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lean in

Overwhelmed. The best adjective to convey how I’m feeling as Fellows begins to wrap up. Fellows activities have somewhat slowed, but housing and job-hunting more than make up for fewer assignments. This is the 3rd time in my life the path hasn’t been well-lined for me: first just when I graduated in 2015, then this past year before Fellows, but this time is different. Going to Spain was a one-year commitment, as was Fellows. Now the pressure of finding something more long term feels critical.

Of course life goes on. No one and nothing stops so I can devote all of my time to job-hunting. There are projects at my internship, which will soon include passing off my duties for the transition. There are also friendships to maintain, some to build into next year and a few that distance will complicate. Over it all, I seem to be wrestling far more, deep spiritual questions than I ever have.

One of my high school teachers once pointed out to us the natural rhythm of life, that is, the almost universal pattern of wishful planning. Always wishing for the next big event. From high school on to college, then a job, marriage, children, retirement with other major events filling in the gaps. He warned that mentality leads to wishing our lives away. So live in the present, in contentment. Problematically, I have no idea how to do that for more than a few moments, and in the big decision periods of life, contentment seems counterintuitive.

I want a life not driven by checklists. The list in my head is too long to remember, but writing it down makes it feel unmanageable. And then my list of questions is daunting too. Unmanageable. Maybe the real issue here is my incessant attempt to manage my life instead of holding it before the Lord. I know from experience this doesn’t go well for me, and yet I haughtily seize control, insisting I know better. Leaning into the discomfort may be the better option, but I’ll fight with all I have until I’m forced to give up control. I have to remind myself my Father is giving me grace when he brings me to that place. If the best thing for me is to be close to him, and if I can only do that by letting loose my tight grip, then it must be grace that charges me to give up. Lord help me lean in.  

J. Nordstrom

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Exhale. Rest. Inhale.

The month of March has been jammed packed from the beginning to end. It went from one thing to the next. Throughout the month though, I was constantly reminded how BIG our God is and how he is constantly fighting for justice, renewing community and individual people, and speaking ever so quietly when his children get quiet enough to listen. Wow… What a God!

Here are a few highlights from March!

We started off the first weekend of the month heading to Washington, D.C. for the Global Prayer Gathering for the International Justice Mission. Talk about thought provoking, prayer intensive, and freely feeling the Spirit move! As fellows, we were honored to enter into the stories of the people IJM works with. We listened and heard as speaker after speaker presented what they are doing in different parts of the world with specificity and authenticity. We spent time praying to the God of many names: Elohim, El-Shaddai, Yahweh, Jehovah and Adonai. Each individual name described an attribute of our God. I have never spent time reading and learning about each name of God. That is something that has slowly been incorporated into my life this month. I also valued how intentional IJM functions as a whole from company prayer times every day, to how strategic each plenary session was planned and balanced with worship and prayer, to the belief of raising up communities in their own country to fight injustice, and continually and faithfully relying on Jesus. One of the most beautiful sights and memories that I treasure was experiencing Spirit-filled worship with the other fellows. There were several times I would look at all of us and see each encountering our God in a special and unique way. I walked away from this weekend loving everything that happened. I was informed about modern day slavery, touched by the spirit, and inspired to strive for change in my community that God has called me to.

In the middle of the month, two of my awesome Arizona friends came out to Raleigh to visit me. It was such a sweet time of catching up, but also picking up where we last left off. We spent the time exploring Raleigh while taking many pictures along the way, driving to Charlotte for a fantastic Judah and the Lion concert, and eating some goooooooooood food! Throughout our many explorations, I was so blessed by these friends and the time they gave to me singing, dancing, and living life.

We ended the last weekend of the month with a Silent Retreat at St. Francis of Assisi Retreat Center led by one of our teachers, Ray Siegler. Over the course of 24 hours, we spent time in silence seeking to purposefully spend time with Jesus. We sought to allow God the time and space to speak to us as we quieted our minds, lives, and hearts. I did not walk away having this grand revelation from God, but I did walk away feeling closer to Him. Ray consistently reminded us during these times, it is not about doing or a checklist, but an opportunity to reconnect and focus on our relationship with Jesus.

Exhale. Rest. Inhale. The theme of our Silent Retreat, but this ended up how the busy month looked like. I would feel tired and busy. Sit to be with myself and Jesus. Then feel rejuvenated and peaceful in Jesus. There were so much good things going on like a professionalism seminar, realizing my best friend was sitting next to me, meeting with a financial planner, multi-ethnicity talks, hanging with the fellows, and more. It is easy to get wrapped up in the busy, and forget that God is in the midst of all of it. He is constantly renewing each one of us! I walked away from this month seeing how busy my month was but realizing that I was surrounded by God’s presence way more.

Richie Rojas

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"I love you, but I disagree"

You can see the depth and security of friendships in the space and ability you give people to hold different opinions. To hear each other and talk about an issue, and give the other person the freedom to say “I love you, but I disagree.” I was drawn to this community by this very fact. I remember during my interview, Sam Crutchfield, the husband of our director said, “Round table is a unique time. It’s good to sit across from a fellow believer in your community and say ‘I disagree with you.’”

I have found that this is incredibly beautiful and honoring to the people around me. I can love my fellow Christian and disagree with her, because the truth is, what is “Christian” is not always incredibly clear in many topics. Our round table discussions have ranged from politics to generational questions, to how we can best love nonbelievers. I have found that at least once in every Thursday night, someone says some variation of “I disagree”, and it’s a beautiful thing. There is space to think, to wrestle with ideas, to disagree with your friends, who, at the end of the night will still be your friends.  

This year, I have been given the space and freedom to think through and wrestle with thoughts, ideas, and God on my own.  This year is not about conforming to one ‘group-think’ attitude, or about listening to a person who will tell us the one and only “right way.” Sure, there is Godly instruction, sound Biblical teaching, and a commitment to the authority of Scripture. However,  there is space for disagreement, space for questioning, and ultimately, space for growth. And that is a beautiful thing. 

-gebbie

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I Responded to THE Queen B

Hey everybody!

