Monday, December 7, 2009

The Benefits of a Hard Bargain

We live in a neighborhood that was the first all African-American owned neighborhood in Franklin. A sharecropper who worked this land bought it from the owner who drove such a hard bargain, the sharecropper named his newly acquired piece of land, "Hard Bargain." It certainly isn't a name that its whiter suburban counterparts would have chosen. Compared to Sherwood Forest, Cottonwood, Fieldstone Farms and Falcons Landing, Hard Bargain sounds like the neighborhood to avoid sending your children to birthday parties in. In fact, I think there has been some movement to change the name from Hard Bargain to Mt. Hope- named after the historic cemetery located on the north side of the neighborhood.

I wouldn't change it, though. I love the name. I love that when people ask where I live, I can say "Hard Bargain" with a straight face. People squint there eyes and ask, "Where?!" It is amazing to me that most residents in Franklin have no idea where this subdivision is, though it is one of the oldest established neighborhoods in this town.

But, it's not just the name I love about my neighborhood. Its the whole package. There is a diversity here that extends beyond race. There are the elderly and retired, who sit on their front porches and wave as I walk by. They all know me by now. I kinda stand out a bit. Most of them have lived here since birth and many are related to the original land owner, so they know the newbies (well, and, there's the whole white thing, too.)

The children all know each other. They ride bikes to each others houses. They run to the side of the street when cars ride by, holding their footballs until its free to start tossing it again. There are no sidewalks in Hard Bargain (will save my ranting about that for another article). But, the kids are free to play in the street. People expect them to be there, so they drive slowly.

There are a few Mexican families that have moved in. They don't speak English and they rent, so it's hard to know how long they will stay. It helps, though, that most of our neighbors will be here for life. It makes the pursuit of community so much more appealing. This is no transience to this group. Miss Laverne and J.J. will know my kids all their lives. Scott and Linda will watch my children graduate and will still be here when they return home from college. Demetria, Adonis and Devrick will all return to my front porch in twenty years to check in with me, have a glass of sweet tea and tell me how their lives are going. The only thing that will keep this from happening is our moving, our neighbors will not.

The biggest blessing of this neighborhood is the one that will affect the way my children see the world and their wealth. It is a challenge, but I believe an important call of parenting, to show your kids the level of financial abundance they have and the imperative of the gospel to love the poor. When living in the 10th most wealthy county in the US, its hard not to assume that we ourselves qualify as the ones who need the love. Many of the residents of Hard Bargain, however, are under the poverty level. Though a majority are employed or retired home owners, their incomes are barely enough to keep their one hundred year old homes maintained.

When we have children come to play at our house, their faces, if not their bold words, reveal their wonder at our wealth. "Wow, Ms. Sarah, that sure is a nice Christmas tree you have!" "Why do you have three computers?" "Does Ellie really have a DS and an iPod?" Of course, Ellie does and she makes sure to show the neighborhood kids her latest purchase or gift from her grandparents. "We don't get allowance," they say, as Ellie displays her ever growing piggy bank. Atticus, the dear that he his, takes his friends to his room and passes out money from his change jar. He has no self-preservation gene and therefore gives more liberally than the "You need to share" mandate necessitates. All the questions and comments make me feel uncomfortable. I feel embarrassed by our "riches."

Being uncomfortable is so important. It reminds me of who I am. It keeps me in the tension of "the now" and "the not yet". Why am I uncomfortable? Should I be? Why do I have so much more than most? Do I deserve this? These questions remind me of my own brokenness and how much I try to hide it or solve it with my wealth. There is not much difference among our neighbors in this not so beautified and street-scaped subdivision, those who live around the corner on West Main and Fair Street, and me. We are all broken people, longing for connection and for home. We all have a Creator who has come to us. I love my neighborhood where I do not have to hide this Christmas. I am broken and I need the One who has come and is coming.


  1. Sarah - Literally from the moment i met you and Dave both i knew there was something special about you guys. Every time i get to spend time with you or even hear your words and thoughts online i am reafirmed in this.

    This post is inspiring and should hit ALL of us square in the jaw. Its real, there is no hollywood here, no build up to the twist and the happily ever after. But it carries more weight than a list of Oprahs book club titles.

    You guys inspire me, you make me want to discect and examine myself and its not a pretty process. But best of all is i feel so comfortable and loved by you that it feels like the best thing that could happen.

    This is what i needed today.

  2. Dear GRE,

    Hey, how you been since last week?

    My friend Sarah wrote this essay. Can you believe how good it is? Wow. It's all about her rich, organic, pastiche (that's one of your words, right?)-of-a life, and it made me feel kind bad about your cold, standardized one. All those scores. All those percentages. All those right answers.

    So, while I think she kinda wanted to shout inappropriate words and drop kick you and yours into oblivion the other day, looks like today she is resting in her world (real and beautiful and disappointing and interesting and uncomfortable and surprising and hopeful world that it is)—and at peace with yours.

    Take care,

  3. Dear Sweet Sarah, I feel like the richest 'ol woman in the world. Reading this makes me feel like a sponge, soaking up your beautiful words and thoughts. Truth. Let me know if anything comes up for sale in "Hard Bargain", It's a wonderful place that feels like home. I want a porch like yours, for visiting and sweet tea, tender conversations, and making memories that will last forever. Thanks for sharing your heart. I love your heart. Can't wait to see you, only 15 more sleeps. Always my love, nani

  4. This moves me beyond words. I think that uncomfortableness is just right, even if it's not the nicest feeling in the moment.