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Seeing Through God’s Lens

Laura Lewis, Relationship Education Program

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” John 1:1,14 (NKJV).

Things aren’t always what they seem, and God tells us in Isaiah 55:8 and 9 that His ways are not our ways. When Christ was born Israel was looking for a political Messiah, someone to free them from Roman rule, but God had a different plan. When questioned by Pilate before his crucifixion, Jesus tells him that His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). While man was looking for political freedom, a temporary freedom. God was offering them something better. Spiritual freedom, an eternal freedom.

Jesus wasn’t born in a palace surrounded by Israel’s most important celebrities. He wasn’t even born in an inn. No, he was born in a stable, surrounded by shepherds. Philippians 2:5-8 says: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”

It is so easy as humans to look at people and circumstances from a surface lens, instead of investigating deeper and seeing things from God’s eternal perspective. When Samuel went to Jesse’s house to anoint the next king, at first he was looking at the physical appearance, and the Lord responds to this, “[T]he Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (I Samuel 16:7b).

In this season, I have felt a strong conviction and deep desire to look beyond the
outward appearance and demeanor and see people the way God sees them. It seems like every conversation I have had with believers lately, and even situations God has been putting me in, has convicted me that it is crucial that I look at people and really see them from God’s perspective, and in every situation I need to be motivated by the love of God.

In response to Pharisees criticizing Him for eating with the tax collectors and sinners, Jesus retorts, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17, NIV). In 1 Corinthians 1:27, we see that God has chosen the foolish and weak things of this world. Jesus came to show us the Father (John 14:9), and He came “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

This Christmas as we reflect on the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ may we have a greater understanding of His Love and His heart for the lost. As we start the New Year, may it be our resolution to co-labor with Christ (I Corinthians 3:9) and see each person from His perspective.

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Unexpected

Jan Coplan, Board Member

“And it’s a boy!”

These words warmed me to my core as I stood outside on that cold, raw and rainy November afternoon. If you live in New England, you know the kind of day and how bleak it can be. The weather personified my weary soul that had been struggling through three years of infertility and coming to terms with what it means to surrender your plans to God’s will. My husband’s voice full of excitement, spilled out the details about the young birthmother who had chosen our profile (a lengthy personal story of our lives required as part of the adoption process). This young woman, just twenty two years old, wanted to meet us and see if we were a match for the baby in her womb due in just two weeks.

As my husband shared the “too good to be true” details I felt myself stiffen and put up a wall of protection. Would this, like infertility, be yet another shattered dream? But, when he said, “and it’s a boy”, that wall crumbled down like a crashing wave. His words were the answer to the quiet wish of my heart to parent a boy.

When my husband and I joined the ranks of numerous couples seeking to adopt I acutely became aware of folks like us who longed to be parents. They too were living with a void in their hearts and homes. Many of them had been waiting for years to have their profile chosen, to feel worthy and capable. My heart ached for these people, and I began to wonder, “Do mothers with unplanned pregnancies know about them?” It was here I began to see the answer to my cry that my suffering not be in vain but for God’s glory. My pro-life beliefs began to take root.

The next chapter in our story of becoming parents was a roller coaster ride of emotions, as many adoption processes can be. Four days after his birth we brought our son, who we named Eldie Isaac, home to live with us. Our Coplan family was complete. As portrayed in the Old Testament account of Abraham’s faith demonstrated when asked to sacrifice his son Isaac, our faith in the Lord required a similar surrender (although not as extreme). From the day we left the hospital to the finalization of our adoption we were called to relinquish our cherished dreams of parenting Eldie to God’s will for him and for our newly bonded family.

I’d like to explore the notion of the ~unexpected~. If we believe God ordains our lives and knows every detail, what does unexpected mean to the believer? How do we come alongside people in our lives when things happen that they did not expect or plan? Do we courageously claim Jeremiah 29:11 that our sovereign God knows the plan He has for his children, and it is not disaster?

Let’s consider Jeremiah 17:7-8.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”

How do we relinquish control to God and trust in Him even when our circumstances do not make sense to us? I clung to Jeremiah 17:7 when I grappled with this question. I longed from childhood to be married and have a family yet did not meet my husband until my forties and did not became a mom until I was 45. However, I now sing to the Lord a new song (Psalm 96:1) of his abundant blessings and acknowledge that His ways are higher than my ways (Isiah 55:8-9).

