Aging alone

Back when I was teaching, we took a field trip to The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. There were these cool machines with cameras that would age a photo depending on life choices. Are you a smoker? Do you spend a lot of time in the sun? And so on went the questions.

One of my junior highers got me to pose for the camera. My mistake was not taking over the controls afterwards. Having already gone through the process once, he knew all of the answers to age my photo as much as possible. He ignored my protests as the screen spun out an image of a worn out old lady who eerily resembled me.

Thanks, kid.

I remember that photo sometimes when I find a new gray hair or a neck wrinkle or an age spot I never noticed before. The realization that one is aging is hard for many people; however, as a single, I wonder if aging alone is different. Not harder, but different.

As a single, there is no togetherness in disintegration. It’s just a party of one who watches the body in the mirror stoop and droop a little more each year. A party of one who gets pitied as she grays because there go her chances to snag a husband and, if she doesn’t have children, she can’t even attribute the grays to the honorable occupation of child-rearing.

His eyelids sag and he gets an extra roll of fat at his waistline.

There is no together giggling at age creeping over two bodies become one. It is just her facing irreversible doom as she watches those creeping spider veins.

There is no one to notice that mole on his back slowly changing colors. No one to miss that tooth except him.

Those freckles that once were becoming are overcome by age spots and they’ve scattered farther than she ever imagined. Her body is no longer what it used to be. And sometimes she’s glad she doesn’t have to share it.

I read through 1 Peter recently, about beauty being internal rather than external. Because remember, these bodies were not made to last forever. Whether one is aging together or aging alone, that truth is comforting.

Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear other perspectives. What has it been like for you to age alone, man or woman, single or widowed? Or what has it been like for you to age beside someone else? Maybe you’ve had both experiences. What are some things you’ve learned over the years?

Hindsight is not 20/20

Hindsight is not 20/20. At least mine isn’t, especially my hindsight of past conversations. My hindsight compiles a list of things I should have said and didn’t or shouldn’t have said and did.

“I should have invited her up for tea when she asked if this was my street.”

“I should have complimented her on how nice she looked; I noticed she made an effort.”

“I shouldn’t have made that comment about Islam.”

That’s what I focus on. How I should have made better use of the conversation. As I turn with a finger poised to shake at the past me, my hindsight narrows to tunnel vision. 

Because, more often than not, I’m forgetting the other factors involved. 

It could be that I already had plans with a neighbor and only when the other plans were canceled did I remember the interaction on the street.

It could be that our interaction at the noisy gathering was so brief that I only had time to ask her about the exams she had been studying for when I last saw her.

It could be that after my friends spent twenty minutes complaining about Muslim men, they ganged up on me to marry me off. And I made that split second decision to speak directly rather than lose the moment in the rush of conversation by taking the time to formulate an indirect response.

I want to learn from my mistakes. However, when I get analytical about what was said or not said, I need to pause long enough to remember the other factors involved: the distractions, the mind noise, the body language of the other person, etc. 

Then slowly, a shameful, paralyzing memory is seasoned with grace. Only then can I step forward because remembering truthfully is the best way to learn from mistakes.


Photo by Laura Fuhrman on Unsplash

5 things I learned about hospitality last week

Hospitality creates a resting place for those you love… and even those you’re still trying to love. It’s not boundary-less, but true hospitality grows our understanding of boundaries, sometimes stretching and sometimes reinforcing. About a year ago, I wrote an essay on this topic, drawing from the experience of others, experience I hope to acquire as time goes on. Maybe another day I’ll share some of those thoughts.

But today, I’m writing about what I learned last week in Córdoba with my Pakistani friend and her family.

Although the week had its ups and downs, I savored their hospitality. Hospitality is not cultureless and sometimes those hiccups caught me off-guard, like when someone ordered for me at a restaurant instead of letting me choose for myself. Still, hospitality transcends culture. It is resilient because love is resilient. 

Here are five things I noticed about hospitality during my stay in my friend’s home:

  1. Hospitality is selfless. The family adjusted their sleeping arrangements in the tiny bedrooms so that I would be most comfortable. The fact that the door didn’t close because the foot of my roommate’s bed was in the way was irrelevant. It really was the best arrangement and they were less comfortable for it.
  2. Hospitality is sharing the fullness of self. I heard a lot of stories. These women weren’t pretending to have it all together; they were vulnerable. On the lighter side, they also shared the specialness of their culture and background.
  3. Hospitality gives space for love to grow. It doesn’t demand love or care, but it shelters a space for them to grow. Time was protected. My friend’s mother took the day off of work just because I was there. We went out for churros instead.
  4. Hospitality wants you there. I’ve both hostessed and been hostessed out of obligation, but that’s not hospitality, at least not in its fullness. On this visit, I was welcomed and I was wanted. They delighted in my presence as I did in theirs. My friend’s little boy came calling my name whenever I was out of sight: “Come play with me!”
  5. Hospitality accepts as well as gives. The family refused to let me pay for our tostadas or bus fare or anything else. But they happily accepted the gifts I had brought them. Hospitality doesn’t expect reciprocity, but it graciously receives.

How have you seen hospitality in others? Have you noticed any cultural differences? How has hospitality transcended culture, even sub-culture? What are some bits of wisdom that you have gleaned along the way? I’d love to hear and learn. 🙂

Tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet

There is shrieking laughter as my nephew shakes bugs off of Grandma’s laundry and watches them vanish in the warm autumn sunlight above his head. Oh, that boy.

And to think that soon I’m going to be packing up my things and leaving. I cringe to think of those moments of transition when you’re sitting on a cold airport seat with little sleep and lots of memories of the world you’re leaving behind. Those are the worst moments.

