Summer Reflections: James Bell

In this blog post, senior James Bell shares his experience interning with NASA's Marshall Spaceflight Center, which included witnessing a rocket launch at the Kennedy Space Center. 

As a child, everyone told me that I could do whatever I wanted in life, assuming that I worked hard and studied for my upcoming math test. Taking this to heart, I decided on my calling at just twelve years old while watching Star Trek: Enterprise (the 2001 show set before Captain Kirk’s time) – I wanted to design interplanetary spacecraft. 

As idealistic as that dream might have seemed at the time, given the outlook of the space program, I followed it blindly all the way through high school and into UT Austin, where I currently study Aerospace Engineering. Although I now know that Star Trek may never be a reality, I still love anything related to space and hope to one day become an engineer working on NASA’s next big deep space project. To my great surprise and pleasure, I was accepted in April for an internship at NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center, where I started working in early June.

As a part of the internship program, NASA pays for interns to go and visit other centers to give us a better idea of possible jobs are available to us upon graduation. Typically, the visits are simply tours of the center by various employees who show us their jobs and the facilities they work in. So when I was told that our trip would include a rocket launch out of Kennedy Space Center, I was very excited. 

After a twelve hour bus ride, followed by a late night and early morning, the day of the launch arrived. The interns were bussed out for a tour of the vehicle assembly building before moving on to the launch viewing area. The rocket itself launched from across the bay about a mile away, and the launch tower was barely visible. Despite being just midmorning, the heat reflected onto the bleachers from the pavement and water was near unbearable, yet we stayed glued to our seats all the same. Finally, and without more than a one-minute warning, the rocket took off, slowly at first, then accelerating to the speed of sound and beyond. The air reverberated with the power of the fuel combusting and exploding out of the engine nozzles at supersonic speeds. We continued to watch as the vehicle turned, angled itself into the beginnings of a prograde orbit, and disappeared from sight.

Although the capability to reach outer space has existed for over half a century, to witness it in person has reinvigorated me to find newer and better ways to reach orbit and beyond. I know that I am blessed to have seen such an event, and I hope to one day take part in designing and launching missions, in exploring the universe that God has provided for us.

Farewell Blessing from Beth

“I thank my God every time I remember you!” –Philippians 1:3

Serving as your missioner at the Episcopal Student Center has unequivocally been one of the greatest privileges of my life. The trust you have afforded me to travel on this journey with you was certainly not deserved, but gratefully received each and every day. Perhaps one day I will write a book about all you have taught me along the way, because it would fill volumes. I will carry with me the deep and abiding faithfulness so many of you shared with me. Your commitments to God, to one another, to prayer – both when life was difficult and when it was beautiful, have stirred my soul. 

The miles we traveled, the questions we held, the songs we sang, the calories we consumed, and the people you are becoming still fill me with awe. We danced until we could dance no more after an Easter Vigil at a beer garten. You gave me the surprise of my life by presenting me with Lil’ Beth on my thirtieth birthday, and many times after. We learned to cook for and with one another, and shared too many sacred meals to count when the presence of the Holy Spirit was palpable. You have challenged me to hear what isn’t being said, and to look for who was missing from the table. We climbed to the tops of cathedrals in England and the bottoms of valleys in Kenya. The gift of a community that helps to magnify the presence of God in one’s life is too great to measure. You have been this community in my life. 

Moving forward, I will continue to tell the story of this place with the diocesan family and everyone whom I meet. Father Eric is going to be a spiritually grounded and bold leader in your midst – you are truly blessed! Bless him as you have blessed me. 

I will continue to, “Thank my God every time I remember you!” 

Blessings & Hook Thine Horns, 

Beth 

Reflection from a Senior

Last week we heard about the impact of the Student Center on a freshman and today we hear about the impact of the Student Center on a recent graduate!

