D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Tag: moving

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. 

 

 

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. 

 

 

 

I cannot even begin

to describe the way things are over here. As most of you know, our little fam joined a mission organization and we are relocating to the exotic midwest, to immerse ourselves in several countries within our great country, to continue down the rabbit hole of working with Muslim African refugees, to be changed into people who care more about our neighbors than we do a 401k, to live in community with other Christians who have been doing this a lot longer than we and have and who have not let the seeds of bitterness take root, we are going because we ourselves are the mission field, we need Jesus so much to pull us out of this morass of the pursuit of happiness, which has come at a great cost to all of us.  

In our other not-online lives, we have spent the past month living with my parents, having coffee and dinner and drinks with so many of our beautiful and beloved friends, church family, real-and-true blood family. My grandparents came up for a week, which was good and sorrowful, both of them in poor health, my grandma unable to find so many of the words she wanted to use. Saying goodbye was very, very hard. My sister and her husband and baby are coming today, and we will all be in the house together, a ramshackle mess of love and expectation and laughter and loss.

 

We have been working, in our own weird ways, to raise financial support so we can live this life we are being called to, and it has been kicking my butt in so many ways. The vulnerability of this position has not been lost on me, and it has been a struggle to communicate what we are doing, to ask for help, to be a gracious recipient. We are currently at around 30% support, but we are leaving in a week anyways. I have no idea what is going to happen, and I am not lying when I say this one is rather the least of my worries right now.

 

I signed a book contract yesterday, with a lovely new publishing company (more on that later). They gave me a year to write a book, and this also is contributing to my vision of the great blank canvas that is life after next week, a life in which everything has changed.

 

The next few days are filled with goodbyes, which can drive even the most devout to drink ( . . . coffee, of course). Saying goodbye to friends and family has already loomed large, but I am also saying goodbye to the people I thought were my ministry all along but who turned out to be some of my very best friends.

 

A week from today I will be driving with my sister across the country (the husband and the baby will be flying--with my mom along for the ride as well). Our transmission is acting funny. The check engine light is on.

 

So there it is, in a nutshell. I have had dreams about tidal waves/tsunamis over taking me for the past several nights and I just looked it up on the internets (so it must be true). According to several websites these types of dreams means that I have a lot of emotions that I am pushing to the side, and that I am on the brink of a big life change.

 

Um, yeah. You could describe my life like that. I can feel the tsunami coming.

I am just not ready to face it quite yet.

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