NYC Week Fourteen: 10 things I miss about home and school (aka rural America)

Read last week’s post here or view all other New York City posts.

I’d just settled on the bench, purse and my bag of leftover food from work on my lap, one per leg. Done with work, time to wait for the F train and go home.

“Meredith?”

I looked up to see a familiar face, soft round features I recognized but couldn’t place. Danny’s, I knew that’s where I knew her from but . . . I felt my brain sputtering to find a name. None came.

“It’s Kyle,” she said.

Kyle. Yes. That’s right. The name I was trying to remember was wrong — I was thinking of her doppelganger who’d worked nextdoor.

“Is this for real?” she asked, half smiling.

“Yeah.” My only word. Still in shock.

“Do you live in the city?”

The M train screeched to a stop. The doors opened.

“Yeah.” Again, all I could manage.

“All right — me, too. I have to get on this train, but it’s good to see you.”

“Yeah.”

She climbed aboard. I stayed where I was, smelling tbsp on me, thinking of Danny’s, and trying to soak in what just happened.

In a city of 8 million strangers, I’d run into someone I knew from home.

Growing up in small town America — “small town” meaning a town with two main intersecting roads and no traffic light — running into someone I knew required only that I step out the front door. Or the back door. Neighbors, even if I didn’t know them well, I always greeted with a “how’s it going” when I passed them in their driveways on my way to the library, bank, post office, or park. I only didn’t vocally greet neighbors if I was running or if they were the creepy ones. But I took for granted that I’d see people I knew — even if I traveled 45 minutes to the nearest Walmart, I expected to run into a familiar face.

It’s not like that here. There’s one older short, black man I end up on the same bus and train with every once in a while. We nod our acknowledgements and occasionally shrug our shoulders at each other in response to weirdos on the F. But that’s it. And my not seeing people I know isn’t just because I don’t know anyone — even New York natives are surprised when they run into a friend on the street.

There are a lot of things I miss about home and school, living in the City. Most of them have to do with fundamental differences between rural America and urban life, and most of them I rarely thought about before living here. Running into familiar faces is one. Below are nine more.

1. Going “the back way” on quiet dirt roads canopied by trees.

There’s nothing like following a long day of work with a quiet drive through the hills. The roads are narrow — I typically pray the whole time that no one will come the other way — but the silence, the scenery, and the dirt and stones your tires kick up as you ride over hole after hole is well worth it.

2. Air that smells like water, dirt, and trees — not exhaust fumes, smoke, and dust.

Because even the exhaust coming out the back of your little 2001 Corolla doesn’t ruin what the trees and creeks are giving back. And let’s face it — people, even when they try to smell good, still smell bad.

3. Local food that’s actually local, as in you picked it yourself in your backyard or your neighbor’s field.

If it’s not in season, it’s not fresh and it’s not local. Strawberries are one of the first crops to ripen. Then raspberries, then tomatoes, then blueberries, apples, corn, potatoes. Picking, processing, and freezing things yourself is the best (though labor-intensive).

4. Backyards with enough room to play volleyball, soccer, and run through a sprinkler — all with their own space.

This would be my backyard at home. And a lot of my neighbors’. Plus, there’s a park two blocks away with basketball court, playground, baseball diamond, and enough grass for casual soccer and football games to take place simultaneously. When I’m home for less than 24 hours in a week and a half, I’m going to find some grass and roll in it.

5. Fresh roadkill venison you don’t think twice about eating because you know who hit it and when.

I grew up eating more deer meat than beef, and I miss it like crazy. It’s a meat you eat and still feel healthy afterward. At least, I do. And yes, a lot of what I ate was hit by someone’s car. These things happen on dark, curvy roads at night. No reason to let the animal go to waste.

6. Open fields, open roads, and open roads next to open fields.

One of my favorite views is driving home south on 205, where the road runs along the hillside and the valley lies spread out beside it, trees, fields, a barn here and there. You realize how big this one corner of the world is, and then how big the world must be in comparison, and how small you are. And you quiet.

7. Quiet.

No trains rumbling past. No airplanes or helicopters flying low overhead. Cars, but few buses, little honking, screeching brakes typically belonging to teenagers or a tractor-trailer or that guy nobody likes. Sirens, but not constantly and always making way for a crew of emergency personnel you trust, because you know them. They live down the street.

