Newlyweds on the Mission Field

It’s time to give you the lowdown on what we’ve been up to these last few months! And give you an idea of our 2018 plans.

Natán and I are living in the northwest region of Honduras and have been settling in quite nicely to newlywed life. I really can’t say enough just how thankful I am to have married someone so selfless and caring. Not only does he care for me well but he has such a heart for the marginalized and oppressed. I couldn’t ask for a better partner as we navigate this new phase of life as esposos, missionaries, directors of a nonprofit, and – for me – an expatriate in a new land and culture. It takes a lot of adapting and compromise.

We certainly couldn’t do what we do without the backing of an incredible support and prayer team back home. Even though we haven’t personally reached 100% of our monthly support goal, the Lord doesn’t cease to amaze us and continually proves Himself as our Provider.

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In our work we see heart-breaking scenarios and subpar living circumstances. 62% of the population of Honduras live below the national poverty line, or in other words, under $2.50 a day. Most of these people live in rural settings and work in agriculture. Limited education, improper nutrition, lack of clean drinking water, inadequate hygiene practices, and lack of employment opportunities or unpredictable crop yield all contribute to cycles of poverty that continue for generations. Our goal is to help families break these cycles through holistic community development programs.

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According to the CIA World Fact Book

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Lenca Indian girl in the kitchen of her home – Intibucá

We’ve identified two needy villages to begin with in the west and southwest region of the country. We’ve started with some exploratory trips and small-scale initiatives but our goal is to implement projects in 2018 that will result in self-sustainability during our 3 year involvement. (The first villages will be our pilot programs and each year our goal is to initiate new holistic programs in new needy villages.)

I posted the following on my Facebook page this past July:

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Elderly lady in the “living room” of her home – Copán, Honduras

While we don’t want to create dependency among our villager friends or base our friendship on what we give and what they receive, we recognize that certain groups of people are especially vulnerable with little chance of reaching self-sustainability such as the abandoned elderly and disabled. The lady pictured above is one example of that and is a recipient of food “handouts” whenever we visit her village.

We have a couple friends who are on board with the program in Copán and give financially specifically to fund our efforts there. We are planning a few end-of-year fundraisers to kick the program off so stay tuned! You can find giving info here.

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A recent visit to our village in Copán teaching appropriate hygiene practices and disease prevention

To get a better idea of how we distinguish relief work (which is not our focus) from development work, check out this chart developed by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.

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To Give or Not To Give Positive Affirmation

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I don’t remember if I ever actually took that Love Language quiz but I am 99% sure that my love language is words of affirmation. (love receiving it but still not the best at giving it) I think the need is in my nature mostly but probably also has to do with growing up in an encouraging and affirming environment. (not always unconditional mind you) For good or for bad it kind of created a dependency I suppose. When someone withholds verbal affirmation I feel it deeply. It still makes me feel like a child. My husband is a bit more resilient and I envy him for it. But every now and then I see that inner child looking for approval come out. It’s a part of us all.

All of us were created with some degree of innate need for encouragement and that you-can-do-it voice backing us up. If our childhood is devoid of that kind of moral support it can lead to grave emotional and relational consequences. (The results of which we see a lot here in our work in Honduras.)

I’m an INFP and I’ve mentioned before that I’m a self-diagnosed highly sensitive person so this combination makes me very attuned to which individuals are affirmation-hoarders and which are generous with their praise. Yeah, I see you.

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Emotional withholding is in fact a psychological manipulation tactic. It is one thing to be careless and just not thoughtful in general but it is another thing to intentionally withhold positive speech (an emotional need) in order to a.) punish the receiver or b.) maintain a sense of imagined superiority over them. I would even say, speaking from personal experience, that some of us feel this weird need to determine who actually deserves positive words and who’s “had their fill.” Have you ever felt that sense of, “Well, they sure get enough likes on instagram. I’m not adding to it.”? Kind of silly but I think we’ve all been there.

Sadly, what I’ve noticed is that almost every affirmation-withholder I’ve met did not receive adequate positive affirmation somewhere in their past: from a parent, authority figure, former employer, etc. It’s a cycle. I know that when I feel particularly insecure and in need of verbal affirmation is when I am least likely to give it out to someone else. Those really are my most selfish times, not when I’m at the peak of my confidence. Someone has the break the cycle. And it requires some strength.

