After writing Hiding Behind My Mask I had an epiphany; I’ve been looking for Friends in All the Wrong Places.
But, since those places were where I was taught to look, I had no idea I was doing it wrong.
Growing up in Church culture meant that I was taught to use exclusivity when choosing friendships.
This was backed up with verses such as:
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. James 4:4
But, no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t make a meaningful connection with the people I found under these constraints.
I mean, it’s not like I live in the corner of nowhere, I live in a decent sized city, with plenty of Christian cross denominational activities for me to search.
But what about all the people who DIDN’T frequent those places? Or the ones who would NEVER have known they even existed?
I didn’t have my first out of church friend until around 3rd grade. Before that I had only been exposed to people at church, and the church my family attended was, well, tiny.
Public school opened up a whole new world of options for me. There were girls who liked math. There were girls who liked science. There were even girls who enjoyed creating forts in the back 40 and live action role playing.
But somewhere around youth group age (think Jr. High and High School) the message from church changed, or maybe it became more intense.
Every parent was in fear for their child’s salvation, and figured the best way to ensure it was to close their kids off to anyone who wasn’t already ‘saved’.
Sure, they might see someone in the halls of their high school, but unless they were telling them the ABC’s of salvation, it was best to just stay away.
This was reinforced by providing Christian friendly alternatives to everything. There was NEVER a need to seek outside the church friendships or entertainment.
Fast forward to adulthood, and I am still stuck in the same rut in the road I was led to.
No science geeks at church? Bummer. God must want me to conform to the hobbies of everyone else! Right?
No artistic messy house ladies who couldn’t pull off a fancy get together to save her life? Bummer. God must want me to channel Martha Stewart and be a good Proverbs 31 woman.
I had friends in school because I didn’t close myself off to the general population. But as an adult living in Church culture I had shut the door to anyone who might actually relate to me, and who might just not be inside the walls of my church.
Jesus was called a ‘friend of sinners’. They called Him this because the people He hung around, had meals with, and stood up for didn’t hold a real place in their religion.
What if trying to live my life as Jesus lived His includes being a friend of sinners?
What if the close friend I’ve been looking for is at a book group at the public library rather than a Bible study at church?
Now, I’m not saying that our friends have to be carbon copies of ourselves. In fact, my husband and I, while we share some interests, are quite opposite in our abilities and talents. This is why I believe our relationship works so perfectly (yep, I said perfect. I highly doubt you remember my rant last year about Mother’s day)
But what if there is something wonderful that we could learn from the people outside our church walls? What if together we would be able to create something beautiful, like a friendship?
What if that group of atheists who share my love for underwater basket weaving, also share a passion for loving the hurting in our community?
What is that group of Muslims who share my husbands love of bikes also share his passion for helping the poor?
What if the beauty of friendship is not that it is coordinated and highly controlled, but that it can be wild, spontaneous and unsuspecting?
How About You?
When you think about the hole in your current friendships, the spot that no one else understands, where would you look to fill that hole?
What about that place has kept you from seeking friendship there?
Time to make some new friends!
When I was a kid I had a hard time with friendship. Mostly that I didn’t understand it a whole lot.
Being a highly intelligent girl meant that my interests were not within a societal norm.
Being a child of the “Jesus Movement” meant I was extremely sheltered.
Being a child of an ADD hippy meant I lived in a hobbit hole (literally a house under a hill) in the middle of woods with no neighbors to learn social skills from.
I got through elementary school just fine. Thankfully there were a few other girls in my school who were just as intelligent and clueless as I was.
Fast forward into adulthood, and not much has changed.
Recently my oldest daughter was diagnosed with Asperger’s. After reading all the good books on girls with Asperger’s I came to the conclusion that I must also have it.
I secretly made an appointment for a diagnostic testing.
I was a little surprised and confused when the answer ended up being ADD instead.
And then I was disappointed.
Why? Because I would love to have an excuse for why I am still struggling with friendship. Why I still don’t get it.
I’ve tried it all;
I’ve read books.
I’ve tried copying other people.
I’ve changed my ‘look’.
I’ve faked interest in other people’s hobbies.
