Feeds:
Posts
Comments

The Direct Connection

Nestled in the heart of the McLaughlin neighborhood, at 245 Irwin, is a very special place. Reminiscent of the mom and pop stores of days gone by, Direct Connection is much more than a simple candy store. Stepping through the door, I am transported back to my childhood and walks to the corner store, where they knew the names of all the neighborhood children, and we were always greeted with a smile, and perhaps a hug if needed. Then walking home with a pocketful of penny candy, or maybe a delicious ice cream treat., just like you find at Direct Connection.

Miss Sue
When you enter, you notice the walls are filled with an eclectic assortment of collectibles. Shelves, wooden crates & boxes, and even a hook or two hold everything from pop bottles to polar bears. There are tins and trays, posters and puzzles, coffee mugs and even a few plush characters we all know and love. Although most of these items are not for sale, they definitely add to the charm as you browse the items that are.
Near the front of the store is the grocery section. Here you will find an assortment of canned goods, condiments, bread and other items. There’s even a freezer stocked with frozen dinners and entrees, and a cooler with milk, juices, and sodas. This is also where you will find shelves of knick-knacks and gift items. Back on the other side, nearer the door, is the freezer of those wonderful ice cream treats. They’re just the thing on a hot summer day.
Next, you’ll see the sales counter, which contains a display case of handmade jewelry for sale. On top of this case sits an antique cash register dating back to 1914. Originally used at Montgomery Wards, it’s now only for show. At the corner of the counter is the modern cash register used for ringing up sales.
Finally, at the back of the store is the candy corner. Shelves containing colorful buckets and bins of assorted two penny candies are set low so little hands can more easily make their selections, . Nearby is a selection of twenty-five cent lollipops and other treats, including a variety of Wonka candies. This may be part of the reason that neighborhood children affectionately call owner Steve Counselor “Mr. Wonka”, along with his friendly demeanor and obvious love for them. A love that is shared by his fiancé and Direct Connection operator, Sue Howe, known as Miss Sue to these same children.

Register
There are some items you won’t find here. Things like cigarettes, alcohol, or unhealthy energy drinks. “There are other stores in the area where people can find these things.” says Miss Sue, “I’m proud to say, there is nothing in this store that a child can’t buy safely.” This is why the children of the neighborhood have come to know Direct Connection as a safe haven.  Parents also know this. It’s not unusual to see a small child walking proudly to the store to buy a treat while his mother watches from the yard to make sure he gets there safely.
Steve and Sue opened the store four years ago. They sold t-shirts, handmade jewelry, and knick-knacks. They soon transitioned to candy and it has grown from there. During these four years they have also become very invested in the neighborhood. Spending time in conversation I was touched to observe various children and adults stopping in and each one was greeted by name. The most moving though was one particular young man. He stopped in while we were talking to drop off an envelope. Inside was an invitation to his graduation open house. It was obvious, looking into his face, that, over the past four years, Sue and Steve have become a very special part of his life. Equally as obvious was the love and joy in Sues eyes as she turned to me and said, “I’m so proud of that boy. He’s worked hard for this.”
So stop in some day for a loaf of bread or maybe a tasty little treat. The store is open from noon to 6:00 on Monday through Saturday. Let’s all support this wonderful little store and help them grow. Tell them Jeff sent you!

Advertisements

So Far

Tree

It’s been one month – or so, I’m very bad with time – since I moved into my apartment, which is a nice milestone to reflect on the beginning of this endeavor and all that I’ve accomplished.    I’ve filled out an insurance form incorrectly, botched getting my address switched with the post office, registered my car twice, been locked out for a day, started a small fire at work, and made 37 and a half charting errors.  Funny how those half errors result in whole lawsuits…

Shoes

I’ve talked with a couple of the people responsible for my being here – or maybe I pretended to interview their kid; I have a bad memory.  Of course, I cannot take responsibility for my own being here because, in general, I am where I am because I don’t know where else to be.

Window

So, in going forward, I hope to gather this neighborhood’s stories – which incidently takes time, hence a review post a mere month into the blog.  I want these stories, not because they are extraordinary, but because they are invaluable.  Telling our stories and listening to our stories is what keeps us human.

Barely There

Under the Table

Micah Rinsema sits under the dining room table, an infant in a diaper, spinning an empty beer bottle.  I venture under and ask him how long he’s been there.

