NYC Part 1: What to Eat

Last month I had the chance to spend almost five days in one of my absolute favorite places: New York City.  I stayed with my sweet friend Ainsley and her husband, Justin, and I had the best time.  What I loved most about this trip was that I hung with them about half the time I was there and then ventured solo for the other half, which was really fun to do in what is literally the biggest city in the US.  It's going to take a few posts to share all the things I want to, so let's start with one of the best things: the food.  I've tried my best to arrange this list by neighborhood, and I very obviously did not stick to my usual gluten- and dairy-free diet because vacation, so no judgement, k?  Okay, let's get started!

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To My 15 Year Old Self

Back in February I wrote a post about choosing to love myself, and while it was pretty challenging to get all of my feelings into words, it was such a cathartic process: admitting that I've been my own worst enemy and publicly declaring "no more."  It continues to be a daily battle  consciously choosing to ignore the lies and instead accept, love, and take care of the vessel I'm in  and yet it has also being a huge learning experience, because as I've been reflecting on the past 15+ years of bashing my body, I've realized something pretty significant: I missed out on a lot of what life had to offer because I was so consumed with my personally-perceived imperfections.

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This struggle was probably at its worst when I was fifteen years old.  As a sophomore in high school, I was pretty much your average teen, including that I was consumed with my physical appearance and what people thought of me.  As a result, I had low self-esteem, and — because of some things at home and a strong belief that I couldn't express my emotions — I briefly struggled with depression that eventually led to a short season of self-injury, which ultimately brought me into counseling by sixteen.  

For the last few months, I have been thinking if I were able to go back and chat with that insecure, precious girl — what I would say to myself in that season of life: what words would I use? how would I approach her? would there be things I'd tell her to do or not do? would I just give her a big hug and let her in on the fact that things were going to be okay?  Here is what I believe, if given the chance, I would share with my fifteen-year-old self:

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Sweet girl, there are so many things to say yet not enough time, so let me start with this: you are so beautiful.  In spite of how you feel or what you think other's might think or say about you or your body, you are so beautiful.  You might not be a size zero, but you've got muscles that keep you moving and fighting like the badass you are.  You might not have the perfect fill-in-the-blank, but you are more unique than you could imagine.  You might not be the girl that all the guys want, but don't sweat it, because and I'ma be honest here  they're pretty much all a waste of your time and emotions, and you've got way to much ahead of you to be concerned with them, especially right now (learn to say "boy bye").  And hey, you look good regardless of whether or not there's a guy next to you anyway.  But above all else, your beauty far extends beyond what you look like.  You are strong and compassionate and kind and weird in the best way.  You fight for others, always believing in them because you see their infinite value.  You are in tune with your emotions, which is a true gift, and I want to give you the permission to express them in healthy ways.  You do not need to bottle them up for fear of no longer being considered "bubbly" and "joyful," and despite the isolation you may feel, you are not alone; you can absolutely talk with those you love and trust about the pain and the confusion you are experiencing.  Please don't buy into the lie that only way you can relieve the emotional pain is through scratching, burning, or cutting yourself.   But hey, even if you do those things, the grace is reaaal.  And here is a bit of where you're headed:

You will learn to own all of who you are, including the weird quirks that you've always secretly loved.  You will come to a place of accepting and loving your body no matter your jean size, because you'll know that — girl — you look gooood.  You will smile that crooked smile and tear up every dance floor, not giving a rip with people think, because you've realized how awesome it is to fully be yourself and live in love.  You will figure out how to process and express your emotions in healthier ways, owning your feelings instead of apologizing for them, and understanding your resulting gift of empathy.  And even though you may bear some physical scars, they will be a daily reminder of how far you've come - how far God has taken you - and how much farther you're destined to go.

So precious girl, remember that you are beautiful, unique, and so loved, and that no matter what comes your way, you are strong enough to face it.  And remember that love always wins.

 Your twenty-seven year old self (who is still a mess, but owning it)

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Let's Be Real

While I was in New York last week, I had the chance to meet up with a friend from college late one night after I saw a Broadway show.  I wasn't sure what to expect from our time together, but it ended up being one of my favorite parts of that trip, all because our conversation was some of the most real stuff I've been a part of in a long time.  This was a girl that I hadn't seen or really connected with (apart from mutual likes on Instagram) in over five years, and yet we so easily and freely shared some of the deep, hard stuff in our few hours together.  And all I can say is that it all just felt so good and so right.

