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I Will Look Up by Molly Hair

I love the season of Advent. The history, the thoughtfulness, the hymns, and all the other traditions kept in the church and in my family. For a few years now, my mom, sisters, and I have read the She Reads Truth Advent book together. Although we live all across the country, we can read scripture and the Book of Common Prayer together as a way to center our hearts and fix our focus on Jesus instead of all the hustle and bustle of Christmas time.

I look around and see so many good things; my fellows, host family, real family all over the country, and living in Nashville! People pour into us Fellows and love us even though we offer nothing in return. I am reminded of Bob Goff’s view on relationships: “Next to grace, I bet God thinks having us need each other was one of His best ideas.” I have truly met some of the most inspiring and gracious people I’ve ever known while here in Nashville. Thinking about the relationships forming here makes me tear up because I am so honored to do life with these people! But I can’t expect these things to give me ultimate joy or peace. I’ve experienced how people let you down, and done the same to those I love countless times.

On the other end, I look around and see so many hard things. It’s pretty easy to find the brokenness in the world and in ourselves. We continue to learn about the ways God’s heart breaks for humanity, and how He breaks our hearts as well. If all I do is look around, I will be left devastated.

Surrounded by joy and heartache, and all of it reminds me of the beginning of the Confessions of St. Augustine. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.” Looking to find my validation or my joy in any of the things surrounding me will leave me longing for more. And the good news is that God intended it to be this way! The Creator of life knows that the best life possible is found in Him! When I look to Jesus I find that “The things of this earth grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”

We recently read “Darkness is my only Companion;” a book written by an Episcopal priest who battles deep anxiety and depression. Discussing what the Bible says about these struggles, and seeing dear friends battle this reminds me of yet another way our hearts are restless.

In a country where anxiety is the most common mental illness, affecting almost ⅕ of our population, we clearly need peace. A few years ago my home church wrote a song called “I Will Look Up.” I keep coming back to the lyrics and promise that when we turn our eyes upon Jesus we find what we need.  

“All the worries of this world

I will lay them at Your feet

Surrender every anxious thought

For perfect peace, Your perfect peace”

Advent calls us into peace. It is a time to create space for the coming of Christ. All over the bible we see that Jesus answers all of our prayers and fulfills our longings.

“And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace,” Micah 5:4-5.

Whatever this season brings, I am thankful that Jesus came to be the “desire of every nation” and “joy of every longing heart.”. May we rest in Him this Christmas season.

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Introduction Into God's Story by James Pate

As a senior at Auburn University, I was frustrated. After beginning to take my faith seriously during my sophomore year in college, I had the core knowledge and understanding of Christianity down. The Gospels? Got it. Romans and I & II Corinthians? No problem. Galatians, Ephesians, and James? Check. Don’t get me wrong, the Gospels and these other books of the Bible are arguably the most important ones. They contain the main salvation narratives. However, I was extremely convicted and concerned that as I looked through the other two-thirds of the Bible, I had no idea what was going on. This conviction led me to make one of the best decisions of my life in taking a year to join the Nashville Fellows Program.

I want to give an analogy Scotty Smith, our Monday morning Bible overview teacher, described to us: Imagine your favorite movie, one you know backwards and forwards. Let’s say one of your friends has never watched this movie, and you desperately want them to see it. However, instead of watching the whole movie, I say we should just show them the climax and your favorite scenes. Does this sounds like a good idea to you? Of course not. There is so much in the setting and plot of the movie that sets the stage for these great scenes. Also, if we do not show them the whole movie, it might skew the way they view these other important scenes. The same goes for the Bible. If we do not know the plot and purpose of the Old Testament, we will never be able to fully comprehend and appreciate the climax of the greatest story ever, the life and death of Jesus. We cannot simply choose to only focus on our favorite books and verses without seeing how they relate to the bigger picture. EVERYTHING in scripture is meant to point us to Jesus, not just the New Testament but also The Law and the Psalms. It is meant to be read and understood as a larger narrative. As a result, we cannot follow Thomas Jefferson’s footsteps and make our own Bible which excludes anything that doesn’t appeal or seem important to us.

