Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Circle Is Round, It Has No End

You know that old children's song?

Make new friends, but keep the old.
One is silver and the other gold.
A circle is round, it has no end.
That's how long I want to be your friend.

We used to hold hands in our Girl Scout troop and sing that song at meetings and camp-outs. It's a great sentiment and the metaphor fits a childhood understanding of friendship really well. As I have gotten older, however, I have found that friendships end, they come and go, in and out, around the corner, and my image or metaphor turns out to be something a little more complicated like this:

Friend is defined by Webster as:

  1. one attached to another by affection or esteem
  2. acquaintance
  3. one that is not hostile
  4. one that is of the same nation, party, or group
  5. one that favors or promotes something (as a charity)
  6. a favored companion

What would you add to or change about this definition?

I struggle with defining friendship in my own life. I have friends from when I was young that I don't really keep in touch with, but that are still significant to me. I would love to be able to sit with them, start right where we left off, and catch up to the present. I have friends with whom I interacted for only a short time that were extremely impacting for me, but I find it hard to reach out to those people and have more interactions with them. There are others that I know only on the surface that I would love to know more deeply, but my fear of rejection and the anxiety surrounding that fear get the best of me.

I have connected with people very naturally, but then wrecked relationships by turning them into romantic relationships. I know people who I thought were deep friends who only treat me as disposable or useful when I am around or convenient. I have people in my life who have similar interests and passions as I do that seem like they would be fast and easy friends, but then those relationships fade fast and easy. I know I have friends who have given much to me but I have not given them much, which makes me feel sorry. I also have friends who have taken much from me without me receiving much, which makes me feel tired. 

The word "friend" is so loaded, I cannot understand how Webster has listed such a limited definition.

I'm going to shift my thinking here. Instead of thinking about all the confusing and ultimately "unsuccessful" friendships I have experienced, I am going to analyze the most successful ones. My most faithful friendships exhibit similar relational components as a healthy successful romantic relationships. Romantic relationships seem to be where a lot of people, myself included, pursue learning how to engage in a healthy relationship. For whatever reason(s) (that's a whole different blog post), I have been able to explore relational health most naturally in the romantic context.

Let's start there.

To me, a healthy romantic relationship looks like this:
  • Giving and receiving
  • Pursuing and being pursued
  • Compromising and sacrificing
  • Ebb and flow
  • Longevity and commitment
  • Quality time together, both leisure and business, so to speak
  • Communication
  • Vulnerability
  • Needing and helping one another
  • Working as a team
  • Building off each other's strengths and weaknesses
  • Letting go of unfair expectations

I'm sure there are other things I am forgetting, but you get the general idea. 

When I think of "successful" friendships in my life, which are very few (good or bad?) all of the same points apply. In other words, the same amount of time and work that goes into building a healthy romantic relationship (well, outside of sexuality, I guess) is the same for a platonic friendship. Process that for a second...that takes a lot of work and energy, but the benefit is a great gain.

I want that. I want friends that truly care for me and can be there for me and can let me be there for them. I want friends that can communicate well and work well with others. Ultimately, it doesn't matter if we like the same food, listen to the same music, tout the same causes, or wear the same style. It is easier to think that those people would be great friends because they seem exactly like you on the surface, but it takes so much more to have a healthy interpersonal relationship.

In the end, I think it's important to look over our lives and analyze the state of our relationships. I believe a flourishing community is one that gets in deep and messy with one another in order to figure out how to live out those bullet points listed above. A flourishing community has little to do with neighborhood, race, socio-economic status but more to do with willingness to get to know and understand another person, to walk in their shoes in order to make the world a more loving place.

I would argue this conclusion probably undermines our Facebook friends list, but I would challenge you to seek out a real friendship with some of the people in your life because that  act of communing with another person is life itself. Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life-- no one can get to the Father except through him. Notice how active that definition of Jesus is-- the way requires walking, the truth requires hearing and proclaiming, the life requires living, striving, suffering, and all the bullet points listed above. Loving someone isn't as easy as we make it seem. Jesus spent blood, sweat, tears, resources, time, and energy with those he loved. 

