Category Archives: South Central

my burden is light

I love my baby. I love holding her, playing with her, talking to her, bathing her. I am one of those moms who simply cannot get enough of her little one.

With that said, when someone asks to hold her and I pass her into the arms of another, there is that moment where I straighten my back and shoulders and stretch my torso a bit. There is that feeling of release, relief, and the easing of a weight or burden, even if for only a few minutes. There is that sudden freedom to go to the bathroom by myself, or sit down and eat a plate of food unencumbered, or sit at the computer and read an email without her little hands grabbing at the mouse and shoving bills and papers onto the floor.

This week our church is hosting a group of kids and adults from my home church in Seattle, Washington. They are here this week to serve our church and our community through morning service projects at our tutoring center and at homes of church members, and through afternoon sports and dance camps for neighborhood children. It is an amazing group of people who chose to spend their spring break, many of them as families, not in Cancun or at Disneyland, but in the gritty streets of South Central.

I have been close to tears many times this week:

leaving the home of one of our church members who is widowed, wheelchair bound, and the primary caregiver for her elderly mother with Alzheimer’s disease where four members of the mission team were scrubbing walls, priming rooms for painting, scouring behind toilets, picking dropped pills up off the floor, and helping to organize the contents of a kitchen so that things could be accessed from a wheelchair;

standing in the middle of the street talking to a neighborhood woman and her son who had nothing to do with any of our camps or events but who had driven by our gathering time of singing with the kids in the park and had stopped their minivan to find out who we were and why we were doing what we were doing;

sitting in the auditorium of our local grade school watching a beautiful high school senior who is an accomplished dancer in Seattle teach dance to more than forty little girls—and remembering holding that young woman when she was the same age that my own little girl is now;

walking into the back classroom of the tutoring center I have directed for the past three years and having someone flip the light switch to reveal a brand new ceiling filled with new recessed light fixtures that fill the room with bright, warm light–no longer will young children and their tutors squint to learn new words on book pages that are barely illumined by a lone fluorescent light.

I love my life here in South Central. I love my church and the people I call neighbor and friend. I love the opportunities I have daily to wrestle with Jesus’ call to love mercy and to walk justly. There is nothing else that I would rather be doing.

But it is not always easy. And it can sometimes feel lonely. And so this week I am feeling that deep sense of a weight lifted, of responsibility shared; of partnership, companionship, and relief. I have stood on the sidelines of camp programs, free to chat with the watching moms. I have stood in the back of the group of kids singing, free to engage stopped minivans and curious neighbors in conversation. I have stood in the middle of a newly painted tutoring center, and watched others bend and sweat and cover themselves with paint so that children I love can be welcomed by cleanliness and beauty.

This week, twenty-nine people have come into our life here and humbly asked: “Can we hold your baby?”

faith

Last night I took out the trash from our kitchen (something I do much more often now that diapers have entered the scene). It was dark and as you walk out our back door, you have to go down the two flights of stairs to get to the driveway where the trash cans are tucked away under the trees. Usually the top flight of stairs are somewhat lit—whether it’s the moon or the generic city “light” or the lights from neighbors houses, I can always see comfortably at the top. Once I get to the bottom stretch of stairs, the visibility has almost disappeared, and I am always very anxious about tripping, missing a stair, rolling my ankle, whatever. When carrying some large item, like the baby carrier or a big box of recycle, this feels especially scary.

Our landlord who lives below us has a motion sensor light that comes on when you get to the very bottom. It lights up our back parking area quite well and I can make my way to one of our cars or to the trash cans with ease. But, it will not trigger until you have come to almost the last stair.

Every time I go out there at night I have the same experience—I walk cautiously down our steps, growing increasingly afraid as I near the bottom, until I get to the point where I feel like I cannot take another step because I just plain can’t see. And just when I think I can’t go any further, I step down into the darkness and the unknown and boom, that motion light kicks in and all is well.

Now, I do this often enough that you would think I would quit being afraid—that I would know the light is coming and that it will show me where I need to go. But every time it is the same story—anxiety, hesitation, disbelief that the light will work THIS time, even though it has always been faithful before.