Hope that you jam-packed a normal month into these short 28 days. February was QUITE a month for myself. “Why did you emphasize ‘quite’ so much Zach?” Because I have some big news for all: in response to the Mrs. Beyoncé Knowles, I liked it so I put a ring on it. In normal words, I have a fiancé! It has been such an awesome couple of weeks and Hannah and I have been celebrated and cared for so much. With all this excitement, I would be foolish to not ask for prayer from you guys. Can you all pray for us as we plan our wedding? For the details and conversations that will be had along the way. That when we get stressed about the details we would remember that the day is ultimately about our life together, not just this one day. Ultimately, that during this season of engagement, we would seek Christ first.

Not to us, Lord, not to us,

but to your name be the glory,

because of your love and faithfulness.

Psalm 115:1

Life is busy. I remember back in high school when I thought, “man, life is going to be so free in college”. Ehhhh, wrong. Then, I remember thinking in college, “man, life is going to be much less busy when I graduate and start working”. I know. I can’t even think of a good excuse for believing that one. We are all busy, all the time.

Personally, I think I make myself busy half the time. Alright, maybe more like three-quarters of the time. But I should be busy, right? Because if I’m not busy, then I’m not important. Or if I’m not busy, then I’m a bum. Or if I’m not busy, then I’m unproductive. You might be thinking that these aren’t true but wait. Think about it. Think about your friend or coworker who is always busy. What do you think about them? “They must be important with all of those meetings and friends” is about what I think. Think about how much America values busyness. The sad thing is that somewhere along the way busyness started to equate to worthiness.

How did busyness become something where people look to for their identity? I have my own thoughts on that but I am no John Piper/CS Lewis/Francis Chan so I will spar you my failed theology and logic. However, I think we can all stack hands and agree that gone is the 9-5 business day. Gone are weekends. Gone are the minutes we think we don’t have to have a conversation with someone. We are all just “too busy”. The world and country we live in values busyness and we eat right out of the palm of its hand.

I’ve been thinking about this busyness phenomenon for a little bit and have asked myself how I can attempt to be less busy. Or at least to slow my life down. And I found an answer: silence. If you know me well, you might have laughed at that answer. In a world where from the second I get to work I am bombarded with questions, expected to be on my A-game, and it doesn’t cease until my head hits the pillow, I have figured that I have to be still and silent before the day begins. Without those minutes of silence and tranquility, I might not make it (dramatic but trying to make a point!)

“Am I being unproductive? Should I be doing something else? Is this a waste of time?” and many other thoughts plague my mind for the first few minutes but as I press deeper into silence, I begin to see its fruit: peace, single-mindedness, clarity, ability to think clearly, proper ranking of importance and others.

Oftentimes, I drive into work in silence. Not because there is nothing but commercials on the radio. But because I have come to realize that these moments of “wasted time” are prime-time moments for us to come to God and rest (Psalm 23:2). Do I view them as this all the time? No chance! I’m an idealist, not a saint. However, I would say that we, myself definitely included, too oftentimes rush to the next thing in order to be busy. Take advantage of long drives into and from work. Get up a few minutes earlier in the morning. Go on a walk or run with no music. Press into the silence. It is not as scary as you think. Also, I bet you need it more than you know. 

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silence and spiritual formation

I think “mortified” is the word to describe my feelings the first day of “Spiritual Formation” class. Our teacher led us though a mild exercise in which we spent a few moments in silence and then reported whatever word was on our heart or mind. All I could think was, “This is hoaky,” …sorry Mary. Please read on; I promise it gets better. Rather than to voice my thoughts, I took a pass on sharing with the class and instead left thinking, “We (this class and I) are not going to get along.”

My sentiments have changed since then. It’s been a gradual change from hostility to affection but definitely one of great consequence. Back in November we began practicing the spiritual exercise of silence. Just to sit with the Lord in silence with no agenda, no formulated prayer, just a desire to be in his presence. When we were assigned this task, I thought, “Perfect! I’m an introvert and I get to sit in silence and call it homework” …I quickly found out I could not sit 5 minutes in silence without getting restless. I wanted to do my laundry or answer that text message or read a book or whatever. Silence is a learned skill.

At the beginning of the year, in one of my first meetings with my mentor, I laid out my then current issues and asked for advice. Mentors think hard and then give advice, right? Ever so gently, Terri suggested the Lord just might be beckoning me to seek Him and not answers to my never-ending questions. How counter-intuitive and counter-productive. I need to fix. What is being if I never do anything?

God speaks in those still, quiet moments.

In SF the a few weeks ago, I selected 4 pictures (from about 500)—one that drew me, one that represented my desire, one that represented my hope for the future, and one that represented my fear of the future. To my chagrin but not by design, I found I’d selected ¾ photos with a theme—mountains and ocean. These weren’t scenes I’d ever seen nor expect to see in the United States. They were in Europe, maybe even my beloved Spain. So many thoughts elbowed their way from the recesses of my mind to the forefront. I’ve been on a beach like that. I’d like to get lost in the streets of that town. This is my dream. Why can’t I live there?

The desire I’d tried so hard to shove down bubbled to the surface. If only I could live abroad and have the faith community I so desperately need. And isn’t that a good desire? The way I’d experienced God in Spain was intoxicating only after the reality of living there without Christian friends was suffocating. Life and culture in Spain was so much healthier than in the states. God seemed so bigger, closer. The kingdom was far more vast.

I was sentimental, broken, confused. Those scenes felt so out of reach. I felt like a pawn in someone’s game. No agency, blindfolded even. But then I didn’t and don’t trust myself. I don’t trust my own memories. Could I revise my own history and convince myself life in Spain was far better than it actually was?

So what can I do with all this? I thought. Again, enter Terri. Pay attention, she said. Is this a desire for something or a fear of the alternative? she asked. So I went out to Umstead State part and considered this question as I explored the terrain, trying to channel my inner mystic. 15 minutes with Jesus in a blend of agenda-filled prayer and silence. Lord is this a desire for something or a fear of the alternative? This time instead of seeking a hard answer, I held out my question with an open hand. What might you do with this time, Father? No answer, but for maybe the first time in my life, I was completely at peace without an answer. Silence and peace are learned.

