dazzling tree.

[dazzle]: transitive verb: to overpower with light; to inspire inspiration & wonder. noun: a herd of zebra.

[tree]: noun: a woody plant that is tall, has main stem or trunk & typically lives for a long time.

This sweaty, spirit-infused summer brought me a new name.

Dazzling tree.

While it sounds like a name straight from the 70’s, it runs a bit deeper than that. It has real roots.

God spoke it to me just last week, on the tail end of The Experience, the 2-month discipleship program with Forge, a ministry based here in Aurora. Our team had a day in one of my favorite corners of the mountains. I was exploring around a still lake, grey clouds gathering in clusters, a peaceful breeze guiding the trail. It was quiet, and still God whispered who I was to Him.

Dazzling captures the word I had longed looked for to describe the sparkling sunshine above the trunks and leaves and branches of trees. Gorgeous, right?IMG_9159

Before one of my teammates used the word in a devotional time one morning in Mexico, I had hardly heard of it at all. It refers to an overpowering light, yet it also can be defined as a unified and unshakable group of zebras.

As for tree, well, I have always loved trees. There were moments – multiple of them – this summer where I would pray and ask God, “Who are you to me?” In multiple circumstances, late-nights, and through Scripture, I was consistently pointed back to John 15: 1-4,

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”

Just so you know, I’m not kidding about “God as a Gardener” or John 15 coming up many, many times. For one, the first time I heard God’s voice was on a log. Later in our summer, in my sleeping bag one late night in a remote Mexican village, I was reading a small book called, The Deity Formerly Known as God, with the author explaining different conceptions that 21st century believers have had in Him. One chapter, nearly verbatim, recounted a conversation I had with farmers earlier in the day about growth, faith, and God’s patience represented through trees. In July, on a hike in Winter Park, I found more logs and trees that God used to explain Himself and though it sounds crazy, I believe that all this time trees have been God’s way of reaching, protecting, and showing me just how He knows and cares for us.

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The Experience is intense. The team and staff joke that we eat, pray, and cry. We chuckle about that, but it’s kind of true.

I looked closely at those words, however, eat, pray, cry on my porch as the morning sky was a reaching early afternoon. I was quickly reminded that this was a lot of what Jesus’ ministry was all about: submission, fellowship, & truth.

Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself [submission] and take up his cross and follow me [fellowship]. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it [truth].” (Mark 8:34-35)

Forge is committed to building up laborers to share truth about Jesus so others can know the freedom of following Him. If you have read my blog before, or perhaps spoken with me a time or two, you might be like,

…what? This girl…what is she talking about? She already was a Christian.”

Well, maybe. But I can assure, I wasn’t following Jesus solely, purely, and with everything that I had.

I used to believe that God was a God of action and good works: live a moral life and you get a solid “A” in your spiritual walk. Holla. I thought that being nice to people equated a relationship with Jesus. I also felt that people just needed to be happy all the time and that we would all be just fine. I had basically boiled my faith down to a simple truth:

Obedience – Identity – God.

We find God from everything we do for Him.

It’s not really like that. Try it this way,

God – Identity – Obedience.

We desire to follow God and be obedient because of the identity we are given by Him. He’s far bigger, greater, more glorious, and incredible than we could even begin to imagine.

One of the many speakers at Forge taught us this simple diagram and I found it life-changing.

Christian life goes much, much deeper. It’s a changing of your heart – only done by Him – and an act of submission for His will, not yours. It’s not legalistic doctrine; it’s about passionately loving Jesus. Because really, here’s the thing – when you start loving Him, He will change you.

During The Experience, much of what happens is between God and the individual, though often using our teammates and teams to learn and grow too. In May, I walked through a process of healing from past guilt, relationships, and brokenness. I confessed openly. I learned and embraced forgiveness. I felt the gospel. We learned, and if you know anything about me, rest assured that I love learning.

By June, I continued to know God and the Holy Spirit very intimately. He showed up in Mexico (we traveled to several states for a mission’s trip), at a family camp in the Colorado mountains, in a missionary training simulation, on the inner-city streets of Denver, and as I processed my own purpose and vision in life. It was a special time. Painful, difficult, but oh so sweet. I genuinely am a new person; I feel healthy, whole, and beautiful. Not because of anything I reaIMG_8455lly did. But because of Jesus.

