Joy in a Brown Paper Bag

A few weeks ago, I traveled to a national meeting. While there, I attended an alumni gathering for the school where I received my master’s degree. The gathering contained many joyful reunions with friends and the celebration of a great leader. Leaving the celebration each alumnus received the traditional brown paper bag containing a pound of coffee from school. The gift elicits great memories of hours spent in the campus coffee shop studying, writing papers, and meeting with professors or friends. The only problem with my gift? —I hate coffee. Love the smell; hate the taste. Thus, each year I promptly regift my coffee when I get home.

8C0C03A4-15D5-46E6-AF4F-36EC827AB775As we concluded the evening, I picked up my alumni gift and started the trek back through the massive conference center complex to my car. (It felt like a 10 mile walk that night). Seeing a couple ahead of me, I knew they had not been at my alumni gathering but their name badges told me we were attending the same larger meeting. I neared them, confirmed we were looking for the same parking garage, and continued walking with them.

During our long walk, they told me about years of adventurous journeys following God’s call to reach the nations. They talked of great cities and obscure people groups. They described celebrations and difficult events. Then, they shared the challenges of returning to the United States five years ago. For those who live away for a very long time, returning “home” is hard because “home” has become somewhere else. Foods, customs, languages, even daily life challenges are missed upon returning.

Our conversation shifted to include mutual friends in those far away places, and the meeting they attended that evening. Then, the husband asked, “why are you still here late tonight?” I lifted my easily recognizable brown paper bag.

Suddenly brightening up, he exclaimed, “Oh, we graduated from there too!” “We needed to attend another meeting tonight, so we missed it.” “How was the celebration?” And finally looking at my bag, he inquired, “Is that what I think it is?”

Instantly, I realized I found the perfect recipients for this year’s coffee. I offered my paper bag to the couple with the explanation of my detest of coffee and watched as their faces beamed! They talked about how they remembered the smell and taste of this coffee and shared a story or two from their hours spent at the campus coffee shop. In the excitement of the moment, we realized we needed to get our bearings. We stopped and looked up seeing that by God’s perfect design, our cars were parked right next to each other! In the quiet of a deserted parking garage late that evening, we hugged goodbye knowing that though our worlds of experience and the times spent at the same school differed, we were fellow pilgrims on a journey following our Savior.

But our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:20