D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Category: Community Living

Dispatches from the in-between

Your neighbors don’t want to talk about anything. People are quiet, and still. People smile at you like they need to be deferential, and your heart breaks just a little bit more. The cracks in our facades, our religion, our good cheer are visible. Don’t talk about family. Don’t talk about nieces and nephews and sick mothers you will never see again. Don’t talk about the bus being late, how it feels to be visible and exposed in a country where you are the minority, where you are constantly vilified. Your neighbors say everything is fine, there is no problem, they are grateful. They do not want to talk to the news crew, they do not want you to write a story about them. They want to be left alone for once in their lives, they want to be safe and cook and eat the food that reminds them of their grandma. They don’t want to talk about anything. You sit in silence and eat together, you smile at your children. It is a communion of suffering, and you only partake in the slightest bit of it.

 

Your other neighbors, the ones who live a bit farther away, are saying all sorts of things. They have fear in their heart. Some of them want you to talk more, but in a nicer way. Some of them want you to talk less. Some of them want you to share more stories, humanize situations, try harder to reach the conservatives. Some of them are worried about you and your mental health. Some of them are excited that now they can finally be free to say what they really want to say. Some of them think you are too sad, to angry, too fearful, too much. Some of them think now is your time to speak, and to use your voice in the most strategic and pragmatic of ways. Some of them think this battle can be won with words. Some of them remind you that this is what you have been trying to do for the past decade,

 

 and this is the exact moment when you realize that it didn’t work.

 

Your heart is the field that Jesus adored. He gave you the good news from your neighbors, who are Muslim and refugees and poor and undocumented. Together, you worked the soil, together you made it a place for the gospel to grow and bloom. But there were other patches you forgot about. There are stony places, even now, which feel as barren and as desolate as drained-out dam. You know Jesus is there, waiting to help you pick up the debris. You know, even now, how much work it will be to have softness, to have hope, sprout up in every single corner of your life. You start to entertain thoughts of picking up the rocks, together with your suffering servant king. You know you have committed your life to a God who never leaves a single stone unturned. Praise the Lord, indeed. 

 

 

 

For those, like myself, caught not in the heat of “political” debates but for whom our life and livelihood and loves are now inherently considered controversial: God bless you today. You are seen, and you are known. It is so very hard, and it will not get any easier any time soon. But be blessed, today. Together we are working towards the kingdom of God. Together we are all being transformed. 

The Time For Welcome is Now: Ten Ideas

My president and his administration are expected to sign an executive order on immigration and refugees that includes banning all Syrian refugees from entering our country, suspending the entire refugee program for 120 days, cutting the amount of refugees we do resettle by half, and halting all travel from 7 specific Muslim countries.

This directly affects my neighbors, and it indirectly affects me. I care for them. They are my brothers and sisters, even the ones who are waiting halfway around the world to join us in a quest for a peaceful, safe life. They have already suffered so much, and yet here again the people in power cruelly condemn them to even more suffering. When I allow my heart to fully absorb the news, I am in anguish. The only balm has been getting up off my couch and visiting with my neighbors and friends. They heal me with their love and care and attention, with their life stories and trajectory of resilience. But I know not everyone is as blessed as I am. 

Perhaps refugees and immigrants are not your literal neighbors. But perhaps your heart leaps when you think of Jesus, the refugee king, and his words of life and blessing for the sick and the sad and the oppressed. Perhaps you take the Bible seriously as a book that asks Christians to fling themselves into places of sacrificial and transformational love that transcends nationalism in beautiful and devastating ways.

Perhaps you want to know how to best welcome refugees, even as our nation's doors close to them. Here are a few ideas that I have:

 

*There are seven countries under the ban: Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. Find refugees from these countries (and others!) in your city. Locate your local refugee resettlement agency and ask how you can volunteer. Currently, places like Arrive Ministries in St. Paul has seen an uptick in both financial donations and volunteers due to the increased spotlight on refugees. The ways to help are endless—from sorting donated items to tutoring to family mentoring. Beyond the initial re-settlement period many refugees remain culturally isolated. Coming from communally-based Muslim cultures the busyness and individualism of America can be especially hard to adapt to. Jump in and share your life! My personal favorite agencies are World Relief, Catholic Charities, and Lutheran Family Services (but there are many more).   

*Go to restaurants from the 7 countries listed above in your area. Eat delicious food. Thank the owners and staff for being there. 

*Go visit your local mosque with a simple card that says they are welcome. Ask if they are in need of anything or if there is any way you can serve them and their community. 

*Organize a meeting in your local church to lament current policies that are unwelcoming to the stranger and immigrant. Spend time in prayer and reading the Scripture (here is a good starting point for verses) regarding God’s heart for the refugee and stateless wanderer.

*Ask your pastor/the head of your denomination to publicly address the Biblical call to Christians to welcome refugees from the pulpit. According to one study, only 35% of US churches have talked about the current global refugee crisis. Is your church part of the silent majority? Put pressure on to change this!

*Two of the sectors that disproportionately bear the brunt of refugee resettlement are public education and healthcare (specifically hospitals). Find people in your life (church, etc.) who work in these settings and ask how you can help support them as they encounter and love refugees. Ask about volunteering at your local school and tutoring English Language Learners (many of whom need help catching up to grade level).

*If you are a business owner, consider ways you can employ refugees and/or create positions that do not rely on English-only literacy.

*Donate your financial resources to places like World Relief, Preemptive Love, SARA, and other mission agencies and resettlement agencies that work with refugees both here and abroad. Ask that these organizations be vocal in their support of continuing the refugee resettlement program for everyone. If you currently donate to a missions organization, ask that they be public and vocal in their belief that welcoming refugees is a Biblical perspective. If they are not public about their support of refugee resettlement programs continuing on (without bias towards religion) then pull your support.


*Recognize that there is no grand symbolic gesture you can do. There is no Muslim registry you can sign up for. There is just rampant Islamophobia in your friends and community that you will have to push back against constantly, for the rest of your life. Have discussions about refugees (and Islam) with your people. Gently correct misinformation, every single time you see it. Be vigilant against hatred, specifically Islamophobia. Specifically ask Christians to live up to their beliefs when it comes to loving our neighbor (and our responsibility to them). 

*And lastly (but certainly not least): Pray for Christ to replace any fear in our hearts with love.

 

 

 

 

apartments of resistance

 

The thing I like best about the apartments of my Somali friends are the colorful tapestries on the walls. The fabrics, draped everywhere, to give a little comfort and beauty in low-income spaces. Velvet posters and elaborate tea sets and woven mats and faux-persian carpets cover the walls. Low, luxurious couches line the walls. It smells of cooking oil and ginger and meat. There is probably a thermos full of chai, somewhere. There is most likely a TV in the corner, watching either PBS or Jerry Springer or possibly a video of wedding of a relative far away.

I have spent countless hours in such apartments. I sort of wrote an entire book about it. Sitting in awkward silence. Getting in the way of the day's activities. Trying to decipher bills and school memos for people. Going over homework that will never be fully absorbed. Watching Disney channel movies. Eating goat liver while sitting on the floor. Talking about families and relatives and catching up on all the gossip. Calling electricity companies and being put on hold for hours. Trying to sort out problems with money transfers, or helping older folks get onto Facebook, or troubleshooting broken cell phones. I am good at none of these things, but these hours spent being lost and confused and intrigued and welcomed inside these sacred spaces of East African life in the U.S.—they are the hours that changed me. They are the hours that made me who I am today.

 

//

 

Three men plotted to blow up such a space. A 120 unit apartment in Kansas where many Somali families lived. They planned to park trucks at all four corners of the apartment complex, the day after the presidential elections, and kill every man woman and child that lived there. These men were crusaders, they called themselves. The hatred in their hearts seems unthinkable to me, except that is no longer the right word. For Somali refugees, for instance, it is probably within their realm of normal thought that someone would try and harm them, try and ruin their way of life and kill their babies, that someone would want to exert their dominance in such a violent, horrific way. After all, such situations are why so many had to flee Somalia in the first place, so they are not new to this situation. But I am. I have never known before what it feels like when friends of mine are targeted for death, for hatred, like they are bugs to be squashed. I have never known what is feels like to be acutely aware that it is my people, my culture, that wants to eradicate others. Or maybe, just maybe, I have known. I just never wanted to admit it out loud. That white males are the single most likely terrorist group of our time. And yet they are the ones who I was taught to look up to, to learn theology from, to uphold as the bastions of family virtues and values. And now, all around me, I see the opposite. I see my culture being so vocal in their lust for power, the belittlement of women and immigrants and Muslims and people of color, I see a culture that has betrayed me and just about everyone I love.

 

//

 

Here’s how I move forward:

I think about a few weeks ago. Visiting a friend who is a refugee from Afghanistan. She brings out trays of food to her coffee table, smashed in-between two overstuffed couches. She gives us pistachios and cake and candies wrapped in cellophane paper, dates and large glasses filled to the brim with cranberry juice. My children are ecstatic, eating the sugary items with great joy as I try not mind the inevitable crash I will have to deal with later. My friend has her oldest daughter take a picture of me and her and my children. It’s for my mother, she says, so she will know I have a friend who visited me for Eid. I felt very small in that moment; I hadn’t even remembered that it was the Eid-al-Adha holiday. Technically it was the next day, my friend told me, but she decided to celebrate a day early once I showed up, just so she wouldn’t have to celebrate it alone. I was happy to fellowship with her, to chat and laugh and eat the festive food. But I was also acutely aware that I had just happened to stop by on accident, a whim, to give a reminder about some school related item. What if I hadn’t stopped by? Would she be alone that day, like so many others? Would I be alone in my own house, unaware of the trials of others?

