Written by Alex & Lynn Jones //
“Alex, why do you live in the ‘hood?” my incredulous cousin asked during our (Alex and Lynn) wedding weekend. We graduated from college with a strong sense of intentionality: We moved with several of our friends to Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood to continue exploring themes of race, justice, and poverty, as we had explored during our time at Wheaton College in the Chicago suburbs. When we moved back to the suburbs to begin graduate school and to work, we chose to live in an apartment comprised primarily of recently resettled refugees. Crestview Apartments were (and are) ideal for us in so many ways. They allow us to walk to work every day; we’re in an international enclave in a largely white and wealthy area; we’re centrally located by the train station, so friends are able to visit us easily; we’re similarly located in a central location for our students to enter into our home as we practice hospitality. We also have the opportunity to build relationships and, perhaps most importantly to us, allow our daughter Maya to enter into these friendships.
But there have been times when the social and cultural pull to leave Crestview is strong.
Our good friends who were our neighbors in Crestview left a few months ago to move into a different apartment complex. We must admit: We are now regular users of their in-home laundry, central air conditioning, dishwashing machine, and cappuccino maker. Friends all over continue to purchase homes and lay down roots, making us wonder if now is the time that we should, too—especially with a two-year old. Perhaps the strongest push to move happened just this month, in the form of bed bugs…a swarm of them.
As Lynn and I have reflected recently about life in Crestview and our new, unwelcomed friends (no hospitality for bed bugs!), I was taken back to an internship in Indonesia during college. For one, I now wished I was back in Indonesia so I could just pull our mattresses outside and let the sun bake the bugs away. But more importantly, I recalled a unique feeling I have only experienced a few times in life: the feeling of wanting to leave slowly overtaking the feeling of wanting to stay. It’s the desire to go home.
The challenge is not to rush into leaving too soon.
In this season of life, we have learned that entering into a place is easy enough. We can move into North Lawndale; we can move into a slum; we can choose to live in Crestview. But do we stay? Do we choose to remain despite the discomfort?
For us, the idea of “staying” has much more to do with our posture than with our physical presence, though that, too is important. Actually, it is possible to already “leave” even if you are physically there. Have you already left? Or are you staying?
This reminds us of a commencement address given not too long ago by the former chaplain of Duke University, Rev. Dr. Sam Wells. He narrates:
A couple of years ago I had breakfast with Jean Vanier, the French Canadian founder of the L’Arche movement. L’Arche is an international network of communities made up of people with disabilities and those who come to share life with them. Jean Vanier has spent the last 40 years living in such communities. I asked him, “What’s the hardest part?” I was expecting he’d say, “Sometimes I get fed up of being with developmentally disabled people and I just long for a normal life,” or something like that. But what he said was this: “Sam, if you really want to know, the hardest part is when young people come from college and they stay with us for a summer, or maybe for a year. And they say, ‘This has been the most amazing experience of my life—I’ve learned to see the world so differently and value things so truly and ponder things so deeply.’ And they have this word they like to use…‘transformative,’ that’s it. They say it’s been transformative. And then they leave. And I think, ‘If it’s all been so fantastic and transformative, why are you leaving?’” And I said to this great man, maybe the greatest man I’ve ever met, “Ah, but don’t you see? If life is fundamentally the accumulation of experiences, you have to leave—otherwise you’d have to rethink your whole life.” “Oh,” he said. “So people leave, because they’re frightened of who they’re becoming if they stay.”
Our family is being given the chance to decide: Are we staying, or are we going? If we’re absolutely honest, at this very moment, we’re convinced that moving to a nicer apartment sounds pretty wonderful.
But we know we won’t. Despite the strength of the pull to leave, we are going to stay. Why did we live in the ‘hood, why do we choose to stay in Crestview during difficult seasons of life? Someday we’ll end up out of Crestview in a house, but for now, we know that we’re beyond the “transformative” stage of intentional living. Crestview is no longer an experience for us. It’s simply home. And we don’t leave home.
Lynn works in the counseling center at Wheaton College. Alex also works at Wheaton College, in the Human Needs and Global Resources program. They have one daughter, Maya, who brings a ball of energy to all they do.