Heartburn and Heart Yearn

 

A couple months ago, I was preparing to leave on a writer’s retreat with some dear friends—a gathering that has become a beloved tradition at the start of every summer.

I ran to the grocery store to pick up the food items I was bringing for the weekend and I took a call from a friend while in the store. My shopping list was on my phone, but I figured I could freewheel it.

I had a great conversation with my friend, ran trough the check out with my items, took my coupons from the cashier (excited I had earned two instead of just one!) and left for home.

Half-way through the drive I realized I had forgotten the chicken breast—a key ingredient in grilled chicken. I decided not to turn around—chances were I would have to return to the store again before I was done packing.

Putting away the groceries, I found my not-one-but-two coupons at the bottom of a bag and was disappointed to find that they were both for heartburn medication. Not the buy-one-get-one ice cream coupon a bunch of friends had been talking about getting. I thought it was sadly funny and continued to prepare for the weekend.

After dinner, I ran to the store once more to pick up travel-sized soap and chicken breast. Again I managed to forget the chicken breast.

But guess what I came home with? A third heartburn medication coupon! Now it was just getting cruel. I have not yet had to experience the joy of heartburn. And, for the most part, the coupons from this store are based on your purchases…so what was in this soap that causes heartburn?!

Finally at eleven o’clock that night, I went to the store a third time along with a friend. This time I left with the chicken breast and my friend left with a buy-one-get-one ice cream coupon. Guess what coupon I got?

Yeah. 30% off heartburn medication.

And I had to laugh thinking back on this the other day because how much of my life is like this?

I didn’t go to the store to get coupons for heartburn medication or pints of ice cream for that matter. I went for chicken!

There are so many season in life where I have looked at what others are getting, upset with what I’ve been given all while missing the entire point. There are things that my heart wants that it is not getting, but in the midst of that, am I pursuing what my heart needs? (And no, I don’t mean chicken breasts!)

I confess that I loose site of the kingdom so often, caught up in hustling, achieving, and competing. Trying to have it all so often becomes the name of my game rather than slowing down and taking in what I really need: Jesus.

But once I have what I really need, what I want starts to change. What I was striving for starts to matter less and the circumstances I’m not pleased about become secondary. When my heart yearn is aligned where it needs to be, my longings begin to reflect the kingdom in proper ways.

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The Metaphor and Blood-and-Guts Reality

 

For the last nine months I’ve been wrestling over the question, “If marriage never happens for me, will I be okay?

And the answer varies day-to-day, I’ll be honest. But it struck me the other morning in a big way. I was lamenting the fact that I may never experience that kind of intimacy and then a new thought emerged. Maybe I was very wrong.

We seem forget that marriage is just the metaphor, reflecting a larger, universal reality.

Marriage is supposed to be a picture of Christ and his Church. But somewhere along the line, marriage became the reality—the concrete realness of things.

But marriage has become less permanent and the pretty picture seems to be fading, and here’s the problem with that:

Marriage is just the picture. It was never intended to be what Christ and his bride reflect. It is instead the reflection, the lesser figuration of something greater—something blood-and-guts real.

I experience a beautiful relationship daily, if I agree to enter into the fray and the messiness. I experience the heartache of surrender—of not getting my way, of discovering I’m wrong, of giving up my own dreams for the dreams of another. I experience that other giving himself up for my sake—sometimes with intensity, sometimes with a distance I try to manifest.

I walk the tension of trying to do an unbroken thing despite my unavoidable brokenness. I know the pain of having the one who claims to love me most let me walk through more darkness than I thought possible. I experience the shame and yet overwhelming joy of sitting beside the one I’ve hurt so deeply and having him still look me in the eye and not look away—to extend mercy.

There has been an undying commitment made to me—one with no escape hatch. And despite the temptations to fulfill my needs elsewhere, I have committed to staying.

For better or worse. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health. As long as I live until death do we finally meet face-to-face.

I have never been married, yet I have experienced all of this.

