Book Review: Party of One

For over nearly two years now, you have all helped carry a great conversation around the Bible College Spinster series. I have loved hearing your hearts as we talk about the challenges of singles in the church and how best to love those in different seasons than our own.

Are you ready to take this conversation to your small group or book clubs?

Joy Beth Smith’s Party of One is a much needed exploration of modern singleness in the church. Her wit, wisdom, and honesty will resonate with anyone trying to lead a content and well-rounded life in the tension of longing for a significant other.

So many of the topics we’ve tackled on this site are expressed, but JB also isn’t afraid to go where I am. Her discussions on sexuality and cringe-worthy dating stories will be a comfort with any reader who has wanted to have this discussion, but never had a church community in which to do so.

Party of One had me laughing, giving poetry-slam snaps, and crying all in turn. I have not nodded along with a book in so long and it really is the desire of my heart that those struggling in their faith as a single read this book. I would also hope that any married folks or church leaders that want to care for the singles in their communities well pick up a copy.

I was reminded of my significance and encouraged by so many chapters of this book. You as a single are an important part of your circles. You are not in a waiting space and if you’re waiting for Jesus to make you not lonely, honey, you’re going to be waiting a little while. JB’s Party of One is the book I’ve been waiting for for so long. I’m thankful that Thomas Nelson recognized the importance of this topic and can’t wait for others to begin reading.

You can pick up your own copy here and don’t hesitate to tell me what you think in comments!

Advertisements

Love Vs. Loneliness

When once we get intimate with Jesus we are never lonely, we never need sympathy, we can pour out all the time without being pathetic.
—Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Reading Joy Beth Smith’s book on singleness, Party of One, I was pleasantly surprised when she slammed on the brakes after quoting this passage from Chambers that oft gets thrown at singles. “On this point, Mr. Chambers, I humbly disagree,” she writes. I didn’t even know we were allowed to disagree with Chambers!

It is easy to assume that because one is single, one also must be lonely. And that is true. But I do not think it is true because a person is single. I know plenty of married people that woke up one morning to find themselves lonelier than they ever were on their own. It would be so easy for me in moments of great longing to believe that if I were only in a relationship, this longing within me would be gone. But I know that’s a lie.

I think we get lonely because we are broken people in a broken world and loneliness is part of that bag.

I have been so fascinated by a thought from Mike Cosper’s latest, Recapturing the Wonder. He says, “We long for wonder, and we long for communion with God.” Building off a commentary of the fall from Matthew Myer Bolton’s God Against Religion, Cosper continues, “Genesis 3 isn’t fundamentally a story about broken rules but broken communion.”

How powerfully does that change our perspective of the Biblical narrative if we understand that the first sin was mankind deciding we were better off without communion—our relationship—with God? We see throughout scripture a God uncompromisingly after restored relationship with his children—his covenant with Abraham about the nation of Israel—a people of God and for God. God introducing himself to Israel on Mt. Sinai, giving them ground rules in order to have a semblance of relationship with him and a chance to pursue holiness. The ultimate coming of Jesus giving us a taste of what that unbroken communion with God is supposed to be like. Even his last supper—a picture of what he was about to do on the cross—what we now commemorate through communion—was a gathering of people around a table to relate and bear-witness with one another.

God has been after relationship with us from the beginning. He is relentless in his pursuit of that. But in order to save his people from broken communion for eternity, Jesus had to do something drastic and amazing. He had to come as a man and die in our place. And what did that mean? Complete separation from God on the cross.

Smith builds her rebuttal to the Chambers quote, “If nothing else, my singleness has taught me that you can be lonely and exhausted and in need of sympathy— even with God. Even Jesus felt this way, and in the days and moments leading to his crucifixion, we see this played out. I can think of no greater loneliness than hanging on a cross, dying for a world that despises you, and then feeling forsaken by the Father who sent you, but— glory be!— loneliness and exhaustion did not cause Jesus to crumble.”

On this side of heaven, we cannot escape loneliness. Single, married, parent, friend, child, elder—I don’t care what relationship you are a participant in, there will be moments, sometimes seasons, of loneliness. It’s part of our humanity. But how shall we respond to such deep and nagging longings?

Having an earthly relationship with Jesus does not mean I will never be lonely. (In fact, in some of my circles, I feel a loneliness because of my relationship with Jesus.)

Instead, I have come to learn that when I come to Jesus with my relational longings, he does not always meet the need relationally.  When I have come to Jesus longing for human relationship, I have found that I am more in need of an invitation. Time in prayer and meditation in the word has become a sweet invitation to behold who he is and what he’s done in love. Loneliness is often an invitation into trust promise of the perfect communion to come.

