June 13, 1997. Brian’s going away party. (#134)

I walked to the front door of the Staff House and knocked.  This time of year, it was still warm and light out at seven in the evening.  Cheryl opened the door and said, “Hey, Greg!  Come on in!”

“Here’s my letter,” I replied, handing Cheryl the piece of white paper in my hand.  I had outlined a large letter E in black marker, and inside the E, I had printed pictures of Star Wars characters that I found on the Internet.

“Give that to Alexa,” Cheryl said.  “She’s making the sign.”  I walked into the living room, where a brown-haired senior girl named Alexa Lafferty sat in a chair.  She stood on the chair and taped my E to the wall, about seven feet above the ground, next to a brightly colored S, with a red R some space to the left and another R below the other letters with a high jumper vaulting his body over the middle of the R.  Janet McAllen, who lived in this house with the other Jeromeville Christian Fellowship staff, had called me a few days ago.  She explained that, for Brian’s going away party, we would be making a sign on the wall that said YOU’RE A BLESSING, BRIAN.  Each guest would be assigned a letter from that phrase to draw and decorate, and the letters would be hung on the wall as we arrived.  Some people, like me and whoever drew the high jumper, drew specifically Brian-themed decorations, and others just made designs or patterns.

“Hey, Greg,” Brian said, emerging from another room.  He looked up at the sign, now with my letter added.  “Nice!” he said.  “But you know I’m gonna have to quiz you now.  Who’s that?”  Brian pointed at one of the characters on my letter E sign.

“Han Solo,” I replied.  Although I had some knowledge of Star Wars before living with Brian for a year, I was new to being a true fan, and I had seen Return of the Jedi for the first time just three months ago.

“And him?” Brian continued pointing to characters on my sign.

“Yoda.”

“And her?”

“Princess Leia.”

“And here’s a tough one.  What’s that thing Luke is riding?”

“A Tauntaun, I think it’s called.  Is that right?”

“Very good.  You will be a great Jedi Master someday.”

As more people trickled in, and Alexa added to the letters on the wall, Brian kept making comments out loud, trying to figure out what it spelled.  Lorraine Mathews arrived with the letter O, and like me, she chose a Star Wars theme.  Lorraine had drawn the O as the Death Star, with Luke Skywalker’s X-wing, Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon, and a few TIE fighters flown by Darth Vader’s minions flying around it.  “YEAH!” Brian shouted excitedly when he saw it.

“Dude!” Lorraine replied, high-fiving Brian.

Eddie Baker and John Harvey arrived next, bringing the I in Brian and the apostrophe in YOU’RE.  “Hey, Greg,” Eddie said.  “What’s up?  Glad to be done with finals?”

“Yes.  What about you?”

“I had a long paper to write, but it’s done.  Now I’m in the middle of planning for China.”

“When do you guys leave?”

“Next Thursday.  Six days.  It’s exciting to see how God will move.”

“Yes,” I said.  “I’m looking forward to hearing about it.”

John spoke up, asking me, “You’re going somewhere this summer too, right?  To do research, or something like that?”

“Yeah.  Oregon.  An undergrad research internship with the math department at Grandvale State.”

Lars Ashford had walked in during my conversation with Eddie and John.  “You’re going to Oregon?” Lars asked me.  “I love Oregon!”

“Where is Grandvale State?” John asked.  “Like, how far from Portland?  That’s all I know in Oregon.”

“About ninety miles,” I replied.  “South.”

“How exactly do you do math research?” Eddie asked.

“Yeah,” Lars added.  “I hear math research, and I think of something like, ‘Today we’re gonna research the number three.  What else can we learn about the number three?  Where does it come from?  Why is it called three?  And when we’re done with that, we’re gonna research the number seven.’  But what is it really?”

“Not that,” I chuckled.  “I’m not really sure myself.  That’s why I’m doing this, to get a feel for what grad school will be like, if I decide to go to grad school.  I think math research is, like, proving new theorems.”

“What new theorems need to be proven?  I remember all the math I had to take for engineering.  It didn’t seem like there was a lot more to discover.”

“There are a lot of open questions to research in mathematics,” I explained.  “But it mostly has to do with really advanced theoretical stuff, the kind of stuff that wouldn’t apply directly to engineering.”

“But—” Lars continued.  “I don’t get it.  Why research something that isn’t relevant to the real world?”

“Because you never know what connections might be made someday.  I heard a good example once.  The ancient Greeks knew about the reflecting properties of parabolic surfaces.  But they had no idea that these same properties would be used centuries later to invent satellite dishes.”

Lars stared off in the distance.  “Wow,” he finally said.  “That’s deep.”

“So what exactly will you be researching this summer?” Eddie asked.

“I’m not really sure,” I explained.  “I think I’ll find out when I get there.  There are three professors working with the project, and the students will be put in groups to work on three different projects.”

“Is that for sure what you want to do with your degree?  Math research?  Weren’t you also thinking about being a teacher?”

“Yeah.  I helped out in a high school classroom this quarter.  I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do.  I’m exploring options.”

“That’s a good way to look at it.”

More people arrived: Kristina Kasparian.  Joe Fox.  Chris, the 1997 Man of Steel.  Melinda Schmidt.  I noticed that the party guests mostly seemed to be juniors and seniors.  This made sense, since these people knew Brian the best.  Brian had graduated a year ago, so he was the same age as current fifth-year students, a year older than current seniors, and two years older than me.  Also, most freshmen had probably either left Jeromeville already, or were busy packing tonight since the dorms closed tomorrow at noon.  I was disappointed to realize that this meant that Carrie Valentine would probably not be at this party, and neither would Sadie Rowland.

Scott Madison and Amelia Dye walked in next.  They handed Alexa two exclamation points.  “I like the way you made signs for punctuation,” I told Janet.

“We already had enough people for all the letters, and more people were coming, so we had to include them too.  So we made lots of exclamation points,” Janet explained.

“That works.  But I wonder if there was any other punctuation you could have used.  Like maybe, put it in quotes.  ‘You’re a blessing, Brian,’” I said, making air quotes with my fingers.

Janet thought about this, then started laughing.  “I thought you meant, like, ‘You’re a “blessing,” Brian.’” She paused and made air quotes, with a suspicious grin on her face, during the word “blessing” only.

“Greg?” Scott said after Janet and I were done laughing.  “How did finals go?”

“I think I did well,” I said.  “I only had two actual finals, plus a paper to write.”

“That’s a pretty easy schedule.  Did your family enjoy the chorus performance?”

“Yes,” I said.  “They brought Grandpa too.  He really wanted to hear me sing.  His hearing isn’t what it used to be, but Mom said he said we sounded really good.”

“That’s good.  My family didn’t come for this one, but they’d seen other ones before.”

“How were your finals?  I forget, are you graduating this year?”

“No.  I’m definitely going to be here a fifth year.”

“Me too,” Amelia added.

“Well, that’s good.  I get to see you guys around for another year.”


After about an hour of mingling, as more people trickled in and Brian figured out what the letters spelled, Brian, the McAllens, and Cheryl attempted to get everyone quiet for a few minutes.  “Brian has a few words to say,” Cheryl announced.  All the chairs and couch spaces were taken, so I sat on the floor to listen to Brian.

“So,” Brian began.  “Thank you all for coming tonight.”  Brian often punctuated his speech with notable pauses, then spoke his sentences quickly in between the pauses.  He gave the talk at JCF a few times this year, speaking this way, and last year, when we were making plans to get an apartment together, he left a few long rambling messages like this on my answering machine.  “Some of you have known me since freshman year… I was a new Christian then.  And God led me to get more involved in JCF… I started leading Bible studies.

