January 27, 2010

Fluffy Tails and Good PR

A winter storm is headed this way. About this time 7 years ago, there was another winter storm. By 10:00 p.m., it was apparent that streets would be dangerous the next morning so a snow day was declared.

I turned my alarm off, looking forward to sleeping in the next morning. Instead, I woke up at 5:00 a.m. to the sound of Candice, one of my cats, playing with something in the closet. As I lay the in the dark, I gradually realized the something was alive...and it wasn't Edgar, my other cat.

Then I realized she wasn't playing with the something - she was chasing it - in and out of the closet.The closet had sliding doors and they ran in one side and out the other, over and over again.

I lay there paralyzed. What if she caught it? The first place she'd bring it would be to me so she could show me what she had done.

I was starting to panic.

It wasn't long before the "thing" took a turn and ran into my bathroom, with Candice in hot pursuit. I slowly got up and flipped on the bathroom light, timidly peering around the corner just in time to see a rodent of some sort jump from the toilet to the bathtub.

I screamed, causing Candice to rethink her mission and make a run back out the door. I slammed the door shut and for the next several minutes Candice and I sat on the edge of the bed, staring at the closed bathroom door. We could here her prey making sounds as he knocked things over, trying to figure out how to get out this mess in which he found himself.

Then we heard a splash.

It was several minutes before I could face it. When I finally went into the bathroom to take a look, I discovered my rodent was a squirrel. I shuddered and closed the door and went back into the bedroom. By now Edgar had come out of his hiding place, sensing that the crisis was over.

I turned on the TV. We had received 8 inches of snow overnight. It wasn't even 5:30 yet.

There was nobody I could call at 5:30 a.m. and ask to drive through 8 inches of snow to come remove a dead squirrel from my bathroom.

The hours began to tick by, and still, I couldn't make myself go into the bathroom. A friend called around 11:00 to see if I wanted to go to a movie? A movie? I couldn't even take a shower because I'd have to go in the room with the dead squirrel in the toilet. I considered asking him to come deal with my squirrel, but I just couldn't. The bathroom was a mess.

A coworker called and I told her my dilemma, and she began to laugh. She hung up the phone to call another coworker. Both of them called their husbands to tell them I needed help getting a dead squirrel out of my toilet. Both husbands responded appropriately, and exactly the same way. "If Margaret wants me to come get a dead squirrel out of her toilet, Margaret is going to have to ask me."

I wasn't asking.

I was a 40-something woman who had to face this problem head on. I retrieved some really long tongs for grilling and a big yellow trash bag and came back upstairs. I held them in my hands as I went back to sit on the edge of my bed and stare at the closed bathroom door that was starting to taunt me.

I began to pray, "God, you're going to have to help me with this, because I can't do it myself."

It wasn't the most heartwarming prayer, but it was heartfelt.

I finally went back into the bathroom and looked inside the toilet. I spent another 10 minutes praying before I got the courage to reach into the toilet with my very long tongs and pick the critter up. I dropped him into the trash bag (along with the tongs) and put the bag on my patio which was covered in snow. I considered it a warning to all of the other squirrels in the neighborhood.

News of my adventure began to spread. For weeks, people would come to me and ask to hear my squirrel story. Most laughed, but occasionally I'd have someone react with concern for the squirrel and tell me all the ways I could have saved it.

Sorry, PETA. A squirrel outside is cute. A squirrel inside my house at 5:00 in the morning in the middle of snowstorm is a rat with a fluffy tail and good PR.

And besides, I'm convinced the squirrel's untimely end was nothing short of Divine intervention. God was watching out for me.

There's another winter storm coming. Someone should warn the squirrels.

January 22, 2010

One Size Does Not Fit All

Once upon a time, someone had the bright idea that you could do singles events for all ages.  Other people thought it was such a swell idea that they began to copy the idea...in cities all across the land.

And no one ever questioned whether or not 23-year-olds would want to hang out with people who are older than their parents...at a singles gathering.

Then someone said, "Since it's for singles of all ages, there should be a  praise band that plays really, really LOUDLY," because everyone knows that singles of all ages are just overgrown teenagers, or maybe they're all just hard of hearing - nobody knows for sure - but whatever the case, music for singles is supposed to be really, really LOUD.

