PCC Box 955.

That box and I had a love/hate relationship while I was in college. I loved it because it delivered precious letters and pictures and cards and, on rare occasions, package slips, all of which held glimpses of home. Mom sent pictures. Kendra and TJ, both still in elementary school, sent paintings and drawings, and sometimes a hand-written letter in their child-scrawl.

But I think I hated that box more than I loved it because it was empty most of the time. One particularly warm autumn day, however, I found an envelope that I remember until this day. It was November of my freshman year in college. I’d been living on the campus of Pensacola Christian College since the day after Princess Di’s fatal car accident.

The next week would be Thanksgiving and I remember feeling extra homesick. I’d never been away from home for Thanksgiving. And I’d never been away from home for Dad’s birthday, November 12.

That day I found an envelope in Box 955.

I yanked the it out of the tiny box and ripped it open. Pictures! I loved getting pictures in the mail! Windows to a moment of time that I could share by peering in on the scene.

These were pictures from Dad’s birthday dinner. They showed me the traditional eggplant parmesan that Mom makes every year for Dad’s birthday. It’s his favorite. I saw Tony and Kendra and TJ, my little brothers and sister, at their regular spots around the table. Dad making a crazy face, like usual, his tongue hanging out. Mom took the photo. It thrilled me to feel like a part of that memory, and I wanted to share that memory. As soon as I got back to my dorm room, I showed the pictures to my roommates.

There were others of Kendra and TJ on their first day of school, or playing soccer, or something, and I was such a proud big sister. I flipped through the photos telling them all about each one, what was going on, where it was taken, who everyone was. When I got to the picture of Dad’s birthday dinner, I kept thinking about that food. The eggplant, the meatballs, the spaghetti. All that wonderful homemade Italian food–nothing like the faux food in the college cafeteria.

“What’s that?” One of my roommates interrupted my food fantasy, pointing at the photo near my dad.

It was Melody. She’s a 23-year-old senior from Georgia, who calls her parents to ask their permission when she wants to go off-campus.

“My dad?” I said.

“No, that bottle.”

“Oh, the beer?”

“Hm,” she said and clucked her tongue. “Christians don’t drink alcohol.”

She looked at me, then walked into the bathroom and closed the door.

I stared after her.

Did she really just say what I think she said?

So what if Dad drinks beer with dinner? Is she saying that Dad’s not a Christian? Is she saying that I’m not a Christian because Dad drinks beer? Where does she get off, saying what Christians can or can’t do–saying what anyone can’t do? Who does she think she is? What else can’t Christians do? Is this what it’s going to be like here? People monitoring what I’m doing all the time? Is that what it means to be a Christian?

I couldn’t make sense of it. One so-called Christian dictating what does or doesn’t qualify others as Christian. Besides, just because my dad drinks beer at dinner doesn’t mean that she has to. There’s no rule about all Christians having to drink beer at dinner, and there’s no rule that says the can’t, either. Who makes up the rules, anyway?

Is it absolutely necessary that we all believe the same thing? How presumptuous. Some people might answer yes to that question. They would say, yes, everyone has to believe the same thing because there’s only one explanation for how we ended up here, there’s only one explanation for the purpose of life, and there’s only one ultimate Truth that everyone has to agree to. And because of that, we have to agree whether Christians drink alcohol or not.

Before this encounter I never realized how personal beliefs are. As a Christian, Melody was offended that someone who calls himself a Christian would drink beer at dinner. She took it personally, as if my dad’s actions, and subsequently my beliefs, were an affront to her beliefs. It never occurred to me that someone would take offense if I didn’t share the same belief. Do I get offended when someone doesn’t agree with my beliefs?

My dad still drinks beer at dinner. I, however, prefer red wine.

Do you have a similar story to share? I’d love to hear it; please leave a comment or email me.

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