D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Tag: apartment living

thirty-two and rock'n this 'do

I feel bad that everyone can't have as cool of sisters as I do. my younger sister especially is amazing at creating custom birthday hashtags.

I feel bad that everyone can't have as cool of sisters as I do. my younger sister especially is amazing at creating custom birthday hashtags.

 

Both of my children are sick today. Sick enough to be cranky and not go to school, but not sick enough to take long naps. In our personal lives, huge upheavals are happening. We trust the end outcomes will be good, but in the meantime it is unbelievably painful. I just finished the copy edits for my book, and I feel incredibly vulnerable. The negative self-talk has reached a fever-pitch, and I truly wonder why anyone signs up for this. Why do I feel such a compulsion to write down as honestly as I can everything I am noticing around me? Reading this final manuscript, I have to confront a few truths about myself. I am not a funny, empowering Jen Hatmaker type. I am not a gorgeous, literary ethnographer like Chris Hoke. I am not a hard-hitting investigative reporter like Barbara Ehrenreich. I am not a contemplative academic artist like Kathleen Norris. I do not inspire like Shane Claiborne or gently instruct like Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove. Instead, I am a complete and utter mess. 

 

But perhaps my only saving grace is that I tried very hard to be honest about that.

 

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I used to love writing birthday posts, I used to love having themes for the year, I used to love picking out one Scripture to give me focus and inspiration, I used to love the centering practice of being intentional about the next 12 months, of reflecting on who I am and where I have come from and what lies ahead.

 

Now it’s just another day, except it’s a day where I make myself a cake (a Funfetti poke cake, if you must know). It’s another day to kick anxiety to the curb. Another day to say “Not Today, Satan!” (my current favorite phrase). Another day to listen to Rain for Roots sing about the parables (I think it says something right now that I need songs about God that are crafted for children; I am trying so hard to have more of a child-like faith). Another day to marvel at my husband, such a magnificent creature that he is. Another day to kiss my babies and make sure they don’t eat too much sugar or stick their fingers in the electrical outlets. 

 

I’m 32 now, and in the past year I: quit two jobs, had a baby, almost died, moved across the country, developed depression and an anxiety disorder, settled into yet another low-income apartment complex comprised mainly of refugees, edited and revised a book about myself. So . . . that is a lot of stuff, and I can recognize it as such. The upcoming year seems a bit blurry to me. I will get to do a little bit of travel again, I’m gonna run a half marathon in 2 weeks, I’m going to do pursue the weird blend of activism/charismatic ministry/radical vulnerability/relational presence or whatever it is that I do and try to not worry so hard about whether or not others are doing it too. I’m going to try and repent of judgement more often, and care less what other people think of me. 

 

So I don’t have a verse or a plan or a theme for this next year. I still feel worried about it, truth be told. But I do have this picture that my husband took of the tree right outside our door. I have this symbol of so many things I wish for myself and for others, that we can bloom where we are planted, no matter where that place might be. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s to the next year. I hope we all get to see some blossoms. 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

 

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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. 

 

 

 

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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:

work it out.

This weekend I went to a missions conference here in the NW, which is always inspiring and overwhelming for me, a huge missions nerd. I have been going to this particular conference for 8 years (I might have missed it once or twice). In the beginning I went by myself, a lonely single girl with missionary dreams, wandering the booths and soaking it all in. Now, here I am, lugging a crazy toddler on my hips and stopping to visit with every other person, talking until I feel hoarse and worn out and happy.

The only workshop I made it to was one on relational apartment ministry--moving into apartment complexes for the express purpose of making friends and building the kingdom of God. This is ostensibly what we have trying to do for the past several years. The workshop was inspiring, of course, but I left assessing all the places I have not let my living be incarnational.

It made me think about what kind of neighbor I am. I am the keep-to-myself, pleasantly smiling girl. I have connections to many of the refugees families who live here, and I bend over backwards to talk to them whenever I see them. But everybody else . . . that is a different story. It is much, much easier to not get involved. To only live in the apartments, not to dwell there.

A great example of this is the "work out room" at our complex. I use the quotation marks because it is just a tiny, narrow room stuffed with malfunctioning workout equipment. It is on the third floor, right across from the elevator, with a big window so everybody can see you sweating and huffing. There is one tiny window with a view of the courtyard with half of the blinds stolen off. I have found lots of evidence over the years that makes me think people are doing a lot of stuff in that room, but they certainly aren't working out.

I used to use the busted up old elliptical machine quite a bit when we first moved in. But I got tired of all the refugee kids spilling in and laughing at me, at the women giving me strange looks, of catching lurking teenage boys staring one too many times. I stopped working out, because I hated interacting with people. The Burmese mom who let her toddler tumble about the room. My Somali friend who wanted to discuss how fat I was as I was sweating away. The dude with the big bushy beard whose apartment reeks of weed who lumbered in to put money on his laundry card. The single mom screaming at her kids who were running down the hallway.  I didn't want to talk to any of them. I just wanted to read my O! magazine and listen to my NPR podcasts and burn a few calories. I wanted to be separate.

I signed up to run my first race in March. It is a 15k, which is just far enough that it is scary, but doable. The weather in Portland has been almost Biblical as of late--snow, sleet, rain rain rain and now some flooding. So I have been forced to take my running indoors, back to the "work out room" where I must interact with people.

For me, it's such a picture of my prejudice, my tendency to protect my privacy and individuality. It is a symbol of how different I feel that I am.

So here is my small change for the here and now. To use the workout room, and to redeem it. To engage with the neighbors, to use every opportunity for good, to not shrink into myself and my safe barriers (ipods, magazines, culture, closed apartment).

I can be a sweaty mess who still smiles and chooses to engage. This is the decision for even the ridiculous things to be intentional.

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