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This post is Part Three of a three-part series written by Emma Uebele, an alumnus of American University Chi Alpha. Emma lives fully, embracing art, stories and people as she seeks to know more about God, herself, and the world.

One last letter,

Rigorous academic institutions do not appear to breed kindness. It's too bad really. The world would look a lot different if they did. Instead, college did a better job of teaching me to be competitive, timely, serious, occasionally cutthroat, overachieving, busy, important, and intellectual. At AU it was nearly effortless for me to live this way (apart from the timeliness that is). I was after something important after all, my education! Self-betterment! Self-discovery! I was on a path to better myself and naturally as I improved so would my positive impact on the world. What could be kinder than that?

College is fundamentally a self-centered experience. YOU are the learner. YOU are figuring out who YOU want to be. What YOU want to do. What mark YOU will leave on the world. Kindness is rarely the effortless option. Kindness transforms interactions and relationships. Sometimes it even begins relationships. Kindness is essentially an others-centered approach to the universe.

I tried not to live into this self-centered academic lifestyle but no one necessarily taught me to and I did not always succeed. It took effort to oppose the nature of that culture. Thankfully, I had Chi Alpha as a balance. But even so something was missing from my conception of what being kind meant and could achieve. Kindness was something I did not a lifestyle I intentionally lived.

I interact with far fewer people on a daily basis now, than I did in college. I have less opportunity to make up for unkindness. I find myself more drawn to strangers because my community is smaller and I am always looking to enlarge and expand it. I have fewer relationships, which peculiarly has led to more of an urgency to be kind.  So, I've started experimenting with kindness.

On August 27, I took the Amtrak Cascades from Portland to Spokane for a wedding. The whole affair moved at the lovely lethargic pace that only accompanies train travel. I situated my belongings on the upper deck and brought my trail mix to the observation car. Sun streamed in through the all-glass walls and roof. Hushed conversations mixed with the thrum of the engine lulled me into a contemplative stupor. As I took in the beauty of the Columbia River Gorge I was startled by the raised voice of a middle-aged woman:

"Young lady! Young lady!"

I turned to see a woman standing in the middle of the car gripping seatbacks on either side for balance. I evaluated her in a moment. Fanny pack, backpack, too many layers, too many maps, and generally disheveled appearance: another obnoxious American traveler. I turned back to my window. Then,

"Young lady! Look! It's gorgeous!"

I turned again and was shocked to see her staring at me. Gesturing wildly at the indisputable beauty of the landscape. I was the young lady.

"Isn't it just amazing?"

"Well, yes. Yes in fact it is. It's beautiful."

I had no idea what this reply would spawn. It wasn't even a terribly kind act. Especially considering my prior judgment. This says more about God's graciousness than my kindness. But I could have ignored her. I had never seen her in my life. But I had decided to be open and kind of this journey. So I offered recognition and a sliver of solidarity.

The woman proceeded to comment on the passing beauty and I echoed her praise. She disappeared briefly to the dining car and then came to sit with me. We were both alone after all. I talked to Carol for the next hour and a half. She is an incredible artist and art critic from Memphis who has led an extraordinary life. We talked about art and God and life and death and how we make sense of the darker things in this world. Her husband's death. My brother's deployment. She shared a play she's writing and I showed her some of my poetry. She asked if I had a collection out yet. One thing led to another and she decided to take my poem to share at a soiree in Memphis this month. She promised to return with the feedback and admiration of all her artist writer friends.

Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. It was the last thing in the world I was expecting. But so wildly full and rich and wonderful. Carol and I have exchanged emails and I'm planning to drive down to Oregon City to see the production of her play this spring. I haven’t heard back about my poem yet.

I don't know if I would have had this conversation and interaction at school. I took the train numerous times and was content to sit quietly and inwardly. My community, which has blessed my life in innumerable ways, was so vibrant and affirming and fulfilling that I was less compelled to be kind in such an outward fashion. To transform and create relationships beyond my community.

Even though university culture may seem to oppose it that ground, too, is ripe for kindness. Any ground filled with humans is. It's the only adversity that shifts. We dwell in a fallen world. There will always be opposition. I don't think choosing kindness will disappoint you. I've discovered that conversation is one of my primary currencies for kindness. Maybe that's not the case for you, I don't know if that's a universal thing. But find what is. Work against the self-centered culture you live in.

Live outwardly and see where it takes you.

Posted
AuthorBlane Young
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This post is Part Two of a three-part series written by Emma Uebele, an alumnus of American University Chi Alpha. Emma lives fully, embracing art, stories and people as she seeks to know more about God, herself, and the world.

Hello again,

As I wrote my last letter I found another important gap between my education and my life now. College did not teach me endurance. Well, perhaps I picked up a thing or two. I persevered through dorm life, midterms, a handful of extensive research papers, finals even. But in college you get to start fresh every semester. You get to stop and rest then return with a new assortment of classes, colleagues, and professors. If you have an awful course, it will be over in a few short months and A or F you get to move on with your life. Under the temporary dictatorship of your International Development professor who teaches out of his own books, uses you for his personal research, and has never experimented with anything on powerpoint beyond white slides and black Arial font--this may seem like an eternity. But before you know it finals will come again and you will be free.

Sometimes I wish my life was still time stamped that way. I could do anything for a semester. Somehow just knowing that there was an end in sight generally gave me the fortitude to carry on, however reluctantly. It's when the future stretches out before you in its unbroken entirety that endurance gets real. That is where deep endurance is forged.

I'm writing to you from a makeshift desk at my parents’ house in Portland, Oregon. Wind whips wildly through the garden outside and rain plays softly on the cedar shingles. I am not where I thought I would be. I am not sure what the future holds. My story is less structured than it ever has been. I'm finding that it is here, in those places where our anticipation is not equal to our reality that our endurance grows.

