On Upturned Plans and a Leap of Faith: Laura Armbrust's Adoption Story

I first knew I wanted adoption to be a part of my story when I was 10 years old. There was a poster in the public library of older children who needed to be adopted, and I was sure I needed to be their big sister. While it wasn't something that was in the plan for my family at the time, it has always remained in my heart as something I just inherently knew would be a part of my life at some point.

When the church announced the hosting program last summer, I felt that tug, and thought that even though it couldn't possibly be a calling to adopt internationally (after all, MY plan was domestic adoption, and that was probably a few years down the road still), I thought that this could be a way for me to help in a small way in some child's life, and would hopefully lead to that child finding a family. I ended up hosting two sisters--Ketty and Dayana--and I DEFINITELY knew my place was just advocating for them. I had no plans to adopt two more children and I had no plans to suddenly have a teenager.

Now I know that God loves to laugh in the face of our plans. I'm pretty sure I fell in love the moment I met them, and for weeks after they left, I felt like I might be going crazy: every time I spoke with a family about them, or shared why they are so amazing, or prayed for God to find them a family, I heard this voice speaking all of it right back to me. And every argument I threw back, was met with a resounding response of, "I have prepared you for this. This is MY plan for you." And when I didn't want to listen to the still, small voice in my heart, God put people in my life who spoke truth to me. As I cried over their future, one of my close friends basically said, "Why are you crying? You know what you have to do, so why aren't you doing it?"

Then I took a leap of faith, and God has had me every step of the way. I have been in awe of not only how everything has fallen into place so easily, but how at peace I feel. I'm not adopting. I'm just bringing my girls home.

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Out of Reach: A Reading by Kayla Keele

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To open our worship on December 13th, member Kayla Keele shared the followed reflection she wrote about the birth of her son and the birth of God’s Son, too:

Caspian Quentin Keele entered the world at 11:25 am Central European Time on November 24, 2014. He was 8 pounds,  3 oz and 21 inches long. He was a healthy little baby with a round face and steel gray eyes. I felt tired, of course, but also content. Our baby, our long awaited little one, was finally within our reach.

Trevor and I took turns holding Caspian until it was time to move mommy and baby to the postnatal wing. A nurse took charge of carrying our baby while I attempted to walk to the waiting wheelchair. Instead, I passed out on the floor. They revived me and got Caspian and I each settled down in our own beds. I was given an IV in my arm  to combat the dehydration that was making me dizzy, and Caspian and I both fell asleep.

When I woke up, I turned on my side to look at my little baby. There he was, in his little bed, breathing deeply in peaceful sleep. I had wanted to hold him. I wanted him by my side. And that was when he sneezed. A sneeze is such an ordinary thing, except when the sneezer is a few hours old. It made me really realize that he was no longer a part of my body, but was a separate person entirely. In a moment when he was out of my reach, my heart was flooded with joy for the gift we had been given.

I can only imagine, from my experience, the range of things God must have felt and thought as he watched his Only Son coming into the world, being swaddled and placed in a manger, sleeping and sneezing. Just like Caspian’s birth was a welcome end to my pregnancy, Jesus’ birth had been planned for quite some time. But it meant that Father and Son, parent and child, had to separate for a time in a way they never had before. And that would make any parent’s heart ache.

Instead of being at his Father's side, Jesus was in a manger, sleeping off his entry into the world, lovingly wrapped in swaddling cloths by his young mother. And whether it was from the hay that was keeping him warm, or a bit of animal dander, or dust in the air, Jesus might have sneezed. And with joy, God signaled the angels: it’s time for a birth announcement in the fields. Go and tell humanity what they have been given.


On Clearing Brush, Fixing Windows, and Painting Brick: One Way Our Teens are Living Love this Summer

From youth group member Shelby Schmidt:

This past week I participated in a work camp in Arlington.  The work camp works with code enforcement to find out what homes in the area have been fined.  Then the local church that hosts the camp goes out and asks residents if they’d like their yard and house redone for free. In exchange, they asked the residents to tell a bit about themselves so that the students would know who they are helping. The students that participate in this camp spend $50 to participate. This money is used for the materials that are needed to repair the houses.

