Tag Archives: neighbors

One Small Change: Encountering New Neighbors

I’m so glad to have the lovely Katie Murchison Ross here today sharing a small change with us. Katie’s post reminds me that breaking down walls is really not that hard if you have the courage to just show up and stick around. And that we all have so much to offer one another. Please welcome her here today!

Photo by Paul Sableman at Flickr Creative Commons
Photo by Paul Sableman at Flickr Creative Commons

“We’re gonna search their bags for weapons, drugs, and secular music,” my co-counselor Tanya told me as she selected one of her Christian hip hop CDs as a welcome soundtrack. “I’ve been doing it all summer so I’ll be in the cabin unpacking their bags; you’ll be outside greeting them.”

I nodded, trying to look as unalarmed as possible. I’d elected to stay this last week of summer camp because it seemed like it would be a good experience after a summer of suburban white girls. I was nineteen, and I knew I was too quiet, introverted, and sheltered to have any idea how to relate to these urban youth who were about to pull up. I would do whatever Tanya said. She’d just arrived from an inner city kids camp, plus she was urban herself, which maybe this week was a euphemism for black.

A few minutes later, the first van pulled in. I threw on a polka-dot dress and a purple wig and started jumping up and down, plastering a smile onto my face and opening my arms to these children from Richmond and DC and Pittsburgh, these children who’d seen more violence and discrimination and poverty in their lives than I’d ever seen on TV.

They were twelve and thirteen. No one had weapons or drugs. One girl made a smart remark and Tanya told her to drop and do ten push-ups. Then we went to dinner.

That night, after all the chanting and all the confiscating, after all the overwhelmingly stern recitations of rules, after enough chants and raps to make me lightheaded, I looked around at the bunks. What I saw were simply middle school girls­. For all the newness, they were just girls.


I taught them how to canoe. We played Uno at rest time. I chaperoned dance night without Tanya and survived. They put my hair in corn rows. During Bible study, one girl confessed that she wanted to repent of “fornicatin’.”

On Thursday, another girl confided in me about her family problems—which involved prison, gangs, and a demanding mother. For all my inadequacy to quell her anxiety about returning home, the conversation felt strangely normal. She was, surprisingly, just a girl with struggles and fears and a need for love. She was me, with details changed.


Staying the extra week at camp, I learned that I was inadequate, that I didn’t have much to offer, but that I shouldn’t be afraid. It was my first opening into a grand, colorful world that would lead me to Bangladesh and Tanzania and teaching ex-offenders and living in less-than-sculpted neighborhoods.

Each time I have met people of a new culture or nationality or social status, I have been scared of relating, and in some cases (melodramatically) scared of dying.  But beyond uncomfortable beginnings, I have found real faces to see and voices to hear and hands to hold. I have found the joy of exchange and the pain of empathy. In each connection, the Spirit has been alive and moving and reconciling. People who could have been seen as threats or enemies or beneficiaries have become friends.

The first step is sometimes awkward and bumbling and dangerously close to romanticizing or patronizing the “other.” But each time I experience a new cluster of children of God, I allow the walls between us to be broken down. Slowly, let me help this group of people becomes let me give a ride to my neighbor and let me buy a gift for my friend.

And I have received so many gifts from my new friends.


katie murchison rossKatie Murchison Ross is a teacher, writer, and soon-to-be divinity school student. She and her husband have lived in East Africa, Washington DC, and western North Carolina, and will be moving again this summer to Durham, NC for grad school, where Katie is excited to continue exploring her calling as a pastor. Katie loves to keep up with friends far and near and sometimes wishes she could be a full-time friend because that’s her favorite job. She’d love to be your friend too: visit her at katiemurchisonross.blogspot.com.

10 Reasons This Christian Mama Loves Halloween


1. Pumpkin Seeds. It’s Dane’s first year carving pumpkins, and when Andrew cuts the top off, he looks inside skeptically. “Yuck, Mom,” he says. “There’s bugs in there.”

“No baby,” I say. “Seeds.”

There’s something, though, about hollowing out a pumpkin. About digging through that orange slime and filling a strainer with good, white seeds. About the rinsing, the sprinkling of spices, the baking. When the seeds come out of the oven, you eat them straight from the baking sheet, warm and crisp.

