I Never Wanted to be Wise

I Never Wanted to be Wise

I’ve always intuitively understood that in order to gain wisdom, you needed to suffer.

So I’ve always understood that my easy, cushy life was a bit of a barrier in my vocation as a writer. I was raised by great parents, enjoy exceptionally good health, excelled in school, married a wonderful man, and am part of a loving church community. My firstborn is neurotypical, robustly healthy, and fiercely intelligent.  I have not suffered a single major loss so far. What could I possibly know about Life? How could I ever have anything worthwhile to say to a hurting world if I didn’t have any wisdom to back it up?

Oh well, I thought. I’d rather be ignorant and happy and have nothing of value to say than genuinely wise. I would choose an easy life over my calling as a writer any day.  I mean, if God wanted to just give me wisdom, Solomon-style, I’d gladly accept it; but otherwise: no thanks.

* * *

Then The Call came.

I had just sat down in front of the computer to answer emails and nurse twelve-day-old Felix. I had just gotten Lydia down for a nap. I texted Ben to tell him I was winning at parenting today.

Then the phone rang. A woman from the London Hospital told me that Felix had tested positive for a life-threatening disease called SCID in his newborn screening. We needed to come in the next day for further testing.

You know the rest of the story so far.

The next day as we drove up to London, our stomachs in knots, I said to Ben, “Well . . . one good thing that will come out of all this is it will make us better people.”

And I think it is making us better people.

We have learned so much about hospitals, health, and generosity. We have met amazing people and discovered just how wonderful our community is. We have learned about sacrifice and pain and risk.

These last few months have taught us to be more understanding, open-minded, and sensitive to other people’s suffering. More appreciative. Humbler. Less superficial.

Wiser.

I’d still take ignorance, health and happiness over wisdom any time. I’d give this all back — and all the lessons learned — in a heartbeat if I could. I guess that’s why we’re not given a choice.

But if this is what I’ve been given, I guess it’s my job to figure out how best to use it.

Maybe it will even make a writer out of me. Or at least get me going in the right direction.

Confession of a Hypocrite: All My Friends Are White (And Christian and Straight)

Confession of a Hypocrite: All My Friends Are White (And Christian and Straight)Image by Toni Holmes.

I wrote a series recently about my changing views on evangelism, after some disastrous attempts to convert my dear friends.

I mentioned in my last post that I believe reconciliation is at the heart of the Gospel and the Church’s mission. We need to build bridges between individuals and people groups – between people of different races, ages, cultures, languages, socioeconomic status, gender, orientation, political affiliation, etc, and learn to care for one another.

I think Creation makes it clear that God loves diversity: that’s why he made us all so wildly and gloriously different. I believe God’s heart longs for us to see one another and recognize and affirms God’s image in one another.

Jesus came to earth to reconcile humanity to God, and it’s our job to go out and continue the work of healing broken relationships. We do this by listening to one another and serving one another. That’s why it’s so important to seek out relationships with people who are different from ourselves – people who don’t look or talk like us. We need to listen to each others’ stories, to grieve with one another, to bless one another, and to celebrate together. Only then can we make great steps towards reconciliation.

All that being said, I must confess that my current social group is incredibly homogeneous.

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It didn’t used to be like this.

When I was in high school I got a part-time job harvesting mushrooms at a mushroom farm. The owners hired mostly new immigrants, so my sister and I were part of the white minority amongst an incredibly diverse workforce. We worked side-by-side with people of every age and colour – folks straight from Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Yemen, Sudan, Congo and China.  We had lunch and chatted daily with Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and agnostic. They taught us how to count in different languages and explained their prayers and customs. We smelled the aromas of their exotic foods wafting from the microwaves and tasted fruits and pastries we’d never seen before. And we became friends.

I then attended the University of Windsor, which also has an extraordinarily diverse student body. Some of my best friends came from places like Iran and Lebanon. I went to their homes and ate their delicious ethnic foods, and sat around in the student lounge talking philosophy with Jews, Catholics, Muslims and atheists.

But then I had a baby and became a stay-at-home mom in my very white hometown. I lost touch with my work and school friends, who moved on to big cities or other provinces.