I have a couple friends who are literally the best compliment givers. They can cheer a person up in under a minute. Sometimes I’m feeling down and they catch me off guard with their positive outlook. All of a sudden I feel invincible, with my head held high, ready to lavish praise (merited or unmerited) on literally any random person who crosses my path.

Encouragement begets encouragement, and positive affirmation begets positive affirmation. What power we have in our words to create such a ripple effect. It changes the environment around us and truly has a broad outcome even beyond our sphere of influence. As children of God why would we not want to give affirmation freely?

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Paul’s letter in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “…encourage one another and build one another up.” It’s a Christian responsibility! It’s important that we periodically check our hearts and pray like David, “Search me, God, and know my heart. Test my thoughts.” Even when it’s difficult or awkward or “not my style” we can step out of our comfort zone and give positive words of affirmation that someone else might be needing so badly. On the other side of the coin I also think it’s important that we examine ourselves and take responsibility for our own emotions that deep down our identity and security is founded in Christ and not in any human’s words. Working on it. 🙂

What about you? Are you on the needy end of the spectrum? Do you consider yourself generous with encouragement?

Blending: Newlywed Daily Life

Today marks four months of marriage. I’m totally counting (and celebrating!) each month but Natán told me just to let him know once we’ve reached a year. *eye roll*

These four months have involved a lot of blending. Blending of two distinct cultures, upbringings, families, personalities, responsibilities, communication styles, general preferences, and expectations. In a lot of ways we had already started some of the blending almost five years ago when we started dating. The fact that I had moved to a new country meant that I was already doing quite a lot of adapting previous to meeting Natán. If I hadn’t been open to a complete cultural change from the beginning there would have been (and would still be) a lot more friction.

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That doesn’t mean I don’t lay down some gringa rules in this Honduran household. 1. Bath and Body Works Wallflowers and candles – this house will smell like a magical garden of magnolia blossom white tea ginger honeysuckle sweet pea, dang it. 2. Decorative pillows are meant to be seen, not touched and certainly not slept on. 3. You can eat your stinky dry cheese all you want but I will keep the fridge stocked with my heavenly cheddar cheese, even if it means splurging a bit at the grocery store. 4. Let me introduce you to a little invention called a coaster. 5. I’m sorry, we’re doing what today? Is it on the family calendar??

He likes to joke that I’m “American-izing” him and my whiteness is rubbing off on him. 😉 (you. are. welcome.) Occasionally when he doesn’t want to yield to my really great American idea he claims imperialism. (deep down I know he likes all my ideas)

[One of my ideas is that he will continue to eat fried okra with as many meals as possible until he is as obsessed with it as I am.] 2017-05-02 18.56.45

Contrary to common belief about Latin men being machista he is a wonderful partner who treats me as his equal and willingly shares in domestic responsibilities. I’m so thankful for that. Really, it’s something that attracted me to him from the beginning. I recognized that he knew how to run a household and wasn’t afraid of a broom and dustpan. I’ve learned valuable home skills from him too like how to wash clothes by hand in the pila (outdoor wash basin) and make flour tortillas.

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I can honestly say that nothing has felt more natural than becoming his wife and blending our separate lives together. I halfway expected a big moment of either euphoria or difficulty. Maybe that moment is on its way but so far I can attest that it has just felt right. As a person who thoroughly enjoyed and made the most of singlehood, I now know that I really really enjoy marriage in general and I really really enjoy sharing life with the person I wholeheartedly decided to marry. ❤

 

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The Art of Being Real on the Mission Field

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This isn’t a how-to article. I promise I’m not another expert. This just happens to be something I am trying to learn myself as I make it through this missionary/expat/immigrant journey in Honduras.

