Two Homes, One Journey

It's become our routine. All be it, an expensive routine! Every 3 years we have the privilege of traveling "down under" to Aotearoa. There is no way we can afford to do this, simply because Beth and I have made decisions to live in an intentional community and work amongst the homeless in Uptown. Years ago, we both decided to try and live out the Kingdom of God; by following the revolutionary footsteps of Jesus, embracing a simple lifestyle and being a voice for the voiceless. By doing this; such travel, by our own means, quickly becomes impossible! Yet, our family is happy to proclaim; the impossible becomes possible mainly through the amazing generosity of our NZ church family. We are grateful. We are blessed. We were given the opportunity to return home!

As our lives skip back and forth through the affluence of southern hemisphere summers to the poverty of the northern winters, my life of two lives consumes me. This rotation isn't ever easy. The transition clicks quickly and painlessly, yet the anticipation digs and twists in me like a slow turning dagger. I look, trying to be brave, trying to be "a man", but tears want to flood out of my eyes as I see my mother with red eyes, tears running down my sister's cheeks, all the cuzzies happily enjoying each others' company, the Matamata Nicholls trucking themselves up to see us off, Beth hugging everyone and that horrible departure door looming before us. It feels like a nightmare. It is a nightmare!

"What am I doing?" I somberly question myself, as my beautiful whanau stands waving. "Look at all this misery I'm putting us all through." I can't believe the power I'm possessing in this moment. I can't believe the love that's flowing. I don't want to stand there, I want to run and hide; at that point, I want to ignore our calling and restore sanity by giving them all a big hug and proclaim "we're here and we're not going to leave!" But we didn't do that and we're not going to do that. I wish I could do the impossible and magically live in two places at once, but that's not the way God made us; the reality is, time continues to move and we are "flesh and blood", so with heavy heart, we're flying to Chicago...

Even though tears didn't flow like they have in years past, this period of departure was easily my hardest yet. Is it because all the cousins are getting older and get on so well and I wish they could chill out together all the time? I wonder, is it because I love seeing the growth in Jamie and Jenny, they are getting older, we enjoy being together and I'm missing special magical moments with them? Is it because mum and dad are experiencing more serious health concerns and are quickly approaching their seventies? Is it because I may not see certain people again in 3 years? These are just some of the many questions that rack my brain as we fly across the Pacific Ocean.

To be honest: I don't know what the answers are! I live in a dilemma. I live a life riddled by perpetual guilt. Yet, at the very same time, I live in peace, with joy and an unusual hope. Love surrounds me, and despite the pain, I feel happy and content that I'm doing what I'm meant to be doing, when I'm meant to be doing it and how I'm meant to be doing it!

It had been a wonderful journey, two months of chilling and relaxation with friends and family, but in a few hours we'd step off our plane and be immediately consumed by the eclectic energy of Uptown. Chaos and mayhem would descend upon us and there would be no gradual easing into the next phase of our life. People in New Zealand would often ask about our return and encourage us to gently shift back into it, but we knew that could never be a reality; we are too absorbed and passionate about our mission in this neighborhood for a gradual assimilation to actually occur. In Uptown, it is all or it is nothing.

So what happened? I have now been back in Chicago for just over a week. I miss my NZ family and friends, desperately, but it seems like a month (or even longer) since that emotionally charged departure lounge in Auckland. Why? Because of the way we have been consumed by all the eclectic mayhem that surrounds us.

We returned on Friday evening, the kids returned to school on Monday morning and Beth and I wandered back to Cornerstone. We were embraced by the masses; given hugs, handshakes and the gentle compassionate exchange of fist-to-fist. These many greetings I experienced made me feel wanted and appreciated, while also being absorbed by all Clifton's intensity, negativity, celebration, anger, joy, love, forgiveness and hope; it was immediate and powerful. I was thrown in the deep end. I knew I was home! I was with family!

Monday started with a celebration. I was in the office and Tyrone came in all hyped up, ready to move. I've known this 40 year old man for about 10 years as he's drifted in and out my life. I love Ty, but he is someone who has constantly put us on an emotional roller-coaster, seeking housing, treatment, conflict resolution and many other needs. There was no van, so we loaded up the flatbed with all his belongings loaded in 6 overly stuffed bags and transported them around the corner to his new apartment. In the hype of all his excitement he dived on the cart with a massive toothless grin. Clarence assisted us and Tyrone got his keys, he signed the lease and we rejoiced together after experiencing a couple decades of homelessness. CC is another miracle, he moved a couple days later. He'd been presumed dead just over a year ago with a horrific head injury, had made a remarkable recovery and now he's grinning ear to ear with a key, a lease and a warm bed to lay his head at night.

It was a somewhat eclectically charged week. As we celebrated the successful movement of Tyrone and CC, I was being splattered with complaints, meetings and questions. I had to break up a couple of conflicts and bring peace to some very tense situations. I mourned the unfair incarceration of someone I'd been working with, so I lodged photos of me and my family with a few encouraging words to him in his girlfriend's card. We posted that, while I was able to embrace a few guys who had just "come home". I helped a couple of people struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction, trying to get them closer to their own story of recovery. I mourned the premature death of an elderly gentleman I'd helped get housed, a man whose undiagnosed diabetes had been swallowed up and ignored in his extreme schizophrenia. I heard about Leroy and Dave who have been missing for a couple months, and now I need to find them; whether they are dead or alive. Leroy's girlfriend calls me seeking my help, but I don't know where to start. All we can do is pray. I drive a couple of the men around, helping them get what they need. I take care of several needs, give out laundry cards, transit passes and fellowship with many of the guys who occupy our street. I even take time to sit upstairs and play a game of dominoes with 85 year old Humberto, who had shuffled downstairs to greet me in his native tongue and challenge me to a game. He won.

That is but a little glimpse to a few of the events that occupied my time last week. There is so much energy and love in all the chaos. It is a life I love living. Jesus is ever present in street I now refer to as Hope Alley.

In New Zealand, we are blessed to be able to stay in a little town called Huia. The house we stay in is just seconds from water. It is a beautiful place, the beach backs into the Manukau Harbor, which is minutes from the raging, pounding, Pacific Ocean. This gorgeous place serves as an illustration of the double life I am blessed to live. There are two options at Huia; swimming, kayaking and playing in the peaceful calm water that approaches our back yard, and secondly, venturing out and exploring around the rocks, where crabs, starfish and untold other lifeforms would surround us. The beach is very safe, with minor risks like stepping on a sharp oyster shell, but when we go around the corner the risks increase, we have to watch the tide, not get too close to the edge where the water gets very deep and dangerous and where a large array of fish, octopus and other sea creatures live. It is amazing.

The reality is we love both sides of Huia; the peaceful tranquil side, where we soak in the sun, swim and relax, while also loving the energetic, rocky terrain that is full of surprises, bizarre discoveries and unusual hope.

I am glad to say; God has blessed us with a life that is able to rotate between two vastly different realities,
and thankfully.....

we love them both
feel loved in both
and feel at home in both!


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