by Rachel Stella, originally published here.
I woke up around 3:30 a.m. Sunday, May 10, 2015, to the loud beeping of a text message. Normally I silence my phone when I go to bed, but I had just gotten a promotion at work. I was one of the newsroom editors now, and even though no one had told me I was obligated to be on call 24/7, I felt responsible to be ready to handle major breaking news over the weekends.
“Downtown Utica is on fire. I’m getting photos now.”
I had told Scott, our photographer, to contact me first if anything crazy happened on weekends, because I thought the other hardworking staff should get a break. He had done what I had asked him to do. Even so, I was irritated at being aroused from a deep sleep. Not irritated at Scott, but irritated that this was happening. And scared for Utica. (That poor little town had already experienced a deadly tornado and some awful flooding.) I probably let out a nasty word or two as I adjusted to the reality. I wasn’t raised that way, but — confession time — potty mouth has developed from living alone.
I threw a jacket over whatever I was wearing and walked the two blocks to the newsroom, where I plunked into my chair and hastily assembled a brief story with a photo sent by Scott to put on our website and link to on our Facebook and Twitter pages.
That done, I sat in our empty office, listening to the police scanners as every area fire department was called. I added a few details to the story online and shared another photo from Scott on Facebook and Twitter. I sat back, with the grim satisfaction of knowing I had done the right thing to get up and go to the office. Our story was first. It was flattering when the Sunday morning staff of a Chicago TV news station tweeted us asking for permission to use Scott’s photo.
Yet there was another part of me that couldn’t help but wonder — as I often did — how I had gotten here. What even was this kind of life I had?
After a while, it was clear there would be nothing substantial to add until hours later. I decided I had done what I needed to do. I left the newsroom and walked back to my apartment in a daze, contemplating the upheaval of my Sunday morning. I turned on my TV and soon saw the photo Scott had sent me, with the reporter giving him and our newspaper credit as I had instructed. Good for Scott, I thought. Good for us.
The sky was beginning to lighten, and I began feeling a familiar pain in my lower abdomen. My period had arrived. Then I remembered it was Mother’s Day. Well, of course my period would come today, I cynically scoffed. Because I definitely need a reminder that I’m a not-mom.
I thought of several of my peers from youth group and college. Soon they’d wake up, get special treatment from their husbands, wear cute clothes to church, get acclaim at church, get taken out for lunch or dinner, get beautiful greeting cards, snuggle with their babies and generally get celebrated by everyone who saw them. Not me, though. I was just an invisible not-mom whose weekend was crashed by breaking news and going home to a crappy, solitary apartment. Between sleep deprivation, period-getting and Mother’s Day cynicism, I decided to sleep in and skip church. (If there’s one day to skip church, it’s today — right, my not-moms? I see you.)
At some point I turned off the TV and turned on the Christian music radio station. As I was thinking these things, Matthew West’s upbeat song, “Day One,” came on. I just had to laugh — you can’t make this stuff up. “It’s Day One of the rest of your life.” Day One of my cycle; Day One of the rest of my life. I laughed with tears coming out of my eyes and danced hard around my living room, feeling the Day One pain radiating throughout my lower body. It was just too perfect.
I took some pain relief pills and went back to sleep.
I tell this story because it’s particularly memorable. But I’ve actually had these thoughts recur many, many, many times. The fact is: I love my life. I would not trade it in for any of my peers’ lives. I can honestly say that I think I got the coolest, most exciting, fun and fabulous life with the most perks and options and freedom and epicness out of most people I know. (Sometimes, in my baser moments, I imagine my former friends are envious of me, and I laugh.)
I didn’t always feel this way. It has taken me most of the past decade to get to this point. It has taken years of unpacking, detangling, brutal self-interrogating, self-blaming, self-hating and massive amounts of confusion and frustration.
Growing up, I was taught that being a wife and mother was the good Christian woman’s life. For the most part, I didn’t think to question this. All the nice ladies I knew fit this description, and I grew up celebrating — along with the church community — these milestones in other women’s lives. I (and everyone around me, as far as I could tell) simply assumed this would be my life, too, as long as I behaved myself appropriately to be worthy of this “good Christian woman’s life.”
Behaving myself appropriately? No problem for me. Except… that was the “problem,” but I didn’t get the hint.
I didn’t get the hint when I was 4 years old in a fast food restaurant playing with two little boys, and as they left, one shouted to me about his friend, “He likes you!” I only felt uncomfortable, like there was something wrong with this. “And I like you!” I stated as nonchalantly as I could to the boy who had spoken, trying desperately to neutralize whatever this weird thing was that had just happened. My dad laughed.
I didn’t get the hint when I was 5 years old watching “The Sound of Music” and crying because (spoilers) the Reverend Mother made Maria go back to the Von Trapp family instead of becoming a sister at the abbey. How could she be happier with that gruff man than with a bunch of peaceful, hymn-singing, religious sisters? I didn’t get it. I wanted to live at the abbey. I cried. My dad laughed.
I didn’t get the hint the many times between ages 4 and 8 when little boys my age kissed me, and I hated every single time but went along with it because that’s what you do when you play “house” and you’re the mommy. (I didn’t tell my dad about this.)
I didn’t get the hint when I was 10 or 11(?) and, after being seized with a fierce curiosity to know where babies came from, my mom got me a little educational video that contained some of the most shockingly disgusting information I’d never dreamed of. My mom told me not to talk about it. She never talked about it again.