“But if my life had gone to plan… I wouldn’t be here at all right now.  I took the MCAT and applied to medical school last year… and I didn’t get in.  But that allowed God to open the door for me to stay here… and go on staff with JCF.  And…” Brian gestured toward the letters on the wall.  “Your sign says that I’m a blessing… But you have all been a blessing to me too.  You’ve encouraged me when things didn’t work out the way I expected… You encouraged me to keep trying medical school.  And God opened another door.  So… as you know, I’m headed to New York Medical College in the fall.  So thank you so much… Come visit me if you’re ever in New York.  And save the date… because I’ll be out here for the New Year’s party!”  A few people cheered at this.  I was not sure what Brian was referring to, about the New Year’s party, but Brian told me earlier that he would be emailing all his friends periodically, so hopefully I would find out more as the end of 1997 approached.

After Brian finished speaking, Janet got back up in front of everyone and announced, “We’re gonna play a game now,” Janet explained.  “We’re gonna play Telephone Charades.  You’ll be in groups of five.  You’re all gonna go in the other room, except for one of you.  We’ll tell the first person something to act out.  Then the second person will come out from the bedroom and watch the first person acting it out.  Then the third person will come out of the bedroom, and the second person will act out the scene for the third person.  Then the fourth person will watch the third person act out the scene.  And we’ll keep going until we get to the last person.  And the last person will have to act it out for Brian, and we’ll see if he can guess what you’re doing.”

Janet explained again, because someone did not understand.  My group went first; I went into what appeared to be Dave and Janet’s bedroom with Alexa, Eddie, and Lars.  Brian came with us, since he had to be part of every group and go last.  Amelia was also in our group, but she stayed in the living room.  Amelia came to the bedroom to get Lars a minute later, and after another three or four minutes or so, Lars came to get Eddie.  Next, Eddie came to the bedroom to get me.

Eddie began acting his scene for me when I got back to the living room, with Amelia, Lars, and everyone not in our group watching.  Eddie mimed sticking something to his shirt; I thought maybe it was a name tag.  Then he sat in a chair.  Suddenly he stood next to the chair, his mouth moving, and his arms extended up above him slightly at an angle.  Eddie then sat back down, looking up at the place where he had stood a few seconds before.  What was going on here?  Was Eddie portraying someone who was sitting down and standing up every few seconds?  Or was he playing two characters, the seated character looking confused at the standing character?  The way Eddie held his arms while standing reminded me of the way some people stand and raise their arms while singing worship music, but I did not understand what the part about sitting in the chair meant.

Next, Eddie just sat in the chair, looking more and more bored, his eyes starting to close.  Eventually he appeared to fall asleep entirely, then he jerked back and sat upright in the chair.  Eddie then repeated the whole thing, as if his character nodded off a second time.

I started at Eddie after he finished.  “I have no idea what I just saw,” I replied.

“Oh no,” he replied.  Others watching seemed to react as well.  I walked to the bedroom, feeling like I was going to let my team down, then came back out to the living room with Alexa.  “I apologize in advance,” I told her.

“Uh-oh,” she replied.

I attempted to act out everything that I saw.  I did the same thing Eddie did, alternating between sitting in the chair and standing next to it, moving my mouth and raising my arms.  I did this a few times, then I sat in the chair and pretended to nod off and wake up.

“Okay,” Alexa replied.  She then performed what she saw me doing for Lars, and Lars performed the same thing for Brian.  Lars’ performance had not changed much from mine, although his portrayal of the guy standing next to the chair with his arms raised was a bit more animated than mine.

“I don’t know,” Brian said.  “I’m thinking maybe I’m doing The Wave at a football game, then falling asleep because it’s a boring game?”

“No,” Janet said.  “Actually, it’s Brian’s first time at JCF.”  I made a note that I was correct in connecting the guy raising his hands with singing worship songs.  “A lot of new people at JCF think it’s weird when people raise their hands in worship.  And you told that story about the time you fell asleep because you thought the talk was boring.”

“Oh!” Brian replied.  “That makes more sense.”

“Is the next group ready?” Janet asked.  “The next group is Lorraine, John, Scott, Kristina, and Joe.”  Lorraine stayed in the living room, and after the others went to the bedroom, Janet said, “You’re doing the scene from Star Wars where Darth Vader fights Obi-Wan, and Luke sees it.”

“Oh yeah.  I got this,” Lorraine proclaimed confidently.  She went to the bedroom to get John, then she began performing.  Lorraine acted Obi-Wan’s part, walking into the scene, then pausing.  She pantomimed switching on a lightsaber, then she swung her arms around to fight Darth Vader with it.  After a few swings, she turned toward the people watching, with a knowing look on her face, making eye contact with an invisible Luke.  She then raised her hands in front of her face and crumpled to the ground as the imaginary Vader struck her down.  Lorraine stood back up in the place where she had looked before, now performing as Luke.  She opened her mouth widely as if to scream, then began shooting an invisible blaster.  After a few seconds, she paused to hear Obi-Wan speak to her from beyond the grave, then ran to the far end of the living room.  Everyone cheered at her flawless acting.

As the successive contestants acted out the scene, it became corrupted and less recognizable.  I was not sure if the others were unfamiliar with the scene from Star Wars, or if they just did not know the scene from memory as well as Lorraine.  By the time Brian saw Joe acting, the lightsaber fight looked more like dancing, and after Joe fell to the floor, he just ran away, shooting, no longer clear that he was now a different character.

“Huh?” Brian exclaimed.  “What was that?”

“Lorraine?” Janet asked.  “Will you act out yours again?  Because I think Brian might know it if he sees you do it.”

“Sure,” Lorraine replied.  She stood up and performed exactly the same way she did earlier, and I could tell from the excited look on Brian’s face that he knew what she was acting out.  When she got to the point where Luke paused and heard Obi-Wan’s voice, Brian shouted, “Run, Luke, run!  That was great!”

“Yes!” Lorraine replied.


There were no more structured activities for the rest of the party. I stuck around and hung out and mingled until around 11:30.  When I left, only a few guests remained besides Brian and the hosts. My plan had been to stay up late, start packing, and leave for my parents’ house early in the morning.  But that did not happen; I was ready for bed when I got home from the party.  Brian had driven separately, and he arrived home after I was asleep.  The next day, I wasted a few hours on Internet Relay Chat and answered emails before I started packing, and I took a break and went for a bike ride before I finished.  I had much more to pack than I usually do for a quick trip to my parents’ house, since I was leaving Jeromeville until late August, so I did not finish until late afternoon.

“Have a great summer, Greg,” Brian said, shaking my hand, as I was leaving.  “Keep in touch.  I’ll see you at New Year’s?”

“Sounds good,” I replied.  “Good luck in medical school.”  Turning to the other housemate who was home, I said, “Shawn, good luck with the running store.”

“Thanks,” Shawn replied.  He also shook my hand.  “So you’ll be back up here at the end of August to finish moving out?  Is that right?  We’ll clean up our parts before we leave.”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Have a good summer,” Brian said.

“I will!  You too!”

Brian sent mass emails periodically for the next few years to update his friends and family on his life.  He eventually decided to specialize in pediatrics, and after completing medical school in 2001, he moved to California to begin his residency at a large, well-known children’s hospital.  At some point a couple years into his residency, Brian got too busy to send the emails regularly, so we lost touch for about a decade.  I found him on Facebook years later, when Brian was a groomsman in Shawn’s wedding.  Brian does not post often, though.

