Category Archives: Babies

The Book That Changed Claire’s Life

I woke up to a world in disarray (to be honest, it has been all this time). I think this is as good as time as any to read a beautiful piece on The Giving Tree, a book that I to this day cannot read to my own small daughter without sobbing. I remember the first time I read it, at my grandparents house. Setting it back down on the shelf, 8 years old, I remember feeling immense sadness and gratitude, as well as thinking “well, that certainly wasn’t a KIDS book”. Claire (an amazing writer/editor who I have the pleasure of being in a IRL writing group with) brought me back with this piece. Feel free to leave a comment on your own Giving Tree story–I know there must be others out there!

 

 

 

 

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The Book That Changed My Life

by Claire DeBerg

 

This book did not change my life. This book transformed my life. The youngest of three, I would sit enrapt with my siblings as our father recited long passages of poetry to us each evening. I can’t remember if I was mesmerized by his remarkable ability to recite verse after verse after verse of poems he’d kept sealed in his heart his whole life or if I was caught up in the adventures of different poetry he shared, but having a father who was a writer and poet and pastor meant the mellow, oaky boom of his deep bass voice was calming and comforting and home.

My father loves language and wit, which is why the books of poetry by Shel Silverstein were such a critical part of our literary repertoire growing up. We three siblings would page through Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic giggling at the wild images enjoying how funny phrases would somersault in our heads plastering us to our beds imagining the wonders of the small worlds Shel created in perfect rhyme.

So when my father first settled me into bed to read me The Giving Tree for the first time I was confused by the lack of a rhyme in the first several pages. I interrupted the story to check out the cover—yes, there was the odd wonderful name “Shel Silverstein” scrawled on the cover as though he signed the book himself. Yes, there was the simple line drawing on the book cover—the comforting signature of his art. So convinced this was indeed a Shel Silverstein book, I let my father start from the beginning again with his deep, sweet voice touched with echoes of the southern drawl his grandparents had gifted him, “Once there was a tree…”

And I loved the beginning because I immediately identified with that little boy as most of my childhood was spent in the trees and woods on our property. Despite the lack of rhyme, I thought I knew why my dad had chosen this book…he was seeing how my tomboy shenanigans were aligned with this little boy. He knew how much I loved sitting in the deep sand pit next to our garden carving out tunnels, he knew how I protected the pussy willow from being stripped of her buds by the hands of the legions of boys traipsing around our neighborhood. I knew my father read me The Giving Tree because he saw me climb Jennifer’s Tree scaling it with grace and care and hugging Jennifer’s Tree before bed each night in the summer.

And then he read, “…the tree was often alone.” The “alone” was a balloon just slipping from my grip and there was a pause where my father let me watch it float away. And my tiny little eight-year-old heart splintered, deflating. I could never leave my tree unattended. But the story continued and became for me a warning tale because in the story, the years tumble forward and the tree remains a steadfast giver each time the boy returns as the unapologetic taker.

The Giving Tree can be read in about nine minutes or less and when my father first read it to me I was exhausted at the close having surged through all the emotions my childhood heart could manage: love, grief, hurt, anger, mania, hurt, love again, longing.

I cried by myself after my father left the room and switched off the light. I distinctly remember feeling as though I needed to choose which I would be: the boy or the tree. Would I give with utter abandon until I was used up? Would I always look forward to someone even if they used me? Would I be the boy—always clear about what I needed? Always wanting bigger and better?

I was afraid to page through it again and instead let it sit on my bedside table for a week. Only after that time could I manage to let the story break loose inside me once more until I was withered and teary all over again. The heartbreak of the story and the gruff author’s image on the back cover frightened me for years until eventually I moved out of my parents house at 16 to board at my art’s high school. As I considered the stack of books to bring with me to high school I held The Giving Tree in my hands but didn’t crack it open because just holding it transferred the simple power of the story so I tossed it away from me and it stayed shelved at my childhood home until I myself became the home to a child.

I was pregnant and so was the dog when I returned to my parent’s house as a 22 year-old. I’d gotten pregnant in a scary way and was entering a dark night of the soul trying to decide if I should keep the baby or place it for adoption. I considered the dog at my feet in the kitchen her belly full of seven puppies she’d nurse for several weeks and never see again and I tried to see this pregnancy as simple as that—just birth and give your puppy to someone else to raise.

There were lots of late nights that winter where my family and I sat around the kitchen table discussing the plight of my life: single, poor, pregnant, minority, jobless. Finding hope in the folds of a Minnesota winter with taglines like those trailing my every move was very bleak to say the least. And being newly pregnant I discovered insomnia so I dove headfirst into my parents’ library reading everything by Wendell Berry and working my way through Barbara Kingsolver and eventually Walt Whitman.

And then one night I found and read The Giving Tree and I cried and cried and cried for the boy and for my baby. I cried for myself and for the tree. Her ideas about life were subverted as the boy grew. Each of her welcomes were ignored.

I wanted my life and body back. I wanted to be happy like the tree and the little boy at the beginning, to keep life as it was where everyone in my family had a place and nothing was changing—each day there would be apple-picking and branch-swinging and hide-and-go-seek and then we’d do all over again the next day and be happy.

But my body was changing, that baby was growing and demanding I make choices and face truths and be honest. The boy was echoing what this baby was already saying into the core of my body—that they would love me and leave me, “And so the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away.” I just remember reading that and weeping softly in the room where I’d slept during my childhood. I considered my unsettled life and the reality of birthing a being that would cut down my trunk and sail away from me. I asked myself if I could allow such a thing, if I could permit the possibility of growing the heartless little boy and not the beautiful loving tree…I asked myself if I could manage the burden of choosing a person who might possibly be the taker of all of me.

I didn’t decide that night whether to keep the baby or not. But eight months later when I was sitting on my hospital bed with the beautiful little brown girl I had just met by pushing her into the light of the world…when I was sobbing and whispering to her my apologies and asking that little person for an ocean of forgiveness—I was reminded of The Giving Tree: the truth that it is quite possible to have a beautiful life and to choose to give

 

and give

 

and give

 

and give

 

and give

 

and give

 

and give away…

…and still be happy.

 

And I am happy. I am happy to live into a life where someday I can invite my sweet daughter to, “Come…sit down. Sit down and rest.”

