Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Lesson Learned

[Above, Chris Elliot, whose character is the ultimate irresponsible guy]

This has been on the back burner for a while. Sometimes an article needs to simmer and age in order to reach fullness. Today, January 1st, it is ready.

What you are about to hear is a story about love. Love from God towards me; that He would care enough about me not only to save me, but to have me learn from my failings. Love from a college professor who helped me a long, long time ago, and continues to do so, even now.

It all started back in 1984. I was still in college, at the time at Liberty University, recently renamed from Liberty Baptist College, the institution founded by Jerry Falwell. I was finally old enough to move out of the cramped four-guys-per-room dormitories and into an apartment in town. Fortunately, I found an ideal place. One of the professors, Dr. Pantana, owned a house he rented out to students at the university. The top floor was rented to a family, the basement to two pastoral majors and myself. Rent was a miniscule $50/month per person, an amount that even then was very low. It was basically a gift to the students, something I was appreciative of, but not as much as I should have been, by far.

It was nice not to have to live in the campus dorms. Privacy was lacking there and the rules were, by my standards, draconian having transferred to Liberty from a small liberal arts college, Maryville, south of Knoxville, Tennessee. It was a culture shock to say the least. Ties required for class, dating permission slips from the dean of student affairs , and traveling all over Lynchburg 3 times per week in little yellow school buses was getting old.

Finally the time came for graduation, and with that, time to come back home to Georgia. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but I made the wrong choice. Instead of honoring Dr. Pantana’s gift to us, I was selfish, immature, and foolish. I skipped town owing him the last month in rent. It didn’t matter that I was owed the same amount in phone bills I had to pay. It didn’t matter that I had yet to establish a career with a decent wage. I was wrong.

The years passed by and I eventually became a teacher, the incident long forgotten. Eventually I began attending a wonderful little church, Christ the Redeemer Charismatic Episcopal Church. It was there I met “Sam,” a guy who was at the time living with another church member. Sam needed another place to stay because he was not getting along with his current landlord. I said, “Hey, come live with me. I have a spare room and you can stay there.” So Sam moved in.

Sam was a young guy, maybe 22 or 23. He still wanted to party and stay out till all hours of the night. I knew that when you hang out with ne’er-do-wells, bad things happened. However, I also realized that people need to learn these lessons for themselves, and no amount of advice from anyone would change his mind or take the place of personal experience. So I would counsel him when asked, but otherwise let him be (at least as I recall.)

The deal I made with him was $200 per month plus half the utilities, which was dirt cheap in 2003. He also had the option of working off part of each month’s rent by doing work in the yard. He was not the most diligent worker. In fact, he was rather irresponsible, promising the world and then failing to deliver. He also could not seem to keep a job longer than two or three weeks. So we had some minor conflicts, but nothing deal breaking.

That is until he came home one day and told me about this fantastic deal he had found out about. Fantastic in his opinion, that is. Sam told me that some convenience store had closed down, and some “friends” of his were giving out free beer and liquor left over from the store. I was sort of confused by this. Something was just not right. You don’t just “get” free beer. When I wanted to drink beer (which was and still is rare) I would go out and buy it.

I felt there was something not quite right about this deal. So I told him he could do what he wanted, however, any liquor which was not purchased was not to be brought into the house. Bottom line. He went against my wishes behind my back, and while I was at work, brought in cases and cases of beer and hid them under a blanket in his room.

That winter my heater broke down and I needed a new one. Three thousand dollars later I was good to go. I needed to check the vents though to make sure they were not blocked in his room, and did so in his presence. Sure enough, Sam had piled up his “free” beer against an exhaust outlet for the central heater.

I told Sam he had to go and gave him two weeks. He was upset and could not really understand me. He moved out owing me that December’s rent plus utilities, promising to pay as soon as he could get steady work. It never happened.

A while passed and eventually I realized the missing rent and utilities would never be forthcoming. So I forgave Sam the debt. Then, years later I realized the incredible irony of this story. What I had done to Dr. Pantana, Sam had done to me. So I gave the entire thing to God, and asked for His mercy and forgiveness.

But the story does not end there. I recently got back in touch with Dr. Pantana. He took time to call me back in his busy schedule. I told him the story and asked for his forgiveness. He forgave me, and I cried, doing so even as I write these words.

Dr. Pantana continues to work at Liberty well beyond the years he is eligible for retirement. It is something that seems odd to me, for I cannot wait until I can retire. I am not sure I can take the stress for eight more years.

But, you see, Dr. Pantana is teaching still as a service for God. Again, he shows himself to be an example for me to follow. So, I pray for God’s will. Perhaps there will be a child I need to pray for that I have yet to meet.

I have heard about Sam from a mutual friend at the church I used to go to. He is doing much better, and has a steady job and has grown in maturity and wisdom, escaping the folly of youth. I thank God for this and pray for his continued blessing and growth. God bless you, Sam. And thank you Lord, for this wonderful lesson, learned. I love You.


Armchair coach

Amateur historian