Loving the City

Yesterday I looked at an apartment I adored in Sausalito, a beautiful, quaint little fishing town across the Bay from San Francisco. It’s a drive across Golden Gate bridge. It’s a ferry ride.

I’ve mentioned a few times here that we’ve been in a bit of battle to stay in our apartment in San Francisco. The battle has come to an end and we are officially moving out this October. So, now I’m in full apartment search mode, looking for a place where we can comfortably grow our family and struggling with what that means. See, I’d like a bigger place, where we could have another baby, where two beds could fit in the second bedroom, where I wouldn’t have to worry about how to carry two accidentally asleep children to the house when the car is parked blocks away. Those are city problems and I’m sure we could solve them by moving to another, less intense neighborhood. It’s just that the neighborhoods we can afford are not necessarily exciting to us.

One of the things I love about the friends I’ve made here in San Francisco is that they all seem to have a beautiful commitment to seeing this city flourish, a commitment to giving their children a picture of the world that is diverse and filled with all sorts of people and beliefs. They are committed to loving the broken of this city, not hiding from its brokenness.

I did not grow up in the suburbs. My city was not big enough to have suburbs. But I did grow up on the comfortable side of my hometown, rarely entering the broken places, the frightening places. When I was in high school, I became friends with a girl whose family moved regularly in and out of pieces of my hometown that I had never known existed. Though my parents worried, I became her ride to and from school and church events. I waited for her outside of her flea ridden, non air conditioned (in the 100 degree Texas summer) home on the North side. I sat outside on her front steps while a little girl with lice in her hair talked to me about why her daddy had locked her out of her apartment that afternoon. I remember hearing a voice in my head say: Remember this.

I heard that voice several times after, every time I encountered poverty. While I played soccer with children in a village along the Amazon River. While starving, strung out street children ripped bread from my hands on the street in Nairobi. And now I hear it, walking with my son in my neighborhood, past the church where the homeless wait for their 5:30 pm sandwich distributed by the priests.

Sometimes I despise myself for what I’m not doing for the poor. Yes, I can give to charities. Yes, I can teach August by example to look the homeless man at the park in the eye and say hello. But I also have to protect myself and my son. I can’t be stupid. And, I’m not one of the saints I so admire who has given her life to rescuing the addicted on the streets or the children in homes without a meal. My brother began and runs a ministry in my hometown that seeks to love and meet the basic needs of the children on the same side of town where I sat beside the little girl with lice in her hair. I’m incredibly grateful that Brooks has given his life to do something most of us cannot do.

Which brings me back to Sausalito. It’s a perfect apartment. Chris and I would sit outside in the evenings and stare out over a stunning view of the bay. August would have carpet to sit on his room and space for his toys. I’d do laundry whenever I want! We’d also be living in the suburbs. We wouldn’t be walking past the 60 lovely elederly women from Chinatown doing Thai Chi together every morning at the park. We’d miss the vast diversity of kids at the park whom August digs with in the sand. We’d miss the sounds of city life.

Are we all called to the city?  I have loved my experience of the city but I’ve never felt comfortable in it. It’s difficult. I love walking everywhere but I also love living among trees and quaintness. I’m a small town girl and I want to be able to shoo my kids out the door and into the yard while I cook dinner. What does that say about me?  At some point we decide whether to follow our needs and our finances to the place we’re comfortable.

Are the families who remain simply the strong who are fully committed to loving their neighbors and raising their kids to know and respect every kind of person? Or do they also really love living city lives? I imagine they love the city and long to be part of its healing.

So what does it mean if I’m not sure I love living in it? What does it mean if I want to be part of its healing but don’t see myself in it long term? Am I weak? Is it a failure to make a decision like where you live based mostly on what makes you comfortable? Is there even an answer to that question?


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10 Responses to Loving the City

  1. I have no idea what to say to you other than I hear you.
    There is something to be said for having a space that you feel you can call home, that you love and long to be in with your family and friends.
    We are in an apartment complex with loads of diversity and several families on HUD so my kids are seeing a world they never would have seen living in the suburbs of New York - I love this. But I don’t see us here long term and I wrestle all the time with thinking am I selfish to think this is not the long term place to be raising our family.
    The whole housing and where to grow our families is such an interesting topic and one that I think needs wide discussion if we are to move forward.
    Keep us posted on what transpires!

  2. CAQ

    I find cities hard. That said, I love being back in Chicago! But I live in a neighborhood that is 5 miles north of downtown; it’s a neighborhood (which is one of the things I have always loved about Chicago…it’s mostly neighborhoods). It’s easy to get downtown when I want to, like today, but I don’t have to deal with it on a daily basis. (Also I do not have a car…I cannot imagine having a car in the city.) The bustle of NYC was way too much for me. I don’t think it’s selfish. Also, I’m sure you will teach August (and baby #two…) not to be afraid of diversity. It sounds like the city will still be really accessible so you can all have that experience when you want and can deal with it (field trips!). What child does not like a ferry ride?
    Also, your kindness spreads and spreads. So I would pretty much never consider you selfish. I love reading your posts. xoxocaq

  3. There is not an answer to that question, only to say individual guilt is rarely a good reason to make a decision that affects more people than you as an individual. Don’t do things because you feel you SHOULD do them. Do them because you want to, or because they are right. Don’t should yourself into anything.

  4. @LaureeAshcom

    you know… i would love to meet the mom that raised you to think so deeply and want to do right and to rest in God (not as a lazy person but as someone who yearns for Him).


  5. Lex

    Maybe there is brokenness to be found in Sausalito.

  6. Laura

    Oh how we love Sausalito! We were in your EXACT place a year and a half ago. We now live just off Caledonia Street. The pace of life is perfect for us (we both commute into the city for work), the suburban “amenities” are incredibly indulgent after fighting through the city for nine years, and the sun smiles down on us a lot more over here!!

    That said, it is such a leap to make the decision. We struggled with a sense of guilt and the feelings of not being strong enough to survive city life, but God has constantly reassured us that this is our home for now. This is what’s best for our family. It’s been exciting to see the City Church community steadily grow here as well.

    You’ll have to let me know if you all decide to make the move…we’ll enjoy Friday night jazz at Gabrielson Park and our boys can run around and watch the sailboats pass by!

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  8. Clio

    I have been thinking and thinking about this post. I have grappled with a different, but similar question. These are the questions I ask myself:

    There is God’s work to be done everywhere. What am I called to do? What gives me the foundation to do that work?

    It takes strength to recognize our needs and meet them in a straightforward way. If the city best meets those needs, then great. If not, that is OK too.

    I hope that God will not discriminate based on where we live. I know that my home represents staggering wealth and comfort to a large portion of the planet. I won’t claim it is mine by any right but happy accident, as Sara Crewe would say. But I am very grateful, and most of time I am unapologetic about it :)

    I hope you can find your way to a place of peace about your living situation. Sometimes being thoughtful and soulful makes things complicated, doesn’t it?

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  10. There is brokenness in the city and the suburbs. And we all need refuges of home and love from it. That’s what I want my house to be for my wife and kids who are out in the world more than I am. My wife wants to be a doctor for the poor, but she can’t do that unless I ignore, temporarily at least, certain calls I feel upon my own life while I embrace the immediate, even ‘worldly’ calls upon my life. There is something to be said for that, for empowering others to do the work they are called.

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