This is Me (One Month in New York)

If you’ve been reading my writing for any length of time, you’ll know I often start with a metaphor, anecdote, or story. And, while I enjoy sharing things I’ve done, places I’ve explored, and interesting people I’ve met along the way… sometimes I think I can hide behind them. 

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I’ve recently realized I like writing about the past because it’s safe. It feels messy to share when you’re in the throes of something. It's less vulnerable to share what you’ve figured out, or are far enough removed from, because at least then you can offer some poetic resolve. 

But “poetic resolve” and “mid-twenties” have about as much in common as Paris Hilton and Socrates, something my therapist reminded me while on a phone call from a Manhattan subway station. 

As wonderful and life-giving as New York has been the last month, all the street falafel in the world can’t bring resolution to your doubts, insecurities, and shame. 

And so, slumped against the filthy wall of 42nd & Broadway, dry tears stung my cheeks. As Brazilian tour groups and slightly off-brand Marvel characters wandered home from Time’s Square, my blessedly patient counselor and I talked about shame. 

Shame about my past or of having too many feelings – of being unemployed or lack of clarity – of my faith or who I love.

Brene Brown writes, “because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” 

I recently shared how my word for 2018 is “gentle,” accepting where I’m at and who I am; letting my story unfold organically rather than formulaically. 

For me, the journey of the last few years has been about self-acceptance and New York, in many ways, feels like the culmination of that journey. 

What I didn’t tell you was the frustrated tears about “what’s next” at the beginning of my call shifted to joyful ones by the end of it. 

Because, in our last few moments together, I was reminded of how much I’ve grown. After all, nothing wholly embodies the old hymn “my shame is gone, I’ve been set free” like tears and expletives in a Manhattan subway station. 

A month into this adventure and I’m still a New York freshman. There’s much I’m uncertain about, but I’m starting to understand I can be in the throes of something and still be confident in myself. 

So, while “poetic resolve” seems like a strong word and there are still days I attempt to find sanctity in a halal cart, I’m honestly, dare I say, okay. I’m proud of the things I’ve done, but for the first time in a long time, I’m proud of who I am. 

What would it look like if whatever shame you’re holding onto – whether you’ve been clinging it to it for two hours or a lifetime – wasn’t there any longer? It matters what truth you align yourself with and the truth is, I have nothing to be ashamed of, nor do you.

Let's be a little more brave. Let's feel a little more free. 

Learning to Be "Gentle" with Your Story

The moon is rising, and I hear a wolf howl in the distance. It’s nearly 1 AM in a remote part of Southern Jordan on the Saudi Arabian border. 

 Sun City Camp, Wadi Rum, Jordan, Feb. 2018

Sun City Camp, Wadi Rum, Jordan, Feb. 2018

My blistered feet in my new boots ache, and all I have is my camera, tripod, and a diet coke. All the years I spent as a Boy Scout apparently haven’t paid off, and I’m beginning to think I’ve made a mistake. 

Then, I look up. 

Forgetting about things like scorpions and snakes, I sit in the red sand and stare into the ocean above my head. 

For years, anytime I thought about the ocean it felt like I was holding my breath, my lungs unable to expand. Secrets about the most intimate parts of myself burning like hot coals beneath my feet. The fear I wasn’t stewarding my life well, or I was missing out on what I was made to do…. this reality burning like cheap whiskey in the back of my throat as I tried to breathe.

Here though, in the Valley of the Moon, instead of suffocating, I was drowning in light. I don’t know whether it was the place, the full moon, or the Sleeping at Last song playing softly through earbuds, but I started to cry. There, in the desert… not far from the one where the characters of the Old Testament wondered, wandered, and trapped in their heads, tried to figure out why there were there and why they were there. 

I’ve talked before about viewing myself as an equation and life as an algorithm, the solution being a formula I had yet to discover. 

This year though, the word I’m speaking over my life is “gentle” – freeing my calloused shoulders from the burdens of the world and pain in my lungs preventing me from breathing in the present moment. 

 Valley of the Moon, Southern Jordan, Feb. 2018

Valley of the Moon, Southern Jordan, Feb. 2018

In 2018, I’m striving to be gentle with myself – personally and professionally – and let the aspects of myself I don’t understand unfold organically instead of trying to force them out. 

“Gentle” lives in the liminal space between suppression and obsession. Its awareness, dancing with your fear, anxieties, and unknowns without suppressing them but simultaneously not giving them power through obsession either. 

If your mind is a castle with many rooms “gentle” is placing that which you don’t understand on a shelf in the foyer… not locking them in the basement but not scattered all over the kitchen table either. 

I plan to write more about what it looks like to be “gentle” in all the areas of your life. But for now, my hope is you’d learn to breathe again, to hang on… not for dear life but to dear life. So, so dear. What a rare and beautiful thing it is to exist indeed. 

Anonymity

My 2015 "spirit animal" was a box of Franzia. 

I mean, I knew post-collegiate life wouldn’t be a fairy-tale but I thought we would have gotten past, “once-upon-a-time…” 

The year started with interviews at Google; but quickly my standards fell simply to “job.” By June, I couldn’t get my local Barnes & Noble to call me back.

There were many days where I watched the sun rise and fall without leaving the house… or even my room. 

I listened to a lot of Noah Gundersen. Drank a lot of boxed wine. Spent a lot of time on Tinder. Adopted two cats.

