In last week’s post we discussed overcoming loneliness by getting outside of your social isolation and meeting people. Something we didn’t discuss is the attitude we have towards others that can hold us back. Something else not in that conversation is the diversity of different cultural experiences coming together to learn from each other.
The following video is an excellent discussion from two respectful authorities in Christian leadership. Please take the time to watch the full video. It’s excellent insight into what it means to be culturally diverse and share your heart with others.
Wise thinking leads to right living; Stupid thinking leads to wrong living. Fools on the road have no sense of direction. The way they walk tells the story: “There goes the fool again!”
Ecclesiastes 10:2-3 MSG
Whether you are alone in a crowded room or struggling in isolation trying to connect with real people, loneliness is something we all face at different times in our lives. How you choose to handle it can change the course of your entire future. There are predators right now banking on you getting it wrong.
Loneliness is a dangerous place because we want connection so desperately that we often bend our rules to get it. In today’s post, we will talk about the dangers to avoid and some positive ways to tackle loneliness when it comes.
If it is a normal part of life, how is loneliness dangerous?
Loneliness becomes dangerous when it is coupled with isolation, bad thoughts, and negative influences.
In isolation, we tell ourselves we are ugly and unlovable. We build up others to be our arch nemesis, and we seek retribution. In extremes, this plays out as gun violence, suicide, online scams, and so much more.
Is it really extreme to connect loneliness to violent, tragic behavior? I think not.
A recent study found that loneliness brought on by social isolation can profoundly alter one’s brain chemistry, shorten longevity, and even bring the onset of serious illnesses. Another study argues that suicide rates are increasing since all the social isolation of the Covid-19 pandemic. Suicide and social isolation are now considered public health crises.
4 Ways to Counteract Loneliness
Read The Bible
When your heart is discouraged and your mind fills with negative thoughts, the Word of God is living and active to cut through the noise.
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
Reading Scriptures that encourage you to take control of your thoughts and think positively will help you keep perspective in the hard times of life.
Meet People In Real Life
As long as you are being careful, there is nothing wrong with having friends online. Several friends I dearly care for are online, overseas, and in places where I may never see them in person. With that being said, I reserve my deepest friendships for those whom I can see in person.
I think it is important to be able to trust others in person. I don’t tell my personal business to the entire world—even if I do get quite transparent here to all of you. The truths I struggle with on a daily basis, I talk to a few close friends about.
Some people have social anxiety. Some are afraid of meeting others because of Covid-19 and all its variants. Bottom line: you can’t let fear control you. Challenge yourself to do something different that makes you meet others.
Get A Hobby
If you struggle to meet others, the easiest way to do so is through your hobbies. Find something to do that is not isolating you or keeping you online.
If your hobby is gaming, look at what you like about that game and how you could do something positive in real life with it. If you are an active shooter gamer, maybe there is a gun range you can practice shooting at or some hunters you can connect with and go hunting. If you are a VR and lifestyle gamer, maybe there is an animal shelter you can volunteer at and meet people there or a short course at the local community college that speaks to your enterprising, creative, and entrepreneurial spirit.
If you are really good at handmade crafts, find a group that likes to craft together and donate to charity. Consider making stuff to sell and setting up at a craft fair. You can make more than money from that hobby; you make friendships with other crafters.
Exposure to sunlight is said to increase the brain’s release of the hormone, serotonin, that makes you feel happier, calmer, and more focused.
Think about that! Your body’s basic chemistry is telling you that it is not good to be inside all the time.
Go for a walk around the block. Go to a park or nature reserve, take a picnic, and spend some time there. Jump in a kayak and explore the river. Put on a harness and scale a rock wall. The world is your oyster.
When you challenge yourself to do something positive and different, you change the norms that you have been living in. When you change your norms, your life becomes better almost overnight. When your life becomes better, you attract people you want to be like and be around. When you start spending time together, your loneliness loses its voice.
Being busy doesn’t end loneliness. Being vulnerable with people you can trust does.
Mankind was not built to live life alone. Find people you are interested in that can uplift you, and invest the time it takes to earn their trust. Use your words to communicate clearly, and be patient with the time it takes to develop that connection into a deep relationship.
Last week we toured Italy with Audry Fryer, author of Until Next Sunday. On Monday, Audry visited our podcast and shared some of the behind the scenes of writing the book. Today, we dove into the book and decided to attempt to make and share the iconic family recipe for gnocchi.
Until Next Sunday is a book about two Italian immigrants who find each other and fall in love in America during the early 1900s.
Told through the eyes of the female heroine, Rosina, the story opens with the character saying goodbye to everything she knows in Italy to board a ship to America.
The stage is set for a bit of a Cinderella story as we learn Rosina is leaving because of an evil step mother that worked her to death. She doesn’t know if she will ever get to return, but she has an opportunity to join a brother in America and have her own happiness. Though goodbyes are heartbreaking, this one came with a hopeful promise.
In America, Rosina meets Gianni, and they fall for each other. Illness puts Rosina in a sanitarium (at a time in history when bad things happened there), and the budding love has to spend the majority of its time in letters. For years, the family they have together knew nothing of the past hardships that they faced…one Sunday visit at a time…during limited visits. They couldn’t read the letters either because they were all in Italian and in a dialect hard to translate.
Until Next Sunday is an immigrant story. It is upfront about the fact that it is a work of fiction, but what I love about it is the TRUE STORY behind it. Three sisters–who were granddaughters of Rosina and Gianni–inherited a box of mementos. In that box was a scrapbook of over 100 carefully stored letters. Thanks to the sisters and their determination to know more, a translator was found who could read the difficult regional dialect, and a year of stories was unlocked for all of us to hear. Many of those translated letters are in the book.
How precious would it be if you could see a prequel of the life of your loved ones?
Rosina was a storyteller. Family gatherings on Sundays were filled with food and stories. Some of the sisters’ fondest memories were of Rosina’s Gnocchi, so they included her handwritten recipe in the book. For this review, I decided to take it on.
Gnocchi is a potato pasta that is just three simple ingredients: potatoes, salt, and flour. The ingredients were simple. The instructions were simple. The process was not.
First of all, there is a reason that the recipe calls for a ricer. After you cook 4 potatoes, you are supposed to press them through a ricer. This would mash them evenly into fine pieces. That is extremely important as you are counting on the starch in the potato to hold everything together, but it won’t be broken down enough without a ricer.
In my case, I didn’t have the ricer, so I mashed the potatoes as well as possible with a masher. What I ended up with was chunks of crystal-like potatoes in the dough that would make the dough fall apart in the water, create a cloud of starchy mash, scorch the pan, and cause me to have to drain and start over multiple times.
So…use a ricer.
Despite this rookie mistake, I did get a reasonable good dough out of it, and I did transfer it to a wooden board as Rosina suggested.
The board made it easier to cut and form the pasta, but it also further revealed how unsteady it was. It was hard to make any pinch of this hold together with chunky potatoes in it.
Still, some of them did hold long enough to rise in the water and be transferred to the sauce.
Gnocchi is pretty plain by itself (it’s a pasta), so you need sauce. I’m sure it would be excellent in cheese, but I wanted to be as authentic as possible and make a scratch tomato sauce.
How to make marinara
If you can get your hands on home canned tomatoes, that would be best, but I used store bought. For this sauce, I started with a generous coating of the pan in quality olive oil and spices. I used Greek cold-pressed oil, Herbs de Provence, and garlic powder. The herbs are extra fragrant, so I knew they would carry a little farther than just Italian seasoning. I sautéed that oil/herb based for a minute till it browned, then I added tomatoes. I added two 16 oz. cans of diced tomatoes (one had garlic and olive oil in it that really added flavor), one 16 oz. can of tomato sauce, and one 8 oz. can of tomato paste. You need that variety to create the consistency of a chunky sauce. The paste is important too because it acts as a thickener but with concentrated tomato flavor.
You want to bring all the ingredients together stirring them in the pan till a light boil pops. Then reduce the heat to its lowest setting and let it simmer. The longer a sauce has the chance to sit and simmer, the better it becomes because all those flavors and ingredients marry each other.
What Cooking With Rosina Taught Me
Making gnocchi was a lesson in itself. To get to that final plate that looks and tastes so good, you have to be willing to put in extra time, effort, and patience.
I’m not a very patient cook. After 30 minutes of messing with something, I am usually over it. I am sure half of my problems making gnocchi were from trying to make this without the proper tools. Nevertheless, this recipe said a lot about the person who wrote it. Rosina had to have been a very patient, loving, and resilient woman. What came second nature to her came because of years of making it so it would become easier.
How many things in life do we practice to perfection?
How many times do we exercise patience and persist when we want to quit?
I had to laugh at myself to keep from crying as I made this first attempt at gnocchi. Next time (and there will be a next time), a ricer will be involved. But making gnocchi with Rosina the cooking grandma, made me want to know her as Rosina the young woman. Until Next Sunday lets you do that.
I encourage you to jump on the author’s website and grab a copy for yourself. It’s worth it.
It wasn’t your normal doctor’s appointment. It wasn’t a date night either. It was a chance to sit across the table with a friend, share a meal, and listen. It was a chance to debate whether or not two diabetics should be ordering pumpkin donuts with cream cheese frosting…then ordering anyways and laughing.
If you had told them in that moment that the pumpkin donuts story would go on to mean so much more, they would have snapped you a quizzical look as if to say, “girl! Stop playin’!”
But that is exactly what happened when, just a few weeks later, Covid took the life of one of them.
We never really know what moments will last forever. Sometimes, it is a text or a phone call. Sometimes, it is a picture or a long string of words. Sometimes, it hides in the pockets of a stranger. Sometimes, it is the arms of a friend.
Still, 1 Thessalonians 4:17-18 and 1 John 2:27-28 encourage us to have confidence and hope in the fact that we will be reunited with our passed Christian loved ones if we remain steadfast in our faith in Christ.
I believe that when you truly love someone, you love them without borders. You give of your time and talent sacrificially, and you listen more than you speak. It is the kind of love that empowers you to be your best self and bring out the best in those who know you and experience your love.
That influence doesn’t stop with a grave. You listen to a song or go to places you once shared together, and you hear their missed voice again. Love that is true and whole lasts forever and transcends death.
