Dateline: Houghton

March 31, 2008, 12:00 am; posted by
Filed under Articles, Featured, Mike J  | 1 Comment

I am here at my beloved alma mater for the first extended length of time since my graduation almost (gulp) nine years ago, working on the beginnings of my doctoral dissertation. I am in a strange building which resembles a large Country Inn & Suites except for the London Underground-style sign over the door that assures me this is actually the College Flats. Good to see the Anglophilia of recent years is intact.

Coming back to a place after so long brings memories back and makes me reflect on myself and my journey. Some random thoughts:

1. I’m different than I was then. For one thing, I had a wife and almost-two-year-old daughter in tow. They dropped me off here and continued on to Jill’s parents, where they’ll spend the week while I work here on my paper. Grace, my daughter, gleefully announced, “This is where Daddy lives now!” Yeah, I’ll miss you too, kid.

So much is different in my life than when I was here last. The people I love are different. Some are gone, like my Grandpa Lindley who taught at Houghton. Some are forgotten. Some are loved more intensely than I thought possible when I was here, like Jill and Grace. My outlook on life is different; I realized how much of my four years here were spent in crisis mode. Sometimes, I ran from the crisis, and sometimes I romanticized the crisis and wrote poetry about it, but I always felt like I was in crisis. I always wanted to prove myself as a student, as a popular guy on campus, as a spiritual leader, as a friend, as a boyfriend, as a comic. I had to be the best at everything, and it had to appear effortless.

As I ran tonight around campus, I was at times painfully aware that I am 30. Flecks of gray, the whole thing. But I was also relieved not to be 20 again. I was relieved that I’m out of that stage where I feel like I have to separate myself from the pack, that so much depends upon every little move I make. I’m relieved, frankly, that I have learned the spiritual value of inertia: that sometimes there is real value in simply staying put, in not doing anything but simply being and listening where you are. I’m relieved that I don’t feel like I have a future to create anymore. I have a future, but it is entirely in God’s hands. In my case, this was a lesson I could learn only from the passage of time; perhaps some 20-year-olds have it down, but I think my experience is not uncommon.

2. God is so much better than we ever realize. As I reflected further on my 20-year-old self, I realized how little I would trust that person if I met him today. And yet, when I think about the major life decisions that 20-year-old made, I’m stunned at how well they turned out. I married wisely. As a pastor, I know how many people lament their marriage choices. Blinded by hormones and inexperience, in the fishbowl that is Houghton life, it can be difficult to choose a spouse well. And yet no other decision besides my decision to follow Jesus has shaped me so profoundly for the good as my decision to marry Jill. She balances me, teaches me, learns from me, supports me and gives me someone to support. We have the tools to raise children well who will help in building God’s Kingdom, and we have complementary gifts to do our own Kingdom-building with our time here. A 20-year-old can only make such a decision well with God’s help, and He has been faithful and good.

Same with my decision to enter seminary. That decision was made about 2 in the morning as I worked overnights at a gas station between my junior and senior years in college. I had hoped to go to grad school for history, but came to a realization at a certain moment that I simply could not do that and needed to focus my energies on something related to the church and worship because those were my real God-given passions. How the heck does a 20-year-old know what those passions are? Perhaps some 20-year-olds do, but I didn’t. But God was faithful and good and opened up a door I never could have imagined, leading me into graduate work in Liturgical Studies, which I literally did not know existed when I decided to go to seminary. This work has given me life and God uses me in it to bring life to others; and my decision to do it was not of my own strength, but completely God’s.

3. I still don’t know very much. There are enough 20-year-olds who write for this website that I want to be careful to say that I’m not now endowed with perfect perspective on life that you don’t have. On the contrary. As I ran tonight, I realized that things will be different when I am 40, and that the little dreams I dream today will probably die and be replaced by better dreams than I can imagine. That’s simply the way of the God we know, who called Jeremiah to buy a field in the middle of a war, who called Noah to build a boat long before the flood started, who called Peter to eat dirty food and bring dirty people into the Kingdom. It is, in fact, the same God who chose to bring salvation into the world through the womb of another confused teenager, the young virgin Mary.

May God continue to do great things through unwitting people; may he continue to sow life in the world through the blind, faithful flailing of youth, and old age; may he use you in all your inadequacies, all your anxieties, all your flaws.


1 Comment to “Dateline: Houghton”

  1. Chloe on March 31st, 2008 1:58 pm

    I hope when I’m 30 I can look back with the kind of wisdom you have.

    Also, if you see me around campus and say hi and I don’t answer, it’s not that I’m a horrible person (though I am) – I’m pretty blind, deaf and oblivious. You’ll have to be in my face for me to hear/see you. ; ) Can’t wait to have dinner with you guys!

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