Last week, I made an unexpected trip to the Shenandoah Valley when my second oldest son Johnny became quite ill—requiring two ER visits in three days. While I certainly wish he’d remained healthy, I was blessed from the time I hung with him and his roommates at his place.
Johnny is a senior at James Madison University (JMU) and lives off-campus. Last month he moved to a house called The Greenbriar—named for the street it’s located on. Upon reaching the driveway, I was immediately surprised that, from the street, I would never suspect the large brick house, encased by mature, well-maintained landscaping was filled with college guys. It looked like a family house on the cul-de-sac of a family neighborhood. I wondered if I’d gotten the address wrong.
When I confirmed I was indeed at the right address, I pulled up the driveway and parked. When I did a 180 on the tree-covered patio by the front door, I could see all the way to the top of the Allegheny Mountains in West Virginia. Gorgeous.
From framed newspaper articles, I soon learned that The Greenbriar was established in the year 2000 and, since then, has built quite a reputation for its parties—two, in fact, have become JMU traditions. The Superbowl party and Thanksgiving. The long white hallways are also lined with framed pictures of past Greenbriar guys dressed like bowlers, gangsters, nerds, and other wacky things. By the looks of it, these guys know how to have a good time.
No, The Greenbriar not a fraternity. In fact, there’s much about The Greenbriar that makes it very different from most fraternity houses. And these differences were the things that surprised me.
The first thing that surprised me was the scripture verse on the dry erase board in the kitchen. It’s the first thing you see when you walk into the house. Next is the clean—no dirty dishes in the sink, no garbage in sight and no one’s personal stuff lying around. Not anything like the apartment my older son shared with three guys when he went to Tech. Loved the guys, hated the mess!
The third thing that surprised me was that no guy living at The Greenbriar has his own bedroom. Four sleep in what would probably be considered the master bedroom and the other four split two medium-sized bedrooms. It’s not that the house isn’t big enough—it’s got plenty of rooms. This is the sleeping arrangement that the house has had and they choose to keep it this way.
My fourth surprise was discovering “The War Room.” This enormous room has eight desks lining the perimeter with computers, printers, and office stuff attached. Each guy has his own workspace which he embellishes as he likes. You start to get a feel for the different personalities at each desk—depending on the decorations. I love Mike’s corner desk with all the framed pictures on the wall. One of the other guys has an uplifting scripture verse hand-written on a dry erase board above his desk.
The first day I was in the living room next to the War Room arguing with the insurance company while Johnny was writing a paper due the next morning. I saw how my son couldn’t keep from talking to the other guys, and I worried about the distraction. I asked him later, “How can you concentrate to get your work done?” Johnny has significant ADD, which makes this a legitimate concern. He told me, “Don’t worry, I get it done.”
The second day the reason for the set-up hit me in a moment of clarity. This War Room set-up demands accountability on the Internet since it’s rare that only one of the eight guys is in the room at a time. When I asked my son if that was why they had the War Room set up like this, he smiled, said, “Yeah.” It also gives them a sense that they are not in this alone.
The Greenbriar guys are nothing like the guys I remember from college. And they do belong to a fraternity—sort-of. But instead of the John Belushi, Dan Akroyd, Animal House frenzy to get drunk and get girls, these guys seek after God. And the bible teaches that fear of God, which means seeking after and revering Him, is the beginning of wisdom.
While I was there, I saw one of the guys doing a bible study he’d started at the Young Life Camp where he worked this summer—on his own! Without parental influence!
And then, following another trip to the ER, I dropped Johnny off before I headed home. One of these fresh-faced housemates told me not to worry about Johnny. He told me he would continue spending time with him every evening, talking and in prayer. I got the feeling he was telling me—it’s going to be okay.
That simple reassurance lifted a huge weight off of me. I struggled to let go of my need to be there for Johnny and let God help my son deal with the challenge of organizing a pill box with eight different and very necessary prescriptions taken in various dosages once, twice, three, and four times day and confusing diet restrictions. For a kid who took nothing before, this was a mind-boggling task.
God does great things for and in people who seek Him. Even young adults. He promises that. I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised. ☺