Monday, May 27, 2013

Why City Living is Beautiful, Too

It's Memorial Day. We hung our flag and ate the requisite hamburger. I wiped my eyes when the wrinkled veterans stood in church and for all of the conflict I feel these days about this world, it's true - I was sitting on that pew because of the sacrifice of others.

We partied all weekend. I baked this coffee cake last night after midnight. (Also, this and this. It was a good night.)

Somewhere around 4pm today, we lost our steam. We lost it all. Poof. Gone. Fork. Done. Etc...
The gray skies and rain didn't help. So we did what any sensible family would do. We bathed the kids at 4:30, Ramen noodles at 5, Silas to bed at 6, Biggers at 6:30. I AM SO FOR REAL.

And this, friends, is me in a nut-shell. Give me 3 late nights in a row and extra sweets in between. Sit me at a table with friends for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But on the 4th day? I'll get a far-away look in my eyes and pretend not to hear you when you speak.

I'm an introvert.

Some of my friends don't believe me, but it's true. I'm a hybrid, you know. A solid 65:35.

So of course, I was always meant to live in the country. Perhaps even the prairie, although I hear it's hard to come by authentic Mexican food on the prairie, so maybe not.

I thought any town with more than one stoplight was engineered by sadists.

All I wanted, all my life, was a big white farmhouse at the end of a medium-long lane.

Something like this.

I wanted to mind my own business and I thought it'd be great if everyone else did the same.

I wanted family dinner 6 nights out of 7, and I when I said "family", I only counted 5.

I wanted just me, just my people, just my own garden and my own peonies and my own clean fences (make them picket).

I wanted the simple life.

Imagine my surprise when I got all of those things and realized it was only chapter 1.

I don't remember exactly what I thought city living would be like, but I knew it would be a tight fit. We could do it, I could suffer for the cause (what exactly was the cause???) but I wouldn't do it happy. There'd be no more pictures to take. The fields that surrounded us like a hug would be long-gone.

Noise - there'd be lots of noise. And people.

It wouldn't be pretty.

It turns out, I was right about the noise and the people. Wrong about the beauty.
It turns out, the rumble of a train and a knock on our door are more beautiful than a quiet line of nights spent turned inward.

I understand the Suburban urge to retreat to the country, where the clock ticks slower and the cookies never burn. I framed the idea of peaceful solitude and nailed it to my heart. I equated stillness with rest and rest with God. I believed in my soul that I would find more of Him between trips to my raspberry bushes, our sheets flapping in the breeze.

I didn't know I'd find him in faces and scars.
I didn't know what I didn't know.
It seems pretty dang obvious now.

His hand is on this land, and because this is where He sent us, we feel it stronger here. We watch strangers become kin and we find Him. We turn away, swear that we need a break, feel that pang of guilt, and we find Him there, showing us our own messed-up hearts while He keeps on loving us anyway.

He was never hidden in the flowers and fruit of the life I lived then. I saw Him in creation, all around me, very sure I stood in His palm. And I did. But He's here, too. I couldn't trust it until I saw it for myself.

What I know now is that His beauty is everywhere. Hayfields and painted barns don't own the rights. It's etched on brick and sprayed on steel.

I don't have to look past the city-ness of the city to find it. The city-ness IS the gift. Where His children are multiplied, so is His grace. And that's here, where kids cast and reel hurt and affection, where they scream down the sidewalks after dark, where they knock on my door when I'm tired.

This is the simple life, where people are immune to being impressed, where the hardest work required is the turning of a knob.

This is His wit and charm, His perfect winsomeness and His clever way of turning my stubborn shoulders around so I can see the fullness of context, contrast, community.

So I can see more of Him.

"The city is making us realize that sameness is a failure...Maybe, just maybe, God will use the city to remind us that all his unique individual masterpieces clustered together in high rises and housing projects and neighborhoods bear a reflection of his original design. Perhaps it will be in the city that the church will rediscover the richness of diversity interacting in hard-earned unity."
- Theirs is the Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America by Robert D. Lupton

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  1. It's amazing how life often upsets our apple cart - and then we discover that we LIKE the apples scattered all over the ground! ;) I've been surprised when 'not when I wanted' turns out be *exactly* what I want after all. :)

  2. Lovely and true. Remember Jesus was always found among the unloved and hurting.

  3. i so want to meet you. so much of your stuff sounds like my stuff (at least what is rolling around in my head) bummed i missed you in angola :( hope you can enjoy your early bedtime evening!

  4. It's like your inside my head! Thanks for the continual reminders that God isn't only in fields, flowers, and alone time.