I didn’t get the hint when I was 12, and a neighbor boy said he “wanted to go out” with me. I didn’t know what that meant, exactly. It sounded scary and maybe bad. “We’re too young for that,” I told him. It sounded like adult stuff. I was a kid and I wanted us to have non-scary, clean, kid-style fun until we were 18-ish, when we’d suddenly grow up and be ready for “adult stuff.” I told my mom. “Oh, ‘going out’ — you don’t need to do that,” she said disapprovingly. I congratulated myself for behaving appropriately. I was convinced I was well on my way to being “the best wife and mother in the whole world,” a goal I passionately declared about a year later in my eighth-grade homeschool graduation essay that was printed and handed out to who knows how many people.
I didn’t get the hint as a teenager when my younger brother repeatedly asked me if I “liked” any of the boys at church. I was at a loss for an answer. Not one of them particularly appealed to me. Were they supposed to?
I didn’t get the hint as a teenager when moms routinely asked me to babysit, and I often referred them to my brother, because he actually kind of liked babies, and I wasn’t comfortable with them. Older kids who could talk and use the bathroom on their own were OK, but not babies. The responsibility scared me.
I started to get the tiniest hint when I was 17 and I noticed people younger than I were actively involved in romantic relationships. I was confused. Wasn’t that adult stuff? What was wrong with everybody? Was there something wrong with me? Guys could be fun to talk to and debate with, but they were aggressive and domineering — how could anyone like them? How could my friends like these guys more than they liked me? It didn’t compute. I was depressed and lonely. When I expressed frustration about this, people awkwardly laughed at me.
I didn’t get the hint when I was in college, and I complained to my brother, “How come guys don’t like me?” And he said, “Rach, it’s not that guys don’t like you — but do you like any of them?” I was as dense as a brick. Even when it was spelled out, I still didn’t get it. I was still going to be the world’s best homeschooling mom, though! 😀 😀 😀
I didn’t get the hint the few times in my 20s when guys finally did express interest me, and I enjoyed the ego boost but was still uncomfortable with what they wanted.
(Then there was a yearslong detour of prolonged confusion when I finally liked a guy; he didn’t like me back; I was utterly devastated; I wanted to die; etc. — that’s a post of its own.)
After years of tripping around in this self-dissecting stew, I started to see light. It was only a few months after the aforementioned Mother’s Day fire. I was a in a church members’ meeting, and we were discussing our personal views on our membership commitments, one of which was, “Fidelity within marriage, chastity outside marriage.” I listened in amazement as more than one of these (ostensibly) happily married people mentioned being attracted to people other than their spouses. When it was my turn to speak, I said, “I guess I’m just a chastity guru or something. Where are all these attractive people you’re meeting? I never see them! Where are they? Can I meet them?” They just laughed. I went home beginning to think there was something really different about me.
A few months after that, I finally came to some self-understanding that had long eluded me. I simply didn’t experience sexual attraction. The idea of engaging in sexual contact with anyone disgusted me. I really didn’t like men (outside my relatives) touching me at all, except for professional handshakes. I rarely experienced romantic attraction. I really didn’t like kids very much. All this time I had wanted this “good Christian woman’s life” so badly because I had been programmed to want it, but I wouldn’t actually like it. What I had wanted was “the right thing.” I wanted others to recognize me as good. I wanted to feel good about myself. I wanted to be good.
It has only been in the past year that I’ve finally been able to untangle this enough to say, “I am living the good Christian woman’s life.” The good Christian woman’s life is presently mine because I’m doing what God has called me to do. I continue to yield all I am, have and ever hope to be to the Lordship of Christ, and he’s directing me as he has thus far. The solitude of my life has helped me hear God’s Spirit more clearly and more often. I am pressed to love God more when I pass hours upon hours without human contact (other than via the internet). I would not trade the love and communion I have with God’s Spirit for any other relationship that would distract me. The love we have is matchless, unparalleled and can only grow more and more wonderful because of his faithfulness that is eternally trustworthy. Tell me where else I can find that! Nowhere!
It has taken me a long time to accept and embrace this reality that is so different from the fantasy I was all but promised growing up. My desire now is to see this reality accepted and embraced by the church community so that we stop giving our girls only one option (which is not the only biblical option!) that may not come to pass for them.
Good Christian women on the social margins, rejoice! The word of the Lord in Isaiah 54:1-8 is for us:
“Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;
break forth into singing and cry aloud,
you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than the children of her who is married,” says the Lord.
“Enlarge the place of your tent,
and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
and strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left,
and your offspring will possess the nations
and will people the desolate cities.
“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Maker is your husband,
the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
For the Lord has called you
like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
says your God.
For a brief moment I deserted you,
but with great compassion I will gather you.
In overflowing anger for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord, your Redeemer.
Thanks be to God, who has welcomed us as equal partakers in the goodness of his kingdom! Instead of highlighting cultural holidays that have nothing to do with Christianity, let’s preach this gospel to our sisters. Maybe we’ll even show up.
Check out this playlist I put together for my single sisters and brothers. It’s called “A-team” because our union with God’s Spirit is the ultimate, unrivaled team!
Rachel Stella of Tiskilwa, IL., Mennonite World Review’s assistant editor and Web editor. Stella has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication, with a concentration in journalism, from Lewis University in Romeoville, IL. She is part of Plow Creek Mennonite Church in Tiskilwa.