“I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.”
It is truly difficult for me to remember what life was like before early March. However, I have learned in my walk with Christ that we are always called to remember. We must remember in order to see His faithfulness, to have hope. We must remember what we have forgotten. Therefore, as time in Utah comes to a close and new beginnings are approaching, I thought I would take this time to remember what the Lord has allowed us to experience, what He has taught us, and ways He continues to reveal Himself to us.
I think back to winter and the beginning of ski season. What a joyous time full of laughter. The Lord used ski season to teach me how to let loose and enjoy life a little more while also showing me that I have limits. Nothing will do that to you like beginning the first day on the bunny slope at Brighton and ending the last day of the (cut-short) season on a double black chute followed by a few runs in the terrain park--also at Brighton. What a gift ski season was in its highs, lows, and yard sales (that’s a ski term--look it up). What a fun way to enjoy fellowship with those you love.
I think about January and February. We all heard January in Salt Lake can be far from fun, and man, did we feel it. We began the month with a fulfilling retreat at Bear Lake preparing for what God had in store for the last 5 months of Fellows. We all suffered in different ways in January, but we endured. We endured because we leaned into each other, into the community God has gifted us. It was hard, but it was good. February brought snowshoeing adventures, unforgettable ski days, and more fellowship together. I was even able to run a half-marathon outside the gates of Zion National Park with several of my closest friends from college and Fellows. What a gift.
March and April brought a lot of loss. Everybody in the world experienced it and continues to experience it. We experienced loss of people, loss of experiences, loss of normalcy, loss of graduations, loss of closure, loss of what could have been. In all, we experienced an utter loss of control--that is, if we ever thought we had control in the first place. We were humbled, we were brought low. We were forced to sit, to wait, to rest, to simply “be.”
As Fellows, we are still grieving the loss of time together during the most stunning time of year in Utah. Little did we know we would all gather together for the last time on March 16. TRULY little did we know that two days later we would be jolted out of bed a little after 7:00am by a magnitude 5.7 earthquake. Over 1,700 aftershocks have followed that initial earthquake. Many of them we have not felt, many of them we have. Even as forgetful as humans tend to be, I don’t think any of us are going to forget March and April of 2020.
Therefore, as I remember what I have forgotten and reflect on what will not leave my mind, I am struck by how much we have grown. I am struck by the reality that growth cannot come through comfort and is intimately tied with suffering. But growth is good. Growth draws us to the Trinitarian God--Father, Son, and Spirit. Growth, though hard, is a gift. What I have grown to remember and believe over the past eight months is that we are utterly dependent upon Him, and His ways are not our ways. Through the highs and the lows, the pain and the wrestling, I have been brought to a place of awe and wonder.
Think about our dependence and His ways…
When I am at the top of a mountain, He humbles me. When I experience insurmountable pain, He lifts me up. When I am numbed by the mundane of life, He reveals glimpses of the big picture through little moments. When I forget, He prompts me to remember. When I am stuck, He allows me to forget. When I do not deserve grace, He gives it abundantly. When I lose sight of my depravity, He breaks me with His overwhelming glory. While life is a rollercoaster, He is remarkably consistent. I am fragile and insignificant, but He is solid and Lord. I do have basic needs, but He is the eternal answer. We are all broken, but he is Holy. We have no control, but He is God. We deserve nothing, but He is everything. Life is hard, but it is a good gift.
Remembering this time in Utah reminds me of His perfection, His mystery, and that He is everything we need but will never deserve. I know He allowed us to enjoy the highs of the past eight months. He walked with us through the mundane. He spurred us on in times of suffering. He is our source of growth, He is the constant, and we must depend on Him.
In all, yes, we will always forget and try to do it on our own, but we must remember. When we remember, we are reminded that He does not forget, and He will not leave. We are reminded to praise Him always. We are reminded there is no one more deserving, more worthy of praise. We are reminded it is by grace that we have the opportunity to be utterly dependent upon Him. We are reminded His way is The Way. We are reminded to proceed expectantly into the unknown knowing The Way has gone before us.
