I love my life but sometimes, my experiences feel like nothing but endless waves of progression towards some unknown state. I can safely say that I am never in the same place, literally and figuratively, always in some sort of flux. But I think that’s normal, especially considering my age and stage of life. But I must admit, there are some days that I feel that I’m “sitting backwards” on the train of life that keeps relentlessly moving forward.

This thing that we call “the human experience”, it’s so fragile, so prone to change. It’s amazing the difference that a year can make. Here I sit, just about 365 days since moving abroad to France, preparing to do it all over again in a different country. One year, two visas, two intercontinental moves, two new addresses, new friends, many flights, and unconditional mercies. I am uncharacteristically blessed and I see God’s hand in all that I do and everything that I accomplish. But there’s a part of me that, selfishly, always looks back over my shoulder. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to think about the past, remember the joyful bits, and learn from mistakes. But to dwell in the “good times”, the bittersweet nostalgia of it all? To see God’s grace in my past and question the stability of my future? I don’t think that’s really fair, to be honest.

So I challenge myself, all of us, to look forward without fear. Let’s face the days ahead with strength and dignity because of Christ and his never-wavering promise to give blessings to those who are Christians. And as a believer, that gives me peace and freedom to experience the ebbs and flows of life with joy and security. And even though I may sometimes feel “backward” or things might not go my way, it’s a comfort to know that my days are perfectly ordained and that God calls me his child.

Quotables: Scripture

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time or know me personally, you know that my Christian faith is one of the most important things about me. No matter how motivating or compelling other quotes are, nothing soothes my soul and brings me back to center than the Bible and my favorite verses. I went to my Pinterest account, found a couple that I really liked, and thought I’d share a few of them with you today!

 

Have any favorite scripture verses? Share it with me in the comments!

Forward Thinking

“In our Christian pilgrimage it is well, for the most part, to be looking forward. Forward lies the crown, and onward is the goal. Whether it be for hope, for joy, for consolation, or for the inspiring of our love, the future must, after all, be the grand object of the eye of faith. Looking into the future we see sin cast out, the body of sin and death destroyed, the soul made perfect, and fit to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light.”

– Charles H. Spurgeon

Quote taken from my iPod Daily Devotional “Morning & Evening” app. What a way to start the day!

Fancy Free?

I thought I’d take a break from all the “France” blogging and talk about an issue that I’ve been ruminating over for the past few years months: Being a post-grad single in the church. Now, I know that a lot of ink has been spilled over this issue, telling girls to be patient and for boys to “man up”. Instead of talking gender roles I’d like to address the role of (in my case) a single girl as she navigates the (sometimes) uneven waters of church ministry. You should also probably keep in mind the fact that I’m only in my mid-twenties, not dating, childless, postgrad. What I say is not set in stone, it’s just my personal observation, buoyed by some insightful commentary. I’ll give it my best shot and you’re going to take it with a grain of salt, deal? Imma warn you now, this post is going to be long.

Today on Yahoo Mail’s news “feed”, I can across an article, entitled 10 Things Not To Say to Your Child-free Friends. While I didn’t agree with every point, some of them were actually things that I heard before from well-meaning friends and family members. One, in particular, stood out to me. I’ll just quote it directly, just for the sake of context:

5. “You’re so lucky you get to sleep in/shop/travel.”
We understand that you give up a lot to be the amazing parent you are — and we do appreciate our extra cash and free time, and god, yes, the sleep. But too many offhand comments like this make us feel like you assume the reason we don’t have children is that we’re lazy, selfish, or shallow. The decision is never that simple.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard something along those lines within the confines of Christian ministry. Some friends of mine, with spouses and children, seem to live vicariously through my quiet evenings and disposable income, although there isn’t much to speak of. And every time one of my girlfriends with babies has said this to me, I’ve instantly felt selfish and petty, like my time and finances were wasted. Why bother buying a new pair of shoes when there were diapers and baby clothes to be purchased? In ministry, especially one where singles and married people combine, the grass always seems to be greener. From where I’m standing, it always seems that single people want the blessings of marriage, and married people want the blessings given to singles. We always want what we don’t have.

