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. 

March 18, 2020No Comments

How to Live your Best Quarantined Life (Singles Edition)

We introverts have spent our lives preparing for this moment. When I first heard the term “social distancing” I thought, You mean how I interact with the world and other humans on a daily basis? I realize this time is fraught for most people. I am incredibly grateful not to suddenly be homeschooling children right now. Or trapped in my home with an extroverted spouse who cannot deal with all this alone time. 

But there are still plenty of challenges for us singles to be getting on with. The uncertainty, the reality of being stuck inside with a roommate you may or may not especially care for, stories of people hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer, adjusting to working from home or having to risk exposure so you can continue earning a living at your service job. Perhaps you are in the camp of defiants out there licking subway poles. But if you’re somewhere in between that and outright panic, let me give you some tips for living your best quarantined life. 

I’m here to point out some potential pitfalls to the quarantined life and give you practical ways to make the best of this weird cultural moment. Please don’t try to do all these things at once! Start with one thing, see how it goes, and build from there. 


Naming is an important first step in any time of transition and adjustment. Set aside a half an hour or so to journal and/or pray through what you’re worried about and what you’re grateful for. It can be a short list or paragraphs. Just start writing and see what comes out. Try the prompts “I’m afraid of…” and “I love…” 

Welcome the Invitation to Slow Down

The first thing I noticed once I moved to NYC was the constant frenetic energy, and how easy it was to get swept up in the non-stop pace of the city. But no matter where you live, I’d argue that as a nation we are very production and results driven. Any time we are confronted with limitations or constraints there are bound to be growing pains--frustration, resentment, and anxiety. But any limit is an invitation to release the lie that we are what we do. 

Slowing down allows us to examine the small decisions and habits that make up our lives, and gives us space to assess whether those are working for us or not. How are you feeling about your dating apps these days? Your social media habits? Your work/life balance? What in your life is energizing and what is draining? Take a beat to sit with those questions.

Make Time to Move

Monday I got an email from my gym that it was shutting down for the foreseeable future. It makes sense; gyms are basically petri dishes at the best of times. But it also presented me with a challenge. Movement is vital for my mental health, but having a designated place to workout is a luxury I’m going to have to learn to live without. Yesterday when I got the email, I messaged a friend who is a personal trainer to ask for some creative ways to stick to my workout regime. But even if it’s just five minutes of stretching a few times a day, movement reconnects you with your body and gets you out of your head. If you feel yourself spiraling or overwhelmed by anxious thoughts, that is a great time to move around. 

Schedule Hangouts

This one is going to be crucial for me. I am the queen of isolating past the point of health, and with so many of my built-in social events, it would be easy for me to fall into that. But instead, I have thought through some ways to connect meaningfully with friends. FaceTime and Google Hangout are great tools for hanging with friends. My community group will be meeting virtually, a couple friends and I are planning to watch a movie together in our respective homes, and my church has a daily prayer meeting at noon. Do you have a friend who lives alone who you could check on? What about a neighbor? Maybe think about starting a book club or other creative ways to engage with others virtually. But definitely have someone you check in with regularly, for you and for them! 

Try a New Hobby

I recently received an embroidery kit as a gift. I am not what one might call “crafty,” and by that I mean every time I try to do something like that, I rage quit. But this is a great opportunity to try something new and let myself be bad at it. Think about something creative you could do simply for the delight of doing it. Have a dusty guitar you’ve been meaning to learn how to play? A book you’ve been meaning to read? Why not give it a shot?

Set Boundaries 

I’ll go through this more in my upcoming post “The One Thing You Need When Working from Home,” but just to give you a sneak peek--setting boundaries on how you spend your time is a great way to add some normalcy to your life. Think of boundaries as freedom within limits. When I first started working for myself, the freedom was initially intoxicating. And then it became overwhelming. So I started implementing boundaries on when I would begin working, when I would socialize, how much time I would spend on social media, meal prepping, and setting deadlines. I give myself permission to adjust as needed and have an ideal that I’m working toward. But having a general sense of how I need to spend my time in order to reach my goals has been a game changer. 

For some of you, financial uncertainty is a huge burden right now. I'm sure you're already thinking along these lines, but in case you're looking for budgeting resources and ways to set boundaries with your spending, NerdWallet is a great resource. Please do not extend that boundary to a hesitancy to reach out to a friend or neighbor if you need help.