8. Trees. Good for climbing or just sitting under.

Maybe an evergreen or a maple. And if it’s maple, best if someone taps it in the spring for sap — thus, real maple syrup. Trees are everywhere: the front, back, and side yards; the edges of the park, all over the hills that border you on every side. In the fall, they’re the best: orange, yellow, red, evergreen. In the winter: snow-tipped, the pines looking like frosted shredded wheat or something equally sugary and delicious. In the spring: new leaves, like a new page of a new life, budding from thickening branches. In the summer: green, green, green. All shades.

9. A clear, cool creek you can wade in barefoot and follow under the road and into town in one direction, or up the hill and into the woods the other way.

Toward what we like to call “civilization” or away from it, into what actually looks more orderly and less chaotic than anything people put together. No honking bus drivers or swearing cabbies, no swerving around or weaving through slow-but-not-really lanes of traffic, no derailing trains or flooding subway stations — because there aren’t any. Just you and creation. And the reality that, yes, this is good.

M3367S-4504205

Bringing you up-to-date:

Sunday: Church. Worked out (my route in 10:38 plus sprints and various other things).

Monday: Internship. Worked out (included 51 push-ups).

Tuesday: Work. Worked out (sprints with my housemate, plus core).

Wednesday: Internship. Worked a catering event for Spoon.

Thursday: Work.

Friday: Work. Made a specific goal of applying to writing jobs this weekend. Ran into Kyle while waiting for the train to come home.

Saturday: Mother’s Day brunch at church (always a weird thing to be part of as a woman who’s nowhere near motherhood). Choir. Worked out (highlight: box jumps on the front step). Did laundry. Read narrative nonfiction/longform articles (reading recommendations coming tomorrow). Wrote this blog post.

NYC Week Thirteen: The fight to stay fit

Read last week’s post here or view all other New York City posts.

It’s a battle I’ve been losing.

Sure, I ran 1.4 miles today in 10:38. Sure, I followed it up with sprints and crunches and pushups. Sure, I got my heart rate up and didn’t feel awful. But I am not where I was three months ago, when I was working on getting to a pull-up, doing weighted squats, deadlifts, going hard for an hour at least three, if not four or five, times a week.

I felt my muscles begin to atrophy months ago, when I was here in the dead of winter with snow piled on the ground and no gym membership or free weights to get me moving indoors. Transition periods are always tough for me; the things I love — music, creative work (i.e. arts and crafts), Bible time, physical activity — typically fall to the wayside, even though doing those things keeps me healthy and functional.

Yesterday, I decided, with the arrival of May and nice weather (even when it’s raining), excuses for not working out are no longer an option. So in the evening (after a pre-afternoon workout with my housemate, choir practice, and grocery shopping), I sat down on my bed with the one permanent marker I brought to the City and a paper bag I’d brought home from work (the only blank paper I currently have). After unfolding the bag and flattening it out, I cut off a piece, brought a desk drawer over to use as a platform, and drew lines across the paper, dividing the space into a graph of the days of the week and the hours of the day, from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Then, I filled in my known schedule — internship, work, church, choir — and started eyeing empty space for working out.

I realized, in this process, that working out isn’t the only thing I’ve neglected over the past three months: I haven’t made a single thing since I came here. Cutting up that paper bag and writing on it is the closest I’ve gotten to a craft. I’ve saved things — brochures, clippings from newspapers, programs — but I haven’t even attempted a collage, because . . . I don’t have glue.

Arts and crafts are a natural pasttime for me. My family sees potential where others see trash. It’s part of living cheaply, and it’s also just part of who we are. My mom collects postage stamps and uses them for decoupage on homemade boxes. My little brother makes stuffed animals and dolls out of random pieces of fabric. I used to make bags out of hole-y jeans and, just last summer, made an apron out of two pieces of discarded clothing. Scissors, glue, needle, thread — that’s really all that’s necessary for any of this and, yet, I haven’t made a single thing. I haven’t even touched the knitting I brought with me.

And that’s not all: Yesterday, after choir practice, I sat down at the piano to try and play a song I’m singing with another girl for special music. My fingers were stiff and clumsy — nowhere near where they were in January, after finishing a semester of piano lessons that had me playing Chopin, Bach, and Beethoven. I realized: I haven’t played piano since I was at Taylor, and now I feel like a true novice.

Weaker, weaker, weaker . . . that’s how I feel in all of these areas — even writing, unfortunately. The only place I feel stronger is my faith, and that’s because I’ve actually been reading my Bible on a regular basis. But all of these other areas, they’re important, too. They’re part of me as a multi-interest individual who thrives on new experiences, learning, growing. They keep me in tune to the possibilities around me and aware of the potential in random inanimate objects, as well as people. They improve my brain function, rhythm, coordination. And they keep me healthy, confident, and strong.