This year there were nine groups of about twenty kids.  One group, “Special Forces,” was assigned the job of cutting down overgrown bushes and trees.  They also would fix the rotten wood on the house. The other eight groups were put in charge of scraping old paint off the house, adding fresh paint to the outside, repairing windows, and clearing any smaller plants or branches out of the way for the owners.

As a student that participated in this camp this year I was touched.  The couple that my group helped had a sad story.  The husband was an alcoholic and the wife had cancer.  The husband was so grateful each day for all the work that we were doing.  He brought us popsicles and cold water one day to show his appreciation.  On the last day, he wheeled his wife out, and she got to see her freshly painted house and wheelchair ramp.  She was so moved that she cried.  It made me see how God used my group to help just this one family and made me glad that I got to go.  It was hard and hot work but when I saw their faces on the last day all that I could feel was love and joy.  I can’t wait to participate again in the future. I would encourage anyone that gets the chance to do the same. 

Check out the news coverage of this outreach effort here: http://www.star-telegram.com/latest-news/article213016264.html

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Here's a video showing the work the kids did this last week:

On Learning Empathy: A Metamorphosis Story

From elder Danny Champion, to end our Metamorphosis communion series:

I hate hospitals. I hate the smell. I hate the interruption of my day. After all, at the time, the hospital was about a three minute drive in light traffic from my house. I hate the reason hospitals have to exist – that is, the suffering. I hate visiting hospitals. For years, I avoided hospitals like the plague. Then, one day about nine years ago, I entered the hospital for what was supposed to be a 4-5 day visit and ended up staying two weeks. To be honest, I had lots and lots of visitors. There were people who I never thought would visit who showed up. I was not that I had any conflict with these people, I just did not have a very strong relationship with them. Then, there were people who I expected to visit, people I had a relationship with them, who did not show up. I figured they were like me and did not like hospitals. And, there were countless hours of total isolation. It was during these long quiet hours that I was being transformed both physically and spiritually. 

Physically, I was being healed. That was the easy part. Spiritually, I was being transformed into a more empathetic person. I was able to walk in the shoes, or at least wear the gown, of someone who was laid up in a hospital room for days on end. I was a different person when I left. All of a sudden, I was actively looking for people from church that were in the hospital. When I received the weekly church bulletin, I was looking for people who were either in the hospital or were going into the hospital. I visited people who I had to introduce myself to because they did not recognize me outside of the church building. (Maybe, I should have worn a tie.) 

This change only came because I was able to see the importance of the human touch from both sides. Since I have moved here, I have not been able to visit as many people in the hospital as I would like. Some of you are a little more than three minutes away and sometimes, you are out of the hospital before I can get there. But, I do pray for every person I read about who I in the hospital. Sometimes, I have to look your picture up in the directory, but I do pray for you.

Jesus experienced our suffering from both sides of heaven. He sees how we suffer while setting at the right hand of God and he experienced how we suffer first hand while he walked on the earth. And let’s be honest. My suffering was nothing compared to the suffering Jesus experienced on our behalf. But, it is through Jesus’ suffering that we are being changed.

As we are remember the suffering Jesus experienced on our behalf, let us remember how His suffering transforms us a little bit each day.  

We gather to offer thanksgiving for the suffering Christ, crushed and made new. We gather to offer thanksgiving for our own suffering, suffering making us new.

Because of His Great Love: On the 2018 Women's Retreat

A few weeks ago our women gathered in Salado, TX for our 2018 women's retreat. Our speaker Arlene Kasselman led our hearts and minds in purposeful reflection on what it means to be loved by God and how that one truth shapes our identity and actions. 

Here are a few photos and some highlights shared by women who attended:

After attending this year's women's retreat, what are you going home with? What did you learn?

Pamela Crider Champion:  I learned that God will take what I can do, my interests, my passions, my life and meld that with what He wants me to do. Simple but difficult.

