The difficult thing about having a blog is somehow writing what you really are thinking, explaining it, and hoping that somehow it makes sense yet doesn't make anyone think poorly of you, get mad at you, or think you are crazy by the end of it. I want to write about my recent trip to New York, but in order to do that well I have to tell the backstory. In any good story, there is always a back story to set the tone. This back story doesn't exactly give me good feelings and probably won't give you warm fuzzies...but hang with me. There is a reason I am saying all this.
I have a bucket list. I have mentioned it before on the blog perhaps. For those of you who don't know it.... It was this:
Brooklyn Tabernacle Tuesday Prayer Service
Photo with Aubie (Yeah. I have taken plenty of photos of my people with Aubie..never one of myself WITH Him)
Go inside the Statue of Liberty
Spend a night and day near water that is cobalt blue or crystal clear....preferrably in one of those huts with a glass window in the floor.
Get my friends together for a weekend, so they can know each other and I can celebrate His goodness to me through them together. For once have them all in the same place and they can see how awesome they each are and hopefully like each other just a touch of how much I love them.
I recently added "Go to Acre" on my list since moving back to Auburn.
I have checked off Acre.
and this week particular week, Brooklyn Tabernacle and Liberty were on my list to be checked off.
When I was in college, Seminary or somewhere along the line I heard about Brooklyn Tabernacle Church, but I never got to go on my trips to NYC. Long stories, but I have been to the Statue of Liberty multiple times, but never got to go inside of the statue. So I decided in March that I would just make plans and dgo. If no one could go, I would just go alone. I had enough Southwest points and booked so early that the ticket was free. I asked several folks if they could go. They couldn't so I went ahead with plans to get those items on my bucket list checked off.
I was going to go on Tuesday morning and come back late Wednesday. Cheaper ticket, and only one hotel night. I planned it for July 25-26. My Birthday is July 24. I thought it would be a good way to start off my 44th year (I turned 43....so this is my actual 44th year of life :)
The hard part of the back story... My birthday was Monday. I really don't like my birthday. I haven't in a long time. Let me explain why, and hopefully you will understand where I am coming from...
My Momma was one of those Betty Crocker meets Martha Stewart types. I think because she enjoyed it and also out of necessity. We didn't always have a lot of money to do a lot of things. She did homecooking, sewed most of our dresses, made do with what we had. Every birthday she would make our birthday cakes, themed with something we liked.
My cakes varied from Holly Hobbie to Big Bird and Cookie Monster to PacMan and somewhere along the line I decided I loved Great American Cookie Cake..all chocolate Icing please. So that is how we went except the one year I was in trouble and didn't get a birthday (another story for another day).
My 24th birthday my Mom was very sick, and we even got hospice on board that week and shopped for funeral arrangements.... We knew she wasn't doing well. But she made sure that I got my cookie cake, even though she wasn't eating much, we gathered in her room and the Happy Birthday happened. That was the last birthday I had with my Mom. Mine was the last birthday she celebrated before she died 12 days later.
So a lot of the time my birthday feels hard. And even lonely.
The next year I was in Fort Worth and had just returned with the kids from camp...I didn't really know many people in FTW. And pre facebook if people didn't know it was your birthday and you didn't mention it, they never knew. From what I remember I asked a girl I kinda was getting to know if she wanted to go to dinner. I don't even remember if I told her it was my birthday. I do remember that week at camp getting emotional and bawling on one of the Fuge staff over it all...In God's kindness it was a good day overall dinner and hanging out with a future bestie. No cake or cards or gifts that I can recall. But it was ok.
The next four years I was working for Centrifuge so birthdays were work days and usually the whole camp knew. One of those summers a couple sweet friends celebrated birthday week and another camp summer my birthday was actually my first full day in NY and I spent it running around town with my friend Buzz- ended with Phantom of the Opera and doughnuts in a hotel room with my team. My family sent cards and gave the shout outs but life just felt very different with location and folks always seeming to be different year to year.