Looking at my paper bag schedule for this week, I’m realizing it’s not just working out I need to work on. It’s also creativity, piano, and wordsmith-ing.

The battle I’ve been losing isn’t over, yet. There’s still a chance I can turn things around, regain some core strength, pick up the pace, have something to show for these four months other than bitten nails, worn-out jeans, and poor posture. This week — and the rest leading up to May 24 (my college commencement) — that’s the goal. Improvement.

 

Bringing you up-to-date:

Sunday: Church.

Monday: Internship. Work. Worked out again with TMIRCE. This time, it was their track workout, which I was hoping would be more up my alley. Turned out, they still run the track for distance: we did long intervals adding up to three miles. It killed me.

Squats TMIRCE

(Note: My squat stance is a bit wide, but it was literally the only way my exhausted legs could pull off the motion. That’s how out of shape I am.)

Tuesday: Work.

Wednesday: Internship. Work. Choir. Church.

Thursday: Work.

Friday: Work.

Saturday: Worked out with my housemate. Choir practice. Grocery shopping. Paper bag scheduling.

NYC Week Twelve: A conglomeration of thoughts

Read last week’s post here or view all other New York City posts.

Time is currency. And this week, mine was spent — in research and at work. With it went my energy, so rather than sitting at my desk for three-plus hours, badgering myself to write something worth reading, I present the following: a conglomeration of thoughts, quoted and original, that I’ve written down over the past three months. Enjoy.

“There’s never anything new about death, to be sure, except its improved publicity. . . . Getting old is the second-biggest surprise of my life, but the first, by a mile, is our unceasing need for deep attachment and intimate love.” ~ Roger Angell, “This Old Man“, The New Yorker

“Your art is a gift to people.” ~ Will Smith

“Like a muscle, creativity is a ‘use it or lose it’ capability.” ~ Barbara Diane Barry, “How Painting Helped Me Overcome Life’s Roadblocks“, Greatist.com

“You can’t make any sense of any fact without putting it into any sort of narrative structure.” ~ Tim Keller

“Is there any meaning for me in life that the inevitable death does not destroy?” ~ Tolstoy

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” ~ Jesus, Luke 21:33

“Ain’t nobody can write down in a book what you worth.” ~ Sue Monk Kidd, The Invention of Wings

Start a story in the middle of action, but not with the heart of the action. Let that come later.

“Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” James 4:17

“God gives us scary stuff sometimes, but He doesn’t make us do it by ourselves.” The world is full of people who don’t know God and, thus, in the face of eternity, panic. “We should not look like that.” ~ Dr. Aaron Housholder, Taylor University chapel message

“Stay with me; do not be afraid, for he who seeks my life seeks your life. With me you shall be in safekeeping.” 1 Samuel 22:23

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21

“God has not given us the spirit of fear: but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord . . . but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the Gospel according to the power of God.” 2 Timothy 1:7&8

“If I don’t have jack, my eye still be on the sparrow.” ~ KB, “Be All Right

“Pride always has shame and ruin at its heels.” ~ Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame

If New York was London and chimney sweeps were still a thing, the sweeps would have turf battles on the rooftops with graffiti artists. (Ride the 7 train to Queens and look out the windows — you’ll understand.)

“We have been approved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” 1 Thessalonians 2:4

“If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10c

“The law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” Galatians 3:24

A person in a library containing all the world’s books would never sit down and try to write his own.

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

“If your salvation is by grace alone, it is kept by grace alone.” ~ Vincent Sawyer

 

Best thing I read this week (outside of the Bible): “In Deep: The dark and dangerous world of extreme cavers” by Burkhard Bilger. This, folks, is what I want to write.

 

Bringing you up-to-date:

This week sapped me of energy and kept me occupied.

Sunday: Easter. Church, lunch with the landlords. This precious moment.

Monday: Internship. Interviewed a Harvard professor, as well as a founder of one of Brooklyn’s community development organizations.

Tuesday: Work.

Wednesday: Internship. More research at the Brooklyn Historical Society’s library.

Thursday: Work. This:

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 10.56.28 PM

(If you’re thinking, “What’s Parkour?” here’s an example.)

Friday: Work.

Saturday: Work.

NYC Week Eleven: False fronts

Read last week’s post here or view all other New York City posts.

