Deanaland

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Starting Points

Yet we cannot accumulate friends like so many trophies. Friends are not objects to be found and collected. Our calling isn’t so much to find friends as to become friends to others. I am not even sure it is possible to “find” friends. Instead, we befriend others, and in the befriending, worthy companions are mysteriously born. As imitators of Jesus we are here to grant to others the gifts of safety, attentiveness, compassion, empathy, accountability, truth-telling, loyalty, distance, time, forgiveness, spiritual care, and selfless love. In offering such graces to others, friendships emerge. - from Pilgrim Heart by Darryl Tippens


On one level, I'm right on board with this concept. Darryl Tippens (my former professor and elder) puts into words a process that I've believed in most of my life.

I've never viewed friendships as something to be collected. I've never had more than a couple of close friends at any time in my life. (I understand this is consistent with my astrological sign. Not that I believe in that crap.) I never tried breaking in to the popular crowd in high school. I didn't pledge a social club/sorority in college. If a relationship can't develop naturally, as described above, I'm going to move on to something else. I don't believe in trying to break into tight social circles. It’s just not me.

When I think of the significant friendships I’ve had in my life, they all involved a starting point. When I moved to a new school in first grade, a girl overheard a boy being rude to me. She didn’t think that was right and she decided to be my friend. Lori and I were inseparable through that year, 2nd grade and even after my family moved away in 3rd grade. She’s now my Facebook friend and I’m continually amazed at all the things we still have in common, despite the fact that we haven’t seen each other since I last visited her in high school. (I'm the one with the broken arm in the photo.)

Then there’s my bff Carol. She’s the kind of person I probably would not have been friends with in high school. But we met a few months after high school, when we were just starting college. The same weird guy liked both of us at the beginning of that year and it gave us something to laugh about. We’ve stayed friends for years and she’s the one I can talk to about anything. We rarely miss a week of talking on the phone – even though we haven’t lived in the same town since 1993. (That's the two of us at the U2 concert in Dallas two months ago.)


And there’s Lois, probably my most unlikely friend. We were born a half-century apart, for heaven’s sake. When I first walked in to Missouri St. Church of Christ in Baytown nine years ago as a young mom and minister’s wife, I didn’t think “She’s my kindred spirit” the first time I met her. I just thought of her as one of the elders’ wives. Then I organized a weekly moms’ group at church and asked her to be our speaker at one of the meetings. We had been having decent attendance at those things but on Lois’s day to speak, no other moms showed up. Lois and I sat and talked for an hour. We connected on a level that our age difference simply could not touch. Six years later, at our going-away party, she described it like this: “I forgot how young Deana was and she forgot how old I was and we just became friends.” But didn’t the space between our ages cause us to be too different? People have asked me that. Let’s see. Here’s the only difference I can think of. I read about the impact of World War II on American culture and society in my high school history book. Lois lived it. And to me, that made her even more interesting. So the age thing didn’t matter. In fact, I think it made us better friends. Lois was a librarian for years and one thing we share is a love of books. I told her when we moved away that our friendship reminded me of that of Anne’s and Diana’s in Anne of Green Gables. Two kindred spirits with completely different backgrounds who came together and connected on a truly unique level.

All of these relationships had what relationships must have to form: a starting point. If Lori hadn’t cared that Daniel was rude to me, or if Carol (who went to college in the same town she had gone to high school in) was content to stay with her high school friends and not let anyone else in, or if 15 moms had shown up at that meeting and Lois and I never got to talk that day, those three women would be distant memories, if that. Instead, they each hold cherished places in my heart. Because we extended starting points to each other. I wasn’t looking for a new best friend when I met any of these people. It just happened, as the Tippens’ book describes.

Same Kind of Different as Me, a book I just finished reading, illustrates this concept beautifully. Two men who were worlds apart in every aspect of their lives came together and one extended his hand to the other. It was a reluctant hand, but it counted. Their resulting friendship went on to bless both men in ways neither of them could have envisioned.

