Before the USAF moved our family to the Rocky Mountain town of Colorado Springs, we were stationed in the tropical islands of Hawaii. I still remember landing at the small island airport for the first time, walking hand-in-hand with my four-year-old daughter towards baggage claim. I was exhausted after the long flight and terribly nervous about finding my place and people there. Sure, we were stationed in paradise, but would my friendship landscape look more like a desert? At our previous assignment, it took me well over a year to make one local friend. And by the time I made a few, it came time to move again.
At that airport, our eight-year-old sons searched for a luggage cart while my husband and I discussed whether or not it would hold all ten bags. And that’s when I looked up and saw over a dozen men and women, some in military uniforms and some in civilian clothes, walking toward us with smiles as warm as the trade winds. Members of David’s new detachment, along with several family members, had come to welcome us to the island.
A married couple, Mark and Kim, introduced themselves and placed candy leis around the kids’ necks. Kim placed a lei of kukui nuts around David’s neck and a lei of orchid flowers around my own.
I smelled the royal purple flowers and felt their tender blooms, enlivened and encircled by these folks’ kind gesture.
We moved into our home two days before Thanksgiving, so our holiday season held more garlands of packing tape than greenery. Still, Mark and Kim made a space for us in their own festive home, inviting us over for Thanksgiving dinner as well as for dessert Christmas night. I remember that warm Christmas evening, licking orange Bundt cake frosting off my fingers. In more ways than one, it was a sweet punctuation mark at the end of a hectic, demanding holiday season.
A decade later, I also see it as the beginnings of a dear friendship, one that remains a safe place for me to share the good, bad, and ugly going on in my life.
In those days of moving every few years, anxiety over finding community for my family and me rode shotgun with every transition. Sometimes I found it easily, as with Kim. Many times I did not, as I alluded to earlier. That anxiety can still show up, albeit for different reasons, and quite frankly, it frustrates the livin’ daylights out of me.
When it comes to this discussion of belonging and community, vulnerability is a sparkly, catchy word. We’re told, “We must refuse the tendency to isolate ourselves and share the real stuff.” Yes, this is true. However, the desire to share vulnerably is only one-half the picture.
For me to share vulnerably, I need someone to offer a safe place for me to be vulnerable.
Now, some will automatically point out that it’s my responsibility to put myself out there and introduce myself to others so I’m in the best position to meet new folks. And they would be right. But the fact is, it’s not all up to me. Whether moving to a new place or through a new life stage or anywhere in between, you may see hard proof that all the people around you have their people. If I have a heart willing to share, how do I break in to share my struggles when I can’t find a space to do so?
I’ve had people write me off before, and I know I’ve done the same to others. Sometimes that’s because of good reason, like we just didn’t click. Plus, we all have limited bandwidth in our day and must give our time and attention to whom God asks.
But sometimes — and I think this occurs more frequently than we’d like to admit — we get comfortable with our people, and we don’t want to take the time and energy to widen our own circles.
As one who’s now lived in Colorado Springs for nine years now, I can no longer claim to be the new person. As much as anyone, I fight this tendency to travel the well-worn roads of familiar relationships rather than brave the potentially bumpy road to a new one.
Still, it’s a cryin’ shame not to do it anyway.
If like me you find yourself in a blessed life stage with a good posse of people around you, I encourage you to keep your eyes and heart open to widening your circle just the same. We’ll never “arrive” at finding our place and people. It’s more an ever winding road than a destination.
And if you’re where I’ve been, still trying to find your people in your place, I encourage you to not give up. The Lord absolutely wants you to have those with whom you can vulnerably share. But like the farmer who must work long and hard before the harvest, it may take a frustrating amount of time.
The Lord is always doing a new thing for each of us, so take heart.
As God leads this Christmas season, may we in some small way be ready to widen our circles, welcome another in, and help kick anxiety out of the shotgun seat for someone else.
