Everybody Does NOT Have a Water Buffalo… (and that’s okay)

William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, once said, “Don’t instill, or allow anybody else to instill into the hearts of your girls the idea that marriage is the chief end of life. If you do, don’t be surprised if they get engaged to the first empty, useless fool they come across.”

I’m pretty sure William Booth wins Dad of the Century award, because I’ve never heard of anyone else from the 1800’s preaching about how women might be made for something more than marriage and motherhood. You, Mr. Booth, were ahead of your time. I applaud you.

In any case, that quote ingrained itself in my mind when I was researching Beyond Waiting and continues to occasionally surface in my mind. I think about it when I’m watching movies or scrolling Facebook or otherwise observing human interaction.

We are a culture obsessed with love, creating hopeless romantics who dare to dream that there is someone out there for everyone. We have turned our lives into a quest to find that perfect someone in hopes that they might complete us. Those who are lucky find their way to happily ever after while others…

Well, others might find themselves bouncing from partner to partner, always hoping that the next one might be The One. Perhaps they settle down, but fear they chose poorly. Perhaps they can’t shake the feeling that someone better is out there waiting. Perhaps they will go out in search of that elusive person, or maybe they will cling to the person they have because anything is better than being alone. Am I right?

All my life, I’ve been told that choosing a person to spend the rest of my life with is the most important decision I would ever make (aside from the decision to follow Jesus, of course). While I see the wisdom in this, I have to question why no one ever told me that I also had a choice in whether or not I would choose a person. Or warned me that I might really, really want a person, but not be able to find someone who was right for me.

It seemed like that was never up for debate. Because of course I would marry. Doesn’t everyone?

Remember that silly song where Larry the Cucumber sings about how everybody’s got a water buffalo and Archibald Asparagus rips into him about what a ridiculous claim that is while begging him to stop before they start getting nasty letters from people demanding to know where their water buffalo is?

*deep breath*

Basically, I think y’all should stop promising people that God will bring them a spouse because God is starting to get nasty letters from people who have been single longer than they anticipated.

I’m serious, folks. We are not doing anyone any good by feeding them empty promises of inevitable romance. Maybe marriage is in their future—heck, it may even likely be in their future—but it may not be. And we have to be okay with that.

We need to stop talking about marriage as if it is THE beginning and acknowledge that it is simply a beginning—that there are a thousand different roads you can take that will lead to a fulfilling life, and marriage is merely one of them.

A friend of mine recently shared his own struggle with prolonged singleness and talked of reshaping his perspective to see that marriage is the probably just the latest thing he is chasing in the age-old “if I can just have this one thing, I’ll be happy” cycle.

I think his heart is in the right place, but what I don’t think is that now that his heart is in the right place, God is going to come swooping in like, “Aha! Finally, you are prepared. Here is your bride, my good and faithful servant!”

It could happen, and I will rejoice with him if it does because that’s fun and exciting and full of possibility. But the thing is, I am rejoicing already because God is doing a new thing in my friend’s life and that’s what I’m excited about.

So often, I hear people talk about marriage like it is some kind of heavenly reward. People have long promised me that when I have my heart in the right place, God will bless me by bringing that special someone into my life. But you know what I think? I think God didn’t present Levi to me like some kind of gold star for a job well done; I think He chose Levi for me when he realized the area I needed to grow in was community. I was so good at functioning independently, and then God was like, “Yeah, but let’s see how you do with Together.”

This relationship has been one more way of God ripping the rug out from under my feet to show me a new perspective. This chapter of my life is just one more beginning—one more tool meant to reshape me. Same as writing. And traveling. And skating.

That’s something no one ever told me when they were singing about relationships like Larry the Cucumber sings about water buffalo.

Rewriting My Life

It was one of those silly online quizzes—the kind you blaze through instinctively. Simple questions with simple answers.

For anyone else, it may have been that easy, but as 2018 drew to a close, I found myself staring at a screen, feeling my whole life unravel.

“Do you prefer being single?”

Until that moment, the answer had always been, “Yes, of course!” But that was before I was five months deep in a relationship that was making me question everything I thought I wanted.

For nearly a decade, Singleness had not only been my state of being, but my calling. I found purpose in validating Singleness as a way of life. I read all the books. I championed the cause. I didn’t hold back. I made sure everyone who asked knew that I was whole and happy on my own, and that everyone deserved the freedom to feel that way.

I didn’t realize it then, but I had hung my identity on a relationship status. So it should come as no surprise, really, that God felt the need to rip that rug from under my feet.

“Do you prefer being single?”

