October 3, 2017

Week 3: Salvation and the Present (Two Realizations)

Posted in Experiencing God at 2:12 pm by Vanessa

On Monday morning (as I often do), I woke up with a deep sense of emptiness – even though I know my life is full of good things.  When I talked to a friend about this later in the day, he pointed out something that gave me a real moment of clarity.  Instead of focusing on the past and future, I could live in the present.  For example, instead of despairing over my years of unsuccessful writing and how I will never finish my book, or replaying interactions with the guy I like and wondering if we could somehow (against logic) have a future together – instead of obsessing over the past and future, and feeling miserable, I could sit next to my friend and enjoy the beautiful day and be thankful for our conversation.  The way he put it reminded me that I do have a choice.  Now, I’ve always liked that I’m more of a past/future person (as someone who likes being reflective and dreaming), but it’s freeing to think that I can choose to live more of my life in gratitude for the present.

And my present-life is not just full of good things, it’s very full of good things.  I didn’t get to spend time with God in a coffee shop as planned, but I felt Him in the various things I did this weekend: my 17-mile run after work on Friday, ramen with my brother after, my hike with a few friends on Saturday, my 10K race on Sunday, church Sunday night.  I love that my legs feel strong despite running/hiking/running three days in a row, that I have a brother who I can be real with, that my friends and I prayed while eating brunch in Cold Spring and the rain cleared for exactly the time we needed to hike Breakneck Ridge, that I belong to such amazing communities, etc.

I also realized on Friday morning that I look to a lot of things besides God for salvation.  A romantic relationship, the fulfillment of my goals, even the things I do to build community and center my life on God.  I often think, if only X, Y and Z were true, I would be happy and fulfilled.  It’s freeing to realize I can let go of all of these things and trust God instead.  NOT what I can do in God, but God Himself.

I’m thankful for these realizations, and hopeful they will bring me closer to God.  This week is another busy week, but I’m going to try for another walk or maybe coffee shop (decaf latte) time with God.


September 23, 2017

Contemplative Hike 9/30

Posted in Experiencing God at 8:32 pm by Vanessa

Someone recently told me that he loves to take the Metro-North to Breakneck Ridge for a hike with breaktaking views, and my brother mentioned that he heard they’ll be closing Breakneck Ridge for repairs after this season for a year, so I thought I would try to plan a contemplative hike there for next Saturday 9/30.  It sounds like a moderate to difficult hike (apparently it’s steep at the beginning with a rock scramble), and can get crowded, but I think it’s still possible to maybe meditate on a relevant verse at the bottom and top of the hike.  More details to come, all are welcome.  I think with an early start, we can end up in Cold Spring for lunch before heading back to the city on the Metro-North.

http://blog-tw.nynjtc.org/breakneck-ridge-hike-tips (check out video)

Details Update:

We’ll be taking the 8:43am Metro-North train from Grand Central that arrives at Breakneck Ridge by 10:17am.  A round-trip ticket costs $29.  The Breakneck Ridge Loop is 3 miles and should take 3.5 hours according to the link.  This trail doesn’t take us to Cold Spring, so the alternative is to find another hike that does or walk the 3+ miles along the highway, if we want to get food there.

Let me know if you want to come.

Weeks 1 and 2: St. Mary’s, Boat Basin

Posted in Experiencing God at 3:02 pm by Vanessa

Week 1: St. Mary’s

I wanted to start with a walk by a river, like I used to do when I lived in Boston/Cambridge.  But I kept running out of time last week.  Instead, I stopped by St. Mary’s near Times Square on Friday before an event and sat in the quiet for 15 minutes.  Even though it felt more like an afterthought than intentionally making room in my life for God, I enjoyed the stillness and space before stepping back into the busy bustle of midtown Manhattan.

Week 2: Hudson River Walk and Boat Basin

Last week was particularly tough, filled with conflict and small failures and feelings of rejection.  As I thought about what could help me move out of this emotional space, two things came to mind.  First, this verse in Isaiah 53:

He was despised and rejected–a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.

