Creating a Community of Friends

11264833_996639880360610_5782448778154457006_n“ I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” ~ Romans 1:11-12

I arrived in the Flathead almost two years ago and have spent the time since finding my place in this beautiful corner of the world after leaving Billings, a community I had lived in for 24 years. Naturally, I am not the same woman today that I was that mid-August morning two years ago just as I was not the same young woman who arrived in Billings 24 years prior.  I left behind a life that was full of responsibility, friends, and community. In Billings, people of all walks knew me and more importantly, I knew them.

Despite my familiarity with the people in my old stomping grounds, I always thought of myself as a bit of a loner. Moving around every 4 years or so growing up tends to make you that way. Making new friends and saying goodbye over and over again taught me how to be comfortable being alone and on my own. As a youngster I made fast friendships… it was easy to find a community just by strapping on my roller skates (yes, I had strap-ons) and gliding up and down the sidewalk with the rest of the neighborhood kids or joining the kickball game down the street, wowing the team with my off the field kicks (there was usually an adult around who recognized the need to let a new kid on the block join in). Before long, I was one of the gang. However, as I got older, joining in as the new girl in town wasn’t so easy.  Over time, I grew to think that I was just fine on my own and became more and more content being everybody’s friend rather than feeling as if I belonged to a specific group. As I got older, being on my own was easier than facing rejection from long-established cliques.

In all honesty, for most of my life I did not feel like I fit in anywhere, that is until I left Billings.  After 24 years in one place one tends to belong, whether you realize it or not. In my case, while I definitely had firmly planted roots in Billings (you need those to remain upright there) and my church was more like a very large family, it took me moving away to realize what I had lost in the leaving. In fact, the sense of loss that came over me as I settled into this very new locale was so overwhelming that I went through a period of grieving for the community I left behind.

Moments of panic would mix with this sadness, as there were times I felt so alone. My new neighborhood seemed so foreign, unlike my neighborhood in Billings where evening walks usually turned into neighborhood meet and greets. Looking back at what I had left I realized that in the years I had lived in Billings I had developed a new sense of who I was. I was not the proud loner I made myself out to be in high school and continued to play in college and young adulthood. Rather, I had grown into a woman who valued connection and thrived on meeting and welcoming people into her life all the while growing richer from their influence. By seeking community, I became more giving of myself and in turn influenced others as much as they influenced me.choir

As Paul writes in Romans, he was called to share his spiritual gifts with others so that they would be strengthened in their faith. However, the connection did not stop there. Through their relationships, they were mutually encouraged and strengthened by each other, each giving support and encouragement as they received the same from each other.

Rather than waiting for others to invite me to play kickball like I did in the third grade, I have made a concerted effort to find my own community of friends here in the Flathead and have been richly rewarded. I started waving at my neighbors as I walked by and guess what! Most of them waved back! Pretty soon those waves turned into “hellos” or “boy it’s a cold/hot out today” (depending on season) and while that may seem small or commonplace to those who have lived here a long time, the fact that people recognized me as a part of their neighborhood is a big deal for someone who is new. Through my involvement with choirs, church, clubs, and hiking groups as well as investing time with people who have reached out to me in welcome, I have created a community of friends that not only supports me but also allows me to support them.

Oftentimes I think I am alone on this journey fraught with struggles that I must keep to myself. Yet as my community of friends expands, I realize that my burdens are much lighter. There is an old saying “a joy shared is doubled… a sorry shared is halved.” This is most certainly true!  In my community of friends I have found those whose struggles mirror mine or who have walked a similar path. We end up bearing one another’s burdens and helping one another move forward, ministering to each other with empathy and understanding.

hike 2I don’t seek out community with others solely for support and encouragement, however. I also seek out a community of friends that will challenge me. As iron sharpens iron, my community of friends includes people who have gifts, talents, and characteristics that I aspire to. By making myself vulnerable and sharing my goals for improvement in my life, my community of friends keeps me accountable in my quest for change. They set good examples of living for me and hold me accountable while I provide the same model and accountability for them.

With the prevalence of social media and the constant presence of people online, one would think that the need for community is vanishing. However, I found that I am not alone in my quest for community. Most of the people who are involved in the various organizations that I am share the same desire to connect and share with others.

I recently read an article about a couple who moved to Colorado Springs, CO. After living there for 6 years and still not finding their place in the “community”, they decided to create their own.  Once a month they opened their home to virtually anyone and everyone for cocktails and conversation about The Things That Matter. They started by inviting acquaintances from work or neighbors in passing and encouraged them to invite others. Sometimes they had as many as 30 people come, sometimes as few as five, and sometimes none would show, but they did not give up. Eventually, they were surrounded by people who enjoyed each other’s company, who had good conversation on a regular basis, and who found common ground with those they may not otherwise have shared thoughts with. They looked forward to this monthly Happy Hour as a time to come together and the people that came were thirsty for the same cocktail of community.

