When I was growing up, I thought the worst thing a person could be was a pastor’s kid. For me, being a pastor’s kid meant going to church every Sunday and being there most of the day. It meant going there on other days too. Lots of other days. It meant moving to different towns and schools and always having just enough, but having to go without some things like annual trips to Disney or having huge birthday parties or an exorbitant amount of gifts at Christmas. It meant teachers would remind me that I should be better, do better, act better, because of who my dad was. It meant always feeling like an outsider among friends. It meant denying my faith over and over in an attempt to fit in. Trying to be someone I wasn’t never won me any friends, but when I was young I thought that all of my problems stemmed from my father’s occupation. So, distancing myself from that seemed like the only way to survive. But we are all adults now and if there is anything we should know by now, it is that being who we really are is the easiest way to live and thrive.
Tonight my daughter was restless and asked me to sing to her to help her sleep. I laid beside her in the bed and sang eleven songs. ELEVEN! It was an entire concert in the dark for my only fan. It was a concert of hymns. Each time I looked over and saw she was still wide-eyed, I thought about how lucky I am that I grew up in a pastor’s home. I probably know a hundred hymns and camp songs and I can sing them nonstop for my daughter until her spirited brain finally rests.
As an adult, these moments happen often. I now realize just how lucky I am to be a pastor’s kid. I can still smell the dozens of burning candles on Christmas Eve and the wood pews that filled the sanctuary. I remember rainy days when we sang All Things Bright and Beautiful with all of the doors to the small country church wide open while the rain poured down outside adding its own harmony to the song. That smell and that song remind me that there is something greater than all of us. I can still taste the varied, and sometimes odd, flavors of the church potluck dinner. That rainbow colored plate of food made with a dash of competition and pound of love was more a part of who I am than any foodie dish I eat now.
Being a pastor’s kid means that I have seen the top of the bell tower and the back of the organ pipes. I’ve rung the church bells at improper times and I’ve paid the price for doing so. I’ve laid down under the back pew and rolled down under all the pews until I slammed into the altar rail. I’ve had the church giggles hundreds of times. You know the ones when you or your friend says something wildly inappropriate during church and in trying to hide your laughter, you actually break into an uncontrollable laughter that has to squirt out of your eyes because you can’t stop? It probably happened that time you peed your pants in church. It’s a common side effect of church giggles.
Being a pastor’s kid meant driving across the country, through Canada, and up to Alaska when I was five and making the return trip when I was nine. Our parents told us how magnificent creation was and then they showed it to us. When you see the Badlands, The Grand Tetons, Wild Horse, Glacier National Park, the Yukon, and the miraculous Denali before you even hit 4th grade, it is hard not to believe in God or some higher power. Religion or not, there is a spiritual element to seeing these places.
Being my dad’s kid meant living in a small house in the woods of Alaska that ran out of water. It meant a family of five practically living on top of each other and riding to the mountain spring together to fill jugs of water so we could eat and bathe in the dead of winter. It meant our parents waking us up in the middle of the night so we could stand out in our wooded driveway in moon boots and nightgowns to hear the crackling of the rainbow colored aurora borealis that seemed so close we could almost touch it. It meant running across snow and ice in our swimsuits to jump into the hot springs when it was 20 below zero outside.
As a young child, I remember visiting hospitals with my dad; waiting in the hallway and listening to him pray with people who were sick and lonely. I remember praying for the mean kids in school because my parents said they were the ones who needed it the most even if I didn’t like them. I remember saying thanks and saying thanks again and always being taught to be grateful for what I had. I remember visiting shut-ins with my mom when she worked with meals-on-wheels. I remember welcoming people from every race, ethnicity, and economic status into our home. I remember my parents treating everyone the same. From the suicidal teenager to the prestigious Bishop from Nigeria, our doors were open and there was always a place to stay and food on the table.
I was raised by a pastor who put love first and didn’t focus on hell-fire or political issues. He (and my mother) taught us that our faith meant giving, caring for, loving, and thanking. It meant welcoming others and being empathetic and learning about those who were different from us. Our faith meant seeing injustice and fighting against it. Our faith meant removing hatred from our vernacular. Following Jesus wasn’t about getting into heaven or avoiding hell, it was about loving everyone.
I will be 40 soon and I honestly have been struggling with whatever my faith is now. Religion in general has angered me and the people who claim to be doing things in God’s name seem to be missing the whole point. I belong to a church family, but I find it hard to participate or show up because of the pain I see coming from “the church” as a whole. The complete lack of empathy and love seems to come from a dark place that I am not familiar with. Still, when I am coming to the end of my day and trying to settle my daughter, nothing works better than singing Be Thou My Vision, or His Eye is on the Sparrow, and I still cry when I sing Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing because I can hear my dad’s voice in the words. Those old hymns slow my breath and my blood pressure and remind me of the faith I once knew and help me believe it is still possible.