To this day, I have only seen Brian in person six more times.  Brian’s New Year parties were a long tradition going back to his high school years, and he continued this tradition for a few more years, when he returned to Valle Luna to visit his parents over the winter holidays.  I attended three New Year parties with Brian.  He also came back to Jeromeville for Scott and Amelia’s wedding.  (Oops, I guess that was a spoiler… Scott and Amelia did end up getting married.)  In 2002, I went on a long road trip to California and visited a few people I knew there, including Brian.  And both of us were in Jeromeville in 2017 for a JCF 1990s reunion.

By the time Brian got to California, Alexa Lafferty had gotten a job not far from where Brian was.  Alexa and Brian started spending more time together in person, and this eventually became a romantic relationship.  They got married and had two children.  And just as Brian had said years earlier, he did multiple mission trips over the years.

It was warm as I drove west on Highway 100, the sun still a little too high in the sky to be directly in my eyes.  I turned south on Highway 6 to San Tomas, where it ended and merged with Highway 11.  After a week with my parents in Plumdale, I would come right back here to San Tomas to board an airplane to Oregon.  I could have driven to Oregon in one long day and brought the car, but I did not particularly need it, since I would be spending most of my time on campus.  Also, after finally getting to experience flying on the Urbana trip, I wanted to fly again.  Airplanes were fun, and air travel was fitting for a new adventure.

Disclaimer: This photo is a reconstruction that I just made as I was writing this. I know that I did not have a color printer in 1997. I do not know the whereabouts of the original letters today.

Author’s Note: This is the end of Year 3, so I will be taking a break for a while. But I will have a year 3 recap post next week, and I have a few more posts I want to write before I start year 4. Make sure you are following my other projects, Greg Out Of Character and Song of the Day, by DJ GJ-64.

What was your favorite moment of Year 3? Let me know in the comments!

If you like what you read, don’t forget to like this post and follow this blog. Also follow Don’t Let The Days Go By on Facebook and Instagram.

Disclaimer: All Star Wars properties are trademarks of Lucasfilm Ltd. LLC. Lucasfilm was not involved in the production of this story.


May 9, 1997. Maybe here’s where the new story begins. (#130)

“So my cousin is getting married on the beach this summer,” Lars said in his usual boisterous voice as he adjusted the heights of the microphones at the front of 170 Evans Hall.  “She wants everyone to wear beach clothes.  That just seems weird for a wedding.”

“Yeah,” Tabitha said as she plucked strings on her guitar, paying attention to a battery-operated tuner and tightening or loosening the strings accordingly.  “You don’t wear beach clothes to a wedding.”

As the worship team’s roadie, I arrived early each week to Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, to help Lars, Tabitha, Brent, and the others on the worship band set up their equipment.  I got this position by virtue of having a big car, a 1989 Ford Bronco, that could fit a lot of instruments and amplifiers in the back.  We used to pull my car right up to the building, someone told me at the beginning of the year that it would be okay, but a few weeks ago I got a a parking ticket for having done so.  Since then, I had parked in the nearest legal space, about two hundred feet away, and we had had to carry the music equipment a much farther distance.  I felt annoyed every time I drove into that parking lot and paid two dollars for evening parking, because it reminded me of the time I got a ticket, so far the only ticket I had ever received.

“So are you gonna wear shorts and flip-flops to the wedding?” Brent asked.

“I don’t know,” Lars replied.

“I’m gonna ask people to wear jackets to my wedding,” I said.  Brent, Lars, and Tabitha looked at me confused.  “Because hell will have frozen over if I ever get married.”

After a second, the others chuckled and groaned.  “Come on, dude,” Lars said.  “Don’t say that.”  I shrugged.  These days, it certainly did feel like I would never meet anyone special.  It had been five months since Haley Channing rejected me, and nothing had happened to give me hope that things would change any time soon.  I had great friends, I was enjoying being a youth group leader at church, but I had not met any girls who seemed interested in me that way.  The University of Jeromeville was full of cute girls; they either did not like me back, or they already had boyfriends.  I saw graffiti on a bathroom wall a few days ago that said, “Jeromeville girls are like parking spaces: the good ones are either taken or handicapped.”  I had never before resonated so well with bathroom graffiti.

A few hours later, after JCF ended, I was helping the worship band unload equipment to its usual storage place, Lars’ garage on J Street.  Tabitha said, “Are you guys going to Dave and Janet’s tonight?  They’re gonna hang out and play games.”

“I’m going,” Brent replied.

“I hadn’t heard,” I said.  “But that sounds like fun.  Sure, I’m in.”

“I think I’ll pass,” Lars added.  “I need to be up early tomorrow.  Gonna go to the Great Blue Lake with Armando for the day.”

“That sounds like fun!” I said.  The Great Blue Lake attracted tourists from around the world.  I was about a hundred miles away, and I had never been there or seen it.  Hopefully someday.

“It looks like we’re done,” Tabitha said, looking at everything in the garage.  “I’m gonna head to Dave and Janet’s now.  Greg, you’re coming?”

“Sure.  But I’m gonna go in and use the bathroom first.”

“All right.  See you there!”


Dave and Janet McAllen were older than me, around thirtyish.  They worked in full-time ministry as the lead staff of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, overseeing the campus group along with a few other recent graduates who were paid part time.  In addition to their duties as leaders of an organization, part of their job also involved building relationships with university students, as a way to create a welcoming organization where students could learn about Christianity and Jesus Christ.

I talked to Xander, one of Lars’ housemates, for a few minutes before I left, then I drove to the McAllens’ house on West 15th Street.  It was almost ten o’clock by the time I finally got there.  I walked to the door and knocked.

After almost a minute, someone opened the door, but it was not either of the McAllens, or Tabitha, or Brent.  A freshman girl named Carrie Valentine stood on the other side of the door, wearing blue denim overalls with a light purple shirt underneath.  Carrie was somewhat tall, with straight brown hair extending a little past her shoulders and dark brown eyes that smiled at me.  I had met Carrie a few times before, but I had not talked to her much.  Music played faintly in the background.

“Hi, Greg!” Carrie said, smiling.  “Come on in!”

The McAllens lived in half of a duplex with roommates, including Cheryl who was also on JCF staff; this house was commonly referred to as the Staff House by JCF students.  The front door opened into a hallway, with bedrooms on the left and the living area to the right.  I followed Carrie toward the living room and kitchen and looked around.  The music was coming from a stereo in the living room, playing a local radio station.  The house appeared empty except for Carrie and me, which surprised me.  I was under the impression that a large group of people would be there.  Tabitha and Brent had left Lars’ house about five minutes before me, and many others had left JCF earlier and not had to unpack music equipment.  Surely they should be here by now.  “Where is everyone?” I asked.

“They walked to the store to get snacks,” Carrie explained.  “They just left a minute ago.  I said I’d stay back in case anyone else showed up.”

“That makes sense,” I replied.  “So how’s your quarter going?”

“Hard!  But it’s good.  I’m taking this really fun class for my major.”

“What is your major?”

“Design.”

“That’s cool,” I said.  Carrie was the first design major I had ever met, and I was not sure exactly what that was, other than that it probably involved designing things.

“What about you?” Carrie asked.  “What’s your major?”

“Math.”

“Eww.  I was never very good at math.  I take it you are?”

“Yeah.  It just makes sense to me.”

“Do you know what you want to do with your major?”

“I’m still trying to figure that out,” I said.  “I always thought I didn’t want to be a teacher, but one of my professors thinks I would make a good teacher, so he set me up with an internship helping out in a high school class.  I’m doing that this quarter”

“That sounds so cool!  What’s it like?”

“It’s been good so far.  I’m just walking around helping students when they have questions.  And I’m taking notes on how the teacher teaches, because I’ll have to write a short paper at the end of the year.”

“So do you think you want to be a teacher now?”

