Thursday, August 22, 2013

State of the Hood - Year in Review (vol 1)

{Ruby is officially taller than Calvin. We'd rather not talk about it.}

{Nervous feet.}

My biggish little people have been in school for over two weeks now. It is insane to me.

Exactly one year ago we were sending them off to a new school, unsure of almost everything except for the fact that it would all be fine. We were right about that, and there’s more.

It's been a fantastic year.

A hard year, in many ways. A stretching year. A humbling year.

A really fun year.

Our family has had front-row seats to life at its fullest, the wrenching and the magnificent and the beautiful  mundane. From where I sit right now, I can tell you for sure that none of my 35 years up to this one has come close in terms of complexity or drama.

{We like our porch furniture sturdy and blue.}

We stepped into a life that often feels much too big for us. Some nights the lights go out and we wonder what we’ve done, we doubt we can do it. But the sun always rises and for every hard night there’s a fistful of goodness.

So we’ve changed the way we frame success. All we hope for at the end of another long week is that we’re all still here, preferably upright and, with any measure of grace, wearing a smile. We hope for a slight tilt of the scales, in our favor. That’s all. And when we’re no better than even, when the bad days win, we believe in full that this is still where we’re meant to be.

So let’s start with the bad news. (To soften the blow, I'll keep throwing in photos from our neighborhood, because they make me really happy.)

* There was a homicide/suicide mid-way down our street. It happened at 8 a.m. on the sidewalk, just a block down from Silas’s pre-school. A month or so later, a drive-by shooting at a house that border’s the property of the elementary school. We heard the shots at 10 pm from our couch and wondered why people were shooting fireworks in the dead of winter.

* The day after the drive-by, fewer than half of the students showed up to school because some idiot had scrawled a threat on a bathroom stall somewhere and most parents across the county chose to react in fear. We opted to never breathe a word about it to Calvin and Ruby, then read them the David and Goliath story and sent them off to school, confident that the same God who made them was sovereign over all their days, school and otherwise. (They thought they won the school lottery that day and it was so endearing to hear their explanations.)

* There was a rash of nasty graffiti vandalism, culminating in the destruction of this amazing mural, which is directly across the street from the school. It made me sick to my stomach when we rolled in and saw it. I drove by mid-day and saw a city worker trying to scrub was covered. At 2:45, I pulled in to pick up the kids -- and it was perfect again! So holla! for protective coatings. Whew. A sad story with a happy ending.

 {One of our neighbors hand-wires every limb of every tree with these silk flowers. Just - dear.}

* I attended my first public city hearing because two properties belonging to our infamous local slum lord had burn to the ground and he refused to remove the rubble for, oh, 3 or 4 months. I spoke into the microphone with shaking knees (I don’t know) and he looked like a sad old man, not at all the villain I had imagined. Still, dude. Clean your mess up. And stop being so jerky.

 {Any takers? We could be neighbors!}

* Cory had a few hundred dollars of power tools stolen from his wonky Pontiac Sunfire while we slept. Ironically, we would have been better off if they had placed the tools on our drive-way and taken the car instead. For two kids born and raised in the country without locks on the front doors, accustomed to leaving the keys in the ignition overnight, it was bound to happen. But the theft serves as a good reminder, and we keep trying to learn.

{May every house in Heaven have an awning.}

* Finally, perhaps the lowest moment of all: the day my super-rad neighbor finally accepted a ride from me into town for the first time ever, after multiple offers:

Super-rad neighbor: They didn’t accept our offer on the house. (Editor’s note: house is in our neighborhood and was listed at $22k.) My uncle is making his last offer today but that’ll be it. He can’t go any higher.

Me: I’ve been praying all weekend and I’m not going to stop now.

SRN: I’m just so nervous. I don’t want to get my hopes up. Josh (her son) said maybe good things just weren’t meant to happen to us… We’ve had so much disappointment.

Me: (Engaging turn signal, turning into CVS parking lot) Trust me, I have a very good feeling. Today’s going to be a good day.


And she screamed. And then she cried a little and pulled up pictures of her kids’ 4-H bunnies while I apologized profusely and Silas yelled from the back of the van, “We need to take that bunny to the doctor so they can fix him!”

I couldn’t, I wouldn’t make this stuff up.

In case you wondered, she did forgive me and if anything, the tragedy bonded us for life.

