It's now been exactly four months since we said good-bye to our Atlanta life and moved to Joplin so Nick could take a new position with his company. A lot has happened in those four months, but making hoards and hoards of new friends has not been one of them.
A while back a friend of many years asked me, "How do you do it? How do you 'start over' so well every time." A little background, for those who do not know my history. Between being born in Seattle and living there until I was seven, then growing up as a missionary kid in Mexico, transitioning back into life and culture in the States as a high-schooler, attending a college where I knew very few people, moving to Spain to take a job, moving to Chicago to take another job, and then getting married and following my husband to Atlanta, I think it's safe to say I have experienced my fair share of transition! Nick, although being raised in roughly the same area of the country his entire youth, would also say he has experienced a fair share of transition via changes in cities, church communities, schools and then, as an adult, pursuing jobs that required big cross-country moves.
I laughed at my friend's question and we naturally drifted on to another subject, but it struck me that I hadn't really ever articulated what it takes me to start over or how I do "it" so well.
To be honest, I don't know that I always feel I do it well. Just like anyone who has been uprooted or has chosen to uproot themselves, I have discouraging days... Days where I question if we truly heard God's voice in deciding to move, days where I deeply miss our friends from home-- wherever home is. Days where I wonder if my new city will ever feel like the so-called home I long for. I sometimes envy people who have never had to move, people who have super deep roots in their community, people who have people who have walked alongside them their whole lives.
But guess what? God always provides, we have never lacked for community or friends for long seasons and even when the lonely seasons feel eternal, in hindsight they were well worth the wait and the investment as we look back and see how God has, time and again, woven together a beautiful life for us in each new place.
After mulling over my friend's question for a while, I have decided to take a stab at it. Here are some principles that have guided my outlook on transition. Even as I write this, I am preaching to the choir because I always need to be reminded of this. This doesn't just apply to those who have recently, or not so recently moved. I think we've all found ourselves in seasons of transition... seasons where we long for deeper connection and friendship.
1. You Are Not an Island
You were created for community and friendship. For some people that will be a large group of friends, for others a more intimate circle. We need the companionship, shared experience and challenge that friendship brings. If you are married, I hope you find that in your spouse, but that is not enough. I like who I am better and like who Nick is better when we are in community. We bring more richness to our marriage when we are interacting and rubbing shoulders with friends. New ideas, supportive advice, prayer, inspiration and joy springs out of good friendships and this spills into our marriage. Doing life together is essential and beautiful. I want my children to grow up with wise, salt-of-the-earth adults around them-- people they can trust and go to when it's not cool to talk to mom and dad about everything. I want them to learn what it is to grow up in community, to see us truly doing life with others so that they have this as an example for their own friendships.
2. It's On You
It's your job to find friends. I know sounds easy for me to say this, being an extrovert, but I wasn't always as confident as I am now. Walking up to people and introducing myself/ inserting myself into people's lives used to freak me out. In high school I was kind of shy and insecure (dealing with cultural assimilation back into the States didn't help things). At a certain point, I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself. I stopped taking it personally when people didn't automatically come up to me "the new girl" and invite me into their circles. Because guess what? They aren't intentionally excluding you! They just don't have an awareness of your need.
So, you need to communicate your need for friendship. It might feel daunting to ask someone you don't know very well out for coffee or you may feel that as the new person at your church/school/job it's not your responsibility to have people over for dinner, but if you never take the responsibility you will more-than-likely not reap the rewards of new friendships. More often than not, people are flattered that you are interested in getting to know them! There have been amazing seasons in our life where people have just completely and totally initiated getting to know us and enveloped us with friendship from the start and it has been awesome, but that is not always the case. Realistically, some people won't have space or time for you in their lives in this season of life, but again, don't take that personally. Move on. God is good and he will provide you with other opportunities to act on.
Furthermore, when you make it your responsibility to seek out friendships, you are training yourself to be the person you would have wanted to have approached you when you were new. It's so easy to get your group of girlfriends or couple friends and never branch out or seek out new people after that. We forget so quickly what it feels like to be new.
If walking up to pseudo or complete strangers feels too intimidating, then sign up for an art class or a fitness boot camp. Join a club or a small group at church. These are awesome, less-threatening ways to encounter new people on a consistent basis and build some shared experiences. Then, invite them to your house for dinner or offer to help them organize the garage sale they've been planning.
