Sometimes I write about our time in China, and the China peeps add their “Oh yeahs” to my posts. Sometimes the topic is mothering, and what I learned so many years ago with three little eager faces looking at me with trust, and dependence, and needs that I pretty much figured I could meet (boy, was I wrong). And the moms say “Oh yeah.” I could write about campus ministry, or teaching, or my new career as a nurse. More “Oh yeahs” could be elicited. But no, tonight I am writing about the old days at Penn State, where so many of us were ardent, young believers who had no idea of what was waiting for us in grown-up land.
The impetus for this post is the loss of one of our own, from cancer, just a few short weeks ago. There is a kinship in the prayer requests, and emails, and fb posts as we all gathered in cyberspace to pray, weep, encourage, and be the body of Christ for this family–even if we had not checked in with each other for so many years. The fellowship of love and support that we experienced so many years ago is still there–even if some have experienced some pretty rocky roads. So I pulled out an old Chuck Girard song, Love Song and began reminiscing. Love Song was a big hit back in those days, and I was carried back to a different time–one that my kids know so little about, and that until the advent of cyberspace, one that is full of long-lost friends, dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, people who I grew up with, if you will.
We were at times a wild and crazy bunch in that we came from all backgrounds, and personalities, and denominations, and tendencies, and preferences within the practice of Christianity. Sometimes we were “zealous without knowledge”, sometimes we guilt-tripped one another into action, sometimes we were hypocritical, jealous, and immature. Sometimes we were on power trips and were legalistic. Duh-were were college kids, and we were impressionable, emotional, and checking out new things, while leading Bible studies with other impressionables. So again, duh.
But many times, more often than not if memory serves, we were encouraging one another, praying with and for each other, weeping with those who weep, rejoicing with those who rejoice, studying God’s Word together, worshiping together, and enjoying each other’s company. We gathered at 321 Fraternity Row during the week to take our turn to cook for/flirt with the guys who lived in the Crusade House, or on Friday nights to hear a talk and sing together, or to pray at an all night prayer meeting. ( I was never sure if praying all night was better, but I enjoyed the first hour or two, and stayed because my friends did. Maybe like Linus & the Great Pumpkin, I did not want to jinx it for the rest of the group.)
The Friday night talks were often about being committed to the Lord, and/or to full-time Christian service, and again, I hoped I was committed to Him, but many times I hoped no one would find out that I was not as committed as the person sitting next to me. Years later after going to Africa, and Japan, and then much later to China with our family I would think back to those talks, and how I both appreciated them, and forgive me, but made a little bit of fun of them as well. (I am an irreverent jokester if nothing else.) I recall one where we were asked (by someone we all love dearly-so forgive my mocking) if we were willing to be made willing to go into Christian service, and I told someone I was willing to be made willing to be made willing. That was the best I could do.
As I got older I gained more of a broad perspective on the Christian walk, or to be more accurate, I focused less on the actual walk and more on the Lord Himself, and that seemed to be a better way for me to live a holy yet still very flawed life. I concentrated more on the bold and unbounding love of God as evidenced by His giving His Son as a sacrifice for my sin. I became overwhelmed by the goodness and love of God for me-finding it at times incomprehensible. Behold what manner of love the Father as given unto us, that we should be called the sons of God. Notice the NIV; it has the word lavished in it–gotta love that! But the growth post Penn State did not mean that I did not learn a great deal from that time, and that those people are not still very near and dear to my heart.
The remains of that watershed time for many of us are a few deep and lasting friendships, and lots of acquaintances that make us smile when we remember them, even though we have been out of touch. The surprise email from someone we have never corresponded with, but we remember fondly, makes us want to keep it in our inbox, because the connection is still there. As we linked up in cyberspace over our friend’s passing, I hoped that if there were any unresolved conflicts in our little group, or even resentment toward God Himself, it would melt away with gratefulness for the gift of His love and the gift of each other, given to our rag-tag group so many years ago. I hoped that our friend’s passing would be a wake up call that yes, we are all going to leave this world some day, and that God would use it in our lives, in whatever way He saw fit. And I thought our departed friend would smile at that, as He now sits at the feet of Jesus, perhaps strumming on his guitar.
Many of our group have had some pretty difficult situations. Some have lost children, jobs, spouses via death or divorce, health, and some have lost their faith. Some are angry at God, and at Christians, and have distanced themselves from us.
We are now aging baby boomers, and have health issues, and are seeing and will see each other pass from this world as we recently did with this particular brother in Christ. But…no matter what life throws at us, those who are loved by God will one day live with Him. For our brother Doug, that day has come. As I chatted with an old Penn State friend about it, we both agreed that this person’s real life has finally begun, and that it was comforting to know that all of us will one day be together in His presence. The belief forged so many years ago, of God redeeming His people, is real, and not a college security blanket. It is not any less true just because it is comforting. It is not a trite thing we say to one another–it is the deep-seated belief of all true SCOJAs.
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 There are many rooms in my Father’s house. If there weren’t, I wouldn’t have told you that I am going away to prepare a place for you, would I? 3 And since I’m going away to prepare a place for you, I’ll come back again and welcome you into my presence, so that you may be where I am.”
So to my beloved Penn State brothers and sisters, I send my love and my deep appreciation for all you taught me and all the love and laughter you brought to my life. And if I don’t see you now…see you on the other side when I check into my mansion, and get my sleeping bag unrolled.