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woman sitting alone in coffee shop

Narrative Envy

woman sitting alone in coffee shopNot long ago, I was making small talk with a new acquaintance before a board meeting began, and we were sharing about our recent respective vacations. I said, “I went to Chicago with my parents, and we had a lot of fun exploring the many museums, restaurants, and Frank Lloyd Wright houses.” She made some affirming listening noises, but then she paused. “So …you don’t have a family?”

I felt trapped by the limitations of her question. I had said that I had been traveling with my parents, but obviously they didn’t constitute a family in this woman’s mind. I could say that I’m a thoroughly invested aunt to my sister’s children, but that seemed to circumvent the intent of her question. So, resignedly, I gave her the answer she sought, “No, I do not have children; I’m not married.”

This happens to me more often than I’d like in my Midwestern context. I’ll meet a new female acquaintance and one of the first questions she’ll ask is, “Do you have children?” When I reply in the negative, I sense that she pulls back emotionally. Since we don’t have that common point of connection, I assume, she decides I am not someone with whom she can relate. One woman persevered and questioned, “Do you have a dog?” I do not. I am not a dog person. At that point, she gave up. I felt deemed to have a boring and pitiable existence.

It is difficult for me because this place of greatest scrutiny is also the place of my current greatest pain. I would love to be married and to have children. But that has not been my narrative up to this point.

The tenth commandment is, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s spouse, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” More often than not, I do not covet my neighbor’s house but rather my neighbor’s narrative. I covet the common narrative of adulthood, which is that you grow up, get married, and have kids. Read more

Single Sabbath

I’m sure it’s not what our church leadership intends, but I have developed a reflexive twitch of annoyance whenever I hear the words “Sabbath rest” or “self-care.” I’m not a martyr pastor who thinks the church can’t exist without me – my ego isn’t healthy enough for that. I just believe we need to reframe the conversation so that our conversations about Sabbath and self-care reflect the spiritual diversity of our clergy siblings.

Early in my ministry at my first church, my senior pastor suggested that my Sabbath day should be spent in silence and reflection because I spend the rest of my week being a talkative extrovert. I took the kind hint and stopped chatting with him as often, but it also made me think about how we talk about the practice of Sabbath. When I attend clergy gatherings, conferences, or annual conferences, they often talk about ways to deepen our spiritual practices. We hear stories of silent retreats, days spent hiking alone listening to God, setting aside time for prayer and meditation in silence and solitude. All beautiful, important parts of a well-rounded spiritual life, all assuming that I am drained by the time I spend around other people.

I think the unique solitude of singleness is sometimes lost in the larger conversations about the loneliness that clergy often face. Read more

silhouette of woman on beach on a cloudy day or evening

Not That Girl

silhouette of woman on beach on a cloudy day or eveningOne day, not too long ago, I saw this article titled “I’m 33 and Have Never Been Kissed” reposted on Huffington Post. The heading intrigued me and as I read on and on, an all-too-familiar feeling settled in my soul. See, I, too, am 33 and have never been kissed. And it’s only in the last couple of years that I have (hesitantly) shared that in very limited circles. One of those circles was the Single YCW group, a Facebook subgroup of The Young Clergy Women Project. It didn’t take too long to realize that one of the things that has made me feel so alone and isolated is not actually something I struggle with alone.

As a pastor, I often fall into the trap of holding up the ideal for a healthy, happy life as one that is partnered with 2.5 children. I often put aside my sadness and grief over a life of perpetual loneliness so that I can focus on ministry with family units who appear to have the life I want. It’s easier to do that than to try and figure out how to do this very real ministry with people like me who need to know that they are part of the community, too, as single people.

Perhaps it’s my own feelings of shame around the reality that I am not just a single 33 year old, but I have never been on a date, never kissed a romantic interest, never even had the chance to say “I’m waiting for marriage” (which, by the way, was never actually a vocalized value of my family-of-origin) and struggle with deciding about sex. Notice that I can’t even totally say the word that I really am. Yeah – I just took a big sigh to say it – I’m a virgin. In every sense. Read more

The Not-So-Single-Anymore Rev.

3039180812_bd138dc155_zI never set out to become an independent woman, but throughout my adult life, that’s what I have been. Looking back, I ended up where I am as much by chance as much as choice. I’ve lived in many places in the last several years: Tennessee where I finished up college, and Kentucky where I moved home for a year to figure out what on earth was next. I moved to Atlanta for seminary, then Kansas City for my first full-time job, and Phoenix for my second full-time job. Except for home, I didn’t know anyone before I moved there. I met people by joining MeetUp groups, fitness classes, and talking to strangers in bars.

I guess as a pastor, I should give credit to God instead of chance, but the many steps along the way added up mostly to necessity. Still, at 31, I’ve never had a cell phone that someone else paid for. The name on the apartment leases and the utility bills have been mine for going on ten years. The student loans taken out and repaid in full were in my name, too. I bought my car on my own; after the dealership ran my credit, they no longer cared that I couldn’t provide all those addresses I’d called “home” in the previous seven years.

In the midst of it all, I became a woman who was ever more independent. Read more

road at sunset

Life in All Its Awesomeness

road at sunsetLast week, at a continuing-education event with my peers, I was invited to draw or write my life map. The facilitator held up hers as an example, talking the group through it. She spoke of being born in a particular year, a bit about her childhood, her university days, and then went on to marriage and motherhood punctuated with high points of professional achievement.

Now writing or drawing a life map is far from uncharted territory for me. This was at least the fourth or fifth time I had done this exercise, so I might quip that I have an exceptionally well-mapped life.

The thing is, though, that my life map doesn’t fit the cookie cutter pattern of birth-childhood-school-university-job-relationship(s)-commitment/marriage-children (and still doing well at work, thank you very much). You see, at the age of 37, I still haven’t got around to the relationship-marriage-children bit of the curve, and I’m far from convinced that my future will be so conventional. Read more

Tiny plate with tiny heart and tiny fork

Valentine’s Survival for the Single Rev

Tiny plate with tiny heart and tiny forkValentine’s Day can be hard for single folks. This year, since it happens to fall on the first Sunday of Lent, it may be a particular challenge for single clergywomen. I asked some single members of The Young Clergy Women Project how they deal with the mushy romance of Valentine’s Day as single women. None of these strategies can prevent the ever-so-awkward comments or questions that a Single Rev. sometimes gets from well-meaning church folks, but here are a few clergywomen’s tips for getting through February 14th. Read more