On Saturday, before the sun fell behind the skyline, I left the sink full of dishes and the laundry piled high on the couch to chase the light.
The sky was ripe with color and I was ripe to catch its hope in pixels. Hope presents itself to me in light and so I chase it down, the chase always there, the light always Jesus.
I turned down a different street than the one I usually take and I followed the the sunlight peaking in between the broken buildings and boarded up homes. A woman pushed a baby in a stroller over the cracked sidewalk and her face was that of a grandmother, not a mother. I waved a half wave, one that acknowledged I’d seen her, and she looked through me, her eyes never meeting mine. I watched her for long minutes, making up her story in my mind until she was gone.
I slowly turned down street after street, pulling over every now and then to savor the bits of light resting on piles of trash and broken chairs and shattered glass. I passed abandoned church buildings and tossed out toys and a boy and girl stealing a moment against a chain link fence.
I drove on until I recognized a familiar street and I made a right onto it. Thomas street would take me back over the tracks to Avent and it was getting late. I drove only a block down the street before the largest church I’d ever seen in this part of town leaned over the sidewalk in such a way that struck me with nothing short of audacity.
I slowed the car to a crawl to just take in the church’s majesty and then I pulled into the only drive next to it. I crossed the street to the sidewalk on the other side and focused my lens to capture its glorious presence. But I couldn’t.
I snapped frame after frame until I heard a door open behind me and I turned to see who was coming.
“Hey there, can I help you?” he said as he made strides towards me.
I stood there, my camera around my neck, feeling quite foolish and out of place, like I’d been caught up to no good. “Hey there,” I answered back. “I’m Lori and I love to drive down this way when the sun is pretty like it is tonight and take pictures of stuff I find. I’ve never seen this church before and I thought I’d take some pictures of it.”
He reached out to shake my hand. “Well, I’m James, the pastor of that church. Nice to meet you.”
I smiled. “I write, I mean I don’t write books, but I blog and I love to include pictures of Rocky Mount with my writing,” I stammered on. “My husband and I have planted a church here and I write about our experiences in this city.” I swallowed hard before I kept going, “I also write about poverty and racism and The Church.”
He smiled, big and warm, inviting me to keep on stammering.
“Are you from here?” I asked him, knowing full well he wasn’t. There was something different about his person, his dress, his warmth without an air of suspicion about the white girl standing in his yard with a camera taking pictures of the 120 year old church across the street.
“No, I’m from Charlotte,” he said as his wife joined us in the yard. “I’ve been here for 2 years now. This church has a sweet history. It’s the second oldest African American church in Rocky Mount.”
I let my soul leap up from the pit of my belly, but I restrained my arms from squeezing these people tight around their shoulders. We chatted for long minutes while the sun crept down behind us and I felt both audacity and hope burst forth like Light on Thomas street.
I drove across the railroad tracks at a little before 8 and as I made my way down my street, I could see our yard littered with the kids from the neighborhood. The Man was on the porch, his glasses perched on the end of his nose, his nose in the middle of some book, his ears on the noise in the yard.
I parked the car and hugged the babies who were covered in one layer of grime and one layer of sticky sweetness. The boys called out to me and the Pumpkin Smashers* looked out from behind the big oak tree. I nodded at them, not ready to make nice in the sandbox, but not ready to send them packing either.
As I joined the Man on the porch, I let my mind wander around in the deep end of church and The Church and calling and ministry and community and where we’ve been placed.
And in the audacity of that hope that lingered from Thomas street, I let myself lean into the moment right here on Avent street, reminding myself of something I scrawled out months ago:
We’ve not been called to have a ministry here. We’ve been called to have a life here. And in that life, we’ve been called to live in such a way that our people in our place want the Jesus they see in us.
I watched my people play tag in the yard and stroll babies down the street and I let myself feel the Hope that lives here,
Even after the sun fades.
In recent months, I have been stirred to draw a circle around the community that God has been forming here for the last couple of years. On my own, I’m not so great at building an online community. It was never my intent. But you’re here and you’re faithful and I sense that God is about something bigger than my storytelling here. So I invite you to subscribe to avent*ure, a weekly newsletter that I will begin sending out the first Sunday in June. This newsletter will be less storytelling and more me sharing, in the style of a conversation, how God is moving my heart, what I’m reading, and what I see Him doing in my place. This newsletter will also be a place where I challenge us to do specific things in our places to show the love of Jesus. If you’d love to say YES to loving your place, I encourage you to sign up by subscribing in the little box to the right of this post. I’d love to see God wake our hearts up to the world around us. And I’d love to see us make much of Jesus, right where we are. It is the JOY of my heart to be in community with you. Thank you for blessing my life.
*Pumpkin Smasher: n. One who lives on Avent street and seeks to urinate on, destroy, or trash another’s property.