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A Picture is worth a thousand words by Theresa Wilson

Wow - what an incredible year we have had together as a Fellows program! I am humbled and honored to have spent the last nine months with 15 God-focused, intentional, teachable young adults who are beginning their life post-college with a focus on how their faith impacts all of their life. We've approached the year with what my Fellows call a "ride or die" attitude (I had to look that up in the urban dictionary... it means we decided to be committed to each other through thick and thin... a biblical concept contextualized, right?!). I'm so proud of the growth I've seen in these 15 Fellows; here's to many more years of growth together!

I'd like to take you on a journey through our year via pictures... enjoy some of the highlights of our year with us!

  Opening Retreat - we even got to experience the eclipse together!

Opening Retreat - we even got to experience the eclipse together!

  Roundtables became a favorite each week - eating dinner together and spending time in worship and sharing.

Roundtables became a favorite each week - eating dinner together and spending time in worship and sharing.

  Classes were another highlight! We studied the meta narrative of Scripture (we can explain "creation, fall, redemption, restoration" like bosses!) and how it applies to our lives and the culture within which we live.

Classes were another highlight! We studied the meta narrative of Scripture (we can explain "creation, fall, redemption, restoration" like bosses!) and how it applies to our lives and the culture within which we live.

  Our first retreat together focused on understanding one another better through the MBTI and Enneagram... gotta love those numbers!

Our first retreat together focused on understanding one another better through the MBTI and Enneagram... gotta love those numbers!

  Our second retreat we headed to Memphis for a retreat focused on Biblical justice - what a treat to hear from Tim Johnson who is doing great racial reconciliation work in Memphis!

Our second retreat we headed to Memphis for a retreat focused on Biblical justice - what a treat to hear from Tim Johnson who is doing great racial reconciliation work in Memphis!

  Thanks to Nashville Institute for Faith and Work for some wonderful events this year focused on faith and work!

Thanks to Nashville Institute for Faith and Work for some wonderful events this year focused on faith and work!

  Our community Christmas party downtown focused on thanking the multitude of people who invest in our Fellows!

Our community Christmas party downtown focused on thanking the multitude of people who invest in our Fellows!

  We participated in the MLK Jr March downtown and are blessed to have learned much from his example.

We participated in the MLK Jr March downtown and are blessed to have learned much from his example.

  We learned the importance of mentors - may this be a practice we continue for years to come!

We learned the importance of mentors - may this be a practice we continue for years to come!

  On our Vocation and Calling Retreat we looked at how God has made us and what that means for our lives... here's to being emotionally self-aware - thanks EQi!

On our Vocation and Calling Retreat we looked at how God has made us and what that means for our lives... here's to being emotionally self-aware - thanks EQi!

  We got to meet Governor Haslam and hear from a few of our legislators!

We got to meet Governor Haslam and hear from a few of our legislators!

  We hosted our first annual benefit event - what a great night together!

We hosted our first annual benefit event - what a great night together!

  In March we went on a retreat focused on ending the program well together.

In March we went on a retreat focused on ending the program well together.

  Leadership Lunches were filled with incredible local leaders like Council Lady Brenda Haywood!

Leadership Lunches were filled with incredible local leaders like Council Lady Brenda Haywood!

  We went to a national conference (with 275 other Fellows!) in DC in April.

We went to a national conference (with 275 other Fellows!) in DC in April.

  Closing Retreat - much "heart water" (a Scotty Smith-ism) flowed as we reflected together.

Closing Retreat - much "heart water" (a Scotty Smith-ism) flowed as we reflected together.

  Our last class with the wise and humble Scotty Smith - thanks for teaching us each week!

Our last class with the wise and humble Scotty Smith - thanks for teaching us each week!

  We pulled everything we learned together about redeeming work and culture through Capstone Projects and presentations!

We pulled everything we learned together about redeeming work and culture through Capstone Projects and presentations!

And that's a wrap! Now on to graduation and ALL that God has in store afterward. Amen.

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From the Garden to the City by Olivia McLean

I spent this past weekend visiting friends in New York City. Before my year in Nashville cities intimidated me. I’d like the hustle and bustle for about twelve hours and then be yearning for green grass and rolling hills. It was like a switch flipped or I would hit a wall and be ready to go home. Therefore, when I first heard Scotty introduce urban eschatology I was unsettled. The idea that paradise may be a city was something I had never truly considered. Is a city where I wanted to spend eternity? No, not really. Oftentimes (even in Nashville) I feel like a country mouse. But as per usual, God’s plan has rhyme and reason that is not dependent on my own desires.

