twentybydesign

the life and times of a twenty year old designer

Posts Tagged ‘singleness

Wedding Season, 2014 (a toast)

with 3 comments

As anyone in twenty-something stage of life knows, summer is Wedding Season. The sun in shining, the birds are singing, and happy couples across the country are tying the knot with vibrant, festive enthusiasm. And the friends and family of these couples are caught up in the tidal wave of bridal showers, engagement parties, bachelorette parties, ceremonies, and receptions. I’m a couple years removed from college, so my friends are really starting to kick things into gear. It’s been four for me this season, including a three-weddings-in-ten-day stretch that inaugurated and defined my July.

All of these festivities made me think of a post of mine from a couple years ago. You can read Wedding Season if you’d like – I still think there’s some wisdom there, even though it was written before I started going to 4+ weddings a summer. This time I’d like to reflect on what a rich experience this wedding season has been, and on the marathon of the last ten days in particular.

If you didn’t click through to the last post, I’ll give you a bit of a background. I’m 23 now, and I think I’ve been to about ten weddings since then, and there’s never been anything to interfere with my single-gal status at these shindigs. I’ve written a fair bit about singleness, some about the engagement bug, but very little about the weddings themselves.

If we’re talking liturgical philosophy, I’ll give you an earful about how the commercialization of weddings and the elevation of the romance narrative is part of a cultural downward spiral of dire significance. But I’d be remiss in ignoring the way in which weddings also play a vital role in combating the tide of cynicism in our world. I can’t pinpoint what it was about this stretch of weddings in particular that I enjoyed so much, so I’m going to try to give you a series of vignettes to capture the week, to share with you something of what it was:

 

It was being my mother’s date to the wedding of my oldest friend, sitting at the table with our first-grade teacher and sharing stories, dancing and laughing and catching up with a family I hadn’t seen all together in nearly ten years. 

It was the fusion of modern zest for life with reverence for tradition, as old hymns, familiar scriptures, and well-aged liturgies ushered in the beginning of decidedly new, twenty-first-century marriages.

 

It was the bachelorette party that was a celebration of friendship and sisterhood, a poignant good-bye to a way of life as we prepared to send the bride halfway across the country. 

It was reuniting a crew of crazies and blasting 95.7 The Party so that we could get our groove on because we knew that at the end of the two hour drive, this wedding wasn’t going to have dancing. 

It was the ceremony where I got to sit next to my best friend, the gal whose imagination during the ceremony turned towards “When you have your own church someday…” rather than “When we’re planning your wedding…” and feeling known, loved, and immensely grateful to be sharing life with someone so wonderful.

It was the way the bride and groom, finding themselves at the end of nine months of long-distance engagement, never let go of each other’s hands during the reception.

It was being seated with a table entirely composed of strangers, despite the fact that I knew a couple dozen people at the wedding, and being able to laugh and talk and enjoy the evening together as through we were old friends. 

 

It was rekindling a dormant friendship with a man who’s always been a big brother and mentor, picking up right where we left off, and discussing long-range life philosophies while slow-dancing to “Closing Time” at the end of the night.

It was the men – some friends, some strangers – who noticed me sitting alone and requested the honor of a dance, knowing that asking for a dance simply means you’d like someone to dance with, and that it’s perfectly acceptable behavior at a wedding.

It was playing Scattergories and Taboo with two of my favorite married couples in a mountain cabin after the wedding, falling asleep in a pile of blankets on their floor at 2 AM, and waking up for a leisurely breakfast in town at a table for five.

 

It was the realization of the beauty and bravery of these marriages, these decisions to say, at the age of twenty-three, “I’m done comparison shopping, you and I are going to do this together regardless of who else we meet, where our careers thrive or struggle, where we have to move, or where we have to stay.” It’s a brilliant, selfless antidote to the tonic of self-fulfillment, convenient, disposable relationships and pursuing one’s own dreams that has permeated the mind of your average twenty-three year old (myself included.)

Yes, it was about the eight folks that I witnessed knit their lives together. But it was also about the reunion of a wide web of friends and family at vibrant celebrations born out of long seasons of difficulty.

During the ceremony of this Tuesday’s wedding, the minister said something like “You two are embarking on life’s greatest adventure – marriage.” I couldn’t help but twitch a bit at that statement. Marriage is a grand adventure, make no mistake. I can’t wait to see all of the joy and glory that comes out of the depth and vulnerability of these marriages.

But what if life’s greatest adventure is just life itself? What if it doesn’t have to be hindered by a fear of odd numbers? What if it’s these crazy moments where single folks and married folks share stories and wedding parties become centers of hospitality and reunion? What if, even in our singleness, we allow our relationships to be vital and risky and intimate and hopeful?

And what if, as one of my newlywed friends reminded me, we allow this all to stand as a brilliant metaphor for the relationship between Christ and his Church – the passionate pursuit, the fastidious preparation, the joyous union and the celebration from which no one is turned away. Weddings are as crucial to understanding the present and future realities of the life of faith as they are to upholding traditional social structures.

 

There’s no better way to end than with a toast. So, here’s to wedding season. This crazy season that somehow reminds us to look outside of ourselves, to stop comparison shopping, to commit to the real, honest, hard, fulfilling work of building strong relationships with each other, to dance and laugh and eat cake, to invite folks from our pasts to celebrate with us the great joys of our present moments, and to keep throwing the kind of parties where everyone feels welcome. Here’s to the guests and wedding parties, spouses and singles, old and young, estranged and embraced. May you all live to see a thousand reasons to rejoice. 

Written by Taylor Webster

July 17, 2014 at 4:31 pm

ashen valentines

with 2 comments

On Wednesday, followers of Christ around the world gathered in public meeting places for a time of quiet, stillness, and reflection, preparing for a forty day journey of repentance. Ash-marked foreheads bore witness throughout the day, reminding us that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

On Thursday, an awkwardly American holiday called forth extravagant displays of romantic love, outpourings of friendship, consumption of sweets and celebration of our interconnectedness.

And somehow, experiencing the two one after the other was stunningly harmonious.

Hear me out on this. Nobody ever said love made sense.

Here’s where I’ve been, going in to this week.

A year ago, Wedding Season was a beautiful opportunity for me to open a constructive dialogue on the role of the single soul in the life of the community.  I had no idea at the time how far the journey would take me. I even spent a few months dating near the end of last year. I can absolutely say my perspectives have been challenged to the fullest. I have celebrated some beautiful weddings, grown in friendship with married couples, seen the selfish underpinnings of my own perspectives, walked with dear friends through the seeming valleys of their own singleness, and learned to advocate with greater clarity and understand more personally the deep blessings of vocational singleness. In essence, the struggles I wrote of in Wedding Season have only grown deeper and more complex. But the rewards of engaging deeply have multiplied beyond what I could have expected. 

So, why bring it up again? Is this just my “chew toy,” my pocket subject, my identity-defining different-ness? I’d like to hope not. But lately other things have been making me feel the way my singleness used to make me feel. Sure, some of it’s being excluded from couple-centric dialogue and events, especially with other women. (seriously folks, we all have more in common than boys and babies…) But there’s a lot of things that make it hard for me to relate to other folks. Or for other folks to relate to me, maybe.

I’m the post-grad who still lives and hangs out with college students.

I’m the twenty-two year old managing, leading, designing, and teaching with colleagues who should be my mentors and students who should be my peers.

I’m the bookish, philosophical academic who spends her days in a world of sawdust, paint drips, and welding wire.

I’m the aspiring world changer who faces deep conversational unease in a group larger than two.

I’m the banjo-picking lover of good headphones and multifaceted compositions, at odds with a culture where four chords suffice.

I’m the advocate for radical living who works a 9-5 and has a retirement plan.

