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Serendipity Year

Cross-posted from my super-duper giganto-email update:

Where to begin? Probably some of you haven’t heard from me since graduation. Here’s a quick list of my accomplishments:

  • Spent a summer at HoneyRock teaching Archery to campers.
  • One summer turned into 15 months at HoneyRock, where I:
    • fixed computers
    • ran sound for events
    • laid a foundation for a new operations complex
    • cleaned toilets
    • de-boned chicken (after washing my hands, of course)
    • cooked entire meals for hundreds of people
    • drank lots of terrible coffee (and enjoyed it!)
    • various, sundry, and etcetera, ad infinitum

After 15 months they finally made me leave, it only being a limited-contract seasonal position. Oh well. It was a good year.

At the end of August 2004, with my third and final summer at HoneyRock concluded, I packed up my car (oh my poor suspension) and drove south. I arrived in Wheaton with a car full of stuff, no job, no place to live, and no idea what to do next. I spent the first week on the couch in Chris Scharf’s basement.

At HoneyRock, I had talked with Joel Bond about possibly rooming together, as he was in a similar situation. At the end of my first week in Wheaton, Joel drove up from Kansas City with a car full of all his worldy possessions. On the drive up, he called another old HoneyRocker, Andrew Pride, who rumor had it was trying to fill a house near campus. Indeed, he was. When did Joel want to move in? “How about tonight?” Then Joel called me, and I went to check out the house. I said good-bye to Chris’ couch and moved in the next day.

Let me describe the little big house on Franklin Street to you. Three driveways down from Edman Chapel on campus, it had been built earlier in the last century, so lots of wood, high ceilings, all solidly constructed. It was home for most of that time to a handyman with a large family. He aggressively extended the place with little haphazard additions, including a second kitchen and breakfast nook, a screened porch, an extra bedroom on the second floor above the kitchen, and a finished attic. Much of the construction had an amateur look to it–the porch door didn’t hang right, and the whole breakfast nook would not retain heat in the winter.

We loved that place. All 5-8 of us, as our numbers fluctuated over the course of the year (peaking, during one transitional point, at around 12, as we reckon, including guests and hangers-on). We had a giant TV and media system, with a large DVD collection. We had a fully stocked kitchen, with a complement of plates, pots and utensils. We had couches galore. It was the perfect sort of place for having people over, and some weeks it seemed like a constant flow and hum.

I lived in the attic, in a little room sectioned off from the rest, with my own bed and desk, and a window overlooking the street. It was small, but I chose it because it was pleasant and cozy, a place to retreat to when the crowds downstairs became too much. I got a lot of good thinking done in that little room.

With a place to call home, I embarked on a job search. Because my rent was going to be very affordable, I decided that I wanted to try and find a part-time job with a flexible schedule that was close enough to walk to. I had come out of the summer at HoneyRock fairly drained from a stressful job with lots of varied responsibility and extra hours. I needed a space and time to relax, and think about things for a while.

So, I got a job at the Print Shoppe on campus, with the plan of staying at it for two years. The learning curve was short, the work varied and engaging, and the other people in the office fun and relaxed. For the fall and early winter, I worked afternoons. I slept in most days, stayed up late, hung out with friends, drank lots of coffeehouse coffee, volunteered at church, and took long walks. I watched through all 5 seasons of Babylon 5, and I read a lot of good books.

I also started getting serious about my financial responsibilities, putting into place some habits and practices that I had been lacking. I learned how to live frugally. I became the proverbial little old lady who only drives her car once a week to church. I walked or biked everywhere else. I got all my books at the library. I cooked with raw ingredients (and ate lots of PB&J sandwiches). I kept records of all my income and expenses, and I started using a filing system.

After returning from a visit home for Christmas, I decided it was time to ramp up a little. I moved the Print Shoppe to the mornings, and started being more productive with my time. I took on a bit of freelance work, doing some research and a smattering of copy editing. This was a good learning experience, and established a good relationship which will bring more work my way in the future. I wrote some on my own, though not as much as I would have liked, and did more of the same, enjoying the place and time and the people around me.

There are many more things that happened, of course, but that’s the gist of it. During the summer, the attic that had been so nice and warm in the winter started heating up. I took a temporary second job at the College Post Office, working with a few friends there. In the evenings, I either stayed downstairs in the house, or went out in search of air-conditioned places.

Summers in Wheaton are quiet affairs. All the students leave. Many people go on vacation. I spent most of my time reading, occasionally going out to do stuff with my CPO friends, Scott and Michael.

Now, suddenly, it’s the end of August again. The house on Franklin Street sits dark and empty now, and all of us have dispersed to the four winds. I’ve moved to an apartment in Glen Ellyn, the next town over. Instead of seven housemates I have one roommate (Steve Sloat, another HoneyRocker). Instead of a three-minute walk, I have a ten-minute bike ride to work. The summer gig at CPO has ended, and I’m back to just mornings at the Print Shoppe. I have a couple of freelance projects on the horizon, with the hope of a more steady flow of them in the future.

The students are back on campus, but I know fewer of them than ever. I’m sitting in on a class this fall, History of Literary Criticism, with Dr. Jacobs, one of my favorite lecture profs in the English department. It’s one of those classes that I always wanted to take in my undergrad, but never had room in the schedule. It’s strange to be going to class and reading assigned readings again after two years of scholastic freedom, but I kind of like it. Grad school looms somewhere in my future, though I know neither where nor what yet.

Here I am, then, sitting in my third floor apartment on a Friday afternoon, looking out my window at the trees and the Prairie Path. The bikers and joggers pass by beneath my window all day. Thunderstorms have been predicted, and it’s looked like rain all day, but not a drop yet.

Some time ago, on newstalk, I wrote about a “Serendipity Day”, a day where you just set out and spend a day wandering about in a purposeful manner, letting the day happen as it will. Well, this has been a “Serendipity Year”. I set out without a clear goal in mind, put myself in a place that I knew would be healthy, or at least not detrimental, and started wandering, trusting to my instincts and the grace of the Lord to bring the right things along at the right time. Now, nearing the end of that year, I can say that it’s turned out okay. It’s been a good year, and I’ve learned a lot about life and people and God and myself. In fact, it’s worked so well, I’m going to try it again, one more time, one more year, with lessons learned to direct the purpose in my wandering. Like the bumper sticker on my car says, in the words of Tolkien, “Not all who wander are lost.”

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One Response to “Serendipity Year”

  1. 1
    Rich Tatum:

    Have you considered applying for a job at Christianity Today? It’s located just north of Wheaton on Schmale and Gundersen. It’s a great place for Christian writers to work, even if you don’t get an editorial position: just being there and rubbing sholders with the world-class editors is well-worth it. And you get to lunch with people who are thinking, always thinking. And that’s a blast.

    Regards,

    Rich.

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