Cities, dynamic and interesting places throbbing with their own pulse, have begun to fascinate me. In the case of Manhattan people from every background are living in harmony on a tiny island. The area becomes a pressure cooker for the melding and expansion of cultures, and the epicenter for innovation and art. Almost each race, tongue, tribe and people group can claim part of New York as their own and feel at home. One city, many people. It’s a beautiful shadow of God’s kingdom where there is unfathomable variety and difference between people, yet harmony still.

The most remarkable facet of this eschatology is that God is using human innovation in a proactive rather than reactive way. God will not raze the earth and start anew, abandoning all human creation. He will build on what humans have created because what we have built and what we consider beautiful echos what He builds and considers beautiful.

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. Revelation 21:10-11

In many ways it is fitting to be focusing on this city image for one of the last fellow-written blog post from the class of ‘17-’18. Scripture tells us that although Genesis began in the garden, Revelation ends in a city. For me, there is poetry and symmetry in that promise. It is forward-thinking and challenging. It reflects growth and adventure. Although I see many, many flaws in society, this theology emphasizes that not all of it is completely evil. The fact that God deems some of it worthy to be redeemed and made into the building blocks of His future kingdom is noteworthy and remarkable.

As the Fellows are about to part ways, I find comfort in the fact that God will use what we have built this year and continue building on it. These relationships and this community will grow and I feel confident that we will feel the effects of being Nashville Fellows for many years to come. He will use the good that is here in His future kingdom in the same way that He uses existing infrastructure to build His everlasting kingdom. I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to create something that may be worthy of adding to paradise one day. Hallelujah!

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A People Desperate for a Quiet Place by Kelly McGlynn

Our society is void of deep, soul-rest quiet and it’s leading to an epidemic of exhaustion and constant discomfort. I see it in the ways I feel the need to fill every second of conversation up with chatter, in how quick I am to turn on music when driving alone, and (most dangerously) in the amount of time I spend scrolling through my phone. I seek so much comfort in information overload that I can’t even sleep without a machine thats sole purpose is to create noise! We wonder why our stress levels are so high, why we consume at exorbitant amounts, why we don’t feel understood by others, why we can’t seem to identify our own needs, and why we “can’t hear God’s voice”. The lack of time we give to quieting our ears, eyes, mouths, minds, and hearts has led us to grasp at anything and everything to satisfy our weary souls and misdirected longings. The danger of this is that we’ll continue to become more and more consumed with ourselves and further isolated from the truth and hope of the Gospel.

There is something to be said about the plot of John Krasinski’s newest film, ‘A Quiet Place’. In the movie, the evil creature finds its prey by tracking the noises they make which, in turn, means the characters live in constant fear of being killed every time they make a sound. Not to say that our voices are unimportant or shouldn’t be heard but rather that maybe, amongst all the noise, we become unaware and even complacent of the evil that waits to attack. So why do we so quickly run to and find comfort in the noise when it's the very addiction that's ruining us? Are we scared to consider what we really think, of loosening our grips on control, of if God will speak and what will He say? I think we’ve been taught the lie that a solution to our longing comes from within ourselves, that if we can just get enough information or attention then we’ll be satisfied.

In The Fellows Program this year I’ve been humbled to learn that this simply is not true. We’ve learned (often the hard way and with much stumbling) how to intently listen to one another, how to think deeply and for longer, and how to incorporate rhythms of silence and reflection into our daily lives. It is because of these “practices of quiet” that I have begun to unpack the purpose that the Lord has while sitting still and listening. I recently came across the words in Psalms 62 and 63 that speak directly to our souls needing not just to be heard but to hear as well.  In Psalm 62 titled, “My Soul Waits for God Alone”, David writes:

“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.

(Selah)

Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath…” (62:5-9).

Our souls are made to wait, to long, to be set on the Father who is outside of ourselves and outside of our own egos. Out of fear, when we attempt to fix our wayward hearts with more Instagram scrolling, longer Netflix binges, more yelling, louder music, and busier schedules, it ruins us. David says here that whether we’re in a depressive state or abounding we’re in a delusion because we’ve set our trust and hope on the wrong things, on ourselves. The hope of Psalm 62 and ultimately the Gospel, is that our souls are free and have found rest; that, in Christ, God is our safe dwelling place, our ultimate quiet place. Even more beautiful are the Psalmist’s words that immediately follow in Psalm 63:

“ O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.

Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.

My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me” (63:1-4, 8)

Praise God for the promise of longing! We are not wrong to be in want or to feel the pangs of dissatisfaction but rather are being pointed to our thirst for a Savior. The order of these two Psalms is everything- that in silence and in our expectant-waiting the Spirit reveals our thirst for and dependence on the Father. Contrary to what society teaches, in silence the blinders are removed, the headphones are pulled out, and our true reality is revealed - that we’re in need and that our soul-weariness can only be satisfied in Jesus. The consistent ebb and flow between waiting, thirsting, and being satisfied should define our lives as Christians.

Through the busyness of the Fellows program and by the grace of God and others, I’ve learned that I am in need of rest and quiet; in need of a consistency outside of myself and outside of all of the noise that the world offers. My continual prayer is that we would be people who live like expectant watchmen (Psalm 130), that we wouldn’t fear silence but rather wait in it long enough to hear God speak. That, ultimately, we be a redeemed people who find blessed rest and freedom in a life that is hidden, not in one that seeks fulfillment in the “noise”.

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Grateful. So Grateful. by Ashton Clark

I knew that The Fellows Program would be a formative year. However, I did not know that it would be the hardest year of my life.

My family in Memphis hosted a fellow my junior year of college. Through talking with Virginia and hearing about her experience in The Fellows Program, I knew, when applying for the program myself, that the year would be a year of personal growth. However, I could not have known how challenging the program would be until I lived it myself – and could not have known how meaningful that personal growth would be. I never would have imagined this program would leave me feeling so exhausted, so spread thin, and feeling so inadequate… and for this I am grateful.

The Fellows Program is hard! In a recent phone conversation with my dad, I remarked on my exhaustion, feeling spread thin, and my overall ‘tiredness’ that comes with ‘the grind’ of The Fellows Program. But I also remarked on the overwhelming sense of personal growth I have felt as a result of the program. As I talked to my dad, something clicked inside and I was reminded of what meaningful growth has looked like throughout my life. Every season of meaningful personal growth in my life has been marked by tribulation, exhaustion, or frustration...all of which I’ve faced this year. For those reasons alone, I could say that The Fellows Program has been formative to me. But there have been so many more.  So what are those other reasons?

First and foremost, The Fellows Program has lead to a level of self awareness that has been foreign to me up until now. Throughout the year we’ve taken personal assessments like the Enneagram, EQI (emotional intelligence), M Core, (core motivations), and Highlands Ability Battery (natural abilities). Not only have these tests served to affirm why and how I feel the things I feel or why I’m passionate about certain things, but they’ve affirmed how I have been designed by The Father and made me exponentially more discerning of the plans He has for me, as well as, the type of man He has called me to be. And for this I am grateful.

Secondly, and more painfully, The Fellows Program has made me less egocentric. I’ve been forced to move outside of myself, my desire for personal comfort, and my selfish and prideful desire to avoid conflict, and into areas of sacrificial service. These places have led to exhaustion and frustration. But also to places of healing, conviction, and ironically rejuvenation. I’ve learned to appreciate a ‘healthy uncomfortability.’ While it is not always fun, and is sometimes exhausting, it has revealed to me my own sin, forced me to be more vulnerable, and has taught me more about myself – specifically when and how I lose my peace, how I numb to avoid/alleviate pain, and how I fail to be a good friend, brother, son, host-son, employee, and most importantly follower of Jesus. This awareness through exhaustion, coupled with immeasurable, grace has formed me into a faster repenter, and with sweeter repentance has come a sweeter knowledge of Christ’s love for me. And for this I am grateful.

Most notably, I’ve been formed by the Fellows Program in my understanding of God’s character. The sweetest of friends, most caring of host families, and wisest of teachers and mentors have all reflected bits and pieces of The Lord’s character to me this year. Though I’ve seen many characteristics of Christ in my fellows community, one pattern that stands out is that Christ is a redeemer. And for this I am grateful.