In essence. There are things about me that don’t fit. Points of disconnect from the expected. Parts of me that seem especially hard to love, especially to those following any sort of formula. Things I don’t talk about for fear of seeming too different. Actually, it’s scary how good I’ve gotten at not talking about myself. Some folks will tell you I’m a good listener – what that really means is that my own self is so far guarded that it’s easy to create space in the room for someone else’s story. Somewhere along the way I’ve learned that my mess, when shared, will only hurt me (or worse still, whomever I ask to share it with). And so, because of all of these differences and inconsistencies, I’ve almost grown resigned to the idea that i’ll never quite be connected or understood.

Ash Wednesday was beautifully soul-crushing. There, I felt understood all too well. 

What a picture of love. 

To look at us and say “I want you to remember something. I want you to remember who you are and where you came from. You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Sitting in the sanctuary, going through a communal prayer of confession, my own disconnection and unworthiness seemed to ring through the room in rippling echoes. Having just experienced a deep and powerful act of personal reconciliation, my healing heart was still tender, vulnerable and open.

And in response, I was given the gift of being able to look around the campus or across the table, and see a dirty cross distracting me from the face of a friend or loved one, reminding me that no matter what sort of facades we’ve constructed, dust is the summation of our being.  What a powerful common thread. No matter our age or social status or knowledge or power or wealth, we were all raised up from the dust and will someday leave our bodies behind in the dust of this earth. And the great hope we yearn to celebrate on Easter is only powerful in relation to it’s role in lifting us out of ashes, creating beauty from the dust. If we were so very worth loving, Christ’s love for us would have no miraculous or transformative power. 

How powerful, then, to celebrate our love for each other on Valentine’s day?

To take this opportunity to look each other in the eyes and say “I’m thankful that we’re living life together.”
To say “I saw the ashes on your forehead, and I know the darkness in your heart, and I still choose love.”
To say “Let us keep walking together the journey from ashes to ashes.”

Isn’t this all exactly what Christ has said to us?

As a wise, dear friend said to me yesterday, “Sometimes we feel love the best when we are in repentance.” Accepting our own deep brokenness, owning the cry of our souls that rings of desperation, loneliness, and unworthiness, somehow opens the door to forgiveness. As we learn to accept the love we know we don’t deserve, it pours out of our hearts and makes such communal sentimentality as we saw on Thursday possible.

This acknowledgment somehow allowed my lonely, crazy, single, guarded heart to smile yesterday. To taste, and see the goodness overwhelming the bitterness. To see communities connecting in spite of  vast social differences. To hope, in spite of every broken inclination, in a love bigger than my imagination, stronger than marriage and friendship combined, and deeper than the world’s topsoil of ash and dust.

In this time of repentance, may we be compelled to love stronger and deeper than ever before. Thank you all for continuing on the journey with me.

Written by Taylor Webster

February 15, 2013 at 9:15 pm

Wedding Season

with 15 comments

Something is happening to my friends. In the last four to six weeks, I’ve seen more than ten updates on Facebook, all advertising the same state of euphoria. [I almost inserted a witty remark akin to “No, I’m not talking about Tebowmania…” then decided I don’t want to be that kind of writer.] It seems that lately the engagement bug is spreading like the plague. And it makes sense. If you want your next step in life after college to be marriage, then you get engaged in December and spend your senior spring planning a lovely summer wedding. Engagement is a validation of the months or years you’ve spent in relationship with this person, working hard to determine whether you are ready to give the whole of your lives to each other. It is a beautiful step in the journey to lifelong relationship and covenant, and I’m truly excited to support some dear friends as they embark on this journey.

Even so, as a lady who has spent the last three and a half years in a state of persistent singleness, all this talk of weddings is at times a bit hard to take. In the spirit of honesty and openness, I’ll confess that initially it brings up all of the old frustrations which stem from a place of jealousy and are reinforced by a persistent societal inferiority. It is frustrating to have desires for oneness, closeness, and companionship left unfulfilled. It is frustrating to go out alone and feel like restaurants, movie theaters, and even grocery stores are not designed to be enjoyed by the single. It is frustrating to pursue close friendship with those who devote so much emotional energy to romantic pursuits that they have little time left for friends. It is frustrating to feel personally and socially incomplete. In short, it is frustrating to know that there is space in your soul for deep union with another and to feel the ache of that space being left untouched, especially as it seems your friends are getting something you’re not.

And then I realize, this is ridiculous. I’m twenty years old. I can’t even buy myself a glass of wine in which to drown my sorrows.  I’m far too young to be a bitter old maid. Because being single does not make me incomplete. My friends who devote so much of themselves to these relationships aren’t trying to hurt me or alienate me. I didn’t blow my one shot at eternal happiness by not dating in college. The whole idea that the purest happiness comes from marriage undermines the truth that the only way to fill that empty space is through genuine union with the heart of Jesus. That ache, that loneliness, that frustration, and that persistent sense that something is missing is more than the desire for a husband, it is the desire for a savior. And the gift of ultimate redemption, of being welcomed into the kingdom as one deeply beloved, is not reserved for the married. As John Newton wrote centuries ago, to the married and unmarried alike:

 The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

Why then, with such a beautiful and permanent promise, do I have any cause for worry or fear? Perhaps it’s because for a while it seems I’ve been told that my husband is out there waiting for me as I wait for him, that I’m absolutely entitled to a lifetime of marital bliss, and that just when I stop looking, that soulmate will come along and take away all of the ache and all of the loneliness.

These promises come from easily-resolved chick flicks, churches reinforcing the American concept of family above all else, fairytales in school, and even the examples of relatives and family friends. Somehow, I just haven’t managed to find many single folks to fill the role of mentor in my life. And while I’m grateful to have received personal and spiritual direction from married folks, I can’t help but feel a piece of my education is missing. Paul writes time and time again about how he thinks that it is better for man to remain single and how those who are married face many difficulties which often make it more challenging to pursue wholehearted service. And yet, it often feels as though all we see are announcements of weddings, celebrations of births, and the creation of a culture in which singleness is more of a disease to be cured than a gift to be valued. 

The body is bigger and more beautiful than any of that. It is not a place for married couples to meet other married couples and raise their kids and talk about their retirement plans. It is not a place for single people to meet other single people and get married so they can raise their kids and talk about their retirement plans. It is where single people and married folks find common ground and enter into life together. Yes, we rejoice at a wedding, but a wedding should plant a seed for deeper engagement with the kingdom and the community, not push the couple into focusing so much on their own relationship and family that they are no longer able to reach out.  And just as we take joy from a wedding, we should also rejoice when a man who is not bound to wife makes a commitment to devote his time, talents, energy and resources in an entirely different but equally valuable way to the contributions of the family man. It hurts our culture to elevate one state of being above all others, whether it is dating or single or thin or old or young or intellectual or artistic. We need everybody. Together. 

So, to my single brothers and sisters, take heart. Not everyone gets married right after college. More importantly, not everyone gets married at all. You are not an empty, unfulfilled, shell of a human being. You have been given a gift in this moment, a lifestyle and perspective that is different and valuable and important to be shared with your single and married friends alike. And, most important of all, you are not alone. The love and completeness you desire is offered freely by the your soul’s redeemer whether you marry or not. The church is more than just a place to meet your husband or wife, it is a place to form deep and authentic relationships with the body which challenge you in spiritual and personal growth. Some of you are called to singleness for a lifetime, others for just a season. But wherever you are, don’t imagine that the married folks are getting off easy, are completely fulfilled, or no longer desire your friendship. Take the hard step of reaching out, engaging with and learning from those who have been given a different gift. Your married friends still need you. And you still need them.

