Childhood Neighborhood

Lancaster Drive. Ahh, such memories. I remember moving in to our new house, sitting on carpet remnants as mom and dad finished supervising renovations so that we could move out of our rental on Devonshire. (Fingers!)

There was an elementary school just down the road where we went to play on the playground, gliding down the hot silver slide in the summertime, watching the cracks in the mud as we crossed the dried puddles back to the shortcut through the woods. We went to the flagpole at the school once a week to pick up the girls in our Scout Troop so we could go back to the house for our Tuesday meeting.

Tadpoles grew in the gutter puddles after heavy rains and I’m pretty sure I collected a few to see how they would grow. I don’t remember them growing.

An ice cream truck blared it’s music down our road and the idiot driving stopped to ask if I wanted any treats, while I covered my ears hoping he would go away and pass me as fast as possible.

I ran away down to the creek once, because I was so angry as only a nine year old can get, but made sure I packed peanut butter cheese crackers and my favorite doll since I was going to be away forever.

Shortly after we moved in, a family bought the house five houses down and diagonally across from us, and we found our friends in the Fishers. There was a girl for my sister to play with, and a boy just my age for me to run around with. Owen was my first crush, and I never quite got over my love of gangly tall boys. (My husband became one after we were married for a year… extra treats.) They had a pool, so we got to swim during the summer. Owen defended us against the boy next door, Randy, who stole our dolls and wouldn’t give them back.

Dad and Granddaddy built a deck up on the ridge behind our house and strung it with happy lights so we could play outside and see across our whole subdivision. They got it done just in time to celebrate Norris and Janet’s sixtieth birthday, when we had all their friends over to wish them well.

I got my first own room in that house, looking out my window at the tree in our front yard, its trunk divided into three main parts as it stood and guarded the hill. I also got my first camera, where I took artistic photos of the macadam driveway and that tree.

I don’t much remember many other folks who lived around us, either in good ways or bad, though our left door neighbor was friendly even though she had two angry German Shepherds. I was deathly afraid of dogs, and so we didn’t go up to her house very often. We even stayed away from her fence. She also was the host of our first experience with a house fire; she tried to run pillows in her dryer, and they caught flame. Her house was ok afterwards, but we could see the flame from the far end of our hallway.  I remember my sister telling me she wanted to stay as far from the flame as possible, so we huddled there until mom came to find us and take us outside, just in case.

It is the house I learned independence in. I hit the beginning stages of puberty there. It is the only house I’ve lived in that my family owned. It is the only house I miss.

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Scrub a Dub

Today Le Tour de France ended in a part of France in which I traveled when I visited my sister while she taught there. (Sis, you can keep going to cool places, and I’ll keep visiting you there.) It was cool to see parts of the country, the cobblestones I had walked on where now the competitors were racing. The thing about the stage today: it was raining. And so at the end of the stage, every single biker was covered in the mud kicked up from the road from their tyres and the tyres of all the men racing with them. The announcers said that they were showering or at least getting a “thorough toweling off” before they had any interviews.

I’ve not often been that dirty. I have a pretty clean job, where I do a lot of writing, and I might sweat, but it is only because I might be preaching outside or if the heat is turned higher than I find comfortable. On vacations, I take a shower after a day at the beach, but that’s to get salt and sand out of my hair. I don’t play sports very often in the rain, though I do enjoy a stroll in a summer downpour every so often.

I remember once, though, that I got pretty dirty.

While I was volunteering with Peace Corps in Kenya, a group of us wanted to go over the border to Uganda to white water raft the headwaters of the Nile. There is probably a flight that goes from Nairobi to Kampala and a quick cab or charter flight that would take at most an hour or two to get the journey done. But, being volunteers and with limited spending money (I almost said we were poor, but that would be lying) we all took the local mass transit available. That means we all took Matatus. A Matatu is a unique vehicle, designed for fifteen passengers, with the diesel engine block directly under the driver and front passengers. They are everywhere in Kenya, probably in most of Africa. We saw a couple of the same vehicle bodies when were in Tokyo, but they were not the same, they were way too clean and didn’t have nearly enough people in them. Remember how I said they were designed for fifteen passengers? Sometimes, especially in the western side of Kenya, the conductors can fit in an extra five, ten, or fifteen people in, as well as live chickens, goats, children who sit in laps, and any assorted collected luggage. It can get a little cramped.

Our group came together, and managed to fill most of a Matatu, but not all of it, there were locals riding with us. I managed to sit in the very back, alongside a window that I cracked open to get some good air circulating through. There is no air conditioning in Matatus. You learn to make the best of imperfect circumstances. I was sitting pretty for the final leg of our trip. Window seat, got a seat nearly to myself, friends around me, doing pretty good, actually.

