Sunday, August 3, 2014

My Relationship with Facebook’s Relationship Status (it’s complicated)

I have to admit, I’ve always had a bit of bone to pick with Facebook’s relationship status.  It’s true that any Facebook user has to have an element of vanity in order to set up an account in the first place, but the relationship status is one feature I just cannot bring myself to utilise.  Does everybody really need to know that I’m seeing someone and therefore no longer single?

Knowing versus Needing to Know
If I am seeing someone, the people I am closest to are going to know about it.  Naturally I have talked to my closest friends and family about my dating life and later on my engagement and marriage as they arose.  When I began seeing my now husband on a regular basis I considered changing my status.  However, like many of us I’ve watched how this function operates on the public platform: it is a grand spectacle that no other post appears to match in terms of popularity (birthday wishes, for example, will not result in as many well-wishes).  To me, it’s like a mad-dash to ensure that the posting friend knows that you know they’re exiting the single season.

I could not, however, reconcile myself with the fact that I would get attention for my relationship to a man, when I don’t believe that is the relationship that matters the most.  What about God?  Sure, I have my “Religion” available for viewing on my profile, but I can bet if it was not previously viewable and then suddenly my status as a Christian turned up in people’s news feeds it would still not garner the response that a relationship status update would cultivate.

More than Man
In fact I tried to test this theory one evening by changing my status.  It would not say “In a Relationship with Named Man” but would instead say “In a Relationship with God.”  In a bid to avoid attention for it though (if people really want to know these things, I figure they’ll be motivated enough to actually go to my profile and have a look or perhaps even message me) I chose to take it out of the news feed.  I encountered two problems in this endeavour though.  Firstly, the status did not say “In a Relationship with God,” it selectively only displayed “In a Relationship” much to my disappointment.  Secondly, before I could specify that I did not want it displayed on my wall, it was already out and circulating.  How did I come to know this?  Because before I could unselect having it posted to my wall I’d received a comment: “In a relationship with who? :P”  Fortunately this was someone who knew me well enough to know who I was seeing and I was not too worried about it.  I removed that status from my page nevertheless and accepted that this route to highlighting the importance of God in my life was not an effective avenue to take.

A Side Note about Words of Encouragement
Probably a number of people reading this blog will be quietly wondering what is so bad about friends and acquaintances giving words of encouragement and well-wishes to people like myself who are about to embark on a new life with another person.  In short, there really isn’t anything inherently wrong with it, and for that reason I don’t have a problem with others advertising their relationship status if they choose to. 

There is an idea I would like to put forward to people however who want to encourage others using words and public acknowledgement.  It occurred to me quite a while ago whilst I was dating my man that, if we did get married, I would have somebody by my side for as long as we were both alive offering me encouragement and support as I needed it.   If I didn’t end up marrying though, I would be reliant on my wider circle of friends and family to bring forth words of praise when goals had been achieved and words of support when times were more challenging.  If words of encouragement are your thing, then I would invite you to consider sharing these words with people who are not married or in a serious relationship and don’t have someone by their side each and every day.   Being in a healthy and stable relationship goes a long way in creating comfort and security for a person, and I think it is those who do not have this that need the encouragement – and even attention – more than those of us who are paired off.

Call Me Old Fashioned
After courting for six months, my husband proposed and I accepted.  Neither of us fled to the nearest internet-enabled device to broadcast the news to the world.  Firstly, we each phoned our parents and then over the coming weeks we shared the news with our friends as we meet them in person.  Only one friend had to make-do with a technology mediated updated and this was only because by that point the weeks were ticking by and I was unsure when I would see her next.

I think this is the prime reason why I can’t broadcast good news on Facebook: it represents a lost opportunity.  Call me old fashioned but I’d rather take the personal route and tell someone in person.  Also, once this sort of information gets broadcasted on Facebook, you will not ever be able to witness a friend or family member’s initial reaction to the news: it becomes second hand when you physically see them.  One friend welled up when I told her; I would have missed seeing this if her response was substituted for a text comment on a technological platform.

What about Acquaintances?
So what about those people who I seldom see in person but who I’ve accepted a friendship request from, such as friends of friends, people I was friends with back in high school or work colleagues from a previous place of employment?  The short answer is they haven’t learnt my news.  To be frank, many of these people have never made any one-one-one contact with me via Facebook and I’ve come to what some might perceive to be a rather cynical conclusion that a lot of those who befriend me only do so primarily so that they can take a quick glimpse of my profile after the request is accepted (my profile is not viewable to the public).  And really, this only amounts to discovering whether or not I got married and had children (photos may also be used to verify these pokey inquisitions).  I don’t personally believe these things should define a person though (not in the least because anybody can get married, but not everybody will wait for a suitable marriage partner, and whilst many may have children, not all can really be described as mothers – these distinctions of course are unavailable on this social medium). 

