Connecting to a new community
In the past five years I've moved eight times. By plane, train, and automobile I covered three countries and five states - give or take a few stops in between. I left home when I was 18 and have recently returned as a 23-year-old wife and mom. A lot has changed since I left, and it doesn't solely have to do with myself. My city is booming with new businesses and entertainment as millennials are flocking to a place where historic charm meets modern edge. Growing up in the suburbs, attending a ritzy public school, and a Lutheran church with mostly elderly folks, I feel as though I missed out on a special community of people living right under my nose - a bit further into the city. My husband and I enjoy driving aimlessly around neighborhoods, exploring new territory and uncovering hidden gems like hole-in-the-wall coffee shops and rundown parks with carousels. My parents say they did their best to avoid those parts of town. It turns out that I was even more sheltered than I thought. Although I've returned to my home, a place I spent the majority of my life, it feels like a new city that I've entered and I'm looking at all of it with fresh eyes and a hearty appetite.
Every move I made in the last five years carried an equal amount of excitement and fear. I love adventure and exploring new places - but making connections and lasting relationships has always been a struggle of mine. So, just as every other move, this one carried its own feelings of fear. Fear that I wouldn't make new friends, or my old ones wouldn't be there anymore. I've made so many friends in the past five years and I wish more than anything that I could have them near me. I want so badly to be able to do everyday things with them - rather than the occasional face time call and regular texts. But I have to be present in the place I am put and appreciate all this place and the people in it have to offer. And so far I have found that it is a lot. After moving so many times and entering into new communities, I've found what works and what doesn't. I've been lonely, overworked, uncomfortable, and confused in some places, and in others I've been enjoying my time and thriving in work and friendships. My experience so far since my latest move has been of the latter. It's only been a few weeks and I've already become an active member of a new church, a part of a weekly community group, and made a few friends that I see real connections with. My son has even made a few friends - which is even important for babies! I'm looking back at the last few weeks compared to the last few years and ask myself , "what made the difference between thriving and surviving in a new place?" A few things come to my mind that can make all the difference.
1. Early research. When you know where you are going and when you will get there, start looking into what this place is all about. What are it's main attractions or fun things to do? Are there popular coffee shops or hole-in-the-wall restaurants? Are there any good bands playing around the time you move there? What's its farmer's market like? These are all things you could be starting to plan for so you have something to look forward. They are great ways to explore your new home and get an idea of what it's like. Also, getting out and about on a regular basis will give you a greater chance to meet people. Especially people who are interested in the same things as you. The first place we met a few friends was at a church in an old, historic building downtown. We stumbled across this church when researching the area and were intrigued. The first person who sat down next to us introduced himself and we quickly found that we had mutual friends from another part of the world and we are going to the same show in a few weeks. He invited us to a get together that week with some other couples, and though we are apart of a different church now, we still are getting dinner with him and his wife this week. Needless to say, do your research, schedule fun things to do, and see where or to who it takes you.
2. Strategic living. When we lived in the south we had some friends who were originally from a different state. They didn't have family anywhere near them, and they were fairly new to the area. We met them at church and loved hanging out with them. The only problem was that they lived forty minutes away. When I realized where they lived, I was shocked that they drove that far everyday to work and to church on the weekends. It was difficult finding times that worked for all of us to hang out because they both worked in the restaurant industry and had conflicting schedules. I was confused as to why they connected to a community so far from where they lived, making it difficult for them to deepen their relationships and strengthen their community. Wether you are a part of a small town or a big city, make sure you pick a place to live that is strategic to how you want to live. Don't make it impossible for yourself and your family to be apart of a community on a daily basis. Don't waste your time driving to and from a job that is paying for all your gas being used, and never making time for community connections. I am a stay at home home, but while my husband works a full schedule we made it a priority to be a part of a community on a daily basis - such as a weekly community group and getting coffee with friends throughout the week. Whatever that looks like for you, make sure you are strategically living in a place that makes it possible for you to have that have community living.
3. Pursue people. It's the same concept wether your are looking for a job, a home, or a friend - you have to pursue someone. Sitting around and hoping someone will magically become your friend or a job will land in your lap is unrealistic. I believe that God gives us many gifts in life, but there are many things and people that we are meant to pursue. This is because the work and effort it takes is worth it. Regardless of your personality type you must be willing to step outside of your comfort zone. If you are a reserved, introverted person who takes longer to make friends (my hand is up) mentally prepare yourself before stepping into a social situation and let go of any guards that prevent you from being yourself. Talk to a new person as though they are already a good friend. If you are outgoing and bubbly, remind yourself to stop talking at some point, ask questions, and really listen. Pursuing people is not always about chasing after someone with a phone call or a bunch of Instagram likes. Pursuing people is about taking the time and the effort to be there for people in whatever way they need you to be. This is how friendships are made, and how they are made to last.