Portraits and single ladies

Dear Single Ladies,

To be fair, I must needs direct a few words your way as well. And truly, I have somewhat to say unto thee.

[And they said unto her, Say on.]

There is an enemy to romance lurking in the heart of every woman, single or married, as far as I can tell: the Ideal Man. I just want to say this about him: he doesn’t exist. Now don’t even think about getting all prickly on me and saying you’ve found one; hang on a few years and you’ll know what I mean.

So if you’re looking for tall, dark, and handsome, keep in mind that he will probably be tall and dark but not at all handsome—or dark and handsome though not particularly tall—or tall and handsome and… blonde. And if by great good fortune you find someone who is all three, he is sure to have a caveat somewhere, such as an especially unpleasant family, for example, or a collection of ancient, mushroom-scented footwear he refuses to part with. The earlier you can start laying down the Ideal to take hold of the Real (and it starts with your father, your brother, your friends), the better off you will be. He’s not going to come in a frame.

Back in our grandma’s day, a woman knew she was blessed just to get a good steady man who could hold down a job and support the family.

Nowadays that’s only scratching the surface. Nowadays we want it all: a man who stands boldly for truth and leads the pack in righteousness and expresses himself with passion but also a man who comforts the fallen, bathes the wounds of the outcasts, and wipes his boots before he comes indoors. He should sing well. And dress well. And use good table manners. And make pretty much money but not care too much about it. He should be a man’s man with a deep voice and an easy laugh. He should be good with kids. And animals. And difficult people. And if he plays a mean game of baseball and has arms like a sailor’s we’re not going to complain about it…

Girls, we don’t make it easy for him either. He says “Will you please?” and we say “Hmm. Twelve out of twenty criteria? Ummm, no thanks.”

(By now you may be wondering if I have a secret plot to marry off the whole world. You’re getting close. I have found no better institution than marriage for ending aloneness and enforcing selflessness.)

Did you know that many men show their best colors in close relationship? Don’t judge him from a distance, by “what you know of him so far” when you’ve only met up with him in herds and crowds. Give the guy a chance to do his wooing! You will soon know if it’s not working—there are people who simply do not gel—but you may be very, very surprised by the man you discover.

A man in love is a crazily compelling thing. And a man who stays in love and finds persistent, foolish, wild ways to show it—triply so.

He doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. Thanks for giving him a chance.



Scenery and single men

Dear Single Men,

It’s been a while since I’ve directed any comments your way, so lest you get too comfortable I thought I’d jot a note to light a fire under your collective rumps.

I may have reminded you before that most single women are not single by choice. (Is this ringing a bell? Okay, good.) You wisely pointed out that this is also true of most single men. Well said. Having gotten this far, I would like to add another piece to our logic: it’s time for you to stop ignoring the women over thirty.

I don’t plan to crack open the whole “Is it God’s will for me to be single?” bit, partly because I can’t decide for you and you certainly can’t decide for her; but mostly because the question itself goes against my understanding of God’s will as we know it. However I am certain of this fact: there are quite a number of magnificent adult women out there who would be better off with good men in their lives.

It’s startling to think about, really, because the women who do singlehood best make it look so effortless. They are engaged in fulfilling work, they are surrounded by relationships, they are maturing graciously, and they laugh often and delightfully. God be praised. But don’t be deceived. There may be a Christian woman or two in the world for whom singlehood is effortless, but I have not met her yet. Behind every gracious action and every appearance at yet another event alone lies a large dose of will power and heartache.

She has become a stronger person because of her life alone; I don’t deny it. And as a result, she is the kind of gem you will come across only once in a lifetime. She is serene. She is faithful. She is well-versed, well-traveled, well-rounded. She is truly beautiful.

And you almost don’t notice her.

She fits easily into the scenery of your local church, or mission, or school. You hang with the slim and ditzy twenty-year-old chicks and to you, she is just an Aunt Jane—the pleasant, wise, and completely safe person you so deeply admire. Platonically, of course.

Would you stop divorcing esteem from romance, and get Aunt Jane out of your head? You are not making this easy. She is a woman, and anything but immune to manly attention. She notices the way your eyes twinkle, the things you laugh at with her, the way you talk to a child. She knows that to you she is just a part of the scenery, but she dreams of a knight who notices.

