I’m Done Waiting on You

I was ready to meet my mate in high school, when I first learned what the term “high school sweethearts” meant. As high school flew by with no dates, I was then certain that college would hold meeting Mr. Right, but I needed to do everything right and follow all the advice given from my various evangelical “Christian” beliefs. Blog articles I consumed contained titles like “Twelve Things All Christian Girls Need to Do to Prepare for Their Husband,” or “What Christian Men Are Looking for in a Christian Wife.”

Despite all my research, college yielded nothing, so I started soaking in the advice from family, friends, church members, leaders, and more:

“Marry your best friend.” Yeah, seeing as all of my best male friends are gay or married, that’s pretty much a no go.

“I prayed about it.”

“I had given up on dating and marriage. I was ready to be single for the rest of my life.” Done that about a thousand times as I’ve been on all of two dates in my 29 years of life (OK four—two father-daughter dates come to mind).

“I prayed about it.”

We met online.” Tried four different sites. Went on two dates. Bad, horrible, awful, hellacious. It was too much on my soul, and as the inner critics started shouting, it was clear there were more important things to be working on than trying to go on dates.

“I made a list of all the dream things I wanted in a mate…and prayed about it.” I’ve made the evangelical list from my high school days, and made another list with a friend about six months ago about what I truly, legitimately want in a mate. Results? Nothing.

Over a year ago, as I was lamenting my desire for a mate, my counselor asked me that fated question once more: “Have you prayed for one?”

If prayers for a future mate were a dime a dozen, I’d be in the top 1% by now. Because the years have gone by and there’s been nothing. Yet through it all, the desire to meet someone, the hope of finding a mate has journeyed with me from every transition—high school to college, college to internship, internship to seminary, seminary to first call—and each move has come the lingering questions: “Is he waiting here? Will I find him when I go there?” The hope would build, the crushes would develop, and the reality would come crashing in every time: No, it can’t be him, or, No, it won’t be him.

So, at my counselor’s question, I wanted to cry out, “Pray for him? Honey, I’ve done every damn thing in the book for him. I’ve read books, journaled, written him letters, had conversations aloud with him, and prayed every damn prayer in the world for him. But Mr. Rev. Rachy (MRR)? He’s. Still. Not. Here.” Read more

Finding Love in the New Year

I didn’t exactly party hard this New Year’s Eve. Recovering from a cold, I stayed in with my dog, wore pajamas, watched the deleted scenes on the Parks and Recreation DVDs I got for Christmas, and toasted 2018 with a shot of cough syrup. Being under the weather takes the pressure out of New Year’s Eve. It tends to be such a couple-focused holiday—after all, you have to find someone to kiss at midnight, right? Judging by the number of engagements popping up in my facebook feed on January 1, the romance of NYE is not just in the movies.

It’s never quite worked out that way for me, though. For most of my adult life, I’ve spent New Year’s Eve alone or with friends, or occasionally as an awkward third or fifth wheel. Some of my favorites were the years when it was just one or two friends hanging out and consuming pizza rolls and champagne—the “New Year’s Eve of champions,” as we call it. The champagne really classes up the pizza rolls, I’m telling you.

There’s also the New Year’s pressure to make resolutions. “New Year, New You!” the ads proclaim as they roll over from the indulgent feasting and gift-giving of Christmas to the diets, exercise equipment, organizational systems, day planners, and self-help books that we all need to be better people this year than we were last year. The dating apps tell me that this could be the year I find true love, especially if I enroll in their premium plan. Of course, they said that last year, and the year before, and the year before that.

