Like many other people in college, I did an amazing amount of really stupid things . . . and survived. Seems I had a lot of things backward. What I thought was cool was really just embarrassing. What I thought was funny was really life-threateningly dangerous. What I thought was smart was really “just plain dumb” (as that intimidating golf tee game at Cracker Barrel still reminds me).
I lived in a house with some guys who all regularly participated in these “not smart” activities with me. Two doors down lived an “adult couple” ten years older than us. They drank with us and partied with us. When you’re in college, “old people” in their early 30s who party with you are the coolest people on the planet.
As our senior year began, we started to plan for our adult futures, getting jobs, being sober more, and generally cleaning up our act . . . growing up. The cool, older partying couple didn’t seem as cool. Turns out they had marriage problems because he drank too much. He was a full-on alcoholic . . . an official drunk. He missed work a lot, and they had money troubles. Then tragedy struck.
At 1 a.m. a sheriff’s deputy was knocking on our door, waking us and scaring us to death. The deputy was looking for the husband because the wife had been killed in a car accident. He was found in a bar.
We cried and cried, went to the funeral, the burial, and everything got dark. Really dark for him. He went the rest of the way down the rabbit hole. He became a classic drunk. Friendly, loveable, but running up tabs he couldn’t pay, losing his job, and even not bathing enough. None of us had enough life wisdom to be of any help, but nothing about this was fun to watch.
Again at 1 a.m. there was a knock at our door, waking us and scaring us to death. The local sheriff’s deputy was standing on our door step with more bad news. Turns out our buddy had been in a bad wreck.
At the time, we all lived on a lake that had the level dropped for winter so the shallow areas were simply mud. One road on the way home from the bar dead-ended into another where you should turn right. Our buddy didn’t turn. As a matter of fact, he never slowed and launched his old $200 VW Bug out into those mud flats like it was Herbie the Love Bug. He lived but was hospitalized for quite a while. Since he lived, the vision of that VW flying through the air into the mud is downright funny thinking back on it. But not that night. That night was yet more drama and pain for him.
Not long after that, we graduated, got married and started our adult lives with the craziness of college becoming stories we would tell sometimes (but never to our children). I think the wreck might have been a wake-up call for our buddy. He sold his house and moved to Kansas for a new job and a new life.
Years later we got a long, hand-written letter from him. Seems when he hit bottom in the mud, he really hit bottom, which is the blessing every drunk looks for. He started turning his life around and became, of all things, a college professor and went on for his Ph.D. He met God, and God walked with him—sometimes carried him—as he recovered from alcohol and his grief over losing his wife. At his new church he met a good woman who saw not his past, but his smile. He has a great smile. They love each other, love God, and raise goats . . . well, whatever.
We get a Christmas card every year with their picture. I admit, almost 40 years later, I still panic when someone wakes me up at 1 a.m. ‘cause it has to be bad news. But this picture always shows his great smile and reminds me that redemption, restoration, and a great new life are always there for the taking. God does have a plan for you, and it’s not to bring you harm, but to bring you hope . . .
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV).