Feb 29, 2016

#Collaboreads: Literary Classic (The Screwtape Letters)

I am link-up up with #COLLABOREADS today, which is a fun monthly online book club hosted by Rachel A Dawson  and Amber. Each month, there is a theme and participants choose any book they'd like within that theme. They read their chosen book and then use the acronym R.E.A.D.S to share about the book for other book lovers to learn more about that book. It's fun! 

This month, the theme was literary classics and I chose C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters

Screwtape Letters is a witty satirical collection of letters from a powerful devil (Screwtape) to his novice devil nephew (Wormwood) who is working on his first "patient", a new Christian man in London during WWII. Screwtape instructs Wormwood how he should capture the patient for damnation, away from "the Enemy" (God). He orders the use of a variety of methods such as distracting the man from prayer, repentance, and drawing near to God; shifting the man's focus to lust, pride, materialism, gluttony, self-righteousness, and geocentricism; and  infiltrating doubt and skepticism about God. 

Riveting: What part of the book could you NOT get enough of?

In typical C.S. Lewis fashion, there is an interweaving of satire, humor, and thought-provoking material that makes up the book. Reading the letters from Screwtape and his diabolical schemes to tempt, trick, and attempt to ultimately damn Wormwood's "patient", I was repeatedly asking myself personal questions after each chapter. Do I get distracted by material things? Do I allow pride to creep in? Do I let bitterness towards others fester in my heart? 

Elements: How did you relate to/care for the characters? 

I can't say I can relate to either Screwtape or Wormwood, because they're pure evil and want nothing to do with God, their enemy. But I can see myself in the "patient" they are working on. Although this is a fictional story that is not meant to be taken as doctrine in any way, the foundation is secure in Scripture: Satan wants to destroy anyone and anything that reflects God's image and likeness, so therefore, we as humans who are created in imago Deo, are his enemies. He uses his conniving ways to try to pull us away from God's Truth. I found many of the tactics being used by the devils in the story to be things I struggle with (being distracted and rushing through prayers, for example), so in this sense it was very relatable.  

Associate: What other books are like this one? 

Many of Lewis' books have whispers of other Lewis books, and this was no exception. There were a few things that Screwtape said that reminded me of Mere Christianity

Design: What did you think of it? 

There's an ugly gargoyle-looking sculpture on the cover, which is in a sepia tone. 

Stars: How many out of five do you give this book? Would you recommend this book to a friend? 

5 out of 5 stars. I think it is a great read that is both entertaining and heart-stirring in a way that only the brilliant C.S. Lewis can master. 

What are you reading right now?

Feb 25, 2016

In Every Season: What Single Gals Want You To Know (Pt 1)

Many times, it can be awkward, embarrassing, and even upsetting for a single gal to talk to her dating or married friends. She may feel belittled or saturated with advice on what to do to "cure" her of her singleness. But, there are also single gals who absolutely adore regularly conversing with their married friends because of their compassionate and loving community they offer. In the survey I sent out last winter, thirty-one single Christian gals responded to my question: What are some ways that Christian women who are no longer single can help you, love you, serve you, and encourage you during your season of singleness? I hope their responses can offer inspiration for heartfelt, honest conversations between women despite their marital status.

Be a good friend
Nearly half of the thirty-one single gals that replied in the survey responded that they wanted their non-single friends to just be a friend. They want to be "looked on as equals" rather than their married friends acting like they've crossed a finish line that the single friend hasn't yet. One girl (who sounds adorable, by the way) wrote that she has three married friends who  "spend time with me and invite me out for dinner or a movie night. We simply live life together They talk about their struggles and listen to mine, and listen to my gushing over Clayton Jennings (YouTube sensation and my ManCrushEveryday!) They relate to me on being a woman in the workforce and loving Jesus together! I'm more than a single and they focus on the rest of who I am.” Ok, does anyone else want to just hug this girl and her friends? Yes! What an awesome picture of loving each other as sisters despite marital status.