We are reminded--and may we never forget.
“According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” -1 Peter 1:3-9
I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. -Philippians 4:10-13
It has been exactly 100 days since this picture was taken. 100 days since this special group of humans embarked on this post-grad experience known as the Salt Lake Fellows. The old sayings “the days go slow but the weeks go fast” and “time flies when you’re having fun” certainly come to mind as I reflect on this centennial moment of my time in Utah. A post-college experience sought out in hopes of growth and adventure has certainly delivered thus far and will undoubtedly continue to provide more opportunities for us to be forged by the challenges and difficulties of “adulting” in a new city. 100 days has brought its fair share of adventure, beautiful nature, challenging conversations, alpine hikes, trips to Sugar House Park, laughter, road trips, shared meals, joy, sorrow, and more laughter. My goodness does this group love to laugh and have fun together, and I think our Heavenly Father delights in the joy we experience together.
There’s much to be learned along the way when you move across the country, dive headlong into community, start working full time (almost - shoutout weekly Friday Fellows classes), join a new church, and so much more. Some of my favorite things learned are as follows:
Of these wonderful lessons, there’s one that has alluded me. It’s one I desperately want to learn, but I have a feeling that this lesson can’t be fully learned in a 10-month gap year program, let alone 10 years of life.
I want to learn Paul’s secret of being content.
In the final section of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Paul thanks his brothers and sisters in Christ in Phillipi for their "renewed concern” in the midst of his suffering. We find throughout Paul’s letter that he is incredibly grateful and full of joy, despite the fact he’s likely writing this while under house arrest or in prison. He says, “For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” How can a guy writing from prison boast of a contentment ignorant to his own circumstances? All it takes is a quick page turn back to chapter 3 to see why Paul is able to proclaim his contentment with such boldness.
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. -Philippians 3:7-10
Paul has tasted and seen the goodness of God in the gift of grace and Christ’s perfect righteousness. A former zealous persecutor turned Apostle. Paul had a personal encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus that would change his life (and millions of others) forever. This reality has seeped into the heart of the apostle Paul and this rootedness in the truth of the gospel gives him the Heavenly vision to endure persecution and rejoice in all circumstances. Paul demonstrates a contentment that our culture of anxiety, stress, and discontentment longs for, a peace that surpasses understanding despite the rise and fall of our circumstances.
My own struggle with discontentment is found in my anxious thoughts of the future and ultimately in my desire for control. Examine your heart and mind closely enough and you will find the shrine to which your life bows, and I daily find myself before the god of control and security. It’s uncomfortable for a planner like me to not know what I want to pursue for a career. It's uncomfortable for a people pleaser like myself to not know where and with whom I will be living beyond June 2020. These struggles of planning and fantasizing often hinder my capacity to be present in today. I claw for any shred of control that I think I have, only to be disillusioned by finding that control is a vaporous illusion (shoutout Ecclesiastes and Daniel McKinney). I subconsciously think that, somehow, if I had an answer for what I want to do with my life or my circumstances perfectly aligned, then I would be content.
But this line of thinking is jarred by the striking words of the Apostle Paul: "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” And I so badly desire this, but know in my heart that I daily obsess about the future and the unknown. I’m encouraged however knowing that although he was one of the influential people of the Christian Faith, Paul was human and struggled and stumbled through life like you and I. I think that Paul undoubtedly had moments of forgetfulness and frustration, momentarily losing sight of the goodness of God’s grace. This gives me hope that when I struggle with discontentment, I can fall forward and press on with “grace-driven effort”. God does not call us to blameless and perfect contentment, but rather, a relationship and pursuit of Him. There, in our pursuit of Him, we become a more content person in all situations as we walk with the Lord and become more like Jesus.
As I stand at the precipice of full blown adulthood, I face the swarming seas of uncertainty and the unknown. The reality of adulthood and the difficulties of life feel all too real as I stare out into the abyss AKA my future.