The Ironclad Building on Main Street in Cooperstown looks well-kept from the outside: two clean, windowed storefronts on the ground level, second- and third-floor windows surrounded by if not fresh, at least not peeling paint.

The Ironclad Building

You would never guess, from looking at the outside, that the Ironclad Building has an uneven staircase made of raw, unfinished wood with holes allowing sunshine, shadow, and all matter of dirt from climbers’ shoes to fall through onto the equally uneven, possibly more treacherous staircase below. You would never guess it has a slight bug problem, seeing the types of hairy creepers that prefer hanging out in dusty corners of old buildings.

Down the street, the building housing the Village Library, Police Department, and Art Association has kept up similar appearances.

Ctown library
Looks can be deceiving.

 

Grand columns flanked by low balustrades, double doors taller than Goliath, seemingly flawless stonework. No wonder the bad roof — collapsing over books in the library, forcing the Art Association to close its main gallery — came as a surprise: it looked fine from the outside.

In New York City, many buildings are similarly old and grand, but the fact that they need reconstruction is made obvious by the scaffolding set up in front of building after building after building. No street is scaffold-less; something is always in-the-works. But the construction is mainly on the front, the first impression, the facade.

What comes to mind when you think of a city?

I think of appearances. Appearances and everyone obsessing over their own because they have something to prove — to themselves, to the strangers in the subway, to the world. They have to make an impression, and a unique one in order to be memorable. So they dress in strange patterns, clashing colors. They pierce their noses, lips, and eyebrows; gauge their ears, shave their heads, dye their hair, paint their eyelids, lips, fingernails. 

They can’t just rest in the body they’re in, accept what they look like when they wake up. They won’t. Because that person isn’t them. They want get as far from that person as possible.

I hate appearances. I hate that others define us by ours and that we turn around and define ourselves the same way. I hate the constant pressure (especially on women) to look good, have it all together — skin flawless, every hair in the proper position, clothing perfectly matched, fit, and situated — and the guilt and self-consciousness that settles in when we don’t. I hate the fact that makeup exists and people feel ugly without it. And I hate that people use their appearances to conceal who they really are.

In the Christian community, we have a lot of conversations about the expectation of perfection, which brings us to church on Sundays and keeps us there pretending our lives are perfect, we have it all together, and whatever we don’t have all together we’re just waiting on God’s timing for — when in reality, our lives are falling apart, we’ve been crying ourselves to sleep at night, and we haven’t prayed since last Sunday. This is an unfortunate reality for many Christians in many churches, but it’s at least talked about and those conversations typically bring participants into genuine conversations about what they’re struggling with and what they need prayer for — outside of Christendom, a call for genuineness leads to whining and unwanted advice — confrontations, really. And we all love those so much.

But there’s a deep-seated need to be real.

“Don’t you get tired of this?” I asked a co-worker earlier this week, in reference to his constant just-kidding-but-only-sort-of badgering. His favorite toward me is, “Could you just work for five minutes?” which anyone who’s ever worked with me knows is just too funny.

“Don’t you get tired of spewing it out? ‘Cause it’s exhausting to deal with,” I said.

Not a beat later:

“Come on, Meredith, just work for five minutes.”

“Really?” I said. “I was just being real with you.”

He shook his head at himself. “I know. I’m sorry.”

What do we lose when we bury our problems deep inside and gloss over our surfaces so nothing seems wrong? What are the consequences of allowing issues to burrow deeper into our beings while we pretend they’re not there and promise others we’re just fine? What staircases are we eroding, what books are we damaging, what galleries are we closing?

If the inner man is more important than the outer man, the answer is probably those that are most important, valuable, and beautiful.

To remember:

The Lord said to Samuel, “Look not on his countenance or on the height of his stature, because I have refused him: for the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

 

Brooklyn 1

Bringing you up-to-date:

Sunday: Church.

Monday: Internship.

Tuesday: Work.

Wednesday: Internship. Went to Brooklyn for the first time in order to do research in the Brooklyn Historical Society’s library.

Brooklyn street He is risen

Thursday: Work.

Friday: Work. Good Friday service — went straight from work, sang with choir. Truth brought to life.

Saturday: Slept in. Budgeted. Went thrift shopping for kicks and giggles. Got groceries. Chilled. And (as usual) spent too much time on this blog post.

NYC Week Eight: Wake-up run, or Running with strangers

Read last week’s post here or view all other New York City posts.

Can we scrap the rest of this week and just look at today? Because today, I feel alive.

