Girls Night In

the blog for single, over-40 women

The Myth of Happiness

[Read John 15:1-17 and 16:16-24]

Many years ago, I read an article about a popular Christian musician who had recently divorced her husband and was about to remarry. The main thing I remember about the piece was that she had concluded divorce was OK because she knew God wanted her to be happy.

Guy with Chocolate

Image courtesy of stockimages/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Like anyone, I appreciate the idea of happiness. Eating chocolate, for instance, makes me happy. Having a good-looking fellow with a nice smile bring me that chocolate would certainly sweeten the deal. But that pleasure would be temporary. Soon the chocolate would be gone and, quite possibly, so would the guy.

Which begs the question: Is happiness what we should strive for?

In my experience, we get into a lot of trouble when we decide God’s laws — about marriage, work, relationships, sex, whatever — are flexible based on what will make us happiest. I’ve yet to read a translation of the Bible that has the verse, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you … unless it makes you happier not to” or “Thou shalt not kill/covet/steal, etc, unless you need to in order to find your bliss.”

From what I’ve read, the Bible talks about joy for believers about 300 times. But the words “happy” or “happiness” only occur about thirty times. I’m not a math person but I’m pretty sure that’s about one-tenth the number.

If you look up the two words in the dictionary, there isn’t much of a difference. But I contend — at least as far as those of us seeking to live for Christ are concerned — that they represent two opposing ways of looking at the ups and downs life tosses our way.

Joy is something within us. It blossoms out of our assurance of God’s love and, once you truly experience it, no power on earth can tamper with that joy. Heartache and grief can’t squelch the truth of God’s love. It’s more than a feeling, it’s a gift from Him, for Jesus told His disciples:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. ~John 15:9-11

And it’s permanent. One chapter later, just before He was taken away to be crucified, Jesus added, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).

All we have to do is ask.

Happiness, on the other hand, comes to us. It’s based on what we get — the things that mean so much to us now but have no eternal value.

Don’t chase these things. They’re a waste of time. Happiness depends on the fleeting iffy-ness of circumstances; joy dwells in the depth of our relationship with Christ. Once you find that, it’s amazing how unimportant all those insignificant little happy things become.

Though if a cute guy wants to bring me chocolate, I won’t turn him away.

So … what about you? Have you found the pure joy of a relationship with Christ? If not, would you like to?

Father, fill me with Your joy, the kind that can’t be taken away. Let me experience it in knowing Jesus personally. I want to know Him more than I want any of the things I once thought could bring me happiness. I give my life to You, not because of what You’ll give me in return but because of the joylessness of my life without You. Amen.

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Information Bombed

Confession. Despite my deep and abiding love for Jesus, I was also a huge fan of Sex and the City.

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/freedigitalimages.net

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/freedigitalimages.net

The made-for-TV version hooked me. I was recently reminded of one episode in particular. Carrie, the main character of the show, met a new guy, Jack Berger, and had a flirtatious extended meeting/impromptu date with him. After much conversation, walking and shared laughter, she decided to invite him to attend an event with her. He responded by casually telling her that his “girlfriend’s parents are coming over to visit them,” so he couldn’t make it.

Carrie described it as a bomb going off again and again. Girlfriend. Live together. Parents. Serious relationship. It was one of those disorienting moments that stretch on and on as one tries to process the information they’ve just received.

Life imitated art for me in the past couple of days.

Image courtesy of Graur Razvan Ionut/free digital images.net

Image courtesy of Graur Razvan Ionut/freedigitalimages.net

I have been having a lovely little flirtation with a guy for the last week or so. Every time we see each other there is conversation, laughter, friendly touches on the arm, etc. I like him. I like that he liked me. Then one day as we were casually chatting, a bomb was dropped.

He said, “So what are your plans for the night?”

I replied, “This and that. How about you?”

He responded, “I’m going to a thing with my girlfriend where she’s being honored.”

In the split second that followed, my world tilted. Girlfriend. Being honored for something. Accompanying. Serious relationship.