His ministry did not start when he turned 30 years old and set out to call the 12 disciples to his side. It began before that, when he was born humbly and dirty, as he proclaimed authority in the temple when he was a boy, and as he lived the rest of his life building his community around him. I would venture to say that Jesus didn't just start hanging out with the marginalized right after he recruited the disciples--it was just time for him to let others see what love he had already begun around him. The disciples were witnesses to the results of Jesus living out the gospel his whole life. After they witnessed the way Jesus lived his life, they wrote about it in order to spread it all over the world for generations to come, not because the three years they were with him were miraculous and his death was such an immense sacrifice for all, but because the whole life of Jesus was the gospel and those last three years were simply the punctuation marks at the end of a lifetime.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Really Reality

I have gone through the ringer over the past few years. I am assuming that it's normal for someone in their twenties to go through it. Maybe many times. Figuring out the core of our being, while also accepting change and growing.

I have spent time doing lots of different things, feeling unsatisfied, contented, then burned out, then fiercely rejuvenated, then saying "fuck you" to the world as I knew it, then taking risks, feeling the consequences, then making sense of suffering while also trying to maintain my mental health.

I have grown a lot in these times. Growing, for me, equates to shedding a false projected image. I want to seem cool, compassionate, caring, edgy, fashionable, relevant, intelligent-- It affects my taste in music, the clothes I wear, the things I believe and discuss, the expectations I place, the passions I pursue, and the people with whom I surround myself.

I have found that the reality of me is what stands the test of time, the things I come back to. Not necessarily the things that define me, but the things that are a permanent part of me, including my taste in clothes, music, passions, people, conversations, and beliefs. Unfortunately for me, time refines, and I'm impatient. Thankfully, in retrospect, I understand that my skin tight disguise which deceived me into believing that I was being authentic, is peeling off, layer by layer, and each day reveals the truth beneath. Now that I am aware, I am able to do my best to prevent more layers from forming in order to cling to that truth.

One part of my journey has helped me reflect a lot on myself and what I value. My journey has taken me through relationships with many different groups of people with many different interests, focuses, and beliefs. More specifically, I have taken some time to ponder the idea of church...even more specifically, what I believe about the idea of church.

My ideals tend to be irreconcilable with my reality (see above extrapolation). I want to be a part of the "best" church community-- one that feeds me, challenges me, teaches me, needs me, comforts me, stretches me, serves the marginalized in society, makes waves in the community, is committed to bettering the city in the name of Jesus...

I think everyone and their dog is aware that there is not one perfect church. There isn't even one best church, not even just for me, let alone for everyone. I have realized that where I am comfortable is not going to offer me the challenges I expect. Where I am fed, I may not necessarily be needed. The places that are making waves or committing to making change in the city are not able to comfort me or support me. Different communities and churches will offer different strengths and weaknesses, and I most likely will not find a community that fits all of my ideals in the way that I want it to. Especially if I am only looking in my own city (which I am).

Maybe I spent most of my life adorning the ever deplorable "entitled" attitude that I was so desperately trying to avoid. After all, I can't help that I am a millennial who was raised in a middle-class white American home. I am coming to accept that I feel most comfortable and fed and supported in a community of middle class white Americans. I think it's okay. I think it's okay that I feel uncomfortable attending a service mostly consisting of charismatic African Americans, even if it is the closest church to my home. I don't have to go there if it's uncomfortable, even if it challenges and stretches me. It's okay that a church that makes waves in the community for change feels like it doesn't challenge or feed me in ways that I need. I am still figuring out what the best scenario is for me, but I am also learning a lot about acceptance.

A simple commitment may be what I need to lead to all of my ideals. It may not be apparent on the surface. It may not be apparent until 10 years of attending services and investing in that particular community before I can see how it is meeting or not meeting my ideals. And just because something does not meet my ideals does not mean I have to abandon it, but again, that line is a fine one to walk.

