Where did all my friends go?

The more time passes the smaller and smaller it seems my circle of friends becomes.  I am now realizing the amazing privilege I had to be part of a college and career group that desired to be together.  That had the charisma and draw that seemed to bridge gaps and draw single people together like nothing ANYONE else had ever seen.  The dilemma with this is that life must go on, changes must be made, and people eventually move into different stages of life.  And as they do that their relationships and friendships change. 

Yet for me, I feel I am in the same stage I was back then.  I am single, working, serving, going to church, and living my life.  It doesn’t feel all that drastic from my life 15 years ago.  I know it is because my pay check is larger, I have my own paid off car, I live in a house, and I work in a place that respects my skills (most days).  But my contact list is smaller, my physical personal interactions are fewer, and I can’t seem to gather more than 10 people at a time in my house for free food and fun.  So this leads me to ask the question: Where did all my friends go?

I saw this snippet online and had to take this equivalent to a self-test, and wonder in my old age have I let my friendship skills slack? 

When someone tells me they have no friends and they are no longer in adolescence, I have a difficult time with that statement. Why? Because at some point, you have to offer people something. If all you’re offering is negativity, you will find yourself alone. If all you’re being is needy, you are draining the life from people. Asking the question “What can I do for you?” and being there for someone, you are proving yourself to BE a friend. That is the only way you GET friends. If you truly have ZERO friends, take a look at what you’re offering people. You’re offering people nothin’, so that’s what you got. Being a friend gains you credibility, and begins the process of building relationships. Please note: this takes time! Rome wasn’t built in a day! Don’t suffocate people. Simply BE the friend YOU would like to have, and you will never be lonely.

I have not asked that question lately and to be honest it is not a normal part of my vocabulary. I do look for opportunities to be there for people and offer up what I think I can give after I have decided what they want.  But I do not actually ASK them “what can I do for you?”  Such a simple shift in perspective from what can I get and what do I deserve and what am I missing… To an offering of self to be or do what another needs.  I know this.  I have done this. I believe in this.  I can do this again.  But I have spent so much time feeling the lonely, empty, vacuum of my hurt, rejection, and abandonment; all I have done is work on figuring out how to fix me, rescue me, redeem me; that I have forgotten that extending the gift of give, care, and empathy first is what makes the way for others and God to bring all those things into my life and fill me up naturally. 

Another clever quote I read:

If you wish “acquaintanceship,” BE RICH.  If you wish friends, BE A Friend.”

There is nothing like money to make you attractive and appealing to others. But, of course, the kind of people who are attracted to you only because of what you can do for them are most likely acquaintances, not friends. You may have many acquaintances if you become wealthy, but whatever your station in life may be, you will never have true friends unless you are a friend to others. Be very selective in your choice of friends. Choose to associate with positive people who like you for the person you are, who encourage you to be yourself and to be the best you can be.

I am beginning to understand more and more that it is not the sheer volume of people I have around me to call at any given moment.  Rather it is the quality of those people who will help define me as the person I want to become.  The people I surround myself with are the ones who will either embrace who I am and challenge me to work harder, be stronger, and seek God or they will be the ones who keep me stagnant, slothful, and stale.  I feel that I have been through the stagnant waters and I am done.  Bring on the new, fresh, exciting life ahead and with that I seek the strong old friendships and the positive new friendships; but most importantly focusing on the kind of friend I can be to those around me for their growth, improvement, health, and support.  That I may be the one offering “What can I do for you?” more than asking what can they do for me.

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A Word of Laughter

As I was exploring churches last year, I stumbled into a place that was full of the spirit and the expression of the Gifts of the Spirit were present at every meeting.  And as much as I was beginning to remember the church I missed so many years ago, I got lost in the worship time as I communed with God.  I really did ask him for direction in finding a church, life decisions, my relationship with him, and just a piece about knowing where I was at.  I was troubled with knowing where to go and what to do with my life.  I had been on a path of leadership and testing some of my theories alongside the teachings I had received in college, but in a few short months the whole group collapsed and dissolved.  How discouraging.  I was displaced and disillusioned about what I thought I knew about almost EVERYTHING. 

So there I was sitting in worship and among all the others in the room I felt a move of the Holy Spirit and I began to giggle.  And as much activity as was surrounding me it wasn’t a laughter that was noticed.  And I heard, let yourself laugh.  So I did.  An expression of pure joy and physical release I just laughed and laughed and laughed.  It became a form of therapy by expressing this laughter that resulted in feeling freedom and release. As this joy and relaxation covered my body, I truly felt as innocent as a child laughing as I ran through a park on a sunny day.  