I prayed in my time of suffering that it would be used for the benefit of building God’s kingdom and comforting others. After seven months of clinging to the Lord our adoption was finalized. Eldie will be ten on December 1st. God has used our story to witness to both Christians and Non-Christians.

As a newly elected member of the Branches Board of Directors my latest prayer is that my experience in becoming an adoptive mother may be used to minister to an overwhelmed pregnant mom or a couple that faces a pregnancy they did not plan. If a couple is considering placing their baby up for adoption, might I be given the chance to share how choosing adoption, making that selfless choice, has brought abundant joy into my life? And the lives of many adoptive parents?

Our omnipotent Lord knows how He will use me. As David proclaims in Psalm 40 – God has given me an open ear, put His law within my heart and a delight to do His will. I now speak of his faithfulness. When we embrace the unexpected in our life, we enable Him to shower us with gifts.

As we enter this sacred Christmas season of giving and boldly celebrate November as Adoption Awareness Month I ask you to prayerfully consider how can you prepare your heart for the unexpected gifts that may appear as a trial. Can you share this perspective with a troubled friend?

Eldie Isaac is a thriving fourth grader. His warm spirit and dimpled smile continue to break down walls of protection in my heart. He loves basketball, baseball, and golf. More importantly, he can confidently speak about how God chose him to be our son and the selfless decision of his birth mom. He was born just eight days after my birthday and twenty-four days before Christmas. His birth was the best gift I have ever received, coming into my life for the first time on a cold, raw and rainy day, completely unexpected.


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Wholehearted

Photo by Ann H on Pexels.com

Liz Burns, Executive Director

I was speaking with a group of ladies recently about the felt reality of Romans
8:22-23 that reads: “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

When we look around at the world surrounding us, we are truly groaning – and sometimes not just inwardly.

Sin, suffering, desperation, grief that will keep you on your knees. Read any article headline, listen to any media channel or just walk around and take note of actions, conversations or signs hanging in our community. There’s no denying that we see a clear and dividing line between the world’s definition and value of life, and God’s. While the gospel reveals a Savior who lays down his life for those who ran from him, abortion reveals humans extinguishing a life that we were meant to love and protect.

And while we are seeing abortion rates decreasing annually in the US (glory to God!), the fight for abundant life is not over. We still have plenty of work ahead of us when, according Guttemacher’s statistics, 1 in 4 women has had an abortion by the time that she is 45.

Let’s sit with that statistic for a moment. Burdensome, grievous, heartbreaking.

And yet I looked around the room at our Annual Fundraising Banquet and was also encouraged! The sheer number of individuals sitting in the room demonstrated that God is stirring within his people a desire to continue to fight, unified as ONE BODY, in the wholehearted fight for all of life.

All stages, all seasons, all people, all of life.

What we know to be true is that of those women who have had an abortion, an alarming majority have done so out of the belief that there is no other option for them. They are scared, possibly being pressured to make this decision and have countless questions swirling around in their minds.

That is why this ministry is vital.

Vital in supporting the woman or couple coming in to take a free pregnancy test in a safe and non-judgmental space where they can hear of their options and ask some of those swirling questions. Vital in supporting both mothers and fathers in their efforts to parent their children in a healthy manner. Vital in working alongside DCF to support parents seeking to learn, grow and be reunified with their children. Vital in providing free resources such as diapers, wipes, formula and gently used clothing to our community. Vital in educating teens on healthy relationships, leadership skills and boundaries to help them make informed decisions in their youth. And vital in providing a safe space for women (and Lord willing one day, men as well) to make those beginning steps toward healing as they process through emotions, questions and pains after having had an abortion.

At the beginning of the year, I felt that the Lord had brought me to a fervent prayer that the ministry that takes place in and through Branches would continue to be a wholehearted pursuit. Wholehearted in our seeking after the Lord both individually and together, and wholehearted in serving our clients unto the praise and the glory of His name!

And what I mean in wholehearted in serving our clients, I mean that we are looking at the whole person and the whole heart that stands, sits or walks in our midst. A person with a heart that was fearfully and wonderfully created by God to worship him with their whole heart.

One of the largest blessings of serving at Branches is that God has knit together a
beautiful family. A family who gathers under the truth mentioned in John 15:5 “I [Jesus] am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

I think often of Psalm 51 and how this Psalm highlights the prayer for God to create within us a clean heart and right spirit according to his steadfast love and abundant mercy in the forgiveness of our sins. In verses 15-17, David says “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

Let this truth draw you nearer with confidence to the throne of God. What God requires is that we come. Come with our whole heart and full assurance of his whole provision for all that we need to walk with him. And spoiler alert – He’s already given us EVERYTHING that we need for life and for godliness in the gift of his Son Jesus!

