Exposure therapy

(I’m not in the mood to do much editing of this, so I apologize for the randomness and any grammatical offenses I may have committed.)

When I returned to NY at the end of February, my temporary corporate housing was on John Street, right near the Seaport. The relocation company had asked me what area I wanted to be in, and I remember telling them “I don’t want to be west of Broadway”. You see, I still hadn’t come to terms with that place, and I wasn’t ready to be around whatever it had grown to be.

I never walked over that way while I was living there, even though my office was located just a few blocks away.

A few months into my time here, when I had to walk to that side of town to get on the PATH train, I found myself not quite ready to be there. The new “F you” tower, as I like to call it, our ostentatious response to the world, is now complete and serves as a centering point, but not the one I remember. I am still disoriented when I go there. Nothing is where it was before I left, and I am unsettled by the things that are familiar, yet not.

In behavioral psychology there is a concept of dealing with phobias called “exposure therapy” (maybe that’s what it’s called; maybe that’s not exactly right…did I mention that I am not in the mood to do a good job with this post?). Basically, the idea is to give exposure to the thing that the person fears on a gradual basis. So someone who is afraid of dogs might look at a picture of a dog, then a video, then be in the same room as a dog, then come closer to the dog, etc until they can be in the immediate presence of a dog without having a panic attack.

On the day I walked to the PATH train, it struck me that I have had 15 years of not having to go near this place. I think I may have gone once, in the spring of 2002 when visiting with friends (we were staying at a hotel near the World Financial Center), but although I’ve visited NY multiple times since, I never had any desire to go near that mess. It was hard for me to even go into Century 21 to shop…again, disoriented. This tower does not stand where those towers did. Everything is a little bit off, and all I feel when I am there is an unsettled kind of anxiety.

Do I need exposure therapy? Will I ever go visit the memorial itself, search for the few names that I recognize, let myself be in that place? I don’t know. I thought for a minute that today would have been a good day to go, only because the risk of stupid and trite tourists might be slightly lower than usual…but at the same time, it’s not my place to be there today, on someone else’s sacred burial ground.

My writing here doesn’t make sense, and yet I am going to let it stand…because none of it makes sense, and I still haven’t come to terms with it, and although I am beyond overjoyed to be back in this city that I love, there is a piece of its history (and the aftermath) that I was not a part of, and need to figure out my place in relation to that narrative.

I haven’t had time to be desensitized to the military presence in Grand Central Station, or to the random bag check stations as I enter the subway. I don’t know the stories of each of the people I pass as I go about my day, or what their experience of that day has been. What I do know is that they do have stories…so many stories.

Living in Grand Rapids, I was not unaware of the subsequent untimely deaths of many first responders. It was only a few years ago that a friend had to bury her husband due to asbestos-related cancer that the doctors finally admitted was related to the air he breathed that day (You can read his story here, although please be aware that it is quite graphic and could be triggering).

But I am here now, and need to find my way through the rubble of a history that I was and was not a part of, and still am and am not a part of. The “F you” tower stands, and, good capitalists that we are, a pretentious high-end shopping center, shiny and clean and new, is emerging.

Maybe by next year, I will have made some sense of it all. Or maybe not. I guess the thing about “the new normal” is that it really isn’t normal at all, and never can be.



Bad theology

“You’re not where you need to be.”

I have heard this phrase far too many times in the past two months. The words are being spoken in a work setting, so clearly theology has absolutely nothing to do with the issue at hand. So why the weird title to this post?

(Besides the obvious, which is that I’m weird in general…but I digress…)

I should also say that I feel like I probably should not even be talking about the situation publicly, not even in veiled terms. But I also suspect that by now, there is almost nothing I can do to affect the ultimate outcome here. Although I’ve far from given up (in fact, I have been working really hard on trying to give myself credit for how well I have been persevering in the situation), everything I see and read and hear tells me that it’s highly unlikely that I will be able to come back from this. Which is a shame, because in spite of the situation, I really, REALLY love the actual work. And it’s certainly no secret that I gladly drank that blue Kool-Aid long ago.

So about that phrase.

It’s being used in a diagnostic sense, a warning, so to speak, that I am not okay and that I need to fix what is broken, and quickly. On a surface level, I fundamentally disagree with this as well, but my opinion about where I “should” be in terms of mastery of my role does not match theirs…and mine is not the opinion that matters in this situation.

But here’s the thing. Setting aside the actual situation, I also reject the message in a much broader sense. I believe that everything happens for a reason. I believe that I am exactly where I need to be.

I prayed for years that I would be able to come home. This move happened…but it didn’t just “happen” – I pursued it repeatedly. I am certain with every fiber in my being that God brought me here.

I. am. where. I. need. to. be.

To say otherwise…well, that’s just bad theology.

Whether some people believe that I am “where I need to be” in a tangible or a professional sense, and no matter how uncertain and potentially frightening the immediate future may be, I am here. I’m not going anywhere.

I’m where I need to be. I’m in God’s hands. And after all is said and done, that’s the one thing that really matters.


Church shopping

(I am posting from the app for the first time. If it turns out well, perhaps I will finally start blogging more…because NYC = so. much. blog fodder.)

So I am a few months into this adventure of finally being HOME. Every inch of my being is overjoyed to be home. Okay, slight lie-my knees and feet hate my guts, but they can deal.

One of the major things that made Grand Rapids never quite feel like “home” was the fact that I was so far left of the mainstream. And yet, I was-and am-still part of the Body of Christ.

(If you are reading this and are not a Christian, trust me when I say that the hardest thing about being a Christian is…other Christians. Particularly the variety that you have to apologize for and distance yourself from on a regular basis.)

I know that I need to find a new church. I need to put roots down, and it’s a natural way to rebuild some of the community that I’ve lost. And this is New York-I have choices.

