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A Semester in Pictures

I don't have a single writing bug in me right now. You know what's true though? A picture is worth 1,000 words. So here are 4,000 words to reflect on this semester. 

September

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Does it look like we love each other? That's funny because we had just met that morning. Gosh, and look at how tan and fresh we were. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. 

October

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Cute! Our first service project together and our first time visiting someone's place of work. We actually did love each other at this point. Service projects mean more time together, which is all we could ever wish for. 

November

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That one time we took our wonderful director out dancing for her birthday. I think we basically took over The Architect with Raleigh Fellows. 

December

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The youth group Christmas party... where we all learned to never throw a party with 50+ middle schoolers in attendance. And isn't that photo backdrop just the most beautiful creation you've ever seen? Papa T and I did that. 

 

My January blog post will undoubtedly be about how much I missed these people during our break. Thankfully I still have two more weeks with them. 

Till next time, 

Elaina

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Well That Was Quick

November came and went way too fast for my liking. Hence why I am writing this post in December… Although the month flew by, it was chock-full of events, learning, growing, challenge, questions, running, sitting, listening, and talking. Here’s a quick breakdown:

·      Work – It’s finally picking up. Some, at least. I’m still not interested in becoming a lawyer (in case any of yall were wondering out there). However, I’ve started to get more tasks, and tasks that really seem to “lighten the load” on the rest of the firm and actually seem to be helping the process in tangible ways. Now this isn’t always, but it is an improvement.

·      Class – Remember the days when you enjoyed class? Ok, maybe not, and I’m just weird like that. But really, I truly am enjoying class here in the program. And not just one or two, but them all. The conversations and even the readings have spurred so much thought and reflection that has so interesting coincided with things going on in life and in the Fellows. Learning is fun again; and practical.

·      Family – Y’all my host family rocks. I get to live with 8 other phenomenal humans, of all ages too. They all have such awesome characteristics and I have loved getting to know them. As busy as I am a Fellow, they are just as busy, if not more sometimes! 9 people in one house makes for a lots of moving parts, lots of commitments, and lots of catching up to do at the dinner table!

·      Mentor – Brad McGinity. I’m lucky to know him. He may not know it or think it, but he has imparted loads of wisdom to me (hopefully I am retaining it all). He is yet another example that takes time out of his crazy busy life to invest in me. I never thought that I would gain so much insight on life while eating a bagel at Panera. Really though; Brad is awesome and I’m really looking forward to more time with him and how he continually stretches me. He has a certain knack for picking into my brain and getting more out than I knew was there.

·      Church – If you are ever in Raleigh, you need to check out Church of the Apostles. If you live in Raleigh, please come to church with me and let me talk with you about how great this body of believers really is.

·      Fellows – These people may not have known what they were getting themselves into when they said yes to this thing. I sure didn’t have it all figured out. But this has been one special treat to have them to live with, learn with, fail with, serve with, question with, get in the sauna with, eat with, work out with, pray with, dance with, cry with, join hands with, watch Stranger Things with, cook with, play games with, and be with. Calley, Chris, Dalton, Dan, Elaina, Emilee, Faith, Hayes, Katie, Rachel, and of course, Sam and Ashley; Here’s to you and every way you help make our community full. 

Taylor

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Why Am I Here?

This is a question that has been going through my head many times within the past couple months. It seems to come up most when I am having a hard day at work or I am struggling with some situation. More often than not when I am enjoying myself, this isn't even close to a thought because there is no need for the question. So why am I here? What does that even mean? Why am I physically here in Raleigh or why am I in this situation doing what I am doing? 

I can't say that I have found an answer to any of these questions yet. However, I do find it interesting that they only come into my mind when I am feeling any sort of discouragement. So why am I even thinking these things in the first place? I will give you an example: I am working and I have some idle time in my day because the task that I was given to manage is being taken care of. I now feel like I am not being useful to my boss or my company, and isn't the whole point of my internship to help bring light to the world as an image bearer of Christ? How am I doing that while I am sitting in my car waiting for my boss to give me another task? It doesn't seem like I am doing that so my feeling of uselessness leads to a feeling of worthlessness. Then I am reminded of the fact that I am not even doing work to help me figure out what my plan will be long term and I feel hopeless. At any point along this emotional down spiral will all these questions come up about "what am I doing here?". I feel like this was supposed to be a step that I was taking to receive clarity about what my NEXT step will be down the road. Not just a step towards the end goal, but really a step to figure out what the end goal is. Why do I feel like this question is not going to be answered for me. 

The reality of things are that it is not hard to see why am here. Simply by opening my eyes to what God is doing inside of me to prepare myself for life in every aspect. I often become very tunnel visioned under stress as seen here where I am so focused on not seeing the clarity in my vocational field that I think that God is not shaping me in other ways. Insight into why I am thinking these questions has shown me a lot of my flaws in daily thinking towards God's shaping process. Scripture calls God the potter and us humans his clay. If this is true than many times when we are feeling pain and discomfort as I have talked about, we need not think of it as God punishing us but rather know that His fingers are pressing into us, creating a beautiful masterpiece of His handiwork. So I might go through the next 6 months not being shown what my job will be down the road, but does that make my time here useless/worthless/hopeless/un-meaningful as I often resort to thinking? Absolutely not. God is using each one of my steps here to accomplish HIS end goal. Let me tell you what, it is not the same end goal that I am thinking up in my mind even right now as I write this....and I certainly wouldn't want it to be the same as the end goal that I have in mind for myself. God is going to do something much bigger for me that will provide much more life than I can ever imagine experiencing.

Thanks for reading, till next time ✌️,

Chris Fronczak

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Wonder Women

Every day, during most hours, in pretty much all moments, I am surrounded by the most incredible women. Unexpectedly, being a fellow has given me countless opportunities to learn from many amazing women of God in all walks of life. Whether it is directly through the Fellows Program, at church, at work, or at home, I am constantly overwhelmed by how much these women willingly offer me. I would not have thought to specifically seek out this aspect of the program but now it seems so crucial. I knew that there would be inspiring people in all the various Fellows programs around the country, but I am confident that God specifically had these women in mind for me and my current stage in life. It was time for me to have some older, wiser friends whose lives do not operate like mine.

One woman in particular, one of my co-workers, Linda, has been an absolute joy for me to work with. She arrives at work by 6:00am every Monday through Thursday, and when I arrive an hour later she is already playing music, enjoying herself, and efficiently completing tasks. She comforts me in a way that I did not anticipate needing, and I find her very trustworthy. I know that I can go to her if I need something and that she will listen to me. Over time I have learned that she is a fun, vivacious wife and mother, and I find myself encouraged by the way that she has befriended me despite our 47-year age gap. I am very thankful for this Godly influence at work. I am only excited to see her continue her work and to get to know her better. She walks humbly (with a little bit of fun sass!) and I am thankful for the influence she has had on my time at Note in the Pocket. I look forward to joining her in the early morning! Thank you, Linda, for your friendship. I hope to be more like you when I grow up.

I also hope to be more like Ashley Crutchfield, Marilyn Young, Janet Whited, Pauline Byron, Tal Mangum, Dallas Bonavita, Michele Boyce and SO many more as I continue to grow. Thank you for everything, I am so inspired by my relationships with you all.  

These women rule! Go meet them!  

XO Rachel 

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the unexpected

One of my favorite lines in a Christmas song points to the unexpectedness of how the Messiah arrived - it says, "did You wrap Yourself inside the unexpected, so we might know that love would go that far?" 

Entering the season of Advent, each year I can't help but think more and more about the people of Israel, awaiting the arrival of the Messiah. The people had waited for this promised Messiah for a long, long time, and while still clinging to the hope of this Messiah to come, written about by the prophets, perhaps some were losing hope. Was this Messiah going to come? And then He did - He came in the most humble, unexpected way, setting the tone for His life of ministry, and so we might know that love would go that far. 

This past month has flown. It has been awesome in a lot of ways, but also hard. I'm coming to the conclusion that this wonderful season of life is filled with support and a community rallying around us; but it is still a transition and not like anything before- making it hard- transition and change can be great; but are by no means comfortable and easy. But the past month has also been so so good. 

The first weekend of our month was filled by a retreat where we looked at more in depth at what it means to follow the commands of Micah 6:8- seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. We soaked in beautiful reminders and convicting exhortations; displayed our finest skills on the Ultimate Frisbee skills and the stage, performing a choreographed dance; and I certainly walked away from that weekend grateful not only for what I learned, but for this group of people, these Raleigh Fellows, and the people that God uniquely created them to be. Also grateful that I do not (hopefully) have to keep coffee on tap for 160 people anytime soon; as was my job all weekend- hopefully people liked the strength of my coffee! 

This past month I have been reminded to observe and praise the Lord's faithfulness in the smallest of things; in order that I may rely on Him for the big things. And in many ways, it's not hard to both and observe and trust His faithfulness for the small things; but trusting Him big can be really hard. My Myers Briggs is a "J" and I basically break the scale on J. I want the plans in place and the details taken care of- even if it stresses me out to get to that point, I'd rather have it than not have it. I was even reminded the other day that this is the closest I've been to ending anything without knowing what is next (and it's still almost 6 months away!). Woah. 

And yet the Lord gently calls to my mind His daily mercies and faithfulness- reminding me that somehow, some way, everything will be ok May 21, 2018; because the Ultimate J, God, has it in His hands. In the practice of acknowledging His faithfulness here are some examples from this month - at work, I had things to every single day in November (well, at least so far!)- and not only things to do, but sometimes to the point being slightly stressed as I balanced tasks for 2 or 3 people and answered the phone/made phone calls- praise Him! Also at work, we drew the name of a coworker who we were going to say affirmation/positive comments about at our next staff meeting, and fortunately I drew the name of someone I have grown to be friends with- because in the moment I worried I would draw someone's name and not know what to say about them other than they were "nice" and "friendly." He has been faithful in the good nights of sleep I've gotten over the past couple weeks; in truly valuable, sweet conversations I've had with others over the past couple weeks. And in the unexpected- when my Thanksgiving plans fell apart last Friday and my parents wanted me home badly enough to help me get there. 