On New Years Eve ringing in 2018, the Rose Hill United Methodist Church at 314 E. Church Street didn’t know their special service would be their last. The next morning, January 1, 2018, an accidental electrical fire completely destroyed the century old church.
That moment could have ended the congregation, but it didn’t. With support from the community, the people continued to meet together wherever they could till a new church could be built. After four years and nearly four months, on Sunday, March 27, 2022, the church celebrated its first service in the new church building.
For us, the fire was a new beginning.
Long-term Rose Hill UMC member, Ronda Rivenbark
Hope rises like a Phoenix, from the ashes of shattered dreams.
How do you start over when everything you have loved and held dear is gone?
Where is there room for joy in the midst of suffering? Peace in spite of pain?
Can you ever truly be happy again when all you feel in this moment is the ache of loneliness and disappointment?
Whether it is the loss of a loved one or the loss of something you held dear, the pain you feel–though deep–is temporary. Somehow, you have to determine that this loss, this pain, this diagnosis will not stop you from living your life to the fullest possible. You give it your all; you don’t let feelings dictate your outcome. You remember the good and let go of the bad. You rebuild better with vision for the needs of your future. You keep looking forward…pressing forward. THAT is what hope does.
When Rose Hill UMC needed help, they found out that they were not alone. “Our community really stepped out to support us in a lot of ways,” said Ronda Rivenbark. “We didn’t do any fundraisers, but other churches, organizations, and even kids did them for us and gave the money to us. There was a Gospel Sing for us and many love offerings. One man even gave us his house to sell to benefit the church. Meanwhile, our lawyers were going above and beyond to get what we were owed from the insurance.” All the donations helped with repairs to bring the congregation safely back to their own fellowship hall where everything had to be stripped and replaced because of the damage. Community partnership helped propel the congregation forward from the fire and is honored in the new building today. “The Baptist church down the road took us in for a while, and they really loved on us. Before that, we missed only two services before Pastor Chris Leak took us to a nearby motel to meet,” said Rivenbark.
Resilience isn’t something we always know we have until we are challenged to use it. Truly surviving tragedy is not really the goal, though; you want to make it through the hard times and live better on the other side of them. THAT takes the wisdom of a visionary leader. Sometimes, that is someone else like a friend or mentor giving you sound advice about your life. Other times, it is a business partner coaching you. In the case of Rose Hill UMC, it was the new pastor and his wife, Dave and Linda Bundy.
Dave and Linda bring an exuberance about youth and community outreach that is evident in the new building. The new building cost 3 million, and it accounted for space for every considerable need of a family-oriented church. Space for children and youth ministry, workout classes, and community meeting space was included in the new building. A gym with a basketball hoop is the dual purpose of the new fellowship hall. “We wanted to provide a place for kids in the community to come and shoot hoops if they want to because we have nothing in our community recreation center for basketball,” Rivenbark said. A new kitchen and pantry space make room for a food pantry open to the community every Tuesday morning. “We are a small congregation with country people,” Rivenbark said, “but we rebuilt with community outreach in mind.”
Community outreach was the heart of the message on the first Sunday in the new building. Pastor Dave Bundy preached about the prodigal son from Luke 15, and he challenged the congregation: “What role do you see yourself playing as we move forward? For four years and (nearly) four months, are you looking from afar to see (the people in need in our community) and proclaim ‘welcome home’?”
That message is echoing here today. Beyond the ashes of your defeat, have you put much thought into the life you want to lead after all this? Do you have a safe place to confide your feelings that can give you wise, Biblical council?
The Rose Hill UMC congregation will be celebrating the new building officially with a service the whole community is invited to at 11am on April 9th. It is a service that reflects the thankfulness they have felt for all four years and four months of support they had from others.
As you push forward past the pain in your own life, look closely at your life and the people who have supported you. Remember that friend or family member who brought you a meal, took you on errands, cleaned your house, watched your kids, or just sat and listened to you. Don’t dismiss all that effort as something you were owed because you didn’t earn it; it was a free gift to you. What are some tangible ways you can show thankfulness to those who have been there to support you in such ways? Challenge yourself to be more intentionally grateful today.
When you love someone in the military, the thing no one tells you is that you get conscripted too. You are required to move when and where the military dictates. You have to sacrifice your career, family, and friends to keep your marriage together.
In addition, you have to be flexible to enjoy downtime with your service member when they have it–whether scheduled or random. Sometimes you are all alone and feel like you are living single even when you aren’t single at all. If that wasn’t hard enough, you do it in strange places where you have no familiar support to lean on.
Military life is isolation and trust. It is hardcore faith in someone that you chose to love even when your feelings of love are far from you. If you think it is glamorous, don’t. Being a military spouse is a calling; it is not for the faint of heart. The Military Wife and Mom wrote an insightful article about this with more details about what it takes to date and love a service member. Read her article here.
All branches of the military are different, but I think the Marines say it best concerning the reality of how most military spouses are treated. They say “if the Marines wanted you to have a spouse, they would have issued you one”.
Think about that for a moment. Let it sink in. That statement means that loving someone in the military is an uphill battle because command ALWAYS comes before love and family. Can you respect that? Can you still love and honor someone whose first priority is not you or your kids? Unfortunately, in military life the job and mission come before anything else.
What are the long range payoffs of military service?
Military service is a short-term commitment with a long-term payment. Service members serve a certain number of years, retire with full benefits, and go on to live a whole new life with a pension that carries them for the rest of their lives. Some get out before building up their pension. Others stay in service even longer with contracted work.
But that long-term payment is bittersweet. If you stay long enough for the financial benefits, you get a lot more memories to leave emotional scars, too. The things service members see in combat follow them for the rest of their lives. It can take a toll on relationships. PTSD is a real disease treated now in civilians as well as military personnel, but it used to be excused as a weakness in the military. This article explains in more detail how it affects veterans.
Beyond these involuntary physical responses to trauma, military relationships often suffer the fallout of stress that long distances and time apart can cause. Far too many service members get Dear John letters from lovers who can’t stay faithful to them while they are deployed.
Many more return home to a distant spouse and family because they got used to life without them. The emotional toll of military life is a lot harder and a lot longer lasting than it seems. Hear how several military spouses identify signs of love in their relationships, and you will see it is attention to detail in the little things that make survival long term possible.
So, how do you protect yourself from trauma within a military relationship?
The answers are not easy and are numerous.
Choose to make your love an anchor and honor that person no matter how unfair your sacrifices to do so seem sometimes. You remember why you loved them in the first place, and you surround yourself with those memories when the dark times come.
Make the sacrifices for your family and career, and you don’t blame them for the times they are away because of their command.
Countdown the days, weeks, months, hours, and years to their military retirement and make plans for the future to give you both hope.
Make friends with other military spouses and journey through this hard life together.
Give it your all like the good all-American warrior that you are because you ARE a warrior.
Every day you choose to love someone difficult to love is an act of war and a battle worth winning, in my opinion.
So, how do you handle important decisions and disagreements when your military spouse is away?
You need to realize that the most important thing to both of you right now is not arguing over minor problems between you: it is getting your soldier home safely.
Your service member is trusting you to be strong enough to take care of yourself and your family while they are gone. Don’t give them something to worry about because worry takes their mind off the mission and on you.
It might be romantic to think your soldier is overseas worried about you, but it isn’t. Every minute that a soldier is more concerned about life back home while he is in the battlefield is a moment he puts himself and his entire company in danger. Think twice before you pick a fight with a deployed soldier. No matter how alone you feel, you have to remember that military life is about protecting the ones you love the most and defending the ideals that make us all proud Americans.
When your service member is away, it is YOU they fight for–not that location or that country. Don’t steal the heart of their fight by making problems for them. Save the tough conversations for when they are home. Keep your conversation positive but authentic while they are away. Your love is life to them; your trust and commitment is more powerful than all the weapons in their arsenal.
Let this time of deployment be a time of growth and development for you as well. The Chicago Tribune wrote an article about how to deal with deployments that included many helpful tips for establishing reliable communication with your service member before and during deployment to reduce anxiety. Check out the article here.
How do you guard your heart if the service member you love is someone you only met online?
First of all, take your time. Before you can really love someone, you need to meet them in person. Call it chemistry, but anyone can be anything they want to be online. Before you fall in love with a lie, wait untill you meet them. The Soldier Project wrote a great article on this subject with advice to also be able to tell when your service member is “into you.” Check out the article here.
Secondly, don’t spend a dime on them. I mean it! Don’t even buy them a present! Until you meet in person, you are potentially falling for a lie, and the number one scam with Stolen Valor (when someone steals a military person’s identity to create a persona meant to steal from others) is circling around you paying for them to come see you. Military leave is something that is earned not bought. Even if you do exhaust your credit and pay for that $4-10k leave, you aren’t getting your service member home with it. You just paid a scammer their paycheck.
Lastly, knowledge is power. Immerse yourself in military culture. Get to know real military members and their families in all branches of the military. The more you know, the harder it is for someone to snow you. If someone tries to present you with Stolen Valor, you will be able to see it easier when you already know the culture they are trying to rip off. Scammers don’t understand military rank, branches, job descriptions, or technical details. Everything they get comes from Googling it, and guess what…you can do that too. If something sounds fishy, Google it. Your best defense is a good offense and that is ALWAYS verifying what someone tells you online before you fully believe in it.
How do you protect yourself online if you are in the military?
No matter how proud you are of what you do for a living (or your private gun collection), don’t post pictures online of yourself in your uniform or with weapons. Especially as you go up in rank, you are a target. I don’t even have to be your friend on social media to steal your pictures and become you, so stop sharing damaging Intel.
If you want to be online, be online with an alias. Don’t even let the world see your real name. I would even go so far as to edit pictures to mark out your real name. It is just much safer for you to hide in cloaks and daggers than it is to trust your identity is safe online. No one is safe online, but it is the high profile targets like military officers and celebrities that scammers target to copy the most.
Don’t be naive, soldier, you are loveable. The uniform alone is swoon worthy for a lot of us, but you don’t need a lover who just wants you for your rank. Wait for the warrior who loves you for your heart and partners with your dreams. Look for that person who is not afraid to walk through fire with you. Wait for the person whose love is like a slow cooker–harder to earn but always warm for you. Don’t love anyone online only; meet in person before you get serious and drop the “Love” word on your relationship.