Then autumn came, school was back into session, and I watched voyeuristically through the lens of social media as people I loved moved on with their lives… their stories continuing to be written, only this time, I wasn't in them.

I had my own business, but entrepreneurship can be a lonesome existence, especially at first. My lack of traditional employment and solitude, coupled with a biological predisposition for depression led me to the darkest place I had ever encountered.
 
By winter I felt utterly alone… A place past lonely. A place off the map- somewhere I had never been before.

I knew cognitively I was smart and gifted and talented. I had been given tremendous opportunities, I had (& still have) incredible parents and supportive mentors… but instead of helping, that knowledge only made me feel more guilty and ashamed about my present circumstances. 

Alone. Afraid. Anxious. Depressed. 

I felt hidden; as if there were an unconquerable canyon between my capabilities and the reality I now found myself in… an insurmountable valley separating the man in the mirror from the man I wanted so desperately to be. 

I’m not sure if panda’s hibernate but that’s what it feels like- a bear during winter, left deep inside a dark cave wondering if- and when- spring will come again. 

I've spent most of life looking forward to spring.... forever waiting for whatever it was I thought I was going to become. Faced with my immaculate, futuristic daydreams, my current, lonely reality always paled in comparison. 

Spoiler alert- there’s no resolution at the end of this page. My proverbial spring still hasn’t come but my perception of "hidden"- both a place and an adjective has shifted… 

I used to think hidden things were unimportant, but now I know that they’re just unseen. 

Character is formed in hiding. It is the dark places and empty spaces that ultimately shape us. What we do here matters. Winter seasons, lonely nights and awkward in-betweens should be celebrated not wasted. 

Of course, I still dream about the future.

But at the end of the day… my only “dream” now is to start valuing each one of the millions of moments that make up life as more than just a tedious overture leading up to a singular “main event.”

They say that life comes in seasons. There are seasons of sadness. There are seasons of sweetness… but I don’t think this is either one of those. 

This season is about becoming.

The Land Between

Somewhere in Northern Zambia there is a one-lane bridge that spans the Zambezi, one of the largest rivers on the planet. Halfway out this connection between Zimbabwe and Zambia is a scraggly metal scaffold. A few years ago, I stood on that scaffolding. Wearing pink Banana Republic shorts and a striped button-down, wondering what the heck I’m thinking; halfway out on a bridge, in a third world country, thousands of miles from the closest decent hospital, preparing to jump. I’m ashamed to say, as I was pushed from the platform, for the next three hundred feet a mixture of profanity-laced prayers were all I could manage.

Little did I know the next few years would be eerily similar to that very free-fall. I thought when I turned 18, when the acne died down and my voice stopped cracking, the roller-coaster ride of puberty was finally over. But at 22 I’m just as “happy, confused and lonely” as I was when I used ProActiv every night and sprayed myself with Axe before I went to school (for the record, I’m an Old Spice man now).

Filled with emotion, uncertainty, anxiety, and yes, the occasional expletive, the season of the early twenties is aptly named “quarter-life crisis.” On one side sits adolescence and dependence, while on the other rests this nebulous term “adulthood” (what does it even mean??) and independence.

As I sit in this space now and reflect on this past season, I think back on one of my favorite memories. It was a fall afternoon and I was going on a drive with a friend when we spotted this old cell phone tower high on the top of a mountain outside of town. Naturally, we decided to skip class and figure out how to get up there. Waiting for us at the summit was a rocky outcropping covered in colorful graffiti with stunning views of the entire Lynchburg valley.

In the years that followed, many of my favorite nights were spent there. Sometimes my friends and I would pile in the car at 1 AM and drive up just to lie out under the stars. There was something about that spot. Thinking. Dreaming.  Wishing. Staying up all night, bundled up, sharing our passions, talking about who we wanted to be and where we wanted to go.

Up until now, I got to experience the best of both worlds; the excitement and joy of the things ahead, and the comfort and security of those I love most. Now, with commencement only days away and bags packed, I’m getting closer to leaving behind the people I’ve come to know for ones I haven’t met.

I sing lyrics in worship like, “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders”, which sound great sung from the safety of a sanctuary filled with close friends. Now that it’s time to go though, I’ve realized I’m quite fond of living life within the borders of Virginia and Georgia.

If I had things my way, I would move back to Atlanta, date the girl I really like, work for a Fortune 500 company in Buckhead, shop at Billy Reid in the West End and get a sweet loft (with a husky puppy) off Howell Mill next to the Italian restaurant I love. Seriously, I’ve already pinned the furniture on Pinterest.   

I say to Jesus “Be thou my vision” but in all actuality, I’m quite fond of the vision I already have for my life.

Instead, I’m exploring the opportunity of joining the team of a nonprofit in Colorado.

Whether I move to the Wild West or not, this next phase of life is, frankly, terrifying. I think it’s terrifying not so much because of what’s next, but because of what has been.

You see, I’ve discovered it’s not the fear of the unknown that holds people back from dreams, risks and calling but rather the pain of leaving the known; especially when what you’ve “known” has been so good.

“It’s not that the future is hard to face, it’s that I’ll no longer be facing the blessings of my present… “

And it’s because I walked out.

Is it harder to be left, or harder to leave?

Caught somewhere between who I am and who I’m going to be, I'm taking what I know about Jesus and what He says about me and leaning into… the land between.