A passion to serve

Paige Butzlaff (left) and fellow volunteers of
BVS unit 313 serving during orientation.
Photos by BVS Staff

By Paige Butzlaff

Since high school I knew I would join Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS). Little did I know that it would shape me for the rest of my life. But what I’ve come to discover throughout this whole experience, from switching projects, from being hospitalized due to depression, from continuously doubting my capabilities to complete assignments, and to even doubting my own faith, I’ve come out stronger and more steadfast in the direction I want to steer my life. I’ve developed passions for things that make my heart sing. I’ve grown farther and yet closer to my faith than ever before. I knew BVS would be somewhat like college, where one leaves home and everything they ever knew to embark on a journey of discovering who they are and what they were put on earth to accomplish, and that’s why I wanted to join BVS.

When I was seven years old I wrote in my diary that I wanted to help “poor, needy and sick people.” I didn’t know it at that time, but that’s when I found my calling in life. I now know that I’m passionate about not just helping others, but serving them. Helping implies that someone is helpless, but serving implies that you are encouraging someone to find their own strength, not denying that they can take care of themselves. Helping puts the helper on a pedestal. But serving puts you right there with the person you are serving, so your humanity meshes with their humanity. Rarely do we get the chance to recognize our own humanity, let alone acknowledge others, and empathize with them, especially in the culture we’ve been born and raised in.

BVS has helped me be the person I want to be. I’m serving others in a capacity that I never thought I’d be doing, but it’s worked and I’m grateful for the opportunity. What’s allowed me to discover more about who I am as an individual and where I’ll leave my mark in this world is not only my work at the General Offices, but the everyday occurrences between places I visit and people I meet. I’ve learned so much about myself by attending Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren, and I’ve met some incredible people there. My housemates at the BVS house in Elgin are inspiring people, and although we don’t always see eye to eye on issues, they have been super supportive of my journey and I have learned a lot about them as well. Who knows what’s in store for me after BVS, but I’ll always have this experience to look back on and thank God for providing me with this incredible opportunity.

Paige Butzlaff recently finished serving through Brethren Volunteer Service as a volunteer in Congregational Life Ministries. Learn more about the life-changing ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org, or support them today at www.brethren.org/give . 

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Seeking the welfare of the city

Congregational Life Ministry staff Joshua Brockway (front row, second from left)
and Debbie Eisenbise (center) with spiritual directors at a retreat in June 2016.
Photo courtesy of Debbie Eisenbise

By Josh Brockway, director of Spiritual Life and Discipleship

I attended worship on New Year’s Eve with close friends at their congregation. The sermon that night emerged from the pastor’s study of Jeremiah 29. For that time of the year, his sermon was appropriately focused on verse 11: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

As I often do, I started reading the verses before that important verse. In reading the book of Jeremiah, we learn that the letter presented to the exiles in Babylon begins with a less than hopeful note, especially for those who were longing to be released. “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage.” For those in exile, it sounds like they are going to be waiting a while. And in fact, in verse 10, that truth is confirmed. “For thus says the Lord, only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.”

Certainly, this is a word from God to a people in a land not of their own making. That is the definition of exile. Yet, this word has a profound message beyond how long the people could expect to be held captive by Babylon. The people of God, says the prophet, are to “seek the welfare of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7). For in the peace of the city, the exiles will find their own welfare.

These words are not a weak reminder to live at peace with those around them. Rather, it is a posture with deep theological connotations. This welfare, this peace is nothing short of shalom, the peace of God that offers wellness and wholeness to all God’s people. The captives are to work for this kind of peace for their captors. They are not, as some false prophets suggested, to incite a revolt to overthrow the imperial rulers. Rather, the welfare of God’s people is bound up together with the peace of those who are also their judgment.

Today, many feel like our land is not our own. Some have even gone so far as to invoke the image of exile for the church. If we are indeed exiles, how then should we live? Should we pray for revolt, bloodless or otherwise, or should we seek the welfare of our neighbors, living by the peace of God in the midst of a foreign culture?

Brethren have long been misfits in Christendom. Much of our early growth can be traced to the peculiar way of life that sought the wellbeing of those around them. At the same time, the early Brethren refused to take part in revolution, either in the peaceful transition of power or by the sword itself. Instead, they continued to live within the blessing of God’s peace, praying for friend and foe alike.

