Fourth Year Reflection: Mary Shields

Mary Shields
Mary Shields

The Study Center came into my life when God knew I needed it most—during the two-week period that I’ve coined my “first try at first year.” Amidst the drawn out misery that I experienced during middle and high school, my counterfeit idol was UVA. God had his place in my life, but I saw him as someone to be manipulated: If I do this or don’t do that, then he’ll make this happen or not let that happen. My real god was control and perfection—maintaining perfect, meticulous control of my body and academics, which I thought would naturally align my footsteps on a seamless path towards achieving a perfect existence as a UVA student.

My “perfect” plan seemed to be panning out nicely when I moved into old dorms in August 2012. However, in a few short days, I began to crumble. The baggage of my history with anorexia, OCD, and depression, for which I had never found true, Holy Spirit healing, began to rapidly unload itself. I was losing all control, breaking down into hysterical tears mid-conversation with strangers, in the middle of class, and every morning under my covers. The Study Center—specifically, Lane Cowin’s office—quickly became my place of refuge in these times of panic. It became clear within two weeks of being at UVA that I needed out. With the shepherding support of Lane and my parents, I withdrew from college and moved back home to take a gap year to navigate through some deeper issues that I had previously been unwilling to conquer head on.

During my time at home, people like Holly (Jesensky) Rooker and Lisa (Myers) Rohrer—both Stud-frequenting upperclassmen at the time—kept open lines of communication with me through phone calls, texts, and letters. Their consistent pursuit of me, despite my junkyard of struggles that I’d weep about over the phone, is reflective of the kind of relationships that develop through the Study Center. During my gap year, I genuinely felt the cloud of sadness and fear that had plagued me since age 13 dissipate.

Come August 2013, when I returned to UVA for my “second try at first year,” I was met with open arms at the Study Center Move-In Day Lunch by Lane and the older girls who had so faithfully pressed into my life. Taking a gap year didn’t fix me, and though the crippling fear that characterized my days for many years is definitely gone, I certainly still battle with traces of the issues that pervaded during my adolescence. However, the Study Center has been a sort of prodigal son-like haven that I have returned to time and time again in the face of trials over the past four years. The prayer room has taught me the practice of soaking in God’s presence, the study rooms have saved my GPA, the foyer has entertained my aggressive extroversion, and the kitchen has perpetuated my drink-coffee-all-day habit.

Psalm 27:13 reads, “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” This has become my anthem as I close my chapter of college and prepare to enter the adult world as a Charlottesville townie. The Study Center has shown me the Lord’s goodness—often by just being a house that I can go to anytime, but mostly through the people there. I believe that God created us to know and be known by one another, and in my thirst for that knowingness, the Study Center showed up and reminded me of the one who knows me.

Mary Shields, NURS '17