August 29, 2018No Comments

Opt In

"...because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:5-6, ESV).

The friendships I talked about in last week's post didn't just happen overnight. We didn't magically become close enough friends to take a genuine interest in each other's lives. It took time and it took some work. 

But Marebs, you might think, you are so suave and not socially awkward, you must just naturally attract all the coolest people to you with your winning personality and winsome humor.

I know, I know. I am as shocked as you are that humans don't just flock to me with all their walls down begging for a healthy dose of sass, neurotic deflections, and intimacy issues.

I am slightly introverted. When I first took the Myers Briggs test as a 17-year-old high school junior, I was 100% on the introverted side of the spectrum. When I took it last year, I had moved to 93% introverted, so basically I'm a social genius now and human interaction is my bread and butter.

Nope.

It takes effort for me to leave the comfort of my home, put on something besides athleisure, and socialize. If I spend too much time around too many people, I cannot function.

Fortunately, I have found a career that gives me ample opportunity to be on my own, read good books, and be creative. However, I have to make sure I balance it with good conversation, good meals with others, and all that social stuff. Otherwise I get all in my head and neurotic and stunted. If I don't have friends to check my logic, I can convince myself of all sorts of crazy things. Just ask my therapist. Though if you did, joke would be on you because confidentiality

I've been thinking a lot about that phrase Paul uses, "from the first day until now." All of my closest friends, and yours, started out as mere acquaintances. How did that growth happen? With some people we hit it off immediately, and with others it takes some time to grow on each other. But regardless, most friendships reach a point where they continue to deepen or they taper off.

You may or may not know that I spent eleven months on a mission trip called The World Race. During that year, my teammates and I spent a month in eleven different countries in some questionable living situations. The hardest part by far, and I think most of my teammates would agree, was living with each other. For safety reasons, we had to be around each other all the time. We didn't have phones or wifi to use as a distraction. We just had each other. We had to choose in or be completely miserable.

Sometimes we were completely miserable, to be honest. I remember in Thailand, it was my friend Stephanie's birthday, and someone decided what we really needed to do was get up at 7am and roam the streets of Changmai looking for waffles. I had a terrible head cold at the time, and I don't function at that hour of the morning when I'm at full health. I spent the entire quest for waffles (which failed, by the way, because apparently the Thai people are wise enough to not be awake at that hour, and if they are, they aren't making waffles) acting like a two-year-old. I'm not kidding. It was a full on temper tantrum. On my sweet friend's birthday. When we returned from our failed mission, I quite literally stomped upstairs back to bed. #BlessedToBeABlessing

There were countless moments where we had to keep choosing each other that, in normal America life, we would have walked away. It can feel like there are always better options at our fingertips. But sometimes you need to stick it out because something sweet is around the corner. Sometimes you do need to walk away, and we'll talk about this specifically later in the series. But there is a difference between a toxic relationship and one that hits a rough patch.

I can tell you with complete certainty that I am better for opting in. And I like to think my friends feel the same way about me. I just need to remember that when it's time to meet new people and Netflix is calling...

August 22, 2018No Comments

Week 1: Fangirl/boy Your Friends

"I thank my God in all my remembrance of you" (Philippians 1:3, ESV)

I want to start this blog series with gratitude. In the planning phase, I was thinking about all my friends, all the hard things and the amazing things, and I am so grateful. I have been surrounded by some cool people, ladies and gents who I call "Philippians 1:3 friends" even though I know it's incredibly cheesy. It's basically an Etsy business waiting to happen. Someone, write it on some burlap, and it'll sell itself.

Jen Hatmaker wrote a book called Of Mess and Moxie, in which she encourages her readers to "fangirl your friends." I have, as the kids say, zero chill. Jen can probably attest to this, as I low-key (very low-key, thank you) stalked her in the Grand Rapids airport when we were both trapped there for 12 hours during an ice storm this past April (Thanks, Michigan). I think I was minimally creepy and I probably talked to her like a person, not some mythical creature who poops rainbows. Regardless, I can go majorly overboard when I'm jazzed about something or someone. It's mostly things like Lord of the Rings, Sherlock, and a long list of authors and comedians with whom I would very much like to be friends.

But I am surrounded by humans who are doing incredible things in their everyday lives. I have a friend who is leaving for India tomorrow to work with a non-profit called "Women of Worth" for ten days. I have a friend who just got back from 4 weeks in SE Asia visiting factories and companies as part of her thesis research. I have a friend who is about to buy a house. I have a friend who is about to get married. I have a friend who is stepping out into a career as a producer. I could go on all day. We are surrounded by people who are making all sorts of brave choices all the time!

