Girls Night In

the blog for single, over-40 women

School’s in Session

Image courtesy of 1 shots/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of 1 shots/freedigitalphotos.net

School has begun with a rush! I’m two days in and have papers due, hundreds of pages to read, and classes that go from early morning to evening.

I love being a student, but I hate the false urgency of all the deadlines.

Maybe this is a metaphor for my life right now, though.

Lately, I have been hearing sermons–two this week–reminding me to stand on the promise of God. Though God’s promise might seem impossible, I must believe the word that God spoke to me.

Also this week I randomly came across an old, old email I sent to friends, which was updating them on things God was saying and doing in my life. Nearly five years ago to the day I was lamenting losing an offer on a house. I felt sorry for myself, and forsaken by the Lord about the house, about my dreary job, about life and love. But God gave me a word from Scripture that shifted my perspective. I wrote this to my friends:

“[I feel like I’m wandering like the Israelites in the desert.] But maybe, like the Israelites, it’s not God who’s holding me back. Maybe, like the Israelites, God wants me to go into the land, which is a good land. Maybe I’m scared, like the Israelites, and that is the whole problem.

“It’s been clear to me for at least the whole summer that God wants me to write, wants me moving forward in ministry, wants me to release the weight that I’m holding onto, wants me to be unafraid to be successful at what He’s leading me to do … and the thought just struck me that God wants me to have a different life! Not just a different job. Not just a different place to live.

“And I am resisting Him. On all fronts.

“The only thing I want to do is to search for a place to live, find one and fall in love with it, even though I know, in the back of my mind, that I’m not going to be able to have or to keep it. Instead of seeking out the new life, all I want to do is remain in this familiar place of longing, chasing and being rejected. I’m replicating the status quo of my life. Going in circles. It’s ME, Lord, isn’t it?”

Five years ago I sensed a life change coming. Eventually, miraculously, in spite of me, it came.

The false urgency of the deadlines imposed by my professors are like the false urgency of the world’s timetable. The world is telling me that I have to do and be whatever I am going to do and be (wife, mother, debt-free) Now. At once. It should just happen already. It should have happened yesterday.

But this is wrong.

I am in God’s hands, and God does not rush. God’s plans unfold at just the right pace.

In what ways have you been reminded lately to trust God’s faithfulness?

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Crock-pot Meals – Teriyaki Chicken

Like many single people, I struggle with cooking for myself. Since I work 10 hours days, if I try to cook when I get home, it often means I’m eating late in the evening. In the mornings while I get ready for work one of my tasks is to try to put together a decent lunch so I don’t have to spend money in the cafeteria eating food that’s not always the healthiest.  Because of these things, I love my crock-pot. I can make a meal easily and have dinner ready when I get home. I’m always looking for good recipes to make for dinner that I won’t mind eating for lunch the next few days.

Recently, my sister sent me a recipe that’s been floating around Facebook and Pinterest. She had tried it and her family loved it. Since I love teriyaki chicken I knew I had to give this one a try. It almost, but not quite, stands up to my favorite teriyaki chicken from my favorite restaurant here in town.

Teriyaki Chicken

2 pounds chicken breast, cut into chunks
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup soy sauce

Put all ingredients in the crock-pot and cook on high for 4 hours, or low for 8 hours. Once it is done, thicken with some cornstarch. I use a couple of tablespoons mixed with warm water until there are no lumps, then I stir into the mixture in the crock-pot.

Serve with rice and some steamed broccoli.

Teriyaki Chicken

 

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When You Don’t Feel Whole

Book & Colorado 065This is Buddee. Buddee has three legs. He used to have 3½ but the half had to be removed for health reasons. He has limped his whole life. That’s all he’s ever known. He hops around the house, including up and down the stairs. He knows when the human who feeds him, Andrea, is finally home and meets her at the door with a “feed me” cry.

As far as I can tell, without actually asking him, he’s happy and content as a three-legged cat having never experienced what life might be like with four limbs.

