what the library is teaching me about proximity

I hate our house. And I hate the privilege it requires to be able to hate something so many do not have and desperately seek. We are in their midst, but our proximity has not prevented me from feeling embittered about our living situation.

Topping my many dislikes is the lack of windows or doors facing the street. You could be inside our house and be anywhere in the country and you’d never know the difference. It does not feel like we are living in the neighborhood we moved 1,100 miles to live in.

Our family is in a season of – words fail me here – huddling up? Resetting? Healing? All or none of those things, I am not quite sure. Maybe once the season ends I will be able to name it, to put words to the pain and purpose and purging taking place. But for now I cannot. I can only tell you we have been here before and we have survived. If there’s anything I know about the six people I share this damn house with it is that they are strong and fierce, and if there’s anything I can tell you about our God it’s that he has not left us. He is here, in this not forsaken house, despite my feelings about it.

Since moving six months ago it has been harder for me particularly – and by extension the kids – to be as present in our community as we would like and had grown accustomed to being. The park/pool/library once at the end of our block is now four humid, sweaty, whiny blocks away. “We’ll just have to be more intentional” I asserted when asked about the location of the new house, not yet aware of the storm summer would bring. I didn’t know intentional neighboring would fly out the same window that faces our minuscule gravel “yard.”

Hurricane Irma flooded our city and was the beginning of a drowning inside my own family, my own anxiety, my own expectations and ideals. The streets filled with water and my mind filled with questions I could not answer. How do you love your neighbor as yourself when the chasm between is so wide? What does incarnational living look like when your own soul is worn thin? How do you get the rest you desperately need when the days are long and the needs never end?

Post-Irma our neighborhood library was closed for several days; maybe even a week or two. Since books are a huge part of our schooling, going without the inter-loan library service was not an option. I began having our books shipped to another library, one only a couple miles – but a world away – from our home.

This library, by all measures, is better. First it’s bigger. The children’s section alone is larger than the entire library in our neighborhood. Not to mention its beauty and charm. The glass walls and gorgeous stone. The pillars and exorbitantly high ceilings. It is exaclty what you are imagining and more.

We’ll just come until our library re-opens, I told myself in September. On our first trip I explained to the librarian we were just visiting from our neighborhood and expressed some disappointment with the staff and security guards there. She shrugged and welcomed us warmly while my five year old made normal five year old noises without being scolded. I exhaled a sigh of relief.

By our third or fourth visit the librarian jokingly asked if they had won us over. I frowned and said something about feeling bad for abandoning our neighborhood library. My five year old ran around the lobby, likely licking something or pushing the automatic door button several times while my head was turned, and the friendly librarian responded, “Well, you gotta do what you gotta do.” I could only muster a faint smile.

But you don’t understand, I thought. I don’t get to do what I wanna do. I’m not here to live for myself, in a house with no windows facing the street or at a library where it’s easy to be. I’m supposed to be here for the common good, most especially my neighbors, who I cannot even see from the inside of my cave of a house. I am not supposed to desert them and go to the next closest and better library. I’m supposed to advocate for the betterment of the library my neighbors and friends are forced to visit.

I didn’t speak any of those words aloud of course, I just grabbed my towering stack of books and walked out the beautiful wooden doors.

what the library is teaching me about proximity

I have been thinking a lot about proximity lately. It’s become a hot term and I have mixed feelings about this. While I believe rubbing shoulders with people who are not like us is a good place to start, I think it falls woefully short of what Jesus calls us to in the sermon on the mount and all throughout scripture. The book of John does not say the Word became flesh and blood and came in close proximity to the neighborhood. It says he MOVED into it. And while this is an unpopular thought, I believe that until the stinging darts aimed at the most marginalized among us begin to pierce our own flesh, we are not fulfilling the greatest commandment.

Proximity allows us to have what we imagine to be the best of both worlds; pictures of soup kitchens and inner-city kids for Instagram and the life of comfort we’ve been taught to pursue. (Never mind our lives of comfort  do not remotely resemble the Kingdom of God where the first are last and the last are first.)

I should confess to you, I am writing from the better library. I sit in a comfy, olive green chair picturesquely placed before a floor to ceiling window, watching a palm tree blow in the wind as rain drops fall on the tropical flowers below. It is quiet and there is no tension in the air from security guards and overzealous librarians shushing children who likely had hot fries and fanta for breakfast. I am not torn between my role as their neighbor and a mother figure. I do not have to stop typing to have small talk about gentrification and the duplexes around the corner that were recently demolished. I can sit with my own narcissistic, privileged thoughts in peace. It feels both unfair and necessary and I do not know how to, or even if I can, untangle these feelings.

