stockbridge neighborhood is waking up. i like to sit in the couch in our living room, from which i can survey the sidewalk, and watch all the myriad people go by. they are of every color and every age. often they walk west with hands empty and walk back east with a bag holding liquor, beer, or small grocery items from Family Pantry. there are a handful of folks who make this journey 3 or more times each day. though our end of the block is occupied with quiet, good people we are a thoroughfare for the Family Pantry traffic, and the bus stop traffic.
some days i sit on the front porch and watch our urban wildlife, too. the squirrel who runs up and down our fence throughout the day, and the birds who stop to pick worms from our front lawn. then there’s the pit bulls being walked by their owners. when walking-by neighbors see my belly, they smile at me and wish me the best and ask if it’s a boy or a girl, and all the rest. people smile at you a great deal, i’m finding, when you’re great with child. even people who wouldn’t normally be warm get a little softer. it’s sweet.
there is a mexican family that lives about a block away they have a little taco stand that they set up on weekends. i’d heard about the taco stand and how great the food is, but until this weekend, we had never gone to visit it. friday night tim and i walked over to get some homemade horchata (good!). it was like walking into Mexico, that 50 square feet of space that felt like another culture and world entirely. and we chatted with the cart owners, and some other neighbors who frequently patronize the taco stand, and we felt so warm inside. we walked home in the dark talking about what a special thing this is; most neighborhoods don’t have a taco cart to call their own. added to the blaring of hispanic music that was until very recently emanating from the house to our east, and you can sometimes forget that you don’t live in a spanish-speaking country.
then there are the church bells of St. Adalbert’s Cathedral, ringing at 7 am and 6 pm daily, reminding you, if you have forgotten, where in the course of the day you are. and the ice cream truck, currently decked out with shrek cartoons on its side, playing it’s never-changing song punctuated by the robotic feminine voice that says, “hello!” that ice cream truck drove by during our wedding here two summers ago. our neighbor boys stop by nearly daily asking for tim, wanting to work on a bike, or to help out with our yard. and chris from next door yells from her porch to me as i sit sunning in the yard, giving me her updates on babies born to her nieces and asking if i want more venison.
we are putting a community garden in our giant yard, and there are a few other neighbor-friends planting food and keeping up compost heaps and raising chickens, ducks, and turkeys. some college guys down the street have a frisbee golf “hole” that they put in the street and use. another neighbor has the sweetest laundry lines stretched across the roof outside her kitchen, where she hangs her bath-tub washed clothes out to dry. and another neighbor feeds all the stray cats, and is now caring for 9 of their baby kittens. we have mint and comfry growing in our yard, and more flowering ground cover than we have grass.
within a block of our house there are at least 4 vacant houses. most of them have been vacant for a long time, though one just went up on the market two days ago. some of them are not even for sale, just boarded up and abandoned. the ones that are for sale, are usually $20K or less. i like to dream of what they could become. our homeless friends have turned the back porch of one such house into their gathering place, and i can see and identify them from my kitchen windows.
on top of all of this quirky wonderfulness, there are a couple dozen Jesus-loving friends who live here, too. i can see some of their houses from the windows of my own. across the alley, one block south, two blocks east they have taken up residence here because they love each other and they love Jesus and they are crazy enough to think that (a) Jesus wants His kingdom to come to the West Side, (b) that prayer has something to do with accomplishing that, and (c) setting up camp in the middle of the mission field is part of what it means to live like Jesus lived. so, here we all are. we take great comfort and joy in one another. we share meals, pray together daily in a three-stall garage, started a little church, plot random acts of kindness (birthday celebrations for the forgotten ones, field trips for the fatherless kids, guerilla gardening in the alleys), share lawn mowers and toilet paper and eggs. it’s so very sweet.
i love this life. i love this place. i am so completely thrilled to be called to call this home.
even though i know that our neighborhood is considered “rough” by certain standards, most days i can totally forget it is so; my affection for this place and these people surpasses the statistics of crime, gangs, poverty, failing schools, abuse, fatherlessness, and addiction. most days i feel like the luckiest girl, and can laugh at the west side antics, taking them all in stride and seeing the beauty between and amongst the grit.
last night at 2 am i awoke from dead sleep to the sound of angry shouting. i got out of bed and went to the open window to have a listen and determine whether or not some sort of intervention was required. all i could make out was a single phrase, shouted loud and proud: “west side n-gg-r”. then, suddenly, after a few f-bombs and scuffles, four short, sharp gun shots in a row. then three more chants of “west side n-gg-r”, as though it were a battle cry, and all was silent again. we called 911 and told the dispatcher. within 5 minutes there were three cop cars present, but i wasn’t able to ascertain whether they found anyone, or found a body, or anything else. it is possible that someone was killed down the block last night.
it took me a long while to fall back to sleep, even after tim and i spent some time interceding for the situation, and reclaiming the promises of God for His protection and authority over us and our neighborhood. it was sobering. not like it’s the first time there’s been a slew of cop cars on our block or in our alley, and surely not the first time we’ve heard loud shouting and yelling steeped in violent anger. we’ve seen drug deals happening out in the open, and our friends have seen men beating other men with sticks and bricks. we know it happens. but for some reason, that event last night re-opened me to feeling the heavy evil. there is great evil. and it is very nearby. there is great evil that is done out in the open, without shame, with no attempt to hide. how that makes me long for Jesus to come and make all things new.
i’m anticipating giving birth to a child, and probably this week! she will be born into this place. and those sounds, with their accompanying spirits of violence, murder, and addiction, will be the sound-scape of her early life. i could almost feel my cervix UN-dilating in response to the fearful climate those gun-shots and shouts created, as if to say, “whoa! hold up! are we sure we want to give birth here?!”
i have learned to trust Jesus with my own body, heart, and home. and tim, as a discerning adult, can do the same. now we must learn how to trust Jesus with our daughter, who is an innocent. and that almost feels irresponsible. (i don’t actually believe that it is).
but i believe that there is a real battle, a battle that is perhaps even heating up, because there is a strong front advancing here: it is the Kingdom of God. and darkness tries to hide, but trembles at His voice. His victory is sure, but it isn’t human nature to go down without a fight.
we’re staying put here. under any flitting doubts about the zip code we’ve chosen, there remains a solid peace.
but you can pray. you can pray for more of this place to be transferred from the kingdom of darkness and brought into His glorious light. and you can pray that our daughter would get to grow up in a neighborhood that is being transformed by the blood of Jesus, steadily and surely over the years. as my friend chelsea wrote the other day:
I see Revival. As if our voices can be restored, our hands made new — let us begin with this city and let the gossip be that Jesus lives