Single-Party of One

In 9 days I will celebrate my 41st birthday.  As much as I love birthdays, each number gets a little more challenging to accept.  Considering I just entered a new decade and am still adjusting to the big 4-0, I’m really not in a hurry to turn 41-yet it’s literally right around the corner.  To those who are 10+ years younger than me, I am typically viewed as “old” and to those 10+ years older I am still seen as a “young pup”.  To me, there are days I feel “old” but there are other days I feel 16 again (and sadly, act like it too.)

Each birthday I take time to reflect on my life-I look at who I am, who I want to be, where I am and where I want to be.  I examine my life goals and see what I’ve accomplished and what I still want to accomplish.  I also realize no matter how hard I try, I will never get younger.   And sometimes that is a scary thought.  Mostly-because I’m afraid I will run out of enough time to achieve all my goals before God calls me Home.  For the longest time, my biggest goal was being married-having that one person who would commit to spend the rest of their life with me.

Ever since I can remember I have always been the “hopeless romantic.”  My favorite fairytale was Cinderella and I would dream of a prince on a white horse with a glass slipper rescuing me and the two of us living happily ever after.  I loved the romantic storylines in soap operas and my all-time favorite movie is Pretty Pink where the movie ends with Andrew McCarthy telling Molly Ringwald he loves her, always, during their high school prom and when she chases after him they end up in the parking lot, kissing in the rain.  Yep-still my favorite chick flick because there’s still a hopeless romantic in me.

I have two children-but never been married.  I’ve come close-three times actually but circumstances happened and the relationships didn’t work out.   I’ve also had tons of other dead end dating relationships.  I’ve prayed for marriage, I’ve fasted for marriage but at the age of almost 41, I don’t even have a prospect for the possibility of marriage.

For years I convinced myself that there was clearly something wrong with me-I must not be marriage material.  I also believed God clearly didn’t want me to be married.  I cried, threw many pity parties and then closed myself off.  I took a hiatus from dating-a four year hiatus actually.  I took the hiatus for the wrong reasons but ended up learning the blessing of being single.

During my dating boycott I received various feedback.  Some people supported my decision-after all, I told them it was God directing me.  Others told me I was closed off.  Still others tried to set me up with their version of my “soul mate.” The best “feedback” I received was being told I was too picky.  If you’re single I am sure you can relate to the many advices your family and friends give about why you’re still single and it usually ends up being your fault.  I’m a strong enough person and content enough in my circumstance as they are now to admit that I am single by choice.  Why?  I refuse to settle.

The past 4 years have been a road of growing my faith and discovering who God made me to be.  With that, it’s open my eyes up to the pros and cons of both singlehood and marriage.  The best thing I’ve discovered is that being single is not a curse, there is nothing wrong with me and I’d rather be single my whole life than be married to the wrong person.  I’ve also learned that my relationship status doesn’t define me as a person-being married or single is a part of who we are but it’s not all of who we are.  Yes, God created Eve because He said, “it’s not good for man to be alone. (Genesis 2:18)  But He also said, “and some choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” (Matthew 19:12b)  Paul even tells us in 1 Corinthians 7 that is better to not get married (vs 8.)  His reasoning was because while a married person is focused on their spouse, a single person is more apt to be focused God.  That is certainly to not say that married people do not focus on God. I know many happily married, godlly people who have amazing Christ centered marriages.  Marriage is a gift from God, designed by God.  But, so is singleness.

That’s right-I said, being single is a gift, not a curse.  It’s a gift I have embraced and actually enjoy.  Once I accepted it I experienced that peace beyond all understanding Christ promises us in Philippians 4:7.  I no longer have an urgency to “hurry up and get married.”  I feel free and in control of whether I choose to date or not date, who I want to date and who I politely say, “no thank you” to when asked out.  I’m completely at peace saying “no” to the offers of being set-up and I can listen to other people’s love stories (which are typically their attempt to encourage me to not give up on marriage) without wondering if I’m missing out on something.  I’m not-just like God made them different from me, His love story for me is also different from theirs.  If God has a love story for me, it will be different and it will be epic. It will also happen in His time and in His way.  I won’t be too closed off to miss it or too picky that I turn it down.  I will know it’s from Him and I will embrace it.  How do I know, because I’ve surrendered my heart to Him and trust Him to do with it what He plans-lead it to love another, or lead it to live singly, serving Him.

