Community has always been hard for me; living in fear of conflict and confrontation, I routinely choose myself over others because it seems easier. In these first two months of Salt Lake Fellows, I have already been forced out of my comfort zone, living in community and therefore accountability. Sin cannot be hidden when you’re never alone.
I brought my dog out to Utah, a semi-unconventional request for a Fellow which caused a lot of anxiety. I knew I was asking a big favor from our directors and it was a long conversation that did not come to completion until just a week or so before I drove out from North Carolina. In light of that, I didn’t want to bother them with any more conflicts, even though I had a big one. My best friend was getting married in October and I had been asked to be a bridesmaid. Although I was unsure of our detailed Fellows schedule I assured my friend I would be there. However, I wasn’t being honest to my friend or my Fellows directors. I have a very unrealistic “everything will work out/be alright” mentality mostly because I am afraid of the idea that it won’t. Fast forward to our orientation retreat where the schedule for the entire year was given out. I immediately turned to the second weekend of October, anxious to see what I would be missing in Utah for the wedding back home. I read “Adventure Retreat”, and immediately knew it was something far more extravagant than our weekly “Adventure Excursion”. Once I was informed that this weekend would entail a trip to Moab for Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, my heart dropped. Big decisions kick my anxiety into overdrive. I would have to have a hard conversation and I had to decide with who it was going to be.
Naturally, I sat on the decision for another month, or if I am being honest, avoided calling my best friend to tell her I would not be flying home for the wedding. As an Enneagram number four I tend to dramatize situations, not intentionally but it always happens and I was definitely dragging this out more than I ever should have. I was living in a constant state of anxiety in September, mulling over the confrontation I needed to have with my friend, but not wanting to do so and my fellow Fellows started to catch on. After talking with Rachel and Ben, who are amazing listeners and advice-givers, I bit the bullet and conducted the phone call that had to happen and it was REALLY hard.
ALL this to emphasize how much this program and this community has continually challenged me since the moment I arrived in Salt Lake City, forcing me to be honest and be open and unable to hide my shortcomings. Choosing to join the Fellows in Moab for a 3 day/3 night desert adventure was immediately so clearly necessary for me and I felt secure in my decision to stay in Utah for that time. That weekend marked our group’s two month anniversary which was really sweet because it provided us with three glorious days of much-needed rest from the monotony of the day to day, to just enjoy each other and enjoy creation. Hiking, hanging out and experiencing a new climate and landscape that, I believe, was the first for most of us, was beautiful. And the ability to experience this together was transforming relationally. I was able to have so many edifying conversations and learned in a deeper way, how getting to know others is a never-ending journey and that there will always be depth to uncover and explore together.
SLF Class of 18-19
Coming into the Fellows community I was absolutely terrified. I had no idea what I had
gotten myself into. I knew absolutely nothing about these people I was about to spend the next
ten months of my life with or even that much about what this program would actually look like. All that kept going through my head was fear about not being accepted. I was used to communities back home revolving around always having to be “on”. Always having to be bubbly and positive, I was worn out from putting on this front. Completely exhausted, I just wanted to be a member of this community, but not have to put in so much effort. My introverted self was screaming for rest.
Before coming to the Salt Lake Fellows, I had never truly embraced my introverted self. I never felt
like it was an option. I always felt like the odd one out because I would have these moments
where I just needed to be alone for a while. Everyone I was around in college seemed to thrive
off of being around people constantly, whereas I just wanted to hideaway for days in order to
feel like myself and gather my thoughts.
It has been a new experience for me, to come to a place where there were others so
open about being introverted. It is so refreshing. It has also been so reassuring, to know that it
is not wrong to need to be alone sometimes. That it is possible to be a member of a community
and be an introverted individual. It’s encouraging to know that I no longer have to feel the need
to constantly be “on”. I can take time to be alone and not have fear of being judged for it..
I mean sure, it was hard at first and it still can be hard. Often times in class you can find
me journaling away about the thoughts going through my head. Just trying to make sense of
everything while being in a room full of people. It’s still a struggle to be present, but it’s a
struggle that I so deeply want to work towards overcoming. I am slowly, but surely, fighting my
way into this group. Fighting against my own giants in order to fully be myself in a group of
forced friendships turned family. It’s a daily struggle, but for what feels like the first time, this is
something that I want. Something that I want to fight for, no matter how hard it might be
So my fellow Fellows, thank you for accepting the introvert. Thank you for allowing me
to embrace this part of myself. Even if you didn’t realize it, I truly appreciate it. I can already tell
that this year is going to be filled with so much growth. Growth for us as a community and our
individual selves. So let’s get comfy, it’s going to be an epic ride.
“This is my command—be strong and courageous!
