December 22, 2009

The Most Wonderful Time of Year!

I know a lot of singles who don't see the point of decorating for Christmas. They think it's just too much trouble. I disagree.

I don't always put a tree up, but I always decorate. I can't imagine not decorating. Actually, I can imagine not decorating, and that's precisely what makes me do it. I've been listening to Christmas carols on the radio since Halloween, but still, it doesn't feel like Christmas until my house looks like Christmas.

I understand that some singles feel lonely putting the tree up alone, but years ago, I realized that most of my married friends decorated by themselves. Oh, sure, their families would help decorate the tree, but the kids would lose interest long before it was finished, and the dads were usually not that interested to begin with. And no one wanted to take the tree down, so my married friends got to do that by themselves, too. And the truth is, while they may have had visions of the family helping, they knew it was easier when they did most of the work themselves. It was faster, less messy, fighting was eliminated, and they got to set everything up the way they wanted it. Once I figured that out, decorating the tree was a lot more fun for me.

I really intended to put my tree up this year, but as often happens, the clock ran out on me. It takes a long time to gather everything together, unpack it all and put it into place. I never found that block of time this year. But yesterday, December the 21st, I decided the tree wasn't going to happen but it still wasn't too late to decorate. I got out the stuff that was easy to get to, spent an hour or so putting that up, and discovered it was enough. My house feels like Christmas now.

Lights on the wreath give me something to plug in and light up the living room. =)

My cats think the greenery on the banister is almost as much fun as a tree.

Some of the ornaments that didn't make it onto a tree can still brighten my dining room table.

More ornaments made it to the chandelier.

And there's a retro tinsel tree, so I'm not totally tree-less. ;-)

Instead of listening to the random radio Christmas carols I've been listening to, this morning I pulled out the Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra CD and listened to the carols I grew up with, remembering the excitement of Christmas trips to Fort Worth to visit relatives on both sides of the family. Relatives who I can only visit in my memories now, memories that put me in the mood for Christmas, once again. I can feel the excitement looking forward to seeing those who are long gone, and the excitement of waiting for Santa. Along with those feelings of Christmas past, I begin to feel the excitement of Christmas present, and Christmas future. Now that I'm beginning to feel more like Christmas, I think I might have some friends over before New Year's.

If you haven't decorated, it's not too late. Get your stuff out and make your house feel like Christmas! Then get out the hot chocolate and play your favorite Christmas music and thank God for this time of year when we stop long enough to remember the miracle of God coming to earth in the form of a baby, to live among us, to know what it is to live in a human body, to feel human emotions, and to grow up to give His life for us. How can any of us feel lonely when there is a God who loves us that much?

Make the most of this Christmas. It's the most wonderful time of year!

December 17, 2009

Laughter is the Best Medicine

Let me make this clear: 
  • Santa Claus is about children.
  • Rudolph is about children.
  • Frosty the Snowman is about children.
  • Christmas is about One child, who came down from Heaven in the most amazing way to save the world, which is even more amazing.

Now that we've established that, one of my favorite Christmas rituals used to be watching the preschool choirs perform at church each December. I admit that I loved it because the kids made me laugh. Preschoolers can always be counted on to do something that older kids know isn't appropriate, from wardrobe malfunctions to hamming up their performances.

I remember a year when I was feeling particularly stressed and depressed as the holidays came closer. One Sunday, I was at church for hours of rehearsals for this mammoth Christmas production we used to do. We took a break so those who were involved with the children's choirs could go upstairs for their Christmas program. Some left for dinner but I went upstairs to watch the kids. I wasn't disappointed.

There was one 4-year-old boy who stole the show. He was towards the back, and yet he performed as though he was the only one there. He waved, he bowed, he may even have picked his nose. He sang louder and with more enthusiasm than all the other kids put together, as if he were the soloist and the rest were his backup singers. The fact that he was singing in front of a crowd in the sanctuary didn't faze him. The fact that we were starting to chuckle, and then giggle, and then laugh out loud didn't faze him. He was singing his heart out for Jesus.