This is new territory for me. I’m praying it continues. Life’s easier when I stop trying to fix and stop asking God to give me answers quickly. That only exhausts and frustrates me. He doesn’t work like that anyway. In silence with unclenched fists and open hands, I want to seek the Lord and see what he’ll do from there.

J. Nordstrom

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Jesus In My Place

As we loaded up the minivan this weekend to head to the beach, I’m not sure any of us could have imagined what the Lord had planned for the COTA Women’s Retreat. Sure, we may get to stare out at the ocean from our hotel room on a dreary February day. Yes, we would hopefully meet some new women from Apostles. We would probably enjoy our speaker, Kathy. And we had heard there might be a pretty fun dance party one night. 

But the Lord had abundantly more for us. We didn't just stare out at the beach, we walked in the sand on a sunny, 75° February day. We did not just meet new women, we heard real stories, we bonded over shared life experiences, we forged new friendships. Kathy did not just speak good words; she dug deep in scripture and in her own heart and shared the powerful, raw story of redemption—in her life and ours. And oh, we would definitely forego a restful night of sleep to dance all night with a whole bunch of women. 

And our God worked. The Spirit moved. Jesus redeemed. There are stories of healing—from deep down in our toes to deep down in our souls. There are stories of experiencing God through new gifts. There are stories of Jesus showing up, even in the midst of pain. 

My story (in a very abbreviated version) is when Jesus took my place at the table. In a very powerful moment of prayer, I was asked to go back to a moment in my life where I felt pain and rejection. I went back to that moment, and struggled to find Jesus there at first. But, after some conversation and questions, I was able to confess some unforgiveness, admit my deep need for Jesus, and then it happened. I went back to that painful memory, and I looked for Jesus. And there I saw him. He was sitting at the table, in my place. The hurtful words and insults still came, but Jesus took them all. As I sat cowering behind the chair I was previously sitting in, I no longer heard the insults because they went through Jesus first. I watched him take my pain and my hurt. I watched him pick up my burdens. Yes, Jesus took my place. The chains began to loosen, I finally tasted the ice cream, and it was delicious. I felt free.

So, thank you, Apostles women, for choosing to love. When a confused, hurting 23-year-old girl admitted that confusion and hurt, you did not run. You prayed. You asked questions. You spoke truth from the Lord into the deepest places in my soul. You pleaded with Jesus on my behalf. You did not even know my name, but yet you called me sister, you called me daughter, you called me friend. Thank you.

-Carryl Tinsley

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2Legit2Quit


Ah February. The month with the least amount of days. Even though it was only 2 or 3 days less than the other months, it sure felt like it went a lot quicker than that. People always say, 'time flies when you're having fun'. But I didn't feel like I was having fun. I felt like I had wasted away a whole month, not really getting myself anywhere. I apologize for the tone of this blog - I don't mean to sound so sad, I'm simply telling the truth of how I felt about the past month. Of course, when I look back and carefully analyze each week, I see how I have been making progress in my life's journey and how I have touched the lives of those around me. I think what has really been causing this cloud of unhelpful deceit around my head is my inconsistency with reading God's word. For this entire month, I have been spotty. I have not been consistent with the time or the length of time spent in scripture. I surely always feel less energized and motivated when I have not had my slice of that good pie.

Don't get me wrong. I am not really trying to promote legalism when it comes to reading the bible. I have never been a slave to starting my devotional time every day at the exact same time, or feeling horribly guilty when I don't. However, I do believe in spending that time with God every day, because that time is sacred and I want to be in a relationship with Christ in which I talk to him every day. If I am to love him above all else; if he is to be my closest friend, how can I possibly not be in connection with him every single day? I am not saying that praying and reading the word is to become a chore, or another line item to check off the list. I am saying that it is and should be the single most important thing in our lives that we look forward to each day. And I had an empty-feeling month because I did not choose to make that happen. I think people are often mistaken for being legalistic, when really they are just in love with God and believe that nothing should come above the time they spend with him. Now, we all spend time with God in different ways; in our own ways. But, "as long as we continue to reduce prayer to occasional piety we keep running away from the mystery of God's jealous love"! My closest friends are those whom I share the most with, and those who know me best! I am saying that my February just did not feel right because Jesus was not one of my closest friends this month. It was a one-way street; the traffic was only heading South. 

I had written in my journal the following words: "God, graciously shift my perspective on your word. Give me grace to come and drink."

Drink? What am I drinking? Here I am referring again to his word - that I would follow through on what I know is best for me. I cannot describe it any better than this: "Imagine a man walking through the desert and in desperate need of water. When he finally finds a river, he experiences overwhelming delight. Kneeling down at the river bank, he is not asking himself, "What is the least amount I can drink and still satisfy the thirst I have?" No! He is asking, "How much of this water can I possibly get into me?!" Alas, too often for the past month (and of course many times too in the months preceding February) I have been that man, asking the first and undeniably idiotic question. Thus my prayer for you and me and everyone is this - to be rational and ask that second question when we come across the river of water that is God's word, and to desperately gulp it down as if our lives depend on it.

Well (pun intended), because they do.


mattyC

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Not According to my Plan

Most fellows are starting to feel the pressure with the program wrapping up its 6th month, and we are starting to think about what is next. We are giving a lot of thought space to jobs in particular. I know for myself, January was a month of affirming who God made me to be through our Vocation and Calling Retreat which helped to reframe the way I view work and ministry in monumental ways. It has shifted my perspective in how ministry truly is a part of every aspect of a person’s life. In this process, I have been affirmed in the gifts God has blessed me with for youth ministry. Young Life over the past 4 years has been the avenue that I used these gifts. It has given me the space to pursue what it would look like to do full time ministry as a job.

Over my lifetime, there have been many times where I can point to that fueled my desire to pursue youth ministry. So as I look to what is next, my heart and mind have been telling me a job doing youth ministry. I decided to reapply for Young Life staff here in the Carolina region. Last year I went through the process and was placed in a town that was not a good fit. I am thankful now on the other side because it has led me to the Raleigh Fellows program. I began the process again in late January, interviewed at the beginning of February, and heard back last week that again I was not a good fit. Throughout this entire process, I continued to pray and seek God in all of this knowing that I needed him in this.

