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i was walking home today, through my urban neighborhood of tightly-packed twins and rowhouses, and found a bona-fide garden – in a bona-fide backyard! the large house that fronted it must have been a hold-over from when my part of the city was a brand-new, upper-upper middle class streetcar suburb to center city philly – but there it was: a backyard. with flowers, even!

last weekend, my roommate and i went to a friend’s house for dinner (two midwestern fellas had offered to cook us, natives of illinois and iowa, pulled-pork sandwiches with sweet corn on the side – true taste of home!). our host lives in the ‘burbs, and as we got out of the car in front of the house, we both slowly turned around and tried to absorb what we were seeing – and hearing! birds were singing in trees that stood in yards that separated free-standing houses with driveways and garages which meant that there was no loud SEPTA bus declaring “welcome to [pause] route xx [pause] service to [pause] xxx” every ten minutes outside the bedroom window.

we had forgotten about the suburbs! i doubt either of us would trade our cosy little third-floor walkup tucked in the middle of philly for a roomy colonial outside the city, SEPTA bus notwithstanding, but it was like being on vacation for an evening – quite novel!

i grew up in a neighborhood like my friend’s, but now is the time to live in an urban neighborhood – to see people who look very different from me on every street i cross. now is my chance to buy fruit from the back of the truck permanently parked two blocks away; to get my cheesesteak from another truck parked by the train station. when else will i get to walk to a trolleystop for my daily commute, or hop off three stops early to pick up fresh veg at the farmer’s market in the neighborhood park? and how else would i get to learn about things in the city that could be better – systems that need fixing – and to think about how to help fix them? yah, this is the time for me to be in the city. the suburbs will always be open for visiting hours, but home is still here.


i am itching.. my mother calls it the “three year itch” – i’ve been in one city, at one job, for nearly three years. is it time to ditch the stability i so craved four and five years ago??

am i crazy?

i don’t know. there are bits of me that are ready to see what’s next this year, and then there are parts of me that sense that God may be planning to keep me where i am for a little while… which makes me wonder: why am itching?

is it because i’m being stirred by His Spirit to follow Him elsewhere? or is it because i’m growing discontent with the stories i can tell… am i fidgety to flit to the next thing, whatever it may be, just to gather better stories to spin at dinner parties? because that’s just not a good enough reason.

i’ve been reading in John’s gospel lately, and a recurring theme could be labeled “things that Jesus does that i just don’t understand.” example: judas complains when Jesus is anointed with perfume before His death, because he (judas) wanted the money for said perfume to go to the common money bag (en route to judas’ own pocket). surely Jesus knew that judas had been stealing money like this – but it doesn’t say that He did anything to stop the crime.

surely Christ knows about the suffering i just read about online – how appalling numbers of children in India have been abused by trusted adults (thank you BBC: and surely He knows how horrible genocides happen. how water runs out in Yemen ( how the guy in my neighborhood was pushing that girl around on the sidewalk last week. He, our omnipotent God, knows about these things… my heart cries out with the psalmist who begged God to see and to act, knowing that He is never unaware, never less than sovereign (Psalm 10)! in my limited understanding, i can’t bear the juxtaposition of injustice in this world and a just God in heaven. but this last week, as His church celebrated His Son’s crucifixion and resurrection (for our salvation!), i was reminded of how His glorious, beautiful plans make little sense to my finite, earth-bound eyes. surely i would have been right there with the disciples, questioning everything Jesus did, exhibiting little-to-no faith that God’s plan was being carried out in His way and His time. i would’ve been with Peter, who tried to stop Jesus from washing his feet, only to hear Jesus say, ” ‘You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.'” (John 13:7). (i love that.)

seeing a piece of His plan for salvation, i gotta trust, for all things big and small, that He has plans bigger than i can see or imagine – designs that transcend my understanding – big plans for justice for the oppressed, for mercy for the suffering, and small plans for my life tomorrow, and the day after that. i chafe at the not-knowing, but by Christ’s grace and intercession, i want to come to the Father and ask Him to raise my earth-bound eyes to faith for heaven’s plan. He promises in James 1:5 to give wisdom to those who ask for it, and I want His wisdom — because His stories are the best stories, and the ones i want to learn to tell.

The city is a discourse,
and this discourse is truly a language:
the city speaks to its inhabitants;
we speak our city,
the city where we are,
simply by living in it,
by wandering through it,
by looking at it.

- R o l a n d B a r t h e s


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