Having moved around a lot, I’ve become something of a pro at showing up somewhere and making friends. At least I thought I had. What I’ve learned is that the older you get, starting points are harder to find. Someone who hasn’t moved to a new place in their mid- to late-30s may not understand this, but it’s true. Because of time constraints, busyness and life in general, or maybe just because existing relationships are too comfortable, people get more stingy with their starting points. This is what I think the paragraph from Dr. Tippens’ book doesn’t quite grasp. You can be a friend to others all you want, but if they are not offering you a starting point, you will get nowhere. You’ll end up sitting on the couch for three New Year’s Eves in a row, staring at Dick Clark and Ryan Seacrest and trying to figure out why, after a lifetime of having had at least a couple of friends everywhere you had lived, you have suddenly gained citizenship on the Island of Misfit Toys.

Starting points aren’t always the springboard for some match-made-in-heaven relationship. There have been times that I’ve found myself at a starting point with someone that needs to be an ending point. I’m a big believer in people having boundaries and protecting themselves from relationships that could be unhealthy and exhausting. But can’t there be a middle ground between trying to be friends with everyone (which will wear you out) and shutting everyone out (which could make you the Unabomber)?

I can see why it could be more comfortable to just pull up the welcome mat and become the embodiment of that Emily Dickinson poem (“The soul selects her own society – then – shuts the door…”), but I just don’t interpret that as being Jesus to others.

We could leave the welcome mat out there and see what happens. I’m willing to see what happens.

12 Comments:

  • At Wed Dec 16, 09:42:00 AM, Anonymous Linda said…

    Haven't commented in a while...Not sure what to say about this brilliant post...this is my favorite part, " I’m a big believer in people having boundaries and protecting themselves from relationships that could be unhealthy and exhausting. But can’t there be a middle ground between trying to be friends with everyone (which will wear you out) and shutting everyone out (which could make you the Unabomber)? "

    Frohe Weihnachten

     
  • At Wed Dec 16, 10:23:00 AM, Blogger Lana Clifton said…

    Deana, I agree 100%. I also can look back on my best friends over the years and see those starting points. Many times it was because one of us did something to help the other, but the reason for doing it was not some scheme to make a friend, that just ended up being the result. I recently told my kids I would rather them have one or two best friends than 20 friends they couldn't rely on. I added that sometimes all we have is God, and that can be hard sometimes. I have not been above praying for a friend, but when my prayer was answered it was rarely where I thought it would be. Anyway, this was really good.

     
  • At Wed Dec 16, 01:17:00 PM, Anonymous Chad said…

    "As imitators of Jesus we are here to grant to others the gifts of safety, attentiveness, compassion, empathy, accountability, truth-telling, loyalty, distance, time, forgiveness, spiritual care, and selfless love. In offering such graces to others, friendships emerge."

    I have to be willing to grant the gifts mentioned above. I confess that I'm not good at that all the time (probably most of the time), especially when I know it may be difficult or draining. I tend to grant those gifts more readily when others do so to me.

     
  • At Wed Dec 16, 02:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Deana, very interesting perspective and I truly understand the difficulty of starting over in a new place - happened to me in my 50's for Pete's Sake! I think you have been a facilitator for 'starting points' with the movie nights and shopping trips you plan for the LRC Women. Jesus is honored by that gift to us from you! I'm also navigating new relationships and wondering when and if those will emerge as friendships. Thanks for addressing the elephant in the room......

    Jeannie

     
  • At Wed Dec 16, 05:44:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great post Deana. It is definitely harder to make new friends when you move as an adult. We have lived in 5 different places in 20 years of marriage. We have friends in various places now, but it is just not the same as the life my parents lived (they were in the same house for almost 50 years and had many lifelong friends).

