Saturday, October 6, 2012

Urban American Poverty


We can talk about going here or going there and it's true, we need to go. We need to go to actual places with real zip codes. We need to cross the threshold then the street and stand in the middle of somewhere entirely different than where we sit right now.

But places don't need love or hope or a box of granola bars. People do.

One of the places we have found ourselves going is straight into the heart of Midwestern Urban America poverty. It's not the kind with distended tummies and unclean drinking water. It's the kind with black market food stamps and liters of flat drugstore cola. They live life differently than I do. They talk differently, think differently, dress differently, smell differently. It has nothing to do with race. It has only to do with all they've ever known; crippling poverty of money, of resources, of hope. There's a fundamental belief that this is it. It won't ever get better, it can't. So don't bother thinking it might and don't be stupid enough to waste your time trying.

Two years ago a boy came along and he seemed like an isolated thing in our life. We bought him work boots and sent him home with Tupperware bowls of soup. We helped him write out a budget and the most important line item was his smokes.

It was all jacked up. But he was young and it was all he had ever known. It didn't seem quite like the end of the world.

The chain reacted and now there are more. They're almost everywhere and they live in a way that I used to judge. It seemed so dang simple - get a job already.

I thought I had their solution without knowing one single thing about them or their culture or the issues they face. What embarrasses me even more is that I didn't see that as a problem. It never mattered enough to dig deeper, so I didn't bother picking up the shovel.

Now we're here and they're a real part of our life. We see them several times a week, talk to them every day. I'm learning as I go and I'm sure I'll have plenty to share in the coming days (contain your zeal) but here's the main thing for today: I never thought I could go there. I assumed they wouldn't want me. I didn't know how I'd ever act around them and I knew I didn't speak their language. I worried about what they would think of me. I was scared to death that they would see me as someone coming to fix them or point out their badness.

What I never considered was that I would start to love them. And maybe, they would start to kinda love me back a little, in their own strange way.

Love has a way of blending people. It stirs us together. It makes us notice each other's awesomeness, and suddenly, she makes me laugh without warning and she sends me a text that has me tearing up over the way she frets about me.

Some nights, I want to be unmixed. Some days, I think they're crazy and they might thing I'm mean.

It's those days when I know for sure that it's going to be alright.

I know that now, we're family.



38 comments:

  1. Oh friend, this is my life, too... only I don't have the words for it like you do. I'll be sharing this, just so you know.

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  2. So much to think about. You are amazing and an inspiration.

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  3. I totally get this......my life too, except a tiny bit different. We just moved to Nepal-so much poverty, so many heartbreaking stories. Can't wait to hear what you have to share in the coming days.....

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  4. I love you. So glad you are right where you are.

    Bye.

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  5. Love is the invisible chain that links us all no matter who we are or what we look like. It takes a beautiful soul to see this line and I do believe that you can see it. Blessings to you and your beautiful family, it is always such a joy to visit your blog x

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  6. I love it, and am amazed at how I am starting to love them too, and we have never met, yet. You have taught me so much, thank you.

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  7. Oh how I love how you love. We (my fam) were all together in fellowship with the disenfranchised. We had a meal together, every Sunday for nine years. It was an amazing season, we were heartbroken when it came to a close last year. It was difficult and wonderful and raw and hilarious. I can't go back to the mainstream church...thank you for being the real deal. <3

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    1. Yes, wonderful, raw and hilarious! Thank you for adding hilarious. It's so true!

      And I feel the same way about the church. I'll have more to say about that soon. :)

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  8. You are one of the bravest women I know. I could never be half of your heart, even if my soul yearns for it. You are the box of granola bars with whipped cream on top, and a pumpkin latte on the side. You are mother and father and sister and brother, teacher and friend. You are a girl with a need and a dream and a prayer. You truly are an inspiration.

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    1. I also used to say "I could never..." :) Just you wait.

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    2. Oh yes! Me too! We are walking a different walk somewhat. But if I had only known what saying yes in 2008 meant. I would've been shaking in my shoes. But God used Grace, to teach me all about grace. I wouldn't go back, not for anything.

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  9. i love how you love, and how you put voice to my fears of rejection/irrelevance. and then turn the whole thing on its noggin.

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  10. I could have written this post. We live 10 minutes from inner city Little Rock and I work with the teen moms. "Get a job already. Stay in school...is it that hard?! Dump the loser." Those are all things I want to say, but love keeps the words back and has me show up week after week.

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  11. "Love has a way of blending people". WOW.

    I always want to leave comments on your posts. But then I get all nervous and tongue-tied and thinking that I can't quite put the impact down in words and it'll come across as trite.

    Thank you. I'm peeling back those layers of assumptions and judgment as you write.