All this is premised on the idea that there is something wrong with who and what I am right now. The not-so-subtle underlying message of all the ads is that if I had changed my body with the right exercise regimen and changed my personality with the self-help books, then I could have found true love. Or the “new me” could have, I suppose. Read more

Single at 28 (and 82)

Sometimes being a single woman in ministry is awkward. When a very hospitable mother-of-the-bride stuck by my side for the entire wedding reception because she knew I was there alone, it was a little awkward. When kind parishioners asked what I was doing after Christmas Eve services were over and I had to confess that I was going home to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas alone in my pajamas while making a dinner out of the Christmas cookies they baked for me, it was awkward. When my denomination’s Search and Call paperwork used to include a “Describe Your Present Family” section and I ended up writing a whole paragraph about my cat, it was definitely awkward. When I received an invitation to a community event for “pastors and their wives,” it was super awkward (and super sexist).

Most days I am perfectly happy with my single-rev life. Never have I thought being single made me a less-competent minister than my partnered peers. But occasionally, when I have fumbled my way through one of these moments, I’ve wondered if a spouse would make some of this ministry stuff just a little less…awkward.

One day after a church clean-up event, when all of the flowerbeds had been mulched and all of the pews polished, I was invited out to lunch. As I grabbed my purse from my office, I heard an elderly widow of the congregation ask in the next room, “Is the pastor going?” “I think so,” someone replied. “Okay,” she said, “Then I’ll go, too.”

At first I didn’t think anything of this exchange. I assumed this woman just wanted a few minutes to privately update me on a friend who was in the hospital or ask me a question about Sunday’s sermon. But when we got to the restaurant, she didn’t mention either of those things. In fact, she barely spoke directly to me at all. Read more

Home

Houses aren’t meant to sit empty. It’s hard on them. They’re meant for occupying—pipes need water to move through them, not just to sit and corrode. Windows and doors need to be opened and closed, lest they get stuck in place, stifling the air inside. Roofs need someone to notice when they leak. Wires need to have a reason to connect, to come alive, to carry current. The walls and the beams need the warmth of occupation in the winter and the flow of breeze in the summer. Our houses—our homes—are creations of our own hands whose well being is directly linked to their connectedness with us.

This was the first thought that came to me when I opened my back door to my stifling house after it had been sitting vacant for a week. It looked like home, but it didn’t smell like home. It didn’t smell bad, just different—stale and empty and static. There were no lingering kitchen smells from a meal prepared, no pungent wafts of wet dog barging in through the door, no sweetness of beeswax candles burned or perfume of fresh farmer’s market flowers on the dining room table. I didn’t realize the rhythm of my life had a fragrance until it left my house with me.

I fiddled with the thermostat, dragged in my luggage, and began to unpack. I was completely and utterly exhausted from a red-eye flight and a week of people-ing in a time zone three hours different from my own. In the quiet of my solitude I felt every introverted cell in my body begin to relax, uncoil, and breathe. Yet the more I moved about, the more dust I kicked up, the more rooms I disturbed, the more I began to feel like I wasn’t actually all that alone. I was in the presence of Home, and that’s different than being by yourself.

It slowly dawned on me that this was the same feeling I’d felt a few nights before while I was in Vancouver for the YCWI conference. Read more

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

Candles lit for Advent

Lighting the Candles without Fitting the Mold

Candles lit for Advent

Candles lit for Advent

A few years ago, I inherited the task of assigning Advent candle lighters for our church. For as long as anyone could remember, nuclear family units had been assigned each week’s readings and scriptures. Parents would help children to light the matches and teenagers would read the apocalyptic texts with gusto.

But there had been a pastoral transition, and the Advent wreath liturgy suddenly fell to me. I remembered my own small hurt the year before when I realized with a certain start that I, a single woman in my thirties, wouldn’t qualify for this particular liturgical responsibility in our community. Then I started thinking about all the other people in our congregation who might be feeling that particular sting of being left out.

I thought about the handful of elderly widowers, so desperate for human touch that they doled out bone-crushing hugs to anyone who’d let them. I thought about the divorced man with partial custody of his young son, a schedule that made committing to anything at church together nearly impossible. I thought of the recently retired school teacher, never married, and the ways her depths of wit and wisdom filled a dozen important roles and relationships but who was never asked to light a candle in anticipation of Christ’s coming.

