Comment

And Make it Beautiful by Andy Harrison

I, at one time, thought I would be a writer, but I found out that my spelling is off and my grammar isn’t very good. So, this is sort of a painful process (jokingish) requiring me to reflect on what could have been and the fact that I gave up on my dreams of being the next C.S Lewis, J.R.R Tolkein, or Barbara Park (Author of June B. Jones). Nevertheless, as I start to formulate my thoughts, I must apologize; insecurities have led me to believe that I am supposed to come up with something really smart and ground breaking to say, and I must admit that I usually fall short in the ground breaking department. So instead of trying to be smart I am going to simply try and remember.


A couple of days ago I got lunch with a friend from back home. I hadn’t talked with him much over the past month since I have moved to Nashville, so at first it was really good to catch up. I heard about all of the things that had been going on back at home. Life went on. There were new roommates, new stories, and new inside jokes. And I can honestly say it was really sweet to hear about it all. 

I then got to tell him of all of the things I have been up to in this new chapter. I gave him the whole spiel that I have become so accustomed to giving anyone who has asked. I talked about how great my host family has been, I talked about how getting used to a new job is exciting, and how the people are just so fun to be around. To be sure, these things are all true, but directly following my bland monologue he asked me what all that meant for how I am. What I had not told most people was that I had been re-introduced to the same messiness I had dealt with before in Knoxville. I had to admit the current brokenness I had thought I was getting away from with moving to a new city, but it had followed me. In my mind part of the reason I was in this new place with new people was because the life I had been living had fallen short of what Jesus wanted it to be. I had come to terms with how messed up I was, but in my mind I thought the problems that came with my sinfulness would be left behind. In Knoxville I was paralyzed by the thought of being uncovered for who I really was, and who I really was, was a fraud. I act better than I am. I want so badly for people to love me that I would go to the extent of wishing ill on a good friend just so I could look better. I perform for an applause, and care for people to get noticed. I could go on and on about how messy my thoughts and motives can be, but I will leave it at that. “Have mercy on me O God, according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my Sin.” I prayed this prayer, but no healing would come. Frustrated, I take an honest step back, and again, even as I pray the Psalms, I seek such healing only for my own gain, my image. I want God to help me so I feel and look better. I perform for the audience trying to build my kingdom whether its a joke or an empty smile; its all for myself. It seems a never ending cycle of brokenness, and it seems to have followed me on this new journey.

This has not been an uncommon occurrence. I feel Brennan Mannings words help paint this picture, “I am the one who thought he’d be farther along by now, but he’s not. I am the inmate who promised the parole board he would be good, but he wasn’t.  I am the dim-eyed who showed the path to others but kept losing his way.” One of the hardest parts of walking with Jesus is longing for a place that I cannot get too. My biggest struggle with faith is the the fact that I struggle with the same brokenness; I fall into the same traps time and time again. I long to see redemption in those pieces of me. I have heard of the healing power of grace. I’ve heard through the Holy Spirit that I am supposed to become more and more like Christ, but most times it feels like the gap gets larger and the journey gets harder. I long for the freedom and peace the gospel promises. I want to want Jesus.

As I sit in a noisy Buffalo Wild Wings, I continue on this rant over my disgust with my relationship with God. My friend listens attentively as I spiral, and when I finally try and land the plane he reminds me of a song that I hold very dear. It is called Brokenness Aside. I assured him that I didn’t think it was tacky that he brought it up, so he then shared his thoughts. The lines state:

But You are a Savior

And You take brokenness aside

And make it____________.

He talked about the first two lines and he said how the next line when he first heard it he tried to fill in the words by saying “you make it better” I know that is how I would chose to finish those lines. I say to Jesus, “Lord, Father, Savior please just make it better. All I can ask of you is to make it better. Take my sin and my brokenness and just please make it better.” But that is not how the song goes. The next line instead say “You make it Beautiful”

Both our eyes started to water. We Christians often try so hard to fix ourselves. We are obsessed with growth and progress and we settle for wanting better when the Lord offers us something far more beautiful than we could ever imagine.

It’s interesting how one of the hardest parts of following the Lord continues to bring me back. Its my own sin and brokenness. I look at the things of the world for what is wrong with me. I am a self-help junky, so I have read the books, I have taken the personality tests, I have gone to the worldly things, but I cannot find an answer for why I can not simply fix myself. I cannot make my brokenness better. It's unfortunate how much time I still spend trying to make myself better. But as I embark on this journey with the Fellows Program my hope is to remember that the hard work is already done. I hope to remember that when Jesus died on the cross he invited us into something much better than better. He invited us into something beautiful.

