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October 24, 2014

Life Lessons Learned in NYC

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This past week I seized the opportunity to go to NYC for a Mastermind with Melanie Duncan. Lucky for me, my amazing friend Calli agreed to the adventure to come along with me. From the outside looking in, it probably seemed like we were having nothing but fun. Maybe even people were feeling jealous of me and the experience. However, this trip was far more an experience in learning some powerful lessons from God than a leisurely tourist time in NYC. The lessons learned were so powerful that I am compelled to share it (in all it’s crazy, gory detail). May these lessons bless you like they have blessed and changed my life forever.

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Life is like trying to get from point A to point B and not knowing how, but having the courage to ask for help and directions and then trusting the process (and the driver). Even if we wander and get lost, we can always hail a taxi and get back en route (& wasn’t it a beautiful scenic route?). Going at it alone can be terrifying and we can’t get as far with all that fear in the way. But going with someone who loves you exactly how you are and for exactly who you are makes all the difference. The worth of souls is great in the sight of God. So great that He blesses us with people who love us and want to travel with us, giving us the courage to keep walking and get to our destinations. And whenever we’re truly real and authentic with each other, we can laugh together and have one hell of a good time.

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We can find the beautiful in the mess.

We can laugh at flying in to New Jersey around 11:30pm due to a delayed flight, barely catch a bus to NYC, end up on the wrong side of town with the bus around 12:30pm and then have to take a cab to the building to pick up our apartment keys on the right side of town, lugging our suitcases up 3 flights of stairs in a filthy building whose elevator was broken. We can laugh at the downpour of rain dumping on us after retrieving the keys as we try to hail a cab around 1am while homeless people and trash collectors are our only company in the nearly deserted streets. We can laugh at finally getting to our apartment in East Harlem around 1:30am, tiptoeing (as much as possible with heavy luggage) up 3 flights of stairs with the secret fear that we might get shot if we are too loud and accidentally wake up one of the tenants who actually lives there. We can laugh at the fact that the place we get to call “home”for a few days is a building whose halls smell of urine and has a bed bugs notice on the wall, with barbed wire on the top of the building wall outside the window.

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We can laugh at how we could go to the bathroom, take a shower and wash our hands all at the same time because the bathroom is so small.

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We can laugh at how we seriously don’t understand the subway and we can feel so grateful for the innate goodness in others who take the time out of their busy walk to stop and make sure we understand that we need to get off this subway at Grand Central and change to the 6 train to make it to Times Square.

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We can laugh through walking lost for an entire hour around NYC, finally to give up and hail a taxi to get us back en route. We can feel so grateful and celebrate the adventure of being lost because we saw things we wouldn’t have seen otherwise: Empire State Building, the old NYC library (that’s been in many films), Anthropologie and Rockefeller Plaza (to name a few).

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We can laugh at what a crazy night it was to finally find the right bus at Grand Central that would take us to Pomptom Plains, New Jersey for a class I was set to teach with an amazing health coach who lives there (Mandy Minnema), only to have to run to make it in time and then, once again, be dependent on the kindness of strangers to help us know which stop to get off (the one right after Gillies, btw).

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We can laugh at how we may have no choice but to walk the entire way to Mandy’s home, but seizing the moment enough to find utter bliss in the walk as we saw squirrels scurry up the massive trees lining the sidewalks and breathed the fall air in deeply (feeling like we hadn’t had fresh air for days). We can immediately be comfortable with Mandy when she rescues us in her car, laughing with her like old friends.

Having someone who loves me and is committed to taking this trip with me made it easy for me to teach this class (with powerful, life-changing content) to a room full of absolute strangers while she sat and cheered me on. Then we could laugh with Mandy as we ran in the dark to get in her car and try to get to the bus stop in time, only to hug her and love her as we said “goodbye”, feeling like lifelong friends.

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We can then laugh some more when we return to NYC and our dinner angrily gets thrown away by a street vendor who didn’t tell us we could only pay in cash (before preparing our food), even though part of us feels ashamed, sad, and unsure about where we’ll find dinner.

We could walk through Harlem the next morning, noticing the bars on the windows, barbed wire, and metal detectors garnishing the elementary school, remembering our elementary-aged children at home and humbly pondering how our life would be different if we had no choice but to take our babies there everyday. We could imagine praying that the bars, barbed wire, and guards were enough to keep all the pain, harshness, ugliness, and cruelty out for a day.

We could see the man screaming and spitting with Tourettes and feel so much empathy for our brother. Loving him and honoring his journey, quietly knowing both our hearts hurt for him and that we didn’t need words to express it.

