Monday, August 26, 2013

Letter To My 28 Year Old Self

Today I watched this hilarious little comedy sketch* where a peppy little late 20's girl sings a song about her (love) life whilst sitting alongside her future early 30's self--a now bitter soul. The video was a perfect example of what a difference two years makes--especially when you're a single woman straddling strategic decades.

Younger version sings about feeling so happy about her life--how she's finally come into her own, feeling like a confident, beautiful, grownup with "plenty of time" left to find true love. Late 20's grins with much hope as she strums her innocent little ukulele and dreams about the bright future ahead.

Twenty seconds later, the scene shifts...

Slightly older version ditches the cute ukelele, instead opting for angry screamo. She proclaims obnoxiously, through a myriad of expletives: "THERE'S NOBODY LEFT! I'M ALL ALONE!!" Depressed and jaded, "31" resents her younger self for being so "naive" and optimistic, whilst she sadly counts each day that passes with no prospects in sight.

Art imitates life? Yes, indeed. I've been here: At the crazy crossroads of hope and bitterness, trying hard not to succumb to the sarcastic temptations of the "older version" of the beautiful girl.

The truth is, there was and is wisdom in both seasons. Over the last two years, I've forgotten some very important lessons (or decided they were somehow untrue of me now that I crossed the threshold into my 30's) I once knew, but I've also learned some valuable truths my more "innocent" 28 year old self had yet to discover.

If my former and present selves were to sit down next to the other and offer some timely life-stage wisdom to the other, it just might come out like this...

What my 28 year old self should have been told by older, wiser, present-day me:

-Don't judge those who are older than you and still single. Don't think you could never be one of them...

-Consider your guy friends--young, single guys are a dime a dozen in environments like YWAM, but the numbers decrease drastically outside "the bubble" of Christian colleges, camps and missions orgs. Years down the road, you start to question why exactly you passed by those great options in favor of something more shiny and new.

-Don't get too focused on one guy, assuming that one day he'll "come around" and realize how amazing you are. Don't compare everyone else to him and thus ignore any other prospects. Remember that if he hasn't pursued you, he's just not that into you. This is okay! You're young and you still have time (note: late 20's is not old!!). Move on and keep your eyes open!

-Go out more and get to know more people. Have fun and make the most out of being young and single. Don't be passive about your "waiting."

-It's okay to flirt. Try it... ;)

-Someday soon, people will start calling you "Ma'am." Sorry sweetie, this is inevitable. Try not to be offended, as it is not a personal reflection on you, merely that store clerks and Starbucks baristas are getting younger and younger and they've been (mistakenly) taught that this is a term of respect to anyone older than 24. But don't worry, this unfortunate occurrence is made up for by the fact that you will still often get carded and catch the eye of younger men when you go out. Because of your fun and youthful personality, revealing your real age will continue to shock people time and time again :)

-Be open to new possibilities when it comes to your "type." As much as it may shock you now, in the next few years, you'll suddenly find yourself interested in men in the military, guys with blond hair (or no hair!), dudes with beards...and (gasp!) even a few hipsters. It's okay; go with it. Enjoy the variety while you're still single...before you need to settle down with just one :)

-Don't commit too quickly. Take your time getting to know guys (especially online). Are there any red flags? Like, legitimate deal breakers that you won't even tell your family or girlfriends about because you know they will tell you to break it off. Hmmmm. Yeah. About that... Kill it now, girl. Don't even go there. Seriously. Regret sucks...

-Lastly, remember how sexy you feel right now. In two years, you will look nearly the same. Turning 30 doesn't somehow age you more drastically than normal. You will still be attractive 2 years from now. Don't let age define how you feel about yourself.

What my 30 year old self needs to learn from the younger, innocent dreamer me:

-Be hopeful and trust that God is working...especially when you feel the worst and don't see any glimpse of change. Remember that God has always been faithful to you. He's always provided...

-It's true what people say: You get better with time. Just two years ago, you loved who you were and how you looked. You were thankful to have found your own style, to be living out of your strengths and to be confident enough to enjoy your youth. You are getting better, not worse. Believe it...

-Don't be jealous of your friends getting married; be happy for them...keeping in mind that you will be that girl one day! :) Trust that God is preparing a love story for you that is equally (if not more) amazing.

