“When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow.” – Shauna Niequist

When I graduated high school, I looked back on the past four years, and I firmly believed that I had changed more in those four years than I would ever change again. I felt that I truly had become a different person through ages 14-18, and when I told a member from my church this, they laughed and said “just wait and see, honey,” I was furious! How on earth could I change any more than I had already changed in the past four years?! High school had turned my life upside-down, and I was done with change. I believed that at the age of 18, I was who I was going to be for the rest of my life. It was finished, I had decided.

And yet here I am, writing this blog four and a half years later, almost finished with my five year college journey that was supposed to end last May, at a school that I never dreamed I would attend, and – to no surprise to anyone – a completely different person than I was at 18. I’ve changed my major twice, changed my concentration within my major three times, broken two bones and torn a ligament, lost a close family member, made some dear friends, changed theological and political values, and so much more. I relate strongly now to the church member who laughed at me when I told her I was done changing at 18, and wish I could go back in time to laugh with her. I am grateful for the whirlwind of the past years here at UT, and I’m even more grateful for the calm within the storm, the place that has changed and moved along with me – UKirk.

Entering school as a freshman, I was strong in my PC(USA) values and always felt connected to my youth group growing up, and I quickly found my way to UKirk – then called the Presbyterian Campus Ministry. When I was a freshman, the campus ministry was much smaller than it is now, but the community was the same. We shared love and stories, ate meals together, and prayed together every Wednesday night at seven o’clock. We’ve both been through significant changes over the past few years, but even during times of transformation, I’ve never felt lost or forgotten by the church. This is a feat that should not be overlooked. During pastor transition, name change, and house renovations, the community has remained. I began to find what the meaning of this quote by Shauna Niequist meant – finding thankfulness during all times, saying thank you, and choosing to celebrate or grow depending on the circumstances. The people in this ministry have surrounded me with love and faithfulness and support, during joy and hardships. They have exemplified the meaning of the word community.

I have not just changed, I have grown. I think there’s a profound difference between those words – change is a horizontal movement, while growth implies vertical movement. I’ve most certainly grown in the past four years, and I feel comfortable graduating in May to move on to the next stages of life because of the ways I’ve been supported so well here. I’ve seen UKirk grow profoundly over the past four years, as well, and not just in numbers. The love has become deeper, the laughs heartier, and the connections between each other stronger. I’m thankful for this ministry and the ways that it has supported and loved me so well. I truly could not have made it through my four plus one extra years in college, without this campus ministry and the people in it. They have said thank you, celebrated, and grown with me every step of the way, and I praise Christ every day for that.

Malerie Lazar
Senior Nursing Major
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville