A Garden of Wildflowers – God’s love for Detroit and me (and, incidentally, we’re moving there)

December 12, 2014

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{This title comes from a conversation I had with a dear friend the other night. I thought it was apt. Also, here is what is probably going to be our own little slice of heaven in Berkley, MI.}

I can hardly believe this is happening, let alone in two and a half weeks. I have to sit and collect my thoughts to write this post. I really thought I would not be writing this. Ever. A year and a half ago, when my baby Wyatt was an infant, I was driving to a dentist appointment. I remember, because I was alone and it felt like a break even though I was going to the dentist. I remember cruising down highway 53 listening to NPR and hearing that Detroit had filed for bankruptcy. I really want to remember, or to be able to find the program I was listening to, but there was an author being interviewed about the kinds of things Detroit would need to do to rebuild, based on his knowledge of how things had been rebuilt in other midwestern cities in similar situations. I can’t even remember which cities he listed or all of the things he was prescribing. Great beginning, huh?

I just remember starting to picture myself going to a place like that: to picture the kind of lifelong dedication it would take – on such a large scale – to turn a dying city around. I had checked out a book for Gilead called The Curious Garden. It’s a story of a restoration project that was done in Brooklyn, turning miles of abandoned train track into garden.

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It was those illustrations in my head, along with the pictures I’ve seen over the years of blighted Detroit.

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It was like someone was putting his vision into my brain, connecting disparate ideas and images like a moving picture. As this author talked, I saw gardens growing (he wasn’t talking about gardens, just to be clear) and whole communities of people buying homes and moving into neighborhoods together. I saw asphalt turned into jungle. Along with these images came a growing sense of longing and urgency in my heart. It was so intense it was like a physical groan that I couldn’t get out. I found myself beginning to cry out for this vision to be realized. It felt like I wasn’t one voice, but part of a chorus of tiny voices all crying together for the same thing – even though we didn’t all know what we were crying out for. The aftermath of that vision was that I continued to feel a profound love for Detroit – for that specific piece of land and the people living there even though I’d never been there and didn’t know if I knew any of them at all.

At that stage of learning to hear the voice of Jesus, I still wasn’t totally sure how to place emotions I was feeling or imaginative visions I saw that fell in this category: they felt partly like me but partly coming out of nowhere. I hear stories on NPR that make me sad all the time. Sometimes they even move me to tears. Hardly ever do they make me feel like my whole being is groaning toward a certain place or people group. Perhaps this is what intercessory prayer ought to feel like more and more as I (hopefully) grow closer to the Lord and am trusted and blessed with seeing His heart for more of the world. Part of me hopes this is the case: it is a new intimacy with another being I never thought possible. Part of me hopes to stay on the safe side and not experience this more than I have to. It’s very overwhelming. Part of the reason for this could be that, as I discovered quite recently, I am actually a highly sensitive person. Those who know me well (or maybe even those who don’t know me very well) have probably sensed this and refrained from rubbing it in my face, but I certainly was in the dark until a few weeks ago when a Huffington Post article on Highly Sensitive People “randomly” popped up in my Facebook feed. I know someone who self-identifies (and has been diagnosed) as such and always thought I was not in that category. Little did I know, my husband has known this all along. Maybe Jesus meant for me to find out for myself and only after having been able to experience some of the “pros” of being an HSP. I don’t know. All I know is, I took that test and so many things fell into place in my mind – just like when I re-took the Myers-Briggs this year with Henry helping me to answer more honestly and came out as a INFP instead of a “J.” It’s highly surprising and highly freeing. All of this is to say: not everyone is meant to experience God’s heart this way and if you don’t, it doesn’t mean you can’t hear Jesus’ voice. For me, it was a matter of experimenting with – and ultimately coming to trust because it has become clear when my intuitions and prophetic words line up with scripture – the idea that I am actually hearing from God in my imagination. When I finally GOT that idea – that maybe God was trying to use my tears or sense of being moved by something in order to transmit a message to me, the floodgates opened. I began to realize just. how. often. Jesus was shouting at me and how I’d always written it off as the weakness of being a woman. The next step in this process was that I began to understand it as primarily a gift to be used for the edification of others – just like in scripture, right? The branch doesn’t bear fruit for itself.

