Faith in the University

Letter to a recent graduate | Parents Celeste & Kurt Zuch

"Stand at the crossroads and look: ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls."  Jeremiah 6:16

'Tis the season for graduations. I have been feverishly purchasing, monogramming, and delivering gifts for high school and college graduates. I have attended luncheons and dinners honoring my daughter and her friends who are graduating from high school this year.  And I have spent hours going through photographs to make a very special graduation video that captures her last 18 years in 8 minutes. 

Just the word "Graduation" invokes thoughts of fresh starts, new beginnings, and a plethora of opportunities. This can be exciting, but a little scary too. When I asked my daughter if she is excited or nervous to go away to college she responded "a little bit of both". 

The Israelites were given a totally fresh start when the Lord led them into the Promised Land. It was a graduation of sorts from slavery in Egypt and from 40 years of wandering in the desert. Imagine how excited, yet nervous, they were. At that point, they had 2 choices: 1) continue to follow the Lord who had been faithful to them or 2) rely on themselves and serve false idols. Over time the wrong choice was made. 

In Jeremiah 6:16 the prophet Jeremiah urged the people to "stand at the crossroads and look: ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls."  Unfortunately, that verse ends by saying "But you said we will not walk in it". 

That “crossroads decision” brought about terrible consequences. God took his hand of protection off the people, and their beloved Jerusalem was destroyed.   Then they were taken captive in Babylon for 70 years. Their lives were never the same. If only they had listened to Jeremiah. 

Graduation is surely a time for a fresh start, but actually every brand new day brings new opportunities. Remember, when standing at the crossroads, call on God's wisdom.  He is more than happy to point us in the right direction through the Holy Spirit.  We can all use rest for our souls. 

Thoughts to Ponder:

1. If you have expressed faith in Jesus Christ then the Holy Spirit lives within you.  This means that a part of God is always with you!  Isn’t that comforting – especially if you are going out on your own for the first time?  The Holy Spirit desperately wants to provide wisdom and direction, but you have to call on the Holy Spirit through prayer and then be quiet and listen:  “Be still and know I am God”  Psalm 46:10

2. Think back to some “crossroads” that you have encountered thus far. What decision did you make?  How did it turn out?  Was God a part of the decision or not?  How could you make God a part of your decisions in the future? 

 

In Christ,

Celeste and Kurt

Kurt and Celeste Zuch live in Dallas, Texas with their 4 teenage children. They have several years of experience leading Bible studies for both adults and teens. Their three biggest passions are Faith, Family and Education. That’s why they enjoy supporting organizations like Theological Horizons. Celeste is a UVA graduate (COMM ’91) and a die-hard Wahoo fan!

(Note:  Updated for the Theological Horizons’ website in May, 2019) 

Everything Happens for a Reason? | Fellow Rambert Tyree '19

When I was a child, my parents would always respond to any stroke of misfortune with one simple sentence: Everything happens for a reason. Get rejected by your middle school crush? Everything happens for a reason. Lose the biggest game of the season? Everything happens for a reason. Do poorly on an assignment in math class? Everything happens for a reason.

When I was younger, this response began to infuriate me. What good could possibly come from me getting my heart crushed by my first *love*! What benefit could there possibly be from getting embarrassed in front of everyone I knew and costing the team the biggest game of the year? I didn’t see any value in these hardships and I didn’t understand how these things could be working for my good. These failures ultimately taught me my first lessons in faith.

 I began to lean a little deeper into scriptures that my grandmother recited on an almost daily basis. Jeremiah 29:11, ‘“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”’. I couldn’t comprehend the fact that I had to endure those failures in the beginning in order to grow towards my future. When I dropped the ball in front of hundreds of friends, family, and classmates and cost my team the game, I had no clue that I had to have that failure in order to grow to one day become a member of a collegiate varsity athletic football team.

 There was an old church song my grandmother used to always sing, “He may not come when you want it, but He’ll be there right on time. He’s an on-time God, yes, He is!”. In those moments, I didn’t understand that I had to go through those young *love* heartbreaks in order to eventually end up with the significant other that was meant to be. Even if I can’t see it in the present, I know that what is meant to be will be…and what is not meant to be, won’t.

 At a young age, I was determined to have things go my way on my time but as I grew more confident in my faith, I learned to let god and let God’s plan work just the way he intended. My all-time favorite scripture comes from Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him and have been called according to His purpose”. As I look back over my life, and think things over, I can truly say that every high, low, and in-between has all worked out for His purpose and for good. I guess when I think about it all, everything does happen for a reason…even if we can’t quite see it at the time.

Longing for childlikeness | Reflections by Fellow Evan Heitman '19

Venerable Fulton Sheen tells the following parable:

Picture a child with a ball, and suppose that he is told that it is the only ball he will ever have to play with. The natural psychological reaction of the child will be to be fearful of playing too much with it, or bouncing it too often, or even pricking it full of pin holes, because he will never have another ball. But suppose that the child is told that perhaps next month, perhaps next week, perhaps even in five minutes, he will be given another ball, which will never wear out, which will always give joy and with which he will never tire of playing. The natural reaction of the child will be to take the first ball a little less seriously, and to begin playing with it joyously and happily, not even caring if someone does prick it full of pin holes, because he is very soon going to have another ball which will endure eternally.

He tells this parable to describe what life is able to and ought to be like for the Christian. He continues saying: “The Christian [believes] that some day, perhaps even tomorrow, he will have another ball, another world, another sphere, another life. And so he can begin to play with this earth, enjoy it’s monotony, and even be resigned to it’s pinpricks, for he knows that very soon he is going to have the other ball, which is the other life that will never wear out or become tiresome, because its life is the life of the eternal God, the beginning and the end of all that is.”

Childlikeness has been calling to me a lot recently. It keeps inserting itself into my thoughts and prayers with what seems like the dogged persistence of a… child. Now, I’m a little ways out from being a young child myself and, by all appearances, a little ways out from having kids of my own (although I just become Catholic so who can say), but I’ve been struck by what a treasure trove of wisdom children possess, even if they won’t realize this fact until they’re at least a 20-something getting ready to graduate from UVA. 

I could go on and about how the idea of childlikeness has captured my heart, but for brevity’s sake I’ll leave it at this:

I desire the playfulness that makes a child see a trip to the hardware store as an adventure not a chore

I desire the trust that makes a child ask to be thrown up in the air, never even imagining that they might be dropped

I desire the insouciance that makes a child approach total and complete stranger because they want to make a friend 

I desire the wonder that makes a child want to see a magic trick over and over and over and over again

I desire that love that makes a child tell their parents everything without a filter

I desire to take my life a little less seriously, to begin living it more joyously and happily, not caring if someone pricks it full of pin holes, because I know Who my Father is.

Choosing a college: Practical Advice for Christian Parents by Susan Yates

We’re so grateful for this guest post by author/speaker Susan Yates. You can see more of her work and sign up for her blog posts at www.susanalexanderyates.com

Choosing a college can be thrilling and agonizing, hopeful and grab-your-kleenex-where-did-the-time-go emotional.  As Christian parents, we pray not only for the right school for our children, but also that they will get involved in campus ministries and build solid relationships with other believers.

How can we guide our children through the process of choosing a school, and help get them established once they’re there?

Here are some practical tips I hope will help — with thanks to my daughter Allison, who provided input.  It’s hard to believe our two oldest grandkids are now college-aged!

Visiting colleges

It’s best to begin visiting colleges your junior year or before. This will enable you to know what the realistic options are, and will help relieve the stress of the unknown. (A visit with a college counselor might also inspire your child to work harder to be considered.)

A few tips to get the most out of these visits:

  • Meet with campus ministries.

Before your visit, line up a college tour, and arrange to meet with a representative of one or two campus ministries. You’ll want to find out what the fellowship is like on campus. A college administrator should be able to give you names or check out groups like Cru, InterVarsity, Navigators, Reformed University Fellowship, etc.

  • Visit during the week.

