The Empty Nail

Today, I’ll take the diploma off my wall. I won’t be sad about it, either.

I always knew I would go to Georgetown College. It was just a feeling that I had. Not only was it approved by my church, it was approved by my family. I had Tigers way back, you see.

With the knowledge that God was drawing me to Georgetown, I worked in that direction, securing scholarships along the way. I can remember the day my acceptance letter came in. I cried and immediately pasted it in a memory book.

This was acceptance. This was my chance. This was an answer to prayer.

My first semester was tough, to say the least. Even though Georgetown was a private Baptist college, the freedom of being on my own was too much for my level of self-control, or perhaps it was that the freedom of being on my own was too much for the no-longer-there confines of a strict Southern Baptist upbringing. I made plenty of mistakes and it seemed like I spent the rest of my Georgetown career trying to make up for that first semester.

Thankfully, though, I had amazing, wise and caring deans and professors and mentors who gave me solid direction. They helped to remind me of my First Love, of all the years of hard work I had invested in this dream, and of all the benefits of staying the course.

On the day I graduated, college staff had lined up all the neat, white, wooden chairs on the lawn. The spring sun was as brilliant as my future. My parents and relatives ditched the farm clothes for graduation finery. Something interesting and foreign fluttered wildly inside my chest.

Then, right before we took that final walk, the heavens opened and all those assembled scrambled to John L. Hill Chapel. Rain still dripped from my hair when President Crouch shook my hand and handed me the slightly damp, rolled-up document that said I had made it.

I didn’t think about the thousands of dollars I would pay back in student loans. I didn’t really think about how neat it would be to include the college on my resume’s education section. I didn’t dream about getting together with the rest of the Tiger alumni to laugh and reminisce.

I remember intense relief and a sense of accomplishment and gratitude for what had been and what would be.

The taste was as sweet as honey. And I realized then that I had named that interesting and foreign fluttering.

Years later, after the bloom of youth had faded, I pulled out that still-rolled-up document, smoothed its parchment surface, traced the signatures and the name of my degree with my index finger, and placed it behind glass in a nice frame. I hung it on my wall above my writing desk.

My writing desk is a rather simple affair. It once belonged to my Great-Grandma Myrtle Ledford, an amazing woman who chased after God’s own heart — a decidedly un-simple thing to do in real life. The desk is 36 inches long and 20 inches deep and is accompanied by a matching thatched-seat chair. There is a single drawer with hand-hewn wooden dividers. The desk is plain and scarred from use.

When I placed that desk against the long, light gray wall in a rented house in a small community not far from the farm where I grew up, I, too, was plain and scarred from use. This new bedroom was the smallest of the three. The boy-child had his own room. The girls shared the largest room. Me? I didn’t deserve a big room. I had fled from the one I had promised to share it with.

There was nothing. No sigh, no sputter, no memory even, of the wild fluttering that signaled something new and something exciting and something called.

I was 15 years out of graduation. In those fifteen years, I had worked at several jobs, married a man, gave birth to three children, learned how to dodge the alcoholic and survive, moved nine times in twelve years with him, then once on my own with the kids … to that small house where I learned how to finish the art of compressing.

And I hung the slightly yellowed paper on the wall because I needed to feel something. I needed to believe in the possibility of relief. I needed a sense of something other than failure. I needed a way to somehow feel grateful for the hard, sharp points I had learned to climb over.

And then, later still, when I attempted a freelance career I had that document hanging on my wall.

And today, I take it down. I’m not even sure where I will put it. For a while, it will rest in the back of my closet, turned around, face-to-the-wall.

My alma mater has chosen to invite decidedly non-conservative speakers to campus to discuss “Discerning Vocation in a Contested Religious Tradition.” In all the research I could do on these speakers, I found nothing that pointed to a conservative viewpoint at all. How in the world can a dialogue happen about vocation, located in a Baptist college, and hosted by the college and the Baptist Seminary, if there are only progressives and no one there to demonstrate a conservative Biblical approach to discernment? That’s not very discerning. I tweeted to the college that I was “ABSOLUTELY HORRIFIED”. And I was. And I still am.

I have received major backlash today, including those people who said I was a hater, and trying to be a Super Christian, and not taking the advice of my own tweets. Some of those were hurtful, ad hominem attacks.

One man asked me why I was horrified.

That one stopped me. It wasn’t a fiery dart. It made me think.

Why am I horrified?

Being irreverent concerning God, using foul language mixed with prayers from the pulpit, saying that faith is not really an individual personal relationship but more like a community thing, that the Christian faith has been wrong when it says that homosexuality is a sin, and all we need to do is embrace those who decide to continue in sin … all these and more, I personally find disturbing. The majority of messages that come from some of the speakers, all done in the guise of progressive Christianity, make me cringe. And they should, if I believe what the Bible says.

Because I think I really wanted (maybe even needed) my alma mater to remain true to conservative Biblical beliefs.

That was my answer to the question of why. And it is as true and as real of an answer that I think I can give right now. And I think the reason why I wanted, and maybe even needed, my alma mater to remain true to conservative Biblical beliefs, is because at a time when I had really messed up, they helped to point me in the right direction, in a God-ward direction, not a philosophical, society-says direction.

I can’t help but wonder which direction they are pointing to now.

Now, I look at the empty nail and I feel a slight sense of sorrow, because there is always something akin to security lost in change, even when that change is for the best. But mostly, I feel relief, a sense of accomplishment, and immense gratitude for the one who has called me by His name.

His nail was empty first … something worth pointing to.

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