“This moment had reached its end. With all of us headed our separate ways, whether it be across the country, across a state line, or across the ocean, this is the last time for a long time that this surrounding of love will happen.  As we sit in the tension of laughs and tears, of friendship and love, and what was with what will never be again, I can’t help but feel the overwhelming presence and nearness of God. And I am reminded what a gift it is to be loved by such extraordinary people in this world. God for me is connection. It is belonging not just in a place but among people you admire. What a beautiful thing to be shown the love of God through the community that has been so benevolently and freely given to you. What a gift to have been given such a moment. How blessed am I to have the love of such people in this life.”

NatalieI have sat down to write this blog post six separate times now, and each time I have found an excuse not to. There is always homework to be done or dinner to be made or the exhaustion of the day settles in and the idea of relaxation seems far more appealing.

Part of me thinks that my resistance to writing this piece is writer’s fatigue from all of the writing that I have done for the past three years, but as I sit here on my couch on a Wednesday evening, I think it is more than that. As I sat down to write tonight, however, I revisited another blog post that I wrote the summer before I came to Candler. An excerpt from that post is what you read at the start of this piece. In it, I reflected on saying goodbye to a community that had been my family for five years. As I read those words, I realized that they are again true for me as I begin to say goodbye to the Candler community that has shaped, challenged, taught, and loved me over the past three years.

When it was suggested to me that my blog post be a reflection of my time at Candler I was excited, but as I sat in front of my laptop I could not put into words what I wanted to say. My procrastination, I fear, has stemmed from an aversion to saying goodbye to this experience, these friends, and this place called Candler School of Theology.

natalie-story.jpgWhen I look back at my time at Candler I am grateful for all I have learned and how that learning will serve me in my next chapter of life, but I am even more grateful for the community that learned with me. I am grateful for the professors who have seen themselves as partners in learning. I am grateful for the classmates who stayed up way too late to study for midterms and finals. I am grateful for the mentors, teachers, and scholars in the Youth Theological Initiative who taught me to think critically and creatively about what it means to live in intentional community. Finally, I am grateful to Candler for being the kind of place that fosters this kind of learning community where you can learn and teach alongside some of the most brilliant and wonderful people there are.

So, as I begin to say goodbye to this place and the people who have meant so much to me over the last three years, I am struck again by the gift of community. The gift of belonging to people that will soon be scattered near and far, ready to embrace the next parts of their journeys. I am caught in the tension of laughter and tears, sadness and gratefulness, and fear and excitement. I bought my graduation regalia last week and it finally set in that in a little over a month I will say goodbye to Candler. I have been overcome again by the ways that I have found God in the presence of people and in this community.

What more can I say to the community that has been so instrumental in helping me become who I am called to be? Well, since I am not yet ready to say goodbye, I will start by saying thank you.