When my family moved to Klamath Falls, Oregon and I became a stay-at-home dad,I had little idea what it meant to be confined. I went from the spacious world of having a respected job as a counselor to counselors in Riverside, California to the stark contrast of simply caring for my one-year-old in small town America. On top of this, we moved into a shady neighborhood known for its drug problems and safety issues. Little did I know how dark darkness could feel when we came to this little corner of the world.
Soon it began to dawn on me that my life was no longer my own. I had no intimate local friends, my wife was training as a doctor and had very little time to share in child-rearing , and in small towns like this stay-at-home dads are often an affront to nature! My only friends were my son, the lady who ran the church nursery, and an agnostic Palestinian who owned the coffee shop in our "ghetto." Despite their love for me, I began to understand what it meant to hate a place. In my solitary world, I believed God had left me for better pastures.
About two years into the experience I had a stunning vision from God. I saw myself as a worm busily eating a leaf, minding my own business. While eating, a butterfly alighted on my leaf and its beauty left me utterly broken. With tears in my eyes I began to hope in a different way of living. I knew I may never become a butterfly, but I decided it didn’t matter. I had to live like one.
Very shortly after this, God began to speak to me through the birds. I watched transfixed as they flew over my head in a communal dance. With prophetic force they said, “Dan, Fly! Just as we are flying you can too! Will you trust?” Then God started romancing me through sunsets. They were each so beautiful. I was often forced to pull off on the side of the road for fear of getting in an accident. They were all I could see. “Dan, this is a gift just for you. You’ll never see it again. Do you understand I love you?” God spoke like this for months on end! It came to an abrupt end with the birth of my second son. Clearly I heard God say “Mills...this neighborhood I've put you in...is holy ground. Will you trust without seeing?”
Klamath Falls often considers Mills little more than a liability. Mills is marked by its innumerable stories of abandonment, highly overworked and underpaid people, and often simmering racial tension. With them I feel the temptation to ask “What is this neighborhood offering me?” The day I began to truly open my heart to the children and families here, I was (and still am) deeply wrought by their pain and brokenness. I feel crushed under the weight of the poverty I see in their homes and hearts. The darkness seems much deeper than I imagined. My wife and I can’t help but ask what value stability could ever have here.
Yet, when the school day ends and children from the neighborhood come into our house, my family finds itself in the company of people we love and spend our days thinking of, conspiring in behalf of and praying for. In the evening, I walk these little ones home and I’m invited into their homes so warmly. There may be suffering, but there is great love also in these homes. Sometimes I’m enjoying life with my friends so much the only thing calling me home is my children’s bedtime. I’m pleased with the portion I’m receiving in this little corner of the world.
God’s confines became my saving grace. My family is beginning to see the borders around us as a chance to know the details of a world often feared. We also experience the world of being valued and loved. As I walk my children home to prepare for bed, I mull over John Perkin’s words, “When I look around my community...I see God's creation."