Amber Benskin: The law was given not out of a means to dictate to us rules but rather to show us how to live in better community with another. Even God's cleansing of the temple was because of those being marginalized.

Lisa Seward Shultz: I do not have to live in the past, feeling guilty about things I have done and things that have happened to me. I can let go of that "baggage" and trade it for better things, things God has intended for me. I need to step into the role of my true identity. Believe all the things that God says I am.

Michelle Mohrmann: This is what stuck with me....
Your (my) worth has been taken out of your (my) hands and decided in your (my) favor. 
Relating this to my identity in Christ as described in Ephesians 1&2, I am adored, redeemed, forgiven, chosen, included, loved.

Tiffany Sanders: When we remember who we really are and whose we really are, it’s a game changer. By filling ourselves with the words He identifies us by, we become amazingly free and whole again.

Tanja Whitehead Wren: I learned the importance of discussion. I went into small group thinking a certain way and through the course of discussion I was challenged in my thinking. I was also able to see characteristics in myself that I hadn’t thought about but were shared by others. Without discussion it is impossible to truly grow and understand.

On Being Open-Handed: A Recap of How We Spent (and are spending) Our 2017 Extra

This past Sunday we had the extraordinary opportunity to share with you the effects of your generous giving in 2017, giving above and beyond our budget by more than $145,000. In case you missed the run-down of ways God used your money this year, here's the good news (you can either watch the video or read the full text below):


TRANSCRIPT:

We want to share some good news with you. We’re 2 weeks into 2018. And in light of that, we want to take a quick look back at 2017, celebrate some things you know about, and let you in on some things you don’t know about.

Over the past year, among many other things,

  • You gathered together for ShareFest to give our extra to over 500 people in need.
  • You hosted almost 200 kids from this city for a week of Champs Camp, where they had a blast learning about Jesus and worshipping together.
  • You invited our neighbors across the street to a party where we fed them and gave their children over 200 backpacks filled with school supplies.
  • You gathered again and again for Plus One Celebrations, packing out living rooms and kitchens and backyards to celebrate baptisms, thanking God for salvation and life.
  • You blessed Voigt Elementary’s teachers, volunteered at Voigt’s events, mentored their students, and prayed for their faculty.
  • You provided a place every Monday right here in this building for dozens of children to have school.
  • You sent teenagers and adults on mission trips to Houston and China and Nepal.
  • You funded a year’s worth of mission work by an incredible couple in Zagreb, Croatia--who you’ll hear from later on.
  • You served and grieved alongside people who said goodbye to precious loved ones this year.
  • You drove people to AA meetings and made meals for struggling families.
  • You created 4 new small groups, giving 92 more adults and kids a circle in which to love and be loved.
  • You welcomed 66 new members into the RRCOC family and cheered for 21 baptisms.

And honestly, all of that is just the tip of the iceberg.

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You may remember that in 2016 (the year before last) you went above and beyond with your financial generosity.

As we closed the year that December, and what you had done over the course of the year became evident, it was so fun to get to share that with you. You enabled some beautiful, incredible things.

But that Sunday in December of 2016, as we shared your giving and our plans, I closed that message with these words: “As we look ahead to 2017, let’s remember: give more and we’ll do more. Let’s get crazy.”

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And you did. Because of your generosity and intentional giving, we ran a surplus this year.

Again.

You gave more. And so, we did more.

And because we’re Feast People, who gather regularly to celebrate the incredible blessing and work of God, we want to celebrate what God did and let you know about some of the ways we shared our extra…

Every year we budget more than $30,000 in benevolence--that’s money given to struggling families (inside and outside of our church) to help get them through trying times and enable them to get back on their feet. We pay water bills. We hand out HEB gift cards to help with groceries or medicine. We buy gas. This year, thanks to your open-handed giving, we were able to add an extra  $20,000 to our benevolence work, meeting the needs of over 150 families.

