You’ll know LaGrange by the “shape of the river”
It’s hard to believe that 12 years ago, I had never heard of LaGrange, Georgia, much less the college. But back in 2001, responding to a job placement in the Chronicle of Higher Education, my life changed forever.
Of course there was always the academic side of change, taking on a new job, and seeing a lot of research that I used to do that wouldn’t get a lot of notice (terrorism, smaller scale military interventions, and leadership change in the Middle East) suddenly get a great deal of attention, with 9/11 occurring. I would also have to teach and research American politics, which was something new. But that’s not what I’m talking about in this column.
There was also a lot of change in location, going from just outside Washington, DC, having lived in large cities and fair-sized college towns all my life (and my wife’s) to learning to embrace small town Georgia. But that’s not what I’m talking about in this column.
I’m thinking about a bit of a spiritual revival in me. I was raised Catholic, attending Catholic schools all of my life, and even went to a Presbyterian school for college and a Catholic University for my first foray into graduate school. We attended church every Sunday, and even came back for seconds Sunday evening with a Catholic fellowship group my mom started when I was in high school.
But just because you attend church and a Christian-based school, that doesn’t make you a Christian, right. Well, that was true of me.
In one of our first days in LaGrange, I had to return the giant rental moving truck (they gave us a vehicle that was five times too big for what we owned) in town, and get over to LaGrange College’s opening ceremony for the Faculty Institute. I raced in, having just maneuvered this behemoth to its eventually destination, stressed from the move and all the big changes coming.
Inside our small chapel, the Rev. Quincy Brown was giving a sermon. It was about how river boat pilots would negotiate their way through difficult parts of the water “by knowing the shape of the river.” It was a great parable. Even when times were tough, we would know where we were, and rely on our prayers to get through those hard places. For the first time ever, we joined a church, and became full-time members.
Of course, as we settled in, there were many times where the metaphorical river got pretty dark: when our daughter was born premature and hospitalized, when our house burned down, when our vehicle was totaled in Atlanta and all of us were injured, when our son was sick for much of his first year, when our other vehicle needed repairs from the hailstorm, and when my wife’s father died.
One day, someone asked my wife how we could get through all of those things. Of course, for some here in the community, what we’ve had to deal with is child’s play. But knowing that “shape of the river” still helps navigate the rough parts of the waters we must all travel in life. And I thank LaGrange (the church, college, and community) for showing me how it’s done.
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