Tuesday, May 15, 2012


This is a fitting story after the last post, because this is truly what "keeps me from going under"
In Bible Study on Wednesdays, we've been talking about the life of Joseph and are just starting into Exodus. It is incredible how into the stories the girls are. It's fun to interact or watch their faces as they start to connect the dots or anticipate what will happen next for better or for worse. Some of the girls are hearing these stories for the first time and they are so alive to know what the next week's story will bring. (Well, most of the time they are...sometimes I talk too much and they just wanna get out of there). God is so genius with His ability to tell stories that capture the hearts of people everywhere, for all time…It leaves me in awe of the living Word, the Word became flesh.

After the lesson, we usually talk about prayer requests and then I pray. Sometimes I ask if the girls want to pray instead, but don’t seem to get any volunteers. Last week though Yakira volunteered and when she prayed, my eyes were misty. It was also totally humbling because she prayed formatted how I usually do… opening with “God, thanks for letting us be together here tonight”, going around and praying for each girl and then closing with “Thanks for hearing and answering our prayers. We love you. Amen” I’m sure she hears others pray also, but I never realized that every week when I prayed with them that I am modeling what talking to God sounds like. I loved hearing her talk to God about real stuff and know that He heard, that He saw, that He cared about her and our group.

"It's like a jungle sometimes..."

Don't push me, cause I'm close to the edge
I'm trying not to loose my head
It's like a jungle, sometimes it makes me wonder
How I keep from going under
"The Message"

I was introduced to this Grandmaster Flash song by my upstairs neighbor, Malissa who is in Urban Planning. I won't put up all the lyrics, but it's worth a read over (or listen) if you are interested. Kinda sums up some of how I feel in this crazy city pinched between cultures.

Sometimes it makes me wonder...

How I can be standing on the el platform in my neighborhood and see a lady in the alley, crouched between 2 garbage cans peeing.

How I can be riding past in the heifer and see a bunch of teenage guys looking excited, covering their mouth and pointing like they are watching a fight. I realized they are watching a fight...between 3 birds! They are swooping and pecking, boxing one another out.
How I can be standing on the el platform downtown and a man be singing...truly belting out DIO's "Rock and Roll Children" and everyone keeps their "city face" and pretends like nothing is happening. 

How I can be standing on the corner outside the "Buy & Fly" next to 2 teens smoking cigarettes and one shouting "F---- the police" as they pass, then the cops do a u-turn and drive into oncoming traffic to park at the corner where they get out and ask the kid if he's got something to say now. They ask his age, ask for ID (which he doesn't have), cuff him and put him in the back to take him home.

How can I be crossing the street after that experience ready to bust into tears and the 7 year old neighbor girl, Nyianna runs up to give me a hug and then comes with her sisters to color on my porch for awhile.

How can I be steady listening to these sweetest girls tell me how mean the kids at school are to them for having worn out clothes.

...how I keep from going under.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?

On Friday, I had the day off from work. Laying in my bed, I heard the noise of garbage trucks and weed wackers and wondered if that happened every Friday and I was never there to hear it or if something was going on. Something was going on.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday there were multiple cops on our block at all times. They were pulling people over to check ID's and enforcing the permit parking on the block.The neighborhood had a strange vibe... there was excitement and caution. (I don't remeber feeling such opposite things coexisting since India).

There is an excitement that the violence in the neighborhood will decrease, that drug traffic will not hold the neighborhood hostage, that people can just enjoy spending time outside with their neighbors. Those are things that I feel as well and am thankful for. It is nice to hear the older crowd on the block say that this is the way it used to be- the community pulling together, the streets and empty lots cleaned up and the drug sales somewhere else.

There is also a caution that the same policing that benefits our neighborhood may also be a burden, that the constant patrolling breaks the spirit of those not doing anything wrong, that the ticketing catches people without mallicious intent. It's hard to hear my neighbors (that I like to think I have become friends with) concerned for their husbands or 13 year olds to walk around the block without their ID's, to have their parenting questioned by strangers and to wonder if the reason all this is happening is because of upcoming elections instead of concern for saftey. Those polar realities look like something of an internal gymnastic championship in my brain.

