One of my favorite things about being single? Coffee shops.

(Not that non-singles can’t and don’t enjoy these, too, of course.) But really, there’s nothing like spending a spare Saturday afternoon hour tucked away at a corner table (or, if you’re lucky, in a comfortable armchair) alone with a latte and a good book. In fact, when I find myself faced with some unexpected free time on a weekend, my first thought is, “What coffee shop should I go to?” Sadly, those unexpected free hours are rare, even for me. I imagine they become almost nonexistent once there’s someone else (or multiple someone elses) who have a prior claim on your time and attention.

I’m long overdue to take myself on a little coffee date; I hear St. Elmo’s in Del Ray (a great spot I discovered a couple weeks ago–give it a try if you’ve never been) calling my name. The week days and weekends just roll on by, getting busier and busier. Hopefully I can snatch a free hour or half-hour this coming weekend and take myself off for some quality me time.

Meanwhile it’s back to work. I hope your Monday has been just splendid so far.

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Jeremiah 29:11

A good friend sent me this scripture passage a little while back in a brief, encouraging email. (I’m so thankful for great friends.) I don’t need to wax eloquent on its applicability to where we are in life–just look it up. You’ll get it.

But the question is–do we believe it? I mean really believe it? (I am assuming now that you have, in fact, looked it up…or that you knew it already.)

I’ve spoken with a few of my single friends in recent months about trusting in God’s plan for our lives. And you know what’s funny? We don’t. We believe with all our hearts that God loves us, that He has always taken care of us and will continue to do so, and that He’ll give us everything we need to get to heaven. But His plan for our lives? Well, for one thing He hasn’t been all that forthcoming with a master “Plan” so far. And for another, isn’t there something about suffering being inevitable for the follower of Christ? So why get excited about the future? It’s just gonna be one long path strewn with suffering.

A lot of us are looking ahead to a summer full of changes. Changing jobs or moving or going back to school… It’s an exciting time, sure, but a stressful one. And in the midst of all the stress we know we ought to pray, and we do pray, but often with that sense of hopelessness. “Are you really listening? Do you really have something in mind for me? I mean, things are fine as they are and I’m not complaining, I just feel a little bit–set aside, I guess…” and so on, and so forth. (And I say “we.” These particular thoughts/prayers are my own. Just insert your own words, as applicable.)

And yet there it is, plain and unambiguous: “I know well the plans that I have for you.” There’s real comfort in that. It’s something solid to hold onto when the not knowing of this whole state gets to be really hard. I am not forgotten. In the midst of all my not knowing and seemingly aimless wandering, Someone has something particular in mind for me, a plan He knows “well.” A plan for my good, not my harm. A plan to give me a future full of hope.

 

Some Things Are Just So Obvious…

I’m going to be honest. I’ve been having a “blah” day. Not a bad day by any means, and in fact quite good in some aspects, but I’ve just wandered through it feeling…well…blah. Listless. Mildly annoyed by things that shouldn’t annoy me. Tired when I shouldn’t be tired. Unwilling to pick up new projects or to finish old ones. Just “one of those days.”

So I folded my arms and sat back from my desk just now and tried to figure out why. Sometimes all it takes is a moment of reflection to determine what’s turning a day into a less-than-pleasant one. And guess what I discovered?

I haven’t prayed today (aside from the initial morning offering, of course, and a quick, “Sorry I can’t make it to mass today, God” at noon).

I haven’t really prayed.

I have excuses, too. My alarm clock didn’t go off this morning, so I woke up an hour late, then it took me forever to make my hair look decent, I had to make breakfast, and I just barely made it to work on time. When I reached my office I realized I had an 11:00 meeting I’d forgotten about, and that ran until about 11:57, at which point I decided I couldn’t really spare the time for mass (probably a bad choice, I’m realizing in hindsight). Tonight I have some people coming over, I have to make a grocery store run before that, and then I need to do some cleaning so my place isn’t a disgrace (I blush at the state of my bathroom sink at this moment)…

Funny how everything has a cause. So I’m committed to budgeting my time more wisely tomorrow. Meantime, Lord, if you want to give me ten or fifteen unexpected extra minutes, I’ll try to spend them in quiet with you. And here’s everything else…because that can be a prayer, too, right?

I choose all

“I choose all.”

Recognize that phrase? St. Therese, our Church’s beloved Little Flower, announced this to her older sisters when offered a basket full of their hand-me-down toys. It’s a darling of an image, like just about every image from this saint’s life. Sweet when it refers to a basket of toys, beautiful in its later application to her spiritual life. I always thought I understood her: you don’t pick and choose which aspects of the Faith and of Christ you’re going to love and live–you choose all. Makes sense. Good words to live by.

