At the same time, the decision to pack up my deeply rooted New York life and take whatever I could carry south of the Mason-Dixon line wasn’t one made in haste. In fact, it was the exact opposite. Making the move to Charlotte was something that I prayed about and sought Godly counsel on for close to a year – and to this day, I am indebted to those who listened to me jabber about it for all that time. It was something that, after much prayerful deliberation, I eventually trusted as a clear path set before me. So much so that the prospect of finally arriving and immediately walking into tumult and instability didn’t deter me. In fact, the very day after I gave final and irrevocable, “I’m moving to Charlotte,” notice to my boss, the prophetic words, “I don’t think I want to marry you, Diana,” were whispered over the phone. And while the words shook me to my absolute core, I was somehow immovable in my resolution to move to Charlotte.
Still, something in me said, “Just go.” And it was a voice that even the most devastating of blows couldn’t veto.
Looking back – the timing was impeccable. Had the relationship taken such a drastic turn-for-the-worst even just days earlier, I might not’ve ever made it to Charlotte. Had those predictive syllables been spoken any sooner, I might’ve missed out on everything good and life-giving that was waiting for me here. On the outside, it looked like a sign – a warning – an omen – that I should stay put in my 10 x 10 bungalow in the Long Island colonial in which I trudged through braces and AP exams and college applications. Making the move just wasn’t worth the risk and I’d be much better suited to just keep on keeping on right there in New York.
But on the inside, the timing was a divine gut-check. It dimly hushed, “You said you trusted Me, right? Now, follow Me.”
And so, six months later, I went.
Somehow, with an emaciated relationship still intact, I arrived in Charlotte and was immediately welcomed with the dysfunction that comes with a spiritless connection. Gone were the days of buoyancy and joy. The relationship was lifeless – and efforts to revive its vitality were unabashedly unilateral. But still, I held on. I wrung out every last drop of idealism that churned in me and labored toward rejuvenation until one day, I gave up. In a Gastonia parking lot on Independence Day (go ahead, revel in that irony!), I sat defeated in my efforts to love and to love well. I listened to five years of intertwining and consolidation come to a screeching halt and unravel in just two hours. I half-heartedly petitioned a handful of times and then I gave in. My clenched fists opened up finger by finger and finally, I let go. It was done.
There was no shock, really.
It was like a rug had been pulled out from under me – but in a fashion that was so slow, I actually watched my feet slide clumsy across the surface – inch by inch, bit by bit – until, eventually, I was standing sockless on the cold wood floor.
Almost immediately after the dissolution, the questions started pouring in.
Do you regret moving here?
When are you moving back to New York?
Your parents are coming to get you, right?
Each time, my answer was honest. And each time, my answer was the same.
To be honest, that thought hasn’t even crossed my mind.
Somehow, someway, even in the rubble of heartbreak, I was stable in my decision to start a life in Charlotte. Amidst all of the questioning and the emotions that ended relationships tend to cart around in tow, the idea of packing back up and leaving Charlotte wasn’t ever a place to which my mind wandered. In some sort of divine and cosmic sequence of events, it was almost as if the act of breaking up freed me to become rooted further and deeper and firmer in affirmation that Charlotte was, for whatever reason, where I was supposed to be.
The relationship’s afterlife breathed a gust of vibrancy back into me that had long-been escaping through cracks I didn’t even know I had.
I wasted no time in making an about-face; turning away from all that was toxic and doing all that was within the power of my frail bones to lean into grace. With physically open hands – palms up to the heavens – I prayed for God to takeover, to help me carry all of this and to heave grace upon grace upon grace into my heavy heart until I was so full of His yoke and His burden that I was feather-weight light again.
And He did.
Grace came at me from all directions – and it manifested itself in a hodge-podge of unsuspecting instruments.