The voice that rings from the Bible is the voice of the one we long to hear from, long to know, long to find our rest in.
—Mike Cosper, Recapturing the Wonder

Most Read Blog Posts of 2017

This year has probably been the most rewarding when it comes to blogging. I have loved the conversations many of you have started with me based of what I’ve written and I’m so grateful.
Here are 5 of the top posts from this year:

1. 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.

Continue Reading…

2. Marriage, Idolatry, And The Church

Once upon a time, I was very passionately involved in the purity culture that was so active in the late nineties and early two thousands. I had kissed dating good bye and embraced authentic femininity with Jesus as my prince charming. (And I have lots of thoughts about that time in my life, but that’s a different blog post.) There was so much teaching I subjected myself to that were, frankly, lies verging on spiritual abuse.

We were taught—and many are still taught—that we need to be sexually pure for the sake of our future spouse—not for the sake of godliness or obedience. But what if there is no spouse ahead? Then what was the point?

Continue Reading…

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

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.

Continue Reading…

4.What’s on Your Summer Reading List?

I could review a book I’ve read…OR I could share with you what some lovely bookish ladies in my life are reading this summer. I am so excited about what is on my reading list for the next couple months and I knew a few people who would be equally excited about their own list.

The following are the five books on the summer reading lists of a series of folks in the writing and publishing world! I have linked to all of them so can check out these titles and add them to your own list.

Continue Reading…

5. I’m Cranky and I Know It

If I were to describe my relationship with faith and the church in this season of my life, I think there is an overarching theme that would emerge: I’m cranky.

There are parts of what I’ve grown up with that feel like a sweater I’ve grown out of—the hem doesn’t meet my jeans any longer and the sleeves are tight around my upper arms and it just feels uncomfortable. I read a book on spiritual formation for women and I wonder why so much of it is based on feelings and why it had to be directed at women instead of all of us. I leave a church service feeling grippy about the amount of first-person-personal-pronouns used in so many Christian songs today. I cross my arms feeling like I will never be respected or taken seriously in an evangelical community unless I am married with children.

Continue Reading…

How to Pray for Singles

I am so grateful for the vibrate community God has blessed me with. I am surrounded by sisters and brothers in Christ who encourage me creatively, socially, but especially spiritually. God has gifted wise older women to speak truth and provide wisdom during my dark days. He has given me a family who show me grace and forbearance and love daily.

As such, there are many people who know I would like a spouse and who would also like for me to have a spouse. And I think we all know and love some singles that would love to be bringing someone home with them this Thanksgiving, but for many of us, that’s just not going to be the case.

So here is what I have to say on behalf of those just waiting to be asked the question over dinner on Thursday, “So, are you seeing anyone?”

When the answer is “no, not at the moment,” let your answer not be, “Well, I’ll pray that you will!” (And certainly don’t let it be, “Why not?” Seriously. Just don’t.)

Don’t only pray that the singles in your life find a spouse.

Pray that with or without one, they will pursue a relationship with God. Pray that they find encouragement in the word, Spirit, and people of God. Ask that there be fruit in their personal pursuit of holiness.

Pray that they will find a community that builds them up and encourages them to thrive where God has placed them. Pray against feelings of inadequacy, incompleteness, or loneliness in the body of Christ. Ask that they be surrounded not only by other singles pursuing godliness, but also believers in many different season that they may bless and be blessed by the beautiful diversity of the Church.

Ask that in their work, they may find purpose. Pray that in the moments they are discouraged by their job or feel that this is just a pitstop to what God may have next, that they remember there identity does not come from a job title, but from Christ. Pray that they take full advantage of the mission field where God has placed them—wherever their feet end up.

Lament that our church does not always know how to include the singles in their congregation. Pray for your own church in the singles there. Pray for sensitivity on how to welcome those who are not part of a nuclear family into the fray. Pray for leadership that looks to unify a diverse body.

Express gratitude that God does not make all of our journey’s the same! Pray that the singles in your life find contentment and beauty in this as well. Pray that they would seek God’s plan for their singleness. Pray that their longings are met in Christ before they are met in a spouse. Pray that they know they are significant with or without a significant other.

We covet your prayer just as any other brother or sister in Christ would. But I ask that those prayers be for full and missional lives over simply to be married.

Marriage, Idolatry, And The Church

I am so thankful that so many of you reading this want to be part of the dialogue about marriage, singleness, and the church. I also love that your approach–and the approach I try to have–is that of all-of-us-in-this-together mentality rather than us-versus-them. Your responses are encouraging, enlightening, and just plain fun to interact with.