“I don’t know.  I want to look into all the options.  Another professor told me about these summer research internships that other schools offer, and students from anywhere in the country can apply to, where you do research in small groups with a professor supervising.”

“So, like, math research?  How does that work?”

“Proving new theorems and stuff like that, I think,” I explained.  “I’ll find out.  I’ll be going to Oregon for eight weeks this summer.  I applied to four of these programs, I got into two of them, and I chose the one at Grandvale State University because it’s closer.  And also my great-aunt and uncle live nearby.”

“That’s so cool!  Oregon is nice.  Are you excited?”

“I am.  I’ve been to Oregon twice before, but I haven’t been to Grandvale specifically.  It’ll be nice to be somewhere new.  And it’ll be nice to learn more about what grad school in math will be like, to know whether or not that’s what I want to do.”

“Yeah!

“Do you know what you want to do with your design degree?”

“Interior design,” Carrie answered.  “I’ve always been interested in how other people’s houses look.”

“That’s cool.  I’ve never really thought about what kind of education goes into that.”

I was vaguely aware of the music still playing in the background.  The song on the radio changed to a familiar-sounding song that opened with a guitar, strumming back and forth between two chords, including a note that did not usually harmonize with the other notes in those chords.  A female voice began singing.  Whatever this song was, I knew I had heard it before, but not in some time.  “Eww, I hate this song,” Carrie said.

“What is it?” I asked.  “I know I’ve heard it before, but I can’t place it.”

“‘Here’s Where The Story Ends,’ by the Sundays.  Something about it just always bothered me.  I can’t really explain it.”

Right after I heard Carrie name the song, I heard the girl on the radio, who I would learn years later was named Harriet Wheeler, sing the line containing the title, followed by the line “It’s that little souvenir of a terrible year.”  “Okay, I remember the song now,” I said.  This part sounds familiar.”

“I never liked her voice.  And I could never tell what she was saying.  It sounded like ‘telephone ear’ to me.”

“Telephone ear,” I said.  “That’s a good one.  What is she saying, anyway?  ‘Terrible year?’”

“I think that’s it.  Seriously, do you mind if I turn it off?  I really don’t like it.”

“Okay,” I said, although now that I recognized the song, I realized that I never particularly disliked it.  It was kind of catchy.  Carrie turned the music off entirely.  “What about you?” I asked.  “Are you doing anything exciting this summer?”

“Just going home.  Probably getting a job.”

“Where are you from?”

“Westridge.  It’s between Bay City and San Tomas.”

“Oh, yeah, I kind of know where that is.”

“Nothing exciting like you going to Oregon, though.”

“Thanks!  I hope it’s exciting.  I’m kind of nervous, too.”

“Why?”

“Just because it’s something new.  And I’ve made a lot of new friends here this year, and I won’t be around them.” 

“Yeah.  But you’ll make new friends there, right?”

“I hope so.”

I heard a knock at the door a minute later.  “Come in!” Carrie called out.  Todd Chevallier and Ajeet Tripathi walked in.  Carrie said hello to them, and as all of them started talking, I felt a bit of disappointment that my time to talk to Carrie alone was over.  A minute later, Dave and Janet McAllen, Cheryl, Tabitha, and several others returned carrying grocery bags full of snacks.

“We’re back,” Dave said as the group sat in the living room.  “Hey, Greg,” he said, noticing that new people had arrived.  “Ajeet.  Todd.’

“Hi,” I said.

“So I was thinking, maybe, let’s play Pictionary first?” Janet suggested.  That’s a fun, easy game.  And then we can play something else later if we get tired of that.”  People responded in the affirmative.  Janet got the Pictionary box and placed it on the coffee table.  “I need to go find pencils and scratch paper,” she said.  “You guys divide into teams.”

Pictionary was a fairly simple party game in which one player would have to draw something, silently, without speaking or writing words, and that player’s teammates would have to guess what was being drawn in a certain amount of time.  I looked at Carrie, since she was still standing next to me, at the same time that Tabitha and Brent looked at us.  “We’re a team?” Tabitha suggested, pointing at the four of us.

“Sure,” I replied, nodding.

After Janet finished setting up the game, we rolled the die to see who would go first.  The team consisting of Dave, Eddie Baker, Autumn Davies, and a freshman girl whom I had not met went first.  Dave drew a stick figure with a very prominent ear; he kept circling the ear and pointing.  “Ear!  Earring!  Ear wax!  Eardrum!” others on his team shouted; none was correct.  Time ran out, and Dave’s team did not get to advance on the board.

“Earlobe!” Dave said.  “Come on!”

“Oh,” Autumn replied.  “It looked like he was wearing hoop earrings!”

“It’s our turn,” Tabitha said.  “Who’s gonna draw for us?”

We all looked at each other.  Carrie’s deep brown eyes met mine, and I looked away quickly.  “I’ll draw,” I said, almost immediately wondering if I would regret having spoken up.  I took the pencil, drew a card, and silently read the word I had to draw.  Sheep.

Brent turned the timer over, and I drew a circle for the head, then a fluffy body.  “Cloud,” Brent said.  As soon as I put four legs on the fluffy body, Carrie shouted, “Sheep!”

“Yes!” I said.  Carrie smiled excitedly, and I gave her a high five.

“How did you two get that so fast?” Tabitha asked.

“It’s clearly a sheep!” Carrie explained, gesturing excitedly to the drawing.  “It’s got all the wool, all curly like this, and it has legs!”

“Thank you!” I said, smiling.  Carrie smiled back.  I rolled 5 on the die and moved our piece ahead five spaces.  Pictionary was not normally my best game, but our team worked together unusually well that night, and we ended up winning.

A few people left after we finished Pictionary, and not too long after that, Carrie said that she was leaving too.  “I have a lot of homework to do tomorrow, and I don’t want to be up too late,” she said.  “It’s already almost midnight.”

“Good luck with that,” I replied.  “It was good talking to you earlier.”

“Yeah!” Carrie replied, smiling.  “I’ll see you before you leave, but I hope you enjoy Oregon!”

“Thanks.”  I smiled back.  “Have a good weekend!”

“You too!”


I stayed at Dave and Janet’s house for a while after Carrie left.  Janet asked me what Carrie meant when she mentioned Oregon, so I explained about my internship to the others.  I had mentioned to some of them that I was applying to these programs, but I had not told everyone that I had been accepted.

Several of the people at the party would be going to China for a month this summer, on a mission trip sponsored by Intervarsity, the parent organization of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship.  Someone asked how fundraising was going.  I had received several prayer letters about this trip over the last few weeks, from many of the students going on the trip; since I knew all of them, I made one lump sum donation of $118.24.  In the memo line of the check, I had written, “This is the day the Lord has made.  Psalm 118:24.”

“It’s funny, Greg,” Eddie said.  “At the last meeting for the China trip, we were going over fundraising totals, and every time we look at the numbers, it’s always, like, whatever dollars, and twenty-four cents.”

“Because of me,” I said, laughing.

“Yeah.  I’ve never seen anyone do that before, with the Bible verse.”

“It just came to me.  I was trying to decide how much to give, and I had read that verse recently.”

“That’s cool.  That’s why you’re a math guy, always seeing numbers.”

I eventually said goodbye to everyone and left the party around 12:30; things seemed to be winding down by then.  I had a midterm in my computer science class Monday that I needed to study for at some point over the weekend.  I had the radio playing as I was driving home, but as I lay in bed, the song playing in my mind was Here’s Where The Story Ends, not anything I had heard on the drive home.  I did not know every word and every sound of the song, so the same few lines I did know, like the part about the terrible year, kept playing over and over in my head.  I kind of wanted to hate the song now that I knew Carrie hated the song, but I also found it too catchy to hate that much.

