Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hey, Friend

Back to a familiar place of discouragement and, if I'm being honest, sadness. For whatever reason I can't shake this theme. We call this place "home" but that's just a label we put on it. Void of meaning. I'm not talking about my home, home - as in the place in which I dwell. I'm talking about this city. This region.

NOTE (1 day later): Before you read on, please know that comments made below certainly are not a blanket statement. We have a very WEE community here so we are not forgetting those of you who do invest in our lives. I cannot tell you how grateful we are for you. (You know who you are.)

Oh, God, I so long for community. You'd think that after growing up near here, it would all make sense, but it doesn't. As I sit here, I'm shaking my head in absolute bewilderment. (I even just scratched my head, but that's only cuz I had a small itch.) Maybe I've spent too much time in other places. Places where people have time for you. Where people don't cling to their cliques. Where people in the name of hospitality welcome you into their homes, into their lives for no other reason than just because. They always have room for one more friend. They don't call you "friend" because they can't readily remember your name, or because it seems friendly, when, in fact, it actually comes across as shallow. They call you friend because they appreciate your uniqueness. They always have time to spend, even if only once a while. The time spent is genuine. You can feel it. It isn't just a gesture born out of guilt, or because this is just their way of getting it out of the way because you've asked so many times before.

The desire comes in tides. The tide is in for a short time, covering me in a blanket of warm bubbles. This happens when someone greets me with an authentic hello, how are you doing. And actually stops, looks me in the eye and waits for an answer. But when the tide goes out, it's out for a long, long time.

Is it just insecurity? I don't know. God, I think, created me with a desire to commune with others - to be present in each other's lives, to welcome the newcomer so they know that there is always a soft place to fall, always a warm home and a warm meal waiting for them, even if they come unannounced. My idea of community isn't penciling each other in at some future date, or keeping the date tentative because a better offer might come along. Of course, they would never say that, but, really, that is what they mean. (And I don't mean a tentative date when there is really a possibility that something might conflict. I'm talking about the "I'll have to check my calendar" tentative date, which is just their way of saying, "Please let there be something on my calendar, and if there isn't, I'll put something there just to give me an excuse.")

I don't think that people in the Pacific NW try to be this way. I don't think they know any better. I've never in my life had such troubles finding people who naturally just want to know other people, and walk through life with them. I've always had a house full of people - regularly. For dinner. For a movie. For a walk. For a deep discussion, or just a goofy one. For a glass of wine, or a bottle of water. For Thursday night TV. For a road trip. For lunch. For a morning cup of coffee. People here are very good at keeping to themselves and keeping to people who look just like them. God forbid you commune with people who are different or who don't necessarily share the same pastimes. I say, that's more interesting conversation!

My heart hurts. It hurts when we hear about a group of other "friends" who get invited to something and we're not. It hurts when I invite someone to do something, getting the answer "I'll let you know", then they never let me know, or they tell me "I'll check my calendar" only to find out that the better offer came in.

I try very hard to be hospitable... I grew up in a family of welcomed strangers. Family wasn't just the title we put on the group of folks related by blood or marriage. Family included the neighbor, the friend from work, the gal at the grocery store who told you they were spending Thanksgiving alone that year, long-time friends and the children of long-time friends. We called it our family of orphans.

Just a side note to that. My father passed when I was 8, and since that time, my mother and I haven't really been on the best of terms. I ended moving out of my mom's home at 16, and moved in with my uncle (dad's brother). When I think of the most significant contributions to my life, I think of them. Those were very difficult years (teenage years always are). So, when I talk about my family, I'm typically referring to my aunt and uncle, and not my mother. My sister, however, fits in both. She's my buddy, always has been and always will be.

So, when I think of family, I think of a group of completely random people. That, to me, is community. It isn't just the folks you get along with best at work, or just your bible study, or just your shepherding group, or just the people who are volunteering in your area of ministry. My sense of community is the gal who used to live next door, but still stops by out of the blue to say hi and let my son hug her dogs, and coworkers, past coworkers, people from my bible study, neighbors down the street and the friends of these people. If I invite you to dinner, and you want to bring a friend to tag along, GREAT! My home is open to you and your friend. You may walk through the doors of my home a stranger, but you leave as a friend; as part of my family. And rarely does anyone leave without a hug. That's just who we are. We love people. So, when there is no reciprocation, it's painful to me.

And I don't buy that time and distance separates people. That's such a BS excuse and cop out. In this day and age of email, blogging, text messaging and cell phones, there is no fricken reason why you can't stay in touch. Every few months, I send a long email update to a ton of people - just to stay in touch. When I get emails like that, I read every word. And I almost always respond, even just to say, "It's good to hear from you." Cuz I mean it.

I have a friend who, shortly after we became friends, moved to California. I think we've been friends longer when she's lived 1200 miles away than when she lived in the same city. And somehow, we find time to keep in touch. A random text message when sitting in line at Dutch Bros to tell her I miss her, or during the Office to quote a line from the show. It's little things like that that carry friendships. Why? Because they show the other person that you genuinely care for them, and that they are in your thoughts. We've talked on the phone maybe once since she's been gone. And, ya know, to me, it doesn't matter. I appreciate the long conversations, but there is something so sweet about the random, "I was just thinking of you and wanted to say hi" that matters so much more to me.

I have another friend who I haven’t seen in about 8 years, and every once in a while I get a call at work. I usually, hear, “Kyra. Hello.” I know exactly who it is. We may not talk for another year, but we’re still friends.

I have another friend whom I have known since I was 2 years old. That’s 34 years, people. We haven’t lived in the same state in over 18 years. Yet, we’re still friends.

I miss friends like that. I miss friends like that HERE; the daily friends. I love that I have friends all over the world. But I miss having people over. I miss being able to call someone spontaneously to go to Target and have the answer be “yes”.

We have been so blessed by another couple we met about a year or so ago. We have just fallen in love with them. They LOVE to do life with people. And they’re enthusiastic about it. There is nothing pretentious or fake about any word they speak or action that take. We don’t have everything in common with them, other than just a super-joy that comes from the center of souls. Man, I love people like that. We spend a lot of time with them. They have room in their busy lives for us.

I guess it’s all my way of saying I’m lonely. (Yeah, and a little pissed.) Don’t get me wrong. I have an incredible marriage, and an incredible friend in my husband. He shares in these feelings. He misses community, too. We both have lived in several states, and we both have had the same experiences. We’ve found community everywhere but here. Frick, what is it with this place? I don’t think it’s us because I cannot tell you how many people we have talked to that have the same, exact experience. But… maybe it is us. Maybe we’re all the weird ones that people try to avoid – you know, those crazy out-of-staters. (Apparently, you must be an Oregon Native to be in the “in” crowd… which is funny cuz, see, I am an Oregon Native. What the frick does that even mean? I’ve NEVER seen “Wyoming Native” or “Colorado Native” or “Florida Native” on a bumper sticker. What’s so special about an Oregon Native? Does anyone care? Does it even matter? Seriously?)

So that’s where I am today. Sad. Lonely. Pissed. Disappointed.

But grateful nonetheless. My marriage is stronger than ever. My home has become my retreat. My worship is deeper. My relationship with Jesus is all the more prominent.

But it would be really cool to move to Colorado or Chicago or Charlotte or Santa Fe. Hey, I'd rather sacrifice flushing toilets than community. I’m just sayin’.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Reckless words pierce like a sword...

Something has been bothering me for several months now. But, I think I'm in a place and time where I can freely talk about it. Some involves just personal history and family changes. Some involves others. I'm still sort of processing it all because some of it is still a bit perplexing, and other pieces are just completely unknown, although I could probably speculate - which will come a bit later as I just write through this. Bear with me.

About 19 months ago, I left a job that I thought I loved. I was there for all-in-all 5 years, almost to the day, but, really, I'll just say I left just shy of 5 years, because the last 4 months didn't really count. More about that later. There were only a handful of people who knew the "real" reason I left. Most others thought it was because I was just about to give birth to my son, and we had decided that between the commute and the long hours, it just wasn't going to work for us. I suppose that is, looking back, a partial truth. (I can say with much gratitude that I don't have a 45 minute commute one-way, nor the long hours that are typically expected in a corporate position.) That was a welcome change. But the real reason I left was because after much reflection over the last 2 years I was there, and a series of events that transpired over the last few months, I knew that my values conflicted greatly with those of the owners. I had seen and heard a lot to make my stomach turn. From one senior manager who made racist comments about "black" employees, to another whose philosophy on hiring is the "HOFF" method (hire often, fire fast), to another who had little trust or confidence in most of his employees and often made rash assumptions about events that took place. The reactions to such things (I say reaction because there is a huge difference between reacting to something and responding to something) were frequently irresponsible and unprofessional. I observed many meetings where a department had been chewed out for their seemingly lack of communication, teamwork and adherence to company procedures. Those speeches were uninspiring to say the least. To top it all off, it was as if the company was trying to buy loyalty by paying increasingly high salaries. It's appreciated to a point. You sort of feel valued when you get a 6-10% increase with every performance review. But, after a while, when you get your ass chewed repeatedly, and told that you suck between the performance reviews, money will only go so far. Contrary to one partner's philosophy, not all people are motivated by money.