Now, you might be wondering how this all ties with the song lyric, and truth is, I'm not sure if I'm connecting the two very well here. But I truly believe that the King who stepped down from His throne, and wrapped Himself inside the unexpected; loves us so much that we can expect the unexpected- because He will be faithful in the littlest of things- and when we least expect it and/or find it hard to trust- He will be faithful in the biggest of things too. He is Emmanuel, God with us, and He wrapped Himself inside the unexpected so that we might know that love would go that far. 

- Katie

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Fighting vs. Pushing

For Thanksgiving, I flew to San Diego to visit two of my closest friends from college, Anya and Erica. While this meant being unable to spend Thanksgiving at home with my family, I needed to get out of Raleigh, because unlike the other Fellows, Raleigh is my home. After four years 1,000 miles away for college, I am unaccustomed to so much time at “home.” So, while I would never ever live in California, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief when I climbed into Anya’s car at the airport and fell into the arms of my two best friends. Many thoughts ran through my head, but I think the most prominent ones were “Finally,” “I can breathe again,” and something akin to “This is familiar and safe.”

Let me explain. When I’m asked what I’m doing in the Fellows program, I often feel an urge to say, “I’m fighting to keep my head above water.”

There is so much we as Fellows have to do, and I’ve noticed there is quite a double-standard in regards to what is expected of us. While we are encouraged to grow, learn, and experience and manage conflict, there seems to be this assumption that these things will not interfere with everything else we have to do; we cannot stumble, but must take every new growth and discovery in perfect stride. We have to be lights for Christ in our workplaces, do good work, and be joyful in it. We are known by pretty much everyone at Apostles, and have to be engaging, kind, and mature when we talk to these people, most of whom we can’t remember meeting because we met everyone in the span of a week. We have to build relationships with host families, small groups, mentors, buddies, co-workers, teachers, and not to mention each other. We have to plan service projects, come up with capstone projects for our workplaces, schedule lengthy and deep interviews with family members, and meet with prayer partners. We have to show up to Neighbor to Neighbor ready to give 100% as mentors; we cannot have bad days even if our mentees do. We have to do blog posts and readings for classes, and then we have to engage when we are in those classes. If that’s not enough, we also should probably exercise, have a quiet time, eat well, and get at least eight hours of sleep. So…when are we supposed to process what we’ve learned and become aware of how we’re growing? When are we supposed to figure out what we’ll do when the program ends? When are we supposed to be honest and vulnerable when it’s almost a guarantee that, within an hour, there’s something we have to be ready to go for?

This all settled on me pretty heavily over Thanksgiving break. Anya, Erica, and I were sitting in a diner in a little mining town outside of San Diego. As they talked about their future and how they lacked plans just like me, I found myself thinking about everything I would have to do when I returned to Raleigh. It crossed my mind that I wanted to stay in that moment, in that diner, and to never leave. I voiced these thoughts to them.

“Well, we still have a few more hours before we have to leave,” Anya replied.

“No, I mean I wish we didn’t have to leave…ever. Never have to leave and never have to worry about the future.”

And as I said that out loud, I realized it wasn’t true. It was something the old Calley would’ve said, but I was not old Calley anymore. No, I did not want to stay in that diner forever. I didn’t want to stay safe and comfortable with my best friends anymore. I missed the Fellows. I missed the community. I wanted to be pushed into discomfort. I wasn’t fighting to keep my head above water; I was swimming a long-distance race with ten close friends. Sure, a boat had come along and was giving me a breather, but there was no way I wasn’t getting back in the water and finishing that race. So, when Anya dropped me off at the airport to fly home, there was a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. But I didn’t let myself look back. Come Monday, I’m ready to jump back in.

~ Calley

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Comfort

What’s up Friends and Family!

We are now officially two months into the program and there have been some solid takeaways thus far. First, I need to start with the past though. For the past 5 years of my life I wasn’t engulfed in christian community the way that I am right now. I knew it was going to be an adjustment for me to learn and understand what it looks like to live and grow with my new brothers and sisters. At first we were in the “honeymoon” stage where the newness of these relationships was one of the most refreshing experiences of my life. I loved the new friends and how much everyone had one main purpose, which was to push each other closer to the lord. I was also caught off guard in how encouraging and loving this community was. I had never experienced the love of Christ routed in these type of friendships before.

As we begin to exit the “honeymoon” phase, I am beginning to have another overwhelming feeling. At first I was worried that it would take me awhile to be my full self and be vulnerable in these new relationships. However I am feeling the opposite. I am finally beginning to open up and be comfortable in who god created me to be and the way I can best love these other fellows, youth group juniors and seniors, my host family, colleagues and mentors. It is shocking for me to see how blessed I am to have people around me who care so deeply and want to see me develop into the man that I want to be.

As this journey continues I ask for your continued prayers and support. I ask for prayer for my fellow fellows, my career at 15Five, my mentors, and my host family. The main thing that I ask for is continued prayer for my heart/mind as I continue to invite the lord in.

Thank you so much for the financial support and love that everyone has showed me throughout this experience.

Chill Nice till next time,

DT

 

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Press In and Step Out

I can totally get away with staying comfortable in the next 7 months. I can continue to build a space where my routine of activities and behavior limit any sort of risk, stress, and anxiety. To most people that seems ideal - to be content in a space where absolutely everything is NEW.

A steady prayer of mine for months leading up to the beginning of the program was that God provide me with a sense of comfortability about it all. To feel content in where I am at and what I am doing. And though I am in no way undermining the fact that God hears and answers prayer, I am already sensing restlessness in what it is I asked for.

Another prayer of mine is that the Lord continue to mold me into being a bold and confident woman of faith and because I care more about what I think of God, what kind of young woman I am, and how I am contributing to the world, I must sprint from this comfort I find myself in.

I don’t think God cares too much about our comfortability, that we feel settled at all times. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe in comfortability. I love how beautiful familiarity is; it is steady, restful, and delightful, but it is not the environment for growth. And if that’s what I am pursuing, especially enough to do a Fellow’s program instead of moving to NY, LA, or staying in Nashville, I have to honor that. I need to be bothered, irritated, and for lack of better words feel uncomfortable and out of control. I am choosing to allow faithfulness to His Word transform how I step out and press in.

I want to deliberately explore new habits and ways to challenge myself to growth. It could be as simple as not being on social media when I could be reading for homework (...), leaning into uncomfortable conversations with myself, and putting myself even more out there with people within fellow’s, the church, and in Raleigh.

I love that the Lord has shown Himself through my friends here in Raleigh. That He has shown me that He honors my experience here and truly wants to show me enriched community. He has blessed me with THE EASIEST people to love and celebrate. However, I am so thankful He calls me to more; to continue to press in and step out in faith because being uncomfortable is so much better - and more fun.  

Emilee Grissom

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Start With The End

Reading my grandmother’s obituary just days after we had been assigned to write our own obituaries in Mary Vandel Young’s Spiritual Formation class was a bizarre experience. Here I am, asking myself a question that my grandmother can no longer ask—her impact has already been made on earth.

How do we desire to be remembered? How are we living right now to end up there?

Recognizing in myself the ways that I desire to be remembered once I leave this earth is a scary and vulnerable task. Even brainstorming for my own obituary left me nervous… How am I actually doing? If today were my last day, how would my obituary read then? In actuality, someone else will write it and recount for me... However, trying to write it now, on my own, causes me to more fully grasp that my actions matter in this moment. I am the only one who is living my life. What story have I helped write for myself up to this point?

My grandmother is remembered for many things, especially her faith. Her life was greatly shaped by experiences with the Lord, so much so that her testimony was used for the final chapter in a book titled, My Person Pentecost. She always enjoyed writing, specifically writing poetry. Although I read several beautiful things she had written during the moments around her funeral services, I think that I was the most moved by hearing from her long-time best friend who spoke at the funeral service. During the service, this gentle woman, a soul sister by the name of Matilda, made her way to the front. Matilda spent her time in front of the congregation smiling and saying, “I loved her.” Matilda radiated joy and sang love through her simple spoken words and mannerisms. Watching her allowed all of us into their friendship just enough to feel its weight and understand its impact on the both of them. I loved it so much, and although I had never met this woman prior to the funeral, tears flooded my eyes because of the way she spoke of my grandmother.  They loved each other and they loved Jesus.

I can only pray to be remembered in that same love. I am so thankful for the dear women who have been put in my life, and I hope that I can start living out my obituary. I am now convinced there is no better place to start. Thank you, Grandma, for giving me the gift of a new beginning at your earthly end. Rest in peace, you are loved. 

-Rachel 

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Chapter 1: Be Present

A main focus of mine coming into the program was being present here. I want to experience these 9 months for what they are and not feel the pressure to worry about what is to come in the future. I want to soak in all the new things. Oftentimes I struggle to stay grounded in the things I am experiencing because I get caught up worrying about my future plans. I knew this time would be an incredible opportunity for growth, so I wanted to really take advantage of that.

We discussed this idea at RoundTable the other night after we watched a Ted Talk on technology. The speaker spoke on the impact of our devices on our ability to be present. We are so busy staring down at our screens that we miss out on the most important things in our life like our relationships. It is so easy to become distracted in our world. We spend hours scrolling through social media looking for affirmation to distract ourselves from what’s really happening right in front of us. This causes us to miss out on spending quality time with the people that we love and distracts us from engaging in our relationship with our creator. It is now difficult for me to even spend 30 minutes in silence spending time with God. We have been conditioned to constantly feel the need to be busy and entertaining ourselves. It’s tough to simply be in the present.

This is something that I am struggling with and hope to take active steps to combat this year. I don’t want to miss out on the greatest things in my life that are going to bring me real fulfillment and joy. If one day we look back on our life and see all the time we threw away staring at our devices instead of being with the people we’re with, what would we think? I don’t want that to be the case for me because I know it wouldn’t look good. I want to spend time with God before I decide to pull out my phone. I want to take the time to be intentional and have good conversation. Something I am beginning to learn over the past couple of months is that if you want to write a good story, don’t miss out. Avoid distractions and don’t miss out on the opportunity to invest in people because you’re busy staring at your phone. This is easier said then done, but I hope to live this out moving forward.

