The outpouring of support and celebration from my next step announcement was so wonderfully kindhearted! Thank you, in truthfulness, for everyone who “liked” or commented or texted to share in the unexpected joy of this next adventure. Sincerely, more than you know, it touched me.
In the spirit of transparency, I wanted to share an ugly truth about myself from which God has been kneading (or trying to) the knots out of my character.
I promise I did come to terms a while ago that I cannot please everyone. That I even cannot expect everyone to like me or want to be in my company. Last I checked I’m not chocolate, so how could I possibly please everyone? (mmmm, chocolate…………oh, sorry – back on track…..)
I know this. I know that there will be people who even strongly dislike me. Who, for their own reasons only they know (because mostly, these people do not choose to communicate but instead merely freeze me out) choose to not only distance themselves from me, but actively block me from their lives. Some, who did so without warning and who for years previous, were actually friends.
I actually respect the ability for people to draw their own conclusions. I cannot control the thoughts in minds or the perspectives or even the tongues and what they say in relation to me, either to others or even to myself (of which, I prefer the latter because at least it’s actual communication). I would say that from roughly the age of 24, I finally backed off the foolish notion that if I just tried harder, I could win everyone over. But before that – and yes, even after that a bit longer, just not as frequently – I was a master at what I affectionately call the ‘pretzeling of personality’. Like, PhD type master. So I guess you could say I thought I was chocolate. Even dark chocolate, because that’s obviously the best of all chocolates and that means everyone could fall in love with it, or at minimum, realize it’s greatness and tolerate in short periods of time (which they would then admit it really was amazing and they should have more).
Okay, I know I took the metaphor as far as it will go and now we all want chocolate. So we’ll move on.
[are you eating chocolate yet?]
My point is, that until much later in life than I like to admit – I woke up. I thought I was past the pretzeling (though it’s hard to give up such a proficient skill) at least to age 26 or so.
But then I moved.
Not just towns, not just states. I moved cultures. I moved time zones. I shook it all up for my dream of publishing as a [older] girl right out of college (because I was broke and it took longer than people with…you know….money). I moved to Massachusetts. I say Boston so people have a reference – yet it was Lowell. Chelmsford. (A 45 min train ride on the Lowell line from BOS.) It was greatness.
To seriously fast forward ALL the way to the end – I did not achieve the dream that took me there – getting a job in a publishing firm and learning the business end of editing, marketing and writing. I had interviews, but never got in the door. I don’t regret it at all, because while I didn’t know it at the time, it was my dream that got me to make the move, but God had ideas all along that would have nothing to do with a firm or a medical package with a parking pass.
He planned, instead, to make sure that most if not all the last bit of pretzeling was twisted out of me. Because I would not even be a resident for a week before choosing to choke and sequester the fibers of my true identity and personality.
1. I’m a Southern girl from Texas. Born and raised. In the South (though my friend from Kentucky, who lived in the Boston region where I laid my hat would have many arguments with me that Texas was not Southern. Whatever Ron, I’m still right.) we are open, loud, friendly. We are huggers and touchers and it never has anything to do with hitting on you or trying to date you. It’s universal. It’s cross-gender, equal opportunity affection. It’s hand-shakes and touching shoulders while laughing and hugs to say hello and goodbye. It’s laughing loud at jokes so you know we think you’re funny. And okay – I know that anyone outside of the South would not find it all that charming. So – I actively choose to immediately tone it back. [Side note – the older generations hated the Sir/Ma’am thing. Like, that’s no joke. I offended a few before realizing my deep-ingrained Southern manners of respect had the opposite effect here. Check. Noted. Placed away in a tightly closed box.]
a.) I decided to not initiate hugs unless someone else did first.
b.) I would begin, when first meeting you, smile with my mouth closed or have a short, quieter laugh so as not to startle you.
c.) I tried not to ask too many personal questions. I heard Northerners find this off-putting and insulting/nosy. This was pretty hard because I cannot stand surface friendships that stay that way. I want deep conversation and authentic community where you learn to trust me with your heart and I can trust you with mine.
2. I guarded myself more and didn’t want to let my freak flag fly, in a manner of speaking. Meaning I didn’t let my true personality out.
3. Admittedly, the quieter thing didn’t stick for too long. I would find something actually funny and before I could check it, would burst out laughing in genuine reaction and fellowship. This was not well-received at all, mind you. You may not believe me if I told you the number of times I was actually (and not subtly) shushed. One time physically grabbed too. Eyes would widen and the shush would be direct and the eyes would scan the room because I embarrassed the table or the person or who knows…the waiter?
a.) So back to the drawing board. Punishing myself for letting it slip and feeling two inches tall. Sometimes taking the childish coward full throttle and escaping to the bathroom to breathe deep, shake it off and make the Southern girl be quieter so I could go out there and fit in. Pathetic, right? But I was in a new place now, and I wanted to survive and thrive and have people eventually let me in on their New-England time table. I could wait. So in the meantime, twist – twist – curl – tuck.