I don’t get out of the house much anymore, to keep up with the demands of 24-7 childcare and housekeeping (and a little blogging on the side). And on top of that, I’m an introvert with pretty severe social anxiety about talking to strangers and meeting new people.

My church is almost completely homogeneous – all blue-collar Mennonites (like me), and predominantly young couples with kids. To make matters worse, the services are strictly segregated by age: there’s a nursery for babies and toddlers; Sunday school for young children; a German service for the older folks; an early service for young parents; and a later once for youth and young adults. (Of course, these age categories aren’t formally enforced, but there’s pretty strong social pressure to conform to this segregation.)

And so it has come to pass that most of the faces I see on regular basis look like mine: young and white, mostly female. We’re all self-identified Christians. I don’t have a single nonwhite, nonchristian, or LGBT friend in real life (I only have a few acquaintances online).

I’m not sure what to do about this. I’m not comfortable with this reality. I know it’s not quite right. I feel like the hugest hypocrite, waxing poetic on the importance of reconciliation while going weeks or months without seeing a single face or hearing a single accent that’s different from mine.

I think the first step for me is to acknowledge that this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. Jesus didn’t mean for me to only interact with people who are like me, and who rarely make me uncomfortable or question my values or habits.

I hope to make this right. Perhaps in this season of my life, I’m kind of limited in the range of people I’m able to befriend and converse with; but I hope to always strive towards welcoming folks into my life who will challenge me and teach me to see the world in new ways.

But for now, this is my reality. And the loss is greatest to me.

Confessions of a Hypocrite: I don’t Want You to Feed Crap to My Kid

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In response to my last post, Why I’ll Eat Anything You Serve Me, a few people brought up their kids. They wondered: Was it OK to turn down bad foods offered to your children? If so, what were some acceptable ways to do that? Or should you allow grandparents and hosts to express love in the way that they know best, even if you don’t think it’s best for your kid?

I confess, I slowly cringed internally. I hadn’t thought about that. When I’d written my post, I’d only been thinking of myself. I will eat anything you serve me.

But it’s a whole different story with my kid.

Or at least, I fear it will be. I don’t know yet. My daughter’s only thirteen months old, which means she’s only been eating solids for about seven months. And for the most part, it’s been pretty simple. I’ve been in control of what she eats. People generally accept that you bring special foods for your baby with you wherever you go, and don’t expect you to feed her what everyone else is eating.

Which is a relief. Because even though I’ve let her eat adult food from the start, I can pick and choose what goes onto her high chair tray.

So I haven’t run into this issue too much yet. But the few encounters I’ve had haven’t been too promising.

In other words, I’ve been kind of a CrunchyNaziMommy when it has come to feeding my baby.

See, I can deal with the thought of occasionally messing with my own blood-sugar levels or ingesting the occasional GMO. It’s my own body, and if I choose relationships over health every once in a while, well, that’s my business, right?

My anxieties rise, however, when it comes to my baby’s perfect, pure little body. It doesn’t belong to me, and yet I’m responsible for its well-being. How can I possibly allow that fresh, untainted little being to be polluted with toxins and carcinogens? While it’s still forming and developing? Before she has a say in any of it?

I want to build healthy food habits. I don’t want her metabolism to be hijacked by the horrible Standard American Diet. I want to avoid the destructive addictions inherent in our broken food system.

As a result, I’ve been rather severe about what goes into my daughter’s mouth so far. Many times already, I’ve given my dad stern looks and shakes of my head at the very suggestion of giving her a taste of sugar before her first birthday.

No grains and no sugar!” has been my oft-repeated mantra.

“I want to keep her teeth, thank you very much.”

(I have, in the last couple of months, started to give her occasional tastes of both. Yesterday she had rice for the first time and devoured it).

Once, I even called my mom-in-law while she was babysitting, after hearing that they were planning to have hot dogs for supper, to ask her to please not give Lydia any hot dogs. I just couldn’t bear the thought of all those preservatives and dyes and mechanically-separated meats going into my baby’s perfect body.

I don’t know what I’ll do as Lydia gets older. I’m already fretful when I think about all those birthday parties with their sugary cakes, laced with carcinogenic food dyes. My stomach twists at the thought of future Halloweens and Easters, and the mountains of harmful treats associated with them. What will I do? How much will I allow to go into her mouth? What will I say to loving friends and family members who want to offer her toxic crap?

