Tuesday, December 20, 2016

2017 Post-Election Faith Goals: Study More, Serve More

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." -- Galatians 5:22-23

"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." -- Ephesians 4:2

Here is what I think, which I know goes against the prevailing sentiment in my part of the country. I am concerned that next month will usher in a period in our nation during which my children will be less safe, human life will be less valued, and the proud shall use their power to taunt the meek. Many people I respect and love disagree with me on my assessment. I get that, and I always appreciate the opportunity to have civil and informed conversations with friends and family who look at things differently. I usually learn something from these discussions, and learning is one of my favorite things. Mine is but one perspective and I would never presume I'm always right. 

However, despite exit polls that showed a clear majority of Christians voted for the incoming administration, I know I'm not alone among followers of Christ in being concerned. Right? But what can I do? What can we do? A lot. This election and its resulting unrest (and whether you are a fan of the incoming president or not, I hope you can agree that we have some unrest right now) has led me to feel even greater conviction to be the hands and feet and heart of Christ. 

I fail in my Christian walk on the regular. In fact, every day. I do not always treat people the way I wish to be treated. I do not always have a servant's heart. I do not gather with my brothers and sisters at every opportunity to pray and to worship. To be painfully honest, there are times that I hide from the interaction, especially during the holidays for reasons I cannot quite determine. I don't want to do that anymore. I have spent the closing weeks of this year reflecting on these shortcomings and how I can and will do better in the new year. Correction . . . how I need to do better starting right now.

I believe that the next four years will require men and women of faith, no matter who received their votes, to be bolder than ever in their love and their service and in a call for unity among all people. I'm both invigorated and overwhelmed by the challenge! I have determined that being active in this pursuit must be one of my primary acts in the months that lie ahead (Just behind this resolution in importance for the new year? Getting more than three hours of consecutive sleep at night and actually hanging curtains and/or photographs and/or artwork in my home of six months.).

There are men and women in my life who I have watched put their faith into action for years, by sending kind notes and volunteering with children and feeding the hungry and offering their construction skills and going on mission trips and just sitting with people who need a friend. Their names are running through my head as I type. I can count supporters of Trump and Clinton and "None of the Above" among them, as no political party or campaign holds the claim to good people. They have done so without expectation of recognition and I am inspired time and again by the people they are and the example they set. But I've done too much watching and not enough following of their lead.

So, whether it's my feelings about the election or the way that my family is constantly surrounded in love at our church or how I have read countless stories about people who affect positive change through simple acts of kindness that finally have motivated me to action, I know that I need to do more.

So, in 2017, I plan to do the following when it comes to my spiritual life:

Spend more time with the refugee families who are finding their way to our church family in greater numbers every week. I will tutor the children and sit with their mothers. I will attend the service they hold in their native tongue and worship with them. And I will go beyond my church walls to help the organizations here in Nashville who are welcoming refugee families and helping them acclimate.

Read more with my children about what boys and girls their age experience in different parts of our city and different parts of our world.

Watch and read enough news so that I stay informed but shut it off before I become disheartened or distracted.

Study a different religious leader or scholar every month, from different backgrounds and of different perspectives. Learn from his or her writings and actions. If you have a woman or man you believe I should study, please share with me as I would love your suggestions.

Embrace the congregation-wide effort that our church is making to read the entire Bible over the course of the year. Really value the time I spend in God's Word and discerning what He means for me to learn and do in 2017.

Spend less time on social media and no time on reality television and instead spend more time engaging with actual humans and consistently doing so in ways that take me out of my comfort zone . . . which won't take much.

Attend a worship service at a different congregation in the Nashville area at least every other month, not instead of worshiping with my church family but in addition to that time.

Be consistent in keeping a gratitude journal. I need to remember when I get frustrated or impatient or sad, there are always reasons to be thankful.

Talk more with people with whom I disagree and with whom I allow myself to get annoyed.

Clear the slate of all grudges. Or at least work on doing so.

Pray for our President-elect and other members of his administration, and pray for the candidates who will come forward to over the next four years to offer their ideas and leadership to local, state, and national offices.

