Tuesday, February 10, 2015

{From Holy Cow to Holy Spirit} Growing Up in Small Town Iowa

I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts;
and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Jeremiah 31:33

Skatetown, circa 1980-something...

Picture it. Small town Iowa, population ~25,000. Only brown kid in kindergarten, yet blissfully unaware of it. So the stage is set for my childhood. My parents did a phenomenal job of keeping me sheltered from the difficulties they faced in such a town. Truth be told, I don't know that they even always thought of their experiences as difficulties. My dad had a righteous work ethic, so no matter the snub or slight, he put 110% of himself into everything he did. 

"No problem." That was his motto, and that held true for whatever was asked of him, regardless of the reason. Now my mother, as I have shared, has a slightly more lively spirit. I have vague memories of their discussions as I grew older and she felt he was being overlooked or put down because of prejudice. They are very vague and very slight memories because for the most part, my parents didn't spend much time dwelling on any of those occurrences. 

It was only later in life that I would learn that some kid had mentioned that if it weren't for me our class would be fully white. Clearly it impacted me so little I don't even remember it being said beyond telling my mom after school (which is how she knew). 

For the most part, I had my group of friends, and when you're small, it is a pretty large group. We all went to each others' birthday parties, played in school, joined the band, or chorus, or school teams. We nerds stuck together in the TAG program. Even as a family, we looked fairly "normal" from the outside. We celebrated Christmas, with Santa, a tree, and presents galore. We partook in Easter festivities with the bunny and egg hunt. 

We were, by all means, cultural Christians, who knew and partook of the festivities, but never knew or mentioned Jesus. Yet at the same time, we had our home altar to our Hindu gods and went to temples nearby for pujas (Hindu festivals). I wore a sari for multicultural day at school, performed some Indian dance for our talent show, and mom cooked some traditional Indian food for the International Fair every year. 

I had NO idea who I was. I just went along with the flow of life. I wasn't proudly Indian/Hindu, but I wasn't what I would consider just a normal kid either. As I grew older, those differences, and their impact on my self-image and confidence, would begin to have an impact on me. It was assumed, since I was Indian, that I was smart and would be a doctor. Quite stereotypically, my cousin and I both aced the school and district spelling bees. I gravitated toward debate instead of science, but still, I was a full fledged nerd before nerdy was cool. 

Take one part nerd and one part different, it seemed like growing up was always a bit of a battle. I had a wonderful group of friends, but even among them I was different. My parents experiences were not like their parents, so the rites of passage were just different. Being an only child to older parents, they may have been just a wee overprotective at times as well. Lets just say the party invites once I hit junior high did not roll in quickly, and some that came were just in mockery. When I look back over the throwback photos of the people I went to high school with, my world and theirs were drastically different. While in the grand scheme of things this is not important, to a teenager who desperately wants to belong, it was everything. 

As for the content of my character, I never gave much thought to it. While we prayed daily in our home temple, I wasn't educated in our faith beyond that. I don't think it was because my parents didn't value faith, or thought I could make my own decisions. I simply think that they grew up surrounded by their heritage and faith so it was naturally passed on, whereas I was not. Sure, we had a handful of other Indian families, and some Hindu communities nearby, like Ames where there was a larger population of Hindus due to the university setting (no stereotypes there). Overall, we were fairly isolated.

The basics were there, though. Daily prayer. Check. Human dignity. Check. Understanding of an absolute right and wrong. Check. Taking care of those less fortunate. Check. Marriage as an inviolable institution. Check. No dating until you're 30. Check. (Okay, that last one wasn't real...just preferred.) I was having a conversation with a friend a few years ago in the midst of a debate about Christian vs. non-Christian morality. I was explaining how I have such a hard time accepting any argument whose premise is that only Christians understand the heart of God. It was very much my experience that God had planted His law in the hearts of my parents, and they had passed along the basics to me. Clear evidence of natural law if ever I saw one. It was just basic morality.

Now what I did with that was another story. I would lose track of some of these things along the way as I found myself wandering aimlessly trying to figure out who I was and where I belonged. That longing for love wouldn't always lead me down the right path, but God in His infinite wisdom, knew it would eventually lead me to seek Him, and Him alone. Somewhere in the midst of my childhood and adolescence, in a small Iowa town, God set a plan in motion. 

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