Make a list of projects you’ve been putting off 

When’s the last time you cleaned your baseboards (never)? The grout in your shower? Cleaned out your closet? What about that shelf you’ve been meaning to hang or the Christmas decorations which are still up? Or if you’re more ambitious, that book you’ve always wanted to write or financial goals you’ve been meaning to set? Why not pick one and take a single small step toward completing that goal every day? Why not devote 15 minutes to make incremental progress? 

Being cooped up in your apartment/house opens the door (metaphorically) to getting stuck in a cycle of isolation and fear. But you have more choice in the matter than you think you do. This list is merely a jumping off point. If you have other ideas, leave a comment and let me know how you’re living your best quarantined life!

If you are feeling overwhelmed or depressed, please reach out to a trusted counselor, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, or text “Home” to 741741 and a crisis worker will text you back immediately. 

March 4, 2020No Comments

The Parable of the Cyst

I woke suddenly to the sensation of stabbing pain in my abdomen. As I gained consciousness, I blearily checked my phone. Two in the morning. I took a deep breath, then another. Ok, I thought, here we go again.

The semester before I officially started grad school, I was taking some classes at UNC Greensboro, where I would earn my Masters degree a few years later. I came home virtually every weekend to assist leading the Youth Group at my home church. With so much back and forth, things occasionally fell through the cracks. It was generally harmless stuff like forgetting a notebook for class or clean socks. But one week, I forgot to refill my birth control prescription at my hometown pharmacy. I would only be short by a few days, so I figured it was probably fine. I decided that I didn’t need to go through the trouble of getting it filled at a pharmacy in Greensboro. 

I wasn't on birth control for the “fun reason,” as my sexually active friends have put it . I’ve suffered from ovarian cysts since around age fourteen, the pain from which got progressively worse over the years. At eighteen, I had a series of incidents where I vomited twice, and finally passed out on the floor of my bathroom from the pain. After that, I went on birth control to manage the situation. 

It only took two days off the pill for a cyst to develop, jolting me awake with the familiar pain. I stumbled through my ritual--heating pad, Ibuprofen, deep breathing. But after 30 minutes, the pain was not subsiding like it should. I remembered vaguely from my last bout with a bad cyst that persistent pain could mean it had ruptured or become twisted. I could ride it out and hope it wasn’t serious, or I could see a doctor. At 2:30 in the morning, an ER was my only option for medical care.  

If I chose to go to the hospital, I needed to figure out how to get there. I had zero friends at school because I was gone every weekend. It felt dramatic to call an ambulance, and also did not want to pay for an ambulance ride. I knew my parents would help cover the cost if I asked, but it was the principle of the thing that took it off the table. Pain Brain concluded that my best option was to drive myself. So that’s what I did.*

I breathed deeply and gripped my steering wheel with white knuckles as I struggled to abide by the speed limit. It was a ten minute drive to the hospital. The streets were mercifully empty, but every stoplight felt like a personal attack. I parked and stumbled into the ER. I gasped my way through my insurance information and medical history with the triage nurse, tears falling down my cheeks as I fought to keep myself from tearing her head off for making me sit there and talk. 

It was hours before I was seen. By then the pain had ebbed into a dull ache. After the Nurse Practitioner assured me I was in no imminent danger, she suggested I go to the women’s hospital to see a specialist if the cyst didn’t resolve itself. 

I drove home and fell into bed, getting a couple hours of sleep before my class the next day. I called my hometown pharmacy to have my prescription sent to a CVS in Greensboro. As I made my way to class, I nervously hoped that the little pink pill would solve everything. 

2am like clockwork, I was back on the cool floor of my bathroom hoping the ibuprofen would kick in this time. It did not, though I took the maximum allowed amount. Having the previous night as reference, I figured I just had to wait for it to pass in a few hours. If the alternative was paying an astronomical fee to sit in a hospital only to be given the equivalent of a shrugging “sucks to suck,” I turned on some music and focused on my breath. 

The next day I made an appointment at the women’s hospital, and was ushered back within a matter of minutes. The doctor listened to my plight sympathetically and then ran through my options. She suggested my best course was to take two birth control pills for a couple of days until I was caught up on the days I had missed, then offered to give me a shot for the pain. She explained that it would last 24 hours, so I shouldn’t have any trouble that night. 

