This week I would like for you to meet Jennifer Thomason and her family, Ben, Addie, and EJ as Jennifer shares how God used a difficult transition to encourage others.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.Isaiah 43:19
If you have ever been uprooted by a move or other life transition, you probably understand the overwhelming need for a sense of belonging and of being known. I experienced those feelings after relocating to Chapel Hill from Charlotte almost 7 years ago with my husband, Ben, and our two daughters, Addie and EJ. I had moved 3 times prior in my adult life, but this move was different. I found myself in a new life stage. My calling as a stay-at-home mom looked a bit different as both my girls now entered elementary school. I began asking God, what His purpose was for me in this new town. About that same time, I adopted a personal vision statement for my life, which was “By God’s grace, to step forward as His woman in my spheres of influence to serve His purposes for His glory.” What were my spheres of influence in this new town and how was I to serve His purposes through them?
Nine years prior, when Ben and I first moved to Charlotte, I had been introduced to a study at a local church based upon the book, After the Boxes are Unpacked: Moving On After Moving In by the founder of Just Moved Ministry, Susan Miller. I felt welcomed from the beginning and realized I wasn’t alone. God used that study in my own life to remind me that He is faithful, He can be trusted, and that He is always with me wherever I go, just as His Word promises. As we looked ahead to relocating to Chapel Hill, I revisited Miller’s book many times, and God planted a seed in my heart to share this study with others.
When you’re new to town, the familiar and comfortable are stripped away from you and it can feel quite lonely. It can leave you feeling like you’re living in the wilderness or a wasteland. That first year in Chapel Hill was a challenging one for me. It was easy to look inward and feel sorry for myself, but God reminded me to look outside of myself and to see the needs of others. I jumped into volunteering and began to meet new women in my neighborhood, at the grocery store, at my girls’ school, and at church. I wasn’t the only newcomer around. With every newcomer I met, I recognized a similar theme: we all desired to be known, to live in community with others, and not to mention, finding a place to get a good haircut! God designed us to live in relationship with one another. I shared Miller’s book with a friend and fellow newcomer who was struggling in her recent move. I also shared with her about the seed God had planted in my own heart to one day lead this study, and she enthusiastically encouraged me to step forward and be obedient to his call.
By God’s grace, I launched the first After the Boxes Are Unpacked or “Boxes” group in Chapel Hill. Leading and facilitating a small group like this was a new experience for me and I had plenty of insecurities – I didn’t view myself as a gifted speaker or teacher – would I have what it takes? God gently reminded me and showed me each week, that in my weakness He is strong, to lean on Him and not my own abilities, and to trust Him in providing all that I needed to lead. He was indeed so very faithful. It started as a grassroots effort and spread by word of mouth. Two dear friends from CHBC partnered with me, committed to pray for this ministry and participated in the study. Any woman who was new to town or still struggling from a move was invited. We met every Tuesday morning at my home for 12 weeks. Women were welcomed with a smile and a hug and a warm cup of coffee. Tears were shed, stories were told, hearts were opened, God’s Word was read, testimonies of His faithfulness were given, prayers were lifted up, and God’s grace abounded. As we walked through the study together, we discussed the 3 important stages that are necessary for a successful move:
- To let go of the past and trust God,
- To start over with hope, and
- To move forward with faith.
The women were encouraged to let their “roots grow down deep in the soil of God’s love” for them. God met us there, in my living room, every week for those 12 weeks, and new groups formed for the next year and a half. Women from different faith backgrounds, ages and stages of life came through this study. As the weeks went on and relationships were deepened, a community has formed. Several of the women already attended CHBC, others were invited and joined. Many others found other churches in the community. Regardless of where we worship on Sunday mornings, this community has supported one another and continues to stay connected.
Offering this study has given me the opportunity to share in practicing hospitality with others, to see women as God sees them – known, belonging and chosen, and to have a platform for sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with women in the community. In the midst of being uprooted by a move and living in a world of constant change, women need to be reminded of the truths of God’s unchanging Word and love for them.
Are you new to this community or know someone who is? Another “Boxes” group will be offered again this fall at CHBC on Tuesday mornings. This is a place where you belong and are loved. We invite you to join us!