The love of travel and love of missions are not always the same thing. For me, they go hand-in-hand. It is a dream come true for me to be able to live as a missionary in Latin America. I’ve seen the wholistic transformation that happens when the Church steps up to care materially and spiritually for needy brothers and sisters. – A biblical mandate I believe –

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Line of patients waiting to enter one of our medical clinics in Copán, Honduras

As a newlywed and a newly-returned-to-Honduras foreigner, this stage of life comes with a lot of transition. I’ve been traveling to Honduras (+ other Latin American countries) for exactly half of my life now and I previously lived here for a year teaching, so it’s not like this whole experience is brand new. In fact, I’ve lost the sense of novelty in a lot of aspects. I have to be intentional about seeing this country and culture with fresh eyes in order to maintain a sense of wonder and appreciation for its differences.

And let me tell you, it has its differences.

It is different from my life in the U.S. probably in more ways than you expect. (even though I bet it also has more similarities than you would expect.) I want to take the chance here in my blog to lay out a few realities in the most gracious way possible. In no way would I want to:

  1. disrespect the wonderful people of Honduras, nor their treasured traditions & customs
  2. display any type of ethnocentric arrogance
  3. “poor mouth” to receive pity as if moving to Honduras was some form of holy suffering for the Lord
  4. or, on the contrary, ignore the obvious and pretend that I am living life as a typical North American newlywed

…because I’m not. Here, I am stretched and challenged in ways that I wouldn’t be back in2017-05-07 09.16.06-2 the states. I’ve given up a few comforts and conveniences. (necessities or luxuries depending on which perspective you have.) At my worst moments, I am grouchy and whiny and look for someone to share in my misery or at least feel sorry for me. Thankfully, my Honduran husband, mostly undeterred by the little things I find  uncomfortable or inconvenient, patiently brings me back to reality and reassures me that whatever I was frustrated over is probably not that important in the grand scheme of things. (he gives great pep talks)

For example, back home I am used to complete climate control inside my home: everything from the temperature to pest control to aromas to noises – not even an ant or foul odor would sneak by without my noticing and inflicting vengeance.

Here I HAVE NO CONTROL. It is pure chaos for the five senses. There is hardly a distinction between the outside and the inside therefore I am totally exposed to whatever elements – heat, wind, critters, dust and dirt, the smell of my my neighbor’s lunch on the stove, the scent of the garbage truck passing by, the sound of my neighbor sneezing, the incessant honking of a car down the street, the party music at a ridiculous level all night long – decide to invade the house at any given moment. (a lot of this due to living in such close proximity to so many other houses)

Because we live in the city we are also in close proximity to other helpful resources like the grocery store and banks. *thumbs up*

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The fine line that we walk as expat Christian workers is how to communicate our reality to those back home without sounding like grumblers. The truth is that no matter how many times I post online or call my mother to complain about how much “I am drenched in sweat and it’s not even 9:00 a.m.!” it doesn’t cool me off any more and she really isn’t going to understand what it feels like in the day-to-day unless she is here living it with me.

A more serious and difficult subject is violence and corruption. These are deep-rooted social problems that can affect the expat’s life in real ways. We often don’t know how to talk to those back home about the implications that these factors have on our daily lives. Generally it means going about daily activities with a heightened sense of caution and occasionally fear.

This brings us to the reality that many missionaries deal with battles that aren’t manifested in physical form. Emotional and psychological trials are real and can be underplayed if we aren’t careful. Loneliness and sadness can be painful parts of the missionary’s journey – but how do you casually drop that hint in a newsletter? For those back home, pray for discernment on how to best care for your missionary friend in this area.

Daily, I ask the Lord to give me patience and grace to deal with my circumstances. I voluntarily moved to this country (which I have loved for some time now) and count it an honor to have the opportunity to serve here. How can I complain about trivial discomforts when I am living in what most of the world’s population would consider luxury? I don’t make it a habit to guilt myself into feeling the awareness of my privilege. It’s important to be aware but guilt is not what drives our service or our generosity. Being caught up in the gaze of our Savior and His assignment to a hurting world is what propels us.

I apologize if I’ve ever made unfair generalizations about the country of Honduras or taken advantage of someone’s unfamiliarity with the culture to exaggerate a situation in my favor. This is not the work of missionaries. We should try harder to communicate with respect and truth and pure motives. We should try to be more open and direct with those who offer help, not playing the role of “poor pitiful me” nor that of a superhero.