And then, after I thought about these particular people who might be sharing the twinges of alienation like I was, I started thinking about all the people in scripture that we’d be leaving out of our Advent liturgy if they happened to show up here in church some twenty-first-century Sunday morning.

The list of single people who get enlisted for world-shaking roles in scripture is long and fascinating: 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

three young girls with arms around each other

Everything Is Fine

three young girls with arms around each otherI was driving a golf cart through the woods at camp when I came upon three girls sitting on a bench with their counselor. I hadn’t heard them at first because of the noise of the golf cart, but as I parked it was clear: the girls were wailing. Loud, grievous, gasping, sobbing, wailing. Camp is a place entirely devoted to these children’s safety, fun, and happiness, so I couldn’t imagine what had provoked this noise. The wailing was so over-the-top I was more inclined to laugh than to be concerned. What on earth could be this bad?

I asked the counselor just that. She whispered back, “They’re homesick.”

I would have burst out laughing if it wasn’t so inappropriate. I couldn’t keep the smile off my face as I said, “You’re kidding.”

“I’m not,” she said, first smiling, then stifling her own laughter, “I wish I was.”

So I knelt down in front of the girls, still huddled together—still wailing, still gasping—almost as if they are one organism tied together in the unity of despair. I started with the very pastoral, “What’s up?”

I knew they were trying to form words, but the words were not even remotely intelligible.  So I try again, “Girls, I want to help you, but we can’t have a conversation until you can talk, so try breathing for me.” Surprisingly this works. “That’s good,“ I say, “long, deep breaths.  Now, do you think you can tell me what’s going on?” Read more

Sarah Ross, the author, and her grandmother, laughing as they take a selfie

Pastoral Care for the Pastor

Sarah Ross, the author, and her grandmother, laughing as they take a selfie

The author, teaching her grandma about selfies

A few weeks ago, one of my church members, Dee, approached me after worship. Dee is one of our adults with special needs, and she is kind-hearted but often quite blunt. “Pastor Sarah, someone said your grandpa died,” she said. “But that’s not right. It was your grandma, right?”

I sighed. “Well, actually it was both,” I told her. This summer, my paternal grandmother and my maternal grandfather passed away just two months apart.

“Whoa.” She paused, looking stricken. “That’s really bad.”

It was indeed.

All spring, my congregation had been stressing out about hosting the May presbytery meeting. They’d touched up the paint, picked out centerpieces, prepared an elaborate menu, and arranged worship for the regional pastors and elder commissioners who would be coming to our building for a meeting. It was one of those long-awaited, much-discussed, all-hands-on-deck kind of church events.

So I was a bit caught up in all the nervous preparation and had just gone home for lunch when my mother called to tell me that my grandmother had not woken up that morning. She had died sometime during the night, unexpectedly. Read more

Flying Solo

single rev august (1)

The author on one of her solo adventures

During my mid- to late-twenties, I went through a phase: Everywhere I went, I met Scottish people. I even found some in Mexico at an all-inclusive resort where my mom and I were vacationing. Every time I met Scots, I thought, “These are my people.” And they all assured me that I was right, and that I really should come over and see the place that produced all these fantastic folk. I absolutely believed them.

But whenever I tried to plan a trip, none of my friends had the money to travel internationally, or no one could get the time off work. I had done my fair share of solo domestic travel, including lots of long-haul driving across broad swaths of the U.S., but my international travel had always been a group thing.

At the end of my twenties, however, I had become restless. On my thirtieth birthday, I decided to do a bunch of things that would just make me really happy, so I got a new tattoo, played a gig with my band, and sat in with some musician friends at their later show. Then I came home, summoned up the horrible dial-up internet in my parsonage, and booked a flight to Glasgow. That trip ended up being a transition for me in more ways than one, as I soon accepted a new call and used my journey as the break between the old church and the new. Read more