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Lydia Larsen ~ Grad Reflection

When I entered the UW campus four years ago, a church was the last place I ever wanted to be. I was happy to start pursuing a career in science, intent on joining a research lab, and with science by my side I had it all figured out. In fact, I practically sprinted through the religious organization booths at the org fair. But four years later, I’m not only in a church but also up at the pulpit and I’m so honored to share some of my journey with you all today.

Some of my earliest and fondest memories come from the Catholic church in which my family raised me. Though as I grew older, my relationship with the Catholic faith became increasingly complicated. The church my family attended was decisively unpolitical, to the point where people rarely spoke of current events during mass, though the undercurrent of exclusionary rhetoric certainly came through. I found the dissonance between my family’s liberal views and the views of my church at times quite unbearable. Because of these differences and an overwhelming feeling of shame I felt thrust upon me by my faith, I stopped trying. Instead of having hard conversations, people told me to go along to get along.

“Lydia. You’re catholic, and this is what we do.”

“Lydia. We have traditions for a reason.”

Well, I got along without religion for the first two years of college. Though if you asked me if I believed in God, I would probably have said maybe. I didn’t want to have any hard conversations either.

This attitude changed in the fall of my junior year. As I emerged from Covid isolation, it became clear that many of my friends weren’t who I thought they were. Breakdowns and breakups ensued, battle lines were drawn, and I was left feeling unsafe, unmoored, and alone. It was the lowest I’ve ever been but in that dark time, I found myself praying again. I didn’t really know where to start, but I recited the Hail Mary and Our Father whenever I needed extra strength. With the support of my family and my wonderful friends Sophie, Meg, and Siri, I emerged from that semester shaken and thankfully still alive.

I had walked past Pres House for years and I’d seen the pride flag and the Black Lives Matter sign in the window. It was so unlike the church I grew up in that I was both completely fascinated and incredibly terrified. So, on the first Sunday last spring, I decided to show up — and I’m so happy I did. This community really welcomed me with open arms. As I began to find my footing again that semester, I found worship to be a great way to ground myself before the beginning of each week and I came to appreciate the community I found here. Whenever I think of that spring, I think of this scripture passage from Ecclesiastes which we read every Sunday during Lent.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.

A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace” (Ecc 3:1-8).

I certainly wept often that year, but at Pres House Prom, I found myself dancing again. Here I found comfort and meaning that I always sought in my faith, and questions were encouraged. It was such a different experience that when Nii Addo told me that God loves me — something no one told me before with such sincerity — I almost started crying.

I went on retreats and a BWAP trip to Puerto Rico, where there was time to paint a house, a time to swim in the ocean, and a time to have meaningful discussions about things like the great commission and Christianity’s role in colonization.

My time as a UW student is coming to an end. I’m scared and excited and I certainly don’t have it figured out. But I know this. Life is messy and hard most of the time. You’ll make mistakes and you’ll doubt God and you’ll think it will never get better. If there’s anything I learned, it’s that life is better with a supportive community. I certainly found that at Pres House. But to find that community, you need to take risks and you need to ask hard questions. You need to show up and do the work in all parts of community life.

I showed up to Pres House Prom, retreats, and BWAP. I also show up to volunteer as a host quite often, not only to give back to the community but to say hello to everyone who walks in the door. One of my favorite things to do at Pres House is help serve communion. I think I love serving communion because of my Catholic upbringing, but also because I find communion to be the embodiment of God’s love, and serving it allows me to share that with all of you. So, thank you to each and every one of you for sharing this past year and a half with me. Amen.

Lydia is graduating with a B.S. in Genetics and Genomics and a B.S. in Life Sciences Communications.

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