I am delighted to say I get to date my best friend. I am also delighted to say that we celebrate one another every day. We will celebrate one another today. Just like we did yesterday and just like we will tomorrow. But hallmark, we don’t need you. I refuse to play a part in the american consumerism that I so desperately hate. I reject the notion that I have to buy a certain thing, say a certain word, act a certain way to show my affection and my appreciation for the amazing man in my life. I look forward to celebrating real events that we have shared together and will share together…but February 14th has absolutely no innate significance to me or to him or to us. I reject the notion of valentine’s day being the day of truth - where I must prove to the world how I feel about my man. This does not mean I am a hater of love, nor one who despises tradition or celebration…but it excites me more to be able to make my own path with my best friend.
In preparation for my return to Anapra, Mexico (the place where my Jesus began to tug on my heart) in three days, I have a few prayers and expectations of the trip as a whole:
1) the chance to love my south street brothers & sisters
2) reconnecting myself with spanish & my love of the hispanic culture and people
3) humility, selflessness and willingness to embrace discomfort (in any form) for Jesus to get glory & be seen through me
4) the ability to apply this experience to the ways in which i will continue to serve upon returning to akron…not just a spiritual ‘experience’ or ‘high’
5) the chance to apply some of what i’ve learned from ‘When Helping Hurts’ by ‘embracing our mutual brokenness’ - that is, recognizing my brokenness
6) to continue to learn and apply proverbs 31 principles to my actions (& heart)!
- v20. ‘she opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy’
-v25. ‘she is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. she speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue’
-v30. ‘charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised’
^ these are my prayers.
This phrase seems to sum up my relocation to the urban, inner city neighborhood where I now reside (it ^ also happens to be a fantastic book by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon). My life has shifted from an extremely self-centered existence in a residence hall on the University of Akron’s campus to, at least a push in the direction of community living, living simple[r]. I had felt a tug on my heart to relocate to an area in South Akron and after months of praying and debating, myself and two girl friends of mine moved into a house and began to seek out what it looks like to love one’s neighbors. Pathak and Runyon explain it quite well: “The command to love our neighbors lies at the core of God’s plan for our lives, and when we follow this mandate, it changes everything. The journey begins when we choose a lifestyle of conversation and community over a lifestyle of busyness and accumulation. It’s about making room for life and choosing to befriend those God has placed around us”.
Not ironically so, when I prayed that God would make those opportunities available, he showed up in a crazy awesome way. To summarize my street, on one end you will find three single suite apartment buildings - two of which seem to bring the attention of Akron Police fairly frequently. On the other end is another apartment complex that mostly families seem to live in. Both ends of the street though seem to attract some shady folk, at times, as a drive-in and a couple of corner stores are located not far down the road. The street parallel to mine is stereotypically much worse, crime wise. In the middle of these extremes, however, one can find a mixture of families and retirees who have either lived in the neighborhood forever and are invested in ensuring that the neighborhood stays “good”. There are even some younger couples who have recently moved in, and are more invested in the well being of the neighborhood than the people who have lived here forever. I love the dynamic of my street.
In the past three and a half months, I have been blown away by the ease in which relationships have begun to be built among my neighbors. Perhaps it has helped that I have positioned myself in a way that welcomes and invites relationships with those living around me, but I am also confident that my trust in the Lord as I’ve asked him for things has allowed him to give and be glorified in his doing so. Here’s just a few examples of what my relationships with my neighbors look like: the man next door lost his brother (and roommate) to illness the second week we moved in. My roommates and I took him cookies. We chat with him at least once a week for at least an hour about what he trades at ‘picker’ trades. I’ve been able to talk about family stuff with him, and even pray together. When we forgot to take out our trash, he took it out for us the night before, and brought it back in once the trash man picked it up. Our neighbor across the street, who knows we are involved in our church (and of whom follows a very different religion) lets us know whenever there is unusual behavior in the neighborhood and on our street. She watches out for us like no neighbor I have ever known in my life. If at two a.m. she hears her dogs barking, she’ll check outside and watch our house to ensure that we are safe.
This type of care from neighbors are a first for me. I am continually aware that this care is established only with relationships. So I’m confident that if I keep asking for opportunities to relate and be in relationship, it will be given.
In Galatians 5:14 the apostle Paul says it most succinctly: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” (The Art of Neighboring)
Could it be that simple?
And again: “Jesus never says to the poor, ‘Come find the church,’ but he says to those of us in the church, ‘Go into the world and find the poor, hungry, homeless, imprisoned,’ Jesus in his disguises.” (The Irresistible Revolution)
Hmmm. What would happen if we actually followed the commands of Jesus? I’m convinced it wouldn’t, and won’t ever be easy. But it’s what he commands us to do.
This journey is obviously new to me, and I’m not going to pretend that I have it all figured out. But what I have seen and what I have experienced has given me both an insight and a burden to live more intentionally in pursuit of a life that Jesus calls me to. I have found an overwhelming burden and passion to do just that: what Jesus calls me to.
If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. (Isaiah 58:10)
Finally, I recently read this quote that has just pumped me up in the areas I feel God calling me, which also happen to overwhelm me at times - but I believe this is right, true, and good (never easy). “If you’re not daring to believe God for the impossible, you’re sleeping through some of the best parts of your Christian life. And further still:if the size of your vision for your life isn’t intimidating to you, there’s a good chance it’s insulting to God”. (Sun Stand Still)
Six weeks ago, I moved three miles south of campus. Emerling Avenue is the name of my street in the ‘hybrid’ as I’m going to call it. My new home is what I’m going to describe half-hood, half urban-suburban. Throughout this next year, I hope to gain a deeper understanding of the actual city I’ve been ‘utilizing’ to provide me with my education for the past three and a half years. I hope to learn to love my neighbors, love my friends, and love the people who might look, act, and speak different than me. I am here to be intentional, and the last thing I want is for a year to go by and not have lived with intention.
Two summers ago, I was located in the hills of Virginia, living to repair low-income families homes in Appalachia. God taught me a lot, but mostly that I need Him to be effective. What I took away from the summer? Exhaustion. Not because the labor was hard (which it was) but because getting the job done required me to sacrifice everything. Unfortunately, time with God was one of those sacrifices that I thought had to ‘go’.
This past summer? I felt like I was supposed to stay in Akron. I stayed. My high hopes for the community I would build all summer, however, were overshadowed by a lifestyle of partying, searching for worth in a relationship, and a lack of christian community. My zeal for community which began at the end of the year quickly fizzled out as I surrounded myself with people who were searching for life amid a whole lot of death. I became discouraged and struggled with feelings of loneliness.
God’s grace brings me where I am currently: Living in a house with two amazing women who love Jesus, learning to love one another while wrestling with some pretty heavy real life stuff. The past few weeks, I have been feeling so desperate for the Lord, and his faithfulness has absolutely overwhelmed me. Conflicts with friends were healed, amazing new lovers of Jesus were introduced to my life, wise, practical DOERs of love surround me, and I feel God…which is enough in and of itself.
Interning and working with the homeless has made me wrestle with God about some tough stuff and the questions I’ve been asking do not have pretty answers. I’m realizing that living here in the hybrid hood is kind of like having blinders taken off, but not quite having great enough eyesight to interpret what I’m seeing. My experience has radically changed, but I don’t yet know what any of the things yet mean. I’m excited to continue to wrestle through these issues, but I am realizing that it’s not always going to be fun.
I do, though, feel God speaking right to my heart. And I am finding peace in what he’s saying. He’s telling me to seek him. That’s it. That’s all I have to do. Everything else will follow.