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growth

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, here’s a story of life-change from Sarah and her shamrock!

My grandmother gave me a shamrock plant. She took sprouts from my great grandmother’s plant, re-potted them, and gave the plant to me a couple birthdays ago. She took care nurturing it so that when it was given to me, there were tons of thick stemmed sprouts that were tall and had deep green, healthy leaves. There were always little white flower blossoms where new sprouts were forming.

Shamrocks need the right amount of light and appropriate temperature; they need to be rotated every so often to ensure the whole plant is receiving an efficient amount of sun exposure; withered stems need to be plucked, and sometimes stems need to be untangled; and the plant should not be over- or under-watered. Oddly enough though, the plant is resilient. It could be nearing its death and final sprout, but be brought back to full health in a few weeks.

The plant was doing well under my care for quite some time until it started to slowly wither. Instead of a plethora of new sprouts and blossoms at a time, I would maybe have one new sprout that would grow a third of the height of a full, healthy stature and then turn pink and deteriorate. The plant looked awful and I kept trying to change up my care for it, but nothing was working. I asked my grandmother for her advice and she told me to do three things: add potting soil to it so that the roots had room to grow deeper and strengthen the stems, steep a tea bag and spread the grounds from the bag on the soil, and move it away from the window so it wouldn’t be chilled. I had every intention to do as she had told me, but out of laziness and the tolerance of the plant’s condition (it wasn’t completely dead!), I did not. I didn’t move it away from the window because it would be in the way in the middle of my kitchen table. I did not buy tea or soil, items that were never on my grocery list. Several months of neglect passed and the plant maintained its unhealthy condition.

Then one day things came together. My father brought me a small bag of potting soil. I was given a couple tea pouches in a grab bag from a house party. So I steeped the teabag and spread the herbs from the bag in the plant, added soil on top, adjusted my table arrangement in order to move the plant away from the window to the center of the table, and added a little water. I did nothing except obey the orders given to me and have faith that it would work.

In just a matter of a day or two, I had multiple sprouts and blossoms on the plant. Over time the stems that grew were thicker and more durable and did not bend as much or at all. The sprouts grew tall and the leaves did not turn pink-just a deep, healthy green. I was so pleased to see the plant doing well!

I wanted to show my grandmother how well the plant was doing. I went to go visit her and something very special happened. Now, I don’t know who reading this believes in the gift of speaking in tongues, but my grandmother has this gift. She is a prayer warrior and intercessor. I was talking to her about my family members and other chit chat and all of a sudden remembered my plant. The only words I got out were “Oh, grandma, I wanted to show you…” and she finishes my sentence… “your plant?” In that instant, the Holy Spirit came on her very strongly and she began to speak in tongues. I could only sit there, close my eyes, and soak it in. I sat there in amazement of how she knew what I was going to say and how powerfuly the presence in the room just shifted from light conversation. Towards the end, she just stated that there are things that are going to happen in God’s timing and not how I expect them to.

I am always blown away at how God meets us where we are/where our mind is. He used this plant to mirror my faith. For so long, years, I was spiritually starving. I have grown up with my faith and accepted Christ as my Savior when I was a child, but over the past several years, I have not been nurturing my spirit and so I was not growing or moving forward. I was surviving, but felt stagnant. I had attended Browncroft for several years, but had made no connections outside the friends who had originally invited me to the church. I wanted to do more and feel more and be filled and serve something greater than myself, but I was living in fear. I was afraid of committing to giving of myself past what I felt was comfortable. Fear of giving up control and experiencing full submission. Fear of committing to one thing and a certain lifestyle, that I would have to miss out on other things and different lifestyles. Fear of not wanting the life God had planned for me. Fear of letting go of things I wanted and not seeing God’s promises occur in my life. The most ironic piece, though, is that doing what I wanted resulted in a lot of pain. Fear of isolation and ending up alone because of my beliefs. Fear of being alone if I embraced my true self and that my true self was not worth the love of others. Fear of showing weakness. Fear of failure. Fear of God punishing me for making mistakes. Living in fear so intensely was absolutely exhausting.