SLF Class of 18-19
When I was in college, I was the doodler. I have journals and journals full of notes on Chemistry with pictures of mountains and streams all throughout. I am not good at drawing, but mountains are not hard to draw. Mountains are simple to draw, and simple to the eye, but climbing mountains is very complex. When I arrived in Salt Lake City, I was told the first thing that we would do together as Fellows was climb a mountain together. We drove out to the Uintas, a beautiful mountain range to the east of Salt Lake City where we would pack our way up to the base of Ostler Peak and Lake Amethyst. The group of us that were in the Fellows program came to involve ourselves in community and this was the first time that we would all hang out. The hike was about five miles to the place that we would be camping and the hike was grueling, but I think that was really important to that first time together.
There is this old video that REI put out about an ultra runner that I love. In the video he is talking about the fellowship of the sport and he says something that I find so true about life. “Suffering breeds comradery”. As we all hiked gasping for air we laughed about it, and it brought us closer. After a few hours of hiking, we made it to our campsite, a massive meadow below huge peaks that spanned every direction. It was something out of a dream. There were flowers all over the meadow and even a stream that ran through it where one could see trout darting around from rock to rock. We even went up to a small lake and jumped in the icy cold water. It took your breath away the moment you touched it, but after a long hike with a pack on, it was exactly what we all needed. As the sun set we built a fire and sat around for hours talking and laughing. We played games and told stories and it didn’t feel like anyone was a stranger. It felt like we were already 3 months into the program.
That night we all huddled up in our tents and experienced our first rain in the high elements. We got blasted by rain and there was lightning flashing and we were getting wet as we slept, but we were happy. I remember waking up, and building a fire the next morning while shivering with a smile ear to ear. I was excited about my new community and all the hard things we had already gone through together. I thought about that quote over and over, “suffering breeds comradery”. All we were doing was growing closer out there in the mountains. The next day we took some time to go be by ourselves in the mountains. I sat on a huge rock scramble for a bit and watched the marmots and pikas poke their heads out at me. I got to use that time to pray for the year and what I wanted out of this year.
For some people I think this program is a year of rest, or maybe a lull between undergrad and graduate school. For me, this program represents new beginnings. I always knew I wanted to move west after school and now I had the chance to be in a place I really connected with (SLC). This program had created a healthy community for me, which is not something to be taken for granted. This past summer I learned about just how important love is. In case you were not aware, love is everything (1 Corinthians 13; John 15). I was realizing as I sat on those rocks that with this new beginning came new opportunities to learn how to love well. I was going to be surrounded by people that were both easy and hard to love at times and I really suck at loving people that are hard to love. I was going to be in this new city and I was going to encounter people that needed love, but if I couldn’t love my own community well, how would I ever love the city well. This was pretty convicting for me at the time.
At the end of the trip we went to a burger place in Park City and it was cool to see everyone stretched across this long table. We were all exhausted and stinky, but all with big smiles just excited to be in the company of great community. I don’t think I will ever forget that first backpacking trip with everyone; I have never been with a group of people that connected so quickly, but that is what adventure does, it connects people.
SLF Class of 18-19
This past Sunday afternoon we went on a family hike up in Millcreek Canyon, the Little Water trail up to Dog Lake. It was about 2.2 miles to get to the lake from the trailhead, which is a gamble with Zoe hiking on her own, but we were ambitious and optimistic; it was going to be great. About 1/2 mile in, Zoe started complaining, and moaning, and sitting down in the trail. Pretty soon it was clear to us that we weren't going to make it to the lake as both girls were crying, asking for food and wanting to go home; and we weren't even half way there. Unsatisfied, impatient, not resting in the beauty around us...these girls were giving up on the journey because it had become too difficult for them.
So often, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we live our lives like this in our relationship with God. We might start out excited and ambitious, but soon the discomforts of the journey take our eyes off of the beauty around us and create a distrust and frustration with God...as if He doesn't understand what we want and what we are going through.
Right as Rachel and I got to the point where we realized we had to throw in the towel on the hike, we saw a cluster of gorgeous aspen trees wrapped in Autumn gold. And so we decided to go up the trail 100 more yards to hug some aspen and then we would turn around and head home. It was like a switch was flipped inside Zoe's mind, "I only have to go 100 yards, and daddy will help me get there." Once Zoe and I reached the grove, Zoe ran over to Rachel to join her in hugging this big bold aspen tree. And it was like all the joy and wonder of the woods and the mountains filled Zoe's tired body and she started running up the trail with our dog Chaco. While we shouted ahead to Zoe, telling her that she was going the wrong way, she quickly turned around and said, "We have to go to the end of the trail! I want to go to the lake! Come on, let's go!" And with that proclamation, she charged ahead, hugging trees as she continued up the trail.
Remarkably, we made it to the lake. It was gorgeous and restful. But it was the journey itself that made an impacting memory for me. Zoe's trail experience is such a great metaphor for life...even after that breakthrough moment, where she decided to charge ahead to victory, there were falls and moments of exhaustion and even disbelief if we would ever get there. But her response to the tough times had been transformed once she made this journey her own. Being told what she could and should do (by us parents) was not as empowering for her as discovering what this journey actually was for her, that it was enjoyable and challenging and fun!