Some of your extra giving this year enabled us to take care of our aging building and outfit it to meet our growing needs. We added TVs to the balcony, improved our sound system, installed a new security system,  renovated classrooms, added a defibrillator in the foyer, kept up the  basketball goals in the parking lot as a service to the neighborhood kids who come over to play ball, and, among other things, replaced the baptistry  water heater just a few days before we welcomed five people into that water to put on Christ.

Because of your open-handed giving, we decided to do again what you enabled us to do in 2016 and devote another $9,000 for microgrants to Voigt Elementary to empower teachers to pursue creative and innovative ways of reaching their students.

Teachers have purchased books to make their libraries reflective of the backgrounds and races of their students, programs to teach coding and robotics, and supplies to help special needs students create a coffee cafe, in which they sell coffee and pastries to teachers and staff, learning important money and social skills.

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This past year, because of your above-and-beyond generosity, we were able to hire a part time storytelling minister and fund our storytelling ministry--an effort to identify and proclaim what God’s doing at this church. In 2017 we told over 19 stories about how God’s changing our lives.

In 2017 we were able to give $15,000 above our budget to help missionaries in Tanzania and Croatia.

And in addition to all of that, we still have more money we’re currently in the process of allocating to bless our city, equip our church, and glorify God.

This wasn’t an easy year for our church. We made some hard decisions in our efforts to follow God’s leading and those decisions weren’t always popular. It wasn’t an easy year. But it was a good year. In the midst of the inevitable friction of life together, we proved that Jesus was right: we’re better together. You proved that there’s so much power in open hands.

In total, your giving last year exceeded our budget by $145,000.

That’s what enabled all of that good work we listed.

And that’s in addition to the extra you gave in special contributions (for hurricane victims and short term missions) which alone totaled $46,000.

This is what it looks like to be open-handed.

Thank you church for letting God move through you so powerfully.

As we celebrated your giving in Dec 2016, I offered a blessing from 2 Cor 9--a blessing God clearly honored, and a blessing I want to offer again:

As you become more and more generous, may he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food also supply and increase your store of seed and enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. [May you] be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and [may]  your generosity result in thanksgiving to God.

Would you join us in saying out loud,

 “Look what God’s done! Thank you, God! We love it!!”

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We have one more thing to tell you about. In November of 2017, we focused our attention on orphans, and God’s call for us to love the way he loves--as a Father who adopts us as his children.

And we introduced you to 4 children from Columbia who are in need of families. Abe, Jack and Natalie, and Nelly. We gave you magnets with their faces and challenged you to pray daily that God would provide them a home. You did. And we want you to continue to.

But some of you did more than that. Some of you sensed God leading you to go further, convinced that God would enable what he required.

Many of you know that our own Josh and Susan Sumpter have decided to pursue adoption. They’ve done a ton of work, completed home studies, and though there’s always less certainty in these things than we’d like, things seem to be progressing well.

What you may not know is that the child they’re adopting is Nelly.

:)

By the way, the adoption agency gives each child a pseudonym until they’re a ways into the adoption process--so we’ve come to find out that Nelly’s real name is actually Brenda. So we can call her that from now on. :)

Now, we’re going to pray with Josh & Susan about this in a second, but we wanted to make you aware of your participation in all of this awesomeness. As most of you know, adoption can be very expensive, and our desire for some time now has been to leverage our collective generosity in the direction of that challenge.

And so while the Sumpters have already paid for their home studies, and while they’re fundraising to offset the costs of (Lord willing) bringing Brenda home (I mean, she’ll arrive with essentially the clothes on her back), there remains the main portion of the costs of this adoption: a sum of around $30,000.

And because of your open hands, our church is providing $30,000 to enable the Sumpters to give Brenda a home. :)

I can’t wait to meet this little girl. I can’t believe that, Lord willing, our church will have had the opportunity to participate in her story. I can’t wait to watch her grow up in this family.

Josh and Susan, would you come up here?

