Monday, July 29, 2013

Things We Do in Summer

As we shiver through the long dark of winter, we eagerly look for the first hint of summer's warming glow. We glory in the lengthening days. We revel in shrugging off the mortal coil of thick sweaters and woolen underpants. The first night we sleep with our windows open, our giant collective heart throbs with unbridled joy.  

But then summer actually arrives, bringing in its train the forgotten horrors of sunburn, crowds of tourists, swarms of flies, plagues of locust, cars converted temporarily into boiling canisters of death, and baseball season.

And we all wonder what we were thinking.

Okay, maybe not. Maybe your  love for summer remains as pure and unblemished as a kindergarten kiss. 

But regardless of where we find ourselves on the emotional spectrum, we'll probably all agree that with summer comes a definite list of things we'll do, things we'll want to do (but probably won't), and things we probably won't do, ever.

Things We Do in Summer:
1. Complain about the heat.
2. Complain about the humidity.
3. Complain about the rain.
4. Complain about the mosquitoes.
5. Complain about how short summer is.
6. Wonder why we plan such complicated vacations that involve little to no rest and result in coming home more exhausted and frazzled than when we left.

Things We Want to Do (But Probably Won't):
1. Enjoy having nothing to do.
2. Apply sunblock evenly. (Or at all.)
3. Stay under budget while on vacation.
5. Institute daily flashcard drills to ensure that the kids' math facts stay fresh.
6. Keep our days and nights from getting turned around. (Yes, teachers and college students. I'm talking about you.)

Things We Probably Won't Do, Ever
1. Smear ourselves with honey before laying out in the back yard... just to see if the ants have learned any self-control since last year.
2. Go jogging at noon under the blaze of a full summer sun. (Unless you live in Maine. Or Edinburgh.  Then you'll probably be okay.)
3. Swim with sharks.
4. Eat enough watermelon.

As we've established previously, these lists do exist, even if just in our minds. While evaluating your own list, do yourself a favor and consider shuffling a few of these points around from one section to another. 

I can't think of a better way to kick summer to the next level! 

Monday, July 22, 2013

How to Talk to Single People

Although they're a rare breed, single adults do still exist in our world. You may see them in supermarkets filling their plastic baskets with things like those mini pans of Mrs. Stouffer's lasagna and clear produce bags holding a single apple.

Often marginalized by a society which seems to assume that singles, by default, wish to connect only with other singles--as if marital status rather than phases of life and shared interests were the only elements which foster friendships--these singles could become some of the best friends you've ever known.

If only you knew how to talk to them.

Never fear. 

Having already addressed singles directly through How to Succeed at Being Single, today I would like to drop a knowledge bomb on the rest of the population.

You're welcome in advance. 

How to Talk to Single People:

1. Ask them why they're still not married. They love this. Since it's probably the question they're most often asked, they're skilled at responding and have several ready answers at their disposal. On good days, they'll use the conversation to advocate for singleness, citing Scriptural references to back singleness as a legitimate way to honor God and demonstrate the sufficiency of Christ. On bad days, they'll smile tightly and change the subject so as not to let on that they're annoyed with you for feeling that you have the right to ask such intimate questions right away. 

Personally, I think it would be fun to change it up by bursting into tears and wailing, "Because nobody ever asked me, OKAY!? Are you HAPPY NOW?! Is that what you wanted to hear?!" But that just seems mean. Then again, they did ask, so they should be prepared for the consequences.

2. Ask them if they ever want to get married. This is a fun way to figure out if the person in question is a Happy Single or a Sad Single. It's not too difficult to tell the difference between the two. The Happy Singles will delve into the pros and cons of single life vs. married life and will most likely make you jealous when you hear how much free time they have. The Sad Singles will start to cry. 

But that's just a risk you'll have to take.

3. Ask them if they ever plan to get married. This is on par with how I generally ask married people if they ever plan to get divorced. So it's cool, right?

4. Tell them whom they should be dating. Again, they love this! If the single person in question is an old college friend, I recommend elbowing him in the ribs and wiggling your eyebrows while reminding him which mutual acquaintance is still on the market. If the mutual acquaintance in question happens to be present when you do this, so much the better! This is a great move, because there's literally no way that this will make any member of the equation feel awkward. 

If the single people in question are unknown to one another, set up their meeting in such a way that it will be as high-stakes and fraught with tension as possible. Make sure they're aware of how much you've emotionally invested in their getting together. Forget just making a casual introduction and stepping back to watch what happens. That would never work. Instead, do all you can to ensure that they realize your belief that their destiny is written in the stars. 

After all, these people haven't stayed single this long by accident: they must need all the outside help they can get!

* * * *
Okay, okay. I'll admit it. These are all really terrible ideas. 

But knowing that they're terrible ideas hasn't stopped some of you from putting them into practice, hmmm?

If you find that you've been guilty of any of the above tactics, don't worry: the single people in your life have probably already forgiven you. 

After all, I've forgiven my older brother for all of these, including--just last week--yet another infraction involving #4. (That's right, doofus. I know all about it.)

The truth is that if you want to be friends with single people -- and you should -- then you need to talk to them like you would to anybody else. 

