Last night I went for a walk 30 years ago. After spending some time with my friend Ray, I walked around the campus of Walla Walla College. Not much has changed, yet it is different. The Administration Building is new. There are walkway lights around campus, and some of the older buildings are gone. But overall, it is the same campus. Big trees, old buildings, and familiar walkways.
The College Dairy store is gone – as well as the fire station and some of the smaller buildings. But overall, I don’t see a lot of changes.
I walked the pathway from the Ad Building to the Cafeteria. With me were Mike, Jolene, and Judy. We laughed and played. I walked in front of Conard and reminisced with Linda, Gloria, Dan, and Rose. As I looked to the top of the Ad Building, Roger, Randy, and I watched a meteorite burst into three pieces as it traveled North. We wondered, “Is this a sign?”
“the buildings and the environment brings back a flood of memories“
Standing in front of the Library brought back all of those old insecurities and depressive, lonely thoughts from 30 years ago. The cafeteria was a fun place and often lonely. Watching students in my old dorm room was surreal and curious. I wondered about their 30 year hopes and dreams. How could they ever know what the future holds for them.
I find it ironic that Alumni weekend just ended. Why would I ever attend an alumni weekend. I have no old memories to relive? I have no people to catch up with – yet the buildings and the environment brings back a flood of memories: most of them painful.
Thirty years ago, I lost my soul here. I was a shy, withdrawn, socially unique kid who hadn’t yet found my way. My first year here was exciting and I fit in with a group of kids that became my family. It was the Winter of 1977-78 that my life began a free fall of pain and confusion. I was sad, lonely, depressed, and desperate.
“I lost my soul 30 years ago on the campus I found myself last night”
Walking from my dorm to the cafeteria, I was angry. “This is a Christian school,” my soul shouted, “Why won’t anyone say ‘hi?” Where is the love? Where is the compassion? Can’t people see that I need a friend?” Thus began my long, terrible slide into addiction and spiritual poverty.
I don’t remember where I first met Judy and Trudy, but the three of us were virtually inseparable. Judy liked me, and Trudy caught my eye. Between our mutual friends, we formed a mixed group of dysfunction and fun. Ray, Judy, Trudy, (their two roommates), and a few others.
A dark, cold, Winter night in front of Sittner. Two girls laughing, cold snowballs, a bit of titillation and flirtation. Not long after that we all left school. Ray and I moved into a single-wide in Boring, the girls moved into a two-bedroom apartment in Vancouver. Trudy, Judy, and I took a trip to Auburn, her parents home and my teenage dream came true – thus, my spiritual decline continued. Eight, very short, months later, Trudy and I were married and within a couple of years this shy, withdrawn kid began to tumble out of the sky and into the abyss.
I lost my soul 30 years ago on the campus I found myself last night. Thirty years ago. I was a shy, withdrawn, 18-year old kid. How could I imagine the pain that would come from bursting through the doors of life as if they were merely a house afire? How was I to know that busting down the doors of life was more dangerous than a burning house? What does an eighteen year-old know?
“It was a lifetime ago – but only a moment in time….”
Well, this eighteen year-old knew everything! I’d been raised to be competent, driven, capable, and smarter than anyone else. Denial was my MO and ignorant arrogance was the tool of choice. If I couldn’t do it, it couldn’t be done. No one was more capable than me and no one had a right to stand in my way. Rules were for the weak and the strong would inherit the earth.
Walking across campus on this cool Spring night, the moon hung overhead like the faithful friend I’ve come to trust. The trees whispered in the night to the soft testimony of the never-changing starlight. There was nothing to see, yet everything to accomplish. The very earth cried out to the pain it has witnessed. I saved the worst to last as I walked down the steps behind the library and toward Sitner. Re-walking the journey is like rewinding a clock. You don’t turn the hands back, but it gives the soul a new life and allows it to go another thirty years.
It was a lifetime ago – but only a moment in time. It was another age. It was regretful, painful, and earth-shattering. Breaking the bonds of childhood and transitioning to adulthood has to be this painful, but should never be taken lightly. I had no guide and no map. I was doing what the Walter family has always done — “I can do it myself.” Unmindful of the hazards, unwilling to ask for help, and ignorant to the outcome: I charged ahead.
I lost my soul thirty years ago in College Place, but last night, God took me to the place where it lay for most of my life. In His gentle voice he asked me to forgive myself. I was a kid. I didn’t have a clue. I was broken and lost. My life has been restored and it is time to let go of the past mistakes of failure.
Like a captive slave, I broke free from the bonds of a dysfunctional family and ran as fast as I could to get away. I fell into the arms of a broken girl and we tumbled into the abyss together. When I pulled myself out of the wreckage, I was in an unknown land. I pulled myself, hand over fist out of the abyss and into the arms of addiction and even more pain. It wasn’t until 1987 – twenty years ago – that the Lord found me and saved my sorry butt. And it wasn’t until 1997 – ten years ago – that I regained the family group of friends that I so desperately sought.
Last night, God reminded me of His tender love and patience. He reminded me that He forgave me 2000 years ago. He reminded me that I am not alone. He softly whispered to me, “Forgive yourself Gary. Let it go. It is finished.”
I crawled into bed with my wife, my daughter sleeping nearby, and my yet to be born son. I fell asleep in sweet peace. I know that my Jesus was there the whole time. I know that He has been gently restoring my soul for these last 30 years.