January 28, 2003

It takes me a long time to be willing to share of myself with others. Even longer to share some of the goings on of my heart and mind. You see, I’m very introverted and tend to be shy and keep to myself until I feel comfortable around people. Even then, it isn’t that much. I tend to sit back and watch. I’d wait and see what the environment is like and then decide whether or not I’d like to interact with it, and then, how much. Trust is a big thing with me. It always has been.

Growing up I moved around a lot. Looking back, the average that I’ve lived in one place is three years.Most, if not all, of the moves required the transfer of schools. I was always the new kid; hopping from school to school every few years into systems of friends who had been together for years and I was never quite sure where I fit in. If I was lucky enough to find a group of friends to hang out with and goof around with – and I usually did without too much trouble, though it would take awhile – they weren’t the kinds of friends I wanted or felt I needed. Most were guys that liked to cut up and act silly and test out new jokes – both good and bad – in a group where their eccentricities weren’t ridiculed by the “cooler” crowd. Instead of trying to fit in with what was “in” at the time, we tended to stick together and not care about all of that. We didn’t have to worry about fitting in with each other because we accepted each other for who we were. So, in a sense, we fit in because we didn’t fit in.

Though these types of friends were a lot of fun they would be lacking in a serious side. Their level of maturity left much to be desired. You see, while I was, and am, able to make jokes with the best of them – and at the risk of sounding immodest, I was one of the best of them – I always felt that I needed to be more ME. While I am that fun-loving jokester that loves to come up with puns and other funny turns of phrase, it is a mask that I wear. I get that way on two types of occasions: (1) when I feel like I need to do something to get people to like me – after all, laughing brings people together; and (2) when I’m finally comfortable letting loose with people. The former tended to be the more true during much of my pre-college years. Kids can be so cruel, and I was well aware of just how real that statement can be. Shy redheads who wear glasses, are liked by teachers for being good students, and sing in the school chorus aren’t among the most accepted of kids in school, let alone popular. Wherever I turned, that fact was made all the more clear to me. So, in attempts to befriend my schoolmates, I would joke around and try to show people that I was worth noticing too – and not in a way that attracted the put-downs and names that are prevalent in the schoolyard. For the most part it worked. Though I still got called the occassional name I quickly learned that it was more important to just blow it off and go on my way, paying more attention to the laughs of my friends that joined mine rather than were directed at me by those who were “cooler.”

But, while the joking around yielded some great friends, I wanted more. I wanted friends I could be myself with, both good and bad and everything in between. I couldn’t seem to find that at school – friendships there are so superficial sometimes anyway. I discovered the fellowship groups at the various churches I attended and saw how they would accept me despite my flaws. I was quickly put at ease and could be myself and the real ME would emerge. When I would move I sought out these groups, knowing full well that I would be able to quickly find refuge in them. From there, I made friends that last until today, and I am forever grateful for that.

It finally came time to go on to college. I said goodbyes to all of my friends and headed off on the next great adventure of my life. Because many of the friends I had in high school were of the first type – those that were often just as strange as I – it was pretty easy to let go and move on. Upon my arrival on campus I quickly joined in with the campus ministries group and soon found myself smack dab in the middle of a group of people that loved me and accepted me just because. And I must say, they are all treasured friends to this day. It was in one of these groups that I learned the joys of being able to share myself with others. The main focus of this one particular group is to sit down and talk about everything that is going on in your life. We’d read from our journals and keep track of the various struggles we were dealing with. It was a confidential group where there was never fear of being laughed at or being embarrassed. We were all there because we needed each other and wanted to be there for each other. We were more family than anything else. I learned how to trust there.

And so, despite the struggles of growing up, ever the new kid in town, I was able to learn how to be ME and to be open about who I am as a person without fear and without reservation. It was the strength and confidence learned from these friends that allow me to write these words today. And I don’t know where I would be without them.

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