Dear reader, if you have been the victim of an internet scam, know it is not your fault and you are not alone. Stolen Valor is a federal crime. Report it and try not to hold the military at fault for what happened to you.
Some scammers can actually be human traffickers that have been casing you out on social media. Read more about this crime and seek help. Don’t stay isolated and don’t believe the lie that this happened to you because of something wrong or ugly about you. You are beautiful. THEY are ugly.
Criminals have no other intentions than to make money off you and make you so scared you trust no one. If you don’t give in but still talk to them, all you are doing is helping them become better at their craft to hurt someone else.
Be better than that.
Cut them off and report it before it goes more than even a couple of weeks in communication. Read this article to help you better know if you are a victim and how to deal with it.
Recently internationally best-selling author, Mari L. McCarthy, sent me a copy of her new book, Mindset Medicine: A Journaling Power Self-Love Book. In the book, the author shares 14 writing prompts and ways to heal from mental, emotional, and physical trauma through journaling. I accepted the book to write a book review, but I picked it up to read it at a time when I desperately needed it.
Mari’s book came to me at a time when the absolute last thing I thought I needed to learn about was disciplined writing. When I opened it to the introduction, it read like Mari was talking directly to me.
If you’ve slowly developed a feeling that big tech, mass media, and our cultural and government institutions are doing everything they can to brainwash you, you should pay attention to this feeling. You should pay attention to it and trust it, because it’s your intuition feeding you the truth. Make no doubt about it, your heart and soul are under siege by societal forces that don’t have your best interests in mind….These forces want to separate you from YOU….view this book as an invitation to journey inward and deprogram what you’ve been conditioned to believe you should be.
Mari L. McCarthy
The book is about helping you reclaim your mental, physical, and spiritual health. Pulling from her personal experience overcoming Multiple Sclerosis (MS) through journaling, Mari leads readers to overcome their own greatest challenges through focused introspection. She doesn’t just lean on her own experiences either. Ms. McCarthy cites examples of other published medical studies that saw real change as a result of writing. Fourteen short chapters teach readers to apply the technique of writing to self-heal.
The first chapter really got me thinking about something. In my circles, I have seen a lot of harm come from social media. Friends pose pictures of themselves in their best lives, outfits, and moments. All the perfection makes you feel like you are missing out on the way life is supposed to be.
Then random strangers message you “hey beautiful” trying to get at your heart. If you are curious and lonely, you say “hi” back and open a door. If you are smart, you ignore them.
The question I find myself asking is why social media even wastes our time if it hurts our hearts so much. This idea is part of what I wrote about in response to the first prompt from the book below:
If you could really change the world, what would you want to change about it? Consider getting your own copy of Mari L. McCarthy’s Mindset Medicine and join the revolution of changing the world through writing.
About the Author
Mari L. McCarthy, Founder and CEO – Chief Empowerment Officer of CreateWriteNow.com, teaches curious health-conscious action-takers how to use Journaling For The Health Of It®️ to heal the emotional, creative, physical, and spiritual issues in their tissues. She also shows them how to use this powerful personal transformation tool to know, grow and share their True Self. Mari is the multi award-winning author of Journaling Power: How To Create The Happy, Healthy Life You Want To Live, Heal Your Self With Journaling Power and Mindset Medicine: A Journaling Power Self-Love Book. She’s also created 20+ Journaling For The Health Of It® Self-Management 101 Workbooks including Who Am I?, Take Control Of Your Health! and Start Journaling For The Health Of It® Write Now.
Living single has its charms, but no one wants to be lonely. For those of us who want more than just friends to hang out with, online dating becomes an option. However, making connections with people online is extremely dangerous. If you can go into it with your armor on, you may be able to find someone worth exploring.
When I was actively looking, I tried dozens of dating sites and apps. They were all buggy and plagued with issues. When I finally decided to pay for something, I chose Christian dating sites. I wasn’t on both sites at the same time, and I couldn’t have afforded that if I wanted to. However, my experiences across a gap of about 5 years should give you some perspective of what to expect online dating on these sites and others like them.
Christian Mingle (CM) is a dating service that promises to be exclusively faith-based with their matches. Clients purchase a paid membership, answer a detailed intake questionnaire, and are matched to potential partners. Though there is an app version of the service, it is so buggy that it is a wonder the service still exists. Nevertheless, many reviewers have left positive reviews for the service and negatives for the app.
What you should expect from Christian Mingle is that you won’t get anything for free. Even the stuff they say is free to try is extremely limited on purpose to try to hook you in. No service can guarantee you a match much less a faithful Christian one, but this service does a fair attempt at trying to keep a safe, exclusive environment.
When I tried CM, there were a lot of legitimate good people on the site but not necessarily good prospects. I would say it was a lot of lonely people looking for connection without much to offer that connection. Nevertheless, I did meet a good person and move forward with dating him. We were able to stay together for two years, but it ended because we were long distance.
eHarmony is a dating service that promises to make a match every couple of minutes, and they claim to have done so successfully for years. They do this based on a highly detailed algorithm and intake questionnaire used to match you to potential partners, but they don’t exclusively stick to it. Let me explain why they have that statistic and why it isn’t true…
What you should expect from eHarmony is a fairly decent app with advanced connection capabilities. You can also expect higher level prospects for your matches and a more closely scrutinized list of things they are looking for. What you can’t expect is for them to stick to your list or even honor it when they DON’T have the right matches—even if that means sending you same sex gender matches when you are heterosexual.
About five years ago, I tried eHarmony and that is what happened to me. They had more general prospects than Christian ones, and those that claimed to be Christian were either wearing the badge loosely or had already left. eHarmony kept their profiles active and used it to fluff their numbers. I know this because when I finally got tired of messaging people and hearing no response, I tried to leave. In the exit process, I was told that deleting my profile was not an option.
Setting Your Expectations
If you are thinking of giving up and that it is all hopeless anyway, don’t. There as just as many lonely hearts looking for legitimate connection online as there are scammers. If looking for love online is part of your journey, go in hopeful but not with your efforts all in one place or your heart so open that it is easily scarred.
There are plenty of free and paid dating apps and services out there, but you need to prepare for the majority of the people you meet to be scammers. Until you meet on a video chat, don’t even consider falling in love with them. More than that, don’t let anyone talk you into sending them money for the privilege of their time and company. You can read more about how that happened to me on a secular site in this article.
That guy you are so focused on, the one you think hung the moon and stars, he didn’t. In fact, he will pull you away from the actual one who hung the moon and stars if you are not careful.
You are not a trashy person. Stop dressing like one. And stop giving the boys whatever they ask for. If you are not worth waiting for, they are not worth having as king of your castle. Don’t expect a Prince Charming out of an ugly toad no matter how much you kiss him.
Advice about dreams
So you want to be something that seems impossible, good! You are in good company with a lot of giants who changed the world. Know it isn’t easy to do that kind of work. Find someone who is doing what you want to do and doing it successfully–they aren’t broke or spending frivolously or being dishonest–and get them to mentor you.
Hold on and don’t give up! You have a God-sized dream which means it is one you can’t do without Him. Get serious about Jesus and get committed in your time spent building that relationship.
Advice about friends
Good friends are a lifeblood; bad friends corrupt even the little good you have. Friendship is an investment of time and resources. You don’t get to the good, life-long relationships without taking those sacrifices along the way. Unless you want to spend the rest of your life alone, get choosey about who you spend time with.
Don’t be afraid to say “no” to people. In fact, start now before you have a chronic habit of over committing yourself. If they are really your friends, they will understand. If they get mad, they probably weren’t your friends to begin with. Hold all those types of people loosely because they aren’t supposed to stay in your life forever.
The ones who are good life-long friends are the ones who support and encourage your dreams and aren’t afraid to challenge you when you get off the path in your goals or character. Make whatever sacrifices you need to make in your time and schedule to keep those people in your life. When you are old, your house will never lack for love or laughter because you made the effort to build relationships where they mattered.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
If you have been a long-term reader of this blog, you may remember a 2019 post about the dream of my son. In that post, I shared the very real hope of motherhood though I was neither a wife nor a mother.
I wish I could tell you that in two years everything changed…that I found my husband and we did, indeed, have that son. But that hasn’t happened for me yet.
In my thirties, I felt all the ticks of my biological clock. I was the only aunt of my two-now-three neices and nephew. I thought of all my happy childhood memories with cousins and felt the burden to provide them. I didn’t have the resources to adopt; all I could give them were fur cousins. I resolved to be the best Auntie I could be as I waited–somewhat grumpily–to be a mother.
The weight of that motherhood burden was so heavy that I used to periodically check in with my neices and ask how they felt about not having cousins. At first, it bothered them. Over time, they became thankful and didn’t care; they were happy to have Auntie Becca all to themselves. I played with them. I listened to them. I encouraged their dreams. When they grew older, they protected that investment and wouldn’t let anyone call themselves an “aunt” in their lives but me.
There have been moments when I have felt nothing but bitterness and rage over my lost dreams. How could God give me such a vivid dream if it is never to come to pass? Was it even God at all? Does He even exist/care/see me?
I have been through more than my fair share of negative spirals over this. Nothing hurts quite like having a dream deferred. Then God broke through with a different perspective:
Within me there is a tidal wave of love for my husband and children, but I hold back the tide for when they arrive. I have learned to hold the dream of them loosely in my heart, and I don’t live my days with my head on swivel trying to find them.
I let God into my everyday life.
Now I live choosing daily to focus on Him and what I do have not what I don’t. Sometimes that takes playing the same worship song over and over till I get the anthem that God loves me and that really is enough. Other days, it is joyous adventure led by His Hand. Either way, it is a better life than the life before focused on tragedy and lack.
Patience is not a virtue I wear well; I have to fight for it.
I have to fight to have it at all, really. Time itself is a reminder of patience. Having just 24 hours in a day when you need 28 makes you realize not everything happens as quickly as you may want it to. I can struggle and work hard and give myself barely a minute to eat of sleep while I try to get everything done, or I can accept my limitations, do my best, and trust God with the rest. Life always turns out better with option 2.
God’s waiting room is not a punishment; it is how He works. It took 15 years for David to go from the anointing to becoming King. It took 25 years for Abraham to go from the promise of fathering nations to hearing that first cry of Issac.