Anyway, this kind of thing kept happening. I would go back to my normal life and forget about Detroit – forget I’d ever felt the things I’d felt – and then I’d stumble on an article or hear another something on the radio or find out someone was from there and I hadn’t known. And I’d feel those same things or remember again what it felt like to feel those same things. One day at nap time I was in my dark bedroom nursing Wyatt. I’d probably just read something online or whatever, but I decided to pray about it while I was rocking instead of pushing it out of my mind. I remember feeling like this act of prayer was simply acquiescing to this little question – will you let me in? I remember feeling the love and burden and longing for this city flood me again and I remember shaking with sobs, tears running down my face (a pretty common occurrence; not alarming). And the longing – it’s the best way I can describe it – became so intense that I felt I could not feel God’s feelings for the injustice and pain and blight and His vision for what He wants to make happen and just go on the same way I was before. I could reject it, and know that I had rejected it, or I could say yes. I could say, with all my heart, that I would go there if He wanted me to go there, even though I had no idea how it could possibly happen or what I could possibly do there once I got there. At the time, Henry was unemployed and a month away from starting an accelerated accounting masters. We were untethered and could see nothing beyond staying afloat long enough to finish the program in order to finally start his real career.

If you are a lover of Tolkien, like me, you will perhaps forgive me for referencing the Council of Elrond. It’s one of my top three favorite moments in the whole work when Frodo – after all of the wise have said their piece and it becomes clear that the ring has to be taken to Mordor and that the powerful couldn’t be entrusted with the task – says simply: “I will take the ring, though I do not know the way.” This is the moment when everything changes – especially when you have read the story already. Every time I hear those words again (once a year, in the voice of Rob Inglis) I pray that I would speak them truly, again and again. The more times you read the story, the more you see the hand of invisible powers at work in it – without which careful orchestration events wouldn’t line up the way they do. It’s why Gandalf is adamant that Gollum be allowed to live and why it’s so important for Frodo that he trusts Gandalf.

So, without knowing why it even mattered because I STILL have no clue what difference I could possibly make to the city of Detroit, I said to Jesus that of course I would go if He wanted me to go. I couldn’t see love like that and not respond. And then I was at peace. I said to the Lord: of course You know You have to somehow get my husband there.

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To be clear: I still don’t really WANT to move. I have called this place home for 14 years now – far longer than any one location in my entire life before college. In a lot of ways I’ve been parented by Church of the Resurrection. I’ve met Jesus here in ways that have deeply touched and changed my entire being. I’ve grown in my faith. I’ve nestled myself down into a fat little nest. Yes, we’re cramped in our two bedroom apartment. Yes, this area is expensive to live in. Yes, I do feel out of place here a lot of times. But it’s home. So many of my friends live here.

But we are moving. In 2 1/2 weeks.

When Henry started looking for jobs this Summer, we knew it was both a long shot he would get the kind of job he needed to support a family of 5 right away and that it seemed absolutely imperative that he do so. When his mentor – who is an accountant – reached out to everyone who owed him a favor, letting them know Henry existed and was looking, I just wasn’t surprised that it turned out to be Detroit. I knew, immediately, that the Lord had given me all of that time to think about Detroit – that He’d asked me, totally apart from my husband or our family, if I was willing to go there – because He loves me. Because He wanted to prepare my heart to accept something more easily than I could have otherwise. And He knew that somehow, in the way my crazy brain works, I would get excited about the renewal taking place. Detroit is not yet, really, a hip place to live – or even very safe (we opted for a rental home in the northern suburbs instead of looking in the city for now) – but there are exciting things happening.

The reality of moving and of seeing the city has been far more detailed and sometimes overwhelming than those pictures in my imagination. I still don’t really know if or how I might serve that city. But I know moving there is a good first step, haha. Jesus has given me the gift of seeing this all unfold: first He put the love and desire for this city in my heart, then He moved me to want to live there even though I don’t understand it and am leaving my comfort zone to do so, and then He provided the ONLY job offer Henry has received in 5 years of searching and it just happens to be an amazing career opportunity and enough money for us to live on. Even if only to me, this looks very much like a miracle.

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One Response to “A Garden of Wildflowers – God’s love for Detroit and me (and, incidentally, we’re moving there)”

  1. Brady Says:

    Jen, this is so cool! I have had a fascination with Detroit for a long time, and I’m glad someone like you is moving there! I look forward to updates!


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