Destroying DEVOLSON

If I take a month-long break from blogging, you know two things happened:

  1. Life got insanely busy, and
  2. I spent important time fixing life.

I’m done now!

In the last month, I’ve:

  • Had my car in and out of the shop
  • Suffered an Achilles strain after working to improve my average mile time
  • Been teaching Pride & Prejudice, Macbeth, like a gazillion Spanish verbs, Thomas Paine, Creveceour, and a little bit of Poe just for funsies
  • Wrote a syllabus (from scratch) for the AP Rhetoric and Argumentation class that I teach in order to send it to the College Board for approval (oh, hello, American rhetoric, speech, and Transcendentalists)
  • Rehearsed music to record for Blue Sky Music last weekend (check out my composer friend Lyle Stutzman’s new website: https://blueskymusic.net/)
  • Took a much-needed travel break to Virginia with dear friends in which I took in a livestreamed Gospel Identity Conference by Tim Keller and saw a show at the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars playhouse, the world’s only recreation of the original indoor Blackfriars Theatre in London circa 1655! (We saw The Fall of King Henry; it was tragic.)
  • Practiced problem-solving. Back story: you know how the world’s funniest blogging teacher, “Love, Teach” has coined the term DEVOLSON to describe the Dark Evil Vortex of Late September, October, and November? To be honest, I’ve actually never really understood the term because for me the Vortex (that is, the most deplorable winter blues) doesn’t come until January, February, and March. (You’ll remember last year’s tearful post about the drudgery of winter weight sessions.) Friends, DEVOLSON has arrived! October was brutal! And November’s evil time change? What in the samhill is a 4:30 sunset? #extremelygrouchyrunner.  In the midst of all childish whining, I stumbled upon two fantastic articles about mental and emotional health (which, if you are wondering if you have, means you might have some adjustments to make). I discovered I have room to improve when it comes to managing stress because, in fact, more often than not, I *don’t* manage stress. I just complain about it. (Not exactly the most emotionally healthy thing to do.) I’m learning that it’s necessary to *deal* with stress and work to remove it. This requires grit, determination, and flexibility.
    IMG_1623So in the interest of knocking DEVOLSON in the teeth, I’m developing all kinds of goals for January, February, and March in order to practice the emotionally healthy habits I’ve learned about, including but not limited to:
  1. finding balance between work, rest, and activity by increasing daily prayer and Bible reading, and by exchanging empty activity for more restful, renewing activities like reading (lots of great titles on my Christmas list and current bookshelf)
  2. continued problem solving around large and little daily stresses
  3. minding physical health by developing a winter workout regimen (which I created while eating a giant piece of chocolate cake from my friend). Ugh. Guys. This year’s Thanksgiving morning run was a fantastic, sun-lit jaunt over flat Mid-western plains (oh, how I’ve missed you, Ohio!), and the joy I experienced during that run reminded me why activities of discipline are so important for my life. Anyway, winter running goals for me include (guess what) more problem solving! Particularly around Achilles injuries and what to wear on windy winter runs. I think eccentric single-leg calf exercises and Black Friday deals will do the trick for me!
  4. practicing thankfulness in order to be more positive (which actually brings health benefits!) Today’s thankful list:
    • my car is out of the shop,
    • what Achilles pain?
    • my syllabus is on its way to the College Board,
    • a brand new Tim Keller book for the mornings and Psalms for the evenings,
    • the poem I saw on Sunday, driving home from our concert after recording, during the most storybook of purple dusks in Lancaster County, as two dark, slow cyclists crested a hill, and I wound through quiet farmland, past farm ponds still as glass, lavender mirrors, with carols ringing in my head, and bare scrags and gray trees silhouette against the good, good sky.
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Food I Made in the Kitchen

Once a year, I make something in my kitchen to eat.

(Last year I cooked chicken in red wine, once.)

Since many of you enjoy reading my annual forays into That Remote World of Actually Cooking, I thought I would share with you this year’s Food I Made in the Kitchen.

This year I baked Christmas Morning scones. In October. Because I’m really bad (LIKE REALLY BAD) at occasions and birthdays and all that, so I normally plan celebrations way in advance. The more frequent tendency, though, is to pretend to mindlessly float past friends’ birthdays, anniversaries, and baby showers, when in reality I’m nearly choking on poison guilt (much like the time I accidentally bought pumpkin gnocchi instead of regular, and cooked it with a red sauce anyway, and tried to eat it). The simple truth: if I don’t plan for a holiday three months ahead of time, Christmas and birthdays more often than not come out looking a little like this:

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I found the recipe for Christmas Morning scones from anediblemosaic.com and was simply captivated, despite the fact that nearly all the ingredients were things I do NOT have in my cupboards. (Don’t you hate that?) Things like flour, sugar, and baking powder. Anyway, I bit the bullet and bought the ingredients.

Actually, the only ingredient that was a splurge to buy was fresh rosemary. Wal-Mart only had organic, so I picked some up and then lingered over the gluten-free brown rice flower but finally put it back because I wanted to make something where I actually follow the recipe for once.

Was really confused that the recipe said to preheat the oven to 450 and to use parchment paper, since parchment paper ACCORDING TO THE BOX is only safe to 420.