My fingers itched to click “yes,” but I realized the honest answer was “no.”

Not anymore.

I remember confessing to my friend Brett that I felt like I was cheating on myself. I worried all over her inbox that maybe I was giving up too much by becoming something I had once scorned.

She lovingly and gently talked me down until I came to my own conclusion that, while I was perfectly capable of functioning independently, I wasn’t certain that I wanted to anymore.

“There it is,” she wrote.

And I knew she was right about that being the clincher, but I still didn’t know where that left me and the complicated mess I had made of my goals.

I felt like Rapunzel, drifting on the lake as she awaited the culmination of her lifelong dream.

“What if it’s not everything I dreamed it would be?” Or worse… “What if it is? What do I do then?”

Let me tell you, Flynn Rider was lying when he said the good part was finding a new dream. At least for me, it has not been quite so enjoyable.

Because unlike our perfect little storybook characters, I wrestle with the idea of a person being my new dream.

Lately, I’ve been quoting The Little Rascals to Levi, playfully reminding him that “what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is ours.” But I think maybe I am more selfish than that. Maybe I want something that is still entirely mine.

I realize this isn’t fair of me since I have already wholeheartedly staked a claim in his dreams, but in my defense, he made it too easy, having been carving a space for me in his story all along.

There was no room for him in my story. He was never a character who was meant to play a role in my tale. But he showed up anyway, and when he did, it felt like there wasn’t a place for me in some of the pages.

I’ve missed blogging, but how could I continue writing Beyond Waiting from this side of Once Upon a Time? I never wanted to be the person who wrote about Singleness after being removed from it, but I’m also not quite ready to surrender this calling just yet.

So I don’t know where that leaves me. I don’t know what shape this story will take. I feel like a messy first draft with gaping plot holes, but I’m still here, claiming ownership of my story. I hope that counts for something.

The Rush

“I want you to try slowing it down,” Kim said. “It’s like you’re in a rush to get to the landing. I want you to be in a rush to get in the air and just kind of float there for awhile. Like a little fairy.”

She’s right, I realize. While there are multiple steps to a jump, I find my mind fixated on the last one—-gliding backward with arms to the side and one leg extended behind me.

Crushed it.

Except I didn’t. Because the jump itself was sloppy and haphazard. Rushed. Like so many other things in my life.

I love accomplishing things. I love drawing check marks on to-do lists. I like looking at the finished product and saying, “Look what I have done!”

And I rush the process trying to get to the landing.

I find Kim’s voice rushing through my mind a lot these days. I guess that’s what a good coach does. She trains you to hear her gentle commands even when she’s not there to deliver them:

“Slow. Don’t rush. Cross and hold. Now look back and hold. Whoa. Hold that position. Now step forward. Hold. Now UP!”

And the funny thing is that I hardly think about the landing anymore. Landing is the easy thing. The natural thing. It requires so little of my focus.

Savoring those in-between moments… From the first crossover to the landing position… That’s the hard part. Being aware of my shoulders and my core… Being intentional about each step… That’s what kills me.

I spend too many of my days in a rush to get to the end of them. I look at the checklist of things I need to do and, instead of savoring each one, I simply rush through to the next.

Quiet time? Check. Workout? Check. Grocery shopping, house cleaning, coffee date? Check.

And by the time I crawl into bed, my day is a blur. It feels as sloppy as my waltz jump. As reckless as my Salchow. I may have gotten to the ending, but I failed to infuse intention into each step, and I feel the lack of it.

So I’m learning to slow down, both on the ice and off. To savor each step. To be present in each moment. To rush into the next thing, but then just kind of float there for awhile. Like a little fairy.

I like to think that someday I will be content to live a step-by-step kind of life.

The Depths

“Take me into the depth of who You are and change me there.”

When Hannah Brencher gave me permission to #stealthisprayer a couple months ago, I gladly accepted. I posted it on my mirror. I scribbled it across multiple pages of my journal. It has become my daily battle cry.

“God, take me into the depth of who You are and change me there.”

I say it with all the sincerity my wayward heart can muster, longing for the depths while absently splashing in the shallows.

I think I like the water analogy because I don’t actually like water all that much. It’s easy to view this spiritual drought as something I’ve created for myself because of my aversion to diving in over my head. Like, Rebekah, you are holding back. Jump in, jump in, jump in.

My parents have a pond and I don’t think I ever swam in it until a couple weeks ago. I realize that’s ridiculous. It’s just that I don’t particularly like treading water and I really don’t like standing with my feet swallowed up in pond scum, so I guess I haven’t found a good reason to spend time there in the last twenty or so years it has existed.

