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