As a kid it seems so easy to make friends. You play with each other, talk, exchange stories, or share toys and voila! You’ve made a friend. On my first day of grade 1 in Seattle, Wa., I was nervous about going to school. Being a new kid, my first time in the states, it was scary and intimidating. My dad told me that my goal for the first day was to make one friend. Just one friend. And I did.
Standing in line to get into our classroom, I talked to the girl in front of me. I said hi and we hit it off. We played together at recess and when it was time to go home, we waved goodbye as our parents picked us up. When I got home, my dad asked if I made a friend and he asked me her name. I didn’t know her name but I made a friend.
It seems so easy as a kid, doesn’t it?
But as an adult, it can be tough to make friends. The process takes longer, it can be awkward, vulnerable, and you have to really put yourself out there. (SCARY!) One of my toughest experiences with making friends was in 9th grade. I was in a rough place when we came from Papua New Guinea to Seattle for a year furlough. I was headed to a full fledge American high school. Crazy, terrifying, and did I say terrifying? I was closed off and felt out of place. I grew up running around barefoot, sliding down muddy mountains in the rain, and a diehard fan of rugby. Nothing about me was similar to the people that I would meet at my new high school. At least that’s what I convinced myself.
For most of my freshman year, I had one friend. She was a wonderful friend. We ate lunch together, sat together in all our classes. But I hid myself. I hid from her and from everyone in my classes. I hid behind shyness and fear, worried that if she or anyone else saw me, they would not accept me. I hid and decided it was okay, because I was only there for a year, and I’d have to move back.
We moved back to Papua New Guinea (PNG) for grades 10-12 and I shipped off to boarding school. It was an 1 hour and 40 minute plane ride (a small Cessna 206) to a Wycliffe Bible Translator’s missionary compound. I lived in a hostel (dorm) with other kids whose parents were in other parts of the country, and my whole school of grades 7-12 was less than 150 students. My community, was built in and set up for me. This made it easier to make deep lasting connections. Connections that last to this day.
But like most of my life, the season ended and I moved yet again and had to start fresh. I moved to central Pennsylvania to attend Messiah College. I was worried about making friends and finding real connections again. All my past experiences in the U.S had left me feeling isolated and alone, because I felt like “other”. This time was different. I was fortunate to make lifelong friends amongst the international student community. Again I found deep connections, and felt a sense of belonging.
Showing up or shutting out
But making and keeping friends post-college was tough. A demanding job that I loved, a boyfriend that I was just getting to know, friends moving all over the country and world. I didn’t realize how tough it would be to keep current friendships thriving and create new ones when you don’t have a close-knit community like a college campus, or a literal fenced-in missionary base.
Somewhere along the journey, I realized that I reverted back to my ninth grade mindset. Worried that if I showed up in my relationships and friendships, that I would not be accepted. If anyone saw me for me, well, I just wouldn’t let them see me. And eventually I would move again or relocate like I had for the previous 21 years of my life.
But year one post-college went by, then two, then three and I’m still living in central Pa. with a husband that I love, with some college friends that stayed in the area and a realization in April 2020 that I was a chameleon, blending into my surroundings. Only showcasing the parts of me that fit in with the people I rubbed shoulders with. And that blending turned into slowing fading and withering into someone that could not be known.
But that was a lie that I had told myself my whole life. To stay safe, painfully safe – It was easier to shut out than to show up.
Life Gets in the way
In the “adult life” world, at least in the U.S., you have to schedule dinner or coffee dates to see friends. It’s hard to stop by and just hang out. “Life gets in the way” or “I’m just too busy” or “too tired” – all excuses I used with myself as weeks and sometimes months went by without seeing my friends.
But how does life get in the way of connection? Of friendships? Life is connection. Life is relationships. Without it? I don’t think it makes us human.
Humans desire deep connection to others but yet we find ourselves alone and isolated from the very thing that gives us life. We use the self-check out lines at stores because it’s easier than small talk with a cashier. It’s easier to watch tv (my favorite pastime by the way) than to engage in conversations. And we stay confined to home, work, and back again. I did all these things. And a year went by, and another, and another. Life just got in the way. Right?
After my awakening, as I’ll call it. I have a deep desire to be known and accepted. To have friendships flourish. To connect with a stranger, cause Corona (Covid-19). Real connections with people isn’t easy, its not a science or an inherited gift. It’s something that has to be toiled over with blood and sweat and grit.
I am a person of faith and I now realize that no matter how hard I try to shut out people or show up to people, I can’t be fully known. I believe that only God, knows all of me, all of you. Our goods, our bads, our hurts, our pains, and He loves all of it.
And we can get glimpses of that beautiful gift by letting in people, making real connections and friendships. My deep desire is to making real connections, not to make one friend or 30, but to seen, heard, and loved. I don’t want to be a chameleon, that blends into the background. I don’t want to hide parts of me that are weird and quirky and probably pretty darn cool.
And I hope you don’t either!
I want to leave you with this song, Known by Tauren Wells. This is my desire for myself and for you. I’m trying to love my dirty, muddy barefoot, rugby loving self.