I’ve read a 1,500 page book over a weekend to share a topic with a group of moms.
I’ve been the ‘yes’ person.
I’ve donated time, money and my talents.
I’ve given my heart and soul to the lives of those around me in an effort to earn their friendship.
Yet, I’ve been unsuccessful.
I go through cycles.
Sometimes I tell myself that all I need is God and my best friend, my husband.
Sometimes I tell myself that my life is too busy anyway. I mean I do have 6 kids and homeschool.
And then every time I go to the same place; I’m not worth it.
I mean, who would want to be friends with me? I’m pathetic!
Maybe if I didn’t try to hard people could stand to be around me.
It’s not only poisonous, it’s degenerative.
Does anyone know? Probably not.
I really doubt people have any idea I’m starving for a close friend. Someone like I had when I was a kid.
Then I had this funny realization; how would anyone know?
Sure, I pour my heart out pretty regularly on this blog, but what about everywhere else?
If you were to scroll my Facebook, Twitter or Instagram you would see a pretty happy (other than the occasional child complaint) adult woman.
So, if I’m not myself on social media, is anyone else?
What about the moms I see at the playground? Or the people at church? What about my neighbors?
Chances are, that many of them too are struggling behind a mask of contentment while their heart is yearning for more, or desperate for change or broken for love.
I have found that many times people are suffering in similar areas without recognizing the suffering of the person next to them. Not only are we good at hiding our own issues, we are good at ignoring others’ as well.
For so much of my life I have put parameters on the relationships that I build. That somehow they must fit inside the prescribed box.
What if it didn’t have to be that way at all?
Jesus was in His early 30′s when He started His ministry. We have NO idea what His personal life looked like before then.
During His ministry most of the people He was surrounded by had absolutely nothing in common with Him.
What if that is the point?
What if we have spent so much time boxing the idea of friendship into incredibly small parameters that we’ve left no room for the possibility of the reverse?
Yes. I am a stay at home mom, I homeschool my kids, I’m married, I have a house, I love science, and I can’t do anything active because of my chronic illness.
But what if the friend I’ve been looking for is younger or older?
Lives in a yurt?
And does marathons?
They will have to love science though. That’s the one standard I can’t let go.
If we are all closing ourselves off, hiding behind our societal masks, a lot of people will be left without someone in their corner. They won’t have someone to help them, to go to bat for them, to care for them or to love them.
How About You?
If you looked at friendship differently, who would you start to include?
You can read the followup; Looking For Friends In All The Wrong Places here!
I think the truest test of whether one is truly alive is to see whether or not the person has suffered.
Sometimes it seems as though certain people have more suffering in their life than anyone else around them.
Whether it’s the loss of life, jobs, health, or whatever, their is always someone who has lost more than their share.
But somehow I think that is part of the beauty. Don’t discount me right away, I know it sounds hokey, cheesy, cliche’ and a million other gagging attributes, but hear me out.
For me, life is about the interaction I have with people around me. Being a Christian who follows Jesus I try to live by two commandments given in Luke 10:27 (it’s in other books too, but I like Luke, he was a doctor, a man of science, and I like that).
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.
You can’t really do the second part of that commandment, loving your neighbor as yourself, without interacting with the people around you.
There’s the catch. Interacting with people around you.
You see, people come with all these nasty, uncomfortable, painful, ugly lives. They are full of abuse, addiction, pride, cancer, autism, mental illness, homelessness, and on and on and on.
Loving them, according to these standards so frequently read in 1 Corinthians 13
Love is patient
Love is kind
Love does not envy
Love does not boast
Love is not proud
Love does not dishonor others
Love is not self-seeking
Love is not easily angered
Love keeps no record of wrongs
Love does not delight in evil
Love rejoices with the truth
Love always protects
Love always trusts
Love always hopes
Love always perseveres.
Read that list again. Now think of people living in the ugliness and pain of life. Now read it again.
Often times people talk about how Jesus made it easy when He tossed the old covenant (the Old Testament 10 commandments) and replaced them with the new sleek, streamlined top 2 commandments mentioned above.