When we got to the base camp of the rafting company, I gave myself more than a once-over. My arm, where the sleeve met the skin, looked like I’d gotten a farmers tan. Not too bad, just a bit red and dark. On closer inspection, I realized it was dirt. That’s right, the dust of the road had layered on thickly enough so that I thought I had a tan. It was time for a bath.

Mom's feet, after a normal day of walking around in the dust of my village.
Mom’s feet, after a normal day of walking around in the dust of my village.

I went on to take the most amazing shower of my life. Showers are not all that common in Kenya. I didn’t live with running water in my home and took bucket baths to get clean most of the time. The base camp had showers set up along the ridge looking out over the river, one wall made of forest and river in the distance. As I soaped up my hair I could see rivers of dirt streaming down my body. I don’t always rinse and repeat, but this time it was incredibly necessary. It felt so good to be clean.

I wonder when else that is the case. Do you have to get really dirty to appreciate getting clean? The contrast makes the positive so much stronger.

I struggle with thinking sin is the same way. And in some ways it might be. When a woman comes to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears, the host at the table complains at her effusive display of gratefulness. Jesus goes on to tell a parable about a man whose debts as big as a mountain being forgiven who is more thankful than a man with a mole’s hill worth of debt forgiven (Luke 7).

Paul asks: so should we sin more, to make the forgiveness that much sweeter? Absolutely not (Romans 6).

The thing about God’s grace: it is sweet regardless of the journey we have taken to receive it. Whether we have raced through the cobblestones of Northern France in the pouring rain, ridden in the back of a Matatu down a pot-holed dusty road, or done what seems to be nothing of consequence, God offers us grace to cleanse us of all that has hindered us.

I forget this. I forget that grace can come to me and those around me, whether we have a squeaky clean past or a hundred different skeletons in our closet. Shouldn’t we get a little dirtier just to make the cleansing that much better? Not necessarily. And in the same vein, it doesn’t matter how dirty you get, whatever past you think you have that is going to make God cringe. The waters of God’s grace shower down in a never ending fountain that cleanses us of everything. Every doubt, every fear, every anger, every moment of jealousy, every single thing. Now. We still live in this world, even as we are working to bring the Kingdom of God to earth. Grace is not a one time thing. We still need grace to work in us every day. Just like you need a regular shower, you need a regular encounter with God, with the grace and Spirit of God to stay in the right direction.

God is not done with you yet. God is waiting to cleanse you with grace again. And guess what? It feels so good to be clean.

Nicknamed

I used to wish I had a nickname. I would think of the different things that folks might call me, and hope that folks could be playful without being cruel.

My parents called me different shortened versions of my name, and I go throughout the world by a shortened version of my name, but that is not quite the same as a nickname. I have other terms of endearment used by those who love me, such as pumpkin, sweetheart, and little do. But tender names by your parents are not the same as a nickname bestowed by your friends.

I remember reading novels as a child, wishing I was like the kids in the books, with friends who gave them nicknames. It wouldn’t even have to be a cool name. A nickname that was negative would have been nearly as appreciated, because it would have meant that I belonged to a group that cared enough to name me.

A nickname from your peers is a badge of courage. A new name establishes a connection and an identity through the act of naming. Sometimes kids can be mean and name an attribute that is negative or points out a malicious feeling that they might feel for the outsider. I always thought about trying to give myself a nickname, but I felt that it would be unauthentic, since I believed that a nickname was earned and bestowed, rather than self-appellated.

Puppy: Look. We should play. Look, look. We should play. (A puppy has adopted us. Temporarily. I am distracted by it on our porch.)

With so many rules in place about how I think one earns a nickname, it is surprising that I ever merited one. But I did.

My nickname grew out of an organic process of someone not knowing the spelling of my name at a campout one frigid night, and so she called me “C.R.” Well… that was supposed to be “K.R.,” for Kathy Randall, but the C. R. stuck anyhow. We returned to school and other folks began calling me C. R. The question finally arose as to what the “C.” stood for. Someone made the leap to “Crazy” and that was my name for the next two years.

These two years included the two summers I was a counselor at a camp in north Georgia. The friend who initially called me C.R. stuck to the idea of calling me Crazy, and she ended up being my team leader. So with her as the one who coordinated my partnerships and what have you, and with her and other friends from college calling me the same thing, the name really stuck.

I was introduced to the kids as Crazy, and though I would tell them my other name as well, I responded to Crazy just as often. I have a higher energy with kids than with any other group, and I was sleep deprived during the summers, so I acted a little crazy. I like to use my energy as I share with children, because I have found that some of the best ways that I can connect with kids is to help them laugh and relax.

I liked having a nickname. My family had named me and referred to me in according to my relationship with them, but I had not ever merited a nickname from my peers until my third year of college. I had felt that I was missing some essential part of childhood and life experience because I had only ever been called by my solitary name.

I wanted a deeper connection and inclusion. I wanted to be named again, named as part of a group, named and included. I didn’t want a simple label, rather, I wanted a way to connect and enter a group. A new name establishes a connection and an identity through the act of naming.

