Room to Grow

Bonsai trees are cool. If you’re not familiar with them, let me briefly summarize them for you. From memory. Pardon me if my summary is not correct. The Japanese noticed how the trees grew on the mountainsides, and how they were stunted and miniature versions of the regular trees. Eventually this led to them re-creating the trees for their gardens. The bonsai trees are planted in small pots, treated and trimmed in such a way that in five, ten, or twenty years, the gardener has a living, mini version of a tree.
This reminds me of a life lesson I learned over the summer. While on a backpacking trip in Colorado, we hiked through the Rocky Mountain wilderness. The day we made it to the top of a mountain, our guides stopped us and brought to our attention an analogy. The top of the mountain is absolutely beautiful. You can see for miles, and for once, you aren’t hiking uphill. However, the same trees we saw thriving in the valley were stunted as we got higher up, until the only things growing at the peak were moss and grass. The peak is beautiful, but it’s not good for growing things.IMG_6531

Your comfort zone may be peaceful and non-intimidating, but you won’t get much growth there. To be sure, there are times when comfort zones and contentment are needed, for “There is a time for everything” (Ecclesiastes 3). There are times to be on the mountaintop. But seeing how I’ve just been placed into a new spot, a new school, a new start, I can’t let it be put to waste. I must step get out of my comfort zone and take a good look at how I do life. But above all, I must be present. Life is a whole lot more fun when we show up and pitch in. So I invite you to join me in my endeavor. Try having lunch with someone new. Join a club. Serve somewhere. Chat with a friend over coffee. Be immersed in community. Do life spontaneously.
-Tara Vandermeer

Maurice VanderVelde Junior Scholars Award Announcement

I am pleased to announce this year’s winners of the prestigious VanderVelde Junior Scholars Award, a scholarship supporting outstanding junior or senior students in collaborative research with a Trinity professor:

  • Hannah Dykstra – Dr. Bill Boerman-Cornell & Professor Ryan Thompson (Art) – Shostakovich Graphic Novel

This interdisciplinary study extends Hannah’s previous research on the composer Dmitri Shostakovich in order to create a graphic novel about his life and work.

  • Derek Frejd – Dr. Clay Carlson (Biology) – The Genomic and Morphological Effects of Bisphenol A on Arabidopsis thaliana

This study explores genetic expression in the quick-growing flowering plant Arabidopsis thaliana in order to study the effects of the molecule BPA.

  • Valerie Jochems and Anna Spotts – Dr. Bob Boomsma (Biology)- The Effects of Oxygen, Serum, and Chemoattractants on Mesenchymal Stem Cell Migration

In order to improve healing capacities of the heart after a heart attack, this project examines factors affecting mesenchymal stem cell migration within heart tissue.

  • Lauren Kuipers – Dr. Abbie Schrotenboer – Biodiversity of Plant Species at Trinity Christian College

Moved by an Christian concern for ecological wellness, these researchers will survey diverse plant species on Trinity’s ARCC basin in comparison with a file of sown species in that area. 

  • Ellie Sterenberg – Professor Ellen Browning (Graphic Design) – Cinderella and the Bible in Book Design & Typography

 This project aims to publish a hardcover book with original illustrations and ornamentation, all of which will put the Cinderella story into dialogue with the Christian story of redemption.

Interested in applying for next year’s VanderVelde Awards?  Make sure to come to the informational breakfast in April 2016. Of course, I’d be glad to chat with you about any proposal ideas you might already be concocting!  ( or 708-239-4881).

Getting Honors Work Started

Brainstorming your final research project for the Honors ProgramTake a gander at what your peers have been doing over this past year in their Honors Work in the Major projects:

  • Kristen Blok worked with Dr. Colosimo to study the intersection of mindfulness and eating. She plans to submit her essay to a journal this summer.
  • Several students–Adam Suwyn, Logan Vos, Taylor Boice, and Matt Wydra–worked with Dr. Hamilton as team leaders on organizational consulting projects for local companies.
  • Molly Gobeli & Rebecca Vannette worked with Professor Decker to research the extraordinary stresses of nursing education and then presented their findings to Trinity nursing students in a series of workshops.
  • Kerry Garrison worked under Dr. Sebestyen’s tutelage in order to direct the absurdist drama The Chairs in the Black box theatre.
  • Jessica Jacobi (working with Dr. Carlson) planned and executed a middle-school on-campus science fair about DNA.
  • Michael Kunnen and Dr. Carlson developed a Christian approach to metagenomics, especially in relation to microbes in the human body. Dr. Carlson is working this co-authored work towards publication in either Christian Scholar’s Review or Perspectives.
  • Simona Sidaugaite working with political science Professor Schultz researched issues related to race in the United States, especially in the wake of the Michael Brown, George Zimmerman, and Eric Garner cases. She conducted on-campus forums to make space for talk about these issues.
  • Hannah Wasco researched with Dr. Fry the complexities of the controversial presidential election of 1800, when Aaron Burr was drawing all the headlines.
  • Kathryn Woodside and Dr. Boerman-Cornell analyzed representations of gender and race in young adult fiction winners in Nebraska’s Golden Sower Award.
  • Kaitlyn Claerbaut – Researched connections between depression and cardiopulmonary disease. She submitted her article to the McGill Journal of Medicine

Let me know if you’d like to chat about your own HWM ideas: or 708-239-4881.

I Might Be Peter (writes Ben Hoekstra)

Recently in church, my pastor gave a sermon on John 18. He talked about Judas’s betrayal of Jesus, and of Peter’s denial. He talked about how Peter didn’t really know who Jesus was, he didn’t really know why Jesus came, and he didn’t really know the kingdom Jesus was bringing.

Peter, like usual, got the bad rap. He is loud, brash, and quick to act. He says what he thinks, like that one student in class that always raises his or her hand for every question. Then he has the gall to deny being one of Jesus’s disciples not once, not twice, but ​three ​times. And he even denies it to a young servant girl, who in that context had no power to bring about consequences.

There is a level where blaming Peter for his actions is fair. He messed up.

But the scary thing is that we are more like Peter than we may like to admit.

I’m sure you’ve heard that before… Sermons or talks echoing with phrases like “When have you denied Jesus?”… “When have you not talked about Him with your friends or coworkers?”… “When did you not speak up for Him?”

These are not what I’m talking about, though they are also valid points.

I was struck as my pastor talked by the earnestness of Peter. His ​misguided ​ earnestness. He is the first disciple to tell Jesus that they know He is the Messiah, the Son of God. He is the first disciple to rise to defend Jesus when the soldiers come. He runs to the tomb when they hear Jesus has risen.

It isn’t as though Peter has bad intentions. He confesses Christ boldly, but then he wants Jesus to run from death and suffering even though that is the very reason Jesus came. When the soldiers come to take Jesus, Peter draws his sword in a moment of supreme idiocy and bravery, prepared to fight insurmountable odds to protect his Master. He even follows Jesus after Jesus is taken, though he then denies being a disciple of the Messiah.

By now, perhaps you are admitting a grudging respect for Peter, even in his pre-restored state of the brash disciple.

But do you see how like him you are?

I do. I can be loud and brash, quick to speak because I think that I have something of value to say. I want to be the one to voice what those around me believe, to tell the Master that we believe in Him. If I were in that lucky group of Twelve, I would say what Peter said.

And if soldiers came to take my Lord, I would do the same brash, pig-headed thing Peter did. I would fight. I would look at it as a brave and principled stand, to die on that wooded hill called “of Olives.” You see, that’s what Peter does. He is taking a bold and dangerous stand for Jesus. And how often do I do that? How often do we? We choose a hill to stand and die on, be it gay marriage or Calvinism or male ordination. And we pull out our sharp tongues and battle any who would come against, believing that if we do not stand here, all will be lost. It is not though Jesus was not worth defending, nor that these things are not worth defending. But this violent, aggressive stance did not gain praise from Jesus.

In this time of Peter’s Braveheart-esque stand, Jesus rebukes him. Can you imagine? To take such a bold and dangerous stand and to see the Lord you have believed in tell you no? That your sword and your life are not meant for this patch of ground.

It would be devastating. Then to follow Jesus, terrified and confused and ashamed. And as people ask you if you are a follower of Jesus, you juxtapose your weak “I am not” with His “I AM” that floored hardened soldiers. You say it because you are afraid, but maybe you say it too because you are beginning to believe it. You don’t know if you really are a follower of Jesus, because when you thought you were doing what was right, He showed you that you weren’t. And you are so scared, both because you don’t want to die and you aren’t sure if you deserve to be a part of Jesus’s band of disciples anymore.