A lot of great things had happened this school year, but it also felt like a terrible year in some ways.  Haley had rejected me, I had often been left out of the cliques at JCF, and I had come to realize that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my mathematics degree.  But maybe things were turning around.  I had been invited to hang out with those people tonight, so I was not completely on the outside.  I was exploring options for my career.  I was making new friends in different places, and maybe one of these new connections would lead to something special.  Maybe it would involve Carrie.  Maybe here was not where the story ends; maybe here was where the new story begins.  Maybe this was not such a terrible year.  Or not such a telephone ear, whatever that means.


Author’s note: What’s a song you absolutely can’t stand?

I’m not going to name mine, but I will say that there is a certain band that was very popular during the time in which DLTDGB is set which I have never mentioned once in any episode, because I really can’t stand them. I feel like their lack of existence makes DLTDGB a little inauthentic, but I justify it by saying that DLTDGB takes place in an alternate universe where this band never made it big.

Also, I have a new out of character post about some thoughts from behind the scenes while writing this episode.

If you like what you read, don’t forget to like this post and follow this blog. Also follow Don’t Let The Days Go By on Facebook and Instagram.


December 27-31, 1996. You are my witnesses. (#113)

Previously on Don’t Let The Days Go By, Greg was traveling to Urbana, Illinois for a Christian student convention to learn about missions and service opportunities. Read the previous episode here.


“Hi,” Matt, the small group leader, said to the remaining guys in the group who were just entering the room.  Matt had long wavy brown hair down to his shoulders and wore a long sleeved button shirt and jeans.  “Glad you found us.  Our room smelled of smoke really bad, so Obadiah here offered to let us meet in his room.  We’re all here, so we can get started now.  My name is Matt, and I’m a senior at Michigan State, majoring in religious studies.”

“I’m Greg,” I said.  “I’m a junior, a mathematics major at the University of Jeromeville.”  Most of the others did not know where Jeromeville was, so I told them.  This small group had eight other guys in it besides me, one from Canada and seven from various parts of the United States, none of which were out west near me.  Matt, the leader, also led a small group at Michigan State’s chapter of Intervarsity.  He pointed out that I had traveled the farthest to get to Urbana.  “Did a lot of people from Jeromeville come to Urbana?” he asked.

I thought for a minute.  “Probably around thirty,” I said.  “It’s a big school with a big Intervarsity chapter, and there are churches with college groups too.”

“Wow,” said the guy named Obadiah, who was from Oklahoma.  “I’m the only one here from my school.  But I go to a small Bible college with only three hundred students, and we don’t have an Intervarsity chapter.  I found out about Urbana from my church.”

After two and a half years at the University of Jeromeville, with twenty-five thousand students, I could not picture what life at a school that small would be like.  The others introduced themselves, with half of them having come from public schools like me and the other half from private schools.

“So what did we learn about being a witness from the session tonight?” Matt asked.  Some of the others shared their thoughts.  One guy whose name was also Matt mentioned giving our lives for Jesus, and another guy, Pablo, pointed out that we are all witnesses all the time, because the rest of the world sees how we act as Christians.  I had never really thought of it that way, but he was right.  The theme for this year’s Urbana conference was “You Are My Witnesses,” taken from God’s words to the people of Israel in Isaiah 43:10, and echoed by Jesus in Acts 1:8 when he tells the disciples that they will be his witnesses, just before he is taken up to heaven.  The first general session had been earlier this evening, just before this small group, and a number of speakers had discussed this concept of witness.

After this, we spent some time praying with each other.  Matt, the leader with the long hair, asked us each in turn how we could pray for each other.  When it was my turn, I said, “Pray that I will hear what God has for my life.  I’m a fairly new Christian, and I don’t really know a lot about missions, but a lot of my friends have done mission trips, and I want to know what’s out there, and what God has for me.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re here,” Matt said.  “I think God definitely has something to show you.”

 We each took turns praying for someone else, then we dispersed to our rooms.  Long-Haired Matt and Pablo were my roommates; I slept in the top bunk, Matt on the bottom, and Pablo on a cot that had been placed in the room specifically for this convention.  As Matt had said earlier, our room smelled horribly of smoke, and with my normal difficulty sleeping in unfamiliar places, I hoped that the smell would not keep me awake.

Intervarsity was a nondenominational Christian organization with chapters at colleges and universities throughout North America.  Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, which I had begun attending at the beginning of sophomore year, was a chapter of Intervarsity.  Every three years, during the week after Christmas, the organization held this convention, named after its location in Urbana, Illinois.  I had never traveled this far east before, nor had I ever seen this much snow.

The University of Illinois campus hosted the convention.  Attendees slept in dormitories that were normally occupied by students, who were home for winter break during the convention.  Normally these rooms held two students, but cots had been added for this convention so that three of us could share each room.  I was glad I had not been assigned to the cot.  Apparently the residents of this room were smokers.  The Illinois students did not have to move their things out during their break.  The other Matt in my small group had mentioned that his room’s walls were full of bikini model posters, so he asked for leftover Urbana posters to cover them up.  The organizers of the convention had extra posters available; apparently this was a common occurrence.

Each day of the convention began with a small group Bible study, with the same eight other guys that I had met with last night.  Following this was a two hour general session with worship music and speakers, ending at noon.  Dozens of smaller sessions filled each afternoon, with attendees free to choose which sessions to attend, and representatives from ministry and service organizations, as well as Bible colleges and seminaries, filled three exhibit halls.  Another general session met each night after dinner, with prayer time in our small groups before bed.

On the second morning, December 28, I saw Long-Haired Matt, the other Matt, and Obadiah talking in the dorm as they prepared to leave for the general session.  I asked if I could walk over with them.  The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign was a very large campus, spread out along the border of two adjacent cities.  Many of the buildings appeared older than those of UJ back home.  The buildings were arranged more densely than those of UJ, for the most part.  The general session was held in the basketball arena, and I had to walk past the football stadium to get there.  Both of them were much larger than the corresponding facilities at UJ, which did not surprise me since Illinois was a Division I school.

The general session began with a worship band playing on a stage where the basketball court normally was.  Some of the songs were familiar to me, the same songs that we sang at Jeromeville Christian Fellowship and at church.  After the music, speakers came up to talk about various aspects of missions and being a witness.  The keynote speaker that morning was an older woman named Elisabeth Elliot.  She told a story about she and her husband, Jim, serving as missionaries in a remote part of South America in the 1950,  They tried to establish contact with an indigenous group so they could live with them and teach them the good news about Jesus dying for our sins.  Jim and four other members of their group were killed by the people they were trying to reach, but Elisabeth later returned to live with those people for several years.  As one new to evangelical Christian missionary culture, I had never heard anything like that; Ms. Elliot’s story was both inspiring and intense.  I overheard Long-Haired Matt and Obadiah talking after the session; apparently the Elliots’ story was well-known among those who grew up going to churches that emphasized world missions.

I spent the afternoon in a session about keeping a prayer journal.  The speaker, an Intervarsity staff leader from some other school, had a lot of good things to say, but I also came out of the session feeling a bit like a failure.  My prayer times tended to be unproductive, and I did not hear God’s voice audibly.  The speaker also cautioned against having an experience orientation, in which one’s faith and prayer life is focused on results instead of the mere presence of God.  I knew that this was something I struggled with.  That evening, I could not find either of the Matts or Obadiah or Pablo or any of the others in my group when the time for the general session came, so I sat alone.

By lunch time on December 29, I was feeling two things: discouraged and cold.  We had a good small group last night, though.  Multiple people prayed that I would get out of this rut of discouragement, but it had not happened yet.  Long-Haired Matt reminded me about the guest services booth where I could look up dorm room phone numbers for other attendees.  I made a note to look up Brian Burr, Eddie Baker, and Taylor Santiago later that day, so I could at least see them at some point during this convention.