I almost didn’t write this post. It’s pretty transparent and I had to question my motives.  This post wasn’t meant to bash marriage (I love weddings, I love being in love, I love happily married people and I pray for troubled marriages all the time.)  It also wasn’t meant to stick it to all those who seem to be an expert on my love life or lack thereof.  Which by the way-as helpful as people think they’re being, unless advice is solicited, telling someone why you think they’re single really isn’t helpful. If you want to see someone you love in a relationship-pray for them and pray for their future spouse.  And keep mum unless they want to talk to you about their relationship status.

I wrote this post because there are people out there who’s deepest longing is to get married and they think they’re life won’t be complete until they find their one true love.  To them, I want to say-your life is already complete.  Your life doesn’t begin with marriage-it began when you were growing in your mother’s womb.  As long as you are breathing, your life is happening, with or without a spouse.  So live it.  Find out who God made you to be and turn your focus on serving Him daily.  Don’t focus on what’s missing in your life-find a thousand reasons to smile every day.  Make a bucket list and set goals.  Then take the steps needed to accomplish your list and goals.   Most importantly-show love and kindness daily to the people God has placed in your life and seek out opportunities to bless others.  This life is really not about you or me.  This life is all about God and serving others for His glory.  Lastly-don’t worry about getting married or being in a relationship.  If God has designed marriage for you, It. Will. Happen.  Lay your heart’s desire at the foot of the cross and trust God to fulfill it in His time.  But remember this-if the worst thing is your life is that God calls you home before you ever get married-you’ve lived one heck of a pretty good life.

Can I take a Mulligan, please?

“…His mercies never end.  They are new each morning.  Great is His faithfulness.”  Lamentations 3:22b&23 ESV

This week was a week of mulligans.  It started on Tuesday getting a major attack at the office and not responding to it in a godly way.  It continued at home and has just been a week of conflict and road blocks all around.  Each day I wake up thinking it’s a new day with new adventures but it seems to end the same way as the day before.  I’m emotionally raw and quite exhausted and there’s still three days left of this week.  By Saturday I’ll probably just be operating on auto-pilot.

Some of you may be reading this wondering “What the heck is a mulligan?”  In the game of golf there’s a concept called the mulligan.  When you are teeing off, if you have a bad swing and end up hooking the ball, landing in a sand trap or who knows where you can choose to take a mulligan. Essentially, a mulligan is a do-over.  Taking a mulligan erases the bad swing-it’s as if the hook shot never existed.  Granted, mulligans are not part of the formal rules of golf but in a casual game mulligans can speed up the process by allowing you to avoid searching for a lost ball or chip repeatedly from a sand trap.

God’s word is filled with stories of mulligans.  Abraham thought he had to manufacture his own miracle and created Ishmael with Hagar.  But Ishmael was not the promised heir God had for Abraham.  God could have told Abraham “Too bad so sad, you got in my way, now you’ll never get what I promised you.”  But instead He corrected Abraham, protected Hagar and blessed Abraham with Isaac anyway.  I know I talk a lot about Abraham but that’s because God uses his story a lot in my life.  In a way, you could say I’m a cross between a modern day Abraham and a modern day Job.

My favorite example of a mulligan is Peter.  Peter was one of Jesus’ beloved disciples.  He walked with Christ faithfully throughout Jesus’ ministry.  But when his life was threatened for believing in Christ, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times.  THREE TIMES!  Every time I read this story I am mesmerized that someone who walked with Jesus, and saw His miracles first hand still doubted Him to the point that he denied knowing Christ.  In all honestly, it makes me think I shouldn’t beat myself up so much when my faith is lacking.  Our faith today is a lot more challenging considering the distractions and deceit this world is filled with.