I am starting to believe the biggest danger for those of us who have relocated, who have moved beyond proximity and are instead seeking solidarity, or what Father G calls kinship, is to seek refuge in things other than the God who was present in our neighborhoods long before we were. Maybe, when it comes to proximity and solidarity, it is not the marginalized I should be seeking, but the God who put on flesh and chose to enter time and space on the margins. Maybe being in close proximity to those who have no housing is a good place to start, but being in close proximity to the One who made himself at home among them is the even better location. The place where Jesus put on flesh to communicate incarnation to us all.

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4 Comments

  1. Adrienne December 5, 2017

    Lindsy,

    Sweet sister…even though you are frustrated at this time please know GOD is using you. Maybe in your persistence to use a library despite the location. Maybe it’s the folks you meet along the way. I have personally learned that more often than not God’s plan isn’t quite mine or even how I would have had it work out. However we know HIS way is always better as his word reminds us.

    For years I’ve wanted to be a foster momma or adoptive momma to more than my two home-grown loves. Imagine my surprise when last winter my hubby finally said yes to the county MAP classes. I was thrilled. We would go in as a respite family only and then I figured…”I can work on the hubby.” Understand my hubby is a wonderful man who loves children. All kids! They are drawn to him. Staring and smiling at him in church, grocery stores, play grounds. That’s what you get when you are a kid at heart I guess! He still says no for very valid reasons and fears. I trust God will work in his heart if the time comes. But what a blessing we’ve been to other families that have needed us! Taking in their placements for vacations and emergencies. Loving their placements as our own. Inviting each placement and the foster family into our home, lives, and family. Even having a brief 6 week placement who was once a respite but now lives with birth family, and we still get her every other weekend! Even loving and inviting that family to be an extension of ours. Maybe we aren’t supposed to be parents to many in the traditional sense (living all under one roof) maybe God has our story played out differently. Only time will tell. Right now what I know is that instead of going to classes to get more of our “own” children, God has blessed us with many more that we ever could have imagined! Maybe one day we’ll add to our home-grown crew, but until then I know God does all things good, in his timing….cock-pot style. (Slow, steady and ready when you need it) :)

    Stay strong in the faith! know GOD is using you even if you don’t see it right now. Maybe his view of what you were to do there is different than you’ve planned but keep listening to what he’s telling you. You are there for a reason and maybe just being a family in your neighborhood of brokenness is the light you’re to be shining right now. Letting your neighbors into your family is amazing. Hey, put a kiddie pool out front or in the driveway have some lemonade and soak your toes. Listen to the neighborhood moms, be the hub of playdates. Often just being there is more than you would have ever thought. Let your neighbors join in on being a family with your family. God will do the rest! Think of the people GOD used in his word… I bet none of them thought their stories would have been played out as they did.

    For now use both libraries… maybe even invite some neighbor hood kids with you. Stay in his word and continue digging deeper. GOD will do the rest!

    Thanks for your blog. I look forward to it. Please know our family is praying for you and yours.

    In Christ’s love,
    Adrienne

    Reply
    • Lindsy Wallace December 15, 2017

      Adrienne – Thank you SO much for taking the time to type out that thoughtful response. I so enjoyed the snippet of your life you shared and the way God is using your family in outside the box ways. It is inspiring and an encouraging reminder. Thank you for your prayers!

      Reply
  2. Denise December 10, 2017

    These thoughts sound very familiar. A struggle I find 10,000 miles away. Still after nine years wondering why relationships aren’t deeper with nationals, impact isn’t larger and why I still go great lengths to find time for my white friends. How can I live in a culture when, though I do have a deeper understanding, I’m still clueless about? When I tuck my kids into their furnished, lice free, air conditioned bedrooms each night, I sigh in relief that I have privilege. It’s not fair, I know it and I’m also clueless on how to reconcile it.

    Reply
    • Lindsy Wallace December 15, 2017

      Yeah, I’m beginning to think we aren’t meant to reconcile it. I think it’s a tension born from the fracture of the world that goes all the way back to the garden. Living in the tension has reminded me we aren’t meant for here. Thanks for entering into the tension with me.

      Reply

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