It really was like a repeating detonation.

I’m sure my surprise — and dismay — registered on my face. And I couldn’t help it at all. I wish that I had had something to say in response to the bombshell news of the girlfriend. Instead, all I could manage was something about having heard of the event they were planning to attend.

Why didn’t he mention her sooner? Where has she been all this time that we have been palling around? What is he doing palling around with me if he’s got a girlfriend, anyway?

Different continent, different country, different culture, same dating dilemmas.

I will say, though, that this revelation was an answer to prayer. I had been wondering if this guy might be someone special, and prayed about our budding relationship. Praise the Lord I didn’t spend weeks and months reaching for a gift that was already sold.

I do wonder though, what might be a better way of handling a conversation where a man drops this kind of bombshell news? Have you ever had to navigate a verbally delicate situation?

 

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Mom Taught Me a Lot

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Today would have been my mother’s 72nd birthday. Mom passed away in 2007 just a few weeks after she and Dad celebrated 47 years of marriage. They married very young — just 18 and 19 years old when they said their vows.

Mom never really was a single person. She graduated from high school and then got married. Her whole adult life she was a wife and mother. Though she was never really single, she taught me a lot about life that has served me well through the years of singleness.

1. There were many times when Dad was away with the Air Force so it was just Mom and her four children. Life went on and sometimes Mom had to take care of things that Dad usually did. Whining about not having a spouse doesn’t help. Just do what needs to be done.

2. In an argument, choose your words wisely. Once they’re said, you can’t take them back.

3. Family is always important, both the one we’re born into and the one we create over the years.

4. Never be afraid to ask for what you want.

5. Mom always told me that if God meant for me to be married, He would have a plan for that. She used a phrase in German that roughly translated said, “every pot marries its lid.”

My mother truly was an amazing woman and I was blessed to be her daughter. It’s because of her that I am the woman I am today.

Happy birthday Mom!

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There Has to Be a Reason

With Neville the Moose

I collect moose and my family gave me this one when I was offered my first book contract. His name is Neville. Photo by Susie Jarvis.

I spent almost a decade writing a book I never wanted to write. I fought it every step of the way. Truth be told, I’m still fighting it. During that time, though, small victories and big epiphanies convinced me I was on the right track. Not just the right track book-wise but the right track toward discovering the reason for my singleness.

Because there has to be a reason, right? We want there to be a purpose for our brokenness. There has to be a story to tell to make it all worthwhile. Yes, my grief over my perpetual singleness was hard but if through it I was able to minister to others or I became stronger, it would be totally worth it. And besides, it’s better to be single than in a bad marriage. Isn’t it?

A while back I wrote a scene for a novel in which my main character, Catie, feels abandoned and alone and she wants to know why she’s still single. One day, while trying to think things through, she decides to hike one of her favorite mountain trails near her home in Colorado Springs. Then this happens:

***

I bundle up in my warmest quilted parka, plus a hat, scarf, and gloves, hoping to ward off temps in the low twenties. At least there’s no wind, but it’s still frigid-cold. I move quickly. It’s the best way to warm up.

Once I reach the top of Mount Cutler, I simply stand there, taking a moment to catch my breath and admire the view.

This would be a good time to pray. I’m alone up here. I have so much to say, I’m not even sure where to start.

Flecks of snow start to drift around me. I probably should head back down soon. Instead, I hike a little farther across the summit. Trip over a tree root. Stumble. And twist my ankle.

“Really, God?” I say, out loud. And that lets loose the torrent. I can’t stop yelling. About everything. I’m glad I’m alone and no one can see me, screeching to the heavens, tears streaking down my face and mingling with flakes of snow.

But I’m angry. At God. And guilt joins hands with the anger. I shouldn’t be mad at God for this situation, especially since so much of it is of my own making. Yet if anyone could do something about it, that would be God and, still, all I feel is His silence. Years of silence.

“Has any of it ever been real?” Then I scream, “Where are You? What do You want from me?”