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The best part is that our walks in faith aren’t only for ourselves; they are for us to share. So, I’m excited to be back, digging deeper, and processing much of what I have just dived into.

God’s always been adventurous to me, and so it was still Him when I ate a snake heart a couple of months ago in the wilderness (true story) and when we sang ‘This Little Light of Mine’ with a genuine woman of God, Betty, on Denver’s public transit system. When we realize that God is always along for the ride, life begins to be experienced in very different, radical, and surprising ways. Towards the end, I was even able to discern a life purpose (what God has created me for) that I have previously spent years trying to articulate:

I exist to share love by encouraging reconciliation and connecting cultures with written stories, testimonies, laughter, and intentional relationships.

It’s good to be back, typing and writing and sharing with a whole, new, imperfect but healed heart.

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Psalm 34:5: Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.

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bye (for now)

Hi there.

This morning I took a walk in the Seattle-esque damp mist and watched moms, dads, babysitters, grandmas, and neighborhood friends in black mini vans drop their little kiddos off for school. I remember that distinctive feeling of finishing up with school. Summer is upon you, yearbooks are being distributed, and pools are opening up. They say Christmas is the most wonderful time of year. I, however, would contest that the beginning of summer holds itself as pretty stiff competition.

Strangely, I’m headed off to school today too. Kind of. I’m beginning a two-month training that I’ve written about the last few months; sometimes I’ve posted my fundraising link, other times I’ve referenced the reasons I want to do this thing anyway.

Today, I simply want to say thank you. They are simple words. I do mean them, though.

As my heart orients closer and closer to God, I find more and more

peace, humility, and acceptance.

I didn’t write “happiness”, you know. For so long, I have chased happiness as the indicator of life’s temperature, and for me, for us, friends, I think we can measure with completely different tools. It’s like measuring baking soda with tablespoons (big T) instead of teaspoons (little t).

God doesn’t promise happiness. He promises something greater,

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11.

My friend Matt wrote this verse on the back of an envelope that he gave me at a quietly filled Starbucks, just a couple of weeks ago. When I opened the card, I was careful to rip the back softly. I put the piece of paper in my Bible and it’s coming with me for the next couple of months.

God promises goodness. Inherent in life is difficulty, pain, and sadness. But how we overcome those things – through God’s grace – is our access point to greater goodness. Not happiness. Happiness is a fabrication of our doing; goodness is a gift given. I am finally ready to accept that gift.

So what’s that mean for all of this?

Well, I’m going through this “training” for practical purposes (learning intricately what it means to follow Jesus, about God’s plan for us, and an opportunity to study more intimately the Bible itself), for spiritual strengthening (namely working alongside a mentor and developing a committed prayer life), and for real commitment to taking part in the kind of love Jesus talks about (missions or not).

It’s going to be an intense 2-months that will take me through classrooms, churches, mountains, foreign countries, other cities, and to places still unknown. It’s 58 days full-time; I won’t be going home and I won’t be spending much time in the communications & social media world. Yes, that means a blogging break. But, I think that’s important; I’ll be doing most of my writing in my numerous and vast notebooks, processing “The Experience” as it goes along. I can’t wait to share all that’s learned when I come back.

Which brings me to my next thing.

I’ll likely be headed to Rwanda & Tanzania late this summer for 3-ish months (until late October) to begin field training with The Women’s Bakery as I take on my new role within the organization. Following my time in East Africa, I will be working primarily from my home base in Colorado. Wow. What a blessing to have a job to come home to; this alone will allow me to even more intensely focus on this impending ministry training. God is so good.

So, as usual, I don’t really know everything that God has in store. He’s doing some crazy things. Just yesterday, I felt like He was answering a good bulk of my prayers that have been left looming for months prior. I called Rachel and was just like, “what the what what what???????????”. Or something like that.

Anyway, just know I’ll be back. Whether I’m writing state-side, ministry-side, or Rwanda-side, I guarantee this: I’ll be writing. And giving thanks.