Keep your eyes and heart open to widening your circle. #community #friendship #belonging -@Kristen_Strong: Click To Tweet Leave a Comment
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
I can relate to schlepping my family and my belongings from state to state every few years on quite a few occasions. I had to do the hard work of making friendships…and I DO mean work. I had to put myself out there. Now having lived in the same state in the south for 22 years (say it ain’t so), I have become THAT person who is comfortable in her friendships. But God, had a few gals from right here on (in)courage open the door to friendship. Some might say that “cyber” friends aren’t real friends, but when I was having a complete meltdown, who did I call? My big sis (that I’ve adopted) Kathy that I met online, here. I am SO grateful for her continuing love and friendship and for accepting me just as I am. God can and will use every avenue if we just dare to widen the circle a bit. You never know… a great friendship may just be a few clicks away. Always love your writing, Kristen!
Kristen Strong says
Love this, Bev! And yes, while we all need in-person friends, some of my dearest in-person friends started out as online friends! I love this, too: “God can and will use every avenue if we just dare to widen the circle a bit.” Amen.
Lori-Ann Uber says
While I can not understand the effects of moving so often, and the toll it takes, I can understand being in a place full of wonderful people, and feeling so alone! I have been attending my current church for almost 15 years, and I am finding myself in a place of “alone”. I feel exactly as you described it. I am working diligently to find my place to “fit in”, but I am struggling with the acceptance, or lack there of. My prayer is that I find who, and where God wants me to be! Thank you for sharing yourself with us! Lori-Ann
Kristen Strong says
Lori-Ann, you can definitely be in one place for an extended period of time and still struggle to find your place and people. I’m praying right now that as you continue to work diligently to find where you belong, that someone sees you for the treasure you are and widens their own circle to bring you in. Sending love!
Oh yes, church can be one of the worst places for feeling lonely! We have, perhaps, higher expectations of friendliness and acceptance among church folks, but it doesn’t always feel like that. I’ve been there. I found I just have to keep on trying, without expecting too much, offering invitations but not fretting if they are met with coldness or indifference. There is always someone willing to respond…it just takes time. And perseverance! And, sometimes, just being kind to myself – turning up to church, but not trying too hard.
Michele Morin says
When I was the new girl showing up in a different church every few years, I felt so envious of the anchored ones–the women who had grown up in the same pews where their diaper bags were sitting today. While that will never be my story, I have logged a good 20 years now under the same white New England steeple, and I realize that it’s a big responsibility to be the anchored one, because we also hold the rolled up welcome mat, and it’s our responsibility to throw it down with joy every Sunday so others can feel seen and known by the God we represent.
Kristen Strong says
PREACH, Michele. Glory be, this is a good word. Taking it to heart myself. xo
I really appreciated reading this today. I’m fairly new to the area where I live, and I am struggling as a single mother to make connections. I’m blessed with some amazing long distance friendships, but I am longing for local connections.
Kristen Strong says
Praying right now, dear Elizabeth, that you make those connections soon, and that they are life-giving and soul-feeding in every way. Sending you love.
I always look forward to seeing your blogs! We’re not military but my husband works in corporate training and development meaning many, many moves last count 15. Now that we are older and empty nesters it’s truly, uncomfortably, harder to get into some people’s spaces! To make matters more challenging our adult son is homeless coupled with mental health issues. Isolation seems the norm lately with the last move here in Northern New England not known for lots of reaching out folks. Many offers of hospitality have been made, but few actually respond. I opened up an Airbnb business which is lovely but guests are not lifetime friends. Churches are small, more like bible studies to most. We pray continually for open doors of dialogue. Thank you for your honesty and Bev as well! You guys rock!
Kristen Strong says
Dee, I’m praying the same for you right now. And you’ve logged a LOT of moves–more than me. I believe finding our place only gets harder the older we get, and to be sure, you’ve got some extra challenges. Hang in there–the Lord WILL make a way. Sending you so much love.