If you think this idea of only wanting to know about someone’s marriage status or potential motherhood is over the top, something occurred that proves the point I am trying to make.  A couple of weeks before my wedding, I made a post that read “Just think (insert then fiancé/now husband’s name), in two weeks the colour pink will be fully integrated into your life.”  Those who know me well know that my favourite colour is pink, and they also know about my pending marriage because by then they’d have received an invitation to our wedding in the mail.  In other words, those who are closest would know exactly what I was talking about, and those at a distance would probably gloss over it without too much contemplation.  What did happen however is that a relative asked if the groom’s men would be wearing suits.  And following on from this comment came another comment from a woman I have not seen in fifteen years wanting to know if I was getting married.  She has never spoken to me before (if you can call this speaking, perhaps communicating is a better word for it) and, I have rationalised, probably never would have had I never gotten married.  If it comes down to communicating with me on the sole basis that I am marrying then I really would rather not do it.  What about my walk with the Lord (she is a God-fearing woman)? What about my study? What about my job?  Is it really the case that nothing else in my life is worth mentioning?  I don’t believe so and I’ve worked hard to have a full and interesting life.  To focus only on this one thing is, to my mind, to dismiss everything else as peripheral and that’s not an opinion I want to support. 

My Big Day
My big day came when I walked up the aisle in my carefully selected dress, all dolled-up for the occasion.  All eyes of those closest to me followed me up the aisle.  It was a beautiful day and we were lucky to get a slightly cloudy day that was perfect for the photos but posed no threat of rain.  At the reception I caught up with out of town relatives, hugged friends, enjoyed good food and performed a waltz as the first dance with my husband.  It was perfect.

I do not believe, given the success and fulfilment of this day, that I need to add onto it.  I have no desire to extend it by receiving additional attention on the public platform from those who weren’t close enough to be invited.  I had my big day where I was the centre of attention and felt like a celebrity with a photographer following me around and everyone gathering around to congratulate me.  I do not need successive days as a focal point; I’ve had my fix.

Not to Forget the Wedding Photos…
Although there were some distant grumbles about it, I also chose not to post photos of the wedding on Facebook.  At the risk of sounding repetitive, I have to again emphasise that those who I hoped would want to see me, my new husband and my bridal party were those I invited to the wedding and who eagerly came along.  The guests who wanted to capture the moment brought along their own cameras and now have a memento of the day available to them.  To put pictures of my big day up on Facebook is, in my opinion, the equivalent of advertising my new relationship status: a shout for attention.  I just don’t believe the world needs to, or should, cast their eyes all over me again for this reason alone.

And so, readers, now you know about my bone with Facebook’s relationship status.  Of course you may do what you will with this information; I simply offer it as something to ponder over  J


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Church (S)hopping and the Stigma for Singles

Church hopping: is it morally askew?  An act of desperation?  Does it suggest a lack of faith in God to bless you right where you are?    Perhaps there are no hard and fast answers, but in this blog I will attempt to shed some light on the matter, and hopefully dislodge some of the stigma attached to church hopping for singles.

Rewind several months: I am at a pot luck dinner hosted by a friend of a friend.  All in attendance are church-going Christians, and during the course of the evening I meet a few new faces.  One attendee, a guy of similar age to myself, asks what church I attend.  I name the flourishing city-based church that I’m attending, to which he responds:
“Did you go there to find a husband?”
My immediate inward response is anger, and a big part of me wants to scream out “what would you know about the absence of the opposite sex in church?”  Fortunately though, I don’t speak out in anger.  Instead, I adopt a position of understanding for my fellow single sisters, and thoughtfully replied with this:
“No, but I really commend women who go outside of their comfort zones in an effort to meet new people”. 
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t recognise what such a response highlighted (in him) a lack of understanding or empathy towards his God-fearing sisters. 

Yet a certain stigma for single women who change churches does undeniably exist.  I’ve been in Auckland (Central) for seven years now, and in that time have belonged to three different churches.  My reasons for changing churches are varied and cannot be dwindled down to one single factor.  But if I’m to be completely honest, the absence of men in some circles did give extra weight to my decision to pack my bible and move to another church’s pew.  A question I’m commonly asked by women I meet in churches I’m new to is ‘What made you decide to change churches?’  For me, I’ve experienced this question as a rather loaded question.   Most women I meet and whom I’m already friends with are single, and to answer with ‘Because there were no men at the previous church’ is awkward for a number of reasons.  For one, it could suggest to the questioner that you think their efforts are passive and unacceptable.  For another, you could be expected to give subsequent updates on whether or not you’ve met anybody at your new church.  Personally, I’ve voiced all honest reasons for departing my previous churches, bar any reference to the shortage of men. 