“Under the table?” he asks.

“In this house, how about.”

“I’ve been here seven months now.  Just had my baptism.  You should have been there; there were a diverse bunch of people there – just all over the place.  That’s life

 in this town.”

He keeps fidgeting with the beer bottle, straight-faced and sober, with that unflinching stare that infants have yet to surrender to the world.

“What is it like here?” I ask.

“Under the table?” he asks.

“In this house, how about.”

Dan and Sarah

“Well, day to day it’s a house.  We do the normal stuff.  But the current that flows through here…  It’s like this – My parents spent four years in Japan teaching English before they came to Muskegon.  That shaped how they saw the world, and how they wanted to live in it.  You realize you matter this much.”  He indicates his full height.  “Which, in their case, is a metaphor.”

“Tell me about them,” I say.

“He’s Canadian; she’s from New York or Iowa or something.  They met in college.”  He states these facts and dismisses them with his hand.  “They’re on these different, parallel paths.  Paths to make things better.  He works with one group of people through Muskegon Area First, and she works with Community EnCompass.  I mean, the paths aren’t always smooth.  Sometimes their work is at odds.  But ultimately, they want the same things.”

“And what about your path?  What do you think your chances are?” I asked.

“How do you mean?”

“Because you’re black.  Because your parents are white.  And the world is persistently hard on those who don’t run away.”

“I’m the beginning of a journey, if you’ll give me a moment’s license to be poetic.  I’ll have to go places light and dark; there are no illusions about that.  I hope that I will have many fathers and many mothers, because I am many things.”

“Tell me of hope.”

Home“Hope is the great human choice.  We control so little; we’re born not knowing who we are.  We’re searching for love, holding desperately to life.  There’s nothing we have that can’t be taken from us.  But there’s always hope.”

“Where is this hope? I want to see it.”

“It’s here in this neighborhood.  It’s too easy to see the cracks in the sidewalk, the bullet hole in the window, the porches that are ready to fall down, but if you look inside the people who live here, there are these beautiful hopes and dreams.  There’s a vision for this place – that God’s finger will touch the earth here, and it will be a preview of heaven.  And it’s already begun.  Step out and look around.”

“From under the table?” I ask.

“From this house.”

Hymn From McLaughlin

An Unfinished House

            We grow up in our imperfect worlds, and they make us who we are.  We learn our limits, and we know that we can’t fix the world, but we try.  We try to fix the things that hurts us.

            I sat in a little bistro on 3rd street called Mia & Grace, talking with Carlos Avrard, fellow Mosaic Way-er and coordinator of the Healthy Neighborhood Project in McLaughlin. 

“They have muffalettas here,” he said as he explained the place.

I set out my digital recorder and give him a simple directive: get me to now.

            He told me fondly about New Orleans – the food, the music, the weather, the drive-thru alcohol stands – the diversity he encountered on every side.

“We moved a lot, though, around,” he said.  He went to eight different schools in his thirteen years, never setting down any roots.  Then he tells me in a quiet sort of way that he’s envious of people who have long-term friendships, the kind that stretch back into childhood.

Carlos

     He met his wife, Sarah, in college.  They hung out in a Hardee’s one of the first nights he was there.  “She knew right away,” he said.  After graduation, they moved to Michigan.  The church they attended was located in McLaughlin at the time.  Starting Mosaic Way has seen them come full circle.

            “The diversity, that’s a good, healthy thing, that there’s not people who look like you and think like you.  There’s a vibrancy in that,” he said of the mosaic McLaughlin neighborhood.

            We arrived at now, so now what?  These days Carlos is remodeling his house and continuing his work with the neighborhood.