The great wells of cultural isolation, the ocean of loneliness we all swim in—it overwhelms me. So I keep doing the only thing I know how to do: I knock on doors and sit on couches. The apartments of refugees are where I am doing battle for the light. I am fighting for my neighborhood, my community, and ultimately, my country.

 

//

 

If I lived in Garden City Kansas, I might have resided in that very apartment complex. Those are the kinds of spaces I am obsessed with, that I love, that fill me up and open my eyes to so many new experiences. Here in Portland, I lived for years in what was considered to be our own Little Somalia. If these men had lived here, me and my children and my husband might have been blown up. This does not fill me with fear, because it is still just a theoretical. And yet it is turning out to be a much more plausible fear than one that any of my refugee neighbors would ever harm me.

My country was founded on white supremacy, the belief that the white western way of operating in the world is superior to all others. The results of this underlying assumption that undergirds nearly everything of our country ranges from benign naivety to micro-aggressions to men plotting to kill hundreds of people based on their race and religion. If this election season has shown us anything, it is that white supremacy is alive and well in our hearts and minds, and always has been. It’s been jarring and depressing for people like myself, but this season is not without its own silver lining. Only what is brought into the light can be dealt with. And here we are, a blazing light being shown on the ugliness within. It’s time to figure out how to be white in a society which elevates us and denigrates others. It’s time for radical hospitality, empathy, and action. It’s time to give up positions of power and influence and platforms and listen to the voices who have been saying all along that there is another way. It’s time to mourn how oppressive white supremacy is, how anti-gospel and anti-Jesus it is. It’s time to start fearing for our own souls. People say they are scared of refugees, scared of Muslims, scared of foreigners and protestors and immigrants and activists. But these are the ones who have shown me another way. They have taken my fear and my despair and turned it into something else: they have turned it into hope.

 

//

 

Today a storm is hitting Oregon. It is wet and dark and rainy and the winds are starting to pick up. If the power goes out I will be worried about all of my friends in apartment complexes. Do they have water? Will they feel scared? And I realize they have survived so much more than me, they will survive a few days without power, a little bit of flooding, but still—I pick up a few extra gallons of water just in case. They would do the same for me, and more, in a heartbeat. They watch out for me and my family. As I grieve my own community—Christian men defending assault and xenophobia and outright racism—I find comfort in the safe spaces of the apartments of my friends and neighbors.

Survivors teach us. They teach us how to continue on, how to rebuild lives, how to exist in a world where people want you harmed, or worse. They are also the watchmen of our culture, and they are the first to suffer as leaders whip up aggression and fear.

Please keep our refugee and immigrant neighbors in your prayers. If you attend a church, or are a leader in a church, please consider contacting your local mosque and asking how you can support their community in this time of violent words and violent action. Contact your local refugee resettlement program and ask how you can volunteer or help with Muslim refugees, to let them know that we have a greater capacity for welcome than for hate.

Maybe someday, you too will find yourself in a similar apartment, a similar couch. This is the only strategy I have for these days and times, and in the end I think it is the only one that will work.

 

transitions (on upward mobility)

 

I’ve lived most of my married life in low-income or affordable housing (almost nine years now). I’m known for waxing poetic about the great things about life in the upside-down kingdom, about the benefits of downward mobility. But here, on my first full day of living in my brand-new-to-me house, a house that I bought and that I own, I have been thinking a lot about all the apartments in my past. I’m 32, married, with two kids, I cook and clean and wrestle strong-willed small people all day long. I go to parent meetings at the local elementary school, I shop at the discount liquidator grocery stores, I try and exercise every now and again. Tonight I stared into space as my baby splashed in the bath, tired after a long couple of days of moving and unpacking and painting. Our new bathtub is nice—new fixtures, a shower head that actually has water pressure. As my baby happily babbled to himself I thought of a movie and a scene that had struck me. My husband and I watched the film Short Term 12 a few years ago and in it there is a scene where the protagonist takes a bath. Lining the bathtub was a strip of mold, dark gray/green. When I saw that scene, I gasped. I too, like taking bubble baths from time to time. It is the introverts haven—also, no electronics are allowed. But for the past nine years I have lived in places with disgusting bathtubs—cigarette burns and yellow stains, mold lining the sides no matter how hard you scrub with bleach. And still, desperate for some peace and to get away from my crazy life, I would light candles and pour in the soap and maybe carefully break a bath bomb from Lush into four pieces and use one section, saving the rest for a later date. I would grit my teeth and take a bath and try and forget everything around me. So what did it mean to me to see that girl in the film take a bath in an old, grungy tub? What did it mean for me to see it and identify with her, and realize that she was poor, in that this is what luxury she was afforded? I suddenly know: this is what she lived with, and she did the best with it that she could.

That’s what I tried to do, too. 

 

//

 

Here are some things I did not like about living in low-income apartments:

 

Mold (in the bathtubs, windowsills, creeping up the walls when the upstairs neighbors overflowed their toilet).

Cockroaches.

Mice.

Ants (one time we had anthills literally explode out of our carpet)

Not having screens on our doors/windows

Listening to people scream at each other

Listening to people drink themselves to death.

Listening to our upstairs neighbor pass out over and over again, crashing like a ton of bricks onto the floor. Listening as he fell out his window and broke his arm. 

Outlets that never worked, or that cords would just fall out of. 

Doors that were warped and didn’t close properly.

Door with holes in them, doors that previous renters had punched in their anger.

Carpets that smelled likes years of cigarettes and grease. 

Entryways littered with cigarette butts.

Entryways with shattered bullet proof glass. 

Trash in the shrubbery, always.

The fire alarm for the entire building being tripped constantly, usually after one of my children was already asleep and in bed, forcing me to wake them up and take them outside in the cold/dark, wondering if there was really a fire this time or if it was another case of too many sticks on incense. 

Stoves that were temperamental, burners that were stuck on high, ovens that were lopsided. 

No counter space. 

Loud neighbors, even when they are cute toddlers or people celebrating their glorious holidays in their own culturally appropriate ways.

So many other things, most of which are not appropriate to write in a public blog. 

 

 

 

Here are some things I do miss about living in low-income apartment complexes:

 

The people. The glorious, chaotic, amazing, troubling, people. Oh my Lord they broke my heart in so many ways, Oh my Lord they healed me of things I didn’t even know I needed fixing. 

 

//

 

My neighbor told me she will no longer open her window anymore, since both I and our dear friend both moved out in the space of a few days. Before, I could not sit in a chair on my porch without one of these two women calling out to me, usually asking me to come over and visit. Not once, not once, did I sit in a chair and drink a cup of coffee and contemplate anything. There were too many people I knew, too many others living life in this communal space. This neighbor, she looks at me very gravely. I have shown her my new house as we walk back and forth to school, and I tell her that she will visit. She says she will, but I don’t know if she will. I tried to give her a few things as we moved, but she waved me away. She didn’t want anything. All she wants to do is sit in the sun by herself and think for awhile. She might be moving soon, herself. A refugee, she is used to instability, used to saying goodbye. 

 

I know the right words to say: we bought this house to invest in this neighborhood. And it’s true, as true as I can make a statement be. But the layers of meaning—that we were able to get a loan, for instance, or that my husband earns enough to pay the mortgage, that we don’t have to send every extra penny we make to family members across the globe or in our own city, that we have the freedom to think of ourselves—it all adds up to something more complicated. I am happy for my children to have their own bedrooms, to decorate them in cute ways, I am happy for a backyard for my active little boy and the hardwood floors that thrill my heart. 

I know I only moved around the corner, that I will see my friends at the school and at the grocery store and at English class, but I am still so afraid. I am afraid of what this all means, owning my first home and how I know the cares of life grow sweetly around us until all of the sudden they have choked the good news until we cannot recognize it. Because the thing is the good news for me has always been made real in people, in the poor and the sick and the sad. In the midst of mold and cockroaches and loud noises. And so I am afraid of distance and safety and comfort and pleasure and I am scared of how to be me in this unequal and unjust world. 

 

Jesus, I have stopped asking you to make it easier. Now, I just feel comfort knowing that you lived your life with an eye to the inequalities too. Is that what makes our hearts and homes such fertile ground for your kingdom to grow? I don't know. All I know is my place right now just happens to look like a beautiful little house in the middle of a neighborhood full of the struggling. A place where I look at my gorgeous baby in that white tub, feel grateful for all that I have been given, and still burst into tears at the thought of all the sorrows that surround us. 

 

 

In the cocktail party of my life

I was listening to a podcast the other day, and the woman talking about trauma and writing and what to do about confronting systems of abuse within families said something that stopped me. In the cocktail party that was her life, she said, there was always this one thing that she wanted to talk about. That’s how she knew what she needed to write out. The one thing she wasn’t supposed to share, the deep, dark, raw truth within her, the conversation that would quell all the chatter about the superficial business we surround ourselves with. In the cocktail party that is your life, she said, what is it that you are bursting to say?

//

There is something I just keep writing, over and over. It’s a compulsion of sorts. I try and write an essay about anything—motherhood, the summertime, food choices, whatever—but I always end up writing the same thing. Time after time, I keep coming back to one certain experience, worrying over it, writing it down, always knowing it is not quite what I wanted to say.

