October 29, 2020No Comments

7 Small Ways to Practice Asking for Help

I heard a story recently about an older woman who lived alone. She fell in the middle of the night and couldn’t get up. Instead of calling for help immediately, she waited for hours until she knew people would be awake. “She said that she didn’t want to bother anybody,” the story-teller said, shaking his head. 

Looking at it from the outside, it’s easy to think that is ridiculous. Surely anybody, not least of which the EMTs, would have been happy to come help. But as I sat and thought about it, I realized I understood. 

I thought about the time I drove myself to the hospital at 3 am with severe abdominal pain from an ovarian cyst. I thought about the time I moved my giant, temperamental dresser by myself. Sure, there are certain things I can do myself and things I genuinely want to learn how to do, hang a shelf using a toggle bolt for example. But there are also situations in which asking for help is the most reasonable thing we can do. 

It’s hard, though. To ask for help is to admit we need it, to let people peek behind the curtain of our self-sufficiency. It can feel like an intrusion, a bother, and it’s not fun to have to rely on others who might (let’s be real) not come through. 

I’ve found it helpful to give myself small opportunities to practice asking for help. As with anything, laying a foundation when things are semi-fine sets us up well for when things are very not fine. Not only that, but it has the potential to deepen trust between you and your friends.

To practice this in small ways, you can ask a friend to...

Hang onto your spare keys. 

You probably have a friend who is responsible enough to put your keys in a safe place in case you ever lock yourself out of your apartment. If this feels weird, you could offer to hang onto theirs as well. A bit of mutually assured destruction can go a long way. Or you could call it a mutually beneficial arrangement, depending on how you see the proverbial glass.  

Help you figure out how to hang a shelf, etc.

Choose a household activity that neither of you knows how to do and learn how to do it together. Whether it’s putting together an Ikea bookshelf or changing a tire, invite someone over, watch a YouTube video and get to work. You can always call in an expert if things go totally off the rails. 

Show you how to make [insert baking trend you saw on their Insta].

Odds are that you have a friend who learned to make babka or sourdough during quarantine. Invite them over and ask them to show you their expert secrets. This also gives you someone to share the delicious treat with, because the quarantine fifteen is real. 

Use their washer/dryer while you watch their kids.  

Ok, maybe this isn’t the best trade-off. I rarely babysit, but they presumably nap at some point or have homework or something during which you could do your laundry. Mayhaps you live in an apartment that has a washer and dryer in unit and you don’t have to pay $5 in quarters to use the triple loader. It doesn’t have to be laundry, it could be their dope kitchen or piano or spare room. That might feel like a big ask, hence the trade-off of watching the children.  

Pick up something you forgot at the store. 

I don’t think I’ve ever gone to the store and actually made it out with everything I need. Even if I use a list. Chances are you have a friend going to the store in the near future who would be willing to snag that thing for you. And because Venmo is a thing, it’s really just a matter of picking that thing up and hitting a button to reimburse them. 

Give you a hug. 

If you’re like me, this whole isolation thing that’s been going on for the past seven months has meant some serious touch depravity. I’m not even a hugger, going ten weeks straight without touching another person is enough to mess anyone up. Be safe, wear your mask, and all that jazz. But every once in a while, as you are both comfortable, ask a friend if they’d be willing to exchange a hug. 

Help you plan your next celebration. 

Whether it’s a birthday, a lease signing, a promotion, or whatever, ask a friend to help you mark the moment. It can be as big or small as seems reasonable to you. You could meet up for ice cream and go for a walk, or you could plan to meet a group of friends at a local bar, or you could all attend a live event (assuming that is a thing we will be able to do in the near future). 

Don’t do all of these things at once. Mayhaps just start with one thing per week or month. You might get some rejections, but you will probably get some positive responses as well. 

Try it and let me know how it goes by leaving a comment below!

August 14, 2020No Comments

What Is a Single Christian Creative?

Perhaps you’ve never heard the term “single Christian creative” before, so you’re not exactly sure if it describes you. Let me break it down.

Single- a whole human person who happens to not be married

Christian- a person who follows Jesus

Creative- a person who makes things

If each of those things is true for you, then you are a single Christian creative. 

Back in March, I decided to tag the word “creative” onto the label of who I write for. Writing for “single Christians” seemed to imply that I write about dating. You should know up front that I do not, though we need to talk about it as a church, and there are people who are talking about it well. 

Simply put, it felt disingenuous to write something I wasn’t living. Though I have thoughts about dating best practices, your girl doesn’t date much, and so those are not practices that I’m living out. Not that writing about something means you have to do that thing perfectly. I’m saying that’s not my lane, and it might not be yours either. 

Maybe you’re a single Christian who, like me, doesn’t date much, but is really connected with your calling. That is a fulfilling thing in your life, whereas thinking about dating can send you into an anxiety spiral about all the things that you aren’t doing. Perhaps every once in a while you meet someone you’re interested in, and you think, Oh, right, flirting... how does one do that? But otherwise, you aren’t actively dating. Though you have moments of longing and loneliness, you’re doing your own thing for now. 