The exhaustion and frustration of feeling stagnant led me to baby steps and meeting one person through another that eventually lead me to committing to be a senior high small group leader. It was not how I imagined I would be serving and connecting to others at Browncroft. I felt that God led me to it, though, and I made a decision to be obedient. From the time I committed to leading, I cannot count the number of blossoms. From no effort of my own, God began to heal a number of relationships damaged by years of pain. I have a renewed satisfaction of purpose and meaning. I have adapted better financial habits even. I have a new found security and freedom in embracing who God created me to be, which has resulted in connecting to others on a deeper level. I have a strengthened understanding of God’s goodness and refreshed faith in his promises. I have met a number of people who pour into me and encourage me—I do not feel alone. The only thing I did was be obedient. Showing up to youth group was a choice, and one I had to make every week for quite some time. I was out of my comfort zone. After a while of just choosing to show up, I eventually looked forward to going. I missed seeing my students throughout the week. I love spending time with them and respect the beautiful young women I have connected with.

Prior to leading, I was desperate for change. The changes I wanted were tangible. I wanted to be in love and be married and have a family and a house and financial freedom and the perfect career. These things were my goals in order to find happiness. None of these things were bad, but I had started to make them idols. The most amazing piece of all of this and submitting to God’s will is that I have new life through no effort of my own. I have experienced change, but not from anything listed above. God changed my heart and my perspective. I have a new-found, exhilarating joy without any major circumstantial changes. I have a refreshed strength that does not allow pain and circumstances to ruin my day and dent my faith with doubt. Instead I have come to learn how to find comfort from my Savior. I don’t want to even have to be comforted. I just want to be used to show others how possible, accessible, powerful and amazing complete transformation through Christ is. God is GOOD and faithful and there is no reason for us to be afraid.

 Romans 12:1-2 has been somewhat of an anthem to me over the past year:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

As Sarah knows, life-change happens as we give our lives in obedience to God. Are you ready for a fresh start this spring? Let’s pray together about where you can express your desire to follow Jesus at Browncroft. Contact me here.

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disciple

What a privilege today for me to share with you David’s story of life-change in Jesus!

I retired in November, 2014, as Deputy Chief for United States Probation and Parole after serving 23 years. Following a blessed career in criminal justice, I was sensing a shift in heart towards social justice. Human trafficking, missions, and the injustice of poverty were at the forefront of my thoughts. While I felt professionally invested in those areas, nothing directly hit my heart. My constant prayer during this time was a desire to be where the heart of Jesus was and for my heart to break for what breaks His. I am a living example of Psalm 34:7: “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” He answered the desires of my heart. It breaks daily now (in a good way).  I never saw it coming. This is my story of God’s goodness and how openness and obedience to Him has changed my life.

A few experiences led to my heart’s shift. About a year ago, I was exposed to the Rochester International Academy, a Rochester city  school whose students are almost entirely refugees. My son, Sam, is a middle school ESOL teacher at the school, and I spent a few days observing his class. His students come from literally all over the world, and have varying (and often contrasting) cultures and beliefs. Yet I was struck by how much love he showed them and how much they grew to love not only him, but each other, too. That connection touched my heart. Around the same time, I took the Perspectives missions course and Susan Patt instructed one of the sessions. Her discussion on her intentionality in meeting Muslims and inviting them into a relationship struck a chord with me, although I did not know why. I became involved with our fledgling Browncroft refugee team, trying to figure out a way to reach Rochester’s refugee community. I also read books which pointed me in a certain direction: Possible and Seeking Refuge by Stephan Bauman, and The Justice Calling by Hoang and Johnson. In all of these endeavors, God was planting the seeds and moving me to a course of action. 

