Right this minute, I am on a train from Portland to Seattle. It is dusk, and we are passing by a large body of water .(I need to find out what this is. A river? A lake? Some famous landmark I should be able to name?) The sky above is every shade from rose to indigo, the water like azurite, rippling as it reflects the sky.
I am on a train from Portland to Seattle, because I have just spent a few days at a conference and now I am going home.
# # #
When it began to sink in late last summer that I would be marrying this man from Seattle, it also began to dawn on me that I would be leaving my beloved New York City to relocate to the opposite side of the United States. For a while, when it was “out there” as a possibility, it was exciting. I am an adventure junkie, so the idea of shedding most of my belongings, packing up my dog and cat, and starting over in a new place, with a new husband, was quite exciting. I began selling my books online, and giving away the ones that didn’t sell. I bagged up loads of clothes and household items for Salvation Army. Eventually, I sold my dining room table and chairs and bequeathed my beautiful bedroom furniture to two families in my church – one had a bed, but no furniture; the other had furniture, but no bed. It was like it was meant to be.
But the closer my move got, the more I realized that I was leaving a city I loved to go live in a city I did not love. Suddenly, I was in crisis.
# # #
New York has always been a part of me.
Well, maybe not always. I was born in a suburb of Detroit and then moved to southwest Virginia when I was seven. But when I was about twelve years old, I started talking about the fact that I would eventually live in New York City. I have notes my BFF and I wrote back and forth during middle school, describing the loft I would be living in. It would be like the loft in Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation videos. Oh, and I was going to be living there with my husband, Jordan Knight. (Jennifer and her husband, Joey McIntyre, would visit us often from their home in Boston.)
By the time I was in high school, one of my brothers had given me a poster of the skyline of New York, and my mom had given me permission to turn one wall in my bedroom into a graffiti wall. Anyone who came in – the volleyball team, my grandmother, Tiki Barber – would be given markers and allowed to draw or write me a message. And “I ♥ New York” was written in my handwriting in several different places.
My acting career began not in New York City, as I had originally planned, but in Richmond, Virginia, where I spent three years working in companies like TheatreVirginia, Theatre IV, Swift Creek Mill Playhouse, Barksdale, and others, as well as earning my SAG card from one episode of the UPN’s Legacy.
Then, finally, when I was twenty-three years old, I moved to New York City. I drove my car to my aunt’s friend’s house in New Jersey, then took a train from there to Penn Station. I had already paid rent on a sublet at W. 73rd Street and Columbus, so I took a taxi from Penn to the apartment. (I arrived in NYC with $47 to my name and prayed that taxi ride would not be any more than that.) The following Monday, I started my first temp job, working for Register.com.
I began auditioning right away, and two months after arriving in The City, I had my first role – an extra on As the World Turns. The mother of a friend of mine had been a writer on the show at one time, so she gave my headshot and resumé to the casting director, and he gave me a small part as a protester in three scenes. Soon after that, I booked a part in a workshop performance of a new play, and began to feel like I was on my way.
New York City was my apple, and I was taking my first bites.
# # #
One year and many roles later, I was at a film premiere, and I met a guy who was part of a new church that had just started about six months earlier. He was hot, so when he invited me to visit his church, I did. (For the record, he was a Versace model. Seriously. So when I say he was “hot,” I mean, professionally h-o-t. And he loved Jesus. So, you know… I mean… right?) The hottie became a friend, and that church became my home.
I began to worship with a new passion and study the Bible with a new hunger. I began to hear phrases like “God’s heart for the nations” and “the 10/40 window,” and I started to reconsider my vocation. In July 2001, I celebrated Independence Day with a bunch of friends from my church on the top floor of the World Trade Center, North Tower, at Windows on the World, playing cards and swing dancing. Later that same month, I printed out pages of the Qur’an, specifically the ones that referred to Jesus. I don’t remember why I started reading the Qur’an or what prompted my curiosity about Islam, but I think it had something to do with learning that over half of the people in the world who had never heard about the Christian Jesus lived in central Asia and were Muslims. I knew they had a Muslim version of Jesus in the Qur’an, and I wanted to find out what he was like.
