I'm now a couple of weeks into this "empty-nesting" thing, so I'm pretty much an expert. It's really not so bad. Some things I did in attempts to be a good mom I no longer have to do. For instance, I've almost sworn off food in my seemingly eternal quest for weight-loss, so I rarely have to grocery shop, which I have never liked but felt was necessary because the children expected to be fed. Laundry is also minimal. I haven't started that clothing line for cats yet, so it's only my stuff. Many things I enjoy doing I'm happy to do alone - hiking, movies, reading. But, when I'm feeling like I'd like some company, it's just a phone call away. (Awesome brother/sister movie night on Friday! Thanks, Marc!)
The only day that I become keenly aware of my "aloneness" is on Sunday. Church, by yourself, is hard - especially when you don't know a single person there. I still remember my first Sunday at my old ward - so many people came up and introduced themselves! Of course, I did have a very cute baby and a smiley toddler who were a huge draw, but I felt welcomed and happy to be a part of a big friendly group. That has not been the case in my new ward. The only time someone has come up has been when Nicole came to church with me and they were thinking she was 14 and so excited to have a new young woman in the ward. The woman was crestfallen as she discovered Nicole was a senior in college. But that's it. I have thought of borrowing other people's small children to use as a people magnet and an excuse to quietly play during church, but I haven't followed through on that yet.
Now, I know you're thinking, "Michelle, put on your big girl pants and go introduce yourself." And I completely agree. So last week, I took a big drink of courage (also known as Coke Zero) and made sure that at the end of sacrament meeting I went and introduced myself to the Bishop. "Hello, I'm Michelle Denney, I'm new in the ward and wanted to introduce myself." He smiled, shook my hand and said that he had received my membership records and that it was nice to meet me...and that was pretty much it. What more could the man do? I don't know, I don't think anything. Truth be told I didn't end up staying for all of the other meetings, because apparently, 12 ounces of courage (coke zero) was not enough to keep my big girl pants on for 2 more hours. (That may be the strangest sentence I have ever written.) But this whole situation has got me thinking a couple of things - first, it would be really easy to not go because no one would notice I was missing and second, how many times have I missed opportunities to reach out to someone who is feeling alone, isolated or not a part of the group?
When I started my current job I was told that there were two groups within the department, the school of medicine employees (my group) and the clinic and that I didn't need to worry about getting to know anyone in the clinic. I thought, "That is horrible advice. I'm supposed to work alongside people every day and not build a relationship with them?" It seemed completely crazy to me, so I decided to get to know everyone because I'm mildly rebellious, it makes work more fun, it's easier to help my residents who work in both parts of the department, and because all the people in the department are wonderful. So why haven't I been able to do this at my new ward? Maybe if being friendly was forbidden I would give that rule a dirty look and do it anyway. Maybe if I were setting the example for my kids, who always make me more courageous than I often feel. Maybe if it's what Christ would expect of me. Oh...wait...*sigh.*
While I don't always agree with the Mormon Utah culture, I do happen to believe strongly in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I don't think he waited for anyone to approach Him before he decided to love them. Attending church and being open to spiritual lessons requires you to be vulnerable (something I struggle with) and teachable. I felt strongly that I was meant to live here, in this place, at this moment. Since I believe that I need to find out why. I can't passively sit by and watch myself drift into spiritual complacency because I'm afraid. As backward as it may seem, it appears I will have to be the one to reach out to my ward members and my neighbors - even the ones that were appalled to have a divorced woman living next to them (that's a story for another time). I have some very persuasive baking skills and plan to put them to use with a smile and a brief message of "Like me, dammit!" It will be hard and will require a great deal of Coke Zero and take me WAY out of my comfort zone. I share this with you mainly to make you notice those people who always sit in the corner or the back of the room, who don't fit the family mold of Utah churchdom and encourage you to say hello. After all, not everyone is willing to show up on your porch, uninvited and with a plate of cookies like I am.