Tuesday, May 6, 2014

FAQ: Do you ever want to just move back to the suburbs?

That depends, do you mean besides at least once every single day? 

The last few weeks have been nothing short of a doozy. I get to a point on a fairly-close-to-weekly-basis where I think: this is it, I’m done. Adam, on the other hand, plods through even the roughest times with particular patience and grace that I can only hope might somehow rub off on me. Two become one right? But this week, Adam tucked himself into bed at 8pm one night. This is unheard of in the history of our marriage, so I knew things might be getting pretty close to crisis-mode. Inner-city ministry is not for the faint of heart, particularly when you’re surrounding yourself with always-hungry and often-grouchy teenagers who have been enmeshed in poverty for years upon years upon generations.
So with Adam reaching his DONE point, we locked our door, skipped out on church and pancake breakfast and the particular circus that Sunday mornings entail, and high-tailed it to his parents empty house in the suburbs (they’re at the beach, lucky them). While nothing including my children can be called relaxing necessarily, we did enjoy a Sunday afternoon surrounded by a particular brand of quiet that I don’t think we have experienced in a long time.

I lay on the screened-in-porch curled in a square of sun as it stretches slowly from one end of the rocking-couch to the other. Wrapped in the warmth of drowsy, the kids watch Frozen inside, and I alternately read chapters from Beautiful Ruins and close my eyes, ensconced in the Sunday afternoon sounds of the suburbs: mostly lawnmowers and birds chirping, peppered with an occasional dog barking.

Sunday night, we head to a dear friends’ house for dinner. It would just be nice, we tell them, for us to watch at least one life changed for Jesus. One kid who makes it out, whose heart blossoms transformed. Just one, for crying out loud, it doesn’t seem too much to ask.

Sometimes we feel more like vending machines or taxi drivers than dispensers of grace. We plod through the motions of intentional neighbors; dreaming, if not of the suburbs, than at least of moving to Africa or Indonesia. Because things here in America are too complicated, poverty entangles. And people judge the American poor just lazy, deserving. And sometimes, on a bad day, perhaps we agree.

Last spring break, Zack and I went to the holocaust museum in Washington, D.C. He actually, shockingly, had no idea about the holocaust, and so we walked through slow while throngs of people flowed around us. I was determined for him to be moved. Changed, just as I had been last time I stood before the piles of shoes and hair. Instead, I found myself lingering before a display I hadn’t noticed during my last visit. Canisters, unearthed from concentration camps, stuffed with sketches and poetry created surreptitiously by the inmates, then buried beneath ash and dirt. How, I wonder, could you create such beauty in the midst of such unimaginable suffering and pain? And why? Why the hell does a drawing or poem matter when all around you bodies pile and death calls loud?

But I have to believe it does.

I have to believe in the value of unearthing beauty even, or maybe especially, in the midst of unimaginable pain and loss. Of creating things that give life or that speak to the heart. Of finding the beauty in the most broken places and people. And so we chisel a life and our stories from a block that looks for everything like a lost cause, an immovable obstacle instead of a masterpiece. But we keep chiseling: slowly and carefully uncovering the beauty that already existed within.
But as I chisel, I grapple. We wrestle through the tension of holding onto hope without letting it become expectation. Of letting our hopes blossom and grow, without crafting expectations for changed lives or success, whatever that means. And somehow in this grappling, we stumble into the very grace we need to keep going. To believe that unearthing the Kingdom matters, regardless of how ugly and painful our surroundings get.

And so, when the boys drop out of school faster than we can even have conversations with them about it; when gangs beckon and girls offer their bodies and everything all feels entirely too broken: all I can do is remember there is beauty in the broken, waiting to be unearthed. I watch our boys play football against a backdrop of scarred land and abandoned buildings. And I find grace in the splendor of framing a different picture. One in which I have no answers or solutions. But I do have hope.
Sometimes, lately, I read some of my favorite friends words (particularly the ones who do life in neighborhoods like ours), and I find myself reading through teary eyes because I cannot figure out how they are so hopeful. I wonder if I will ever write, or live, hopeful again. Or if day-in-and-day-out, I will speak hard truths and paint hyper-realistic pictures of the way life looks for our kiddos. And I know that we need truth-tellers and those who paint with brush strokes of realism. People must know about the death tolls that rise. About neighbors who prostitute girls and teenagers who take their lives and poverty that entangles.

But I want desperately to live as one who scribbles hope. Who paints light and writes verses that remind of Truth and life. To create because I know that God has not forgotten His people. The Liberator will come. And until He does, we keep creating and finding beauty in broken places. Because it matters every single time.

So to actually answer your question, of course sometimes we think of giving it all up for something easier. Something that requires less of us. But we wont. Because as long as God has us where we are, we keep learning the glorious truth that finding beauty in brokenness means we get beauty too. When we choose to love and forgive and extend grace, we find Jesus. Not in ourselves or in our own goodness, but in those around us. In the darkest alleys and hardest hearts, we encounter Him. We just have to remember to look. To dig and slosh through the nasty and dirty until we find the poetry scribbled and long-since-buried. His Kingdom come.


  1. Yes and amen to all of this. If I weren't reading this at work during planning, i would probably be in a puddle of tears. So well-written and raw. Thank you for your honesty and your willingness to be the hands and feet of Jesus in places where others dare not tread.

    1. Thank you Jessica for your words and encouragement. Hope your day is good!

  2. "We must accept finite disappointment... But never lose Infinite Hope." Martin Luther King Jr.
    You are living a real life... you are showing us that it isn't a Lifetime movie -- It is hard and not always pretty. But what you and Adam are doing is very important work - showing God's love and grace by giving of yourselves. Thank you for being such an inspiration to us all.

    1. I love that quote so much! Thanks for sharing :-)

  3. Thank you. I'm a city dweller and I completely understand the need to get away and recharge. I love what you have written about hope.

  4. Yes, yes, and yes. The more I live, the more I realize that some days are hard. Some days are harder. You are painting hope, one stroke at a time ... one day, praying you will see the bigger painting you've been making. Keep on dispensing grace ... and keep on getting away to recoup and recharge. You are loved and prayed for!

  5. This weekend I was telling a friend all about my mad love for you and I said this: "I'm so thankful for her because she's always so much more hopeful than I am." KID YOU NOT.

    We're all in hard places right now. I don't know why. It could stay this way forever.
    But at least we have each other. This would be so much harder without you.

    1. you know you're my favorite right? :-)

  6. amy carmichael once wrote a book called; "things as they are". i think i read once that Hudson Taylor lived 7 years in china before a single person came to Christ. we're 5 years in and still waiting for just one person to have found freedom. and i never knew what a fight for hope it would be. i think about leaving all the time too. or at the least, if i could just 'serve the 'thems' instead of love 'my people'

    that's why i come here. because you tell things as they are. and i find hope. not pretend hope in AllTheAnswers, but real hope in the One who knows everything.

    1. Oh thank you for sharing that story and your own story too -- encouragement of not-being-alone . . . best help ever!

  7. This is achingly beautiful. I hear your weariness, and I want you to know that you are reaching so much farther than you know.


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