Jesus knew Peter would deny Him.  In fact, Jesus told Peter he would deny Christ three times.  But Peter didn’t listen.  He was so confident in his faith and devotion to Jesus that he couldn’t fathom ever denying Him.  He also underestimated the power of satan to use our greatest weaknesses to fall from grace.  The devil got Peter to fall through fear.  Fear is probably the craftiest and one of the most compelling weapons satan uses to pull us away from God.  When we fear-we doubt God.  Doubting God turns our eyes away from Him and onto the object of our fear.  For Peter, he feared death.  Thus, after Jesus was arrested, he denied knowing Jesus in order to avoid death.  He didn’t just deny Christ-he lied.  One of Jesus’ right hand men, the one who literally walked on water with Jesus, lied about even knowing Jesus and being affiliated with Him.

Most people then and today reading about Peter might think he deserved to be shunned by Christ and dejected from the Kingdom of Heaven.  And I would agree.  Denying Christ was an awful choice Peter made.  In fact (to quote a US presidential candidate) it was deplorable!  In today’s day and age the media would have slammed Peter and verbally crucified him through ridicule, mockery and horrific judgement.  He would have been condemned for lying and removed from ministry.  He would have suffered great humiliation publicly.

What did Jesus do?  After His death and resurrection, Jesus approached Peter and asked him if he loved Jesus.  Peter said “yes.”  Jesus asked him again.  Peter again said, “yes.”  Jesus asked Peter a third time allowing Peter to say, “Lord, you know that I do.”  Why did Jesus ask him that and why did he ask him three times?  It was the ultimate mulligan.  In fact-it was three mulligans in one.  Peter denied Jesus three times-Jesus showed Peter He knew Peter’s heart by allowing Peter to express his true love for Christ the same three times.  Peter was redeemed and it was if his denial never existed.

Christ does the same for us today.  There are choices we make that will bring a lifetime of consequences.  But no matter what, we never get what we truly deserve.  God’s promises of forgiveness, grace and mercy are His mulligans for every mistake we make.  And He calls us to give mulligans too.  When others offend us, He calls us to forgive them and offer the same grace He gives us instead of harboring a grudge and choosing to not forgive.   He forgives every sin we ever commit.  Like the Lord’s Prayer says, He forgives us as we forgive those who trespass against us also.

Forgiveness is not an easy thing to do but becomes easier if we remember that God forgives us.  I can hold a long grudge. I’m not bragging by any means.  It’s something I’m actually ashamed of.  But when God gets a hold of me and reminds me of His grace and forgiveness for me, I am able to offer the same forgiveness to the one who hurt me.  After, of course, I have a HUGE helping of humble pie.

I’m thankful for mulligans.  I’m thankful for God’s promise of new mercies each morning.  If you had a bad day today remember this-tomorrow is brand new.  Tomorrow is God’s mulligan.  Learn from your mistakes and don’t take each new day for granted.  The best we can do is strive to be better tomorrow than we were today.  Also, don’t live defeated.  Feeling defeated and living defeated are two different things.  Don’t confuse the two.  A golfer who takes a mulligan doesn’t do so in a spirit of defeat.  When he or she tees up again they do so with the determination to not make the same mistake twice and to swing better the second time around.  In life we can do the same.  If you screw up in life (and at some point, we all screw up), take a step back and examine what you did.  Figure out what you can change and then take a mulligan.  In your mulligan swing, don’t make the same mistake again.  But know this-even if you do make the same mistake again, God’s grace is generous enough that His mulligans only stop when He calls us home to His kingdom.