Last year when all of this did not work out, I was pretty shaken in my identity, my calling, and my relationship with the Lord. I wasn’t a good fit? What does that mean? Again I got the same answer, but this time around was drastically different in how I handled the situation. The program has taught and pointed me to where my identity, calling, and relationship with the Lord are rooted. This time around when processing the letdown, I found myself not questioning or doubting, but seeking Jesus to guide me in this. I am not saying I was not disappointed or hurt, but I understood where and from whom my foundation is set in. I still firmly believe the Lord has gifted me for youth ministry. The devil has tried to snare me and feed me lies about my identity, my calling, and my relationship with the Lord, but I have sought to flee the other way.

This year has not turned out to be according to my plans, but the Lord has had something so much richer for me. When I joined the fellows program, I said it was a stepping stone to Young Life staff here in the Carolina region. As my plans have been flipped around, I still know and believe the Lord has something for me. He has created and given me my gifts, passions, and desires. He has continually been with me in each step as I step out of the boat of comfort and on to the water for Jesus. My plans cannot and will not hold any weight to what the Lord has envisioned. My gifts and desires point to youth ministry; now I get to knock on doors to see if opportunity is there. I do not know where I will be or what I will be doing, but Jesus is with me and equipped me uniquely as I am slowly figuring this out.

Please join me in praying as each of us are discerning, applying, and trying to figure what is next after the Fellows program.

Richie Rojas

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YOU Can't

I sat completely alone in the church pew. All ninety pounds and five-and-a-half-ish feet of my skinny frame hunched over trying to be even smaller than I already was. Eyes closed and head resting on my forearms. Forearms firmly crossed over my knees. I desperately wanted to disappear. 

You wouldn’t think someone would dread celebrating their sins being washed away by the blood of the lamb. But I dreaded communion Sunday like the plague. Growing up I loathed the fourth Sunday of every month because communion wasn’t for me. I hadn’t been baptized into the church and so I was rightly told that I couldn’t partake of communion. Instead, I sat in that church pew all alone feeling as though the eyes of the congregation were certainly boring through my soul. 

I felt like it would rock my little world of Christians friends if they found out that I couldn’t believe the gospel. I couldn’t take and eat of his body broken for me. I couldn’t live my life for Christ. In some ways I never shook that feeling that I couldn’t believe, that a life wholly given to Christ wasn’t for me. 

I never shook that feeling until Sunday January 29th, 2017. On that day I was blessed to be baptized before The Church of The Apostles. The ceremony was performed by my dear friend and mentor Eric Bolash in front of many people I’ve come to know and love. I finally felt that the Lord’s table was for me. That he was pierced for my transgressions too, he was crushed for my iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds I too was healed.

Though I did feel those things, I can’t say that the heavens opened up and I suddenly knew how to live my life in new commitment to Christ. Though that day was a blessing and a turning point, it was just a beginning. I want to wake and live every day for Christ because he died for me. I want to feel Jesus’ love in the depths of my soul. I want him to be the most real thing in my life. But, even after being baptized, I can’t do any of those things. Only he can in me. I hope and pray for the day that he does.

- Stephen Sumrall

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TNF


I want to talk about Thursday nights. I'm talking about the real TNF. No, not Thursday Night Football (while we're on the NFL talk, shed a tear for Matty Ice), Thursday Night Fellows(hip)! Us Fellows don't really see each other all that much from after class on Mondays until we reconvene at Roundtable on Thursday nights. So, needless to say, thank God for Thursday nights! For me, seeing people I love on a regular basis is very important. At roundtable, we sit around a (very) rectangular table and enjoy dinner prepared by two of the Fellows. [Apparently, according to Ashley (who shall henceforth be referred to as Our Wonderful Director), it is called 'roundtable' because Kings once used actual roundtables for their most important discussions with advisors and leaders, as well as "bougie universities like Cambridge and Oxford"]. Ok. Roundtable just got ten times cooler. As for the food - cooking for ~14 hungry mouths is no small task. Pull me aside next time you see me and ask me about that time when the Fellows in charge of RT dinner (who will for now remain unnamed) forgot about it and had to call in an emergency Domino's delivery. It's a good one. But I digress. My point is, I thoroughly enjoy getting together with the Fellows and Our Wonderful Director and Sam and Jake and Beau and Molly and Chip (*pant*) after three full days (an eternity in Matty Chen's books) of limited F2F time. Thursday nights = good.

The friends and the three-course meal aren't the only things that get me excited about TNF. Around the dinner table, we discuss life and all its joys and obstacles. Our Wonderful Director organizes for knowledgeable people to come to roundtable and lead a dinnertime life lesson, usually beginning just as dessert is being served. A couple weeks ago we learnt about the importance of insurance - life, auto, home, everything. It's pretty amazing how little awareness we have about exactly how the world works. I for one am very appreciative of all the learning opportunities that are made available to me. I feel equipped to 'Start Well' with the knowledge that I have gained and will continue to amass as this year rolls on. I am beginning to realize that this Fellows year is really a launchpad for my adult life - of which the specific direction of launch must constantly be readjusted; for I am still finding my footing among the rocks.

After dinner, we migrate to the living room for more discussion. Fellows (past & present) has being leading the discussion for the past four weeks, with topics that they particularly care about. These aren't soft, easily digestible topics. We have talked about the Millennials, human sexuality, and race relations. I know that at times I can very easily fall into a state of vegetation - not using my brain and not thinking at all, unless prompted. And boy oh boy does RT discussion prompt some serious thinking! While these discussion are by no means an end in themselves, they are effective in getting the ball rolling and masterful in bringing people together. In the end, we are under God and we seek only to honor Him. Whatever we talk about and whatever we perceive, we see through a Gospel filter that preaches love above all. That has been chiefly encouraging for me personally, whilst also challenging. I don't grow if I am not challenged. So I feel good about saying that I have been constantly growing, constantly striving to understand how I can apply the gospel to my everyday life, constantly struggling to please God by loving others the way He loves them. Thus, I find myself thinking more and thanking more. I am thankful for Roundtable. I am thankful for Thursday Night Fellowship. It brings me closer to the mind of God, and that is nothing short of magical.

As Our Wonderful Director always says, "I love us!"


mattyC

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Oh heyy 2017

The beginning of a new year brings a lot of people to look forward to what’s ahead for the year. The fellows were no exception. January started off with an opportunity for us to reflect on the things that we have enjoyed doing, the gifts we’ve been given, and the opportunities that we’ve encountered to give us insight into what could be next for us at our Career and Vocation Retreat. Along with this came thinking about jobs and career paths and things that could be in store for the year and beyond. January has been full of exciting conversations, dreaming about the future, spontaneous drives around Raleigh, and wayyyyy too much time spent on Zillow.

But the beginning of a new year also inevitably leads to reflecting on the previous one. The theme that kept coming up as I reflected on my previous 5 months being in Raleigh was thankfulness. That thankfulness was what spurred me to write a letter to the people at Church of the Apostles who make the Raleigh Fellows Program possible. ...Ok, so it wasn’t really my idea, Ashley asked us to, but I do think it’s the truest picture of why I’m thankful for my past five months as a fellow. So here it is:

I can’t tell you how thankful I am for Fellows. I came into this year being unsure of who I was, unsure of where I was headed, unsure of who the Lord was making me into, and even unsure of what I believed to be true about the Lord. In the Raleigh Fellows Program, I found a space to wrestle through these questions alongside 8 others who were struggling through some of the same things. I am particularly thankful for the community that Fellows has surrounded me with this year. Being a very late addition to the group, I joke that I got the “left-overs” of people who didn’t want to commit to a Fellow this year but Ashley convinced them into it for my sake ;). I can joke about this because of how untrue it really is. I know that the Lord had prepared the way for me to be a fellow in Raleigh because of how perfectly placed I was in each area of fellows. My host family has loved me in a way I didn’t even know existed and have provided me a safe place to rest and be comforted this year. My mentor is an incredibly wise woman who has walked through similar life experiences as I have and we get to wrestle through our current issues together. Ashley and Sam have been incredible friends, encouragers, and leaders and have given me a beautiful picture of what a healthy, God-centered, partnership marriage can be. The other fellows have walked through one of the hardest seasons of life alongside me, whether it’s by offering words of encouragement and love, or quietly bearing my burdens with me and for me. They have been patient and kind and I couldn’t be more thankful for their friendship. Thank you for all that you do to make this program happen. I am forever changed because of it.

So here’s to a new year full of appreciating the past, living in the present, and being excited about the future.

-Kenz

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Around the Table

Around the table, life happens. Around the table, stories are shared. Around the table, love grows.

When people ask my favorite part of Fellows, my quick answer is the community surrounding me—the people pointing me towards Jesus. But recently, I have started thinking about what makes that community so special, and I think the answer is in how it was built. Any relationship takes time. And time around the table with this community has been sweet.

There is something about sitting around the table together that unites—maybe because we all need food to survive, maybe because eating is an activity enjoyed by a large majority of people, maybe it is in the example set for us by Jesus. But most people would agree that somehow they find joy in the simple act of eating.

With my host family, it looks like Monday nights spent in the kitchen laughing at Pete’s stories of hilarious fifth grade boy things and reminiscing on middle school as I hear about Ally’s love for Justin Bieber and her friends. I am encouraged as I watch the way Spencer and Derick love each other and their kids. Around this table, I feel inclusion, welcoming, belonging. Around the Daniel's kitchen island, I feel like I am just part of the family.

My sweet mentor and I share life around the tables of various delicious restaurants in Raleigh, usually trying to make the most of a quick break from work. Barbara encourages me to race towards Jesus with my whole life. She loves me with the most thoughtful gifts, often times just because she knows it will make me smile. She sets an example for me in the way she loves her husband, her family, and the random stranger serving us at the restaurant. Around those tables, I feel poured into in a way I never have before.

Thursday nights are reserved for cooking and praying and deep life chatting and eating and questioning at our weekly Roundtable dinners. As we sit around a rectangular table (never quite understood the name), we hear stories. Stories of how the Lord is working. Stories of tough, confusing situations that sometimes make it hard to believe God is in them, but then stories of how we see God in the midst. Stories of grace upon grace. Stories of redemption. Stories of deep joy. Stories of healing.

And then of course there are those spontaneous nights around tables that bless me in ways I could never expect. The late nights of accidental karaoke around the piano bar table. The coffee shop dates that turn into deep life chats around the table at Sola. The nights of tough conversation about what it looks like to really, truly love people around my aunt and uncle's kitchen table.

There, around the table, we see each other. I don't mean simply laying eyes on one another, but truly seeing into the depths of their soul (in the least creepy way possible). We bring the mess of our lives to that table, learning what it looks like to share our burdens. We tell stories and share joys, celebrating even the smallest things (like when I don't completely butcher a Roundtable meal...).

It is around the table where we share ourselves--our real, honest, vulnerable, messy selves. These tables have become sacred space. The tables of unassuming coffee shops and kitchen counters and beautiful dining rooms have become spaces for encounters with each other and with Jesus. Around the table, life happens. And yes, life around the table is messy, but it is so stinking beautiful. Around the table, my cup runneth over.

At first, I was disappointed that this is the only picture I have of us around the table. But then, I realized that this is real. This is honest. This is what life around the table actually looks like. So here ya go... 

At first, I was disappointed that this is the only picture I have of us around the table. But then, I realized that this is real. This is honest. This is what life around the table actually looks like. So here ya go... 

-Carryl Tinsley

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Rocky... But not Sylvester Stallone

Hey all!

Hope that you guys are off to a great start of 2017. If you are resolution-ing, you go bro/girl. If you aren’t, more power to you. I’ve been off to a great start of 2017 and have been thinking about resolutions myself.

The concept of a New Year’s resolutions is pretty crazy, isn’t it? You analyze all last year and then you ask yourself, “Self, where could I get better? What goal do I want to set for myself?” for the whole year… It is CRAZY. The craziest part is that, if you’re like me, you think about and decide the resolution in one day. Yep. Insane. So, you’re probably thinking this is another post ripping New Year’s resolutions. But actually, it isn’t.

Lately, God has been teaching me this concept of, “being present”. It is not a new concept by any means but I’m starting to see it manifest into other areas of my life. When I usually talk about being present, I mean fighting my incessant need to be on my phone or scroll through social media. That when I’m hanging out with people or at dinner with someone, I should actually BE hanging out with people or at dinner with them. That all that other stuff can wait! Story time: I was at lunch the other day with some coworkers and I looked up from my food at one point and realized that everyone was on their phones. Everyone! Snap chatting, checking Instagram, texting their significant other, or just constantly checking the time. I realized this multiple times and am not mentioning this to boast about me not doing so, but rather just to show that this is a common and easy way to be present with people that we so often don’t take advantage of.

But, as I mentioned, I’ve started seeing this concept of being present pop up in another aspect of my life: planning and looking to the future. This “on to the next thing” way-of-life that our culture subscribes to is what I’m talking about. You know what I’m talking about. How from the time you start high school you are supposed to know where you want to go to college and what job you want to hold. How when you start college you are supposed to have a five, ten and twenty-year plan. Our society wants us to be thinking about the next and best thing. How we should be planning for retirement from the time we accept our first job. Now, am I saying that planning is bad? Of course not! I think that is one of the biggest reasons we have a brain. So, that we can think critically and plan. I mean, Jesus had a plan from the start of his life on Earth. To find His leadership (his 12 disciples), disciple and develop them, and then send them to the ends of the Earth proclaiming His gospel (Acts 1:8). Moses, Paul, Nehemiah, and many other biblical figures showed planning to be a key part of their lives. Proverbs 14:15 says, “A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps."

“What is your point then, Zach?” My point is that our culture is never allowing us to be satisfied or content with where we are in life. For me, I’m in the Raleigh Fellows Program and have found myself being consumed by next year. The fear of the unknown. The doubt of my vocation. The inevitable roadblocks that will pop up. But, the thing is, I felt a calling by God to this program. And this program is nine months long, not five months. So, what I’m saying is that I, like many of us, am looking past my current stage of life onto the next one and am not able to enjoy it fully. For those who are in entry level jobs looking to climb the corporate ladder; enjoy that time of learning and growing as an employee. For those who are nearing the age of retirement and longing for it; see that God is using your work for his Kingdom and you in other people’s lives. For those of us who are desiring that one thing that will make our lives easier; know that the Lord has given you more than what you need. I guess what I’m trying to say is enjoy the present. Don’t be consumed by the fear, uncertainty, or longing of the future.

You all really are awesome people. You are valued and uniquely made people. You are valued not because of who we are but because of whose we are; you are God’s beloved sons and daughters. So, treat yourself that way. Focus on being present where you are and not being consumed by the future because, like A$AP Rocky once said, “my presence is a present, just to kick it is blessing.”

PS: I do not condone any other lyrics A$AP Rocky raps.

Zach Kunkel

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a month of self-study

The Fellows program, by nature, forces self-reflection, -discovery and –growth, but the month of January bore special significance for the year. We both experienced the mid-year vocational retreat and composed a massive biographical genogram reflection paper—the first event, a glimpse into our future, and the second, an investigation of our past. I’ve learned a great many things about myself this month. I’ve also learned how the Lord has woven his unending grace into the fabric of my life today and back multiple generations in my family.

To write the genogram paper, I interviewed my parents, two brothers, sister, and my maternal grandmother. To gather information on my three deceased grandparents, I interviewed their closest kin. Lots of hours on the phone, but the wealth of history I gathered is invaluable. Though the paper itself is finished, I’d guess the internal processing of this history will continue for weeks and maybe months to come. Some early realizations include the following:

  • My grandparents, both the Protestants and the Catholics, laid the foundations of my faith. For much of my life, I believed those foundations were truly laid by my parents (and other faith mentors in my life), but after researching, I’m convinced that even my opinionated, Italian-American, Catholic grandmother set some of the wood forms for that foundation. I hope to be so fortunate as to leave that kind of legacy for my descendants.
  • Some of my humor developed as a coping mechanism for conflict in my home growing up. I tend to make jokes to ease tense situations, a skill I picked up in the assertive, aggressive environment that was my home. It’s served me well in the past, and it’s a fun talent to wield when necessary. 
  • My grandparents’ aversion to discussing conflict in their families of origin stems from family loyalty but also the decision of that generation to be optimistic and the necessity to be strong. Post WWII life in the US was no place for selfishness or weakness, and there was strength in family; so they learned to value family tremendously.
  • The perspectives of my siblings nuance the stories of my childhood. They see some of the big issues with different eyes than I have for all my life. I look forward to learning their perspectives on past as well as future issues in the world and our family alike. 

This list, I’m certain, will grow if I continue to reflect on my family history, and these realizations are useful as I think about myself, my current modus operandi and my actions towards the future.

As for the future, the mid-year vocational retreat provided space to dream. Dreaming about who I want to be, what values I want to govern my life, and what career fits my gifting, desire and opportunities. I received the results from assessments of my natural gifts, motivations and emotional strengths, very little of which was a surprise. The true value was in the rhetoric. The retreat gave me the language to communicate what I already knew about myself. It improved my ability to communicate myself to others, which I believe will further relationships in both my work and personal life. I could go on, but suffice it to say, this retreat and the genogram have provoked enough thought to keep me busy for a while.

J. Nordstrom

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Fully Renewed

As cliché as New Year new me may be, it suitably fits how I felt this new month of a new year. 2017 has been a radical change of perspective, thought, and so much more.

Over the past 6 months, things have radically changed like location, job, community, programs, school, and much more. It has been a season of transition and change. I found myself last semester telling people when they would ask how the program was going saying things like “It has been a whole of new and different experience which has taken a lot of transition.” The more I reflect on this past 6 months then the more I realize I really enjoy comfort and security. The Lord has definitely pushed me out of the boat on that front. I have had an opportunity to trust in the Lord in new ways than expected during a time of lot of internal struggle.

After my Christmas break, I went straight to the Raleigh Fellow’s career and vocation retreat, which has been such a highlight of the program and great way to start off the year. During this week, we took time and thought space to look at how God has uniquely made each one of us in regards to how we think, feel, learn, process, why and how we do things. I walked away from the retreat having practical knowledge about myself. I was able to put words to the thoughts I have had many times before. This retreat even inspired a great talk that help push a friendship to a new level.

Then fast forward to January 22, it was my birthday! I am usually not a huge birthday person until I realized that I holding back people that wanted to celebrate me. My host family took me out to a Japanese dinner with a show. Then they threw me a kid themed birthday party, which included a piñata, toys, and a big cake. As people sang me happy birthday, I looked around and for the first time I thought that Raleigh could be a place long term. There is such a big community around the Fellows that want us to succeed and thrive. I looked around a several of these people that came to my party and realized I was so blessed.

Throughout this month, I have had so many times where I felt incredibly loved and cared for. From my birthday, great conversations, and what I have been learning, I have felt peace and great amounts of joy.

 

I do not know what it has been exactly, but when I came back this year something was different. I have felt different, acted different, and just viewed a lot of things differently this semester. Jesus has surely answered prayers. This month for the first time in the program really, I feel like Richie again.

-Richie Rojas

 

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Here I Lift Up my fully-grown Man (or something like that)

“Here I raise my Ebenezer.” I had always heard this term “Ebenezer” in the famous hymn “Come thou Fount.” However, I must admit, for the majority of my life, I sang these words without having the slightest clue of what they might mean. My best guess was that “Ebenezer” was the name of an old dead Bible man. But this didn’t quite make sense to me, as I didn’t have a man named Ebenezer, and even if I did have one, I didn’t know why I would want to raise him. Plus, I highly doubted the fact that I was strong enough to lift a fully-grown man anyways.

But, as you might know, Ebenezer is not a man, but an important part of a story in the Old Testament, found in 1 Samuel chapter 7.  The story goes like this:  The Israelites were in a really tight spot because the Philistines were coming in and wanting to attack them. They told the prophet Samuel to pray and ask God to save them. Samuel prayed and scarified to the Lord, and the Lord answered him. God sent loud thunder which terrified the Philistines. They got so scared that they ran out in front of the Israelites who were waiting to attack. The Israelites won the battle against the enemy that they were originally terrified of.

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer,b saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us” – 1 Samuel 7: 12

After the battle was over, Samuel put up this rock to remind the Israelites that God answers prayers. The Lord helped them when they needed him most; God came through.  The altar was a reminder to all of the Israelites of the fear that they felt and how the Lord met them in their time of need.  They have a reminder that God listens, cares and loves to answer the prayers of his people. That’s what an Ebenezer is about.

So, as I look towards an uncertain future, here I raise my Ebenezer. Thus far, the Lord has helped me. The Fellows Program is incredible evidence of that. He has brought me to Raleigh, blessed me with an incredible community and poured out his mercy in new ways in my life this year.  I have an altar to look at. A reminder: God loves to answer the prayers of his people.

-  gebbie

Here I raise my Ebenezer
Here there by Thy great help I've come
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood

 

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What wisdom teeth surgery and Christmas have in common

I got my wisdom teeth out a few days before Christmas. Crazy right? Who wants to spend one of the most joyful holidays of the year in bed and eating mush, while everyone else is out celebrating (and eating) with friends and family. Yep, I spent one of the most tasteful holidays eating chicken noodle soup and applesauce instead of our family tradition of appetizers on Christmas Eve and cream-chip beef on Christmas morning (they don’t sound appetizing – spoiler alert, they are).

Waiting is something that I’m so bad at. I always drive in the fast lane, measuring my progress by how many cars I pass on the way whatever destination I’m going to. I get an unusual amount of satisfaction when I can beat the estimated arrival time on my GPS. I don’t wait in lines. Not only do I not enjoy it, I avoid it at all costs. The hardest time for me to wait is when I know that something is coming. I want the thing that I’m waiting on right here, right now.

God has promised Israel a savior, promised them redemption. But it doesn’t happen immediately. Israel lives through years of being captured, their land being devastated, serving foreign kings. Hundreds of years. Gosh, I can’t imagine how hard that must’ve been. I think I would’ve given up after disappointment came again and again. Watching my friends and family be torn apart, banished from our homes, with no end in sight. It must’ve been so discouraging. I’m sure it would’ve been so easy for them to forget about the promise of a savior, the promise of redemption.

For me, December was a month of waiting. And what I found is that waiting is hard (insightful, I know). The funny thing is that I found a lot of joy in the waiting this past Christmas season. I enjoyed the anticipation and excitement of what was to come (Christmas, Jesus’s birth, getting to go home and rest), while trying to stay aware of what was going around me in the present. That’s where the wisdom teeth surgery came in. Because I looked like a chipmunk and my face was in a massive amount of pain (not to mention the normal need for recoup after surgery), I couldn’t run around visiting with friends or going to holiday parties. I was forced to slow down and be still. That’s where I found that wisdom teeth surgery and Christmas have something in common: the waiting. This Christmas, I was waiting on healing, physically and emotionally. I found that waiting is about awareness, really seeing the things around me instead of rushing through my day. Waiting is a process, it takes time and doesn't happen all at once. Waiting isn’t something that comes naturally, it’s an active choice. But I think the sweetest thing that I found was the joy and the living in the waiting. This Christmas was my favorite one yet. Because I was forced to be homebound, to slowdown and wait, my family found ways to care for me that were extremely unexpected. Playing my favorite game over and over, watching a movie with me in my room when I was in too much pain to get out of bed, going out of their way to make special food that they knew that I could eat. It was unexpected and honestly wouldn’t have been the same without the surgery.

