Singleness and Waiting

Filing your taxes isn’t the usual time to be moaning about a relationship status but here I am, early February and filling out Turbo Tax and suddenly that pang hits.

 

I blame the silly first page of questions.

 

Have you changed jobs?

Have you moved?

Have you changed relationship status?  

 

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There it is. Nope. Still single.

 

(That’s not my turbo tax page just FYI).

 

Pangs about singleness happen predictably and unpredictably. The turn of a new year, a new birthday, and oddly, tax time are predictably sad moments. I get them unpredictably throughout the year as well but milestone markers are hard.

 

It is a reminder that I am still single. I have been ready for marriage for a long time. Yet, the decisions I make in life, coupled with the decisions other people make, plus the mystery of Divine Providence have left marriage elusive.

 

Eighteen months ago as I moved to Ohio, I thought if work brought me to the States rather than Europe, one benefit would be meeting more people. I assumed moving back to Ohio where I am part of a semi-mega church would be a great place to meet someone. (You all know I am holding out for a guy who really loves Jesus, not a cultural Christian right? I think everyone knows that.. but just for the strangers on the internet who might read this. Hello, readers in Oman and Uruguay!)

 

I’ve maybe met 5 single guys in the last 18 months at a church of thousands and had zero ask me out even for a date. It’s my song in life. It’s really a bit disheartening. I had a similar experience at my church in the UK.

 

“Do you try online dating?” people ask. It’s 2017 and I am still single. Of course. Yes. Yes, I am there. I have been on most of the sites. (Not Tinder). I recommend people do it. If you meet no one, you might as well put a profile out there and try to meet someone.  However, for me, I hate it. I wish the people we meet in real life would just ask us on dates. It’s JUST coffee. I find the online thing to be HORRIBLE.

 

HORR-I-BLE.

 

I basically get bored really quickly. That’s my main problem. I also find the sifting to be way too frustrating. “Favourite” story from last years’ online attempts: start emailing with a guy: cute, loves Jesus, good conversation, was in full-time ministry for ten years so we had some things in common (and thought that would mean he was more serious about his faith). Just before we grab our first coffee, he emails to let me know, “just because of the kind of girl you are….”

 

He’s still in the middle of a divorce and it’s not final.

 

Some friends in England call me “pocket rocket.”

 

I was so mad I went back to find him online two weeks after I revoked my date acceptance to yell at him. “You are still married in the eyes of God AND THE STATE. You are not LEGALLY single. Sort yourself out. Deal with whatever broke up your marriage. And don’t put women like me in compromising situations!!”

What do you mean? The kind of girl I am?! The kind of girl that doesn’t date married men? I should hope so.

 

Then there was the guy who thought we’d be a great match who had answered a question:

“Do you think the life of 1 American is more valuable than 10 foreigners.”

He answered? “Yes.”

Eeessssshhh. There is somethin’ WRONG with your gospel dude. I don’t even want to be friends with someone with a mindset like that.

I’ll stop with the online stories.

 

 

Then there was the guy I met in another state. Really lovely. Instant chemistry. He asked for my number. Called me as soon as I returned to Ohio. We spent 12 weeks texting ridiculous amounts every day from dawn til dark and racking up maybe 3-4 phone calls a week. Swapped testimonies of coming to faith that first conversation and he told me he liked me before the end of the first week and wanted to come see me in Ohio. He’d call and sing songs onto my voicemail frequently. Cuuuute. I finally ask “what we should call this” after a few months and he feigns shock. “What do you mean?”

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I tried to grapple with the question a different way and he answers:

“I never planned on us being anything but friends.” 

 

Whaaaaaa?!?!? On what planet?! In our 30s?! You spend 8 hours a week on the phone with a girl telling her you like her regularly, but call that “just friends.” You must be joking.

 

Well, that was the end of that. He thought we could continue our regular communication with no change. Na uh. No way josé.

 

Honestly, dating is so hard. But it’s not even dating. It’s the non-dating. The non-dating process sucks.

 

The thing is I have had a fair amount of interest from guys over the year but never, never from guys interested in Jesus. I really want to date a guy who loves the Lord.

