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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“I’ll be 100”

I had two important conversations last week.

One was like a perfect glass of orange juice on a Saturday morning, glazed with pulp and fine laughter too. My Sunday small group sat comfortably in a circle, grazing on hummus-infused sandwiches and crunchy tortilla chips when one of my newer friends remarked, “I’ll be 100,” before sharing an innate part of her life. She meant that she would be transparent, honest, with a bit of “you get what you get.” Grinning all around, our discussion was real, or “100” and it always is there in our little church family. It has been the expectation set and the expectation that has continued; we share life.

Days prior, I had the other talk, only this one was a far cry from OJ; instead it was more like a sloshy, artificial, lukewarm 7-Eleven slushie; a hot mess.

We, this person I trusted and myself, sat at the coffee brown high stools of a local Starbucks nervously grasping our warm cups of Americano. Pursing my lips, I waited. He told me of his appreciation of my “courage” to share my story with him but that ultimately, the revelation was not enough for us to, well, frankly, stay together.

A melting slushie is even worse as the flavor dissipates and becomes diluted with water, and this exchange was not different.

I’m going to be “100” here and write this because it needs to be written.

The details do not matter but it was painful; it was rejection.

If you have shared your story; your truth; your experiences; your heart; your struggles; your secrets and you have been rejected, I am sorry.

I am sorry because that is the last thing we should be doing. As neighbors or family, or friends, or within any kind of community, acceptance, mercy, and love no matter what is both the pinnacle and foundation of relationship.

Personally, I have seen enough of the opposite of these kinds of reactions and it is time we move intentionally in a different direction.

I shared my past. My past is full – isn’t that typically the case for any human, for all of us?

Try this. Go walking down your street, turn the corner, look around. The people you skim over? They have been through something. That’s the truth and there isn’t any other way around it. The life we build, the things we go through – it makes us who we are.

If you have struggled with healthy eating, sexuality, broken families, people-pleasing; stand up because I have been there too. Life is messy and it is no use pretending otherwise. My hope is that by sharing, others feel inclined – free – to do so too. Presenting a past relationship on a silver platter in this conversation was risky. It holds stories, feelings, and memories that are some of the most important in my heart and in my life. But I did it. I pressed the imposition of vulnerability because much like facing an overbearing monster in life, you just have to set your own fears aside.

I told him of a woman that I did love and what it was like to go through a relationship like that. The good, the bad, the surprising, the difficulty, and mostly, the isolation of a mostly joyful experience in my life.

Grace, depth, and kindness exited the front door and fear and misunderstanding, with a basket of judgment, sat down and made themselves at home.

Worst of all, he admitted his own lack of knowledge on that part of my life and when pressed, I don’t think he even wanted to know more. Rejection and self-righteousness. Ugh. What’s uglier than that?

How do we bring our stories to the table, connect and dig deeper to find how God has uniquely created us and uses everything in our life for an ultimate good? How do our relationships and experiences serve in a larger picture of refinement and growth?

That question probes me, guides me, and has fueled me whether I have been in Colorado or far outside these boundaries. It’s also a major reason I write; it’s in books, pens, and ideas that we see patterns and experiences that prove there is something more to all of this.

It’s here where I feel called most into ministry – particularly in cross-cultural contexts.

The church needs to be safe.

I hope – I feel called – to be a part of that.

I want to enter ministry and discipleship training to develop further my relationship with God so that I, along with my friends, family, strangers, whomever, can feel safe with whatever their life has looked like.

Shame is not from God; it should not have a place in our church. It’s existed too much in my own relationship and understanding of God, and I am anxiously excited to give that away and replace it with something far more meaningful, truthful, and long-lasting. The ministry training will positively impact, I hope, the way I may work within and outside the church walls down the road.