Here are some other things these gals said:

 “Just continue being a friend. I understand you won't be as available. Hear out my stories, don't be too quick to critique (remember when you were single), and remember that being single has it's challenges. Don't tell me that I have it so easy - you don't know how many burdens I carry. And the best way to encourage me: show me that being in a relationship (be it dating or married) doesn't have to hinder your ability to serve God.”

 "Just seek us out and be our friend. Don't just tell us "it will happen someday." Ask how we're doing and listen to us vent and cry about it because it's not a pleasant season, especially if one has waited and waited for what seems like an eternity.”

 “Reach out to single people more. Sometimes when friends get married they get very busy in getting settled in marriage and if it's a close friend it may feel like I'm being replaced. I've felt the most loved by my married friends when they let me just be in their lives like normal and ask to include me in simple ways.

 “Inviting us single gals into their lives, making us feel like we (our friendships) are a priority, not disappearing when dating or married though I know the spheres narrow naturally when that happens.”

“They can help me just by being a friend and staying connected, even though I may not be able to share the same stories or experiences.”

"Be a constant friend. By that I mean, be consistently who you've been in our friendship. Obviously, the parameters of time shared together is something that gets redefined, but friends will choose each other if there's mutual respect, love, and growth.”

 “Don't feel like you're being redundant or just saying meaningless cliches when you encourage me and other young ladies with words like, "Keep being patient, Trust me, it's so worth it, God knows exactly how to completely exceed your expectations."  I've also learned from friends who have so honestly reflected on their past mistakes and told me about them so that I could learn from them. One of them being, don't make the mistake of living in constant hope and desire for the future, and missing the present. You will never be able to rejoice with others, or in your personal joy of getting married in the present, if you don't learn to live presently and find your sufficiency in Jesus when you're single.”

“Just being a good friend, laughing, crying, and praying together.”

“I think being a listening ear and a prayer partner are the two most important things, especially for me. There are days where I need nothing more than a listening ear, someone to be real and honest with when it comes to my singleness. Sometimes, the pages of a journal can only do so much. And prayer is essential! Not just when it comes to singleness, but in all areas of life. Prayer is where I can pour out my heart and cry out to God in those hard times of loneliness, but also thank him and praise him in the encouraging. Prayer is where we can be honest. But, when we have other people praying for and with us, it can give us a strength we didn't know we had. Having someone else pray with us in our struggles and triumphs gives incredible encouragement and sometimes a fresh perspective when we may feel that our prayers aren't going beyond the ceiling.”

Is anyone else convinced that friendships between single and non-single gals are still important? I certainly am! Reading these responses helped me remember how much I appreciated the many married friends I had while single who were a bigger blessing than I know how to explain in mere words. They prayed for me, encouraged me, shared what they were learning about married life, and treated me with respect and love. I didn't feel less of a woman for not being married when I was around them and they remained great friends even though our lives looked very different in that season. And when I was dating and eventually engaged to Greg, it was so great to pick their brains about marriage questions, worries I had about things like the wedding night, and being goofy and giddy together about the season I was in.

I want to leave married women with a few simple suggestions to start fostering more time into friendships with single gals. First, pray about specific gals in your life to reach out to. Second, strike up conversations and invite gals to hang out.
  • Meet for coffee at a cute little cafe
  • Get manicures together (at a salon or at home!) 
  • Find a place in your city (museum, a park, a hiking trail, etc.) that you've both been wanting to explore and go there together
  • If that friend lives in a different city, find a day to FaceTime or Skype while enjoying a cup of coffee or tea.
  • Send encouraging snail-mail 
  • Invite the friend over for a meal (either cook for her or cook a meal together)
  • Have a movie night at your house (a good opportunity for you hubby to also hang out with his guy friends that night) 
  • Support her in different things that are important to her, such as rooting for her if she plays a sport, going to a concert if she plays an instrument, sharing a post you liked that she wrote on her blog, etc. 
The possibilities are really endless! Be a friend. It may look slightly different now as a married woman than it did when you were both single, but it is not impossible. With a little determination, prayer, and letting your husband know this is something that you have on your heart, I am confident that you'll find time to dig deeper in friendships with single gals.