Ministries and programs of the Church of the Brethren continue to shape us as disciples, sending us into the world as we seek the welfare of all. Congregational Life Ministries coordinates a network of spiritual directors who have the gifts and skills to help us look for where God is at work around us. The Office of Ministry supports pastors, district executives, and others through the ordination process, and asks that candidates for ordination work with a coach or spiritual director so that their own eyes are fixed on the presence of God in their ministries. The Office of Public Witness continues to provide avenues for our prayerful presence within an ever-changing culture. All of these and more reveal the sacrificial love of God and the peace of Christ, which are for all people.

As we envision the Church of the Brethren in the coming years, may we seek the welfare of the city. May we continue the long history of caring for the sick and marginalized. May we continue to find ways to teach our youth the blessing of God’s peace. And may we find ways to strengthen our congregations as places known for their local ministries of reconciliation.

Your prayers and financial support help keep this witness alive. Thank you for continuing to seek the welfare of the city, and for supporting the ministries of your local and denominational church. For our greatest witness to the world comes in our patient efforts to embody God’s shalom for all those around us.

Learn more about the work of Congregational Life Ministries at www.brethren.org/clm. Support these and all of the ministries of the Church of the Brethren today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Mutuality in mission

Debbie Eisenbise leading a workshop at the  2016 New Church Planting Conference.  Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Debbie Eisenbise leading a workshop at the
2016 New Church Planting Conference.
Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

By Debbie Eisenbise, director of Intergenerational Ministries

Someone recently asked me what I believe it means to be Brethren. Thinking back, I realized that it was a simple phrase that convinced me to join the church. I didn’t grow up in the Church of the Brethren. I grew up going to church, studied religion in college, and then became acquainted with the denomination through Brethren Volunteer Service. There, I first heard the phrase, “mutuality in mission.”

Mission philosophies come and go, and we may not talk about our engagement with the world this way anymore. However, what struck me at the time (and still does) was not the words themselves but how they are embodied in our church. We are people who put faith into action, and do so with others. We look for ways to work with others, to engage in community efforts, and to be of service where needs have been identified by local groups. We listen to others. We make decisions together.

Mutuality in mission requires us to respond to the needs of people in the church and in the world, and to work alongside others for the good of all. It is faith in action. Before I met the Brethren, I thought faith was a private thing, a way of believing that helped each person maintain a particular perspective on life. Now I know that, while faith is personal, it is not private, and the gifts of faith that each of us possess are to be used for the common good.

Before I came into the Church of the Brethren, I had never participated in feetwashing. Although I was familiar with the Bible, I’m not sure that scripture (John 13) made much of an impact on me. In the Church of the Brethren, I was surprised to find that this scripture was not only frequently cited but also enacted. It wasn’t just a story about Jesus and his disciples at that last supper. These were also instructions for us today. Jesus tells us: “I have set you an example that you also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). As Brethren, we take this quite literally, and not just in worship. Mutuality in mission means that we serve others, and, acknowledging our own vulnerability, allow others to serve us in return. Indeed, faith in action is relational. We give and receive. Together we share God’s love and build community.

I saw this happening at various denominational conferences I attended in May. At the New Church Planting Conference, Brethren brothers and sisters of various races and cultures came together to pray for each other’s ministries. At the Church of the Brethren Spiritual Directors’ retreat, ideas were shared about how to make spiritual direction more available to pastors to strengthen and encourage them in ministry. At the National Young Adult Conference, participants took time one afternoon to connect across generations with older adults at Timbercrest Senior Living Community.

Congregations across the country are joining the Open Roof Fellowship through intentionally ministering to and with persons of all physical, mental, and developmental abilities. Others are actively engaged in creating safe spaces for all people, particularly children and vulnerable adults, to worship, learn, fellowship, and serve together. At our conferences, in workcamps, through Brethren Volunteer Service, and in our congregations, we come together to put our faith into action, to engage in mutuality in mission. Thank you for all you do to respond to this call through prayers, gifts, worship, and service.