Aaaaaaanyway, I prepared the dough, a most amusing experience, since I’ve never worked with dough as an adult, and was a little confused when the “dough” I made had the irregular consistency of old makeup, like really powdery Play-doh, with globs of dry flour on top. Instead of whisking it more, I got out a hand-mixer, but nothing I did really made the dough come together as such, so I just balled it all up into a sort of big Play-doh ball and shoved it in the freezer, before and after which I furiously googled and image-searched “scone dough consistency” to no avail. I was really giggling at this point. But maybe that was because of the fumes. Chopping up so many bits of rosemary, leaves quite the trance-inducing aroma.

When I removed the chilled dough from the freezer, I discovered that I own no rolling pin, so I decided to mash my Play-doh ball into a round disk with my hands. I cut the circle into eight pie-shaped pieces and plopped them on the parchment paper. I turned down my oven because ACCORDING TO THE BOX parchment paper is only safe to 420!

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I spent the next 14 minutes nervously dancing around the oven door opening, closing, and re-opening it multiple times (til it spoke to me, “Nevermore!”). The little bits of butter in the batter sizzled a bit. My parchment paper turned a little brown in spots and started to smell like almost-burnt popcorn. The scones didn’t hardly rise, but I was a little proud of the life-giving aroma (minus the hint of almost-burnt popcorn) coming forth from my oven and apartment, so that when I passed my neighbor in the hallway while taking out my trash, I smiled inwardly to myself at all the good I was unleashing on the world.

Moment of truth: pulling my scones out, I had no idea how to tell if they were done. A little jello-y in the middle, but are they supposed to be like chocolate chip cookies? The best chocolate chip cookies are a little moist in the middle when you pull them out of the oven, sort of underbaked. Is this how I should treat scones? I was a little disappointed to find that the flour I had sprinkled down before “rolling out” my scones caused the bottoms to burn. But I picked up a piping hot, slightly moist half-scone, tossing it back and forth like the hot potato is was, until I could hold it enough to taste the moist dough, where nutmeg, rosemary, and vanilla were all vying for my attention. The first taste confirmed it. THESE SCONES ARE MOST DELICIOUS.

The thing I like best about these savory and sweet scones is that the flavors are so present that a single scone is very satisfying. For example, I had just one scone after an 8 mile run on Satuday, and combined with two eggs soft-boiled to perfection (for a little protein), I felt perfectly full.

Make these scones. Offer me scone-baking tips.

You’re welcome for this post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love on the Internet: When You’re Bigger Than a Personal Brand

Now that I’m no longer spending every single moment of my life counting down to race day, I get to write about some of my other passions! (Like reading, for example.)

This week’s post points out a few things on the internet this week worth reading.

Obviously, my faithful readers will be most interested in the following two articles:

You guys will also appreciate these New Yorker cartoons:

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aaaaaand one for the road:

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Also, this is funny, even though it’s Miley Cyrus, simply because #millennials and #vocalfry. It’s basically the hopes and fears of an entire generation in an acai bowl.

Speaking of the opinion we have of ourselves, and what we want others to think about us (which Jane Austen’s Mary Bennet differentiates as vanity, for the latter, and pride, for the former PARDON THE OBLIGATORY NERDY TEACHER COMMENT), I recently read this great article in The New York Times “Modern Love” feature about how we think of ourselves through social media and how sometimes we (social media users, that is) change to become something that doesn’t reflect their very human “contradictions and desires.”

In a world of personal branding, is there any room for the human with all her normal inconsistencies, her contradictions, the thousand diversions and dozen strong passions that drive her? No, instead, we are only allowed to be one version of ourselves, a curated person that we build “without blueprints, not knowing that she would become a wall with no doors.”

In the essay, Clara Dollar cheapens our attempts at personal brands with her imagery that compares her Instagram account to a cardboard box: “And so it went, and I kept at the beautiful box I was crafting for myself. A shoe box covered in stickers and fake jewels. The kind you would make for a pet parakeet you have to bury…. In the morning I would post something silvery and eye catching. It was always just tinfoil, though, not truth. And I prayed no one would notice.”

Not wanting to offend my friends with successful personal brands (some of them authentic, quite un-annoying, actually), I suppose I should admit that the connection that I feel with Clara Dollar is as personal as this post.

What happens when Shasta’s Fog doesn’t reflect its author? What happens when, like Anne Bradstreet, an artist looks at her work, calling it a ruined child, an “ill-formed off-spring of my feeble brain”? What happens when she laments her “rambling brat (in print),” when she’d rather cast it “by as one unfit for light”? What happens when the shoe box is an auditorium too small, my mike is too loud, when I can’t say what wants to be said because it’s understood that Shasta’s Fog is smothered in “community” expectations? And what happens when I find that Shasta’s Fog’s silence may not be only a feature of a little blog, but a little closer to the quietness I’m told to curate because I live in a time and place where argument and discussion are not feminine, nor “Christian”?

Ah, well. Let me not finish something with something with a bit of “depth, romanticism, and pain.”

I’ll just end with something light-hearted and funny so people keep coming back for more.

…Except that, I can’t find a funny meme just now, and all I really want to say is in that last paragraph.