God guides us one step at a time expecting us to do the best we can, and what happens next hinges on the faithfulness to the step–the opportunity–he has for us right now.
Pastor Andrew Price, The Bridge Church, Mount Olive, NC
There are things I have to do right now to be a good steward of all my resources and a prepared home for the blessings I believe God has in my future. I take that responsibility seriously. I guard my investments of time, money, and talent diligently. Sometimes that means I have to say “no”–even to people counting on me to say “yes”.
Trusting God is not passive.
I’ve come to believe that my life is no longer about achieving a certain goal in my personal life or career. I think, more than anything, it is about living life with Christ, being a good steward of all He gives me, and finding joy in the journey.
I don’t want to just store up treasures for some future glory; I want to find treasure in my everyday life and enjoy it too.
The treasure looks like many different things:
It is that friend that has been encouraging me for years.
It is the money slipped into my hand at Christmas to protect my pride and honor my commitments.
It is the play put on with excellence at my local theater that filled my heart with pride and artistic comfort.
It is the moment spent enjoying a good meal with loved ones.
It is sitting unplugged from electronics and crocheting or knitting something new to wear.
It is meeting new people and hearing their stories.
It is watching the birds come to my window and eat the treats left for them.
All these moments and thousands more are what I look for and treasure. They are reminders of a loving God and assurance that I am headed in the right direction. God has so much more in store than I can plan for today.
I keep hope alive and don’t listen to naysayers.
There are a lot of reasons why a woman of my age should give up on the dream of motherhood. In terms of childbirth, I became geriatric twenty years ago and having a child is a health risk.
Yet, I dream on. If it is truly God’s will for me, He will open doors no man can shut, and I will have a baby in my arms to laugh and rejoice with. If it is not God’s will, I have nothing to lose from living a life of love and service now.
Hope is not gone, friends. As long as you are breathing, there is still room for your circumstances to change. Focus on what you have and what you can contribute to, and let God take care of the rest. Life is too short for anything less.
So how do you hold a dream?
You hold it loosely and trust the Author to fulfill it or rewrite it as necessary along your life’s journey.
Identity Theft…Fake IDs…Cyber Bullying…Catfishing…Cyber Terrorism…these are all ugly things to talk about and definitely not what you want to start a year on, but if you have ever been a victim of it, you know the truth: it can stop life as you know it from then forward. Some victims are so embarrassed by what they let themselves believe that they never get past that dark moment. Unfortunately, I know at least one reader who killed herself after what happened to her. That is why I hope you take very seriously what I am about to tell you and alter your life online going forward.
Cyberbullying and catfishing are a very real and rising crime. In 2019, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) estimated that nearly 20,000 people were victims of some form of online romance or confidence scam. In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported $304 million in losses to such scams. Statistics on such crimes are astounding and confirm victims and criminals are not who you think they are; this is a problem effecting all age and genders especially men.
Catfishing is deliberately creating a fake character and story to interact with others online, and cyberbullying is abusive behavior done online with or without a fake character to protect the abuser. Cyber terrorism is using the internet to perform acts of terror on others. In my experience, being the victim of catfishing feels like experiencing all three of those things.
How To Protect Yourself Online
Protect Your Images Online
Insist on Video Chatting with Strangers Before You Trust Them
Create Alternate Phone/Email Information To Use Online
Never Send Money or Gift Cards to a Person or Organization You Haven’t Met in Person
Report and Block Abusers When They Are Discovered
Protect Your Images Online
When I was catfished by a man claiming to be in the military, I was really angry at the real man in the photos for not protecting himself more. The truth is that I can just as easily take a screenshot of my friends’ social media accounts today and recreate a persona of them online that isn’t them in five minutes. If you choose to be online, you need to understand that EVERYTHING you put online is there forever no matter if you delete it, so choose wisely what you share–and don’t overshare. The whole world is not your friend, nor is it the place to share every detail of your life. Share the important stuff privately in protected groups or emails not on your newsfeed. Change the status to “friend” or “friend of friend” on most of your posts. If your social media platform offers it, remove the ability for your images to be downloaded. You can’t stop someone screenshotting what you share, but you can stop them from downloading the pictures of your kids and using them as their own.
Insist on Video Chatting with Strangers Before You Trust Them
This is a real big one and it stops the fakers EVERY time–so do this early in your conversations and before you invest your heart or time more than a few days. You can’t make a static image talk, walk, and breathe; video will force the real person to be revealed. Either they shuffle and come up with excuses for why they can’t connect, or they give you a hard time for making rules for them to jump through, or they show up but the person you see doesn’t match the person you have been talking to in text and still images. One catfisher went so far as to string a series of still images together and talk to me like a voice over on a “bad connection”. The most recent attempt asked to call me on WhatsApp. When he did, his voice was clearly not who he claimed to be. He turned out to be “a black boy” most likely from Nigeria instead of the German/Scottish white man in my pictures.
Side Note: It pays to be a student of language, accents, and cultures. Don’t be naïve and take people at their word; know what their claimed culture should look and sound like. If you can’t get them to video chat but you can get them to call, knowing the difference in sounds is enough to often confirm or deny their identity.
Create Alternate Phone/Email Information To Use Online
You live with real people and places you love and protect, so don’t give away your real personal information online. I have a separate Gmail account just for social media and interacting with strangers. On that account, I also have a Google Voice phone number and attached it to WhatsApp and Signal. If someone needs to call, text, or video chat, they have to go through those channels first if I don’t know them AND I am honest about it. I tell people up front that I have to be guarded and don’t share personal information until I know you better. That should be a deterrent, but it is a worm on a hook to predators. They don’t mind the chase if they think their is a prize at the end of it.
Never Send Money or Gift Cards to a Person or Organization You Haven’t Met in Person
Not everyone is going to ask you for money, but a lot of them are in it for the long haul to get you to offer it. There are a lot of different reasons why people catfish, and it isn’t all just money either. Some do it for emotional reasons. Others do it just to mess with you. The last guy that did it to me said he “wanted to try it” and “needed help” with financial costs. Unfortunately, some parts of the world treat catfishing like a job and operate in teams to get as many people on the hook at the same time as possible.
Report and Block Abusers When They Are Discovered
Don’t feel sorry for them when you catch them in their lies; they are counting on that! A novice liar is easy to spot. They are over anxious, have broken English, and there are all sorts of holes in their stories. An experienced catfisher is well polished and in it for the long haul. He/she creates a believable lie with enough images and encouraging words in proper English to make you think they are legit. They even get the time zone differences right! They are perpetual students of you. They watch your social media, know what makes you tick, and see your bleeding heart to rescue people from the error of their ways. They are counting on you caring enough to give them what they want even after they are discovered–enough people have done it already to make them think you will too.
DON’T CONTINUE TALKING! Screenshot your conversation and images for proof. Then block and archive them. Report them to your social media or whatever platform they met you on. I had so many catfishers to report to one dating website that they ended up telling me I was “too picky” and needed to “lower my standards”. Most social media platforms take your reports into consideration and act on it following an investigation. At Daily Testify, reports are taken seriously and abusers are shut down quickly with less hesitation than every other site on the market.
There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
How To Heal From An Attack
Allow Yourself Time to Cry
Educate Yourself to be Better Prepared Next Time
Let Trusted Friends Know and Reach Out For Their Support
Seek Professional Counseling for any Deeper Issues
Get Back on the Proverbial Horse
Allow Yourself Time to Cry
It is not easy being human. Sometimes the cost is so high we just want to ball up and choose to hate the world or leave it. Neither option is a good one. No matter how many times I have been through it, it still hurts to be catfished. Though I didn’t let myself trust or give anything really personal away to the last two scammers, I did have the hope they were real and that hope deferred made my heart sick. It’s okay to cry. Let yourself express those emotions. I’ve gone on walks through the rain-soaked countryside talking to God and crying till I found peace again. He met me there, and he can meet you too. Allow yourself the room to feel, but don’t let the bad experiences close the gift of your loving heart.
Educate Yourself to be Better Prepared Next Time
We don’t live in a sinless world where you can take strangers at their word and trust them. The people you trust and invest in should be people who earned your trust over time. Learn more about the ways of the world and online community through organizations like The CyberSmile Foundation that help teach you safe ways to interact online. Read reputable articles like the ones linked in this story and on our blog. Begin to see yourself as less of a victim and more of a warrior loading up for battle. Knowledge is an arsenal that never fades or requires a concealed carry permit.
Let Trusted Friends Know and Reach Out For Their Support
Most victims have people in their lives that love them, yet they feel isolated. Whether they physically live alone or they are in a house with other people, some need in their heart was being missed and that need was the hope the abuser claimed to fill. As public as I am online, none of my abusers read my blog or claimed to know anything from it. Unless they are stalkers, abusers don’t put much effort into chasing you past your social media, yet–in that moment–you think they are the only person in the world that really cared about you. That is the opposite of the truth. You don’t need to tell the whole world like I am literally doing here, but you need to tell someone what happened to you. You can’t navigate the dark thoughts alone. Share your experience with someone you trust and lean on them for emotional support.
Seek Professional Counseling for any Deeper Issues
Depending on how deeply connected you were to your abuser, you may need to talk to a professional. This may also apply if you knew the abuser a few days but have deeper baggage to work through. Sometimes being vulnerable emotionally reveals places in our hearts and experiences that we haven’t dealt with and didn’t know how to. There is no shame in seeking help to work through it. In fact, that is the brave thing to do. It is the ones who needed it but didn’t pursue it that end up caving to the dark thoughts and ending their life.
Get Back on the Proverbial Horse
No matter how many times you have been the target victim, it is not an excuse to hide forever from social media. Maybe you need to learn better practices and change what you do online, but you don’t have to leave it completely to be safe.
I don’t look to social media for my real world connections. The people I trust the most are not people I met online, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have meaningful relationships with people online. I met a couple online last year that are sitting in a country on the other side of the world right now reading this. We haven’t met in person, yet I consider them friends.
I get messages almost daily from strangers on my social media platforms, and almost all of them are men. Instead of feeling flattered by the attention and remaining vulnerable to every possible risk, I have to be wise enough to realize they could be scammers. I treat social media as a marketing space and share what I do there, so I will friend strangers on social media, but I follow my own advice to stay safe. If someone turns out to be a predator, I report them.
