Winter and Spring at the Same Time

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When I was a camp counselor, I taught a devotion in which I had the campers look into the night sky. I asked them to search for their very own constellation and draw it on a card. Many of them looked for their initials. Others looked for stars that shaped their favorite animal. Still others looked for hearts to remind them of how much God loved them.

“Did you know, ” I would say to them, “When God created the universe so long ago, he spoke those stars into space and he thought to himself Some day, this is going to be Annie’s constellation. And that’s why I love these particular stars so much. Because in thousands of years, these stars will remind her of how much I love her.”

I loved that devotion because I believed that it was true. That God really did think of us when he painted the stars. That he could not be contained by eternity, and yet he drew the tiny lines on a leaf. In the very same way, he could be so big and yet be deeply concerned about our tiny little lives.

Back then, my eyes were full of the wonder of my Savior’s love for me. I was always looking for it, remembering it. I would do things like write letters from God where he spoke to me directly. I would have many “special places” with God where I would go and pray, like the woods behind my dorms or the railroad tracks by the river, or the cherry tree that I would climb in and sing.

On Valentine’s day, I would visit spots where I used to have quiet times. I would sing songs from that season and build up rocks as a remembrance of what God had done for me. I even wrote God is my beloved under the altar at my college chapel on one of these remembrance walks. I found it was still there years later when I was visiting my old campus. 

My belief in God’s goodness was palatable back then. My sense of wonder was a constant companion. 

This sense of awe struck me again a few years ago on my birthday. I have an annual tradition of going on a favorite hike and journaling all the things I am thankful for from that year. As I was on my walk, I turned a corner and my jaw dropped open when I saw thousands of wild yellow orchids, covering a huge meadow that was totally barren two days earlier when I was hiking the same trail. 

I felt like God said “Here you are beautiful girl. You love flowers and so I am giving you thousands of them for your birthday.” It was so special.

It has been several years since that experience, and I had another birthday on Tuesday.

I woke up thinking about the experience with the orchids. Instead of thinking that was so kind of God or I wonder what surprise he has for me today, I thought I can’t believe how naive I was back then. 

I caught myself thinking this, and it stunned and saddened me. I stopped to examine my heart for a little while.

Why had I become so cynical the last few years? When did I stop believing that God gives me thousands of flowers on my birthday? That he remembered my name when he created the stars? 

What had happened to my sense of wonder? 

I realized that I have silently doubted the goodness and even existence of God in this last season of my life, slowly, thought by thought. Like water eroding a rock very gently day by day until there was a new pathway where the water went in a completely different direction. I had given in to my doubts minute by minute, and I was now winding down a river much darker than the clear, more innocent water that I used to know.

I have thoughts like, “I am struggling with a bout of depression again. Is God really there?” And it was like a little bit of water corroding the rock beneath it.  “There is sex trafficking in the world. It is a issue that I have been fighting for. Could God really be good when this is happening?” A little bit of water eroding the rock. “God has not given me a child yet. Why would he do that to me if he really loved me?” A little bit more water changing the pathway before it. Until my whole journey had changed.

I thought about all of this on the morning of my birthday. I realized that I have all but lost my sense of wonder when it comes to looking at the Father’s love. And I wanted it back.

Later that day, I went on my annual birthday hike, journal in hand. My roommate had told me about a new hiking trail, so I set out to find it.

It was stunning. Once I turned the corner from the busy highway I walked down, it was a different world. If I hadn’t known any better I would have thought that I was backpacking in the middle of a pristine mountain range instead of being a few miles away from Boulder. Huge rivers twisted their way through lush green fields, overlooked by my precious rocky mountains and flatiron rocks. There was a carpet of tiny white flowers everywhere. 

But the biggest surprise, my birthday surprise, came when I looked into the sky. There was some sort of white fuzzy plant that was germinating and tiny clumps of it blew through the air, everywhere, all around me.

It looked exactly like snow.

When I looked up, it appeared as if I was standing in the middle of winter with big snowflakes falling in my hair. If I looked down, it was a beautiful spring day. 