After my last post on marriage and singleness went live, I received a really thoughtful response asking for clarification on a statement I made and a great conversation emerged. I’d love to bring that conversation to our community at large today.

I stated and still stand behind the statement that the church (especially the evangelical side of the body) tends to idolize marriage. But how do I see this? Here are some of the thoughts that came out of this great dialogue.

Once upon a time, I was very passionately involved in the purity culture that was so active in the late nineties and early two thousands. I had kissed dating good bye and embraced authentic femininity with Jesus as my prince charming. (And I have lots of thoughts about that time in my life, but that’s a different blog post.) There was so much teaching I subjected myself to that were, frankly, lies verging on spiritual abuse.

We were taught—and many are still taught—that we need to be sexually pure for the sake of our future spouse—not for the sake of godliness or obedience. But what if there is no spouse ahead? Then what was the point?

I remember banking on the words of a popular purity author of the time that essentially amounted to “if you pursue a relationship with God and do everything you’re supposed to as a good Christian girl and you want a marriage hard enough, he will bring that to you.” But is that not just a slanted version of a prosperity gospel? This was based off of the Psalm saying that God will bring us the desires of our hearts. But what if he won’t give us the thing we desire, but instead redeemed desires?

So often the dialogue for young people regarding a future of marriage is that it is the only and expected option. This is what I mean by the idolizing of marriage. It is the assumption that it happens for everyone and if it does not, something is wrong.

The stats a single friend has shared—and according to a Barna study are correct—is that there are twice as many Christian young women in the world than Christian young men. If we are supposed to seek to be equally yoked, the church is going to be seeing more singles, not because the church is falling to the ways of the world, but because marriage is not the only plan God has.

In an unbroken world, yes, I think everyone would find their person, but in our broken world, God draws together so many of us with different stories to make up his body. I think we need to acknowledge this possibility and diversity of God’s plan earlier than we have been with our young people—from jr. high and high schoolers as well as those in adulthood.

Here is a question my friend asked, that I’d love for you to weigh in on: how can these two groups—married and single—not just coexist, but thrive together, and benefit one another? Please weigh in in the comments below!

My friend, Gina Dalfanzo addresses much of this in her fabulous book, One By One. I highly recommend you pick up a copy if this discussion interests you.

Sweating Like A Single in a Marriage Series

When my church announced they would be kicking off the fall with a sermon series on marriage, yes, I rolled my eyes.

Because “Don’t we talk about marriage enough?” and “Isn’t the Church idolizing marriage?” And perhaps the answer to these questions is yes, but I was opporating out of a blind spot in my judgment. And isn’t that always the case with our sin?

One of our pastors who has been a long suffering mentor of mine told me he would be using a recent blog post of mine in his first sermon in the series, which was touching and humbling and blah, blah, blah.

Yeah, I was more concerned that my writing was being shared for the sake of showing all those married people that we’re here too! Singleness is just as relevant! (Hear the bitter demand for retribution?)

We’re living in a very devisive landscape these days. You can’t get on any social media site without reading something that demands you pick a side (preferably their own).

We stand on our soapboxes trying to out-yell one another into submitting to our own brand of justice. The noise is so loud and our justification so blinding that we don’t see the man on the soapbox across from us as human any longer. We just see him as wrong.

But scripture (not Abraham Lincoln!) tells us that a house divided cannot stand.

Here I was last Sunday waiting to hear that I as a single was a valued and necessary part of my community and I was annoyed when there was no application that applied to me specifically. I was too caught up in the us-and-them mentality that permeates my weekdays that I brought that into Sunday. I was operating out of defensiveness after not getting my way rather than thinking of my neighbor.

Jesus’ ministry was about laying down his right for the sake of the other and that is what he calls us to. Yes, the Church may idolize marriage, but trying to swing the pendulum to singleness helps no one.

“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (If Paul was writing not to Galatia, but to the church in in America, I think he’d include “married or single, right or left”.)

Perhaps I need to get off my soapbox and interact with those I disagree with out of compassion rather than judgement. Perhaps I should seek unity and love before I seek being right only. This is the freedom my salvation bought.

We mourn division in the church, but what are we actually doing to heal it? Because if we think just screaming what we’re right about until those who disagree change their minds, that gap just continues to widen. What does it look like for us to climb down from being justified and give up my right in order to love my neighbor well?

Leading a Romantic Life When You’re not in a Romance

One of the pleasures of seeking contentment in the season I’m in has been pursuing a romantic life over a life filled with romance.

What does that even mean? Great question!

