D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

e-mails from the frontlines

Real talk: this week has been crazy. The community I am living/working in was hit hard this week. I got the chance to be an advocate, to get upset, to get weepy. I had a lot of time to think about how fear leads to anger and sorrow leads to our ultimate hope. I kicked news crews out of my ESL classrooms. I have been encouraging others in the community to write about it. Today I get to go to a peace demonstration, toddler in tow, which might be one of my favorite things to do. It's been a week. I'm so grateful to be where I am in this community, close enough hold hands and pray for peace.  


So it's been a bit quiet. I honestly can't remember at this point who has guests posts coming up and all that (sorry! If I dropped the ball there, please e-mail me and let me know!) But I wanted to share something with you today. I get the best e-mails from you guys. People have come out of the woodwork to share stories of solidarity, joy, pain, isolation, and good cheer. It has helped me immensely, to be blessed by real stories of real people.

Today, I wanted to share a snippet of an e-mail I received from a lovely girl who I will just call "S". I love her perspective, and I asked if I could share it with you all. As someone who didn't come from a place of chaos and/or poverty, I found this perspective extremely enlightening, and I am sure you will too.


"I also am (mostly? maybe?) an evangelical, got married to my husband right after college, became pregnant unintentionally about a year later, and have a daughter who is about two and a half, and I love making funfetti cakes. My husband and I feel like God has called us to not have very much money, live in a place that is economically and racially diverse, and not consume very much media. We seriously considered living in a Christian intentional community after we got married. We were invited to live in a Catholic worker house in Indiana but decided against it, and briefly considered trying to live at Jesus People or Reba Place. Instead, we moved to Chicago for my graduate program in social service administration at University of Chicago and lived in graduate student housing while we started our family. Now we live in Indiana again, and we are still interested in ideas of downward mobility, anti-consumerism, and radical hospitality but don't know quite how they fit into our current situation.


Where do I start? We don't have a lot of money right now. My husband is a grad student. He works part time. I'm a newly-minted social worker and I'm trying to find a part-time job so I can mostly stay home with our daughter. I could probably find a full-time job pretty easily but I would rather not, which is a pretty weird thing to do after you get a degree from one of the most prestigious universities in the world. When I was childless, I always had these dreams of choosing a life of intentional downward mobility. Now that we actually don't have any money, not totally by choice, it mostly just sucks. It doesn't feel like I'm doing anything for Jesus when I buy all our groceries at Aldi or have to take my daughter to the low-income health clinic for medical care; it just feels kind of depressing and like we are maybe failing at life. We certainly do plenty of things that are a little outside the norm by choice - like not having a tv, growing some of our own food, giving money away to people who need it whenever we can, buying most things used, or having one car - but something about the fact that we couldn't really choose differently if we wanted to makes all this much less glamorous and much more humbling than I had originally hoped.


Both of my parents grew up really poor and my mom didn't have very much money when I was little, either. I didn't go to preschool, my dad was an abusive alcoholic, I had neglectful childcare providers, my mom was stressed all the time, and I ate a lot of crappy food. When my mom and I were evicted from our house, we moved in with her boyfriend and ended up marrying him because he had a good job, but not because she loved him; they got divorced a few years later. When I think back on the effects of financial instability on my own childhood, gosh, I just really want to spare my daughter from that. I want her to have a home that we own in a safe area, health insurance, organic food, preschool, piano lessons. Is that too much to ask? Part of me feels like it is. And part of me really, really envies all those blog ladies you referenced in the first part of your post. Safety, stability, chevron pillows, autumnal-scented candles, live laugh love pictures, a respected 'leadership' role at some giant evangelical church - gosh, I would love some of that right now. But it's not an option, and our consciences would never allow us to choose that kind of life even if it was. I don't know where that leaves us. I don't think we could ever join Catholic Worker or some other monastic community because for us, it would just be a way to feel proud of ourselves. Plus I never really fit into those places because I eat meat and wear makeup, and my Goodwill clothes don't look ratty and punk enough. That and I really don't like it when people of privilege say they're living in solidarity with the poor, since actual poverty has to do with so much more than your income.


Another thing: I am really attracted to safe and I don't know what to do with that. I have experienced abuse and violence, and the thought of my daughter living somewhere that isn't really safe is pretty terrifying to me. The thought of living in white suburbia is also really terrifying to me because I know that's not what God has called our family to. There was a fair amount of crime in our neighborhood when we lived in Chicago, and it was really difficult to never be able to go outside alone at night or to read about people getting held up in broad daylight in our hood. Do we have to live in a place like that again to follow what we feel like God has planned for our lives, which is to live in an economically and racially diverse area?


What am I even trying to say? I feel like my family is forging our own weird path, and it unfortunately doesn't make me feel like a hero. Like you said, no one is throwing a parade. I just feel half ashamed of myself and half frustrated around the evangelical mom crowd, and about the same way towards the 'radical' Christian crowd because I just can't manage to take myself that seriously or be quite that extreme. But I think I'm starting to realize how much I've wanted a parade, damnit, or at least a special award from Jesus, because it's really hard to live this way and not even get some kind of martyrdom trophy."




Amen, S. Thanks for e-mailing your real and raw self.

Thanks for sticking around, and reading and thinking and living through all this stuff.


For all posts in the Downward Mobility series, please click here.

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