Although I heard the call, I was nervous about how far it would stretch me. In June, 2016, my wife and I attended one of the town hall meetings that Pastor Rob was holding that preceded The Reach Initiative.  At the end of the meeting, Pastor Rob encouraged each person to write on a card the area they were being challenged by God to commit to. The lone yet powerful desire in my heart at that time was to be a bridge between Browncroft and the refugee community. I really had no idea why I wrote that, nor any idea how that was going to happen. Pastor Rob then asked people to read their statements aloud. An inept and fearful feeling crept upon my brain when around the room people were committing to deep spiritual connections, and I had this statement that was so different and seemingly unknown. When it came my time to read, I barely even mumbled what I had wrote. The facilitator asked me say it again in a louder voice. Talk about embarrassment! 

That same week, my wife, Adele, took a new job on Long Island. After much thought and prayer between us, she’d be moving six hours east for a professional opportunity that matched her strengths. For the first time in more than twenty years, we’d have to live apart during the week. While she had my full support to pursue her next venture, my life had changed dramatically. Without Adele physically there, I had to find what was next for me.  I knew it was the time to listen to God’s call in my heart. I perused the Catholic Family Center website for volunteer possibilities in the refugee community when I saw an opening for a part-time outreach worker. My initial thought was that this post could be an easy transition for me — “dipping my toes into the water,” so to speak. I applied, and within the next week, I accepted the position. While I thought it would start innocuously, God had other plans. Life has not been the same since

This has been the hardest work I have ever done. It’s also the most rewarding. My job entails taking the refugees to various appointments: Social Services, Social Security, various medical appointments, school registration, etc. While those duties may seem tedious and mundane, it couldn’t be any more powerful. While spending time together, my new friends share stories of loss that truly break my heart. When you are confronted with lives that have been forever altered by the death of loved ones, including deaths of parents in front of their children, deaths of children in front of their parents, being displaced from the country where they grew up, leaving loved ones behind and not knowing their survival, trying to live in a foreign country alone when some of them are barely adults — not to mention the heartbreak of special needs children including CP, Downs Syndrome and paralysis. How can than not change you?

My first couple of weeks on the job, I would come home and weep after my work with families. I would not be able to sleep as I grappled with the pain, suffering, and loss my friends endured. Through these encounters, God was transforming my heart — slashing away the complacency and replacing it with a mercy and compassion that I have never experienced. Their stories are written on my heart. 

Over the past several months I have developed personal relationships with a number of individuals. My three “adopted sons” shared our family celebration of Thanksgiving in our home. I ran into them today at the Catholic Family Center Office and they hugged me tight, calling me “Papa,” and wanting to know how “Mama” was doing. I have several Afghani friends who are going to teach me how to cook some cultural dishes. One of my true heroes is a 19-year-old Somali young man named H. He is here with his 16-year-old brother, who has cerebral palsy; 13-year-old sister who has Downs Syndrome; and 6-year-old brother, who is paralyzed. H. has always carried the youngest one everywhere since they never had a wheelchair. I spent half a day with this family and fell in love with all of them. The next time I stopped at their house was the day of our first snow storm. The oldest had never seen or experienced snow, but there he was with huge smile on his face was out shoveling the driveway. My son and I share several friends as he has students of the families I serve. There are so many relationships with these truly amazing people for which I’m grateful.

As I reflect back on my brief journey into the refugee world, I think back to a phrase that my wife and I often talk about. St Frances of Assisi, near his death, prayed for his friars: “I have done what is mine to do. May Christ teach you what is yours.” Our collective and individual prayer has been, “ what is mine to do?” Being obedient to what is on your heart is one way God teaches us what is ours to do. Our hearts are made to notice, to care, to move toward certain people and certain needs. When their needs are met, our hearts are satisfied. When they aren’t, our hearts hurt and break with their hearts. Yet when we meet the needs of people who are ours to help we increase not only their joy, but ours as well. It is very hard to adequately describe my daily encounter with God during this stage of my life. Each day, when I am with the people assigned to me, I pray for them and their transition to our country. I also pray that their hearts would be open to seeing a loving God in a way that they have never experienced.  I am clearly aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit within me. My heart beats faster than normal and I have an incredible peace and joy that exudes in my countenance. I have begun to understand that I am actually in communion with God. Natural ministry comes from living from the inside out. I was recently asked by a Somali family and a Congolese family why I am so happy. I told them I have the love of Jesus in my heart and He wants me to be here with your family. The Somalis (Muslims) started laughing and clapping. The Congolese were beaming with radiant smiles and clicks of their tongues. Being themselves Christian, they were there with me.

As Christians we often say and repeat the phrase, “God is good.” I have said that many times and believed it. Now for the first time I am living it every day. When God truly answers the desires of your heart, the goodness of our Father overflows into your life and touches the others around you. I believe the Holy Spirit reaffirms the wonder and beauty of our perfectly good Father. The work that he is doing in all of us is about deepening the connection to the Father, who brings us identity, purpose, and an awareness of the resources to accomplish our purpose in life. When the Holy Spirit is able to do his work in us, our connection to all that is good and made clear. God is good.

Dallas Willard is an author and theologian I greatly respect. He says “The greater issue facing the world today, with all the heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as Christians will become disciples, students, apprentices, practitioners of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from Him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.” I think back to being obedient to what was on my heart and nervously scrawling those words on that card at the Reach meeting. Many years ago, I believed that God gave me a word about my purpose in life. Isaiah 61:1 says ” The Lord God has put his Spirit in me because the Lord has appointed me to tell the good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort those whose hearts are broken, to tell the captives they are free and tell the prisoners they are released.” I believed at the time, and still do, that this was pointing me in a direction where His purpose for me would be fulfilled. This is now more evident in my life than ever before. I also know the lyrics of the song “In Over My Head” are so true: “Then You crash over me and I’ve lost control but I’m free, I’m going under, I’m over my head, that’s where you want me to be, I’m going under, I’m in over my head, whether I sink, whether I swim, it makes no difference when I’m beautifully in over my head.” I’m in over my head, but I’ve never been so alive.

At Browncroft we are devoted to being Jesus’ disciples, and embrace with joy the life-change that his love brings! To learn more about refugee ministry at Browncroft, contact us in the office.

Imagination

Last week, our READ 365  Bible reading program launched a new year in a new style. We as a congregation look to the Word of God as the most basic way He speaks to us, and we strive as Browncrofters to make reading or listening to it an important part of every single day.

Peter Englert, our Belong Director, shared that week a story of personal life-change as a way to describe one of this year’s practices, Imagination. Here’s the transcript of that talk.

Today is Saturday, January 7, and the practice for Read 365 today is Imagination.

When I met my wife Robyn, she taught me this tradition for the new year: She said, you need to pick a word for the year.  And so we’ve been doing that ever since we’ve been dating. This past year I picked the word “humility.” I’d love to say it was my first choice and I wanted to do it, but I just felt that that was the word I needed.

During the year I went through conflicts and situations, and I came up to my pride. I looked in the mirror and I came face to face with this horrible issue of pride, which is the opposite of humility. What I began to find was this: I wasn’t always willing to ask for help. I thought I had the answers. I thought I could make things happen.  And God in his graciousness allowed me to walk through situations where I had to see it from a different perspective. I had to learn how to listen.

When we talk about imagination, we are talking about spiritual growth—for you to see your life a year from now growing in Jesus Christ, experiencing life-change.  Maybe, like me, you want to pick a word.  And you refocus and you come back to that word, and you see how God is growing you. You see, part of what we miss in following Jesus is this: we see all the things we can’t do. But the part about the gospel that wakes me up in the morning is that God actually calls us to see ourselves in the future, to have an imagination of what he is doing. If you look no farther than the Beatitudes, “blessed are the merciful,” how would our lives grow and what would they look like if we had mercy?

In today’s passage, in the last verse, Paul says to Timothy, “watch your life.” You see, in having the practice of imagination, you’re watching your life for growth, you’re seeing and asking God: God, where will my life be in the next couple weeks or months, even year ahead? Where do you want to transform my heart? Maybe it’s humility. Maybe it’s compassion. Maybe it’s love and maybe it’s joy. Take some time and figure out what word God has for you, what steps of growth he’s calling you to take and focus on this year.  And don’t forget to practice imagination.

If you’d like to talk to Peter more about spiritual growth and practices, or sign up for READ 365, l’d be glad to connect you! To listen to the original video, click here.

wake-up call

Last week Browncroft celebrated our renewed commitment to reach our neighbors, our city and our world. We said yes to more prayer, more generosity, more growth, more change and more courage! We said yes to sharing the life-change we have in Jesus with others.

What’s this look like in the everyday? Here you go. When I read Christina’s note below, I knew that I needed to share it here, because this is EXACTLY what it can look like.

The Reach Initiative has made such a huge impact in the way I approach life.  I’m in prayer more often during the day and I’m acutely aware of the people God is positioning around me.  I come from a non-believing family, and I often pray that God will put believers in my parents’/family’s path, and I have made mention before that I’d get angry if a Christian was befriending my family and not sharing with them who Christ is and what He’s done for them.  So this initiative has been a wake up call to me – I am that Christian God is placing in the lives of those around me – I am the person who should/can/will be sharing His love with them, as I’m sure their beloved friends and family have been praying. 

A few examples of that:  An old classmate in college and now acquaintance of mine has seen some artwork that I do in my spare time (whatever that means when you have 3 little ones!) and she mentioned how she’d love to have something in her home.  So, I went ahead and created something for her, free of charge.  It was wonderful because I was able to pray for her while I was making the piece and on my way to her home to deliver it.  I was able to give her a hug and write some encouraging words down for her to be reminded of the kindness of God that was shown to her.  Who knows what God will do with that relationship, but I know that when she looks at the artwork hanging in her home, she’ll remember who it was from, and the genuine heart behind it. 

Another example.  Because I have been praying about people God wants me to be reaching, I was able to have the courage to reach out to old friends we haven’t spoken to in a few years, just because I happened to be in their neighborhood and I took the time to send one simple text message.  They got home at exactly the same time I’d texted to see if they’d be up for a visitor. It was great – we chatted and have a dinner date set up for our families to catch up and re-open the door to that relationship as well. 

God has been changing my heart, and helping me to feel less fear of awkwardness when I meet new people.  We have a neighbor who lives behind us whom I’ve never met.  But last week while my kids were playing in our leaves, they had their kids outside at the same time.  So we invited them to come play in our leaves and I was able to find out she just arrived last month.  She moved in with a family member because she needed help caring for her 16-month-old twins.  She will be having very serious surgery  soon and will not be able to do much for a while.  What an amazing opportunity to shower them with love and meals as they walk through this stretching time.  But even more, what an amazing opportunity to pray for them!  I feel empowered and courageous!  I feel like God has equipped us to reach out to them while they’re in need so that they can see who He is during this desperate time.  All because of a simple “Hello, my name is Christina.”

Another neighbor we’d been praying for finally made it over to our house over the weekend.  She’s also having surgery next month.  I wouldn’t have known there was this place I could be serving them if we hadn’t had them over for dinner.  I’m so grateful God opened up the times for our schedules to line up to make those connections.  We’ll be bringing them meals as well, as they have a perfectly chunky little 1-year-old who will need nourishment and care :). 

I’m so encouraged by the way God has been opening my heart to the idea that, just as I pray for Christians to surround my unbelieving family, God has arranged my husband and me to be “the Christians” in the lives of those nonbelievers around us.  It’s encouraging to know that He is the Master Planner of these meetings, and the Master Planner of the trajectory of the lives we’re encountering, as well as the Equipper for us in our own story. 