2. Recognize Your Season and Have Grace for It
We are in a busy season. We just bought a fixer upper, we have a toddler, I'm pregnant and exhausted and we'll be doing a fair amount of family-related travel this summer-- not to mention our new church doesn't have small groups that run over the summer. Do I wish I could do all that and have five or six new sets of imaginary couple friends over every weekend? Of course! Is that realistic right now? Nope.
So, this is a season of maybe only one play date a week and one dinner party every couple of weeks. What's important is that we don't completely forgo attending church or getting to know neighbors during this time. We can't give or be involved in all that we would like to be involved in this summer, but we are giving ourselves grace for this season and investing in small ways, knowing there will soon be a time where we can more fully plug-in.
3. Identify Types of Friendships and Seek Out the Kindred
I've had to learn to also recognize that some friends are the types you pour into and some friends pour into you and some friends are just plain draining. Don't comprise your closest circle out of needy people. Yes, serving, mentoring and pouring into individuals is essential and rewarding, but have good boundaries and realize that these folks aren't always life-giving friends.
Like Anne of Green Gables, I too long for kindred spirits... Bosom buddies-- the types of people who just "get it!" I have found a handful of people like this in my lifetime, some are in Spain, some are in Seattle, some in Chicago, some in Atlanta. They are life-long friends, regardless of distance. God has answered my prayer for these types of confidants, time and again. What's awesome is that they don't always resemble the image of what you think your kindred spirits should look like. I think the Lord delights in bringing us unexpected, rich companionship from friends who are often really different from us.
What are characteristics of bosom buddies? This is my list, your's might look different.
- You have fun together!
- You can be honest and they will be honest in return
- You can have them over to your messy house and they do not care
- There is no need to impress each other
- Make-up is optional! Bring-on the hagged out coffee dates!
- You can vent about your frustrations and they listen, but always point you to the positive... to Jesus.
- They rejoice with you and are genuinely excited when you succeed, there is no competition
- There is freedom-- You are free to have other friends, they are free to have other friends
- They challenge you and can receive challenge in return
- They give and receive grace well
- They are running hard after Jesus and inspire you to do so yourself
Sometimes kindred spirits fall into your lap, sometimes it takes time. There is no formula for how these friendships come about, other than your continued presence in each other's lives.
4. Seek Community Outside of Your Age Group or Stage of Life
Some of our best friends have been older couples or individuals who have invited us into their lives or have obliged our "can we puh-lease be a part of your lives?!" requests. Don't limit your friendships only to people who are in your age group or stage of life because you will miss out. Frankly, I sometimes get sick of of the myopic topics "young people" seem to enjoy rehashing. There are several older individuals Nick and I frequently bring up to each other as models for what we want to be when we are older. These people aren't the sedentary, complacent types! We are always amazed at how much more energy they have than us! Older people have done life, they know what's important and what's not so important. They don't care about being bigger hipsters or more organic than their friends. They have great stories! They have fought battles and overcome. They have made mistakes, learned from them and are willing to share their experiences. There are wise, older types that have not stopped growing or giving. Get around that, seek it out!
I am blessed by my single girlfriends in many, many ways. Sure, I enjoy doing life with couple friends or young moms because we are at the same stage of life, but I remember what it was like to be a single young adult and how big of a blessing it was when married women or couples took an interest in investing in my life. The other day I caught up with a dear friend who is single, has just finished grad-school, is living in DC and jet-setting around the world as she job hunts. It was refreshing to not talk about potty training for once. I was blessed by her honest and fresh take on life. I don't ever want to lose that!
5. This Isn't All There Is
Finally, as we are reminded in 1 Peter, we must remember this world is not our home. We are to live as foreigners in the land. There will ultimately never be a place you feel fully at home at on this earth because you were created for more-- for heaven. Thank goodness! Isn't that kind of freeing? If you are looking for a utopia on earth, you aren't gonna find it, so that should ease some of the pressure!
I love this quote from C.S. Lewis (my dear friend Karen from college who now lives in Ukraine is someone who has reminded me of it many a time as she shares her feelings of never quite fitting in):
"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world...."
And so, I leave you with these verses, which have greatly encouraged me in times of transition... in times where I deeply longed for community and in times where I have always known it's ultimately about so much more than this.
"By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God."
P.S. We don't have plans to move any time soon... Unless God has something else in mind. ;)
P.S.S. I commend you for reading this novel and promise my next post will be shorter!