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Just Get Started

Maria Thompson, Events Team

I’m struggling writing this post. I’m mainly struggling to write this because I’ve been approaching it with some vague expectation of receiving a burning bush moment from God about EXACTLY what he wants me to put out there. Some new, supernaturally revelatory, yet gritty, down to earth, and refreshingly relevant nugget of wisdom. Instead, I will share a couple points on what God has been, ever so gently, leading me by the nose to lately. And if he speaks to you through them, awesome! If, after reading, you merely come out of it knowing me a little bit better, then great!

Hi! My name is Maria. 😊

Don’t Martha It, Maria

“But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’” Luke 10:41-42 (ESV)

My family are doers. Midwest, farm stock, Scot/Irish/English/German, don’t-think-too-highly-of-yourself doers. We don’t need to be in the forefront. Just tell us what needs to get done and we’ll make it happen, and leave the place looking better than we found it. Much of my childhood was spent setting up or breaking down a church gathering or family event of some sort. During and after college, when I entered the culinary world, I did much of the same. When I moved to Vermont it was probably less than 3 weeks before I had gotten myself involved in putting on a banquet at church, and only 3 months before I signed on to volunteer with Branches! Events and dinners and hospitality – these have always been my way of giving of what I have to honor God and build up his family, and they are good things! The problem, as with our dear sister Martha in the Scriptures, is that over and over again I have let the business of hospitality become a hindrance to sitting at my Master’s feet.

This is not a humble brag. You know, like answering “What’s your greatest weakness” in a job interview with “Oh, I’m just TOO much of a perfectionist.” For myself, it’s the reality. I’ve spent a huge portion of my life as a believer in Christ living out my walk with food and service instead of faith and seeking. The Spirit has been gracious to me lately. He has given me eyes to see when I’m idolizing productivity, or hiding from God behind it, and wisdom to know when to say no to the commitments he’s not asking me to make.

Just Get Started, Maria

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” Lamentations 3:21-25 (ESV)

When I did finally come around to taking full responsibility for my own relationship with Christ, I found myself floundering. I found myself struggling to break through the familiar and grasp the big picture. I threw my hands up in defeat. “There’s so much that I should already know – how am I supposed to catch up?”

In college I would put off completing papers and assignments and procrastinate like crazy when I was unsure how to get started. I made excuses and sought out distractions time and time again. In my “finest” hour, I stayed up until 3am, fueled by a half a pot of coffee and a Mellow Yellow. All to write what was a very bad speech due at 9:00 the next morning. That went about as well as you can imagine. It never failed, though, that when I would just jump right into the writing process the words would flow, the ideas would take shape, the conclusions would follow. Things started to make sense as soon as I just GOT STARTED.  

The Lord brought this familiar truth to mind recently when I was stressing about having an incomplete picture of the Scriptures, and the doubts and insecurities that come with that. He assured me that I’m not required to have a handle on the whole story before I study it, but to simply dive in and submerge myself in the truth and goodness of Scripture. He’s been abundantly faithful to meet me in my asking, seeking, and knocking.

In the off chance that something here was exactly what you needed to be reminded of today, then praise God for all the perfectly imperfect ways he reveals himself to us daily! I am learning with you that when we are caught in procrastination, distraction, or the busyness of life, He tenderly invites us to “get started.” Even when we cannot bring praise to our mouths, the rocks around us and all of creation will sing the praise of His glorious name (Luke 19:40).

Featured

All in God’s Timing

Pastor Derek Irvine, Board Vice President
Associate Pastor at Vernon Advent Christian Church

My family and I have lived in the area for six years. We moved here from the mountains of Virginia after serving at a wonderful church for the previous five years. My wife and I, both from New England, are enjoying being back and serving the Lord here where the Gospel is needed so desperately. Over the years, I became acquainted with the work of Branches through our church’s partnership with, and support of, the Center. I attended the banquets and participated in the annual baby bottle drives. Last year I was given the opportunity to join the board. I consider it a privilege to serve the Lord, and the community, in this capacity.