Learn more about the Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/clm or support them today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Amazing

Mark Flory Steury at the Church of the Brethren General Offices. Photo by Dewayne Heck

Mark Flory Steury at the Church of the Brethren General Offices.
Photo by Dewayne Heck

By Mark Flory Steury, Donor Relations representative

“It’s amazing how much the Church of the Brethren is able to do.”

This is a comment I hear often as I talk with congregational leaders and pastors about the denominational work of the Church of the Brethren. It has been my joy to visit many congregations over the past five years, and to thank them for being so generous! For well over one hundred years, congregations have faithfully supported the work of the church through their offerings.

When I visit a congregation, we talk about the ways the Church of the Brethren is currently serving in ministry both domestically and abroad. Globally we have partners in Nigeria, India, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Haiti, Spain, South Sudan and many other places. We help people in times of need through Brethren Disaster Ministries, Children’s Disaster Services, and the Global Food Initiative. Volunteers serve as the hands and feet of Jesus through Brethren Volunteer Service and Workcamps. These are some of the ways that we extend the love of God to others.

We also provide resources for churches and individuals across the country. We support the work of new churches through the Church Planting Conference. We equip church leaders and members through the work of Congregational Life Ministries, the Ministry Office, and Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leaderships, and through materials like Vital Ministry Journey, the Anabaptist Worship Exchange, the Shine curriculum, and webinars. Faith-forming, community-fostering conferences and programs are provided throughout the year like National Junior High Conference, Christian Citizenship Seminar, Ministry Summer Service, National Young Adult Conference, and National Older Adult Conference. Conversation and information are shared through Newsline and Messenger magazine. We also have wonderful historical resources preserved through the Brethren Historical Library and Archives. This is just a brief overview of the many ministries we do together!

Amazing! How is the Church of the Brethren able to do all of this? It’s only with the support of congregations and individuals who are willing to work together for a common mission and ministry.

It is remarkable how much the Church of the Brethren is able to do. Thank you so much for your awesome support. We can do this work only because of your partnership. May God bless us as we continue in our work together.

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org or support them today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Faithfulness through anxious times

Josh Brockway speaking at Annual Conference 2015. By Regina Holmes

Josh Brockway speaking at Annual Conference 2015.
By Regina Holmes

A reflection by Josh Brockway, director of Spiritual Life and Discipleship

Truth be told, I wasn’t ready for my pastoral care class in seminary. One spring afternoon we participated in a role play exercise in which the scene was a funeral. Most of the class was the congregation, and one classmate lay on a table as if he were in a casket. A few minutes into the funeral, the teaching assistant began wailing, stood up, moved to the front of the room, and laid himself across the “deceased.” After ninety seconds of this, I was done. I shifted in my seat, trying to catch the glance of our professor so he would end this excruciating exercise.

In technical terms, I was consumed by anxiety. Even when I looked at my professor, he didn’t stop the mock funeral. He was completely calm and collected even though the class seemed out of control.

Pastoral counselors tell us that in times of high anxiety, we often make quick and rash decisions. Even more importantly, leaders in anxious systems have a calling to be calm. In difficult situations, leaders should both limit anxiety in a system and provide a wise, non-anxious presence to guide the community.

These are certainly anxious times for our culture and church. We need only read the daily news headlines or look at the most recent study about Christianity in the United States to see this. As a church, we are not immune. Financial concerns, membership decline, and significant conflicts all heighten the anxiety across the denomination. However, as a church we have called and trained leaders who know the questions before us and offer a non-anxious presence to guide us. We certainly need new thinking in days like these and an imagination formed in the ways of God.

While our monetary offerings to our congregations, districts, and the denomination will not ease the anxiety, they do support the leaders who guide us as people of faith.

Your gifts support the formation and education of our ministers through programs such as “Healthy Boundaries” and ethics training courses for our ordained and licensed ministers. These dollars also make possible live and recorded webinars such as the current series on Anabaptist core convictions, which is available to lay leaders and pastors. What is more, your gifts further our work to fulfill life-giving Annual Conference directives such as “Separate No More” that guide us to becoming a more culturally competent community.