Reality is not permanent and it is not static. "Myself" is always changing, yes, but I have to keep in mind that I am also changed. I can do something to respond to the change that has already taken place, my current reality, my current truth. I can also, simultaneously, remain open to the fact that I will come to reassess my reality and truth at many other points in my life. Thinking about that makes me feel exhausted and a little defeated, but it  is also the reason our lives on this earth have such beauty and redemption present in them. We learn from the past, make decisions in the present, and worry about the future when it becomes the present.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Solemnity Rules The Day

I awake among the shadow of the sunrise
Eyes swollen shut and blinded by the rays
Slowly rolling away, my mind purges thoughts
And solemnity rules the day

I stumble forward walking tenderly
Rinse my body in the warmth of the rain
Then clothe myself in tufts of clouds
As solemnity rules the day

When you find me, I'll be crying
Crying or staring still
The moon rising along its way
And solemnity ruled the day.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Woman Who Gave All She Had

I imagine that she was an aspiring entrepreneur wanting to open her own perfume shop with exotic exports from all around the world. In realizing her limits, whether financially, societally, or whatever else, she could only devote herself to her one beautiful jar of her favorite scent.

The woman, although her dreams and ideals were high, was humbled by her circumstances. Never had she married, so her family had disowned her and moved away. She was depressed and lived below the poverty line. She experienced severe anxiety around others because of how often she had been rejected and belittled in her life. But again, she was just trying to make a living in this cruel world with her one bottle of fragrant oil.

She may share a drop or two with you if you find her on her route around downtown, and if you pay her the right price. After all, she had to make a living somehow, and she surely despised the way other women in similar situations resorted to selling their bodies to live a life of wealth. One day, as she made her way around town, she heard rumors of a man who seemed too strange to be true-- a man who hung out with homeless people and sick and dying men; a man whose friends were drunks, drug addicts, and gamblers; a man who was rumored to heal those who were ailing from some longstanding handicap; a man who calmed the voices inside the schizophrenic and bi-polar person's head; a man who spoke against oppression and stood for and with those who had no voice. This man traveled around the countryside speaking mysteries to those who were curious enough to listen, and this day, the woman heard that he had come to her town to stay for the weekend.

She hoped that she may run into him while she was around town but wanted to avoid seeking him out; what would she say to him, anyway? She often stumbled upon her words and stood in the shadows of others' conversations. What would she offer him for a hint of his healing powers or some sign of a divine spark? She had nothing but a jar of perfume that was even hard to sell in this tough economy. And did she even deserve to try and receive some magical healing? Others were in worse situations than her own, and how selfish of her to think that she was worth the trouble.

That evening, a friend of hers came to her home to have some tea and chat. She had heard that this man who had come to town was heading over to have dinner with a man, her neighbor, who lived just down the street. The man was well-known in the neighborhood for his involvement with a local church and despite his service to the Lord, he had been stricken with stage four cancer. Rumors were circulating that this strange man had healed her neighbor completely from his cancer in a moment. Despite her hesitance, the woman could not miss this opportunity to meet the strange man.

After her friend went home, the woman stood in her tiny kitchen, nervously watching out her window for any sign of his arrival at her neighbor's place. After about ten minutes of watching, she noticed a group of about 10 people walking up the street toward her neighbor's house, and without any indication or distinction, she was able to tell right away that one man was noticeable in a way that none of the others were. She watched them as they entered the man's house with many hugs, smiles, and handshakes. Knowing that the interruption of their meal was quite taboo, especially being a street-peddling, poor, single woman, she put on her jacket, grabbed her jar of perfume so that her neighbor may think she was trying to make a sale, and then headed over to her neighbor's. The man greeted her kindly, and without question or wonder, invited her in.

The woman saw the visitor and immediately began weeping, for somehow she felt that he loved and accepted her in a way that no one else in her life ever had. Somehow, his presence restored her sense of value and worth, her hopes and dreams seemed possible, and all her struggles in life seemed for a purpose. She fell at his feet and wiped her tears away with her hair, not really thinking how much more sense it would have made to use her dress or her blouse for the same purpose. Although she should have felt embarrassed, she felt proud and beautiful and free. Out of that freedom from worry, she poured all of her favorite perfume over the man's feet. She didn't fear losing her life's wages and what the consequences of her action might be, but she instead felt the deepest peace and belonging she had ever felt. How could one man inspire such inexplicable emotions in such a short moment?

At  the sight of this absurd action, some of the man's friends began to question the woman and her intentions. Who was she? Why had she come? And why the hell would she just waste all of that really expensive perfume? Was she mentally disabled or just stupid? The man rebuked his friends for scolding her because he saw her devotion to him. He sustained that confidence in her as he defended her, and he invited her to dine with them the rest of the night.