Remembering that Jesus was also someone who knew conflict and failure and rejection – someone who also didn’t have a picture-perfect life – helped me feel better about the things I’m not or don’t have.  I’m thankful that I can come to God and be accepted and understood even in my lowest moments.

Second, I have always longed for a life of romance and adventure (instead of rejection and failure), and felt especially convinced this week that spending time with God is key.  And so on Thursday, after work and before my church community group, I slowly walked along the Hudson River from 96th Street to the Boat Basin Cafe on 79th Street (a familiar walk because it’s along the swim course of the NYC triathlon), and quietly talked to God.  There were crowds of Jewish families chatting by the water because of Rosh Hashanah (there to symbolically cast off their sins into the river according to a Jewish coworker), and a light breeze gently lifted my hair as the sun set in brilliant shades of gold and orange.  A few things in particular were troubling me, and as I asked God for help as I took in the beauty of my surroundings, I felt both freed to be deeply sad and giddy with delight.  It was actually pretty amazing in a muted way.  Once I reached the Boat Basin, I decided on a whim to treat myself to a virgin piña colada and avocado toast (neither of which I can recommend) while enjoying the view, and for once, felt happy to just sit there without looking at my phone.

This feeling of more space, slowed time, beauty, romance, adventure, etc. faded by Friday morning, but I have a feeling that continuing to prioritize this kind of time with God – space to really worship him and walk with him in friendship – will make a big impact on my life this next season.  I’m not sure what I will do this upcoming week…maybe enjoy a latte at a favorite coffee shop with him and maybe my journal?  I’m also thinking about planning a contemplative hike next Saturday that you’re welcome to join me on.


September 8, 2017

Experiencing God: A New Post Series

Posted in Experiencing God at 6:12 am by Vanessa

From time to time, I’ll meet someone who I think has the ability to change my life, to save me from the things in my life that I like the least – my singleness, feeling like I have to do the things I think are important on my own, not doing these things all that well, etc.  It’s only happened a handful of times, but every time, I’ve found myself falling out of balance, away from God and towards a person instead.  Since the other person hasn’t felt the same way in all of these cases, I’ve been left disappointed and with an experience of the world as gray, with all the romance wrung out of it.

It always surprises me how easily I’ll look to a person to be my savior and love of my life, when I’ve wanted God to have this role first.  But the busyness of NYC and my desperation for love has really proved that this isn’t true, at least not right now.  Myriad tasks push God to the edges of my time, and He feels a lot less real than the last guy I hoped would like me.

And so, as I’ve mulled over what steps to take to get back to a good place, I feel led to try a little “experiencing God” experiment:

  1. Spend time with God in some uniquely romantic way once a week
  2. Write a quick blog post about it, to share it with anyone who is reading this
  3. Plan some way to experience God that I can invite people (you) to once every other month

I’m hoping this will give me some accountability to make space – real space – for God in my life again, so that He will become the most real thing in my life again.

Does God feel real to you?  If you want to join me in any of the above, let me know.

May 29, 2017

My Word, Half A Year Later

Posted in 2017: Fully, Rule of Life, Wonder at 9:15 pm by Vanessa

It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  Life has been a bit of a whirlwind since the beginning of March, which was filled with travel to see family and friends, and then triathlon training began again the week after I returned.  And suddenly, it’s almost June.

But even though I haven’t been as reflective lately, something this week reminded me of my Word for 2017.  When I chose “fully” as my word for the year, I had been unsure about my commitments, especially to my church and my two church groups.  Despite appreciating a lot about it, I couldn’t stop comparing my NYC church to the church I used to belong to in Boston.  The church community group I had loved since moving to the city had changed, doubling in size (tough for an introvert like me).  And I didn’t know if I quite fit with my other group.  The thought crossed my mind that maybe my church and groups weren’t the right place for me – but when I chose my Word for 2017, I decided to put my doubts aside and stop holding back.

