Doug and I met in Seminary, got engaged at the Swedish restaurant that is across the street from the University (perhaps a fore-shadowing of what our life would be?!), and were married in the campus chapel, newly built during my first year as chaplain and the first couple to celebrate our nuptials there. The corner of Foster and Kedzie on the north side of Chicago has shaped my career and my family and I am grateful.
Big changes have occurred during the years we have been away, most significantly, a big, beautiful building went up. The Nancy and G. Timothy Johnson center for science and community life has transformed the center of campus and it was a thrill to see it up close. My parents had both died when the campaign for this building was happening and my mother happened to know the G. Timothy who the building is named for and so in the midst of our grief and sorting through all that went along with dealing with their deaths, Doug and I decided that we wanted to make a gift to the campaign in memory of my parents. They both studied sciences, and valued education so it seemed a fitting memorial. We had not seen the building nor the donor wall so it was pretty neat to get to see it on this trip. In addition to our own connections to this campus community, my mom also went to this school and taught there for awhile and Doug’s folks also attended this university so it is really a place of significance for us. I loved walking around the campus, seeing the spring flowers finally in bloom, remembering so many deep conversations I had with students, the countless chapels that we executed and the theological studies that helped shape and form me into the pastor I am today. I used the library for a couple of days as well to get some work done on this book project I’m forging ahead with and it was such a gift to have that made available to me. I spent some time with the current President of the University who was the CFO while I was chaplain and an ardent supporter of me and it was so good to get caught up on his life as he prepares to finally retire after 29 years of faithfully serving this place so many of us love. The University Ministries offices are in a completely different place than when I was there and I loved seeing the prayer chapel, open to students, to drop in for a quiet moment, to share a request, to meet with God in a still, small place. This cross was fashioned out of a mulberry tree that had to come down in order to build the building.
I have enjoyed connecting with a variety of people, including a student I met as a freshman who I hired to work with me in University ministries after he graduated, a woman who was part of the student life team and is now the dean of student life, a couple whose kids I had in my first youth group and who I roped into going on a mission trip with us one year, a woman who I worked with at the church during my internship who has graciously opened up her home to me to let me come and go as I please, another woman who was a student when I was chaplain who now works at the University who has shown me immeasurable support through the years. It’s nice to have fans who affirm and encourage you. I have been able to spend time with dear friends from the church that Doug served before we moved to Sweden, one family who were our next door neighbors, another who have just suffered a great tragedy, having to bury their beloved and wonderful 28 year old son due to an unexpected medical condition. Hard, heartfelt, loving, connected conversations with friends I hardly see but with whom I enter right back to a place of closeness and understanding. I spent an evening with my best friend from University days, a woman I met as a freshman almost 40 years ago! Went to church at a place where countless other relationships from this amazing community were present to reminisce and reconnect with me. It has been a joyous love fest of celebrating deeply woven relationships for which neither time nor distance have torn down. And of course, I ate pizza!
I don’t know if I could live in Chicago again...it did snow just last week! And the traffic is epic for sure. I did enjoy re-tracing my commute, roads that I drove on zillions of times in all kinds of weather. The muscle memory was there for sure! So who knows what will bring us back this way. But no matter what, I will always welcome with an eager heart the opportunity to stop by the Windy City and feel the deep resonance with this city of my heart filled with friends of my heart. -