Hug people a lot.

Not mention any of these things after today and just do them.

I share these plans not to boast with claims of "look at all I plan to do next year" but for two other important reasons. First, to hold myself accountable. I've written publicly about my plans in other areas of my life as previous years have come to a close and it's helped me greatly. Second, I want to encourage others to walk with me. Will you link arms with me so that we can be the armor for one another and for the rest of our brothers and sisters? Whether or not we share a faith or if you even proclaim a faith at all, I consider us family and I would love to have you beside me. My faith is what is motivating me right now; it may be different for you. I would love to learn from you and your efforts. I would be grateful to have you join with me in any of the ideas I've proposed or if you would allow me to come alongside you in outreach efforts you are contemplating.

Love and kindness will be needed in greater supply and more than ever in the days ahead. Who am I to complain about its absence if I'm not willing to affect the change, however small my part, that I wish to see in our community and the world? So, will you join with me?

I want to imprint the following Scripture on my heart for the new year and then take it from there:

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." -- 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Friday, December 2, 2016

Seven Years Single

"If there is no man in your house when you leave for work in the morning, there isn't going to be one there when you get home at night if you don't do something to make it so." - wise counsel from a co-worker

This week marks seven years since my divorce was finalized -- and seven years of being very single. I must admit that I'm somewhat surprised to have found myself in this position for the better part of a decade. I just figured that I would have dated at least a bit in the 2,555 days since I started checking "divorced" on registration forms at the doctor's office. Well, let me be fair. I have been on three dates. In seven years.

Do you remember how easy dating was in your teens and twenties? I mean, not the part where you lock yourself in your room and listen to Sinead O'Connor or The Cure or Indigo Girls for hours during a furiously tragic break up. Instead, I just mean the environment was there. You hung out with a group of people comprised of mostly young and single men and women and went to places where there were other single people. And you would talk to these people. When you really liked one of them, you would make arrangements to hang out without all those other people. Sometimes the other person would show up ten minutes late and then scream obscenities at a very pregnant woman struggling to get out of a cab because she was moving too slow and he didn't want to miss his dinner reservations in Georgetown. and then he would wonder why you didn't want a second date. Or, another time with another person, when you offer to pay for your part of dinner, maybe the other person would say something like, "You can pay me now or you can pay me later, if you know what I mean." And then wonder why you didn't want a second date. But other times, you would laugh and have a lot in common and want to spend more time together . While I didn't have any really serious boyfriends for more than a few months while in my early twenties, I went out on lots of dates. And it was lots of fun.

Maybe I just don't know how dating is supposed to work anymore. After all, the last person I dated was my ex-husband . . . sixteen years ago. This was before Facebook or text messages or smartphones. It was during the waning days of the Clinton administration. I was twenty-five years old. It was a different time and I was a different person. One good thing is . . . I like who I am now a lot more. So I've got that going forward!

Truth is, though, that I'm a smart woman and I probably could figure out how to date in the new millennium and within the context of a social media world. Instead, I believe my chronic singledom can be explained by five "S" words -- selective, sources, sleepy, sitters, and scared. Let's explore, shall we?

Selective -- The more appropriate word choice here is probably "picky," but that doesn't really fit with the whole S theme I'm creating. Between my work schedule and my kids' activities and school stuff, I have very little time for dating. Time is precious to me and I've become very protective of it. More importantly, any person I date could potentially meet my kids someday. Theirs are hearts that I hold much more tenderly than my own. While my daughter tells me on a regular basis that I need to get out more and find a boyfriend (last night she actually said, "get out of your robe once in a while and go meet some people!") and my son wants a dad "who will live with him and play with him" (I can feel my heart break into a million pieces every time he says that), I am wary of anyone stepping into our family unit. We have (on most days) a good thing going.

