The first time I visited Baylor University was April 19, 1996. I remember the day vividly, because it was the spring of my senior year and my mother and I had flown down to Austin, then driven up to Waco in the midst of my attempt to decide where to go to college.
April 19, 1996 was a strange day to be in Waco, Texas, because it was the two-year anniversary of the mess at the Branch Davidian compound. It was also the day after the first official dance in Byalor's history. The university, and the city, were on every major news network in the country. As we sat in our hotel room, watching the coverage of both events on CNN, we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. But that day and the weeks that followed consisted of a nice tour of the campus, a visit to Derek Davis' church-state studies course, and, ultimately, a decision to enroll at the school that had been all over the news on that hot April day.
Friday night was probably the last time my parents will visit the campus of Baylor University, because, after eleven years and three degrees between us, my sister and I are both finished with Baylor.
Friday night, my sister graduated as a Master of Divinity from Truett Seminary. She was named the top female graduate in her class, and, as a surprise, we learned at the graduation that the award she received had been named for Ruth Ann Foster. Dr. Foster was my sister's employer, mentor, and friend. She passed away from cancer last fall. I don't think the seminary could have done anything better to honor my sister than to present her with the first award named for Dr. Foster.
As recipient of the award, along with the top male student in the class, my sister also got to present the Professor of Choice award to Michael Stroope, one of her favorite professors. Since my sister's concentration was in missions, she took all the classes Dr. Stroope offered. It was a huge honor for her to get to present the award to him, and she did a great job explaining why he is such a good teacher, how he challenges his students to better know the world and share God's love.
Needless to say, we are so proud of her. My sister is an amazing person with a gentle spirit and a kind heart. God called her to missions when she was still a teenager, and it was exciting to see this call continue to be filled in her life as she prepares to take the next steps towards becoming a Bible translator for those cultures that don't yet have the Bible in their languages.
The graduation itself was a lovely evening. My favorite Baylor professor, Dr. James Vardaman, carried the university mace, Steve Wells' sermon was appropriate and challenging, and my father didn't even audibly react when Dean Powell declared Truett to be the pre-eminent Baptist seminary in America. At the reception afterwards, it was fun to meet my sister's professors and friends, and to watch my father talk with one of his old professors from his days at Southwestern. It was a great evening, a wonderful way to honor my sister and her classmates, and a good time of sending forth for those who have been called to minister.
But there was something about knowing this was our last night at Baylor that made me sad. I know I will be back, but it felt as though we were saying good-bye to the campus (which, in so many ways, is no longer the campus I remember), and to friends new and old. Mom and Daddy and I drove by Saturday morning to see the rose bushes in front of Armstrong-Browning Library, and I thought about the day Ann Miller dragged us all out there to visit the statue of Pippa, and looked back at the window of my dorm room in Memorial and thought about all the fun my roommates and I had there. We drove by my old church several times, ate dinner at our favorite Waco restaurants, and drove out to the country to see my sister's new place.
Saturday afternoon we drove up to Fort Worth to celebrate Mother's Day and a cousin's birthday with my aunt and uncle and cousins, then we returned to Waco to attend church at Calvary on Sunday. It was wonderful to see everyone, to hear hilarious stories about my cousins' children (especially Randy's four-year-old boy, who has taken to drilling holes in the wall of their garage), and to hear a great sermon from Julie Pennington-Russell, meet Tiffany's baby, and catch up with my sister's roommate (whose brother was my Baylor classmate) at lunch.
My mother has a theory that all of Baptist life, especially in Texas, passes through Baylor one way or another. I didn't understand what that meant when I first stood on that campus at the age of 17, but year by year, I've grown more and more to appreciate Baylor and what the university does for its students, how it connects them to a family and a world than is larger than their own. And I have grown to appreciate the gifts of friendship and love that Baylor gave me. "There is beauty, there is joy, and there is laughter in life--as there ought to be," said Samuel Palmer Brooks
to Baylor's class of 1931.
Certainly these things were Baylor's gift to me. And even though the university sometimes frustrates me beyond belief, I'm so thankful for the weekend, and for this life, woven through with a silver thread of people, places, and a thousand memories. I am thankful that my sister got to be part of this community, and that she made it through so well. Most of all, I am thankful for the gifts of beauty, truth, joy, laughter, and love that Baylor gave us. Thanks be to God for this grace.