On the one hand, I feel guilty that I am not being watched with such scrutiny as the black men on my block, that I haven't experienced the same fear my neighbor has about her son being mis-labeled, that I don't know the families who are hurting from these arrests. Does that make me one of "them"?

On the other hand, I feel guilty that I question the motives of those at the press conference, that I scoff at people coming to "help" our neghborhood, that I am angry about laws being enforced and at my perceptions of the men risking their lives to protect me and my neighbors. Does that make me one of "them"?

I wish that every drug dealer or gangster could be categorized as good or bad. And yet, if I know that would be an injustice. In the same way, I wish that every policy or police officer or politician could be categorized as good or bad. And yet if I settle on that, I feel I have done them the same injustice that I feel has happened to the young men arrested on Thursday.

Justice feels hard to truly achieve. It probably is unrealistic to expect the system to be more restorative than punative. We don't have the staffing to assess every peron's situation and we don't have the funding to run effective individualized rehabilitation programs. But I wonder if we have the resources to manage a generation of ex-convicts unable to get jobs, disconnected from the social/educational resources of their peers, with no vision of anything different. I'm willing to recant on this if I learn and grow differently, but it just seems like the resources are misplaced. I'm sure these ideas are not new, but I feel them acutely now.

Regardless of the dissonace I feel about the political issues, it cements my devotion to youth who are figuring out what their role is in the world. It makes me believe that Dreamer and Yakira can change their generation and in doing so, the world. It makes my heart cry out desperate prayers for the Spirit of the Living God to move in North Lawndale. It wells up a hope that things will not always be undone... He is coming to make all things new.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Do you need some money?

When I rounded the corner on my way home Wednesday night there was a "welcoming committee". There were a couple men leaning on their car parked in front of my house. Judging from the way they were acting toward the ladies standing near them, the bottles they were holding onto were pretty empty.

One of the men called out to me- "Do you need any money?" When I turned to answer, he had pulled a WAD of cash out of his pocket and was waving it at me. "Are $100 bills OK? That's all I got." I smiled; this was a line I had not heard before!

He held out his hand and introduced himself as Ozzy, a relative of my neighbor across the street. I also introduced myself and then kept moving toward my porch. He asked how old I was...then tried to convince me that he was 35 and since that was pretty near to  26, we should go out some time. (This smooth operator was definitely not younger than 50 though, folks! :) For some puzzling reason I am a wild success in this age group.)

I went in the house, grabbed some dinner and headed back out the door to pick up girls for Bible Study. Ozzy was still out front. He pulled out his money again and questioned if I needed any. He told me he had a good job "building shit" for a living and he had plenty to share with me as long as I was OK with $100's.

A priceless cookie

The other day I stopped at Walgreens on my way home from work to grab a water bottle. It was so warm outside and you could tell the case had been picked all day by people trying to beat the heat. This man was looking through the glass at all of his water bottle options... hmmm. Water for $0.79 or water for $2? Tough choice, I know. I breezed passed him, grabbed the off brand and went on my way thinking I was really the bee's knees. The sun was out, I was about to be well hydrated and all seemed right with the world.

BUT THEN as I was standing on the el platform at Washington and Wells waiting for my pink line train, I suddenly had to "use it" with terrifying urgency. At first I was annoyed and tried to stand there in the vain hope that seeing the train would solve the problem. But standing there all I had was a flashback of me at age 12 at a family reunion. I was sporting my raggedy ann collouts and matching scrunchy; white canvas tie up shoes with brightly colored cuffed socks...you know...AWESOMENESS! I had the same feeling in my bowels then and ignored it to help my Aunt Judy spread out a picnic blanket. That story ended with me wrapped up in a trash bag in my parents minivan on the way to my granparents to launder those cool threads I was wearing. Total most embarrassing moment ever. And as I ran down the steps of the train station I was praying not to have an encore of it.

I found a Starbucks within a block and inside made a beeline for the bathroom. crisis averted! sighs of relief and gratefulness and crowds cheering and angels singing... you get the idea.