“Single” isn’t really a word you gravitate toward as a primary identifier, but it is one fact among many that describes your reality. Perhaps you know there can be negative connotations to that word, and all that baggage does not feel like a good place to hang your hat. But saying you’re single can feel like defining your life by a relationship you do not have. And there is a frustration in that feeling of being externally defined  by the person you’re standing next to (a spouse) or the empty space (single). And so owning the part of ourselves that is single can feel like seeing ourselves as less than whole, because we experience that to be the perception. 

Sometimes, you just want to be a person. 

I started to use this phrasing because in my own struggles and joys as someone who is single, I wanted my life to be about more than my relationship status. And yet I couldn’t completely abandon the moniker, because I saw in my own life and the lives of my friends and podcast guests that our relationship status doesn’t just affect the romantic relational part of our lives. Just like marriage will affect the way a person makes decisions and what decisions are made, being single affects our decisions in the same way-how we spend our money and time, how we set boundaries on our work, what food we are able to buy, who we spend our time with. 

And so, there is this tension that we live with. We might not like identifying with the word “single,” and yet it affects our reality in both positive and challenging ways, including the way we are viewed and the way we view ourselves. 

It felt like, as a non-married person in the church, I was on some alternate path from the ideal one. Adding being a creative on top of that, there was a similar feeling of displacement. Maybe you’ve felt that too, particularly if you don’t create what would be deemed “Christian work,” like praise music or Christian nonfiction. Maybe you’ve given up on the church altogether. 

I found myself drawn to the intersection of these two experiences that can be particularly lonely, and filled with rejection and uncertainty, and it lit a fire in me. Because when I thought about the people I know, have worked with, and interviewed, I also saw promise and potential. 

I started to believe that, with a well timed yes, some support and specific guidance, single Christian creatives have the potential to radically impact the church, culture, and the world. Not necessarily by doing big, dramatic things, but by faithfully saying yes to the next small step in front of them. I started to see that the beliefs many of us have internalized about ourselves and our role in the church and the world is built on a faulty foundation--that there is one right relationship status for a Christian. And I started figuring out what it would take for a human person to live a full life as a single Christian creative. 

Because I believe that everything Jesus did was on purpose, and one of those things was not getting married. I believe that those of us who are single live out the Gospel in a deeply compelling way, because our sufficiency has to come from Christ. I believe that the church was intended to be a place where our differences are valued as an essential part of understanding the breadth of God’s love. I believe that those of us who are passionate about making things are living out of the image of our intrinsically creative God, whether what we make is overtly Christian or not. I believe that being single doesn’t mean waiting in the wings until we are un-single and are granted the privileges of belonging and credibility that the marriage status would afford us. I believe that, just because we experience a specific type of unmet longing does not mean that is all we experience. I believe God has filled our lives with meaning and purpose. I believe that we singles and creatives uniquely live out of the reality of the right-now and not-yet Kingdom. 

While walking my own path, I have experienced the challenges of both the single life and the creative life. I’ve felt the deep need for community, but I didn’t know how to create it. In fact, just thinking about creating it was exhausting because we don’t have a model of what that support system would even look like. Our experience is so normal, it’s hard to picture a better way. 

So, if you’re a single Christian creative, you’re in the right place. This space was made for you, and I look forward to continuing to serve you. 

If you’re a single Christian creative interested in moving from overwhelmed to empowered in your calling, check out The Creative Refresh, a six week group coaching program designed to help with just that alongside a group of collaborators. Enrollment is open August 11-18.

July 15, 2020No Comments

10 Things that Kept Me [Relatively] Sane in Isolation

In preparation for my vacation to North Carolina, I spent 14 days in isolation. If you plan on traveling, odds are there will be a recommended quarantine on one end or the other. So, for those of you looking down the barrel of fourteen days of making friends with the inanimate objects in your apartment, here are ten things that can help keep you [relatively] sane. 


It’s vital to give yourself stuff to look forward to. On Mondays, I have therapy (praise be). Tuesdays, an anti-racism class through Brownicity. Wednesdays are for virtual community group (bible study). Thursdays are the days of a million calls. Friday, virtual movie night with my pals from grad school. Saturdays, deep cleaning and puzzlin. Sundays church. It’s like giving yourself somewhere to go without actually going anywhere. I also sprinkled in check-in calls with friends and friends offered to deliver various treats to my door so we could say hi from a distance. Figure out what you look forward to and pick a day that thing can happen each week. 

Full Focus Planner

I am aggressively Type A, so this quarterly planner has been a God-send. It’s helped me focus and pull out of my frantic “I -must-do-everything-now” mindset. It orients goals for the quarter, week, and day to help you keep your long term goals in mind as you plan your days and weeks. Heads up, there are tutorials that teach you how to use this. Like 45 minutes worth. You better believe I watched every second and took notes. The advice I got from my pastor when I got my first Full Focus Planner: “Don’t worry about filling every page. Just start where it’s helpful and build from there.” 

One Minute Pause

This app by John Eldredge helped with my workday boundaries. I chose to deal with the emotional difficulties of fourteen days by myself like the Enneagram 3 that I am. I worked. So, to help keep a healthier perspective on my work and my worth, I started implementing one minute pauses, courtesy of this app. It’s one minute of guided prayer and soothing music to help reorient your focus toward God. If you’re a control freak (like me) who likes to bury yourself in work (also like me), adding in pauses will be a game changer. 

These Pens

My sister got me one of these pens for Christmas and I almost immediately used all the ink. They’re awesome. Nice and inky, extra fine point, fun colors, and a good amount of resistance on the page. Fellow writers, if you know, you know. 

The Next Right Thing

There is nothing I don’t love about this podcast. It’s short (8-12 minutes). Emily P. Freeman’s voice is calming AF. It’s thoughtful and gently challenging. It’s the deep breath I need every Tuesday. The premise of the podcast is to help adults make decisions, but she explores so much more! It's not just me, btw. The podcast has 3,700+ reviews and its rating is still five stars. Get you some EPF in your life.  

The Blue Book

I am stoked this is for real published now. Back when I got mine, you had to know someone who knew someone who could get you a copy. This daily devotional has been with me since college, and it’s been fun to pick up again. Each week focuses on a specific topic and takes you through an opening prayer, a Psalm, a Scripture passage, supplemental reading, and focused reflection and prayer time. In these days of self-determined structure and no social outings, I’ll take structure anywhere I can get it.

For those interested in a practice outside the Evangelical framework, I love The Book of Common Prayer. It has prayer for everything, liturgy for worship, and Psalms. 

Back Massager

Now that I’m not walking around outside, posture and movement are a constant struggle. This heated massager is saving my life (aka my back) from the stiffness of sitting at my desk and lounging on my sofa. Mine requires an outlet, but the product makes up for the inconvenience.


I initially started doing puzzles in quarantine as a relaxing alternative to staring at my phone. But, I am excessively competitive and have no one to compete with. Except Ramon, the metal, decorative deer head that hangs on my wall, but he doesn’t like puzzles. The puzzles became a way to compete with myself. How quickly can I put this one together? I have tried various strategies for organizing the pieces from the chaos of the box. Because nothing says fun like organization and time pressure.  

I'm very picky about my puzzles. I prefer 1000 pieces, and there needs to be a decent amount or color variation in the picture, or I'm likely to rage quit. The linked puzzle isn't one I've tried, but my mom sent me a similar one of the Harry Potter book covers, and it was a lot of fun.

Making a Big Deal

As absolutely nothing was happening to me during the day, and I couldn’t have any true adventures, I started a daily series on my Instagram stories called “Isolation Adventure.” If I got mail, or a friend dropped something off, or I got oat milk instead of ice cream in my grocery delivery, that was an adventure. Another fun way to do this is to make a big deal about things that you ordinarily wouldn’t notice. Make your bed? Clean your oven? Cook dinner? Finish a season of a new show? Pat yourself on the back and tell the world. 


Y’all knew it was coming. Books are a lifeline when access to the outside world is limited. I’ve been listening to the Harry Potter audiobooks each evening (Jim Dale is simply the best). I’ve also been making my way through The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby, Head in the Clouds, Feet on the Ground by Ryan Romeo, Called to Business by Dallas Willard, and Essentialism by Greg McKeown. Maybe you want to learn something new, or get lost in a magical world. Books can take you there. 

Above all, remember that it is temporary. Keep your eyes on the horizon. And get as many steps as you can. I believe in you.

July 9, 2020No Comments

The Hidden Problem of Singleness

“People don’t know what to do with me.” 

I was already scribbling notes with a fury when she said this. While interviewing Kat Harris, who also writes for singles, I asked about particular challenges she’s experienced as a single woman in her creative work. The line struck me because it was one that I’d written in the latest iteration of my book introduction months prior. It was also in a piece from Relevant called "Why Are So Many Single Women Leaving the Church?", which a friend sent my way.

In those repeated words, I felt a nudge, an invitation to lean in. And as I considered them, a new question floated to the surface.

I thought about what drove me to write those words. They came out of me as I thought about my experiences as a single woman in both the church and in the broader culture, both in the South and after moving to New York. And this was the phrase that summed up the implicit and explicit, direct and indirect messages I received about myself. As a single woman who does not actively date, an ambitious woman, and a celibate woman, I don’t fully fit anywhere. 

Whether in the South or the city, there is something about that space next to me, the space that a spouse would fill, that seems to make people uncomfortable. In my time writing about singleness, I have noticed a myriad of unnamed assumptions that exist between married people and single people—assumptions that are as varied as the humans who hold them. We assume that single life is miserable, and romantic love is the ultimate cure for that misery. We assume that singles are selfish and immature. We assume that sex is the best and only way to truly experience intimacy and satisfaction. We assume the church as no interest in helping singles in an authentic, humanizing way. We assume that marriage should be the ultimate goal for every Christian. We assume that someone who remains single is defective in some fundamental way, and their single state is exclusively their fault. And we assume that everybody is on the same page as we are. 

And so, as a single Christian woman who lives with both satisfaction and longing, I defy that logic. 

Whether I am at a bar or at church, I don’t fall into anyone’s bucket about who I should be as a woman. I am not a wife or a mother. I am not sexually active. I am not sad that I am single. I am not anti-marriage. I am not a threat to the institution of marriage. I am not a stumbling block for men. I am not particularly girly. I do not exist to make those around me comfortable at all costs. And people don’t know what to do with that. 