It’s best to visit a campus during the week rather than on the weekend. Time your trip so your son or daughter will be able to attend one of the campus fellowship meetings.

  • Take notes!

Have your student take notes on each place, listing the pros and cons. It’s easy to forget the details when you’re looking at several schools.

  • Consider budget and scholarships.

Be careful looking at colleges you know you can’t afford. This will set you and your child up for disappointment. However, do check out financial aid and scholarship possibilities. There are many — often unpublicized — options and you don’t want to miss them.

Determining which school

Set a date before the beginning of senior year for the college applications to be finished. This is a long process and your child may need your encouragement along the way (even if they roll their eyes, they appreciate it more than you know).

Once you’ve heard from schools, it’s wise to visit the ones your child is most interested in again. This time, arrange for them to spend the night in a dorm with a believer. Going to class and attending another fellowship meeting will give them a better picture of what college life is like. If you’re visiting with them be sure to give them space to attend activities by themselves.

Consider a gap year

Many students benefit from taking a gap year off before beginning college. If you’ve been accepted at your school choice, you can apply for a deferment for one year, which will secure your place.

A gap year should be a meaningful experience. There are many opportunities that integrate discipleship as well as service. Our long-term goal is that our kids love Christ and love their neighbor, so you want to choose a program that has these components. Simply hanging out at home is unlikely to contribute to maturity. Choosing a gap year should be a family decision.

Before they go

  • Encourage your child to find a believing roommate.

They may not become best friends, but they’re more likely to have the same moral standards. This is crucial because your child can’t always control what will go on in their room. There will be enough adjustments and they don’t need to add a difficult roommate situation to the mix. Right after our granddaughter was accepted to her school, she found a Christian roommate on the college Facebook page and it has proven to be a huge gift.

  • Connect with ministries from day one.

Many campus fellowships host “moving-in day” luncheons for families. Find out if there are some on your campus and sign up to go. It’s a great way to meet other believers the first day. Statistics show that who a student hangs out with their first ten days of school will largely determine what group they align themselves with.

Expect your child to attend a campus fellowship. It’s wise to check out several and then commit to one by the end of the second month of school. The same is true for church. Especially if you’re supporting your child financially, it’s fair to expect this in return.

  • Communicate clearly about financial expectations.

Be clear about extra expenses, credit cards, and who pays for what. This will avoid misunderstanding in the future. It may be wise to write out an agreement.

Along the way

A wise parent will have begun preparing her child to leave for several years. We want to raise independent, confident kids. This involves the turning over of responsibilities along the way. Your high school kids should be doing their own laundry, making and keeping their own appointments, waking themselves up, writing their own thank-you notes. (It’s important to thank those who wrote a recommendation. Gratitude is a character trait, and we need to thank those who take time to help us.)

Teach your teen how to use online resources for reconciling their bank accounts and using a budget app for planning expenses.

Pray and trust

This may be harder for mom and dad than the student. As parents, we’re used to providing for our child. But we have little control over what a college will say. Our child may feel rejected when he is not admitted by a school.  We must remember that God knows our child and He knows what is best for them. He will lead them to the right place. In the final analysis it must be their decision, not ours.

If your child does not get into his first choice, he needs your reassurance that God has a better plan. He may need to rely on your faith — and your faith will be stretched as well. But God does have a plan for your child. And He will cause all things to work together for good as we trust in Him (Romans 8:28).

Although this can be a stressful season, do enjoy the blessings of it. You are about to launch your child whom you have had the privilege of raising. You are entrusting him or her to God in a deeper way. They have the privilege of a good education in a free country. None of us want to lose the perspective that education is a gift.

May God guide you and your child through the process of choosing a college.

"Prayer changes us." Mother Teresa

Some of you may know that we help support a small, diverse group of UVa women who live intentionally on the blurred borders of where the UVa world meets the broader community. This particularly diverse neighborhood, which is feeling the pressure of increased gentrification, has a rich history that the Perkins House has sought to honor. Knowing that prayer is in part listening, they formed a friendship with a local neighbor and are partnering to restore a historic church to create a space for building bridges between the past and present, between black and white, between UVa and the community. They are beginning with a Neighborhood Concert on March 30th.

Mother Teresa once said, "I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I'm supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, but now I'm praying for strength. I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things." How might God be leading you to love your neighbor in a radical new way this month? 

GIVE THANKS WITH US FOR:

New friendships with students and community folks.

PLEASE PRAY WITH US FOR:   
UVa Sisters, Noelle McDonald and Norah McDonald, as their father was just diagnosed with a serious illness.

A friend just diagnosed with cancer.

Alison - for work on her dissertation.

Molly's dad as he struggles with a long term illness.

MacKenzie's dad as he fights a serious illness.

Our dear friend Ginny as she fights cancer.

Share your own petition  

PLEASE PRAY FOR THEOLOGICAL HORIZONS:

For our Spring Vintage lunch series on Sheroes & Heroes.

For the recruitment of our Horizons & Perkins Fellows for 2019-20. More here.

Safety over spring break.

-Christy Yates, Associate Director

Anything Dead Coming Back to Life Hurts | Reflections by Cynthia Ajuzie '19

If I’ve realized anything about being at UVa the past four years, it’s that one of my favorite quotes from Toni Morrison’s Beloved holds true. The quote is “Anything dead coming back to life hurts”. (Slight digression: I wasn’t sure if I should write this blog post about how college has further solidified my identity as a Nigerian-American woman, but I often need to my remind myself that being black is only one story that streaks my life and that God has given me many other stories that deserve attention too.)

Merely a few weeks into my fall semester as a third year, I quickly noticed how difficult it was for me to stay on top of my workload. However, I thought that my struggles were just going to be something I overcame by working hard and being strategic with the time I spent studying. School had always been something I felt completely in control of and believed I could excel at with the right efforts, so I didn’t worry too much about my rigorous course load. The night before my first exam rolled around and I remember reviewing notes in my room, trying to elucidate concepts that were still blurry to me. Once I realized that information was no longer sticking in my head, I decided to go to bed. The only problem was that after I did get in bed, I couldn’t sleep. My mind continued strumming through concepts I didn’t understand and my heart felt squeamish in my chest. By 2:30 a.m., I figured I should probably try to talk to someone to see if that would get my mind off of things. I called my mom, who works night shifts as a nurse, and she tried to calm me down for a few minutes. It was comforting hearing her voice and being reminded that my heart and thoughts were not the only sounds that sloshed the earth.

I viewed that night of not sleeping as a fluke that would certainly not happen again because I’d be more diligent in making sure I got to bed earlier at a consistent time each night. However, even with my efforts to apply better sleep hygiene to my life, I continued struggling with anxiety and insomnia multiple times a week. Lying in bed exhausted in the middle of the night, feeling betrayed by and unfamiliar to your own body is one of the worst feelings I have come to know in my life. Insomnia descended me into a pit of loneliness, fashioned by anxiety and I was so unaware of how to plow myself out of it. Many activities that I used to enjoy became lackluster and I dreaded having things to do that would require a lot of energy/thinking. I felt like a walking silhouette of who I knew I was.

Desperately wanting to improve my compromised mental health and not wanting to turn to my parents for help (who come from a culture that struggles with legitimizing mental health issues), I began trying to think of ways to fix myself. I visited CAPs, looked up organic remedies to insomnia, sought prayer from my housemates, bought religious self-help books for sleeping disorders, and had my sister stay on the phone with me some nights in hopes that it would help me sleep better. Nothing seemed to be working long term. With my frustration towards myself and God mounting, I resolved to accept the fact that insomnia had woven it’s way into my life and I’d just have to make room for it on my bed most nights.

The night before my biggest final that semester, I began hearing strongly from God. I was on the floor in the room of one of my housemates who had struggled with insomnia one summer and told me I could stay in her room, so I wouldn’t feel as lonely, while she played worship instrumental music to see if that would help me sleep better. After she had fallen asleep and I was still wide-awake ready for the sun to sprout in a bit, I felt the Lord drop this poem in my spirit based on Psalm 23.