Having my fiercely loyal friend by my side, I could face going to a Mastermind that thrilled AND terrified me, all the while having her patient, loving observation and insight to help me unravel the fears binding me to instead find faith and courage. She would walk me peacefully and gently to the registration table and see that I got checked in and then be there at the end of the Mastermind to continue walking with me more. I could face the strangers in the Mastermind, knowing that even if my worst fears came true and everyone hated me, saw the mess I am, and decided I wasn’t worth their time, I would still be okay because I could tell Calli about it and we would just laugh and move on to the next adventure together without any judgment or loss of love, kindness, or understanding. (The Mastermind was AWESOME, btw, and I made some amazing friendships with women whom I now love dearly and am deeply grateful to have connected with).

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And then we could go eat “Bangers & Mash” at a Celtic pub together, giggling like schoolgirls the entire time about the innuendo of the name and how much the food resembled the innuendo (it was AMAZINGLY delicious, btw. My Celtic grandmothers would be so proud).

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The we could go sit through the first horrifying act of Cabaret, laughing at intermission about how drastically different it was from what we had pictured with the description we had been given. (Cabaret as described by our ticket salesman: “it’s a classic story about pre-Nazi Germany where times are tough on the outside, but people are just having fun and celebrating on the inside. It will make you laugh, think and maybe even cry.” Good enough for us! He conveniently forgot to mention that the “fun on the inside” is because it’s a whore house).

nyc16But the best part was the pact we made in the very beginning of the trip to be authentically ourselves and stop apologizing for that; for honoring our different gifts and personalities and just have a hell of a good time together. What a relief to know that regardless of the disasters, we made it through, we had fun and we were surrounded by other people (probably just as scared on the inside) who really did have kindness and compassion in their hearts. Maybe we aren’t so different after all. I know we aren’t.

What a relief it was to not have to worry about whether or not my friend would think this trip was worth it because she knows she is in choice to create the experience she wants. She could choose to be uptight, paranoid, and miserable the whole time or just lean into the adventure and have a crazy, fun time with me. Had this not been the case, the trip would have been a complete disaster. We would have spent way more money and been homesick and stressed from the moment our plane landed in Jersey. In fact, a trip so full of insanity and crazy close calls could have destroyed our friendship. We could have secretly been blaming the misery and madness on each other, making the other’s experience awful.

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This trip changed my life because I learned more fully how to LIVE and to trust and to be myself, authentically and bold. I learned I can handle so much more than I think. I learned how much I am loved and just how special I really am, along with just how special everyone else is too.

I am deeply humbled for the mercy and blessing of having a dear friend choose to walk this mourning with me, committed to loving me fiercely and sticking with me and then experience until the bitter end. I learned to feel truly safe in heaven’s arms and how little I really do need to move and experience life as I desire and dream of.

I learned to lean into the joy (not the pain, rain, mishaps, or stress). The joy (& laughter) fuels us and keeps us walking forward. The joy energizes us and leaves us better than we were without it. God is in the joy. God is in the laughter. God is in the kind stranger and the pregnant homeless woman lying asleep on the sidewalk as a man begged for money to take care of her. God really is absolutely everywhere. There was never a lack of His love and never a lack of His safety. Never a lack of His patience and never a lack in His belief in us that we could do this.

And since life is like this crazy trip, I couldn’t help but think about my amazing husband, Randy, who chose to take the journey of marriage and parenthood with me. We decided to take this “trip” together for similar reasons: we enjoy spending time with each other, we love each other, and we felt like the journey would be a fantastic adventure. We never know exactly what the marriage or parenthood journeys will bring us and ours has definitely been filled with many surprises. It hasn’t been an easy tourist trip. It’s sometimes felt like the beautiful life I dreamed of has become a rough, tiny Harlem apartment (in a metaphorical way). There have been many times where I’ve felt lost and have been too tired to take another step. There’s even been moments when I’ve considered leaving this adventure to find an easier journey. I thought of all the times I haven’t leaned into the joy and how I’ve secretly blamed him for the misfortune and stress in our life. I thought of how he is my epitome of the best friend who is always there. I thought of how I take the journey too seriously some times and how that brings so much pain and stress to our life journey together. I recognized how maybe I don’t receive his companionship as gratefully and humbly as I often could because at the heart of it, I’m afraid that he’ll wake up and realize what a mess this trip is and won’t want to keep walking with me. I saw that every time I choose fear, it brings pain. But, Randy never does. He is an eternal optimist. He sees the beautiful and stays calm no matter what’s going on in our life (no matter what rough “neighborhood” we end up in). He chooses faith and to enjoy our journey together so much of the time.

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I came home from NYC more resolved to be a better travel companion to my husband, as well as my children. I want to lean into the joy more and laugh a lot more. I want to notice the little things more. I want to see God in them more. I want to honor their choice to take this trip of “life” with me by no longer waiting to perfectly show up for them, but to actually be there with them – imperfectly, authentically, and unapologetically.

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