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 #214: Dancin’ in Branson

Dear Branson,

You sure did show off this weekend! Flooded walking trails and camp. Rainy, damp and cold. You brought out your A-game! Regardless of your flaws, you provided the best weekend for reuniting friends!

Bria, one of my best friends from college and life, flew in from Memphis on Friday for our first legitimate weekend to hang out since college. It wouldn’t have mattered if it was -10 degrees and snowing, we would have made the most out of you. Friday night, we went to a local favorite, Danna’s barbecue, for dinner. Then, Bria was a trooper and spent hours at an engagement party with me where she knew nobody. Now this is a good friend! She did get a glimpse into the community I live in and is now convinced I live in a village…gotta love the K-World! Late night conversation just like old times ended the night…if only we’d have had two twin beds in the same room like our days in the annex?!

Saturday, Bria finally got her first experience of Kanakuk and you. Because of the flooding we didn’t venture out to K-West, but we walked through the Branson camps. I told way too many camp and Institute stories, and she graciously listened as I shared one of my favorite aspects of my life. I think she might understand me a little better after six years of camp!

The afternoon began with Rubylena’s Tea Room. Love this place, but girls, it’s not really a boy kind of place…there were only woman and we were the youngest people by decades! Of course we had to hit the outlets, but not without driving down the Strip! We got tons of laughs from the eccentric nature of you. Highlights: indoor waterpark and the amount of go-cart tracks, the ridiculously large number of tattoo joints, King Kong on the Wax Museum and our newest restaurant with the largest chicken in the world! Again, Bria finally understands the reality of my stories!

Saturday evening, in my opinion, is the epitome of a night on the town…remember it’s Branson! Pizza by the Chef, the best pizza, and Noah the musical…it just doesn’t get any better! Bria was impressed with her first, and hopefully only the beginning, of your shows! Noah really is solid. Visually stunning. Quality talent. Theologically sound. Live animals! I’d recommend it for sure!

In front of the theater...

You were dreary on Sunday, but we made the most of you. A little church, Starbucks, Chili’s to watch the Thunder game (rough showing), Branson Landing (the water’s receding!!!) and a trip to Harrison, AR in the midst of a storm to Seaport Airlines made for a great day…8 passenger plane in a storm?! She made it alive, and I guess we can’t really complain for the $100 roundtrip flight you provide!

All in all, you were a blast. We probably could’ve sat at a Starbucks’ table the entire three days and still had fun. We were just excited to be in the same place, laugh a ton and have great conversation. Bria, thanks for coming…Can’t wait for my Memphis debut! Seaport Airlines, thanks for cheap flights! Friendship, thanks for lasting a lifetime if we work at you.

You’re a funny place to show off, but I love ya,

Thankful for solid friendship

Letter #176: First Impressions

Dear first impressions,

You are funny. I laugh how many of you I’ve pegged 100% correct and how many I’ve misjudged giving me a number closer to OSU’s field goal percentage this season…terrible! Few things in life give us one shot, but you’re one of them.

Several “firsts’ happen in life, but most we get to try again, practice and learn from. For example: First steps…we’re so good at walking now people are inventing things like the two-step and c-walk! First time tasting candy… experimenting as time goes on is a must! First kiss…hopefully SO much more to look forward to!

Sure, we can’t get back our very first times, but we get to practice most of them for the rest of our lives. However, concerning you, entire futures could be altered. A great one of you happens and a dear friendship could be formed. Heck, obviously, a poor one of you could happen and a great friendship could still be formed based on yesterday’s post! But, what if you’re so bad there’s no second chance, no reason to interact with someone again? Paths could never cross. Reputations could be tainted. Futures could realistically be altered from one encounter.

So, I ponder you. I laughed a ton at Ashley’s post about you yesterday. She nailed it when she said, “Lindsay wasn’t, and isn’t, one of those over-the-top, friendly, warm personalities at first.” I’m just not. Sweet Mama Roth’s told me for years that I intimidate the boys maybe explaining me being boyfriendless. Who knows, maybe she’s onto something?! I’ve been told time and again people were intimidated by me in the beginning, but once they get to know me they laugh about why.

Truth of the matter, I’ll never be the bubbly, loving, warm, over-the-top girl upon meeting (hmmm…maybe ever:)). I’ll definitely give a strong handshake, look in the eye and be kind or at least cordial. I’ll shoot a person straight. With me, what’s seen is what’s true and received. I’ll do my best to never be rude, but I look forward to the opportunity to dig into lives rather than have obnoxious small talk. I’m the girl that’s going to come alongside and get to know someone really well and remain loyal for a long time, but I’ll never be the girl described as sweet.

I don’t believe all intimidation is negative. A little bit’s fine, but I wonder how many people I’ve “intimidated’ and never had the opportunity to share my “sweet’ side with?! Today, I laugh how many of my friendships have formed with intimidation at the helm, but I also wonder how many of you I’ve blown. Today, I’m reminded to wholly embrace who I am and how the Lord’s wired me, but I’m also challenged to value you more than ever before.

You’re a first we never get back while having the ability to change the future,

Intimidating with you, Loyal to the end

Letter #175: Guest Post-First Impressions

***During a phone conversation on a snow day, I flippantly joked with my dear friend, Ashley Nick, that she should take advantage of all her free time as a Dallas teacher with no school and write a guest blog post. This is the result!***

Dear first impressions,

Boy, you are deceiving! When I met Lindsay Rother 20 months ago, you entailed this: “this girl is intimidating! Since then, I’ve learned I was not alone thinking this and others have had the same tale as I. Lindsay wasn’t, and isn’t, one of those over-the-top, friendly, warm personalities at first. I would’ve never guessed we would become great friends after our initial encounter. I also would’ve never guessed this girl would be a lover of the dance floor and all Lady GaGa music. Who knew?!