My faceMy name is Sharyn. I have always been single. In fact, I’ve never been in love. I thought I was once but I was wrong. Being unmarried is the only life I’ve known. As a result, I kill spiders, move—and even assemble—furniture, and open all my own doors.

Yet for years I struggled with the whole happy and content aspect of my life. Because, unlike Buddee, I can imagine sharing my home with someone. I can imagine a lot of things. Some days, I have to make a physical effort not to imagine all the “could bes” of marriage.

I do feel like something is missing. Sometimes that feeling is so strong it wakes me up in the middle of the night to search for … whatever it is. I’ve moved my nightstand and my bed, looking. There have been a few times I took pictures off the wall. And some nights, it’s so upsetting, I wake up to find myself standing in the middle of the room, desperately trying to remember what it is I can’t find.

Unlike an amputation, though, it’s not something I once had but lost. Like I said, I’ve always lived a single life. So how can you miss what you’ve never had?

They say amputees sometimes feel like the missing limb is still there. Phantom sensations, I’ve heard it called. That might be the best way to describe what I feel—phantom sensations of something out of reach physically but close enough emotionally to tease my heart and jolt me awake.

Though I realize a lot of that longing comes from my desire to know God better and the separation a world of sin has put between us, there’s also the phantom of him, the someone I haven’t met but can still imagine I someday will.

My name is Sharyn. I have always been single.

But that’s not the end of my story.

What about you? What’s the phantom sensation in your life?

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Breaking Up with a Friend

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I needed to break up with a strictly platonic guy friend, LW. The trouble was that the boundaries of our friendship had become blurred. Three or four years ago we were dating. After many months, the relationship seemed to stall. So I asked what his thoughts were about where the relationship was headed. He responded that God had revealed to him that I was not to be his wife. I ended our relationship almost immediately after.

Several months later, he called, I answered, and, because I was in the throes of a brand new infatuation, I felt perfectly comfortable agreeing to a strictly platonic friendship with him. Thus, we became close friends.

The problem is that the friendship became murky. I began to feel like he was relying on me emotionally in a way that a man might rely upon his significant other. Not good. But because he was there for me when I needed to talk, or needed support or companionship, I found it easy to overlook the breached boundaries.

This summer, though, while I was away in a new environment, encountering a different self than I had ever really known, what had previously been acceptable in our friendship became unacceptable. It did not seem good to me to be the person with whom he shared the issues of his heart, when I was never going to be his significant other. It did not seem good to me that I found myself relying upon his friendship to ease my heart during periods when I felt lonely or afraid.

I did not want my primary relationship with a man to be that of platonic best friend. I want to be a wife.

Thus, by God’s grace, soon after arriving back in the States I found the courage to say good-bye to a relationship that no longer fit.

Breaking up with LW feels like quitting a job that is the wrong job without having another job lined up.  It is a good thing to move out of a bad thing.  But it is not  comfortable.

Have you ever been here?

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Into the Depths

Hope or Despair

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Anne Shirley:  Can’t you even imagine you’re in the depths of despair?
Marilla Cuthbert:  No, I cannot. To despair is to turn your back on God.

I love Anne of Green Gables and I love this quote but Marilla had it wrong. Despair is “the complete loss or absence of hope.” It’s not to turn your back on God but to believe He’s turned His back on you.

People are often surprised to learn that the loneliness of singleness can lead to feelings of desperation. “You’re really that upset … just because you don’t have a boyfriend?” And the answer is yes—because we directly tie the things we believe will make us happy to God. He’s our provider. So, when we spend our lives asking for one thing and He remains consistently silent on the matter—a refusal without a reason—we start to wonder if it’s not that He’s saying no but that He just doesn’t care. We’ve been forgotten.

And we lose hope.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick …
                                                    ~Proverbs 13:12a

Recently, I heard a friend say she was so angry she’d rather die than live a single life. And she directed that anger at God because she believed He’d promised marriage and a family years before. Now she felt He had abandoned her. What else was there to do but give up on life?

