Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A few questions about livin' in the hood.

So I received an email yesterday from a sweet woman who reads this blog. She had some questions about our family, our ministry, and how the two work together. Especially in light of the fact that the Lord has called us to an area of Dallas where they won't deliver pizza and the police stop you when your walking your dog in the morning and ask, credulously, if you live in the neighborhood.

"No. I live in Highland Park, I just come walk over here in the mornings because of all the pretty."

Ok, I don't say that to the fine men in blue. I think it, but I don't say it.

I get emails like this fairly often. Trey made the comment the other day that it's because, when you read this blog, and if you take out the humor, it does seem a little crazy.

I didn't know he actually read this blog. Now that I know, I will imbed coded messages to him.

For example. Hey Trey, the garbage disposal is broken.

I'm going somewhere with this, I promise.

The questions my blog friend had were in an effort to reconcile the ministry they have in their own hometown with the not so subtle opposition of their family, and sometimes their own hearts.

With her permission, I'm sharing some of what she wrote and some rambling answers. The reason why I'm doing this is because I believe we are all called to live radically for the gospel. Not that everyone will be called to live in the inner-city or take in homeless teenage boys but there is no doubt that an honest look at the Word of God shows us life after life poured out for the glory of the King, and, perhaps, by sharing with one another, we can encourage each other along the way.

Here we go.

You see, against all odds of being able to buy a house, God pretty much placed a home within our reach and directed our steps to a great big old house in the hood. We love our neighborhood and our neighbors. We have been there for four years and we still have family that will not come over and visit. They say I am doing damage to our daughter, yet, I know that I am supposed to be in this neighborhood. Are you ever concerned about this for your family?

First of all, people definitely were opposed to our move. Over the years, that has changed. There's a comfort with the familiar and the more people come, share in what we're doing, and see that flac jackets aren't always required, the more at home they feel.

Absolutely I think about the safety of my kids in this neighborhood. Kids here are given a great deal of freedom but not a whole lot of opportunities to channel their energy in positive ways. The end result is that there's lots of loitering, hanging out, and ultimately getting in trouble. That's part of our efforts at Mercy Street. But still, because of what they hear in the neighborhood, we've had conversations about sex, homosexuality, murder, rape, and abuse far earlier than I would have ever hoped. It's hard but we use each conversation as an opportunity to talk about the sin of man and the love and restorative power of Christ. It's given them compassion and the need to walk in faith they may not have known living insulated from the harsh realities of the world. Does that mean we seek it out, let kids say what they want in our home, take a stance of resignation? Absolutely not. But, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we see sin as sin, and our call is to help usher in the Kingdom of God as far as the curse is found - starting in our own home.

This past weekend I invited some neighborhood kids over to make cookies. Do things like this really make any kind of difference?

We have kids in all the time. It's safe to say we have two extra kids for dinner every night in addition to our own six. We believe the image of a family sitting down together to dinner, talking, laughing, helping the little ones with drinks and cutting their food, is one that has a huge impact. Our grocery bill is bigger because of it but it's another way we can share with our children how the Lord provides in the big and the small. Sometimes, our portions will be smaller and Trey will make a peanut butter sandwich after dinner. But it's worth sharing our table with a kid who hasn't sat down with his family, his dad, in a long, long time.

Trey was playing Wii with a bunch of kids including our own one day when one of the older boys said, "You know, Mr. Trey, this is how it's supposed to be. A dad playing, just hangin' out with his kids. This is right."

We had to do a pocket check when they were leaving because my daughter's bowl of loose change in her room somehow found its way into all of their pockets! How do I go about gently instructing them that there's no stealing?

Oh, the stealing. Be it snacks, money, iPods, or baseball cards, we've had it all. First off, no child is unsupervised in our home until we know them well. Tee, our 10 year old is kind of like having the police in the house which can come in handy and be a detriment all at the same time.

Someone told me once that the kids in the hood steal because, when they see you have so much, they think you won't miss it or can simply go get another one. The fact that Mr. Hill works really hard to earn the money to buy the things we have are dots many of the kids have not been taught to connect. Just because they're invited in, doesn't mean there aren't boundaries. We try to put stuff away to avoid temptations, kids may not come in our bedroom, and may not take food without asking. Then, they get one snack each. Exceptions are for sure made and that comes from knowing about their home lives, what's going on in their families and how are they being provided for. The one snack rule is a guideline but it's our goal that a kid never leaves our house hungry. Even if it means making an entire loaf of grilled cheese sandwiches.

We almost always catch the kids stealing before they've gotten out the door. It's an opportunity for reconciliation, consequences, and forgiveness but makes my kids mad as hatters - especially when it's their stuff. They're learning that sometimes, kids, friends steal from them so guarding their hearts against cynicism is another lesson we're learning.