Dan Gilgannon

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Struggling With The Obvious

“Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” –Mother Theresa

Throughout my time as a Fellow I have been thinking about the idea of doing hard and holy things. It should be obvious to me that doing hard things is hard, but for some reason I tend to think that it won’t be. Sometimes I don’t choose to love the people closest to me today, yet I think in the distant future I will go the distance for the vulnerable. I sometimes think that I can choose sleep over my quiet time today, but in the distant future I will have a rich prayer life and a deep and vast knowledge of the Bible.  

I have realized that the opposite of doing evil is cultivating good, rather than just not doing bad. It’s definitely beneficial that I’m not reading licentious books, but am I soaking myself in the Word of God and writing it on my heart? It’s great that I’m not trying to sabotage my friends and family, but am I encouraging them, loving them, praying for them, and helping them to know who they are in the Lord? It’s great that I’m not actively pursuing methods of self-harm, but am I actively seeking understanding of who I am in the Lord?

I find myself guilty of this kind of coasting… not blatantly harming but also not dying to myself to cultivate life. I have been thinking about the season that I am in right now and how I can grow and serve in it, developing disciplines that go against the autopilot of my sinful heart. To be honest, it is much more fun to dream about being a doctor who in 10 years serves her patients and fights for their best interests rather than actually sit down with someone today and not talk about myself the whole time.

These things that I find hard but I like to think don't really matter are the disciplines that would be ridding me of myself and making me more like Christ. 

So this is where I find myself, wrestling with the most obvious truths, rolling my eyes that this is so hard for me to grasp. Thankfully, I find myself in good company with a Bible full of people that seem to make the mistakes that I think are so obviously avoidable, yet loved by a gracious God who does not declare us lost causes.

-Faith

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being tilled

I have a strong aversion to hard conversations. I’ve never been good at addressing conflict or having hard conversations, and have typically avoided them almost “like the plague.”

Why? I can’t simply write it off as “that’s my personality,” though in a lot of ways, I am a people-pleaser. But over the past few days I’ve tried to dig deeper into the why behind this. Why do I avoid conversations that are hard, why do I let conflict fester instead of addressing it and shutting it down?

Maybe because if I do address conflict, or when hard conversations are hard, I have to acknowledge my own brokenness and my own need for grace. Crazy, I know. You would think after walking with the Lord for most of my life, I would recognize that need. But alas, I fall victim time and again to the belief that I can be independent and I don’t need others; and moreover to the belief that I don’t need God’s grace.

Through hard conversations that have had to happen this month, I’ve come to notice my own brokenness and insecurities and subsequently, my own need for grace and for the Lord Jesus Christ. For too long, I’ve been wanting both Jesus and an idol: both Jesus people’s affirmation of me. I’m learning now, through these hard conversations, and by God’s grace working in me that my ultimate belonging and acceptance in Christ needs to be sufficient; and always will be sufficient.

As Tim Keller puts it,

“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

Though my own brokenness, sinfulness, and insecurities are come to more light for, I would choose to name this season as a season of “tilling.” We till our gardens and fields for the purpose of turning over the soil to allow increased growth. In the same way, God graciously works in our hearts to “till us” for the purpose of growth; turning over our sin, brokenness, and insecurities and leading us to the Cross.  Not comfortable, not easy, and in fact quite hard: but the Lord is so gracious in these seasons of tilling.

As I learn these lessons, and walk through this season of tilling, I am yet so grateful for the many good and lovely things that have blessed me this month. Some of us girls enjoyed a Needtobreathe concert; we all went to the state fair (talk about sensory overload; but fun nevertheless!); and the youth retreat we went on with our kiddos. This retreat was exhausting in every way (especially for an introvert – it was all people time!), but at the same time I got to grow deeper in relationship with my sweet 6th grade girls, and watch them grow more deeply in relationship with one another. I also got a glimpse of heaven as I soaked in the voices of over 80 youth worshipping the Lord, and realized how deeply I wanted for all of my 6th grade girls to know the Lord and have a deep awareness of His love and the hope they have in Christ.

My prayer for them, and for all those I have and will meet this year, and definitely for myself, comes from the words of my Wheaton class song, which comes from 1 Thessalonians 5:23: “Now may God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you and never cease.” This prayer resonates deeply – through seasons of tilling, through the valleys, and on the mountaintops, may the Lord himself sanctify us and never cease.

I know I am where I need to be for this season of tilling- this season is not comfortable, but it keeps leading me to the Cross- where I need to go; and where I receive grace upon grace.

Come as you are – come to Jesus, come sit at the table & come taste the grace. 

-Katie

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There's More To The Story

“Tell me your story.”

This common phrase in Christian culture is belittling. Let me tell you why…

We hear this question and we go straight to our childhood, and sometimes to who we were before we “knew” (or whichever word you use) Jesus. We like to talk about our families, what all we have done in our lives, who and what has been impactful, our relationships (maybe even wife and kids...and yes, grandparents and grandkids too), where we have lived, etc. Sometimes we see the phrase as synonymous to our “testimony”.  Although all of these things are good and important parts to our “story”, they are exactly that; parts. We are doing our stories a disservice when we restrict them to these aspects. 

