Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Friends - Now, which box did I pack them in?

I'm in a new stage in my life where I have been in one location now for almost five years. For those of you who do not know me, that is a record. If I were in my home country, I would officially call this place "home" now. Except that I'm partial to the place which we have chosen to call "home". It's got mountains, sky, rivers, lakes, and beauty.

But this is a record. I've never physically lived in one place for so long. What makes this more interesting is that four of those years have been in one house.

Now, we did switch churches two years into the five, so some switch in friends.... I'd be happy to switch churches again, but we shouldn't. We went to this one because friends said it was good, and it has good things, really good things.... but it lacks some things. If we were going to be here for two years, the lack of those things would be insignificant, but as we go on into year three and there is no change in front of us on the horizon, I am less and less content with the lack of those things. I miss joy. I miss singing out of delight. I miss transparency and small groups where we are NOT instructed not to share our lives because "this is time for serious study of the word, not a sharing time". Of course we were all told, "if you have a problem, you can ask to talk to the pastor." No. No problem. It is just that I wouldn't mind getting to know people and being able to say that, "hey, this week was a hard week because I am struggling with a pulled muscle in my shoulder, can you all pray?" I miss singing. I miss singing. Oh, and did I say I miss singing? The church sings. They've even gotten adventurous last year and got a guitar to play along with the piano. But, I miss singing. But I am not going to church hop again. We are here. I might, however, sneak off on Sunday nights and go to a church which sings. Maybe they even share their lives. Who knows - I might even find some people who are not already in a clique.

But that brings me to what I wanted to talk about in this post - friends. I'm struggling right now with friends. It is not that I don't have any. I have a lot of people I am friends with. But it is not easy. And I am afraid if I talk about it in my circles of friends here, that I will be labeled "that MK" again. I'm too old to be just a MK with issues. I don't think that is all there is to it.

As I thought about it this morning, I wondered if it is in a large part my fault. I've moved so often now. At least every few years. I wonder if I've just gotten tired of making good friends. Yes, I have friends, but... I know if I make a good friend, a best friend, that I will just end up leaving her. That will hurt me and hurt her. I wonder if I keep a distance on purpose.

Then there is the other issue that I find it hard to fit in. For all of me to fit in. I fit in well, but that part of me that doesn't fit in... people might not see it... but it is part of me still, and I feel different. I feel like parts of me no one can understand. Yes, I get excited about a sale at the shoe store, and might stop by to get my daughter some Sunday shoes, but part of my mind might also be on events happening on the other side of the world. You know, that part that the rest of my friends might think about for the five minutes it is on the evening news. When I wake and read the headlines of "Another Bomb Blast Blows in City", I don't think, "yeah, yeah, again, where is the creamer for the coffee gone?" Instead my mind stops and thinks back to explosions I have seen, and I stop to read which city, which country, where in the city... It is this part of me that my friends will never understand.

This last week was a tough one for me. I said goodbye to my husband as he went to travel, and this time the travel was not as safe as usual. We had a solid reason to be concerned, but we both agreed that we can not back down at every threat or breath of wind. But that day that I took him to the airport was a heavy one. The week after he left here, but before he went there, (he visited another place first) was hard on me. Wondering. Waiting. It was that week I struggled in my relationships with friends. When I felt very alone. My friends listened, but they could not comprehend. It was outside their realm of experiences. And they tried. But they tended to respond with, "wow, and I thought I had things to worry about!" That is not what I wanted them to say. I don't want to belittle their worries or struggles. I just needed to reach out to someone and have someone reach out to me. In the end, it was my son's piano teacher who knew what to do. One day, she just walked over and said, "I just don't know what to say, but I know this has to be hard on you. Can I give you a hug?" yes. A hug was wonderful.

But I felt alone. I still do as I wait out the time until he returns. I am more at ease now, but still aware. Aware that things still do happen, but more at peace now. But I feel alone. This is a part of my life where I have no connection with the world of friends around me, and I feel alone.

I wonder if I don't make close friends because I am tired of goodbyes or if it is because part of me just can't connect, or if it is some combination of the two.

Or is it because we are out of a normal group of other missionares where we are, and if those would be the circle where I would draw my closest friends from.

Or is it that I am so new still into these people's lives. My history with them is short, and they have grown up together.

I don't know, but part of me is lonely. Wishing for one good friend.