 

The One with the Marathon

I arrived too early. Squatting for an hour in the dark under orange lights on a parking slab, staring at my shoes, and pondering the upcoming insanity was a little much. I couldn’t play calming music because my old ipod’s battery was barely going to last during the whole marathon. Also, I’m *shy* and private about my running, so talking to other runners wasn’t really a possibility. So I basically stood in the forever-long bathroom lines, twice. I finished dynamic stretching and then sucked down an espresso-flavored GU gel. I hopped the fence into my slow-poke corral and jammed my earbuds in, but the thumping starting line drowned out Newsboys from 2006.

 

 

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I tried not to cry.

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Next, we (10,000 other runners and I) jogged toward the start line, and were off. I forced myself to slow down because I had heard that the entire first mile was downhill, causing runners to go out too fast. A bobbing labyrinth of neon-colored, nylon-covered runners snaked out in front of me, the end disappearing where the periwinkle horizon met dark row-houses. The sun wasn’t even up yet.

We were breathing hard. It was only 60 degrees, but we were all drenched in sweat after the first two miles due to the 89% humidity. The sun played hide-and-seek behind white clapboard homes while we followed the Akron Marathon’s infamous blue line down streets of pot-holes and fresh black pavement.

 

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The neighbors came. Little kids with grandmas, retirees in athletic wear, a confused-looking foreign family in dress clothes, cops and firemen, a woman leaning out her second-story window, someone’s grandmother dancing in her front yard with a tambourine, Neighbor Bob with a cardboard table full of vodka shots, and soccer moms with cow bells. Everyone was there.

I couldn’t wait for the first six miles to end. It was in these first few miles that I gave in to the heat and humidity. I desperately wanted to finish all 26.2 miles, so I made the most careful decision of my life. (Who am I kidding, all of my decisions are the most careful ones.) I majorly slowed down so that I wouldn’t overheat later, or develop cramps.

One of the most beautiful moments of the race was in this first six miles, when we crossed the All America Bridge for the second time. I had shaken out my nerves, I was nearing the end of my “easy” section, resigning myself to the idea of running for several more hours, and the sun was dancing through the trees below the bridge, music was pumping, and a crazy volunteer in an animal suit was cheering through a megaphone.

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Taking my first on-the-road gel at mile 6 felt like a good milestone, and accomplishing another climb and downhill section around mile 9 felt good as well. I tried to ignore the fact that at mile 10 I started to feel it in my legs. It felt like I had already “worked,” as it were, which is sort of a problem since I usually try to conserve enough that I don’t feel like I’m working at least until the half-way point at mile 13. And I knew I had a big climb at mile 13.

And mile 13 couldn’t come fast enough. The race was CLOGGED for the first 13 miles. At 12.5, the half-marathoners turned left, and the 900 marathoners plus umpteenth relay-ers went right. (By the way, where were my marathon compadres? I felt totally alone in the second half, seemingly surrounded only by relay-ers in their fresh, non-sweaty pink spandex!) Sweet jazz band on Market Street, by the way.

By the time I conquered the hill at the half marathon mark and charged ahead a few more miles, I was on a roll. I *knew* I had it in the bag. Mile 16 thoughts: “Ten more miles? Easily done. Only two sets of five miles.”

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My biggest complaint from this part of the marathon was that around mile 18, none of the fluid stations were cold anymore. It’s actually amusing how angry I got. I had nothing else to direct my emotions toward, so I sabotaged the dear race volunteers.

“You had one job. ONE. JOB!” I seethed, forcing down yet another swallow of warm Gatorade, as race volunteers cheered me on, next to stacks of pre-poured paper cups that were roasting in the 80 degree sun.

As far as hydration and fueling is concerned, I alternated between the provided Powerade and water, but I did wear my hydration belt because of the heat. A few of the fluid stations were spaced further apart than I was comfortable with for the weather, so I decided to play it safe and bring my own fluids just in case. I took gels at miles 6, 11, 17, and 22.

The heat was VERY noticeable during the last quarter of the race as we wound our way through shady neighborhoods, but the course spectators were amazing. Every year, practically the entire community tail-gates in their front yards, offering sweet snacks, icee pick-me-ups, marshmallows, and the occasional garden hose spray-down for heat-weary runners. I zig-zagged from side-to-side down these streets gliding under spritzing hoses.

Heading back into the downtown area, it felt strange to me that in miles 23-24, I really struggled to celebrate my accomplishment. It would have made sense to me if in that moment of the race I began to feel a rush of exhilaration, a rush of pride, but I didn’t. As I was finishing the last few miles of the race, I wrestled with why I wasn’t feeling joy. I thought it was strange, considering that I was about to complete a goal that had been 10 years in the making. (When I was a teenager, I was inspired to run a marathon upon hearing that a family friend of ours [one of the sweetest, most Godly, feminine, and soft-spoken young woman I had ever met] trained and ran a 26.2 mile race. “That’s… strong,” I thought.)

At that point, while I’d been avoiding non-race-official fluids and snack stands (at the advice of race directors), I threw all caution into the wind and started grabbing any-and-everything shoved in my face by cheerful spectators. I also demanded ice at official fluid station #17 as I jogged by.

“There was some in the water,” a volunteer said, wringing her hands, “but it melted!”

You lie! I hissed to myself, as a bag of ice was shoved in my face. I dumped a fist-full of ice into the water, shook the water, grasped the cubes again, and started shoving them down my shirt. I gulped the ice-cold water.

