It seems to me that there are basically two ways to break into a new community. You can either dole out small pieces of information about yourself, breadcrumb style, and assume it will be like the frog in the pot of boiling water and one day your new group of people will glance up and find that you are one of them, without really knowing how it happened, or you can take a deep breath, single out one person in the group and call them on your way to church and ask them for their pants.
I have often observed in our travels (and by travels, I mean moves. Traveling makes it sound like cabana boys were involved. They were not) that my family is a lot to absorb. Don’t get me wrong — I personally think we are just a traveling bundle of good times and candy tossing glee, but I have observed that there is a sort of wild-eyed look that comes into the eyes of people just meeting us if I blurt too many facts about us in one fell swoop.
“Hi! Yep, just moved here! I have four special needs kids, we homeschool, and my husband lost his mind a few years ago! We’ll get to my stuff later. Want a box of vegetables?”
No one actually shrieks or anything. There is just a furtive glancing about for exits, nervous giggling, and not a lot of call backs. So I have learned over the years to drop tidbits into conversations, breadcrumb like. Hansel and Gretel knew a thing or two, and I tell you what, if you are wanting to introduce people to mitochondrial disease, feeding tubes, dissociative identity disorder, chronic pain since childhood, and the fact that you name your cars after fictitious earls, you had best move slowly and leave yourself a trail back out of the interaction.
Which… I kind of did not do here. Oops. How about them Mariners? (that is the universal escape hatch in awkward conversations. When you have accidentally dropped explosive information that no one knows how to react to, you smile broadly, attempting not to show too many teeth, and try to speak intelligently about some local sports team. Try to avoid the 6-year-old tee ball league — you are trying not to creep them out any more than you already have. Another viable option, should your mind draw a blank on athletics, would be to simply tack on “and I found 20 dollars and I kept it!” to the end of whatever dastardly piece of news about yourself that you have just shared.)
The more bizarre your story, the slower the breadcrumb drop should be. I think my record on stringing out information is about a year… and that was probably too fast.
But sometimes, this slow, gentle approach is not an option.
I suppose you couldn’t know this (wow, this is an oversharing Monday), but I am quite tattooed. Perhaps infamously so. If you can see it, it probably has ink on it, with the exception of neck, face and the back of the thighs (see previous post to learn why I regret that). I am also a bit of a piano player. Used to do it for a living and all that. When we made our latest move and started at our current church, I heard rumors that there was perhaps use for an extra set of hands and I volunteered myself.
It is a tricky thing, offering your musical skills to anyone who has not heard you play. Not wanting to sound a boastful cretin, I downplayed a bit and it was several months before the pastor approached me with an invitation to play a Sunday. The conversation was awkward for me, but probably infinitely more so for him — the elders agreed that they would like to have me try out playing, but they asked that I not “flaunt” the tattoos, that I cover them while playing.
Don’t bristle. They are well within their rights and I do not disrespect their reasoning. That is not the point of my telling you this.
Have we discussed Manspeak? I blanched at the request, not because I disagreed with the sentiment, but because I was horrified that anyone thought I was flaunting anything, tattoos or otherwise! Why would they have asked if they did not think it was a problem? I love playing, and though it was summer, I set to work trying to find long pants, turtlenecks, and probably gloves, because yes, my hands are also tattooed. My husband did some interpreting and kept me from giving myself heatstroke, but I am, to this day, very aware of staying reasonably covered and discreet while playing.
Last fall, when I had been playing long enough that the church knew I was capable and had started trusting me with more services, I received a call from the lead piano player while we were driving to church. She was playing that Sunday, and woke up sick, and was asking me to take over for her. Musically, this was no problem…
But you see, I had lost a lot of weight that year. Like, a small child worth of weight. And I was discovering the fun of shopping at a smaller size, and got pulled down a Poshmark hole (if you have no idea what I am talking about, pause stop reading this and go look it up. When you manage to pull yourself out of it, come back here — be strong, reader) and through that journey following the fashion white rabbit, I had acquired a charcoal grey velvet bubble skirt. I felt quite trim and adorable… until I sat down in the car and the skirt settled itself up around my hips. Suddenly, it didn’t look like a perky and stylish outfit. It looked like those boofy diaper covers with the ruffles that we stick onto the derriere of baby girls. I was already wrestling with how to accomplish decency throughout church, as it was too late to turn back and change, when I got the phone call. Not only were my tattoos heavily on display — so was pretty much everything else.
I had made several solid acquaintances at church since our advent in the community, but I had struggled to feel any security in claiming friendships. But here I was, in a bubble skirt ensconced rock and hard place — there was no time for breadcrumb relationship building. I texted someone whose number I had, who I thought was roughly my size, and said, “I need your pants.”
And you know what? She asked no questions, and showed up twenty minutes later with a bag of pants for me. Decency was recovered, the service was played, and I learned something new about living in community.
I cannot claim to be adept at forming friendships, at assimilating into new communities, or at introducing my people and the hard realities of our odd little existence into polite conversation. In truth, I am nothing short of awkward and fumbling at it and I think if I am honest, most of my friendships have had their start from some form of shock and awe, followed by my sending baked goods and Bible verses. It has been said that I do not make friends — I stalk people socially until they relent and allow me to stick around. I tell you this not because I am proud of it (I’m not. I find these to be humiliating admissions) but because I do not think Christian community is possible without a great deal of humor. Look at the thing God has done. Look at the disparate and complex mess of people He has put together and told to live not only as a family, but in fact as one person — as a body. You cannot convince me that the first time a nose personally encountered a knee, that there were not hijinks and tensions and, in all likelihood, a bruise. The human body is an awesome and ridiculous creation — have you looked at it lately? How could we expect the body of Christ to be any less comical and awkward, and yet beautiful! A toenail admitting to an eyelash that it has developed a weird sort of black spotted rot is opening itself up to some seriously awkward looks (lest you think that all eyelashes can do is bat flirtatiously), but the eyelash can learn to have compassion, and the toenail can eventually find a place in the whole.
It might just have to introduce itself a little at a time.