Some of you have asked girl after girl, only to be met by a string of refusals, and I am sorry.

Ask a woman next time.

She may turn you down as well—though she longs for love she is not fool enough to accept anything with a beard—but her sympathies will be on your side and she’ll sure as shooting think about it. She will think about how good you are with children and what books you like and how you use your money. If you dream of Miss Gorgeous, she admittedly harbors hopes for Mr. Studly, but your lack of studliness will never be the deal-breaker. She knows enough of human nature to look deeper.

(And the minute she starts falling for you she’ll think you the studliest thing she ever saw. So it’s all good. Did I mention she’s a woman?)

I want to say this, with no disrespect to the hot young things: not one of them can hold a candle to her. She has a femininity that’s been tempered by time, mellowed, sweetened, tested by fire. She will comfort you as no one can comfort—follow your lead, admire your strength, and honor your manhood; time has taught her their value.

She is priceless. Thanks for noticing.



July 7

Once upon a time, an eligible and attractive young man named Ryan attended a weekend conference. Just your average Mennonite conference on a hot summer weekend. Lots of men preached. Old friends met up. Music happened. Good food was served. Young men thought of young women.

A certain John Coblentz and his family also attended the conference. Ryan was very pleased to discover this. Of course he had not come for that reason, it was just—so much the better.

John Coblentz. Hmm.

Ryan recalled with fondness a 16-year-old daughter of John who had captured his interest some years previous. She was now nineteen—“plenty old enough, and you can’t stop love.”

Perhaps some opportunity would present itself?

Presently Ryan ran into a young man named Joe, a casual acquaintance of his who actually hailed from Shari Coblentz’s hometown. Incidentally (no ulterior motives or undue interest going on here), they fell to talking.

[Ryan:] Hey Joe! Good to see you again.

[Joe:] Well Ryan Zook! How’s it going?

[miscellaneous chat]

[Ryan:] What have you been doing with yourself?

[Joe:] How’s your summer been?

[Ryan:] So. Did you drive down here by yourself?

[Joe, smiling:] No, Shari and I came down together.

[Ryan, coolly, with his hopes crashing and burning around him:] Oh, really? I uh, haven’t heard the news—you guys dating, or…?

[Joe, proud and bashful:] Yeah, yeah. Engaged, actually.

[Ryan, swallowing hard, thinking how long it’s been since he’s seen this girl, telling the corners of his mouth to lift in a smile:] Is that right? Well, congratulations to you.

He was proud ever after that he offered his congratulations before asking his last question, perfectly calmly of course, and tossing it off as a matter of course.

[Ryan:] You mean Shari Coblentz?

[Joe, with a startled look and then a burst of laughter:] No, no! Sherri MILLER!


I confess it: I’ve always been grateful to Joe for his naiveté. I’ve always been privately certain that this fear-of-God moment is what tipped the scale. Ryan asked my father for permission to date me the next day.

Which happened to be July 7.

And he’s been taking me out ever since. It’s been a great eleven years, hon.

Ironic, isn’t it? that to each there was only one Shari in the world?

Thirty days of honor

Confession: Sometimes I am not very nice to him.

Who would have guessed it, in the dreamy days when his voice on the phone was just the sound I longed to hear, nourishing a place deep inside me? Who would have guessed it, in the blissful days of leisurely picnics, happy reunions, endless hours of talk, and reams of letters? Who would have guessed that this sweet girl would turn into such a beast some days? That her admiring eyes were capable of rolling in scorn, that her tender words could someday pack a punch?

Marriage goes on, life goes on, and some things that should not be forgotten are.

Lovers really are the wisest of us all.

This spring I set myself a challenge: thirty days of honor.* I wanted to do on purpose the things that once came effortlessly, so I drew up a list of practical actions I thought would spell love and respect to him—and then tried to do one each day.

* Undoubtedly a spin-off of the Love Dare, from the movie “Fireproof.”

I’m going to show you my list. But if, as you read over it, it begins to sound like an unreachable ideal, denoting some kind of superwife going on here, please know that in between the kindnesses I was horrid to him a lot. I’m no superwife. In fact, I don’t deserve love—none of us do—and I’m learning that anytime you get close to another person you have to wade through a whole lot of alternating layers of sugar and slime, all the way down to the very core. And allow them to do the same with you.

