Fourteen 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 and body odor. We had wall-to-wall tile and no central air. The kitchen cabinets stuck. 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, witches stirred up all kinds of spirits and practiced divination before being burned alive. 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.
At 24 years of age, I’d never given much thought to evil spirits or real demonic activity or the depravity of man so overcome with the desires of the flesh that they were 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 and I must tell you that the only thing we mastered that year was relocating into the neighborhood. We ate ramps with milk, and shuttled neighbors to and from the local Wal-Mart and spent hours at the laundromat. We held church services and prayer services in the community building where my job was to corral the twenty or so wild children at the table in the back of the building and do what we affectionately called The Sunday Train Wreck. I’ll let your imagination run wild for a bit, but trust me, whatever is in your head is not nearly as bad as it really was.
We also did your normal, run of the mill, love your neighbor events.
I baked cakes by the dozens and served coffee like it was my job. I babysat. We hosted movie nights with cookies and hot chocolate. We held clothing drives from the truckloads of clothing dropped off at the complex by churches not on the mountain and I kid you not, at one of the distribution sites, we had a table devoted to women’s undergarments complete with lacy thongs, garter belts, and sexy bustiers. It was a riot. I die now just thinking about it. In my zeal for disciple making, I even started a bible study in my apartment and served a weekly, carb-loaded lunch to a half-dozen women with out of control diabetes. They couldn’t read or even acquire the book, but heck, I was passionate and they liked cheese, so we all faked it.
And because it was 2002, 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. I think Regina would have laughed.
And I think she’d have gone home, smoked a cigarette with a beer, and called me in the morning.
And I think I’d have woken up and realized that simply being present in relationship with my neighbors was exactly what Jesus was inviting me to do.
One of my favorite writers, D.L. Mayfield, is releasing a book into the world today, friends.
It’s exactly the kind of book I wish I had read fourteen years ago before we made crazy trying to force feed the Gospel to an entire complex of unsuspecting neighbors who simply wanted to be our legitimate friends. It’s also exactly the sort of book I wish I had read five years ago before moving onto Avent Street and trying so dang hard to once again, but gentler this time and minus the lingerie table, force feed the Gospel to unsuspecting neighbors who simply wanted to be our friends.
I cannot count all the ways I have failed my neighbors by trying to give them a thousand things I thought they needed and denying them the one thing they were asking for: Friendship. But hear me when I tell you that I have failed and I have failed, miserably.
And in my failing, Jesus has saved me from myself.
Assimilate or Go Home is the story of one woman’s beautiful coming undone. It is her personal struggle to move from trying to convert the world to Christ to simply loving the world because she has been, and is continually being, converted. D.L. humbly lets us into the raw, honest parts of her story, where her evangelical upbringing and her present day walk with Jesus rub up against one another and challenge all that she knows about God, the world and herself. This book is her invitation to lay down all that we think we know about Christianity and follow Jesus into the margins, where everything is upside down and bursting with the kingdom that Jesus was always talking about; the kingdom where the Good News is actually good news to the people living there.
Maybe you’re looking for a gentle companion on your journey towards downward mobility or maybe you’re looking for a guide into upside-down kingdom living. Maybe you’re just not sure about what it means to truly be Christ follower and live among the marginalized.
Or maybe you’re like me and just plain tired of trying to save the whole world by knocking on doors and hosting clothing drives. Maybe you know there’s more to this Christianity thing that what you’ve been taught to believe.
Wherever you find yourself today, may you find yourself holy curious about what it means to really love Jesus and others.