By Parkes Ousley    
    Throughout my pre-college years, my spirituality was my defining characteristic. When I was at school with friends, I was the religious kid, the one who cared. I was the one who went to church every week, twice a week, and the one who participated. I was one of the only Episcopalians.
    At home, I was just part of the machine, one of the cogs in its place, functioning like the rest. My dad was a priest, my mom a cradle Episcopalian, and my sister an avid Episcopalian as well. Our spirituality wasn’t just our own, but it was our families. It was shared between us, and united us. And as great as that sounds, and it was great, it left out one important piece of spirituality; the true feeling of ownership and personality.
    Before college, whether I was at school or with family, there seemed to be some slight disconnection, some unidentified pressure that inhibited my spiritual growth. At school, I held it back myself, sometimes knowingly and sometimes out of habit and subconscious fear of sharing my true feelings. My friends already showed inhibition around me enough as it was. They were scared of me and my ability to shame them. If only they knew I sought connection, not judgement, when I asked them about spirituality, lives at home, and their weekend activities.
    At home, of course, I was free to share faith, but my family’s close connection didn’t provide the struggle and conflict which is so good at stretching and growing people. I was met with challenging questions, but I was in such a safe and familiar space, with people that had always had all the answers, that I never wrestled as much as one needs to to take full ownership of their faith.
    Then came my move to Austin and my transition into the Episcopal Student Center. I was asked to be on the music team before I ever set foot in the building, and at first I decided not to, because I wanted to take a break from Church to try and give myself a way to struggle. I was searching for tension, and figured not having a church home may do that. Alas, I accepted the offer and jumped headfirst into the community. Man what a great, and lucky, opportunity.
    I found out very quickly that the ESC was the exact wrestling mat I’d been searching for for the past few years. I’d always been a (more or less) high church Episcopalian, and the first change was leading music with a guitar and piano, rather than following an organ and wondrous chorus. I quickly fell in love with the different style of service and began to more greatly appreciate the different parts of our service. The different way of worshipping showed me there is a lot more that makes our Church and service beautiful than just choirs and old language.
    I also quickly realized that I was surrounded by a ton of people my age. I’d always longed to be in a youth group, and finally in college, I found a community that consisted of people all right around my age. Not only did they have language and lifestyles that I could relate to, they also understood me at a higher level than the average aged Episcopalian could. I felt a little more connected. Not only that, but they were, and are, all great people with so much to love and share. Not only did I make great friends, I found great mentors. I know I learned a TON in college, but if you ask where I learned the most, I couldn’t tell you for sure if it was in the walls of my various classrooms on campus or in the walls of the church. I felt like every time I walked in on Sunday and Wednesday nights, and every random snack grab or study session in between, I became a dumpster of knowledge and information, where people would just unload a lifetime of thoughts, ideas, feelings, and their current test material. People studied by telling me what they learned. People asked me questions about class that I couldn’t answer, reminding me I needed to spend more time studying.
    Even greater than that knowledge though was the wealth of life I received. People taught me things that I can’t learn in class. They taught me to have fun. They taught me to lighten up. They taught me how to love, both others and myself. They taught me how to mess up and not take myself so seriously. They taught me more how women work, like so much more… They taught me that I can learn from anyone or anything. They taught me that I’m not at all perfect, not even close, but that it’s okay. They taught me that being smart isn’t just about getting A’s in classes and success isn’t defined by my parents, or society, or anyone else but me and what I desired. They taught me to take control of my path and set my sights on what I desired and put the pedal to the medal until I get there or realize I’m chasing the wrong thing. They taught me that depression is real and okay. And they taught me that it’s possible to recover, even when fighting an uphill battle. They taught me being Episcopalian is not something to hold back, not something to hide from friends or strangers for fear of being judged or avoided. They taught me that what really matters is how I love, and if I love deeply, nothing else really matters.
    The ESC provided in so many ways. They reinforced and challenged my faith. They asked tough, tough questions, some of which I still haven’t been able to answer. There were meaningful mission trips. There were pilgrimages. There was thoughtful discussion everywhere. They had food; snacks and meals and food for thought. There was coffee, and more coffee, and tea, and more coffee still. And just when we thought we had finally had all the coffee and snacks, more came. Endless caffeine and calories to keep us going through the long days and nights and hell weeks. There were homecooked meals provided twice a week, and leftovers for the following days. There was a computer room, a TV room, big couches for napping, bowl chairs for reckless napping, a “Fishbowl” for quiet discussion, a cry room, a closet for my instruments, and the most beautiful chapel for prayer, contemplation, singing loudly, and all our weekly spiritual practices.
    My faith is extremely stronger now than before I dove into this community. It’s much stronger than it would’ve been had I not decided to accept God’s call into this place. I have uncovered so much more than I thought I could in these past four years that flashed by my eyes. I have answered many questions, fought with demons I needed to fight, and begun to wrestle with those that I didn’t even know existed. I have learned about myself, about my faith, and about the great community around me. And while none of it is perfect, I wouldn’t want it to be. I have a newfound respect and value of the struggle, of the journey.
    Out of all the growth I experienced, I think the single greatest thing I got from the Student Center, the thing I’m most thankful for, is a true sense of self. I’m no longer a cog in a machine or an other. Whether I’m in a community that looks and sounds like me or in a place that doesn’t share my thoughts and beliefs, I feel unique. I feel special and worth something. I feel like I have something to offer. I feel whole.