Because marriage is only the metaphor. The real, ironically concrete, flesh-and-bone, blood-and-guts, no-way-out kind of relationship so many of us crave—within marriage or without— is that between Christ and his Church.

I don’t need a husband to experience the challenge and growth of intimate, lock-the-door-and-throw-away-the-key kind of commitment. That was given to me upon the cross just as it has been extended to you.

So we can rest assured that what hasn’t been granted us in marriage—or what we perhaps feel our marriage is lacking—is still ours. It’s ours in relationship with Christ.

Novice Novelist, Episode 1: 5 Things I Think of When Editing

Breaking news!: I have a new YouTube Channel!

This is an exciting new development for my platform, and I’m glad I get to share it with you. See below for more info on the why of this.

In the meanwhile, here is the first episode of The Novice Novelist!

I’ve been feeling a little lost in my platform efforts until I began preparing my Breathe Conference talk on growing from a small platform. As I began to research, I found that I wasn’t having fun with my platform and that was keeping me from wanting to grow it.

I was also missing some of the video production portions of my old job and wanted to grow my video editing skills (which are none) to something more marketable. This is how the Novice Novelist was born!

My goal is to make a video a month and post on the channel and the blog.

Reading Outside My Box

Something I really wanted to challenge myself with in 2017 was reading genres I have typically avoided in the past. Whether intimidating, “boring”, or just not my preference, I’ve decided to prove myself wrong. Here are some books among my summer reads that have been pleasant surprises from genres I don’t usually gravitate towards:

Dark Matter—Blake Crouch

Genre: Sci Fi

I know there are a lot of sci fi sub-genres, but I had written them all off until this year. Between Red Rising and this title, I have been pleasantly surprised by the grit, adventure, and creativity that accompany science fiction.

You can read my full review for more, but I was not put off by the physics involved in Crouch’s plot, but was instead blown away by its relevance to the plot. I’ve been recommending this book to anyone who will listen!

You Are What You Love—James K.A. Smith

Genre: Philosophy

Philosophy is intimidating to me. I can enjoy the thought exercise in listening to intellectuals spout theories, but in discussion I can ask follow up questions and get to a point of understanding. Reading philosophy doesn’t always extend that benefit.

When I joined a book club reading Jamie’s book, I was nervous, but was very much into his concept: We are beings of affection and repeated behaviors, so how does this impact us spiritually.

You Are What You Love has taken me on an important spiritual journey, looking at the practices I hold dear in my daily life and how that points to my true affections. I’ve had to be honest and have had to make some changes, but I’m grateful for the help this book has provided in this.

The Green Mile—Stephen King

Genre: King is a genre all his own—when you write that much, you earn that right

Many of the writers, songwriters, and general people I look up to in my world LOVE Stephen King.  His memoir On Writing is great, but I had never read any of his fiction. (True, sad story, I know.) I am not a horror fan, and that kept me away from his work. I knew horror was not his only genre, but I really wasn’t sure where to start. The whole multi-verse thing was intimidating and there are just sooo many options when it comes to King.

While bumming around a bookstore a few weeks ago, a close writer friend of mine walked me through some great entry points into King’s work and I chose The Green Mile.

I’m still in the middle of this one, but am captivated by his writing every time I pick it up. I don’t know where he’s going with this (no, I haven’t seen the movie), but I’m excited to find out. Any prediction I’ve had has been wrong by a mile and it’s really fun to be wrong. (Not to be arrogant, but once you’ve read enough, you get really good at predicting plots.)

I have not been frightened, but instead mystified. It’s refreshing to be in awe of a piece of fiction you weren’t expecting to take you by surprise.

Just Look Up—Courtney Walsh

Genre: Christian Romance

I readily admit that romance is not my jam. I love a great love story, but I’m out for something else on top of it. Put Christian in front of it and I get a little skeptical that you’re mixing Jesus in with your emotional fantasy.

But when I found myself at a Christian Fiction event for work, I was quite taken with how kind and friendly Courtney Walsh was and really wanted to read her book after seeing a few internet friends speaking so highly of the work.

Romance is still not my jam, but I cannot deny that Walsh is a very talented writer and was going beyond the basic CBA romance formula in her latest novel, Just Look Up.

Yes, the love story of the plot is central, but there is more going on. The female protagonist if flawed in a relatable but specific-to-her way—she’s not the empty heroine of your stereotypical romance. The secondary characters are fleshed out and added to the conflict in interesting ways. There are a lot of external pressure on the protagonist that are keeping me engaged in the story and hoping she will succeed.

I can see where the plot is going, but I don’t mind Walsh taking me on the ride to get there. I’m not eager to head into another romance novel, but Just Look Up gives me hope for the future of the genre in CBA—it’s thoughtful, well-rounded, and just general fun.

Like The Green Mile, this is a read in process, but I can’t wait to finish it this weekend. It’s been a good summer read to close out the season.

In other news, I’m changing some of how I run/produce my content and talking about it during a live Facebook event! If you can, join me on my Facebook page this Tuesday the 29th at 8 p.m. EST! It’d be splendid to have you there!

A Prayer for Now

I work in social media, so I’ve seen how this goes, but I can’t not say something. My heart is too broken not to.

See, I don’t like getting political on the internet because I have watched time and time again as people forget that there is a very real human being at the other end of their rage-ladened comments. But this weekend, the rage went beyond the internet and out into the streets in a manner I cannot abide. As this reached far beyond political, I can also no longer abide being silent.

To see scripture references scrawled on signs in the name of hate toward fellow image-bearers in such an ugly, appalling, and shameless way makes me sick. And angry. And so homesick it hurts.

Because what happened this weekend was evil.

There was nothing justified in the action of those white supremacists—because we call ugly hateful things what they are.

I’ve watched a lot of broking things go down because the church remained silent and right now I can’t be silent.

But I have no words, just a heavy feeling of lament. My sphere of influence is small, but I’m committed not to just shed a tear, shrug a shoulder, and move on. So I sit with the tension here.

In doing some work over the weekend, I ran across some beautiful words from Martin Luther King, Jr. I think we all need:

The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool.
If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. If the church does not participate actively in the struggle for peace and for economic and racial justice, it will forfeit the loyalty of millions and cause men everywhere to say that it has atrophied its will.
But if the church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo, and, recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of mankind and fire the souls of men, imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice, and peace.
—Martin Luther King Jr., “A Knock at Midnight”

I am praying today that our imaginations are realigned with God’s. I’m praying that we remember that courage comes after obedience. I’m praying we remember that no matter a person’s race, religion, or political bent, we are image-bearers—and that is so beautiful.

Perfect love casts out fear. May this stir us closer toward perfect love.

If you want to take a next step with me, pick up a copy of Ken Wytsma’s latest release The Myth of Equality. His thoughts are so relevant and needed in these dark times.

We are never without hope. We are the salt of the earth and a light on a hill. Truth can never be drowned out and love never fails—even in the face of such blatant despicable hate. I stand for my fellow image-bearers.

 

 

Daily Graces

I was recently reminded of a blog post that posed the question, “What’s saving your life right now?” The lovely Anne Bogel talked about how we so easily can get caught up in that situation or feeling that is “killing us”, but how often do we recount the things that are saving us?

This was a great concept to think on as I find myself in a mid-season slump—the newness of summer has worn off, everything I look forward to is too distantly in the future to do anything about, and things have just slowed down. It’s not a bad season. It’s one that’s calling me to faithfulness and reordering.

I love summer—the slower pace, the great weather, all the opportunities to enjoy my people and my city. But so often, I forget about these things and instead get caught up in busy-ness, producing, and just plain discontent. I spend my time paying attention to that which is burdensome and ignore the daily graces that abound.

So here’s a short list of the daily graces I’m choosing to appreciate this week:

Good books

My July is a little slower than my June and August and it’s been a great chance to tackle my ever-growing to-be-read list. I’ve had a great time digging into Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter and Jamie Smith’s You Are What You Love. Next up? I’m breaking into my first Steven King novel—it’s so about time.

Tea

It’s no secret I have a tea problem. In attempting to carve out space for liturgy and good habits in my daily life. Starting the day with tea forces me to slow down my morning. It also gives me motivation to get up with the alarm rather than pressing snooze for the fifth-time.

Taking the time to make the tea and then enjoy the tea helps give shape and perspective for the rest of the day. It’s a little reminder to take a moment and acknowledge the one who made the tea leaves and the morning and think on who my day belongs to.

Frequent Writing Time

I’m getting better a making time for my writing during a given week. I’m not great at it, but better counts for something! I’ve been so refreshed and challenged by the editing process and it’s been really satisfying.
I think any creative outlet for even the smallest amount of time brings the refreshment one needs in a hum-drum season. It’s life-giving.

This Playlist

Just click here. Happy music makes for happy summers.

Women’s Work

Tsh Oxenreider has been hosting a great series on her podcast, The Simple Show. “Women’s Work” is a series exploring the work of artists, entrepreneurs and other great women who are doing what they love in a creative manner. I have learned so much as a storyteller and professional and it’s only half-way through the series. Worth the listen!

Fresh Fruit

One of my favorite things about summer is all the fresh things you can buy so easily from local sources! Cherries have been great this year and we’ve done so much with strawberries in our house—it’s been great! Over the weekend, I made a salad topped with peaches and goat cheese—definitely a new favorite.

 

What daily graces are you dwelling on right now? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Book Review: Dark Matter

Total honesty: I’m reviewing this book because someone needs to read it so I can talk about it with them.

It’s that good.

I have been trying to broaden my reading horizons by reading genres I’ve shied away from in the past: sci-fi, memoir, philosophy—namely things I found intimidating as a young reader.

Pulling up my big girl pants at last, I have certainly found some of my new favorite books as a result. Case in point:

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch.

After I finished this relentless sci-fi thriller, I flipped back to the copyright page to see if it was a first edition. I was and I honestly contemplated asking the library if I could buy their copy because it’s good enough to be worth something some day. (Jury is still out on if I’ll buy it from the library. It smelled like cologne which was weird…)

The book centers around Jason Dessen, a college physics professor and family man who once had the potential to be a great scientist, but gave it up to raise his son alongside his beautiful wife who gave up a promising art career to do the same.

After celebrating the scientific achievement of an old college roommate who has eclipsed him professionally, Jason is on his way back home and is kidnapped. His abductor drugs him and keeps asking him if he is happy with his life or if he has any regrets. Jason is drugged and falls unconscious.

Once he wakes, he finds he has never been married to his wife, his son was never born, and he’s made scientific strides far beyond what he thought was possible. I don’t want to spoil anything more, but I promise that the stakes only get higher and the plot even more engaging.

Crouch moves fast, spinning a truly original plot with healthy doses of suspense and humanity. He delves into physics in a way that is graspable, interesting, and tightly intertwined in the plot. (He had me interested in physics—a near miracle!)

Dark Matter takes you in and doesn’t let you go, so don’t start this unless you’re ready to devote pretty much every free moment to it.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the sci-fi genre and Dark Matter has certainly helped with that. If you read it, let me know! I’m dying to discuss with someone!

The White Feather Murders: Q&A with Rachel McMillan

I am so excited for this week’s post because I’ve had a major woman crush on Rachel McMillan for about a year now. Her debut novel The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder was such a pleasure to read and both sequels were equally—if not more—satisfying.
Her latest release, The White Feather Murders is in stores now and was the perfect vacation read! (Just in case you still haven’t figured out what you’re reading this summer!)

What inspired this story and characters of the Herringford & Watts series?