It was as if I was in two seasons at once: winter and spring.

I realized that God was giving me a new gift this year: the ability to live in two seasons at the same time. One that was sometimes cold and often difficult, the other beautiful and full of wonder. Neither one more important than the other.

When I was in my springtime years ago, I used to look away from dark issues. Personal issues like my struggle with loneliness and barrenness. World issues like war and sex trafficking. I didn’t want it to mar my vision of a loving God. 

This last season had been winter. It had been hard, and it wasn’t always healthy. But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t progressing. In my winter season, I have looked suffering square in the face, and it has been hard. 

Often, I have walked these cold paths alone, brushing past God when he tries to walk with me because I feel angry or ambivalent towards him. Sometimes I didn’t believe that God could exist in winters like these.  

But now, I believe I am approaching a new route, where the two parts of my journey intersect into one road.  Where it is winter and spring at the same time. A place where God can take my hand because I have opened it to him, walking with me through the pain and the questioning. Not so he can answer my questions, because some of those questions will never be answered. No, I want to walk with him simply so we can be with each other.

Together we can embrace the mystery of a world that is suffering and a God who loves unfathomably at the very same time. Where we can walk together as I face my own darkness and pain. Where we advocate together issues that are scary and horrible, things that break God’s heart every day. 

Maybe I can say “there is suffering in the world, including my own suffering” with the beautiful, powerful, unconditionally loving God walking with me. A paradox that I may not understand until I reach heaven. We will walk through fields that are full of flowers and skies that are full of snow, and all of it will be beautiful. 

And in this season, maybe God will teach me that if I’m not too scared to look past the snow into the scary, stormy skies, I will see my constellation, the constellation he made for me when he painted the stars. 

Stars that cast light I would never see if not for the darkness that surrounds them. 

 

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Do I Really Need A Minivan In The Game Of Life?

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I was playing cards with my little friend Isabella the other day. We were playing Old Maid.

You know the game: each person has a set of cards. You draw from the other player, and lay down the pairs that you find. Twos twos twos. There is a sense of anticipation every time a card is drawn from the other player’s hand. Who will pair up next?

Another pair, and another pair, and another pair. Each laid down, one right next to the other.

There was one card left in my hand at the end of the game. The Old Maid. The card had a picture an older woman surrounded by cats. Apparently cats are the only creatures that will live with single ladies that are mature in age.

Isabella pointed at me and said “Look Kate! You have the Old Maid! That means you are the loser.

I didn’t know what to do with this statement, or with this game. I don’t usually mind losing games to five year olds. But I was a little more sensitive about losing this time. “Am I the loser?” I thought.

I decided to lean more about the history of the game. Here’s what I found out: it is a very old victorian game. There are versions around the world, many with different names. In Brazil, it goes by the flattering name Stink. The English version is called Scabby Queen, a name brings up even worse images than the picture of the American cat lady. And my personal favorite, the French version that is known as Le Pouilleux, which means the louse. Just in case you don’t know what that is, it’s a parasitic insect. Another word for louse is cootie. Awesome.

In my research, I also found pictures of some vintage Old Maid games. My favorite was a 1940‘s deck that had wonderful cartoons of very attractive curvy women. One woman was riding on an airplane. Another was surfing. A third looked like a successful business lady.

The Old Maid? A little old single lady, sitting in a rocking chair knitting, which is quite appropriate, since that is where the word spinster comes from. One who spins. It seems that single people who are a little older have nothing better to do than sit in a rocking chair and knit some booties for their favorite nephew.

A few weeks after this incident, I was playing another game with my ten year old friend, Collin. The Game Of Life. This game has versions of it dating all the way back to 1860. It has a track in which players move in little plastic cars through various life scenarios. Consequently, in the late 80’s the game changed the car from a convertible to a Chrysler-esque minivan.

“Wait a second.” I said to Collin. “What if I want a four wheel drive Subaru instead of a minivan?” Collin retorted “you have to have a mini van in the game of life.”

Well, I realized, it makes sense that you need to have decent leg space in your car, since you have to put your growing family in it.