Invite them out to lunch with you and your family. Make sure they feel comfortable just coming over to have a coffee and hang out.  Don't assume that they'll be put off by the fact that your schedule is more complicated or that you have kids in the house. Just spend time with them. They could always benefit from more community, and you most likely could benefit from having a friend who can drop everything and rush over without having to find a babysitter first. 

And leave the personal questions for when you've gotten to know them better.

Unless, of course, you want them turning those questions around on you.

In that case, I say go for it. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

How to Answer the Question

WOMEN OF GOD: look for your joy and sufficiency in Christ - not in yourself, not in your man, not in your looks, not in your career, not in your children/family, not in your accomplishments, not in your spiritual gifts, not in your service, and not in your hopes or dreams. Christ is your all.
After posting this status last night, I received an e-mail from a beautiful friend who said basically that while she appreciates the sentiment behind these words, she longs to know how this attitude should play out in daily life: 
I know I am being difficult here, [but] what does that look like?... I know it will look different from woman to woman with our different circumstances, talents, and age, but Ruth, I am like what Paul says about himself [in Romans 7:15-20]. How do I keep my eyes on Jesus?  How do I find my joy and contentment in him?  How do you?
I'd like to continue this conversation today not only by sharing my answer to this question, but also, more importantly, by opening an avenue for any of you who would like to chime in, because I think my friend hit the nail on the head when she said that the scenario would be different depending on circumstance.

As a single adult, I personally have no struggle with finding my sufficiency in a man/children/family because I don't really have that temptation in my life (although some singles I know don't feel complete/sufficient because they're not married, but thankfully God has given me epic grace in that area). I do, however, face the temptation of finding my worth and value in my accomplishments. It's a struggle for me not to seek validation in what I do, in how my teaching is recognized, in what I write, what gets published, where I publicly succeed, and so forth. 

I've started asking God to remind me daily that even if what I say/write/do just touches the few friends that I interact with, then I'm fulfilling God's leading in my life. 

Of course accomplishments aren't bad, publishing isn't bad, and the satisfaction and pride of a job well done isn't bad. However, I know my tendencies, and so for me this is a huge inner struggle. 

I think the point here is that my struggle in finding my sole sufficiency in Christ is in remembering that my worth and value is found in what he is in me, not in what he may or may not choose to do through me.

I think each Christian needs to be aware 1) that finding worth/value/sufficiency in Christ--and thereby reflecting him to the world--should be the conscious goal for every believer, 2) that we all struggle with how this should look, 3) that not all struggles will be in the same areas, and 4) that we each need to open ourselves up to the revelation of the Spirit, asking him to reveal to us the areas in which we've been relying on something other than Christ for a sense of worth and value.

Also, remember that the more we make God's values our own, the less this question will loom in our minds. Daily mental, spiritual, and emotional re-calibration through Bible study and prayer is essential for keeping our eyes off the temporary and on the eternal. 

In the end, as my friend said, how this truth will play out in our lives will differ from person to person. The key here is not to take less joy in the people, blessings, gifts, and skills that God has given us, but to ask him to remind us that all of this abundance is not an end in itself, but flows directly from him (James 1:17) in order to give us new avenues to glorify him (1 Cor. 10:31). He is the ultimate source. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Things We Do in Hotels

As many of you are already aware, I spent the last six weeks of the summer on the road, driving from South Florida as far north as New York and as far west as Chicago, then back again. Along the way, I stayed in the homes of many kind and gracious friends.

I also stayed in a few hotels.

And as you are also aware, a hotel stay comes with certain expectations. First, we can be reasonably assured that the nightstand will hold a Gideon Bible and possibly a Book of Mormon. We will also most likely be baffled by the remote controls, deeply suspicious of the bedspread, and disappointed in the continental breakfast. 

These experiences are par for the course.

Along with these reasonable expectations, however, come feelings that are a bit more abstract. I'm talking here about the mental checklist of things that we will definitely do, things we will only consider doing, and the things we will definitely not do. 

Go ahead. Tell me I'm wrong.

Things We Do in Hotels:
1. Take the longest, hottest showers possible
2. Use all of the free stuff whether we want/need it or not
3. Be disappointed in the coffee, but drink it anyway.  Because... coffee
4. Run the A/C either hotter in the winter or cooler in the summer than we would at home
5. Peer expectantly into every cabinet, door, cupboard, and crevice... just in case
6. Wake up having absolutely no concept of time or place

Things We Want to Do (But Probably Won't):
1. Jump on the beds
2. Dash down the halls, knocking on every door and laughing maniacally
3. Press all of the buttons on the elevator just as we are getting off
4. Leave some of our own alternative artwork behind the framed pictures on the walls
5. Mimic the accents of the employees directly to their faces
6. Use the gym

Things We Probably Won't Do, Ever:
1. Walk around barefoot
2. Actually, buy the overpriced pillows, duvets, and fluffy towels
3. Read the fire safety info on the back of the door
4. Lick the remote control

Okay, so your list may differ from mine on a few points.  But the fact remains that these mental checklists do exist, and the better we are at sorting these actions into the proper categories, the more safe and satisfying our hotel stays are likely to be.

I encourage you to make your own list, sorting these actions carefully. Because nobody wants to realize that he's actually that guy--the guy who licked the hotel remote instead of drinking the mysteriously-burnt-tasting hotel coffee.

Because that would be just horrible.