  5. I too had God flip my perspective upside down, and just like a crazy roller coaster ride, the view from this side is exhilarating, scary, and a whole lot of fun!

  6. Whew, I need to chew this over. Thanks!

  7. Shannan. Girl. You're getting better. Not sure what it is, but your writing... Whew. Bowls me down. Causes me to think. Makes me want salsa. Everything good writing should. Please don't stop (unless Jesus tells you to, in which case we all know how that goes). Kthanks.

  8. Your words are always spot on and absolutely captivating, thanks for that beauty!

  9. I don't remember what I dreamed for raising my family, but I know it didn't include the city. This July I will have lived inside these city limits for 21 years. My city? Baltimore, MD. High rates of crime, but I'm not scared. Not usually. Only sometimes. Plus the two big dogs in our yard that we adopted for our dear daughter? Totally a security system on legs. This is where he put us, for now, so this is where we belong. We are thinking more about space again. About country living. But he hasn't taken us out. And while here we have learned so, so much. I call it a pressure cooker. Learn a lot more in a shorter amount of time. It's been beautiful. It's been hard. I'm a better person for it. I hope this city is better for it.

  10. I don't know how you do it but so often I find the cries of my heart on your pages.

    You have (are) a gift.

  11. Yes and yes. We just moved to inner city Memphis, TN from the marsh-speckled land of Charleston, SC and I still find God turning my stubborn shoulders around. Thank you.

  12. Thank you for writing such honest words! It's so easy for us to imagine what the ideal is...but He shows us things in new lights! :-)

  13. We chose a house in the city here over a beautiful home in the country (it came down to two houses)... We are 3 blocks from the county jail (convenient since my husband is going to start working there). The introvert in me wars against where God has placed us, but we chose this because we wanted to be available, even if it isn't easy. And there are some days I lock my doors and hide...

  14. I love this post! Your words echo some of my own current feelings about where I am right now.
    Thank you for sharing!

    P.S. Have you read "Quiet"?

  15. you always leave me feeling quite the way that i cannot..try as i might..put into words all that is trapped in my heart. my fingers and brain just don't connect that way. at least for now. so i leave tonight thankful that one does. YOU..thank you for sharing what your heart cannot contain for in doing being obedient to bloom wherever your planted. you enable to do the same. it is good to be back

  16. It's funny...on my drive home tonight I had thought of that exact word you used: inward. That described every thought, desire, or motive in my life. How could I insulate myself from the noisy, messy, sinful world and build a happy, quiet little Christian life?

    I spent my life (seriously, since I was about 5) vowing to leave my town and go live on a farm. The plan was to marry early, have six children and have to talk to no one but them and the cows. Fast forward to a-few-months-til-30 and...still here, with no husband, children, or cows. God has turned every plan on its head. And it is beautiful. I wouldn't have been able to say I could see it that way even last year; I am just beginning to get a glimpse of what He has in store. Interestingly, after a couple years of "semi-long distance dating" my boyfriend unexpectedly got a job in my town and moved here. (My previous escape plan had been to move near him!) The longer I'm here, the more God shows me the tremendous need and the sorrow that surrounds me. So now there is a new plan:

    "Work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you."

  17. I am a living in the country girl and will be until we are called elsewhere. There are moments of peace and tranquility here but only when I allow them in, when I take in the beauty instead of the mess. There is also poverty and filth and meth and heroin and alcoholism and lack of education and extreme social issues. People tend to idealize it but it's still real people with real needs. I am grateful God can meet us where we are ~ country or city. Bless you and your family for heeding the call to go.

  18. and to think there are more chapters to this story.
    it doesn't even end where you're at right now.
    isn't that amazing?

    and isn't it amazing that he calls us all to deep waters but all those waters look so different?
    he is so good and creative and healing...the good giver of perfect freedom.

  19. These words. EPIC. You are something, girl.

  20. dear shannan,

    I love the way you write! You make me smile and laugh and think. Sometimes at supper I tell my husband about the stories you write. I'm glad God made you and for the privilege I have to read pieces of your heart.

  21. Thank you, so lovely, so true. You go girl.

  22. I can relate to almost every sentence in this post ! We just moved from rural --chickens and all -- smack dab into the city -- God's clear call on our lives and I have grown to love the sound of the train at the end of the street :-) I never imagined how many knocks on the door I would get each day and I do find that it truly is one of the harder things to do -- open the door on a tired day -- but I wouldn't be anywhere else that right in the middle of the mess of my heart and those around me I planted flowers and put up "sections" of picket fences in the flower beds to offset the chain link fences ;-) Thanks for your post ! It encouraged me to keep going !