    --Mary Lou in Charlotte

     
  • At Thu Dec 17, 08:14:00 AM, Blogger Jodi said…

    Hi Deana,
    Thank you for mentioning "Same Kind of Different as Me" in your post! I work with Thomas Nelson, and we would love to follow your blog and hear what readers think of this exciting book. I also want to let you know that Ron and Denver have just released a new book "What Difference Do It Make?" which updates readers on their activity since the first book came out. Please contact me with your mailing address if you are interested in receiving a complimentary copy of the new book for review on your site at your convenience.

    Thanks!

    Jodi Hughes
    pubintern@thomasnelson.com

     
  • At Thu Dec 17, 01:45:00 PM, Blogger Laura said…

    Deana, I read your blog a lot and have to say that it speaks to me more often than I've let you know (which is never, actually). But I have just spent a semester in Italy and this entry speaks more to me right now than you could know. I came here not knowing anyone and, after 22 years of being the worst at making and keeping friends, the circumstances and experiences of spending a semester abroad with some really great people has left me with more friends for life than I can count. I am so glad that you write this blog. Keep 'em coming. (Also, when I get home on the 21st you should come share a glass of wine at the Garner house. I'm not really giving you a choice. Come.)

     
  • At Sat Dec 19, 09:07:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Deana,
    We can relate very well to how you are feeling. We suspect that your lack of relationships has nothing to do with you, but rather those you find around you because of Chad's ministry.
    Perhaps the reason is they are a fellowship of mostly very long-term relationships and families with little room on their plates for more. Very difficult for them to add more relationships in their lives and impossible for you to break in. You probably need to look elsewhere for the friendships you seek.

     
  • At Sat Dec 19, 09:56:00 AM, Blogger Deana Nall said…

    Reply to the last comment -- I did figure that out some time ago. I've never not had a church family before so it was quite an adjustment to make. I should say that in the past several months, a few people have come out of the woodwork, both in and out of church, who have been wonderful blessings to me.

     
  • At Mon Dec 21, 11:50:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Deana,

    I needed this today more than you could know. Thank you for sharing your authentic journey with us.

     
  • At Fri Jan 01, 12:29:00 PM, Blogger Karen said…

    I've been in the middle of a move and not had time to comment before, but I wanted to let you know how much I identified with the feelings you expressed in this post. For the last 20 years, we've been a military family and I've had too many relationships begin and end (and a few that have managed to weather the moves). Here I am beginning all over again, at least this time with the expectation that I won't be moving away.

    In the past, I've experienced the struggles of trying to find where I fit in, and feeling like everyone already had all the friends they wanted and weren't interested in one more.

    I'm all for finding that middle ground. Let's hope I can meet some folks here in our new home that are, too.

     
  • At Sun Jan 03, 09:32:00 PM, Blogger Liane Jerry said…

    "What I’ve learned is that the older you get, starting points are harder to find...Because of time constraints, busyness and life in general, or maybe just because existing relationships are too comfortable, people get more stingy with their starting points...You can be a friend to others all you want, but if they are not offering you a starting point, you will get nowhere... trying to figure out why, after a lifetime of having had at least a couple of friends everywhere you had lived, you have suddenly gained citizenship on the Island of Misfit Toys."

    Beautifully said and it brings tears to my eyes everytime I read it. Please forgive the tiny edit, Deana. I hope I got the grammer right.
    I moved in my 40's. I left my job, home, state, family and friends and started life as a married women. And here I sit with the above paragraph reverberating throughout my being. Just how did I manage to land on the Island of Misfit Toys? Sigh...
    I have never had this struggle before. I am a good friend. I am loyal and truthful and trustworthy and I wonder-what do people see when they look at me?
    And then I wonder, if like Chad noted, that I only want to consider people who can give to me and not those who might be needy? And then I wonder if I'm the one that is needy. I do know that I am terribly lonely and really don't feel like I fit in. Perhaps the Island of Misfit Toys wouldn't be so bad if I could make friends with the other misfits.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Deana. This one really struck a chord.

     

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