Comment

Comment

How Firm a Foundation by Kacey Beckham

I moved to Nashville a little over 2 weeks ago today, but truthfully it has felt more like a full month has gone by! So much has happened, and there have been so many fun memories made already. Our opening dinner and barbecue were huge successes. The Fellows and Theresa spent four days in a cabin in the mountains for our Opening Retreat, and I don’t think it could have gone better.  We had rich discussions, excellent speakers, good (mostly healthy) meals, and lots of games (including but not limited to Signs and Secret Hitler). This Fellows class is so fun, and it’s been a blast getting to know everyone better. We’ve already managed to go to a free music festival, the Tennessee State fair, Jeni’s ice cream, karaoking, and have continued to play lots of games. The Fellows have blown me away with how intelligent, caring, and fun they all are. I’m so excited I get to spend the next nine months in intentional community with them, and I can’t wait to see friendships deepen and form. My host family has already embraced me as a member of the family as we are getting into the rhythms of school and work. Thankfully my host siblings love games as much as I do, and SkipBo has quickly become our favorite game before bedtime. Truly, these past two weeks have been so exciting. I have never felt more at peace knowing I’m where the Lord wants me! 

However, there’s still a little ache in my heart that I think all the Fellows feel to some degree. We just left behind a life we have known for four years and have dived head first into a new community, church, culture, and life. We pulled up to stranger’s houses and said “hi, I’m here to live with you for the next 9 months!” I still have no idea where I’m am half the time and am wondering how people made it before GPSs. Friends I used to see and talk to everyday I’ve only texted a few times this week. The Fellows have left everything familiar and comfortable to be in the Fellows Program, and while it will surely be a rewarding and growing year, it will inevitably be challenging. There will certainly be growing pains. In some ways we totally know what to expect and in other ways we have no idea what’s about to happen these next few months that will bring change and growth. So, while I really am so excited to be in Nashville, it doesn’t change the fact that change is hard, transitions are strenuous, and uncertainty is scary. 

One thing to know about me is that I love hymns. I think they’re beautiful and full of scriptural truth. The hymn that has been stuck in my head the most through out these past two weeks is “How Firm a Foundation.” It’s what I’ve been clinging onto particularly the first and second verses: 

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord

Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word

What more can He say than to you He hath said

To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled

Fear not, I am with thee; oh be not dismayed

For I am thy God and will still give thee aid

I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand

Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand

I am so comforted knowing that in the midst of change we have a God who is unchangeable. He is our firm foundation because He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). His thoughts about us don’t change when we do or because our location does. His steadfast love for us never ceases (Lamentations 3:22). He is our rock and our refuge, ever present in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1). We don’t know what this year will bring, but we don’t need to fear because He is with us and promises to never leave us (Isaiah 41:10). If He is with us then we have all we need. He is eager to provide for His people and He will carry us and deliver us through all of our troubles (Isaiah 46:3). The God of the universe who is all powerful and almighty will strengthen us, help us, and be with us. What more could we need!  I am in awe of His goodness to His people. 

So when I start to feel that ache in my heart and feel sad or overwhelmed with all the new, I sing “How Firm A Foundation” to cling to the promise that the Lord is with me. He is helping me in the midst of change. At the same time I will be praising Him for bringing me to Nashville, I know it is going to be an incredible time!


Comment

Comment

Closing Thoughts: A Plea for Unity by Bridget Gallagher

“What have I learned over the course of the year? That is such a big question. I suppose the first thing that comes to mind is that God uses different people to teach us different things. Emotions aren’t bad. Rich people need Jesus and can have Him. Cultural Christians read the gospel too. True friends are a balm to the soul and with Christ you never have to let go (of some of them). Pick a church and stick with it because they’re all broken. Fight for unity and reconciliation. Prayer actually works; we just need to do it. Singleness and marriage are equal calls from God that require discernment. All of our work can glorify God. C.S. Lewis is a wizard. Studying the Bible one-on-one is amazing. I am more like my parents than I thought, and I want to be more like them than I am. Intergenerational relationships are healthy and swell. Girls can be your friends too. God has a plan that we need to trust and the gospel is the greatest and most powerful story ever.” - Daniel Huff, Nashville Fellow 2019

