11 October 2012

A 31 Day Grand Prix {day 11} ~ such a genteel gal... from way down South

I graduated from high school and then, almost the next day, moved halfway across the country - from Okie-land to just outside of Boston, spending that first summer as a grad doing something I'd sworn I'd never do... working at a McDonald's Restaurant. Talk about culture shock! 

After a few months, I headed a wee bit back towards the west, to a place called Happy Valley, to start my post-secondary school educational career at Penn State's main campus.

I knew no one.


And I didn't feel very happy...

In fact, my general impressions ran more along the lines of horrified terrified!

I knew intellectually that that would be the case, but it felt scarier when I finally arrived at THE moment, watching my family drive off, and realizing I was very alone. I envied high school friends who'd chosen schools in the same geographical region... where even if there wasn't someone from high school attending, there were always friends from other swim teams... or only a short driving distance separated you from someone you already knew,  someone you'd grown up with.

I finally met my roommate. Thankfully we actually became friends and got along, because later I had a truly scary roommate. Cindy's things were already in the room when I arrived, but she was out exploring the campus with her parents. We'd exchanged a few letters over the summer, but even so,  first meetings tend towards awkwardness.

As at most universities, after registration, the next big event is a huge "fair," held at a central campus location where all of the different organizations set up booths and students wander around and get information on those groups that might be interesting to them. And like any good freshman (aka little fish thrown into a really big ocean), I went. I was looking, in particular, for some sort of on-campus Christian fellowship. Penn State had the reputation of being quite the party school and most fellow freshmen I'd already met indicated they planned to take full advantage of that fact; I was afraid if I didn't find a different crowd, I'd be tempted to follow the party one. Since I'd studiously, religiously avoided that genre of behavior all through high school, I knew in my heart I didn't want to veer off down that road now. But I didn't have the name of anyone or anything - a church or pastor or contact who could help me... My family wasn't even really settled into our new New England home. Thus I found myself wandering around the HUB, checking out a whole lot of different booths.

I quickly located the bigger campus religious organizations like InterVarsity, Campus for Christ and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes - due to crowds of students gathered there. However, actually getting up to the table where you could look at their brochures or talk to a representative? That, I found a little difficult. Plus, being an introvert and not very good at small talk, I avoided bigger groups like the plague! The Catholic association had some neat activities scheduled - but I'd only attended Catholic Mass a few times in my life - and had petty well been taught most of my life that Catholics and Christians weren't the same.

Then I noticed a small table, off to the side a bit. There, this really cute young woman was talking intently to two other gals, who, like myself, were trolling through the HUB and gathering information. The sign above the table announced "New Life Christian Fellowship." I decided to amble on over that way and investigate.

That was the first time I ever spoke to Laura. Immediately evident that she was from the South the second she smiled and greeted me, I was pretty sure I'd found my campus niche. I always thought of Laura as a Southern Baptist missionary, working on a northern university campus. Being around a real-life southerner (after having spent the whole summer just outside Boston) was like a breath of fresh air. I know Oklahoma is not the deep south  - so I have only dubious claims on that title of "southerner," but my grandparents and parents are from Southern Illinois... and my home/family culture was much more that then northern... or, most certainly, New England.

I asked questions. She answered. I left contact information. I think it was the next day that she knocked on the door to my dorm room. She invited me to a new student tea for gals she was having at her apartment that weekend. I went.

Laura became like a big sister to me, and was a huge stabilizing influence during those first two years at Penn State. I was often over at her apartment for Bible studies and meals... hanging out with her and her fiancee whenever they'd let me tag along. Mainly because of her influence, I participated in fellowship fundraisers, enjoyed tailgates and Christian music concerts, attended a local community church where I was baptized as a freshman... I even started playing tag football. 

If by gentility you mean elegant by virtue of fineness of manner and speech... or genteelness... or elegance because of intentional gracefulness and good taste in action and word... or always courteous and discreet..., this gal personified gentility. Her soft-spoken but fervent spirit, her service, servant-oriented life make her one of two people whose faces always come to mind each time I see or hear the words of 1 John 3.18: "Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth."
I've lost touch with her and her husband over the years. I think one of the last times I heard from her was a wedding gift she sent to Tim and I: the All-Butter Fresh Cream Sugar-Packed No-Holds-Barred Baking Book. It is, without a doubt, my favorite dessert cookbook: it contains many of my most favorite recipes... Each time I use it, I see her note penned on the inside front cover, reminding me of her, how she touched me, and how her example continues to challenge me to breathe with my life the following words:
"Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear." I Peter 3.3-6

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