Our worlds often feel shaped by what others think we should do; our goals and accomplishments and even our walk with Jesus seem to carry a weight of expectation. But when we rest in who God is, making the journey our own and allowing Him to carve it, while taking one step at a time soaking up the experience in front of us; we recognize that God is shaping our story out of a deep and bold love for us... When we experience this, we respond differently when challenges come our way. We come to understand there is a reason for the journey, and that the path will lead to somewhere beautiful. We become less concerned about the distance or the danger, and more concerned about sharing the beauty and encouraging others to follow us. We begin to see others around us as loving companions, rather than competitors or commanders. Our attitudes shift from "I have to.." to "I want to..."
I think it is in those moments, when our hearts are open and malleable, that we experience God so fully, so deeply, that we can rest ourselves into bold action. We are so content and confident in who God says we are...our identity and redemption and value coming from the King...that every step we take has bigger purpose, deeper impact, and greater meaning to the world around us. How else could a whiny, angry child turn into such an enthusiastic and brave leader? The journey becomes real. Jesus becomes real. Our story becomes less of an accomplishment or a competition and more of a life of trust, living humbly and excitedly before a mighty and loving God.
But perhaps, the most profound takeaway for me came from my own actions and heart posture on this hike. I started to recognize that my expectations, both those I communicated and those I did not, had an impact on Zoe's journey. It was once I accepted the fact that we would not reach the lake I so badly wanted to reach, and let go of my expectation for us to get the mileage I thought we should have easily been able to handle, that I was actually able to rest and be present in the midst of the beauty. I felt more free to slow down and look around at the rocky cliffs, golden trees and babbling creek. And that freedom was contagious. Zoe began to feel that freedom, that nothing was expected of her, that we were just there to walk in the woods together and be present within something bigger than ourselves.
Gosh, how true that is of us as Christians, as the Church. I think we have such a strong tendency to put expectations, goals and even judgments on other people's journeys that does damage and pushes them away. Could we be a people who share a contagious freedom; where our only agenda is to love others and allow them to walk at their pace? What would it look like to come alongside others to encourage, to share that moment with them; not to help them see us, but to see Jesus more fully. We should not be people-fixers, intent on lugging others up a mountain so that they can experience what we think they should see. We are called to love as Jesus loved.
That is what I saw in myself that day. Slow down. Be still. Stop striving, stop pushing, and look around. See where I am, see the beauty I am ignoring, see the people that are around me. Stop working so hard to make this journey different than what it is...embrace it. Allow others to experience it for themselves. And see that Jesus is with us, both in the beauty and the mess.
Director of Experience & Learning
Salt Lake Fellows
Getting a job is like sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room. Forms are filled. Time ticks. You
wait for the nurse’s call, but it seldom comes early. Communication is stifled. You find a seat.
People pass in and out. Restlessness pays you a visit. Small talk is made. Your day is slowly
consumed. Some have been waiting longer than you, others catch a lucky break and get seen
early. These are the two fates of the waiting room. Oftentimes there is little reason for which
fate you face. Most times the doctor is not busy enough to justify such a long wait.
An early entrance to the doctor’s office is like stumbling upon an empty TSA line, receiving $50s
instead of $20s from an ATM (that happened to my mom once), or – for the college students
out there – realizing that you have successfully paid off your credit card expenses for three
months in a row. It’s a big deal. You have been spared, your mental wellness is intact. It means
your visit will take you how long it should take you, which is cause for celebration. Navigate the
co-pay paperwork and you have a one-way ticket to another year of freedom. Now the world is
your oyster, your day is not squandered.
The waiting room changes people. While little Johnny hocks up a lung in the corner of the room
and a number of mothers, who arrived before you did, hypnotically stare at the linoleum tiles,
you wonder how you got here. Can’t I live without this prescription? Could I forge my own
physical? Will my family ever see me again? After hour one in the room, you have done all the
productive things you could ever do on your phone and have denied peeing twice in hope of a
soon-to-come need for a urine sample. In a bout of self-awareness, you put the phone down
and thumb through magazines you wouldn’t normally read – Entertainment Weekly, O,
Smithsonian, and Veranda. Hour two has you wondering if your forms were properly filled out.
You rise to inquire with the receptionist, who assures you that your forms are fine and the
doctor is simply busy. Busy. Busy. Busy? This is the first sign of delirium. You take your seat,
only before procuring a few new magazines, and are temporarily mesmerized with the sick child
playing with tinker-toys. Little Johnny is still coughing. You begin to read - Motor Trend,
Working Mother, Midwest Living, and Popular Science. Finally, you get up to pee. A battle has
God forbid you reach hour three and beyond, which is filled with intense self-reflection,
downloading e-books, accepting a piece of gum from the man two seats away, re-reading
magazines, taking a defeated trip to the car, trying meditation for the first time, and
brainstorming better ways to do medical care. Thankfully, most are spared from this trying
experience. For those who were not, I salute you.