Once the singing and laughing had calmed down, I heard these words in my mind and I reached immediately for my journal.  In years past, I was completely dependent upon the inspired words of others to be those heart piercing messages from God.  I had not felt God impart on me a special decree or specific word of knowledge to my own ears.  And here it was a specific set of words JUST FOR ME, TO ME, FROM GOD.   

My Laughter inside & out

Miracles happen in the context of laughter.  Your faith is standing right here with you right now!!! Christina, God loves to hear your laugh.  He is not embarrassed, he revels in the joy and music that is your laugh.  It is special and sweet, so unique to who you are.  It is touching to his ears and heart when you laugh.  Allow your laugh to resonate to the heavens; sing in your laughter as the joyful woman you are.

In that moment, I was touched, encouraged, inspired, and lifted about 5 stories from where I was emotionally.  This last week at camp, I had more than 3 people comment on my laugh being an important part of bringing joy to the campers.  They even prayed that the joy that was inside my laugh would fill each child I encountered.  I had never looked at my laugh that way.  I didn’t even think much about how I laugh or why.  I just know I feel it, so I do it. I know that I smile as a pure response to people looking at me because I want them to know I saw them.  I also find that laughing is a good response to just about anything. 

When I first visited the new singles group last year, I was playing speed scrabble for the first time and let’s just say I’m NOT so good with the spelling and such.  I don’t like crosswords or regular scrabble-did I mention I loved MATH? But as I was attempting to just have fun and play along with whatever was going on, I was just being myself.  One of the gals looks up at me and says, “You laugh at everything.  You make me feel like I’m funny.  I like you.”  What an amazing compliment.  My laugh in its natural state moved some one to like me, without much effort.  I had never had that honest a comment before. 

Such an amazing word, as well as a confirmation that who I am and what I do is a good thing.  Some days the natural does come through positively, ahhhh what a nice feeling – finally.

The wrong way

“Christina you do the RIGHT things, the completely WRONG WAY.  I mean you do things for the RIGHT reasons, and with the right end result, but the WAY you go about doing it is ALL WRONG. “

Why did that statement seem to catch me crossways, then once my brain untwisted the double negative, positive, negative; I was OH… well YEAH!!! And I was actually proud of this.  It took me a while to unpack why this was a truth and not just another one of those back-handed criticisms I had been hearing over and over again.  It was true, I do things the WRONG WAY.  But before you begin to argue with this being a POSITIVE aspect, let me explain a little of my journey to who I am as a person. 

Yes let us take a journey back to my CHILDHOOD, I know I am seeing a new counselor these days, but bear with me this is unrelated I PROMISE.  When I was in school, I would hear the process and method to follow, but once I saw it I was bound and determine to do it another way.  Now with all the creative writing papers that I wrote, there were still some fundamentals that were REQUIRED in order for people to FOLLOW, understand, or comprehend my writing.  So I struggled over and over with trying to produce written papers for various subjects that followed the rules, provided me with passing grades, and received praise for quality writing.  Things were even more complicated in Math class.  I would show my work, but I was always trying to solve the math problems in reverse order.  Or in an order I thought would be JUST as good, but alas as much as I wanted the math text to be wrong it VERY rarely was.  But nevertheless I TRIED. 

There was something written into my DNA or drilled into me as a child that there could be another way to get to the result.  So I was almost born with that poem by Robert Frost about taking the road less traveled.  But I didn’t necessarily want to be alone by myself, but I wanted to discover something NEW.  I wanted to go a direction or use a method no one had ever tried but have it arrive at the successful answer.

Later in life I have slowly come to the realization that those are the exceptions to the rule and it usually takes a LOT of hard work, trial and error, and FAILING to find a NEW way of doing something, especially when it comes to writing, math, business, science, getting a job, and making friends.  But even with my acceptance of reality or the conforming to the norms, there is still a part of me that does not quite submit the way EVERYONE else does things. 

And it is in this that my friend found the words to say that I do things the WRONG way.  When it comes to friendships, relationships, and people I do not like the way that certain groups of people approach things.  I will refer to it as a life philosophy: men and women can’t be friends, only nice people can have friends, or once you do things perfect you won’t be judged anymore.  All crap in my mind.  And on the surface you would be hard pressed to find people who say they agree with those life philosophies.  BUT the way that most people act it supports those life philosophies either on purpose or on accident. 

I decided years and years ago that there were certain things I would do differently than everybody else; but I was doing them because it was right (in my mind).  So sometimes I will have a method or practice that supports my life philosophy but looks weird or funny to the world at large.  And I am perfectly content with that.  I mean how else does someone change the world than to stand apart from EVERYONE else on something (no matter how small).  It is not end, but it is a beginning.  And even though so many people want to part of a group who does everything the way they are comfortable with, so many more of us are looking for people who care, love, accept, support, embrace, and connect with us in a different way than the norm. 

