Monday, 31 December 2012

Reflections of 2012

If I had to sum up everything I learned in 2012 in one word, it would be "perseverance."  Looking back on 2012 the last couple weeks has brought on many mixed feelings.  I recently flipped through my prayer journal and was surprised how much happened and how many struggles I went through this past year.  I was saddened to see some of the things I had written.  I was blessed by others.  Through it all, I saw God's faithfulness in what He all brought me through.

I started my year with a new job that has grown my skills, but has also been one of the hardest things I have ever done.  I went to Europe, I bought a new car, I became involved with IJM and spent several months planning and putting on a fundraiser for survivors of human trafficking.  I have taken risks and obeyed God when it didn't make sense.  I have laughed, cried, and struggled with things many will never know about. 

This year started hard, and it has ended hard.  I'm not complaining or trying to sound depressing, but that's just the reality of it.  The things I have experienced this year have stretched me beyond what I thought was possible, to points where I thought I would break, but didn't.  As hard as it sometimes was though, I am thankful for it.  I'm thankful that I learned things this year that I would not have learned had it been easier.  I'm thankful I didn't throw in the towel on the hardest days. I'm thankful that I have learned to depend on God to get me through my days, to give me just enough strength for the next step.  I'm thankful that I have grown in prayer as much as I have, that my time with the Lord has become sweeter, even though it has often been very painful.

It has been a year of perseverance.  It has been a year of trusting God when I didn't understand.  It has been  a year of remembering His promises, remembering that He loves me, no matter what I go through.  At the time of writing this, 2013 doesn't look any easier.  I wish it did, but the next few months will likely be filled with more trials, hard days and a lot of uncertainty.  I will have to continue to put a lot of my dreams and ambitions aside for a time.  I will have to continue to persevere even when others encourage me to give up.  I will have to continue to trust God and His purpose for me, even in times I don't understand.

I do look forward to 2013 with mixed emotions.  Fear, hope, anticipation.  I remind myself that God's will is the best and that He desires to give good things to those who ask Him.  I remind myself that one day He will show me the purpose of everything and I will no longer wonder, but be truly thankful.  In closing, I leave you with the words of a song that has brought me comfort in recent weeks.

"One day I'll stand before You
And look back on the life I've lived
I can't wait to enjoy the view
And see how all the pieces fit."
 --"Already There" by Casting Crowns

God sees how everything will play out.  One day we will understand and it will be beautiful!

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Responsible Single: Take a Risk

Taking risks.  This is something a couple of friends have pointed out in my life.  When I was first told this, I was very surprised.  I have a very cautious personality.  When I do something, I like to be assured of exactly how it will turn out.  I want to know that people will still like me.  I want to know that I won't mess up and ruin God's plans for me.

So why do these people say I take risks?  It seems to be because I'm not afraid to be different.  I'm not afraid to share my opinions when I know they may not be popular among the people closest to me.  I've taken a risk in writing this blog series, because I know my words may not always meet happy ears.  Some people recognize my endeavor to organize a fundraising event, not knowing the outcome, and yes, that was a risky step for me to take.  So although I don't see this frequently in my life, there is an element of risk present.

Risk and responsible are two words that don't seem to even fit together.  Risk is generally the opposite of responsible, so why did I choose to write about this?  Because I think more young people need to take healthy risks.  I'm not advocating going and doing stupid stuff and hoping there won't be negative consequences.  Don't play with sin.  Don't try things that will more than likely harm others or yourself.  That's not responsible.

I do think that there is a measure of responsible risk, but many of us are too afraid to try it.  How about when it comes to obeying the Word of God?  It's easy to obey God when we know the outcome, but what if we don't?  Jesus never promised us peace and safety if we obey Him.  We take a risk when we obey His commands.  We take a risk when we sell all we have, give to the poor and follow Him.  We take a risk when we share the Gospel in many parts of the world.  We take a risk when we stand up for truth in North America, when we stand for life, when we speak out against various forms of immorality.  We take a risk when we tithe when finances are tight.  We take a risk when we trust God's will is best even when we can't see it and would rather go our own way.