And a still, quiet voice whispers, You, Catie. I just want you. But can you just want Me?

I do just want you.

No, you don’t. You want what I can get for you.

The words hit me like a Mack truck. I stumble to my knees, my heart breaking more than it ever has. He’s right. All the time I’ve wasted longing for something instead of God. I can tell myself over and over how what I’ve wanted was a good thing based on a desire He gave me but, in the end, I placed marriage as my ultimate prize and God as the horse I would ride to win it.

And now, I’ve been whacked in the face with what I’ve lost — the time I could have spent basking in Him, enjoying His love and presence rather than moping and whining and asking God why He hated me so much. Was it hate that yearned to know me without anyone else getting in the way? Was it hate that gave me so many years to come to know Him intimately?

“God, You are the prize, the goal,” I whisper into the cold snow whipping around my head. “You didn’t let a husband get in the way of that. But I did. Even though I didn’t have one, I let him come between us. A fantasy of my own making.”

Then, because it has to be said, I add, “Please forgive me. And please take me back.”

A silly thing to say, of course, considering I left Him.

***

We should never see God as the provider of the dream. He is the dream. That’s it. Lord willing, I have two books coming out soon and that’s wonderful. It’s a dream come true.

On the other hand, I am more single today than I have ever been. There isn’t even someone on the horizon. I haven’t been attracted to a man in years. Does that hurt? You bet. I’m human, a woman and a hopeless romantic, to boot. But it’s OK because my greatest dream has already come true — God loves me and I belong to Him. And if I want to truly find hope, that has to be enough.

We need to stop making our faith about what God can do for us. Our hope is found in what we do for Him.

That’s the reason.

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The Stories Within the Story

South Africa’s story of apartheid is well known to us all. I remember the 80s boycott of companies that did not divest from apartheid South Africa. I remember Mandela’s election. I remember attending a speech by Winnie Mandela at a packed Yankee Stadium when I was in college (before she had her troubles). Like the advent of the home computer and 9/11, we lived through the story of democracy coming to South Africa.

On this visit, though, I am encountering other stories.

There is the class story; a holdover from the country’s history as a colony of Great Britain. People frequently refer to me as “Milady.” It’s kind of charming, though I find myself wanting to object and say, “I’m not a lady.”

There is the story of same-sexuality. Who knew there’s a large community of gay people in Cape Town? I have met individuals whose eyes tell sad stories of woundedness. Over the course of 2013, 78 gay people were stoned to death in one Cape Town neighborhood. That neighborhood’s churches were silent. I feel an unprecedented joy that gay people come to services at my church.

There is the story of singleness. People ask my age and the whereabouts of my husband. People inquire about how many children I have — and are genuinely surprised that I have none. Yes, really, none. I’m told that single men are something of a valued commodity. “Not here too,” I think. But then I encounter single men nearly everywhere I go.

My most memorable meeting so far was with a man named Cameron. I met him at a craft fair of sorts. He practices “energy release” (which is basically massage therapy) and demonstrated on my hand. Polite conversation ensued, and then out of nowhere he told me that I have beautiful lips.

“Do this,” he said, asking me to mimic him as he pursed his lips into a pucker. We both laughed. A few questions later I found out that he is a proud Scottish South African. Of course! Just like those boldly audacious Highlanders I used to read about in romance novels.

What are some of the stories that you have learned through the people you’ve met in new places both near and far?

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Lessons from Second-grade Girls

Sharyn’s post last Friday about cultivating relationships with children was full of good thoughts. It reminded me of this post I wrote for my own blog last fall. Since this ties in with her post, I wanted to share it with the readers here also.

Bird on a limb from AvaryAt church this school year, I’m teaching the second-grade girls in the mid-week program. I saw the appeal on Facebook on a Monday night and I felt drawn to it, but I’m not a religion teacher.

Surely there was someone more qualified. I argued this point with God.

Besides, I had other plans on the first night of class, so it had to be that someone else was destined to teach second grade this year. Tell you what, I bargained with the big man upstairs, if the ad is still in the Sunday bulletin, I will talk to Amy about it. But, I’m not the person, so you need to have someone else step up.