Hopefully, we can agree this is an extreme response. And, honestly, I don’t think she actually wants to die. I don’t know her well enough to say that with certainty but I do know I’ve made the same threat myself. People who do kill themselves, from what I understand, don’t announce it. They don’t want anyone to try and stop them. When someone does say something, it’s because they want the depth of their disappointment and heartache to be known.

When I was young I went through periods of despair when I thought about cutting my wrists. I even slid a razor blade along my fingertips a few times and watched myself bleed. To be honest, though, I didn’t want to die. I just wanted people—and God—to know how miserable I was. I wanted someone to pull me out of the mire.

What stopped me each time was the thought, what if tomorrow was the day God planned to change my life? I’m not talking about clinical depression here but about the grief that hits us when a dream goes unfulfilled. That’s what happened with my friend. Her dream didn’t come true. A promise was broken.

But is that how we should see God? As some great and powerful Oz-like being who grants our wishes if we only click our heels together? When we say, “If you loved me, you’d do this for me,” then that’s exactly how we’re seeing Him. And, once again, we’re making God the provider of the dream instead of the dream itself. How would our disappointments, even our very lives, change if we could actually comprehend that God is better than any dream? That if we set our eyes on Him alone, our Well of Hope will never run dry.

… but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.
                                                                   ~Proverbs 13:12b

If, on the other hand, we place our hope in a person or even a situation, we’re expecting too much from an earthly thing. People disappoint. Situations change. God doesn’t.

Yes, He’s our provider—He protects and strengthens and watches over us. Mostly, though, He provides Himself.

And that’s all we’ll ever need.

In whom—or what—do you place your hope? Have you come to a place where God is enough?

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Homesickness in Reverse

IMG_0185What I have noticed so far upon my return to the States is that everything is too expensive. Ten dollars for a cup of coffee, a bagel and cream cheese, and a small square of chocolate?

I’ve also noticed that the weather is not as warm and sunny as I would have expected for summer. I’ve been looking forward to a return of hot days and sunshine since I’ve been in a Cape Town winter for months. But cool, overcast skies greeted me upon my return to Durham and have lasted for a week.

The coffee is all wrong, forcing me to become a fast expert in how I like my brew. Latte, 12 oz., single shot, whole milk. And it’s still not the same. The tea is equally wrong. It’s supposed to come in a cup and saucer, not a mug, brown sugar should be on the table, and there should be a choice of teas–not just Lipton.

Within days of being back I met a new guy, Joe. He approached me in Target, on a ponytail-yoga-pants-no-make-up kind of day.

IMG_0186

We chatted, exchanged numbers and, later, talked on the phone. He’s 50, attractive, divorced, Christian, retired Army and super-nice. We’ve been to coffee and a movie so far. But. I’m not interested. He’s too southern. Too settled. He’s not a man of ideas. He has no vision for his future.

And I guess what you could say is, the root of the root is, that I’ve left my heart in Cape Town.

It’s been 17 days. How long does it take to feel at home again?

 

 

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Cherish Each Day

In my friend’s office is a great picture taken on her wedding day. She and her new husband are in a beautiful old car. On one side her head and upper body are through the window and she has her arm outstretched and a magnificent smile on her face. On the other is her husband looking handsome and happy with a smile to match hers. That day they joined their lives together and faced the future.

Two days later her new husband became very ill; he had cancer and was given only six months to live. Nine years later her husband is still here although he has been very sick much of the time. There have been times over the years she thought she would lose him. There have been times when he has been unable to talk or move his hands. Nine years they have been married and for nine years they have faced his possible death each and every day. Thankfully at this time he is doing pretty well.

She revealed their story to me during a dinner out. I was surprised, to say the least. She was such a happy person; it was hard to believe the stress she must live under. She said, “I am so grateful that I have found someone like my husband to share my life with. And I have learned to cherish every day because I never know if it will be his last.”

Cherish every day, what awesome advice. Not all of us face such a vivid daily reminder of how fragile and fleeting life is and so we forget to cherish. I know I do.

“Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure” (Psalm 39:4-5).

 

 

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If You Want to Know the Truth …

SpinsteredTheNovelCover

Cover art by Susan Jarvis/Route 1 Manuscripts.

I wrote a novel. It’s not my first novel and I hope it’s not my last, but it might be the most personal. For everything I plucked from a far-too outspoken imagination, there’s a truth, a story, a bit of my life I hid behind a character’s point-of-view. I’ve been working on it for over two years, and now that the goal of publication is in sight, I wanted to share the beginning with you.

So, here it is:

Prologue
Catie

I fell in love with Lawrence Poole at the coy and clueless age of seven. He gave me a pink wildflower and a whisper-wet peck on the cheek after he caught me under the monkey bars during a lunchtime game of tag. In that moment, I was smitten. Not so much with Lawrence. Oh, he was nice enough and cute as corn. But the girl in me liked the boy in him and that was enough. I followed him around the playground like a homeless puppy, hoping for more. I didn’t know what I wanted more of. I just couldn’t forget how that kiss made me feel.

Three years later, Lawrence stopped coming to school. “Leukemia,” I heard Mom say to Dad one night. The next day, she took me to visit the first boyfriend I never had. He didn’t talk much as he floated in a pool of fluffy, white pillows, his skin blending in with the hospital sheets. I wanted to ask him why he only kissed me once, but the room was full of soft-talking parents with sad eyes. So, I sat in a green, plastic chair by the bed and chattered on about all the homework I had to do and how I wished Mrs. Effelbaum would stop blowing her coffee breath in my face when she helped me with math. Mom didn’t tell me I was there to say goodbye. When he died a few weeks later the whole class cried. And, somehow, I felt more alone than ever.

After Lawrence, no other boy tried to kiss me under the monkey bars. Or behind the bleachers. Or in the stairwell. Or anywhere else, for that matter. I went on a few dates in high school, but boys made me nervous and I didn’t let them do anything more than hold my hand. These polite and good church-going young men agreed to my terms. And never asked me out again.

I wandered around in my twenties and thirties without even a hint of a proposal, always believing the right man was out there, just around the corner. He would be charming. I would be clever. He would love my dry sense of humor and restless red hair. I would be surprised by his wit and love the way he smelled like cold wind and leather. It all played out so perfectly in my mind.

Still, forty came and went and nothing. I immersed myself in my work. If I didn’t need a man, maybe I’d stop wanting one. Where my lonely barrenness was concerned, I let a thin, hard shell form around my heart. Tears couldn’t get out; pain couldn’t get in. I focused on anything else and tried to forget the fact—

I was spinstered.

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Being Alone

Recently a dear friend requested prayer. Her husband of many, many years was going to be traveling, and she would be alone for about a week. The time alone loomed before her and taunted her. It was not something she was familiar with and she openly revealed she wished for a friend close enough to walk through this with her. She struggles with missed companionship when her husband is gone. While she understands Jesus is right there with her, it’s tough when there isn’t someone physically there with you.

I love my friend and offered up prayer for her during that week. It was easy to know what to pray for since I struggle with the lack of companionship at times.

Dining Alone

Image courtesy of debspoons/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

To be totally honest, though, I had bitter thoughts that crept up around this request. Not bitter toward her, but toward God. I’m alone all the time. There is never anyone physically there for me in my house when I feel lonely. It’s easy to feel hurt at my solitary status.

True, I choose to live alone with my cat. I have had roommates over the years, but I prefer to have a place to call my own. I believe that when and if God chooses to send a mate for me I will be able to make the change to sharing a space. I’ve done it before and since marriage is different that a roommate relationship, I trust that difference will temper all the years of living alone.

The week passed and the prayers a group of us offered up for our friend helped. Unexpected offers of time spent together came her way. She felt comfortable and content during the week, and her hubby was able to come home early. It wasn’t as bad as she thought it might be.

