Thursday, April 26, 2012

i forget how to make friends

As much as I hate to admit it, I'll be living at my parents' house for the foreseeable future. I'm sure I'll figure something out soon and be able to get back to being a grown-up, but without a paycheck, I don't currently have a lot of other options. Since it's been nearly eight years since I've called this city home, I was fairly certain that no one I knew back then would still be around now to be friends. Therefore, I decided to look at Springfield as a new adventure and did what I'd do in any other city: I googled churches and set out to meet new people.

It turns out that I kind of suck at it.

Before I left Korea, I used to daydream about how I'd introduce myself to new people in America:

Potential new friend: "Hi, are you new here?"
Me: "Why, yes I am."
Potential new friend: "Where did you live before?"
Me: "Only the most awesome place in the whole entire world: SOUTH KOREA!"
Potential new friend: "I'm so jealous that I need to immediately become your best friend and maybe quit my job to move there myself!"

But last night was my first attempt at making new friends, and it looked a little more like this:

Potential new friend: "Hey! We went to the same high school! What have you been up to?"
Me: "I live with my parents and don't have a job."
Potential new friend: "Well, you haven't been around for a while. Where were you?"
Me: "You know... here... there... Cincinnati... Asia..."
Potential new friend: "I didn't catch that last one...?"
Me: "I don't have a job."

I have no idea what's wrong with me. In the weeks leading up to Korea, I messaged strangers on facebook asking them to be my friend; yet now I'm confronted with talking to people I used to know a few years back and I can't manage to form coherent sentences.

It's really easy to make friends overseas. All of my non-Korean friends in Korea had, at some point, packed up bags and moved to a new place where they knew few (if any) people. Everyone remembered what it was like to be new and therefore went out of her way to help new people acclimate as quickly as possible. It wasn't out of the ordinary to invite people to do all the same things you did while they figured out exactly what their place would be.

Here, everyone already has a life established. They have people they see on a regular basis and activities they've been doing for years. I have to figure out where I fit all on my own. What makes it even worse is that I know this is temporary. Whether I move to Columbus, San Francisco, or Shanghai in the fall, I know I'm not staying here. I don't have a long-term supportive friendship to offer; basically I'm just begging people to keep me from being lonely until I move again, and that feels all kinds of selfish. How do you make friends when you feel like you have nothing to offer the other person except incessant babbling about how exciting your life used to be? I suppose I'll just continue my valiant effort towards single-handedly doubling the library's circulation while I'm here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

just a job

As I fill out hundreds of online job applications and tweak my resume to fit everything I can find, I'm struggling with what, to me, is a very important question.

Do I need to have a job with purpose, or will a meaningful life suffice?

I could go right back to Cincinnati and the temp agency that hired me before would take me back and find a desk for me to fill. I can join another company that doesn't so much need employees as trained typing-monkeys and use the money they give me to pay my bills while I live the dream. But the dream doesn't ever have me wondering who stole my stapler.

I've always been a huge proponent of "don't live to work - work to live!" Back when I was desperately low on cash and trying to find any possible way to pay my bills in Cinci, I would have taken nearly any job. As long as my job gave me enough money to pay my student loans, I reasoned, it didn't need to be the most fulfilling job in the world. I just wanted to make enough to go bowling when my friends did.

Now, however, I'm standing on the edge of that same cliff, wondering if automatically deposited checks are enough. My job in Korea wasn't my favorite; hagwons are all kinds of messed up and I'd much rather be teaching Macbeth than Old MacDonald. But I knew every day that what I was doing mattered, that my efforts caused noticeable changes in the lives of my students. On top of my 9-5, I was involved in so many things that made my life exciting and left me feeling full. That job gave me the freedom to eat out with my friends after church and travel to Thailand during the summer. It was pretty much a win-win.

So the issue that I'm faced with is whether I want to return to a job where I'll basically have to tune out during working hours. I want to teach again, but I want to teach in an inner city school with underserved kids who maybe wouldn't have the opportunity to go to college unless someone can help them. Is it enough to just teach in any old school? Could I live in a nice little suburb and teach polite-ish kids who are automatically on the fast track to superficial success? What if I have to go back to a temp job in a cramped office? One year from now, will I be glad I stayed in America or will I wish I'd returned to my home-away-from-home?

Granted, if I go back to Korea, I'd be teaching the same little rich kids I had before in the same affluent area I'd gotten used to. However, in Korea it was more about what I did on my evenings and weekends than how I punched a time clock. I could go back and volunteer at an orphanage again. I could work at the soup kitchen again. If I went back, I'd really like to get involved with North Korean refugees this time around.

