A survival guide to Christmas for singles and those who love them. Part 2

11990630_10156175457880004_5643878672051919213_nNow that we’ve established the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas can be challenging ones when you’re single lets talk about what that means.

First, there are a few assumptions I make as I write: 1. I know and understand that these four weeks are difficult for many people, not only those who are not married. 2. I understand that not every person who is single has had the same experiences as I am speaking from my own story and that of those who have shared his or her story with me.  3. The difficulty of singleness is not a male or female issue, it crosses genders.   4. I write not to exclude or ignore another’s pain, story or struggle. I know many of the emotions, thoughts and feelings experienced during these four weeks are common across demographics. If you relate to an experience or emotion, let it encourage you, feel seen in your own story and then respond in the way that you know how, from the context of your own life.

With that settled…

A Story:  Saturday night I came home to my empty house. I love my home. It is cozy, has just enough space. It affords me the opportunity to decorate, host and nest which are all very important. I feel safe at home.

This night, I took one step inside and my home felt empty. It greeted me with a rush of emotion and thought with tidal wave force.

I am alone.

I had just come off time with family and friends. I was also feeling all the warm and fuzzy things one can feel as snow is falling and Christmas is in the air. But, something hit. I knew it. I could feel it.

“you are alone!”

“you are invisible”

“you don’t belong to anyone”

And the hits just kept on coming. I searched the corners of my mind to get out. I knew I wasn’t alone. I knew I was seen. I knew that I did and do belong to others. But on this night, as the waves of lies, unmet expectations, and delayed hope crashed against my mind and heart, those were very difficult truths to hold onto .

I sat down and looked through Facebook to see if I could kick myself out of the onslaught, only to be greeted with pictures of friends and their new babies, friends and their husbands, friends and their families, and my angst grew. I love and celebrate these things in the lives of others, but this night, the enemy was using whatever he could to slap me around and get me to walk away from what was true. I put my computer aside.

Like the mature 41 year old that I am, I ran through a list of things I could do to get out of the feelings:

  1. Eat (there’s nothing in the house, I haven’t been to the grocery store in days)
  2. Call a friend (they are out of town and you may not want them to see you in your present condition)
  3. Call an acquaintance to make them a friend (I don’t have the engery)
  4. Do something spiritual (can’t concentrate, and right now I’m irritated with you God)
  5. Join Tinder, Match, EHarmony, Plenty of Fish, JDate, Farmers Only and find someone who will see me… maybe meet them for a drink… maybe they will kiss me… maybe then I won’t feel alone… REALITY CHECK, maybe Cari Jenkins, you need to think about something else
  6. Watch a movie (feel someone else’s loneliness so I don’t have to)
  7. Feel sorry for yourself, pout, think of sad things, build a case for how bad your life is, get mad (Ugh! This is going no where)

After running through more options than I care to list, I sat there, in my leather chair, and said aloud, “Lord, I don’t like that I want to be married. I don’t like doing this alone. I don’t like that I’m sad about this.” I took a deep breath, chose to shut my computer down, put on my favorite Christmas Album and pull out the decorations.

As I put up the decorations I proceeded to feel all the feelings.

I prayed as I hung garland. I was teary as I put out the manger scene. I said with a whisper only God and I could hear, “Please don’t let me do this alone again next year.” I wrote words of truth on the chalk board of my front stoop. And, I turned toward God in the midst of my story. I chose not to hide from the story, but to feel it. To engage all the emotion, to be naked with it before God and myself and be unashamed.

There is no shame in being single and there is no shame in wanting to be married.

I chose my perspective. I chose to feel. I chose to be with Jesus in the midst. I chose to believe. Because – I am never a victim to circumstance.

I posted a photo of my newly decorated home, mostly because I needed to remember what was true, and said,

I rarely choose my circumstance, but I always get to choose my perspective. 

Moments like this are not unfamiliar. They are familiar whether married or single. They surprise us, catch us off guard and altogether too often invite us into making agreements with that which is not true.

To survive the Christmas season, it is important…even imperative, to feel what we feel, to sit with ourselves and Jesus, holding our unanswered prayers, our places of impossibility and our felt hopelessness connecting with the longing within. It is equally important to speak of these feelings and experiences, getting naked before my intimate circles of friends and those who might just understand, and be unashamed.

It is then that we, you and I, get to invite others to hold our stories too. We get to step out of the lonely and step into belonging. We step out of our unbelief and into belief. We hold the simultaneous joy and sorrow of the moment, diminishing neither, nor exalting one above the other and in essence, be human.

