Hello, friends! I’m in the San Juan Islands on a 10-day writing retreat. I wanted to keep the blog going, but after spending all day writing on my laptop, I’m tired of looking at a screen, so I thought I’d post some video blogs this week.
First up: I met the Invisible Girls on the train in Portland more than 4 years ago. Even though I’ve ridden the train dozens of times since then, nothing like that has happened to me since — and what if nothing like that story ever happens to me again?
How do you live life in the spaces in between events and miracles and epic stories?
Tony Kriz is one of my favorite Portland people. I knew of him through his writing, and I knew he was “Tony the Beat Poet” from Donald Miller’s NYT-bestselling book Blue Like Jazz, but I had never met him until my memoir The Invisible Girls launched.
A church in downtown Portland hosted a book reading for me, and while I was talking about the book, Tony walked in. He’d never met me, but he’d come to support a fellow Portland author. It’s a gesture of kindness I won’t soon forget.
Tony’s latest book is called ALOOF: Figuring Out Life With A God Who Hides. Recently I had the chance to sit down with him and ask him some questions about it.
Ken Wytsma is the founder of The Justice Conference, a pastor, and the president of Kilns College in Bend, Oregon. Recently I had the chance to talk with him about his latest book, The Grand Parodox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God, and the Necessity of Faith.
Every year when Lent rolls around, I anticipate Easter, but I dread the six weeks in between — weeks that feel more like deprivation than anticipation. I solemnly put ashes on my forehead on Ash Wednesday, and then decide to fast from something for 40 days.
To me, Ash Wednesday feels like Groundhog’s Day, if the Groundhog always saw its shadow and there was always 6 more weeks of winter to dread.
This year as Lent arrived, I was thinking of what I wanted to give up for 6 weeks. As I contemplated how Lent inevitably ends — with the crucifixion of Jesus that we’ll observe on Good Friday — I thought about that sacred story, and I remembered a character from that narrative who doesn’t get much attention. Simon of Cyrene.
When I was growing up in Sunday School, we used to talk about the only two things God can’t do: God can’t sin, and God can’t make a rock so big He can’t move it.
When Jesus arrived on earth, the incarnation of the Divine in a physical form, there was something else he couldn’t do: he couldn’t carry his cross all the way up the steep Golgatha hill. So the Roman soldiers picked Simon out of the crowd and made him carry the cross.
This year, I’ve been thinking not only about giving something up, but about helping someone else carry their load.
For the last six weeks I’ve been writing about singleness. I’ve been asking questions like, Why is it hard to be single? What unique opportunities does singleness provide? How can friends, family and church communities better understand their single friends?
As I’ve explored these questions, I’ve come to believe that one of the reasons why singleness is problematic is because we frame it in two ways that are vastly unhelpful.
First, some people approach singleness with sass, as if singleness is a license for unbridled hedonism. If you’re not attached to anyone, why not play the field, spend your discretionary income on whatever you want, and take advantage of not having to commit to anything or anyone?
Second, others approach singleness with sadness, taking a woe-is-me attitude, focusing on how unfair it is that other people get to be married while single people are left out like the cheese that stands alone at the end of Farmer in the Dell.
Both the sassy and the sad approaches are problematic for the same reason: they are egocentric, focused on what you have (or don’t have), what you need and what you want.
Valentine’s Day is named after Saint Valentine, who was martyred in 270 A.D. for refusing to renounce his faith.
How we came to celebrate a day named after him by giving chocolate and lingerie, I will never understand. Honestly, it seems a little sacrilegious. But here we are, T-minus 2 days until Valentine’s Day.
If hearing those words just made your heart sink, this piece is for you.
It’s for you, the woman whose husband never remembers the day until you remind him.
It’s for you, the person who just went through a painful break-up, who is nauseated by the sight of couples in love.
It’s for you, the woman whose boyfriend has lots of good qualities — but buying creative presents is not one of them. So you’ll be getting blue carnations and a cheesy card. Again. For the third year in a row.
It’s for you, the single person who hasn’t had a date on Valentine’s Day in years.
It’s for anyone who feels left out, discouraged, rejected, overlooked, abandoned or neglected.
