Letter #685: Initiating Community

img_2203Dear ‘community,’

I was in a wedding a couple weekends ago. It was one of those weddings you genuinely looked forward to and nearly knew every attendee. What a joy to be a part of!

As I chatted, and let’s be honest danced, my way through the reception, nearly every conversation came back to you. “Nobody prepares you for life after college.” “Making friends is hard.” “I’ve been in my city for a year and I’m just now starting to break through in some authentic relationships.” “I’ll never have community like I had in college.”

This got me thinking. You really can be challenging. I began assessing my own life in this area. I’m 29 and live in Branson, the “Mecca of the Elderly” as I endearingly call it, where three months of my year are spent at summer camp where 97% of the people I interact with are 12-14 or 19-23. Nearly three more months are spent traveling in a 15-passenger van recruiting college students to come work at camp, where I am typically in a city for less than 24 hours at a time. My life is inconsistent and my friends literally come from all walks of life: older, younger, engaged, married, single, with children and without, some who live near and other who live really stinking far. I’ve also grown immensely in knowing how to be alone and have learned to find contentment in solitude.

I give you my current life resume not to elicit sympathy, but rather to create credibility in what I have to say next. Community hasn’t been something that was handed to me. Rather, it’s been something I’ve learned about because it hasn’t been easy.

Reality check: college dorms, Greek houses and summer camps are not real life. Having hundreds, even thousands, of people at your fingertips in your same life stage to be friends with is a thing of the past. This will never happen again. Enjoy it while it lasts, create lifelong friendships with the people you get the privilege of doing these seasons with and work to keep up with them after, but don’t live in a dream world that this is normal. These relationships matter and can be ‘your people’ forever. But we can’t just have friends from the past or friends that live hours away. We must have you in the flesh and in our daily.

I’ve either been one or worked with college students for the last 11 years of my life, and I don’t think a single one I worked with was ready for what comes with graduation. Sure there is a learning curve concerning life skills, bills, retirement funds and insurance, but I’m simply talking relationships. Nobody prepares you for the dramatic shift that happens in forming you in a totally new way. Co-workers and neighbors come from every life stage. Intramurals, coke dates and socials/mixers are no longer handed to you. And if you’re brave enough to move to a new place entirely, there aren’t many mutual friends or connections to count on. Every coffee shop you enter, church service you attend, restaurant you dine in, or catch happy hour you catch is basically a cold call. You must initiate. Make the first move, there are no promises anybody else will.

You must be fought for. But what does that actually mean? I’ve decided it means three things:

  1. Change expectations: Friends are going to be different than you now. Stop thinking they can only be in your life stage. Single? You can have friends who are young and married, married with kids, single parents and even people who are decades older than you. Married? With kids? The same is true for you. You can, and I’ll even go as far as saying, you need to make friends outside of your life stage and comfort zone. People different than you make you better.
  2. Be an initiator: Nobody is coming to your front door with cookies, a dinner invite and an envelope with a letter inside asking to be their friend. This might happen, but chances aren’t good. Step up and invite someone you think has potential to be a friend to coffee or a meal. Everybody has to eat…and this is not strange. Everybody is looking for friends. Friendship has to start somewhere. Don’t be afraid to take the lead.
  3. Get creative: You’ve gone from thousands of people at your fingertips to maybe 20-100 you see on a regular basis. The girl working out at the gym you see three times a week, engage with her. The barista you order from who is near your age, talk to him. Get involved in something to open up an opportunity to meet people. The day of walking downstairs in your sorority house where 100 potential friends live to find people to hang out with is over. Think outside the box and engage with people…I think you’ll be surprised by what happens!

I have great friends, but it’s only because I’ve worked for it. And these three things have played a significant role in the process. I’m incredibly thankful for friends I’ve had for years, but I also know that as people come and go I’m going to have to continue to fight for new ones who can do life with me in the flesh.

Community has become a buzzword in our culture especially in Christian circles. I think most would say they want it, but are we willing to step up and create it? I don’t just want people to hang out with, but it has to start here. I want people to do life with. People who will celebrate the highs and mourn the lows. People who will walk through the best and worst of times with me. People who are for my good no matter how hard the conversations have to be in order to communicate truth. This is true community.

But this doesn’t just happen. You have to work for it. You have to lead with vulnerability. And it starts with finding people you can just hang out with. Then that has to transition into conversation of significance. But it all starts with you making the ask, “Hey, would you like to grab breakfast?” Odds are, they’re looking for friends too. They just weren’t brave enough to ask.

Don’t be afraid to ask,

Lindsay

Letter #628: Wicked Good

wicked

Dear Wicked,

I’ve been hoping to see you for years. I’ve heard countless people recount your goodness and watched endless middle school girls perform makeovers on their counselors to “Popular.” I knew a bit of your storyline and your major songs, but for the most part I didn’t know what I was walking into. When I heard you were in OKC, I jumped at my chance to see you.

And you did NOT disappoint! You were unbelievable, or as I like to say, you were wicked good! Like I didn’t check my phone for three hours good. But you are more than a good show.

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Wicked with Brooke in OKC!