This way of looking at Peter does not divorce his denial from its stark sin. It does not excuse his abandonment of the One who would never leave us nor forsake us. But maybe, just maybe, it shows us that we are a bit more like Peter than we’d like to admit. We are eager to please, we lash out in violence while claiming to take a stand, and we deny the One who bought us.

So there is more to Peter than a fear of death. He is loud, he is proud, and he is brash. But the more I look at him, the more I realize it.

I might be Peter.

Listening for Things We Don’t Want to Hear

The foundations and first year experience faculty, staff, and administration spend considerable time and effort to invite freshmen and incoming transfers into a space that is hospitable. Over the years I’ve found that using a Trinity buzzword like “hospitality” could earn me an eye roll and may occasionally be used in jest because of the frequency with which it is used on campus, but there is a depth and a seriousness about it that I’m not sure I understood until I had opportunity to apply it off campus. As a part of the Chicago Semester program I participate in weekly arts events in the city in various forms and with a variety of purposes. A few weeks ago the group attended a play written and produced by an artist who had been sent to Middle Eastern countries in order to interview Iraqi refugees. She performed the resulting theatrical work solo, accompanied only by a musician to provide sound effects and background music. After the show they had a time for questions with the performers and two representatives from humanitarian workers who interact with Iraqi refugees on a regular basis. In that conversation the four speakers mentioned their frustration with how the media is portraying the conflict in the Middle East and the people involved. They were especially upset with the message of the movie American Sniper.

I spent some time that night and in the following days thinking about and talking with others about why the performance had made us so uncomfortable. One person I spoke with was turned off to the play because of the inconsistency in tone and the speaker’s negative views on a movie he enjoyed and whose message he appreciated. After explaining the production to someone else they replied, “There are some people who are going to be against anything that had to do with Bush.” I realized that I wanted to see the movie in order to understand story that had people up in arms on both sides. When I told people in advance what I was doing or thinking of doing I continued to get mixed responses. One person told me not to go. “It’s racist.” Another said it was good. When it came up in another conversation a friend told me they would not be seeing it because it glorified the things the U.S. does overseas, and he did not approve. To an extent, these fueled my desire to make my own decision.

My own conclusion after seeing the movie, though, is that I cannot give it a review. Like the play about the Iraqi refugees it was an artistic representation of one family’s experience with war. Their pain was real and showed war through one man’s eyes. What has become more obvious to me through this experience is the importance of allowing ourselves to listen well, even, and especially, when what we hear may not be easy, fun, or familiar.

In FYF we talk about hospitality as creating a space where people could come and be who they are without pressure to be changed. At first, my very opinionated 18 year-old self chafed at this. “If people are going to be in my space then the rules of right and wrong are going to apply to them too.” I thought. I was and am confident that there is absolute truth in the Word of God. Where I fell short was in understanding that there was more to that truth than my fairly narrow experience of it. In my very conservative “Jesus is a republican” upbringing I had never thought about how much God cares about the pain of the Iraqi refugees in the Middle East. I had assumed for the most part that war stayed where it was and that I didn’t have to worry about the soldiers who made it home. I became very good at not talking to strangers in order to avoid the need I saw on the street and assuming that all my friends at the private Christian college and Chicago Semester programs would think, for the most part, like me. But that wasn’t the whole truth.

The truth is that God is close to the brokenhearted and in order to be where He is we have to allow our hearts to become a place that welcomes these stories, allows them to be told, and responds with the love of God spoken through the Gospel message.  We must become hospitable, and often, uncomfortable.

Learning too, Kathryn Woodside

Seeking God Amidst a Cloud of Disappointment

Disappointment is a concept that I – an Honor’s student, athlete, friend, daughter, child of God – do not readily accept. The notion that I simply cannot be successful in all things is a difficult pill to swallow.

I feel pressure to excel academically, athletically, socially, even spiritually. When my efforts fall below this standard of excellence, I define myself as a failure. I strive for high academic achievement, to break records in sprinting and jumping, to be the best friend possible, to honor God in every little thing I do.

But, where does this pressure come from?