Then, two months later, that tower where I had been swing dancing no longer existed.
# # #
In the days, weeks, and months that followed 9/11, my love for New York only grew stronger. I went to Union Square to pray with others who had gathered there from all walks of life. My friends and I “prayer walked” Manhattan. We handed out copies of Josh McDowell’s More than a Carpenter and pocket New Testaments. We fasted as we prayed for our city, for our nation, and for our world, but mostly we fasted for a Kingdom that was among us, yet, in that moment, sort of hard to see.
I stopped auditioning and sending out my head shots and resumes, and took a class to get certified to teach English as a Second/Foreign Language. I began attending prayer summits and took a missions class, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. I volunteered with some ministries that served Christians who had converted from Islam. I taught worship workshops in Chinatown, and led worship for a Bible study for actors and creative types. My vocation was evolving, and I still didn’t have a clear picture for what I was supposed to be doing.
I just knew that I loved my Lord, and I loved my city.
# # #
In March 2003, I visited an orphanage in El Salvador. It was my third visit, and my heart was very full for the children at La Casa de Mi Padre. The founders of the orphanage, whom I loved very much, asked me to pray about whether God might be calling me to serve with them full time. I was completely willing to go, if it was God’s will.
I hoped it was.
One night during that trip, even though I was exhausted from working hard all day, I could not sleep. With everyone else in the house deep in slumber, I slipped downstairs and knelt down on the tile floor in the office, my Bible open next to me. I began to pray, asking God to tell me whether I was supposed to leave New York and move to El Salvador to serve full time with My Father’s House.
I waited, I read scripture, and eventually, I had one sentence come to mind:
“Your time in New York is not over.”
I sat for a while, asking what this meant. I did not sense anything further, so I went to bed and fell asleep.
A few days later, I was on a plane back to New York.
# # #
The following Friday was Good Friday, and since my church in Manhattan did not have any Holy Week services, I attended my friend’s church in Staten Island that night. Walking in the door of New Hope Community Church, a stone’s throw from the West Brighton Housing Projects, I was overwhelmed by a sense of coming home. I worshiped with the beautiful people of that community, I wept in honor of the cross, and I went back to my East Harlem apartment pretty sure that I knew what was coming next.
By May, I had become part of New Hope’s worship team, and by July, I lived in Staten Island.
The following seven-and-a-half years of my life are largely defined by my involvement at New Hope. I started a women’s Bible study that is still going on today. I played on the worship team, with whom I traveled to Brooklyn, New Jersey, and Nigeria. I wept with Jeannine after her miscarriage, and helped care for her newborn when she had a heart attack two weeks after giving birth. I prayed with Steve and Mary for their adoption and cooked for my pastor’s family after his mother died. I helped out administratively in the office, served with the ministry to South Asians, started a short-lived ESL class for the neighborhood, and even worked, on occasion, in the nursery. I sat with Stacey through all six of her chemo treatments, and I hosted small dinners and game nights.
I let the body of Christ carry me when I went through heartache. I wept on New Year’s Eve, as Corinne stood beside me in my kitchen, patting my back and praying for me. (I appreciated how she never tried to give me advice. She was just there with me.) I went through The Artist’s Way with Karen, each of us trying to help the other recover our creative selves. I helped with women’s brunches and prayer meetings and potlucks and discipleship. I even fixed the toilet a few times when it was broken and I was the only one in the building.
Then, one day, I mentioned to a few friends that I had met someone in Seattle and he would be coming for a visit. We arranged dinners and desserts at various peoples’ homes so I could parade him before my tribe. They fell in love with him. So did I. And there was much rejoicing when we announced our engagement.
Even though our engagement meant that I would be leaving New Hope and New York.