Could it be any simpler? God is speaking, calling, nudging, pushing us to REACH to those around us. Let’s keep asking him to grow us, change us and give us courage. Let’s hold each other accountable and ask how we’ve been able to put our growth and change into courageous action. Let’s pray expectantly and see the great things God has in store.

enough

One of the ways God changes us is through answered prayer– even when we don’t ask for enough. Here’s a letter thanking donors to our Ethiopia team this past summer that makes me smile at how God knows our needs before we do.

“I wanted to take time to thank you for your donation towards the air concentrator for the Langano Clinic in Ethiopia.  It is an amazing story of God’s providence over all the details of our lives. It’s taken me a long time to get this note out to you, but I do want to let you know that God has used this story many times to many people. I tell this story to so many of the women that I run with, to friends who ask me how our trip went and now to you.

If you remember at the commissioning of our Ethiopia team in July, Karen Wood let the congregation know of a last-minute request from Kim Scheel for the Langano clinic. It was for an air concentrator. This would be used to help the many adults and kids that come to the clinic with problems with asthma and breathing.  I had looked up the price on the Internet and told Karen a $500 price. This was the needed amount she shared with the congregation.

After the first service, a gentleman came up to me outside the sanctuary and said that he and his wife would provide a check to cover the costs. Our team was so excited that the need was met so quickly. We had some meeting time and a time of prayer and thanked God for His provision. I did not get to tell Karen of the donation, though, before it was time to get up in front of the congregation again for the next service.  Following the second presentation, a friend of mine came over to me and said she and her husband would cover the cost. I didn’t know what to say, but the sermon was starting so I just thanked her. A couple of minutes later, Karen sent me a text that someone had come up to her in the missions center as well, and handed her a check for $500; yet another person had given a lead on an oxygen company to contact that might be able to help us.  Praise the Lord again!

Following the second service I went to the missions center to update Karen on our donations.  At that time, one more person came up and handed me a check for $500. I told him that we already had some donations to cover it, but he still wanted us to have the check to use it where needed.

Upon entering the third service and sitting down, one of the other team members told me that someone had come up to him and said that he too would give to cover the cost of the concentrator. In this service, Karen did let the congregation know of the need but that it had been met.  What did the Lord have planned with these 5 people donating $500 each?

Now comes the amazing part of the story. On Tuesday I called the oxygen company and got the owner on the phone. We talked about what she had available, and she did have a unit that she could get to us for $450.  We talked a bit further and then realized that because of the voltage differences in Ethiopia, the motor of this plug-in unit would not work there. I looked back to Kim’s email and saw that she had said that a small portable unit would be ideal. When I told this to the owner, she said she had a portable unit that she could get me but that the retail cost of it was $3,500-4000. She then proceeded to say that she could give it to me for $2,500. Well, that was what God had planned with 5 people stepping forward to donate $500. His providence reigns supreme. 

I cannot tell you how many people have been touched by this story! The people of Langano who will directly benefit from the unit, the missionaries at Langano and Ethiopian nurses that now have it available to treat patients, the short-term team that has seen God work, the girls that I run with that have all heard the story, and I hope many more will be touched by this also.

I want to thank those who gave so generously when a need was present. I hope that you too are affected by this wonderful event!

God Bless, Colette”

These sorts of stories about an all-knowing God caring for the needs of people far away encourage me tremendously in my walk! They remind me that God is there, that he knows, that he cares, that he moves in individuals, and that he has a sense of humor. I hope that today this story inspires you, as it has me, to trust in the One who provides and works through his people.

Photo Credit: Sally Oh  License

Fear

 

At Browncroft we love to send out teams of short-termers to help our missionary friends around the globe. Our partners are there because they’re longing to see the good news about Jesus touch and revolutionize lives in their host countries. What inevitably happens, however, is that the people we send out also come back changed. Here is Jeanna’s story from a trip she took just a few weeks ago.

