Monday, October 27, 2014

The Power of Being Ordinary

Photo by Bethany Buchanan
By most accounts, I'm nobody special. 

With the exception of some people reading this post (and a few others), nobody really knows about me. I can walk through crowded airports without being noticed and go to the store without being mobbed for autographs. (Although occasionally random men hit on me in the coffee aisle. But that's another story.) I'm not a household name or a well-respected expert on much of anything. I'm never invited onto syndicated talk shows. Reporters don't call me for sound bites. 

In other words, I'm just a regular person. 


Maybe you are too.

If so, be glad! There's power in being ordinary.

The Power of Being Ordinary:

You have great freedom. 

Because you're relatively unknown, you can come and go as you like, with no one tracking your movements (except possibly your children, who always wait until you're in the bathroom to incite domestic chaos). No one comments in minute detail about every wardrobe choice you've ever made or what you've chosen to eat. 

Your anonymity is a shield against much of the random judgment of strangers. 

Revel in it. 

You experience less personal scrutiny. 

I do not speak here of accountability, which we all need, but of the minute analysis of the media. It's likely that nobody on national TV will pick apart every word you said today. No one will dredge up comments you made twenty years ago in order to discredit that intelligent remark you just made (except possibly your spouse... but again, that's another story). 

Relax, let your hair down, and crack a few good jokes without worrying that any of them will become a sound bite used out of context. 

Hooray for being ordinary!

You possess a high likelihood of being used by God in a special way. 

The Biblical record demonstrates fairly consistently that we serve a God who delights to work through those who seem unknown -- through youngest sons, barren women, beggars, widows, and orphans. Through the poor, the needy, the sick, and the dying. Through the unknowns and the outcasts.

Although God loves and uses men and women of all backgrounds, his glory is best displayed through those the world considers unremarkable.
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1:27)
Listen, my dear brothers: Didn't God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him? (James 2:5) 
* * * 
Here at the last, before you all dogpile me for claiming that anybody is "ordinary," allow me to remind you that I speak here only of the aspect of being known.

My next door neighbor is "ordinary" in that when he walks his dog down the street, nobody pops out of the bushes to ask for his autograph or snap a selfie with him. But I've chatted with him a bit, and he's far from ordinary.

I've met a lot of people, but I've never known a single one who's been "ordinary." 

Here's the thing: I'm not ordinary. 

Neither are you. 

None of us are.

But nobody knows that, and because nobody knows, we enjoy more privacy, experience less personal scrutiny, and thus are free to get on with the business of living our lives in the service of the God we adore.

That's the real power of being ordinary.

* * *

Monday, October 13, 2014

When Singleness Makes Me Sad

I've gotten some feedback from close family and friends hinting that in my efforts to combat some of the false assumptions about Christian singleness, I've over-compensated by only highlighting the positives.

Please know that while I still stand by every one of those positive posts, I'd now like to offer some intellectual and emotional ballast.

First, know that I'm still okay with being unmarried. In fact, 95% of the time, I'm totally happy with the arrangement. 

But I have to admit that there are still some times when being single makes me sad. 

When Singleness Makes Me Sad:

1. When I have to shop and cook for one. 

Here in the suburban United States, food portions come packaged in jumbo sizes, and it's difficult to find a way to buy, for instance, just one or two carrots at a time. This leaves me faced with buying an entire bag, knowing that many of them will go to waste, or resigning myself to eating nothing but carrots for the entire week. 

I guess if I were smart, I could start some sort of singles food co-op, but I'm worried that it might accidentally turn into some sort of weird dating service, as things for singles invariably do.

So... here I sit, all alone with my huge bag of carrots.

2. When there's a spider to be killed. 

Ditto a snake in the house, a bufo toad on the front stoop, or anything wrong with the internal workings of my car.

3. When other people carry on as if my marital state were a crisis of global proportions. 

As I've recounted in previous posts, sometimes people ask me why I'm still single. That's okay. I understand why. But it's a hard question to address quickly without sounding flippant.  

The real answer is that I don't know why I'm still single... and that I'm okay with not knowing.

It's the "I'm okay with not knowing" part that some people seem to have trouble with, and that's when being single makes me sad. 

When people ask questions or make comments that reveal their hidden assumption that there must be something wrong with me or (even worse) with "all these guys." When they pester me about it. When they won't let it go. 