 

And you know, doesn’t fake date a girl and call it just friends. That would also be nice.

 

I have said no to some really lovely guys because of my desire to have this life centred on Christ. That has been hard. Sometimes I just want to date them. The Christians just do not ask. Or do not act in a way that is Godly. My worst experiences have been with Christian men. The older I get, it’s become one of the hardest parts about being a Christian. Saying no to a lot of guys who aren’t interested in Jesus but are really kind and cute and are forward enough to ask for the date and have great character is tough. That used to be an easy no because my faith is a really central part of my life but it is getting harder and harder. Every time I walk away from a great guy who has bothered to ask, I feel sad and a little tired. Sometimes, I really want to toss that value (of wanting a real Christian). It’s a real struggle.

So what does a girl do? I don’t have all the answers, I am in process, but here is where I am at the moment:

 

1.) Wrestle

I wrestle with God. I tell him how frustrated I am. I sometimes yell at him. I talk to close friends who feel safe and share the junk in my head I am wrestling around with. I am wrestling with Scripture.

2.) Be Honest 

There are sometimes really unhelpful caricatures that float around in church. “Christian men are somehow better, kinder, etc.” No. I have been in ministry for a long time and know horror stories of train wrecks. Common grace is alive and well in the world and sometimes unbelievers are kinder and resemble Jesus much more than believers do. I have been treated much better by guys who don’t claim to follow Christ and been treated terribly by those who do.

Sometimes it’s better to get rid of the caricatures, the cha chi pithy sayings: “Oh you’ll find someone when the time is right.” Says who!? People don’t always. Christian women certainly don’t always.

I am not waiting for a Christian man because I think he will be a better person. In fact, I know enough difficult marriage stories that I am a little afraid. Marriages blow up. Christian marriages blow up and people walk away from God.

I am waiting for a Christian because I want to be obedient to Jesus. I want Jesus to be Lord. I want to marry someone who wants Jesus to be Lord (read, in charge). But I find some days I just want to give up on that. I want to read the Bible with someone and have a husband that will pray with me. I want someone who thinks leadership looks like being a servant because that is what the gospel looks like rather than the way our world’s leadership looks like which is being the one who can control the conversation the most. I want someone who wants other people to hear about the good news of Jesus and doesn’t think I am nuts for sharing that with others.

But in the middle of that, honesty is needed and saying it’s hard and not glossing over anything is important.

3.) Hold on to Jesus. 

Jesus is really good news. I experience the unconditional love of God. He died to make me clean and right with God when I am not. The cross takes away shame. What else can take shame away from us? He loves me on days when it is lonely. He has not forgotten me. I never need to impress God. I don’t need to be good enough. Jesus has already done that for me. Jesus has lived perfectly in my place. I can stop striving and rest in him. That is really unlike the way we live in a world that always tells us we need to prove ourselves. To think I can rest that way with the God of the universe? Crazy. It gives my heart a rest and a desire to want to be more like Jesus because I don’t need to strive to prove myself. The gospel matters and is life changing. Who Jesus is has changed my life in really transformative life-giving ways. If I had not tasted that, waiting around and living differently in the realm of dating would just not be worth it at all. But, I have tasted the goodness of God and it’s hard to walk away from that…

4.) Apply the gospel everywhere

That means when I am exasperated, asking God to help me give people grace. I certainly don’t have it together and the guys I’d like to date don’t. We all need the grace of God for the way we don’t treat one another well. We need Jesus to change us and help us love more selflessly. It means when I go 18 months without hardly meeting single guys, I remember my hope is in Christ and not in my singleness or marital status. Applying the gospel means I try to remember people need the gospel like I need the gospel. Or reminding myself I need the gospel more than other people need it. It means, I share the gospel with potential dates when I’d sometimes like to just hide from Jesus a bit and make him less a big deal so I could date all the guys who pursue me. It means I end up saying no to some great guys sometimes because the desire for Jesus to reign over all of my life is a really big deal and I can’t walk away from that even when I try. The temptation to minimize my faith and just date someone is a real struggle some days.  I’ll be honest, however, I know in my heart we all need to get to know Jesus even more than we need to find a great person to date.