My evenings are not filled with dates very often, but that does not mean that I need to wait to experience beautiful and exciting things—a thought-trap I think we can fall into when waiting for romantic love.

That’s a lie! Why wait to experience the beauty life has to offer until one is in a relationship?

I cannot tell you the joy I have found in visiting the local botanical gardens with just myself and a journal, in planning vacations with dear friends, in sitting in my favorite hotel lobby with a good book and cup of tea.

I live in a city that begs to be explored and while some of that exploration would be fun to do as a date night, why should I miss out when I find myself alone? Why should any of us.

Pursuing a romantic life means making time for the things that bring me pleasure. It means stopping to enjoy created beauty. It’s exploring the small things that make up a life that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Here’s what this looks like for me:

    • Traveling Europe alongside close friends.
    • Spending an evening in with nothing to do but drink a cup of tea and listen to the poetry of a new record.
    • Taking myself on a coffee date.
    • Doing nothing but read for an entire weekend.
    • Bringing a journal to the local botanical gardens for a morning of prayer and reflection.
    • Driving hours just to go to see my favorite band play in concert.
    • Re-reading my favorite book from childhood each summer
    • Wearing heels and the brightest red lipstick I can find because it makes me feel like an old Hollywood actress.
    • Making last minute plans with a friend to talk about the real stuff over wine.

And it’s not just enjoying what I know I like, but pushing myself to experience the new and different, and maybe slightly uncomfortable. I have plans to take myself out to dinner. I’m starting to dream up a trip to take by myself.

Living a romantic life is participating, not in the life you dreamed of, but the pretty-damn-beautiful life you’ve been gifted. It’s taking note of the glorious and grand in the midst of the minute and mundane.

This has been my adventure and I want to hear about yours. How are you pursuing a romantic life?

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).

Bible College Spinster: Single, but Single-Minded

 

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

A pastor I really respect from my church made the statement that to have a pure heart meant that one was single-minded.

Coming out of a Christian culture obsessed with sexual-purity, my teenaged self had always just assumed the beatitude was connecting to saving sex for marriage. Hearing this new definition as a young adult struck a chord with me.

Single-minded. Having one single driving purpose. A lone resolve.

Had I ever been after just one thing?

I wrote previously about the realization that I have been pursuing things other than Christ. This has been the case for, well, forever. Encountering the question, “Have I ever been single-minded?” The answer was no, Definitely not.

This begged a different question, though: If I had other driving purposes competing for my attention, what were they?

There were multiple answers, but the biggest one was embarrassing to me.

I had read a book in high school that was very influential in me devoting my life to Christ. It was also very influential in cultivating some very militant thoughts toward dating, modesty, and culture that have take the ten years since reading to be set straight by scripture and patient, truth-minded people. God uses all things, I guess…

The author stated that she believed that if you truly wanted to be married in your heart-of-hearts, God would grant that in his time. She based this out of Psalm 37, where David writes, “Delight yourself in the LORDand he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Listening to the pastor talk about single-mindedness all those years later, I was struck by the fact that I had been following God for all the wrong reasons.

I had literally been pursuing God in hopes that he would provide someone to pursue me. And that wasn’t happening and I was growing disillusioned.

I was following Jesus because I believed that if I followed him hard enough, he would give me the desires of my heart. Like he was a magic boy-friend producing genie.

Call me double-minded with impure motives. Color me foolish. Trust me, I felt it. By the grace of God, I felt it.

In the couple years since being presented with this, I’ve since had a chance to look at Psalm 37 again. And here is the question I have:

I was looking at that verse like God was in an infomercial. “Follow me in the next ten minutes and I’ll throw in whatever you want!” What if he is not promising to give us what we desire right now if we throw in our lot with him, but something bigger.

What if he is saying that when we follow him, he will give us something for our hearts to truly desire—that he will give us desire in and of itself?

As I have prayed for single-mindedness rather than an end to my singleness, I have found that the spirit is cultivating something new in me.

Yes, I still long for a partner, but there is a new trust that if that doesn’t happen, it will be all right. There is beginning to be a desire Jesus more than a husband. Delighting in the Lord becomes more and more the desire of my heart.

I still cannot say than I am single-minded, but by God’s grace,  he has begun to change my tastes. He is cultivating a purity of heart that I am not capable of doing on my own. This cultivation reveals my desire for love and acceptance, and wholeness that my double-hearted nature wants me to believe will be fulfilled with lesser things. It is through time in the word, in prayer, and in community with the body of Christ that my heart sees what it needs to focus on and what it truly desires.

So yes, I may be single. But that also may be what God is using to cultivate single-mindedness.