 

 

 

Claire DeBerg headshotIf Claire DeBerg isn’t writing snappy copy for her commercial writing biz or managing content and timelines as editor of the magazine, Timbrel, for Mennonite Women USA, she is eating an ungodly amount of peanut butter right off the spoon, prepping for a modeling shoot, biking on a 1950s Schwinn Suburban with her pre-teen, playing a Chopin piano prelude, discussing the merits of the uncooperative chair with her toddler or trying to behave as much like Elaine Benes as is socially appropriate. She’s put over 3,500 miles on her legs after training for and running 7 marathons (including Boston!) but now she needs to put some miles on her fingers and finish writing her novel (for the love). She forever adores her sweet littles, Gloria and Harold and always her beautiful husband, Darren, and occasionally her hairy airedale, Velvet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other posts in the Book That Changed My Life series:

Night

Walking on Water

Jesus For President

With Daring Faith

East Of Eden

 

 

 

 

 

The Book That Changed Amy’s Life

Well, I will be straight with you: this one is a doozy. I SO identify with everything my good friend Amy writes here– missionary biographies were my JAM growing up. However, Amy highlights some pervasive lies we swallow in regards to vocation that have serious consequences for us all. As someone who devoured these types of books with fervor (and realizing how they have shaped me) I am so glad that Amy is working on a book-length project (!) that deals with all of these sorts of issues. I cannot wait to read it.

 

 

 

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The Book That Changed My Life

by Amy Peterson

 

 

 

 

This summer I’ve been re-reading the missionary biographies I devoured in childhood. Amy Carmichael was my favorite missionary, not only because we shared a name, but because she was as imaginative, daring, and heroic as Anne of Green Gables and Nancy Drew combined.  Amy Carmichael started a Bible study for “mill girls” on the margins of Irish society, traveling through neighborhoods considered unsuitable for proper young ladies. Eventually 500 girls attended her Bible studies.  In India, she snuck disguised into temples to rescue girl-children destined to be temple prostitutes.  She adopted the Indian way of dressing, assimilating at a time when few missionaries understood the importance of entering a new culture as a learner.  She wrote poetry. I loved her- her rebellion, her zeal, her heroism, her red hair, all of it.

But when I opened With Daring Faith: A Biography of Amy Carmichael this summer, to re-read it, my breath caught in my throat at the author’s dedication. It was to her daughter:

To Katherine Joy Davis

with the prayer that she will hear and

answer a call from the Lord

to a foreign mission field.

I tried to imagine praying that for my daughter, Rosie, when I put her to bed at night.  Wouldn’t hearing that prayer send a seed into the soil of her heart, implanting the idea that I believe (or even that God believes) that overseas missions work is the best thing you can do with your life? What kind of pressure might that put on a child?

 

 

I wondered if Katherine went.

***

Before I continue, there are some things you need to know.  Chief among them is that when I was twenty-two, I moved to Southeast Asia to “teach English.”  When I say that books like With Daring Faith changed my life, what I mean is this: when it came time for me to decide how to live an adult life, I could envision no more interesting, meaningful, or heroic work than missionary work overseas, and I blame that mostly on the books.

Sure, if you had asked me, I would have said that there was no division between “sacred” work and “secular” work — that working as a copyeditor at a publishing house could be just as meaningful and worthwhile as moving to a foreign land for God — but I didn’t really believe it.  How could I?  No one wrote biographies of copyeditors.  Accountants never snuck into temples. Housewives never changed the world.

Sermons that talked about living lives fully dedicated to God rarely held up sweeping the floor daily as an example of dedication.  They seldom lauded people who responded to emails punctually and thoughtfully.  They didn’t praise those who regularly attended conferences for professional development so that they could be up-to-date in their fields.

I wanted an extraordinary life, flush with spiritual vitality and adventure, fully committed to God.  I wanted to be the greatest.  And the only way I could see to find that life was by going overseas.

***

How does a child begin to believe that one way of life is more spiritual than another?

***

I read the dedication to the book, and I wondered about that daughter – Katherine. How old was she when she found those words?  What did they mean to her then? What do they mean to her now?

My daughter is five, and I’m not sure she knows what the word missionary means.  I ask her.

-Have you ever heard the word missionary?

-I think, maybe, once.

-Do you know what it means?

-No.

-A missionary is a person who goes to another country to tell people – people who have never heard about Jesus – to tell them about Jesus.

-Oh. {pause}.  Like, if Mae Mae and Papa didn’t know about Jesus, and we went to visit them and told them about Jesus?

 

 

 

 

Yeah, like that.

***

I confess: then I googled her.  I googled the author, and found her on Facebook.  Her daughter Katherine is married now, maybe a few years younger than I am.  She has an art degree and lives in Michigan with a husband and a baby.  There’s no sign that Katherine ever heard a call to foreign missions.

***

I’ve been wondering if I should put missionary biographies on the shelf for my daughter.  She’ll be old enough to read them in just a few years. Do I stack them next to Nancy Drew and Half Magic and A Wrinkle In Time, or keep them in my office?

***

I went overseas, running face-first towards what I thought was the will of God. I hit a wall of thorns, landing flat on my back, the God I thought I knew quite well wilting like a punctured balloon animal next to me. I went overseas looking for adventure and found tragedy. God was silent, and I spun into a dark night of the soul.

That’s why I’ve been re-reading these books from my childhood.  I had to know: did they leave the tragedy out when they wrote the stories for children?  Why had I expected adventure but not opposition, spiritual success but not sorrow?

Here’s what I found: the hardships are there, right there in the stories I read as a child.  Gladys Aylward leading a group of starving children through mountain passes. Elizabeth Elliot losing Jim. Eric Liddell dying in an internment camp, hardly having spent any of his adult life with his wife and children. The heartache was there, plain as day.  Why hadn’t I remembered it?

I hadn’t remembered it because missionary biographies shaped my imagination in my formative years, when I could understand heroism but had no framework for tragedy.  The intrigue and daring had stuck with me, but the losses and struggles had gone in one ear and out the other.  I had no way of comprehending them.

It’s like this: you read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth before you have your first baby, and you feel confident in your ability to give birth: you hear these stories about women strong and in touch with their bodies and their babies, and you think, I can do that, too.

Then you go into labor.

And when you read Ina May again after having given birth, you notice things that slipped right past you the first time.  Oh, in this story her labor lasted for thirty-six hours.  Oh, one woman said the pain was orgasmic, but another described it as the worst feeling of her life.

Before, your mind had attached to the successes, but now, when you read about the thirty-six hour labor, that detail doesn’t go in one ear and out the other.  Now, you know exactly what that feels like.

So should we encourage women to read Ina May before they give birth, knowing that they won’t really have the framework to understand the stories?  Should we encourage children to read missionary biographies?

I haven’t decided whether to put the books on the shelf for Rosie yet.  I still have time.