Stay tuned for more things that single gals want their non-single friends to know!

***** To catch up on this series, click HERE *****

Feb 17, 2016

In Every Season: 6 Areas of Focus for Christian Single Gals

Singleness can be a season full of great experiences, adventures, and preparing. But it can also be lonely, frustrating, and almost unbearable at times. For me, the loneliest times where right after weddings. I would go home to my apartment where I lived alone and wonder if my day would ever come. Regretfully, I would sometimes allow self-pity and fear of being alone to swallow up any remnant of joy I had while watching close friends marry their loves. And, truth be told, bitterness and resentment of those in relationships was also a temptation.

Singleness, just like any other season, requires focus. Otherwise, it is so easy to get bogged down with self-pity-resentment, jealousy, bitterness, or just chaotic busyness for the sake of keeping yourself from thinking about your current circumstances.

Where is your focus right now?

There are definitely lots of awesome things about singleness and the last thing I want to portray is that single women are moping around, depressed and hopeless. Not even close. I know many vibrant women who are living extraordinary lives full of courage, creativity, compassion, and love. But even those wonderful gals have days that really stink and need to be re-focused.

For those who wear glasses, maybe this analogy will be more visible (pun intended). I am nearly blind as a bat without my eyeglasses. When I wake up in the morning, nothing is in focus. Everything is blurred and out of focus. It takes a few seconds to find my eyeglasses and because they are the right prescription for my vision, my eyes regain focus. That's what this post is about, regaining focus and seeing things a bit more clearly on the hard days when you feel a bit blinded by singleness.

I sent out a survey (HERE for more info) in November to Christian single ladies and one question asked what has been most helpful to them during their season of singleness. I would like to share some of the responses in hope that Christian single gals reading this post would be encouraged and maybe have a few new things to try during the harder days.

