The fire

The noise first alerted us to a problem.  Our old house had been renovated so often that the living room was a windowless cave.  We often found solace in the protection from dangers that lurked outside, but tonight it was a hindrance.  It was late that is when bad things happen.

Orange light filtered through the diamond window of the front door as we crowded together to look.  I gasped as tongues of fire consumed the house across the street.

That was the nice house on the street, I moaned.

When 50% of the street was vacant we learned to appreciate the houses that were nice.

Sirens wailed in the distance.  Coming for us, I thought.  Momentary pride over being amid such excitement flashed through my mind but quickly I scolded myself for craving negative attention.

A fire truck roared down our quiet street and we moved to the porch. The heat felt like we were at a huge bonfire, warming my face from 100 yards away.

The entire neighborhood was awake now.  Huddled safely in twos and threes, gazing back and forth from the fire to their neighbor they whispered.

Do you know what happened?  Isn’t that the house that was busted a month ago?  I heard they had a pretty good operation going there.

My mind flashed to that warm evening in May, pushing my toddler boy on the swing in the big Maple behind the house.  The gaggle of neighbor girls surrounded us, taking turns pushing him too hard for my comfort.

Don’t go so high, I warned.  They giggled, probably at my prudence.  These girls walked across the street alone from the age of three and I was worried that my 2 year old would fall out of a baby swing.

I enjoyed their company and the ability to feed them the love they lacked, but sometimes I wanted to be in my yard alone with my child.  Maybe someday we would have enough money and time to put a fence up, but for now their eagle eyes spotted me every time I came out the door.  Besides, isn’t that what we came for?

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a black van pull up across the street.  It seemed out of place, but most of the view was blocked by the side of our house.  As I turned my attention once again to pushing my son a loud crack rang out and in an eternal instant I realized this was a SWAT raid.

Fumbling with the buckle I grabbed my boy out of the swing while and shooed the girls home.  I probably should have walked them home, but in my own panic and worry I took care of us first.  Besides, they didn’t seem fazed, just another day in the ghetto.

Locked.  The back door was locked.

I pounded and pounded for what felt like an eternity.  Maybe it was only 3 minutes, but it was the longest three minutes of my life.  I didn’t have my phone, I didn’t have a key, and I wasn’t about to run to the front door where danger lurked.

Finally, he peeked out, realized it was me and opened the shoddy old door wide.

I walked in shrieking and trembling.  Trauma has a funny way of bringing out the rage in me.

Why didn’t you let me in?

I didn’t know you were outside, I’m so sorry.

We watched out the bedroom window that evening while the police plopped a folding table on the porch to measure and record large packages of drugs.  This was nothing newsworthy in a city the size of ours, but we surely couldn’t stop watching.

The heat brought me back to the fire, a reminder that we lived in an abnormal place.  The kind of place where people eyed you when you told them where it was.  I could never do what you do, they would say.  A pleasant way of saying you’re crazy.

Tears formed as I looked to see folks from the neighborhood, gang members, young men, old men, carrying the weight of the hose from the hydrant to the truck.  This is why we moved here, I thought.   This place is more than a statistic.

I started to see past the brokenness, the hurt and the pain.  This was a neighborhood, just like any other neighborhood, full of good and bad.  As often as I sat trembling at the bad, I more frequently thanked God for the good.

This neighborhood was alive.  People spent hours outside, knew your name, and said hi as they walked home from the bus stop.  I couldn’t help but smile when the opening of a fire hydrant on a hot day turned the whole street into a pool party.  It wasted thousands of gallons of water and was illegal, but kids splashed in the spray, the old folks sat down and dipped their toes in the dirty stream that washed by.

We were no longer frightened by the outward displays of fear and antagonization, knowing there is light in the darkness.

Time seemed irrelevant as we watched the flames lick the house.  How long did we stand there?  30 minutes, an hour?  How long does it take to extinguish a fire?  The house would smolder for days, and the neighbors would gossip for even longer.  This marked the beginning of the summer of fire, a rash of vacant houses burning hot in the night.

That summer, in the midst of the fires, I would imagine the rainy days as God’s great cleansing of the sin and evil in this place.  Maybe it was just rain, but it gave me hope to imagine more  Why not expect things to be different, for good to break through the bad, for the light to shine in the darkness?

Months later I would sit on the porch watching a girl dressed in pink ride her bike up and down the sidewalk in front of that burned out house.  A glorious reminder that God will make all things new someday.