But like all things, there’s a world of difference between cerebral “understanding” and the kind of understanding that comes from practical living out. How do you go about choosing all in your day-to-day life? What does it look like?

I was blessed to attend the diocesan young adult silent retreat last summer, and something our retreat director said in one of his talks keeps replaying in my mind in regard to this issue: you have to choose where you are in your life (with your whole past, everything that’s made up who you are in this moment) for yourself. Those were his words: “Choose it for yourself.” Choose all. The past with its mistakes, its pains, and its good times. The future in all its haziness. And…the present.

To choose it for yourself doesn’t mean to roll over and stop fighting it. It doesn’t mean to throw up your hands and say, “Okay, okay, I’ll deal with this.” It’s not living out the old maxim, “Grin and bear it.” It means to take it up and make it your own, because you want it; you’ve chosen it, and (the philosophy major steps out for a moment) your will is now inclined to it. And we humans are by nature happy when we get we want. So if we want what we have (note I do not say “if we have what we want”), we’ll be happy.

So, making the connection to this life in “the gap,” what else is there but to choose it? I daydream far too often about what a good person I’ll be when I…make more money, have a bigger house, find Mr. Right, have kids…I’ll be so happy then, so there won’t be anything left for me but to be good. I tend to brush aside the reality of my life here and now because it’s temporary, and to make excuses for myself because I’m not yet settled. I’m waiting for the day when I can begin to make choices (yes, I’ll take this job; no, I won’t live here; yes, I’ll go out with you), but I forget that there’s only one choice, and it’s almost absurd in its simplicity: choose all. Sometimes that may mean staring down options and trying to determine the best one (although that has another name–discernment), but those are the rare, elevated choices. To choose all is a daily thing; it means stooping down and lifting the load I’ve been given right now.

And this choosing is not a passive venture, like receiving a gift. It’s a very, very active thing, and for us humans a constant, repetitive thing. We have to return, over and over again, to that act of choosing, to renew it, to carry it forward. When we choose all we choose not just Christ, not just the Faith He’s given us, but the person He’s made us to be right now, and the life He’s given us to lead right now. All. For me today that means choosing the un-vacuumed carpet in my apartment (my vacuum cleaner broke two weeks ago, and the mess is driving me crazy), the outstanding issue (and impending deadline) at work, the taxes I need to file, the driver’s license I need to renew, the checkbook I should balance, that slight gloom that always settles upon me on late Sunday afternoons…and yeah, the broader existential things too, like being unsure of where I’ll be living in six months, worrying about a person whose feelings I hurt a while ago and wondering if that will ever be resolved, being (sigh) still single…

I choose it all.

And–thanks.

 

Addendum to Food

I found this blog this afternoon, and thought this post in particular would make a good addendum to my last post (“Food”). http://americaeats.wordpress.com/2011/01/17/event-3-cooking-lessons-2/

I often hear another reason for single people neglecting to shop/cook/eat as they ought–a reason I failed to discuss in my last post: people just don’t like cooking and eating alone. I know more people, girls especially, who have never mastered the art of cooking for one, and who don’t really see the point in expending the energy on a home-cooked meal if they have no one to share it with. This post on “America Eats” struck me, not so much for the cooking lessons bit (though that’s really cool), but because the 20-somethings discussed are engaging in regular communal meals.

I grew up in a Catholic household, and I know many other Catholic singles did too. My parents had a cardinal rule for our family from the time I was old enough to sit up in a high chair: we ate dinner together. It was that simple. Our family dinners were a time to come together, to look back on the day, to discuss what we’d done, what our plans were for the week. Sometimes Dad would throw out a quote he’d found that day, or a question on the day’s Gospel, or just a life question in general, and we’d end up in hours-long conversations while remnants of food dried on the dishes in front of us and the leftovers got cold on the stove top. I’m not saying all our family meals were like this of course…and as my siblings and I have grown up and moved on, the family dinners are relegated more and more to holidays, but those routine meals are some of my most treasured memories.

Needless to say, my nighttime meals for one, enjoyed alone in my tiny apartment with only the buzz of my downstairs neighbor’s television for  company are a pathetic attempt at replacement for that.

