Years ago I was beginning a journey, moving to Texas into seminary housing, working on a Master’s degree, and yet completely unsure of why I was doing so… other than I knew God wanted me to do so. I said the following four words out loud before my parents got back into their car to make the 650 mile trip home, “What have I done?”
I spent a ton of time by myself that first semester. I was sort of shell shocked. It can be like that when you follow the Lord, eh? The previous year had been challenging and then for it to transition to moving to Texas and going back to school, even if it was to “further” my education, well, I was in a daze.
I went from rooming with a guy in a house in St. Louis who became, and still is, a very close friend, to moving into a dorm room with a roommate with said dorm room measuring as big as the living room from whence I came. It was small for one person, let alone two. Our beds were a foot apart. One…..foot….apart.
“What have I done?”
My new roomie and I got along. I didn’t see him much but we were cordial. But still, it was an adjustment to say the least. I don’t really want to say any more than that.
What? No really, I really don’t want to say.
Are you sure?
Okay, you’ve twisted my arm. I’ll tell you, but you have to promise not to tell anyone. Okay? Okay. Are you ready?
Here we go. This was the reason why “it was an adjustment to say the least”.
My roommate used to watch me sleep….from one foot away…..or he slept with his eyes open?
I never found out which one, and I never had a desire to discover the answer. Does it matter? Either answer inhabited different levels of emotional and mental discombobulation, and I’ve never regretted not discovering the answer.
“What have I done?”
Need I go on?
Oh….ok. I will.
He also had an ability to just appear and never make a sound. I’m minding my own business and somehow he could enter the room, the very small room remember, and be sitting on his bed with a book, a half consumed bag of Funyuns, and an opened can of Dr. Pepper. I would never hear him until minutes later when he would ask, “Hey Joel, whatcha doin’?” GAAAHHH!!! It was unnerving.
One particular day I was making a sandwich in our dorm room…and…he just…. appeared. Right next to me. No idea how he got there without me noticing.
He simply asked, “Hey there Joel, makin’ some lunch?” GAAAHHH!!!
Things like that happened a lot. How in the world could he sneak around so quietly? Could you earn a Master of Arts in Christian Ninja? (Instead of throwing ninja stars at people, would you just throw gospel tracts?) Did I simply not know thus making me feel guilty for not being more supportive and impressed by his ninja studies and skill? Either way I looked for trap doors, secret passageways, books on spells, a portal, or even a cable tied up in the ceiling for rapid descent. I could never figure out how he was able to sneak up beside me so often without me hearing his approach.
I have this vision of him quietly rappelling down from the ceiling right behind me like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible.
“Guess I’ll check on Joel…see what he’s doin’.”
(Yes. As a matter of fact I did age that much during that first semester.)
“Hey there Joel….makin’ some lunch?”
So seminary was a tad “lonely” at first. I don’t really get lonely so in some ways I didn’t really mind. I don’t mind spending ample time alone, but at the same time I really needed to engage this place and the people in it if I was going to flourish and move forward in my life.
(Full disclosure….that first roommate was genuine, and a really nice guy. He was friendly to me from the get go when I was unsure of anything. He helped me quite a bit. And even though we only roomed during the first semester, we talked quite a bit about our “experiences” during the second semester before he graduated to become a chaplain in the military. We had some good laughs. God knows what He’s doing when he places brothers in Christ together within a particular place at a particular time. You can always learn something from anyone. Case in point, because of him I now have cat-like reflexes and can hear a gnat approaching from a mile away.)
Some went to seminary and you knew they were going to be pastors, ministers, missionaries, whatever, but I never knew what I was there for specifically. I still don’t know my role in this life other than to ride the wave of obedience the best I can because, honestly, many days I feel like I still don’t know what I’m doing and I’ve made a good amount of peace about it. Love God…love your neighbor. Leave the other stuff in His hands.
So many students, myself most definitely included, went to seminary with an almost dazed look in their eyes. Like when you’ve been in the movie theater watching a really long movie and when you walk outside the sun incapacitates you. “Yeow! I can’t see! I wanna go back inside!” There were days where I just wanted to go back inside. I couldn’t see and I was fumbling around.
But as the days passed during that first semester it continued to get better. I started meeting people and started to gain more of an understanding that I wasn’t alone in my apprehension and confusion as to why God would lead me all the way to Fort Worth, Texas, and why He would lead me to seminary.
My understanding of why I was there increased for two reasons:
1) The people that became acquaintances… that became friends…. that became family.
2) Because of a class all first semester students were required to take, “The Spiritual Life of the Minister”. This was a class where they placed four men and four women in the class together, at least in my case, and you discussed what in the world the Lord was doing in your life. Why you were there, what did it all mean, etc.
I have some real issues with the school and things that went on during our time there, and it was one of the reasons Nikki and I raced to graduate a semester early, but at least for me I thought this was a great idea to help new students navigate this season of their lives.