Do you know that bargaining rarely works with God?

Yeah, but I had my hopes. And here I am with six adorable, innocent little girls looking up to me one night each week.

And the truth is I feel inadequate. Surely, there is a soccer mom or a home schooling mom or a pastor wife mom who would be so much better at this than I am. The key word in that sentence is mom, and that is something I am not. Momma Girl to a fur baby cat named Wilson doesn’t count.

But I show up each week, and I ask God to give me the words and to fill in the gaps I might create. I pray that He will give me what I need.

It came to me as I lay in bed one night, that maybe my not being a mom is the reason God has called me. My singleness isn’t a topic of conversation with the second graders, but it’s no secret. Maybe one of these sweet children will one day need to know that it’s okay to be single and going on 50. Possibly 40 years down the road, it will be one of them struggling with being single in a married church. Being childless in a mom population. Needing to know there is life and love and happiness without a husband or children.

I’ll be honest. Singleness is something I have never wanted to claim. I was the girl who wanted to get married young, have six kids, and be Grammy by the time I was hitting 50.

When my two younger sisters got engaged before me, I railed at God about the unfairness of it all. My baby sister was only 18 when her husband popped the question. I told her it’s not right, a younger sister getting married before the older.

Her response was a simple: I want to have kids before I’m too old.

Wow, she couldn’t have known at that age how true her words would be because I’m still not married, and she has approached the age at which it soon would be too late for her to have kids. Good thing she’s strong-willed and has always known what she wanted.

Both of my sisters became incredible moms, and I never once held it against either of them that they got married before I did. (My brother went off and got married young and had kids also, but it wasn’t quite the same when the older brother got married before me!) I love all of their kids and relish my role of auntie.

Somewhere in my early 40s I realized my having kids was not part of God’s plan. He had another road for me to travel. It was hard and beautiful and heartbreaking, but truth is I wouldn’t have walked away from this road. God had an incredibly important role for me during that time, and He was there holding my hand the whole way. Along that road, He showed me how He had been working in my life. He filled me with the amazing knowledge that this was part of the plan.

And part of that plan was to teach second-grade girls.

There are still nights that I wonder if I am really teaching them anything, but I try to remember that showing up, loving on them, listening to them — that’s important. I trust that God is using my participation to minister to them in some way. Then a couple of weeks ago, one of the moms told me her daughter loves coming because she really admires me. That made my heart sing!

No, most of life is not what I would have chosen, but God has His plans. And one thing I’ve learned is that God’s plan is always better than mine.

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6 Reasons Singles Should Cultivate Relationships with Kids

Today I felt inspired to write a children’s story. It’s something I’ve always imagined doing, mostly because I thought it would be fun. The inspiration was, surprisingly, an annoying little summer cold I came down with a few days ago. While sniffing, sneezing, snorting and a-chooing, it hit me kids would probably enjoy those words in a book. And that’s how Tricia Mae Is Sick Today was born.

The Kids

Three of the creative, one-of-a-kind kids who bring so much joy and laughter into my life. Photo by Susie Jarvis.

Something like this would not have happened, I’m sure, if I it weren’t for the relationships I have with children. So when I chatted with a woman recently who doesn’t have any youngsters in her life, it struck me how much she was missing . . . and how grateful I am for these relationships.

All of which led me to come up with the following list of reasons singles should have children as a regular part of their lives:

 

  1. They offer unconditional love—
    In fact, I would say kids want to love you. They start out willing to give you a chance be someone they care about. It’s up to you to take that chance. As for me, I know my nieces and nephew love me, no matter what I say or do. And they know I adore them and would never hurt them.
  2. No one can hug you like a child will—
    Melt-into-you, nothing-held-back hugs that make everything seem better. Trust me. When you’re having a bad day—and even when you’re not—improve your mood with a hug from a little one.
  3. They keep you young at heart—
    Frog People

    Frog People. I’m on the left. And yes, I have leaves sticking out of my blouse.

