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As a kid, I didn’t fit in well at school. I was awkward. I was gender messy, even as early as the third grade. So, as you might expect, I was bullied mercilessly.
I tried to be authentic, but think back with me to the third grade. Being authentic was always the wrong answer. My classmates wanted conformity, and I knew what I needed to do. If I conformed to the cool girls, I could get by — yet, even at the age when peer pressure reigned supreme, I couldn’t do it.
I was different in so many wild and wonderful ways. For one, I liked church. And I didn’t have as much money as my classmates, so I didn’t have cool clothes.
There was a poster in the nurse’s office that showed a bunch of roosters and one of them had a real hair comb. It read: Dare to be Different. I looked at that poster every time I went to the nurse, and thought, Eff that; I don’t like being different. I wasn’t willing to pay the price to be cool, so I conformed. But I never fit in. Neither the girls nor guys in my class knew what to make of me.
I came by my small-town sensibility honestly. I was born in Holland, Michigan, a little Dutch Sim-City founded in the mid-1800s by Calvinist immigrants from the Netherlands. They rebuilt their new home in true Dutch tradition, bringing their church and their traditions with them. A Dutch Reformed Church sits in the middle of town, a Dutch windmill near a tributary, and many streets are lined with tulips.
I have childhood memories of the town, and also of leaving it. When the big truck pulled up to our house, “United Van Lines” written across the side, I naturally assumed it was a Dutch name and couldn’t understand why the driver didn’t answer when I called him Mr. Van Lines. You can imagine how Rochester, New York was going to be a culture shock to a seven-year-old.
By age ten, I was pretty sure I was going to be a baseball player, but at the same time, I really loved church. As a pastor’s daughter, I tagged along when my dad preached at various congregations. There is a tradition in our denomination called “pulpit supply,” which means you were available to take a spot on a pulpit when needed. (This also allowed pastors to occasionally take a vacation!)
Churches loved my father, not just for what he preached but because he was a fresh voice. I loved going with him. I was an extroverted kid and I felt special traveling on pulpit supply trips. Plus, the arrival of a child with the guest preacher was a novelty, and I loved the attention. We visited a wide variety of churches and, since the seminary where my dad worked was ecumenical, I was continually exposed to different faith traditions. I also had a rating system for the quantity and quality of the after-church cookies and drinks, and soon had my own list of favorite spots.
During the Sundays of Lent, we will be running excerpts from Ann Kansfield’s Be the Brave One.
Reprinted with permission from Be the Brave One: Living Your Spiritual Values Out Loud and Other Life Lessons by Ann Kansfield copyright © 2021 Broadleaf Books.