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    1. Thank you for saying Hi. :) For what it's worth, my blog comments to other people are usually something along the lines of "LOVE this!" or sometimes, when I'm feeling wild, "LUV this!"

      Ha.

      So, no pressure. :)

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  12. Goodness gracious. We ARE family. God help us all to see that. Do not weary in doing good, FPFG, don't give up. Imagine if you weren't there? Thank you for continued faithfulness, not only to do the good, but to share it with us. Inspiring.

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  13. We have one of those people in our lives right now that looks and acts and thinks differently. I'm not sure why she's in our lives, or what God is doing in bringing us together, but I have learned a lot about my own prejudices and thoughtless judgments through her. Thank you so much for your honesty as you adjust to your new home and all the people God has placed in your life (or has He placed you in theirs?). I love that God has given you such a heart for those around you who desperately need Him.

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  14. Yay! Someone writing about urban life! I love it! I live 10 minutes from inner city Baltimore, have attended an inner city church for 20 years, and am beginning to feel like God is REALLY able to use me here - and now we might move. So just a thought about main stream church - I might end up there soon. And I sure am hoping I can take this with me. It's part of who I am now. What if I can share it??? What if I take some of what I've learned to main stream church and they learn too? I sure hope I don't loose all of what I learned here. But I'm also tired. Fighting burnout. Wanting to rest. Trusting in God. Unsure where I will live one year from now. You recognize this, no?

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  15. love does indeed have a way of blending people. the one LOVE who blends us. the going series is getting me.

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  16. Yes. Yes. Yes. You nailed it. We need to hear people's stories, we need to enter their lives instead of offering our prescription.

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    1. Preach it! This is the meat...... And the bread! It's all about relationship. Up and down and side to side.......

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  17. I am involved in jail ministry in my community. Wanna communicate?
    georgiagibbons56@gmail.com

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  18. Our Pastor preached this morning on "The frosting in the Oreo cookie" - you know, the love that holds the sides together. Love - agape love. So I think about the Love that comes from God and fills us up and spills out to others. How the closer I stay to God the more He can love others through me. Then I read your post. How you are taking your filled up bucket to others again and again. How my bucket has been a little heavy lately and it's not good to hoard love.

    So here you "go" again challenging my heart and now I have no choice but to "go" also...

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  19. Love this! We talk about this all the time in West Dallas - mutually transformational relationships. It's a big phrase but that's just what they are - God does some fantastic stirring and makes something beautiful.

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  20. Oh you've got me thinking again! Love you for that!

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  21. Gosh I wish you (hope you) were / are writing a book. I so want to hear the details. The text. Hear what the conversation was like when the smokes line item was written in. It's like reading one-sided letters of a soldier and wanting to hear the other side. Or, the letters that got lost on the way.

    Your words challenge, encourage, frighten me. What if he ever called me? What would I do? I sit amazed at what you and, is it Cory?, have done and continue to do. I'm learning vicariously. I'll be reading tomorrow. And the next day. :)

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    1. Thanks so much for this, D. You make me feel loved. (And yep, it's Cory!) :)

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  22. Thanks for sharing your heart Shannan. It's super encouraging. Especially the part about "we're family now." And I think it was your previous post that said something to the effect of "fighting the lie that you don't have time." I'm not fighting that lie really well right now and I need to. I live in a community somewhat similar to yours and I'm just kind of tired right now. But thankful to read your blog and be encouraged. :)

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  23. I grew up in an area like this in Brooklyn, NY. Funny, even where I lived there were these invisible walls that affected the way *we* thought...if you lived in the "projects" (where I spent many childhood years!) then you were this way...but if you lived on the "Avenue" you were another...and if you lived down in the "hundreds" it was like a whole different world just a mile away!
    Poverty in the USA is not even close to be on the scale of a third world country...but it is poverty none the less and with is comes the struggles to survive on a daily basis without getting drawn into:
    " this is it. It won't ever get better, it can't. So don't bother thinking it might and don't be stupid enough to waste your time trying."
    I have to encourage you...it was people like you that reached out to families like mine that made all the difference in MY world. You may not always "see" it right away, but over time, you NEVER know the impact you could have!
    If that one lady had not knocked on MY door and invited us to an obscure church "thing"...if that one person did not reach out and touch us...I could have (should have?) been the one with 4 husbands, beating on my kids and smoking more than cigarettes trading in my Food Stamps to get beer.
    I look forward to reading more.
    Thank you SO much for the reminder of just where I was all those years ago.
    Do you have a link to where your story "begins"? I am new to these parts and would love to read in chronological order :0)!

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  24. Just when I think I can’t love your story any more than I already do…

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  25. i want to comment, and yet, i don't have the words. you just get it. and i don't always. so thank YOU for going. and listening.

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