    On Labor Day last year, my oldest niece and two of her friends decided they wanted to make a movie about three schoolgirls who are kidnapped, escape into the woods and stumble upon a strange group of “frog people” who help them find their way home. So we, the adults, put on funny costumes and made funny faces for a fun little movie our families will always cherish. The picture to the right shows us in all our silly, froggy glory.

  4. They inspire your imagination—
    From characters in my books and scripts to dressing up in a crazy costume at a moment’s notice, I stay on my toes, creativity-wise, thanks to the kids in my life. They certainly make me consider things I never would have otherwise.
  5. Children forgive and forget easily—
    While shopping at a surf shop on vacation last week, my 9-year-old niece skipped up to me and asked if I’d give her five dollars. She was adorable but I was distracted and said no. Just like that. I didn’t even think about it . . . until later, when I felt horrible. So I found her and apologized. And she smiled and said, “That’s OK!” and bounded off again. She didn’t hold a grudge. Her feelings weren’t hurt. She loves me just the same as always.
  6. You can pass things on to them, even if you’re not related—
    Having someone to leave a legacy to was a concern of mine before I became an aunt. Now I would love to have something to leave these wonderful children. And, hopefully, they’ll be there for me should I need help when I’m older.

If you don’t have nephews and nieces, there are other opportunities to foster relationships with kids. Become a Big Sister. Teach a Sunday School class, like fellow GNI writer Tammie. Another author on the blog, Jackie, is godmother to a good friend’s daughter. Be a volleyball coach, direct a kid’s play, invite a group of students to your house for a cookout, get together with other singles and offer your church’s families a free night of babysitting.

Give a little of yourself and you’ll be amazed and delighted by all you get in return.

So, if you have children in your life, what would you add to the list? If not, is that a situation you’d like to change? Do you think you’ll take any of the suggestions here?

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All-weather Maple-roasted Brussels Sprouts

Last week I was enjoying the authentic South African hospitality of one of the women I work with at church. She invited me to spend time with her and her family at her home. It was lovely! Unfortunately, it resulted in my being disconnected from the internet, which is one of the challenges of international living, where you are essentially a guest in the homes of others. So I was disconnected, but I am back! And I have missed you Girls Night In!

I’m trying to eat more fruits and veggies, so when I found this recipe at Wellness Warehouse here in Cape Town, it looked easy enough for me to give it a try. It’s winter here, and cold, so a warm veggie dish is just the thing. This is just as good cold as hot, though, so it will work for those in summer climates also. It’s super easy, but does require that you crank on the old oven. 🙂

Here’s what you’ll need:
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup or maple-flavored syrup
1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper
1 punnet of Brussels sprouts (that’s a small container or bag or a pint or about 250 grams for those of us outside the Commonwealth)

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Rinse Brussels sprouts and remove outer leaves.

Slice Brussels sprouts in half lengthwise.

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Mix vinegar, EVOO, syrup, salt and pepper together and add in Brussels sprouts (I mixed it all in the measuring cup for easy clean up).

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Spread the Brussels sprouts in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 30-35 min. (This smells great!)

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Voila! Delicious caramelized Brussels sprouts!

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I haven’t tried it with other vegetables, but I bet this recipe would be just as tasty with green beans, snap peas, squash or carrots. Or maybe all of them roasted together! If I experiment further I’ll be sure to update in the comments.

Do let us know if you try this!

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Life After the White Dress and Tuxedo

The other day my mind wandered and soon I was daydreaming about what it might be like to be married. Then I realized I wasn’t really daydreaming about marriage, it was more the meeting, falling in love and the wedding. I started doing some soul searching and came to the knowledge that most of my thoughts and dreams about meeting Mr. Right end with the white dress, the ceremony. They often never go beyond to the day-to-day life after all the fun of getting to the being married part.