When the nurse calls your name, there is always a slight delay in response. You look down to
see if your invisible name tag matches the name dictated, waiting for your tired brain to
process what has happened. They match. This is your time. You arise from your waiting room
chair, coyly eye those who acknowledge you, and thank the nurse who grants you passage door
into the celestial doctor’s office. What follows is an exciting blur. Soon, your life will be restored
and you will be on your way home.
Getting a job is like sitting in a waiting room. As you wait for someone, anyone, to call your
name, you find entertainment, boredom, silence, and fear like you never have before. I have
been in this waiting room for almost two months. Luckily, some of my friends are waiting with
me, but I can’t help feeling alone through it all. In this individual pursuit of ‘purpose,’ my pride
is damaged, entitlement is deteriorating, and motives are in-check. I have learned that patience
and persistence, willingness and obedience are important qualities to implement. I have found
that my desires for a job were rather unhealthy, thinking that my life was somehow incomplete
without it. I have realized that ‘purpose’ comes in the same package to those in and out of the
waiting room – loving people is the key to stewarding our time well.
The waiting room is not a place for apathy, diffidence, or self-pity – it is a time for action. There
is no time to writhe in playing the victim. Praising God in the waiting room means recognizing
that his keeping you from something is a necessary and productive measure to realign your
priorities. It means loving those around you, offering encouragement, listening, affirming,
validating, pursuing, and treating people like the image-bearers they are. It means thanking
God for his past provision, trusting he will provide for the future. It means asking for a willing
spirit to sustain you. Wanting a job is not sinful; a desire to work is natural. But placing a job as
the ultimate means to obtain purpose is absolute profanity. This is what I have learned in the
waiting room. This has been my last few months: intense self-reflection and extended periods
of silence. I do not wish to take back this time, but I do wish it could end soon. Regardless, I
plan to praise God in this waiting room, stewarding my time well by sincerely loving people. It’s
the only purpose I will ever have.
SLF Class of 18-19
Today was officially our last day as Salt Lake Fellows. 10 months of incredible transformation came to a close faster than I had ever anticipated. As the seven of us stood there in front of our church congregation, our director Ben asked all of those who had been involved in our program throughout this year to come up front and pray over us as we were commissioned and sent out into the next chapters of our lives.
I watched as nearly half of our congregation rose and walked forward towards us- with the kindest eyes, and warmest smiles. It hit me then: this is what His goodness looks like in the flesh. I have seen first hand how beautiful His Bride truly is. I have dwelt among a group of people who sacrificed their time and energy to loving each one of us fellows intentionally. A group of people who made a relentless effort to point us in the direction of our King during our wilderness season. People who opened their homes to break bread with us week after week and who sat with us as our hearts hurt and we had nothing to bring but tears. These same people, stood with us in victory today as we proclaimed a year of searching and growing with a faithful God. As we closed the service singing one last worship song together, I recognized the truth that my voice was lifting up: He is perfect in all of His ways. And these people here have shown me that.
Rachel and Ben, you are selfless and bold and continually teaching me about what it looks like to live your life for the Glory of The Lord. You may never know the full extent to which your faithful obedience to God’s calling on your lives have affected us seven fellows, but I am excited for the day you enter into eternity and The Lord shows you the legacy you have laid down on this earth. We are better because of your sacrifice, and we forever will cherish the 10 months He allowed us to spend with you in deep fellowship. Thank you for everything, I am blessed and forever changed from knowing you both.
Zoe Grace Loderhose, thank you for encouraging me to live into the excitement of life- and showing me how to find beauty in all of the little things, especially purple rocks. I cannot wait to see how The Lord shapes you as you grow older.
Hallie Joy, you have an amazing big sister and two strong and relentless parents who are doing a mighty work for the Kingdom. Please know that no matter what, you’ll always have 7 fellows that will forever cherish your smiles. Thank you for butt-scooting your way into our lives and truly living out the name “Joy.”
Daniela Lee, you were my mentor this year and you did life with me in the most powerful and intentional of ways. From sharing your daughters with me and inviting me into your family, to listening to my heart and rejoicing with me as we watched Jesus conquered my deepest wounds. Thank you, for who you are and who you encourage me to be. The Lord has gifted me deeply with your sweet friendship.
Chris, you have encouraged me closer to Him with each day through this wild journey. You have been my biggest fan and prayer warrior, and my greatest support this year. I’m thankful to have shared this year with you, even from thousands of miles away. Colossians 1:17 has engraved itself into my heart through our story this year.
