Embraced by Community

Callie Gaskins shares her experience of being loved and known in deep community at the Study Center. 

Callie Gaskins
Photo by Nate Park

From a young age, I knew that I wanted to come to UVA. But somewhere in the midst of the application process, I began to doubt myself. As I am wont to do, I tried to protect my heart from the anticipated pain of not being accepted by telling myself that I actually didn’t want to go there. Even after I had been accepted, this self-protective lie haunted me. As decision day grew closer and closer, I still wasn't ready to put down my deposit. I was sharing these fears and doubts with a friend over text one afternoon when, instead of responding to my message, she called me. A chorus of voices greeted me when I picked up the phone. My friend Sarah explained that she was standing in the kitchen at the Study Center with some friends and that they were calling to convince me to come to UVA. 

I listened closely, and by the end of the call I was sold. None of the arguments they made were new or particularly convincing; I had heard them all before. What did it, then? Easy; it was the simple fact that Sarah and the others reached out. I felt wanted and cared for, even from a distance. I open with this story because it exemplifies the Study Center community at its very best. Over the past four years, I have been relentlessly sought out by countless members of this special community and have learned from their example what it means to practice radical hospitality. 

Because of the warm welcome to UVA that I had received at Move-In Day Lunch, I knew to seek refuge at the Study Center when I found myself unable to feel at home in my dorm room. The Study Center became the place from which I went out to experience the rest of the University. From my favorite spot on the left side of the nook, I began to notice the rhythms of daily life in the building: I knew which friends I would see throughout the day, when the staff had various meetings, and which intern had each walkthrough. But most importantly, twice a week, just as I was getting hungry for dinner, I knew that delicious smells from the kitchen would waft up the stairs to greet me.

Come second year, my observation became active participation: I found myself cooking and enjoying intern dinner on Tuesdays and resident dinner on Thursdays. I couldn’t have expected it then, but second year was about to become my favorite year at UVA. As a first year, I had been around the Study Center quite a lot, but I had felt a distinct lack of ownership. Being a resident and intern gave me just that and allowed me to embrace community with all I had. In doing so, it changed my life. Through relationships with staff, interns, and other Stud “regulars” I discovered that I had a much bigger personality than I had ever let show through the quiet, bookish veil I had worn for most of my life. I learned to be grateful for this part of me that I saw God calling me to let others into. As this happened, I became unabashedly myself. Silliness, sass, and quite a few quirks seamlessly combined with a reignited desire to be known by these people and an eagerness to learn more about God’s plan for his children. 

That year was by no means perfect, of course, but embedding myself deeply into community gave me a place to turn when things didn’t go as I had planned. At times living in such deep community was itself the source of the pain, anger, and uncertainty, but I wouldn’t change even that. 

Through it all, the Lord met my needs and answered my questions in deep and beautiful ways through more moments and people than I can name here. The Lord met me through cooking intern dinner with Carly and my fellow interns, chatting for hours about questions both big and small after Friday small groups with Lane and Sarah (the same friend who had convinced me to come to UVA), and celebrating Christmas on the twenty-fifth of each month. I experienced the Lord’s kindness through notes left for me at the library desk, my biweekly meetings with Rachel for Elzinga Residential Scholars Program mentorship, and Thursday night cuddles on the couch with my housemates after ERSP dinner and class. Some other special memories include skipping class (highly uncharacteristic!) to get a free latte with a new intern friend, claiming a chair in Rachel and Carly’s office as my go-to spot, and spending hours on end in the kitchen the weekend that the Study Center’s Board meeting and Parents’ Weekend coincided (wherein we found ourselves dissolving into both laughter and sleepy delirium by the end). 

These moments and countless others in the years since have marked me in ways that I am unable to fully articulate. I hope that as I leave this place I can show others the joy and freedom of being welcomed with open arms and a tight squeeze, as the Study Center community—and through it, Jesus himself—has done for me.