And I mean that, ya’ hear?
A long, long time ago, in the fall of ’92, I packed up almost everything I owned and headed off to seminary. Funny how everything you owned used to fit inside a car and you could still see out the rearview mirror. I left home, and found myself 600 miles away following God’s call in Louisville, KY. It was the farthest I had ever been from home, and there were days when I could feel that.
Fortunately, some of the first people I met were fellows from South Carolina. The journey acquired a sense of home. One of those young ministers had even preached at my home church as part of a BSU summer missions team. All of that was very helpful.
We compared notes about life in the northern part of Kentucky, one river crossing away from the North. We lamented the lack of sweet tea in restaurants (it might shock you where we found it—probably not). We’d go out to eat together and confirm to each other, “That ain’t barbecue!” We needed each other’s friendship. We were Carolina boys together, but we all were still far from home.
We’d settle on couches on Saturdays to watch college football, but the selection was limited to Kentucky, Louisville and the Big Ten. Lord, have mercy. The saving grace was that Kentucky was in the SEC, and for my first semester away from home, the schedule brought Carolina to Lexington.
The boys got together, and we made plans to go to the game. One fellow had a connection for tickets, and even the Clemson fan wanted to go. We got up early that Saturday morning and headed east for Commonwealth Stadium. We encountered more culture shock. 1) We drove less than 80 miles to get to a college football game. 2) There was no game day traffic. We had to come to terms with a state where basketball was religion. Forgive us, Lord.
I mentioned that I left home with “almost” everything I owned. The Gamecocks sweatshirt was 600 miles away in a closet in Reevesville, SC. Guess what they didn’t sell in the mall in Louisville, KY back in 1992. Back in the dorm, I dug through my clothes and came out of the pile with a black Evangelympics sweatshirt (God bless you, Bill Cox!). That served as my game day gear.
Of course, we had anticipated there’d be traffic, so we got to the stadium very early. We tailgated, and then we walked around outside the stadium. We came across a woman all dressed in black. Long, black skirt. Black sweater. Big black hat. The entirety of the ensemble highlighted with block C’s and the “Beat Kentucky” sticker from Jewelry Warehouse. If I had to guess, she was a football player’s mother, but she reminded me of my mother.
The only indicator of what side I was on was that black sweatshirt. As we drew close to the woman, she locked eyes with me and said, “How ‘bout them Gamecocks!”
She may as well have said, “I love you and everything’s going to be all right,” because that’s definitely how I heard it. In the couple seconds it took to say it, every bit of distance disappeared. I wasn't a visitor. I was right at home. And all I could do was smile and say it right back.