Monday, May 30, 2016

To Know and to Be Content

I am twenty-four years old and I've never been in a relationship. That wasn't so hard to say. Sure, I've dated guys, but never have I ever had a boyfriend. Sometimes I feel like that has given me freedom, and freedom is something I've begun to appreciate much more over this past year. But at other times, it has obviously left me feeling undesired and lonely.

I hate when other people offer advice out of hearsay rather than personal experience. To me, you can't be an expert on battle if you've never been on the battlefield. With that said, I offer this blog post knowing full well I am no genius on relationships. I simply have learned things from my friendships, a few books and from, finally, observing others. I claim no expertise.

One thing I really want to focus on here is knowledge. Knowledge may sound like it has very little to do with relationships. But it actually is the foundation on which any good friendship, marriage, or companionship is built. This is something I have realized in my personal life even as I have read it in books. How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk by John Van Epp, Ph. D. details how knowledge must come before trust, which comes before reliance, which precedes commitment, which is followed finally by touch. Want more commitment? Then you must be growing in knowledge even more. Want to have a physical relationship? Then each level must grow even more in comparison, like a pyramid. Marriage might just be the commitment level required to ascend to the physical level of sexual intercourse (I for one think it is). This concept is just one thing I have learned in my psychology of marriage class last year, and it has stuck with me.

It seems this lesson has permeated my mind in such a way that if I am with anyone, I like to ask them questions about themselves. What is your favorite color? How do you feel about this situation? Have you enjoyed this weekend? I have found questions are a great way to bridge the gap between assumption to understanding. Why guess when you could ask and then know?

This practice, the practice of asking questions and using that as a way to really understand people, was also recommended in the book, which I just finished reading today, called Mindwise, by Nicholas Epley. In this book, Epley explains why our frequent methods of understanding people, like using our own mind, using stereotypes, and using perspective taking are often faulty and inaccurate. His conclusion (which does deserve the full read) is that rather than assuming things about people, we will have more success if we actually get the other person's perspective by asking them. For instance, even if you try to put yourself in your spouse's shoes to buy them a Christmas present, you will do a better job if you just ask them what they want.

People are mysterious until you actually give them a chance to reveal themselves to you. I would much rather be open and honest with my significant other and have him know who I am than to play it cool and be coy and mysterious. Honestly, I feel like I'm complicated enough as it is without trying to act even more elusive.

I've learned that knowledge can do a lot. But as I've mentioned, I've never been in a committed relationship. And there are two ways I could look at my romantic experiences. I could see them as failures, as useless, as attempts to bond with incomplete people. I could blame myself, or I could blame the other person. But instead, I think I can appreciate what each person was able to bring to the flirtation, to the friendship.

Lately I've been thinking, maybe what we need is the ability to receive what a person is able to give to you. This is akin to my boss's philosophy about religion and reading: "Take the meat and leave the bones." Taking it in a less economical direction, relationships can be similar. Hopefully, whoever you end up with will be able to give you the things you really need and desire. But there will be plenty of things they cannot give you. And understanding that will take a lot of pressure out of your interactions with them. You will be able to see them as a human, and let go of trying to change them, and then fully appreciate all that they are.

I have been trying to bring this satisfaction with others into my relationships to my friends. Let's say, Friend X doesn't understand my sense of humor. But Friend X is really good at helping me express my feelings about my life. Or Friend Y, who does have my sense of humor, but cannot comprehend my fascination with graphic novels or Imogen Heap. Everyone can give you something. Receive it. It will allow you to give back.

So I have shared two ideas here, ideas about the role of knowledge and contentment in relationships. I don't really have that much to say about relationships, which is why I have put all this in one post, perhaps incompatibly. But I think they are two important lessons.

Give your loved ones your interest. And a little grace.

To donate to my time in Romania (where I will be forging all kinds of new relationships, platonic ones, at least) please click here!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Raleigh? Really.

As I approach the end of my time in North Carolina, I am more and more appreciative of what this time has meant for me. It is difficult to convey the importance of this season for me, but I will do my best.

I have found friends here. I have entered a community in my church, in my house, and at my places of work. My university claims to have all but cornered the market on "community." But I did not find it there. I guess I saw it in glimpses. I observed from the outer edges as people carried on with each other in a language I could not even imitate. But I really had no place in nearly any corner of Biola. I had a terrible first two years and then once my mental state evened out, and I realized the way it is with Biola, the way I couldn't really rely on it the way I wanted to, I learned to thrive even in a place I never really belonged. Somehow, I triumphed. But it felt like I had done it alone.

Jesus is always with me. I learned to find my identity in him since I couldn't get much slack elsewhere. High school had been one completely flat, gray expanse of depression. I also had no sense of community there. Really, I had no idea what the concept really meant, except maybe for the years of playing baseball in the street with the other kids in the neighborhood. I found Jesus as a seventh grader and he would be the only reason I would get through the next decade. But sometimes Jesus gives you even more than you need, in time.

I moved to Raleigh, North Carolina as a girl who had nothing to lose. I move, maybe I have an awful time, but then I would just chuck it in the pile with all of the other awful times and call it a year. But that didn't happen.

I moved into a house on Berkshire Road, known by all concerned as the Berk, and by moving there alone I found myself in a community of people who had dwelt there for years. I started going to a church attended by some of the same people I met in India. Even when I moved to my current house, I entered into a family of sorts, a family of single women both like and unlike myself. We are all different, but we give each other grace and eat together once a week. I see the other interns I went to India with once in a while, and seeing them completes something in me each time. I'm always sad to say good-bye. I've found a small family at Global Hope India and a large one at PNC Arena. I get picked on and teased and made to feel like I'm welcome, if that makes any sense. I'm in a Lifegroup where I can actually make people laugh and where I can share what I really think about the Bible. I have made friendships that I know I will always have. The pictures I post are not of people I sort of know or barely trust. These people are a part of my life. Some I see once every few months, some I see almost every day, but somehow they all accept me. I'm so excited for what each week brings. I've never felt like this before.

So this is what my life has become. It's fantastic, really. I have moments of pure glee, when I have to stop and let the excitement and the joy swell inside me, or else I might burst. I've never had that kind of happiness before. There's that one detail, though. In one month, I'm leaving it all behind.

Why on earth, after all the marvelous things I have going for me, would I choose to leave? I'm finally having the time of my life, finally I belong, finally I'm having the college-like experience I never had, and I've giving it all up. I'm saying good-bye and I don't know, in many ways, what the future holds. Why would anyone give all this up?

It's complicated, but to spare you a lengthy explanation, the long and short of it is that it's my calling. My life is not my own, but I am responsible for steering it in the way Jesus has told me to. Some people search their whole lives for their purpose. Mine was clear ten years ago. So this is where I am. I've found a community, which I am leaving. But leaving still means arriving. I leave Raleigh, I arrive in Piatra Neamt. I say good-bye knowing that I have people to say good-bye to.

I will miss them but we will have the friendship long after I move away. Not everyone stays in touch, I know. But I have received so much here. I won't leave feeling like I've been denied the right to be myself. On the contrary, I've really found myself here. I've found a little bit with each person I've met. I don't know why I've been so blessed here. It can't all be Southern hospitality.

God's favor continues to blow me away. I am so glad I will have this eleven months as a foundation for all that I am going to do in Romania. I would have never guessed at the blessing that Raleigh would be for me. It hasn't all been easy or exciting. But I have never felt so fortunate for so long.

And I actually have a lot of people to say good-bye to, this time. Let's see what the future holds.

To donate to my time in Romania, please click here!