Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Make-up was a dead end

Who knew beauty could be so complicated? For my birthday last year I decided to make my first serious foray into the world of makeup. I didn't know what I was getting into. In a naive way, I thought I would be able to show up at a makeup counter at a department store, buy an entire line of products, and be good to go. Looking back, I can't believe how absurd and laughable a notion that was.

The makeup artist at Nordstrom rattled off an overwhelming, large amount of steps meant to "prep, correct and conceal." I could barely keep up: face base, under eye cream, eye base, layering three eye shadows, gel eyeliner, mascara, foundation, sheer powder, bronzer, blush. When she was done, I looked in the mirror and felt conflicted. While I knew I now looked more conventionally "beautiful" I questioned if this was a step in the right direction.

My justification to wear makeup was tenuous at best. I was bored, I had recently gotten a new job with higher pay and I thought, "Why not?" Some irrational part of me believed that makeup was the one missing piece I needed to manage to attract a boyfriend. According to my then-logic, if cultivating my intellectual prowess and spiritual depth wasn't enough, if it hadn't managed to end the seven-year drought since my last romantic relationship, then maybe outer beauty paired with inner beauty would do the trick.

Well, it's almost a year later and I've spent a bunch of money, wrecked my skin and still don't have a boyfriend. What a bust.

T r a i t o r s (chronological use L to R)
Correctors, concealers, BB creams, foundations, cream and oil primers--brand after brand left me with dry, tight skin and pimples galore. Did I look great in pictures? Even glamorous? Sure! But at night, alone and makeup-less in front of the mirror with my own thoughts, I was unhappy, disappointed and doubting myself.

I know that for others, makeup isn't such an agonizing ordeal. Good on them. They are hashtag blessed.

My skin just won't abide make-up, but it's taken a while for me to finally give in to defeat. Each time a product wouldn't work for me, I'd return to Sephora, deflated, and an enthusiastic employee would suggest some new wonder product: a cleanser with a four star review, a serum, a foundation that's completely weightless and "totally buildable." I'd go home wanting badly for it to work for me; none of them did.

All this to say, I'm throwing in the towel when it comes to makeup. It's created more problems in my life than benefits.

On a deeper level, this is all about adequacy. It's about trust in God. I've spent so much time wondering why some women my age are dating, married and having kids, and I'm not. I know that God is not doling out rewards or punishments to women based on whether they "deserve" a boyfriend/husband/kids. On a bad day, though, I crumple in on myself in prayer or ignore God altogether in a passive-aggressive attempt to rebel against how he wants to order my life. Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret.

Look, no amount of navel-gazing or hand-wringing will get me a boyfriend any sooner. Makeup, new clothes, a better body, fancy haircut; it really doesn't make any difference. Perhaps this sounds bitter, but it's been my experience. Okay, okay, being single is not the end of the world; this much I know. It's painful, though.

I'm doing my level best to make the most of it. I'm reading a lot of books, joining rec leagues, going on fun outings with my other single friends. I have a lot of time to pray for others. I write short stories three paragraphs at a time. I talk to God about the things I'm thankful for. If I focus on other things maybe I won't feel so sad.

Until next time...

Friday, December 30, 2016

Reflections on 2016

Originally shared at my church's Christmas Eve service.

Good evening. For those who don't know me, my name is April, and I have been attending this church since I was born—I'm what you might call a "lifer." No, but really, I am proud to call Presby home and this year especially I am grateful to be a part of this community—because I could have gotten into some real trouble if not for the grace of God in my life.. I almost made a mistake that could have seriously harmed me and probably would have changed my life forever.

This year I had planned to move to South America to do what I thought would be missionary work: entering into full-time ministry with a local church in Bolivia evangelizing, interceding and teaching. I had a lot of hopes and dreams to glorify God there.

However, a couple months before I had planned to leave, I found out from a couple of friends who were serving that that "church" that the "church" was actually a pretty psychologically and emotionally abusive cult. My friends were not allowed to leave the "church" (where they lived) without supervision, were bullied aggressively by pastors whenever they questioned the way things were run, and my one friend was even locked into the kitchen alone without promise of release. It was a horrific time, and thankfully my two friends left the Bolivian "church" shortly thereafter, around the same time I decided not to go down and join them.

As you might imagine, I spent much of this year coming to terms with this whole fiasco. The main question I had for God was, of course, "Why?"--but also the immediate question of "What now?" I had quit my job! I had been hurtling toward what I had thought was an international ministry opportunity "from God" and now needed to, in many respects, turn on a dime and change course.