But how many of these risks do we as single people actually take?  Are we willing to obey God when our friends may reject us?  Are we willing to stand for truth alone?  Are we willing to do something to make a difference in the world, even if no one supports us?

What I'm suggesting is taking risks in doing good.  These are difficult risks, but they stretch us and cause us to grow in our faith.  They bring us closer to God and cause us to trust in Him more.  They're not irresponsible.  I believe these are the kinds of risks God would desire we take more often, and I believe we would grow in many areas of our lives if we did.


This concludes my Responsible Single series.  If there is something in particular you have been blessed by, feel free to drop me a comment.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Responsible Single: Keep Learning

One of the things I have greatly enjoyed in my single years is learning after I completed my secondary education.  I have decided not to pursue a formal post-secondary education, largely due to financial reasons, but I have greatly enjoyed learning at home.

When I say keep learning, that can mean several things, and depending on your personality, it could mean something totally different than what it means to me.  For me, it has meant studying literature and working on my writing.  This past year, I became involved with IJM and read several books on justice issues.  I've also started learning more about abortion and the pro-life view.  I consider that a part of my learning.  I'm growing my knowledge and understanding of issues I didn't know as much about before.  For many learning may mean a formal education at a university.  For others it could mean learning a new skill, developing a talent, learning a new computer program, practicing a household skill, or learning how to make something creative whether it's with needles and tread or yarn or wood, or whatever you use.  For some, it may be researching a topic that interests you or even just taking more time to study God's Word.

Unfortunately, my job right now doesn't allow me to do as much learning as I want to.  But when time allows, I have lots of unread books on my shelf, some of which I want to study, I want to work on my writing skills, and perhaps one day I will further study such things as philosophy, political science, justice, or other social issues.  Writing this post is exciting and frustrating for me because it reminds me of everything I want to do and I miss working part time and having the time to do them.

For those of you who have want to pursue post-secondary education but can't afford it, or it doesn't seem to be a reasonable choice, I want to share some things I have found that can be very helpful.  One of the reasons I haven't pursued university is because most of what I would study there I can learn at home at a fraction of the price.  I just miss the opportunity for discussion, having my work graded and getting the credits.  If I want to study literature and writing, I can walk into Chapters or go onto and buy my education for a fraction of the price of an institution.  But there are also an abundance of free online resources that I began discovering last year.

If you have iTunes on your computer, you can go to the iTunes store and under the menu there's a cool feature called iTunes U.  iTunes U is a great collection of university lectures covering a wide range of subjects, a lot in video and most of it's free.  You can also search for this on some university websites.

Something else I got really excited about this year was when Biola University, a Christian university in California, added a whole section of free content open to the public called Open Biola.  There is so much there I'd want to watch and learn that I could spend months there.  It's awesome that Christian universities are giving back in this way.  We live in a time where so much is available at our fingertips. You don't have to go to a university or even a library anymore. Use it wisely and make the most of it.

It doesn't matter so much what you're learning about, but that you're thinking.  Don't neglect to exercise your mind.  Having said that, use discretion.  Learn about things that will build you up and allow you to build up others.  Spend your time on things that matter and are profitable.  Filter what you're learning through the Word of God so you're not being deceived or swept away with worldly, unbiblical views that sound good to our fallen human nature or wander into things that will cause you to sin.  Let Philippians 4:8 be your guide:

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think abut these things."

Next Post: Take a Risk

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Responsible Single: Get a Mentor

This is a post I have the pleasure of writing because of the special people God has placed in my life.  I have enjoyed having mentor figures in my life in the last few years that have helped shape me into who I am today.  Some have only been there for a short time.  With others my relationship continues to grow. 

If you're older and no longer single, I want you to listen to what I have to say.  We need you.  I'm often very saddened to see the lack of youth-mentor relationships in the church.  Sometimes the potential mentors in the church are busy with careers, family, young children, or their own life issues and just don't have time to give to spend walking a young person through the issues they face.  It's also not always easy opening up about where you're at and sometimes it's hard to find someone whom you trust enough to be vulnerable with.  Some people are very close to their parents and can share anything with them, but I don't have that close relationship and I have to look to others to take this role in my life.