It happened one year ago, almost to the day. A few days ago, on Monday, it was our nation’s independence day. I have a lot of mixed feelings about this particular date—gratitude, a creeping suspicion I don’t know what it would be like to live in a different country, sadness at our current attitudes towards refugees and the poor and people of color, excited for the chance to celebrate with others, wondering if it is OK to celebrate if the freedoms we talk about are not available for us all. On Monday night, around 10pm, the fireworks started. I laid in my bed (really, a mattress on the floor) and I suddenly started to cry. I was no longer in Portland, Oregon, listening to kids shout and shriek as they set off who-knows-what in the parking lot outside my bedroom window. I was back in Minneapolis, my baby was at the Children’s hospital hooked up to so many wires, and I was having a mental and spiritual breakdown. 

Last year on the fourth I had not slept for several days, and I went home to my house to try and catch a few hours of rest while my husband took the nighttime shift at the hospital. I left the white, sterile hospital and walked the street near my house, smelling the smoke and hearing the booms and feeling as if I was walking through a war zone. What country did I even live in anymore? I lived in the country where the older you get, the more bad things happen to you. I lived in a country where I almost died, twice, due to a high-risk pregnancy. Where tiny babies get very sick and you are helpless to do anything but sit and watch them suffer. I lived in a new country, one I never knew would be mine. A country of the un-well and the un-sound of mind, and on this particular night a year ago, it felt like I was the only one who lived here.

I keep writing about that time in my life because I still can’t make sense of it. All I can say is that I had a break from reality. I lost my mind, a little bit. I had a crisis of faith. A dark night of the soul. The hard part is that I knew my baby was going to get well, most likely, that he was being cared for by an extremely sophisticated team of doctors and nurses, that all we could do was wait it out and make sure it wasn’t anything dire. But even as I hoped and prayed for my own baby to be well, the stories of all the babies who didn’t get better followed me. The ones born in developing countries, the ones born in war and famine and strife, in refugee camps and on the run, the ones born without access to medical care or the ones who were but just happened to have fatal diagnosis. Those babies haunted me, the ones I knew and all the millions of ones I didn’t. I couldn’t pray for my own child without thinking of them. How could I care so much about my own baby being safe without mourning all those who were not?

//

I think these days will go down in history. The days where black bodies are mocked, tormented, killed, splashed on the front pages with blood running down their chests, Facebook videos showing the last moments their spirits are here on the earth. I am in a coffee shop right now as I write down these hurried thoughts, surrounded by people who look like me, with Scriptures on the walls, a map of the world, lavender lattes for sale. No one is screaming and crying, but then again, neither am I. There is a girl reading her Bible and underlining it. What does she find in there, I wonder? How do we find the faith to press forward when the world is so very unjust?

I hear the news that more people have been killed, and I look at my own children: my baby, big and blonde and attached to my side; my daughter, tall and wearing all-pink and declaring loudly with her hands on her hips that she will not bow to any God but God (she is very into her Children’s Bible currently). And I know: I don’t feel safe because not everyone is safe. And I no longer want to pretend that this is OK. 

//

I’ve been reading in Hosea, and in chapter 11 it talks about God as a mother, one who feeds her children, who lifts her babies up and kisses their cheeks. This visual has reached out and clutched my heart. A God who smothers her children with kisses, swooping them up in a gesture familiar to all. When I feel lost and scared in this new country I live in, I think about this image of God, and it comforts me. 

In chapter 12 Hosea writes about Jacob. That man-child who struggled, wrestled, bit and clawed and screamed at God. He wrestled with the angels, he never stopped. The scriptures say he strove and he wept and he ultimately prevailed: he met with God and God spoke to him. I was telling my friend Kelley about how I could not stop writing about my time in the hospital, how I wished I could get past it, write about something newer, better, more cheerful and peppy and empowering. You are like Jacob, she said. You won’t stop wrestling with God until you receive what it is you are looking for. 

In the cocktail party that is my life, what I always want to say is this: I am wounded by the inequality in our world. I no longer can feel safe and calm and righteous, I can’t forget the realities of so many I know and love. In the cocktail party that is my life I just want to thrash around and scream and cry until I get what I am looking for, when I see all babies healed and no black bodies murdered, when I get God to explain why things are the way they are.

 

Like Jacob, I will be tenacious. I will keep struggling until I have no more strength. I will “hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for God.” And, like Jacob, I expect to carry a limp for all the rest of my life.

 

 

 

A Visible Life (Or, an Update on That Brutally Honest Christmas Card)

 

You know things are better when not all the sad songs seem to apply directly to your life.

 

It’s been about 6 months since I wrote my brutally honest Christmas card, which astounded me with how it seemed to resonate with so many. But I shouldn’t really be surprised, since the walking wounded is my tribe and my family, since I live surrounded by survivors of the very worst situations the world has to offer. Six months ago I was still in the trenches of a darkly gray fog—call it PPD, or PTSD, or Secondary Trauma, or just plain old grief at processing so many transitions in such a short amount of time—whatever it was, I had it. And each morning I woke up knowing it was still there, sometimes a friendly little Gollum, sometimes an oppressive weight that I prayed aloud against. Sadness became a part of me, and the hardest part was wondering if it would ever go away.

I stopped having panic attacks, eventually. I went to see a counselor for a few months. I took low doses of a medication to help me sleep and to also combat depression. I watched Tom Hanks movies like my life depended on it. I trained and completed a half marathon, letting my thoughts wander wherever they wanted to go. I did not hang out with a lot of people, because it was very hard for me to pretend I was OK, to talk about kids and jobs and whatever else I thought was expected of me. I wanted to be intense and quiet and a little rebellious. 

I hated my new neighborhood, but tried hard to fight that feeling. I slowly found a sense of solidarity with it instead. As it turns out, depression, coupled with having young kids and zero dollars, is one of the best ways to get to know your new neighborhood. We took walks, we hung around, we never went anywhere, because there was nowhere cool to go (plus, someone would have been in tears anyways). Slowly, we started to recognize people, and they recognized us. We got a sense of the layout, of the atmosphere, we learned things that you can only learn by staying put and being quiet. Even though it was a burned-our suburb, the new face of poverty in America (payday loans and 7-11’s being some of the only stores within walking distance)—I started to try harder to look for the good. Mexican food, I decided, along with the incredible view of Mt. Hood. Tacos and a great view of the mountains. Lift your eyes up to the heavens, then lower them down to your plate. Say thank you, and eventually you will mean it.

Things have simmered down emotionally, but it is not perfect. I get thrown back into chaos over simple things: reading a story of a missionary trying to do good, for instance, or by the thought of my baby getting his shots next week. These moments of irrationality (I am no longer doing anything of value with my life! I don’t want my baby to get sick and die!) remind me that I am not in control. And in my own small way I am grateful for that reminder. Because control itself is a big fat lie, one that I will have to keep beating back with all of my worth if I am to make something of this chaotic, delicious existence. None of us could ever really be rich enough or safe enough or praised enough to satiate us. No, we have other, much deeper wells we need to be digging.

A few months ago, we started helping out at the homework club our friend and neighbor started. The kids are wild and scrumptious, all over the map scholastically, and when it is sunny they play soccer in the busy parking lot because there is nowhere else to go. I started an English class, really an excuse to meet people and to help them meet each other. It’s like a little gathering of the United Nations, we are a map of people from the most war-torn countries you have read about in the newspapers. The troubles of surviving pile up in front of me as people tell me their stories and situations and I feel the old temptation to despair. But how disrespectful would that be, to wallow in sadness when their bright eyes are in front of me, wanting to learn and change and grow and thrive. I learn from them, is the cliche thing I am trying to say. I learn how to get better, because every day I see it modeled in front of me.

I can feel it, like the changing of a season. I am entering into a new phase of life. I feel incredibly visible, like I am living in a fishbowl. Now that we know people, if we step outside our back door into the communal courtyard the interactions are immediate: women inviting me over for tea, women waving from the balconies, commenting on my appearance, children wanting to play with my daughter or eat the few tiny strawberries we are growing. I feel like I am living in the Oregon (and happier) version of a Ferrante novel, everyone living life in the sight of each other. I try and wear long, baggy clothes, conscious of my mostly-Muslim neighbors. Our small little prayer time that we hold weekly is growing, slowly. We say the same words to each other, every week, as we share the joys and sorrows of our lives: O Lord let my soul rise up to meet you, as the day rises to meet the sun. Every day, every morning, every week. Look for the mercies, they are new every morning, even if they are surrounded on all sides by lamentations. 

I also wrote a book, and copies are making their way into the hands of reviewers and endorsers, and soon enough—to your hands too. It’s a different way of being visible, and I am not quite sure what to do because I don’t live next door to you. My story, my thoughts, my neighborhoods and how they have changed me—they will all be laid bare before anyone who wants to judge. But instead of focusing on that, and my fears and insecurities, my pride and my hubris, I am trying to look for the good. And that, as always, is connecting with others through our hearts. Connecting with others who wanted to change the world, or thought they did, or thought that in some small way they could make it all better and possibly convince God to love them just a little bit more. 

I have some exciting things coming up in the next few months, podcasts and articles and giveaways and blog series. I’m going to be preparing to send the book of my heart into the world, and I look forward to hearing from those who read it. To all who have been with me on this journey—from the beginning, or maybe just from last week—I am so grateful. You have been a part of helping me heal in a way, as well. You continue to help me move forward, and you show me that it is possible to love neighbors both near and far.

 

 

 

Also, if you pre-order the book now it is currently on Amazon for a little over ten dollars. Get it!

Here is what one of my literary heros, Kyle Minor, has to say about it:

As always, if you would like updates and/or links to places I have written or spoken in the past month, please sign up for my newsletter. I will be sending out a juicy one soon!