We turn our surviving into thriving when we engage our stories with honesty, grace and patience. When we invite others in to our stories and recognize that Jesus, our long expected Savior truly did come to set us free, we live fully.

So today, when tempted to allow your circumstance to dictate your behavior and when ignoring the emotion or thoughts you have that feel unpleasant, take your emotion, whatever it is, and feel it, speak it, and pray it. Sit with it, with Jesus, and experience His love, His kindness, His good, His grace, His tears, His felt absence or His felt presence.  When we choose to feel and engage as we are, we move towards Him. For our longings are always His invitation to relationship. And, when we turn to Jesus and come to him, he meets us, where we are and gives us freedom.

Come Thou Long Expectant Jesus

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

 

Day 12 of truth telling: I don’t want to post this one

DSC01327Today my truth is:

I gave up pretending for Lent. Since that day I have entered into more honest places with a handful of significant people in my life. I also made a commitment to speak my truth here as well. This has turned out to be an interesting platform to speak the truth of my human experience. To this point, writing here has felt safe. I’ve kept the vulnerability level at a fairly palpable level. Today though, I’m feeling a nudge to tell a story that is one that I’ve not allowed myself to write about up to this point.

I at times take selfies. Not always by choice, but often because I am the only one with whom I’m traveling.

I have dated very little in my life. This is not a fact that I bemoan, it is simply the truth. I did not make time for dating, honestly because for much of my life I did not feel I was the kind of girl guys would date. Though I wanted to be married, I would pretend a lot in my singleness. I would be strong. I would be busy. I would have a full social calendar. I would talk on the phone and be the life of the party and though that was my true self, it was also my false self. Of course no one would see me drive home alone, party after party, wedding after wedding and at times cry as the pain of leaving company into isolation filled my car. No one would see me cry as I’d leave the church after a youth trip. I’d see families pick up their children, spouses pick up their loved one and even those with whom I worked most closely would leave and I’d stay and clean or organize or put everything away. In part because I wanted it done, but the secret was that if I stayed I wouldn’t feel the pain of going home to an empty apartment, with no one to greet me and nothing awaiting me. Leavings were difficult, because it was in leaving that I stepped into the reality of my single life.

My singleness is not a subject about which I’ve written vulnerably. I have had a lot of pride around it. Over the years I’ve seen so many woman loose themselves to their desire to be married. I have watched women, wait and cry. I’ve seen them date so often that any sense of self was impossible, for men gave them their value and identity. I’ve seen women eat the pain of their singleness away. I watched women workout or work so much that these activities became their only constant companion. I wanted nothing of it! I, in no way, wanted anyone to ever think I was uncomfortable or sad about not having a husband. There was such shame around the desire itself and the shame led me to hold a prideful pretense that I was okay alone and didn’t really have the desire for a husband to begin with. This was a lie.

In truth, I don’t want to post this particular truth, because it will evoke feelings of discomfort in those who read my secrets. In turn, I assume people will write  responses or think responses trying to cheer me up as if I’m sad as I write. Or, perhaps the discomfort of the topic will drive someone to assume the emotion is more than it is and is a problem to be fixed.  Words blurt out: Cari, you can serve so much more being single. Cari, your day will come. Cari, it’s when you stop looking that it will come. Cari, I’m so sorry this so hard, if guys only knew what they were missing. Cari I just don’t understand why no one has snatched you up. God doesn’t put a desire in you for something that He doesn’t intend to give you.  Such words or encouragement, do not comfort this particular single woman.

The assumed response of others to the conversations around my unmet desire to be married, is what often keeps me from sharing. Pride? Possibly. But mostly, I want others to enter the desire with me, pray with me, cry with me, long with me and hope with me. I want people to know that I can have an unmet desire and be content at the same time. I want the truth, that I can hold two conflicting realities, simultaneously. I love my life the way it is. I long for a spouse with whom I can share life so much so that I feel the absence regularly. Two very real truths.

My singleness is the place where my secrets are kept. It is the place where shame hides in the shadows and where hope and strength rise up, creating intimacy with Jesus so rich that I cannot imagine another source of intimacy.

Each of us has a life full of secrets and it is in telling them, that we share a story, not only belonging to me or to you, but we share a story that is in its truest form, human. The secret places, where cobwebs gather around hidden shame, memories, unmet desires, or longings are the places where humanity is seen and Jesus is found.

This week, as I write, I am going to write about the places where I’ve found Jesus in the secrets I’ve kept.

