Friday, August 26, 2011

Transitioning Out of Singleness (Part 2b): The Little Things, Or How I Was Prepared Beforehand

When I look back at the past few years, in light of my upcoming marriage, I can see ways that God has really prepared me for marriage. Some of these were things that I did - at the prompting of friends or family - and some of them were just blessings that came through divine appointments.

The various things that I've been reflecting on, in no particular order are detailed below:

* Communication:  Yes, I am a talker. But I have not always been a good communicator. I have been afraid of conflict and an avoider of the "hard talks." My ability to communicate authentically and openly has definitely improved in the last ten years and generally as a result of a few specific encounters:
           1) In 2001, I moved in with the Fergason family. I wanted to live with a young, Christian family and see what that looked like from the "inside." We used it as practice discipleship for all three of us. Quickly after arriving, I realized - as did they - that I was not sharing what I was really thinking and feeling. I would just hold it in to avoid conflict and because of that, it was difficult to work out hard issues that we encountered while living together. We got along pretty well, generally, but as always when you live with someone there are some growing pains and conflicts as you rub up against each other. Ultimately, John and Karen gave me an assignment: When something bothered me, or when something came up in my mind that I wanted to talk about, I had to write it on an index card that I kept in my pocket. Then at our weekly house meetings, I was responsible for bringing up the issues on the card, or abandoning them forever. They didn't look at the card in advance, so it wasn't like I couldn't decide to wait a week, but it helped me to discern what things were worth being upset about and thus bringing up, and what things were not worth worrying about. I've used this exercise time and again over the years, when I knew that I was going to be afraid to bring something up to a friend or family member. Putting it on the card helped me to be responsible to myself and to my feelings. It also helped keep me focus on the main issue.
           2) In 2004, I met Laura Peterson. Laura is a frank and gentle communicator. At one point, there was a mis-communication between us and she addressed it with openness and it not only cemented my friendship with her, but taught me that being open about our issues and concerns is better than holding grudges or making assumptions. (Duh, right?) She also taught me the value of creating a safe space - that when you humble yourself, you make a safe space for someone else to humble themselves. This particular finding has been very evident in my relationship with Curby, who has been willing to be vulnerable with me from the start, making it easy for me to do so also.
            3) In 2008, I became roommates with Sarah Martin-Werntz. Sarah was a mid-20's Social Work Masters student, and committed to justice, equality, and conversation. She was intentional about scheduling roommate time each week at least (Pancake Fridays was our ritual) and helped me to think more about my positions on political and social issues and also how to articulate them in a gentle and welcoming way. Learning how to challenge others and to be challenged was a great boon to my ability to communicate about my heart issues.
*** There were many others along the way to facilitated my improved communication as well. But these three are great examples of divine relationships and how the communication of others is helping me to be an honest and open communicator with Curby.

* Reading and Self-reflection: I love to read, but I don't always read "self-help" type books. However, when I came to UCLA, I found that I was struggling with loneliness and finding my place. Two books really helped me to change how I looked at myself and the world around me.
               1) Life of the Beloved, by Henri Nouwen. I blogged about this book in the past, so I won't expand much, except to say that I had to reclaim my "belovedness" in God's eyes in order to be ready to receive that I could be beloved in Curby's eyes. Being reminded of God's overwhelming and deep love for me not only allowed me to be a better friend to others because it also reminded me of their belovedness. Knowing my own belovedness, and knowing that Curby is the beloved as well, makes me value him and his nature and characteristics even more.
                2) How to Get a Date Worth Keeping, by Henry Cloud. My friend Shannon recommended this book to me, although she had not read it yet. I'll be honest I only got through about 75% of this book, and some of his exercises were near to impossible in my eyes.... BUT - reading this book and attempting the exercises (like trying to chat up five new men a week) helped me to become more open to the idea of dating. It helped me to face my fears and to own my attractiveness, my shape, my style. I didn't even realize how closed off I was until I read this book and was forced to see my own behaviors.

* Good Examples of Others: I am so blessed to have a number of men and women around me who have great, Christian marriages. Because of this, I have been able to glean little tidbits (and in some case have long discussions about a variety of things) about what it means to be a good wife - in the way that I want to be. From Karen Fergason, I learned how to exhort your husband, how to revere him and build him up. From my mom, I learned that it is not worth picking apart all the little things but instead always placing little things in context of the big picture and loving because of it. From Dorothy and Nick, I learned the value of serving your family and finding ways to bless those around you even sacrificially. From my grandparents and parents, I learned that finding shared interests was important and that you could build a life around enjoying the same things.

* Attitude of Sacrifice: One thing that I have taken from my best examples of marriage is the attitude of dying to self and living for the other. This is hard to do in a situation where there isn't mutual trust and safety. But I had been learning for the past few years that there is value in submitting your will to the will of others. To serving others even when its inconvenient and to being a friend who loves in surprising ways. I've seen this example so many times in my family and friends - not just in romantic relationships, but in others, too, and taking on this attitude that others matter more than me has helped me to be a better partner.
Disclaimer: I'm totally still working on this and SO often Curby suggests something and my initial response is "No." - but I'm learning how to say "Yes" first and then change my mind later, rather than the opposite.

* Prayers of Others and the Good Book: I used to do a lot of mentoring, discipleship and counseling. And I counseled women and men, singles and marrieds. I used to feel nervous advising married people, but Karen reminded me that I knew God's word and that if all truth is God's truth, then unmarried people have truth for married people, too.
           1) I mentioned this in the earlier post, but the prayers of others totally prepared me to be a married woman. Knowing that there were people out there crying out to God for me, gave me hope and encouragement. I felt less forgotten and abandoned when one of my married friends sat with me crying and saying, "I don't understand why you're single either, Tiffani, but I have been talking to God about it daily!" Believing that prayer works and knowing that they were praying kept me willing to believe this could happen.
            2)  It may sound cliche, but reading and studying and memorizing the Bible - especially the Psalms, where David cries out for God's help - really helped prepare me for this journey. Not only did they sustain me through my singleness, and give me words for when I was struggling to understand God's plan for my life, but they have helped me in the recent months as I pray in both gratitude and for help to be a better partner, and I know they will help me as I enter into this next season of marriage.

So there you have it. For now, those are the things I've been thinking about and noticing on my journey toward being a married woman. I continue to be excited about my future with Curby and the planning continues to move forward in a joyful way. More posts soon, friends. In the meantime, thanks for letting this blog ALSO be a way that I was prepared for marriage!


fblife said...

Both these posts are beautifully written. Thanks for being honest and specific here Tiff!

Chalea said...

such a great blog entry. thanks for sharing with us

stefenymarie said...

Thanks for sharing this Tiffany. I have been struggling with "being single" surrounded by friends married and now having babies. I appreciate your insite and wisdom. Best wishes for your marriage!

Andie Piehl said...

Tiff, I grow to love you more and more each day and thank God for answering my prayers for Curby with you. I can hardly wait to be able to officially have you as my daughter in love, but I already think of you that way.

Thank you for being open and loving and so willing to share your heart, and thank you to each person who help you become the woman you are.