After 16 years, Jen and I are saying goodbye to the neighborhood we have called home, the place where we relocated to come serve alongside our neighbors, the community that has shaped us in beautiful and tragic ways. We are different people now than the two idealistic kids that came eagerly to serve and love and act justly in neighborhoods that have seen decades of decay due to racialized policies and generational poverty. We had a simple mission to love God and love people. We spent ourselves on behalf of the poor as the Bible instructed. We relocated to know what our neighbors endured like CCDA challenged. We set aside our privilege and protested as the activists demanded. We gave our lifeblood to nonprofits for the sake of causes we cared about and were deeply committed to until we had nothing left to give to each other or ourselves. We pressed the gas pedal even harder until the tread lay bare and our deepest traumas became exposed. We struggled to manage the anxieties, pressures, demands, complaints of people from all sides. We grew weary of both conservative culture which denied racial problems existed and the liberal racial justice movement that could never be satisfied. Not to mention the social media world that only fanned the flames of polarization and anxiety.
As we fought the good fight on all fronts, we began to get worn down. We became cogs in the nonprofit machine. We saved the organization from deep financial trouble while our own finances suffered. We sacrificed our marriage for the mission. We cared for the needs of others while neglecting our own. We gave away our power to people of color because we knew the system was broken, but we lost ourselves in the process. While we loved the work, we were also gradually depleted by it. We built incredible friendships and became family. We fell in love with the city and with our neighborhood. We loved bringing in others to see the beauty that we saw. We tried to ignore the parts that wore on us like the street fights, the violence, the police brutality, the failing schools, the dilapidated buildings, the empty condom wrappers in our yard, the noise at night, the fireworks, the gunshots, the normalization of trauma, the slow drip of despair seeing people strung out on drugs or children adapting to dysfunctional family systems. We started seeing a steady exodus of people from our block by either evictions, health problems, or death. We saw fellow relocators leave for safer blocks and better schools for their kids. We didn't have any kids so we had no excuse. We powered through.
We waited for someone to throw in the towel. Someone to say we had done enough. That we were worthy of rest or a sabbatical. That we were as important, if not more, than the organizations we worked for and the causes we championed. We waited for someone to see our wounds, to recognize our needs. Someone to tell us our worthiness is not tied to our work. That saying we are tired is not simply our "privilege talking" or the failure of people who couldn't "hack it in the city." We waited for mental health to be talked about as much as missional living, the trauma wounds of the caregivers to be considered as much as those they cared for. But no towel came. So we decided to throw in our own towel. To make our needs a priority. To put our marriage over ministry. To cultivate our relationship. To push pause on our activism and address our own structural wounds. To open ourselves to moving to places where we could nurture our inner children. To take our creative gifts seriously. To lift up our mental health over the mission. Through this process, we have experienced tremendous healing and restoration. We have fallen more in love as a couple and we have found more mutuality in our relationships. While discerning our next steps, we took daily walks in our neighborhood, faced the inner pain that the outer environment drudged up, and stayed put until we received the next call. After listening to our needs, we have come to the conclusion that the "relocation mission" is over and a new chapter is beginning. The next season is one of rest and restoration for ourselves and for other weary folks. Water has been an important spiritual symbol for both of us and we have been led to a house 30 min outside Chicago that will be a place of rest for folx like us who need a break, who need to be restored. "The word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood" was the Scripture we lived by the last 16 years. The Scripture that is calling to us now is this:
"You lead me beside still waters, you restore my soul." We can't wait to experience this and invite other people to experience this with us. We are going to look for others who are struggling to take a break, but who may be feeling traumatized or worn, emotionally at their wits end, or facing rough patches in their marriage due to mental breakdowns, infidelity, or the tyranny of ideological causes. We will continue to stay connected to the city, to build bridges and beloved community. But it will look more gentle and compassionate. It will not compromise our health and wellness or our financial freedom. Near the end of our time in the city, we began to discover our creative passions and fan those flames. They gave us life and they kept us alive when everything around us was dying. We will press into these creative outlets even more, knowing that we have been created to create. So we begin our delocation. We trust God to bring fresh laborers into the fields, to use our creative gifts to further the reign of love in the world, and to allow our new home to be a welcome resource providing rest and renewal for those who are weary and fighting on the front lines. We leave the city in God's hands. After all, God was in the city before we got there, and God will be there long after we are gone.