I want to protect my child’s health sooooo badly. At the same time, I don’t want grandparents to feel scared to feed her lest they unleash the wrath of CrunchyNaziMommy. I understand that grandparents often feel most comfortable showing love through gifts of food and treats. And I want Lydia to be able to connect with other kids over shared meals and snacks, just as I do.

So that’s why I’m already collecting tips and tricks for how to keep bad foods to a minimum. Things like sending her to parties on a full stomach, and helping her to be aware of how crappy she feels after eating junk.

In the meantime, though, I might be a little nuts.

How about you? If you’re a parent, how do you deal with bad foods being offered to your kids?

Confessions of a Hypocrite: Thoughts on Spanking

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(All right, so I promised in my last post that I would explore the connections between Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting and my faith. I’m still trying to organize my thoughts on the subject; in the meantime, I thought I’d offer this confession).

OK, So maybe “Confessions of a Hypocrite” is a bit of a dramatic label for what I’m about to discuss. It’s a bit more of an honest exploration of my recent feelings and experiences.

So. I’ve been talking lately about Unconditional Parenting and my commitment to nonviolence.

Several commenters have highlighted the difficulty in applying Alfie Kohn’s practice of reasoning with — rather than punishing and rewarding — very young children, especially babies and toddlers. How do you explain to a one-year-old why she needs to stay away from a hot wood stove? How to you explain to a two-year-old why he can’t have a brownie before supper, or why we have to leave the park before he feels ready? How do you explain to a toddler why she can’t play in the middle of the street?

And the truth is, I don’t know. I don’t know how to get a child to comply, especially when it’s a matter of grave importance (like safety), but that child doesn’t have the capacity for reason.

Sometimes, don’t you need to spank to communicate the seriousness of a command?

baby 11 months

You see those razor-sharp little chompers?
Ready to bite into some tender mama-flesh?

This dilemma became personal for me when Lydia started biting me while nursing around 6 months. And later again when she started biting me and Ben for fun — on our arms, our legs, our toes. She thought it was hilarious.

I didn’t know what to do. I tried using words:

LYDIA,” I thundered with my sternest face and voice. “NO. BITING.”

And do you know what she did?

She laughed!

She thought my angry face and voice were funny!

This was especially problematic when she was biting our legs while hanging onto our pants to stand up — she was biting out of playfulness. She was in a silly mood. She was in no state of mind for serious moral lessons.

I confess, I was tempted, and seriously considered, smacking her on the mouth when it came to these situations, pacifistic commitments notwithstanding.

All right, “serously considered” sounds too even-tempered and deliberate. I had a sudden and powerful urge to smack her on the mouth. I mean, seriously: OUCH! Those knife-like little chompers on your exposed nipple are no joke!

I wanted to communicate to her quickly and emphatically how serious her action was. How could I do that when my words and tone of voice didn’t work?

Thankfully, she just grew out of her boob-biting habit after a few weeks, and so I never had to decisively resolve that issue. She still sometimes bites us for fun, but we can usually see the hungry look in her eyes and distract her before it gets to that point.

(Not always, though. I’m currently sporting a nice pair of crescent-shaped bruises on my left thigh.)

But the question remains: what do you do when someone’s safety (or boob) is at stake, but you can’t reason with your kid? Is hitting sometimes permissible, when there’s no other way to communicate an action’s seriousness?

Or is there always some other way? Perhaps my imagination is just limited, and I need to work harder at a  more creative solution.

I’m not sure. What do you think?

Do you have any non-violent solutions for me?

Confession of a Hypocrite: I Still Wear Makeup

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(This post is in response to my last post, “Why I ditched Shampoo.”)

Becoming a mother has made me more aware of many of the things I do.

One of the ways motherhood has done this is by encouraging me to narrate what I do. (All the books tell me I should narrate what I do to help my baby acquire language, and to do it in the third person since pronouns can be confusing for tiny brains. You know me: I do what the books tell me to do.)

So as I go about my daily business, I hear myself saying things like:

“Mummy’s gonna put a new shirt on you.”

“Let’s go to the potty.”

“Mummy’s just gonna put you down so she can wash her hands.”