The last straw was when one of those speeches became directed at me and a couple of other employees. The three of us had basically called a meeting so that we could all, once again, get on the same page. It seemed over the course of a few weeks that what was communicated to one of us was completely different than what was communicated to another. I'm not sure what caused such an impulsive reaction, but we basically got yelled at, complete with table-pounding. (Looking back, I'm kind of amused by it. I've never seen such outburst in a professional environment before. I don't care what the reason was for it. It was inappropriate.) I was 8 months pregnant at the time. It dawned on me that dealing with that kind of stress just wasn't worth sacrificing my time away from my baby. (Stress like that gets towed home with you, and I couldn't see trying to be an effective mother and constantly having my mind at the office. Far too many people neglect their families for the almighty dollar.) No one knows this, but right after he walked out of that meeting, I walked back to my desk and started packing up all of my personal belongings. I considered handing in my resignation that evening, but I decided to drive home, pray about it, cool off and only then decide on a plan of action.

The following day, I considered not going in. But... that side of me came out where I wasn't going to let someone get the better of me. So, trying to be mature about the whole thing, I went in. I guess I was in some way either expecting or hoping for an apology. After all, we had worked together very closely for almost 5 years. I lived for that company. I sacrificed for that company. I went to great lengths for that company. But... instead of an apology, or even an acknowledgement that I was present, I (and the two others) were completely ignored. Not even a hello. That sealed the deal. I knew I was done. So... I wrote my resignation letter. Unfortunately, this was right around Memorial Day, and when I went to hand my letter to my boss (the president of the company), he was gone. I decided to wait until the following week.

The following week came, and I hand delivered the letter. I was moments later called into his office. It came as a surprise to him, but he commented that he sort of expected it considering the baby was coming.... (I think he thought my plan was to stay home. I don't know.) I told him that I think it would be best to tell him the reason I'm leaving. So, I proceeded to tell him that his outburst was inappropriate and was a huge factor in my decision. I actually cried a little, I think because I felt like I was leaving a little piece of me. This company was close to my heart. I loved the partners (despite our differences), I loved the employees, and I loved being a part of all the big and little details that made it successful.

For the last two years, I had asked to divide my job. I was working as the HR manager and oversaw office management, marketing and communication materials, and administratively supported the partners. That was a LOT for one person. I was told to hire an assistant, but when I did (a year prior) she was snagged by another department. I don't think they thought I was serious about needing relief. That is, until they received my resignation. Suddenly, they went into a bit of a panic mode. They said they weren't sure where they would find someone who could do all that I had been doing for them. Duh. That's what I had been telling them! I just wanted to focus on HR, and let someone else do the marketing and office management. What then happened completely befuddled me. After conversations with the partners about my leaving, they came back with a proposal. They asked me if I would consider accepting an offer as a contractor for the marketing materials. That cracked me up! The very thing I wanted to let go of! Truly out of loyalty to the company and to my boss, I agreed. I figured it would only be for a short time until they could either train a new HR person to also take on the marketing (why not? I did it.), or they could recruit specifically for a replacement. (That would be two people... the very thing I had asked for the 2 years prior... See where I'm going with this?)

What was communicated to me was that they didn't value me until I decided to leave. Why I wasn't taken seriously at my prior requests, I can't say.

That was such a slap in the face. It spoke volumes. But I decided that to be a little self-serving would be ok under the circumstances. I could go on maternity leave, and work from home for a few months doing the marketing, and still have some income coming in. Kind of a perfect scenario.

Unfortunately, the 4 months I did that was extremely unproductive. My set-up didn't work well, I could rarely get connected remotely to do my job, and my requests for IT support went largely ignored. What would normally take 30 minutes ended up taking well over 3 hours. Ugh.

Needless to say, at this point, I was frustrated and angry. I probably lost a little self control during this time. I was pretty abrasive in the way that I handled it. I basically gave an ultimatum. It was either IT support, or I was gone. We all unanimously decided that it would be best for me to let it go. A rather large burden was lifted.

What's funny about this is that a part of me was really disappointed. I can't really say why. I think because deep down I really did love the company. I had some good years there. It was an awesome opportunity for me to grow professionally. It definitely had its challenges, but to this day, I'm very grateful for my time there.

