This story is more than two decades in the making. I’ll try to be brief.
There is a newspaper in my dresser drawer. It’s from January 12, 1997. On it are written three words: “Dad minor stroke.” I wrote them to Nancy while on a phone call, hearing that my dad had suffered the first of his two strokes. It wasn’t very minor. The reason the paper was on my dresser that Sunday night was because of the article titled “St Francis pulls off unforgettable upset of No. 1 Bethel.”
I worked for St Francis at the time. I had taken the paper to church that morning, to wave it at some friends who were fans of Bethel. It seemed like a simple athletic rivalry. Except it wasn’t. I remember it clearly. Too clearly.
St Francis was the third college I had worked at, and each of them was a rival of Bethel. Fort Wayne Bible College, where I first taught full-time was a sister school in the same denomination. The Bible college got into financial difficulties and was acquired by another school. Goshen College, where I worked next, was an athletic rival. And Goshen was starting a program for non-traditional students. Bethel was in that market first. And I was the director of Goshen’s program. And at Saint Francis, we were just athletic competitors. But by then, my distaste for Bethel was strong.
I didn’t realize how strong it was until 2007. By then I was a pastor. I was at a denominational conference, part of the prayer team that helped guide the public times of prayer for 200 or so people, representatives from 50 or so churches. It was my turn to lead the group. Part of my responsibility included praying for Bethel.
In the moments before I walked up, I realized that I couldn’t ask other people to pray for Bethel if I was bitter toward Bethel. Because in those moments, I realized that’s what my distaste really was. I was bitter that they had survived when we hadn’t, bitter that their program was better than ours, bitter that they were the strong team that always won. And bitterness kills.
So when I walked to the mic, I confessed. I told the group that I was wrong. I asked the Bethel people at the conference to forgive me. And then we all prayed.
When I walked back down the aisle to my seat, Dennis was waiting at the end of the aisle. He was one of the leaders from Bethel. He hugged me. After the meeting, we chatted a bit and went our ways.
On Sunday, two days ago, Dennis was standing on the stage at Bethel, congratulating the graduates of the class of 2013. He told one of them not to smile, because this was a serious occasion. The two of them knew each other, had been on the platform in chapel several times giving announcements. And the student would often laugh.
The student, now graduate, is our daughter Hope. She had never wanted to go to Bethel. In fact, when she got a call from a recruiter in the Spring of 2008, she almost didn’t take the call. Nancy made her. By the next day, she knew she was going to Bethel. She applied and was accepted. She got great scholarships. She learned much about herself, about God, about others. She doesn’t know what she is going to do after the summer, but she has a growing sense of who she is and wants to be. And that is the point of a liberal arts education.
It’s time to tie this up with one last picture.
Nancy and I drove away from Bethel Monday afternoon. We left an empty car for Hope, who is on a choir tour, and brought home the full one. One last trip. One last load. And I wept.
I wept because I always do. I wept because it’s the end of a five year journey. And I wept as I wondered what would have happened if I hadn’t repented of my attitude. What would Hope have missed because of my bitterness?
I understood again that my sin, my attitudes, don’t only hurt me. And I rejoiced that I was assigned to pray for Bethel and that God used that moment to challenge me. And I know Nancy and I are very grateful parents, grateful to God for Hope…and Bethel.