Maybe someday the bad ones will hurt less. What I share next is to show you just how real this can be. The screenshots below were captured over roughly three days of communication with a catfisher that contacted me through Daily Testify. Read on to see how I caught him in his lies and ended it.
Following this conversation on a private email channel, I screenshot everything, archived the message, and blocked the person. I then went to Daily Testify and reported him, stored the images elsewhere, and deleted them from my phone. Seeing the images later can cause setbacks in healing.
If you have been a victim of a scam, waste no time in reporting it and moving on. Don’t let them steal your joy or make you think you are the problem. Seek God! Let Him fill the places that you lack, and give Him the responsibility to play matchmaker with your heart.
A few years ago, my father was transitioning to rehab after an infection led to a foot amputation. My sister came home to see him and brought a friend with her. He brought his guitar and asked her for a song dad would be able to recognize upon hearing it. She chose an Allison Krauss song. He threw his acoustic over his shoulder, began to play, and walked slowly, confidently, down the halls of the facility to dad’s room. The instrument was understated and scared by cigarette butts of past owners, but in his hands it sang. The melody reverberated through the rooms and made many heads turn. That is how our family met Joseph Tallent, my sister’s second husband.
They had a whirlwind courtship. Within months of meeting online, they were getting married. I was skeptical. My sister’s school girl giggles when they were together confirmed how taken she was with him, but he was stoic. Joey barely spoke. He was reserved with his smiles and laughter. Still he exuded peace and confidence with his silence.
Joey was a petite man with wild Elvis hair and a voice that squeaked into high registers, but there was nothing small or quiet about his personality. I was soon to learn that.
I went on a trip to see my sister and her two girls from a previous marriage. We took the girls and Joey and went to St. Augustine, Florida. I stood back and watched how he interacted with my nieces and sister. He was protective: he walked beside the girls with his head on swivel for traffic. He was curious: he explored the buildings with us and suggested places to go. He was daring: he threatened to walk the riverfront in his boxers just to show me he didn’t care what people thought of him.
In the car later, my sister was upset about something that he knew about. The whole ride home, he held her hand and fed her spirit with a playlist of songs. I watched her weep and fall into peace with the melodies. Joey had become a steward of my sister’s heart. Like a gardener protects, tends, and waters his garden, Joey protected my sister and her girls, tended to her needs for organization and cleanliness in her home, and watered her heart with their shared love language of music. Seeing the depth of his intentionality and care is what made me love Joey too.
Lately I have been reading Jackie Kendall’s A Man Worth Waiting For. It is a study of the Biblical story of Ruth and Boaz that examines the qualities of a godly man and how to recognize him. Being a steward of the heart of the woman he loves was one of the characteristics. Joey was exhibiting the heart of a man worth waiting for (MWWF) long before I learned what that meant.
Joey was not a perfect man by any stretch of the circumstances, but even his imperfections made him perfect for our family. My neices loved and trusted him. My sister rested her heart with him. Later, his son blossomed with him. He was the Winnie-the-Pooh to my sister’s red balloon.
They had a lot of plans to travel the country together. Joey wanted to introduce his son to the Yankees, but he never made it to his first game. After a non-Covid related respiratory incident, Joey passed away suddenly this summer at the age of 34.
There’s not enough white space to show the gap he left in our hearts. Joey was the kind of man who was kind to everyone but close to few, and those few were people he invested in intentionally. I was one of the few, but I didn’t realize it till he was gone.
What I do know is that he changed me. Joey made me laugh at life again, and he challenged me to take myself more seriously. He encouraged my dreams, but he wasn’t afraid to speak the hard truth when I needed it. That honesty saved me from years of further heartache in relationships with men not right for me.
Joey was more than a brother-in-law to me; he was my friend. I could be myself with him and know I was always welcome, safe, and loved. Even when my sister and I fought and he had every reason to side with her and hate me, Joey was kind to me. Joey was family by marriage, but he felt more like the blood brother I always wished I had.
In the moments following his death, I found myself wondering what my last words were to him. Did I tell him I loved him? Did he know that either way? We didn’t talk often, nor did we see each other much. My sister and her family lived several states away. Was that last moment a hurried goodbye as they left my house or a hug in his living room with the baby in his arms? I don’t know.
It’s hard to know how to deal with the death of a young person. Joey had a lot of life ahead of him and a son not yet two years old to raise. How were we to move on and show his son what an amazing father he had? How could we possibly teach him all his dad would have taught him? Thank God his mother is alive and can be the voice of this knowledge to her grandson.
It’s normal to feel angry when you lose a loved one. All your emotions become raw hamburger in the wake of such a loss. Part of you wants to draw the curtains and hide inside the shell of your life and cry. But the business of death won’t let you have that freedom.
The business of death is the part no one talks about and fewer still prepare for. It’s all the decisions about funeral services, your final resting place, the bills from your life that must be settled, the lack of income your family has to adjust to, your possessions they have to store or disperse, and the memories you left them with. Joey had no idea he was going to die the way he did, but he lived with an eternal mindset knowing his days on Earth were always numbered. He proved this to me in his death by the fact that he prepaid as many of the bills as possible, and he structured the finances of his household to be dependent on my sister’s income alone.
My sister was used to trusting Joey with the finances, but she had to navigate through these muddy waters while also melting into tears whenever she looked at what Joey left behind. We developed a GoFundMe to help her through unplanned expenses, and several caring friends contributed. Nevertheless, she still had to find a way to handle life alone and without the income to do all the extras she could afford with Joey. In a moment, the red balloon of my free-spirited sister was grounded and all the joy was sucked out of her.
Everyone says that grief gets easier with time, but the truth is that it is different for everyone. One person loves intensely, grieves intensely, and moves on. Another holds on to memories and slowly opens the onion layers of their pain over time. Many more find their way through pain in a variation of something between both extremes.
When you are hurting and trying to find your new normal after loss, find someone who knows you and what you truly value and share your thoughts with them. You will need the accountability in the months and years ahead because your emotions will play tricks on you. One more thing: think twice before you throw your family under the bus in your anger. It is easy to lash out at the people closest to you and even feel justified doing it, but those words are hard to hear and even harder to step back. Even if you feel like you are the only person qualified to speak about loss and pain, you don’t have the right to silence another person’s pain.
I was never as close to Joey as my sister and her kids were, but I still grieved him more than I expected too. I still struggled for months to put my pain into words. At the time of writing this, it has been four months since Joey stepped out of this world and into the next. He is gone but still ever present with us through the smile of his son and a thousand other things he left behind.
If you have gone through the loss of a loved one or a young person, I share this very personal story to hopefully help you avoid making some of the common mistakes that have been made in times of grief and heightened emotions.
Let your pain draw you closer not push you away from your loved ones.
Learn to practice patience and transparency with people you can trust who were in your life long before the tragedy happened.
Be cautious about making big sweeping changes to your life. Even when you are happy, you are still in a stressed-out-emotional-survival-mode-crisis stage of life. Expect decisions right now to be based on emotions more than sound judgment.
Guard your tongue; think twice before you unleash all your hurt on those around you lest you scorch the earth you stand on too and end up causing yourself more trouble.
Let the grief have time to settle before you move on to someone new. It’s not fair for either of you to walk with the ghost of a past love standing between you.
Another lifetime ago, I lived in Winston-Salem and worked with artists. I loved everything about my life: cool weather, historic places to explore, a beautiful townhome, lots of friends that gathered throughout the week, a creative job I loved, and volunteer service to help artists in the church and in the community.
I was living my best life–my best dream–till it all crashed to the floor.
I lost my job and couldn’t find another one. My finances ran thin, so I picked up part time work as a nanny. All the friends so eager to hang out before were now suddenly non-existent. The only thing I had left was my volunteer service, but I was quickly losing that too if I couldn’t afford my housing.
One night I was standing on the side of the road picking up dog poo from a client, and I had a light bulb moment. “What are you doing here?” I told myself. “You have a college education; why aren’t you using it?”
The dream I thought I had was gone, but I convinced myself that somehow it would all come back if I could just find a way to stay in Winston-Salem.
I decided to take on a roommate–first in over four years since college–to help out. I thought everything was going well and things were starting to look up. Then I overheard her on the phone looking for a new place to rent without telling me she wanted to leave. I was devastated and angry, so I acted quickly to take charge. I put in my notice with the leasing office, packed up my belongings, and moved home.
The Lie I Believed For A Decade
A lot of anger got packed up with me when I left that place. I didn’t understand how God could let me live the dream and then lose it.
I let the anger box away every good memory from that time in my life and tell me I would never again live a happy or fulfilled life.
I allowed myself to believe I never heard from God in Winston-Salem, and, maybe, I never heard God at all. For a decade thereafter, I lived in a cloud of sorrow and regret believing my best years were behind me. But God…
Hindsight is 20-20: Discovering My Tribe
Looking back now, I see things differently. The more I had tried to stay in Winston-Salem, the more I needed to go. My roommate was just the final straw in a long list of circumstances pushing me to leave. Sure, God could have opened doors of prosperity and protection to keep my dream going in Winston-Salem. If He had done that, however, it wouldn’t have been the full dream He had for me.
What I really had in Winston-Salem was a glimpse of my purpose and calling and clarification of who my tribe is.
Every Christian has a unique tribe or group of people they can talk to about faith and life without inhibitions. You have a specific set of skills that resonate with them, and they will listen to you in ways they won’t listen to otbers.
For me, that group is artists. While I loved my work with artists in Winston-Salem, I was meant to meet and work with more artists than just the ones in that location. I couldn’t have known that without leaving it.
Find Peace With It and Stay The Course
I had a choice to stay angry and distanced from God or forgive the past and move on. I chose the latter. Doing so opened doors for me to begin to heal from that pain and even see the beauty in it.
Understanding doesn’t come quick or easy, but one thing I did come to understand was that my best years were not behind me in Winston-Salem. A lot of good came from leaving, and a much bigger purpose for my life started happening after I came home.
Once you make up your mind to move forward after pain, you have to be determined to stick to it and not pick up that old grudge.
Allow God to give you new experiences. Put Him first and pursue the vision He gives you for your life. When you do that, you don’t have to go looking for ways to use your talent or feel fulfilled. God will put you in the path you need to go and lead you to ministry in unexpected ways.
“We are afraid to care too much, for fear that the other person does not care at all.”