I will never forget Scotty explaining this example to us because it perfectly depicted how I previously approached the Bible. It is so easy for me to just focus on the Gospels and New Testament because that is where Jesus is. However, I must not become complacent. I am so thankful for the Nashville Fellows Program teaching me the importance of the Bible in its entirety. Even though I still have a long way to go, I feel like I can see the Gospel through a new lens after going through each book and seeing how it relates to this big picture narrative. Scotty, being the mastermind that he is, consistently throws out words of wisdom. I want to give you some of my favorite one liners from the year:

-We either want to give God none or a little place in our story. But In reality, we are just a small part of God’s story. I matter, but I’m not the point.

- So many of us will let God ride with us through our life but will only let him in the trunk or the back seat. We must instead let him drive.

- Grace never stops with us. We are carriers to who the Gospel comes but also carriers through whom the Gospel must run.

-The Church is not called to uniformity but it is called to unity.

-Idolatry is less about the physical things and more about the idols of our heart in which we give our love, attention, and affection more than Jesus. An idol is when a good thing become an ultimate thing.

-Good relationship is the stewardship of pain, not the absence of it.

-If what the Lord promised is true, it’s not a game changer but an everything changer.

-The Bible is a small creek shallow enough that even the weakest can cross but also a vast ocean so deep even the wisest will never understand.

-Sin is more about breaking relationship and less about breaking rules.

Philippians 1:9-11 says, “And this is my prayer for you: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ- to the glory and praise of God." As I read this passage back in August, I immediately knew I wanted to make this passage the theme for my year as a Fellow. I want to challenge you to join with me in diving deeper into the vast ocean that is the Bible instead of being satisfied stepping over the small creek that the Gospel provides.

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Psalm 42 and 43 by Katie Mock

Can I be frank with y’all?

Cool.

If someone had asked me last month, “Oh, how’s Fellows’ going?” My answer would have been less than stellar. I was emotionally exhausted, lonely, and down right miserable. I felt like I was coming unglued at my core. I was ready to quit and go home for a loooong weekend (if you know what I mean)—but I am not a quitter. I do not bail on people to whom I have committed. 

So, you might be thinking, gosh, this Fellow is so bleak, and you would be right—as of last month, but God in His unfailing faithfulness brought me “out of the pit of Sheol” (Psalm 40:2). And to be quite honest, that’s where I was last month, for the past three months actually, but like I said, that was last month. 

This month God has been out to get me in the best way possible, and He has done so through my fellow Fellows. Feel alone? “Let’s grab lunch and do homework.” Don’t feel cared for? “How’s counseling?” Don’t feel included? “A bunch of us are coming closer to where you live, to downtown Franklin, on Saturday.” (I live about 20-30 min from all the other Fellows). Feel like an outsider? 

“Come play signs!” 

“Stay over at my house.”

“Come over for a game night.”

“We’re here for you.”

“How are you?”

“How’s life going?”

And they mean it.

God is so good. His grace truly is sufficient (2 Cor 12:9) and He so willingly shows us that we are loved and cherished. I am so very thankful for the Fellows I am doing life with this year. They, without knowing it, point me back to the Lord and display His love for me in more ways that I can describe. I had a lot happen in my life right as this program started and it had all built up into a monster that I could not handle alone. Satan continually tries to show me that I am in this alone but God doubles down using my new friends, my brothers and sisters, to show that we are here together walking though this year together and we are all going through this crazy messy thing called life, together.

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Falling Hard by Haley Nixon

I am a pro at making a temporary home. It’s alI know. Growing up in the military, college was the first time I had lived anywhere more than three years. For the first time I sat and experienced seasons of life with friends and family that had previously been shortened or sped through just because they had to be. In college I felt security in the promised four years to allow myself to fully invest, which is why that move probably ranked among the hardest in my 22 years.