A Thousand Reasons to Smile

“When they were discouraged, I smiled at them. My look of approval was precious to them.”  Job 29:24 NLT

Discouragement is a not just a long fancy word for a spelling bee-for many people it can be a state of mind and even a state of living.  Some people live a “murphy’s law” kind of life-you know-they’re the ones that if something awful is going to happen, it’ll most likely happen to them.  Some even refer to themselves as a jinx or being cursed.   They may even make jokes about their “bad luck” but deep down inside they’re living in a pit of discouragement.

Discouragement is such an easy pit to fall into too.  That person who busted their tail for a promotion only to see themselves get passed over for Slacker Steve can entertain discouragement without even knowing it.  That football team who trained hard only to lose because of bad refereeing (yes I said it-and yes it does happen) can throw a discouragement party that may trickle into the following game or effect their whole season if they let it.  That girl who dreams of being married but rarely gets asked out on a date-she can easily be the next contestant in the pageant of discouragement.

Discouragement usually starts with a disappointing event or from expectations not being met.  How we handle it all happens in our minds.  If we dwell on the disappointment or loss discouragement grows.  Dwelling too long on that feeling can build a whole addition to our hearts and minds just for discouragement to live.  The more we dwell, the more discouraged we feel, the deeper we sink into the pit.

We don’t have to entertainment discouragement though.  We should acknowledge the disappointment or loss most definitely.  But how we take it from there becomes a battlefield in our minds.  For a lot of people negative thoughts come naturally and thinking positively is a deliberate act they have to willfully choose to combat the negativity.  I know because I am one of those stinkin’ thinkers.

When I was growing up it seemed as though every time I hoped for something it wouldn’t happen.  I convinced myself to have no expectations or to expect the worst so there’d be no disappointment.  This type of coping skill carried on well into my adult years and effected so much of who I was including my relationships and friendships.  In church I’d sing the song, “Count your many blessings, name them one by one…” but inside I was thinking, “Count my blessings?  Yeah right.  What’s there to feel blessed about?”  Did I mention discouragement brings along a roommate named bitterness? Due to entertaining discouragement for so long, I lived a very bitter life for many years.

Thankfully, God kept peeling away my layers by sending me people who could see past my bitterness and deep within my heart.  Through these people God showed me how blessed I truly am.  He also showed me how I can combat discouragement and break free from bitterness. One way-I bless others every chance I get.  With every store clerk, restaurant server and stranger I meet, I am diligent in wishing them a blessed day before parting.  Most customer service people will tell you to “have a nice day” in a canned computerized voice because it’s routine to them.  It’s like someone saying thank you and you saying “you’re welcome” without knowing why you’re being thanked. It’s just an automatic thing. But when I respond with, “Have a blessed day”, they’re whole demeanor changes-I watch slumped over tired minimum wage workers stand a little taller, their faces brighten and their smiles become sincere.  They’re tone of voice softens and they tend to say, “thank you-you too” genuinely.  Suddenly, it’s as if those four simple words made them realize they matter and are worthy of being blessed.  When I first started this I was slightly embarrassed but now I can’t wait to check out, just so I can be a blessing to their day.

The second way God is freeing me from discouragement and bitterness is in reminding me there’s always a reason to smile.  No matter what is happening in your life or mine-there’s always a reason to smile.  Even in the deepest of grief from losing your greatest love, feeling panicked because the bills keep getting bigger but your income keeps getting smaller, or feeling helpless because your infant child is in ICU struggling to breathe and the doctors can’t figure out why-God can show us a reason to smile.  It’s what Paul meant when he wrote, “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13 NLT)  Paul wrote this when he was in prison-imprisoned for preaching the Word of God and nothing more.