Singleness, for most, is a season. For a woman in the church, it’s a very uneven one. On the one hand, you’re expected to serve, something I relish and enjoy. My ministry and participation in the local church is something that I take very seriously. One the other hand, I’m expected to “desire” marriage, prioritizing it, prizing it, “working” towards it. I never really understood that, to be honest. Yes, I’d like to get married. Yes, I’d like have a family. But I’m not going to wear a sign that says “single” around my neck each week at church, hoping some guy gets a clue. While marriage is most certainly a high and holy thing, bringing two individuals together, it’s not a given. Just because you’re a Christian doesn’t necessarily indicate a perfect marriage or 2.5 children, living in the suburbs with a white picket fence and a dog. There isn’t a lot of thought or consideration given to staying single – for life. Providentially, Desiring God posted this article about singles in the church, something that really touched home with me. The author, Carolyn McCulley, talked about what is the “ultimate prize” for any individual, single or married, within this context. She writes,

While I believe all churches should prize marriage and family, I also believe we have to be careful about the unintentional messages potentially conveyed about marriage and family. Both are gifts for this life alone. The one relationship that survives eternally is the one we have as the Bride of Christ to our beloved Savior. The relationships that we all have as brothers and sisters in Christ are the ones that will not end—and these need to be cultivated as much as family life is cultivated. Additionally, single adults need to be reminded that God has not withheld his very best from them if they remain unmarried.

Ouch. That point really stung. Coming from a large college ministry with an emphasis on dating, marriage, relationships, etc, it’s a good reality check. I’ve come home from church some days, almost in tears, because I felt like I wasn’t cultivating “proper” Biblical femininity. I’ve met with my college pastor for guidance about my grad school applications, wrestling through what it meant to be a Godly woman who wanted to get a Ph.D. I’ve had to swallow the bitter pill, the reality that I could possibly not get married or have children. And in some sense, I have to take that bitter medicine every day as I look myself in the mirror. In the Desiring God article, McCulley makes another good point, something worth weaving into ministry for both singles and marrieds alike. She writes,

Extended singleness is a form of suffering. There is an appropriate time for mourning with those who mourn. This is especially true for women who see the window of fertility closing on them without the hope of bearing children. Don’t minimize the cumulative years of dashed hopes for unmarried adults.

That said, we single adults need loving challenges when we have allowed a root of bitterness to spring up and block our prayers to God, our fellowship with others, and our service to the church. Deferred hopes cannot be allowed to corrode our thankfulness for the gift of salvation.

At 24 years old, I realize that I am young. To others, I have the world ahead of me. But to many in my shoes, a lot of it seems empty. The prospect of “dashed hopes” for any single woman is a frightening thought. It’s easy to get angry, to get bitter, to grow despondent and “drift” away from ministry because it’s not providing me with what I want. I’ll admit, sometimes I just don’t feel like serving just because I don’t feel like it’ll have any impact. I’ve told myself lies like this: “Will washing dishes at this Bible study dinner really bless anyone? I feel like I could really minister to a husband and children!” Sometimes, I feel like I’m shooting myself in the foot with this attitude. Not only do I fail to serve others (and ultimately, the Lord) but I forget the reason why I’m serving.

It’s hard to see myself as “suffering” because I’m unmarried and don’t have children. My life isn’t spent wallowing in self-pity and angst because I don’t have an engagement ring. Then again, at vulnerable moments, it feels like the cruelest torture to face getting older and going through the rest of my life alone while all my friends have families. But the point here isn’t to complain, just to illuminate a “niche” in church ministry that really needs serious prioritizing and ministry. Although singleness is (often) a season, bitter seeds can be sown, seeds that slowly grow into weeds that choke ministry and fellowship. But at the end, we need to keep our eyes on the prize, something that is unseen and eternal. Christ, in and of himself, is our hope and our perfect fulfillment. At the end of the day, whenever I feel discouraged or despondent because a relationship didn’t work out or that guy didn’t like me back, I need to remember where my joy is coming from, where this endless fountain is sourced.

It’s not about me. It’s not about the mythical “him”. It’s about Jesus, about the gospel, about the hope of forgiveness and the promise of tomorrow. That is what singles ministries are sometimes missing. And at this point, I am ready to accept whatever Christ has for my life, whether that is serving in the context of my own family or the church family (not that the two are mutually exclusive). After all, I’d never want to call the shots in my own life, if I had, I’d have missed thousands of blessings. I’m just trusting that God will give me one of two options, both glorifying him and growing my faith. End of story.