The problem of singleness is, I think, that we want it to be one thing. When in reality it is a million things. The “single experience” is as nuanced as the humans living it, and so to talk about one is to talk about the other. They cannot be separated. There are commonalities and there are particularized challenges that arise from not having a romantic life partner. And yet, it might shock many of our married counterparts—as well as some singles—that our lives are filled with meaning and joy as well. 

If we approach the “problem” of singleness as one that must be addressed by making all singles un-single as quickly as possible, we have missed the point. If our solution is that singles need to cut themselves off from the painful parts of singleness with the pat answer that “Jesus is enough,” we have also missed something. 

What if the solution is simple without also being reductive? What if the solution is that you don’t need to “do” anything with us? What if the solution is the difficult, everyday work of unity? 

The work of unity is not to make everybody the same, but to see our differences as an imperative part of a whole body of Christ. Could it be that the married majority of Christians have something to learn from me about following Jesus, a man who was, lest we forget, also single? How can we expect this growing population to be valued when the vast majority of people making decisions in the vast majority of churches have no concept of the complexities of our lives because they are married? How can we single women in particular be seen and valued when our lack of a husband can, at worst, render us an ostensible “threat” to married, male leaders? 

How can those of us gifted with leadership lead, and the teachers teach, and the preachers preach, when marriedness is equated with spiritual maturity and singleness with spiritual deficiency? And how can we even have an honest conversation about these things when so many cannot be honest about their own blinddspots? In her article for Christianity Today, Holly Stallcup writes, “Christians cannot begin to learn to show up for the single people among them until they learn to see.” 

My friends, we are thinking about this “problem” all wrong. Singleness is not the problem. The problem is the number of singles who feel undervalued, underrepresented, and invisible in the church. It is not a problem that can be addressed by quick fixes and easy answers. Trustworthiness and steadfastness take time to demonstrate and cultivate. And the solution starts with each of us. 

Since moving to New York, and now attending a church that is roughly 50% single, I’m seeing this in action, and I’m seeing the work it takes on both ends. I have a tendency to expect people to read my mind and know what I want; couples and families can have a tendency to be insular. But I am also seeing how deeply beneficial it is to the health of the body when it is done well. 

But there is still room for growth. We’re talking about a cultural shift, and those are never easy, particularly within an institution. But the good news about culture is that we get to make it. We each get to buy in and determine what the culture will be. We have the guidance of Scripture. We have the Holy Spirit working in and through us to extend grace to one another as we are collectively, communally transformed from one degree of glory to another. 

For the singles having their dating app profiles ogled over by married friends like they are something alien, the ones who ultimately leave the church because it is clearly communicated that they have no place in it, the ones who have not been able to name their particular struggles, and the ones who cannot see the joy, we have to do better. If we want to build a church freed from the crushing idolatry of marriage, we have to start seeing singles as those who have already been made whole in Christ, as essential members of the body who have valuable gifts to contribute to the work of the Kingdom of God. 

If we feel a compulsion to make assumptions about each other based on generic labels like “single” and “married,” let’s choose to be curious and compassionate instead. If we want to ask, “Why are you single,” let’s instead ask, “Will you tell me one thing that’s hard about your life right now, and one thing that’s great?” Let’s treat each other with the enormous value we have been given in Christ, and as those who bear the image of God. Let’s be the church, as it was intended to be. 

July 1, 2020No Comments

Nine Books by Singles that I Love

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If you’ve been around the blog or the podcast for a hot minute, you know I am all about promoting the work of singles. Whether they are singers, composers, poets, or multi-passionate, there are singles out there creating authentic, beautiful work. The following books were written by people who are single, and mostly fall into the Christian non-fiction genre. A few of these authors have gotten married since writing these books, but to the best of my knowledge, they were single while they were working on and publishing these books. 

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years- Donald Miller

Donald Miller has gotten married in the recent past, but most of his memoirs were written while he was single. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years remains one of my favorite books. His style is approachable, but well-crafted. In this book, he wonders what it would mean to live a good story. Miller currently writes and teaches about business and marketing at Building a Story Brand

The Very Good Gospel- Lisa Sharon Harper

Lisa Sharon Harper is a writer, speaker, activist, and artist. I listened to her first appearance on Jen Hatmaker’s podcast a few years ago and she blew my mind. In The Very Good Gospel, Harper writes about the Biblical concept of “shalom,” and how that might look at all levels. She recently finished recording the audiobook, and her manner of speaking is powerful, so that is a good option. 

Remember God- Annie F. Downs

Annie F. Downs is an author, a podcaster, a speaker, and a boss. Her most recent book, Remember God, asks the question, “Is God kind?” and follows Annie’s journey to find the answer. 

A Woman’s Place- Katelyn Beaty

Katelyn Beaty has written for outlets like The New York Times, Christianity Today, and The New Yorker. She is currently acquisitions editor for Brazos Press and before that she was the youngest and first female managing editor of Christianity Today. In this book, Beaty uses her journalistic chops to chronicle the role of work in the life of women from a Biblical and personal perspective. 