Years later we would watch out that same upstairs window as the city demolished the house.  In one day it was gone, and in it’s place a dirt lot sat waiting, expectant.  The only way to experience newness is to demolish the old.

a poem, aged 4 years

Our house on Harvard had a kitchen window that was right next to a busy walkway.  I wrote this poem on April Fool’s day, 2014.

—————————————

Windows open,
spaces commune.
The inside welcomes the outside,
private life seeps into public.
The clank of dishes drifts outside,
the smell of breaking bread
teases passersby.
It is spring again
and life is shared.

Around us and to us.

I’ve been pondering the differences of our hardships in Zanesville and those of our life in Columbus.  Both are and were difficult, full of a lot of times where we threw our hands up in despair over the situations we found ourselves in.

In Columbus, in our inner city house, we felt protected.  We knew we had angels guarding our property and that for the most part, no harm would come to us.  However, outside of that line all was fair game.  There were murders, fires, drug deals, all within 100 feet of our house.  Every time something like that happened, fear showed up.  The “what if’s” raced through our mind and it took time for us to reevaluate and remember we were there because God asked us to be and that he would be faithful.

Here in Zanesville, we have our spacious place and we no longer worry about gunshots because the ones we hear belong to hunters.  We don’t sit on our porch and see drug deals, or vacant and abandoned houses go up in flames across the street.  We no longer hear neighbors screaming at each other at 3 am while their babies cry.

However, we seem to be dealing with a whole load of personal scrutiny and attack since landing and starting our ventures here.  We can now see that it goes with the territory of having public events and spaces, but I tell you, we were not prepared for it.

Every time it has happened, it has hurt our hearts.  It’s so hard to read these things (generally on social media) about us, and to not just want to scream untruth and try to make ourselves look better.  But one thing we’ve learned is that if someone is willing to spout angry things about another person, they’re generally not going to listen to good reason.  We pray about it, try and forgive them, and after some time things feel better.

God has shown up, in so many of these times, to completely reverse the situation.  We’ve seen him change the heart and mind of the person who felt they were wronged, so much so that it’s nothing short of miraculous (Brad has a really good story that I hope I can get him to share).

I don’t know if either of these situations is more difficult than the other, they’re just different.  I am pleased to no longer wake up in the middle of the night shaking because of gunshots outside our window, but it’s no easy thing to hear unkind words about your husband and to stand strong knowing that our worth is in God alone.

Through it all, God is good and has led us on some spectacular adventures.  The desires of our heart have been heard and answered, and His work is always good.

the dung.

*** I wrote this almost a year ago (it’s unedited).  Praise Jesus for what he has done in that year’s time.  We are in our spacious place and the house in the city is coming into it’s true glory.***

 

“We are not even the seed. We are the dung preparing the land to receive the seed.”
Dorothy Day

We knew that when we moved to this house 5 years ago that it was going to be hard. We understood nothing about the community around us other than it was broken (literally, most of the neighboring houses were vacant) and that we had a ton of work ahead of us (literally again, our house had no plumbing or electricity left).

However, I think we had (have) this fantasy in our heads that “If we build it, they will come.” Meaning that if we begin the work here, others will see the good that is happening and desire similar things (aka living nearby and taking part in our dreams).

Unfortunately this is not the Field of Dreams and at times we can still feel quite alone here. Certainly we have plenty of support from family and friends who think it’s cool that we do what we do and who help where they can, but at the end of the day we’re still alone. The damn dung.

I can’t even count the number of times Brad has tried to sell friends on buying/renting some of the houses in our neighborhood. As soon as I hear it coming out of his mouth I cringe because I can read it on their face “it’s really cool that you live here and I love visiting but no way would I ever want to live here.”

I want to embrace being the dung. To be content with quiet. The ones who pray and endure and cry and feel, well, alone. Because after 5 years this place is changing. I can see it. I can see our compost, our dung, our prayers and our vigilance turning this land into rich and beautiful soil.

Only God knows when the soil will be ready for the seed. Ready for others to come along and claim this work as their own.

Yet another burden of being quiet is not getting the recognition that you think you deserve. Perhaps you start things, pray for them, put all the dung filled hard work into them and then someone else takes it over and receives the credit. It sucks but it’s the best way. The quiet way. The way that we will not fill our egos thinking we can do this all ourselves. We can’t. Only the Lord working through us will ever accomplish the goodness we hope for on this earth.

the next step.

It felt like the world was rushing us.

Trying to convince us to put our house on the market quickly so it didn’t sit empty and become a target for vandals.

 

I get it, it makes sense.  But it didn’t feel right.