I actually didn’t notice too much that anything was really that different. I had made friends almost right away (after the bad first roommate situation and finding the church that would be my home for the length I lived East). They were my age, my stage of life or right in the next. They were hilarious and goofy and interesting and adventurous. I was happy and knew I’d hit the jackpot. They loved games and sports and camping and hiking and cooking and Jesus. They were varied temperaments and personalities and they had all grown up together from scratch. They knew each other their whole lives. I was the last “new” infiltration in probably a decade. Still, they didn’t treat me that way, right away. They let me in and it seemed to go quite well. Many memories and photos and inside jokes can back that up so I know it wasn’t in my head.
Still, one night while camping in the woods, it was over a year later and I looked around and realized – we were still surface. I was brought back to reality in a seemingly abrupt way that I didn’t really know them as individuals and they didn’t know me. It was that night that I felt, for the first time, the difference in culture. Northerners have affection for their family and friends – but they are quiet about it. They don’t ask questions about you because they grow up respecting privacy and space and one just doesn’t invade others’ lives without being invited.
You see how opposite that is from the South, right? Where you can be a stranger first day in, but by nightfall you’ve been invited to 5 houses for dinner and after firsts, and seconds, and sweet tea and pie and ice cream – you’re not allowed to leave or sleep until they know you, your mamma and daddy, your cousins and that Uncle no one talks about.
On the opposite side of the Mason Dixon, each side can take offense to the other. But the Southerns aren’t trying to be demanding or shady or nosy (okay, sometimes Southerns can be nosy – I’ll give you that. But that’s a sub-culture within a culture so try not to clump us all together.), they just sincerely care for you. As in, right away. They see you, and they choose to love you and make you feel loved and welcome the best way they know how – with invitation, food, and conversation. They have a heart for community and fellowship. They have open arms and homes and everyone looks out for each other. Everyone is welcome to be family.
Likewise, what I finally took away from MA at the end is that Northerners aren’t trying to be exclusive to one another. They aren’t trying to freeze you out. They aren’t trying to communicate that you’re not welcome or that they don’t care. They just want to give you the respect of space. Of allowing you to share when you feel like it, because there’s no pressure. You don’t have to say anything about yourself to be welcome. You can be welcome right away. They’ll just be quiet in your company to let you feel comfortable. They’ll talk about the surface things because they’re neutral and safe – like weather and the MA drivers and sports (okay, sometimes New Englanders can be a bit intense about their sports. Sometimes they aren’t welcoming of your contradicting opinion about Tom Brady or the Pats. But that’s a sub-culture within a culture so try not to clump them together).
….I’m trying so hard not to laugh (and failing as I chuckle and type) because it’s quite hilarious! My personal Tom Brady opinions got me into trouble (and an hour long “discussion”) the very first youth trip we all took and it only grew from there. Oh the memories! All in good fun. Plus, I always liked the Red Sox and the Celtics, so I wasn’t too unacceptable in their eyes.
So trying to sum up – I’m a pretzeler of personality in hopes others will like me; I did it constantly most of my life; I moved; I learned a new culture; I tried to stave off any disdain by toning it down; it didn’t work well for long; I didn’t experience much culture shock until about a year in; people show welcome in different ways; Boo Tom Brady and that about brings us to current. [insert wink face here]
I had about nine people who really went past all the b.s. and surface and cared so deeply and effectively for me while living in MA that I never had to question my place in their eyes. To be fair, these nine were constant participants of my life while there, though there are two more very worthy of honorable mention in New Hampshire that went much beyond necessity to actually welcome me as part of their family. Sadly, four of the nine that stayed connected were the only ones I think that really got to see all my true levels, my true self as best I could muster. And oh how they gave me such grace and somehow – miraculously – loved me more because of it. And also to be fair, two of those nine had extensions that were the biggest part of my life and influence and the main two will forever be a reason I am a better human, better daughter, better friend, sister, and child of God. Everyone who knows them….that’s just how you come through their influence. You cannot help but be transformed by their love.
I had a large group of friends while there through the ministry in which I participated, through the church I attended, and the bible studies. We fell into rhythm easily (remember, surface can go a long way in that part of the country and our personalities across the board – while extremely varied – meshed well somehow in the hilariousness that were our encounters). I am thankful for the levels of connection I had with them all. I am absolutely not trying to convey that I only had nine people who mattered to me, or to whom I know I mattered in some way – to the best of their ability. This group was large and in their own ways, loved me as best as they could for as long as they could. Plus, I know that nine is a lot and some people don’t even have that many. So please don’t think I’m being callous or spoiled. I have a point here and I hope you’ll stick with me.
It’s only that there was fallout and, as happens with all human nature, – separation. Because eventually we do have to try harder with one another to maintain relationships. It has to enter into harder seasons the longer we in one anothers’ lives. For some, the difficulty or annoyances or efforts weren’t worth it anymore, and we inevitably drifted apart. I’m also well versed at this part of life. Though only recently, have I ever been the one to walk away after every other avenue was tried to co-exist and reconcile. Mostly it’s me who is left.
