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Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Things I Carried: Leaving the Single Life

With all that I've written in the last few years about being single, it would be strange to slip out of singleness silently. So let me pause for a little while on this sunny Sunday afternoon and share with you my final thoughts on singleness as an unmarried woman. (On a side note, I probably won't write much about relationships or marriage. I don't want to be my usual slightly sarcastic self when writing about someone other than me.)

Lately I've been thinking about the things I've carried through my years of singleness.


I carried my name. I've been a Lentz for three decades. I have the Lentz sense of wit and the Lentz analytical mind and the Lentz receding hairline. These days when I sign my name, I remember that this is the last month I'll be scribbling out "Alison R. Lentz." It's probably for the best, given how the legibility of my signature has been on a steady decline since I first learned cursive in 1993.

I think it's fitting to set aside my name for a new one when I marry. I'll be gaining a new name (which I love) and a new set of family members (which I love). Changing my name is a perfect analogy for the new identity I am gaining as a wife and a member of a new family: a new identity where I gain so much, but lose some too. And even though I will no longer carry the name "Lentz," I assume I'll retain my Lentzy qualities.

I carried my preferences. My likes and dislikes, my opinions, and my convictions were the only ones I really had to consult when God's word didn't speak clearly on any particular decision. As my marriage approaches, Lord willing, I will set down some of my multitudinous strong opinions about the best way to live life as I partner up with someone who happens to have his own preferences, opinions, and convictions. I wonder if this process is easier for couples who marry in their early twenties, who haven't each had half a lifetime to get entrenched in their own ideas about everything.

I carried my friendships. Here's a secret: There are heroes among you. Are you part of a church? Chances are good that there are many single women in your church who would like to be married but are not, and who may never be because there are not enough Christian men to go around. Are you on the mission field? Then you probably know that 80-85% of single missionaries are female (from the article "Why are Women More Eager Missionaries?").

Single women in the church who want to get married have a few options:
  1. Continue to hope in the Lord and pray for marriage. Eventually get married.
  2. Continue to hope in the Lord and pray for marriage. Stay single. It is not true that every single person who desires marriage gets it.
  3. Marry a non-Christian. Note: The Bible forbids this, and it makes sense. Why partner with someone whose life purposes are at odds with yours?
For those living in reality #2, there are choices again:
  1. Stay single. Get bitter.
  2. Stay single. Stay selfish.
  3. Stay single. Refresh others. Serve enthusiastically. 
I'm happy to have spent the last ten years surrounded by single women who are choosing option #3.
  • They are planning other people's bridal and baby showers, setting up their friends' weddings, and babysitting other women's kids.
  • They can be found at the registration tables of college retreats, fatherhood seminars, and marriage conferences. They fill the ranks of volunteers that keep most of the ministries at my church running.
  • They knowingly sabotage their chances of meeting a husband by moving to China, Laos, or the Middle East for as long as the Lord calls them there. 
  • They raise support, buy houses, and fix appliances alone. They figure out how to assemble lawnmowers and set up IRAs.
  • They are advancing in their professions and reaching out to their co-workers long after they might have thought they would be cutting their work hours to raise their families. 
  • They respond graciously when their singleness is misunderstood or their sadness is dismissed by well-meaning friends and family.
My single friends are funny, faithful, encouraging, and strong. I loved writing about singleness partly because of the camaraderie of this particular group of unsung heroes. I'll miss being in the trenches with them, and I find it bittersweet to be setting down my identity as a single Christian woman.

There are other things I carried as a single woman that I'm happy to release. I carried a lot more Kleenexes before I met Andy, because I needed them a lot more often. Ha. I carried sadness, uncertainty, and the pain of watching my friendships change and weaken as friends got married and began having children.

I also learned to carry my expectations more loosely. I learned to carry greater hope in God Himself and not what he might do for me.

On the brink of my marriage, I'd love to hear from you: What did you carry as a single person? If you got married, what did you set down? What are you carrying now, in your current stage of life?

Friday, February 10, 2017

Jokes for Finding Love this Valentine's Day

This year on the blog, my mostly joking commentary on topics like creating the perfect holiday letter has been replaced by posts about the danger of Donald Trump, the role of American Christians, and the heartbreak of ignoring refugees. 

If you've stuck with me through this somewhat abrupt change in tone, thank you! I believe that I have only one voice, and if ever there was a year to use it, it's been this one. I especially appreciate readers who disagree with me who have continued to read and respond.

But today, Imma throw back to my blogging days of yore and talk to you about both JOKES and REAL LIFE in the SAME POST.