— Eleanor Roosevelt
When I was growing up, I was a cute little blonde with blue eyes and curly hair and dimples. I had a cheery personality and everyone liked me–I had no problem making friends–but I was invisible to the boys. As I got older and into my dating years, I felt really self-conscious when I didn’t have a date. What was wrong with me? Why didn’t anyone ask me out?
Being invisible became a real problem for my self-esteem. I compared myself to other girls and automatically assumed everyone else was better than me. I hated myself because I wasn’t the girl every guy wanted to get with. I hated other women because they were the girls every guy wanted to get with. In judging others, I perpetuated a lie that I was not good enough to be loved exactly as I am for who I am without any changes. The more I believed the lie, the more I trapped myself in hatred of myself and other women. The more trapped I was, the farther I fell from ever really seeing the truth. I WAS worthy of love…a truly awe-inspiring love story.
A Truly Awe-Inspiring Love Story
I’ve had a rough journey when it comes to love. I’ve been putting my heart out there and trying to trust guys for years, but every relationship or attempt at one leaves me burned.
I told myself that when I got to a certain goal or deadline, I would get back out there and try again. That moment came and went, though, and I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t sure I would ever trust again. Maybe I’ll just stay single, I thought. I started thinking about building a family through adoption, and I started making plans for a house of my own. Maybe a truly awe-inspiring love story is just not in the cards for me.
Take Time To Love Yourself
Being single can be the most miserable place to be–especially if you are relationship-oriented like me. The challenge, in this time is to keep telling myself it’s all going to be okay even when I don’t really know it is.
I try to fill my time with things for myself that I hadn’t been able to pursue before. For example, I was able to focus and finish my Master’s degree after a breakup. I have also spent the alone time to focus on ignored health needs and learn new skills.
It’s important to do healthy things that make your heart feel better too. Now is the time to read a mystery instead of a romance, watch The Crown on Netflix, finish a project, go somewhere new, and spend more time with quality friends.
“Personal development is the belief that you are worth the effort, time and energy needed to develop yourself.”
I am not an expert on relationships. I am still figuring this out for myself too. But I know this much: you don’t have to be a perfect person to be loved, and just because your love life is a mess now, doesn’t mean it will be that way forever.
Give yourself some room to focus on you and get healthy.
Love will come when it is right and when your heart is healed and ready for it. When it does, be smarter from your past mistakes; don’t hold on to bad fish for years hoping they will get their lives together and stop stinking.
Dare to believe you are worth a love that will go the distance for you, and you just might be one of the lucky ones that finds it.
The longest relationship I have ever had started online through the dating app, Plenty of Fish (POF). Back then, the app was still new and lots of people I knew were meeting on it. The fact that the app referenced a fish (a known symbol of Christianity) made many of us think it was a Christian app. That Christian connection made you feel safe–even when it was the farthest thing from the truth.
Simple and Free Isn’t
POF started as a free app, and you could communicate with matches without payment. When this review was updated in 2022, many users claimed that you could not move forward with communication without paying for a membership.
My profile got a lot of attention. At first, it was intoxicating and self-affirming because I was no longer invisible and guys were messaging me from all over. What started as one nice digital complement, however, turned ugly. A few nude pictures and inappropriate invitations down the road, I was ready to leave the app. The same was true for the man that would become my boyfriend, but even he had enough problems that we couldn’t last long term.
Trying Again on POF
Five years down the road from my first experience with the app, I went back in for a new connection and had a totally different experience. Within 24 hours of going back to POF, I had over 50 guys messaging me, and the caliber of these matches was significantly upgraded. Most were men with good character, strong jobs, and handsome, athletic bodies.
There were still plenty of matches just looking for hookups, but they were outnumbered by the good fish claiming to want women with good hearts (not gym rats).
I was overwhelmed with options, so I decided to establish filters for the matches I talked to. First, I asked all the tough questions about core values in the app itself. It was easy to say goodbye quickly and safely if we wanted different things; there would be no hard feelings. Next, I listened to what the matches chose to talk about. What a person treasures is revealed through how they talk. This filtering process helped me narrow down from 50+ matches to three.
Money Requests Change Connections
One day, one of the guys I had narrowed downed to asked me if I had a credit card. I freaked out, thought he wanted money, and told one of the other guys about it. That guy–who was overseas at the time–went out of his way to find a way to video chat with me from overseas.
I needed to video chat with my matches to see they were who they said they were. The fact that this one match was willing to do so while also on the front lines of military service made him quickly rise to the head of my pack. With more conversation, I was ignoring everyone else but him. I didn’t expect everything about him was a lie.
Reporting Liars is Not Supported
When Chris was a lie, I went back to POF to report him, but he was already gone. I tried to report the guy who asked for a credit card, and he was gone as well.
Angry about being lied to, I decided to stay on the app and see who would reach out again. I felt like bait tangling in a shark tank, but if I could snag a few bad fish and report them, I thought it would be worth it.
One day, I got a nibble. The next, a juicy bite. In a few short questions, I was identifying 5-7 catfishers and liars per day.
What Is A Catfisher?
Catfishers are people who take pictures of real people (often from their social media accounts) and pretend to be someone they are not online in order to create emotional bonds they can exploit for money. Sometimes they even promise to not ask for money, but that is a tactic used to build trust and make you offer it later.
Catfishers will say whatever you want to hear and be whomever you want them to be, but their conversations poke holes in their stories. First, they write in broken English. Then, the details don’t add up. One minute they are a saxophone player, the next a guitarist. They claim to be from a particular area but can’t accurately report the time and weather there.
Every word from a catfisher is a lie—sometimes plagiarized word for word from online—so do your research! Google what they tell you to see if it makes sense. If they claim to be military, make friends with some real military folks and ask questions.
Catfishers often claim to be victims of multiple tragedies. One guy told me his wife cheated on him with his best friend and got pregnant with him then she took his kid and left. He also claimed he lost his only brother and father in (military) service. That’s a lot of tragedy for one man to endure. True or not, tragedy inspires sympathy, and sympathy opens wallets. Be wary.
There are different levels of proficiency in the art of scamming. In my experience, novice scammers show their cards early; experienced ones are in it for the long game. They do their research and back up their lies with believable truths. They get you so convinced that you still have feelings for them long after you know they were a lie. This is how so many women across the world are hurt today thinking a service member wronged them (stolen valor).
What is a Shark?
Sharks are people that lie to you for non-monetary reasons. Most of the time these are the ones that send sleazy pictures and pick up lines late at night to try to get a quick booty call. Other times, these are the fish that lie about their relationship status or even their gender. They get a thrill out of baiting people. In the mildest of cases, it is someone pretending to be single when they are not. In the worst, it can be an entirely false persona.
One guy told me he was single when he was actually engaged. I contacted the woman supposed to be his ex and showed her screenshots of what he said. It’s up to her to decide what she will do with him, but I hope she values herself enough to not marry him. He was definitely a shark.
Another scenario I read about was even scarier. A guy was a big fan of a serial killer series, and he posed as a woman online to meet guys. When the guys went to where they were supposed to meet “her” in real life, the poser attacked and tried to kill them.
Resources to Help You Fact-Check
Use third-party websites to verify pictures, phone numbers, addresses, and more. I used at least three different websites to help identify catfishers and scammers and a fourth to report them. Some services are free, but most require payment. If you don’t want to invest in a service like this, at least Google search the name and personal information you are given.
You should become layered in your online presence and vigilant about protecting your identity. To learn more about that and why it is important, read my article about how to protect yourself from catfishers on social media.
Leaving the Fish Tank For Good
When I went to POF the second time around, I had high hopes of finding love. Several catfish and shark later, I felt jaded. I couldn’t trust anyone. It got to a point that I didn’t even trust my eyes were looking at pictures of the same person I was talking to. My trust in people in general was bruised too.
I left POF for good. I haven’t looked back–not even to update this article.
As I was leaving, I was asked to complete an exit survey. The results of that said I was too “narrow-minded” especially in my “religious” desire to not have sex until I was married. If I had any doubts, that confirmed it: POF is not a Christian site. They went on to suggest that I needed to lower my standards if I wanted to find a match.
I went on other dating sites after POF, and they all have problems. That is a story for another day….
When I met Christopher Smith Williams, he was stationed overseas in Kabul, Afghanistan. He was a military officer working as a Bomb Specialist there. He had already served his full term in the Army; this was a short term contractor gig. He was looking for a new life and wanted to find a woman to settle down and build it with.
I wasn’t very serious about him at first. I was still talking to other guys online and made that clear to him. None of the guys liked that but I wanted to be sure that whomever I chose to talk to exclusively would be a guy I felt compatibility with in core issues. Chris wanted me to be exclusive but he was understanding too. He would ask me about the other guys and let me tell him about his competition.
At one point, I got really spooked by one of the other guys because he asked me if I had a credit card. I immediately thought he was trying to scam me, and I told Chris about it.
Without even telling him, Chris knew I needed to see his face. He went 50 miles outside of camp to get to a safe room and video call me that night from a secure room.
The video was scratchy and wouldn’t connect right, but I caught a glimpse of him. He was even more handsome and humorous than his pictures implied. I couldn’t believe he would go out of his way to do something like that for me just because he knew I needed it. I was smitten.
Things Got Serious
I found myself on pins and needles to hear from him. I was always worried that silence meant something happened to him. He would affirm me that he felt “very comfortable” in his job and that “God had protected him this far” and would continue to do so till the end. He had less than a year left on his contract, so I determined to turn my fears to prayers. Every time I was scared for him, I prayed. He appreciated that. The angst I felt about his safety spoke volumes to me about my feelings for him too. Chris was quickly rising to the top of the pack, and I was ready to be exclusive with him. Once I made the choice to just focus on Chris and let the other guys go, things got serious fast. Christopher Smith Williams really pursued me. He was texting me every day and talking about deep heart issues and values. We talked about stuff that mattered not just casual flirtations. I was attracted to him in so many ways. He was tall, athletic, had a good job, and shared my core values. He accepted me just as I was and respected my boundaries. He found me attractive and wanted intimacy with me but was willing to wait for sex. He was coming to meet me and, if all went well, we would be planning a wedding soon. He didn’t always say things right, but he sounded like someone worth my time and attention. He sounded perfect.