I rounded another bend of orange cones, and I was greeted by the familiar downtown streets and lines of traffic as roads started opening up again. A Hispanic man sat by himself in a lawnchair, under a tiny city tree, the yellow sun boiling above his bucket hat. A small cooler of ice and Gatorade sat by hit feet.

“Ice,” I hoarsely croaked.

He pointed to the cooler, and I grabbed another fist-full to stuff down my clothes. SO. HOT.

I was starting my last mile when the leg cramps started. I knew if I didn’t start walking soon, I would go down on pavement. A tiny bottle of ice cold water was shoved in my face. I greedily took it, sipping a few drops and pouring the rest on my head.

I forced myself to start walking. Where’s the blind girl? I asked myself. Only a few paces back, I had passed a vision and hearing-impaired runner. I only knew she was so, due to the sign pinned to her back. She probably ended up beating me.

Up ahead, I saw the turn into the baseball stadium, and I noticed the official race photographers. Yikes, can’t be walking now! Quickly reverted to running form and formed the biggest cheesiest smile I could manage. (Not that I wasn’t happy. I was. But I also pose for cameras.)

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Hundreds of runners lined the yellow finisher shoot as I ran toward the finish line. I leaned over it in my victory stance.

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Finished.

My papa yelled my name above the baseball stadium din and snapped some photos with his flip phone. (Dads are awesome.)

Jogging through the finisher festival to get my medal, I found an empty patch of grass for stretching. I lay on the field, in the green grass, the warm sun warming my tired body. It felt heavenly.

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My biggest fans, my best supporters. 
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My sister, who left her babykins at home, drove two hours to cheer me on. 

The biggest question that this marathon needed to answer for me was where I stand with running. I’ve heard it said that your first marathon is defining in that people finish and say either two things, “THAT WAS AWESOME! I can’t wait to do it again sometime!” or “Never. Again. In my life.”

Before the race, I was really worried how I would respond.

And now I know.

“That was awesome! I can’t wait to do it again sometime!”

Case in point? This morning, Saturday, I got up at 6:00 and ran four miles before meeting friends for a 9:00 a.m. brunch.

The running life = the good life.

Silencing the Cynic

A smile spread across my face as I jogged out of my friend’s driveway, hitting pavement in the morning hush. The familiar running rhythms spread through my body. I lifted my eyes, surveying dewy cornfields spread for quiet miles. A pink, bouncy-ball sun peeked out above the tree-lined horizon. This is going to be a good run, I smiled, ignoring the fact that I had 18 miles staring me in the face.

Inhaling a prayer of gratefulness, I laughed out loud at the morning’s beauty. Last night’s thunderstorms left a cool breeze and some wisps for clouds. I begged God for more cloud cover as I rounded my first turn, heading west, and the sun rose higher.

A trip to Indiana for a friend’s wedding meant last week’s long run was a bit of a guilty pleasure—flat country roads are my familiar Midwestern playground. I scheduled three six-mile out-and-back loops, setting up a fueling station near my car. That morning, my sentimental gratefulness soon ground to a halt as dark, negative thoughts crowded out my mind’s sunny atmosphere.

This year’s marathon training has hit me pretty hard in the mental game area. Lacking the wisdom of Solomon, I signed up for Ohio’s hilliest marathon for my first 26.2 mile race. I reasoned that since I would be training on hills in Pennsylvania that a hilly race would be no big deal. Besides, several reviewers mentioned that the hills “aren’t so bad” and “break up the monotony.” Several first-timer marathoners also praised the race’s organization and experience, so I thought I was making a good choice. HOWEVER. Let me be the first to say that running/racing on hills definitely takes some practice. The hills I’m training on are destroying my times, not to mention my brain game.

Long runs on hills have been abominable. Besides applying laser-like focus to dynamic stretching, race nutrition, hydration, and negative splits, I’ve been working at developing hill techniques, which include adjusting my stride and ignoring my times (but not too much!) Erg. IT’S SO HARD.

Lacking success in most of these areas, I nearly accepted the mediocre non-progress I’d been making. I was so grateful to just finish 18 miles last weekend on flat roads just to remind myself that I can actually run that distance (on flat roads, that is).

But the mind games! I find it so strange that my body is stronger than my mind! I ALWAYS have more when I get to the end of a run. It’s my MIND that refuses to cooperate, offering these sort of passive/aggressive de-motivators:

“You’ve worked enough, maybe stop running for a bit.” “This isn’t that important of a run.” “In this humidity, it’s impossible to give more.” “If you give everything you’ve got, you’ll run out of steam.” “Careful, that’s too fast.” “See? There’s no way you can keep that pace.” “Hills? That’s for athletes, people who actually run.”

FOLKS, IT HAS BEEN ROUGH!

I’ve been aggressively googling “How to Improve Your Mental Game,” and finding glib little mantras to repeat to myself during my runs. Which, strangely, actually help. Things like,

  • “Be ‘now’ focused.”
  • “For hills, focus on effort output. Keep the effort the same as straight stretch running.”
  • “Being overtime is good, just pull back a bit. Being undertime is good, all you need is a little more. Turn BOTH statements into positive ones.”
  •  “What you do in training, you will do on race day.”
  • “Run the race that you know you can.”
  • “Finish every run with a half-mile hard effort, no letup, not an inch short.”
  • Plus Christopher McDougall’s mantra from Born to Run, a la Tarahumara: “Think easy, light, smooth, and fast.”