Not that the rest of this week was worthless — it wasn’t. I worked, read the Bible (1 Samuel 1-13), interviewed an FDNY historian, found out I’m still in the running for a yearlong media fellowship, joined the contributor list of a publication I read regularly, and started reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame (which I love so far, by the way). But today . . .

I couldn’t fall asleep last night, because of my excitement for today. I’d decided at the last minute to look into running groups, ended up stumbling upon these guys, and decided — because, why not? — to forego sleeping in, take the bus and train into Manhattan, and run with a group of total strangers.

The result:

  • Walking through the 34th Street station on a quiet Saturday morning and hearing a man play Agnus Dei on the pan flute.
  • Three-plus miles of calf-soring goodness with this group of super friendly strangers.

The Most Informal Running Club, Ever

  • Hearing not one, but two musical groups on the trains (one for each) back to Queens, and reading more of Hunchback than I would have had I stayed home.

There’s something about running (or physical exertion, in general) that wakes me up to life, to the fact that I have it, and makes everything that follows — subway musicians, books, conversations, rain on the roof or the street — seem vibrant, interesting, and unique.

There always seems to be a battle for my attention: to write or to exercise; to string words together, bring others understanding and realization, or to work out, push my physical abilities to the limit. I enjoy and highly value both, so I find myself in a servant-of-two-masters sort of situation, where if I’m regularly doing one, I’m typically not consistent with the other.

This week, I remembered myself as an artist. Through Hunchback and the endless online debates about Noah (I recommend this review), I remembered why I love writing and what it is as a writer that makes me tick. Christian artists are not just called to make art for other Christians, I thought repeatedly, ruminating again on my college professor‘s oft-repeated point that, “A Christian carpenter doesn’t only make churches.”

But as I remembered my inner artist, I neglected my fitness, and every day without running or doing a push-up or jumping jack, I grew increasingly lethargic and unexcited about life.

Alarm goes off. I drag myself out of bed, miss the button several times before successfully shutting off the buzzer. Stare at my phone, the time, trying to calculate. Do I have to get up now? Can’t I have ten more minutes? Try to shake it off. Go to the bathroom; burn a whole ten minutes when it should take me two. Back to my room. What do I have to wear? Shoulders drooping, back curling, whole body sluggish, feeling like a load of lead or bricks or both. Breakfast: eggs and tasteless oatmeal, even if I add peanut butter. To the bus, to the subway. On the train: sleep. I feel myself becoming your stereotypical jaded New Yorker: People are those things that get in your way, step on your toes, and have loud conversations or make-out sessions next to you on the train, when all you want to do is sleep.

Sinking toward grumpiness, nothing is as interesting as my pillow — at least in the morning, when I should be most excited about the day and the potential it holds.

Finding life dull and colorless is detrimental to the writer, especially one who wants to write about exciting and colorful parts of life found in ordinary places. But it makes sense that life seems dull and colorless when it’s being lived that way, the writer has three physical positions and no more: laying down to sleep, standing up to work, sitting down to travel, eat, or write.

I believe our bodies were made for more. Not merely vessels carrying our souls from this existence to eternity, our bodies are part of us, given to enjoy by climbing trees, turning cartwheels, doing push-ups, lunges, burpees. And when their potentials are tapped into, our blood pumps faster, our senses sharpen, and we awaken to the world around us. 

For most people, this means elevated spirits, bigger smiles, and more energy. For the writer, this means noticing more color, uniqueness, and excitement everywhere. For me, it means all of the above, plus bigger laughs, better posture, and stronger confidence which cuts down my awkwardness, makes way for more natural, genuine conversations, and renews my excitement for life and writing.

The whole way back to Queens, I was holding back grins. On the train, when a trio of singers started singing a ragtime tune, I let it break from ear to ear, despite the pinched mouth and wrinkled nose of the man sitting across from me. When a kid threw a fit on the 7 train, I couldn’t help but chuckle, while most others grimaced or stared.

What is life if it is not experienced, appreciated, enjoyed? Not anything to write about, that’s for sure. Every story needs conflict, but if conflict has no meaning or resolution, there’s no story. Even on the pages of the tragic Hunchback, you find shards of joy (one that made me laugh early on: “They had been waiting since morning for three things: noon, the Flemish ambassadors and the play. Noon was the only one to arrive on time.”). And if a writer (that is, I) neglects to experience, appreciate, and enjoy life (that is, exercise), her writing will suffer from lack of life.

Smile Big

Bringing you up-to-date:

Sunday: Church.

Monday: Internship.

