A few months ago, I saw an invitation on Facebook for a reunion for 1990s alumni of the UC Davis chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. IVCF is an international para-church organization (i.e., not affiliated with a particular church or denomination) that runs Christian groups and ministries on university and college campuses, and I’ve mentioned before that I was involved with this organization during my university years. It was through this group that I first came to know Jesus on a personal level, that all the stories I’d heard as a child about Jesus and God’s people really started to mean something to me and affect my life. Some of the people in my life from this group I’m sporadically in Facebook contact with, but there are many others with whom I lost touch long ago. So when I saw last summer that the couple who led the group from 1992 to 2002 would be flying out to California in October and speaking at an IVCF reunion for alumni who were part of the group during those years, I signed up right away. In fact, I was told that I was the first one to register and buy my ticket.
The event happened at the end of my school’s fall break. I was hoping for the fall break to be low-key and relaxing, allowing either for a spontaneous adventure or two or lots of time sitting around doing things I enjoy. Some of that happened, but the week ended up being much more full of adult responsibilities than I was hoping: car maintenance, bike repairs, my phone dying unexpectedly, and its brand new successor stopping working after a day, to mention a few. In the days leading up to the reunion, my mind was rapidly heading into a downward spiral of negative thoughts and stress.
But this day was exactly what I needed, emotionally and spiritually. It felt like I was getting back to my roots as a Christian, worshiping the Lord in the same environment that I did twenty years ago, before I became so disillusioned with church culture and jaded by the various ways I’ve been mistreated since then. I enjoyed catching up with so many old friends, getting to share stories about what I’m doing today and hear their stories. These were the people who were here for me at a very difficult time in my life. Things weren’t always smooth, as I shared last week, but is it ever?
Nine days later, as I write this, two conversations stick out the most in my mind. The first was with a woman a few years older than me who was on staff with InterVarsity during the time I was there. I found her on Facebook a few years ago, when she commented to one of my friends from this time period who I’ve stayed in touch with, so she has seen a lot of my Facebook posts about my tabletop game and retro video game friends, Kings games, and partner dancing. But this was the first time we had spoken face to face in a long time. I didn’t have a social life anything like this twenty years ago, and that was something I often felt discouraged about. She told me, “I’m really glad you found your people.”
I didn’t respond to that comment in the best way I could have. I should have thought about how she’s right. For the first thirty-plus years of my life, I never had friends who understood the things I enjoy doing to the extent that my friends now do. I was never able to invite people over and get a good response and have a good time. I really have found my people, in that sense.
But that wasn’t my response. Instead, I took a negative view of the subject. I said, “But it doesn’t feel like they’re completely my people. Most of those friends are either not Christians, or way younger than me.” True, but this isn’t what I should be focusing on. I really need to stop being so negative.
Hold that thought. More on that later. The second conversation that sticks out to me was with someone who had been a freshman when I was a senior. She eventually moved back to the area where she grew up, about an hour and a half drive away, and somehow the topic came up of how often we’ve been back to Davis since then. I only live 30 miles away, and I go to a lot of UC Davis football and basketball games, and I have met a few other friends who live in Davis over the last few years who have no connection to my time living there, so I have been back to Davis more often than most of the students who attended the reunion, except for the handful who actually live in Davis today. I mentioned to this friend that I think about moving back sometimes, even to the point that I’ve sent job applications at two distinct points in my life. But I don’t think that moving back is a good idea for me, given what I know about myself. Truthfully, this thought isn’t about wanting to move back so much as as it is that I just want my old life back. And that just isn’t realistic, because so much has changed in the last twenty years. The world is a different place and everyone has grown up, and if I were to move back to Davis, I would not get my old life back. None of these were really new thoughts for me, but it seemed like I explained it a bit more clearly than usual.
Later, we had a sharing time, about things that we learned during our InterVarsity days that have borne fruit in our adult lives. Someone was talking about how at one point as an adult, she was looking for the kind of community she had in college, only to realize that as adults, we have to make our own community. I’ve been struggling with this for a long time, spending decades of my life trying to find a church that has a group like InterVarsity for my age, only to realize that this group doesn’t exist.
I will always have my InterVarsity memories, and these memories will always be precious to me. But life moves on. Which brings me back to the other conversation about finding my people. I’m glad to be in touch with people I knew twenty years ago, but my people in 2017 are the game group friends and my other current social friends. God put me in this place for a reason, and I still have work to do where I am right now. And although it doesn’t hurt to embrace nostalgia to some point, looking backward ultimately is not the answer when I can’t find the way forward.