I am at a funny place in my life right now. I sometimes feel like things seem a bit like the journey down my back staircase—I can’t see where I am stepping; I’m not sure that I will make it; I wonder if the Light will come on and show me where to put my feet.

and on the seventh day…

Tonight our pastor showed up at the park rec center where our Spanish language bible study meets to worship on Saturday nights. He was greeted by a few hundred members of the Bloods street gang who had gathered at our park after the funeral of one of their own. He made his way into the building and began setting up chairs but was soon interrupted by L.A.P.D. storming into the building with their guns drawn. Our pastor and a young couple who were there to help set up were forced out of the building by cops who had received a tip that the Crips might be on their way to pay the Red mourners a visit. The L.A.P.D. confiscated more than twenty-five guns from those gathered on the park grounds.

As our pastor relayed this story with me over the phone, I expected him to tell me that, as a result, the Spanish service had certainly been cancelled. But instead, he shared with me that more than thirty people had shown up for worship, and that, after some difficulty getting inside, all who gathered had experienced a great time of praise and thanksgiving. I am pretty sure that I would have sent everyone home and gotten myself out of there as quickly as possible.

The helicopters have been circling on and off here for most of the night. Meanwhile my baby sleeps peacefully in the next room—the barking dogs and the hovering aircraft don’t wake her. She is kind of like her pastor and a small band of believers who likewise were able to rest tonight in the midst of the din of fear and the agitation of violence.

I have wondered a lot lately about the Sabbath and what it means for us to rest. I think that there is a lot more to it than setting aside some time to pamper yourself, or creating space in your schedule for quiet times and prayer. I don’t think that it is ultimately something we are to do as individuals. How does the soft still face of my sleeping baby and a bunch of crazy Latinos change the way I understand this idea of Sabbath in South L.A…?

mailbox manna

Dear Anonymous,

My guess is that you won’t ever read this, but maybe writing this has more to do with me than you anyway.

When I walked down the stairs to my front door last week to check my mail, the highest hopes I entertained were that perhaps the Newsweek had arrived a day early, or maybe a complimentary shipment of Storyhouse coffee would be balancing on the rack beneath our mailbox. As I reached inside our box, I was disappointed to find it empty. Surprised that there would be NOTHING in the mail, I put my hand back in for one more swish (something I am usually hesitant to do because of the little family of spiders who live in the beautiful palms above the box) and my fingers brushed the edge of a sturdy envelope. As I pulled it out I realized that, strangely, it was not sealed. It was addressed to us with our address written plainly, however it had not been mailed. No return name or address was written, and the envelope was not even sealed. A bit surprised I reached inside (again, thinking briefly about the spiders) and I pulled out three folded, colorful gift card holders.

As I unfolded the first, I was surprised to see Trader Joes printed on the card. I didn’t even know they DID gift cards. The next one, with its bold bull’s-eye, was a bit more familiar. The final card came from our good friend down the street, Ralph’s. The amounts written above the cards were generous.

Baby formula, diapers, wipes, and rice cereal would now be purchased with ease. I could look forward soon to Trader Joe’s peanut butter, frozen vegetables and brown rice. And we could once again load up on rocket fuel-less water to keep a baby fed and a breastfeeding mom hydrated.

As I walked slowly back into my house, I encountered my mom (who was visiting from Seattle) at the top of my stairs. By then the tears had already started flowing and my mom, obviously caught off guard and concerned, asked me what was wrong. “Someone gave us money for groceries…” was all I could get out before I began to sob. I went and stood in my room for a few minutes, leaving my mom and baby in the other room.

I don’t always know what the tears are for when they come. Are they tears of gratitude for the anonymous generosity of a friend? Are they tears of anger that we still, with my husband working full time at Fuller Seminary, and part time for a Jewish synagogue, can’t pay our rent and bills and put food on the table? Are they tears of shame that my mom would see how her thirty-one year old daughter is relying on help from others to have her grandbaby’s basic needs met? Or are they tears of communion with a God who has heard my cries and has sent me manna for one more day?

Though you remain anonymous, I am trying to see you in everyone who surrounds us here. In my pastor who would give us the shirt off his back if we asked for it. In my sister who has never said no to watching my baby for a few hours so I can go to class or write a paper. In our Kenwood neighbors who have done more to care for us this past year than I would have thought possible on this side of heaven. I am also trying to see you in myself. What are the things that I have that can be quietly and generously given to another who feels discouraged, isolated, or afraid.

Thank you, Anonymous.