So with proud confidence, I will admit that YES, I do things the WRONG way, but it gets me to the right place.  I just take a different road to get there, wouldn’t Robert Frost be proud?

Some Days its better NOT to think about it

So I have been struggling to blog for months and months.  It is mostly because the things that have been filling my mind have all been focused around a specific person.  And with every thought and every idea that seemed to enter my mind I couldn’t write it out here in the Public forum.  I had been so convinced in the past that I could handle being honest in any circumstances in any environment; but I was wrong.  I found that moment in time when I could not just write what I was feeling because I knew that a certain person out there wouldn’ t like it. 

There are so many things and so many stories I cannot even begin to catch up on the things that have happened. 

I’m angry… I am so completely angry that I have to explain myself.  That I have to sit here and allow these attacking thoughts to my self-esteem, character, integrity, and life with no defense.  Even now I can’t seem to type one sentence at a time.  The thoughts are muddy and cloudy and confusing.  Just as I grab on to one to put it on paper it escapes and runs for cover.  I enjoyed so much this medium of writing what I think and thinking what I write, but it is such a struggle now just to write to connecting thoughts. 

So I have an appointment with a new counselor at the End of July.  I am filling out the paperwork and trying to decide what do I want to talk about?  What do I want to focus on and work on?  It almost seems like because Ted (no not a real name) always talks about counseling and what my counselor will say and what I need to talk to my counselor about that I am already posturing myself to do battle with a woman I haven’t even met yet. 

There is a part of me that wants to defend my life, defend my experience, and defend my life philosophy about friends, community, and relationships.  I know there are things I haven’t figured out, I know there are things I need to learn, but this whole experience with Ted has really gotten me to question whether or not I am connected with reality or not.  Why is it like this?  Why am I confronted with this conflict internally all because someone said I am wrong.

Fast forward to today… And without further Adieu I am back.  The people in my life are important.  I need to be careful who I allow into my sphere of influence because Ted was just a continual conversation focused on every little detail of me that was wrong, imperfect, unloving, inappropriate, ungodly, and out of touch.  And that doesn’t matter.  That stuff is who I AM.  I need to make no apologies for the character and creation I have become.  I am only to BE the Woman that is living this life, trying to figure things out.  And yes there will be people who don’t get that, but that doesn’t matter.  They can NOT understand it all they want, it shouldn’t change who I am and who I am striving to become. 

Therefore, with new wisdom, support, resolve, and determination I return back to my process of old, my blogging of the thoughts that appear in my mind and on my heart.  Knowing and BELIEVING there is a community of friends out there who wants me and a man who will love and ACCEPT me… with all my flaws, fables, fantastical wishes, and fantastic ideas.

Independence over relationship

Somehow my entire adult life, I have been striving to achieve independence. Independence from my father, independence from debt, independence from food, and independence from men. Now please attempt to take those as they are intended which is a stand of strength, confidence, and accomplishment (not that I was trying to be an island or hide away in a cave). So the decisions I currently make are all based on the intent to further my independence, to prove that I can DO IT myself. In the past I have found myself to be quite competitive in this department, which has led to quite the conflict with most of the men in my life.  Which at the time I found fun, enriching, and exciting; for the men NOT SO MUCH. 

I believe I have generally been driven to  be that capable, confident woman who can live out in the real world and survive. Not necessarily by myself, but that I can do the things I need to do when they need doing. And in my humble opinion and the opinion of some of my trusted advisors; I haven’t done to shabby. I have a job that is in the field of profession I was seeking (not perfect but about 75% there). I live in a house with roommates where I manage the finances, pay the bills, and keep the lights on (now the cable is a completely different story-hee hee hee). I am striving to get my finances under control and I will be debt free (except my student loan) in less than a year. My food is beginning to see the signs of management and control, but alas I am working on it (some days are better than others). Each of these things I have done myself-the independent woman. I have reached out for prayer, support, help, connections, ideas, and a ride from time to time; but in my mind it was still done myself.