My point is, we’ve met our share of heartburns and heartaches this year. It hasn’t been simple, not at all. We’ve faced the tragic death of loved ones. Our oldest son was sent to prison. Our middlest son was very sick. We’ve pressed into the lives around us, the ones that need us, the ones that have loved us for a long time, the ones with the sad eyes rimmed extra-dark. We’ve shared their pain to the point that it threatened to wreck us.

In the process, we became family; a griping, arguing, worn-out, crazy-loud, complicated, messy, laugh-til-you-pee, hungry-all-the-flipping-time kinship of brokenness and gratitude. There’s nothing Hallmark or Walton about us, and I wouldn’t dare try to gild this scruff. 

But every day is a new one, each carting around the possibility that it may be just the one to tip the scales in our favor and send us to bed with a song.

Speaking of bed, it’s not even 9 and I’m flat done. I'm sorry this was so long-winded and even sorrier that I don't have it in me to continue. This world-traveler gig isn’t for the faint of heart and it turns out I’m eight shades past faint.

But come back tomorrow and I’ll share the good news from the year. I'll warn you now, the post will be even longer.



  1. So did they get the house? You never finished that part after the sad tale of the bunny's demise! :-)

    Anticipating tomorrow's post, but hope you get some great jet lag free sleep!

  2. Every time you post pictures of your town all I can think of is the movie, "Picnic" with William Holden. Great movie! And the house that is next to yours, dreamy! I love old homes. Homes with a past. I live in one myself. They are the best. If only we could learn its stories.

  3. I agree about awnings and I hope I get to live in your hood there. Love you!(Poor bunny)

  4. I remember that slum lord...he's been around and the same for a LONG time. So sad.

  5. Hi, I'm a newish follower and I wondered if you could point me to a post that shares the backstory re: your family's move? So far I've gathered that you lived somewhere rural that you loved and followed Jesus to somewhere urban that's hard and beautiful. :) I've loved everything I've read so far and would love to know some of the history without having to ignore my children for an entire day while I play catch-up! :) We are an adoptive family, too that will, God-willing, some day have a similar combination of races and ethnicity to your family. We have a bio daughter and adopted our baby girl in March (she's Chinese, but it was a domestic adoption - long but wonderful story!) and we have been waiting for 18 months to be matched with our Ethiopian baby. Our adoption journey started after we took a vision trip to Ethiopia with our church and Food for the Hungry so I was so excited to read that you were going! Okay, enough rambling. Thanks for sharing your family's story!

    1. I wish I were the type of blogger who writes organized and distinct posts about big things. Alas... :)

      I'm not sure that there's one single post that summarizes everything, mostly because the process of deciding to move then actually moving spanned over 2 years. I blogged every step of the way, but it's all fairly scattered out!

      The "Our Adventure" tag is what I have used to keep our story somewhat organized, but it's probably a fairly long thread. And I'd hate to see your kids neglected. But maybe you could break it up over a few evenings? Lock yourself in the bathroom? Give up a night of sleep?


    2. I'm a fairly new reader, too - and was wondering for this type of tag. Thanks, Kelsey, for asking! My children are grown so I can spend the time catching up on your store FPFG. :-)

    3. That's exactly what I did! Nooooooo not neglect my sweet baby girl! Silly! I snuck up after everyone had gone to bed, many nights in a row...... Feeling hungover the next day for sure....... Until I had read each and every beautiful word. FPFG is the real deal and I love her for it.

  6. Even, and sometimes especially, in the hard parts of your story I find the most encouragement. Isn't that crazy beautiful? I thank God for you and your family and certainly the work He does in your lives, not to forget the way He has gifted you with ability to tell it all and point to Him. Major blessings on your head. $22k for a whole house?! I live in a part of the country where that would hardly pay your rent for a not-nice apt for a year. Incredible.

    1. I agree with everything you just said, especially about Shannan's writing.

  7. Whew... Girl don't even know what to say about any of that. Just praying a hedge of protection for all y'all ;) And woot Ruby passed him right up. Give her a high five from us:-)

  8. My first thought was "Ruby is taller than Calvin"... then I started reading. It has certainly been "a year of something" for you all. I'm always amazed when I read your posts and how you both keep on doing what you're doing...


    PS I LOVE that awning...

    PSS Could you please, please remove that photo of said neighboring house before my husband comes across it? We're still working on rental house number two and I'm afraid if he saw that beauty with the stacked retaining wall he just might consider snapping it up for his next project ;)... although I must say that little porch is kind of speaking to me too.

  9. A big country preacher and his wife have sang a song in our church more than once about how He is God on the mountain and still God in the valley. I have lived it, believe it and you are some awesome living proof.