2. Costumes. He’s at the age where he wants to choose, and he chose dinosaur a month ago and stuck with it all this time. We tried to paint his face, but this sensory boy of mine – something about the sting of green on his toddler cheeks was too much and we had to take it off (TAKE IT OFF!)

I still get to decide for Liam, and this year, he’s a cowboy, mostly because he has that bow-legged sheriff-walk down pat. A friend loans me the costume her little boy wore seven Octobers ago when I first met her. (I go on a little nostalgic jag when I get Liam strapped into the homemade chaps. I remember so clearly how we all followed Henry around our office complex as he trick-or-treated the cubicles.)

And it’s imagination and play at its very best as Dane runs around the house practicing his roar. Even Andrew gets a little bummed that he didn’t plan a costume this year. In the end, he digs through the Rubbermaids for the old 2008 favorite: Buddy the Elf. (My homemade costume masterpiece, crated entirely from felt.)

3. Friends. The kids are running back and forth the entire length of our house…from the front door to the sliding glass patio door, and you have to talk loud over the roaring, the yelling, the wild flurry of it all.

In these toddler years, we’ve gotten bad at having people over. With the dinner-time crankies and an early bedtime routine for the kids, it all seems so complicated and I tend to avoid it.

But we’re packed in the kitchen and the place is getting over-warm from all the energy.

And what’s better, at three, than getting to run around the neighborhood costumed with your best friend? What’s better than pumpkin-shaped pizzas and too many chairs around one, big table and Trick or treat! shouted at the top of your lungs all together?

 4. Receiving. You’ve done nothing to earn it except show up. You hold out your plastic pumpkin bucket, and it is filled with wonderful things.

5. Neighbors. I’ve gotten so used to them, their houses sturdy around us. Their comings and goings marked by closing car doors and car engines starting. Fall is here, and we’re all outside less, and it’s easy to forget in the search for “community,” that it’s already here…all around us.

 I make a coffee date with the woman next door and get a quick hug before chasing the cowboy down the pathway. We make tentative plans for dinner with the family around the block. The families comes, decked out in their finest, and we do our best to welcome them.

6. Lit Houses. I know there are reasons to hate Halloween. There is so much SCARY and so much YUCK and our little two-year-old princess guest hides under the table for a full five minutes after the kids with the Scream masks come to the door.

But there’s something about all these houses, lit up, glowing from within. They stand with doors wide open, light spilling out onto dark streets. You walk through the darkness, and there is a place to stop, and there is candy waiting and people who will say, You look awesome!

And the world is so dark sometimes, but tonight, the kids move through it bravely. They go from light to light to light to light collecting good things.

7. Giving. Whenever the trick-or-treaters come to the door, Dane and his best friend jump up from the table and run to greet them. “Our friends are here!!” Dane screams, though we don’t really know that many of them. And my heart is a little bit stopped by the truth in these three-year-old hearts: all who come here are friends, and we are excited to see them.

The boys clamor onto the porch, pull big handfuls of candy from our bowl and they are learning what joy it is to give, give, give to strangers. I have to tell them every time, “That’s enough now. Tell them goodbye.”

8. Sugar Highs. I spend all day every day, it seems, saying No. No. No. It’s You cannot do that and Not right now and Maybe later, and there’s something to a night where you just let it all go, say Yes.

Yes to the Skittles and the M&Ms and the miniature Twix bars. The kids are wild, propelled by all that candy, running circles on the front lawn, and it’s sugar-coated happiness all the way.

9. Stars. The stars are out and high above our heads and the boys stand on the driveway and break into a spontaneous rendition of Twinkle, Twinkle. And if you’re looking for it, there is light everywhere.

10. Sugar Crashes. Liam is spread-eagle on the floor. Dane is a weeping mess on his bottom bunk at 8:20, and the crash is so sudden and so dramatic that I can’t help laughing a little into my shirt sleeve.

We are all so fragile, and sometimes it feels like the end of the living world and really, we just need sleep. Good food. A regular, normal day.

Andrew and I hold the boys tight, touch their faces. We thank God for the day, and wipe sugar-tears from cheeks, and in the end, we all fall asleep tired and happy.

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