That night the woman walked away with a sense of joy and provision. Never again would she have to worry about the food on her table, the reputation she held in the town, the money to pay her rent and bills, or the clothes in her closet that were beginning to tear. That man had shown her true, untainted love, and within that love she had found the power to pursue new ways of making a living. She began to think creatively, outside of the standards of the society, for ways to obtain food, clothes, or anything else she would need. She now had a community that she could depend upon who also saw the man's beauty and devoted themselves to following him. She knew she would never again be forsaken or alone, and she praised the God that she had always known was there but had never really been able to grasp, for now he was within her reach.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The "Just Not Quite"

All my life I have had this intrusive feeling that I am just not quite... fill in the blank. In school, I remember being in honors/gifted classes, but always getting good grades, but "just not quite" the best I thought I should be earning. My family was always pretty well-off, but "just not quite" well-off enough to buy me an American Girl doll or a TV for my room. As a musician, I have had the training to make me "just not quite" good. I have always had an easy time attracting people, whether friends or partners, but when it comes down to maintaining those relationships, I am "just not quite" sane enough or "just not quite" controlled enough or "just not quite" outgoing or sensitive or consistent enough. In heading to college, my parents made "just not quite" enough to avoid taking out loans. With recent health issues starting in college and still continuing, I have "just not quite" long enough to take advantage of my health insurance under my parents.

Granted, I think I have suffered from "compare-yourself-to-others" disease all of my life, which is probably where the qualifier mostly comes in handy. Also, I have a hard time not getting what I want or think I deserve. Entitlement, I guess. But, I have since become more humble, I think. I am grateful for who I am, faults, failures, and circumstances included, although I still struggle with accepting those things. I see the benefits of thorns in my side reminding me of my dependence on others and God, that I can't do life alone. I have grown and matured through the experiences that frustrate me and stretch me and make me want to throw a tantrum.

I still come in contact with those moments, though, but I am grateful that I have evolved from actually throwing a tantrum to calmly accepting my circumstances. Thank God for anti-anxiety meds, also. Today, for example, I went in to apply and interview for Food Stamps. I have been struggling financially because I make "just not quite" enough money to pay for all my expenses. Rent, food, gas, utilities, student loans, counseling, prescriptions, etc. My counselor gave me the permission/idea to apply for Food Stamps. I had never considered myself to be eligible for that assistance, but knowing my own circumstances, it made a lot of sense, so I went for it.

My interviewer informed me that I am earning "just not quite" low enough to qualify for food stamps. She also reminded me that with recent tax hikes passed through legislation, they have not yet changed the income threshold for Food Stamp qualifications...awesome. I mean, we are in debt, so it makes sense, but not for my life. So I left with a chip on my shoulder from my run in with our lovely legislative system and yet an understanding of all the stuff I have been hearing on NPR for the last few years and how it is finally starting to affect me personally.

I've decided government student loans are a horrible idea. Innocent, naive young adults with their bright future and high ideals in sight are robbed of their ability to practically pursue their dreams. They offer short term instant gratification during college and then disappointment and near poverty after. The government will continue to make money off of me even if I try to put a forbearance on my loans because I still have to pay interest and my loan amount never goes down if I do that. As I look back, I suppose I could have taken out no loans, gone to a cheaper school a shorter distance from home, worked all through college, majored in something uber practical in any job market, and lowered my chances of being in such high debt. Yet, I see my experience at a private Christian school and the ways that I grew and the quality of education I received and the value of being away from home, and I know it was worth every penny.

So here I am, stuck yet again in the "just not quite" stage of life. I am "just not quite" paying enough on my loans to eradicate them before the government pillages my bank account. I am "just not quite" experienced enough to get a job that pays me what my degree is worth or at least provides me with benefits. I am "just not quite" wealthy enough to put money in savings or think about investing.
ent will continue to make money off of me even if I try to put a forbearance on my loans because I still have to pay interest and my loan amount never goes down.

Ultimately, my solution is to go on a hard core spending fast, trim the fat as much as possible, pay as much as I can on my loans to eliminate debt as quickly as possible, try to make up any missed hours at work each week, and just try to save every penny I can. Time to be a real life grown up. I thought I was already doing this, but I guess there is always more you can do to avoid being "just not quite."