Fourth Year Reflection: Lauren Horton
When I came to UVA as a first year from Tennessee, I did not know a single person on the east coast, much less anyone in Charlottesville. I did not know what “NOVA” meant (I thought it was one giant city that everyone came from), and I also did not know that you could be a Christian and a college student at the same time. Though I wanted to hold onto my faith in whatever way I could, I thought those two ways of living were incompatible. Little did I know that during my time at UVA, I would find a place that would become both a literal and figurative home where my faith would grow in ways I never could have predicted.
During my first year move-in day, I somehow ended up at the Study Center’s Move-In Day Lunch, which provided my parents and me much needed food and air-conditioning. I was overwhelmed by the hundreds of unknown faces surrounding me, but a third-year girl named Natalie struck up a conversation with me and stayed by my side during a lot of the lunch. At one point, my dad was looking for me in the crowd and spotted me with Natalie, who promptly told him, “don’t worry, I’ll look out for her.” That one sentence became very symbolic of how I was treated at the Study Center the rest of my time here (and by Natalie, who quickly became a good friend)!
My first semester at UVA was one of the worst semesters of my life. I was drowning in classes where, no matter how much work I put in, I could not get above a failing grade on the tests. I felt like a failure who did not deserve to be at UVA. By the time finals rolled around, I was completely miserable. I went to my first Exam Snacks at the Study Center to study, and the prayer, free food, and new friends that came out of that week showed me a different side of UVA.
My two last and hardest finals (which were for classes I was failing) were on the same day. When the last one came around, I was curled up in the Study Center nook unable to move because I knew I was going to come out of that test having officially received an F in a class. I was scared and very ashamed. Eventually, I got up and walked down the stairs to head to another library when, out of the blue, a girl named Marian came up to me and introduced herself. “You don’t look like you’re okay. Can I please pray for you?” she asked. A complete stranger wanted to pray for me because she could tell that something was wrong! In that moment, I began to realize that I did not have to hide from people when I was at the Study Center. People here genuinely love and care about you.
As I continued conversations with upperclassmen in my second semester, I learned that I was not alone in my struggles, and I began to build incredible friendships with the people I would run into at the Study Center. (One person, I actually ran smack into.) I started to learn what subjects I was genuinely passionate about, and was encouraged to pursue Religious Studies and English instead of my original plan to study Kinesiology.
While no other year has been as heart-wrenchingly miserable as my first year (thankfully), every year has had both its struggles and joys. My second year, I became a small group leader for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, which was one of the best and hardest responsibilities I have had to date. My girls were beyond incredible, but I quickly learned that I did not know my limits of when I should lead and when I should step back to take care of myself. During this time, I found a place of rest at Study Center and through the friendships I made here. Through my interactions with staff members and students, I began to learn what it meant to truly rest in the Lord.
As a third year, I had the privilege of participating in the Study Center’s Elzinga Residential Scholars Program (ESRP). I entered the program knowing only one girl, but I quickly discovered the value of getting to know the 11 other women, some of whom I would never have met anywhere else. By living in the Yellow House, I learned how amazing and transformational it can be to live in intentional Christian community. I experienced some of the most hilarious and most vulnerable college memories with those girls, and I will cherish those friendships forever.
During our first semester in the residential program, we audit Bill Wilder’s class, “God and Vocation,” while second semester, we gather for weekly topical discussions ranging from Sabbath rest to racial reconciliation. The most impactful part of the program for me has been the mentoring I’ve received: the wonderful Lane Cowin is my mentor and has impacted my life in so many ways. Her mentorships has given me a safe space to process life and gain clarity on how the Lord is working in my everyday life.
This year, I became an intern with the Study Center which has given me another amazing community of friends that will forever impact my life. Shelly Pellish leads our weekly Monday night dinners, which quickly turn from hilarious chaos to vulnerable conversations where we can be honest about hardships while loving each other well. These dinners are the highlight of my week. I have seen the value of sharing our faith through small actions such as taking out the trash or making coffee. Who knew that Jesus could be shown to someone through providing hot drinks on a freezing cold day? I have been able to learn more about how the Study Center operates every day while also seeing how Christ’s love shapes this community.
As my fourth year comes to an end, I can look back and see the impact of what I am leaving behind. I recently met the mom of an underclassman friend and she thanked me for always looking out for her daughter. In that moment, I realized that I had somehow become a Natalie to someone else. I could not be more thankful for what the Study Center and its people have done for me, and how it has grown me to love others in response. At the Study Center, I have found a home, a place of rest and refuge, and a place where I can be 100% me without succumbing to the pressures of UVA’s culture of self-made success. From making up ridiculous yoga moves as a break from exams to walking into Lane or Shelly’s office for a quick chat to finding forever friends to deepening my relationship with the Lord, I would not be who I am without the Study Center community.
Lauren Horton, CLAS '17