Get Dirty

As a child from the hills of Watauga County, North Carolina I grew up in the woods.  Not the sticks, mind you. Rural as it may be, Boone, North Carolina hardly qualified as sticks even in the 60’s and 70’s. There were too many people from places like New York and Florida trampling the rhododendron to consider Boone off the map.  After World War 2, the Yankees found us because of Appalachian State. Ski resorts for wealthy city slickers started popping up in the area in the 1950’s. The rest is history.  Boone was country, but with a map dot.

Map dot or otherwise, I still grew up in the woods, building forts out of fallen tree limbs and creating dams in creeks in the beautiful North Carolina high country. In those days, children were not required to hang around their parents on warm Saturdays. We didn’t have colored televisions or electronic devices to captivate our gray matter, so our parents sent us outside. In my neighborhood that meant woods, deep forested woods that offered endless places to explore. Most days, the other boys from the neighborhood were already there when I got to the creek.

I can tell you two things about playing all day in a mountain creek: it’s fun and it’s messy.  After kneeling in 40-degree mountain water for hours, schlepping mud, rocks and creek moss together, my friends and I would step back and marvel at the puddling lake of crystalline creek water creating a mountain swimming pool. And then we’d flail around like we were swimming, even though the water in our boy-made lake was only two feet deep. And it was fun.

Walking home as a group of ragamuffin boys, we were a mess. A stinking collection of boyhood dam builders. Each one filthier than the one in front of him, we were indistinguishable, like muddied-up pygmies from a far-away land returning home with the day’s spoils. The only spoils we brought home, however, were ourselves and our clothes.

“What’s that smell?” a voice asked us at the door. “You smell like a sewer! Take off your shoes and hose yourself down outside! You’re not tracking mud in my nice clean house!” We complied, entering back into civilization.

Growing up in the woods teaches a wisdom that city kids may never have had the opportunity to learn, a respect for nature, a willingness to use imagination to fill a day with fun, a willingness to become a part of a selfless group in pursuit of common goals, and more importantly, a willingness to get dirty, smelly dirty in the pursuit of adventure.

Without the willingness to join a group and get our hands dirty, we forfeit the ability to step beyond the boundary of our self-limiting comforts. We stay locked up in the house on a Saturday. We stay too attached to sanitized versions of ourselves that lack vital life.  Only by stepping into the unknown, the woods, with our neighbors in pursuit of common goals do we grow and mature and actually become the people God created us to be.
The same goes for churches as goes for a group of neighborhood kids in a map dot town like Boone, North Carolina, in the 1970’s.  To grow, we need to participate.  Yes, it’s likely to get messy, but boy, is it ever fun!

Pastor Frank