Thanks y’all.

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experiencing fellowship

I’ve been reading through old journals, scribbles, and reflections and found one the other morning that brought me back to dragon fruit, fresh spicy cilantro, and a thickness in the air that allows little room for breathing. 

I was reading about my time in Vietnam – 6 years ago – when I went on a 2-week trip with a group of Hendrix College students. 

We had traveled to the country to work in a remote, small village to build and assist a community in building homes. More than a “missions trip” the focus was to talk to people. Observe. Listen. It was intentional in that way, and because of that, there was an openness established from the beginning. 

Vietnam was one of the first distinct experiences I had in completely surrounding myself in another culture. The biggest one, to that point, really had been moving to Arkansas for school. I mean, let’s be real, it’s Arkansas

I wrote in my journal of a poignant moment towards the end of the trip,

On the boat ride back from the village, the mother of one of the families we worked with took my hand and held it the entire boat ride. Language became nothing in that moment, our communication surpassed words. She gave me a beautiful bracelet off the realm of her dainty wrist. Why? Maybe she wanted to say ‘thank you’. Maybe she noticed me looking at it. Or maybe, it was simply an act of love and recognition of value. She had been the same woman to dance with me at the BBQ, the same woman who shared her children’s upbringing, and the same woman that worked alongside me to lay bricks. We had fellowshippped together and so maybe sharing her bracelet was to serve as a reminder for how God completely transcends anything we know, understand, or grasp. He is at work. At home, here, and in this woman. Thank God for that. 

When I experienced Vietnam, I was introduced to the idea of surpassing cultural limitations.

I firmly believe that’s something God has called me to do.

Below is a video that is just a small piece of what a meal was like in Vietnam. A Vietnamese BBQ to be precise. Grilled pineapple, rice wine, and roasted meat – and that was just the beginning. Like a humid, summer day at the park with family, it was about togetherness. And fellowship. Always fellowship.

That’s a girding force behind moving forward and choosing to do “The Experience.” It’s about building my own relationship with God so I allow the transformative experience of God to work under any kind of circumstances. Any.

http://kbm.donorpages.com/TheExperience/HeatherNewell/

Who Am I? (part three)

Frankie: Father, that was a great sermon….made me weep.

Father Hovak: What’s confusing you this week?

Frankie: Oh, it’s the same old, “one God-three God thing.”

Father Hovak: Frankie, most people figure out by kindergarten that it’s about faith.

Frankie: Is it sort of like snap, crackle, pop, all rolled in one box?

Father Hovak: You are standing outside my church, comparing God to Rice Krispies?

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Frankie, in Million Dollar Baby, is an under appreciated boxing coach who stoops to – gasp! – coaching a dynamic, backwoods woman (Hilary Swank). As the film progresses, viewers observe as Frankie moves beyond his structured reasons of order, relationships, and sport and instead, surrenders to the understanding that limitations are only what we make them – faith included. This is not unlike many “walks with Christ”: God is before, with, and beyond us. The Bible points to a myriad of characteristics regarding God (a leader, comforter, defender, lover, all-knowing, all-powerful…) and while it’s important to track these in Biblical precedence, it’s also an experiential relationship that is revealed heavily when engaged in.

I think back on important moments where I felt the Spirit itself and here’s one I would like to share. In it, a group of young Rwandan leaders are together playing guitar and singing. This moment was captured by a dear friend of mine while beginning a week long boys’ leadership camp. Some of the students that attended were blind and it became a genuine opportunity for stereotypes, assumptions, and nuggets of generalizations to be named, discussed, and broken. God works in all of us; the students singing felt as strongly about that as anyone.

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There’s a movement in the United States, with a vision cast by an energized and compassionate Texan, Jennie Allen, called the If: Gathering.

The premise is simple, but the ramifications are huge:

What if God is Who He says He is?

Communities of women all over the world are gathering and taking this seriously –  fellow-shipping and praying together. Building communities and networks of kindness, hope, and church. Not the structure – but the people.

Even at the church I attend, we are exploring the idea of “covenant” in our young adult community groups – practically and relationally seeking what it means to build a relationship like this with God, others, and our community.

