Kent State University’s Move-In Weekend is always a pretty big deal for our household. Our involvement with H2O Church makes this time of year especially strategic. But it’s a lot of fun, too. It’s somehow heart-warming to see the traffic backed up on Summit Street with pick-up trucks and trailers and mini-vans packed to the gills. We had our last “Summer Session” worship gathering in Fred Fuller Park this morning — and then almost everyone went straight from the park to the heart of campus to start meeting new students.
But not our family.
This year’s Move-In Weekend was extra-special for us because we got to move Elliot into an apartment close to campus. He technically “went to college” last year. But he never moved out of our house. All of his classes were on-line. So he saved a bunch of money and figured out unconventional ways to manage the academic and social aspects of college life. Even so, he’s been looking forward to gaining more independence and living with other students. So this weekend felt like a really significant transition for him. And for us.
Elliot’s apartment complex is only ten minutes away from us, on the other side of Kent. But it really did feel like the classic “taking one’s kid to college” experience. We loaded up our minivan with boxes, bags, and baskets, used a borrowed truck for some of the bigger items, and packed up the rest in Elliot’s Corolla — and then we joined the ranks of all the other families getting their college students settled into student housing. Before we left the house, we fussed about some of the more questionable pieces of furniture, wondering if we’d be able to get everything to fit. Right before we left the house, we fussed about how securely everything was loaded in the truck, debating the need for extra bungee cords and ratchet straps.
After we reached the apartment complex and got the keys to move in, we fussed about the congestion and the sweat. Once we made it into the apartment, we struggled to get Elliot’s couch up the stairs, around the corner, down the hallway, and through the door to his room. And in his room, we fussed over the assembly of the loft for his bed.
But it all felt very familiar. I’ve seen a thousand other families fussing over the same sorts of things. I’ve watched hundreds of parents of the new roommates talking with each other about the parking… and the cleanliness of the kitchen… and the nutritional needs of their young men… But this time, Marci and I were those parents! Our Elliot was the student! It felt so surreal, and so exciting. Like most other parents of college students, I worried a little as we said our good-byes and drove away. But like most other parents of college students, I felt proud and convinced that Elliot was poised for success.
The whole afternoon move-in experience was a whirlwind. Maybe it always is. But it felt weird to go straight from my college student’s Move-In Weekend experience to H2O’s Move-In Weekend experience. We didn’t have much time to think or feel or any of the emotions that might go with such a significant transition. No crying. No listening to sad music on the drive home. Our family just kind of got on with the rest of our day.
As I helped to staff the H2O Info Table at the evening’s “Kent Connections on the Green” event, however, I think things started to settle. I found myself looking at the Kent State University students with new eyes. A combination of parental eyes and pastoral eyes. These students are at the front end of their adult lives. They’ve got lots of friends to make. And lots of decisions to make, too. They will make a lot of mistakes, but they will also learn from those mistakes. And it seems like such an honor to be making disciples of Jesus in this context.
Later in the evening, my colleague Brian texted the above picture to our Staff group messaging channel. He captioned it: “Not an exaggeration, everyone you see in this pic was in the [H2O] scavenger hunt. For real.” I was flabbergasted and so encouraged as a collegiate missionary! And then I let myself look at the picture with the eyes of a parent, scouring the image for traces of my child. And when I saw him — front and center in the photograph, with his back to the camera (wearing a gray T-shirt and blue-and-black athletic shorts) — my smile got even wider. Elliot is finding his way at Kent State University… and I couldn’t be more proud.