In second grade I considered myself an unselfish person.
A noble soul.
How could I not be with four younger siblings following me around everywhere? Thanks to being a preacher’s kid, I also had an entire congregation breathing down my neck.
Not an easy life, but I felt I could handle it as long as I had my cartoons and candy cigarettes.
(Note to reader –resist the urge to sidetrack just because I confessed a sugar vice. Back in the sixties, anything edible was was part of the Sunday Morning Trinity-eats, greets and saving seats. )
Everything changed when my parents decided to work at youth camp.
Guess how many church members begged to take their entire brood home for seven days?
So, Dad and Mom farmed us out like a box of barnyard kittens. I stayed at a white frame house in the country.The only child in the house was a boy my age.
True to my calling as a preacher’s kid, I didn’t check out the toys or the swing set in the back yard. I represented Jesus to these people. A very short and scrawny Jesus but that didn’t stop me. The work of the ministry had begun.
That week, determined to
- play church with the neighborhood children.
- hold baptismal services in wading pools.
- tell stories of the rapture: crashes on the freeway, planes falling from the sky.
- draw pictures of Adam and Eve with lots of leaves and bushes.
Everything unraveled when I fell in love.
The eight year old boy who lived in the white framed house became the object of my affection. Every time I looked into his eyes, my stomach quivered.
I forgot all about ambitions to be Jesus in this tiny corner of the world. Instead, I giggled and told as many knock-knock jokes as I could remember.
No pledges of undying affection. No declarations of love.
So, I took drastic measures.
“I can make the neighbor kid jump into a pit,” I bragged, hoping to appear cool. This neighborhood kid happened to be bigger than both of us but he had the mental capability of a five year old.
Perfect target for my dastardly scheme.
“We’ll dig three holes,“ I said to my one true love, “Two shallow and one deep.”
And, so, we did.
After covering all three holes with cardboard, we invited the neighbor boy over to play.
“It’s fun, “I said, “jumping into holes at the same time.”
We lined up and jumped. The neighborhood boy’s hole was so deep he fell down.
The neighborhood boy looked confused. He started to cry. Then, he ran home.
A few days later, a large yellow school bus pulled into the drive. Mom and dad climbed out.
“Pack up your things,” Dad said, “We’re going home.”
I burst into tears. Not out of guilt or shame. Not because I needed to right a wrong. I cried because I knew that my romance was over. The kid was only eight, after all.
Looking back on my selfish acts, I can’t help but be reminded of a radio show launched in the 1930’s.
“Who knows what lurks in the hearts of men? Only the Shadow knows”, was the opening line.
The Shadow was an invincible crime fighter who could defy gravity, unravel any code, and achieve invisibility by “clouding men’s minds”. He became one of the most famous pulp heroes of the 20th century.
His inference to the darkness of our inner selves was right on track.
Jeremiah also comes to mind, prophet from centuries past. He was a weepy kind of guy. And, for good reason. God had instructed Jeremiah to reveal the hidden sins of people’s hearts.
“The heart is deceitful above all things,” Jeremiah surmised after one revelation too many, “beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
I certainly didn’t fathom the depth of cruelty that pooled in my heart when I was a little girl. But, it was there.
It still is.
Brackish with selfishness.
Dank with greed.
Just a glimpse of what lies beneath keeps me humble, keeps me clinging to the promise of forgiveness.
I can’t let go. I need it every day.