At the beginning of 2016, I published an article called Tips for Finding Love in the New Year. Here's an excerpt:
3) How to Handle the First Date
Using the above strategies, you’ll soon have plenty of dates on your calendar. How can you “wow” your date? I’m glad you asked.
The most important quality you can bring to a date is a sense of humor. Humor is even more attractive than actual attractiveness, which is why you frequently see top comedians paired up with supermodels, while your professional athletes and Hollywood stars — lacking that all-important sense of humor — are constantly having to take their moms to their various award shows because they can’t find anyone else to go with them.
To help you out, I’m going to share some jokes I have used on actual dates:
“What did the zero say to the eight?” “Nice belt.”
“What do you call a fish with no eyes?” “Fshhh.”
“What was the last thing that went through the bug’s head when it hit the windshield?” “Its butt.”

Now, you probably thought that advice was in jest. Heck, I thought that advice was in jest. But it turns out that my tips for finding love in the new year ACTUALLY WORK.

Not long after publishing that article, I got asked out to coffee by a man at my church. He'd been thinking about calling me for a while, but what helped tip him over the edge was reading my article and finding, yes, his favorite joke.
"What do you call a fish with no eyes?"
"Fshhh."
And we've been together ever since.



 + 


=



I still find it ironic that an article laughing about how NOT to impress someone helped bring me into a relationship with the one I love. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

So, apparently jokes are more powerful than I realized, and jokes about jokes are a foolproof path to true love. Single friends, I'm here for you. If dumb jokes work, I'm about to arm you with some jokes even dumber than the ones I shared last year. Here we go:

What do you call a cow with only two legs?
Lean beef.

What do you call a cow with no legs?
Ground beef.

What do you call a cow with an explosive device inside of it?
Abominable.

What do you call the cow after the device has exploded.
Noble.

Learn these jokes, single friends! Tell 'em at work, tell 'em at church, tattoo them on your arms, or include them in a satirical blog post about your dating ineptitude. Do what you need to do.

Have a great Valentine's Day, and I look forward to your weddings.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

A Call to Rescue those Being Led Away to Death

Hey America. This week Trump decided to temporarily halt travel from seven Muslim nations, pause our refugee resettlement program, and indefinitely suspend the admittance of Syrian refugees.

I think we ought not be silent on this issue.

First, refugees. Refugees come to seek asylum from terrible things: war, rape, torture, genocide, and atrocities of all sorts. America is a safe place for children, women, and men running away from these terrible things. We should welcome them to live here and help them when they do.

"Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter." (Proverbs 24:11)
 
Second, Muslims. Muslim countries are in chaos in many parts of the world. I believe this is the natural result of adhering to any ideology that does not place Christ as Lord and King. They do not know the Prince of Peace. America is a place with many Christians that can share the truth of the Gospel with immigrants who would have little chance of hearing this life-giving message of peace if they stayed in their home countries. Without the gospel, they perish.
 
"Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter." (Proverbs 24:11)

If our obligation as Americans and Christians is primarily to protect our own safety, we should evaluate whether Trump's measures in any degree make us safer. I don't think they are likely to make us safer, but even if they did, there's a more important consideration.
 
If our obligation as Americans and Christians is to do what good we can in this world, we should evaluate whether Trump's measures in any degree help us save lives and save souls. How could anyone argue that Trump's measures increase our ability as Americans or Christians to show love and mercy to those who need it most?

Finally, whatever your thoughts are on immigration, please at least let's do our best to love those who are already here.
 
Jesus said, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:31). 
 
When asked who counts as a neighbor, Jesus told the story of a Jewish traveler who was attacked on the road, and saved not by the religious Jews walking by, but by a good Samaritan man who would have had every reason to walk on by. Jesus asked,
 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Mark 12:36-37)

Our neighbors. (source)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Word about Defending Others

A word about defending others: This week Meryl Streep condemned Trump's mockery of a disabled reporter. She described being dismayed at "that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter." She noted:
This instinct to humiliate when it's modeled by someone in the public platform by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody's life because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.
These are not inflammatory statements. Most of us would agree that it's wrong to mock others. Most of us would agree that people in power should use their platform for good. Most of us want our leaders to lead by example.

It's baffling to watch my Christian and Republican leaders rush to defend Trump even from words as gracious as Streep's. For example, Franklin Graham's post-Globes statement read, 
I say, let's get behind our new President-elect and Vice President-elect Mike Pence and move forward together as a country. They've already made a lot of progress before even officially taking office, and let's pray they continue to make positive changes for the future of America.
Why not just agree with Streep that Trump was wrong? Why are we using our voices to defend Trump (who, as the most powerful person on earth, presumably needs no defense) instead of defending the reporter, or anyone else Trump has bullied?

He's big. He doesn't need our convoluted explanations of how mockery really isn't mockery or sexual assault really isn't sexual assault or lies really aren't lies. For our part, let's rush to the defense of the powerless before we sacrifice our integrity defending the indefensible.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Syrian Stories: Vignettes

Our time with Syrian families began to run together more with each home visit. We went to two or three homes a day, always with a long-term volunteer and always long enough to drink a tiny cup of the world's blackest coffee or a little glass of the world's sweetest tea.