This family is acquired towards the beginning of the game, when you hit a stop sign in front of a three dimensional chapel. It is here that you must get married and put a new blue or pink peg beside you in your minivan.  I looked at Collin and said “Hey, what if I don’t want to get married? Or what if, by some crazy turn of circumstances, it just doesn’t happen for me?” Collin gave me a quizzical look and said, “You can’t do that Kate! You have to get married in the game of life.”

It’s true. I did. If I didn’t, I would be stuck at the beginning of the game. Forever. I gave in, but mostly because you get $5,000 worth of wedding gifts on the next space.

At the end of the game, the bank paid out money for various things. I wasn’t at all surprised that you received a decent amount for each child that you were able to raise in your minivan. It seems that in the game of life, he who dies with the most kids gets the most cash.

Really, Milton Bradley? Really?

These are some of the stereotypes that are placed in our minds at a very young age, and I admit I can relate to some of them. Like the Old Maid, I have seen my friends pair up two by two. I am not as old as she is, but I am in my thirties, which is pretty old to be single, especially in Christian circles. And yes, I do put my knitted creations on etsy.

But that’s where the similarities stop. I hate cats, I have many other things to do with my time than sit in a rocking chair, and I am really, honestly, not a loser.

Those are good signs that I am not really an Old Maid, right?

There are also things in The Game of Life that I can relate to. I often feel like society says to me “You’re not married? You don’t have children? How could you possibly ride around in your plastic car with one lonely plastic peg in it? Is there something wrong? Are you going to get stuck at the beginning of life and never move on to the rest of your game because of your singleness?”

At this point, I have no idea if I will ever get married. I have stopped trying to control it. I do know that I want to make a new game of life. One in which I can go anywhere I want to go, even if no one is with me in the plastic minivan.

Anyone else out there have childhood memories that made it feel like being married was the only thing that would bring happiness or value to your life?

Adventures In Pity Partying

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Today we will talk about pity parties. I have been the event planner for quite a few of these festivities, so I can talk about them with some expertise.

Okay, I’ll stop being modest and just and say it:  I am pretty much the Martha Stewart of pity parties

Here are some of my pity party planning tips:

1) Come depressed. Your goal should be to obsess about how crappy your life is, and to have your guests comfort you as you talk about how crappy your life is.

2) Be selective about who you invite. Don’t include people who will say things like “get over yourself”or “it’s time to move on.” They will ruin everything.

3) Wear the proper outfit. This usually includes glasses, pajamas, and rabbit slippers.

4) Plan your menu! I like to have potato chips as my appetizer, Ben and Jerry’s as the main course, and maybe another kind of Ben and Jerry’s for dessert. An assortment of deep fried foods works great for side dishes. If you want to get especially fancy, add garnishes of marshmallows and tootsie rolls.

5) Mood music is very important! I have a mix tape labeled Kate’s Songs That Allow Her To Wallow In The Depths Of Despair.

This tape contains such classics as:

“All By Myself”- made popular by our mentor,  Bridget Jones.

“Against All Odds”by Phil Collins- you cannot get a more apt song for a pity party than one that contains phrases like “How can you just walk away from me?” “Theres nothing left here to remind me, just the memory of your face,” and “I wish I could make you turn around, turn around and see me cry.” Classic.

“Baby Got Back: by Sir Mixalot- Wait, how did that get on here?

6) Plan some really fun games! My favorites are “Pin the Tail On the X-Boyfriend” and “The Pinata That Looks Remarkably Like Someone I Used To Kiss.”

7) Make sure to light lots of candles. If the pity party goes really well, you and your guests can burn love notes and pictures as the finale of your shindig.

8) If you want to provide party favors, I can hook you up with some nice pity party T-Shirts. I have soft gray ones that you can wear to bed, hot pink ones with sparkles for when you go out with the girls that come in sets of three, and light blue ones that have “Pity Party” written on them very subtly that are especially nice to wear to church. I also have pity party mugs and pity party signature kleenex.