While I despise the idea of going about the church hunt with such a consumer mentality, the fact is that I have certain criteria.

A focus on social justice is essential. A church full of pacifists would definitely be a plus.

Because I don’t want to be surrounded by people who are still arguing about this, and because I don’t want to have to be afraid of the reaction I will get when I utter the words, “My friend and his husband…”, I also hope to find a church that is “open and affirming” (translation: they don’t hate The Gays).

And then there’s the race thing. I want a church that honors diversity, but that also wrestles with the baggage of racism in a significant way. This may prove to be the most difficult challenge I will face in my search.

I don’t have a problem with an “all-black” church, but I also don’t know if I have the right to choose that solely for my own benefit.

The church I visited today was small-about sixty people in attendance. I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing. The congregation, however, was almost exclusively black, while the lead pastor (Priest? It was Episcopalian, another factor that did not win me over) was white. And blonde. And young. The choir director was white, and one of the other two pastor-type people (again, not my denomination,  v. confused) was white.

I am fully prepared for people to tell me that I am making too much of it, but the leadership, the “face” of a church, matters. I couldn’t very well walk up to the pastor on the way out, shake her hand, and ask,  “So how do you build accountability towards people of color into your ministry?”

I mean, I guess I *could*, but…

I have so many thoughts about church in black and white, about being diverse as opposed to being intentionally anti-racist. I know that I had something unique at Madison. But for a church here to become my church home, this needs to be a part of the equation.

Stay tuned…

not that special

“…it seemed the ultimate miracle, to have good people love you, freaked-out, self-centered mess that you were.” – Anne Lamott, Blue Shoe

(Disclaimer: I tried to share these thoughts with Mona first, and even she thought it was crazy, so take that for what it’s worth.)

So this all started because I found out only a few days ago that I am finally. going. home. The reality of this takes my breath away, and although I of course am apprehensive about the change, I am elated that this is finally happening. It just feels so right – down to the very core of my being. So much so that, when people express sadness that I am leaving, I can’t bring myself to utter the words, “Well, who knows, maybe I”ll move back to Grand Rapids someday.”

Because I know that I won’t. There’s just no looking back. I came here broken, and have experienced a great deal of healing (thanks, in part, to even more brokenness) in the past fifteen years. I have met so many people that I love dearly and will miss achingly. But, easy life and multiple Target locations aside, knowing that I am moving has made me all the more acutely aware that I just never fell in love with this place.

The people, on the other hand…

When you are the person going to a new place, a new opportunity, you are leaving, but you are also going towards something. Not so for the people you are leaving behind. So it certainly makes sense that I have been conflicted about my happiness and excitement in the face of the sadness of people who are important to me.

But I don’t think that’s all of it. I think…I think there might be something wrong with me.

(okay, now, you didn’t need to agree THAT quickly!)

I have been blessed and overwhelmed by the reaction people have had to me leaving. It’s embarrassing to me to hear that people like me. That I will be missed. People say such kind things, and I start to feel so Aspie about it all.

Apparently people like me, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why. In the face of this outpouring of affection and kind words, I find myself almost ashamed, wondering if I value and appreciate others this much. And I know that, much of the time, I don’t like me nearly as well as others seem to.

I am so very blessed to have good people love me. It is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

I’m just not quite sure sometimes how I got here. And I’m not sure I’m really all that special.


2015 in review

This came up in my Timehop from 2008…I don’t even know what the original source was at this point…but thought it would be interesting to revisit it.

Here are the questions and my answers. Would love to hear yours as well! No pressure, though.

What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before?
Drove for Uber, I guess?
Went to the Canadian Rockies (NATURE!)

Did anyone close to you give birth?
Not this year

Did anyone close to you die?
Not exactly…although Vivian’s death had a strong impact on many in my larger church family.

What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?
More self-control with my money
Less debt
New bras

What was your biggest failure of the year?
Continuing to accumulate credit card debt.

Where did most of your money go?
Compulsive spending on clearance clothes for every kid I know (and a few I don’t!)
Trips to visit people I love

Compared to this time last year, are you:

happier or sadder?
About the same, I think? (maybe I should do this every year?!) Maybe I’ll say “happier”. I’m fairly content right now…(knock on wood…even though I claim I don’t believe in luck/superstitions…)

thinner or fatter?
I’m thinking fatter.

richer or poorer?
More in debt. Scrambling to keep up. Got a promotion at work, but because I lost my night and weekend differentials, my hourly rate is actually less than it was even though I got a “raise”.
Also, more in debt.

What do you wish you’d done more of?
Blogging (I said this in 2008 too, but it still applies)
Visiting friends

What do you wish you’d done less of?
Charging stuff!!!
Slacking off in various realms of my life

What was the best book you read?
Ummmm…this is where I admit that I have not finished any books AGAIN this year. Actually, I do think I finished one Sherlock Holmes book on my phone.

I’m still only about halfway through it, but Eat To Live is definitely a life-changer.

What was your favorite film of this year?
Annie was 2014, I think, so that one’s out.
You think I’m going to say The Peanuts Movie…which I did enjoy it, but I’m all about the comic strips (feel the same way about The Boondocks). So I’m going to go with The Intern, which was cute and lighthearted. Plus I saw it with one of my best friends, so that made it all the more fun.

I still haven’t seen Brooklyn, or I suspect that would be my favorite.

What was your favorite Netflix show/binge this year?
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. No contest. I think I read that Season 2 is coming out in April?!

What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Having/adopting a child, but I need to face reality at some point…

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015
I may need to think about this one some more…but let’s start with these:
– Bitterness and negativity is contagious, and it makes you seem ugly when you succumb to it.
– Life is wonderful and difficult and precious and can’t be explained. It is all of these things at the same time.