Here’s the thing about this week: without knowing it, she experienced a little piece of my world. And I was able to experience a little of hers. We were created for fellowship, both with God and with other humans. Whether we are single and live alone, or married for a long time and have never lived alone, we need other human company. Our marital status doesn’t change that need. It simply changes the way we approach life.

 

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If Only …

(Excerpted from my upcoming book, Spinstered: Finding Hope in Singleness After 40.)

As I wrote and researched and thought about all that single over forty was and is and could be, it became clear that regret is the king of grief. “You should have tried harder, dreamed bigger, risked more.” Regret crouches like a devil on my shoulder. And if we’re going to tackle grief, we need to charge head-on into regret.

My mom succumbed to breast cancer when I was a senior in high school, something you never forget and never stop grieving. In this grief process, I am often, even more than thirty years later, overwhelmed by regret. I should have spent more time with her, asked her more questions and sat by her bed, holding her hand, listening to her share her life story . . . slow enough for me to write down every word. I regret everything I lost the day she died.

Piano Girl

Image courtesy of tiverylucky/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

A few months before her cancer took its final turn for the worse, Mom came into our sunroom and sat down next to me as I played the piano. I don’t remember what we talked about, but at some point she started crying.

“I’ll never see you get married,” she said. “I’ll never meet my grandchildren.”

To this day, I can only imagine how those remarks affected my life. At the time I didn’t know she was dying — and wouldn’t have believed it could happen if someone had told me it was possible — so I just thought she was being melodramatic. On that sunny, summer day, scented by fresh-flower breezes drifting through open windows, I assured her she was wrong. Everything would be fine. Then I changed the subject.

But she was right and by Christmas she was gone. Regret ate at me for years, often manifesting itself into dreams where I would have one more chance to talk to her, just a few more days to be a girl with her mom. In the midst of the grief, though, I had hope and still do. My mom loved her Savior and I know I will see her again.

Is It Too Late?

The regrets I’ve had as a single woman aren’t much different in that they focus on what I didn’t do. Could I have flirted more? Should I have dated the cabinet maker longer? Taken a chance on the unemployed guy ten years my junior that I met on a plane? What about the one who said he would go out with me if I ever asked him? (Boy, that’s just what a girl wants to hear.) It’s hard, if not impossible, to know if I could have done anything to change my current situation and what that should have been. All I can do is speculate. And what would be the point in that? It’s in the past. I could live with the frustration . . . or choose to let it go and move on.

I can also learn from this and change my approach. Say “yes” more, regardless of age or occupation, and be open to any Guy With Potential, as I like to call them, even when I don’t feel a spark or am uncertain about any possible compatibility. I can take those risks, while still having a clear idea of what I’m looking for and what would be good for me.

Here’s the thing, though: I’m fifty, my looks are fading, and single, available men even remotely close to my age are almost impossible to come across. At this time, I don’t have any Guys With Potential — or GWPs —  in my social circle. A circle that is, sadly, pretty small. That doesn’t mean one couldn’t come into my life tomorrow, but I’m trying to be realistic. It’s very possible I “waited” too long and missed my chance. This is why I tell my story. Maybe someone could learn from my mistakes and not make the same ones. Call me a cautionary tale.

Of course, I’d much rather be the girl people point to and whisper, “She didn’t meet the love of her life until later but, if you ask, she’ll tell you she’s glad she waited.”

To get past regret is to remember and learn and change and never stop hoping. That’s been a big answer to prayer for me — I can be content single and still hope God has marriage in my future.

I didn’t always feel that way. In fact, I used to hate it when people would throw the Philippians contentment verse* at me, as if that was supposed to make everything better and magically take away the pain. They didn’t understand . . . and neither did I. All I knew was it hurt and demanding I just “be content” wouldn’t change that.

I needed to find a way to hope again. Not in a man or a husband or even a great job, but in something more. And though I knew that “more” had everything to do with my relationship with God, it still took time for me to put it all together.

So, what about you — how do you handle regret?

* “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil. 4:11 ESV).

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