When I moved to Auburn there were lunches with coworkers and dinner with my parents. Because of life stage and being single my birthday turned into inviting people "out to eat" or "come over to hang out at the house and we will have burgers" Because there isn't the typical husband and kids to make much of you when your calendar flips to turn you a year older. My last birthday in the US before I moved to Honduras I hijacked Sister Girl for a day in Birmingham followed by "Hey everybody let's get together at Laredos" and I got the cookie cake..because I wanted to eat it and I knew it would be there if I got it. James actually got one too, she knew it was my birthday and wanted to make sure I had it. I really just want my birthday to be about hanging out with my people...but if I didn't move to make it happen I usually ended up at home doing nothing. No celebration or hoo ha, quiet and yep. Alone-Ish.
Don't get me wrong- there were small gatherings and ridiculousness like Sarah being obnoxious about it. There have been yearly Happy Birthday Videos and the stellar cards (I still have that "The Office" Card Barbara. Good call). I am grateful for my life and what I have. But birthdays always feel hard.
In Honduras there were teams who found out it was my birthday and blessed me with cards and rice krispy "cake" and my kids usually were completely obnoxious with the eggs and flour. But I always felt at a distance about my birthday, realizing for a lot of my kids a big deal wasn't made of them, so I was really ok with not a lot being made of mine. I don't like the singing Happy Birthday thing...I really just want to be with my people more than anything. My 40th birthday was weird. Well intentioned but really not at all what I wanted. (I wanted pizza or Chinese. I got a random buffet at a Honduran restaurant that was really quite... no bueno).
So coming back to the US felt weird after all that, back to what I thought I knew and comfortable with...but I have found to be so different. I anticipated Lots of time with friends. Birthday celebrations for and with my friends. Good convos about all the things I haven't gotten to talk about... this is what I have missed over the past 4 years. What I have found is disconnection and a lot of alone time, isolation. I feel like I came home from college and everyone has moved or moved on. I don't fit or feel at home in Auburn. I've found what has felt like loss and disappointment. Grateful for where I am. But really quite opposite of what I expected and hoped for in my return to "regular life."
So Birthday 2017 was different. Quiet. Stuck in traffic in ATL due to a gas truck turnover is how my birthday officially started. Went to work. No cake. No cards. No gifts. Homecooked meal with my Halls and packing for NYC that night. . Facebook greetings, some texts and the annual sing o gram video message from a #village fam. And as much as I tried to prepare myself for that particular day...it still was hard. Being single feels amplified on a birthday that felt like Monday did. It echoed loudly the empty feeling that 8 months in Auburn have felt like to me.
So Tuesday morning predawn I found myself driving to ATL to catch a flight to NY. When I wasn't asleep on the flight I was crying. I am sure if the lights were on in the plane they woulda wondered who died. I felt alone and sort of forgotten...and on my way to a city with a billion people. By myself. Not at all feeling what I thought I would feel this day when I booked the ticket 4 months before.
This is what is hard...how do you explain- you feel lonely without it sounding like a pity party and selfish? How do you talk about real feelings when everyone has a hard time with the stage of life they find themselves? Because I don't know how to bring it up, talk about it....for weeks, even with my closest friends I have said nothing. I felt I lost the community I had before I went to Honduras, things have changed so much, and all this felt amplified on my birthday. I felt deflated and defeated. Forgotten and alone on that plane.
So when I got to New York I checked in to my hotel room and headed to the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art) to go see my suit of armor. The short version of this story is that I took a photo of a suit of armor years ago on a NY trip...and the Lord used it to teach me about our armor- Ephesians 6. It has a dent in it's breastplate on the front that was intentionally left there when it was made. Basically He is our defense...our armor is battle tested and trustworthy. Breastplate of Righteousness is His blood shed for us. I will have to work on a blog post on that. If I have done one before I can't find it.
I walked into armor hall and took a photo of the armor and of the sign (I previously did not take a photo of the details for the armor and have regretted it for years). I walked off and decided to wander around the museum some more, but I felt like I needed to take time to go back to my armor. I went back and actually read the info on the armor. I realized it said that there is a dent in the back of the armor (this particular armor was fired at by a pistol and the dent would be left so show the future armor wearer that it was trustworthy). I am not sure why It hit me like it did, but when I realized the armor had not just a dent in the front but in the back I wanted to lean on the glass case and cry. I could only think "He not only goes with me... in front, He goes behind- He guards me in such a protected and sure way. His death and victory over death and sin by His resurrection is the dent if you will that proves He is trust worthy. What better guarantee can you find anywhere that is so trustworthy?