Follow these tips, and you too can have a great (read: pathetic and soul draining) pity party!

In all seriousness, the reason I am such an expert in this area is that I have thrown many pity parties in this season. I am getting older. I don’t have a lot of years left to have biological children. It has been on my mind all the time, and my patient friends (including you, dear readers) have had to endure a lot of conversations about it. I have been walking around saying “how could this be my life?”

This week, the darkness of this season grew to a crescendo when my long time counselor challenged me to really examine what I would do if I never got married and didn’t have biological children. How would I go about rearranging my life if my only choice to have a child was to adopt? She also asked me if I thought that my life would be valuable if I never had a traditional family. It was almost impossible for me to say yes.

I have been devastated for days. At the same time, though, I am recognizing how much these thoughts have been consuming me lately. I haven’t been sleeping very well. My mind has been mulling over my difficult childhood, wondering if that contributed to people not falling in love with me. I have been bitter towards x-boyfriends for rejecting me. I have been doubting God’s goodness and even existence because he was not given this deep desire. In other words, I have been trying to blame anyone I can for my pain.

This difficult counseling session helped purge this deep sadness in me, and also made me realize that I am spiritually “hung over” and exhausted from the pity parties I have been throwing. I have had the mantra “denial and bitterness, denial and bitterness, denial and bitterness” pounding in my head, and it is stealing away my life.

So this week, I have tried to fill my mind with different thoughts. I have literally repeated the words: “acceptance and gratefulness, acceptance and gratefulness, acceptance and gratefulness” in order to replace the other hopeless words.

Someone asked me the other day “if you were to lose everything you haven’t been thankful for this month, what would you have left?” This really humbled me. I realized that I have been focusing so much on everything I don’t have, and missing what I do have.

I realize now that pity parties are okay every once in a while because they allow me  to express my pain, but  parties that celebrate my life are the ones I should throw on  a more regular basis.

Regarding My New Super Human Calves

I have never been a super athletic person.

I was the one in gym class who would cry during games of dodgeball. (I think I would still cry as an adult, too. It is a freaky game.)

I was the one who was picked last for all team sports.

I was the one who threw a bat backwards by mistake, hitting Pam Dispense in the head and sending her to the hospital.

Yeah. I was that kid.

The one thing I was good at was dancing. So the only time I wouldn’t dread PE was when we were square dancing or doing the popcorn dance.

As an adult, even though I love to hike and backpack and am a Zumba instructor, I have quietly avoided most other athletic endeavors. (Being a Zumba instructor makes sense though, since it is so closely related to the popcorn dance.)

But lately I’ve been riding my bike a lot.

This makes me pretty proud, especially because I have always been jealous of bikers. I see them on the side of the road with their tiny little spandex and their super human calves and I think “I wish I could be that cool.”

One day I remembered a friend telling me that I should always pay attention when I am jealous of someone. It usually means they are doing something that I am afraid of. Something I should be brave and do myself.

So I overcame my fear and started biking when I lived in San Francisco. I rode it everywhere. It was one of my favorite things about living in that city. Now that I’m back in Boulder my friend Estee has been taking me on mountain bike rides. I’ve been going almost every other day.

I am honestly still not that good. In fact, I think I closely resemble the girl in the above picture.

But I absolutely love it.

Lately though, I’ve been taking note of what is happening in my head as I’m riding. What I am often thinking about is how people will believe I’m more awesome now that I go on bike rides so often.

I am pondering who I can take with me so they will be impressed by my awesomeness.

When I come home and my roommates ask me what I did that day, I say “Oh, I was just on a bike ride. Again.

And I realize that I am trying to feel valued and seen because of what I do. Not because of who I am.

This is not a new thing. I have lived a lot of my life wanting people to notice things that I am good at, especially guys that I wanted to impress.

I worked at a camp in Colorado for years and years. I have never felt so in my element in all of my life as when I worked at that camp.  Other counselors called me “The Legend.” I loved reaching out to my campers and seeing their lives changed. I loved playing chubby bunnies with them, even if it did mean that they were on the verge of choking at any given moment. I loved singing them to sleep. I have been in touch with some of them for over a decade. I absolutely loved it.

