Twelve years ago, the hubs packed us up and moved us to the mountains of NC. We moved in September, just as the leaves were beginning to change and just as baby number 2 was beginning to round out my body.
Before you begin to have blissful thoughts of falling leaves and long turns on the Blue Ridge Parkway, let me assure you that our move was more moving on down than moving on up.
We unloaded our U-Haul into a three bedroom apartment in section 8 housing that reeked of stale cigarettes and ramps. We had wall-to-wall tile and no central air. It was dark and dingy and super cold at night. Because the apartments were built into the side of a mountain, our neighbors could look down into our apartment whenever they saw fit to take a peek.
Which was quite often, to tell you the truth.
Our complex was built on an old fairground where legend has it, there were witch burnings in the early 19th century and all kinds of conjuring up of spirits and divination. Our neighbors saw ghosts and heard spirits and wrestled with demons we knew nothing of. Some demons had names like alcoholism, incest, mental illness, and severe depression. Other demons had no names other than angels of darkness.
At 24 years of age, I’d never given much thought to evil spirits or real demonic activity or the depravity of man overcome with the desires of the flesh consuming him from the outside in. But three months into life at 67 Fairground Avenue made me a believer in all things that go bump in the night and in the middle of the day.
We’d moved to Spruce Pine to plant churches and to pastor the small church within the apartment complex in which we were living. We adopted the principle of relocation before we even knew that it was an actual thing. We moved into the neighborhood, ate ramps with milk, and shuttled neighbors to and from the local Wal-Mart. We held church services and prayer services and waded into intentional neighboring. I baked cakes by the dozens and served coffee like it was my job.
I also spent a great deal of time just answering phone calls to the tune of 30 an hour. When a certain neighbor was manic she’d call and ask me one thing:
If I smoke a cigarette with my beer, am I gonna die?
She was concerned about the carbonation mixing poorly with the smoke. She’d call and call and call and I’d tell her the same thing over and over again:
No, Regina. You’re not gonna die. Today. Please stop calling.
I think back on the madness of those phone calls and I think that if I had to do it all over again, I’d have invited Regina over for dinner, followed by three packs of cigs and a case of beer and we’d have done a test run together.
I smile at the thought of it. I think it would have been fun. And I think Regina would have laughed.
For reasons unknown to me, I thought about our time in Spruce Pine this morning while my hands were in the sink. I thought about the way we rubbed shoulders with people our world deems evil or mentally ill or damaged beyond repair. I thought about the way our neighbors had been systematically corralled into housing that the locals called the badlands, where people were shut away and left to fend for themselves in a sea of other people fighting the same demons.
As if the poor can chase away poverty or alcoholics can chase away alcoholism or bi-polar individuals can chase away the depression or the mania or the demon possessed can be freed from the bondage of never-ending torment by other tormented neighbors.
I thought about how only the hope of Jesus can chase away demons and how Hope always has to move in.
I thought about that little apartment at the bottom of the hill where the phone never stopped ringing and shame rest its heavy arms across our threshold. I thought about the heaviness of poverty and the hopelessness of feeling forgotten. I thought about the sea of faces we called neighbors and the oppressive air breathed in round their tables. I thought about the way stewed ramps bite the back of your throat and how cool milk chases the burn.
I thought about how wide life lived on the margins felt.
And I thought about how that thin sliver of life outside the margins seemed to hardly ever touch the edge of where we lived.
I’d love to have you over for dinner next week. What would you like to eat? I asked.
Without skipping a beat, she said lasagna.
And then she said I can’t believe I just told you that. But I love lasagna. I really love lasagna.
I grinned like a maniac and grabbed her arm and told her I was thrilled she told me what she really wanted to eat.
She grinned back and then grabbed my arm. Thank you.
On Wednesday, I’ll light candles and pull out the pretty dishes and I’ll serve Stouffer’s lasagna with a salad because we have company coming.
And our company has requested Stouffer’s lasagna.
We’ll gather round the table as needy people in need of Jesus and grace and never-ending forgiveness. We’ll blur that line between the more broken and less broken and we’ll be broken together, all the same.
We’ll empty one another of all that holds us captive and we’ll be truth tellers, returning one another to our truest selves.
We’ll bring hope to the table and we’ll laugh at the days to come.
And I imagine we’ll begin to re-imagine our world with more hope-full people living in the margins.
Hope thrives in the margins.
And y’all, we have to be willing to take it there.