I appreciated my new friend's honest questions and hope these answers were somewhat helpful. I read this quote by Francis Chan today and loved it. I hope, by reading this blog, you may be encouraged to step outside of your comfort zone, even today, and see what joys God may set before you.

"What will people say about your life in heaven? Will people speak of God's work and glory through you? And even more important, how will you answer the King when He says, "What did you do with what I gave you?" Daniel Webster once said, "The greatest thought that has ever entered my mind is that one day I will have to stand before a holy God and give an account of my life." He was right."
- Francis Chan, Crazy Love, p.174


Holli said...

great post - have also wondered about some of the same things. can we ask more questions?
what is the punishment for milk dud stealing??? :)
Seriously though-
The Lord is doing mighty things through your family in the hood and through the world wide web!

Traci said...

Don't you just love that book? Have you read or listened to Rob Bell at all? If not, try watching Everything is Spiritual. There are parts on YouTube, but you really need to see the entire video- amazing. Great thing for teenagers to see- any children really, but it's just a man standing on a stage talking, so younger one's get tired of it.

Great entry today! Have a great week.

Heather said...

Thank you for sharing. I think all of us can learn something from your post today. Perhaps we will all evaluate the life we are leading & see what we can do to step out of the norm & live for Him.

One Question: Did you have many visitors when the snake was loose? I think that would've kept many far from your house!

Anonymous said...

Pizza is delivered to West Dallas. Perhaps you haven't lived in the area long enough. Domino's and Pizza Patron deliver (to certain areas).

What's sad is that high speed internet that could help with homework is not offered in all areas of West Dallas. Several students have tried to advocate for high speed internet but it is only offered in the new suburb style housing.

Carlee said...

Great answers to wonderful questions. While our ministry is not in the hood, it is near the hood, and we go there often. My kids have learned hard lessons too...like sometimes whole families live in shelters, and kids are not immune to poverty and disaster. Our kids also have learned to quietly accept the amount of food they are served when unexpected additions stay for dinner...Partly because they know how blessed we are to always have food, and partly because we have let them go to bed hungry before to see how it feels, and they have a deep compassion.

What has struck me through all this, is that the Lord provides. When I have to give my time to a teen who has a horrible family life, He provides time with my own kids. When we give money to someone in need, He provides in a different way. And when He doesn't provide the way I want Him too, we learn, we grow, we trust, we praise Him.

Thanks for writing this.

Becca said...

Oh I love this! :-) Our family really feels like we are called to do EXACTLY what you're doing - and I LOVE hearing about the lessons you've learned along the way . . . I'd love to come see what you do IRL someday -- I know my husband and I feel the EXACT same way especially about wanting to have just a home, a place where kids can see that there IS a different way to live . . .

LoLa said...

I'm happy you answered these questions in this post. I very much appreciate the groundedness I feel from the direction of your blog. Lucky for us who stumble upon it!

Jess said...

Loved reading this glimpse into your ministry. What a wonderful example you are setting for so many kiddos who may not have seen this otherwise.

Oh and next time the police ask you about living there, you should totally use the highland park response. ;0)

emily said...

We say "Crazy Love" now in response to anything that seems, well, crazy in todays world. You guys do it so well.

These Three Kings said...

Howwww encouraging..you have no idea how this spurs me on....What a CHRIST exalting post it was!!
Thanks sisters...praying for you guys :)


Cole said...

What a great post! Thanks for sharing. :-)

The Smittys said...

i love your post. we have often thought of doing this in our own hood. thanks for loving God's people even when it's not "safe!"

2nd Cup of Coffee said...

I wish the whole world could read this.

mom23kings said...

I loved the post! When we were leaving the "hood" last night after dropping Keeshay off. One of our son's made the comment that it would be fun to run around the complex and play sometime. Oh the faith of a child and the lack of prejudice, I wish we all had. Then I noticed the walking path leading to the basketball courts and thought to myself wow there really is "pretty" in the hood!! I love the blessing the "hood" has had on our family and the how the LORD is teaching us so much more than we could have imagined.

sandra said...

Great post! I love reading about what you are all doing. I think it's wonderful. I am adding a link to you from my blog.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how I stumbled across your blog but I love it! I love reading what God is doing with your family and find it downright inspiring.

Love it!

Bec (Australia)

Hauswife said...

You ROCK, Mamalissa! I'm sure you didn't grow up with the dream in your heart of having this life that you have today, but it's the one that GOD planned for you and so it is SO GOOD! He's the one that fills it up with love and joy and craziness, too, (and that's wherever He has called and you have followed). Don't worry, our life is mostly crazy, too! :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your openness about the stealing. I teach in a low income school & last year's class was heavily stacked with black boys. It was a wild year. They stole all of my lego men and my Pizza Hut reward coupons, just for starters - over 200 of them. It helps to know that kids that obviously love still steal from you. How do you get the goods back and still keep the relationship?