The mentors in my life would likely not call themselves that.  They're more like friends that are about twice my age.  We don't get together once a week for one on one talks, but they do have me in their home and we share what is going on in our lives or we interact online.  The best mentors in my life right now is a couple from another church.  It's an interesting story how they came to be a part of my life a couple years ago,  through the man writing a book and wanting to sell it in the store I worked in.

The beauty of having this couple in my life is that I know I can trust them, share my struggles with them, receive guidance when making decisions, and when necessary, loving correction. I can trust I will be told what I need to hear, not what I want to hear.  They love me, walk with me and pray for me.  They set an example for me of a beautiful marriage and a godly home.  I feel like they have also allowed me to give back to them and I hope they see it that way too.  One of the reasons it has been such a blessing is that I not only have a woman to share things with, but I can get advice from a man's perspective. Of course discretion is necessary and certainly not everything that goes on in my life is appropriate to share with men, but his guidance has often been very helpful.

A lot of young people rely too heavily on the support of their peers when they're going through difficulties or need advice.  Friends are good and they may make you feel better, but since they're often going through the same things you are and don't have as much life experience, they may not be able to give you what you need to overcome what you're going through.  They may sympathize but not have the courage to correct you or walk with you. 

Sometimes you may have to initiate this mentor relationship.  It is much easier though when a couple shows interest in speaking into your life and walking with you first.  It's easier when you know they care because they do, not because you're asking them to.  I really appreciate it when someone invites me to have coffee with them, and I don't have to feel like I have to twist their arm for their time.

Whatever your situation is, find someone.  Find someone you can trust.  Find someone who won't tolerate sin in your life, someone you can invite to point out your blind spots, but can also trust to do so lovingly and walk with you. The Bible has a lot to say about seeking the counsel and wisdom of those older than you. Allow them to speak into your life and look for ways you can give back to them.  You will be blessed and I also believe that when life gets hard, you will continue to walk in truth.

Next Post: Keep Learning

Monday, 17 December 2012

Responsible Single: Meet a Need

In this post, I want to share something I believe is so important for not only young women, but for all singles.  We have great potential when it comes to meeting needs in our world.  We don't have the responsibilities of our own home and family yet, and although we do still face challenges, we are much more available to reach out and help others.

There are many needs that you can meet locally.  Often there are many ways in which you can serve in your church, whether it's helping in the nursery, library, or being part of a cleaning team.  There are ways you can help in your community, whether it's visiting elderly folks in a nursing home, helping at a soup kitchen or other local charity or outreach organization.  If you're part of a youth group or a university campus group, you also have extra support and numbers to do greater things and make it fun.

Although there are often many local opportunities to meet needs, I would encourage you to think globally and focus on issues that are bigger than your community.  Our lives in North America are usually very comfortable, but there are nations in the world that suffer from poverty, hunger, thirst, disease and the list goes on.  Millions of children are orphaned, plagued with AIDS, or trafficked and abused.  You may not believe the amount of people in our world who do not even have access to clean water and sanitation and as a result are plagued with constant illness.  Meanwhile, even in our own nation, children are killed because they're an inconvenient byproduct of their parents' actions. 

The need in our world is great, so much so that it is often quite daunting.  With such big global problems, it's hard to know how to even start making a difference.  But I encourage you to try.  I encourage you to connect with an organization that does something you feel strongly about, that is meeting a need, or connect with a group of other people, and do something to make a difference. Or just surround yourself with a group of like minded people and see what you can do.

Earlier this year, I organized a fundraiser to provide aftercare funds for survivors of human trafficking in India.  I knew that if I wanted to do something like this, now was the time.  Yes, I was busy, but I also knew that I would often have excuses and that I was more available now than I would be when I have a family.  I went to some mentors in my life for counsel, got a support group together, and made it happen.

I won't tell you what kind of cause to get behind.  You don't have to take up a cause per se.  But I do encourage you to do something that makes a positive, lasting difference in the lives of others.  I doesn't have to be thousands of people.  You may change just one life at a time.  It's not over when you get married, but I do believe we have a special opportunity now that we should not allow to pass us by.