I feel loved.

Reflections from a Freshman

By Maddie Baughman

    Growing up I was taught that God is present not only in chapels and holy sites, but everywhere in our daily lives and work.  These teachings never really sank in for me because outside of Sunday morning services, expression of spirituality was not something I frequently witnessed or participated in.  My church attendance in high school was minimal, and I was rarely surrounded by people who consistently celebrated their faith, with the exception of my mom.  Beginning my Freshman year of college, I did not expect spirituality to be a conscious part of my everyday experience.
    When I began my time at UT, similar to many Freshman, I was overwhelmed and very lonely.  School had never been this rigorous for me. I was 1,968 miles away from home, and sleeping in a room that felt like it belonged to a stranger.  I was having a hard time connecting with people in my classes and hall, and longed for familiar faces and conversations that weren’t about my major or what I was going to do with it.  
    I had several distant connections to the Episcopal Student Center and reluctantly decided to begin going to services and programming.  It took time but I eventually began finding friends within the community and developing a sense of home that had been lacking.  Coffee dates, jokes, and going to last minute volleyball games may not have seemed extraordinary, but it meant the world to me.  I became close with people I would have never expected, some of whom I had strangely met years ago.  The loneliest months of my life slowly became some of the best, as I learned who I liked to surround myself with and who I was as an independent person.
    With this awareness of self, I learned that I valued being around a spiritually conscious group of people with various beliefs, questions, and a willingness to discuss.  I gained an appreciation for those who shared a desire to pray and eat together. Eating in dining halls was my least favorite part of Freshman year, not because of the food, but the isolation of not eating with my family. There are many connections between spirituality and the sharing of a meal.  Breaking bread, blessing food, appreciating where it came from and who created it; these are steps that make me think about what I have and who I share it with. I realized that when eating with the ESC community I not only enjoyed the company of people, but I also appreciated the food that we shared together.  Incorporating food and faith encouraged me to think about what small aspects of everyday life, such as eating, mean to me.
    This past year has opened my eyes to how faith is not something that is reserved for Sunday mornings. Spirituality is not black and white, and can be embraced in countless different ways everyday.  I am still exploring what I believe and how I wish to express my beliefs, but having a stronger consciousness of faith this year has led me to understand what is important to me in my daily life. 

