Saturday, June 12, 2010

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Those of you who have read Involuntary Joy might understand how my husband's place of employment (which has also been, at times, mine as well) has shaped our lives in the same way a person would. Our arrival on campus – almost exactly 17 years ago – felt a bit like coming home. The "call" to kinship with her DNA was undeniable. And so, we uprooted our lives, trading old dreams for new ones in order to share a future that we believed was full of promise.

Before I write much more, I feel the need to share this: Waldorf College is one of the easiest and, paradoxically, most difficult topics for me to write about. When I've had the opportunity to write copy for marketing or public relations pieces, the words flow easily, for I know Waldorf intimately and honor the wonder of her, cherishing the personal transformations that have occurred on her campus since her beginnings in 1903.

This is not that kind of piece; therefore, my task is exponentially more difficult–as difficult as writing about a family member and wanting it to be "just right." Doubting that is possible, I'll forge ahead anyway.

As the fruit of Lutheran education (Go, Wartburg Knights!), I have lived my adult life in kinship with all sister institutions as if they were members of the family. Because I grew up United Methodist, I never really thought much about my spiritual heritage (I was baptized Lutheran) until I was courted by the admissions staff at Wartburg College. And then, thanks to encouragement from then President Robert Vogel, I soon forsake scholarship packages from other institutions for the chance to become a Wartburg Knight – a decision that had my Lutheran godmother, Aunt Lois, rejoicing. Once transplanted on the Wartburg campus, it was as if a seed had found the soil it needed to grow deep roots and flourish.

You see, I know what it means to "Be Orange." But I also know what it means to "Live Purple."

Waldorf College ... what am I to do with you? You helped bring some of my husband's vocational dreams to life and coaxed me into the classroom. You didn't seem aware that I'd vowed to not follow in my educator parents' footsteps. And, yet, I became an educator in spite of myself – all because you needed someone to teach the knowledge and skills I enjoyed using while employed in a career I loved.

So, year after year, as young men and women found their way to campus to discover their individual callings, my roots stayed watered and even deepened. I felt myself growing with Mark and, in turn, both of us felt strengthened by colleagues who shared a vision for educating "the whole person" in an atmosphere where faith and reason divinely mingled.  

In recent years, the people who are Waldorf College have experienced personal pruning and even transplanting – each event as difficult as the circumstances that are represented by the change. For instance, this summer our family will say good-bye to friends who have lived in this community for 26 years – nine years longer than we have. They came as a couple and have raised four children here. We have been in a Bible study with them for more than a decade and have celebrated our children's confirmations, graduations, and various school accomplishments. We have grieved together. We have been frustrated at life together. We have been awed by life together. Now they are moving on - transplanting their lives to a place where they can continue to be nourished and grow.

It's not as if we have never seen people come and go from this fascinating place. We have. In fact, when we arrived 17 summers ago, we were taken under wing by several elderly couples who had recently retired from Waldorf. The kind of emerita and emeritus (now no longer living) whose names and spirits are infused in the hearts of thousands of alumni. They saw Waldorf through some of her darkest days and believed we had come to help her transition into an expression that would help her withstand unforeseen days to come (i.e., changing from a junior college into a baccalaureate institution).

Their tutelage testified to us in recent years when we needed it most - when our roots felt exposed, and we wondered what remained for us in this place they had built with love. As the ground shifted under us, we wondered: How deep do our roots go? How much nourishment do we require? Are we healthy enough to withstand inclement times? I even found myself wondering if I was more like a hosta or a rose – or if it even mattered.

I still don't really know.

Whenever Mark and I hear of another friend who has decided to uproot – to transplant their life in a place with soil that promises rich nourishment – we look for the sun and stretch to search for water. Are we still able to flourish where we are planted, or are we in denial about the condition of our garden?

This past week we got some unsolicited nourishment from two former students - Melanie Lane, class of '07, (the first vlog) and Justin Hawley, class of '99 (the second vlog). We had a chance encounter with Melanie, who works at Mayo Clinic, in the Rochester subway, just outside our favorite lunch spot. She joined us for lunch, bringing stories and memories full of life and light and love. And when she spontaneously thanked us and shared what we have meant in her life, I cried. I didn't know how much I needed to hear what she said.

Obviously, I didn't ask her repeat what she said for my vlog and I won't type her kind words verbatim here (even I am not that tacky), but I did ask her to repeat a story she shared about her volleyball coaching experience. Waldorf communication alums, you'll see why.

When we got back to Stross' clinic exam room, I posted on Facebook that we had run into Melanie during lunch. That generated a posting with an offer to share dinner from Justin Hawley, another communications alum who has transplanted to Rochester, Minn., where he is flourishing. And, fortunately, we were able to – almost as spontaneously – make that reunion happen as well. Then, during dinner he, too, volunteered extremely kind words about Mark and I in an expression of affirming gratitude.

I've spent a lot of time tending to my garden this week - figuratively, of course. Perhaps Mark has too. We both seem to need reassurance that our lives are still in a place where we can - not just grow - but flourish.

Hey, Waldorf College Communications alumni. If we haven't told you lately, please know that we love you. Your lives continue to nourish ours. We are grateful. Many blessings to you - each and every one.

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