It is well with my soul

For the Lord is so faithful and gracious

He makes me lie down in still pastures

And allows my joy to overflow in abundance

He gives me reasons to sing

He calms my spirit

He gives me strength

He is my strength

After I received those words, I felt lighter. It’s interesting how easily we make room for our struggles to ingest more and more of our lives until something - an epiphany or encouraging word- reminds us that those struggles do not have to permanently suffocate who we are as people. God is our reminder of this fact. And He does it so well. He meets us right where we are, just like He met me in that moment, and tells us that there is hope. He is hope.

I’d be lying if I said that night was the last time I experienced sleeplessness. But, it was the last night I viewed insomnia as some insurmountable entity that characterized all of me. That poem God deposited into my soul made me realize two things:

  1. God is always faithful and his faithfulness is noticeable if we actually open our eyes to see it

  2. God wanted me to stop being so close-fisted with my studies/ future and to relinquish those parts of my life to Him

After I made these realizations, I felt a peace that I had not felt in months. I allowed myself to indulge in the kindness and graciousness of God unrestrainedly. Experiencing a semester racked with sleeplessness and anxiety made me notice how God is a high tower for those who seek Him. His hands are strong enough to carry all of our burdens and His love is deep enough for Him to actually want to carry them. Nights can still be difficult for me, but not as often anymore because of my confidence in God’s faithfulness and his desire to give me rest. I had to go through one of the most difficult seasons in my life for God to revive who I am in him and for him to truly make me a new creation.

John 14:27, Philippians 4:7, John 1:5, 1Peter 5:7-10


The call to Lament | Reflections by Fellow Robert Cross '19

Last year the church that I attend in Charlottesville, Trinity Presbyterian, had a sermon series on the book of Lamentations. At first I was curious and a bit skeptical — isn’t “lament” just a biblical word for being sad? Will studying this Old Testament book be fruitful? Of course, I was wrong. Lament is integral to healing and is present throughout the Bible. After a semester of orienting our worship toward lamentation, I began to see the beauty and difficulty of lamenting.

One of my favorite parts of this process was a song I was introduced to, “How Long?” by Bifrost Arts. It's on an album of lamentation which cries out for wholeness in a broken world.  

How long? Will you turn your face away?

This is the first line of “How Long?” and it honestly and unapologetically calls out to God, mirroring the Psalms of lament. God wants our honest and open hearts.

Over the past year, I've encountered brokenness, sadness, and injustice in the world and have felt hopeless in its face. I’ve learned that lamentation requires that we name the hurt and cry to God for help. For me, this often means listening to others and learning from people around me, so I can join in their struggles for justice.

I took a class this past semester about the history of race and real estate in the United States, and it exposed me to a part of our nation's past I haven't encountered before, one of racism and quiet, insidious exclusion. My after-class conversations with another Fellow, Lindsay, lamented the remnants of past injustice and the reality of our broken world. We ended each conversation with more questions than answers, but in this small way we began to lament.  

This wasn't easy, but we continually tried to understand our place in this pain and in its healing.

Amen, Jesus, come! 

“How Long?” ends with the repeated refrain, “Amen, Jesus, come!” When we sing it at Trinity, we start quietly and end with powerful drums and bright tambourines. It gives me chills every time we sing it, because this movement reflects how we must lament. We may begin in fear and sadness, but we end with hope and faith.

As I approach the pain and brokenness in this world, it’s easy to become hopeless. The relationships we’re in, the families we love, and the systems we’re a part of are all broken and we see this -- and feel this -- deeply. After some conversations with Lindsay after class, I could only say, “Amen, Jesus, come!”

I don't know how to approach all the pain in our world. There’s too much of it for one person to bear (like Ms. May in The Secret Life of Bees), but it’s our job to enter into our own and otherss’ suffering as we cry for Jesus’ will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. So, while I begin this lifetime of joyful and hopeful lamenting, I can work to return His creation to wholeness with the hope that Jesus will one day wipe every tear from our eye. He is making all things new. In Him alone is our hope.

Before the Rush resources

Sorority rush begins at UVa soon--a process that sparks many urgent questions:  Who are my friends?  Where do I find my identity?  Am I beautiful?  How do I deal with stress and disappointment?  with judgement?  Where is God in all of this?  These are questions that we all ask throughout our lives! 

As students return to the university, we want share two precious resources: short audio talks that are just one click away.  Listen to these talks from our past "Beat The Rush" events.
 
These talks for ALL women students--whether you are rushing a sorority, in a sorority already, not in a sorority!  Like me, you are seeking love, acceptance, friendship...and struggling with insecurity, fear and doubts.  It is so important to be reminded of how very beautiful and loved you are.  So do yourself a favor and listen up...
 
The first talk is by Susan Cunningham on "Finding Your True Identity".  Susan was named Best Psychologist in Charlottesville, and her words are so wise and so kind...Don't miss the truth about who YOU really are.   Click HERE to listen to Susan's talk.
 
The second talk is by Miska Collier on "Knowing the Light and Love of God".  Miska is a spiritual counselor--30 seconds into her talk you'll be hooked.  Click HERE to listen to Miska's talk.

 

Undertaking a Posture of Lament in a Season of Joyful Expectation  | Caroline Carr Grant, Perkins Fellow '20

As we move into a season which is characterized so often by a posture of gratitude, a season filled with an infectious thrill of hope, I have found myself almost antithetically drawn to texts, essays, and scripture which focus on lament. 

The practice of lament is a deeply interesting concept - for in lament one seeks to honor the honesty of pain and anger while also honoring the ultimate faithfulness of the Lord.

Since all of the Perkins Fellows last gathered to discuss various ideas, such as lament and our call to saint-hood rather than heroism, from Hoang and Johnson’s The Justice Calling I have felt a continual calling to further explore and seek understanding of what is means to undertake a posture of lament. 

As described in The Justice Calling, Lament is a “cry directed to God, it is the cry of those who seek the truth of the world’s deep wounds and the cost of seeking peace, it is the prayer of those who are deeply disturbed by the way things are.” This passage so poignantly describes why I have been feeling this intense draw to lament, not in-spite of the hope and joy of the quick approaching advent season, but rather in light of it.  It is in times such as these that I am most reminded, or more truthfully, deeply disturbed, by the way things are. It is during this most joyful time of year that I feel most deeply the wounds of the world, that I cannot help but turn to scripture from the Psalmist, from Lamentations, Habakuk and so many others that beg the question of the Lord, How Long? 

How long until we offer refuge to the most vulnerable of people with confidence in the Lord that He will provide and protect all of His children? 

How long until our city’s street and public spaces are no longer places where we have to fear violence? 

How long until we no longer have our hearts broken by the pain of a broken home or family? 

How long, how long, how long… 

For the longest time I felt as if I had to hide these probing questions of lament. For in begging the Lord for answers to questions such as these, as well as so many more, I was somehow failing to fully believe in the grace and faithfulness of the Lord. I felt like my sense of heartache over the state of the world was a betrayal of my faith, for how could I truly believe in Him if I was constantly asking: Where are you? Why, Lord? Where is the goodness in this? 

However, as time has passed, I have come to reconcile that in fact in undertaking a posture of lament, in begging those most difficult questions of the Lord, we are not betraying our faith, but rather we are demonstrating our ultimate determination to draw near to the Lord in times of hardship rather than pulling away. For as stated in The Justice Calling “lament enables us to keep moving forward with perseverance in the justice calling; it is a way to remain deeply connected to the God who loves us and loves justice even when injustice makes us ask the hardest questions of God”. 

To lament, to weep for the brokenness of the world, is not to question the grace and fruitfulness of the Lord, but is rather a testament to our faith. For we know that in the mist of our weeping we are crying out to the God of the universe whose love for all of creation is everlasting and never failing. 

To undertake a posture of lament is to believe fully in the thrill of hope that is to come. 