There were children in every home, and pregnant mothers too. One mother was eight months pregnant and desperate to find payment for a C-section as she had been told that this would be necessary due to having her previous child delivered by C-section back in Syria. She was told it would cost around $1100. The church does not pay for medical expenses for the refugees, as the need is very great and the requests are constant. Apparently some registered refugees had been able to receive subsidized medical treatment at the local hospital through the UN, but this too had stopped.

During our week, we heard and witnessed stories of miraculous healings through prayer in Jesus' name.  We praised God that He is meeting medical needs directly in some cases, rather than through the hands of doctors or the work of medications, as these are all difficult for refugees to access and afford.

One afternoon we took a cab to the outskirts of town. The pregnant mom there requested prayers for her high blood pressure to go down. She was several months along and had a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and a one-year old. All were girls. Could we pray for them to have a boy so they could be done, she asked? They served us sweet tea and candy; the girls ate up the candy and the couple described how difficult it was to make ends meet on the ~$15 a month they received from the UN for each family member. It's hard to imagine how that would last, given that the diapers we brought them cost $11 and it would take them a $2 cab ride into town just to by $.75 of bread.

But some families seemed to have some money, although I never could figure out how. I know that we sat in some large living rooms, and some had shelves or decorations in addition to the ever-present floor mattresses and TV.

We met one family who had been approved to resettle in America. They were awaiting their marching orders. The young wife showed me how she was learning English on her DuoLingo app and the boys were running around like crazy while their father smoked in the corner and chatted with the men on our visit. The church volunteers had encouraged them to continue with the resettlement process to go to America when, several months before, she had resisted the opportunity in fear that they would be forced to learn a different religion in schools. It seemed to me unfair that so many were desperate to be resettled (in America or elsewhere) but had not been given the opportunity, and yet this young family had to be talked into it.

In one home, the patriarch lamented the good years he used to have and the success he once enjoyed. All his prosperity had vanished with the war. The church volunteer told him the story of Job and then quoted God's promise in Joel 2:25: "I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten."

May it be so.

May it be so for Syrians, for Syria, and for all who have lost so much in this terrible war. 



This is the last in a short series on my time in the Middle East visiting Syrian refugee families. Read the rest here:

Part 1: Anne Frank Today is a Syrian Girl
Part 2: Small House, Big Hope
Part 3: The Second Household

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Syrian Stories: The Second Household

My group has moved on to the second visit of our day, another family with several young children living a few doors down in another apartment carved out of this converted store space.

The woman here, "H," is shorter, darker, and softer. She looks less like a Kardashian than the first mom we met, but her household looks about the same. We settle cross-legged on the thin mattresses lining the room, and H bends over a baby carrier near the TV. I see that there is a small baby, maybe one month old, cocooned in a tightly wrapped blanket. She hands the baby to me! I'm excited to hold such a tiny child, and puzzle over the dark lines drawn around his eyes. Is this month-old infant really wearing eye liner? I don't want to interrupt the conversation to ask, so I just look at him and rock a little while I sit.

H. sits down to visit with us, and our visit leader chats easily with her as I stare at my sweaty little bundle. Soon my visit leader (a middle aged local lady) takes the baby from my hands and begins unwrapping the blanket as she scolds the young mom for keeping her baby too hot.

I can't understand this Arabic small talk, and with the baby out of my hands I turn my attention to the children I can hear playing outside in the parking lot. A couple of the boys in the family keep coming in and out of the house, interrupting their play to ask their mom something or to complain about a sibling, I assume. Prior to coming here I had read articles about Syrian refugee families keeping their children inside due to fear. I'm glad these kids are playing outside. They're laughing and seem healthy.

Our visit leader asks us if we have any questions for H. before we go. I'm unsure whether it's a blessing or a burden to talk about their experiences, but still I'm curious, so I ask: "Why did you leave Syria? How did you end up here?"

She briefly tells her story.

The family decided to flee Syria about three years ago. They came by vans in the night, with headlights off to avoid detection. When the driver told them to, they got out and walked the rest of the way to the border.  However, once they got there, they were denied entry.  There was a pregnant woman in their group, and they thought that if they told the guards she was pregnant, they would be allowed in. However, the guards admitted only the pregnant woman, along with H. and her youngest child, leaving the rest of the group Syria-side.

Now H. was separated from her husband and her other children. She was brought to the large refugee camp just across the border and began desperately trying to contact her husband. Two days later, she learned that the whole group had eventually been given access to the country, and her husband and children were waiting for her at another camp.

They were somehow reunited and are now living here. He works undercover at night for a candy shop. Working here is illegal for refugees, and her husband will be returned to Syria if he is found out.