Tuesday: Work. Signed Hunchback out from the library. Talked to my oldest brother over the phone. Got the good news about my media fellowship application status and my addition to a contributor list. Time to go story-hunting.

Wednesday: Internship. Choir practice and church.

Thursday: Work.

Friday: Brief phone interview for internship. Work. Decided to run with a group of random strangers.

Saturday: Ran with a group of random strangers. Talked running with a guy at church before choir practice. Got Italian ice and a meal, courtesy of my landlady (who, by the way, is not in her seventies, as previously stated, but in her sixties. Same for her husband, who she refers to as “hubby”). Set up interviews for a piece I’m going to try to pitch. No details, because that would be counting my eggs before they hatch.

NYC Week Seven: When memories flood forward

Read last week’s post here or view all other New York City posts.

You can’t know who you are until you leave everything you’ve ever known.

Not because being in an unfamiliar place surrounded by unfamiliar people brings you to some basic, almost neanderthal form of yourself. Not because everything new and strange helps you realize the person you’d rather be. Not because the concrete jungle forces you to realize your true strength, smarts, and potential.

We are formed by our pasts. The childhood memories, the adolescent experiences, the formative moments (traumatic and pleasant) from sports games, first jobs, extracurriculars — all of these influence who we are today. And it’s not until all familiar things connected to those memories are stripped away, that we realize how big a part of us they are.

For four years beginning in high school, I worked on a book called Locked about a girl in the foster care system, who finally moves into a home where someone cares for her, but is so crippled by her past experiences — always flashing back to a memory of being beaten or derided — that she doesn’t know how to respond to love. The story was driven by flashbacks, where something in the present time brought a memory flooding forward that was so strong, she couldn’t operate in the moment she was in. This week, I experienced a flashback just like this.

For the afternoon church service on Sunday, Faith Baptist held a church business meeting. The pastor had just announced in the morning message that he and his wife were preparing to launch a new ministry separate from the church, and the meeting was to introduce, via resume, a possible candidate to replace him. Some individuals were upset they hadn’t been told about the pastor’s next step prior to the morning message, and quickly, not even ten minutes into the meeting, the meeting devolved into an argument with accusations and hostile words being thrown from one side, while the other side tried to get a word in without yelling or being equally disrespectful.

It was ugly, and I don’t want to go into the details for a number of reasons: One, those who caused the problem are not representative of the congregation; they’re the people who come Sunday mornings and that’s it. Two, it’s difficult to understand the dynamics of a church business meeting if you’ve never been in one, and if you’re not a Christian, I don’t want any account of one to turn you off to the Gospel. People screw up a lot of things — and one of those things, sadly, is the church. 

I will tell you that this meeting was ugly enough to bring me back to my childhood when, as a seven-year-old in a rural upstate New York town, I experienced the repercussions of a church business meeting gone wrong.

My dad’s a pastor, has been since I was three and a half, and at the same church all these years. Every church has its ups and downs, its goods and bads, and its share of troublemakers, complacent believers, or people too afraid of conflict to speak up and silence those in the wrong.

When I was about seven, if not younger, a man in our town started attending our church. It started off fine and dandy — picture bright sunshine-y meadows, with green grass and dandelions. He engaged with the congregation, came on Wednesday nights, contributed music and guitar-playing. He looked like Santa Claus — fat with a white beard — so he seemed harmless. But somewhere along the timeline, this changed. He wasn’t a member, but he began attending church business meetings and, there, he stirred up trouble.

I was too little to understand exactly how this worked and, of course, I didn’t attend the meetings, but I remember running around in the church yard during one Sunday afternoon meeting and hearing raised voices from inside the sanctuary. Through the stained glass windows, I could hear the adults inside yelling at each other, in some sort of argument over some sort of church/pastoral issue.

When the meeting ended, the trouble had just begun. Home came my parents. Home went the rest of the adults. And later that week, to my home, the parsonage next-door to the church, came the troublemaker — to ring the doorbell, greet my mom when she opened the door, and immediately start yelling at her. This, while my siblings and I (all under the age of twelve) tried to do our schoolwork at the dining room table.

I can’t compare this experience to any instance of domestic abuse — there was no physical damage (though physical threats were sensed) — but seeing my mom screamed at until she retreated in tears, yelled at by a man we’d at first had no problem with and actually liked . . . I couldn’t wrap my mind around it then, and I have a hard time wrapping my mind around it now.

