When I was a junior in high school, the time came for class officer elections. I had been Junior Class Secretary, and thought I’d like to “move up” for senior year. I considered running for Senior Class President until I found out Scott and Manuel were running for the position. I thought there was no way I’d win against them. Besides, the class president is traditionally the one to plan all the class reunions until the end of time. I did NOT want that job, so I decided to run for Senior Class Vice President instead. I led a great campaign, reminiscent of Reese Witherspoon in the movie Election – you know, “Pick Flick!” and all that. Here’s my fancy campaign sign that covered one ENTIRE wall of the high school cafeteria.
Yep. I was bold.
I won the election and ended up being the voice of reason with three laid back class officers. I drove them nuts all year long, being uptight and worrying about Prom plans, graduation speeches, and being emcee of special events. Yes, very typical of me.
Fast forward twenty years, and I’m still uptight but now I’m worrying about the class reunion. Because, of course, I still ended up being the one to plan the five year, ten year, and twenty year reunions for my high school graduating class.
My twenty year reunion was last weekend, May 5, in Atlanta GA. I planned it, along with a handful of other classmates who are detail-oriented like me. I thought it wouldn’t be too difficult to plan because we hired a company that specializes in planning reunions, but it turned out to be a pretty rough ride. I planned it from out-of-state, and Facebook made things more difficult as alumni started contacting me instead of the reunion company. By the time the reunion rolled around, I just wanted to Get. It. Over. With. and be done with all the planning!
I knew it would be a fun weekend; I was getting to fly home with my husband – sans children! – and have adult time. What could be bad about that? But I didn’t expect it to be the incredibly great weekend it turned out to be.
It started on Friday after our plane landed in Atlanta. We ate at The Varsity in downtown Atlanta. This is the world’s largest drive in restaurant. The food is greasy and messy, but it’s a staple in Atlanta. The onion rings are the most God awful piece of fried slime I’ve ever eaten, and every bite was simply glorious. Yum!
We drove to the suburbs, close to where I grew up, and checked into our hotel. We had a great view of the Atlanta skyline (far away, but still visible) and relaxed for about five minutes – I couldn’t WAIT to get in the car and drive to the neighborhood where I grew up. We saw my old house, and the gracious new owner gave us a tour. It really is a beautiful thing to see my house loved again by a great family.
We also stopped and visited with some old neighbors, and listening to them talk made me miss my parents all over again.
Friday night’s dinner was a highlight of the weekend for me. We met up with a dear old friend named Misty. She is the woman who was holding my hand during a prayer in high school, when I decided to follow Jesus the first time. She has since become a preacher’s wife, and has been battling cancer for the last two years of her life. Her story is heart-wrenching, but her face still shines with a smile and an inner light. I was blessed to be able to give her a gift from nine anonymous people who wanted to touch her life, and seeing the joy on her face was like getting a personal glimpse into heaven.
A group of friends joined us for dinner, and we had such a good time laughing and telling stories. Two friends joined us for drinks at the hotel afterwards, and we had a beautiful conversation about church and Jesus and reaching out to others.
Saturday started with a tour of my old high school, which is in the middle of being renovated. It was fascinating to see how the builders are salvaging pieces of the past and building a fancy new building. And this photo is proof that I am the ultimate high school dork: I actually wore my senior class t-shirt to the tour!
After the tour, we headed to the reunion hotel to check in and get ready for the evening. While Dan napped in the room, I went to the lobby to finish up notes for my welcome speech. I sat alone for a few minutes, then other classmates started checking in at the front desk. One had a cooler with him and before I knew it, we were all standing around greeting each other and giving huge hugs. Honestly: there was such genuine joy in seeing each other again, and I started getting so excited about the evening. I reluctantly said goodbye so I could get dressed for the party and wake Dan.
We went down to the reunion banquet room, and joined the party. At one point, I stood across the room and took a moment to watch people as they registered and walked in. I’ve never been to any other school reunion, so I don’t have much to compare it to. But I will tell you I watched people squeal and hug and welcome each other like the long-lost friends they were. It made me wonder if that’s what heaven will be like. I didn’t feel any sort of stand-offish attitudes, and I didn’t see any people who were stuck in the same high school cliques from twenty years ago. People were happy to see each other, meet other spouses, and catch up on each other’s lives. And that’s another thing: the spouses! I watched spouses have almost more fun than the alumni at our class reunion. We had to break up the fun for a class photo, then we watched our senior class video and looked at photos from high school days.
It’s my friend, Misty, who was on the verge of death a year ago. This photo shows her alive, happy, and dancing her little heart out. If that’s the only good memory that came from the night, it would have been more than worth all the work.
And speaking of all the work, I had at least 15 people approach me and thank me for all the work I put into planning the reunion. That’s not what it was about for me; I would have done it even if no one knew I was planning it. However, it was an added kindness to have my classmates’ support and encouragement.
As if that wasn’t enough, God blew me away through four separate conversations. I won’t go into details because it’ll sound like I’m tooting my own horn, but I will say this: four people had in-depth conversations with me, thanking me for ways I have changed their lives. It touched me so deeply to hear their words, and I know without a doubt it was the Holy Spirit reminding me who I am deep in my soul. At first, I started to shrug off the conversations, and then I felt God putting His arm on my shoulder and telling me to just sit and soak it in, and let these people love me with their words. I was so humbled that they cared enough to share their hearts with me – at a class reunion, no less!
My evening ended in one of the best ways possible: I got to dance to OUR song with the most handsome man at the party. I don’t get to dance much these days, so this was extra special for me. We ended the night with drinks at a nearby bar, then bedtime at 2:30am.
The next morning, we made it to nearby Buckhead Church. This is one of five churches in the Atlanta area that does what my St. Louis church does: the pastor preaches at one location, and he’s broadcast live to the other locations. It was a great worship service, complete with two baptisms and a meaningful message from the lead pastor, Andy Stanley. After the service, Dan and I got to tour one floor of their children’s ministry and I took lots of photos for ideas to try at my job.
We headed to the airport, and I felt sad to say goodbye to a great weekend and my hometown. While we waited for our plane to taxi down the runway, I looked out the window and thought back on all the times I’ve flown in to and out of the Atlanta airport. I wondered how many times I did so with tears in my eyes. I remembered flying in after my brother died, and flying out after my honeymoon. That runway and those ugly orange-colored terminals stand out in my memory, because seeing them always meant home for me.
The flight took off, and I studied the terrain of my hometown with tears in my eyes. I hate saying goodbye to home again. And while I stared out the window, I had a hard time remembering what I was looking at because I haven’t lived there for twenty years.
Our plane climbed higher, and I got distracted by the cloud formations surrounding us. I got the camera out and started snapping photos, my heart full of gratitude for a satisfying weekend and for the beauty of God’s world right outside my airplane window.
It wasn’t until the plane started its descent that God broke into my thoughts and spoke deep truth to me. You see, I’ve spent twenty years grieving the fact that I’ll never go back “home” to live again. I’ve felt like a Georgia girl in my soul, never adopting Missouri as my home. Even though my husband and children are all born and bred Midwesterners, I never felt like Missouri was home to me. And then, I looked out the window of the airplane and saw a town that I know better than any other home on this earth. I saw landmarks I recognized, interstates I drive on regularly, and I felt God telling me to claim this town as my home. And, finally, I didn’t fight it. My heart accepted the truth and allowed Missouri to step inside and nestle. I know this is home for me now, and it’s where I belong. By this point, I’ve spent more of my life in Missouri than out of it, and it’s where God drew me back to Him. This weekend was a culmination of that, and He showed me that I am His no matter what my street address says.