We are human and we have weaknesses. I thank God for a husband, an ideal partner, who is strong when I am weak, and for a Heavenly Father who is stronger than both of us.

“…how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” Matthew 7:11

I choose to count my blessings right before I turn to share them with someone else. I might not have all the earthly comforts I sometimes want so badly but I’m called and equipped for an assignment bigger than my desires.

Mrs. Martínez got Married on a Monday

It has been about 10 months since I have posted a new blog entry but I am back to announce that Natán and I got married 3 weeks ago on the dreamy island of Roatan, Honduras!! All I have to say is that we are loving married life and are in the preparation stage of a new ministry opportunity (that we’ll share soon) aaaannnddd are still just oogling over our photos from David Díaz Photography:

Dear Younger Me: First Mission Trip

This is a letter to my almost 15-year-old self on that very first exhilarating mission trip to Honduras in February 2004. Note: mission trip (STM) refers to evangelical Christian humanitarian work typically in another country. My teenage self would probably roll her eyes at this letter, but… Little Idealist, these are lessons you will eventually learn.

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In a medical clinic during one of my first trips. El Jardín, Copán, HN.

Dear Younger Me,

Finally! You’ve been waiting and praying about the chance to go on a mission trip and it’s finally here. So much expectation and anticipation (and let’s face it… drama, because well, you’re 14.) It really will prove to be more life-changing than you can even understand in this phase of life. I know you have done so much preparation and feel like everything in life has been leading up to this big, glorious moment. It will actually prove to be just one of many gloriously small moments that will ultimately string together in a beautiful way that only God can orchestrate. Just wait.

Journal this experience. I know you do this anyway because you’ve always been the weirdo kid who documents EVERY. THING. Good for you. One day, you’ll be 27 and a more experienced, slightly wiser version of yourself and you’ll be going through your old things and come across your old mission trip journal and you will sit in your room and cry over the pages because of how faithful God has been. And you’ll laugh at how cute and naive you once were.

LEARN. That is your first responsibility as a team member on a mission trip: to learn. Learn the language. Learn the culture. If you are serious about opening your mind and heart up to this new part of the world and want to effectively serve in some capacity with these people then there is only one option that makes sense… LEARN TO COMMUNICATE WITH THEM. You can’t build a ministry in another country through hand gestures and handouts while thinking like an American (read: United States-ean). Relationships are key and the foundation is communication and understanding. Do the hard work: learn the language.

Being a learner means you realize that you actually don’t know best. Do you know who does know best? The natives, and usually, the missionaries. The ones who live there day-in and day-out. They know what is appropriate and what is not. They know which situations are dangerous and which are not. As a team member, an outsider (no matter your age), it is not your place to question their leadership or decisions. Like, if they tell you to stop laughing obnoxiously loud in a public restaurant because you are being disrespectful of the country’s social norms don’t roll your eyes because “ugh, what a party pooper.” (Other than already attracting probably more unwanted attention than necessary, you are reinforcing a negative stereotype of North Americans – being disrespectfully loud and dominating of public spaces). You are also part of a team of people who is representing a local ministry or organization. LIVE BY THEIR RULES. It might seem super stuffy or strict compared to your church back home but… you are not at home. Respect the hosts’ rules.

Once you get to truly know the people and the culture you’ll find that they aren’t that different from you. You’ll get past the point of identifying all the differences and will start to celebrate and relish in the similarities of your common humanity. You’ll see dignity in each person and will be less likely to make blanket statements about their culture or race. As time goes on and you start having more conversations with the natives you’ll realize you stop talking so much about the natives. You’ll probably start out quoting faulty statistics about the country to friends back home or making wild generalizations about the local people as a whole… (Yeah, you’re gonna think you’re an expert on the entire Honduran population within your first trip or two. You’re kind of annoying.) Then you will get to know their hearts and will feel silly for making all those ethnocentric assumptions. (Thankfully, your Honduran friends are gracious people. Most will forgive you.) 😉

You’ll undoubtedly come home from this first trip with excitement and tears and pictures, sharing stories of what you saw and felt. Who wouldn’t? You might encourage a couple other friends or family members to join you on following trips. Some will listen intently, some will get bored from your stories pretty quickly because they didn’t experience it with you. They’re not going to understand. They don’t get why you cry because you have such a nice house and so many don’t, and why suddenly you are borderline taking a vow of poverty. You just went though a real emotional journey over the last seven days and those who didn’t experience it can’t exactly relate.

