D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Tag: portland

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Powered by Squarespace. Background image by Kmayfield