It reminded me of a scene from the movie, Sleepless in Seattle. Annie and her friend, Becky, are watching An Affair to Remember when these lines occur:

Annie Reed: Now that was when people knew how to be in love. They knew it! Time, distance . . . nothing could separate them because they knew. It was right. It was real. It was . . .

Becky: A movie! That’s your problem! You don’t want to be in love. You want to be in love in a movie.

Image courtesy porbital/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy porbital/freedigitalphotos.net

That’s when one of my little voices said, “Hey, Tammie, that sounds like you. You don’t want to be in a marriage, you just want to be the bride.” Ouch! The thrill of meeting someone new, the exhilaration of falling, the anticipation of the first kiss. It’s all so intoxicating and if I’m not careful, it would be so easy to forget there’s more to marital bliss than these things.

I’ve never been married, but I have plenty of friends who are married. I come from a large family and there are many long-term married couples among my kin. I’ve seen the truth. The wedding is beautiful and perfect, but soon the human beings who walked down that aisle show up again. Laundry gets left on the floor, dinner is burned, stress seeps in, Prince Charming belches the National Anthem whenever he feels like it. Suddenly that idyllic day is a distant memory and real life is slapping you in the face.

From what I’ve witnessed, it is in those moments that true married life happens. I suspect it’s in the day-to-day that the sharing and growing closer to each other takes place. When I’m honest and put the fairy tale aside, this is what I long for — the doing life with someone else part. Sometimes the hardest thing about being a single person is missing out on the intimacy of all the messy details of a shared life.

It’s easy to imagine the happy times that come with falling in love and getting married. It takes more courage to look beyond that and imagine what life will really be like after the white gown and the tux are replaced by sweat pants and t-shirts.

 

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Dream a Little Dream

[Since I’m on vacation this week, I thought I’d share an excerpt from my soon-to-be-released book Spinstered: Surviving Singleness After 40.]

I grew up in Iowa, the second of five children. It was a good country life with two loving, godly parents. They raised us to know God and the Bible and to be a regular part of our local congregation. It’s possible we were at our small-town community church more than the pastor’s kids. Dad served as a deacon for as long as I can remember while Mom was involved in everything from leading the youth group choir to sign language interpreting for the deaf members.

We were also a creative family and I knew I wanted to be a writer from the time I wrote my first poem at the age of five. I also knew I wanted to fall in love. It sounded so wonderful, I couldn’t wait for it to happen. So, I started making up stories about true love and heroic men and perfect moments. I’ve been writing about romance ever since. And, seeing as I’ve never actually experienced it, I spend a lot of time praying my imagination won’t fail me.

It’s a strange turn of events, if you ask me. I don’t understand why God gave me this longing, but not a single opportunity to live it for myself. I’ve had hints, moments when it seemed so close. Like in the movie Ladyhawke, where the beautiful Isabeau was cursed to be a hawk during the day, while her love, Navarre, turned into a wolf at night. And so they lived “always together, but eternally apart.” Twice a day — at sunrise and sunset — they could almost touch. For that split second, they reached out for each other, yet couldn’t quite make it. I feel I have had moments like that, where I can almost touch something wonderful about to happen . . . but it’s just out of my grasp.

Dreams

Image courtesy of Kenneth Cratty/freedigitialimages.com

My dreams don’t help. Sometimes they’re so real I wake up absolutely certain “he” is close and that, when I see him, I will recognize him. He seems to wear a lot of flannel and smells like leather and soap. We’ll meet and, in that magical, true love way, just know it’s meant to be. I supposed that’s the sad, romantic girl in me clinging to a dream she still believes can come true.

She’s a lot quieter than she used to be. I think she’s scared. Scared it will never happen. Scared of more pain ahead. Scared of the face in the mirror that isn’t as young or as hopeful as it used to be. I try to tell her to think about other things and that even if it never happens, life will be good. It’s what she — okay, I — need to hear. I need to have the hope that even if I never know romantic love, God has an amazing plan for my life and I can find my peace and happiness in Him.

If I say it to myself enough, maybe someday I’ll actually believe it’s true.

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