Dawn Ferguson-Little says
Yes God is doing a new thing in all of us. We might not see it the moment. We might wonder where God is. Me and my Husband go into to the same Cafe in our town. The Lord lead me go on line make the person who owns that Cafe we go to a present for Christmas about her Cafe. This person is not saved. Too show her Gods love. The present came in the post in the last week. You know when we gave it to the lady of the Cafe. Who does not know what the present is. Said she will open it on Christmas. She was so thank full someone cared to buy her a present. She will get an extra shock to see it is about her Cafe. We are showing her Gods love. God does so many good things for us. God gives us another day too wake up enjoy his beautiful world. So we can make people happy. Like me and my Husband did today by going on line making a gift for the woman who owns a cafe. About her cafe. To show Gods love in simple way. God shows us his love in simple ways. By giving us Jesus and his beautiful world plus his love. What more could we ask for. That present will speak volumes to that cafe owner. A simple way to show Gods love without preaching and putting them of. Love Dawn Ferguson-Little. Love today reading all readings are excellent. Xxx
Kristen Strong says
Dawn, this is fantastic, and you move me to find someone whom I can bless in some small way, too. The small things are the big, important things, aren’t they?! Thank you so much for sharing here!
Thank you for posting this. I read it today after a difficult but necessary conversation with my husband ….. about me. Vulnerability is so difficult sometimes! Putting myself in a position of being confronted while knowing I’m still loved …..
I tend to isolate, have been there/cared for others but haven’t always accepted the same for myself. I have friends I dearly love who know this about me ….
To remember to reach out, to be loving & accepting, truly being Jesus’ hands, feet and heart …. this is work. I’m praying to be as gracious in accepting as I am in giving (the giving part is so much easier for me!). Ah, I’m a work in progress. Thankful for Father’s grace and mercy! ❤️
Becky Keife says
Yes, friend. Let’s be like Kim. Let’s be women who go out of our way to welcome others in. xx
Renee M Swope says
I love this Kristen, and you are so right. It’s not as easy as it sounds to find a safe place to be vulnerable when you are in a new place. I’m still finding my people and new safe places after moving to a new area a year and a half ago. And I’m trying to also be that girl who creates a safe place for those I meet, knowing they may be looking for a place to belong too. Love you and your words friend! xoxo
I truly agre with you on this. We do get comfortable with our little circle and forget that while we may feel no need to include anyone extra in our lives, what if there is someone who needs us, someone who will benefit from our love. It is easy to love and be vulnerable on those who loves us back but we are so hesitant to share love to those who may never reciporate that love back. I always tell my hubby that he may feel like he doesn’t need anyone other than his brothers but what if someone needs him. We never know what what our prescence can do to another. What encouragement we can provide by just being vulnerable and sharing this life with our fellow humans. We are called to love on each other so yes I challenge us to let go of fear and give our time and be vulnerable enough to share our struggles with each other. We never know whose lives we are changing. Thanks so much sharing this needed message.
Beth Williams says
We moved a lot when I was younger. I know it hurt one sister to move so often & keep trying to make new friends in school. Just when you have your “posse”-swoop you move again only to do it all over again. Sometimes the work is so hard you feel like not trying at all. For me it used to take a long time to make friends. I remember moving away to college. A neighbor down the hill graciously took me in as one of her children. The first night alone she brought me supper & desert. Throughout my time there she would have me over for dinner or allow me to go out with her & the family. Her way of making me feel wanted & not alone.
I could easily feel alone at church, even though I was involved in some ministries. Just didn’t seem to find a fit. It was hard as I was single & only had my parents nearby. Now things are different. I am married & member of same church for 15 years. It is my turn to throw out the welcome mat to newbies in our community & church. That is what I try to do. If I see someone new at church I make it a point to go over & say hello. My way of making you feel welcome. I guess it’s my way of paying back my college neighbors. We all want to feel welcome.