When I was in college, I did the Greek thing. Not the stereotypical sorority girl, I know. My time in the Kappa Delta house was eventful, fun, hard, formative, stretching, encouraging and more. I wouldn’t trade those four years for the world.

My junior year some far more talented members than I revamped our recruitment songs. If you’re not familiar with sororities, potential members go through a weeklong selection process called recruitment, aka rush. Each day gets a little more serious as houses display their personalities and why one would want to pledge there. Probably not the best explanation, but you get the point.

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Initiation and pref day whites! My Kappa Delta family: Kayla (my big), Mika (my little), Hannah (my grand little)!

Pref day is the last day, right before bid day where house destination is finalized. All stops are removed as each house tries to show its’ heart and depth of sisterhood one last time. Honestly, it turns into one giant cry fest because hormones are raging, nobody’s seen a boy in weeks (literally) and people are just stressed out and exhausted.

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The craziness of Bid Day 2007, sophomore year.

At Kappa Delta, all members wore white and stood in a giant circle around the seated recruits. A few girls read letters about the role this sisterhood had played in her life. This all sounds super sappy, and it is, but in the moment some of your best friends are sharing deep stuff. It’s emotional and does a great job painting a picture of what recruits could be a part of. The spoken words were intertwined with songs. Not just any songs, the kind you can’t hear without shedding tears. Remember, sleep and testosterone had been VERY limited!

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Kappa Delta Bid Day, “Luck Be A Kaydee!” Some of my pledge sisters and I junior year…what a fun crew!! I was the New Member Educator/Pledge Trainer this year…loved that job lots!

As I was saying, my junior year some songs changed. We added your song “For Good“ to the mix. Hello tearjerker! It’s your song that ties your whole show together because your audience is so enthralled in the storyline of Glinda and Elphaba. But for me, it’s bigger than that. I can’t hear “For Good” without getting taken back to my college days and the women who changed me “for good.’

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Dear college friends Caitlin, Bria, Vanessa and I at Bria’s wedding summer 2012.

But it’s even bigger than that. Every time I hear this song, I can’t help but think about how many people I have been blessed to do life with in every stage. In a world where friends, true friends, seem to be more and more scarce, I am simply overwhelmed with thankfulness.

“Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? But because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without the impact of the people surrounding me. From my competitive sports’ teams to college sorority days to my crazy days at Kanakuk Kamps, I am beyond grateful for the people who have impacted and changed me “for good.’ I have a LONG way to go, but you’ve helped in the process of where I’ve come thus far.

You were a great show, but you were also a great reminder of the importance of community. And not just any community, but friends that make us better. That change us “for good.’

Who’s helping you change for the better and ultimately for good?

Wicked recommender and advocate of solid community in our lives

Letter #159: The Finest of Fellowship

Dear fellowship,

I had no idea how exciting and vital of a role you play in life. The early church was centered around you, and I don’t think I ever understood exactly what that looked like. There’s absolutely nothing compared to you happening among 11 believers at a lakehouse…ok, I’m sure there’s something, but it was dang good. Eleven of my friends from the Kanakuk Institute spent the weekend together, and I’m not sure anything else could’ve been better for my soul.

I experienced more of what the church was intended to be last year with my Institute class than I’ve ever experienced elsewhere. We experienced you in deep ways. We ate together, prayed together, learned from great teaching and the Word together, laughed and played together, cried and mourned together. Seventy of us were unknowingly brought together and became the closest thing I’ve ever seen to an Acts 2:42 church. We did life together and that is what I think God intended.

Transitioning from college where you’re surrounded by people your same age constantly is interesting. Real life hits you in the face, and you realize there’s more out there than 18-24 year olds. Intentionality is required to make friends. It doesn’t just happen like it did in Comp II and the sorority house. I transitioned from college directly into another bubble. This time surrounded by 69 like-minded classmates ranging from 22-30 years of age, all believers in Christ as Savior and Lord, most wanting to learn and grow in biblical knowledge. We were all in the same boat…define what I truly believe, figure out what life looks like post Institute and have fun in the midst of it. Boy, did we have fun!

So, my transition happened after my “5th year’ which just happened to be on a tropical island in Branson rather than in Stillwater. After being surrounded by instant friendships for 23 years of my life, I must now work at finding friends. I have to seek people out because I don’t live in a sorority or dorm with them anymore. Having you has become more of a challenge than something I simply take for granted. Add in that with traveling and camp I’m not even in Branson but half the time I should be, and it’s tough. Growing up is a process, and it’s bigger than learning to be financially independent.

Back to the weekend. I never dreamed I’d become such great friends with people in just eight months. The group at the lake this weekend literally only spent eight months together at the Institute, yet 11 months later we walk into a room and it’s as if we’ve known each other for years. Conversation is instant and incessant. People genuinely care and ask great questions. Struggles and challenges are shared. Lessons are learned simply from listening to friends. You happened. Bread was broken and prayers were prayed. I may not have attended a physical church on Sunday, but the 11 of us were the church.

I’m more thankful for you than I’ve ever been. I’m thankful for friends. I’m more thankful for the body of Christ than ever before. I pray you can be achieved whenever believers come together. I pray you are found not just in my life, but in the lives of my readers as well.

Thankful for encouragement and for being challenged this weekend,

Advocate of believers coming together as the church