I'm fine with the choices I've made, but I'm sad when other people can't be fine with them. 

I'm sad when people imply that if I'd only "put myself out there" in ways I'm not comfortable with and deem unnecessary, all my "problems" will be solved. 

I'm sad when they lament at length about my singleness as if this is some great tragedy instead of acknowledging singleness as a legitimate way to glorify God.

Please, if you have happy, well-adjusted single friends who are loving life and serving the Lord, treat their singleness as a non-issue, especially if they do so.

4. When I witness the perfect intertwining of two lives. 

I know there's no such thing as a perfect relationship, but you know what I mean. Those couples who have been together for fifty or sixty years, and can seemingly read one another's minds... still seeming to enjoy what they find there. 

A few months ago, as I listened to all of the CS Lewis-related online media from the Desiring God national conference, I became totally charmed by one of the lecturers who couldn't stop referencing his wife's thoughts and observations throughout his talk, always giving her credit for her original insights. It quickly became apparent that his wife had become a full partner in his research. 

It put a lump in my throat.

I know that not all married couples achieve the ideal of walking forward together through life, but knowing that I may never have a chance to do so makes me sad if I dwell on it too much. So I don't dwell on it.

5. When I know that I'm not experiencing the deepest level of human community and accountability. 

Of course I have a strong community of long-term friends and close companions who know me well and call me on my crap, but it's not the same level of intimacy and enforced community that marriage brings, nor should it be. 

The thing is, I sometimes worry that long-term singleness makes it far too easy to live for myself. Because I don't need to consider the thoughts, feelings, wishes, and desires of another person daily, I worry that I lack sufficient opportunity to die to myself. 

And that makes me sad.

* * * *

Yes, being single is a fine choice and a legitimate way to glorify God. Yes, it has distinct advantages. Yes, I am happy and content 95% of the time. 

But that 5%.... oh, that 5%.  

I list these reasons of sadness not out of a need for pity or attention, but as part of an honest ongoing conversation about the legitimate benefits and pitfalls of the single state. 

I have no real conclusion or advice to offer here, but a strong call to the members of the body of Christ (whether single or married, male or female, etc) to pull yourselves together, determining that no matter what your state, you focus outward and upward rather than downward and inward.

When we focus downward and inward, we're much more likely to be discontent. We see only the problems, the flaws, the shortcomings, and the pain.

When we focus outward and upward, we have a much greater chance of seeing life from God's perspective.
So if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God. When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Colossians 3:1-4

Friday, October 10, 2014

My 45-Step Writing Process

1. Decide that I’ll never have any good ideas ever again.

2. Get a good idea while I’m driving, working out, showering, or doing some other random activity that makes it equally impossible to write anything down.

3. Panic.

4. Write down new idea before it evaporates.

5. Look at idea later and decide that it’s soul-crushingly stupid.

6. Repeat Steps 1-5 until I have an idea that doesn't seem stupid.

7. Drink 8,000 cups of coffee.

8. Begin writing.

9. Rip all hair out of head.

10. Write some more.

11. Drink more coffee.

12. Resign myself to dying before finishing first draft.

13. Finish first draft.

14. Galumph around the apartment in triumph, yodeling at the top of my lungs.

15. Call family and friends, announce the completion of the first draft of a new project.

16. Try to explain plot of first draft to family and friends.

17. Realize that large swathes of it don’t make sense to them… or to me.

18. Dread re-reading first draft for fear that it makes even less sense than I anticipate.

19. Re-read first draft through one squinty eye.

20. Die inside.

21. Call family and friends, announce that I’m giving up writing and will likely never publish again, begin perusing the Want Ads for jobs that require little to no intellectual capacity.

22. Sail across turbulent seas of confused emotions.

23. Eat scoops of coffee straight from the bag.

24. Spend undisclosed length of time wallowing in emotional fallout.

25. Listen to Mozart’s Requiem.

26. Print out first draft, assemble army of sharpened pencils.

27. Re-read manuscript, one hand thrust through what's left of my hair, the other hand clutching a pencil, scribble angrily in the margins, occasionally shriek, "NO, NO, NO!!!!!”

