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Christian Union: The Magazine
May 26, 2021

Donaldson ’23 Relies on Christ to Overcome Adversity 

By Anne Kerhoulas, Staff Writer

2020 didn’t go as planned for anyone. But for the class of ’23, it was uniquely disappointing. The pandemic cut into the long-anticipated college experience of making new friends and living in the dorms as first-year students, and for Gabby Donaldson, it meant missing a whole season of playing on the Harvard women’s basketball team.

Gabby Donaldson '23 (photo by Gil Talbot)

With just over a semester of college life logged on campus, Donaldson, like all Harvard students, was sent home mid-March of 2020 to begin what would become the next year and a half of remote learning. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly been a challenge in my collegiate experience as a student-athlete. Virtual learning required rapid adjustment...not being able to socialize and collaborate with my peers in-person created some challenges with remaining connected,” says Donaldson. “My class spent only five and a half short months on campus, so we have spent more time participating in virtual learning than we have in-person. We are all so eager to return.”

But the loss for athletes comes with an even higher toll: not being able to participate in their sport or train with their team. For Donaldson, like most athletes, the team becomes a source not only of athletic endeavor, but of deep friendship, camaraderie, and encouragement. 

“Being away from my teammates and coaches has been extremely difficult because we love one another so much and spend so much time together when we are in person,” she said. “With gyms being closed, it has been difficult to maintain the same caliber of training that my team is used to without our facilities and usual equipment.” 

But where the pandemic has taken away, it has also given. The loss of her sports season and time spent training with her the team presented Donaldson, who is concentrating in philosophy and African American studies, with the opportunity to spend some considerable amount of time elsewhere. For Donaldson, the choice was easy: joining CU Gloria and diving into Christian community. 

“A few of my friends served in leadership in [Christian Union] during our first year of college, and I would often hear them talk about how amazing it was and how it had provided the community of believers they truly needed on campus,” she said.

Joining CU Gloria meant getting involved with a Bible course and attending DOXA, the ministry's weekly leadership lecture series, which made an immediate impact on Donaldson’s spiritual life. 


“[CU Gloria] has grown my faith by challenging it. We study the Word of God but are also taught biblical principles and are asked hard questions that always end up broadening our perspectives of the majesty of God. We are taught intellectually stimulating and theologically sound material,” Donaldson says. 

But spiritual growth has also come from being developed as a Christian leader, which Donaldson argues looks very different than the kind of leader Harvard might tell them they should be. 

“We especially get a lot of training on what biblical leadership is and looks like and are challenged as we adhere to those principles of leadership, which breaks the mold of what the world tells us leadership is. All of these areas have caused me to grow immensely because of the challenges to leave the shallow and search the deep things of God,” says Donaldson, who served as an assistant Bible course leader this year. 

But as Donaldson has discovered, this leaving behind the shallow and wading into the deep things of God is only possible through the power of Christian community. Which is exactly why CU Gloria has been so formative, encouraging, and powerful in the midst of an unusual time for Donaldson.

“Having weekly fellowship with peers of all graduating classes and backgrounds has been an incredible experience,” she said. “We are able to take a break from everyday school, life, and extracurricular demands and come together to worship God, laugh, learn, and fellowship with one another. For Bible course, it is such a blessing to be surrounded by other sophomore and junior-class women from all backgrounds as we study God’s Word, vent about our weeks, and share lots of joy, tears, and laughter.”

Moreover, it’s not surprising that an institution like Harvard cultivates a pursuit of perfection that runs against our identity in Christ, making Christian community that much more essential. 

“I have learned that God does not look for, nor does He expect, perfection out of us. He cares about progress. No matter how big or how small it is, He cares. Being at such an elite institution and in an elite athletic space, perfectionism often tries to creep in,” Donaldson states. “However, operating in the grace of Jesus and resting in His promises—especially that He’ll never leave me nor forsake me (Heb 13:5), and that all of His promises are 'Yes' and 'Amen,' perfectionism is easier to identify and cast out in Jesus’s name. God is so faithful to us, and this year has shown me that more than ever.” 

Even more encouraging, in the face of a college experience that has certainly not gone as planned and with the disappointment of a lost season, Donaldson sees the work of God and His perfect provision and instruction. 

“This past year has taught me and continually teaches me the value of trusting God. Everything has been so uncertain, but to know that the God of the universe knows what’s best for me, loves me, and has plans to prosper me and not to harm me, and to give me a hope and a future just as Jeremiah 29:11 says. This has given me strength when worries about the future burdened me,” Donaldson comments. 

“I have seen His faithfulness beyond my own comprehension this year. He has been so patient with me when I did not understand, trust fully, and even believe for the absolute best. His grace is truly sufficient for me, and His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Cor 1:20).”

Another unanticipated gift of being home this year has been the opportunity to be creative with her practicing and training for basketball.

“Growing up, I would make up dribbling drills and pretend that someone was defending me on the street, my parents would do shot clock countdowns for the game-winning shot, and I would pretend that I was a game announcer as I practiced,” Donaldson recalls. 

“All of those things reoccurred while being away from [the gym] and made my training all the more sweet. There were many times throughout the pandemic that my mom would say, ‘Gabby Donaldson from the corner for three...3,2,1...and she makes it!! Harvard wins the Championship!!’ I would not trade these moments for anything in the world. They truly made my love for the game grow.”

“My parents spoke so many great things into the atmosphere during this time (Romans 4:17), and I fully believe God can do them and will exceed our expectations (Ephesians 3:20). He's so able.”

Though this year has been difficult to be sure, God is at work speaking new faith, community, and passion into existence all for His own glory. 

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