For every believer, God has given us a task at hand while we await the second coming of Jesus. Remember that Romans 8 groaning?

We, as the recipients of the ministry of reconciliation have been, by God’s grace, given the call to participate with the Lord in the ministry of reconciliation. We are therefore called ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us!

One faithful step of obedience to what God has called you to put your hands to the plow to TODAY could mean that you were able to play a part in preserving a life! This should make us encouraged!

It can often times feel overwhelming when we look at abortion as a whole and the very fact that it exists that we become cripple to how we can play a part in
eradicating it. But what if each day we took the time to truly engage with those around us in our regular rhythms of life?

When a coworker comes into work distressed, would you pray with them? When you encounter a woman in the community, whether it be in downtown Brattleboro,
at the grocery store, or even your favorite waitress at the restaurant that your family frequents every Friday night, who could be helped by the ministry of Branches, would you share about the services that are offered and offer to pray with her? If a friend comes to you after a Sunday service and confides in you that his girlfriend or wife is pregnant and he is worried that he won’t be able to be the father that he’d like to be for his child, would you share about services that are offered at Branches and offer to pray with him?

Jesus saw the masses through the few, and I think we can take courage in that. We pray for eyes to see the opportunities around us and we proclaim the Truth.



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Compassion First

Patti Noyes, Parenting Instructor

What to write? 

When asked to write this article I thought, “Okay, how hard can it be?” Well, my brain has come up with a couple of thoughts but nothing that really seemed earth shattering. 

But think about it…life is generally not earth shattering.

I’ve been a pastor’s wife since 1972. Yes, I’m old. To say that life has been busy, complicated at times, sad, hard, but rewarding is a given. But to say because I’m a pastor’s wife it’s any easier to live a consistent Christian life would be a mistake. 

I’ve had it said to me, “It’s easier for you to be a Christian because people expect you to be spiritual.”  Sorry…but that’s not true. 

I struggle, as we all do, to share my faith, live consistently, keep my cool, etc. Just like you. Something the Lord has taught me is that He doesn’t want me to be “over-the-top”. He wants me to be real, honest, and vulnerable.  Of course, the Lord is working in my life and changing those areas that need changing. 

This summer we put our camper in a campground as a seasonal. That means we can go camping whenever we want. And yes, we do almost every week, even for just a couple of days. Very relaxing.

There are a couple of other Christians there that would like to see us change our site because the area we are in can be rather “rowdy”. We aren’t moving because we have already made some inroads into friendships with the neighboring campers. Yes, they know who we are, and they seem to have accepted us anyway. In order for us to share our faith we need to first be friendly and open. 

1 Peter 3:15-16 talks about living an example before others. Letting them see the truth but doing so in love and kindness. Colossians 3:12-13 talks about being a friend, showing kindness and love. This verse is referring to other Christians but can also refer to the unsaved. 

Yes, you can approach a complete stranger and bring up the gospel and have it received well. But in life we are more apt to share our faith with those who are constantly around us. The repair man, the mechanic, your favorite waitress, your neighbor, doctor, etc. Think about all those around you and how you interact with them. Are you thinking about them in light of sharing your faith and showing them God’s love?

Working at Branches has shown me that these women and men need our love and compassion first. Then we can share the gospel. They need to be comfortable enough to know that we will be honest and trustworthy with what we share with them. So, when we do share the gospel with them, they will be more apt to hear what we are saying. We need to show them that knowing Christ is as natural to our life as having breakfast. 

We can all be effective, vibrant, caring examples to those who need the Lord. We can also be a strong support for other believers who struggle, feel they aren’t making a difference, and just need “their arms raised” in support to make it through the battle. 

No matter where we’re at in life and faith, we just need to be real, honest, and vulnerable where we are and trust the Lord with the outcome.

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Running Well

David LeBlanc, Fatherhood Program Lead

As I sit down to write this it is mid-June, and I am in the midst of my busy season at work. To state the matter like this is a bit of an understatement. I am actually in the midst of one of my busiest seasons of life. A season that started when I became a husband and father. A season that got more complicated with starting a business and serving in ministry as much as possible. A season that is not ending anytime soon but is the greatest and most rich season of my life. God has been so kind to me and sustained me so far in all these things.

