When compared to the span of time that constitutes human history, thirty-five years is not a long time. It is, however, a mighty large chunk of my life.
I bring this up because in the next few days I will mark the thirty-fifth anniversary of two of the most significant events in my life: my graduation from Mercer University on June 4, 1978 and my marriage to Debra Kay Johnson six days later on June 10. My college experience and my marriage experience have been among the most formative ones of my life.
I entered Mercer unaware of what the college experience would be like and unprepared for much of what would face me there. I had set foot on exactly two other college campuses besides Mercer’s and I had spent about half a day at each participating in literary competitions (Gordon College in Barnesville still owes me a free semester that I won with my second place finish in a history competition). So far as I know, my generation was the first one on either side of my family to see its members attend college.
I had performed well academically at a high school that was not, despite the best efforts of a few capable and committed teachers, academically strong. I also began my college career broken and bleeding because of my mother’s death three months earlier, although I had managed to cover the gaping wounds with children’s bandages that were not designed to withstand the pressures of growing up—and would not.
But thanks be to God, to Dr. Howard P. Giddens and other great teachers and mentors, to good friends, and to a girl from Leary I not only made it through but, I realize now in looking back on those years, thrived. Mercer taught me a lot of things but the main thing I learned there was how to love the Lord my God with all of my mind as well as with all of my heart, soul, and strength. I had always made good grades but Mercer opened the world of books up to me and made a scholar out of me and for that I will be always be grateful.
I did have to work for it, though.
What I really needed was grace. I needed someone to show me that God loved and accepted me just like I was, with all my faults, doubts, fears, and questions along with my strengths, faith, hopes, and dreams. Down deep I really believed that God did but I needed someone to embody that kind of love and grace for me. And God answered prayers that were too deep for me to articulate when he gave me Debra. Sir Elton still sings it better than I can say it:
So excuse me forgetting, but these things I do; you see I've forgotten if they're green or they're blue. Anyway the thing is what I really mean--yours are the sweetest eyes I've ever seen.
I hope to get to look into them for thirty-five more years.
For two-thirds of my life now I have been a graduate of Mercer University and the husband of Debra Ruffin. Thanks be to God …