Things Got Fishy
I was caught up in a whirlwind romance and we were making plans to see each other in a month. I put together stuff for a care package and asked him for his address. He gave me an email address and said I had to get on an approved list with his commander. I thought that was understandable. Then he asked me to just send him a gift card because it would be easier to help him “get his needs”. He claimed care packages were intercepted by terrorists over there, and Amazon gift cards would be easier to use and get through the mail. He also claimed that Trump was holding his pay and he couldn’t buy all his needs. His story smelled fishy enough that I contacted some active duty military friends and asked some questions. I also contacted a friend who would have done some work with his unit over there. They gave me specific things to ask and look out for. All of my friends seemed a hair trigger from pummeling Chris into next year, and I found myself having to filter and defend him already. They were mad about him, and I didn’t know why.
When I asked the questions my friends gave me, Chris gave me specifics that added up. But there was still something off: every time I asked him to explain his job, the response came back in broken English.
Trust but verify (him).
I didn’t want to doubt Chris, but I had never really met him.
I didn’t know where to start to verify that what Chris told me was true, so I just immersed myself in as much military culture as I could find online. I read and watched countless videos and articles online about being the significant other of a military person. I searched constantly. I thought I was learning how to be a better mate for Chris.
I looked up some of the exact things that Chris had told me about himself. He had given me exact rank and unit information, but when I looked it up, the units didn’t match the divisions he claimed they were from. Furthermore, all of my active duty friends assured me that his rank did not make sense after 20 years of service.
I Googled the exact wording of his job descriptions and my heart sank. Each description had been taken from online websites such as Chron.com (an online newspaper that has no official tie to the military). Here is one of the descriptions I was able to prove was plagiarized.
Christopher and I had been chatting every day through Google Hangouts because he said it was easier than texting his satellite phone. I used a third-party search and searched his phone number. That’s when I discovered I had been texting a VOIP most likely out of Florida not Kabul, Afghanistan.
I Googled his name and found a picture of a romance scammer by his name. I discredited it because it didn’t look like him, but it did give me pause. None of the things people were saying about this Chris were what I was hearing online…but he did look a lot more like the guy I saw in the video.
I would have never imagined that I would become the target of a romance scam going after both my heart and my wallet. Realizing that Chris was most-likely a lie made me sick to my stomach. I didn’t even know that stolen valor (when a scammer poses as a military person) was a thing, and when it happened to me, I felt guilty. I felt guilty because I come from an Army background; I should have been able to see the lies.
You will find veteran organizations fighting by identifying fakers and notifying the public of this crime. The US Army–a branch of our military that is copied by fakers a lot–is aware of the crime and are trying to inform the public about it. Unfortunately, it isn’t hard to fake military service and we tend to fall for it in our ignorance of what it takes to live the military life.
No wonder my friends were ready to pummel Chris; they smelled a rat. They were respectful of my tender heart, but they knew enough to know that I wasn’t seeing the truth from this guy.
It takes the heart of a Warrior to find deception and take it down.
How To Catch A Scammer (updated 7-11-2019)
If you think they are legit, have them email you from their .mil military email address. It’s pretty simple. If you are military at all, you have one…and you have it for life. The military does not use .com addresses. Chris never responded to this one, but if he was legit, his email would have confirmed his story. The address adjusts to whatever roll you are currently in, so it would have confirmed he was a military contractor. It never goes away, so the lack of compliance to this simple request was a sign that Chris was a scammer.
If you think they are legit and they claim to be overseas, have them give you their APO address. Service members have special addresses to send things to when they are deployed. It’s not a physical address because they can’t give you that information; it’s like having a PO Box but different. If they are legitimately serving, they have one. Also, there is no such thing as needing to be on an approved list to send a package. Care packages are sent all the time to troops from people they don’t know that just want to show that they care. It makes no sense to only be able to receive stuff from approved senders. When I asked Chris for his APO address, he told me I would have to contact his commander and get on an approved list. The address for his commander was a .com address. The military does not use .com addresses. This was another sign that Chris was a scammer.
Learn the lingo of military life and know more than they do about it. Scammers know they are doing the wrong thing long before you do, and they are counting on you being ignorant about what all that military stuff means. The more ignorant you are, the more they can get out of you. However, be careful not to correct them or give them more information. If they are scammers, they are most likely learning from you how to be better at what they do. Most scammers are believed to be working in teams in Nigeria doing this as their job. They rely on what they can get off the internet and from you to perfect their schemes, but the internet is faulty especially in issues of rank.
Enlist your military friends for advice. Going off-book is the best thing I did to figure out the truth about Chris because nobody knows the current state of the military like an active service member. Ask someone that you know in the service if what you are being told sounds right. If you don’t know anyone in active service, do deeper research online on official military websites and blogs.
If you still can’t find the answers you need, reach out to some military spouses. Military spouses are incredibly resourceful; if they don’t know the answer, they know where to find it. I had one military spouse friend arrange for a conference call with her husband to help answer my military questions.
Educate yourself on the common lines. One thing the Internet is good for is getting the word out about something, and there are A LOT of things posted about romance scammers. The Army has been warning people for years against romance scams perpetuated in the name of a service member. Read their 2014 article here. Find out more about romance scams on non-profit sites and blogs dedicated to recovering from scammers. You can find actual claims they are using and see if what you are being told is a common thread being used by scammers. I caught some scammers even going so far as to use the same descriptions in multiple dating profiles and conversation threads.
Stop entertaining them; report them. If you’ve gone far enough to care at all about this profile, this is the hardest thing to do. You really want to believe them. Even when you know they are liars, you might think you are doing good to talk to them because at least you are keeping them from hurting someone else. Their is an art to lying, and you are just helping them master it. Scammers take everything you tell them and use it to fine tune their craft. Fraudsupport.org and Army.mil recommend that you report a faker to the place you found him/her and to proper authorities. Furthermore, they suggest you follow procedures to secure yourself online. If you are a victim, file a claim today.
Healing From Victimization
It is sickening to think that some of these pictures are real soldiers who either died in action, went missing, or had their identities stolen AND women are still upset thinking a soldier did them wrong!
No one expects to be a victim. Whether you gave this person your heart, your trust, your wallet, or all of the above, it is going to take time to heal. Allow yourself the room to feel anger and discouragement, but don’t give up on life, love, and humanity in general. There are still a lot of good people out there in the world, and there are still legitimately lonely hearts looking for love online. Don’t give up hope completely. Just be cautious. Remember: trust, but verify.
One Thanksgiving I was excitedly making plans for my boyfriend to come visit for the holidays. He was from out of state, and we didn’t see each other much. Coming together on a holiday was a BIG deal. It meant sharing families, sharing lives, and sacrificing traditions that were important to us. The deal was that he would come see me for Thanksgiving, and I would go to him for Christmas.
As excited as I was to have him come and share my home, though, I remember feeling pressured and embarrassed. My home was not fancy, nor was it as pristine and spacious as what my boyfriend was used to. I felt pressure to make everything perfect for his arrival, but there were some things I could not change. For example, I could not add on extra rooms to provide separate spaces for all the family coming home for the holidays. When my boyfriend stepped off the plane, he stepped into a whirlwind of holiday activities, cooking, and guests packed so tightly in that they were sleeping on couches and floors.
While he kept his polite composure through most of the holiday, he flew home, called me, and broke up with me thereafter. His reasoning went something along the lines of “we have too many different values” and “I don’t see this going anywhere”. I should have considered it a sign that I felt like I had to struggle to measure up for him. How can you really love someone when you are always looking through them to the person you want them to become? Still, I stayed and ignored all my own red flags until I had grown so acceptant that the breakup hit me like an unexpected car crash.
My head swirled from the accident, and I struggled for the right words to say back to him. I was convinced that only a coldhearted, miserly Scrooge would break up with someone at Christmas, and I poised and email to tell him just that. Before I hit send, I read it to my grandma. Grandma Irene was well known and admired for the fact that she never said an unkind word to anyone. She listened to my email, put down her needlepoint, smiled at me, and said that was not the way I should use my words. No matter how badly he hurt me, she said, I should not strike back. In the midst of my pain–and her own disappointment with the man that caused it, she encouraged me to check the motives of my heart and make godly choices.
Our lives are shaped by the choices we make, the opportunities we take, and the obstacles we shake.
Break ups are especially hard on holidays. Movies, stores, family, and friends all work overtime to find you someone to love and a box with a diamond ring in it for Christmas. But as much as we want to believe that only a Scrooge would break up with us at Christmas, that’s simply not true. There is no good time for a break up. When you know that a break up is inevitable, you just want to get it over with as soon as possible. In fact, it can seem even more cruel to hang onto a relationship through the holidays knowing all along that you want to break up with them. It can come off like you just held onto the person for more presents.
I love presents. Anyone that knows me knows I put a lot of thought into them. I search throughout the year for just the right gifts to buy at just the right deals, and I make handmade gifts too. I enjoy making gifts that surprise people and bring them joy. Most of my Christmases are ready before December ever arrives because I am on this perpetual elf duty. Some people say that holiday break ups happen to save money on gifts, but a break up at Christmas costs me time and money.
Knowing all of this, I still chose to break up a nearly five year relationship at Christmas. I loved the man with all my heart and planned to marry him. He was warm, romantic, and passionate and he loved me purely, the way a woman only dreams of. But for five years I listened to him promise me things and never follow through with them. For five years I watched him live his life in a circle; he was always fighting the same battles and never getting anywhere. I began to wonder if five more years with him wouldn’t just be five more years of circles.
When you love someone enough to plan a home and future with them, you don’t want to let them go. Nevertheless, when you have loved someone that seems to be a waste of your time, you are anxious to end it so you have the chance to find a working relationship elsewhere.
My Thanksgiving Scrooge wasted no time getting back on the market. He went online before the dust settled from our relationship and met another woman. He married and divorced her within a year of dropping me. He reached out to me, thereafter, asking for a second chance. Fresh from the break up, I would have said “yes!” in a minute. Years down the road, I had the insight to see that I didn’t want to be his wife number three. It’s funny how time has a way of bringing such clarity.
We talked for a while as casual friends after that. That was another thing we could not have done fresh out of the break up. When emotions are fresh and raw, talking to an ex just keeps the wound open and alive. You can’t heal and, nine times out of ten, you end up going back to him.