I also loved Bryan, the guy in the blue teepee across the way. And Sam in the red tepee. And I also kind of liked Ben, who helped me start my fires in the morning. Even though my love for the kids was sincere, I was also very aware that being great with kids was something that these handsome counselors had on their what I want in a wife list.

I found out many years later that a lot of those guys secretly really liked helping me light my fires. Sadly, they never asked me out. Maybe I was too much of a legend and scared them off.

Soon after, I became a professional songwriter and worship leader and played in churches and bars and coffee shops and Rainbow Gatherings. I worked hard to write songs that would bring the hope of Jesus without sounding churchy and religious. I sang songs to broken people, comforting them. I wanted to change people’s lives by painting an accurate picture of God to people who had misunderstood him.

But I also wanted to look hot playing my guitar. It is embarrassing to admit that, but its’ true.

I have mentioned before that one of my biggest fears is that people will like me on stage or while I’m teaching or on this blog but will be disappointed in me in real life. And yet, my constant cognizance of other people’s opinions of me is feeding into that fear. It is feeding the lie that I will only be loved for what I do or how talented I am, not for who I am.

Yesterday, as I was riding my bike, I started thinking about flowers. About how there are so many flowers in the world that no one will ever see. God created them just because he loves to create. Not because he needs to impress anyone. Not because they need to be seen. Just because they are beautiful.

I thought “I am like those flowers. Even if no one notices that I am beautiful, God created me. Therefore, I am beautiful.”

I thought “Even if no one sees the new super human calves that I may have one day, I am still awesome.”

I thought “Right now, in this moment, I want to ride my bike just because I love it. Not for anyone else but me and my God.”

So I did.

It was a very good feeling.

Have you ever had experiences with only feeling loved if you do things right? Of living your life trying to please or impress people? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Just an extra note… I just wanted to let you know I am going to Minneapolis the last week in September for the Christian Community Development Association conference. I am looking for another house show and maybe another church to lead worship at. Maybe even a place to stay. If you live in Minneapolis and are interested will you write a note to me here or send me an email via katehurley.com? Also, Aaron Strumpel and I will be doing an Enter the Worship Circle concert on September 25 at Emmaus Road Church 6719 Cedar Lake Road, St. Louis Park, MN. 55426. 7pm.  I’d love to see you all there!

 

Michelle On The Isle ‘O Singleness

You should give him a chance. Even if he doesn’t have hair like Rick Astley.

(For the post that inspired this story, go to “Throw Away Your List (Or Just Rewrite It)”where I talk about being selective when it comes to important things like kindness and compatibility, but to be lenient with shallow things, such as the way they look or their lack of hair or their taste in music. As my friend Jude says “Compromising is very different from negotiating.” You should never compromise the important things, but you should allow yourself to negotiate when it comes to the not so important things. Not everyone is Rick Astley, and you shouldn’t expect them to be.)

Michelle was shipwrecked on the Isle Of Singleness. She was stranded there for a long time and was very lonely. She prayed and said “God, please send me a perfect man to get me off of this island.” Soon, a man in a  speedboat came along. He was very kind and dedicated. But he was listening to Celine Deon on the radio. He said “Michelle, I have come a very long way to take you off of this island.” She told him “thanks for the offer, but God is going to send me the perfect man. And the perfect man cannot be listening to bad diva music.”

Soon, another man came in a rowboat.  He was great with children and had a wonderful sense of humor. But he was balding a little bit. He said “My darling Michelle, I have rowed many hundreds of miles to rescue you off of this island.” She replied “I appreciate what you have done, but God is going to send me the perfect man to get me off of this island. He has to have hair in all of the right places. Namely a lot on his head, and none on his back. Now why don’t you just take your little bald head and row right back to the mainland.” 

