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I recently participated in a small group “conversation starter.” The question “tell us about a time you felt different or unwelcome.” I think I’ve been lucky…there haven’t been many times. Traveling abroad with a group of students (one being my son) the guide decided to raise his bright red hat in the air like a flag and walk backwards down the sidewalk waving his hat so his group could see where to go. My son and I wanted to duck down a side street and hide. During college we were traveling to Costa Rica and the group leaders told the women to bring mostly “broom skirts” to blend in with the locals. I’m not sure what guide book they were reading…because we certainly didn’t “blend!” In both cases feeling different was putting it mildly. It was like we were wearing “American tourists” in neon lights!

There have been other times when I didn’t feel welcomed. Like when a clique of parents whose children attended the same school as my children were not really interested in having a “new member.” But I’ve never been seriously excluded or encountered clear and strong signals that this was “not my town.” I have never been a foreigner in a strange land, so to speak, alone and lonely.

The facilitator asked if anyone had purposely put themselves in a place where we would feel different, uncomfortable. I thought, “Why would anyone purposely do that?” while knowing she had a point. If we only stay in our comfort zone, how do we stretch, grow, develop passion for others who are (by choice or not) living in a “strange land.”

One of our favorite musicians from this area (but known much more widely), Jonathan Byrd, has a great ballad. The chorus is simple:

You think you’ve got nothing to give
Look around how people live
Loneliness is poverty
Say hey, say hey to me

Am I aware of how welcoming I am or am not being toward people? Am I helping to ease their comfort or shining a spotlight on our differences by my actions? Multiple messages this week have made me pause to think about how I need to have a greater awareness about the experiences and perceptions of others. And to do my best not to add to their struggle, even in ignorance.