While the world fuels our anxiety each day, these efforts and leaders offer us a non-anxious way to be faithful followers of Jesus. When questions of finances, church structure, or race and empire challenge our assumptions, the ministries of the Church of the Brethren provide places for us to become more Christ-like in all we do.

We as staff of the Church of the Brethren, on behalf of our districts and congregations, thank you for all you do. We thank you for every dollar that makes these ministries and many more possible. We pray that we all can experience and share the needed non-anxious presence that urges us toward a new day.

Learn more about the work of Congregational Life Ministries at www.brethren.org/clm . Support these and all of the ministries of the Church of the Brethren today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Sharing great love

Debbie Eisenbise with Sherri Arrington, principal of Junaluska Elementary School. Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Debbie Eisenbise with Sherri Arrington, principal of Junaluska Elementary School.
Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

By Debbie Eisenbise, director of Intergenerational Ministries

“Don’t look for big things; just do small things with great love.”—Mother Theresa

Sometimes all it takes is a simple request. The theme of National Older Adult Conference (NOAC) last September “Then Jesus Told Them a Story” inspired such a request. The goal: collect enough new picture books to give one to each of the 450 students at Junaluska Elementary School. This challenge was met with great generosity! It was a blessing to see the story unfold.

Jim and Libby Kinsey of Hope Church of the Brethren in Freeport, Mich., participated in the service project, making their donation and witnessing the presentation of those 450 books to Principal Sherri Arrington. Before going home, they volunteered to deliver two additional donations to Junaluska Elementary. Libby shared that the building was beautiful and relatively new, but state budget cuts severely impacted school programming.

Libby and Jim had the opportunity to meet with the Principal Arrington, who was delighted with the gift of books from NOAC. “I feel so blessed,” said Principal Arrington. “I have told the story over and over of this remarkable event that occurred in the life of my school. When things have been incredibly tough—budget cuts, a charter school opening in town, and other struggles—your group [showed up]. In my 37 years of public education, I have never experienced such generosity and kindness.”

Jim and Libby’s experience, which began at NOAC, inspired them to more service. Libby shares, “Our picture book donation was priceless, but I kept thinking about how strapped their budget had become, and how classroom libraries had been hit so hard…. Since little is nearer and dearer to our hearts than boosting literacy, Jim and I discussed our commitment on our way home: to get 200 new books into each third through fifth grade classroom by NOAC 2017.”

Since her retirement from 38 years of teaching, Libby regularly volunteers at the Scholastic Books warehouse, and is “paid” with boxes of new books. These books are now sent to children at Junaluska Elementary School. To increase their donation, Libby and Jim involved family, asking for additional donations to be made in lieu of adults exchanging gifts at Christmastime.

New books and the stories they tell lift children’s spirits, help them make sense of this challenging world, and encourage them to read. What began at NOAC 2015, a simple act of sharing something small, will make a positive impact on the givers and receivers for years to come. It is in this way that a small request produces a great outpouring of God’s love.

National Older Adult Conference is one of several conferences hosted by Congregational Life Ministries, a Core Ministry of the Church of the Brethren. Learn more about National Older Adult Conference 2015 at www.brethren.org/noac or support it and other life-changing ministries of your church at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Sharing the story

Alexander Gee Jr. and Jonathan Shively sharing  stories at the 2015 National Older Adult Conference. Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Alexander Gee Jr. and Jonathan Shively sharing
stories at the 2015 National Older Adult Conference.
Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

By Josh Brockway, director of Spiritual Life and Discipleship

At the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus shares the “Great Commission”— “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a).

Some highlight this as a command to evangelize, and they are right. Brethren have also pointed to this passage for our triune practice of baptism, and they are right. But neither is the whole picture.

What is profound about this simple passage is the gift Christ gives his followers. There on the mount, in his final earthly moments, Jesus entrusted his disciples with the full story of God’s Good News. It took them a while (50 days, to be exact) to really understand Jesus’ commandment, but they became stewards of the story nonetheless. And they did it—going into all nations, teaching what Jesus taught, and baptizing people by the thousands.

This bearing of the Jesus story has carried on through generations of disciples. Each of us can list the people who taught us significant lessons about God—the family member who exemplified unconditional love; the Sunday school teacher who finally made sense of the resurrection; the camp counselor who listened to questions of faith; and the spiritual friend who boldly asked about your prayer life.

