A couple weekends ago I pulled a small suitcase through a New York airport terminal headed towards the bus stop. It was a surprisingly familiar feeling after two years away from the city. I was thrilled with the chance to meet Kristian for a quick 48 hour trip after he had been there all week for work.
I dragged my stuff on to the city bus and found a place to stand, leaving "personal space" at the door. There wasn't a soul in sight who looked like me, which would have made me very uncomfortable eight years ago.
But during our years in New York there were many transitions of the heart that had made the uncomfortable natural, and good. I learned that the further I stretched the borders of my comfort zone, the broader the radius became.
The over-stuffed bus bumped along through Queens toward the iconic NYC skyline. As cabs whizzed by from the airport I remembered how tourists and transient residents, myself included, often had an impression of the city based on the best stuff available. Many never see how most of the population really lives, which is drastically different from the quaint scenes of You've Got Mail.
Nonetheless, the idyllic city scenes were available and for the weekend Kristian and I had the chance to enjoy a few.
I have always loved revisiting pieces of my story, the narratives of life that have shaped me.
Our five years in NYC were some of the most significant of our marriage. We formed life-long friendships, experienced new cultures, and even brought home our first son.
One of the most defining parts of this chapter was the way God transformed our perception of the poor and needy. He kindled something within us.
It began with a need to form our responses for the dozens of homeless people we would pass each day. No longer were we behind locked car doors, but face to face. I watched and learned from my husband who fearlessly and humbly began meeting needs all around him.
After the first year we moved into a neighborhood that stretched my comfort zone further than it ever had been. There were many tears. But this was a pivotal piece in our journey and it changed us.
We gained new perspective, new insight, and new compassion. The girls experiencing hardship who I counseled at a pregnancy center in midtown Manhattan also lived in the projects one block from me.
We brought our first baby home in snowy January to that tiny apartment. Friends and strangers lived with us the majority of the time. Big life choices were made within those walls.
We lived 20 blocks from New York's wealthiest, and a few blocks from some of the poorest. The disparity was shocking, even when relived everyday on the walk home from work.
We enjoyed much of the beauty New York had to offer - a picturesque cafe here and there, walks and picnics in Central Park on Saturdays, and that glorious New York pizza.
I had dreamed of living in NYC since I was 13 and so much about living there was a dream come true.
But I love the way God takes some of our dreams and lovingly redirects them.
With time, our goals postured towards the American Dream took on a different shape. We felt free to dream not only for our own family, but on behalf of others. Our clenched fists grasping self-made security started to loosen, and the beauty of relying on God's provision was captivating.
This past weekend as we strolled back through our old neighborhood, memories came like a flood...
The laundry-mat where Kristian washed our clothes for years.
The hill where I slipped in the rain and still have a deep scar to remember it.
The sidewalk where I saw a woman hitting her daughter on the head and I was shaking and felt sick to my stomach, but I did nothing.
Now vacated, the delightful Italian restaurant where we found out the gender of our baby over a delicious pasta dish.
The staircase where we interacted with a desperate girl for years who was caught in a drug-filled, abusive relationship. We offered assistance and comfort but it was never received.
And we also enjoyed the more well-known hot spots, basically eating our way up the island with all sorts of tasty treats. We explored our favorite old streets and even toured the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The MET was hosting an incredible French photography exhibit. A roomful of newly recovered images of Paris from the mid-1800's is kind of my dream come true.
There was one shot in particular that moved me. During this period in Paris, masses of the working poor were forced out of the inner city and into these shanty towns on the city's edge. So while the world saw dazzling development, the more authentic picture was this:
"The photograph conveys what one author claimed in 1870, that Paris was in essence two cities 'quite different and hostile: the city of luxury, surrounded, besieged by the city of misery.' ” (source)
And while I will always love the hypnotizing beauty of New York City, with all the opportunity it offers to many, I can't escape the importance of viewing it through a realistic lens. And I think this is the case with any story.
The lovely and unlovely alike make up the complete, authentic picture.
I'll be forever grateful for the opportunity to have lived and worked in that beautiful place where the energy was simply contagious.
And I'm thankful that chapter of our story is marked by our eyes being opened to the realities of the city, and consequently the realities of the world.