But there’s a greater reality at play here: I am perfectly loved and known by the Creator of the wind and the waves. The One who knows my darkest sins and the deepest atrocities of my heart never stopped pursuing me, wooing me to Him and His grace. The greatest reality at play is the truth of the Gospel: "We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope" (Tim Keller). In the midst of my squalor and sin, His tender love sought me out and called me beloved, and even now in the midst of my lack of trust, His affection for me never wavers, never fades. When I’m rooted in this truth, it gives me confidence to walk towards the storms of life, firmly grasping Christ’s nail scarred hand through it all.
So, as this year continues and my time in Utah marches on, I want to continue to learn the best places to eat in the Valley, the best places to hike in the Wasatch Range, the best trails to ski at Solitude and Brighton, and more. I want to continue to learn how to lean into community and the body of Christ, and on the flip side, learn how to love my LDS or agnostic neighbors like Jesus would. But most of all, I want to learn more and more of God’s love for me and, like Paul, set out to know Christ and count all as loss for the sake of Christ. And in the midst of this love, I want to learn more and more of Paul’s secret of contentment, learning to trust God more and more so I can wholeheartedly proclaim: “my sufficiency comes from dependency on the Almighty one who Loves me” (Ben Stuart).
Luke Van Dyke
SLF Class of 19-20
This week the Fellows went through a justice focused weekend where we heard stories of children escaping polygamous cults, gangs recruiting elementary students, and refugees leaving friends and family to find safety in our city. It is very easy to be ignorant to the injustices going on in the places that we live. Before this weekend, none of these injustices were on my mind. We get consumed by thinking about own lives and don't stop to look up at the faces among us. We love to be comfortable and looking into these injustices are frankly overwhelming. And why worry about other people's issues if they aren't impacting our way of living?
‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these
As someone who loves to help and serve I start thinking “alright, what can I do to help fix this issue?” Yet, I realize this injustice is so much larger than me. Injustice never sleeps, it never gets tired. It can't be put out like a candle or squashed like the cockroaches that live in my apartment. It is a ravenous leviathan that has a strong grip on our world. But praise be to the king of kings who is here to deal with it.
“I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted,
We live in an already but not yet kingdom. Jesus is here working, ushering in the kingdom here on earth but it will not be complete until he comes back. Part of what it looks like to live in an already but not yet reality is to invite others into the kingdom of God, where the poor and needy are taken care of. We can not bring the kingdom here on this earth ourselves though. It is a task that can only be done in and through Jesus. So we do our part by showing a glimpse of what the glory of the kingdom will look like in our own unique ways.
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.
It took less than a week of living in Utah to realize I had a problem. We were backpacking through the beautiful Uintas wilderness and on the last day all I could think of was how quickly I could get down the mountain so that I could get home and tackle my to-do list before my first day of work. That was when it first hit me how much I spend my life in a hurry.
I prefer to live each day running from one thing to the next, partly so I can experience it all, but partly so I don’t have to sit in the silence and process or hear things that I might not want to hear. I think we all relate to this – it’s why we love the distractions that swirl around us every day. Distractions keep us from facing reality and what’s going on in our minds and hearts, not to mention what’s going on between us and God. Thankfully, my time in Utah and the fellows has already pushed me to slow down, forced me to rest, and given me space to sit with God, even when I don’t want to do any of it.
On our first backpacking trip, when I was already noticing my anxious future-oriented thoughts, we were given a ton of time to spend alone with God in his creation. At first I was frustrated by the amount of time we were being forced to spend alone, but after a while it became an important moment for me. After I spent some time overthinking my choice to move to Utah, along with time trying to figure out my future, I eventually heard God whispering “Stop looking around for something to distract you. Just be here now. You are going to miss life if you keep asking me if you are in the right place. You are here. That’s all that matters. Make the most of the here and now before it’s gone.” This truth is one I need to hear daily. As much as I may think of myself as always present and all-in for the moment, I often spend too much of my time thinking of the next thing that I forget to be exactly where my feet are.