As you read, take some time to tell the truth to your self, or maybe even to a friend. It’s important to tell your secrets. For it is in telling the truth to others, that you are able to live freely. I hope you’ll participate and find the freedom found in speaking truth.

The beautiful pain of vulnerability

1480568_10153632761620004_1305264309_nI was recently given paper white lily bulbs, which I of course assumed were amaryllis bulbs and wrongly thanked the giver. It was a thoughtful gift and one that has become increasingly meaningful over time.

Despite my lack of botanical prowess, the paper whites have served as my teacher.

One evening, I was feeling particularly reflective and I considered the bulbs. They were round and secure. They were hard and in many ways seemed impenetrable. I thought about the process of blossoming and immediately resonated with the concept.  These bulbs were a metaphor for the stage of life in which I found myself.

I pulled out my journal and began to reflect on the process of blooming.

1. To bloom something has to be rooted. Life starts below the surface.

2. To grow roots, the hard, round ball opens to a small tether which winds its way through the surface below.

3. The soil in which the roots tether is important for life to continue to emerge from the bulbs.

4. Once secure, the bulb knows a second breaking, or emersion, takes place. This is much more visible, for this breaking takes place atop the bulb, above the surface. The bulb opens and new life grows.

5. The new life is small, it’s vibrant in color, it’s fragile, it’s seemingly raw and is exposed. What once was safe, secure and hidden now is opening to the visible world; breath taking in one sense and entirely vulnerable in another.

6. Every day this new life shoots up with such speed that at times it feels as if one could watch them grow. Growing is natural, yet, growing needs the elements of the sun and water to grow tall. Light draws out life as the small green shoot extends itself toward the sun.

7. Soon the long, green, vibrant, raw, exposed and small shoot grows a bud. This bud is evidence of another emerging and in someways, another breaking. The bud is thick compared to the green shoot on which it thrives. It continues to grow in width until the bud can no longer take the pressure.

She opens.

8. The beauty of the bloom unfolds with delicate precision. Each petal stretches, reaching towards the light and with each movement, her beauty is exposed to the watching world. Her beauty is not perfect. In fact the petals are scrunched together and they look a bit messy. But it’s in the mess of blooming that beauty is seen and the flower is exposed.

I have journeyed with these bulbs. I have so deeply identified with each phase. I have learned that blooming is much more vulnerable than I ever could have imagined. And vulnerability… well, it’s much more exposing than I thought.

In the beginning, Adam and Eve hid in their felt unacceptability and they covered their nakedness, their vulnerability, out of shame. Since that time, humanity has sought to cover and hide. And yet, life, love, acceptability, and beauty are found in emerging and exposure, as they are drawn out by the light of life.

As I write today, from my coffee shop booth, I feel the vulnerability of raw exposure. I ask myself a set of questions: What is the fear in blooming? What has kept me from blooming? What is that which screams at me to dive back into the warm, secure, protected shell of the bulb? What feels the most raw in the process of blooming? When am I tempted to cover in shame, to go to the dark of my secure bulb?

A list forms in my head.

I feel tears form and my heart aches. Blooming holds the beautiful pain of vulnerability.

I invite Jesus, the Light which draws out life, to hold me as I emerge, extend and expose.

A simple gift has become the most profound of teachers. I am thankful for the lessons learned and a metaphor that will continue to guide me as I navigate these days of reaching toward light.

How to know if you have shame: An agreement that changed everything

adameveMan and Woman had very little idea of what happened that day. Together, they made an agreement with deception.

This agreement changed everything!

Truly…

EVERYTHING.

In one agreement with deception man and woman questioned the character of God. In one agreement with deception man and woman questioned their own value. When man and woman questioned the goodness of God, when they removed him as King, when they question the good created in their own design, shame entered the world. Unacceptability entered the world. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked, so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” Once naked and unashamed… now, naked and ashamed.

Everything changed.

Shame and unacceptability. Two words that convey the result of a tragic agreement. Two words that literally change the way man and woman interact with their good God who is King and two words that change the way in which they relate to one another and all that are to come.

God, met man and woman in the garden, although he knew where they were, he asked a question, as though an invitation to truth. “Where are you?” He asked.

“Why are you hiding from me?”

“Did you eat of the tree I commanded you not to?”

Man spoke first, “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

BLAME.

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman replied, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

BLAME.