There was political unrest in Ethiopia when I was there this summer.  I had feared something like this might happen.  I love to travel, but lately I have struggled with being afraid.  Even though I have traveled a lot overseas, I am afraid of flying.  I have had a few scary dreams about flying and I am nervous that something bad might happen.  I like staying in the US, thousands of miles from Syria and the heart of the Muslim world, too.  But in March 2016 God put it on my heart to travel again.  I looked into several overseas summer opportunities and decided to go to Ethiopia with a short term missions team from my church for ten days in August. 

When Bryan, our Sports Friends International leader through SIM, told my teammates and me the news about the widespread political demonstrations planned for the weekend, it was minutes before our final evening session with our kids at the Sports Friends camp in Langano, Ethiopia.  We said a quick prayer together about it and then started the service with a slow song, “Amazing Grace,” as the kids walked into the meeting room.  This final night was crucial for the kids.  It was the night we presented the Gospel.  We wanted to make it count despite the news we’d just heard.  We sang the four verses of “Amazing Grace” twice while camp leaders quietly told the Ethiopian staff about the potential for a coup.

As the staff joined us, I saw looks of worry and fear on my new Ethiopian friends’ faces.  I had naively thought that strong Ethiopian Christians were immune to fear.  I think I had put my foreign brothers and sisters who experience religious persecution around the world on some sort of a pedestal.  I realized in that moment that they were no different from me.  They did not want violence in their countries’ streets, or to see their communities crumble before their eyes.  My heart broke for them.

I had a chance that night to talk with one of the long-term workers in the area named Thomas.  Thomas and his wife, Daniella, and their four daughters joined us for camp that week.   Apparently this type of thing has happened before in Ethiopia.   Thomas said, “These things are like an avalanche warning; it may be bad, or maybe nothing will happen at all.”  He asked me if I was worried.  Answering him honestly while struggling to hold back tears, I said that I was.  He asked me what I worried about the most.  I told him that I feared not being able to have control over my safety.  Looking me in the eye with love and understanding he tenderly told me that whatever control we think we have, we really do not have.  It is truly all in God’s hands.  “We need to trust him,” he said. 

Back home friends were praying for me.  Many knew about my fears involving this trip.  Before the trip I had come to the conclusion that it was better to be in the will of God than to not be.  I had decided that the alternative to attempting to isolate myself from evil was to trust God.  I determined that the safest place for me was right where the Lord led me.  And the Lord had led me to Ethiopia. 

Forty-eight hours later my teammates and I were on our originally scheduled flight home.  Other than leaving for the capital a day earlier than planned so that we could catch our flight without any complications, the experience with the demonstrations did not affect us much.  Nevertheless, this experience did confirm what God had already been teaching me.  I feel surer now that the safest place is where God leads me.  Ultimately, my safety truly is not in my hands.   It is out of my control and in the hands of God.  My struggle with fears of flying may not be over, but after going on this trip to Ethiopia I want to travel again.  I think that is a sign of progress.

God is at work everywhere! He is surely changing lives here in Rochester, and he might also like to do some big work in you 7000 miles away from home. If you’re a Browncrofter who would like to reach further — both experiencing and being a catalyst for lifechange– be sure to get in touch with me. I’d love to help you take that next step.

Photo credit: Marco Arcangell license

 

grace

At Browncroft we love sharing stories about how God uses the disappointments and painful parts of our lives for good. Here’s a word from Kimberly.

After 5 years of being self-employed as a full-time fashion blogger, I’ve had to learn a good number of business lessons the hard way. But the most difficult one of all happened recently, and it had a profound effect on me. Back in the late spring I signed a contract to create my own jewelry line with a NYC-based company. I worked for months to sketch the pieces by hand, and collaborated with their design team to fine-tune my creations and build a complete collection. I had planned to name each piece after important women in my life and donate 20% of the net proceeds to Feed My Starving Children.

