Archive for February, 2010

Family

“I told you that you will be a part of my family,” he said. “This is only the beginning.”

Last night I spent time with my boyfriend Ryan’s* family for the first time (though I have previously met his mom). I enjoyed the evening, the companionship, the affection I witnessed.

But only this morning while sitting in church did I really feel deeply moved by my time with Ryan’s kin, as if it took time for it to penetrate down into my soul. I felt tears springing in my eyes on several occasions this morning as I worshipped God and listened to the pastor talk about how Jesus is able to sympathize with all of my suffering, how He pursues me, how He loves me. As I looked around at all the families in the congregation, I began thinking about the meaning and experience of family.

As I have written previously, I feel like I am missing a family. My family of origin is emotionally disengaged, and while we all get along, there is a lack of warmth and tender affectionate love. I became a Christian about four and a half years ago, and over that time, God has brought me into a church community that has become my family. He has brought me several very close female friends, for whom I am enormously thankful. These women are the sisters I never had (I grew up with three awesome brothers). Yet I do not have a real family, those most intimate relations in our human existence. When I leave my workplace or go home after social engagements, I am alone in the house.

For most of my life, I have been basically okay with being alone. I am a strong introvert, and I enjoy my own company. I have a number of hobbies and interests that I pursue. Yet I do feel lonely at times. And very recently, God has opened my eyes (heart?) to a new longing to be part of a family.

I have a yearning to be needed and accepted as part of a family unit.

I had the great privilege of meeting Ryan’s five year old daughter Ella* yesterday, Ella with lovely eyes. Ella immediately treated me as her friend, introduced me to her favorite television show (iCarly), and allowed me to meet all her little companions (ten or twelve teeny Pet Shop bobblehead animals with enormous eyes). She demonstrated her sassy dance moves as we listened to “Party in the USA” eighteen times. And she let me into her imaginary world as we pretended to play video games on her “laptop” (a toy computer).

What I loved about Ella, and what captivates me about most children, is that she had no pretenses. She was authentic and she treated me as a friend without any of the typical social awkwardness and masks that adults use with each other.

It was a real blessing to be invited into Ryan’s family, to be treated as an insider for a few hours, to experience the joy and love that comprise a healthy family.

In Donald Miller’s book, “To Own a Dragon,” Donald is taken in by a husband and wife and their small children to live for several years in their garage apartment. Donald grew up with his mom, sans father or siblings, and like me, missed out on a lot of the experiences of family. Miller writes of his personal and spiritual growth as a young adult as a result of living with and (finally) being a part of a healthy, loving family. I wonder if God wants me to experience some of this family-ness, if maybe He is preparing me somehow.

Our pastor spoke this morning of people who actually walk away from their families.

Deep down, and as a result of my sin nature, I have a faith problem. I lack true faith that God would actually bring me a family, that I could actually be needed and wanted in a family. The concept of being an integral part of a family unit feels strange to me, and it is hard for me to imagine or believe that God could bring that into my life.

I grew up always feeling like an outsider, an alien, in my family, among my peers, around colleagues and classmates. Now I have a glimpse of being an insider in God’s kingdom and amongst my close friends, but I still long to be part of something closer and more intimate than even my cherished circle of friends.

*Names have been changed

Singleness

A fellow blogger, unruly helpmeet, wrote on her blog yesterday, “I just love looking at fridges. The interesting ones, that is. I like to see the artwork, photos, magnets, notes, and doodads. They say so much about a family.”

I am fascinated by the stories and photos that unruly helpmeet shares on her blog, which is her metaphorical and vast fridge. I feel like I am seeing a glimpse at the inner life of a sweet, creative, and authentic family.

My fridge is empty of mementos and photographs, artwork and magnets.

There are times in my generally full and happy life when I am pierced by a rapidly expanding chasm of loneliness. I am 31 years old and never married. I have a roommate, but I rarely see her because of our different schedules. I grew up in a family that was cold and disengaged, with parents who were emotionally neglectful. I never quite felt at home in my own family, and now I have been on my own for 14 years.

What I am saying is that when I walk into my bedroom at night, I am greeted by the sight of a small pile of books lying on the passenger side of the bed. They are my faithful companions.

I so long for something more, yet I am not even sure what more would look like.

I am highly intrigued by unruly helpmeet’s little family and the families and marriages of my close friends. It all seems so normal, yet marriage and family seem so utterly foreign to me.

I spent time with a dear and trusted friend over the weekend, whom I’ll call Betty*. Betty and I have similar personalities, temperaments, family and relational histories, so I feel I can relate to her (and she makes me feel like there is hope for me). Betty is happily married to a wonderfully kind and loving man.

