Chutes and Broken Ladders

  {A bird's eye view of the stairs leading up to our front porch. Before a piece of wood was jimmied in to fill the crack. #PrivilegedToBeHere}

{A bird's eye view of the stairs leading up to our front porch. Before a piece of wood was jimmied in to fill the crack. #PrivilegedToBeHere}

Each time I walk up the stairs to our front porch, I am reminded of how privileged I am to be here.

It was the third house we toured with our realtor, and I was smitten over every detail: a relatively new home that only needed a heavy paint job, enough square footage to create a guest bedroom, an open concept kitchen and living room to practice hospitality, and even main floor laundry.

We heavily debated over its location in the heart of the inner city, but after a few days of late night discussing and dreaming and anxiety admitting, Husband received a devotional in his inbox with this verse attached:

The word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood. {John 1:14}

We are not the type to demand signs from heaven, but we were pretty sure that confirmed God was shouting, This is the one!

So when our realtor called us back and said, “They accepted a different offer,” I felt like I was being dumped.

The house and I had only been on two tours together, but I had made the mistake of mentally picking out paint colors and arranging the furniture and planning the neighborhood barbecues. The clear peace we felt turned into foggy confusion: Had we completely misunderstood the Lord’s leading? Didn’t He want us to be in this neighborhood like we thought He did? What was our next step supposed to be?

Three months passed, as well as at least twelve house tours and two other rejected offers. The waiting and the searching seemed to only confirm how much we loved that first house. Each time I checked, it hadn’t yet officially sold, so I asked our realtor to look into it. Come to find out, that house was expected to go back on the market within a couple of weeks due to financing falling through.

The problem wasn’t the potential buyer’s inability to gather the proper paperwork. It was the broken steps on the front of the house.

Sometime in the past 15 years, the cement stairs leading up to the front porch pulled away from the house, leaving a 2.5 inch gap between them. And due to the buyer’s FHA loan {a government-insured loan that is easier to qualify for and requires a lower down payment}, these stairs would have to be fixed in order for their financing to come through.

But these stairs weren’t going to be fixed by neither buyer nor seller because, #1 it was the middle of winter, and #2 the home was a foreclosure being sold as-is, and #3 it would cost someone roughly $4-6,000 to repair. A clause in their loan meant to protect them from buying a faulty property was now a broken step in their hopes for making a quality investment.

We qualified for a conventional loan. Although there were stricter financial standards we had to prove ourselves by, we could purchase the house and live with a 2.5 inch gap in the porch’s front stairs if we wanted to. Which we have been living with, albeit a 2.5 inch piece of wood jimmied in the gap, since we eventually bought the house and moved in.

And this is the part where I tell you that this story has many layers.

As someone who believes in God’s sovereignty, I can say outright that we wouldn’t have been able to buy this house if He didn’t let us. Which is maybe part of what was being demonstrated the first time our offer was rejected and the other party’s was accepted. But as I delve deeper into the depths of living where we are in a poor inner city neighborhood, coming down from our watchtower to live among those forced to fight for scraps at the bottom, I know there’s more to this story too.

The other theme being intensely weaved into our lives on the mostly-black north side of Milwaukee is our privilege.

I know that word turns many off, especially if the word white is placed in front of it. Assumed in the meaning is that one doesn’t work hard for what they have, or that they’ve never experienced hardship. But as a hard working white woman who was raised by hard working white parents, and who has experienced intense grief, I know that’s not what is really behind that word.

Privilege can manifest itself in a variety of ways, be it through economic status or race. It points to financial safety nets, emotional support, and basic systems that naturally work in my favor. When my race is involved, it means living free from assumptions and stereotypes and discrimination, and - if we are willing to stop and listen to people of color share their experiences - we'll learn it means oh so much more.

Specifically in my family's case – it’s getting to choose which neighborhood we live in, all the while assuming we would be warmly welcomed. It's being middle class in a poverty-stricken area. It's having backgrounds that make it easy to apply for a conventional loan. It’s playing the game of chutes and ladders without our board being stacked with all chutes and only broken ladders.

And to those who don’t know these privileges, it’s a lot less cute than a metaphor about board games.

And I know that some might say the thing to do would be to celebrate and say thank you for all of these privileges. That all is well, because now we can share the gospel of Jesus in our hood. Because man cannot live on bread alone. Which is true. The gospel is needed in all corners of the world. But man cannot live without bread either.

Which means that while I don’t live in my house under guilt and shame, I live here learning a great deal about the housing crisis in our city, the history of racist redlining in the loan industry that still has major ramifications on the segregation of neighborhoods today, as well as the eviction-poverty cycle in the rental industry.

I’m living here, waking up to this "Thy Kingdom Come" tension Lori Harris writes about:

I think there are a great many weeping prophets among us. I think they’re proclaiming a message in song that we don’t recognize because we never stop celebrating our privilege long enough to enter into the sufferings of our neighbors. We’re so busy shouting that Jesus is still on the throne that we cannot understand that these modern day prophets aren’t discounting the sovereignty of God; they are calling the Church to wake up to the things that grieve the Holy Spirit that we might repent and hasten the day that humanity will no longer weep. The weeping prophets among us have, in their mind’s eye, seen the kingdom of God in its fullness and hope in the day to come, while mourning with humanity at its delay. Today, may we wake up and respond.

God indeed enjoys giving good gifts to His children.

But I can’t ignore that there are also times He allows the wicked to prosper during their temporary lives on this earth. {Psalm 73}. Which means that physical prosperity isn’t always a clear-cut sign of His blessing.

Which means our family will continue to live in this tension knowing all good things come from Him, yet also knowing our wealth and our race also leverage privileges that we don’t always recognize.

That those broken steps leading up to our front porch are more than just a metaphor in many of our neighbor’s lives.

And as Christ-followers, that should make us weep.

 

Grace and Peace,

Kendra