A couple of weeks ago, I was thinking about a mentor of mine who had a profound impact on my life. OK, fine, I was practicing (out loud) for a speaking gig at her church or in her area which I do not have. I was talking about intimacy and how the people we surround ourselves with shape who we become, for better or worse. And in thinking about Meg and all that she has meant to me, I was getting all weepy and sentimental because she loves Jesus and people authentically with her whole self. The next day I decided to text her and let her know how much I thought of her.

Here's what I wrote:

You were with me in some really dark times in my life and I'm so grateful for that. But the Lord used your presence as well as your absence during that time. There were times when you were too busy to text back or answer the phone or hang out on my timeline because you are a person. In those times, I had to be alone with Jesus, which was scary. Several of the times I reached out, I was looking for a security blanket. But when I had to be alone with Jesus, I grew to know him much more intimately. I met Immanuel in those broken moments of fear and anger and confusion, and it's made me stronger. All that to say I'm thankful for you and to remind you that HIS GRACE IS SUFFICIENT. He created us with limits so that we would constantly have to keep going back to HIM. I'm thankful for your gifts, which are many, but also for the bits where Jesus gets to take over.

She responded, "That is the VERY BEST news I could ever hear. So much freedom to know that He uses me when I am present and absent--when I am doing a bang up job and when I am totally blowing it."

It took maybe 5 minutes to send that text, a little reflection, and a minimal awareness of what was going on in her life (thx, social media). I did not know, when I sent that text, how much it would mean to her. It was an act of remembering and expressing something true, though not necessarily groundbreaking by cultural standards (by which I mean she didn't write a best-seller or release a platinum album or win an Emmy or whatever). But it was worth saying.

There is something powerful in saying things out loud, and iterating what seems obvious. Of course, I am thankful for my friends. Of course, I am proud of them. But if I don't say it, we might forget or become stuck inside our own heads, which is not always the most encouraging place to be. Reflecting on my friendship with Meg was likely just as good for me as it was for her. It was a reminder of the inspiring and encouraging person she was, is, and is still becoming. Even the friendships that are now broken, or friends with whom I'm going through a rough patch, I am thankful for them. Gratitude is a way of seeing each other, and letting our friends know that they are seen in their struggles and their joys. I don't believe we can underestimate the power of such a gesture.

August 15, 2018No Comments

The Art of Friendship: Intro

I hope you enjoyed reading the "Things I Didn't Learn in Youth Group" series as much as I loved writing it. Next week, we will pivot to a new blog series on a topic close to my heart that is uniquely crucial for singles...

Friendship!

You might have noticed that there are sermons and classes and podcasts and articles and books and books and books about marriage, particularly from the church. Friendship, on the other hand? Not so much.

Sermons and resources on spiritual friendship are not unheard of, but they are relatively uncommon, particularly when compared to the number of resources on marriage and parenting. And yet, friendship is an integral part of the fabric of any church community. It presents unique challenges and joys, and it has the potential to be life saving.

I love talking about friendship, and especially talking about my friends. Y'all. They're so great. Jesus has brought some ridiculously awesome, messy, flawed, faithful humans into my life and he has taught me so much through each of them. In fact, the last section of my book features several chapters about friendship and stories about my friends.

Over the next several weeks, I'm going to dig into some of my favorite topics relating to friendship. I'll share resources with you and give you a lot of questions to consider. I hope that these blogs will spark conversations and challenge you to do the work necessary for deep, intimate friendships.

I pray that you will also look back on your significant friendships, or look around at the ones you still have, and be grateful. In many ways, we become who we surround ourselves with. We have a great capacity for wounding each other, but we also have the power to heal and encourage and lift up and practice consistency in our own clumsy and messy and well intentioned ways.

Get pumped.

July 18, 2018No Comments

Week 3: Saying “No”

Somewhere along the line, I heard the phrase "turn the other cheek" and assumed it meant a good Christian is a doormat. Any opportunity, any slight, or any uncomfortable situation, I thought I was just supposed to be nice.

In reality, I was twisting the meaning of the verse to justify my terror of confrontation.

My interpretation has proved itself to be problematic daily. I have many opportunities to stand my ground, but I usually end up shrinking into the background waiting for it to pass, swallowing my frustration and anger. I tell myself, It isn't a big deal. Just let it go.