There was, however, one exception to this.  I’d joined a choir at one church in the lead up to their Christmas performance, partly as I felt compelled to do my bit for the Christ-focused Christmas cheer, and partly because I wanted to meet new people so that I could sit with them at church on Sundays.  Arriving a few minutes earlier for practise one evening, I entered the facilities with another woman whom I’d never met before.  She introduced herself and we started chatting.  Learning I was new to the church, she asked me what caused me to switch churches.  I noted something prior to this question: this lady was wearing a wedding ring.  She was also several years older than me.  I decided, based on my assumption that she couldn’t find my motivation a threat or a subtle criticism of her own positioning, to answer with particular reference to the singleness factor.  I told her that I was now in my thirties, that there were no suitable single men in my previous church and that, because of this, I felt I should branch out and try some place where there were more men and, thus, more potential for meeting someone.  My expectations were met; this woman didn’t judge me and took quite a supportive stance on the matter. 

However, this seems to be more the exception than the rule, and the fact that changing churches to meet someone is so often frowned on and stigmatised is something I continually struggle with.  Just reflect on Brook Fraser’s lyrics “Faith without deeds is dead”.   Indeed, Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing year after year and expecting a different result.  Thinking about it, what is Date My Mate but merging many congregations in one common setting?  And this is for the select purpose of finding someone.  Single Christians feel ok about such functions because - at some point - someone has deemed it ok for us to mingle with singles from other churches, hence their decision to host the event in the first place.  But we needn’t make our endeavours to meet new people of the opposite sex limited to a singles function given the tick by an event coordinator; our own judgements bathed in careful prayer should suffice.  And I do think prayer has a lot to do with it.   Depending on what part of the world you are in, you might find yourself slightly overwhelmed by the number of churches worth considering.  Within Auckland city centre there are more churches than there are Sundays in a year.  Let us not forget that God ordained Sunday as the day of rest, so rather than stressing about how to get to a new venue and where you’ll find parking, try praying and listening from Christ first. 

Moreover, there is a certain parallel I have recently drawn in relation to the stigma of singles trying other churches.  Let us say you’ve been going to the same church for a good three years, and in that time you’ve made great friends, maybe admired one or two men along the way, but really the core circle of church goers in your age group isn’t really evolving in the manner of bringing new men into the church.  So, you think to yourself, the chances of meeting someone here on Sundays or in mid-week small groups is, well, extremely low.  Perhaps you mention thoughts of trying somewhere different to a friend or two, and no doubt they’ll ask what has prompted this desire to explore other houses of God.  If you are like me, at this point you feel awkward: you are Christian, so you don’t want to lie and say something along the lines of “I’m just not feeling challenged anymore”, but you also know there is an unspoken code within Christian realms that dictates you can’t leave on the basis of lack of male potential.  Perhaps you try to slip between the cracks and not announce anything, quietly leaving one Sunday never to be seen again.  It is pretty sad to think it might come to something like the latter.  After all, God created man and woman, and marriage is a sacred covenant the Almighty created.   Why, then, do we have to pretend that we are always happy with our single status year after year, and carry on the same routine so as not to appear human with inclinations toward God-ordained convenants? 

Let’s break this down and see it for what it really is.  Say, for example, there a Christian woman (we’ll call her Mary) who is looking for a job.  She has been at her current job for 8 years, and whilst she has formed great relationships there she feels that she needs a change.  So what does she do about this?  She prays about it, she views the 'Situations Vacant' colum in the newspaper, and she signs up with Seek (New Zealand site for advertised job positions) so that she can view relevant positions as they become available.  I want to point out two things here.  First, she doesn’t just pray about it and then sit on her hands from then on.  Again, we are called to be active – and, I think proactive – and make steps while trusting Him and letting Him guide us.  Likewise, as I’ve explained, we should incorporate prayer also when considering leaving or going to a new church.  Secondly, Mary signed up with a site that constantly lists positions employers are looking to fill each day.  We wouldn’t expect her to sign up with a site that rarely (or perhaps never) has any new listings, would we?  So why do we expect women to constrain themselves to a church that never has single men?  Such notions defy logic.

