"You ain't brought your mama here yet, have you?" Johnny asked with a slight smirk.
My mama lives on the other side of Lake Michigan but no, she hasn't been to our new house yet. Johnny grew up a couple blocks down the street, so he wasn't naive to the crime maps we scoured in our free time for months before we bought the place.
"By the way," our contractor joined the conversation, "The guy I usually hire to do carpet won't work in this neighborhood." Another smirk. "But Home Depot or Menards will."
One of our next door neighbors assumed I was the landlord.
"You got new tenants moving in soon?"
When I explained that my family would be moving in after we finished working on it he ran over, "Really? I love diversity! It's so nice to meet you!"
He told me a little bit about himself: His parents have lived there for forty-four years. He doesn't have a record. He is well-educated, and he has often been accused of "acting white."
I explained my own hesitations about moving into an impoverished neighborhood, one that - in this sector of town - is all African-American: the world has been infected with enough White Savior Complex, a syndrome I know I'm not always immune to.
As my neighbor crossed the street he yelled over his shoulder, "We are going to make you as comfortable as we can! It's not as bad as you think...it's not as bad as you think!"
Our other next door neighbor has lived there for fourteen years.
She was thrilled to learn that Husband works across the street. Our house has seen a lot of turnover, a lot of tenants, a lot of foreclosure.
She understands that neighborhoods are stronger when neighbors have the choice to stick around and look out for each other.
The day came back full circle to Johnny by the afternoon.
"Here, I got this for you and your home," he said, pulling out a little angel ornament from his pocket and placing it in my hand.
"Blessed," said the inscription.
My mind didn't process quickly enough to ask all of my, "Wait - what? Why?" questions, but I did get out a slightly awkward, "Thank you that is so nice!"
I didn't grow up talking about angels much, but this move makes me want to talk about them a lot more.
Johnny gave me his number and told me to call anytime. "Just put up some curtains soon, otherwise they will know there's nobody living in here yet."
Who's "they?" was another question I kind of wanted to ask but didn't.
We have seen the statistics.
Poverty. Drop-outs. Drugs. Shootings. Incarceration. The zip code 53206 is notorious enough to have a documentary written about it. It's hard to describe what brought us to this neighborhood - the one that the carpet guy won't work in.
A calling to build a big table and live a life that says "welcome?" A desire to build bridges? A compassion for people who don't get to choose which neighborhood they live in? A thirteen second commute for Husband to walk across the street to school each morning?
Are the specific reasons even necessary when people's ears say, "I'm listening," while their eyes say, "What the heck are you doing?!"
I don't know! What if Carpet Guy is right?!
I'm not sure what the carpet guy has been through before - heck, I've never met him and obviously won't anytime soon - so I can't judge the choices and desires the Lord has placed on his heart. But one thing I know for sure: we are loved by a God who doesn't shy away from the places the carpet guy doesn't want to go. And maybe the places the carpet guy doesn't want to go are the same places where the light of Christ is both waiting to be shared and waiting to be found.
In a single day, the Lord displayed the delight and desire we feel about moving to the inner city of Milwaukee - all of which outweigh our hesitancy and our fears. He showed me the neighbors who so easily said, "Welcome." He showed me the kids walking down our sidewalk with princess backpacks. He showed me that sometimes we let the news and our own stereotypes keep us away from the people and places that "aren't as bad as we think."
He showed me what Johnny's angel said so well: We are blessed to be here.
Grace and Peace,