It really came in the most unusual way. My agent was having no luck when shopping my first book (a romance set during the Halifax explosion in 1917). Nonetheless, a lot of editors liked my style and asked if I had anything else. My agent, returning from a conference, said “everyone seems to be looking for romantic suspense. You love Sherlock Holmes. What about a female Sherlock?” I thought it sounded like a fun challenge. Then, I just holed myself into a favourite coffee shop for a weekend and brainstormed. I have a full notebook of things. I wanted to play on Doyle’s original name for Sherlock, Sherrinford, so Merinda became Merinda Herringford and I wanted to play on Watson so Jem Watts was born. I figured the girls needed some guys and Jasper Forth was born as a police constable and possible love interest for Jem. But…no! Jem needed someone who would completely shake her well-bred world. A muckraking reporter (who became Ray DeLuca) would be the perfect way to highlight the immigrant experience in Toronto during the early 1900s. He would also be the perfect “so-wrong-it’s-right” across-the-tracks romance for lady-like Jem. Once I had the characters, I needed to figure out WHY Jem and Merinda dressed in bowlers and trousers (for I was always most certain that they did), and a night in the Toronto archives led me to learning about Toronto’s Morality Police and how women were arrested for vagrancy and thrown into reformatories. Everything else stemmed from there….

Your stories are very grounded in place—Toronto is practically a character. How were you able to step back in time in your own town and really bring it to life?

I have always been obsessed with Toronto. Really, this series is a love letter to Toronto which remains the most multi-cultural city in the world. For me, it really was peeling back the curtain to imagine what the city streets would have looked like in Jem and Merinda’s time. Of course, many of the buildings and areas mentioned are around today; but giant skyscrapers counter them. Luckily, Toronto archives has a wonderful (and I mean wonderful) collection of thousands and thousands of photographs from the city in this period. Photographs, maps, the trolley and streetcar lines…everything was there for me to take around and compare. After that, it was just using my imagination. Some places were easier than others, of course, depending on the preservation and restoration. For example, the Elgin and Winter Garden theatres which I use a lot still very much look the same. As does Casa Loma, the inspiration for Pelham Park in The White Feather Murders.

You tie up a lot of loose ends in The White Feather Murders. What was most challenging and what was most joyous in ending this era of Herringford & Watts?

For me, the most challenging part of the entire series was the word count. Harvest House really wanted to try something new for our Netflix culture—shorter word counts, interspersed novellas—easy peasy. But packing history and character development into a book that would be shorter than most historical novels was a super big challenge for me. Luckily, I used footnotes and epigraphs and snippets from the Hogtown Herald, etc., to try and give myself some room to colour in what I couldn’t spend word count on in fuller description. Another challenge was saying goodbye. Not forever, but for now. I lived and breathed these characters for two and some years. When I wasn’t writing a novel, I was editing a novella and drafting another book in the series. They were everything. They really are some of my best friends because I was so immersed in them.  While I cannot see myself closing the door on Jem and Merinda forever (they still need to go to PEI! They still need to visit Benny in the Yukon!), setting them aside has been a challenge. I love them so much.

As for joyous moments, finally seeing that end scene with Jasper and Merinda in print. That epilogue with the two of them was the first scene I wrote before I even started on Bachelor Girl’s Guide. I always knew I wanted a scene like that and I love the way the book ends and I hope readers do, too! 😉

What character in the H&W series was the most fun to write? (And I’m disqualifying Hamish. We can talk about him shortly.😉)

Merinda. By far and away Merinda. Merinda was easy. Merinda just showed up with a voice and an attitude and her terrible trippings into amateur detection. I love her. I also really love any scene with the four leads. And Ray and Merinda standing off is a favourite. But, Merinda is so fun to write. When you create a character like Merinda, you really have the world as your oyster, because she can say and do the most unexpected things. I’m laughing about her right now.

You’re a fellow writer with a day job. How do you strike that balance? How do you orient your days to write?