To the church, it’s been too long that we’ve seem marriage preached as the ultimate fulfillment and encouraged pastoral matrimony to the point where single leadership in the faith is hard to come by. I’ve visited at least a dozen churches in the past year, and engaged with half a dozen others through podcasts and blogs. I cannot remember a single church from the bunch that was not led by a married man. There are nearly three times as many books on Amazon written for Christian couples as there are for Christian singles (and even fewer for singles who aren’t trying to find a spouse). Our attitude, our culture, has got to change. Henri Nouwen, one of the most inspiring and encouraging, honest and genuine authors of the faith I’ve encountered, was celibate and single his entire life. The Apostle Paul never married, and yet authored a substantial portion of the New Testament. Many of the saints never married. Are we to assume that there was something wrong with them? Or is it possible that they were simply fulfilling the call of God in their life in the same way those who married young desire to do? Lift up the singles in your congregation, not as oddities, but as treasures. Encourage a life of singleness with the same ferocity you devote to the pursuit of healthy marital relationships. God loves the artist and the businessman, the explorer and the homemaker, and the husband and the monk with equal passion, and has placed a unique calling in each of their hearts with purpose and intention.Who are we to say any of those gifts are of lesser value or need to be replaced by a more socially encouraged gift?

And to my dear friends who are dating, engaged, or married, let me first say that I truly admire, applaud, and respect the path you’re on. It takes incredible devotion and strength of character, honesty and commitment, forgiveness and love, hope and faith to sustain such a close relationship between two people. The journey towards a lifetime of healthy commitment is far from simple or easy. I cannot pretend to understand the joys and sacrifices which comprise your relationship with your beloved. But I would, from my heart, ask you to remember that your beloved is only a part of the fullness of life God has in store for you. Fullness derived from engagement in community in which you have not chosen or been chosen by every member, community comprised of the sorts of folks with whom you would never have elected to spend the rest of your life, but are part of your family nonetheless. Keep a place in your heart for your single friends, even when it seems easier to hang out with other couples or spend most of your time with your spouse. Let your relationship bring you closer to God as you learn new ways to engage His heart together, and then share what you’ve learned with the body. Marriage is a public ceremony for a reason – the covenant is also with the community, and your responsibility to your community is just as important as your duties to your spouse.

In closing, some words from the blog of Andrew Arndt, pastor of Bloom Church in Denver. The original post can be found here

I also tried to draw attention to the fact that Jesus seems to think that marriage is not for everyone (this was the point that got the most response, especially out of our heavily singled crowd).  When the disciples say to him, “In that case, it is better not to be married!”, Jesus doesn’t reply by saying, “Oh no no no, marriage is great and everyone should do it!”  Rather, he says, “You’re right.  But some have been given the call to be married, and those who have should accept.”  This is basically similar to what Paul says in 1 Co 7.  ”Each has his own gift from God…”

So marriage is a high calling

And so is singleness

Both have an indispensable place in the church

My concluding points from all of this reflection were these…

1) Being single is not evidence of some kind of pathology, which is exactly the way we treat it in the modern church.  ”Married” is the normal mode of sexual life, and “single” is abnormal.  So we create “singles ministries” in the hopes of “ministering to the special needs” of single people.  This is exactly backwards from the early church, which understood that singleness was the “normal” mode of life for God’s new people in Christ, since, unlike Judaism, the religion didn’t grow by procreation but by witness and conversion.  You’ve heard it said, “God has no grandchildren”.  And that’s right.  So if you’re single, I said, EMBRACE THE MOMENT.  God may call you to be married, but you ought to carpe diem and give yourself over to the purposes of God in the very rich and marvelous way that Paul commends in 1 Co 7.

Carpe diem indeed, friends. Let’s go change some hearts.

(And for those of you who may not know much about blogging, I can’t tell you the difference a simple comment and willingness to engage makes to us lonely typists out there. Write back if you agree. Write back if you’re angry. Write back if you lost interest halfway through. But anytime you read a blog. Write back.)

Written by Taylor Webster

January 12, 2012 at 2:07 pm