Just as I am creating my own community of friends, by reaching out and making themselves vulnerable and available, this couple created a community on their own. One not defined by homeowners associations, neighborhood engineers, city planners, or careers but rather, a common thirst for connection.

Lord help me to see beyond my fears of rejection and be a light of welcome and support to others into a community of friends.hike

“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but en courage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” ~ Hebrews 10:24-25

Run Jubilantly, Sweet Boy


The Sweet Boy and his mistress.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.” Luke 12:6

No drive to Billings, MT from the Flathead is an easy one, any way you slice it. I always plan an 8-hour drive if I take the high traffic 93- Missoula- Butte route and 7 hours of playing road warrior if I take my preferred, no-man’s land, 2-lane route on the back roads of MT on Hwy 89. Given my lead-foot tendencies and the grace of God, I can usually make it home in about 6.5 hours when I go this way.


Tucker doing what he did best.

My most recent trip home found me on this solitary road winding my way through the mountains, over rolling grasslands uncannily more rain-washed than wind-swept, under wind turbines, and across spring fresh prairies dotted by tiny towns with sketchy gas stations, towering grain silos, and odd fossil museums. Such places make one wonder how and why they manage to have a stoplight and at the same time give thanks that places like this still exist and force me to stop and observe their existence. I did not mind the stops in fact I rather relished them; the drive time was a much-needed therapy for my soul. I was in no hurry to arrive at my destination as this time I was accompanied by Reminiscence.

the hunt 2

The hunt!

Along the way, the rolling grasslands displayed their hidden gems, in fact, quite a few of my favorite game birds – pheasants – showed their brilliant colors! Oh, so many caught my eye with their goofy head first bobbling runs and even though I had my windows rolled up due to rain, I could hear their calls. The same calls that serenaded  my Eastern Montana sunrise runs with my Brittany Spaniel, Tucker, who although he came from  field champion bloodlines and flushed many a pheasant on our sojourns in the field (along with squirrels, rabbits, sparrows, and leaves) never scored one for a pheasant feast. There is something magical about those moments with your dog, when it is just the two of you enjoying the quiet of the morning and the occasional bird song, be it a morning dove or a more awkward pheasant call. Tucker’s ears were always cocked and his curiosity always provided me a good arm workout.

yeah-- what you lookin at

He had a nose for the best news…

As the ribbon of highway stretched before me, so did the some of the best memories of my life spent with my sweet boy, Tucker. You see, I was traveling home to send my sweet boy Tucker, my steadfast companion through so many monumental moments in my life, into the loving comfort of the arms of God. Tucker brought so much laughter, consternation, solace in times of stress and sorrow, and complete joy to my life.


First point.

Tucker was a handful from the beginning. His name truly suited what he did to his mistress in his formative years. Tucker was my fifth dog and the first to require the assistance of an expert trainer to quell his innate sense to hunt and flush whenever the front door opened. He was a constant digger in search of a way out of our backyard for fields afar. However, once we harnessed that urge to run and roam into more constructive endeavors like parading around the kitchen table with his blanket cape while we ate dinner, he truly worked his way into the fabric of my family. In fact, my father went from being more than slightly stressed over his antics to being sorely lonesome if Tucker didn’t find his way onto the foot of his bed.


Tucker loved Christmas!

Tucker had amazing intestines and an even more amazing talent of running up large veterinary bills in his quests to consume. A few of his gastronomical feats left me bewildered at times and often broke! There was the time he managed to devour all but a few telltale signs of the $100 bill hidden inside a Christmas card without getting a drop of drool on the card and then had dessert in the form of the lower branches of our pre-lit (no longer) artificial Christmas tree – just in time for Christmas Eve. His tastes ran the gamut from wire (eyeglasses) to fabric (dishtowels) and still the sneaky snacker survived!


Tucker goes to the hospital!

Tucker redeemed himself when he became the ultimate therapy dog for my mother who suffered a stroke. His presence gave her the will to keep going and eased her anxiety and the distress of her newly limited reality. He charmed the nurses in the hospital when he came for a visit and didn’t venture far from Mom when she came home.

While Tucker’s intestinal fortitude amazed me (and the Vet), he created a sense of awe in all of us as he adapted to his sudden blindness at age 6; far better than any of us ever could or would.  Showing the resilience of steel, he managed to maneuver his way around the backyard and house with aplomb due to his keen senses of smell and sense of feel in his paws. He was a fighter through it all, and a very sweet and silly one at that!