***

 

If I ever dedicate a book to my daughter, I’ll say this:

 

To Rosemary,

the beloved of God,

with the prayer that she will grasp how wide

and long

and high

and deep

is the love of Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Amy Peterson teaches ESL and works with the Ockenga Honors Scholars at Taylor University. Read more at her blog, or follow her on twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other posts in the Book That Changed My Life series:

Night

Walking on Water

Jesus For President

 

 

 

 

 

Women, Infants, Children

us, just trying to survive.

us, just trying to survive.

 

It’s been a rough few weeks on the internet. I have wanted to write about violence, #yesallwomen, abusers, rape apologetics, and #howoldwereyou; instead I wrote an essay about WIC.

 

Of course, it really isn’t about WIC (or Whole Foods for that matter). It’s really about a much bigger issue that creeps into my bones: how much I would like to forget about the most vulnerable. In my life, there have been a few times I have been confronted with this, and in the end it is better to face it than explain or medicate or wish it away. The world has always had a hierarchy that was very much at odds with the kingdom of God, and it still continues to do so. Every day I see the fruit of this, teaching English to women who were never allowed to step foot inside a classroom before–due to outright discrimination or due to the constraints of crushing poverty.

I suppose this piece comes out of a renewed sense of wondering how our family is going to grow and the frailties inherent in all of our options. I am also thinking about the meals my daughter eats at the park, all the children who come to get fed. I am thinking about my own #howoldwereyou story, which I would much rather forget. I am thinking about a God who is so relentlessly for the vulnerable that I feel nearly swallowed up in his love.

So it’s not really about WIC. But it is about the good news, for people who tend to not experience very much good in our current world.

 

 

Here’s the beginning of the piece:

 

Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. – Jeremiah 22:3

The other day, I walked into a Whole Foods to pick up a few items, my WIC vouchers in hand. I have the luxury of thinking carefully about my food purchases. My husband and I do not want to support the torture of animals, and we do want to put money back into the hands of our local economy. We try to eat more in-season, locally, organic, fair-trade. We still, however, sit somewhat close to the poverty line, and we have had to make a few sacrifices. Less meat, more beans. Rice and pasta to tide us over. Eating what is on sale, doing without non-essentials like alcohol or snack foods.

The WIC vouchers help too (especially in more expensive stores like Whole Foods). I wandered the aisles, looking at the beautifully stocked shelves, until I found a clerk at the back of the store. “Do you participate in the WIC program?” I asked. He had never heard of it before, but his female co-worker was sure that the store did. I didn’t see any of the tell-tale blue stickers placed under the proper cereal boxes or bags of dried beans, but I took her at her word. As I queued up to pay and saw the look of confusion on the cashier’s face (male, hipster glasses) when I handed over my voucher, my stomach started to sink. As the line piled up behind me I tried to explain what the WIC program was.

The boy was interested, but he had never heard of it. He called his manager and confirmed what I already knew. Whole Foods did not participate in the program. I left my small bag of groceries at the register and walked out the door, trying to keep my smile bright. I went home and e-mailed the customer service team, who responded to me within several days. “Unfortunately,” they wrote, “we cannot participate in the WIC program” due to conflicts with “quality” in regards to specific products such as infant formula. It was short, conciliatory, dismissive. It was clear that they did not need my business, nor the business of anyone who found themselves in need of a little assistance when feeding their children.

The e-mail brought me back into those harrowing first months of my daughter’s life: due to a vicious medical emergency, she was born nearly 2 months early and I was left without the ability to breastfeed her. I was sad and shaken up by my traumatic birth experience, grieving the loss of my ability to feed my own child. I remembered the price of formula, the staggering realization that it would cost us upwards of $150 a month. Due to both my medical emergency and the financial strain of losing work hours, WIC was a godsend in the area of feeding the baby. I had never felt more vulnerable in my life, both physically and financially.

In a flash, as I deleted the e-mail from Whole Foods, I was reminded of my vulnerabilities all over again. And I did not like it.

//

Go on over to Christ and Pop Culture to read the rest.

 

 

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the children are the first in line

An old favorite song of mine is “Fathom the 9-fruit Pie” by the Danielson Familie (one of the greatest bands in existence, no doubt, more for their content than the actual sound of their music). I have thought about these lyrics again and again in the past few years, ever since I became a parent (and a real adult) myself:

we’re marching in the nine-fruits pie
our yoke is mighty easy.
the children are the first in line
adults are always welcome.
when you got the log in eye you
talk and walk in nine-fruits pie
our Lord of the dance will call…
“time to eat, come and get it, time to eat.”
Love and Joy and Peace and Patience,
Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness,
Gentleness, and Self-Control,
time to eat, come and get it, time to eat.

and here, in the upside-down kingdom, i am amazed at how it is the children (and the child-like) who are the best at receiving the all the good gifts, who know how to accept the love of a very good Father in the midst of a very hard world. and on that note, i thought it would be a good idea to write a bit about the truest person i know, the one i spend an awful lot of my time with.

to my little glory, with love.

//

your hair is fine and shaggy and blonde; you don’t want me to cut your bangs yet you detest clips, so it hangs long in your eyes, and every so often you swipe them to the side dramatically. you wear polka dot dresses with striped leggings. you hate wearing socks, even though we live in one of the coldest places in America. you wear dirty Hello Kitty boots every day. it takes hours to get you out the door, you always seem surprised at the amount of layers it takes to get us ready for the outside world, you protest and wriggle and whine and sometimes throw yourself on the floor. you shall not be hurried.

i got you all natural wooden blocks, a doll made by refugee artisans, tasteful melissa and doug playsets. you play with none of it, never, unless i start to give things away.  you are an only child, wandering wherever i go. you want to help cook, you want to write something, you want me to close the computer and pay attention to you. you are the happiest when i am reading you books, books we have read a million times over, books where you know exactly what will happen, books that you could recite to yourself forwards and backwards, books that make you feel safe and secure in my lap, my arms around you, my eyes only for you.

you like to dance. you like music, are starting to branch out from the yo-gabba set and you can tell me who Lorde is, Sufjan, Macklemore, Gungor, FUN., Elizabeth Mitchel. you really hate it when i sing aloud, and you always have.

you love playing “english class” or “school”, you love it when i teach you any little old thing. i spend my mornings going over the ABCs with people who may or may not ever be able to remember them; i come home and you have somehow learned all the letters and their corresponding sounds without my even trying. you bang on the computer keys (just a minute, i’m working on something) you dump glue and glitter on cheap faded construction paper, you are serious about your little “journal” where you write down what you are thinking. and you are always, always thinking.