I started laughing early on. During Away in the Manger I laughed so hard that tears began to stream down my cheeks. I couldn't stop laughing but I didn't care. And you know what? The stress I had been feeling began to melt away. I didn't feel depressed anymore. For the first time that year, I began to look forward to Christmas.

They say laughter can heal. Studies show that it boosts our immune systems, boosts our energy, and diminishes pain. Laughter reduces stress, and when people share laughter, it creates a bond. I have no doubt that God enjoys a laugh now and then, and he especially enjoys the sound of our laughter.

That was the last year that the preschool kids sang in big church. I'm not sure what the reasoning was, exactly. Maybe it was felt that a laughing congregation missed the point of Christmas, but we're Southern Baptist for crying out loud. (Although come to think of it, I guess there are a number of theological points that we may have missed along the way so maybe that's a valid point after all. Hmmm.) Maybe there was a fear kids would be traumatized by adults laughing, but I'm sure people laughed at choirs I sang in, but I don't have any lasting effect. (Gee, I wish my eye would stop twitching.)

All I know is that the teachers began inviting parents and any of the rest of us who wanted to hear them to their classes. I went a couple of times, but it wasn't the same.

I was reminded how much I miss the preschoolers during this year's Christmas program. The first graders and older sang, and they did a fabulous job. But despite a couple of wiggly boys, by first grade, kids are generally a little too inhibited, a little too practiced, a little too perfect.

I want to hear preschoolers sing in big church again. I can't help but think that Jesus wants to hear them sing in big church, too. And I bet he'll be chuckling along with the rest of us.

December 14, 2009

Self-Centered or Self-Sufficient?

About 10 years ago, the women's ministry at my church decided to start a mentoring program. They kicked it off with a weekend event and brought in a speaker who was over the women's ministry in her church in Texas.

There was a decent turnout of single women, which was kind of unusual for women's ministry events. My table was full of single women, all either approaching or past 40 at the time. I’m not sure our women’s ministry has seen such a good turnout of singles since. Small wonder, although any negative response was entirely due to the speaker.

During the Friday night talk, she told a story about a woman she had counseled before marriage. The bride-to-be was in her late 30s, and what the speaker had told her was something like, "If you haven't gotten married by now, you shouldn't get married at all because by this age you're too self-centered for marriage."

There was nervous laughter around the room, which the speaker didn’t seem to pick up on. She also failed to notice the expressions on the faces of the women at my table, which were evidently priceless because all around the room, women were craning their necks to get a look at us. Some were leaning so far back in their chairs to see our reactions that I was concerned for their safety. The reaction of these women was not offensive – it was more of a validation that they were sensitive to the insensitivity of the speaker’s comment.

Throughout the talk, the woman had also made some off-hand comments about the divorced that were not especially flattering. As the evening concluded, the woman from our church who had organized the event (who was divorced herself) came to our table to apologize. Evidently she also expressed a concern about the comments to the speaker because the Saturday morning session began with an apology. I’m sure the speaker felt awful that she said things that made people uncomfortable, but I didn’t get the feeling that she thought her opinion was mistaken.

What brought this uncomfortable weekend to mind? A never-married friend from high school sent me a link to a study on the emotional well-being of singles over 40. It wasn’t news to either of us, but it might have been to that speaker who seemed to think single women have an expiration date.

Authored by Jamila Bookwala, an associate professor of psychology at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa, the report was published in the Nov. 30 issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

Among other things, the report discusses why some singles never marry, and you know what? It doesn’t mention self-centeredness at all. It does suggest that many singles develop a self-sufficiency that may make marriage less likely.

As for emotional health, the report indicates the never-married single might be doing better than our married counterparts.