Other bits of advice I’ve been clinging to are:

  • “Pessimism is a runner’s top mental roadblock.”
  • “Negativity, whether it’s worry or doubt, often leads to self-defeating behaviors including slowing down, cutting a workout short, or dropping out of a race.”
  • “Fatigue is simply a sign that you need to put your mind on something positive.”
  • “Determine what you want to accomplish the most, and make the necessary lifestyle changes to make that dream a reality.”
  • “If you take action, results follow. Do speedwork; get faster. Eat less; lose weight. Stop negative thinking; punch through pain.”

I’m a pretty cynical person. I’m not the type to draw strength from little mantras, quotes, or self-help. But it’s been so illuminating for me to notice how my thought patterns of negativity, pessimism, and cynicism have been affecting my running, effectively destroying my progress! (Not to mention the that I’m sure these thought patterns affect me in more than just running.)

I’m learning to silence the cynic by simply being more positive, celebrating the tiny wins, and, despite non-progress, continuing to make good self-care decisions.

For example, besides the syrup-slow adjustment to hill training, I’m focusing on sleep. Eight or nine hours is the goal at this training volume, but with school back in session (WELCOME BACK TO SCHOOL!), sometimes I’m doing well if I get six hours of sleep a night. In any case, I’m working on guarding my sleep like a dog and I’m honestly turning down social invitations in order to *not die* from sleep deprivation. #whateverittakes

Interestingly, after weeks of disappointing non-progress… after weeks of avoiding friends, fries, and ice cream… and after weeks of mediocre runs, unmet goals, and apathetic eating… I HAD THE MOST FANTASTIC TWELVE-MILE LONG RUN on Saturday!

Leading up to the run, I *ignored* the mediocre, flat 18-miler the week before, and instead carefully trained and hydrated, even skipping a run, choosing sleep over training. Throughout the week, I filled my crockpot with protein and healthy carbs. I bought gluten-free bread in hopes of it curing a fueling problem.

After a solid 9 hours of sleep Friday night, I trudged to my kitchen and calmly ate my peanut butter & honey (gluten-free) toast and sipped my earl gray. The temperature was barely above 60 as I strapped on my running belt full of water, Gatorade, and GU gels. Feebly trotting up the first hill, the dark thoughts returned with a vengeance and never left until mile 4. But by mile 4, I was running faster than goal pace, which I kept inching toward until mile 10, when I just let loose and ran like crazy! I seriously did not start “working” until mile 10. The gluten-free fueling, the perfect weather, the focused mind control, weeks of persistent training, and resolve to GIVE YOUR GIFT resulted in one of the strongest runs of my life. (Pennsylania motorists were probably more than a little curious at my silly grin which I could not wipe off my face.)

I keep forgetting how daily decisions are an investment in the future me. I’ve never been more surprised at digging deep and finding strength. But this week I was reminded how daily discipline is the key to lasting strength. This has spiritual meaning for me beyond running, so while I’m celebrating a somewhat frivolous “win,” I continue to ponder the possibilities of the future me, and how my daily decisions support (or don’t support) that person.

And I’ll work on ignoring that little Cynic on my shoulder.

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Empowering Single Women as Leaders in the Home

My pet discussion topic this summer has been about women’s issues, and in June I enjoyed essentially a two-week conversation with my parents about how headship is or isn’t experienced by single women, if all women must submit to all men (or not) according to Scripture, the fact that Mary and Martha learned from Jesus himself (and not through their brother Lazarus) and what this means for women and their ability to understand and teach theology, whether men can learn from women or not, and the fact that *most men* aren’t called into the ministry either.

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Some of the driving factors of our discussion were this book and an excerpt from Tertullian (155-240 A.D.), an early church father, on the veiling of virgins.

My recent tour with Oasis Chorale also prompted several conversations about single living and the roles of single women in the church, and in one conversation, I mentioned how Tertullian himself recognizes the fact that some of the headship principles of I Corinthians 11 seem to be speaking to *married* women and men, and he admits that “covered” and “uncovered” virgins were regularly admitted to communion in second century churches. (Check your ESV Bibles; this is how it’s translated!) However, Tertullian indeed offers extensive logical arguments for the veiling of virgins, all of which can be read here. (Another note: Tertullian points out that the exception was Corinth, where virtually all virgins covered their heads.)

It is clear, however, that Tertullian imagines “covered” virgins in a temporary light, and that he expects that virgins eventually marry. He doesn’t really know what to do with, or what to call, a woman who does not foresee marriage, suggesting that a permanent unmarried virgin would have to be some strange third class, or “third generic class.” (It sure feels like that sometimes, buddy.) (Warning: reading Tertullian causes extreme dissociation because he cannot begin to comprehend the possibility of single living for females.)

Which brings me to my question: what is headship, exactly, and how does it apply to single women? (I’m really quite uninterested in reading your opinions; rather, I’m looking for academic, historical, and theological sources on the topic.)

In her book, No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God, Byrd offers that headship is connected to household management and then poses this interesting question: “If headship is connected to household management, are all men to have authority over all women? And what are the responsibilities of heads of households?”