And to my fellows, you have shown me His perfection in a deep and symbolic way. The number seven will forever be sacred and special to me. From the beginning of time God has set it apart to show completion and perfection, and He did that once again through this year with you all. Thank you for challenging me, encouraging me, praying over me, and watching as I stumble through His plans for my life. You have shown me His goodness, and the Spirit of diversity that He so lovingly celebrates. Every part of this year has been orchestrated by a Father who loves us. When we doubted our placement, our purpose and everything in between He showed us so much deeper into His intentions and His goodness. Thank you for trusting Him this year, and encouraging me to as well. He is truly truly perfect in all of His ways. I love you all, and I am better because of you."
I recently read this passage in Hinds Feet on High Places:
“I must tell you a great truth, Much-Afraid, which only the few understand. All the fairest beauties in the human soul, its greatest victories, and its most splendid achievements are always those which no one else knows anything about, or can only dimly guess at. Every inner response of the human heart to Love and every conquest over self-love is a new flower on the tree of Love. Many a quiet, ordinary, and hidden life, unknown to the world, is a veritable garden in which Love’s flowers and fruits have come to such perfection that it is a place of delight where the King of Love himself walks and rejoices with his friends. Some of my servants have indeed won great visible victories and are rightly loved and reverenced by other men, but always their greatest victories are like the wild flowers, those which no one knows about.”
After doing life with these 6 for the past 10 months, I’ve gotten a front row seat to observe their trials and triumphs. I don’t know their greatest victories from the past year, that’s between them and the Lord. But the ones I have seen have deeply moved me, so I can only imagine how much the Lord is celebrating their private conquests. Here’s a little taste of what I’ve gotten to witness…
Alabama is your home and everyone you love and care about are there. Knowing you and how much these people mean to you, I’m still astonished that you chose to move to Utah. This year was probably harder than you let on because your people were 1,800 miles away. But, I got to see the way in which you incorporated the Fellows, who were once strangers to you, into your circle. We didn’t grow up with you John Wilson, but you embraced each one of us. You have learned the value of Christ-centered community and being surrounded by those who have your back. You have shown others your big heart and have done exceptionally well in starting fresh. You obediently followed the Lord to this place and have let him mold you into a reflection of His Son. When you’re transitioning back into Alabama life, this victory will help you start well there.
Your first 2 and a half months in Utah were shadowed with unemployment. Repeated attempts of applying and being turned down happened too often. I know this was a discouraging time for you, but how you surfaced from this rut is incredible. I saw how your expectations of life after college and ideas of success in this world morphed into God’s perspective on these things. This time of being humbled and having to rely on the Lord to provide a job stripped what the world and college drilled into you of what it means to “make it” in life. For most people it takes years to realize this. You reacted with patience and didn’t lose hope. You trusted God with money and work, things that consume our world. Jonathan, this victory will set you apart wherever life takes you.
For the longest time, a war has waged within you. You have striven to please everyone around you to the point that it dangerously damages your health and leaves you feeling empty and burnt out. This entire year I have seen you try to fight the devastation your people-pleasing tendencies inflicts on you. And guess what? You have been able to say no to things because it’s in your best interest. You have learned to put yourself before others when the time is right. All these small instances were leading up to you making a life decision strictly for you, not anyone else. You used wisdom in making a choice that was ultimately the best thing for you. You are now battling the thoughts that you are a failure, but AB the Lord doesn’t see this as a defeat at all. Those who are close to you don’t view it that way either. It’s a victory my friend because after years of being driven to please, you are finally feeling the freedom to just be.
This year has not been painless for you. The first half of Fellows brought forth unwarranted mourning and uncomfortableness. Those things really sucked the life out of you, and I’m sorry you had to endure them. But how you responded the second half of Fellows was powerful. I saw how through letting the Lord humble you, embracing the doubts, and tackling these challenges head on, you reacted in the coolest way. You chose joy Cotè. I saw your true self emerge. I remember you apologizing because you felt as if you were overwhelming everyone, but that is simply not true. Your joyfulness was contagious, because it spread throughout the whole group. I firmly believe this helped set the pace for the last few months we all had together. While this year was not what you were expecting, you are ending this program with such a huge victory that it impacted those around you.
You have literally transformed within the course of these 10 months. This transformation was not easy for you. You had to revisit many difficult and crippling things. Facing fears, wounds, and injustice, by the grace of God you were able to respond with forgiveness. You trusted the Lord to carry you to deep places of hurt, and you triumphantly walked out of them with a fist raised and holding the hand of Jesus. My dear Yumi, 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” You are a living testament to these words. Your fears have vanished, and this has allowed you to live in the radical freedom that Jesus promises those who have faith in Him. You can share your story with others. You have found the secret to contentment. Your security is now rooted in the Savior. This year has been marked with hardships Yums, but reigning over that I see sweet victory.