So, by God’s grace… I’ll keep praying and awkwardly talking about Jesus with guys who ask me out.

Maybe he has yet to come to know Jesus yet and soon will.

Or maybe, I’ll just fill out Turbo Tax next year with another “single” check mark.

Who knows what a year will bring?

 

 

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A Few Good Books

I am on my last semester of seminary and taking my lightest load of credits. Hence, reading like mad has opened up again.

Here are five on my already started or about to start list.

1.) Encountering the Book of Hebrews

One of the reads for my class on Hebrews. I am a ways in and loving the opportunity to dig deeper into one of my favourite books of the Bible on my last semester. Check out one of Trinity’s extension sites to grab some classes.

2.) In Defence of Food

My brother and sister in law’s love of Michael Pollan has rubbed off on me mostly because it makes more sense than anything else and I hate weird diets. His rules on food are only 1 in eight words. Eat real food, mostly plants, not too much. 

I started this AGES (read years) ago but am finally getting around to it. It’s really good. Also good is his Omnivore’s Dilemma.

3.) Margin 

I am back in a country that gives 2 weeks of holiday to people. It’s a shock to the system. The UK gave me 28 days. I have worked for the same organization for a long time and actually LOST holiday to move back to the US. One friend started a job last year and got zero days of holiday in his first year. THAT IS MENTAL.

Hence, why a book like this is needed everywhere, but definitely if you are living in the workaholic madhouse called America.

4.) Making Sense of God 

My life is talking to skeptical friends about Jesus. God does not make sense at all sometimes. I am a Christian and I have been baffled with many difficult faith questions myself. I am sympathetic of those who are honest about belief feeling too far from their grasp.  I love Tim Kellers’ writing. The book is good. If anyone wants to grab a copy and do a discussion, let me know.

5.) True Friendship 

I have always appreciated Vaughn Roberts’ mad skills teaching the Bible. I have really been moved by his honesty with same-sex attraction coupled with his commitment to Biblical faithfulness. I heard him speak about the role of friendship in the church and so grabbed this book to give him a chance to speak a bit more.

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The #1 Myth About Refugees

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A year and a half ago I came back to my home state to mobilize American Christians to welcome and help with resettling those coming to our city with the resettlement program. When I began, I had to learn a ton about who refugees are and what is refugee resettlement. Do you know that many former refugees hate the term “refugee?” It can be very demeaning in some parts of the world where they came from. I often refer to them as my “international friends” out of respect. It has been the most incredible joy. I have made a ton of great friends. I have tasted the goodness of the gospel in amazing ways.

 

In the last year, a story has been told and repeated over and over again that is SO frustrating to anyone in the community who understands about refugee resettlement in the US. It is a complete myth (lie, fabrication, choose your word) and yet I hear it repeated every single day. It is the essence of our post-truth era. I explain and reexplain that it is false and then people argue with me who don’t know anything about refugee resettlement or international political situations.

Damaging myth of the year:

“We don’t know who they are.”

(and with this, we compare US refugee resettlement to what is happening in Europe.)

The equating of refugees entering Europe (and the threat from ISIS to infiltrate refugees) is a bad equation when comparing to the US resettlement program. European refugees are not the same as US refugees for one major reason: legal status.

Due to Europe’s accessibility to many of the crisis areas by land and a small sea, refugees have been able to surge onto the European continent by boat, on foot, and by being smuggled knowingly or unknowingly on lorries and trains. Any threat that refugees could have ISIS amongst the crowds in Europe as people move on foot and settle in refugee camps is entirely different than our refugees.

 

(I’d also like to point out that the threat that ISIS is amongst refugees mainly hurts refugees and is not worth blocking people out of sanctuary. )

 

The European ones are undocumented and have not been through all of the checks that are required for resettlement status in the US. The US refugee resettlement program has NEVER been a partisan issue. Until the last 12 months when one party began to repeat this line over and over again that: “we don’t know who refugees are.” And “What happened in Paris could happen here!” (actually did you know Paris was done by Belgian and French nationals? One paper said a Syrian passport was found near a body and that story has been repeated over and over again that it was Syrian refugees when it was debunked shortly after the attack.) and “we need to protect America from the refugees.”

 

Refugees are fleeing violence and persecution and we as a nation are MISSING it because of lies that are being repeated because we are so driven by partisan politics, and fear.

 

Fear is powerful.

 

Trump has closed our refugee program which is all about legal, documented and background checked refugees. It is not stopping an undocumented flow of refugees but people who have already waited in line and been through serious vetting to be granted permission to come live here legally.

 

In contrast to Europe, the US refugee resettlement program is a documented program. All of the refugees we receive have already had background checks, and vetting. The fastest they can arrive is 18 months to 24 months worth of processing and checks by all of our security agencies.

 

What this means is that many of the basic statements about refugees that have been repeated by the media and governors and the current administration for the last year are based on a wrong correlation between those entering Europe and those entering the US. It has been repeated that “we are in danger from Syrian refugees,” or “we don’t know who they (refugees) are,” or “we have a right to control who comes in our borders.” If you understand how the US refugee resettlement program works, you would understand:

We already do know who they are.

They have already been background checked. The US refugee resettlement program would be the longest and most inefficient gamble of a route to get to the US if you wanted to cause harm.

I will leave you with this.

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On the eve of transition, a game of “Would you rather?”

I religiously click on the BBC and Economist for news and have watched two looming administrations about to switch office.

 

The first is in my own country.

 

My favourite president of all US presidents is being swapped for someone who terrifies me to the depth of my being. The day after the election, I had to take the day off work to cry. This was after staying up all night for the results and getting horrified condolence calls from England and the middle of the Atlantic from a Navy boat, and long text convos from Germany and Iran at crazy o’clock. I woke up in a daze a few hours later and cried all day.

I didn’t even vote for Obama the first time around and I find myself 8 years later, so grateful and appreciative of the man I have called President, it makes me cry to think of his two terms being over. Despite the critics, (and I don’t even agree with everything he has done) I think he will go down as one of the greatest US presidents. I love him.

Check Pete Souza’s amazing photos of the president here:

skeptical-infants-peer-at-the-potus-through-a-windowphoto credit: Pete Souza

 

It makes me cry very different tears to think of the man replacing him.

I am not allowed to talk about politics so I will move on quickly.

 

 

Across the ocean, an acquaintance friend had to leave The Gambia this week because of the dangers of the transfer of powers in their own presidential election.

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The country is very unstable right now.

The Gambia’s “President” Yahya Jammeh (<cough> dictator <cough>) of the last twenty years has said he would “rule for a billion years.” He lost the election in November and quickly moved the goal posts telling their parliament to extend his term.

Yikes.

This week, the newly elected president Adama Barrow had to swear in as president outside of his own country as Senegal begins to send in troops to force the old president to leave so the people’s president can take over.

Pray for the Gambia right now. These things can get ugly.

Back on the homefront, amongst all the other things I was worried about in this election, the fact that Russia has been identified by the CIA and FBI as a manipulator of the emotions and opinions of our population through targetted online rhetoric and hacking is more than concerning. It is devastating. Don’t think emotional espionage and manipulation isn’t worse than other kinds.

But then I think of our history of involvement in other nations. The US is not guiltless. We have had a hand in overturning other country’s elected leaders, so maybe as one of my Latino friends says, “we are getting our justice.”

It is still disturbing.

In the US, we like to think we are safe from all of that corruption and a foolproof system.

 

We are not.

 

I  worry about the dignity and safety of women, the rights and protection of immigrants and refugees, the fueling of radical Islam by a man that wants to alienate American citizens through targeted profiling, how many of my dearest non-white friends don’t feel safe or welcome anymore even if they were born here, our stewardship of the environment, education, health care, human rights, Israel and Palestine, and foreign policy in general.

However, President Obama in his last address reminded us that a “peaceful transition of power is one of the hallmarks of our democracy.”

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Flash over to The Gambia this week. How many nations around the world have elections and don’t know if the sitting leader will actually leave without a military coup or help from other nations? This is the way of elections for a significant part of the African continent very sadly.

No, I will take Obama’s gracious stepping down because his limit of two terms is up and a new leader has been elected any day over the election dysfunction of so many other countries.

It is good that we can transition peaceably.

It is a mark of distinction for the United States.

 

Protests are scheduled around the country this weekend.

 

Wait a second. What about a peaceful transition?

 

Can we protest and still believe that a transition of power peaceably is possible? Isn’t this a contradiction in terms?

I have watched the social media world critique those who protest harshly that “the election is over” and “people should shut up about it.”

However, I think the silencing of dissent is wrong.

I think if we do, we are doing a disservice to what it means to be American.

A healthy American election will mean that those leading the country will transition power peaceably. The president will step down. The military will not get involved. We will not need to have the sitting president forcibly removed by the UN or Canada so the results to an election can be carried out.

 

However, the first amendment of the Bill of Rights states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Speech, the press, the right to petition about grievances with government and the right to peaceably assemble are ours.

These are more American than apple pie. They have quite possibly existed longer than we have been eating apple pie. (I think Apple pie is actually from Europe).

We don’t want to be like The Gambia. We want our leaders to move on and let the election process move on peaceably.

However, we also do not want to ever prohibit or discourage peaceful marches and protests. Petitions nationally or to government officials about the concerns that we have not had a legitimate election if there has been foreign interference and of course that we are concerned for the appointments that have been made and the character and fairness and qualifications of the one who is to represent all of us are good petitions and complaints. They are not good that we need to do them but they are good that we are able to do them. We want the press to be free to question authority without being jailed or dismissed. These are all of what make us America.

We need those or we become another country where speech is suppressed and where dictators rule.

So play with me a game of “would you rather?”

Would you rather we get the leader the majority wants and a terrible exchange of power happens or we have a weekend free of protests?

I choose neither.

I choose peaceful transitions and protests abounding. 

A president that won fairly by a minority and a good president willfully stepping down all the while a weekend of protests and complaints around the nation continue is what makes us distinct and makes us American. It is what makes this country an oddity.

It is the system working and our freedoms being lived out.

We can debate the Electoral College another time.

 

 

 

4 Tools for Reflection and Growth

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions as a general rule. I am far too much of a rebel and a non-conformist. I joined a gym during a March, not January, five or six years ago and have stuck with the pattern of it wherever I am. When every 8-year girl in America had New Kids on the Block lunch boxes and posters of Jordan on their wall, I thought the band was lame and had a subscription to Dog Fancy. Doing my own thing. Nonconformity.

It started young.

I can also freakishly identify rare breeds of dog on sight due to my misspent youth.

However this year I have almost considered resolutions. Not quite, but almost. I do love the idea of being intentional and I love the idea of growth despite rebelling against the first of the year. I love facing junk in life squarely and repenting, changing, starting fresh, growing from and not avoiding and all of those actionable steps that are involved in a life that does not stagnate. So I have some things I am being intentional about this year.. um.. I will still rebel from calling anything a resolution.. but ya… know.. some things I am working on might be in the cards but some are just carry ons from a few months ago.

To kick off 2017 I spent the last three days giving a little space and time to some tools I have found really helpful for growth. You might like them too:

1.) The Allender Center Podcast 

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I love all things Allender Center including the podcast, blogs and any books that Dan can write. They have had a huge influence in my development and overall healthiness as a person. I was happy to see a new podcast was up over the weekend with some helpful questions to reflect on the year we leave behind so we can move forward into what is next. Proper endings are necessary in order to begin again. Have a listen to the whole podcast but these were the four questions Dan has you dig into. I listened to the podcast a couple times to take it in while I was driving, journaled out the questions and am going to carve out an evening this week to journal what comes to mind with each of these. In the last year what are my:

1.) Themes – Compelling issues that came up again and again that I need to grapple with.

2.) Moments – What 5-8 moments from the year linger and have stayed with you?

3.) Heartache – Where was your heartache? Where did you weep? Where was there war for your heart over believing the goodness of God?

4.) Surprises – Where were you surprised? This is often where our core way of looking at the world gets upended and we get a more refined lens through which we look at it. It can be good or it can be very painful. Joy-filled, sweet, or terrifying.