I offer my list to you in case you want to try something similar, in case familiarity and routine have rubbed some of the charm off of marital selflessness. I tried to integrate all the facets of Ryan’s life, and all the love languages that he hears. You will need to tailor it to your own man. I learned a lot along the way—about what means a lot to him, and what doesn’t, and what things are hardest for this proud girl.

I didn’t get them all done. And some turned out very differently than I had planned. In short, this whole post is a confession—

Thirty Days of Honor

  1. Cook his favorite food.
  2. Deliver a favorite drink to his office—i.e. iced tea.
  3. Listen attentively to everything he has to say.
  4. Initiate intimacy.
  5. Kidnap him for an inexpensive date—like take-out pizza at a park.
  6. Ask questions about a work project he has going.
  7. Provide a snack for one of his ministers’ meetings.
  8. Meet him at the door with a kiss.
  9. Write a note expressing specific appreciation for something he does or is.
  10. Respond positively to one of his ideas I’m a little leery of.
  11. Allow him the space to correct the children without stepping in to “help.”
  12. Offer to give him some rejuvenate/solitude time while I keep the kids.
  13. Offer my assistance on a project—like mowing grass.
  14. Bake something for his fire hall friends.
  15. Give him a back massage.
  16. Clean his office well.
  17. Praise him in the presence of others.
  18. Wear something special to bed.
  19. Thank him throughout the day for things I notice him doing.
  20. Vacuum his vehicle.
  21. Walk hand in hand.
  22. Help the kids rehearse a skit to honor him on Father’s Day—acting out the things they like most about him.
  23. Host guests he chooses.
  24. Quietly do the project I wish he would get to—taking out the trash or changing those light bulbs.
  25. Brew him fresh coffee.
  26. Enjoy simple touch with him throughout the day.
  27. Clean his work boots.
  28. Send him off to a fire call with a smile; welcome him home with a snack that spells HERO.
  29. Buy his favorite instead of mine.
  30. Add a new shirt to his closet.

What spells love to your man?

I speak for the trees

I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.

Dr. Seuss


Dear Ladies,

Having written a note to the other half of the species, I would like to direct a comment your way as well.

Once upon a time I tried to convince my four-year-old son Aarick, who was in danger of wishing to be a girl like Mommy, that boys have way more fun. I touched on sports, on career options, and on authority, concluding with a clinching argument: “And you see, when a man loves a lady, he can ask her to marry him; but a lady has to wait and it’s hard.” My son thought about that for a while and said, “When a lady asks, does a man say ‘Yes, but don’t do it again’?”

A man was created to initiate. When he does it (her acceptance: his bliss / her rejection: his agony), he’s entering into his birthright, which cannot quite be taken away no matter what her reply. A woman was created to respond. It’s pretty hard to respond to silence, and her birthright is in danger at every moment: from his reticence, his indifference, and his rejection.

Single men may grouse about uninterested women as they wish (and with good reason), but single women have not yet found a platform from which to grouse about uninterested men.

I speak for the trees.

I confess it: I still argue that a greater percentage of single men than single women are single by choice, but I do see that Percentage and Choice have little comfort to offer a broken heart. No one chooses rejection. Or silence. Or no.

We are, in fact, trying to understand a most mysterious dance, similar (if you will forgive me) to the problem of a job for every worker. Here are the jobs. Here are the workers. Why can’t we match them up?


Even if the supply exactly matched the demand (a sanguine hope in this fallen world), someone would end up being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Someone would say no to the job so freely offered; someone would hanker for the job not meant for him; someone would try to work a second job on the swing shift; and some would be too lazy to pursue even one. And then imagine a world in which the jobs were given their druthers as well! “Nope, don’t want that guy; nope. Nope.”

Because in the end, very few of us just want a match. We want The One.


To you dear ladies, whose side I am on… and to you … uh… men… whose side can fight for itself… If you and The One have not yet found each other, remember that you face more than a simple problem of information. (If he just knew that you wanted a man…! Or if she just knew how many women you’d asked already…!) You face a more complex situation–and a more competent God–than all that.

Take heart. Be strong. Step forward in faith.

But let those of us who are already dancing with a partner put in a little plug for you now and then.


Shari Zook