As Brethren, we cherish the stories of our past. We love to tell the stories of how radical acts of service and peacemaking grew into lasting movements within the wider church. We herald our own catalogue of saints, those who embodied core teachings of the Brethren with courage and grace. However, telling these stories is only part of the task we have been given. We only tell half the story if we miss the long line of connections to the actual story of Jesus. Our cherished Brethren stories are ones about radical and compassionate acts of following Jesus. And as Peter says, we should be quick to tell why these stories are the root of the hope we have within us (1 Peter 3:15). For the same Spirit that was at work in Jesus and in the Brethren saints is also at work in us now.

Sisters and brothers, we are not merely a peace church. We are not even a servant people. Rather, we are followers of Jesus, in whom we see the full nature and plan of God. We follow Jesus, who rejected the sword and took up the towel. We are peacemakers and servants, not because of previous Brethren, but because of Jesus who entrusted his story to us. Out of obedience to Jesus as teacher and savior, we go into the world as peacemakers and servants. It is then that we are stewards of the Jesus story. And as we go into the world, we are to share that story, making disciples through baptism and teaching, through service and making peace.

Learn how the story of Jesus is shared through the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org . Support our Core Ministries today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Stories of NOAC 2015

The beautiful Lake Junaluska at NOAC 2015. Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

The beautiful Lake Junaluska at NOAC 2015.
Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

By Kim Ebersole, former director of National Older Adult Conference (NOAC)

The creative energy was flowing as the 2015 NOAC planning team gathered for its initial meeting in May 2014. The primary concern of every NOAC planning committee is to create an experience that inspires, nurtures, challenges, and renews those who attend.

Again and again, the 2015 team remembered what was shared by 2013 keynote presenter Phyllis Tickle about the importance of telling our faith stories to our children, grandchildren, and others we encounter. With this inspiration, we created the 2015 theme, “Then Jesus Told Them a Story,” related to Matthew 13:34-35.

The 2015 event lived up to its storytelling theme as preachers, keynote speakers, workshop leaders, musicians, and performers explored the stories of Jesus, and encouraged us to share our own stories through conversation, writing, art, drama, music, and service to others far and near.

One of the greatest joys of NOAC over the years is hearing how the gathering has positively impacted the lives of those who participate. Attending NOAC can be a transformative experience, as these quotes from 2015 attendees attest:

“It feels good to have Brethren living together with love, laughter, and great hospitality to one another. It’s like fresh air coming down out of the mountains that causes us to look up and smile.”

“I walk beside the still waters of the lake, smell the roses, and my soul feels restored, healed from the daily grind back home.”

“I feel so alive, so refreshed, renewed, challenged to reinvent myself into a better vessel for service and ministry.”

“My life’s story has not been fully written. Gaining inspiration from NOAC speakers, the next chapter has the potential to be the best one.”

“No one told me about the power of NOAC. I’m going home and getting a group of my friends ready for the next one.”

We hope you will attend the next NOAC in 2017 (September 4-8) at Lake Junaluska,N.C., and experience the power of NOAC for yourself. How beautiful it is to fellowship together and feel the creative energy of God move on that sacred ground.

Kim Ebersole recently completed nine years of service to the Church of the Brethren. Learn more about the 2015 National Older Adult Conference at www.brethren.org/noac . Support this and other ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Being an Offering

Lauren Seganos preaching at National Junior High Conference in July. Photo by Glenn Riegel

Lauren Seganos preaching at National Junior High Conference in July.
Photo by Glenn Riegel

A sermon by Lauren Seganos for the National Jr. High Conference 2015

“Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking around life—and place it before God as an offering” (Romans 12:1-2, The Message).

What comes to mind when you hear the word “offering”? I think of the offering plates we pass during worship. Children drop in pennies or quarters. Adults write checks to their congregation. And these offerings are collected to pay the pastor’s salary, the church air conditioning bill, or for a rented van so the youth can go to National Junior High Conference.

Now imagine what it would look like if, instead of dropping money into the offering plate, you hopped into the plate yourself? Imagine sitting in the plate, your knees bent to your chest, and grabbing the sides of the plate with each hand. People pass you along, probably giving you strange looks, and the experience reminds you of crowd surfing.