Just Mercy- Bryan Stevenson

Hopefully you’ve already heard of Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy (the book and/or the film), and the Equal Justice Initiative. My introduction to Stevenson was watching a talk he gave at my church that had been recorded maybe a year prior. It completely wrecked me. After that, I got my hands on this book and y’all. It’s so good. Devastating, illuminating, and hopeful. Chapter 15 will stick with me until the day I die. Get yourself a copy and donate to EJI. 

Learning to Speak God from Scratch- Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is an author, speaker, teacher… well, suffice to say this guy wears a LOT of hats. His work has been featured in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The New York Times. I’ve gotten to hear Jonathan speak a couple of times, and let me tell you. This dude is legit. He’s working on a new book right now and I can’t wait until he drops some details on it. Learning to Speak God from Scratch is a look into the spiritual words that are vanishing from everyday language and how that can prevent us from the common vocabulary we rely on to have spiritual conversations. The first part digs into the linguistics, and the second part is a series of small chapters in which he chooses a select number of spiritual words, and writes about what they mean to him. 

Traveling Mercies- Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott. She is just the best. She got married recently, but most of her body of work was done during her single years. It says a lot that she can be a NYT best seller with a vague subtitle like "Some Thoughts on Faith." Her style blends humor and wisdom in a way that is approachable and profound. 

Kindred- Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler wrote science fiction--really good sci-fi, like won a MacArthur genius grant for it good sci-fi. Kindred isn’t the alien or magic variety of sci-fi, but falls into the genre because of her use of time travel. Here’s the synopsis, “The visionary author’s masterpiece pulls us—along with her Black female hero—through time to face the horrors of slavery and explore the impacts of racism, sexism, and white supremacy then and now.” 

The Wisdom of Sundays- Oprah

The legend that is Oprah (actress, talk show host, writer, speaker, teacher… if you don’t know who she is what rock have you been living under?) collected these stories and nuggets of wisdom from her Super Soul Sunday guests, and it has been fascinating to dig into. The book itself is gorgeous, but the text is made up of answers she's gotten from guests to the question, "What is spirituality to you?"

*Point of Clarification: While Oprah is not married, she does have a long-term partner, so many would not consider her "single."

What are your favorite works by single creatives? Leave a comment and let me know! 

May 27, 2020No Comments

10 Reminders for Single Christian Creatives

Around 3 pm every day, my resolve starts to fade. Focus and motivation evaporate and the cloying self-doubt begins to creep in. But I'm so sucked into it, I don't notice until it seems too late. I get so far into my head that it can feel like I can't climb back out.

The creative and single life are each lonely even at the best of times. Add a quarantine on top of that and it's straight up isolating. If the pressure to self-motivate and regulate is getting to you, take a moment to stop, stand up, stretch, and breathe. Take one of these reminders and use it to focus your restless thoughts. If you choose a scripture reference, try using it as a breathe prayer. Pray the first half of the verse on your inhale, and the second half on your exhale.

  1. "Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…” -Zechariah 4:10, NLT
  2. "There is nothing that you are presently doing that you did not have to learn." -Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr Stewart Townsend
  3. "And he said, "My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest'" -Exodus 33:14, ESV
  4. "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." -Thomas A. Edison
  5. "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'" -Isaiah 30:21, NIV
  6. "B minus work can change people’s lives. Work you don’t produce at all does nothing in the world." Brooke Castillo
  7. "You are only free when you realize that you belong no place—you belong every place—no place at all. The price is high, the reward is great." -Maya Angelou
  8. "There is no secret. There is no hack. There is only the work." -MaryB. Safrit
  9. "If you’re holding out for universal popularity, I’m afraid you will be in this cabin for a very long time." -Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
  10. "There is no losing. There is only winning and learning." -Doonam Kim

May 20, 2020No Comments

How’s That Working for You?

The three of us were discussing the unspoken rules we live by, and what happens when other people don’t play by those rules. The question: How do you respond when God puts people in your life who don’t fit into your plans, make you feel out of control, or upset your way of doing things? We took turns answering, as we had for the six previous questions in the study guide. My response: I double down, trying to keep things in control through my own perfect behavior, and when that doesn’t work, I get frustrated/defeatist and shut down/try to disappear. 

There was a pause, then one friend asked, “How’s that working out for you?” I replied, “Not well,” with a self-deprecating laugh. It was a question posed to me many times, and my answer was ready and worn-in. 

She replied, “Well, it’s working on some level. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t be doing it.” 

I opened my mouth, inhaling, preparing to respond. But no words came. After a beat, I said, “Right… I guess… I guess that’s true.” I scribbled down her words and our discussion moved onto the next question. 

Later that evening, as I stood over the stove making dinner, I considered my friend’s question and comment. It was said with a good natured laugh, a recognition that she, too, experienced the tension of knowing something doesn’t work and continuing to do it anyway. I rinsed broccoli crowns, moving them one at a time from colander to cutting board to be trimmed. 

I recalled a series of moments with my ex-boyfriend. These moments all tangled together in my memory, the pattern identical in each. He did something that bothered me. I didn't know how to talk about it, so I turned it back on myself, carefully figuring out what I did wrong. I’d come to him and humbly apologize for the role I’d played in the situation. And then I waited. I looked at him, expecting him to read my mind and apologize for his nonsense. 

It never worked. Not once. And yet I kept doing it, as if a perfectly executed apology would enable him to read my mind and know what I wanted. An impulse of conscience told me that this was an effective means of communication, and if he wasn’t getting the message, well, I should just try harder. 

