“We movin’ on up in the world like elevators…” — Outkast
A year ago today, I flew on a one-way ticket to New York City to start a new life — a life that I’d always dreamed of.
The last 365 days have been surreal. I’d often wake up and head outside into the busy New York City streets feeling like that any day now, I’d be returning back to my native Atlanta — that what felt like an extended vaction or business trip would soon be ending.
Rent payments would quickly remind me that my tail was here to stay.
It would take some time to adjust to life in New York; managing leaving home early enough to account for walking time, delayed trains and buses, or the incessant need to stop at every book street vendor hoping to find some literary gem.
Learning a new job and company culture, seeking out opportunities to make new friends and the desire to connect with a church community (which is still in process) made the transition from a place of familiarity to something new a slow one. I was secretly hoping to recreate Atlanta in New York City; my desire to find a church, a wing spot, and sweet tea just like I had in Atlanta fueled much of what I did the first few months here.
I was also managing the emotions and heartbreak of a then 11-year-old whose yearning to return home had me questioning my decisions to move in the first place. I wrestled with what many women/parents/single parents wrestle with: when our dreams create discomfort for the ones we love, who wins? Do we choose our own seemingly “selfish” desires or put those things on hold for the sake of the children?
By September, just a couple of months into the move, I seriously considered going back to Atlanta.
Ashli was afraid she wasn’t going to fit in at her new school, hesitant to walk to school alone, wondering if she would have the right shoes, outfit, hairstyle — if kids would pick at her (what I consider a non-existent) Southern accent. She wondered if bullying would be an issue.
I was constantly holding in tension the joy of actualizing a dream and the uncertainty of managing the realities.
What I found myself doing was finding any and all reasons to return to Atlanta as often as I could.
March: Spring Break
Random month: Did I leave anything at my mama house?
There were “relationships” and people whose presence in my life I hadn’t learned to do without. I wanted to continue to take in more and more of the familiar (as if spending 34 years in the same city wasn’t enough) because, I thought that what I left behind was what I needed to move forward.
By earlier this year, both Ashli and I had grown tired of flying back and forth to Atlanta, living out of suitcases and jumping from house to house (it’s really weird coming home with no “home” to come to) and, after the New Year, I decided to assess what was really fueling my need to recreate Atlanta in a new city.
I realized that it wasn’t that I was looking to recreate Atlanta in New York — it was actually a distraction from becoming a different version of myself.
Leaving Atlanta and moving to New York required different things of me.
I had to parent differently. Treat my body differently. Develop different spending habits (of which I still haven’t mastered, btw.) I had to be willing to risk differently and learn how to take my seat at the table because I earned the right to be there.
These things were new. And scary. And very, very necessary.
This reminds me of Abraham’s call story in Genesis 12. God told him to leave everything (and everybody) and “go to a land I will show you.” Part of the condition for the blessing was for Abraham to leave everything behind — customs, ideals, possessions, people, all of those things that are familiar and comfortable.
We often praise Abraham for his obedience, his willingness to go into a foreign place simply because God said so — but we miss an important detail in this story.
Abraham doesn’t go alone.
He brings his nephew Lot with him — for reasons I assume were similar to my need to recreate Atlanta in New York. The same reason Linus could never do anything without his blanket. Familiarity not only comforts but anchors us in the past.
Later in Genesis we learn that Lot’s presence was too much to bear; both men had their own wives, livestock, possessions and Abraham and Lot could not thrive together in the place God called Abraham to be. They had to split up — leaving Abraham in isolation, right where God wanted him in the first place.
God didn’t want Abraham to recreate his home in the new land. God wanted to do a new thing to and through Abraham, not make slight revisions to the old Abraham.
This transition was not about revising but reinventing.
Revisions take what already exists and tweaks it. An edit here, an adjustment there. The original still maintains its shape and original form.
Reinventing is to create something totally new. Something that takes on a completely new form or way of being.
I decided to stop trying to revise the life I had known for over three decades and let God reinvent me.
This meant deciding to do hard things like try to lose weight (for the 72nd time in my life). It required me to reinvent myself — to reimagine what life would be like without sugar in my coffee or stop associating moments for celebration with food. Nearly 50 pounds later, I think I got it.
This meant deciding to go alone at working on my mental health and seriously consider therapy. I’m still in the process of finding a therapist but it’s a priority for me — and Ashli.
This meant deciding to allow love to find and pursue me. It required me to stop expecting love to look like it always had and accept a reinvention of it: a love that does not require me to perform or contort into versions of myself that are inauthentic. A love that gives me the freedom to be me.
This meant reconciling the fact that I had to be a better parent. And say “sorry” to my mama because parenting a daughter today is teaching me about how hard it was to parent me as a growing teen.
This meant overcoming myself — and my habits — to be more willing to try new things, test out new forms of leadership. And, most importantly, the divine gift of saying “no.”
This meant answering another layer of my Call and being okay with the weight and responsibility of ordained ministry. I still curse a lot, though. God still workin’.
Like Abraham, the process of reinvention isn’t easy. God is often calling us from a place of familiarity into the unknown because it is in that place we learn to see our true capacities to be a better version of ourselves.
This doesn’t mean we lose the people, places, and memories that ground us, that have shaped our lives in meaningful ways. It is to not forget the beautiful ways our pasts have prepared us for what is to come.
But it does mean that our obedience to “go to the land I will show you” means to allow God to not just make revisions to our lives, but completely reinvent it.
As my good friend Damon told me, “Home is home. You can always come home.”
I’m grateful for my family, friends, colleagues, faith community who have made the last year a beautiful one for me and Ashli. Your words of encouragement, care packages filled with Atlanta-related goodies, text messages, Facebook posts and tweets have made staying connected easy.
Maybe one day I’ll just need a few simple divine revisions. But for now, I’m down for God to reinvent me into the person I always imagined I be, whether I knew it or not.
On the Chase,