DC Immersion Trip Reflection by Katy Telling

    I packed for D.C. with all the sentimentality of a traveling business exec.
    Recently returned from visiting another cold-weather destination, I zipped open my fraying black suitcase and shoved a jumbled ball of long-sleeves and slate gray wool into the washing machine, patiently waiting for the dryer to ping “DONE” so I could re-stuff the jumbled ball back into the worn case.
    Fold. Pack. Fold. Pack. All the while, I kept pushing away the looming reality of opening myself up to the confusing mix of excitement, anxiety, and uncertainty squirming in my stomach, pushing away the looming reality of entering The Great Big Unknown. And D.C., the work and relationships that were waiting for me there, they were dictionary definition “unknown.”
    We settled first into the Church of the Epiphany, the service-oriented Episcopal Church nestled in downtown D.C. Over the next two days Josh, a Jesuit service leader who served the homeless community through Street Sense (produced and sold by D.C.’s homeless neighbors) newspaper, led us through difficult conversations and, afterwards, through filled to capacity parks known for being home (as best they could) to our D.C. neighbors.
    These first few days were difficult. Beyond any doubt, there was joy and gratitude and community and dense radical love among those we met, among those we broke bread with, those with whom we worshiped. And yet, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that I was an invader, a trespasser of sacred pain. How could I stand before our neighbors, before my brothers and sisters in Christ and in humanity, and face the pain and challenges they knew while I could never imagine a like experience? How could I even begin to help?
    Things began to change the next morning. I looked out at the congregation from the nave and saw a room full of neighbors laughing and praying and sighing and hugging and helping and just being in this sacred space. Sacred beings in a sacred space together. We weren’t there to make everything better. We weren’t there to assert “don’t worry, I’m here to help you!” Truly, there was something so utterly unifying about that morning’s service. Eucharist is a ritual of transformation, of turning humble bread and wine into something holy to sustain us beyond our earthly needs. In true Eucharistic fashion, this was a transformative morning. “Us” and “them” transformed into “we,” a transformation that persisted.
    Following our stay at Church of the Epiphany, we relocated to The Pilgrimage, a Presbyterian youth service hostel in DuPont Circle. There, we met with two members of the National Coalition for the Homeless, Karen and Robert, who shared stories of their personal experiences with homelessness and the work they had done, humanity stitched into every word they spoke. Following this, we sought relationship among our neighbors again while walking with homemade meals, trudging through the frigid D.C. cold (a bitter constant reminder of one of the many challenges our neighbors face) to enter into small powerful moments of connection. After one anecdote Karen told us of a neighbor who hadn’t heard his name in three years for lack of anyone asking, these moments of connection seemed to feel especially humbling.
    What followed was a series of eye-opening conversations, a group split between Capital Area food bank and a home for the elderly, and a sober walk through a neighborhood undergoing gentrification and facing the reality of economic disparities whilst we absorbed the guidance of activist, community leader, and force of nature Ms. Debra Fraser. Rounding out the trip was a final meal serving at Charlie’s Place, an Episcopal ministry dedicated to feeding and clothing D.C.’s homeless and bursting at the seams with warmth and welcome.
    I emerged from the trip overwhelmed with emotion. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, I felt exhausted, overcome by who and what I had seen over the past five days. The relationships that had been built up throughout my time in D.C. left me with a sense of togetherness and community. And it was not only the relationships built with our leaders and neighbors that left me fulfilled, but also the relationships built even stronger within our own ESC community. Indeed, it was this ESC bond that sustained me throughout the entire journey. Now, returned to Austin, I feel encouraged and inspired to address the issues we have here at home, refusing to leave the experience back in D.C.
    One lesson in particular stayed with me long after I exited the return flight: we are all knit together in a common humanity. I cannot let this truism become a mere cliché. All of us, homeless neighbors, ESC members, leaders, the quiet, the bold, the weary, the ready, are in community, made whole through the promise of godly love. In this time of Lent, I seek to consciously honor that truth in all that I do. How grateful I am to have truly seen this truth play out before my very eyes in D.C.