I took a photo of it and as I walked around the museum it was as if a light had come, the heaviness was lifted...and the loneliness I had felt so strongly broke. As I went I was texting the random thoughts to my friend and photos of things I was struck by as beautiful. He was just reminding me for the thousandth time that He is aware of me and my needs and I can trust Him.
That afternoon I went to a cathedral which is another story...but it felt empty after the Met. Irony of ironies... a church feeling devoid of Jesus. Lots of other things that really had nothing to do with the God I know. I finished up there and headed to Brooklyn to eat dinner somewhere before prayer service at Brooklyn Tabernacle.
I saw on my google map of Brooklyn Shake Shack so I went there. I ordered and sat down in the bar window next to a lady who was cleaning up her spot while she waited on her food. As I sat there I kept thinking I need to ask her if she lives around here. She ended up asking if I could guard her spot when she went to get her food. After I got mine I asked her if she lived around in Brooklyn. Keep in mind I DON'T TALK TO STRANGERS. It is weird, awkward, and I NEVER DO IT. And here I am TALKING TO A STRANGER. IN BROOKLYN, NY. For the Love.
Turns out she lives in Long Island like over an hour away. But she used to live in Brooklyn for years. She said she went to church near the Shake Shack....yep Brooklyn Tabernacle. She was a member way back in the day even before they were in the building they occupy now. So I laughed and said "Of COURSE YOU DO" in my head. I ended up explaining that Prayer Service is on my bucket list. She is on the Brooklyn Tabernacle prayer team (Of COURSE she is!) and drives in 3 times a week for Church, her prayer time in the prayer room, and Prayer service. I talked about my life a bit and she was so excited that I was there. She said She was going to take me, introduce me to people, and she would GET ME TO MEET THE PASTOR. Dude. Really? I feel like she was almost more excited to meet me, and hear my crazy life story. She kept saying "The Lord is speaking to me so much through you right now!" Which just felt crazy, because I was just telling her what the Father has done in my life.
So here I am thinking I am going to Brooklyn Tabernacle, alone, sitting in a room full of people, awkward and feeling isolated while surrounded by people. And Instead the King of the Universe has sent me a friend that literally as we walked into the church is not only introducing me to folks, she is asking if I have any questions or need anything...
Prayer service was great. I loved the worship, the praying, the encouragement of being in a body of believers- sisters and brothers that just were there to praise the Lord and pray. Brenda kept introducing me to everyone as "My missionary friend that lived in Honduras from Alabama" which just made me laugh. It was a blessing to pray with her for prayer needs we were given, and the missionary couple residing in Africa that shared during the service. After service Brenda bee lined me to Pastor Cymbala to introduce me. It was all too crazy to be real. But it was His plan.
I found out the night before that BethAnn (A girl who used to live in Auburn) had moved to NYC in November and she was free to come meet me. So she came during the service and met us right after. Brenda was going "to be my personal uber so I didn't ride the train!" (which would have meant an extra 45 minutes each way to her.) Because BethAnn was with me she said we would be ok and we headed out.
BethAnn and I got to catch up about our crazy lives. She had been in CA then moved to NYC and God just had to work out all kinds of details to get her to where she was that day. It was awesome to get to spend time with her.
I could go on to talk about how I got to talk to my bestie on the phone for a minute about how crazy it was that God was so sweet to me to send me a friend to go to prayer with...who was on the prayer team and I got to sit up front and meet the pastor. I could talk about how I got to talk to my kid for awhile- she broke up with her boyfriend and I was so proud of her...who she is growing as a child of God. I could talk about my trip to Lady Liberty and going inside of her finally. The phone convo I had with my bestie about what He is doing in both of us. How I do not know my plans after Israel but I am trusting Him to show me. I could talk about my time at the 9/11 Museum and Memorial. The lessons learned as I went to the transit museum, riding through the subway, sitting in Trinity Church as He spoke through Psalm 20 & 21 as I sat there and just "happened" to flip to that very page. I could talk about the peace and safety that He had shown me the day before. How every where I went He overwhelmed me with the almost tangible reminder of His presence. Of Him. I could stumble through trying to explain how He just kept speaking to my heart about all the things that hurt so much.