Not surprisingly, an important factor in scoring well on emotional health is the presence of social resources…relationships with family and friends. If you’re not connected to family, or to a group of people who fill the role of family, you need to be. It can make all of the difference in the world.

As for self-sufficiency, I would suggest that for followers of Christ, it’s not so much self-sufficiency that we learn from our singleness as it is a reliance on God to provide all that we need, from figuring out how to fix the toilet to developing meaningful relationships in our lives. And no matter how many relationships we have, the one that makes the biggest difference in our lives is the one we have with Jesus Christ.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:13

December 10, 2009

You Never Know

Twenty-one years ago, I went to California for the wedding of a friend from high school. The wedding coordinator kept saying she loved "older" couples.

Older? The bride was 29.

Twelve years ago, I went to Edmond for the wedding of a friend from Sunday school. The bride was 30, and I was 38. I was seated between two men, both over 40 and never married.

At one point, the minister, who had known the groom since college, turned to him and said, "we prayed for this woman to come into your life for ten years." The line struck me the same way it struck the men on either side of me, but only one of us voiced the thought...right at that moment. Under his breath, I heard the guy on my right say, "Ten years? Big deal."

Did I mention that we had somehow found ourselves seated on the groom's side of the church?

I struggled not to laugh out loud.

The guy who spoke up did get married a couple of years later, and now has two adorable sons. I couldn't help but remember that wedding in Edmond this past Saturday, as I attended the wedding of his sister. (To simplify matters, for the rest of this post, the guy who spoke up shall be referred to as BoB - Brother of the Bride).

The bride for this wedding - BoB's sister - was over 50. The groom's granddaughter was the flower girl. I'm sure the coordinator from the California wedding would have been downright ecstatic over this couple. They knew exactly what they wanted, and what they didn't want, and it was one of the best weddings I've ever attended.

One of the things the bride wanted was for her nephews - BoB's two sons - to serve as bell ringers, walking down the aisle just before she entered. After struggling not to laugh out loud at the "Ten years?" comment 12 years ago, I got to laugh out loud with the rest of the guests Saturday night as BoB's two sons walked/ran down the aisle at breakneck speed, ringing the bells to herald the bride's imminent entrance. It was one of those moments when I thought how nice it would have been if BoB could have known 12 years ago that his prayers would eventually be answered affirmatively.

At the reception, BoB sat down to visit at my table and I reminded him of that other wedding and the comment he had made. He shrugged his shoulders and grinned as he said, "You never know."

He's right, of course. None of us knows what the future will bring, and yet well-meaning people will often tell you that they "know" what your future will look like. It's usually loosely based on their own lives. But here's the thing. God isn't a home-builder who builds the same identical house over and over again with minor changes. He builds custom homes, and no two are exactly alike.

The life of my friend who married at 29 isn't the same as the life of my friend who married at 30, and neither of their lives is anything like the life of my friend who got married last weekend. And none of their lives has been like mine.

We get into a trap when we start comparing our lives with those of our friends and family. Sometimes it can begin to feel like a prison as we wallow in self-pity. That's not the life God planned for any of us. It can sound trite, but the truth is, if you're not happy single, you won't be happy married. Embrace the life God has given you...because He planned it just for you.

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. I will be found by you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back from captivity. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. ~ Jeremiah 29:11-14a

December 2, 2009

Single Heroes...and Heroines...of Our Faith

In our focus on marriage and family in today's church, we often overlook single adults in the Bible, from Old Testament prophets to the New Testament's early church leaders. Check out this Beliefnet quiz to see how much you know about Successful Singles in the Bible. There are only 10 questions, so it doesn't begin to cover everyone who was single.

Have you ever thought about the marital status of any of these people?

As long as we're on a Biblical theme, aside from Mary and Joseph, or perhaps Pontius Pilate and his wife, can you think of a married couple with whom Jesus interacted? It seems to me that Jesus met people where they were as individuals, not as a unit. That's still where He meets us.

So how did you do on the quiz?