Keri Bumgarner ‘FF1
Graduate of University of Virginia
I’ve always been tall. I towered over my classmates on the playground, refused to own a pair of
heels, and I am still relegated to the back row of every group picture. I’m currently resting at
5’10 and to get there, I went through several growth spurts. While sometimes I could get by
without realizing I had grown, most of the time it was, literally, painfully obvious. My knees would be sore, my back would feel tight, my hips felt like they were grinding on each other. I would ache all over for days at a time as I grew. I never asked to be tall and it seemed unfair to deal with consequences. But then it would stop, and I would be that much closer to resembling the ultimate design for my frame.
When I thought about applying to a Fellows program, I did not consider the possibility of growing pains. I was looking for community and professional development. The rest was secondary; I felt pretty secure in the other facets of my life. I wanted to know the grand design for my life and my vocation, to be at the end of the process when I was just beginning.
But that isn’t real life.
In just a few months of this program, I have already seen such “growth.” Growth, in the sense of learning. I never stopped to think about how Jesus probably only looked like Mary and not
Joseph. I never knew the word for the pity Jesus felt is actually “splagchnizomai,” which means
a gut punch of compassion. And I had hardly considered the difference between the early
church being subversive versus revolutionary. The Bible calls us to “bear fruit in every good
work and increase in the knowledge of God.” What an unexpected delight it has been to grow in
relationship with God through knowledge.
Growth, in the sense of refining. I came into this program trying to be open handed about
myself, but in reality I was comfortable with where I was and was not looking for change. The
Lord quickly revealed to me the areas where I struggle and sin. He pointed me to the resistance
I have in new friendships. He uncovered some unhealthy habits I like to fall back on. He brought back some old fears and introduced some new ones. He even made sure to remind me that I am not always right through the casual revelation that my long held enneagram number was actually something different. We are promised that we will “groan inwardly” as we wait for our souls to be fully realized. I still have a long way to go, and God has been lovingly casting my heart into the fire to refine it into something greater.
Growth, in the sense of formation. Navigating adult friendships is not for the faint of heart.
Admittedly, being thrust together with 11 other strangers in a new town did not sound like an
ideal situation in my mind. Everyone brings their own expectations, presumptions, hardships,
joys, and beliefs into the mix. Navigating group maturation as well as learning how to care for
each other can feel overwhelming, even frustrating at times. But when you enter into a Fellows
community, you enter in a covenant with each other, founded on a mutual love of Christ. That
covenant includes sharing embarrassing stories, Spotify playlists, favorite movies, family
dynamics, catchphrases, and so much more. Sharing life is daunting but the more we do the
more we grow in love for our community. And if we are abiding in love, we are abiding in the
Father. So when feelings are hurt or words are harsh or disappointments are felt, they are not
permanent disruptions. Being in Christian community in the real world means there will be
periods of painful formation, but they too will pass.
Being tall has its perks. I can reach any shelf at the grocery store. I can see over crowds at
concerts. And my length has certainly been the source of victory in more than one swim race.
But I cannot forget the miserable grinding of bones that had to take place to get there. The God
who loved me enough to knit me together in the womb would not be satisfied with a stagnant
life. This same God has offered each of us the chance to not settle for something less than what
the Lord has prepared us. As I look at the knowledge, refinement, and formation that has
already occurred, I can see the mess and debris it has left behind. But then I ask, just as Job
did, “Which of all these things does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?” (12:9).
Yahweh is not finished with the Franklin Fellows yet. He is not finished with this town. He is not finished with me.
And I am thankful the reminder of this truth is seen most clearly in the growing pains.