A Note to the Single Ladies

December 2014

Dear Fellow Single Sisters,

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…! While we are heading into a time of picture perfect moments, coziness galore, good lighting (who doesn’t look good by the light of a fireplace or Christmas candles?), Christmas sweaters, warm socks, hot cider, and every other “Christmassy” moment, it’s hard not to get totally swept up in all of the hoopla. Yes, I just used the word hoopla.

This isn’t about the materialism that occurs at Christmas, but it’s about what happens when a single girl starts to notice that there aren’t any special presents under her tree.
Wait! I’m not going to moan, I’m just explaining. The fact is, I get totally swept up in the romanticism of the holiday. I’m sure you do too. I love the Christmas chick flick movies and the ideas of cuddling by the fire or walking in the snow with a well-built, chiseled-featured, strong man who looks wonderful in cream-coloured, cable-knit sweaters, red scarves and jeans. A man who can have meaningful conversations but also knows exactly the perfect moment to crack a joke, a perfect combination of mature yet playful. A man whose very presence is a gift but who also knows how to give the most thoughtful and meaningful presents all while still being able to chop firewood, shovel the driveway, and bring me a mug of hot chocolate. But I digress… a lot.
So what do we do about the fact that he hasn’t shown up? How do we deal with watching people celebrate the holidays who do have good men and maybe a few cute little munchkins? It can really get a girl down. One thing we know is that no one wants to hang out with Debbie Downer during the holidays, so what do we do?
Well.. to be blunt, I think part of the “whoa is me I’m alone for the holidays” comes from a rather selfish place. It happens when our eyes are on ourselves and what we need to be happy. We obsessively start focusing on all of the things we want, instead of all of the things we do have. This is not the key to any sort of happiness. It’s hard not to be selfish when you’re single. We spend a lot of time tending to our needs and emotions and it’s okay to be aware of our wants and needs, but also I think that in order to be happy, we need to get our eyes off ourselves and onto others. Focusing too much on ourselves, especially this time of year, can be dangerous.
I think the only way to really combat these feelings of loneliness or sadness over the holidays is to simply be thankful. Get out that “attitude of gratitude”.. sorry I said that but I’ve been thinking about it and really, that’s the only way. Because the thing is, I do have some pretty amazing things in my life and my life is filled with all sorts of love… maybe not of the axe-swinging, cable-knit sweater wearing variety but still– there is a lot of love in my life. Start looking at your own life and I’m sure you’ll see some pretty amazing things to be thankful for. Wishing for something or someone we don’t have, isn’t the key to having a happy time this holiday, being thankful for what we do have automatically guarantees a certain level of happiness.
And so while we go about the very important business of practicing gratitude during the holiday season, we must not let ourselves get sidetracked or derailed. I think the biggest culprit is social media and I think it’s particularly dangerous during this time of year. Being constantly bombarded by filtered photos of Christmas trees, lovers, children dressed up like elves, big parties, presents, family, etc… it’s very hard to maintain a feeling of contentment. It’s very easy to feel like you are the only one in the world who is single for the holidays. It’s very easy to feel lonely. And so– I know that we need to really limit the amount of time we spend checking these sites. Maybe you don’t have issues with social media but I certainly do. Yes, I’m an instagram addict, and sometimes it’s okay but when I feel myself getting jealous or resentful, it’s time to put the phone down and focus on what I do have in front of me.
It’s not only about being happy about what I have in front of me but being happy for those who do seem to be having a picture perfect Christmas. When I was little and would go to friend’s birthday parties, I would come home feeling jealous about how Jenna was so lucky cause she got a Barbie camper van AND the My Little Pony Castle. My parent’s taught me to say: “Oh wow, I’m so happy for you.” I think we need to bring that phrase back out again. No matter how we are feeling, we should be happy that our friends (and all of those complete strangers on instagram), have the great things in their lives that they do. I’m so happy for them! Say it a few times and you’ll eventually start to believe it.
If that doesn’t work.. the whole: ‘it could be worse’ game works. I don’t suggest you play this out loud as people will worry about you. But seriously, life could be a lot worse. You could be stuck in a bad marriage, you could be terminally ill, you could be homeless, you could be locked up in prison for a crime you didn’t commit, you could be stuck in an airport, you could be stranded on a desert island, you could have a flesh eating disease.. you get the idea? Not having a boyfriend at Christmas is hardly the worst thing in the world.
And then– really. Who are we to mope and complain anyway? If we believe what we say we really believe then we believe that God is working out His perfect plan. Maybe that includes us meeting someone amazing, maybe it doesn’t and if it doesn’t, we can trust that His plan is still the best one. (I am still working on happily believing this.. it’s a process) I do know that we can relax and be content in this particular set of circumstances because they aren’t for no reason. Whoa double negative. Reword: This set of circumstances is important to your story and who you are now. We must believe that these experiences are also important in making and shaping us into the people we are meant to be.
So this Christmas, instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, let’s practice being thankful and grateful and loving the people God has placed in our lives…
Simple.
Do enjoy this holiday season.
With lots of love from me to you!
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That time I had a birthday…

I’m older now. I just had a birthday that pushed me from the early thirties to the mid thirties category. A little bit alarming. When I play the rather dangerous game of remembering myself at 24 and thinking about what I thought life would be like at 34 and then actually looking at my life at 34.. well things are not how I thought they would be.