Honestly, it’s hard to be here when there are a million little things pushing us to be somewhere else, whether that be social media or planning or well-intentioned questioning relatives. We are always hustling towards “the next big thing.” I catch myself every day switching lanes to move past the slow cars, racing up whatever climbing route I’m on, rushing from each activity to the next. Am I too busy? Do I have too much on my plate? Why is it so hard to be present when I love all of my daily activities? In reality, I don’t think I’m doing too much – I’m just often approaching life in the wrong way. I can hardly be present when I’m just hurrying to check something off the list before I move onto the next task or activity.
We are pretty similar to all of Jesus’ relatives who were anxious and confused when they could not find him after leaving Jerusalem, because he wasn’t abiding by their time table and instead chose to sit in his Father’s house. If we really want to live and love like Jesus, then we actually have to live life like Jesus lived life – slowly and intentionally.
I am reminded of the well-known story of Mary and Martha in Luke. While we all hope to be like Mary, who abandons everything to simply sit at the feet of Jesus, I definitely tend to live more like Martha. Instead of resting in Christ’s presence, I am busy striving to perform the best that I can. Despite Martha’s good intentions to give Jesus the best she has to offer, she misses the whole point of his entrance into her home. He simply wanted to spend time with her and show her love, without her ever needing to prove anything. This world screams that we need to constantly be on the go in order to prove ourselves as important, worthy, successful, you name it. But everything that Christ did for us and every characteristic of God screams that He has made us enough and nothing we can do will change that.
This season of life has been busier than I ever imagined. I thrived in the busyness of being a full time college student, but I never imagined how that would compare to the “real world.” While I love my job and all that the fellows program entails, I have learned that rushing from one event to the next is not how I want to live every day here.
We just started going through Ecclesiastes the other day in class and about how control is the biggest illusion in most of our lives. While a first glance at Ecclesiastes leaves us feeling as if everything is meaningless, the real wisdom portrayed is that we all spend too much of our fleeting time on earth trying to control everything and hurry through it. We miss all the beautiful moments of life because we are never fully present when we are always trying to run to the next best thing. We zone out, we’re on our phones, we’re thinking of other conversations we would rather be in or places that we would rather be, and we end up taking each moment for granted. Instead, we should just be where our feet are.
I am constantly learning how to sit, take the slow lane, follow the speed limit, pick the longest line. I still struggle every day. There is a part of me that is constantly counting down the hours that work is over, so I can hurry to other activities, only to eventually hurry through those in order to finally “rest” before bed, which typically just means numbing my brain with another episode of Gilmore Girls rather than spending intentional time with the Lord. Some days I do better than others. As for today, I will try to show up, right where I am. As for you, put down your phone, look at the beautiful creation around you, and praise the One who continues to love our hurried hearts.
Christ figures can be found all throughout literature. Why is this the case? Joe Carter, writing for The Gospel Coalition, claims that all of literature is “Christ-haunted.” Even in the stories we create, we mere sub-creators cannot write the one great Creator out of our lives. This is especially common in the genre of fantasy. The Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire, Harry Potter, and The Chronicles of Narnia all stand as clear examples.
Recently, while in class with the other Fellows, we spent some time discussing the ideas of order and chaos, specifically in the Old Testament. In Genesis 1 we are introduced to a world in which material already exists. We are told that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). According to John H. Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, “In the ancient world the cosmic seas were populated with creatures that operated against the ordered system.” An example of one such monster exists in the Bible: Leviathan. Isaiah 27:1 gives us a description of the monster and foretells its fate:
In that day the LORD with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.
This sounds eerily similar to another monster in scripture: the red dragon in Revelation 13. This dragon is almost certainly Satan, the serpent who deceived Adam and Eve into disobedience. In Genesis, God promised that an ancestor of Eve would eventually destroy Satan (Genesis 3:15).