-Don't settle. Don't let another birthday compel you to cross a deal-breaker off the list.

-It's okay to flirt. Seriously. Pure and sexy CAN by synonymous.

-Don't long for a 21 year old body (remember what it felt like to be 21...your view of yourself was far more paranoid than pretty. Don't let the photos deceive you...). A 30 year old body (with it's accompanying 30 year old mind) will have more grace on itself and learn to see itself as more gorgeous with each passing year.

-Look in the mirror. You have a wonderful smile, gorgeous eyes and nice...ahem..."feminine features." Believe it. You are a gift.

In short, if present and past me were to convene, the consensus would seem to be "Prepare to be surprised." As 30 would say, Be open to what the Lord will do...and as 28 would remind, trust that God is at work.

It's never too late when God is involved.

*I have to give credit where credit is due. The video I'm referring to is called "29/31" and is by a band called Garfunkel and Oates. You can look it up if you'd want, although I couldn't bring myself to put a link here (handful of F bombs and the C-word. Yikes!). Funny and idea inspiring, nonetheless! So,'ve been given proper citation...and warning! Do as you will.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Singleness Strain: An International Phenomenon

Did you know that in the past few years, the Chinese actually created a specific word to describe highly educated, professional single woman over the ages of 27?

It's called Sheng Nu...literally translated "leftover women."

But WHY? Why in a country where men significantly outnumber women?

It breaks my heart that this pattern of unwanted singleness for women is not just an American "epidemic"....

From what I've read, these women (enough in China to warrant an entire new word to describe their existence!) are NOT uber-controlling feminists. In fact, quite the opposite...they are very traditional. They are NOT shunning marriage. They desire marriage and even traditional gender roles (the man being the primary provider) but are not finding quality men who are making it happen.

I have some theories...most having to do with the passive nature of men and the fear/intimidation of said males to pursue educated and successful women (much longer post needed to digress on this particular point). But my other theory is that these girls are still (like many of us) are "in the waiting," patiently hoping for their princes and not taking matters into their own hands. Thus they watch the years pass by and the single season lengthen...

Again, it just breaks my heart. Especially since these girls live in a shame-based culture that puts the blame on THEM for not being married already. How awful to be made to feel guilty for not already "achieving" a deep heart's desire that you so desperately hope for? As I've said before here on VV, it's not like women have 100% control in this area. There is only so much we can do to "make it happen."

In putting the blame and guilt back on these single women, articles have surfaced with titles like "Don't Pity China's 'Leftover Women'" and "How China's 'Leftover Women' Are to Blame" in order to pressure "sheng nu" into lowering their standards and just "getting married already."

And statements like this (quoted in a BBC article) feel like a punch in the gut...

"'These girls hope to further their education in order to increase their competitiveness. The tragedy is, they don't realise that as women age, they are worth less and less. So by the time they get their MA or PhD, they are already old - like yellowed pearls.'"

(p.s. I am shocked that that was even put in print!)

This whole thing hearkens back to the timeless dilemma of whether or not a smart woman should "dumb herself down" in order to catch a guy's eye.

Ugh. Are we STILL doing that? Really?

It is not feminism to say that a woman should be herself and express her "girl power" (infamous 90's references again...). In fact, this is BIBLICAL. From a Christian perspective, women need to have their identities founded in Christ (not what men or society think of them) and also be good stewards of the gifts, talents and brains God gave them. To not do so is to "bury our talents" and miss out on the "Well done!" from our Master. Single women...we must make the most of what we've been given!

So, allow me to say, Rock on Chinese single girls! You are NOT leftovers. Don't give in to the pressure. Jesus will provide what you need (even when society tells you to settle)!

After all, wasn't the Proverbs 31 gal a classy, generous, hard-working business woman? She is the very picture of Biblical womanhood.

Here's to all the single girls living that out around the world. Without shame...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Food, Sex and Stuff (What I've Learned about Lust)

*Note: This is an article I had published earlier this year. I changed the title for you VV readers to what I originally hoped it would be, but alas, wasn't gonna fly in the original publication (oh, censorship!). Hope you enjoy it!

“And I'll sit back and say to myself, ‘My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!’"' (Luke12:19, NLT).