As one who has a proclivity to “burnout” for never stopping, the Lord has been teaching me a lot about how His kingdom works in this area. Often showing me a better way after I foolishly exhaust myself doing a myriad of good things, but not taking time for the best! Weariness, deep soul exhaustion is not going to be fixed by a long weekend. It will take more than that, for weariness is one of the weapons Satan uses to kick us when we are down. Yet if we learn from Jesus, who is “gentle and humble of heart” (Matt. 11:29), we will find rest for our souls.

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

In the opening verse, Paul is reminding the Galatians of the need to “not grow weary.” I have often read that verse and passed over it as mere godly advice to one serving the Lord, until I grew weary! You see weariness grows! This is key in understanding Paul’s encouragement. It places the source of our weariness not merely in the external factors of serving in and standing up against the tidal wave of evil, but also on neglecting our spirit. Certainly, this can take its toll, yet I would argue from personal experience in the trenches, the weariness that weakens is the atrophy of the “inner man.” You see our opportunity to do good is not the result of evil and injurious circumstances, but because of them! In the day of adversity and evil, God’s people have tremendous opportunity to sow to the Spirit and reap a harvest.

The cause of our weariness is a growing neglect of our inner life and soul before our God!

It is very easy to look at our surroundings today and feel despair, a sense that would lead us to believe that “doing good” is not good enough. It would be wise to mention that doing good as we individually define it is not going to do much. The good we must be about is Gospel good, our Father’s business in the sphere of influence and opportunity He has placed before us. Certainly, doing good is not a generic “niceness,” but a bold and courageous witness to the truth of God’s saving work through Jesus and how this “good news” can make all things new!

Yet we grow weary…

The rest of the verse helps us in our plight, “we shall reap if we do not give up.” Great news! But how do we not “grow weary,” which leads to the temptation to give up in the first place? As mentioned in 1 Cor. 15:58, if we are going to be people that are “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,” knowing that our labor is “not vain in the Lord,” we need to appropriate our victory daily and continuously in Jesus from Jesus!

To jars of clay Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4: 16-18, “For this cause we do not faint; but though our outward man perishes, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.  For the lightness of our present affliction works out for us a far more excellent weight of glory, we not considering the things which are seen, but the things which are not eternal seen; for the things which are seen are not lasting, but the things which are not seen are everlasting.”

We must have our “inner man” renewed day by day.

Some thoughts on renewal from the position of learning from Jesus:

  1. We need to be daily renewed, not just weekly, monthly, or once in a while. Daily abiding is the secret to sustainable and fruitful service. We can really do nothing eternal apart from Jesus! We need to love this, embrace this, and believe this. Without this our inner man will have no power.
  2. We need to understand that external trials and pressures work with and for us a people of God and not against us. Everything the world, the flesh and the devil mean for evil, God is using for our good and His glory. In all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him.
  3. We need to play the game to win, not to not lose. Many Christians are content with playing it safe and just holding on by the skin of their teeth. God has better, blood-bought assurance and victory that we are to work from. We war from victory not for it. The posture of our hearts should be to set forth rooted in Jesus anywhere and everywhere He has placed us!

In Luke 5 Jesus meets Peter for the first time on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus is teaching the crowds, and Peter is coming in from a long unproductive night of fishing. Suddenly, Jesus steps into Peter’s boat and continues to teach the people. He then asks Peter, the professional fisherman, to put out into deep water and let down his nets for a catch.

Peter puts up a little fuss but puts out anyway and finds the greatest catch of his life. When he gets back on shore, he leaves everything to follow Jesus.

I have been reflecting on this in my own life. Many times, life can feel like a long unproductive night of fishing, working hard and catching nothing, until Jesus commands our cast! You see what rejoiced Peter in his spiritual infancy was the great catch, yet I think what put joy in Jesus’ heart was to see Peter launch out when he was dead tired, a little grumpy and feeling like a failure. The posture of the disciple’s heart, the attitude that brings Jesus joy, is not trying to quantify and control the fruit of our fishing but instead the continuous cultivation of a spirit, that at the command of Jesus, sets their boat out into deep waters expecting the Lord to perform a miracle!!

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By the Sound of His Voice

Jackie Plunske, Marketing Team Lead

When I was young my dad brought me to a beautiful field on the edge of a forest he often visited. It was quite a trek through the woods, but eventually you stepped out onto a small cliff overlooking a sunny meadow with lovely little towns and hills in the distance.