“One cool thing about our home remodel project – where we’re taking this home built over a hundred years ago and it’s sturdy and it has all this character to it, but has all this work that’s required – I’m kinda paralleling this home remodel project to this neighborhood.  Where as we’re spending ourselves and putting in effort and money into restoring this home in a way, of pouring passion and energy – and granted, it’s one little piece of this neighborhood, but paralleling that to this community, putting in effort, putting in time, pouring ourselves and our passions toward seeing this community be restored in a way. And I think those two parallels of the struggles that we deal with on the house, of knowing it’s not a quick fix and it’s not gonna be easy and we’re gonna have to be patient; we’re gonna have frustrations and roadblocks.  The same is true for this neighborhood, that it’s not going to be a quick fix; we’re gonna have to deal with the frustration and the roadblocks and all those things.  As you kinda dig into this stuff you find that you bust open a wall, and you find out what the plumbing and electrical is like below it.  Whereas, you knock on a door, you find a neighbor that has issues or something…  So that’s been an interesting thing that’s been echoing in my head a lot that this house remodel project in a nutshell is kind of symbolic in a way of this neighborhood.  You know we can’t do this house remodeling on our own; we can’t have this neighborhood redo itself on its own.  It requires other people.  Community and folks for support and all those things.”

            I was sitting on top of a sand dune in an oversized sweatshirt I’d woven from the fabric of my soul.  My friend Lori looked out on the morning mists obscuring the edge of the water.  “It’s like an abyss,” she said.  Then she turned to me asked, “Would you go?”

            I don’t even hesitate.  I’m always one for hypothetical adventure.  But that’s not the truth of my life.  The truth is that I’d live at the edge of the abyss and spend all my time thinking about it.

            Surrounding that morning’s walk with Lori was a slow process of securing an apartment in Muskegon, playing phone tag with Jesse at Bethany Housing Services, sometimes from two states away.Pile

            My involvement in the McLaughlin neighborhood isn’t easy to figure; I like hiking, backpacking, and I’m terrified of groups of people.  And it started long before I moved into this apartment just outside the neighborhood.

            It started late on Thursday nights, talking with Corey LeCureux over a bottle of Winking Owl.  When I dropped out of college and my life sort of fell apart, my friendship with Corey was the first piece that was rebuilt.  Those late night talks started me dreaming about something called the Kingdom of God and gave me a reason to live – to search for that mythical place where everything was different.BB

            I thought back to those nights as I was looking around the apartment.  I looked at the hole in my window where someone had taken a potshot with a BB gun.  “I’m getting closer.”

            It was Jerry DePoy Jr. who suggested I talk with Sarah Rinsema-Sybenga at Sacred Suds.  I ended up teaching a computer class for a while, which also isn’t easy to figure, since I’ve never been able to explain things in a straight line.

            My father helped me move my stuff in on Wednesday.  We struggled up the stairs with the massive orange sofa, and everything I do is to make him proud of me.  With all the furniture in, it looked so empty, and I thought how much the city was shrinking for me.

            When I was teaching the computer class at Sacred, I was working under Carlos Avrard.  That’s how I got involved with Mosaic Way, a missional community in McLaughlin.  That was over a year ago.  It was because of Mosaic Way I first started thinking about moving to McLaughlin.

            I wanted to get all my stuff settled before the weekend because I had to work.  Friday, as I was bringing in the last of my things, there was a stranger working on my door.  “We’re changing all the locks,” he told me as I handed him my old keys.  When I had all my stuff arranged, I looked around in amazement at my apartment.  “I can’t believe this is mine.  I’m the richest man in the world.”

            If my friendship with Corey gave me my soul back, then my job at the North Ottawa Care Center returned my heart.  I know what my purpose in life is.  I can’t describe to you the pain of being so close to death, but it you buy me a drink I’ll try.

            Saturday morning, after work, I stumbled home in my scrubs, ready to crash in my new place.  My key hit the front lock with a thud and would go no further.  And that’s the story of how I almost got an apartment in McLaughlin…

SM Split View

Introduction

Some friends of mine had a baby dedication for their son in the summer of ’08.  Being a writer, I decided to write him a story as a gift, a story where he was the main character.  I penned the lines and sketched the pictures and clumsily bound it together.  I became a writer because I thought success would make me a valuable human being.  I keep writing because I love the way my characters are able to view life.
baby-bright When it comes to life’s big decisions – the gut-wrenching ones that change everything – I long ago stopped believing it was possible for me to make a right choice.  I wanted to go to college and marry someone and sip sophisticated drinks while watching the sunset from the back porch.  But that’s not my life.  My life has been a series of failures and mistakes.  Out of those failures have come the best things in my life.  That’s how I learned I’m not the one in control.  I’m a character in a story written by someone else.  It’s a love story, and I’m not sorry to live it, just as it’s written.
Here are stories I’m collecting, stories of people and the story of a neighborhood, and how we’re finding resurrection.