You have so boldly confronted your fears, insecurities, and past hurt. By letting the Lord humble you and teach you about forgiveness, these things have melted away and given you a clearer head, lighter load, and the ability to be your authentic self. You nailed things that have had a hold on you for so long to the cross. Chains have been shattered. With the gentle push of the Lord, you opened your heart to healing and the challenges that come with digging up “all the things”. With that, your heart has been filled with Truth and the perfect love of the Father. I have watched this change your world view and how you see the Father, give you the freedom to be who the Lord has created you to be, and how its enabled you to let others in and begin to love yourself. And that is a victory if I’ve ever seen one, Sar.
Friends, I have loved getting to trek thru the deserts and climb the mountains with you all, figuratively and literally. Thank you for the privilege to witness victories from each of you. Thank you for showing me the triumph we experience when we seek and trust Jesus.
SLF Class of 17-18
Along with “world changer”, “growing season”, and “do life together,” the phrase “what has the Lord taught you” and its subtle variations is frequently uttered in the tongue of modern Christianese. As much as I like to make fun of people for this speech, I believe it’s an important question to ask ourselves periodically to be both be aware of and thankful for the work of sanctification the Lord is doing in our lives. Doing so cements these lessons into habit, positively reorienting our lives, and giving glory to the One who did the work.
Returning home from an experience like the Salt Lake Fellows in a little over a month, I’m expecting to hear this question often. To avoid feeling like Spongebob writing his final boating school paper ("what I learned in boating school is…"), I’m going to highlight some of what I learned in this blog post, memorize it, and recite it to anyone who asks.
Church Doesn't Suck
I became a Christian my junior year of college, and around that time I had a few great friends start to take me to The Church at Tuscaloosa, an awesome church in the town where I went to college. I enjoyed my time there, and took advantage of some of the great resources (S/O to Ryan King the GOAT) the church had to offer, but to say I was a part of the church would be an exaggeration.
I went there on Sundays usually bordering on sometimes. I knew less than 15 people there, I never did anything to serve the congregation, and I would never hangout with church members outside of the Sunday morning service. This was 100 percent my fault, and I missed out.
This year, actually being a part of New Song has been totally different. The church has become the bulk of my community, and I find myself spending time with them doing things other than singing worship songs and listening to Robert. We move furniture for each other, go skiing, and even drink beer together. I never would have expected to grow closer to Jesus at a place like Fisher Brewing.
Lowering my walls a little bit, I’ve been able to receive spiritual and practical wisdom from members of the congregation- pastors, mothers, fathers, lawyers, researchers, professors, and husbands. I’ve learned from them what it means to serve Jesus as a professional, how to raise a family, how to still have fun as an adult. The community welcomes me, not just the Sunday morning in my church clothes me, but the Saturday night smelling like cigarettes me. Having a Christ centered community that I can be comfortable in as a sinner has helped me confront that part of myself in a place where I don’t feel judged.
This isn’t some new idea, even to me. I’ve heard it for years that being active in your Church will strengthen your relationship with the Lord. But the gap between knowing something is true and living it is wide, and this year God used New Song to fill it.
Mathew 18:20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.
Pursue Your Doubts
If you know me well, you know that I’m unpleasantly skeptical. When someone makes a statement of fact or opinion, I try my best to poke holes in it, crumble its foundation, and gauge its veracity. Luckily I’m a Christian, so I can easily just chalk it up as “that’s just how God made me.”
This tendency has proven to be somewhat of a problem for me the past few years as I’ve tried to pursue spiritual truth. I’ll hear or read something that is supposedly theologically true about Christianity, I’ll go through my normal mental routine of trying to disprove it, and I’ll sometimes come to the conclusion that I believe the statement to be false. Sometimes I’ll find that I don’t believe in a part of Christianity that some (or even most) Christians believe in.
This situation can occur for me with statements with a wide range of significance. Often times I’ll find myself struggling with so numerous and strong doubts about parts of Christianity that I begin to doubt my faith entirely. So, up until recently, I’ve tried to suppress my inner skeptic to avoid these uncertain feelings, which in turn lead me to faith that was partially based on me lying to myself.
But through hours of debate and discussion during our Fellows curriculum, I have learned two life-altering truths.
The first is blaringly obvious: not everything I read or hear someone say about Christianity is true. The world is filled with debate and misunderstanding, and Christians are still in the process of determining what Christianity is.
The second is the debate on Christian Theological issues spans a wide variety of issues with varying degrees of significance. Young Earth Christians can believe the Earth to be less than 10,00 years old, but I can also believe Earth is 4.5 billion years old and we can still both follow Christ. As long as we believe in the central, cornerstone teachings of Jesus, we are Christians- infant baptisms or not.
My faith has to be stronger than any intellectual doubts that I have. Debate on secondary and tertiary theological issues take no truth away from the Gospel, but to shield myself from these doubts is self-destructive. It is imperative for people like me to pursue our doubts, no matter the struggle.