Many years later, I remembered that day with a sentimental fondness and thought I would like to revisit it. I had no idea how to get to the field because we took a series of connecting trails and it had simply been too long for me to remember. But still, I longed to at least see the trees.

As I took my first steps onto the path, a refreshing peace filled my spirit. I walked along the trail just to see what I could see, but unexpectedly, I felt an urge from the Holy Spirit to take a left, so I took a left. I walked on, and once again, I felt Him urge me to turn. This time cutting off the trail and through the forest, so I did. I eventually came to another trail, and He continued to send me this way and that. So on and so forth, He led me. I had never had such a concentrated lesson in listening to His voice. It was beautiful.

Suddenly, I could see a clearing up ahead. Could it be? Yes, He had brought me to that spectacular meadow I had once visited so long ago. I couldn’t believe it… I sat in awe and thanks for many moments as I breathed in the view.

He had led me, and not just by showing me how I had traveled before. He led me on totally different paths, even asking me to cut off the trail and follow paths I hadn’t walked before. I had no idea where I was at any point along the way, but with His voice to cling to, I could never be lost.

I was opened up to a new understanding of just how much God was willing to softly enter my everyday moments. A new revelation of how specifically He could guide me caused me to bring Him specific questions and, often, get specific answers. He tells us, if we are seeking, we will find Him and if we desire something, to ask Him (Matthew 7:7). In His majesty, He has chosen to kneel down next to us, caring about what we care about, feeling what we feel and gently guiding us through this journey called life. He turns fears into adventure and aloneness into peace.

He longs to cure every hope, question, or fear inside of us. What is your question or fear? What lonely place can He sit in with you? For with His guiding voice, the scenery may change, the way may look different, but that’s okay. One only has to know how to get there by the sound of His voice.

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Be A Doer

Andrew George, Board Treasurer

Romans 12:1 “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (KJV)

James 1:22 “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only. ” (KJV)

I’ve had the great opportunity to serve in ministry in a few different capacities over the years. However, the last 2-3 years may be some of my favorite ones. The Lord has opened doors and opportunities that I would not have imagined. God cleared a path for me to join the Board of Directors at Branches, which has been an amazing time of service. He has also provided me with small discipleship groups to be a part of. All of these came about once I stopped trying to “force” what I thought God was asking or calling me to do. And what it took was to fully surrender my body as that living sacrifice.

These two verses for me have been commonplace in my life. The words made sense, I took them at face value. “Ya, I get it – be actionable for God, don’t just go through the motions.” But in saying that, I really was just going through the motions. We are called to “present our bodies.” This is so much deeper than what it initially appears. For my whole life I viewed Romans 12:1 as a directive to make sure I did not “desecrate” the body which God gave me – which is important. However, I missed the mark on the deeper meaning that Paul was talking about.

God wants you, all of you – all of the time. This is getting to the heart of his message here. It has been a call this entire time; and I missed it. We are called to live a life completely for God. There is a physical, surface level component in this verse; however, the spiritual aspect is so much bigger. God wants me, He wants you! Not just our work. I need to ensure that I am giving Him myself, wholly and alive.

I am so glad that God led me down the path of small group discipleship. It has been a very long time, if ever, that I’ve allowed myself to be spiritually vulnerable to others—but that is part of offering our bodies for His calling. “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend (Prov 27:17).” By acting and doing, engaging in discipleship, we are working to make our spiritual bodies more acceptable to Christ. And in the process of this discipleship, we are aiding our brothers and sisters in that same manner. Encouragement, accountability and teaching, these are just some of the many outputs we can achieve from the intimacy of our small group—especially if we allow ourselves to be spiritually (and emotionally) vulnerable. But remember, we are to sharpen each other!

“A living sacrifice” aren’t just words in the text. As I sat and reflected on this, I realized the importance of the living sacrifice. I am supposed to be bringing myself alive “spiritually” to the altar of God. I am to live a life of worship and service in accordance with God’s Word.  During these opportunities of service on the Board in addition to deeper study in my small groups, I realized that there were parts of life that I was only a hearer of the Word, deceiving myself. This is my reasonable service to God. This is a constant and continuous life of service.

Sit back, reflect, and ask yourself, “Have I been fully giving myself to God”. I wasn’t. I clearly had more to give, more to learn, and still have much more growing to do. “How can I be a doer?” “In what ways can I partner with God in sharpening a brother and sister?” It’s our reasonable service.

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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).

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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!