I was disappointed and hurt, and felt very confused about God's direction in my life. I didn't know what to do, and God wasn't giving me epiphanies on how he wanted me to "recalculate," as it were. I spent time in reflection and prayer to God, pouring out my heart to him as it's written in Psalm 62. To be fair, though, I also spent a lot of time trying to be numb and trying to survive, in an attempt to ignore my pain and anger towards God for how un-glamorous and stuttering my life had become.

One theme from this year is pretty clear: God has invited me again and again to trust him—to believe he is everything he says he is, taking into full account my painful past, my present shaky circumstances and even my own negative feelings, no matter how strong and all-encompassing they may be.

There were many days this year when my alarm went off in the morning and I just did not want to get out of bed. I didn't feel like I had the energy or the will to face another day. To get motivated, I would sometimes listen to my gospel playlist, which has a song by James Fortune called "I Trust You." The chorus deeply resonates with me and I wanted to share it with you tonight: "I'll trust you/ Lord it's not easy/ Sometimes the pain in my life/ Makes you seen far away/ I'll trust you/ I need to know you're here/ Through the tears and the pain/ Through the heartache and rain/ I'll trust you."

I still don't know a lot of the "whys" behind the whole Bolivia debacle. I'm not yet at a place where I can genuinely thank God for that trial which has tested my faith significantly this year, and brought a fair share of heartache and despair.

However, there are a few things I can say with certainty and conviction:
  1. God warned me and protected me from going to Bolivia; he loves me.
  2. It's not over; God is still writing my story.
  3. Jesus Christ is Lord.
Jesus Christ is Lord. This truth has helped me a lot this year and comforts me greatly.

For me, no matter what happens, no matter how difficult things get, no matter how little things may make sense in the moment, no matter my own helplessness or God's seeming silence—
Jesus Christ is Lord.

In the midst of failure, embarrassment, mistakes and crippling self-doubt—
Jesus Christ is Lord.

When I am lost and don't know what to do—
Jesus Christ is Lord.
"In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:4-5).

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Yeah, I'm single

Yeah, I'm single.

In April I started working at an office where the median age is 55 years old. I am not sure what exactly causes my older female coworkers to be so concerned about my relationship status, but they have all asked me at one time or another (pretty out of the blue, I might add), "Do you have kids? Are you married? Do you have a boyfriend?" When I respond in the negative, they inevitably follow-up with, "What do you think about _____ [insert name of one of the only men between 25-35 years old in our office]? Do you like him?" At this point in the conversation I become very uncomfortable so usually reply evasively, "I'm a ghost" or "I am not real." Then they get really confused.

Maybe they are simply trying to connect with me or maybe I remind them of their daughter who is also in their twenties. Nevertheless, it is difficult not to take these matchmaking efforts personally, because they more or less imply that my life is simply not good enough if I don't have a husband to share it with, or something like that.

This year two of my childhood friends are getting married. It's really exciting and I am happy for them. Even so, I kind of dread attending their weddings. Weddings are a glaring reminder that Yeah, I'm single. They bring up the unanswerable question of "If my friends are getting married, then why not me?"

Yes, I am familiar with the many platitudes meant to soothe a despondent single woman such as myself:
  • God knows you want a boyfriend/husband, and he will answer your prayers.
  • God has someone in mind for you and he will be perfect for you!
  • God's timing is better than your timing.
  • Being single is great! You have so much flexibility!
  • I'm sure there are plenty of guys who like you and you don't even know it.
These kinds of comments make me both angry and want to say, "Well, f--- it then" and just be numb about it all. I know they come from a place of wanting me to feel better, but perhaps a more appropriate response is, "That sucks that you aren't in a relationship but want to be. How can I support you?" The agony of being a single Christian woman is having to live in this really vulnerable place of simply waiting on God.

Perhaps the public persona I project is one of independence, competence, intelligence and strength, but those close to me know that I am sensitive, sentimental and quite the romantic. I haven't dated since 2010 and have had my fair share of unrequited crushes since then. I am not single by choice. The painful reality of my singleness is at times quite acute.

That being said, I am doing what I can to resist wallowing for too terribly long. I know how to soldier on, even if it means having to crawl in the times that I cannot even bring myself to walk.

Yeah, I'm single today and maybe I am not fully okay with it. I might cry about it today but tomorrow could be better. Yeah, it may just be.