So yes, if I was being 100% honest, it is sad to be single, without kids, living far away from family. It is strange to think that certain things I was counting on happening, may not happen and it’s a lot of work to be okay with that.

But.. and there is ALWAYS a but… this weekend I was reminded that even though God hasn’t filled my life with certain people, He has definitely filled my life with the right people. I had a lovely birthday dinner on the weekend. I kept things small so that I could actually talk with my friends and enjoy their company. We went to a Smokehouse restaurant because apparently I’m into smoked meat these days, and had some drinks and ate some great food, laughed a lot and left the night feeling happy and satisfied. I was made aware that even though I’m far from my family, I have some great friends who do act as family and support me and care for me. That’s pretty nice.

On my actual birthday, a group of former students breezed into town and took me for dinner. They had made the arrangement months ago and it was so fun to have it actually happen. There was a group of 10, all guys who I had taught for 1-3 years back when I lived in Indonesia. I was their age when I first met them and now, 10 years later, they are all grown up, with jobs and girlfriends and real lives going on. It was such a fun evening catching up and telling stories. It was fun because we were all equally excited to be spending time together and I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in a long time. They told me stories about things they remembered I had told them way back when and we reminisced and I remembered how important they were to me back when I was a brand new teacher in a new country trying to learn the ropes. They were a really special group of students, kind, caring, bright, talented, funny. They were my first class and the first group of kids I loved and it was a good reminder that sometimes students are actually listening to my words, and while I don’t have kids of my own, God has given me lots of kids or little brothers and sisters to fill that void.. sort of.

And then there was all the love I received from back home. Messages and emails from my family, who while they are far away, are still able to be a regular part of my life thanks to the wonders of social media and the interwebs. I am very fortunate to have parents and siblings who I’m crazy about and who I know are there for me and love me. I am also extremely blessed to have a strong group of friends, amazing people who are all so different but so important to me. I might be on my own but I’m definitely not alone.

And true– I am single and quite honestly speaking, at this moment the dating situation is bleak but I’m trying not to fret myself. The fact is, this birthday has reminded me that God is taking care of me, that He is filling my life with the people I need and that I am not going to worry about the things that are so easy for a single woman to worry about. Instead I’m going to focus on how He has blessed me and continues to bless me, while holding firmly onto His promises as I head into another year.

This Past Week

Just got back from three days in Gunma with 27 high school girls and 3 other teachers. I can honestly say that it was the best field trip I’ve ever been on. Everything just worked and fun and adventure was had by all. We had 4 activities: white water rafting, canyoning, kayaking, and mountain biking. Lots of fun and scary moments. I absolutely fell in love with canyoning. It’s basically like whitewater rafting.. without the raft. You put on a wetsuit and a helmut and trek through rivers and streams and jump off waterfalls and into caves. It’s crazy! I had a really cute group of girls and we all worked together and supported each other. It was a total blast.

It was also great being in major nature. Tokyo doesn’t exactly provide that and so I think the fresh air, the fall colours, the gorgeous views, did us all some good.

It was also great to see my students out of the classroom setting. It’s fun to have them encouraging me to jump off a cliff and it’s fun to talk them through kayaking or biking.

The past three days were amazing for me on lots of levels. It was good to stretch and challenge myself to do scary things. It was fun to be totally active all day long and out in nature. It was good to see my students in a new light and it was a good reminder that yes, I really do have a great job!

Be Still and Know

Be still and know that I am God – Psalm 46:10

One of the most beautiful phrases ever written. The simplicity of the words yet the immense power of the meaning makes it something that I can have running through my mind all day long. Lately, it seems that I do better with small phrases and concepts than anything else.
Sometimes, most times, when we face things that unsettle us, things that we can’t fix because they are locked in the past or hidden in the future, things that have no ready solution, things that we are dealing with because that is where God has us today, that is all we can do. Very seldom is life about grand heroics and brave and complex proclamations. Sometimes the greatest wisdom, the greatest advice is found in the simplest of statements.
***
When thoughts of the past creep up and haunt me, bringing with them past guilt and anxiety and the wonderings based on wishing that we could in fact repeat the past:
Be still and know.
When the busyness of the present causes me to spiral into a ball of stress and unhealthy distraction, making me appallingly self-centred, self-focused, confused and tired:
Be still and know.
When the idea of the future has the power to cause me fear and trembling, when it frightens me and destroys any feelings of hope and peace:
Be still and know.
It’s simple. It’s perfect. It’s a command.
Be still and know.

In which pain and joy co-exist.. because that’s the deal.

This post was supposed to be a more trivial one about running and relaxing. Originally I was going to write about the time I spent at a cottage and how each morning I liked to “torture” myself a bit (a hilly run followed by a dip in the lake) all in the name of taking the rest of the day off in the most delightful guilt-free kinda way. You see, I’m very good at relaxing but we can talk about that another time. Anyway I was going to write about the idea of needing to experience the pain in order to enjoy the pleasure later and how great pleasure feels when you went through a bit of pain prior. I had drafted out something about the idea of putting yourself through something bad to enjoy something good. It was pretty decent actually but as time went on and I didn’t press the Publish button, I started to think a little differently.

You see, in a few days I will be heading back to Japan after 9+ weeks in Canada. It hasn’t been an easy summer but it has been so good to be home. In taking things one-day-at-a-time, I have learned so much about valuing moments and really living in them. I have learned that pain is temporary, tears come and go as does laughter. I have learned that through tears there is joy. I have become increasingly aware of the link and co-existence of joy and pain.

I have learned that to experience pain or hurt or sadness does not mean that I’m doing something wrong or being punished or missing a part of life, it means that I’m living. It means that I’m loving. It means that I’m able to be joyful and I’m able to be sad and so I am able to experience what it really means to be alive. It’s not always great but it’s life.

I read a lot of C.S. Lewis this summer and he so clearly understands the link between joy and pain and between bravery and fear and hope and despair and how all of these human emotions are coursing through our veins and making us alive. There is that great line from the film Shadowlands where, in discussing her upcoming death, Lewis’ wife says: “The pain then, is part of the happiness now. That’s the deal.” And not only was that a highly emotional cinematic moment but there is truth in seeing that pain and happiness and joy are so completely connected. We can be happy even when we know that sadness is coming. We can experience pain and yet search for joy and there always is some, even if it takes some searching to find it. That’s the deal.

Back in January I was reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts and copied this quote in my journal:

“Joy and pain, they are but two arteries of the one heart that pumps through all those who don’t numb themselves to really living.” She gets it. She knows the deal.

And so, as I think about a summer that was filled with laughter and tears, I think about the pain that most likely does lie ahead of us, I remember that it’s all part of being alive and living.

Sorrow and Joy.

Pain and Happiness.

To experience these things is to be truly awake.

“Have courage …

“Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.” – Victor Hugo I fell in love with this quote the first time I read it about 6 years ago. Recently, it popped into […]

“Prone to wander…”

sunIt’s not often one event that causes us to fall away or wander away from God, it’s a series of little seemingly insignificant details that eventually add up to create an overwhelming situation. 

The thing about sin is that sometimes it begins very slowly. People are not always purely intentional in their “sinning”. It happens gradually, over time, slowly, the walls come down, the sin seeps in, the sin makes itself at home and then starts to permeate other areas of life too. There is a song by Casting Crowns called Slow Fade.. it talks about how nothing ever crumbles in a day.. it doesn’t just happen overnight for sin to slowly take root in our lives. It’s a good song. Check it out sometime.

I was living in a state of deliberate disobedience to God for a bit last year. I knew my behaviour was wrong and yet instead of praying for God to help me, I put up walls, shades, veils to hide behind. I created a faulty system of reasoning and justification and when that didn’t work, I just chose to ignore any sort of guilt or other spiritual prompting. The thing is, I can somewhat pinpoint the exact time that I was walking away from God. I can refer to a series of weeks/months as the “Veil Time” but I know deep down that it took me quite a while to get to those days.
I didn’t wake up one morning and think: “Forget it, I’m going to start disobeying God today…” No.. I can see now how many things contributed to my weakening as a Christian and then my reluctance to fight and remove sin from my life. I can trace it back to certain people I had met, was in constant contact with and loved, was jealous of… despite the fact they did not know God. I can see how I was blinded by their flashy lives and somewhat mesmerized by their laissez faire approach to life. They never seemed to feel guilty about anything! I can see how my desire for friends and to fit in stood as being more important than my desire to live and be known as a follower of Christ.I can see how my gradual disengaging with the church led to a total lack of spiritual accountability. Couldn’t be sitting in church hearing about how sin destroys us and how God calls us to obey Him when I had different plans for the afternoon. I can see how I suddenly got too busy to spend any significant time in the prayer in the mornings, how playing my praise music softly in the background was justified as being almost as good as real devotions. I began filling my heart up with insignificant things, began dreaming of a life that did not have much of a place for God, some but not much. I began giving my heart to people who would ultimately hurt it, trying to hide it from God. It all happened over a period of time.. a time stemming from a time when I had become confident enough in my faith that I let my guard down. A time that I was too busy to really stop and think about my life and the “footholds” I had left open to sin.
I write this now to remind myself that while now I feel like I am in a good place again, (God is good to me!) I need to be careful and continue to protect myself. I must not become lazy and complacent about my faith. I must not start taking shortcuts and I must be very careful about what I spend time justifying to myself. Life is a battle.. every day we are fighting in it and just because we are on the winning team, doesn’t mean we won’t get battered and bruised and banged up in it. But better to get banged up while serving God, than because for a while we were flirting with the other team. We need to pay attention to the little details in our lives, the little areas of weakness, the little things we let slide because those little things are what end up exposing us and causing the most destruction.
So I encourage you as I remind myself to live carefully.. be awake and see each day as another opportunity to fight the good fight!