Perhaps you disagree that headship is related household management, yet I would like to offer this opinion: the modern “experience” and the “practice” of headship for single females is something quite very different from a stated belief in it, especially when it feels like our culture expects young women to soon get “married off” and then we don’t have to worry about it, do we? (A little sarcasm for your afternoon reading.)

All of THIS to say, currently, I am my own household manager as I am living by myself for the first time, and I’ve been thinking a lot this summer about how I want to build a Christian home as a single person. (In some ways, I feel like marriage is closely connected to identity and household management, where young people say, “This is who I am, this is who we are, and this is the kind of life we’ll build together.” When is the time for single people to make such assertions?)

Living by myself for the last year, I noticed that I’ve developed some bad habits. I haven’t been very intentional about what I’ve allowed into my home. How do I spend my time? What kind of person do I want to become, and how does the management of my home affect the future me?

As a single woman with no roommates, I am the leader of my home, yet since “leadership” in certain pockets of Christianity is a particularly male trait, I’m coming up short on resources for how to effectively build a Christian home, apart from a traditional family structure. (I may ask here, are we doing ourselves a disservice in positing men (or fathers) only as “leaders” for the home? Does this do a disservice for single women living on their own, single mothers, single men, people living with or without roommates? Aren’t we ALL called to be leaders in the home? What does this look like to manage a household well?)

I suggest that all household managers are leaders, whether they are male or female, and ought to follow their head which is Christ.

Since I haven’t found a lot of sources about how I as a single woman can be a leader in the home (as I don’t have children or a husband), I’m creating my own source here. Here are some practical things to think about if you are a single woman wanting to build a Christian home, following your head which, for lack of a husband, is Christ.

Building a Godly Home

1. Build a Godly home as a single by seeking emotional health.

Many of the sources that I’ve read on the topic of household management and male leadership relate to nurturing love and relationship inside the home. Obviously, this is where the household of a single, childless person diverges from the traditional family structure, creating its own set of emotional issues that merit discussion. Peter Scazzero, in his Christianity Today article “The Road to Emotional Health,” offers four characteristics of emotionally unhealthy leaders which I think are important points of consideration for those wanting to maintain Godly single households. He contends that a lack of emotional health is apparent in the following ways: (1) low self-awareness, (2) prioritizing ministry over marriage or singleness, (3) doing more activity for God than their relationship with God can sustain, (4) lacking a work/Sabbath rhythm.

Regarding low self-awareness, Scazzero says, “Emotionally unhealthy leaders tend to be unaware of what is going on inside them. And even when they recognize a strong emotion such as anger, they fail to process or express it honestly and appropriately. They ignore emotion-related messages their body may send—fatigue, stress-induced illness, weight gain, ulcers, headaches, or depression. They avoid reflecting on their fears, sadness, or anger.” How singles may choose to process their emotions in healthy ways (both personally, and in the community of relationship) is a topic all its own, but I think a place to start is at least with self-inventory. I, for one, have been recognizing the negative pattern of bottling things up, choosing “not to go there,” quite simply because of the pain I would find there. However, I’m learning that I can’t be afraid of my emotions. My helplessness, at times, is the place where God meets me, and where He quietly asks for trust.

Regarding prioritizing ministry over singleness, Scazzero says, “Emotionally unhealthy leaders tend to compartmentalize their married or single life, separating it from both their leadership and their relationship with Jesus. For example, they might make significant leadership decisions without thinking through the long-term impact those decisions could have on the quality and integrity of their single or married life. They dedicate their best energy, thought, and creative efforts to leading others, and they fail to invest in a rich and full married or single life.

I visibly started when I read this. A “rich and full” single life? This is not language we are used to! (For example, one article I found about cultivating a healthy single home was signed, “Single and Surviving.” I’m not sure that that is the same language as is used in articles about marriage. Don’t we have some work to do here? Why is the stereotype of singlehood so negative? We need to change the language.) And, just how one “invests” in a rich, full single life is a topic that is open for discussion, as always, on this blog.

To sum up, singles ought to press in to emotional health by sorting through their emotions and by creatively pursuing an understanding of what a rich and full single life looks like.

2. Build a Godly home by leading spiritually.

Set a sure foundation. A wise (wo)man builds her/his house upon a rock. What strides are you making to set a spiritual tone in your home? Are you reading the Word of God and praying on a daily basis? Jesus sets a standard for Godly homes in the Gospels by quoting from the Deuteronomy 6 passage: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” My next few points are borrowed from the article “How Does a Husband Lead His Family?” from covenantkeepers.org, in which we are reminded, “When you sit at the dinner table, or drive in your car, or at bed time, share what God has taught you from your devotional time in the Scriptures that day. If God has planted His Words in your heart, share them with your wife and children.” Granted, you may not have a spouse and children, but the question can be asked, what are you doing/reading/watching during dinner time? Who/what are you listening to in your car? What takes up your time right before bed? How does Scripture intersect with those you invite or host in your home? Be sure that the Word of God has a prominent place in your home.