"She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy." --Proverbs 31:20

Next Post: Get a Mentor

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Responsible Single: Manage Your Finances

I get to dive into a fun topic today.  Actually, it's more of a stressful topic.  Managing finances.  I like money.  Money is good.  But it doesn't grow on trees, and sometimes we can't seem to make enough of it. As I have mentioned in my last few posts, I have learned how to manage small incomes and stretch my dollars.  It's not easy.  It wasn't easy at 15, and it still isn't.

When you want to manage your finances, you must start by defining your wants and needs.  For me, some of my needs are clothes, food, a roof over my head and a car to get to work.  Some of my wants right now would include things like a work desk for my room, a bookshelf, an e-reader (yes, I did say that!), a new wardrobe, etc.  For others it may be an iPhone, tablets, gaming systems, a dream house, etc.

Sometimes wants and needs become confused.  Many people think they "need" a cell phone.  I don't.  But I have wants that I think are needs and I get frustrated about things I can't reasonably afford.  Sometimes I have to go to certain work events and I feel like I don't have the right professional clothes, accessories or shoes, but I can't go to the mall and fluff up my wardrobe (although I do hope to do so Boxing Week).  As I write this, I'm going to a 50s themed youth banquet in a week and I have no dress to wear.  I'm frustrated because I don't want to be different, but it's currently not reasonable for me to spend a lot of money on an outfit for one evening.  Some mornings there's nothing good in the fridge to take to work, but I know I can't buy lunch all the time, so I make a sandwich.

Managing my finances means discipline.  It means denying myself a lot of things.  It means making sure my bills are paid before I get my wants.  It means making a sandwich instead of buying lunch, making coffee at home instead of stopping at Tim Horton's, and not buying the top I really want because it's so overpriced. 

Here's what I do to help me manage my finances.  Every month, I collect all my receipts, or I write down money I spend that I don't have receipts for.  At the end of the month, I sit down and put all my income and spending into an Excel spreadsheet.  I divide things up between my regular expenses (insurance, rent, fuel, tithe/donations, Internet, etc.), car maintenance, health expenses, groceries, eating out/snack food, clothing, books (that used to be a big one,) recreation/entertainment, etc.  Then I total each section, my income, expenses, calculate what's left over at the end of the month and hope it's not in the red.

Before I started doing this, I had no idea how much money I was spending on little things, like coffee or occasional lunches.  It helped me to see where I needed to make adjustments and what I should be reasonably spending in a month.  I could also see how much of my income was needed to pay necessary expenses.  This was an excellent tool when I was considering financing a car earlier this year.  I had a one year track record of my income and spending that helped me evaluate whether or not I could reasonably afford a car payment. 

I would also encourage you to get a savings account where a sum of money automatically goes into every month, and then don't touch until you really need it, or save it for a car, house, education, wedding, or whatever.  If need be, make an account that you can't withdraw from without calling in and requesting a transfer.  Also, use your credit cards wisely.  I'm not trumping credit cards.  I use mine all the time to save on service charges and occasionally for online purchases.  But remember it's not actually paid for when you swipe the card.  Don't use your credit card unless there's money in your chequing account to pay for it, and make sure you pay your bills on time.

Finally, live debt free as far as possible.  Don't finance anything that depreciates.  Houses are the exception.  If you can't write the cheque, don't buy it.  OWN your stuff.  This is something I have been very stubborn about, and I'm happy for it.  I've seen the burden debt leaves on people and don't want that hanging over my head.

I know this has probably been a bit to digest, but if you learn to manage your finances and budget your spending, I don't think you'll regret it.  Yes, it's hard.  But that's life. If you don't learn to manage your income now when you have yourself to look after, how much harder won't it be when you have a family to look after?  And again, if you manage your money wisely while you're single, I think you will appreciate what your husband will one day do in providing for your family much more.

