D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Tag: Assimilate or Go Home

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.

 

Three Weeks After my Book is Published,

And I am feeling tired, and sad, and proud, and insecure. I could have done a better job. I have a message I want to communicate. No, I’m just telling my own story. I’m so confused, and you might be too. You came looking for a window into another world but all I had to offer was a mirror. 

I’ve heard from a few of you, my people in the trenches, my lovely folks with the do-gooder hearts and the sin (both individual and generational) that threatens to curdle everything. I keep your words close to my heart, because we are all on this journey together, and you never really do stop unlearning.

I’ve felt sorry for myself, a bit. The “perks” of writing are so few and far between. Being visible in an age of the hot take is miserable for several reasons. You get to hear what everyone is saying about you, including the bad. You get puffed up and punched down, and you deserve all of it and yet none of it should touch the core of who you are in Christ Jesus. If you wrote something vulnerable, if you strayed into dangerous territory—talking about communities where you are an outsider, for instance—you can get your heart walked all over. I got paid very little money and it is very stressful and time consuming to try and be good at being a visible person. Did I say something social-justice-y on Twitter today? Was I nice enough to the person who was trying to score points off of taking me down? Did I tweet about other people enough, do I feel less lonely now, do you understand me and my world even a little bit, did I communicate how good I was, and does everyone believe me yet?

 

See? I haven’t really changed at all. 

 

In my real life, it has been a very hard summer. I cannot write about some of the reasons why, but the ones that I can are enough. People are struggling, everywhere. There is fear and hatred in the air, in our news and in our hearts. We keep hearing the bad news, so we try to keep celebrating the good. We make cupcakes for homework club, we harvest the cherry tomatoes we planted, we drink tea in the homes of people who have survived far more than us and we let the gratefulness rub off on our skins. We say goodbye to people who move due to sickness and lack of money and no one to care for them. We walk past the memorial for the young man who was killed across the street from us, a black teenager was run down and murdered by a white man with hatred in his heart. My daughter asks what the balloons and the writing scrawled on the wall of the 7-11 means and I don’t want to tell her but I have to. I have to because this is where we all live, this country in where this happens. 

 

 

I love the process of writing, I really do. It’s natural for me—a constant whirl of thoughts inside my head, getting them down and trying to find the common threads within. This is a joy and a gift that I never knew I would need so badly. I also like the thrill of getting picked for publication. The moment the editor writes you back and says “yes, we want this.” That feels good for a few moments, and I exult in front of my computer screen, affirmed that what I do is accessible to others. But the other parts—the publication, the waiting for people to respond, building a platform, the constant dance of keeping a thick skin and a thin heart—it wears on me so. I used to approach social media with the idea that I wanted to connect with others, that I wanted to be less lonely. Now, I am trying to sell books. Now, I am trying to sell you a version of myself. I feel the pressure to tone it down and kick it up a notch. Communicate the mystery of the kingdom of God and do it in 144 characters. Speak up and be quiet. Pick your lane and run in it, run as fast as you can. But the lane I find myself in now is one I never envisioned for myself. I am surrounded by refugees, by people experiencing poverty, by a neighborhood in the throes of gentrification, in a city stuck in a moral dilemma. And I have tried and tried and tried, but I can’t help but notice everything. I can’t help but pay attention, and want you to see it all too. 

 

 

The day my book released I felt very calm and detached, very zen. That lasted for three whole days (and they were great days!). So many people said nice things, I felt so supported. Then came the inevitable after-Christmas feeling, the letdown. Then the crippling insecurity, the anxiety attacks, the trouble sleeping at night, the paralyzing fear of moving forward, the vows to never write again. Oh my word I am sounding like a freaking Anne Lamott version 2.0 over here but I have to be honest: all that neurotic stuff is totally, completely true. Luckily for me, life moves on. I am dealing with myself. I pray over my children at night, that we would learn to be kind to others and kind to ourselves. 

Change is in the air, I can feel it. We are buying a house around the corner from our apartment complex. My daughter starts first grade at the local elementary school tomorrow. I am writing a few things again. I am trying to help get a refugee welcome center off the ground. People are moving away, and new people will move in. The stories will continue to pile their way inside my heart. I will never not pay attention. 

And yet the days will continue on as they are. I will go to the library and a woman will turn to me, bursting with pride at all the books her son is checking out “can you believe how much he reads? Always has his nose in a book, this one.” And the boy will hold up two plastic bags full of books, proudly telling me he got most of them from the shelter where they are staying. And together the boy and his mother will walk out of the library, back into the real world, which is so cruel and so punishing to those who aren’t at the top. And I will be left standing in the library with my soft heart and my wet eyes, wondering what I ever did to deserve this ministry of rubbing shoulders with another world, this ministry of trying to explain just the tiniest bit to those who want to sit down and listen with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

it's totally ok to eat your feelings. #theministryoffunfetti #thecommitmenttocelebration

it's totally ok to eat your feelings. #theministryoffunfetti #thecommitmenttocelebration

 

Thank you so much to everyone who has emailed, tweeted, commented on instagram . . . all of your feedback means the world to me. I love hearing from you!

 

(For those who are new to this space . . . here's a link to the book I was talking about). 

The Commitment to Celebration (Book Bonanza Edition)

So, I’m not sure if you all heard or not--but I wrote a book! And it was released last Tuesday!

 

There are a lot of things I could say about this process, and I am not quite sure where to start. Of course I am grateful for the opportunity, and I am so touched by every kind word and comment, and I feel some measure of accomplishment, and I am relieved to have it out in the world. But (true to my nature) for every positive feeling there is an equal and opposite reaction: I wish publishing didn’t favor people like me (white, dominant culture), I have received criticism that is both fair and not (which def takes the wind out of my sails), and I am very wary of being put in a position of being an expert on anything.