Recently, in a Bible Study that I help lead, we came across Matthew 15:21-28 and the story of the faith of the Canaanite Woman.  In the story, Jesus and his disciples leave the area of Galilee and travel to the district of Tyre and Sidon for what seems to be a time of rest and to get away from the crowds. A “retreat” if you will, for Tyre and Sidon are both located on the Mediterranean Sea! When they arrive, a woman approaches Jesus and cries out to him in desperation, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon (vs. 22, ESV).” Through her persistence, Jesus commends her faith and heals her daughter.

Now, there is a lot we could glean from this text regarding persistence in prayer and crying out to Lord in our time of need. Or even the fact that we find another instance where Jesus has recognized the faith of a Gentile and shown her mercy revealing to us His message of the Kingdom was not just for the Jews. What struck me the most from this story was God’s timing.

Timing is a funny thing. Too often we go throughout our day performing seemingly mundane tasks without giving any thought to the fact that God has ordered our steps (Ps. 37:23) and is using everything, both good and bad, to bring about His glorious plan of redemption (Rom. 8:28). The amazing thing to me about this passage is this woman, who lived 40 miles from the regions in which Jesus was teaching and performing miracles, recognized Jesus as the Messiah, referred to him as “Son of David,” and knew that he could heal her daughter.  This suggests that at some point in her past, either she or somebody she knew, had seen Jesus or had heard about him. And now, in her time of need, Jesus “just so happens” to show up in her hometown. We refer to times such as these as God appointments; times when God orchestrates events in our lives in such a way that we are led to encounters with Jesus. I’m sure we can all think back on our lives and find times when God ordered our steps, lead us to himself, and continued to grow us in our relationships with Jesus.

There is truth to the saying, “Timing is everything.” As a matter of fact, I was first asked to consider joining the board of Branches a few years ago, but the “timing wasn’t right.”  And now, here I am with the opportunity to serve the Lord in this wonderful way.  What about you? What has God been putting on your heart lately that you put off the first time because the “timing wasn’t right?” Or maybe, like the Canaanite woman, God has been leading you to this very moment, putting the right people on your path, to encounter Jesus and step out in faith with him. Either way, it’s all in God’s timing.

Walking New Paths

Margie Donaldson, Client Services Manager

God has a way of bumping us out of our routines. He writes changes into our days that create opportunities for us to choose to trust him more fully, depend upon him a little more than the day before. As a result of one of these patterns of change, I moved away from a place I called home that I dearly loved. While there, I was surrounded by woodlands with hiking trails and quiet little ponds to sit alongside. After a couple of years away, God has brought me to a new home just a little down the way. I still get to hike my old familiar trails, but when I head into the woods to sit a spell at pond’s edge, I enter from a different trailhead. It took me a few tries to find my way through from this new spot, but I eventually I did it! It isn’t a terribly long hike, but it’s enjoyable and has a lot of interesting obstacles with several stream and brook crossings, a nice big hill, and a couple old beaver dams.

Over the many journeys I’ve seen bobcat tracks, spotted a momma bear and her cubs, surprised a couple coyotes, sent deer gracefully leaping deeper into the forest, flushed out many ducks and Canada geese. I have been blessed to sit pondside and watch river otters at play and beavers anxiously slapping their tails upon the surface of the water in warning. One of the most special gifts was when I happened upon a newborn fawn!

Recently, with all of the pandemic craziness going on, I have taken to the woods more frequently than I had been able to for many years. In a strange way, the pandemic is what spurred me on to take the time to wander in the woods more often. I am one of those who needs alone time. I can get carried away by the demands of the world and toss aside my own needs for the needs, or assumed needs, of the many. This global event gave me back the solitary hikes with Jesus I so enjoy taking and desperately need.

While hiking the trails it is natural and even good to keep our eyes out for the familiar. It is good to look for that enormous white pine tree that looks like it is a family of trees all wrapped into one as it shoots off in seven different directions low in its trunk. In order to stay on course, it is necessary to look for the fallen, moss covered pine of years gone by that reminds me of a big green porcupine. Go left there. There’s the metal bridge that crosses the brook that burbles below, the winding ledge that leads you happily along the wiggly brook who shines like emeralds in the spring sun because of the algae growing on the rocks. When I see these things, I know I am on the right path.