 

We knew we had to take one step at a time.

 

Selling our house was never the next step to take.  I felt confident God would provide the right people for this place.

 

After disappointments, hopes and many nights of wondering what will become of our beloved cocoa manor we now know.

 

It is incredible.

 

In fact it is everything we ever imagined before moving here.

 

The house will become an intentional community full of life and love and those who want to be good neighbors.

 

I am so thankful for the Lord.  My cup overflows.

 

He is sending us to our spacious place, he is continuing the work we started in our neighborhood.

 

We fought the battles, we fixed the house.

 

After so many years of wondering how we could ever live out our dreams of community, we will see them come true.

 

Just without us.

 

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being the brave photographer i want to be.

I told myself at the beginning of summer that I was going to be braver when it came to taking photos of our neighborhood.  I was going to ask people for their photo when I saw fit and try to really capture the beauty that I see here everyday.

It’s August and I’ve taken one photo that counts toward that goal.

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Tonight I announced that we would be going for a walk after dinner.  Partly because we have snotty kids who needed time out of the house but mostly because I needed to force myself to use my camera in our neighborhood.  Photography comes naturally, but only if I first set out to do it.

These are not amazing photographs but they are photographs.  I hope that I can use the rest of the warm weather to work toward my goal, to be brave and confident so I can show others how beautiful this place is.

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giving thanks.

The smell of sweet honeysuckle drifts through the air.

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I study the plant that will eventually creep up the wire to shade our porch and smile.

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I look at the flowers that line our porch, the food growing in our yard.

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My heart could almost burst from gratefulness.

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A house once broken, now redeemed.

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How long before it would have been condemned?

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But now it sits on it’s corner, shining bright for all to see.

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To remember what it used to be and see what it is.

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And to know, hopefully, Light is there.

Let there be light

We live in a good neighborhood.

In fairness, if you’re driving in from the suburbs, you might be terrified.  It’s not your fault, the neighborhood is intentionally mischaracterized.

A few thousand people live in these blocks that we call home. Most of them are good people. All other things being equal, most of our neighbors will choose an honest living and treat other people with decency and respect. There are some people who go out of their way to do good for others, and some people who go out of their way to take advantage of others if the opportunity presents itself. It’s like any neighborhood in the world in that respect.

But there are a few, less than 50 people by my estimation, that traffic in intimidation, aggression and fear. These people are agents of darkness. They openly sell drugs in the streets, they carry and use guns (sometimes in the direction of other people and sometimes seemingly for no reason at all), they steal or destroy anything that is available to them and habitually and openly use drugs and alcohol.  They actively encourage kids to pursue crime and addiction.

But this group of people is an extreme minority. They represent literally a handful of people among thousands.

If you drove into the neighborhood for the first time, you would likely believe that you were surrounded by these agents of darkness. They have a distinct advantage–they are visible. And they cast the neighborhood in darkness.

They will walk in the middle of the street. They will talk (yell) at ten times the necessary volume. They will park their car in the middle of the road. They will play their music at a level that can’t be comfortable for anyone involved. They will sit on your front steps and smoke a blunt if they want to.

They know something. They know that their power is based on their visibility. They know that their power is only valid for as long as they demonstrate their capacity to put themselves ahead of everyone else in the neighborhood. They are constantly sending an effective message, “We are more important than you,” and they’re yelling it as loudly as they can.  And for the most part, we all believe them.

But there’s a secret. There are more agents of light in this neighborhood than there are agents of darkness. The problem is that we’re hidden, partially out of humility, but more so out of fear. It is time for the agents of light to become visible.

We have a distinct advantage, light trumps darkness. A light can exist amidst darkness, but darkness cannot exist in the light.

Our disadvantage is that it is harder to openly demonstrate light than it is to demonstrate darkness. The mechanism is completely different.

That’s why our community garden is so important. The garden says, “There are people here who care.” When it looks and sounds like darkness surrounds us, the community garden says There is light here too. We are quiet, but we are powerful. We are humble, but we are unstoppable.

But we have to find ways to demonstrate light.  Simply not being darkness isn’t enough.

How many gangsters of darkness does a community garden cancel out? I’m not sure. But I know that the darkness cannot exist in the light. Soon we will see how brightly our community can make this light shine.

We must work together.  We must agree to rise up against the illusion of their power.  We must not allow the agents of darkness to manipulate us into believing that they are the majority.  They’re not.

Be the light. The darker the night, the brighter the stars shine.

You are the light of the world.
-Jesus