To avoid discouragement-I am making a list of a thousand reasons to smile.  If I ever make it to 1,000 then I’ll change the title to a Million Reasons to Smile and keep going.  Writing this list retrains my mind to squash negativity and remain positive.  It also reminds me that God is faithful and His plans for me remain good no matter what is happening around me.  Today’s list would be this:

  • My daughter telling me about her English assignment where she had to choose a fictional character she would want to be her parent. She chose Lorelei Gilmore (from the Gilmore Girls-a show we watch together) because she said the character is exactly like me, her actual mom.
  • Watching my son tackle an opponent who was bigger than him and recover a fumble in his opening football game.
  • Watching my daughter perform for the third time during the varsity half-time show with the high school marching band.
  • Having my baby brother and his wife home to attend both of my children’s events this week.
  • Getting an unexpected bonus at work.
  • Getting a phone call from a stranger thanking me for participating in a specific ministry and encouraging me to keep ministering to others.
  • Having a co-worker thank me for encouraging her.
  • Being able to bless another co-worker with Subway after sitting through a difficult meeting.
  • Taking a nap and watching movies while doing laundry on a rainy Saturday.
  • Blessing others through this blog…

Whether you’re having a “murphy’s law” kind of day or week, or have experienced so much disappointment your drowning in a pit of discouragement I want to encourage you to find a reason to smile today.  Then start your own “A Thousand Reasons to Smile” list and join me in counting those many blessings, naming them one by one.  As the rest of the song goes-it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

Time Doesn’t Heal Wounds…God Does

I am almost always running late.  I can’t say “always” because there is the rare occasion I am right on time or even early.  In fact, I joke that because I was born one week early it cursed me to a lifetime of tardiness. I’m rarely late on purpose-it’s usually a matter of thinking I have more time than is actually allotted or getting sidetracked and losing track of time.  Those closest to me expect me to arrive at least 30 minutes later than I’m supposed to and probably don’t start worrying about me unless I’m over an hour late.

I don’t wear a watch but I’m always checking the clock.  Although I can lose track of time, I am very time conscious.  I tend to be more focused on time when I have a deadline to meet or need to be somewhere “five minutes ago” and am being hit with various interruptions or setbacks that create roadblocks in meeting my deadline or arriving on time.  I even have dreams of being late or never arriving to my destination because of road blocks.

I can also waste time.  Procrastination and I used to be BFF’s.  Although I strive to be more diligent today there are still days I throw a major “put-it off until tomorrow” party only to end up with a pile of must-do’s that are overdue.

Time is a universal obsession.  Everyday someone is asking, “What time is it?” “How much time is left?”  “What time does it start?” etc.  There’s not a single conversation that doesn’t usual have time as part of the discussion.  We measure time in seconds, hours, days, weeks, months and years.  We give time limits and express concern for not having enough time.  In his book, The Time Keeper, Mitch Albom puts it like this; “As mankind grew obsessed with its hours, the sorrow of lost time became a permanent hole in the human heart. People fretted over missed chances, over inefficient days; they worried constantly about how long they would live, because counting life’s moments had led, inevitably, to counting them down. Soon, in every nation and in every language, time became the most precious commodity.”

The greatest emphasis on time tends to center around people’s age, anniversaries and deaths.  Our lives are measured in the number of birthdays we celebrate, our relationships are measured in the number of years we “stay together” and death is such a time stopper that it draws people to focus on how short life and time can really be.

Another way we focus on time is when we’re in a season of waiting.  I am probably the guiltiest of this.  Year after year of unfulfilled dreams, unanswered prayers or feeling like I’m a hamster running on a plastic wheel going nowhere, I focus greatly on time.  I find myself anxious, worrisome and impatient.  I entertain despair and hopelessness like they’re my neighbors inviting themselves over for coffee.  My mind fills with negativity and I just want to give up.  But God never gives up and is great at reminding me that His timetable is nothing like ours.

You see, God doesn’t wear a watch.  That’s obvious in 2 Peter 3:8; “But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.” (NLT) I’ve heard this verse a few times in my life and it’s usually when I am most impatient and fearing the dreams I have will never come to pass.  He sent it to me yesterday and again today through two different forms of media-one was a phone call from a friend, the second was through an e-devotion.  To the human brain that is so acutely trained to measure time, this verse can be a challenge to wrap your mind around.  For me-I better understand it this way; Another day of waiting for me, is like a thousand years.  But a thousand years of waiting is merely only a single day to God.  He is the epitome of patience and as the saying goes, His timing really is perfect-it’s never too early and definitely not ever late.