Christianity Requires Accepting Your Hypocrisy
This next lesson is still deep within the developmental stage. It is rooted in a problem I’ve faced since I began to pursue the Lord, and I’ve felt it even as I’m writing this now- saying I’m a Christian or discussing my beliefs makes me feel disgustingly hypocritical. I feel like a personal trainer double fisting Five Guys while he tells you the importance of “counting calories.”
And I know the cause. I worship myself so deeply, my pride is so strong, that one of the greatest fears in my life is being viewed as inadequate, a failure, or the nightmare of every fourth grade skateboarder, a poser. But you can’t lose a game that you don’t play, so I often find myself sitting on the bench watching the true believers play Christian while I shelter that part of me from the public eye.
Of course, this is the exact opposite of what we are called to do. We are image bearers of Jesus, and we are called to preach and live the truth of scripture. Now I don’t know about you, but I fail to do that every minute of every day. The same sins that I know to be evil, and warn others about, are still present in my life. But I cannot let the shame of my sin keep me from living out the Gospel.
I am a hypocrite, and this year has helped me accept that fact. I will never be able to satisfy the commandments that I so deeply believe to be true. But what is important, for me and for the kingdom, is that I have the humility to acknowledge my sin while actively repenting of it AND the courage to point out that part of me to others, knowing that I am still redeemed.
This year I have learned the importance of staying humble. Every day, even on days where my sinful self disgusts me, I must live as a follower of Christ. No it’s not ok that I’m still as sinful as I am, but that’s what Jesus is for.
Matthew 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Be Actively Thankful for the People Around You
About to get a little sentimental on y’all. I came to Salt Lake straight from the University of Alabama. There, a friend was never more than a yell down the hallway away. If I wanted someone to late night with me at Krystal at one in the morning I could probably fill my truck up with company. Companionship took little effort, and I completely took it for granted.
Fast forward to me graduating college and moving to Salt Lake, and I’m living in a completely different situation. I’ve made some great friends out here, inside our program and out, but it took work. I live 20 minutes away from my nearest friend (besides my basementmate Jonathan), people have these “jobs” that take up all their time, and meeting new people takes more effort than just existing in a college town.
I try to keep in touch with my friends back home, but phone calls aren’t the same. Not to mention, my family who I’ve never lived more than 3 hours away from, now lives on the opposite side of the country.
All of these ingredients have been combined into a dish I’ve never been served before, loneliness, and I’m eating it alone at an Applebee’s at 10 o’clock on a Saturday night. It’s sucked, but it’s taught me a lesson that I pray to never forget: be actively thankful for the people around you.
It’s not enough to just “feel” thankful for your friends and loved ones- they deserve more, and you’ll regret not giving it to them. This year has taught me to make sure they know you’re thankful for them, because I now know what its like for them to not be around. Tell your people you love them. Call that friend you haven’t talked to since graduation. Hug people until they feel uncomfortable. If someone wants to spend time with you, move mountains to make it happen. If someone needs your help, immediately satisfying that need should be your number one priority.
Lord, thank you for blessing my life with the community I have found in Salt Lake, and for saving me from eating at that Applebee’s alone. I pray that, for the rest of my life, I make those around me feel as loved and adored as they are by their creator. Amen.
John Wilson Booth
SLF Class of 17-18
Solitude. A refuge where latent thoughts are allowed to unfurl and grow, perhaps planting the seeds for a revelation of self-discovery. Poetic as it sounds (if I do say so myself), it’s not always the most accessible or attractive pastime. This is because it all too often reveals the hardened places of the heart that are unwilling to change, that go unnoticed by others. And that is why I tend to postpone it until suddenly some external circumstance causes internal dissension. Until the disharmony is further analyzed in solitude, it will rob the present of its full vibrancy and perhaps distort perceptions of interactions with others. So not only is solitude important in its enactment of self-analyzation, but it is also helpful in its post-operative effect on relationships.
No one should have had an easier time on the solitude retreat than me—I’ve been described by my mom as a “lone wolf,” and I [somewhat-pridefully-somewhat-reluctantly] concur. It’s not that I don’t like being alone, it’s that I don’t like being perceived as a loner. I worry about not appearing social enough, or people thinking that I think that I’m better than them or something. Realistically no one is keeping a tally of how much time I spend alone/with people, and the only times my mom calls me a lone wolf is when she is cautioning me to be safe after I’ve told her about going hiking by myself. Nevertheless, I’ve identified with the loner persona, as I think many people have at various times in life.
Enter the Solitude Retreat. The Fellows had the opportunity of going to Fisher Towers for a camping trip, which was meant to be a slower-paced trip than we usually do, in that a chunk of time was reserved for us all to be alone. Wow! This was going to be slow-paced; we weren’t going to have every second filled with stuff requiring physical activity. I didn’t know our Fellows program had it in us to do that. Anyways, I got to my isolated patch of land where I was assigned to spend an undisclosed amount of time. It was weird at first — I thought it’d be easy to be alone, but I had a hard time getting my mind to shut up, or at least follow one stream of thought long enough to marinate with it. It was like I had been subconsciously bursting with inner conflict and only by waiting it out in solitude was I able to confront them. I didn’t like where they led me, to journaling about some anger from the past that I wanted to be done with.