I think it’s the opposite. We’re human. Humans do not naturally gravitate to any of those above qualities. And when we are struggling, going through a hard part of life, we have an even harder time achieving those altruistic definitions of love.
Here’s where I see the beauty.
Imagine putting yourself in a place where you are able to look beyond the horrible nature of your circumstance, to achingly push through your human tendencies, and to love those around you in spite of it all.
We often talk about the definition of heroism being that of doing great things despite fear or surrounding pressure.
What is true love is the same?
What if we aren’t able to experience love in it’s purest form without the struggle?
What if we are unable to love someone UNLESS they or we are struggling through the crappiness of life?
We are always going to experience and witness terrible sadness and grief in this world.
But maybe it’s time we push back.
No matter how much it hurts.
When you think of an orphanage, you tend to think of places where child loving adults work together for the good of the orphaned children.
Recently that picture was ruined for me when someone told me about an orphanage that only accepted healthy children with the capability to learn and grow into their countries future leaders. In telling me about this orphanage I was told a story about a boy who had lived under their care and was abandoned when he was diagnosed with autism.
I totally understand their concept, however I believe it is fatally flawed.
If these sheltered children are to be raised to be the leaders of tomorrow, shouldn’t they have a clear picture of reality today?
If our future leader’s do not have a working relationship with societies vulnerable population (sick, diasbled, mentally ill, elderly, orphans, single parents, etc.) then how will they know how to prepare for them in our societies future?
In our own country we have a problem. Part of the problem has to do with image. When I say the word “welfare” what was the first image that popped into your mind. Be honest. I bet you it was a racist, sexist, classist image portraying those on welfare as people trying to game the system.
But is that even accurate? Did you know that 83% of benefits go to families that have a child, a disabled or elderly member? That leaves just 17% to go towards other people in our communities who may be of low intelligence and unable to find work above minimum wage, or even people who are physically unable to work full time but also unable to receive disability.
I will not entertain the argument of people gaming the system. (seriously, not even an explanation)
I recently started volunteering at my local food shelf. Clients are able to come once a month to receive about a week’s worth of food, a very small portion of which is fruit or vegetable.
I can not tell you the number of times I’ve heard religious people judge vulnerable adults for their lack of livable wage, work hours, executive functioning and life management.
Somehow an adult with a low IQ, or mental illness or disability is supposed to “just get a better job”, “get more than 1 job”, “know how to arrange and organize” said jobs and make sure that all bills are paid and health maintained so that they are able to mature out of the system rather than live on it. And get this, ALL ON THEIR OWN.
I know many college graduates who struggle with this, let alone the people we are meant to protect and care for!
How about this argument; it’s not the government’s job to care for everyone, the Church should be doing it!
<big deep sigh> Without ranting, let me just say this: the Church at large fails at this in our country.
Now, there are some AMAZING churches, mine for instance, who are able to see people in need and help them on the spot.
Others however, not so much. When I was a single teenage mother, and my mother was a widow with two troubled teens she asked our church for help. Not financial help mind you, physical help. We needed muscle power to move some furniture out of an apartment.
Our churches response? No, if we help you then everyone will want help.
I for one have no problem with the government helping our vulnerable community members. But I oh so wish the Church community would see it as a shaming action and rise up to take ownership and care of those around them.
Here’s the brunt of it: acknowledging vulnerable people in our community means accepting them the way they are. Just like you they have hopes and dreams, and we should be striving to help them achieve each and every one.
It’s time to put the judgement away, strip away the stigma we given them and pour on the acceptance and love that they so deserve.
How About You?
Who around you is vulnerable?
What are you doing or could you be doing for them?
I have this thing where I just HATE the bad guys in movies and on TV.
Probably one of the worst is Cinderella’s step mother. I want her to pay big time for what she did. I can easily envision her in chains “living” her last days in a damp dungeon surrounded my rats.
Or what about the headmistress in the film “A Little Princess”? Pure evil. Throwing the book at her should just be the judicial warm up.
Okay, so these are clearly and easily seen as fictional. But what about characters that emulate real life?
What about those characters that wreak emotional havoc on women, breaking them into submission? Slow and horrible death.
What about those characters that abuse and murder children? Slow and horrible “mob like” death.
