D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

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The Privilege of Lent

Lord, not many of us could sustain hope in the midst of such horrors as Apartheid South Africa. Thank you for the witness of people like Nelson Mandela, who remind us that hope is a lifeline for those who hang by the threads of injustice. As long as there are people held in captivity, oppressed, and denied basic human rights, help us all to consider ourselves to be hanging by the same frail threads.
— From Common Prayer for today


I drive 25 minutes to my parents house, my children in the backseat. We take the back-route, winding through our burnt-out suburb and heading into the hills and farms and subdivisions. Every once in awhile the trees clear out and I see them, scattered up and down the gorgeous green hills: large houses, in various shades of brown, pristine and similar. Every once in awhile the thought creeps into my brain: there are enough people in this area to afford to live in these houses? Houses that cost upwards of half a million, 4 and 5 bedrooms, backyards and play structures, two car garages? How can there be so many people with money, I wonder, truly in awe. But it's obvious to me that this is true, although it does not speak to my reality. As soon as the questions appear in my heart I shrink back into myself. The layers of disbelief, judgement, sadness, isolation come and go in waves. I am starting to make peace with the idea that I might always be in culture shock, all the rest of my days.

In a book I am reading, the author discusses two stories which are placed side by side in the Scriptures, but which are often told separately. First, Jesus stands on top of a great green hillside, and he feeds the 5,000 people. And right after that, his disciples go out on the water and get caught up in a terrible, chaotic storm, where Jesus eventually meets them. The book said, we look at those two stories side by side, and we accept them as true. For every person sitting on a hill with Jesus, their every need met, there is another in the midst of a terrifying pitch-black storm. Both are real. And the sooner we accept the truth of where we are, the sooner we can accept the truth of where others live. 

This leaves me weepy with gratitude. It feels beyond my power to change my personality anymore. I am a stormy person. I am more Hamilton than Burr (I can't talk less or smile more). I am also drawn to other such persons—the hollow-eyed, the doubters, the single-minded activists, the outsider voices. And this is ok. This is my reality, and I accept it (even as I wish it weren’t so, as I wish it were all easier, more tidy, that I was more content). And already, by voicing this, I can see it starting in my heart: my indifference towards others is getting smaller. I can see us all coming from different places, I can see the beauty in a kingdom that thrives on vast and varied lives and perspectives. 

At least, that is what I am hoping for. Hello to being honest about where we are, whether in the storm or on that great, green hillside. 


The way I celebrate Lent is very non-denominational. It’s all over the map. It is for the messy and tired and for people who can’t parse out all the theological reasons for it. Some years I skip it altogether, and it’s great. But this year, I feel the prickling to actually do a few things. Like: I will not be mindlessly scrolling on my favorite social media spaces (Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook). I’m not going to check out any hot new book titles from the library. I will decrease the clutter of words and focus on a slow reading of my own bookshelves, choosing those books that nourish me. I hope to create some emotional margin in my life so I can start an ESL class/tutoring time in my apartment complex. I will be praying along with Common Prayer every morning (feel free to join me!). I want to start dreaming up ways for me to get outside the boxes I still continually build up for myself. 

But there is something else, something more amorphous, that I am feeling drawn towards this year. Pope Francis says we should give up our indifference for Lent this year, and I agree. And we all flounder in this area, no matter where we live—at least, I certainly do. Lately I have found myself surrounded by books and tv shows and churches where there seemed to be no sense of the struggle. The struggle against inequality, the struggle against complement consumerism, the struggle against a system that isn’t just broken but rather insidiously designed to elevate some at the expense of so many others. Any time someone mentioned a good gift from God I wanted to scream and cry in rage, my mind flooded with the thoughts of all of those who don’t receive that same thing. If you are blessed, does that mean they are cursed? I had lost it, all of my perspective—whatever that means. I had a bad week and my depression made me feel alone, drifting further and further into my own mind. 

But then I opened up this book in a coffee shop and I was sobbing before I knew it, especially when the author started talking about testimonies:

“Jesus fed me when I was hungry, we hear, and those who are hungry feel bereft. Jesus healed me when I was sick, say the healthy, and the burdened feel more burdened. Meditation cured me of depression, say some, and others make plans to hide the Prozac. Upon whom is the burden of words? I don’t know. I don’t think there is an answer. I cannot dampen gladness because it will burden the unglued. But I cannot proclaim gladness as a promise that will only shackle the already bound. Faith shadows some and it shelters others . . . Hello to what we do not know.”

And there it was, what I needed to say: hello to recognizing where we are.

Hello to the hard work of not becoming indifferent to all of those not in the exact same spot as ourselves. 


Today is Ash Wednesday and I will not have time nor be able to attend a service. I will not be marked by an ashy gray cross on my head, but this is OK for me. I grew up never celebrating this particular holiday, I would feel like an outsider amidst the language and the ritual, but perhaps in the future I will risk baring my ignorance and attend one all the same. I think about what I know of Ash Wednesday, how it begins: a bright green palm leaf, so exotic, so full of promise, waved around a sanctuary by joyous and un-scarred children. And then, that same leaf, a year later: dried out, burned, ground into ash, smeared onto the foreheads of murky, complicated souls on their way to the next trial to be overcome. 