Speaking of poverty… YOU ARE NOT A POVERTY TOURIST. You did not pay $1,200 to travel all the way to Central America so you could “experience poverty.” (Which you never actually did. Seeing poverty is not experiencing poverty.) The thousands of people who live in rural Honduras and are trying to survive off a dollar a day are not staged for your entertainment or learning exploit. This is their real life. I know you’re excited about all the pictures you get to show to everyone back home but count the cost of that photo you just snapped with your iPhone* in that family’s private space while gawking at their extreme lack. Be sensitive and consider each person’s dignity before doing anything.

*I went through 3 entire disposable cameras on my first trip 12 years ago

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Apparently all I did on my first trip was hold other people’s babies.

Now, let’s talk about your clothes for a second. This isn’t a pertinent issue necessarily but it reflects your attitude toward those you are serving. If you show up uncharacteristically dressed like a bum in cut-off capris and cut-off ratty t-shirts, the message you are conveying is: you aren’t worth my best… or at least, you aren’t worth my average. I’m telling you now, there is no need to raid the thrift store for the nastiest items before your trip because “you don’t want to ruin your good clothes.” This is a fine excuse if you are helping with hard labor or a messy job like painting but consider your activity… washing hair for lice? Giving worm medicine at the entrance of the pop-up clinic? Dress appropriately and show respect in that.

Ok, I know you most likely will not receive this well right now because you are high on enthusiasm and naive idealism but you will come to learn this with time and it needs to be said… you are not the hero. Like, it is not about you at all. Take your piece of humble pie and swallow it well because no one likes an arrogant team member. You are one of many team members and unity is key. First of all, you are doing the humbling job of serving other human beings, so esteem them higher than yourself. Secondly, you are working with other volunteers as a unit and any individualism on the job has to go. Thirdly, you nor your team are the first nor the only ones to do this kind of work. It is valuable and needed! But it is not exclusive to your group. You don’t have a monopoly on “free medical clinics in Honduras”and you certainly didn’t invent the idea. Celebrate the fact that you are joining so many others in the effort to share Christ’s love in a tangible way!

It all feels glamorous right now but it won’t always be. You will experience more fear and pain than you even imagined but you will find more love than you even imagined also.

Let this experience move you to inward and outward change. You will slowly start to see the world completely differently. You’ll probably have a slightly different perspective on success, faith, politics, and current events than others. Let it move you to make a difference at home as you dream about going abroad again. You didn’t have this awakening inside your soul just to apathetically return to abundance and self-indulgence. Your eyes will be open to hurting people all around you. DO SOMETHING. Don’t sit casually waiting on your annual mission trip to come around again. You have a bigger purpose and there is too much at stake for you to put on your missionary hat for only one week out of the year.

So, in conclusion, little 14-year-old going on 15, your years ahead have so much in store. Don’t worry about learning all these lessons at once. It will happen in its time. Just you wait,

27-year-old You

(who still anticipates more lessons in the future)

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Then in college I wrote this poem in an attempt to express the love affair I have with the country & people to which I don’t belong.

A Call to Love

Broken streets and broken souls call
I am compelled to answer, answer them all
Your small hands have taught me more than textbooks could contain
Your selfless joy is like my heart’s refrain
I’d choose you over a city of gold – all of you, every inch
I’d choose you first and I’d choose you again
I am a jealous lover, it’s my heart you win
You’re more than a memory, more than a friend
More than beauty and dirt and land
More than a good story to tell, more than I can stand
I am who I am because of you
It’s taken years to express, but for years it’s been true
My commitment to you runs deeper than a flutter in my chest
You have all of me, my worst and my best
I love you longer than seven days
Beyond borders and languages, my love stays
I love you stronger than a smile or a tear
Because I choose to love in the face of pain and fear
I’ve felt welcomed, accepted, rejected and betrayed
I was close to giving in and letting apprehension have its way
But I am led to you by a greater Hand
And my trivial emotions are irrelevant to His plan
I haven’t forgotten you, I never could
You are my first love, and my love is for good

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Oh yeah, 27-year-old me still likes holding other people’s babies. 🙂 Nueva Alianza, Copán, HN.