The Fellows just wrapped up Closing Retreat where for over three days we shared a total of fifteen hours or so, reflecting on where we came from, how we’ve grown, and where we’re headed as individuals and a community through the program. The above quote was spoken by our beloved Daniel Huff as he reflected on how this year has impacted him and the lessons he’s garnered from it. These words, though written by one of us, resonated with all of us (minus the revelation on friendships across gender lines, a few of us were already up to speed there). As Daniel shared these words, there was a collective affirmation of head nodding and mhmming that filled the room. I restate his words here to 1) share a thoughtfully succinct summary of what many of us have learned this year, but namely 2) to emphasize the unity that I felt in that room after it was spoken.

A theme that’s been consistent throughout the year, and was certainly present during our time together this past weekend, is the many differences amongst us. We are quiet and outspoken, boisterous and peaceful, artistic and intellectual, regimented and flexible. We share well and we listen well, we teach with our words and our actions, we embrace our emotions and our thoughts. We are a motley crew that has pushed and pulled itself through these past nine months.

As I reflect on the community we’ve formed this year, what most readily comes to mind is the image of Christ as both the lion and the lamb. By juxtaposing two creatures so different in nature and features, the image seems to be getting at the wonderful mystery that is Jesus, in that He is all things good and glorious: just and loving, humble and all-powerful, strong and meek. There’s no enneagram number for Him, and attempting to describe him concisely seems fruitless. He embodies the very character of God and in doing so dispels our human divides.

The dynamic nature of Christ has been ever-present in our gathering as Fellows. Our community, a smaller body amidst the greater Church, has held together, despite our differences, through the power of Christ alone. Unity is hard, and Christ knew this. Among his final words to his Father in John 17 was a plea for unity amongst his followers and the Church. A plea that acknowledges the sincerity by which oneness demands, and foreshadows the difficultly to be expected in pursuing it.

As we finish our final week of work and life together, I am reminded that amidst everything we have achieved and worked towards collectively, nothing is so treasured as the unity that has convicted our characters and tried our hearts. Christ again and again calls us to community, shaping and stretching each of us to become more like him. We as Fellows acknowledge the great work He has done this year amongst us, and each of us look expectantly towards our communities to come where we know that work will carry on to completion until the day of our Lord.


Comment

Comment

A Letter to the Upcoming Fellows Class by Julie Gibbons

Dear Upcoming Fellows Class,

Wow, I am so pumped for you! Wherever you are in your life (most of you have probably just graduated from college or are preparing to in the weeks to come), I know you are probably eagerly waiting to find out who you will be doing this program with, where and who you will be living with, what church you will be placed at, and where you will be working. Don’t worry. It will all work out.

I hope you are excited for this year. This might be your first choice for your post grad plans or maybe something else didn’t work out, but regardless… get excited! There is already a community of people ready to embrace you all into the Nashville family.

I wanted to write this to you not to tell you what to expect or what it will be like for you next year because honestly, everyone will have such a different experience. You get to be in a community with people right out of college, which is really special and uncommon, but it is not going to be just like the community you are leaving. You won’t be living together or working together; some may have friends outside the program, and some might only know the people in the Nashville Fellows community. Be prepared to really work to get to know each other outside of Fellows activities. I want to leave you with three pieces of advice as you prepare yourself for this next adventure.

1. Be present

One of the beautiful things about not knowing much about what your Fellows year will look like is that it gives you a chance to be present where you are at right now. Embrace that, and when your Fellows year starts be ready to be present. This year will fly by, and if you are too distracted by your past or looking too much into what the next year will look like you are going to miss out on a lot.

2. Evaluate your expectations

This is easy to say, yet so hard to actually follow. It is in our nature to have expectations of what Christian community is supposed to look like, what our friendships should be like, and how quickly they should form. Romans 3:23 says “For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Your expectations are only going to fail you because people are not perfect, we are all different and broken in our own ways. Try to fill your expectations with grace and forgiveness.

