Between my rock and a hard place | Reflections by Fellow Elena Alba '16

Brace yourselves, avid 'Hoos fans, this will be an honest read. I make no promises that you will leave these few paragraphs encouraged or with new insights. My hope is instead to convey some sense of frankness about an unconventional U.Va. experience. For me, "Go 'Hoos," spoken at seemingly random and near constant intervals by my peers, was not a rallying cry to fandom but a constant reminder of the school spirit I did not have, the lack of fulfillment I felt attending the same school others often worshiped.

After experiencing the classic first year of being doted upon and courted by organizations, churches and professors alike, I walked into my second year On-grounds dorm building (not recommended) with unreasonable expectations. Second year deals a near universal blow to the average U.Va. student's psyche, primed by the previous year to expect novel experiences and constant attention. I soon found the school I thought I loved to be a place where I felt isolated, out of place and academically unchallenged. My friends were wonderful, the new boyfriend absolutely a joy to have in my life, yet I was convinced I didn't belong in this place.

The pained feeling of discontentment did not budge over the next few months and years as I was promised it would. God placed me in this community despite a consistent lack of desire to be here. But as many of us have come to know, God's faithfulness often takes strange forms. I have (at times agonizingly) learned to adapt, finding ways to be present and purposeful, loving and humble, while in these places of discontent.

God made me grow up, sneaky fellow, without my ever having agreed to it. I've learned to care not at all what anyone thinks, to serve the people in this community with love when I'd rather be elsewhere, to listen deeply and withhold judgment when it would be far easier not to. My years at U.Va. have often been difficult, desperately lonely and monotonous, but I have been gifted spaces like the Bonhoeffer House to get in the ring with my doubts and rage, duking it out with fury until I'm spent and only grace can set me back on my feet.

By God's mysterious mercies, I'm now infinitely more confident in my ability to live well and love better in places I'd rather not be as much as in those I love. Suffering has honed my integrity, humility and will to persist in life and in truth. The product of four years spent struggling is a surprising gratitude for the God who forces us into hard places, who strikes at our egos till our ears ring with songs of praise.