But let me make this very clear: I do not blame the leavers.
I understand that I can be too much.
I am loud y’all. No arguing.
I am – putting it a nice way – upbeat and energetic most of the time. Not all of the time, which is hard for the other side too because when I am quieter, people automatically assume that I’m stewing about something or that something is wrong – because I’m not high energy in that moment. That’s not entirely fair to me because I’m human and experience a range of emotions just like everyone else, but not necessarily because a mood changes. Merely because I do. We all do.
I understand that God made me a person who feels the feels. All of them. And that I can feel big. Try having that quality around a culture who does not do anything big except sports!
I definitely don’t regret, anymore, being built this way. Big feelings and all. I’m actually quite thankful He chose to make me that way. Because of that, because of the Spirit working through that – He gave me the gift of empathy. Of having those big feelings transferred from others’ feelings. Being capable of joining them in their moments, with at least a hint of better understanding – because feelings transfer in a way that lets me love others better.
But back to the point, it’s exhausting to know me. I get that. This isn’t sarcasm or self-pity. With a straight face and sincere heart – I know and sincerely understand that I can be tiring.
We are all of us human and messy and nowhere does it say we are all supposed to intersect on the same level or with the same strength of relationship.
That’s an unfair assumption to put on anyone.
Yet I am guilty of doing that more than I care to admit.
Because I feel big and because I care big and love big and welcome – it’s harder to accept when all the people in my life can’t be a big part too. That all people/friendships, aren’t meant nor created to be as deep as all others. As intimate or exhortative (I may have made that word up). That sometimes (most times) I need to accept that any piece or season or minute or portion of interaction with another person is an equal honor and gift. It’s an equal experience of learning and strengthening. Even the bad experiences – the ones that leave us shaken and temporarily empty – these, too, are for our good.
Rejection gets to me. Slices deep and separates tissue and leaves a permanent mark. Side effect of the caring-big part.
I wish it wouldn’t.
Because then I could spend less time terrified of being the reason more people leave (and the temptation to pick up the old habit of twist, twist, curl, tuck) and spend more time taking the good and leaving the bad behind. Taking the ways I could positively grow from said experience – how I could repent from any of my sin or behavior (because the Spirit is working in me, not because a human didn’t like it).
Allowing myself to feel pain if hurt, but to feel it for its time (Ecclesiastes) and then to give it away to He who carried it for the last time. To then walk away and experience the next part of life. Be present for the next moment, and the next. To welcome His sharpening from iron, his sanctification from cleansing so that from one degree of glory to the next – I am a reflection not of my faults, but of His freedom.
It didn’t take long to drift away from the people I cared for once I moved away. I initiated each time and eventually, it just naturally died down I suppose. I miss that time and can look on it now with more thankfulness and less hurt. There are some who stopped talking to me long ago. There is even one who blocked completely and actively chose to shut me out of life. I’ll never know why because it came without word or reason. I have tried to reconcile with this person, but there somehow must have been a bridge burned so badly that it will never be rebuilt.
Things happen in my life and I no longer hear any reaction or shared joy or sorrow – save from three or so of the nine (though two more would, undoubtedly, they just aren’t on social media).
I can, but I won’t, be the fool who says I don’t feel it all anymore, when those acts of willful ignoring happen. (The most recent and very big event in my life was noticed only by three people who I met while living there. All very thoughtful and appreciated. One, particularly kind because we never got close, but she was always genuine – which I highly valued.)
I am still hurt a little each time. But oh it is so, so very much less! It does not destroy me anymore. I don’t give it too much time to sit, though I know any time is too long – for my approval is not from man but from Maker and that was won before my birth and will never wane. No matter how loud my laugh or personality.
That is the effect of freedom.
I am me – and there is no fallout.
My job in this life – that I understand far better now than I did in my twenties – is to love regardless of reciprocation. I can only control myself.
That is my sin, when I withhold. Not yours. No matter what you choose to do to me or how you act towards me. Even if I am cut off.
Willfully and with effort remove me from your life – my job is still to love you. From afar, now. But love you I am called to do. Without bitterness, without entitlement, without argument.
That is the only part in my control. And not only that, He commands it of me.
Separation is sometimes the most honoring move for both parties. Sometimes the wisest choice is to say goodbye. Toxicity in relationships will help no one. So whether you are the only one that feels that occurring, or if it’s mutual, there is the act of love in itself, to say goodbye. In my opinion – use your words instead of sliding away into the dark. Yet that will be my choice, and you may have yours. Regardless, I do see the validation in some instances. I don’t see it as contradictory to His will or word – as long as it is handled in respect, genuine grace and sincere love – but as long as you’re seeking His movement, not your own, purely on emotion.
I will learn every second of my life, something new. Something that will make me a better person. People will step in and out – for seasons or for lifetimes. Each one will teach me something new. I will lean in and listen. I will engage and I will try my hardest to be myself without mask or filter. Because as Mother Teresa pointed out, it was never between me and them anyway. My grace is from God. My wholeness is firm. My completion is made. My sin is wiped away.