Tales of a Single Woman

It’s a Friday night. Jolene and I wandered into a hair salon to get our hair washed and dried. It is a wonderful way to spend $0.75. As we were reclined over the hair sinks I said to her in a sultry sarcastic voice. “Jolene, it is Friday night, and I have a man washing my hair!” 

If you’re going to be a single woman living overseas, you gotta have a sense of humor about it.  I know there are so many of us out there.  Velvet Ashes has devoted this week to us.  So let’s talk about it.  Here is what this life means for me…

“Friendship is the source of the greatest pleasures, and without friends even the most agreeable pursuits become tedious.” – Thomas Aquinas

As a single person I long for conversation that occasionally runs deeper and connects me to another person. That is why He sends friends. Jolene has been one of those people for me. As the only other single person on my team I didn’t really choose her as my friend. Yet we really have been able to feel safe with one another. I first realized this one Friday when the two of us decided to go to McDonalds for convenient comfort food supper and left comforted on more than food.

God has also showed me how to be friends with couples. Many of the people my age are married and it has been important for me not to be afraid of being friends with them as a couple, honoring those marriages and learning from the couple as I observe and interact with them. And a myriad of joys have come from long conversations over coffee after their kids are in bed, and the beauty of watching them love each other.

 In Sickness…

The most difficult thing for me in overseas living has been dealing with sickness. I have had several bouts of different kinds of sicknesses throughout the years that have wiped me out for days, sometimes weeks at a time. I have learned to live with pain and make decisions about my health, but that doesn’t negate that dealing with sickness alone is hard. My family is supportive and my team stepped up when I needed them to fill in or just give me extra grace. Yet advocating for my own health has been challenging with the nagging question of “am making the right choices about caring for myself” at the back of my mind. Although I don’t have that “other half” to advise me on medical concerns, it has pushed me to Him, my lover, healer, the trustworthy One. And when I feel weak, I know He is strong.

In the eyes of the Chinese…Single Person: 单身的人(dan shen de ren) = only one body

Whether during office hours or even in those free moments between classes, a common question from students is,  “Why don’t you have a boyfriend?”

They expect one simple answer, but there isn’t one.

What a chance for some life on life communication! I usually say something along these lines: “I am waiting for the one God has handpicked for me.”

Chinese taxi drivers like to delve into those personal topics like salary, and marital status and age. Conversations with them usually go something like this: After I tell them my age, “You’re 34? And you are not married yet? Yes, I am, and no I’m not. Why not?  No one has asked me to date them yet.” A touchy subject to discuss with strangers.

And after those feeble beginnings for both the student conversation and the taxi driver conversation, their responses tend to turn to, “Well you can marry a Chinese man then!”  This train of thought is delivered with big smiles and hope in their hearts, and I love them for that hope. And then I get the privilege of explaining, “To me it is most important that my husband will share my faith, my values and my culture.” Sometimes they respond with “You are too traditional” or “Well China has believing men.” But then they don’t understand that it is so difficult for the believing young people. There are more women than men in the fellowship of believers in China, even more so than the North American body. It truly is a difficult topic to broach with the Chinese as even I don’t understand the full extent of my singleness. But my hope is that they see Him in it and at the very least that it makes them think about their own relationships.

“Being an auntie feels like such a gift to be given – when I felt that ache of love for the baby my beautiful sister is carrying, I saw my world take on a new shape.” ~Susannah Conway

I have been a pseudo-auntie for quite some time now. It started my first year in China with the kids of my team leaders. And it continued on. Among the North American community in China, the parents have commented on how great it is to have people to fill those roles of the aunts and uncles their kids are missing as Third Culture Kids. I am utterly thankful for the myriad of kid moments now, even as I wait for the potential of having my own. One friend has even called me a “child whisperer,” and I am honored.

“He made us with a purpose in mind. We are not made to be put on a shelf and collect dust, but to be used…” ~Carolyn McCulley

Everything in this next category is two-sided. It is the category of FREEDOM. Why is it two-sided? Because I still want the joy of marriage. I would gladly set aside this freedom for the chance to be a wife if that is what He has for my future. Although I recognize the freedoms of singleness it doesn’t make the hope of marriage any less profound.

