So, you know, the blog has become quite the travel log (and appropriately so). It’s not entirely devoid of emotion, but a lot happens when you move halfway around the world and I haven’t really captured that. I have more Korea to finish writing about that I want for my own posterity. I have more Tokyo to write about it. And next weekend I will be heading down to Okinawa to dive with whale sharks and through ship wrecks, so lots to come. My life is definitely full of adventure. But right now, I want to just take a moment to breathe, so to speak.
Today, at church, there was a great lesson about finding joy in the gospel of Jesus Christ in Japan. And the teacher started the lesson with the statement, “Bloom where you’re planted.”
Now, I’m typically not a fan of these little saying that people like to cross-stitch onto pillows or cut out of vinyl and put on their walls, but today this one just struck me in such a way that there was much self-reflection happening in that classroom.
Once upon a time, I was getting ready to move into my very own house in Queen Creek, AZ. I was excited for this prospect, but also nervous about being in a new place and going to a new church. While I’d been in Arizona for almost three years at that point, I didn’t really have a close group of friends. I had my family (whom you all know I adore) and a couple of friends outside of work, but that was really it. And I was kind of lonely.
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I actually have a really, really hard time making new friends. There is a lot of noise that happens in my head that makes it really hard and/or scary for me. Growing up, I lived in the same town my entire life and so my friends were the kids I grew up with. Going to college, I started in the dorms with a bunch of other freshmen, so we were all in the same boat and it made it easy. Moving off campus, I had roommates, so instafriends (or enemies, in a few rare cases). And then I moved to Arizona and lived with my sister which made it super easy to convince myself I didn’t need to make other friends because I adore her and we are the best of friends. And I am painfully insecure when it comes to meeting new people.
Well, then my sister left Arizona (I actually left first, but that’s a very long story and the end of it is that I was back in Arizona and she had moved to Utah) and I was getting ready to move into this new area by myself with no roommates to be instafriends (the only thing I ever miss about roommates), and I had a little “come to Jesus” talk with myself. It was inspired by something someone had said one Sunday during church. I don’t remember the exact words, but the idea was basically that, when you first meet someone, it’s really easy to get caught up in worrying about what he or she thinks about you and whether he/she will want to be your friend, etc, but chances are that he/she is worrying about the same things, so stop worrying about yourself and start worrying about how you can make that person feel more comfortable and safe, so to speak, and like you want to be his or her friend.
I took this advice to heart. I can still remember walking into church that first Sunday and looking around at all these people whom I didn’t know and who didn’t know me and thinking, “Okay, Chloe, it’s time to suck it up and just pretend like it’s your job to make these people feel comfortable around you and feel good about themselves.” To say it wasn’t easy would be an understatement. But it totally worked. Or at least the change in mindset did. I made friends quickly and was soon the one helping new kids feel more comfortable and inviting people over for dinner. I quickly felt like I had this community that I’d been missing for a while.
When I moved to New York a little over two years ago, I had these grandiose ideas about how great my life was going to be. And while it was pretty amazing, I found myself wishing, after being there for two years, that I had done things differently. Moving to New York was easy. I had a number of friends already there both from my Utah years and that I’d met during my internship, and through those friends I made some new ones, as well. And it’s not like my life lacked busyness or adventure or friendship. But I just didn’t feel super connected. I didn’t feel like I had a community (specifically at church)…and apparently I need a community.
So, before I moved to Tokyo, I spent some time thinking about this. And the thought that popped into my head was the one from my days in Arizona. What had been missing in New York was my effort. I was so worried about what people were thinking about me that I wasn’t able to just be myself a lot of the time. Especially at church. And church time is a big deal for me. I need to feel connected. I need to have friends there. And for the two years I was in New York, church was a little rough. Don’t get me wrong, people were super nice and they tried, I was just too caught up in my own whatever to be very engaged. I can honestly say I have no one to blame but myself. I also decided that, even though this assignment for work is only six months I had to treat it like it was more. Not just because I want it to be more, but if I were to treat it like it was something to just get through (in terms of my social life), I can guarantee that a) I’d be lonely and b) I would be on a plane in six months back to the states.
Heading to church my first Sunday here was nerve-wracking because I wanted it to be great. And by “it” I mean me. I wanted to be that super friendly, fun girl who will just go up to new people and introduce herself and chitchat away. Well, that didn’t exactly happen (I don’t know if that will ever happen on the first try). But it wasn’t awful either. And I did meet a few people. But I was still focused on me. The following Sunday was a little better. I tried a little harder and, thankfully, there are some very friendly people in my congregation.
Last Saturday, though, I had a bit of a set-back (in my view). My church was having an opening social for the new year (we operate in terms of school years since so many people take off for the summer), and while I had planned to go, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I told myself it was because I had a headache (which I did have), but there are lots of other things that I would do even with a headache, so it was totally an excuse. (I love it when I realize I’m lying to myself. It’s awesome.)
On Sunday, I realized that I really wished that I had gone. While I do have a few great new friends, all of them have responsibilities during church that make it so I am alone during the second and third hours. I got home from church last Sunday and thought about how I could make those two hours a little less lonely (because they were, in fact, lonely). All of these women have their lives and their friends and it would be a lie to say that I think they have any reason/desire to become friends with the single girl who works full-time and has no kids. And so…I knew it was all on me. I decided I was going to have to kick my effort up a notch…or five.
I decided to show up at book club. And I decided that showing up wasn’t enough, but that it was time to stop worrying about what people were thinking about me, and start making sure they knew I cared about and wanted to get to know them. I figured it would be a small enough group that I’d be able to manage it and not be overly anxious. I also made one of my new friends come with me so I’d have a wingman. (I’m not an idiot.) And it was great. I mean, it was hard and stressful, but it was worth it. It helped to be at something where there was something other to discuss than the typical small talk (which I am awful at, btw). But it also helped that I had stopped worrying about whether or not these women wanted to be my friend and was much more focused on helping them realize why I wanted to be their friend.
And today church was a million times better. I had all of these people to talk to. I felt much more a part of things. And so, when the lesson started with the statement, “Bloom where you’re planted” I got a little emotional because I feel like I am figuring it out in this new place. Sure, I’m the one that planted myself here, but that doesn’t mean it’s super easy all the time. Or even most of the time. (Side note: one of my least favorite responses to when someone complains about how hard something that they chose to do is? “Well, you chose this.” If my life was full of choosing the path of least resistance, it wouldn’t be much of a life. And choosing a path that has some resistance means that it is going to be hard at times.)
During the lesson, I reflected on the effort I’ve made to make this a great experience. I thought about how I’ve been able to laugh at so many things that might have made me cry if I’d let them. How I’ve been a lot more committed to the things that really matter to me. How I’ve forced myself out of my comfort zone more often than I thought I would or could. And I thought about just how happy I am. Not just happy, but content and comfortable; two thing which, I’ve learned through therapy, are super important to me. I feel like I’m not just blooming, but flourishing. And that is an amazing feeling.
Now, if I could just learn Japanese a little faster…