But, honestly, it will also deepen, change, and challenge the way I understand God. As the training is only one month away, my prayer is that my heart is ready to leave the guilt, shame, secrets, and lies behind. It’s time to embrace truth. It’s time to seek how God sees me. Not how the world defines me, the way I envision my life, or the way the people I love most see me. Those things pale in comparison to being a daughter of God himself. When I left Rwanda in December 2013, I jumped right back into this American life. I took a job. I went back to Rwanda. I came back. I took the same job again. Not once did I really process in a healthy way, and before I get back to my roots in working with an organization that promotes women’s business and empowerment in East Africa, I really do need time to invest in God and my spiritual development.

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. –Micah 6:6

If you are interested in learning more about what I will be doing this summer, please feel free to comment or contact me via email or phone. I would be happy to share.

If you are also interested in contributing to my fundraising efforts, you can visit this link here:

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

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/

experiencing lance

In preparing to pursue God purposefully and intensely in just a couple of months, I have been reflecting upon some of the times, moments, and memories where I remember thinking, “He is here.”

I’ve captured some of them.

Just small glimpses, pictures, and sensory expression, any video I have captured only gets a small part of the story.

Last week, I posted a video from several blind students in Rwanda singing communally and beautifully; just one time of many that God moved my heart.

Here’s another.

This video is small and involves little amount of talking. None, actually. But here’s what happened.

Lance, Dad, and I ventured one summer (it was 2009, actually) through the Grand Canyon and then trekked through Southern California (sunny San Diego!) before journeying up into Las Vegas and Utah, then on home. We had a lovely time in the heat, open roads, and beautiful sites. Lance and I spent a lot of time together on that trip and it was then I really began to be inspired by the kind of human and person he truly is. I’ve experience God intimately because He has been such a testament in my own brother’s life.

One night, late, we were talking in our hotel room. It was around midnight and so we were all sorts of giddy and suddenly, we could not stop laughing. It went something like this:

I genuinely believe God gave us this particular experience to learn about each other, to grow in our own relationship, but also, to have fun. That we did. I’m thankful for not only this moment, but the many I have had with my brother that reassure me that yes, God is at work. In Lance, in me, in all of us.

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I hope to value these relationships more and recognize God when he has ultimately been there all along.

If you would like to help my support my training in ministry this summer with Forge Ministries, you can donate at the link below. Thank you for all your support and prayers. They are much appreciated.

Heather Newell: The Experience

“God loves us”

A bit on this upcoming summer:

to donate, please feel free to visit here:

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

the experience.

“Why do you believe in God?”

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The drizzle of rain and sputtering puddles around the city glistened outside the metropolitan burger joint. I was in Brooklyn with Suzi; one of my dear friends from the Peace Corps, and sipping a peanut butter shake. I swallowed the sweet concoction and paused to answer the question with articulate conviction. I thought, “I can’t really describe it,” and the words felt hard to form. Later, while hiking in Buena Vista, I found the two sentences I had been seeking in that moment,

He has never failed me. He has never left me.

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My belief rests here and is then planted, rooted, and grown because of who Jesus calls us to be in our faith with God. Never again do I want to fumble when someone asks me why. It is a story, yes, but the beauty of our relationship with God is being able to share it.

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In Him and by Him and for Him, all things hold together. – Colossians 1:16

Because brokenness manifests itself differently in our lives, the consequences develop in a multitude of ways. In my own life, control has gripped my heart and often directed my path. On the surface, it’s not so troubling – I succeeded in my drive to be the best athlete I could be, completed a degree at a prestigious college, and blossomed in development work as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer in Rwanda. I love people, working hard, and maintaining many fruitful relationships. Yet, often I have done all this to mask my own pain and hurt. If I could manage it all – in my own strength – I would be just fine, right?

Um, no.

For the past 3 years He has patiently and intentionally dismantled every notion of my own power. He used Rwanda in particular to reveal this to me. More miraculously, He used one of His daughters, Divine, to speak enough wisdom into my life that I could begin to accept what God really has for me.