This month I’ve had the chance and been invited to unpack what really is my “story”. What I’ve realized and truly began to grasp is just how important my story actually is. My story is so much more than my childhood memories, hobbies, family, and even my testimony. It sits within the grand story of creation; and ultimately, its redemption. Adam and Eve, Abraham, the Exodus, Paul, and The Last Supper are just as much apart of my story as Mom and Dad, my siblings, Greensboro, the week at Young Life camp that changed my life, and Lord willing, a wife and kids in the future. These historical people and events play a significant role in who I am, where I come from, and where I am going. Being easily deceived, grasping for the fruit, commitment before understanding, repetitive unbelief amidst constant provision and kept promises, humility and change of heart, and reconciliation are each a piece to my story and life. These are just a few ways in which I have seen my story intertwined in the biblical narrative and how recognizing my place in the grand scheme often changes my perspective. I can truly sit and experience how my life and story is a continuation of these past stories.

Now don't think that I’m downplaying my family, friends, how I started a personal relationship with Jesus, and the rest of my experiences during my 22 years on earth. I’ve also gained a hefty appreciation for all the ways these things impacted me. At the same time, I’ve started to dig deeper and wrestle with all the ways my experiences and habits in life have influenced me covertly. Things like what my family talked about at the dinner table, who I hung out with growing up, what activities I did, what our parents pushed or didn’t push us to do, relationships with our extended family, what high school and college I attended, and so much more left a bigger mark on me as a person than I would have realized otherwise. I am aiming to be more cognizant of the lies and traps that are in my everyday life, both small and big, that leave a mark on my heart and mind. Too much has gone unnoticed so far; my hope is that a deep and wide awareness would permeate my heart, soul, mind, and body.

This past month has been far from easy, comfortable, or routine. I’ve been moving at a faster pace than I have in a long time. I haven’t felt “in the rhythm” much at all. I’ve been struggling to balance work, preparing for class, time with my host family, time with my immediate family, exercise, other commitments, time alone, and time with the Fellows. Being close to home and friends at UNC and other nearby cities has been both a blessing and a downfall. It makes it that much harder to manage relationships within the Fellows and all the different spheres in my life. Interruptions, changes of plans, and lost time have all been challenges. Being holistically disciplined (physically, mentally and faithfully) in a whirling environment like this is extremely difficult. There are some good days, and lots of hard days where I feel like I missed that mark (that’s my 1-wing coming out for all you Enneagram people reading, or not reading, out there). At times, this can be discouraging and lies can lead me to believe it’s shameful. However, I attempt to combat those false ideas with these truths that I’ve been learning. I am constantly reminded of my good friend, Austin, who passed on the wise words given to him from his own mentor that “growth and comfort cannot coexist”. This statement has sat with me for a year and a half now, and each time I am reminded of it, it becomes truer and truer to me.

This was much longer than I originally anticipated, and there is much more going on than I desire or have the time to write about. As with most of these posts, I will be the one that benefits most (if not at all) from it. God’s peace to any of you readers out there.

 

-Taylor Irvin

(Papa T)

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To Overflow

I've kept a prayer journal ever since the first day I started following Christ. Every now and then I enjoy reading the entries from years ago to remember what I was going through and to see the Lord's faithfulness. 

Around this time last year, according to my journal entry, I was praying through what to do after graduation. The Fellows program was on my mind, but I really had no other ideas for what 2017 may hold. Throughout last fall I remember feeling more and more of a call to go to Raleigh and to do exactly what I am currently doing. 

I've been telling people for the past week how content I am here. I am content in my job, with my new friends, with my mentor, in my home, in Raleigh. Everything feels right. I feel like I'm where I'm supposed to be, doing what I'm supposed to be doing. I feel like I'm in the Lord's will. 

I am normally a peaceful person, but I have never felt so much peace before in my life. Maybe it's because for the first time ever I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted, and I chose to keep my hands open to the Lord. I know the only reason I'm here is because he put me here. He has blessed my surrender to him. 

It's a good thing to be content. For me, though, I'm scared of sitting too comfortably in it. If there's anything I've felt the Lord teaching me this year, it's that there is more. The more space I offer him in my life, the more he's going to come in. He will never be finished filling me with himself. 

So I'm content, and I'm incredibly thankful for that. But I know that my cup is not meant to simply be filled, it's meant to overflow. Lord, I pray I can give you all the space I have in my life so that your fullness may dwell in me. 

- Elaina

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If I'm Honest

Almost two months into the Fellows program, and I do not feel like myself. Pre-Fellows program Calley did not communicate well at all. If she sensed conflict, she ran from it. She’d rather lie than face the often awkwardness of honesty. That is me. That is who I am and that is what I do.