I wanted that connection and identity. Funny. It had happened already.

When I was baptized, I was given a name and included in the family of God and the community of the church. When I was brought before the believing community of the church I was ushered into the new life in the Spirit, symbolized by the water of baptism. I was named as a child of God, and the gathered community promised to surround me and hold me us as a member of their own community.

I had waited so long to be given a new name, that I had forgotten that I had already been promised a name as an adopted child of God. I had earnestly yearned for a new name, to be connected and included and cherished as a member of a group knit together with a common goal and connection. I already had it.

Now. The Church is not perfect. I didn’t worship with that specific gathered community again for a few years, and it has been a long while since I’ve seen them. (Though I did get to read Scripture there again for my Grandmother’s funeral last year.) When I talk about the Church, I’m not just talking about the physical building in downtown Columbus. They are not perfect, and neither is any other church on any other street corner.

But the grace about the Church is that it’s not the perfection of the individuals that determine the worth of the gathered people. Our organization and our structure and our power plays can look as messy as any other group of people. But we have a little extra help. We have someone who is dying to help us live into the grace and love offered in this gathered band of misfits and sinners. We are adopted into the family of God, and no matter how hard we fight it, God is still there, loving us.

My adoption into the family of God is part of my name, as well as my Crazy, and my pumpkin and little do. I have been called by name, and I know that I am headed home.

some of my friends from camp and college
some of my friends from camp and college

Troop 277

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When I was in elementary school my mother led a Girl Scout troop. We had the most awesome Girl Scout troop ever. We went on camping trips where it always rained. We took hikes on islands you can only get to by ferry where wild horses roam free. We made up songs to sell Girl Scout cookies, and we sold them at the grocery store like superstars. We created our own uniforms, we didn’t wear the annoying socks or ugly skirts or shorts. We did make the concession of wearing the vest or sash, but that was only to show off the badges we earned.

And our group of girls was amazing. We still are amazing, actually. I have kept up with a few of the women who used to be part of our troop, and they are kicking ass and taking names thriving brilliantly at everything they do. If Girl Scouts is supposed to prepare us to be leaders in the world, we succeeded. Not that we all are presidents of the most powerful corporation in our areas, no, we are good at what we do, and we have found ways to lead and serve in our own unique ways.

I was proudly the most odd child in our group, as I have been in most of my other social situations… ever. But that did not deter the girls around me from being good friends to me. The weirder I got, the bigger their grace became. It was one of the best gifts that I could have ever received from a group of girls growing up. I’m sure that we all claimed our own form of misfitery, who completely fits in at age ten anyway?

When we moved the summer after I turned twelve, I tried to get connected to another girl scout troop, but the leaders were lackluster as best, and only talked about money. I only remember doing one badge project with them over the six months I stuck it out in going with them. I thank my parents for realizing that I didn’t want to keep going, and not making me do so.

I missed my friends. I missed the girls that I could be comfortable with. I missed the space where I could relax and know that being myself was acceptable. I never stopped being myself, but I didn’t bond with any of the girls at the new troop. I don’t remember any of their names.

But with my good troop I remember watching others make s’mores around a campfire and being part of something bigger than myself. I remember watching the stars on one of the rare nights when it wasn’t raining and seeing huge swaths of light in the sky as I was surrounded by girls who accepted me for who I was. Thanks girls, for being shining points of light in my world.

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Sophie and Matilda

When I was growing up, she was my hero. I looked up to her, I wanted to be her, I thought about moving through the world like her. She was awesome. She was a character in a book who could move things in her mind. She was telepathic. I learned that word a good two to eleven years before I learned how to pronounce it correctly.

It was either her or the half-size giant that collected dreams and blew them into children’s bedrooms so they could have the most amazing vision as they slept. The friendly giant who combined nightmares like mixed drinks to tell messages and destroy his foes. He made a friend with a little girl who surprised him at his trade one night. Then he carried her in his ear. HIS EAR. He swiveled it up to sit like a bowl and carried her there back to his home, where he taught her about his different world.

I liked Sophie and her big giant of a friend; I read The BFG so often that my mother had to rebind the book. But my favorite girl in all of literature when I was growing up was Matilda.

Her life was so different than my own. She went to school when I was homeschooled. Her parents were dolts of the n-th degree while mine are some of the most intelligent folks I know. She had an idiot big brother and I have a brilliant little sister.

But I identified with her so well. She loved to read, as I do. She had a few shining examples of amazing teachers, as I do. She was creative, inventive, and a little devious. She didn’t let the bad things in her life affect her way of moving through the world. Even with a horrid household growing up and a cruel bully for an authority figure at school she still remained a thoughtful and considerate individual.

She was my hero. I loved all of Roald Dahl’s books as a child, but Matilda was my favorite.