Fourth Year Reflection: Rachel Gaffin

Rachel Gaffin
Rachel Gaffin

It’s late on a Monday night—or more precisely, early on a Tuesday morning—at the Study Center. There aren’t that many people here anymore, most people having already cleared out for the night despite looming finals and semester workloads weighing heavy on their shoulders.

I came to the Study Center tonight after RUF’s large group meeting in the University Chapel, ready for the glass-paneled doors of the library, the broken countertop of the kitchen island, and the blue, blue walls of the prayer room to inspire my meditations on what this building has meant to me over the last four years.

The first thing that derailed me from my task of composing this reflection was a lone slice of Mellow Mushroom pizza, leftover from some unknown event, calling my name from its spot on the kitchen island—a.k.a. the Island of Free Food. Then, as I stood in the kitchen munching on my reheated slice of Mega Veggie (shout out to our new microwave), a conversation bloomed around me as friends, old and new, filtered their way in and out of the kitchen doors.

One of my conversations became a fifteen-minute stroll around Grounds, which then blossomed into an hour and a half long meditation on God and beauty, doubt and belief, music, anger, and poetry. We could have kept walking had the unseasonably chilly April air not nudged us to return to the warmth. After stumbling through the front door shivering, I stopped in the kitchen for a cup of Merry Mint tea—a pit stop which became another hangout by the watering hole as sleep-deprived fourth years enjoyed each other’s company, talking and laughing too loudly given the hour of the morning and the poor second years, still earnest in their studies and trying to get work done in the building’s front rooms.

My friend (and fellow undergrad ministry intern) Jeff once said that he thinks of the Stud kitchen like the set of a sitcom. Picture Central Perk in Friends, How I Met Your Mother’s beloved MacLaren’s, or Seinfeld’s apartment. Gathering places where friends flock to laugh, talk, and grow, these hubs of relationship are homes away from home. When I walk into the Stud kitchen, I never know who I’ll see or what might happen, whether I’ll talk about God, sex, the Hoos, or Hamilton; death or dance parties; gender roles or weird dreams. All I know is that this building and this kitchen in particular have been a place to put down roots and to drink deeply of both rich coffee and robust community.

I moved around a lot growing up. My family packed up every three years for wherever my dad’s next foreign service assignment took us. Our family’s last big move was from Brussels, Belgium, to the nebulous conglomerate that is Northern Virginia, or “NoVA,” as common parlance would have it. While I had seven years of middle school and then high school to adjust to life in America, NoVA’s transient community and a series of broken friendships left me feeling ill at ease with myself and the world, never quite at home.

When I walked onto Grounds on that dreary, humid Friday to move into my dorm, I had no idea that God was inviting me to come home to him. I had no idea that the door of the Study Center would become a door into learning the courage to risk relational vulnerability, the power of prayer whispered behind closed doors, the beauty of simple service, or the way that God answers our sins, frustrations, and failures with consistently-given love and grace.

Weekly lunches with Lane Cowin—Director of Undergraduate Women’s Ministries, my mentor, and queen of asking the questions you didn’t know you needed to hear—have taught me the worth of telling my own story and the simple beauty of what it means to delight in the presence of another person. The oasis of the prayer room has afforded me chances to pray for—and be prayed for by—others as we face the chaos and disease that rankles this world.

My stint as a hospitality intern during second year taught me the length that preparing a meal, taking out the trash, or sweeping the thousands of fallen ginkgo leaves off the back deck can go to make others comfortable. And through her patient responses to my tardiness to meetings or stress over my event management inadequacies, Shelly Pellish taught me that God does not ask us to prove anything to him before we come into his presence.

At the end of C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle (the final book in the Chronicles of Narnia), the characters make their way from the old Narnia to the new Narnia, which is a richer, fuller, and somehow more real world than the world that they had known and a—spoiler alert!—picture of the new earth. “The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more,” Lewis writes as he describes his characters’ marveling. Later on, one of his characters, the Unicorn, proclaims, “I have come home at last!...This is the land I’ve been looking for all my life though I never knew it till now! The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this.”

As I reflect on this vision of the new Narnia that Lewis presents, I can’t help but feel that the Study Center—this home away from home, this place of welcome—looks a little like heaven. It’s a broken place, for sure, and like anything on this earth, falls short of the glory of God. But He is at work within its walls, drawing people together, offering a space where we learn to rest as well as work, to pray as well as plan, to trust a God who became a wanderer on this earth so that we might find ourselves, finally, at home in Him.

Rachel Gaffin, CLAS '17