If there is one thing that I've learned over the last few years, particularly while I've been living in Nashville, it's that true authenticity is absolutely key to the best kind of relationships, and some of my closest friends out here are the ones that I am able to be 100% real with.  They know my good parts and they know my crap, they embrace my quirks and my weirdness, and they know too many of the thoughts that I should probably keep to myself... and they love me anyway.  Why?  Because authenticity breeds authenticity; when one person chooses to be real and show both the good and ugly sides of themselves, the door is then opened for others to do the same.  This means less hiding, less feelings of isolation, and a hell of a lot less faking, which is something that needs to be celebrated.

What I keep going back to from my time with that NYC friend is the necessity for vulnerability, honesty, and trust in any close relationship, especially in the face of a world clamoring for the perfect social media post (complete with the ever-ironic #liveauthentic hashtag).  This means being true to your story, your feelings, and your heart, and not being afraid of the potential of rejection in sharing those things with the people around you.  Life is beautiful and hard, and as fellow human beings -- and especially as followers of Jesus -- we need to be willing to dive into the nitty gritty of life with one another, because it's in that place that we will all flourish.  When we make the decision to be honest and vulnerable, we have no idea how our willingness to be real may impact or influence those around us.  Authenticity is a domino effect, and I hope that you choose to believe that being true to yourself and your story really does matter.

So let's be real.
 

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Some Wilderness

Time for me to get real honest, guys: for the last few months, I have been walking through a very bleak wilderness season.  And the ugly truth?  I don't know that I've cared enough to do much about it.   While it may be true that I have been busy and disconnected, there really isn't a good enough excuse that justifies my lack of spending time with Jesus.

And let me tell you a little bit about the wilderness, because it can be deceiving.  Yes, it can look like a desolate wasteland where you can't seem to find water or sustenance or... well, anything.  There is no hearing or seeing or feeling God in this wilderness.  But I've learned that it can also look like life moving along pretty smoothly and seeking the things that don't really matter.  This is where I have been: stuck in the routine of the every day, hustling through the mundane to the point that I have been spiritually desolate.  He has been present... I've just been too busy looking in every other direction.

In the same spirit of honesty, I have also been wrestling with some tough questions and doubts in this wilderness.  I've been walking with Jesus for a decade now, and when I made that decision in high school I had no questions and no doubts.  He was so real to me then, meeting me right where I was and giving me more than I could have imagined.  But ten years does a lot to a person, especially as a young adult.  You stretch and you grow; your heart is exposed to all kinds of people and passions and heartbreaks; your mind is stretched by thoughts and opinions and worldviews of those both similar and different than yourself.  Ultimately, you come to know yourself in new ways and establish your core beliefs and opinions.  And until now, I have not needed to question much regarding my personal faith.  I have seen God do so many amazing things, namely completely changing my life's trajectory... because I should seriously be living a very different life.  While He has taken me on some of the greatest adventures (seriously, so great, and I know He's just getting started!), I have found myself questioning much over the last few months.  Maybe some of it has been a reaction to the current state of the world - because I am sure we can all agree it's a little nuts, right? - or the fact that I am approaching 30 as a single (and kick ass) gal.  Maybe it's that I've been settled in the Bible belt for a while after growing up in a non-religious area or maybe it's that complacency has been easy to settle into lately.  I don't think there is one thing to pinpoint; in fact, I think it's probably a combination of all of it.  

I love Jesus, that is without question.  I love Him and trust Him and know Him as kind and loving and powerful in my life.   I do not question His existence or presence.  But there are some things that I read in the Bible, that I see in the Church, and that I hear amongst His people that cause me to question some stuff.  And this is a very new feeling to me: questioning God about such things.  It's uncomfortable and challenging and, honestly, can feel isolating.  But after opening up to a friend (read: crying unexpectedly as I spilled my guts on her couch), I was reminded that questioning is not a bad thing in itself, because it forces one to actually ask those tough - and very legitimate - questions, to search for answers, and - ultimately - to seek more of God's presence in the midst of it all.

This is some wilderness.  It isn't pretty and it's sure as hell not easy, and I don't know what getting out of it looks like.  But I do know that, however uncomfortable I may be, this is a necessary season.   In this place I am being stretched, I am undoubtedly growing, and I believe that I will walk away more confident and convinced in what I believe.  I do not have all the answers and I never will, but I refuse to sit back and let life happen without asking the questions that find themselves on my heart.
 

Sticking to my personal motto of keeping it real, I hope this post might resonate with some of you.  Are you or have you been in a similar season, questioning or doubting parts of your personal beliefs/faith?  If so, know I feel you and am 100% here for you.  God can handle our questions, and He can handle our doubts.  They do not surprise or anger or frustrate Him.  Keep pressing into those hard things... I'm rooting for you.

 

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