And it was not good.

But they kept doing it anyway.

And then they realized they needed a speaker.

So they recruited a youth pastor to speak to those singles of all ages. A youth pastor who got married the summer before he started seminary and really didn't know squat about being single. That would have been great if the youth pastor had chosen to talk about general topics, like how to be a better follower of Christ. But no, he wanted to be relevant to singles of all ages, so he talked about the things he thought a "young" single would want to know. (Because he didn't know that all ages would include people over say, 25.)

So the older singles (over 40 - the really older ones) sat around wondering what the planners meant by "all" ages and started to grumble amongst themselves about all the other things they could be doing instead. Some of them tried to make the best of it by saying "I'm sure the 20-somethings are getting something out of this."

And the 20-somethings sat on the other side of the room, wondering what the planners meant by "all" ages and started murmuring amongst themselves about all the other things they could be doing instead. Some of them tried to make the best of it by saying, "Maybe the older group is getting something out of this."

And the planners never had a clue what was wrong.

So they decided it should be a quarterly event.

And then they wondered why fewer people came each time.

So they blamed the singles. "They just won't commit to anything," they said.

And the singles wondered why no one ever asked them what they thought of the idea of an event for singles of all ages to begin with.

The End.

January 21, 2010

The Dreaded Pictorial Directory

Lord, have mercy. It's time for another church directory and my hair appointments are not lining up with the picture dates.

It wouldn't matter if there were more people in the picture. If you have 3 or more people in your family, each individual face is tiny.

Look at those itty-bitty faces. Aren't they all cute and perfect? They could have spinach in their teeth and no one would ever know.

If you're single, your face fills up the whole picture.  It's like HDTV - every flaw shows.

Helpful tips are supposed to make your picture better.
  • Solid colors or simple patterns look best. Busy patterns on clothing are distracting.  (They say "distracting" like it's a bad thing.Since my picture is 3 times the size as everyone else's, isn't distraction my primary goal here?)
  • Darker colors are slenderizing. (That would be great if you showed enough of me to matter. But noooooooo, you only show my face, which looks fatter when I smile. If you'd show my whole body I could accept the extra 10 pounds that the camera adds, but by only showing my face, the camera adds more like 20 pounds.)
  • Small jewelry/accessories compliment your face better. Avoid large, distracting accessories. (Another way to distract? Thanks for the tip!)
  • Make sure your shoes match your outfit. They might show in some poses. (If only...)
  • Long sleeves are better for adults to focus attention on the face. Short sleeves are OK for infants and children. (So which would I rather call attention to, a bad hair day or my whiter-than-white arms in the middle of winter?)
  • Your glasses are a part of you, so feel free to wear them. Our photographers are trained to minimize any glare. (Excuse me? Why aren't glasses distracting? I bet your photographer is just going to compile an email full of pictures of people wearing ugly glasses to forward to their friends 50 years from now. I'm not falling for that.)

Then there are grooming tips:

  • Don’t get your hair cut within 48 hours of your portrait sitting. Ideally, haircuts should happen 2 weeks prior. (Hence, the hair dilemma. In order to do this, I would have to get my hair cut 3 weeks after the last cut to make it no more than 2 weeks before the sitting. Oh, well.)
  • Limit your exposure to the sun for a few days before portrait day. (I'm not sure we need this warning for a February sitting, but I guess it means I shouldn't risk a self-tanning orange glow.)
  • Have any hair and makeup supplies available for quick touch-ups. (I once showed up with a set of hot rollers. Not only did it not help, it's actually my all-time worst directory picture. I'm not exaggerating. I've actually been in the room with people who laughed when they saw it.)

Despite the fact I hate the ordeal, and I nearly always hate my own picture, I will show up at the appointed time to have my picture taken. I'll do it because it's the price we pay to get our very own copy of the church directory - which is really a family album - a snapshot in time. It tells us the names of those people we see every Sunday, but can't call by name.  It helps us to connect to others whose names we often hear, but have never connected with a face. It reminds us of the people we need to pray for today and, as time goes by, reminds us to thank God for others who are gone but who made a difference in our lives. It gives us the emails of those we keep meaning to send a note of encouragement. It makes us more of a family.