He should just know, I thought to myself each time, not knowing that my habit of obsessively turning interactions over in my head looking for my mistakes was not a habit most people shared.

After preheating the oven, I tossed the broccoli in olive oil, salt, and pepper on a baking sheet. I pulled out my non-stick pan and heated a drizzle of oil. I cut open the package of chicken and patted it dry with a paper towel, preparing it for the pan. Thinking back on slight after slight, adding up like so many papercuts, it was a particular feat of dysfunction that the relationship lasted as long as it did. 

My method, though entirely ineffective, provided me with a way around the discomfort of confrontation. I remembered the chronic turning in on myself, my refusal to direct my annoyance and anger at another person.

I didn’t see it at the time; I was too far down the rabbit hole, buried under an endless list of rules for how the world works that I pieced together in other moments. My place in the world was one that didn’t make a fuss, that didn’t ask for anything, that didn’t feel anything other than fine. 

I saw it, rifling through my memory as I pushed and turned the knob on the stove and considering how desperately I clung to my method and my rules. But I didn’t see it at the time. I thought of that moment and the ones to come. How many of my habits continued to work in a way that was not healthy for me or my relationships?

What wasn't I seeing that would one day become obvious? And why did I expect myself to know it all at once, right then and there, as if thinking hard enough could illuminate the path to perfected control.

I slid the chicken into the pan. The corresponding sizzle and lack of leaping flecks of oil confirmed that the pan was hot enough. Five minutes on this side, the recipe told me. Then five minutes on the other. The details of the new recipe jumbled together in my brain. How much cumin? When does the chicken go in? Only half of the seasoning? Why can’t I find when to use the other half?

I substituted ingredients with reckless abandon when I didn't have the right kind of milk on-hand. I missed it in my scan of what was needed before beginning. Always read the recipe all the way through before you start, I heard my mother say in my head. My method was more chaotic, a lawless rush to toss prepared ingredients here and there-this in the oven, that on the stove, this in the sink, that in a bowl.

This recipe, one from a meal kit, required me to make a sauce. I groaned inwardly. I never add the ingredients at the right time or over the right level of heat, and I always want it to simmer down to a thicker consistency than it wants to. Cooking for one allow me the freedom of cooking without fear of offending someone else's palate. Any missed ingredients are mine to reap the consequences of alone.

The timer dinged, announcing that the broccoli was done. I turned off the oven and let it sit until I had room for it on the stovetop. Stirring the fig and balsamic reduction, I watched the small bubbles dance in the too-thin mixture. I turned off the heat, resigned to a runny reduction. 

I plated the meal and poured the sauce over top, then settled onto my couch to eat. Tentatively, I tasted a bite of dripping chicken. I chewed, considering. Tastes fine to me, I thought, shrugging. I turned on an episode of The West Wing for company. I might still be operating under the same rules of conflict that I had at seventeen. But that night, at least my haphazard, fast and loose recipe-following method worked well enough for me.

May 13, 2020No Comments

The Parable of the Egg Whites

It started with a dull discomfort in my mid-abdomen. Could be anything, I told myself. Until the discomfort turned into sharp pain.

I sat outside the tiny Australian-inspired coffee shop writing in my notebook. Its front wall is a garage door of windows. On nice days, they open the door and the tables and customers spill onto the sidewalk. It was just such a day, and I sipped the best cold brew on the Upper East Side and dug into a turkey wrap. I noticed that the wrap came with mayonnaise, but told myself it would be fine.

Recently diagnosed with an egg white allergy, I was still testing its limits. So far, baked goods were fine. Omelettes? Definitely not. Mayonnaise-based sauces lay somewhere in the nebulous middle. 

After consuming the wrap, I felt the familiar cramping I could finally identify as an allergic reaction to consuming egg whites. I decided to finish what I was working on before heading home to ride it out, until the pain reached a level I hadn’t experienced in this context.

I didn’t fully understand what was happening or why the reaction was so severe. I just knew it hurt more than it should and I needed to do something to make it stop. 

My pain-addled brain concluded that the only solution was to walk to the closest ER. None of my friends had a car, and they all worked normal jobs. As this was the middle of a weekday, they would be tied to their various desks. I thought about taking a cab, but I was not so far gone that I forgot that walking is free. 

I walked the thirteen streets and two avenues (one mile) with the pain level steadily increasing, but still manageable. But upon arriving at New York Pres, I realized I had no idea in which of the monstrous buildings I might locate the ER.

Pain Brain thought, I can just figure it out without looking it up, and I proceeded to spend seven more minutes wandering around the streets of Manhattan looking for an indication as to where the ER might be. 

By the time I walked in, I was doubled over and tears leaked out of my eyes. I waited for the random yahoo in front of me to ask every question under the bless-ed sun about their non-emergency “emergency” before I made it to the check in desk. 

“How may I help you?” the nurse asked.

“I… I’m having… stomach pain… I think… I think it’s… an allergic reaction to eggs… I need… to see someone,” I managed to gasp out. She handed me a clipboard with a form to fill out, and I sat down to wait. 