While this wouldn’t solve the problem of eating alone (I’ve heard candles on the table are a nice enhancement to those lonely suppers, but I have yet to give them a try), I propose an initiative in the D.C. area as we start in to 2011: how about gatherings of our own “20 (and 30)-somethings” for an occasional meal–cooked and eaten together? And hey, throw in a Catholic twist–maybe say the Rosary or the Office. And don’t forget Grace before the meal. Obviously people with adequate kitchen space would need to be willing to host, which adds a challenging twist. But there’s nothing quite like working together with friends to prepare a meal for everyone to enjoy. As long as there’s enough elbow room for all the chefs. And for those who still struggle with the culinary arts, it’d be a great way to gain some tips in the kitchen.

Hey, it’s a thought.

On Food

A great point about the single life from a friend: you get to eat whatever you want. Which in this particular friend’s case has meant creating a wide variety of healthy meals and in general taking admirably good care of herself. Would that we were all so disciplined. In my own experience, it means that I have (at least once) simply skipped dinner and eaten a bowl of ice cream when I got home from work because it was all I had that I could eat quickly and without cooking. Or skipped dinner altogether. Or eaten out for lunch too many days in a row. And I could probably take out stock in Starbucks…

Occasionally I’ll get on a good streak and plan a few meals, do some heavy duty weekend cooking and freezing, and keep my fridge well stocked with healthy vegetables, etc. (I’m thankful that I can cook, even if I don’t do it nearly as often as I should. If you don’t cook…you might consider giving it a try. It’s a good money saver, it’s healthy, and–believe it or not–it’s a lot of fun.)  

Lumped in with all the half-resolutions I’ve made for this new year is the determination to learn some new recipes. It’s easy to fall into a “food slump.” I know what I like, I know where it is in the grocery store, and I know that I’ll use it up before it goes bad. (I feel like I’m constantly cleaning out my fridge and throwing away half-rotten tomatoes, dried out citrus, and molding jars of spaghetti sauce.) So I inevitably return to the same aisle, stock my refrigerator with the same items, and cook and eat the same things. I spend so much time planning ahead for other aspects of my life that it’s almost a relief not to plan ahead for food. I realize that this is a mistake–and that, like all the other important things (you know, prayer, exercise, spending time with loved ones), you don’t have time for it…you make time for it.

But I’ve got a catalogue of excuses I’ve been making for the past three years on this subject. “I can’t fit good grocery shopping habits into my budget.” “I don’t have time to cook.” “I don’t have time to shop.” “My kitchen is too small.” “I don’t have the proper appliances.” “My roommates are always in the kitchen/making a mess of the kitchen.” The list goes on. And on. And on. I’m also a little hesitant because, as with all new things, I’m a bit scared. With new recipes there’s always the possibility that they won’t turn out. And then what? Well, I’m going to try to focus on even the not-so-good meals as “adventures.” And being single is a helpful fact in carrying out this resolution–I can cook whatever I want, and I won’t have a hungry spouse trying to keep a brave face on as he swallows each disgusting bite.

So I turn to you, my readers. How do you manage your menus, grocery shopping, et al? Any suggestions for people like me who can’t seem to get organized in this area? And I would welcome any and all recipe suggestions! If you have anything you’d recommend, please post the recipe in a comment to this post.

Here’s to Awkward Moments

Two years ago I woke up one morning, sat up on the edge of my bed, and announced to myself and all the world that I was from then on through with awkward moments. Never again would I find myself wanting to sink through the floor or bolt for the nearest exit. Never again would I force myself to stand still through an excruciating conversation, to go on a date with someone who made me uncomfortable, to attend parties full of strangers, to make eye contact with fellow riders on the Metro or in the elevator. I was done. I’d had it up to my eyeballs, and I would retire into the safety of myself and just stay there. Forever.

Two years and many life lessons later, I’ve had to come to grips with a most painful truth: there is no such thing as a life without awkward moments. Awkward moments–like, well, everything else–aren’t something we can control. We can only learn to laugh at them.

In a rare scholarly moment, I checked out Webster (and then Merriam’s online dictionary). Awkward: 4a. Causing embarrassment or distress; b. marked by embarrassment or unease. Etymology: Middle English awkeward: in the wrong direction, from awke: turned the wrong way, from Old Norse ǫfugr

I find the etymology here particularly interesting–“Turned the wrong way.” Awkward moments are excruciating most of all because they are moments in which things don’t fit correctly; I picture puzzle pieces being forced to fit together the wrong way, which inevitably ends badly. Who hasn’t suffered through many awkward moments? Moments when the other person and I can’t seem to make any headway in a faltering and clumsy conversation. Moments spent standing alone holding a beer at a party full of strangers and wondering whether the best response is to pretend not to care, to walk up to that circle of people and insert myself in their conversation, or to slip quietly away, back to the safety of my own quiet living room… And those are the “mild” awkward moments (you know, the ones you get over quickly, the kinds you can shake out).