Oh the tragic reality of an agreement with deception. As man and woman walked in this new agreement, they no longer operated from a place of acceptability, love and trust, they now approached life and God with assumed unacceptability and shame. Blame, a sign of fear, stems from shame and unacceptability.  When man and woman blamed, they did so because they were afraid as a result of their shame. They knew they had disobeyed and disregarded the word of their good God who is King and hid from him, hid their bodies, and hid from truth.

The broken relationship with a good King caused both man and woman to hide, to blame and to lie.

In one tragic agreement, everything changed, the effects of which we continue to feel today.

How do you experience the effects of this new agreement in your life?

Think about blame for a moment. What does blame stem from in your own life?

I’d love to know your thoughts as we journey through this story… our story.

 

Man, Woman and One Tree

adam and eve snakeGod who is good. God who is King, created all and it was good. God who is good, created man and woman in his image and it was very good. God loved his creation. God loved all of the works of his hands. God loved man and woman and walked with them daily. Man and woman were completely naked with God and felt no shame.

Now God, who is good and God who is King, gave all of creation to man and woman. It was theirs to enjoy, to work, to eat and to tend. There were trees of every kind and man and woman could eat of their fruit and enjoy all that was made.

With one exception.

God who is good and God who is King knew man and woman intimately and knew that they were not created to judge, they were not created to decipher good and evil, for this was not their created design. Therefore, God, being good, commanded the man and woman to refrain from eating the fruit of one tree. This tree was unique. This tree was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and it was planted in the middle of the garden and served as a reminder of God and as an invitation to trust his love and character.

One tree.

One command.

One invitation to trust and believe.

One tree, in all of creation could not be eaten.

One

Man and woman worked and enjoyed creation together. They had a unified relationship with their good God, their King! And all was very good.

Now, God had an enemy, in fact, God still has the very same enemy. This enemy is opposed to life. This enemy is opposed to all that is good. This enemy is opposed to truth. This enemy hates, accuses, destroys and kills. This enemy hated man and woman, for they, reminded him of the good God who is King over all.

This enemy knows only one language and his language is deception. Every word from his mouth was and is full of lies and accusations. Every word seeks to destroy the image of the good God, given to man and woman.

The enemy’s hatred for man and woman was deep and he had in mind to destroy them.

As man and woman worked the garden, the enemy approached and spoke to them. “Did your good God, your King, really say…?”

Doubt. A short start to a question, but the enemy of truth knew exactly what he was doing. If he could place doubt in the man and woman he could possibly change their belief about God and themselves.

The conversation that followed went a little like this:

“Did God really say, You must not eat from any tree in the garden?” The woman said to the serpent (the enemy), “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ”

“You will not certainly die,” The serpent said to the woman. For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

A doubt. A misquote. The spoken expectation. A lie! Another lie.

The enemy in two short paragraphs invited the woman to believe a lie as though it were true. The enemy went straight for her jugular, her identity! First by accusing God of holding out on the woman, therefore accusing him of not being good. And second, the enemy accused the woman and man of being imperfect and less than, as he told them they were missing out on this knowledge.

Two paragraphs; Riddled with lies, accusations and invitations to believe the opposite of truth.

And just like that… the woman, tragically…. agreed.

“Yes! I believe you! I believe God must be holding out on me. God must have made a mistake when he made me, otherwise I wouldn’t need the fruit of that tree to grow in any way. Yes, I believe!”

Do you know the temptation to believe a lie? Have you ever heard the voice of an accuser? Have you ever agreed with his words?

What do you think or feel as you read this?

 

Sticks and Stones, Life and Death, and A confession

speak-lifeWords are important. Words speak life. Words curse.

With this in mind I have a confession to make.

I have for years used a word to describe the students I worked with and, honestly, most people significantly younger than me, that I had to confess to the Lord and seek His forgiveness for using. It is a simple word. The word by itself seems innocent enough, but the implications of this word are the exact opposite of what I want to speak over any person. It is a word that is so contrary to the life I desire all to live in. It is a word that actually speaks against son and daughtership of God.

The word: kid.

I have called countless younger men and women, kid. A kid is a baby goat and goats, in scripture, are a symbol of those who are not walking with the Lord. Jesus separates the sheep from the goats. The sheep belong to God and the goats do not. And I, a shepherd, a pastor, have referred to those entrusted to me by God… baby goats, otherwise: young people who will not be recognized by Jesus in the end.

Forgive me Jesus for speaking this over so many I love. Forgive me Jesus for speaking this over those you love. Forgive me Jesus for being so careless with my words.