So the idea of releasing my independence over my life is a completely foreign, abstract thought that has no place in reality. The idea that this whole time I have been working towards a counter productive goal seems just silly and completely off balance. As I continue my trek through the book, The Shack, I find myself in a state of confused agreement. Why is it that when I read that independence takes us away from God and out of relationship; I admit I was dumbfounded? The idea that this goal of independence in my life, in ALL aspects of my life, has taken me out of relationship with God and maybe even out of relationships with others, has my psyche chasing its tail. It really began when I read:

“When you chose independence over relationship, you became a danger to one another.  Others became objects to be manipulated or managed for your own happiness.  Authority, as you usually think of it, is merely the excuse the strong ones use to make others conform to what they want.  In your world the value of the individual is constantly weighed against the survival of the system-political, economic, social, or religious.  One… are easily sacrificed for the good and ongoing existence of that system.  Unencumbered by structure and stress to simply be in relationship with me and one another.  If you had truly learned to regard one another’s concerns as significant as your own, there would be no need for hierarchy. Broken humans center their lives around things that seem good to them but will neither fill them nor free them.  They are addicted to power, or the illusion of security that power offers.  When a disaster happens, those same people will turn against the false powers they trusted.  In their disappointment, either they become softened toward me or they become bolder in their independence.”

How is it that this seems so DIFFERENT than anything I have ever heard, but rings so true to my core. Maybe this is why so many people speak of this book’s value. The idea that independence translates so quickly to manipulation caught me off guard. I have this EXTREMELY negative aversion to the concept of manipulation in word and in deed. But the more I am becoming aware of my surroundings the more I am realized I am manipulated every day without my consent (between the internet and my television not to mention my well-intentioned friends, I am beginning to wonder how much the marketing machine is winning). So if I am independent, I am manipulating and managing people for MY own happiness. That sounds so vulgar and cruel. It sounds controlling and deceptive. It represents something I had strived my whole life not to be.

It even becomes a stronger thought when he writes of hierarchy because that is something I have learned to trust. Official political, business, or even church levels of authority is to be respected and honored because that is how you (we) know who is right. My goodness this sounds familiar. It doesn’t just stand in the way of the circle of relationship, it really does put the will of one over another. But some how I always believed that is how things NEEDED to be in order for us as people to work together at ALL. 

Some days it is amazing to read new ideas and thoughts on the world or even ones own perspective, but other days it just makes me think I have been doing this life thing all wrong.  So how do I make such a significant change to things?  Am I the only one who finds this fascinating and disturbing all at the same time?

You be the judge

As I continue my way through The Shack, I am continually surprised by the ideas and concepts that grab my attention. Under the justification of self-preservation, being alert, or just calling it like it is; so many times I find myself in this exact position. In the exact defense of my snap judgements or firm judgments of the people I see and meet.

“You have already proven yourself very capable [of judging], even in our short time together. And besides, you have judged many throughout your life. You have judged the actions and even the motivations of others as if you somehow knew what those were in truth. You have judged the color of skin and body language and body odor. You have judged history and relationships. You have even judged the value of a person’s life by the quality of your concept of beauty. By all accounts, you are quite well-practiced in the activity.”

WOW… What a statement. And it clearly speaks to me in that punch to the guy kind of convicting way.  I have made judgements and decisions, comments and conceptions all based on my gut reaction, my emotional feelings, and my eyes sight; but in all honesty how much of that is truth. How many times have I had that conversation YEARS later with a friend or co-worker that revealed some deep dark secret about their first impression of me? Or my feelings and thoughts of them? At which point, we have a great grand laugh and joke about how good our friendship is now and continue to tell the stories that make us who we are.

But in those moments of revelation is there not an ounce of concern or worry? Do people not think for just a second about what a judgemental their friend is for thinking those things? How about the idea that if these truths about perception had been revealed in those early moments, the friendship would probably have never formed?

Where oh where did this come from?  Why do I do this? <– My question for EVERYTHING I do that I don’t like.  So I search my heart, my life experience, my mind, and my feelings.  At times I wonder are there they reasons, excuses, justifications or something more dramatic like genes or upbringing (nature and nurture – gotta love it.) Yet for me I find its deepest, loudest voice is found in fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of rejection, and fear of failure. That if I can not understand it then it will hurt me.  If I cannot put it in its box, I cannot predict it and prepare for what it will do.  If it is not like me then it makes me uncomfortable.  If I do know KNOW what it is capable then I cannot protect myself, because I NEED protecting… I always need protecting… if I don’t do it no one else will.  (There’s a thought for  future blog dissection. )

As much as I would love to live in that exotic place with my gold crown shines beautifully, I must be honest and truly search for why I cling to the need to continue as I always have (Brent knows how much I like Cleopatra).  Evaluating, observing, deciphering, determining, planning, perceiving, and in all it does translate into a form of Judgement.  And where does the first glances of innocent first impression fleeting thoughts turn into brick hard judgement?  At what point, do I insert the wall of mistrust because of a statement, joke, look, gesture, or story someone has shared?  When does my perception of their person become a judgement in my mind against that person? 