 

 

 

An Update on Downward Mobility



 

I am, as the writer Jazmine Hughes said, blessed with absolutely no chill. This manifests itself in various ways, how I am always overwhelmed yet forever driven to be doing something (and usually trying to drag others along with me). Before we moved into this apartment complex, I had already planned out what I would write. Essays extolling the virtue of small living, shared spaces, 4 people in 800 square feet, solidarity with our neighbors, the glow of living like the majority of the earth. It’s what so many do, it’s already excessive in comparison, there are joys and benefits and blessings to be had, this is what I am choosing to do and oh, I don’t know, maybe you should think about doing it too.

//

Our journey (I used to call it an “experiment,” a word which now makes me shudder) towards downward mobility has taken a few twists and turns over the years. It began as a lark, an invitation from the landlords at the apartment complex where all of my Somali Bantu friends lived: you are here all the time, why don’t you just move in? Sure! Why not? We were newly married and working and in school and busy busy busy but I only had to take the stairs down and cross the street to do English classes. We had a baby and the walls closed in a bit but after we got our bearings I just strapped her to my chest and charged forward and pretended like nothing had changed. 

When that baby was two we up and moved across the country and joined a mission order amongst the poor (oh, how I loved to say that aloud). For a year and a half we lived in a squat apartment and had a crash course in generational poverty in America, both the potlucks and the cockroaches increasing the longer we stayed. Then we were offered a gorgeous house a few blocks away and our little family of three grew to four smack dab in the middle of the most vibrant, diverse, extreme-weather neighborhood you ever did see. 

Apartment, apartment, house, and now apartment again, this time on the far outer edges of Portland. We had done it before and I figured an extra person (a cute, squishy one at that) wouldn’t be that different. We moved in during the dry brown August heat wave, the walls radiating from fresh paint which didn’t mask the smells of another culture, another cuisine, the food and sustenance soaking into the walls and cabinets. 

Quickly, the shine wore off. I had spent months dreaming about this transition, preparing for it, but when it actually came time to start carving out another hard-won space as an outsider among outsiders, I found myself worse than tired. I was bleak. I stood inside my ground-floor apartment and the sweat rolled down my back. I listened to the shouts of children and adults cooking and carrying on conversations and I was living next door but truly in another world. I heard the tantrums, the fights, the music, the parties, I felt annoyed and jealous and invisible. I looked up how much it would cost to rent a bigger apartment, closer to the real action of the city—the coffee shops and bookstores—but the prices soared high out of reach. What started off as a living situation based on values (wanting to live and develop friendships with refugees, with people on the margins) became a situation of necessity. Moving ate up all of our money, as did our car breaking down, as did having a baby, as did finding a new job and it taking months to build up a clientele, as did a delay with my manuscript, etc etc etc. We are stuck, for now, in the place we thought we would so enjoy—as long as it was our choice.

 

//

 

My baby has a fever today, which reminds me of a few short months ago, how wild and feral with fear I felt. Clutching my baby to my chest, vowing to never leave my parent’s house, pleading with prayers to pictures of mother Mary and her little baby, doomed to die. That fear dissolved into a gray sort of dread, the kind where I couldn’t pick up the phone to call old friends or plan what healthy foods to cook or leave the three mile radius around my new neighborhood (turns out depression can be helpful for being “rooted,” to trot out a beloved missional word). A low hum of anxiety kept me going, one eye always on our low low low bank account, another trying to make sure my children were ok. I was unproductive, uninspired, sitting-on-my-couch chill. 

And then, suddenly, there it was: all my feelings came back, like a posse of old friends. My husband grinned It's so good to see you being angsty again, a sign that some things, at least, were returning to normal. I got riled up about our neighborhood school, about homeschooling, about prayer meetings divorced from neighborhood involvement. I drove around and noticed the shiny new courthouse and the sleek police station, but saw how I had to drive over 80 blocks to get to the nearest community center or WIC office. I knew I was missing the trees and the restaurants and the parks and the museums of urban Minneapolis—the hustle and the crowds, the good and the bad—but I thought it was all superficial. I didn’t know quite how to characterize my neighborhood, how it didn’t look like the inner city, yet it is the new face of poverty in America. The suburbs, built for independence and isolation, turned into a wild land of empty foreclosures and food deserts, of thousands of families yet no place to gather for free indoors, social services and bus lines and coffee shops and children’s museums all scattered very very far away.

But how can I write about any of this, how can I try and truss up the life we live half on purpose half by necessity? How do I explain how spare and unique this post-white-flight in-between city is? What the new face of poverty in America looks like, spread-out and scattered and lonely? The housing prices beyond any of our means, the long long waiting lists for families to get into apartments. How we have no playground, no real backyard, a tiny (and loud) library we haunt religiously; churches small and proud and full of only a handful of people on a Sunday; hispanic markets full to bursting on the exact same day; old motels surrounded by chain link fences; rumors of precious things like charter schools and community centers and fresh food markets swirling in the air but never coming to fruition. I dream about these things at night, but don’t know what to do. I vacillate between feeling trapped and hopeless, and wanting someone else to come and solve all the problems. 

But truly: maybe I wouldn’t have known all of this, felt the lack in the my bones, if I didn’t live in a small apartment on the edge of the city with my family. In this one way at least we are no different from the thousands surrounding us: it’s a hard way of living for everybody. My good intentions and ideals were already shaky when we moved in, and now I feel something else take their place:

 

It is gratitude, for the mercies we discover new every morning, the blessings of having it being made so hard to forget. 

 

 

 

//

 

 

 

 

 

 

I just want to say I am still feeling overwhelmed by everyone who liked/shared/commented on my brutal family update. I am still treasuring the warm glow I got from all of that. Thanks too for those that signed up for my newsletter! I finished the edits on my manuscript last week and now I feel incredibly nervous about it all. The next newsletter should have a sneak peek at the (intense!) cover art, so please feel free to sign up here:

About Guns

I am in the WIC office, there to answer some questions and get my vouchers from the government for free food—the milk, the cheese, the cereal. The woman is pleasant and professional, she coos over my fat little baby and tests the iron in my blood. I don’t drink or smoke or eat all that unhealthily, and I answer questions in a conciliatory manner. Five years ago I was in this same office with my firstborn, I remember it all—the dingy gray walls, the posters with fruits and vegetables arranged in a rainbow. As the woman gives me the informational packet, she rattles off what I can and cannot get—yes to tuna, no to those fancy-ass organic eggs—and then she gets to the juice page. She purses her lips and pauses. I interrupt her, eager to please—Oh, we don’t drink juice in our home. She is visibly relieved, and nods her head approvingly. We share a smile of those in-the-know. She finishes entering up all of my information in the computer, and I bounce my son on my knee. It’s just so crazy, she says, more to herself than to me. Years ago we used to be worried about people being vitamin C deficient, so we put juice on the vouchers. Now we know that in the long run, giving your kids juice is so much more harmful than any residual vitamin benefits might be. It just causes so many problems, it’s just so contradictory. She looks at me and shrugs. But, you know. We are a government program. And the juice lobby is pretty powerful.

I leave the office, my vouchers clutched in my hand. I didn’t know, until just now. I keep my baby's teeth free from the sugary juices, and I feel good inside. But there are so many others, caught up in a game of making money off of the most vulnerable in our society. Women, Infants, and Children. We are nothing compared to those that whisper in the ears of the powerful. We drink our juice, and it sure does go down easy.

//

I always try and think of cheerful and yet accurate ways to describe my neighborhood. I never know if I am hearing gunshots or fireworks I tell people brightly, my anecdote tightly crafted. My neighborhood is under-resourced, pre-gentrification, “diverse”, post-urban. I want people to know something about me because of where I live. I am tough yet hopeful. Sometimes it’s actually both. Gunshots and fireworks, I mean.

One day I was putting my daughter to bed. I was pregnant with my son. I am patting her back and I hear gunshots, loud. It does not really sound like fireworks at all, it sounds like it is right outside of my window. In the end, I never know how close it is, if it happened in my front yard or in the back alley. It is all so disorienting to me. I am not afraid, probably because I did not see the gun, I did not see the person holding it, and myself have never been at the business end of a revolver.

One time, we called the police on a neighbor. He had been in a downward spiral for a while and there was a lot of drug activity, a lot of shouting, women wandering the hallways wearing nothing but an open trench coat, extremely lost. The screaming got so loud that grown men stood frozen in the stairwells, the shouts bringing back memories that made us all long for quiet. We called the police because at that time we didn’t know any better. The police showed up and they had guns that looked fake—so large and so black in such bulky yet long shapes. They waved them everywhere, running down the hallways, my daughter asleep behind paper thin walls. They screamed at us to get on the floor. Our neighbor barricaded himself and his guests inside, refusing to let anyone leave. There was a lot of pounding and shouting. And then, he left with them. The police questioned my husband, because he was the one who called. They were very unkind. Why do you live here? One asked, but it was not in a curious tone of voice. We reported him, we did not appreciate his attitude. We now knew why nobody else had called the police, preferring to walk quickly and quietly into their own apartments and to shut their doors.

