On Spaces (And an Overdue Thanks)

(This is particularly written for but not limited to those who helped me to get to the Storyline Conference last October.)

The first time I stepped foot inside the beautifully unorthodox Cannon Chapel on Emory University’s campus was during Candler’s orientation in August of 2011. It was a Sunday before the start of classes or what I now deem, “the week professors try to scare you with their syllabi.” There were a lot of things that had recently happened up to that day. I had recently been living in Knoxville finishing my graduate degree in Sport Management. I had recently really taken ahold of my faith again; i.e., I was NOT going to keep my faith life in the corner anymore. I had recently started seeing Chris. I had recently heard news that Chris was accepted into the PeaceCorps with plans to move to Burkina Faso in West Africa. (Translation: we had recently decided we were 100% sure of enduring a very long-distance relationship.) I had recently turned 25. Chris had recently turned 25. So, I walked into that space with a lot.

I remember feeling so tiny in that space. It felt like there were a lot more people in that space than I had anticipated. A wave of intimidation and fear hit me a few moments after my parents and I walked inside, after I had time to look around and see many anxious, excited, and smiling faces. Besides sitting and standing and sitting and standing during that service, I am certain I was representing all of the faces on the Facebook “How I Am Feeling Today” status addition. You know what I’m talking about. “Feeling ___ (followed by its correlating emoticon).” For me? I was a little excited. Nervous: oh yes. Happy: sure? Worried: yes. Scared: oh my goodness yes. But hopeful: yes, God, yes.

Fast forward to May 12, 2014. That was the day that I last entered that space. And it wasn’t even on purpose. I had to go back to the building where all of our classes were held and where our student folders were kept to retrieve a few things from my folder. My parents, grandmama, and cousin were waiting for me in the chapel since that was probably more interesting than a building under construction with abrasively fluorescent-lit stairwells and hallways. When I walked back into that space with Chris, cap, gown, hood, and a Master of Divinity degree in hand, I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself. The transformation that took place in three years was comically evident but I still couldn’t quite put my finger on why I was chuckling to myself – why that space felt so small.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean that I felt righteous or that the space was less important. Rather, it was that my perception of that space had completely altered. I suppose it’s fair to say that each new space we enter might be terrifying at some point. It is in those spaces, however, that we must move on and move forward because in those once terrifying spaces we will eventually see a transformation take place – a transformation that once took root in fear but will blossom into hope.

Fast forward to October of 2014. That feeling Those feelings back in August of 2011? They had returned. And of course they returned after I had walked through the enormous parking lot with my head held high and my Target black booties making clonky sounds. Once I stepped foot inside Willow Creek Church for the Storyline Conference that you so generously helped me get to, so many emoticons were rearing their cute and ugly faces again. I was a recently graduated seminary student who still didn’t have anything figured out, attending a writing conference far away because at least I knew that I enjoyed writing. But, I moved on and I moved forward because I was confident that transformation was waiting to take place.

You see I don’t think my journey would be as rich and full without having entered those spaces like a nervous 8th grader at his or her first dance. But the thing about nerves is that either the nerves eat you up like I do to Sour Patch Kids and/or a carton of Goldfish or you take those nerves head on and persevere with that God-hope – a hope that often times might feel so little that you are positive it wouldn’t do any good in any battle but because it’s that God-hope it begins to grow and grow and grow until you’re suddenly comforted.

In those spaces I want you to know if you had not figured it out yet that I chose the latter. Today, I pray a prayer of gratitude because you were a part of that God-hope at Storyline. Transformation is indeed taking place. Thanks be to you. But more importantly and no offense to you, thanks be to God.

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