We worked together at K-West Summer 2009 knowing we’d both be attending the Kanakuk Institute in the fall, but neither of us spent any energy getting to know one another. My embarrassing, epic fail reciting of the theme song of “Trading Spaces” resulted in Lindsay’s new nickname, Lindsay “Move that Bus” Rother, but other than that, we were virtually out of each other’s worlds.

When time came to move my life to Missouri, for some reason, this intimidating, athletic, kamp girl offered to put me up for the night in Oklahoma to break up my drive. Despite intimidation, I didn’t want to drive eight hours straight by myself, so I accepted. I found myself welcomed by Mama and Papa Roth and even Lindsay turned out to be nice! 🙂

We settled into our Hawaiian oasis in Shady B at the Kanakuk Institute, and I found myself actually becoming great friends with Lindsay “Intimidation” Rother. I was surprised and thankful. I even found we were great travel buddies when we were roommates in Israel. She even “came to my aid” (a.k.a. slept through the whole thing) when I got sick in Jerusalem. To her defense, I didn’t wake her up, but I still like to give her a hard time about it.

 

Camel riding: what an adventure! Lindsay is still annoyed her camel seat was so low and awkward.

My favorite trip with Lindsay was our Institute class cruise. This is when I saw her true colors: Lindsay, the Lady GaGa loving, dancing machine. Forty-four of us spent most nights “closin’ down the club’ on the ship. Lindsay coined this phrase, and it stuck (all the way to Lampe, MO Summer 2010). Blog readers, if you haven’t had the privilege of witnessing Linds bust out her best moves, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t ask her to next time you see her.

Her most famous moves are the “airplane arms,” “parting the crowd” and the ever so popular “fist swivel.” I have to say, Lindsay singing “Rama Ramama Rama Ramama GaGa Oooh La La” can be a bit frightening (as when Lady GaGa does), but SO hilarious. I can’t hear a GaGa song today without thinking of Lindsay’s “closin’ down the club’ moves. The best part was when she taught a group of 10 year old girls her moves through glass windows. Kids weren’t allowed in the club, but this didn’t stop Lindsay from finding apprentices. She’d do a dance move, then the girls would copy. They couldn’t get enough of her. They loved her impeccable dancing abilities and the whole situation was just hilarious to watch.

On the southern steps of Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Flashback to my you of Lindsay: Intimidation. I would’ve never guessed we’d become travel buddies, dance floor dominators or dear friends, but it happened.  I’m thankful you are often deceiving and that things turned out differently than I first imagined. Not only is Lindsay a lover of the dance floor, but she’s a lover of the Lord, intentional, wise, encouraging, thoughtful, dependable and fun. If I hadn’t given her a chance beyond you, I would’ve missed out on a fantastic friend. It makes me wonder…how often do I let my thoughts, opinions and you impede on opportunities to invest in people?

Sincerely,

Glad I was wrong 🙂

 

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

 

Letter #66: Sex and the City Lessons

Dear friends (and yes, I love this TV show, but today I mean my real ones),

I have always valued you, but I think I’ve found a deeper appreciation for you this year. Sure, traveling the country and seeing you along the way has increased my love for you. I’ve gotten to catch up with you from all walks of life: Kanakuk, old roommates, sorority sisters, family. Catching up with you has been one of my many highlights of the past three months.

But, Friday night I had an even bigger revelation. I got home from work, put on sweats and posted up in my living room with no intention of leaving until the next day. I ate chili I had frozen from weeks before (freezing leftovers is brilliant…you’re not sick of it, and you can eat home cooked food without any of the work!), worked on Christmas gifts and somehow my roommate and I stumbled upon TV’s debut of Sex and the City. I’ve never had any desire to see this show or movie, but there was nothing on TV. We started it, got hooked and finished it before all was said and done. I feel like I walked into an entirely new culture after this experience, and from what I’ve heard I think I was thankful it was edited. Most profound takeaway: I want Jennifer Hudson to be my personal assistant.

Anyways, my revelation had nothing to do with Sex and the City. As I was sitting on my couch (still thankful my neighbors gave me it…most comfortable couch ever!), I realized I could legitimately go to work everyday, come home and never interact with anyone every single day. I chose to do this on Friday and enjoyed it, but I’d be miserable if it was a normal occurrence. I’m no longer surrounded by “built in friendships.’ Growing up, college and the Kanakuk Institute, you’re basically forced to spend time with people. It’s nearly impossible not to have at least some of you. The real world doesn’t work like this.

I have to be intentional, make plans, consistently make phone calls and choose to spend time with people, or I’ll sit on my couch every night whether I choose to or not. This isn’t easy. Keeping up with you takes a great deal of effort, but would you be worth it if you didn’t? Two things in life are eternal: the Word of God and people. I have to work at both. I’m not great at pursuing either, but I’m learning.

Abby and Jordan, K-West friends, came to Branson last week!

I’ve traveled to see many of you the past three months, but I want you to know I LOVE company in Branson, America! You always have a place to stay. Coming to see you is a blast for me, but I may love it even more when you come to me. Plus, I have the Dixie Stampede and Ride the Ducks to offer.

Hope to see you in Shady B,

Thankful for your friendship