The funny thing? I don’t feel this way in real life. In the “non-fiction” world I am pro-life. I believe in life for even the most evil of people.
I was recently having a “back and forth” with someone on Facebook about the terrorist group ISIS.
This person felt that we should just wipe the earth clean of their presence.
Why don’t I agree? Because I believe that Jesus wants us to love to such an extreme that we wouldn’t wish death even on our most heinous enemies.
But here’s where I have a thought: Why do I have this disconnect between people I read about in the news to the people I see on the movie screen?
It’s not as if real life villains are just as evil as those on the big screen, in fact the villains on the big screen are usually seen as evil because of their resemblance to the evil around us.
I think the difference, for me, is that I’ve earnestly tried to make an emotional connection to all types of people. To not just know what they are doing, but why and how did they get to that point, are they doing it of their own free will? Or is someone pulling their strings?
All of the people I’ve ever known who would be considered “evil” have stories that have led them to that definition. Whether it was the emotionally and probably physically abused rapist, the mentally disturbed sociopath, or the molested child molester, they all shared the common trait of having been victims in some way themselves.
Is this true all the time? Um, no, I’m not that naive. But I have found it to be true in most situations I have personally encountered.
So back to this global terror group. I think that for many, the idea of a global terror group is too abstract for them to think about the individual people that make up their ranks.
Are there just mass quantities of evil people looking to fill the open positions in a terrorist organization? Why do you hear about child and teen soldiers? Why do gangs in our inner cities have mostly young people and not middle aged members? Why do cults target fresh minded youth? Why did Hitler recruit youth?
Evil is good at manipulating. And young people are easy to manipulate.
Where there are lost and lonely youth, evil is there to make them feel loved and included.
Why should we care so much about orphans? Because if we don’t show them the love of God, evil will swoop in and show them a place where they can belong and be apart of something bigger than themselves.
Why should we care about the disenfranchised? The hurt? The lonely? Because if we don’t show them the love of God, evil will swoop in and show them a place where they can belong and be apart of something bigger than themselves.
Why should we care about Muslims, North Koreans, ect, ect, ect? Because if we don’t make ourselves visible in their lives, showing them the love of God, evil will swoop in and show them a place where they can belong and be apart of something bigger than themselves.
I’m a pacifist yes, but I’m also a believer that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Showing love, from the start and in extreme’s will prevent people from feeling lost, lonely and without purpose.
People want to be apart of something bigger than themselves, as a Christian I hope that those around me see that opportunity evidenced in my life.
How About You?
Who are you discounting as evil?
Peace all! Esther
Jesus went His whole earthly existence without sinning.
Not only is that impressive in its own rights, but the fact that He did this while living among the religious leaders makes it a miracle!
Now, I’m going to try REALLY hard not to be judgmental here. But the truth is, I’m not Jesus.
Recently my husband was asked why we do what we do, talking about our bicycle organization Involved Cycles. The specific question surrounded the fact that we do it all for free, without pay. Why on earth would be do that?
Well, God never said that our calling should or would be our income source. Just because we aren’t getting paid, just because we don’t always know how we are going to make ends meet, doesn’t mean that we don’t move forward with our calling.
For many people, money is a stumbling block to ministry. They do not believe they can minister until they have enough money to sustain themselves.
OOOORRRR, they have money, blow it on a TON of fancy special crazy tools, equipment, buildings and more and feel that the ministry should come to them.
Recently I saw a small church put together a video for a sermon series. Now, we all like funny little videos, but when several hours are put into prepping, filming and editing those videos, I start to cringe. Somehow the time and money spent on these trivial things is seen as ministry, while that same time and money could be spent actually doing hands on ministry in the community.
I personally believe that Jesus wants us all to get our hands dirty. Even Jesus was a laborer!
He didn’t try to appease the wealthy around Him by telling them to keep their fancy jobs, work long hours, give the church your money and it’s the same as real ministry.
When Jesus tried to invite the wealthy man to be one of His disciples, the requirement was clear; forget all the power, wealth and lifestyle, just follow me.
Easier said than done in Middle America. In Middle America we like things clean and streamlined. Everything must fit into orderly schedules. Even our ministry.