As we ended our visit with another flurry of cheek kisses and goodbyes, I reflect that H's story is a little tamer than the last family we visited. There was no violent arrest, no internal bleeding, and no very sick child. But there was still a frightening night-time flight from a homeland they will likely never see again, two days of frantic separation, and now an indefinite number of impoverished and uncertain years.

Is there any such thing as a benign refugee story?


This is the third in a short series on my time in the Middle East visiting Syrian refugee families. Read the rest here:
Part 1: Anne Frank Today is a Syrian Girl
Part 2: Small House, Big Hope
Part 4: Vignettes

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Syrian Stories: Small House, Big Hope

It's my group's first day of home visits to the Syrian refugees in this town just near the Syrian border. We've already been through orientation, learning how the refugee population has exploded from forty families in the first year of the Syrian war to now more than a hundred thousand refugees living in the town and in the refugee camp nearby. There are an approximately equal number of refugees and locals in this town now.

The church has been busy. When the war began in neighboring Syria, they had no organized plan for how to respond to the first few refugees, but they knew that outreach was "in the DNA" of their church. Now they carry out a wide range of spiritual, emotional, and material outreaches to the refugees in their city, partnering with international NGOs to maximize their impact.

I've been placed in a visiting group with a local church member and a couple other short-term foreign visitors like me. As she drives us through narrow city to our destination, the local lady explains that both families we will visit are living in converted store space. The influx of refugees has overwhelmed the infrastructure of the city, sending rent prices up and availability of good housing down.

I inquire about how the refugees can pay rent anyway, since they are gone from their country and aren't able to work here. The local lady doesn't know.

We arrive at the first home and heft a heavy bundle of food and diapers out of the trunk. But apparently that is not the main purpose of our visit. I had envisioned us delivering goods all day long, but the main thing we were delivering turned out to be friendship.

An elementary age daughter lets us into the home. It's small; just a room in a converted store. Thin mattresses line the walls and a few clothes hung on hooks near a door at the back of the room. The local lady indicates that we should sit on the mattresses, and as we wait, a little boy toddles out. Soon the mother of the house emerges from the door into the front room.

"This is a Syrian refugee?" I think. She's the first one that I have met, and nothing like I expect. Her hair is bleached and she wears a tight shirt and big, gold earrings. She's tall and young. I assume the head scarf and long garment hanging on the wall are hers, to be worn when unrelated men are in the house or when she goes out.

More children shyly emerge; there are six altogether. The two oldest are girls and they help their mother serve us tea on a platter which they set in the middle of the floor. I hardly know what to make of the tea; the surface is covered in half an inch of nuts (almond?) and coconut. I both drink and chew the sweet concoction while I listen to the local lady and the Syrian mom catch up with each other. They pause to translate for our benefit.

First the Syrian mom talks about how delighted she is to be in this home; they had previously lived in a place where they had trouble with their neighbors, but now she likes the place and she has both a window and a lock on her door. The local lady translates her comments: "She feels like it's a mansion."

There was an update on the children. They are in good health, and the older girls were finally allowed to register for school today. Not just an evening school, like many Syrian children are relegated to (as there is no space in the normal day school), but a regular school. They tested into third grade, and their mother says she is proud because they've only had one year of formal schooling and the rest is what she taught them on her own whenever she could find paper and pens.

At the end of the visit, we are asked if we have any questions for her, and I ask if she could tell us how she arrived in this town. She graciously launches into a story I'm sure she's told to many others before.

They were in a large Syrian city when the fighting there began to get bad about three years ago. Men arrived at her house to arrest her husband and her. They screamed and cried; Who would take care of the babies? One of the arresting men received a cell phone call that they just needed the man, not her, so they took her husband away and kicked her back into the house.

Because of being kicked, she began to experience internal problems and was not well enough to care for her children. A Christian lady from across town braved the fighting to come stay with her for a little while.

Somehow she and her husband were reunited and found their way across the border into safety. (She doesn't tell this part of the story, and she's so engaged in the next chapter that none of us ask.)

Their toddler son had a problem with his heart (possibly a hole). He wasn't walking and was very weak. Then members from the church came and prayed for his healing. And now he is walking! Indeed, through most of her storytelling she has been trying to guide his wiggly arms and legs into his clothes for the day, and now he's toddling across the room.

The local lady explains how God had been watching out for this family, holding them up at each important moment. She uses her hands to show how He has supported and propped them up. The Syrian lady agrees.

An hour or so has elapsed and it's time for our next home visit. We leave the home in a flurry of hand-shaking, cheek kissing, and kind words.

So ends my first visit to a Syrian refugee home.

This is the last in a short series on my time in the Middle East visiting Syrian refugee families. Read the rest here:
Part 1: Anne Frank Today is a Syrian Girl
Part 3: The Second Household
Part 4: Vignettes