Yes! True story: unless you have a husband to support you or are JK Rowling, you are most likely going to have to have a job while writing books, lol. The Herringford and Watts series had very tight deadlines, so any time I wasn’t at the office, I was working. Evenings and weekends and holidays are Godsends to writers who work. I would set weekly goals and I would stick to them. I have a subway commute to work, and I often read over what I wrote the night before and get some editing done. When it comes to concurrently marketing, I use my lunch hours at work for social media, interviews, guest blogs, etc. I can’t say it was always easy and I was often sleep deprived; but it was so worth it. My new series has somewhat more breathable deadlines.

What books, movies, music, etc. feed you as an artist?

OH! This is such a fun question. It’s no secret to anyone who follows me on social media that I am a broadway obsessed nerd. I listened to a lot of Titanic(musical) and Ragtime and Newsies while crafting Jem and Merinda’s world. I am such a voracious reader but I love historical fiction that has a super captivating and unique voice… that just pings with personality. A few loves are The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley and the Horatio Lyle series by Catherine Webb. Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy series and Deanna Raybourn’s novels are the types of book worlds I aspire to create with my mysteries. In inspirational fiction, I have been so inspired by Lynn Austin and how she advocates for women heeding to God’s calling beyond the domestic sphere. Fire by Night and A Woman’s Place are both very influential to me. I don’t know if it feeds me as an artist, but my favourite film of all time is Master and Commander. I just love how it captures a 21 book series I love (by Patrick O’Brian) into 2.5 hours. I love historical films and books that capture the essence of a time period.

You’ve been talking a lot about Hamish via social. Is there anything you can tell us about his story? (Dying to meet him!)

Hamish DeLuca is really special to me. He’s Jem and Ray’s son and he’s completely the opposite of Jem and Merinda. When his cousin Luca Valari invites him to Boston for the summer to help open a new night club, Hamish never dreams that he will be tugged into the city’s underworld….and even a murder scene. He pairs up with ex-New Haven debutante Regina (Reggie) Van Buren and has to balance his attempts at deduction with his growing feelings for his “Girl Friday.” I think what sets Hamish apart is that he suffers from an anxiety and panic disorder: things that in the 1930s during his adventures were grossly misdiagnosed. In order to spare himself primitive treatments like shock therapy and mercury pills, he is forced to try and hide his hand tremors and panic attacks. (For readers of White Feather Murders, you can see how Hamish inherited a bit of this nervous disposition from his father). I hope readers will enjoy reading about a slightly different beta hero: a guy who has a heart of gold, is fiercely loyal, but is just a little bit shy. And, like Toronto in Herringford and Watts, Boston takes a starring role. The 30s is so fun and noir-ish!

What advice would you give to any yet-unpublished writers out there?

a.) don’t be married to your first manuscript. It might not be the one that gets you in the door. Be malleable. I write in a genre unexpected to me because I was willing to follow a market trend to get my foot in the traditional publishing door.

b.) always have something in your back pocket. While your book is on submission with agents or editors, start writing something else. Editors and agents want to see that if one book isn’t working, another might just be right to fill a hole in the marketplace.

I have an ongoing blog series called The Bible College Spinster where I explore the thoughts and struggles of happily single young women in churches or communities where they are the minority. Any thoughts, encouragement, or empowerment for my fellow “spinsters”?

I love that you talk about this; because this is such a big theme in my Herringford and Watts books. I once told a friend that I felt so out of place in church circles (unmarried, no kids, no boyfriend), that I might as well have been an Edwardian woman in trousers. With the current statistic of twice as many single Christian women than men, it may well be a certainty that you don’t end up marrying: either by choice or circumstance. Personally, I never thought I would make it to my 30s without marrying; but largely this was because my formative years were filled with the Church rhetoric that we should “pray for our future husbands.” Setting the expectation that marriage and families are the driving trajectory in a woman’s life can lead her into a ton of insecurity in her adult life when things may not fall into place. I would say that you don’t need to pray for your future spouse; but you do need to pray for your future.   I would also encourage women to recognize there is nothing in the world they cannot do without a husband or boyfriend. Instead of waiting for a partner to take that trip you have always wanted to go on, save up and go by yourself. Every woman, I think, should travel on her own at least once in her life. Take a journal and a book and go. Instead of waiting for a partner to go to that concert or play you really want to see, take yourself on a date. There is a lot of freedom in being single. Do I wish I would wake up and find my own Ray DeLuca around the corner? Absolutely! But I am not going to put my life on hold for that. And neither should any woman.😉

What question do you wish would be asked in blog Q&As and what is your answer to that question?