What does all of this have to do with fantasy literature? It seems that the idea of slaying dragons is a biblical one, and modern fantasy’s basis for such a motif comes from the Old English poem “Beowulf.” Beowulf is a Scandinavian warrior who comes to the land of King Hrothgar to help him dispose of a heinous monster Grendel. The poem recounts the story of how he defeats Grendel in hand-to-hand combat, slays Grendel’s mother, and later becomes King of the Geats. Oddly enough, his final act is to sacrifice himself to slay a dangerous dragon. The king sacrificed himself to defeat the serpent of chaos. Sound familiar?
Jon Bloom argues that we love great stories like The Lord of the Rings in stories “because in them we hear echoes of the Great Story, the story of God’s redemption of fallen humanity. The narrative arc that our hearts recognize as glorious is the narrative arc of the Bible.” Fantasy literature is wonderful. However, as we dream about knights slaying fire breathing dragons, we should consider the reality that those stories are pointing us to. The reality that a good God created order out of chaos. An evil being, Satan, brought disorder back into the world, but he does not get the last word. Our Father has sent a righteous King to fight on our behalf. The great battle did not happen in a dungeon or a cave but was fought and won at the cross. Our King sacrificed himself so that our lives would be put back in order, so that we would be in a right relationship with the Father.
My life got a little chaotic when I moved to Salt Lake City. I was thrown into a place I did not know, with people I did not know, to do a lot of stuff I was unsure about. But Christ brings order to my soul, he restores me every day with his mercy and grace. As I go to work, engage with the Fellows, and form relationships in a new place, I look forward to the day that my King deals the final blow to the dragon and this chaotic world is restored to order.
*Joe Carter, “Why Every Story and All of Literature is Christ-Haunted,” The Gospel Coalition (August 17, 2019), https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/every-story-literature-christ-haunted/.
*John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 65.
*Jon Bloom, “What Makes Any Story Great?” Desiring God (September 13, 2019), https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-makes-any-story-great.
Prior to our trip to Escalante a few weeks ago I had never been to the desert. I had seen lots of pictures and movies and had heard people talk about the desert many times so I felt like I knew what to expect. I realized as we walked to our first slot canyon that there was a lot more to it than what I had envisioned.
The first thing I noticed was that there weren’t any well-marked trails or landmarks that could help you orient yourself, just red rocks and sand with a few randomly placed trees for miles in every direction. As we made our way through the slot canyons, I began to appreciate the beauty of the desert. There was something unique and intriguing in those canyons that I had never encountered before.
That feeling should be similar to the way I view the Lord. He is like the desert in that He is also mysterious and amazing and scary at the same time. He is more powerful than I could ever imagine and I don’t think I recognize that enough. His power makes me feel smaller and weaker than the desert ever could, but I do believe this experience gave me a chance to better recognize that feeling.
I have no control of my life and the outcome of each day. That scares me and it is something that I try so hard to avoid. As hard as I may try there is no avoiding the sovereignty of our God much like I could not avoid the sun’s intense rays in the desert. Thankfully that is not the only piece of God’s character that He shares with us. He also is more beautiful than we could begin to comprehend. His beauty never fades and if I truly understand that then it will be impossible not to be in awe of Him. I am thankful for the time I got to spend in Escalante and that God continues to reveal Himself to me in ways that I never expect.
God bless and GO VOLS.
the risky situation and navigate with God towards the potential greater outcome. This leads into why I am a Salt Lake Fellow walking in courage.
Throughout the past several years I have been dealt with circumstances that have molded me into a home body. I have been given the best family, and I want us to walk around in a danger, grief, and disease-free bubble. As I mentioned above, we cannot control whether or not we are completely freed from those heartbreaking outcomes. Not only have I been instilled with innate fear, but I have lived it out in a heartbreaking outcome. Every day presents a new battle, decision, etc. I’ve found it hard for my mind not to go to the worst case scenario. I think it’s a defense mechanism… in case it does happen then I have already mentally prepared myself for that letdown.
I have also found that navigating fear and uncertainty in that way is exhausting and essentially saying that I do not trust my Lord to give me the best plans imaginable. If, in those best plans, there’s still heartbreak, my distrust says I do not believe he will hold and comfort me like He has already done before. Therefore, when I encounter the small/mundane grip-holds of distrust, I need to reframe and trust that stepping into courage from the Lord will direct my best plans, regardless if letdowns and heartbreak are intertwined.