Finally, a man came swimming to the shore. He had a huge heart and an incredible faith. Breathlessly, he threw his arms around her and said “Michelle, you are the woman of my dreams. I swam five hundred miles, and then I swam five hundred more just to be the man to swim a thousand miles and fall down at your door. I also strapped a romantic picnic dinner, your hairdryer, and your favorite chick flicks on my back.” 

Michelle replied “What, no flowers?” 

Michelle stayed on the island many years. Finally she shook her fist at the sky.”God, why haven’t you sent me the perfect man to save me?” 

He said  “I sent you a potential husband in a speedboat, a potential husband in a rowboat, and a potential husband who swam a thousand miles to fall down at your door.”

“But God,” Michelle replied, “none of those men fit everything on my list!’

God said, “If you ever want to get off of this island, you’re going to have to write a new list.”

Married people, I’d especially love to hear your stories on this topic. How did you idea of a “perfect mate” change when you met your husband or wife? What do you think is important to look at when a single person is considering someone to marry?

The Framed Picture I Have on My Wall

The cover of my last album, “Weak and Strong at the Same Time” is very special to me. (You can also look this album up on itunes.)  It is a drawn picture of a girl who looks like me. She is wearing rags, and she is looking into a mirror. On the other side of the mirror is another image of the same girl, but she is dressed in a gold and purple robe. She reaches her hand towards the poor version of herself, a look of compassion and love on her face.

Often people miss this little detail,  but on the wall, there is a small framed picture. It is a picture of the same girl in her rags, running towards a man in a purple and gold robe.

Her father.

This is the Prodigal Daughter. (See Luke 5:11-32) She is coming back to her old room after being surprised by her glorious homecoming. By the all encompassing love of a father she thought had disowned her. And now, because of that love, she sees herself differently.

I used to have a hard time relating to this story, even though I loved it. I’ve been pretty good most of my life. I haven’t run away from my Father’s house, squandering his inheritance, and I haven’t had much loose living, either. I have worked for the kingdom in my Father’s house since I was adopted into it at 16 years old. I’ve never really wanted to run away.

But there are times that I have wondered why, when I have served Him my whole life, He has not answered the most consistent prayer of my life : the prayer for a family. When I was sick with Lyme disease for seven years, I also wondered over and over again why He wasn’t making me better and healing my severe, chronic insomnia and the pain that racked my body.

Forget this whole grace thing.  I wanted God to see my good works and reward me.

One day I read this same passage, but this time I tried relating to the older son instead of the prodigal son. It changed the entire story for me.

The older son is working in the fields (as always) when the his brother comes home. When the older son finally angrily talks to his father about his brother’s homecoming,  he says” I have slaved for you all these years. But you have not given me anything. Nothing.”

The Father’s response is so loving, and yet so poignant. “My son ALL that I have is yours.”

In effect, He says “There is nothing that I have that doesn’t belong to you. ”

Reading the passage in this light, I suddenly saw a picture of the older son, as if in a movie. He was slaving away in the fields day after day. He would come home for dinner, but would sit at the far end of the table and barely talk to the Father.  He would pass his father in the hallway, with the Father longing to hold him, but he would just brush past and go to his room, wallowing in his self made prison. This is what was happening in the home of my heart, as well.

Henri Nouwen says”Returning home from a lustful escapade seems so much easier that returning home from a cold anger that has rooted itself in the deepest corners of my being. ”

Here is the real question that I need to ask myself: is it God that is not good, or is it my perspective that is not good?

Look at the story. Both of these sons felt like the only way that they could be loved by the father was to be His slave. (Even the prodigal thinks his father will only accept him is if he comes home as a slave.) But this good, good father never wanted slaves. He wanted sons.  In both the case of the rebellious son and the case of the religious son, He wants to run to them, yelling at the top of his lungs “my child, my child! You’ve come home to me!” He wants to lavish his love on them, spinning them around until they are dizzy with His love, falling down with them, laughing. He wants to celebrate with them the immense joy that comes at the end of a long, hard journey.

He wants his sons to understand that now and forever, everything He has is theirs. They don’t have to steal His inheritance, they don’t have to slave for His inheritance,  they already have it.