That and I coordinated the last directory and if I'm not in this one, I'll never hear the end of it.

January 16, 2010

The Gift of Marriedness?

We've all been there. You get a gift and you have to try to act like you like it, even though you're really wondering what the heck the person who chose it was thinking. You can't imagine what made them look at this atrocity and think of you. The only other explanation is that it wasn't chosen for you at all; it was just something that was re-gifted to you.

Either way, it's not remotely flattering.

There was an anonymous comment to my last post about how hard it is to feel flattered when people say, "You must have the gift of singleness." My response was that I suspect there are more married than single who believe there is such thing as a gift of singleness.

A few years ago, a coworker turned 40, and she was having a hard time dealing with the fact she was still single. We had lunch for her, and another coworker - a mother of 6 - began to lecture the guest of honor about the gift of singleness. I was at the other end of the table and couldn't hear much of the conversation (if you could even call it a conversation) but I saw the look on the birthday girl's face. Her expression spoke volumes - and the more pained her expression, the more enthused Mother of 6 was about driving her point home.

Really, can you imagine suggesting that there is a gift of marriedness? I know people who have been married multiple times, so clearly they don't have anything you could call a gift of singleness, but I wouldn't say they have a gift of marriedness either. I wouldn't even suggest such a thing to friends who have been married their entire adult lives.

I understand where the idea comes from. It's from 1 Corinthians 7, one of Paul's more rambling passages. One time I heard a pastor say that Paul had a tendency to chase rabbits because while there are many passages where Paul writes eloquently and to the point, there are other passages where it's more a stream of consciousness. I Corinthians 7 strikes me as a stream of consciousness.

Don't get me wrong. The words he wrote in this passage are absolutely true and have given me comfort in my own life, but parts of it leave me scratching my head. Verse 7, the verse that gives us the idea that there is a gift of singleness, is one of those parts we still can't make up our minds about. "I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that."

For crying out loud, could the man have stayed on point long enough to explain what he meant?

Is he talking about a spiritual gift? Like lots of other people, I've gone back and forth about the answer to that question for years. At this point in my life, I don't think he is.

Whether married or single, I believe our lives are a gift from God. In that sense, yes, singleness is a gift, as is marriage. Whether married or single, we learn over time how to adapt to the life God has for us. If you're married, you learn how to live with your spouse, and if you're single, you learn how to live alone. Many will learn how to do both in their lives. Whatever the case, as we learn to adapt to that life which God has for us, as followers of Christ, we learn how to be more like Him, because that is the ultimate goal God has for all of us.

So take the advice of Anonymous. Compliment her on her shoes or her hair. But please, don't tell her she has the gift of singleness.


January 13, 2010

Marital Status Denial

I grew up thinking if you weren't married, you were single, and if you weren't single, well, you were married.

Silly me.

The world is full of people who are not married, but who are unwilling to admit that they're single. They have lots of rationale behind their denial. Here are the big ones:

I'm not single, I'm just not married yet.

I'm not single, I'm dating someone.

I'm not single, I'm looking...sometimes actively.

I'm not single, I have kids.

I'm not single, I'm divorced.

I'm not single, I'm widowed.

Really? Does your 1040 have all those boxes? Mine doesn't. You can tell the IRS that you're single, but you can't tell anyone else?

There's obviously genuine pain behind the denial in many of these cases. I understand that sometimes people deny that they're single because they don't feel single. But I don't believe that singleness really has a feeling. Loneliness has a feeling, but singleness and loneliness are not interchangeable terms. Some of the loneliest people in the world are married.

Often I think people deny their singleness because they're afraid of how others will see them if they admit to singleness. It's not just in the church that people sometimes think singleness is something that needs to be fixed. It's in our culture, too, even a culture where the percentage of single adults is quickly approaching 50%.

A lot my readers are married. When you run into a single friend, how often is your first question along the lines of, "So are you seeing anyone?" Do you have any idea about the message you're sending when that's your first question? You're telling your friend that their value is found in another person.

I wish I had bookmarked the comment so I could put the link here, but I saw something a few months ago a woman had written about that line of questioning. She said when she was younger, people would ask, "Who are you dating?" Then it became, "Are you seeing anyone?"  Later it became, "Have you met anyone yet?" Now it's more like "Wow, cute shoes!"