Moving to Tennessee I was fully prepared to set up another temporary life the way I had before and get everything I could out of the projected year I would be there. But what I didn’t expect and prep for was how quickly I would fall in love with it all…

But I did, I fell in love with: Nashville, West End Community Church, Mondays?!?!, 16 wonderful people, and yes maybe even Liturgy.

I realized how hard and quickly I had fallen when I found myself growing sad thinking about the six short months we have left in this sweet, sacred season as Fellows. I feel a little shaken at how quickly I have been shaped and pushed to grow by these people and this place. I suppose in a lot of ways, I shouldn’t be surprised as God has faithfully used communities of believers throughout time to “spur one another on” (Hebrews 10:24) and to reveal His face through the lives of those we encounter daily. I know Jesus better because of each and every one of these people, their quirks, passions, and personalities. They all reveal a new side to Jesus that I hadn’t considered or encountered before. The Lord has faithfully shown up where He has placed me and with those He has chosen to surround me, and in the process I have felt Him bring down the walls I am accustomed to keeping in temporary places.

There are many unknowns looking ahead towards the future, but as is my nature, it seems it won’t be long before I am heading to the next place. I will step into the next state, city, and community alongside my new husband (what!!), but I will go this time feeling more free to fall in love with where the Lord has placed me and look for ways to invest as if there is no time limit on our stay.

I will choose to see the next six months as a long time. To be grateful and filled with overflowing thanks for this time, this place, and the people who challenge, support, and love the heck out of me and each other. It is because of them and the past three months that I hope to love every temporary home as if I am planting roots for forever.

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Freedom to Feel by Emily Crutcher

Coming into the Fellows Program, I thought I was professionally skilled at living in community. Been there, done that. I’m great at celebrating life, having fun, exploring cities and eating tacos.

Which is what community is about, right?

I could go on and on about how incredibly thankful I am for the sixteen individuals in the Nashville Fellows Program. We laugh, dance, eat, and play together. We are all so different, yet we fiercely love each other. My heart is so happy when I tell people about my new friends. I am honored to be able to walk beside them in this season of life and pray that our lives will be intertwined for years to come. But, it has been a daily fight to be completely honest and vulnerable with these same people.

It has been a fight to let people know the real me; not the Emily who is fun and joyful, but the real, critical, scared, and stubborn Emily. I am not a feeler. I have trained myself to keep emotions close to my chest just like a poker player holds their most valuable cards. I live life through the lens of, "as long as I hold the cards, I am in control of the game." When I hold onto my fears, vulnerabilities, and desires I have control of them. No one is able to know, disrupt, or challenge them. I view emotional investment as a risk and I see risk as pain. I try to control circumstances to live with a pain-free heart.

This community has challenged me in many ways I don’t wish to be challenged. I’m continually being asked intentional and genuine questions from people who want to dig deep into the core of who I am. My friends are teaching me to be aware and okay with my vulnerabilities. Through the love and grace of this community I have learned that I am enough despite my fears of imperfection. I’m slowly grasping onto the concept of living everyday as Christ’s beloved. God doesn’t want me to hoard my emotions, thoughts, and desires inside. It is not only unfair to myself, but also the people who desire to live life with me.

Jesus was described as, “a man of sorrows, familiar with pain” in Isaiah 53:3. Even the church calendar encourages us to deeply feel emotions: grief, affliction, joy and triumph. Feeling does not equal weakness. Jesus wept for the world, but also laughed with friends. Feeling opens the door to experiencing the beauty of grace, hope, and pain. Feeling doesn’t mean I will never experience pain or suffering, but it does allow me to step into a space where I can meet Jesus with whatever emotion and not fear rejection. There is freedom to be felt in feeling. I am beginning to fold my hand of cards - giving up the control and holding my desires, vulnerabilities, and dreams loosely, yet somehow much more dearly.

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