What a ridiculous thing to imagine, being in the offering plate with envelopes and cash. But what might it look like to be an offering to God? How might that work?

Growing up, I loved to sing, and from what I could tell, the people around me enjoyed it too. I grabbed every opportunity to do it—in school and community choirs, in school musicals, at school basketball games, and at church. Singing was something that brought me joy.

But in junior high and high school, a friend always sang better, getting the part whenever we auditioned for musicals or solos in concerts. No matter how hard I tried, she always performed better than me. Once, I was asked to sing at a coffee house, but out of spite or pride, I refused. “I’m not as good as her, so why sing at all?” I thought. I wasn’t special or unique, just an ordinary, average singer.

After college, I realized that even though I won’t sing for a career or be the best, it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t sing at all. Today, you’ll find me singing while I’m doing everything, especially while driving my car or cleaning my apartment. I know now that singing is one of the best ways to nourish my soul and praise God by using my gift.

Maybe you can relate. Is there something that nourishes you and gives you deep joy? Maybe you do it every day: like kicking around a soccer ball, writing stories, or drawing. Maybe you make people laugh, or help others feel included and loved. These are gifts God has given you. And it’s not about being the best. It’s about using those talents every day, in ordinary ways, to bring joy to yourself, to others, and to God. This is what it looks like to be an offering to God.

Lauren Seganos is a licensed minister at Stone Church of the Brethren in Huntingdon, Pa.. To hear the full version of this sermon visit www.brethren.org/podcasts  . Learn more about National Junior High Conference and Youth and Young Adult ministries at www.brethren.org/yya or support them today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

 

Be strong and courageous

Photo by Kristen Hoffman

Photo by Kristen Hoffman

A reflection by Laura Whitman

It’s that time again. If you stay still you can almost feel it. Change. It’s constantly happening, but seems more prevalent this time of year: vacations end; a final burst of heat before the cool of fall; kids return to school. Even the General Offices feel this shift as summer busyness subsides, people return to their offices after summer travel, goodbyes are shared with Brethren Volunteer Service volunteers, and new volunteers arrive. Change.

With the uncertainty of change and transitions, there are three uninvited hitchhikers that tag along: anxiousness, worry, and fear. Swirling thoughts can keep us up at night: How will we get through this? What if something goes terribly wrong? These thoughts can become debilitating fears.

Deuteronomy 31 reveals a time of change and unknown. Moses was retiring from leadership and appointed Joshua to lead the Israelites to the promised land. I’m sure both Joshua and the Israelites felt anxious in this transition. In verse 6, Moses gives them a pep talk: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified… for the LORD your God goes with you”(NIV).

Be strong and courageous. I don’t know about you, but when I get lost in worry and anxiousness, I don’t feel strong and courageous—I feel like putting on sweatpants, hiding from my problems, and seeking temporary comfort from a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. In these moments, I also need a pep talk. Recently my favorite author, Elizabeth Gilbert, shared a story that spoke directly into my anxious soul.

Elizabeth wrote about a recent vacation to Miami Beach, Fla., where she was startled by a cell phone notification about a tornado warning in her vicinity. She began to panic and quickly sought shelter in a dressing room at a store. After another notification said the storm had passed, she realized that the warning was not for Miami, but rather for her hometown over 1,000 miles away. She wrote: “99.9% of the time I panic over NOTHING — allowing myself to become saturated with anxiety over imaginary tornadoes.… When the actual tornadoes of our life do come, my experience is this: we tend to be able to handle them. Oftentimes we handle real disasters better than we handle the FEAR of possible disasters.”

How many times are we like Elizabeth? Letting the fear of the unknown—tornadoes we invent during times of change—steer us off track until we find ourselves cowering in a dressing room unsure of what led us there. Instead of letting worries distract us, we can remain calm because God is with us through storms, imagined or real, and helps us face transitions and changes courageously.

Laura Whitman serves through Brethren Volunteer Service as a volunteer in Congregational Life Ministries. Learn more about the life-changing ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org, or support them today at www.brethren.org/give

(Read this issue of eBrethren)