No, this is not the picture of a bad father, as the older son tried to paint. It is the picture of the most loving father that has ever lived.

The father’s heart was never in the wrong. Our perspectives were wrong.

I have a friend who was asked question centered around the problem of evil. Her answer was the best one I’ve ever heard, one I have thought of over and over again.

“You know, I don’t really have a good answer to that question. But I do know this.  One day, when we see God face to face, no one will be able to deny His goodness.”

I don’t understand why I’m not married, why I don’t have children. I don’t understand why there was divorce and pain in my family growing up. I don’t understand I was sick for so many years.I don’t understand why all my relationships have ended in breakups. I  don’t understand why there is poverty or slavery in the world. I may never understand these things in my lifetime.

But when I see Him face to face, there will be no doubt in my mind that He is good.

As good old Henri  says, “I am beginning now to see how radically the character of my spiritual journey will change when I no longer think of God as hiding out (or holding out) and making it as difficult as possible to find him, but instead, as the one looking for me while I am doing the hiding.  When I look through God’s eyes at my lost self and discover God’s joy at my coming home, then my life may become less anguished and more trusting. ”

The Father reaches out to us. He says ” I never asked you to be a slave. All I ever wanted was for you to be my child. Don’t hide behind your good deeds, behind your broken dreams, behind your bitterness. Choose to look beyond that which you don’t understand and believe in my goodness. Come, eat at my table. When you pass me in the hallway of our house, let me hold you.

Child, please believe me. All that I have is yours.”

If we choose to come home to His arms, the next time we look in the mirror,  we will not see someone in rags, bitter and torn. We will see ourselves as the Father sees us. Beautiful. Compassionate towards ourselves and others. And wearing His robe. Wearing His identity. No longer a slave, no longer focused on the what we don’t understand, but focused on being His Beloved Child.

The way that we see God will change everything. Like the beggar girl looking into a mirror and seeing someone beautiful, the way that wee see God will even change the way that we see ourselves.

What Single People Wish Married People Knew

My friend Jess is a beautiful, single blonde girl who has been a missionary in Italy for 10 years and is 37. One day, an Italian woman, let’s call her Mamma Carmen, came up to her with a little charm necklace that had a picture of a saint on it.

“What’s this?” asked Jess.
(Cue in accent of Italian mama who doesn’t speak much English)
“A necklace for you. A picture of Saint Anthony. ”
“Who is Saint Anthony?”
“Is-a- the patron saint of lost-a things.”
“And what have I lost, Mama Carmen?”
“Oh, you know sveetie. ”
“No I don’t know. What is that I have lost?”
“You lost-a your husband.”
“Mama Carmen, isn’t that usually the saint you pray to for a lost sock or car keys-things like that?”
“Yes, but not for you. For you, pray to him for husband. More important than sock.”

Mama Carmen’s Formula:

“Lost Husband + Praying to Patron Saint of Lost Things + Ten Hail Marys= 1 wedding, 5 socks, 2 spoons, and 1 bracelet you thought you gave to your friend Jill.”

I had my own formula concocting conversation with a ministry leader of mine a few years back. Let’s call her Emily. The conversation looked like this:

“Kate, do you remember our babysitter Joann? Well, she  went through a season of really struggling with being single like you are going through.  She cried and battled  and finally brought her burden to the Lord. She let go.

Two weeks later, she met her husband. And he looks just like Ryan Gosling. ”

I said,”Emily, I am really happy for Joann.  But she is twenty freaking years old.”

“So? What does that have to do with anything?”

I respected and loved this leader, but I just couldn’t brush the comment off this time.

I said “I have had a decade longer than her of wrestling with God over this issue.  In all my wrestling,  I have had several seasons where I have been content as a single person, embracing the thought of God as my husband. But often, those seasons fade, and I’m struggling again. It is a cycle that happens.  I don’t think God laughs at my cycles of frustration. I think he understands. I think He wants to meet me there. ”

Emily continued to argue with me, saying that I  just needed to let go, insinuating that it was  my own fault that I was still single.