My little cowboy.

He loved people, especially his people. With Tucker at my side, I became the neighborhood welcome wagon. Everyone knew and loved Tucker, especially the kids. In fact, during one of his runaways, an entire squad of neighbor kids and parents set out in search of the traveling Tucker and whoops of delight could be heard along the street when he came sauntering home. I was known as Tucker’s mom long before anyone knew much about me.Yes, the life of this little one that was the ever-ready extension of my right arm for thousands of walks (I still have phantom leash syndrome) and brought so much silliness and crazed laughter to my life was now in its much too early sunset. He was not even 9 years old. Being apart from him for the last almost 2 years does nothing to ease the pain of this goodbye.

The hardest part of loving a dog is knowing someday you will have to say goodbye. The decision of when to say goodbye is one not easily made. How does one play God? How do we go about scheduling death?

These questions became even more difficult to answer as my sweet boy Tucker warmly greeted me as I came in the door. There he was with his wiggling tail (it wiggled, not wagged), the usual puppy sniffs up my dress, and even a hug with his paws around my neck and his head on my shoulders as I knelt down to embrace him… one last time after a long trip home. In his last days in my presence and on earth, Tucker showed the same desire for life that he did in chasing squirrels. He seemed so very much alive which made my heart ache at first sight, but as I spent time with him, I knew he was very much ready to be free of the discomfort and fatigue caused by the invasive tumor growing behind his eyes. The foe that attacked suddenly, within a matter of weeks really, and began sucking the light and life from his eyes.


A girl and her dog…

We went for a final walk on his last morning, greeted the neighbors, and spent the afternoon in contemplation. I played the piano for him, one final concert with the notes coming through my tears and shaking fingers on our ancient Baldwin upright as my sweet boy Tucker lay listening beside me in his last hour. All of our dogs liked music but the last three had a special affinity for it. Hunter would bark non-stop during Also sprach Zarathustra (2001 A Space Odyssey) and Scouter would howl right along to the full melody of Moonlight Sonata (both of which made practicing an all out laugh fest) but Tucker was always my best audience and, if I do say so myself, loved to hear me play (right, sweet boy?). If he was outside and heard the melody of a few notes, in seconds he was pawing at the screen door, wanting to come in, and then hopping on “his” foot stool, to settle in for his own private concert.

To some (but none who knew him) Tucker was just a dog but to me he truly was a friend and love like no other.

As his mistress, I did my part in being there for him when he needed me the most. I will never forget feeling his spirit soar as he fell asleep in my arms. The battle was over. Love won.

Going home will never be the same again. The sunrises I have witnessed of late have been accompanied by tears… there is still so much emptiness in my heart, and yet, I know that finally, Tucker is enjoying a Flathead sunrise with me.

Rest in peace doesn’t seem appropriate for Tucker… more like – run jubilantly, sweet boy – run free and with abandon into the arms of our Lord who will delight in your wild for miles ways, find love like the Lord himself wants us to love – unconditional, marvel at the strength of your ever-sniffing-for-rabbits nose, and cuddle with the best snuggler that ever lay upon His heavenly comforter.11205058_1003430559681542_3773367791297472881_n

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. ~ Isaiah 40:31

Rethink Your Thinking

“Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” ~ Philippians 2:2-4

Who am I  and why and why am I here?

How many times have you asked yourself that question whether it is in the throes of awkwardness at a social event or at pivotal point of change in your life? How did you arrive at that concept of yourself? Do you feel limited in your pursuits by the way others perceive you? Let me take the question one step further. Is the identity that you claim, based on who you really are and want to be or what you believe others believe you to be?

Just before my 40th birthday, I found myself at a stage in life that left me unsettled and unsatisfied. I was not comfortable in my own skin so to speak. I felt stuck. Immobilized by a lack of direction and fear of the unknown I stayed well within my comfort zone. When opportunity or change came a knocking I let self-doubt answer and usually slam the door.  Self-doubt was controlling the trajectory of my life and being one who likes to think I am in control, I was not happy to come to this realization!

I began to challenge my self-doubts with “Why Not’s” when opportunities came my way. Soon, my Why Not principle was opening doors to much more dramatic changes in my life.

I wish I could tell you that my Why Not Principle changed my life for good. Unfortunately, I had to deal with something much stronger than a simple 6-letter principle for living and I am going to guess that many of you face the same obstacle.  That obstacle is our natural tendency to assume. Assumptions are the lens through which we view the world and given our natural egocentric tendencies to believe we are always right, we tend not to question the assumptions we form about world around us. As I will explain further, assumptions that I made fueled the self doubts that were holding me back from living life to its fullest.