 

2.) Tools for growth – the Birkman 

The Christian organization that I work for loves all things in the realm of assessment/development so I have taken the Myers-Briggs (twice), Strengths Finder, DISC, Birkman, and probably something else I have forgotten about. I chose one, my Birkman and pulled it out yesterday to read. The Birkman is one of the more complicated and I find harder to explain assessments but really a really good tool especially when evaluating decisions on where you are going. It showcases both what your motivators are as well as your stresses. I found it helpful yesterday even at a glance to then look at my life and work now and evaluate what has been good and bad and what needs to change. You can look into it here.

 

3.) The Enneagram: walking towards an honest look.

I didn’t list one more assessment I did with work. It wasn’t one of the mandatory ones but I asked if I could do it on hearing someone refer to it in a talk. While the other assessments tell you how you excel, the Enneagram is different. It has the uncanny, disturbing ability to show you your worst self.

Why would anyone want to do this to themselves?

Reality, is your friend someone once said to me.

The Enneagram showcases a few nice things about you, but mostly, it shows off your neurosis, your disturbing behaviour, your weaknesses, or as one missionary put it to me, “the sin in your life and when you are not walking with Jesus.” Sometime after having my enneagram done I brought it up to my counselor and she recommended a book. We talked about it a bit in counseling but that was awhile ago so I pulled out the chapter for my “type” today and read it.

It made me squirm a bit.

We can’t grow by burying our heads in the sand.

If you want to do some heart checking and get a great place to apply some growth pressure take your enneagram for $10. Do some reading about your type. You can probably pick up this book from a library. Mine was from Amazon. If you are a Christian, take it before God and pray and reflect. If you are not a Christian or are you can still read it and ask others around you for feedback. Is there some places in your life you need to repent of or change, where do you need to meditate on truth?

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One of the things I connected as I was reading this was that one of my strengths in the Strengths Finder is Includer.

That’s great. I am looking out for other people.

But what the enneagram does for me is ask,”Why? Why am I an Includer?” It’s not always for good reasons. When I am doing well and am healthy and secure and know God loves me, this part of me will shine and shower grace and love on others.

But when I am unhealthy and not doing well?

There is a part of me that needs people to love me and can be driven for approval so much that I will draw other people in, they feel showered on and adored but it is not coming from genuine love and freedom in me but from a manipulative need for other people to like me. That is where I will go when I am unhealthy and not believing truth. I am really tempted to delete those last few sentences.  But.

Reality is your friend right?

The Enneagram will show a range from when any type is healthy and thriving and their best self to the darker sides they hold if they are unhealthy. I like the enneagram because it’s a good place to go to dig into your heart and to be honest. It’s good to be able to spot warning sides. It’s good for repentance and understanding where you are likely to be tripped up by sin.

I’m going to carve out a bit more time over the next few weeks to give myself a heart check.

 

4. Digging into the Bible (my heart needs to be shaped by God’s word)

I have listened to a couple sermons dealing with some heart issues I am finding challenging at the moment since Sunday.

The last few months I read through all of the Old Testament because of a class I was taking. It was so good to sweep over such a big chunk of the Bible, but I think this semester I am going to spend a few months digging deep in just one place, meditating on God’s word, letting it sink in. I am taking a class on Hebrews, a book at the end of the New Testament so it will be that book, which I am looking forward to reading.

If you’ve never read the Bible, I’d suggest picking it up, finding the contents page and opening up to Marks gospel. Ask, “What does this teach me about God? What does this teach me about us? What should I do after reading this? Is God saying something to me here? And for those who are very much skeptics, “What if all that is written here is true?”

My experience with the audio bible to help me read the Old Testament this autumn was great. If you drive a lot, get the Bible.is app and have a listen in some big swaths.

Desiring God is great for Bible resources, sermons, free books, learning how to read the Bible, short answers to hard questions etc.

When Christmas is home..

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The first “Merry Christmas” text I got in the last twenty-four hours was from my old neighbour who is now back home in Saudi Arabia. My Muslim friend in a Muslim country probably didn’t have the culture around him to mark the day but he remembered and wished me a Christmas greeting.

I’m smirking to myself remembering their love of putting up a Christmas tree and the laughter we always heard through the thin shared walls of the apartment building. It’s been fun to have messages like that come in from around the world. Texts with friends in Iran, Germany, England and Northern Ireland, Canada and the US remind me of the global kind of life I belong to.