In the past fourteen years, I haven’t spent much time thinking about this episode from my life as a pastor’s kid. Crap happens; people are stupid — that’s pretty much what I left it at. But last week, when the yelling started at Faith Baptist, these memories flooded forward and with them, all the pain I’d never fully dealt with. Immediately, I folded into myself and started crying. Tears flowed straight through the two and a half hour meeting; five hours later, it was still obvious I’d been crying.

When memories flood forward — memories you’ve ignored because you wish they weren’t there, memories with the potential to make you throw your hands up in defeat and say, “forget it,” or to stop you in your tracks, make you forget about your current life — you have three choices: push them back to the recesses, where you kept them before; let them control you (freeze, give up); or let them inform you, by seeking to understand how they impact you today and what purpose God may have for them now or in the future. (This blog post is my attempt at the third.)

My memories paralyzed me for two-plus hours, reducing me to a sopping wet mop of tears incapable of forming a coherent sentence. That fact alone says a lot about the damage done by those experiences.

I’ve been processing since Sunday, writing up thoughts here and there about my memories, my views of the church, my thoughts on God’s perspective (that His pain when the church is divided is even greater than mine). I haven’t come to solid conclusions on myself, yet, but I’m beginning to see where my past — the painful parts — impacts my present. At this point, I can identify myself as a Christian who believes in the importance of involvement in the local church but hesitates to tithe or become a member because of what can happen in business meetings. 

This identification is good. It means I’m conscious of myself, my own memories, and their impacts on me. It also shows I’m aware of contradictions within myself, which translate to areas in which I need to grow. It shows I am capable of taking painful memories, thinking them through, and seeing how they impact me in good and bad ways. I am capable of embracing my past and using it to inform me, rather than allowing it to use and control me.

You can’t know who you are until you leave everything you’ve ever known. I left my church and all the people and settings tied to it and the memories of business meetings there. But in a different church, in a different business meeting, those memories came flooding forward, overwhelming me and forcing me to deal with the pain and hurt, and find a way to make sense of it without giving up on the church, God’s people, or myself.

Bringing you up-to-date:

Sunday: Church & business meeting.

Monday: Internship.

Tuesday: Work.

Wednesday: Internship. 1.4 mile run in 10:33. Choir practice and church.

Thursday: Work. Jazz musicians in the subway.

Friday: Work. Attended first half of the dress rehearsal of “The Inner Circle” with a fellow City Limits intern. Peaced out early to get home at a decent hour.

Saturday: Street evangelism with Faith Baptist. Choir practice. I also found out about this conference, which I really want to attend, and I watched this short film which reminded me of Locked:

Sorry, no photos from this week. This is what happens when a girl gets a job and is exhausted just about all the time. Street musicians, though, are the highlights of my days. Make sure to check this out.

NYC Week Six: Rejoining the workforce

Read last week’s post here or view all other New York City posts.

I rose early this morning, beating the sun by a hair. Crawling out of bed, I shut off my alarm, turned on my desk lamp, and paused, sighed.

6 a.m. Day has broken. 

A quick trip to the bathroom, splashing water on my face, and then back to my room, on with another light, dig in my shirt drawer for the second of two new t-shirts: charcoal gray with sky blue text across the chest, reading “spoon-fed”.

Look out work — here I come.

Oatmeal, scrambled eggs, and a full glass (well, mug) of milk. Wash, dry, put away. On with the boots, scarf, coat. Double-check my pocket for my phone and MetroCard, my bag for my sneakers, wallet, keys. Button, button, button, button up. Unlock the door in front of me; step into the waking world, sunbeams tinting the sky; lock the door behind me. On to the bus stop. On to the subway station. On to Manhattan. On to work.

This past Thursday, I filled out tax forms for my new part-time job as a counter person at tbsp (pronounced tablespoon), a restaurant operated by Spoon Catering on 17 East 20th Street. (Apparently, tbsp’s tables came from Cooperstown.)

tbsp
It’s cuter on the inside.

For the first time in a long time, I’m the new kid on the block, the one who has to ask questions about everything from “what’s in the frosting” to “do we have more of these” and “what should I do with this”. It’s tough going from a system you know inside-out to a brand new work setting that’s similar to where you’ve worked before, but different in the way it runs.

I’m used to Danny’s Main Street Market, the place where if you’re behind the counter, you not only take orders and ring out customers, but you make bagels, come up with sandwich specials, wash dishes, mop floors, sharpen knives — and you answer questions based on your knowledge from doing everything behind the counter. I’m used to a place where, by being hired, you’re expected to do it all. And I’m used to knowing exactly what “all” is.