Will my professors mock me if my work falls below an A standard? No…

Will my coaches yell at me if I don’t jump farther or ran faster in every single track meet? No…

Will my friends leave me in the dust forever if I make one too many sarcastic remarks? No…

Will God smite me with his mighty hand each time I sin? No…

I am the one setting these all too lofty expectations on myself. No one expects constant perfection from myself, except myself. My pride blocks my ability to be content and joyful in the Lord because I focus on creating an unblemished image for myself. My pride causes me to shy away from unsure situations – situations in which I cannot imagine the ultimate outcome. I ignore God’s steadfast love as I seek affirmation from those around me.

Recently, I applied to be a part of the Chicago Semester’s new summer program. In doing the summer experience rather than the traditional semester-long program, I wouldn’t have to miss a track season or cramp my class schedule with so many advanced classes. I was excited about the prospect of living in Chicago during a season of the year with a myriad of fun opportunities as well as working in an electrifying downtown business.

But, I was rejected.

My potential workplaces felt that I was underqualified with too little experience and too few advanced courses.

I was devastated. I felt incompetent and anxious because I had only a couple short months to find a summer job that did not involve babysitting or fast food.

My anger at Chicago Semester and disappointment in myself turned in to frustration with God. I knew God had a perfect plan for my future but I yearned for clarity. I yearned for my path to be fully illuminated.

As greatly as I desired complete transparency, I had to accept (and I am still working to accept) that this is not how God works. God requires me to trust him day by day and step by step. He won’t illuminate my entire journey, but he certainly will remind me daily of his glorious presence.

Although an exciting door is closed, I am comforted knowing God’s grace is sufficient for his power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). I am not perfect, but God – and my coaches, family, and friends – love and accept my anyway.

I found a verse that has been serving as my motto as I endeavor to dwell in the Lord’s presence each moment.

“Look to the LORD and his strength,

Seek his face always.”

Psalm 105:4

-Erin Wessels

Be Still And…

KnOOOw.  (pronounced no-o.)  Definition: to really truly know, with complete certainty; most commonly used in phrases such as, “Yes, but how do I knOOOw?”

You know the word I’m talking about.

I happen to think that this could be an accurate dictionary entry for the average college student.  College is a time of transition, and it is in those times that we most often find ourselves questioning what we know, if we know anything at all, and how do we really reach a point of not just knowing, but knOOOwing.

Honors students in Dr. Reppman’s Honors Philosophy course are exploring the idea of knowing with Ester Meek’s book, Longing to Know.  She questions the process of knowing with certainty and tries to pave a way for us to be certain in our knowing.  Confused?  You’re not alone.  The kinds of things Meek and our colleagues in HON108 want to dissect take a lot of energy and processing before any kind of understanding develops.

But today in HON108, the class did something different.  The class integrated philosophy with theology by joining Dr. Starkenburg’s class in their discussion about Augustine.  This conversation allowed for a new level of clarity in understanding how our everyday lives, the rhythms and patterns that we carry out each day, are what really allow us to know with certainty and to come to know God as well.  Honors student, Elizabeth VanderWall, said that this kind of integrated conversation brought more credibility into the discussion already unfolding in their class.

I would like to suggest something, friends.  This “Honors Way” of living can extend beyond the classroom.  If the cross discipline method of engaging philosophy and theology in the classroom setting to expand a conversation of knowing, bring more clarity and more certainty, then a similar pattern would surely help us in our everyday living.

Allow me to explain.

When we as students (or professors) are struggling with the ability to really know the calling the Lord has for us, I want to echo Michael Kunnen’s chapel last week and challenge us to engage in community, seek the Lord in our fellow brothers and sisters, and know Him more fully through these conversations.  Sometimes we get so focused on one way of being that we forget that a huge part of knOOOWing is seeking.

So SEEK, friends.  Seek out knowledge.  Seek out joy.  Actively engage in conversations within this community and be blessed by the gift that it is to be living and learning alongside in a Christian academic community, especially that of our Honors community.

Be wrapped up in the Lord’s love this week and rest in the knowledge that you belong to Him.  There need be no doubt in your minds.  If there is one thing we can knOOOw, it’s that we belong to God.  And when we trust that, everything else seems to fall into place.

Grace and Peace.

Hannah Huisman