28. Listen to the Second Movement of Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.

29. Murder my darlings.

30. Flail.

31. Sleep, drink coffee, consume large amounts of cheese.

32. Write second draft.

33. Feel slightly better.

34. Send latest draft to beta readers for feedback.

35. Instantly feel worse.

36. Alternate between hyperventilating and dry heaving until hearing back from beta readers.

37. Receive exciting (yet horrifying) e-mails full of contradictory information, listing everything that is both right and wrong with my manuscript.

38. Hide in closet, rocking back and forth, keening.

39. Wade through contradictory lists of confusing feedback and decide what to change.

40. Listen to Bach’s Come, Sweet Death on repeat for hours/days.

41. Write new draft.

42. Find new readers, repeat Steps 34-41.

43. At some point, decide that the manuscript is “done.”

44. Call family and friends, announce the completion of a project, celebrate, etc.

45. Decide I’ll never have any good ideas ever again.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Four Reasons Why Mondays Feel Terrible

Photo by Podling 1
There seems to be almost universal consensus: Mondays feel terrible. 

But have you ever stopped to think why? I have, and I will now share the results of my critical (pseudo)scientific analysis.

Four Reasons Why Mondays Feel Terrible:
  1. You're tired. If you spent the past few days pinballing through life as if sleep were a mere suggestion rather than a physiological imperative, then this comes as little surprise. Interestingly, even if you did rest this weekend, you will probably still start off Monday feeling groggy. Getting extra sleep over the weekend caused you not to feel tired at the right time on Sunday night, meaning you went to bed late and didn't get enough sleep to feel chipper on Monday morning. So all things considered, maybe you might as well not sleep. You're going to feel terrible either way.
  2. You're cranky. You know how little kids melt down when they're off their schedule? That's you after a weekend. See, during the work week, you think that you're going to enjoy getting away from your routine for a few days, but the truth is that it just messes you up. Being off schedule can often become the source of our struggle - and the struggle is real. Getting back into a routine on Monday may feel like the worst thing that's ever happened in your life, but it's probably just what you need, so hitch up those cranky pants and get on with your day.   
  3. You did nothing productive. You had plans for the weekend. Big plans. Productive plans. Plans involving working outside, cleaning out your closets, waxing the car, prepping all of your meals for the week, and so forth. Then Saturday morning actually arrived, and you found all of your resolve drain away, leaving in its wake a pleasant lethargy which you indulged for the rest of the weekend. Then comes Monday, and with it, an onset of guilt regarding how little you actually accomplished. There's always next weekend, you tell yourself as you stare bleakly into the dark recesses of your coffee. Only five more days before the cycle repeats again. 
  4. You're probably dehydrated. I don't know if this is true for you, but because I'm off my routine over the weekends, I forget to drink as much water as I should. I used to assume that my Sunday-night headaches were a result of the stress of Mondays creeping up to get me, but now I see that those headaches were probably part dehydration. If you're anything like me, you'll enter the new week dried-out and fuzzy-headed, and will probably try to cure your Monday-morning blues with extra coffee. This in turn will only make you more dehydrated, and Monday morning will feel even worse than it already did.
One thing is clear: Mondays aren't going anywhere. They're just going to keep coming around. Since Mondays are pretty much inescapable, the least we can do is try to make them seem less terrible.

How to Make Mondays Less Terrible:
  1. Don't oversleep on the weekends. It just screws with your internal clock. Even if you don't plan to get going early in the morning, you should still attempt to wake up close to your regular get-up time as possible. If you're not a fan of mornings (which I'm certainly not), don't despair. I'm not advocating that you suddenly start greeting the sun with a cheery song, like some demented, modern-day Disney princess; but you could at least get out of bed, get the coffee going, and enjoy a quiet morning read-a-thon on the couch in your jammies. If you truly need to catch up on sleep, take a mid-afternoon nap or go to bed a little earlier. 
  2. Follow a weekend routine. I'm not suggesting that this be as rigid as your weekday one, but since people thrive on routine, do your best to give your body what it wants. Even things as simple as eating and sleeping around the same times that you normally would on a weekday can make a huge difference in overcoming the Monday hurdle (rather than crashing into it in a glorious, slow-motion face-plant).   
  3. Don't overload Saturdays and Sundays with activity. This is all about managing expectations. Remember that God designed our bodies to require periodic times of rest. Don't just rest from your career work on the weekends. Be sure to schedule actual rest. Not just sleep, either. Rest.
  4. Drink all the water. You probably don't drink enough water anyway, and weekends often compound the problem. Start each morning by downing a glass of water before your morning coffee, and keep water on hand throughout the day. Schedule your phone to send you reminders to drink water if necessary.  Whatever you need to do, do it. 
In this world, nothing is certain except for death and taxes... and Mondays.  

