The young man is in his early twenties. He smiles as broadly as the mountains surrounding the small Alabama town tucked at the piedmont of one of God’s practice runs before getting to the Rockies.
“Welcome back,” he says as I approach the counter. My stops off the interstate in his town are more frequent as of late. Waffle House and a hardware store both shadow the hotel.
We walk through the check-in process, he hands me my room key and leans forward.
“I’ve been accepted to seminary school,” he says. “Start in January. Florida.”
I offer my congratulations and shake his hand.
“Yes, sir,” he says, “Felt the Lord’s calling as of late and this sort of popped up out of nowhere.”
I asked him about his chemistry degree, the one he’d always updated me when I’d visit.
“I’m within three classes but I might find a college down there and see about finishing up. Maybe teach and preach one day.”
He tells me about how he’d been telling his mom he wouldn’t be around much longer. Something big is coming, he said to her. She hoped nothing bad was going to happen. He assured her whatever it was would be good – wasn’t going to die or anything like that.
Then came an unsolicited message from a small seminary school planted on the panhandle of Florida. Pine trees, white sand, and Jesus, so to speak.
He’s as puzzled at the turn of event as anyone. He’d said to someone in passing he might one day consider the seminary. He figures a phone call must’ve got placed recommending a young man in northeast Alabama. A letter went out addressed to the ZIP code of a small town populated with green trees and red dirt.
Youth is an odd thing. When we are young, the world is revealing itself with tiny clues leaving us to figure out how to navigate the opportunities ahead. Life outside of the nest can go either way – terrifying or enthralling. For this young man, he seems hardwired for the second.
A bit later he brings out his Bible. Meaty, brown, with gold-flakes reflecting off the edges of each page.
“I figured I might need to start reading this – they might be referring to it,” he says. His eyes are bright, expressive, and hint at someone who might be up for tossing toilet paper through the trees of a neighbor’s house on a moment’s notice.
“I’m reading the easy ones first – the short ones with single chapters.”
As the words hang between us I’m not sure if he’s joking or being serious. A betting man might rightly wager on the latter.
He’s young. His feet are where God planted him on the first day he came to be. But bit-by-bit the world is opening up around him. The winds of change are blowing through the Piedmont of northeast Alabama. And for one young man, he’s hitching a ride to wherever they take might lead him.