If we say God : (fill in the blank) –

How does this impact what we do?

What does our functional belief system reveal about how we define God?

So, here on my little home of a blog, I’ve been asking the question Who Am I? in contemplating some of these questions. I see, feel, and know God to be an experience. Dynamic, creative, gracious, redemptive, strong, and without blemish. He knows His people and His people are his jewel, remnant, and perfect reward. Above all, God is transformative.

Especially in the name of Truth. Because that’s exactly who He is: TRUE.

Unlike the biblical fire stones of debate that are easily found online, I’m not talking about theological truth, doctrinal truth, or truth as any given person relativizes in their world. I’m talking about life. About the lives we have lived.

Good, bad, beautiful, ugly, weird, eccentric…whatever it has been. Because here is the thing: the PAST is our truth. It doesn’t have to hold us down in bondage by definition, but ultimately: it has happened. We are living to tell about it. Speak. Truth. God has been alongside us the entire time. He knows.

God is transformative because He encourages these discussions. About being true to what has been your life story and maybe what you hope it to be.

However, instead of asking “what do I want to do with my life?” or “what are my gifts?” the trans formative quality of these “truths” can probe a question like,

What is He calling me to?

When that’s the question life becomes a lot less scary.  Fear? It will be taken care of. Doubt? Work through it. It’s normal and it’s no less painful, but step on the right path and at some point these concerns feel….resolved. You walk through them, but you know in the end, you’ll be taken care of.

All of this to say, truth included, that’s not only how I see God working in our world, but that’s precisely why life is taking me where it is in the next few months…and years.

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I am entering an equipping ministry training for 2 months because I believe God is asking for all of my truth and how to enter into conversations with others so they can do the same. Truth really does set people free. I’ve seen it happen time and time again.

After training, I will start a new job. It’s unrelated and totally different from a ministerial type of position. Yet, working with others cross-culturally, building relationships, and building a business model need the foundational wisdom of how to engage others in meaningful conversations and experiences. So, the ministry training will inevitably inform this experience too. I’ll be working for The Women’s Bakery – http://www.womensbakery.com.

Between sharing these two upcoming opportunities and changes in my life with friends and family the last couple of weeks, I have fielded some questions that are important to address.

I have included some of them here. Should you have more, please feel free to contact me at heathermnewell@yahoo.com.

In so far as understanding more about the ministry & equipping training program, you can also visit the ministries link here: http://forgeforward.org/equipping/the-experience.

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Is the Experience related to working for the Women’s Bakery?

No – they are two separate opportunities. The Experience is training; the Women’s Bakery will be a full-time, paid position where I will be based out of Denver, working as the US program director stateside (from home!).

How long is the Experience? The Women’s Bakery?

Two months. I will start mid-May and end mid-July. I will start with the bakery either at the end of July or in early August. I will be traveling to East Africa a few times a year to get experience on the ground, but most of the year, I will be here in Denver.

What exactly do you do during the training with Forge Ministries?

The Experience – the titled training program with Forge – is a two month phased program. The first part is direct training in how to engage in cross-cultural ministry. The second phase is an international mission trip. The third section is utilizing teaching skills and leading a camp for young Christians at the YMCA. The final part includes a mission opportunity stateside as well as “life planning” that involves working with a mentor to map out our lives – past, present, & future. I will be here in Colorado for most of the training – but I will be housed with the other program participants – I will not be living at home. Once I finish, I will return to living at my apartment in the Denver area.

 Will you be converting people with the Experience?

The intention of the program is to build and strengthen the individuals’ relationship with God so they know how to cultivate the kind of world and “kingdom” that God and Jesus speak about in the Bible. Essentially, how to build community. The program focuses intensely on nurturing your own spiritual walk and faith in God so that you live the life that God has called you to.

 Why is the Experience costing you so much money?

It’s a training experience that is literally, experiential. This involves travel. A bulk of the expense is traveling abroad for a mission project – either in Haiti, Guatemala, or Honduras. However, we also will be getting housed, fed, and taught, all of which require financial commitments. To donate please visit the following link:

http://kbm.donorpages.com/TheExperience/HeatherNewell/

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