But coming out of that time, I felt a sense of wholeness that I hadn’t felt in a while. I had been shoving aside this underlying problem in favor of soaking up the social attention, which only perpetuated the procrastination, as the idea of solitude became less and less attractive. Additionally, my time spent with people was not of the best quality because my inner conflict was, on some level, compromising my time with them.
I can draw these conclusions looking back on it, but prior to the Solitude Retreat I was not aware of how the negligence to self-reflect truly impairs one’s ability to connect with others in the moment. Coming out of that time of just sitting with my thoughts, I felt more grounded in myself, and from that, I was able to express myself better and form meaningful conversations. It’s not easy to schedule down time that is mentally engaging, much less down time that is self-evaluating. I’m still struggling to figure out what it looks like, but I do know that it doesn’t have to be the same every time. Sometimes I paint and that’s enough, sometimes I journal, and sometimes I just do a self-check and pray. The important thing is to cultivate self-awareness, which floods over into relationships as authenticity.
“I need to write this blog post for the Fellows by Thursday but I can’t think of anything to write about.” “Write about what you learned from confronting us!” Tammy generously offered. “But that’s scary,” I replied, to which Tammy retorted “that’s exactly why you should do it.”
I’m not going to sugar-coat it, this year, tied with my freshman year of college, has been the most difficult of my life. I have struggled with the distance I feel from my friends and family, I have struggled with the lack of direction I feel in my life post-graduation, and I have struggled to live with a host family.
While the first two of the previously listed struggles are mostly out of my control, the third is one I have learned to embrace and find joy within. However, it took several months of bottling up all my frustrations to reach this point of joy. I was born and raised in South Carolina, a place where hospitality and manners are practiced with fervor and a place where, when you are a guest, you endure any and all circumstances with a smile on your face.
From August until January I considered myself a guest in the Stevenson’s home and therefore placed restrictions on myself. I couldn’t ask the kids to come down the stairs more quietly in the mornings because that would be rude, I couldn’t cook in the kitchen while others were around because I didn’t want to get in anyone’s way, I couldn’t eat meals with the Stevenson’s when I had a rough day because I didn’t want them to see the grouchy, tired side of me. I felt imprisoned within a house from which I had removed all senses of comfort, sanctuary, and love.
A home is a place where you feel free to be yourself, where you can watch Friends with the volume all the way up, where you can make mac and cheese at midnight if you’re feeling snacky. It’s a place where you don’t have to worry about putting your best foot forward because it’s yours.
My desire to make myself the best guest the Stevensons ever had began to cause me stress, and this stress soon turned to anger, and finally bitterness. Rather than acknowledging that this stress was self-imposed, I began to blame the Stevensons. The months of sitting in my room and hiding from my host family out of fear of seeming ungrateful or unhappy in their home began to eat away at me. I assumed my only option to escape the situation was to move out.
One Sunday afternoon with a plan set in place, I sat down with Tammy, Loren, and one of the directors of the Fellows, Rachel, and began to explain how I had been feeling. The second I began speaking, tears began to fall. I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone and I felt more guilt than I ever have in my entire life.
After I finished voicing all of my struggles, Tammy gently asked why I had never brought up any of these issues with them before this point. I burst into tears, realizing my desire to be a perfect house guest had kept me from any and all types of confrontation. “We love you and we want you to be happy,” Tammy and Loren both said in their own words. “If you need to move out we understand, but is there anything we can change that might help you stay with us?”
These words shocked me. I thought this was going to be a simple conversation where I told them I was moving and they said okay. Instead I was met with the resistance of love. I had never considered the possibility that the Stevensons cared for me as someone other than a house guest. I began crying even more because I knew I didn’t deserve their kindness - I had been selfish and completely blind to their desire to see my flourish.
Flash forward several months later and the Stevensons have continued to embrace me, and now I them. We laugh together, share our frustrations, and check in on each other to make sure everything is going well both in and outside of our home. This openness did not come easily, but I cherish the ability I now have to walk through the door and complain about a rude customer at work or jump for joy at good news from a grad school.
Our Fellows directors Ben and Rachel have continuously encouraged us to lean in to conflict rather than shy away from it. While I’m still not great and confronting others about my hurt and anger, I have learned a powerful lesson this year about the need for honesty in any type of relationship, even if it isn’t fun or kind. I have Ben, Rachel, and the Stevensons to thank for my newfound appreciation for conflict. Even though the thought of confronting someone still makes me cringe, I now realize that my desire to avoid uncomfortable situations at all costs is one I need to learn to fight against, and that honesty truly is the best policy.
SLF Class of 17-18