What I do know is that Christmas came, Jesus was born, and my mouth healed. The wait was over. I can hold onto the promise that the Israelites’ (and my) savior came and that I will never have to worry about my wisdom teeth misaligning my teeth again. I look back at the Christmas season and see that though the end result was awesome, the waiting was a special time in and of itself. 

So, thanks wisdom teeth surgery. 

-Kenz

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Wo-oah (over) halfway there!

It feels strange to be reflecting on (over) the first half of the program. I've refused to really believe we are in the second and final semester until this week. During our mid-year retreat, I continually kept saying that we were going to start the second semester, not that we were already in it, but rather that it was about to start. However, now that it is January 13th, and we have finished a full week of classes and work, I can say that we are undeniably in the second semester: over halfway there. 

I can say that looking back I had a vision on how last semester was going to go. (Over) halfway through the year, I was about half right:

  • I expected the other fellows to be fun, but did not expect them to be so authentic and real and challenge me to grow as they do.
  • I expected Ashley to be cool, but I definitely did not expect her to start impromptu dance parties and convince us to staying at her house and chat with her after round table until 1 or 2 am.
  • I expected to work in the field of law...well that one was just wrong. I did not expect for the Lord to both challenge and encourage me as I challenge and encourage middle and high school students to pursue him. 

Looking forward, it would be a lie to say that I don't have expectations for this second semester. However, if I have learned anything from this (over) half of the program, it's that while I write the rough draft, God writes the final copy. And honestly, it's more exciting that way. There are plot twists and surprises and new characters that enter, and ultimately it is infinitely better than anything we could ask or imagine. 

So here's to second semester. I've got a rough draft, but I can't wait and see how the published work is going to turn out. 

-gebbie

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Striving vs. Abiding

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Striving vs. Abiding

"I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." -John 15:5

 

This past week, the Lord placed a passage of scripture on my heart that has been formative for me over the years. John 15 talks about our need to abide in Jesus, while allowing Him to abide in us. But I have found this to be an easy "Christianse" term I use without really knowing what it means. So, what does it look like to truly abide?

To abide in God means to pray (v. 5), it means to obey His commands (v. 10). Much easier said than done, abiding also means loving others as He loved us (v. 12), andallowing God to prune and cleanse us (v. 2). To put it simply, abiding means actively depending on Jesus, rather than our own strength.

And when we choose to abide, the Father rewards us. He promises answers to prayers. He promises we will experience His love. He promises that our joy will be made complete. We can do NOTHING apart from Him, and He is offering His strength, so why do we try to do it on our own?

John Piper so wisely said, "Prayer is the open admission that without Christ we can do nothing. And prayer is the turning away from ourselves to God in the confidence that he will provide the help we need." But why is it then, that any time I have a big decision to make I start to rely on Carryl? I put energy into my own striving rather than simply abiding. I know there is a big change on the horizon, so I turn inward and start making decisions based solely on what I want. That just simply does not make sense when I know in my head that I can do nothing apart from Christ.

I spent this past week learning about myself in a way I never had before. As I learned about the unique gifts the Lord gave me and how those can be used for His Kingdom work alongside my weaknesses, the word worthy kept coming back to me. I think sometimes I get so narrowly focused on how sinful and broken I am, I forget the (very important) part about redemption in Christ's sacrifice.

When someone gives me a report filled with strengths the Lord have given me and places that leave room for improvement, I skip over the strengths and head straight for the ways I'm not good enough. I beat myself up and drown in comparison. I labor on, striving to find a way to cover my own weaknesses. I lose myself in questions. I try to fix it all on my own. 

So, in 2017, I will choose to remember that my worth comes not in ANYTHING that I can do for myself. I will stop striving and start abiding. I will return and rest. And I will not forget that my worth comes solely in understanding that I am a daughter of the King, who loved me enough to give everything he had for me on the cross to cover all of my brokenness.

-Carryl

 

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Break Time

I think it would be easy for me to say lines such as "new year, new me" or do you a traditional this is what I learned in 2016, but then I would end up taking way too long to say everything that this year was. So I'm going to focus on December. The first two weeks of December were awesome. From secret Santa, to a white elephant party for the fellows and then youth group, a surprise field trip to Angus Barn, and just some good times. But After a semester of unexpected and different changes, I had the chance to take two of the last weeks of 2016 to do my own thing. 

Christmas Break was exactly that, a break. I need to take some time for myself. So I packed up my break with a bunch of places to go. I knew I wanted to go back to Phoenix to visit my previous host family and all my friends that I have become accustomed to over the past five years. Over the years, these people have become family and I truly look up to a lot of people in Phoenix. So I headed back to Phoenix for 8 days to see the Arnold family. This is the family that let me live with them for 10 months and became family. They actually invited me to go to San Diego with them for four days which was filled with lots of board games and card games, quality time with lots of food, and a few surprise friends along the way. Talk about overfilling love! We then headed back to Phoenix and I spent the next 3 days getting to hang out with friends, old young life kids, and continued quality time with people that I care so much about. What a way to be filled up and rejuvenated! These people know how to love me so well, speak truth that points me to Jesus, and just be there on the journey with me! 

I then headed back to Houston on Christmas day to visit my family for 5 days. This time was spent hanging with friends and family. Friends that I've known since I was three, friends from high school, and my brothers and dad (who I had to interview for the genogram paper). This was also a time for me to slow down and just be. I walk in with my family having no expectations of what we should do, but just asking the Lord to step into how to best love. That is a constant prayer for me. 

Then to end my final three days of my 14 days, I flew back to North Carolina to be a head leader at Young Life camp. I spent three days at Windy Gap. The place that I called home for eight weeks last summer. I got to walk around and talk with friends at a place that changed so much and grew my view of the Holy Spirit during summer staff. Plus getting to work at a Young Life camp is always so much fun! It gave me a lot of things to ponder about and discuss at a later time. 

Ultimately break was exactly what I needed: A time to rejuvenate, a time to relax, and a time to be with family. I came back to Raleigh over filled in every possible way. I came back ready to put everything into this last semester as a Raleigh Fellow.

Richie Rojas

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