Why does the day make some of us (maybe most of us?) feel so badly about ourselves?
Because we’ve come to use the day as a litmus test to evalulate our worth. We ask ourselves these two questions: Am I romantically loved by someone? And if so, how much?
Then we assign ourselves value depending on the answers.
I had a friend in high school who decided to major in Liberal Studies because it was an “unusable” degree (basically, you take a few classes in every subject, which doesn’t make you qualified for any specific vocation), so when she met her husband, she wouldn’t be “tempted” to pursue a career instead of marriage.
It’s an extreme example, but many single women do a similar, albeit more subtle, thing. It’s as if we only have one commitment card, and we’re saving it for marriage.
So for now, until we meet our future spouse, we won’t commit to anything else. Because if we did commit to, let’s say, a career path or a graduate degree or a few months of travel, somehow that would exclude our ability to have a relationship with a guy.
This is a problem. A big, big problem. Here’s why.
1) It makes you put your life on hold.
I thought I was going to get married when I was 27, because a guy I loved and had dated for several years called my dad and asked if he could marry me. And then, during the course of my cancer treatments, the guy bailed and I ended up single.
I’m 36 now. If I had put my life on hold and waited for another guy to come along and propose, I would have missed so many amazing things that have happened over the past 9 years. These are just a few of them — I moved from New England to the west coast. I switched career paths. I wrote a book. I traveled to 10 new countries and dozens of states. I “adopted” a family of Somali refugees, and I travel and speak about them a few times a month. I went camping in the wilderness by myself (which I don’t necessarily recommend, I’m just saying that I did it.)
If you’re still single in five or ten years, I guarantee that you will look back on those years and have regrets for everything you could’ve done but didn’t because you were in a holdling pattern, waiting to meet a guy before your adventure could begin.
If you are reading this blog post and you’re single, here’s the first choice you have to make as you move forward in your life: will you let the absence of a partner drive you to inertia and bitterness, or will you embrace this seeming limitation and let it open up new avenues of creativity and service?
Here’s the deal. Almost every invention we have today exists because someone needed something they couldn’t find. Benjamin Franklin wanted to understand and use electicity, but no one had figured it out yet. The Wright brothers wanted to fly like birds could, but how could a human being aviate like that? The list of people like them is endless — Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, Booker T. Washington, Guttenberg, Eli Whitney………
When I told the leaders at my church that single people were not being included in the big, regularly-gathering meetings that happened during the week, they apologized and said they’d try to make some changes.
The next week, they did make a few changes in the bulletin announcements. The marriage announcement said, If you’re married or want to be married, you can come.
The moms group announcement said, If you’re a mom, or want to be a mom, you can come.
A few single people called me that week in tears. The additions made it sound like “if you’re the real thing, or a pathetic wannabe, you can come.”
We are not wannabes. We are grown-ups, too. We are your equals. We have different life circumstances than you do, but they are not inferior to yours. They’re just different.
I think we can agree that adding “wannabe” clauses to the groups is not a valid way of including single people in our churches. So what options do we have?
We have two choices when it comes to how we create space for single people. To put it simply, we can embrace unity or affinity.
Yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. There were many events across the U.S. to commemmorate the man who made such important strides in the civil rights movement. There were also a lot of quotes in my Facebook feed attributed to this great man. Quotes about love vs. hate, quotes about justice, quotes about a vision for a better future.
Two days ago, I got back from Ecuador. I took a trip there with Compassion International to visit the villages where Compassion has a presence. Donors in the U.S. pay $38/month to sponsor a child. With these funds, Compassion has partnered with local churches to have after-school programs where kids get tutoring and a nutritious meal. They get regular check-ups and vaccines. Their family gets a basket of food every month. If a child has to go to the hospital, Compassion asks the parents to try to pay for 10% of the bill, and Compassion picks up the rest.
I got to hear from kids who are now in their early 20’s, who were sponsored as children. They talk about the amazing difference the program made in their lives. Without being sponsored, these kids would’ve ended up living in mud huts — or, if they were lucky, a two or three-room concrete house that measures less than 700 square feet. They would’ve dropped out of school after 6th grade. They may have died from malnutrition or other preventable causes of childhood mortality.