On the way out I noticed the manager looking sternly at her staff and assumed she was upset they let me use the bathroom even though I didn't buy anything. (Typing that out made me realize it's improbable that was the reason. haha. In my relief I guess I totally presumed that) So I approached the case looking for the cheapest thing I could buy and settled on a cookie. I was glad I went the economical route for the water because this cookie was no bargain. It's the best $2 I ever spent though! Buying an overpriced oatmeal raisin cookie to avoid pooping your pants in public at age 26 while miles away from home = priceless.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Vocab Words

Remember the show, Recess? It’s one of the only cartoon shows I will admit to enjoying. (I’m also pretty fond of Arthur the Aardvark) TJ Detwhiler makes up the word “Whomps” partially because he’s cool and partially because he can’t get in trouble for the meaning of a made up word. Anyway, it totally made me laugh and made me think of it when I heard these new vocab words recently.

TTU: Too Turned Up
One Wednesday, the girls and I are in the Heifer and the answer to every question was “TTU”. How was school? TTU How was your weekend? TTU How about Taco Bell for dinner? TTU You get the idea!:)

So Happenly... : The new form of “It so happened”  
On the way home from Taco Bell, the girls were telling stories and one of them kept starting with “So happenly”. It has a nice ring to it right? I think will start using it.  

Clutch: Means to come through under pressure in an important moment
My AZ friends say this all the time.I think basketball people might say this too. Urbandictionary.com says that the term is “derived from the clutch mechanism in a manual car, where perfect timing can mean the difference between a launch and a stall”.

B-boy: Short for “break-boy” refers to guys who break dance
A few weeks ago I went to a winter block party at The Metro with my neighbors. Their friend Joseph “Sentrock” was in town from AZ and got to jump into the b-boy competition. It was pretty great to see so much culture and art and strength in these guys (and girls)! Not my scene at all, but I loved it and secretly felt like I was in Step Up 3. :)

Cipher:  It’s b-boys freestyling- no formal competition 
Just learned the correct spelling of this one now… Was totally searching for “sypher”…Oh well!

That’s all I got for now, but I’m sure there will be more to come. You could try out one of these words this week or make up your own. :) Please comment any original words… I would love to start using them!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Grieving Outsider/Insider

When I got home from work on Wednesday, there were cops everywhere and looking through the windows of parked cars with their flashlights and a tow truck picking up a van. I didn't know what happened, but I knew it was something bad. I later found out that a man had been shot and killed just across the corner of 19th and Troy.

I felt a particular grief that I live so close to the place this violence happened. A violence that not only took this man's life but also left families and friends who knew him (grew up with him) grieving. Those people are my neighbors that I say hi to in passing, wait for the el with, care about and pray for, but I don't really know them...I didn't know Johnny Henderson.

I wanted to express my solidarity with my neighbors- that this was our community's grief. At the same time though, I felt like I didn't have a right to grieve for someone I didn't know, whose life didn't intersect with mine, whose experiences didn't come from the same world. I didn't want to disrespect their deep grief by pretending I was going through the same thing- because I'm not. I also didn't want to disrespect my commitment to this place by pretending it did not affect me- because it does.

So I bought a cheesecake and walked down the block to the memorial that had been set up. There were red heart balloons and a poster board of pictures around the tree; candles and empty liquor bottles at the base of it. I offered my condolences and prayers for the family and my cheesecake. I offered to pray with a couple people, but no one took me up on it. I talked with a couple guys about their friendship with Johnny and the things that cause this kind of thing in our neighborhood. And then I left.

What does it really look like to be a caring neighbor? To be a part of a community different from the one you grew up in? How can I have any kind of relationship or make any kind of difference in the lives of these men who are aching to prove themselves? How can I demonstrate light and hope and truth? How do I remain open when all I want to do is hide from this ugly reality?

Silly as that cheesecake was, I didn't know how else to express my sadness and love for my neighbors. I didn't know how else to offer my presence and with it the hope of Jesus. I wish I would have wrote a card or Bible verse or something too, but I didn't really think of that until after the fact. I feel so small and insignificant in the midst of so many layers of pain and brokenness, but I serve a God who is more than able to do more than I can ask or think, who is enough to fill this deep sadness and give new life and hope to those who call on His name.
His name is above every name
His authority is limitless
His holiness is supreme
His love is immeasurable
His wisdom is infinite
His strength is unmatched
His truth is powerful
His healing is complete
His victory over sin and death is sure
I invite His presence here...to Chicago, to Lawndale, to 19 & Troy....
And look forward to the day when our faith shall be made sight!