//

When I was in high school, I was in a play. It was loosely based off of the Kip Kinkle school shooting—in Thurston, Oregon--where that sweet-faced boy with the bowl cut went and stopped the hearts of four people with the bullets of a gun. I played the shooter’s girlfriend, who breaks up with him for another boy. The play ends with all of the characters—a best friend, a teacher, a rival—standing on stage dressed in white. When we are shot, we each take our right hand, full of ketchup, and plaster it over our hearts before crumpling to the ground. We gave a several performances at our high school and then did a mini-tour of a few other places. I can still remember lying on the worn-out stage, breathing heavily, the smell of tomatoes and vinegar upsetting my stomach, the loud silence of an audience shocked and excited by the drama of it all. We held Q and A’s after the performance, but I don’t remember much of what we talked about. It was so horrible, so horrible, we would have told anyone. These kinds of shootings have got to stop. We really thought we were making a difference, our eyes sober and clear, our hands full of ketchup. The shooter was lonely, he felt wronged by the world. If you are sad, talk to someone. If you are sad, don’t shoot anyone. In my own heart, I knew what the answer was. It was love, always love. If you loved all the people, then nothing bad would ever happen. I didn’t know that there were so many more factors, so many more unseen forces, all pulling us in the same direction.

//

My husband grew up in Roseburg, Oregon. A mill town, small and sleepy with hints of generational poverty hovering everywhere. He took swimming lessons at Umpqua Community College. A shooter walked in there today and killed 10 people, and injured more. I imagine my husband as a small boy—brown eyes and hair bleached blonde by the southern Oregon sun—paddling underwater, carefree.

We live several hours from there, now. Our landlord is a real character, small and fidgety, dressed professionally but with eyes that dart all around. The rumor is that when he first showed up a year or two ago he wore a bulletproof vest and went door to door, evicting all of the tenants engaged in illegal and violent activity. I don’t know if it’s true but there is a stillness to where we live now; families, mostly immigrants and refugees, push strollers through the parking lot. I went for a walk this afternoon and there was a young boy on a pink bike, pedaling furiously. In the back of his shirt he had a long plastic assault rifle delicately tucked.

//

I have been a bit depressed, these past few months. I went and saw a counselor for the first time the other day. She looked at me and she was so calm. You have a lot of anxiety, she told me. Yes, it was true. Things had happened in the past few months: I almost died in childbirth, my son got very sick, I moved across the country, I changed jobs. Our brains always want to solve a problem, my counselor told me. Your brain wants to solve the problem of you being anxious. This was why I was depressed, why the future felt like one long horrible event to be endured, why I found no joy or pleasure in my current situation or in thinking of what would come next. Buckle down and survive, was the answer to my existential questions. Suicidal tendencies can be the same. The brain just wants to solve the problems of sadness and misery. It’s not a good solution, but the brain never made those promises. It just fixes the problem.

Death is your trigger said my counselor, and I knew it was true. I lived in neighborhoods where thirteen year old boys were shot and killed in front of the community center. I worked within refugee communities where the stories of trauma piled on top of one another. Everyone had dead babies, starving relatives, stories of rape and war and famine. Sometimes it felt like everyone I knew had stared down the barrel of a gun. And sometimes I would log into my Facebook, and scroll past the posts. The ones about second amendment rights and tyrannical governments and yellow-bellied liberals. I thought about how protected the people who own guns are, and I thought about the rest of us. The women, the infants, the children. How we are just pawns in a game that was started long before we were born. That there were lobbies, ears being twisted, mouths moving fast, to keep our rights free.


It doesn’t matter that it isn’t good for us, it doesn’t matter that it is the most vulnerable that pay the highest price. We have rights, is the thing. And besides, it probably won’t ever happen again.

 

 

 

re-entry shock

This is a picture of me in our new apartment, taken maybe a week after we moved in. Today on facebook I was asking people to weigh in on a few pictures I had taken to be my new real-life-author headshots. The one everyone liked best was the one where I was smiling, where I looked very cute and accessible (it should be noted that last week in a fit of emotions I went and got all of my hair cut off). They are pretty great pictures, and I am sure you will see the official one here soon enough.

But it made me think of this picture, which my husband took without me paying any attention. It is a picture of how I really am these days, nothing posed about it. My husband loves this picture but he was afraid that when I saw it I would find things to dislike about myself, that I would let the truth and beauty of it wash over me. He was nervous to show it to me but when I laid eyes on it I loved it immediately.  I love it, I love that chubby, squishy baby and his beautiful, sad mama. I feel such a tenderness for them both.

// 

A few months before we moved back to Portland my husband and I were discussing how difficult it would be, the transitions and all of that. We were discussing all of the upcoming changes for us, what it would be like to return home after three years away. I was very stubborn. I am never going to re-enter Portland I told him. I just flat-out refuse. Whenever we came home to visit, to see family or support raise or whatever, people would always remark on how quickly the time had passed. It's been three years already? Wow!  And we would smile and nod because for us, those three years were as slow and rough as a stalagmite forming, the drip drip drips of us changing and hardening into new creations.

We've been changed, is the thing. Trauma has carved deep grooves in our foreheads and brain hemispheres and the blood vessels in our bodies. Love has stretched us wider than we thought possible. We are quicker to believe stories of oppression and injustice from people who look nothing like us. We are less knowledgeable than we were before, which sounds like a negative but it could have been the best thing to ever happen to us. 

We aren't humble but we have been made low. We picked a place to live in Portland where we could sit in proximity to the outer rim of the American Dream, the place where people get caught in the vortex of spinning after safety and security and a roof over their heads. The kids play soccer at night and I hear them laughing in so many different languages. They peer into my living room when I least expect it. Men in underwear lounge in doorways and smoke cigarettes, women push strollers and bags of groceries from the store many miles away. I am one hundred blocks away from the Bible College where I met my husband, where our journey started almost a decade ago. But I could be in another country for how different it is out here, in what always felt like it was a no-mans-land, when it turns out it will now be my land, too.

But what is new to me is the depression like a fever, clouding my future days with the sheen of gray. The anxiety whispering in my ear as my baby lays heavy in my arms yet he feels too light for this earth. The feelings of intensely missing who I used to be, that naive little darling do-gooder. What is new to me is the realization that I can never go back to the girl who used to live here. She is gone, and the one who has replaced her is so fragile. The e-mails and the texts have piled up, friends and church buddies and acquaintances wanting to connect, but I don't know what to say. Just trying to keep my two kids alive and fed while my husband works to to be able to pay rent next month have exhausted all of my energies. I have nothing left, but I sit inside my apartment and hear the possibilities outside. When, oh when, will I be able to go out and join?

//

It is only now, a month and change after we have been back, that I count the cost of us going to Minneapolis. The pearls we have cast aside in search of that one, great, big, luminous one. Coming back was just another step in that direction, in search of the kingdom, ears to the ground. It feels very costly. In terms of money, yeah, but also friendships and mental health. 

I still don't really know any of my neighbors. We smile shyly, sometimes. I feel comfortable just looking at the headscarves and the children playing soccer, but everyone pretty much keeps to themselves. I get it, I am tired too, although once a week or so I get the itch--I could easily teach an ESOL class once a week. Should I volunteer at the homework club? Should we organize a Thanksgiving meal? And my kind, sane husband is quick to gently tap me on the shoulder. You have a baby and you are writing a book and maybe you should see a counselor and besides none of our refugee friends have ever liked your turkey

It's true, they never did like it. But still, they would eat it, because they loved us. And this is the hope that we have. We need that love now. We are the ones in need. My hands and feet are as still as I have ever seen them, but my Spirit is alive, vibrant, quick to discern, confident in a love that I am not terribly good at earning at present. We are in shock, is all. We have gotten very bad at pretending these days. I hope you will forgive us. We are struggling to re-enter, but the truth is that we can't. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

hometown

 

 

We moved. Across the country. We packed up the house and gave away most of our earthly possessions. We kept the clothes, books, blankets, and art. It was 91 degrees and dark and stormy and humid as we scrubbed down the walls of our little dollhouse. How did we live for three years in that city? How did my baby girl grow up there, how was my little boy conceived and born there? How did we manage to live in the Midwest yet not in the midwest, how are we to carry on back to our hometown when we have been irrevocably changed by this place?

I feel poor in spirit, these days. I sit in a backyard surrounded by my mother and father and sisters and babies. I sip iced coffee and eat tortilla chips and feel the warm, dry heat and smell the pine trees of the northwest. I can tell I am older now. I notice the smells of the trees. I need more time to sit and catch my breath. I cry at all the worship songs, even the terrible ones. I just want to go on walks and sometimes I feel tremendously sad but there are several lives all tied to mine and we all need to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

How do you explain poor in spirit? I think it means people who have been crushed by the world. This has happened to me, just a little bit. I feel guilty for even typing that out, because I know so many who have been crushed by so much more. My daughter loves that we are spending the next few weeks at her Mimi and Pop-pop’s house, surrounded by chickens and treehouses and fire pits. She tromps around in boots and garden gloves, taking wheelbarrows of sticks and twigs somewhere important, she runs around and waters the plants, plays with the kitten, practices her ABCs. She is having the kind of childhood experience that up until now, she has never had. She is free. But the other day she woke up sad, and it just never went away. I rocked her and rocked her and rocked her, because it is so hard and confusing to be sad in a place where there is also so much joy. 

We still don’t have jobs, we are still waiting on an apartment. I’ve had mostly good days here but a few very sad ones as well. Sometimes it is hard to drive the car, leave the house, talk to anyone, not crouch in a ball of fear and anxiety. I have eaten a lot of blackberry pie. I have tried to sit in the backyard and be grateful for a time of rest. The word Sabbatical has been tossed around. I alternate between wanting to sit in the sun for the rest of my life and rushing into helping save Portland as quick as I can. There has never been very much gray in my life.