I had to pause the other day, however, when I heard myself say, “Mummy  just wants to put some makeup on.”

Sigh.

I hate that I wear makeup.

I don’t wear much any and I don’t wear it often – only when I go out, and normally only a bit of concealer, sometimes a little eyeliner. I only go all out with the mascara, blush, and eye shadow for weddings and Christmas dinners.

But still. I own it, and Lydia has to see me apply it, and I don’t know how I’d justify its use if she ever asked me about it.

Makeup is problematic for me on a number of levels.

1. Putting on makeup in front of my daughter sends a confusing message.

I don’t want her to think we need to fix our faces – that our faces aren’t good enough just the way they are. I want her to know that her face is perfectly gorgeous just the way it is. But how to I communicate that if I think I need makeup? Why do I need it but she doesn’t? Just because she’s a kid? Is there a point in time at which your face becomes not good enough and in need of artificial improvement? If so, when is it?

2. Most cosmetics contain harmful ingredients, including carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxics, endocrine disruptors, plasticizers, degreasers and surfactants.

eyeshadow compact

Using cosmetics therefore puts my health at risk, as well as my daughter’s, who first grew inside my body and now feeds from my body.

3. Makeup is generally heavily packaged.

There is twice as much plastic as product in a typical eye shadow or pressed powder compact. After the product is used, the container gets chucked, to sit in a landfill for a few millennia. If I avoid shampoo in order to minimize plastic waste, it would make sense to stay away from all other cosmetics as well.

4. The whole cosmetic industry is based on selling the idea that we’re not beautiful enough the way we are.

I hate to give even a dime to these manipulative, multi-billion dollar corporations.

* * *

I’ll probably never completely forsake makeup, though. The truth of the matter is, I want to be pretty by the world’s standards, now matter how unrealistic and unimportant those standards are. I know that I am fiercely beloved by the Creator of the Universe, but dang it, I want my fellow humans to think I’m attractive.

You can bet I’m wearing makeup in any picture I post on this blog. I justify it by saying, nobody wants to look at an ugly face on their computer screen. I want you guys to think I’m attractive, trendy and cool, so that you’ll like me and keep reading my blog. I guess I assume you’re all as superficial as I am. (If I’m being honest here).

I’m glad that I’ve managed to keep my makeup use to a minimum, but ideally, I wouldn’t even have any in the house.

How about you? How do you feel about makeup use?

(Whenever I can, I try to explore ways that I’m a hypocrite.)

Confessions of a Hypocrite. Or, Kathleen, The Failed Minimalist

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In my last post, I talked about why I strive to live a minimalist lifestyle.

The trouble is, I have a hard time putting it into practice. (Shocking, right?)

I’m not much of a shopper or anything (I’m too cheap); my struggle is with letting things go. Once I’ve got something, I want to hang onto it for the rest of my life, in case I ever need anything like that.

(“What if someday I NEED a glass bottle that shape? What if someday I NEED an ill-fitting navy t-shirt?!”)

For that reason, if you were to walk into my house, I’m sure you wouldn’t remark, “Ahh . . . a minimalist lives here.” I have way more stuff than necessary, despite my habit of waxing eloquent about how more stuff is a burden.

Here are just a few of my points of hypocrisy.

  • Our house has tons of storage space with closets on every level and a basement storage room lined with shelves. All of them are always full.
  •  I claim to be a barefooter, yet I own multiple pairs of shoes. OK, lots of shoes. Mostly sneakers. I own three pairs of Chuck Taylors alone! Who needs that many Chucks? (Incidentally, I own exactly one pair of heels which were worn once for about fifteen minutes).
  •  It’s true that I’ve hardly purchased a single baby item, but I did take every free item I could get my hands on, even if I already owned similar items. I still have most of them in my basement, even though I know I’ll likely never use them. I even bought a second used crib, even though we weren’t using the first one!! What kind of problem do I have?
  •  For baby carriers, I acquired no less than two pouch slings, one ring sling, one Moby Wrap, one Snugli carrier and one Ergo carrier. And I still kinda wish I had a mei tai.
  •  I’ve been putting all of Lydia’s outgrown clothes in a box and keeping them, even though I don’t know (a) if we’ll ever have another baby (though I hope so!); (b) if we do, whether we’ll have another girl; and (c) if we do, whether the clothes will be in the right season.  All those variables together add up to a really poor case for hanging on to outgrown baby clothes.
  •  BOOKS. I own shelves and shelves of them. It’s an absolute waste of valuable space in our home. I’ve kept essentially all of my books from university though I probably won’t ever look at 90% of them again in my life. I hang onto them with the foolish terror that I might need to reference one of them again someday. And of course I keep buying new books.
  •  I also have a weak spot for kitchen utensils and appliances. I want to own one of everything. Just this year I added a Kitchenaid mixer, a pasta maker, and an ice cream maker to my repertoire. I still want a grain mill and stoneware. And I have piles and piles of Tupperware containers.

