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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Found Wanting: Wendy Stringer, "I didn't want to move to suburbia."

jenmichel@me.com

I am curating stories for a blog project called, “Found Wanting.” (If you’d like to submit a guest post, learn more here.) During Jesus’ earthly ministry, it was not uncommon for him to approach the sick and sin-sick with this question: “What do you want?” In John 5, he speaks with a man lying next to the healing waters of Bethesda, a man who has been an invalid for 38 years.

“When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be healed?’”

The man seizes an excuse. “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up.”

Was it too much for this man to hope for healing? What is too great a risk to invite the responsibility for walking again?

There can be fear in desire: fear that we will want what God will always refuse to give; fear that we will not want whatever God, in his sovereignty, chooses to give.

Ultimately, we are profoundly afraid of ceding into the hands of God our trust.

I’m grateful for those willing to share their stories of desire here. In my book, Teach Us to Want, I claim that:

“Desire takes shape in the particularities of our lives. We cannot excerpt desire from the anthology of our stories. Our desires say something about us – who we have been, who we are and who we are becoming. They tell a part of the story that God is telling through us, even the beautiful and complicated story of being human and becoming holy.”

Adams. And Abrahams.

“Genesis is a book of beginnings and blessings. And if it is a book about unfaithful starts – Adam – it is also a book about faithful endings – Abraham. I trust, by grace, that my story (and yours) will, at the end of [our] days, have traveled that distance.”

* * * * *

I didn’t want to move to suburbia.

5 years ago we put our Toronto Upper Beaches home on the market and made plans to move to an acre lot in Markham.

After 12 years in ministry we were both tired, my husband soul weary and heart broken. We had to take sabbatical, and we needed to sell our house to do it.

I loved our home in the city and the work we had done; the gardens I planted, the kitchen we renovated. I loved the gentle slide and hum of the streetcar and the quite double chime the driver would ring just before turning north on Main Street.

But on a hot summer’s day we packed boxes and we sold house; we said goodbye to the best neighbors, and I kindly left my perennials behind.

We rented a 1950’s bungalow in the suburbs on an acre of land--an acre of dirt really. The kitchen cupboards were coral or peach (I was never sure), and the house smelled of dampness in the basement and mice in the walls. Right across the street were monster homes: 4000 square feet of ugliness on 4500 square foot properties. This place, this suburbia, was everything I hated and loved to judge, and I now lived in the midst of it. Crap.

7 months into our sabbatical, sitting on the back deck under maples that were not quite budding I said to my husband, “This place is sucking the life out of me. We have to get back into the city.”

I hated this place. But there were trees. There were trees, and there was land.

I got lost in that land. Pulling out spade and wheelbarrow, I began to dig and toil. I began to work out my grief and loss and unmet desires with my hands in the soil and an eye to the sun.

10 raised vegetable beds, 8 chickens (and years later) I see this place in the heart of suburbia a little differently.

A tire swing. A tree fort. A meadow for my girl. A neighborhood fox.

What a refuge this land has been.

This is where my little girl sold the pumpkins she grew at the end of our driveway, where teenagers wolf down burgers after playing football in the side field, where neighbors come by for a dozen eggs, where I eat a tomato, right off the vine, making a mess as I savour the warm fruit in the hot sun.

I love this place.

But three weeks ago, our landlord called. He is very sorry but he sold the house, and we’ll have to move. Months previously, though, my husband and I had been hearing the Lord’s call: it was time to move back into the city, to love neighbor and to love local church.

But I don’t want to move. I want to stay here.

Still - maybe just as Jesus wanted rest and land for me here, in suburbia, maybe He wants something for me now, back in the city. And maybe I believe it is something very good.

staff_wendy

Wendy Stringer was studying theology at Tyndale when she met her husband, Kiernan. They married and after seminary planted a church and served there for 15 years.

Wendy volunteered and worked with the Warehouse Mission until 2012 when she began working at Grace Toronto in discipleship ministry with Kiernan.

They are raising 7 kids, a big black dog and some chickens together.