What do New Braunfels, TX, Baltimore, and Pigeon Forge, TN, all have in common? They are all locations where I have met some of the most amazing friends I will ever have.

Unbound student events are some of the most electric and inspiring events that I’ve experienced. If you’re skeptical, ask anyone who has been to a student event or better yet, come to Apex this year to see for yourself. The anticipation of these events is a thrill that is hard to match. But nothing beats the fellowship and learning that happens at these gatherings.

I recently returned from Tennessee in January after a very special week spent with Unbound Students. The Great Art Project (or GAP as it’s affectionately called) ran for a week and was set in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains. We were literally on top of a mountain, creating art, having great discussions, and learning from other artists and each other.

Upon my return to sea level I was faced with a bit of a personal crisis.

The genuine love and fellowship I had experienced on the mountaintop was contrasted with the cold discourtesy of our often cynical society. After spending a week connecting with other students on such a deep level, it was depressing to return to a world where people didn’t desire connection beyond callous and insincere pleasantries.

The disillusionment I faced upon my return from GAP seems to be common among Unbound Students. As CPE3 Apex (2015) drew to a close the hashtag #postApexdepression circulated around Unbound social media groups. When we experience such genuine community and mature friendships it is so difficult to go back to our old jobs, neighborhoods, and public squares where that love and fellowship is not present. It can, quite frankly, be depressing.

How do we cope with and rise above this depressing descent from the apex of community? How do we love an unloving world? How do we transform the cynical culture that we live in with the genuine consideration that we experience in the Unbound community?

These questions were real struggles for me after the Great Art Project and I still don’t have all the answers. I never had an epiphany or came to a deep profound conclusion. I did have to adjust my perspective though. My depression after GAP was due to people not loving me like the Unbound Students I had met in Tennessee did. Honestly, I didn’t consider whether I was being proactive with regard to loving and respecting others.

So often we want to be loved, respected, listened to, and considered. Doing the same to others is not a natural priority in the midst of our self-absorption.

Have you ever received the gift of a smile or compliment from a stranger that brightened your day? If not, the chance is high that you might be an un-socialized college student. *wink*

Cynicism isn’t hard to beat and it starts with us taking a look around and seeing people as worthy of our time and energy. If we all treated people like Unbound Students treated us, the world would be a better place!

What exactly does that look like? Here’s three suggestions to start with:

  1. Smile and laugh with people. I’ve never met an uptight Unbound Student and probably never will. We have a natural community where everyone feels free to be themselves. Opening up and laughing with people is a sure-fire way to connect with them.
  1. Be encouraging. Even in their critiques, Unbound Students are encouraging and constructive. We are a community that wants to see each other win, not lose. Being supportive and uplifting has such a big impact on people’s work and life in the day-to-day so find someone to compliment!
  2. Listen. Every Unbound Student I’ve met to date has been an outstanding listener. In conversation with an Unbound Student I am often asked thoughtful questions and feel that I’m important to them. Learning to empathize, slow down and listen is a lost art in our culture today but it is so needed.

It is always hard to be a candle in the night, a refuge in the wilderness, a kind heart in a hateful world. I don’t promise it will be easy but it is rewarding. When we live every day seeking to cultivate community within our realms of influence we can gradually shine the light of fellowship beyond Unbound and into the wider world. Let’s live deliberately with feet in the valleys and hearts on the mountaintop.

Meet Jace

Jace, a Lumerit alumni from North Carolina, graduated from Thomas Edison State University in the spring of 2016 with a degree in history. His passions for history and writing have collided in the form of two short history books. His other writings include essays, poems and short stories. Portions of Jace’s work is available to read online at www.jacebower.com.