6 Areas of Focus for Christian Single Gals

1. Focus on developing trusted community for encouragement, accountability, & fun. 
Eighteen of the thirty-two ladies answered that having a community who they can lean on is important. This includes parents, siblings, single friends who are experiencing similar emotions (17 of 18 girls mentioned having single friends), and having married friends to help have realistic expectations of marriage. Whoever you consider your community -- whether it is your immediate family, close friends, Bible study or small group members, or co-workers -- you are able to be vulnerable and real with them. Trusted community is also a great place for accountability for hidden temptations and dealing with fears. And, it's a great place to have fun, grow in friendships, and be goofy with gals you trust!
 “I think what has helped me most was talking to married women about how being in a relationship is a self-sacrificial act of love. This has helped sober my unrealistic expectations and diminish my fantasies. I have been able to ask God to grow my character so I will be ready to show and communicate love sacrificially” 
 “Having single friends really helps, especially single friends my age because then I don't feel so out of place. Having a supportive family is also a tremendous help. My parents are firm believers that it's better to not marry than to marry the wrong person and be miserable all of your life, so they don't pressure me to marry. 
"Knowing I'm not alone is the biggest comfort.” 
 “For sure having a community of single friends who love Jesus also helps to live life and talk about what's next and our hopes is encouraging.” 
 "Definitely other single girls struggling with the same areas. We pray and fast together, encourage one another through the lessons God's been teaching us, articles/books we've read on the topic. Helps me realize I am not alone. Others struggle as well and there is hope. It has also been helpful meeting with other married women who can remind me of the reality marriage is: there are a whole new set of struggles and frustrations that come with that, and that getting married does not mean life is perfect overnight- no matter how perfect social media may make it look”
 2.  Focus on prayer and studying the Bible.
Eleven of the thirty-two girls mentioned that prayer and studying the Bible helps them in their singleness. Praying during the lonely moments, journaling prayers for a future husband, and focusing on studying the encouraging and truth-filled gospel message of the Bible can all help to re-focus during the hard days.
 “Whenever I'm feeling a little down, I like to first and foremost pray, because he is the only one that can truly help me the most. Also another thing I love to do is go on pinterest and look at quotes or Bible verses they have there. That always encourages me and helps me out.” 
 "Being in the Word and getting the confirmation from God that I am where He wants me to be at this point in my life.” 
“Reading and falling in love with the word of God. Learning the importance of seeking first His kingdom and righteousness and understanding that everything else will come second. The word of God has taught me that to be faithful is not easy, to be constant is not common, to put my trust in God is not natural but that its worth it! Marriage is not the climax of life, rather understanding that Christ is the most important is Key. I was not created only to get married, I was created to live for Christ. Marriage is a gift that God throws in, but its not what defines life. Understanding that God wants to use me in my single-hood, HE is equipping, growing, pouring into me. We were meant to live one season at a time, being content in your current season is important!” 
“Prayer and Bible study are the two things that have helped me the most in my singleness. My being single is only one part of me and while the Lord wants to guide and teach me about my singleness, there are so many other things he wants me to be learning about as well”
 3. Focus on contentment in singleness and remember identity and worth are not found in marital status.
It is crucial that single women realize their worth and identity are not found in whether they are married or not. For Christian single women, their worth and identity are found in Jesus. When I focused on this, and truly believed this, it gave me hope and rest in being single. It reminded me that it's not the fact that I have a man or do not have a man that dictates if I am beautiful, intelligent, or "good enough" to be loved. Realizing who I am in Jesus gave me contentment that helped me a great deal when I was single.  And this helps me tremendously now as a new wife when I am tempted to find my worth in being a "good enough" wife rather than finding my worth in Jesus. Contentment naturally flows out of a hearts that find their identity in Jesus. This doesn't mean contentment is easy, but rather that it is more than possible with the help of the Holy Spirit that indwells Christians.
 "Figuring out who I am and realizing that I don't need a man there to fulfill me and make me content with who I am and my singleness" 
  “Making the decision to chase my dreams with passion and intention has made all the difference. Yes, I still dream and desire to date and get married, but once I realized that right now is the character refining season I'll never get again, and the one most free to make brave choices in following Jesus places, then that was a game changer. 
 “Understanding there is much more to life than only being married, and finding purpose , joy in those other things. There are ways I can serve now because I am single
4. Focus on God, make Him the priority, & find purpose in Him.
 The season of singleness is a great time to ask if God is the biggest priority in your life, and to make time for serving Him in the ways He calls you to. If you focus on making Him BIG in your life, learning about who He says He is in the Bible, and seeing His faithfulness in your current season of singleness, this will not only greatly impact you now as a single, but also when/if you eventually date and marry because you'll have a solid foundation to stand on.
“Being single has helped me get closer to God because I was so focused on my boyfriend, I didn't make time for anything else. I stopped going to church, stopped focusing on myself. It was always about the boyfriend. Now I am realizing a relationship with God is the most important relationship you can have. So I'm using this time of singleness to reflect, pray, grow, and find myself. 
 “Growing in my relationship with God knowing that He's in control, trust Him more, be more patient and faithful” 
  “Just fully knowing that God knows best, even if it doesn't feel good. God may have me single so I am able to do things for him that are harder for married women to do, and it might feel lonely to be single, but I know God is good. And I rather live with that then a relationship without God's hand over it.” 
 “This is actually an area of my life where I feel least insecure about. Knowing our Father and his perfect timing and perfect provisions over me - has given complete peace about my "single condition." ;)
5. Focus on truth-filled Christian resources (books, websites, and blogs).
Everyone has experienced being single at one time, so there is a plethora of resources out there filled with encouragement. The gals who mentioned this in the survey liked websites like Relevant  Magazine and  Boundless (by Focus on the Family). This is a much better reading option than romance novels that can cause self-pity and discontentment to become a constant pattern of the heart.