This is my home, yet I don’t know it anymore. I don’t know what is good about this city, I don’t know all of the problems. So many people want to tell us about both of them, but we are pretty tired. We are moving slow as molasses these days. Give us a year, maybe, give us some friends who grew up in our new neighborhood or give us friends who moved there involuntarily, give us the newly arrived refugees and immigrants, give us those whose incomes and livelihoods and families depend on it, and then maybe we will know a little bit. We spent the past three years undoing our school book days, we spent the past three years being emptied. And of course we were filled up, but only for that day, that moment, that season. There was no scarcity in the kingdom of God, but there was no hoarding either. 

It’s a new season. I drove past the neighborhood where we will most likely be making a home, on the suburbs of Portland. It’s where the poor have to live now, in so many cities, the very outer ring. It has its problems—lack of walkability, social services and grocery stores, fewer bus lines—and it is, quite frankly, ugly and bleak, full of apartment complexes and shuttered businesses and precious little else. A far cry from our beautiful, old, tree-lined inner-city neighborhood in Minneapolis, a public park every few blocks, the diversity stunning and breathtaking and a gift to all. I try not to mind, but I do. 

Still, I get the sense that it is home. We know who we are a little bit more now, so we know what we need. We don’t need to live in one of the craziest apartment complexes in the city, nor do we need a gorgeous old house to rest our souls in (though we have enjoyed our time in both of those). We need a place to be together in the midst of many, we need a diversity of experiences and languages and countries. We found an apartment complex with 188 units, most of them refugee families. It is the kind of place where it will be very easy for me to be a mom. It is the kind of place where we will be blessed. It is the kind of place where one can be poor in spirit, for as long as they need be. 

Until now, I thought I was rootless. I was born in California and raised all over the western side of the map: Alaska, Wyoming, Oregon, Northern California. I moved away to the Midwest but in reality I was in a microcosm of East Africa in a diverse urban settlement, a culture within cultures. Now I am back, have been here for a few days and my heart relaxes just a tiny bit as I run trails through the bark dust and green ferns, the old-growth forests pressing down on me in comfortable silence, the days hot and the nights cool. I am from the northwest, it is in my bones, I belong here and yet so many are not here. I miss them.

It is the part of being crushed that I try not to mind as much. To love and be loved means to be changed and damaged and strengthened. I feel it in my legs as I run up the small mountains that surround my parent's house, feel how my body has changed due to kids and illness and time. They are going to be stronger than they ever have before I think to myself, and I know it is true. I will run harder, and faster, and push myself because I wasn't swallowed up, because there are new mercies and new trails to be discovered this very morning. 

I am back in my hometown, and it is a very mixed bag. But underneath all the crazy-making of the past few months of anxiety and transition, I see the roots of the future spreading out. I am so poor that I can only catch a glimpse of it, in my spirit. But when I do, I see us all becoming old-growth forests for others, to seeking the stability and peace of the neighborhood, whichever ones we might be in at the moment. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

five things I will miss about Minneapolis

So this is what I have been mostly been up to:

Which is why it has taken me all week to write this tiny little post. Also, I am super glad we had Ransom here, because it will forever tie us in a very real way to this city. 

 

//

Hey guys. So in less than 2 months we are taking our show on the road and moving back to Portland. Our nearly three years in the exotic Midwest (I say exotic to be funny—mostly because I always thought the Midwest was terrible, like how the two coasts are supposed to think about the flyover states—but then I came here for a visit three summers ago and my mind was blown by how awesome and diverse it was) has been amazing and difficult and unbelievably refining (that is Evangelical code for: we got smashed up real good by life and it changed our character in very positive ways). Hopefully in another post I will write about the things I am excited about in Portland, but for now I need to tell you about some of the things I will really miss about Minneapolis. I picked 5, because that seemed like a bloggy sort of number and I realize we all have the attention spans of a gnat. So here they are, in no particular order:

 

 

1. The free/low-cost things

There are so many free things to do here! This is our family jam. There are awesome lakes everywhere. There is a free zoo and a conservatory (technically in St. Paul, but still only a ten minute drive away). There is the most amazing art museum I have ever been in (The Art Institute of Minneapolis) and it is all free (srsly it would take you days to see all that they have there). The public parks all have wading pools for the kids in the summer. MPLS has an amazing theater culture (second only to New York City) and if you are under 30 you can routinely see fantastic, award-winning plays for $10-15 dollars (I have seen more than a couple). There is so much culture to be found here, both the indoor and outdoor kind, and it will be very hard to give that up. 

 

2. The amazing refugee/immigrant communities

This is the original reason why I moved here, after all. It’s hard to explain how glorious it is to find these vibrant, thriving, complex non-western and non-white communities smack dab in the heart of Minnesota. I live right by a bunch of mosques, Somali malls (which literally is the cheapest/quickest way to travel to another country—they are just stall after stall selling the same assortment of gorgeous clothes/headscarves, tea sets, sandals, perfume, and henna treatments), grocery stores that sell sambusas and camel meat; everywhere I go I see people from East Africa and I don’t know what I am going to do back in Oregon. The sheer magnitude of the numbers here (some estimate 70,000 Somalis in MPLS alone) plus living in a crowded inner city means the proximity is just wonderful. I have learned so much from just being a neighbor to this community. Which brings me to . . .

 

3. My job

One of the best things that happened to me here was that I was able to have the job of my dreams. I have definitely been the White Girl Who Charges In plenty of times, and our organization very much tries to do things differently. So at their encouragement, I went a different route. I volunteered, a bunch, and eventually found myself tutoring non- and pre-literate students at the largest housing complex in our city (this particular place I had been obsessed with since day one—unofficial estimates say the 8,000 people live in one city block, most of them immigrants and refugees). True to my nature, I couldn’t help but suggest that we start an actual class catering to the students who needed the most help (level 0, they are sadly called) and then I suggested they hire me. Which they did. The wonderful thing that made this so different was that I was able to hang around long enough to sense a genuine need, and the rest of the community saw it as a need as well. I also had the unbelievable privilege of having my bosses be from East African backgrounds, and I learned so much from them. Also, the school where I taught was actually started and run by the tenants of the apartment complex themselves, which was so awesome. The mutual learning that took place there was unquestionably one of the things I will miss so much. 

 

4. The thunderstorms

They are awesome. Note: this is really the only weather-related thing I will miss. The winters here are more horrible than I can articulate. Just awful. Everyone who lives here should get mad respect (especially the people who come from warmer countries!).

 

5. My community

As is true for anyone trying to live out any kind of communal living (and that takes many different forms/levels of participation) you know how wonderful and hard it can be. Three years of being on a team with people who are different from you can change a person. We definitely had some struggles, but overcoming them has proven to be the most absolutely helpful thing that has ever happened to me. You can work with, eat with, and play with people who are very different from you. You can forgive, and be forgiven. You can make mistakes, and move forward. You can choose to see the best in others, and you can receive it when they see the best in you. For these reasons alone, being a part of this Christian community here has made the past three years more than worth it. But I also see how refreshing and encouraging it has been to be with people who are trying to live out quiet lives of simplicity and service. They also love the poor, and feel no need to explain or defend that position. They have also taught me so much about white supremacy, systemic injustice, and are neither defensive nor overly optimistic. They just love their neighbors so much. It has meant everything to me to learn from this posture—love over fear, people over programs, repentance over politics. The more I interact with Christians, the more I realize how rare these types of people are. 

 

 

So there you go. A few of the things I am already processing/grieving leaving behind. I’m not going to lie and say that this isn’t a big deal for me. In particular, leaving our organization is very difficult. Again, we are leaving on good terms (and the reasons why I will articulate in another post) but being a part of a visible, quantifiable organization has meant so much to my identity—something I could point to and say “see! I am a part of this! I am doing something good!” and I am being asked to give up all of that.

It’s hard, no lie, and quite necessary for the next season of life. I am looking forward to it, but in order to go into what's next without bringing along a ton of baggage, I am in the thick of doing the hard work of processing it all as much as I can. Which definitely includes making a list of a few of the things that made this place so awesome. Who knew it was such a treasure trove? Minneapolis will forever be in my heart. 

 

 

notes from a place of transition

This is just going to be a regular-old life update post. Nothing fancy. Nothing edited.

 

Life is full of transition. I say that from my bed, surrounded by messy piles of books and clothes and my cat curled up by my feet. On Friday my doctor told me to get a little more comfortable with hanging out here—modified bed rest as it were—and it’s hard to process the mixed emotions. The past week I have been feeling the symptoms of HELLP creeping back in—the fatigue, the swelling—and my blood pressure is up, borderline worrisome. But it could all be nothing, it could all go away, or it could be something, it could progress slowly or quickly, nothing to do but wait and try and be calm, take it day by day. I do not like taking it day to day. I would like to have a plan. I am 32 weeks along. 

I am so lucky. I did just quit my job, so I have that added space now. I can read books, listen to podcasts, play with my daughter, I have a very supportive husband. I can still do a lot, I just have to take it a bit easier. But then—my mind starts to get away from me. I need to get the house ready. I need to get baby stuff. I need to pack my hospital bag. There is a very good chance we will have a preemie again, and perhaps I need to spend some time thinking about this. But I don’t want to. I don’t want to remember getting sick, the breastfeeding struggles, the hospital time. Little things like remembering why my own daughter never co-slept with us—I couldn’t seem to remember why she slept in her own crib from day one back at home. Then last night I realized: it was because she spent her first two weeks in the make-shift NICU, and got very used to being put down on a flat surface and going to sleep on her own. I don't want my next baby to be so used to that, to not want to be rocked to sleep. 