(p.s. I have had Bilforst Art’s How Long? playing in the background as I write this post, it is worth a listen) 

Vulnerability & Community in the Whirlwinds | Reflections by Zach Balcomb '19

Recently, I find myself using the word whirlwind a lot... And by a lot I mean probably too much. I use it to describe the feeling of being a fourth year at UVa (i.e., a person with little time remaining in a place they’ve come to know and love) but also the feeling of trying to hang plants in my room. Obviously, these scenarios do not share the same emotional gravity, but I think my liberal usage of the term is significant to the state of my heart over the past few months.

In stressful moments, even those of an undeniably fleeting or trivial nature, anxiety has quietly crept in and occupied empty spaces in my heart. On the one hand, it’s easy to attribute this anxiety to the harsh reality that looms over all of us fourth years who have yet to figure out the next step. On the other hand, I would say that under the surface of the things that worry me, such as an unforeseeable post-grad life, anxiety arises from a sinful tendency that is often overlooked: resistance to vulnerability. It is from this resistance which anxiety has found a foothold in my life and “whirlwind” has become my new buzzword.

At the Horizons Fellows Retreat a few weeks ago, however, I experienced the beginning of a reset—I was reminded of my capacity and desire for spiritual vulnerability with others. I found joy in being in a transparent community, and I learned that when honesty has a place at the table in religious spaces, those spaces become more Holy. During the retreat, held at a Christian retreat center called Corhaven Farm, Fellows broke bread and laughed together. We snuggled up in blankets and sipped freshly-steeped tea. We pet docile, little donkeys and big, amiable cows (many of us, like me, admired them from afar). And finally, with crackling firewood and the sweet smell of s’mores as our backdrop, we took turns sharing our stories.

Our stories did not have to conform to a specific length or format, which I found so freeing. Growing up, I thought my story had to mirror what I had come to know as the archetype for a Christian testimony: a rip-roaring turn of events eclipsed by the earth shattering aha moment where “everything clicked.” Instead, I heard beautifully honest impressions on life and how people have come into relationship with their Creator over time. I heard people share things they have never before shared for fear of being judged or written off. More importantly, I saw people respond to these stories with kindness and an openness to learn.

In between storytelling, Fellows got to hear from Rev. Bill Haley, who taught us that we are to “cultivate relationship with the One who calls, so that when we are called we can respond efficiently.” We discussed the meaning of vocation, or more appropriately vocations, uncovering how they may not manifest in a paid position after graduation, but rather in how we bring God’s presence to the world. We listened and learned about the history behind the land upon which Corhaven is situated, which happens to include a cemetery where at least 25 black people who died as enslaved laborers now rest. As we explored the cemetery, which is now a memorial honoring the brothers and sisters who lay there, we grieved and prayed for an end to the 375-year reign of racial oppression in our country that still exists today.

In each of the aforementioned experiences, I felt our little cohort of Fellows displayed a level of transparency and celebration of difference that I have never before witnessed in a Christian circle. As interactions and conversations unfolded in this way, I felt spaces in my heart—once paralyzed with anxious energy—begin to breathe again.

Is your nest emptying? Guest post by Susan Yates

This is a guest post by the author/speaker Susan Yates. Email this post to a friend and CC us (christy@theologicalhorizons.org) and we'll enter you in a drawing to win a copy of Susan and Barbara Rainey's book for both you and your friend!

Are you getting ready to send a child off to college or preparing to send your youngest to all day school? Or have you just had a wedding? If so, you may be an emotional mess. The empty nest hits us in different ways, at different times, and often when we least expect it!

How well I remember dropping our last child Susy off at college and beginning the long drive home. The week before, we had left her twin sister Libby at another college so not only was I sending off my last two at once, but it was the first time the girls, who are very close, had been separated. My husband John thought this would be a celebration of sorts for us! All those years of daily parenting five children would be finished and now we could focus more on us. So he planned an overnight on the drive home at a romantic lodge in the mountains. Ha.

As we pulled away from the college campus my tears started to flow. I felt like my life was over. My main job of parenting was done. What was my purpose to be now? I ached for the sadness the girls were experiencing in being separated. It had been their idea to go to different colleges but none of us anticipated the pain this would cause. In the midst of my tears I tried to explain my feelings to my husband. Feelings I couldn’t even understand. I felt lonely in my misery. I felt guilty. After all, this was a good thing! And I had a great husband who was trying to please me. Yet I was miserable. Needless to say our romantic getaway wasn’t very romantic!

You may not experience sadness at having just sent a child off. In fact you may be thrilled. Each one of us is different and we never know when the emotions of the empty nest will hit us. It may not be until your last child is married. Or you may grieve when they begin high school. This season is not neat. It’s messy. And there’s not much written about it to guide us through it. But God does have a new plan for each of us as we approach the empty nest. And it is exciting.

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If you are about to drop off your college freshman here are 4 great tips:

  1. Before you go to campus research the fellowship groups on the campus. Groups like Cru, RUF, Christian Study Centers, Navigators, IV. Find out when and where they meet and tell your child that you want them to visit two at least twice and then join one. The same thing applies to church. Visit 2 and then commit to the one that feels right. This should be a clear expectation, similar to going to class. You are likely financing some of their costs and you have a right to make this a condition. They should commit to a fellowship group and a church within the first 2 months. Statistics show that the first 10 days of college life are crucial in determining what “group” your student will hang out with. We want to encourage our kids to seek healthy relationships.
  2. Many college fellowships have move-in day luncheons. Sign up to attend one. You and your child will meet other believers and hear about fellowship groups on campus. The Center for Christian Study in Charlottesville, VA has one such lunch that my daughter Libby and I helped start nearly 20 years ago! 
  3. When you move in wear a t-shirt from a Christian camp or some logo. When our daughter Libby moved into her dorm she had on a Young Life t-shirt. Another girl moving in recognized this and the girls realized they were both believers. This was a huge connection for their first day!
  4. Be positive, even if you are sad and your child is too. Communicate to your child that he or she is about to begin a great adventure and it is good! And continue to pray daily for them and for their friendships.

Barbara Rainey and I wrote a book which deals with various challenges of the empty nest including loneliness, redefining marriage, how to let go of your child, etc. The book contains a 4-session group study. We hope you will invite some friends to join you in an Empty Nest book club.

Seek First. Reflections by Fellow, Logan Haley '18

Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

 – Matthew 6:33

I feel as though I could let words of Jesus in the above verse just speak for itself. However, I suppose I should elaborate on how special and sweet, how comforting and challenging these words really are. They certainly have been that weighty for me, and I pray that they sink down deep into your soul as you read them. Take a minute… meditate on those words. Let them refresh you like a warm sip of your favorite hot drink. If you are looking for a simple life motto to live by, my hope is that perhaps this is what you can cling to.

When I reflect on my time at UVa (which I know many of us fourth-years are doing right now too), I think back through four years of fond memories: late night Cookout runs with friends, studying for exams while eating snacks at the Stud, laughing with housemates over ridiculous shenanigans, fall retreats, praying and reading Scripture in a garden by the Lawn at sunset, hugs from Miss Kathy, brother-sister small group hikes up Humpback… Then, I remember the many difficult moments as well: the nights of anxiety and immense stress; entire seasons of loneliness and depression, and the mornings where I would wake up wondering how I would get through the day. 

No matter the memory, I am overwhelmed with a recurring theme: God’s grace. His favor, which frankly, I don’t deserve. Yet there it is. God's grace is a common thread through every one of my lived experiences, even when I am completely unaware of it. Even in this moment, I zoom out to realize that I am… alive. I exist. I am breathing with the breath God breathed in me. Hundreds of millions of alveoli in my lungs are participating in gas exchange, while my heart’s ventricles and atria pump blood together in perfect harmony over 100,000 times a day to distribute oxygen to my body. (Okay, the pre-med geek in me is showing…) There are tens of thousands of daily miracles occurring to sustain our physical bodies. I wonder, how many more daily miracles sustain my soul

I so often take for granted just how good the Good News really is. When I think about it though… I was utterly dead in my sin and rebellion, which left me longing and empty; and now, I’m alive in Jesus. Because God Himself was willing to humble Himself to become a human, live a perfect life, and die the humiliating death I deserved, I am able to live in restored shalom (true peace and wholeness) with my Creator, presently and for eternity after death. Not only that – but we, as broken and flawed individuals, now get to partner with that same Creator in the greatest redemptive story of all time, sharing this reckless God-love with others. 

