I'm back home after my amazing, wonderful, priceless, dream-sequence weekend in Lynchburg Va, walking with my graduating class at Liberty University.
I have a heart full of things to write so this might be lengthy.
First off...I am so thankful that I didn't go it alone at my graduation. My Delaware family, Momma Jewell Iorizzo and her daughter (my defacto sister) Wanda, made the six hour journey from New Castle, despite Jewell's back hurting like mad. If anyone believed in me all the way through my darkest hours it was this family. We all missed Poppa John but I felt him the entire day.
My friends in Lynchburg made sure I was celebrated and back-slapped. Cindy Capps and Don Redden were my cheerleaders. Saturday night...after everything had wound down we sat outside at a restaurant and laughed ourselves silly. I have great friends.
Don and his wife Pam also saved my bacon by letting us stay in their apartment for the weekend. Rooms in Lynchburg are astronomical the week of graduation and I was caught flat-footed. If not for Don, I would have had to dust off my car-sleeping skills.
Hershel Kreiss, Phil Shouse (sorry I missed your party Phil and I appreciate the invite...by Saturday night I was wiped out.) and the folks who stopped me all weekend telling me how inspired they were by what I achieved.
Patrick Andrews...you are an amazing man and your story is more inspiring than mine. Tell it loudly and often Patrick. You walked through an incredibly dark and difficult valley and you left wells all along the path for others to gain strength from. You are a hero, buddy! Read Patrick's story here...
Patrick Andrews' story
God provided another very special guest for me. My lifelong friend Richard Henry, whom I've known since the second grade, was in attendance with his wife Dorothy. The reason sort of makes me feel old but it also makes me smile at God's goodness and His impeccable timing. Richard's daughter Erin graduated Saturday as well, and Rich was there to see her walk. God surely knew the timing and having a good friend whom I graduated High School with really was special and made it feel like a door that was broken open was finally shutting. Thanks for being there Rich.
Liberty is a unique place. If you are my vintage you know the story first hand of how hard Dr. Falwell fought just to keep the doors open and what a monument to faith that entire campus is. It is a privilege to graduate from that place. Doc loved us all deeply and when we joked that we were "Jerry's Kids" we weren't really joking. Doc was a father figure to every single student that ever walked through those doors. The mountain has changed over the years, as all things do and must. But the underlying spirit is still intact. This place is about training people to serve Jesus in every thing they do. It's more of a college now and less of a "bible school". It's a healthy, functioning business and not nearly the ministry running on Faith, Prayers, and bailing wire that it was while Doc built it from scratch. But underneath it all there is Doc's glowing spirit. The beauty of the campus, the vision of the people...everything echoes the deep, comforting voice of the man with a heart and a faith big enough to have built a place like this.
Thursday when I arrived in town and pulled off 460 onto Candlers Mountain Road, I turned to Lauren and said "I'll never arrive on this campus again with a feeling of regret..." I was blinking back tears as I said this and Lauren didn't bother trying to fight hers. I would come back every year for Homecoming and for hockey games and often in the summer just as a stopover on the way home for vacation. Every year it would gnaw at me "You never finished here...you're an alumnus but not a graduate..." It was just another thing that knocked me down. Well I'll never feel that feeling again. I'm an alumni...from the Latin for "Foster Son". I have a home and it's on that mountain. I'm not a homeless graduate anymore.
Friday night was an incredible wonderful Baccalaureate Service. Dr. Luis Palau is the most Spirit filled man I have personally ever heard preach in my lifetime. His message was simple but each word was white hot and when he was done I felt like running to a missionary field and preaching the Gospel. He taught us to Dream Big, Pray Big and Have Big Faith. On the surface, pretty typical stuff for a graduating class, but when delivered by a man who has preached to over one BILLION people worldwide it's a very different sermon. Liberty wrote a wonderful article on me for the LU "splash page" telling the story of what I over came and what my path was like. The link is here: Story about Craig Daliessio at Liberty.edu Since Friday morning I have gotten over a dozen emails and comments about the story and how my journey has inspired others to try again at something they gave up on. Some of them were more poignant than my own story and I am honored and thankful that God has given me the chance to bless others by just encouraging them.
Mitt Romney was a wonderful speaker and his speech was, while vanilla, (as expected) very Presidential and calming. Calming in that it sounded like a man who had America 's best interests in his soul. That's a welcome change from the current administration. I felt, as I listened to Mitt, that this man could get us hopeful again...that would be a change. (see what I did there?)
There is a lot more. A whole lot more but I don't want to make this a book. Sunday morning I attended Thomas Road Baptist Church. The church Dr. Falwell started over 50 years ago and the church that started L.U. as a ministry. Jonathan Falwell is the pastor now. Doc passed away 5 years ago tomorrow. Jonathan has done a remarkable job in his dad's stead. He has made his mark without removing the mark his father made. That's quite a feat. It happens that on this particular Sunday, they ran a short video of highlights of Doc's life. A retrospective of the man whom so many call "hero". I was moved to tears. Doc taught me, by example, that quitting achieves nothing, but getting back on your feet time and again is where real victory is won.
I left the mountain on Sunday a winner.
Thanks everyone, for taking this journey with me these last 30 days. Your words of encouragement were priceless. I hope I've inspired someone to try again at a dream they gave up on long ago.