How This City is Changing Me


We are finding our rhythm here on James Street. It’s our second summer, after all, and we’re feeling our way into place, like a jigsaw puzzle piece you have to turn a few times before you push it in. There are familiar faces now, and a few of them have names, and a few of the people are starting to feel like our people.

There’s a little Hispanic boy who runs over to our porch every time he sees us outside, and he asks for Sammy, and when Sammy comes out he sees the boy and gets a bashful smile on his face.

“Hey,” he says, and the little boy asks where we’re going and how long we’ll be away. On Sunday he told me that he has a dad – he wanted me to be sure to know he had a dad, even though he doesn’t live with them. He kept saying it over and over at random places in the conversation.

“I have a dad, you know.”

There’s a neighbor across the street who walks with a crooked limp, always rubbing his head as if he’s just been asked a question he doesn’t understand. As soon as he sees us, he smiles and waves, his grin as crooked as the rocking chair he’s often sitting on. He seemed genuinely disappointed for me when he pointed out the fact that I had gotten a ticket for parking too close to a fire hydrant.

“They got you, man,” he said, disgust in his voice.

Two doors down a young man just moved in with his girlfriend and their little girl. He’s a hard case, one of those who thinks smiling is for the weak. His head is shaved and his arms are covered in tattoos. Sometimes in the evening if I’m sitting on the porch I’ll look down the row of porches and he’ll be sitting there, looking angry at the world. I’ve waved at him a few times, but he pretends not to see me.

Then this past weekend, as I pulled a few things out of the car, he brought his trash outside. I said hi. He nodded and something like the beginning of a smile flashed across his face, fast as lightning. He nodded again, and went back inside. He came out again just as 1-year-old Leo toddled down the sidewalk towards where I stood.

“Hey, little man!” he said, and suddenly I remembered he is a human being, too, and there are reasons he doesn’t smile, and those walls he lives behind were built long ago, probably around a young boy.

And there are always doors, always gates leading through those types of walls. Patience will find them.

* * * * *

Henri Nouwen writes this about the poverty around us:

Just as we are inclined to ignore our own poverty, we are inclined to ignore others’.  We prefer not to see people who are destitute, we do not like to look at people who are deformed or disabled, we avoid talking about people’s pains and sorrows, we stay away from brokenness, helplessness, and neediness.

By this avoidance we might lose touch with the people through whom God is manifested to us.  But when we have discovered God in our own poverty, we will lose our fear of the poor and go to them to meet God.

Every time I see an old friend, they ask me if we enjoy living in the city, and my enthusiasm is almost always met with skepticism. I know that my friends are thinking about the shootings they read about in the paper, the theft, the drugs. The blatant need. But those things here in Lancaster City don’t stand out to me anymore. If I see poverty, it’s one that reflects my own.

These people all around us, these people on James Street, they are helping me find God again.

Jodi won the copy of Amber Haines’ book, Wild in the Hollow. Congratulations!

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