Through Sacred Arches

My faculty mentor for this first academic year at the institution of my new employment rang and invited me to come to her office. Dressed in full regalia, we walked together to the chapel where the Matriculation service for incoming students was soon to begin. She is a winsome young woman with a spirit that matches her name – Joy. Ever smiling and constantly in motion…there is a kind of effervescence about her. From my reading of the Institution’s documents prior to my arrival here I noted her name attached to significant activity at the college – with accrediting bodies and quality enhancement – very necessary things that most people run from. Joy runs toward them with, well – joy! That day, I was not yet sure how I felt about her. There was something deep within me that was struck by her winsomeness, her effervescence, her bubbling delight…but not always in a good way. I struggled to understand why the ugly demon of comparison had such a tenacious hold on me. Goodness is squelched by it; kindness approaches my suspicious eye with vain efforts to envelop me and, having sabotaged honest effort to include me, I am left to wonder why I don’t “feel” accepted.

The first semester is now behind me and I am becoming more and more convinced that the community encouraged on this campus among administration, staff, faculty and student alike is genuine. My longing to be part of such beauty has been awakened and invited to genuinely join. I am often surprised by the brilliance of God that explodes in a myriad of places here. One example: During the difficult first semester of adjustment without the physical support of my spouse who had to stay in West Tennessee to sell our home of 27 years, I nightly went “home” to an empty rental. Before class one particularly dark night in October, my graduate students surprised me – actually stunned me –with a beautiful fall bouquet, cupcakes, candy, songs and a card signed by all 29 of them. It was my birthday. How did they know? I stood speechless and tearful. I had done nothing to merit this welcome, a self-imposed pre-requisite I’ve lived with my entire performance-based life. “Yes,” God whispered. “That is the point. You can relax and just be. There is no need to perform. Receive, child, receive.” Such genuine kindness leaves me reeling with terror – afraid that at any moment I will do something to make it all evaporate. It hasn’t.

Step by fearful step I am learning to walk through the assaults and accusations of evil toward the goodness and redemption God has provided me in this new space. I want to stay present to the mixture of emotions that pour over me…alive to all of it. I don’t always do it well…but I am learning to live in the truth of who I am in Christ – His Beloved. His great love, unmerited, undeserved, but poured out on me with lavish abandon, is a place of safety and freedom, not abuse. I am learning not to flinch in the wild grip of His embrace. I am learning that Jesus loves with effervescence akin to what I see in Joy, and I am invited to dance with Him in this new space through sacred arches – His banner over me is love. If you watch, you just might see me twirl!

Christine Browning is a lover of story—including her own. She loves to hear and longs to respond well to others’ stories. A late bloomer in the field of education, it is her absolute delight to teach at Milligan College in East Tennessee. She also counsels women who have experienced trauma and abuse. Christine is the mother of three adult children, three incredible grandchildren and has been married for 42+ years to her delightfully playful husband, Tom.