Sources -- Where do you meet single men when you are in your forties? I know the whole "easier to get killed by a terrorist than find a husband over the age of 40" theory put forth by Newsweek and then Sleepless in Seattle has been debunked. There are single people out there. I've had multiple friends find success with online dating, resulting in great relationships or even new marriages, but it didn't work for me. I've been told I must have done it wrong, which is quite possible. I also know of several relationships between people who knew each other in high school or college and reconnected over social media. I love how Facebook has allowed me to keep in touch with friends and former boyfriends from 20-25 years ago, but I don't see romance blossoming through that venue, either. And, I honestly cannot think of too many single men I've met in person over the past seven years, be it at work or church or the kids' schools. I probably could count the number on my hands. But then again, have I really tried?

Sleepy -- I'm worn out by Friday night. After a week of work and school and activities and cleaning (kind of) the house, I'm ready to crash (see the aforementioned robe . . . it's so comfortable!). The idea of gearing myself up for a night out, besides with someone other than my girlfriends I've known for a decade (with whom I must say I'm super fiercely in platonic love), is exhausting. But, as my co-worker shared in my quote to open this post, things aren't going to change if I don't do something different. And that something different just might be giving myself a pep talk, drinking some caffeine, and leaving my home on a Friday or Saturday night.

Sitters -- Sometimes I tell myself that I just wasn't meant to date in this season of life, that I need to focus on raising my kids and bettering our financial security. My kids aren't old enough to leave home in the evenings quite yet, but in a couple of years they will be. Maybe that will be my time. They probably will be happy to have the house to themselves for a few hours at that age. And it's not that I'm opposed to using sitters now. I've left my kids with sitters since they were infants and currently have several high school students who are great babysitters. So, I have no qualms about letting others care for my beloved offspring. But sitter costs can start to add up if needed often and it would be months before I would introduce anyone I date to my kids and have us all spend time together. So, yep, sounds like I'm pretty good at coming up with these excuses.

Scared -- In the end, it may very well be that you can toss all the other reasons aside and park my excuse bus right here. Because, as I look back on what I've written, they really are nothing more than excuses if I really want to making dating a priority (and honestly I'm not sure that I do, so there's that . . . I am friends with several single moms who have little or no interest in dating right now). After all, there is nothing wrong with being selective and I'm sure there are wonderful men out there (right?) who would make the cut, it would do me good to have more nights on which I dress up and go out instead of putting on pajama pants and watching Real Housewives or C-Span (maybe there's a guy out there who would love to watch C-Span with me . . . there's a small niche!), and I know I have friends who would help with watching my kids if the costs of a sitter are prohibitive. And maybe being scared is the hardest issue to admit. I feel like I've worked though my "stuff" but what if I still end up making a poor decision and end up in a bad relationship? What if my kids get attached to someone and it doesn't work out? What if upon actively trying to find someone, I discover there is no one to find?

Please don't let this post leave the impression that I sit at my desk all day lamenting the fact that I don't have a man by my side. My life is filled with amazing friends, a job I find challenging and fulfilling with co-workers who are like family, and two kids who I tell every day that it is such an honor to be their mom. Wanting to date is not something that crosses my mind every day. It's just that this "divorce-a-versary" has prompted some reflection on where I am and where I thought I would be. And I think that having an adult social life would be nice again. Along those lines, I don't think I will be single forever. I believe I'm date-able. I'm smart, independent, and kind of hilarious given the appropriate audience. If I do want to date in 2017, though, I will need to work on getting past some of the excuses above. Because that's all they are. Then maybe, next year, I won't be the reason yet again that we need to make reservations for an odd number of people at the office Christmas dinner!

If you went through a divorce and have young kids, how did you get back into dating? Was it an intentional effort on your part or something that happened unexpectedly? If you aren't dating, is that a choice you made? If you grew up in a single parent home, do you remember your parent dating? What was that like for you? I would love to hear your thoughts! 

Or, maybe you are reading this and thinking, "Sarah, why would I share the answers to any of these questions publicly and what made you think you should write about all of this to begin with?" I get that, too. 

And, if you know a great single guy in his late-thirties to around fifty or so who likes children but doesn't want any more kids, who can appreciate or at least tolerate my obscure historical and pop culture references, who likes to learn from books and people and new places, who lives within 50 miles of the greater Nashville area, and who likes long walks on the beach (I feel like that always should be included, don't you?), let me know!