Wait. Stop. Really? What the heck! That is such good news! If you stop reading this post right now, but took away just how good the simple Gospel is, it would be more than enough.

I am reminded of the words my friend Jonah once told me: “The Gospel isn’t the old news, it’s the good news.”The Gospel is not simply a message that we hear once, but rather a daily reality of which we get to be a part. The Gospel is past, present, and future. The Gospel is Jesus, nothing else. Following Jesus is not a one-time decision, but a choice we get to make each morning when we wake up. We have the privilege of making the radical choice each day to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. And this is something that recently has meant a lot to me. My friend Abigail put it this way: “Choosing to wake up and follow Jesus each day is always a radical decision – just as radical as the day you decided to follow Him.” My friends, the pressure is off! We don’t have to try to perform big acts of righteousness for God to get Him to love us. The Apostle Paul said at the end of Romans 8 that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Jesus. The Gospel really is that simple. Yet, it is the most profound reality in the world, taking an entire lifetime to understand and then live out.

Having a solid grasp of who God is and who we are will help us in every nook and cranny of our lives. Once we know who we are, we don’t have to worry about what to do, because we will naturally move in our identity as sons and daughters of the King. What is it, then, that makes Matthew 6:33 so significant? 

My second year, I was a part of a small group of guys that each latched onto a catchphrase throughout the year – “Seek First.” It became a way of life. Whenever we were trying to align our hearts with God or grow closer to Him as a group, we would encourage each other by asking, “How are we seeking first?” Whether it was relationships, friendships, academics, life goals, future plans, personal struggles, it seemed to always apply to everything: “I just need to seek first.” I have often pondered why the words “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” centered me so much.

Have you ever had too much to do, and not enough time to do it? Or have you ever done all you need to do, but still felt worried about how something would turn out? In most modern American contexts, especially in academic or professional settings, sorting out our priorities (plural) is a common practice due to hectic schedules and time constraints. What if it were simpler, and we had only one priority (singular) – the Kingdom of God and His righteousness? This way, our faith isn’t reduced to a To-Do List, perpetually checking off boxes like the Pharisees did. Matthew 6:33 comes right at the end of a passage where Jesus teaches about not worrying. To detach us from the subtle, yet heavy undertow of materialism, and to derail us from our cyclical patterns of worry, Jesus points us to the birds of the air or the lilies of the field. Jesus speaks to the Kingdom value of simplicity.[1]

Immediately, it is easy for me to counter Jesus’ words with thoughts like, “What about making sure I fulfill your exact calling on my life?” or, “What if I don’t make enough money?” or maybe, “I have been seeking first your kingdom and righteousness – look at all that I am doing for you!” (I don’t know if those thoughts resonate with you, too). But Jesus’ words have this way of debunking the lies and fears within me, working their way into each circumstance.

When I think of His kingdom, my mind quickly jumps to the external – how Jesus impacted others around Him for God’s glory. When I think of His righteousness, I think of the internal – how Jesus related to the Father, and of His character. Perhaps this is a helpful distinction in our pursuit of living this verse, but perhaps not. The question still remains: How exactly does one go about seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness? Is it to prioritize serving the poor and administering justice for the oppressed? Is it to serve in a church, or join a small group? Is it all about reading the Bible, prayer, and worship? Or maybe it’s to proclaim to everyone the good news about Jesus, and to make disciples. That must be it right? Theologian and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, in his book Christian Discourses,responds to this by saying: “No, thou shalt first seek God’s kingdom.But then in a certain sense it is nothing I shall do. Yes, certainly, in a certain sense it is nothing, become nothing before God, learn to keep silent; in this silence is the beginning, which is firstto seek God’s kingdom.”[2]

Seeking firstis more of a heart posture – a way to be. We must remember we were not created as “human doings,” but rather as “human beings.” What a relief this is! No longer is our faith only about doing all the right things, making sure each area of our life is aligned with God’s will – like trying to keep a bunch of cats in a full bathtub (which wouldn’t work very well…) If we align our hearts with His heart, we will naturally move in His will. 

However, this is perhaps the hardest part of seeking first: it’s dying to all our preconceived notions of what we think His kingdom and righteousness look like, and listening to God Himself to direct our steps. Then, and only then, will our actions be able to align with Matthew 6:33. God’s great irony (exemplified through the crucifixion and the resurrection) is: the extent that we die to ourselves is the extent that we truly live. Jesus taught this concept – humility leads to exaltation, and exaltation leads to humility (Matthew 23:12).

In my heart I have wrestled with God just as Jacob did over this whole concept. Matthew 6:33 challenges me to consider my own heart posture in everything – in putting others first, in serving the poor, in giving voice to the voiceless, in racial reconciliation, in disciple-making and reaching the lost, as well as in using my vocation and the opportunities God has given me for His glory. Having meaningful discussions this year in the Horizons Fellows Program about each of these things and more has made me more aware of that which God calls us out ofand calls us to. And it drives me back all the more to Matthew 6:33. I’ve learned so much from our Horizons Fellows community. One of the biggest things is how God’s will for our lives is not as much a linear path as many see it, but more of a green pasture to dance within – the type in which David was made to lie down (Psalm 23:2). 

Hopefully you find this as an encouragement in whatever season of life you find yourself in. For graduating fourth years especially, who may still be figuring out their next steps, or having doubts about the plans they have made, I hope this meets you right where you are. Though God may not bring perfect clarity about our futures, He brings something better – trust. Ultimately, seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness is the chief means for the liberation of our souls. Though nothing is more challenging, nothing is simpler either. Though nothing demands more of you, nothing will be as rewarding either. It was the way we were created to live. Seek God, and all the rest will fall into place.

 

 

[1]Wallace, Mary. The Live Dead Journal | Day 3 – Simplicity: Seek First His Kingdom. (Salubris, 2016.)

Edited by Dick Brogden.

[2]Kierkegaard, Søren. Christian Discourses(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1940) 322-344.

The struggle against racism & the reality of Jesus | Perkins Fellow '18

“THE PROBLEM of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line…”

(W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903).

If you were to become a neonatologist, you would observe a strange phenomenon.  As you would deliver babies, you would notice increasingly that babies of African American women would, on average, be born twice as likely premature or with a lower birth weight than those of white women (yes, this is a statistically significant study).  Even if you were to control for socioeconomic status, you would find an even more harrowing statistic: African American women of higher socioeconomic status (those who have obtained bachelors and masters degrees, respectively) were three times as likely to have a baby born premature or with lower birth weight than their white counterparts. Further, this same group of African American women would still have a higher premature and lower birth weight rate than white women who have dropped out or never complete high school education.  In a study by Collins and David, they point to racism and the stress it produces in African American women as the main factor that increases the rates of premature birth.  But this would be hard to explain to many in our country, of which around 70% of white Americans believe racism to be a product of the past.  It would even be more of a surprise to explain to the Charlottesville community, where our own University was one of the centers of the highly racialized eugenics movement in the early 1900s.

I came to the University of Virginia in 2014 from a relatively homogenous area in Virginia Beach.  I remember reading “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr. my junior year and feeling the searing conviction of his words addressed to the “white moderates”.  “When you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness’,” King writes, “—then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait”.  I remember sitting by my fireplace and feeling the burn upon my back of the relevancy of King’s words to our country, still.  It wasn’t long before my veil was further torn away when one of our classmates, Martese Johnson, was unjustly aprehended at the Corner in Charlottesville, a block away from the edge of our campus.  The boulder began to roll faster and faster as Theological Horizons brought John Perkins to U.Va. to speak, the shootings of the black men by police in the summer of 2015 (and on), and finally culminated with the election of Donald Trump where I found one of my black brothers crying in my room, and I held one of my black sisters as she wept in fear and pain. Tears, pain, heaviness – everywhere.  And if that wasn’t enough of a burden to handle, the slave-built grounds churned as the white supremecists marched through the epicenter of the Rotunda.  Everyday, I felt the weight of America upon my shoulders, and the sins of our country were still reverberating… loudly. 