The Freedom of Travel: The freedom to go to and live in a country and job that fit me well is so valuable. During any given holiday, I could choose to go to a neighboring city, climb a mountain, wander through a market, randomly take a bus ride, or just sit in the local coffee shop and read. I wouldn’t have to give any of it a second thought. And because of this freedom I have seen so many amazing sites in China.  Even after 11 years I sometimes still feel surprised by the reality, “I have lived in China and loved it!”

The Freedom to Study:  I have been very blessed to have been given the chance to study Chinese.  In addition, I have had the opportunity to get my Master’s in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the professional development I’ve had in this field that I love.


I hope in reading this installment you have felt a small slice of my heart.  Can anyone relate??

 1 Peter 3:5 says, “For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful.” Let us all put our hope in Him!

Photo Credit: basheertome via Compfight cc


  1. Rhonda May 25, 2014

    Thank you for sharing! I can relate very much to what you are saying. I have been single then married then back to “single again”. There are times when loneliness  or the feeling of being left out creeps in BUT I wouldn’t trade being single for anything. I really do enjoy the freedom of being single in the field. I appreciate what you wrote about being friends with married couples. Many of my friends back home are  and in the field are married. They offer so much in the way of friendship and much more. I value their friendship very much. Thank you for expressing singleness in a wonderful light. 🙂

  2. Kara May 25, 2014

    Thank you for sharing!  I am happy to get a glimpse of the reality of your world, and tot start conversations with my dear single friends!

    1. Kimberli Kerkstra May 28, 2014

      I hope that you really do have the opportunity to start conversations with other friends. I think that sometimes we get stuck in our conversations about being single, when there is so much opportunity to engage in talking about how singleness makes us grow. We learn things differently than our married friends, but that doesn’t mean we don’t learn at all.

  3. Robyn May 26, 2014

    Thank you. 42, never married working in Cambodia rescue and rehabilition of sexually exploited girls. 7 months in. My heart is in shreds. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.

    1. Morielle May 26, 2014

      Dearest Robyn, I can’t imagine how tough it is to see the suffering of those dear girls. I do know a little of the pains that being alone overseas can bring. My soul is aching with you. Praying for your dear heart.

    2. Kimberli Kerkstra May 28, 2014

      Oh Robyn! I will pray for your heart and the girls you come in contact with. You  must have a great capacity for LOVE! I know it is painful to love though too.

  4. Jennifer May 26, 2014

    Thank you! Yes I can relate to so much of what you have shared… the good and the challenge. The challenge of the isolation can be very real at times. It is for me right now. But I do at the very same time recognize that it does give me a freedom I would not have any other way.

    1. Morielle May 26, 2014

      I recognize that freedom too. But the isolation is so hard. And sometimes even the freedom doesn’t feel like a good thing — it can paralyze me with too many options. No matter what path the Lord leads you on, it seems, sacrifice is necessary.

      1. Jennifer May 29, 2014

        The isolation is the most difficult thing, especially when for whatever reason some people simply choose not to wish to speak to you on anything of any significance. Or simply refuse to deal with challenges between you.  That is the hardest thing. When there is absolutely nothing you can do and no one you are allowed to speak to.

  5. Cecily Willard May 26, 2014

    Thanks, Kimberli.  Sounds like each of us can share in your story.  I have to say that I have pretty much given up on marriage, but the Lord knows and I belong to Him.  I often feel very alone here on the field.  The cross-cultural workers who are here who are single are on a team together, and have made it abundantly clear that they are not interested in developing a friendship with me.  My friends here are married, and from time to time I make a deep connection.  Wish there was a way to walk more closely with each of you, to share an understanding of heart.  (Not whining here, just relating.  I am learning contentment, and that marriage is not a requirement for contentment.)

    1. Morielle May 26, 2014

      Learning contentment. Right alongside you, there, though I am quite a slow and stubborn learner. What has the Lord been teaching you recently on this subject?

      1. Cecily Willard May 27, 2014

        Well, as for contentment, I am seeing that way too much of my self-okayness is wrapped up in how people respond to me (or don’t respond).  This isn’t about marriage, really, but just about being content with who I am regardless of what anyone else does or says.  As a single, it is easy to feel overlooked, forgotten, not important. And when I read this into people’s actions I can feel very small, unloved and angry.  The Lord wants me to believe what His Word says is true rather than the lies dictated to me by others.  But, honestly, I am struggling with this because it has been a lifetime pattern of listening to lies.  It really takes faith to believe the truth.  So, yes, LEARNING contentment that is based on truth that is unchanging and based on an eternal God, not on the whims of people.

        1. Morielle May 27, 2014

          Cecily, wow, yes, you really hit the nail on the head there. I memorized Jeremiah 17:5-10 many months ago because it really spoke to me on this subject. Every day I see myself trusting mere mortals and making mere mortals my strength. I see how it saps my strength — the strength the Lord gives me when I do trust in Him. So easy to get discouraged sometimes. I just have to follow the example of the Psalmists: remember all the ways I’ve seen Him show His promises come true in my life and other lives. It is only through this remembering that I’m able to trust He’s stronger than my struggles, and that His Word is true. But, you’re right, the battle never ends. It’s exhausting.

          1. Cecily Willard May 29, 2014

            Thanks for your response, Morielle.  I would like to keep the conversation going.  Surely the Lord knows the struggle, for He was single when He was here, and He suffered all the things that we do.  Oh, what a Savior, who would suffer with us and for us.  What love this is, and how He wants us to be embraced in it.  The enemy of our souls would have us to believe that we are fighting against the Lord, and that He is not fighting for us.  May the Lord draw us close into this amazing love so we can find what we need in this struggle.

            PS  Is it okay for us to connect on FB or SKYPE or email?  I don’t know what the policies are concerning Velvet Ashes.

        2. Kimberli Kerkstra May 28, 2014

          Cecily. I know what you are talking about, when what others think or when they do or do not include the single person and it seems so personal even if it probably didn’t even phase them. It can feel hurtful. I recently read a book (part of it, really… I have yet to finish it) called, When People are Big and God is Small by Edward T. Welch. If you are a reader maybe the ideas in that will help you tackle some of the lies you mentioned. I know that it was an eye opener to me, learning about lies that I didn’t know I was facing.

          1. Morielle May 28, 2014

            I also really liked that book! Well, to be honest, I didn’t like the author’s tone at first (found it kind of condescending…or something…..hard to explain exactly what bothered me). But as I kept reading I found his insights really helpful.

          2. Cecily Willard May 29, 2014

            Thanks for the book suggestion.  I got a free sample on my Kindle, so I will take a look.

            I am so glad we are talking about all this because it all seems like I am the only one who struggles with such things.  How good to know that I am not alone, though I wouldn’t wish this on anyone!

  6. T May 26, 2014

    I just want to say, Bon courage, ladies!  What you are doing and are able to do is important to God and important to the salvation of those around you.  He has chosen you.  He knows you deep inside and still delights over you.  You are His favorite.  He is counting the days until He will marry you.  He is true and more real and lasting than this blink of a life.  Thank you for living His plan for you, even if it seems that it might mean you stay single.  Bon courage!

  7. Rhonda May 26, 2014

    Little did I know that after reading this yesterday I would be using what you wrote in a dinner conversation with 5 of my grade 11 girls that very night.  I was able to share much of  what you said  especially your part  about it being important that your future husband has the same belief, values and culture not only for myself but as a fact that single  females believers feel this way. It lead to a very interesting conversation and  reflection.  This definitely hit a chord with one of my girls with whom I will be following up on to see why she tear up when we talked about this. Thanks!

    1. Morielle May 26, 2014

      Wow, great timing!

      1. Rhonda May 26, 2014


    2. Kimberli Kerkstra May 28, 2014

      Amazing! That is exactly what I would hope to blossom from my post. I am so glad that it is encouraging to so many, and that it is a catalyst for relationships like that!

      I think that is one of the most powerful things, when we can bring our experiences as single women to the table with our students and friends. There are quiet hurting hearts out there that are desperate for these conversations. I’m glad you stumbled on one of them, and can turn around and love on her.

  8. Morielle May 26, 2014

    Kimberli, it really warms my heart to hear you write about what I’ve come to call the “standard conversation with a stranger” (i.e. “Is your husband here with you? Oh….you don’t have one? Boyfriend? NO?!?! Oh…well you can marry a Chinese guy, then! You can have really cute smart babies. Oh? Your goal in life is not to get married and have cute smart babies? *cannot comprehend* You want to be obedient to the path your heavenly Father leads you on? *definitely cannot comprehend*” )

    1. Kimberli Kerkstra May 28, 2014

      I know! Haven’t those become such a norm in life. I feel like when we are faced with so much lack of understanding that it is important to connect with their hearts simply by showing how we think differently. Maybe they won’t be able to fully understand, or they may flat out disagree and try to get us to think like them. But to show how beautiful it is to wait, and how it is making us more beautiful… that can really be eye opening for some. At least make them think.