    PS: The only animal that has met its demise with me at the wheel - a bunny. I can still see the fur flying in the rear view mirror. And me, who usually cries at stories like these, was filled with inappropriate laughter! Thankfully it was just me and God in the car that day : )

    1. Hon, I tear up at butterflies. Seriously.

  10. I can see why you love your neighborhood. There's beauty and charm and decrepit- and it looks like it works.

    The bunny. I'm so sorry! In the past month I witnessed our neighbor's dog kill a bunny. Brad and I were outside having an evening cocktail. I heard the bunny scream ( they are all over here and very sweet.) and it was too late to help. I walked inside and felt ill.

    Last weekend I caught Curtis our labraweinie trying to kill a mole. I was able to move said mole to safety with the aid of gardening equipment. Moved him/her to the front yard- out of the fence. Found what I believe to be the same mole later that evening- dead. With Curtis staring at it.

    The next day I returned home to find a dead squirrel floating in our pool! I can't make this stuff up either! No clue what happened- but as usual- Brad was at work ( he refers to these experienced of mine as " just bad luck, I guess.." And I've been known to flip out when he says it.) so I was tasked with removal.

    Good times. Good times!

    1. Tina, we are two peas in a pod. I will go to any length to save a furry or feathered friend. Curtis, I love that name it makes me smile.

  11. this made me teary. you live such a bold,fearless faith it astounds my wobbly kneed one. last night our guest pastor {whose a church elder} shared about something... his wife had just had a massive grand-mal seizure out of nowhere 6 weeeks ago, and they found a tumor. he was sure she was going to die and kept saying , "this just isn't right." at one point, scripture spoke to him in the midst of saying it again, and he was suddenly aware that of course this was right! we serve a righteous God, so how could it be anything but right? we take God's righteous salvation, His righteous forgivenness, His righteous blessings, therefore, we must walk in His righteous hard things as well, for these things are still right. So simple and yet so profound. BTW, his wife is now fine :) p.s. a house for 22k? i die. houses here {crappy ones} are way over 150. grrrr.

    1. Re: the 22k house. You can't even imagine how unlivable it was when they got possession. It was so humbling when she showed it to us with so much pride and gratitude. And her uncle is fancy-handy AND a grade A junk-picker. He fixed it right up and outfitted it with kitchen cabinets he found curb-side and a freezer that he found in a ditch somewhere. !! We helped paint and people from her church contributed lighting and such. It was a real team effort.


  12. I love it over here yep with the good... the bad and the ugly! I am one who good things don't happen to.I can't make friends or even keep one when I do.If it's gunna happen it happens to me and my family.I really am pretty normal as I look around. I have just come to realization I am one of those and the only thing that gives me any bit of hope is that a lot of God's important peeps went through a lot of good, bad and the uglies so I continue to have hope! My best to you and your family may many blessings come your way, K.Marie

  13. So lady, I could write you a small book here, but I'll spare you. I will give you a Me, too, though. Because really, I live your life too. Just in Nowhere, NC. In a ghetto. And just the past Wednesday, I put out my own plea for someone to buy the house across the street.
    Love your heart, girl.
    And I love that God uses your words to remind me that He's called others to the same sort of life.
    So thanks.

    1. And comments like these remind me that WE aren't alone, either. So thanks for THAT. xo

  14. Thanks for sharing this. As a fellow city dweller I can relate!! Life isn't easy. I feel like it's the pressure cooker version of life. I'm looking forward to the blessing post.

  15. You are such an encouragement!! How is Robert? Have I missed an uodate? I feel like last I've hears he was waitinf to hear about a job, is that right? I could have made that up :)

  16. Well, now I need to buy that print from KatyGirl. So true. And you are much braver than I. I live "across the tracks" from the bad stuff, and it still feels too close. I just want to be away from it.

  17. I, too, think I must buy that print now. It is calling my name. Thank you for opening your heart up and putting it out there for us to comment on! You are challenging me to be more bold in my life.

  18. Listen something happens when I read your blog. It's like all the emotions I try to hold in all day just spill out. It's good.

  19. your words and your story have encouraged me for so long.
    I applied to volunteer at Athens Pregnancy Ctr two weeks ago when my kids started school, and I met with them last week.
    They matched me with a 21 year old girl who finds herself pregnant.
    I'm lucky enough to be get to be her mentor through the whole pregnancy.

    I'm giddy with excitement over the relationship that I know Jesus will grow for us, and I can't wait to see how he turns me inside out.

    1. I am SO proud of you for doing this! It will change you and break you in the very best ways. Cant WAIT to hear more! Go, T, go!!!!