I’m not even sure I did this completely, but now it’s half a year later, and things are different.  I realized this as I was thinking about my church membership vows that will take place on June 18, and how I wanted to invite all of my church groups to the service and then brunch afterwards.  At this moment, I feel such deep appreciation and love for everyone in my groups, and my church in general, that remembering back to the beginning of the year is like realizing that a miracle had taken place.

I’m probably not explaining it well, but I had to try to share how God has blessed this word in my life.  And the year isn’t even over yet.

For those of you who also chose a word for 2017, I would love to hear your updates.

February 28, 2017

Lent Begins Tomorrow

Posted in 2017: Fully, Rule of Life, Wonder at 10:14 pm by Vanessa

The beginning of Lent always catches me by surprise.  This year, since I am in the middle of a few other longer-term endeavors, I’ve decided to keep my focus for Lent simple.  Because I’ve been binging on TV and sugary foods lately, both things seemed like obvious choices for things to give up during Lent (minus Sundays).  Especially with TV, which I have been watching from the moment I get home until past midnight (I am now caught up on This Is Us after a week of this), my hope is to make more space in my life for God, again.

I also discovered this little devotional while volunteering at the book table at church this Sunday, which seems like the perfect compliment to my Lent focuses of making space and keeping things simple.

How are you observing Lent this year?  (Maybe we can support each other in some way…)

January 12, 2017

New Words for 2017

Posted in 2017: Fully, Rule of Life, Wonder at 7:21 pm by Vanessa

I always love the New Year.  To me, it’s a chance to wipe the slate clean of my failed goals and unfulfilled hopes, and hope and try again.  But even though I was excited thinking about 2017 during the last few weeks of 2016, the first few days of the year found me depressed and anxious.  I think I was putting too much pressure on myself to make too many changes right away.

And so, in a brief moment of clarity one morning, I decided that these would be my words for 2017 (my word for 2016 was shameless…not so sure I lived that one out, but it helped as a reminder):

My New Word For 2017:

  • Fully : I’ve been realizing that there are many areas of my life where I’m committed, but halfhearted.  For 2017, I would like to dive in fully, instead of holding myself back, and see what happens.  (This means fewer complaints, thoughts of quitting, doubts, etc.)

And My Two Auxiliary Words (or Phrase) for 2017:

  • Rule of Life : I told myself firmly that I would wake up at 6am every morning to spend time writing in my journal and praying, and that I would spend every lunch break working on my writing…only to fail day after day.  So instead of making those things my goal, I’ve decided that my goal – for the entire year – is to work towards a “Rule of Life” (or a pattern of living intentionally towards growth) that include those things.
  • Wonder : I can get so wrapped up in goals, and lists of things to do, and just the bustle of the city, that my head stays down and I miss the beauty in my life.  So my last word for 2017 is a reminder to look up and do things (again) like read, spend time in coffee shops, go for nature walks, etc. to help remember that God has given me a lot.

I would love to hear about your word(s) for 2017.  :)

December 16, 2016

Without Words

Posted in 2016: Shameless Faith at 1:03 am by Vanessa

My life right now feels like a room with the lights turned off.  Not because things are particularly dark in my life, but because I can’t seem to see.  Every morning, when I do make time to write in my journal to God, I marvel at how BLANK I feel.  You might imagine that this makes writing difficult, so I haven’t been doing that.  And it also makes me choose things like binge-watching Supergirl over trying to process my 10 days in India.

But in this season of Advent, it helps to remember that Jesus is a light in the darkness.  And so I’m praying, with some hope, that he will illuminate my life and show me what steps to take.  Until then, I remain without words.

September 27, 2016

The Winter of My Discontent

Posted in 2016: Shameless Faith at 2:33 am by Vanessa

I’ve been in a funny space for the past two months, more energized but also more depressed than I’ve been in a while.  I don’t think I’ve been this excited about running and biking ever, and I’ve loved the accompanying communities of people who also are into running, biking, triathlons, etc.  At the same time, I don’t remember the last time I’ve regularly blown up at friends in anger, or suddenly withdrawn from people to wander the streets crying, like has been happening a little too frequently since my last post.  (After my last blowup, I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to find a therapist…so don’t worry, I’m trying to work on my issues.)