I was reminded of the story of Jesus.  When Jesus had told his disciples he was going to suffer and die on the cross, Peter rebuked him saying he couldn’t possibly do that – we all know what Jesus said to Peter next: “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 6:23, NIV).  Why did Peter say this, and why did Jesus respond that way?  Peter thought Jesus was going to be a political messiah; he thought Jesus was coming to overcome the Romans and become the new political leader.  In reality, Jesus came to suffer and die because the Kingdom he was coming to build was not only physical, but it was spiritual, it was in our hearts – it was a war in the heavens.  Jesus came to renew our country, yes, but not at the expense of renewing our hearts, minds and souls.  Suffering was neccesary for the atonement

But Jesus was clear, that the Kingdom he has brought to Earth is a spiritual reality.  I began to stray away from prayer and devotion to God and replace it with my works.  I began to tire myself out.  Paul wrote it succinctly, which seems to be a thorn in the enlightened side of America:

For we do not wrestly against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12, NIV).

How are we supposed to fight this force of racism, then, that has such real and dark physical manifestations?  How do we fight a phenomenon that has plagued our country for years?  We need to be renewed, and we need to cling to the cross.  We need to humble ourselves and collectively repent.  We desperately need to seek the face of God and not fall wayward to the dirty rags of works.  Our turning from our sin and our selves towards the cross is what should inform our work. 

In my time as a Perkins Fellow, I learned this.  That if I am to do the work of the Kingdom, I need to have my heart right before God.  And that is something I want to encourage you all in.  It is obvious that our country has sins of racism still so evident, and we can see tangible manifestations of that nearly everyday.  One response would be to just go out and start working to solve it.  That is not necessarily a bad thing, but you will become tired and you will hit a wall.  If you are working for God, stop.  You are already justified before him, and I would encourage you to repent and get your heart before him.  To others, they may interpret salvation as a reason to not do work in the community.  Brothers and sisters, our eschatology has not yet been realized.  The Kingdom of God is a dynamic and ever-present reality that needs to be brought about by us, the church.  So to those who see the racial division in our country but fail to act, please get before God as well and ask Him what your role is in the beautiful, ever-unfolding picture.  The reality of Jesus and his salvific power at the cross should always be what informs our lived theologies.  As my dear friend Ross Byrd once told me, “Theology doesn’t neccessarily make good obedience, rather obedience makes for good theology”.  I would encourage you to take a deep look at our country and ask God how it is he wants to use you to bring shalom to our country.  Following Jesus is wildly fascinating, but it should also be restful.  We need to rest before the cross.  I will leave you with one verse to meditate upon.  Our country is hurting, and we desperately need Jesus now more than ever.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14, NIV).

 

On practicing resurrection by Fellow SK Doyle '18

As my last year of college is drawing near to a close and as we as Christians are approaching the season of Easter, I’ve been reflecting on all the ways that newness and resurrection have enriched my life this year. Entering into my fourth year, I had expected to spend a lot of time with the old: to spend time with wonderful old friends, reflect on old memories, and relish in my final times doing the same old things in the same old places. And while I have certainly done a lot of that and am grateful for the roots I’ve put down here, what has surprised me in this year has been the opportunities to dwell in the new. I moved into a new house with five other women who quickly became new friends and taught me new things about food justice, Instagram meme accounts, gratitude, and love. I discovered new bands and started listening to new podcasts. I made other new friends in classes where I continue to learn about new ways of seeing the world. I learned new ways of taking care of myself and giving myself to others, and it is comforting to know that even a place I thought I had gotten to know so deeply could have such vitality to continue to surprise and challenge me.

I have felt this newness deeply in the relationships I’ve built with the other eleven Horizons Fellows I have had the pleasure of getting to know this year. Spending time with these Fellows in our monthly meetings, over s’mores on the Lawn on a Friday night or late-night study sessions in the Theological Horizons office, I have deepened my belief that our triune God is fundamentally relational and reveals Herself in the relationships we stumble upon and cultivate. Some of the Fellows I’ve known for all four years at UVa, but many of them I likely would never have met without Theological Horizons. I’m grateful for the ways they’ve brought to life new ways of loving myself, others, and God. Earlier this year, we read Wendell Berry’s “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” together. The last stanza has become something of a mantra for me:

Be like the fox

Who makes more tracks than necessary,

Some in the wrong direction

Practice resurrection.

I have felt closely and deeply connected with God and Her constant newness and vitality in the relationships that have continued to be born and reborn even as my time in this place comes to a close. I have made lots of tracks, many in the wrong direction, as I’ve learned from and done life alongside the Horizon Fellows. We’ve practiced resurrection together and I’m grateful. I’m grateful for the role these eleven fellows and our fearless leader Christy have played in filling me with excitement for all of the new I will encounter after I leave this place. 

Worry, Maslow's pyramid and resting in Christ | Reflections from Fellow Sam Kesting, '18

As I continue to move through life, I have found that there are quite a few areas which lack consistency.  Relationships, academic performance, athletic skill, and even housing situations all seem to be in flux, for better or for worse.  With all of these facets of life on a roller coaster, often times the only thing that seems to be constant is worry and ironically, it is the uncertainties of life that feed the ever-present nagging in the back of one’s mind.

Just like a love of sunsets or a fear of deep, dark water, worry is one of those things that is uniquely human and just comes naturally to us.  It is impossible to fully escape its clutches and can even be incapacitating at times.  I often think about worry as it corresponds to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: a pyramid of what are considered to be necessities to an enriched and fulfilling human life.  While the pyramid is by no means a perfect illustration of needs for all cultures and societies, it is helpful when conceptualizing and compartmentalizing worry.

Principally, our existence is predicated on being able to anticipate answers to questions of survival such as when we will have our next meal, where we be able to find water, and how we will stay warm, dry and out of harms way.  From these physiological needs, the tiers of the pyramid ascend up through needs of safety, love and belonging, esteem, and finally self-actualization at the top.  While I certainly cannot speak for everyone, I would posit that most of the individuals reading this post do not live with daily worry regarding food and shelter, especially those of us reading this on the screen of an electronic device.  Many of us are blessed to be well-fed and sheltered regularly.  However, the upper four tiers on Maslow’s hierarchical pyramid are where things begin to fall apart.  Worry quickly descends into our minds and begins to grow dark, cold roots around our hearts.

First, we struggle with needs of safety.  Financial woes, abuse, and poor health (both mental and physical) plague our society.  Everyone is touched by these ills on a daily basis in some way and they can cripple the mind and soul with fear and worry.  Next, we are confronted by a yearning to belong.  Anywhere.  Spousal relationships, church groups, sports teams, book clubs, yoga class, or even a night out with a group of friends are all manifestations of attempts to meet this need.  On many occasions throughout life, it can feel like we are each one of the least wanted in our respective communities.  We also wrestle with problems of esteem.  We fail at work, in school, or in a relationship.  Our capacity for “success” as the world would define it crumbles and we see ourselves as worthless and with nothing to show for the years of life behind us.  Finally, we face challenges to self-actualization.  Work is often not fulfilling, our potential seems stifled, and we still do not have the slightest clue what we want to be when we grow up.  It is clear to see these upper four needs going unmet in those around us and even clearer still within our own persons.  Universities are environments replete with worry regarding these necessities and having been at one for the last four years, I can tell you it is ubiquitous.

The obvious question that follows these unmet needs asks how we fix them.  Do we not have seminars and counselors?  Medicines and therapies?  Clubs, dating websites, and self-help books?  Why do all of them fail us?  What are we missing?  Why do we continue to worry?

