Returning to New York, Returning to Myself

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I went back to New York recently.

I went back to my former self, the “me” I thought was less.

I went back to my old neighborhood, rode trains that were as much a part of my daily life as my roommates and friends. I walked city blocks and stared up at tall skyscrapers like they were new. A part of me I didn't know was unsettled finally found its peace.

I returned to New York, but in some kind of beautiful, inexplicable, unexpected way, I returned to myself. I didn't know I needed it. I didn't expect that gift.

I’d been on a journey since I’d seen the city last — one that began in choosing to leave it. A choice to trade in everything I knew for what was impossible to know. In truth, it had begun even before that. The journey that lead me to leave that city was the same that had taken me from the Midwest to LA, from LA to New York. Always searching for more.

It was the same voice promising me I wasn’t wrong, there was more to be had. The same voice that came to me one night as I wallowed in the depth of my pain and apathy to say the only next step from this death was life. It was the same heart cry I felt in college, leaning against the cold tiles of our communal showers, weeping and weeping while black mascara streamed down my face because I felt alone, because the affection I sought from others wasn't enough to fill the depth within me.

There were so many of those years; they felt endless.

 
My old church in Chelsea. 

My old church in Chelsea. 

 

When I remember the woman who arrived in New York all those years ago, I remember deep loneliness. I remember the abundant wellspring of anger within me, I remember great desires unfulfilled.

With relief I told God he could take all of it. One Sunday in an old church in Chelsea, I climbed into a plastic tub with anticipation — I was ready to dip beneath the surface, ready to leave this dead and dying person behind and rise into something new. I was willing to give up and discard so much of who I thought I was or what I wanted —  and so I did.

By the time I arrived Tennessee, I decidedly shut the door on the person I had been there. I believed to an extent that choosing to know the Lord meant everything from here on out would be better — more holy, more acceptable. And everything before, it was subpar. It was a place I was thankful to have left.

Do you know what it means to follow the Lord?

I remember thinking it sounded so cliche and shallow, before I knew him. But following him — it's been less about trading in my own agency or ability to think, and more a wild pursuit. A pursuit where I experience love in all places — even those within myself I had been ready to discard.

I was ready to discard New York. That whole huge city— it was worth the trade. Yet after I moved, I found myself remembering it often, reminiscing with visceral recollection what it felt like to be there.

I didn’t know why but I felt a pull to meet her — to revisit those old places that held memories of things I wanted to forget, to receive her with a new heart. I diligently walked gray sidewalks full of people as it drizzled rain without any plan but “up.” Start at the 2 Ave. F train stop, walk up towards Central Park.

 
The day I walked my New York. 

The day I walked my New York. 

 

As I walked, it was a simultaneous going towards and leaving behind — but to my surprise, it wasn’t me I was leaving behind, but the burden of never letting myself off the hook. This was reconnaissance mission in which I searched out my heart, finding pieces on street corners and in subway tunnels, bringing them back into myself.

I didn’t know how much I had left of her.

Turns out, if you want to live wholehearted you can’t selectively leave bits and pieces of your former selves behind. My healing was found in embracing what she gave me — and forgiving all the rest.

I sat down in an East Village park, just across from a bench where I would often sit. I remembered distinctly one afternoon in fall years ago, leaves falling around me: latte in hand and headphones in, gazing towards nothing yet feeling everything.

My senses recall the physical sense of weight on my chest, the welling of tears behind my eyes, the sun warming my skin as an autumn breeze brushed by. As I sat there, watching in my minds eye this earlier version of myself, I knew that the Lord had given me everything I had sat wanting for that afternoon — a response to every loneliness, every fear, every insecurity, every need. But still, there was one last gift: he brought me here to give me back myself.

As I walked through those old familiar places, remembering the terrible things I had done, the people I had dated, the fun I had, the late nights dancing and sweet afternoons walking to farmer’s markets alone — instead of loneliness I felt compassion. Instead of embarrassment or disdain, I felt love. I felt relief.

 
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My time in New York spanned three birthdays — twenty-four, twenty-five, and twenty-six. As I come up to thirty-one, I am thankful to know this experience in New York is part of a greater journey. I sit in thankfulness and wonder of everything this (sometimes difficult, challenging) year held. On my last birthday, I asked the Lord for a year of purpose and destiny, yet he did me one better than that. Going down deep to the foundations, deeper than steel running beneath a city, holding up important skyscrapers and too many people to count.

My foundations are being reset — he’s teaching me to love myself.

This has been the greatest gift of my thirtieth year. We’re always so ready to move on — so ready to put the past to bed and forget the earlier versions of ourselves ever existed. We make it sound holy, but it’s just shame. It’s just another lie we believe about ourselves because it’s easier than feeling the pain.

But I’ve felt the pain.

I returned to the places that frightened me the most and instead of anger or embarrassment, as I looked upon my former self I felt peace.

This last year I asked the Lord for something extraordinary; I asked him to propel me and make all my dreams come true. As the days turned and months rolled by, I felt so much disappointment at the seeming lack of progress — almost missing the incredible foundational shift happening, enable by things like this trip to New York.

 
Revisiting my old apartment in Brooklyn. 

Revisiting my old apartment in Brooklyn. 

 

I asked the Lord for something extraordinary and something extraordinary is what I received. He gave me back to myself: without shame or apathy, able to hold greater faith. He showed me who I am, who I have always been. He’s convinced me I can love her.  

I didn’t think I had to, didn’t think I could. It was too much — too embarrassing, too hard. Some days, I hated that person for who she was and what she did.

But now I know that I love her. I love her ability to feel so deeply, her wisdom to know when enough was enough. I love her bravery and her sacrifice, that she chose to give up everything she had built for her own security just to find out if God could be real. I love her desire for more, her dissatisfaction with ordinary. I love when all else failed, she knew to dance it out with good friends.

I love that she was brave enough and strong enough to gather an entire city, as if it were a child’s toy, easily dismantled, and hand it back to God with hopeful expectation — who was humble enough to admit she was ready to change, who gave up everything and everyone she knew to begin again. She wasn’t perfect, wasn’t fully healed. But she helped me to become who I am now.

She made a way for me towards freedom — she ran the leg of the race that got me towards God. How could I ever despise her? How could I have given her such disdain?

I can’t move forward while leaving myself behind and truthfully now, I don't want to. There's treasure within me; there are lives lived and wisdom gained I cannot disdain. The Lord doesn’t — not one bit. While I struggled to love myself, sitting on a park bench drowning in loneliness, he was there. He loved me, then. He didn’t wait for me to get better, be better, be more palatable before pursuing me. That kind of love, I can’t comprehend it. But I’m starting to, just a bit.  

I asked the Lord to give me something extraordinary, and that he has. He gave me back to myself, he ensured I wouldn't push forward without my whole heart in hand.