And there are other transitions, too. This summer we will be leaving our organization, InnerCHANGE, and moving back to Portland. It’s a natural ending place, the end of our 3-year commitment. I have known since December, and I have great peace about it. But why oh why does this place have to be so beautiful, so sparkling, a place both of crushed and revitalized dreams? We are heading off to keep doing what we have been doing all along—a bit wiser for the wear, thankful for all we have been gifted here. I have cried, a lot. I dream of retiring in the towers where I teach. But for now, we are called back to our families and communities and churches where our roots are. We want to be planted, and we need to be honest about where that can actually happen.

We know the neighborhood where we are moving (technically a suburb of Portland) and it’s the place where all the fun stuff (as we like to call it) goes down. It’s the Portland you don’t see on Portlandia, is another way to put it. Portland, as close to a home as I will ever get, is one of the silliest, saddest, least-diverse cities in America. The battles of gentrification happening are a microcosm of where poverty in America is headed—pushed outside of the inner-city, people are forced to move farther and farther into the suburbs, where lack of infrastructure (busses, etc) and social services makes it even harder to thrive. I love Portland, but I long to see her change, to really see what’s happening in the underbelly, in the other America. 

We don’t know exactly where we will live, however, but are pretty sure it will be apartments. We don’t know what jobs we will work at but we know that we are done raising support. We are so, so happy that we have no clue as to what exactly we will be doing, what our ministry will be, how will we explain it to others. We are so glad that we know nothing, that we are finally learning the skill set of moving in and being quiet, of letting a place teach us, of moving into a neighborhood for our needs and in pursuit of our own vocations and joys. We are excited to continue to learn to see where God is already at work, to see the face of Christ in everyone we meet.

But still: that is a whole dang lot of transition. I sit on my bed and try to contemplate it all but I can’t. I think about the past almost-3-years, the lessons we have learned about community and simplicity and service and celebration. I think about my present, how currently it could change day-to-day. I think about the future, a gray blur of hope and anxiety with a strong shot of peace. So many lovelies we are leaving. So many we are moving towards. It just isn’t fair, the trauma involved with loving people, of being loved by them. But still we do it.

We move into neighborhoods far from where we grew up, we have babies even when there is risk, we clutch our disappointments and our joys and we sally forth not into the life or the community or the birth experience we always wanted but the one we actually have. And we trust, we trust, we trust, that it is all being made new.

 

For those along for the journey with us, we are so thankful. 

 

 

 

when every day feels like it is your birthday

 

i took a walk the other day, because it was 60 degrees, which is a damn miracle in this place in this month. it has been awhile since i have been able to walk--so much ice on the ground, all that cold wind blowing in my grill. i am still struggling with my body, still not OK with being pregnant and what it all does, i try not to look in the mirror and try not to care as the numbers creep up and up and up. but the other day i was walking around my neighborhood, and i fit in as never before. people gave me the chin-up nods of acknowledgement, the moms pushing strollers side-eyed me with compassion, i hoofed it around the convenience stores and halal markets and taco shops large and in charge and i was just another piece of the scenery of making it here.

we all feel like we never fit in, i am sure of that. but to be a re-locater puts another layer on that whole lie, the one that says both our good qualities and our sins are so very different from the person living in the next neighborhood over. i wear my whiteness every day, and i also wear my pietism and my moralism, the desperation to do some good, the eagerness to befriend and cozy up and transform. but the best thing happens when you get tired, so very tired, and you find yourself just living life and trying to make it. no strategy, no compulsion, just the routines of where you walk and shop and read and play piling onto one another, it all adding up to something more.

i went to get myself a birthday drink this morning (hashtag thirtyoneandhavingfun). i had an hour or two by myself at the coffee shop--a greater gift can no one give to an introvert, i am sure. the coffee shop is starbucks. i hesitate to tell you this, because i know the scorn of the mass-produced myself. but i can't bear to drive farther away to the hipster places, the ones where the coffee is delicious but out-of-my-budget, where i can read and write in peace and quiet and not be bothered by excessive friendliness, content in my isolation. this starbucks i go to is a hub of activity, chock full to the brim at all times with the faces and languages of the neighborhood--mostly East African, and mostly men. they talk loudly and argue and so obviously enjoy hanging out with each other; the lines out the door are long and i fight for a seat at the bar. the word on the street is that this starbucks is called the sugar shack, due to how it goes through 4x more sugar more than any other starbucks in the city. i think about the chai i make for my students during our break time, the horrific amount of sugar i am required to put into each cup in order to make it pleasing to them. and i sit in my noisy, crowded, bastion-of-Empire coffee shop, and revel in the fact that it is simply too chaotic in there to read.

but i try. in fits and starts i read the first few chapters of City of God by Sara Miles and my heart aches with love for my own city. here's a quote from the introduction:

"I began to see that city-ness, not necessary prettiness, might be the characteristic sign of heaven. Sexier and more beautiful than Eden, the city of God is a crowded, busy place jammed with languages and peoples, including the ones who argue so incessantly with one another. A place so mixed, so layered, and apparently impure that it proclaims a love vaster than humans can come up with on our own. A place as surprising and generous as the sheet full of formerly unclean food in the Book of Acts that turned Peter from heaven's gatekeeper into it's dazzled servant."

 

 

as i was leaving the coffee shop i ran into an old student of mine, a woman who never learned to read despite our countless hours trying. she is beautiful and wide-hipped, and her eyes appear to be naturally lined with kohl. she was talking loudly into her cellphone, her bright dress blowing in the breeze, and i timidly waved at her. Still on her phone, she hugged me and kissed me and then exclaimed over my belly. Alhamdulillah! all praise be to God! and she did what my students have been doing for the past few weeks, she kissed her hand and put it on my belly, over and over again. and then she walked on up the street to where ever it was that she was going, and i continued on my own way, receiving the blessings that she had so freely bestowed. 

 

 

in truth it has never stopped feeling like every day is my birthday, my privilege to be here. I am just dazzled, dazzled by it all. 

 

 

 

A few questions I got asked recently.

Q: what drains you about relational/apartment/incarnational/missional/neighborly/whatever-the-heck-we-are-calling-it-now living?

A: Hearing the domestic disputes through the paper-thin walls. Loud, angry voices, at all hours of the day. Wondering if you should call the cops, then being very regretful when you do. The cockroaches. The mice. The anthills exploding up through the carpet. The constant threat of bedbugs. 

Becoming embedded in a community and a neighborhood so different from the one you were brought up in, far from the successes and the upwardly mobile of the world, then being asked on a dime to enter back into the other America, where you are meant to smile and give poignant updates and do no harm and not make anyone feel terribly guilty all the while withering inside for more people to just do the hardest simple things, to be planted and sprinkled like seeds throughout the entire world, to be relationally embedded, to commit to not going anywhere. to try to communicate both the depths of trauma and chaos and despair and also speak into words the fact that you have met Christ here, the one you had always dreamed about, the kindest, best, most prophetic, caring, angry Savior one could ever hope for, and he is out wandering the wilderness and he cannot possibly be as tame as we desire him to be. 

also: trying to convert people. 

 

 

Q: what energizes you?

praying with people and reading the scriptures, begging for eyes to see and hearts to obey, none of us knowing the answers, our eyes continually grower wider and wider to the ways the Spirit moves in the world, experiencing the kingdom here and now, longing with broken hearts for it to come in full. 

acknowledging the truth that I am a privileged, racist, emotional girl, working through her savior complexes and moralistic interpretations of scripture, moving into a neighborhood with so much baggage as to be back-breaking, a do-gooder, a mistake-maker, a failure, a colonizer. and people, my neighbors, choosing to love me anyway: reading scripture, opening doors, showing up to classes, cooking me meals, shoving presents and dollars bills into my daughter's hands, texting me, embracing me, enveloping me with clouds of perfume and jangles of bracelets, accepting me just as I am, their eyes seeing right through me, their hearts of love and hospitality healing me more than I could have ever known I needed. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing About Thanksgiving (Part 1)

Do you guys know the Enneagram test? I tend to think people who get waaaaay too into personality types can be a teensy bit boring, but there is something decidedly spiritual about the Enneagram. I think it is because it points us to our flaws just as much as it points to our strengths. Anyways, this was my Enneagram e-mail of the day (I'm a 4, by the way, if that means anything to you):  

Remember that your Direction of Stress is towards the Two, where you people-please, try to find needs to fulfill, and call attention to your good works. Is this showing up in you today?

 

Um, yes. Every damn day. And this especially comes out during the holidays, where I go into a zealous sort of overdrive, trying to cram goodwill into every thing I do. I think that this year marks the 10th or 11th time I have made a traditional (yet pared-down) Thanksgiving meal for refugee friends and neighbors.

Celebrating holidays is always such a mixed bag for me . . . this year it has come up more than others. It's just unbelievably difficult to celebrate holidays with a). people who don't celebrate your religion/culture and b). people for whom the holidays are the worst time of year and they just want to hibernate/drink/medicate until January 2nd. And that sums up a large chunk of our relationships--which causes me to constantly wonder who am I cooking this for for?

This year is no different. I went to the store and bought all of the supplies for the meal and I never know who will really show up. There is a large, lovely family of Kurdish refugees who we are friends with and we invited them over. In true Muslim hospitality, they then insisted that we come over to their place on Saturday for an epic 4+ hour feast (my daughter was in heaven, both because she loves Kurdish food/music but also because she got to watch cartoons and was surreptitiously fed pieces of candy all day). It was so relaxing and so wonderful and makes me feel very pitiful about my own awkward attempts at hospitality. I think they are coming over for Thanksgiving, but as they are quick to tell us--they don't like trying new foods or going to new places. Life is hard enough, and they prefer to eat their own foods on their own terms (one of the few things in life they can control). It has taken me years to get to this place, but I am trying to have open hands about it all. I am prepared for nobody to eat much this year, and it will be ok.

