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Friday, January 25, 2013

Final-Year University: Life-Threatening Roommate

Before the internal trauma of the courtroom had been resolved, another change came into my life. Oh, it wasn’t the marriage of my roommate, though she did get married in my final year of university. Her wedding was a wonderful occasion that we had enjoyed looking forward to throughout the planning. I was her Maid-of-Honor. After she was settled in her new home just a few blocks from the apartment we had shared,  I delighted in helping her learn some of the things a new bride might need to learn…such as how to bake a ham for Easter or clean the bathroom mirror. But, her replacement was a total surprise and quite a challenge. I wondered if I’d survive to graduate!

I’ll call her Julie. I met Julie at one of the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) meetings, which were still a part of my life. Julie needed to find a roommate, but I wasn’t looking for a replacement for Cathy. The reason was that I had only one quarter of school left before graduating; I just wanted to get finished and move on, not start a new relationship of any kind. However, Julie approached me one afternoon when our weekly IVCF Action Group met near hers.

“Hello, Sojourner, my name is Julie. We met last Friday, but you probably don’t remember me.”

“There are a lot of kids at that Friday meeting with all the Action Groups coming together, but I do remember meeting you. You’re a twin, right? Is your sister still visiting you?”

“No, that was just for the weekend. I talked with Pastor Dan and he suggested I speak to you. I need a place to stay and he said your roommate got married over Spring Break.”

“Yeah, that’s right, she did. But, I’m not really looking for a roommate. I only have this one quarter left so will be giving up the apartment in a few months. I can ask around for you, though. Maybe someone else is looking.”

“I’ve already asked around. Please, I need a place for this quarter. I can worry about what comes next after that. Can’t you pray about it, at least?”

Well, how could I refuse to pray about it? I’d also talk with the pastor, but I was not going into this seeking-the-Lord-for-an-answer mode with a very open heart or mind. I just didn’t want one more change in my life right then.

I discussed the situation with the pastor, who reminded me that spring was a time I rarely found myself at home for any length of time. I wouldn’t probably be starting a new relationship with Julie, as much as I would just be sharing the apartment space. There were all sorts of activities in the spring, including touring weekends with the IVCF singing group to which I belonged. On paper, I didn’t really have any good reason to deny her request.

Julie moved in shortly after her request had been made known. There were things I told her about the place in a manner of brief orientation, and we discussed personal likes and dislikes to make things run more smoothly. However, there was one bit of information that seemed obvious to me but not so much to her

The temperature had plummeted overnight, which was not an uncommon occurrence in the mountains of Montana. The ancient hot water radiator in the apartment took awhile to warm the chilly air, but did get there…eventually. Well, eventually was too slow for Julie. She took matters into her own hands, but then left for breakfast with a friend on campus.

My alarm broke the quiet, startling me out of yet another disturbing dream about final exams, though they were months away. Shuffling around, finding only one slipper, I staggered half-asleep to the open bedroom door. It was the usual routine and the icy cold water of the bathroom sink always served to finish the wake-up call.

The impression of heat hit me before I reached the doorway and slowed my pace. Gingerly, I approached the open door; the heat increased. Fire? I thought which shot my eyelids fully open. The appliance closest to the bedroom was the oven, whose door had been opened wide. I reached out to shut it but found it too hot to touch. The coils were burning white. Glancing at the temperature dial, I read the selected temp to be 500 degrees, though I doubt that this old gas stove could accurately register the temperature.

The problem was that, when the oven door was open all the way, the doorway out of the bedroom was completely occluded. I would have to find something to close the door. The dial was also too hot to touch, so I couldn’t just turn it off. There was nothing I could reach on the kitchen table next to the stove, and the countertop where I spied a potholder, was against the opposite wall from the table.

Finally, I folded up a tee shirt and pushed the door closed with a bang. I, then, used the clumped up fabric to turn the dial until I heard it click off. The tiny apartment was so warm, I wondered how long it had been since Julie set up this dangerous quick-warming situation.

The hot oven door had completely blocked off any exit from the bedroom. Had something happened and there been a fire…? Like I said, I thought it was obvious one didn’t do such a thing, but guess not.

The next challenge came soon after the above incident. I climbed the wooden stairs to our apartment one afternoon, expecting to quickly retrieve a textbook I’d forgotten, only to discover our small living room full of tough-looking older guys and Julie. 

“Sojourner! Come here and meet my friends.” I looked at Julie when she spoke, but I was checking out the assembled friends out of the corner of my eye. “Guys, this is my roommate, Sojourner. Sojourner, this is Bill, Tom, Paul, and George. I was so surprised to see them. I’ve been writing to Bill, so I knew he would be in town soon, but didn’t know the exact date. Now here he is with some of his friends. Isn’t that great!” Julie was so excited, just glowing, really.

“Hello,” was all my dumb-founded brain could manage at the sight of these large men. They smiled slightly and returned my greeting. “Julie, can I see you in the bedroom for a minute, please. I’ve got to hurry back to class; I just came home to get a book.” On the other hand, did I want to turn my back on these strangers? 

Once in the bedroom, I tried to lower my voice as much as possible, because I was afraid to close the door. “Julie, who are these guys? Why did you bring them all up here? You’re in a very vulnerable position here.”

“No, it’s okay. I’ve been writing to Bill for the last two years. Now, he is out of prison and wants to go to church with me and study the bible. We’ve been sharing Scriptures in our letters and it’s so nice to have him here now.”

“And his friends? Are they also interested in going to church and reading the Bible?”

“Well, I suppose so. I’ve just met them but Bill is ready to make a totally new life for himself so he’ll need friends, won’t he?”

“Julie, I think you should take your friend to meet Pastor Dan. He’ll know how best to help him get settled here.” Lowering my voice even more, I continued, “And, Julie, I don’t want to see these guys here when I get back from class in an hour and a half. It is very unwise to bring four much-older men into this small apartment, housing two young women. The ‘appearance of evil,’ the Bible calls it, you know?”

“Oh, you’re right, Sojourner. I didn’t think of that. We’ll just have a Coke and then I’ll take them to meet the pastor. That’s a great idea!”

Well, Julie and her new friends weren’t there when I returned. For several weeks I wondered if they would be there, every time I opened the apartment door. I felt so vulnerable and that frightened me.

I can’t say that these men all having criminal records didn’t affect the way I feared solitary contact with them, but it was more their somber faces and overwhelmingly large, tattooed bodies that struck fear into my being at first sight. After learning they had recently completed their incarceration, I felt vulnerable to the potential for unpleasant surprises. Our IVCF singing group had ministered during chapel services in the State prison, and perhaps the reminders of the briefing of what not to do from the prison officials affected my reaction to finding them in my home.

As a mature adult, I do believe that a man or woman who has paid for his or her mistakes by time in prison deserves a second chance. Jesus gives us all many second chances in our lifetime, and we should follow His example of compassion and mercy. However, there is always a bit of wisdom needed to be sensitive to the newly-released person’s needs, while protecting the vulnerable side of the young folks so eager to help.

I never heard anything more of these men, except that they did not go to meet the pastor, so I can’t really say, for sure, that Julie put us in any danger. But, it certainly did feel like it!

Though I quickly recognized the Lord’s protection in these two potentially disastrous situations, I was about to put myself in even greater danger…without giving it a second thought!

*The names of Julie and her friends have been changed.

****Final-Year University: Honda Happiness…Next Post

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