Or it was. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a switch has been flipped somewhere. I find myself speaking my mind, verbally articulating my feelings. If I sense even the slightest hint of conflict with another Fellow, I try to talk it out as soon as possible. Granted, when having to have such confrontations, I feel sick to my stomach and my pulse is racing. I speak my mind and instantly fear the reaction my statements will cause. Will I lose a friend? Am I pushing too hard? Will they resent me or judge me? But I know it is necessary. This group is to be my family for the next seven months, and a well-differentiated family (as we learned in our Family Systems class) has open communication, even if it leads to conflict. Two months in, and I already love my new family so much, and with every roundtable, every class, every Monday lunch, I love them more. It would be unfair, then, for me to still be old Calley, someone who lets fear and anxiety keep her from being honest about how she feels. So, in the spirit of honesty, there are days I wake up and have to talk myself into going to work, even though I love my job. There are days I sit in class and spend the whole three hours daydreaming. There are days I feel distant from the other Fellows, and days some of the other Fellows feel distant from me. How’s that for honesty?

Almost two months into the Fellows program, and I do not feel like myself. I feel better.

~ Calley

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Welcome

"Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God." -Romans 15:7

One of the biggest struggles I have seen and heard of for those transitioning from life in college to the "real world" is finding community. Belonging is something we all strive for and desire, and it usually it isn't easy. Work, travel, new living arrangements, different cities, stress, families, and so much more can quickly become an impedance to our ability to feeling like we belong. I was blessed with my community while at UNC, but now I'm gone too.

I am thankful to say that this has not been the case for me right after leaving my community at UNC. Moving to Raleigh and embarking on the Fellows Program has been the most welcoming experience. Church staff and members, host families, mentors, employers, community members, teachers, and other fellows have all welcomed me with open arms. They have opened up their homes, refrigerators, schedules, wallets, wisdom, and themselves. Belonging was the first of many gifts within the first month of being in Raleigh.

However, I want to unpack it a little further. The Romans verse above has stuck with me over the past 3 years. For most of that time I really looked at it in a sense of a "welcoming" atmosphere to those around me, those in my house, and those I encountered in daily interactions. But lately, I've been sitting on more and more aspects of how "Christ has welcomed" all of us. Christ welcomes us into every part of his life; his living and his dying, his creating and his redeeming, his sitting and his walking, his speaking and his listening, his power and his humility, his freedom and his obedience, and also his love. I am all the more thankful that these relationships that have already been built during my first month as a Fellow have given me a taste of this kind of welcoming. My hope and my confidence is that I will imitate this manner more and more each day.

And so I say "welcome" to these next 8 months specifically. Welcome to the fun, the laughs, the nicknames, movie and game nights, Round Table, Church of the Apostles, Neighbor to Neighbor, all the classes (and reading and papers), the Curlin's/Batchelder's, Knott & Boyle PLLC, Brad McGinity, Sam & Ashley Crutchfield, Sunday nights at The Deal, the Raleigh Fellows Committee and community, hard conversations, tiredness, Raleigh traffic, long days after F3, and everything else in store for me. 

"Welcome, to the real world."

-Taylor Irvin

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A taste of Raleigh

Hey there, pals!

Food blogs are all the rage, so… I am going to give you a little taste of what my experience arriving in Raleigh has been: I have been seasoned and delighted with ‘hellos’ and more introductions than I can count. These have been like appetizers, giving me an anticipation of what’s to come and reminding me daily that I am where I am supposed to be. The Lord has placed me here and He has created a community to take me in. I am savoring His assurance (cool beans!).

Raleigh and the Fellows Program offer so much that it’s hard to decide what concise aspect I want to write about here without taking all your time… but what I feel that I have relished most in this first month, and therefore will share with you, is the consistent welcoming attitude I have encountered from the moment I set foot in Raleigh. I have savored small moments and gestures that greeted me as the warmest welcomes. My new, post-undergraduate beginning has sparked in me a desire to intentionally welcome others into my places and spaces in a similar fashion. I have absolutely loved getting to know my awesome fellow-mates who are here with me, but our time getting to know each other would not be possible without the community surrounding us with outstretched arms. This deep-rooted welcome has been the sweetest hug of comfort for me and I am so thankful for its continuous presence. As a fellow, everything feels new and nothing seems ‘known’ yet, but these people have allowed me to know that I am welcome.

“When the crowds learned it, they followed Him, and He welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing.” Luke 9:11. A big thank you to Church of the Apostles and the greater Raleigh community for welcoming me, speaking of the Kingdom to me, and for beginning to send healing my way that I did not know I was in need of. You are showing me Jesus!

Here are 10 of the many extremely comforting “welcome/join-us” moments I have had in this first & fast month of September as a Raleigh Fellow:

1)    The Young’s sweet signs for me, hung in my room upon arrival

2)    Coffee with my mentor, Janet, before the program even officially started

3)    The first hug/big smile I got from Ashley on our first morning together and the many thereafter

4)    The welcome lunch prepared by Lou for the fellows at the church our first afternoon

5)    The “official” premade nametag waiting for me at my first day of work

6)    Old fellow classes including us in their social plans

7)    Members of the church community knowing my name and remembering it

8)    The Mangum’s having us over for lunch every week

9)    My Monday Mentee with Neighbor to Neighbor telling me that she couldn’t wait for our next meeting

10) So many host families allowing us to take over their spaces, sometimes late in the evening to watch various sports games and TV shows like This Is Us

I was excited to start the Fellows Program and now after the first month, I’m even more excited anticipating what the next 8 will bring to our table! 

