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 


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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11 thoughts on “you see flowers in these weeds

  1. Y says:

    I LOVE this post!!!!
    My salvation in this manifestation in my life has been seeing the earth through the ayes of the innocence of my children and their children.

  2. J.P. Bentley says:

    Great post, love the theme, and long live FIF.

  3. Matt says:

    FIF Christian Subculture ska points confirmed…

  4. Anne says:

    As I have been mulling over dental care choices we are not able to afford for our mk’s, I have been making very similar observations to yours. Certainly we are in this situation due to life choices we have made. However, I can’t get past the question- Why do I feel so certain my children deserve to have what so many other children live and die without. Thanks for starting this conversation, I am off to find a much-needed magnifying glass. And I, also, tip my hat to the FIF reference.

  5. oh my… my downward spiral has taken me to the rural south… and my kids are grown, so we have different worries. But I’m a mom, so the guilt still surfaces! Like… how all the (cheaper, easier) processed foods we’re eating are affecting our bodies, and if the real reason they don’t hang out here much is because I refuse to pay for entertainment like cable, satellite, internet, or home phone… It killed me when my son and I first moved out on our own and he lost weight, simply because my food budget was so darn small. *I* lost weight, but I needed to. He was (is) a growing 6’1″ teenager who needs calories!! But we started growing some of our own food this season. And I have plans to grow more! Part of my downward dream is self-sufficiency. For myself, my kids and their kids too. 🙂

  6. alissabc says:

    Thanks for this post. Since having a baby, I think about this a lot. Ideally, I would like for my son to eventually attend our local public schools, because I truly believe that the best way to help improve the education system in our community is for our family to be sincerely invested in the success of a local school. But is it fair to sacrifice his education on the altar of my ideals? I don’t know. Interested to hear more on this topic.

  7. i love hearing about your parenting journey. we also live in an industrial area with poor soil and air quality which I’ve tried not to think too much about … (we also live pretty close to a gorgeous beach so I can’t complain and there is always opportunity to find some fresh air). we have just started to benefit from socialized (free!!!) healthcare here which feels amazing after stressing so much about not having money to take our kids to the doctor, etc … my biggest questions right now are about used condoms on the sidewalk, exploited women on the corner and two “topless waitress” nights a week – one up the street and one directly across from our apartment …raising my son and daughter in a neighbourhood which is known for its very open objectification and abuse of women … wanting to raise kids that go further and are free-er than chris and i have been in regards to sexuality and power and gender and mutuality … thanks for sharing and asking the questions. looking forward to more posts on this subject! -b

  8. Marilyn says:

    Love this post! Working as a nurse in public health with underserved (read: poor and immigrant) communities I’ve done a lot of speaking, thinking, policy discussing on the social determinants of health which is basically everything you’ve identified in this post – (Only you do it so much better than the text books!) Have you ever seen the series “Is Inequality Making Us Sick?” I think you’d love it – basically our health has more to do with our zip code than our genetic code…but on to the bigger topic. When we moved from a designer house with designer paint to an apartment on the bottom floor with noisy neighbors upstairs and all of the good and the bad of the city I had older kids but still felt the “But what about the pool? And the nice friends? And the fancy prom” (oh yes I did and I’m so embarassed to say it) And then I remembered that my younger kids were raised in a small apartment in Cairo, with no yard, and lead paint, and one had asthma, and there weren’t even immunizations for our kids while there – and my heart swells with how big God is and how much greater than our our neighborhoods, and how much beauty and kindness is needed on these city streets – I love that you are teaching, seeing, reflecting and writing about this and can’t help but think how lucky your daughter is with her magnifying glass, and dandelions, and her mom.

  9. Jim Fisher says:

    There is something about this that I am unable to wrap words around. It’s related to the security and peace of knowing that as we always leave our doors unlocked (except at night), there is nothing here worth stealing. No jewelry, no entertainment center, no computers less than 5 years old, no silver, no gold. Our two cars are 14 and 11 years old and worth nothing. One of them sits idle in the driveway for nine months out of the year because I bike everywhere and I freely loan it out to whoever needs it. We have no boat, no cabin in the woods, no motor home, no mortgage. I work for a specialty grocer (Trader Joe’s), who I love, for $11 an hour instead of ten times that, like I used to.

    A random customer came through my checkout line today asking for prayers for her shoulder replacement surgery tomorrow.

    I can do that.

    Another single mom came through relating her struggles with repairs needed on the struts for her 1998 Cutlass. I referred her to my mechanic and called him to arrange to anonymously pay for whatever it costs to restore her vehicle to operating condition minus the $400 she has already saved up.

    I can do that.

    I don’t even know what her name is. And that paints a smile on my heart larger than I can imagine.


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