Now... the other piece. The gal that was hired as my assistant (who was snagged by the another department) sort of became a friend. First, she was a Christian. It's pretty cool when you have the opportunity to share your faith at work and have another person relate to you in that way. Second, I saw two things in her: One was a passion for serving in the workplace, and the other was someone hurting. And, you know me, I always reach out to lonely people, and she sort of struck me as someone who needed a friend.

What I learned about her is that she, indeed, was hurting. I also learned that she really didn't have any friends because time and time again she had been burned. Burned by the churches she attended. Burned by friends who turned out to be someone other than who she thought they were. Burned by life's circumstances and poor choices.

She was VERY reserved in sharing her life with me. I kid you not. She had (has) some deep trust issues. In some ways, I don't blame her. Tough stuff.

Well... after I left my full time position, and was working from home, we, of course, stayed in touch. I made the mistake of venting my frustrations to her about the company. That was a mistake mainly because, selfishly, I didn't think about how that would affect her. She was still working there and was making the most out of the situation. She never really shared with me how my words made her feel, but my guess is that she was equally frustrated with me and probably felt very defensive. One thing that I said to her (in confidence) was that, really, I didn't want to continue working for them. If I had my choice (which, obviously, I did), I would prefer to just cut ties. But, out of respect, I accepted the part time position. (I think what I didn't articulate well was the fact that due to that respect, I wasn't just willing to help, but really wanted to help and wanted to contribute to their continued success.)

What I later learned was that somehow what got back to the company was that I didn't want to work there at all... And that's why my requests for IT support where largely ignored. Kind of came full circle in a way. This upset me on a number of different levels. One, because instead of ignoring me, the HR person should have called and said, "Hey, we both know this isn't working, so let's talk about an exit strategy." Two, because I felt like my trust in my friend had been compromised. And three, because I felt like I was coerced into meeting with my friend based on an intentionally underhanded move by the company.

That made me extremely angry.

And this is where it gets ugly.

I admit, and have admitted openly, that my mouth gets me in trouble. I would say out of all things that I have to repeatedly fall to the foot of the cross about, it's this. I went off about the entire thing (from the reason why I quit, to what I thought my friend had blabbed about) to a few people. And what's worse, I did it through email.

Ok, let me just stop to give a piece of advice. Don't vent through email, people. That's a seriously bad mistake. Email can get intercepted. It can be forwarded. It can be edited. If you're upset and need to vent, I would first vent to yourself. Then, maybe, to a person who you know will 1) talk you down, 2) be the voice of reason, and 3) point out all that is sinful in what you just said. But for God's sake (literally), do not vent via email. You never know whose hands that will get into and/or how it will be taken out of context. And particularly, do not vent to people who are notoriously negative themselves. This combination is lethal. Negativity breeds negativity. Nothing good ever comes out of a major bitch session.

Scripture teaches us: "The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit." (Proverbs 18:21) And "The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just." (Psalm 37-30)

That being said, I became exactly that which I loathe. I allowed my anger to get the better of me, and I vented. And boy did I vent. I can't even recall all that I said, but I'm fairly certain it spoke death and not life. I'm less concerned about what I said about the reasons I left - there was a lot of truth in that. But, I am concerned about what I said about the people involved. See, that's the problem with enraged fits. You don't always remember what was said, but your words live for a very long time after the fact.

I think I even tried to justify it all. Right about that time, my friend experienced some pretty serious spiritual issues. I'm not going to get into the details of that, but it sort of overshadowed the conflict we were having as a result of trust being damaged. (That is, my trust in her, not her trust in me. That comes later.) I tried to walk her through her issues, without knowing or understanding what they were. I reached out to her. I tried to console her. But her issues were far too complex for me. We spent time on the phone, where she vented her anger about God and such on me... I talked with a couple of pastors I work with to see what their suggestions were. She came to the event "Tough Questions. Real Answers", only to leave out of frustration for not having her questions answered. It was all very weird to me.

Finally, she sort of came out of it. Not sure of the details there, but she later sent me some messages that tried to explain it. And through it all, she was grateful for having me as a friend.

Yeah... so... you can see where this is leading.

After she quieted down a little, I brought up the issue that was never resolved regarding the trust I had that our conversations were in confidence. By this time, months later, she had also left her job at that company and moved to another state. This was her response:

"Let me have some time to digest your words. Off the top, I need to say I understand how you feel, I would feel the same way. Please know that I am not a gossip or any other type that engages in the behaviors you speak of. I believe that there is clearly a misunderstanding of what really transpired ... and what didn't. I remember being placed in a VERY difficult situation which - at the time - I knew would not turn out well no matter which way I chose to handle it. But, let me process a little before fully responding. I don't want to 'stuff it' but at the same time, it seems that talking more about it might cause more hurt feelings, simply because there has been so much time pass, and the difference in perspectives."