I have been blessed to have grown up in a family of faith and many wise voices have poured into my life over the last 22 years.  From them, I have identified two methods for combating debilitating worry: resting in Christ and practicing thankfulness to learn to give generously.

Being a young kid dealing with worry and fear, I memorized 1 Peter 3:5 and Matthew 11:28.  These verses speak of casting anxiety and burdens on Christ and receiving rest and care in return.  As a child, this brought some comfort but in growing older these words become far easier said than done.  It can be difficult to see the Lord’s plan come to fruition in a tangible way, especially on His timeline.  Ultimately for me, resting in Christ has meant prayerfully laying plans, expectations, and worry at his feet and trusting that He knows what he is doing with them.  There have been many occasions in which I was filled with strife about the future and Christ has revealed His better way for my life.  Although there is and will be plenty of uncertainty, I can be free from trying to have it all figured out.

Thankfulness is like a muscle: left alone, it decays into nothing but when exercised, it flourishes.  It is far easier to dwell on what we do not have than what we do, especially in a state of constant comparison with those around us.  We will always be able to see the bigger, better, and more successful and our circumstances are rarely exactly to our liking.  I once had a director at a camp I worked at tell me that he was thankful for rainy days.  When I first heard this, I was a bit taken aback.  As a counselor, rainy days were usually the toughest.  It was always colder, kids got wet and frustrated, and activities were cancelled.  The director went on to explain how the rain watered the earth, reminded you that you were alive through discomfort, and led to more time indoors where important conversations could be had with the campers.  This taught me to find opportunity to be thankful in all things.  Much like thankfulness, generosity does not come easy.  We are selfish creatures and any extra time, money, or other resources that we have tend to immediately be used on our favorite person (ourselves).  However, in thankfulness, the seeds of generosity are sown.  Being thankful for our circumstances surely leads to the realization of the abundance that has already been given to us.  From this abundance, we are called to be open-handed and freely distribute what we have to others.

The worry that corresponds to the tiers of Maslow’s pyramid is countered through Christ and His church.  Safety, belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization are found through prayer, study of scripture, and community with likeminded Christians.  Resting in Christ provides safety and belonging, thankfulness builds esteem, and generosity provides purpose.  Although a perfect and complete picture of needs being met will never occur on this fallen earth, glimpses can be realized through a relationship with Christ and interactions with those who love Him.  I have been blessed to be able to see these glimpses through others and in my own life at school and will hopefully continue to see them as I move on from this place.  While worry will never fully be dispelled, this perspective has helped to keep it in its place.

 

 

Mystery & Doubt. Reflections by Horizons Fellow Ben Noble '18

“No one gets a 100 on the quiz. No one.”

I sank back into a chair in my advisor’s office on a Thursday afternoon during my Third Year. “No one gets a 100 on the quiz.” My advisor’s words echoed in my mind and hit like a truck. Still, I knew that they were true. He and I had been discussing religion, death, the afterlife—light conversation for a late-August day.

Over the past year, I had been trying to make sense of a faith that no longer felt feasible to me. The months leading up to that conversation with my advisor had been characterized by struggle and skepticism. I had quit going to church. I had stopped praying. I had put Henri Nouwen on the bookshelf and picked up Christopher Hitchens instead.

Retrospectively, a lot of my doubt was born out of emotional resentment. At the time, I felt like I had been hurt by Christians. In response, I nurtured animosity towards the Church, and, over time, towards God. However, unresolved bitterness and anger eventually turned into intellectual doubt. I transitioned from being angry with God to questioning whether God was even real.

How could I know, with assurance, that the Bible and all the stuff it said about God and humanity and history and morality were undeniably true? Moreover, was it worth following even if it was true?

Having sat on these thoughts for some time, there was a brief period during the summer before my Third Year when I considered myself an atheist. I thought that giving up on belief would make me feel free—free from resentment, free from ignorance, free from God. However, rather than feeling free, I felt an internal emptiness instead. Life felt grey and dull. I felt alone, too—more alone than I had ever felt.

Fast-forward a few months.

Time passed and I eventually came around to being open to faith again—though not without some low points and a substantial amount of existential anxiety. Still, even though I was open to belief, I couldn’t shake my feelings of uncertainty and I didn’t have a strong sense of confidence about any particular belief. Despite my doubt, I wanted desperately to trust in something again.

I walked into my advisor’s office on that day hoping that he would speak some magical words that would inspire me and give me a sense of hope once more. I walked out feeling neither a greater sense of clarity nor a renewed hope.

So what’s happened since the day that I left that office?

Although I would like to say that a couple weeks passed by and then, out of no where, God arrived on a white horse and I had a profound moment of conversion where my doubt was put to rest and my faith restored, I can’t say with any honesty that that was the case. Nearly a year and a half has elapsed since that meeting with my advisor and I still have yet to experience that “Eureka!” moment where everything is reinstated as it once was.

A lot has changed for me since then. The time in between has brought new hopes, more doubts, fresh experiences, moments of deep sadness, and moments of unparalleled beauty. Still, God has yet to ride in on a white horse and answer every single one of my questions. Maybe He will, some day, but I’m not so sure that it’s a safe bet.

God didn’t show up in the way that I was hoping, but despite this, I have found God in ways that are deeper and richer than I could ever have imagined on that day in August 2016. The ways in which I experience God are nuanced and unique and everywhere. I see God in a poem or song, from time to time. I see God in a Sunday drive through the Blue Ridge. I experience God when I have a really rich, deep conversation with a friend over a cigarette (Sorry Mom!) Most of all, however, I experience the reality of God through others. The moments when I see and experience the way that people truly love and care for each other and for me are the moments when I’m convinced, beyond of shadow of doubt, that God is real and alive and present.

This may sound a bit esoteric. I won’t disagree with that. My times of doubt have created an uncertainty about God in ways that can be frustrating, but the same uncertainty that causes me distress has also made space for me to experience the mystery of God. In many ways, the reality of uncertainty has shown me that my advisor was correct when he said, “No one gets a 100 on a quiz.” At the same time, this uncertainty has made God indefinable and illimitable and has animated life with mystery and excitement in ways that I didn’t think were possible.

In an essay entitled, “Circles,” Ralph Waldo Emerson writes, “Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.” I used to desire certainty about life. I wanted to have all the answers. I wanted to understand God and, in a way, I wanted to control God. Now, I think about things differently. I’m more at ease with the fact that I won’t ever know and understand everything. Now, I’m invigorated by the fact that God is far beyond my understanding. Rather than seeking to be the master of knowledge and truth, I tend to think of a life lived well as, like Emerson writes, “an apprenticeship to the truth.”

Each day brings with it the possibility of seeing the world and experiencing God in myriad ways that are new and fresh and exhilarating. Of course, this brings the possibility that yesterday’s way of understanding may require reconsideration and perhaps abandonment. In my experience, the “apprenticeship to truth” often entails a constant expansion and reconsideration of what I considered true one year ago or last week or even yesterday. I’m not going to suggest that this pursuit of truth doesn’t pose the possibility of anxiety and doubt and despair—that’s an inherent risk. Uncertainty is scary and there often isn’t an easy solution to dealing with it. However, despite the uncertainty and fear that the journey towards truth may bring, I am convinced whole-heartedly that the journey is vitally and comprehensively worthwhile. At the end of the day, what I think makes this way of navigating life invaluable is that it creates an opportunity for growth—personal growth, intellectual growth, and spiritual growth.

To me, for the time being, this is far better than getting a 100 on the quiz.

