On this Thanksgiving Eve, I am thankful for so many blessings! But in today’s post, I want to express my gratitude for my mother and father. A week ago today, my parents and I traveled on the interstate through the mountains to Johnson City, Tennessee for my speaking engagement the next day at Milligan College. I was invited to speak there about a week or so before my wedding date. I thought it was one of those weird coincidences because I had never met anyone from the college except for my Dad! That’s right, my father received one of his several degrees there in 1972, the year before I was born. So I asked my parents if they would come with me, and they happily agreed as they had not been back to the campus since 1972.
So even though the trip was about speaking to the students and hopefully imparting some of the lessons I’ve managed to learn in my 40 years, the trip was also a chance to get to know my parents before they were my parents. In fact, when they arrived on Milligan’s campus they had just gotten married months before in August 1971. I thought it would be interesting to learn about them as a newly married couple, particularly as I’m newly married.
So here is some of what I learned about my mother and father before they were my parents:
- My mom experienced “culture shock” moving to Johnson City which is still pretty small now but was even smaller then. Although she is from Jamaica, she had been living in New York City with one of my uncles before she married my father so it was a definite change to move from the hustle and bustle of gritty New York City to the serene mountains of Johnson City.
- My father also had to deal with culture shock from a racial perspective. After I spoke during the chapel service, my parents and I had lunch with several students in Milligan’s Goah Diversity Scholars Program. Through this wonderful program, several minority students have been able to receive full-tuition scholarships to Milligan. The students that we met are Hispanic and shared how they often feel other than or different for a variety of reasons ranging from missing familiar foods to cultural celebrations. My father empathized with them because he said he had similar experiences back then.
- My parents lived in a trailer on campus! I cannot imagine trailers being all that comfortable, but my parents said the trailers were actually quite nice. They did mention there was a student from Grenada that used to regularly barge into their trailer and march up to their refrigerator to see what my mom prepared. With a laugh, my father said he had to “nip that in the bud” pretty quickly.
My parents raved about how beautiful the campus was, and it is still a very beautiful campus.
- While my father was in school, my mother worked worked in the president’s office as well as another location on campus. My father was actually a co-pastor at a small church in Johnson City.
As I watched my parents reminisce, it occurred to me that they probably really bonded as a newly married couple in Johnson City because they were there without family and friends. I think that would probably be an experience that would valuable for most newly married couples. And it must have been an incredible adventure considering their age! My parents got married just as they turned 30 years old. I wasn’t ready to get married at 30 years old, but I must admit, I feel a little sad about waiting until I was just shy of 40 to get married. But then again, I trust in God’s timing…
So on this Thanksgiving Eve, I thank God for my parents – the people they were before they brought me into the world and the people that I have known in my 40 years…And thank you Milligan College for inviting me to speak and being a part of my parents’ history together…
What are you thankful for this year?