Also, by widening one's church circle, singles are more likely to meet different people of the same sex and form more new friendships, an action that can assist in absorbing an excess of time spend alone or even alleviate loneliness.   My close circles of friends are mostly from three different churches.  I first started attending a centre city church 7 years ago.  Had I not ventured from that church, I would in all likeness probably not have met two thirds of the friends that I have today.  I truly value those friendships, and my life has been enriched because of them.  Indeed, when faced with bouts of loneliness from time to time, I took comfort in the fact that, from having a reasonable number of friends, at least one of them would have time to spend with me.  Likewise, I hope that I have also helped them in their journey in life; even the simple act of attending a friend’s function when you’ve been invited shows them that you care, or sending a text to let them know they are not forgotten.

But doesn’t a rolling stone collect no moss…
If this were true, I wouldn’t have formed the friendships that I have, nor would I have had valuable fellowship with other believers.  However, I will stress that you do need to put down roots somewhere in order to cultivate friendships.  Like plants, friendships need time and attention in order to grow and strengthen.  Changing churches every fortnight is probably not going to result in too many new friendships.  Rather, you need to spend time there to connect and get to know people.  Most of my Christian friends I met through going to working bees, church camps, or joining the welcome team, not from attending Sunday services.  You can’t put a time bracket around how long this will take, that is why prayer and trusting in the Lord is necessary.   I am reminded of the theme song from the old sitcom ‘Cheers’, “Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name…  And they’re always glad you came”.

Moreover, we don’t know what role someone will play in our life until we can look back after some time and reflect on it.  One of my closest friends I met at a friend of a friend’s birthday party.  After a couple of my dating relationships dissolved, she has literally turned up on my door step with chocolate and tissues without me even asking anything of her.  That is priceless.  In another church I went to, I was to discover that I wasn’t to make many friends there.  I spent several months in a small group, but try as I might - bar one person - I couldn’t get connected.  That one person is my best male mate now, and through him I met another guy who accompanied me to Date My Mate (where taking a single friend of the opposite sex was a requirement).  Since that event, I’ve been seeing someone.  If you remove any one of these people from my life, perhaps things would look very different for me today.

The subjective “me” is not to be the whole picture though.  Others needs need to be recognised when considering the changing of churches.  Specifically, I do not think that changing churches should be so frequent that we avoid responsibilities like serving, whether it is serving the church as a whole body, or individuals in life stages that require encouragement and support.  Hebrews 10 versus 23-25 says:

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Indeed, meeting together facilitates familiarity if it is practiced on a continuum.  Certainly this can only come about with a sufficient period of time.  Also, in order to encourage one another we need to know where they are at and what they are going through.  Trust is not always garnered the first time we meet someone, it is something that has to be earned over time. 

Finally, having taken a look online, the definition of Church Hopping most recurrent is this: going from one church to another without committing to any one church for any substantial period of time.  Perhaps we’ve been miss-using the term in New Zealand circles.  It seems Church Shopping is more accurate, as it relates to finding a new church that you can then call home.  So, single Christian women looking for somewhere new, I wish you the courage and faith you need to stand against any stigmatism you may encounter as you negotiate your Sunday whereabouts.  I pray that you will draw strength from God and from those understanding people around you as you bravely step out.   And, when you do find your new home church, I pray that no brother-in-Christ will then quiz you with “Have you just come here to find a husband?” J


Friday, April 19, 2013

Date My Mate: Come All Yee Singletons of the Church

Date My Mate: Christian dating done good.  Are you single? Love loving the Lord?  Do you have a friend of the opposite sex who you don’t secretly fancy, but know he/she would be a great catch for someone else?  Then this event is for you….

I first heard about Date My Mate through my flatmate several months ago.  She’d been to the first of this type of event the evening before and had asked if I’d gone too.  I was a little deflated that a Christian singles event had come and gone without my knowing about it, and so I did the modern thing and ‘liked’ its Facebook page in order to prevent news of future events escaping me again.  Then, finally, several weeks ago the next Date My Mate schedule was set…  I grabbed myself a mate, waited out the lead up and last Thursday off I went.

I was more excited about the event during the days leading up to it than on the actual day.  I woke up last Thursday with a sense of, well, dread, to be honest.  Conversing in the kitchen that morning with my flatmate who was also going, my fears were further compounded when she reported in more details the unravelling’s of the previous event.  It was packed – you couldn’t move and so it was not conducive to meeting anyone.  It was a meat market.  The guys didn’t want to be there; they simply came as a favour to their female counter-parts. 

Hmpf, this was exactly what I didn’t want to hear.  A number of years ago I tried my luck at Christian speed dating.  And then some months later I tried it again. The first time was ok, although the one guy I thought might be alright I side-lined due to another possible romantic interest at the time (really, why did I go?).  The second time around, I met many of the guys I’d met the first time.  On both occasions at least half of the guys reported that they weren’t really there on their own accord, but that their friend had organised the event and begged them to come due to a (severe) shortage of men.  It was a good way to end a conversation (and ward off any inclination to hold future conversations in another setting).

