How Fellows Followed Me

If the Chattanooga Fellows Program was a flood, filling my brain and my schedule with new ideas, people, and opportunities, the year following has been an unearthing.  I began my Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Richmont Graduate University, and little did I know I would spend most of the year studying myself.  Grad school so far has been a deconstruction of the places, people, and ideologies that have formed me.  
            Just as a farmer must prepare the ground for new life, I've been digging into my own foundation before planting roots in the rich soil of this new profession.  I have scooped up my beliefs, turned over life experiences, and sifted the grittiness of my worldview through a Gospel lens.  I've found that becoming a counselor does not require shoving this fertile soil, marked by Christ's redemption, into a dark drawer while I do therapy.  The Fellows Program prefaced this conviction, teaching me that we are called to move toward culture, engage it, and even transform it through the marriage of the Gospel narrative to our professions.  This narrative proclaims my identity as a coheir with Christ, privileged and responsible for cultivating this earth alongside Him.  Therefore, I cannot leave my identity outside the counseling room any more than I can leave behind an arm or leg.  Who I am naturally implicates what I do.

            We must expose our soil to the world’s light, as we must ask the question What does the Gospel’s impact on my life mean for the world I live in each day? Turning over this soil, this Gospel truth that has seeped into my life, it feels different in my almost 25 year-old hands.  Its texture is no longer cool and smooth, neatly fitting in the depths of my childhood. It was true to me then, but I didn’t know how much I needed it to be true then.  Starting with the flood of Fellows and now at Richmont, this Gospel soil that formed me has been unearthed for my older eyes to scrutinize.  The soil now feels course, infiltrated by the debris of loss, disappointment, and injustice.  How does it speak to shame? To oppression? To the wounded places in me and my future clients? Truth is truth, but the hands that hold it change and grow, the eyes that behold it adopt new lenses.  I’ve learned that the Gospel and my personal worldview are not the same, though the Gospel is the foundation of my worldview.  Because the Gospel narrative is grand enough for people of different worldviews than mine, I desire to approach my future clients with curiosity, acknowledging the dignity they have been given as Image-bearers of God.  

            But for now, it feels risky having my life’s soil spewed about through self-reflection papers, fluorescent-lit class discussions, charged small group dialogues, and yes, the Enneagram.  It’s messy and exposing.  Unearthing anything is destabilizing.  The risk is that the harsh light of the world’s criticism, a classmate’s contrary opinion, or a client’s rejection will scorch the soil splayed in my open hands. Yet perhaps like a refiner’s fire, this soil is all the more shaped by bold exposure.  How can I integrate the Truths of the Gospel with the truths of my life experiences into my practice if I do not first mull over them myself?  I have spent the past year digging deeply into my life as I know it, tilling the soil of my mind and heart.  Though I feel scorched by new truths about myself and dry from exhaustion, I trust that God’s Spirit is washing over and through my life’s soil like welcome water, empowering it to move into my own dark places and those of my future clients.  My prayer is that this watered soil creates space for new life, that God is cultivating it with his goodness and delight, and fostering it towards the healing, growth, and flourishing of the lives I one day serve. 

“As for those in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”  -Luke 8:15

Sylvia Welch, Chattanooga Fellow Alum ‘18

Jonathan Ingraham