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Lenten Daily Reflection: The Friday in the First Week of Lent

On the first Sunday in Lent, we hear the reading from Mark where Jesus is sent into the wilderness. Describe a ‘wilderness time’ in your life.

New Life by Nancy Stoller

I have experienced many ‘wilderness’ times in my life. Some of them have been more intense than others. Some of them have lasted hours and some of them weeks. All of them have been incredible periods of growth, no matter how hard I have resisted.

Pieces of the pandemic, new motherhood, discerning a call to the priesthood, and leaving my study abroad program in college all stand out when I think about wilderness times in my life.

My junior year in college, I enthusiastically settled on being a Studio Art major. It was something that came naturally to me as my mother and maternal grandmother are/were artists and have been prolific in their work. I grew up in a house where they were always going off to workshops together for the weekend or teaching students in the kitchen while we played outside. Becoming an Art major almost felt like stepping into the ‘family business’ or putting on a jacket that had been passed down through the generations. It just made sense. Naturally, when my student advisor suggested that spending a semester in Florence, Italy would enhance my experience and education, I jumped at the opportunity.

I flew to Rome just after the new year to begin my semester abroad and live into my dream of becoming an artist. In fact, I was one of many students flying to Italy to study for the spring semester and I assumed we would all be studying art together. As the weeks unfolded, I came to realize that what I thought I had signed up for, was not in fact, what studying abroad actually looked like. Very few of the other students were studying art and being that far away from everything that was familiar to me was far more difficult for me than I ever imagined. Moreover, I was beginning to wonder if I actually wanted to pursue a degree in Studio Art or be an artist.

I wrote to a professor back on campus at UNC, to gain some clarity and ask for advice. On the same day I received a reply from him telling me that he felt like I really wasn’t ‘weird enough to be an artist’, I also got an email from my advisor saying she had made a mistake and none of my classes would transfer from the semester abroad. I was launched into crisis.

Had I made a huge mistake? Who was I? Was I big disappointment to myself and my family? What was I called to do or be? I was faced with the decision to stick it out, stay in Italy and coast until the end of the semester or leave the program, take a semester off and use the time to begin to discover who I was.

I don’t know that I could adequately articulate how lost and alone I felt. So I did the one thing I could think of to help me figure it out. I found an Episcopal church. As I sat in the pew and listened to the priest saying the liturgy in a language I could barely understand I began to cry and those icy cold feelings of isolation and fear seemed to thaw. I felt warmth and direction and a renewed sense of self. It was time for me to go home. It was time for me to live into the person God was calling me to be, but first I had to figure that out.

Wilderness times have always caught me off guard, most often coming when I least expect them. Arriving at times that I assume will be filled with joy and hope and direction. But I have learned that if I lean into them, allow them be what they are and remember that I am not alone, they can be the most holy and fruitful times of my life.

My hope is that when they come again, when I am launched back into an inhospitable time, I will remember to take a deep breath, to persevere and to remember that God is there as I walk or wade or crawl my way to the other side.



Lord Christ, our eternal Redeemer, grant us such fellowship in your sufferings, that filled with your Holy Spirit, we may subdue the flesh to the spirit, and the spirit to you, and at the last attain to the glory of your resurrection; who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Click on the link listen to Fran McKendree's song "The Parable of the Trapeze." **You might also want to listen to the Rev. Jeff Thornberg's sermon last Sunday (2/21) on a similar subject by going to our PODCAST page -


Click on the link below to listen to an episode of Krista Tippett's podcast, On Being.


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