Final Thought for the Year; from a Graduating Senior
adapted from the pilot episode of CBS’s “How I Met Your Mother”
Kids, I’d like to tell you a story. It’s a story of drama, of comedy, of happiness, of sadness, of theology (believe it or not), and of love. Kids, this is the story of how I met your mother.
A little over twenty years ago, back in August of 2010, my life changed in a very serious fashion. In the span of just a few days time, I left my job, I played piano for my last Sunday at Foothills Christian Church, and I said goodbye to your grandparents, your Aunts Colleen and Elli, your Uncle Mike, and your cousins Edward and Elliot. I packed up the minivan I had at the time – yes, I had a minivan – and I headed east, to Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
I was about to embark on a three year journey at the School of Divinity at Wake Forest University, to become a pastor, and I gotta tell you, I was terrified. I was moving 2200 miles away from home. I knew only one person in Winston-Salem. I was experiencing the death throes of a toxic relationship. Quite frankly, I was one screwed up person.
But something miraculous happened. I found there a community unlike anything else I have ever experienced. It was a community that welcomed me in and took care of me. It was a community that said, “You might be a screwed up person, but so are the rest of us, and we accept and affirm you wholly. You are a creation in imago Dei, and nothing can take that away from you.”
And let me tell you, kids, the things I learned there – and the people I learned them from – amazing! I learned all about the Old Testament from a man named Neal Walls, who is quite possibly one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met. And you know that Baptist historian who’s been in the news a lot lately, Bill Leonard? He taught me about the church in America, about Appalachian Christianity, about how religion and contemporary culture intersect every day. If you ever go to seminary, you’ll hear about a theologian named Frank Tupper – yeah, he taught me too, all about the amazingly wonderful, scandalous providence of God. Lest I forget, of course, Vice-President Melissa Rogers? She was one of my instructors for a class called Christianity and Public Policy, which she taught with a Texan named James Dunn – and kids, he knew every President from Lyndon Johnson onward. And the dean of the school, Gail O’Day – well, kids, she quite literally wrote the book about the Gospel of John.
Of course, you know about some of the people I went to school with. You know your Aunt Stokes, of course, and your Uncle Patrick, and Aunt Sara, and Uncle Chris, and Aunt Tasharia, Uncle Brown Bear, and Aunt Megan, your Aunt Lisa – you know she and her wife, Kristin, were the first legally married same-sex couple in the state of North Carolina, right? – but kids, those are only a few of the people I went to school with. You know General Thomas, the Chaplain of the Air Force? I went to school with him. Rev. Russell, too, the coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship – and the funny thing is, she didn’t even WANT the job, but they insisted that she was the best person for it! And Dr. Dixon over at Chapel Hill, and Dr. Knight up at Georgetown, they were at Wake Forest with me too. And the tall minister in your mom and my wedding photos, the guy who officiated our wedding – yeah, Rev. Carlton went to school with me too. And I could go on and on, kids, but it would take forever – I went to school with nearly 200 people while I was at Wake, and almost all of them changed my life in some way or another.
But then, one day in the spring of 2013, everything had to come to an end. Within just a few weeks’ time, my classes ended, I graduated, and suddenly, I was an ordained minister. It was like the beginning all over again – I was terrified, and I had no idea what I was going to do next. The thing is, kids, this time, I knew that a whole lot of people had my back – people who I had learned from, people who I had learned with, people who had been my friends, my colleagues, my partners-in-crime – people who had, without a doubt, been my family. And even though I had to cross the stage, receive my degree, and leave Wake Forest behind, I knew that collection of slightly wacky people would have my back – no matter what.
I hope you find that for yourselves one day, kids. A Wake Div. Something that will change your life the way that little divinity school changed mine, because I can’t even begin to imagine how different my life would be if I hadn’t gone there.
Which reminds me – the whole reason I wanted to talk to you! How I met your mother.
You see, kids, it wouldn’t have happened without Wake Div. You know she went there, too, right? Well, in August of 2011, the Friday before classes started, there was a party in the backyard of the house that Governor Callaway’s husband used to live in – yeah, I went to school with her as well. Anyway, so at this party, I start talking to this redhead, and I find out we have several classes together. We talk for a while, and finally, she heads off to go hang out with some of the other new first years. “Well, it was nice to meet you,” I said. “By the way, my name’s Jimmy.”
“Nice to meet you, too, Jimmy,” she replied. “My name’s Caitie.”
And that, kids, is how I met your mother.
Aunt Stokes: Jessica Stokes (MDiv ’13)
Uncle Patrick: Patrick Campbell (MDiv ’13)
Aunt Sara: Sara Reynolds (MDiv ’13)
Uncle Chris: Chris Hughes (MDiv ’13)
Aunt Tasharia: Tasharia Harris (MDiv ’14)
Uncle Brown Bear: John-Mark Brown (MDiv ’15)
Aunt Megan: Megan Snider (MDiv ’14)
Aunt Lisa: Lisa Page (MDiv ’15)
General Thomas: Justin Thomas (MDiv ’13)
Rev. Russell: Amy Russell (MDiv ’13)
Dr. Dixon: Perry Dixon (MDiv ’14)
Dr. Knight: Kolby Knight (MDiv ’13)
Rev. Carlton: Jeremy Carlton (MDiv ’12)
Governor Callaway: Katie Schlimmer (MDiv ’14)
Caitie: Caitie Smith (MDiv ’14)