By Joseph Delamerced '22
Photo taken by Liana Chaplain '21
Winter break means time with family. I will hear about how small I used to be—
Joseph! Last time I saw you - gosh -
you were this tall! You’ve grown so
—and how tall I apparently am.
You’re so big, now! Are you 5’8”
If I’m wearing shoes, yeah.
My relatives will laugh, even though I say that with some seriousness.
Their next question will never surprise me.
I will never really answer that question right.
It’s good! I like it there.
Really? What’s it like?
I mean, I’m home right now instead of being there, so…
I can’t say that. My mom won’t find that joke funny.
It’s cool! Campus is nice.
Cold, I guess. I’ve met a
lot of really awesome
people. Classes are hard,
but I’m hanging in there.
Wow. Must be tough over there,
Well, how are other things?
Good! I’m involved in a lot
of different groups. I’m…
It’s such an innocuous question. “How’s school?”
For Brown students, we have the opportunity to be away from school for close to a month, while the average college student’s winter break only lasts for two-to-three weeks. During this period, many of us take the much-deserved time to relax and recharge. We’ll reconnect with old friends, try yet another free Disney+ weekly trial to finish The Mandalorian, and sleep in past 10 AM. Still, almost all of us will be expected to answer:
People have a genuine desire to know how I’m doing when they ask. They want to know if I’m OK. But in my first year at Brown, I wasn’t at all sure if I was OK. I wasn’t sure about much in general — is this a good concentration to have? What kinds of clubs exist? Why am I eating chicken nuggets and fries for the fourth time this week?
But my relatives, my friends, my teachers — almost anyone I talked to would prod, so I would try to reply with stories. I’d tell them about the weekly pasta I ate on Thursday nights, or the radio station I ended up working at, or the downtown community center where I volunteered. I had no shortage of stories to share. It was even more fun to hear from others about what their experiences in college were like, how they found out different things about themselves or grew as people. I loved these conversations. I loved learning about other people, yet I was always so surprised at how much they raved about their college experience. People talked about how they loved their classes, yet I struggled so much to keep up with my work. I heard so much about how people found amazing friends in the first month of school, but in my first month, I was still eating lunch in my room, afraid to eat alone, without a friend group, for the fifth day in a row. Even navigating campus seemed so easy for others, while I still had to pull up Google Maps mid-semester. I felt like I was behind, that I still had so much to learn.
In my first semester at Brown, my desire to grow manifested itself in a way I did not expect at all. One Friday night, I attended an evening gathering hosted by a Christian fellowship called The Branch. The email said,
Join us for a message given by
Pastor Scott Axtmann from
Providence’s local Renaissance Church, and stay afterwards for…
PIZZA AND GAMES!
Free pizza and games?
Naturally, I went.
But then, something interesting happened. Next week, I went back. There was no promise of more pizza, but I felt that it was important to be there. When I was there, I was learning. I saw myself grow. Not in the ways I thought — I still found classes hard, my social anxiety still made it difficult to be outgoing, and my sense of direction was still subpar, at best.
I started to know God. I started to learn about Him. For the first time, God felt so much more real to me. And so, I started to grow.
Heading into college, I had no plans to join a Christian fellowship, and yet God moved so greatly in my life that I cannot even imagine my life without the Branch. I thought I would only casually go to church, but I now even look forward to heading down to Kennedy Plaza to take the bus all the way to Renaissance Church. My prayer life was lacking, and yet I find that it is now one of the most steadfast components of my life. I felt my relationship with God grow so much, and I wanted to know Him even more. Yet still, I felt I was behind the curve compared to other Christians at Brown. They seemed so knowledgeable about the Bible and God, and I felt that my understanding was only basic, at best.
The story I’d always share with people back home was about how God moved in my life. But I’d always add, almost apologetically,
I still have a lot to learn.
I felt like the Christian I was at that moment just wasn’t up to par with everyone else. When everyone was talking about how much they’d grown, I felt like my own growth was minimal. I wanted to know God so badly, and yet I was so inexperienced with reading my Bible, with participating in a Bible study, with singing worship songs.
In my first winter break back from Brown, I had the opportunity to see my 8th grade English teacher. Back in middle school, I had been part of a small after-school club that she led called “Power of the Pen.” My friends and I wrote short stories together and helped each other hone our crafts. I recall that in one session she told us to never end a story with, “And then they woke up.” I could only sit in silence, knowing full well that I had just wrote a story with a final sentence that said, verbatim, “Then he woke up, unsure if what he saw was real.”
Suffice it to say, she helped me write.
As I was catching up with her, she asked me if I was still writing. I told her that I write for a Christian literary magazine called Cornerstone. She told me to read her a piece. I replied,
Do you have time?
Of course I do. Please, let’s sit
down. I’d love to hear it.
My English teacher does not share the same faith as I do, so I was hesitant to share what I wrote. I asked again,
Do you have time? Would
you like to read it on my
phone, instead? That might
And all I kept hearing was,
Joseph, I promise. I have time.
So, I pulled up the piece on Google Docs, and I read it aloud. I recited the verse that closes out the story, and then I looked up from my phone. My teacher was smiling.
Joseph, you’ve grown so much.
Last time I saw you, you were so…
Well, yes, but… you’ve grown up.
You’re really stepping into who you
Thanks, that… that means a
lot. But, I think I still have a
lot to learn.
Of course you do. That’s why you
will grow as a Christian.
I stood there, dumbfounded. Before I was able to say anything else, she added,
And that’s why you must come
back next year and share with
me what you wrote for the next issue.
We said our goodbyes, but her words stuck with me. It reminded me of Philippians when Paul talks about pressing on and looking forward towards Christ. I do think it’s a good thing to look back and reflect — especially if you’re trying to avoid bad choices from the past, like poorly-written endings to stories. But growth is about what is ahead.
I think it’s easy to feel discouraged about your Christian journey. Maybe the place you’re at right now feels so small. Maybe you’re like me, feeling like it’s not “good enough.”
But as long as our hearts are fixed on Christ, as long as our eyes are focused on a greater, heavenward goal to pursue and know Him as best we can — we should not worry. God will provide us opportunities to grow as Christians. Think, for a moment, of all the times that you felt so sure, so confident that God had moved in your life.
So, sure, maybe we still have a lot to learn if we want our relationship with Christ to grow. But who of us can ever know it all? There is always something novel to discover whenever we read the Bible. That’s the beauty of the Bible studies we engage in, of the evening gatherings we attend, of the sermons at church we hear.
We constantly learn more. To learn more is to know Him more intimately.
And to know Him more is to love Him better.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:12-14 (NIV)