This post was written by Elizabeth Hewitt, Former Charlotte Fellow, class of 2014. She currently lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband Ben, where she works as a product manager in corporate banking.
My closest friends in college said I was a good listener, someone who would ask thoughtful questions and want to hear the real answer to the question, “How are you doing?” The irony of that description is that I didn’t want anyone to ask me those same questions. During my time as a Charlotte Fellow, I realized the reason I avoided opportunities to talk about myself, why I didn’t tell others how I truly felt, or what was actually going on in my life, was because I didn’t want anyone to know that I wasn’t perfect.
The first event on the Charlotte Fellows calendar each year is a Welcome Retreat, a time of meeting and getting to know fellow classmates over a relaxing and fun weekend. During this retreat we learned that each one of us would share our “story” with the whole class (a.k.a. the strangers we had just met) during our weekly gatherings. Our stories were to include the themes that God had (and is) weaving throughout our lives, and what circumstances God used to mold us into the individuals we had become. Jotting down notes to use during my story wasn’t difficult. It was when I practiced sharing my story with my host parents that I first felt a physical resistance to answering questions that peeled back layers of the “perfect Elizabeth-image” I wanted others to see.
I remember the experience of sharing my story with the rest of the Charlotte Fellows in October 2013 like it was yesterday. I started with “I was born in Greenville, Alabama…” and immediately broke into tears—the flood gates had opened! Not strong enough to suppress the emotion, I cried for an hour while sharing memories from childhood, high school, and college years that had left the biggest imprint on my life. Throughout this hour the Fellows asked thoughtful questions that made me pause, think of memories in a new light, and revealed how God truly was in every moment even if I didn’t believe it at the time. I had always known that God’s plans were for good and not evil, to give me a future and a hope, but God used the Charlotte Fellows to lead me down the path of truly believing Jeremiah 29:11 in my life.
Sharing my story was the first of many times during my nine months as a Charlotte Fellow where I admitted I didn’t have it all together, I wasn’t perfect, and my good works would never replace Jesus Christ’s death on the cross for my sins. You bet I cried every single one of those times, and every single time I was met with genuine love and endless patience. I found the more I surrendered to vulnerability, let my guard down and shared my struggles, the friendships within our community strengthened. Being a part of the Charlotte Fellows program showed me that vulnerability is the key to true Christian community. It opens the door for encouragement under God’s truth and love.
It’s funny to think that before becoming a Fellow I never cried, a fact that I correlated to having my act together. I now believe that tears are a gift from the Lord, revealing to us that there is something wrong deep down under the surface that is bubbling up. Tears are a reminder of God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, and I’m only able to experience God’s grace when I admit that I can’t live without it.