 

 

she waited patiently for 3 hours while the food cooked, and then she was ready to EAT.

 

All this to say: I did write about a Thanksgiving we had a few years ago and it is up today! I am super excited to tell you that I am going to be writing semi-regularly for the Good Letters blog (which is run by Image Journal). The company I will be writing with is . . . intimidating, to say the least. I think I will have a post up over there once or twice a month, and I will be sure to link here.

 

So head on over to read about my type 4 tendencies, hospitality, and the Day We Cooked the Big Chicken.

 

 

 

 

 

The State of Our Union Address

What are we doing here? is a question we ask ourselves often, constantly, a thrumming beatbox to our jam-packed lives. What are we doing here, what is the point of all of this: relocation, downward mobility, eschewing hierarchy, doggedly believing that Christ is here? All we ever do is learn from people, I told my husband last night. That is truly all we do. We don't do anything of importance, we are stretched too thin by too many needs to ever really be of use (the one thing that I so wanted to be). We do not have opportunities to share complicated doctrines or theologies, we are not making a difference in the world. But oh, how we are learning from people. How we are wide-eyed and mouth-closed, how we are the opposite of workers, how we are trying so hard to pay attention and notice all of those important lessons we somehow missed along the way.

Peter didn't pay good attention in the Bible. He scoffed and scorned those women who showed up and said what they all wanted so badly to be true but couldn't let themselves believe: that Jesus had transcended death, that he was alive, that his kingdom was here, that forgiveness and resurrection was now available for all. Peter didn't believe them, he ignored the marginalized just like everyone else. But when no one was looking, when he could no longer ignore the hope in his chest anymore, when everyone else had left--he ran to the tomb as fast as his legs could carry him.

All we ever did was try to be good, productive, correct. All we ever do now is stand still and notice. All we ever do these days is run, run as fast as we can to where we can only hope our signs of resurrection will be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

teeth and kitties

the other day i almost bought a living social deal for a costco membership, until my husband gently reminded my of my scruples. this is the problem with public journaling blogging. people remind you of grand-sounding things you said once, quite some time ago. but life marches on, and you move into a beautiful lil' house that actually has a basement where you could purchase and store sensibly-priced paper goods in bulk, where your life could be just a tiny bit easier. time is a river rushing by and there are so many ways to remember that you are always coming up short in your quest to identify with people on the margins. there are so many ways to tune out the prophets. //

where we live, going to the dentist is an ordeal. we live in the midst of a city, as urban as i have ever experienced. we are surrounded by payday loan companies and "treatment centers" and halal markets. But the only available dentists for miles and miles around are all students: bright-eyed young things who poke and prod your mouth and have to call in a crash of supervisors for any little old thing. it takes forever (it costs relatively little). people make mistakes. a one-visit procedure stretches into 3 or 4. i take my daughter to these students because she is complaining of tooth pain. they look at me and my medical insurance card from the government, and they loudly tell me that i really should be bringing her in for a cleaning every few months. i hang my head, ashamed, letting this young thing think whatever it is she wants to about me. my daughter's teeth are perfect, they cannot see any cavities. i only feel slightly better.

my husband got his tooth pulled last year. it is one of his canines, you can only tell when he smiles so wide that his eyes get lost in the crinkles. before this happened i didn't know there was yet another way to categorize people in our society, a way that we not-so-subtly put people in their place. there are people in our country who are missing teeth, and there are people who get them replaced. nowadays, i know so many people with the tell-tale gaps. my students, the ones who are so recently arrived here in this country, they are in the midst of it. a student will be gone for a few days, then come to class, holding an embarrassed hand over her mouth. she doesn't want to talk. when she finally does, i see it: 4 or 5 teeth pulled, many in the front, just like that. no replacements, no nothing. we all have the same insurance. the government will help us all pay for the teeth to be removed, but replacing them is viewed as "cosmetic". vanity of vanities, to want to look in the mirror and remember for a second, how it all used to be.

i don't mind the gap in my husband's smile, i think it is rather cute. but the dentists said that since my husband is so young that is could permanently mess up the way the other teeth in his mouth move around, could cause him many problems in later years. so we scrimp and save for a year, shelling out what amounts to more than what we paid for our (admittedly not-so-great) minivan, our identification coming to a screeching halt. my husband is on his way to let students insert a screw into his jaw; in a few months they will affix a new, shining tooth. he will go on with his life, eating whatever he pleases, working in his professional capacity, bearded, pleasant, whole.

//

a few months ago our cat was bit by another; the wound was large and gaping and we didn't know what to do. we tried to clean it up but by the next day it was clear that this was bad news. we found a cardboard box and brought her to the vet; they put her anesthetic and cleaned her wound and put in a drain. she was gone the whole day and when she came home we had to put a cone around her miserable head. she moped, for a week, and we bought her special kitty food to coax her. she got better, day by day. we fixed the screen door so she couldn't get out anymore (our neighborhood does have the meanest cats you ever did see) and she meows pitifully, longing to be out. but it cost us so much money to save her that we can't afford for it to happen again. a neighbor came over and sat under our tree in the backyard and we talked about pets who got hurt, and all the ones who died because vets were not even an option. all the animals we loved so much when we were young, the ones we clutched and cooed at and kissed; the ones who fell by the wayside, who were attacked by the robbers of the world, the ones that we were always powerless to save. i look at my cat, gleaming and whole, and it is a marker of difference. of options. the opposite of identification.

teeth and kitties, such vulnerable parts of ourselves. the whole world is a place that is liable to hurt us, to weaken us, decay us and bite us. some of us have access to resources and money where we can forget about these realities for a few more months, a few more years. we can justify ourselves to people just like us all the day long, but in the end, the same Christ looks at all of our hearts. and he will ask all of us: did you learn from the prophets, the ones i sent you all along? the gap-toothed and the sad, the wounded and the un-whole? because they are preaching to us, all the time.

they are the reminders of the kingdom that is slowly barreling into our hearts and our minds and our lives, a kingdom where every tooth and every kitty is cherished, valued, and most importantly, mourned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

on homesickness

There was a moment, just a moment, when the happiness overwhelmed me. I was driving a white minivan through the sun-drenched outer boroughs of Portland, the one where the grass was already dead and brown, where the cars pile high in the front yards, where the hipsters are few and far between. Navigating the streets I know so well, driving on auto-pilot; almost audibly my thoughts came: I'm home. The sweetness inherent in that thought--of being known and wanted and comforted--is quickly swallowed up by the realization: no, I'm not. I don't live here anymore. I am embarrassed, look to my left and my right. But no one is there to see my slip into nostalgia, watch my new life and my old cause confusion in my eyes. It is so cliché, but it must be said: I am homesick, no matter where I am.

One great thing about being married to a counselor is that sometimes they give you free observations about your life. The other day my husband told me that to an outside observer, it might look as though I was compelled to seek out relationships with people who are very, very different from myself. Conversely, he also noted, it appeared that my family and community were consistent sources of comfort for me. These two poles on which I staked my life sometimes seem to be in opposition to each other: what is safe, what is unknown. What is comfortable, what is exhilarating. To pursue one means that naturally, the other falls by the wayside.

Last week, in Portland, I was fed full and watched my daughter play with her cousin, I attended a baby shower for my older sister, I went for long walks with my mother, I made root beer floats with my father. Everywhere we went and ate and played I was looking for others, the worlds hidden between, for the marginalized of our society. They are few and far between in Portland, a city that is supremely silly and somehow never satiated in the desire for acceptance. I walked into a coffee shop where everyone looked so exactly alike that it felt like a slap to me: the calculated outfits and language and coffee drinks totaling up one very exclusive experience, designed more to keep others out than to usher them in. I went to church and cried all during worship, aching at how wonderful it was to see a large group of people together and singing about freedom; I slipped away into myself during the sermon, thinking about all the people who would not be able to step inside these doors. Surrounded by family and friends, I couldn't help but feel a bit homesick for the life I have created in the exotic Midwest, long for my neighborhood and my neighbors

Last week, in Portland, I was driving across town in a white minivan. I was by myself, driving to see very old friends, the ones who first showed me where the upside-down kingdom was. I know every street, have a story for almost each city block. I let myself go down the nostalgic trail of thoughts: I met my husband here. I had my baby here. I went to Bible college here. I met the friends who changed my life here. The other part of me--the one who grew up thinking that those who gave up everything to serve God--quickly pushed these thoughts away. I actively, aggressively chided myself into submission. Geography means nothing to me. My entire childhood was spent moving, every 2-3 years. What was important was family, the new church we were at, the next calling of God on our lives. But somehow I stayed in Portland for nearly 9 years, and the asphalt and the street signs and the brown grass in the summer has burrowed into my bones. I am homesick for a place. And it is completely divorced from any sense of mission within me. I just love it for what it is: my home.

A month or so ago here in the exotic midwest I went to visit a friend who moved into the suburbs. Her and her little family are on their way up, moving out of the cramped and crowded-to-overflowing house in the middle of the city. I am happy for her, even as I am sad at the natural distance that will come at her being 30 miles away. I saw her apartment complex, large and full of similarly placed families, everybody packed tight together, everybody trying to make it. The outside facade so clean, the hallways inside rather grimy. I instantly loved it. As I left, I let my hands trail along the walls, imagining what it would be like to move in there. It was then that I realized that I wanted to live in every apartment building in the city, in the country, in the world.

And even though I know this is not even possible in the slightest, there is a large part of me that wants to try.

The problem is: I have so many homes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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