Here are a few posts and articles that can be helpful for singles:

Here are some books on singleness that the ladies from the survey mentioned helped them:
  • The Five Love Languages: Singles Edition by Gary Chapman
  • Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot *
  • Let Me Be A Woman by Elisabeth Elliot *
  • When God Writes Your Love Story by Eric and Leslie Ludy *
  • Set Apart Femininity by Leslie Ludy *
  • Sacred Singleness by Leslie Ludy *
  • Authentic Beauty by Leslie Ludy *
  • Emotional Purity by Heather Arnel Paulsen *
  • The Sacred Search by Gary Thomas
  • The Heart of Singleness by Andrea Travenna
  • Captivating by John & Staci Eldridge
  • Pure by Rebecca St. James
  • Preparing To Be His Help Meet by Debi Pearl
  • Lady in Waiting by Debbie Jones and Jackie Kendall
 ( * denotes a book I read and wholeheartedly agree is an excellent book)

6.  Focus on serving others during this season.
This is a great season to explore different volunteer and ministry opportunities and prayerful search for places you can serve others. Do you enjoy playing an instrument? Do you have training in finances? Do you cook a mean soufflé? Look into how you can use God-given talents and desires to further the gospel of Jesus and love people like He does. Focusing on serving the needs of those less fortunate than you can help to decrease self-pity and can help with loneliness as well since you are not focusing on your own circumstances and emotions while serving others.
“I have spent my teen and young adult years being busy for the Kingdom ... I know this will continue when become a wife and a mom, but in a different capacity. It has been amazing going about the business of God, staying focused on Him and His approval, His constant rejoicing and singing over me, as I sing to Him.

I am so grateful for the honesty of the gals who took the survey for Christian single ladies and responded with such wisdom and vulnerability. Their insight blessed my heart and I hope it blesses yours too!

Want to catch up on the In Every Season series? Click HERE

Feb 15, 2016

In Every Season: 10 Things NOT to Say To Christian Single Gals

Christian single women often get bombarded with unsolicited advice about their singleness. It sometimes is the first and only thing married friends will ask questions or offer advice about. Many times the "advice" can be hurtful, demeaning, and disrespectful -- even if unintentionally so. Single women can leave these conversations feeling even more alone and rejected because they are not in a relationship. It can feel like their non-single friends, family, and other acquaintances are advising if they only changed this or that, then POOF! Mr. Right would appear to whisk them away to wedded bliss.

It is important for Christian women who are no longer single to be aware of  how their encouragement or advice can come across, because sometimes even good advice can come off in a rude or hurtful way.

One single gal explained why it is sometimes difficult to get advice, even well-meaning advice, from women who are no longer single:
 “I've been sifting through this idea a lot lately. It's prideful and petty of me, but I have a hard time listening to married gals talk about being single. Especially recently married gals. It feels like they've crossed the finish line and are looking back with pity, which is not the case I know, but I am much more willing to take the advice of women still wrestling with it.”
It is not impossible for single and non-single women to be in community together and even talk about the subject of singleness. But it requires humility from everyone involved, compassion, and remembering what also annoyed you when you were single. 

Here are some things NOT to say to singles, collected from my survey taken by thirty-two Christian single gals a few months ago:

1. "You are too picky"
"People often assume that the reason you are in your mid 20's and not married is because you are being picky. They tell you this without fully knowing and jump to a conclusion. 
2. "You need to lose weight (or change something else about yourself)"
  "Yes, looks do matter, but what is more important than looks is character. I am a big advocate for healthy living and exercise, but what's more important than looks is character. Don't just assume that because I am 10 pounds over weight that's the reason I am not married.”
3. "Your standards are too high" or "you need to lower your standards"
"(I've been told) that my standard are too high and that I should give so-and-so a shot because they're single, even though I know I'd be settling for less than what God has placed in my heart. It bothered me because once you get to a certain age, people almost want to rush you to a decision and rush you into a relationship. There is no rush with God! Sarah was way beyond her years of childbearing when God fulfilled his promise to her regarding a son. We downplay the sovereignty of God when we rush and take things into our own hands.”

