However, Memphis had other plans. God had other plans.
My wife and I moved back to the States from Japan in 2006 and found ourselves going to a church in town which had a heart of gold. While in seminary, I was saturating myself with big theological ideas but missing a practical outlet through which to channel the redemptive principles I kept studying. Then came two things: Sunday Samaritans and the "kingdom of God."
The Sunday Samaritans was a group of folks who would spend their afternoons fixing door handles, building ramps, and doing dry wall for widows and handicapped people. This was happening in the neighborhoods I grew up watching on the news. Those "evil neighborhoods" turned out to be full of beautiful and broken people.
The "kingdom of God" was a phrase I'd hear in Bible classes but never given much attention. The preacher at the church began discussing how much Jesus wanted to give sight to the blind, freedom to the prisoner, healing for the sick, and good news to all of us. How beautiful. How gritty. I realized in that season of life the neighborhoods many middle and upper class friends and strangers spent a great deal of time escaping and avoiding here in the 901 are the neighborhoods Jesus would be spending time serving. It made me love Jesus and this city more.
To top it off, we've got Bar-B-Que that'll make you smack your mamma's mamma. We've got fried chicken that'll drop kick your taste buds. Snow cones, Chinese subs, the guacamole of all guacamoles, and more Bar-B-Que. And did I mention the food here is good?
On top of what I've already dropped on top are the Tigers and Grizzlies. I also work at a school whose mascot if a Lion thus completing the "Lion, Tiger, and Bear, Oh My" trifecta!
We have world class children's hospitals, refugee centers, ministries and non-profits who are pouring love into the Bluff City.
And the parks! The parks here are take my breath away with bike and jogging trails running out from them into the city like arteries carrying life blood from a heart to limbs.
More than anything in our city is the Grit and Grind are visible, real, everyday struggles. Some are struggling to make it, some struggling to help those struggling to make it.
My talented Memphis-born friend Brandy Richardson created the print posted at the top of the blog. Its a quote from Bob Crawfor of The Avett Brothers who spent time in Memphis letting St. Jude Children's Research Hospital love on his daughter Hallie (You can read the story here.). But I love the truth he speaks about our city, "If you're here long enough you get to the gold beneath the grit, and then you fall in love with the grit itself."
I am thankful for our years thus far in this city. I understand the vitality of light by dwelling in our city's dark places. What has been staggering is realizing the light is coming from places and people I had once assumed dark. God has flipped my idea of where light and dark reside through the kingdom of God and the 901.
For this, I'm thankful.