Saturday, November 19, 2011

Marking Territories

I know that we frequently think of dogs as having their own territories. It’s common knowledge that dogs “mark their territory” by peeing on things such as tree trunks and corners of garages. But recently, I have the feeling that dogs are not the only creatures that have the need to claim and mark their territories. I think women also have this need. And right now, I’m in the somewhat uncomfortable process of discovering how the marking of these territories takes place.

Here’s my question: How many women can comfortably live together before imaginary territory boundaries get crossed and things get crowded, caddy and possessive. Right now, I live with 3 other women. I imagine that all 4 of us, including myself, have a territory where we have become the guru of sorts, the top dog in that particular realm.

For example, there is the territory of the kitchen. Who is the master of the kitchen? Who enjoys baking, cooking, experimenting, looking at recipes, and can whip up muffins from scratch before you or I could run to the store for a pre-packaged Betty Crocker mix.

Then there’s the territory of being the sensitive listener. The person who is sensitive to the relational happenings in the home. Other people’s ups and downs. How everyone’s week has been, how that difficult coworker has been acting at work and so on. The relational consultant whose own needs or issues are never brought up in the face of everyone else's emotional needs.

Then there’s the territory of being the cool girl who is all up to date on her fashion. She knows all the recent movies, random stories, and all the trendy styles. She knows what cool people are doing and she follows suit.

And then I guess there is the territory of not knowing what territory you are in so you try to stand gently in each territory for a moment or so. You see the territories clearly and feel there is no room to snatch a small plot of land for yourself. You climb a tree and sit alone like Zaccheus only unlike Zaccheus, the view only discourages you. The territories are all clearly marked with their flags waving fiercely, boldly. And even though you don’t really want to stay in that tree, you’re not sure where to set up camp. So you consider a sex change or moving to Australia or following the example of our dear canine friend and strategically peeing in 4 corners of the house.

In China, I was also on a team with anywhere between 4 to 6 women at a time. This also presented some territorial challenges at least initially. One of us was known for teaching, one for ministry, one for relational sensitivities, one for Chinese ability, one for kindness and compassion, and so on. At first, it was hard not to compare our gifts against the gifts of the other women (especially when our students were so quick to point out everyone else’s specialty to us.) But somehow as we had the chance to develop our own, unique relationships and “territories” within the community, we had more space to grow and pull from the strengths of our team-mates. We learned how to maneuver ourselves by adapting to use each others’ gifts as the situation called for it, and we were blessed and well-rounded because of it. That seems like the ideal, and I wait for it now… from the not-so-secure spot on my tree.


Jenny - AKA - frogmama said...

does it interest you to stand alongside that person in their territory and "try it out?" For example, say: "I've always wanted to try decorating cakes or Christmas cookies" and then either "Do you think you'll be around to help me out if I have a question on Saturday?" or "Do you want to join me?"...I dunno, maybe that's bad advice, but it lets the person know you want to work in that "realm" and invites them to be around/help you with it. Perhaps, ask the kind roommate if she wants to go ring bells for Salvation Army at Walmart... or ask the other to help you pick out new shoes with you... like, maybe you need to bond, on their turf...???

Or simply offer to share your gifts with them. Offer to make your favorite Chinese dish for them one special night, or do a craft project (like buy 4 square canvases and paints and you all paint your own (abstract art is great!) and hang them together, etc.) I have more suggestions for that project if you were interested :)

I was introduced to your blog by D&R because she pointed out you do a good job of presenting the Chinese culture. It seems to me you like to "people watch" and share what you learn with others. Not sure how that translates to the roommate situation (ha! - you don't want to come off as a stalker!) but it seems to be a gift. Don't let Satan use it against you. Remember, these people all have their own trials going on, too, that might make you feel like the catty/possessiveness is your fault when its really them. I hope this all helps you... you are in my prayers, many times a week. (speaking of stalker... you don't even know me IRL... hehe) I think I identify with your posts a lot because it seems you may be very much like me :)

Erica said...

Portia, I'm guessing you have a territory now whether you can see it or not. I lived as the odd one out in a house with a group of three other girls and definitely felt it. I was so encouraged later to hear from one of them who stated it rather matter-of-factly that my stories about life and ministry overseas were the jumpstart she needed to spend a semester overseas in ministry. I had no idea I'd influenced her in any such way--even after we were no longer roommates, I still felt a bit awkward about it all. Nevertheless, God used me in a territory of influence even when I couldn't see it. I guarantee that God has given you influence that is blessing and encouraging those other girls, even if you (or even they) can't see it. I guess that doesn't make the tree bark any softer, but perhaps in another season or two the leaves will fall off and the view will be clearer. :)

Norman & Joyce said...

It seems that Zaccheus' stay in the tree ended fairly well. Notice that he (or someone in his house) must have been a pretty good cook. How about "hurry down from that tree," dress to please yourself, and eat the good food?

Portia said...
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Portia said...

Wow, it's worth posting more vulnerable entries like this one just to read the encouraging comments. Thank you, thank you. I'll try to update on the situation in a month or so.