      Life rubbing up against life… not always soft, most times gritty.


      1. Morielle May 28, 2014

        “Life rubbing up against life… not always soft, most times gritty.” I LOVE that sentence. Going to write it down and put it on my fridge. 🙂

  9. Patty Stallings May 27, 2014

    Kim, I love who you are!

  10. robyn friesen May 28, 2014

    Okay…I’m going to be honest here. God called me here. It was not my plan. I obeyed. I sold everything I had and moved to a foreign country where sexual deviation is the norm, and in a country, where 34 years ago, you got killed for having your own opinion. (Khmer Rouge) There is so much to do here.  I have always said that I will obey God. And I am. But there are days when my attitude sucks. (granted I’m 7 months in without a break, and working in the sex exploitation field, that is not good) I feel frustrated with God, because I feel I need someone to lean on, a husband…intimacy..someone to be strong, when I am weak.  Somedays I just need Jesus with skin on….in the form of a husband. Somedays I feel like God is punishing me by not allowing me the strength of a man to stand beside. Now I’m 42 and single, so let me point out that I’m not going to get married, just to marry. I’ve waited this long, so I’m not going to make a bad choice now…..but….yeah…just being honest.

    1. Amy Young May 29, 2014

      Honesty is what we’re after! Knowing that this journey will look different for each one of us — and even may look different for ourselves at different points! I would imagine the field you are working in is especially draining … to see the scope and depth of depravity and what has been stolen from these girls (and boys). I know it’s not a solution, and I don’t mean to jump in too quickly, but for the long haul, we all need to find ways to relieve the pressures we experience. I don’t know if it’s possible for you to schedule a few days away (or even in you city in a hotel). It’s no husband 🙂 … I get that! But it is something. And something that invests in you for more than just this year. Also, and I know this isn’t the same, but having friends. It can sometimes take a while to find that kindred spirit. We were made to connect, whether single or married (again, I don’t mean to be insulting, and know you probably know these things and had worked them out in your home context. I just remember longing to have a deeper conversation than the shallow ones I seemed to be having over and over. And then it struck me there was nobody in my life who had been there mere months before. I had completely started over … and I forgot how long it had taken me to build the life I had before the field).


      Appreciate your thoughts and the depth of perspective you bring!

    2. Tara May 29, 2014


      I, too, live and work in Cambodia, I understand your constant desire to help, and feel defeated at the sheer weight of what needs to be done here, but I am married, and although having a husband is a blessing, it will not he what you just mentioned.  No husband can be Jesus with skin, more than likely he is going through much of what you are and may not have the emotional capacity to help you, and you can still feel very lonely and isolated, even though you’re married.  Maybe more so because the one person you want to share with can’t meet those needs for you when you think they should.  You’re seven months in and for most people that is their lowest time, when the real culture shock and stress happens. but if you can find a good listener, someone you can talk to, it will really help a lot.

      I also spent three years in Cambodia as a single person, the struggles are different, but married or not what you’ve been called to isn’t easy, but you know you meant to be here, and He will bring you through.

  11. robyn friesen May 31, 2014

    Thanks for your feed back both of you, and yeah…7 months in without being able to turn my phone off once has left me over exhausted. I was blessed in my home town, because even though I was husbandless, I was in ministry, but God had a few women and men in my life, who were my safe place to land…..but here, so far, I have not found that safe place.

    I am due for a break in (17 days, but who’s counting!!) I will be home and have already set up time with a counselor so we can continue to build tools for me to use over here. I also find that self care is non existent, and yet the very thing that will help us continue long term…so I am planning to teach our Khmer staff self care. …right now they are learning decision making…..and that the ‘white’ person (me) isn’t always right….I need to fit into their culture, not them into mine.

  12. Abigail Stern December 11, 2014

    Thank you so much for writing this, Carolyn!!  I almost could’ve written most of it.  I’ve also recently started answering some male taxi drivers’ “Where’s your boyfriend/husband?  In Chna or America?” questions by faith with “In America”.  😉  Generally only with those taxi drivers that give a bad/sketchy feeling with why they’re asking those and so many questions.

  13. Abigail Stern December 11, 2014

    Just to clarify, I can really identify with most of it.  But I couldn’t have written it better than you!  🙂  It’s very well-written.  🙂

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