We make assumptions all of the time. Assumptions about the weather, about the people who live in a certain neighborhood and drive Porsche’s or Ford F-150’s. We make assumptions about political candidates and their supporters.  About behaviors, about how people react to us and thus how we react to them. We determine whom we want to spend our time with and energy on based on our assumptions.

Assumptions can be based on our experiences or simply be a belief that is formed and reinforced without challenge over time. It is in our inherit nature to assume. Several weeks ago at church, I assumed that a a far more attractive and and seemingly more together than I woman sitting in front of me would want nothing to do with me as she was far more attractive and seemed to have it much better together than I because of my own jaded experiences in the past with others “like her”, plus I was certain she had looked down her nose at me! I received my comeuppance recently with great humility, when she greeted me warmly and asked me to join her for coffee after church.  My erroneous assumption about her was based on my experiences that told me she would never associate with me. The problem with assumptions is they are rarely fact based but are taken as such because challenging them requires work. I wish I had been secure enough in my own right to be the one who warmly greeted her first. I learned my lesson that day, to look beyond my own self and be willing to put myself out there in the interest of others.

If we hear a snide remark in passing about our appearance or something we said, or if our hopes and dreams garner little fanfare and support we tend to assume others will have the same reaction to us in the future. The same goes for positive messages of public adoration we hear – we assume everyone will adore us just for being who we are. If we internalize the assumed meaning of messages from the public’s reaction to us as fact, those messages become a part of our belief system going forward.

How often have you limited your involvement in life because of what people might think? You decide not to attend a party because you know everyone there will be much more affluent than you are. You avoid going out for a leadership position because you assume there is someone much more capable than you to do the job or you are afraid people will only see your faults.  How do those decisions to disengage make you feel?

If you feel defined by how others see you, if you view your personal qualities based on the impression you leave on others, you derive your identity through a concept defined in 1902 by American sociologist Charles Horton Cooley as the “Looking Glass Self”.

There are three components of Cooley’s concept: First, we imagine how we appear to another person. The image we see may be correct but is often skewed since it is based merely on our assumptions. Second, we imagine how others judge us based on our appearance. Finally, we imagine how others feel about us, based on the judgments made of us.  Cooley theorized that ultimately, we change our behavior based on how we feel people perceive us.

Cooley summed up these feelings in succinct fashion: “I imagine your mind, and especially what your mind thinks about my mind, and what your mind thinks about what my mind thinks about your mind.”

We all want to be liked and appreciated for who we are but if we value others opinions of us more than we value our own ideals, we end up living lives that aren’t really our own. The unfortunate thing is, the Looking Glass Self is not intentionally conceived. We do not consciously try to conform to the image or expectations others have of us. We subconsciously assume our identity through our experiences and outcomes and if we don’t have a strong self image to begin with, the assumed images of ourselves from outside influences fill the vacuum and naturally stake their claim on our identity.

Case in point, I am thinner than I would like to be and thinner than what most people consider ideal. (Is that another assumption?) Contrary to popular belief, while some would agree you can never be too rich, not many would want to be “too thin.” I have received my fair share of sideways glances and heard comments in passing such as “What’s wrong with her?” or “Hey, eat something!”  I internalized those messages and started believing that people only see how thin I am. The only factual aspect of my assumption is that I am thin. People are going to make judgments based on what they see and that is what they see. However, is that really all they see? My assumptions of what other people think became a stumbling block for me because I began to only see myself as that thin person and not the whole of the person inside of me.  Overtime I failed to see and even know who I was beyond being the thin person at which everyone gawked. This paralyzing notion stymied any progress on goals I wanted to achieve in all areas of my life. Fortunately I was guided to question my thought process by friends who did believe in me. I realized I had to start rethinking my thinking.

I challenge you to look in the mirror and ask yourself Who am I really?  Are you comfortable with your answer or is your answer based on your assumptions of who you are supposed to be?  You might be saying, hey I am who I am!

But, what if you are not? What if your assumed identity is simply more convenient and comfortable for you to hold on to because to do otherwise would put you in an uncomfortable position or force you o change? To put it another way, are your assumptions about what other people think of you a more accurate reflection of what you really think about yourself?

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” ~ Isaac Asimov

If we internalize the assumptions others have made about us they become ingrained in how we perceive ourselves. We limit our aspirations because we believe we are what we think others think we are.  My Why Not approach to life was only as strong as my belief in myself. Take it from me, you won’t be able to take on the Why Not opportunities if you can’t get past your own self doubt. Open the door your assumption-fueled self-doubt has kept shut and let the light of reality shine in.  Don’t be a victim of false assumptions, those you form of others and those you have about yourself.  Rethink your thinking.