WOW! This is so cool and I have to say I have been asked some amazing questions over the course of the series. Including this Q and A! But I’ve never been asked what my first book was. And so I will tell you. My first book was written when I was 9 or 10. It was set in Switzerland. It starred a captured milk maid named Lahna who alone with her mouse Burly were trapped in the palace for a crime they didn’t commit. It also starred two twin brothers—both princes—one the evil Bradley and the other the good white knight Christopher. They both fought for Lahna. I bought a hard-bound book from the dollar store and copied it out in my best printing. And drew castles and mice. It was clearly legendary, LOL

You can buy your own copy of the Herringford & Watt’s series here (Book 1, Book 2, Book 3). Her book with Thomas Nelson releases summer 2018.

What I Wish the Church Had Taught Me about Singleness By Gina Dalfonzo

One By One by Gina DalfonzoWhen a friend who works at Baker Publishing sent me a photo of the cover of Gina Dalfonzo’s debut release last November, all I could think was, “Hallelujiah! It’s about time someone unpacked the relationship between singles and the church!”

Gina has graciously agreed to guest post this week. Her words were and encouragement to me and I know they will be for you. One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church is in stores this week. You can purchase a copy here.

When I was in my mid-20s, I started work at a place where one of my colleagues was a 40-year-old single woman. She was a very nice woman—good at her job, easy to talk to, and pleasant to work with. But—true confession time—for a long time I felt a little bit freaked out whenever she was around.

Why? It’s hard and embarrassing to explain. Frankly, I’m ashamed when I look back at my own naïve and immature frame of mind. I felt freaked out simply because she was single and 40—and there were not many voices in my life telling me that this was a good or even an okay thing.

My mother, to be sure, had always wisely told me that there was nothing wrong with staying single if I didn’t meet a man I truly wanted to marry. But, though I appreciated the principle, I had never really taken that idea seriously. Of course I was going to find a man I wanted to marry—didn’t every woman? Just because my own dating life had been pretty sparse up to that point didn’t mean he wasn’t going to walk into my life eventually. That was how it worked.

Except that for this woman, that wasn’t how it had worked. And her presence made me think, “If it happened to her, who’s to say it couldn’t happen to me?”

But, remarkably, she seemed okay with her singleness. It was all the more remarkable because she was a Christian, and Christians, naturally, were marriage- and family-focused. That had been my experience my whole life. All the Christian dating books talked about how God would bring your destined mate into your life if you just did everything right. Rarely was the idea of permanent singleness brought up . . . and when it was, it was not usually brought up in a good way.

Like when Leslie Ludy wrote in When God Writes Your Love Story about her struggles to trust God before she was married:

I pictured myself trusting God with this precious area of my life, only to end up sitting in a long, gray, tentlike dress, staring forlornly out the window and rocking my life away in a rocking chair. . . . Looking back, I laugh at such a thought. That was before I learned what a true romantic God is. If I had only known what he had planned for me . . . I never would have doubted for a minute!

In her earnest effort to persuade people that God is in charge of our love lives—a great thing—Ludy inadvertently ended up painting a terrible picture of lifelong singleness—not such a great thing. If only she, and other Christian writers on the subject, had managed to convey that God is good and life is good whether you get married or not, what a blessing it would have been to many who started losing faith as time passed and no God-ordained spouse showed up.

If there is one thing I wish I had heard from the church in my adolescence and young adulthood, it’s this: Even if you never get married, you’ll be okay. Extended singleness is not some terrible wasteland where the unworthy are left stranded and forsaken.