Me: I don’t even know if I want to get married anymore. For a few years after I became a Christian, I had a strong desire to be married, but now I don’t really feel it anymore.
Betty: I think you do want to be married. I can hear it in your voice.
Me (after a pause): What is the benefit of marriage? Is it really worth it?
Betty: Marriage is such a blessing. You get a partnership and you look out for each other.
Me (close to tears): I can’t even fathom what that would be like. It’s like trying to imagine what it would be like to live in a third world country. I have these snapshot images of dirt and huts but really I have no idea.

I feel alien in romantic relationships. I have never met anyone I’d rather spend the rest of my life with than be single. I do not know if that means I have not yet met the right guy or if it is some quality inside me. I never feel settled in relationships. I wonder why I feel this way.

I get lonely at times when I am alone and I long for more, yet I feel like a stranger in dating relationships.

I was in love one time, many years ago. We have a mildly strange but enjoyable friendship now; we talk only a couple of times a year. We both have a high degree of respect and admiration for each other.

I am dating someone (who I will call Ryan*) now, with whom I feel a connectedness that I do not typically feel in relationships. He joked with me last week about me pushing people away in relationships, and I said that maybe he was right or maybe not, but that I did not regret the end of any of my prior relationships, as I did not think any of those guys were right for me. He said, “So you’ve never met the right person for you,” and I immediately said, “No.” Of course, I was not thinking about him, and he did not take it personally, but he made a good point in calling me out about my quick and sure negative reply.

I was spending time with Ryan over the weekend, and I was feeling very happy and content, and I thought to ask how his mom was doing. Suddenly, and before I could ask anything, I began crying. I started thinking about his close friendship with his mom, and I felt so envious. I wanted to go to his house and sit on the couch and spend time around his mom and have her give me advice about life and beauty tips and ask me questions about my life and let her make me her famous trail mix.

I then started thinking about my conversation with Betty from the previous evening and how she described her marriage as two people looking out for each other, as a partnership. And I could not hold back the tears.

Ryan is good for me because he gets me, he sees beyond what I allow him to see, and he calls me out on the things he can perceive below the surface. He somehow knew I was crying, though he could not see my face, and he asked why, so I told him, and he held me in his arms and let me cry.

*Names have been changed

Suspicious

There are three types of people of whom I am suspicious:

1. People who wear sunglasses indoors
2. People who wear toboggans in the gym
3. People with two first names

How to Be Attractive

Ninety percent of what I do takes place in my head. The remaining ten percent comprises the execution stage. I examine many possibilities, take in information, conduct research, weigh the alternatives, decide on the most effective and efficient solution or course of action, and then I execute.

I have mentioned to a few people that my physical attractiveness is a result of this very process. I am fascinated by all topics related to psychology, and the psychology of physical beauty in our culture is no exception. I wanted to know what makes a person attractive in the eyes of others, and what the benefits of attractiveness are (of which there are many, but that is a post for another day).

I read many books on attractiveness, nutrition, fitness, and self-care, including these favorites to which I still refer on a regular basis:
1. Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty by Nancy Etcoff – Etcoff discusses what features contribute to attractiveness and the survival value of beauty.
2. Makeup Makeovers by Robert Jones – Jones presents a how-to guide on makeup application with amazing photo illustrations.
3. Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman – Freedman discusses the benefits of a vegan lifestyle.
4. Strength Training Anatomy by Frederic Delavier – Delavier lists essential free weight exercises for each muscle group in a detailed illustrated guide.
5. Sports Nutrition by Anita Bean – Bean covers the basics of how nutrition contributes to and works together with exercise.

Some basic essentials of female attractiveness include the following:
1. Maintain your ideal weight with a body mass index of 21 and a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7. This is achieved with diet, exercise, youth, and a not having children.
2. Work to have clear, dewy skin that is free of acne and wrinkles by using gentle soap, exfoliate regularly, use eye cream and moisturizer every day, and use good quality makeup that matches your skin tone.
3. Eyes should be large, clear, and sparkly. Avoid alcohol and drugs, get adequate amounts of sleep, use luminizing concealer and shadow, and use eye whitening drops if necessary.
4. Have long, glossy hair that looks feminine by taking your B vitamins and using conditioners and creams.
5. Get straight white teeth with braces, veneers, and/or bleaching strips, and remember to floss. Lips look best when full and hydrated. Dark lipstick can age you drastically, so aim to use lighter colors on your lips.
6. Develop curves in all the right places (back, waist, hips, buttocks, legs, and arms) with exercise, proper nutrition (NOT with dieting, but as a lifestyle), exercise, eating healthy, and exercise – especially weight training, which so many women neglect. I have never been as secure about my body image as when I concentrate on strength training and bodybuilding.
7. Strive for symmetrical facial features by using artful makeup techniques or plastic surgery.
8. Get self-confident by finding friends who are encouraging and can help you achieve your full potential.
9. Increase your energy levels by exercising regularly, eating plenty of slow-digesting carbs, fruits, and vegetables, and by taking a multivitamin.
10. Get that je ne sais quoi by accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and constantly seeking to build your relationship with God.