I said, “Em, please understand me here. If you had a friend who was not getting pregnant or who was having multiple miscarriages, someone who had been struggling with barrenness for fifteen years, would you say to her ‘If you just trusted the Lord more with your barrenness, he would give you a baby?’ You would never say that! You recognize how much she is mourning that loss, and so you careful with her words. You don’t want to hurt her even more by making her feel like it might be her own fault.

Well at times, I feel barren. Not only barren in my childbearing, but barren as a lover as well. I don’t have children or a husband, and so I really have no immediate blood family. Please, please, be sensitive to this barrenness in me. Please don’t tell me that I have done something wrong in not letting go, and the result of that shortcoming is my barrenness.”

I know that sounds pretty heavy, but it is how many of us feel at times.

In the very thick book of popular theology that is not actually in the Bible, a book I like to call “First Assumptions” , we have this formula:

“Not letting go=being single.
Letting go= being married. ”

Most singles I have talked to have had this formula given to them in one way or another. Many of them dozens of times. Almost every time I mention writing my book on singleness, single people give me some kind of version of this story.

Most of us, when we first heard this formula as a young person, grabbed our journal and bible and went to a quiet place. We turned our sweet young faces to heaven with tears in our eyes and said “Lord, I let go. I give my husband to you.”

Do you know why we were saying this? Because we wanted a husband. And according to the formula, if you wanted a husband, you had to let go of him first. So we were letting go of him in order to get him.

Quite ironic, isn’t it?

But as years passed, when that formula didn’t work, we started cringing when someone told us we just needed to let go. We couldn’t put our finger on why it irked something deep inside of us, but it did.

I have a theory about why it frustrates us so much. At the root of this formula is the idea that all single people have done something wrong and all married people have done something right. Married people, I know you probably never meant to make us feel that way, but it is the nature of that formula.

It kind of reminds me of the story of Job. Here is the formula we can get out of his story.

“Tragically losing everything+wife that is pissed+hideous boils all over your body+annoying friends telling you that you must have done something wrong to deserve this+being totally frustrated and not getting why you’re going through this+God’s booming voice telling  us humans that we don’t know nothing and He doesn’t fit in our formulas and boxes+ praising God even through horrible circumstances and singing “Blessed Be Your Name” = even more stuff than you had before.”

Sound familiar? (Except for the boils part, hopefully.) That story is one of the oldest in the bible. One of it’s lessons? Don’t make formulas. Meet Him, wrestle with Him, praise Him even when you don’t understand, but never, ever, put Him in a box.

As Donald Miller said, “As much as we want to believe we can fix out lives in about as many steps as it takes to make a peanut-butter sandwich, I don’t believe we can.”

My married friend Becca, who is incredibly dear to me, explained to me that married people don’t often have bad motives in their formula making. She said that when human beings don’t understand something, they make formulas. They want to feel like they are giving their friend some control over the situation. They even make their own life journeys into formulas. Sometimes we singles cling to the formulas given to us because we want some control over the situation as well.

I really appreciate that we had this conversation because it reminded me that  married people are not the enemy. They love us.

But out of love, I want our married friends to understand why these formulas are so hard for us to hear.

These formulas makes us feel like our being single has nothing to do with God’s will or our choices or the enemy or any other theory you have on why hard things happen.

It has to do with our lack.

We already struggle with feeling like we lack when we wonder why we haven’t been chosen. Please don’t cut that wound deeper.

This formula also makes us feel like our not being married  has to do with our relationship with the Lord, which evidently is wanting.

For most of us, our relationship with the Lord is the most sacred one that we have. Please, please, don’t criticize that relationship as well. Don’t tear down the one relationship where we feel loved and accepted. Even if you mean well, just don’t do it.

I think a good rule of thumb for both parties is to do less formula making and pat- answering and do more listening. Listening to what the Lord has to say, and listening to each others journeys with compassion.

Restrain yourselves from formulas. But don’t restrain yourselves from giving each other a hug. We probably both need one.

Be encouraged that we all have our own journey, and that all of our journeys our valid.