In true female form, I put considerable thought into my glad rags.  Nice, but not too nice.  Feminine, but not too girly-girl.  Nothing that is too warm (lots of people equals lots of heat), but at the same time one doesn’t want to expose too much skin.   I got nowhere very quickly with this pattern.  Scratching my head, I texted a friend for emergency fashion input and managed to reduce my wardrobe possibilities to two winning numbers: a black, just-above-the-knee skirt boasting of a bit of flair (diagonal pocket and a silk triangle feature on the front), and a simple fitted pink tee.  With my heels on and my hair straightened I was on my way.

After exiting the car with a friend I’d shared a lift with, I silently gaged my own nervousness.  I decided it wasn’t too bad; I’d managed to cull any excessive anxiety by telling myself that I was simply here for research purposes.  I needed to observe the goings-on so that I could write about it and keep other Christian populace informed should they venture this way in future.  Though I knew my expectations were greater than this, it did help me maintain a reasonable level of calmness.

Nearing closer to the building, the bar could have passed for a hip Friday night location to any unaware passer’s-by (except, of course, that it wasn’t Friday).  The music was pulsating from the inside out and preparations for entry (find your mate of the opposite sex) were being made by many a single-goers on the footpath.  I found my mate, then introduced my flatmate to her male-counterpart for the evening (a necessary wangling to get them entry – a blind date my mate, as it was). There was nothing left now but to head into the crowd in doors.

Upon entering the bar, one of the first thoughts I had was: how can I possibly meet a decent portion of these guys?  there are just too many.  On the other hand, when was the last time I could actually say “too many” after referring to guys?   Bustling through the crowd we made our way to the bar ahead.  My mate kindly shouted me a beverage and now with a glass of Pinot Gris in hand, it was time to circulate.

Therein lay a rather sizable problem in itself though: the room was densely packed.  It felt like being a piece of lettuce in a club sandwich with an assortment of other garden delights packed solid and deep on either side (on the topic of sandwiches, as one guy suggested, a picnic might have been a sound alternative to the  arrangement we found ourselves in).  It occurred to me at that moment that it wouldn’t have mattered what I wore, no one could see me from the neck down at any rate.  To find someone (I know, probably could have gone for a better choice of words), I either had to elbow my way through the masses or toddle around the perimeter of the room where it was a little less populated.  It turns out there is only so much saying “excuse me” you can do before you feel like you’ve become a threat to other people’s comfort, I discovered.

Not to sound further down on the event, I do have to mention one other hindrance that I could not escape from during the course of the evening:  I had to practically yell to be heard.  Twenty minutes into my first chat with a guy, my voice started cutting out mid-sentence.  I was then faced with repeating myself if I wanted to keep the recipient believing I was capable of a half decent conversation.  Small sips of my drink provided some temporary belief, but two hours later I was quite sure I would have no vocal ability the following day (which would have made using my voice to phone in sick to work the next day rather problematic). 

In between conversations, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was the only person moving more than a few feet away in effort to cultivate chats with other attendees.  It’s that whole moment of thinking am I doing this right?  In passing the male friend I had arrived with, I had to point out to him that he had (at minimum) one big advantage:  he was at least a head taller than almost everyone else present.  Not that this is about physical discovery (although a little eye candy never hurt anyone), but certainly he had a better idea of where he was going.  I, on the other hand, might as well have been blind folded when moving from one spot to another; it was very much a case of lucky dip.

One of the best things about this event was that, once you did find someone new to chat with, there was no stigma attached to starting a conversation with someone of the opposite sex.  In fact if you couldn’t manage this, you probably wouldn’t have gone there in the first place.  I was expected to be single, and I was clearly looking given my presence there.  And, in real everyday life, it would be nice if it was always that simple though it seldom is.  Even within the four walls of the church, there is this idea that if you are female and you go out with coffee someone, it is because you want to marry them (personally, if I was going to propose to a man, it wouldn’t be over coffee in some bustling café).  The fact that Christians struggle to do dating well - or even to do dating at all - was a topic I discussed with a couple of the guys I met.  There was unanimous agreement that things needed to improve in this area within church circles.

By the time I left at around 11pm, I’d met probably close to ten guys.  The thing that I liked most about the evening was that my fear of there being no men left was dramatically downsized.  Also, there really are some good men out there.   One guy I spoke with was also a blogger; he blogs on the subject of cricket and apparently has quite a following.  Naturally, I had to tell him about my own blog site, and because of the nature of the event (singleton gathering) I didn’t mind sharing that it was mainly written with single Christian women in mind.  He knew where I was coming from.