# # #
In January, I visited Seattle, knowing that I would soon be moving there. It was cold and rainy, of course, and so gray. Suddenly, I was not sure that I wanted to move to Seattle. When I returned to New York, my new sapphire engagement ring catching my eye every few minutes, it occurred to me that I did not love Seattle, at least not the way I loved New York. I liked Seattle. I liked to visit Seattle. But New York City had been in my heart for over twenty-three years. I had invested my time, talent, prayers, and money in that city. I trod its streets with purpose, with vocation. I knew its neighborhoods, bus routes, and subway lines, like the back of my hand.
I had God’s heart for New York, and I began to panic. What if I never love Seattle this way? I thought to myself.I was set to move in two months, and I needed a heart change. Then, I remembered something someone said to me once. “God is never late, but he is not often early.”
I began to pray very specifically that God would give me his heart for Seattle. Before March 27.
# # #
I don’t know when it happened. But suddenly, about one week before I moved, I knew I was ready. For about two months, I had seen New York City not through the eyes of someone who takes it for granted, but with renewed eyes – the eyes of one who knows her time is short. I noticed things that are easy to ignore – the grates in the sidewalk, the faces on the city bus I took to the Staten Island Ferry each day, the information overload in Times Square. Stepping off the elevator at Space 38|39, which had been my office for the whole three-and-a-half years I had been working for International Arts Movement, I noticed the smells that define that space: coffee, Swiffer floor cleaner, and art.
During that time, I was more intentional about speaking to the nice men who made my sandwiches downstairs at Subway, and the Korean girls who wrapped up my sushi each evening for dinner. Shortly before I left, I shyly told them, as if they would care, that I would not be seeing them anymore. They seemed genuine when they said they would miss me.
The night before I left New York, a small group of girlfriends threw me a bachelorette party. It was a perfect night. Steve, who has been my drummer for years and is married to one of my best friends, served as our driver. Eight of us got all dolled up and went to Manhattan for a night of Karaoke. We had our own little room, where we could pick our own songs. Because it was just us, no one was too shy – we all sang hits from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s, and 10s (“Single Ladies,” naturally). Eventually we piled back into Steve’s 7-seat SUV and headed back to Staten Island, with a bag of lingerie, a “BACHELORETTE” sash, a la Miss America, a tiara, and a button that read, “Bride to Be.”
I really think my last night in New York City was my best night in New York City ever. The next morning, my friend Karen and her son Justin came to drive me and my dog to the airport in Newark. A small group of neighbors came to see me off, and we were all in tears as we said goodbye. They threw rice as I got in the car and left.
# # #
As I have been writing, I have been moving. The train is drawing closer to Seattle, which means that I am nearly home.
And it really is home. Somehow, by God’s grace, I have been filled with divine love for another city. Of course, I still love New York; I always will. I spent twelve of the best years of my life there. But the Adventure has brought me to the Pacific Northwest. Now, instead of skyscrapers, I see the Cascades and the Olympic Mountains. Instead of Key Food, I shop at QFC (and Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s and my choice of many farmers’ markets.) Instead of Salvation Army Thrift Stores, I hit up Value Village. Instead of going to King’s Arms for breakfast, there is Endolyne Joe’s. And instead of taking Jonah for walks in Snug Harbor, we go to Fauntleroy Park.
When I started writing this, as I was looking out across the water somewhere between Portland and Seattle, there was one point to all of this, one reason I felt compelled to write it down and send it to the blogosphere:
I just wanted to say that God is faithful.
# # #
That’s really it. I had a moment, sitting on this train, watching the glorious sky just west of Oregon, when I remembered being worried that I would not love Seattle. When I was in New York, with my new life in Seattle nothing but a circle on my calendar, I was worried. But now I’m on the other side, and as I gazed at the setting sun over the water outside the window of my train, I felt like she was smiling at me as she sang this song: “You were worried for nothing, little one. God is faithful.”
The sun knows what I had forgotten. “From rising of the sun, to the place where it goes down, praise the name of the Lord.”