One day last week I decided to take a new path, to venture down one of the other forks to see where it led. I was a bit nervous but not scared, and surprisingly excited for a creature of habit like me. I found myself delighting in seeing new things, and being faced with different challenges, new crossings and climbs that had me traversing ridges through stretches of hardwoods I had previously not meandered through. It was fun…and beautiful!  

God has been taking me on a spiritual journey through Exodus. He brought me back to that book of the Bible with intention. Most likely for more than I realize even now, but in these moments what I recognize is how in my faith walk I cannot keep trying to hike and re-hike the same, safe trails with any expectation of forward propulsion or growth spiritually.

I have been faced with some challenges recently that blindsided me. Thrust into a new role that was not mine to walk, or at least I didn’t think it was, and while trying to navigate the newness of it all, the pandemic hit bringing even more challenges. In the mess, I tried to find my bearings by gravitating towards the familiar. I tried to navigate new terrain with an out of date map, or more accurately, a map from another trail from another time. I found myself trying to navigate the promised land with the old mindset and tools of the slave girl my God delivered years ago.

2 Corinthians 4:16b says, that “our inner self is being renewed day by day” (ESV). In the things of faith, we will not only be faced with new challenges, but we must also seek out new challenges, or we will not continue to grow. By faith, we must always seek out the transformative and unfamiliar territory of our God and King and not the ruts of the familiar offered to us by this world. Transformation is the process of becoming something new. We cannot be made into newness without walking into and even embracing it. Paul tells us in Ephesians that we have a part to play as we are “to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:24, ESV).

Serving here at Branches has been an important part of my journey of faith. Just accepting the position of Client Services Manager was something I had to do by faith and in reliance on God. He has continually challenged me, and after going through these last few months as the acting director, through a pandemic, it was plain to see that I could not venture into new realms grounded by “old me” thinking and ways of coping. The prisoner released from her cell but bound in spirit is not free. To walk in true freedom, we must continually and consistently allow the old self to pass away making room for the transformed self, the self that is free in Christ! It is by walking new paths with a renewed mind that leads us into new growth, new strength, new dependence on Jesus, and fantastic new discoveries that fill our hearts to overflowing!

When Faith is Stronger than Fear

Gail Veenema, Parenting Instructor and Administrative Assistant

A missionary friend once said that Christians don’t retire, they just retread, so as I prepared to retire at the end of 2014, I wondered where God would lead me to serve Him in retirement.  Because family is something I am passionate about, the ministry of Branches is one that I have prayed for since it began many years ago as Lifeway.   When I received an invitation to attend a volunteer training session in March of 2015, I knew that God was leading me to take a more active part in this ministry.  Then old and familiar fears set in.  Would I be good enough?? Am I too old to connect with young moms??

My daughter has a saying on her refrigerator “God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called” and similarly in 1Thessalonians 5:24 Paul says “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it”.  God promised to provide all that I needed for this next chapter in my life.  The training program at Branches was thorough and prepared me to become a parenting instructor.  Before too long, I was ready to meet with a client.  This was yet another opportunity to see God use the experiences He allowed in my life to bring glory to Him.  Growing up with an alcoholic father was hard, but it provided ways to connect with the women who came into the center.  Was I scared?  Yes!  Was this new?  Yes!  Was God faithful?  Yes!  There were times when my desire to “do it right” got in the way of my trusting God to work.  Fear is a liar!  When I allow fear in, I take my eyes off of Jesus and focus on the waves and challenges before me and don’t rely on His strength. 

There was a day when a woman came in requesting a pregnancy test, an opportunity to explain her options and provide accurate information for her to make a decision about the pregnancy.  It’s not as simple as, give her the test and she gets the results.  Fear filled me and I felt inadequate—would I say the right thing…what if I messed this up?  Unfortunately, fear won and I called upon the director to assist.  In the midst of the appointment, God reminded me that I was indeed equipped for that appointment because of His faithfulness (it’s not about me, it’s all about Him). But, just as Jesus held out His hand to Peter in the waves as he began to sink, He holds His hand out to me each and every day.  I am still learning to let go and remember to trust God’s provision. 