Fighting the enemy in the mundane reminds us that He is with us and for us in the small, so of course he is standing with His arms open for us in the big and inevitable trials. How freeing! With this freedom, I chose to apply across the country, away from my family and friends into 10 months of a looming question mark. Yet, I felt at peace. I know God gives this restless heart peace for a reason, and that is to remind me it is from HIM. I do not find peace on my own, I do not find comfort on my own-- I find it in the One who already fought for me so I do not have to tire at the countless unsuccessful attempts.
Lord, You have replaced unnecessary fear and instilled peace and trust which transforms this experience into one of growth. I’ve gained friends who love and champion me well while we navigate this new chapter together. I learned that trusting You allows me to trust myself, knowing that I do not have to carry all the unknowns-- I can enjoy life in peace and delight in Your comfort and sovereignty. Thank you for giving me the courage to step out into the unknown.
Where was Jesus staying?
I find it interesting that John records the time of day which the disciples were with Jesus but does
not mention or give detail to the dwelling place of Jesus, especially since that was their initial
inquiry. Jesus did not hesitate to invite them to this place and once they saw it, the disciples spent
the day there with Him. My first thought is that this home must have had a welcoming aura,
overflowing with grace and love. I envision it as a place of solitude and retreat. Simple. Quiet.
But then my mind is met with the challenge, what about the uncomfortable? What about the
unwelcoming? I think it is so easy to assume that where Jesus was staying was comfortable
because it is easy to find Jesus in these places, but does He not also dwell in the uncomfortable?
Perhaps, this place Jesus invited His disciples was not a place of solitude and warmth, but
because they were in the presence of Jesus, they decided to dwell there with Him for the day.
I come from a ‘one stoplight town’ that is welcoming and considered a place of retreat for many
individuals. It is tucked away in the quiet, humble mountains of North Carolina. Life is gentle
and slow there. It is silent and peaceful, with space to breathe. There is no doubt that Christ is
present in that sweet little town. But in my heart I heard His invitation to come and see where
else He dwells. So I packed bags and moved across the country to a bustling city. Far away from
what is comfortable, where hurry, worry, and noise are woven into the atmosphere, Jesus has
made His presence known.
In the friendships that have formed, in the conversations with co-workers, in the laughter that
fills our home, in the smiles of my students, in the Saturday morning breakfasts, in the constant
hum of rubber meeting asphalt, in the moaning whistle of the train, Jesus has breathed life into
all of it and therefore, He is a part of it and present within it. He continues to meet me in the most
mundane of moments to the most difficult and uncomfortable of moments. He is here, staying
here, in Salt Lake City and has invited me to experience it with Him.
How beautiful it is that all we have to do is accept His invitation to see where He is staying. He
will meet us there and sit with us in that place, whether it be for a day, a month, or a year. Let us
strive to dwell with Him in the uncomfortable, in the unwelcoming, in the chaos, and in the
Jesus, where are you staying?
Come and you will see.
Identity. It is something that you think you understand about yourself, until you get put into a whole lot of newness, and then you realize that you don’t. Coming out to Salt Lake City was a decision that I was sure about. I had always known that I wanted to take a gap year while applying to, and before attending, medical school. I was excited for the change in the pace of life, for the mountains and new adventures, and for the challenges and blessings that come along with a new community. But, I wasn’t prepared for the way the Lord was going to refine me, and so soon.
For as long as I can remember, school, and my achievements in school, have been a priority and gave me a sense of identity, importance, and purpose. I wore this identity like a mask, relying on the attributes and perceptions about me that it formed. As I have entered into this new community of people, I realized how many other masks I have put on in the past in order to try to feel approval or acceptance.