We know that even though things have gone smoothly so far, we don’t know what the future holds, and so we want to pray with you, asking God to bring this to fruition, and asking Him to be present with you and reward your obedient hearts no matter what lies ahead.

Father in heaven, thank you for this family. Thank you for their hearts to be a family to this precious child who has no parents. Father, give them everything they need for everything you’ve called them to. Thank you for the generosity of this church. Thank you for the courageous hearts of its shepherds. Thank you for writing this story and for writing us into it. Please enable this adoption. We want good, good things for Brenda--keep her close to you. And if for some reason there’s something else that’s even better for Brenda, give Susan and Josh the strength and comfort they’ll need to adjust to that. But our desire, Father, is that you would bring Brenda home...here. And that you would continue to enrich us in every way so that we can be generous on every occasion. In Jesus’ name, amen.

On Light & Life: A Christmas Worship Recap

This year on Christmas Eve we gathered to worship the coming Christ and welcomed hundreds of visitors into our midst. Together we celebrated the life and light only Jesus brings.

Because so many of our members spent Christmas Eve away from Round Rock visiting family, we thought we'd share some of the highlights from our Christmas worship here: 

To start, we shared this video, illustrated by Igniter Media and narrated by our own Glenda Morrison.

During our communion meditation we listened to the song "Power To Redeem" from Lauren Daigle...

Afterward Justin Gerhardt led us in reflections on what it means to live in a world that's both light and dark and why it's so important to believe in the light.

Everyone went home with a book of matches, a reminder to believe in the light (and to spread the light, too). 

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Especially lovely was the moment when we all lit candles, and light spilled across the auditorium while we sang Silent Night. 

Thank you SO much to everyone who devoted time on Christmas Eve to help make this worship service possible! What a privilege it was to welcome our city into our building and to share the luminous hope we've been given.

On The Winter Youth Retreat, Learning To Be Like Jesus, and Scavenger Hunting

Just a couple weekends ago our youth gathered at Camp of the Hills near Marble Falls to grow closer to one another and Christ, worshipping, praying, and studying 3 of Jesus’ "I am" statements:

"I am the Good Shepherd," learning to listen for God’s voice 

"I am the Bread of Life," learning to trust God more

"I am the Light of the World," learning about Jesus being light and how to carry that light ourselves

On Sunday, the speaker gave the students some practical (though wacky) ways to live these truths out, like leaving an open seat for Jesus or taking a walk with God (and talking to him like he’s walking right beside you).

Over the weekend the students grew closer to one another playing different games, but the big activity that everyone will remember was the scavenger hunt. Not because it was a standard run of the mill hunt, but because while the students were hunting for clues, they were also being hunted. George, our speaker, drove around in his truck and “captured” groups, making it a great game of cat and mouse while students simultaneously tried to find all of the clues and evade capture. Everyone also had fun bonding over smores, "banana surgery," and hanging out during down times. 

Thanks to Josh Jones for the event recap! Here are a few pictures of the fun:

On Generosity & Sending: A Missions Benefit Dinner Recap

On December 10th our church gathered to raise money for adults and teens with a desire to serve and teach beyond the borders of our building and city. We blew past our ambitious goal of $15,000, raising almost $18,000 by the grace of our generous God who calls us into Christ-like giving. 

Gathering together for a purpose always blooms into joy, especially with so many hard-working people orchestrating the celebration. Thanks to everyone who played a part--planners, bakers, singers, decorators, servers, logistics folks, baristas, money counters, speakers, testimony-givers, photographers... Everyone. Thank you for letting God use You do His good work. 

This year that money will send teens to Houston for hurricane cleanup. It'll send teens to Lima, Peru to work with orphans and street kids. It'll send adults to Croatia to encourage and equip local minsters and capture stories of the work there. It'll help send one of our college kids to Africa. It'll also benefit the work done through Come Before Winter, an organization devoted to spiritual renewal for missionaries and church workers. 

So much good work enabled by the generosity God stirred up in your hearts!

Look what God's done! Thank You, God. We love it. 

Here are a few pictures and videos from the night.