Next Post: Meet a Need

Monday, 10 December 2012

Responsible Single: Own a Car

I bought my first car when I was 18!  I had to let go of it this past summer when I bought a new one and I miss it.  But oh well.  Going in hand with my last post on learning to drive, I'm also glad I own a car.  Knowing how to drive breaks down barriers in life, and having a car breaks down even more.  It took a couple years of saving for me, almost two years of driving my parents' minivan, and often getting rides to work, but the sense of accomplishment when I drove my Mazda home for the first time was great!

Not only does owning a car break down a lot of barriers in life, it's also a great way to learn responsibility.  So far, cars have been my biggest investment and it's a continuous investment.  A car is something you have to save for, then when you buy it, you may be either broke or have regular payments if you finance.  Then there's the insurance company to pay, fuel to put in the tank, maintenance, repairs, buy new tires for the winter, etc.  It sucks a lot of cash out of your pocket.  The good thing about it is that you learn to manage your money better when you know that a good chunk of your paycheque has to go to keeping a vehicle on the road.  It gives you a taste of what it's like to pay the bills.

Also, notice I say OWN a car.  If at all possible, I encourage you to pay cash for your car.  I was very happy I did this with my first car when my hours at work were cut back shortly afterward and my expenses increased.  There is no way I would have been able to handle any debt.  When I purchased my second car, I was initially going to finance.  I thought I had no other choice.  I wanted a real nice car this time.  But since I was only working part time, the bank wouldn't grant me a loan unless I lied about my income (which I was actually told to do).  That wasn't an option, so I had no choice left but to save my pennies and wait until I could again pay cash and not get my dream car. I had also calculated that even if I legitimately met the bank's requirements for a loan, I would have had to choke my other spending to meet my financial obligations and that was not a burden I wanted.

I do see a downfall of having a car.  Yes, it allows me to keep my job and be independent, but I would have a hard time having this independence taken away.  There's something I'm very afraid of right now.  I have seen young couples get married and have to move down to one vehicle to cut expenses.  That would be extremely difficult for me.  But I would understand the reason for it.  I know how much it costs to keep a vehicle on the road.  If you never have your own car, you don't have to worry about that.

Some young women are very privileged and their parents buy them cars, or have one they're always allowed to drive.  I haven't had that luxury and I'm actually happy for that.  I value what I've been able to learn through owning my own cars.  Just please don't take it away from me.

Next Post: Manage Your Finances

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Responsible Single: Learn to Drive

This is a post I'm going to try to keep brief.  I believe it's important that young women learn how to drive.  I'm not sure why, but driving is something that tends to scare some girls, and therefore they try to avoid it.  Some girls don't learn to drive for other reasons.  Sometimes they think they will always be able to get rides with other people wherever they need to go.  Other times, they don't have someone who is willing to take the time and lend the vehicle to teach them.  Whatever the case may be, I encourage girls to put aside their reasons or try to overcome their obstacles and do it anyway.

When you're young and you always have someone to catch a ride with, not driving doesn't seem like such a big deal.  But there comes a time when you can't always be dependent on others.  There are times when people won't be there to take you where you need to go or when doing so will come at a great inconvenience to them.  Also, as people become more dependent on others, I believe they start to lose their appreciation for what others do for them.  They begin to have unreasonable expectations and fail to give back.

Being able to drive tears down a lot of barriers and obstacles in life.  It's a lot easier to get a job when you're able to get there on your own.  It's also a lot easier to commit to other activities when you know you have a way of getting there.  It can eliminate a lot of stress and pressure in your life and in the lives of your family and friends.  In short, it makes life a lot easier.

If possible, I would encourage you to take a Driver's Ed course.  Yes, it's expensive and the prices only keep rising, but I was so thankful that I could learn to drive with someone who had the patience and skill to teach me well.  It was great to have someone who didn't freak out every time I did the littlest thing wrong.  One of the best things about the course was learning to drive on the highway with a trainer.  I know some women who drive, but will refuse to set wheels on the 400 series.  The combination of high speeds, thick traffic and changing lanes just seems to be more than they can handle.  I admit it can be stressful.  I often have a very tense neck after driving through a big city.  But it's a lot easier when you know how to do it right, and there are times when taking country roads is just not practical.