As I left the cafeteria and headed across campus for a session about forgiveness, I realized that something looked different.  The snow was melting.  The blanket of white that had covered the campus when I arrived two days ago had receded to little patches of snow scattered across the greens and browns of nature and the grays of paved surfaces.  The air also felt noticeably warmer this afternoon.

“Greg!” I heard someone call out as I approached the building where my session was.  It was a female voice, not any of the guys in my small group.  I turned and saw a girl with light brown hair in a white sweatshirt, smiling and waving to me.

“Autumn!” I called out excitedly.  Autumn Davies was a sophomore at Jeromeville, who stayed in the same hotel as me on the night before Urbana began.  She gave me a hug.

“How are you?” Autumn asked.  “How have you been?”

“Okay, I guess.  Just trying to figure out what God is telling me through all this.”

“You’ll figure it out.  Just keep listening.”

“Yeah.  How has Urbana been for you?”

“It’s been great!  I’m learning so much!  I want to go on a mission trip this summer.”

“Awesome!  Keep me posted on that.”

“Hey, do you want to come sit with us at the session tonight?  Some of us from Jeromeville decided to sit together, and we’ve gradually been finding other people we know.”

“Yeah!  Definitely!  You’re actually the first person from Jeromeville I’ve seen since we got off the bus.”

“Wow!  We’ve been sitting in section 205.”

“I need to get to this session, but it was great to see you!  I’ll see you tonight!”

“Yeah!”


My Urbana experience seemed to change from the moment the snow melted.  A couple hours after I ran into Autumn, I saw Tabitha Sasaki and Melinda Schmidt walking toward a different session.  And when I arrived in section 205 that night, it felt like coming home, being surrounded by familiar faces.  Dave and Janet McAllen, Cheryl, and Brian, our campus staff.  Eddie, Autumn, Leah, Tabitha, Leslie, Alyssa, Scott and Amelia, Melinda, Ajeet, Mike Knepper, and many of the other friends I made at JCF last year.  Taylor, Pete, Sarah, Liz, and Ramon, friends from my freshman dorm who invited me to JCF in the first place.  I had told Long-Haired Matt at dinner earlier that I found some of my Jeromeville friends and would probably sit with them instead of my small group; he seemed to approve of this idea.

“Greg!” Taylor said when he saw me approach their section.  “Good to see you!”

“You too!” I said.  “I ran into Autumn earlier, and she told me where everyone would be.”

“So what have you thought of everything so far?  Are you ready to pack up and go on a mission trip this summer?” Taylor chuckled.

“It’s definitely been a learning experience.  I was thinking earlier today, I should probably start with something smaller.  Like maybe I could be a Bible study leader next year.”

“Oh yeah?  That’s a good thought.  If you’re interested in that, talk to Dave and Janet.  And talk to your Bible study leader this year, so you know what you’re getting yourself into.  Who is that?”

“Evan Lundgren.”

“He’s not at Urbana, is he?”

“No.  But I’ll talk to him when we get back.”

“Good idea.  I’m going to be taking a quarter off in the spring to do inner-city missions this spring and summer, so I’ve been looking for stuff that’ll help with that.”

“That’s cool.  Keep me posted about that.”

Although I possibly had the beginnings of a plan, I still felt a lot that was unresolved within me.  I did not have a specific plan like Taylor.  So much here seemed to be pushing the idea of going to serve God in other countries, and I just did not feel ready for that.  I knew that not everyone was called to missions overseas, but what if I was just being lazy and staying in my comfort zone instead of actually doing God’s will for my life?

For the remaining two days of Urbana, I followed the same pattern of sitting with Long-Haired Matt and my small group in the morning session and with my Jeromeville friends in the evening.  Although I enjoyed seeing my friends at the evening sessions, I was haunted by the words of the speaker from earlier in the week who reminded me not to have an experience-oriented faith.  It was difficult to find the balance of having friends to encourage me in my faith, and for me to encourage in theirs, yet also remembering that my faith is deeper than just experiences with friends.

 By the final evening, the smell of smoke from my dorm room had permeated all of my clothes and the towel I was using to dry myself after showering.  I hoped that the smell did not bother my friends, and I hoped that people I came across would not assume that I was a smoker.  That would not be a good witness to others.

According to the program, one of tonight’s topics was about “sending,” presented by one of the people in charge of Intervarsity.  I was not sure what this word meant exactly.  “You’ve probably learned a lot about Urbana about missions,” the speaker said.  “But it is just as important to know that someone back home is sending these people on missions.”  He went on to explain the importance of the teams who give financially to missionaries and pray for them, how they are a crucial part of the missions experience.  I liked that.

The final evening session was scheduled to end two and a half hours later than on the other nights.  It was December 31, and we would all take communion together at midnight to celebrate the New Year.  After the last speaker, the band came back and played an extended worship session.  They began with a song called “Good To Me,” a song that I had heard many times back home, but which was still just as true.  God really was good to me.

Around 11:45, hundreds of volunteers spread out throughout the arena to distribute crackers and grape juice for communion.  The people on stage told the story of the Last Supper and instructed us to eat the bread and drink the juice in memory of Jesus.  I sat reflecting on everything that had happened this week as the worship team played music with no vocals.  The burden I had been feeling, wanting to make sure I was doing enough to serve God, was lifting now that I had heard the talk about sending.  Suddenly it felt okay if I was not ready to cross any oceans this summer.  I could still make donations and pray for my friends who would be crossing oceans, and that was still an important part of the cause of world missions.  And I was planning to learn more about leading a small group next year.

I looked at my watch after a while; It was 12:02.  The date displayed on my watch said “1-1-97.”  January 1, 1997.  A new year, full of new opportunities and possibilities.

After the worship team dismissed us from the session, I stood up and looked around at my friends sitting nearby.  Eddie made eye contact with me; he walked over and patted me on the back.  “Happy New Year, Greg,” he said.

“You too,” I replied.  “By the way, you were wrong when you said a couple weeks ago that Urbana was so big that we probably wouldn’t see each other.”

“I know.  I guess I was.”

“No offense, but in this case I’m glad you were wrong.” I smiled.

“Me too,” Eddie replied.  “So what did you think of tonight?”  I told him of my realization about sending, that it did not make me any less of a Christian if I did not go on a mission trip right away.  “Good,” he said.  “We as Christians are saved by faith, not by our works.”

“I know.”


The next morning, as we packed and cleaned our rooms, the nine of us in my small group exchanged contact information and took a group photo.  Most of them did not stay in touch with me, though, and the ones who did I only heard from for a couple months.  Life just gets in the way, I suppose.

In one of the exhibit halls was an Urbana store, selling merchandise and books.  I bought a T-shirt, with a design identical to the poster I had received in the mail when I first signed up for Urbana.  I also bought three books, two written by speakers I had heard and one a devotional book to use in my personal prayer time.  I began reading Shadow of the Almighty by Elisabeth Elliot on the plane ride home.  Although I found her talk intriguing, the book came across as boring.  A couple weeks later, I gave up halfway through the book, and while I still have it all these years later, I never finished it.

Although Urbana was an amazing experience that answered some of my questions about missions, I also felt like I was leaving with new questions.  Was it God’s will for me to serve him overseas, and how do I separate the answer to this question from my flesh and its desire to stay comfortable?  How could I serve the body of Christ back home?  Would I lead a small group senior year, and how would that impact my schedule?  As I looked forward to new opportunities and experiences in 1997 while traveling thousands of feet above the ground, I prayed that God would reveal his will to me, that he would show me where.  And, unsurprisingly, God did reveal his will to me not too long after that, and it was not at all what I was expecting.