This da Judge???

And even worse at what moments in time do I then say those things out loud to another person, passing it off as truth with a capital T?  For then they accept my judgment or decision on that person and apply it to their behavior or interactions with that person.  And in the blink of an eye a fleeting thought, hurt feeling, misunderstood statement, or giving gesture gone awry has turned into this pile of judgement against a person. 

So I am taking a couple of days to dig deeper into my thoughts surrounding judgment and where it comes from in me.  And even share some of the things I hear in my mind when I do it, not in the form of justification, but in an effort of self-disclosure.

A Diamond from the Archives

 A couple of weeks ago during my blogging sabbatical, I was contacted by an ex-boyfriend who from this point on will be referred to as the X.  In as much as that little interaction drummed up at least a DOZEN worthwhile blog post ponderings for a future time, it caused me to return to the archives.  Now not just the emotional memories of a life almost 20 years ago, but the actual archive files of paper letters and notes I have received over my life.  Some people have accused me of being an emotional sadist or just plan CRAZY.  Which then usually is followed up with comments close to WAIT you have notes and letters from ex-boyfriends… STILL!?!?!? Yes I am a form of a pack rat, but very organized pack rat.  I mean I was able to go right to the box with the letters in them and it took me less than 30 minutes to be sitting with them in my lap in re-examination mode. 

After I spent one almost sleepless night re-reading, did I discover some notes before and behind this particular set of documents that drew my attention to them.  It was in these page turning documents that I found the most precious diamond a girl can ask for.  There were many post its of encouragement, good job, great show, you’re a sweetie all of which I keep in hopes that I can remember when I am having a depressed day that at one time in my life I was cool.  Okay well that just sounds way more self-deprecating than intended.  It is more the idea that even though I am not hearing those encouraging and praising things NOW doesn’t mean that they don’t apply NOW.  It is also a good exercise to remember that I was valuable and appreciated by my friends at times and if I don’t feel it now it shouldn’t devalue the positives from before. 

ALRIGHT ALRIGHT already, what is the diamond you may ask amidst your anxious impatience… it was a note from my best friend at church during my teaching years.  Yes I taught Jr. High and High School for 4 years in my 20’s.  We were both teachers at the same school and bonded like the bestest of friends.  We shared war stories, child conflicts, irritations with the administration, struggles with our love lives, and how to live this serving God Christian life thing often.  So many of my closest friends are the ones I share my deepest personal issues with.  I have learned over the years that one of my litmus tests of true friends are the ones who are willing to hear my deepest pains and sorrows, all the while sharing their deepest pains and sorrows.   For some reason, I just don’t believe that if people do not share those things the friendship is not real, authentic, or trustworthy. 

So there I was re-reading the archives of my life in print and living color (some people liked using colored pens back then).  When I found a note from her explaining that she was going to buy me a stuffed teddy bear to bring me comfort.  I can only assume I was having one of my lonely single seasons or depressed missing my mother moments at this particular holiday.  When she was shopping she found a stuffed lioness on the shelf at the store and with a prompt pushing from (I assume) the Holy Spirit, she grabbed it off the shelf.  With this precursor she said:   

This is you, Christina, the Lioness, Proud, Beautiful, Nurturing, A little Fearsome when Crossed, and VERY playful when caught in the right mood.  You are a special person whose friendship is not to be missed.

Identity in a Phrase

And there it was on paper… A short spirited synopsis of my identity.  I had completely forgotten about this image she had of me.  It brought tears to my eyes as if I were reading it for the first time.  Such care was spoken of me by someone I trusted and believed in.  How amazing an image this generates in my mind, and such a strong emotional connection I feel to the traits of a lioness.  Even as I stood there in reflection of my life since there, I realized with stronger and stronger conviction that this had truly been me and is me. 

Each of those points brought to mind different situations and circumstances in life in just the last few years where I had exhibited those exact traits… almost in instinctual response.    Life has taken some interesting turns these last couple weeks and I have exhibited a strength and fortitude I never believed I had in me.  A confidence and pride that runs soul deep and not just for show or performance.  I am going to treasure this image as it was intended and allow the feelings of enlightenment to fill me with joy and recognition. It is such a joyful experience for me when I recognize something that is me as if learning something about WHO I AM for the first time.

As I have been challenging myself to change and get ready for potentially moving, I had a massive garage sale this summer and I remembered selling a stuffed lion, well at least now I still have the note.  I had wondered where the lion had come from because my whole growing up years, my thing had been Koala’s (I must confess I do still have ONE)…  what can I say I am a pack rat.