we go visiting in apartments and our friends always give you things, shower you with smiles and squeezes, plastic tiny mermaids who break the second we get them home, dirty plush Tweety birds that you instantaneously fall in love with. you soak up the affection, the foreign foods, the exotic music, the blaring PBS, the cans of fanta poured into glasses for you, the adults who crowd around and smile with every bite you take of their food, their culture, their life. you thrive in these places, just like i do.

you know people who don’t have money. you know little girls who don’t have any mama’s. you know gaggles of older women who adore you, you beg to come and visit my classes. you know our neighbors who are sick and hardly ever come out, you know which ones to run up to for hugs and those who seem to look right past you. you want everyone to be safe, to be in love with you, but you already know that’s not true. you stick tight to my legs, until you see a friend.

you don’t seem to notice the fights, the shouting, the lack of a yard, the small apartment. you do notice when mama is anxious (“did you forget that God is always with us?”) or when the cockroaches are getting bad again or how your name is not Mohammed. you are starting to comment on our skin color, on how some people’s apartments look different from ours, how some people have families and some people don’t. you are starting to ask about brothers and sisters. you are starting to cry more when we fly away from our beloved aunties and grandparents, you ache that we can’t all be together.

your emotional intelligence is sky high. the other day you told me you were concerned about me. why? i asked, amused. because you are so frustrated, you said, matter-of-factly. you are so frustrated, mama, because i can’t stop whining. girl, i thought to myself, you just get me. tonight, when i put you to bed, you asked me to never be firm or frustrated with you ever again. i said i was sorry for being frustrated, but that it probably will happen again in the future. can you forgive me? yes, you said, and i stroked your hair. i prayed over you, and then it was your turn to pray. you shouted into the air “happy christmas, Jesus!”, and then turned around to tell whisper to me “i just told Jesus happy Christmas”. i love you so much, my be-draggled, wicked-smart cherub, the only baby i have. i keep stroking your head until you finally tell me: mama, you have to go now.

 

 

and so i do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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you are the first in line

in the upside-down kingdom.

 

and

you are teaching me how to come and eat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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marriage is work

When I got engaged, my mom was worried about me. I was so stoic, chin up, accepting congratulations with a quiet dignity. No hysterics, fussiness, wild delusions of bliss for me, no. My mom took me aside and asked if I really, actually did want to be married. I was shocked. What sort of question was that? I knew I was supposed to marry this boy, no matter what. That was obvious. But did I want to?

Mom, I said, marriage is hard. Like, really hard. It’s a lot of work. It’s probably the most difficult thing I will ever do in my life.

I had no illusions of the lovey-dovey years: all I could see was two sinners, sharpening each other for all eternity. Romantic, right?

My mom nodded her head, a little smile creeping up her face. 

I got married, in love and grimly determined to roll up my sleeves at the enormous amount of work that a successful relationship takes.

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Six years in, and I am having the time of my life. We get to have adventures, snuggle, and make ridiculous jokes together. We share a common vision about God’s dream for the world, and we are trying to live it out together. We are best friends, tag-teamers, baby wrasslers, each other’s point of sanity and mirth.

We know the absolute worst and best parts of each other, and I wish I could go back 7 years and tell my serious little self: the good far outweighs the bad. 

 

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I have been surprised, in every way, just by how fun it has been to be married, to this one particular boy.

 

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Here’s to another year (and decades more) of fun, adventure, crazy-times, growth, silliness, and joy.

And to work that never, ever actually feels like work.

 

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Happy anniversary, dude.

 

 

 

 

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I’m a Downward Mobility Dropout–Guest Post by Stina KC

Stina and I are real-life friends (our babies are besties, too). We met at the little Mennonite church she talks about in this here essay, and I am so glad we did. Stina and I were recently talking about this Downward Mobility series, and I expressed my disappointment that there weren’t more posts about the struggle of it all. Oh, I can write about that, she said. And boy, can this girl write.

I’m grateful for her honesty, which is so hard to share in public. So often we just want to hear the stories of the out-and-out-successes. But I am drawn to the stories of hunger, of struggle, of inner conflict and even failure. Because there is a lot of “failure” in the upside-down kingdom, at least by empire standards. I am learning to make friends with it, however, one little day at a time. 

 

 

 

http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20130327/new-york-city/babywearing-101-classes-sprout-across-city

 

I’m a Downward Mobility Dropout

by Stina KC

 

 

When my daughter was born, we lived in the most diverse neighborhood in America. She learned to walk in the hallways of an apartment building filled with cooking smells from our East African neighbors. During that bleary first year of motherhood, I would pace the noisy streets outside our apartment building with my baby strapped to my chest, praying that the drone of cars and traffic would lull her to sleep. I would shield her little face from cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes as I walked by strangers on the street. People were often drunk at the bus stop one block away and prostitutes hung out at the corner when the daylight faded. I would keep walking, moving quickly to avoid contact with my neighbors.

//

My husband and I first moved to this neighborhood when we were recent Christian college graduates, young and idealistic about Jesus, Shane Claiborne’s “Ordinary Radicals,” and downward mobility. We didn’t make much with our AmeriCorps stipends and social service salaries, but we didn’t care. We shared duplexes with friends, saving money on rent to buy fixed gear bicycles and shop organic at the co-op. We belonged to a house church with other young misfits, going dumpster diving and holding clothing swaps. But even though we lived in the most diverse neighborhood in America, we didn’t really know anyone who wasn’t like us.

After our house church crumbled and our faith began its slow cynical drift, we started attending a small Mennonite church a few blocks away. On that first Sunday morning, a gray-haired man with kind eyes thanked us for coming and gave us a fair trade soup mix, a special gift for visitors. I knew we were home when, in our first hymn, we sang about becoming “midwives of justice.” During the sharing of prayers and concerns, a man asked for prayer for immigration reform. Another shared the news of South Sudan. I relaxed in my pew.

//

I listened to my voicemail message one evening in late October after putting my daughter to bed. Something about the lead test results. I should call this number, it’s urgent. I sat down at the kitchen table, hitting redial.

Someone answered: “Your daughter’s lead test came back elevated. Do you know how serious this could be for her development?” I didn’t know anything about lead. I googled it and a shot of fear like ice water raced through my body. Behavioral issues. Long term learning disabilities. Brain damage

As the man on the phone rattled off some tips for limiting exposure, I wrote manic notes on a discarded envelope. “What’s your address?” he asked. He looked it up on the city’s database. “Oh, yeah. You’re in a high impact area. You live at 2825 Park? I see cases of elevated lead at 2828 and 2830 and, wow, it’s all over the place. The blocks around you, too.”

