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
Salt Lake Fellows Collaborative