I was sitting at the top of a mountain this past weekend, looking over Lake Blanche, after a long and strenuous hike, when I realized how exhausted I was. I was not only physically exhausted, but I was emotionally exhausted as well. I was tired of trying so hard. I was tired of being so worried about what others thought of me and wasting my time trying to decipher if others think I am “enough”. It took the process of moving to a new place, being in a new stage of life, and being in a new community to realize that the old masks I used to hide behind weren’t relevant anymore, and that these people don’t see me for the identity that I have worn so proudly, for so long. Who am I if I am not seen as the [blank] person? We could all fill in that blank with attributes that we rely on such as “smart”, “funny”, “athletic”, “tough”, “dedicated”, etc.
Right there, in that moment, overlooking that beautiful lake and feeling utterly exhausted, I gave up and fully surrendered to the Creator. I gave up on trying to find my identity in anything other than the One who made me. I gave up on trying to be someone I thought others wanted me to be. I gave up on trying to so desperately fill in that blank with anything but “fully loved by the Creator”. The Lord just told me to stop and to let His acceptance of me be enough.
My ultimate goal is to show the love of Jesus through a future career as a physician. I want to treat my future patients with a compassion, empathy, and whole-person care that exuberates a life that is lived for a meaning that is more than just about myself. The Lord has been faithful throughout the process it takes to apply to medical school and I am expectant that He is and always will be faithful. I am not aspiring to go to medical school to be accepted by, or to impress, others. I am pursuing this career, and have worked so hard for it, because I am passionate about it and feel that it is the Lord’s calling on my life.
On top of that mountain, I gave up. I didn’t give up on my passion or goal, but I gave up on every identity that I have tried to find fulfillment in, or purpose from, other than Jesus Christ. I was tired and exhausted. I was ready to allow the Lord, and His acceptance of me, to define and shape my identity. This is not to say that I have finally “found the gold” and “have it all figured out”. Not at all. Slowly but surely the Lord is teaching me what His unearned grace and love with no conditions truly means. I am learning what it looks like to fully place my identity in THAT truth.
I am not only learning how to let Jesus love me well, but how to let this amazing new community love me well too. In order to allow someone to love you well, you have to admit fault, imperfection, and weakness, and then you have to bring that into the light. That process takes a lot of trust, and it can be hard. Two of the Fellows shared their life stories this past Monday, and I was so grateful. I was grateful for their vulnerability, honesty, and humility in sharing, and I am grateful for the deep level of intentionality that they set for this community going forward. I am learning that real community can be messy and challenging, but in order for it to be “real”, YOU have to be 100% “real” and bring that 1%, that you kept in the darkness for so long, to the light. We all have masks that we hide behind because we are so terrified of what people will think if “they knew the real me.” But, the crazy thing is, when you get to know someone’s “real me”, you see their humanness, imperfections, weaknesses, and amidst those, you see Jesus shining through the cracks.
One of my favorite things about Utah are the mountains. I have such a deep appreciation and fascination for the mountains because they make me feel small. They remind me of how big and how in control my Creator is, and how small, insignificant, and not in control I am. They remind me that my problems or worries are not the be-all-end-all and it blows me away that I am so dearly loved and cherished by the One who created those massive, beautiful, and majestic mountains. For the past month here in Salt Lake City, I have been trying to live in a state of adventurous expectancy, seeking after the Lord and the identity He gives me, and soaking up this amazing community where I have been placed.
Wherever you are, or whatever stage of life you are in when reading this, I would encourage you to take off the mask, let others see your 1%, and let the Creator’s utter love and obsession with you define you and your identity. Live in adventurous expectancy, with a humble boldness that can only be attributed to the One who made you!
Salt Lake City has been home for a little over a month now, and yes, it already feels strangely like home. As someone who often reflects on life, enjoys moments of nostalgia, and does not handle change well, the transition to Salt Lake is something I think about daily. After a tough first week alone in the city before the other Fellows arrived, I have since settled into a weekly routine with work, found encouragement through the other Fellows and church community, signed up for a rec kickball league (yes, you read that correctly), and planned something to do outside nearly every weekend. These combined aspects of everyday life have certainly made the transition easier, but have not necessarily solidified Salt Lake as “home.” In fact, what I have described is busyness—the everyday distractions, commitments, and (many times good) necessities of life we often confide in to keep us from confronting the discomfort we may be feeling, or struggles we are facing. Therefore, what I have learned thus far in my short time here is that busyness makes transitions easier, but cannot provide a reliable foundation for new beginnings. What has made Salt Lake home is that the Lord has met me here and made His presence overwhelmingly known in the mountains, valleys, and canyons of Utah.