The Bible is the great revealer of human nature—it pegs me every time. Although I’d never proclaim that as my life verse, I can’t deny that this is the way I think. I justify my lack of self-control with cliché’s: “Life is short. Don’t deny yourself anything you want. Go ahead, do what makes you happy. Have another [fill in the blank]. You deserve it...”

After all, life’s about being happy, right?

Here’s the thing—I’m not happy. When I’m pouring my time, money and thoughts into fueling my cravings at all costs, I’m completely miserable. Depressed. Yet, I keep believing that lie—thinking that this time it might actually be true. That lie that tells me that THIS is the thing that will satisfy me. This piece of chocolate. This little “innocent” fantasy of what it might be like if I was married to that guy who sits across the aisle from me at church. This new pair of shoes.

Material things, food and men—I crave for them all in interchangeable measures, hoping they are the solution to the happiness that seems to elude me.

When I was 18 years old, I admitted to a room full of near strangers that I struggled with sexual lust. That moment of confession was the first step towards healing, in a process that would take years to work through. Yet while the sexual nature of that struggle has been tamed to a very large degree (and I can claim freedom from old habits), I must honestly admit that my battle with lust is far from over.

For several years, I had the wonderful, humbling privilege of leading intensive discipleship programs for young adults. Mentoring young women through an intentional process of finding healing from their struggles, I noticed an interesting pattern in those I was discipling (one eerily similar to myself just a few years prior). Just when one would seem to be experiencing real victory from sexual struggles, suddenly, a new struggle reared its ugly head. Men were no longer the primary thought on their minds—now it was food.

It’s no coincidence that a sexual struggle can quickly turn into a food struggle. They’re both about lust. Wanting, desiring, craving something so intensely. Once we realize that one thing doesn’t have the ability to satisfy us like we hoped it would, we turn to something else. The object of our affection might have changed, but the hunger is still there—a hunger that drives us to overindulge, throw away self-control completely (“I’ll work on that later…”) and ultimately, seek to find a savior for our pain in something other than Jesus.

I’m certainly not proud of this, but I choose to so openly share it because I believe vulnerability begets vulnerability. If I confess my struggle to you, it may just give you greater courage to bring your struggle into the light. Scripture tells us that “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth” (1 John 1:8, NLT). When we are honest with ourselves (stop living in denial of our issues) and others, however, God blesses us with a unique grace that can’t quite be articulated—you have to experience it for yourself to know just how much this vulnerability thing will change your life. In a moment of repentant confession, the hold that shame had on us is suddenly and dramatically broken. Although it certainly doesn’t sound pleasant (ripping our proverbial skeletons from the closet and exposing them is not exactly a prospect most of us get excited about), I can assure you that the end result is. It is the very thing the enemy fears. He knows we gain a stronger relationship with both God and others when we step into the light (1 John 1:6-7).

So, in my attempts to distance myself from darkness, I have already admitted to you that the darkness is not always far from me. In fact, sometimes I choose it. I know the Sunday School answer, yet, I am led away by the lust of my eyes—stuff, guys and sweets. I believe the lie that the glorious taste of that glazed cruller will ease my anxiety of the day. I succumb to the deception that that ultra-cute purse will magically pep up my mood. I am convinced that finding Mr. Right will silence the deeper longing in my heart for unconditional love. Yet all of these are lies. Total deception.

Just this last one, lust whispers coolly, THIS will fix it. The truth is that lust never satisfies. It never makes good on its claims—it always wants more.

I write this because I –former missionary and full-time church staff member—need to be reminded of it daily. I need to constantly set the Truth before my eyes; the Truth that sets me free. And THAT—the boundless freedom of being ruled by nothing other than Christ—is truly what I crave. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Twitter Thursdays: Wisdom on Waiting

Sometimes I've just gotta share something I've found...with absolutely no commentary of my own. Normally such things would be reserved for a Facebook or Twitter post, but I've decided to share them with my faithful VV readers since I don't have a specialized FB or Twitter account for the blog (hmmmm...future?). Thursdays, I've decided, will be reserved for such a purpose :)

Here's my "re-tweet" article called "5 Reasons God Calls Us to Wait." Title is self-explanatory... :)