So many of my writer friends talk about wanting to hide under the covers in the weeks post-book-release. I never understood that until just this moment (I hit a wall three days after publication and am still trying to recover). I have a vulnerability hangover, people. I am sure I will recover soon. In the meantime, my actual life of care-taking and neighborliness and activism is still just as great and as exhausting as ever. The people I am surrounded by for the most part do not care that I wrote a book (except my husband. He is very, very proud. It’s adorable).

at my book launch party, the snacks were very On Brand.

at my book launch party, the snacks were very On Brand.

 

Still, it’s both necessary and a pleasure to make a commitment to celebrate this momentous time. To that point, my friends and my readers have been amazing. I asked a few of my favorite writers/people to write down reflections they had after reading the book, specifically in a few areas:

 

1). What is your favorite unrecognized ministry?

 

2). How did you use to want to change the world? How do you view yourself now?

 

I’m going to link to all the posts right here, but I would love to hear from more of you! Please feel free to leave a comment on this post (or link to a blog).

 

Without further ado, here are some thoughts from some of my favorite people:

 

Michaela Evanow "The Ministry of Meal Making"

 

Amy Peterson "The Ministry of Reading Aloud"

 

Kevin Hargaden "We were just Sitting there Talking When . . ."

 

Christie Purifoy "The Ministry of Flowers"

 

Addie Zierman "The Small, Ordinary Ways we are Changing the World"

 

Marilyn Gardner "Small Things for the Kingdom"

 

Abby Norman "The Ministry of a Messy House"

 

Jessica Goudeau "The Ministry of Keeping Vigil"

 

Shannan Martin "The Important Poverty of Enough"

 

Stina KC "The Ministry of the YMCA"

 

Christiana Peterson "The Unrecognized Ministry of Listening"

 

Lori Harris "That Time We Thought We Assimilated"

 

Tanya Marlow "For Every Wannabe Missionary"


 

A few more links:

 

I have two separate essays about food and interacting with my refugee neighbors (both of these themes are very big in my life, obviously).

 

For Off the Page I wrote this (on despair and resilience in the face of so much being wrong in our world): Staring into the Sun. (Off the page also did an interview with me AND published an excerpt of my book! They are awesome!)

 

For Her.meneutics I wrote about my obsession with the Great British Baking Show and how it points to the importance of interdependence in a fractured world: Let Them Bake Cakes.

 

And here’s two other interviews I did: one for Sarah Quezada at A Life With Subtitles and one for Upright Magazine about Nurturing Craft in an Age of Content.

 

Here’s a link to a podcast I recorded with Matt Mooney.

 

Finally, if you are in the Portland area, make sure to come out to Powell’s on Wednesday night at 7:30 for my book reading/signing. Can you say life goals achieved???


 

WHEW.

 

Now I’m off to indulge in the ministry of coffee, baby snuggles, and reading all of the lovely and kind things so many of you have said. Thanks to all who have shared about the book and who reviewed it for Goodreads and for Amazon (keep em coming!) and who have taken pictures of it out in the wild. I am treasuring this all up, and I will never forget it.



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!

 

 

 

The long (busy) December

 

 

amazing illustration by Cristina Byvik for Vox

amazing illustration by Cristina Byvik for Vox

 

 

Happy 2016, y'all. As you all know, 2015 was not the kindest year to us (and true to form, on New Year's Eve I found myself at both the DMV and at the dentist due to a dental emergency. Good riddance to that year!). 2016 is going to be all about our new normal, dealing with anxiety (several members in our family get anxious due to change), slowly building on the foundations we have been working on for some time now. We want to work on beating back the blues and getting out of the apartment. We want to invest in our neighbors and community, which might look like starting ESL classes and attending the "failing" elementary school and/or sampling every single taco to be had within a mile radius. Who knows! I am entering into this year fragile and determined, aware as ever that the Spirit of God is wild and weird and never meant to be cooped up in a room of people who all look and think and act the same. We are all supposed to be bringing that weirdness out into the world, wherever we may be.

Soooooo, December was real weird. I wrote a post during nap time and it went viral (well, viral for me). Over 500,000 views and 300+ comments. What the what? (Of course, it was one of the few posts where I posted pics of my husband/kids. Naturally!). Thank you all who read it, identified with it, shared it, and shared your own experiences. I am gratified and also feel pretty sorrowful that so many could relate. Then Vox.com had the awesome idea to illustrate the piece and the results were amazing. Merry Christmas to me!

I also published a bunch of other stuff in December. Like a piece on Hallmark Christmas Movies (which is also about cultural elitism/classism). Or this piece (which was super fun to write--both deadly serious and completely not) on who the *real* protagonist of Home Alone is. I also wrote about how we don't do Santa in our family (but I do feel conflicted about it). I then wrote a pretty serious piece about racism and violence against black bodies (with an underlying theme of how the Pacific NW is more a place of exclusion than it is out-and-out oppression). And lastly, I helped Christ and Pop Culture decide what our favorite 25 things of the year were. This list is awesome, all over the map, and genuinely diverse (POC! Women! Books Galore!). I wrote the blurb for our #2 pick, and if you want to hear me get feisty about things like Russell Moore and Mad Max, you can listen to the deliberations podcasts here (number 1 and number 2).

And finally, 2016 is going to be the year of the book (official title: Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith). I'm starting a once-a-month newsletter where I will update you on the book (cover designs, excerpts, probably some sort of cool printable or something), link to various publications (like I just did up there) and end with whatever is making me happy at that moment (a la Pop Culture Happy Hour). I'd be so pleased if you would sign up!

 

Thanks again to everyone for reading along! It means more than I can say. 

 

Powered by Squarespace. Background image by Kmayfield