While I didn't write that, I do seem to get complimented on my shoes a lot. You know what? It's liberating to reach the point in life where you don't feel apologetic about singleness. And it's always nice to be complimented on cute shoes.

January 11, 2010

Delusions of Courgardom

I understand that Oklahoma has 17 endangered plant and animal species, not counting middle-aged single Christian men. Maybe there are lots of them out there, but it appears that they're in hiding.

Those that aren't in hiding tend to down-age. There's a large single adult ministry in town that recently did away with age groups. Word on the street is they did it because they couldn't keep the 50-year-old men out of the 30s class. I believe it because 50-something guys were around when I was in my 30s, too. These guys will insist that they "really identify more with the 30s group." Yeah, right. Here's a news flash, guys. That 30s group doesn't really identify with you.
Over the last year, I've had a couple of conversations about the formula that is supposed to identify the youngest age you could "appropriately" date. You divide your age in half and add 9 (or 7, depending on the formula.) The most recent conversation on this topic was with a 32-year-old explaining why a 20-year-old was too young for him to date. He pointed out that she didn't meet the half-your-age-plus-9 rule, which would make 25 the youngest age socially acceptable for him.

I immediately said, as I always do when this half-your-age-plus-whatever business comes up, "You know, that rule doesn't work for women." Even as the words came out of my mouth, I thought of the shortage of middle-aged single men and for just an instant, delusions of cougardom danced in my head.(Yeah, as if I were cougar material.)

But even before I did the math, my delusions began to evaporate. For the record, 34 is my bottom number if the +9 rule prevails.

I'm more controlled by conversation than math in this area. I don't think it's asking too much for a guy to have his own firsthand memory of the moon landing. That makes about 5 years difference the most I could ever go, assuming such an opportunity were to ever present itself.

It's not that I want to have conversations about the moon landing, mind you. Although, now that I've brought the topic up, the guy in question would need to believe the moon landing actually took place. No nutty conspiracy theorists for me. Go right ahead, call me picky.

I still wondered about that 34-year-old. I started to look up the Beloit Mindset List for the year a 34-year-old would have started college. That's the list that tells the rest of us how old we are based on how much a college freshman doesn't know. But the list didn't begin until 1998, 4 years after the 34-year-old would have been a freshman. So let's see, a 34-year-old would have been born in 1976... Yikes! How can someone born in 1976 even be over 18, much less in his mid-30s?

A guy born in 1976 most likely doesn't remember the Iran hostage crisis, Jonestown, the Reagan shooting, or a Supreme Court made up entirely of men. He doesn't know what it was like to have just 3 TV stations, or for that matter, black and white TV.

I can accept not having an answer to "Where were you when you heard that John Kennedy had been shot?" but John Lennon? The average person born in 1976 couldn't answer that one either because they were only 4 when he died. He never heard Huntley and Brinkley say goodnight to one another at the end of the newscast, and he didn't hear Carol Burnett sing "I'm so glad we had this time together" as she tugged on her ear. He's probably totally baffled by the appeal of Mary Tyler Moore.

He wouldn't know what it was like to live in a country where races were segregated in almost every area of life, so the racial unrest of my childhood would be a mystery to him.

Most likely, he would not be able to remember a time when it was uncommon for unmarried couples to live together openly, so moral issues that are black and white to me, might be much more vague to him.

The irony, of course, it that we all know that there are lots of men my age who wouldn't think twice about dating a 34-year-old woman, which is why down-aging comes so easily to them. Granted, conversation isn't necessarily a top priority on a man's list, but at some point, you want to know you have enough in common to carry on a conversation.

Here is perhaps a more sobering thought for men and women alike about this half + 9 nonsense. How old is the person who uses the formula to come up with 50 as the youngest socially acceptable age to date?


Now you know how the 30-somethings feel.

January 7, 2010

We All Mean Well

When my pastor came 10 years ago, my first words to him were, "Always remember, we mean well." He laughed so I knew that he got it. And while we do mean well - most of the time - sometimes we mess up, despite our best intentions. And so do our pastors. (Let me make it clear up front that this post is not about my current pastor.)

In my previous post, I included the link to Jon Acuff's blog about Being Single During Christmas at Church. I posted a comment to that post, and I thought it was worth mentioning here.