The county sent over a woman with a smoker’s cough to test our floors and windows for lead dust. (“I love the fixtures in here,” she said. “We get to see so many old homes.”) We got the results a week later. Our bedroom window well, the same spot where our daughter loved to slap her hands while watching city buses and bike commuters, had lead levels of 38,700. Safe levels are below 400.

I thought about our neighbors on the third floor, the Ethiopian Pentecostals with two small children who hosted prayer meetings on Tuesday evenings, shoes in a pile outside their apartment door. I thought about the Mexican family who lived across the street in the house with the broken steps and abandoned toys in their yard. I wondered about the kids who get picked up at the bus stop on 28th and Columbus. Have they been tested? Do their parents know?

At first, my moral outrage fueled conversations about petitions and tenant rights and lawsuits. We could stay and fight. But then I started leaving the apartment for most of the day, camping out at my parents’ house so my daughter wouldn’t be tempted to play at the windows. Soon, we were apartment searching and then signing a lease and suddenly it wasn’t my problem anymore.

We moved two and half months later, in the middle of January. Our Mennonite church friends helped carry our craigslisted couch down icy steps and load it into a Ford pick-up. Three hours later we stood in our new apartment across town, surrounded by boxes and Rubbermaid totes from Target.

The next morning I took my daughter outside, her snowsuit zipped up to her chin. As I watched her toddle along the sidewalks, I thought about my old neighbors and their kids and the lead dust they were breathing. I never really knew them, only a handful of names in my memory, and we were gone now.

//

This story is painful to recount. I have felt guilty for leaving, for not fighting my landlord like the “midwives of justice” that my church sings about. I know it isn’t God’s will for my daughter to breathe in lead dust. I also know it isn’t God’s will for any child to breathe in lead dust, to live in poverty, to attend crappy schools.

Jesus’ call to downward mobility felt so obvious when I was in my early 20s. But over the years, I never put in the daily work of building mutual relationships with my neighbors and so, when the crisis came, it was easy to leave them behind. Now I panic that I am becoming one of those wishy-washy Christians I always belittled, their faiths flimsy and fearful. I worry that my faith is drifting, that if it isn’t radical and downwardly mobile it’s just ash in the wind.

Still, I return every Sunday to my old neighborhood for church. I smile at the corner stores and familiar graffiti murals from my car window. I keep showing up, singing the hymns, making small talk over coffee cake. I keep leaning into the body of Christ, this holy community of which I am one imperfect part. And I pray small short prayers, asking God for more faith, another opportunity. Asking God for courage and obedience and grace.

 

 

DSC01407Stina is living up the last year of her 20s by doing things that scare her, like writing for strangers on the internet. She is an angsty Anglican/Anabaptist hybrid who likes to use words like “intentionality” and “marginalized” in everyday conversations. Stina lives in the American heartland with her husband and daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For all posts in the Downward Mobility series, please click here.

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Accidental Simplicity : Guest Post by Micha Boyett

I met Micha through the community at A Deeper Church and I am so glad I did. She exudes grace in her writing (much more difficult than you might think in our current online climate). She is a bone-deep thinker, with the heart of a poet. When she said she had a few words cooking on the topic of downward mobility, I was thrilled. I identify with this piece on so many levels–just this past week I realized my child was fascinated by COWS IN A FIELD (eesh. we need to get out of the city more). But really, Micha teases out all those tiny transformations that are changing us all the time, in her usual lovely way. You can find her blog here and her twitter handle here

 

 

 

 Accidental Simplicity : Guest post by Micha Boyett

 

 

We lived in San Francisco for almost two years, from the time my oldest son was fifteen months old until he turned three. We did laundry in our building’s shared laundry space, sticking quarters in and moving our underwear before the neighbors did. We kept the stroller in our tiny hall closet and my husband’s bike in the hallway.

Raising a toddler in the city was doable. My son was young so he didn’t know the difference between his life of walking ten minutes to the park and his old life of stepping outside the back door to play in his own yard. He didn’t notice the scope of his closet-sized bedroom that hardly fit his crib or remember the big, sunny playroom in the house we left behind in the Philadelphia area. But I did. I remembered.

I loved a lot about living in the city for those almost-two years. I loved the energy. I loved the restaurants and the beauty of the bay, just blocks from home. I loved the mosaic of so many types of people and languages, all smashed into a few square miles.

I also loved our church. It was the sort of church that never assumed that every one in the pew on a Sunday morning was a believer. It was the sort of church that existed because the city forced it to exist. It had to engage doubters and pursue justice. For the first time in my adulthood, I felt understood at church. And I knew it would be rare to ever find a church like that outside of urban life.

But when it came to my toddler, who screamed at the sight of a fly, I felt guilty. I felt like I was stealing the outdoors from his life. I felt like he needed space to play and explore. He needed a yard, a house, an affordable pre-school. The price of living in San Francisco felt unsustainable. (How would we ever save money for our kids’ college?) I longed for something easier.

When we had the chance to get out, to move on to “normal” life, we took it. My husband started a new job for a company headquartered in the Bay Area, but opening an office in Texas. We moved to a smaller, more residential city, where we could afford to rent a three-bedroom house with a lovely backyard and a two-car garage. Our son got a bike with training wheels and a bug collecting science kit. We had friends over for dinner and sat outside under the stars to eat it. We sent our newly three-year-old to preschool for a third of what it would have cost us in San Francisco.

And we were happy. Life was easier. We had a wonderful year in that yard. I wore sundresses and grew tomatoes. We saved money and bought outdoor furniture.

Then, one year later, my husband’s company changed their plans, closed his group’s office in that city, and gave us eight weeks to move back to California. Just. Like. That.

His new office would be an hour south of San Francisco. It made sense that we could move back to the Bay Area, but this time settle near his office. After all, our son would be starting Kindergarten in one year, and the public schools in that area were top-notch. South of the city, the weather was always ten degrees warmer than chilly, foggy San Francisco. We could have a house, which, though it would be a million times more expensive than Texas, was more affordable than an apartment in the city.

The downside? That year in Texas, for all the sundress wearing, outdoor eating, and preschool bike riding, my husband and I had felt the lack of diversity in our lives. All our friends were white. Almost all our son’s friends were white. We missed the simplicity of walking to the grocery store and seeing the same people at the park everyday.