I’m beyond familiar with the story of Abraham and Joseph’s seasons of waiting.  Abraham was made to wait 25 years before the promise God spoke to him regarding an heir came to fruition.  Joseph waited 13 years before his dream of leading his brothers came to pass.   But yesterday, I learned a profound lesson that even Adam had to wait.  I watched an interview between a pastor and a writer.  The interview wasn’t exactly about time but waiting was discussed.  The writer mentioned Adam.  He spoke of the passage in Genesis where God said, “It is not good for man to be alone…” (Genesis 2:18).  Just three verses later, we learn that God created Eve and called her a “suitable helper” for Adam.  But what the writer pointed out was before God made Eve, He planted the dream of companionship in Adam’s heart then made him wait.  Seriously-the very next verse tells us God made animals and told Adam to name them all.  After Adam did that, we read there was still not a suitable helper for him so God made Eve.  The interviewee has this interesting perspective to Adam’s season of waiting.  Reading it in two short verses we tend to think he named all of the animals overnight.  But in reality coming up with original names for every single animal on the earth could have taken 10 to even 100 years to complete.  So here’s God putting the dream of companionship in Adam’s heart then making him do something else completely unrelated to his dream that most likely took him years to complete, making the longing of companionship deeper for who knows how many years and once that task is done-that’s when God brings the dream to pass and makes Eve, bone of Adam’s bone and flesh of Adam’s flesh.

Every season of waiting serves a mighty purpose in our lives.  For some it’s refinement.  For others, it’s to grow deeper in their relationship with Christ, to develop total dependency on Him or perhaps to develop more patience in their character.  For me, I have finally realized all this waiting was to heal me.  You see I have deep wounds.  As much as I thought I was healed I am learning that my wounds have merely scabbed over.  Circumstances arise regularly that rip the scabs off and an all too familiar pain pours out of my heart with an overwhelming ache that reduces me to tears.  I hide it pretty well and only remove my mask to those closest to me.  I’ve even tried burying the pain but it always resurfaces.

When we break a bone or undergo major surgery, if we don’t allow our bodies the proper time of healing we will continue to re-injure ourselves or worse, rip open the stitches from the surgery.  Continuously injuring ourselves or ripping open a wound can lead to permanent injury and even infection or death.  The same is true with emotional wounds.  If we try to move on too soon, ignore the wound or bury it, we will continue to make unhealthy choices and get hurt.

Just like recovering from a broken bone or major surgery, recovering from emotional wounds is very painful also.  We have to allow ourselves to feel the pain even when it’s most unbearable.  Facing it, feeling it and dealing with it is the process God uses to heal us completely from it.  Having this realization, I can face my season of waiting with a newfound hope because I want to be healed from my emotional wounds.  I want all the holes in my heart from rejection, verbal abuse, broken relationships and abandonment to be filled with God.  I want the scabs to turn into pretty pink scars that can never be ripped open again.  And I know I will be healed because God is our Great Physician who heals all wounds.  Ezekiel 36:26 is the perfect promise to stand on for emotional healing.  In this verse, God promises He will “give us a new heart and a new spirit.  He will remove from us these hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh.”

As doctors give broken bones and surgeries 6-8 weeks to heal, I’m giving my heart a time table of healing as well.  For the next 6 months, I am going to focus on emotional healing.  I will be do that by drawing closer to God, expressing the hurts that still exist, writing letters to my offenders (who will never see them but is merely a form of facing the hurts) and opening myself up to God’s ultimate healing.  I am no longer going to bury the pain and even give myself permission to cry when the tears want to flow.  I want to be completely emptied from old wounds and filled up with the wholeness that only comes from Christ’s mighty power of healing.  I’ve never been so excited to feel pain and cry but this excites me for I know the outcome is going to make me better than the woman who’s typing this blog post today.