Tuesday, July 31, 2007
"You have got to be kidding, God! Right?"
That's what I said.
See, it started with my friends. They started going all renegade on me, which just goes to show you. You really do have to watch who you hang around with. It's just like mama said. I'm in the Apple store the other day, minding my own business, just looking, mind you, at the iPhone I want when I grow up, and all I can hear, in said friend's nagging voice, is about how many children I can buy out of sex slavery for the same price.
Literally, no fair! She's all about justice these days in deed, not in word. Packed up her family and moved smack dab in the heart of the city to do justice, and when I say in the heart of the city, that's what I mean, because I've been there. It's the city. The kind of city people like me came from, and flee just as soon as they can to come to places like Ann Arbor, this wonderland of plenty I've lived in for the past eight years.
My friends are missional. And intentional. And relational. And devotional. And all kinds of stuff that I don't really understand that end with the letters "nal". I love that about them. They have deep, profound, Emergent conversations with lovely people and write amazing books. They take care of refugees, and love on homeless and crazy people. And embroider capris instead of buy new ones from Walmart. It's great, and I'm totally down with that stuff, as long as I can stay in Ann Arbor and say, "That's great." Because they are white and pretty much middle class. Black people who grew up ghetto don't do missional, unless that mission is never to go back to the ghetto. We are intentional about staying as far away as we can from da hood once we leave! And we don't have a problem being "relational" with inner city people because they're our family who didn't have the same run of luck, blessings, whatever you want to call it we had. We see them at the funerals we have to leave our Ann Arbor's--if we're blessed enough to have escaped--to go to.
So, I'm hanging around my friends. I don't mind changing my lightbulbs to energy efficient, sguiggly florescent ones. I don't mind buying a new HE washer. Darn it, I will brave a Michigan winter with considerably less gas usage so as not to rape Appalachia of her coal. I'll stop using plastic, and always say "Paper, please," when asked, or even start using reusable grocery bags. I'll think about where the clothes I buy come from and if kids sew their little hands off to make them for a dime. I'll get several sex slaves free before I buy my iPhone--yeah, I need some work! I admit it! But I want one! But I'll do all of this in Ann Arbor.
See, it's those things we cling hardest to that God seems to challenge. I don't know why He does that.
I read this book a few months ago, Schools of Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism. I want to be part of a new monastic community. In my heart I want to be several things that end with "nal." I want to care about people, and the earth, and God. Heal racial schisms. All of that.
In Ann Arbor.
Then one day, I'm thinking about my budget, and how all the things we had that made it possible to live in Ann Arbor are gone. Big honkin' man truck drinks gallons and gallons and gallons and gallons of gas. Expensive gas. Big honkin' growing kids eat their weight in food. Measly, insignificant writer doesn't earn the kind of money to stay in Ann Arbor without the Section 8 housing subsidy she had in the good old days. I knew we'd have to move to some place we could afford.
But there was a problem. All the Ann Arboresque places were expensive. Even apartments, which pretty much weren't an option because my family is so large. Bad credit. Big family. Big problem. Finally I decided Co-op was the way to go. You might pay more to get in, but the rent is cheap, and controlled.
I called every Co-op in Ann Arbor. They all had waiting lists to the next century. Apparently, every other broke family clinging to Ann Arbor living thought of the same thing. I prayed. I despaired. I sent emails to my agent. I thought, prayed, searched the net, and prayed again, and then a still small voice--you know Who--said "Call your mother-in-law. Ask if they have any openings."
You'd think I'd have thought of that right away. Uh uhn. See, my mother-in-law lives in Inkster. That's where I grew up. That's where Ken grew up. Land of many housing projects, one of which I grew up across the street from. The wasteland where sirens and gunshots were the lullabyes that lay me down to sleep.
I fled Inkster to be with demon lover in the D.C. area, and fled him and went from pillar to post trying to find my feet. Ended up with my sister Carly in Detroit. Fell in love with Ken and went right back to Inkster. We lived across the street from a notorious crack haven. Left when our neighbor shot up the courtyard in a drunk, among other reasons. My brother was murdered by a 14 year old with and assault weapon around the corner from that place. The city is full of ghosts that haunt me. All my pleasant childhood memories are blunted by what cocaine brought our happy community, and my family. There wasn't enough mission in my entire soul to make me want to go back.
I called Mom and she said, "Oh yeah, a unit came available today. A four-bedroom, 2 bath, with a basement." She lives in a Co-op. She's on the board of directors.
Resisting the urge to primal scream I asked, "How much is it?"
"I think it's $570.00 a month."
It was. That's a heckuva lot less than the rent I pay here in Ann Arbor! And for A2 my rent is cheap! I'm talking almost $500 less.
I won't even say how much of a miracle I knew this was. Townhouses by my mom never come up, and this one was a 4 bedroom unit. It's bigger than the house I'm in. It's next door to her. And our other daughter. It isn't the Jesus community I craved, but it is community. It's family. It's a mother who's health is failing and who has no transportation. It's a daughter in her last year of high school who needs her daddy, maybe more than she did last year.
I cried when I got off the phone. "Please, Lord. Don't make me go back there." I cried every time I thought about all the places in Ann Arbor I will miss. The safety. The beauty. The parks that surround me in the way housing projects will in Inkster.
But I have to go.
I'm packing the last of my things. The book I was reading I told you about? The first chapter was called, "Relocation to Abandoned Places of Empire." The Empire I knew as a very small child is gone now, and what is left is a place I hardly recognize. The writer of that chapter talked about God calling the new monastic into the "desert". I knew months ago God was calling me to the desert, but God stunned me that it was this particular one.
I thought He was just being metaphorical.
"Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness
and speak tenderly to her.
There I will give her back her vineyards,
and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will respond in the days of her youth,
as in the day she came up out of Egypt."
"In that day," declares the Lord,
"You will call me 'my husband';
you will no longer call me 'my master."
Sigh. That's what God is speaking to me. But as I sit here, bags of books, and clothes surrounding me, I still think, "I'm not quite there. I'm not feeling the love, Husband. And you know what? This really sucks."
But I've not known God to leave me. He surprises me, but He doesn't leave me. I've known hard days, but others in this world live harder ones. And I can move, while some are homeless. Some are starving. Some are dying.
So thank you God, because I'd rather go into desert, or wilderness, than live in Ann Arbor outside of your will, and your presence.
I'm going home.
There. I said it. And it almost feels good. Almost. I feel an odd sense of peace about it, and that has to be God. And you know what? As much as I've loved it here in A2, I've moved around so much nothing has felt more home than that little six square mile city where I grew up, thirteen miles west of Detroit.
I wonder who's still there. I wonder what adventures await me. I guess we'll see tomorrow. I know this. God lives there. He'd be around if I made my bed in hell.
I've got a feeling my life is about to radically change.