A couple months ago, my son had a group project with another student from school. Although I’d never met him, his mom dropped him off in our driveway. My son told me later that when his mother pulled into our driveway, she looked around at our home and our neighborhood and said, “This looks kind of ghetto.” I laughed when my son first told me, but over the last couple months, this thought has risen to the surface several times. I’ve wondered exactly why she would say that. I’ve wondered why she didn’t come to the door and take the time to introduce herself. I’ve wondered why her son felt like it was a good thing to repeat the comment to my son. I’ve had some time to think about all of this. The truth is, it hurt. I’ve never felt our home was “ghetto.” Actually, I absolutely love my home.
I’ve pondered the word, “ghetto.” There’s a lot of history behind it, but at least in some circles of our society, it has lost some of the intensity of its original meaning. It’s a word that is tossed around rather casually to mean, “substandard,” “a bit shabby,” “not classy or affluent.” It’s also been used as slang in popular music and defined by urban Dictionaries as, “looking cool,” “phat,” “tight,” or “styling.” So, as I contemplate that definition, I think about my own home—and this woman’s observation.
Our home is the mishmash of a family’s love. About 3 years ago, my mom-in-law and I had a talk while my father-in-law was out of town on missionary work. I’d had surgery on both knees and couldn’t drive, so my mom-in-law had driven me to my appointment, and later to lunch where we talked. Our conversation came on the heels of the death of my husband’s brother in blue. While on duty, my husband’s friend had been gunned down by a couple of gang members who, “Just wanted to kill a cop that night.” This shook our world. My mom-in-law and I talked about what we’d ever do if something happened to my husband or my father-in-law. She told me that if something like that ever happened, she’d have the kids and me move in with them. She told me she would want us to somehow live together. I’m incredibly thankful to have a wonderful relationship with my in-laws. They’ve always treated me as a daughter, and I love them as I do my own parents. About a month after this conversation, my in-laws asked my husband and me to come talk to them. They told us they knew we needed more space and they wanted to downsize, so they asked if we wanted to move into their home, and they would build an addition for themselves. They realized they’d both been thinking about this solution separately, and there was more to this than just random thought. This looked more like God’s prompting. After mulling it over a couple days, we told them we were in. We’re now two and a half years into this living arrangement, and I truly love it. It’s not perfect, but nothing is. It is still exactly what I’d choose.
Let me tell you a bit about our “ghetto” neighborhood. There is nothing quite like an emergency to show you who you can count on. Next door is a couple whom I’ve known my whole life. When my lung collapsed, he and his grandson were in their front yard trimming trees. Since both are ministers, my husband ran to get them. They came quickly in their dirty work clothes so they could anoint me with oil and pray for me. I received a miracle that day. Though I still ended up needing a chest tube in the hospital, the pain was immediately lessened. My doc believes I had a “tension pneumothorax” caused by an acupuncture like procedure called “dry needling.” I’d been at physical therapy when the collapse began. We believe this blessing prevented the collapse of my other lung, thus causing a heart attack. I do have a small amount of damage on the right side of my heart from this. I could have died, but I was blessed.
Next door, on the other side, is our church. I walk across a parking lot to go to services. Our back gates adjoin three different backyards. One is to close friends of ours whose daughter is my daughter’s best friend. She calls me her “other mom.” Their kids ride bikes, take walks, or swim in our pool together on any given day. The day my lung collapsed, their mom, who is an ICU or PACU nurse and one of my besties, came over to assess my condition. She told me to go to the ER right away and she’d make sure our kids were okay.
The next gate connects to the yard of my 83-year-old dear friend. She has been like another grandmother to me since I moved here 18 years ago. Her husband is also a minister. The next gate is to another couple we love dearly and are our friends. My parents are a block and a half away, and we can walk there in less than 5 minutes. Down our road is another six church families we know and love. The next street over holds another four families I have not mentioned yet. I remember at 11:30 PM one night, we got a call from the same friend who is a nurse. She asked if my police officer husband could come check her back yard since her husband was out of town and someone was lurking around her house. It ended up being a belligerent transient who ended up in a fistfight with another neighbor. He was arrested minutes later by the police.
This neighborhood exists because they all decided to move to the “outskirts” of Phoenix about 30 years ago and build a church and homes. It is only in the last 20 years that the city has grown to envelope this neighborhood, with newer homes surrounding it. It was dirt for miles when my husband was a kid, and now there are car washes, drive-thrus, Costco, and a community college all within a few miles of us. This is home to police officers, nurses, firefighters, and teachers. The outside of our houses may need a fresh coat of paint, but it has people all around us who would rush in to the rescue at any time, if needed. I would take this neighborhood over a beachfront property in Hawaii any day. I don’t say that lightly. I think Hawaii is paradise on earth, but the environment holds nothing for me without people I love and trust. If I could pick from anywhere on earth to live, it would still be nestled right into this “ghetto paradise” with people I love. There is nothing with a property value higher than that.
I’ve been thankful for this perspective shift, and I’m glad I was forced through this thought process. It’s offered me a fresh viewpoint. I’ve watched so many people trade true value for things they think will offer them a happiness that you cannot buy. If we are struggling with appreciating where we are and what we have in life, just imagine for a moment not having it. Suddenly, each comfort has far greater value. Gratitude for each blessing, and appreciation for the God who gave it to you is pure joy. We are far happier when we focus on what we have rather than on what we don’t. Even in respect to my handicaps, this helps me. I can’t squat or lift heavy things, but right now I can walk and drive. I can’t jump, but I can write. Focusing on what I don’t have only sparks envy, discontentment, and restlessness. Focusing on the things I do have brings appreciation, gratitude, thankfulness, and peace.
I don’t think this means I shouldn’t eventually put a fresh coat of paint on my home, if possible; and I’m not saying I’m not at this very moment hoping a new dishwasher is somewhere on the horizon. I am saying that needing those things is not keeping me from having joy right now in the moment that I am in. It brings me more lasting joy to help others than the momentary happiness I receive when I buy something new. There are things that I need to desire so much more than the shiny things this world temporarily has to offer me. Laying up treasure is not a bad thing to do, if they are being stored in the right place, where moth and rust don’t corrupt.
“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.”
My husband’s aunt, uncle, and cousins lived in this neighborhood growing up. The dogs started barking in the backyard, and they smelled smoke. In a matter of a few short moments, everyone got out of the house, but their house burned to the ground. They lost everything but what was most important. Our church family swooped in doing everything that could be done to help— offering places to stay, clothing, and any known needs. I remember listening to my husband’s aunt retell this testimony. She expressed genuine gratitude for every fulfilled need and viewed it as a blessing, in hindsight. She got to watch love in action. That is so beautiful. In losing everything, they gained everything. It didn’t break them because their treasure was not stored in tangible belongings. They still had treasure, but it wasn’t burned in the fire, it was all around them in the will of God, His mercy, His goodness, and in the work they did for the Gospel of Christ. It made them stronger. Love walked with them through the fire. In moments when our faith is challenged, we discover where we have built our treasure.
Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
It’s okay with me that this woman made this observation to her son. She only views this neighborhood from the outside, but I see it from the inside. I see the heart of my neighborhood and it is “ghetto fabulous.”