“It’s Complicated.”

relationship_its-complicated

“It’s complicated.”

Maybe not in the way you’re thinking. But once I explain, I have a feeling you’ll agree.

As you probably guessed, I met someone. (Living proof that God still occasionally works miracles!) And to make things even better, he is awesome. As in, really, really stellar. And apparently he likes me, and I also like him, which I’m told is a winning combination. So if we both like each other—and if he’s not a total creeper (which he’s not, haha)—then what could possibly be complicated about it?

Oh, that’s right! I’m living in Germany for the next 7.5 months. And he lives in the U.S.  “Sure, Steffi, 7.5 months is a long time,” you say, “But won’t you be moving back to the States when you’re done?” You’re correct; two points for you! But I’ll be moving back to Atlanta and, you guessed it, that’s not where this stellar fella lives. So as you can see, this makes things a bit “complicated.”

Adding to this complication is my usual dating strategy. You see, my (very limited) dating track record could be summed up with one word: efficiency. I am usually quick to determine whether a relationship is a dead end and, once I recognize that it is, I immediately call it quits. In the past, this has worked out in my favor. At the very least, it’s saved me time, energy, and prolonged heartbreak. It’s prevented me from pursuing relationships that won’t stand a chance and gotten me out of problematic ones before much time has passed.

But this time—dare I say it?—is different. On so many important levels. For instance, unlike my past suitors, this guy genuinely wants to get to know me. And he has gone to great lengths to do so, even driving 4 hours (each way!) to take me to breakfast while I was home over Christmas break. He asks great questions, sends thoughtful emails, and even read my entire blog from start to finish. (I don’t think my mom has even done that! And I’ve only done that because I wrote them!) So he is clearly interested in me as a person, and as many ladies out there will likely testify, that kind of interest is rare and precious.

And part of the reason that this time is different is that this guy is different. He’s super smart, he’s mature and confident, and he really, really loves Jesus. He has consistently surrounded himself with people who encourage him to grow, and his rock solid character and his established sense of community show how well this strategy is working. And to make things even better (and even more different), we actually click and even have the same nerdy sense of humor. Trust me; that never happens.

So this time is different, this guy is different. But this still begs the question: am I different? Sure, this fella is incredible and, to use some Christian-ese, he’s “pursuing me” really well. But I’m still a factor in this equation, and the jury is still out on how I will respond. My usual dating M.O.—to “efficiently” gather information and come to (historically negative) conclusions—now doesn’t work. For one thing, I’m halfway around the world for the next several months, which means I can’t exactly be efficient. And because this guy is so high quality—truly, he’s such a catch!—I don’t want to run. But I have no experience with long-term, let alone long-distance. How the heck am I supposed to navigate this?!

I don’t have any good answers. Because as much as I’d like a clear indication or a neon sign in the sky explaining how to approach this complicated situation, none has appeared. But I did recently find some encouragement in a rather unexpected place. Last week, I was scrolling back through my blog, and I decided to reread some of my own Valentine’s Day posts. After all, I needed to know what I had written about relationships–especially now that I knew who else had been reading them! And as I was sifting back through, I came to my post from 2014. I had written this one during a particularly difficult time for me in the relationship category. Things had crashed and burned with a guy that fall, and then the next potential suitor, whom I enjoyed very much, had just told me that he wasn’t interested in anything beyond friendship. And while I knew deep down in my heart of hearts that “this too would pass” and that everything would be okay, I couldn’t help feeling frustrated and discouraged all the same. Here I was, taking risks, putting myself out there, and having nothing to show for it yet again. Feeling down and looking for answers, I called my friend Sarah, and she asked me a question that’s stuck with me ever since:

Would I surrender the pen and let God write my story?

Although I delved into this question in my post two years ago, I think it’s worth revisiting because, as this entry shows, my relationship situation has clearly changed. And perhaps more importantly, I have changed. In the last two years, I have ridden many an up and many a down. I’ve had to walk straight into my insecurities, and I’ve come face to face with many of my fears. To quote The Hobbit, I’ve been “there and back again”, and much has happened along the way. And through all of these twists and turns and (mis)adventures, I have returned repeatedly to the same two truths: God is faithful. And I can trust Him. So even though this distance thing is hard—let’s be real, from an outside perspective, the timing of this looks terrible—and even though a part of me is terrified of the uncertainty, I can return back to the foundation, to the most important thing: God is working in this too, and I can trust Him to write my story. I just need to keep surrendering the pen, so to speak, and live it out faithfully as I can, one 6-time-zones-away day at a time. My God is good, and He won’t let me down.

Alright, that is enough romance-induced introspection for one day. I think I’d like to watch a non-complicated chick flick now. How about Love Actually? 😉

perfeto

 

Friday the (February) 13th

Aren't they adorable? (Photo by David Guenther, http://tinyurl.com/l2wtq62. CC-A-NC-SA)
Aren’t they adorable?
(Photo by David Guenther, http://tinyurl.com/l2wtq62. CC-A-NC-SA)

As you may have noticed, today is Friday the 13th. Which in any other month would be associated with nightmares of ghouls, haunted houses, and other “normal” paranormal happenings. But this Friday the 13th elicits a wholly different—and, for many of us, far more frightening—set of fears: the fear of being single forever. Because this Friday the 13th happens to be the day before Valentine’s Day.

Ahh, Valentine’s Day. A favorite holiday of greeting card companies, chocolate retailers, and the people who make those cheesy magnetic “kissing” teddy bears. And for those lucky folks with a special someone, it’s the perfect day for a romantic dinner at a fancy restaurant (provided you remembered to make a reservation) and giving each other greeting cards, chocolate, and matching magnetic teddy bears. But if you’re not among the “fortunate few” in a relationship, you don’t have to be alone in your loneliness. Netflix is ready with a  weekend’s  lifetime’s supply of sappy chick flicks, you can still buy yourself chocolate, and if your misery loves company, you can even curl up on the couch with your trusty old non-magnetic teddy bear.

Yes, I realize that this probably sounds rather cynical. And lately that’s exactly what I’ve been whenever I think about relationships, love, and dating. For instance, I normally love country music; now I change stations if Blake Shelton, Thompson Square, or some pre-pop Taylor Swift comes on. My go-to movies are usually chick flicks; now I can’t stand them. And when I walk through the grocery store and see a cute little kissing teddy bear, I can bearly (pun and spelling error intended) resist the urge to stick it to a metal door in the frozen-food section.

But while I am exaggerating (and I would never harm an innocent teddy bear), my cynicism toward dating is real. And last week after I’d angrily switched off the country radio station yet again, I found myself wondering where this cynicism was coming from. I’m not normally a cynical person, which meant there had to be a reason why. So I went on a quest (ie, a run on an indoor track) to find out. Boy, was I surprised by what I found.

For the first few laps, my mind drifted to all my friends whose smiling faces and “save the dates” cover my refrigerator door. Am I jealous of them? I wondered to myself as I rounded another lap. No, I concluded, I didn’t begrudge them their happiness; I really couldn’t be more excited for them. Having thought about my close friends, I then moved outward to my wider circle of acquaintances, sorority sisters, and Facebook friends whose engagement and wedding photos daily fill up my news feed. Okay, am I jealous of them? I wondered again. No, that wasn’t it either. As with my close friends, I’m happy for them too. So if the green-eyed monster wasn’t the source of my cynicism, then what was to blame?

I rounded yet another lap (this is a frequent occurrence on indoor tracks; they are so small!) and asked myself, Am I mad at God? After all, my undiagnosed frustration with the Almighty has caused many of my issues over the years. But after another 1/8-mile loop, I concluded that this wasn’t the case. My singleness isn’t God’s “fault”, and I wasn’t attributing to Him any blame. Okay, I thought, if I’m not jealous of my friends or mad at God, then where is this cynicism coming from?

For the next twenty minutes or so, this question played over and over again in my mind, as my feet synced up with the beats of Relient K and Superchick. Loop after loop went by, but an answer remained elusive. What was wrong? And then as I was rounding yet another itty-bitty lap, I found the answer I’d been looking for:

Somewhere along the way, I had lost hope.

It didn’t happen overnight or all of a sudden, like a balloon being popped. It was more of a slow and gradual wearing-down, like when a helium balloon loses air and inches closer to the ground over a long period of time—the cumulative effect of many years (and Valentine’s Days) spent single as more of my peers joined the “married club” without me. Doubts that began as occasional whispers became louder and more persistent, telling me that a love story wasn’t in the cards for me. I should just accept that reality and continue on with my life. Through these years of gradual attrition, I had not only quit believing that God had someone out there for me, but as a result, I had ceased to pray, to dream, to hope that this kind of future was possible for me.

Yes, I realize that this may sound a bit melodramatic, and I know that relationships aren’t the be-all-end-all-of-all. Even if I am single forever, I will still have all I need in Christ. But while I can ultimately live without a relationship, I cannot live without hope. Because hope, my friends, is a vitally important thing—arguably as essential to life as air, water, and food. Hope provides us with a reason for continuing on, even when times get hard. To paraphrase Nietzsche, hope provides the “why” so we can weather the “how”. When we lose hope, we soon after lose sight of our purpose and our meaning. And it becomes dangerously easy to fall into despair.

As I was rounding those last few laps, God pointed out to me the crack in my heart where my hope had leaked out, and despair—disguised in the toxic cloak of cynicism—had crept in. But even as He showed me my lack of hope, He offered me a renewal of it: because He gave me the desire to share life with someone, then it stands to reason that there must be someone out there with whom I can share this life. And even more importantly, I can trust that He is good and that He has my best interests in mind. For if imperfect earthly parents would never “give their kids a stone when they ask for bread”, then our perfect heavenly Father—who loves us more than we can possible fathom—must know how to give good gifts to us His children. Our job is keep hoping, believing, and asking.

Yes, I will still be single on Valentine’s Day tomorrow. And who knows? I may be single for many more Valentine’s Days after that. But if my heavenly Father loves me the way He says He does and if He indeed knows me better than I know myself, then I need keep hoping and believing that He will fulfill His plans for me—even in the relationship category

Whew, that’s enough deep thoughts for one day. I think I’m going to curl up on the couch,eat some chocolate, and watch a chick flick. Now if only I had a teddy bear… 😉

(No More) Valen-pining

My mom the "Trophy Girl" ;) Aren't my parents adorable?!
My mom the “Trophy Girl” 😉
Aren’t my parents adorable?!

If it hadn’t been for a snow day, I wouldn’t be here.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, Lawrence, Kansas, had a sizable snow storm. Enough snow fell that the university (KU) decided to cancel classes. But did that snow prevent my dad’s fraternity from throwing a party? Heck no, techno! Although my mom was hardly a “partier,” she joined a few sorority sisters and ventured out to the snow day party. My dad first spotted my mom when she was in the main living room of his fraternity house, standing by the window and wearing a red sweater. The rest, as they say, is history. My parents got married in July after their graduation—two days after my dad’s birthday, so they would both be 22. Adorable, right? A few years later, they moved to Germany and I was born. The best just kept getting better, haha. 🙂

Over the years, I’ve heard and told this story countless times. My sisters and I have grilled both of them for details, and we’ve mined through photo album after photo album looking for pictures of them together. During Christmas break, we even stopped by my dad’s fraternity house and got an impromptu tour. At my sisters’ and my request, our parents showed us that legendary spot where they had met and, surprise, told us the story again.

I’m not the kind of person who often plans my future. I tend to stay in the moment and focus on doing the next thing. But while growing up, I always assumed that my story would turn out like my parents’. I’d go to college, join a sorority and meet an amazing guy sometime along the way. We’d get married after graduation (once we were the same age, of course) and the rest would be history, so to speak.

But that didn’t happen. Yes, I went to college and joined a sorority (and even had a few snow days here and there), but when graduation rolled around, my left hand was still as empty as could be. While I certainly wasn’t the “ring by spring” type and I didn’t attend OSU to get my “MRS Degree,” I always half expected to meet someone there, like my parents had. But the path toward the stage in Gallagher-Iba Arena was the only aisle I’d be walking down that summer.

Some time has passed and so much has happened since then. I “lifed it” (ie, worked the whole summer) at Kamp, attended the Kanakuk Institute, moved to Georgia and started graduate school, and even spent 2.5 months learning Polish. During that time, I’ve met a lot of incredible people and have even been on a few dates. But for one reason or another, nothing has panned out for me in the relationship category. And so here I am, on yet another Valentine’s Day (or as I like to say “Singles’ Awareness Day”) alone again. While God has brought me to a point where I am truly thankful for my singleness, I still can’t help but wonder when my day will come. When someone will look across the crowded room and notice me, and that chapter of my story will begin.

I love to journal. Since I’m a historian, I have a compulsive urge to keep records of my life and the things that happen to me. But over the years, I’ve developed a special love for what some people call “prayer journaling,” which is Christian-ese for exactly what it sounds like: writing out my prayers in a journal. As a writer, I find that this is the best way for me to untangle and make sense of my often convoluted thoughts. And because I invite God into this process, sometimes He even gives me a moment of insight or clarity along the way. So here is a glimpse into my prayer journal a few weeks ago:

“What does faithful singleness look like? What does it mean to wait and watch and have hope? How would it look to be expectantly content? Do I really believe You will write this story? Am I willing to quit planning, to give up my orchestrating, and actually lay down the pen? …

Do I really trust You with this area of my life?

Like a song stuck on repeat, that last question came up in my mind over and over again. Do I really trust God with my singleness? And do I really believe He is guiding and will continue to guide my life? The Sunday School answer is a simple “yes,” but the real-life, rest-of-the-week answer is so much more tricky than that. Faith seems easy until you actually need to have it.

And so I returned to that broken-record question, “Do I really trust God with this area of my life?” If I’m honest with myself, the answer is ‘no’ or at least ‘not always.’ But by His grace, I’m trying.

You see, when life doesn’t go the way we’ve planned—relationally or otherwise—we have a few options. We can sit down and mope (or as I like to say, “Valen-pine”), we can do everything in our power to “fix it,” or we can wait patiently on the Lord to see what He has in store. And for me at this point in my (*cough, cough*) very single life, I think that waiting is exactly what He wants from me. Because in the waiting, I am learning to trust and have faith that He cares for me, that He knows me better than I know myself, and that He will fulfill His purpose for me in His own time and way. If that includes an amazing fella, awesome! But if not, then He will be enough for me—and I trust He will make that true. So in the meantime, do I trust Him? And am I living in such a way that shows that I trust Him? Lord, let it be so.

That being said, it’s Valentine’s Day, and I’m not sure what to wear. How about a red sweater? 😉

red sweater crop