And I realized that though I often claimed to care about pursuing justice for the oppressed, though I often talked about diversity and buying my food and clothes in an aware, compassionate way, it was so much harder to do so in my “easier” life. I had so much space in my closets, just begging to be filled. I had a Target two minutes away full of pretty gadgets that I was sure I really needed. I struggled to practice what I claimed to believe.

Somehow, after those eight weeks of praying and searching for a plan, my husband and I found ourselves downsizing to an apartment in the city, this time with our two kids. It wasn’t because we were super spiritual or even because we were set on taking steps toward living more simply. It really came down to community. We chose the city because we loved our church, because we loved our friends there. We chose San Francisco because we wanted to live among people who inspired us to do more than use the city for our own benefit. We wanted to engage the city for the sake of a holistic gospel: to make the public school system stronger from the inside, to participate in the art and food culture and all the searching souls within it, to strive for justice among the neglected and disenfranchised, to walk among both the poor of the city and the intellectually elite.

*

This first year back in San Francisco, I’ve wondered, What are we doing here? I’m raising two boys in an apartment, even though I know we could spend the same on a big house in another part of the country. I drive as little as possible (parking is difficult) and when I do, I cram my car in the world’s tiniest garage. (I’ve scraped it about forty-five times in the past ten months.) I’ve had to simplify my wardrobe and keep it simple. (My petite closet demands so.) Fog or sunshine, I’m forced to get my kids to the park in order to burn off their energy (and then forced to get to know the people around me on that playground, doing the same thing). My son has Korean friends and Chinese friends and Jewish friends and he and I have had a lot of conversations about race and beliefs. I live above neighbors who don’t have kids, who don’t like noise, and I have cried tears over our situation with them, but I’ve also been forced to have compassion for them, respect them, and work towards peace with them. In other words, this city is refining me. Challenging me. And in some ways, accidentally turning me radical.

And also? My kid still hates bugs, even after that year with a yard.

Yes, my husband commutes an hour to work. Yes, I’m not thrilled with the school where my son is starting Kindergarten.  But, I’m confronted daily with severe beauty and severe brokenness. In the city, I can’t pretend that the world is a simple place. I can’t pretend that we don’t need God.

It’s refining me. But it’s not refining me alone. I’m surrounded by friends who remind me that living in the city with kids is not only possible, it’s good.

Did I choose Downward Mobility? No. I think it chose me. I chose the yard and the two-car garage and the pleasant life on our cul-de-sac. God placed me in the Inner Richmond, where the fog hits first before it rolls into the rest of the city. And I’m beginning to find the fog beautiful, like every other difficult thing about living in this city.

What I’m saying is sometimes you fight against the downward motion of simplicity. Sometimes you fight how it hurts you until you realize that it’s been healing you all along.

 

 

 

ImageMicha (pronounced MY-cah) Boyett is a youth minister turned stay at home mom trying to make sense of vocation and season and place in the midst of her third cross-country move in three years. On a slow journey of learning prayer with eyes open and arms deep in sticky dishes, she blogs at Patheos about motherhood, monasticism, and the sacred in the everyday. Her forthcoming memoir will be released in 2014 from Worthy Publishing. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and two sons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the first post in the Downward Mobility series, click here.

For all posts, click here.

 

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Where Do We Draw the Lines? Guest Post by Abby Norman

Abby is the real deal. She has done the inner-city teacher thing. She is a mom. She has her feet in several different worlds, and I am so grateful for the perspective she gives to these conversations. Kids and schools are a difficult topic, but Abby comes at it full force. I love her brave, love-filled voice (and can’t wait to read that book she is writing). 

 

 

Where do we draw the lines?

by Abby Norman

Last year in Atlanta, the most prestigious middle school needed to be redistricted. It was overflowing with kids while the next closest school was half empty. One of the largest neighborhoods, which pushed the school to overflowing, was actually closer to the half-empty school. It was a no brainer –except it wasn’t. The overflowing neighborhood was also one of the most affluent. Many of the parents had moved into that neighborhood before their thirteen and fourteen year olds were even born because it was districted for the prestigious middle school. Those lines would not be redrawn without a fight.

The parents from the affluent neighborhood took it upon themselves to draw their own lines. Curved and zig-zagged, these lines kept the same number of kids at each school, but managed to put all the richer (and mostly white) kids in the already prestigious school, and move all the poorer, (mostly black) kids into the school with the bad reputation. When the school-board pointed out that these lines caused kids within walking distance of one schools to be bussed to the other school, the parents feigned shock.

Things got ugly from there. The local news was called, signs posted in the front yard, Facebook statuses and tweets were posted all proclaiming the need to protect our kids! Protect our future! We’ve invested in this school and we deserve to stay here!

The solution that the parents wanted simply made no sense, but re-districting the affluent neighborhood would likely cost time and money as the affluent parents were threatening to get an injunction against moving the lines. Plus, a school board seat is an elected position and pissing off your mostly likely voters is in general a bad idea. So, the school board shut down the half empty school, erected portable classrooms in the parking lot of the already overcrowded school, and bussed everyone to the prestigious building. It was a solution where the most affluent get what they want and no problems are actually solved. Welcome to education in America.

Often, people who are down with downward mobility draw the line at the education of their children. Hanging out with homeless people, mingling with immigrants, all of that is fine. But going to the neighborhood school? Sorry–Kindergarten marks the moment people go screaming for the suburbs.

Who can blame them? Shouldn’t we want what is best for our children? Of course we do. But best, in the conversation about schools often means the least amount of poor people problems. It does not take into consideration the value of a racially and socioeconomically diverse social group.

The situation with these two Atlanta middle schools was particularly heartbreaking because there was a viable option. If the parents of the kids from the large affluent neighborhood had moved to the new school, it would have been just as good in a matter of months. The brand new PTA would have made sure of that. This solution would have taken some investment, it would have taken some summer time, but no more time and energy than the campaign to keep their children out of the school in the first place. In order for this solution to work, the affluent parents had to believe in it.

This behavior is not unique. When it comes to loving our neighbor, the buck stops at the classroom. We feel we have to protect our children, even at the expense of our neighbor’s kid. We have to protect our kids from the conditions we readily accept for other children. The redistricting battles are never about making all the schools good. They are about who gets stuck with the bad school, and how it sure won’t be me and my kid.

But you have to draw the line somewhere! Isn’t that always the cry? And you do, I suppose, at least as far a school districting is concerned. My concern is the way we draw those lines. Are we drawing the lines out of fear? Are we drawing those lines to keep what we have to ourselves and those with less, out? Or are we drawing those lines after carefully considering what is best for everyone in the city? The lines need to be drawn only after looking into the faces of our neighbors and prayerfully considering how to love their children.

I suppose all of this is easy for me to write right now. With my oldest only three-years-old, school decisions are two solid years away and there is a lot up in the air. I have my eye on a charter school for the arts and the public elementary school. There is a rumor the rich district next door is looking to incorporate. This would mean amazing schools, but also my neighbors being pushed out of their homes by sky-high property taxes. Clearly, it is complicated.

The less affluent parents in my neighborhood are going to send their kid to the local school. They don’t have a choice; the busses don’t run to charter schools and public schools out of district. Parents with the ability to drive their kid to school are choosing very carefully and they get their information almost exclusively from other parents. Perfectly serviceable schools are branded as “bad” and none of the parents who have other options send their kids there. Thus, the school loses its PTA and volunteer parents, and all the other privileges that come with servicing a more affluent population. School boards, local businesses, parents, no one wants to invest in a school with a bad reputation.

I live in a pocket of the city that is in one school district and less than two miles away from two others. In conversation with a mom at the gym I mentioned what district my house is zoned for. She immediately told me the entire district was terrible. She would highly recommend that I not send my kids to any of the more than 100 schools in my district. All of them were horrible, none of them were good. I am sure she was just repeating what she heard. But what she heard and said is damaging, and a lie.

If we do decide the local elementary school isn’t the best choice for us, I am going to make sure that is all that I volunteer if asked about my decision. “It wasn’t the right choice for my girls.” If I wouldn’t say it in front of a teacher who works there, I will not say it about that school. I will recognize my ability to navigate the educational system for what it is, a privilege that most people don’t have.

Like much of the decisions in life, I don’t know that the Bible spells out any one right answer, but I do know there are wrong ways to go about making those decisions. Here are a few things we can do when thinking about education and our kids:

 

Pray about it

Consider how it affects your neighbor

Don’t spread rumors

Recognize your own privilege

Respect others decisions

 

As Christians, we should be drawing lines with a deep-seated belief that there is enough to go around. We should be invested in a positive outcome for all. Loving our neighbors as ourselves should extend to our neighboring schools.

DSC_0529Abby lives and loves in the city of Atlanta. She has two hilarious children and a husband that doubles as her copy editor and biggest fan. If two in diapers and a full-time job teaching English at a local high school don’t keep her busy, you can find her blogging at accidentaldevotional. Abby loves all kinds of Girl Scout cookies, and carries a dream of one day writing a book about teaching in her heart

 

 

 

 

 

For more posts in the Downward Mobility series, click here.

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Kids on the Block

Craig Greenfield knows a thing or two about kids and downward mobility. He recently shared this video with me via twitter and it made me sob my ever-loving guts out. We find ourselves in a similar situation to Craig and his family–surrounded by a shocking amount of single people, most of them mired in both economic and relational poverty. Watching this video was a transforming experience–within a moment, I saw how I had been missing all the blessings that were right in front of my eyes.  Two days after I saw this video, a neighbor asked my husband if he could come over for dinner. “You guys are the only family I know,” he said, and he offered to bring over some shrimp. God’s party is so good, I can’t even handle it.

Do me a solid and stop what you are doing for the next 20 minutes. Watch this video, and be amazed at the beauty of mutuality and vulnerability, of the spaces made available for everyone to come to the table. And then read Craig’s words, born out of both experience and passion, but which are written out of a true spirit of joy. He writes like he forgot how to grow up, which makes his view of Jesus that much clearer.

Kids on the Block from Veritas Media Productions on Vimeo.

 

Taking a child, Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

My daughter is a princess and my son is a prince. They dare to walk where the wild things are. Where police and upright citizens and people with nice shoes fear to tread.

Prince Jay, nine years old, carries a scepter – the fallen limb of a tree that still sprouts green. Princess Micky, seven and a half, is a big girl now. She wears a crown made of purple cardboard, stapled into a circle and thrust upon her knotty hair.

The Prince and Princess parade down the street, each in proud possession of one of daddy’s hands. They are almost oblivious to their subjects, the street vendors and addicts of East Hastings Street. The children hold court with tales of tomorrow’s spelling test and their class photo shoot.

Their subjects huddle in doorways and hunch in shop-fronts. They search in vain for a healthy vein. They crouch in corners and solicit the scorners. Crack, Rock, Up, Down, T3s and Oxy – whatever you need. Whatever you want.

But something happens as royalty sweeps into view. A scarred woman looks up and smiles. The forgotten princess within her reaches out to the princess passing by.

A harried man turns his head. He straightens up, suddenly more regal, an important announcement to make. The call is made, “Kids on the Block!” It echoes down the street, and town criers take up the call, “Kids on the Block!”

Needles are hidden and crack pipes are palmed. Deals are forgotten, suppressed till the Prince and Princess pass. A scuffle breaks out and then disperses. For the moment, swearing is banned. Those who dare to transgress the unwritten law of the jungle are scolded: “Shut the fuck up man. Can’t you see there’s KIDS on the block?”

Surely the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. The Prince and Princess of East Hastings Street.

//

My children have lived all their life in slums and inner cities – from Asian mega cities to the notorious Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, BC. Occasionally people pluck up the courage to verbalize their unspoken thoughts: “Is it a good idea to bring up your kids in some of the world’s worst neighborhoods?”

Some folks suggest that we must be putting our ministry before the welfare of our children. It’s an issue Nay and I have thought long and hard about, examining our motives and grappling with scripture. Of course we love our kids and we want the very best for them. But ultimately, we want them to grow up in a family where God comes first – before comfort, before affluence and even if necessary, before safety.

There was a time in the past when certain missionaries did go too far in exposing their families to danger and suffering. But now I believe we have swung back to the other extreme where for some of us, our children have become idols.

The Israelites faced this same question of allegiance and they used the safety of their children as an excuse not to obey God and enter the Promised land (Numbers 14:3). The result was 40 years in the wrong place (a safer place perhaps, but nevertheless the wrong place) and it was their children who ultimately entered the promised land anyway. But sadly without their parents.

We have learnt that as we trust God with our family we will begin to see him at work, not only in our neighborhoods, but in our own lives and the lives of our children. So here are just three of the many ways we have seen our kids blessed from living in impoverished neighborhoods:

  1. They are learning that God loves the people at the bottom of the heap.

I remember the day I met Leanne* shivering and homeless outside our church and she ended up staying with us for a while. I had to smile when, not long after she walked through our door, the kids climbed onto her lap and thrust a book into her weary face, “Can you read us a book Leanne?” You could almost see the healing taking place right before our eyes as Leanne was treated like a normal person for the first time in ages. My children treat everyone who comes into our home with the same mixture of childish impertinence and feistiness, whether they are dirty and homeless or cultured and well off (James 2:2-5).