The class met once a week and during each class someone would take a turn giving their life story and talking about what led them to Fort Worth. One of my classmates told their story during the second class and I thought, “Hmm, that sounds a lot like my story, a lot like how I see this world and my place in it. I think I could be friends with this person.”
We did become friends, and 2 ½ years later she became my wife.
Hello, Nikki Flynn. Are you busy for the next 50 years?
The first semester came to a close. Nikki and I became friends with several of the same people and each other. We didn’t start dating until midway through the second semester.
When we reconnected that second semester after summer break I was intrigued, but hey, you never know right? I just knew I wanted to be around her. We started spending more time together in our beautiful group of friends who would become family…..and always will be.
“Uh, Joel, I really appreciate what you’re saying here and I’m happy to support your attempt at writing by reading all of these words but, um, you said something about a cinnamon roll and snowfall?”
Oh yeah, thanks for keeping me on task.
When my birthday rolled around early that second semester in September I was hitting my stride and feeling more comfortable with that season of life. That morning I walked to my New Testament Survey II class and didn’t suspect a thing. The classroom door was closed but there was a window on the door so I looked inside to assess the seating situation because, of course, I wanted to sit next to Miss Flynn.
One of our friends saw me looking through the window and leaned over and said something to someone out of my line of sight. As I walked in I saw a small fire attached to a candle. Nikki had made cinnamon rolls for my birthday. (FYI: She’s not intimidated by fire codes.)
My confidence increased 18% that she would finally give in to my charm. And that must have been just enough of the percentage jump that I needed because we started dating a month later….
we graduated a year and half after that…
Yup, I have 7 chins in this picture and I could use a bit of hair product.
we were married 5 months after that….
and we’ve had cinnamon rolls every year on the morning of my birthday ever since that morning in New Testament Survey II. 17 additional mornings after that fateful 1st.
September 12, 2019 batch. Needed a quick bake this year. Go Aldi!
As of October 23rd we’ve been married 15 years. It’s difficult to describe my feelings about 15 years of marriage. Let me try it this way…
You know when it’s been snowing for a few hours, the ground is covered, and you go outside and it’s still snowing? That may be my favorite moment in nature. And before you misunderstand and equate my preferred weather-related moment with a random The Office quote involving Dwight (New Year’s Eve/Armageddon anyone?),
my nature-related preference has very little to do with the visual aspect. Snowfall does indeed look very picturesque, but I’m more intrigued by the sound of the environment during these conditions….or more specifically…the lack of it.
The world sounds quieter during a snow covered ground snowfall. More peaceful. Almost like the world has become a soundproof room. It’s a calming sound. Know what I mean? The peace of it. The quiet.
It’s the best way I can describe the 15 years of being married to my bride, my partner, my friend.
So many times I’ve spoken of the peace God allows to flow through my beautiful wife, and how I have needed it over the chapters and the seasons of our days together, especially the last few years. I know I’ve had to be that for her as well.
One of the first occasions when I heard her speak, back in that “Spiritual Life” class I talked about earlier, I barely knew who she was but listening to her talk about how God had impacted her life… she seemed so calm. So matter of fact about it like, “Well yeah, God is God and He’s really helped me live this life. Sometimes it stinks, it can be frustrating and can be downright cruel, but He’s there with me through it all.” Oh. Okay. Yeah, I guess that does sum it up.
I was so drawn to her calm almost immediately… and still am. And there’s no added pressure on her. I know it’s not her calm I’m drawn toward, but the calm the Spirit provides in her that I’m drawn to.
Over 15 years of marriage, 2 years of dating before that, and 6 months of being enamored before that, I’ve seen my beautiful bride jump for joy accompanied by shrieks of happiness, I’ve seen and heard her laugh 6 times out of my 19,724 jokes (gotta keep firin’), and I’ve seen my wife broken and in tears. This life can be joyful. This life can be a heartbreaker. This life can be beautiful. And this life can be ugly. But I’m so very thankful that through no effort of our own but through the love of Christ, our Hope isn’t in this life.
We extract joy from it. We enjoy the beauty that God has created in it. But we long to see Glory. We desire our treasures in Heaven. And to be able to go on this eternal journey together, cinnamon rolls and all, well…..
If I could go back in time and talk to that guy who stood outside the dorm room who asked that question, “What have I done?”, here are a few things I would say to him….
First, “Enjoy that hairline!” Second, “I beg you, go north on S. Irby St. in Florence, SC. Please!” Third, I would tell him, “Be still. Relax. Be confident in your obedience. What you have ‘done’ is open yourself up to someone who will walk alongside you, be your partner, be the best friend you’ve ever had or knew you needed, challenge you, support you, cheer for you, see you fail and it not change how she feels about you at all, allow you to figure out who you are in Christ with ne’er a shove, but when needed, a loving and timely nudge, and she will even laugh at a few of your jokes….6 jokes.”
So, Happy Anniversary my friend. And as I should pursue God, I am still in pursuit of you. I look forward to many more years of cinnamon rolls…. and snowfall.