The Way to Graduation

Paul, Esther, Luke, Jake, Kathy & Peter Braafladt - Gonzaga Univeristy, May 8, 2016

I will lead the blind by a road they do not know, by paths they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I will do, and I will not forsake them. Isa. 42:16

"And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." – Jesus in Mt. 28:20

Crazy adventure. Mine was a cross continental solo motorcycle trip through Canada that began a couple weeks after my college graduation. I rode what was then a state-of-the-art motorcycle with the best sounding exhaust ever—a V-twin, water-cooled, shaft-driven Honda CX500 Deluxe. Yes!

Taking the trip never struck me as the least bit risky. I had the time, the bike, and money enough in the bank to make it happen. The fact that my medical insurance had just run out as part of my student status at Pacific Lutheran University gives me pause today. And I was technically "out of country" for most of that venture, yet another risk had I become ill or injured.

Last week, Kathy and I made a less risky "in country" trip to Spokane where we celebrated our youngest son Luke's graduation from college. Meeting us for this event was our eldest son Jake, my parents Paul and Esther, and Luke's godfather, The Rev. Andrew Taylor.

I will admit to feeling a bit nostalgic and emotional as we participated in Luke's baccalaureate service and witnessed his commencement ceremony. I was simultaneously happy for him, sad that this marked an end of a kind of era in Kathy's and my life as parents, and so thankful for the people surrounding us in the moment. I also caught myself wondering about the roads that had brought us together to this present celebration.

I recalled that I had promoted my post-graduation trip with a promise to my parents that I would ride down from Manitoba into Minnesota to visit Luther Seminary. I had been accepted as a graduate student, but was not sold on the idea of living in the Midwest, or on the school.

During the look-see visit at the seminary, I met Dr. Jim Nestingen. He would become one of my favorite professors, teach me the best of what Lutheran theology has to offer the world, and would one day be the preacher at my wedding.

One year later, back at Luther Seminary for the first week of classes, I would meet fellow entering student, Andy Taylor, one of the few in our class not from St. Olaf or Concordia (Moorhead) Colleges, not from the Midwest, and not a pipe-liner (straight from college to seminary). He enjoyed beer as much as I did. We instantly became fast friends. He was and remains Kathy's and my closest friend and the best and only godparent to both our boys. We say of him, "Good godfather, bad influence." The last part is a joke … well, sort of.

The second week of classes I met Kathy Jensen—another non-pipe-liner, first-year student. Two years later we were married and hit the road for our California adventure. We moved to Sacramento where we lived in one parsonage and served separate pastoral internship sites as part of our degree work.

Neither of us would characterize our internships as smashing successes. Our congregations were, however, extraordinarily gracious and generous with us. We learned important lessons about being pastors, being married, and working in the church.

After graduation from Luther—and a bit of a wait—we accepted a call to serve another gracious and generous congregation as half-time-each co-pastors. We moved to the rural town of Madras in the High Desert of Oregon where the good people of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church accepted us as their own. They allowed us to make our mistakes and hone our pastoral skills, "adopted" our boys who were both born in Madras' single delivery room, and supported us as we learned how to be parents. Godfather Andy traveled to Madras to preach for both of his godsons' baptisms, as did their grandparents.

Eight years later we were invited to make a trip to Vancouver to interview in a pastoral call process at Messiah. The congregation had experienced a couple of turbulent years with plenty of heartache and lots of hard feelings. I remember asking the assistant to the bishop why accepting a call to Messiah was not a crazy idea. His response, "Peter, there is no where for this congregation to go but up."

Last weekend, 22 years after that conversation, and 35 years after my crazy motorcycle trip, I witnessed the second of our two sons graduate with a great college education. I am grateful the assistant to the bishop said what he did and that our lives (and those of our boys) intersected with the community that is Messiah—another congregation that has allowed Kathy and me to make our mistakes and hone our pastoral skills. As it pertained to the present event, I also remembered the day eight years earlier when former pastor and Messiah member Freeman Cockram made a special effort to visit us. At the time, Kathy and I were anxiously preparing to take our eldest son Jake to Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He assured us calmly, "You will never know how you got them through their college careers, but you will."

There was truth in what Freeman said, though we would be crazy not to notice that we were never alone in this journey. All along the way there were people, and faith communities, and a God who loves to travel.

Yesterday we embarked on the season of Pentecost. The entire Book of Acts is a kind of travel narrative of what might be characterized as the Apostles' crazy adventures. It is a testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit to bring to completion amazing things through stories of ordinary people and the paths they trod. Interestingly, before they were called "Christians" they were identified as belonging to "the Way."

The day I sat in Olson Auditorium for my own college graduation I could not have dreamed of "the way" that would bring me to an arena in Spokane filled with joy and surrounded by those I most love. Somehow God made the Way happen. I am thankful God did. And I am certain the journey is not over, that there are more graduations ahead.

Godfather Andy and Luke
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