I have been thinking how marked I have been by my life, by my friends, by all the very hard stories I heard last week, or last month, or last year. What a sorrow, what a privilege, to be scarred like this. To carry a reminder,  everywhere you go.  Always, always, hidden in your heart: the ashes of those lives around you which are hanging on by a thread. 


Lord, hear our prayers. 








a life lived fully

instead of contemplative year-end posts, i am likely to make wild decisions about social media usage. around december, the clamour of facebook, twitter, and the blog world starts to get to me. i crave books, edited words and thoughts, quite and contemplation, a re-set on my own frenzied mind. this year is no different.

last january i quite facebook (for a month), and it was good for me. in the past year i started both this blog and a twitter account, which has been fun and annoying, to be perfectly honest. i still don't know all the rules about these things. the crowd, it turns out, is a fickle thing. some of the posts that i liked the best hit the floor with a dull thud, while the ones i shot off rather ill-conceived and in haste got passed around like popcorn. i don't get it. and it has started to influence me.

in social-media-land, i tend to want to stick to the easy stuff. just like in my missionary life, i want to write only about the miracles in the support letters. or how when i am having a bad day, instead of praying "jesus be near" i would much rather tweet about how terrible someone else is.

but this kind of easy engagement doesn't work for me. because both doubt and faith, sin and redemption, miracles and tragedies are the realities of my days--i can't pick just one or the other. but for whatever reason, in our times nuance does not get rewarded. and i am a creature that is trained by praise just like everybody else.

i want to write about good and true and hard things: about the miracles of god at work in the world, the ways i fall short every day, and laments about the evils in the world. and if i am not writing about these things, then i get myopic, narcissistic, and shallow. in this regard i have seen how social media land has a large pull for me--immediate reactions and gratifications, allowing me to feel connected. which brings up another point: because the reality is i am starting to feel more and more disconnected, every day. in my not-online life i have experienced so much change and craziness in the past 12 months i feel like a champagne bottle ready to pop. but if you asked me how i am doing i would say "great" and leave it at that. if you asked again, i would say "well, you know, god has really revealed a lot to me in the past year. he's really working on me." if you gave me a stern look and asked one last time, you would probably have a sobbing mess on your hands, a broken girl who is alternately exhausted and exhilarated about life on the frontiers of the kingdom.

if you really asked, i would probably talk about seeing prostitution up-close for the first time, of learning to recognize the smell of crack, of the many times i have wondered "wait, should i be calling the cops right now?" i would probably talk about the amazing food, the ways people have risked everything just by extending me friendship, how happy walking the streets of my neighborhood (the most diverse one in america) makes me feel. i might talk about the boredom of being home alone in a new city with few friends and no family, with a two-year old that gets sick a lot, how i start to click re-fresh on my facebook so often it feels like a disease, how my life seems to be heading in different directions from most everyone i know. i might talk about co-ops and community gardens and esl classes and somali language classes and being the only white girl in an east-african parenting class. i might talk about the loneliness i have experienced, and how i am only now starting to realize that maybe christ is all i need, after all.

so there, now i told you. but i am still struggling with how much of my life needs to stay private, protecting the dignity of my neighbors and friends. how much of my writing is helpful for others, or is simply just a way of me processing my emotions? i have already started plaguing people in my mission organization to write more, because those kinds of books changed me. but i know why they hesitate, and i see how they are so busy living out the kingdom they don't have time to sit down and write about it. i see the need, and i see the pitfalls. just like my own writing life.

so for me, this new year is going to start looking differently. i feel strongly like i am supposed to write, just not necessarily for this blog. i feel the need to curb my reliance on instant gratification, and the desire to cultivate my own inner voice. i want to achieve excellence, which in this time and place means stepping back. i want to be able to process, freely, without holding back all the grit or the glory. while this is only for a season, i am excited about the possibilities.

this doesn't mean this is the end, of course. i am actually planning on doing a series about how we share the hard stories in our lives that aren't our own (look for more information on this coming soon--plus, i have some FABULOUS guest writers/artists!). i am looking forward to sharpening up whatever this space is meant to be.

but in the end, it all comes down to what i want to pursue in my life. excellence in writing, leaning away from the reactionary and towards nuance. a renewed focus on contemplating what it really means when i am bored, lonely, and fretful, instead of turning to social media for distraction and community. relying on my family, my neighbors, and christ to fulfill my needs of friendship and understanding, to know and be known. really, it can be summed up with a quote by thomas merton that my friend cate recently posted (on facebook, naturally):

"If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for."

merton is so right. and as i am slowly learning to identify those things which keep me in limbo, living in two worlds at once, not happy in either: i am excited. because if this year has taught me anything, it is this: the sooner i give up my life, the sooner the whole word opens up for me, my eyes finally able to see the miracles everywhere, hiding in plain sight.

so for this next year, it is all about cultivation: of my eyes, my ears, and my mouth. that i would taste the bitter and the sweet, see the beauty and the horror, and speak the truth of the kingdom. and for me, this means taking a step back from the thousands of voices which would seek to influence me, for good and for bad.



i'd like to know: how has social media changed your writing? what are the benefits/drawbacks of blogging/tweeting/posting on facebook? what things are you being called to give up in order to live your life fully?



ps: this stepping back has been some time coming (based on my own reflections/journaling/prayers), but was recently re-motivated by the reading of The Crowd, The Critic, and the Muse by M. Gungor. I highly recommend this book on art and creation and everything in between.

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