Church is at a regularly scheduled time, discipleship at a regularly scheduled time, ministry at a regularly scheduled time, we deposit our tithes and offerings weekly, on schedule.
When all the while, our communities are crying out for real love and ministry.
The schizophrenic who believes that the local medical clinic has a secret mafia who conspired to kill Robin Williams (a real person I’ve met) is not going to come to your Men’s Breakfast to listen to you talk about your Promise Keeper (going old school) Bible study. He may NEVER cross the threshold of your church (thank goodness since ever stuffy elder would gasp in disgust at his appearance and rambling).
The woman who has lost 7 children (another person I’ve met) to the Child Protection System due to addiction and who is trying to figure out how to move forward in life, if at all, is not going to attend your Mother’s Brunch featuring frilly dresses and fruit parfaits.
The child who has stolen enough to be charged with grand larceny (checking pocket for phone now…) and will likely steal from the church when he has the opportunity is not looking to sit in front of a puppet show about Noah’s Ark.
These are real people. THEY are the ones who Jesus wants us to minister too.
Yes, Middle America needs ministering. They are people too. But I’m pretty sure that 99% of the American churches, have them covered.
Let’s stop spending our money on frivolous entertainment, pretty decorations, fancy equipment and gorgeous buildings.
Jesus doesn’t need us to make Him relevant. His message is what makes Him relevant.
If we can’t trust that people will be drawn to Him by His message alone, then why are we even bothering with any of this?
How About You?
Who do you know that falls through the cracks of the Middle American Christian Church?
Much love, I’m not a hater,
Today I’m over at Bridging the Gap talking about imperfect kids!
For the longest time, we thought our teenager was just a big giant brat. For some reason, the road into adolescence led us to a teenage daughter who struggled being around her younger siblings, whose rage was borderline scary for us as parents, and whose emotions were a veritable minefield.
This wasn’t the first time in her life that we’d had trouble with her. Her preschool and early elementary years were marred by her being kicked out of two daycares and the bus service to her school, as well as being put on a babysitter blacklist. These challenges led us to homeschooling.
While her extremely strong will made life with her challenging, it didn’t send up any red flags, as it was my own mother who gave us her well-worn copy of James Dobson’s The Strong-Willed Child from when I was younger.
It wasn’t until we started looking into Autism Spectrum Disorders for one of her younger siblings that we realized we had made a huge mistake. She seemed to be a poster child for the Autism Spectrum Disorder formerly known as Asperger’s.
My husband and I run an organization called Involved Cycles. We try to bring dignity and self reliant transportation to our communities poor and homeless population.
One of the ways that we do this is by weekly setting up a portable shop at a local shelter and fixing bikes that people bring in. These are the “hard working” poor. They bike to and from work, sometimes several miles, on really cheap, crappy bikes. Then they work long hours at really crappy jobs, just to keep a roof over their heads or to try to get a roof over their head.
Last month we met someone as he took shelter from the sun under our shop tent. If you are him, reading this, please hear my sincerity.
He was a sweet man. He was currently homeless, and had come to the shelter to get a meal. They wouldn’t let him in to eat because they thought he was drunk, but they did give him a to-go box.
He sat with us for a couple of hours. Another community member offered to replace the strings on his guitar while we all hung out. He talked about some of his travels, his aspirations, his current troubles and his gratitude for new strings.
He said he was autistic, which even though he is high functioning, I could see made navigating life a little difficult for him. He said all he wanted to do was get home to North Dakota. Here he would easily find a job and be back on his feet.
After a second night of hanging out with us, my husband and I asked him if we could look into purchasing him a train ticket. We thought it was the right thing to do.
The next day however, I felt unsettled. I searched online to find the churches that he said he attended. One had a website and phone number, the other had no number to be found (trust me, I looked REALLY hard).
My uneasiness was confirmed after I spoke with the pastor at a church he attended on occasion (the other church was his primary place of worship). He said that this man was an alcoholic and shared several stories with me. He explained that he had exhausted literally every single human service organization in the area and then he put it bluntly, he was NOT welcome back.