 

Purposeful Singleness (and thoughts on marriage)

“…God gives the gift of the single life to some, the gift of the married life to others.” – Paul (the celibate missionary) 1 Cor. 7:7

When was the last time you viewed your singleness as a gift? It doesn’t have to be some unfortunate event that happens to you. You can be intentional in your singleness. It has a purpose.

We make our own decisions every day. Just as one chooses to marry, one can choose not to marry or to wait. Each scenario can be a blessing in its own way.

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I am writing this as an unmarried woman in her late twenties. I have been in a committed relationship for 3 years and 8 months (2 yrs and 10 months of which have been long-distance… I mean really long-distance, like I can’t see him without using my passport). I am very taken by a person who happens to also be very taken by me and we are planning our life together… while we are currently apart.

I am not looking forward to marriage just for the sake of getting married or to fill some void in my life. I am looking forward to marriage because I have fallen in love with someone who is my best friend and adds so much positivity to my life and calling and I think we can serve the Lord better together. I don’t idolize a married life but I do look forward to it.

1044205_915195455260816_4385145030561955805_nI live away from him in a strange phase somewhere between the married and single life, kind of as a not-available single person. At first I viewed this time as the intermission, or the waiting room to the grand beginning of life.

¡Pura casaca! like some say in Honduras… LIE! I’m not sitting around waiting on my life to finally begin! Nor do I dread that it’ll all be over once I say “I do.” This in-between time has actually been a wonderful journey rediscovering the joy and purpose of singleness.

My Christian faith informs my purpose in life which ultimately is to bring glory to God. Marriage is never the end but rather the means to the end of glorifying my Savior. That doesn’t mean the marriage is supposed to be perfect but it should certainly strengthen rather than hinder one’s relationship with the Lord. Before we enter into covenant with another human being we should know them well enough to determine what they turn to in the midst of problems. (of course, we are fallen humans who live in an imperfect world and there are some domestic scenarios that not even the most prepared person can predict) When things get tough what is that person’s knee-jerk reaction? What/whom do they trust? Do they lead me toward Christ or away from Him?

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Dear single person (whether never-been-married, divorced, or widowed),

You have value. You are not a second class human compared to your married peers. And those in the ministry, you are not less of a spiritual leader because you are unmarried. No need to mope! Your life is not on hold. You have so much to offer in your singleness, and I am not only talking about temporary singleness until you find someone. View it as a gift! Be independent, travel, make your own decisions, make your own money, volunteer, engage in community with others, do productive things with your free time.

IMG_5771Singleness is not a disability, a curse, a punishment, nor something over which we should mourn. It can be a joy! You are not incomplete nor lacking in spiritual maturity.

Church, take your single members seriously. Provide space for them, not just for couples and families. You don’t have to play match-maker, really. Especially if it was not asked of you. Consider the fact that the individual might actually choose singleness. They don’t need your pity. They can serve and fully function within the body of believers as well as and often with more ease and flexibility than your married members. Value them in the stage of life right where they are without trying to change their status.

 

— A few thoughts on marriage —

What marriage isn’t (or shouldn’t be):

  • a solution to a problem
  • a problem or burden
  • your life’s goal

What marriage is (or should be):

  • a safe place to work through inevitable problems with a supportive partner
  • a blessing (something you enjoy with someone you enjoy)
  • an avenue to accomplish your goals
  • another way to serve and bring glory to God

*Also, weddings signify the beginning of a union and are a great time to celebrate. Weddings are not a real accomplishment though. Working through years and years of faithful relationship with another human being is the real accomplishment. I fully intend to celebrate on my wedding day but I think our 50th anniversary should be a bigger celebration. 🙂

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Chin up, single! You have intrinsic worth.