She was incorrect on that front, but it was at least my last night of the 2-5am pain party. 

I drove back to my hometown a day early that weekend, having scheduled an appointment with my regular doctor. As I drove the four hours on the rural North Carolina interstates and highways, I vaguely considered alternative ways I could have handled the situation. In that moment, I didn’t remember that I had a friend from college, a few family friends, and an uncle who all lived in the area. Would I have called them if I had remembered? Wracked with pain at 2:30 in the morning, I wanted to ask for help from someone. But I didn’t want to wake anyone up or inconvenience them. I also did not want to be seen in that state. As I pulled into the familiar parking lot at my doctor’s office, the possibilities of all I should have done swirled around my head. 

I got out of the car, and made up my mind. The solution that rose to the surface of the flurry of thoughts and fears was elegant in its simplicity. I’d never forget my prescription again. And if I did, I’d take the time to preemptively get it sent to a closer pharmacy. I breathed out, resolved, and walked into the waiting room. 

*This was not a good decision. While it worked out, it was only because my situation was not as dire as I thought. There was, however, a reasonable risk of me passing out or getting in an accident due to impared faculties. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911.

February 10, 2020No Comments

5 Things to Not Say to Your Single Friends (and What to Say Instead)

Dear, sweet married friends. We know you mean well, but sometimes you really whiff it in the whole "loving your neighbor" department. Let's be real... we all do! We love you, and we know you’re trying to help. But please, for the love, stop trying to fix us.

It can be awkward for your single friends to bring this stuff up, that’s why I’m here. I'll be that person who lovingly lets you know that mayhaps there is room for growth. This time of year, like most holidays, your single friends might confide in you that they feel lonely, frustrated, disappointed, dissatisfied, or angry. They might also feel content, happy, or hopeful. They, like you, are human beings with layers of occasionally conflicting emotions. Upon hearing your single friends express these emotions, your instinct might be to say things that sound good in your head, but are... really not great.

Never fear, dear ones. I'm here to translate what you say into what we hear, then give you some good alternatives. I think it’s swell that you want to love your single friends well. You’re a step ahead of many, and that is commendable. 

Since you have a genuine desire to support your single friends in a way that is not dismissive or condescending, here are five things you shouldn’t say, and what to say instead. 

What Not To Say

What you sayWhat we hear
 Singleness is a gift. How you are feeling is weird and does not make sense. Fix it so that I’m more comfortable.
Be thankful you have this time to focus on yourself. You’re on your own and I have no interest in supporting you. 
You think you’ve got it rough? I was up at 5am feeding my baby, etc. Your problems are not as important as mine because they do not involve a biological family, therefore you are not entitled to express discomfort.
You should do what I did [to find a spouse]. Marriage is the ultimate solution to how you're feeling.
Before you can marry someone wonderful the Lord has to make you someone wonderful.Marriage is for VIP Christians who learned everything they had to as singles and so God let them level up.

What to Say Instead

What you sayWhat we hear
How can I help?You are not alone and I’m prepared to share in this difficulty with you.
Would you like to come over for dinner Saturday? I’d love to hear more about what’s going on in your life.Feeling lonely sucks, and I’m going to make a concerted effort to include you in everyday moments of my life and the life of my family.
I’m not sure I understand. Could you tell me more about it?I don’t fully relate, but I am invested in understanding where you’re coming from because it matters.
That sounds hard/frustrating/sad/lonely.What you are experiencing is not weird or foreign. I am here with you in this.
I’m so happy that you’re in a good place! What helped you get there?You have expertise that I do not and I’d love to learn from you. You've done hard work to get where you are, and that should be celebrated.

My dear married peeps, we love you and we want to be able to trust you. I hope that these suggestions are merely a jumping off point for some beautiful, mutually encouraging and challenging relationships. When in doubt, listen more than you speak, and go for compassion and curiosity over judgement and quick fixes.

Who are two single friends you could reach out to this week and check in with? If you don't have time to meet up, what are some everyday life moments you could invite them into? It is difficult for us to reach out and ask for help all the time, so even a simple text to say you're thinking about us goes a long way.

Communicator. Creator. Coach.

© 2020 Mary B Safrit LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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