Proof that I really did see Eddie at Urbana.

Author’s note: What’s the most interesting way you’ve ever spent a New Year?

Disclaimer: Urbana is a real event (urbana.org), but it has since moved, and is not actually held in Urbana anymore. Intervarsity was not involved in the composition of this story, and this is not a sponsored post.

June 15, 1996. The graduation party at the Valdez Street house. (#87)

Back in the 1990s, all of the hottest names in alternative rock played the Lollapalooza festival.  The festival toured major cities around the United States every summer, bringing live music along with other performances and attractions.  Critics called Lollapalooza an event that changed the history of music forever.

I never attended a Lollapalooza show.  I did not go to big concerts back then, and I felt a little scared to do so, knowing the kind of people that an event like Lollapalooza attracted.  In my life, the legacy of Lollapalooza was all of the advertising campaigns, small local events, and the like with names ending in “-palooza.”  This was similar to the excessive use of the suffix “-gate” to name political scandals, after the burglary at the Watergate Building in Washington, D.C. in 1972, which led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation.  If something had a name ending in “-palooza,” everyone knew that it was going to be life-changing… or at least the person organizing and naming the event believed that it would be life-changing.

A little over a week ago, I had been at the final meeting of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship for this school year, talking to people afterward about the upcoming finals week.  Brian Burr approached me, handing out small postcard-sized flyers.  He was tall and athletic, a high jumper on the University of Jeromeville’s track team, with reddish-brown hair.  He was graduating this year, and next year he would  be staying in Jeromeville to work with JCF part-time and apply to medical school.  Brian and I were going to share an apartment next year, along with Shawn, my current Bible study leader and one of Brian’s current housemates.

“Grad-a-palooza,” Brian said in an overly dramatic and exaggerated tone as he handed me his flyer.  I took the flyer and read it.


GRADAPALOOZA!
A celebration of the graduation of the gentlemen of 1640 Valdez Street
Mr. Brian Burr
Mr. Shawn Yang
Mr. Michael Kozlovsky
Mr. Daniel Conway

Saturday, June 15, 1996
6pm until whenever
1640 Valdez St., Jeromeville


“Graduation party?” I asked.  “At your house?”

“Yes.  Saturday, the 15th.  Right after finals are done.”

“Sure,” I said.  “I’ll be there.”

In hindsight, it was not entirely necessary for me to repeat back that it was a graduation party; this was obvious from the flyer.  I suppose I asked because I was surprised; I had never been invited to a college graduation party. I did not know any seniors last year.

Yesterday, Friday, was the last scheduled day for finals, but my last final had been on Thursday morning.  I had spent the last two and a half days doing a fat load of nothing.  I went for bike rides, I read, I worked on my novel, and I wasted a lot of time on the Internet with Usenet groups and IRC chats.  It was wonderful, and so far there had not been another incident like the one a few days ago.

When I moved to Jeromeville to start school, someone gave me a camera as a going-away present.  The camera then spent twenty-one months in a drawer, unused.  Yesterday I remembered that I had a camera, and I bought film and batteries, so I was ready to preserve some memories from Brian and Shawn’s party tonight.

Valdez Street was in south Jeromeville, on the other side of Highway 100 from me.  I drove east on Coventry Boulevard and turned right on G Street toward downtown.  As I approached downtown, I drove past progressively older houses and apartment complexes; after crossing Fifth Street, G Street became a commercial corridor.  It was Saturday night, and I had to drive slowly, watching for pedestrians and bicycles.  At least three households of JCF students were neighbors on Valdez Street and Baron Court, and as I got to know these people more, I often wished I could be part of that community.  Most of these people who were not graduating would be dispersing to other parts of Jeromeville next year, though, so a community like that may not exist next year.  I at least had the new apartment with Brian and Shawn to look forward to, even if we would not be neighbors with a large group of friends.

The student population of Jeromeville was gradually emptying as students finished finals, but I still had to park farther away from Brian and Shawn’s house than usual.  I could hear muffled music and conversation as I approached the house; apparently this was a big party.  I walked in and looked around; music was playing, and people were talking loudly.  Hopefully I would be able to hear when people talked to me.

“Greg!” Brian called out, waving, as he saw me from across the room.  “Come on in!”

I had been in this house four times before, and I had never seen it this full.  People were sitting on couches, in chairs, on the floor, and on the stairs.  A streamer that said “CONGRATULATIONS CLASS OF 1996” hung from the wall.

“How’d your finals go?” Brian asked.

“I think I did well.  What about you?”

“They weren’t great, but I passed.”

“Congratulations!  Your ceremony was this morning?”

“Yeah.  Mom and Dad and my sister came for the day.  We went out to dinner, then they left about an hour ago.”

“Nice!”

“Thanks!  Enjoy the party!”

Someone I did not recognize got up and walked toward the bathroom; I sat in his vacated seat.  I knew about half the people here from JCF, and I recognized some other JCF people whom I did not know well.  I assumed that the guys who lived here probably had other friends, so not everyone here would be from JCF.  I pulled out my camera and took a few candid shots of people sitting around talking.

Kristina, a sophomore who lived around the corner on Baron Court, walked past me.  “Greg!” she said.  “What’s up?”

“Not much.  How were finals?”

“Hard!  But they’re over now!  How were yours?”

“I think I did fine,” I said. “Is–” I caught myself before finishing my question, Is Haley here?  Six years ago, in eighth grade, Paul Dickinson had figured out that I liked Rachelle Benedetti, and within a few days the whole school knew.  Ever since then, any time I had any sort of romantic interest or crush, I treated it like a closely guarded secret which no one must ever find out.  “Are any of your roommates here?” I asked instead.  That way, my question would get answered without Kristina suspecting that I liked Haley.

“Kelly and Jeanette are here somewhere.  Haley went home on Thursday after her last final.”

 “Oh, ok.”  I was a little disappointed that I would not see Haley for the next three months, but also relieved that, with Haley not here, I would have no opportunities to embarrass myself in front of her.  “What are you up to this summer?” I asked.

“Taking classes.  You?”

“Same.  Well, one class first session.  Probably just hanging out here second session.  I’m going to my parents’ house next week.”

“Nice.  I’ll probably see you around campus.”

“Yeah.”

I walked around, making small talk and asking people their plans for the summer.  Most of the people here were not going to be in Jeromeville.  That did not bode well for my hope of having a social life this summer.  I knew that JCF was running one small group Bible study this summer, so that was something.  And I would still be singing at church; I knew some people from church who would be around this summer.

I got up to use the bathroom.  A decoration on the bathroom wall above the toilet said “We aim to please, you aim too please.”  At first, my mind parsed that as “we aim to please, you aim to please” with a word misspelled.  I did not understand why the phrase needed to be repeated.  I did not get the joke until I flushed the toilet; the second part was supposed to say “you aim too, please,” as in “please don’t pee on the floor.”  I laughed out loud at my sudden realization.  Hopefully no one found it strange that someone was laughing in the bathroom.

I returned to the living room, realizing that I had not talked to Shawn Yang yet, although I probably knew him the best of all the guys who lived at this house.  I saw Shawn on the couch with a middle-aged Asian couple.  I approached him, and he said, “Hey, Greg.  Have you met my parents yet?”

“No,” I said.  “I’m Greg.”

“I’m John,” Mr. Yang said, shaking my hand.  “And this is Judy.”

“Nice to meet you.”

“Greg is going to be my roommate next year,” Shawn explained.  “And he’s a math major too.”

“Oh you are?” Mr. Yang asked.  “You gonna be a teacher too?”