There was the weekend in Charleston with my college roommate and her husband just weeks after the last brick fell to the ground. Where we ran high above the Cooper River and bought gelato on King Street. We laughed. We cried. We shared stories of intimate shortcomings and powerful personal successes. We ate dinner on Shem Creek and our evening swim in the warm, saline ocean cleansed fresh wounds as they fought hard to heal.
There was the running group I stumbled into. Over a hundred sets of ready feet, eagerly waiting to greet me in the wee hours of the morning as – together – we conquered mile after thick and sticky mile in the late-July heat. Our runs quickly became a melody by which I drowned out the cacophony of speculation and deliberation in my head. Each slap of the pavement, each pant of hot air and each guffaw at a cheesy dad-joke – a balm and a symphony.
There was the trip I took home. A much-needed month-long stay buried deep in the underbelly of the most magnificent City in the world. There were familiar faces and mama-cooked meals. I was hesitant, at first, to face the very people I left in pursuit of restoring a discontinued love – but they welcomed me. Full on hushed me into their wide open arms and told me – through words and so much more – that they loved me; they cared for me; and that they would always, always, always be holding signs in my corner.
There were the concerts where I fought to blend – just one tiny floral dress in a sea of denim shorts and cowboy boots. Cold, sweating beer in my hand – just standing there, swaying to the sounds of my childhood and singing along with the songs of my adolescence. The night was like an oven and the air felt like molasses draping heavy over my skin. But it was summertime and I was indifferent to the way my hair looked.
There was the expedition to Uganda. One giant reminder that this life just ain’t about me and there is so much more to it than Dean & Deluca and How I Met Your Mother. Uganda was a refresher – a spiritual reset that humbled me back to the beginning again.
And then there were the people.
My goodness, there were remarkable people.
The ones who I just met who, by no other way than the grace of our detail-oriented God, got all of it. Every last detail. The ones who were wired just like me – their brains operating in the same patterns and puzzle-like way; their hearts burned by stories so similar to my own.
The ones who I’d known for ages and ages. The ones who’d been there since the beginning and who’d seen it all come to an end. The ones who knew me before I was in it and could point to that version of me and say, “You can be her again. You can be her – but better.”
The ones who are in it now. Who look to me and say, “How did you survive it? What do I do now?” The ones who need a story to look to and know they can make it. The ones who are living to love something that doesn’t allow them to love how they live.
The ones who were a step ahead of me. Or four or five or six. The ones who’ve said, “I know. I thought that too.” And the ones whose lives were different now – for the better. Because of it.
The ones who pointed me to Jesus. The ones who still do. The ones who lavish unwarranted love and grace and loyalty upon me day after day after day. The ones who see my shrewdness – who look at my when my ugly pokes out and who love me more because of it.
The ones who challenge me to be better. The ones who look straight into my heart and it’s as if, somehow, they’re seeing the very fibers that I’m composed of. The ones who grab me by the shoulders and say, “You were made for more than this.”
The ones who are weird. The ones who make me laugh so violently I wake up in a post-Crossfit state of temporary immobility and I am reminded of how I have a habit of laughing with my entire body. The ones who aren’t too serious for their own health. Or for mine.
The ones who push me toward my passions. The ones who aren’t satisfied until I’m walking head on toward the dreams Divinely sewn into my soul. The ones who can see who I’m created to be.
The ones who are dreamers. The ones who never settle. The ones who live bold and dream big.
All of them. Every. Last. One. I want them on my team for life.
The discomfort was unwelcome and there were times when the flattening pain of betrayal and a thought-to-be shattered future grew to be unbearable. But when I laid it down – and I mean really, laid all of it down – it was as if the second it hit the floor, it was lifted.
Off of me, off my slate, off my shoulders, until, life, as it tends to do, went more than on: It took off.
So here I am. Three hundred and sixty-five full days into becoming acquainted with Charlotte and you know what?
I wouldn’t change a thing.
To the Queen City! Thanks for taking me in and loving on me like I’m your own royal blood.