As I sat in the waiting room at NY Pres, still bent double and crying, I had a passing thought about a friend who was in her final year of P.A. school. Didn't she live somewhere around here?

I texted her to get her opinion, and it turned out she was doing her rotation at the hospital where I was waiting. In fact, she was about to come in for a shift, and would I like for her to come a few minutes early? Yes, yes I did. 

She sat down and asked me some questions. The pain was beginning to ebb a bit, so I asked if I was ok to leave. She said it was my call, but if I went back to see a doctor, they would do imaging, I’d be there for hours, and they wouldn’t be able to do anything for me that some over the counter medicine wouldn’t also do for a lot less money. I told the skeptical lady at the welcome desk that I was feeling better and had decided to leave. 

She raised an eyebrow and said, “Are you sure?” 

“Yeah,” I breathed, smiling to conceal any residual pain. 

“You were crying when you came in. Don’t you think you should see someone?”

“I really am feeling better, so I’m going home.”

My friend told me exactly what to get at the pharmacy and suggested I take the bus instead of walking home. Would I be able to make it home on my own or should she call someone? I said, “No, I’ll be fine.” 

I made it back to my couch without incident, and the medicine took effect right on cue. I sipped a ginger ale, texted my friend to let her know I was feeling better and to thank her, and turned on an episode of Parks and Recreation. As I watched Amy Poehler and the gang work through the minutiae of planning the Harvest Festival, I made a mental note to avoid mayonnaise and all its derivatives moving forward.

March 23, 2020No Comments

Cooking for One in the Apocalypse

Containers of Arborio sat crowded on the designated rice shelves, though all the other rice had long since been scavenged. I added a second liter and a half container of chicken broth to my basket and a block of six-month aged manchego cheese. Rounding things out with two bags of whole wheat penne and grapefruit sparkling water, I got into the mercifully short check out line, had my only face-to-face interaction for the past three days--exchanging pleasantries with the cashier--then walked the four blocks back to my apartment. 

I left the dry goods on the floor in my reusable bag, bright red and emblazoned with the NC State logo. I haphazardly filled the cabinet that serves as my pantry after my initial apocalypse grocery run a week earlier. For that trip, I crafted a meticulous list which included a mix of fresh food and non-perishables. I didn’t want to appear overly concerned to the people peeking into my grocery cart, who would hopefully assume that I was cooking for a family of five and not just myself. I also wanted to be prepared. After trip number two, there was nowhere to put my three liters of chicken broth. 

New York apartments are not made for doomsday-prepper-style hoarding.  

As a writer, I am generally more interested in observing the world around me, particularly in a time of crisis, than what food one should have on hand in said crisis. How does one plan meals for herself when the world feels like it’s careening towards a reality out of a Suzanne Collins novel? It seems like a time for barebones meals—unseasoned rice and beans, or flavorless nutrition cubes. 

And yet the only rice available happens to be the bougiest, best prepared with an aged Parmesan and a bottle of amarone wine. Who am I to argue with providence? Or is it merely a lack of forethought that I hadn’t noticed I was low on rice before the self-quarantine began?   

There is a German word for the phenomenon of panic-buying in crisis. The fact that the eternally stoic Germans have a word for it makes me feel less neurotic. “Hamsterkäufe, meaning to shop like a nervous, bulging-cheeked hamster,” from this recent New Yorker article by Helen Rosner. It is a precise and evocative description that fit me and my overflowing cabinet/pantry well. While I know intellectually that the odds of my imminent starvation are negligible, and that there are in fact humans at real risk of not being able to feed their families, a nagging unease whispers doubt in my mind.

But what if…   

In the kerfuffle and proverbial dust that is wont to be kicked up in a crisis, organizing, planning and cooking are my solid ground. I know it should be Jesus, and in many ways it is. Scurrying around my apartment, which is about the size of a hamster wheel, my instinct leans toward creating spreadsheets and systems over prayer. Prayer could permeate those deafeningly quiet moments, but I am generally left with bits of thought that flutter around as if they are notes scribbled on errant receipts caught in a gust of wind.

I am aware of a conflicting set of impulses and emotions. I feel hyper-motivated and deeply unsettled. My actions are methodical and erratic. And my motives are as much about obsessively creating order and control as they are a genuine desire for well being and normalcy. Without the regularity of my routine and human interaction, I stripped of the habits that normally drive my day.

What remains? Everything I do not give myself time and space to notice under normal circumstances, sure. I notice that with the lifting of my everyday responsibilities and frantic bouncing from one activity and place to the next, the pressure that comes from meeting others’ expectations has also lifted. Because there is quite simply no one to perform for. 

There is a sense of uncovering and revelation, which is, of course, the true meaning of the word “apocalypse.” According to Google, we get the usual definition about the end of the world, but from an entomological perspective, it says, “from Greek apokalupsis, from apokaluptein ‘uncover, reveal.” 

In a crisis, there are people who turn in on themselves, who wall themselves off with a protective layer of brownies and Netflix. And I’ve certainly had those moments. But for me, crisis brings clarity. It strips away the undercurrent of anxiety generated through overthinking, and gives me clear problems to solve. 

It distills everything down to one undeniable fact--life goes on, however dramatically or normally. Or it doesn't. We must continue to feed ourselves, inhale and exhale, wash our hands, and fill our time. The story progresses, whether we are an active part of it or a background character waiting for the next scene.  