For me personally, it’s hard to put into words what serving as a volunteer has meant to me.  One client experienced the death of her newborn and then the death of her husband soon after.  Talk about not knowing what to say or how to help.  During this time she said that she knew each of us at the center was there for her and she could stop in and talk and have us pray with her.   I have discovered that even though I may not have experienced what my clients have, God gives me the words to say as I build relationships with them.  Many of them have not had positive examples in their lives and at Branches we provide love, encouragement, support and instruction.  Whenever I have asked a client if I can pray with them, they have said yes.  I have had the privilege of sharing my story of learning to see God as a loving father—challenging because my own father did not demonstrate love towards me.  What a blessing to be able to let a woman know that she is loved and valued by God when she may never have experienced that kind of love in her life. 

When a client chooses life for her baby, we have the opportunity to talk about new life in Christ as He provides the opening.  So I find that I am not so very different from the women who come into the center.  Yes our life experiences differ greatly, but we all want to know that we are loved and valued.  We can provide hope when life seems hopeless.  I don’t have the answers to all their struggles, but I can be there for them and support them.  My life is full. 

Over these 5 years, God has grown the ministry to new levels and brought change, and I find that God’s changes are always good!  When I began, there were only 3 volunteers, now we have many more.  God provided Margie as our new Client Services Manager and I know that he will provide our next Executive Director.  God continues to grow me—so thankful for that!!  He is faithful!  I am blessed!

Branches on the Move…

Pastor Gary DeHaas, Interim Board President

I moved back to Vermont in 2017 to pastor a local congregation.  It had been 30 years since we last called Vermont home.  We noticed many changes but perhaps, not as many as other places we’ve lived.  The beauty of the landscape, the rugged individualism of the natives, and the indifference toward church attendance were much the same.  I eased back into the culture and church ministry knowing this was the place God had sent us, and we were grateful for it.  Remembering how important community is, I immediately began looking for and praying over service opportunities beyond my local church.  Reaching out with gospel-driven care for my new community was important to me.  So not long afterwards at a pastor’s gathering, I learned of a need for board members for Branches Pregnancy Resource Center.  Sensing the tug of God on my heart to help direct “…a community where women and facing pregnancy and relationship decisions are transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ and empowered to choose abundant life for themselves, their children, and their families,” I offered my service. 

As I met with then President of the Board, Ben Whittinghill, I learned of the heart and work of Branches PRC in the Brattleboro community.  I learned about the great need for supporting women who were pregnant and in need of support.  I heard about single mom’s in need of help as they raise their children.  I recognized the economic challenges they faced and the need for essential items like diapers and clothing.  I listened with interest as a ministry to men was explained as a dream for the days ahead.  To hear about the Learn to Earn program and the other mentoring opportunities driven by volunteers was exciting to me. And all of this was coming from a desire to see people transformed by the love of God through Jesus Christ. This is a ministry on the front lines of God’s kingdom work, and I wanted to be a part of it!  But, what would this look like?

Transition is dreaded by many and change is avoided at all cost.  But not me, that’s not the way God wired me.  I embrace Scriptures like James 1:3-4, “…because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” I embrace God’s Word in 2 Peter 1:5-8, “For this very reason,(participate in the divine nature and escape corruption) make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;  and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;  and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” You see, in life, complacency and keeping things ‘as-is’ is a sure path to mediocrity.  It leads people into a rut which, as the saying goes, is just an open-ended grave. This is especially true of our spiritual lives and our ministry for God’s kingdom.

Little did I know 3 years ago what this would look like for Branches PRC.  Consider these changes…a men’s ministry is established and is staffed by volunteers, meeting one-on-one with clients.  We have many new volunteers, many of which are younger to carry on the work for generations to come.  A new Client Service Manager has come on board and we’ve increased her hours.  The board of directors has had some turnover as God brings fresh faces and new perspectives to the center.  The job descriptions of both the Client Service Manager and Executive Director have been reworked to better serve the needs of the center now, and in the future. And we are currently searching for a new Executive Director. 

With God leading the way, this season of transition will continue but likely, at a little slower speed than recent years.  I find strength from Hebrews 12:1-3:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

I am privileged to be a part of what God is doing in and through Branches PRC.  And I am excited to see what God will do in and through Branches PRC in the days ahead.  I believe He has raised it up and uniquely formed it for ‘such a time as this.’