A friend who struggled with mental illness once told me, “Never forget: everybody matters. Everybody matters, not just some people.” And I have tried to pass this beautiful piece of wisdom on to my kids, because it’s at the heart of what the Kingdom of God is all about. We try to show them by example that Jesus preached an upside-down kingdom where people others write off as worthless, have great value.

  1. They are learning the real effects of drugs and alcohol.

Why is that man lying on the ground shaking like that Daddy?” my son asked me one day. I told him the truth about the poisons that had ravaged that man’s body and mind. We don’t bother to hide most of the realities of this sad place from them. Instead we see them as a helpful life lesson.

So, rather than growing up watching the subtle endorsement of drug and alcohol abuse by celebrities on TV, my kids are learning about the real effects of drugs from our friends on the streets here, whose lives are being ravaged by drugs before our eyes. As a consequence, they harbor no illusions that drugs are fun or safe to use. Not quite the message you get growing up on a steady diet of celebrity “heroes” Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan and their jaunts in and out of prison and rehab.

  1. They are learning that the poor have something to offer.

One day a homeless woman rushed up to me as I pushed my daughter in her stroller. “These are for your daughter,” she grinned and thrust a pair of slightly used sandals into my hands. “Sank yoooou,” my then two-year old smiled up at her. My kids are growing up seeing that people marginalized by society have something beautiful to offer in God’s kingdom. They see everyone pitching in to make a community meal, they see our friend who has been on and off the street fixing our car or installing lights or working on a building project with us. They see them for who they are – not recipients of charity, but friends and family with gifts and passions and faults and struggles.

Jesus brought our attention time and time again to the poorest folks who gave so much. To Jesus they were not beneficiaries or clients. He went out of his way to make certain that we would take notice of the widow and her two mites, the prostituted woman with her bottle of perfume and the little boy with his fish sandwiches. These poor folks are stars in the gospels, examples of people of faith and generosity. Living here, we have plenty of opportunity to teach our kids those same lessons, rather than reinforce the idea that we, the rich, have everything together.

There are more blessings too numerous to mention, as well as new and different challenges. Our dream is that our kids will grow up to love and serve this Jesus who loved the poor and the marginalized.

We hope they will learn that life is not all about comfort and success as portrayed by the media. But rather about significance and love. They are surrounded by people who love and watch out for them, including other members of our missional community and neighbors who struggle with poverty and other challenges, but still find it within themselves to care for our kids.

And for any child, there could be no better place to grow up than in the midst of love.

_MG_6827 Craig Greenfield is the founder of Alongsiders International – a movement to reach the developing world’s most vulnerable children (www.facebook.com/alongsiders and www.alongsiders.org). He is the author of The Urban Halo: a story of hope for orphans of the poor and he was a part of establishing the Servants Vancouver intentional community in inner city Vancouver, BC. Craig and his family are currently in a Cambodian slum in Phnom Penh (where they previously lived for 6 years). You can find Craig on twitter here.

For more information on the Downward Mobility series, click here.

For the rest of the posts in the series, click here.

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you see flowers in these weeds

One of the aspects of downward mobility that hits hard is the kid issue. It comes slowly to me because this is my first child and we are figuring everything out together. She is going to be three this summer, and now suddenly she has legs that want to explore, a mind that is never quiet, hair that blows about in the breeze. But we live in a basement apartment, with not a blade of grass to call our own. On good days, when it is sunny and I have the energy and my daughter is in the mood, we walk to the parks that are closest to us and bask in the solidarity of just needing a break after that long, hard winter. On the good days, I am grateful for everything–the urban experiences, the color and verve, the lack of uniformity of any kind, the sheer amount of people walking and talking and screaming and loving and hating life. My daughter is living out the childhood I always thought so exotic, the ones I learned about on Sesame Street. She is an inner-city kid, with all the good and bad that comes along with that.

So we learn slowly, both about what is so good and what is rather hard about choosing smaller, crowded spaces. We have been learning lately about the very air we breathe, and how it affects not only my own daughter, but the babies of everyone who lives in a similar situation to us. We live surrounded by 3 (yes, 3) freeways, connected to the downtown and east and west sides by a series of bridges. This means my daughter is at risk for developing childhood asthma. Poverty is a huge indicator for a number of diseases, which I always knew but was a safe and distant fact. Now it is near to me, the visions of labored breathing, cloudy lungs, a confined life. Friends of ours, doctors who are choosing their own path of downward mobility, told us about the research and showed us the air filter they bought for their own apartment.

I know we are lucky that we even have the access to this kind of knowledge, research, and appropriate medical responses. But the larger issue for me is that this is just one of the thousands of questions that run through my mind. I always start in my small, concentric circles: what does this mean for my daughter? What if my choices give my child asthma?  Then, after a day or two, the circles start to widen: what does this mean for the other children in my neighborhood? How do those parents feel about the effects their environment has on their health? What about the children that live around the world in much more toxic environments? Then, the practicalities start, whirring incessantly  Should I buy an air filter? Where can I get one second-hand? Will it really work? Can my neighbors afford air filters? And on and on it goes, about any matter of subjects.

I suppose I think that at one time I didn’t have to ask so many questions, and a part of me misses that.  But through this process of learning and growing and looking down, down, down, I have been forced to confront one of the biggest lies we all believe: the illusion that we are in control of our lives. I have been shocked by how pursuing a life lived in simplicity and mutuality with my neighbors has made this apparent. I have given up a few physical things, yes: a yard, a porch, an apartment far away from pollution. But I have been asked to give up so much more of myself, of how I think things should be and go. And in return I am learning about the Father heart of God, how he sees all these questions and even more, and how his answer is always love.

 

So when we have hard days, when the guilt and fear lay it on rather thick, my daughter and I go to the thrift store and buy a magnifying glass. Because even in the miles of pavement, dandelions find their way through the cracks. And my daughter has a world to explore, to marvel at, and to be at home in. I am learning to do likewise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you to all who have submitted ideas for posts–I am still interested in hearing stories/tips/questions from people in a variety of situations and lifestyles in connection with the theme of downward mobility (see first post here). If you want to join the conversation please e-mail me at dlmmcsweeneys@gmail.com. 

 

Later this week, I will have an amazing guest post on kids and downward mobility. I you are anything like me, it will make you cry big fat tears at how wonderful the kingdom of God is, how there is a place for all of us. Especially the babies. 

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