I walk the rectangle of our neighborhood in the middle of the morning, and I hear the birds tweeting, flitting back and forth from tree to tree. I smell the early scent of spring — all the flowers waking up and stretching in the warmth of the sun, pouring their fragrance generously into the wind. I notice tiny, purple flowers growing in the cracks of the asphalt, and I bend down to see them up close, marveling at life’s tender resilience to bring itself forth in the midst of hard circumstances.
It’s a quiet, suburban neighborhood, and years ago, I felt trapped in it. I felt trapped by the endless amount of houses, the sameness of everyone’s routines and goals in life, the comfort and convenience of suburbia that dull the senses. After nearly a decade away, I had come back to live in a place I had sworn never to live in again.
I had been raised overseas as a missionary’s kid with dreams of becoming a martyr in a third world country, and everything about this place was far from it. I pushed against any assimilation to it, and I scoffed at and internally judged those who had fallen drowsy to suburbia’s siren calls.
The problem was that I lived here. My home was here. My children went to school here. We were building a life here. And it wasn’t long before the tensions of hating the place I lived in with the reality of living here came to a head. I had to reckon with why I loathed it, where the underlying resentments came from, and how to learn not only to live here but to love it for what it was.
And thus began the deep inner healing work of readjusting expectations and dreams, of uncovering buried bitterness, of confessing pride in thinking I was better than the place I was in — than the people around me, of discovering God to be everywhere.
I began by looking low to the ground and paying attention to the small things: the neighbor’s unkempt rose bushes that bloom even when neglected, the perfect sliver of moon shining at night, the love given and shared in our multigenerational home. I recognized my arrogance in positioning myself above those around me, as if I were holier or more enlightened. We were the same — simply learning to live well with what we’ve been given.
I started to see how our location matters and that there is good to be found right where we’re at, even with its issues and problematic values. We are in our neighborhoods, our cities, our towns for a reason — even if it’s not by choice — and it’s in those specific places that God is there, that God is working, that God is creating life, that God is redeeming the people and the place toward His kingdom come.
We often idealize and even sensationalize places far removed from us. We’re quick to give to efforts halfway across the globe because it’s less complicated. We can easily see a before-and-after, a life made better through our donations. But we only get a two-dimensional rendering of the people; we don’t get to see the nuances of their lives. While knowing and loving the people in close proximity and being rooted in the location we live in brings with it all the dimensions of relationship — ups and downs, disagreements and joys, the complexities and simplicities of being human. It’s in those finer details though that we get to experience God’s presence, live out our faith, and love as we’ve been called to love.
I think about how Jesus came down from heaven to dwell in a specific location, within a specific ethnic community. He did His work locally, as far as His feet and a boat could take Him. He focused on the people right around Him, healing, preaching, and walking with them. And yet, what happened there changed the world.
Yes, God is in the far-off places, but God is everywhere — even here. He is alive and moving in every suburban, urban, or rural area. So wherever your here is, look for Him there. See how He is moving and engage with Him, co-create life with Him there.
In the evening, I take another walk around the neighborhood. I listen to the rustle of leaves in the gentle wind, and I realize I don’t feel trapped anymore. Instead, this place that I once despised has truly become a thin place in which to meet God. And at last, I’m finally at peace.