Once I have reorganized my pantry cabinet to create space for my three liters of chicken stock and fancy rice, I think about the coming week in terms of the problems I must solve and the adjustments I must make. And it starts with the meals, taking raw ingredients and combining them into something suitable for nourishment of body and soul. I imagine a meal that will fill not only my stomach, but my unmet need for in-person interaction. I settle on my favorite curry recipe and mentally map out my preparation steps. 

Even though a quiet moment chopping an onion feels like a luxury my busy mind cannot afford, I put on some music and focus on the rhythm of the knife moving up and down. I combine the spices for the moment they will be thrown into the saucepan. I mince garlic and ginger. In this moment, I am producing, and yet it is a product meant just for me, for my fulfillment and well being. I generally cook for one, but the certainty that this performance will not be enjoyed by anyone but me presents a different hunger. It is the hunger for a human--any human with taste buds and a soul--to share in my enjoyment. As I move through the recipe, this moment uncovers the reality that I do not know when exactly that hunger might be satiated. 

Once it’s all in the pot simmering, I set a timer for 30 minutes and busy myself with various tasks--hanging up a coat, loading the dishwasher, cleaning the counter. After completing the final steps, I ladle the 6-8 servings into appropriate containers. Three of these will go into the fridge and the rest into the freezer. When it is finished, I am greeted by a sense of stillness. I have done everything I can. I’ve created clear steps to follow, and I’ve followed them. 

My hamster cheeks are bulging, but everything in them has been meticulously accounted for and put onto a spreadsheet. I listen to my uncovered hunger for connection and ask a friend if they would like to FaceTime or have a virtual movie night. I check on my friends who live alone. Then I start thinking about tomorrow's lunch.  

March 20, 2020No Comments

The Parable of the Clementine

I am drowning in clementines. After the last time I bought them, I swore never again. And yet here we are. 

I wandered through Whole Foods, valiantly trying to stick to my grocery list and not be murdered by the other New Yorkers crowding the undersized aisles whilst I paused to consider the best head of broccoli. I generally get to grocery shop during the day when it’s much less crowded. But alas, time was not on my side that day, so there I was with everyone and their overflowing baskets and their aggression that’s still clinging after a long work day. None of us wanted to be there under these circumstances. We were either too cheap (in spite of shopping at Whole Foods) or too disorganized to have groceries delivered and we were each questioning that decision in every moment. 

These conditions are prime for triggering my anxiety, all but ensuring I will not stick to my list. It was for this reason that, as I passed the bin filled with the inviting, cheerfully orange fruit, conveniently on sale for Prime members, I thought, You know what, I think I will buy these and in no way will that turn out to be a mistake

They stared back at me from my transparent vegetable drawer. I put them in the fridge to help prolong their life, but I don’t know if this was the right decision. Twenty-six small spheres. And I am responsible for eating every single bless-ed one of them before they either dry up or rot. Clementines are a swell fruit, but not five per day for five days kind of swell. They’re best as an occasional sweet treat, a satisfying end to the work of removing the peel. But if it takes two minutes to peel a clementine and meticulously remove all the bitter, white vestiges, that is roughly fifty minutes over the next five days that I will spend in the act of peeling. I did not consider that commitment when I grabbed the net bag that day in the grocery store. 

This quandary plagues me as I contemplate purchasing any fresh food item, how to buy just enough to last, but not so much that I can eat nothing but kale for the next 3-5 business days. Perhaps I am not creative enough with my food preparation. With the clementine example, I suppose I could have put it on a salad or prepared duck l’orange (like I am going to buy and prepare duck to eat by myself). 

I had four friends over for dinner a couple of nights later, and sent three friends home with three each. I love cooking. That night it was a sweet potato, chickpea, and spinach curry over rice. I made the full recipe, only hesitating to ponder if it would be enough. I sort of forgot how much people eat. Five of us partaking in a six to eight serving recipe? How much was a serving size? What if we all happened to be extremely hungry? I shrugged and decided to hope for the best. Following the recipe exactly, I toasted the cumin seeds instead of half-heartedly sprinkling in some powdered cumin. I made the recipe a day early to ensure there would be enough simmering time. They all came over for a “movie night” after three of us had attended the evening service at church, but we never actually got to the movie. We swapped stories and sat around my coffee table, eating the curry as snow and freezing rain came down outside. It turned out there was more than enough; I actually got two more meals out of it. As they walked out the door and said their goodbyes, I passed them each three clementines. Only one of them said, “No, thank you,” showing the impulse control I had not in the store.

I didn’t finish the clementines before they dried up. They seemed to multiply every time I took one. All told, I left five uneaten. If there’s a next time, I suppose I’ll see about sharing the bag better. Perhaps with friends, office-mates, or any of the people experiencing homelessness I pass almost everywhere I go, which is honestly where the excess fruit should have gone to begin with. But I’m still buying more food than I need, which isn’t budget-friendly. I suppose the best solution is to abstain from clementines and hope that someone I visit will be drowning in their own clementines. And then I’ll take a couple off their hands. 

Communicator. Creator. Coach.

© 2020 Mary B Safrit LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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