It is not surrounded by my loving community with days structured by work and school and friends that endurance truly deepens. Not that there is anything wrong with those days. They prepared me for today in more ways than I can count. But I just want to tell you where I am so you're not surprised if you ever find yourself in a similar place. Know that you are always being prepared for the next thing and the way you are walking has been prepared for you.

I've found it easier to walk on and endure when I can find those divine appointments and confirmations that God has purpose in my days here. My brother deployed to Afghanistan last month. Because I was home I spent the summer with him and now I get to be with my parents through this season. I was able to stand up in the weddings of three of my dearest friends. I get to spend more time with my extended family than I ever have in my life.

And I get to deepen my endurance for whatever comes next.

Who can say, maybe that's the biggest gift of all. Don't be afraid of times for building. Don't be discouraged if your present reality is not what you expected. Know you are being forged. I do not know what is coming next, but the forger does. So I will trust him to mold me for it and walk onward.

Posted
AuthorBlane Young
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This post is Part One of a three-part series written by Emma Uebele, an alumnus of American University Chi Alpha. Emma lives fully, embracing art, stories and people as she seeks to know more about God, herself, and the world.

Dearest,

Let me tell you a story. I began college as a wide-eyed print journalism major. After structured writing classes that didn't suit my over-imaginative fancy, I jumped ship. Film and media arts was the en vogue communications field so that was my next harbor. I enjoyed the creative potential but not the minutiae of digital editing. I'm a big picture girl through and through. Finally, I wound up in international communications: a lovely hybrid of global perspective and interpersonal relationships. This was the degree I ended with and along the way I continued to dabble. I took fiction writing and poetry and drawing and printmaking. I believe it's important to nurture your creative side. We all have one. Even you, economists and math majors. It's one of those common denominators of the Homo sapien.

My education was wonderful. Invaluable really. But I'm learning there's a lot it didn't teach me. Sure I learned the mechanics of writing. The inverted triangle metric for journalistic work. How to show and not tell in fiction. How to experiment with punctuation and the pricelessness of the em dash in poetry. How to research for international relations case studies. How to craft policy briefs and memos. How to pass notes in class in the most encrypted and abbreviated language possible.

But I never learned how to BE a writer. I've discovered that it is something totally other than simply writing. It is a way of synthesizing the world. A way of becoming. Perhaps an art of becoming. An art that no amount of reading, lectures, or class discussion illuminated for me over the last four years.

Regardless of what you want to be you cannot just will it upon yourself. It doesn't matter how badly you want it. How well suited you are for it. How distinctly (or indistinctly) you've heard from God on the subject. You must work for it.

We are not entitled to excellence. It must be earned. The same goes for writing. College did not make me a writer. I become a writer in the early mornings and late nights when I release words onto the page. When I find images in the confusion. When I search for my voice in the empty places and find it. When I put perfection and pride on the shelf and write anyway, with all that is in me, because I have something to say.

I don't mean to suggest that my education wasn't part of my becoming a writer (which I'm still working out). Of course it was. A huge part actually, but it cannot stop there. I've found a gap between learning and doing. Maybe that's stating the obvious, but it has been a much more significant transition that I expected. So much of college is riding on the excellence and achievement of others as you learn and grow and develop yourself. Then all that excellence stops carrying you and you are left to build from the ground up. This takes effort. And time and discipline. This is where a new phase of the becoming starts.

This becoming, whatever it is you are becoming, takes flexibility. Flexibility looks like walking forward with your chin up when you find yourself living a life other than the one you were anticipating. This doesn't lead to complacency or settling. But rather perseverance, much more valuable. 

Perhaps you don't conceive of yourself as a writer. Your calling lies elsewhere. This is good. Maybe you bring us something to write about. Either way, this letter is not about how to be a writer. I can't answer that for you. This is about the art, the toil, of becoming.

Find something you love and work at it. Not for a grade. Not for your résumé. For the sake of excellence. Because what you bring to this world matters. Don't just learn about it, do it. Rise up and work at becoming who you were created to be. Writer, artist, mathematician, economist, athlete, musician, teacher, poet, politician, scientist, accountant, priest.

Go become more.

Posted
AuthorBlane Young
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This is a post by Mike Godzwa. He is the Director of Chi Alpha at American University, leads the DC Internship (CMIT) Program and also serves as a Campus Pastor at NCC. You can connect with him via twitter.  

I met with Dan early on a Tuesday morning.  It wasn’t easy rolling out of bed @ 6am, but I was still glad to do it.  Dan’s a great friend.

I was first introduced to Dan almost 10 years ago when he was a freshman at American University.  Dan came from a Christian family, but like most college students he was still developing an adult understanding of his faith.  He got plugged into Chi Alpha right away.  It was in the midst of our group that he was able to wrestle with the questions that came from living for Jesus in a secular environment.  But he found more than answers.  Dan found a loving community, incredible opportunities for ministry and before he graduated in 2007, he even found his wife. 

What I love about campus ministry is the lasting impact of the work we do.  When students begin a discipleship journey in these formative years, it develops a foundation for their entire adult lives.  Dan is now 29 years old.  He’s a new father, faithful supporter of Chi Alpha and highly involved in the discipleship ministry at his church.  It filled me with joy to hear of how he was loving his wife and son.  I loved hearing about how he was engaged in significant conversations, helping others step into the blessings of God’s kingdom and I was humbled to realize Chi Alpha played a huge part in making those things happen.  

Dan came to campus as a kid from a Christian home.  He left campus as a maturing, ministering believer determined to be a life-long follower of Jesus.  Chi Alpha really does reach students, train leaders and influence nations and there’s nothing like seeing that play out...one life at a time.

Posted
AuthorBlane Young