How about these doozies? Walking into a party of friends to discover your ex (whom you haven’t seen since you called it off three months ago) standing in the other corner of the room. Or agreeing to go on a date, only to discover upon arrival that you are inexucsably underdressed–and everyone else notices. Engaging in a long series of emails with a potential guy/girl, only to be told after several weeks that they’re seeing someone else. Biting the bullet and asking for help, only to be turned down–sometimes repeatedly. Sending around an invitation to a party at your place to which one person RSVPs…and no one comes. Discovering after seven months that your living situation is beyond intolerable, and then breaking that news to your roommates.  

The list, at least in my experience, is endless. I have lived through countless moments when the pieces just didn’t fit, and I find myself faced with two uncomfortable alternatives in handling them: 1) I can succumb to the nasty sick feeling I get in my stomach, feel massively sorry for myself, and continue to retreat to the safety of my quiet living room alone; or 2) I can laugh…laugh at the moment, laugh at myself, and remember with humility that these moments remind me it’s not just the world that isn’t perfect–I’m not perfect, either.

So here’s to 2011, a blank page on which, I have no doubt, many more awkward moments will be written. I’m already laughing.

 

Me, Myself, and I

I stumbled across one of my old journals while I was cleaning my apartment this afternoon. (Three years have convinced me that everything in my life will be all right–or at least manageable–if I just take two hours to clean my home each week. While this may not be for everyone, I’d recommend considering it at least. It could change your life.) The journal began in the summer of 1999 and went through spring 2000. I journaled very faithfully in those days…once a day usually, though sometimes I missed a day here and there. I had to laugh at the ponderings, poutings, and general relatings of my 13- and 14-year-old self. I felt so old then; a wiser me smiles and shakes her head–I was just a little girl, really.

But something I scribbled in an entry caught my eye. My younger self wrote about feeling ugly, inept, and not worthwhile. Over a decade later and “all grown up,” I still struggle with those feelings. I know I’m not alone in this; in fact, I can’t think of any woman I know who doesn’t fight against these kinds of feelings and thoughts, at least sometimes. And too many women don’t even fight them, they just accept them as a matter of course. We all have this deep-down, debilitating sense that we’re just not good enough. (I assume–and have heard–that men struggle with this, too, but I’m not in a position to write with much authority from that perspective.)

At the risk of being blunt, I say: we feel this way because it’s true.

We’re a fallen race, and we carry that mark around with us. We are ugly, inept, and not worthwhile. We aren’t good enough.

Except that we’ve been lifted up by a God who loves us.

Still, we’re marked by what we were before, and that marking shows itself in so many ways–in our constant falling down, our failure to grow in virtue or to perform good acts, and in our giving in to this sense of ugliness. It’s so easy to run ourselves into the ground with our self-loathing, and when we do that we negate what we’ve become by God’s grace, and we stunt our growth into the person he wants us to be.

What keeps us in these patterns of self-dislike? Sin, for one thing. It’s hard to be “okay with me” when I watch myself fall on a daily basis into the same petty, disgusting, stupid sins. And Satan, too. He’s got a self-loathing fetish, and he feeds that sense in us with glee. He feeds it in each of us differently. To take my life as an example, he gets me to compare myself to others. That girl is prettier/smarter/better dressed/holier; she makes more money than I do; she’s engaged, and I’m not even dating; she gets asked out more…the list goes on and on and nauseatingly on. And so I become bitter about who I am, about where I am in my life. Funny, isn’t it? I throw the gift of myself back in God’s face (well, not quite; I’m a polite person by nature, so instead I hint around for a gift receipt) because it isn’t quite the right color, shape, size. I make conditions. I’ll love myself when

Chances are, I was making those same conditions with God twelve years ago when I wrote that journal entry. Maybe it’s time to pick it all up, tuck it away, and embrace it. This is who I am. Twenty-something, single, Catholic, artsy, scared of just about everything, bad at sports, decent in the kitchen, working a job I like that just barely pays the bills, practically running in the opposite direction when a guy makes eye contact and therefore not going on many–or, okay, at this point any–dates, trying to keep up some semblance of a social life despite the inevitable awkwardness of most parties, doing my best to maintain a life of prayer, and in general just doing my best and trying to keep moving. This is where I am.

And it is very, very good.