Wednesday, October 14, 2015

An Undivided Life

I pull up to the projects in my two door coupe, waving off offers of drugs and pulling around a pothole into a familiar parking spot. Kids pour out from doors and swarm my car before I can even get out. I laugh and push my sunglasses on top of my head, traipsing through the projects like a pied piper with a motley train of children following behind. I love the heady feeling of being sought-after. Of kids clambering onto my back and into my lap where my belly just starts to round with Jayci. Laundry flaps on the lines outside each doorway, and Adam picks up the shell casings he finds on the ground: kids shouldn't have to see this kind of stuff he insists, even as the parents laugh at our efforts.

A few months later, Jayci's birth flips our world upside down, of course, but really only a little. Because we pop her into a fancy stroller and bring her along. She sits on the expert hips of older sisters who have been caring for their siblings for years, or adam puts her in the hiking backpack and calls himself an urban adventurer. We laugh and cry and break up fights and teach the kids to swim, because can you even believe they've never learned? Jayci naps through the noise, and the boys stick her pacifier back in when we drive them all the way to Florida. They only complain a little at her incessant crying, and delight in torturing her as she learns to crawl and wails in frustration when they scoot toys just out of her reach.

We are earnest and zealous, anxious to save. Running "sidewalk sunday school," passing out flyers, riding the bus with the kids to church. We hand out Christmas toys in garbage bags marked by age and sex, chiding moms who try and sneak back in line. Jayci, meanwhile, toddles around our feet, begging for her own bag of gifts even though she has a tree brimming at home.

By the time Caden's birth really does flip everything upside down, we have moved into a house downtown. We have read about CCDA principles, know all about reconciliation and "best principles" for the kind of work we are doing. Finally, we think, we know how to do this right. We fling wide our doors, and this time the kids come to us. Our house whirrs with activity and when we go to the park someone asks us if we're the ones who run the free daycare. We laugh a little, and joke that perhaps we should start charging. I retreat to the bedroom with Caden and set up his feeding pump while he lays content, never quite getting hungry. Jayci sits and colors or does puzzles and we play games around the table with neighborhood kids, who all inevitably stay for dinner.

Jayci serves all the teenage boys pretend tea in tiny cups, and everyone holds Caden after strict hand-washing and careful navigation of his still-healing chest scar.

We are earnest and enthusiastic as we we walk around the block in the slanting sunset. The kids pick up trash, and we try our best to make everything reciprocal and mutual. Stay for dinner? Of course you can, but you better help with the dishes, I declare with a poke or a wink.

I volunteer at the schools in the neighborhood, while Adam stays home with our children. Then he runs games of frisbee at the park, while I push all of the kids on the swings, whether or not they belong to us.
Four years later, nearly to the day, Isaiah makes his entrance. We bask in finally having a newborn at home, while googling everything since I can't remember having a newborn seven years earlier in the slightest. Adam tells everyone Isaiah is our easy baby, and I laughingly knock on wood, while privately and illogically cursing him for jinxing me. I bounce a suddenly-fussy two month old and measure off time in three hour increments between nursing. Three more until Caden gets home from school. Then three more until Adam gets home from work. Isaiah loves to be held, and I let him cry for a few minutes at a time in a desperate attempt to get him to nap for more than fifteen minutes in his crib.

Adam runs the ministry, a growing thing with employees and program budgets and "measurable results." I stay home with the kids, while a changing neighborhood means a quieter house, a fact which I alternately enjoy and bemoan. Caden and I wash dishes together, and I fold laundry and fend off his over-enthusiastic love for Isaiah in fear of an imminent smothering or crushing. We drive carpool and Jayci goes to gymnastics, then sits at the table begging for a snack and TV show while I cajole her into doing her excessive amounts of first-grade homework instead.

We have events, weekly youth group and after-school programs. I stare at the three children swirling through the ever-evolving mess of our home: sure I could bring them along, I sigh to Adam, it just seems like a lot of work.

We move from serving and fixing and giving to receiving and being helped. I write thank you notes for baby gifts, wondering when I'll be able to get out the door to walk around the block and deliver them. We are earnest and cautious. When the phone rings with a 800 number, I ask Adam which of the boys might be in jail. We find out she's pregnant again, eighteen and on baby number two. At least she's eighteen I think in a flash, before wondering just how I have normalized some things so quickly.

How, I wonder, do we know more without believing less? Or perhaps we do believe less, find ourselves settling into more questions than answers. Because perhaps faith is finally an ability to believe less than we think we should. To know and enter into the darkness and still believe in light. I grasp for the elusive ability to live an undivided life. Where justice informs motherhood and my identity as a mother informs my view about poverty and peace and the world around me. I try to figure out, for all of us, how to grow and learn and change, without leaving behind earnestness and enthusiasm. How to relinquish my stranglehold on making a difference in favor of finding the kingdom in small ways every day. How to find what's true and real and live into that, undivided and small.

This is part of a 31 day series Finding the Pretty in the Gritty. Each day this month, I'll be writing on how I am finding pretty, even when things are gritty. Click here for a list of all the posts in the series. Or if you want to make sure you don't miss a day, feel free to subscribe (link on the right).


  1. I appreciate this post for so many reasons, but especially for this line: "How to relinquish my stranglehold on making a difference in favor of finding the kingdom in small ways every day." We are working to love our ever-changing neighborhood by being a part of it instead of just "the house that helps" or "the pastor's family" - and we are learning so much from what you share. Thank you! ~Steph

  2. I hope you write a book one day.


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