Introverted Intuitives

What follows is a humorous but accurate metaphor comparing introverted intuitive personality types.

INTP – warm and fuzzy on the outside and cold and hard on the inside
INFJ – cold and hard on the outside and warm and fuzzy on the inside
INFP – warm and fuzzy inside and out
INTJ – cold and hard inside and out

Wellness

I have been pontificating on some ways I can take better care of myself. These are my wellness goals for the upcoming months.

1. Eat more fruit, even if some of it is in the form of fruit juice.
2. Consume more protein by drinking three protein shakes per day to supplement my vegetarian diet.
3. Mix glutamine powder with my post-workout protein shake to aid in recovery and healing.
4. Take iron supplements every day.
5. Supplement my diet with a probiotic every day.
6. Get to bed by 10:30 pm every night.
7. Spend time each day focusing on my identity as Christ’s beloved daughter.
8. Take a day off from the gym each week to rest.
9. Stay away from emotionally unhealthy people.
10. Practice assisted pull ups twice a week until I am able to reach my goal of 10 unassisted pull ups.

Ephesians 3:16-19
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Where is My Mind

A few months ago, a good friend of mine recommended a popular brand of high fiber oatmeal, the cinnamon swirl flavor, and it is so tasty. Recently, another friend enticed me to try mixing in some peanut butter, and today I even tossed in some trail mix, and it is delicious. I have had an inexplicable craving for grapefruit juice over the past week, so I enjoyed a glass of it with my uber-oatmeal.

Speaking of friends, my pastor spoke about friendship this morning at our church’s worship service. It was one of those sermons that spoke directly to me, and it was exactly what I needed to hear. I love when that happens! I feel like God is speaking to me in a very clear and direct manner. He is affirming that what I think I have been learning about His nature and His will is on target.

Many of the ideas that follow are paraphrased from the pastor’s sermon. It is not my intention to take credit for his exegesis and wisdom.

“Love is a commitment based on the will of God and often accompanied by an emotion.”

We need friends who
1. Are willing to sacrifice on our behalf.
2. Will defend us when they are away from us.
3. Will give us the freedom to be ourselves when we are with each other.
4. Are constant encouragers.

How many of us have friends like these?

And how much greater is Christ our friend, as he embodies all of these statements.

Then, near the end of the sermon, the pastor made a statement that hit home for me: do not fight to get rid of sin; fight to see the love of Christ. Find strength in the Lord.

I have struggled with self-condemnation for many years, and recently I have begun to understand what a sin problem this attitude is. I feel tempted by a situation, and maybe I cross the line into sinful behavior, and I subconsciously think that because I am a Christian and a perfectionist, that I MUST make the right and Godly decision (read: in my own strength). When, inevitably, this fails, I beat myself up, piling sin on top of sin. (Side note: temptation alone is not a sin. It is not the first look that is sinful, it is the second and third.) I set my mind to cut off a certain behavior or thought or course of action, as if that is the solution.

But I am learning that the way I am reacting to temptation and to my sinful heart is more the problem than the actual temptation or sin about which I am worried in the first place. I am focusing all my thoughts and energy on the temptation, the sin, what I should do, and my strength or weakness in getting it accomplished. And then I fail.

Instead of fighting to get rid of sin (impossible in this lifetime, as my original nature is that my heart is so sinful), the better approach is to fight to see the love of Christ. This new perspective certainly does not free me from the responsibility to make wise and Godly decisions. But as I have written previously, for me personally, my sin problem leans more toward self-condemnation than licentiousness. I now see that to grow in my relationship with Christ, I want to focus on His love for me. I want to focus on the truth that I am His daughter, His beloved child. I want to build my identity in Christ and focus my attention and energy on Him.

And the behaviors and repentance will naturally follow. Because I cannot do it in my strength.

But I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13). And the Lord my God will fight for me (Nehemiah 4:20). I am free from condemnation (Romans 8:1). I am not just one misstep away from losing God’s love; He has removed my sin from me as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).