So there’s just a short list of some of the things I hoard, even though in theory I try to practice minimalism.

How about you? What kinds of things do you buy, collect or keep that you know you could do without? Why do you think you do it?

(Whenever I can, I try to explore my own failings and hypocrisy in relation to the things I talk about here.)

Confessions: What I DON’T Do

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(This post is a part of my Confessions of a Hypocrite series)

You may have noticed a bit of irony in my last few posts.

First, I recently wrote about the value of cooking from scratch. That entails adding things to your workload. After that, I followed up with a post exploring the importance of being not busy. This implies a need to decrease your workload.

I’ve also written about how I hang my laundry to dry, and have mentioned that I use cloth diapers and napkins and things like that, which also involve more work than using conventional products.

So what am I advocating? Doing more or doing less work?

Well, neither, exactly . . . I just think some kinds of work are healthier and more valuable than other kinds of work.

But that’s not my point here. The main thing I’m concerned with here is that the particular kinds of posts I’m putting out it may give the impression that I do more than I really do.

A dear friend of mine recently said she thought of me as a “supermom,” which I found kind of hysterical, because I’m always complaining to Ben that I’m not nearly able to do everything I want to do. I don’t give this blog a fraction of the attention I’d like to, for example. I’m always moaning to him, “I just don’t have any time to write!” (This is usually said in a melodramatic voice, accompanied by me throwing something to the floor). I even complain to Lydia: “Come ON! Why do you need me AGAIN?! I need to WRITE! I’m a WRITER who never WRITES! What do you even call that?!”

Yes, I cook almost everything from scratch, I garden with my mom, I preserve food, I mother, and I keep up a blog. But that’s really about it.  My time is divided between the kitchen and the computer room.

There is so much I don’t do.

In case I give anyone else the (absolutely ridiculous) impression that I’m a supermom, I thought maybe I should make a list of some of the things I don’t do which enable me to do the few things that I do.

  • I don’t bring in an income.

My maternity leave will be running out by the end of next month, which has been my only source of income for the last eleven months. I don’t have plans to return to work, either.

  • I don’t exercise.

I mean, I try to walk and bike places as much as possible, and I try to do about ten minutes of yoga every day (it usually ends up being more like five, and not every day), but that’s the extent of my “workout.” I don’t jog, I don’t lift weights, I don’t do fitness videos. I don’t even walk briskly. I have been to a gym about four times in my life.

  • I don’t get out of the house much.

No more than three times a week. (I’m happy with that, though).

  • I have few intimate relationships outside of my husband and baby girl.

Relationships require time spent together. Because I don’t get out of the house much (see above), I don’t get a chance to nurture many close friendships.

  • I hardly watch TV.

(This isn’t a confession, just part of the explanation).

Ben and I generally watch about 60 minutes of TV a week (Big Bang Theory, New Girl, and The Office, all on sketchy internet sites), and usually watch a movie a week. I’m told the average family spends a lot more time in front of the TV.

  •  I’m not at all involved in any local church.

I barely even make it to the occasional Sunday morning service. I don’t participate in a single ministry, team, or committee. And I don’t even feel guilty about it anymore. Church stuff just all feels so meaningless and futile. (And boring.)

(I do, however, participate in a biweekly book club, where I gather with a small group of intelligent young folks and discuss Christian writers from G. K. Chesterton to Rob Bell. Recently, we try to emphasize ways that we can practice the way of Jesus in our daily lives. I just mention that so you don’t think I’ve completely “forsaken assembling together.” What’s a confession without a little justifying?).