Now, I’m the newbie, the one who busies herself with straightening paper bags and stocking soup cups because she doesn’t know what else to do — only to find that it’s actually the paninis that need to be restocked, meaning the cold sandwiches need to be transferred to the grill. And, yes, the cold sandwiches are right here, on a tray in the rack under the counter. Be sure to put on gloves.

I’m used to being the one who’s been there for years, seen the place through ups and downs, multiple owners. Now, I’m the new kid who knows nothing and knows nobody, but knows, for sure, that she doesn’t agree with multiple co-workers’ choices (no surprise here) and knows she doesn’t want people who barely know her to write her off as a hater — especially since she actually loves people, loves getting to know them, learning their stories, and figuring out what they’re into and what makes them who they are.

Right now, getting to know the other people is what I’m focused on. I may already have some favorites.

Introducing (some of) my co-workers

Ashley: One of tbsp’s managers, Ashley thinks I look like one of the cheerleaders in Glee. She talks super fast and went to a Catholic school somewhere in the City.

Drew: Flamboyantly gay and super particular in all things regarding the new espresso machine. He recently received training in cappuccino art and, just this past week, I witnessed a girl Instagram one of his drinks. Excitement ensued.

Jenay: Full-time tbsp staff who’s working on a fiction book about the impact of generational abuse. She found out I studied writing and immediately launched into an introduction to her own thoughts and research on writing and publishing. She’s pointed out one literary agent who comes in regularly with a stack of manuscripts under his arm, and I’ve since seen at least one other person carrying binder-clipped, size 12, double-spaced, Times New Roman piles of paper.

Yordana: One of those people who’s so cool, you don’t know what to say. Studying criminal justice and psychology at one of NYC’s many universities, Yordana is barista for weekend brunch and works shifts during the week as well. You can tell just by looking at her and hearing her voice — low, confident — that she’s smart and she’s tough.

Brianna: Born in California, raised in Dublin, Ireland, Brianna has lived in New York since last September. Her accent is delicate, not always obvious, and Brianna is hard to read. I’m never sure if the look on her face is because I did something majorly wrong or because something completely different is on her mind.

Then there are the Mexicans who work in the kitchen, Jen the pastry chef, the owners Melissa and her husband (whose name I hear and forget every day I’m there), the weekend brunch staff, the weekday delivery guys, and a couple others — a lot of people to keep track of. I don’t think I’ll ever know everyone’s name (but we have a staff meeting tomorrow, so I’ll at least hear everyone’s name).

I always start off quiet, shy, and gradually become more outspoken. At the beginning, Customer Service Meredith interacts with everyone — customers and co-workers alike. The drive-thru voice turns on, smile grows big, and the problem-solver, who deals with difficult customers very sweetly, runs at full throttle. As time goes on and I get to know the place and people better, more of me and the inner workings of my brain leak out and those I work with, along with a few select customers, get to hear what I think.

I’m not there, yet, with tbsp, but in the past week, I’ve started to crack open a bit — the amount of cracking directly related to the growth in my ability to independently recognize my duties and fulfill them. I expect, as time goes on, this relation will continue and the less I feel like a know-nothing newbie, the more I’ll feel free to let my thoughts fly. I look forward to that.

Reflection

Bringing you up-to-date:

Sunday: The end of Faith Baptist’s revival, containing two messages from Paul Schwanke.

Monday: Dim sum (which I guess means real Chinese food) with a Chinese lady from church and Mara Burns. Internship.

Tuesday: I met fellow Taylor grad, Hanna Ryberg, at her aunt’s apartment building on the Upper West Side. We went for a run in Central Park, and then I walked a good bit of it myself (shorts weather!) before heading downtown to get my New York Public Library card.

Upper West Side  Good day to be outside Spring is comingCentral Skyline  Looks Familiar

Wednesday: Internship + 1.4 mile run in 11:15 + church.

Thursday: Worked at tbsp. Filled out tax forms.

Friday: Worked at tbsp. Called my family and talked to everyone except my 10-year-old brother. =(

Saturday: Worked at tbsp. Waited in a huge line at Trader Joe’s to get my housemate fancy salt from the Himalayas. Hit Aldi on the way back from Manhattan. Successfully resisted the urge to buy ice cream or chocolate or both. Ran 1.4 miles in 10:51. Ate chicken and rice soup for supper. Spent way too much time on this blog post. Oh, and I took this picture. Notice how what makes the buildings good are not man’s designs but God’s creation: the sun, the clouds, the sky.

Saturday park