Enter my twenties, during which I discovered that dancing is super fun.

I need to start by saying that I am not a good dancer, but I am an enthusiastic dancer.

It is an irrefutable fact that if you are a woman dancing alone possessing the proportions of... uhh... a pear... there are circumstances in which some random dude will come up behind you and... uhh... start dancing with you in a manner reminiscent of your most awkward high school prom.

The easiest way out of this situation is to look at your friend with panic and mouth "Help."

One could also just say "no," but so far you have not exchanged a single word with this dude.

What do you do?

I have developed a technique of moving around the dance floor like a jackrabbit. One minute I spot a dude leering at me, the next I'm in the opposite corner, hiding in plain sight among a sea of white girls dancing just as badly.

The same thing happens if a guy asks for my number and I don't want to give it to him. I'm not a good enough liar to pull off the "fake number" move. I have the right to say no. Why don't I?

For me, it's partially a lack of practice, and partially my bone deep terror of conflict. I'm so surprised and so paranoid that I just give the dude my number.

But it's also this image of a good Christian girl that I haven't fully been able to let go of. At some point, I decided that a good Christian girl doesn't say "no," unless someone is trying to sex with her, because her purity is ultimate. She is submissive (aka a doormat), demure, and agreeable. For some reason, maintaining that image with strangers is paramount.

Why do I want to be her when there are countless opposing models in the Bible? Why wouldn't I channel Ruth, who defied cultural expectations and committed to her widowed mother-in-law, went and worked in a field at great personal risk, who was both faithful and fierce? What about Mary, Lazarus' sister, who refused to participate in a woman's traditional work, instead sitting at the feet of Jesus, a place reserved for male disciples? And what about Jesus, who consistently took women out of their culturally relegated place and gave them dignity and honor, who talked to them like they were people, to whom revealed himself as Messiah, then as resurrected Lord to women, who sent women out to boldly proclaim his love? 

When I am scared of saying no, I am more concerned about protecting my image than of proclaiming the Gospel through my life. Whether it is a ministry opportunity or on the dance floor, Christ has given me a spirit that is not a slave to fear, but one of sonship-ultimate dignity and belonging (Romans 8:15).

July 11, 2018No Comments

Week 2: Bar Etiquette

I like to write in bars, mainly because I am most productive between the hours of 9pm and 1am. (Point of clarification: I do this twice a week at most. One: it's expensive, two: all of the empty calories, three: I like my liver functional) If I go on a weekday, I am generally able to get a good amount of writing done and mostly am left alone. But there are consistently dudes at various levels of intoxication who feel the need to come up to me and say "Sorry to bother you, but I just have to ask what you're writing about."

First of all, no, you don't have to ask.

Nine times out of ten, I tell the dude what I'm writing about, and he responds with a long story about himself and what he does, which ultimately has nothing to do with anything I said.

Exhibit A:

A couple weeks ago, I was at my favorite writing spot. It was a Friday, and I had four articles I wanted to get done. I'm a new freelancer, which means I don't exactly have clients lined up out the door yet. If I want to get work, I have to go and find it. I need to have ideas and content to pitch. While I am not technically on a deadline, if I don't have content to pitch, I will not get paid. No one is begging me to submit anything yet, but I like to, you know, eat and stuff.

I'm sitting at the bar, and this one dude starts talking to me. I had finished my first article and was just starting on my second one. I responded to his questions and listened to his personal view on religion (this is common: when such dudes find out that I write about faith, they explain to me how the world works).

I am a sassy person, but I also like to treat people like they are people, and I have a crippling need to be liked. Also, rejected dudes are wildly unpredictable. Add any amount of alcohol to the mix and there is no knowing what you're going to get. My strategy is generally to give them as little personal information as possible so that I seem like a human turnip, and they lose interest.

I talked to this first dude for like 40 minutes. He suggested we go to another bar, and I said, "I actually do have a lot of work to get done." He said OK and he left.

I brushed this experience off; it had been positive on the whole, and I started writing my second article. I got a whole paragraph in when another dude comes up to me and says, with no preamble, "Can I read that?"

Jesus, you need to take this wheel because I cannot with this. 

The first guy at least had the decency to wait until I was between articles.

This dude proceeds to do all the "drunk dude trying to engage the only person with ovaries in the bar" moves, one of which was, under the pretense of inspecting my tattoo, to grab my wrist (not aggressively, but still), and turn it various directions, so he could get a good look.