Our first Fellows retreat was a backpacking trip in the Uinta mountains. It was an incredible experience filled with struggle, laughter, meaningful conversations, discovery, and the first bonds of a budding community. Being outside was refreshing, and the time with new friends was life-giving. As a part of the retreat, we spent several hours in solitude—time alone in the woods with God. I am a book-lover, so, naturally, I brought along a book I have been itching to crack open entitled The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God Through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence by Henri Nouwen.
Before the retreat, my mind was spinning. I was very unsettled and unsure if I could make it out here for 10 months. Coming off an incredible college experience and a summer full of joy, suddenly picking up and moving nearly 2,000 miles away from my family and friends was less than ideal for this reflective, comfort-seeking individual. All I could think about was the familiarity and fond memories I was leaving behind as I stepped into the unknown and the discomfort. In my mind, God was there, 2,000 miles away, and I was on my own out here. In fact, I was already starting to use work and the busyness of life in Salt Lake as a distraction from this feeling of loneliness. But as I sat on a rock in the high Uinta wilderness surrounded by wildflowers and trees, next to a bubbling stream, facing a peak majestically standing 13,000 feet tall, my mind was forced to settle. I quickly realized God was here. As I opened my book and read a few pages, I was challenged by two quotes in the first chapter appropriately titled “Solitude”:
“Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter—the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self.”
“Solitude is thus the place of purification and transformation, the place of great struggle and the great encounter. Solitude is not simply a means to an end. Solitude is its own end. It is the place where Christ remodels us in his own image and frees us from the victimizing compulsions of the world. Solitude is the place of our salvation.”
I looked up at the daunting peak and smiled. Here I was, alone in the middle of the woods without my phone, with no one around me, but I was certainly not alone. I was experiencing what Nouwen calls “the great encounter.” My mind was being purified and transformed. Solitude dissolved the distractions riddled with falsehoods and filled me with the love of God. Here, in the middle of the woods, I was home. I was home because Christ was with me. In that moment, solitude was certainly the place of my salvation. It saved me from the “compulsions of the false self” and lies of the unsettled mind. Greater than that, though, solitude forced me to understand only He is sufficient. Only Christ can provide the way to salvation in the grand scheme of eternal life and during the little moments of each day. In this little moment, I caught a glimpse of the grand scheme. I caught a glimpse of home. This is the glimpse solitude revealed and the glimpse I needed.
I have heard many times that home is where the people are—those who mean most to you in life. There is certainly a lot of truth to that statement, as I definitely feel most comfortable around those who love me most and know me best. But is home where we are most comfortable? If that is the case, Salt Lake City has no business feeling like home at this point. Even more, home is where the Lord is—the sovereign Creator, loving Father, and abundant Provider. Because home is where the Lord is, we can go anywhere and be found, feel known. We can go anywhere and He is with us. We can go anywhere and have deep purpose. Therefore, I have transitioned to home here in Salt Lake because God has overwhelmingly met me here. Looking back, I can say the same about my college experience and summer in between. The busyness of life is no longer a big distraction—it is rather a mission with purpose. That being said, I would have never taken the time to meet the Lord if it were not for solitude and rest. I am already thankful and very much looking forward to this year of solitude, rest, and discovery. There will still be highs and lows, good days and bad days, struggles and joys. Nevertheless, I am thankful for a God who gives us an identity, infinite value, overwhelming worth, and meets us wherever we are. As someone who would live in a single moment forever if change wasn’t inevitable, I am grateful Home is with me always.
Salt Lake Fellows Collaborative