I think I can find them. I found one once when we stayed somewhere a week. Amy and I hit it off immediately. We did crazy things together. We escaped late at night when our eight kids were sleeping to go load up on cokes and chocolate and watch Mama Mia together. Since it was so late and the theater was empty, we laughed too loud and danced in the aisles. I wish I lived near Amy. We'd have fun. But Amy was a pastor's wife and I was a missionary's wife, so we were both so happy to put down our role's expectations and just enjoy life.

Part of it is that I am in a different culture here. It is so different than my home. So close, but so different. It has a different rule set for making and being friends. I don't know if I've figured it out yet. On my team, I am the odd one out and in my surroundings I am close enough to not be too different, but different enough not to fit in well.

Long post. No clear question. But how does it work with you? Do you find after being out for several terms that you are able to keep close friends? Do you make close friends easily? How do you manage that?


Kirsten Nelson said...

I struggle with this issue too. I have only one close friend and she lives in the US, so we really don't talk like we use to. I have been praying God would send me a close national friend here, but I know we may be going to a different country in 2 years, so part of me does not want the heartache of saying goodbye either. My whole life I have moved an average of once every 2 years, so making close friends has never been easy. I will pray that you too find a close friend to share with.

Angela said...

I understand the feeling of not completely fitting in. My heart longs to know someone who "gets" me, who understands without words. I'll be praying that God gives you a close friend because we need friendships.

Ellie said...

Kirsten - That is true. I had some good friends in the US, but I find as I am gone (now seven years), they still like me, but they have moved on. They have new friends, new habits, new schedules, and I am an outsider again.

It is the wanting to know someone who gets me. Someone who had been through similar things as what I am going through this week - who would not "weird out" about facing threats. Who could sit through it with me knowing it is normal, and yet scary. Who wouldn't just say, "oh, God will keep him safe, He keeps His children safe." Does He? Yes, safe, but safety does not always mean alive. I could sit here and give you a list of people I knew who paid with their lives. I knew them. Played with their kids. Ate at their houses.

I am not living in fear, but I am not living in a fantasy world, either. But I find few who can sit through these things with me with a normal attitude. The closest was my friends who were military wives. I learned a lot from them that shaped who I am and how I deal with separations and the feelings of working in a dangerous place.

Shan in Japan said...

I feel very similarly. My really good friends from Stateside life are still friends, but have moved on. My missionary friends on the field are friends, but I am not sure I would call them all close friends. My best national friend lives six hours away and is also busy in ministry so we don't get to spend much time together, either. I thought I must be a terrible missionary if I can't even make friends-a lot of the same reasons you mentioned-then I went to a retreat with other missionaries this summer and found out we all seem to struggle with this issue.
I will be praying for you, as I pray for myself and others, to find a friend, one who can sit and listen and at least empathize, pray and give a hug!
(I agree, the military wives I've met have some degree of understanding!)

Karis said...

This was very interesting to me as a new missionary. We've been here for a little over a year and for the first nine months, my days were completely filled with language study and home responsibilities that I never took the time or energy to regularly get together with our co-worker wife. She didn't initiate it either so it didn't happen. Since it has been such a short time here, I am still very connected to my dear friends in the U.S. through blogging and emails although it's not as frequent as any of us would've hoped. Then, I went through a hurtful situation with our co-worker wife which we talked through and it was all worked out, but I realized how completely different she and I are and I think that while we'll always get along fine, we're never going to be close. (Of course I've never mentioned that on my blog, but I'm just saying it here because I can't imagine she or anyone who knows her would read your blog so please don't comment back about this on my blog -- not that I think you would do something like that but I figured I should mention to make sure as we've had three difficult situations already so it's a little fragile).

Anyway, it hit me hard as God has given me a dear, dear friend (or two) at each stop of the journey of my life. I have been so blessed with good friends who have sharpened me spiritually and been loving and loyal and accepting of me for me and to realize that He hasn't done that right away here and I don't see it happening anytime in the near future is very sad. I don't feel lonely because life is so busy, but busyness will one day not cover what loneliness might be underneath our crazy life. Or maybe it's God's grace rather than the busyness.

My life is so different from the nationals in our church that while I enjoy talking with them (even with the language barriers on my end), we are in completely different worlds and while we are trying to learn of each other's worlds, it's not the same.

This made me miss my friends Jalyn, Shannon, Natalie, Becky, Laurie, Michal, and Natalie so much -- from phases of life over the last 20 years. Even though they can't understand my life here, they know me and point me to Christ.

Okay, I'm done venting. :-)