This was my comment:

At times in the past when my church was called to fast, a pastor would say something like, "If you're married, you can fast from sex." Did I mention that these fasts were only ONE DAY long? If a married couple giving up sex on a given Wednesday counts as a fast, then I won't need to fast for a long, long time.

The pastor who made the suggestion was much more sensitive than the comment implies. Really, I know he meant well. He went on about why abstaining from sex (for a day) would be considered fasting.

But it did seem silly. As he spoke, I found myself doing the math in my head - and I'm not much on math. How often does the average married couple have sex? A couple of times a week? What are the odds that Wednesday is, well, a regular event for them? Gee, wouldn't Tuesday be a better mid-week night, what with choir and all?
And even if Wednesday is engraved on the calendar for them, if they fast from sex on Wednesday and it's that bloomin' hard for them, wouldn't they just switch to Thursday?

So the couple of times that we were asked to fast on Wednesday, I skipped dinner. Of course, I don't usually eat dinner during the week anyway so I figured that was fair. After all, if giving up sex for a day can make you holy, then I'm covered for a long while.

January 6, 2010

Ordinary People

I posted a link to Stuff Christians Like a few months ago. Jon Acuff writes on everything you could possibly think to make fun of in the church, and his readers voted the post on Surviving Church as a Single as one of the favorites from 2009 - there are nearly 400 comments on that post. This week he posted a new one on Being Single During Christmas at Church. Many of the 200+ comments (so far) are as funny as his original post.

While there is no end to things the church does that singles can find humor in, there are others that are not as easy to laugh off. Those of us who have never been married and who have been in the church for awhile generally learn to see past many of the things that can be difficult for single adults to deal with during the holidays. I cringe though, when I think of those who aren't as accustomed to dealing with a certain level of cluelessness in the church.

I wrote two different versions of a post addressing what I see as my own church's greatest failing in this area. I deleted the first one and decided the second one could be posted after Christmas. I told myself that if I waited until after Christmas then maybe those involved wouldn't take it so personally. But now it's after Christmas, and I'm not sure I want to post the second version either.

It's not as if it hasn't been brought up in the past. There was even a fair degree of progress. But this year, it seemed that we took a giant step backwards and regressed to our old ways. So each of the four Sundays before Christmas, I took a deep sigh and hoped we didn't have any single visitors. Yep, for the four consecutive Sundays of Advent, I hoped that those looking for hope would go somewhere other than my own church.

It's not the tradition itself that is bad. On the contrary, it is designed to point people to the hope of Jesus Christ. Instead, it comes off like a scene from Ordinary People, as we seem to pretend that we have nothing but perfect, traditional families.

I don't know when the tradition began. I don't remember it from my childhood, so I assume it started during my extended break from organized religion, that period from roughly 14 to 31. I know when I returned to church as an adult struggling with singleness, the tradition was firmly entrenched, and it ripped my heart out every Sunday. Instead of pointing me to Jesus, it reminded me of what I so desperately wanted but didn't have. Each Sunday I returned, thinking I could deal with it, and instead, I found myself wishing I had stayed home. It was only after Christmas, in the cold days of January, that I could make it through a worship service without feeling bad about my own life. While the tradition no longer has the impact on me that it once did, I can't help but wonder about others who come to church each December, hoping to find comfort and hope.

I know how it affected me. I later learned that the tradition had a similar effect on a young child whose parents were divorced. I can only imagine how it affects the family who has lost a father or mother, or the couple struggling with fertility issues, or the older couple estranged from their adult children and the grandchildren they have never seen. I wonder about the impact on the homeless who slip into the worship center for an hour of calm in the midst of the storm of their lives, and it breaks my heart to imagine the impact on those who have watched a child die or suffered through the pain of miscarriage.

Why does the tradition continue? Because those of us who spend our lives inside the church forget what it's like to be on the outside. We forget what loneliness feels like. We forget that just because we've always done it that way doesn't mean that we have to keep doing it that way. Most of all, we forget that keeping Christ in Christmas isn't a bumper sticker - it means reaching out to all of us who don't have perfect lives -- the world  -- because that's exactly who Jesus came for.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. ~ John 3:16