Part 1 of 2
It was the fall semester of my freshman year in college when I arrived on campus in the middle of west Texas. Fall came early in contrast to my home town, as the weather was cool and dry with beautiful blue skies. I was filled with hopeful dreams and excitement as I began to settle in with campus life. I was anxious to discover what my new found independence would soon render me. The semester was well underway and sure enough I missed being with my parents. I began to think of ways to express my love for them while I was away from home. Across the street from campus there was a long stretch of various stores that lined nearly the entire south side of the campus. So I decided to take a walk across the street and look at the stores. Eventually, I walked up to a gift shop, opened the door, and was greeted by a very nice lady. The lady at the store was helpful as I explained to her I was looking for a gift for my parents. Soon, I found the perfect present. The lady was friendly, thoughtful, and seemed drawn to me. We talked for a long time and eventually she invited me to join her and a friend for dinner. I gladly accepted.
They both stopped by my dormitory and picked me up in a little red truck and off we went to a local restaurant for dinner. I was taken by their warmness toward me and seeming transparency as they shared their lives with stories of the past. They both appeared genuinely interested in me and my life by the curious questions they asked. Soon after dinner, they asked me if I had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “Of course”, I responded, and I began to share my personal testimony. They were happy to hear of this news and immediately invited me to visit their church, which interestingly enough, was walking distance from campus. The following Sunday they picked me up in the little red truck and drove me to the church. Everyone was warm and friendly. We walked downstairs to the basement of the building where they held service and was greeted by a tall man with blonde hair and the most radiant smile I had ever seen. His name was Doug and was the church greeter. To me, Doug reminded me of a game show host. He was tall and his face knew no smile. He handed me a program, welcomed me to the church, and held my gaze with a mile long smile as bright as the sun’s reflection upon a freshly fallen winter snow.
What I remember most were all the hugs. Those hugs! I was amazed how everyone hugged me so openly and freely. I was not one that shared hugs with other people and so it felt odd at first. Those hugs took on a new meaning of which I was unfamiliar, that is, guys and girls had to hug from the side rather than the front. I was baffled. What was it with these sideways hugs? Isn’t a hug defined by the front rather than the side? A side hug didn’t seem like a hug but rather a sheepish way to express a hug from the opposite sex. I later learned that a side hug was the surest way to not let your brother stumble. I thought to myself, “stumble from what?” I was eighteen years old and had a lot to learn by the rules of these church brethren.
Overtime, a lot of conversations ensued and friendships were formed with many of the women and men I met. It seemed right to me that I was blessed to be in such wonderful company. In time, one of the friends asked me to move into their house with other women from the church as it would serve a better environment for me than on-campus housing. It sounded like a nice offer and so I accepted.
As the months continued there were little things that occurred which I found odd. Such as, I couldn’t attend a church gathering if my arms were showing without someone draping me with a sweater or a coat to cover up. During that time I loved to work-out at the recreational center. The smell of the gym and the weights were intoxicating to me and only added to the fervor of my work-outs. I was constantly weight-lifting and putting time in the gym. As a result I was criticized for spending time improving my fitness. In addition, I was a full-time student in college and was taking quite a few classes during the fall and spring semester as well as summer. A couple of women at the church had begun talking me out of going to college and consider devoting all of my time to the church and their bible study groups. There were many other things that ensued but overall it became a period of judgment toward me that I was labeled an uncommitted Christian. Eventually, the word spread to the point one day I was at the church and someone told me they heard that I became “uncommitted.” This was a difficult situation for me as I did not understand what was happening to me. It was obvious that these relationships were no longer friendships and something was going to change. What changed was me. My parents had called me during that summer and they could tell that something was wrong and I was not doing well in my living environment with these supposed friends. So they decided to drive 500 plus miles to visit me.
The weekend came when my parents were scheduled to arrive at the house I had been living in. I made sure my roommates were gone to their various events and had the entire house to myself. I packed up the few belongings I had and set them in the middle of the living room while I sat on the couch waiting for my parents. Things were set and I waited anxiously for their arrival hoping none of my roommates would return. The coast was clear for me to make my final escape as the ultimate exit without a trace.
Soon my parents drove up to the house and they walked toward the porch and rang the doorbell. Both my mother and father entered. My mother took a look around and with disappointment walked out and headed toward the car. My father looked bewildered as he scoped the inside of this house. I could tell he wasn’t pleased. He asked “what kind of place is this?” “You don’t need to be living here.” My father was a wise and experienced man and had that fatherly sense to know that the house I was living in was not suitable for his daughter. I walked up to him and we hugged. I was so relieved to be in my father’s arms. In a few short words he said something that was so profound to me I never forgot. He said “come home.”
“Come home.” I could feel the emotion resonating from his words and the love he had for me. He wanted me in a safe and loving environment that was suited for his daughter. A place that he was responsible for and created for me and my family that was worthy of my care and rest. “Come home” meant to not leave my future plans or dreams, but a place to securely lay my heart and be accepted once again for who I was and will always be. Home was a place to reconnect to what mattered to me and what I mattered to it. Coming home was my confident source of well-being. Coming home was a light to my beginning and the path to my end. And so the moment came when I returned home to the familiar. It was then I gained the strength I so dearly needed.
Part 2: Coming soon in August 2021
Copyright @ The Word in Motion. 2021
Photocredit: The author’s own. July 1987. The author and her father.