If words are descriptives of people, I want to be a person who speaks life continually over others. And, yes, at times in a world where words are used so carelessly and sarcasm is a good friend to many pastors, a good segment of the youth ministry world, and my family, this idea may seem a bit ridiculous, but I must speak. We must pay close attention to words and phrases we commonly use. We must allow our words to speak life over all people.

Think of the things we say so casually:

Shame on you

Idiot!

Looser

Fool

Jackass

Shut Up!

Damn you

F@#K you

My teacher is so stupid

I hate ______

He’s bipolar

I’m so stupid

I’m such a dork

I could add several more to this list and I know there are words I use that I do not yet hear the curse spoken in them.

Our words matter. Our conversation matters. Paul writes, “Let your conversation be full of grace, seasoned with salt!” Salt is a preservative. Our words should preserve others.

In a world increasingly full of violence, may a revolution of life begin with our words. For as Jesus says, “out of the heart your mouth speaks!”

Today, may we turn from words that kill, steal and destroy and may our words, as we abide with Christ, be a conduit for his life. Life that is full and complete and abundant.

How have words affected you? What phrases have you been convicted to stop using?

 

I am Peyton Manning

Denver_BroncosI live in Denver, Colorado. It is a lovely city with great mountain views and the most crazed sports fanatics around. This past Saturday the Denver Broncos played in their first playoff game of the season. It was a close game, both teams played equally and it really came down to who made the most mistakes. Denver lost. In over time. As a result of an intercepted pass. dun.. dun… dun…. (ominous musical tones)

Every night and day for the matter since the game’s end, the game has been a topic of conversation. Strangers engage about the game. The news, every night has had some sort of game review. It seems like everyone had plans that were sorely disappointed when the Baltimore Ravens ran that ball in for a touchdown, securing their win.

I like to think it was just a game. Yes, I know I live in Denver and could probably get some sort of legal violation for saying such, but lets be honest. Men running around in tight pants, throwing a ball, running a ball, catching a ball, blocking and tackling with great strategy for millions of dollars… eh, it’s just a game. There are those who must answer questions, it’s always good to improve on what went wrong, but this lingering talk of mistakes and what if’s is getting tiresome. I can only imagine what it is like for the team members. And Peyton Manning! who has to own the fact that it was his pass that was intercepted. With all eyes, ears and conversation towards this one team, it’s a wonder any of them are sane at all with that kind of pressure.

The tragic reality is, we each play the big game every day. We put on our best performance and there are days where we seemingly can do no wrong, our metaphorical passes are caught and run in for a touchdown every time. Then there are days where we are like Peyton Manning this past Saturday. We throw great passes all day, until one is caught by the wrong team.

You and I, we make mistakes. It is a part of life. We will let people down. We will disappoint someone. We may even hurt someone. But we must not treat ourselves the way Denver is treating their home town team. We must instead recognize the mistake, face it, address it and let it go. Our mistakes do not define us.

Right now I have an email in my inbox which I have not read. I’m usually very good at reading my emails, but this one caused me to wince when it came through. I know that I potentially let this person down as I dropped the ball on responding to an email sent over a month ago. So how do I, the mature 38 year old that I am, handle the situation. I avoid it!

Good gracious! Even as I write I feel my heart rate increase just ever so slightly at the thought of opening the email. Logic tells me, I’ll open it and if I respond quickly and own my lack of communication all will be well. Performance and people pleasing paint and exaggerated picture of the content of her email and the preemptive shame of having potentially let someone down. (I’m just putting the real picture out there. I’m sure no one else has ever struggled with such thoughts.)

I’m Peyton Manning. I threw a ball that was caught by the wrong team and I am still beating myself up for it. Consequently, I assume the world watches like the sport’s anchors and crazed fans, with disappointment, words of blame, words of shame and will probably talk about my lack of follow through for days to come. Peyton Manning is not perfect. He is an amazing football player. In fact, he is one of the best, but he is not perfect. I am a good friend and I love people deeply, but I’m far from perfect. The enemy of our lives would like nothing more than for me to get stuck focusing on my imperfection, so much so that I become paralyzed and incapable of believing any good and become inactive, simple so I won’t disappoint anyone else. This is a lie.

Jesus came because he knew we’d all throw a metaphorical interception at some point in our lives. (more than likely every day of our lives) He knows that we are incapable of perfection and he wants to give us grace to meet us in our lack, mistakes, mishaps and faulty passes. It is his grace that hushes the voices of the accusers and reminds of the glory he gave us. He sets us back on our feet, hands us a ball and entrusts us with another year of game time.

So as soon as I press publish on this blog, I’m going to go read and respond to her email, it’s time I get back in the game.