I paid and left.

At one point, dude number 2 said, "oh, am I bothering you?" to which I responded "I'm on a deadline and literally just spent the past 40 minutes having this same conversation with another dude, so yeah."

He then explained to me why he's an atheist and how that complicates his relationship with his mother.

I left very frustrated, wracking my brain for what I should have done differently, coming up with killer clap back I would never be able to use.

Then I thought, Wait... why do I feel responsible for this? I was sitting alone, minding my own business, which I have seen many dudes do on many nights at this same bar. And they are left in peace.

I have spent time developing stratagem to avoid these interactions, until it occurred to me that it actually makes very little difference how I dress or act.

I am a woman at a bar alone. There seems to be something about the space next to me that demands to be filled. I think there is an assumption that, because I am a woman, I am not complete on my own, that in spite of being at a bar clearly working and wearing the least attractive clothing I own, I must on some level want to be interrupted. It doesn't seem fathomable that I could legitimately be there on my own by choice.

By entering into this particular cultural and secular realms, I am subject to a social contract I didn't agree to, and for which I find myself unprepared. As a Christian, I feel compelled to engage. These dudes are, after all, image bearers. As a former missionary, I feel guilty for not taking this golden moment to evangelize.

It's a complicated line to walk.

You might be thinking Well Marebs, you wouldn't have gotten this blog post out of it if this hadn't happened. What do you expect, working at a bar? It's a social setting.

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting and writing in front of the Van Goghs at the Met when a man decided to explain to me that the reason Trump got elected was because of video games. So there's that.

July 6, 20182 Comments

Friendly or Flirting?

Monday night, I co-hosted a happy hour fundraiser at the restaurant where I used to work. The proceeds were to help fund a friend's mission trip to India. The bar area was packed with friends of friends and mutual acquaintances. As a host, I went around and talked to anyone who was standing alone or who had arrived recently... "Who do you know?", "Any questions about the menu?"

One guest looked perplexed, so I asked him the usual questions; we had some banter. I don't want to brag, but I'm basically an expert at talking to attractive dudes (This is a lie; I am not). I pointed to the bar and said, "See that guy? He's my work husband. His name is Malcolm, and he will take great care of you."

Attractive dude, "Work husband, huh? Do you have an actual husband?"

Me, "No."

AD, "Well, won't you have to leave your work husband when you get for real married?"

Me, "No... He and I are for life and if I get married, my husband will have to accept that."

AD, "Well what if Malcolm is the 'one'?"

Me, "Malcolm is gay, so I really hope he isn't."

We had a couple more interactions as the event wound down. As said attractive dude was about to leave, there was the awkward pause where he was supposed to ask for my number... but instead he said, "I'm sure I'll see you around."

Ummmm.... where?

Insert concept one from this brand-new blog series, "Things I Didn't Learn in Youth Group"

Friendly or Flirting?

Human interaction is, even at the best of times, perplexing. We are all communicating based on a lifetime of assumptions and receiving messages from the other person based on these same assumptions. The other person is doing the same. If I think about this too much, I don't understand how anyone communicates with any semblance of success.

I had just met this dude, who recognized my wrist tattoo as elvish and looked up the obscure OT reference from my shoulder tattoo and made an effort to bring it up in one of our mini-convos of the night.

I don't know if it's because my bar is on the floor or because I have the experience of the average sixth grader in this area, but I thought that meant something.

But maybe he perceived that I am slightly Type A and prefer to interact on my own terms, and expected me to be assertive.

But I thought: I made first contact, it's your turn to make a move. He was, of course, supposed to read my mind and know that.

Maybe I got it wrong. Maybe he is secretly married. Maybe he was being nice. Maybe he was interested. Maybe he's a total narcissist and I dodged a bullet.

I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all solution, but it seems like everyone is operating under their own personal set of rules when it comes to cross-gender interactions. I used to think there was one universal set of rules that everyone besides me was privy to. I thought if I could just figure out these rules, I would have a fool-proof map of male-female communication.

There are no rules. It's just a free for all, a melee during which I mostly end up like the Black Knight from Monty Python. I only connect the dots retrospectively and morosely sing "Maybe This Time" from Cabaret alone in my apartment. I'm kidding. You can't sing that song morosely.  

Anyways, Richard, if you're out there, I left a business card for you at the restaurant. Just in case.

Communicator. Creator. Coach.

© 2020 Mary B Safrit LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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