3. Build a Godly home by leading morally.

Covenantkeepers.org asks, “Are your moral decisions based upon your own selfish desires or are they based upon God’s truth? Is your life an example of moral compromise or of the godly standards that you declare to your wife and children? Do you speak the truth in love or do you shade the truth when it suits you?” For single people, it is quite easy to live with a lack of accountability. This leads to moral compromise. I challenge single women: do you have a stated morality on the following issues: church attendance, service to the local church, sex (including masturbation and pornography), finances, food, alcohol, social media (what accounts you follow/don’t follow and why), TV and movies, reading material, pride and vanity in personal appearance (Tertullian would roll over in his grave at our modern society’s “see and be seen” social media culture), gossip, loyalty, the study of theology (so that one can make wise and discerning choices in the first place), etc. Be a female leader by taking a stand for moral decisions.

3. Lead by managing.

Be responsible for the details of your home management. Be a responsible renter, home-owner, housekeeper. (I’m sorry, Mr. Landlord, that I didn’t empty the dumpster, but there was a foot of snow and #winter.)

4. Build a Godly home by leading in decision-making.

For some reason, this is one that single women dread the most. However, wisdom is not a trait reserved only for males, and the Proverbs 12:15 offers us this key: “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” (An important reminder for female AND male decision-makers!)

5. Build a Godly home by leading in reconciliation and conflict-resolving.

Chances are, you are connected to family life in some way. It is possible that you are living in a satellite home of sorts, still in some way connected to your first home. Make sure that the reception between your satellite home and your first home is clear and without the static of discord. As conflict naturally arises in relationship, be sure that you are following the Biblical command for all Christians, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Resist the urge to use manipulation, control, and emotional vomiting with your first family. As a single person, you may also have close friendships with other singles, or other families. Keep Romans 12 in mind as you navigate those relationships.

6. Finally, build a Godly home by being a leader of example.

Can you say to your spiritual children, “I want you to follow my example as I follow Christ”? (If you’re not sure who your spiritual children are, you may want to reassess your stated morality of church attendance, service to the local church, and accountability.) In Bible times, there was a stereotype for single women (in the case of young widows) of becoming idle, and of becoming busybodies. What can be said of the godliness of your speech, your maturation in the fruit of the Spirit (patience, kindness, self-control), your purity, your pursuit of God, personal discipline, and your commitment to moral principles? All of these flow out of the way that you understand your leadership and management and its connection to your head, which is Christ.

Reflecting on these haphazard thoughts, I realize that there is a great need to study even deeper into the Biblical meaning of a “home” and to reflect more fully on the meaning of a home for single women. Had I more time, I would also sift through a lot more Scripture focusing on the more traditionally-thought-to-be-female aspects of household management of hospitality and relationship. Obviously, my list here is incomplete, but it’s a start. Blessings as you ponder.

Why You Think Pennsylvanians Are Stuck-Up (and Why You’re Wrong)

I love how you clicked on this link almost like, “What obnoxious thing is she going to say next?”

You know as well as I do that conservative Mennonites who are not from Lancaster (and even some who are) think that Lancaster Mennonites are snobby and stuck-up. I have finally figured out why this stereotype exists! (It is for unjustifiably unfair reasons, I might add.)

One of my favorite things is to talk about cultural differences, and since I’ve had the privilege of living in four distinct Mennonite communities across the United States as an adult, I consider myself a bit of an authority on the subject. In the past eleven months, I’ve had plenty of time to test this theory of “stuck-up” Mennonites.

I recently moved to Ephrata, Pennsylvania, quite leery of the Lancaster County location of my new home.

Lanc

However, you’ll be disappointed to know that on the “Culture Shock” timeline, I’ve moved past the Honeymoon stage (in which I gush about Amish produce stands, discount grocery stores, and modest clothing stores) and the Negotiation stage (in which the Transition shock behaviors of anger, homesickness, irritability, and withdrawal promote snarky posts about dating & marriage rituals, along with more serious critiques of the community-wide “saving face” phenomenon and its effects on spirituality). Currently, I’m in the Adaptation stage, where I’m developing positive attitudes about Lancaster culture and learning what to expect in social situations. But I’m a long way off from Adaptation. Because seriously, I’ve never even been to “the cabin.” For one thing, I have to write this post “awhile.” Haha.

So why do people think that Pennsylvanians are stuck-up? This is my theory—they don’t introduce themselves to newcomers.

Menno women1

In fact, I was talking to a friend who just moved to Lancaster County, and this was her first impression: “Do you notice that people don’t introduce themselves to you here?”

“Yes!” I agreed. “It’s strange!”

We talked about experiences at weddings, work, and church.

Me: “Sometimes I get the odd sense that people here don’t like me! But I realize that (1) those people have never talked to me, and (2) they haven’t introduced themselves to me. And I ask myself, why not?”

 

Interestingly, I kept finding myself in new situations where I was surrounded by strangers, and no one introduced themselves! I visited a new church once, was ignored, introduced myself to a woman whose eyes were downcast, then scurried out the door in awkward shame. As I settled into the church visiting cycle, I grew weary of approaching strangers and explaining that I just moved to Lancaster County. At work, a friend struggled to connect with co-workers who seemed to care little about her “transplanting” story. (Another very common thread is people living in Lancaster their entire lives. Unimaginable to me, the hyperactive state-switcher. Similarly, the story of my endless moving, to communities where I know absolutely no one, is unimaginable to Lancaster locals, often met by blank stares.) On one occasion, I had to schedule a meeting with a woman I saw nearly every day, and I was convinced that she disliked me because she had never introduced herself to me.