Through my friends and my own exhaustion and pain this year, I’ve been able to see more clearly that The Lord is in the business of restoring lives. I’m thankful that every procedure the Lord works on me is a surgical measure to make me more and more alive in and attuned to His love. Sure, sometimes the surgery hurts, but I am thankful that every wound I feel is a wound that Jesus understands. That every wound I feel is not a torturing wound of prolonged death, but of patient restoration. That Jesus has taken the death wounds so that I can be the recipient of life-saving surgery. How much trouble I would be in if The Lord’s goal was to make me comfortable. Thankfully His aim is to fix my heart.

For the Fellows Program, my not so new friends, and for how the Lord has used exhaustion as a means of grace, I am grateful. So grateful. It is well.  

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,

Let this blest assurance control,

That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,

And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

It is well with my soul.

 

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Climbing the Starry Ladder by Molly Hair

As a kid who grew up heavily embedded in southern Christian culture, the concept of prayer has been in my life as long as I can remember. Growing up in a big family and going to a Christian school, I know that if you want people to stop talking you start praying. Because all kids know that when someone starts praying, you better not be talking, or else you will be in big trouble. (I still appreciate that this works at youth group and Sunday school.) So I guess I had some sort of reverence for prayer, but have always found it hard to grasp and put into practice.

When I was a child and my mom would tuck me and my sister in at night, she would pray scripture over us. Passages like Numbers 6:24-26 “May the Lord bless you and keep you…” are ingrained in my heart. Thanks to my mom’s prayers, I have a small taste of Psalm 119:11: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” That’s another one she taught me. So while prayer has been a part of my life, I still find that it can feel difficult.

A few years ago my mentor Angela Liner recommended I read “A Praying Life” by Paul Miller. If prayer feels confusing or unnatural to you in any way, I highly recommend this book!

In it, Miller explains how we feel like our prayers don’t meet some standard, and prayer becomes something like a production and a problem. We can even treat prayer almost like a good luck charm. Life is full of to-do lists, anxieties, distractions, pleasures, and pressures, but prayer is meant to meet God in the here and now. There is so much noise in our lives. Last week at roundtable we talked about social media and the Internet, and how to live with these forms of constant connection. So in a world where we are constantly distracted, comparing, and moving, how do we create space for the counter-cultural act of prayer?

Miller compares prayer to an intimate dinner with the people you’re closest to. Think about how that feels: conversation flows, any topic can be discussed, and the mood can change from light-hearted to serious, but it’s all enveloped in love. And you’re so drawn into the present that you don’t even think about checking your phone! That is what prayer is meant to be like!

Often we see prayer as “a mountain to climb” when it’s really a “valley to fall into.”

A few years ago my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was very open about her illness and had many friends and family who supported her and constantly prayed for healing. People would ask her if she had fear or anxiety, and she realized that she really didn’t. All the people praying for her may have felt the fear of what could happen, but my mom said she felt secure and confident. She realized the power of “bearing each other’s burdens” because the people praying for her were doing just that! We don’t realize how powerful our prayers for each other are.

One of the ways the this year with the Nashville Fellows has transformed me is through our prayers. We pray with each other whenever it comes to mind, whether that’s on Monday nights or throughout the week. When we come to each other we share our souls and we carry each other’s burdens. We pray for healing from depression, for sick family members, for surgeries, for job anxiety. When I pray for my friends I deepen my relationship with them. The gift of having 15 other people constantly caring for me opens me up to live more freely. Prayer can feel vulnerable, but that’s where we begin to truly see each other.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer paints a beautiful portrait of the transforming power of praying for others in his book Life Together: “I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face… is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died. There is no dislike, no personal tension, no estrangement that cannot be overcome by intercession as far as our side is concerned.” Praying for others enables me to see the grace of Jesus in them!

Prayer is for us to better understand God, and for us to develop relationship with him. God knows our every need, and prayer is our chance to reach out to the Father and interconnect with him in every aspect of life.

The inspiration for this post came from the Charles Spurgeon devotional I’ve been reading. He writes about the power of praying for others and for our world. I love this encouragement written in a profoundly poetic way.

“Let not your prayers be all concerning your own sins, your own wants, your own imperfections, your own trials, but let them climb the starry ladder, and get up to Christ himself, and then, as you draw nigh to the blood-sprinkled mercy-seat, offer this prayer continually, ‘Lord, extend the kingdom of thy dear Son.’ Such a petition, fervently presented, will elevate the spirit of all your devotions.”

Amen to that. Let’s climb the starry ladder together.


 

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