I feed the fish, but I don’t swim with them. Thank you very much.

Even on the day in question, I had no intention of actually getting in the water. But since everyone else was hanging out there I figured, at the very least, I could change into my suit and soak up some sun. Which might have worked for me, except Caleb exists.

When I launched out onto that pond, perfectly dry on the pretty pink flotation device I mercifully found unoccupied, that little bugger came drifting over with an evil glint in his eyes. You know the one. It’s the look that says your fun in the sun is about to get flipped upside down. Literally.

“Don’t do it.” I tried to sound stern, but I probably sounded more whiny than anything. Because seriously, this was a little slice of heaven and how dare he take that from me? “Caleb, no.”

“What’s the point of being in a pond if you’re not going to get wet?” he pestered, splashing water onto my back as I helplessly protested.

And then he went under. And try as I may to sprawl my weight evenly across that raft, I was no match for Caleb’s determination.

“I’m sorry,” he lied, and swam away, leaving me in the middle of a pond with my arms draped across a raft that was no longer keeping me dry.

And you know what? It was really fun swimming around beneath the surface of that water. I might even do it again sometime.

So basically I’ve been asking God to play the role of Caleb in this story. To save me from the comfortable little existence I cling to by flipping my world upside down and immersing me in things I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen for myself. I’m not saying I don’t protest. I’m not pretending I don’t often clench my fists around the things I’m hesitant to release to Him.

In a lot of ways, my prayer is more of a reminder to myself to keep craving the depths. To keep moving into the things that scare me until I’m not afraid anymore. It’s a cry for total surrender even as I hold myself back.

“Take me into the depth of who You are and change me there.”

Finally Fearless

I’ve just come back from traveling the world.

No, seriously. I took a month long road trip that spanned eight thousand miles and seventeen states. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences in which I visited a few friends along the way, but also spent a solid two weeks literally living out of my car.

I think it’s the whole sleeping in the car thing that has led to the general consensus that I might be insane. Mostly, I just wanted to take an epic road trip without completely breaking the bank, and, hey, I didn’t die, now did I?

As I detailed my plans and/or recounted my travels, the phrase that kept resurfacing from the lips of friends and strangers alike is, “I would never be brave enough to do something like that.”

I had nothing to say to this. Mostly because I know there was nothing I could have said to myself when I first had the idea to maybe take off four years ago. As much as I wanted to go, I wasn’t quite ready to tackle such a venture on my own. I may have been the girl who toted “fearless” like a battle cry, but there was still a whole lot of fear in me.

The biggest thing I learned about myself on this journey is that I’m not afraid anymore. The things that used to strike fear into my heart didn’t even make me flinch. They made me excited instead.

I didn’t feel brave packing up half of my wardrobe and leaving behind the familiar in search of new sights. I felt relieved. Like staying wasn’t even an option anymore because going felt so necessary.

I needed that week in Kansas. I needed the chaos of shoving 30+ people in one home where you whisper, “Praise Jesus” upon finding an unoccupied bathroom. I needed the hugs and the laughter and did I mention the hugs?

I needed to hit the road and drive across countryside that looks nothing like I’ve seen back East.

I needed to hike high altitudes, and venture deep into caverns, and walk along shorelines my feet had never touched before.

I needed the people I stopped to see along the way. I needed their love and hospitality and showers. God knows I needed their showers.

I needed to get out and live because sometimes staying rooted in one spot feels more like withering away.

So I don’t know what to say to those people who aren’t there yet—the ones who think they can’t be brave—except this:

What I wished as I sat overlooking a canyon at Zion National Park was that I would have been braver ten years ago. Maybe not to the point of packing up my life and hitting the road for a month, but in smaller, seemingly insignificant ways.

I wished I would have spent more time downtown. I wished I would have ventured deeper into the Blue Ridge. I wished I would have taken off on spontaneous adventures all on my own instead of waiting for someone to invite me to tag along with them. I wished I would have splurged a little on seemingly silly things.

I wished I wouldn’t have always played it so safe and smart and practical.

There’s a time and a place for that, but it took up so much room in my life. Letting go, leaving all of that behind… I feel like a whole new person. And I like this person a whole lot better than the girl from before.

She’s happier. She’s a heck of a lot more fun. And she doesn’t feel stuck in a life she never wanted for herself.

She’s finally fearless in all the ways she wanted to be all those years ago.