Yes, there are times when you will make mistakes.  I hope that none of them will cause bodily injury to anyone or cause you to be in conflict with the law.  I have made some mistakes, (one recently cost me dearly), and although there are times when I have been afraid of driving for awhile, I have never wished I had never learned in the first place.  I have always been thankful for the ability and I don't think it's something you would regret either.

My next post goes in hand with this one.  Stay tuned for "Own a Car".

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Responsible Single: Make Some Money

I'm going to get into a topic in this post that can be controversial in some Christian circles and that is young women getting jobs, or developing some other means of making an income.  Some Christians believe that women belong only in the home and should not be in the workplace.  I don't entirely agree.  I will share in this post what I have done in the past five years and what encouragement I have to offer single young women.

When I was 15, I started babysitting and this was my first small, somewhat consistent stream of income.  With that money, I completed a year of my secondary education and put myself through Driver's Ed.  From there, I had a couple short term jobs, before I got a part-time job at a local Christian bookstore where I was for almost three years. This year, I have taken on an administrative position (that came with a lot of non-administrative tasks) at a solar company that has stretched me to the limits at times.

Why should a single young woman go out and work?  I see several benefits to this.  First of all, it's not good to be idle.  Idleness breeds discontentment and sometimes unhealthy habits in our lives.  I know at times when I haven't worked much, even if it initially seems fun to spend most of my days at home, I quickly become depressed and restless.

Second, I think it's good to learn to meet your own needs.  In my home, I had to learn to do this much earlier than most young people, as my last paragraph indicates.  Through my small, part-time minimum wage income, I got my full driver's license, paid my insurance, purchased and maintained my own car, paid room and board, and paid for my other needs and wants.  I learned how to take care of myself.  I learned the value of work and money.  I learned what it takes to pay the bills and make ends meet.  I'm so glad I had the opportunity to learn this responsibility when I did.

Third, I believe it's good for young women going into marriage to understand the value of work and money.  So even if you desire to be a housewife, I think it's good to have some work experience behind you.  I fear that if a young women doesn't have this experience, she will not value what her husband does in efforts to provide for their family.  (And yes, I believe it is his responsibility to provide.)  She will not understand how difficult it sometimes is to stay faithful at a job and make sure there's money to meet expenses.  I fear she will in turn take advantage of what he does and what he brings home.

I said in my introduction that I would be honest about what I perceive to be disadvantages to the topics I cover, so I will take a moment to address that.  One of my fears for myself is that in working, I have become so independent, and so used to providing for my needs, I will have a hard time letting someone else do it for me.  Not that I would have a hard time staying at home while my husband works, but I fear that I will not feel like I deserve the money he works for.  I think I may at times feel guilty about spending our income on things beyond necessities that I want because I don't earn it.  This may not be a challenge for a young woman whose needs have always been met by her parents.

As I mentioned in my introduction to this series, the Proverbs 31 Woman was an entrepreneur.  She was a wife, mom, and managed her own business, making and selling goods.  She made money, she purchased land.  She was competent in financial and business matters.  If you as a young woman see an opportunity to pursue your own business venture, or be a part of a family business, I would encourage you to take it.  It's still a desire of mine.  Finding a job can be hard, but starting your own business is harder, and not everyone is cut out for it.  But I definitely see it as something that can be very beneficial when you're single or married.

Having said all this, I know it can be difficult to find a good job, especially if you want something in a good environment.  Depending on your education, skills, and geographic location, it can be even more difficult.  But I encourage you to make an effort.  You don't have to work full-time.  Although I do work full-time now, I do prefer to have more time at home where I can cook, bake, study, pursue my writing further and the like.  I definitely miss that often about my last job.  If possible, find something where you can not only use, but grow your skills and talents, a job where there are new opportunities in sight.  It may be hard at times, but it will prove to be much more rewarding.

In the end, the goal should be to be productive, to learn how to provide for your own needs and to understand the value of work and money.  I hope that whatever you pursue, you can learn, grow, and enjoy it all at the same time.

Next Post: Learn to Drive