Since they're certain to come around for each of us, it's good to be prepared. 

Remember that no matter how Mondays may feel, each one is still a gift, and with a little life adjustment, perhaps they'll stop feeling so terrible.  

* * *

Extra Credit:

Friday, October 3, 2014

Random Texts from Bethany, No Context

Because my sister Bethany is an introvert, it's rare that any of us actually know what she's thinking. Every once in a while, though, she sends unprompted texts that allow us to peer behind the veil. 

I'm not talking here about witty responses or funny zingers sent back and forth between us. I'm talking about texts that come like bolts from the blue, no context provided. Sometimes they're comments and sometimes they're questions; all of them provide a helpful window into her psyche.

I call these texts "Thought Times with Bethany," and they're awesome. 

For your enjoyment, I've compiled a short list of my recent favorites, all of which came through during 2014 and are posted with her full approval. 


Random Texts from Bethany, No Context:

Once when I was taking care of rabbits, two of the juveniles got out and I couldn't catch them, so I took my shirt off and threw it over them like a net.

All this time I've been saying the queen palm is my favorite, when in fact it is the KING PALM!!!!

What was Lady Godiva protesting when she rode nude? Do you know?

I'm reading Love Stories of WWII. A bomber crew got shot down and had to be smuggled out of Greece. "They were provided with false papers and civilian clothes, which were mysteriously pitched through their hotel room door by someone they never saw." Those days must have been ridiculous.

In your next play, one of the scientists needs to say he's had a "gradient shift in modality dominance" instead of a "light bulb moment." 

I got a fortune that says: "Your fastidious nature will have much more fun this year!" I think I got someone else's fortune.

[A friend] just started telling me a story about how he had an operation on his prostate. I said BYE and left the room.

I'm addicted to the Lumosity raindrop game! Google it. Play it. You'll hate it.

I just learned what the TBT tag everyone has been using means. I had to look it up. Welcome me to the future.

How sinful is it to make notes in a library book?

Which is worse: the misspelling of the correct word or the correct spelling of the wrong form of the word?

Too bad you're not with me today. I'm cracking all kinds of jokes. The people love me. 

* * *

This was a quick succession of 3 texts: 

I just dropped a piece of chocolate in my air conditioning vent. 

Don't celebrate. You're going to help me get it out. 

All we need is some super glue and two small magnets!

* * *

I'm at Publix to pick up meds for a horse so I decided to get a sub for lunch. But since I just got rained on I'm FREEZING. While the guy is making my sub, I'm hovering over the fried chicken heat lamps.

Somehow I got up, went across the room, unplugged my phone and turned off the alarm without waking up.

I hope I don't have a sneezing fit [at the movie theatre]. I forgot to bring tissues, nor am I wearing long sleeves. Tactical failure.

I just burped the biggest burp that has ever been burped in the history of burping.

What exactly is a kipper?

Sometimes I think about how it would be if benevolent aliens really did abduct people from earth and kept them as pets and trained them the way we train horses and other animals and what that would be like.

Had to ask a Wal-mart worker for help finding something. Not only was he helpful, but well spoken and polite! The world must be ending.

Why is hair gross the minute it comes off your body, especially considering that hair is rarely ever a means of spreading disease?

The library doesn't open until twelve, and I was just going to sit on the bench and use the wifi until it opened, but a Peruvian guy sat down next to me and wouldn't stop talking, so I left.

Putting putty in a potty plugs the plumbing pretty promptly.

You know, if I ever time travel to the past, I'm going to be in big trouble with how nearsighted I am.

* * *

You know how I use the T9 Word setting to text? I can do it without even looking. So something that would be entertaining would be to press the buttons as though I were using T9 when actually it's set on the ABC settings.

Next text: 

Pit nw G am pdadgmg bmu tgd ptgjd jmgmt gm gmqdp.

* * *

ME: I want to do a blog post titled "Texts Beef Has Sent Me: No Context Needed."

HER: Go for it.

* * *

More on Bethany here.