It was late July of 2011, and we were a few days away from loading up the U-Haul to leave the Big City. Since we were a few days away from moving, and since we wanted to eat at our favorite restaurants one last time, I had ordered takeout from an amazing Latino restaurant in our neighborhood.
I walked to the restaurant in the evening twilight. It was the most perfect time of day. The whole world was bathed in a pink glow of sunset, and the temperature had dropped slightly. People were headed home from work, and life was quieting down. It was a very peaceful and reflective walk.
The streets were very familiar to me; i had spent the past six years in this neighborhood. But when you are about to leave a place, you frequently notice things you passed over before. I noticed each building, each smell, each sound. I wanted to soak everything in and store it up in my mind for good.
It was a very nostalgic walk. I truly love that neighborhood. Nonetheless, it was bittersweet. I was moving away because i wanted to. Actually, i was desparate to move. I had cried and begged and pleaded with God to be able to leave. He graciously and providentially answered my prayer. But in that moment, when everything was pleasant and peaceful, i thought, "Now why exactly do i want to leave this?"
I looked around at all the hundreds of apartment buildings filled with people, and thought, "All these people live here and do fine. What's wrong with me that i can't?"
The other pedestrians with me on the sidewalk, they rode the bus home and stopped at the market for dinner and will walk up multiple flights of stairs to their apartment. How come they do it just fine but it makes me so incredibly cosmic? The problem wasn't with the Big City; it was with me. If i was a stronger person, i could manage all the logistical difficulties of urban life. If i was strong enough, i could stay here in this place i love.
But I'm not strong enough, so i'm leaving. I felt embarrassed. I was leaving with my tail between my legs, white flag raised in surrender.
Then, on our last Sunday at church, all our dear friends prayed over us. After the service, our pastor and good friend Keith said that during the prayer, he kept hearing the words "Mission Accomplished." He was very encouraging, and said that as the Lord was closing one chapter of our lives and opening another, we could take pride in the fact that we had accomplished the work that had been given to us.
Well that was the complete opposite from what i had been feeling. I thought i failed the mission; now you're saying i'm victorious?
I told him my thoughts about leaving in defeat, and he said matter-of-factly, "That's a lie."
In the months that followed, the lie of defeat once again became easy to believe. If we'd just stayed in the Big City for another 15 years until the economy improves, then we wouldn't be having all these issues with our condo.
Now we are back to present-day February 2012. The Professor, BabyGirl, and i made a pilgrimage back to the Big City to visit. It was a wonderful trip. We got to see all our old friends. I saw Clare Adella perform at Pressure, i celebrated at Emily's baby shower, and we went to our old church.
Going back to church again was such a moving experience. People that i'd only casually known were SO HAPPY to see us. It didn't make any sense. It was touching, but it didn't make sense. The people that i had known very deeply were exponentially more happy to see us. It wasn't until i stood in that church service that i truly believed that our mission was accomplished. It finally sank into my heart. I was so joyful to be there worshipping with dear brothers and sisters that i love with all my heart.
Being back again and seeing how warmly we were received finally proved to me that we had given our all to that church. We had engaged it 100%. We had held nothing back. I was at peace with the fact that our work was done. We had served that church for several years. Now we have passed on the torch, and the church is still flourishing.
We have so many beautiful relationships as a result of our time there. For example: when you stay at someone's house for 3 nights, and every single night your BabyGirl wakes up screaming at 3am, and screams so loud that you can hear it a block away, but at the end your hosts hug you tightly and thank you for coming; that's how you know what a true friend is.
Or the fact that another friend gave us her digital converter box. And another friend had multiple friends and family in town but took time out of her busy schedule to meet me for coffee.
As a result of my time in the city, i will always have a heart for urban ministry. It is HARD. Hard in a way that outsiders just can't understand. I will always have a heart for refugees. I will always have a heart for prostitutes and people in slavery. I will always have a heart for school violence. I will always love Polish people, and Indian will always be my favorite ethnic food.
Who knows if our urban life chapter is truly closed, or if we'll find ourselves back there someday. All i know is that i spent the formative years of my adulthood in the Big City, and it has made me who i am. It was a mission that i am forever greatful to have been given. "To God be the glory, great things He hath done!"