-Rachel Ray

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Writing a Story

Writing a Story

Why are we so captivated by a good story? Why do we spend countless watching movies and reading novels? Why did I feel the the need to read the 7th Harry Potter in one sitting? These are all questions I have been asking myself recently. Over the summer, I read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. Miller discusses the concept and the power behind story by highlighting his experience attempting to turn his successful memoir into a movie. He explains what elements compose a great story and how we are all individually created for a story. I was fascinated by his life and related to many of the feelings and questions Miller had about the kind of story he was writing. We are all desperate to write a story that has meaning, love, impact, adventure and excitement. We want our story to affect other people and leave a lasting legacy. Yet, how does one write a meaningful story? Oftentimes it feels like we’re writing a rather dull story as we trudge through our daily routines- I wouldn’t say I’m changing the world at my internship. Jesus said he came so that we could have life to the full, but it’s just tough to feel that way sometimes.

This idea of story has already been raised in a couple of our classes while discussing the old testament, family systems, and work within and our culture. I’m excited to learn how my own personal story has shaped me and to better understand the biblical narrative. I really don’t have the answers, but I am hoping to explore these questions over the course of this program. This is definitely a step into the unknown and an uncomfortable place for me having lived in Charlottesville my whole life. I believe that The Lord works when we step outside of our comfort zones and I hope I will be open to what he has for me. I’m also excited to spend the next 8 living life and learning from the other fellows.

Ultimately, this is why I’m doing this program(and pretty much everything we do in life). I want to live out a story that means something. I’m attempting not to live out my own story, but rather to put myself in the best position to live out the story that God has created for my life. That story is much more fulfilling and meaningful than anything I could imagine for myself. I feel confident that this step into an uncomfortable and new situation has me headed in the right direction.

-Dan

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The Freshest Start

Dalton Taylor

Hey friends and family!

As many of you know I committed to the fellows program very late and was blessed enough to snag that last spot just three weeks before the program started. We are now three weeks in and I cannot express the comfort I have experienced from the lord in this last minute transition. I was anxious, nervous and uncertain about why all the jobs I had applied and interviewed for just seemed to fall through in such weird and mysterious ways. Frustration was beginning to boil over. A week before I sent in all my application information, I received an email from a family friend saying the program had an opening last minute because a guy had dropped. In this moment I had two options. The first was to continue to follow these “leads” for jobs that would most likely fall through and be frustrated in what my purpose in life was. The second was to follow the advice of a former fellow we hosted when I was young and “stop being an idiot and do the program”. The straightforwardness was something that I needed (the enneagram 9 in me). So I had a good conversation with our director Ashley and I committed.

Romans 12: 2 says "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will"

A majority of my life I have viewed the start of new things as fresh starts to change/adjust to being the man the lord created me to be. However I never really followed through once I got to the feeling of comfort in whatever the new experience was. This verse in romans was read a couple times during our orientation retreat and has just continued to stick with me in these first three weeks. Of course I always knew the verse but never in the context that it had been explained to me in our first weekend as “new best friends”. I also took this verse extremely literal in that I wanted to renew my mind through the healing and strength of the lord.

This fresh start has been unlike any other in my life. I am so grateful for the 10 other fellows the lord placed in this program. I am thankful for the way the lord has provided me outlets for healing, growth and comfort. He truly works in the MOST mysterious ways. As I continue to grow throughout this next nine months I ask that you pray for our class, jobs, relationships and experiences. Thank you to anyone reading this that has provided financial support and guidance in such an exciting/nerve-racking season of my life. Something I can say I am learning is that the lords plan for our lives is so much more important than our own. I am thankful now that he provided me this program and this fresh start.

Until next time!

DT

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Living in Answered Prayer

I think there is something to be said about friendship. In just knowing that one friend can completely change everything. To feel seen, known, and loved does something to us. A prayer for awhile now has been just that;  deep, intimate, hard, and real friendship with believers. It was also a big reason why I wanted to do a Fellow’s program in the first place. Community.

From the initial phone call with Kara Smith to talking to Ashley on the phone (a lot), I got the simplest taste of what Christian community COULD look like, however I had far too many reservations. Was it legit? I know it could be deep and cherished, but could it actually be…. fun?

In a little shy of my one month here I now laugh at that. Laugh at my prayers of asking the Lord to establish at least ONE friendship quickly and laugh at myself that I prayed so hard for the Lord to help me feel comfortable around groups of Christian’s, because I never had really been around any before. I also prayed for my guard not to go up but instead to trust in them. I laugh not because my prayer’s are wrong or that I shouldn’t share even what seems to be the tiniest of my desire’s to the Lord, but because the Lord continues to show me He is who He is. He is trustworthy. He is Provider. It is simply in His nature, it is also His joy in doing so. He is a God who knows the importance of friendship and community. He knew my reservations and so quickly showed me that He provides so much more than I could have ever hoped for. The past month has been filled with deep and quick friendships (praise God), comfort, so many giggles, and meaning. Thank God that He has abundantly more for us than we can ever hope and dream of.

I am thankful for the Spirit led and Christ driven people I have met in the past month. You guys have been reassuring, loving, dependable, bold, fun, and the absolute biggest answer to a long prayer of mine.

Emilee Grissom

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