“I don’t know what I’m gonna do,” I said.  “I don’t really see myself as a teacher.”

“You’re not graduating this year?”

“No.  I’m a sophomore.”

“Oh, ok.”

“You guys are from Ashwood?  Is that right?”

“Yeah.  What about you?  Where are you from?”

“Plumdale.”  Without thinking, I added, “Near Gabilan and Santa Lucia.”  Most people have no idea where Plumdale is.

“It’s nice out there!”

“Yeah.  I’ll be in Jeromeville most of the summer, but I’m going home next week.”

After a lull in the conversation, Mr. Yang said, “It was nice meeting you!”

“You too!”

I was ready for another break from socializing, so I walked outside.  It was a little before eight o’clock, and it was still light out; in Jeromeville, the sun does not set until close to nine this time of year.  Two guys were throwing a Frisbee back and forth in the street, moving out of the way whenever a car approached.  Eddie, Xander, Lars, and a guy I had met a couple times named Moises sat on a couch, which had been placed on the lawn for some reason. 

“We’re done with another school year,” Eddie said.  “Two down, two to go.”

“I know,” I replied.  “I think I did pretty well on finals.  How were yours?”

“It was a lot of work, but I passed.”

“Dude, mine were really tough,” Lars said.

“What are you doing this summer?” Xander asked me.

“I’m staying here.  I have one class first session.  When do you leave for India?”

“Two weeks.  I’m a little nervous, but mostly excited!  God is going to move!”

“I can’t wait to hear about it,” I said.

“Greg?” Eddie asked.  “Have you decided yet if you’re going to Urbana?”

I had not decided, and now that Eddie was asking, I felt like I had dropped the ball.  Intervarsity, the parent organization of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, puts on a convention every three years, in Urbana, Illinois, for young adults to learn about missions and service opportunities around the world.  The convention was the last week of the year, after Christmas.   “I haven’t decided,” I said.  “But I’d like to if I can make it work.  I don’t know if I’m ready to go on a mission trip myself, but now that I have a lot of friends doing stuff like that, I think it would help me understand what they’re doing.  Xander’s trip to India, and Melinda’s trip to Russia, and Taylor and Pete and Charlie going to Morocco with Jeromeville Covenant Church.”

“Then what are you still thinking about?  If it’s money, you can apply for a scholarship through JCF.  Talk to Dave and Janet.”

“It’s more just the fact that it’s overwhelming.  I don’t know how to book a flight or a hotel room or anything like that.  And it is a lot of money, too.”

“I know a lot of people have been wanting to travel in groups and share hotel rooms,” Eddie said.  “If I hear of someone who might be able to include you, I’ll have them contact you.”

“Thanks.  That would be awesome.”

“Heads up!” shouted Alex McCann, a housemate of some of the guys on the couch, as a Frisbee sailed toward us.  Lars stood up and caught the Frisbee in time; then, walking away from the couch, he shouted at Alex and threw the Frisbee back at him.  Eddie and Xander stood up, and Eddie said to me, “We’re gonna go throw the Frisbee.  Wanna come?”

“I might later,” I said.  “Thanks.”

“No problem.”

Moises stayed on the couch with me.  “I think you should go to Urbana,” he said.  “God is going to do great things through you.”

“Thanks,” I said, curious how he knew about God’s plan for my life when I pretty much just knew this guy to say hi to.

“Have you ever taken a spiritual gift assessment?” Moises asked.

“I don’t think so.”

“They handed one out at my church a few weeks ago.  You answer questions about what skills you have and what you’re good at, and it tells you, like, if God has equipped you to preach or worship or pray or do administrative work.  You can ask your pastor if he has one.  What church do you go to?”

“Newman Center.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s the student-led Catholic church.”

“My family is Catholic,” Moises said.  “My family came here from Mexico; everyone is Catholic there.  But then when I became a Christian, I realized just how much Catholics have wrong.  Like, Jesus died on the cross for your sins already.  You don’t have to confess to a pope.”  I just nodded, not wanting to argue.  Moises‘ knowledge of the inner workings of the Catohlic Church must have had some shortcomings if he believed that the average Catholic confessed to His Holiness Pope John Paul II on a regular basis.  Also, although I did not think about it at age 19, I have also come to learn over the years that being a busybody like Moises is not the best way to share one’s faith with others.  After studying the Bible more this year, though, I had come to agree with his point that salvation came from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, not through following the rituals of Catholicism alone.

By this time, it was getting dark, so I went back inside, making more small talk and helping myself to snacks on the kitchen counter.  Later that night, in the living room, Eddie, Kristina, Brian, and a few others were doing some kind of silly dance.  I saw Tabitha, one of the first people I knew from JCF because she was in the dorm next to mine last year, sitting on the couch with an empty seat next to her.  “May I sit here?” I asked Tabitha.

“Sure,” she said.  “Actually, I was looking for you.  Eddie told me a few minutes ago that if you go to Urbana, you’d be interested in going in together with someone on a flight and hotel room.”

“Definitely.”

“I was going to put something together later this summer.  I’ll keep you posted.”

“I’m not going for sure yet, but I know the price goes up July 1, so I want to decide for sure by then.  I’ll let you know, and you keep me posted on your plans.”

“Great!  Sounds good!”

I stayed at the party until after midnight.  By then, much of the crowd had gone home, the music had stopped, and I was getting tired.  I said my final goodnights and congratulations to Brian and Shawn, as well as to their other graduating housemates, Mike Kozlovsky and Dan Conway.  These four and all the other seniors here tonight were done with college, at least done with their bachelor’s degrees.  And now I was halfway there, if I finished on schedule.  It was hard to believe that it had already been almost two years since Mom and Dad helped me unpack in my tiny dorm room in Building C.

As I drove home through the dark but warm Jeromeville night, I kept thinking about how my life had changed so much, not only in the time since I came to Jeromeville, but just in this school year.  I had a great time at this party, and unlike my few other experiences with college parties, people here were not getting drunk.  At the beginning of this school year, I did not even know that any of these people existed, except for Tabitha, and she was not in my close circle of friends yet at the time.  So much had changed for the better.

I lived alone in a small studio apartment this year because I was unable to find roommates among people I knew.  Early in the year, I worried that living alone would be excessively boring and lonely, but indirectly, living alone ended up being the best thing for me.  It prompted me to make more of an effort to stay connected with my friends from freshman year, which led to me finally accepting Liz Williams’ invitation to come to Jeromeville Christian Fellowship.  At JCF, I made so many new friends, including the people at this party, and my future roommates for junior year.  And, more importantly, I learned what it really meant to follow Jesus, and how only his death on the cross brought eternal life, and hope, and inner peace.

I went straight to bed when I got home; I was tired.  I would have time to pack a suitcase in the morning, and after church I would make the two and a half hour drive to my parents’ house in Plumdale.  But unlike a year ago, the drive to my parents’ house would not mean the start of three months away from my friends.  I was only staying there for a week this time, and I would go for another week in August after my summer class ended.  For the rest of the summer, I would be here in Jeromeville.  Plumdale was home, but Jeromeville was also home now.

As I drifted off to sleep, still thinking about how much life had changed during my sophomore year at UJ, I wondered what changes were in store for me in the next school year.  Maybe I would find other new things to get involved with, as I had gotten involved with JCF this year.  Maybe I would end up going to that Urbana convention and deciding to become a missionary.  The possibilities were endless.  At the time, I had no idea that the next school year would bring challenges to my faith and questions about my future.  I would have to make difficult decisions.  I would find myself getting involved in two new activities, one of which was not at all anything I expected to do until it happened, and the other of which I was only beginning to think about at that point.  But I knew that, no matter what, with God on my side everything would work out just fine.