IMG_2561

 

Party of One: A Book Review

Listen, we all know that singleness is my jam, so it should come as no surprise that I still collect books on this little fascination of mine. Honestly, most of them say the same old thing, which is why I’m popping in here to gush about finding a fresh perspective on the subject.

Party of One by Joy Beth Smith is not about providing more cliche answers, but about making room for the discussion the church is not having about sex and singleness. (And might I just add, it’s about dang time.) I did my fair share of blushing and cringing through a certain chapter, so I can confidently say that I don’t agree with every opinion voiced within these pages. Heck, I can’t say that the author agrees with every opinion she presented on behalf of her fellow single women, but at least we’re finally having the conversation.

While I’ve heard a whole lot of complaints over the years about purity culture and Joshua Harris’ infamous I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I didn’t understand how these things were to be blamed for a broken view of sexuality… until Joy Beth broke down all the things I was taught in youth group and so graciously explained how these teachings may have been harmful to me. Guys, it hurts how right she was. By the time I put this book down, I was feeling absolutely liberated.

My favorite concept from this book, however—the one that will stick with me forever—was the perspective a twenty-eight year old woman shared with Joy Beth on her ongoing struggle with still being single.

“It’s not what I was prepped for,” she said. “It’s not what I envisioned.”

She goes on to say that her whole life she was taught to be a wife and mother, but no one ever taught her to be a woman.

“My biggest struggle is knowing what womanhood looks like, what identity and completion look like, apart from the goal of marriage.”

And that, my friends, is why I champion the cause of the single Christian woman. Because we’re all struggling to find value in ourselves when church culture has taught us to find our worth in marriage and motherhood. Because we deserve better than to spend our lives waiting for a husband who may never come. We deserve to be validated as a Party of One.

So You Think You Can’t Dance

“Do you dance?”

It was perhaps the first question he ever asked me. I answered with a nervous laugh and a shake of my head. “No.”

Before I knew it, he had taken my hand, pulled me close, and started twirling me in a too-small kitchen.

Well, hello. Nice to meet you, too.

“You can dance,” he chastised me after a moment had passed.

“I can follow,” I countered, because somehow it didn’t seem to count as dancing so long as someone else was doing all of the creative work. While I’ve always longed to move my body with all the grace and confidence my sister displays, I simply can’t.

I can’t.

Two simple words. Five little letters dotted with the apostrophe of finality.

I can’t.

It’s hard to imagine a phrase so small could have the power to undo you, but it does. Over and over again, those words have confined me, strapping me down to a small existence where new limits are not reached.

My word for 2018, I quickly realized, is Horizon. Really, it’s a phrase: Bring Me That Horizon. (What can I say? I’ve always been obsessed with the pirate’s life.)

While the horizon is most commonly known as the line at which the earth’s surface and the sky appear to meet, it also refers to the limit of a person’s mental perception, experience, or interest.

In other words, it’s the “I can’t” moments. I think I’m supposed to conquer them this year. So I’m trying to face them head on—all those moments I instinctively greet with a, “No way, Jose.”

As I’ve been intentional about catching these thoughts, I’ve grown discouraged by the sheer volume of them. I had no idea how often I shut myself down.

“Really bend your knee and push that blade into the ice,” Kim coaches.

“My legs are not strong enough to hold that position. I can’t.”

“You’ve got to commit,” Gabe says as he instructs me through a front flip on the trampoline.

“It’s hard to commit to breaking my neck. I can’t.”

“Loosen your hips and move with it, girl!” Caleb calls as I’m tossed about on a mechanical bull.

“That defies every instinct of self-preservation in my body. I can’t.”

As I am my own worst critic, I don’t think it’s an accident that this challenge has come on the tail end of my Year of Together. I’ve gathered some pretty fantastic people (see above) who often give me that little boost of encouragement I needed. I’ve learned to take them at their word even when my doubts want to tell me they’re wrong. I am not a backspin prodigy; I can barely get my left foot off the ice for one rotation.

But I’ve learned to trust those voices. I’ve learned to lean into them and let them give me the strength I didn’t know that I had.

And a funny thing has happened to me over the last few months. I’ve become brave enough to dance in public—even when there is no one to follow. Because, surprisingly enough, my hips know how to move entirely on their own. Suddenly, they feel beautiful and confident and maybe even a little bit graceful. (And, if Shakira is to be believed, hips don’t lie, so it must be true.)

It’s amazing what a world of possibilities opens up when we stop telling ourselves we can’t and instead start whispering that we’ve got this. That this new challenge is going to be difficult, but we are strong and capable of conquering it.

I hope you’ll be brave enough to tell yourself you can.