Loneliness creates a powerful hunger in a person. You will convince yourself things weren’t so bad and you’ll take back even the most abusive ex if you think it will save you from the dark abyss of loneliness.
I am old enough now to feel the tick of the biological clock and the fear of loneliness that comes with it. Most of my peers are married with children. Children are having children now before me. I feel dangerously close to spinsterhood in a house full of cats, yet I will not pick up the phone and text my ex or go see him again. As hard as it is to close the door to a man that passionately loved me, I have done it. Now what?
I have a lot of questions for God on this subject. Like much of my life, I felt God had a hand in my relationship. I was committed to working through our issues and getting married. I was committed to being patient with him to change. I was convinced this was what God wanted for me, and yet I couldn’t understand why God would saddle me with a man as disrespectful of my views as Hosea’s prostitute wife. I yelled and screamed at God for giving me a man that so repeatedly disrespected me.
Did you catch that? I loved a man so much that I stayed with him past all good Christian sense. I fought God about him and never once considered that all the warning signs were God’s voice telling me to leave not stay.
There is a thing in Biblical theology called the “revealed will” of God. It means there are things we already know are right and wrong because of the Bible, and we are expected to be obedient to those clear instructions. When we know the truth and don’t do it, we step in clear defiance of that instruction and build barriers around ourselves that block other opportunities from getting through. God’s specific will for our lives in relationships works in connection with the revealed will of His Word. More specifically, God is not going to ask me to stay in a dating relationship with someone that doesn’t honor the same values as I do, nor will he expect me to be patiently dating a man that is not actively pursuing God more than anything else in his life.
A break up is a horrible, heart wrenching thing, but it is also a learning opportunity. Every break up gives us the opportunity to evaluate ourselves, realize our strengths, learn from our weaknesses, and reset our priorities. With a truthful eye, you can evaluate your self and learn what kind of person you truly are. Analyzing the types of people you gravitate towards dating can also reveal your expectations and what you think you are.
I learned a lot about myself from breakups.
I learned I am a strong, beautiful woman with a big heart and patient endurance. I am an optimist, and I believe in what can be far more than what is. I have always doubted the transparency of my value, so I have settled for troubled men believing that they would rise to their potential…eventually. While it is true that people change with time, our love should be for who they are as they are whether or not they ever change. Unfortunately, I have not loved like that. I hope I get the chance to love better in the future.
In the meantime, I am determined to live as happy and fulfilled as I can as a single woman. I will surround myself with friends and family, and I will pursue my God-given purpose and leave it up to God to figure out the husband, house, white picket fence, and 2.5 kids. 😏
Around the world right now, trees are decorated with lights, precious trinkets we call ornaments, and wrapped boxes we are anxious to open. Music and food we reserve for just this time of year are shared and relished with family and friends. We hurry to shops and parties we don’t bother with the rest of the year. Then we slow down with a cup of cocoa, a blanket, and a Hallmark movie to feel the magic that anything truly can happen this time of the year. We take longer baths, we sleep in and read books in bed, and we dream of snow all to pamper ourselves. Now is the time of year when we relish the things we have accomplished and the ones we hold dear and seek to show them our love with our gifts and our time.
But none of this gift would be ours without Jesus.
Once upon a time two thousand or so years ago, there was a baby born in a barn because there was no room for him elsewhere. He was wrapped in rags and laid in a feed trough because it was the closest thing to a cradle and diapers in a barn back then.
He was no ordinary baby because he had no ordinary father. His mother was a woman so young that she was practically a child herself. She became pregnant while she was engaged to another man; she became pregnant by God.
I imagine she was a beautiful woman, but beauty would not have been enough to save her from the shame and punishment of an unwed pregnancy. Still, her betrothed loved her dearly and chose to protect her when he was told the news. Not only did he protect her, but he believed with her that the baby was a gift from God not a betrayal with another man. He accepted the role of a stepfather and chose to love the son she carried like it was his own.
A wicked king got word that a baby was coming that would be a greater king than any on Earth, a king of all kings. He didn’t like that, so he made a decree that all the male children in the land should be killed. Many innocent babies were slaughtered, but the young king of kings escaped unscathed.
The young king was born in meager surroundings to parents who could never offer him the riches of a palace. He came at an unexpected time in the middle of a journey to a destination that had to change when news of the wicked king’s evil plans reached his parents. Before he was a minute old, he was challenging and changing their world.
I imagine it was not easy to raise a son knowing he was also the son of your God. How could they instruct the one who was there when the Earth was formed from the black void of the heavens? What could they possibly teach him that he didn’t already know himself? They taught him love. His stepfather taught him the tools and skills of his trade, carpentry. His mother likely taught him manners and social skills. If he knew better than they, he did not show it. He chose humility and obeyed them.
The God child did not come into the world for a fun adventure. He came to meet specific people in history and fulfill a prophesy to restore right relationship between God himself and mankind. He didn’t care about taking any king’s throne; he cared about making a way for all kings and commoners to approach God again (something they could not do when sin entered the picture in the Garden of Eden).
The God child, Jesus Christ, chose to die a tortured death with his hands and feet nailed to a Roman cross with nails the size of railroad spikes. It was a death reserved for the worst of criminals, but he did not do anything to deserve it. He chose to die in this way so that he could symbolically suffer for the sins of all mankind and pay the penalty of their sin in their stead.
The sacrifice worked, but it did not come easy. As he pressed against the nails and broken bones, he struggled to breath and slowly suffocated. In a dry voice barely more than a whisper, he said, “it is finished.” The earth shook violently as he breathed his last breath. Inside the temple where religious ceremonies were performed, the veil representing the separation between God and man was ripped in two from the top down. Heaven and earth were echoing the victory of the dead king of kings.
Jesus Christ was buried in a stone tomb large enough to bury a man’s whole family. A giant boulder was rolled in front of the entrance and guards were made to stay behind and keep anyone from coming and trying to steal the body away.
If the story ended here, the redemption would have ended there too because no one outside a certain group of people knew his story. God had bigger plans; he wanted to save the whole entire Earth–including people who didn’t know him yet and people like me and you who weren’t born yet. He would have to do that through the testimony of people that knew him, people that had scattered to the four winds in fear and hiding when he was crucified. He had to find them again and tell them what he wanted them to do.
For three days, Christ laid in the tomb cold, lifeless, and wrapped in nothing but rags much like the day when he was born. On the third day, the tomb burst open from the inside. Warrior angels rolled away the stone and Christ walked out, fully alive and robbed in white.
Christ found his hidden followers and spent forty days with them before he went back home to Heaven. He spent those forty days with them so there would be no doubt in their minds that he was fully alive again. He told them to go into the rest of the world and tell people about him and the hope of forgiveness and love he had restored for them. The followers did what he asked them to do.
This Christmas as you celebrate the holidays with joy, remember that the Christ in Christmas came to save your life too. If you have not chosen him as the leader of your life, it is not too late to do so now. He said that we all fall short of what we are supposed to be and cannot be made right without him. He said that if we confess what we have done wrong, he is faithful and just and will forgive us and cleanse us from our sins. Open your heart and talk to God today.
If quilting is friendship and a universal language of love, expect to feel the rise and falls of that friendship and love like any other relationship. Such was the case for me when I entered Thistlebee Quilt Shoppe last week.
I knew immediately when I entered the store that something was wrong. Bolts of fabric were missing from the shelves, sales signs were down, and it just looked rather bare. A group of ladies surrounded the counter offering condolences and saying they were sorry to see her leave. I picked my jaw up off the floor and went to the desk and asked, “what have I missed?”
If you’ve already read parts 1 and 2 of my story, you know I love my little local quilt shop. The owners, Mary Ellen and Joe MacInnes, were the inspiration of my earlier “Follow Your Heart” blog. Now they are following their hearts out of business. Joe has a non-cancerous tumor that will require surgeries and years of recovery. They cannot manage the store and go through recovery at the same time.
All this Mary said to me while I stood there mute, holding back tears. “I know we were just talking about this, and I said we weren’t going anywhere, but there was no way we could have known about this,” she said. “Closing the store is the right thing to do to take care of Joe.”
I walked to the back of the store to the now near empty classroom and wept. Thistlebee had stood strong in the community for years and developed a spot in the world. It was a spot Joe and Mary Ellen worked together to claim and one she knew she couldn’t maintain without him. The full weight of the loss of the store hadn’t hit them and wouldn’t yet. It was far more important to care for Joe’s health. While I admired Mary Ellen’s priorities, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of self-pity to lose the place I loved so much. I made a stack of purchases that day to help, and ever-kind Joe helped me carry them out. I cried my way home; I would miss them.
Inside the store
Mary Ellen at the register looking out into the shop from the classroom.
The classroom at Thistlebee when mom and I took the quilt class
Sometimes we think someone or something will be with us forever, then things change. Life gets in the way and we are left weeping. I plan to keep in touch with Mary Ellen, Joe, and my friends from Thistlebee, but it won’t be the same as sitting and learning and crafting together.
What, in your life, are you taking for granted? How can you better honor that gift while it is still a part of your life?
There is a little white folding chair in a little white room behind a little white wall that you do not want to sit in.
There are beautiful flowers you don’t want to see and kind words you don’t want to hear and tents and tissue boxes you don’t want to use.
There are mementos you never want to gather. There are military honors you plan for but hope to never see. There are bittersweet reunions and strangers and friends you’d rather not see.
Decisions happen quickly and permanently here. They are put down on paper, in a box, and sealed away.
You know the sun will rise again tomorrow, but you can’t feel it. You are numb…barely breathing.
Simple tasks stumble you, and simple tasks keep you going. There are still floors to clean, dishes to wash, and clothes to hang. Life goes on regardless of the pain you feel and sometimes that constancy is a propeller.
One moment you scream, the next you cry, the next you are happy and feeling guilty for it. It is a roller-coaster of emotions that make you feel crazy…but they are all normal.
You wait for the new normal now…the one post-loss, post-death, because nothing is the same as it should be or was.
There is a place you never want to go, a place you never want to see. It is the passing of someone you were close to and loved dearly.
You will never be ready for this.
There is no such thing as perfect timing for this, but it will happen to you.
I hope there is joy in your memories and hope in your future to see them again. In the end, that is all we have left.
May your faith in God grow strong and your home in Heaven brighter by those that goes before you through those Doors.