  • I don’t serve the community in any way.

(And I do feel bad about this one).

I don’t mentor, tutor, teach, visit old people, or otherwise volunteer my time in any way.

I currently use the excuse that I have a baby, and would just have to find someone else to voluntarily look after her while I volunteered, but then, I’ve always had one excuse or another. (“I’m a full-time student.” “I work full time.”)

There’s also the fact that if I spent more time out of the house volunteering, that would likely mean an increased reliance on things like convenience foods and fossil fuels to get me places, or any of the other problems that tend to arise with being overly-busy, which is kind of counter-productive, in my opinion. So I’m kind of stuck for now.

* * *

So, to reiterate: if my blog makes it sound like I do a lot, remember that you’re probably doing a heck of a lot more and just not talking about it like I do. Think about all the relationships you’re nurturing, all the people you’re serving and blessing.

How about you? What kinds of things to you not do, which might make it seem like you do a lot?

Jesus in My Neighbourhood

ugly house

Ding-dong-ding-dong-ding-dong-ding-dong.

Are you ready yet?” my new neighbor shouts into the open door to his girlfriend. He’s ringing the doorbell impatiently to get her to hurry. Meanwhile, I can hear his toddler crying in his stroller.

“What do you want?!” he yells sharply to the kid.

It’s the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday. I’m in my back yard, hanging laundry on the line in the sunshine. I’m trying to sing to Lydia, who sits and babbles in her own stroller near me. I just sing nonsense — “Oh my darlin’, oh my darlin’, oh my darlin’ . . . ”

Cool it, you dumb f**k!” my neighbour’s girlfriend finally shouts back as she emerges from the apartment. I can’t hear what they’re arguing about as they walk off together, the baby still moaning in the stroller.

I want out.

I want to get out of this neighbourhood.

We have three new families living in the new apartment building next to our house. It was just built over the winter because the previous building, which formerly housed an assortment of drug-dealers and migrant workers, burned down two summers ago. The police hinted that they suspected arson when we were down at the office a few weeks later, following up on the recent break-in of Ben’s work trailer.

We have an abandoned house across from us which has a habit of losing its front door from time to time. I’m not sure who keeps hanging it back up. Next to us is a big empty field filled with waist-high weeds where trucks come to pick up or drop off loads of unwanted dirt and gravel. Down the street, another house grows a two-foot-tall front lawn every summer, and further down is another abandoned house which is all but collapsing. Around the corner from us is another home that caught fire last winter. The windows and doors are all still boarded up. I heard that the tenets had been trying to keep warm with electric heaters when their gas was cut off.

I don’t want my daughter growing up among all this.

I don’t want her hanging out with the boy next door whose parents refer to each other in four-letter expletives. I assume he and the rest of the neighbourhood will be a bad influence on her, and I’m terrified.

What I’m afraid to acknowledge is the possibility that we ought to stay because she might be a good influence on them.

We’re too quick to assume that evil will conquer good instead of the other way around — that a neglected boy’s hurt will spill over onto our beloved daughter’s innocence, rather than her sweetness work the other way around on him.

(I’m also too quick to assume that the boy will turn out badly while our daughter will turn out well, just because we use our curse words more sparingly).

My desire to leave this shabby, broken-down neighbourhood filled with poor and troubled families is exactly the opposite of Jesus’ impulse, which was to sink himself into the lives of the abused and down-trodden. Jesus seems to have sought out the drunks, the unfaithful spouses, the folks on welfare. Those seemed to be his favourite kinds of people. They’re the ones he chose to live with and eat dinner with.

Weirdo.

The Jesus-y thing to do would be to stay, and to actually get to know these people who curse at their kids and leave cheap Christmas wreaths and garlands on their doors until mid-March. The Jesus-y thing to do would be to strike up a conversation one of these days, and maybe offer to babysit their kids while they get their groceries.

But I’m so scared. I’m scared to get tangled in the lives of people so different from me. They seem so threatening with their foul language and loud, booming music.

I don’t know if I have the courage to stay. But I’m pretty sure that’s what Jesus would do.

Photo credit: cindy47452. This id not a house from our neighbourhood, but it doesn’t look too far off.

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