4. "You need to pray more about getting married"

"It wasn't a particular conversation or comment, but rather a string of comments with each interaction we had. It seemed like every time I talked with my aunt, all she could ask me about or remark was about how God was going to bless me and she believed I will get married too someday and asking me to pray more about this matter. It was so consistently brought up that I began to feel like there was something wrong with me as if I had nothing going for me because I wasn't married. I felt pitied by her.” 

5. "It'll happen when you least expect it! Just stop thinking about it"
“It frustrates me when those women say things like "You'll meet him when you stop looking" or "It will happen when you least expect it" or "Just trust God's timing!" It feels like there's this pressure to be so chill and cool and carefree about the fact that I'm single, like I have to try to never be expecting it or longing for it. I agree that I need to trust God, but telling me it will happen when I least expect it or once I stop looking isn't helpful at all.”

"It will come when you least expect it!" makes me feel like they really don't get my frustrations." 

6. "You need to show more skin to get a guy's attention!" 
 "I have gotten the "Well, if you try harder, show a little more skin, allow them to even kiss you..." All of these bothered me because it implies that there is something wrong with me.  Nowadays (some) guys expect you to put-out to be more risqué,  to be more available to them. But they dont commit to you, they are not loyal to you... It makes me frustrated that we (who choose to live as clean of a lifestyle as possible) are looked at and talked about as the weird and that we "are single for a reason" that shouldnt be the case”
7. "I know EXACTLY how you feel!"
 I think the reason some of the advice is hurtful is because when you are going through this season you feel lonely and you feel that someone who is dating or married can't relate to you.”
8. "You must have so much free time!"
 “Cliche things that annoy me like how much time I have to do other things since I don't have a family… I'm just as busy as a married person, I just choose to fill it with other type of community that I have to create.”
9. "You'll understand one day when you're married"

 The worst line I ever heard was "You're not married, you wouldn't understand". It made me feel misunderstood. It also makes me feel alienated and like I'm less of a woman because I'm not in a relationship.”

 "This bothers me because I get the feeling that they are above my situation and seem to put themselves in an all-knowing position." 
10. "Just be patient! Your time will come!"

“Cliche things like marriage will come if I'm patient enough . . . It bothers me because it doesn't necessarily lesson the desire I have for marriage. 

Instead of using these ten common cliché statements with the single gals in your life that may trigger guilt, loneliness, and doubt, please pray with and for them, encourage and support them.

Talk about topics other than the fact they're single because there is more to life than marital status.

Keep mental notes of what their hobbies are, achievements at school or work you can congratulate
them on, and ask about what they're learning or how they're being stretched.

Don't assume they want to talk about the fact they're single and avoid giving unsolicited advice.

Check your heart for any pride behind your intentions or advice and ask your single friends for
forgiveness if you realize you've said hurtful things intentionally.

And stay tuned for a post on what these lovely ladies shared are ways women who are no longer single can love and serve single gals! They mentioned some great things and I am super excited to share soon!

Lastly, I want to thank anyone reading this post who took the aforementioned survey. Your raw honesty and vulnerability brought me to tears on several occasions and I am so incredibly humbled and in awe of the wisdom you all possess. I have been encouraged so deeply by your responses.  Seriously, I have been so blessed reading through responses and putting together these posts. Thank you!!


For further reading: 
Previous posts in the "In Every Season" series
What Not To Say To Singles via RELEVANT Magazine
And for a little laugh, 24 Things Single People Are Tired Of Hearing via BuzzFeed