Last week as I was sharing a thought at one of my church community groups, I suddenly realized that part of what I am going through is a faith crisis of sorts.  For a very long time, I’ve wanted my life to be characterized by the kind of relationship with God that makes others want to know Him too.  But how can this be true when emptiness and bitterness is at the core of my relationship with Him right now?  Describing it to a friend earlier tonight, I read her the below excerpt from yesterday’s Streams in the Desert passage:

“Who told you that night will never end in day?  Who told you that the winter of your discontent would continue from frost to frost and from snow, ice, and hail to even deeper snow and stronger storms of despair?”

But as I told her, I do feel like I’ll be stuck in winter forever.

I’m not sure how to climb out of this pit I’m in, but weeks ago, this verse resurfaced from the muddy swirl of thoughts that was my brain, like a gentle rebuke or reminder:

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” Isaiah 30:15 NIV

And so, eventually, I will seek repentance and rest, quietness and trust, and hopefully God will meet me there.

August 2, 2016

Post-Race Depression, Falling For My Friend, and the Upsides

Posted in 2016: Shameless Faith at 9:51 am by Vanessa

Two weeks ago, after nearly four months of training, I completed my first Olympic-length triathlon.  The months preceding the race were filled with many days of running, swimming and (not enough) biking, and the week before the race was one of the most anxiety-filled weeks I’ve had in a while (I’ve done other triathlons, but none as long and as logistically complicated as this one).  I imagined being freaked out by something in the Hudson River during my swim, or getting a flat tire or crashing during my bike up and down the West Side Highway, or suffering from heat exhaustion on my run around Central Park.

And then, it was over.

One of my coaches called it post-race depression, but I didn’t expect it to hit me so hard.  From the very next day after the triathlon and most likely not ending this very moment, I’ve been under a dark cloud.  The question “Now what?” has reverberated down what feels like the empty hallway of my life, growing beyond the realm of athletic activity.  Now what?  The loss of my goal and accompanying community has left me surprisingly untethered.  I feel lost and lonely.  And my other goals are exactly where I left them, leaving me in a place of hopelessness as well.

And it doesn’t help that I had grown particularly attached to one friend over the course of our training, which I hadn’t realized until the day the triathlon was over.  My sense of loss regarding the triathlon was compounded by my feelings of loss for this friendship.  On Sunday, I told him how I had developed feelings for him, but he didn’t feel the same way – which I mostly expected and wasn’t completely bothered by, since we had agreed multiple times before that we weren’t quite right for each other.  But he has been the closest I’ve come to meeting someone whose character and lifestyle matches what I’d like mine to be.  And in this lonely space, I can’t help wondering if this will be the closest I’ll ever come…if I will remain alone forever.

I don’t remember the last time I felt this low (and I’m an emotional person, so lows definitely come and go).  Will my life ever change?

There have been upsides to this depression, though.  One, my deep loneliness has made me miss old friendships (to the point of action), ones that I had let go of to varying degrees because of changes in location and life stage. And it has made me reach out to newer friends as well, because I just don’t have it in me to get through this emotional state on my own.  And two, it has made me long for a space of rest in God.  I imagine letting go of my life of anxiety and (unsuccessful) striving, and seeing my life as a walk with God through the garden.  Just wanting this again, and having this image in front of me, has been helpful.

(I have few answers, just the belief that God will continue to walk with me through it all, even when I have a hard time trusting Him.)

Disclaimer: The danger of writing from the middle of an emotional space is that things are more raw.  I apologize if none of this makes sense or if I overshared.  But it has been helpful to try to process my thoughts through writing, and in case any of what I’m feeling resonates with you, please let me know.

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