I felt horrible. I knew that even though we had tried not to, we had led him on.
We met with him that night, and I stalled for as long as humanly possible. I just couldn’t tell him the truth.
Eventually I had to buck up and just do it. I told him we could not help him get back to where he wanted to be. I just didn’t feel it was the best place for him. There was no support and only the temptation of falling into the same bad routine.
He couldn’t admit to the addiction his pastor spoke of, or that his autism impaired him at all. We had even gotten him an interview at a local recovery program for men, that would not only treat his addiction but would provide shelter as well.
But I still felt horrible.
Sometimes I just want to walk up and fix someone’s problems. Step into their life, hit the right buttons and push reset for them.
But, that’s not always what’s best for them. I have a hard time admitting this. A really hard time.
I can’t say there is a definition of who, in what situation, when or how. All I know is that when God says no, you had better say no.
I can fully admit we were wrong to offer to even look into the train ticket prices. We should have prayed first. I still feel awful that we gave him a false hope.
We haven’t seen him now for a few weeks. I’m praying for him, and I hope he’s safe and okay.
I also hope God is able to place the right people in his path so that he can choose the road to recovery himself. A path which I would feel honored to stand alongside and support.
How About You?
Have you ever gone too far to help someone, and then realized you shouldn’t have?
There are literally millions of blogs. To call yourself a mommy blogger is almost like saying you are human. Isn’t everyone?
She answered a series of questions, then tagged me, challenging me to do the same. At the end I’ll then tag a couple other of my blog friends!
Why do I write what I write?
Hmm. I like to pick hard topics, and be super honest about them. It is easy for all of us, especially me to have nice pretty answers to the crap that surrounds us all the time. I’d rather expose it for what it is.
Being blunt and honest online is actually quite liberating, and gives me a voice I wouldn’t normally have in my every day life. You may see me as an outspoken loudmouth, but in actuality I’m pretty quiet and can be quite awkward in conversation.
How Does My Writing Process Work?
There’s a process? I knew I was doing something wrong.
Seriously though, I just sit and write when I feel moved. Sometimes I force it out, but I always hate those words and almost always delete them.
I’m a pretty emotional person. Usually I keep things bottled up and that blocks my writing. If I can continually write those feelings out I will normally keep a steady pace of writing.
What Am I Working On Right Now?
What aren’t I working on is more like it. My husband and I started an organization earlier this year called Involved Cycles. It looks to bring self reliant transportation to the homeless and poor in our community. It’s a lot more work than I thought it would be.
We homeschool. 5/6 of our kids are school age. It is August. Boom.
Last year I started a devotional book. I’d still really like to finish. But if you go up a question you can see how challenging that may be for me.
What writers would I like to introduce to you?
I have two dear friends in my community who also blog.
Shannon Chilson started her blog around the same time as me. We were both going through sharing really hard and personal things at the same time. Through her openness she has helped many marriages find their way back to center after deviating off course. Find her at Restored Through Grace
Natalie Ringsmuth is a blog newbie. She may be new, but she’s writing from her heart, and that is always wonderful! She is the worship leader at her church and also at a local prison ministry. Her writing approaches topics that women in leadership within the church deal with on a continual basis, and that is important. Find her at The Greatest Treasure
Shannon, Natalie, now it is your turn to share!
Before you leave though, I want to throw in a couple more blogs. Because this is my blog, and I can.
I was going to include my cousin, Matt Mareck, in the blog hop. Unfortunately I quickly noticed he has already participated. Bummer. (Read it here). He is the second blogger I know with a Master’s Degree in something wordy (real technical there) (the first being Kristin Demery, Kendra’s sister and co-writer at The Ruth Experience). His blog And Now I Can Die Happy is male, nerdy and honest. I love it. Almost makes me forget how annoying he was as a child.
The next is another one of my cousins, Jennifer Victor-Larsen. She is rather new to the blog world as well, but is a welcome presence in the sea of DIY’s, food pictures and product reviews. Her blog Hero Search looks to connect every day people with amazing organizations to help do incredible things in our community. From human trafficking to homelessness she is helping people give back in an effective manner by advertising specific needs that organizations have to those who can fill them.