But those are hard things to talk about. How do you explain things that are intangible but life changing that He does in your heart? I still don't know. I just know that the Father showed up that day in The Met, made His presence known to me, showed me truth I needed to see again, and just kept pouring out his Mercy and Grace to me as I went through that day. Wednesday I still didn't have all the words and thoughts processed as I fumbled through a phone convo with my bestie on Liberty Island. But that worked out because when we talk only about a third of the words that are in my heart actually come out and she gets it... I found myself saying things that were true in my heart that I was just realizing as I said them. Saying dangerous things that He is working out for my good and His glory. I said something and her reply was "I didn't know you were considering that." My response was- "Well, it's something that really just became real to me. So yes. Sounds like I am." Because this is how He works things out in us. Sometimes in a non linear way. But always very real.
So here is what I want to say. Life has been very difficult. I have experienced a lot of circumstances and expectations that just were not in my head when I flew back to the US in November A lot of alone, quiet days and nights. A lot of heartache and loss I did not expect to experience. I miss my kids. I miss the ministry, talking about Jesus in multiple contexts (with my kids, with teams, with volunteers and some staff). I expected to settle into my job, my church, get a house, and find those things that give stability in our day to day world. In coming back to the states I didn't have a handbook or any hints on how to leave a life behind and segue into a new one. So I have just had to fumble through not knowing really how to process or talk about it all. But what I have found is that in the hard and weird lesson, it has brought me closer to Him.
I have found that in the times that feel unexplainable His presence is constant and His love unrelenting. When nothing else seems certain, He is.
I share all of this because I think we all experience things that are hard. We often don't know how to talk about them. Sometimes we just talk about the hard things, then don't talk about the things that He works out in our hearts. You may have followed along my journey and seen the bloggable moments. The instagram pieces and twitter feed of what my life has looked like. Those things are easy to share- the somewhat tangible moments that are events, places, or people. But I felt like sharing those things that aren't. Because we all experience them in some way. And He is in them.
Does my heart still smart over the "Non Birthday," if you will? Yep
Does Auburn still feel like it is not home? Yep
Do I still feel like I don't fit in in most contexts as a single former missionary female? Yep
Do I know how to talk about it all without crying? Nope
Do I know that He is at work in my heart daily? Absolutely
Do I know that life is hard work, and will be tomorrow? Yep
Do I expect tomorrow to feel easier? Nope
Do I expect some days I cannot run, I cannot fight other than to just stand? Yes.
Do I know that He is with me? Yes
Do I know that He will be tomorrow? Absolutely
Do I know that He has to be enough? Yes
Do I know that life will be hard but heaven is coming and my hope is in Him? Yes
Do I know that all of this is worth it? Yes.
Because He is in it. Because He has said it. Because, well, Just because Him.
So I tell you this to say, wherever you are, trust Him. He is worthy. He really does love you. Even when it feels so hard you just want to skip it. He really is trustworthy.
He calls us into battle and leads the way. He doesn't just say "Hey you go there and do that! See ya on the other side" No, He is with us.
Because He defeated death...on the cross took our sin and shame, and in victory rose again, we can trust whatever He says. Whatever He calls us to. Even when it feels hard. His presence that is always there...if we just look, we will see Him. And He makes it possible.
I think of Moses multiple times arguing, if you will, with God about his abilities or what He needed to do...and God continually reminded or told him "I will be with you. I AM." Moses was repeatedly reminded by Yahweh that He was with Him, He would go with him. And He was, every step, every moment. Why would we think that somehow he has changed His mind when He has said the same to us?
He promises His presence to us. In case you need proof, here is a list:
Isaiah 57:15, Acts 17:28, Psalm 139: 7, Exodus 33:14, Psalm 16:11, Jeremiah 29:13, 1 John 4:12, John 15:9, Matthew 28:20, John 14:16
Just to name a few. ;)
So keep going. Keep stepping. Standing. Running. Doing what He has called you to. Trustworthy and True our King and Savior. Our Father.
PS- I DO talk to strangers...in many contexts and for various reasons. When in leadership roles or with others I am all over it. But typically when alone I don't so much unless there is a stirring in me to step outside of what feels comfortable...and usually good things come of it.
Just wanted to clarify that point :)