Can I make a life here that's just as meaningful as my life there was?

When people ask me what my favorite thing about Korea was, I tell them I liked who I was there. I liked that even when I was eating ramen and watching Friends, I was on an adventure overseas. I liked that I made a concerted effort to love others in whatever tangible ways I could offer, teaching English or ladling kimchi jjigae. I like that I always knew exactly how much time I had left there, so I made sure never to waste it. I'm scared I won't be as good at that here.

So that brings me back to the question I can't figure out. If I happen to be offered a job that doesn't offer any intellectual stimulation and doesn't make the world a better place, can I still be content knowing that my only opportunity to make a difference lies in my extra-curriculars?

Friday, April 6, 2012

yes, it's true. i'm not married.

I know what the Bible says: that it is not good for man to be alone, that marriage is a symbol of Christ's unending love for the church, that an excellent wife is worth more than jewels. I recognize that raising a family is one of the most significant ministries a person can be a part of, and that it's probably a good idea to have some kids around to drive me to the doctor when I get old.

But I also know that Jesus spent thirty-three years on this earth without a "significant other" other than the Father he served, and I'm pretty sure he wasn't whining about it. Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians that it's better to stay single and that singleness is a gift.

Now, I recognize that I'll never be Paul, and I certainly will never be Jesus, and statistically it's incredibly likely that I'll get married. But that doesn't mean I need to spend every moment of my singleness eagerly waiting for this cursed season to end so I can start my "real" life.

I was talking to one of my friends the other day about someone we both know who is single. My friend made an offhand comment that she thinks this person isn't really the marrying type, but she immediately corrected herself, saying she hopes she's wrong. It was almost as if saying that someone might not want to get married is an insult, that it's implying that he'd never reach first class status. I didn't mention anything in the conversation at the time, but the comment has stuck with me. Why do we assume that it's wrong or shameful for someone to choose a path other than marriage?

Certainly there are people out there that choose to remain unmarried for the wrong reasons. If you're too selfish to want to share your living space, or if you're terrified of commitment, or if you're dating too many people and can't imagine choosing just one, maybe your priorities aren't quite in order. But I think a perfectly sane person can also choose to not walk down the aisle.

I know too many women who have given up on their former goals because their husbands had something else in mind. I know couples who've only been married a year or two who already wish they'd made a different decision. And I have friends who're pondering the kinds of adventures they could have had if they'd waited a few years before tying that knot. My heart breaks for those friends, the ones who thought getting married would solve all their problems and make them complete. The thing is, it doesn't take two halves to make a whole in marriage; you both have to be whole from the start.

I wish I'd realized this sooner. I spent all of college sizing up my friends, trying to decide if any of them would make a decent husband. I felt like every new class was a race to snatch up the single guys, and I was secretly disappointed every time someone chose to pursue one of my friends because I couldn't figure out why no one ever wanted me.

Sadly, this mindset didn't disappear when I was handed my college diploma; I continued to believe I would be second-rate until someone finally took pity on me and agreed to be my husband. I begged friends to set me up, I tried every online dating site anyone mentioned, and I scouted every room I walked into for The One. And man, was I miserable.

It wasn't until I was sitting on a rooftop in southern India that I realized what an amazing gift this season has been for me. I'm committed to no one but Jesus. I've been able to quit my job and move across the world because no one else was counting on me. I've had the beautiful pleasure of traveling across Asia on my own, making friends for the day with other lone travelers and scheduling my entire trip the way I want it. When I teach, my students are free to be the most important ministry in my life. If I had a husband and children, my time would be divided, but I'm able to allocate all of my energy to the kids in my classroom.

Being single doesn't mean I've failed. It means my life doesn't look exactly like yours, but neither does my haircut. That's okay. I'm deeply grateful for the life I have, and I sincerely hope you are just as thankful for the life you've been given. And sure, if someone comes along with whom a lifetime commitment is the logical conclusion, then fantastic! But I'm not going to start by desiring that commitment then seeing if I have any takers. I don't think my singleness is something to "fix". Getting married is going to have to be a significant improvement on what I've already got going on, and I have to be honest, this life I've got is pretty spectacular.

So don't feel sorry for me that I don't have a ring on my finger. I'm not waiting for my life to begin; I'm smack in the middle of living it. And if I have to dance to "Single Ladies" at a few more weddings, that's not the worst thing in the world.