Other memorable points about the evening:  I’m pretty sure I got spat on when I was near the bar at one stage.  I don’t know what else it could have been, it wasn’t a kind of dribble of liquid that might suggest someone got a bit over-expressive with their hand gestures and slopped a little beverage my way, rather, it came at the side of my face with such force I wondered if it had been blown through a straw.  Perhaps someone was trying to sabotage my chances with some guy at the bar; go figure.   

Second on the list of memorable points was that I left with my flatmate’s mate, and by that I mean there are no rules and no offences (of course, if my flatmate had fancied him, oblivion to the rules may have been a hindrance in the long run and not a help).  And, in case you are wondering, we did not go for a romantic stroll down Mission Bay; we kept it classy and nipped into McCafe for a late night hot chocolate and a good chat to boot.

About the days to follow: I would strongly recommend to anyone who goes that you contact people fairly soon after the event.  I don’t say this because I’ve seen the opposite done and its turned out badly, I say it because you might as well utilise some of the momentum straight afterwards.  And also because waiting can breed over-analysis, so why do it?  I also suggest that, if someone asks you and you aren’t really convinced that they could be a match for you, that you put the effort in and go out with them anyway.  I’m personally not a big believer in first impressions, if I’m to be honest.  It can take me a while to really ‘notice’ a guy; if it’s like this for me, then it might be like this for others also.

Now, in case you are wondering what came of this for me, well, that would be a whole other blog  :P

This event was held in February 2013.  Blog posted several weeks afterwards

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Strangers In the Night

When something goes bump in the night and you know it could only be one thing…

I remember that night quite vividly, even though it was a few months ago now.  I was chin-deep in a film assignment and had been up until almost midnight pausing and fast-forwarding through various scenes of the movie ‘Strictly Ballroom’.  It was a Saturday night, but with nothing social to show for its self, it resembled a week night. 



Upon reflection, the day had not been remarkable either.   I’d gone for my usual 8km run on my usual running route, a practice that was not unusual for me on any given Saturday.  It was my reprieve and sanity during times of being weighed down by a flood of assignments.  This assignment was the first in a quick flurry of essays at only a few weeks into the semester.  Oddly, I do remember one distinct thought during that particular run, and that was that nothing much had happened in my life for a while.  I’m not sure what constitutes “happened”, or even “happening”, it was more just that nothing out of the ordinary had appeared recently.  It’s the unexpected things in life that had not appeared for some time now, like a prang to my car, or receiving a reply to an email I’d long since forgotten about.  These aren’t monumental or catastrophic events, they’re simply out of the blue.  Incidentally, I also remember thinking during said run it’s usually after having an intuitive insight like this that something does happen. I gave it no further thought; nothing was going to happen.



Deciding I needed to call it quits on the assignment for the time being, I switched off the lounge television and dvd player, placed my laptop on my desk in my bedroom and promptly got ready for bed.  It was almost midnight, and I knew the only way I could improve the assignment now was if I met it with fresh eyes in the morning.  I brushed my teeth, I put on my night crème (doesn’t hurt to start young), I climbed into my pyjamas.  I’d been home alone throughout the evening until Anna, one of my three flatmates, arrived home.  We passed in the hall uttering our goodnights.   It was definitely shut up shop time both of us and her bedroom door must have closed not long after mine.  Notably, the two other flat mates didn’t return home that night.

I was in the habit of saying my prayers at night around this time.  Not that I’m not still a night prayer, but I think I go through patterns with my prayer life.  Right now it’s very much in the moment and as it comes to mind, but a few months back, on that night, prayer time tended to be mostly structured, much like the rest of my life – lectures, assignments, church, gym, meal times – everything was to a schedule.   Of course, that didn’t mean I couldn’t also slip in a quiet one during any other hour of the day.

I should mention here something about my prayers.  I don’t confess this before many people as it seems to confuse and leave people stammering for how to respond to such a suggestion, so it’s just easier not to go there generally.  I was, however, for a rather long time, convinced that many of my prayers manifested in reverse.  For example, I prayed about a problem at my old job and instead of improving it got worse.  Time and again I would pray for my on-going physical pain to relent and be eradicated once and for all, yet years tumbled by with no sign of improvement.  If I was emotionally bruised, the praying, it seemed, set the pain further into existence, instead of slowly shedding away the layers.  As I’m typing this now though, many months down the track, I can see that my prayers were answered.  And not for the polar opposite of what I wanted either (nor for the opposite of what was best for me).  In terms of the job, I left almost a year ago after being accepted into university.  This move was one of the best I’ve ever made and I’ve never looked back.  The pain issue (detailed in my blog Does Taking Medication Really Make Me a Substandard Christian?) has improved remarkably, and though it’s not gone completely it is actually under control for the first time in over 20 years.  The emotional turbulence has also improved, but again this is a whole other blog in itself.

