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On Staying, for better or worse

Image courtesy of Mihai Tamasila

If anything characterized the first 6 years of my adult life it was change. Movement was a rhythm of sorts, as sure as the changing seasons. Each fall and summer of my college days, I would pack my little Honda Accord so full of stuff I couldn’t see out the passenger side window and made the trek from Ohio to Michigan. Each new year brought with it fresh scenery, new roommates, unfamiliar classes, a different way to rearrange the bunk beds.

After graduating, I moved from the small town I’d called home my whole life to a tiny apartment in the big city. And then there was that other teensy bit of a life change called marriage.

The first two years of our marriage brought more movement. Church hunting. New friendships. Buying a house. Moving to another neighborhood in the city. Getting a dog. Changing jobs. Then changing jobs again.

Now the Mr. and I are staring at our fourth year of marriage, and for the first time, our lives look remarkably similar to what they were one year ago. We’re at the same church. We’re married to the same person. We occupy the same house. We’re surrounded by the same neighbors.

Our lives have settled into a sense of routine. We have a schedule of sorts, a weekly rhythm of shared meals and community, worship and down time.

None of these things are bad things. In fact, they’ve been a huge blessing. We love our house, our neighborhood, our church community. But this season of sameness has revealed something about my own heart: I am addicted to change.

In Christian circles, change is usually seen as a good thing. We love to talk about how difficult it is to go, to forsake the familiar and the comfortable. We praise those who leave everything behind and travel to wild and unknown places. They’re doing the hard thing. The sacrificial thing.

But the church rarely talks about how difficult it is to stay. Stay in the same place, the same church, the same marriage, the same neighborhood.

No one mentions the weariness that comes with picking up the same trash on your front lawn, staring at the same pile of dirty laundry, listening to the same leaky faucet drip drop in the kitchen sink.

No one talks about the moment when our churches fail us. When we realize that these communities, these bodies of Christ, are made up of broken, messed up people.

We don’t talk about the days when it’s difficult to get up and love the same man, even when your breath stinks, and you’re short on sleep and he’s unshaven and you’re grumpier than the famous Grouch.

No one talks about how hard it is to commit to a community, even when it hurts you, even when you disagree, even when you don’t “feel fed” every week.

And no one prepares you for the long haul of loving a neighborhood. Of coming home to crime scene tape and red and blue lights. Of longing for a yard that isn’t in sight of four others. Of waking up to a window that’s been smashed and a car covered in your collection of CDs, crumpled napkins, and extra ketchup packets. (What, robber? You don’t like JJ Heller? I’m shocked!).

We love to talk about (and glorify) the dangerous unknown. But what about the dangerous known? What about the fear of getting past surface conversations? What about the fear that these people, this community that we have chosen to stick with, will begin to see past our carefully constructed selves? What if they begin to see us? The real us? The “us” that is filled with doubt and insecurities and wanderings.

I’m convinced that the real challenge for believers isn’t in going, it’s in staying. It’s in committing to do life with people just as awkward and quirky and sin-filled as we are. It’s in saying yes to the house with the broken gutters and not-so-private yard and smelly basement. It’s in walking around your neighborhood, shopping at the grocery store down the street, buying coffee from the local barista, picking up yet another broken bottle. It’s in getting to know your neighbors, hearing their stories, and letting their hopes and dreams shape your own. It’s in putting down roots. Roots that aren’t afraid to go deep—to get caught up in a mess of bark and growth and life and the gnarly paths of those around us.

We can’t live our faith in a vacuum. We can’t pretend that our geography, our neighbors, our pushpin on the map of this great world doesn’t matter. They are a gift.

This place. These people.

These living, breathing people that can be touched and heard and healed and hurt.

This is where our faith plays out–in bread that can be broken and eaten. In stories that can be heard and tears that run wet and hot down our cheeks. It’s lived in laughter and daily acts of kindness. Our faith takes shape here, on our sidewalk. In this home. Around the dining room table with the mismatched chairs. In the stained glass walls and straight backed benches of  an old church.

If it’s adventure my heart is longing for, I’ve got more than enough right here in this place. After all, what could be more wild than to say ‘no’ to this culture’s siren song of cooler stuff, better places, and more important people? What could be more brave than to stay?

When it’s awkward.

When it’s dangerous.

When it’s boring.

Or uncomfortable.

Or inconvenient.

I know we’re not in this place by accident. I know these high rises and traffic lights and confessions and potlucks and addicts and broken down buildings are shaping me. The imperfections, the annoyances, they’re sanctifying me. Slowly chipping away at the rough and ungracious corners of my heart.

The staying—the knowing and being known—is changing me in a way that only time and familiarity and commitment can do. And for that I’m terrified and grateful.

This place is a gift, and we’re staying, for better or worse.

This post has been brewing in my mind for quite some time, and was spurred by the thoughts of someone who expressed it much more eloquently than me. Check out Sarah Bessey’s: In Which I Radically Stay Put. 

This post is also being shared on my church’s blog, The Village Pursuit. 

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  • Christie Ellis February 19, 2013, 12:04 PM

    Completely agree here, Courtney. I grew up in an unstable home which meant that, until I was married in 2006, I never lived in the same house for more than two years. Change was constant, and I became so accustomed to the role of “new girl” that I never learned how to be faithful in relationships or work over the long haul. After college, I hopped from job to job before having kids, and almost as soon as my daughter was born in 2010, I began to feel a sense of panic over the permanence of her existence. It was the first time that I knew I’d have to stick it out come what may (now, of course, the same was technically true for marriage, but childbearing came with a weight that was altogether overwhelming). My kids are now 3 and 1, and my husband and I will have been married for 7 years this summer. I struggle against this life at times, wishing I wouldn’t have tied myself down, yet as you pointed out, I see God sanctifying me and maturing my heart through it. It’s for our good to learn this kind of faithfulness.

    • Courtney @ Neighborfood February 19, 2013, 2:11 PM

      Thanks for coming by Christie. I think you’re exactly right–it’s about learning faithfulness. That’s certainly not a quality that comes naturally. I think we only learn by having to practice it over the long haul. The sense of permanence you express about having children is one of the reasons we have been hesitant to embark on that adventure. Yet I know like every other thing that requires patience and commitment, children will bring beauty and challenges and most importantly, help make us more like Jesus.

  • Kim Puckett February 19, 2013, 6:25 PM

    Great blog. I so enjoy your posts!

  • Kim February 19, 2013, 11:20 PM

    Beautiful truths that are beautifully written.

  • Michelle February 7, 2014, 8:23 PM

    I’m creeping your blog in preparation for meeting you tomorrow (!!!) and this post is AMAZING. “I’m convinced that the real challenge for believers isn’t in going, it’s in staying”…..that is so true and I couldn’t agree more!

    • Courtney @ Neighborfood February 7, 2014, 10:06 PM

      Ha! I’m glad I’m not the only one doing the creeping. I read about the wedding and I am SO SORRY. Seriously girl, that’s definitely the most epic caterer fail I’ve ever heard. Can’t wait to meet you tomorrow!

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