D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

the summer of mustard seeds

I almost forgot my password for the blog, so I know it's been a long time. School ended in the middle of June and we have floundered, predictably, ever since. Half of my time is spent gazing out the window while my children argue and scream over some small slight and I wonder at what all is going on in the big wide world; the other half I am in a frenzy of research, internet scrolling, keeping up with the horrors of politics, both local and big, always behind on emails and ideas. 

It's the summer of la croix (who am I kidding, the past 4-5 summers have been the summer sparkling water). the summer of trying every kind of pan dulce at the tienda. the summer I got a tattoo inspired by the parable of the mustard seed (and done in the style of Ade Bethune, the artist for The Catholic Worker). it has been a pleasantly hot, rain-free summer. saturdays we see everyone at the school for a BBQ event for the kids, once or twice a week we get together with neighbors, I see people at church and at Tuesday night prayer, but mostly I am alone with my children. When my husband is home a few mornings a week I try and slip out to write but instead find myself filling up my precious few hours with meetings, so many meetings, or answering emails or applying for grants.

one moment I think to myself: what am I doing? I am doing nothing. I am kissing babies and trying not to lose my temper and cooking meals and keeping tabs of all that we need and all that we want and all that we can't afford. nobody in my family is very good at crowds and chaos and unfettered free time so in a tangle we rove around the house together, making messes and cleaning up, playing for a few precious moments in the sun-filtered outdoors, clamoring around for more screen time, reading the same precious books over and over again. What am I doing? I am being a mom.

the other moments I think to myself: how am I doing it all? I have been working on a few writing projects that have staggered me emotionally (why, o why do I choose to exclusively write about gentrification, racial injustice, and white supremacy these days?). I will have two stories on the covers of magazines this year, and a few pieces up in places I have never published before but have long admired. I interview people (badly) sometimes. I read and read and read and never quite have the time to sit down and start writing what I hope is another book. instead, when I open my computer I see the dozens and dozens of emails that linger, begging something from me. I helped start a non-profit this year, which is simultaneously draining and life-giving. We are trying to start places of welcome and hospitality for refugees and immigrants in E Portland (now more than ever this feels urgent). The work is slow and tangled and complicated and full of forms and expenses, but the end result will be good, we know this. None of us get paid and we all get more added to our plates every day, because the need is there and we are here too. I feel the transition. the one between where I would see a need and rush to fill it, and the place I am in now: I see too many needs, and I want to create pathways for other people to join in the process, I want us all to be changed by the ways of radical hospitality and mutual relationships. I train other people to run English classes and welcome centers, I stand by while they do the work I always did: standing at the front, greeting people, serving coffee and tea and snacks, gathering people from so many places who are hungry to learn, hungry for connection, hungry for a space in the wilderness that is our neighborhood. 

and always, always, there is the undercurrent. the thought that never leaves me, that I am never doing enough. there are so many people, so many apartments, so many friends. so many injustices, so many meals being prepared the same way they have for generations, so many children running around trying to save every little ladybug and flower that they find. the needs, the experiences, the relationships spiral out from me in circles, ripples that I cannot catch. I have no rhythm or routine, just my children asking for more water to drink, my thoughts gnawing on some problem or another, a thousand different points I need to try and connect, both online and in my real life.

I am never enough for the people in my life. Sometimes this thought crushes me, sometimes it liberates. I read my Bible in the mornings and drink my coffee and write my frantic thoughts for three pages in my journal. I relish the cool Oregon morning air and the fact that my husband gets up with the kids so I can have a few moments to collect my scattered and despairing and curious self. I drink sparkling water as if I was royalty and share empanadas stuffed with coconut cream or pineapple with my children. I hang out with a refugee friend and know that she needs more from me than I can give, I read text messages full of problems too complicated to fathom. I watch silly TV shows at night and glory in the luxury of a partner who listens to anything I might want to process about. I grieve my country and the religion that has co-opted it, every day. 

And then I get up, and do it all over again. minute by minute, this summer, this year, this life is being built. And the reason I am writing this out right now is to tell myself something that I know I have a hard time believing. it all matters. every second of it. the kingdom of God comes through small things. seeds of obedience, of self-sacrifice. seeds of tiny little pleasures and the seeds of listening patiently to little children with big emotions. and of course, the seed that is hardest for me to honor the most of all, is the one I am becoming friends with, it is starting to sprout and grow. 

the seed of accepting that you are not as useful as you once were, that you are small and fragile and yet still driven to stretch out, wherever your are, reaching for the birds looking for a place to sit and rest.

 

 

 

 

(I hope your summer is going well! a few quick things: my book is currently on sale for kindle for 1.99 and it ends on 7/31 so snatch it up! secondly, I'm still sending out my newsletter every once in awhile which includes a round-up of all the places I am writing at. Thirdly, if any local folks want to help out with the Refugee and Immigrant Hospitality Organization, hit me up! We are always in need of volunteers . . .)

 

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