 

Faith, justice and coding. Reflections by Sarah Bland '19

Standing on the rooftop bar of Squarespace’s office building in NYC’s SoHo district, I looked out over the foggy scene of bustling traffic in the intersection below and felt, in a word, overwhelmed. The week leading up to that moment had been filled with many new people, intense full-stack development classes, and challenging conversations. I was in New York City for a program called The Impact Fellowship, an intense, two-week coding experience for “the next generation of social entrepreneurs.” I went, intending to engage with issues of injustice, meet similarly motivated peers/ mentors, and ascertain whether computer science could be a viable field for those seeking to “love God and love people” well. And yet, here I was, visiting the posh downtown office of a company with millions of users, nearly half a billion in net worth, and hundreds of employees earning six digits. Questions about the computer science industry dizzyingly crowded my mind: “Can ethics and industry intersect meaningfully, or is CS too obfuscated by desire for wealth, glory, and power?” “Am I competitive enough to be a software engineer? Powerful and faithful enough to do SWE for God’s glory?” “Is CS intrinsically too abstracted away from immediate aid and love for those who need it most?” My mental state was perfectly mirrored in the confused honking, peddling, and shouting below.

 

Overwhelming as the moment was, these sensations of cognitive, emotional, and spiritual dissonance in relation to my vocation and calling were not incongruent with prior experience. While it may be true that we often don’t understand God’s ways, we can sometimes [if we’re fortunate] begin to see patterns. One that’s repeated itself again and again in my life has been God’s calling to go and do in cities. In college alone, I’ve been called to Greensboro, NC for a service trip, Chicago for a spring break social justice plunge, Chicago [again] for a summer of urban ministry, the Perkins House Charlottesville, and New York City for a winter break spent learning about coding for social impact. Lord willing, I will spend this coming summer in Detroit, Michigan, working at the intersection of justice and SWE (e.g. teaching coding skills  through a startup like Grand Circus to people who’d otherwise not have access to tech education). Each of these cities have taught me particular lessons; nonetheless, persistent threads have woven themselves throughout all of my experiences. Predominantly, I have been struck in each location by the confluence of human brokenness and excellence on all scales. The paradoxical coexistence of vibrancy and pain in the human experience are nowhere more evident than in the multitudes living in places such as Chicago and New York City; nowhere are the broken, hungry, and alone more visible.

It may not be immediately obvious how computer science, or the tech scene at large, plays into all of this. It is the case that NYC, perhaps more than any other city I have encountered, exhibits a bold demarcation between countably infinite numbers of exceptionally wealthy individuals and (seemingly) uncountably infinite numbers of needy individuals. Certain fields within computer science, such as financial and informational technology, play a significant role in this divide, as they contribute to ever-widening wealth and access gaps within the city. Now, more than ever, NYC’s Silicon Alley is burgeoning into a multi-billion value parallel to California’s Silicon Valley. Even impressive companies such as Squarespace are overshadowed by nearby Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft offices. To be sure, some of these tech companies are impacting the world positively through their products and research. Almost all, however, are explicitly negative in terms of their diversity, inclusion, and ethical resource acquisition (think: precious metals like Coltan, important for building hardware). Certainly, many are neutral. Regardless, it is inevitable that computer science is changing the world (and quickly); the only variable that remains to be defined is the moral and ethical direction in which it does so.

It is the multidimensionality of this problem, as well as the role that I [may or may not] play in it, that caused my overwhelmed and anxious state that afternoon in New York City. I know that God has given me a mind and desire for computer science. I believe that CS has the potential to change the world on a broad and powerful scale, but I personally possess a limited understanding about what that could look like and have no certainty whatsoever about what part I could play. I know that God tends to call me to go and do. I also know that God is training me to think about and engage with issues of injustice; He is ever-breaking my hubris, white privilege, and false self-sufficiency through prodding my heart to better love my neighbor. Finally, I know that God often asks more questions than He provides answers and am learning to be still in that discomfort. My mother, at the end of a long conversation discussing these themes, said to me: “Sarah, you are a warrior being trained for the forefront of some battle.” Ultimately, I can only pray that God will arm me well in preparation and that I will be able to discern His voice when He calls.

When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”

And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

The LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward.”

Exodus 14:10-15 (ESV)


P.S. Have an interest in learning more about some cutting-edge tech projects that actually are promising vectors for change? Check out WePower’s decentralized energy network (built using blockchain technology), this research project on protecting victims of intimate partner violence from surveillance by abusers, or Bad Batch Alert. Or send me an email at scb4ga@virginia.edu and we can chat!

God in the whirlwind. Reflections by Perkins Fellow Dominique DeBose '19

Lately I've been feeling like I'm in the middle of a whirlwind*. A disorienting but comforting peacefulness at the core, accompanied by an eerie awareness of the fact that I am surrounded by gales of ungraspable uncertainty... I'm not sure if I should be encouraged or fearful. My vision is clouded... although what vision? The winds protect me, I suppose, or maybe limit me? I want to give my all to something, I want to go out into the world. But I don't know where. I have this mind-eating anxiety about what God's will for me is and a heart-aching desire to pursue it. Yet still, in light of all of my endless interests and passions, I refuse to think of God's will as a time-sensitive bus that I stand in wait for at a specific stop on the corner, worried that if I'm not paying attention, it will pass me by, and I will be left stranded. Instead, her will is of a daily state of mind. So, in that, I ask for WISDOM, FOCUS, PEACE, and RETENTION to go on living each day at a time. I don't know what I'm doing and I don't know where I am going. And that's okay. 

I've come to realize that God is too good to me to let me truly miss out on anything. A tolerant mother who just wants the best for me. Though in the midst of the whirlwind, I get frustrated and angry wondering why she speaks in indecipherable metaphors instead of clear answers, irritated because I cry out and hear no answer. I get annoyed because I thought she was good. But who am I but a child? Who am I to doubt her goodness that has already been so prevalent and revealed to me thus far. Life-giving friends and all the laughter and other good medicines they come with, community, and family that I would be a fool to not express my gratitude towards is what has been given to me. I am learning to live each day at a time, with all of its confusions, frustrations, and laughs. And each day at a time, I will continue to seek God's will with wisdom, focus, peace, and retention. 

*whirlwind: also, used in similes and metaphors to describe an energetic or tumultuous person

 

Let's be comfortable with being uncomfortable - Laura Eom '18

A new year means new resolutions to do better, be better, and grow as person. It’s only the middle of January though and I am already failing at my new years resolution: to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I’ve fallen back into the same routine of going to class, talking to the same people, eating the same food, and going to the same places for fun. I am addicted to comfort and security… and there’s a good chance you are too. 

Being a Horizons Fellow has challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone, specifically, when it comes to racial justice. In one of our recent meetings, we were able to talk about how to approach racial reconciliation in Charlottesville with its history and current issue of gentrification. This meeting included the Perkins Fellows as well, and I was not the only minority speaking on this issue.

The discussion did not end with a singular action based resolution and it would be naive to think that a complex societal issue could be solved in one meeting. Nevertheless, that should not debilitate one to inaction. No one has to do everything, but everyone has to do something.

Start by listening to the people who are affected by this issue. This means going out of your way to meet people who are different from you. Go to culture shows, One Way IV/AIV/GCF large group, BSA/ISA/VSA meetings and listen! Let people talk about their experiences and validate them. Their experiences are real and may extend beyond just themselves. Be comfortable being uncomfortable not knowing everything about race and privilege. I myself am still learning from people who come from different backgrounds than my own and it can still feel uncomfortable at times! Don’t be afraid of feeling stupid asking questions. It is more stupid to accept living in ignorance. And if you’re someone who has never had to think about how race affects your day-to-day life, it is to be expected that some things need to be explained. And that is OK! It is a process and it takes humility to accept this.

Let's move towards looking more like Christ and be people who initiate these conversations. Jesus initiated conversation when it came to the Samaritan woman (John 4:7-42) and the crippled beggar (John 5:1-15). And in both situations, he was met with pushback and awkwardness. But, Jesus proceeded to converse and interact anyway. He was not deterred from the responses because he loved each one deeply. Our love for comfort and routine should not supersede our love to know and understand brothers and sisters of a different race.  

This year, I commit to being comfortable being uncomfortable, not only for the sake of my brothers and sisters, but for my own personal growth. I will be intentional in placing myself in communities that don’t look like me, and learning from them. Will you step out in faith and take up this challenge with me?

To learn more about the Horizons Fellows program, click here