3. Let go and let God

I know this can be cheesy and overused, but it is the best way for me to give you this last, and maybe best, piece of advice. You might have to let go of your comfort when it comes to church, friendships, or living situations. God is going to give you so much more if you allow him to use you where he needs you. When I got placed at St. George’s Episcopal Church I was not very excited. All I knew was that it was a more formal church, similar to what I grew up in and I was afraid that I was not going to get anything out of it. This year I gave this church my all, and have never felt more connected to a church. While I don’t know if I could commit to any denomination at this point, I do know that right now the Lord has me at St. George’s for a reason. I no longer think that I need to find a church that fits all my needs, but I want to be a part of a church where I can fit into the brokenness to love my brothers and sisters in Christ who are around me. There is no such thing as a perfect church, but there is a perfect God that has placed me where I am for a reason.

This year will be different for all of you. God created us in so many different ways with different desires and struggles. He created us with different personalities that do not always get along easily. Use this year to lean into your differences, learn from each other, cry with one another, and laugh together.

I can’t wait to meet you and to welcome you into this community!

Julie


Comment

Comment

A Journey of Reflection by Fiona Holland

“There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler.” ~ Bonhoeffer

As I reflect on exactly where I was this time last year, it amazes me. Finishing projects, taking tests, rehearsing for graduation, asking what is next, working two jobs, trying to focus, and figuring out what is next. Now, I am living in Nashville, TN, interning within my field, volunteering at a local church, plugged into a great community, reading and discussing tough questions, pressing into what’s next, and praying for direction yet again. After talking with some wise people I realize that coming to crossroad moments in life never ends; there is one after another, yet hopefully I will approach each with better understanding, wiser discernment, an attention to prayer, and stronger faith. Despite not yet seeing what God has in store next, I know without a doubt it will be good because He has been faithful and is unchanging; therefore, He will continue to be faithful till the end – praise the Lord!

In my reflection time, I’ve noticed how much of an impact this year has made on me as a person in regards to faith, community, and self-awareness. These three aspects are of major importance, and I hope to press into each more in the coming years since there is so much more to be learned in these areas.

First, I recognize that spending time alone daily with Jesus is of the utmost significance. Truly, to order my day correctly and begin on the right foot, I must prioritize His presence and communing with Him through reading His Word. In addition I have been impressed to pray more intently and then rest in listening for His still, small voice in my heart. Some days I do this better than others, but I know it is vital to my all-around health and well-being and to those I come into contact with. Being in The Fellows Program this year has prompted me to read more and discuss theological, controversial, and thought-provoking things, which have enhanced my understanding of the Bible, God, and the world. For that, I am thankful!

Second, the power of community is huge, yet today when individualism prevails, it is ten times more difficult to gather together and be fully present. Daily, we interact with numerous circles of people, and we are the only ones that can reach each circle we are a part of. Between families, friends, co-workers, church leaders, youth kids, the guy at the grocery store, the gym, or people at the park, we have countless opportunities to engage with others. However, it is important to engage well by being intentional, which is very hard when our lives are bombarded with busy, busy, hurry, hurry. Something I have learned to press into this year is vulnerability and being openly honest with those close to me. Still, I am not the best at this since it is difficult for me to accept criticism if there is any and would rather engage others by asking questions instead of answering them myself. But when I take time to explain myself, I feel more free and understood. Lastly, encouraging and building others up is another thing I am working on; by slowing down and taking the time to notice another, offer a compliment, or just simply smile, someone’s day could be made brighter.

And third, self-awareness and self-reflection are essential. Before this year, I thought I knew myself pretty well; however, after taking more assessments, discussing the results, and asking questions, I have a deeper knowledge of not only myself, but others as well. We get a myriad of insights from teachers who lead our classes, speakers from events, and pastors at our churches. Each class time I acquire new perceptions to think through and from it comes growth. It is imperative that those we let speak into our lives are communicating truth, which is why we must weigh everything against the Bible’s standard. Overall, what I have heard and been able to discuss is valid and has helped me to be more conscious of my thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and insecurities.

When I first arrived here back in August, I kept hearing this song by Tauren Wells (which I’m sure many of you know if you ever listen to the Christian radio station☺) and since then, it has become my ‘theme song’ if you will:

I'm fully known and loved by You

You won't let go no matter what I do

And it's not one or the other

It's hard truth and ridiculous grace

To be known fully known and loved by You

Wow, that was a lot of reflective rambling! Thanks for reading, and I hope some of this resonated with your spirit to encourage you on your journey. Life is an exciting adventure filled with all sorts of joys and sorrows, but most importantly, a faithful hope that never ends!


Comment