  20. Came to the comments to see if your neighbor got the house. SO EXCITED TO SEE THAT.

    I don't know if I've commented here before. I know I've intended to. I was in the middle of the four months I spent in contract on my house when I found your blog -- specifically, your "One Way He Never Speaks" post. I don't have words to express what it meant to me. It was exactly what I needed to see, the thing that spoke to the heart of the issues I had as I fought and wept and wanted my house and didn't want my house and wanted it again and then almost gave up. Over those four months, I had an ever-increasing list of fears that I didn't know what to do with -- were they warning signs? Was it God saying to walk away? Your post hit the nail on the head. It was fear, all the things keeping me away were fear. I honestly believe I would not have stuck with the process for those months, fighting and crying every step of the way including two times when it seemed impossible and one when it was impossible, if I had not read that. I had never planned to buy a house, and it was not something I would have even attempted if underneath all the fear I hadn't felt a deep sense of Rightness.

    So thank you. And I am so, so glad to hear about your neighbor.

  21. I don't know you, but I would totally be your neighbor :)! We have done the same thing: moved into a derelict neighborhood, hubby works at the county jail (in Detox...which even law enforcement hates), 4 kids, living below poverty level by choice) and seen life at it's hardest and most beautiful. I hate and love humanity even more than I ever have. I thought moving here would make me see the beauty in people and love them more. Nope. It hasn't. Jesus makes me love them more. Keep writing, I will read it.

  22. I want to buy that house.

    Ruby Lou is killing me with her cuteness.

    I'm too tired to say anything else.


  23. Oh Shannan, another reason I admire you so much. Your year has been a ride, a very bouncy ride, but also a very good ride. So proud of you! And as far as sending your kids to school the day after the shooting? Good for you! God is still there. He never leaves. You prove that every day.

  24. It does my heart good to read your posts and to know there are others sharing similar journeys in other places. Thank you! xx

  25. "We've changed the way we frame success."
    Please don't stop writing. Ever. Unless you're supposed to, I guess.

    More than that- please don't stop living like you're supposed to. Ever. Because those lives around you are like that baby bunny that nobody would rush to the doctor to get fixed but you take the doctor to them everyday and he fixes us and them.

  26. I just love this and all of your heart poured on the page. I'm weary these days, too, from digging in deep and trying to keep myself together with help from Him. And He's there, isn't He? In the dilapidated houses and the sick kiddos and the jail cells that scream despair. Still He is there.
    Love you.

  27. I already commented on someone else's comment (a big "ditto") but I wanted to say that I love all the photos in this post. You are really good at finding the beauty in every situation. And that print from Etsy? I pinned it to get as my birthday present to myself...LOVE that song!

  28. You have me hooked. I am going back to read archives because your posts are so inspiring. I love your posititve attitude!

  29. Love, love, love your words!!! Thank you.

  30. This was better than any Christmas year-end wrap up could EVER be. And, ironically, it was all the bad stuff. It's just a treasure to be able to read the hope in your words.

    (Seriously doubt I would have had the courage to send the kids to school when the folks who have lived in the neighborhood their entire lives chose to not send their kids. But, I guess I need more faith. And, it's not like something bad can't happen sitting on the couch or at the dinner table. I'm really beginning to realize that the only security is that we are His. Full stop. All the rest, is just details.)

    I can't wait to hear the other side of this coin.
    And, OMG...the photos. Love. LOVE!

    Oh, and that face Silas is making at his Old School in that other post.


  31. Can't tell you How Much I needed to see this post today!!! We are nearing our 1st year of stepping out, leaving all of our family and friends to move 1600 miles has been an amazing blessing and stressful and scared out of my mind all wrapped up in one. Last night, I was having a what did we do moment....our neighborhood is less than stellar which we chose, because We are going to be a light darn it!....but then I discovered sometimes I'm just a small town girl with a chicken heart lol!

    I just love your David and Goliath story :) God's got this handled...right...

  32. I LOVE the decorative arch pieces on your front porch. Can you tell me more about them that gives the house and old, country feels to it. Our then made out of plastic like a permanent siding/vinyl thing. I would love to add something like that to our small front porch to give it more of an decorative look. Do you know also where you could purchase pieces like that? Thanks so much, Mollyb

  33. They are definitely some type of plastic.
    This was one of the things that we added as an extra- they were more expensive than it seems like they should be, but they added a lot of character! I'm thrilled with them.
    I think you could talk to any siding manufacturer about them.