I shed this background only because it was relevant to the way things panned out on that night.  So, back to my detailing of events…



I was in bed now, silently praying in the stillness of the night.  Having spent much of the day on my own (to necessitate the coming together of my assignment), I was notifying God of how it would be nice to have someone to talk to at the end of the day – someone physically present who I could talk to about anything and everything.  The tiredness took a hold of my exhausted thinking faculties fairly quickly, and pieces of prayer then began floating around in my mind as though they were helium billboards with random topics on them.  The posted words would then kind of pass by the ever watchful eye of the great I Am.  I was definitely almost asleep.  Of all things, I distinctly remember this prayer portion in motion (as random as it was): “it would be good to have a man in my life, even from a safety point of view…”.  Funny, God must have thought I was bringing forth every which reason for why He should relent and bring forth a man in my life.  The fact was though my safety had never been an issue.  I’ve walked from function venues to dimly lit car parks in the middle of nowhere more times than I care to let on; I was completely un-phased by the idea that my safety could be jeopardised.  Reflecting back on it now however, it was out of character for me to bring up such a topic when talking with God, even if I was half asleep; I’d never contemplated mentioning it before. 



The praying must have been over pretty quickly because before I knew it I was being awoken by a knock on my door.  Strange, no one ever knocks on my door after I’ve gone to bed…
Having been prised quickly and unexpectedly out of my sleeping state, I grumbled a word or two in recognition of the knock.
 “Can you please get up?” a weak and slightly urgent voice came from the other side of the door. 
My honest thought at such a request was probably along the lines of “I’d rather not”.  In the space of a few seconds, my mind rewound to the mouse trap that had been positioned in the hallway not far from my bedroom door earlier in the day.  There had been a rodent in residence at our flat, and it had become apparent after a couple of weeks that Mickey wasn’t going to leave on his own accord.  The only plausible reason that I could think of for why my presence was required in the dead of the night was because Mickey had met his fate.  His disposal wasn’t really this flat mate’s cup of tea, I figured.  His disposal isn’t really my cup of tea either, I thought to myself, why couldn’t we have just sent the mouse an eviction notice?

I switched on my bed side light and, climbing out of my warm nest of blankets, opened the door.  My flatmate Anna stood frozen on the spot in front of me.
“Someone has come in through Jenny’s window and is hiding in her room…”  her voice carried in the surrounding stillness. 
You know how it is generally accepted that people look on at other people’s misfortunes and fathom internally notions to the effect of ‘Yeah, but it will never happen to me’?  I was having one of those moments in the time frame of a split second.  Thus, I waited half a second for her to quip “Got ya!  Only teasing!”  and once that half a second was up, I knew it was time to execute a response.  Plan get the hell out of this house needed immediate initiation. 

I grabbed Anna by the hand and walked us quickly passed the occupied room, though I dared not look in for fear of witnessing anything that might leave me paralysed on the spot.   I lead us out our front door and into the foyer.  It will be alright, I reasoned with myself, the landlord lives upstairs so we’ll alert him and it will all be fine.  Hurrying up the stairs with Anna right behind me, I knocked on the door in the dead of the night and waited.  No answer.  I knocked louder and called out.  Nothing.  I heard a noise inside our part of the house, like someone was now inside, and looked at Anna whose eyes said she’d heard it too.
“Call the police” I instructed Anna.  She was poised next to me with her cell phone still stuck in her hand from when she’d been browsing the inter-webs from the comfort of her own bed.  A shaky hand began pressing buttons, and I persisted in my bid to wake the landlord. 


I kept a close eye on the foyer below us as we stood quivering at the top of the stairs.  What if they come through the door we just exited from; what do I do then? I pondered.  In my imaginary vision of what these intruders might look like when viewed from our angle, I saw not one, but two men.  I have no idea why. 

I would like to say that next, in true Chriz-o form, I began reverently praying, but truth be told I can’t remember praying at all.  My only thoughts were that if these intruders appeared, it would be pretty obvious what our situation was: two young females at the top of the staircase panic-stricken yet unable to enter through the door of accompanying living quarters.  Thus, they cannot reach what safety resides on the other side.  Or, should it become a briefed newspaper heading: victims unable to raise the alert of intruders, come hell or high water. 

So, I resolved in my internal dialogue, the police really were our only bet.  But what if the intruders can hear out desperate calls for help from inside the flat?  the issue continued to persist in my mental meshing.  What if they emerge and, changing tactics, come after us?  I didn’t give a damn about our possessions I must say, although for one fleeting moment my thoughts did return to my laptop, assignment residing within, clearly visible from my bedroom door that I’d left open.  It was an opportune setting for any burglars meandering through. 



