I wrote this a few weeks ago, about 2 weeks before my husband got a job and we moved to Baltimore, MD. But over a year ago, as we waited for that green card in Cairo, for some reason we had a hunch this was the city for us. And though my husband applied for jobs (55, to be precise) all over the East Coast, this is where we’ve landed. These were my first thoughts about this city, before we knew this was where we were going to settle.
My husband had a job interview first thing in the morning in a bustling city, 2 hours away. We weren’t sure how to gauge traffic for rush hour around that area, so decided to get a hotel room for the night, save some stress, so he could just walk 2 blocks to the interview at 8:50am the next day.
We knew the office where the interview as wasn’t a super great part of town, but it’s where we were staying, and we’d seen there were some food stalls that opened early a few blocks away. So, at 7:30 am on a Monday morning we went out in hopes of a decent breakfast sandwich.
We found the market it easily. But also more than we expected.
To get into the market we walked around a few groups of people on the sidewalks, some with disfigurements, and drugs visibly in use and for sale.
It was still early and quiet inside and a man approached my husband, stood very close to him, and made comments that were incomprehensible to us. We tried to understand, then just mumbled we were sorry we didn’t understand, and he walked away.
I felt pretty stupid standing there in my cut-off shorts, topknot, leather sandals, and arty handwoven sweater–a birthday gift from a generous family member.
We got bacon and egg sandwiches, and hurried back to the hotel.
We’d hoped jobs and stability in a place would materialize for us sooner back in the US. It’s been 6 months back now, mostly spent in our little house in rural DE with woods in the back. And we have loved it and it has been so good for our souls. We stay in touch with our refugee friends, we stay up on the news. We dive into the part-time work we have, I call my senators, I research the products we buy, we read lots of depressing and good books.
But we’ve been mostly in a little bubble since being back, and this experience catapulted us back out, and into ruminating over the decisions ahead of us.
I’ve never had to think about gentrification very much because I grew up in a smaller town, and it wasn’t on my radar in my college town, or any of the capital cities I lived in overseas. But I’ve been reading about it and thinking about if we do, which we likely will, move to a big city, and what it would mean to live intentionally for the good of that city—of the people in the city there already.
I don’t want to live in some luxury apartment in a gentrified part of town. I don’t know if I can write the things I do from a fancy apartment in a neighborhood that has priced out people who lived there for a long time. But I also don’t know if I can cope again with my home not feeling like a sanctuary from the rest of the world.
So, I wonder, ok, I can work vocationally or through a church for the good of lives of people living in rough neighborhoods, without living in or around those neighborhoods myself. But is that hypocritical? If I’m not willing for people to actually be my real neighbors?
After 6 crazy years overseas, we’ve been allowed and graciously received this season of being comfortable for a while. But Jesus doesn’t seem to let his followers be comfortable for long. And it’s really annoying, and so very gracious of him.
It really is a grace. Comfort has a numbing affect. Which terrifies me, but there is a part of me that so longs for comfort. A life without interruptions or hurts, according to plan. Never too hot or too cold and always just right. But it does take us off the temperature of the rest of the world. When we are only ever temperate and comfortable we forget how biting and painful the cold can be, how exhausting, life-sucking and oppressive the heat can be.
The day before the interview was my birthday. A friend very generously gave me a gift card to an ethical clothing maker that makes clothes in the US, by workers paid competitive wages, using natural materials, and made to last for years and years. All that being so, her pieces are not cheap. With other birthday money, plus the gift card, I was able to invest in an article of clothing I’ve had my eye on for almost 2 years, that I hope I will be wearing for at least the next decade.
I ordered it Sunday night, and early Monday morning, walking next to people on meth, it felt so, so stupid.
On the one hand, I want to buy ethically when we can afford to. I want to support artisans where I can. I don’t want anything I purchase to support slavery, human rights abuses, or poor treatment of the planet or the people on it. On the other hand, it feels so incredibly elitist and privileged and nauseating. I lived in impoverished countries for six years. Where does that leave me here and now?
Retreating has been good, but it’s time for us crash back down to earth. It’s time to intentionally intertwine our lives with the lives of others, for the goodness and breaking that comes with relationship. To wiggle our way back in to community for our own good and, we hope, the good of the community.
Oh man, wanting God’s Kingdom to come on earth is the promise of something so beautiful, but the reality of trying to live it out in such a broken world, on days where that kingdom can seem so far away and so unattainable and naïve, it can seem terrifying.
And here we are, in this same city where my husband interviewed just after my birthday. It all happened quite fast, we had less than 3 weeks to find a place and move before he started work.
I find myself looking for where my place in this city might be. I am thrilled to be in such a dynamic place, a city full of immigrants, refugees, and diversity. It’s hard to know where to start, confusing learning my way around a new bustling city, difficult not knowing many people at all here.
It’s not my city yet, but it will be.
I don’t know how to live for the good of this city yet, but I’m ready to learn from those who’ve called this place home for a long time.
We’re here. Out of our much-needed woodsy retreat, and I’m ready.
I’m ready to keep learning what it means to be a peace-maker and not just a peace keeper, to keep learning the best ways to fight for good in the lives of others, to live like the Sermon on the Mount truly is the blessed life, and to settle for nothing less than the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
What does the kingdom of Heaven look like in Baltimore? Where is God building it here? Where can I be a part?
Give us eyes to see, feet willing to move, and hands that open freely to our neighbors, Lord.