We bickered once over something silly. She was washing clothes in a basin just perfectly, and when I came alongside her and she tried correcting my form, I got mad. The blue soap continued to press and push in her hands until she dropped it and water plopped near her elbows as she stood up, looked in my eyes, and said, “Heather, you are not perfect, you cannot be perfect… why do you try so hard? You have a fear to be weak. But you have Jesus. You can be calm and rest. Don’t fear, my friend.”

Wow. Talk about truth in your face.

That’s how Rwanda was entirely. The joys, the students, the pain, and the poverty. Yet, by becoming a part of that community, I had to release my own assumptions, desires, and will. I just was and freely accepted what was becoming. When I came back home, my faith in The Lord grew out of totally necessity, but my belief in myself diminished.

Who was I? …What now?

It became a year of deep pain too. Questions of identity, issues with eating properly, pain from watching my brother work through his own issues, and a loss of overall belonging nagged and drug on.

However, in the last year I also depended on God more than ever, found a church home, and began to write and share about this cultural and faith struggle more and more. I began to realize how blessed I have been through it all and that He has always provided.

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At 26, for me, God wants more.

Wired to passionately serve with others from all different places, I must submit my control, my broken heart, and my fear of vulnerability to do so in the name of God. I must forge on with a recommitted heart. And so, I will be committing 2 months this summer to The Experience.

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The Experience is a 58-day equipping program that takes a group of young adults through training, ministry, life planning & coaching. Practical skills training will be the focus for the first several weeks in Denver and this will continue in travel overseas to understand cross-cultural ministry in application. The commonality of all sustained relationships I have built cross-culturally – be it in Vietnam, Ghana, or Rwanda – has been God Himself.

The Experience will expound upon that even further. Following time overseas, the program will send us to serve as leaders of a summer camp for youth exploring Jesus in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Towards the end, our team will work across the United States in ministry opportunities before spending the final phase learning in depth who God made me to be as I prepare to continue my work across cultures.

The Experience is unique and presents itself at a timely point in my life.

Later this Spring when tax season comes to a close (!!), I will finish my time with the financial firm I have been so fortunate to work with this past year. Then, I will begin The Experience from mid-May to mid-July. Following this commitment and beginning in late July, I will resume working cross-culturally as I begin a full-time position with The Women’s Bakery – (click to find out more!) a parent organization that oversees independent and women-operated bakeries in East Africa by providing training, ongoing support, and education. I will work from the United States, but inevitably, will develop relationships across cultural and social lines. Continuing this ever-present passion, I realize that for myself, God must be at the source of it. The Experience will help me do that.

Whatever it is that God has planned for me, it can only be realized with the help of others. Prayer is of the utmost importance as I allow God to lead me and submit to my own plans, power, and control. If you can please pray for this program and my journey through it the next few months that would be greatly appreciated.

Also, I would ask that you prayerfully consider financially partnering with me regarding this training and equipping opportunity.

The cost for the program itself is $5600. This includes housing (I will be living with other program students for the duration of the two months), food, international and domestic travel, teaching, and any needs I would incur during my time in training. Additionally, I will be seeking support to help cover my expenses while I am not living at home (including my rent, loan payments, health insurance, and the Rwanda girls’ education). Those costs equal $2400.

It’s mighty expensive, but as my mother was quick to assure me: this is the life of a missionary.

Whether that becomes the final road I take is uncertain, but as a member of our striving “beloved community”, I hope you can think of this as an investment of resources into people, a movement, and changed lives. It’s an educational experience that allows God’s love to develop and grow.

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If you are able and willing you can support me here: http://kbm.donorpages.com/TheExperience/HeatherNewell/

You may also write a check to Forge and mail it to: 14485 E Evans Ave., Denver, Colorado 80014.

You can include my name “Heather Newell” in the memo.

If you have any questions, or would like to speak further, please call, email, or visit me on my blog website listed below. You can also learn more about Forge and refer to their annual guide at: www.forgeforward.org/annual-guide.

Thank you, love you, and God Bless,

Heather Newell

heathermnewell@yahoo.com

720.288.6697

www.ikundayou.wordpress.com

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