 

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I wasn’t always home when I got those kinda messages from my worldwide friendships.

I was still finishing my Christmas shopping when a college friend pointed out a few days ago that there were Valentines’ displays already out on the 22nd.

So weird. Christmas in America is so weird. I am still getting used to this culture again even though Britain is overcommercialized too.  In the beginnings of America, the Puritans shunned special celebrations of Christmas because they believed it “Papist idolatry” and not a day or festival to be found in Scripture.

Now? I saw someone rant about anyone who doesn’t put up a Christmas tree on social media.  We are a confused country with a small memory. However, apart from all that and the distracting mass commercialism that has taken over, Christmas in America is something I have come to treasure. I have spent 6 or 7 Christmas’s away from family overseas. Once with a bunch of friends on a cold, wet, NOT sunny Greek island because we couldn’t go home (but could go to the Greek island!) and the rest with random families in the UK who took me in. Christmas away has made me grateful for so much and more reflective than I used to be. These are some things I have learnt over the years:

  1. Not to take it for granted that I am home with people who know me and love me and I call family. It has not always been the case. I have often been with mostly strangers and one friend who so generously opened up their family to me. Some of those strangers, i.e. my friend’s extended family have become near and dear to me and some I have not seen again past the one Christmas I spent with their family. Being home around your own family is not a luxury everyone can have even if you have not left your country. Gratitude, while I am here is where my heart rests. IMG_0658.JPGMy family isn’t exactly normal. Also, this is the best game ever!

2. Every family is a bit messy, complex, has difficult moments or is embarrassing in some way. I’ve not been invited home with people because of the fear of exposing their family to the outside world. I was once invited and then uninvited for Christmas for that reason. That was a hard year. However having sampled a lot of different families, I have not met a perfect one. It has helped me lower my expectations and be willing to be flexible. I am unsurprised at difficult stories, family drama, and have learnt to laugh when possible. Give grace at the holidays. We all need it.

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3. I sometimes think I am better prepared than most to get married at least when it comes to lowering holiday expectations. I realize this might be foolishly arrogant but here is my case! Rotating around Christmas or Thanksgivings or getting used to a new holiday you don’t yet know about has been my norm for years whereas many people don’t discover that shock of change until they marry. I already know “my own traditions” are not the law and that taking turns or change happens with new families. That is okay. Christmas with so many different families that are not my own has taught me that. It’s been interesting watching new friends struggle with having any change brought to Christmas from how their family did it. A good tonic is to spend a decade or so abroad and you have to learn to do that. If you are newly married, change will come, and it’s okay. All cultures do Christmas differently and families are all mini-cultures, but that is okay.

4. Simplicity and serving are beautiful things at Christmas. Yesterday with 4 days notice, 12 people came together from my church who didn’t even all know one another to help move an Afghan family across town that I have become friends with recently. It was probably one of my favourite moments of the Christmas weekend, seeing everyone pull up at 8am yesterday (I am not a morning person), helping a family that doesn’t have a family network here feel loved and supported as they are making this strange new country home. My friends barely speak a few words of English but there were hugs and gratitude and love. Before a box had been unpacked, we were offered a delicious home cooked Persian meal they had brought prepared from their old house. The children, who learn so quickly, spent the morning translating for their parents and as the last of us left, wished us a “Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!”

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5. Jesus, today is really all about Jesus.

 

There are traditions, and turkey and ham or rice and alfajores, and complicated family when you are with family, and homesickness when you are away from family, and Christmas trees, and finding presents, and if you are in America you can think that Christmas is stressful or indulgent. But it’s not about all of that. Those are just the icing and sometimes the distraction to Christmas. Christmas is all about Christ and when I have these moments to stop and ponder the awe of it…God became a man.. it’s beautiful and curiousity grabbing and for those unfamiliar with the Christmas story, shocking, and for those too familiar, it can be too common place but we all desperately need to hear it all over again.. Christmas is about Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity who always existed, who spoke the universe into being, stepping into time and space and becoming a human being.. the incarnation.

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