Being Present Where You Are
I bought a painting today to help my room look a little more homey, to help ease the tension of being here and wanting and waiting to be home. It’s the New York City skyline looking towards Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge. I walked across that bridge in the pouring rain last year; I looked up into that skyline on the anniversary of 9/11, so scarred with pale blue lights marking what used to stand tall. I flinched as planes roared over the hundreds gathered around the memorial. I bought books and drank coffee and rode the subway; I fell in love with a new city, unexpectedly.
But I knew the feeling deeply, as if written in my DNA, because I had felt it before, six years ago, walking much different streets, drinking chai, not coffee, and taking autos and overcrowded buses.
I fell in love with those Brooklyn streets even as I was taking the final step back into those dusty Indian village roads I first fell for.
Just three weeks later, I was looking at another skyline, weeping over New Delhi’s lights, twinkling pale blue below me. I’m home, I whispered, wide-eyed, unable to look away as we descended. I blinked back tears of joy. Over the next several months, those tears would change to tears of heartache and pain, disappointment and longing to be anywhere but here.
But they would change again, thank God, to tears of faith and hope in the God who sees and the God who knows every step of the journey we’re on.
I’m living in a place I have loved deeply for a long time. It’s a hard place, with long, dark nights full of dogfights outside my window, with days full of culture shock and shot nerves over the sounds of the city. But I awake to birds singing in the morning light, to ladies who want to be friends and learn truth. I travel every week into my favorite dusty villages, not to adventure or explore, but to teach.
I’ve spent the last year wrestling. Wrestling with staying, wrestling with words, wrestling with myself. Wrestling with God. And I’m starting to see that the wrestling, the days in-between these longings and dreams that fill our hearts are worth it. They are worth it simply because we are worth it.
So, maybe I shouldn’t have bought that painting now sitting on my bookshelf, leaning against the pale yellow wall. I’m afraid I might want to be there more than I want to be here. And maybe there are days when I do. When the dreaming overtakes the reality for a few minutes. I keep lists on those days: lists of schools, lists of books, lists of plans.
But a friend’s voice reassures me—These two feelings are not mutually exclusive. They don’t cancel out one another. They simply are two truths, coexisting, wrestling—and they’ll keep wrestling. Because India has my heart. And so does New York. And I’ll keep walking with them both in my heart, wrestling as I go, no matter where my feet end up landing. One day at a time, I tell myself, one step at a time.
You can only be in one place at a time. No matter how much you want to be in the other place, you aren’t. So turn back around and look forward. Do what you’ve been given to do. Keep that picture on your mantel. Don’t let go of your dreams. Wrestle them until they’re real.
But don’t let go of where you’re dreams have taken you this far, either. I think I often forget that I’m currently living the dream that God gave me six years ago. God has been so faithful to get me where I am now, and He wants me to be here. And He’s also beginning to push me past this dream into a new one, and that work begins now, but it does not end the work here and now.
And so I pray (and, as Hannah Brencher says, this is: “a prayer to steal”)—God, give me the strength. The strength to keep going. The strength to do what you ask. The strength to be where you have me. The strength to stay. The strength to leave a picture as a picture, but to look at it longingly, knowingly, sometimes. The strength to give truth and truly give. The strength to speak, to write the words that need to be said. The strength to be excited again. The strength to hold expectations up to you, knowing they’re far too small and I’m far too big in them. The strength to be toppled, captured, known by you more than I’m known by others. The strength to last, to be last, to rejoice with the firsts and the finals. The strength to be fully present, no matter where you place me.
Photo by Melanie Chalbert.