I had never lived in (or really even visited) a big city before I attended Wheaton College, located about 45 minutes outside of the “Windy City” of Chicago. In fact, I had never lived anywhere outside of Greenville, South Carolina, unless you count the first 2 years of life spent in Georgia. Since then, I have visited New York City, Philadelphia, and Dublin among others – and still Chicago welcomed me with its Midwestern familiarity while impressing me with its clean magnificence when I flew in last Friday with my college roommate, Katherine, to attend our 10 year college reunion.
The highlight by far was reuniting with my senior year housemates (all but one – we missed you, Sarah!). We shared our 4 bedroom, 1.5 bathroom on-campus house for a year full of laughter, tears, busting-at-the-seams house parties and senior-year-angst as we walked together through the questions of our future and the last months of our college-student-freedom. As we gathered in a hotel room near Wheaton on Friday night, it was as if nothing had changed and everything had changed as we caught up on the last decade. We have all walked through the valley of the shadow of death, some experiencing loss and grief so deep that it makes my heart hurt to think of what they have borne. We shed tears anew together. And we transitioned seamlessly into the joys of our lives, too: marriages, the birth of babies, graduate & medical degrees, participating in God’s kingdom work around the world, and finding new freedom that came as we emerged from the often “tumultuous twenties.” These 30-somethings (many of us moms who are early to bed most evenings) had so much to catch up on that we stayed up late into the night both evenings to try to fit it all in. Richly soul refreshing is the only phrase I know that could begin to describe our hours together.
We attended our 10-year reunion events together, enjoying the chance to catch up with other friends. We joked that we wanted to ask various acquaintances, “Now remind me how I knew you again? What role did you play in my life? How much of my life story did I share with you?” There is so much one forgets in 10 years!
Yet I was impressed with the way that the years really did “bring us together.” Unlike our time at Wheaton, now we weren’t vying to be part of any certain group or achieve a particular status with one another. We were united simply by the fact that we are the Wheaton College Class of 2001. Any other person, by virtue that they were there, was worth engaging – I wanted to know where they were living, what they were doing, if life had been good to them in the past 10 years. And of course there wasn’t enough time to catch up to this degree with everyone, but at least the weekend provided a start. Thank goodness for Facebook, right? (sidebar: which we did NOT have when I was at college, nor did we text and only a few had cell phones – gasp!) I was encouraged to see so many of us who had landed in similar places, even more closely aligned than when we were at Wheaton. It was beautiful to see classmates transformed into mothers and fathers proudly presenting their babies, a picture of how life changes us and how we are changed by life.God’s faithfulness was on display last weekend in Wheaton, Illinois, on a small college campus in a relatively small Chicago suburb filled with fall’s splendor, a good dose of nostalgia, and the stories of graduates whose lives “For Christ and His Kingdom” bear the indelible stamp of God’s grace.
How do all of these relate? Allow me to explain (after a long blogging absence!!) — Westminster Seminary sent Seth and me to Chicago to represent them at the grad school fairs at Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College this week. So we were whisked down the proverbial “Memory Lane” together as we took turns showing each other the “old haunts” from college days. Some of which overlap, since he attended undergrad at Moody (located in Chicago) and I went to Wheaton (located about 20 miles west of Chicago).
From the novelty of the Millennium Park and Wheaton’s state-of-the-art “Todd Beamer Student Center” to the familiarity of the Education Dept in Blanchard Hall and the College Ave. Metra station, I enjoyed experiencing these with Seth for the first time. As well as being introduced to the places he loved as a college student, like the Chicago Pizza Oven Grinders (at 2121 Clark St) and “the beach” on Lake Michigan. The worlds intertwined surprisingly, like (1) staying with his best friend from Moody, Brandon, and his wife Alexa, on campus at Wheaton because he now attends Wheaton Grad School (2) running into my Residence Life supervisor, Bruce, from the year I was an R.A. at Wheaton — at Moody, where he’s now working in their Residence Life! (3) Seth seeing a guy he was an R.A. with at Moody — at Wheaton, where he now works in Residence Life! (4) meeting up with another Wheaton friend, Katie, while visiting Seth’s favorite Chicago restaurant (Pizza Oven Grinders) — and then seeing her the next day as we walked through Memorial Park in Wheaton. Moments like this make me think that the world really is smaller than I thought … !!
A few more of the favorite familiar places we visited:
- The Tower! Seth and I made our marriage official by ringing the bell in the Blanchard Hall tower, a long-held tradition of Wheaton students and alumni.
- Anderson Commons (aka “Saga” or the Wheaton Dining Hall) — the food there still is really good.
- Tate’s Ice Cream in downtown Wheaton
- Egg-lectic Cafe in downtown Wheaton
- METRA — train into Chicago
- Danada Square in Naperville
- Walking along the Chicago River
- “The Signature Room” on the 96th floor of the John Hancock building
- Water Tower Place, specifically the 2nd floor of the Borders
And a few more of the new places I noticed (some things change a lot in 7 years!):
- the amazing new Todd Beamer Student Center at Wheaton, underneath Anderson Commons — these “kids” have it so good now, with their pool table and ping-pong tables and choices of two cafes!
- Millennium Park in Chicago … wow!
- Wheaton Public Library — a far cry from the one I went to
- Longfellow School — the elementary school where I student taught has been completely renovated, literally from the ground up
What was most different from the visit was, of course, the absence of most of the friends who made my college experience come alive. With the exception of the refreshment of having coffee with one of my dear friends, Kristin, and her husband Matt, on Saturday afternoon. To catch up “like old times” in the “new” Caribou Coffee. Otherwise, my college friends are scattered around the globe, literally. From Julie, my sophomore year suitemate who now lives in Vancouver, to Katherine, my senior year roommate who lives in Birmingham, and Leslie, another senior year housemate who lives in China. With the exception of a future Homecoming visit, Wheaton will never quite be the same place.