After a while, it started to become a joke, where my friend and I delivered the next new story of failing to be introduced at a social function. Once I attended a banquet where I sat at a table with old and new acquaintances. I was the last one to arrive, and as I sat down with my appetizer, I waited to be introduced to the Lancaster residents who I hadn’t yet met. The introduction never came. In fact, no one acknowledged my presence at the table for a full fifteen minutes!

Now before you label this post as another dig at Lancaster County, let me be clear. I do not think that the people in each of these instances were snobby, stuck-up, rude, unkind, or unfeeling, nor do I think that you should judge my expectation to be introduced as unrealistic. In truth, I found the woman who had never introduced herself to be a sweet and gentle person the very day I met with her! And the time of being “ignored” at the banquet table ended up being a night where I received some very kind encouragement from new friends.

These experiences instead clarify that cultural differences exist among geographically diverse Mennonite communities, specifically in relation to initial socialization. The behavior from both cultures makes perfect sense, but viewed from the other culture is off-putting. Both I (the Midwesterner) and Lancaster Mennonites were acting according to our respective cultures, which obviously have vastly different expectations regarding the behavior toward strangers.

In the Midwest, it’s expected to introduce yourself to a newcomer. A “proper” way to do this might even be to play the Mennonite game.

Meme1

Blanket statement: I might suggest that Midwesterners may also be “used to” newcomers more than Lancaster County residents. That is, many Midwestern Mennonites live in smaller Anabaptist communities than the sprawling, teeming Mennonite metropolis of Lancaster County. Therefore, the arrival of newcomers is more clearly felt. In our small Midwestern towns (excluding Holmes County), we’re very aware of who belongs and who is new. And in my experience, people have gone out of their way to introduce themselves and tell me their name.

Beiber2

It seems that in Lancaster, this is not a cultural expectation, and I’ve had some Lancaster locals help me on this one. For one thing, the sheer number of Mennonites is dizzying. There’s no way to tell who is “new to town,” or simply from the congregation down the street. There’s no need to wave hello to the Mennonite you saw in Walmart because of COURSE you don’t know them. Why would you smile and wave hello?

Another phenomenon unique to Lancaster that’s quite unlike most other Mennonite communities is that people here aren’t friends with people from their own churches. They’re friends with their “group.” Your “group” is whatever family and friends you’ve acquired over the years who have similar interests and/or worldviews as you. (I would contend that this is quite unlike other Mennonite communities. For many of us, our friendships are found inside our local congregations.) However, if you’re from Lancaster, and there’s a newcomer at your church, you may assume that they’re from the County, they’re simply church shopping, and they’re content with their own friends and family outside the church. You therefore feel no need to introduce yourself right away. This has been confirmed to me by more than several locals.

(Southerners, feel free to lend your perspective about what is expected for newcomers in your communities.)

To be sure, people in Lancaster are very busy and have a LOT of friends. One woman who moved here from a rural Midwestern community confided in me, “When I asked someone to go out for coffee, she said, ‘Well let me check my planner first.’ I laughed at her! Why would she need to check her planner just for coffee?! But I get it now. People are so busy. Some women are booked three months out. And so I have the planner now. I have all of it,” she sighed.

You can see, then, why the stereotype of “stuck-up” Lancaster Mennonites exist. The amount of friends and social engagements can get overwhelming, so people aren’t quick to “lend” themselves in this way. But for newcomers, this can feel like snobbery. I wonder, though, if newcomers are selling themselves short by not acknowledging the cultural differences of the realities of living in a large Mennonite community. The lady from the rural Midwest didn’t do this, but instead learned to adapt.

To put a stop to the stereotype, people on both sides need to understand that if you demand that people treat you according to your own cultural expectations, two things may occur:

(1) If you are a non-local, you may not only start agreeing with false stereotypes, but you may also become quite lonely. A few suggestions: stop being bitter about the need to explain that you are a new-comer. Be willing to introduce yourself again, and again, and again. It won’t be long before you’ll buy your own planner (probably at Target, where you’ll ignore a Mennonite woman one aisle over).

(2) If you are a Lancaster local, you may be bothered by the stereotype of snobbery. A suggestion: it may benefit you to visit a small Mennonite community sometime. It also might do you some good to go out of your way to introduce yourself to a Mennonite stranger the next time you see one in church, at Bible study, or even (gasp) at Walmart! You might just meet a new friend, the kind that doesn’t care about planners, and is refreshingly un-busy!

And to those of you who still think I hate Lancaster, I’ll say this: despite the lack of introductions in general in Lancaster County, I’d like to give a shout-out to my local congregation for the outpouring of support I’ve received since moving here, including but not limited to:

  1. Delivering and unloading FOR FREE a piece of furniture I bought
  2. Lending me the “nice” family vehicle, three times, FOR FREE when mine was in the shop
  3. Visiting me when I was sick (bringing me food, cleaning my apartment, and giving me a back rub!)
  4. Dinner invitations, and asking how I’m really doing
  5. A sweet gift and card on Valentine’s Day
  6. A plant on Mother’s Day.

You know who you are. Thank you.

Obviously, Pennsylvanians aren’t snobby. They’re warm and caring just like everybody else. The fact is that we just greet each other differently. So stop stereotyping. And go introduce yourself.