The moments when you have completely left something but haven’t embraced the new something yet. And there you are, in the middle, caught in a swamp of your internal sorrow.

I know, because I’ve been there.

That’s why hearing my nephew’s laughter today makes me glad to be where there is grace enough, in today and not in the tomorrows that haven’t arrived.

Grace and migrating tissues

I had spent a significant part of my evening in the living room chair with a box of tissues close at hand. It was my very own pity party. No one else was invited. The piles of bank statements, resident visa forms, tax papers, and junk mail were the life of my party.

I felt like I had been making lists all day. Lists of things that had to be done. Lists of phone numbers to call. Lists of people I should visit. Grocery lists. Arabic verb lists. And this list goes on…

Not only that, but the thoughts rolling around in my head hadn’t yet been categorized on any list. Is this what “normal” looked like in America? Had I simply forgotten? Or had I completely lost my ability to handle stress? Or was it just the paperwork I couldn’t handle?

That’s why I merited a pity party. So I moped and felt considerably worse afterwards. A pity party hangover. Finally, I was able to motivate myself to go to bed. And guess what? I had a wonderful night of sleep!

Not that I deserved it. Nope. If I would have been God, I would have made me toss and turn restlessly all night to learn my lesson for worrying about all of the “tomorrows” of my future. Instead, He showed me grace and I woke up ready to face the new day instead of cowering under the covers.

I chipped away at one of my lists, accomplishing what I could and leaving the rest unwept, unhonored, and unsung. And that afternoon, I was ready when a friend arrived in unexpected tears. She didn’t need to explain. We simply moved the tissues from beside my chair to where she was seated on the couch. And I made some tea.

God knows that we don’t always learn lessons best through justice. Sometimes what we need is grace.

We are dust

Do you ever get tired of living by the expectations of the culture around you? I do. Expectations can be healthy, a type of accountability. In a way, expectations are what people give you when they can’t or chose not to give you rules.

Living in a different culture gives me two sets of cultural expectations to abide by. Suddenly, besides the way that I have been raised to behave, I am given a new set of standards from a very different culture. Sometimes I am stranded when the cultures clash: Is it better to be evasive and deceptive or offend someone by being truthful? Either way, someone is unhappy.

In short, I forget to focus on God’s expectations, which might mean disappointing both cultures. 

But are God’s expectations attainable? He was the one who placed me in this cultural conflict in the first place, so wouldn’t His expectations be the hardest to meet of all? And He does expect a lot:

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”

2 Cor. 3:18

His expectation is that we become more like the Son, more challenging than any cultural demand!

But He also remembers something that cultures forget: we are dust. Living to please cultural expectations would drain every drop of our resources, and like Solomon’s leech (Prov. 30:15), the culture(s) would still cry for more.

But God sees our limitations and coordinates them with His great expectation:

“As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”

Ps. 103:13-14

He doesn’t forget our frailty; he knows what it is like to be a human. His expectation for us doesn’t change, but as we learn, His grace abounds.

Judging the radical

There is someone I regularly pass judgment upon. I try not to. But he has a way of deflating my perceived piety because whenever I am around him, I feel myself judging him. He just doesn’t fit into my spiritual box.

Nearly every time I see him, God teaches me the same lesson: “Stop judging, my child.” And I am convicted once again.

Spirituality isn’t confined to what I think it should look like. And when I’m not so busy being full of myself and how I am doing spirituality perfectly, then I see how God displays His attributes differently in different people. So how can I put His personality in a box?

And I think of the people in the Bible who more focused on God than on themselves. They had to do some pretty radical things: leading an entire people group out of slavery, taking messages of judgment to God’s people, marrying a prostitute, living a wild desert life, and giving up normality to have a child out of wedlock…a child conceived by the Holy Spirit.

So how can I say that I know what a relationship with God looks like for every person? He doesn’t give us all of the same callings or the same gifts. And I am thankful that not everyone is as closed-minded as I am about following God radically.

Alone? Not at all.

There is something I know in my head but forget in my heart.

Do you ever look at your believing friends–those people you see every Sunday and meet for coffee during the week–and get overwhelmed by their spiritual “giantness”?

At times, exchanging a deep spiritual dialogue or having someone shower you with love strengthens your walk with God. Other times though, it discourages you. At least if you’re like me.

Sometimes, when I see flawless spirituality in others, I feel insignificant. I feel dirty. And selfish. My mind replays my past sins one by one.

“I’ll do better. I’ll try harder to be like my friend!”

Those are the times I feel the most alone; it’s as if no one can identify with the monster inside my sinful shell. No one else faces my daily temptations. No one else has to struggle with their thought life. No one else makes selfish choices that destroy trust in a relationship.

Have you ever thought that? Well, here’s a little bit of truth for you (and me):

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.”

1 Cor. 10:13a

You’ve probably heard that a thousand times. Maybe two thousand. But the truth hasn’t changed. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Whatever you’re struggling with has been struggled with before by someone else…maybe someone is even struggling with it right now. And not just one someone but enough someones to make it “common to man.”

Depending on how you look at that, it’s encouraging. But wait; lest knowing that others have the same struggles makes us gloss over our sinfulness. There’s more:

God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

1 Cor. 10:13b

Having a faithful God means that we shouldn’t yield to temptation so that His grace may abound. God forbid! (Rom. 6:1) Without rejoicing in others’ failures, we can realize we’re not the only one in our boat, paddling furiously against temptation’s current. Others are in the boat with us. What would happen if we would paddle together without fear and without judgment?

Enough of this silently drowning in our own shame! We have an “very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1). We are not alone. Not at all.