Oh, it can be hard, don’t get me wrong. It can be really, really hard. But even if God mysteriously turns down your petitions for marriage, even if you go for years and years wondering why it just isn’t happening for you, that doesn’t mean He doesn’t love you. And it definitely doesn’t mean He’s left you alone. He’s not the kind of God who does that.

Today, I’m the one who’s in my 40s and still single. I don’t know whether my younger friends ever feel weird around me for that reason. If they do, that’s all right; I’ve been there, and I understand. But more than anything, this is the message I want to send them: Single life is just another kind of life. Sometimes it’s painful, sometimes it’s beautiful. Sometimes it makes you lonely, and then sometimes it brings moments that are gloriously fulfilling. It may not be the life you expected, but it can still be a really good life.

It’s true that, if you never get married, you’ll struggle and you’ll suffer—because that’s what life is like. It brings struggles and suffering to us all, in all kinds of different ways. But you can have help facing those struggles when you hold on to God and His promises—His real promises.

For, contrary to what all those well-intentioned writers and teachers and thinkers told you, God never promised that everyone gets a husband or a wife. There’s no divine formula that automatically makes it happen. God is not some cosmic Oprah who proclaims, “You get a spouse! And you get a spouse! Everybody gets a spouse!”

What He does promise is that He will never leave you nor forsake you. And with Him in your life, no matter what, you will be okay.

Gina Dalfonzo is the author of One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church (Baker, 2017).

Book Review: The Imperfect Disciple

If you haven’t realized that the unifying theme of all of my blog posts is that I do not have my act together, well…then you probably haven’t been poking around here for very long.

When I ran across Jared C. Wilson’s latest release, The Imperfect Disciple, I knew immediately that this was a book I needed to read. “Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together,” the subtitle boasts. Yeah…might as well have titled it, “The Stuff that Jesus Has Been Trying to Tell Lex for A Long While Now.”

Wilson writes with a straight-to-the-point style that is at turns both humorous and heart-wrenchingly honest. Reading this book was like having a late-night talk over beers with a friend who pulls no punches.

I do things that I know are bad and I avoid doing things that I know are good. This makes me imminently unqualified to write one of those awe- some, take-the-next-hill, “be the change you want to see in the world” books on discipleship churned out ever-presently by the evangelical leadership-industrial complex.

But on the other hand, it makes me uniquely and distinctly qualified for the hope Paul offers in response to the crushing predicament bemoaned by Romans 7.

His premise of the book comes out of Romans 7 and 8—namely Romans 7:15, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Wilson digs into this tension and does not let it go, bringing to light the full hope of Romans 8.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking so far about discipleship and worship and how I do—or don’t do—both. The Imperfect Disciple hits on the honesty we need as we figure out how to live out our faith!

Living in light of the gospel is often messy because we are broken people trying to work out the reconciliation we’ve been given with God—the holy creator of the universe! As Wilson describes it, our relationship with Jesus is like bringing home a fiancé who is “a much better catch than anybody, including yourself, ever thought you’d end up with.” (Seriously, this is his writing style. I laughed often while reading—couldn’t hold it in!)

We are broken and so in need of saving—saving that has only be done! Now we partner with the spirit in the work of sanctification. We surrender to what God is working out in us so that we may look more like Jesus. This is a daily putting on of the gospel. This is a daily reminder of the story that I have been grafted into. It is getting down on my knees, getting in the word, and accepting the great, expensive grace lavished upon me like it’s cheap.

How often I forget. How often we let ourselves become desensitized to what Jesus has done and the spirit is doing. Wilson’s book was a refreshing, honest reminder. I loved this book!

Here’s the heart of it: “Jesus is looking specifically for the people who can’t get their act together.” That you and me. And that is why so many of us need Wilson’s message.

I’ll leave you with one last nugget from the book to think on:

You and I come to Jesus looking for some kind of pick- me-up, and Jesus offers his flesh. We come looking for Jesus the life coach when what we really need is his glory. We need to behold him.

This is really the point of following Jesus—to become like him. And in order to become like him, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18, we must behold his glory.

Purchase your copy here