A few of the pieces were already finished, which I was able to share with the public, and a handful were still in production as we prepared for our mid-August launch. Then, unexpectedly, last week, I received an email from the company who I was contracted with. They would be unable to produce the collection as promised because they were being bought out and would need to shut down their site completely in anticipation of their acquisition.

I couldn’t help but be devastated as I looked back on the months of time and energy that I put into the development of each piece. I was intensely passionate about this project, which made the news even harder to accept.  And then I thought of all the people I would be letting down as a result – the charity that was promised a percentage of the proceeds, the women that I named each piece after as a tribute…and all of my blog readers who had been so wonderfully supportive since I announced this new venture.

If I’m being honest, there was a little bit of pride involved too. Would this make me look like a failure? Would it hurt my brand? I immediately felt embarrassed that I had been so eager and hopeful about this opportunity. Even though I had no control over the situation and what was being done to me, I felt ashamed and foolish.

But, after some time of self-reflection (and a good cry), I have realized that what occurred is just a part of life. Disappointments happen, deals fall through, people break promises and let us down. We can pour our hearts and souls into something – whether it’s a work project, our families or relationships – but when it falls apart or ends up different from what we’d planned, it doesn’t mean that we are any “less than” as a result of that outcome. What determines our character is how we respond in those moments – will we allow our pride to get the best of us, lick our wounds and grow bitter? Or will we see that there is a greater picture beyond our circumstances and a deeper lesson to be learned? We get to choose if we will let it weigh us down or if we will use it as a stepping-stone to something better.

My initial reaction when I heard the news was anger. I felt betrayed and I wanted for them to make it right. But as time passed, the Lord spoke to my hurting heart and I realized that there was no benefit in holding onto my bitterness. Yes, they broke a binding contract and I could have pursued legal action. But what purpose would that have served? More importantly, what kind of witness would that be? God began to soften my heart and He showed me that a grace-filled response would have the greatest impact in this situation.

Something I’ve found to be true in my own life is that grace changes everything. I am an imperfect woman who makes mistakes, who is selfish at times and who can let her insecurities get the best of her. So I desperately need others to give grace to me, Knowing this, I should be just as eager to give it in return. But giving grace is not something that comes naturally to us; it has to be a conscious decision. And it certainly can’t be done in our own strength. The Lord in His great mercy gives us everything we need to forgive, even in the most difficult times.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be the kind of person who chooses a grace-filled response regardless of my circumstances. I want to offer forgiveness instead of harboring resentment. I want to continue to love in spite of being let down by others. Not because I feel like it…but because I choose it.

A pride-filled heart says: “How dare you wrong me. I don’t deserve this. I am owed something better.” But a healthy, gracious reaction is quite the opposite. I want to set a good example for my children, so that when they face disappointments in life, they won’t feel justified to retaliate and they won’t carry that hurt around like a heavy burden. I want to model for them the freedom that comes when we let go of unmet expectations, choose to offer grace and move forward with a renewed sense of purpose. And that freedom only comes when we surrender fully and completely to Christ.

Now that a few days have passed and I’ve processed it all, I can truthfully say that I’m grateful for the lesson I’ve learned. It has helped me grow and mature, and it has also put into perspective the things that are most important to me. If you are reading this and you’re likewise dealing with a major disappointment in your life, let me be the one to encourage you to earnestly seek the Lord, ask Him to help you release that hurt, and dig deep to find grace that you can extend to the one who has let you down. You will never regret it.

What a great reminder not only of God’s grace, but the opportunity we have to encourage each other with what God is teaching us. If you, like Kimberly, would like the opportunity to pass on your hard-earned wisdom to others, let me connect you to one of Browncroft’s mentoring ministries.

Photo Credit: Kimberly Smith