It was over ten minutes before the knock arrived at our door marking the arrival of those reliable rescuers we know as cops.  During that time the call taker on the other end of Anna’s phone had remained on line, bringing forth the only presence of calm and collectedness in the entire ordeal.  I opened the door, conscious of my attire for one brief moment yet bent on ending this tribulation as quickly as possible.  The house was inspected with a torch by two officers, and a third paced around our front yard, sniffer dog in tow.  Declaring the house free from any intruders, lights were promptly flicked on and I only wished my sense of inner peace could also be reinstated in such a speedy manner.  A smidgen of reluctance towards the idea of feeling safe seemed reasonable to me, after all, I knew the police would soon be gone and Anna and I would be left to endure the rest of the night on our own.  With the portion of relief I did bathe in though, I took comfort in the fact that, right now, we weren’t going to be confronted by any untoward men. 


As predicted, sleep was elusive for both Anna and I for the rest of that night.  We slept with our bedroom doors open so we could talk to each other from our rooms.  A sprinkling of lights was left turned on throughout the flat, should any new intruders approach this property, we wanted to make certain they knew that residents were home.  The landlord was still none the wiser of any of the goings on we’d just bore in our quarters of the house. 

The following day a closer look was taken at our flat’s exterior, and the midnight stranger’s intents became apparent.  Jenny’s bedroom window had not been left open a crack as we initially thought, a set up that would have facilitated sinister persons in pursuit of gaining access.  Jenny’s window, she informed us upon returning the following day, had in fact been closed.  The burglars had prised it open with a crowbar, and had then reached in and drawn back the curtain, which was the noise Anna had heard from her room next door.  Jenny’s curtains, however, had not been closed that night.  Needless to say, it is now mandatory flat practice to close all curtains in the flat upon nightfall. 

Additionally, a window in the lounge at the opposite end of the house had also been dealt to by a crook wheeling a crowbar.  It appeared that insufficient time had seen this window only damaged in the frame and not actually prised open.  The ranch slider too had scrapes depicting further attempts at entry.  With this much tampering it seemed most likely that there was more than one stranger set on entering our dwelling spot.

In my opinion, there could have been only two things that deterred the encroachers in their pursuit of entering: Anna turning on the hall light as she headed towards my room to alert me to the matter, and our rachis at the top of the staircase that no doubt echoed throughout the surrounding areas.   It struck me as a pungent realisation then that, had Anna arrived home ten minutes later, I would have been there alone and out to the world.  If I had awoken to noise I would have assumed it was one of the girls coming home, as had been the case historically when I’d been disturbed during sleep.  However, if the crooks had entered my room, I would have been beside myself.


Like a little prayer…

In relation to my earlier conviction that my prayers produce the exact opposite to what I pray for, something came to mind as I was contemplating this blog yesterday.  I recollected an ornament that a friend of mine has in her home.  I can best describe it as a small piece of rectangle wood with a maze-like pattern carved out of it.  Up close it doesn’t isn’t look like much, in fact, it appears a bit nonsensical really.  However, when you take a few steps back and view it from a greater distance, it becomes obvious what it is…

It would be easy to consider my prayer that night and then examine it against the events that unravelled and think this is merely another example of a prayer failing me.  In truth, the following day my thoughts were somewhere around those lines, after all, who wouldn’t want a man around at a time like that?  But really, on closer inspection, I’m trying to put God’s intervention into a limited box.  My small thinking means that a knight in shining armour would have had to appear for me to believe that God truly heard my prayer and intervened accordingly.   I digress though, as this is real life, and not a product of Disney land.  Furthermore, you’ve got to wonder why a guy would be on my premise so late at night, unless he was my spouse, but that was never going to come to pass in the space of five minutes.

No, God remained true to His mandate of the standards we should live by. He sent me a flatmate to intercept my being alone that night, and provide alert ears that would raise the alarm.  Again, thinking about it further now, the fact that Anna arrived home only some minutes before the break in was attempted means I should see clearly how God aligned His intervention.  Anna’s arrival back was so close to the actual event that I should never have missed seeing it for what it really was: God sending in another to aid my safety just at the moment it was needed most.  Additionally, I think going through something like this with another person forges a new found trust and an unspoken bond as a result. 

Like many things in life, there is a lesson to be learnt here.  God can sway our thoughts when we’re praying in such a way that our prayers are aligned to what we need the most, even if we don’t know it at the time, and even if we are dog-gone tired.  Thus, the God who gave us life can protect us in our times of trial and needless to say He is to be praised for this.  Oh, and one more lesson:  always shut your curtains at night  J