She went on to say that friends love at all times, and sometimes situations don't always come to a clear resolution, but friendships should be strong enough to withstand it.... I feel the same way. I know that she (once) believed that I do.

That was August 30, 2008. That was the last I heard from her. What happened between then and now, I don't know.

What I do know is that there is always a consequence for your actions. I know that I was less than gracious when I vented to other friends about the whole "I said, she said" situation. Did one of my emails get forwarded? ("This is who you think your friend is...") Did gossip get started as a result of my rampage? Did someone use my words and twist them just enough to make them even worse? It doesn't even matter. What matters is this:

"You use your mouth for evil and harness your tongue to deceit." Psalm 50:19
"Your tongue plots destruction; it is like a sharpened razor, you who practice deceit." - Psalm 52:2
"You love every harmful word, O you deceitful tongue!" Psalm 52:4
"Reckless words pierce like a sword..." Proverbs 12:18a

Why do you suppose that God inspired so many writings about our tongue? (Those cited above are only a tiny fraction.) Is it not because we, as fallen people, so easily allow our tongues to run away with its words? It's my worst indulgence. When I feel unnecessarily attacked, my first thought is retribution. How awful is that?

God gives us hindsight for a reason. This is where we learn and, hopefully, grow and change. I'm embarrassed. And now here it is for all of you to see. Yes, I'm being vulnerable. But, I think this stuff needs to be brought into the light if I'm ever going to really allow Jesus to grab hold of this vice and tear it from me! And I do so pray that when I feel the desire to "get even" that I would at the very moment cry out to Jesus and pray that I would respond in a Godly way.

I'm embarrassed. I'm ashamed. It doesn't even matter if I say that I'm sorry for what I wrote. (I honestly don't remember all the horrible things I'm sure I said... Another reason why such destructive word-marathons are so damaging.) She certainly wasn't deserving of all of that, despite whatever it was that she did that prompted it in the first place.

What's worse is I promised I would never be "that friend" who betrayed her. But, ironically, that's who I became.

And I hate that in people. I have a couple of friends who (yes, they are still friends) love to get even. Even if the other person didn't hurt them, per se, anger gets the best of them and they vomit word-daggers even to the point of sharing very personal things with people they shouldn't. I know this because I've heard them speak of their other friends. I can't imagine what they say about me when I'm not around. I've learned, though, that I don't share my most intimate secrets with them. Friends? To a point, I suppose. But, at this point in my life, I'm not necessarily interested in quasi-friendships. I want to know that the people I choose as friends are trustworthy. I find it incredibly ironic that I fail to meet my own criteria.

I wrote to her once that I never had to work so hard at being friends with someone. I mean... with all that she was going through, it really was exhausting. But for some reason, I never had a stronger desire to want to walk alongside someone. Nice way of showing it, huh?

Well, here we are months later and the company has gone through a HUGE transition. They lost a major client (which equates to the majority of their business), and, as a result, they had to make quite a few cut backs, including about 1/3 of their workforce. There are only a handful left (mostly the ones who have been there from the beginning). I haven't really kept in touch with anyone, and I don't see the point of trying. It's bittersweet. On the one hand, I truly am grateful for having had the opportunity to work with them. In some ways I miss it... But, on the other hand, I'm grateful for leaving when I did. I can't imagine the bitterness I'd have now if I had stayed. I'm glad to have released the burden of that place, and to be able to be fully present with my family and my sweet baby. I could not be half as effective as a wife and mom if I was still there.

If my friend should ever decide to contact me again, I think it would be fair to say that I have a lot of apologizing to do - whether or not that's the reason for the silence. She has gone to great lengths to cut ties - and I think rightly so. I'm probably deserving of that.

I think why this seems so relevant to me right now is because through the magic of Facebook, I've found some long lost friends from way, way back. One friendship in particular ended in a bitter fight some 20 years ago. Granted, it was in high school and you know high school girls. I was one once... But the lesson is just the same (only you would think that the lesson would be learned prior to mid-life). Sometimes you just have to look over the pettiness and come to a place of forgiveness. Then, when you look at the shared history, you can come to a place of understanding, and hopefully, it will lend itself to a deeper friendship in the end. I've had many friends who betrayed my trust in them, who said awful things about me that weren't even close to true. Some of those friendships are long gone. Some are alive and very well today. I try to be very generous with forgiveness. Lord knows we all need it.

My prayer for the last several months is that I would make the choice to hold my tongue and speak life. I'm all too aware of the havoc that is wreaked by a reckless tongue.